Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

13 August, 2019

The divide between RP and mechanics
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:33 PM

One of the interesting things about MMO RP is how often the RP is divorced from the mechanics of the game. While MMOs are generally known for having well-balanced gameplay, RP rarely is able to take advantage of the game mechanics as they rarely feed into RP situations. Even the combat is impossible since it tends to move so fast that you can’t get a good post in between swings, and you can rarely fight other players except in special circumstances.

So, let’s take a look at how mechanics and RP are divided.

I was going to write a post about community culture to match the podcast I do on Tuesday nights with my friend Maulgrim, but my sore throat thwarted those plans. So here’s another post I’ve been thinking on.

Combat problems

As mentioned above, one problem is that combat rules don’t quite fit into RP rules so easily. Even if a game has rules for PvP and they work similarly to PvE rules, it can be hard to just have a RP fight because you want some sort of description to the fight. Two people going at it can be kind of boring, especially if the tactics include things like kiting or running out of range. Or a fight between healers might be really dull since it’s low damage and all healing in a fight that might never end.

Part of what makes a fight exciting is the actions each fighter makes. Explaining the seized opportunity or the flub that lets the opponent score a hit adds spice to the combat. In RP, you often want to know more than just who won, just like a sports game is often more than just the final score. So, RPers have gotten creative about how they address such issues.

The combat solution

In FFXVI, the /random command gives you a number from 0 to 999. This allows people to create systems that simulate combat without using the actual in-game mechanics; although, some people do use the moves from a class to describe their actions.

The simplest form is straight random combat. First round an attacker describes an attack then rolls an attack, and defender rolls a defense then describes a defense based on if the attack hit or not. If the attacker rolls higher, then they score a hit and the defender loses a hit point. Next round the roles reverse, with attacker defending and vice-versa. Fights will often go until 3 or 5 hits are scored. The advantage is that it’s pretty easy to understand and describe. The downside is that it’s really random. An experienced fighter and hardened soldier might lose in a protracted battle against a total novice. Now, you can quote Mark Twain here and say, “The best swordsman does not fear the second best, he fears the worst since there’s no telling what that idiot is going to do.” But, that’s not how fantasy fights go unless the underdog is the protagonist. And nobody is “the protagonist” in RP.

Some people try to compensate for this by creating other systems. One group I’ve met had a very complex system that had a character sheet system and a point buy system similar to World of Darkness tabletop RPGs. I found trying to stuff my character into that system a bit tough since it tried to be “fair” instead of accurately reflecting the character. Plus, people who had been using the system longer had more xp points, meaning they had objectively more powerful characters.

My friend Maulgrim’s RP tribe sometimes uses another system where you define a few things about a character. The system looks long and complicated, but it’s pretty easy once you get into it. The advantage of this system is that it’s easy to create the character beforehand but not be stuck into anything… changing based on your whims for the fight.

But there’s usually a tradeoff between easy-to-use and something that allows you to express your character better.

Non-combat problems

One other problem with RP is that often the game is rather combat-centric. Unlike tabletop games that offered utility spells and allowed players to creatively solve problems, MMOs tend to force abilities into very specific categories that solve one problem: how to kill things. This causes a problem if you want to do something non-combat like… detect the presence of magic.

So, take a fairly common spell from D&D, Detect Magic. Does FFXIV have an equivalent? Magic is manipulation of aether in the world, which is the force of life. And there are ways to detect the flow of aether in the world according to lore. But this “aether sense” is ill-defined. Is it something all aether manipulators have? It would make some sense for them to sense it to use it. But what information does it give? Would there be a spell that gave more information about when aether is manipulated? But we don’t see anyone use such a spell, and of course “Detect Magic” doesn’t exactly help you kill things faster, so no mage has that.

And this is a simple example. There’s a lot more beyond that where you have to wonder what the answer is, such as can you weave wards to protect something with magic? To let you know if someone walks in an area? These are all things that are useful and available in D&D, but not in a game like FFXIV.

So what do you think? Is there always going to be a divide between mechanics in the game and RP?

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