23 August, 2019
Yesterday I looked at how to design for RP, how a few changes might bring about better RP in a game while not affecting the rest of the server much. Today, I want to look more at lore, and how you can write that to facilitate RP in the game.
Again, I’ll look at FFXIV as an example to draw from.
Deal in the concrete
Sometimes there’s a desire to get a little poetic and abstract in lore. When writing a story you sometimes write a bit more lore just to have some support for your story. But you’re not just writing a story for an MMO, you’re building a whole world. And people are going to explore the world as much as they can.
For example: a big, bad kingdom in the past that did very bad things. But, sometimes these things are important to the lore of the game: Why did that kingdom do bad things? What was the result? Are bad things still around? Did anyone fight against the bad things? These things should leave a record of what happened in the world: ruins, scars, beasts running around. The answers to thesetypes of questions give your RPers something to sink their teeth into as well as tying the information into the history of the world at large.
But if you keep things too generic, then these background bits of information don’t have the impact they might otherwise. The bad kingdom seems disjointed, disconnected, unimportant. Worse, it might confuse things because it then conflicts with some other bit of information from the history of the world. This can be confusing at best, or frustrating at worst when people don’t agree.
And, as I said yesterday, you really shouldn’t do a story with “player as special protagonist” if you can avoid it. This often conflicts with trying to RP in the world if everyone is running around with that special spark that makes them a world-rescuing hero.
Related to the first point, you really want to give as much detail as you can about elements in the game. That big bad kingdom should have as much history as you can added to the world. Obviously forgotten empires don’t always have the most detailed historic records remaining in the world, but some information should remain. Keep in mind that players will dig through all available sources they can to find the “accurate” picture. Anything left up to interpretation could become a point of contention between RPers.
You also want your detail to be consistent as much as you can, or have the inconsistencies made obvious from different sources. History gets muddled, opinions differ, and people have different perspective. But ideally you should have one version of the objective truth for people to understand and follow. For example, if you have a tribal structure for some races, the information should be relatively consistent. In FFXIV, some sources say that male Seekers of the Sun are either aggressive and territorial, while in the game they’re shown as being helpful and administrative to the tribe. Which is it?
Let players put their spin
But to counterbalance that last point, you want players to put their own spin on things. Players generally want to be special, to stand out. Even if they aren’t the singular protagonist who regularly saves the world, they don’t necessarily want to just be generic Joe 3938. Leaving enough wiggle room for interpretation is important.
For example, maybe you have a male Seeker of the Sun who doesn’t want to be territorial, even if that’s generally accepted. He might want to help others instead of starting a tribe. In the game you see this with some NPCs who go out and adventure rather than forming a tribe, such as the NPC who trains red mages. Giving examples of where characters can go against the grain can help players give their own perspective.