Allrighty, then. Bandari isn’t dead, but it’s on life support, and I’m trying to make a credible diagnosis. Most of it boils down to: I fucked up.
I may have built a stage people have shown interest in, but I did very little “writing and direction” afterward, hoping a couple active roleplayers who showed up around March and June would push things along mostly on their own. I can ascribe that lunacy to the general funk that I’ve been in for the past few months, but this doesn’t absolve me of blame. What happened, of course, is that said initial group of active roleplayers were essentially there ahead of the curve, and didn’t get enough feedback to stick around consistently. So, by August, the pattern things are still in had been set: 3-5 people connected most of the time, mostly standing around and fidgeting.
A few people have attempted to get plots going, to be sure. But they’ve mostly foundered. One was basically constructed to hang around the shoulders of another player who stopped showing up because he thought the premise of the MUCK was being violated when someone could be a giant and a shaman—a “problem” he didn’t communicate until a couple months after that plot ground to a halt.
While I think that particular player overstated his case and handled things in the worst possible way, his worry was legitimate. As much as I’d like it to be otherwise, there’s a tension between the setting’s focus on social roleplaying and what a lot of people like to do with giants: engage in wildly disproportionate power plays. I’m not talking about this strictly in the fetish sense, although of course that plays into it. The problem is that a substantial subset of the macrophile crowd has a “no such thing as too much” attitude. If ninety feet tall is good, two hundred feet tall is better. No, wait, magic control of your size is better! No, wait, magic control of everyone else’s size is better! No, wait, I can shift shape! Shift genders! Be both at once! Add a third! Shoot jets of fire! Be big enough to destroy cities with a single step! Level cities entirely with the power of my mind! EAT WHOLE PLANETS ARRRRRR cough cough—
Puzzlebox has the only workable solution to allowing this sort of character, I suspect: make everyone that sort of character. If anyone can do anything they want because that’s just the way the world works, the entire concept of “disrupting balance” gets all but thrown out the window. There are really only a handful of other ways to deal with this:
- The “See No Evil” approach: a generic setting—think Tapestries and FurryMUCK—with no enforcement of rules from a thematic standpoint. The resulting hodgepodge tends to work very well for scenes, but very poorly for plots. In a scene, two or three characters can figure out what they want to do and who’s in charge very quickly—and, yes, the BDSM overtone of that statement is intentional. The upshot is that people tend to come up with characters who are always in charge or never in charge in a given situation. When the fallen angel, the trickster god and the reality-warping psionic girl meet up, there’s only player negotiation to let them decide who trumps who. Sometimes that works but a lot of times it ain’t pretty.
- The “By the Numbers” approach: a system in which powers are essentially “bought” the way they are in more traditional roleplaying games. In theory, this can work really well. It’s my feeling that in practice this approach commits you to developing at least a rudimentary game mechanic system for conflict resolution. This isn’t a bad thing. Nor is it a good thing. It’s just a thing thing. It is, however, a thing that’s not as easy to do as you might imagine. I was a right bastard some years ago in criticizing a MUCK with a number-based character generation system, but the flaws were real. (I’m given to understand the approach they took was modified over several iterations.) I’m not opposed to investigating this further but I have a feeling that with Bandari it would be quite a trick, for the same reason that it’s difficult to have a pen-and-paper game system that handles both superheroes and “normals” with equal effectiveness.
- The “Just Trust Us” approach: try and describe a strict setting to begin with and try to approve only characters who fit that setting. Obviously, this is the approach that I took with Bandari. In theory, this can also work really well. In practice, though, it has two pitfalls. First, unless your character approval person is a real tough cookie, there will be a temptation to let characters through who probably really shouldn’t be approved—the biggest problem I’ve found in this regard is characters who simply aren’t very well thought out beyond the description. (And despite my description of myself above as a right bastard, I’m really not that tough a cookie.) Second, there’s no mechanism, beyond implicit trust, that prevents characters from going off into la-la land once they’ve been established.
So. A few characters did go off into la-la land, and a few characters who maybe shouldn’t have been approved were approved anyway. The latter one was directly my fault, obviously, although I suspect if I restructure the character request form in a way that forces people to think about their character history, why they’re in Bandari, and other things beyond the physical description it’ll reduce future similar problems. The former problem…well, that’s also my fault, in that it largely came from attempts to get roleplaying going.
So. While I came pretty quickly to the you can’t do everything yourself point in setting the MUCK up, I’m circling back to the you’ve gotta do a lot more yourself, kid point, and damn any perception of arrogance this might cause. I’ve been using “you don’t want people to look at it as your personal fiefdom” as an excuse not to get out there online and start pushing, and damn, that was pretty stupid, wasn’t it?
I’m working out a VDPA (“vaguely-defined plan of action”) for going forward.
- Look at the way Puzzlebox has separated out its wiki and its LiveJournal (i.e., what’s used for what), and see about creating a Bandari community here if it seems to make sense—to discuss where we are and where we might be going in terms of plots.
- Get a harassment policy in place. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but—and I’m sure this is something all MUCK wizards learn quickly—a couple bad apples can drive a greater number of “good apples” out of the barrel.
- Start working out a few plot ideas myself. I’d be curious hearing how people—particularly Puzzleboxians (?)—work out bigger plots, assuming they do that kind of planning. In my ideal world, everyone would have a character who has their own agenda and acts based on how they want to reach their particular goal, but in practice, I’m concluding a lot of players—even ones who can be pretty good in RP—need to be shoved out on stage.
Point #2 is causing me some current personal angst, because of the few active players, a couple seem to be unable to even grit their teeth and be in the same room with another character. MUCKs with two dozen locations and only one central meeting area don’t have the luxury of “no contact orders,” and while the bad apple in this case has definitely been irritating, I’m distinctly unhappy at the feeling of being backed into a corner over this. (While I know Asperger’s Disorder is the fashionable malady to claim among fandom, my suspicion is that said “bad apple” may actually suffer from it, as his social skills aren’t lacking in the crabby unsocialized fannish fashion but rather in a kind of spooky “I don’t understand the difference between compliments and criticism” fashion. Of course, as my ex-roommate tacit observed long ago about another student at New College, understanding why someone irritates you doesn’t make them less irritating.)
As some concluding rambling thoughts, if there’s a lesson I should have drawn from the Giants’ Club on FurryMUCK, it’s that if I accept that I can’t please everyone all the time, I have a better chance of pleasing a number of people most of the time. If I manage to move forward and put in the effort I should have been putting in to meet people halfway, things can probably be put back on the rails.
Of course, that requires that a sufficient number of players meet me at the halfway point, too, and that’s going to mean getting people to be a little more willing to check in and see how things are going. I suspect an LJ community can help with that, presuming it becomes active. (It is, in fact, created now, albeit empty: bandarimuck.)