The Merits of Mindless Slaughter

Most of the content in this section is concerned with providing for a realistic, deep, immersive environment that allows roleplaying to flourish, and gets beyond the prototypical dungeon crawl model for fantasy gaming.  This is because no MMORPG on the market, or any that look promising in the near future, provide this very well.  However, this is not to say that hack and slash isn’t appropriate in the MMORPG.  In fact, combat must be a significant portion of the overall content.  This is because:

  • Customers expect this due to force of habit
  • It’s fun
  • A game based only on dynamic plot content and questing is impossible to maintain for any significantly large player base

However, the implementation and presentation of this combat portion of the game could be presented far better than it has been in the past.  In the normal automated RPG, you typically have areas with respawning monsters of various types:  the newbie dungeon, the medium dungeon, the hard dungeon, and the boss dungeon.  In the MMORPG model, these dungeons are static and never ever go away, or change much for that matter.  You stay in the newbie dungeon until you can go to the medium dungeon, etc. etc.  This is exceedingly boring and stupid.

Assuming you can’t just have the monsters stay dead once killed, which punishes everyone after the first guy to find them, you need to find some sort of middle ground.  The basic elements of realistic and intelligent hack and slash presentation are:

  • Reasons
  • Consequences

Some games attempt to make an attempt at reasons for "hunting grounds," but because of lack of consequences they turn out trite.  Why is there a dungeon close to town full of lesser humanoids?  Are they there just to get killed?  Not likely.  They would be raiding farms, poaching, acting as advance scouts for a more powerful force, or maybe they’re just homesteading, but they’re too antagonistic to coexist with the local population of humans.  They also can’t be right outside the city gates, or they would have long since been exterminated by the militia as a menace!  Placement of even the most low-level of spawns has to be done as logically as possible, or your players will laugh at you.  They will probably laugh at you anyway for some reason, but it’s worse when they’re right.

Consequences of player-monster conflict are harder to deal with from a practical standpoint.  An advanced strategic-level system would be required to "keep score" of monster-human conflicts and adjust spawns accordingly.  If the newbies keep trashing the local swamp goblins, it’s unlikely the latter would hang around and take it.  They would leave, get reinforcements, or possibly all kill themselves in a spectacular but doomed suicide rush on the town.  If they vacate the area for any of these reasons, they need to pop up somewhere else, preferably somewhere equally accessible to the characters who would most likely benefit from hunting them.  The location of the goblins would be fluid, as they migrate hither and yon, looking futilely for a spot where they can establish themselves.  Note that unintelligent enemies like animals wouldn’t be as likely to make such an organized effort, though they might be pressed into new territories, and certain monsters that are tied to a location for whatever reason would stay in the same general vicinity.

Likewise, an ideal system would allow for the consequences of monster success.  If the Broken Fang tribe of orcs moves in near a little fishing village and is unmolested, they will grow in power and influence, attracting more allies to their cause, and the hamlet will be overrun until the players take care of the problem.  In this way we can start to approach the treatment of intelligent monsters as more than attack dummies, viewing them instead as rival kingdoms and peoples who are out for land control just as much as the humans.

A simple example of fluid monster distribution is the idea of the "frontier" area.  This can be used in conjunction with the fluid spawn zone concepts described above, and it provides an ideal and logical way for players who just want to go kick some ass to do this.  The frontier is a portion of the map (possibly but not necessarily the edge of where players can go) which is an entry point for new monsters.  Monster groups enter the land at the frontier line and begin looking for places to settle.  More powerful monsters, being more intimidating than their weaker cousins, will settle in convenient spots closest to the frontier, forcing weaker monsters to push further toward the players’ territory in search of a home.  Therefore, the enemies will get tougher as the players move closer to the source of the monsters, a comfortable convention that will satisfy the most unimaginative of Telengard afficionados.  The actual outline of the danger zone of the frontier is fluid, changing as players destroy camps of monsters, forcing them to respawn at the frontier and begin looking for settling places all over again.  The frontier can be used as a plot device, i.e. the prototypical threat of invasion from the vile barbarian humanoids that can only be stopped by the heroic adventurers.

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