Immediately following the publication of the treatise, I got a lot of comments. Some were actually helpful. Here I’ve collected some of the comments I found particularly helpful, or funny, or uh whatever.



Subject: design theory
Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 01:18:35 -0300
From: Jared Barkan <>

for the life of me, howard , i cant understand why someone as talented ,intelligent,obsessive-compulsive, with both the specific abilities needed (outstanding fiction- content and prose,strategic thinking, familiarity with computers, beyond-all-reason-knowledge of all types of role-playing games-computer and pen &paper, historical knowledge, understanding of all types of martial arts-weapons use,the ability to function for days on end subsisting off of junk food,an encylopedic knowledge of every hong kong kung-fu action flick ever made- probably not necessary but it sure don’t hurt,  -and plentyof other things i’m unaware of,) and an interest bordering on the psychotic, not too mention way too much time on his hands- does not simply hunker down and…… WRITE HIS OWN GODDAMNED GAME !! already..

honestly, i agree with just about everything you’ve ever said (in your website) about the game industry and games themselves, and it seems obvious to me that the industry is basically still in its infancy, eventually it will grow up (in about forty or fifty years) and true works of art will start popping up more and more, all probably using your manifesto as, well, a manifesto… but, shit man!  i dont want to have to wait forty or fifty years !! do you? — i mean, if you’re too goddamned lazy too write your own game at least get a job as a story outliner or something for some mid-level game company, use your strategic nohow to wangle your way to the top and then HIRE people to write good games for you , while you control everything from your hidden fortress orbiting at 200 miles above the earth.

or whatever.


I like this idea.  Not the game design thing, but the orbiting headquarters.  That would rock.


Mu’s Latest Update  5/14/2001 10:44:35 AM (Quixotic)

Over at Mu has often posted what I consider to be brilliant rants and stories in the past. He recently posted a brilliant essay/rant/rambling collection of documents on MMORPG design. Everyone should find it interesting and it covers almost all major issues associated with MMORPGs. The only evil I see in the article is that with over 340k of text anyone can find that one line that supports whatever crusade they are on at the time. Much like the bible you can grab a single line of text and use it to support just about any arguement you can make. Anyway its a good read and might be a bit of an eye opener for people that complain about this or that problem in AC or EQ or UO as it points out the general problems in designing and supporting a MMORPG. Good stuff.

The same goes for the opposite… I’ve seen some comments in IRC about how retarded a game would be based on one section of it, like realistic grain systems.  Like players would be dealing with that every day!  It’s a DESIGN concern!  Ah well, to people who like to nitpick on little sections, I can always say, "But this document is holistic!  You have to read EVERYTHING!  Muahahahaha!"  That usually gets them to quiet down and run away.


MUD-Dev listserv

From : "Koster, Raph" <>
To : "’’" <>
Subject : [MUD-Dev] Musashi’s Unbelievably Long Rantings
Date : Mon, 14 May 2001 15:55:41 -0700

This ia massive tome on online game design written by a player of the big three MMORPGs. I haven’t read the whole thing (it’s 340K of text, JC, so if you wanna post it, post it in pieces!) but what I did read seemed remarkably commonsensical.


So he didn’t read the whole thing, and the high point was "remarkably commonsensical."  Who cares!  Raph Koster plugged me to MUD-Dev!  I am fully prepared to misrepresent this as glowing praise from Raph Koster if it will secure me a cushy position somewhere.



Subject: Brain Pop concerning non-combat skills
Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 16:15:51 -0500
From: "J W" <>

I just read the first section of your massive exposay and so far so good.  When I got to the part about non-killing skills, I got a bit depressed though.  Logically, it doesn’t seem possible to include a system where players can use the "Detective" skill to solve crimes.  Computers just haven’t come that far.  I doubt they ever will, short of a game that plays itself (weee!).

Anyway, something occured to me while reading this.  Why have non-killer skills at all?  I don’t play D&D because I want to pretend I’m a genius.  I’ve already got that covered… riiiight.  Anyway, I play D&D because I want to be the 250 lbs golath muscle man.  I want to be the mystical mage who can throw fireballs with a thought.  I don’t need a stat for ‘fast talking’ or ‘innovation’ because that’s one thing I, the player myself, can supply.

So why include it in the RPG?  Why not base the entire game around skills you can’t do – spellcasting, sword swinging, leatherworking – and let the players themselves supply the rest?  Assuming you can fulfill the rest of your little vision, you don’t need a ‘dipolmacy’ skill to convince "King Roxor" to make peace. Situations where a player needs social or mental agility will emerge whether or not the designers program them in.  This isn’t to say a developer shouldn’t create the "Puzzle Maze" dungeon, it just leaves those skills – the ones the players themselves provide – to the players themselves.

Just a thought.  Please e-mail me back what you think, even if it’s just a few words.  It just makes me feel better.  Thanks.

Just my two cents,

Subject: Re: Brain Pop concerning non-combat skills
Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 18:29:39 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: J W <>

Well yes, but then you wind up "faking it" a lot.  If you want to say that the player supplies deductive skills and reasonaning and so forth, why have an intelligence attribute?  Granted there are some things you can’t and shouldn’t ever try to automate, but certain skills like language translation, alchemy, etc. etc. can be reflected in a character’s abilities.  If all of these skills are left in the hands of players, (1) they will all be eventually solved via web spoilers, and (2) everyone will be huge freaking combat monsters, since there is no tradeoff for intellectual skills.  😛 

Subject: Re: Brain Pop concerning non-combat skills
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 16:14:31 -0500
From: "J W" <>

Not necessarily.  True, if you leave the ‘alchemy’ skill purely up to the player, spoiler sites will ruin everything really fast, but when it comes to skills like ‘Etiquette’ you’re dealing with something the players can supply.  Also, certain puzzles and problems can be randomized, either by location or by their answers and difficulties.  If you create the "Rubix Cube" room and scramble the cube a different way each time, a player can’t simply check a cheat site to solve it.

As for reasoning and deduction, GMs can create ‘Clue’ type mysteries or scavenger hunts (assuming that want to devote that much time to a quest) to reward ingenious players without detracting from the alure of a high Intelligence score to offer the mage classes more mana points or higher spell levels.  Perhaps a higher Intelligence would offer competing players hints as to the answer to riddles or mysteries.

In so many other games – the Final Fantasy series for instance – an exciting mini-game or side quest is always fun to play.  These side games – puzzles, quizes, and tests of mental agility – can offer other avenues of experience gain outside the traditional kill stuff method. Perhaps the apprentice blacksmith must defeat his master in a game of checkers before he can advance (silly example I know).  The only real requirement to making these challenges effective would be to randomize them sufficently, making cheat sites impractical or impossible.

Unfortunetly, non-combat skills can’t be based on ‘Practice makes perfect’ because practice in point-click-repeat situations is boring.  But since most non-combat classes aren’t very good a combat, they must be offered other alternatives.  This is the best I can devise. 

Subject: Re: Brain Pop concerning non-combat skills
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 18:33:46 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: J W <>

Well, whether or not you leave skills up to players, if there is a set method for doing something it will be spoiled at some point.  A certain amount of your formulae and procedures might be dynamic (a small number of them, for practicality’s sake), but eventually everyone will know you combine otter’s noses with an infusion of Tabasco to make a healing potion.  You can kludge an "etiquette" system in regards to PC and NPC if, say, you have a good parsing routine and a skill check against "Charisma" or whatever.  The player may say all the right things, but if he’s a rampant murderer with a huge rotting sore on his nose and an ass-scratching habit, the NPC may not care.  😛

I have a personal bias against the overuse of the puzzle in games.  I firmly believe that this is one of the worst ideas in the "adventure game" genre.  It reminds me of all those Sierra games where to get out of jail, you wait for the jailer to lock the door, then slide a newspaper under it, and hit the door with a brick.  The revulsion factor at having to do silly puzzles to accomplish normal things is somewhat minimized in a single player once-through game, but in a persistent RPG?  Gack.

The idea of the "detective quest" appeals to me a lot, and as a GM I tend to drop those in despite the average player’s lousy powers of deduction.  However, for these more than any other kind of quest, they have to be dynamic, and more annoyingly, single-time.  One player solves it, the quest is over.  This increases your overhead tremendously if this is your primary quest type.

Side games are always important.  It’s another little detail that makes games more "real" and immersive.

The problem with noncombat skill advancement is that if you make the process too annoyingly repetetive, everyone will hate you and eventually be forced to macro to avoid point and click insanity.  However, a "pay for training" deal doesn’t work either, as you just get funded by a richer character.  Giving all starting "craftsmen" maximum or highly advanced skills from the start (an option on some private Sphere shards) cheapens the idea of becoming an accomplished artisan, and then you find yourself doing ridiculous things like requiring 300 skill to cook easter eggs.  A combination of use-based skill gain and questing (for craftsmen!) to achieve skill may be one of the only viable options.

Making noncombat/craft skills interesting, i.e. "fun" to players is insanely difficult.  I’m open to suggestions.



Subject: The lone archer myth
Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 16:35:40 -0500
From: "Stephen Bulla" <>

Myamoto Musashi,

I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole game design section. A couple of minor technicalities/gripes come to mind however…

In the section on archery, it is mentioned that only the Mongols ever mastered the art of horse archery. This form of combat is actually far more ancient. One of the best examples of ancient horse archery would have to be the Parthians, who gave the Roman Legions ALOT of trouble! The Persians also used horse archers, as did several other ancient civilizations.

I realize that the whole Robin Hood story may be nothing more than a romantic myth, but the hit and run tactics of Robin’s men (by no means a large force) were sound. I believe that a lone archer/adventurer with some training in the blade could very well have existed, ambushing enemies from the cover of the trees with blade or bow. Many peasants in medieval Europe hunted game despite the penalties imposed for poaching (usually death). They commonly used a bow as their weapon of choice for hunting. Obviously, these were not highly trained military units such as English or Welsh longbowmen, but just ordinary folks who at least knew the rudiments of firing a bow. Some people are inarguably "naturals" and seem to require less training than others in any given pursuit. Certainly such people would be rare, but you must remember that in most RPGs, the heroes (player characters) are NOT the norm of society. That ranger or archer character you create is not an average Joe, but a! n extremely rare breed: an adventurer. I believe that the "lone archer" character, be he ranger or whatever… is perfectly acceptable and plausible in a fantasy rpg world.

Thanks for the great series of articles and don’t take the above as an attack on your viewpoint. Merely some observations and thoughts!

Steve B. 

Subject: Re: The lone archer myth
Date: Mon, 14 May 2001 18:33:36 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: Stephen Bulla <>

Actually, I referred to the Mongols and the dynastic Japanese.  True, horse archery was used by earlier cultures, but they had inferior bow technology, and the rules of the game are very different when your enemy’s protection levels are limited to leather, wood and bronze.  (Japanese Do were primarily lamellar and laquered wood with metal pieces, but their craftmanship made them at least the equal of chain, and superior to brigandine, of the iron age.)  Since the typical fantasy RPG deals with iron/early steel techniques, the bows of the Parthians would have encountered trouble.  It’s a valid example that could be explained, but by the time I finished the document I was including so many footnotes about, "Yes, this culture did this, but that was because of this thing" that I couldn’t take it anymore.  😛

Since I cannot seem to leave this thing alone, added a parenthetical statement about pre-iron archery.  😛


Musashi shows how it’s done.

Mister "hurt me deeply" Howard Collins, aka Musashi, has published his Unbelievably Long and Disjointed Ramblings About RPG Design. It’s all in here. The one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart is Item Decay.

"Any open-ended virtual economy that does not provide for the decay and loss of items will always overflow. This is also related to uncontrolled cash inflation, since a society of millionaires has no incentive to try and sell off their collections of expensive crap if they don’t have to pay taxes on them. Insufficient item decay equals powerful item inflation equals player power inflation, and you eventually have a situation where most of your content becomes a joke, as your entire playerbase is outfitted in top of the line stuff handed down by hoarding patrons. Naturally, they’ll still hoard the stuff they don’t even use, taxing your server and your patience.

In any case, it is to the advantage of the game world to allow for the destruction and loss of anything. Items can be assigned hit points and similar ratings, and (if your engine really rocks) variable damage types. A fireball might recrystalize a piece of steel, but say goodbye to that apron. Things may be repairable to a degree, but every time you patch something up, you weaken it. Eventually, you need to outfit yourself again, discarding your ruined gear, and helping the economy along in the process."

Apparently Turbine was thinking about printing it all out and slapping an "AC2" label on it just to mess with people at E3.

Someone give Mu a job, kthx.

-J. 12:06 AM MST (May 15, 2001)

Thank God for J. and his ability to not only see my nefarious hidden purpose, but to shamelessly plug it.  I’m sick of ramen and industrial-sized cans of chocolate pudding.  Help me J.  You’re my only hope.



Subject: treatise on game design
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 17:18:55 +0100
From: "Dave Shepherd" <>
To: <>


Just finished reading most of your article on game design.  The section on food was a little long winded ;), but the general section and PvP section were very good.

Your idea of known associates is insightful for multiple character servers.  However there will be some who purchase multiple accounts or a husband and wife team working together – so perhaps you could tag stolen goods and flag fences or receivers.

Regarding flagging ‘aggression’ status to permit penalty free PvP, you are correct, it would be virtually impossible to properly code for anything other than a simple ‘first attack’ method.  One way that occurred to me could be an option to challenge someone, or warn someone that they were being aggressive.  For example, spamming chat or proximity could be dealt with by the aggressee issuing a timer to the aggressor to either not talk for the next 5 minutes or leave the location.  Failure to comply could flag an aggression status.

However, there are problems with this, e.g. powergamer runs in to his favourite spawn, finding a party of 6 low level characters and issues a challenge on all of them, forcing them to leave – perhaps limit the number of challenges available to a player?

Well, thanks for the opportunity to read your thoughts, you have given me some useful things to think about.


Subject: Re: treatise on game design
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 11:33:52 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: Dave Shepherd <>

Flagging every item in the game for "ownership" is a gigantic drain on the system.  It’s the only way to really accurately track things like theft, though, but because it’s insanely clock-heavy it can’t be done, so some black box methods have to be implemented.

Challenge systems are an idea I had for a bounty hunting system, where if you want to go nab a criminal of sufficient notoriety for a reward, you get a warrant issued.  Then when you find the guy, you use the warrant on him as a challenge.  The target can then either surrender (mitigating penalties) or fight.  Winning over the target initiates capture,and the reward is taken from whatever is confiscate from the criminal to prevent abuse and economic flooding.



Subject: Quick note for you
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 09:23:07 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jeff Sandler <>


After being tipped-off by Lum, I’ve been reading your RPG design document and enjoying it.

I’m nowhere near being close to done with it, but thought I’d give you a comment on this page:

I’ve been with you so far up until you mention the example of the trebuchet in Age of Empires (2).  I feel that it’s a really poor example, because it is definitely not overpowered.  Feel free to peruse the web sites that discuss it ( and are two good places to start) and you’ll see that the dominant tactics do not revolve around trebuchets — especially undefended ones.

Sure, they’re the best method to destroy walls/buildings, and their arrival is critical to breaking late-game territorial stalemates.  But saying that they excel at being unsupported offensive juggernauts is probably going to cause anyone who’s played the game more than a few weeks to shake their head.

I’d also like to state my opinion that Age of Kings (especially post-expansion/rebalancing) was one of best balanced multiplayer games I’ve ever played.  If it had a fault, it was that perhaps the civilizations didn’t differ by *that* much, which I suppose made balancing an easier job.

Heck, if Chet at OMM thinks its one of the best he’s played, that’s gotta mean something too, right? 🙂

Anyway, I’ll get back to enjoying your page.



Subject: Re: Quick note for you
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 11:38:19 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: Jeff Sandler <>

The problem with the AoK trebuchet in my experience is that it doesn’t act like a real trebuchet.  A trebuchet is something the siege force builds on-site, because there’s no way to transport it even disassembled.  And, if a real trebuchet is attacked by any sort of reasonable force, it stops firing, the engineers are killed or driven off, and the lines cut.  This happens immediately.  The problem with the AoK trebuchet (besides the fact that it’s still one unit) is that you can roll say 24 of them into a town, set them up, and destroy the town, then pack up and move on, all while under attack and unguarded… who cares if you lose a few?  😛 

Subject: Re: Quick note for you
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 11:14:39 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jeff Sandler <>
To: Musashi <>

Heh.  Not to let a good point (i.e. nerfing is important) morph into an tangential argument about this one game, but I gotta say I respectfully disagree.

True, they don’t behave realistically.  (Absolute realism rarely equates to good gameplay, of course)

But I’ve never seen anyone even come close to doing what you’re talking about in a competitive game.

1)  They’re expensive to make.  And can only be made at a castle (an expensive, slow-to-make building that depends on the most limited resource in the game, stone) and slowly-made at that.

2)  They’re lousy against anything BUT buildings

3)  (most importantly)  They’re quickly roxxered by any non-piercing attack unit.  Fully upgraded infantry or cavalry knock them down in mere seconds.

Judging from what you’re saying, I think you may have only played the game in environments where opponents let you build up to huge forces relatively unmolested, or where archery is favored above all other tactics.  (Perhaps you played before I started; before the game was patched to limit the range of garrisoned town centers?)

In the games I’ve played (and in the recorded "expert" games I’ve watched), by the time trebs are available, you’ve got worse problems on your hands; like champion floods, light cavalry raids, and massed siege (in some civs, like celts/koreans).

Even assuming you’ve massed 24 trebs, if that’s all you have, and I have 24 of any imperial age melee unit, you won’t be destroying much of my town.  You’ll get the buildings on the edge, and then those trebs will get boned, at a price of 200w, 200g each and many minutes of production time.  Not a good trade.

Anyways, just thought I’d pass that along.  I’d hate to see an RPG designer be reading the excellent points in your article and come across the part about AoE and say "This guy’s crazy".  🙂


PS Not much good on the MMRPG horizon, eh?  I was hoping on UO2, because that team seemed to understand a lot of important design points.  So much for that.  Now, the next gen doesn’t look half as promising.  I guess I’ll end up trying AO, if anything. 

Subject: Re: Quick note for you
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 13:45:12 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: Jeff Sandler <>

That’s entirely possible… I played AoK pretty much on final, and then found this business about the trebuchet parade and stopped.  By the time I quit the big tacs seemed to be either the treb parade, castle rush (building castles in the enemy town and hiding the peasants inside), or the teutonic town hall rush.  Maybe it’s been fixed.  😛 

Subject: Re: Quick note for you
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 11:49:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jeff Sandler <>
To: Musashi <>

That totally explains it.  I picked the game up this summer, post-patch.

Ironically, AoK is an excellent example of how a "nerf" patch saved the game.  Supposedly, soon after the game was released, the dominant strategy became using town centers as archer bunkers, pushing them into your enemies towns.  Teutons excelled at this due to their bonus (and were subsequently informally "banned" from competitive play).

Shortly before releasing the expansion, they patched the game and limited the TC range, among other things (including raising the cost and building time for town centers — they now cost stone and take as long to build as a castle).  This shifted the emphasis from getting a quick castle age and opened up the options of feudal-age warfare.

Patch description:

Anyways, that ‘splains it.  Thanks for the reply.


Damn.  Now I have to install it again.


Subject: The Game Theory
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 16:40:07 -0700
From: "Colin Glassey" <>

I enjoyed the write up. As someone who spent some time writting an alternate design of D&D (called Mythrules) I have some comments on magic. Magic, if it is part of society (as opposed to something only demi-gods can wield, in Tolkien’s work Gandalf IS a demi-god and Merlin fits the definition as well), fundementally breaks everything we understand about society.

Take the simple case of magical enchantments. If enchanted weapons could be made, why would anyone develop iron? Magically enchanted stone or wood weapons and tools would be used. Research would go into better spells not better materials. Early iron items were terrible. They were brittle, they rusted, it took centuries of research before iron items could be made better than bronze. The sort of research that wouldn’t get done if magic was common.

If magic allowed the transport of people/goods, why would anyone domesticate a horse? Consider the drawbacks of horses: hard to tame, very expensive to feed, and they are dangerous to the riders without a great deal of training. Why bother to build roads OR ocean-worthy ships if you can transport via. magic?

The only book I know of that really attempted to rationally talk about a society in which magic was common was LeGuin’s "The Wizard of Earthsea".  But even LeGuin didn’t persue the logical outcome of truely widespread magic in the world: stone-age technology.

The worlds of UO, EQ, and AC (high fantasy in general) make no sense from a logical, rational perspective because the effect of wide-spread magic use would be to halt technological development at a very primitive level. As a case study, consider any of the real Earth societies that believe in the power of magic. Look how far they developed technologically…

Colin Glassey – email

I firmly believe that there are more people like Colin and myself who will pick apart the absurdity of a world’s background bit by bit, forever and ever.  Please make us happy.



My Comments (some critical) on Mu’s Manifesto
by Antagonist  posted 5/15/01 7:50:24 PM

(I have a feeling you don’t check up on your forums all that much, as Internet forums tend to be breeding grounds for genetical rejects–like me! I figure if I post this wannabe essay on your forum AND e-mail it to you, the chances that you will actually read it should improve . . . slightly.)


I disagree with some of your opinions concerning weaponry, armor, and combat in general in online RPGs. Not that my opinion matters to you or anyone reading your forum, but I really appreciated all the work you spent on creating that online RPG development model at no benefit to yourself. Because of your effort, I think it fair that I make an effort to give you feedback on your latest endeavor–if you like it or not. Lucky you.

First, before someone interprets this as a flame, I want to point out that I thought Mu’s manifesto was awesome. Mu, I wish there were more ranters on the ‘Net like you.

Now, to address the subject of this post: Sure, you make perfect logical sense in terms of what is realistic or not; how someone can’t take a game seriously if it’s not realistic, and therefore, how a game can’t be of true quality if it’s not treated seriously on some level. And like any good argumentative prose, you provide counterpoints to your arguments–a common tactic used by competent writers–so the reader will more easily accept your view. (I’m too lazy to look back and actually find quotes of where you supply counter-arguments, but I’m pretty sure you did, because you always do.) But despite your well-written analyses, I think you’re wrong because of one simple reason: reality is not always fun. I think you underestimate the importance of fantasy in a fantasy game. I don’t want to play a tactical simulation of some soldier in medieval Europe; I want to play the role of Conan The Barbarian, battling monsters in some high fantasy contrivance of reality. I don’t want to worry about eating food or taking shits–heck, I even find weapon deterioration annoying.

I want weapons with different strengths and weaknesses, fabricated or not. I want my kriss-wielding rogue to be as viable as someone’s katana-wielding rogue. Is it realistic? No. Do I find entertainment in the choice of using daggers–and a dagger fighting style, beit fabricated or not–over weapons and tactics that would normally be superior in reality? Hell yes. In World War II, I doubt there were many soldiers carrying longswords into battle as their primary means of attack/defense. I’m pretty sure they used guns ‘n stuff. Why? Because guns are superior to longswords (if not, the US Military has wasted a lot of money than we think). If a contemporary day MMORPG was ever made using Mu’s logic, and "melee weapons" was an available skill along with firearm skills, I would guarantee you there wouldn’t be one person using a longsword over an AK-47. Reality = mundanity = boring.

So, someone makes a MMORPG based in a realistic universe–at least concerning weapons and combat–that corresponds to the Middle Ages. In this game, there would be a ton of weapon/armor choices, as humans no doubt created countless usable weapons by the time the Middle Ages rolled around. But obviously, some are more usable–and far superior–than others. What’s the fun in, say, all "high level" characters walking around wearing field plate and wielding a katana (assuming they can afford it), because developing a character who is adept at using leather armor and axes is a waste of time? (Obviously, I am not an expert on weapon/armor history like Mu, so that was just an example.) If we base combat and weaponry/armor on reality constrained by the technology of a certain time period, because it’s–well, you guessed it–realistic, it wouldn’t be very fun, would it? Mu’s world wouldn’t be any better (or much different) than current graphical MMORPGs; all "high level" characters would be clones of each other, wielding the same weapons and armors and using the same fighting styles due to necessity. I think a good RPG gives players viable options, realistic or not, to compete on a level playing-field through whatever means they want.

I say bastardize all logical assumptions of combat in an effort to make it–*gasp*–fun. I should also note, that no graphical MMORPG–AC probably less so–has actually succeeded in a combat system good enough to justify fucking over rational thought. However, I have played an online RPG that succeeded in this area; the game was a MUD called DragonRealms (DR for short), and the combat system simply r0xx0r3d j00: body location-based combat ("What? That crocodile bit your arm off and now you’re going into shock?"), internal and external bleeding (instead of generic HP), maneuverability vs. protection value (depending on their style of fighting, just as many high level "fighter" characters used leather armor over plate), the use of offensive and defensive maneuvers that played off each other ("Perhaps you should’ve parried before attempting to sweep your opponent’s legs with your quarterstaff."), power vs. speed (depending on stance, position, fatigue and state of health, and who knows what other hidden modifiers, daggers would swing at roughly 1/5 the speed of a 2-handed sword), all weapons carried multiple damage-type variables (When appraising a broadsword, it might say: "This broadsword does heavy blunt, massive slashing, and light piercing damage; it is well-balanced and fairly suited to take advantage of the wielder’s strength."), etc. Of course, since DR is a text-based game, I would imagine this simplified the matters of implementing such a complex combat system. Was DR perfect? Far from it, but it did a ton of things right; I would still have my subscription if my friends would play it with me.

You know what, Mu, I think you should play DragonRealms. Sure, it has no graphics, but you’ve always ranted about the importance of gameplay/content over graphics. And if DR has anything, it has gameplay/content. I think it’s on the Zone now, and costs 10 bucks a month. Although, DR is not without its flaws. The game is long-running, and therefore the economy is unbalanced; high level characters have an utterly absurd amount of money, while a newbie has next to nothing. The game itself is probably suffering from stagnation, and therefore the community is dying off due to a lack of new content and new blood. Etcetera, etcetera. IMPORTANT NOTE: In my observation, DR’s design is very close to what you would consider an ideal online RPG according to your essay. Now’s a perfect time to waste a few hours a week testing out a new game, since nothing else (gaming) is worth the time. What do you have to lose?

Blah. This is starting to sound like a press release. Funny: I don’t play the game, nor have any intention to. Chalk it up to nostalgia. Goddammit, I spent nearly 90 minutes writing this crap–talk about a fucking waste. I think I now know how you feel, Mu.



re: My Comments (some critical) on Mu’s Manifesto
by Mu posted 5/15/01 8:28:54 PM

Number one, and this is for everyone who thinks that an MMORPG based on this treatise would require humans to take care of every mind-numbing detail associated with everyday life…. the key word in the title is "DESIGN." Not "PLAY." Things like food consumption models and power extension from the crown are factors that make for a believable system from the design phase, but are more or less invisible to the player unless they factor into his life directly in some way. If all you want to do is r0x0r some critters, it doesn’t affect you, but I would sure appreciate the fact that the capitol of 20,000 people isn’t being supported by 2 farmers who grow pumpkins. Refer to the following sections for more about realism and streamlining for fun:

As far as being Conan, the option to be a "hero" in an open subscription MMORPG is limited to about 2% of the playerbase maximum. If too many more than this are considered heroic, then they are no longer heroic, they’re commonplace. It’s like when MMORPG’s suck you in with that phrase, "Be a hero!" but they forget to mention that 95% of everyone will be more heroic than you. 😛

Now about weapons. Assuming your weapon system is logical, yes you won’t have 8 billion kinds of flamboyant blades from 12 cultures, or if you do, some of them will just suck. This does not mean everyone carries the same thing all the time. That’s a product of improper balance, where one or two weapons are superior to all others. Refer here:

Variety in weapons can still be wide if you include some factors nobody ever considers, like where did this weapon come from? A broadsword made by Vikings using pattern welding and a broadsword made by some nimrod with an anvil and no clue are both technically broadswords, but are functionally very different.

The guns and swords "argument" exemplifies how games break down past a certain point. Realistic games about personal combat past a certain level of technology tend to be boring, because (using a typical D&D example) you might have 20 hit points and a sword will do 1-8, but a .30-06 slug will do about 10d6. In this case, the melee weapons become the "ceremonial weapons" that are less effective but around anyway, and people who are interested in actual combat will choose from a variety of guns (depending on legality issues).

Maybe I’ll check out DR. 😛 

re: My Comments (some critical) on Mu’s Manifesto
by Dr. Shadwolf  posted 5/15/01 8:26:41 PM

You have a point here, but there is more to consider. Ultimately, an RPG is an interactive story. The best sort of comparison therefore is with books. Consider any classic book like "Lord of the Rings." (Actually I have a lot of problems with Tolkien, but for now it will stand as an example). Would it have been as interesting if the book had read like an AC adventure:

"Frodo suddenly snapped back to awareness to find a goblin attacking him. The wretched beast was repeatedly striking him in the head with a twisted club. Frodo paused to examine the goblin for a moment then began digging through his pack. A solid whack from the club brought a rush of blood into his eyes. Luckily he could still make out the blurred contents of the pack well enough to spot the roll of bandages peeking out from under a bundle of 1,000 arrows. He pulled the bandages free and ripped a piece from the end. He slapped the torn bit of cloth to his bloodied head and immediately felt the healing powers flowing through him. As an afterthought he quaffed a stamina elixir. The goblin was beginning to look perturbed at its would be target who seemed uninterested in the constant barrage of blows. The goblin paused while Frodo continued to dig through his pack. When he still failed to respond, the goblin shrugged its shoulders and wandered off in search of a more calorie efficient meal.

At the bottom of his pack, beneath a couple hundred pounds of dried mushrooms, Frodo finally found the bag of rings he was looking for. Unfortunately, he’d forgotten to label them. Oh well. He slid one on too his finger and was immediately shrouded in powerfull protective magics. Useless. Maybe he could fob that off on one of the townies that were constantly begging for patronage. The next ring sent powerful energies crackling up into his brain. He found his head immediately filled with intense knowledge of the fine artistry of swordmaking. That ring was tossed to the ground. After a few more tries he finally found the one true ring. Actually he had three of them for some reason. Maybe he could trade the other two for a good pair of pants. He slipped the ring onto his finger then drew his bow.

Frodo thought for a moment. Was it fire that goblins were vulnerable to, or was it lightening? No matter, fire was universally good against everything. Lets see – two hundred Frost arrows, fifty seven acid arrows, twenty magically enhanced crossbow bolts… He paused for a moment to examine the crossbow bolts. They radiated awesome death magics and the fletchings were the feathers of a magical bird that had not been seen on this world in a thousand years. Why the hell was he carrying this crap? Tossing them aside, he found a bundle of flaming arrows smoldering in the bottom of his pack. Hmmmm… there were only a hundred. He’d have to find some itinerant fletcher who was poor enough to be willing to work for cash to make some more.

Knocking the arrow, Frodo looked around for the goblin. It was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, he was aware of movement somewhere about two hundred meters behind him. He turned around, loosing the arrow halway through the turn. The arrow looped around and arched toward the oncoming goblin. It caught him in mid stride, ripping his head from his body. Good luck that. Goblins were notorious for their crappy loot, but at least he could clean the head and make a mask from it. Maybe he could trade it for a stuffed nazgul."

Not terribly interesting stuff. Conan the Barbarian, faced with three worthy opponents, moves swiftly to skewer one while keeping the others at bay is good stuff. C0mann99_5 ignores the army of drudges because they aren’t worth the effort to kill somehow loses something. Realsim may not always be fun, but too much cinematic crap takes all the punch out of the story line.

Lurking in IRC, I saw a lot of people who were apparently confused, and thought I was proposing that players be concerned with the yield per acre of supercorn while they ran around looking for stuff to do.  Never fear, I’m sure eventually people will get the point and start to read more comprehensively, especially those parts that say things like "the peasantry is pleasantly invisible to the players" and "never force a player to fill out a tax form when you could just have him press a button."  Of course, maybe the big honking word "Design" on the first page might tip them off.



I R Tumble
Guild Master
posts: 332
(5/15/01 8:50:47 am)

Stole this from Lum the Mad
Semi-interesting article I found on Lum’s site, it is a very long read. Some of the document is very good, some of it is very, very bad; but all in all its an interesting perspective about how one gamer views making games and/or campaigns.

I agreed with about 25% of the total, totally disagreeing with the vast majority of his emphasis on ubsurd detail and about MMORPGs in general. One of the major factors the author missed was ‘GamePlay’. Games are meant to be fun, if players like combat then the game should support and emphasis that. If they like puzzles and riddles, then stress that. Whatever you do, don’t screw up game play by having them worry about how many farmers it takes to harvest 7 acres of land (i.e. not fun).


Once again, the nefarious subtlety of the word "Design" and admonitions to not burden down the player with mundane drudgery have gone over the pointy heads of the masses.  Excuse me for one moment while I increase the word "Design" to 100 point type…



Subject: The ‘writing’ part of your manifesto
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 18:30:32 -0700
From: "kevin" <>
To: <>

You wrote:

"There are  thousands of starving authors out there writing this kind of stuff.  I bet they would be willing to sell such a storyline for far less than it costs to hire a programmer to come up with "There are these infinitely respawning monsters everywhere and the players have to kill them."

Oh yes, we would.  As one of the ‘starving writers’ you mention, I would *love* to sit down with a game’s dev team and churn out quests like there was no tomorrow.  One-time-only quests.  I say this with absolutely no sarcasm, because after playing EQ and AC, I have come to the firm conclusion that programmer implemented repeatable quests Just Plain Suck.  For the reasons you mention, and also for the basic and hideous truth: programmers can’t write worth a damn.  Vide Everquest.

I think that the only way to implement quests AT ALL in a MMORPG, aside from player driven events, is to have a writing team that does nothing but churn out new, fresh content, and remove old content.  Otherwise you end up with EQ’s quests, where no matter how many players rescue the monk in Qeynos, he’s still lost, 100 yards from the city gates.  A travesty, in other words.

And it wouldn’t even cost a company very much — some of us are, in fact, willing to work for peanuts for the chance to do something like this.

My dream job would be to sit around thinking up minor quests, writing their dialogue, plot points, events, and lore, *knowing* that only a handful of players would see any of it, *knowing* that in a week the quest would be taken down, but also knowing that another hundred quests all authored by yours truly would be simultaneously running.

*shrug* it will never happen, though, as long as companies continue to let their programmers write their content and dictate what can and can’t be done.  Engineers firmly believe they are supermen who can do anything, and that all you need to be a good writer is a little practice.  As someone who slaves away constantly to improve his writing skills, all I can say to the nitwits who write half the MMORPG content these days is: "Learn to spell ‘you’re’ and then we can talk about your supposed writing skills."


In point of fact, Shadwolf wrote that, but I agree with the sentiment.




Subject: A point..
Date: Thu, 17 May 2001 22:57:49 -0500 (CDT)
From: william ralph renner <>
To: <>

I was reading your guide on persistant RPG design, and in particular the section on economy and hyperinflation, and in very particular the coin economy.  Nicely thorough work.

While on the whole I agree with your ideas regarding Item Decay and Player-Owned Vendors, I think you miss the most desirable option for controlling the amount of raw coinage in the land.

First, why I disagree with your solutions.  On balancing a reasonable reward for a given creature, I agree fully, but when it comes to requiring expensive upkeep and taxes, I do not.  In Asheron’s Call in particular you see the Expensive Upkeep model at its finest:  the spell componant costs for a practicing mage were astronomical, and the mana charge requirements for warriors no less so.  Yet you still see incredible inflation and the general worthlessness of given money.  I know, as a warrior, the expense of keeping 16-odd magic items charged and pumping hardly kept me from amassing an awe-inspiring bank account.

You may argue that Asheron’s Call did not go far enough, meaning the upkeep costs, but I’d direct your attention to Fallen Age, just into Beta.  The repair costs in that game take up 100% and more of any player’s given income, rendering the more powerful items completely unuseable.  Yes, I understand that a game in Beta with less than 100 people online at peak cannot be used for all-encompassing theories, but it does point out the extreme.  The value of the Juno (FA currancy) is very, very high.

But never-the-less, players hate the system.  They fight, gain experience, but the loot all goes to repairing their gear.  There’s no progress, financially.  If you allow a steady accumulation of coins, inflation will inevitably occur.  And if the accumulation is very slow, you get unhappy players — and this must be avoided at all costs.

Which is the reason why I believe Taxes should be avoided.  In real life, Taxation is a black word, and this applies all to well to online worlds.  I’m against the idea simply because it involves taking something from the player — which can cause nothing but ill will.  In additon, taxation can only stop inflation if it halts accumulation, but that returns to the lack of progress point I made above.  Above all else, the player should be made to feel that he or she has accomplished something.

The problem lies, as I see it, in pleasing the player while sucking coins out of the system in the same proportion as they are poured in.  This, I think, is best done by exploiting the concept of Rarity.

You say, on an entirely different topic, that it you cannot say "There are no more than 1000 enchanted cheese slicers in the world at any given time." and in an open system such as you outlined this is quite true.  But take, for example a system in which a GM sells 5 Swords of Nuclear Vengence to the playerbase.  Five — and Five only.  Barring duping, there will never be more than five on a server.

Imagine!  Owning a sword (and an amazing sword!) of which there are only five in existance.  Imagine being one of an elite group of nuclear-sword swingers, ravaging the land with radioactive death.  What would such a sword be worth to a player?  Its value is inestimable.  I’ve seen systems similar to this on classical MUDs and the answer is easy:  a player will happily shell out his entire bank account and liquidate his muled assests for a single item.

Why?  Well, for one, the sword is really good, but that is not the point.  The point is the item is *unique*, and this is not restricted to raw killing potential.  Look at Ultima Online, and the huge sums that never-to-be-seen-again items drew (in player-player economy;  this was never exploited by the developers, to my knowlage).  A castle for your black dye pot — a ‘useless’ item from a pure min/maxing point of view!

A system such as this involves a great deal of developer time, with the crafting of the rare items and such, but is the single best system to curtail inflation that I can think of.  Cutting creature loot and imposing repair fees help, but you MUST take money away from the players, and they HAVE to like you for doing it.

Do you see my point?

– Bill Renner 

Subject:  Re: A point..
Date:  Fri, 18 May 2001 00:05:02 -0400
From: Musashi <>
To: william ralph renner <>

The AC example didn’t work, because the lack of decay and ability to hoard insane amounts of goods on mules at no penalty still made for rapid hyperinflation (in conjunction with an unbalanced economic model, i.e. the current trend of buying cheap components in Mayoi and recalling to AB to sell them).

Cash inflation is tied directly to item inflation.  With no items ever leaving the world, combined with player hoarding instincts, those things you drop on your mules "because you might them someday" never ever leave, until you either trade them with another player (which keeps it in circ) or sell them (cash inflation).

I don’t play Fallen Age (beta), but a 100% upkeep cost sounds like something which still needs to be tweaked.  Repair can be a little expensive, or even free if the player has apropos skills.  The import of decay lies more in the idea that someday the item will disappear, not that it will sit on your character forever and just be a nuisance cash drain.

As far as requiring players to become steadily richer at a high rate to stay happy, this is a fault of the system, as pointed out in other places in the doc.  Just like keeping players happy who don’t want to just bash monsters all day, player enjoyment can be derived from other content if it is interesting and varied enough.  The question is, will such content please players who are inured to the kill-loot-be rich model of the current MMORPG?  Certainly not in all cases.  However, the mere presence of this as yet untested system opens doors into a new player base… the players that are sick to death of the old kill and loot routine.

Take a look at what is happening now with AC.  Players loooooved the new patch, with weightless money and massive enrichment because of it.  However, some players quit immediately, seeing it as a surrender on the idea of the cash economy.  Expect more to follow.  In AC, you can now make about 1 million pyreals in half an hour, then use the cash to get XP, shards, keys, pretty much anything you want to.  It may seem great and "fun" at first, but it wears thin rather quickly.

Taxation takes things away from players, yes, just like any other game mechanism.  Should players never have to expend bandages, or components, or spend money on a nifty set of armor?  This creates the WORST kind of inflation.  Your fear of taxes and item degradation seems to be founded on the belief that it will impoverish all players without hope of future solvency, but this is not true.  You can still become rich.  You will simply pay upkeep to maintain gigantic property.  The payoff to the player from taxation can also be made obvious, i.e. you are paying a lot of taxes to live in this huge city, but hell look at the services you get!

A sword of nuclear vengeance should never make it into the game at all, unless it is properly zero balanced with a bunch of disadvantages.  Overpowered items always break the game… there has never been an instance where this was not true, in any group larger than say a pen and paper group of 5, and even then it tends to get destructive.

It seems your point is to avoid taxation and replace it with cool looking carrots for players to dump their money into.  This does not work in practice, and only seems to work if the economy is already mangled.  Black dye tubs and such sold for unbelievable sums of cash in UO simply because players had unbelievable sums of cash on hand, and nothing to spend it on.  (You couldn’t place a castle anyway.)  The virtue of taxes is that even if something horrible does happen to make your economy inflate and players have oodles of money, graduated taxes will bring the system back into some semblance of normality over a period of months (or years, or whatever).

As far as making players like you for taking their stuff away, never happen.  The only players who will appreciate something like a tax system are those who can view the game from a design perspective.  The rest (the monty haulists) will never be happy anyway.  Best you can do for them is work on your content. 

Subject:  Re: A point..
Date:  Fri, 18 May 2001 01:12:44 -0500 (CDT)
From:  william ralph renner <>
To:  Musashi <>

Don’t get me wrong.  Item decay is probably the single most important part of a healthy economy, but unless it sucks 100% of your hunting profits, there is still accumulation, thought it may be slow.  This accumulation is the real cause of inflation, and as such is the main target.

I have to defend my AC example, as I think I miscommunicated the point a little.  The mana charge and componant drains are *all about* item decay.  My armor, weapons, and such worked for a set amount of time, then stopped.  I then had to expend money to repair them.  This amount is almost universally less than the average income.. so follows accumulation, so follows inflation.  AC in and of itself has a disasterous economy, further underminded by the now-weightless currancy, and is nothing but a model of what NOT to do.

On Taxation.. I stand by my assessment.  I don’t believe you should ever take something away from the player and not give anything in return, and as far as the Social Services you mentioned, people are far too conditioned by both stand-alone RPGs and current online games to take kindly to this change.  While I hate to drege up this old saw.. ‘Its only a game,’ and I think there are certain facets of real-life that just should not be ported to the game environment.  Taxation, while useful, can be replaced by other schemes.

On the Sword of Nuclear Vengence.. I think you overestimate either the scale of what I propose or the damage a handful of items can do.  I said introduce 5 super-weapons in my example, and by God I mean it.  An average server (be it AC, UO, or EQ) has around 1500 people online at peak, of which it has been estimated there are 7500 total accounts (x5 peak population).  Introduce 5 super-weapons into the server, and at very most there is a .06% chance that at any given time the weilder of the aformentioned weapon will be fighting the monster you, the GM, are currantly balancing.  This is negligable, and can be utterly discounted from balance considerations.

It scales, you understand.  Sell 5 super-swords for an ungodly amount of currancy.  Sell 50 semi-super-swords for a semi-ungodly amount of money.  Sell an unlimited amount (for a limited time) of merely pretty weapons for substantial amounts of money.  They will sell, and the only limit to the amount of money sucked out of the system in this manner is the developer’s creativity and the limits of the engine.

The key, you see, is the Rareness of an item.  Look at Pre-Patch-GSA in Asheron’s Call.  The Black Dye Tubs in UO.  That, if nothing else, shows how much players are willing to shell out for a rare item — and the fact the given currancy is broken only alters the scale of the transaction.  Not the motive.

You mention that the system I outlined does not work in practice… but I’d be very interested to know of any games who have even tried.  I based this off the Festival system from the Simutronic’s Games (text MUDs) Dragonrealms and Gemstone III.  Their purpose in those games are more for entertainment, but can just as easily be turned to economy regulation.  It is from those games that I realized that the player will buy ANYTHING, so long as he knows it will become unavailable shortly.  Great profit can be made in player-player trades this way.

In this manner the player base will vigorously give us their accumulated wealth, boosting the value of the currancy (my goal all along) and contributing to a healthy economy.

– Bill Renner 

Subject:  Re: A point..
Date:  Fri, 18 May 2001 10:39:47 -0400
From:  Musashi <>
To:  william ralph renner <>

The problem is that comps + charges do not equal decay, only upkeep.  Granted this is similar, but it only affects the direct cash side of the economy, which is still broken because the object side of the economy is still whacked.  Mindless inflation inevitably follows because there is no reason to ever get rid of the stuff you are wearing (esp. if it’s a hooded faran robe), and therefore you can sell, without limit, countless items you haul off monsters.  Combine this with an inequitable pricing system from town to town, and your income is limitless.  Upkeep costs are negligible.  Destroying the items themselves is the only way to start to control this.

On taxation, the main argument against it is that players will resent being taxed.  No kidding… they also resent being at anything less that godlike status, having to actually go through a quest to get a reward, etc. etc.  They also resent dying, for any reason.  All of these systems are necessary to the game, though.  Taxation is now necessary to a decent game economy because of the effects of rampant hoarding.  If you buy a house in UO and fill it with crap, the only requirement to maintain it is to open/close your door occasionally so your house doesn’t fall down, and if your house does collapse, the items are still in the system, as there are a bunch of guys in bone armor and jester suits standing around waiting for it to fall.  (The same goes for being looted by another player.)  The resentment factor that goes with any necessary control system has more to do with its novelty, not actuality.  If UO had a working tax system from day 1, nobody would think twice about it.

The presence of even one superweapon in a game canot be discounted because of rarity.  Two very damaging things happen when this is implemented.  One, the character(s) who are fortunate enough to own these things, if they don’t go away through decay or some other system, can now camp your supercontent and get the superloot, over and over.  This then makes its way into the hands of other players either through gifts or eBay.  Item and power inflation ensue.  The other problem is that if someone gets a superweapon which throws off the scale of zero sum balancing (a +200 sword that is no drop, no decay, cannot be stolen, and has no drawbacks), eventually it will cause a lot of complaints in your community, as everyone will know about it sooner rather than later.  When this happens, yuo can either take the item away (a sloppy way of saying "we screwed up"), give everyone the super item (inflating player power), or just leave it there (and deal with all the previous problems + antagonizing most of the playerbase).

Selling the superweapons may take money out of the game in the short term, but the use of superweapons leads to inflated XP and, more critically, inflated wealth for the owning character(s).  You have therefore only taken a little nip out of the economy in the short-term.

Item rareness in the examples given isn’t a factor.  Pre patch GSA was just ridiculously good, and getting prepatch GSA in AC allows a player to further enrich himself, with the added benefit of never risking armor loss, compounding inflation. Black dye tubs, as mentioned before, only commanded high prices because the economy was already hideously broken.  If the UO economy had been more controlled through taxation (and therefore mitigation of gold duping), the ridiculous price for a black dye tub might have contributed to economic power, IF the tubs were sold by NPC’s.  They were not, and no money actually left the economy.

Some of these concepts do in fact work in text MUDs and small server situations, but the focus of the treatise was on the design of a larger scale system.  Many nice ideas that are valid in a community of 200 or less (a good cutoff for small server populations) are completely useless in a 20,000+ subscriber system.  In the small server/MUD model, the administrators have more direct interaction and control over what is happening, and can move more quickly and decicively to correct mistakes.  This is not possible in a commercial MMORPG because of the low admin to player ratio, and the fact that it requires a subscription, whereas most MUDs do not.  It is to the benefit of the MMORPG administrator to err on the side of caution in all aspects of the game before final, as fixing broken systems post-release is (a) harder, and (b) the inevitable resentment from players after any fix in the system can result in lost revenue. 

I remember when I got a black dye tub in UO for something like 15k, which seemed like a steal.  The item was rare, it was, as Mr. Renner put it, a "never-to-be-seen-again" item.  After a while, the developers figured out that players liked these things and made them available as Christmas gifts.  "Very rare limited items" generally in time translates into either "Very rare but we’ll put them back in because players want them" items or "mad phat eBay" items.

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