by Sam Witt
June 27, 2001
The concept of playing a villain is nothing new to frequenters of the Skotos boards - heck, the Castle Marrach threads on the subject are long enough to hang a horse. The problem with much of what is discussed, however, is that there is no real way for a player character to be bad enough to really make a difference in the game.
It's a reputation problem. While it's kinda cool to have a character that everyone thinks of as 'rogueish' it is not so cool when everyone considers your character to be a raging pain in the ass. Which leads to even the toughest player character villains being a lot of bluster and bluff without any real muscle. Yeah, yeah, we've heard it before - you're tough, you're mean, you're eeevil. Shut up, it's boring.
We all know that there is a line in the sand, that there are some things that player characters do not do to one another if they wish to continue playing the game. Yeah, you might PK someone, you might even steal from someone. But you can't do anything really heinous because the game culture will have your head on a pike if you do.
Designers are at fault for this. In many cases, there are no tools for villainy; characters can't punch one another, much less do any real damage.
In the cases where there are the necessary devices to commit heinous acts, there are 'rules' that restrict their use in one way or another. For the player that wants to really let loose, these are a serious hindrance to their villainy.
Players also get a dose of responsibility for the problem, too, because those who want to play villains often really want to wreak as much havoc and discord as possible without any rhyme or reason. What's a game designer to do?
After playing a couple games of Rune (heavily converted to work with d20, and I mean the Robin Laws game, not the computer game it's based on), I hit upon a solution that I like. I call it "Monster for a Day."
The gimmick is that players are allowed to take on the role of a real bad guy, a villain that is in no way tied to them, for a limited amount of time. Naturally, there have to be some restrictions, which is where a whole balancing system comes in. Read on for the quick-and-dirty explanation.
Since we know that players can be abusive and mean, given the opportunity, the Monster for a Day program has to restrict the amount of grief that any given person can cause. We do this by creating a cost for being a monster, and a new currency to pay for that cost.
Every week, your account will receive a number of Monster Dollars (MDs), based on the character's (or characters') time in game, level, skills, or whatever else the designer decides. The key here is that the number of MDs you get on your account is based on your investment in the game. In Marrach, for example, you'd probably have to base the MDs strictly on hours played, perhaps with a multiplier for Honored Guest or other levels of status. These Monster Dollars disappear at the end of the week, so it's a strictly use it or lose it affair.
So what do you spend your hard-earned MDs on? Every week the designers will release a set of encounters, along with a price list (in MDs) for taking part in such encounters. The longer you've been around, the bigger the role you'll be able to take in these encounters. Beginning players might find themselves only able to afford the role of 'kobold scout #3,' while those with more time under their belt take on the role of 'troll warlord Ufgha.'
To keep players from leaking information, you need to give the 'monsters' an incentive to play the encounter straight. So, each encounter will have a goal for the heroes, and a goal for the villains - which ever side achieves their goal will receive a reward. And those who fail, well, there has to be a penalty of some kind to keep villains from throwing encounters for their friends and splitting the heroes' proceeds later.
The idea is obviously incomplete, the but the basics are there and just need to be tailored for each game. To me, the idea of occasionally doing battle with real villains, who really want to win, seems like a lot more fun than hacking at another legion of computerized bad guys.
Naturally, I'm probably wrong about how the rest of the players feel, so use the link below to let me know about it.