Just some random thoughts and comments related to Psychochild’s weekend challenge for this week, titled Rethinking the Online RPG.

1) That “fast food RPG” concept mentioned, attempting to move away from significant objective/numeric detail, is hardly a “new” idea in the off-line RP arena: perhaps it’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts, tho.  FUDGE is one of the older ones, for example, and has been around since at least 1995 (first printing).  Theatrix and Over the Edge have been around for quite a while as well… the various White Wolf/World of Darkness games (Vampire, Werewolf, and so on) were essentially a mid-stage incarnation of the same basic movement from 1991.  And don’t even get me started on the original Amber rule set, or the various LARP systems…

2) for my part, I don’t consider D+D/D20 to be all that “ponderous”.  I’ve GM’d and played several pen-and-paper systems that had a heck of a lot deeper number crunching going on than any D+D, homebrew or no.  Rolemaster, Aftermath (the FGU title), various Tri-Tac systems… even RuneQuest (Avalon Hill) and Ringworld (Chaosium) were a bit more crunchy than the D20 system has become, even today.

Frankly, I think that is one of the new directions that could be explored.  All of the systems above languished as pen-and-paper designs, at least in part, because of all the detail (read: arithmetic) involved.  Simpler, far more abstract systems won out over time because the subjective judgement of the players was more than sufficient to achieve the desired effect: numbers not really required.

Now consider the setting of the MMO: computers, computers everywhere!  And what do all of those computers do better than anything else, in truth, what are they literally designed to do?  Mathematical calculations! 

What are they utterly incapable of (at present, at least)?  Subjective judgement!

Gee, does anyone think playing into the strengths of the situation might be a possible strategy?  (Sorry about the sarcasm… look up any and all RPG forum or blog posts on “Roll-master” and/or “Chart-master” to get an inkling of where the some of the vitriol is coming from)…

3) Other ways to “move the camera” in MMOs might relate to giving players more control over creating activities and content (MUD wizards); bringing new types of games into the MMO realm (empire builder games, or interactive fiction); creating new types of competition (Main Street MMO (business sim)?  Washington Follies MMORPG (political intrigue)?)  Not that all of these haven’t been done in one way or another before… but they would represent significant breaks from “MMO tradition”.

4) Frankly, the big innovative direction I personally would want to pursue would be  simply creating a MMORPG experience that resembles a decent pen-and-paper campaign.  Not a newbie campaign, where everything revolves around the next big fight… but a more “developed” campaign where every character has his/her own story to explore, where those various stories intertwine as the circumstances evolve, and where the epic “world story” is largely just the backdrop, not the sole focus of play.

I know, I know… dream on…