Designing System for GMUD Community


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NOTE: I conceived this idea before I knew this existed, but I read it and it's pretty awesome. Took some inspiration from it. If you haven't checked out Warrior, Rogue, and Mage, you should.

This is an idea I've toyed with for a few years but finally decided to get serious about. I have been tasked with designing a dice-moderated rule system for a specific, shared-continuity graphical MUD. This MUD has been free form for a long time. These are the following features of the system:

  • Emphasis on narrative play.
  • Rules lite and elegant without sacrificing depth and customization.
  • Three kinds of play: social and/or non-combat roleplayers, roleplayers who wish to take a larger part in the setting or go on the occasional adventure, and roleplayers mostly interested in heroic roleplay or combat/dungeon crawling.
Essentially, it is three games in one to fit every kind of roleplayer in the community: rules lite for casual or social roleplayers, elegant and customizable for people who are "continuity players" and wish to allow their characters to have a larger impact on the setting, and an added (and completely optional) advanced combat/social combat system for the hardcore or veteran roleplayers (many of them community staff and continuity designers) who want action, heroics, and setting-altering adventures.

Spoiler: Show
We have players in a lot of ranges, all equally regarded. Some simply like social roleplay and make a dice roll once a month. Some like moderated roleplay, but don't always want to do adventuring (which is what most systems are focused on). Because of this, there was an uproar when anyone even suggested a rule system. We tried a small test with volunteers, using a modified 3.5 D&D system, but even the skill-heavy classes were still focused on combat. We tried redesigning NPC classes to give players monetary and social benefits equal to the combat benefits of base classes (Merchant & Demagogue were popular classes, but we caught a little flak for the "Woman/Man of Ill Repute" class - it was meant to be a general scoundrel class, we couldn't help it that everyone was making prostitute characters). This actually worked well for a bit, and I even considered trying to come out with an adventuring non-specific Pathfinder supplement, but when the heroic characters wanted to, they could easily steamroll a social character and gank all their stuff.

Some of us found this hilarious (and a pretty solid commentary on the human condition), but it was unfair to our other members. So we scrapped the whole thing, but designed a monetary system that ended up getting us back into a rule system.

The community has had a monetary system implemented for a while, and it is going swimmingly. When people complained that their character's lifestyles were not being reflected adequately with the in-game currency, we started a Trait system, where a character's impact on the setting (and their in-game wealth) was defined by traits: Nobility, Guild Journeyman, Business Owner, Soldier, etc. The community is usually pretty cohesive, so the Trait system actually helped in other areas of play, such as causing easy resolutions to a complicated freeform combat system. Characters with the Soldier Trait, for instance, would just be assumed to win a fight with, say, the sixty year old school teacher.

This lead us to consider putting dice-moderated rules back in, so I took an old system I played with years ago and have been tweaking it for the last few months.

This is a brief summary of the system:

  • A character has 3 BASIC ATTRIBUTES: Mental, Physical, Spiritual. These are ranked 1-5, with 1 being weak in that area and 5+ being in the top tier. Only heroic veteran characters (or other races) can exceed 5. 2-3 is the range of an "average" capable character, with 2 being low average (or "basic") and 3 being above average (naturally talented).
  • In order to avoid punishing characters for low stats or limiting a players creativity, each BASIC ATTRIBUTE has six ATTRIBUTE TRAITS assigned to it (and players can create their own). This represents excellence in a highly-rated BASIC ATTRIBUTE or an area of expertise despite a lower rank.
    • If a character has a rating of 1 or 2 in Mental, for example, their character is of unremarkable intelligence or even a little dull (how the player portrays this is up to them). If a dull character wants to play a social butterfly, however, they can take the Charming Basic Attribute Trait, meaning that they have true charm, despite struggling with schoolwork.
  • TRAITS are not defined by the bonuses they provide, but rather give a character a story element that defines what they can do and who they are in the metastory. For example, let's take the not-so-bright but very charming guy from above. A hostile band of thugs intent on robbing someone likely cannot be reasoned with using Manipulation or Fast-Talk. If this affable dullard is naturally Charming, however, the staff member running the event will allow the character to attempt to talk the thugs down, since he's so naturally likable. This system do not aim to limit or punish characters for their stats, but rewards them for creativity and ingenuity.
  • Very simple Secondary Attribute that covers Stamina, Health, Resistance, etc. The sum of Mental, Physical, and Spiritual attributes is a character's SOUL. Every secondary attribute is derived from a character's SOUL.
  • Due to the electronic dice rolls, we can roll non-existent dice and so I settled on a modified Earthdawn system with the addition of a d14 and a d16. To resolve tests, the sum of a character's relevant BASIC ATTRIBUTE +/- Modifier (minimum 1/2, or a coin flip) is compared to a chart: Rank 1 = 1d4, Rank 2 = 1d6, Rank 3 = 1d8, etc.

Everything else about this system is resolved through the use of other TRAITS, which describe what a character can do or what they have that cannot be defined simply using the base system or numbers. TRAITS can be BIOLOGICAL, PROFESSIONAL, PERSONAL, SOCIAL, and MAGICAL. They do not simply add bonuses, again, but define the character and allow them to use their character in a number of specific, narrative ways.

Example of TRAITS: Say someone creates a new character that includes a background training with and being a member of a society of thieves. If the player wants their backstory to become a part of the setting, they may create their character with the Member Trait, allowing them to be considered a legitimate member of a setting-specific organization, giving them a creative stake in the continuity. It would be noted on the character sheet as Member [thief gang] 1: Novice.

It's a very GURPS-like concept, without the need to read 400 pages of rules.

I hope this provides an idea of what my goal is. Now here are the questions I have for veteran players and game designers. Note that this game system is not meant for publication and sale, but that doesn't mean I'm going to treat it any less importantly.

  1. Would it be easier to make this a dice pool system, or would dice pools unbalance the rules?
  2. If a dice pool system would be a little cleaner and simpler, is there any kind of online resource to calculate dice pool probabilities (chance of hitting target number, chance of having "winning" against larger/smaller dice pools, etc.)?
  3. Given the TRAIT system being near exclusively narrative, am I putting too many rules and numbers in the game? Do I risk losing sight of my original goal of having a narrative-focused game that is completely friendly to storytelling?
  4. Am I just going in a totally wrong direction? Lol. I've mucked around with game design as a hobby for a while, but I don't believe I have all the answers.
Thank you.


I'm totally keeping this pink 'P' avatar.
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Also, I could completely get rid of attributes. An extreme idea, but instead of having any basic attributes, have all of what they can do defined solely by their skills (which would naturally rely on them having the relevant attributes anyways) and rely on attribute traits to give them boosts to skills already.

Greg 1

Some Guy
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To what degree are the players to be interacting with mobs? Is the dungeon crawling a matter of combat with mobs or mostly narrative? Should they be able to use their social traits on mobs?

For roleplaying, instead of having a social combat system, have you considered just letting folks roleplay it?


I'm totally keeping this pink 'P' avatar.
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For roleplaying, instead of having a social combat system, have you considered just letting folks roleplay it?
Yeah, that's one of my snags. I should have clarified.

The "Social Combat" system is only usable against mobs/NPCs. Bonuses are given based on the veracity of arguments or evidence in support of their arguments. It's an attempt to combine good role playing with a measurable result.

In a tabletop game, I'd totally handle it through RP. However, in this community, we don't always have the same "GM" available (we have community moderators that make judgement calls) so we have to come up with a system that can be quantified to some degree. Also, we have a lot of casual RPers who are young. One RPer who started playing when she was 13 years old did not have the experience to formulate complex arguments to the level that the older players had. This was one of the biggest reasons we want a system that can govern social interaction.

Dungeon Crawling is moderated, as are social interactions with mobs. Often, these are handled during private or scheduled events. And the social traits are specifically designed to use when impacting the setting or mobs.

For example, the Intuitive attribute trait would allow a character to determine the true intentions of a group of monsters attacking a party of adventurers. When swords are drawn and combat near, one of the game's GMs would send a private message to the character with this trait and tell them, "Your character realizes that the monsters are not violent, but are trying to protect their young." This allows most situations to be solved with minimal rolls through narrative storytelling.
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