Staffer? I hardly knew her!

So, there’s been this sort of under-argument taking place on a few forums and elsewhere, about whether or not staffers should play characters. Those that argue for staffers playing characters say that any staff without a character has no idea how the game is actually going player-side, that they’re too omnipresent to see the plights of the little man – they, to use a phrase from my upbringing, can’t see the trees for the forest. Meanwhile, those on the other end of the argument say that staffers get too involved with their characters, and are more apt to cheat in one of a hundred ways.

I can see the argument from both perspectives, really. I’ve been playing MUDs, RPIs in particular, for over ten years now (eleven this June). I have seen staff who have built their 0RPP characters up to godhood. I’ve seen staff without characters with their heads so far up their own asses that I wondered if they even knew what game they were playing. I’ve similarly seen staff that favor the arguments – ones with characters that used them to get a firmer knowledge of how the numbers worked so they could tweak things, and others without characters that were totally non-corrupt and had a good handling on the numbers. (If that was confusing, it’s because it totally got away from me. But bear with me here.)

Anyway, a thought occurred to me: what if you had a player, or a couple of players, or by God even a group of players, that knew what all the numbers were and how the code worked, but had no staff powers? They couldn’t see anything staff did, or have any other out-of-character knowledge, they would just be players that the staff gave numbers to, who would effectively serve as balancers. So, say for example staff released two new weapons, five new pieces of armor, and three mobs. The staff would give these few players all the numbers (oh, those weapons do 2d5 damage, the armor is 5 AC, and the mobs have 80HP, 3AC, and do 3d6 damage) and the players would then, after actually playing the game, be able to report how the numbers felt while doing so (example: the swords feel a little weak, and in PvP no one can damage the armor, while the mobs rip the heads clean off of everyone. Up the damage on swords, lower the AC on armor, nerf some stats on the mobs).

But Krelm! Some of you might be saying. Wouldn’t the players who knew all the numbers have the upper hand!?

Not really. I helped build Atonement ALPHA and BETA from pretty much the ground up. Parallel used a bunch of the mobs and items I built (from what I saw), and I built a good chunk of the newest incarnation of SoI. I saw every single number that Atonement had to throw at you, and most of SoI’s. I could see the sdesc of a sword and tell you instantly that it was the best or worst or most average sword in the game. Does that mean I had the sword? No. I could see a mob and tell you exactly how much of your shit it was going to wreck. Did that give me an intrinsic knowledge of defeating said mob? Nope. Am I just unintelligent? Maybe.

But Krelm! You say again. Couldn’t a corrupt staffer just lie and make some cool crap for his best friend and report numbers falsely!?

Well, yeah, but there are already a bunch of handy new tools in the FutureMUD engine for catching stuff like that (for instance, if you’re below a certain “staffer level,” you essentially make a draft of objects and then submit them for higher-level staffers to approve to be put IG. If I’m remembering that right.). As far as staff just lying, well, you’ll just have to trust them.

As for how this fits into LabMUD – I likely won’t be staffing, but I’ll definitely make a character. I’ll likely see a bunch of numbers between here and then, too. And, I’ll likely use that knowledge of numbers to help Wolfsong and Japheth tweak the combat system and balance out bugs and whatnot. And it’d probably be a whole lot easier if there were  a couple more people who could do stuff like that. (Of course, there’s also the possibility that Japheth is coding something wicked-cool that will auto-balance all combat in FutureMUD forever, and there won’t ever be any numbers and this post will be moot, but if it isn’t!)

That said, that’s likely the position I’ll take when LabMUD opens. Just a player who knows a lot of crap about stuff and can use that to help staff tweak things. Is my proposal a good idea? I think it is. Everyone else will just have to take it up on the forums.

You’ve been a great audience, folks.