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Most muds have a wide range of so-called "quests". These quests usually range from the unbelievably stupidly simple (at least, for seasoned players), which allows newbies to gain an understanding of who, why, how and what, to the annoyingly difficult. For example, the slaying of all vermin within a certain area is one of the easier quests around and saving the world usually goes into the annoyingly difficult category.
There is another category of quests which allow you to "do the right thing"TM. The character is allowed to act like the overpowered boy-scout he or she is and generally help people out (which is nice). But would not it be nicer if the NPCs would know and react to that?
Cary Grant catching a thief without breaking character!
And this is where tasks come in. What exactly is a task? That totally depends upon the creator of the task. But as a general guideline, tasks are smaller than quests. You could compare the range of what tasks could be to what you think a boy-scout does as tasks. Helping the old lady across the street, fetching groceries for that friendly old man, etc. etc. Tasks come in two flavours: class-bound tasks and tasks for everyone. Since class-bound tasks differ little from tasks for everyone in their goal (giving the player more options for roleplaying), I will treat both flavours as one from now on.
Tasks can replace a lot of small quests, making quest-solving more special while still allowing people to do small things. In my opinion, fixing somebody's roof or creating a playground for children is nice, but not necessarily a quest (of course you could dump the materials in a country far, far away, but that does not make it more fun to solve, now does it?). With tasks, a coder who codes a "puzzle" that is solved when a character builds a playground for the local children, need not code a quest. The coder could create an easy puzzle, while still having added to the general feel of the world.
Are you wondering how this will contribute to your game? I will take
another example: that of the thief character.
I have not seen loads of muds, but on the ones I have seen thieves rarely get the chance to just go out there, break into a house and rob it. When they did have that chance, it usually was part of a quest. Also I have seen NPCs "hinting" as to which house a thief could attempt an breaking and entering into. What I have never seen, was that a thief could just go out there and thief around.
I do admit that tasks will not solve that for the entire mud, but you could have your everyday village where each house could be broken into. This way, the thief character will be much more able to feel like he or she is playing a real thief.
Similarly, a bard would be able to sing and tell news, etc., being much more (well, in my vision) bard-like.
But this does raise the question of how to reward. How does one reward better in-character playing? With experience points? With task points? With extra/new/enhanced abilities?
The answer is actually quite obvious: with in-character rewards. With this I mean that a character who has done numerous (good) tasks in an area is recognized by NPCs, sees little children in the street playing a game in which they act out his or her deeds, gets a better deal when buying goods; in general he or she will receive better treatment from the NPCs in that area.
This is easily extended to non-good tasks. The NPCs could be rumoring about the ungrabbable cat-burglar and (of course) take safety-measurements. The player would of course find some items iside the houses he or she entered, which he or she could sell at a local pawn shop or fencer.
Of the various problems that exist with such a system for rewarding, I will discuss these two:
This system is not rewarding enough
Nice words, but how on earth do you think it is going to work?
That depends on how you look at it. Tasks put an emphasis on roleplaying, and players who wish to win the game will indeed find this of little interest to them. That is simply because they are not the target group. Players who play to marvel at the world you and the rest of the coders have created for them will probably find it rewarding in itself.
Besides, I never stated that tasks only reward in roleplaying terms. They can be used as another possibility besides quests to give players the oppurtunity to enjoy a mud besides hack'n'slash, but it would defy the concept of a task to make it too rewarding in game-rule-terms.
Obviously you need to make the NPCs interact much more with the player. Also, since tasks are simple, small things, the effect of a task should be local. For example: cleaning dog-poop from the sidewalks is maybe going to gain you credit inside one village, but in the next they could not care less.
Since the tasks, and therefore the NPCs' reaction, can and will vary greatly from area to area (trust me, cleaning doggie-poop in the mountains is not what most travellers care about - a clean camping site is...), it will probably boil down to coding a base-intelligence NPC which can be inherited by the NPCs of a certain area. This sounds a lot easier than it is. And for special reactions from "regular" NPCs (shopkeepers, blacksmiths, bankers, etc.) you might wish to adjust your standard (eg.) area-shopkeeper inheritable.
Without going into the "What is a task" and "What is a quest" discussions, tasks are small quests with a different rewarding system. The idea is that the local NPCs really start interacting in certain ways with the character.
I feel that this would seriously add to the mudding experience. As always, of course, the idea is great, but the implementation is where the real work should go to make it work. If you have any ideas about this system, or know of something similar already done, feel free to e-mail me.
March 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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