Storytelling in MMOs: Tips & Tricks – Arriving in an MMO

Feb 04

Storytelling in MMOs: Tips & Tricks – Arriving in an MMO

Greetings, and welcome to the first edition of the Storytelling in MMOs series!

As many of you are aware, each medium where role-playing is found presents its own set of unique problems for the storyteller, from tabletop gaming to forum role play to MMO gaming. While some of our tricks work regardless of medium, some of them have had to be developed specifically for the medium we are playing in. This series of articles will cover not only some universal tricks that will work in any medium, but a few that were designed to work specifically with the challenges that exist only in MMOs.

The first thing many storytellers face when dealing with an MMO is the realisation of the sheer size of their new world. MMOs are often massive, just as their name implies, and often feel more massive than a table top game or LARP setting despite the fact that many table top and LARP settings are a bit larger, while a storyteller coming from a forum based setting more likely than not is dealing with a more massive setting. It can be quite overwhelming for either type of storyteller because suddenly the setting is essentially a living, persistent entity that carries on with or without them.

An ongoing persistent world that continues with or without the storyteller is actually the key element that is the core difference between story telling in any other medium and an MMO. Typically, the storyteller maintains the majority of control over the story, however in an MMO…you don’t.

The control lies with the creators of the MMO, in a way that it did not lay with the creators of the RPG system one might have used for their table top, LARP, or forum games before. The creators of the game will constantly make the world and lore change according to their vision, not yours. Other people will possibly impact the world around you, without your permission, depending upon the mechanics of the game. One day an outpost that was vital to your story may be there, and the next day it may be gone – or it may be gone an hour after your merry band of adventurers left it, due to an event beyond your control, rapidly changing your plans.

Many storytellers become frustrated by the lack of control they have over the world, or by the lack of influence they can have over the world. In some MMOs, there are systems that allow for very large temporary changes that fit great with a storyteller’s plan, but they’re only temporary and leave no real lasting impact on the world, which leads to frustration of a different kind.

These lacks of influence are one of the first challenges a new storyteller has to face when bringing or building a role play group in an MMO setting.  We have to learn to give up some of the control we have on the events of the world in a much harder fashion than we do in other mediums; we  have to accept that the main storylines’ canon is happening, and it is not happening to our group, but that it does impact our group.

At the same time, we also have to make the canon events flexible enough for the information and setting styles to be used by our players. Oftentimes, everything in the game is sort of tailored to being that the player character is the ultimate hero, to the point where even the class information and canon can end up implying – or outright stating – that only the singular player character has unlocked that class and can be that great paragon who can do that one thing.

Such things make it very difficult for your players to be more than just commoners with one health point, which would give everyone very little to work with.

This is where you start to have to apply what table top and LARP games call “house rules”, however, we’re now working in MMOs. We are not working in isolation. Nearly every MMO one goes to role play in will have at least a semi active RP community, and it is very likely that your players will end up interacting with the people from the community. Expect your “house rules” to be judged, expect them to potentially end up being discussed by this community, and potentially ridiculed if they veer too far from the MMO’s canon or don’t fit well with the “community rules” that have been created.

Sometimes, this will be constructive criticism, but sometimes, it will be less than so. You can chose to ignore the commentary, and carry on with your group, and simply not take part with the community as a greater whole or you and your group can attempt to integrate into the greater community and become a part of the RP population on the server. That choice will ultimately be up to you.

If you don’t entirely fit with the community that springs up around the chosen MMO, it doesn’t make you and your group bad people. It simply means you have different ideals and goals for the game. My suggestions is that you keep your doors open to those who do share your thoughts and wish to join in your role play path, but don’t actively try to force your group to fit into the greater whole constantly and continually. If individual members wish to try to create and maintain relations with the community at large, that’s their prerogative, but you do not necessarily have to force the group to do so as a whole.

It can take time to get these initial issues smoothed out, no matter how talented the leadership and storyteller staff of the gaming group is; these initial growing pains are just on the storytelling side of the group, and do not include the basic growing pains a gaming group goes through in general when they arrive in a new gaming situation. While your storytelling staff is getting these things settled, ask your player base to be patient with them, and remind them that it will be worth the wait!

Never be afraid to ask for more time during the initial migration to a new game, or during the initial creation of a new group. As you can see, there’s a lot on your plate that you have to deal with, and some of it may not be pretty once you do get into it. These things have to be sorted through and taken care of, the storytellers have to work these things out, even if some of them are just mental adjustments, before the real core of storytelling can begin with an MMO setting. If these aspects are ignored and the storytellers just jump in, it can quickly lead to burnout and a sudden lack of story content and RP events.

Take your time, think about these issues, and work them out in ways that benefit and work for your group in the best way possible. Once that’s done…

…let the magic begin!



Jumping – Action Pose Reference by Faestock

Leave a Reply

Share This
%d bloggers like this: