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So I don't start off on the wrong foot, I'm going to point out that I'm purposely avoiding any discussion of actual role playing. This is because I feel that role playing - at least good role playing - changes the way people develop their character. Instead, I'll focus entirely on the gaming aspects.
When I got into role playing games - namely, D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) - during the early 1980s, you only had four classes: Fighters, Magic-users, Thieves, and Clerics. Along came variations of these, as well as dual-classing and multi-classing. Why? Because the four basic classes were boring - everyone the same level within a class was basically the same, except for ability scores and equipment.
Image from Meet The Feebles, a totally bad taste movie.
Then in the early 1990s I discovered classless systems, like Torg, Heroes, GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System), and others. Some worked, some didn't. With the ones that worked, every character was different. Even if you followed some sort of character template, it was rare that two different people chose the same set of skills.
Eventually, I got into muds during the mid-90s. This is where I was in for a surprise. The first mud I played and stayed with (hint: a friendly atmosphere goes a long way) was a pure hack-and-slash modified ROM (diku mud varient). It had a couple races and classes added to the stock four, but nothing really innovative.
Over the years, I tried a great many muds, but always noticed one thing - they all had classes. Here I was thinking that classes were a thing of the past. Sure, I found a few that had eliminated classes, but mostly the "everyone sits around playing let's pretend" type muds. I heard about muds that had eliminated classes, but then everyone had the same skills - instead of classless, it was single classed. We had gone back to square one.
During this time I put a lot of thought into making my own mud. I thought about where other muds were failing, and what could be done differently. Then I came across a mud with an implementor who seemed to have the same ideas I had (although with a non-tabletop Role Playing Game background). I joined the coding team, and began giving shape to our vision.
Classes had already been removed, but it was obvious that all characters would eventually have the same skills. So, to encourage specialization, we added the option of choosing a profession. Professions are admittedly much like classes - each has a collection of skills at which one profession is better at than another profession; the major difference being that a profession simply has better access to some skills than others. If you want to learn a skill, you have to find someone who can teach it to you. A teacher of your profession will teach the skills that the profession has as their primary skills for a much lower cost than they will teach skills from a different profession. Some skills they will not teach at all. The idea is that much exploration is needed to learn a variety of skills.
An important factor here is that this method of teaching only covers the initial teaching. Proficiency in a skill is something that must be learned through use. Certain skills may be picked up through use as well - these are skills that everyone is expected to have anyway. The main thing is that you can't sit around with a teacher and become an expert at something - it takes *real* practice.
Finally, skills atrophy. Some skills, like riding a bicycle, never go away completely. Others can be forgotten completely. It becomes a real challenge to maintain all your skills at a useful level, let alone master them all. Someone who specializes in a small set of skills can be increbibly proficent with them, while those who generalize in a diverse array of skills will likely be mediocre in all of them.
Of course, this is all mostly theory as we are not yet open for play. It might very well happen that everyone within one profession specializes in the same set of skills. Or we may even find that with such a system it is impossible to maintain balance. The main thing is that we're going to take a chance and be experimental. Even if it fails, we succeed - because we will have learned from it.
February 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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