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I will write about the rent system in muds, with an attempt to explain why it exists at all. I will give a few reasons for and against and some possible alternatives to rent in the mudding world.
You start playing a new mud, wander around a bit, meet a few people, read a few of the game's policies and help files. You decide that is enough for your first visit; mud school can wait! Being a careful player, you type 'save' and then 'quit.'
What is this? You cannot quit without losing all of your equipment? The game insists that you rent at an inn?
Cosy atmosphere with wood floors and quaint sky lights.
Bravely you take up your new quest: seek out the hallowed halls of the inn, then utter the power word 'rent'!. You wander the city until you locate an inn. You dutifully recite the incantation 'rent' (or perhaps 'offer' first, then rent). Mystical lists scroll before your eyes and arcane formulas numb your uninitiated mind. You wobble, you spin, you feel weak, but you seal the transaction: you rent.
As you begin to disconnect, perhaps you see a few unrentable items drop to the floor and the latest cutesy good-bye message from the mud administrators.
Thus goes your first experience of rent in a mud. In the beginning, it is a slight hassle. Later, it can become a monster, forcing you to stay on longer and longer, working ever harder to keep all those lovely goodies you have gathered in your adventures. The lovelier the goodies, the more they cost to rent. And rent often costs more the longer you leave the game between logins. No money? No problem. We will just take away that pretty shield of total invulnerability!
So why have rent on a mud? Most people hate it, few really like it and it is inconvenient. What is the deal?
Here are some pros and cons about rent:
Pro: Rent solves the economy problem in muds by sucking up the players' cash. Your high level characters have too much cash and nothing to spend it on? Make them pay rent and soak the money up.
A huge number of mud players are self-centered egomaniacs steeped in every form of socio-politico-ethno-economic class envy. Result: players get annoyed when someone else has more than they do. You'll know they're doing it when you hear repeated chants of 'fairness!' and 'balance!'
Silence these class-envy whiners! Two specific examples, both pro-rent:
Rent tends to reduce whining about overpowerful gear in the hands of unworthy or too-weak characters. Because it gets really expensive to give away the good equipment, people tend to give away good equipment less.
Rent tends to reduce hoarding of equipment, since it becomes prohibitively expensive to do so.
Reducing a huge source of disparities in equipment can be a very good thing!
Pro: Rent systems make a certain sense: It is reasonable for expensive items to be costly to maintain or store. A rent system does this perfectly; however, so would an equipment-repair system.
Pro and Con: Rent creates pressure to play longer and more often. Some people will respond to this pressure, however many rebel and leave the mud altogether. It definately makes it much harder for the casual mudder, who only has a few hours a week to play.
Con: Rent is vastly unpopular. In a recent poll, a substantial majority said they will never play games with rent.
The main overriding reason for having rent is to eliminate the hoarding of equipment and money. Here are a few alternatives that look at and address this problem on a mud. Part of the reason this problem exists at all is that muds rarely have anything like a functional economy. New money is created constantly, and there are very few things to spend it on.
Limit the number of good items: Perhaps there can only ever be three in any player's file or on the mud at any one time. This limitation creates its own problems though, I will admit, and I do not really like it. This solution can be an alternative for some specific higher powered items in the game.
Level-restricted items: Only players of high levels can even hold those high-level high-power goodies. This is probably an undesirable option, since it is highly unrealistic and hard to justify. However, this is easy to code and it does restrict the usage of the item so it is often used in games.
Forget item saving altogether: You log off the game, all your goodies are gone. This is also very unpopular with a huge part of the gaming world, though it certainly has a long history. This was the system the first LPmud used, and many LPmuds which came after it used it as well. This has very similar problems to rent, if not more problems, in that it forces people to play for long periods of time.
Decay: Make items wear out, and make repair expensive or impossible.
Interference: Perhaps powerful magical items carry their own cost to the user, and this cost increases geometrically with each additional item worn or wielded. One magical item? Not a problem. Two items? Perhaps wounds take forever to heal. Three items? You can walk, or talk, but not both. Bad news!
Imprinting or Tuning: Give items their own preferences. This would be something like the alignment based item flags seen in some games now, but much more. Alignment based item flags restrict the usage of the item to those who are in alignment. Items might attune to the first player who touched them. Items might scoff at being used by inferior players, or betray their unworthy owners.
Level-scale items: If your characters have a level, let your
items have levels too. Characters lower in level than their
equipment get less power out of them.
Example: Elven boots with armor value of 12 and giving a bonus to magical power of +6. The boots are level 20. The boots work fine for a level 20+ character. A level 10 character gets half power.
Make all items of true power special-purpose once-only player-made-and-enchanted items that are fantastically costly to create.
I know there are plenty of great ideas floating out there that will help build a world that has a nice consistent feel to it while still preserving the fun of face-to-face fantasy roleplaying. These include other great alternatives to rent. I'd love to hear about them.
March 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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