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The Mudder's New Clothes
- Rebecca Handcock
Gender and the Mud
- Marcie Kligman
Embarassing Mischannels
- John Hopson
Limited Advancement
- Derek Harding
A Rape in Cyberspace
- Julian Dibbell
Languages in Muds
- David Bennett

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Limited Advancement

by Derek Harding

There seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding about advancement on muds. This article is a discussion of the issues surrounding advancement and why there are limits to how far a player can advance.

When this advancement gets out of control in a few areas this can lead to significant problems. This is a problem currently being faced on Discworld, where some task-based awards were too generous and the advancement too easy.

Fighting fires

Putting out those fires that erupt all over the place from uncontrolled expansion.

Advance Forever!

The first question to consider is: 'Why can't players simply advance forever?'

A few moments spent thinking about this leads one to the inevitable conclusion that in some respects they could. Apart from number overflows, there is no real reason why a player couldn't just keep advancing within the system.

However, when one starts to think about what players would do once they reached a very high level things look a little less rosy. What happens is that players find there are no more challenges left to the game. There is nothing left to achieve. You can kill anything, steal anything from anyone, cast any spell or ritual at will. I know it sounds idyllic to a player struggling to improve but oddly enough that is the point! All a mud can really offer is the struggle to improve and the sense of achievement that comes with succeeding in that struggle. Once the struggle is removed there is nothing left to gain, no goal, no further up the ladder to climb.

Now of course, we could just keep creating tougher, more perceptive, more magic-resistant NPCs. The fact is that players who keep advancing at the rate of newbies will always outstrip our ability to code greater opponents. Furthermore, the general development of the mud will be hampered because all resources will be put into a vain attempt to satiate the few extreme players.

For this reason all muds (as far as I know) apply one of the following three mechanisms for limiting the level of players and hence keep them within the range that the mud can cope with and support.

Limiting Advancement

  • Player purges
    Muds such as Realms of the Dragon employ this mechanism. They regularly delete all players to prevent anyone from maxing out the mud.

  • Hard limit
    Hard limits are most common to Diku muds. You reach a certain level and cannot advance beyond that level at all. On some you are immediately retired, on others you may achieve wizard status. Either way there is no further advancement.

  • Advancement regression
    In this mechanism the speed of advancement and/or the increased ability given by advancement tends towards zero. That is, it is on a decay curve getting smaller and smaller the higher you get. This is the mechanism that Discworld has chosen to use. It means that you can keep advancing but advancement becomes slower and slower the higher you get.

So raise the limit!

People's first response is to say that the current rate of decay of advancement is too low and that we should raise it. They usually see this as a solution to the problem. In reality though it only puts off the inevitable. Because the rate of advancement tends towards zero there will always come a level at which some players believe they are advancing too slowly. No matter how high we set that level they will still reach it. The only constraint on where that level should be is whether or not we have NPCs and mud features to support players of that level.

This can also be rephrased as, "we should raise the level limit", or "we should not purge the characters so often". There will always eventually be a time at which players reach their maximum level.

In Conclusion

When you get down to it all a mud can really offer to players is a period of time (or range of levels) in which they can play the game and advance and improve their character. Ultimately there will be a limit to the practical advancemet that they can achieve. On Discworld they are quite welcome to continue to play but they must understand that advancement will become increasingly slow and increasingly unrewarding.