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- Jenna
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Player-Driven Class Alliance System

by Jenna

What it is

A Player-Driver Class Alliance System (PDCAS) is a step beyond "multi-classing." It allows classes to form and break alliances with each other, so that the rules on which combinations of classes a character can join are dynamic and determined by players.

It has been in use since early 1998 at Shattered World.
The Moon

Not exactly a moon phase, more of a full moon.

A "class", also known as a "guild", is an organization characters can join to gain specialist powers: e.g. Thieves, Mages, Knights.

Benefits

1 - Increased Gameplay
Players are understandably interested in which classes get to ally with which others. When the time to make alliances draws near, they engage in what have become pitched negations, often spread over several weeks.

2 - Auto-Balancing of Classes
Shattered World has 11 classes, all of which were written from scratch, most of which are unique types (e.g. Sirens, Soulstealers). A common difficulty when creating a new class is how to tell if it's correctly balanced: there is often an outcry that it's either too weak or too strong.

While it's impossible to tell for sure, a good indication can be gleaned by looking at its membership. If there are 60 active members of the Druid class and only 20 active Illusionists, we can say the former is probably over-powered compared to the latter.

A PDCAS provides a way to close the gap between the classes without modifying class powers. It works by making it more difficult for popular classes to form alliances, and easier for less popular classes. Thus, under-powered classes tend to offer players more alliances, which makes them more attractive.

3 - A New Role
Each class needs a Class Leader, who is in charge of managing finances and alliances. The role carries significant status and is something new for players to strive toward accomplishing.

4 - Character Longevity
Players are less likely to continually "start over" when their main character can, over time, try their hand at many different classes.

How it Works

Once every four game years (3 real life months), in a period known as MoonPhase, all class alliances are broken and re-formed. Whatever alliances are struck during this time are fixed until the next MoonPhase -- even if a class was unable to form any alliances at all.

A class can't simply form alliances with every other, because of the cost. This is justified within the game as an amount of money necessary for "appeasement rituals" to the class's God(dess). The cost for any given class to ally with another is determined by three factors:

1 - The class's Power. Initially, this factor was the number of active members in the class; however, this turned out to discourage Class Leaders from recruiting new members. Thus, I altered it to Power, which is the sum of all members' Quest Points (or experience points). The more high-level members a class has, the higher its alliance costs.

2 - The Power of the class it wishes to ally with. Both this number and the above are scaled to the total Power of all classes, so that a fluctuation in the number of players doesn't adversely affect alliance costs.

3 - The compatibility of the two classes. When a wizard creates a class, he/she answers a series of questions like: "Your class members rely on their own powers, and have contempt for those who use animals or summoned beasts: 1 (Strongly Agree) - 7 (Strongly Disagree)." The game compares the answers given for each class to determine how compatible they are. If necessary, a class can also be made totally incompatible with another (e.g. Healers and Berserkers).

The Class Leader -- who is appointed internally by each class -- is solely responsible for extending, refusing, and agreeing to alliance proposals. He/she must ensure that the class has enough money to fund the proposed alliances, or else the class will go bankrupt, which immediately severs all alliances.

It is perfectly possible for the Class Leader to make bad decisions, whether through ignorance or malice. For this reason, and because members have their own opinions about which classes they should ally with, he/she comes under a fair bit of pressure. It is an exciting role to hold -- our current King once said that being Class Leader is more interesting than being the Monarch!

Disadvantages and Notes

1 - When Good Class Leaders Get Really Good
Class Leaders can subvert the balancing effect of the PDCAS by building so much wealth that their class can afford multiple alliances, despite being powerful. This has happened several times at Shattered World, including one memorable MoonPhase in which the Thieves allied with every other class. (Note: this didn't mean a character could join every class. To join three classes, for example, each class must be allied with both the others.) However, these dynasties have never lasted more than one MoonPhase. Typically, the rising alliance costs end up leaving the class bankrupt.

This temporary loss of the balancing effect is, I believe, outweighed by the increased gameplay: having Class Leaders work furiously (and deviously) towards world domination. If they couldn't exert much effect on the ability of their class to ally with others, the role wouldn't be very fun.

The reverse effect -- when a class has a Leader who is so incompetent (or evil) that it languishes without allies despite already being unpopular -- has also occurred. This is less desirable, but still necessary: without this risk, there is no excitement.

2 - You Need Economics
Shattered World has a zero-sum economy, which may be a pre-requisite for a PDCAS. Certainly if your mud can't control inflation, it may not be able to stop classes easily allying with many others. For a discussion on our economy, see "A Working Mud Economy" by Geoff Wong (May 2000).

Successful classes at Shattered World tend to become wealthy by acquiring commercial real estate, like markets and restaurants. Although they also charge their members dues, I believe the system works best when classes are independent economic entities, operating somewhat like medieval corporations.

3 - Berserker Knights
The system produces combinations of classes that their creators never intended: for example, some MoonPhases we have Berserker Knights. We have also had Soulstealer Mages, Roc-Riding Healers, and Demon-Summoning Sirens. Although it is difficult for the less-compatible classes to ally, it is possible, and some people find this incongruous.

4 - Rewriting
If you already have many classes, you need to rewrite part of each one to communicate with a central class server. This is not particularly difficult, but is repetitive.

5 - Class Leader Wages
The PDCAS raises an enormous amount of money each MoonPhase. Players are in effect being charged for class powers, and they're prepared to pay a lot. (In our zero-sum economy, this allows us to subsidize money-losing areas of the game.)

Some of this money is used to pay Class Leader wages: the more popular their class (relative to the others), the more they receive. This was intended to reward Class Leaders who recruited more members to their class, but in practice, despite the wages being substantial, it doesn't have a significant effect. Class Leaders do it for the extra powers, the challenge, and the status, not for the money.

Summary

I started work on the PDCAS for the class-balancing effect. However, the improvement in gameplay depth turned out to be much more pronounced -- and valuable -- than this. When I logged on during one MoonPhase and saw a room full of Class Leaders, all wheeling and dealing, I felt very satisfied that the system was a success.