Is MUSHing Dead?

May 18, 2011 at 3:38 am (Admin Posts) (, )

Lots of people believe that MUSHing is a dying art form.  They believe we’ve been driven out by MMORPGs.  I don’t really believe it though.  New MUDs and MUSHes are still cropping up.  There are still plenty of people who will pour hours into this hobby, who want an in-depth RP experience that can’t be duplicated by a bunch of people who can’t spell or stay in character very well.  However, something did happen in the MUSH community.

We all got older.

We started careers.  Had kids.  Got a lot more tired.  We lost a lot of our energy.  We can’t stay up from 6 pm till 4 am anymore, RPing scenes.  And the kids who can still do that are all starting MU*s in themes we maybe can’t really get behind, because they appeal to younger audiences.

Yet many MUSH conventions and Ways of Doing Things still run on the assumption that we are all still 18 years old, living at university or with our parents, and in possession of biological clocks that allow us to be around pretty much…well.  Always.  For example, take our perception of “an active MUSH player.”  People on MU*s get status if they are “really active.”  If they attend all the events.  Are always out and about RPing.  We give less weight to people who RP one or two scenes a week.  They are not active.  They aren’t in step, in the loop, being movers and shakers…and they feel that.

What if we valued those people more?  What if, in fact, we slowed the pace of our MU*s a bit so that those sorts of people could have fun too?

Take scheduling plot scenes.  We have gotten into a habit of wanting or needing specific people for our plot scenes.  Sometimes that’s not really avoidable.  Sometimes, though, it might be better if we just did impromptu shout outs.  Let whomever just show up.  And to design plots that makes that possible.

Take our plots.  Plots that take a week are sometimes more feasible for the older crowd than long, drawn out, involved tiny plots with lots and lots and LOTS of details.

Take consent.  The old way was to try to extrapolate ICC from one scene out to its bitter end when negotiating events.  Maybe we just need to say that consent lasts for a single scene, as the Road to Amber MUSH did.  If you want to do more to the character you have to negotiate a new scene.  That way, you can just come online and relax instead of worrying and waiting and fretting about whether your character is going to be playable.  After all, you’re running on a limited amount of time and energy.  The old way was ICC=ICA because there were a lot of idiots running around.  We idiots have grown up.  The new way should maybe be: you know what, we both have 4 hours tonight. How can we make 4 hours really fun?

I think a lot of the time players come onto the game with specific fantasies about how they’d like to interact with that world, and if they can’t get those fantasies met they tend to drift on until they find a place that clicks better for them.  Or, if they feel hostility from the staff and players because they can’t be around more than two or three times a week–they move on.   Maybe we can find better ways to help players sketch out the scenes they saw in their head when they said, “Let’s try playing here.”  Maybe we can find ways to be more tolerant of people’s schedules and lives.  Maybe we can rethink what the MUSH hobby means.

I’m not saying my solutions are the best ones, necessarily.  Anyone who starts tilting their game towards that older demographic is actually breaking new ground.  MUSHing won’t die if we let it evolve with us.  It will die, however, if that new ground does not get broken.

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Why Your Game’s Wiki Matters

May 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm (Admin Posts) (, , )

I am a big fan of Wikis for MUSHes.  I am a fan of Wikis over all other available formats.  Static web pages and Livejournal communities ar the other popular formats, but neither of them offer what I consider to be the primary advantages of the Wiki.

  • A Wiki demonstrates that this a thriving community that has a lot going on.  It does this even if people aren’t posting a lot of logs.  I actually don’t believe many people read logs when they are shopping for a MU*.  It’s an in medias res introduction to a bunch of people you don’t know yet doing things you don’t care about yet.  But a character page with a picture, some cool information about the character, and a bunch of relationships tells people that RP is happening.  Relationships are being built.  The community–the game community as a whole–is actively involved in making this MUSH a better place.
  • All of the information is indexed and easy to find.  Livejournal, for example, can give you that active community feeling too–but finding anything is a beast and the format isn’t that attractive.  A static web page can of course be attractive, but it lacks the irreplacable element of community involvement.

What Should Be On Your Wiki?

I like pictures, rule guides and newsfiles, and easy reference guides to factions ad cultures (particularly for MUSH’s with very in-depth, involved themes).  I also like maps, timelines, events, logs, and links to other helpful pages.  Most of all I like Wikis that help me understand exactly how I’m going to get to fit into the roleplay on that particular game, which should be your goal if you are in charge of designing the Wiki for your RPG.

Wikis also rank pretty well in Google because they get updated a lot and tend to have a good keyword mix.  Sure,people are browsing around on the MUD Connector, but even a hobbyist site like a MUSH needs to think about SEO these days.  Some people are just typing: “Theme MUSH” to get where they need to go.  (I know, because I keep typing Dragon Age MUSH and Codex Alera MUSH in the hopes of finding one).  If you go and type “Dresden MUSH” or “Dresden Files MUSH” into Google, my MUSH, Soulfire, comes up at position #3.   I don’t credit that to our mad SEO skills.  I credit that to having a Wiki that is getting uploaded constantly.  I also think the Wiki is the primary reason why we get a lot of people who aren’t super-familiar with the theme.  The urban fantasy setting is part of it–if nothing else we all know how to play city dwellers in the 2000s–but I think the amount of information we’ve made available is also a factor.

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In Defense of the Smaller MUSH

January 17, 2010 at 5:06 am (Admin Posts) (, )

A wizard on a MUSH I respect and like a great deal (my “getaway” MUSH, where I don’t have to be staff) was talking to me the other day about how much she enjoys having a smaller MUSH.

A smaller MUSH?  Most Wizards, if you polled them, would tell you that they wanted to build the largest possible MUSH.  75 a night. 100 a night.  Those are indicators of success to most of the MUSHing world.  And, as in so many other things, bigger is not always better.  Let’s examine why.

Bigger means the staff is managing drama, not RPing or running stories.

An RPing staff is a staff who is in touch.  They know what’s going on with the grid, and they’re committed to creating RP.  They want you here so they can play with you and you can play with them.  On a bigger MUSH, there are 75 people, 25 of them are being idiots at any given moment, and the staff is running around on an endless stream of “handle problem, “handle problem,” “approve application,” “deny application”, “handle problem.”  Out of a sheer sense of attrition they retreat to playing with their own friends in their own rooms, if at all, and including people in plots almost ends up being out of the question–where they have energy for plots at all.  Stress and politics run high.

Now take the smaller game.  The staffers are able to get to know the station, disposition, and skills of most every player on the game.  They can write plots with that in mind.  They can ask players to help them brainstorm plots.  They can weave a story–after all, a smaller group is like the manageable cast of a book.  The drama is low, and, if making the MUSH bigger isn’t that much of a priority, they’re free to give the drama queens and trouble makers short shrift.  That means the drama queens and trouble makers leave and the rest of the group continues roleplaying happily along.

Bigger Can Mean People Are More Intimidated

I have been on a MUSH who grew so big that they got to that mythical 75 players a night figure.  The WHO looked as healthy as it is possible for a MUSH to look.  But it’s not just about the WHO; it is about the +where.

The +where, night after night, showed 75 people in 75 individual MUSH rooms.  People weren’t meeting.  Events weren’t happening.  Even the fabled, nasty, pernicious, bogged down “Bar Room RP” scenes weren’t happening.  The MUSH swiftly died in spite of a popular theme.

You’d think, with 74 other people to page for RP, at least 1 person would have done so.  But even experienced gamers felt very intimidated staring at 74 possibilities.  It’s tough to sort out where the opportunity is in a situation like that.

It’s not numbers that make a good MUSH.

Good RP makes a good MUSH.  Friendship and a sense of camaraderie make a good MUSH.  A staff that is fair, kind, and consistent makes a good MUSH.  A hundred players just makes a big MUSH.

The reason we get hung up on “big” is that we assume that if the MUSH is so great everyone would flock to play it, but that’s not really how things go.  You could have a great MUSH with a theme that’s not the most popular ever.  You could have a great MUSH whose leaders just don’t bother advertising that much for all of the reasons I have outlined.  You might have a great MUSH who has a player base full of PST people, which means the EST people are all in bed before things get rocking.  There are a number of reasons why a MUSH player base stays small, and when you factor in the high-drama people who ultimately walk you start to get a clearer picture.

If you want a bigger game, more power to you.  Right now both of the games I love are small.  Plots are rocking, there’s room for everyone to get their slice of story and “specialness,” and the staff enjoys themselves.  I’ll take mine over the Megagames any day.

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The Care and Proper Feeding of NPCs

December 12, 2009 at 6:08 pm (Roleplaying Posts) (, , , , , )

The use of truly good NPCs is one of the most overlooked strategies by any MU* admin or any player anywhere on any game.

You need good NPCs.

  • NPCs help flesh out the people around your PC, so that you don’t have to be an orphan.
  • NPCs help move plots forward by dropping information, being villains, and being victims.  Nobody’s feelings get hurt (mostly!) when ICC happens to these NPCs.  That means you can kill them (mostly) without arguing with anyone over consent.
  • NPCs help flesh out all the roles that should be filled in the game but that just aren’t for whatever reasons.  You can’t get any normal humans?  Time to make a bunch of memorable normal human NPCs then so that people don’t start snarking that the city is filled with nothing but supers, even though there are 18 players RPing in a city of 4.3 million people.
  • NPCs help your players feel like they’re in a vibrant world that goes on around them–that things happen that they don’t directly see and influence.  This makes the world more believable and fun.

Of course, all of this applies when you do NPCs right.  Basic Redshirt #5 evokes no emotion.  The guy we’ve all known and loved and laughed at for years does.   So how do you TRULY do good NPCs?

  • Give your NPC a first name and a last name.
  • When you pose the NPC add physical characteristics, dress, everything that will help players really visualize this guy.
  • When you pose the NPC use quirks, speech patterns, slang, and expressions that are unique to the NPC.  In other words emit your NPC the same way you’d play a character.  Believably and with attention.
  • Have the NPC in question occasionally seek scenes with the player base the same way you would do with a PC.  Be available to play these NPCs should they be requested.  Have them show up in the places they belong (like where they work) again and again.  Let them interact with people and form friendships. (A downfall here is that you might end up playing your NPCs more than your PCs and feeling grouchy about that.  I have, and that’s why I now set a note on my @doing to let people know when I’m ready and willing to play NPCs and when I want to play my own characters, thank you very much).
  • Allow the NPCs to help forward the story but NEVER treat the NPC as nothing more than story fodder.
  • Don’t stat any NPC until some character declares an intention to fight and/or kill said NPC.

You know you’ve put together a good NPC when:

  • People’s characters reference the NPC in conversation the same way they do a PC.
  • You get physically mauled or tomato’d should you so much as breathe the suggestion that you plan to kill off someone’s favorite NPC
  • You get tears and pages of NOOOOOOOO! when you do kill off someone’s favorite NPC
  • People ask for RP with the NPC
  • Many people on the playerbase know who that NPC is.

In short it’s like running a bunch of other characters, only not as regularly and not as in-depth, but with the illusion that you’re doing just that.  It does take a lot of work, to be sure.  However, if you begin to think of yourself as a storyteller participating in a collaborative story, rather than as just a player out for your own adventures and enjoyment, then this process becomes one of world weaving and you have a lot more fun with it.

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On Being the GM/Storyteller

November 9, 2009 at 5:07 pm (Plots) (, , , )

This may seem like an odd post for MUSH because a lot of MU*s don’t have GM’s/Storytellers, or they call them something else, like tinyplot coordinators.  (Often, they call it BeProactiveAndGetYourOwnDamnRPWeCan’tBeBothered, but we’ll pretend those guys don’t exist).

However, whether you’re a staffer or a player, there are some things to remember about being the GM.

Players will rarely approach you.

Players are bad about reading @mail, writing @mail, reading bbposts and responding to them.  You might send out a post asking who is interested in this or that, get zero responses, run it anyway, and have 15 people show up.  MUSHers, for whatever reason, don’t want to commit, and if they get RP or get to chatting with their friends right away the last thing most of them want to do is @Mail bookkeeping.  It’s staffers who like @mail, bbposts, and listservers–and they have their place.  But players seem to treat them like necessary evils.

You may wonder why, if you’re running this rocking plot, players won’t be all over talking to you about it and trying to RP on it.  Here are some reasons.

  1. They’re afraid to bug you.  They think you’re too busy or they think you’ll get mad and stop running the plot.  They’re content to wait on you to tell them when you are willing to run, but don’t want to impose.  They’re just trying to be polite.
  2. They weren’t trained in a tabletop environment, so they have no idea that they’re supposed to take an action now.  They don’t realize that they need to approach you about researching that lead.  They think you’re just going to give it to them on your own time.
  3. They’re very used to people showing up, starting plots, and dropping those plots midstream.  Therefore, they don’t have high hopes about yours and don’t want to get too invested.  They want to keep multiple options open for their characters so they don’t get caught in a story that it would make no character sense for them to abandon, thus leaving their character at completely loose ends if you drop the ball.
  4. They’re just really passive people.  They want to RP but their idea of being available is to hang out in a public spot, hoping you or someone else will see them and want to RP with them and then wondering why it never seems to work.

You’ll get one player out of every 10 who is proactive enough to forward your story and approach you for more scenes about it.  That’s it.  Most of the time they will be staff alts because staff gets to be staff by being proactive.   For either politeness’ sake, passive sake, fear of being disappointed or ignorance, people are generally not going to approach you.  If you want to run your story anyway, and play in it, and enjoy the kudos and the opportunities that come along with it, you have to take the bull by the horns.

It’s the GM’s responsibility to schedule tabletop sessions and its no different on MUSH.  You have to make the bbpost, you have to put it on +events, you have to page people and ask them if they’d like the next plot scene, you have to keep talking to your players, you have to keep asking them what they’ll do.  Eventually you might train them to get proactive, but even then they’re going to politely wait for you to lead.

And that’s really the crux of it.  The GM’s position, or Storyteller’s position, or Tinyplot Coordinator’s position is a position of leadership.  People are expecting you to lead.  If you don’t lead, the plot is going to fall apart.  On the flip side, if you do get the rare gem of a player who is proactive, don’t make this mistake:

Don’t turn them down again, and again, and again for the plot related RP they are asking for.

Don’t tell them you’re waiting for a player who hasn’t shown up in 2 weeks.

Otherwise your proactive people are going to get frustrated.  They’re going to find something else to do.  They’re going to dry up, shrivel away, and blow out in the wind.  And when they leave, the MUSH follows, because the bulk of the action always swirls, ta’verenlike, around the people who get out there and make RP happen whether a GM is forwarding the action or not.

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MU* Admin: The Power of History

April 27, 2009 at 12:53 am (Admin Posts) (, )

Creating a Richer MU* Environment

One of the things players want to experience when they step onto a MUSH is the sensation that they’ve entered the world. That’s part of RP in general. People want to feel like they’ve stepped into the pages of the books they admire, or up onto the movie screen, or into an entirely new experience altogether. That’s why we spend hours putting painstaking descriptions together and putting up the newsfiles that will guide our players into seamless integration. It is also why we run tinyplots at all.

Some games don’t do a very good job of creating that experience however. RP takes place largely in a void. Events seem disconnected. A tinyplot run in March has no bearing on a tinyplot run in December and will have no bearing on a tinyplot run next year. Characters themselves seem to grow and change and have history, but the game itself does not in actually achieve that effect.

However, history is part of the world. It’s part of world building. The game has to have history. The new player should be able to come in, and be able to start asking around and piecing together what has gone before. Players and RP should be continuous enough to make this sort of digging possible. For example, on Hogwarts Express, two very dedicated players got themselves into the Order of the Phoenix, which was a player-invite only organization. They did not do it by approaching the wizards and saying they wanted to get in. Rather, they began asking questions about all the past events. They went to other players and started really digging into what happened in past tinyplots. It helped that we had a tool for certain characters to file their “case reports,” in the MLE, for they were able to scour those as well. Without any prompting from any wizard, they found all the holes, lies, and inconsistencies…and went to confront the person they were tracking in this way:

“We know you’re up to something. We know you’re doing it for a good reason. Whatever it is, we want in.”

And they got in.

But this wouldn’t have been possible if there weren’t continuity. That’s really the key word here. Continuity is what separates a true immersion experience from a flat, 2 dimensional roleplay environment. If a tinyplot had just sort of been run and everyone had forgotten about it and moved on without it having any actual bearing on today’s events.

Continuity lets players feel like the world is doing interesting things even when they’re not directly impacting it, meaning they feel part of a richer environment.

Continuity gives you ideas for tinyplots where you might normally be running dry.

Continuity allows you to have knowledge at your fingertips should a player want to go looking at microfiche of newspaper files from last IC year—and what allows that action to matter, at all.

How do you achieve continuity though? Well, never fear. Rane is here with tips and tricks for players and staff alike.

Trick #1: Recordkeeping

If anyone is part of any IC organization which has to keep records, such as law enforcement, military personnel, legal people, etc., and that organization contains more than 4 people, it helps to have a livejournal or other forum to post up reports in-character. This can’t be the bbs, because those things have to get cleaned out eventually, and players are historically bad at reading them. My theory on why is that if they have 16 of their friends paging them when they first log on, they forget all about those announcement things, but they’ll click over to the website between poses because it doesn’t spam the crap out of their log.

Why does this help? First, it helps everyone stay informed. Second, it helps everyone keep their facts straight. Third, if a character wants to lie or conceal facts, it gives them an IC forum to do so in black and white. When another character walks by to question those things, they can go ask PCs who were there, then compare what’s said to the notes in character. This is very useful for creating RP all on it’s own. Imagine you create a new character who is a rabid internal affairs investigator at local law enforcement. You’re brand new to the game. You don’t know anyone. You click open these files and you read and see that a detective has put up some awful sketchy notes in some places on a file where the criminal was ultimately shot in the back of the head. Your IA guy starts coming up with some questions. Now you can take note of every name of every person in the file, do a quick +finger to figure out who is still active and playing—and have a reason to schedule RP with each and every one of them that not a single GM or RPGen had to hand you. By the time you’re done RPing with those 5 people or so, your character is fully introduced. People know who you are. They’re trying to figure out what to do about you. You’re in the RP.

That’s why those sorts of records are so helpful. History is a source of many, many plots, and it’s more than just the stuff you find in books.

Trick #2: Loose Ends

Always, always, always let some loose ends dangle from your tinyplots. A villain gets away. Maybe not the main villain, but the villain’s sideman or apprentice. A question goes unanswered, “But we never did learn who he was working for.” An item remains unfound. “But we never did find the key to the vault, and so the treasure remains untouched to this day.” Maybe someone is left who didn’t get their comeuppance: “But that skuzzy defense lawyer arranged it so he could walk home free…” Maybe a criminal is still around, in prison. Or perhaps a beloved NPC remains hurt. Laura is still in the mental hospital, rocking herself to sleep every night and heavily sedated over the events of that night. Maybe some mysterious, weird element gets thrown in. “When we got there, there’s this baby sitting there. I guess it was his kid. Weird birthmark on her arm though…”

You don’t have to know a thing about what that element is. You don’t have to know the answer. The point is that question is there. Take note of it, somewhere, if you can’t hold it in your head. Do another plot that has nothing to do with it. Then a plot or two down the line, whip it back out. It doesn’t even have to directly relate to the problem that came before, but it can. Here’s some examples.

· The Villain’s Apprentice, all grown up, comes back to seek revenge on the man who killed his mentor. Not yet strong enough to take him on all at once, he concocts a scheme to get stronger, and this scheme starts to threaten lives.

· The Villain’s Employer comes back for round two, and throws a new problem into the mix, and this time enough reference is made back to the previous plot that the players get to find out that not only is EvilCorp causing THIS problem, but they were also behind the LAST problem.

· As we researched the problem of the Swirling Doom Vortex, we learned that the only thing that could possibly help was the Crystal Dragon Jesus Statue held in the Unopenable Vault. Now the fate of the world relied on finding that very key which we could not find the first time—and fast.

· Another criminal has been caught, and the Skuzzy Defense Lawyer is back. This time we’d better have an airtight case, or he’s going to eat us for lunch.

· Shanker Jim? We need information on him fast. “Well, remember how we just caught the Faustian Sniper? They were cellmates in prison. We’d better get down there and ask him some questions.”

· Laura’s voice is shaky on the other end of the telephone. “There’s something going on here. They’re doing something terrible here at the mental hospital.” Suddenly, the line goes dead.

If you’re doing this right, you’ll have run a plot or two between these two plots, where you lay down more questions and random elements. Or maybe a oneshot or two where you put something weird down and just let the question be answered later. By the time you’re five or six plots in, you have this intricate world history, full of unanswered questions and threads for characters to pick up on and explore. If you have some truly proactive player, they might even come right onto scene, read over this, and do something like this:

  • · I’m going to play the Prosecutor who has vowed to take Skuzzy Defense Lawyer to the mat.
  • · But we never found out what happened to Villain’s Apprentice? I’m going to use my underworld contacts to start asking some questions.
  • Hmm, maybe I’d like to play Laura’s psychologist…

They’ll do this knowing that eventually you will probably bring these unanswered questions back around to haunt them, meaning they’ll get a chance for some cool RP eventually. Not only that, but if someone has a history with Laura, they’ve got a reason to RP with Laura’s doctor. If there’s an idealistic young Prosecutor trying to take on the world by storm, the Cynical Cop has reason to take the guy out for a cup of coffee. Or whatever. It’s all about providing reasons to RP with each other as well as providing ways in which the world stays immersive.

Tip #3: Treat the NPCs like Real Characters

Some people just sort of do redshirts. If they need a cop, it’s a different cop all the time. The cop says their extra-ish lines, or the paramedic melts away with the injured guy, and they’re never heard from again. A lot of the time this shorthand is useful and necessary. But there’s an alternative, and the alternative is a fantastic way to introduce more RP.

For example, let’s say two players decide to RP getting into a car wreck and they need an officer on duty. So they emit unnamed Officer. You’ve been needing a plain old patrolman NPC for awhile, so you look back and see the interaction. To drop a big plot hint, you later have the officer pull over another player. You name him Officer Snarky, have him zip off one-liners that would do Will Smith proud, and have him mention the car accident in passing. The players now are cued in that Officer Snarky was that NPC. Now Officer Snarky has history. Maybe you start using Officer Snarky again and again, until everybody on the game knows he’s the wisecracking, ticket happy cop. Then maybe the next time you need NPCs to get shot at, you have Officer Snarky…at the playground, off duty, with his daughter. He spends the whole scene covering his daughter with his own body so the PCs can shine—maybe not the coplike reaction but definitely the Dadlike one. The next time the PC who saved his life and his daughter’s life needs a ticket fixed, the PC says, “I’ll call Officer Snarky.” And it works. They then know who this NPC is and what he represents and what he’s been doing. If you need to kill him off this will have impact. If you need to introduce a villain maybe it was Officer Snarky all along. Suddenly random people aren’t just floating into and out of the PC’s world: people they’ve known all along and seen all along are interacting with the world in ways both expected and unexpected. It’s even better if some sort of list of who these NPCs are and who can control them is accessible and available, so that when people hear names dropped and can’t find them with a +finger they’re not entirely confused.

To say this all takes a lot more work, especially for the Admin, is an understatement. But if you’re going to take the time to do this, why not take the time to do it in a way that’s going to provide lasting enjoyment for you and your players and give the experience that you tacitly promised by opening up a MUSH in the first place?

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MU* Admin: 5 Points of Excellence for MU* Admin

April 27, 2009 at 12:47 am (Admin Posts) (, )

This is a link to an article posted on Associated Content, back when I had the bad judgment to use it.  I say bad judgment because the editors often “edited” the piece with no real idea of what it was saying, and stuck in some completely odd links.  But because I sold them the article I can’t post it here.  I have to link it there.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/449676/five_points_of_excellence_for_mush.html%22?cat=2

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MU* Admin: End Involvement Complaints Forever (More or Less) With a Tinyplot Tracker

April 27, 2009 at 12:45 am (Admin Posts) (, )

Its pretty much universal to MUSH that admin who try to run tinyplots run up against players who complain that nobody has tried to involve them in tinyplots, or that only a select few friends of the admin get to be involved.

As an admin who runs tinyplots I’ve certainly tried for more involvement, and not less, but the rumors always persisted until I created a tool that could quantifiably demonstrate to my players not only who was getting involved, but what constituted involvement and why the people who were involved were involved. My tool tells them exactly how many people are involved, across what spread of IC profession, and how many scenes are plot related, along with giving a brief synopsis of the scene that helps them keep up and, hopefully, generates more ideas through which they may become involved.

That tool is the Tinyplot Tracker.

You can place your tinyplot tracker anywhere that players will have access to it. For my purposes I found it was easiest to do so on my personal LJ, filtered to avoid spamming. I put up a bbpost and asked players to subscribe to the tracker, so that only the interested could have a look at it. I then formatted it thusly:

TinyPlot Tracking
(Name)

(Type — for example, Global)

Full Participant List To Date: (Here I placed the name of each participant)
Total Participants So Far: (Here you place the count of each participant. You are going for alts, not players. You don’t care who plays what. You’re drawing in alt involvement. If you’re running any kind of involved TP you are going to need all sorts of characters, and it doesn’t matter if your best friend plays 3 alts, 1 of them will be of a type you can’t use and you’ll need 10 other alts of a type you can, from other players).

Notes: A participant counts as anyone who has been in 1 or more plot related scenes.
An invite is someone who I have either directly @mailed or asked Participant to contact for RP. (This is a note I place on every TP tracker).

Participant Occupations:

Total Number of Major Events –
Total Number of Small Scenes
Total Number of Scenes:

Scene: Scene by scene, I begin describing each scene and who participated. As I update the tinyplot tracker I put the previous scenes under an LJ cut and leave the newer scenes in the body of the post.

To demonstrate how this might work I will use the example of the kidnapping tinyplot from “Plots that Shine, Part I”. (Someday, I’ll even get around to writing the other Parts).

TinyPlot Tracking
Kidnapping Plot
Medium Scale Tinyplot

Full Participant List To Date: Alan, Marcus, Charlotte, Brad, Nadia, Zoe, Shelly, Lauren, Carson, Luke, Paul, Maria, Raul, Trevor, Haggerty, Yvette, Quinn, Erik, Hailey, William

Total Participants So Far: 20

Notes: A participant counts as anyone who has been in 1 or more plot related scenes.
An invite is someone who I have either directly @mailed or asked Participant to contact for RP.

Participant Occupations:
Businessmen/women – 2

Criminals – 1

Law Enforcement – 2

Students – 4

Lawyers or Legal Affiliate – 2

Media – 2

Average Joes – 4

Politicians – 1

Medical – 2

Total Number of Major Events –
Total Number of Small Scenes – 7
Total Number of Scenes: 7

Scene: Alan the Insurance Adjuster has proof that Marcus the Slum Lord is burning down tenement buildings for the insurance money.  He gets the proof, puts it in a safe deposit box, and is about to go to Charlotte the Police Officer when Marcus the Slum Lord calls his cell phone.  Marcus the Slum Lord has kidnapped
Brad, the Son.  This particular scene is unlikely to change simply because it’s the hook, though other players may be there to witness it.  He takes the call and he chickens out, he has a nervous lunch with Charlotte but doesn’t tell her about the proof…or the kidnapping, as he’s been warned off of it by Marcus.  Of course, Charlotte figures out something is up. They’ve known each other a long time, so she asks some casual questions, and, following a hunch, she makes a show
of arresting Alan.

Scene: Nadia the prosecution lawyer makes vague reference to the case in a bar, and Zoe the Reporter gets wind of it.

Scene: Shelly, Lauren, and Carter all go picket the jail. Luke the DA makes a statement.

Scene: Alan finds himself released.  Now Alan’s out and Marcus is on the old cell phone again, aware he may be running out of time, demanding that

Alan get to his safe deposit box and get that proof and bring it to him.  But Alan can’t even get a moment alone.  There’s Zoe, and Paul the journalist, harassing him with questions he doesn’t want to answer all the way to his car.  But eventually he does get to the bank…

Scene: Marcus threatens Brad while Brad begs to be set free.

Scene: Only to find that Maria, his wife, cleaned out the safe deposit box this morning, disk and all, and filed for divorce so she could run off with Raul, the pool boy (players thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen counting the Loan Officer, Trevor).  Trevor is dreadfully sorry but at the time she had a legal right to that box.  Alan frantically calls Marcus and says he needs more time, and Marcus decides to give it to him…but pages Alan to say that at this point he’d feel the need to
move Brad because he knows something was phony about the arrest.

Scene: Charlotte and her partner Haggerty arrive at the apartment only to find it bombed. Before the bomb squad can get there the bomb goes off. Yvette and Quinn, tenants at the complex, are caught in the blast.

Scene: Eric the EMT shows up with his NPC partner and whisks the five of them to the hospital to get fixed up by Hailey the Doctor.  Zoe and Paul show up to cover this story too, not even aware they sort of caused the thing.  William the Mayor stands up and gives a statement about the bombing that may or may not be so much crap.

And so forth. There’s no major events yet, because I define a major event as an event which one posts on the bbpost: ANYONE WELCOME! BIG PLOT EVENT AT TIMES SQUARE! or wherever, with date and time.

When you post these up where anyone can keep track, not only will you find that more people work to get actively involved in the plot because they know who to page for RP to go to about it and what’s going on, but players will virtually stop getting on you about who gets involved. First of all, they’ll see that who is involved is a logical progression. They’ll see that each scene does not necessarily involve what would seem like the only real 4 major players — Charlotte, Brad, Marcus, and Alan. If you are hearing complaints like “I have to play law enforcement, there’s no other way to get in on the action,” you can prove them wrong just by quietly proving how many Average Joe characters are in your plot. And because the placement of each character in the plot makes infinite sense, and because several of the scenes, such as the picket, are open in such a way that nobody can possibly say they were excluded from it by anything other than their own RL or choice, you are likely to hear a lot fewer complaints, not to mention being able to gather some statistics on who is getting involved in what, and how people are most commonly being involved.

If you have a subscription based tracker it is also a good idea to, when the plot is finished, cut and paste the whole thing into a public forum such as the MUSH LJ or the Yahoogroup or listserv or whatever method your MUSH uses to keep everyone informed. This means that even those players that don’t subscribe can see the way the entire plot unfolded and who got involved, and by that time it will be painfully obvious that who was in the plot had nothing to do with who the wizards like.

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MU* Admin: How Response Time Affects Your MU*

April 27, 2009 at 12:44 am (Admin Posts) (, )

A MUSH is like any business. The only way to keep it alive is by servicing your existing customer (player) base while simultaneously recruiting and retaining new customers (players). Players don’t pay to play most games in money, but they do pay with their time and their creativity. The only thing that keeps a game going is having players, without it there is no roleplay, and without roleplay you are spending a lot of money to maintain a site that is not accomplishing anything.

Every game suffers a constant, steady trickle of player loss. Even the best games lose players to Real Life issues. That’s why the treatment some wizteams offer to some players on some games is so surprising. Nowhere does this show up more than on the issue of response time.

A Tale of Two Blunders

I once left a game, rather noisily in fact, because a TinyPlot proposal I’d submitted was still unanswered after 11 months. How did I know it was 11 months? I’d sent a copy of the original proposal back to myself for reference, and so I had it there, date and all.

Periodically I’d send reminders to the wizteam of that game. Every three months or so, an interval of time which I considered more than reasonable, I asked if they’d had a chance to look at that tinyplot yet.

Sometimes I got “no” and sometimes I got ignored. The result was a slow boil of steam growing under my collar. The only good news was that it was not an urgent plot and I already had a year long personal tinyplot going that was taking up my time and keeping me glued to the game for awhile. Eventually, though, other problems began to abound and this poor plot simply became one of several reasons I found myself unable to stay on the game. The funny part is, had they merely just rejected the plot out of hand within a reasonable timeframe, I would not have been upset. Some plots don’t fly, that’s simply the way it works. But to be unable to get either a “yes” or a “no” answer for nearly a year’s worth of play struck me as excessive.

Here’s another anecdote. Back in 1995 when I first discovered MUSHing, I put forth a rather lengthy application to an X-Men based game. It was for an original character as all of the features whose names I recognized were, predictably, taken. I was a complete newbie, but I was a reasonably competent writer and fairly creative. I’d read every single news file, as well, so I suspect the management of that game would have been hard pressed to tell that I was new to this whole thing.

When I finally got my application back a month later, it had been ripped to shreds by no less than three fairly grouchy staffers. Had it been returned within a few days I probably would have taken the time to rework the thing, but by the time a month had passed I had already sought out and found a game where one got into the RP far quicker — on the same day, in fact — and so I felt no need to continue courting the X-Game for membership. Granted, at that time Tales of Ta’veren, which became the game that fostered the start of my MU* hobby, had no character generation or applications or anything if you just wanted to play a regular Joe or Jane. Still, that early experience forged a question in me that would become a standard of which games I chose to patronize with my time and talents for many years to come, and that question was…

How Fast Can I Get Into The RP?

When one first finds their way to your website or telnet site and starts reading news or +bbs or whatever it is you have available to give a new player some idea of what your game is about and why they ought to be there, there tends to be a sense of excitement. The new player is ready to play. Lengthy applications can be daunting, but on some games they truly are necessary. And in that same honeymoon phase, most players are willing to at least take a stab at your app. They figure at worst they’ll hear back from you in a few days (or whatever response time is posted in your news files that they’ve already accepted as the truth) and even if there is something wrong with their app, they’ll be able to fix it.

Imagine, then, the effect on the new player when that period of time passes. The week promised in the news files grows into a month, then six weeks. Finally something appears in their e-mail. If they haven’t already given up on you and devoted their loyalty to some other, friendlier place, they might get a stab of excitement when they open it up. However, if it’s a rejection letter, nine times out of ten that player probably isn’t going to bother fixing everything. They’ve already waited, after all, three months simply to receive this letdown.

In a hobby where people are constantly scrambling to find and keep players, can your game really afford this? It is bad enough to lose players when you already have them — now you’re losing them before you even get them.

TinyPlot Proposals

I have never seen a game that does not claim to love tinyplots. Almost every file labeled “News TP” that I have ever seen on over 30 games that I’ve nosed around on tries to solicit tinyplots, at least on paper. This is the way, after all, to get into the meat and drink of roleplay. This is the way to get out of all of those endless hours at the local bar doing chit chat RP or down in your local kitchen doing washing-my-dishes RP. Tinyplots make the MU* go round, so goes popular wisdom, so why the heck would you, as a wizard, be cavalier with them when you finally get a proposal?

Everyone has a limited life of enthusiasm on any new project, and tinyplots are no exception. Consider how long it would take for you to lose interest in a plot proposal that you have submitted and heard nothing back on. How long would it take for the characters the whole tinyplot revolves around to start disappearing, one by one, until the whole thing becomes moot? If you let this happen on a regular basis — well, you can’t claim to be in love with tinyplots. How long are your players going to stick around when the competition is answering their mail in a reasonable time? Did you know some MU*’s have policies that allow players to transfer characters from other games whole cloth through the means of various time travel and dimensional and space devices? Why are they going to stick around for your Almighty Wand of Approval when they can go to Speedy MUSH and go play out their tinyplot over there? (And if they have to have a stop in the Lost Buried Spaceship that brings their medieval characters over to the SF MU*, do you think they’ll care enough to stick around on your game? Or will they decide that just makes things even cooler?)

A Helpful Policy:

Consider publishing a response time policy for both new character applications and tinyplot proposals. Then stick to it. Religiously. If you and your staff are backlogged then consider soliciting volunteer aid. And if that is impossible due to the nature of your game, consider sending out just a short note to the author of each proposal (since you’ll be inundated with both types at any one time) to let them know. Tell them how many proposals you’re buried under and tell them exactly where they are in the cue. Apologize for the delay and give them a reasonable and honest ETA.

When you publish a response time policy you’re not committing to have anything approved by that time. You’re committing to a yes, no, or revise answer by that point. Once you’ve issued the response, the clock restarts. In other words, if your policy promises to respond to all character applications within 24 hours, what you’re really promising is to tell them yes, no, or revise and return within 24 hours. If its a revision request, then you are committing to respond to their revised draft within 24 hours, and so on.

Suggested Response Time Policy:

Character Apps: Within 24 hours of receipt if you have an in-house character application system, within 7 days if it is a longer, e-mail based system.

Tinyplots: Within 1 week/3 weeks. In the case of a tinyplot it may be a yes, no, revise or, “need to consult” answer. A “need to consult” answer means that it is going to require whomever the TP wiz is to go talk to Area Leaders or other wizards and get their opinion on it. So within one week you send them the fact that you like the initial draft but need to consult with all of these other people, and you let them know that within 3 weels of this new letter you’ll have an answer for them. This means your total response time on a global TP is a month, not bad for a huge TP.

Then, immediately write a letter to everyone you have to talk to, forward the plot to them, and tell them that if they haven’t managed to get back to you by the deadline you’re going to assume they think the plot is great and you’re going to tell the player to go ahead with it, and from there the Area Leaders or whomever else will have no right to complain. (This may also give you an idea of which staff members are perpetually asleep at the wheel).

Clear Expectations:

One MU* I applied to (that actually did keep me on as a player) has a sample app on its page that is nothing more than a detailed background broken down into component sections. Following that format netted me a “please revise” note that asked for a bunch of information on what was going on in the character’s head and what her strengths and weaknesses were.

I filled it out, primarily because as I move into my tenth year of MU*ing and with my own game to pay attention to I’m not nearly as impatient about getting onto a new game as I once was, but it was irritating to me just the same. That probably just means that the wizard who approved the initial sample app is no longer with the group and the new wizard likes more detail, but if that is the case then a new sample should be put up for the public’s consideration. (Perhaps they could use mine, since I did get a comment after I jumped through all of the hoops that it was good enough to frame). That said, the wizard in question was very quick to respond to me (within 24 hours in fact), a fact that contributed greatly to my willingness to offer her the revisions she wanted.

That said, had I been a new player who does not realize that these webpages and news files and whatnot are extremely difficult to keep current with up to the minute (or even up to the year) information, I might well have become discouraged. At the very least, I would have been well within my rights to point out that the sample app had nothing of the sort in it, and question why I was being required to offer this additional information. If you don’t want your players to slow down the process by asking them why you’re making them rewrite, then make your expectations clear from the start.

No Sinkholes:

I know some wizards who cannot stand to let a single app trickle through their fingers without nitpicking it until its dead. They never, ever approve any app on first pass, they always make people rewrite it. I’m not sure why this is, really.

If a player makes any sort of reasonable effort to fix the problems you outlined on your first “request for revision”, pass the thing even if it isn’t perfect. That will clear up your backlog, for one thing. For another, its just a game, not a class writing assignment. If they start twinking deal with it later, but if they neglected one little detail you asked for its probably just because they had other things on their mind at the time — like the real class paper they have to write.

Do not ask for revision after revision after revision until you’ve spent over 3 months on the same app. It wastes your time. It pisses them off. And if by some miracle they do stick around to take your nonsense, your game had better be the most fun thing since DisneyWorld or they won’t be around long, which means all that nitpicking you did was for nothing.

Develop a Routine:

If you get yourself into the habit of checking for whatever character applications have come in and whatever tinyplot proposals have come in and answering them, one by one, right away until they are finished, you’ll find you don’t have that pile of work anymore. You’ll find response time does not become that much of an issue. You’ll also find it will suddenly take up less time than you think it does.

Sure, you are going to have days when you log on and all you want to do is play and not think about it. Might I suggest that if that is your goal for the day you log your RP alt on and not your wizalt? Then any idiot can +finger you and see that you haven’t read your mail yet, so of course you haven’t responded. As long as you make it back within a few days or so and proceed immediately to the unopened pile of mail and begin to address it fairly, you’re probably not going to get any complaints. After all, the same person who +fingers you will also know that you have been on recently, so they aren’t dealing with a case of the amazing idle wizard.

Its. Just. A. Game.:

If you hate the work of approvals so badly that you can’t respond to them in a reasonable manner, perhaps you should consider removing or reducing the need for them. Does every single bartender on your game need an application, or just the really powerful people? Does every plot need approval, or just the earth shattering ones? If your sense of dread outweighs your ability to catch players once they’ve jumped through the hoops you set up for them, its time for one of those policy re-evaluations. Don’t be afraid to rewrite the thing — and don’t be surprised if what you hear when you do is one huge collective sigh of relief.

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MU* Admin: Tips for Area Leaders

April 27, 2009 at 12:42 am (Admin Posts) (, )

Tips for Area Leaders

Now that the game is up and running, it’s time to keep it that way. The people the wizards will rely upon more than anyone to do this, are, typically, the Area Leaders. The specific functions of an AL vary, and on some MU*s wizards double team by filling both the role of a wizard and Area Leader. Yet in general the main thrust of the job description remains the same: to foster RP in your subsection of the game.

Before the Application:

Good area leadership actually starts before you even fill out the application. First, examine why you want to be an AL. It is hard work, no matter what anyone may tell you. It probably is going to give you less power and prestige than you might think it will. The best reason to become an AL is a genuine love for the game and a real desire to get in there and help foster RP for everyone from the newbies up to the veterans. An AL cannot afford to be cliquish.

Second you need to examine your time commitment. I’m actually not of the opinion that an AL needs to be on every single night. Even 2-3 nights a week, at three or four hours or so, is enough to establish yourself and foster the area if you make the best use of those hours. Its not enough to come on for two nights a week and idle in your character’s private room, but a good solid 8-12 hours a week well used can make all the difference.

Getting Started:

If you’ve been hired to revitalize a dead area, I salute you, and offer good news: the task is not impossible.

Some ALs start this process by flooding the +bbs with “help wanted” or “characters wanted” announcements. Unfortunately you’re preaching to folks who already have characters. Some of those characters already live in your area, they just haven’t been played for awhile. Besides, nobody wants to go through the trouble of chargenning a totally new alt if they aren’t sure the area is going to succeed yet.

There is one type of +bbpost that is perfect to get you started though. It reads something like this:

On (Date) at (Time), I will be hosting a one-night RP event in (Area). The event will feature an attack by (terrorists, giant purple people eaters, pirates, smugglers, orcs, trollocs…) and I’m aiming to have it last for (number of hours). All are welcome, not just people native to (Area), but if you are having trouble figuring out how and why your character might be there please don’t hesitate to page me and we’ll get some ideas together. Who knows, the ideas might give us more reasons to RP!

If you’re lucky people will show up the first time you do this. If not simply write up another post, reading like this:

The RP event scheduled for (Date, Time) in (Area) has been rescheduled for (Date, Time). See you there!

Don’t offer reasons why it didn’t run (because nobody showed up). Just be matter-of-fact. Keep doing this until someone shows. If even one person shows up, run the event for them. Then put up a +bb about how that one brave individual saved the day. But don’t stop there.

The Monthly RP Event:

Whether your area is pretty well established or flagging, it’s a good idea to have some sort of RP event at regular intervals. I like the monthly interval because it gives people time to RP their reactions to the last event, gives folks plenty of time to plan ahead when you announce the thing, and allows you to actually come up with the event if nothing is striking you as an obvious continuation of the last (such as an awards banquet for the guy who saved the day in your first event).

Slowly but surely people will start trickling in and that trickle will become a flood. Why? Not only are you assuring them at least one night a month where things Will Happen in your area, but you are also sending them a very clear signal that you care about the area and their RP within it. Players, I’ve found, are willing to put up with a lot, but even the most even tempered seems to draw the line at boredom. And why shouldn’t they? They could be off reading, watching tv or heaven forbid having a date instead of showing up to fill your WHO list. You ought to make it worth their while.

TinyPlots

I’m going to offer you some advice here that may seem a little strange. At least at first, focus on one night events, not huge tinyplots. Why? Because tinyplots take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and players who are actually going to show up and care. If you do not have those things yet, then you are not ready to run a tinyplot.

When you do finally break out the tinyplot — and, eventually, you should — make sure its one that you like and not one you are running out of a sense of duty. Run the RP events out of a sense of duty. They’ll be over in a few hours. Run the TP because you think the idea is cool and you are genuinely excited about it, or it is quickly going to suck.

In addition, try not to run TPs that bring people out of your area. Those sorts of TPs, played in the Free RP rooms or hastily dug temporary rooms, can be fun. But they don’t necessarily help wake your area up. You want TPs that give people reason to hang out in those rooms already built and specified for the area you are trying to lead. Local crime sprees are good. Quests for the Great Object of Power are not so good, unless everybody already knows that Great Object of Power is already hidden somewhere within your area.

Full Contact Area Leadership — RP

Make it a practice to get out and RP with a different member of your area each time you log on. If you’re a King, Prime Minister, School Headmaster, or whatever, sending people a quick note and telling them you need to see them in your office is a great hook. Just about anyone can be seen in your office. Here are a list of different types of folks and all the reasons Someone In Charge can see them in her office.

Cook: Because you want to plan the menu for that big banquet you’re throwing as your monthly RP event.

Innkeeper: Because you want to commission his inn for some future engagement.

Lord/Lady: Because you want to get their opinion on some issue. It can be a made up issue, i.e., taxing wine so that you can increase the military or feed the hungry or any of those sorts of things leaders sometimes like to do.

Student: To inquire after their studies, offer an internship, or pay them a one time lump of money to help you with your overflowing files.

Solider: To inquire after his patrols, find out what cases he’s working on, to ask his or her opinion on conditions in the army or guard he’s a part of.

Criminal: To hire him for some covert job you need done, since the crime he/she committed clearly shows an aptitude.

Artist/Entertainer: To offer patronage, commission a statue/painting/song, to hire them for the RP event, to have them assess the worth of the painting you just bought at the junk store.

Merchant: To ask his opinion on increasing commerce, to see how business is going, to buy 100 cases of whatever he’s selling for whatever made up purpose you can decide on.

Farmer: To inquire after his crops, to buy up his land because you think there’s gold there, to offer a position as Minister of Agriculture.

Scholar: To ask about the rumor that the Great Object of Power is buried in your castle catacombs, to hire him to verify your family tree, to have him go through some old documents you found the other day, to ask his opinion on the state of education in the land.

I think I’ve given you hooks for just about any category of character you’re likely to come across (at least in a medieval setting, but really, if you substitute Lord/Lady for Senator, City Counselor, or Cabinet Member you’re probably going to do ok in a SF or Modern setting too), but clearly this will take imagination on your part. Then again so will every facet of inspiring RP.

By the time you’ve done this for awhile you will probably have had personal contact with at least 90% of your area (the other 10% may well just never be on when you are). You’ll not only gain a reputation, again, as an Area Leader who cares, but also you’ll find new RP and plot hooks and increase your own RP as well.

Now Get Out:

About once every two months ago you should plop yourself in a public place other than the RP event, however. This will give folks who you didn’t get to meet with a chance to come and interact with you casually. You may well get mobbed, especially if your AL role carries an FC with it (you’re AL because you’re playing Captain Picard on the Enterprise, for example). Still, you have to make yourself available sometime. Just grit your teeth and get through the scene as best you can, RP to the best of your ability, and try, to the best of your ability, to at least acknowledge everyone who shows up. This is only really truly necessary once every 2 months, however, so you ought to leave with your sanity intact.

Recruitment:

If you don’t get them at the Guest stage, you may not get them at all. However an Area Leader who pages a Guest, helps them creates their character, and offers to personally background share with that character or help them find someone in their area willing to personally background share is going to improve his numbers with ease. As Area Leader performance is often judged by the number of professing members in the area, and area RP, like the MU* as a whole, is not going to happen without players, recruitment has to be a concern.

A quick toss off to the Help Wanted bbs won’t hurt, as there are plenty of experienced players who log onto a new game and check those first of all. Just don’t expect that to drive the bulk of the traffic to your door. Much like any marketing venture, a commercial may be helpful to get people’s minds quietly moving, but it takes the personal contact of someone who knows what they are talking about to get them all the way through the process that your ad started.

Communication

Players are going to be coming to you to get their plots approved, to resolve disputes, to offer ideas, and in some cases to get their characters approved. If you aren’t going to answer till Tuesday that information should be posted somewhere they can find. An Area Leader should place “Office Hours” in their +finger, which can be as general as 6:00 EST to 9:00 EST on MWF or as specific as: On Tuesdays from 9:00 EST – 10:00 EST I am strictly answering @mails and dealing with admin functions, but I am available for RP on Mondays and Fridays from 9:00 EST – 11:00 EST most of the time.

That said, you should not make anyone wait more than one week to deal with their issues or problems. More than that will frustrate and annoy players, suck away their excitement for their proposal, and get rid of all that good will you built up doing all that RP. If you can remember waiting a month for your proposal to get approved on some MU*, you might have an inkling of why this is so important.

If you can, find an Area Second whose hours don’t totally overlap with yours so that your players will usually be able to talk to someone when they need to. Finding (or being) a good Area Second is the subject of an entirely different article.

Conclusion:

If you pay attention to these tips you’ll find that your Area Leadership may run smoothly than most. You will be directly responsible for a happy, healthy section of the player base, and you’ll have opportunities for your own, fun, RP. That is why you want the job, right?

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