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Building a Sense of Family Community
by Alaire November 3, 2002

[Building a Sense of Family Community appears on TMC courtesy
of The Mud Journal. Visit TMJ today for more great articles!]

Over the last few years since I opened Southlands, we have had to deal with the unfortunate truth that we will, very likely, never have a huge playerbase. While at first this bothered me, over time, I've come to accept and even embrace our small mud status, to the point that I'd not want more than twenty-five to thirty players on at a time.

The reason for this is quite simple.

Family Community.

I'm proud that we've built up an OOC community of friends who happen to enjoy the same flavor and style of roleplay environment. In our case, less code, more RP. We've built this community in a few ways, and I'll go into those as well as what less code and more RP means.

Building up the Family Connections

The first thing we did to build the sense of family community was to encourage people to speak to one another and get to know each other ooc'ly by having regular player/staff meetings. In those meetings, we fostered a sense of personal responsibility in our players by taking their ideas and implementing them right away, so long as it fit the overall theme and feel of the mud. Discussion ensued in these meetings, helping us to round out ideas so that, in the end, though the general idea that the person had might be implemented, it was spit and polished and something all could appreciate and feel as though they had been a part of. In these meetings people were encouraged to let their true personalities shine, and for the most part, we all seem to be a bunch of goofs. It has become commonplace to poke fun, tease, and generally be amused by our fellow rp'ers.

I believe that most rp communities would find that to be the case. As abrasive and evil as people can be IC'ly, you will generally find none of that when people are free to project their real life personas. This little tidbit generally makes perma-death easier to take as well, since our players know each other, they tend to know that interaction that takes place, even death, is -all- IC and that they can count on the non-twinkish nature of their fellow RP'ers.

Encouraging Proper Usage of OOC Channels

Though most RP muds discourage use of these mediums, we do not. I think it is a detriment to a small playerbase to isolate your players so. Sometimes, while acting in an IC way, with a small playerbase you just -can't- find someone to rp -with-. In that time, yes, solo-rp is advised, but solo-rp is much less boring if one of your fellow players is around to chat with about MUD history, code ideas, etc.

If you trust the people you play with, you can be sure that OOC communication does -not- involve IC information. When I've had players come to me in the past with questions about character development, I often will point them to a seasoned player after giving my advice and just encourage that person to speak to seasoned vet about where they might go from where they are. Our seasoned players are -fantastic-, so I have no qualms or concerns about doing this.

I've also been involved with chats with seven or eight of our players when a large and exciting RP session is going on and the chat experience itself is a pleasure. The chat will go completely silent, save for the occasional 'Oh my god, did you see that!?!?' or 'What the hell was that!?!?!?'. Nothing that everyone in the chat isn't seeing or wondering about, but those little interjections really make you feel like someone is there with you. It's like going to a movie with friends rather than by yourself. And when things have cooled down and nothing is going on, watching people talk about getting the 'mud shakes' and being so psyched about what is happening next, gives you purpose and the feeling of accomplishment as an member of the staff, and even as a player who has been involved in the event.

Allowing Your Personality to Show-Even as an Administrator

It's not easy to be yourself when, in the end, you do have the final word in matters of the MUD. In a small community, I can't stress enough, you -must- be yourself. You must allow people to see your sense of humor (even if it tends toward the lame side like mine ;), allow them to see your flaws, know about your love life or family, let them really know -you-. In knowing you the bridges of people getting to know one another are endless. I have talked in one medium or another to all of my players, save a couple of very new newbies that we've seemed to hook recently. I appreciate every single one of them for different reasons. And I trust every single one of them because they all have a sense of responsibility about this MUD that they have put so much time and effort into as players.

Saying Goodbye to Those Square Pegs

There will be the occasional person that just doesn't fit in. At that point, it is time to talk to the person about changing or moving on. Being afraid to do that only creates a sense of hostility amongst your playerbase OOC'ly, and it's not worth it to keep that one person around. A while back the phrase "alpha-female" was introduced to me in regards to "mud chicks". I agree, they exist, as do "alpha-males". When you have one, you'd do well to just get rid of them. The person that -must- be the center of attention, that -must- be the strongest, prettiest, shyest, sweetest, most handsome, whatever, will only bring an OOC community negative things. Ever been manipulated by an alpha OOC'ly? Ugh. Nothing sucks more than realizing it's happened to you.

So once you realize you have one, say goodbye. It's not worth the headache. (For what it's worth this is -never- easy to do. The alpha is often charismatic as hell, and while you might like them most of the time, the times when they really manipulate something OOC'ly that negatively impacts someone else's character is unbearable. You -can't- have a community of real friends with this kind of underhanded crap going on.)

Less Code/More RP

I've played MUDs with -super- slick code. And while they have their place, I did feel that something was missing. That sense of real individuality, of a well developed character that wasn't just born out of the abyss of mudland. Characters that have existed in the world all along. With that, we've taken our fairly simple code (which of course, does have its slick sides, they just aren't our focus) and given attention and detail to each character upon creation... -if- they wish it.

I've had people come in and ask for rags for their character to wear, a conical hat-complete with dead rabbit, for that oh-so-uncomfortable feeling of a magic trick gone wrong (what a slime that character was!!!), a jeweler's eyepiece, a ragdoll, mixing bowls, an eyepatch, a pet falcon... all kinds of things that personalized the characters and aided their rp. As long as I am sent background on why this character should have this thing, and it's good, I'm all for it. You'd be surprised how rarely I'm asked for a super-weapon or a super-buff character. We also tailor skills. Yes, I'll actually raise someone's fighting, crafting, swimming, sneaking abilities. So long as they, again, give me good background information on why this person has this skill. What does this mean? Well, for one, no one on our MUD assumes that just because someone is new that they're killable. And PKill is a very rare thing that takes careful planning and thought.

These are things I would suggest to IMPs of small muds to consider. If you desire quality over quantity as we have at Southlands, this is a simple list of ways to get it. I've never met a more talented group of roleplayers in my life and I'm so grateful for the experience at this point that I would reccommend these things to anyone.

Alaire is the Head Admin of Southlands MUD.

Building a Sense of Family Community - copyright © 2002 by Alaire - All rights reserved.

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