Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Ultima series and had high hopes for Ultima Online (one of the first and best pre-WoW MMOs). What let me down regarding the old UO was the way that you could lose everything to one spotty kid from Wisconsin and his pet dragon.
Furthermore, I know many people who partake of both genres, neither are particularly exclusive to each other. Having seen a few MMO players take up LRP, it looks like the transition from one to the other can be something of a culture shock. But why is this? What makes LRP so different from MMO.
At first I thought it was a matter of immersion.
In LRP, the participant physically takes on a role. They buy or borrow costume, weapons and armour; they then don said trappings and act as a specific character along with other participants who are similarly attired. These characters then react to events and situations that are set in place by the people organising the LRP event. These roles are then maintained until the end of the event or designated “Time Out” periods, when the players can relax and interact outside the game world.
In an MMO, the participant creates a customised avatar and logs into a similarly immersive world. They can log in and out whenever they want and participate as much or as little as they would like. The level of immersion is intense but can be switched off whenever the player chooses.
So whilst the lengths of immersion may differ, both genres fully immerse the player within the gaming environment. Obviously, in one case you are physically acting a role and in the other you’re just mashing a keyboard and maybe talking over a headset.
The real difference is in the style of gameplay. Both genres are driven by individuals, groups and the organisers BUT you’re motivations and the course of actions you can take are totally different; as are the styles driven by the organisers.
The big addictive hook for MMORPGs is the leveling element. Players play to earn experience points that take your character to new levels with new skills. This is pretty much the primary goal for any MMORPer. Every new level brings with it stat and/or skill increases and ensures that you can tackle stronger and more difficult foes.
With LRP, you don’t always get the same hook. Some systems will have some form of experience point or veteran reward system but this is far from the primary goal for a player. It is more often seen as a means to flesh out one’s character or over time fulfill a particular personal goal.
I remember the first time I “leveled” at a Lorien Trust event; I spent some hard earned points from their own veteran reward system (Occupational Skill Points) and my character became immune to the “Fear” effect. Whilst this didn’t have the same feel as leveling in other rolepaying games, it did mean that for the next year I would flounce around showing other characters how brave I was. “Ha! I’m not scared of those demons. Look, Brother Alain and I are the bravest people I know.”
In an MMO reacting the same would probably be seen as a faux pas on a Leeroy Jenkins scale. In LRP, barring a few exceptions, the game is not played for “leveling”; characters progress in other ways.
Politics appear to be the same within either genre. Some LRP systems have groups, coteries, guilds and factions – as do some MMORPGs. I’m not entirely sure how this plays out in the MMO genre. In LRP this can lead to diplomacy (or diplomancy as it is sometimes referred to); some players love to go talk to other players about the political state of the game world and since the introduction of games like Maelstrom, we’ve seen this diplomatic game style have a dramatic effect on the way that players interact in other LRP systems.
Many of the MMORPGs that I’ve seen actually require that the player works as part of a team. I’ve actually seen the same mechanics as players would use to build a team in an MMO, used in LRP systems. My first group within the Lorien Trust would have benefited from this kind of meta-gaming. We created characters to play that would be fun to play, I didn’t play a scholar/rogue because the group needed one, I played it because it seemed to fit with the group background.
In an MMORPG, the majority of your gameplay is likely to be questing. There are thousands of developers beavering away to provide MMORPers with new and interesting quests. Outside of the questing you may as well be in an internet chat room, albeit a chat room where you can (maybe) virtually stab someone in the face.
Whilst there are sometimes quests in LRP, especially smaller systems. The larger systems are driven more by either politics (as mentioned above) or mass combat.
One of the biggest hooks for players at the Lorien Trust is the big end battle, where five or six of the system’s political factions square off against the remaining factions. Thousands of players scrap for an hour or so, then pack up and go home.
There may be smaller events, throughout the year, that allow players to go off on the equivalent of MMORPG quests; there may even be smaller quests at the big fest events but they are not integral to the system.
When playing an MMORPG, there are a million and one different ways to customise your character’s avatar. You might be a spotty 14 year old from Wisconsin but you can look like a six foot tall Valkyrie with a pink mohawk (and a dragon).
In LRP, you are the avatar.
You might want to play a six foot Nordic (punk) beauty but you’re limited to the seventeen stone thirty-something IT manager that you were born with.
Your WoW character might be able to spin twin blades at lightning speeds but in LRP, if you haven’t paid attention to Rule 1 (Cardio) then you’re toast. LRP combat may not be the same as full on battle re-enactment but if you can’t fight then it doesn’t matter how many weapon skills you set for your character; you can’t fight.
Sadly, there are a lot of game-Nazis out there who get mardy when confronted with a lardy elf or a seven-stone barbarian. A lot of LRP relies on suspension of disbelief.
On the surface there are a lot of similarities between LRP and MMO. I suppose the key difference is really in the approach of players to the game. In both, roleplaying plays a part; but to different strengths.
MMORPGs have a set system that must be “played” whilst you play to get the best out of the game. Players can meta-game, “min/max” their attributes and work the system to progress their character to top level. Actual “role” playing often takes second seat to working the system.
LRP systems also have a set system but “playing” the system whilst you play is frowned upon. Characters are created to be explored, the emphasis on playing a “role” is far stronger.
By far the best thing about LRP at the moment is the massive number of MMORPers that are trying the hobby out. There may be a difference in game style but MMORpers seem to adapt quickly.