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In the last edition of RoleCraft, Defining the MMORPG, I defined what exactly a MMORPG is in comparison to an MMOG, and briefly pondered the missing element of a DM (dungeon master) in today's MMORPGs. In this article, I'm going to discuss more about the role of a DM and give some ways I think they could be added to a roleplayer's repertoire.
In case you may not be familiar with the term DM, or game master (GM) if you prefer, it comes from the world of tabletop pen & paper roleplaying games and describes a person who directs the players through whatever adventures they come upon. The DM is the one omniscient person in the game, who knows all the people, places, and things that the players may or may not encounter.
In current MMORPGs, this aspect of gameplay is under direct and strict control of the game AI, and for the most part, does a very decent job. Without question, computer AI is light years behind the human imagination. If you have never sat around a table with a group of friends under the guidance of a skilled DM and roleplayed one of these great games, like Dungeons & Dragons and many others, then your concept of creating and roleplaying a MMORPG is severely limited. However, I think with the addition of an actual DM into your MMORPG roleplaying, much could be done to remedy this, and could bring a much needed breath of fresh air into your RP.
So, exactly how could one bring a DM into the tightly closed and regulated world of an MMORPG? The same way roleplayers bring in their roleplaying: imagination. Before getting into details, it would help to understand what roles a DM can control in MMORPGs, and then lead into some ways to actually employ those roles.
DMs can replace, or at least augment, the game AI in two ways - as DM, and as any NPC.
Possible DM duties include being a quest giver and receiver, adventure or party leader, and storyteller. As an NPC, the DM could be anyone from fellow adventurer to arch enemy, from street beggar to lord of the manor. Basically, take a look at almost any AI-controlled character, and the DM can also portray a like persona, but with so much more RP charisma.
A live person taking on DM functions in game would to me be a fantastic way to immensely increase the levels of RP and fun when it comes to quests. Roleplayers, can you imagine engaging in an actual conversation with a quest-giver over the details of the mission, bartering for rewards and the like? How great a change would it be from constantly seeing and doing the same quest from the same game NPC over and over? Granted, because of the limited power players have in game, and because there are only so many styles of quests available, a DM may not be able to stretch beyond what quests the game allows. However, the mere fact that I'm talking to a real human would nonetheless be a major boon to the fun factor, not to mention elevating RP much higher.
Roleplayers of DDO and LotRO may know what I mean about having a DM as an adventure leader. In those games, when players enter an instance, a short verbal and/or written narration appears on screen, alerting and reminding players to what's going on. DDO does on better by periodically popping up text that tells you when something doesn't look or sound or smell right as you progress through the instance. I really like that, and I wish more games, especially WoW, would take notice and do something likewise. With a DM accompanying the party as an adventure leader only, and simply communicating with the roleplayers from an omniscient point of view, I think this is entirely possible. To be sure, there are some hurdles that require clearing, such as limited party sizes, but nothing an imaginative roleplayer can't handle.