Player-created dungeons

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Joined: 13 May 2005
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Location: Alberta, Canada

PostPosted: Tue Aug 16, 2011 8:46 am    Post subject: Player-created dungeons Reply with quote

Kind of long so made its own thread, but this is pretty relevant to the thread here.

KaVir wrote:
Something which has been discussed on other places in the past (such as MUD-DEV) is the idea of player-built content - for example, players might be able to build their own dungeons and fill them with monsters and treasure (think "Dungeon Keeper"). Other players could then seek to kill the monsters and take the treasure.

I have attempted to add this sort of content on my mud. A few people have been interested in my approach. Here is some info about what I am doing, the various iterations I have gone through, and some of the problems that have arisen along the way. I'll try to keep talk about details that are specific to my mud to a minumum.

On my mud, players are able to build lairs. They can fill these lairs with treasure, guards, and traps. The longer treasure stays in the lair undisturbed, the more powerful it becomes. Owners of lairs can take items out of their lair whenever they like, and other players can attempt to raid each others' lairs and loot items.

Players create 'hoard' rooms inside of their lairs. These rooms can contain a maximum of 10 items. Hoards can be looted once per day, which will allow a player to take one item at random. Of course, owers can take any item whenever they want.

I initially wanted lairs to serve a few purposes. One, I wanted players to have a way to create content for each other. Two, I wanted to add another means of progression other than the standard 'gain experience'. Three, I wanted some sort of medium that provided a way for unused items to be recycled breaking them down into raw materials. Since then, I have decided it also provides a good opportunity for me to steal good dungeon layout ideas, and push my own development. When I see a good layout, I'll approach a player about it and ask if I can adopt their lair into a dungeon. If they agree, the plan is to turn their lair into a dungeon with a new set of monsters and loot, and give them a fresh batch of rooms to work with. This last part is a slow-going process, but the intention is there Wink.

Aging and Activity

The way I encourage players to design lairs, and the way they allow for progression, is through aging. When an object is placed in a hoard room, it will have a chance to age each day. As an item ages, it will become higher quality and its magical bonuses will be amplified.

A number of random items in your lair ages each day, proportional to the lair's activity. Your lair's activity is simply the amount of experience that had been earned for killing monsters in your lair. The idea is to reward people whose lairs are actually visited (and looted), and discourage people from designing lairs with unkillable guards in them.


Players defend their lair by stationing guards at strategic locations. When playing, players can opt to 'hire' monsters instead of kill them. Once hired, players are able to station those monsters throughout their lair. Guards have maintenance costs proportional to their difficulty. Players can also opt to spawn guards as 'portals', which will spew out a stream of copies of that monster that will wander around. Otherwise, guards will stay at their post. Spawning a guard as a portal increases its maintenance cost.

The sum of all maintenance costs is subtracted from the lair's activity each day, before aging occurs. This is to encourage players to create efficiently designed lairs and give them opportunities to optimize.

Iteration One

I have gone through numerous iterations of my lair system. The basic goals and mechancis have always remained the same, but I've changed some important details. I'll go through each iteration in turn, say what I learned, and how I changed it.

The first iteration was very basic. I gave players 300 rooms to work with and lay out however they wished. Guards also received maintenance penalties if they were both expensive and close to the lair enterance. This was done to encourage players to design lairs that had a natural progression from weakest to strongest.

The first iteration was pretty much a huge failure. Players would set up guard portals for really weak monsters that would filter into a nexus room, where they would just get their friends to sit and bot-kill.

To protect their loot, players would also set up very convoluted designs to filter a large number of very powerful monsters into a single chokepoint, so looters could not effectively get to hoards or, if they tried, would have random success/failure because of wandering monsters. The entire process was very frustrating from a looter's perspective, and not fun.

Iteration Two

I made two changes. First, only one wandering monster could occupy a room at a time. Two, monsters would not wander into rooms full of too many corpses. This stopped botting, but it also meant that lair owners were stripped of their defensive tricks. If you can get a monster low enough to hire it for your lair, it means someone or a group of someones can probably also kill it. Lair guards did not add any challenge or reliable defenses.

Players began designing rather convoluted mazes. While fun to design, they tended to be rather frustrating and unappealing for looters.

Iteration Three

I reduced the maximum lair size from 300 rooms down to 50. This is slightly bigger than the average dungeon I design when adding new content to the mud. It is enough room to make 4-5 main encounters, and a couple side-encounters. The idea was to constrain players into having to use all of their space effectively and not just make haphazard mazes.

It sort of worked. Some players would design really cool lairs with interesting layouts. Others would instead just make big long hallways of easy monsters to a network of rooms guarded by one really big guy repeatedly spawning from a portal, and all of their treasure stashed behind. Again, ultimately frustrating for the looter to be able to clear out 90% of a lair and not be rewarded for it.

There is one monster in game, a Balor, which is notorously difficult. A very skilled group of 3 people can take him down reliably. Otherise, he takes about 4 or 5 players. In both cases, if a second one wanders into the room immediately after a kill, it results in a dead party. Players were utilizing portal-spawning balors and the hope that players would have to fight two in quick succession to deter looters from lair hoards.

Iteration Four

I restricted players from using portal spawns with monsters above a certain treshold of difficulty. This still allowed lair owners to provide difficult challenges, but took away the random element of getting walked in on by a second powerful monster right after you kill his twin brother.

I still wanted lair owners to be able to defend their lairs, but just wanted them to have tools with less random outcomes. There has been traps since iteration two, but they had always played a minor role. In this iteration I made a push to add a larger selection of traps that would compliment different types of guards. This would allow players to make their lairs slightly harder, but also more predictable for looters.

Iteration Five

At this point, the mud had hit this weird point where the player base was growing, but not many people were well-equipped. Emphasis shifted away from raiding lairs to raiding dungeons, where players could more reliably learn new crafting recipes and collect resources to make better equipment. The majority of player lairs tended to be filled with uninteresting items, since all of the nice crafting components or finished products were being used. Lair activity took a huge nosedive.

I wanted players with well designed lairs to be able to ensure some minimal amount of lair activity each day. To do this, I designed some mercenary NPCs. They were NPCs about on par for power level with a 2-week old player, utilizing a very simple AI. Once per hour, a mercenary would spawn at the entrance of each lair and attempt to go from hoard to hoard, killing guards along the way and looting treasure.

The idea was that this would ensure that players with good lair designs would get rewarded for it, even when other players were not using their lairs, and it also gave players a stronger reason to make at least the opening section of their lair newbie-friendly.

Of course, some players stumbled onto the fact that you could just make a huge basin full for very easy monsters, with the bulk of your treasure still hidden behind one or two very powerful monsters. Very fun for lair designers, but very boring for looters.

Iteration Six

Over the iterations, a few issued had become glaringly obvious and hard to fix. The big one was that players had a tendency to store all of their treasure together, at the end of their lair, behind one or two very big monsters that you'd need 4-5 people to take down. Thus, if one or two people just wanted to go adventure, there wouldn't be many rewards to be had inside of lairs.

Originally, I had the idea that players would space their hoards out, putting their best treasure at the end and worse treasure at the beginning. In reality, people were just putting all of their treasure at the end. If they had stuff anywhere else, it was just throwaway junk that nobody would want.

However, I really hadn't given players a reason to space their treasure out. On this iteration, I decided to focus on tackling this issue. Each guard has a base maintenance cost (and more if they are spawning from a portal). There were also a few penalties such as distance from treasure, distance from other monsters, etc. These were pretty weak, though, and a person with a wealthy hoard could effectively ignore these costs. This iteration, I made these penalties much more pronounced, and attempting to mitigate them an integral part of lair design.

Monsters would get unhappy if they didn't think they were guarding enough, they would get greedy if they were guarding too much, they would get hungry if smaller monsters were around or fearful if larger monsters were around. They would get jealous if an equal or lesser monster near them was guarding more, they would get annoyed if they did not have enough space to wander around in, and so forth. Basically, I constrained guard placement in such a way that encouraged players to space out their hoards, and match the value of their hoards to the power of the monsters guarding them.

I also made it so that individual monsters were capped on how much activity they would generate for your lair. I monitored lair activity for a couple weeks, and set the cap at half of the amount of activity that the weakest monster in each lair generated for those two weeks. The idea was that if players wanted to age a large amount of items, they would have to have a diverse set of guards (each with their own equivalently valued hoard keeping them happy, sectioned off from the bulk of other guards).

Iteration Seven

This is where I am at now. Lairs finally seem to be taking shape in such a way that treasure incrementally improves as players go deeper into a lair. Hoards are spaced out, and monsters have interesting and tactical placements. This is largely seen in the newer lairs (the ones that have been formed in the past two weeks). Many of the older lairs still maintain the old design of "put all the treasure at the end, guarded by one big monster", but this is to be expected. Change is slow. It's much easier to see the impact of changes on the newer players than the older players.

Now I am focused on dealing with another one of the larger problems with lairs. It really sucks to have your stuff looted! My intention for lairs is for them to be a place where people put stuff they don't mind losing, with the hope that it will get a little more powerful and be desirable again. If it gets looted, ohh well... not a big loss. Of course, players will always think they can beat the system and throw some of their valuable stuff in with the rest. It is very frustrating when this stuff gets looted, and overall a very unenjoyable experience. The way lairs are designed right now, it's very much a system of avoiding penalties, rather than trying to achieve rewards. It is a very cool and fun system when it works as intended, but very very frustating when it doesn't, both for lair owners and lair looters. This is what I am currently thinking about how to deal with. I don't really have any good ideas at this point, but would not be surprised if it required a full redesign of the system.

I have taken an initial stab at the problem of frustration on the part of lair owners. I've introduced containers called pedestals. Players can set them up in their lair's origin room and place an item on them. This item will display to any other player who enters the room (they can view its stats, age, abilities, etc...) but will be unlootable. However, while on a pedestal, items will age just the same as items in hoards. However, pedestals have maintenance costs just like guards, and those maintenance costs are such that a player can only have 2-3 pedestals at a time (in a hoard of about 120 items). We'll see how this goes. Undoubtedly, people will still be trying to beat the system and sneak in their really good items into hoards and continue to be aggrivated when those items get looted. But I don't have a better solution at this point.

Closing Comments

The approach I have taken has very much been an uphill battle. I want lairs to be content that is fun to design and maintain, and fun to play through. They're fun to design, but designers are motivated to keep their treasure safe, and often this means structuring lairs in such a way that they are painful (not neccessarily hard, just timeconsuming and unfun) to play through. There are exceptions, but this is something about their design that currently exists. Likewise, the maintenance of lairs can be very frustrating when your best stuff gets looted, or a group of seven people storm over your lair without a challenge (the bulk of game content is designed for 2-3 player groups) and take 10% of your stuff in a day.

This has not been an easy system to design. It is far from ideal, but it is slowly getting better. I think a very large redesign will be in order soon, however. If I've learned one thing from this attempt, it has been that you always need to keep in mind that for a system like I have designed, the creator and consumer of the content are naturally competitors, not cooperators. With poor design, it is very easy for this to play out as frustration for both parties (and myself). If you've been thinking about trying something similar in your mud, hopefully my mistakes will be valuable lessons to you!

Despite this being an atrociously long post, I have left out a great deal of information that people might be interested in (such as the search tools I use for locating items in lairs, how I make sure that people in specific timezones don't have a better chance of looting hoards first than people in other timezones since hoards can only be looted once per day). I am happy to answer further questions as they arise.

This has been an incredibly frustrating system to design, but I certainly think it is worth the effort to keep pushing through and innovating new approaches to it. Here's some observations I've made along the way.

Typically, when you lose a player from your game, you lose a player unless they decide to start playing again. Lairs change this. I've had a couple players come, play intensely for a few weeks, and then leave. Now they have abandoned lairs scattered throughout the world, full of items slowly aging and becoming very powerful. The deeper parts of these lairs are going to provide some very interesting and rewarding content in a month or so when all of the items age to artifact status and become some of the most powerful items currently in the game. There is something very appealing about this to me.

My mud is low on grind. Players reach "top level" after about 5 hours of play, and beyond that point most of the content is self-directed (What should I kill today? Well, I really want to make a sweet new jerkin, so I should go kill some dire bears to get that high quality leather I need). I am taking a deliberate effort to focus on detailed and thoughtful gameplay rather than repetitive and addictive gameplay. Of course, this means it's much easier for my players to wander off and get caught up in a different game. The progression that hoards offer while players are offline gives them a reason to want to come back after days or weeks or months. This kind of design should offer stronger longterm motivations for playing than repetitive gameplay.

I am a lone developer, and have no intentions on recruiting a staff. This is my hobby project, and I get much more satisfaction from it being mine alone. That said, I am faced with the problem that my player base is growing quicker than my ability to generate content for it. Introducing player-generated content like lairs is a way of having the amount of content available scale with the number of players, taking some of the burden of development off my shoulders. Of course, I still have to design the lair system itself, but once it's in place and I am happy with it, the maintenance time I have to put into maintaining and tweaking it should hopefully be minimal!
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