I was contacted by Patrick Mooney about a project he's working on. I was interested so I thought an interview might be the best way to find out more about it and the purpose of it. The project is called Wayscape and involves different real world play groups existing in the same shared world. You'll find out more specifics below.
So, first, can you giving me a bit of your gaming background?
I've been interested games since I was young, with my favorites quickly becoming videogames with a strong narrative or experiential focus like Morrowind or Shadow of the Colossus. Around high school I discovered the late, great Dungeons and Dragons CRPGs and quickly fell in love with Planescape: Torment. I first started playing tabletops at the very tail end of AD&D, learning to GM while working my way up through various D20 rulesets and branching out to other systems like GURPS and World of Darkness.
Yeah, Torment was just really interesting, I think Morrowind fits that same bill in my mind, where I, as a player, didn't know what to expect. Did you ever play Neverwinter Nights? It had that Dungeon Master feature. And how about your experience with MMOs or online play through G+ or virtual table tops? I'm also curious about your experience DMing, did you find it difficult, did you attempt to engage your players in grand narratives?
I first got involved with early 2nd wave Massively Multiplayer Online games like Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies, always playing on the unofficial roleplaying server. I worked on a few large-scale plots with some guilds I participated in, but communication was mostly limited to forum posts in those days, so it was difficult sometimes to get any traction. Because I was a little late to the tabletop scene I missed out on the big experiments like Living Greyhawk or the White Wolf apocalypse master-plot, but they're fascinating (and certainly divisive) case studies. The ideas that eventually became Wayscape started when I checked out some old-school MUDs and Neverwinter Nights, logging a ton of hours particularly in NWN2 persistent world servers. Think of them like small, DIY-style MMOs. The community is small and specialized enough that players and GMs talk every day, and basically anyone can propose a new plotline if they have a cool enough idea. The downside is that it can be difficult on a technical level to implement new content, and the game engine is mostly concerned with combat, not narrative.
Aha, I thought NWN might be down your alley. So, what exactly is Wayscape?
So Wayscape is a web-based map system for massively scaled roleplaying. We built it as a tool for living world campaigns; an online environment that's shared between many different groups of players. Gamemasters can push changes to the map in real time, allowing playergroups to leave their mark on the world. They do this by dropping pins we call Narrative Objects; markers that stand for characters, places, or events, which can be updated over time. Currently we're using the D&D 5th edition ruleset, although we plan to support other systems in the future.
So, if I've got a group playing here in Fresno and we loot a tomb, a game group in Seattle coming to that tomb will find it looted? Assuming this is true, do you have a certain buffer distance you put between where groups are playing on the map, or are they able to be, say, in the same city at the same time?
That's right, although we're more concerned with creating plot hooks than inventorying someone's session. GMs can create new Narrative Objects, even flag them private so only their party can see them on the map. So if the second GM really wanted to run a dungeon crawl, they could always make a new haunt in a different location. Or, they could incorporate what happened in the crypt into their story. Maybe ghouls from deep within have emerged after their resting place was desecrated and wander the countryside. Maybe a cleric from a nearby village has arrived, and asks the players to investigate a mystery that the first group's adventure uncovered.
We tossed around the notion of tying players' physical location to in-game geography, and decided against it for our current prototype. I think it's a cool idea, but it really only works for some types of games. In the long term, we want users to be able to create their own worlds and have some flexibility with sharing and persistence options. But for right now we're playtesting a basic proof of concept.
Ok, so players can't really bump into each other or interfere with each other in a resource competitive way. Would you say Wayscape is, overall, about trying to make worldbuilding easier and richer by having DMs share pieces (these Narrative Objects) they are already having to create for their own games? I suppose another way this might be different than just running your own group is that things would be happening in the world as time passes so there would be constant sort of external prompts of creativity for a DM. I mean, it wouldn't be just that a npc created by another DM would save me work, but I didn't expect that npc to show up at that time and that gives me something to bounce story ideas of of. Am I on the right track?
That's right. Ideally, Wayscape will slip seamlessly into a GM's regular prep time. We want it to be quick and intuitive, to cut the bureaucracy out of living world systems. I think the most interesting and fundamental way different playgroups can interact with one another is by cross-pollinating content, in effect.
These Narrative Objects are still neutral though, so one playgroup's actions might affect another's in a deleterious way. For instance, Playgroup A could have a brawl and burn down the tavern that Playgroup B uses as a home base. When Playgroup B has their next session, they realize that the world is growing and changing, sometimes out of their control.
They could chose to help rebuild the tavern, or maybe hire some mercenaries (so long as both GMs approve) to go after the other party. We have plans for more sophisticated PvP systems later on, but for right now we want to use a simple "cold war" actions for rivalries between playgroups.
To continue with the idea of shared world building, are there communal encounter lists? I suppose anything you could encounter might be a narrative object but where you encounter them and how likely might be dependent on the a more overarching view of how you want the world to feel.
Is there anything you would like readers to know? And, finally, how would someone get involved if they are interested?
There aren't encounter lists per se, though I'll look into that idea. As far as monsters go, we have a Bestarium page that lists creatures (old and new) appropriate to Shrouded Isles, as well as templates so GMs can use to adapt entries from the Monster Manual. The idea to establish a certain atmosphere for the world, but to still give GMs creative freedom to add new story elements. That's why a lot of the Codex entries are based on folklore, or have stories of vague or conflicting events. A lot of the history has been lost to time, because we want to embrace different perspectives and allow the narrative objects to get a little messy.
We're always looking for new GMs, players, and collaborators! We're just starting to build a community around Wayscape and the Shrouded Isles campaign is taking off. User feedback is really important to us moving forward, and we want Wayscape to become the best tool available for living world campaigns. If you're interested in participating, please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
I don't have any experience with living roleplaying systems or even mmos, so I might have been the wrong person to interview about this. And yet, when I first looked at Wayscape I thought it was more about story driven play (that's why I was asking Patrick about grand narratives above) so it was helpful to realize that its kind of communal world prep might actually be something that a old school minimalist like myself could find very helpful. So in that sense, if readers of this blog are similar to me, then this may have been a great place to have the interview.
Also, my questions were about sussing out what the project's goals were. I don't particularly want PVP. From my experience every online game ever devolves into PVP and I think D&D can be much more interesting than just trying to exterminate or out-compete other parties.
Feel free to add your own questions in the comments.