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PvP (Player versus Player [combat]) has been on my mind recently. I’m a fan of PvP, and while I wouldn’t consider myself a “hardcore” PvPer, I still certainly get my jollies from fighting against another player, gripped in an epic wrestle, with each other’s prides on the line as we deftly manoeuvre and muscle for a tactical advantage. There are then those fights where you might best your opponent with nothing more than a lucky roll of the dice, so to speak; a game of chance or luck, a bit like that fight scene you might have seen in a movie where the good-guy and bad-guy are locking horns and the fight seems to be going nowhere, and just when things are starting to turn in favour of the bad-guy, he’s struck by lightning or delivered a final blow by a minor character, or something. The thing that appeals to me most about PvP is its spontaneity; it’s capacity to catch even the most experienced of gamers by surprise and make things go the other way even at a moment’s complacency.

I’ve written before about PvP “etiquette” and how it would be great for ‘Age of Conan’ if players that are not usually accustomed to PvP would give it a go in this game, since the world of Hyboria – its context – is so perfectly suited for PvP. But, understandably, players, by nature, especially those that are not accustomed to PvP, are wary of PvPers, that dangerous and often unpredictable “breed” of gamer. A “once bitten, twice shy” rule applies also: a player, in the past, may have given PvP a go, and after being “ganked”, “griefed” (yes, yes, I know it should be “grieved”, but no one here is mourning your loss exactly, are they?), camped, harassed, or just rubbed-up the wrong way, will often regret having tried PvP in the first place. Yes, PvPers can get their jollies from making life miserable for a “n00b” (that’s not my style, however), but only if the game mechanics allow them to! And it is that is the premise of my editorial this fortnight: PvP rule-sets; the rules of engagement!

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Even as a player that would like to enjoy open PvP on a PvP or RPvP (Roleplaying PvP) server, I believe that there should be some rules in place so that the server doesn’t end up like a scene out of a Mad Max movie… on crack. I like the idea of open PvP; being able to fight a player anywhere at any time and of course this is Conan’s world, Hyboria, we’re talking about, so anything goes, but at the same time we’re talking about players who, primarily, would like to be given the opportunity to fight on relatively even terms. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about “many against few” tactics or completely discrediting the element of surprise, be it through trickery or experience, but in terms of “readiness”, a player should at least have a character that has progressed enough to take on an opponent of a similar level. Have you worked out what I’m getting at? Well I’m talking about players that take their high-level/end-game characters and prey on “lowbies” (a low-levelled and relatively “inexperienced” character in terms of game progression), of course.

Funcom have taken the right step, even on PvP and RPvP servers, and established the “hubs” of their Hyboria as safe zones: main-city Tortage, Old Tarantia, Khemi, and Conarch Village. Outside of those areas, it’s more or less “game on”. But let’s say you’re a level 19 or 20 character fresh out of Tortage and heading into Conall’s Valley, the Wildlands of Zelata, or Khopshef Province, for the first time, and you encounter another player with a pretty good head-start on you. You may even encounter another player that has reached the level cap (level 80 in the case of ‘Age of Conan’, at release), and they may decide to christen you, PvP-style, a bit like the seniors at a school flushing a junior’s head in the toilet bowl. Okay, once you could probably handle this, but many times over? A line has to be drawn somewhere! And when exactly (at what level) does it become acceptable for a higher-levelled player to attack a player with a lower-levelled character?

You’ll have to excuse me if I ever seem pious or self-righteous from this point on, but I happen to think that a level 80 attacking a level 19 or 20 is completely repugnant. Where is the challenge in that for the level 80 character? Does the player with the character at the level cap feel like a “big man” all of a sudden for taking out a “wet behind the ears” (by comparison) character in one or two fell swoops? I also happen to think that a level 70 character attacking a level 19 or 20 character is completely repugnant. A level 60 against a level 19 or 20, yep, still unacceptable (frowned upon); level 50 against a level 19 or 20, nope, still no good; level 40 against a 19-20, yep, still unwarranted; a level 30 against a level 19 or 20? Well, it’s certainly not as bad as a level 40 against a level 19 or 20, but we’re getting warmer. At least against a level 30, a level 19 or 20 character, by comparison, would not be dramatically different in terms character development and skill/feat-tree progression. A level 19 or 20 character could conceivably take out a level 30 character, but the latter would still have an advantage, you would think.

Ganking, when we’re talking about higher-levelled characters taking out “lowbies”, only occurs when the game mechanics allow for it. Sure, you could very easily say to the player with the “lowbie” character, “Just level up and exact your revenge”, but such is that nature of the “ganker” that they would make even that difficult for the player. How? By camping respawn or resurrection points, zone entrances/exits, choke-points (areas where a high frequency of player traffic traverses through a tight, narrow, or cloisterlike area) in certain zones, or just by being an impudent little twerp in general. Rules need to be established, and mechanics need to be implemented in order for things to be “fair game” for all players.

First of all, there needs to be limitations on the player, what level they are, that you can engage in combat with. Of course an exception could be made for sieges and guild versus guild PvP, as guilds will consist of members from a range of levels.

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I wondered if Funcom had plans for this sort of system, if there were going to be PvP “tiers” at all. The root of the ganking “problem” is the clear advantage upper-levelled characters have over lower-levelled characters; there is no chance for the lower-levelled character to win the fight. So what’s the solution? It could manifest in either or two ways: firstly, characters are only able to attack and be attacked by other characters within their level range (e.g. 20 to 30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, and 71-80). So even in the open world, if a level 25 character and level 70 character happened to be walking by each other, the level 70 character couldn’t attack the level 25 character even if they wanted to. Sure, this removes an element of “freedom” and choice from the upper-levelled character; players choose to be gankers after all; but this at least provides the opportunity for the level 70 character to meet actual competition, i.e. an opponent closer to his/her own level. This system would also allow lower-levelled characters to quest in public areas and develop their character in order for it to be “ready” for opponents as it progresses through the tiers. Sure, a bunch of same-tiered players could gang-up on a player to do some griefing, and that’s where more rules might be required, but I’ll discuss that momentarily.

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The other PvP “tier” system that could be implemented would be an automatic “apprenticing” system. Working in a way very similar to how PvP zones work in City of Heroes/Villains, a higher-levelled character, when entering a zone, would be lowered to the “level range” of the zone. This, of course, would require that each zone be assigned a level range. For example, Conall’s Valley could be a level 20-30 zone, and so if a level 80 were to enter that zone, they would become a level 35 and have access to feats, skills, and other abilities available to any other level 35 of that particular class, or alternatively, have hitpoints, stamina, and mana reduced to what a level 35 of that particular class would have at that level. Keep in mind I’m only throwing out random numbers here, but the principle is that, theoretically, all fights would be even with all players in the play-zone on an even field of play in terms of character ability. The flaw in this system, I can already sense most of you picking out, would be in regards to questing: what if you’re a level higher-levelled character just wanting to help out a lowbie friend with a quest or two? Would it be unreasonable to suggest that, even on a PvP or RPvP server, a team could flag themselves as “unattackable”, but for questing purposes only (i.e. only when teamed up and doing PvE stuff) to allow higher-levelled characters to utilise their array of higher-levelled abilities?

When it comes to rules enforcement, that is, ensuring the behaviours such as group-ganking (many against very few or one), spawn or resurrection point camping, zone entrance camping, and/or “chasing” another player around a zone attacking them (i.e. harassment), don’t occur or, at the very least, are discouraged.

A while ago we were told about a prison or “bounty” system, but information on that in recent months has gone dry, and it wasn’t on Gaute Godager’s list of thing being cut from the retail version of ‘Age of Conan’ in his “state of the game” report. I won’t re-hash how it’s supposed to work, so just use your imagination: naughty people go to prison, and naughty people that haven’t been caught yet get a bounty placed on their head. So what constitutes a “naughty person”? In order to constitute this, there will need to be PvP “arbiters”, for lesser of a term, on PvP and RPvP servers. The rules may differ between a PvP and RPvP server, but there would need to be a “common law” that both server types would enforce, but all this begins with how Funcom decides on what is acceptable and not, and current beta testers would be an integral part of this process.

Decisions would need to be made on the sort of punishment for a particular behaviour. If we’re talking about jail-time and a bounty being placed on an offender’s head, then how long and/or how much, and for what? What’s the punishment for a player that camps a respawn or resurrection point? If we’re not talking about a jail or bounty system, then what are GMs going to do to ensure that this sort of behaviour is discouraged? Would reports filter through to the GM/arbiter and the offending player be put on notice? Use the game mechanics/features; make it fun and flavoursome! This is why the idea of a bounty system is so appealing because it provides the opportunity for player to self-vindicate, or for a cluster of the PvP community to hunt down offenders and perhaps claim some reward for their efforts. Heck, it may even turn into an unofficial career-line for individual players and guilds (it would be a hit with role-players too, I’ll bet).

Essentially, before any sort of rules can be established, there needs to be no rules to begin with. Yes, it sounds bizarre, but this, effectively, is one of the many purposes behind beta testing PvP. Things will need to start off as Mad Max… on crack, and then rules tried and implemented. Many other games with their PvP have worked this way too. The problem does, of course, need to be genuine, and a concern shared by a majority of the PvP community. If the majority disapproves of a specific type of PvP behaviour, then Funcom, for ‘Age of Conan’ has the obligation to act upon it.

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PvP is for fun; players from that point make a conscious decision to take it seriously, that is, to PvP on competitive terms. By all means, a single player, a team, or a guild, should use their resources and devise ways to outwit, outplay, and outlast their opponents, but never, even on a PvP or RPvP server, should it have to resort to dirty tricks, harassment, ganking, camping, or in general just being an impudent little twerp. Can you prevent or at least discourage “immature PvP” in a mature game? Well, you probably would not see it abolished, but if the rules are set from the ground-up, like scaffolding before the high-rise, then the majority is going to enjoy their PvP, whether they take it seriously or not.

Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,

Out.

Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, March 2008

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