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1.4 Overview

Argo Characters begin with a starting allotment of character development points (usually called just `points'), an arbitrary unit of value that can be allocated to various abilities and resources. Some points will be spent developing your character's inborn abilities — how strong you are, how smart you are — and some will be spent on learned abilities... on skills. You may also opt to begin with one or more `advantages' — things such as wealth, status, and inborn abilities. Taking advantages reduces the amount you have to spend on other things. You can also begin with one or more `disadvantages' — things like poverty, social stigmas, and inborn handicaps. Taking disadvantages increases the amount you have to spend on other things, and makes the character more interesting to play as well.

A character's basic, untrained abilities or aptitudes are reflected by a set of five attributes, represented by `statistics', or `stats'. Strength (STR) is a measure of your physical strength. Constitution (CON) is a measure of your health, metabolism, and toughness. Dexterity (DEX) is a measure of your coordination, agility, and grace. Intelligence (INT) is a measure of your powers of reasoning, memory, and observation. Presence (PRE) is a measure of your self-discipline, leadership ability, and strength of character. Presence is also a measure of less specific but thoroughly important qualities that contribute to leadership and a powerful personality: empathy, insight into the motivations of others, luck, and the knack of being in the right place at the right time. A `normal' or `base' value for these stats is 8 points, and new characters begin with 8 points in each. So, for example, if a character had a Strength of 7, a Constitution of 12, a Dexterity of 16, an Intelligence of 10, and a Presence of 14, she would be a bit weaker than an average person, but also a bit smarter and significantly healthier. Her strength of character would be noteworthy, and as a rule she would find it relatively easy to get what she wants out of herself and others. She would also be extremely agile and coordinated, so much so that people would automatically take notice and be impressed.

Points can also be spent on skills. On magical worlds, this could include spells, a special class of skills. On other worlds, it could include psionic abilities, another special class. A character's competence with a given skill is determined by his training or ability in that particular skill, and modified his stats. Some skills are modified by a single appropriate stat. Others, which involve the coordination of varied personal qualities, are modified by the average of two groups of stats. A `Physical skill' — such as acrobatics, swimming, or a combat skill — is modified by the average a character's Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity. A `Craft' is skill which, though it may well involve a physical component, is largely an exercise of one's mental abilities. Crafts are modified by the average of a character's Intelligence, Presence, and Dexterity. Crafts include such obvious examples as `Goldsmith' or `Carpenter', but also things such as `Physician' or `Pilot'. Those things that are — as we often hear or read — `both an art and a science' are in Argo called `Crafts'.

The collective term for stats, skills, spells, etc. — all the measures of what your character can do — is `Ability' or `Abilities'.

Giving your character a Background — the story of what has happened in his life heretofore; a description of his likes and dislikes, his goals and motivations — further fleshes out and defines the character.

Once the characters have been generated, players can interact in all ways they normally do on MUCKs, but with the addition of commands that add elements of earned character development and `controlled chance'. Robert Frost once said that writing free verse is like `playing tennis without a net'. That is, without challenges, without built-in limits, much of the satisfaction of the game is lost. Argo provides a `net'. A player can't just show up and declare that he's a world-class swordsman or super-genius inventor. These things would have to be earned, either by spending points on them (and sacrificing the opportunity to spend them on something else), or by actively participating on the MUCK for long enough to accrue the experience points needed to build the character up to the desired level, or both. When two characters of unequal but comparable abililty contest something, the character with the higher ability will win more often, but not always. No one has the resources (points) to be the best at everything, and `power gamers' will find themselves defeated from the start.

The system also provides a fairly realistic combat system that takes into account the characters' abilities, their current state of health, and the types of weapons and armor used. Participation in the combat system is voluntary. Commands for influencing rumors and reputations are provided for characters who want to concentrate more on politics and intrigue. Artisans, merchants, and service-providers can use the monetary system, commands for transferring funds, and programs that make `working' objects. Thieves — or successful thieves, at least — can use another set of commands to redistribute wealth as they see fit. Medics and Physicians can heal damage caused by combat and other events.

A note on combat: The coded combat system is completely optional, and is neither recommended nor discouraged. The over-reaching design philosophy of Argo is `make tools available; rely on people's maturity about how to use them'. A coded combat system can be fun... but it can also be abused. The staff of a particular MUCK may decide that coded combat is not for them, and so not install the combat system. This is a perfectly legitimate use of Argo.

A pair of general-purpose roleplaying commands, +prove and +roll, can be used to indicate outcomes for the many skills and situations that don't lend themselves to programmed results. A player with Oratory skill can use his ability to sway a gathered crowd by rolling against his skill level. The program won't write a rousing speech for him; it will simply indicate successful or failed use of the Oratory skill. A successful result would indicate that he used his skill to deliver the speech (acted out IC) in a compelling manner. Almost all plot events can be resolved through appropriate use of +roll and +prove.

RL paper-and-dice roleplaying games are usually directed by a Game Master or Referee who develops the world in which the characters will pursue their destinies, inititates storylines, and applies the rules to points of conflict. Online roleplaying is less hierarchical: players usually initiate and direct their own storylines, build much of the world in which they interact, and arbitrate the outcome of events between themselves. Sometimes though, it's still helpful to have an independent arbitrator and witness. In Argo, this position is called a `Monitor'. Monitors are appointed by the wizards of a MUCK, and are able to use utility commands that help them do their job. They are not necessarily `in charge' in the same way as a Game Master or Referee, but they perform some similar roles: making rule determinations from a disinterested viewpoint, co-ordinating things between characters at different locations, acting as a witness for events that other characters wouldn't be aware of IC, and awarding experience points (you get experience points anyway; Monitors can award bonus points for good role playing).

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