Welcome back to another issue of The Darker Side of Life, the roleplay column for The Old Republic where we take a look at the issues concerning roleplayers, and try to find solutions for them. In this week's issue, we're tackling stealth and how it affects roleplay, specifically spying and information gathering. Spying can be a core part of an RP community, with different groups trying to figure out what each other is doing. There are all sorts of ways to gather information, from bribery, to torture, even just being a fly on the wall and listening in. The real question is, what happens if that fly on the wall has stealth abilities and can't be seen by the other players, is it still legitimate?
As always, I've collected your responses from the thread and worked them into this article where we're going to try and come up with some ways to make stealth RP work, and make it fun for everyone. Sitting cloaked in a meeting watching your enemies plot may be exciting from an adrenaline rush for the first minute or two, but without any interaction it gets boring. After all, if they can't see you, there's a zero percent chance of being discovered, and that's also why many players consider it unfair. Join me as we dive into the issue head first and try to settle the debate over whether stealth powers are acceptable to use in roleplay.
No ship that small has a cloaking device...except now since they're canon, everyone will...
Tolian: No. You're hidden. People can't RP with something that they can't see or are completely unaware of being there. Until someone is aware of your presence, you are the guy hiding in the bushes peeking into the college freshman's window hoping for a flash of underage booty without a resulting criminal charge. Note that I have no problem with IC spying. I played a character that gathered information. She did this without needing an invisibility field; I even did emotes that, should the players actually have been paying attention, would have indicated who she was looking at, that she was listening, and at some point even making notes on a datapad.
Chroma: With most things, I would recommend coordinating with the people to be spied on, and I've done that in other role plays where I had a character with limited invisibility/stealth abilities. The problem I've run into time and time again is that people tend to abuse the OOC knowledge, and "detect" the otherwise undetectable character. This is one of those things where OOC knowledge abuse can ruin an otherwise plausible IC action.
Coordinating roleplay in The Old Republic isn't the easiest thing in the world. If you're an Imperial Agent spying on a bunch of Republic characters, you better hope you can contact them out of game in some form like through Enjin's chat module, otherwise OOC coordination is right out the window. If you can talk to the other person, coordination is usually a good thing. People can and will change what they say if they know they are being spied on, even unconsciously, but a good roleplayer might also be careful to let something good slip to further a story or create RP for later. Sure, there are going to be those that will deliberately keep quiet or leave things out to prevent a leak. But if you're dealing with such a player, think to yourself: why even bother? Roleplay is about give and take; if the other person isn't willing to give some, you're just going to run into trouble down the line.
Cloaking fields in the original Galactic Civil War era were supposed to be rare; in fact the only reason they really get thrown around at all is because of one Imperial officer's comment in The Empire Strikes Back about the Millennium Falcon being too small to have one. The usual Expanded Universe lore machine turned that into the Executor-class Dreadnoughts having them, along with stealth stormtroopers and a whole host of other things brought to you by uncreative writers who were nonetheless licensed by LucasArts. However, in The Old Republic era, we have a ready supply of materials for cloaking field generators, and in fact that's part of the reason why both factions are so interested in the barren icy rock that is Ilum. Therefore we have Agents and Smugglers putting these bits of tech to good use as a way to survive against force sensitives. Not to be outdone though, Sith Assassins and Jedi Shadows have developed force techniques that let them hide their presence.
Just one war earlier a ship smaller than the Millenium Falcon did have a cloaking device
Kida: Personally, /roll should be used as a last resort. Between multiple consenting, friendly RPers, there are way too many factors to take into account to make a random outcome fair. Stealth is just one of those things that you need to use game mechanics for; that is, the detection mechanic. The stealther's player needs to be knowledgeable about what the detection range is at different level disparities and skilled at staying outside of those detection ranges. If your character is being exceptionally careful and using anti-stealth precautions IC (like probe droids, being mindful of their surroundings, watching doors, etc.), then I see no reason with popping down the anti-stealth abilities to try and find stealthers.
Mai Cash: Considering this is another PvE mechanic that would come out during roleplay, it would have to be dealt with in an OOC manner. A discussion would have to be had. As /roll is not in the game currently, until then, the discussion would have to be a battle of wills and it would all have to come down to who is willing to concede in this manner. Basically, one has to have a frank discussion with all players involved and come to a set of rules for both yourself as well as anyone involved with any of your characters.
Ok, so the stealth users have their roots in lore and gameplay. What about everyone else? As I recently learned playing my Operative in PvP, Bounty Hunters and Troopers have tiny probe droids that can pull you right out of stealth. Also, you'd think bumping into someone would do it too. It doesn't in gameplay, but stealth fields or the Force don't let you pass through solid objects, and another person would certainly feel you bumping up against them in-character. What does it all mean though? Not much. The reveal mechanics only work in combat. So if abilities aren't going to help you, then what are they good for? The answer: props. You can have the droids, or any pet droid floating around hunting for spies. Even emote it out. Hopefully a good RPer will pick up on it.
We finally have a roll function, but as I mentioned before, that's not much use to you if you can't coordinate with the other side. There is one caveat, though. In neutral areas like the Nar Shaddaa Promenade, you can often see members of the other faction cloaked—and yours as well. These mechanics aren't always foolproof, and it's anyone's guess as to whether they actually take any stealth detection skills or perks into account. Those neutral areas are also where most RP seems to happen though, especially random RP where you may not know the other players involved. So really this can be a two way street some of the time. The player being spied on has to decide if they want to just simply out the person and go after them, or play along with it. Damn, this just got twice as complicated!
Omigawsh! Spy! Get him!
Xaveric: That could be a bountiful amount of enjoyment because the immediate reaction needed. Kicking that can that was lying in your path that you paid no attention to because you were too busy concentrating, or maybe that womp rat tail sticking out around the corner. And of course, how much enjoyment would it be if you stealth upon the scene using your generator but suddenly, at the worst moment, it dies and you are suddenly revealed wide-eyed with everyone turning to face you. The scene that could be created would not only get you, as the spy, thinking quickly to engage your creativity, but those who you are engaging as if a climatic point is being reached within the event.
WingedThing: Again, whether or not I'm caught or want to be caught depends on the situation. If I respect the RPers I'm spying on, and if I think it will lead to some good RP, I'll throw out maybe a twig snapping or the sound of footsteps or something along those lines. I don't generally try to do the sneaky stuff around people with whom I don't have a good relationship, though, because doing that is a good way of getting drama all over the place.
To be a good spy, much less one that people will want to RP with, you need to be engaging. After all, sitting around invisible is going to get boring very quickly. You might get the juicy leads other players want to hear about, but word is going to get around eventually that you're not on the level. One good example I've seen is where someone spying on me was hiding behind a bush and emoted in spatial accidentally ruffling the leaves. One of my guards went over to investigate, but decided he didn't find anything. Nevertheless, it put the whole room on edge to see just what would happen. Any time roleplay can get you on the edge of your seat is a time you'll remember, and word of you being fun to roleplay with will get around just as fast as negative gossip.
Does this mean you always have to give yourself away when RPing a spy? Not at all. Even if you just emote silently watching them, it gives the other players an opening to interact with you. Maybe they'll think of something interesting, or at the very least it might lead to you having to tiptoe away from a patrolling guard. Like I said before, if they rush to out you, then they're probably the type of player that isn't willing to take a loss, which would just explode in your face worse down the line. Take a risk and don't just sit there twiddling your thumbs or taking notes. The real excitement could be in a James Bond-like getaway, or even just trying to pickpocket a datadisk from another character and giving them a chance to respond.
It sure is lonely sneaking around here all alone, I wish I could set an alarm off.
Sendra: I don't know. I think that using stealth mechanics is so limiting to RP, and puts so many other constraints on it, that if we as a community work that way, I may stay out of the spy game entirely. That is a shame because I love it. I came from a game/server that had a very rich "spy economy," for a while at least. I did a lot to support the "spy economy" as spy, as hirer of spies, and buyer of information; and as a provider of information. I accepted and embraced the spy game (wasn't so keen on the OOC guild infiltration angle and worked to keep that out of my guilds—still missed some—but that's the way it goes I guess).
Amaranth: People need to accept that some characters are spies. And stealth and invisibility are to a spy as the Force is to a Jedi. Would it be fair to restrict all the Mandalorians of their weaponry and armor? Or perhaps saying that the Jedi absolutely cannot use the Force around certain characters? I don't think so. But spy players also need to understand that they have to work with people in order to avoid trouble and, oftentimes, you have to meet folks halfway. And, after all, stealth is just one of the tools available to a spy. And thinking of other means to decieve people is the fun part.
So, how the hell do we make this work? It's not easy. In Star Wars Galaxies, we had the Spy class on both sides that could cloak, but the easy way around the problem was to coordinate OOCly with the other player. Often in The Old Republic, that's just not going to be an option. You just have to give the other player a chance to interact. If you're the one being spied on, don't just out someone because you can. Whether you can see them because of game mechanics or saw an emote they made to try and be more immersive, don't just run screaming from the area or immediately clam up. That spy is looking to roleplay with you, just not in such a direct way. If he gathers something interesting, that's going to be traded or sold to another player, which is getting your name out there more, and giving people reasons to come seek you out for roleplay.
Roleplay is always about a give and take. You have to be willing to lose some of the time on both sides for everyone to have fun. Normally people are used to it, but because of how murky the game mechanics are—and how indirect the roleplay can be—this often crops up as an issue. All we have to do is remember to not care so much about winning. So what if that guy in the corner is clearly taking notes? At least he's roleplaying in some form, and really, being spied on should be seen as a compliment. If you're doing something interesting enough that other players want to watch it, that's usually a good sign. So just take a deep breath and roll with it, because this issue gets blown out of proportion way too easily.
For now though my hands need some rest, and you need to check out next week's topic over in the Darker Side of Life thread. Speaking of which, if you can think of something you'd like to see covered, or a topic that we haven't done in a while you think might need revisiting, go ahead and send me a PM. I don't bite...hard...at first. Don't forget to leave a comment as well. The past few weeks we've had some great debates continuing in the comments section, so be sure to get your voice in!