So, I've bee thinking about props and realizing that I have a lot of faulty assumptions. To begin with, I assume that a prop should have a propco simply by virtue of being a prop. That's bad enough, but more subtly, I think I've made a somewhat backward assumption: that propcos are there for the sake of the prop.
That is, the more I think about it, all crap.
Ok, so here's the thing. Running plots on a MUSH is a pain, especially since consequences and impacts are hard to come by and difficult to implement. Staff can do it, but in the absence of staff, the theory is that a prop controller can have consequences of play reflected in the prop he controls. That seems like a very reasonable model, but how often do you see props handled in that fashion? The default assumption is that it is the propcos job to "look out for the interests" of the prop and to keep it form being abused.
That's one of those things that makes a lot of sense when you're hip deep in it, but from a distance looks completely ass backwards. Props do not need protecting. Props are, ultimately, not very important. Their importance is solely in terms of how much they serve play, and they serve play by reflecting consequences. To my mind, if the prop is not in the hands of the person most willing to see it changed by play, it is in the wrong hands.
Now, that's not to say it needs to be in any hands. For many people, props are an organizational unit of information. They are valuable for the background and playgroup they provide. Those are, absolutely, important things, and while they might require a subject matter expert - someone who knows the lore of the prop and can answer questions about it - that doesn't mean it needs a propco. The prop might well be off the table in terms of the impact of play, at which point it's not really a prop at all, just a background element. There's nothing wrong with that: setting depend on having some elements that aren't going to be constantly subject to change, and so long as it's clear what's "in play" and what is not then all is well.
What's more, the role of propco is one that gets horribly muddled by the non-prop responsibilities. Being a propco is a responsibility, and while most propcos will agree with that, the reasons they do so are a little different than you might expect. it is not that they feel it's a lot of work maintaining the prop, it is that by virtue of being propco, they are also de facto head of the playgroup. That means they spend their days herding cats, which is a lot of work. One of the rewards of that work is the social status that comes of being a propco.
At this point, it really feels to me like the bad parts of the system really feed back on themselves. Under this one umbrella, "propco" we really have several VERY different roles:
- Keeper of Lore
- Head of Playgroup
- Keeping Prop Dynamic (handling consequences)
- VIP of the Game
Is it any wonder that props end up static, fiercely guarded little principalities? Keeping the prop dynamic is the least rewarding of the roles, and is often in conflict with the other priorities. If a playgroup is tied to a prop, then taking consequences to the plot is often at odds with your responsibility to the playgroup. If you dig the social status of being a propco, diminishing your prop diminishes your status. Subject matter expertise is the only role that doesn't conflict with handling consequences, and it's the one most often farmed out to someone who is not the propco.
I propose that we rethink the prop and see about divvying up these responsibilities a bit. First and foremost, separate the props from the setting elements. The simple act of saying that the element-owner can concentrate on other priorities will remove a huge amount of stress from the system. By calling out the props that can be impacted by play, and putting them in the hands of players who have a vested interest in seeing them change (which may mean players external to the prop, to prevent conflicts of interest) you free props up to be more play centric, and that would be a welcome thing.
What's more, it would also relax play in the fixed elements. If people know that play cannot substantially change something, and come to trust that, they will often get much more relaxed about short term consequences, knowing that the long term smooths it all out. Remote elements become more playable because there's no sense of needing to clear your play with the propco.
Other roles would, I suspect, sort themselves out. People have a way of finding leaders and social currency no matter what the situation. And this would by no means be a panacea - the first danger i imagine is that we'd end up with propcos who only allow their preferred playgroup to make changes in their personal element of the setting. That's inconvenient (though if done properly might work very organically), but since staff have fewer props to worry about, it's not hard to keep an eye on who is changing what, and watch for trends.
Whatever the solution, the bottom line is that a lot of what we do with props today is out of habit more than anything else, and like any habit, it merits some examination to see if our actions are really serving our goals.
1 - Yes, it needs a catchier name