I’ve been looking for a while for mechanical ways to represent “imagined communities” (Anderson), and especially linguistic communities. Grotto is starting from very abstract and sometimes arbitrary formal bits- random character classes (robot, animal etc) with meaninglessly arbitrary skills that don’t have an immediately obvious mechanical use.
I’ve been really carefully and slowly deciding what to do with these elements. Skills are being tested as an opaque-at-first-glance modifier for possible random chance events that could be added, like combat or trap evasion. Classes are slowly getting unique items with actions that can modify how players interact with the maze.
Which brings me to language. I am really reticent in general to add player to player communication to a game for reasons that should be obvious, but not to do so is to make a pretty big and meaningful departure from the MUD form, especially for a game that seems to want to be about culture and communication.
One solution that I’ve been mulling over long enough that I think I am committed to including it- Characters of a like type can communicate with one another, while unlike types cannot, i.e. there is a “bird language” a “robot language” etc. This actually unifies some of the interactions because currently a character is the only thing you don’t need an eye item to look at, its default implicit action is to look at its description. In the new model, the implicit verb of a character is the same as an NPC- “greet”. Greet would, when used on a playable character, bring up a message window (maybe truncated or limited in some way?) if the receiver and sender are the same class, it’s a clear message, if they are not alike, it comes out as “Chee the bird makes bird noises in your direction” etc.
I think this is a good system to start with, and could be built upon in interesting ways. It creates an imagined kinship between anonymous players that are probably strangers. It could be manipulated by class changes. I like it.