22 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 28)

Some of the things that have been mentioned earlier in the series relate to long term playability of a campaign. In part 8 I mentioned the idea of campaign resets, and how I don't like them (see the section in italics at the bottom).

Generally, the system proposed overcomes these issues by taking more powerful out of the day-to-day activities of a game (pulling their players into more administrative roles within the organisation), and ensuring powerful characters are never so far above the new players that they can't be threatened.

But, these ideas could dampen a player's motivation to keep playing. If a player has defined their play experience based on the growth of their character, what happens when this growth plateaus and their definition of play is no longer relevant.

The easy answer comes through secondary characters, and giving the player the opportunity to renew their pattern of growth with a new story.

That's a key part of the experience for me.

Here's a tangent...

If you go through movie news websites, there have been some recent articles about the shift in long-form movie narrative. Mostly due to Marvel's recent work. There are cries that "the sequel is dead, the movie universe is the new direction in film". Iron Man exists as a part of a wider continuity, other stories go on around him, and eventually he may be phased out of the films altogether (along with the core original avengers) to make room for a new generation of heroes.

Sometimes you've just got to learn to let go. Sometimes a character has told their story and it's time to move on.

Some players might not want to retire their characters within a wider game, once they become powerful figures within the narrative they might want to remain in that role.

A game system might apply a carrot or a stick at this point. The stick (penalty) for long term characters might come in the form of degradation, perhaps in the form of a rapidly compressed timeline for game events. Each game occurs on a fortnightly (or monthly) basis in the real world but represents an annual event in the game world, if we assume that characters start adventuring in their late teens, then after 20-30 games (around two years of game play) a character might start to lose physical abilities (one every second game thereafter), or may find regeneration after battle harder to succeed. This doesn't really work for the system currently in development, because it has a "real-time" downtime element for gathering resources/money and crafting goods. Another option might include increased chances of character death when a figure reaches a certain degree of prominence in the setting...better known characters have a higher price on their head and more assassins willing to take on that job.

A carrot (reward) might be a better approach. Maybe a player can voluntarily retire their character as an NPC, or sacrifice the character as a plot device. This would probably incorporate the Destiny Points mentioned in earlier posts. If a transition to NPC occurs, the player might "cash in" experience points invested into the character, maybe gaining 5% of the character's total experience as destiny points (round down)...the player would still get the chance to portray this character if the NPC is required for later storylines, but this character would only appear once or twice a year and wouldn't develop any further. If the player instead chooses to sacrifice their character for a wider story element, they might reclaim 10% of the character's total experience as destiny points, but this would have to be negotiated with event organisers. A player couldn't simply lose their character in battle then say..."Oh, that was a sacrifice, can I have my points now?"

A few more ideas using Destiny Points as a link between in-game narrative and out-of-game responsibilities will come in later posts.

21 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 27)

For those of you who don't know what Boffer LARPs look like, here's a few images from the session I attended on the weekend.












On a vaguely related note, an interesting rule was adapted by this group after contact witth a Canberra based LARP group. The rule is certainly something I might consider for the pirate/steampunk LARP in development, it goes like this.

Players who show up without costume have 3 hit points for their characters.
Players who show up with partial costume have 4 hit points for their characters.
Players who show up with full costume have 5 hit points for their characters.

The rules didn't take into account quality of armour, or extra damage for magic/character-strength/two-handed-weapons...but it was a day of battles and combat practice more than anything else. This group runs alternate fortnights of battle days such as these, and quest/scenario days.

The idea of rules that link the in-game and out-of-game worlds is interesting. To keep things legitimate in parts of the world with over-zealous legeal/litigation systems, such rules might become an integral part of the game. In this part of the world, an organised gathering of a certain size requires the presence of qualified first aid officers, a formal requirement to be run by a non-profit entity is a grey area when the transfer of money is involved (it's typically safer to set one up). But these are out-of-game concerns.

When I talk of rules that link game and reality, I mean things like quizzes that people might need to sit out of game, and if the quiz is passed, the player is now permitted to access higher level classes that are expected to possess this knowledge in game. It basically helps to counter the situations when a player would say "I don't know that, but my character would". The World of Darkness LARP group, the Camarilla, had tests called "ordeals" which players would neeed to sit before they could take on the roles of storytellers or coordinators. This way the people in power actually had the knowledge necessary to wield that power correctly (if not the morals to do so). In a boffer LARP you might also have a couple of quizzes/ordeals to ensure a player fights safely before allowing their characters to access larger/more-dangerous weapons. Once the player passes such an ordeal once, all of their characters gain access to the wider versatility. Some groups might even require regular annual refresher courses on weapon safety (especially with regards to ranged weapons).

Just a few more ideas to make sure everything is good.


18 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 26)

We have a pretty robust system developing.

It allows scope for numerous character types within an ecosystem of communal storytelling, so that basically matches with the intended design goals.

It doesn't allow everyone to play everything that they could imagine, because that would dilute the focus of the game and basically water it down to an incoherent mess. Instead of this, it uses a chunky point system to channel players into preferred character types.

It allows players to gather their characters into meaningful factions with some kind of mechanical benefit for doing so.

With a definition of cultures, races and occupations, we can even combine existing systems to develop subcultures within the setting. You want a specific farming caste within the settlers, then maybe you can define this through a faction that limits itself to settlers who have held the farmer occupation at some stage in their lives. You want a group of freebooting swashbucklers who regularly interact with pirates and privateers, maybe define a faction that includes characters from both of these cultures.

We have the scope for career development, as players take their characters through a number of different narrowly defined occupations, This tends to increase the versatility of the characters through the course of play, rather than specifically increasing their power level...so new characters have a chance of confronting experienced characters successfully, but experienced characters are more desired in quests for their range of skills, and they have a wider variety of activities to engage in during the "down time" between games. There is still a progression of skills and a progression of advanced occupation types, allowing more experienced character to have an edge, but the emphasis is on rounding out characters over the course of play.

There hasn't been a post over the last couple of days, because I've been working on University assignments, and also because I've been writing up a fairly comprehensive spreadsheet of occupations, culture and races, assigning abilities to them, and trying to come up with some interesting techniques for each. I'm trying to make sure all of the abilities are shared by at least half a dozen different occupation types, and where they aren't I'm adding in a couple of occupations to cover the shortfall.

Belonging to an occupation allows a character to improve their related skills by a single level, getting to level two (intermediate) requires learning the ability from two different occupations because you gain a different perspective on the ability when you perform it in a different job. To get to level three (advanced) requires learning the ability from three different occupational perspectives. When there's half a dozen different occupations sharing the ability this allows a variety of occupational progressions on the path to ability mastery. Everyone gains an edge in specific abilities because they can learn a level from their culture or race.

I'm currently up to about 150 occupations, maybe 40 of which are allowable to starting characters.

We have a well rounded economy that makes sense, it might be a bit overly complicated and intimidating to new players, but new players don't really need to worry about that side of things to enjoy the game. The economy is in place to facilitate the construction of special items without resorting to GM fiat (which is important in a game where there may not be a centralised GM).

When it comes to a magic system, I really haven't touched on that at all. I love the magic system in Mage: the Ascension (I've stated this time and again), but it needs a good GM and is probably too open ended for LARP play. I've seen it fall apart during the previously mentioned World of Darkness live campaigns I've been a part of. Instead we have some good anchor points for a magic system in place; there are abilities for Mysticism, Ritual, Faith, Negation and Transformation, and a system of techniques which could be rewritten as "Spells" and easily slotted into the existing mechanisms of play.

In a miniatures game like Confrontation, magic spells become available to characters who possess mastery over specific schools of magical training (necromancy, enchantment, theurgy, sorcery, etc.) I'm thinking of something similar for mages in this game. Perhaps a school of magical training grants a simple pocketmod booklet filled with a range of 6 spells, of which a character starts with one (such a book might have a front cover depicting the school's name and a suitable sigil, while the back cover gives a brief description of the school's tenets, or maybe offers some kind of quest to gain experience points for new spells in the book).

Confrontation actually uses a deck of cards, with a dozen or more spells belonging to each school (packs of school spells purchased seperately), and some spells belonging to two or more schools of magic, but I'm not sure if this is the way to go. I think a cluster of related spells makes more sense, where many spells might have a more powerful effect if you possess a certain synergistic ability at an intermediate level. You might have a range of animal spells, a range of plant spells, a range of enchantments or curses, a spirit set...you get the idea. If you want to have a different set of spells available, you need to follow the right occupation (which might require a few shifts of occupation before you can open up that class).

Crafting techniques would work the same way. Smiths might be able to use metal to produce basic farm implements and tools...Swordsmiths gain a more advanced group of items such as weaponry that they can now produce...Glassblowers might be able to produce bottles, vials, glass windows, etc...Boilermakers might be good with pipes, boilers, and the necessarily componentry for building steam engines...Alchemists might stride the gap between crafting and magic, with the ability to produce an assortment of potions and elixirs. Every set of spells or crafted items is intrinsically linked to a specific occupation, and both groups might require components consumed (or a specifically built workshop environment) before their effects become manifest in the game.

The versatility of spell and crafting books is offset by the requirements necessary for these effects.


15 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 25)

Now that we’ve reached the advantages of gathering characters into factions, it’s probably a good time to look at how those factions might form and what limitations might be placed on factions.

Since factions can start from 3 players, and could theoretically expand to cover any number of players, the variations possible are endless. Personally, I think the narrower the definition of the faction, the more focused it will be, and the stronger the relationships between the characters in that faction. More inclusive factions, on the other hand, then to have a wider focus and looser relationships.

The first thing that could define a faction is race; whether that comes in the form of specific races being permitted to join or specific races being denied entry to the faction. There’s an inherent racism and prejudice when saying a faction may only possess members of a single race; I’m not includes applying moral judgement to that choice of racism/prejudice, I’m just saying that it’s a thing. If a specific faction decides to only welcome members of the Dhampyr race, then it might be justified as a Dhampyr supremacist group, or maybe an alliance of like minded individuals who work together to explore the Dhampyr condition. Such a group wouldn’t make sense to have non-Dhampyr’s present, but it might loosely affiliate with other races outside the faction. A single race faction has a simple intrinsic weakness, since magic will be keyword related, and all members of a single race share a specific keyword, then an area effect targeting a specific keyword will target all members of the faction (for better or worse).

If a faction is defined as an anti-Wyldkin hate group, they might invite members of all races to join…except Wyldkin. There’s an inherent racism/prejudice in that as well. But when a group is so open, with so many options for its members, it becomes necessary to create additional defining aspects for the group if it wants to retain a level of focus and not just devolve into a beige blurred mess of incoherence. Naturally, this particular group might require its members to have been attacked by a Wyldkin (or have lost a family member to them). The drawback with this type of group comes from the defining races not permitted; what does an anti-Wyldkin group do when there are no Wyldkin in the game to fight against?

Personally, I think that if you want direction in a faction, but don’t want to narrow the focus too far, then a grouping of two races is probably a good starting point. Maybe a third if you’re using the more obscure race options.

This is exactly the same for cultures. One culture becomes a narrow focus, all but one culture becomes very nebulous and vague unless there are other defining factors.

Occupations could be an interesting way to define a faction, but since occupations are so transient in this game it would be pretty debilitating for a faction if it only allowed members who were current members of a specific profession. We are a faction based on a ship anchored on the north side of the harbour, we will only allow people who are sailors to join us. Instead, every character who follows an occupation gains access to certain abilities and techniques, before they move on to new occupations. If a group were pondering this as the criteria for membership, it would make far more sense to restrict characters based on the possession of a specific ability level, or the possession of a certain technique.

A final way to define a faction might be through the completion of a specific task or quest. This kind of quest should probably work as something than can be done on the side while other activities are engaged, rather than something that requires a dedicated GM and story. This might be a better way to define a faction for characters who are already in the game, rather than allowing players to write in their backstories “Oh, yeah, a couple of years ago I completed the Trial of the Red Lotus, so now I’m a member of the Blood Coven”.

Now that I’m looking at it, the defining factors for factions are starting to look like the suggested methodology for defining prestige classes in D&D 3.0/3.5. The kinds of advantages I have in mind are vaguely similar too.


Other options for defining a faction could include the requirement to wear a specific uniform item (“a red shield”, “a black bandana”, “a surcoat emblazoned with a specific emblem”) to identify the members during the course of game, or maybe an in-game membership fee (“spend a gold coin every month to retain membership in the Colonial Gentleman’s Club”, “donate 2 units of timber or metal each month to the craftsman’s guild to gain access to their workshop”). There are dozens of ways a faction could restrict its entry, but if it ends up being too restrictive then many players will just look for other factions to join with their characters.


On the other hand, too many members may mean that the founders of a faction are suddenly swarmed by new members and lose control of the group they started. It’s all about balance.

(EDIT: I'v just reaslised that yesterday I mentioned that all faction members will be spending a minimum of one risked story XP into their faction each session. This is definitely a criteria for factional membership, some factions might define themselves by asking for public declarations of XP invested [within the faction anyway]. Some might evenrequire their members to use two of their story XP in this manner just to show the commitment of members.)

14 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 24)

LARP is a social activity. That’s why I’m involved in it. Sure there are social aspects in an MMORPG, but everything is moderated through a screen. Some people like that, there’s always the stereotypical slobby gamer who inhabits avatars of hot chicks wielding oversized swords or guns, and wearing skimpy armour…but LARP isn’t about them (for the most part… let me tell you a story about a trip to Melbourne one time).

Following up on the last post about “doll-housing”, there is a great way to use this technique to expand the game for everyone. I touched on it at the end of that last post, it’s the point where a few players get together and develop a tight knit group that acts as a self-contained unit for storytelling.

I hate to say it, but one of my regular commenters was among the first group of players I saw do this well. +Klaus Teufel, was a part of a secretive group containing a pair of vampires and a mage (which I became embroiled in later), I think it’s safe to say now that the game has been dead for 15 years that these characters were bound by the fact that they were all secretive infernalists (I’m sure he’ll be able to correct me on this if I’m wrong).

Using this group, they infiltrated vampire communities, mage communities, and various other groups through their influence. Most people seemed to know out of character that they were up to something, and many translated that meta-game knowledge into their characters (but that’s another point entirely)… very few actually knew what was going on.

Individually, these characters might not have had the influence to make a lot of difference in the story, but as an unholy trinity they could combine their forces to overcome the vast majority of characters who operated independently as “lone-wolf moody stalkers of the night”. Rarely did other characters unite their forces unless facing a specific one-off threat provided by the GMs, after which they’d go their separate ways again.

In the interests of pushing the concept of player driven storyline, it makes sense for this game to formalise the relationships between characters, especially in small factional groups that might struggle for power in the shadows.

Let’s start with the fact that I’m a big fan of the triangular number progression sequence
1T = 1 = 1
2T = 1+2 = 3
3T = 1+2+3 = 6
4T = 1+2+3+4 = 10
5T = 1+2+3+4+5 = 15
…etc.

The one player unit is 1T, a single player. A pair of players can work together, but they get access to a new level of power (or something special) once they add a third character to their mix. Three characters becomes the minimum number for a small faction.

Since we talked about primary characters and secondary characters in earlier instalments of this series, we can discuss their implications here as well. I would suggest that a player may not have primary and secondary characters belonging to the same faction (because this could be abused to artificially boost factional numbers), but then we run into the problem of players knowing what is happening behind the scenes in two separate factions. This causes a problem when dealing with immature players who would use this meta-game knowledge to their advantage, but let’s assume most of our players are mature. A second rule that would help curtail this problem might state that only a primary character may hold a leadership role within a faction (and thus know what is truly going on within the faction).

What are the bonuses for working as a faction?

Here I’m thinking prestige, access to a secure stronghold/storage-facility, access to resources, training in special abilities, and factional secrecy. Players in the faction would be able to choose which options their faction possesses, and would be able to lure new players to their faction with promises of rewards from those options.

Let’s link this into the story point system where players risk their experience points by linking it to a specific storyline. This way when the faction gains power, everyone gains a benefit, when the faction loses power they suffer. It’s in their best interests to push the factional agenda.

This means every character has one to three points invested in their faction, and in turn, this gives the faction leaders a pool of points that may be spent to empower factional benefits. Faction leaders don’t necessarily know who is contributing what number of points, they just know the overall total.

As an idea, these points might be spent in the following ways.

Secluded Meeting Place = 1pt (Maximum for a 2T faction)
Secure Meeting Place = 3pts (Maximum for a 3T faction)
Stronghold = 5pts (Maximum for a 4T faction)
Fortress = 7pts (Maximum for a 5T faction)
Employ a minor mentor (capable of training a basic level ability) = 1pt (Max. 2T)
Employ a competent mentor (capable of training an intermediate level ability) = 3pts (Max. 3T)
Employ a master mentor (capable of training an advanced level ability) = 5pts (Max. 4T)
Regular income of a small amount in some common material = 1pt (Max. 2T)
Regular income of a moderate amount in some common material = 2pts (Max. 3T)
Regular income of a large amount in some common material = 3pts (Max. 4T)
Regular income of a small amount in some uncommon material = 2pt (Max. 3T)
Regular income of a moderate amount in some uncommon material = 4pts (Max. 4T)
Regular income of a large amount in some uncommon material = 6pts (Max. 5T)
Access to bodyguards / workers = 1pt per pair of bodyguards/workers
Factional secrecy = total number of points to be spent must be greater than half the number of characters in the faction (rounding down).

You get the idea.

Factional prestige would purely be measured by the number of characters publicly swearing allegiance to the group.


I think that this bit of the game might be one of the defining systems that sets it apart from other LARPs. So we might need a bit more work to get this part right.

13 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 23)

There is a concept in some forms of roleplaying that hasn’t really had a name. It’s where a single player creates a magnificent back story which doesn’t actually enter play. A few years ago on Story Games, this idea was described as “Doll Housing”.

The basic idea states that a player creates an elaborate “doll-house” for their character background. A unique snowflake of intricacy, carefully linked into everything it means to “BE” this character. But in many cases, this is such a carefully crafted and delicate thing, that they don’t allow other players to play with it.

There lies the problem.

Roleplaying is about portraying a role, if your backstory isn’t going to come into play through your portrayal of the role, why have it? I’ve played with hundreds of people in live-roleplaying contexts over the years, and I’ve seen my fair share of players who come to their role with no background thoughts what-so-ever, I’ve seen just as many elaborate backstories that just don’t enter play at all… characters with backgrounds as elite assassins, but who fumble and fail once the character actually starts interacting with the outside world… characters who are master courtiers possessed of cunning and deft in the world of intrigue, but who possess the diplomacy and tact of your stereotypical orc once they are actually played.

In a tabletop game, a player is concealing their “dollhouse” from a couple of other people on the table. Over time they might “open a dollhouse window” to allow another player to peer into their carefully constructed world, some players might even allow a little access to other characters, as long as they don’t “move the furniture too much” and disrupt the intricate backstory. In a LARP game, players are concealing their dollhouse from a dozen or more other players. Unless the “dollhouse” has been created by a group of players to share their backstories, it’s generally a pretty selfish way to play a game.

Don’t get me wrong, I used to love reading these as a LARP campaign GM. It was fascinating when a player would do something in game, something that just didn’t make sense to most of the players but which made perfect sense in the context of their backstory. But more often than not, players would create these backstories purely to justify why their character had some quirky power that wasn’t normally associated with their character type. I’ve read thirty page histories, just to discover how a “formerly psychic werewolf-kinfolk now embraced by the Tremere vampires” could justify possessing the shapeshifting discipline of Protean without being linked to the Gangrel clan.

Histories in game should be far more than justifications, they should provide impetus and direction to characters. That’s one of the places where linking characters to stories becomes an advantage. Setting up a game like this, I’d throw in a dozen key storylines for players to link to (let’s say half as many background storylines as there are players). If a player wants to write a background for their character, they might offer a single paragraph of narrative for each storyline they want to link to. If a player has a bunch of points to throw into a character (to make them enter play at a more prestigious/experienced level), they might add in a paragraph for each of the occupations they’ve passed through on the way to reaching their current position… No more than a page in total (maybe two pages in the case of really experienced characters). I'm thinking of writing something like this formally into the rules, but maybe it might be better as a sidebar.

The point is that characters only come into their own once they start interacting with others. Dollhousing is great if you want to share your backstory with a variety of people, otherwise it’s just window dressing with no real effect. A character’s true story begins the moment they enter play.


Besides, who want to write a 30 page story for a character who dies five minutes into the game?

11 October, 2014

Random post of 2014

He is coming.



I'm so happy about this. I guess the avatar stays in place for a few more years.