21 July, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Figure Painting (Part 13)

I've come up with some inspiration for my bases, something to make them more distinctive.

Here's a local highway patrol car from this part of the world...


Since this squad is generally being used as police and peacekeepers, they aren't stealthy in any way. They like to make their presence felt, and if you cross their path, you're probably breaking the law and will feel their wrath.

With that in mind, here's the base scheme...


Building up a sequence of blue checkers on the white. Maybe with the bright orange as a name plate for the officer (we'll see about that one).

Here's a few of the bases together...


At the 'front' of the base, I'll put a gold star. This will designate the facing for those game systems that require the 'front' of the figure to be indicated. At the back, I'll add the officer's name.

A Fox's Guide to Figure Painting (Part 12)

Good eyes and faces give a figurine character, they can cover a multitude of sins on the rest of the piece. Good bases ground the figure into their world.

This post covers the preparation work, along with some of my theory about bases.

First the prep...


Along the top Row...

1. This is a typical 30mm round base, common to many games at the moment (Warmachine and Malifaux are the two I'm most familiar with). These bases are also an exact match for the Sci-fi Reaper Bones squad I'm painting up.

2. I don't particularly like hollow plastic bases, because I like to drill things into them, and the plastic can be a bit flimsy when figures see regular use. For this reason, I mould up my own bases in resin, or buy custom bases that fit the theme I'm working with. The depicted base here uses a dungeon floor design.

3. Once I've moulded up a base, it needs to be primed. As I said earlier, I tend to use a grey primer because it's pretty cheap and readily available, and it lends itself to both light and dark shades pretty easily.

4. The figures I'll be using sit in the middle circle of the base. So I don't need to worry too much about painting this section. The outer ring, I paint in white to go with the theme I'm playing with for this team.
A single coat of white doesn't cover they grey as well as I'd hoped...

5. ...so I add a second coat of white to the outer edge.

(The larger base below the top 5 will be used for the Warforged/Cyborg who has been added to the team.)


I could add the figures straight to these bases, but most of my figures have something special about their bases. Each team/squad has something distinct that they stand on; and if multiple squads make up an army, a common theme spreads across all the different bases.

Sometimes I even add names to the troops, to add a bit of individuality and maybe tell a bit of a story when they hit the battlefield. This is probably a throwback to Mordheim/Necromunda days.


19 July, 2014

A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 4)

Having studied linguistics, I fully understand that language is an evolving construct. What might have a certain meaning at one time or in one context might take on a new meaning in a new context, or might develop into a new form as time passes. My understanding of the term "Australian Freeform" is anchored in the east cost Australian convention scene of the mid 1990s, I didn't know of it as "Australian Freeforming" at the time, is was just "Freeform"... It was only in contact with the American form of "freeform" gaming that I even realises that this was a roleplaying artform specific to the game conventions of Australia's east coast. Sure, there are a number of similar game types around the world now (larger "jeep-forms" may fit this mould, as may the form known in some circles as "theatre-form"), there is probably quite a bit of overlap in these game forms, but I'm not familiar enough with the other to make a constructive criticism of the similarities and differences.

Back to the Facebook discussion...picking up where we left off.

Travis James Hall
Keiran, I'm not sure what you are referring to on the Arcanacon website. I don't recall that discussion of teams or subgames there (and I wrote most of the content on that subject for the Arc website).

With my org hat on for a minute, I can say that Arc has moved away from using "freeform" as a category of games because it is so vaguely defined, and because we have been getting more games that definitely weren't either freeforms or tabletops (and multiform was turning into a catch-all for "doesn't fit elsewhere"), but which often are LARPs. Freeforms are still mentioned under LARP, but that's basically to point out that if you're looking for a freeform, that's the category in which you'll find them.

As for the term "freeform" as in "Australian freeform" (and this is with my org hat off again)... It doesn't just refer to the game being systemless or nearly so. (We've always used "systemless" for that.) It's a particular style of game (which may not be actually systemless), characterised by the way characters interact and the story comes out (or doesn't), pre-gen characters with a fair bit of detail, only light guidance from the GMs, lack of boffing, and some other features. The definition is only loose, and it is that way because it developed within the community. It might once have referred to a game which is free of form and no more than that, but it evolved into something different long ago.

And putting on the org hat again, the fact that freeforms are not defined by being freeform in the lay definition is another part of why Arc has moved away from using it for classification. We dinosaurs who were there when freeforms were big (and I'll admit to being a latecomer) know a freeform when we see it, but that isn't useful to anyone outside of those circles.

And multiforms... Games which are a midpoint between freeforms and tabletops in terms of size - typically 7-11 players - tend to be multiforms, just because the approach of freeforms tends to break down below a certain minimum number of players (generally acknowledged to be about 12, but certain steps when writing can be taken to reduce that limit if you care to do that) and tabletop becomes similarly problematic above about 6 (though, again, there are ways to push higher), so you get games that draw on both forms to steal the techniques that work for that game - the true multiform. But that's not the only reason people run multiforms, and certainly some aren't in that 7-11 player region.

Keiran Sparksman
Here's the section on the Arcanacon website on Multiforms, which talks about the potential for teams and sub-games (though refers to them as freeforms in the second paragraph):

...and the section on Freeforms, which talks about freeforms being system light:
http://arcanacon.org/2013/events/freeforms.html

Where this is what I would argue is a great, practical example of a multiform, which ran for ~2 years (9 cycles), with 1 freeform, ~6 tabletops and an interminable number of 40k and Battlefleet games
http://www.the-unbound.com/faq.html#0102

I can definitively point to the above example and say that last link _was_ a multiform.

Travis James Hall
Ah, you're delving into the archives. There are reasons why that content isn't on the current incarnation of the site.

And yes, freeforms are system-light, but being system-light doesn't, by itself, make a game a freeform.

Travis James Hall
Also, something happened with categorisation of games at Arc... We started to get games submitted as freeforms that clearly fitted into the multiform category - things with a dozen players but divided up into sub-groups to allow GMs to more readily handle their heavier mechanics, or eight players and a GM-centric structure, and so on. And I'd ask the submitters why they were submitted as freeforms, and have them readily admit that they were more properly multiforms, but, they said, freeforms get more attention and draw more players.

So I stomped on a few of these people and put their events where they were supposed to be, but then I also went back to the committee and said, "We need categories with better definitions, because having writers try to game the system isn't helping the players find games they want to play, and too much of this is relying on my judgement calls." So we did that. Things still blur at the edges, but it's a lot easier to say whether something involves live-action play than whether it is a freeform.

Keiran Sparksman

Oh, I definitely agree on that last point, but I disagree that a multiform is based around player numbers and not multiple of forms of play.

I'd say this is probably a Sydney/Canberra divide, as James (who ran Unbound) was co-running Sydcon/Eyecon (but has stepped back from both), so heavily influenced local gamers.

But, my big question would be this:
If someone runs a Only War game, then uses 40k to resolve a few battles; or Iron Kingdoms/Warmachine; Heavy Gear tabletop then skirmish; a Houses of the Blooded/Blood and Tears game our any other game which switches between forms of play, why do you call it if not a multiform?

Travis James Hall
I didn't say that a multiform is based around player numbers. They are defined by the incorporation of multiple forms of play, or techniques drawn from multiple forms of play.

I'm saying that *some* multiforms were written as such because of the number of players they were intended to have, which the writers found was best to deal with in those particular cases by incorporating techniques from both tabletop and freeform play. It's not the defining feature of a multiform; it's just how the decision was made to write a multiform in certain cases.

And it is why we have seen quite a few multiforms in the 7-11 players range.

Keiran Sparksman
Oh, cool.

Sorry, still arguing against Michael assertion (prolly throw away) that under 12 players sides into multiform (which it can, but doesn't have to).

I feel like we should update Wikipedia at this point.

We now return you to your initially scheduled debate around what freeforms are, and how Australian styles differ from U.S. and European (and stuff like Jeepform - good luck with that).

Travis James Hall
Well, as you drop below 12 players, you do tend to slide into multiform. You usually have to, in order to make it work. But there have been exceptions, and not all multiforms are a result of that drop in player numbers.

So Michael's accurately describing the way things generally pan out, but it isn't definitional.

Keiran Sparksman
I realized something:

Freeforms often put the onus for resolving conflicts back on to the players.

While LARPs sort of assume that a GM is nearby to facilitate/mediate conflict.

Is that a possible point of definition around a transitive point?

Stuart Barrow
It sounds like what we describe as "systemless" has acquired the American descriptor "Australian freeform", possibly in contrast to an American freeform style. I find the technical distinctions interesting, but it's also worth remembering that there are general rules of thumb: you'll probably be sitting down for a tabletop, standing up for a freeform, and doing something slightly different for a multiform. "Systemless" is a catch-all for

Stuart Barrow
Stupid phone. "Systemless" in this schema is a catch-all for "no commercial system" and can include any number of resolution mechanisms (which tends to bother the linguistic purists).

Michael Wenman

Hey, I'm all for healthy debate. I agree that a multiform is better defined by the method of resolution involving different methods of play (live action, tabletop, miniatures, 'diplomacy'-styled boardgames)...my assertion of 12 players was more constrained by the mid to late 90s convention scene when I first encountered the term. Most 'Multiforms' of the time (at conventions) involved two to three 'five player teams', and resolved their story through a combination of tabletop and live play. 

Personally, at home, most games I was running at the time had 8 to 10 players and involved a combination of play styles. But this was just "home play", I only ever associated freeform and multiform with the convention circuit or special events.

Stuart Barrow
I totally framed a question as a statement. Michael: does your discussion include an American freeform style? I'm curious as to what that might look like.

Michael Wenman
From what I've gathered so far, 'American Freeform'-style is traditionally actually a semi-derogatory term indicating a game that has broken free of it's structure and has lost the control of it's GM.

Stuart Barrow
:D

Ivan Neville

It's pretty simple.

Tabletop games are your classic sit-about-and-make-a-storygame. This can be as iconic as D&D, or as indie as Dread or FATE. You don't need a tabletop, but the term is handy.

LARP covers both boffer-style contact battle games and also non-contact interactive games (like Camarilla or Nordic games). That creates confusion.

Traditionally, Australians have different names for these two styles of larp. We call any non-contact LARP a freeform, pretty much. That's what freeform basically represents; non-contact larp.

We USED to call boffer games LRP(Live RolePlaying) but we now tend to follow the rest of the world and add the "a".

To read more on freeforms, check out The Freeform Book by Morgana Cowling (it has dated immensely and relies too much on a d20 for saving throws for my taste).http://www.amazon.co.uk/THE-FREEFORM-BOOK-MORGANA-COWLING/dp/B003LM07L6

Travis James Hall
There's also "social LARP" and "combat LARP", which are really a more transparent system of labels than "freeform" vs "LRP".

Liz Argall
Lizzie Stark - this might interest you :-)

Which curiously brings us full circle...

Liz Argall
Also, of interest, the person was me, trying to explain stuff!... it gets really hard when people have different scaffolding and trying to build on something that has a shared sense and approach. Esp when people's eyes glaze over around terminology (especially when terminology isn't the hard rigid thing people want) and get past that to discussing the games and experience and approach (and those who know me know exactly the sort of story telling modes and approaches I'm passionate about). It's exhausting living in America where there just isn't the same roleplaying convention scene and Scandanavian stuff at least has a bit more in common with us.

All in all, the discussion talks around the points, but doesn't specifically define "Australian Freeform". Lots of people have great ideas for what it isn't...the true nature of the beast lies somewhere in what remains behind when these elements are taken away.

Maybe I should work my way through designing a freeform as an online exercise.






16 July, 2014

A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 3)

There are some great freeform writers in Australia, but generally a writer will consider their work to be a piece of art, something that they like to keep under their control. This is an overgeneralisation, but it might help explain why there is so little information about Australian Freeforms on the internet. The work is often kept close to the writer's chest, and in a little bit of ego sensitivity a lot of writers feel that their work might not be done justice when they aren't present to shepherd the results. It also doesn't help that a lot of freeforms are written with ad hoc notes and marginalia through the text offering suggestions on how the event might be run best.

An often cited resource for Australian Freeforms is a set of minutes from a seminar held in 1995 at the Necronomicon Convention. The first set of links I had to those minutes is dead, but this seems to be a new set of those notes (possibly posted by the Jacinta who is currently the 'writer wrangler' for Canberra's Phenomenon convention). This document is one of the most formal pieces of writing on the topic that I'm aware of, involving some of the most influential figures involved in the style of play at the time. This is where I derive a lot of my ideas from.

But now for the Facebook discussion, involving several current figures at work in Australian Freeform. All comments have been directly transcribed to avoid paraphrasing or claims that I might be filtering these opinions through my own lens...

Michael Wenman
I'm having a fascinating discussion about Australian Freeforming over on G+ with someone from overseas who is fascinated by the genre.

She has informed me that an Australian has said...

"Her scene is mostly people of 8 or less in one classroom with a GM and no costuming."

Personally, that sounds like the American description of freeform/systemless play, not "Australian Freeform".

What do you think?

Nick Matthews
Some Freeforms can be that small, but personally the ones I have been part of have had costuming, 15-30 players, and 1-3 GMs.

Austin Dark
perhaps there is a communication? is she referring to "who's line is it any way" - theater sports? are you on the same page as far as the definition of free-forming/ free form role-playing?

Paul Stephenson
That sounds to me as "multiform"-ing. Which, in my experience was a kind of half-way point between tabletop and freeform.

Darren Crosbie
Our melbourne group runs a number of freeforms/larps and we've got a gen x freeform at 45+ players.

Michael Wenman
The specific query was regarding the "Australian Freeform" genre of roleplaying, which basically fits the description Nick Matthews indicated. As far as I was aware, anything below 12-15 players starts fitting into the "multiform" category.

Nick Matthews
Also, she has only provided one data point. Not on G+, not really interested in it. Pretty sure you could manage a 10 or less freeform, just as some can manage a 10 or more tabletop. It's more to me about the spirit of the game. It depends on the spirit and intent. In most cases, even if it's 20 people all in costume, if all they're doing is sitting around a table and asking questions to the GM, it's still a tabletop.

Matthew Chalmers
We have done a few five player LARPs. Similarly, I was trying not to get overwhelmed by a 28 player Tabletop campaign. It is a format.

Michael Wenman
At this stage, I've described a freeform as a storytelling ecosystem with GMs acting as facilitators rather than storytellers, costumes are optional, the narrative generally unfolds through social politics, and there is rarely a formal system of conflict resolution beyond GM adjudication.

Mike Walker
Defining freeform vs multiform vs LARP vs tabletop is difficult, as there are no clear cut defintions already in place.  I like Nick's defintion though.  What country is she from?

Michael Wenman
The quoted description in inverted commas in the original post was apparently from an Australian.

Matthew Chalmers
But Freeform and Tabletop aren't mutually exclusive. Multiform seems to be the odd one out because it describes a LARP/Tabletop hybrid. Freeform's counterpart seems to be "System".

Or maybe I don't understand the definition of Freeform.

Nick Matthews
Also worth defining: We are not the be all and end all of Australian Gaming, we can only really speak for freeforms in the context that we've played them. And I am personally okay with not being hard and fast about definitions, I think Intent is most important.

Mike Walker
There are Camarilla chapters in the US, and I've also recently run a US written LARP, which seem to be like the ones we have here.  I've played in one LARP at GenCon in the US, which seemed to have very few of them, and it was like one of our poorly written ones, though players had told me they had better expcerince (sic) with the format at other cons.

Michael Wenman
Very true. I guess I'm trying to define the core shorthand of the concept. Every 'freeform' will orbit around this core concept, some closer to others and some drifting toward other definitions... I agree that placing boundaries on RPG descriptions is tricky (consider the furore over the definition of "story-games" or "narrativism"), but with a shorthand, we can at least get on the same page and deviate our conversations from there.

Kieran Sparksman
Hmmm.
The "Multiform" we had in Sydney was 60+ player with tabletops and wargames interspersed with freeform sessions, and I feel that this describes that term better than Wikipedia's uncited definition.

I disagree with the idea that the midpoint between a tabletop and a freeform is a "multiform" based purely from numbers. A freeform is freed of form, systemless or system-light. It's often enacted, though can be not, and can run with a small number of players (see a heap of the Short Sharp Shocks Necro used to have, or Myths Over Miami).

Hell, even the Acanacon website talks of teams or subgames as part of multiforms (though it specifies that as non-crucial).

Basically:
Freeform: Freed of form, often created in defiance of systematization or where mechanics become unwieldy (such as large numbers of players or badly written rulesets).
Multiform: Embraces multiple forms of play. Can include team play, subsets or multiple sessions, etc.

Sounds to me that the original Australian is going diceless or systemless, possibly freeform, depending upon the intent, interactions of participants, etc. If there are sessions which are freeform and some which aren't it may be multiforming.

It all comes down to what she wants to call it, but if it didn't originate in Australia, probably not an Australian freeform.

Mark Ashcroft
I've seen this conversation a couple of time's a year almost since I started gaming. It has never come to a firm conclusion. Australian freeforms seem to be a 'you know it when you see it' thing.

...and there lies the essence of the problem, here in Australia we've been experimenting with different styles of play and methods to achieve immersion through play for decades. Some of those experimentations might be considered 'freeform', others not so much. Trying to explain these concepts is tricky.

Next, we watch the discussion move toward similar terms in the vicinity of 'freeform', and how they can be just as nebulous and vague in their definitions.

A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 2)

It took a while to find the old lexicon of 'East Coast Australian Gaming Terms', because a few of the old links were dead. Finally, I managed to find a copy of it that still exists (http://gamingknack.blogspot.com/2011/06/australian-convention-roleplaying.html).The 'formal' definition of a freeform according to this lexicon is...

Freeform
Theatrical roleplaying events in which a large number (up to two hundred and fifty!) roleplayers simultaneously interact in a single area with minimal plot or gm intervention. In a freeform, one assumes a character and goes for broke!
Freeforms are characterised by a low GM to player ratio and by a large degree of player independence - participants being free to characterise, plot, scheme or generally wheel and deal according to simple character sheets or game mechanics. Freeforms may or may not be driven by external plot events.
Freeforms are an Australian invention. The world's first freeform was run by Peter Quinton at Octocon in Canberra, October 1982. The next was run at Cancon '83 and involved nearly 150 players.

It basically matches what I've described so far. There are plenty of other useful insights to the game convention scene of the era when browsing through the various definitions in this list.

But for the moment...back to the G+ discussion.

Lizzie Stark
Costumes or no costumes?

Michael Wenman
Costumes not essential, but are common. In some cases, costumes will be 'thoroughly recommended' by the writer, and if characters haven't been pre-distributed then primary characters will often be allocated to players in appropriate costuming. It's one of those grey areas, with a lot of unwritten meta-etiquette. When characters are pre-distributed (days before the event), primary characters are often given to those players who have previously shown their acting prowess, their costuming prowess, or their skills at social manipulation. 

Sometimes a writer will specifically write a character for a specific player. It is only rarely in a freeform that a player gets to write their own character.

Lizzie Stark
This is interesting, because I've been talking to another member of the Australian freeform scene who has a completely different take--she says her scene is mostly people of 8 or less in one classroom with a GM and no costuming.

I'm wondering if this is because there is slippage between "systemless" and "freeform."

Michael Wenman
Quite possibly...and I will clarify that Sydney Freeform and Melbourne freeform have diverged over the years.

Michael Wenman
As a follow up, the American "freeform" term has crept into the Australian RPG vernacular, and this has confused issues further.

John Stavropoulos
+Michael Wenman, what parts of Australia do you feel gaming is most popular? Especially freeform? Melbourne?

Michael Wenman
That's a tough one, +John Stavropoulos. Both Sydney and Melbourne have strong convention scenes, but I know that Sydney suffered a bad run about a decade ago and has been gradually building back numbers since then. Brisbane saw Gencon Oz for a couple of years (08-09) and has a thriving community, most other major cities have game stores that I'm aware of. Melbourne now has PAX AUS, and thus probably the largest convention in the country, but the battle of prestige and heritage will always be a struggle between Sydney and Melbourne. Both cities claim the origins of Australian Freeforming as a style of play, and I know people involved in it's earliest days from both cities. 

Basically ideas evolved in parallel, and with journeying between cities cross-fertilisation occurred. Canberra seems to draw on traditions from both cities.

My thoughts at this point start to wonder about this person who has been giving Lizzie a very different opinion about the term 'Australian Freeform'. This basically leads to the part where I crowdsource ideas among the 'RPG Opinions' group on Facebook. A group which is populated by a lot of individuals I know from local conventions here in Sydney (Players, GMs, Writers, Convention Organisers) as well as similar types from Canberra, Melbourne, and around the world. The next post in this series will expand on the discussion and further information gathered in that group. 






A Discussion on Australian Freeforming (Part 1)

There are many styles of roleplaying, from the traditionally understood tabletop variety, boffer LARPs, and Computer RPGs which seem to get all the attention among non-gamers, but there are plenty of other styles of play that draw a bit of interest because they aren't so easy to pigeonhole.

Ov the past few years, I've been asked many times on the story-games.com forum to describe the style of gaming known as the 'Australian Freeform', I've written articles and papers on the topic, and have responded numerous times for information about it. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have become a defacto source of information. (For an example article see issue 3 of Playground Magazine at http://www.magcloud.com/browse/magazine/452504 )

After a recent conversation on G+, I've decided to gather my conversation responses into a series of blog entries. This way when someone asks again, I can just point them to this series of posts and have the answers ready to go. I've had a few follow up conversations on various forums and Facebook groups with other people who are familiar with the format, and I'll provide those insights along the way as well.

For the moment though, here's where the conversation begins...

Lizzie Stark
I want to know all about the format, where it comes from and what defines it.

Michael Wenman
Quick answer...it started in the Australian East Coast convention scene in the early to mid 80s

It is defined generally as a gaming format 'not at a table', involving more than 10 players, with minimal rules (or no hard rules at all), and characters who are driven purely by in game motivations and agendas. Often an Australian freeform will have three or four page character sheets purely consisting of background information (one page about the character's history and future agendas, one about the other characters they know and what they think of them, one communal page shared by all characters about the setting, and possibly a factional page shared by groups who follow similar goals or similar histories). Australian Freeforming may be referred to as 'theatre-forming' in some circles because it is commonly associated with costuming, and improvisational acting as a method of conflict resolution. There are a few variants on the style, depending on the rules which are incorporated (such as the 'piece of paper freeform'). Generally there are few riles for combat and thus a freeform will be set in some setting where combat is frowned upon such as a royal ball, a political scene, a funeral...etc.

I've taken part in freeforms with up to 200 players, and have run freeforms with 80 players. 

A friend of mine, Kyla Ward, is considered one of the 'godmothers of Australian Freeforming' and was one of the originators of the style. 

I could write pages on this, and as Mattijs stated I've already done this for Playground (and a few other publications). If there are any more specific questions, I'll be happy to answer.

Lizzie Stark
Sure--I want to know a) is there scene spotlighting in these games? Or is it a larpy free-for-all?

b) what are some typical plots?

c) is there a tradition of script writing?

d) What is the role of the game master?

e) What sort of mechanics are typically used?

Thanks so much for writing back!

Michael Wenman
Lets go through those queries one by one...

a) there often is scene spotlighting. Quite often events will trigger at certain moments and these become pivotal twist points in the narrative. Almost like a 'tilt' in Fiasco. Unlike Fiasco, there may be more than one of these moments that occur when certain conditions are met through the unfolding ecosystem of play. A freeform writer may have a branching tree of potential storylines, with the probability wave collapsing along certain paths as the event's story unfolds and the players push and pull the collective mass in specific directions.

b) typical plots are highly convoluted, with every player having too many things to keep track of during the course of play. Players must specifically choose to focus on a subset of their goals, and typically the goals focused upon by more players become the key storylines for the session/event. 

An example plotline might include a smuggling deal, where one player has contraband stock to offload, two other players might be looking to acquire this stock, a third and fourth player might control suitable locations for such a transaction to occur, and a town guard player might be aware that the deal is on the agenda. Each player has different motivations and agendas toward this storyline.

c) scripting is used by a number of writers in their freeforms, often providing players with specific scenes to enact depending on where the narrative has driven the narrative ecosystem. Just as many writers will allow players free reign, not providing scripts at all (I fall into that latter camp).

d) game masters facilitate play. They don't tell the story in any way, they simple help to adjudicate when things get complicated. As I said earlier, a freeform is a narrative ecosystem with cross purposed stories driving social conflict between player characters, often bringing potential alliances and enmities between the same characters. Game Masters may provide specific knowledge to players whose characters should be aware of certain facts, or they might provide adjudication if fights/conflicts break out. The typical rule of thumb states that there will optimally be 1 GM for every 5 players, and one central coordinating GM (typically the writer). In my games, the GMs are typically identified by baseball caps or white armbands with the letters 'GM' on them, and the fact they wear radio headsets to communicate with one another. Since the story can evolve in a number of possible directions, quick communication between coordinated GMs is essential.

e) mechanisms driving play are typically appropriate to the scenario in play; if the setting was a casino, everyone might have poker chips reflecting money won and lost at different tables...GMs in this scenario might be dealers or attendants at different tables...players might trade information, goods, or services in exchange for the money/chips in their intrigues. I've played in games where all of the players are gods, unable to damage on another in direct conflict, but buying and selling souls in a virtual stock exchange. It is typically considered a 'pure' Australian Freeform if there are no meta-rules or numbers behind character interactions. Of course when players do decide a fight is inevitable (and such conflict is meaningful), sometimes numbers come into play. Typically a writer will give arbitrary rulings based on their understanding of the characters, the situation, and what might be most interesting from a narrative perspective, sometimes they might have predetermined values to consult if a confrontation between characters occurs. 

Every freeform is different, each is it's own self contained ecosystem of play. 

I hope this helps.

Lizzie Stark
It definitely helps. So a few more questions:

How many players in each game?

I just want to clarify what play looks like, as I don't think I was specific enough in my query. When I say "scene spotlighting," I mean that there are five people having a scene in the middle of the room, and any extraneous characters are watching them, or performing as extras.

I ask because it sounds like you're describing lots of simultaneous play, maybe with a GM shepherding a single group of players? (Just want to make sure I understand right here).

And it also sounds like most of the creation of the story comes from the way the characters are written? With competing desires and goals?

Michael Wenman
How many players? An Aussie freeform can have anything from 10 players to 300. Though the common sweet spot seems to be 25 to 40. Too few players, and plots can unfold too quickly. Too many players and there is a reduced likelihood of the right players meeting up to collaborate on common goals. 

Roughly 20% of the characters will be primary characters, each pivotal to a specific storyline (and ancillary to a couple of others).
40% of the characters will be secondary, each capable of changing the fate of two or three storylines depending on their choice of alliances or motivation direction (while often starting play completely unaware that there are other storylines unfolding around them, but inevitably being drawn in as they negotiate with others to achieve their ends).
The final 40% are tertiary characters, perhaps starting play with a vague awareness of a few storylines. These characters are rarely pivotal in themselves, but they can form blocs of power to shape the destiny of the events in play.

When a "spotlit" scene occurs, it typically involves the players of a single storyline...let's say one or two primary characters, a couple of secondaries, and possibly some tertiary characters who have been rallied to the cause. Such a scene may occur in full view of the other player characters, or it might even unfold in a side room unknown to the rest of the game. That's where multiple GMs come in. Players will often be aware that the are things happening in the game that make no sense to their agendas, or perhaps they see something unfold and realise that their character should have been involved in that side of play rather than the things they have been doing.

The idea of primary, secondary and tertiary characters may sound a bit mercenary and unbalanced from a narrative perspective, and to an extent it is. But you have to understand that most of these games occur at conventions or as one-off events where the numbers cannot be guaranteed. You want the key characters filled so the storylines can be driven effectively (primary), next you want the most capable contributing characters filled (secondary), and finally you want to fill in the gaps (tertiary). You write a game for flexible numbers, filling spots as you need them. 

GMing a freeform is a delicate balancing act. Sometimes a GM will be dedicated to a specific faction of players; a Game of Thrones freeform might have a GM dedicated to players of each house, a Harry Potter Freeform might have a GM responsible for Slytherin/Griffindor/Ravenclaw/etc. in this case the players from that group would always try to reach their GM first when they need assistance. In other games, GMs might focus on specific geographic areas; a Pirate freeform might have a GM in the ship's galley, one on the deck, one in the captains quarters, etc. In this case you'd go to the GM relevant to your current location. Another viable split might be to have specific GMs dedicated to specific storylines, but this one can get messy if it isn't handled very carefully.

GMs often vary their focus as the game ecosystem shifts, they rarely spend the entire game dealing only with their originally designated charges.

You are right in your last comment. Australian freeforms are highly charged situations, with carefully constructed predetermined motivations. Each game is a spider's web of conflicting tensions between multiple players. A good freeform is an ecosystem for the players to experience and manipulate, the GMs simply facilitate that manipulation and help guide actions within the context of a larger story. I haven't experienced a successful freeform where the players have been railroaded to certain conclusions (I have experienced several dismal failures where this has been attempted). The Writer applies motivations to characters, then sets them loose among the other characters they have written, they have no idea which players are going to interact with one another and therefore can't control the story once events have been set into motion, but a well written freeform will see certain events unfold, that may catalyse new events that drive the "next act" of the story. Sometimes these events may require a little prompting if things are moving too slowly, in-game political inertia often prevents events from occurring too quickly.

I'm hoping that this is clarifying things.

Lizzie Stark
Very much so, thanks!

Michael Wenman
It one of those things where the more you analyse it, the further you get from the spontaneous purity of the experience. You have to either take part in one, or have someone point out a series of experiences are similar to an Aussie freeform (then try to extrapolate the essence of those experiences to their commonalities). It doesn't help that many freeforms are often self contained systems and events run completely differently to others that form the genre.

I'll leave the conversation transcript there for the moment, but the conversation does go further.

15 July, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Figure Painting (Part 11)

One of the great things about miniature painting is the fact that it's a modular hobby. That's one of the things that has kept Games Workshop in business for decades, and numerous other companies over the years.

The Reaper Bones "Vampire Level" Kickstarter set had a great assortment of all different figures, including high-tech sci-fi figures, fantasy stuff, creatures, and plenty of figures that I wouldn't normally have a use for. A notable one of these looks like a "Warforged", I can't think of any games I play that use characters like this, and it vaguely looks like it could work in a sci-fi setting. Perhaps after watching "The Wolverine" recently, I've been inclined to paint a robot with a flaming sword. 

I figured that the team I've painted up could do with a heavy infantry, so this "warforged" could work as a heavy cyborg for the team. 


Generally painting up the figure according to the same colour scheme (white/blue blended armour, bronze/gold accents), and painting the tip of the sword with a gradation of metal to red to yellow (with white drybrushed outlines) to give the impression of a heated metal tip for extra damage. 

I'll dig through a few more of the figures to see if anything else might make an interesting addition to the team, but the next thing I'll be working on is the team bases.

(The cannon in the background of this image is entirely unrelated to the team).