01 November, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 35) and Other Stuff

35 posts...this project has stronger legs than I thought, but I think we're getting to the end of the run.

November is almost upon us, and that means it's the time of year for NaGaDeMon.

NaGaDeMon is the time of year to stop theorizing and start designing, it's also the time of year when university study winds down. So I'll probably take a bit of time away from the blog (maybe posting every two or three days rather than daily).

I really want to get stuck into the "Other Strangeness" game I was considering earlier in the year, but I also really want to get a finalised version of this LARP system happening while I'm motivated on it.

Let's see where things head.

But for the moment, let's pick up where I left off in the last Boffer LARP post...Maps.

I've played in  few live action campaigns where maps have played a focal role. Most have been based on the city of Sydney (which has led me to draw up a 1.5m x 1.5m scale map of the city and it's surrounding environment...a prop that has seen many years of use), some have been based on more fantastic settings.

For this game, we're looking at something a bit different.

First a basic map of a strange island. I'm working off an idea where some kind of mysterious asteroid or supernatural/alien phenomena has broken up on entry into the atmosphere (or maybe broken up before then). It has hurtled into the surface of the planet laving massive craters and left a pierced hole in the crust which has developed over centuries into a volcano. This gives us an interesting island shape to work with. There are probably some similar shaped islands (or maybe atolls) nearby, if the game needs to expand.

It has been an unspecified time since the impact (possibly millenia, certainly before recorded history), forests have grown up over the island and the volcano now stands in a state of semi-dormancy. Three towns have grown up since the arrival of colonial/imperial forces. The central town in the middle north of the island would be the capital, dominated by imperial/church groups (with settlers on the outskirts), the other two towns might have limited colonial/imperial presence but are mostly filled with privateers, settlers and pirates. Farmlands between the towns are sparsely populated by settlers and natives, forests hold a few hidden native encampments.

This is a mysterious place, and while this island has generally been explored, there are plenty of mysteries to unfold over the course of play.

The next task is to divide the map up into territories for factions to claim (and fight over). Towns would be divided into several sectors, due to their sheer number of people, their strategic importance, and the difficulty it would take to maintain control over the entire enclave. Specific locations might be highly sought, thus increasing their value per and area (and thus reducing their size accordingly), uncultivated land is generally less important and have thus these territories are larger. I've also made sure to keep each indicated mine on it's own sector.

Which basically finishes us up with a map like this...

...it might change later, but suits our purposes for the moment.

Next, I'd add something special to various sectors. Roughly half of the sectors would have some kind of bonus that would be granted to a faction who holds the territory, and half would increase bonuses gained from abilities when a character spend their time in this territory for the down time between games sessions. It wouldn't be a case where each sector gains benefit A or B, some sectors might gain neither and some both (these would be the most highly sought sectors in the game, typically in towns).

This gives us a new reason to have factions fighting one another, they seek to claim dominance over territories and gain the physical or spiritual bonuses associated with these lands. We might declare that a faction needs to spend points to claim a sector/territory, or maybe limit them to one territory per faction level. More coherent reasons to initiate conflict lead to more varieties in the available stories. It also gives interesting terrains for conflicts to occur in...fighting on a beach is quite different to fighting in a forest. Also, if a game campaign is divided into alternating sessions of roleplaying and battle, then the battle weeks might be used to define who maintains control of a sector when two factions declare their intentions to dominate.

29 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 34)

Maybe it's just the sessions that I've been involved in, but it doesn't seem very often that religious characters go out of their way to evangelise their belief to others. I've seen it in a few games, usually on the part of a player who just wants to get in a bit of roleplaying through exposition with NPCs. Religion is just a surface coating on a character, maybe it provides certain spheres (or domains) of clerical magic, or restricts access to certain weapons, but it's rarely a functioning belief system.

The prayers of these characters are simply another form of magic, sometimes they even use the same spells as traditional hermetic magic users or instinctive sorcerers, but they acquire them in different ways (according to their domains or spheres, rather than through schools or mentors).

I'd like to develop a system that relies on belief, something that will apply to mages (who use their own belief to fuel their mystical effects) and religious types (who rely on the beliefs of those around them to empower their effects). Let's give some name to the two opposing classes of mystical characters; there are mages who weave magic, and there are clerics who channel miracles.

Put simply, a mage will often work alone and may actively avoid religious types who are inclined to use their beliefs as a form of countermagic. Religious types need to spread the word of their faith to make it easier to work their miracles, they may seek to wage war on other faiths to reduce the power of opposing miracles. Theurgists would gain the power of their own faith and augment it with the beliefs of those around them, working miracles empowered by their own energies and the energies around them.

Places of power might exist (which is pretty common in most fantasy settings), such places of power may be claimed by a mage (especially in the wilderness, or on lost islands), or may be the location of a temple and through the congregation of followers their power might be channelled to a cleric. Some places of power might remain hidden, simply seeping their energies to the outside world around them until someone claims them (perhaps a hidden glen, grove of sacred trees or spring of water).

Such places naturally become the focal points for adventures and eventually towns are built around them because people feel the energies at an instinctive level. Factions would work to claim such locations, but it takes numbers of people, regular rituals and consensual belief to anchor their power.

If places become significant in the game, then that leads us back to one of the favourite topics of this blog...maps.

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 33)

Something I find common to many RPGs is a definitive quasi-supernatural meta-history for the setting. Quite often it has vague parallels to the Judaeo-Christian myth, with a single god creating the world, then creating a host of lesser gods (or angels) to look after specific aspects of the world. The dominant race (or at least "the race of men") typically worships the great creator while other races worship the lesser gods.

In a postmodern age, some might say that this notion is inherently racist. It draws strong parallels to the Christian belief that there is no other correct worship than their own. It reeks of religious imperialism. It basically fits the general feel of most RPGs with their setting in a pseudo-Europe during a late dark age or early renaissance, but when RPGs strive for something a bit more exotic, it just doesn't feel right in my mind.

If I'm developing a setting with seven different core cultures, and seven different core races, I want there to be a few different creation myths. If there is a dominant "Church" culture then they would have a very specific idea about their theology and cosmology, if there are "Natives" then they would have developed their own religious beliefs independently, and it there is a "Cult" they might follow a specific heresy of their own that incorporates theological ideas from the main church while subverting such ideas to their own agenda. I'd imagine most other groups would be fairly agnostic about their religions, their beliefs don't define their lives, they're more focused on things like the physical world, wealth, and just surviving everyday...they might pay lip service to the other religions, but this isn't their life. Similarly, there could be members of the "Imperial/Colonial" forces who simply follo the faith of the church, and there might be some who follow the "old ways". Settlers might have a hybrid religion picking elements of native beliefs with the superstitions of the "church" culture.

I think this touches on a whole lot of new points to consider, certainly moving beyond the core structure of a Boffer LARP.

28 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 32)

Now that the system incorporates so much, we can start exploring how to expand it a bit.

The "Clans of Elgardt" group that I've just joined up with runs fortnightly, with ne fortnight focused on war sessions and the other fortnight focused on scenarios and roleplaying.

There's no reason why this system couldn't follow the same general structure, and with the set-up we've got, we can add some fun scenarios to the "off week" war session.

The game includes characters who have offsiders and followers, it also includes factions of multiple characters who might come into conflict against one another.

The war sessions might be used to resolve these conflicts. A faction might pool together their funds, to hire mercenaries or build fortifications for opposing teams to negotiate. If a player has characters belonging to two opposing factions, they'd have to favour their primary character over their secondary (and they'd get to choose which character becomes involved if they have secondary characters on each side). But the fun comes with the pool of funds.

Characters who aren't involved in either side of the conflict directly might have to opportunity to join the fight as mercenaries. They could ask for a fee in exchange for their services, and this would come out of the faction's pool of funds. Any players who chose not to offer their services as mercenaries might be able to join up on one side of the conflict as a "mook".

A "mook" under this premise is a nameless character with a single hit point. They represent the sheer numbers faced on a mass battlefield, but they aren't named and detailed characters...these are not their stories, they are like the majority of characters who makeup the economic ecosystem. Perhaps if enough mooks get taken out in a battle, then certain elements of the economy suffer due to lack of workers. It all connects together.

Mooks are also the allies, employees, followers, and swabbies. They don't have special abilities, they might wear crude armour (capable of absorbing a single point of damage), they fall quickly and probably have low morale, and can't achieve battle objectives (but can certaily make it easier for named characters to do so). When a character possesses an ability that says they have one of these, a mook might be called into a battle scenario "free of charge"...but the character doing the calling might be owing the called mook a favour to be repaid at a later date (either through coinage, or fulfilling some kind of quest). A mook linked to a character might be required to stay within a few metres of their "owner", I'm thinking of this in the same manner as miniatures games, where lesser members of the squad might stay in range of the battle standard. If the mook doesn't survive, then the character either loses their relevant ability, or they might pay compensation to the mook's family/clan (or might make the necessary contrition) and a new mook will show up to fill the place of the old one.
Why would someone play a mook? Simple, they get the opportunity to acquire Destiny Points that could be used to advance any of their characters at a later time.

Just something I've been thinking about today.

26 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 31)

Time to do some graphical design for this project.

I discussed earlier the concept of placing key character information on name badges, maybe not the names of characters, but things that could be picked up by spending a bit of time conversing with someone or interacting with them. I deliberately wouldn't include names on these badges because I've been in many LARPs where people go out of their way to conceal their true names as a part of deeper storylines...presenting a name on a badge would defeat the whole purpose in this.

Instead, here's where I'm thinking of heading with a simple round badge.

Vital information comes in each sector. At the bottom and fairly prominent we see hit points, maybe a number, maybe an number of illustrations of blood drops (one per hit point).

Race and culture would be similarly printed on everyone's badge, but there might be a few variants for each of these, with a few red-herring variations to keep players on their toes.

Reputation would be common, and would give a general idea of what people know this character for, if they know the fields where the characters has gained prestige. Many characters wouldn't have done enough of anything to develop this type of prestige, and would thus have nothing marked in their reputation sector. 

Enchantments would only be filled in when a character is under some kind of magical influence that leaves a trace that might be noticeable to certain character types. This would certainly be another part of the badge where plenty of red herrings are used to confuse players. It would be fairly rare for non-mystic characters to have this section filled in.

Finally, the "special" sector which is simply used to cover anything else I haven't thought of.

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 30)

I’ve stated a few times in my posts that I like coherent and consistent systems across a game. I don’t particularly like game where there is one system for a certain type of action which might be modified by a range of subsystems depending on specific circumstances, and then completely different systems for other types of actions.

As a hypothetical example…I wouldn’t like a game where melee combat is handled with a strike based on a derived attribute followed by a random hit point loss, while grappling/wrestling is handled with a non-derived attribute followed by a modifier on the next round…meanwhile etiquette checks are simply a situation of rolling under a “social” attribute for a flat success.

I can understand why it’s done, a system might be really good at one thing and not so good at something else, so you pick and choose the optimal systems for each situation, but it strikes me as lazy game design. It can be hard for new players to pick up when they have to work out which system to apply, and which subsystems to plug into it. Some “Old School Gamers” like this style of game design because it basically gives a toolkit to GMs, allowing them to choose the systems they want to apply into their game…but personally I think it is often a case of the designer offloading their design responsibility to the GMs and players at the table.

Where am I going with this rant?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

I thought about the post yesterday, about focusing on the non-combat design actions and how they work. Combat in a boffer LARP is so elegant, you swing a rubber sword, if it connects with your opponent (rather than being deflected by a weapon or shield), you deal a point of damage. Sure you can argue about the “realism” of it, but it’s intuitive. We can apply rules to it, determining what types of weapons may be used, what additional damage may be dealt (or absorbed), and special actions that might be performed in the midst of a conflict; but these rules don’t change the fundamental visceral structure of swinging and hitting.

A type of task resolution that I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post was fait accompli. If you’ve got the skill, you can do it…if you don’t have the skill, you can’t. This fits in better with the directness of the combat action, it also fits with the ability system we’re generating for the weapons. If you’ve got the skill relevant ability level (or technique), you can wield the weapon…if the skill says you can pick simple locks, you can pick simple locks.

If we look at battle healing in most boffer LARP systems, a healer can simply heal. It might take an uninterrupted ten second count during the middle of a tense battle for the healing to occur, but as long as that 10 second count has run its course, the healing effect takes place. There is no randomness in this.

It reminds me of certain elements from the Vector Gaming Theory, that I used to define my understanding of roleplaying a few years back. A roleplaying game is defined by straight lines of narrative between decision nodes, game devision nodes typically deviate the story according to choices made by players, by hard rule decisions by the GM, or by randomised outcomes as determined by the game’s rule systems. The favoured method of resolving game node outcomes says a lot about the game.

These new thoughts link more closely back to the notions of Australian Freeform, but I still think there needs to be some kind of dramatic tension in the resolution of an action. Will she succeed or won’t she?

An interesting compromise was proposed in one of the Steampunk LARPs I linked to earlier (I can’t remember which, but I’ll add the link in here when I find it). It used a more nuanced system than a simple binary ‘Yes’ (you can do it), or ‘No’ (you can’t). Instead it offered a system where you compared your skill to a difficulty (or to an opponent’s skill); if your level beat the opposition by 2 you automatically succeeded, and if you’re level was 2 or more levels lower you automatically failed. If your skill level was roughly equal, that where chance played a role (one level higher has a better chance of succeeding, equal levels = 50/50 outcome, one level lower has a lower chance of succeeding).

But, I’m not really using numbers in this game, and certainly not for the task resolution systems. So this system isn’t the best fit.

We do have keywords in place, so maybe they can be linked to the system. Different cultures and races would do things in slightly different ways, this is already defined within the crafts and magic elements of the game. There isn’t much of a stretch to pull this across to general task resolution.

Crafts and magic already have instrinsic systems where there are simple items/spells and complex items/spells. Typically, a basic ability allows creation of a simple effect at a higher cost, an intermediate ability reduces the cost of simple effects, an advanced ability allows creation of complex effects at a higher cost, and specific techniques allow the creation of complex effects at a reduced cost (or allow specialised effects to occur).

Why not handle most non-combat abilities the same way?

To use an example:

Basic healing restores up to half of a character’s hit points after a fifteen second count (and the expenditure of healing herbs or a healing kit).
Intermediate healing restores up to half a character’s hit points after a ten second count (and the expenditure of healing herbs or a healing kit).
Advanced healing restores all hit points after a fifteen second count (and the expenditure of healing herbs or a healing kit).
Technique 1 (requires intermediate healing): Reduce the count by five seconds when healing members of a specific race.
Technique 2 (requires intermediate healing): Restore a damaged limb in addition to any hit points healed.  
Technique 3 (requires intermediate healing and crafts): Craft healing kits
Technique 4 (require advanced healing and mysticism): Bring back a character from the brink of death.

Larceny is a general ability whose practitioners are adept in causing mischief and underhanded deeds. It's more about the techniques than the general abilities (mostly because I'm not happy with the general abilities I've worked up for it so far).
Technique 1 (requires basic larceny and crafts): Pick a simple lock after a ten second count.
Technique 2 (requires intemerdiate larceny and crafts): Pick a complex lock after a fifteen second count.
Technique 3 (requires intermediate larceny and bureaucracy): Expend an appropriate piece of paper and use a writing kit to forge a simple document (takes ten minutes...so you probably wouldn't be doing this in the heat of combat).
I've come up with more than a dozen Larceny techniques, it's the core functions of the ability that are giving me grief.

I’m still not sure I’ve got this part of the system nailed, but I get the feeling that I’m getting close. 

25 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 29)

This series has touched on all sorts of elements relating to a LARP system.

From the basic mechanisms of hit points and actually hitting people with foam latex weaponry, through to character development, gathering people into factions, rules that bring a degree of safety and interact between the physical world and the fictional narrative.

The one thing we really haven't touched on at all is the system of performing actions outside the confines of combat. Since we're focusing on a game akin to an Australian Freeform, then dice are undesirable, but I'd still like there to be some kind of failure chance when actions are attempted, especially when it comes to things like picking locks, crafting items or concocting potions, tracking or trying to research occult and arcane forms of lore.

On the other hand, I'd like there to be some kind of economy where players can choose to invest extra effort into specific tasks that are more meaningful and dramatic to their stories.

But here's where we start getting into that whole can-of-worms about creative agendas in role-playing experience. One of those revolutionary concepts that seems to have become a source of much controversy in some circles and hatred in others. It also poses a few questions...

Does a purely random action system really reflect reality? Does it produce a dynamic narrative, or simply increase the chances of disrupting a building tension (either by allowing certain tasks to succeed early, or preventing other actions from occurring when they should)?

Can a certain system be "gamed"? Is it a good thing to allow a player to manipulate the system to gain advantages for their character, or a bad thing?

Regular readers of the blog will know that I'm a big fan of the "otherkind dice" system, where you simultaneously determine two or more results (typically by rolling dice, but possibly by drawing cards), then allocate those results between different elements that determine the outcome of the action. If there are three elements to the task, you invoke three randomisers then distribute the results according to the parts of the task you think are most important.

I used this system in FUBAR, but I'm womdering how well it would translate to a live context.

I've been thinking of the *-World engine as well, I guess the whole notion of live play suits this. You set up a situation where you can invoke a set of rules, and as long as the GM agrees, you go into a mini-game that will in turn reflect the narrative.

This can be worked into the existing system of techniques, where a player simply works the narrative toward a specific scene where the technique becomes suitable and the mini-game occurs.

More to think about...