28 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 18)

One of the first live roleplaying games I took part in occurred at a Sydney gaming convention in 1994. The game was called Shadowkin, it was based on White Wolf’s “World of Darkness”, there were sixty to eighty participants and the area the game occurred in covered the entire outdoor environment of a high school, as well as several of the classrooms to depict specific locations of importance.

I was a new player to this campaign, so were half of the other players. There was no real attempt to pull new players into existing stories, everyone was basically left to their own devices unless they knew existing players (who would then hook them into the various stories). I was playing a Werewolf of the urban “Glass Walker” tribe, but the only players I knew had characters who were Vampires. Thus began a very strange story that lasted about four years, culminating in some very strange Lovecraftian and xenomoprhic twists when my Werewolf contracted the “Vicissitude Virus” (from the “Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand” sourcebook).

This post isn’t about that story, or the ways it could have gone very differently, instead it’s a post about some important things I learned about live-action gaming and massive ongoing campaign play during that game.

With this many players, there is a balance between GM numbers versus players which becomes complicated. The less GMs there are, the more time players need to wait before they can get the attention of the GMs, so the aim is to create a setting and system that requires as little GM intervention as possible. The more GMs there are, the smoother you might think things should work, but when there are multiple GMs, they need to be on the same page regarding the developing story. More GMs means more need to coordinate, and more downtime when the players can’t access the GMs, which then brings the whole system full circle (with players needing to wait for GMs).

One of the ways to overcome this was radio headsets, where GMs would have certain codes that could be transmitted across the entire range of the game at a moments notice. These codes would transmit anticipated changes in the storyline, or call for quick meetings that would discuss the altered destiny of the story. I’m sure there were other aspects to the radio communication system, but I wasn’t a part of the GM structure and was too busy trying to find a story to hook myself into.
Another great innovation in the Shadowkin set up was the notion of name badges with encoded data. I hadn’t seen this in previous games, and I haven’t really seen it in many games since. The “name” badges didn’t actually state names on them, because many people operated under pseudonyms anyway. Instead they detailed a range of things that might be picked up by heightened awareness, psychic intuition, or other supernatural powers.

For example:
Certain Werewolf gifts allow the sensing of a spiritual affiliation in a target (Weaver/Stasis, Wyld/Chaos, Wyrm/Entropy), and each of these would have a specific code that appears on a name badge (in major and minor forms). If a werewolf character has the appropriate sensing gift, but low awareness skills, they might be able to pick up the major spiritual energy taint but would miss the lesser energy traces on a target. If another werewolf had the same gift, but a higher level of awareness they might pick up both the major taints and minor energy traces. Thus being able to see how badly affected the target was.

Vampires are always considered creatures of entropy in this setting, and thus every vampire character would have the “minor entropy” symbol on their badge, those with low humanity and those followed other paths of enlightenment would have both the “minor and major entropy” symbols on their badge. Faeries being creatures of dream would have “chaos” codings, those with higher levels of banality showing a minor chaos symbol, while those with low banality would show both code symbols.

Vampires have very different senses that don’t perceive this spiritual resonance. Instead they can perceive auras if they possess the right discipline (Auspex), a few other races could similarly read auras with the right powers. Auras show things like diablerie (consuming the soul of another vampire to gain power), anger (a common trait among certain werewolf tribes and faerie groups), other emotions, true faith (appearing as a glistening purity), etc. Each of these has their own code symbol.

Faeries can see one another in their true form, and there were a range of encoded symbols for each of the faerie races, such symbols could typically only be seen by other faeries, but there may have been one or two Kiasyd vampires capable of reading these as well.

In later years of the campaign when I took on some of the GMing duties, I remember seeing code sheets that depicted 30 to 40 code glyphs, there may have been more (maybe 60 or so).

There was also a rotation of symbols, maybe half a dozen different schemes that were regularly rotated. This meant that when one player saw the “Pirate Wingding” Symbol on a character during one game (using coding system 4), and they shared the knowledge that this meant “Major Chaos Energy” before the next game….then during the next game, that symbol might mean something completely different (using coding system 5). 

It basically meant that supernatural powers could be used to sense things without the constant presence of the GMs to answer every little question.

In this game we could use a very similar system. Characters with “Etiquette” as an ability might be able to tell what culture a person is from based on their subtle mannerisms. Those who strongly resonate with their culture might have a higher level of this symbol, while those who had spent a long time away from their culture might lose the strength of their accent or mannerisms (thus having a lower intensity symbol). Characters might be able to deliberately obscure their mannerisms, but a few minutes of talking with the character reveals the truth to someone who knows what they are looking for (there might be specific skills that allow a character to fully obscure their origins and thus cover up the symbol).

Similarly, we could simply allocate symbols to mean “enchanted”, “cursed”, “forgery”, “authentic”, “valuable”, “unstable”, and then allow characters with certain abilities (“awareness”, “medicine”, “mysticism”, etc.) to instantly recognise the symbols associated with these (or perhaps recognise them after a few minutes of conversation/appraisal).

At this stage I’m thinking of symbols for…

            Enchantment (Minor, Major)
Cultural Cues (Imperial/Colonial, Freebooter, Pirate, Settler, Church, Native, Cult)
Racial Features (Nullan, Dhampyr, Wyldkin, Faeblood, Pureblood, Avatar, Incarnate)
Quality (Low, Moderate, High, Exceptional)
Authenticity (Poor Quality Forgery, Good Quality Forgery, Real)
Health (Diseased, Infected, Poisoned, Undead)
Stability (Stable, Low Instability, High Instability)
Elemental Energies (Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, Metal, Other?)


(The various 3 point cultures and races would probably have glyphs only identifiable to other members of their own groups, and a few specific others who were very familiar with the groups in question).

26 September, 2014

A break to look at someone else's work


When I see something good, I like to share it with people. I also like to make sure that the originator of the work is suitably credited. Sometimes, this doesn't quite work out.

As a fan of elegant game design and well laid-out pages, I could hardly go past this new game that came across my G+ feed yesterday. I can only attribute it to "Gremlin Legions", because that's the name he goes by on G+ (and that's the name given in the bottom corner of the rule sheet). 





It's a basic step die system, where individual dice are scored rather than comparison of totals, but it's got a few nice twists that should prove interesting to play with.

I'd love to give this a try some day when I get the chance.

25 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 17)

If our chosen genre is a steampunk-pirate mash up, then we can pretty quickly choose seven common cultures.

4 common (worth a single point each)
The Imperial/Colonial Forces - These are the conquerors and lawkeepers of the setting.
The Pirates - These are the daring criminals who seek freedom and gold.
The Freebooters - These swashbucklers exist in a grey area, unofficially working with the Imperial/Colonial forces, but getting away with whatever they can in the shadows.
The Settlers - These folk are just trying to make a living in the new world, far from their homeland.

2 less common (worth 2 points each)
The Church - They came here to convert the natives and ensure believers don't stray from the flock.
The Natives - These people lived in the surrounding lands long before anyone else arrived.

1 uncommon (worth 3 points)
The Cult - These hidden manipulators believe something powerful is hidden in these strange lands.

These cultures are stereotypes, short-hands to get new players onto the same page. As time progresses, there might be new uncommon or even rare cultures (worth 4 points)...such groups would only be available to experienced players who had proven their abilities and capacity to maturely handle such concepts.

At the moment though, every faction has one or two potential allies (including one of whom who is common), and a couple of natural antagonists (once again, including one of whom who is common). This is done to deliberately start the process of storytelling.

Imperial/Colonial - Typical allies: Freebooters, Church. Typical antagonists: Pirates, Natives.
Pirates - Typical allies: Freebooters, Natives. Typical antagonists: Imperial/Colonial, Settlers.
Freebooters - Typical allies: Imperial/Colonial, Pirates. Typical Antagonists: Settlers.
Settlers - Typical allies: Church. Typical antagonists: Freebooters, Natives.
Church - Typical allies: Imperial/Colonial, Settlers. Typical antagonists: Natives, Cult.
Natives - Typical allies: Pirates, Cult. Typical antagonists: Settlers, Church.
Cult - Typical allies: Natives. Typical antagonists: Church.

It should also be noted here that a deliberate choice has been made to include 'Natives' as a culture rather than a race. This is done to allow characters who have 'gone native' by embracing the local culture, it also shows that the one race might spread across all cultures. Another deliberate choice comes in the lack of a 'steampunk' culture, that sort of thing will be handled in specific occupations and the feeling of rebellion against the Imperial/Colonial forces.

When it comes to races, earlier examples in this series included an Elf, but I don't know if the typical 'Human', 'Elf', 'Dwarf' fantasy mix is really appropriate for this new genre choice. Instead, I'm thinking of those quirky new races that were introduced in the Eberron D&D setting, or perhaps the various half-blood races in the various World of Darkness games. Everyone is basically 'human', but with the less common races having the blood of some kind of supernatural being in their veins. I'll flip things around with the costs here, with one common race, a few less common, and more uncommon races.

Common (1pt cost)
Nullan - Mongrel descendants of multiple races, any supernatural blood has been cancelled out through cross-breeding (nullified), basically human.

Less common (2pt cost)
Dhampyr - Long-lived nocturnals with the blood of vampires/undead in their veins.
Faeblood - Enchanted dreamers with the blood of changelings/faeries in their veins.
Wyldkin - Vaguely animalistic with the blood of lycanthropes/shapeshifters in their veins.

Uncommon (3pt cost)
Avatar - Heroic demigods with the blood of the celestials in their veins.
Incarnate - Spirit beings manifest in a humanoid form.
Pureblood - Reputed to be the original race of humanoids.

I'm thinking of these races as capable of mixing and matching with each of the cultures already described without too many problems. I'm also thinking of these races from the perspective of costuming in a LARP (each will have a few hints to help make them distinct). 

The final piece of the puzzle comes from the occupations. If I'm working off the Warhammer Fantasy RPG model, there are dozens of occupations (maybe even hundreds), where a character follows a career progression from basic jobs, through intermediate stages until they reach the most powerful positions in the setting. I like this because it doesn't specify levels, but it gives a character a sense of history as they work their way up to the powerful positions of the setting. It's not as open as a simple point buy skill system, but sometimes a new player will be hit by option paralysis when they have a blank slate to work with. This option gives a manageable set of choices, and shows possible progressions that a character might aspire towards.

Here's my initial ideas for the starting occupations available to characters:

Apprentice (2) - studying under a master to become a craftsman (or something else).
Archer (1) - practiced at ranged combat
Brewer (1) - capable of brewing alcohol (and other concoctions)
Courtier (3) - adept in matters of etiquette and courtly affairs
Farmer (1) - harvester of crops
Follower (1) - takes part in regular rituals of the church or the cult
Footsoldier (2) - the front line of warfare on the ground
Hunter (2) - predator to the animals of the wild
Marine (2) - the front line of warfare on the sea
Messenger (1) - brings news from one part of the realm to another
Mercenary (2) - fights for anyone who offers the right price
Merchant (1) - trades goods for money, and money for goods
Mystic (3) - possesses an innate knack for otherworldly gifts
Novice (2) - dedicated to some deity or otherworldly spirit
Powdermonkey (1) - in training to become a cannoneer
Rogue (2) - dedicated to a life of crime and adventure
Sailor (1) - learning the ropes for a life on the sea
Swabbie (1) - beginning the life of the high seas adventurer
Scholar (2) - student of books and letters
Urchin (1) - hardened from a life on the street
Wanderer (1) - has travelled many places 

I could do far more, but for the moment this seems a decent starting list. In time characters will be able to aspire toward things like...

Alchemist - capable of creating elixirs and arcane concoctions
Blacksmith - capable of crafting the finest items of steel
Captain - in charge of a ship, with a crew under command
Clockwork Maestro - master of gadgets, trinkets and clockwork magical devices
Elementalist - wielder of ancient mystic arts
Musketeer - master of duelling with pistol or blade
Priest - leader of cult or church
Shaman - occult specialist of the natives

The occupational array will probably be the most complex part of this game, with the most powerful options often requiring five or six occupational steps before they may be reached (each of which might take a few months or real time to progress through).

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 16)

The last post said that I was thinking of getting graphical for a bit. I don't know if we're quite ready for that.

There are a few outstanding features of the game that really need to be addressed before character sheets can be properly developed, and since we've been plunging headlong into design concepts both nebulous and specific, drifting in some areas and stabbing corwar in others, it's probably a good time to look at the original design goals and see if we're still within those parameters.

Positive Non-negotiables:
There needs to be a system for tracking conflict through bashing one another with padded weapons.
  (This is definitely still one of the core features of the game. TICK)
It needs to be quick, avoiding the need for books to be carried around.
  (This is still an aim, starting players/characters don't have much to remember, and the general mechanisms of the game are more commonsense than anything else, at worst I'm seeing a quick "cheat sheet" for new players getting used to certain game concepts, and maybe a second one for GMs to carry around. BASICALLY ON TRACK)
There needs to be enough autonomy in the characters and setting that a GM doesn't have to be present all the time.
  (This seems to be coming along well, but will need playtesting. TICK)

Positive Negotiables:
There should be a magic system of some type.
   (There are systems in place to start addressing magic at some level. TICK)
There should be a few ways to make characters distinctive. This might be through races, occupations, cultures, factions, background options, or something else that we haven't considered yet.
   (This has been addressed, but is definitely an area that needs more clarification and work. BASICALLY ON TRACK)
It should be convenient enough that most rules can be remembered by most people. (Maybe a limited exception based design).
  (Definitely where we seem to be heading. TICK)
There should be an ecosystem, an economy within the setting and the rules. Something to perpetuate stories and narrative, triggering new ideas through the actions of players and characters.
   (Again, the structures for this have been laid out, but only playtesting will tell. TICK)
There should be a system for character advancement, and possibly some system of benefits for players who contribute outside the game.
   (Definitely falling into place. TICK)

Negative Non-negotiables:
Everything needs to be capable of occuring in 'real time'. We don't want to break the action over there so that we can spend a few minutes over here resolving something that should generally be instantaneous.
   (Since everything is basically commonsensical, and the only things that take up time or cause possible breaks of immersion are things like crafting and heLing that would take time to perform anyway, this one has been taken care of at this time. It needs to be monitored in future development stages though. TICK [PROVISIONAL].)

Negative Negotiables:
Avoid the system getting to complicated and clumsy. It should be welcoming to new players.
  (We still run the risk here, and it's a common problem in game design. You want the game to cover all potentials, but don't want it to become too imposing. NEEDS WATCHING)
Perhaps avoid dice, because it's inconvenient to roll them in the middle of combat, and sometimes just hard to find a flat surface to roll them on (revealing cards might be quicker/easier, maybe something else).
   (I've been told that in this style of game, the concept of dice should be shifted to a Negative Non-Negotiable, and I'm really tempted to do that. At the moment we've kept most numbers out of the game altogether, except for a limited pool of hit points [resources to build things or cast rituals might use numbers later]. We can certainly avoid dice altogether through the use of cards, and that's probably where we are heading [with cards only being used by GMs] the question is what type of cards will be used. TICK)
Avoid 'perfect builds' where certain traits/skills/effects combine with others to give massive advantage over those who don't possess them (we want variety in the characters).
   (With a diversity of possible story types, I think the 'perfect build' is short circuited. The 'perfect' warrior will not be able to compete in a social/court arena, the near perfect warrior/courtier will be out of their depth among magicians. The game will be aiming more toward getting groups of players to confront goals, and the many will almost always outweigh the few. TICK)
Players shouldn't be able to disrupt the pleasure of others without feeling consequences.
  (This hasn't really been looked at. NEEDS WORK)

Still plenty of work to do, but generally on track. Basically I've constructed a few subsystems with open ended connectors on them, the next few stages of the design process will incorporate ways of connecting these subsystems to one another to create a coherent whole.

Abilities (inherent capacities of characters)
Techniques (special skills/spells/weapon-specialisations/crafts/etc. that require action tests)
Traits (not really explored yet, but these may modify action tests, or allow abilities to activate)
Influence/Honour/Status/Wealth (also not explored yet, but hinted at, these are pools of points that get things done behind the scenes or modify interactions socially)
Story Relationships (tell us what the character is interested in, and how they intend to grow)

But some of these connectors don't match up to one another, so we need to start working on the game elements that will allow them to mesh.

Time to start looking at occupations, races and cultures. In many cases, these elements are the direct interface of one subsystem to another. They are also the points where systems integrate with the genre of the setting, which is probably one of the reasons why I haven't specifically addressed the so far. I haven't really wanted to specifically narrow down the genre to a certain ouevre, this way groups of players could define it for themselves. A look at most popular games on the market shows that the original product can (and typically does) have a very specific genre it emulates, if the game is popular then players will adapt it to new settings on their own and hack any specific rules to accomodate their new setting.

I posed the idea of a renaissance/pirate/steampunk LARP with rapier duels (using rubber swords) and pistol duels (using NERF guns) at my Boffer group a few months back...a third of the players wanted to defect to my new game on the spot. I know that steampunk and pirates have been doen to death on the tabletop, but I don't know of many LARP groups who've been down that road. There's certInly plenty of steampunk cosplayers around, and I'm sure that there are quite a few of them who would be happy doing something more than just posing in their outfits.

Honour and intrigue certainly fit a setting like this, there is a diversity of possible occupations and cultures. Races could be addressed in an Imperialist commentary, but that's becoming a loaded gun in many RPG circles over the past couple of years, so maybe we can do better than that. It gives ideas for stories involving exploration of new lands, confrontation between groups of the law, dastardly pirates, freebooters who work between the extremes, natives who might work with (or against) any of these groups, and others.

The setting even gives hints about how to design the character sheets (as letters of marque) and rule books (journals), without breaking the look of the game and the immersion of the players.

For the actually "grittiness" of the setting, I'm thinking of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, and that might gives some hints about how to address occupations (and by extension, races and cultures).

24 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 15)

I hate systems that aren't consistent and coherent. I like systems that require little rules knowledge, are easy for new players to get into, but provides options for a bit of crunch for those players who like it.

With that in mind, this game will use abilities and techniques. Abilities will follow the previously described 3-tier system (basic, intermediate, expert/advanced). Techniques will be special capabilties that a player can buy for their character, they will require prerequisite abilities and must be purchased seperately. Abilities simply allow new options for players to engage (if you have it, you can do it), Techniques on the otjer hand open up the possibility of doing things (you need to perform some kind of test every time you attempt a technique).

I'm seeing most characters start with 6 levels of 'Abilities', half a dozen techniques, and a few traits that influence these. 

Over time, they'll gradually learn new 'Abilities' and acquire new 'Traits', but they'll pick up far more techniques (which will include spells, mystic effects, weapon specialties, objects that can be crafted, status manipulation techniques, etc.)

This basically means that we can simplify an ability like healing...

Healing
None: You know how to drink a healing potion, or force it down someone else's throat.
Basic: You may use a First Aid Kit on any members of your party after a conflict (regardless of who does this, only one treatment may be administered per party member).
Intermediate: You may use a First Aid Kit during a conflict (this takes two minutes to perform).
Advanced: You may focus your attention on a single party member currently near death, this party member is stabilised (if they draw a "death" result from their injuries, they instead suffer a permanent wound).

Techniques
Make Herbal First Aid Kit - (requires basic healing and basic survival) Spend 4 herbs, then make a test. If successful gain a first aid kit with 4 doses. Each time this first aid kit is used, spend a dose to restore a single hit point to target, or restore damage to a limb.
Use Alchemical First Aid Kit - (requires basic healing and basic alchemy) While at a laboratory, spend 2 "element 1" and 2 "element 2". If successful, gain an alchemical first aid kit with 2 doses. Each time this first aid kit is used, spend a dose to restore a target to full health.
Field Surgery - (requires intermediate healing) Make a test. If successful, injured victim's limb will be restored in half the usual time (if it would not normally have been restored, it will restore during the next rest break).

I think the next thing I'll look at will be a smaple character sheet, or maybe a character scroll or pocketmod booklet?

Maybe it's time to get a bit graphical for a while.

23 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 14)

Now that we've started delving into specific mechanisms rather than meta-narrative effects, it might be time to start looking at the way character abilities are actually implemented.

Even if I'm planning to divide abilities into levels of expertise (none, basic, intermediate, expert), the easiest way to implement these would be to simply open new options to characters who possess these ability levels.

This has precedent in a lot of systems I've encountered. Here are some specific ideas applicable to this game (also with precedence in a lot of Boffer Systems)...

Melee
None: You may common use weapons up to 30cm/1ft in length.
Basic: You may use common weapons up to 60cm/2ft in length.
Intermediate: You may use common weapons up to 90cm/3ft in length.
Expert: You may use any common weapons.

This may seem a bit strange, but among reasonably equally skilled opposing players (such as most LARPers), weapon length is a great way to differentiate character skill. 

Similarly...

Shield Use
None: You may not use shields.
Basic: You may use a shield up to 900sq cm (30x30cm/1sq ft).
Intermediate: You may use a shield up to 3600sq cm (60x60cm/2ft x 2ft).
Expert: You may use any shield.

Rituals
None: You don't know what to do when a ritual is conducted.
Basic: You may act as a participant/follower in common rituals.
Intermediate: You may act as a participant/follower in any rituals, or may learn and lead common rituals.
Expert: You may learn and lead any ritual.

(The exact wording may need to be changed to avoid ambiguity or abuse from rule lawyers).

I'm not so sure how these skills really balance against one another, but it's got the right kind of feel and roughly matches a few of the other systems I've seen. It doesn't require to much thought during the course of play, it just opens options.

Beyond these abilities that simply open up options for characters, we can provide others that modify the numbers used in the game. 

Stamina
None: You suffer injuries like everybody else.
Basic: When making a test to see if you suffer permanent injury or death, reduce your effective number of injuries by 2.
Intermediate: You gain an extra Hit Point.
Expert: Any healing effect restores an extra Hit Point when it is applied to you.

Strength
None: You deal injuries like everybody else.
Basic: On the first hit on an opponent during each conflict, you may declare "Strike!". This hit now does an extra point of damage. 
Intermediate: The first time an opponent's armour is declared against one of your strikes, you may ignore it. 
Expert: You may declare "Strike!" to deal extra damage as many times as you want during a conflict, but if you do so more than once on a specific opponent, you risk damaging your weapon. (Check with the GM at end of conflict).

Investments
None: You live according to what's in your pockets.
Basic: You have a modest small business or farm that generates 1 Gold per month.
Intermediate: You have an interest in a few modest businesses/farms (or a very successful one), generating an income of 2 Gold per month.
Expert: You have a finger in many pies, your diverse investments generate 1 Gold per week.

(I'm not sure of how the monetary economy will function in the game, so this ability is certainly subject to change).

These get even harder to balance against one another. I'm not going to include things like "Athletics" or abilities that really do rely on the physical capacities of the player (unless someone can come up with a good way to simulate this). 

I'm a bit torn when it comes to abilities with random chances of success or failure. Things like medicine (where injuries might be worse than expected, or where medicines just don't take), repairs (the same general ideas apply), research (where the information might be present, but you just glance over some sections while concentrating on others), etc. I could simply reduce it to a 50/50 chance because the game is focused on other areas of narrative and simulation, but that just feels wrong.

I don't really want to bring too many numbers into the game, because that also works to break apart the narrative elements and the game mechanisms, leading down the path to broken immersion (which then leads to players breaking from the flow of the game, and other issues). So, I'm ruling out attribute numbers. 

The other option that might work uses a trait system. Perhaps this would be akin to FUBAR (where players would draw a minimum of two cards, choosing the best or worst two among them based on the traits appropriate to the situation then allocating the results to success and failure categories) or Tooth and Claw (where players would draw a number of cards based on how much risk they take and other traits appropriate to the situation, then keep a certain number wher every card applies a success or failure condition). 



22 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 13)

I'm thinking of card draw effects. Mostly because most gamers have easy access to a deck of cards, but I'm also thinking of tarot cards to add a degree of "mystery" and mysticism.

I started thinking about these when I read through Peter Woodworth's post on finite and infinite character death, then cross referenced it to the way heroes are taken out of a campaign in the miniatures game "Confrontation".

Basically, Peter's post posits that there are two extremes, those in which characters live only once and when they are taken out of action in conflict they are never seen again, and those in which characters may return time and again. Between these extremes, thee are games where characters have a finite number of lives, that may be known or unknown.

I can't find it in the rule booklets I've just searched through on my shelves, but I remember heroic "characters" in Confrontation being blessed by the gods, and when they die they have to justify their reasons to go back into the world. The more times they've died, the harder it is to come back. I vaguely remember the game mechanism being a roll of 2d6, and as long as the total was higher than the number of times this character had died so far they could return to play in the next game.

I could see the same thing working just as easily in a LARP set up, but using cards instead of dice.

At early stages in a characters career, they'd be inclined to take risks because even if they suffered grievous injuries, they would have a good chance of coming back (after injuries had healed of course). After a few times taken to the brink of death, characters would have to be a bit more careful if they wanted to survive in the long term.

With this in mind, the game needs to consider what "death" or being "taken out of action in conflict" means. If four wounds take someone down, is it the fifth deliberate "killing blow" that completely eliminates them? A character can obviously heal slowly from being wounded three times (and can heal the limb wounds taken during battle), but can they gradually recover from four blows? At what point do they need medical attention, and at what point do they need intervention from the gods or spirits of the setting? Is it a low fantasy gritty setting where a single wound might become septic and gradually get worse unless it receives medical attention?

Time to start honing in on the setting as it relates to the specific mechanisms of play.

This is intended to be escapism. We're not portraying comedies of errors and people who's lives are worse off than our own, we're after heroic tales of derring do...showdowns in the beach at sunset...slowing your fall from the crossbeams by sliding a dagger through the mainsail...precision shots into an enemies eye from 100 paces. That's why we don't want death to be too much of an obstacle (at least not at first); it should be a risk for the young, a threat to the old. Those who've been around a while need to step back into the shadows as manipulators to reach their goals of true power, but those who are young will probably need to take risks before they can do so.

We also need to consider the notion of deliberate killing blows and what they mean in the game. For accidental death, or death from bandits who loot the body then run away to avoid capture, the random chance of character revival is great. But in a one-on-one conflict, in an arena, watched by hundreds, where the arena's master declares that a killing blow must be administered to the loser...that's a different story. Especially if the loser has their head removed to go on a pike at the arena's entrance.

I'm thinking that the best solution is simply to call all times when a character is taken down, a "near death experience". Characters in the midst of such an experience may be permanently removed from play by a "killing blow"; otherwise they take a random chance at coming back uninjured, or coming back with some kind of permanent wound.

There's an idea...permanent wounds.

Since I'm looking at this game as a reflection of miniature battlegame campaigns, perhaps something akin to the permanent injuries in "Mordheim". Maybe you draw a card and compare colours and numbers...if it's red you potentially get off without an injury (as long as the result is higher than the number of injuries sustained so far)...if it's black you potentially get off without permanent death (if the result is equal to or lower than the current number of injuries you die, if it's higher you get a new injury).

These injuries might apply permanent impediments based on where they were sustained, or some other factor. Whatever is easy...or maybe they just count for tracking the likelihood of continually coming back.