16 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 6)

As it stands, the "Dust 2 Dust" LARP system seems pretty good. it's got a lot of the things I'm going for and if I was a lazy designer I'd just hack the current set up to push it more in the directions I'm aiming.

I try not to take the lazy option. Personally, I think that hacking an existing game is like writing fan fiction...not bad if you can't write something original for yourself, or can't be bothered developing a whole new mythology and setting, but it's not really a stretch of creative muscles. Hacking a system is like a writer's exercise before the real work begins.

I prefer pulling bits and pieces from various existing systems, and welding them into a unified whole....not a hodge podge of random components flung together (I've had rants on that before), but more like an engineer pulling the engine block from one car, fitting it to the chassis of another, attaching a custom built superstructure, then making sure all the wiring, fuel lines, and other details fit together. I could be building a dune buggy, a hot-rod, a race car, or something else entirely... I'm not just repainting a factory built model and calling it something different. Don't get me wrong, some people do awesome paint jobs on their projects...but it's not really getting into the full potential of design.

One of the things I really liked about later incarnations of the "Vampire: the Masquerade" rules were the possible powers that developed when you combined disciplines. Such things were exclusive secrets of specific societies and groups. It's something I've been thinking about for this game.

I've already specified that I like the idea of a race, a culture and an occupation for characters. It's the kind of idea that's gaining traction through the new edition of D&D (where you have races, classes, and backgrounds). 

That sounds like some very different ideas, but bear with me.

I also like the idea of rapid character generation through templates. Pick a race, pick a template variation based on that race...then do the same for culture, and occupation...There's your base character. You might have to spend a couple of destiny points to get the exact combination that you're after, and you might spend a couple of extra destiny points to beef up a few stats, gain a few extra skills or abilities (specifically related to the templates you've chosen), or maybe gain some gold to fit out your character with variant equipment.

The basic idea is that each character is made up of 3 template fragments, and each of these template fragments offers three or four core ability paths with a simple progression (basic, intermediate, expert). A template offers a starting level in two of these paths. In total you'd be looking at maybe 20 of these core ability paths. Easy enough for most people to generally remember which path does what. 

The trick comes from combining these paths, combining a "survival" path with a "medicine" path might open up a possible "herbalism" ability...maybe combining an "alchemist" path with a "crafting" path might open up a "enchantment" ability, as long as the character has proven themselves to the School of Enchanters.

How many of these quirky abilities should there be? If there are 20 core paths, should there be 40, 60, 100????

Maybe we create some basic system that allows players to create their own special abilities that can be taught to others. This gives a quick an easy system to get things started, but allows a huge variety and potential for development as the character explores the world and learns from the people around them.

Should there be obscure paths that open up when characters have mastered core paths?

Lots more to think about.

15 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 5)

Upon recommendation, I've had a look at the rules for the Amtgard Boffer LARP system, it's got some interesting ideas in it, but it's exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to avoid in almost every sense.

The combat is quick and nasty, 2 hits and you're down (a hit to a limb immobilises it, two hits to a limb or one hit to the torso takes a victim out of the conflict). That means a lucky strike will down someone, more so than a sequence of skilled hits. It does this to avoid complicated hit point issues, then throws in hit points when armour is applied.

The system is all combat and magic (in the core rule book anyway), in indie/storytelling game design circles, some migt say that this leaves the rest of the world as a "fruitful void"...personally I call it crappy game design, it also throws all the burden of storytelling and entertaining players onto a limited group of GMs...that's a one way trip to bored players and burnt out GMs in my experience.

The core rule books basically seem to describe something that is a fantasy equivalent to the SCA. Everything seems weighted toward player skill rather than character skill, and characters mean little in the grand scheme of things...once a player qualifies for a guild or opens up a character class, they may simply start at this level at any layer date, with any later character. I guess this rewards players who keep coming back, but it doesn't do much for new players who seem to have a limited scope in their character options. I don't know what it is that I don't like about this, it feels "almost right", but there's something a bit off-putting about it.

People get into this sort of thing for escapism, so the idea of basing everything heavily on player skill then incorporating the cut-throat politics of the SCA into the mix...sorry, just not what I'm after.

The magic system also looks very "exception-based" and clunky, certainly not the streamlined story-game feel that I'm going for in this LARP system...and certainly not a player driven ecosystem of storytelling. 

A closer read of the "death rules" actually gives me a clearer indication of what the Amtgard rules were designed for. These are the LARP equivalent of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, characters can be killed quickly (at which point they report to a GM, stay out of play for a few minutes, then rejoin the battle). It's all about massive battles, not dramatic cinematic swashbuckling. Flicking further through the character classes, I see that different classes have different numbers of "lives", which is surely just another way of handling "hit points".

For players who just want to go in and whack one another without thinking about repercussions, developing story, or deeper political machinations, it might be fine...but still doesn't feel like what I'm aiming for.

How do I want to do things differently with my core boundaries in mind? But how can I learn from these rules?

I like the idea of rewarding players who go the extra mile, I want to reward players who are pro-active in their storytelling rather than simple passive recipients of the GMs narrative. But I think it might be going too far to allow players to permanently gain access to prestige classes once they've been unlocked. Perhaps players earn points that must be expended on specific exclusive occupations or races (or both), or might be exchanged for bonus experience points on a new starting character. Let's hypothetically say that a player gains 2 Destiny Points per game they attend (and may gain bonus destiny points if they create storylines, secure gaimng venues or do other things beneficial to the gaming group of campaign).

I want individual characters to be more important than the nameless masses, so maybe we do include massive battle rules where lesser characters have only a single hit point (sacrifice a limb to avoid wasting that hit point...thus remaining in the battle...torso hits simply take out a nameless mook). I'm thinking of the idea introduced back in AD&D's Dark Sun, where players start at level 3 because things are tough out in the real world. 

In our hypothetical situation, we might say that a player automatically begins with 5 Destiny Points for a primary character they create (otherwise they may create a secondary character who is barely more than a nameless mook, but they only gain a single Destiny Point for such a character), they may spemd any of their accumulated Destiny points to improve their characters before entering play or may spend such points to gain permanent advantages from mystic effect during the course of play. A player choosing to portray nameless mooks for a session doesn't spend any of their destiny points regardless of what characters or monsters they are requested to portray by the GM, instead they gain a bonus Destiny Point or two depending on the quality of their portrayals.

According to this system, we might say that common occupations, cultures and races have no Destiny Cost, uncommon occupations, cultures and races might have a single point of Destiny cost, rare options might have two points of Destiny cost. Instead of taking these options, a player might spend Destiny Points and choose for their character to start with extra experience points.

(Coincidentally, this is basically the way things work in "Walkabout").

Characters might be able to start further along specific paths of progression by spending more of these Destiny points, basically as a reward for hard work. But I'm not really sure about this bit yet.

Still more thinking to do.

14 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 4)

You can get some awesome props (and semi-functional weaponry) for LARPing. 

Case in point, this 10-shot repeating crossbow which fires rubber tipped bolts. I picked this one up yesterday, and can fire off a bolt every two seconds (I could probably go faster, but I don't want to break it). It's got decent accuracy up to about 6m (20ft), and could seriously poke an eye out if fired point blank. 

Or, you could suitably repaint a nerf gun as an alchemical/black-powder projectile.

Items like this are relatively cheap, if you know where to look, but they could seriously unbalance a game if handled incorrectly. I got this for much the same price as a foam sword just under a metre long. Being able to shoot at a swordsman without them being able to get a swing in is a serious advantage...being able to fire off half a dozen shots in the time it takes them to close in on you, that could be devastating.

A single (skilled) marksman with one of these could take down two or three armed foes before they get the chance to strike, but is that fair? Probably not. Is it realistic? Actually, it probably is based on various sources I've been reading.

Weapons like this don't take a lot of skill to operate, but could easily be incorporated into a game in a more balanced fashion in a few ways...

They could be expensive. Getting a weapon like this to function in a real world sense (rather than a cheap Boffer version) would take intricate skill and a degree of craftsmanship far beyond a mere bow or sword. Making the weapon far more expensive than a sword would certainly limit it's spread, so would making the ammunition expensive (in which case the shots might be used sparingly, testing for bolt damage when the ammunition is plucked back out of victims). If a weapon such as this proved too cheap (or too expensive) for it's relative effectiveness, a freemarket economy might allow fluctuating prices until the weapon settled into a price zone suitable to it's potential.

The weapon could be fragile, with intricate parts it might be prone to breaking down (and thus requiring mechanical repairs at the end of each conflict like armour). Swords may lose their edge over time, but the maintenance on obscure weapons may limit their use to characters who have specialised in them.

Or maybe the weapon is dishonourable to use, characters wishing to ascend the ranks of status and nobility might find such weapons distasteful and might not even want to risk working with people who use such weapons due to the attached stigma.

Possibly a combination of these, or something else entirely.

Just something else to think about.

12 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 3)

Ther are some pretty standard things that you expect when you go to a Boffer LARP.

First...foam weapons (melee and ranged). For the purposes of safety, these are slashing and bashing weapons, because they typically have some kind of rigid core and if you thrust with such a weapon the core could expose itself and literally impale someone. As an added safety function, head shots are either banned (with serious repercussions) or seriously deterred and frowned upon (in which case they don't count toward damage, but the players are mature enough to accept that accidents happen).

Secondly...the combat is fully enacted. If you hit with your weapon, your opponents takes a hit of damage...you don't suddendly stop things to see if that hit managed to get through armour, or how much impact it had. There's an honour system to this, but in conflicts pivotal to the storyline there mightt be 'impartial adjudication from an umpire/GM'.

I like the quick description of combat given towards the beginning of "Knights of Badassdom", where hits to the torso are worth 2 points and hits to the limbs are worth one point but you don't get to use that limb for the remainder of the conflict (or until some kind of healing effect takes place). As I type this, I can't remember the specifics, but that sounds lime a great place to start a Boffer system.

Since we don't want single shot kills, that means everyone needs at least 3 hit points (in which case 3 limb shots, or two trso shots will take a typical character down).

Actually, I think I'll change that core mechanism a bit, just so combat lasts a little longer and is a bit more dramatic. 

Here is the absolute basics of the system...

All players get 4 hit points.
Torso/Centre-Body hits count as two hits.
Limb hits either count as a single hit, or eliminate the use of that limb for the remainder of the combat.
(Arm hit - lose access to the weapon/shield in that arm, One leg hit - may not move beyond a slow walk, Two legs hit - knocked to the ground prone)

Having fought on the LARP field, I know that limb shots are far easier to accomplish than centre-body hits, but someone who is a little tactical shouldn't find it too hard to get a torso hit eveery now and then (especially when flanking with two or more players against a single victim). It's not that the system rewards teamwork, it's more a case that real life rewards teamwork.

Then we can start considering armour or character toughness...perhaps a tough character might have one or two extra hit points. A single extra point doesn't do a lot against torso hits, but an extra ablative hit point to sacrifice might keep a sword arm active for long enough to turn the tide in a conflict.

Since we don't want to break the flow of combat determining whether armour has absorbed a hit or deflected it, I'm thinking that the best solution would simply be to give armour an extra hit point or two in the area where it is located. At the simplest level, leather armour adds a hit point to its location, metal armour adds two hit points. Locations are: Torso, Each Arm, Each Leg. Players can wear head armour (and are thoroughly recommended to do so), but since head shots don't count we don't need to worry too much about combat mechanisms and statistics for these.

In this basic set-up, we can handle gladiator style armour where a single arm is covered in metal plate (and maybe the legs have leather leggings)...a character armoured in such a fashion would favour blocking with the armoured arm, because they have a few extra hit points to waste as long as they get hit in this location. _(Most other forms of armour also seem to fit with the system)_

We don't end up with a lot of variation between types of leather armour, or types of metal armour, but this might be handled through out-of-combat effects...maybe each hit taken by armour permanently damages it until a repair effect occurs...high quality armour might be easy to repair, while crappy armour is always falling apart and needs replacing after each conflict.

This means our complete game system needs some kind of skill mechanism for repairs...Which in turn means that we might have specialist characteers who wander around with the troops specifically with expertise in armoursmithing (or magical repairs). These are services that can be rendered as a part of a trade ecosystem.

It's adding complexity, but the raw functionality of combat isn't impacted...so I think this is a good thing.

11 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 2)

Now that we've got some general design boundaries, we can start looking at what the game is about, and then we can move toward creating mechanisms for play that address those ides while working within the boundaries.

What do people expect from a Boffer LARP?

That's pretty simple. They expect a bit of escapism whe they can bash one another with padded weapons. If they didn't want that, they'd play a tabletop game, or a parlour LARP, or something else. So this needs to be the crux of the system...it doesn't mean everything needs to focus around combat, but it certainly can't be ignored and can't be one of the unwieldy aspects of the game.

How do people interact in the game?

We're basically looking at those same big questions that come from designing any game...what do the players do?...what do the characters do?...what does the GM do? When it comes to player interactions, the will cetainly be the combat between characters (or characters and monsters), but do we want things like honour in the game (so that we know who has a reputation for being good or bad), do we want status (so we know who is "more important" in the game setting), do we want things like character influence over the world  ("I'm high up in the merchant guild, she's got influence among the thieves guild"). Adding things like this allows for story potential, players can be fed infor ation through their associated status, influence, and other connections, it also allows those players who aren't as physically fit to have an influence in the ongoing stories of the game. I'm starting to think of the political machinations in someing like "Game of Thrones", where connections and webs of intrigue spread across the world, but violence can quickly disrupt even the most carefully organised plans.

If death is going to be quick and nasty, then we probably need to make sure that character generation is pretty quick. 

How powerful do we want a starting character to be in comparison to a veteran?

Players like to see their characters advance and become more pivotal in the storyline as they continue playing. A veteran who has been at it for a decade doesn't want a "first game newbie" showing up with a dagger, facing them down on even terms, and certainly doesn't want to lose to the newbie in a fair fight.

Conversely, a new player doesn't want to be instantly slaughtered by a veteran for a single false move that was beyond their control.

Where does the system draw the line between realism, respective narrative importance of characters, and maintaining the ability to engage characters at all levels?

Do we want non-human races?

This one can be controversial. Some players love the idea of dressing up, wearing orc make-up, or adding pointy elf ears, othes love the idea of other playing other races but don't like to dress up. What happens when the six-foot player wants to portray a dwarf? Some consider the idea of race (rightly or wrongly) to be an anthropological throwback and a somewhat racist element of RPGs. 

I like the idea of having cultures that define the possibilities of character education and thought patterns, but within a fantasy setting allowing races that apply different physiological modifiers to characters. This covers the nature and the nurture sides of the debate.

How violent should combat be?

I never want a single shot instant kill. I don't care whether this is realistic or not, for narrative purposes and player enjoyment it's typically just a bad thing. If a player is able to carefully gain all the necessary bonuses through a series of manouevres then place their strike at the rit time and place, a kill shot might be possible, but even then I'd want the victim to be aware of everything that has led up to that point. If the victim is mature about the whole thing, I'd even consider some element to the system where they get a bonus amount of XP for their next character as long as the character death provides enjoyment or narrative twists to the wider game.

Non-player benefits?

One of the intents behind the Camarilla organisation that I liked was the ability to improve your character by contributing to the organising of games. You earned "prestige points" that could be cashed in for character benefits. The system could be gamed, and I saw a lot of players abuse it over the years, so I'm not going to say it was perfect, but the idea was well intended.

I'd like to see something similar. Mostly because this is a game where players will be fighting monsters and going adventuring, so we need some kind of benefit to those players who choose to portray the enemies (rather than focusing on their own characters all the time). Other benefits might include helping other players source their armour and weaponry, or helping secure/maintain game venues.

What else?

There are many more ideas to think of when it comes to getting the basics right, but I'll leave it there for the moment.

10 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 1)

It looks like I can't get the concept of a decent "Boffer" LARP system out of my head. That means it's time to exorcise the demon by puuting some ideas down for the world to see.

I always figured that the most important parts of game design are just like any other design methodology. You set yourself some ground-rules, then you let yourself run while with those core factors as a grounding point to measure progress against. I do this with a process of defining positives and negatives, then dividing these into negotiables and non-negotiables.

Positive Non-negotiable: The design needs to accomplish these before it can be considerd successful.
Positive Negotiable: These be great if the design accomplished them, but they aren't deal breakers.
Negative Non-negotiable: If the design strays into this territory, it's an instant fail.
Negative Negotiable: These aspects don't destroy the design, but we'd rather not have them around.

The catch is, most people have a different list of negotiables and non-negotiables, and some people vary between their interpretations of positives and negatives...that's probably one of the reasons why there are so many game designs catering to the wider community of gamers.

John might like figures (they're a positive negotiable for him), and he might hate numberless trait-based games (they're a negative non-negotiable).

Svetlana might think figures detract from the game (they're a negative negotiable for her), and she might have a tendency toward numberless trait-based games (they're a positive negotiable).

Maria might come from a wargaming/boardgaming background, and might only play games with figures both in the miniature sense and number sense (both are positive non-negotiable).

When we look at designing any game, we need to consider what factors in this list will help contribute to the play experience we are trying to achieve, and also what factors might align more closely with our designated target audience.

Here's what I'm thinking for the 'Boffer' LARP system.

Positive Non-negotiables:
There needs to be a system for tracking conflict through bashing one another with padded weapons.
It needs to be quick, avoiding the need for books to be carried around.
There needs to be enough autonomy in the characters and setting that a GM doesn't have to be present all the time.

Positive Negotiables:
There should be a magic system of some type.
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.
It should be convenient enough that most rules can be remembered by most people. (Maybe a limited exception based design).
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.
There should be a system for character advancement, and possibly some system of benefits for players who contribute outside the game.

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.

Negative Negotiables:
Avoid the system getting to complicated and clumsy. It should be welcoming to new players.
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).
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).
Players shouldn't be able to disrupt the pleasure of others without feeling consequences.

Some people might put the presence of a magic system into the positive non-negotiable category, or might drop the character autonomy to a negotiable...but with my background in Australian Freeforming and my experience with both 'Boffer' and Parlour LARPs, this list feels like a good starting point for a fun game design. Notice that I haven't bothered looking at numbers, mechanisms, possible races, or even themes in the game. Also notice that there are more negotiables than non-negotiables in the lists. I'm not saying this list is perfect, it's just what I'll be aiming for in this design.

09 September, 2014

Knights of Badassdom

Shouldn't have watched this.

Now I want to write a decent LARP system.

Most of the ones I've encountered are atrocious.