23 February, 2010

The Goblin Labyrinth and "Games for Goblins"

I've had an interest in the Sydney gaming phenomenon known as Raven's Nest. It seems that the concept is forgotten across most of the world, but it was a marvelously ingenious concept. A combination of miniatures and live action play, developed twenty years ago.

A concept that has been left by the wayside as a quaint curiosity in the annals of Australian roleplaying, and a notion that is all but unheard of throughout the rest of the world.

My homage to it can be found here.

A page about it can be found here.

The conversation I started on story games led to someone challenging me to create a goblin labyrinth game, using the ideas found in Raven's Nest. Perhaps as a bit of a homage to it, updating certain elements of the concept, and refining the play.

It's something I've toyed with a couple of times, at least in a cursory manner; and it's something that a few of my recent game ideas could easily consolidate into.

I've started drawing some pictures for the concept.

And naturally those pictures have inspired another new idea...

Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to work on the Goblin Labyrinth, but this new concept is something special. I'll get to it in a post shortly...

For the moment, my thoughts on the Goblin Labyrinth.

What sort of play would it engender?

The idea of an Australian freeform is to preload the characters with impetus. To use my previous vector theory post as a point of reference, you'd apply a bunch of arrows to each of the characters. Certain factions would share arrows that pull them in a certain direction as a group, certain characters within those factions would have arrows pulling them against one another to add some tension within the group. The aim is basically to preload enough of these arrows to ensure the game will move in some sort of direction. You might not be sure where the session will end, and you certainly can't be sure of how the story will get there, but a story will develop as the players interact, discover common directions and conflicts.

Some players will take the angle of pushing their own agendas by taking risks, others will actively seek out story, some will hold in the background simply immersing in the experiences developing around them. No single method of play is right, and none will guarantee more fun than the others. Ideally, GMs act in the roles of facilitators, they don't guide the story in any particular way during the course of the session, because all of the impetus for the story should hjave already been applied before the session has begun. In a non-ideal situation, key players will choose to ignore certain arrows pulling at their characters, and the game will stagnate...in these situations a little GM intervention can go a long way.

But do I want the goblin Labyrinth to specifically run one-shot games? Not really.

If I'm going to spend days sculpting and casting a goblin city and it's surrounding maze, I want my labyrinth to be an immersive and dynamic setting, something that evolves over time rather than something that is engaged on a single occasion then forgotten. So I consider my next point of reference, continuous LARP campaigns (for example, the Camarilla).

Games like this draw regular crowds of 30+ players, and that's definitely the kind of scope that would make for some interesting game dynamics.

They work because they develop a setting for players to interact within. As someone who ran one of these groups on a local chapter level and a larger domain level I've come to realise a few things though (I wish I had recognized this at the time).

Each of the games within the Mind's Eye Theatre/Camarilla organisation is a self contained ecosystem. They each have players responsible for key aspects of the game, bringing them into a meta-GM capacity. Certain players are assigned the role of status watchers, other players are assigned the role of combat coordinators, some hold the secrets of the area, others manipulate events behind the scenes. If you want to be the player who holds responsibility for these functions, you need to make your characters suitable for the given role, and you have to play the part. It's like real life, if you want to walk the corporate walk, you've gotta talk the corporate talk. If you don't kowtow to the right expected idioms, no-one will accept that you are a part of that culture.

As a result, the game develops an inherent equilibrium.

There is no point forcing stories of war onto the social movers and shakers, because these guys aren't built for it. And throwing subtle clues at a combat monster is an exercise in futility because in most cases they're just after the next thing to hit. The manipulators behind the scenes have a vested interest in keeping the status quo, because it ensures that they remain valuable. The new players are expected to rebel and upset the establishment whether through lack of respect for the existing structure or simple lack of experience.

You could try to apply a story into the mix overtly, but this is often met with rebellion from the manipulators, and many players will have their own reasons for why their character's wouldn't get involved. Or you could preload each session with a few hints and let the story develop organically. Better still, you can add impetus to the drives a player has developed on their own.

The more preparation you force into a game from without, the more restricted the players feel. The more you adapt the preparations of players who have enthusiasm and energy, the more empowered they feel.

Let the players drive the game, and take a role of facilitator rather than storyteller.

That's the kind of direction I'd like the Goblin Labyrinth to take. But it would take a couple of sessions for the players to really understand the interplay of the status quo. actions would need to be assigned to govern various aspects of the environment (a trade guild to regulate pricing, a mercenary guild to regulate protection, a craft guild to regulate new items, etc.)...each player would then be able to find their suitable niche, and the most capable characters within each guild would rise to positions of leadership. A system of communal status would help to identify who holds rank, and how power can be usurped.

I don't want to be someone who drives stories through this game, I want to be someone who chronicles and archives the stories that emerge. I'd like to bring subtle changes to the mix, to see how the evolving stories change....what would happen if I introduced a new race capable of XXX?...what would happen if Faction Y suddenly lost their power within their accepted sphere of influence?...how would the social dynamics change if a new technology "Z" was introduced into the labyrinth?...how would it change again if that technology suddenly failed?

It's another grand plan, and something I probably won't get to see before the year is out. But I'll let it simmer on the backburner for a bit...let the stew gather flavour as I think of other ideas.
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