12 December, 2012

Setting Up an Ecosystem

When running a big game, such as a LARP, you can do it in a couple of ways. Some of them are intensive, require a lot of hard work from multiple GMs but produce deeply intimate stories; some are less intensive, require a communal effort on the part of the players, and are capable of producing self sustaining play environments.

I've been a part of both.

What I'm trying to develop for the Goblin labyrinth game fits squarely in the second category of play. This means that there will be quite a few players with conflicting agendas, there won't be much need for NPCs in a game like this because players will find their antagonism and political interplay where they intersect with the story-lines of other player characters.

The key to creating this style of game is to develop a functional ecosystem in which one player character's choices have repercussions across a variety of story-lines in play. Every choice becomes a moral decision where a player needs to decide whether the needs of their character outweigh the impact on the wider community.

Characters might have items to trade with one another, but they won't know whether the trade of these goods will end up being of benefit to one of their rivals. They might have skills that can be put to the use of their allies, they might have agendas that can only be completed through teamwork. The might need to accomplish a goal, or stop someone else from doing so.

Each of these elements pulls the player character together in some way...and every character needs to have a variety of tools at their disposal and tasks to aim toward, this prevents the characters from being one dimensional beings, and keeps players making meaningful choices in the context of play.

This sort of thing has been set up at a basic level within Ghost City Raiders, where every character has a way to earn points within the game by achieving scenarios goals, personal goals, or simple collecting loot from the danger zone. The combination of a simple goal system and a basic set of game mechanisms basically renders the GM unnecessary in a game of two to four players (such as Ghost City Raiders), and in a much larger game it leaves the GM as a moderator of play rather than a provider of group entertainment.

"Australian Freeform" style games have been specialising in this sort of thing for decades. Different freeform game designers have developed different techniques for keeping the players occupied through their interactions with story and with each other. Typically the stories in these freeform sessions develop as the characters interact with one another, one character discovering that another shares the same goals in one way while possibly working against one another in another way. The choices made by a player determine the   specific direction that a story might go for their character within the wider narrative.

In the past I've discussed the classic Sydney convention game Raven's Nest (Here, Here and Here), if you remember the posts, or you've just inked back to them now, you'll see that my thoughts about this white whale of a game have remained pretty consistent.

Sometimes when we climb mountains, we need to take a path to the side before we can reach a new altitude. Ghost City Raiders is certainly a step sideways when it comes to the goblin project, but it seems to have opened a new pathway to the summit. Now it's jut a case of tying economies and ecosystems into the basic structure of the game, making it develop in a fractal manner...where small things interlink together into larger patterns and those larger patterns can continue interlinking ad infinitum.

My next thoughts in this regard are to make a more detail system for items, crafting and repairs...probably expanding into categories like herbalism, magical ritual and artificing, and expanding the way items may be traded between characters (probably pulling them out of the pocketmod book and assigning them specific pages or cards of their own).  

This could leave some players relegated to the role of farmers, harvesters and scavengers to acquire raw materials...herbalists, smiths and craftsmen who turn raw materials into basic items...artificers, enchanters and mastercraftsmen who turn basic items into true masterpieces that become vital to the story of the game. Each of these roles is vital toward the final completion of the story, and each of the players taking on these roles would be forced to choose whether to engage in the economy of the scenario or engage in their own private goals. Being asked to step away from a private goal might come with a price, even the most lowly scavenger or harvester might become a vital player in wider politics when their specialised resource becomes a valued commodity.

A military sergeant needing to arm their troops might need swords and armour, this pulls blacksmiths, swordsmiths and armourers into their storyline, but it also pulls scavengers and miners toward their cause. If there are two such groups trying to arm their troops then these craftsmen and resource gatherers can start a bidding war for their commodities. I guess it's a bit like MMORPGs where certain players get ahead just by harvesting resources and forging items, it may not be a fun game for everyone, but there are some players who'll be drawn to this style of play (while others will be drawn to the idea of the military sergeants, or merchants specialise as middlemen in trade negotiations, or diplomats who wage war with words and legal documents, or masters of the magic arts...).

There's still a lot of work to do here, but I think I'm back on the right track.
Post a Comment