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...

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).

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)...

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. 


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.

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. 

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.

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).

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. 

21 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 12)

Once you been around LARPing circles for a while, you start seeing a lot of the same patterns in various games. Some of those patterns are good, some are frustrating, some are outright dealbreakers. I'm obviously not the only person who has seen a lot of these issues, so it's time to start looking at some other people's responses to the hobby. I don't want this Boffer LARP system to simply be my heartbreaker (when I say this, I mean that I don't want to work alone on it for days/months/years, only to see that it doesn't really address other people's concerns, and actually brings out the worst in so e parts of the system). I like to know what other people think, and I like to push some boundaries to develop something new.

I typed "simple boffer larp rules" into Google and thought I'd have a look at what came out. There's some interesting stuff out there. The first to really give insight was written by Peter Woodworth (it can be found here), and I was actually pretty happy to read it because many of his thoughts echo my own; some of the issues that he thinks need re-examining, are issues that my current design has either taken into consideration, or sidestepped completely.

1. The Card Check. I've been in plenty of games that use cards to track character abilities and activations, and it's typically fine when used sparingly, but when used too often is does break immersion (I'm thinking of Minds Eye Theatre here). I was planning to use cards or something similar for fuelling special effects and to reflected the resources used when crafting items, but minimising their use is a good thing for the purposes of streamlining the system and improving the immersion.

Of course, if the game setting uses these props as an immersive element, then the whole situation is moot. Some Asian-inspired settings draw their magical traditions from belief systems like Taoism or Shinto, where spells are inscribed on paper, then burnt as a single use effect. On this case, a piece of parchment torn up or burnt actually improves the narrative immersion.

2. Narration. I agree wholeheartedly with this, and I'm hoping that the system for participant interaction inspires more players to get involved in the creation of the world, and therefore minimises the chances for people not knowing what's going on. I'd really want stories to flow through this game in the form of news sheets posted on a central message post (preferably even a physical post, or message board). Any props and sets are always an advantage, and while I admit that they can be time-consuming to make, they can always be re-used and recombined to create new scenes for characters to interact with. Re-using props also helps maintain continuity in the game world, places that become favourites might become key locations within the ongoing story, and objects that appear time and again might develop significance beyond their mere combat statistics. Focusing on smaller parties (with a single dedicated GM for each)will also ensure that this problem doesn't develop.

3. Prestige Classes. Here's another one that bugged me about Minds Eye Theatre (particularly the "Camarilla's" implementation of it). Prestige classes have basically been handled in this Boffer LARP by altering the costs of three components (occupation, race, culture), with less common aspects of the character costing more of the starting point pool, and even rarer/more-advanced aspects costing additional amounts. To access these odd character types, a player has a finite pool of points that are only replenished by contributing to the game, good roleplaying, or other effects that can be easily observed by other players. Gaining advanced classes during the course of play was always going to be a thing, but such classes would simply build on the existing abilities of starting characters and were always intended to be gained through means that could easily be uncovered through play (or through a bit of player research).

4. Big Numbers. With low hit points, and damage either reducing these hit points or disabling limbs, this was never going to be a problem. The biggest issue might be the other side, when players confront big monsters who should be hard to take down... I'm hoping that "armour-as-hit-points" or "armour-as-damage-reduction" should work at that end of things. Generally though, more powerful characters don't focus on better combat stats in this game, instead they gain higher levels of influence in the game and become more threatening because they have more influence over story, more henchmen, and are harder to reach.

5. Calling Damage. I had only considered calling damage effects to the level described as a suggested solution. A character with a special strength effect might get to declare this once per opponent, applying an extra hit point of damage as a one-off effect (certain monsters might always get to use this), meanwhile characters with a special endurance effect might get to reduce an increased hit once per conflict (or once per opponent when they get better). Other effects might be the declaration of an elemental energy associated with the attack ("fire", "earth", "water", etc.), or the declaration of special effects ("poison", "curse", etc.). Such words would have an immediate effect unless a victim had access to a trait or word that countered it.

Reading further through his series could be useful to this overall design process, I'll be looking through his ideas further over the next week or so.

20 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 11)

One of the important things about anything in life is to have balance and variety. I think this is the case whether it comes to diet, hobbies, experiences, or anything else. If you do the same thing time and again, it gets boring. You might get a good feeling for what to expect, and you might even like it the first couple of times, but eventually it gets stale.

That's one of the reasons why I want this game to have a variety of story types that it can tell. It's always going to be focused around combat with rubber swords and other padded weaponry, that's what lures the players in and that's what they expect to find, so it would be a nasty bait-and-switch to make the game focused around something else. 

A story in this game needs to have a variety of scenes, and each of those scenes should have a variety of opportunities for different types of characters to succeed. Perhaps a bit like the current crop of scenario driven miniature battlegames, where everyone plays the games to win, and the predominate method to win a scenario is to eliminate an opposing team, but scenarios may allow a team to earn victory points by capturing objectives, gathering resources, holding ground, or something else important to this particular moment in time.

In a miniature battlegame, you choose your team then you often randomly determine a scenario so that you can't min-max your team to specifically handle it...instead you need to create a balanced team that could handle a variety of potential situations. You might have a regular set of tactics with the team you've designed, and every team will have specific strengths (that favour certain paths of play) and weaknesses (that hinder other paths of play). A part of the luck in the game comes from hoping for a random scenario that hinders your opponent more than yourself. 

In much the same way, when someone offers to GM a story for you, you hope that your character will be playing to their strengths. This basically works in game, because your character would have a higher likelihood of choosing to engage in missions where they'll play to their strengths, but not all scenes will be their forte, they'll do best if they pick a group of allies who are able to handle a variety of scene types.

If we work on the assumption that a game day will be divided into 4-hour morning and afternoon sessions, or perhaps even multiple 3-hour sessions like a convention, we might work on the further assumption that a typical scene takes a 1/2-hour to resolve. Using these assumptions, a story might consist of 6 to 8 scenes. Combat scenes aren't like in a tabletop game, they don't take an hour to resolve a few minutes of melee, instead they play out in real time. Combat scenes can be exhausting, especially long ones...so while a tabletop game can devolve into a slugfest of die rolls, a LARP conflict doesn't commonly suffer from this, but a strategically interesting conflict might drag on (or at least reach a tactical stalemate).

I don't know that I'm explaining this well.

My main point here is that a story should change things up, rather than simply be a string of fight scenes. Perhaps a briefing scene, then an infiltration (which might lead to a fight if it fails), followed by a search, then solving a puzzle from the objects found, then an escape (which might lead to a fight again if things get complicated), a secretive travel (or chase scene) across town, then a meeting with the original hiring character to negotiate the transfer of information or found item. 

Scope for foghting, scope for other ways to accomplish the hiring character's task.

I'm thinking of a quick way to generate stories according to a series of templates or formula, perhaps even using the Hold 'Em Scene Generator system (which you can find over on RPGNow). 

Still more thinking to do.

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 10)

I met my wife Leah through LARP, but over the past few years she has become less able to engage the more physical aspects of the hobby. She broke her back quite some time ago, and now one of her vertebrae is degrading at an alarming rate (it lost 1/3 of it's structure over the course of a year), this means she is in constant pain and runs the risk of paralysis if she does anything too strenuous. Despite this, she wants to engage at some level in a new LARP. I joined a Boffer LARP group last year, and can still hold my own on the combat field against most of the more active players half my age (at least for a short time), Leah hasn't joined because everything has been based on combat and she can't risk permanent injury. Leah wants to join in the role of combat medic or apothecary, something where she can gain advantage through the game in a way that either forces people to come to her, or allows her to slowly, carefully pick her way through a battlefield and avoid the worst.

To those ends, we picked up some props last weekend that might start the basis of the apothecary kit. 

But generally, this brings me to the point of what characters and players do within the game. We know that from an out of game perspective, we have participants who offer their stories, and group of players who engage those stories...but what do the characters actually do within those stories?

It's a Boffer LARP, so there is definitely going to be combat.

It's got politics going on, so there will need to be social interplay at some level (regulated by rules or otherwise).

There will need to be scope for medics (because otherwise everyone will die too quickly and the game will be over).

Research can be long and tedious, especially in a game that operates "real time", so this sort of thing might be best handled between sessions. The same for forging weapons/armour, or other crafts.

Traditional rogue/thief tasks like picking locks, disarming traps, etc. probably require some kind of random chance element (which could also be applied to medical actions, and crafting), they could be handled through player skill, but this is a game of fantasy and escapism...the chance for players to be more than themselves for a little while. Random chance activities need the presence of a formal adjudicator (in this case a GM), and something that determines the result.

I like the idea of puzzles and riddles, but these can be hard to incorporate into a game effectively. Perhaps the randomising mechanism allows extra clues (if successful)...perhaps the mysteries are solved real time in the form of a jigsaw puzzle, or one of those gimmick puzzles found at a novelty store.

This sort of game is heavily about immersion, feeling a part of the narrative universe. The idea of randomisers (in the form of cards or dice) breaks the immersion a bit, but may be a necessity when players are forced to deal with situations they can't perform (but might be possible for their character).

19 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 9)

This is a bit of a follow up on the last post, because I basically got carried Way with describing something I don't like. Now, it's an opportunity to show how my alternative to this system is actually an improvement through a couple of examples and rule applications.

The first thing you might ask is "why would someone bother setting up a game like this if they could be ousted after any event?". Let's circumvent this by saying that during the first six months of a campaign, noone may challenge the founding GM. This gives stability to the game when all the participants are new. After this point, it's up to the GM to keep running good stories, otherwise players will either vote them out or simply leave...I'd rather see the game stay alive with a lasting legacy and fresh blood running things, rather than see it fizzle out as participants don't get what they're after.

The next thing you might ask is "what's the advantage of being a lesser GM, when only the main GM gets to be ruler of the kingdom?". Think of it this way, there are always shadowy manipulators in any setting, but they have to accumulate their power in some way. The start of every session would basically be a bidding war between players and potential GMs... A mage might offer a reward to a group who is willing to go on a quest to secure a key ritual item, a merchant might look for a group willing to courier goods to a neighbouring town, an inquisitor might seek to eliminate a certain heretic (without getting their hands dirty), a politician might want a rival eliminated, the head of a local guild migt need some other unsavoury job dealt with... every game participant should have a couple of things that they simply can't do themselves, some reason to hire a group of mercenaries, or a party of adventurers. Those who start accumulating a bit of money, status and prestige suddenly have the ability to hire such groups... these are also the types of people who probably start to minimise the risks of directly facing threats, and as players are ready to move on to the responsibility of GMing. Each potential GM makes offer to the respective player groups, this might be done through a tavern, an "adventurer's guild", a community noticeboard, or underground grapevine. The rewards offered for the completion of such missions would come directly from the resource pool of the character offering the mission, and the player of this character takes on GMing duties for a session. The would be some kind of system for designing missions that would be easy to follow... (Eg. you want to gain a level 4 artifact, then the party needs to confront a minimum total of 4 levels worth of opponents, traps, or other obstacles...if they confront more, then there is a chance they'll gain bonus treasures for themselves).

The whole point of this system is to reward more civic minded players with a higher degree of influence within the game, this isn't a reward for playing a nice character, but for being a contributive player. It is there to help players who want to build a legacy within the game, something for multiple characters to link into rather than simply passively taking on storylines and reaping personal benefits to the detriment of everyone around them. 

Take for example a player who wants to tell the story of a cut-throat band of mercenaries who live on the outskirts of town. First they might act out the stories of a mercenary thief gathering strength, skill, influence and wealth. The player could then follow one of two paths... First, they might step back into a supporting role as a highwayman, ambushing parties to travel out of town along the particular section of road they've claimed. This might earn them a bit of extra money, as well as fame and notiriety, and they might even manage to convince a couple of encountered characters to join their banditry. Second, they might take on GM duties by hiring other parties of adventurers to do their bidding through robbery, fights and other nefarious deeds. Every encounter with other players builds the story, and successful encounters would earn some kind of points to help build the organisation (such points could be spent on group resources, a stronghold, npc henchmen, etc...in much the same way that a character is built up with experience points). Eventually, these organisations will accumulate links to many players, and if they want to grow even further they'll need to confront other similar organisations. These confrontations will end up being fairly climactic for one of the groups (maybe both), and will be the turning point events in the ongoing chronicle.

I'd like to think that this is beneficial in other ways too. A single character can't become a master manipulator of the events in the story, unless they actually manipulate people, a great sorceror typically won't have time to gather components for their rituals (and such rituals will typically require assistants anyway)...the whole point is that you can only get so far before you need the assistance of others (willingly or otherwise). This pulls more playes into storylines driven by other players, and it reduces the workload on the central GM (or local lord). 

It also short circuits the complaining players who say that certain storylines are rubbish by asking them a simple question..."Can you do better?"

If we're working with the idea that there are 20 players, with 2 adventuring parties, an antagonist party and the remainder taking GM and NPC duties. I'd like to think that a session would start with four or five players offering their stories to the assembled parties (describing generally what the "mission" is, but not the twists along the way), the parties choose which ones they want to undertake, and the GMs who don't get their stories selected instead take on NPC duties for the session, or offer their services to a party as a henchman, hired sword, or secondary character. Potential GMs want to market their stories well, because it will give their character linked to the story a bonus, and generally the free-market nature of this sequence will hopefully see the most interesting stories played out for the group.

While this is happening, the local noble (head GM) must consider how these stories might interact with one another, or whether these stories work beter as stand-alone events. If two stories involve the local keep, then it mkes fun narrative to have both parties interact in some way, and it would make sense in this case to make the "antagonist" party into the keep's guards. Perhaps the two parties might act as antagonists to one another. The local noble might have veto rights over stories as well, to a limited degree...perhaps if ten players offer storylines toward the next session (and there are only 2 player parties), the noble might limit the offerings to the four stories that best fit the direction they'd like to ssee the campaign go (there should always be at least twice as many choices as there are parties). If too many people are offering stories, we might apply a queue system, so that someone who's story ran last session moves to the back of the queue to allow other players the chance to GM and gain background influence for their hiring character (another option might be more political, possibly forcing the respective players to petition the local lord for the right to offer their stories to the assembled players).

This is very freeform and ad-lib, driven by the stories provided by prospective GMs and the choices made by the parties. The local noble might instill general notions of the types of jobs they think would be appropriate under their rule, but this would be done through meta-narrative levels as well. Taxes might be raised on prominent citizens with high income, thus increasing the wealth in the keep and lowering the available funds to the peasantry...this would increase the likelihood of key players hiring parties to rob the keep or confront the tax collectors. Perhaps the local noble has decided that a certain religion mist be spread across the land and that others are heretics, this would certainly prompt individuals who've declared their religious affiliation to make a stand. 

I'm imagining these storylines to basically run with a stock market economy, the more stories focuss around a certain storyline, the more prominent that storyline becomes in the grand chronicle. If players get turned off a certain line of narrative then it falls by the wayside. Players link themselves to stories, choosing sides about where they want it to go (do they want this sequence of events to succeed, do they want it to fail, do they think they can subvert this story to their own ends???). This is basically done like an investment. The players who have linked themselves most to such a story have the biggest to win if their side succeeds, and the most to lose if their side fails...and those players who have the most invested in a storyline (one way or the other) have the best chance to manipulate where the story is heading (typically by running stories associated with that storyline). Players would basically associate themselves with up to three storylines (any more would start getting really complicated), they'd invest XP in these stories like shareholders (sort of).

Olivia has an elven/wildling/barbarian character named "Arya the Black", this character has a vested interest in promoting "elves" as the strongest race (1pt), and wants to see the fighting arena restored to it's former glory (2pts). Olivia invests three XP into these storylines each session/month. 

If the Elves increase their prestige in the region, she'll gain back the XP spent on that storyline, and an extra point (to spend on elven related things). If the elves fall in prestige, she'll lose that investment. If there has been nothing about elves in the session/month since the expenditure was made, she'll just get back those points or may "let them ride" until the next session/month. She won't really care one way or the other if the Dwarves gain power in the region if it comes at the expense of the orcs, the humans, or the undead...but if the Dwarves gain power at the expense of the Elves, she'll have a vested interest in stopping them from gaining more power (doubly so, because she'll want to recoup that loss of XP).

If the fighting arena gets a step closer to completion, she'll gain bonus XP (that can be spent on arena asssociated things). If the arena suffers a setback or is sabotaged, she'll lose those points. If she ends up in a situation where the arena can be advanced but only at the cost of losing prestige for the elven people, she has a tough decision ahead of her. Also, if she hears of potential stories sabotaging the arena, she might join such a story so that she can betray the party and thus gain experiencce for the double cross.

Once Arya has gained enough power and influence, Olivia might be ready to start running stories of her own for adventuring parties. In this way Arya takes a back seat to the risk of immediately facing danger, but still gains the XP from the investment, and moves to the ranks of the true manipulators of the realm. 

The more peope have a vested interest (and XP) in specific storylines, the more interest there obviously is in telling those sorts of stories. This could be a good gauge for potential GMs to define what stories they offer to the parties at the start of a session.

This fits into the desired end product of an ecosystem of storytelling, where everyone contributes to the developing narrative. All of this is starting to fall into place, and it makes sense in my head. I'm just hoping that I'm successfully conveying my ideas to anyone who's still reading.

18 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 8)

Here's the bit where we get a bit controversial. It's the idea that really deviates this particular set of rules from most of the other things I've seen on the web, and the idea that pushes this LARP toward a more communal storytelling ecosystem.

Virtually every LARP I've been a part of has effectively been a dictatorship, many of the successful ones have been benevolent dictatorships (with a single person informed by the masses, then catering to as many of them as possible), many of the unsuccessful ones have been malevolent dictatorships (with a single person controlling everything, and pushing the story according to their creative vision regardless of the desires of the players involved). I'm sure anyone who has been around tabletop games for a while has encountered these two forms of leaders in their GMs, but imagine that management style translated to a 20-30 player game (or more). 

Quite a few LARPs have multiple GMs, all co-ordinated by a single uber-GM (and that's definitely the path this game will be taking), but the decisions of overarching storyline typically rest in the hands of one person. This isn't always the case, I've played in some games where games run one the first weekend of the month, and then the GM team runs regular meetings on the third weekend of the month to decide future story directions by commitee (not always these particular weekends, but you get the idea).

Then there's the global Camarilla LARP Campaign (set within White Wolf's Classic World of Darkness). I was a part of this for about 5 years. It had some awesome ideas, and some terrible ones that were hideously abused by various people I know of. 

The basic concept is simple...

There is a global storyline involving vampires, werewolves, mages, other nasties, and regular mortals. Each type of creature is a fairly self contained unit, and thee isn't a lot of crossover between them. It's a coherent story that has been going on for millennia (I'll get back to that bit).

Storytelling duties are divided up by the nations and the types of creatures. There is a single overlord Global Storyteller, and under the there are National Storytellers for each country, and Global "Genre" Storytellers for each type of creature. (These titles aren't accurate, but are provided to give the idea).

Under each National Storyteller, there are Regional Storytellers (who might look after single states/provinces in wide areas like Australia or Canada, or might look after clusters of states in closer packed countries like the US). Under each Regional Storyteller, there are Domain Storytellers who look after a specific large city (or cluster of small towns). Under each Domain Storyteller, there are Chapter Storytellers who focus on a specific group of local players.

That's the geographic Storyteller structure, but parallel to this was the genre structure. Let's focus on a specific race within the game, Werewolves. Under the Global Werewolf Storyteller, there was a group of National Werewolf Storytellers who would report to the Global Werewolf Storyteller, as well as their respective National Storyteller. Under the National Werewolf Storyteller, there were Regional Werewolf Storytellers who would report to the National Werewolf Storyteller as well as their respective Regional Storyteller....all the way down the chain until you got to Chapter Werewolf Storyteller (if your local chapter actually ran a Werewolf game), who would report to their Chapter Storyteller and their Domain Werewolf Storyteller. 

This structure of genre Storytellers reporting to multiple people was reflected across each type of race: 2 distinct factions of Vampires (Camarilla and Sabbat), Werewolves, Mages, Fey, Ghosts, Hunters, etc. 

In addition to these, each nation commonly had a council of subrace advisors (in the case of werewolves, there were 13 tribes, and thus there might be 13 advisors who were expected to be the foremost authorities in the groups they represented).

I acted as the Domain Storyteller for Sydney for about a year, and helped organise a National gathering. In that time I oversaw meetings combining three or four chapters (it varied during my time in office), often having a dozen or more stortellers (chapter level, domain genre level and chapter genre level). This group oversaw the stories for about 30 core players, another 50 or so semi-regular players, and maybe another 70 irregulars (who might show up once or twice a year).

I'd take reports of games occuring every weekend (with different chapters running games on different weekends, and some chapters running two or three different genre games on different days), often six to eight games a month. These would be compiled into a single "newspaper" of events to filter back out to the players of every game, with reports heading up the chain further to inform the regional, national and global levels. 

i'm told that at it's peak, the Australian Camarilla was well over 1000 players (I certainly attended national events where hundreds of players were present), and globally there was probably in excess of 10000...if someone has specific statistics, I'd be interested to find out.

On the flip side of this hierarchy, there were the Coordinators. Global, National, Regional, Domain, Chapter. These were the members who sourced venues, handled money, dealt with disciplinary measures within the organisation, all the "real world" stuff...(while the storytellers handled "in-game" stuff).

As a structure it was organised. At each level, regular annual elections would see "bad" storytellers and coordinators ousted for new ones. Genre Storytellers would tend to be selected as a council of advisors by their respective elected geographic Storyteller.

It seems pretty coherent and structured, so you might wonder why don't I like this system.

It was a policy within the organisation that you were not permitted to ho.d a significant role within the story governed by your own mandate. If you were a domain storyteller, you could not play a character who had a politically important role within your domain (or at any higher level), the same for anyone further up the chain. You might be able to portray a politically important role in another domain (but for a Sydney-sider, that meant taking the 300km trek to Canberra)...and if you didn't tke that journey to a neighbouring domain regularly, you could pretty much guarantee a coup that would oust you from power. Regional storytellers would have to regularly play in other regions, national storytellers would have to play in other countries.

It was a bit easier if you limited yourself to Genre Storyteller, then if you were the Sabbat Storyteller, you could play as the leader of the Werewolves or Fey if you wanted to. But if your passion was the Sabbat Vampires, would you really be as interested in Wolves or Faeries? The Storytellers were limited to either influencing the storyline from within it, or from without. Many great storylines were utterly ruined by contact with the players when the storyteller couldn't influence it, or when players simply decided that they didn't want to run with it.

The major political players in the game almost exclusively ended up being played by the Coordinators. They had no influence outside the game, and earned "Prestige Points" to beef up their characters at the same rate as the Storytellers. Thus they ended up with huge power within the game, and the chance to call off events if they didn't like where things were heading (by simply "forgetting" to book a venue, suspending players who might be a threat to them in-game, or organising other metagame issues). If a Coordinator abused this power too much, they would risk being pusted at the next election, but they'd have to be ousted from their position in the game as well as outside it before they'd really suffer.

My solution is simply to combine the in-game and out-of-game power structures and to make them more democratic.

Instead of specific Storytellers who only handle in-game effects (but who cannot actually be powerful within the game), and Coordinators who only handle out-of-game effects (but who can be massively powerful within the game, pandering to storylines they like and neutering those they don't), why not simply have powerful characters become the sources of agency for their respective storylines.

At the lowest levels of the game, you have parties of adventurers, often hired by someone to do something. If your character has the influence to hire a group of adventurers to do their bidding, while staying at home away from the risk, you move from being an active player to a shadowy manipulator of the world. You have a responsibility to the players you are hiring, and become their GM for the duration of the mission you are sending them on.

If you ascend to become a regional lord, you might sit on the throne during sessions of court, but you risk being assassinated and are always on the lookout for potential uprisings. You might have a team of loyal guards, you might have spies among the adventuring parties; either way, you could play this type of character with glory and passion at the front lines, but if you choose to take the safe option, you have the obligation of co-ordinating the "lesser" GMs from your local demesne. If someone wants to take your power as the local head of state, they also take on the obligations of running the story for everyone else around them. An election occurs in the real world to determine who would tell better stories (and who would push the campaign in the right direction from within and without), while a coup occurs within the game world, as one head of state is replaced by another. The new lord/GM's character effectively retires from active play (allowing others to ramp up in experience and become more of an active threat to their "leader"). The leader stepping down may nominate to face a final duel or do something dramatic, or may simply slink away into the shadows to be ome a new threat in the future when the next opportunity for a coup takes place.

A leader who is a harsh tyrant might provide opprtunities for bloodshed and rapid accumulation of experience (thus seeing many characters who would rise quickly to become their adversaries), a leader who promotes peace and tranquility might see regional wealth grow (and see traders become their equal while warriors get bored). Both types of leaders might acquire allies and adversaries. These leaders need to keep running interesting storylines and events if they want to stay in power, because bored/jaded/abused players might call an election at any time (after a game session) to depose the leader in exchange for a twist to the storyline in the next game.

This sort of system really makes players think about whether they want the responsibility of the throne. Almost makes it more "Game of Thrones"-like.

That bit I was going to get back to...about storylines running for millennia. 

During my time in the Camarilla, there was a reset. Apparently there were more than one of these in the time of the organisation. Basically, the game would escalate, characters would get more powerful and start to reach a ceiling where their power levels just didn't make sense any more. To combat this, more powerful adversaries would come out of the woodwork and a general power creep would push the world toward armageddon. Once the game had reached a critical point, events were triggered to end the world, or something dramatic might happen to kill everyone off locally so that the story could begin afresh. I had a character who had managed to survive two of these purges at a local level by being careful, and thus ended up existing at a level that local storytellers couldn't handle...global apocalypse fixed that.

So something that needs to be addressed is the concept of maintaining a consistent power level within the game, even while the characters ebb and flow in their individual power levels. I'm hoping that my solution handles this to a degree.

16 September, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 7)

I've basically been hedging around the actual mechanisms of the game with explanations and references to other games. I've decided that I don't want dice to be used at all, but that still leaves lots of options open...card draw, tokens, rock-scissors-paper, other?

The other catch is trying to maintain consistency in skill levels (basic, intermediate, expert) when some effects are based on physicality, while others might be based on more abstract concepts. I don't want the idea I've seen in some games where different skills have different cost progressions. This whole project is aiming to create a system that's simple, that will blend into the background to allow more focus on adventure storytelling for small groups of players (and more complex storytelling between those groups).

These two elements are going to be the crux of the system, so they need to be right.

But that leads me to thinking about something else...the mechanisms need to inform the setting and the setting needs to inform the mechanisms in a positive feedback loop. 

If this game were designed to be a gritty, "realistic" game of medieval war, sacrifice and honour, we might look more strongly at the way characters are injured, and the repercussions of healing (which might take days, weeks or months), as well as status and honour loss (which might leave a permanent stain on one's history). To make the setting more "playable", as well a fantastic and cinematic, we might add spells that reduce healing times from days to minutes (and from weeks/months to mere hours, or overnight at worst). 

Some games take the tactic that characters become spectral beings apon their death, able to drift to a healing point for resurrection. This might be viewed like a MMORPG, and works really well if your game includes mythic setting elements such as an underworld, or if the game reflects a setting such as Valhalla (where warriors fight the final battle, and are continually reincarnated to keep up the fight). It makes far less sense to use these sort of rules and effects to mimic low fantasy gritty warfare, or something akin to the Vietnam War. 

Basically, if we wanted these characters to be meaningless peons, we probably don't want combat to be overly dramatic because aren't really attached to them...we'd want a quick system where single strikes can tale someone down (then that same player might come back as another nameless horde member).

If we want the characters to be meaningful, with integrated backstory, we could take two tactics. Firstly, we could make combat bloody, dramatic, and climactic (in which case it would be quite dangerous, and a lot of people wouldn't want to take the risk). Or secondly, we could make the combat less lethal through the judicious use of healing and "resurrection" effects...which in turn modifies the nature of the setting and the expected narrative in it.

This is also one of the reasons why I'm incorporating "primary" and "secondary" characters to the game system. If players want to be reckless, they can wade into battle as their secondary character, get some wild swings in, practice their combat skills (or throwing skills with spell packet bags), then throw together a new econdary character with a bunch of templates when they are viciously cut down. If we want the "primary" characters to be epic heroes, then we need a suitably weak rank of secondary characters to compare them against. Perhaps we incorporate into the narrative and setting some kind of element where the primary characters are "infused by the power of the gods", maybe they are "throwbacks descended from a line of ancient immortals", or "wielders of eldritch artefacts". (This last option would actually work really well if I aligned this LARP system with the Goblin Labyrinth setting I developed a few years back).

Once a creative decision like this has been made, it's possible to filter out certain concepts and focus on the ideas that benefit both the setting and the mechanisms of play.

To make this post a bit more practical and grounded, less theoretical and nebulous, let's make a few specific choices and apply them to the game being designed.

This game is more about skirmishes between small groups rather than epic battles. 
Being taken down in conflict leaves a character in a limbo state until they either recieve medical attention or the conflict is resolved. 
On field medical attention takes a specific amount of time (determined by the skill of the user, the tools they are using, and any extra time they might take to improve success chances).
Characters who are down in a conflict may be deliberately removed from play (effectively a stab in the chest or a slash across the throat), this is a conscious effort and may have status/honour repercussions.
Characters not deliberately removed from play have a random chance of dying, recuperating with injuries, or walking away unscathed (and some kind of "stamina" ability might modify the results of this outcome). Secondary characters are less important in the grand scheme of things, they typically either die or "retire from a life of conflict due to their wounds".
Characters who are down in a conflict may be looted for their possessions, but this may come with a cost (loss of honour if this is ever found out, possibly being hunted down by the looted character or members of their warband/unit/party if the character doesn't survive).

Then we can consider whether characters remember things about the situation that took them out of action. I've played with several key players over the years who will take a character death very personally, and will enact vengeance and retribution against their assailant until they believe justice is done. It tends to be a minority of players who do this, and in an ideal world with mature players you shouldn't really need to design rules to circumvent this, but it's something to be wary of. I've seen the same sort of thing in tabletop games.

Now for a few more back-of-house game mechanisms.

Like an Australian Freeform, we will consider an optimal number of GMs to be one coordinating GM and an additional GM per five players. 
Since this is intended to be a smallish game under most circumstances (lets say 20 participants), this would leave 10 active characters (probably split into 2 parties of 5), a separate antagonist party (of 5), 1 coordinating GM, 3 additional GMs (1 per party), and 2 players to take the role of key NPCs and non-combatants who have their own goals/agendas/information.
If we run a whole day event, it would make sense to split the day into morning and afternoon sessions. This way the ten active characters from the morning session can portray the support roles in the afternoon (and vice versa). 
A player would not be able to portray the same primary character in the morning and afternoon, but they might be able to portray a primary character in one session and a secondary character during the other. Players who deliberately choose to play members of the antagonist party or key NPCs may earn Destiny Point bonuses...and it might even be mandatory for new players to portray henchmen, assistants, and characters like these during their first session or two as they learn the mechanisms of the game (not 100% sure about this though).

These last few points have reminded me of one of the interesting things that I have encountered in most forms of LARP rules. That is a focus on the out of game logistics. Perhaps it's because the interplay of reality and fantasy mingle closer in a LARP, perhaps it's because the potential for physical injury is greater, perhaps it's because these types of games require more space and are thus more likely to come into contact with the public...whatever the case, LARP rules contain more metagame aspects than most tabletop games. Social contract has been written into this style of play for a long time.