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.

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