07 December, 2015

Preliminary Work on "Can of Beans"

Alright, so I've been asked to design a LARP system from the ground up. 

1. It needs to be post apocalyptic.
2. It needs to incorporate foam weapons and NERF.
3. It should have minimal GM intervention (facilitation yes, intervention no).
4. It should be welcoming to newcomers...
5. ...while providing solid pathways of progression for ongoing players.

A lot of ideas meeting these requirements could basically be plucked directly from the Pirate/Steampunk LARP rules I developed mid last year. But after a year of LARPing under the Clans of Elgardt (CoE) group, as player and as a GM, there are a number of ideas that have changed since I developed that system. There are a few things I'd take from CoE, and a few things I'd definitely remove.

Thee are numerous ways I'd love to see CoE develop, and now that I'm running games for that group you'd think I could make those changes, subtly changing the game month by month toward a more holistic experience where a wide variety of play styles an engage the stories and still have fun. But now CoE is held in two locations each month, and for every change I make, another GM also mkes changes to the rule set, some of which are going in totally une pected directions until you consider that the might be designed to facilitate a certain form of micromanaged game that has become prevalent on that second location. One GM/designer is trying to move the rule set in one direction, another GM/designer is trying to move the rule set in another direction. Meanwhile, splinter factions don't like wither direction and are setting up their own games entirely. 

This is an opportunity to start from scratch, to pull ideas from the dozen or so LARPs and episodic freeforms I've been a part of in the last 20 years, and to make them into a single coherent product. 

For starters, I needed to ask the other members of the project what they thought about permanent character death. CoE doesn't have this, as it seems more derived from the idea of WoW and MMORPGs, where a character has a few health potions that can allow them to stand up after a fight, or when they run out of these they can simply respawn back at home base. It makes for a more fighty game because there's less to lose when you get into a fight. I discussed this thorougly when I developed the Pirate/Steampunk game. A number of debates have arisen in the CoE developers group (yes, it's a game being evolved by committee) about permanent character death, and generally the ideas pushing for it state that players spend a lot of money on their foam weapons, costume and armour, and they would get too upset of their money was spent on a character who might die...thus rendering their weapons/costume/armour redundant. This is despite the fact that most of the players are running around on their second or third character by this stage because they've simply gotten bored of the first one after a couple of months. Another argument that has cropped up on a few occasions is that characters feel more heroic if they can't die except under dramatic story circumstances where the player specifically declares that they're character is being removed from the game to further storyline in a good cause. So far I can think of one character who "died for a good cause" in this way, and even this chracter might end up getting resurrected in the future. Most of the other characters who've left the game have done so because their stories fizzled out, or because their players got bored. Personally, I find the idea of zero character death a de-protagonising step. Choices mean nothing if there are no adequate repercussions from those choices. 

I proposed the idea of escalating permanent-death risk in this new game and it seems to have gone down well. Every time a character dies, roll a die or draw a card, if the card is lower than the number of total times the character has died so far, they are permanently killed. If the result is higher, they survive but may gain a permanent scar (which reduces stats or cancels out abilities). There's a few ways this could be done. Let's look at two options in each case a die (d6) and a standard deck of cards.

1. Single card/die. It's the quickest option. After a Knockout (K/O) the character returns to a healer. If the die roll is lower than the number of deaths so far, the character dies, if it's less than twice the number of deaths so far the character gains a battle scar. 

First K/O: no chance of permanent death, 16.66% chance of battle scar, 83.33% chance of survival with no problems.
Second K/O: 16.66% chance of permanent death, 33.33% chance of battle scar, 50% chance of survival with no problems.
Third K/O: 33.33% chance of permanent death, 50% chance of battle scar, 16.66% chance of survival with no problems.
Fourth K/O: 50% chance of permanent death, 50% chance of battle scar, no chance of survival with no problems.
Fifth K/O: 66.66% chance of permanent death, 33.33% chance of battle scar, no chance of survival with no problems.
Sixth K/O: 83.33% chance of permanent death, 16.66% chance of battle scar, no chance of survival with no problems.
Seventh K/O: Dead...that's it.

Using playing cards gives a similar progression, but because there are 13 ranks to play with, the results accumulate more slowly. It's only after the 13th K/O that permanent death is always the result, and any K/O after the 7th has no chance of survival with no problems. 

2. Two cards/dice straight out. This version works on the idea that one result is obtained to determine death, and if the character doesn't die, a second result is obtained to determine if they end up scarred or survive with no problems. This version gives more opportunity for characters to end up unscathed, I could go through the maths but I won't... Just trust me on this one. 

3. Two cards allocated. Given that I'm tying the game to my Walkabout setting, and this works a bit like the "draw and allocate" system used in that game, maybe this might be the best option. Draw 2 cards (or roll 2 dice), add an extra die or card if you have a skilled healer. Allocate one result to the death option, and one to the scar option. If the result allocated to the "death" option is lower than the number of K/Os so far, the character dies. If the result allocated to the "scar" option is lower than the number of scars currently possessed (or the number of K/Os), a new scar is obtained. This system has the advantage that there is slightly less chance of characters becoming permanently taken out of action at early stages of their story, a much lower chance during the middle numbers (but a higher chance of earning scars), but then converges back to the higher chances of complete death at the top end of the scale. 

This last option provides a way to attach rules for healers, and that's something good. I'm also really thinking that a deck of cards might be the best way to go, maybe a tarot deck if we want to get a bit mystical, but probably a standard deck for a bit of a "western" vibe.
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