31 March, 2016

Helixes... (or "going full circle, but ending up a level higher")

Sometimes I think of my creative process like a child holding a crayon, drawing constant circular squiggles on a page. Sometimes the squiggle line is focused in small circles, working through a particular area until it's filled with waxy colour. Sometimes the squiggle line forms large circles sweeping through wide areas of blank space (or maybe the inner child is drawing on a collage, made up of other people's work).

Let's go with the "squiggling on a collage" analogy. Sometimes the squiggles join together elements of different people's work into a chaotic pattern (this is especially true when those other worksare fairly similar to begin with), sometimes they erratically join disparate concepts, often inelegantly and the squiggle line moves on.

The first important thing about the continuous, repetitive circles of the squiggle line is the fact that it covers a field of area, it doesn't stay in one place for too long. The second important thing about the squiggle is that it often intersects itself quite often. It's these intersections that interest me.

When I first pass through a conceptual space, the line often heads onward along a specific trajectory. It doesn't stop to consider things on that first pass through. If the line comes full circle and passes through the same conceptual space again it typically does so from a slightly different angle, and I see that conceptual space from a new perspective. That becomes interesting to me, but the line often continues in another direction. If the line passes through that point a third time, that's probably the point where I'm really starting to grasp the nuances of the concept from a few different directions. The subconscious prods at the inner child, and the circles may now become smaller to explore that concept more completely. This is the point where I start looking at the links between this conceptual space and the other concepts that the circular squiggle's journey has previously linked to.

It basically ends up as a huge relationship map, with hundreds of concepts mentally arranged and linked. Many of these links have been established by other people, but some might be brand new pathways of creativity to explore. The circular squiggle then forms more of an ellipse orbiting two focal points until the line becomes solid in my head.

You may wonder what prompted me to write this post.

This morning as I was washing the dishes my inner child continued drawing it's stream of consciousness arc, this time linking two areas I've given considerable thought to.

The LARP project I've been working on recently has been a gradual building of concepts, trying to develop an elegant holistic system that is fairly easy to learn, only gaining complexity for a single player as their character develops experience. To use an expression in vogue among certain educational theorists, it "scaffolds". It builds a layer purely designed to facilitate the learning of the system, and the initial scaffolding layer fades away once the key concepts are understood...new scaffolding is then built to extend the reach of the system in an organic manner.

Pretty much everything where there is a random component falls back on the basic idea of  Rock-Paper-Scissors test. If you win, you accomplish your goal with no sacrifice. If you tie, you accomplish your goal if you are willing to make a sacrifice. If you lose, you don't accomplish your goal, but the sacrifice is made anyway. Some characters might have the ability to retest the result if they don't like it, other characters might have more things to sacrifice in specific action areas.

The thing I realised this morning is that the LARP system can easily be ported back across to my Walkabout project. I had been looking for a simple way to get players into that world, and had also tried to find a way that the game could be played while the group is taking a walk (through bushland or wilderness) with minimal components to get in the way.

Adapting the boffer LARP system, where almost everything that is done in character is physically done by the player just feels like a really nice extension of the earlier concepts developed in Walkabout. It might be the piece I've been missing all these years. I still haven't decided whether to split this off as a more LARP-ish variant of Walkabout, or whether to make this the core game mechanism.

We'll see how the scribbling progresses from here.

28 March, 2016

Revisiting Mapping (Part 1)

I got a new toy earlier this year, and haven't had much chance to use it.

It's an electric whiteboard, where I can press a button to scan the image on the board to print it out, or send it to my computer. So, I'm going to use it for a new mapping tutorial series, since the last time I did this (back in 2013 and 2014) it seemed pretty popular. 

I'm starting with a map idea I'm working on for a new LARP. I already posted a map for the project, but I just don't like the way certain things have worked out on that version of the map. So I've reworked it a bit from the ground up and taken snapshots of the map development to show how I might develop a game world map from the ground up. The snapshots are reproduced here, one by one. There are faint yellow grid lines across the board that don't reproduce when the scanning process occurs, I've basically kept to this grid for the sake of simplicity.

Step 1. Laying out what locations are where.
I've had a basic idea for this map, where the game occurs in a mysterious central land with 8 kingdoms which were once the borderlands when the central land was a political power in the region. For an unspecified time (a century, an epoch between celestial alignments, ???) the central land has been subjected to mystical storms and inaccessible. But after a short period of unrest and chaos, the borderlands have settled down into their own kingdoms. The more prominent of these kingdoms will be on the cardinal points (North, South, East, West), with lesser kingdoms on the NE,SE,SW,NW regions.

Step 2. Defining some key geography
Notably at the south of the map, there is a jungle area adjacent to a desert area. Wherever this sort of thing happens on our world there is a major mountain range between the two. Winds push clouds toward the mountains (typically east to west), and when the mountains push up the airstream, the clouds drop their rain. So it makes sense to have a mountain range running along the border of these two regions. Similarly, we've got a defined area of mountains, so I'll pass the mountain range through this part of the map, making sure the give the mountain range a few branching parts for some good valleys, especially since the idea of this region was vaguely analogous to Eastern Europe. Elsewhere I've just thrown in a few fragmentary mountain ranges, just to keep things interesting.

3. Adding Coastlines
Here's where things really start to deviate from the earlier map that I drew up. I don't necessarily want the setting to be a single island continent. I'd be more interested in there clearly being other unexplored parts of the world. Too many fantasy settings seem to be set on a single continent, nicely bordered on all sides by oceans and seas.

I'm just dotting in the coastline initially, I'm sure there will be changes to it.

4. Adding Vegetation   
I'll start with some forests, not jungles, just forests. A few icy forests to the north, some woodlands to the northwest and through some of the valleys in the west, and a decent smattering of forests through the eastern lands. The denser the forest, the more cross hatching appears in the forested square.

5. Adding Rivers
Rivers flow down from mountains to the sea, sometimes they cut across plains, sometimes they cling to the foothills of a mountain range or follow valleys. Since the southwestern region was intended to have a vaguely Arabic/Egyptian feel, I've made sure to include a long river that will be generally analogous to the Nile. Similarly, even though the South-East is intended to feel more like Vietnam/Thailand/South-East-Asia, the river through it might be more like the Amazon than the Mekong. There are other major rivers across the land, but none are quite as significant as these two.

6. Adding Jungle
The forests are hatched in one direction only, so in order to reflect a different type of denser jungle vegetation these squares are cross hatched on both diagonals. The vast majority of the jungle is in the southeast. I don't think there's much elsewhere at all.

7. Filling in the plains 
To mark the fertile grasslands separately to the infertile desert regions, I've marked the grasslands and plains with horizontal lines through the middle of the square. This is typically across the northern half of the map, with everything in the mount range's rain-shadow remaining unhatched and white.

In the northwest, I've added some long grasses on some of the plains to give more of a swampy and boggy look.

8. Adding Towns    
There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference in this map compared to the last one. But this is actually one of the more significant changes. I've added major towns to the map with circles marked with a cross through the centre of them (basically coda marks). Since the cardinal regions are more prominent, they've each been given three towns, while the diagonal regions have been given two. Where possible I'v tried to place towns on river junctions or mouths, on areas where rivers might emerge from mountain ranges or in places that looked like they might hold some kind of strategic value or trade significance.

9. Erasing some of the working
The last part I've reached at this stage is an erasure of the words that gave me an idea of the terrain I was working with. That's left me with a few gaps that will need refilling (most notably in the jungle). I've also added a hint of another land off to the west, and made the coastline more distinct while adding some new features along it.

With this all scanned in, I might start doing some digital work to it.

The problem with "Point Buy" systems

Let's look at a few arbitrary systems where two players get 500 points to build their respective sides. 

First, a miniatures game. Player 1 picks a fairly balanced squad with a 100 point leader, four 50 point veteran offsiders, and eight 25 point regular troops...for a total squad of 13 troops. Player 2 picks a legendary 250 point hero, three 50 point veteran offsiders and four 25 point regular troops... For a total of 8 figures. The main differences between the teams are that Player 1 has 4 more troops to play with, while player 2 has a monstrous character on the table who is more than twice as strong as their opponent's leader. In a straight up battle, that 250 point miniature will probably be wiping the floor with everyone else on the table. This isn't even pushing the issue to the extreme of Player 3 who lays a single 500 point miniature (typically reserved for 2000pt army games) on the table.

If, instead of a straight up fight, a multiple objective scoring game is played, then Player 3 with their single figurre doesn't stand much of a chance, both of the other players should have no trouble scoring two or three objectives while leaving the third player to hold a single point with their lone figure. Yet in the multiple objective game, Player 1 has around 50% more actions to play with than Player 2 (due to having 13 figures compared to 8). They'll have an edge in this scenario, until fights break out, and they see that edge whittled away by the 250 point hero. Knowing what type of game you're going to play can allow you to optimise your force, but we don't want everyone playing exactly the same thing because that doesn't make things interesting.

Second, a tabletop game. It's a superhero game. Player 1 chooses a balanced character, spending 100 points each on a pair of powers; one combative, one investigative. Then they spend 75 points each on  their social skills and intuition/common-sense. 50 points each go into contacts in the local police force and the city bureaucrats, and the last 50 is spent on a pair of character quirks that may or may not come into play but are interesting. Player 2 makes a one-trick pony with a single 300 point combative power, then spends 100 points on an endurance ability to weather anything that might be hurled at him, 50 points of contacts in the local criminal underworld, and finally a pair of 25 point character quirks because he doesn't want to be accused of being too one-dimensional.

Again, head to head, Player 2 will walk all over Player 1. But in more rounded play, Player 1's avatar in the world will be more capable of pushing the story forward and will be a better all rounder. 

Where I see the problem is when the little things happen in this second case. During the every day events of the world, Player 2's character really can't do much and they get bored in the game, so the GM tries to balance things out to give them a share of the action. Then combat occurs, and Player 2 sines by obliterating everything. The little things that Player 1 paid attention to are ignored, and only the big things get the GMs attention...since Player 2 has the biggest of the big things, they get the attention more often. It's not a one off, I've seen this happen many times.

Is it a sign of bad GMing in the context of point buy systems? Probably. But I've heard so many people say that there's no such thing as a bad GM, there are just GMs who are suited to styles of play different to what you might like. Personally I think that's a load of crap, there are certainly bad GMs, and if you've seen six groups come out of the same GMs room at a convention, all asking for their money back because they thought the session was a waste of time and money (and two more groups pulling out because they didn't know who was going to be GMing their session, and only just found out, but knew the GMs modus operandi from previous conventions), you'll know exactly what I mean.

Is it a sign that "point buy systems" are inherently bad? That can be a factor as well. How do you define a point buy balance where one thing is more directly powerful in a specific situation, while something else is less powerful but can be used in a diverse range of scenarios? Somewhere in the intersection of character design and scenario design, there can be balancing factors brough into play, or unbalancing forces. No system is ever perfect, but "point buy systems" seem quite capable of abuse. 

At least with a randomised character generation system, you know that things are going to be unfair from the very beginning, without a facade of balance...but that's a whole other rant.

27 March, 2016

The overlap between LARP and Apocalypse World

My thoughts on Apocalypse World and it's many clones and spin offs are mixed. On the one hand, I think they do some things in an elegant way that few games did before them. On the other hand, I think too many people are using those tools as a crutch that prevents them from doing anything truly innovative in recent years.

The one thing that games "powered by the Apocalypse" do is frame an action according to specific parameters, then provide a way to resolve that action. Depending on who is running the game, or how the particular rule set is written, there might be generic catch-all moves that handle wide swathes of action types, or there might be numerous detailed systems and subsystems (veering dangerously close the other style of game I don't particularly like "the hodge podge"). Most of them fit into a mid ground somewhere...and in this style of mid ground, the players strive to angle the narrative to a point where one of their moves will be useful, then like a pinball bumper, the move mght direct them a good way or a bad way... we don't know which until it happens... then we deal with ramifications. It's all about angling the narrative, accepting moves from the MC or other players, then negotiating the outcome.

In a lot of ways, a LARP is naturally like this. 

There are only so many situations a LARP developer can cover in the rules, only so many mechanisms that can be added into play without slowng things down. At one end of the spectrum is the "Australian Freeform" which basically has no rules at all, and everything is resolved through a combination of social interaction and what is best for the overall narrative of the majority of players (as determined by the collective GMs). At the other end might be Mind's Eye Theatre where everything that might be found in a tabletop RPG is similarly found in a LARP simulacrum... or maybe the other end finds itself in those diabolic tomes of tables and cross indexed minutiae of the 80s-90s boffer LARPs. 

What I'm finding more these days is an admittance that certain things should just be allowed to unfold naturally, players should be given the chance to get into character, and characters should be allowed to shine without the need for overly complex rules. That means either developing some generic rules that tend to cover a variety of situations, or developing specific sets of rules that each do one thing well... Leading us back to hodge-podge or ad-hoc systems which lead to fun among those few characters who have the attention of the GMs and fristration on the part of those players who get a bad run with the short end of the stick. 

A good LARP has consistency in its rules, it lets a story develop organically, it creates an ecosystem of narrative that builds as characters interact with one another, and when the right situations arise the rules come into play to resolve them as naturally as possible then discreetly falling back into the shadows. The players only need to know the rules that affect them, and the rules work in a consistent manner. If a player thinks that a rule mechanism will give them an advantage in a situation, they angle the surrounding events to a situation where that mechanism might come into play...and if they know that their opponent might be able to invoke a mechanism that gives them an advantage, they try to angle the surrounding events into a situation where that mechanism is less likely to come into play. Meanwhile, there are other people in the same situation...each manulating things to their own agendas, and numerous scenes like this that somehow interact with one another. Individual players may know their part of the story, and they may know the general rules that govern the whole thing, but they certainly don't know all of the stories for all of the players. That's where the overlap stops.

25 March, 2016

A paper chasing LARP

There was a concept common on the convention circuit a few years back...actually, now that I think about it, it was a few decades back.

Like many concepts, it didn't have a name when it was in vogue, and it was only when people stood back to analyse it that it was categorised with a title. It was generally called a "pieces of paper freeform", "paper-chase LARP", or some combination thereof.

A true "Australian Freeform" (a misnomer because it's a vague concept that I've discussed previously (here, [pt2], [pt3], [pt4], here and here) has no rules. Well it has the social rules of human interaction, the rules of etiquette appropriate to maintaining genre convention, and the rules of an imposed space of shared imaginary narrative facilitated and guided by the GMs...but it typically has no written rules. Instead, this style of game may have elaborate character kits with a page describing the setting (everyone gets one of these), a page describing the factions in the setting and their generally accepted relations to one another (everyone gets on of these), a page describing specific members within a faction and how they relate to one another (everyone gets one of these that has details the faction their character belongs to...there might also be factional goals on this page), a page describing specific thoughts on other characters (everyone gets their own specific one of these, often providing thoughts on the main characters of the event, the other characters of their faction, and a few assorted links to other characters in other factions who they might have a history with), then finally each player is given a set of goals that typically require the help of other characters before they may be accomplished. That's about five pages per character, with two pages being generic, one being faction specific, and two being personal. In a 20 player game with 4 factions, that's (1+1+4+20+20) 46 pages that the game designer has to write up.

...and that just covers the social interactions of the session.

The last thing you want is a complicated system on top of that.

A "paper chasing freeform" has loose mechanisms, typically working with the idea of set collecting. Every player might start with two or three different types of card and every player is similarly given a goal of collecting a specific set of cards. The types of cards and the types of missions vary depending on the scenario of the game. It might be parts that can be combined in a sci-fi setting into technologies necessary to progress to the next stage of the game, it might be components for an artefact, assorted bits of information to be combined into an ancient prophecy. Once the pieces have been collected and cashed in with a GM, new cards might be distributed, thus allowing the sets of other players to be completed (other players might find that their goals are no longer possible because the cards they need have been cashed in with other sets).

At the start of a game like this, everyone tends to be wary of one another, especially if cards for a set are scattered across multiple factions, or between known rivals. It usually takes half an hour or so before the first collections of cards to get cashed in, and typically these first collections come from groups who were already working together, or characters being played by people who are friends out of game. Once the first card collections are gathered, and the effects of this are felt on the wider narrative of the game, the impetus to complete collections gets ramped up among the other players. It's a nice system that imposes a natural escalating pace where the only real rules are still very intuitive. Unfortunately, for a while at conventions it was over used.

A few other simple mechanisms like this can be added into a game without requiring players to "learn rules". I like to use them in an irregular rotation, giving each game a slightly different feel. In each case using them as cap-systems separate from the core mechanics of play, whether those core systems are the loose minimalism of "Australian Freeform", or a more structured set of formal rules. The thing I usually find is that it's these cap-systems which often provide the most flavour and interest during a game, and often the best anecdotes and war stories once it's over.


At it's heart, LARP is a social phenomenon. In certain varieties of LARP, people may beat each other up with padded sticks, in other forms of LARP they may dress up in elaborate costume, in some they may wear plain clothes and explore internalised concepts, but in almost every case the players interact with other players through words, body language, and all the social cues that occur in regular life.

Live roleplaying is probably one of the things that really taught me to understand social interaction in a group of people. Sure, I understood that there were rules that governed etiquette in different circles, and those rules varied from group to group, I tried to play with those rules as I has perceived them, sometimes to successful ends and sometimes not so much (which confused the people around me as they simply couldn't make sense of me). In daily life, I was playing the character of myself, and in some cases people noticed. In a LARP, I could play the character of someone else, and people wouldn't notice so much because they were also playing characters other than themselves. If I did well, people thought that I was a "good roleplayer", "able to get into character", and "immersive"... if I did badly, it would only impact the next couple of hours at most, and often before that point everyone would have degenerated in war stories about previous games, or even further into Monty Python quotes.

I came to realise that I could pull my understanding of the rules of social interaction into these games, and through them experiment with different combinations and different degrees of emphasis to portray a variety of character types that I had seen in the world around me. It was all performance, and through that I came to a realisation that everyone in the world engages their social life as a matter of performance. It was a pretty post-modern thought. In part, we define our identities through the portrayals we show to the world, others come to see us through the actions we engage, they pigeon-hole us through those actions and identify us according to the patterns they've seen in the portrayals of other people they've encountered through their lives.

"There have been a few people whose actions I haven't liked who dressed in that way... he's dressing in that way so I'll assume he's going to do some actions I won't like. I'll avoid him just to be safe."

"She has a few of the mannerisms of that girl I knew a few years ago. That girl had some of the same interests as me, so maybe this girl shares those interests as well...maybe I'll talk to her and bring up those topics."

"That manager is all smiles, but I can instinctively sense that there is something behind it that feels predatory. I can't put my finger on it, but there are underlying mannerisms that I'm picking up on in an instinctive manner and I won't trust him as far as I can throw him."

Everything is relationships. Relationships to people, relationships to places, things, concepts... which in turn have relationships to new things.

So it strikes me as interesting that other people have seen similar things to my experiences in their LARP experiences. I don't find it surprising, just interesting. The articles on self promotion by LARP Cynic (Part 1 and Part 2) really struck me in this way. I've seen all these things happen, I've encountered the "Big Name Gamers" who were considered the major players and centres of gaming social networks, I've spent time flittering between groups as the social butterfly glue that held disparate groups together as a welcomed edge-dweller, I've become one of the insiders in one group (only to find that as soon as I did this I ended up as an unwelcomed outsider among many groups I previously had maintained regular contact with)... I've seen the light side and the dark side, I've walked away from the badness, only to miss the good.

24 March, 2016

A Map for this LARP Project

I just threw this together as an idea for the world of the LARP I've been discussing. I expect that there will be quite a few changes to the map before the whole thing is ready to go, but as a "proof of concept" indicating where the various nations of the world are, it does the job.

Magic in LARP

Magic in LARP gets a bad reputation, which is hardly surprising because I've seen it done badly so many times over the past 25 years.

In parlour LARPs (the types that Sydney and Melbourne conventions called freeforms, much to the confusion of the rest of the world when we finally became connected by the web), magic was often ceremonial, dramatic and integral to the storyline. Fast casting may have happened through the revelation of an effect card to nearby players, but since games like this tended to be socially driven affairs where combat was frown upon in the narrative set up and every freeform tended to be written as a one-off event, there was nothing to compare it mechanically with anything else. Games like this didn't care about balance, in fact they'd actively flaunt it in many cases.

In boffer LARPs, things were different. People could play warriors, and occasionally people could play magic users. I remember reading through the pages and pages of arcane documentation that constituted boffer style LARPs back in the early to mid 90s... most seemed to consider Rolemaster too streamlined as a system, and ramped up the complexity from there. Magic was some of the most overly convoluted parts of these systems, and often didn't seem to do a whole lot anyway (outside of elaborate rituals that the players might be trying to stop...or similarly elaborate rituals by the good guys in an attempt to shift the balance of the meta-game). Other effects of magic might be long and time consuming, such as crafting mystic items.

It seemed to be the case in games like this that magic was actively discouraged unless it was specifically used for the purposes of GM-controlled storyline.

More recently (the early 2000s onwards), I started hearing things about "spell packets" and "spell balls" as away to take magic away from the elaborate ritualism of earlier eras, and more toward a mechanism that could compete with combat on the battlefield. The thing is that a lot of these systems were very GM intensive... certainly not something simple enough for players to self-regulate.

One of the things I like about "Australian Freeform" games is the fact that the storyline is front-loaded as a situation the players walk into with their character's motivations, certain immediate agendas to pursue, ad other agendas that kick in when specific events unfold... when one agenda is completed, that often works as a trigger effect setting off the agendas of other players. The situation changes, it tilts in a Fiasco sense, and alliances/enmities/events that came before may no longer be relevant (or they may be the only thing that;s important anymore). During the course of play GMs don't prompt storyline in this style of play, they simply act as facilitators answering questions, confirming how things might unfold and co-ordinating the negotiation process between players when an outcome isn't obvious.

One of the things I liked at first with the "Clans of Elgardt" game was the fact that the combat was played out in real time through Boffer tactics, the storylines were partially pre-loaded by GMs, and there was an intended overall narrative, but all the details were filled in by the players with their own agendas. During the course of play GMs didn't need to micromanage actions, they didn't need to describe the events of the world or the NPCs encountered...in fact there were enough people and enough things going on that there felt like a world of events happening. No-one knew the whole story, and as soon as you answered one question you'd discover that there were two more along the way hat now needed answering. The last faction to shift the direction of the game didn't seem to understand this concept, and pulled their branch of the game back to the railroaded, GM-centric, gameplay of the past...like many elements of the OSR it felt regressive. It didn't help that my attempts to revamp the magic system were met with resistance by significant members of that branch.

This has all been a bit messy so far, a meandering through various issues, but they all basically link back into the ideas I'd like to see for magic in a LARP. Combat can be handled by boffer rules, particularly a trait/ability driven boffer system where experienced characters earn keywords that can be called in the heat of battle to invoke effects if the hit connects. Social effects can be handled with a combination of natural discussion, with ideas like in-game status pulled across from Minds Eye Theatre (if you are both a part of a group and that player has more status within the group, you have to listen to them and accept their request, suffer status loss within the group, or completely separate from the faction because you don't accept their position). Magic needs to be something more though. I like my magic to be equal parts mysterious and manageable. I accept that not all players will want to use magic as a part of their character concepts, but I'd like there to be a degree of balance for the players who do use it. They shouldn't feel like they are wasting their time in the pursuit of the arcane while they remain completely ineffective on the field, nor should they be obliterating the warriors on the field with "lightning bolts".

To those ends I'm looking at a series of "edges" that characters earn as they gain experience.
Combat edges give a player more weapons (or armour types) to play with, or provide more hit points.
Influence edges give a player more ways to socially manipulate the events of the storyline or other characters.
Knowledge edges give more background information and allow characters to build things.
Magic edges give players access to a school of magic, or an elemental affinity, which in turn open up specific spells.

In ascending order...

Magic might be slow, in the form of rituals. It might be faster, in the form of spells requiring a laying of hands for 5 seconds. It might be instantaneous, where a glancing blow passes on an effect. It might be ranged, and manifest in the form of a spell ball.

In most cases magic will follow established patterns, but those patterns may replicate other effects, or might be completely different to the way other effects in the game work. The more exotic (or the more obviously powerful), the harder the effect is to learn.

I need to think more about this part of the game system I'm working on, because everything else has basically been refined through 18 months of trial and error. I also need to make sure the magic system under development has some kind of internal narrative consistency.

In Elgardt, you buy spells with experience, then generally get a number of spell uses equal to your "Soul" attribute (which caps out at 5), so you never get the issue in the video where a spellcaster seems to have an unlimited number of lightning bolts. To make things a bit different, at this stage I'm working with the notion of magic crystals, which may be carried in a bag and used for spontaneous casting, implanted into items with pre-defined effects, ground up and infused as potions or delivered intravenous to create magical mutations, and other effects that have been mastered by different magic schools. A character may have any number of crystals, but they are unstable and have a half-life (literally at the end of every session, you halve the number of usable crystals in your possession, and you're constantly on the lookout for more, or needing to purchase more if you want to sustain your magic levels). Crystals are exhausted to invoke magical effects while away from a place of power (a dry erase mark is wiped off the laminated crystal card to show that it has been used). While at a place of power, or in the presence of a spirit (ie. a GM/game admin), a character may refresh a crystal, or channel energy through a crystal and into their essence to gain a spell ball effect. Needs more thought.

More information to come.

23 March, 2016

Looking at the Boff in Boffer

The SCA hates being called a LARP.

Full metal weapon re-enactors hate being told they need to pull their blows or need to react when someone throws "a coloured cloth pouch filled with birdseed" at them.

...and boffers boff. They enjoy that style of game for various reasons, some because they can let out their aggression with foam weapons, others because they want to show of their athleticism or combat skill. When asked to reign things in for the sake of other's enjoyment, I've often seen them storm off "because that's not the style of play they like". A bit like a magic player being asked to play with a "friendly" deck rather than their finely crafted "competitive" deck.

For a roleplaying game to thrive it needs a bit of give and take from all the participants. When you've got 30-odd players, there probably needs to be a bit more negotiation, and a bit more give initially, but the ongoing stories from a larger collaborative group can be far more interesting and complex than you'd get at the table. With a lot of players, this style of game can handle regular new arrivals as long as they can fit into a decent ecosystem of narrative and immersion, but it needs to make sure it doesn't turn away those potential new members before they've had the chance to find a place in the game.

The last game, Clans of Elgardt, has been a victim of too many players who didn't want to compromise. There were factions of individuals who wanted to fight, and only fight without any pesky story elements getting in the way, they drove off some players in the early days who wanted something more out of the game...then they had a "hissy" and left en-masse when administrators told them to make sure their punches were pulled, and that other people's fun was important too.

But the players we lost due to them didn't come back...the name of the game was tarnished.

The game pushed toward story with certain GMs after that point, following storyline elements that were becoming focused on a specific subgroup, to the detriment of the other three quarters of the players. We started losing players who were showing up, and getting bored because they weren't really involved in the key storylines... and when they wanted to do something else, they were getting ignored. Which then gave the group a bit of a reputation as high-maintenance high-ego prima-donnas, once again slowing the flow of new players coming into the game.

That's where I came in and took over as GM/Storyteller. I tried to clean up those excluding storylines, with the intention of giving everything something to do again. Naturally, this led to a new round of player upset from those individuals who had been the focus of the game for a few months...it seemed that they begrudged the whole idea that other players weren't simply their supporting cast. So they founded a new series of games.

Which leaves us at the point where there are a few LARP groups all spawned from that original group. Some as hardcore foam weapon fighters and nothing much beyond that, some as storytelling troupes who focus their stories on a few specific individuals while everyone else is left to their own devices, some splitting off to form LARPs along other genre lines with others (such as Warhammer 40k and Malifaux LARP groups). It's all an interconnected web of individuals, many of whom can be linked back to the renaissance that the first group prompted.

But that original Elgardt group has suffered to much bad reputation from so many directions that it's generally best to leave it to posterity, and start afresh with something new... something that's approachable for new players. The other problem with the Elgardt system is that players demanded it, it was hastily cobbled together to meet a specific set of demands, and then the group drifted through several different regimes with different agendas, all pushing the rules in ways they were never designed for.

So we need to look at the game holistically, we need to consider why the character fight at least as much as we consider how they fight and what kinds of rules govern those conflicts. There are always elements that we can't specifically govern, such as player skill, but this can be mitigated by providing a range of options for characters to participate in, and tools for them to facilitate story beyond the mere repetition of combat. The next problem is that combat in a boffer LARP is very immersive, you physically swing a foam/rubber weapon at someone, and if you feel it connect you've scored a hit. Spells are often reduced to spell balls that need to be thrown at someone, or ritual effects that specifically take a count of five before they take effect. Then there's the social side of things to take care of...some players want to portray suave and sophisticated types, but find that their innate introversion or awkwardness prevents this.

Why do we game? If it's to engage in escapism, then being restrained by our physical, mental, social and psychological restraints works against that. It's one of those age old questions in the hobby, and I just don't have an answer for it.

...but I'll keep trying.

(image from http://www.larping.org/larps/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/anywq.jpg)

Meta-analysis of LARP costume

You show up to a LARP. Let's say that there are a dozen players. I've probably covered this before ( but a quick glance through recent posts doesn't seem to indicate that), but I typically find that this group of players will have originally come from the five standard pools of potential players...

  1. Tabletop gamers - I guess this is the direction I've predominately come from. These tend to be players looking for a more immersive experience, or have moved away from games dominated by a GM when they've had too many scenes where their interpretation of events have not meshed with other players or the GM. Tabletop gamers typically love the rules of the game. (I've seen both of these)
  2. Computer gamers - There is only so much that you can do in a computer/console game. Sure, they seem to be improving and expanding with every new release, but sometimes you just want to go outside the scope of the game. LARP has a more flexible membrane around its creative space, it also provides a bit more of a social experience and a bit of exercise. 
  3. Theatre performers - While these players really get into character, often with crazy accents and mannerisms, they often pay little heed to the rules that govern the game. They typically don't deliberately cheat, but they feel more comfortable when there are less rules, and often feel like they've failed when the rules come into play.    
  4. Re-enactors - Are used to authentic arms and armour. They may not know so much about the rules or the fantasy, and they'll have specific thoughts about the way things were done in a historical period approximating the setting. As a resource of immersive knowledge they can be great.  
  5. Cosplayers - More recently I've seen LARPs draw numbers from the cosplay circuit. These players tend to be typified by awesome costumes, and a degree of characterisation, but quite often the characters they play will be thinly veiled reproductions of existing characters from anime or some other source, and the costumes will be far more flamboyant than functional.

The sixth group from which players come is other LARPs.  

(Yes,I admit that these categorisations are gross generalities...used for dramatic impact).

Let's look at the way those 12 players are dressed, given that we might have specified that the setting is generic fantasy and that costumes were expected. I'd suggest that...

  • One or two of those players probably still won't have shown up in a costume. 
  • Three or four might be dressed in simple costumes, maybe street clothes with a tunic over the top, they could have walked off a cheap fantasy movie production, not overly elaborate but passable. (Generic "dark-ages/middle-ages" European)
  • Two or three of those players would be dressed in armour of some type, probably leather, but someone may have gone over the top with full plate armour. (Such armour again tends to focus around the generic "dark-ages/middle-ages" European epoch)
  • One or two players will be in a good/elaborate costume but it will not fit everyone else's epoch. They might be dressed for a later period (steampunk/victoriana has been more common lately), or might be dressed for a very different cultural paradigm (the inevitable ninja or samurai in an otherwise European setting).
  • Then you'll get the cluster of players who want to be monsters. They LARP to get away from humanity as much as possible for a few hours. They may wear masks or make-up to complete their look.

Is it a good idea to allow all these variations in a single game? Will it drive away certain players it you put limitations here? (Are there certain types of players who you'd actually like to push away in this passive manner?)

Not addressing this at all might considered a "fruitful void" for exploration of character, and fleshing out the world of the LARP through the costumes, accents and mannerisms of the players as they portray their roles. Personally, I'd rather hook these concepts into the game at a story level, and make these player choices more integral to things.

So, the world I'm proposing for this LARP is generic fantasy. A great kingdom suffered a magical cataclysm some time ago, a mystical effect sealed off the region until a specific time period or astronomical alignment occurred. Life has gone on in the rest of the world, and now that the land has been unlocked from the mystical seal it is nothing but wilderness with a few scattered ruins at the locations where the major cities of the past once stood. In eight directions around the "fallen lands" exist the cultures that once traded with the lost kingdom. A character's starting costume indicated which of those lands they hail from, as each culture has sent adventures to explore the empty land and reclaim parts of it for themselves.

North – Viking/Russian (Icy Waste)
NE – Mongol/Chinese (Grasslands)
East – Japanese (Forested Islands)
SE – Siamese (Humid Jungles)
South – Indian (Hot Desert)
SW – Arabic (Rocky Desert)
West – Germanic/Slavic (Mountains)
NW – Celtic/Western European (Moors and Rocky Crags)

3 European inspired "cultures", 4 Asian inspired cultures (if we count a culture inspired by subcontinental India as "Asian"). I'm also seeing 4 great mystic portals at the cardinal points of the old kingdom, the seal was based around them, and now that they've done their job, they work as portals to other more exotic cultures (perhaps Meso-American inspired, Polynesian, Indigenous, or ancient Greek/Roman/Egyptian). 

Note that these assorted lands that once bordered the great kingdom will not be monocultures. There will be a variety of cultural backgrounds that make them up, but they will have a propensity toward producing certain types of adventurer due to the skills considered important in their daily lives.

I'm hoping that this is a blend that will get players thinking about the costumes their characters wear, without totally eliminating certain styles of outfit. 

22 March, 2016

Development of Character

So, we've got brand new players who've never LARPed before, some have never table-topped before. They watch pop culture, pseudo-historical, low fantasy, and high fantasy. They come to this stuff with no systemic baggage. It's almost a complete blank slate to work with.

They've barely been introduced to mechanisms in play, things like counting your hit points. Things like losing your limbs if you've been struck in a fight. They've been made aware that things like magic can be replicated by spell balls being thrown.

I'm looking at a system where characters start fairly simply, with generic abilities based on the fundamental abilities of the players portraying them. But over the course of several games they incrementally gain additional powers, and ways to interact with the deeper elements beyond the surface of the game. The whole idea here is that players can pick up the abilities and edges that facilitate an easier interaction with the elements of the game that interest them. Combatants gain new ways to inflict injury or do quirky things in combat, potential manipulators gain ways to subversively get other player characters to do their bidding (through introducing their own storylines and agendas), mystics gain ways to create magic items and invoke forces that might not be so easy to replicate without a bit of imagination. I'm thinking of a tree with numerous inter-twining branches, perhaps more like a figtree or tendrilled vine where some branches rejoin further up the plant.      


There's no single linear path for the characters, but a general tendency for gathering power and the direction of that power is purely up to the player. Sometimes they may find that they'll need to take a lateral step to get where they need to go, but that's all a part of the twisting, turning, and the meandering journey of life.

Too many times I've seen freeform systems that lack focus, and these can be overwhelming to new players who just don't know which way to turn. Conversely I've seen rigid template systems where players might want to take their character in an interesting but unsupported direction...only to be told "NO".

I want versatility, but versatility that brings a tendency toward certain story injecting elements. So lots of little classes that can be completed and provide the benefits necessary to move into a range of more advanced classes...a bit like the 5 level prestige classes back in D&D3.0/3.5, or more specifically like the careers in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying. Of course, the difference here is that we want the basic characters actually succeed in this game unlike the grim-dark of Warhammer.

21 March, 2016

Cultures and Occupations

Forget race as an identifier.

I'm thinking of using only culture and occupation as identifiers for characters.

Barbarian - You have grown up among who distrust civilisation
Fey - You have grown up among those who are inhuman
Military - You have grown up according to strict training and discipline
Nomad - You have grown up in many places, never for long in any one place
Rural - You have grown up in the farmlands
Slave - You have grown up under the ownership of another
Urban - You have grown up in the city

Apprentice - You've earnt to make things
Courtier - You've learnt the arts of diplomacy
Merchant - You know the value of things and how to trade
Rogue - You've learnt to work outside the law
Scholar - You have knowledge about obscure topics
Student - You're on the path to becoming a mage
Wanderer - You know abut the spaces between civilised lands
Warrior - You know how to hit things

A character is basically an intersection between these two, and many characters might have a blend of cultures and/or a blend of occupations... but if they choose a mix of options they'll sacrifice specialisation for diversity.

The occupations are starting points for a characters journey, and they may end up in all sorts of strange places depending on where their path leads them.

That's where my head is at...

Running the Numbers

Using a whole lot of the ideas I've been playing with for tabletop games over the past few months, and liberally adding a dash of successful previous LARP mechanisms, combining with some ideas I've seen in other games recently, and making sure to avoid a few pitfalls where I'veseen some games go hideously wrong... I've basically ended up with a game system that should generally be self regulating in a LARP environment, is welcoming and not too overly complex for newcomers, but allows for some decent long term character development.

Tonight I've started generating up some characters to use in the system, and I'm happy to say that it looks like it will work.

A bit more testing to confirm it's sturdiness though.

20 March, 2016

Swords in the Forest at Noon

"An epic duel of long long cousins fighting over family honour."

Yesterday I met up with a second cousin who I've never encountered before in person. So naturally we tried to beat each other to the ground with padded swords to determine who had the right to carry the family crest onto the battlefield. It probably wasn't fair that I've been at this game for a while, while this was her first time wielding a padded weapon.

This was a part of the first session for a new LARP starting in the Southern Highlands. We didn't get many players for the first session, but every groups has to start somewhere. 6 in total... 3 who'd never done anything like this before, 1 who had been a re-enactor and done a few things with friends, and 2 of us who'd been doing this style of LARP for a while. I'd like to think that on average, 50% of the players will bring a friend along to their next game...so we'd see 9 players next session, maybe 13 after that..then 20... And then we'll be able to get some story happening.

Since this is a new LARP, with new people, there is the opportunity to build a new system from scratch, ignoring the stuff that has proved problematic in the past, building on the stuff that worked well, and experimenting with some completely new ideas.

I'm trying to make sure I get my input at the ground level, because the other "experienced" player has only really seen a single LARP system in use, and I fear that he's going to make this into his LARP-heartbreaker.

There are so many great ideas out there in the LARP world, and so many that I've seen ignored because "that's just not how we play things in this game".

Let's see how this one goes over the next 12 months.

18 March, 2016

I've run out of art supplies

I'm working my way slowly through my most recent piece in the landscape series because I've run out of the heavy watercolour paper that I've been illustrating on. That means I'll have to focus on other projects until next pay day...if I can work a new pad into the budget...otherwise it may be over a fortnight until the following payday before I get the chance to buy some more.

On the positive side, that means I'll have more time to work on some of the other artistic projects I've been procrastinating about. Or it might just mean I'll have to compile the images into the final card format that has been their goal, or maybe even work them into the book idea I've had.

Or maybe just get stuck into the four university projects and assignments that I have to complete in the next month.

Once again, too many ideas, not enough time. Things might get a little quiet around here for a while...but then again, contest season is just around the corner.

17 March, 2016

We may have a name

There is currently a poll to determine the name of the Egyptian underworld scroll game I'm working on.

Originally I was going with the name "Duat", but I decided to look at other underworld names, or words associated with the Egyptian underworld. I encountered "Amenti" as an alternate underworld title, and "Maat" connected with the judgement of the soul. Between these and others, that gave too many choices and left me with option paralysis.

...or you could just add a comment here on the blog.

As I write this, "Amenti" is in the lead.

(I also considered using "Papyrus" as a font for this project, but thought that it wouldn't be fair even to use that font in a hipster ironic sense).

Encounters on the River

I had created up a deck of cards for players to draw from as their characters sought to make their way toward the Fields of Aaru, but certain elements of the cards didn't quite feel right. I wasn't sure what was missing about them, or what was off, but something just didn't gel with the ideas I had for the wider game.

I think this may have simply been due to too many component mechanisms, not knowing fully how they interacted with one another, but instinctively knowing that certain gears in the overall machine didn't mesh. Drawing out the map has helped.

As an example, I had a "Sandstorm" card. If this card was drawn when arriving at a location, all of the paths between locations (except for the one just arrived on) would be blocked by the storm...basically turning this location into a dead end and requiring a character to find a different path to continue their journey. Once the map had been drawn up, I realised that this really wasn't going to work. It was going to be more of an inconvenience than I thought, and this card might very well be the one that condemns characters to oblivion more than any other. The card itself doesn't seem that treacherous, and the board layout doesn't seem dangerous, but the combination of the components renders it deadly. Out of the 52 cards in the deck, I'd even included four of these because I thought it was thematically interesting enough to have it appear more often than many of the other potential encounters.

Similarly, I had devised a few cards that were simply designed as obstacles to potentially slow characters down in their journey, without any real story benefits. I really think that this sort of game needs to enhance the potential for storytelling, so most of the cards will now prompt a story ele,ent in some way, and any card that induces a penalty should most certainly add quite a bit of narrative into the flow.

These are just some of my current thoughts.

The whole project needs a name as well, but I'm sure that will come when the moment is right.

14 March, 2016

The River

The core element of the scroll game, not surprisingly is the scroll.

I've been trying to think of a good layout for the scroll and this has required drawing up a range of options. At this stage, I'm tending toward a layout like this...

...but note that this is not the final image, and the scroll will be styled to look far more like a piece of Egyptian antiquity.

The point I'm trying to make here is the way the scroll is divided into 7 segments with 3 sections each. Scattered locations exist along the two sides of the river, and there are a few locations which are a bit more difficult to reach (marked with the white dots). As a reward for visiting these less accessible locations, a bonus treasure would be made available.

The basic mechanism of the game has the characters starting at the river delta and working their way upstream (though I might need to do a bit more historical research here...it might be more culturally appropriate to have the characters travelling downstream). They would each get a movement action, then draw a card each turn. That card might offer an extra move, a challenge to confront, or a memory from the character's past that will need to be resolved before the character can move on. Along the way, characters might gain access to camels which allow an additional movement (but can't be carried across the river), or might gain a bag of ferry tokens that allow extra movement along the river (ever time they use the bag, they roll a die; if a certain result comes up, that was their last token).

I did the calculations in a previous series of posts, and it typically takes about 20 turns for the game to play through, so with a single move each turn there needs to be some kind of effect that accelerates movement because this map has a minimum of 28 steps between the first location and the last. To move from one of the seven segments to the next, a character will need to face one of the guardians of the dead. There is only a single location marking the boundary from one segment to the next, so the characters are specifically funneled into these locations as they journey along the river.

But playtests will have to be done.

13 March, 2016

Back to that Scroll Game

At the beginning of the year I was toying with revisiting the concept of a game on a scroll. I looked at it first a few years ago, and in the meantime "Fall of Magic" has been released and has received all sorts of accolades. I've let it slide again, while I've been working on my series of paintings, but in the last couple of days I've been thinking about it again.

A fairly simple game, where the players portray recently dead Egyptians in the ancient world...cooperatively trying to reach the Fields of Aaru by passing through a series of gates protected by the sentinels of the underworld, and trying to keep a step ahead of the hordes of Anubis. As players progress through the game their characters explore the events of their life, and the moments that might allow them to pass into the afterlife, or face oblivion.

At the moment I'm working with a bunch of idea components that I know have worked in the past, and they generally seem to fit together as a coherent whole.

  • Two part characters - where one part defines a character's occupational role in society before they died, and the second part describes a personality trait.
  • Rolling a pool of dice (at least 2 and possibly up to 5) to determine successes, where certain tasks need a certain number of successes achieved before they can be considered "completed".
  • A simple combat system.
  • A deck of cards to randomise the potential challenges.
  • A second deck of cards to provide rewards that might prove beneficial on each character's journey.
  • A built-in narrative flow that echoes the past through flashbacks.

It seems to be fitting together, but I'm now struggling through the finer details...the very thing that bogged me down the first time. We'll see how it goes with a couple of playtests.

12 March, 2016

Contest Idea

I'm thinking of running a contest where people design a game based on the landscape images I've been creating over the past couple of months.

The idea would be to offer a fortnight to produce a game of no more than 4 pages (let's say 1500 words); everyone who enters would recieve a compiled pdf containing the full range of games, the winners (one by popular vote, and one being the game I like the best) would recieve a printed copy of the full set, with colour images from the series scattered through the book.

For the moment, I'm just gauging interest.

11 March, 2016

Hodge-Podge Systems

Why don't I like them?

Why do I think they are lazy game design?

Why do I think it was a good idea that we generally as a hobby moved beyond them in the 90s?

Why do I think it's hideous recursionism and conservatism in spite of progress to use them?

Let's start with a few points that build my case...

(But first...what is a "hodge-podge" system? It's a game system made up of disparate components, where different parts of the system are designed to handle different narrative or simulatory effects in different ways. Think of thief/rogue skills in old D&D being based in percentages, while nothing much else uses percentages...or games where the combat system is completely different to everything else in the game.)

I don't think there should be obstacles preventing people from gaining entrance into our hobby. I similarly don't think there should be gatekeepers monitoring those obstacles. I don't care if those gatekeepers are grognards living in their mothers basements, hipsters protecting "the emperors new gamesystem", rebellious punks screaming their evangelism at the world, or anyone else for that matter. Hodge-Podge systems are inherently not approachable; in a diverse system a new player can learn a single system that roughly approximates what is necessary to drive the story, but in a hodge-podge system new players have to remember a variety of mechanism systems (even though each system may more carefully approximate the output). Forcing more learning is a barrier to entry, much the same as $100 books, on top of custom dice, cards and everything else that certain companies expect new hobbyists to acquire before their games can be played.

One of the other things I don't really like about hodge-podge systems is the fact that there is often a disparity in the ways things work with some systems compared to others. As an example, I look to the way rogues in early D&D used percentiles for their skills, while other classes used the d20 in various ways. This just bugs me, there's no real reason why one sort of mechanism needs to be used for a pass-fail result, while another mechanism is used to similarly generate a pass-fail result when a different skill set is used. Saying that such things are necessary is just claiming that the old things are good for the sake of tradition (which leads back to my first point, barriers for the sake of barriers).

A third point, this sort of harks back to my issues with the OSR. Hodge-podge systems often seem to be amalgams of stuff that is known to work, or more accurately they are known to work as individual components but not necessarily work as a coherent whole with one another. Those who like hodge-podge systems seem to consider this a virtue, it allows them to change gears during the telling of a story to change up the pace and keep things interesting, but this feels like a straw man argument against more diverse and robust universal mechanisms...and similarly feels like an excuse to avoid pushing the envelope to develop a good new core game mechanism.

I'm sure there'll be debate on this one...

10 March, 2016

Comparison of Magic to Setting

The Seven Ages of Magic just came to my attention, and it really fits well with a lot of things I've been recently thinking about.

I love the idea that magic flows through a world in cycles, my wife has been trying to get me to read the Wheel of Time books for over 13 years now (and I had friends who were fanatical about the series before that), I've never actually read them but I get the feeling that this is a common theme through the books.

One thing that I really like about the cosmology of this cycle is the way different forms of magic might be waxing or waning at different points of the cycle within the same world. I look specifically at the World of Darkness examples that are indicated (Wraith, Vampire, Mage, Changeling, Werewolf), each e ists at a different point because that's what those games are about. But when you look at them as a whole, magic isn't necessarily dying, its just in a state of transformation.

If I look at the landscape series I've been working on, it's generally depicted as a world where the golden age has passed, a magical war has ravaged the land and the remnants of fallen empires litter the paths of a new generation of adventurers. It seems solidly in the realm of "magical post apocalypse", but different parts of the setting are actually at different points in the cycle. Some areas have distinct ruins of a bygone age, their style of magic is no longer relevant in the world, but in other areas there are factions who still cling to the vestiges of power that have maintained their dominance, for these latter groups the apocalypse is still unfolding and there is the hope that they might survive the turning of a new age. Then there are areas where the power has laid low, perhaps hiding while more dominant groups ravaged the planes, now taking the opportunity to flourish for themselves.

As I write this, it's all feeling a bit like "Ars Magica" (not that this is a bad thing).

I've developed my own paradigm when it comes to things like this, so my own interpretation of the cycle would probably collapse down to 6 stages rather than 7, with interstitial stages between them. But generally the concept holds true, and could really work well for this setting. The mystical groups from whom powers are learnt could be young and dynamic, looking for recruits but without a lot to offer them...then as they gradually build in strength they's be more cautious about who might be added to their ranks...eventually leading to complex political struggles as they become powerhouses of the mystic community...risking collapse from within as they fall prey to hubris...this seeing a gradual decay (or spectacular fall)...before leading to a period where there is nothing...then therre is discussion of new groups to arise in their place.

There will always be struggle between conservatives and progressives, with the conservatives struggling to maintain their power and fighting to remain relevant in a changing world, while the progressives struggle to gain power and resist the urge to turn conservative once they manage to acquire it.

Enough politics, back to game design...

Fiddling with logistical issues

So, I'm thinking about cards again. 

But there are numerous ways in which cards can be incorporated into a game design.

The simplest option for using cards in a game is probably substituting them dor the dice as a variant form of randomiser. Standard playing cards are great for this, because they add extra degrees of information that might be quickly used to add flavour to result outcomes using suits and ranks. Tarot cards might be even more useful because you gain access to major and minor arcana, interpretations of cards in upright and reversed configurations, as well as thesuit and rank values. Then you could always play with the option of developing your own custom deck to specifically explore the thematic content of your world, but this is probably the most time consuming option. 

A different option for regular cards can come through character generation. I've played with this in my "Hold Em NPC Generator" (which happens to be on sale at the moment), and I've seen a few other games play such as Through the Breach with the concept as well. In most cases ou lay out aome cards in the form of a tarot spread to get some tools to continue the character building process.

But in this example, I'm thinking of unique cards, each containing an ability, power, or special item for easy access during play. A fairly minimalist character sheet, a fairly streamlined set of rules, and any complications are specifically written on cards, and only available to the characters who have those cards associated with them. I'm almost thinking of the way that "Powered by the Apocalypse" games open up new avenues of play to specific players when their characters purchase specific moves, but also echoing back to the thoughts I had years ago when I was developing my vector theory of game design. The cards will provide options for manipulating the narrative, and might work to change the pacing of the story (speeding it up or slowing it down) or its direction (social conflict to physical conflict to metaphysical risk to anything else that might be important for the stories we want to tell). Only through massive degrees of success will a single card allow both pacing and directional changes.

Since I'm specifically thinking about a game that is inherently magical, these cards will have a range of effects. The basic effects will induce minor changes within the rules of the game, more powerful effects will induce more significant changes to the narrative within those rules. The next step (which may involve magical influence) will not manipulate things within the rules of the narrative, but may very wellhange the rules themselves to a minor degree. The most powerful effects basically take the narrative duties and the control of the world out of the hands of the GM and into the hands of the player within a limited scope (where such a scope might be limited in duration, physical range, sphere of metaphysical influence, some other limitation, or a combination thereof). 

So, a combat card might offer: minor damage > major damage > minor damage with an immediate follow up action or subtle transformation of the scene > complete control of the conflict situation. An investigation card might offer: trivial information > minor information that's useful > information from a different perspective that you didn't expect at all > complete information regarding the sphere of questioning.

This is basically the way I'm seeing spells working in the game, but all abilities are spells and all effects are the result of the characters imposing their will on the reality around them. Each card reflects a different way of imposing that will, and a larger collection of cards creates a more versatile repetoire of reality manipulation.

Each character will be defined by a simple pocketmod booklet for their "character sheet", where starting characters might begin with a standard set of three or four cards appropriate to the type of stories the group intends to tell (combat, investigation, social intrigue, exploration, athletic feats, etc.), then each character might have a choice of two cards from their occupation, upbringing, genetic heritage, or some other characteristic, so different members of the group can fill specific niches in the narrative. Everyone can always do something, the cards simply offer new options for things to do, and the character's statistics provide an indication of how well they can do it.

09 March, 2016

Character as a deck of cards

A few designers have experimented with the concept of using a deck of cards to describe a character. Where different cards might be used to reflect different things that had been learnt along a character's journey, perhaps exhausted (or flipped-over) when they are used, perhaps drawing a hand of cards as the abilities that a character might see as potential strategies in the current situation, or maybe using the complete deck to simulate hit points (with the deck gradually eaten away as damage is taken).

There are so many options for cards, and over the years here on the blog I've explored quite a few of them. So it's hardly a surprise that I'm considering this option for my "mysterious lands/magical post-apocalypse" game idea. As I think about it more, this game is turning into a spiritual successor to "Voidstone Chronicles", and may indeed be adapted into a second edition of that game. There are certainly a few elements from that game idea that I could easily pull across, such as the encumbrance system, as well as certain elements that I could leave behind in the conversion.

I can still feel the potential here for an "8-bit" style of game, simple combat, logical puzzles, crazy monsters, set-items (with each accumulating power as more of the set is collected), mysterious NPCs selling arcane wares.

This also helps to eliminate one of the problems I've been facing with special abilities in the game. As characters accumulate unique talents, I can simply write each of those talents on a single card. Instead of forcing players to search through dozens of pages of a book, each containing a half-dozen or more powers, they might only need to search through the half dozen cards in their hand. Such cards could easily include elemental affinities for the powers, skills and talents that make the ability easier to accomplish, as well as a range of effects that might be achieved depending on the difficulty die rolled for the attempt.

Certain cultures, genetic heritages, and apprenticeships might offer automatic cards, and a limited range of basic cards for starting characters to choose from.

The aim here is to make the system as approachable as possible.

More thought required, and any input appreciated.

07 March, 2016

Death of a LARP

30 players...
20 players...
15 players...
7 players...

At what time do you say a game is in need of CPR, at what stage do you call it dead?

I'm annoyed that recent politics have seen the death of the game I've taken over. It hasn't helped that a bunch of old players have broken away to found their own games because they were disgruntled by one or two minor aspects of play, or because they didn't like some person or another.

The LARP that I've taken over has also suffered because one of the other organisers basically railroads plots, focuses on a specific geoup of their friends to the detriment of the other players involved, and showboats his way through the sessions he runs ('Look at me, I have funky clothes on', 'Listen to me, I have a funny accent', 'No, don't do that, I didn't plan for that...and if you wander off in that direction you'll be going away from ym carefully planned storyline, and you'll have to make up stuff on your own which will be promptly ignored because my work won't be the centre of attention anymore.')

I think a part of our problem is that we dropped below a critical mass. That point might be 20 players, it might be 15. One way or another, we've certainly dropped below it in the last couple of months, and that has seen a lack of motivation among the regulars (who've now dropped off), in turn leading to a lack of motivation from the die-hards. It's going to take some serious work to get the energy back in the game.

This is annoying, the spin-off games have seen a renaissance in LARP throughout our region, the first game a few years ago folded because the organiser was claiming money for "insurance purposes", only for us to discover that money was going elsewhere. The game I've taken over, developed as an offshoot of that, half a dozen other groups seem to have branched off from ours (none of which I've attended, because they are basically the OSR to our D&D... generally the same thing, one or two house rules, packaged as something "amazing"... I just don't have the time to develop a new character from scratch in a game that might fold, or among people who have shown their inability to negotiate by storming off from the established group when they didn't get their way). Meanwhile, a lot of players are engaging in two or three LARPs per month, much to the detriment of family life or social lives beyond the LARP-sphere.

I think we'll see an equilibrium in the community soon, but something's got to give.

05 March, 2016


If you're connected to me on any form of social media, you'll know that I'm working on a series of fantasy landscape images. I'm up to about 25 or so at this stage, and they'll be made available soon.

For the moment though, a break in the monotony with some other inspirations. Perhaps the kinds of characters who might be found in those landscapes, or maybe the denizens of the Darkhive setting that I described last year.

02 March, 2016

New interview on LARP Out Loud

I got excited a few months back, when +Mark Knights interviewed me for his series on Australian game designers...

...well, it's time to get excited again. I've just been interviewed by +Tony Simpson who runs the website 'LARP Out Loud', which is unsurprisingly about spreading the love of LARP as far as possible.

For those who are interested, the interview can be found here.

I'm actually pretty excited about this project as a way of telling a different type of story in a LARP context. The only problem I'm seeing at this stage is the fact that I probably need a dozen players to make sure my plans work...and at this stage, there are six players who've said they're coming along.

A simple reshare goes a long way

Wow. Who'd have thought resharing a simple article about gender issues in Games Workshop products would generate so much discussion.

Here's where I did it.

There is so much that could be expanded in this discussion, so many issues bottled up inside, so much confusion.

If you want to discuss it here, or have a metadiscussion and the core discussion here, please do. Otherwise feel free to delve into the original post and it's comments.

I might come back to this topic later, it seems to link in with some useful stuff I've been studying at University.

01 March, 2016

New Local LARP

One of our local LARP regulars is wanting to start up a new LARP based far closer to where I live (in the southern highlands of NSW, Australia). There seems to be a bit of interest from a few roleplayers, re-enactors and LARPers from existing groups, so we'll see how things pan out over the next few months. The existing LARP has been undergoing political issues that have seen numbers dwindle in recent months, as well as being besieged by several other LARP groups that have opened up on it's doorstep.

It might be nice to get into something new without a whole lot of baggage from previous organisers, and sabotage from other organisers who have been wanting to usurp the game ever since they showed up.