31 May, 2016

Getting LARP politics happening

I ran a reasonable successful LARP over the weekend, the biggest so far for the Southern Highlands LARP group (working under the campaign name of Nexus). We had a total of 9 players, which is enough to start seeing some factionalism develop. I tend to believe that factions start to appear in a game once it reaches about 7 players, you get three players on each side and a wandering free agent. With nine players you might get 3 factions of 3, or you might get smaller factions of a few twos, and a larger faction of three players. This is the point where things really start to fall into place for a small LARP...of course things get more interesting with more players, but everything needs to start somewhere.

The first game we had (with 6 players) was basically run as a loose exploration quest. Look for the item, try to retrieve the item, then decide what to do with the item when it is made available (by unlocking it). This game I wanted to push things a bit further and develop some politics between the characters. So I developed 4 mysterious benefactors who gave the characters a quest for the game... Two opposed pairs of two; military opposing criminals, and university opposing cultists. It worked reasonably well, but felt a bit static.

One of the complaints about the more popularly attended "boffer-style" LARP in Sydney, Scy-kadia, is the fact that the game is split along a single axis of light/law vs darkness/chaos. Te stories are very linear of one side against the other with some limited mercenaries tipping the balance one way or another. I don't particularly like this, and that's why I had four groups opposing one another, but I've since thought of a better option.

I'm going to assume that Magic: the Gathering has permeated gamer culture enough and that if you're reading this then you'll be familiar with the five colours of magic and their 5 affinities.



White = Holiness, Purity, Defence (enemies: Black and Red)
Green = Life, Growth, Healing (enemies: Black and Blue)
Red = Primal Urges, Offence, Destruction (enemies: White and Blue)
Black = Death, Unholiness, Shadows (enemies: White and Green)
Blue = Raw Magic, Mystery, Knowledge (enemies: Green and Red)

Since our last game we introduced 4 mysterious factions who will be giving quests to characters, each of these factions opposed by another. Most of the four factions defined in the last game tie neatly into one of the colours of magic, so I'm thinking there might be a fifth faction added to the mix. That way some more interesting stories can develop.

White = Military, Green = ?, Red = Criminals, Black = Cultists, Blue = University. 

Green could work as the Orc Horde, but the orcs are more chaotic than that (and for the purposes of Magic they're typically "red" affiliated). Instead I'm thinking of a nomadic group for Green. 

Basically, when characters earn a positive reputation with one coloured faction, they start to make a negative reputation with the opposing two factions. A positive reputation will offer you new quests in game that will earn you gold or experience. Enough of a negative reputation with certain groups and they'll put a bounty on your head. Characters may sit between two allied colours (eg... White and blue, red and black, etc.) to gain missions from both of those groups, but the group opposing both of these colours will really dislike the character. (Eg. A White/Blue character would be hated by the Green).

This gives us some interesting ideas when a specific storyline develops along enmity lines. White (Military) opposes Red (Criminals), Blue (University) are considered an ally of White and also oppose Red, so we can see that their allegiance would typically stand with the White in this story. Black (Cultists) are considered an ally of Red and they also oppose White, so we could see that they would stand with the Red. Green in this situation has been known to ally with both White and Red, so they become the wildcards.

In different games the story-line would pit two different opposing factions against one another, and this means that in each session a different group would have the chance to take on the role of wildcard mercenaries who tip the balance one way or the other, while the other factions/groups would have vested interests to ensure a certain outcome occurs.

Once more players become involved in the game we might begin to see two (or more) story-lines unfolding in a single session with cross purposes. One story might revolve around a conflict between Black and White, while a second conflict revolves around a conflict between Blue and Green. Conflict 1 sees White allying with Green against Black, and Black allying with Red agaist White...with Blue as a mercenary balancing force. Conflict 2 sees Blue allying with Black against Green, and Green allying with Red against Blue, with White as the neutral wildcards.

This brings all sorts of interesting politics into the story.

White is allying with Green in conflict 1 (due to the mutual Black enemy), and it might be expected that in exchange for the help given by Green in this conflict they'll maintain the alliance and repay the favour in conflict 2 even though White have allies on both sides.

Black is allying with Red in conflict 1 (due to the mutual White enemy), and just like the alliance between White and Green, you'd expect the alliance to hold over to the second conflict. But this might not be the case.
 
Red are naturally allied with Black against White in conflict 1, but they are allied with Green in conflict 2, while they seem to be a sure bet when viewed from the perspective of a single conflict, once the whole scenario is considered they might actually be bigger wildcards than any of the other factions.

Depending on how the story split occurs, any of the factions could end up as the "neutral" wildcards able to shift the balance one way or the other, rather than having that responsibility fall on the same players each and every session.

I could throw in more factions, but I think the five seems to work pretty well for the moment. Eventually, much like Magic: the Gathering, we may see certain factions split up against each other internally, only to see them unite against an outside threat, we may also see cross colour factions start to develop. Only time will tell.
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