29 June, 2016

An RPG about social intrigue or obscure lore

In Familiar, I've got four attributes... combat, knowledge, influence, and magic. The game is all about mystical familiars, so it's natural that magic gets far more detail than the other three attributes. But when I woke up this morning, the realisation hit me that it could be just as easy to focus on any of the other three attributes. A game expanding the options for the combat attribute would be par for the course with most mainstream RPGs. But I think it would actually be more interesting to develop separate games that really delve into the worlds of the influence attribute (through social intrigue, political manuevering, mass media, and cultural etiquette) or the knowledge attribute (through investigation, hidden lore, arcane science, and theoretical knowledge.

Such games would be complimentary, but since Familiars are creatures of magic, the other attributes don't really form the focus of their adventures. The all-rounders would probably be regular people who can gain a little bit of benefit in each attribute category rather than unlimited potential within a single attribute.

Just a thought as I woke up...one that I didn't want to get away.

26 June, 2016

A Game or a Toolkit?

I've come to the conclusion that my "Familiar" game is actually more of a toolkit for facilitating play. I'm using it to provide a set of tools that can be modified theough the course of play to produce a range of play experiences that are customised by the GM and players to best suit the stories they are trying to tell.

From this perspective, a game would be a fully packaged and prewritten set of rules with a specific setting designed to tell a specific type of story regardless of what the players want.

Some players love the idea of tightly focused sets of rules that each tell distinctly different types of stories. Such players really try to get into the designer's head to understand the types of stories that the designer is attempting to relate. Other players look at a set of tight rules and if it tells a story they're uncomfortable with, don't like, or simply can't comprehend...they either butcher the game completely or ignore it. Tight games are deliberately limited in their scope, they produce a specific type of story, where the players are bounded by conventions, rules, or other features of the game, the creativity comes from working within those tight boundaries to produce something special but inherently linked to the core premise of the game. These sorts of tight games were all the rage in indie circles a decade ago.

While I appreciate some tight games, I find that they often don't quite live up to their claims. This might be due to the designer not fully explaining their intentions, or maybe I'm just not getting it... or it could just be bad design. Either way, there's a communication breakdown. Of course there's always the idea of games that don't claim to produce a specific experience, where different groups claim to get different things from the game, and each claims the others are "playing it wrong".

Wide games on the other hand aren't as tightly focused, by their very nature, and this saw them looked down upon by the Forge community and a lot of indie groups a decade ago. They meander between concepts, they often sacrifice doing one thing really well in exchange for getting a few things to work in a mediocre manner. If you don't know where you want things to go, or what atmosphere you want the game to have, a wider game might be more appropriate, because a deviating from the path on a narrow game leads to a complete shambles, while deviating from the path in a wide game allows for a play experience still within the set boundaries of the game.

A toolkit provides a more meta experience, allowing players and GM to define their own tight game within a wider context. I'm kind of happy with this as a framework for "Familiar". It's a game about defining reality through magical creatures who use awakened mages to their advantage, so it completely makes sense that the players in the game would define the rules of play as they proceed through the game. This doesn't make it a game for everyone, but I really don't care. I've been producing some play aids that help participants get into the action quicker (through a series of pre-defined spells and other actions that characters might take), but the aim of producing a game that moulds itself to the play style of the participants is more important to me than creating a specifically defined narrow game that actively prevents certain types of story emerging.




25 June, 2016

Supporting some fine English folks

I'm an Australian of strong Scottish heritage, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the fine work of some great English game designers and manufacturers of miniatures. No, I'm not talking about Games Workshop... I'm talking about the independent guys, who are going to probably face a tough couple of years in the near future with the whole status of the UK with regard to the EU kerfuffle.

I'm not going to get into the politics of it here. I generally save my rants about politics and religion for Facebook. What I know of a lot of them, I think I know how they probably voted.

My only thoughts with this post are to let thewider community know about them, and maybe point a few sales in their direction to help them out as uncertainty looms (also helping the rest of us out while the British Pound is the weakest it's been for quite some time). 

First up, I'm thinking of Mark Bednall from Grey Matter Figures who produces one of my favourite pieces of resin ever. 

Fairies wear Boots, Mark Bednall - Grey Matter Figures

Next I'd link to Rob Lang, along with his ICAR game system, and other endeavours... but ICAR is free anyway (and in irregular ongoing development). Ah, hell, just go over and have a look at it anyway. It's not often you see a game system developed by a real life Doctor of Robotics. If you really want to pay him money, download the game from DrivethruRPG as a Pay-what-you-want product, to help feed his addictions for drones and Lego. 

So back to another manufacturer of miniatures who has taken too much of my money over the years, and that would be Hasslefree Miniatures. So many figurines, most of good quality, and some outstanding, virtually all of them reasonably priced even when the British Pound was worth a bit more.

Next, I was told to take a look at the work of Andy Foster at Heresy Miniatures. I'm glad I did, and some of the work from that team will definitely be added to my shopping list. 

It's not only the English who are affected by all this mess. Also think of the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish. I'm pretty sure Contested Ground Studios count among the Scots, I could be wrong but I do know they hale from somewhere in the UK. I've mentioned their games Cold City and Hot War a few times over the years, and they remain influential parts of my design process.

These are just the first few producers of gaming products who came to mind when I started writing. The folks I chat with at least semi-regularly, or whose products I've purchased that bring back fond recollections. I'm sure there are plenty more, let me know if I've missed someone in the comments below.



24 June, 2016

Too many moving parts are confusing

One of the annoying things about big rulebooks is the way numerous intricate parts of the rules are meant to connect together in one seamless device of elegant complexity...it's annoying because I've invariably found that one or two rules are ignored, forgotten about, or simply put aside (due to their lack of obvious significance to the overall structure), and then other parts of the system don't quite work the way they should and the whole game degenerates into a session of ad-libs and half remembered rulings. Certainly not what the designer intended, I'm sure.



I try not to add too many fiddly bits into my game designs, but regular readers will know that this is something I struggle with. I always want to add in an extra little bit here and there to reflect something that I think is cool at the time. Then the extra bit grows, then another one...and eventually I have to prune the system back to basics. Sometimes the refined system is back at square one, sometimes it looks "different".

One of the things I've been playing with for years is a decent method of replicating the way social interaction works in the mechanisms of a game. Where new and vague connections between people see them testing the waters before significant progress is made, and where stronger relationships push for more immediate dramatic outcomes. Added to this are shared history and context between individuals, mutual vs conflicting goals, and even the moods of the social participants. But every time I feel like I've got the angles covered, it just feels overly complicated from the perspective of game mechanisms.

For the Familiar game, I need two things to really work well, and I'd be happier still if those two elements worked well together. I need a magic system that integrates with the wider world (rather than simply a list of spells), and I need a relationship system to govern the interactions between the Familiars and each other, the Familiars and their mages, and the familiars and the wider world.

The core system remains fundamentally as it has. Character attribute versus a difficulty chosen by the player...high difficulty means more benefit achieved through a successful action. I've been looking at the idea of introducing character advantages and disadvantages to the system, but every way I've tried so far just feels clunky or messy. Auto fails/successes feel too big, modifying die size feels too small, rerolls just add a different type of mechanism into play that hasn't occurred elsewhere...nothing feels right yet.

Maybe it's time to let this one rest a while, and I'll go back to one of the old game projects on the backburner.

23 June, 2016

New Mapping Tutorials

I haven't posted much this week because I've been violently ill. That means there hasn't been an influx of people looking at my recent posts, but a more general view of what people who don't know me look at. Or at least, it's shown which parts of this blog are most linked by the world outside.

People seem to come to me for the mapping tutorials.

So, I'll push my Patreon in that direction. Maybe producing a mothly tutorial booklet on a given theme... 8 pages, of mixed text and images. First offered in an 8 page hi-res 600dpi A4 through the Patreon, then released in a reduced resolution form (100 dpi?) A4 at a single page, twice per week.

With that in mind, here's some preliminary map work I've been developing for the "Familiar" game. 



This is basically using the 3D software Bryce to block in some buildings for a city section. These blocks will be traced and detailed by hand as I put together the core setting for the game... a neglected section of a city that could basically be anywhere in the world. You could use any other area for your games, but this map is designed with a range of prompts for storytelling. I'll go into a lot more detail for this process as a part of the Patreon.

18 June, 2016

Snowballing

One of the common threads in many narratives is the notion that things start small and gradually accumulate momentum until they become dramatic (and in the case of many roleplaying sessions push into gonzo territory).

There seem to be a few methods aiming toward that kind of narrative arc at the moment. Different games call them different things, but generally a common theme among new "innovations" is the concept of a clock, where elements of the story cause the clock to "tick" toward a conclusion or climax. sometimes there might be some kind of associated mechanism that causes the clock to "tick backwards" and reduce the tension, but more often than not in the examples I've seen the clock ticks in one direction only toward a story conclusion.

It's one of those things that we'e been doing in many roleplaying sessions for decades, but now we seem to be seeing more formalized ways of doing it. Or perhaps it's just that these methods are being brought to attention by the "in-crowd" of game designers, and therefore people are fawning over the concept.

I've been thinking about other ways to do this.

In FUBAR several years ago, I saw this as an inherent manifestation of the game. Characters would accumulate new merits and flaws, and those new traits would have repercussions in the system. In this way, we'd gradually see the characters build strength over the course of a session until they were ready to face the big bad. I even write about this in the "Director's Cut" of the game as something to exploit for storytelling potential. Over theyears it's been something I've had in the ack of my mind as something that needed to be refined and improved, but every time I find some way that seems to do this, it has had a side effect that I haven't liked for one reason or another.

My most recent thoughts on this for the Familiar game seem to do the job, but only from a specific narrative perspective. It basically fits what I want it to do, but there are things about it that just feel clunky.

If you've been following these posts, you'll know that the Familiar game uses a concept where the player chooses their own difficulty for the tasks they are attempting. The familiars have 4 attributes designated d6, d8, d10, and d12, and they may choose a difficulty from d4 to d12 for their action. The higher the difficulty they impose on themselves, the more spectacular the effect will be if they succeed. If their attribute die has a result a least equal to the difficulty die, a success occurs (where the level of success is purely based on that difficulty die chosen.

Since the title characters of the game, the Familiars, are otherworldly entities, it makes sense that they'd have trouble working within our world.

For this reason, I'm thinking that when a familiar first enters play and attempts a task with a specific attribute, they will need to choose a d4 difficulty. They simply don't know how to do it better and can't even attempt it. Once they succeed this type of task at this difficulty level, they may then attempt something at d6 level. One by one as they succeed in tasks associated with an attribute, they may push their potential difficulties further. A success at d6 level allows d8 actions, a success at d8 allows d10 actions, then finally d12.

This would probably only be something that comes into play during the first session of a campaign, basically the "origin story" for the characters, but it might be a nice way of allowing things to amp up as the characters find their place in the world.  

More to think about.

16 June, 2016

Lycanthropic Inspiration

One of my first live roleplaying experiences was portraying a naive young werewolf. I wouldn't say that my character was led astray by +Klaus Teufel but things certainly became a lot more interesting after our two stories became entwined.

Lycanthrope stories have always inteested me. Whether the werewolves and Loup Garou of european folklore, the Kitsune of Japanese tales, the shapeshifting coyote trickers found in the legends of many Native American groups, African Spider shifters (Ananasi), the many anthropomorphed animals of Native Australian folklore, and many others found across the Pacific and various other parts of the world.

The scope for playing these variant animal types from around the world was one of the things I loved about Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and one of the things that I really thought was missing when White Wolf shifted to Werewolf: the Forsaken. They might have been added in later books for the game, but the first few books that I looked at just seemed to abandon that possibility of diversity.

I've been toying with animal games quite a bit recently, whether mutant animals or familiars, and it probably all links back into my love of the lycanthrope genre. Trawling through the internet for inspiration images, and finding pictures like this, really makes me want to finish work on at least one of those games.

15 June, 2016

Post Game Chef Thoughts

I've been asked to develop an ongoing post-apocalyptic LARP based on my thoughts last week. That means I'll be incorporating a few elements from my previous attempt at a game like this (a project tentatively titled "Can of Beans"), with a few elements from my Walkabout project, and the basic structure of the last LARP system I developed.

Basically that means that every character will be defined by a culture and a series of occupational stepping stones that build up a life path and give abilities along the way. There will be a range of starting occupations, and then a series of advanced occupations that may only be entered during the course of play as character meet certain requirement or achieve specificin game objectives.

The core cultures for the game will be:
Scavengers - who pick from the ruins of the old cities to make new lives of their own
Nomads - who travel the ancient highways, always moving and trading with the settled folks
Tribalists - who have returned to the pre-cvilised life of the ancient world
Sheltered - who have been brought up in the last pockets of high-technology
Outcasts - who have been mutated or otherwise transformed due to radiation or darker energies

The starting occupations for the game will be things like:
Delver - who deciphers the items of the past
Farmer - who grows things and sustains the last pockets of life
Hunter - who brings meat back for the village
Militia - who protects a person or place
Rider - who rides a horse or motorcycle
Thug - who hits things for a price
Tinkerer - who makes things from whatever is available

Now the ideas are spining through my head again...


13 June, 2016

Annual Birthday Sale

I can't remember if Vulpinoid Studios has had a birthday sale before. I'm pretty sure we might have, but I can't find evidence of it. It's something I hope to do every year for the week when my birthday occurs. 25% off everything in the RPGNow shopfront, and discounts wherever else the designs from Vulpinoid Studios can be found. Now, I need to start working on some more designs and artwork, so that the birthday sale can be even bigger next year.

12 June, 2016

Game Chef Thoughts (Part 7)

Life has just gotten in the way and I haven't had much chance to do more on my Game Chef entry.

As I sit here, there are 35 hours until the contest deadline. I've started writing some stuff for the entry, but it certainly not going to be anywhere near as good as I had originally hoped. I've got more stuff that I need to do today, so I can't see a lot of that time being spent on further development.

Maybe I'll try to put together a stripped back version.

Strangely, after this week I've got free time again. So I might try to work through my own series of reviews, like I did last year. It's always good to see what other people are producing.

09 June, 2016

Nexus Logo

Not eveything can be Game Chef this week. I need to keep my mind active on a few projects otherwise I go stir crazy.

Here's a logo design I've been working on for the Nexus LARP.


Game Chef Thoughts (Part 6)

I loke the idea of evolving story needs to match character development, and vice versa as a symbiotic feedback loop. In a game of 100+ players, that can prove problematic.

The typical sweet-spot for RPGs, 4-5 players, allows for individuals to pull against the collective centre of the story for a short time, before someone else pulls the collective centre in their direction. The whole story is a dynamic tension between the players, the GM and the rule set. In a 100+ player game, a single person trying to pull the story in a given direction finds it much harder to make significant impact due to the overwhelming inertia of so many other players. If a player wants to pull the story in a given direction, they need to gather a band of like minded companions to help. It's still possible, but it tends to take a group to derail things rather than an individual.

To link character develop and story into such a large framework means minimising a lot of the minutiae, otherwise there is simply too much to keep track of. I'm thinking of developing some story cards, each being a tiny objective, and once a player completes that objective they are given a new one. Each objective provides some minor bonus, it probably takes about half an hour to complete, and by the time six to eight have been resolved, a character will have told a specific story arc. Many of these story cards will require certain other objectives in the game to be met, some will be event drivers in themselves. It blows the word count, so maybe this is something to consider more carefully after Game Chef is over.

07 June, 2016

Game Chef Thoughts (Part 5)

I played in a game at a convention back in 1994, the premise was simple... Shadowrun. I think we were playing as a group of runners masquerading as a medical team in a stolen ambulance, we were conducting a heist for some drugs. 

For some reason this game only ran when there were two sessions running simultaneously. We're going through the game with a GM, in a small university lecture hall (because the convention was held at a uni). The GM wore a headset, and every now and then a second GM with a headset would wander into the room, chat with our GM and then wander back out again. Getting quick glimpses through the door, we could see a stragetic map with figures all over it that wasn't really meant for our eyes... I think in retrospect that we were meant to have seen the map, but not necessarily the fine details on it.

Roughly halfway through the game, the second GM comes in with someone we all know, someone who was playing that second game. He looks a bit surprised as he enters the room, then with a toy machine gun he makes noises as though he is shoiting us all down in a spray of bullets. Dice are rolled, some of us are injured, and more dice are rolled as he "drives off". In that minute, we realise that the game situation hasn't been changing because the GM is just being nasty...it's been changing because a second team running simultaneously with us has been making their own changes to the scenario, just like we had been changing theirs. The game instantly shifted up a gear. 

We didn't know what the characters of those players had done, but we played the metagame, knowing what the players were likely to do, and refining our strategies according to that.

This massive LARP idea that I'm working on could work in a similar vein. The players are generally told from the outset that the area used for the game has been hired for a specific timeframe, and that it will have to be split in half because two different groups want to run games at the same time. One group will be running a fantasy LARP, the other will be running a sci-fi LARP. Once certain criteria are reached in the two games, a portal between the worlds opens up and the two games (with 50+ players each) merge into one game (with 100+ players).

This adds an instant pacing mechanism to the game, and while I don't see it causing too much of an issue it could add a degree of complication that pushes the game away from the elegant simplicity I'm aiming for. 

More to think about...it's probably time to start nailing down some of these concepts.

06 June, 2016

Game Chef Thoughts (Part 4)

One of the key ideas in an Australian Freeform is the idea of a relationship network that drives story. I'm going to be overlaying that concept over the NERF war to heighten the intrigue and the tension.

This can be done a couple of ways. One method is to simply give each and every person a customised character booklet (often running to 5-6 pages), where one page describes the setting, a second page describes the public lead-up to the event, a third page is a specific character background written individually for each character, a fourth page describes the public personae of the characters present, while the fifth (and sixth) page give individual relationship details between the character and the significant others they've previously had dealings with. Another method sees simple faction sheets given to players...if you belong to faction W, here's what your people tend to say about factions X, Y and Z. The thing that is important ere is that no character knows every other character (and from a factional perspective no faction is completely aware of every other faction currently in the game), more often than not it takes an intermediary for a character to pass through before they'll reach someone who can help them accomplish their personal goals. This helps to moderate proceedings and prevent storyline from unfolding in the first five minutes of play. Conversations take time, and from the perspective of this game avoiding being shot by a NERF bullet, or shanked by a foam blade may prevent you from reaching out to potential allies who might be on "the other side" at the start of play.

Eventually everyone will have to work together, but participants will typically want to have to upper hand and/or the strategic advantage when it come to that stage of proceedings.

The other advantage of the factional method is that I can write a quick sentences of around 10 words describing one faction from another faction's perspective; if I assume that two common factions are known by everybody (the homelander loyalists and the invader loyalists), but each of the other factions are hidden from certain others, I can probably write up the whole relationship matrix with about 800 words. A player is given their faction's sheet, and the rest of the possible relationships are something to be uncovered through the course of play.

To set this up, I've provided a grid with a basic numbering system to set the tone of the relationship.
+3 = Allies; no reason to distrust them.
+2 = Liked; they have ulterior motives, or strange ways, but they're generally accepted.
+1 = There is a tendency to trust these folks, but at an arm's distance.
0 = Neutral, They know of this group, but aren't sure how best to treat them.
-1 = There is a tendency not to trust these folks.
-2 = Disliked; not to be trusted at all, but may be left alone if there is no reason to kill them. immediately.
-3 = Enemies; will kill on sight, or as soon as the affiliation of the other person is known.
? = This faction doesn't even though that the other faction exists.

Factions


1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1. Invader Loyalists
+3
-3
-1
0
?
?
?
?
+2
?
2. Homelander Loyalists
-3
+3
+1
-2
?
?
?
?
?
+2
3. Invaders who sympathise with the Homelanders
+1
+1
+3
-2
+1
+1
?
?
?
-3
4. Homelanders who sympathise with the Invaders
+2
+1
-2
+3
?
?
+1
+1
-3
?
5. Invaders who can manipulate the infected
+2
-3
+2
+2
+3
0
?
?
-3
?
6. Invaders who are in league with the shadows
+2
-3
+2
+2
0
+3
?
+2
-3
?
7. Homelanders who are trying to study the infected
-2
+2
+2
+2
?
?
+3
0
?
-3
8. Homelanders who are in league with the shadows
-2
+2
+2
+2
?
+2
0
+3
?
-3
9. Invader Inquisition
+3
0
+3
0
-3
-3
?
?
+3
+2
10. Homelander Psy Defence
0
+3
0
+3
?
?
-3
-3
+2
+3

So, by this chart, everyone has knowledge of the Invader and Homelander Loyalists. The various types of character who are looking to do things with the infected and the shadows, they will tend to be treated as loyalists (because they'll often hide their true affiliations, and many people won't even be aware that these sub-factions exist, or how prevalent they might be).

If I'm looking at 800-1000 words (I'll err on the side that I might end up being a bit verbose in some factional descriptions), then that leaves about 3000 words to cover the other aspects of the game. 

So let's divide this into booklets, I'll go with the pocketmod concept because they're easy to fold up and convenient to carry. A player gets three booklets, GMs get a different three (but should have a vague knowledge of the text in the various player booklets), and then two for the overall event organiser. 

Player (100+ players, divided into 10 factions, but more than half will start as Invader or Homelander loyalists):
Book 1 - "Invaders Guide to the Game", or "Homelanders Guide to the Game" (2 of these, one per side, 150 words each)
Book 2 - "Factional view of others, and Factional agendas" (10 of these, 1 per faction, 150 words each)
Book 3 - How to Play the Game / General Rules (common to everyone, 200 words) 

(2000 words across them all, a single player would only read the 500 words relevant to them)

GM (10+ GMs, or a ratio of 1 GM per 10 players, half of which will be statically stationed at specific points around the game, while the other half roam...they may swap with each other, between static or roaming, during the course of play):
Book 1 - "Book of Events" (times when certain events occur, or trigger events that set new parts of the game into motion, 400 words)
Book 2 - "Book of Trade" / "Book of Crafts" / "Book of Spirits" (Different designated GMs get different books here, based on their NPC role in the game, 200 words each)
Book 3 - "Book of Transformations" (describing how and when players become infected/shadows, all GMs get these, 400 words)

(1400 words, a single GM would only need to read 1000 words, but it might help if they read a few of the player's booklets or other GM booklets)

Organiser (1 organiser, but they will probably have assistants in larger games who double up as auxilliary GMs, roughly 1 per 50 players):
Book 1 - "A Guide for Observers" (a general booklet that could be given to people who are interested in the game or who see it in progress and want to know more, 300 words)
Book 2 - "Organiser's Guidebook" (a booklet explaining the game at its most meta level, what is needed for play, how to set things up before play, pace things during play, and wrap things up at the end of play, 300 words)

(600 words, The organiser would be expected to read all of this, and also have a good general understanding of the other booklets and how they work together)

There's a lot of pieces for the GMs to be aware of, and even more for the organiser to be aware of, but this is designed to make the process as easy as possible for the players, who should generally find themselves in an experience as immersive as possible.

Now to see if I can pull it all together in time.

Game Chef Thoughts (Part 3)



While it was an indie darling for a while, 3:16 is a silly game on many levels. It's simple, it's about killing aliens, it replicates the source material (Aliens, Starship Troopers, Warhammer 40k) pretty well... and it's got a hell of a subversive twist hidden in its pages.

I love it.

I'm really thinking of doing something similar with this massive combat game. The game begins by setting the tone as a war between the homelanders (formerly described as "natives") and the invaders (formerly described as the "colonials"). These names will be further subject to change, I'm sure.



Homelanders have foam weapons, they may fulfil quests or "cash-in" invader kills with their local shaman to gain bonuses...or they may trade NERF bullets they've scavenged for other benefits.



Invaders have NERF guns, they may pick up their bullets to refill their own guns, and may "cash-in" homelander kills with their superior officers to gain bonuses and promotions.

For the Invaders, this is a game of conquest. For the Homelanders, it is a game of survival. In both cases, chance of character death begins low, but ramps up during the course of play. With character death (on either side) come a pair of new menaces, a re-animatory infection that starts to spread, and a shadowy force that is awakened by the carnage.

Thus four factions are at play in the latter half of the game. The Invaders want to study the re-animatory infection, and see the shadowy force as proof of their claim that heresy needed to be purged from the land. The Homelanders have limited rituals/traditional-remedies to control the infected, and know to be afraid of the shadowy force. The members of the shadowy force return to their respective factions as hidden agents to prompt further violence and spread carnage (but they become aware that there are members of their faction hidden on the other side), while infected have no weapons, and no agenda of their own except to feed and infect others.

Still working on specifics here. Victory points will be awarded individually for accumulating kills and/or fulfilling quests, they will also be awarded collectively for factions fulfilling their wider goals. But overall, the idea is that in the end, the starting factions don't matter as much as the characters were led to believe. The two factions that come into play later in the game have a more rapid point scoring system... or in the case of the "infected", the natural feedback loop of the game makes them a snowballing force to be reckoned with.

Like any massive game, the complexity of the system and the potential for things to go off the rails is magnified by the sheer number of players. The key to this game providing a positive play experience for the widest number of players comes through establishing a specific economy and ecosystem of play, and providing wandering GMs with the tools necessary to moderate the speed of unfolding proceedings.

That's what I'll be thinking about next.

05 June, 2016

Game Chef Thoughts (Part 2)

There has been a wildly successful series of massive live action games run in Sydney (and recently Melbourne) over the past few years. This series of games is referred to as Zed-Town, and I know some of the organisers. The first games saw around 100 players, the most recent game in May 2016 saw 630. It is a ticketed event and sold out in minutes.



The general premise of the game is a six hour zombie apocalypse scenario. "Survivors" are armed with NERF guns, Zombies hit by NERF guns are stunned before they may continue on their way. When someone is "bitten" by a zombie, they no longer have access to their NERF gun, but head to a make-up station, and get turned into a zombie. I've really wanted to get along to one of these games, but just haven't had the chance. I've played in the venues where some of these events are held, even engaging in LARP events with 400 odd players, and given that I know the organisers and venues, I have a good idea of how these types of events unfold.

The question is how I'd tie these concepts into a Game Chef entry.

Technology would be easy...and something interesting to play with as an asymmetric game mechanism. Give one side NERF guns and call them "Colonials", give the other side foam weapons and call them "Natives". Sunlight can come into the game easily by running the game from midnight to dawn, have a pillar or sacred place of power and when certain point becomes illuminated by the sun, the game concludes. Alarm can be used as a technological device, perhaps setting a time limit that a location must be held by a specific group before special benefits occur (resetting the count if the group falls and another group sets up camp). Sketch and Dance are a bit harder to integrate tightly into the design, but in Game Chef I like designs that make use of all the elements to push the envelope a bit.

I want to have the "Natives" engage in dance to perform rituals that will bring back members of their people. I want the have the "Colonials" sketch the land as the explore it, gaining bonuses when they successfully map out a territory...but not only that, I want the "Colonials" to dance in regimented formations or "pseudo-Catholic ritual" to earn the favour of their bloodthirsty god, and I want the "Natives" to draw sketches of the colonial town, or leave markings for one another through chalk on the pavement.

I want there to be factions in the game, on both sides. Hardcore warriors, diplomatic peacemakers, crafters, and clerics/mystics. Maybe apply the game a theme akin to Warhammer 40K, where the "Colonials" are tech oriented marines working to purge the galaxy of xenomorphs and heresy, while the "Natives" are settlers who turned their back on high technology because industrialisation was destroying their planet's ecosystem. Within each faction might be factions of chaos worshippers who gain strength from the carnage, but similarly each side has hidden factions with other agendas. It all basically ties into ideas I've recently had regarding LARP.

This sort of game needs to be fast, it needs rules that don't break the immersion. It needs everyone to be able to understand what is happening easily with minimal confusion, because playing a wide game with more than a few dozen people means that GMs can be few and far between.

It could be an interesting idea to pursue, but I'll keep my mind open for other ideas that might come up.

04 June, 2016

Game Chef Thoughts (Part 1)

Technology
Alarm…Sunlight…Sketch…Dance

Sunlight, light and darkness… Technology, as a tool for facilitating science and revealing the unknown… Dance, as a form of ecstatic release… Alarm, as the drama of being made aware of something that was previously hidden… I’m seeing Gnosticism.

Then again, I see Gnosticism everywhere, so it’s hardly surprising that this is where my mind would go first.

My second idea was a generation ship where technology has all but failed as the inhabitants plunge away from one sun toward a new one. Alarms triggering as certain ship systems fail due to degradation, or other come back online as the ship’s solar sails accumulate enough radiation to recharge the ship’s cells.  

I’d think about trying to create the type of game I love to play, but over the last few years the types of games that have done well in Game Chef have often been unconventional, whether moody ritual pieces, angsty catharsis ridden mind-screws, or loose interpretive endeavours. The games going through to the finals are often chosen by the community of designers involved in the contest, where some years I make it through as a finalist, and some years I don’t even get a look in. But the type of game I like to play rarely gets very far.


That leaves me in two minds, do I try to create the type of game I’d love to play, or do I try to create the type of loose, angsty, cathartic thing that the cutting-edge gaming hipsters seem to enjoy. Am I too jaded by that style of gaming hipsterism to create something authentic in that vein??

03 June, 2016

Cleverman

If you can...watch it.


I just finished the premiere episode. It'll be interesting to see where it heads. As inspiration for a prelude to Walkabout, it could be pitch perfect.

People to Meet and Stories to Tell

In a "boffer" LARP, combat is resolved quickly and easily through the use of foam weaponry. Magic is often handled through spell packets (which are colour coded balls or birdseed filled bags, each of which have specific combat effects), elaborate rituals (which are typically the focus of entire game sessions), or special abilities granted to characters (such as the abilities to temporarily enchant someone with benefits, penalties, or the ability to issue commands to other characters). In a more politically oriented LARP, combat is usually frowned upon, and magic is typically limited to behind-the-scenes effects, where the story focuses on gathering enough people to conduct a ritual effect. 

The kinds of stories that work best in each type of LARP can be very different, they typically function most effectively when they work with the strengths of the play style, or when they fill gaps where the fundamental mechanisms of play might otherwise leave things a bit flat. These two types of stories handle things differently, and it often depends on the types of players involved in the game as much as it depends on the chosen rule set.

I've discussed the types of players who tend to be attracted to LARP in previous posts. Most participants don't neatly fall into a single category, they may have tendencies toward one type, they may engage in all the different subcultures that are generally relating to the LARP hobby. The following ideas relating to the ways story might develop with regard to these player types are based on the experiences I've had over the years, generally seeing tendencies rather than fixed patterns of absolutes. It's typically a case of thinking about where these people come from, what their interests a, and why they may have been drawn to the game.



Cosplayers - These players often get into the game because they like to show off their costumes in a more dynamic environment, but they also tend to have a very specific character in mind for their costume. Such a character is often a part of an anime/manga/movie, and has very specific goals that can be easily determined if you know the way the character acts in the particular storyey come from. Don't try to memorise everything about the character this player is portraying, there will probably be a few of these and each of the players will have a very specific interpretation of the character and probably have in-depth knowledge about the character (or their interpretation of it) and there WILL be arguments if you try to get the player to portray something in the character that doesn't go with their interpretation of things (I've seen this dozens of times over the years). Such players may go for combat if that's what their character is about, others will prefer to be social butterflies, not wanting their costumes to be damaged in a melee. If you want such a player to portray a focal character in a story or even just get them a bit more involved in things, do a little bit of research (look up a wiki where the charact might be found), then drop in hints toward the type of story that this character has been involved in, suggest that certain other characters look like allies of that character, or that certain other characters remind them of their enemies in some way. For these players it's all about tying things back to the known properties of the character they are portraying, they are often here to show their devotion to the character they are portraying, and get more people to learn about the character (and the anime/manga/movie) to which they belong. In many cases, these players will latch on to things like that and really get involved after that point. 

Actors - These players often get into the game because it allows them to explore character, not necessarily explore a specific character, but explore the inner nature of the role they are portraying. They're not necessarily involved in the game for the combat, but instead to delve into emotions, reveal story through dialogues with other characters or drive story elements of their own through monologues. The way to get players like this more involved in the game is to present them with opportunities to be in the limelight, or opportunities to shine their own light in private conversations that help drive the stories for small groups of others. These players really tend to be social butterflies, its all about the networks and relationships for them, and the opportunity to explore significant choices, then its up to you as a designer/GM to make sure the choices have ramifications in the ongoing story. These are players who will provide the show anship for the game if utilised correctly, they are also the players who will tend to cause the most social problems in the metagame environment if they feel slighted or underappreciated (I've seen both of these effects many times).

Re-enactors - These players may not make the leap to LARP. They often like things to be historically accurate, or specifically accurate to the setting they are re-enacting (eg. Lord of the Rings), they're a bit like cosplayers (but don't tell them that) who like wide sweeping elements of their chosen simulation to match their interpretation of events. Some re-enactors don't make the leap to LARP because they prefer to use metal weapons rather than foam, or because they don't like the idea of magic tainting their battlefield. they like to immerse themselves in environments that match their mental oeuvre...some might put this down to a lack of imagination, some might link this obsessive eye-for-detail to a neuro-atypical condition like Asperger's (though such a condition can be found among many of the other types of playes described here), some might have legitimate issues separating reality from fantasy and they deliberately barricade themselves from certain game elements because they can't handle them. The presence of re-enactors in a game is often predicated on the type of game being played...low fantasy games with little magic that share a strong connection with a specific historical setting might lure a certain type of re-enactors, other games that are specifically designed to emulate a known movie/book/TV property might lure another type of re-enactor. Such players want their stories to reflect the canon events of the setting, if things in the game unfold in the way they understand, then they'll be happy and more than willing to help with other players to get them knowledgeable about the game setting; if things deviate too far from the historical/canon events, they'll be very vocal about it.

Martial Artists - These players are here for the fighting, sometimes practicing twice a week (or more) to maintain a physical edge in combat that the game mechanisms are simply unable to account for. A martial artist player might be portraying a weak peasant who only has a staff (made of foam), but somehow they'll be able to take down other players who are meant to be valiant swordsmen who have been playing the game for months (especially when such veteran players might only get involved in melee once or twice a month during game sessions). A good martial artist player will deliberately play down their combat skills to make someone else look good, the problem is that I've seen too many "bad" martial artist players who prefer to showboat with their combat skills as a player when their character might not be nearly as good. Players such as these come for the fighting, like a Hong Kong Kung Fu movie from the 1970s other story elements are simply events that set up the next fight, or opportunities for them to catch their breath... I've even seen some players from this category resent the story elements that allow other players the opportunity to show off skills where combat isn't the deciding factor. I've been involved in some games where players from this category have been broken of their bad habits (often after they've driven off numerous players who had come to the game for other reasons), and such players can become great drivers for story elements where young adventurer might need training from a master swordsman or veteran soldier, but sometimes it can be necessary to tell players like this to find a more suitable re-enacting or martial group elsewhere if they aren't willing to fit into the larger group.

Tabletop Gamers - These players typically know how to roleplay, they can get into character, they may do crazy accents, they might understand motivations and character agendas. They've typically come to the LARP scene because they want to interact with a larger group of people, because they'd like a more immersive experience, or maybe they want to try something that's a bit different but not too far out of their comfort zone. These players are often more imaginative than many of the others, but this means they rely on their imagination, actions and crazy accents to get into character rather than costuming or appearance (which can prove problematic when they interact with the Cosplayers or Re-enactors who like everything to appear "just right"). Such players are usually very adept with the rule systems and will create characters to maximise their advantages and minimise their weaknesses, Which can be great when trying to work the kinks out of a system, but can be very annoying when other players notice the imbalance. Depending on the GM/DM/MC/"person-running-the-game" that they've had previously, tabletop gamers might be willing to follow their own lead with the creation of story, but those used to a more "railroady" style of play might need explicit instructions and trails of clues to get a story out of the session...such players feel that they need to be told a story rather than engaging in the wider narrative to help tell stories with others. LARP players often need to be independent of the GMs and organisers because there are often a lot of players vying for the attention of those in charge and it can be a while before they get the chance to see everyone. Still, players such as these can be really useful as tools for binsing other player types together to pursue the stories that you might have in place for the session.

Computer Gamers - Even moreso than Tabletop gamers, Computer Gamers often need an explicit series of breadcrumbs to follow. They expect answers at a moments notice, and are used to fiddly game mechanisms being handled in the background while they get on with their adventuring. For better or worse, such players tend to percieve a LARP event as a Live Action MMORPG, perhaps wandering between other players looking for quests to fulfil, but rarely developing ideas of their own because they are used to having the story handed to them on a silver platter. Along with tabletop gamers, these are the players most likely to get upset when martial artist players and re-enactors use their skills trained in the real world rather than the character statistics that they have in the game world (since they are used to the computer handling such things).

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Enthusiasts - Although basically covered in many of the other categories, particularly the re-enactors, players such as these may liken the game to existing settings and stories, be very wary of these types if they start quoting Monty Python, Hitch-Hikers Guide, or similar well known properties as these are capable of bringing a finely crafted game to a standstill.

Consider what types of players are found in a mix, favour the story elements that this player type enjoys. Big battles might be appreciated by a group with a lot of re-enactors in it, one-on-one tournaments might be more appreciated by martial artists, social intrigue (which doesn't damage costumes) might be favoured by cosplayers. Note that I said to favour these types of story elements, vary the mix to ensure other plays in the group have the chance to shine and to make sure the game doesn't stagnate with the same elements repeated over and over.