10 July, 2013

Behind the Scenes Actions

One of the beauties of running an ongoing live campaign are the actions occurring behind the scenes (in the down time between games). These are the activities where players who aren’t physically fit can perform actions against their fellow players without needing to pick up swords, and the strategies introverted players don’t need to break out of their comfort zone in socially overwhelming debates or arguments. These types actions help round out a game, making it more immersive and contiguous; it feels as though the game world continues to flow in real time, while the live action events are simply highlighted scenes where that world intersects with our own.

In many of the live action campaigns I’ve been a part of, there have been players who have specialised in this type of background activity. During the actual sessions of play, they might seem to sit around not doing much; perhaps approaching a couple of other players in the shadows, or maybe just sitting there…waiting for other players to approach them. These are the figures who don’t take risks by wading into the thick of battle, instead they wager their activities by paying others to battle for them…if they win, the battle goes their way and their actions have been rewarded; if they lose, their actions have been wasted and their allies have been lost to battle.

There are many players who will take a more balanced approach to play, swinging their weapons in battle when the need arises, or using their influence and allies when they are unable to accomplish something for themselves. It’s a general continuum with three distinct axes…battle vs social politics vs hidden strategies. Most players find themselves drawn to one or two of these. Alliances tend to form naturally between players who need allies who are stronger in the areas where they are weak, conflicts tend to arise in fields where two players are equally strong (such conflicts may be serious antagonisms or friendly rivalries).

Actions behind the scenes have an additional benefit when implemented correctly. They apply the repercussions of a player’s actions.

Hypothetical situation:
  • The local slave master is bringing gold and wealth into the city through their hidden dark deeds.
  • The city needs money to pay it’s militia.
  • One of the players kills the slave master.
  • Where does the money come from to pay the militia?
  • In the first session after the death of the slave master, there might be enough money in the treasury to keep paying the troops.
  • In the second session, things might start looking grim as the coffers run dry. The militia might start leaving town to seek suitable employment elsewhere (or maybe they get employed as personal guards to the local guilds).
  • In the third session, crime might rise as the militia are only staffed by overworked loyalists.
  • Someone needs to fund the militia to keep crime in check, or the local lord might need to start taking some drastic actions.

The game is an ecosystem. The GM doesn’t need to come up with new stories, they just need to react to the web of relationships that gets destabilised by the actions of players. Basically, the whole game is in a delicate stasis, every action taken by a player character upsets that stasis to some degree. Every storyline injected by a GM also disrupts the stasis. Sometimes the actions of the players and the storylines of the GM will cancel one another out, sometimes they will work at cross purposes and sometimes they will magnify one another. Eventually, when players become more powerful, they might take on the more significant roles in the city, to become more powerful they will need to inspire storylines of their own…explaining how they get more power, who that power comes from, how many people are disrupted in their quest for dominance over local lands.

If someone kills the slave master, is someone able to step in and take the role immediately, to prevent to void from rippling across the city and causing further problems. If there is a single powerful player character, are they willing to do it? Is there an alliance of less powerful characters who are able to take on the responsibilities.

With this in mind, a newsletter can be generated. The most prominent background activities might make the local notices posted to the town’s central bulletin board (or message post). Deaths of notable citizens might be made public, as would news of bandit raids (or monstrous activities) in outlying villages…if those citizens or villages were directly connected to the webs of local commerce, it would make sense for local warriors to be sent on a mission of investigation.  
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