05 December, 2017

Idea Necromancy

A while ago, I was working on an idea to run a computer driven game where characters were defined by a string of alphanumeric characters. It got a bit of interest, but I never really took it anywhere. 

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Actually, digging back through those posts, it's actually where I was thinking of heading.

I've been having a bit of trouble maintaining the motivation to regularly upkeep the LARP in recent months, so it might make things easier to automate the whole thing. To generate characters via a basic website, to track factions based on which characters belong to them, and to map the influence of those factions across the map of the LARP world.

04 December, 2017

Career Paths (Part 2)

It's been a couple of days since the last post.

I've been discussing a few ideas with various communities, including game design groups, the LARP community I'll be running with, a few wider LARP groups, and a local NERF group. It looks like a NERF driven LARP is enough of a novelty tnat people are intrigued. That means brand new players.

I also showed some of my existing players some minimalist rule sets, such as this one, and they were shocked at how such things could be called a formal set of rules.

So, once again we're aiming for a sweet spot of "not too heavy, not too light". Lots of people seem interested in the idea of a formal game economy, and a decent system of development for both characters and equipment. It feels like I'm on the right track.

Three is the magic number.

I'm looking at three general categories that define a character (race, culture, and occupation/career), and three levels of progression before mastering something.

The progression is always consistent. First an attribute (which opens access to specific career paths), then a skill (which allows usage of equipment, and also functions as a prerequisite for certain career paths), finally a special advantage that functions during games. Once a character has purchased all three, they might gain  automatic access to a more advanced or spdcialised path, where the progression cycle starts anew (attribute, skill, advantage).

Race is something characters start with, it can only be bought during character generation, and may not be improved later. Characters don't need to buy levels in 'Race', but if they don't, they're generally considered to be generic mixed breeds with no special powers. If they buy up to three levels, they manifest more of the appearance and traits associated with the race. Buying 4-6 levels of 'race' takes the genetic traits into specialised areas.

For example... the first 3 levels of the mutant race might start with a physical boost, then a choice from a Scavenger, Strength, or Psychic skill, then finally an advantage in the form of an extra Hit Point. This would open up access to specific paths of 'Animal Mutant', 'Degenerate Mutant', or 'Psionic Mutant', each with their own progression paths. 

Culture is similar, it can be bought at character generation fairly easily, but the basic levels can still be bought later. It's harder to pick up the nuances of a subculture, I haven't fully decided whether to ban players from picking up new culture levels after character generation, make it more expensive, or limit it in some other way.

After character generation, the most common thing players will improve in their characters is their occupation/career. Characters will be able to move from three levels of basic through three levels of a veteran career, and on to three levels of an expert career. Characters following this progression may simply work through it from start to finish...but characters may also jump into a career progression at veteran or expert level if they meet the relevant prerequisites (attributes, skills, possessed equipment, and/or fulfilled quests).

The three levels always applies, but a character may always go back once they've mastered a career to pick up the extra skills that could have been acquired while they were in the role.

This basically means we need a substantial number of skills. 

29 November, 2017

Real or Fake?

Career Paths

I've seen two common ideas for character progression in LARPs. The first is the point buy system, where players accumulate experience points (or whatever other name the system uses) over the course of play, then spend those points to improve their character, often finding that more potent upgrades have a higher cost. The second is the levelling system, where players gain a level in a profession for each game they attend, or maybe earn experience points toward levels in a manner similar to a D&D game. There are variants on these two options, where some levelling games allow multiclassing, and others don't... or where some point buy systems vary the costs for different things depending on the nominal "class/profession" or "race" of the character (eg. Dwarves are known for using axes, so they get 20% off their Axe skills, Elves aren't known for using axes and might have even made an ancient pact with tree spirits to avoid using them, so they pay 20% more.) A lot of those games that claim to be "more realistic" are just games that make things more complicated or add to the bookkeeping. It's basically the same things seen in the tabletop world, with the same types of people who have only ever played one game and who are rabidly fanatical that this particular game is the best without a good point of reference or comparison.

The local Boffer scene is a bit like this. One game was developed from first principles, with minimal referencing to other systems around the world that had been operating for years/decades. Other games spinning off from this were basically devised as heartbreakers...fixing one particular element of that original game, then claiming to be "new and revolutionary". Some local games use "point buy", some use "levelling", the first game actually used a quirky blend of both...perhaps a bit like Warrior, Rogue & Mage, where "body" score improvements automatically gave hit points and weapon proficiencies (thus reflecting the Warrior side), "mind" score improvements allowed more quirky abilities (reflecting the Rogue side), and "spirit" improvements gave more spells and access to more mystical effects when purchasing those quirky abilities associated with the mind score (reflecting the Mage side). It's not a perfect analogy, but it vaguely works. It's what most of the local players think of when they think "LARP". But there are some really annoying elements to it, mostly because a bunch of things are bundled together, so a single increase can be expensive, and some of the cascading benefits have been left hanging (eg. One player buys an extra point of Body, but doesn't want the extra weapon proficiency because a different weapon doesn't match their character concept... another player spends just as much on a Mind upgrade, but this only opens a slot for a new ability, they don't actually get anything mechanically advantageous. The same points spent and one players gets more than they want, while another gets less than they want). Similarly, after a couple of upgrades we've been seeing the issue that players need a few games to get any further improvement, which can feel slow and tedious. I've tried to push things in directions, to improve what I saw as issues in balance, because other people were also seeing those balance issues and certain optimal builds became common.

Basically it's time to start from scratch, because the tweaking and modifications are starting to show strain and cracks in the system.

For one, I want the improvements in characters to be more incremental. By that, I mean smaller improvements, more often. Early in a characters life there would be two or even three upgrades per game, gradually this would drop to one upgrade per game. I similarly want upgrades linked to storyline effects, and trying to do this under the existing system has proven problematic. Finally, I've been trying to get the career path system from Warhammer Fantasy RPG into a LARP for years, so this feels like it might be a good opportunity.

Warhammer Fantasy is a dark gritty system, and since this new game is a fantasy post-apocalypse, it kind of works.

I'm aiming for characters who will start a couple of steps above the bottom of the heap, but with a long way to climb before they reach the top. A bit like the way characters in Dark Sun start at level 3, because anything less powerful doesn't stand much chance of survival in the wild. Since we're talking fantasy post-apocalypse, this is another synergy that I'm happy with.

So, we'll start with characters who were "ratcatchers", "thugs", "street urchins", "scavengers", and "apprentices", but who have either expanded their skill sets by pursuing a couple of paths, or have started the process of mastery in a single field.

Warhammer Fantasy RPG gives careers a range of possible attribute upgrades, and some associated skills. While a character is pursuing the path they get a special power; but unless they master the path by buying everything associated with it, the power is lost when a new career is pursued. So, I'm thinking of something similar, but streamlining it a bit.

More to come...


27 November, 2017

New Basic LARP Mechanism

In the LARP I've been running for the past two years, I introduced an economy that I called Soul Notes. The idea behind felt pretty simple to me.

Originally the game that we based our LARP on used a series of skills that automatically worked, but could only be used once per game. If you wanted to use "diplomacy", you had to have an appropriate skill card with your name on it. You flashed the card in the middle of a deal-making session, and either the opponent agreed with you or they lost a life. It all felt a bit heavy handed and trite to me; so when we broke away, I shook things up a bit.

My variant developed an "economy of fate" which gave everyone 5 "soul notes". These notes reflected agency in the world, and were used with a range of skills, including Diplomacy, Picking Locks, Escape, and other things like activating magic items. A player could indicate how much they of this fate energy they want to infuse their action with, while their target may choose to accept the incoming action (and claim the staked "soul notes"), or could deny the action by offering a matching number of "soul notes" back to the active character. If a player found that their character was targeted by multiple incoming actions, they might accept their fate, gradually building up fate energy as other people use up theirs...or they might use up their fate energy by blocking everything until they run out of notes. More often than not, they'd spend notes to avoid the worst, accept their fate if things don't impact too much on their story, or spend a few to activate their own powers.

Adult players, and mature players, understood it intuitively. A lot of our younger players, and those who just came along for boffer action, never quite got it.

I've now had the chance to rebuild something new, I'm thinking of a technique that I saw a LARP using many years ago. The basic idea would be to give every character a playing card. The  when they tried to act against each other, they'd just reveal their cards...high card would win...then cards would be swapped. Characters would not be able to confront the same opponent before they had confronted someone else (this heightens the flow of cards through the game and stops a continuous back-and-forward between the same two characters for the duration of the game.

Another way to make things a bit more dynamic might be to give every character a pair of playing cards. Then they can choose to play their higher card for a better chance of getting their way in a conflict, or play the lower card to save their high card for later.

Similarly, I've been thinking of adding nuance to the system by allowing characters who have "mastered" their skills to gain +2 to the face vale of the card when comparing it (but the swap still occurs after the action), and possibly some kind of effect that gives a magnified result if one character's card is more than twice as high as their opponent.

24 November, 2017

Evocative Names

I think a setting lures people in when it has evocative names associated with it. These names might be places, occupations, people in the setting, specific powers. I remember that the first thing that intrigued me about Rifts (back before it had even hit the shelves), were the names of some of the classes... "Juicer", "Glitterboy", "Psi-Stalker". The orders of Space Marines in Warhammer 40k, and even the creatures they commonly fight against, all have names with an emotional intensity to them. The quirky OSR products that are all trying to outflavour one another with their outlandishness, each naming their locations in ways that highlight the esoterica, the psychadelia, or the grimness of their setting. Hell, even Apocalypse World did it with the short punchy names given to the various playbooks.

So, I'm thinking about the twisted new setting for our LARP. It's a fantasy post-apocalypse setting. A savage wasteland of super-tech and magic, where anything is possible if the right price is met, and as long as you can keep it hidden from the celestial bureacracy that has sworn to keep the world from becoming unbalanced. Since this is LARP, think NERF and foam weapons (yes, I know, we've been down this path before...), but from an in-game perspective think of a pan-dimensional empire, with races from numerous worlds trying to pick up the pieces as the militant order that united it has vanished without a trace. Stargate after a vanishing of the Goa'uld, the Races of Flash Gordon fighting for supremacy after the assassination of Ming the Merciless and his Imperial guards, Game of Thrones, but with guns, lightsabers, angels and demons.

To get the feel for what I'm aiming at, the evocative names will come.

22 November, 2017

Dark Crystal Creature #3

Swarms of Scuttlesnipes are said to have first appeared in the ancient woodland just after Olus the Fleshtinkerer blew up her tower and disappeared from the world. For centuries they have worked their way into the ecosystem, successfully becoming scavengers who inject enzymes into dying and dead animals, liquifying their innards to be drained when they return hours later. The toxins riddling the bodies of the Scuttlesnipes mean they are rarely preyed upon for food, but provide a valuable source of ingredients for hunters and alchemists.

This will probably be the last of the Dark Crystal critters, since the competition closes tonight.