26 October, 2014

Designing a Boffer LARP System (Part 30)

I’ve stated a few times in my posts that I like coherent and consistent systems across a game. I don’t particularly like game where there is one system for a certain type of action which might be modified by a range of subsystems depending on specific circumstances, and then completely different systems for other types of actions.

As a hypothetical example…I wouldn’t like a game where melee combat is handled with a strike based on a derived attribute followed by a random hit point loss, while grappling/wrestling is handled with a non-derived attribute followed by a modifier on the next round…meanwhile etiquette checks are simply a situation of rolling under a “social” attribute for a flat success.

I can understand why it’s done, a system might be really good at one thing and not so good at something else, so you pick and choose the optimal systems for each situation, but it strikes me as lazy game design. It can be hard for new players to pick up when they have to work out which system to apply, and which subsystems to plug into it. Some “Old School Gamers” like this style of game design because it basically gives a toolkit to GMs, allowing them to choose the systems they want to apply into their game…but personally I think it is often a case of the designer offloading their design responsibility to the GMs and players at the table.

Where am I going with this rant?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

I thought about the post yesterday, about focusing on the non-combat design actions and how they work. Combat in a boffer LARP is so elegant, you swing a rubber sword, if it connects with your opponent (rather than being deflected by a weapon or shield), you deal a point of damage. Sure you can argue about the “realism” of it, but it’s intuitive. We can apply rules to it, determining what types of weapons may be used, what additional damage may be dealt (or absorbed), and special actions that might be performed in the midst of a conflict; but these rules don’t change the fundamental visceral structure of swinging and hitting.

A type of task resolution that I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post was fait accompli. If you’ve got the skill, you can do it…if you don’t have the skill, you can’t. This fits in better with the directness of the combat action, it also fits with the ability system we’re generating for the weapons. If you’ve got the skill relevant ability level (or technique), you can wield the weapon…if the skill says you can pick simple locks, you can pick simple locks.

If we look at battle healing in most boffer LARP systems, a healer can simply heal. It might take an uninterrupted ten second count during the middle of a tense battle for the healing to occur, but as long as that 10 second count has run its course, the healing effect takes place. There is no randomness in this.

It reminds me of certain elements from the Vector Gaming Theory, that I used to define my understanding of roleplaying a few years back. A roleplaying game is defined by straight lines of narrative between decision nodes, game devision nodes typically deviate the story according to choices made by players, by hard rule decisions by the GM, or by randomised outcomes as determined by the game’s rule systems. The favoured method of resolving game node outcomes says a lot about the game.

These new thoughts link more closely back to the notions of Australian Freeform, but I still think there needs to be some kind of dramatic tension in the resolution of an action. Will she succeed or won’t she?

An interesting compromise was proposed in one of the Steampunk LARPs I linked to earlier (I can’t remember which, but I’ll add the link in here when I find it). It used a more nuanced system than a simple binary ‘Yes’ (you can do it), or ‘No’ (you can’t). Instead it offered a system where you compared your skill to a difficulty (or to an opponent’s skill); if your level beat the opposition by 2 you automatically succeeded, and if you’re level was 2 or more levels lower you automatically failed. If your skill level was roughly equal, that where chance played a role (one level higher has a better chance of succeeding, equal levels = 50/50 outcome, one level lower has a lower chance of succeeding).

But, I’m not really using numbers in this game, and certainly not for the task resolution systems. So this system isn’t the best fit.

We do have keywords in place, so maybe they can be linked to the system. Different cultures and races would do things in slightly different ways, this is already defined within the crafts and magic elements of the game. There isn’t much of a stretch to pull this across to general task resolution.

Crafts and magic already have instrinsic systems where there are simple items/spells and complex items/spells. Typically, a basic ability allows creation of a simple effect at a higher cost, an intermediate ability reduces the cost of simple effects, an advanced ability allows creation of complex effects at a higher cost, and specific techniques allow the creation of complex effects at a reduced cost (or allow specialised effects to occur).

Why not handle most non-combat abilities the same way?

To use an example:

Basic healing restores up to half of a character’s hit points after a fifteen second count (and the expenditure of healing herbs or a healing kit).
Intermediate healing restores up to half a character’s hit points after a ten second count (and the expenditure of healing herbs or a healing kit).
Advanced healing restores all hit points after a fifteen second count (and the expenditure of healing herbs or a healing kit).
Technique 1 (requires intermediate healing): Reduce the count by five seconds when healing members of a specific race.
Technique 2 (requires intermediate healing): Restore a damaged limb in addition to any hit points healed.  
Technique 3 (requires intermediate healing and crafts): Craft healing kits
Technique 4 (require advanced healing and mysticism): Bring back a character from the brink of death.

Larceny is a general ability whose practitioners are adept in causing mischief and underhanded deeds. It's more about the techniques than the general abilities (mostly because I'm not happy with the general abilities I've worked up for it so far).
Technique 1 (requires basic larceny and crafts): Pick a simple lock after a ten second count.
Technique 2 (requires intemerdiate larceny and crafts): Pick a complex lock after a fifteen second count.
Technique 3 (requires intermediate larceny and bureaucracy): Expend an appropriate piece of paper and use a writing kit to forge a simple document (takes ten minutes...so you probably wouldn't be doing this in the heat of combat).
I've come up with more than a dozen Larceny techniques, it's the core functions of the ability that are giving me grief.

I’m still not sure I’ve got this part of the system nailed, but I get the feeling that I’m getting close. 
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