19 February, 2018

Equipment Packages

I'm pretty sure I discussed this earlier, but the new LARP uses bullets as the dominant currency (along with unopened cans which could contain any foodstuff and have a random chance of being off, and rolls of toilet paper). Everyone starts with 60 bullets worth of equipment, 30 bullets worth are defined by a range of starting equipment packs, and 30 bullets worth are freely chosen.

There's a massive range of NERF guns, foam/latex "LARP-safe" weaponry available, so we could specifically give prices for everything, and generate a huge list of costs that will need to be constantly updated when new ranges are released, but this feels like a sisyphean task. Instead, I'm running with something procedural.

The cost of a gun comes out of a characters bullet reserve, so the better guns have a higher cost. But what factors should be considered when determining such a system.

  • Having more bullets ready to fire (without needing to reload) is certainly an advantage.
  • Having a higher rate of fire is advantageous
  • Some weapons need two hands to operate
  • Some fire multiple bullets at once, or differemt types of ammo
  • Ranges vary too

These are the sorts of things I was testing on the weekend. I understand that any "point system" will have flaws, but it can generally be good enough.

Generally I'm looking at 5 bullets as a standard NERF weapon cost, plus 1 per bullet (or clip) it can take. Those weapons using clips need to have them purchased separately.

We paced out a sampling of three bullets fired from each gun to get an average range. Most weapons fired 8-10 paces, so that becomes the benchmark. Where those weapons firing less than 8 paces have low range, and are discounted by one bullet, while those firing 11 or more paces have a one bullet premium added to their price. Originally, I had rifles with a base cost of 7 and pistols 5, assuming rifles would fire further, but thankfully with testing it was discovered that this assumption was erroneous.

Similarly, different LARP-safe weapons have different lengths, and a longer weapon certainly has an advantage when there isn't much weight difference between them.

Armour in the game is bought piecemeal, with arms, legs, torso and head bought separately, and all elements adding resilience points to the wearer (along woth any natural resilience they might have). Once certain resilience thresholds are passed, a character gains extra hit points.

So starting equipment packages will have a range of standard armour pieces and other equipment in them, but since weapons will be costed on a case by case basis, they'll be purchased from the remaining 30 bullets.

Apparently, this whole concept is getting a bit of interest from local NERF enthusiasts, who have generally been finding that the player with the most money tends to win the most games. The idea of balancing the games is apparently quite novel.

17 February, 2018

LARP Game Balance

LARP groups are tricky, moderating LARPs is trickier. Especially boffer LARPs, or those where real-world physical representation of character statistics exists.

In a tabletop situation, there's an automatic degree of separation. One character might be more brawny than another, ons character might have more knowledge of certain obscure subject areas...and this can all be governed (to varying degrees of success) by rules and dice rolls. It gets murkier when statistics governing charisma or social interaction are considered, when one introverted gamer is trying to portray an outgping character with massive charisma, but even then the player can take on an authorial stance (describing what the character does), rather than an actor stance (and actually role-playing the sitiation by saying the lines and fully engaging the dialogue).

It gets harder to do this in boffer-style LARP, not only because it is expected for players to embody their characters from a social standpoint, but because a part of the whole experience involves players doing the fighting for their characters, as well as the solving of puzzles and engagement of other elements of play.

For a character to be an expert fighter, you've got two options, and both have their detractors. First, you can train the players to be better fighters. I know a number of LARPs that run weekly, or even twice weekly swordplay sessions and martial arts classes to increase the fitness, strategy, and combat prowess of their members. This is great for immersion, players know how to hit safely, effectively, cinematically. It's not so good for players with busy lives who should be progressing their characters at the same rate as those other characters with players who do have time to attend those regular training sessions. In some cases it's all or nothing, either you attend the regular training sessions or your character (and every other character you'll ever play) falls behind those who dedicate their time/lives/money to the game.

Second, we can't grant super powers, but we can introduce rules to the game that hamper one group of players to effectively give advantages to others. This might include allowing a player to make a call like "disarm", "shield-break", or "sniper", which then has to be acted out by the target of the call. It stretches immersion a bit, and even breaks it for those who have trouble with imagination in games (such as those who call it re-enactment rather than LARP). Here's where rule systems come in, giving different characters different ways to manipulate one another according to the elements of the in-game narrative. Even something as simple as "hit points" can be looked at in this way, one player gets to keep swinging while another has to mimic being knocked out or killed.

There's a middle road, but that requires balancing lots of different factors. Many LARPs might have statistically identical characters, but if one player has a sword that's 15cm longer, that could lead to a reach advantage that unfairly gives one player's character the edge. 

That leads me to what I was doing today, trying to find a middle road when incorporating NERF equipment into a post apocalyptic LARP with foam weapons and LARP archery gear.

Different guns have different rates of fire, ranges, accuracy, and ammo capacity. Many LARPs would reduce them to two or three categories and assign a common price to each, some might even ignore costs or categories and simply call them "firearms" which anyone can own or fire if they possess the right proficiency, but today's testing showed some massive differences between weapons which I might have otherwise considered similar in effectiveness before that testing occurred.

There's still a lot to think about on this, but important steps were taken today and it feels like they were in the right direction.

05 February, 2018

A Game in a Dream

Many years ago I had a dream where I was playing a clever little game where you explored a setting created on-the-fly by laying out cards. Each game there would be a general scenario where different cards would mean different things. I wrote down as much of that dream as I could remember the next day, and over the course of a few weeks, Ghost City Raiders took form.

I've had another of those dreams, this time it could easily be linked to the Goblin Labyrinth setting that I developed a few years ago, but might go an entirely different direction... either the dream was a bit vague on the specifics, or I've just forgotten those bits already.

Play involves a deck of specific cards, a pair of dice, and some tokens.

The game is fairly simple...it plays out like a street fight between two gangs. Each player has a small deck of cards representing their gang, there might be a dozen cards in this deck. Six of their cards are laid out in two rows of three cards each. The row of cards closest to the opponent are the first rank of fighters, the next row of cards are their support, and the rest of the deck are reinforcements.

Decks are shuffled before placement, players draw their first six cards and may look at them as they place the two rows, but they are placed face down so the opponent can't see which cards are where. (This is the general rule, exceptions may occur).

Play commences with each side rolling the pair of dice (actually, there must have been a pair of dice for each player). One die was allocated to speed, the other die to strategy. Each player gained a number of tokens equal to the strategy die result, and the player with the higher speed result went first.

Each player flipped over their starting rank of fighters, these were laid out in such a way that the first rank of one side matched up against the first rank of the other. The player going first would activate one of these pairings of fighters, the attack of each side was compared to the defence of their opponent to determine tbe outcome of the melee. Before the resolution is determined, the faster player may spend a strategy token to increase attack or defense by a single point, or may spend one (or more) strategy tokens to activate a special power on the fighter card. The slower player may then do likewise. Players alternate like this until no-one wants to spend further strategy tokens. If the final modified attack score is greater than or equal to the opponent's final modified defence score, the opponent is removed from the fight. If not, they remain... one fighter card could be eliminated this way, or both...or neither.

It could theoretically be possible to line up three fights where neither side is eliminated, thus leading to a stale-mate... my dream never saw this happen, so I'll have to consider a contingency plan for that.

When a fighter from the front rank is eliminated, a support fighter from the second rank steps forward to fill their place, and is turned face up. From the three cards immediately behind, a card could be shifted straight forward to fill the gap, or could be moved diagonally forward. This leaves a gap in the support rank, and that gap is filled by the next random card in the deck. This seemed to reflect the idea that battles can often start with elaborate and carefully planned strategies, but things get more chaotic as time goes by.

Many fighter cards had one or two traits on them, some cards gained automatic bonuses or penalties (to attack or defense) when confronting opposing figjters with specified traits. Some strategy effects were modified in the presence of traits too... that's where the clever deckbuilding elements came in. 

An exception to the "face down" rule was the hero card. Heroes have power and notoriety, so even when in the support rank, heroes were placed face up.

A game ended once one player had lost all of their hero cards, or half of their total fighters (whichever came first).

I think there's some potential here, it probably needs a bit of work to get it running smoothly, but I just thought I'd get it out there while the dream ideas were still fresh in my mind.