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When NOT To Meddle With The Affairs Of Players

It has been far, FAR too long since I posted anything here. I want to get in the habit of writing posts again. So here’s one now!

As many know, Live-Action Role-Playing games are a form of collaborative storytelling. They often have a Game Master (or Storyteller, or Dungeon Master, or any number of names) which act as referees and providing things for players to interact with, such as enemies to slay or merchants to barter with or damsels to woo off their feet. This back and forth, of presenting players with a situation that players react to and the situation changing as such, is pretty standard.

However, there are times where players create their own plot all by themselves, using only their own resources and inviting players to participate, with no input needed from the Game Master. This can be as simple as a house party or opening a vegetable stand. Some of these can lead to some great stories and can increase the immersion of the game for everyone attending. However, I have seen many Game Masters interfere with this kind of plot in a negative way in the past, making what could have been a great experience for everyone transform into a bad memory.

Game Masters need to know when NOT to interfere with the affairs of players. Not every thing needs to be a thing.

I have a couple of examples that I’ve observed of a Game Master interfering with player-driven plot to the point where the player just gives up in frustration.

The first is a situation where a character became pregnant. She role-played it up as one might expect for the full period of 9 months, while properly repping the look of her pregnant self as time went on. Now, bringing a child in this world is a big deal for most. In fact, it’s a major highlight in a person’s life, all things considered. What could be added to this situation to make it more meaningful and engaging? A break—up with the father? A terminal diagnosis for the mother, giving the understanding that they’ll never see their child grow up?

No. Death Knights!

When the time came for the birth, the character role-played giving birth, with all the screaming and pain you’d expect from giving birth. In front of a line of the biggest, baddest fighters in the game. Instead of giving birth to… anything, Death Knights appeared, combat ensued, and when it was all over the entire 9 months leading up to this moment were wiped away to make room for a mediocre combat encounter. The pregnancy was never spoken of again.

From the outside looking in, that is a very boring conclusion to a story that had quite a bit of build-up. I have no idea what the Game Masters were thinking, but if I had to guess, they were thinking “BABIES BORING! DEATH KNIGHTS FUN! PLAYERS SMASH DEATH KNIGHTS!” So much potential wasted by concluding a 9-month build up to a straight-forward combat which lasted a few minutes. Such a shame.

The second example I have is when a player at a larp decided that they wanted to hold regular sermons at the chapel that was on the game’s site. This was a great idea. It adds role-play, immersion, and requires no interferences from plot. It can leave a lot open for anything to happen and gives opportunities for other characters, whether or not they follow said religion the character is preaching, to role-play with the player. This player posted notices on the bulletin boards and walked up to other players in-game to tell them about the sermon and inviting them in.

The Game Master’s response? Send in a fire and brimstone preacher of the same faith to shriek over every word the player says.

Players watched as this Game Master all but physically shove him off the stage and repeat the same bullshit over and over, letting no one else the opportunity to even role-play with anyone. The player who wanted to get this rolling didn’t do it again, as they knew that this situation would happen over and over again.

The message was clear. Only the Game Master drives plot forward.

Friends, these are examples of Plot Interference. Players try to do something on their own, and get shut down by Game Masters. I could give examples of why the Game Masters I mentioned did what they did, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what the motivations were. The end result of their actions was player disappointment and frustration. That’s bad. Players don’t like their goals being trampled on by outside forces. It makes them feel like their actions have no bearing on the world, and sends the message that the world acts upon you and you just have to take it.

That doesn’t mean you CAN’T interact with a player who’s pursuing their own agendas. In the case of the preacher, you could have NPC’s come in to listen to the sermons on a regular basis, coming up to the character afterwards to talk about the sermon or other topics with them. In the case of the character giving birth, there’s not much needed there. Give them a baby girl or boy, no surprises. The event of giving birth to your child is a grand event in and of itself.

Instead of giving monolithic obstacles that cause them to give up, give players opportunities. As a Game Master, ask yourself: What can I do to improve the plot this player has created for themselves? How can I make this more engaging and fun for everyone? If you can’t answer that, then don’t do anything.

Send NPCs to shop at a player-run store to barter for goods. Ask if you can join the tea party, and even offer to bring treats. Listen to the player-written sermon. Let her have the damn baby. And if you can’t think of anything that would engage or entertain the players, don’t do anything.

Death Knights aren’t always the answer. Not every thing has to be a thing.

LARPing & Bartle’s Taxonomy

Recently, Extra Credits created a video on Bartle’s Taxonomy, one of the cornerstone design principles within formal game design. I’ll link the videos here and here. While Bartle’s Taxonomy works great for any kind of game, I’d like to try and apply it to LARPing.

Richard Bartle was the creator of one of the first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) games, creating MUD1 in 1978. As the game grew over time, he asked the players of the game he created what they wanted out of the game. Everyone who was asked disagreed on what the one answer was. Bartle realized that those playing his game were playing it for vastly different reasons. So he set out to find out if there were any correlations between players, and in the end, came up with the Bartle Test, a series of questions to determine what kind of player an individual was. He then placed them on a chart:

03-UM-BartleTypes

Image from Gamasutra

The vertical axis represents a player’s preference of interacting with the world or interacting with players. The horizontal axis represents a player’s desire to either act on something, or act with something. This creates 4 quadrants which represent the different player types: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. While people can be a little of all of them, they’ll typically gravitate towards one more than the others.

Achievers

These are players who look to meet goals and overcome challenges that the game sets for them or that they set for themselves. They want the big treasure chest that’s guarded by the dragon, or they want to each a certain level of power or skill set that’s hard to achieve. For them, it’s about thriving on overcoming difficult tasks.

Explorers

Discovering new things about the game are what an Explorer craves. They dive into every nook and cranny to find things that most others would overlook. This isn’t limited to just what can be found in the game world, either. Explorers like to tinker with the mechanics of the game. They’re always trying to build new character skill sets and find the tricks that allow them to understand the game better than even the creators ever would.

Socializers

These folks simply see the game as a means to socialize with others. They actually don’t care much for the game itself so much as chatting with everyone there. They’re often involved in the community surrounding a game, asking questions and prompting conversations with the rest of the player base.

Killers

Players that like to defeat other players are Killers. They thrive on getting negative reactions from other players, with the more extreme reactions giving a Killer a better experience.

As stated earlier, every person that plays a game heavily gravitates towards one of these roles, but does not fit solely into one category. The Bartle Test gives a score in each category. Only one category can have 100%, and all four categories will add up to 200%. So you could have a score that reads: Achiever: 100%, Explorer: 50%, Socializer: 30%, Killer: 20%, resulting in a player that loves to achieve, but has some interest in exploring the game’s mechanics, likely as a means to better achieve goals set by the game they’re playing.

In multiplayer video games, you’ll have an equilibrium between the amount of Achievers and Killers, as Achievers are prime targets for Killers. The number of Killers are slightly lowered by Explorers who aren’t phased by the actions of Killers and often have tricks up their sleeves to deal with Killers, which annoy Killers. Socializers, on the other hand, increase the amount of Killers, as they provide Killers with an easy target.

Different games are going to have different percentages of player types in a given game. For example, Call of Duty will have a large amount of Achievers and Killers, with very few Socializers and Explorers. A game like EVE Online, on the other hand, has a lot of Explorers exploiting the game and its mechanics.

So how do we apply all of this to a LARP? Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question as there’s a lot of different styles and genres within LARPing. But there are certain aspects of LARPing that attract certain player types. For example, almost all boffer LARPs will attract Achievers to their games. With an easy to understand combat system and a clear goal-driven plot, Achievers can easily see the challenges to overcome.

Socializers will be attracted to games with heavy levels of role-play. LARPing is more than just beating up the monster, it’s also about creating awesome moments together, and Socializers live for this sort of thing.

Explorers will be interested in getting the most out of your LARPs mechanics, looking to see how skills and abilities can be used to their full effect or finding new ways to use said abilities. LARPs that have rules to allow for these sorts of things are what will please the Explorers.

Killers want a place to feel dominant over others. They like to take others down a peg and feel superior. A LARP that allows for this will attract Killers to it.

A note about Killers. When it comes to LARPing, unless your game has some sort of competitive element built into it, Killers are poisonous to a LARP. Remember, while not all Killers do what they do out of malice, many do. And if they’re not reigned in and controlled, many of the others in your player base will be upset by this and leave. They’ll have an impact on your community as well, being candid and aggressive with their opinions and making others apprehensive about responding in turn.

However, as stated earlier, not everyone is completely in one category, and you’ll find that there are many reasons a player comes to a particular LARP. For example, an Explorer with Socializer leanings would largely be interested in exploring the game’s mechanics, but may do so in a group, forming guilds for crafting and experimenting to create new items. An Achiever with Killer leanings will approach a game like a sport, attracted by a goal-oriented game that has a competitive edge between players.

While looking at the different player types is important, achieving a balance between all of them is also important. Having an unbalanced population will often lead to just one type of player in your game, which can lead to a stagnation in your LARP over time. But by having a variety of player types, you can keep the game fresh by providing a variety of challenges that not everyone will expect. This also allows for different player types to interact and work together, making your game more inclusive.

Knowing what player types there are, and which ones you want to attract to your LARP, are a great jumping-off point when designing a rules set for a LARP. And having a balance between the four different player types can make your game more rich and rewarding for everyone in your community.

Running My First Live-Action Role-Playing Game

As I begin this blog post, it’s been a little over 24 hours since the first event of my LARP, Steam Legends, ended. I’m still sore all over my body and my brain is still fried from the stress, but it was all worth it. I learned a lot from the experience and I would like to share what I’ve learned, or learned again, with all of you.

But first, here’s a little about what my game, Steam Legends, is all about.

Steam Legends is a combat LARP with a steampunk fantasy setting. Aledir, the nation that Steam Legends takes place in, won a war against an army of undead that nearly overrun the country. The thing that turned the tide of war in Aledir’s favour? The invention of firearms capable of penetrating heavy armour and the undead’s natural defense against other weapons available at the time. A year has passed since the invading armies were defeated and the nation is still rebuilding, especially in the eastern provinces. But since that time there has been a technological boom as a result of how successful firearms were.

The Out Of Game Setup and My Anxiety Revolving Around It

I procured a permit for one of the picnic shelters within High Park in Toronto. There was a washroom building nearby, a water fountain, a few short trails around and a small grove area. However, there was also a major road on one side of the area, and a giant playground on the other (which would have been AWESOME to play in, as it looks like a big castle, but it was swarming with small children). Most other LARPs play in a private area, but this was High Park on a Saturday with great weather. LARPs and the general public usually don’t mix, so one of the big fears I had was someone not participating in the game disrupting it in some way. Another fear was bystanders being hit with nerf blasters. Yeah, it’s nothing lethal, but if a kid walking by gets hit in the eye, there’d be hell to pay.

As for the design of the game, the intention of the game is to place an emphasis on exploration and camaraderie. Because I anticipated the game would likely be played in a small area for a while, I placed a majority of the exploration in the crafting system. Steam Legends is a game where players craft their own spells, rituals, steam contraptions, and potions, learning what works and does not work as they go. While this gives a great range of customization, this could also lead to being told “no” a lot, which is something that can turn a player off very fast. That was another worry.

And, just generally speaking, I was worried because all of this could have just fell apart instantly. The players could have defeated the plot within the first hour or two, or get frustrated and leave to do other things in High Park (like play in the playground I mentioned). I’m not married to any rules I’ve written, but I hate to disappoint those coming to be entertained.

What Happened?

Everyone had a great time! There were some hiccups, but for the most part there were no major complaints that hampered the game. Here are a few highlights for you:

  • Just before the game started, we took the players to a place nearby, which was also in front of the playground and a major hub of public foot traffic. I thought this could be a problem, but instead many people were friendly. The players even took the opportunity for a photo op from a few people in the area!
  • A group of players took the opportunity to write and trade spells, which kept us busy writing tags during down time. More on that in a bit.
  • Because guns are available in this game, we had a group of bandits with guns, and we had ourselves a fire fight. This was new to many of the people there, as Steam Legends is one of the few LARPS in the area that allows NERF blasters to a great degree. But despite that, and the fact it nearly wiped out the players, it was one of the high points of the day. Someone even flipped a table for cover!
  • The players liked the fact that they could come up with their own solutions to problems that occur. Specifically, they liked the mechanics for writing their own spells and magical rituals.

Of course, not everything went according to plan, and as the day went on many of the flaws in the system were exposed. Here are a few things I learned, or learned again, from my experience running my first LARP event:

If You Stat It, They Will Try To Kill It (Even If They’re Not Supposed To)

One of the big enemies the players had to defeat was an undead treant (big tree person, but zombified). When they first encountered it, they were supposed to flee because it was too powerful to overcome. Their NPC guide even called a retreat when he shot the treant and it called Minimal (it took 1 damage as opposed to what was called by the attacker) from a damage type that normally works on undead creatures.

However, they still tried. Eventually they took the hint, but it took a while (and a few teleport spells from the NPC) to do it. It was a small complaint a few had about the treant, but it was intentional, not because we wanted to kill all the players with it, but because it gave them an opportunity to plan a strategy to kill it, which added role-play and allowed the players to come up with their own conclusions and solutions to the problem. Still, players don’t like to lose, so it had it’s pros and cons.

Bureaucracy Stinks

While I’m proud of our item creation system, it comes with its drawbacks. Much of our downtime was used just keeping up with the group’s mages coming to us requesting tags for new spells they’ve developed and shared. We ran out of spell tags near the end. It’s clear that we need a system that’s not as tag heavy in the future. Especially when there are more Engineer and Chemist characters, as they share a similar mechanical framework.

Downtime Issues

One of the things I wanted to do with Steam Legends is have a crafting system that was not only necessary, but fun. Many LARPs pay no real attention to their In-Game economies, but we keep a solid eye on it. In addition, the mechanics in place for designing new spells and contraptions will keep the crafters busy as they come up with new things to create, keeping them entertained while we’re busy plotting more encounters or just eating lunch.

However, this leaves anyone without a crafting skill with nothing to do, and there’s only enough RP between characters to be had. I have a plan for this, but it will take a while to implement In-Game, and even then it might not work.

DELEGATE

As the writer of the game’s rules and In-Game lore, it’s really me that’s at the top of the totem pole. But everyone needs help, and while I did delegate tasks to those helping me (whom I am extremely grateful to), even they came to me when they had trouble answering the questions players had. I learned that I can’t put the workload all on myself, and need to train those acting as game marshals better so that they can answer the questions players have, as well delegate more tasks to those working behind the scenes. That doesn’t mean you should be a slave driver or pawn your responsibilities on everyone else, but you can only do so much by yourself.

There were a few other problems with the mechanics and other things, but nothing that can’t be easily corrected. I had a great experience, and I look forward to running my next event! When that will be, I don’t know, but right now I know that I can pull off a LARPing event of my own creation that people enjoy, and that’s what counts.

Video Game Inspirations for LARPs

There are many people who often compare LARPing to video games. This is not unexpected, as it’s very easy to compare a LARP like NERO to a video game like World of Warcraft: Get a bunch of people to play different class roles to kill NPCs and get loot, rinse and repeat. While I agree that LARPs should be judged as their own thing, the comparison to other game formats can still be valid. But there are considerations for LARPs that are separate from video games. Namely, where to play it and what physical resources will be needed to play or run it.

Below are three games I think could make great video game adaptations for LARPs, with some changes to fit it into the LARPing format.

Dark Souls

Now this would be an interesting concept for a game. No character truly dies, but they can lose things if they do die and turn undead. Becoming human again would have to be incentivized, and death and failure would be commonplace. Magic would be slow to cast, and leave the player vulnerable.

The dark fantasy setting would be nice, but it’s been done before. Tricking the AI wouldn’t be a thing, unless the NPCs were told to act dumb. And the sense of loneliness in Dark Souls would be lost in even a medium-sized LARP.

FTL: Faster Than Light

This could be a great LARP if blended with digital gaming. Several rooms would have to be decorated as ship bridges, with each player filling a role on the bridge. Each station has its own role and players on a single bridge have to communicate with one another in order to successfully operate their ship.

I know I’m basically describing Artemis Bridge Simulator (a great game, by the way), but while it would be great to use for the networking necessary, it doesn’t take in the Role-Play aspect of LARP. There would need to be changes made to the way players communicate, such as microphones and webcams so players between one another can see and hear each other. This would also take a lot of resources to set up properly, and depending on where you want to play, away missions could be possible but at the cost of transporting all of those computers and their wires and such to an appropriate location.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

This would be a neat parlour LARP! Players would take on roles of defense attorneys or crime scene investigators, working together to solve a case and prove their client’s innocence. It could even be played in public, depending on how outlandish the costumes are. The plot would have to be very well written, and the drawback is that the story would be already be written for the most part, with the players only piecing it together rather driving it forward (aside from winning or losing the trial, of course).

So You Want To Be A Game Master

Dungeon Master. Storyteller. Artistic Director. They all mean the same basic thing: Game Master. The person in charge of enforcing the rules and setting the stage for the players. I’ve played under some great ones, and some very terrible ones. And over the years, I’ve seen (and made) some common mistakes that many starting GMs make. Below are four tips for those thinking about running their own RPG.

NOTE: We’ve all made these mistakes. Yes, even you did. Admit it. It’s okay, I don’t judge you for it.

Tip 1: You Are NOT The Star

The first thing you have to realize is that the main characters in your story are the main protagonists. They are the focus of the game. You can create a world around them that is fantastical and awesome, but in the end the characters are the ones that should be driving the plot forward. It’s a bad idea to put a character that you control that is always with the PCs, helping them out wherever they can. If you’re short a character, having a substitute NPC is fine, but they should be a background support role, not really making any decisions for the group. Don’t make a Mary- or Gary-Sue character that represents you. Perfect characters are boring.

Tip 2: If It Isn’t Fun, Cut It

As you run adventures for your players, you’ll make mistakes that are not fun for your players. If something is boring or too hard, cut it. Ideas are worth nothing. Yes, even that one. Yes, that one too. It’s all in the execution. If your players aren’t having fun with a plot line or encounter, get rid of it. It’s not a precious baby.

On a side note, please don’t take the above as discouragement. If this happens, it’s okay. It’s a lot better for you make mistakes early so that you can learn from them and become better at running RPGs. You’ll think of something better than what you’ve done before, and your players will thank you for it.

Tip 3: Use The Same Rules As The Players

I’ve seen a lot of GMs make up their own rules far too often. It’s not a bad thing to make a rule or mechanic to go with an encounter here or there, but you have to do it sparingly. Players get frustrated when an ability or the like that normally works suddenly doesn’t. It’s okay if there’s something in the rules that prevents it, but if there isn’t, then it can be very jarring. Part of the art of GMing is getting creative while staying within the constraints of the rules as written. If you find yourself breaking the rules a lot, your game is going to suffer as a result.

Tip 4: Say No To Your Friends

While your job is to be the game referee and to maintain story continuity for the players you’re entertaining, you’re also not a door mat. If a player gives you a character background that would start them with a gross advantage, say no. Unless the other Player Characters are millionaires too, they can’t start with a massive fortune. No, they can’t have the magic sword of superdoomkill, it doesn’t matter if their dad gave it to them on their 16th birthday. If your players are smart enough, they won’t need to have a big starting advantage anyways.

These are all common problems that a lot of starting GM’s make. I hope that for those reading this that are thinking of starting their own games get some insight on what makes a great GM. Happy Gaming!

A Review of Secrets of Magic LARP

This review is very very late, like many of my posts. But a new LARP has emerged, and it seems to be very promising.

Secrets of Magic is a fantasy-based LARP that has just opened up this year. I’ve had the privilege to attend two of their day events, and I’ve been very impressed so far.

Genre and Narrative

As I said before, Secrets of Magic is set in a Fantasy world where the various races of the world are very weary of one another. Humans were enslaved by the more monstrous races, such as the Drakekin and Ogerborn, and were unable to use magic the same way they did. That was until they discovered a new path of magic: Death. I don’t want to give too much away on this review, but it ended with many civilizations ending, and each race being scattered across the world, creating isolated settlements for themselves.

Then Darius comes to found a town in which all races are equal. He and his compatriots seek out adventurers to help settle this new town, which is where the PC’s come in.

The races are Humans, the only race that can use Death magic, as they are the only ones who are mortal, Drakekin, descendants of dragons who are proud, determined and fierce, Feyfolk, graceful and cunning descendants of Fairies, and Ogreborn, who are enduring and forceful descendants of Giants. Each have their own innate abilities, such as the use of specific Secrets, the term for the various types of magic within the game.

As things stand in the story, the town the game takes place in is nothing more than a person’s barn. However, the PCs have a chance to really determine the direction the town evolves into, for better or for worse. The directors have done a good job of involving the players as much as possible, giving them jobs and tasks to help the new town prosper.

Rules

Like Elegy, Secrets of Magic’s rulebook is very small. However, it wasn’t designed to be as unobtrusive as Elegy. This is largely because Secrets of Magic realizes that it is a game. Yes, there’s plenty of role-play, but that doesn’t mean that it tries to hide the fact that is a game.

Characters are not class-based, but are built around XP. You start with X amount of it, and purchase skills and abilities with it.

A unique function of Secrets of Magic is that if you’ve been playing at another LARP, you get extra XP for your first character. There is a limit here, but it helps a lot of you’re a veteran LARPer.

XP is gained every event, and how much you gain is determined by whether or not you have a Protagonist Token by the end of an event. This is given to each player, and is a sort of “get out of jail free card.” If you don’t have it, you get 4 XP. If you do, you get 7. Alternatively, you can use it to refund 7XP worth of skills on your character card to respend. This is handy if you don’t like a particular set of skills anymore, and want to get rid of them. I haven’t seen this done at a LARP before without having to jump through a lot of hoops within the game.

I do worry that the XP gain might be a little fast. I hit that starting XP ceiling my first event, and now I don’t know what to do with my build, as a lot of the skills my character would want is already known by my character. I imagine this is what will happen with a lot of other characters after a few years of playing.

That said, the skills themselves are pretty straightforward. There’s only a handful of spells for each type of Secret, and the same can be said for combat abilities. Crafting is remarkably fast as well, which is a good thing. A lot of other LARPS either have tediously long times for making things, or simply gives you a pool of points to spend on items at the beginning of an event. Secrets of Magic allows for the role-play of item creation without the long waiting times.

Player Base

What a friendly bunch of people these folks are! You can tell that they care about their players and make sure that they’re involved and having a good time. I like how there’s enough leeway with players and what they want to do, and plot reacting to said actions. There’s enough structure from plot that players don’t just go murder-hobo on everything, but players can still pursue personal goals for their characters.

Right now, the player base is small, only about 15 people total, so there’s only a small amount to handle, which is easy. I’m hoping that it can keep that spirit alive as the game grows, as more players means more individual desires to deal with. I also hope there’s a plan for that as well. Knowing the owner of the game, he probably does.

Also, ZERO drama. None. Or at least none I saw. This could be because of the small numbers, but as things stand for me personally, it’s a great change from other LARPS I’ve been to.

Other Stuff

Like I said before, Secrets of Magic puts a great emphasis on player-driven plot. But it does so in a controlled way. NPCs have given PCs roles within the town, and are given tasks as well as payment for said tasks every event. It actually functions well.

The game’s is the Badenoch Community Center in Guelph, Ontario. It’s a small site surrounded by crown land. Bring bug spray in the warmer months. The place does have bathrooms, but no showers. Which is fine, as the events this year are only day events. Also, bring your own food.

Overall, Secrets of Magic is a very well-run game that needs little resources to run smoothly, and has a promising future if it keep it up as their numbers grow. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a larp that has the players’ interest in mind.

Secrets of Magic Facebook Page

Don’t Puke On The New Carpet

I recently participated in the 2015 Global Game Jam, the first video game jam that I’ve been to in a couple of years. Whenever I go to one of these events, I try to do something different or try to learn something new. I saw a let’s play video of Don’t Shit Your Pants recently, and I decided that I would set out to make a game like it, simply to figure out how it was coded.  This was also an opportunity to use the new UI tools that are part of Unity 4.6, something I haven’t touched yet myself. The result is this very immature game that, while I’m proud of the learning experience, I’m not so proud of the content. Still, it made me laugh and I hope it makes you laugh as well.

To run the game, download the zip file in the link below and unzip it’s contents. Double-click the exe file and select your settings. It can play fullscreen. Enjoy!

Download Don’t Puke On The New Carpet