Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Livewire First Impressions

Semi-coherent quick thoughts on Livewire. It's late, I haven't slept much, pardon the fractured prose and poor flow.

So, Livewire (my low-intensity no-GM game) has been running for five days. It is running somewhat better than I expected. The problems I expected have been problems, the good things have been good, and the looming issues are still looming.

It is a very interesting study. I'll write about chaotic games needing to be wacky sometime soon, but this post will concentrate on how the game is running.

The game has about three very active players, four or five marginally active players, and another four or five passive players. That's about what I expected. The content varies widely. Some character samples: Raptor Einstein (and sidekick, Tyrannosaurus Norris), The Beyonder (Vorlon), 1000 Joes (lots of clones), the janitor, a number of shady businessmen, the space elves, a ninja catgirl, the Swedish Chef, a talking bear, Fantasmo! the ten year old mad scientist, and so on.

We have a wide variety of cards. Including sets such as "1000 years in the future" and "in your head". The most powerful game mechanic from my end of the woods seems to be previews, for reasons I'll explain soon. However, the "creating cards" mechanic is definitely pulling its weight, and we're seeing a steady rise in the number of plots. I don't know if awesomeness is doing anything, I forgot to ask.

The suction of this game is pretty light. As I explained earlier: games that run "hotter" tend to be better at sucking players in (for reasons I'll touch on in a moment). This game runs very cold: ten to twenty minutes a day, usually. Therefore, the suction is quite light. This means that the player base doesn't expand and, in fact, may very well shrink. There is a "descendent" rule I'll be including to try to reverse this, but nothing can change the fact that this game is a sluggish game.

This light suction means that players are less likely to invest energy and thought into the game, because there is less pressure (peer and personal) to do so. This, in turn, means the game will tend to be easier to "blow out" - plots fail to complete or, when completed, fail to spawn new plots. This is only a tendency, not a universal truth, but it does mean the game is more likely to simply dwindle into nothingness.

We'll see whether the pressure mechanics I've included are enough to keep it spinning.

Now: one thing is definitely true. The more time you invest in something, the more likely you are to follow through (and invest more time). Unfortunately, this is not as straight forward as that: the time invested dwindles over time. Let's say, 10% a day. If you have an "opportunity threshold" of 10, then you need to have at least 10 vested interest in playing in order to take the opportunity. In truth, the opportunity varies: people who live together will have a much lower opportunity threshold than people who see each other only once per week.

In most games, the investment is augmented by the GM pushing, but not in this case. Meaning that it's solely investment. So, if you have, say, 15 investment, then you have four or five days of downtime before you fall below the threshold. Four or five days to find an opportunity. That's not bad. When you participate in an opportunity, you gain more investment - probably one or two points, on the scale we're using. Maybe three or four. It really depends on how much you want to play - that's kind of a multiplier on time spent.

The problem is that the players who have higher opportunity thresholds also tend to have fewer opportunities, meaning that they are doubly screwed and tend to fall out of play pretty much instantly.

The way I tried to counteract that this time is by forcing people to spend some time creating their characters. Getting excited about your character, thinking up a "first season" plot arc, these are really just ways to raise your investment or, in the latter case, drop your opportunity threshold.

The problem is, this doesn't solve the actual, fundamental issue: people who play less are less likely to play. It's a social game, and there's an innate tendency to not bring it up if you haven't played in a while.

I don't know how to solve this, but previews come awfully close. If those background characters are given a very specific goal, they can work towards it. This lowers the opportunity threshold considerably, but doesn't change the continuous investment decay. Hmmmmm.

Another patchwork solution is the "descendant" idea: currently active players should try to recruit new players who live "in their world". IE, if you're playing a psi cop, you can bring in another psychic character. Maybe a psi-cop, maybe a blip, maybe a politician who hates psionics. Any way you play it, bringing in a character who has a shared portion of the universe binds those two players together.

This not only increases investment (you're making a character in an existing and, theoretically, cool environment), it also decreases specific opportunity thresholds (specifically, with your "parent" and his other "children"). This might also create interesting "pocket" phenomina, where a group of people primarily interacts with each other, not the game at large, except on rare circumstances. Personally, I think that would be really cool, and radically increase emotional investment when the pocket hit another pocket or the game at large.

Also, I'm worried that the plot may gutter out. I need to make it very specific that your characters are disposable. Well, maybe not disposable, but not permanent. Your characters are here to ride the plot arc until you can't figure out how to ride it any further, then to go down in a blaze of glory. I think the people in this game are likely to keep holding on to their played-out characters and wondering where all the fun went.

On the upside, it's a lot of fun to see people come up with mundane problems, and then try to solve them with the absurd powers that most of the other people have chosen. "I need to find a circus..." "Well, I can send my battle fleet out to find one!" "No, I can use the book of infinite knowledge to look one up!" (Of course, more powerful hooks have to be more irritating...)


kestrel404 said...

I like your 'descendent' idea, but I think there's another idea that should be explored, possibly at the same time.

The Walk On. The character that's only there for one episode, or perhaps two or three, but never in order (unless it's a to-be-continued episode). The regular players make up NPC roles, give them motivations, and set them loose. Each of these roles should be tied to one of the Character's Toys, or Hooks, or possibly their Home (in which case the Walk On only shows up IN the Home). The more powerful the NPC (The number of Hooks/Toys/Locations he comes in with), the less interest he has in the goals of the Character who brings him in. Whichever Hook or Toy he's tied to is considdered used up for that episode as well.

This can lead nicely into a Walk On becoming a Descendent, as well.

Craig Perko said...

Ooooooh. I like that. I'm gonna use it!