Sunday, September 09, 2007

Game Report

On Friday I ran a 17-player LARP. It was a prototype, so it had flaws, but here is a report on it.

The game was built to test the viability of putting social dynamics into rules. The way I approached this was to make it so that each character had a variety of situations - some social, some not - where they gained power. This required me to have to give each character four powers. Unfortunately, a normal LARP does not require players to have that breadth of capability (or, more accurately, use that breadth of capability frequently), so I had to think of a different way to do the LARP. Something other than the standard "run around solving things and occasionally getting in a conflict". Something which requires the players to use large numbers of powers every five minutes. Therefore, I obviously needed to up the tactical complexity without limiting the socialization.

I chose to make the LARP largely a board game (and, in this case, a large board game). It bore a strong similarity to a miniatures dungeon crawl or old time squad war game. It was STRICTLY cooperative - for the first time ever, I did not put in any conflict between players, or even any theoretical reason for them to conflict. I was hoping this would give them a feeling of camaraderie and allow them to focus on forming cooperative relationships. It seemed to work.

Like dungeon crawls and squad games, the big element here was "table talk". The magical ability to plan out your moves with a player three hundred feet away behind ten stone walls. The ability to come up with complex schemes in one five-second block of "board time" and give long speeches as bullets swarm towards you.

I made all the players psychic, and therefore they could all talk to each other regardless of distance. Also, telepathy works faster than the "real world", so they could do a lot of talking and planning even though each turn on the board was only five seconds long.

I decided to do this because I could make the table talk the method of socializing, and give the board-game avatars most of the powers which were fueled by socializing. I also let the avatar's situation provide fuel for some powers, and let some powers affect the table talk.

For example, one player charged up a teleportation power if she remained silent for five minutes. Another player charged up a useful but weak combat power by laughing. Several people charged their powers by convincing other people to do their plan, or getting thanked, etc, etc. On the other hand, some people could charge powers by being in the dark, or killing an enemy, or getting wounded.

I also added a memory element - they were all amnesiacs, and over the course of the game they recovered not only their own memories, but discovered logs of what had happened in the previous weeks and years. Obviously, the reason they were amnesiacs is because there was a telepath on board looking to grab all the scientists. Them being scientists, they gave themselves amnesia to give themselves time to escape. This meant that the more they learned, the more danger they were in. This wasn't made clear enough because we didn't have enough GM coordination to handle monster attacks. All the monster attacks were desperately half-assed, through no fault of the AGMs.

As you see, it wasn't all light and sunshine. The map was too large, 17 players was about twice too many, and I ran out of prep time so many of the planned features were scrapped. Still, it went pretty well and there is definitely a core of fun in there, and that's what a prototype is intended to discover.

At some point, I'll run a similar game, but I want to make it more social. I'm thinking about making it high fantasy, and reversing the time scales. IE, every fifteen minutes of real time would be a day or week of board time. And maybe giving players control over multiple avatars...

I love designing games. It's too bad they're such a pain to actually RUN.


syl said...

I enjoyed the clay pieces representation (having put myself in charge of looking at the sketches and making representations)

I felt that if I had a better idea of the overarcing plot ahead of time, I would have been better at when and how to throw monsters at the players.

It was exhausting, but I had fun.

Craig Perko said...

(Syl was one of the AGMs)

andrew said...

A smaller board would help or a way to move around faster.
Also there was too much and too little plot. There was so much plot that the only way to know anything was to have a girl run around pulling plot out of people's hand. if every area had its own pile of plot i think it would work better.

Glenn said...

I'll post here rather than replying by e-mail. I've got lots to say, and other people might want to comment on it too.

First, I enjoyed the novelty of the game. A lot. Having a LARP layered on top of a board game was unique, interesting, and worked surprisingly well. The exact application needs a bit of tweaking, but I think it's probably one of your best ideas yet.

Other things in the unreservedly good category were the 'social charging' of certain powers, the ability to freely meta-game (anything you see out of character you're effectively seeing in character too) without breaking continuity, and the you-them dynamic of the players alternating turns with the enemies (standard fare, but worked well in this context).

Things that needed tweaking/balance:
Game Tempo. At the very end, you pretty much dumped 'turns' in favor of pure 'do what you want when you want' LARP style gaming. Why? Becase A) If we had to wait 5 minutes between actions we would have gone nuts and B) many of the players became irrelevant. B tends to happen in a lot of larps, and is something that a well designed larp will avoid. But A happened because the pacing of the game (througout) was pretty annoying. Players would make their moves within seconds after the enemies had gone, or right after you announced 'Monster Turn Coming'. Either way, the 4.9 minutes in between were pure socialization and strategising. If there had been more plot available in the early to mid game, that would have been fine. But other than everyone reading the full collection of logs and swapping recovered memories, there wasn't much to do in that time (since planning usually consisted of 'I'm not in combat, so I search the room' or else 'It's gonna kill me, I need a teleport!')

Social Loops. This wasn't particularly bad, really. It just requires a bit more fine-tuning. Here's a common scenario: Player A has a power that requires another player to give him an order which he follows. Player B has a power that requires that another player do X (which does not require a board action). Player B asks Player A to do X. Both players can then use their power at-will. So long as you remember that any power that requires social action without board interaction can be used effectively at-will (I didn't find a single instance where this was not the case), and design those power accordingly, all is well.

Action versus Instant effects. You only had one action on a turn. Action powers were therefore extremely expensive from a player perspective - each use meant you could not attack, search, or (quickly) move during your turn. They therefore needed to have equivalent levels of effect on the game world - and in most cases they did not. I a single action-based power 11 times, and another power once. A third power I did not use at all, because it was effectively useless as far as I could tell. Over the course of about 30-40 turns, at least a quarter of those turns were spent on a single form of action (and another quarter of those turns were used charging for that action, since charging required me to search). This tells me that the powers needed to be balanced, and that I'm a power gamer (but we all know that already, don't we?). I think it would work best if every power is either instant or require an action, and that they be balanced accordingly.

A visible timer. There was a clock on the wall, but everyone ignored it (even the GMs). You need to have either a giant hourglass counting down the time between turns, or a bell that sounded (automatically) when time was up. Several turns lasted 10 minutes or longer, and for those that were waiting for the next turn to act it was really annoying.

I've got two parallel sets of suggestions, each based on a different feel you might want to give the game the next time you run it. One is Manic, the other Strategic.

In the Manic version, you reduce the turn-time to 2 minutes. The board is just as large (if not larger), has less open space (two tile wide corridors max, mostly 1). The notes that people find are edited down to the absolute least text that can get the point accross ("Doctor Fang's 'Project Revenant' is like something out of an old Horror Movie.', or 'Doctor Kenya needs additional Nurses so I'm promoting Julia Roberts and giving them additional credits on the BioFabbers to come up with a quick-fix solution'). Every power requires an action to use, so every power should be equal to or strictly better than a basic attack on a monster. Powers that require an in-game action to charge are better still (the ability to do an area attack or to teleport others are good examples). Slightly higher hit-points (5-10), with 'boss monsters' doing more than 1 damage on a hit. Many powers can have static or permanent effects (making a Chainsaw into a +1 Chainsaw, blowing a hole in a wall, granting another player +2 speed for N turns). Everyone should still be friendly, and a lot of 'team building' powers should be available to re-inforce the tendancy to band into small-medium teams. Single uber-teams will be unlikely simply because the map is so large that single-force exploration will be too slow. The game will focus significantly more on the Boardgame elements, and you're likely to get

In the Strategic version, the turn-time stays the same, but every power becomes a non-action, thus useable every single turn. The board is either smaller, or more movement points/movement powers are given out (giving each character some form of movement power in this case might not be a bad idea). The power-level of individual powers should then be based entirely on the difficulty of charging that power, and maintaining a charge to use a useful power every action can become a very important game-issue. Have the more useful powers linked to in-game actions, and the generic 'constant use' powers (faster movement, increased damage, ranged attack, clairvoyance) linked to social actions. Also, in this version of the game, insert plot points that create strife and conflict between the different players. Make it more difficult for them to justify 'giving' charges to anyone who asks, make the players suspicious and have traitors or teams or limited survivors (or all of the above). At 5 minutes per turn, there's plenty of time to plot and backstab, and you should take advantage of that. This game will play much more like Speed Diplomacy, where temporary alliances are formed and broken between every turn.

Those are my suggestions. Either version of the revised game would be lots of fun, and I'd like to see you run one or the other. If you've got questions, I'll check back here eventually.


Craig Perko said...

No questions. Most of your observations and suggestions are pretty much in line with my own. Your manic game isn't the sort of game I would run, but your strategic game is vaguely similar to what I was thinking about running next time.

Kevin said...

As one of the AGMs I should say that a bit more time to prepare (us) would have been great. A great deal of the earlier slow-down and lack of any pressing threat was due to our incompotence/lack of preperation. Likewise the players were sufficiently faster than the monsters that if they kept moving the monsters could never catch up. This made any threat I tried to pose against them incredibly weak until end-game.

Also, the social interaction felt cheesy from time to time with such conversations as 'ask me to help you.' 'OK, can you help me' 'Sure!' and other similar ones occuring. I know of know way to fix this easily, but it often seemed to be more like a word game charge-up than actually based on social interaction.

Craig Perko said...

Re: word games

Yeah, that's the only way I could figure out how to do it. But, in all honesty, I'm okay with cheesy, over-directed dialog. Remember: after the initial burst of "ask me to help you", people will ask for help without prompting.