Thursday, April 10, 2008

LARP Writing, Resolution Mechanics

For anyone who wants a LARP more complicated than a six-person melodrama, conflict resolution is a big part of the game. In LARPs that go on for more than one session (such as Vampire LARPs or various boff-weapon LARPs) the conflict resolution is the game, and the rest is just a momentary scenario.

In essence, the difficulty is in keeping the resolution simple enough that it can be done without being burdening while still being complex enough to make it thought-provoking.

There are a lot of methods of resolving conflict in a LARP, most of which are transparent. Usually there's some kind of tiered system which, if the two in conflict are close enough, devolves to some kind of chance (typically Rock-Paper-Scissors). Some LARPs use a more subtle system, such as giving each player five cards, and letting them choose which to use up in a conflict...

But those are just simple tools to make the game run smoothly. The real issues in conflict resolution don't lie in how you make your decision, but the results of the decision and how it stretches to include other mechanics.

For example, I ran Zombie: The Brain Eatening. I used a simple rock-paper-scissors mechanic, but unlike virtually every other LARP ever, a tie meant that both parties hit the other. This meant that the game had a lot more dying, especially in team situations, where anyone on the other team that you didn't beat in RPS hit you. In essence, any challenge could result in injury unless you were immune to their level of damage (which wasn't very common).

Similarly, everyone had three states: okay, wounded, and dead. This made tracking death fairly straight-forward. There was no HP counter, no doing X damage of Y type.

I'm not saying this is the way to go. You have to consider the results you're aiming for.

For me, I wanted a horde game with an awful lot of dying in it. So, obviously, I chose a ruleset which resulted in people dying. This ruleset is not what you would want if you were running a LARP with longer-lived characters.

Higher complexity is acceptable, especially in games where every character is intended to be complex. The idea with this is that characters should have longer-term effects from their encounters, but not be out of the game unless something extraordinary happened.

Also, not all conflicts are physical. There are a wide variety of conflict types. You might have one for arguing philosophy, or influencing voters, or changing the past, or sneaking. You can choose to centralize, use the same mechanic for all your conflict types. This will make the game feel very conflict-driven. Alternately, you can decentralize, and use various conflict types.

An example of this would be from a vampire LARP, where obfuscate renders you invisible and auspex lets you see invisible people. Instead of explicitly stating things and maybe rock-paper-scissoring, the obfuscator is careful to show his level in the number of fingers he holds up. The auspexor can simply compare for himself. This is a very passive-aggressive method of conflict, and both sides of the equation will often find themselves screwed over pretty much at random from time to time. Sort of what vampire is known for.

I hate vampire LARPs.

Anyway, the point is that you want your game to have a given feel. The types of conflicts you have and what happens when they are resolved will give your game the feel you want. In addition, it can also provide you with grist for entertaining your players if it is deep enough. If it is shallow, that's fine, but you'll have to find some other method to keep them entertained.

There are plenty of fun LARPs that go both ways.


Robin said...

Talking as someone who is the opposite, and loves vampire LARP, I'm not sure I agree with the idea that conflict resolution (at least in any mechanical sense) is the game. I'd argue more that in long running scenarios it's a minor part of the game (not just in vampire, but just in general in a long running chronicle).

But I wanted to ask your opinion on resolution particularly in a social situation. Social interaction seems to be the most difficult to resolve in any mechanical way - because it seems a bit of a fudge if after roleplaying a scene and failing to persuade someone to do something you then pull cards or play RPS. I commented somewhat jokingly on the problem in 'Play what you can portray', but it does seem to me to be one of the most contentious parts of resolution when social interaction is reduced to mechanics.

Craig Perko said...

I'd say that the system in Vampire is a "minor part of the game" in the same way that in D&D the system is a "minor part of the game". That is, if you don't hate it, you can probably have fun within the framework.

It's kind of dismissive, but I've written before on this topic: I really hate all the turnkey gaming solutions, especially d20 and White Wolf.

Anyway, on social resolutions:

As I say, what happens after resolution is the big trouble, not how you actually do the resolving. Because players are so used to being given a free hand on their social behavior, dictating it will feel very unusual and clumsy.

But this doesn't have to be the case. I co-wrote and co-ran a game called "How Not to Write a Fantasy Novel", in which the characters were constantly having their emotions and social preferences dictated by writers in another room, communicated only by confusing snippets. This turned out really well, but it's a humor game: I used the inherent clumsiness of the situation in favor of the gameplay.

One of the other authors wanted it to be a serious game, but when you have that level of arbitrary chaos, it's very hard to make it serious. It worked better as a comedy.

The other method I really like is to use incentives. I ran a half-LARP, half-board-game in which all the characters had psychic powers, but these powers were fueled mostly by social interactions. One person got his power from hearing other people laugh, another got his power from being asked for help, and so forth.

While these don't dictate social resolutions, they do guide social behavior very well. It may be possible to have "communicable" social rewards, but they will probably pale in comparison to the goal of the character, so they might not be effective...

Basically, my opinion on the matter is that the whole game has to be designed around that component, if you're planning to use it. From the ground up. You can't stuff it into a pre-existing framework of any kind.