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Author Topic: [The Drop] Live-action spying  (Read 1967 times)
Graham W
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« on: December 06, 2005, 09:41:42 AM »

This weekend, I ran a LARP and was reading Smiley's People by John Le Carre. It occurred to me that there's a very natural fit between live-action roleplaying and spying.

After all, the point of live-action is that you are the character and do stuff as the character. Except that, obviously, you can't actually attack people or cast spells or become invisible. But you can follow people or eavesdrop on people or decode messages.

I'm thinking of a game where you have two teams, competing against each other. Let's call one team the Couriers and the other the Interceptors. They sit in separate rooms.

At the start of the game, the Couriers have to plan a way of getting packages into the country. They do this with actual maps of a country: they plan at which port or airport someone will enter, where drops or exchanges will take place, where the packages will be collected. And they work out the story of why they're bringing in the packages: say, they're assembling a nuclear bomb (as in Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol) or they're smuggling information (as in Smiley's People).

The Interceptors have resources which they can use to locate the Couriers. They can watch ports, they can assign watchers to people, they have powers of arrest.

Now, as the Courier plan progresses, there would be several mini-games: a Drop minigame, a Following minigame. These would be played out live: the teams would actually follow each other; the Couriers would actually set up rules for drops which the Interceptors could try and intercept. If the Interceptors win these mini-games, they get more resources (because they're more sure who they're following or where they went). If the Couriers win, the Interceptors lose resources.

And there'd be rivalries within teams, and double agents that passed information to the other team, and so on, and so on.

Obviously, this is very early days, and the game is only half-formed. But could you tell me about any resources which I should be looking at? In particular, are there any games that do something similar? Any particularly effective spy games, or games which involve investigating a mystery, or games where two teams compete and one tries to thwart the other's plan?

Any help appreciated. Cheers.

Graham
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2005, 03:50:27 PM »

Sounds very cool!


I have no idea how this would look in action, but I really like the idea.

Are there two GMs or one?

How do turns go between Couriers and Interceptors?


And is this just a delivery/interception game? or are there possiblities for other situations?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2005, 09:47:31 PM »

Graham, I'm having trouble envisioning just what you're envisioning. One team "follows" another -- guess this means you need more space than a convention hall. One team assigns "watchers" to the others -- that's kind of hard to hide, you watching me all the time. I can't picture how it would work.

Could you write up a conceptual "example of play", perhaps? A description of how people are doing all this in live roleplaying?
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
komradebob
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Posts: 462


« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2005, 09:55:04 PM »

There is a Killer: The Assassination Game scenario called (IIRC)"The Bomb-builders" that you might want to look into if you can find it.

Actually, you might want to look into TAG anyway. I always found the core game sort of limited, but some of the more rpg style scenarios and variants actually seemed very good.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
mutex
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« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2005, 09:56:42 PM »

I think a clever idea would be to split the players into *four* groups.  Two groups would be Interceptors, and two groups would be Couriers.  The clever bit comes with not knowing if a particular player is telling the truth about which group they have been assigned.
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Andrew Morris
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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2005, 10:17:28 PM »

Graham, this is an interesting idea, It doesn't sound like it would be my cup of tea, though. I don't have any idea for other games you can reference other than Killer, which has been mentioned (oh, and I have a copy I haven't even looked at in years -- if you want it, just PM me your mailing address and I'll send it to you), but here are my thoughts on how to do this.

Assuming it's being run at a convention, make two rooms/suites the "home bases" of the two groups. Put them a good distance apart from each other. Make the location of the Interceptor base public knowledge, but keep the Courier base secret.

Keep any rules minimal and simple enough that they can be handled without the intervention of the GM. In fact, I'm thinking almost none would be best. Just say that if an Interceptor spots a Courier, he states that the Interceptor is captured, and the Interceptor player has the choice of leaving the game (character is imprisoned or dead) or working as an agent for the Interceptors. You might or might not want to allow Couriers to do the same to Interceptors when they have superior numbers, or something along those lines.

Each side has at least one "deep cover" agent, who is only known to one of the members of their team. Encourage the "handler" to communicate with the deep cover agent only by cell phone.

Eh, that's about all I can think of at the moment.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2005, 07:17:04 AM »

Spy games - especially thoughful ones (as opposed to James Bond esque ones) - are challenging.

In LARPs I expect to act out in character what my character does. The trouble is that in real spying a lot of time is spent doing very boring tasks. For example in a Star Trek LARP I was given the job of guarding an unimportant door. About 20 minutes of that and I'd had enough with the game.

If your game can move from critical event to critical event (what might be called conflict resolution possibly) it might work as a face to face action game.

The way you described it though - the players divided up in two different rooms - that it looks more like a policy planning game (They run one of these at Gen Con every year). The live action is not between the two sets of spies but more between the spies on the same side. As I recall from "Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy" Le Carries spies seldom come face to face, instead they deal with their own back stabbing moles.

I run spy games using Engle Matrix Games and have thought of doing them as LARPs. These are face to face games for now - here is how they work. Players have a character (with a picture and short written description that suggests what they want to do in the game), each turn they make an argument about what they want to have happen next in the game. Arguments do not have to be what their character does - they can be to make the rain stop or start. This moves action from critical event to critical event. Players build spy networks (secredt networks if they make secret arguments). Arguments have players tussling over control of resources and making preparations for future conflicts. A referee tells the players how likely their arguments are to happen and the player rolls. The argument happens or it doesn't. Arguments build on one another to push the game to a conclusion.

Say you were doing a mechanism like this in the two rooms. Both rooms involve players rivaling one another for status in their own agency. Occasionally they would interact with the other side. The challenge would be to coordinate information (successful arguments) between the two rooms. I would be tempted to keep everyone in the same room making arguments publicly while doing unsupervised role plays. Players might be given a pre set number of arguments to make throughout the game (say 20 coins they can buy an argument with). The hall the game took place in might have taped off corners that could be symbolic secret prisons or other vital locations.

I actually got a best of show award for this style of spy gaming back ten years ago. It is featured in my games "Nazi Speis over London" and "A Confederate Spy in Washington".

If you are interestd in this approach contact me off list.
Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Andrew Morris
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« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2005, 07:45:12 AM »

The trouble is that in real spying a lot of time is spent doing very boring tasks. For example in a Star Trek LARP I was given the job of guarding an unimportant door. About 20 minutes of that and I'd had enough with the game.

An excellent point that I hadn't considered. I'd get tired of "watch this mailbox until something interesting happens" very quickly. For some reason, though, I wouldn't feel the same way about keeping an eye on a person. Probably because one is passive, and the other is active.
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2005, 08:50:45 AM »

So... correct me if I'm wrong (new to the idea of LARP):

You actually depend on your real world stealth abilities to succeed at many jobs in-game. Meaning a clumsy person is at a disadvantage.
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komradebob
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« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2005, 09:43:07 AM »

So... correct me if I'm wrong (new to the idea of LARP):

You actually depend on your real world stealth abilities to succeed at many jobs in-game. Meaning a clumsy person is at a disadvantage.

A good point. Perhaps the game should be set up so that a variety of different actual player ( as opposed to character) skills can come into play?
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Graham W
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« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2005, 10:02:41 AM »

Those are fantastic responses. I'll reply to people in detail later (I'm stupidly busy this evening) but as a quick response:

Thanks for the recommendation of Killer. Perhaps a good way for me to think about this game is a higher-brow version of Killer: a game mostly for convention play or with large groups of people. And without nerf weapons.

Joepub: yes, I'm suggesting using real world skills, so that a clumsy person would play a clumsy character. This isn't necessarily true in a LARP - you could have a character attribute of Dexterity, with an associated in-game mechanic - but I like it for this game. I want people to be using their real-world observation and deduction skills rather than making an Observation or Intelligence roll.

And I'll get back to the rest of you once my life has settled down.

Graham
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Arpie
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Posts: 83


« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2005, 09:50:21 PM »

I am, of course, extremely interested in this idea. I'm sliding into a busy period myself, what with the holidays and all, but I'll follow it with interest.

I like the teams idea, of course. What seems fascinating to me is something you might almost be hinting at: the idea that the rules are sort of derived by the teams themselves. Or rather, the tangible objectives of the game are set by the teams... the victory, conditions, in a more gamist sense.

The mini games seem like a good idea, too, if only to provide a set of boundaries that the participants can use to  focus their play. The simpler the better, I should think.

having read some of the other stuff you've done, and from my own experience in LARPs, preparing for a high level of violence would seem good. I assume you'll want a fairly high mortality rate.

I've suggested this elsewhere, but what if individual players created contact strings, with each contact being another persona they could step into once their old persona perished? Or got tied up in a room for the rest of the game? Or had a forcible frontal lobotomy?  You could call it farming contacts or something.  It could create a kind of foreshadowing if some rules mechanic made the oncoming contact more powerful the more people who knew his or her "rep." I don't know how you do that, it's just an idea I'm toying with.

Anyway, cool idea. (And I like John Le Carre a lot, but, like most people I pretty much can't separate Alec Guiness from Smiley because of that Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Spy miniseries.)
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komradebob
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« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2005, 08:38:59 AM »

Quote
And without nerf weapons.

I seem to recall that any weapon was a really big deal in LeCarre books. Well at least in A Perfect Spy (IIRC) anyway. Didn't everybody basically freak out when the main character disappeared with the ( as in, the only one) station pistol?

I think there is a good argument for extremely limited weaponry.

It would be interesting to think outside of the convention set up. Again, Killer seems like a good resource. I tried getting something similar together years ago, with opening play up to the entire general area of the small college town in Upstate New York that I was living in.

You might also want to contact Walt Freitag ( again, IIRC) for ideas. I understand that he's developed a number of LARPs that have significantly different rules from either boffer larps or MET/Vampire Larps.

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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Graham W
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Posts: 437


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« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2005, 12:10:58 PM »

Apologies for replying so late to this. I'll just do a quick postscript.

Adam, I tried to write an example of play, and realised I couldn't. This is a pretty good indicator I don't know what this game's about. Sure, I've got this idea for two groups, and there's a sort of policy planning stage interspersed with live-action minigames. But I'm not really sure what people are saying or doing.

Thanks to everyone for the ideas, either for resources or about the game, and I'll come back to this once it's taken a more definite shape.
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