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Author Topic: [Prophets] Is my series going to get stale?  (Read 4695 times)
Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« on: April 28, 2007, 07:51:27 AM »

I have this LARP I'm running; it's very much based on design principles that are visible in theatresports and in a fistful of games from around these parts.   Game materials, should you be interested, are currently here:  http://dustbowl-prophets.blogspot.com/

That 'playbook' is currently undergoing a kind of high-speed refinement, with a fairly significant load of help.  However, I have a concern about the actual play, which folks here may have some insight on.  I'm going to front up the concern first; that way, you can review the information with it already in mind:

The series, as a whole, is meant to run for about two years; that's twenty-four events.  I'm not at all sure that i'm judging the pacing correctly for this purpose, meaning that a really crappy ending is a concern.

So, twenty-four games is the pace at which I have been intending to run the game through it's "long cycle" - the game has an intended ramp-up from small-town gossip and backbiting, up to reaching a common understanding of this supernatural 'thing' that's happening to the characters and making them different.  The long cycle ends when, with full understanding of how it all works, the characters individually or as a group stop gaining and learning about this stuff in the background of play, and reach the point where it moves into the foreground and they must choose, eyes-open, how they use their now-stable and fully-comprehended power.  The fictional power itself comes from Archetypes - each character has one.  By endgame, if they choose to deal with long-game stuff, The Laborer will be able to build houses ovenight, The Nurse will be able to raise the dead, and so on.

Each time I 'reveal' that stuff, I cast it in a form that directly affects one or more characters. I don't expect anybody to give a damn that two identical Archetypes have some kind of mystical conflict crap to deal with, since nobody in the game has the same archetype as anyone else.  It's not character-character fun, which is what makes live play really rock.  But telling the Postmaster that he has been warned off by the Postmaster of another town that he's supposed to deliver to, and letting him know that the only ways of resolving the (basically unimportant) dispute are in the hands of other player characters (such as the Telegraph machine that the Muckraker keeps down at the newspaper office) pushes him into a scene that's uncomfortable for someone that's playing up their archetype as much as that specific player is - he, the Postmaster, must go to someone else to send a message; and while that isn't exactly excitement and adventure, it made for a really great set of side scenes, and laid down further groundwork for the whole.

Now, the actual majority of the action - the meaty goodness of play - in the game is in the "short cycle".  Each character has a set of relationships, into which they cast other characters (up to seven in total).  They earn tokens, which fuel every other mechanism, by escalating these relationships.  So, for example, if The Bookie grabs The Femme Fatale and slaps an engagement ring into her palm, he's escalating his relationship to her (she's his 'paramour').  When she tells him that no matter how much she owes him, no matter how much dirt he's got on her, they aren't getting hitched, and throws the ring down at his feet, she's escalating her relationship to him (he's her 'keeper').  Each of those players gives the other an award token from the bowl on scene for escalating.  And that process, of escalating one-sided relationships that often lead to seriously screwed-up soap opera, drives play quite nicely.

Almost all these relationships will peak and resolve; they end.  By the look of it right now, the longest-term relationships running around will likely climax and resolve around the one year mark.  Players can, and are currently encouraged to, pick up further relationships in a "staggered" way, so that they'll (at least supposedly) have a couple of different enemies or lovers as the series carries through.  The 'supposedly' there is itchy; it's what I wrote, but we haven't gotten there yet.

Now, many of the players here have loads of experience with games where escalating relationships are common, even central to play.

When players have ramped up and resolved those relationships, should I expect that they'll turn to their other ones, and later to entirely new ones, with just as much energy and heat?

Or does it seem likely that I've set myself up to continue the game past it's "stale date"?
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Troy_Costisick
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Posts: 802


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« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2007, 08:43:10 AM »

Heya Levi,

I've never done a LARP.  It looks like you're quite experienced at it.  Before I can reallly comment on your questions (and perhaps I shouldn't at all since I'ved never LARPed) can you tell me some of the key differences in how players communicate with each other and negotiate with each other during a LARP as compared to a tabletop RPG?

Peace,

-Troy
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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2007, 09:01:54 AM »

I've never done a LARP.  It looks like you're quite experienced at it.  Before I can reallly comment on your questions (and perhaps I shouldn't at all since I'ved never LARPed) can you tell me some of the key differences in how players communicate with each other and negotiate with each other during a LARP as compared to a tabletop RPG?

In this particular case - which is why this seemed like a good place to actually bring this - negotiation on mechanics is very much a simple conflict resolution with stakes-setting (the core mechanic is very, very much like that of In Spaaace!, if that helps any).  The players try to keep use of that mechanic very, very fast, so that it will cause less disruption of the flow of play; this does mean that stakes are rarely truly awesome, but usually fairly utilitarian.

Negotiation and communication between players regarding 'what would be cool', but outside of mechanics, it finds it's focus in three places...   First, at events, off the playing floor, when people have little side conversations.  Second, I open and close each event with a bit of me babbling, followed by a bit of open floor time where anyone can address the game.  And third, at 'afters' - when we all go for punch and pie (okay, beer and nachos) after events.

Which is to say, the really key difference is that once play starts, it almost never *halts* for any significant length of time to discuss such stuff - and causing it to so would be extremely bad form.  While game is on, it's on.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2007, 02:02:18 PM »

Hi Levi,

When players have ramped up and resolved those relationships, should I expect that they'll turn to their other ones, and later to entirely new ones, with just as much energy and heat?

Or does it seem likely that I've set myself up to continue the game past it's "stale date"?
Speaking from more a technical knowledge than a practical one, that would be putting priority on continuing play, rather than priority on character examination. To put it in a rough, but summerised way it's kind of "Oh my god, plays about to stop, quick, grab another relationship!!!". The relationships aren't the point of play, they are just a means to an end - the 'end' of continuing play to the perscribed date.

I think if relationships are made secondary, I think that if they are going to apply energy and heat, it'll be to the games primary point. But as said, just technical understanding here - how it'd really play out, I don't really know. Smiley
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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2007, 02:25:58 PM »

The relationships aren't the point of play, they are just a means to an end - the 'end' of continuing play to the perscribed date.

Urk...

To the players, their individual relationships *are* the central focus of play.  To them, the supernatural stuff is just the "backdrop" - the thing that ties the series together as a whole.  The slow increases in supernatural stuff are there to just keeps feeding new 'bits' into that basic material of play, putting new twists on existing relationships, and so on.

So, really, if you were in a game that was almost obsessively focused on throwing new twists at escalating relationships, would you feel "done" when one set of relationships was finished resolving?  Or would you feel more "done" when you knew that all the biggest twists that were going to hit your character had been hit?  Neither?  Am I even making sense to you with this, or do I need to put down some hypotheticals based off current actual set-ups to clarify?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2007, 08:03:39 PM »

I think I understand the layout.

I suppose a way of putting it would be that it's possible to fill up on entree's. Ie, eat too many entree's and you don't feel like eating anything that's a main meal. So even though there clearly is a main meal waiting to be served, your already full.

I think that fits pretty well in terms of a hunger to examine relationships. In line with that you could take a nar game like Capes and consider it a yum-cha style game! Literally not all the 'dishes'/conflicts presented are entered into. hehe...okay, stopping now!
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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2007, 09:25:43 PM »

I get the analogy quite well, I think - I think I even like it.  But let me change it a little.

So, at this particular banquet, we start with a little spice.  And as we go on, the dishes get spicier.  What's planned is that the meal ends with the "the famous gut-burning chili"; that's the natural and perfect conclusion to the progression. 

The worry is that the diners might get full too soon to enjoy the chili.
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Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2007, 11:50:11 PM »

Levi,

Wow, twenty-four months seems like a huge commitment to expect out of a large group of adults with lives. I'd rather expect that unless each individual game session is immensely gratifying for all participants (a thing you won't know until the tires hit the pavement), there will be attrition as people evaluate your game against other things on their schedules they might deem more important. Which might throw a monkey wrench in your ability to architect some grand plot.

It sounds like you're putting some good amount of work in on the promise it will be really fun when you finally get there. Which to me, usually translates into you're willing to waste people's time up until you reach that point.
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Blankshield
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Posts: 407


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« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2007, 07:54:01 AM »

Heya Levi,

Looking through the rules and what you've posted here, I see a couple of things that make me go "hmm..."  These are things to keep in mind as you progress through the cycle, and not in themselves show-stoppers, but even just being aware of them may help the cycle of play meet your intentions.

One is that you've commoditized the basic interaction of LARP.  Not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but definately a thing.  As a player I get primarily rewarded for interacting with people - with specific people, in fact, more so than others.  Something to keep in mind here, is that this will affect the scale of the game.  If you're doing a 12-15 person game, then only being incented to interact with 2-7 of the other players is fine.  If you're running a larger LARP, there's a risk of disconnection.  The other risk I see with this is more of an awareness thing: people will tend to interact more with the people they have established relationships to, which means they are less likely to create new relationships without actively breaking the pattern the rewards encourage.  Being explicit about this will probably be enough to remind people to do it, but a mechanical incentive tied directly to establishing a new relationship (not just the ongoing reward cycle) would help.

The other risk I see is closed loops.  I'm your Exemplar, you're my Protege.  We have powerful intense stuff between us, but it doesn't flow into the game.  We're doing a little mini-game.  Yes, this is a constant risk for LARP play, especially in bigger LARPs, but with the way you've got the rules set up, you can actually discourage falling into this trap.  The relationship board helps, but I would also discourage reciprocal relationships.  Examplar/Protege, Anathema/Rival, and similar combinations should be given a fishy eye, and I would personally want to call lame on those a little more than other possibilities.  I guess what I'm saying is you want to capture archtypical characters, but should really try to avoid archtypical relationships.

If new relationships are incented, and closed loop relationships are inherently viewed with suspicion (from an 'add to play' perspective), I think you're well on the road to the shifting web of escalating relationships that you're aiming for.

James

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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2007, 03:17:51 PM »

Wow, twenty-four months seems like a huge commitment to expect out of a large group of adults with lives. I'd rather expect that unless each individual game session is immensely gratifying for all participants (a thing you won't know until the tires hit the pavement), there will be attrition as people evaluate your game against other things on their schedules they might deem more important. Which might throw a monkey wrench in your ability to architect some grand plot.

It sounds like you're putting some good amount of work in on the promise it will be really fun when you finally get there. Which to me, usually translates into you're willing to waste people's time up until you reach that point.

Hm.

"Grand plot" implies a storyline.  I don't have one of those.  I have a direction in which to escalate, and a method for feeding that into play.  I know about what level of intensity along that line a LARP can handle, and would like to go right up to that point before folding.

Which means that, on the second, about being willing to waste people's time, you've got a strong point.  That's part of the reason I'm asking; I've seen that trap before, even fallen into it.  And I really, really want to avoid the hell out of it this time out.
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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2007, 03:32:47 PM »

Looking through the rules and what you've posted here, I see a couple of things that make me go "hmm..."  These are things to keep in mind as you progress through the cycle, and not in themselves show-stoppers, but even just being aware of them may help the cycle of play meet your intentions.

All righty.

One is that you've commoditized the basic interaction of LARP.  Not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but definately a thing.  As a player I get primarily rewarded for interacting with people - with specific people, in fact, more so than others.  Something to keep in mind here, is that this will affect the scale of the game.  If you're doing a 12-15 person game, then only being incented to interact with 2-7 of the other players is fine.  If you're running a larger LARP, there's a risk of disconnection.  The other risk I see with this is more of an awareness thing: people will tend to interact more with the people they have established relationships to, which means they are less likely to create new relationships without actively breaking the pattern the rewards encourage.  Being explicit about this will probably be enough to remind people to do it, but a mechanical incentive tied directly to establishing a new relationship (not just the ongoing reward cycle) would help.

Very much a thing, indeed.  I personally consider it a good thing, specifically because the actual, practiced methods of reward in many LARPs I've played actually point attention away from that basic interaction, and towards "grandstanding" and the like. 

One method I've considered for putting a little bit of pressure on people to add to and engage more people with relationships is to limit the number of escalations per event in any given relationship.  But I'm not 100% on that way of incenting them, and if you have any specific suggestions on that line, I'd like to hear them.

(Your thoughts on insularity in general, I'll get to in just a moment)

The other risk I see is closed loops.  I'm your Exemplar, you're my Protege.  We have powerful intense stuff between us, but it doesn't flow into the game.  We're doing a little mini-game.  Yes, this is a constant risk for LARP play, especially in bigger LARPs, but with the way you've got the rules set up, you can actually discourage falling into this trap.  The relationship board helps, but I would also discourage reciprocal relationships.  Examplar/Protege, Anathema/Rival, and similar combinations should be given a fishy eye, and I would personally want to call lame on those a little more than other possibilities.  I guess what I'm saying is you want to capture archtypical characters, but should really try to avoid archtypical relationships.

If new relationships are incented, and closed loop relationships are inherently viewed with suspicion (from an 'add to play' perspective), I think you're well on the road to the shifting web of escalating relationships that you're aiming for.

Okay, in play and discussion thus far, I've had a few concerns in this direction - in the original draft of the rules, there were only four listed relationships (though I expected everyone to try and fill them all).  I haven't been being either especially friendly or unfriendly towards reciprocality.   However, the players have pleasantly suprised me by wanting to develop relationships that avoided the kind of combinations you've mentioned - I wasn't quite sure what about their relationship combinations it was that I was so pleased by, but that's certainly a part of it.

It seems plain enough that I should at least mention how cool that is to the players, and why, now that it's been pulled into view.
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Callan S.
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Posts: 3588


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« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2007, 08:03:58 PM »

I get the analogy quite well, I think - I think I even like it.  But let me change it a little.

So, at this particular banquet, we start with a little spice.  And as we go on, the dishes get spicier.  What's planned is that the meal ends with the "the famous gut-burning chili"; that's the natural and perfect conclusion to the progression. 

The worry is that the diners might get full too soon to enjoy the chili.
Or an alternative worry, that they are there because they are hungry and want to satisfy. Once they satisfy that, they wont continue, even if there is more chilli to come.

I think the worry you list assumes people who are coming to taste various types of chilli. In this case I think your worry is valid, but fairly straight forward - its a question of feeding rates - and it's kind of simpler because since the people are there to eventually taste the gut burner, you might be able to call on feedback from them to help with the over feeding issue.

I'm just suggesting that even before that issue, there's another - and that's players who come simply to satisfy their hunger.

However, that could be covered by somehow textually informing prospective players about what the game seeks to deliver. But before I rush ahead on that, any common ground here? Am I making sense to some degree? Smiley
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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2007, 08:51:52 PM »

However, that could be covered by somehow textually informing prospective players about what the game seeks to deliver. But before I rush ahead on that, any common ground here? Am I making sense to some degree? Smiley

Making sense just fine.  Rush away!
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Callan S.
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« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2007, 10:20:11 PM »

Ah, I was just going to give more examples of what I mean, ie, informing players of what the game sets out to deliver. I don't think I have any grand examples of how to do that beyond what either of us might think up (for example, informative blurbs).

Actually, speaking of examples, perhaps you could give a mock up of what actual play would be like (an abridged version of the long term play) and when players would be excited and happy - that'd be especially informative, as a prospective player could think "Oh yeah, I'd be happy at that point too - gotta get into this game!"
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