Flammable Penguins

Claire Blackshaw's Forest of Fun

Massive Narratives pt 3

Game Design Narrative Roleplaying Games
Massive Narratives pt 3

Hi all, before you ask I don't know how many parts this series will have. I have a rough outline of what I want to work through but nothing solid. Once it's all done I do plan to compile it into a more structured article.

On a side note Game Horizon is tomorrow. Hope to see some of you there, I will shoot a few tweets up as the event progresses. Don't be surprised if nothing is posted on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Problem: Past, present or future

LARP games tend to be held once or twice a month, big Meets are normally annual or bi-annual. The times of different games in a region tend not to sync up. This provides advantages and disadvantages.

Down Time

The advantage is primarily an activity called down-time. This allows the ST running the game to take a breather and construct stories and props for the next session. This reflection time is crucial and often the quality can be measured by the amount of work that happens in down-time. Rushing it at the last minute really shows.

The players also use this time to perform out of session activities. Things like training, issuing orders to their minions, or going on little side quests or missions. The advantage of the training is the player says I spend the next three weeks training such and such skill. Because the event is triggered and they don't have to invest time into it this removes the grind.

Side quests, activities and conflicts play out by email, on forums or face to face with a ST (much like a typical table top role-playing game). This serves two main functions: Danger and Involvement. The danger element is because LARPs involve live action they need to be safe. So drug busts, car chases and combat related activities can't be done "live". Its also very expensive to mock-up these activities "live".

The second function Involvement is important. It allows the ST to give some personal time to the player. Re-enforcing there sense of self importance and giving their character some time to grow and expand.

Another minor advantage is being able to create news reports, and the like reporting misinformation and pieces. It's a nice tactic as it re-enforces a sense of the world and builds immersion by credit taking. A player will see a report about a gas explosion blowing up part of the docks and a few dock workers dying, a player will smugly remark that actually it was a fight with the were-wolves and he had to use a rocket propelled grenade.

EVE Online handles downtime really well. The skill training system means your character is doing something while your at work or doing other things. It removes some of the grind and minimizes the advantages of obsessive play time.

Time Slip

The main problem with down time and time differences is an element I like to dub time-slip. The games are happening at different times but may be happening at the same game-time.

ST dance an elaborate dance to stop players hopping in a car and driving to the next city and wreaking havoc, or even just picking up the phone and calling someone in a different region. This problem is also present in MMOs as the player is not always online.

The solution in most LARPs I've played is an in-game limiter. In vampire its decorum and politics factor which keeps mingling down. In a Seven Seas LARP it was a technology limit, pirates don't have cell-phones. These are all workable solutions but they are negative solution removing an element from the game. In a Cyberpunk LARP, with three different roleplaying groups all in the same universe I really ran into the time-slip problem.

The world by its nature is inter-connected. So you can't really give valid in-game reasons for no-contact. So what we did was a notification system. If a player was getting involved in another game they would get a text. If they responded in 15min with general orders or a text to say they would run over then fine. If not we would play them by proxy. The absent player was giving a minor stat boost, to compensate for lack of direct player control.

Most MMOs 'ignore' time slip by having player's vanish. I think this is cheating in a small way. I know some player's feel cheated by things happening when they are offline hence why we offset matters in-game by boosting offline characters stats. There are many opportunities to solidify the game world however by making sure parts of it don't vanish when your offline.

A direct attack on an offline player should be avoided if they safely logged out. What about the player's assets, allies, safe-houses. Having these things vulnerable adds an element of realism to matters. The concept of offline being totally safe is nice for casual players but removes the risk. It's a tricky area of discussion, and is driven largely by taste.

Sorry guy's I cant make the game

Real life happens, and it should always take first priority. There are times when a player can't make a LARP session. This is understandable and needs to be worked around.

If some notice is received then some additional down time actions can be given to the player. Most time big events can be supported by leg-work. If a player can't make a session do a little bit of extra down-time with them and their success or failure can influence the big event. Whether it be supplying, intelligence, counter-intelligence, or even commando activities. They are then involved in the big event even though they missed it.

I've found this tactic to be VERY successful, yes it only works when you get a bit of notice, which is not always the case but most times it's a solution. One thing I despise about MMO's is a friend saying, "sorry I can't I have a raid". Well what if that person could do a legwork mission to help out and get some reward/feedback from the big event.

Not only does this solve the time issue but it makes the event feel more grand and some people enjoy legwork more than the big event.

Next time on Flammable Penguins... Problem: Didn't I just kill you? (Reality in a Persistent world)
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