Flammable Penguins

Claire Blackshaw's Forest of Fun

Massive Narratives pt 5

Encleverment Experiment Game Design Narrative
Massive Narratives pt 5

News and Bits

Hi All, really working hard at the moment to get that last little bit of polish onto Encleverment. As anyone who talks to me can tell I really do love this little game and want to use every last bit of time I have left to squeeze those little bits and pieces in and shine them up.

In other news I'm going to be back on stage in front of an audience for the first time in five years. Admittedly it's doing improv comedy and not one of my plays but hey it's a big step.

I've also been following an online design course being run over at Game Design Concepts. It's shaping up nicely so far and that's what my next post will be covering. This will be the last Massive Narrative post for a while. My brain needs a break from it. So onto the main event.

Problem: Why Hello there

"I'm the ultimate (fighter / magic user / space ship pilot) in the known universe." Nothing wrong with that statement correct (chosen one problem aside). These skills are embedded in game mechanics and pure numbers. What if a (description of unattractive person removed due to lengthy use of adjectives and possibility of causing offence) stood up and claimed to be the greatest seducer of them all. Red light's flashing in your head? Add a klaxon and you get the casting problem of LARPS.

Right off the bat I will say this. Perfect player's don't need a system, but the truth is there is no such thing as a perfect player. The worse the player and the more meta-game focused the worse your nightmares become and the more complex things get. Sad but true, especially with fuzzy system's such as social interaction.

LARPs are mostly social in nature and not very abstract, so character's with immense social skills can be hard to impossible for socially inept or inappropriately cast player. This however is more than a little unfair, as the combat / power monkey in the corner rolls a dice or draws a card to show their AWESOME MIGHT!!!

It's a tricky problem to solve. I once ran a LARP with a mobster background. The writer had given one character a "power card" which read, "You Trust Me". There was another which was "I've seduced you". I saw the Trust card used once, and the other card never got use except as a laugh after the game. Now player's are accepting of wild fantasy but the act of socialising is so deeply ingrained that over-coming it tricky.

Most LARPs solve this problem with casting. On a side note the appearance issue can be solved by virtual avatars for digital versions. The real problem is converting the simulation of social interaction into the game of social interaction. You see games let us do things we would never be able to do in real life whether it be sword fighting, flying or using magic. Games best quality in terms of entertainment is removing that pesky barrier to entry called training.

I will say now I have never seen what I consider to be a workable solution in a LARP.

Power Cards

Cards which are either many use or one off which have a social command on them like, "You Trust Me". Player's often fail to adapt and this leads to de-railing and meta-gaming with bad players.

Favour Tokens

Each player is given tokens, which they can give as a sign of goodwill, trust, or bargaining chip with a player. The player holding said token can call in a favour or action, depending on the number of tokens. The player MUST perform these acts. Once the act is perform the player may elect to reclaim the tokens. This works quite well when combined with a few other mechanics as the social currency gave players a feel for social bonds.

Player's felt better with the token than the cards. They felt more in control, even though some mechanics "stole" tokens. Best friends tended to have a lot of each other's tokens, the court Casanova collected quite a few (quickly spent normally). I also attribute some of their success to players like shines and bags that go clink.

Social Combat

Two player's are socialising and they enter a conflict situation of some sort so they enter combat (supervised by a ST). It can take various forms but it normally has a winner / loser system. This goes TERRIBLY unless the justification is super-natural. Player's just don't like to be told, "you trust him", but they are perfectly okay with. "he has taken control of your mind with his laser, you trust him".

This speaks to the basic problem of experience. Watch a film which has a lot of topic X with a group of experts on topic X. A common reaction is to tear it apart and get annoyed. To be honest I find REAL experts just laugh it off (much like great social players can go with it). We as humans tend not to have experience with elder god possessed cult leader's firing alien bullets across the room, but we all know how to socialise. So most of us need tricking to believe artificial mechanics.

Pre-Briefing

You give all the player's a briefing verbally or on paper about how their character feels about all the other characters. This work's well for a one-off with a new character but is a bit more shaky with persistent games. In a one off a writer creates a platform for the player to build on. Once a player has control they build their own version.

Most player's aren't character experts so while they might understand their character inside and out on a deep level, they might not be able to communicate it clearly. An open dialogue after and before game can allow the ST to influence the character's opinions without removing control from the player. This is VERY time consuming however, and a very fuzzy solution.

Investing in Social Equations

Okay so side tracking from the LARP situation let's move back to the table top roots. Here we have a bit more room for manoeuvring. Let's look at two extremes.

Player: "I barter with the shopkeep"
[Rolls Dice]
GM: "He seems is impressed and gives you a 40% discount."

Ginny: "Al, the mayor want's these bugbears dead. Must be doing horrors to your custom."
Alfred: "Aye, my children need every crumb."
Ginny: "Al, The sword is good workmanship. How about I kill these beasts, then pay you."
Alfred: "If I gave every bit of forest manure, that was once a hero, credit I would be a starving man."
Ginny: "Okay okay, how about I buy the sword, you re-wrap the handle and throw in a few of those throwing knives."
Alfred: "Those knives are a key item."
Ginny: "Nonense! Throw offs, and apprentice fodder. Four knives comped."
Alfed: "Fine fine, you begger me. You tell friends Al gives good deal. Deal."
Ginny: "Deal"

Which did you enjoy reading more? Kinda obvious right. Well I've found most player's can do a happy medium. The GM keeping the social numbers in her head and perhaps doing a few discrete dice rolls. You hit tricky waters when you have a bad GM or a Dan. We are going to ignore a bad GM situation as they are part of the game.

A Dan is harder. They don't want to or are unable to interact in a meaningful way. Usually because they are shy or have trouble identifying with their character.

One "solution" I've seen many people use is to go either hack-slash or chi-wag and exclude the players which don't match the form.

We could let them give you the dry one-liner but then expand it and give it character. Throw in a loose detail or two. This builds a knowledge base for the player to identify with and helps the other players keep in game. So how do we make this into a useful mechanic.

Well we can put a translator in the way. This is a GM solution (or digital with advanced AI) and won't help larps. The player input's intentions then the input is modified by an intelligent evaluation based on the numbers. It's takes a skilled GM but it's one of the best solutions.

Now if only we could compress all the social knowledge and computation a talented experienced GM has into a AI. Feel up to the challenge anyone?

Please feel free to comment or tweet at me (Twitter: EvilKimau)