Thursday, May 19, 2011

Session Roundup #13, part a

A week late, but I wanted to go ahead and get through this, as there is Mage and DtD Website Updates tonight, so the chance of my getting a Roundup done this evening after the game is exceptionally slim. So this will be a two-part Roundup, to make up for last week's total lack.

Last week, there was Eclipse the between-meal-minigame, and then Eclipse the actual LARP. Shieldhaven has a breakdown of the first here, where he talks about the pros and cons of this way of running between game events.

I've been chewing over the subject since the thing started steamrolling. The playerbase saw a report of some serious evil dudes attacking the Fringer planet of Taranis, and I'll admit to being one of the players who went, "Hey, I have a whole military division just cooling its heels! Can I do something!?"

And I was super jazzed when Plot said, "sure! Do it!"

This was a hugely experimental and neat thing to do on the part of plot, and will probably go much more smoothly next time (I'm certain that there will be a next time), but permit me to break down some of the sticking points along the way, and how they went.



1) The instigation.

This was, apparently, not a planned thing on the part of plot, so they can be forgiven for not really knowing how to make it clear to all, once it was decided that players could interfere, that well... they could interfere. They were also combatting a lot of precedent for our having to sit passively while horrible things went on in the Universe around us. I suspect that it was myself and a couple of other players actually asking that made plot go, "sure, send orders! Just send an email to plot to let us know what you're doing."

Let me be clear, I actually phrased my request, "what are the reasons why I wouldn't send my army, coz I assume we can't stop this invasion or do anything about it, right?" And a lot of the initial argument was pretty much, "no no, here are the reasons why we can't do anything, so that we save plot the trouble of coming up with reasons, because dammit, you're challenging the restraints of the format!"

Being able to act was awesome. The lack of clarity on what was allowed, and who was allowed to do it, and how was tough. In the future, I'd provide some sort of, "event happening, here's times for action, plot communication will be open at x times and in y ways, but no really, this is okay. We swear."

2) The Forum.

This was also neat and a little different in that it was not just confined to the red button boards; it took place on Google Buzz, in IM, and in E-mail also. I also understand that some people wound up involved via text message. This was really ambitious on the part of the Plot Member running the show (Haven calls him, 'The Gentleman in Black'), and really rather neat. The commitment to keeping everyone who wished to be involved involved was sort of stupendous, and impressive.

The thing is, this also limits even knowing that things are going on to people who are regularly checking these forums. When it's the actual game board, that's one thing, because that's where you expect to go to learn about the game. When it's google buzz, that's a little iffier, though the speed and usefulness of google buzz for this sort of thing can't be denied. It's, well... a little like MUSHing. It's adding a Message Board RP element, which is neat, but difficult if you're transferring LARP rules, which are pretty sculpted to the format, to a type-and-screen game. Which brings us to...

3) The Rules.

Another barrier to entry for players was knowledge of the game rules, specifically those that surround the actions one can take in-between games. We have a certain number of IBGAs (In-Between Game Actions, surprise surprise), that we can take per event. If you've done your checkout, and so used your IBGAs, that's supposed to be all that you can do between events. Which creates confusion when all of a sudden, there's this event happening, and we don't know where that fits. Some sort of message or the like expressly stating that this thing won't count against IBGAs would have been helpful.

Further, in the second part of the Event, where we were all actually going to Taranis to help out, there was a lot of confusion as to how to even take an action, and what to do to show that-- particularly as we were mostly sending all-dialogue emails. Making the rp part an actual message board thing would potentially solve that problem at least.

Message Board rps have rules, though they're pretty light: Most I've played in typically worked something like this:

1) post in character, make actions clear. Do not say, "I do this" if your action might change the world or affect another character; say, "I attempt to do this," instead. There should be some agreed format for actions, whether it's some markup like *laughs* or ::laughs:: or /laugh, or if it's all done in prose.
2) Keep it consistent within the thread. If it's a major event, we won't move forward until we've heard from all parties who need to take an action; conversations can move along at whatever pace.

The few I did that had Gmming would try to schedule major events in advance, to a time when everyone would be available to post, so there wouldn't be too much lag-- but generally, a single event would be expected to take well over a day. It was not unusual for us to have MBrps that involved people in international time zones, and so had dramatically different availability.

As I mentioned before, LARP rules are pretty consistent with skills, how many you have, and how you expend them-- but it's a physical format. How do you judge a hit when you can't roll a die or swing a sword? When you're controlling an army of 50,000? One answer is to avoid combat altogether. Another is to have other actions that aren't random-- persuasion, et al-- that increase or decrease a sense of success/failure that's arbited by a GM. Another is trading resources for effects, and that's potentially more fitted to the format. One of the things that Haven mentions as a problem is that there's no sense of risking anything for all of the reward we got, and we functionally didn't expend anything (we did potentially create a sticky political situation, but it looks like, for the most part, we've gotten the good from that). While it requires a hell of a lot of work on the part of the plot people running this side-event, establishing some system of "you've got this much of a resource, you can expend to to accomplish an action, and overdoing it incurs penalties," might be really effective here. While there's still the assumption that yes, the players are more than likely to 'win' the encounter, this does at least give a sense of, "we had to risk something/give something up to do it, and could have potentially just outwitted the bad guys if we came up with a clever enough idea," incurs penalties that have real consequences in game-- Haven mentions disadvantages, casualties in the case on army are another possibility, removing an advantage like increased wealth or a sensory advantage for an event, acquiring a new Hunted/Wanted, the Marked Condition (you don't know what it does, but Plot does!), losing BGAs in advance, or political credit with one or another world is another option... there's a number of risk/reward factors that could certainly be presented in this case.

The Reality:

The whole thing just needed a bit more... reality. Which is a fun thing to say about role playing games, but bear with me.

Informed decisions about out-of-game things are _really_ hard to make. If you're going to do anything like I've described above, making sure that the players involved have enough information about their own capabilities in this context, the capabilities of their armies if they have them (attack strength, defense, unit makeup), what the landscape looks like for travel, what obstacles there are... these are very important. Otherwise, we run the risk of being either too cautious or too reckless, either of which might have had devastating consequences, if plot had wished. I think they didn't want to punish anyone for confusion, but in order for the game to feel real at all, the feeling of risk and conflict has to be there. Having a war scene is neat, but keeping it straightforward is actually a disservice... having npcs constantly interrupting to challenge the PCs resolve, offer other options, offer chances to gain or lose or trade resources in the middle would be awesome and add interest for more PCs than say, the ones who have armies, plus the ones who are webguides (10 of us had armies, and there were quite a few webguides, who are the ones who let people get anywhere). People were happy to take part in the conversations, but adding to the actual resources we had, particularly at the point where a couple of battletrains were fighting it out and a nuke was barreling towards the planet-- yeah, would have been better.

Communication:

This goes back up to forum, but when you are conveying details about the world, and obstacles that exist, making sure that everyone is in the loop is important. Let's say you've got a creepy woojoo energy that the PCs know is awful, like Mystic energy in Eclipse. Let's say you've got a number of players in a scene that are hyperfocused on dispelling mystic energy. And then, lets say that, even though they're standing 10 feet away from said energy, you have it dispelled by a PC on another planet, before letting anyone on the planet, who had the skills to do so, know that it's even there. This is probably just an oversight on the part of plot, but it illustrates a place where establishing the reality to the players who can observe it is vitally important _before_ anyone is permitted to take an action.

Now, this all requires a serious understanding of the players involved (upwards of 40 people), their abilities, and their natures, and once again, a hell of a lot of work. But even with all the stuff I mention above, I certainly had a lot of fun with it, and it was a really neat thing to get to talk about in-person at the event last weekend. Which was a lot of fun... it was really better paced than a lot of Eclipse events in the past, and had one of my favorite modules in the whole campaign so far-- a small thing that just spoke to everything my character has been about for the past season, and made me very happy. I love moments like that, and it made me really happy when I was able to do that for another character when I was an NPC at Kings Gate. So it was very good. Also, there was a really cool object-based field battle. Love those.

Anyway, so much for part a. If I am especially diligent, perhaps there will be also Pony Stats, but we'll see how that goes.