Sunday, 26 July 2009

Downtime Thoughts Part 2: Nailing the Basics

Here are my basic thoughts for a downtime conflict system.
  • Each player who has the Asset Benefice gets their asset transformed into the capital of their own province (note that if you buy a small asset, your Province may not be very impressive).

  • The capital Asset has three basic stats: Piety, Trade, Court. The first three represent the influence of each faction (Church, Guilds and Nobles, in that order).

  • All Assets (including the Province's capital) also have Attack and Defence scores. These can be upgraded by buying add-ons to each asset - for example, a guard wall would provide a defence bonus to the Asset.

  • The Piety, Trade and Court stats represent each faction's influence in the area generally. They also have a direct value in that each has a special rule. For example, Trade generates additional income, while Piety can be used when losing battles to keep up morale and Court can provide law enforcement against illegal contracts signed in their area. (These special rules may change when I think of something better). Other characters can attack these stats, allowing them to move them up or down if they win.

  • The asset's controller is in charge for as long as they keep their faction's stat higher than the others; if the other faction stats are risen higher than the controller's stat, the other faction has more influence, they may barter it in game or simply attempt a coup.

  • Players can also use actions to attack others' non-capital Assets. If they win, they bring the Asset into their Province and gain its effects.

  • As well as buying troops, technology and structures to add to their Assets, there are a number of NPC Muster merc and unaligned pirate groups hanging round. Merc contracts are open for bidding every downtime, with the highest bidder gaining the mercs for that period (or one action, I haven't decided yet).
Next I need to look at crafting and trade, to fit them in.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Downtime Thoughts, Part 1

Downtime is a part of the game where players continue to act. It is the 'off screen' section of the game, something that happens but isn't shown. It is not used in all games, but is common in political games, most notably the Minds' Eye Theatre games Vampire: the Masquerade and Requiem, both of which have dedicated subsystems.

Passion Play also contains a brief downtime system, which runs as follows:
"Due to time constraints, players might not be able to finish everything within a game that they need to do. In that case, players can turn in a list of actions they would like their character to perform between game sessions."
To be honest, that's not as in depth or thought out as I'd have liked - hence this essay.

The first thing is to ask "what are downtimes supposed to do?"

Let's try a few answers:
  • Downtime provides interaction between players while the game is off. Given that LARPS tend to be monthly, this is important for maintaining interest.

  • Downtime allows for a type of gaming that doesn't fit the actual LARP session, namely empire-building.

  • Downtime also gives players something to aim for, by giving them the time to set up long-term plots. These plots can be set up out-of-game, with the coup de grace played out in-game, for dramatic effect.

  • Downtime should be simple. I'm a GM who believes that all system calculations should be simple enough for mental arithmetic and that the use of charts is ungesund
So, given all this, what do we do? Well, the first thing to do is see what systems are already out there and what elements are steal...uh...researchable.

The obvious place to look is Vampire: the Masquerade/Requiem (I haven't played Requiem, so my understanding of it is sketchy, but bear with me).

In this system, characters can buy the Influence Background in certain areas (government bureaucracy, crime, etc.) and then spend their influence for certain actions such as furthering their plans, attacking their enemies, or to grow their influence further. They can also use servants for various functions, such as espionage.

In the Requiem system I believe the number of actions available per downtime are rationed through use of the Humanity stat, with bonuses for various skills and vampiric powers.

Either way, this system does not really translate well into Passion Play - as nobles, priests and guilders tend to claim influence in a discrete unit (a fief, company or diocese), rather than the more amorphic 'fingers in pies' form of influence used there.

That said, the actions system makes sense, although obviously the limit would have to be linked to an appropriate stat/skill, which would be Bureaucracy, with a new Metier of something like Seneschal, or some other skill defining the ability to run a fief (technically that's what the Seneschal did, but work with me here). In addition the Assets benefice suits our purposes by defining the size of the character's land and with it, income.

There is also a fief management system in the Lords & Aliens sourcebook. While it is more aimed towards roleplaying and therefore too handwavey here, the basics push in the right direction so we'll ignore the mechanics but try fit in the idea.

OK, let's make a start.

  • Characters gain a number of downtime actions equal to their Bureaucracy skill plus the Marshal metier (it sounds better than Seneschal and means roughly the same thing).

  • An alternative to this system would be to base character's actions upon their rank, representing the ranking person's power. At this point Rank only really serves for contract mechanics, so it gives it something else to do and emphasises the power of the feudal system.

  • An action can be anything from interacting with a third party (no internet or mobile phones here, so it takes time) or recruiting mercenaries, to invading an opponent's fief, hosting balls and other large-scale events.

  • The resources with which a character has to play with comes either from their territory, contracts or other RP sources. Territorial funds come from the Asset Benefice, which determines the fief's income, defence and offensive ratings (Income will have to be tweaked here, to divide by 12 months instead of by 10, as per the rulebook).

  • This Benefice will also be expanded to suit the system - each fief gains a defensive and offensive rating based on the size, representing the forces available to defend it. Other elements will be introduced, such as the ability to bid for mercenary contracts, with Mercs having their own stats. Other Benefices will also be thought up, such as the ability to build defences and recruit other assets, such as spies and assassins (think of Shogun: Total War)

  • The Ally Benefice allows the player to gift one of their actions to their ally, allowing the player to use their ally's social rank for that action.

Anyhow, those are my initial thoughts. What do others think?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


First of all, I'm sorry for the disappearance, which was totally due to the end of year crunch to get projects in. Well, that and a bit of spazzing out over how to deal with being made editor (read: creator and maintainer) for a blog site for the journalism course.

No pressure.

Still that's all done now (except the website bit, but I have all summer for that) so onto the stuff.

Looking at the poll, props and mechanics are the big favorites, so I plan to put together two essays before Monday. One will be a walkthrough and cheatsheet of the basic system, while the other will try to address basic visual style and props.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

[Props] Gas Mask

Yesterday I went down to B&Q after finding some nice dust filters on their website.

Typically I couldn't find what I wanted so I went across the road to a plumbers' supply shop, where they had what I wanted - and cheaper, too.

There's something inherently amusing about a slightly camp, unshaven goth guy in a floor-length leather cassock-style coat reading a catalogue of mens' toys while surrounded by burly Eastern European construction workers.

But I have it. It cost £10.79 (inc. VAT), it's comfortable and has freakily large filters.

It also makes me look cross-eyed.

I am definitely going to paint this thing, although I'm not sure how yet. I may just go black for generic use with a little text on it, but I also like the idea of an Avestite mask carefully hand-painted with holy flame. Something like this, maybe.

Tomorrow I plan to get up early and go to Leisure Games, who seem to have a nice selection of branded paint lines, before going to uni.

Friday, 27 March 2009

[Props] I'm A Maverick!

I have a Maverick pistol!

It's bigger than I thought. It basically has the proportions of Hellboy's oversized pistol.

I like it. It has a nice heft to it, as well, in case I need to pistol whip somebody (I don't know why I'd need to pistolwhip anybody except when working on group projects at uni, but you never know).

Sites seem to suggest using proper plastic paints, but I want more attention to detail than that and think that I may try with typical acrylic miniature paints, as I know how to use them.

Time To Get Writing!

Well, my most recent deadlines have come and gone and I can now turn t0 the requests for essays at this point. So far the votes are for Game Theory, mechanics, prop/clothing advice and setting info.

While I obviously do have to go where inspiration takes me, I've already pondered a few options and have scribed them below. If any grab your attention, comment and I'll see what I can do to meet your requests.

Game Theory

  • Props - different methods and how they effect the game space.
  • How to get people to NPC/GM.
  • Explaining basic systems, one piece at a time (character generation, skill use, Wyrd, combat, social systems (20 questions and contracts) and other elements).
  • 'Peasants Revolt' - a system explained to me some time ago and designed to counter the super-powerful from making excessive contracts.
  • Alternative combat. I'm not too sure about this one (I feel ambivalent about trying to fit a boffer system for some reason), but it does have a certain synchronicity with John Wick's recent LJ vid about his Houses of the Blooded LARP combat system (it bears similarities and differences to Passion Play - I wonder how much he knows of it).
  • Downtime - statting up fiefs and assets and creating a mechanic where they can be used, conquered and lost in conflicts.
  • Making my Maverick - modding the nerf gun into something more FS.
  • Weapon props.
  • Basic clothing concepts, starting with Rampart's most influential factions.
  • Small props - minor props used to add flavour to the setting.
  • The Rampart Gazetteer (as sold by the local Charioteers Guild, only two talons guv'nor).
  • Introductory Catechism - explaining Church doctrine.
  • What To Do When Noble And In Town.
Does anyone have any preferences?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Poll Results

Well, the poll has ended. Out of the three who voted, all three prefer the new, Photoshopped banner and images.

And now for a new poll: what articles would you like to see more of?

EDIT: The poll has a deliberately long life to allow things to change as the project goes along, in case anyone wondered. It wasn't a slip of the mouse or anything.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Pimping My Game

With having a better idea of where things will be happening (UCL), I have been putting out some ads.

On Livejournal I've gone to: London Gamers and Larpers, as well as my own LJ (you never know).

Forum-wise, I've started a recruitment thread on and Shades Larp List as well as carrying details in my signatures.

Next I suppose is to hit up the local game shops.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Introductory Videos

Rather than trying to explain what LARP is, I'm going to turn it over to YouTube, which already has a number of videos on the subject. It would be nice to add to this with my own videos, but that's for the future, I think.

The first is a documentary trying to ask what is LARP?

But that's not quite the kind of LARP I will be running.

I found this link, which is for a trilogy of Vampire: The Masquerade games. The cool thing about it is that the GM is explaining things as they go along, so hopefully it should make more sense to non-gamers.

Here is a more interesting one, but sadly only if you can comprehend German.

And, lastly, here are two videos from Kettle of Fish Production's Fading Suns convention LARPs.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Prop Talk: Nerf Pistol

I've ordered a Nerf Maverick pistol after having it repeatedly crop up on steampunk sites as a favoured sidearm. More importantly, oversized weapons a la Chronicles of Riddick (get used to hearing about this film - you don't get many Byzantine-styled SF films) and Warhammer 40,000 are also an element of Fading Suns.

Here's what it looks like out of the box:

And here is an idea of what I might do with it: specifically I'm thinking of the rich colours and the worn look. An added bonus is that all I really need to do is give it a new paint job.

(Image from the very cool Terminally Incoherent blog).

Does anyone out there have personal experience of modding a Maverick and would like to share?

UPDATE: In a strange bit in internet synchronicity, I have just found links for a site about modding Nerf guns. Nice.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Prop Talk - Ammo Boxes

OK. I'm working on a props essay, but it's getting quite conceptual.

In the meantime, I wanted to show you something I picked up last weekend in town - one of two ammo boxes.

Here is a picture of the original, with the original text. Under that is a photoshop of what I want it to look like once I've figured out how to take off the original lettering.

(Click on the images to see a larger version.)

This is an example of what I call 'small proppage'. While big props (set dressing like statues, banners, etc.) help create a general feel, it's the small things that you can pick up and handle that add to the feeling of 'presence' - of being inside a setting. As well as littering a battle scene, a nice metal box like this could be used to pass on something very different inside, smuggled through the military bureaucracy.

Oh, and the bottom line of new text says 'use by non-Imperial forces is punishable by crucifixion'. It seemed like a nicely medieval touch and the fact that it will becovered in Imperial Phoenixes should be enough of a hint to keep the serfs away.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

See That Banner?

That wasn't my original choice - I wanted an animated banner.

Not knowing how to make animated .gifs and not having the time to learn, I made a slideshow of various backdrops to the text. Unfortunately, Blogger won't let me add a slideshow to the banner area.

As such, I never quite finished it beyond trying the slideshow out. But, if anyone's interested, the link is here. I know there's a problem with the text, but that comes from only having certain images on hand and, as I can't use it, there's not much point in my trying to fix it.

Making A Show Of It

This morning, in that wonderfully clear time between waking up and getting up, my mind turned to the honourable demo.

With UCL's sci-fi society suggestion that I should do a demo/howto for their fresher's week as a way of attracting folk (and getting them over their LARP-phobia) my mind threw up an alternative.

You see, Fading Suns has a very dense and well thought out setting, that can seem intimidating. After all, without understanding underpinning issues such as the sin of Technosophy(1) and the Doctrine of Martyrs(2) or even the names and virtues of the Prophet's (may He ever walk in light) seven followers.

You see, I don't think that a standard show (basically standing round in costume collecting interest, showing someone how to boffer fight and registering members) isn't going to work if people are already ucertain about LARP already.

I need to do something different. Fortunately, all I have to do is look at the setting.

You see, the Fading Suns setting is full of strange and interesting bits of colour. For example, the (mostly) illiterate Avestite sect distributes its doctrine not only through preaching but by the distribution of little comic books. The idea is based on the US's Chick tracts (I'm not going to link unless asked - they're disgustingly offensive little piles of dogma), although the Avestite ones are much less heinous in tone and mostly involve two boys. Basically, one is good and receives his rewards, while the other is bad and suffers appropriately for it. Very primary-school ethics.

This is their method of teaching basic dogma and morality, but it would be fun to invert that idea and make a small comic strip that shows the fun of LARPing. It takes the two boys from the dogma and has one LARPing with a lot of (morally OK) fun, while the other goes clubbing and gets the clap. OK, I'm being silly, but you get the idea. At the back is a page detailing how to get involved.

And I might have to distribute them as an Inquisitor, with flamer of holy purgation, gasmask, fireproof robes - the whole outfit.

Another idea is to actually give sermons illustrating certain points of the setting - the fading suns, the sin of technosophy, the life of the Prophet (may He ever walk in light) - little touches like that.

A third one would be to dress up as a member of the Town Crier's Guild and go round spreading the news of the LARP, interspersed with news items from the setting.

(1) Essentially the sin of 'Love of Technology'; relying too much on machines as opposed to the miracle of the human body/mind, use of cybernetics to enhance characteristics, etc.

(2) The doctrine that, as a certain level of technology must be mainted to keep insterstellar society, it is only right that the upper levels of society take on the sin of technosophy in order to prevent the masses sufering from sin. And they get to use the cool toys.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

What Happened And What's Next?

Where did it all go wrong?
  • Timeframe: While four weeks is possible (the last one started in a week, but already had players, location, etc), I hadn't counted on having to spend so much time looking for a place. London Metropolitan University doesn't have a sci-fi soc that I know of, which suggested that reaching out to Met students would be a timewaster. However, it was taking a full week to go from 'can I meet your group to talk about this?' to 'well, that's interesting, but we can't do much. Try these guys'. Once that repeated itself couple of times I ended up too short on time.

  • Bad risk assessment: I don't know London and its gamers as I haven't gotten out much (or at all) in term time. I thought that things would actually be easier to set up in as big a town as this (in fact, that was one of the few things I saw as good about moving to London. I was wrong in my unfamiliarity, basically, and lacking a basic network of people to help me get moving.
  • Ambition: I know this links to what I've said already, but I think that I was too ambitious in my plans. If I had run a World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu game, I think that I would have found it a lot easier to get players; after all, both games are well known and have strong followers. Fading Suns...does not. Its fans are serious, but the overall numbers are small.
As I've already said, on an objective scale I could have done more but, subjectively speaking, if I'd been able to all that, then I would have.

Still, that doesn't matter. The question is what do I have?

  • I stirred up interest: UCL want me to turn up at the new year and basically do a stall showing the game as part of their union events. And there's others - I got an email from someone after the event, who wants to know if I ever do it again (she heard of it from the Maelstrom mailing list. News must have travelled, because I didn't put it there.

  • My ideas: They haven't gone away - and focusing on them has only made them better.

  • Timing: Once this semester is over, I have summer holidays to work on things at my own pace. I think that achieving a critical mass in interest will take longer than I ever anticipated and certainly more time than I had. As UCL and Imperial were saying that nothing could be done at short notice (roughly a month ahead), I have the luxury of not trying to get everything done at short notice.

  • My props: I got a call yesterday afternoon saying that they were ready to be shipped. The universe does have a sense of humour. But I can still get hold of them and I still have ideas for stuff. For example, our housemate threw out some polystyrene pillars on which I am going to do a post, but basically I'm turning them into alien markers.
What do I do now?

Despite the frustrations and, ultimately, failure, I do still think that I have something. While it's not a full game, it would seem that such an aim was too high anyway. I've still stirred up interest and I have people who want so see me succeed.

As such, I have decided to keep the blog beyond the project deadline and work on it over the summer with the aim of making presentations and running a game in Year 2.

Keep watching this space, I guess...

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Today's game isn't going ahead.

Out of the 10+ pledges of interest, I got 2 confirmations, which is a massive failure rate. I expected to get about 6 people in the end, which itself was a massive failure rate of over 50%.

Could I have done more to promote it? I'm not sure. On an objective scale yes, I could have done much more; more leaflets, hooking up with more universities and generally more aggressiveness. On a subjective scale though, taking into account the long hours and looming deadlines of other projects, I would say that there's so much I can do and I knew that I might be pushing it to get something done in four weeks when I simply don't have enough of a local support network (i.e. I barely know anyone in this town).

I'm going to post later today on this, mostly because I want to dissect this failure in anticipation of avoiding it in the future.

Monday, 9 March 2009

(Important) Game Details

OK, so:

This game will run from 11am-3pm (so be there before 11) on Saturday, 14th March. It will be at the London Metropolitan University North Campus.

I'm in the process of sorting out security procedures for non-university people.

To get to the campus, you come out of the Holloway Road underground station and turn right. Go across the side-road (there's a TESCO just up that side-road if you need anything), keep going along until you come to a crossing that leads to the universities' large entrance with a ramp and hole in the wall next to it.

London Metropolitan University
London Metropolitan University, 277 Holloway Rd
London, N7 8HN, United Kingdom

Comment if you need any more details or email me for my number.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

15 Days Remaining

Yes, as you can see, I have added a deadline image to the page. Just to be clear, this is the amount of days until the entire project is over, not the amount of days until the game.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

(Possible) Good News Everybody!

I've been invited to the Imperial College gaming society meet tonight to discuss running my game there.

I'll post once I have more on the subject.

Monday, 2 March 2009

To All Potential Players

Can all those who have voiced an interest so far please email me, so we can set things up.

Bad News Everybody!

So I took a site walk at UCL on Friday, discussing my game plans with the Sci-Fi society people who took me around.

Unfortunately, it looks like Student Union rules will prevent me from being able to set anything up without massive bureaucratic work.

I am going to explore other areas, but it is a setback because UCL was a very attractive site due to the varied architecture and central location.

I still plan to run the game, but things are getting tight. It doesn't help that I've been looking for affordable travel to Carlisle and back, without any luck. I need to go there to pick up two boxes of props, prop making equipment and clothing, but the railway is extortionately expensive and the buses would eat up about ten -twelve hours just travelling one way!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Where We're Going

The big decision when deciding what game to run is to ask 'where (on which world in this case) will it be set?'

This is a huge decision affecting everything that comes after it - the big power plays and conflicts, the dominating cultural dynamic (in Fading Suns, noble Houses are also nations in the sense of having their own culture), the look, feel and even slang words.

In this case, I plumped for Rampart. Part of my reasoning is that I'm a mild asiaphile - I like games with an asian slant, such as the table-top RPGs Legend of the Five Rings and Qin: The Warring States, and think that an oriental mashup would make good scenery, as well as adding social controls thta help enhance the games' exoticism.

My other reasoning is that Rampart was once a Merchant League world that was taken by the Li-Halan during the Emperor Wars (at the bottom of the page). This instantly sets up a conflict that people can understand, that of the (broadly) freedom-loving Guildsmen who see themselves as oppressed by the Feudalist (and highly religious) Li-Halan nobles. This is a massive dynamic that a good storyteller can use, taking the imposition of Li-Halan values, the gradual move from democracy to religious feudalism and the demographic shift (with the Li-Halan bringing in serfs their own freemen to lend weight to their power) to create many dramatic conflicts.

There is also a mystery in the world's setting. Somehow the relatively low-tech noble fleet bypassed the Guild's deep space sensors and planetary defence grid, catching the technologically superior forces by surprise. There is a lot of space to put all kinds of speculation here, from demonic pacts (once the houses' speciality although it has since reformed) to traitors on Rampart.

And, of course, there is the question of the future. Will the house rein in the world's technophilia, or will they compromise themselves and use that technology to take more power for example? What will the Guilds themselves do about the occupation?

Here is more information on House Li-Halan

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Two Weeks Down

So, what have I done this week?

  • Decided on the basics of the game - where it would be set, major factions, etc.

  • Started thinking about what kinds of plot to use.

  • Looked at meta issues - a mechanical system to reflect political realities.
It's not much really - I've been a little more focused on uni stuff this week. On the upside I should be meeting with UCL sometime this week to sort out a location and woo potential players. Also, now my family are back from their holiday, I can try get them to send my props boxes to me, as train journeys are now prohibitively expensive.

Countdown Timer

So in the last lesson we had a criticism thing where it was suggested that I should put in a countdown timer.

So here is a draft of the image that I will using to keep track; the empty space will have the number of days remaining. (I didn't draw it, just colour it in).

Once I know what the deadline is (the stated one seems to disagree with the 'five weeks' deadline) I shall start using it.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Good News Everybody!

I've had an email back from UCL about using the place to run the game. They're very enthusiastic, barring the usual negotiation, to have the game there! They're also looking for a LARP anyway, so this could go well beyond this project into a serial..!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Scheming the Plotting

So now I've started thinking about plot.

In LARPs there are two basic forms of plot; the linear and the social. For the uninitatied, a linear LARP is where the plot moves in a linear fashion, like a TV show, often moving the players physically as well, setting up events along a pre-determined trek through woods, for example.

Social LARPs, on the other hand, are very diferent in that they are mostly static. Instead, the plot is created by players choosing what goals they wish to pursue and then interacting with others to achieve their goals.

I had wondered about finding some way of shaking things up though. Rather than just handing out goals it would be nice to find a way of randomising things without them becoming so random that they become silly.

One idea that I like is to provide major and minor goals and award Victory Points when these goals are met. The idea is essentially to create a dynamic political situation, whereby factions that excel will find themselves altering the balance of power. Obviously this will not really affect the first game beyond providing a 'winner', but if the game is to continue, it will need to have this mechanic built in from the start.

This is what I am thinking of:

The LARP rules cover for a system of contracts which allow parties to enter into binding agreements. These are described by levels, with the agreements becoming more epic with every level. I was thinking of simply stripping out the reciprocation and using the contract level as the goal's level - and value in VPs. I was also thinking of putting them into categories, so that some could be random, while others would be fixed. For example;:

Caste Goals: These are for the good of your caste (Nobles, Guildsmen, Priests) and involve playing the Great Game against the others in order to bring about your caste's vison of the galaxy (neo-Feudalism, Republic and Theocracy, in that order) These are high-level goals, like 'destroy the Prince's godless advisor's credibility so that the Prince will again listen to his Confessor', or 'stop the Church from clamping down on radio sales'.

Faction Goals: Unsurprisingly, these focus on your character's specific allegiance within their caste (Reeve instead of Guildsman, for example) and are more concerned with the day-to-day stuff. These might be a Battle Brother may seek to dissuade the Synod of the need for an Inquisitor to investigate his Chapel, or a Decados might be trying to find a Hawkwood's vice in order to gain control over her. These can be against any other faction they struggle for supremacy within their caste.

Personal Goals: These would be optional, randomly selected little goals concerned with the character's personal life - romance, marriage and other, little mysteries. Maybe a letter has been misdirected to you and talks of a conspiracy, or a friend wishes for you to approach a woman on their behalf, just to show that life isn't all plotting and scheming.

I shall have to think further...

Monday, 16 February 2009

One Week Down

And what do I have to show for it?

  • Advertised on a number of forums and found more to go to.

  • Contacted the UCL RPG group to see if I can use the uni grounds to run my game.

  • Contacted a local game shop, which offered to hand out my cards (see below). And, in an unusual twist, it turns out that the person I talked to knows the game's developers! What's more, they now live in London and he offered to send them my way!

  • Created a business card about the game. I know leaflets are traditional, but I study marketing and it would be lax of me to do something ordinary. Besides, leaflets tend to be easily forgotten, while business cards tend to stay in people's wallets. Although cards are small, with very limited space for text, mostly what it does is direct people here, to the crux of the project. Now I just need to get them out for people to find.

  • Started work on the story. So far I have a working title "Tears of the Martyr", which refers to a certain plant grown in Li-Halan space. The plant, grown on the Li-Halan homeworld is also poisonous, except to those of sufficiently luminous faith. It is rumoured to be used by the Hidden Martyrs, the House's own Inquisition, to end the lives of heretics.
I still don't have a solid number for players, but it is early days yet and recruitment is something that I expect to do right up to the game itself.

As such, I intend to spend this week focusing more on creating plot and looking at prop creation

Here's the business card:

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Empyrean Dreams

When you're talking about needing players and someone says 'I'll get my rolodex out' one starts to have a warm and fuzzy feeling about this project's success... :-)

Because I have to admit, this one is of a tall order. Create a LARP of a minority, and often forgotten game that needs better-than-average props and locations just to achieve the same level of immersion available to a modern LARP, with minimal resources and a really short time limit and on top of my other uni projects/reading? Not an easy task.

The worst I figured could happen is that I make a big noise, put my heart into it, set it up and then about three people and a one-legged dog turn up. Even then, I'd still have done my best at least, although I'd be pretty unhappy.

But I guess faith manages... (And no, there aren't any points for knowing the reference...)

What is LARPing?

Let's go back to the beginning: This site is about trying to set up a Live Action Roleplaying Game, or LARP, set in the Fading Suns universe.

And what is LARP? LARP is an extension of the RPG hobby, which is a pastime that's one-part narrative (you are there to tell/experience a story as though inside a TV show) and one-part game (you are there to achieve goals as if you were playing a computer or board game).

Wikipedia has a decent enough article on the hobby, but to be clear, RPGs are games where the player takes on the role of a character in a fictional setting. This setting can be anything from popular film or books (such as Star Wars, or Conan) or completely new (such as the sci-fi horror of CthulhuTech or high-fantasy samurai action of Legend of the Five Rings).

(A table-top game)
Players have a sheet describing their character in mechanistic terms (for example skills graded by a numerical value as they are in the UK educational system) defining their strengths and weaknesses. These interact with each other using dice as a random element to determine the success or failure of anything from computer research to action scenes. Players sit around a table and speak for their characters as though in a radio play, providing both dialogue and emotion.

LARP games carry many of the same elements, but ditch the dice mechanics and radio play element in favour of a full-on TV play. Players don't just voice their characters, they dress and emote in body language as their characters; they do not sit around a table, but rather move in one or more locations dressed in the same way as movie sets are dressed up, to create the environment. Instead of rolling dice or describing actions, they act them out; reading real books, crossing swords (or firing prop guns) and more.

Characters are described in simple terms so people don't keep having to pull out their sheets. Because LARP is about a physical setting it uses props and set dressing, rather than description, to create a sense of reality.
(A Fading Suns LARP)
There are two broad forms of LARP: boffer, where players have active adventures, even fighting using safe weapons. There are also social LARPs, where emphasis is instead placed upon social interaction - politicking and scheming, often within inside locations. There are other forms, but this is the broad split.

Fading Suns is a social game; the emphasis is upon playing the Great Game between the Noble Houses, Church and Guilds, with combat mostly being relegated to the social ritual of duelling.

A player creates a character, makes their outfit and appropriate equipment and then turns up. In the game they talk to other characters, looking to advance their own (and their faction's) goals, while also interacting with plot set up by the person running the game. Between games they direct their assets against competitors, looking to inprove their position and sabotage their enemies' goals.

And that, broadly speaking, is LARP. Feel free to ask questions.

Monday, 9 February 2009

The Why Of It All (Part 1)

So, for this post I want to explain why I picked Fading Suns to run. The next one will explain why I want to run FS as a LARP, as opposed to a tabletop game.

Why Fading Suns?

Fading Suns is a very old game (the first edition came out in the mid 1990s) and was 'dead' (i.e. not publishing) for some time before being picked up by Redbrick. All through this time the fanbase remained small but passionate, as can be seen from fan sites like this one. And when I say 'small', I mean tiny. Most of the gamers I know have barely heard of it and those under a certain age have definitely not heard of it.

So, why drag out a hoary old setting like this?

Well, because it is an incredibly powerful setting. For a start, although it uses some gothic/medieval elements, the main design choices draw from Byzantian, Arabesque, Asian and other non-western sources, which gives it a powerful and unusual look.

The second reason is because, despite the fantasy elements, it is classic science fiction, concerning itself with ideas about humanity and our world, as opposed to the flashy and insubstantial science fiction that tends to be popular. Of course, a cynic would suggest that the popular stuff (I'm thinking of Star Wars here) is popular precisely because it does not ask deep questions, but that's a different post altogether.

But Fading Suns does ask. It questions the use of technology and how it changes people, how it should be controlled given that technology is, after all, power. A gun extends a person's ability to kill, compared to an axe. A HUD allows from extended prescience beyond that of our natural senses, while a spacecraft allows us to move distances impossible through self-locomotion.

It asks about the nobility and the elite. In the setting, democracy is a heresy - the old idea that nobles rule in God's name has returned, establishing an elite who rule over ignorant and fearful masses. This setup questions the ideas of democracy and rule by elite by suggesting that the whiggish idea of inexorable progress really isn't that inexorable after all. That said, the setting also drops heavy hints that the current situation was engineered by the Noble Houses, suggesting that those with a will to dominate will do so, regardless of how it damages society as a whole. Regardless, it stands to question the efficiency and desirability of our social systems - and the question of whether true democracy is really achievable.

It also challenges faith and, even a hard-core atheist as myself cannot help but be impressed at the thought that has gone into creating a religion that, while almost totally fabricated has such a real texture and feel to it. The setting presents religion in all its flavours, from expressive to repressive, and gives real reason for thought about our connection to the world.

This second reason ties into a third one - that the setting doesn't draw pure black and white lines, but allows everything to exist in shades of gray. Each of the fifteen playable groups - five Noble Houses, five Guilds and five Church factions has both positive and negative characteristics and, more than that, a real sense of a philosophy underpinning their behaviours. This portrayal skillfully avoids stereotypes of true 'good' and 'evil', forcing a sense of depth and real challenge to their morals.

For example, the most overtly 'evil' group is House Decados, a Noble House riven with backstabbing and seemingly the spiritual successor to Dune's on House Harkonnen. However, this group's attitude is not radical, but simply based upon the principles of social darwinism, familiar to anyone who listens to the US Republican or Libertarian parties. Are they evil as well, given that one of the world's self-proclaimed moral leader's political factions espouses this view?

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Post the First - What's This All About?

So, welcome to the Iron Phoenix LARP Challenge blog.

The aim of this project is to document every step as I set up, run and critique a one-off Fading Suns LARP event by the 13th of March. That's just a month to build props, find players and a location, and run a game of significant length, before dissecting the event - not an easy proposition...

By 'every step', I mean describing and showing pictures of how I make props, discussing the art of crafting LARP stories and game theory as applied to this game (that's gaming theory and not Game Theory, which is totally different...), as well as other, related, subjects.

So, let's define some terms for those unfamiliar with what I'm on about.

Roleplaying is a hobby that started in the very late 70s and is quite unusual as hobbies go. However, in it's simplest terms, it combines basic storytelling as entertainment with a game element like the systems used in computer Roleplaying games underpinning the character's actions.

Live-Action Roleplaying is an offshoot where, instead of simply talking about characters or in their voices, players actually talk, dress up and act as their characters. It's a little like some form of semi-directed theatre where the goal is not to play to an audience, but to the other people involved.

Fading Suns is a specific game setting that describes a distant, byzantine,neo-feudal future in which the great Second Republic came and went leaving a new Dark Ages. I can't do the setting jsutice here, except to say that it is a deep and thoughtful setting that uses technology and supernatural elements to ask questions of the human condition (hence the invocation of the 'passion play' as a storytelling element). And to say that there is an introductory PDF file here.

And so it begins...