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...