First Playtest Session.

The first play test session of Relational Character Creation is complete. It went well. Some unexpected things came up, and some interesting new sample houses were generated. Most of them are ones that I would enjoy playing. Additionally I learned some things about what to do and what not to do while play testing.


Here is an explanation of the rules, in google doc format. And the Categories and Elements in their own document. Pardon the shortened links, I want to keep track of how many people access the document. For those joining us late this idea started back in May, where we laid out some problems facing many combat larps. Character creation is often disjointed, and tends towards making everyone play antihero loners. Ugh. Also most character creation isn’t that fun.

Fiasco is a brilliant RPG that is being modding by GM’s for their own games. Jack Graham used something similar to create strong bonds between players in a Call of Cthulhu setting. That combination seems like a perfect match and his game went very well.  Rethinking larp character creation in terms of relationships instead of stats is a natural fit. Modding Fiasco for larp is a great little project.

Playtest 1: 5 players, 4d6, No Pooling.
Name: Summerbrook Company
A military unit with a mark of abatement for cowardice. The unit is comprised of a trained Armorer and two apprentice armorers as well as a quartermaster. Although formerly a military unit, they are now a group of merchants and traders, often on the wrong side of the law. Despite their shady legal status, they are tough in combat and work well together. The group desires to get even for being set up and to get away from the greenskins. Additionally they would like to get respect for their accomplishments… Perhaps earning their honor back in the process.

Playtest 2: 5 players, 4d6, No Pooling
Name: Byley Keep
A small Elemental Cult growing in a rural keep, attempts to recruit the local wizard. The wizard seems certain to join. This party consists of mostly magic and underworld connections making it a strange mix. While creating the house Downton Abbey kept popping into my head. In the way that the ‘Upstairs’ (the regular folk of the house), might not always be aware of what’s going on ‘Downstairs’. The group defined the Category “To get in…”, but then never assigned an Element to that category. Each player will need to define what that means to their persona during the course of play.

Playtest 3: No locations, 6 players, 4d6, no pooling.
Name: Aldlake
With 1 tribe, 1 underworld, 1 arcane, and 1 Trade and two Romance categories this group was a bit of hodge podge, and an interesting story was not immediately apparent. The need of “To Get in to the Good graces of your gods” informed the rest of the group and brought the cohesive story to the front. With reformed, or reforming rogues, Necromancers, Former Undead, a Spy and two forbidden romances there seemed to be sins to atone for boiling under the surface. This group is a monastic order and their story should be viewed through the lens of morality and guilt. They all seek redemption for deeds in the past, and deeds which have not yet happened. In my mind the specifics of the religion are less relevant. They could ‘discover’ that using improvisational techniques during play. Other players may want to be more detailed in their description of specifics of this religious order.

Playtest 4: No loactions, 5 Players, 4d6, pooled dice.
With the dice pooled, I feel like this play test did not merge together into a cohesive story. Perhaps it’s random chance. With mostly Arcane connections this seems to be some kind of College of Magic. Most of the house members are Apprentice’s of some kind, with one Master Mage who also happens to be on a local lords Council. There happens to be a secret romance between the lord and one of the Apprentices.

Some play testing Lessons:

1.) Don’t use your friends names when solo play testing. It effects the outcomes. Use some kind of generic names or RPG character names. Colors instead of peoples names seemed like a good idea, but with all the colors of heraldry… Turns out numbers just work better.

2.) Drop the locations table. It doesn’t really help all that much because of the nature of a larp. The players should have a general idea of where they come from, but knowing the exact buildings isn’t really helpful in developing the story of the group. Perhaps it would be better to ‘zoom out’ a bit. Change Locations from ‘scene specific’ like Fiasco, to more general like designing Game of Thrones houses. Terrain, wealth, style that sort of thing.

3.) The last group didn’t speak to me quite the same as the others. It may be worth testing pooled dice a few more times to find out if that is the reason, or if perhaps crafting fatigue has just set in. This may be a good set of tests to bring to a play test group. Generate a house with pooled dice, and then generate a house with dice not pooled, and compare.

With tons of great information collected, and some choices made, it’s time to rewrite the documents. Then we’ll be play testing with a group. Which should be fun. It’s time to start getting feedback from specific people, instead of just generally sharing it with you. What do you think so far?

You can share your thoughts on my Google+ account which makes a much better comment section than the open web. You can tweet me if you like the concept or have concerns. And finally you can find me on Ello.co/larp.

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Playtesting A Larp Fiasco

The next step to polishing Relational Character Design for Larp is some individual playtesting. This is somewhat analogous to paper prototyping for software game development. This system does not really need a wire frame, as there is no UI, so skip that step. The current rules can simply be printed out on paper and then roll some dice. Along with the rules you need the current versions of the Categories and Elements in Google Docs format. Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions on the documents.

The goal with this post is to better understand the process that players will need to go through in order to actually use the system effectively. Once that process is better understood it can be written more clearly, then polished. This will be a successful test if it can generate a multiple completely different NPC houses, which all tell interesting stories. Additionally the notes have indicated possible alternate rules and various numbers of dice to roll. This testing should help point to the ‘core’ method. Then rest can be provided as ‘optional rules’.

You too can look coherent like this Empire Larp UK group.

At some point the core system will be play tested with other people. A group of interested larpers will be gathered to sit down and create a house or two. It will be key at that point to give them the instructions in writing, and verbally explain as little as possible. This will help test the way the material is presented, and find out if any of the instructions are written poorly.

At some point this method should be given some kind of real name. While invoking the name Fiasco is getting some great interest from folks, it’s also not the most original name. The worst part of designing anything is giving it a name. Hopefully during play testing something will emerge that will help point to a descriptor.

Empire Larp UK, via Jack of All Interests

In my minds eye I see friends sitting around a table rolling up a new house. They sit together and craft some garb. While spending some quality DIY time together, they make a banner, and a tabard or two. Together they take the field wearing gear they made themselves, carrying a banner that really means something to them, fighting against other groups of friends who have done the same. This larp is not made of up of lone wolves running around being angsty and anti hero at each other.

How to set up a larp fiasco.

Today we’re going to get into the intent and the direction behind Relational Character Design. Then start laying out the ‘rules’ of how the concept works. At some point there needs to be some play testing, probably a dry run to find any obvious dilemmas. Then a run through with a group to see how it plays with other people and their notions of what a larp should be.


The intent was to use the concepts of the table top RPG Fiasco to create a set of tools that larpers can use to start fleshing out the details of a group of characters. The goal is to add details, not just the characters themselves, but also the ‘House’ they inhabit by loosely defining the connections between the characters. For our purposes a ‘House’ is any subgroup within a larp. It could be a group representing literally a single household. Additionally it could a Riding, Fiefdom, Canton, Barony, Duchy (although there may be too many people in a Duchy to really get around the table). This tool could be used to generate the relationships among a tabletop adventuring party.

“A permanent house in the larp village of Berghem, in the southern part of Sweden”

This method borrows the setup phase from Fiasco to create relationships which are otherwise lacking in most larps. Traditionally in combat larp characters are not built ahead of time (this doesn’t really apply to Theater, Nordic, and Freeform which were written by an individual or small group). There is, however, no ‘game play’ associated with this concept. Rather this stops after the connections are created and the ‘game play’ happens during a larp event based on the larps existing rule set.

To that end this is made to be ‘dropped in’ to whatever game you want to play. In fact, no one outside your group even needs to know you are using these guidelines. I doubt anyone will complain if your particular group has a bit more to role play than others. Nor would any larp necessarily notice its use or lack of use.

The basics work the same as Fiasco. Get a group of players together who are going to form one cohesive story entity. They should come to the table with the idea that they are going to tell a story together, but no preconceived idea of what the house is going to be like. Assign a number of dice to each player to roll. Everyone rolls their dice, and puts them into their pool. In turn each player then draws dice from that pool to begin defining the Categories and Elements that connect them as a group.

Picking someone to go first should be easy as you have a table full of random number generators. Depending on the type of house you want to build, fighting for it could work. Although that may bias the process towards combat strength. Prior to play testing it seems like 4d6 per player is a reasonable number. That will define two relationships between players. Or it will define a relationship with one player, and some aspect of the group itself.

Click the link to read an interesting article on symbols.

Some people might feel that trading off between two connections or some aspect of the group and one connection is a bit limiting. If that’s the case, feel free to add more dice. 2d6 per player to form at least one connection (both Category and Element), another 2d6 per player for another connection, add 1d6 so that each player can help define the location, and 1d6 for heraldry. Remember though, everyone at the table is rolling a lot of dice.

As the connections form, and the story grows, the players should make an effort to create a cohesive story together. Additionally seek opportunities for role playing. Setting up ‘loose ends’, or only half defining certain connections could leave room to tell the story away from the table. Remember good improvisational skills. This exercise is about saying “yes… and”. This is not about saying ‘No!’ This method should dovetail nicely with Improvisation Combat Larp.

The next step from here is to take a solo shot at play testing. This will help find any rough areas, possibly identify some things to remove, and maybe find some things to add. There are going to be changes to what has been set up here. So check those out in the next section Playtesting a Larp Fiasco. Or is that Playtesting: A Larp fiasco? Hmm.

Categories and Elements For Relational Character Design



Fiasco is an amazing indie table top RPG by Bully Pulpit Games. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend doing so. Put it on the list of ‘must plays’ for your next Con. The game inspired me to use the same concept a character creation system that attempts to address some issues with larp. Relational Character Design for Larp discusses the general outline of the idea. Below the cut we have the Categories and Elements as they could be used for a larp.


By the way on Fiascomobile.ogreteeth.com you can purchase access to all kinds of additional themed Category and Element pairings. That is also where the above image comes from. Also take a look at the next step, How to Set up a Larp Fiasco. And finally, the formatting is pretty bad here, you can find a prettier version of this by following this link.

Relationships

1.) Tribe

  • Color and House Leader
  • Peers or siblings
  • Jailer, Parolee
  • Child, Parent
  • Tutor, trainee
  • Raider

2.) Trade

  • Tax Collector, Merchant
  • Farmer, Town Guard
  • Apprentice, Master
  • Buyer, Seller
  • Guard, Captain
  • Merchant, Guard

3.) Friendship
  • Lord, Council
  • Guard, Lord
  • Master of Arms, Blacksmith
  • Armor Smith, Guard
  • Herbalist, Hedge Witch
4.) Romance
  1. Married
  2. Engaged
  3. Courting
  4. Secret Romance
  5. Forbidden Romance
  6. Everyone knows, except you.
5.) Underworld
  1. Thug
  2. Cultist
  3. Spy
  4. Ranger/Loner
  5. Turn coat
  6. Greenskin
6.) Arcane World
  1. Apprentice, Master
  2. Farmer, Hedge Witch
  3. Recovering Zombie, necromancer
  4. Elemental, apprentice
  5. Victim, perpetrator
  6. Connected souls

Needs

1.) To get safe…
  1. And raise a family
  2. From the greenskins
  3. From justice
  4. From your old life
  5. From your family
  6. From magic
2.) To get even…
  1. With your former teacher
  2. With them all
  3. For their torment
  4. To prove your valor
  5. From being swindled
  6. For being set up
3.) To get away…
  1. With murder
  2. From the hangman
  3. With the treasure
  4. From that horrible place
  5. From your destiny
  6. From the curse
4.) To get respect…
  1. From your master
  2. From the common folk
  3. For you accomplishment
  4. For your restraint
  5. From gaining power
  6. From your family
5.) To get in…
  1. To the good graces of your gods
  2. To the cult
  3. Power
  4. To the throne room
  5. To the lists
  6. With the scoundrels
6.) To get out…
  1. Of debt
  2. Of this house
  3. Of trouble
  4. Of the contract
  5. Of the way
  6. On the battlefield

Locations

1.) Town square
  1. Blacksmiths Shop
  2. Market Street
  3. Armorer’s Shop
  4. Town Center
  5. Cottages
  6. Herbalist shop
2.) The ruins
  1. Stone fields
  2. Swamp
  3. Abandoned docks
  4. Cursed forest
  5. Ruined tower
  6. Henge
3.) Fortifications
  1. Gate house
  2. Stone palisade
  3. Wooden palisade
  4. Moat
  5. Keep entry
  6. Stables
4.) The keep
  1. Great hall
  2. Entry
  3. Sitting room
  4. Kitchen
  5. Bed chambers
  6. Treasury
5.) Surrounding lands
  1. Pastures
  2. Crop fields
  3. Orchard
  4. Mountains
  5. Forest
  6. River
6.) Tower
  1. Library
  2. Cell
  3. Dungeon
  4. Cellar
  5. Battlements
  6. Stairs

Heraldry

1.) Line of Partition
  1. Embattled/Crenelly
  2. Engrailed
  3. Urdy
  4. Dancetly
  5. Invicted
  6. Wavy
2.) Blazonry
  1. Inanimate Charges
  2. Fowl, Fish, Plants
  3. Heraldic Beasts
  4. Human Figures
  5. Puns/Literalisms
  6. Monsters, Fantastic Creatures
3.) Colors
  1. Argent (silver)
  2. Or (gold)
  3. Gules (red)
  4. Azure (blue)
  5. Vert (green)
  6. Purpure (purple)
4.) Division of the Field
  1. Party (pale, fess, bend, bend sinister, chevron, saltire)
  2. Chequy, lozengy
  3. Quarterly/Gyronny
  4. Barry, Bendy, Bendy Sinister
  5. Pily, Pily Bendy, Pily Bendy Sinister
  6. Chevronny
5.) Honorably Ordinaries
  1. Chief
  2. Saltire, Fillet Saltire
  3. Bend, Bendlets, Riband
  4. Fess, bars, barrulet
  5. Chevron, Chevronnets
  6. Pile, Piles in Point
6.) Marks of Abatement
  1. A delf tenny
  2. Tenny Point Dexter
  3. Sable Point in Point
  4. Brown a gore Sinister
  5. Brown a gusset sinister/dexter (or both)
  6. Sable shield reversed

Relational Character Design in Larp

Ever tried to sit down with a group of your fellow combat larpers and create a group with a cohesive story? Everyone has their own ideas, and they are often at odds. One player wants to be a pirate, one a Stark clone, and of course there is the steam punk. Somewhere along the line you pick up ‘Dark Elf Loner’ #362 How do you get everyone to agree on one theme which coherently tells a story? I’ve enforced it top down before, but that rubs some players the wrong way.


Most larps have some kind of character creation process which generates stats and skills for one individual. They dictate what powers and abilities a player starts with and that’s a fine place to start. But what relationships do they start with? People do not spring into existence without knowing other people. Most character histories in larp are fairly devoid of actual relationships. When playing a combat larp the event holders are not going to have the time or inclination to create back-stories that include interesting relationships. It’s generally left in the hands of the players, and usually not done. Any given player may only know one or two other players in the larp. Which artificially limits the relationships the character starts with.

Don’t be this guy. It won’t work.

The lack of starting relationships in combat larps is one contributing factor to many people generating a lone wolf character. If you don’t know other players characters until you show up, you start the game with what you have. Just you. Many players attempt to make up relationships on the spot when a new player shows up. That usually comes off fairly terribly, and feels like retconing a new character into an existing world.

Let’s explore a way to generate something from scratch, which will interest everyone in the group, because everyone builds it together. Have you played Fiasco? I haven’t… Yet. But it looks like a great tabletop RPG. It’s a storytelling, relationship based game system. It strikes me that the setup would make great larp ‘character creation’ for a group. In fact this is the default character creation method in my 4x larp. What should character design based on relationships be like?

This concept isn’t useful to all players in all larps. Some larps, of a more theatrical nature, probably won’t gain anything using this method. The storytellers probably already have some connections in mind in the backgrounds of the characters. The method presented isn’t necessarily a ‘better’ way to do it, just an interesting one that has potential to be fun.

Watch the TableTop Fiasco Set-up, and you’ll get the general idea. There are two other videos, well worth watching, about the actual playing of Fiasco. But since we’re using this for larp the playing will take place in game. It might be a bit odd to kick off a larp by sitting at a table to roll up characters. Maybe it’s the norm for some complicated systems.

Each player gets to define 4 of the relationships within the group. Everyone gets input. Players may bring some preconceived ideas with them to the table, but a role of the dice may mean those ideas get used in ways they never expected. Some players may balk at ‘restrictions’, but they should quickly see the power of improv in character generation. And after wrapping this method up don’t forget to add those 5 things persona need to really flesh your character.

There are some bugs to work out. Like Garb. If you’ve got tons of it, no worries. Go wild. But what if you don’t have garb to support things the dice roll up? Experienced larp crafters it simply means holding a crafting night or two. For a group just starting out getting the basics together is hard enough. Enforcing some kind of visual theme among a group of players is tough and takes effort.

There is some potential interesting Player – Event holder interaction as well. Generating a group of relationships should also generate a ton of event hooks. And it might be beneficial to specifically build in some ‘lose ends’, not only to help the EH, but also to grow the house over time. One issue becomes how the event holder get access to this information. Is it done formally or informally?

The biggest hurdle is the number of players. This seems like it will work best for 4-6 players. But what if you larp with 15? 30? 100? 100 players is 400d6. It would take a very long time to get 100 players setting up connections to each other. Before play testing the logical answer is to break them down into smaller groups. But if there are 4 persona being defined what about the fifth character at the table? What is the 5th character? The game world place they come from! Maybe 5d6 per player is better. Perhaps the limitations of the number of players you can gather together for your larp, may make this a mute point.

Anyway there are plenty of things to work on, plenty of ideas to try. It would be fun to flesh out the idea and play test it a couple times. Maybe write a mod for Fiasco Mobile.  Have you seen anyone else use a similar concept? It would be great to hear about how their experience went. This could be adapted for con larps, theatrical larps, used unofficially by the players or officially implemented by the event holders. What do you think?

What is a Fiasco inspired system without Categories and Elements. At the moment the prototype categories and elements are being created. Check out how the first play test session went. There is polish that needs to be done, but that’s a matter for another post.

If you want to add to this idea comment on my Google Plus feed. If you want to you can tweet me. And I run a small boffer combat group in Massachusetts if you want to learn in person.