Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Creating a freeform economy

A good freeform economy will create tension and conflict amongst the players. A careful balance of demand and supply should ensure that there isn’t quite enough money to go around – and that in itself can drive characters and plot through a game. However, creating a good game economy is not as simple as just adding money...

There is no need to include money in a game if nobody has anything to spend it on. Just collecting money for money’s sake isn't a particularly worthwhile goal for anyone – even in the real world people accumulate money because they want to buy things. So if your game doesn’t need money, don’t include it.

If you’re not sure whether your game needs money, here’s a few that do and don’t:
  • Hollywood Lies – money is needed to pay off blackmailers, finance movies, pay for scripts, etc.
  • Death on the Gambia – money is needed for airline tickets out of Gambia, pay off debts, bribe policemen, etc.
  • Death in the Fast Lane – money isn't needed in Death in the Fast Lane as contracts are more important (in the game at least) than the actual exchange of money. So Death in the Fast Lane doesn’t include money. (Note Death in the Fast Lane is no longer published by Freeform Games.)
So assuming that a game has a need for money, here’s a simple way of working out how much you need.

In a spreadsheet create a table with three columns. In the first column enter the name of someone who needs money, in the second enter the details of why they want it, and in the third enter the amount they want. So it might look a bit like this.

Bob Pay off gambling debts£5,000
Sheila Get a ticket out of here £1,000
Tina Raise money to invest in business £3,000

(In general it’s important that the figures are in the same ballpark so that everyone can trade equally with one another. If someone is much richer than other characters, it can cause problems with the game balance.)

Then you need to create a table for the supply. This time you are including all the money that the characters are starting with – along with any other sources of income.

(Other sources of income might be, for example, prize money in a competition or buried treasure.)

Marge £1,000
1st Prize Snail Race £3,000
2nd Prize Snail Race £1,000

The important issue is to ensure that the demand is less than the supply. That means that although in theory everyone could end up with the money they need, it’s more likely that there will be winners and losers at the end of the game. That means that the players will be negotiating and bargaining with each other to try and achieve their goals, which is what I’m looking for.

In general, I try to aim to have a demand that is about 20%-50% higher than the supply – although there’s inevitably some judgement involved in that figure. Ultimately, the only way to find out if you’ve got the demand/supply ratio correct is to test the game.

Other things to watch:

  • Rich characters should generally be looking to spend their money, and poor characters should generally have things (items, information or skills) that other people want.
  • Don’t create a character who is so rich that they can solve all of their problems by paying for them.
  • In historical games, you may need to explain some typical prices so that everyone knows what money is worth.
  • Be wary of having things that are so expensive that they unbalance the game. There’s nothing wrong with having them, just be careful of the effect they can have on a game economy.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

All-purpose romance rules for freeform larps

I've been thinking about freeform (larp) romance rules recently. Part of that has involved what has worked for me and what hasn't - and without going into that detail, I've written what I think are my ideal rules for romance.

I've written these as if they were part of a character envelope, although I have yet to lay it out properly (The link below goes to a somewhat utilitarian grid). The numbers would all need testing - I've assumed that this would work for a four hour game rather than a weekend game (which would have a much higher target number).

Romance Rules

These are the optional romance rules.


First, decide whether you want to be involved in romance, and how flexible you want to be in your romances. Get a pen/sticker from the GM desk and mark your name badge as follows:

  • No heart: I'm not participating in romance.
  • Black heart: I'm being romantic, but only with someone from the opposite sex.
  • Pink heart: I'm being romantic, but only with someone from the same sex.
  • Gold heart: I'm being romantic and I don't mind which sex you are.

(If you're not involved in romance, you need read no further.)

Second, your envelope contains a romance card that contains a number of behaviours that you would like to see in a romantic partner. Choose the six that you like the look of and delete (cross out) the rest.

The romance card also contains a number of behaviours that are unromantic - behaviours that you don't want to see in a romantic partner. Choose four of those, and delete the others.

(It's probably best if you choose these once you have read your character, so that you choose behaviours that suit how you want to play your character.)

Third, decide how easily you want your character to fall in love (your "Romance Target"). We recommend starting with a Romance Target of three, but if you want to make things easier or harder, that's great too.

That's it for setup.

During play

During play, as people play the game they will (deliberately or accidentally) behave in a way that makes your character feel more attracted to them (the romantic behaviours), or do things that put you off them (unromantic behaviours). To help you keep track we've put the tasks in as a grid so that you can check them off. (Example here.)

(We are expecting that you will only have half a dozen or so people that will be tracking. If you want to track more, you’ll need a separate sheet of paper.)

You will have a romance score for another character which is calculated by subtracting the number of unromantic behaviours from the romantic behaviours. If your romance score equals (or beats) your Romance Target, congratulations, you have just fallen in love with that person.

Falling in love

Once you have fallen in love with them. Here's what you do:

First, tell someone. That may or may not be the person that you have fallen for, but it will be more fun for everyone if you tell someone.

Second, you have a new goal.

Help the love of your life succeed: You have a new love in your life, and you want them to succeed. Depending on how hard you have fallen, this may involve putting their goals ahead of yours. (You decide - we suggest using your romance score as a guide.)

Falling in love together

If the person you have fallen for also falls for you, that's fantastic. We look forward to hearing all about it.

Unrequited love

If you've fallen in love with someone but they haven't fallen for you, well, that's just how life works sometimes. Deal with it (through roleplaying).

Falling out of love

Just because you've fallen in love, please don't stop tracking behaviours. If the love of your life behaves even more romantically, then you are even more in love with them. However, if they also start to behave unromantically, then you may fall out of love.

If that happens, roleplay it. (And again, tell someone.)

Falling in love with someone else

Keep tracking your scores. If another person ends up with a higher score than the person you’re currently in love with, then you have changed your heart. Tell people! Roleplay it!

A few useful guidelines

Respect other people's boundaries: If a player doesn't have a heart on their badge, please don't track their romantic behaviours.

Don't talk about the romance mechanics: We're prefer it if you didn't talk about the specific dos and don'ts needed to win your heart. It's fine to talk about them generally, but not to be too specific. Try to keep the conversation natural.

"What does a guy need to do you get you to fall for him?"

"A sense of humour is a good start."

Ignore all these rules if you want: If these rules aren't giving you the results you want, please feel free to go ahead and ignore them completely, particularly if it's more dramatically appropriate.

Example romantic behaviours

  • Spend time with me
  • Make me feel special
  • Make me laugh
  • Laugh at my jokes
  • Stand up for me
  • Smile at me
  • Make me feel good
  • Give me gifts
  • Help me achieve a goal
  • Take charge
  • Be an underdog
  • Fall in love with me
  • Be my type
  • Take care of me

Example unromantic behaviours:

  • Make me cry
  • Not my type
  • Laugh at me
  • Too clingy
  • Wishy washy
  • Needy
  • Domineering
  • A loser
  • Smarmy
  • Abandon me
  • Played an ability on me that I object to
  • Thwarted me in one of my goals

Behaviours could be tailored to the specific freeform - accompany me to the county fair, dance with me at the ball, and so on.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Dungeon World at GoPlayLeeds

On Sunday I played Dungeon World at GoPlayLeeds. This was my first experience of Dungeon World, and these are some reflections of both that session and of DW itself.

The session was hugely enjoyable, and I'm really enjoying GoPlayLeeds. The venue is nicely eccentric (BrewDog in the centre of Leeds, with lots of craft beers to try) and the staff are friendly. This was the third event, and I've yet to have a bad game there.

Guy, one of GoPlayLeeds' founders, ran The Indigo Galleon, a short scenario involving a wrecked warship, dastardly Imperials, and sinister octopus folk.

Our adventuring party consisted of myself (a salamander immolator) and two elves (a ranger and a druid).

We had a blast. I burnt lots of things, we fought monsters, rescued nefarious pirates and rescued the helpless villagers.
Getting ready to play

As for Dungeon World itself, I'd heard good things about it and when it turned up in the Bundle of Holding earlier this year I bought it (along with masses of other goodies, much of it impenetrable).

Here's what I like about Dungeon World:

Brilliantly designed character playbooks: I've seen character templates before, but for me the DW playbooks hit the spot exactly. Guy had laminated the playbooks, and it took us just a few minutes to complete them. I liked the little things that made it easy for me as a player, such as providing a list of sample names to choose from.

Proper dice: DW uses 2D6 for most rolls (damage being an exception). 2D6 are "proper" dice - the dice of Backgammon, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Traveller and my memories of early statistics lessons. (It does use some other dice for damage, but the core mechanic is 2D6.)

Graduated success rolls: There’s complete success, complete failure, and (the most common result) a “failure with complications” result - with lots of examples of how to do that. And that's all you need - and it worked well.

Explicit game values: DW wears its heart on its sleeve, and clearly sets out the GM’s agenda. I like that. The GM’s agenda is portray a fantastic world, fill the character’s lives with adventure, and (my favourite) play to find out what happens. This agenda is followed up with a series of principles. Some of my favourite principles: draw maps, leave blanks; address the characters, not the players; never speak the name of your move; give every monster life; ask questions and use the answers.

Fronts: Fronts are themed collections of threats and dangers. They include an impending doom (or what happens if the front isn't thwarted), and neatly summarise how the screws are tightened over the course of an adventure or campaign.

I don't know if this is deliberate, but quite a bit of DW resembles good business management thinking. Having a vision and principles is straight out of the business playbook (although in my experience few businesses pay anything other than lip service to them). And the fronts and character playbooks could have come from a lean improvement project.

And in case you're wondering, I think this is a good thing. There's a lot I like about current business thinking - I just wish implementation was better.

So there's a lot I like about Dungeon World. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy roleplaying - I'd rather investigate unknown horrors, become embroiled in modern-day conspiracies or adventure in the far future. But if I were to do more fantasy roleplaying, I'd rather do it with DW than D&D. (And I should say I've not played either much.)
My character playbook

If there is one thing I had to pick fault with, it's that we as a band of adventurers weren't very cohesive - although that might have been my fault for being the only salamander in a party of elves.

That's always tricky to get right at a convention game. But having said that, I'd argue that it's the most important thing to get right. I've noticed that the best con games are where the characters have worked well together as a team, and there are things we can do to facilitate that.

I spoke to Guy afterwards about this, and he wondered if some of the lack of cohesiveness was perhaps us assembling a group at late notice (we only decided to play Dungeon World when we realised we had more players than expected on Sunday). Also he thinks he could have pushed some inter-party interaction first.

Which has made me think - why is that his job? Any of us could have decided to create a bit of backstory. Perhaps that's a player principle that needs developing.