Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fighting Item Inflation

One of the most difficult challenges in a LARP game is dealing with Item durations. If you don't control this well, you may end up having a problem with item inflation. Too strict or stingy with items might turn players off as it's one less avenue of advancement. So what's the best way to do it?

Most games use a system based on time for item expiration. The problem with this is that it favors players that come to every game, rather than players who might only make it out once or twice a year. It also makes it more likely that items will be hoarded by a team or withheld from more casual players.

Some systems have no real expiration on their items. In the worst case, this leads to serious item inflation. Best case, the game staff has to actively go out of their way to try and remove powerful items and money from game, which is tightrope walk between curbing item inflation and griefing their own players.

I really feel the best way to do it is to have items expire based on "use." Wastelands uses a system like this, where most items have a 4 game duration, and the tags are marked after each event. This way, players who are more casual don't have to check and find out if their gun expired between events, as you know at the event if your weapon is going to expire or not.

The obvious issue with this system is that without additional controls, merchants who specialize in selling consumable items are hurt the most. If your character is looking to sell a potion and can't find a buyer before it expires, you lose your investment. For that reason, I would institute a minor activation rule on any item.

Essentially, once a player activates an item for use, it now counts as being used at this event and loses a game day. However, if it remains safe in the merchant's box unpurchased, it would not lose a game day. But if a player took a potion into battle and just happened to not need it, a game day is still consumed. Now, the reason you wouldn't be able to use this on "magic" weapons or armor is that allowing those items to be stored would once again lead to item hoarding.

It's still a work in process, but let us know what you think in the comments!


  1. Mark Henry ~MariusMarch 24, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    The items expiring on use is a cool idea that I like.

    Only potential problem I can see is a slowdown in logistics to make sure ppl got their items marked. Honor system is great but ppl forget or could potentially game the system. Expiration dates are quick to check.

  2. WAR has considered this approach for years. We have agonized over it, because we feel as Bill said that it is the "best way." The idea of giving each item an expiration based on a number of Events or Game Days and declaring all active items at check-in of the event is the solution we have considered using several times in the past.

    The overwhelming problem that we face is the logistics of it as Mark alluded to. Even for games in which tag creation is set to a minimum, the logistics could become significant, especially at larger events with several returning players.

    The other issue to consider is the purpose to which NERO originally instituted the concept of item expiration - the unchecked build-up of resources for use in PvP. Apparently several years ago a group of characters created a bunch of Dodge items over the course of years and walked into town virtually invincible rolling PCs the whole way. I think this single incident both pushed us to expiration as well as careful monitoring of skill storing items. The point here is that, with Event expiration (especially based on the ideal of "active" items), a character could conceivably build massive amounts of resources over time in a similar way.

    I love the concept, but not necessarily the practice...

  3. The item cap pretty much fixes that. In the current game you could have 25 cloaks or banes, awesome but not necessarily impenetrable. In a system such as Bill describes, maintaining the item cap, you could still only have 25 cloaks or banes.

  4. As the originator of the Wastelands system, I can talk about the tag issue a bit.

    Won't lie. It's a lot of work... Right now, we're keeping all tags from PC's, and marking them up after the event. It adds time to processing character sheets, and makes it so that PC's don't know what resources they have on hand between games. (Unless they write down their tags before checking out. For some reason not too many people do this.)

    This is gonna change in the near future, probably next year. We won't be holding any tags for PC's, only things like coins. Folks will get to take their stuff home, and choose what to bring into game. We'll switch to marking off game uses at the beginning of a game, rather than afterwards. The theory is that this will stagger expiration rates, and cut down on the amount of items we have to mark. (People will leave what they don't need at home.)

    There are a number of reasons that we're doing this. And frankly, we can only get away with the current setup because we're a small game. But at the end of the day, we are trying to market to the casual crowd as well as the hardcore LARPers, and attendance-based expiration seems to be easier on the PC's, and quite popular all around. For us, it's worth the extra work.

  5. I think it's important to note that the logistics issue is a big problem, as is a game that is run as a franchise with interchangeability.

    As Andy said, it really only works for small games. We try not to focus on NERO specifically in this blog, which can be difficult at times since most of our readers are NERO players and most of our experience is in the NERO system.

    That being said, I think you could approach this issue on a larger game by simply removing tags for many "mundane" items. I will take Mirror Mirror as an example.

    In that game, mundane items generally only last until the end of the game (for the most part). You can get a skill that let's you extend the duration of alchemy and scrolls, but it's not really necessary. There is no need for a ton of mundane weapons/armor, since those are not ever really destroyed, just in need of repair. Therefore the only tagged items of consequence are magic items, making any kind of logistical tag work less of a problem.