Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Making People Mingle: Part 1

I've talked before about the legendary Zero NPC Moment, and how you as plot can get there. But now I want to take a step back and talk about how game designers can make that step.

I recently heard a story from Dan Comstock about a game (Final Haven) whose entire political and macro-economic system was organically created by the players based off a very simple principle - Influence.

Dan, forgive me if I get details wrong. Feel free to elaborate in the comments!

You see, in order to buy new skills in this game, you need experience and you need a consumable item that matches the type of skill. So mages would need scrolls, psionic skills would require crystals, and so on.

Back to influence! Each player had a certain amount of influence based on their level and race. The sole purpose of this influence was to throw it behind someone in hopes of creating a guild. Guilds were the primary means of making the items used for purchasing new skills. But each guild can only produce one type of item.

Shortly after the game started, they formed the first guild. Inevitably, some of the people in that guild were disappointed, as they didn't choose the items they wanted. At some point, a large portion of the first guild broke off to form a second one.

4 years later, those two guilds represent two warring kingdoms...

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how you can try and get these moments in your game.


  1. Mark Henry ~MariusMarch 6, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    When I first started Nero, to learn a new skill you needed trained buy someone with that skill and a C.O trainer skill.

    This encouraged me to talk to new people (PCs) to find someone who could teach me. Those with the skills instantly gained more respect/admiration. Also, by doing this I was learning more about my skill (alchemy in this case) in game and out of game by an expert.

    The only downside to the system was if you could not find a teacher, but plot was usually good about providing a teacher especially if you were teaching others.

    This is one system I miss, that I feel encourages interaction.

  2. This sounds like a neat game. Link?

  3. I believe it's Final Haven. Link is above.

  4. Noah and I talked to the owners at great length back when we were planning an ill-fated LARP project I won't get into.

    I was in awe of how much emergent content their economic system creates. Even if you don't get involved in any plot, you start off each weekend with a goal to find certain items, and that involves interacting with other players.

    The kernel idea is pretty elegant: you have goals, there are people who can help you achieve those goals if you lend them your support, and achieving YOUR goals may result in another player NOT being able to achieve his. This creates a constant interplayer tension that creates groups, politics, and drama.

    This is where a lot of unscripted plot emerges from: you give players a variety of possible goals, and allow them to pursue those goals in creative ways. This gives them an opportunity to show off their character concept, and makes interplayer relationships extremely relevant.

    1. Some more info about Final Haven (and I apologize to Final Haven for the details I'm about to get wrong, it was a long time ago when I talked to you cats!) ---

      Everybody has a certain amount of influence, based on your race/level. (That's the human racial advantage - more political influence) All you can do with influence is give it to a player.

      When a player has accumulated a certain amount of influence, he can form a guild. The function of a guild is to turn a raw resource into a usable commodity.

      When a Guild has become a certain size, it becomes a House. This gives it additional things it can do. Each house has one or more trade lines. Each trade line produces a finite amount of raw resource each month.

      When a House becomes a certain size, it can become a Kingdom. Each Kingdom can have a limited number of "Royals". Royal players have additional types of influence - they can levy armies, declare war, and seize each other's trade lines (in a few different ways).

      So the in-game guilds, houses, and kingdoms, all have these complex relationships. Because they're tied to skill advancement, they tend to be oriented towards certain skill sets, so I think you'd end up with martial kingdoms and arcane kingdoms and religious kingdoms and stuff like that.

      When last I talked to Wayne and company (about 4 years ago), they were telling me that a lot of players at their games don't have time to go on modules. They're too busy politicking, plotting, negotiating with each other, and operating their factions. Final Haven runs a normal fantasy larp ON TOP of this complex and awesome system.

      One really interesting anecdote from their game:

      Because supply and demand constantly fluctuate, and each group has different needs, it can be hard to tell if you're getting ripped off or not when you try to buy something from another player. The seller might not know either! So one player decided that these problems could be solved by currency.

      So one player started minting coins for his kingdom. The kingdom agreed on standard trade prices for various commodities.

      But the other kingdom didn't like that! They had different needs and valued things differently. So a player in their group started minting THEIR OWN form of currency. So there's two different types of coins in circulation, both created by players, and they have an exchange rate that's subject to debate. By trying to simplify trading, they created an entirely new form of warfare.

      I was awestruck by the idea - that's a really fascinating plot engine thing that *nobody scripted*.

      I think the ideal LARP has a lot of parts lying around like lego pieces. The game involves players assembling them in creative ways. Interactions with other players are "real" in a way that can't often achieve with NPCs. Games like Final Haven put those interesting player relationships right into the foreground.

    2. You may not know the answer to this, but once a player gave his influence to another player could he retract it. In other words, do what I want or I go and support the guy you don't like over there.

      It really does sound interesting, but I love that kind of complexity.


    3. @Patrick

      I believe that a player could always pull their support.

  5. Noah and I worked with the Final Haven crew to develop a political system for the faire we were organizing at the time. The system they came up with was really cool too:

    Everybody gets five ballots (for a five day game). You can get more through political plotlines.

    Some characters in the game choose the "Aristocracy" faction, essentially a group for people that want to play non-combat politicians.

    During the event, there would be five summits at which a major political/military/economic decisions would be reached. The only people that get to vote are the Aristocrats. In order to vote, they need to spend ballots ballots that they got from other players. So before each vote, the Aristocrats will have to politic and make speeches, put up posters and hand out pamphlets, find people that support their position, and gather as much influence as possible.

    The outcome of each vote would play out on the next game day. So if you vote that the rebels aren't allowed to secede from the empire, they will probably be tomorrow's wave battle.

    1. We hoped that this would create a few tiers of drama. For one, it encourages the creation of broad factions like political parties. On another level, it creates drama between the aristocrats and the regular citizens. There's a degree of uncertainty - should you trust this guy to spend your ballot how you'd like? It's not just a matter of finding the aristocrat that supports your cause, you have to find one you trust as well.

      And this could lead to teams trying to court the aristocrat's favors. Or Aristocrats trying to court the favor of teams. Either way, the game would have a lot to talk about!

  6. Bill, you NEED to get the new estate system passed. It sounds like a pretty good introduction for this type of gameplay, which I think that NERO is sorely lacking.