Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Limited Run Games

On teh Facebooks, Stephen, long time commenter, brought up an excellent point about NERO.  Here's what he said:

I just figured out Nero's problem. Or at least it's IG one. There are no mysteries left. There are no "final frontiers" to explore.

Absolutely brilliant.


Now, I know that today's post may seem a like a foreign concept to LARPers in Ohio, but there are actually a number of games that have solved this problem by running games on a limited timeline.  The idea is that you start the game with a story to tell, and know that in a few years, when that story is told, you can move on to the next great LARP adventure.

I know that Bloodlines, as well as many Accelerant games (Madrigal 1, Aftermath, Endgame, Invictus, etc) have done or will do this, at varying levels of success.

These games usually run between 2-5 years in length, and have a set storyline that will unfold during that time.  The organizers are then given more leeway to mess with the structure of the world, and can have the PCs create a bigger impact at the end, since they know they can pull out the stops.  Also, there is little worry about a major power creep, like has been experienced at NERO.

The downside?  The most obvious downside is that players that are interested in character growth via skills and abilities may not like the idea of a game that will end, leaving them with nothing.  The other problem is that limited run games cannot do much cross-chapter work.  Accelerant solves that problem with CP exchange (if you NPC at Madrigal, you can put your experience on your character in Mirror Mirror, End Game, 7 Virtues, etc).

I would love to participate in a limited run game here in Ohio.  Would you play in a limited run game?

19 comments:

  1. I like the idea. I mean, there are only so many world-ending disasters you can have before everyone is a little "been there done that" with it. :) Having a game go longer on this system, like 3-5 years, would also allow people to invest in a character for long enough to make it worth it. People usually get bored with their characters within that long anyway.

    I think another bit of trouble would be getting people to run it. Knowing it was limited, more people would likely want to PC. Depending on how it's run, it might also need to be a single-setting in order to preserve your main storyline and not ruin it for players who might staff a secondary/tertiary location. And that'll burn out your Staff pretty fast. :(

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  2. You know, I don't know that it would be difficult to get people to run the game. I'm on plot now, and I think it would actually be even more fun to run a game on a limited schedule.

    As regards playing in one, I think it'd be a blast. That said, I also enjoy the long-form of NERO. I wouldn't want to see it fall by the wayside, but I'd be excited to participate in another game alongside it. Provided, of course, I have the time, which I currently do not (or else I'd be playing Exiles).

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  3. I love the longform of NERo for various reasons. It has been really intereting to see the long term changes of a character over the course of ~17 years.

    I also love short form for the intensity and interconnected plotline planning.

    So I am glad I play in an area that has both. One thing that NERO chapters often do that undermines their longform premise is how many times they run super high stakes plot. Endless chapter or world destroying threats take center stage vs. exploratory plots that really delve into their settings and IG relationships. Learn the mysteries of your chapter, build things over the course of years, become friends and enemies with long term factions all exploit the advantages of longform running.

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  4. I've been playing NERO for ten years now in New England, surrounded by all those other games, and have never played them, and I regret that. Not that I don't like NERO, but I think I missed out on that different experience.

    I have to agree with Stephen, there isn't a ton of mystery left. I know too much about the out of game mechanics to fool myself into believing that the world will really end, or anything super devastating will happen. The game will go on, I could get my character killed, but generally speaking there is no mistake I am going to make that will turn Ravenholt into a burning duchy sized crater.

    That said, I think there is a need for a continuous game in a regions environment. If the gaming landscape was just limited run games I'm not sure I'd be as interested. The stopping and started, the perpetual new character development would make things harder. Having NERO there makes it easier to keep involved. When the limiter run is over NERO is right there, along with your character, just waiting.

    Limited run games have the ability to tell a fully encapsulated story, from beginning to end, without having to worry about keeping things playable afterwards. Characters have that intrinsic permission to make the ultimate sacrifice in that last couple of weekends, to change the fate of a world. They feel like that have more control, and that there is more risk, because no one said the world has keep spinning when all is said and done.

    I'm looking forward to NPCing for Mickey's game, it will be interesting to see how a limited run game functions story wise, as it differs from NERO.

    ~Patrick

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  5. The other problem with world-ending (or at least drastically altering) plot is that the PCs almost always win. It ends up giving a 'cheat-mode' feel to the game. I think that there is a prevailing attitude that the PCs need to win, but I think that comes back to bite us in the ass. If we (the PCs) always win, then it doesn't mean anything anymore. All the victories become hollow.

    For example: WAR's campaign plot this year is completely of the rails (in a great way). Everything is being shaken up, nobody has *any* idea what's going, and I've never seen everybody so excited to play. Every time I see any of the other players, we end up talking about what's going on IG. Now, I'm not saying that plots like this need to (or even should) happen every year, but there needs to be a legitimate threat of chaos, and plot needs to be willing to follow through. It might seem like everyone would be pissed (and I have no doubt some people would be) but ultimately I think the game would be better.

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  6. I would absolutely participate in a limited run game in (western) Ohio. Why?

    Stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end: an arc. Network games have a bad habit of allowing characters to persist longer than the games that the characters were made in, with virtually unlimited power growth and the inducement to travel (and even buy) more XP, not to mention granting XP to characters played by game runners, and ultimately deny the player the full narrative experience.

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  7. With respect to NERO specifically, I would disagree with the characterization that its long form has left no frontiers to explore. I am constantly being exposed to new frontiers in the game. The criticism about World Ending Plot is more accurate, but that is as much a product of the shared world nature of NERO as it is the long form.

    The World Ending Plot issue still exists in short form games in a slightly different form. PC's recognize that the world may in fact end, but it is going to end on schedule. If the campaign is scheduled to run for 2 years, and you are on event 2, odds are pretty good the world isn't going to end that event. And conversely, when you start getting to the last two events or so players know that there is no tomorrow, and become completely uninhibited in terms of taking drastic risks or making sacrifices.

    Madrigal is the game for me that splits the difference. It is a long form game with no scheduled conclusion where I know the person running it is willing to allow Armageddon to occur if we let it. Or if we cause it. I'm quite confident that if we really tried hard enough at the next Madrigal event we could create world devastating consequences. And after that at the next scheduled Madrigal event we would all either be rolling up new PC's for Madrigal III, Life in the Wastelands or even playing Rob Creates His Next Awesome LARP.

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  8. I don't know about frontiers to explore in NERO. While there are definitely things I can get involved in that I haven't been involved in before, there really is no mystery. IG, we know how the planes work, we know how the graveyards work, we know how the void/chaos works. There may be new groups to interact with, but the mysteries of the universe have pretty much all been solved.

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  9. I think it has more to do with the plot teams. There are tons of places left unwxplored. You know the planes exist and technically how they interact but there is a ton left regarding what the planes actually are and the stuff that can be found there. Same with the underrealm....and half the area above ground. It's more an issue of plot teams figuring out how or what kind of mysteries to bring to the table. It's about the plot teams delving in to new territories....not necessarily world ending but deeper. Brain bubbles. If you believe all the mystery is gone then the issue is with the storytellera not the game.

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  10. I used to be a long time commentator, but then Joe V. threw my gear in the mud.

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    1. Did he throw it on the Ground?

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    2. He's not part of our system. Welcome to the real world.

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  11. I agree whole-heartedly. When I started NERO there was wonder and mystery. Now 15+ years in, (though, only about 6 of those were active) a lot of the wonder and mystery is gone. When I started, I decided early on, I wanted to do high magic, bwah-hahaha. I didn't even get to see the formal rules till I got my first rank in it. Now, if the chapter offers logistical formals... well....

    It's not to say that a good plot team couldn't bring the magic back, they just have to avoid the cliche game breaking plot lines that tire players out. Games with escalating power levels that fall back on the "it's the end of the world!" schtick every month eventually encounter what I call "DBZ syndrome".

    Remember in DBZ how Goku was the best of the best in the world, so they brought in Vegita, et al. from space to be bigger and badder. So Goku had to get bigger and badder. Then all through the Namek saga we had escalating "power levels" until you have the fight with Frieza where he shrugging off every attack and throwing around WORLD OBLITERATING BLASTS. Eventually the planet cracks and is destroyed. And then at the beginning of the next arc Future Trunks offs Frieza in about 10 seconds flat....

    Wow, that was long, and meandering, tl;dr version: Once you're up to destroying the world with a flick of the wrist, where do you go from there? How do you top that?

    You don't. Once you've recovered the artifact that let you travel time to the one point where the massive tentacled void-potato thing was weak and crawled up inside of it to stab at it's heart from the inside and escape near obliteration as the whole thing collapses upon you in it's death throes... well, after that, fighting off bandits seems namby pamby.*

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    1. * And yes, that really did happen in a chapter I was in. Actually it may have been goblin revolutionaries. Those guys were funny.

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    2. DBZ is an excellent comparison for the End of the World: Take 85 scenario.

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  12. I love shorter games from a design perspective. I'm a person who likes themed things-- the more they match, the better. If I can release a slew of monsters and NPCs that fit within a central theme (like dark fairy tales a la the upcoming Cottington Woods), I'm, aesthetically speaking, pretty happy. This work much better in a short term game than in a longer one. In a longer game, the themed madness can get boring. "Oh? Another rift on a germanic fairy tale? I'm so surprised?" As Mickey mentioned earlier, the intensity of a short term game is its real strength-- and that goes not just for plot, but for flavor and genre too. You can pack in a lot of flavor, without seeming redundant, in a shorter game.

    Another benefit to shorter games comes from a PC level. As a new PC in a game, I like to be excited by big, scary, unique monsters. When Horrible Chimerical Creature XYZ hits the field, it's kind of kills the mood when Jaded PC to My Left comments, "Oh yeah-- we saw this guy 5 years ago when we were retrieving the [insert plot that, inevitably, is 'way cooler' and 'way harder' than whatever it is PCs are involved in right now]." Of course, there are many benefits to longer running games, but I tend to prefer the intensity of a shorter (or newer) game. Part of that tension between the benefits of long versus short can be fixed by a varied gaming community: in the northeast, we have many new games, within the same system, popping up, while longer games continue.

    I guess, in the end, it's not the length that matters, but how you use it.

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  13. So I was just listening (actually I still am while I write this) to the new LARP Cast, and I had a question that intersects with this topic.

    What is your view on permanent death in Limited run games. How do you deal with making a new character when the game is going to end in a year or two from the permanent death? Do you think permanent death needs to be tempered in a limited run game? When happens if one of your PCs die in the last year of the game? Do you invite them to run with the NPCs for the last year, or find some way for the PC who has been playing the game from the first event to make it through the end of the story without having the start over again at level 1 or base cp? Or do you just let the PC make a new character?

    ~Patrick

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