BLOG POST NINE - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

I am going to give you some warning at the start of this blog post.

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This blog post is wordy as all fucking hell, and there isn't much that I can do to make it shorter. Today we are talking about a design concept that is changing for Dystopia Rising: Evolved that takes an entire aspect of game and reworks the theory behind the initial design. 

So if you would like to read this section, make sure you have some time and the ability to read a few pages of writing on the idea of getting rid of specific role-play requirements for many crafting, production, and interactive skills and instead replacing the minimum requirements with a philosophy, design, and positive reinforcement I would like to call "Involved Roleplay".

It shouldn't be surprised, but the goal for the DR LARP Network is to create a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Live Action Role Playing game. Part of what make this work is the staff providing props, scene setting, materials, and resources for the environment, modules, and non-agency characters. Part of what makes a WYSIWYG environment work is people investing into the moment, actively role-playing, and becoming involved in what it is their character is doing instead of making a rudimentary gesture so they could produce more little rectangles.

Part of this design is based around the idea of removing minimum requirements for crafting (like sound requirements) and instead just state that we (and the players around you) have the expectation that if you are using a skil... that you are going to act like you are using that skill instead of half-assing it. 

Another part of the design is a culture change that we are starting to introduce with the Dystopia Rising Directors. For years DR LARP has used the pre-existing standard of "do what is right or get punished or told no" as a format of guidance and correction. We didn't invent the idea, and really, neither did the LARPs that came before us. They took it from the system of corrections that we have with the US penal system.

And we all see how well the US penal system is working out for us. 

So part of what we will be doing is working directions of positive reinforcement instead of negative or punitive actions for people that aren't embracing the role-playing of LARP. We do this by having NPCs look to only do business in areas that look appropriate for the commerce they are looking to do (people with resources will sell them at places that look like workshops, distilleries, shops, work spaces, etc) and if given the choice between two equal options the NPCs will go with the people who have put effort into their roleplay and presentation.

Now before someone yells "role-playing police" lets be real clear here. If you want to get your mechanical advantage for what your skill does, all you have to do is try. There is no "minimums" police going to tell you how much your representation of farming rutabagas sucks. Instead, if a rutabaga buyer walks down the street and they look over and see someone waving their weapon back and forth over the ground as their RP for farming... they are just going to keep walking and look for a reputable rutabaga master.

So without further rambling off the rails, here is the pre-edit initial draft intended for Dystopia Rising: Evolved. 

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Involved Roleplay as A Mechanic Requirement

Many times, there are skills in the Dystopia Rising LARP system that require a degree of suspension of disbelief to allow the system design to exist. In a real apocalypse scenario, survivors would not need little slips of paper to say that they have a bag full of scrap. They would carry a bag full of tetanus-inducing rusted metal over their shoulder. In a real apocalypse scenario, survivors might spend all day fishing without catching a single fish instead of knowing that if they spend a certain amount of time and mind points near a viable water source that they will be provided a fish card. Blueprints are in detailed schematics that outline the mechanical design of an object instead of very large item cards that have how a game item works on them. Brewing doesn’t take minutes in the apocalypse. Often you are leaving buckets of yeasty water mixed with sugar, fruits, and plants in buckets for weeks trying to keep the temperature right so that the yeast can fart out carbonation and produce alcohol as waste. 

When dealing with mechanics overall, it is the intent of the system and should be the goal of players to represent these mechanics in a way that breaks realism and immersion as little as possible. To have immersion remain high and to have as few mechanical breaching moments as possible, the following steps should be followed.

1)      If you would like to play a character that is heavily into equipment, materials, crafting, and resources you should plan to have physical representations for all the items that you have in character. Bring genre bottles, feed bags, and injectable physical representations if you plan on buying (or producing for sale) items. Have a genre sack that you can throw props into to represent your haul of scrap, herbs, and produce. If you plan on fighting with unique equipment, armor, or shields be prepared to have physical representations for these items at game for when you have this gear crafted or created.

LARPing relating to Dystopia Rising is a recreational hobby and a form of entertainment. It is not a LARP designed for educational or therapy purposes. With any hobby there are expenses that go along with participating in the hobby. In regards to this LARP hobby, your own costume kit, your camping supplies, your character equipment, the food and drink you would normally need for a weekend out, and the engaging and realistic props that you need to have for items you had crafted or found in game are all parts of the expense of participating in a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) entertainment experience. Fortunately, most props needed for a Dystopia Rising experience are inexpensive to produce (and easy to make genre).

2)      Learn a little about what it is that you are doing relating to the skill you want to use. People who wish to engage in boffer fighting often practice to be better at foam-tag combat, the idea of learning and investing effort into knowing details about your crafting or production hobby is not unreasonable. You in no way need to master or become incredibly versed in these individual hobbies, but having knowledge that will improve not only your own experience regarding realism, but also for those around you, makes crafting and production skills much more enjoyable.

3)      Steer your character sheet purchase decisions based on what you find enjoyable and are willing to do, not based on what your character finds profitable or useful. If the idea of sitting and engaging in physical activity that is appropriate for farming for 12 hours seems completely unenjoyable… then don’t do it. Your character does not need to be the most efficient production center possible to be involved in the production game. In truth, the more crafters and resource providers create the lower the standard market price for these items often drops. Having a glut of supply often reduces the demand for a product, which in turn lowers the price. Choose what it is that you want for your experience and dictate your character growth and time investment based on what it is you want for an experience. There is no core mechanic for characters dying due to being poor, unfed, and unsheltered in Dystopia Rising because the ideas of actually starving, staying out in the elements, and having my clothes and sleeping materials taken away because my character “doesn’t have a job” is outside the scope of what this LARP defines as enjoyable.

4)      Each crafting or production skill has a roleplaying duration requirement attached to the skill. Crafting times are attached to the process of producing prints, items, or resources with an average between 10 and 30 minutes of roleplaying the creation or production time attached to each item. Roleplaying requirements and production times relating to the action of crafting items, cooking, brewing, farming, fishing, forging, metal working, mining, and other skills and activities are intended to create immersion for not only the person using the skill but also for those who interact with or observe someone using a skill.

Pantomiming for minimum engagement is not part of the spirit of the rules, and instead is the "minimum" of the rules. With this in mind those who want the minimum rewards for their skills can feel free to do minimum efforts. Non Agency Characters looking to trade, buy, sell, or engage in plots relating to certain skillsets will favor engaging individuals who invest into the spirit of the rules and reward those players with additional opportunties. Players using skills that require “Involved Roleplay” should have props, be willing to be actively engaging a simulation of the activities they are looking to perform, and act as if they truly were in the moment.  Actively engaging your environment, using of props and tools, engaging those around you, having appropriate sounds and motions, and performing labors or activities that actually visually appear to be a character performing the REAL ACTIONS need to be taken.

Some examples for a few skills:

Farming – having herbs, produce, or realistic fake representations (for multiple use) combined with farming tools, bags, and props to represent having not only an area set for farming but also doing labor to produce resources. Farming should not just take place wherever there is a swath of land that people regularly hang out in unless you can create a believable role-play space that looks like a farm. Communicate with fellow farmers at your game and your game Directors to invest in making a shared farm role-play space at your game. Games regularly invest in props, decorations, and scene setting to make their play space better. If you can work with your staff to communicate what areas have the most interest, what props get built for the game becomes much more efficient. 

Fishing – Having a somewhat realistic fishing pole does not require much in the way of effort. A strong branch that has had the bark taken off of it, a spool of cotton twine attached, and some eye hooks put into the branch and you have a fly fishing pole. If you plan on buying a fishing pole you should consider one that is wood or more “rough” or “rustic” in design instead of buying a modern fiberglass rod fishing pole.

Printing – Blueprints are complex schematics with instructions included on them. While a typewriter is a great start for prints that are just text, only the blue “item card print outs” of a blueprint are text. Real blueprints should have drafted images, notes, and scale measurements on them. Since printing takes time why not spend that time with a straight edge, a compass, and some pencils sketching out what you think a blueprint or recipe for each item should look like.

Tinkering / Forging – There isn’t a minimal sound requirement for crafting, however the crafting and repairing of objects is neither a stationary or silent thing. There is sanding, hammering, forge fires, grunting when metal is being bent, screws that just won’t thread for some inexplicable reason, grinding of sharpening metal, the effort of cutting up strips of leather, and a thousand other non-repetitive motions. Having a bin of real scraps of metal, screws, bolts, thread, leather, or real crafting projects in your Tinkering / Forging workspace is incredibly helpful for involved roleplay. Also consider actually crafting an item at your work bench. If you’re making a non-mechanical item, actually create the physical representation of that item as part of your roleplay.

Cooking / Brewing – Cooking and brewing requires not only props for the process of production, but also requires physical representations to carry the finished product on your person. For the preparation roleplay, having containers of inexpensive herbs, pots of water, and a realistic cooking / brewing work area sets the scene for great Involved Roleplay. Your goal is to make an experience for yourself and others that is a truncated version of the real experience. Having brew buckets, cutting boards, pots, pans, and the ability to produce smells appropriate for cooking and brewing is the majority of the battle for cooking and brewing.

Once the items are complete, you will need to have physical representations and card sleeves with you to your “Post Office” (or other logistics area where cards are produced at your game) to be provided your item cards (in addition to equipment used, resources, etc.). Standardized empty bottles for brews and small burlap bags for food can be purchased for pennies each both online and at many crafting stores.

First Aid, Medical Assistance, Medical Genius, Medical Procedures – Learning a small amount about how the body reacts to trauma is a good start for medical related roleplay requirements. While actually treating wounds is not the goal of any in-character medical skill, the goal is to represent the process convincingly much in the same way that it is done on TV or in movies. Medical procedure roleplay is about producing a medical drama scenario that not only the person using the medical skills is involved in, but also one that the person being tended to must be involved with. Medical procedures in Dystopia Rising do not work like health packs in video games or “countdown while touching” scenarios you find in some combat sports. Dystopia Rising is a live action role playing game. To produce realistic medical procedures consider having props that look similar to medical tools (but won’t cause harm), hidden containers of fake blood for your hands (and the patient if they are inclined), cotton fabric that has been cut into strips to work as bandages and wraps, as well as other personalized items that really communicate the skill of bedside manner (or lack thereof) that the player being operated on should expect and react to.     

 

A break from DR updates to talk about Utopia Descending

Utopia Descending – Talking About the New Horizon

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Many of you know me from either Dystopia Rising or one of the games I made for the Chronos LARP system. Some of you are from ye-olden-times and remember when I was writing mechanics documents for networked fan club LARP groups, and some of you know me from some of my smaller projects. Like you over there Pepperidge Farms… you remember.

A project that been given much of my attention over the past year and a half is a project known as Utopia Descending. Some of you know the game world and already participate in it, some of you think it’s some sort of after story for Dystopia Rising. On behalf of Evan and I, I would like to give some design theory and massive differences in the design system we made for DR and what we made for UD.

First, the name. The choice of name was to point out the parallel but different thematic relation between Dystopia Rising and Utopia Descending. Dystopia Rising is about the idea that a dystopian situation happened, and what is left over in the world is attempting to build back up and recreate society in a post-fall world. Dystopia Rising isn’t the story about things being the worst, but the story of picking yourself back up after the worst day happened. Utopia Descending is a different mythology where the world has reached a perfect Utopian concept in the pre-story, but is now slowly starting to fall apart at the edges based on the nature of drama in culture.

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In Dystopia Rising you hunt for scraps, herbs, and resources to build a means for survival for yourself and the community you choose. In Utopia Descending getting resources as a character is incredibly simple. The more loyal and better performing you are in regards to your in-character corporation, the higher you rise and the more perks you get. Your rewards from your corporation are an ongoing analogue where characters are promoted and demoted regularly as scandal and conflict arises.

Beyond the parallel concepts having a relation of “turning points”, Dystopia Rising and Utopia Descending are completely different creatures not only in story but also in design.

Here are some of the biggest differences in the design category.

1)      Players don’t build their own armory. Equipment is given to you when you go on away missions including your weapons. The better of an item you get, the better the actual physical representation you use is. Your melee weapon will be lighter, longer, and have more tangible advantages.

2)      You don’t have to go to game to play the game. Get a membership, register your character, and connect with a chapter. You can play online via remote RP, event chats, and even broadcasting as a plot persona with story ran for you between live events (as a large meta design). Utopia Descending uses a ton of trans-media technology and integrates available media into the narrative tools. Your character has a facebook page, could have multiple media resources, and actually engages not only other registered players but also the “home viewing audience.” Can't make it to a game but still want to help with translations of the base language found by rift creatures? Feel free to play remotely from home or on the go.

3)      Utopia Descending is designed in a way where each individual Utopia Chapter has the ability to influence and really define the local reality. It has been written into the narrative of the world that when a Looking Glass Rift opens in a region, that not only is the area influenced thematically but it is also mechanically influenced as well. This means the base weapons and technologies used at each chapter is different, each local theme and story is different, and the individual chapters can choose to give post game reports to the Utopia Descending LLC to have local games influence the ”global narrative.”

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4)      Game can happen whenever you want. Because the system is so rules light and offers opportunities for combat heavy games, games without combat at all, games that are American Freeform in design, and games that happen virtually people can apply to run all different sorts of Utopia Descending events.

5)      With each game being more individual, there is less in the way of training and printed support materials provided for Utopia Descending game runners. We give you systems and templates to work with, some cannon sample materials to use, and then set you free to do what you like in your local bubble. With the freedom to run what you like comes the responsibility to figure out how to run what you like.

6)      Because resources are linked game to game, and games are linked to their local businesses, resources and materials gained at game stay at that game. This allows games to run “high loot” or “low loot” scenarios without the actions taken in another chapter influencing it.

7)      Utopia Descending is not an XP based character sheet system. Instead of buying individual skills you just choose what download you would like at an event (completely changing your “character sheet”). In doing different combinations of downloads players can change their skillset event by event depending on what they feel like playing.

8)      You can travel game to game in Utopia Descending, but traveling means your character is literally going to a play space where the rules and story may be different than they are accustomed to. You may go to an airsoft based Utopia Descending game one week and a completely Freeform RP event in a rented club another week.

9)      Utopia Descending functions heavily based on player plot requests. While there is still a game owner making story for your game, requesting plots and story arcs are the primary story focus for Utopia Descending. Traditional LARPs have story tellers guessing what the players are in the mood for, investing into what they think a group of players will like, and regularly plots flop just because “it wasn’t the right plot for the right players or maybe not at the right time”. With player plot requests being the primary focus of Utopia Descending (and the subsequent world reaction based on what the players do during those story arcs) there is a lot less of “wasted plot efforts” because players are being given exactly what they are asking for.

10)   Costuming for your character can ramp up or down based on a meta-tool called “rift exposure”. If you feel like doing heavy Tier 3 makeup for your character, or do visible changes, all you have to do is create a story where you have spent too much time near the Rifts and it has changed your characters appearance (or even how they act). If you want to ramp down your costume for an event for any reason (maybe the props got broken or you have things you need to do right after game) you can do so just by having your character assigned to jobs further away from the Looking Glass Rifts.

11)   Not all Utopia Descending games have to follow the same mechanics, they just need to be transparent in regards to what players should expect at individual events and experiences. Want to run a parlor-larp style version of Utopia Descending? Sure! Want to run a combat-sport focused version of Utopia Descending? Sure! Want to have a chapter that regularly deals with scenarios on the paintball or airsoft field you own? Sure! Own a bar or club and want to build it as a Utopia Themed space with live events periodically that are for the players? Bangarang! Just let us know how you want to run it, and we will figure out the contracting.  

So how do you go about opening a Utopia Descending? That is coming very soon. We have been handling the bureaucracy and design work to ensure that all the hiccups and paperwork hurdles we learned about creating and expanding DR are avoided and taken care of ahead of time. This way we don’t need to redefine terms, operation procedures, and business practices to expand from a single run game into a full network and instead can just start with the network in mind from the initial mechanical focus.

DYSTOPIA RISING EVOLVED: INDIVIDUAL SKILLS REDEFINITIONS POST THREE

Skill Discussion: Metal Working

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Metal Working is a new skill in the Dystopia Rising: Evolved profession set that includes aspects of both Smelt and Weld from the old design, combines the two skills, and provides a clear notation for other potential uses of the skill as a Key-Skill. In addition to outlining how the skill mechanically works, it is the intent of the description to give degrees of expectation relating to how the skill is commonly worked.

As a crafting skill there is a need for creating realistic crafting spaces to make the role-play experience of the crafter more engaging as well as the experience of those within 10 feet of the work space. Dystopia Rising is a very WYSIWYG game, and some of that scene setting and design is created by the players (since they are the ones bringing the materials into play). As much as a character that focuses on fighting needs to bring their own weapon physical representations, a person that focuses on crafting or economy role-play also must bring their own props and materials. While some game spaces have the ability to provide scene setting pieces, the efforts of collected crafter groups to make their own space engaging will far surpass what a single game can provide.

You will notice that the language for the skill is wordier, but is designed in a conversational way. A large part of Dystopia Rising Evolved includes having a degree of "Spirit of the Rules" included in the design. We will explain how a skill is intended to be used, give as much advice for how the skill is intended to be represented and used in the game, and give the players (and the staff) the benefit of the doubt that the understanding of the spirit of these more conversation descriptions will be followed. If we explain a skill in the book the same way you would explain it to a friend, looking to find ways to "bend the intent of the rules" no longer is an acceptable part of mechanical design, but instead a purposeful desire to circumnavigate fair play for personal advantage. 

In addition, when reading these skills, understand that this is not a final document. What you are reading is my raw draft material that doesn't include having yet gone to review or editing. So if you find a particular section of the language concerning, please feel free to give that feedback to your Directors so that we can make this the best document set possible.

Onto the skill itself-

Metal Working -  This Skill requires a Forge item, scrap, and involved role-play to use. Gaining resources and access to a Forge require in character crafting or character networking to gain access to the required tools. Players taking this skill should plan on bringing tools, props, and realistic set dressing for their work space. It is suggested that different scraps of metal, tools, and mechanical props for crafting at a forge are brought to give the user of Metal Working or other Forging related skills an engaging role-play space to make their experience (and the experience of those around them) better.
While working in the Forge space, no other skills may be used by the person using Metal Working unless outlined as required by a specific piece of equipment relating to Metal Working. Those assisting via their Strain Advantage or specialty equipment also may not use any skills other than what could be outlined by a blueprint or specific piece of equipment. If a person using Metal Working or their assistants takes damage or are otherwise interrupted (is incapacitated or leaves the 10 foot area of a forge workspace) then the Mind Points invested in Metal Working are spent but the process is considered incomplete. While resources (scrap, gizmos, items) used during a failed Metal Working attempt are not lost, the Mind Point expenditure is lost and the roleplay requirements must begin over from the start.
By first spending 5 mind points and then spending 15 minutes of realistic and engaging role-play at a Forge workspace, a player can do one of the following:
Turn 1 Rare Scrap into 2 Uncommon Scrap
Turn 1 Uncommon Scrap into 2 Basic Scrap
Turn 4 Basic Scrap into 1 Uncommon Scrap
Turn 4 Uncommon Scrap into 1 Rare Scrap
Players may use up to 10 uses of Metal Working in a single instance before going to the Post Office to have their cards updated. If a batch of Metal Working is interrupted, only the one instance (when the attack happens) is considered lost mind points. All other uses in a batch are unaffected. In the instance that the cards are stolen from a Metal Working use before they can be updated at the Post Office, treat the crafting as a failed attempt with the mind points expended but the new resources not gained. The theft will be for the pre-completed materials (the cards that are currently present). 
Metal Working is a Key-Skill that is required for all blueprints that involve the transforming one form of scrap into another, the crafting of unique metallurgy related gizmos, and crafting of new composite materials. Metal Working often pairs with different Lore skills for the creation of unique or complicated composites.

  

DYSTOPIA RISING EVOLVED: INDIVIDUAL SKILLS REDEFINITIONS POST TWO

Skill Discussion: Brawling

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Combat skills are changing in regards to how all melee and hand-to-hand skills will be functioning. Brawling, melee small, melee standard, melee large, and melee two handed weapons can all be used by a player without having purchased any skill. Both brawling and melee strikes will only do 1 point of damage without having the skill, and a player will not be able to use skills with the melee or brawling skill without actually having purchased the brawling, melee, etc.

This means a rework of Brawling in the following way.

Unskilled Brawling -  This Skill allows you to carry two small size melee boffers that are no shorter than 12 inches and no longer than 20 inches in length to represent fists. These boffers must not be shaped or designed to look like melee weapons. Unskilled brawling does 1 damage per strike, and the combination of both brawlers may be swung a total of three times before a half second flurry “reset” must be used.
Without the brawling skill, you may not use any skills or gain any damage or skill benefits from any Brawling-related equipment or augments. Strikes that land on boffers used to represent Unskilled Brawling count as successful strikes for both damage and effects. Unskilled Brawling may be used in the “off hand” combined with shield, single handed melee, single handed firearm, and thrown weapons.
Brawling -  As per Unskilled brawling for boffer size, boffer shape, number of strikes, and flurry reset. On the brawling boffer physical representation a single piece of green tape is placed around the base of the striking surface of the Brawlers being used to identify that the user has the Brawling skill. With the brawling skill the player with the skill does 2 damage instead of 1 damage with all strikes. The user of the brawling skill may benefit  from all damage and skill augments from Brawling related equipment. The user of brawling, who has the following skills, may use them with their brawling strikes: Blinding, Knock Down, Knock Out, Nerve Punch, and Parry.
Strikes that land on brawling boffers still count as successful strikes for both damage and effects. Brawling may be used in the “off hand” combined with shield, single handed melee, single handed firearm, and thrown weapons.
Brawling is a Key-Skill relating to most items and augments relating to brawling, hand to hand combat, and mechanically augmenting punching.

Iron Fists You must have the Brawling skill before you can buy the Iron Fists skill, as this skill is an augment to the existing Brawling skill. As per brawling for boffer size, boffer shape, number of strikes, and flurry reset. On the brawling boffer physical representation a single piece of red tape replaces the green tape at the base of the boffers to identify that the user has the Brawling and Iron Fists skill.
In addition to benefits granted by the Brawling skill, the Iron Fists skills allows the user to block strikes with their brawlers without taking damage or effects related to those strikes (damage and strike related skills). Strikes that actually land on your real arm instead of your brawlers, area effect, or successful ranged strikes that target your arms are considered successful strikes and are not blocked. To block attacks using the Iron Fists advantage, you must actually block the strike with your brawling boffers.  
In addition to the skills made usable by having the Brawling skill, a user of Iron fists may also use the skills Break, Murder, and Wide Strike with their brawling attacks if they have these appropriate skills.

As a note in regards to these skill changes, this does also show that there are some changes coming down the line relating to other skills (such as Wide Strike and Murder). Wide Strike will have a list of skills that are required to use it (melee weapon skills and Iron Fists).

And yes... Murder will be allowed from the front.  

Dystopia Rising Evolved: Individual Skills Redefinitions Post One

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Over the next few months I am going to go a skill at a time and outline how most of the individual skills will function in Dystopia Rising: Evolved. Some of these updates are going to be very short, some of them will be longer and require a lot more review and specific details. A few of the skills will be clustered together since the group of skills are similar enough that one or two words changed is all that will be needed to explain each of the skills (and thereby not worth giving each “variant” their own update.

Skills discussions for the blog will not be in alphabetical or demand order, but instead spoon and time allowance order. This means that as I have the time and ability to focus on the more involved skills (or the ones that I feel will get the largest response) I will do so. 

To ease people into the format of this, I am going to start with a relatively simple skill change.

TEACH

The skill teach is replacing the skill options of Teach and Instruct. The change to this skill means a fundamental change to how the teaching and learning system in Dystopia Rising changes.
Starting in Dystopia Rising: Evolved, any individual who has a skill can teach that skill to a person who is able to learn it (has it available on their profession lists and has the available experience points to spend on learning the new skill). You do not need to have the skill “Teach” to train someone else with a skill.

As a new default any skill learned without the “Teach” skill will not be available for use until the next event that character attends. This will allow your coordination team the ability to review a character sheet to ensure that a character could have legally learned the skill that is being attempted to be taught, and add the skill to the characters sheet. As a meta concept, learning a new skill from someone who is not trained to teach others means that it will take longer for the student to learn the new skill.

The teach could function like so:

Teach (1 MP per target): This skill is the act of training up to 10 other characters via 30 minutes of engaging roleplay, so that the targets of this skill can buy new skills with experience points and have access to those skills faster than normal. You can only Teach other people Skills that your character actively possesses that the learning character can learn (has the Skill on a Profession and has the experience points to spend). 
While Skills can be taught by anyone, the Teach skill makes newly learned Skills available faster and allows the newly learned skill to be used after the next Twelves instead of at the next event. The skill Teach not only reduces how long players need to wait after learning a new skill to be able to use it, but the skill is also a Key-Skill which is required to use crafted items related to teaching, instructing, and educating others.

This mechanical change introduces a few newer concepts to Dystopia Rising Evolved. As we mentioned above, teaching and learning skills no longer requires the teach skill. Players will be able to teach one another skills that they have on their sheet, however without the Teach skill those newly learned skills will not be able to be used until the next event the learning character attends. In this new addition the Teach skill makes new skills available at the next 12s instead of the next event. This mechanically allows Teach to function partially as it did in 2.12, but adds a wider ability for people to learn skills from individuals who don’t have the teach skill.

The second thing that this skill introduces is the last line of the skill which states it is a Key-Skill. Key-Skills is a term that is being coined for Dystopia Rising Evolved to let players know that certain skills have a lot more functionality than may be initially seen with the addition of blueprints and crafted items. With blueprints being adjusted there are going to be key skills that will be used regularly for blueprints. In the instance of the skill Teach, any blueprint that involves the concept of teaching, instructing, and educating others will require the Teach skill. While this idea partially exists already in DR 2.11, having Key-Skills will outline a standardization for what skills are commonly needed for certain areas of focus. Key-Skill status gives more transparency to new players who will be picking their skills for the first time. 

As a side note, this does also mean that the Baywalker Strain advantage is also changing. Strains and their advantages is their own post and not something to be shoehorned into this one update about a single skill. 

BLOG POST EIGHT - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

There is a concept that I have been workshopping for a while that I would like to now put out for consideration, discussion, and debate. This idea involves changing the basic interaction of melee weapons, damage, and the ability for players to use weapons. In the shortest summary, any player could use any melee weapon without a skill involved. They just can't use them well or use related skills or abilities. 

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In prior posts I mentioned wanting to flatten the damage and lower the numbers used in Dystopia Rising Evolved. Mentioning a scale of 1,2,5,10 damage with 10 being the highest “spike” damage used by standard skills and the “slaughter” being a 20. What I want to talk about is the “1” on the scale, and introduce a concept relating to weapon use.

What if all players could use all melee weapons from the start, but couldn’t use melee related skills or get the most out of the weapons use? With this concept all players would be able to pick up all melee weapons and be able to swing 1 damage, but not be able to use any specialized skills or abilities related to the weapon or related to melee weapons at all.

A brand-new player could use any blade, of any quality, without any melee skills and be able to “swing 1 damage” with that weapon. The would not be able to Parry, mangle limbs, or use any skills or advantages relating to melee weapons but it would allow a wider use of weapons skills.

If a weapon is not master crafted, and is base equipment, that melee weapon would do 1 damage in the hands of someone without appropriate melee skills and would do 2 damage in the hands of someone who is properly trained in the appropriate melee skill.  

If a weapon is higher crafted (does 5 damage on swings) and a player using the weapon does not have the appropriate weapon skill “specialization” that player will only swing 1 damage with the weapon and would not be able to use melee related skills like Parry. If the player does have the appropriate melee skill, the melee fighter would do 5 damage per swing with the weapon and be able to use whatever advantages the weapon provides (plus whatever appropriate melee related skills they have as well).

If a weapon has multiple requirements for use (such as melee standard AND Vegasian) then the weapon could be used by anyone to swing 1s, however it would require both melee standard and being gutter glitter to be able to access the full potential of the weapon (such as 5 Iron Slave Bane damage).

Bows, Thrown Weapons, and Firearms are not a part of this equation of “open and available use” due to the degree of education, practice, and training that is needed to use ranged weapons. Being able to successfully target a moving threat with a bow requires practice and training. Being able to throw a blade so it properly spins and hits with enough force to do damage requires practice and training. Firearms require a degree of understanding for use (in particular dealing with sturdier and simpler technology firearms that do not have recoil reducing stocks or even rifling in the barrel).

To continue the damage discussion, which without a doubt is a deviation from the focus of this blog update, bows and knives would have a damage scale of 2,5 with training and firearms would follow a 5,10 as the damage base scale (without the 1 for untrained). Of course equipment will allow for variances to damage type and effects, however keeping the numbers locked to the simpler range is vital for DR Evolution.  

BLOG POST SEVEN - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

Design Concept – Removal of Strain Skills

This is going to get love and hate, and after having a great weekend to refresh my batteries, I think I am ready to have a conversation about an idea I have for the Strains for Dystopia Rising: Evolved. This is without a doubt a conversation, and not something that is set in stone, because I am not sure about it yet myself.

Before I get into the reasoning, I am going to ask that if you choose to reply that you do so with some sort of substance to the response. I would love to talk about the ideas, concepts, and drives behind design decisions… but I can’t do that with responses that are focused on emotional response without solid thought processes explaining an opinion. If you say, “I feel…” and then provide no explanation as to why you feel a certain way, I have nothing to work with. Don’t get me wrong, you can feel however you like and I in no way am telling you that your feelings or opinions are wrong to have. You are entitled to all the gut feelings you would like. It’s just that if you say “I feel…” something without any full thought out structure behind it, it doesn’t help with design process at all.

So, let’s get down to it. Shall we?

I have mixed feelings about this Retrograde teacher...

I have mixed feelings about this Retrograde teacher...

I am proposing that in Dystopia Rising: Evolved (3.0) we take all the Strain Skills out of the game in 90% of the Strain applications.

The original purpose behind Strain based skills was for early development of the game world where we didn’t have a robust mythology and publication set for people to reference. The Strain based skills were to show a pre-disposition towards certain avenues of role-play and mechanical design for each of the individual Strains. In a way, they were the building blocks for how we wanted the culture to develop until we could provide resources and an existing player culture to support what the Strains represent. In many instances this succeeded, in a handful of others they did not.

In removing these skills from the Strain lists the skills will be added instead to a number of Professions and the open lists to ensure that any skill that was on a Strain list now exists on a MINUMUM of three different professions and on average will exist on six profession lists. This is being done with all first-tier skills (example: Prepare Meal but not Disguise Content) to give more options for design and focus. As an aside, this is also the reason for a number of new Professions to be added. More on that on another post.

Skills that are a part of genetics instead of a part of culture will be kept, but mechanically represented differently in the Strain advantages (since they all need an adjustment or rework anyway). As an example: Unborn being able to have access to basic psionics, since that is a part of their genetic design, will remain however all Yorkers having the ability to be Entertaining will go away. While all Unborn have the potential to learn basic psionics, not all Yorkers are by default Entertaining in their core design. Don’t get me wrong, I live in Connecticut which is effectively the suburbs of New York City. I love ya New York, but not everyone in the hustle and bustle is entertaining. Guy shitting next to the newspaper machine in the subway? Not entertaining.

The second thing this will provide is more open application for how the Strains are represented by the players. The mechanical advantages of the Strains can be adjusted to give a bit more advantage based on genetics while focusing less on “seeding culture” into the mix. Not every single Merican needs to shoot a gun, or have it innately part of their genetic design to be a gun user.

The third reason for the proposed removal of Strain skills is an adjustment to base costs for buying skills in Professions. Right now in 2.1, the number of skills and the cost of skills across a number of professions varies greatly. It is part of the intent of redesign to have skills cost a standardized 3,6, or 9 XP to purchase based on if a skill is a primary focus of a profession, a secondary or unique skill to the profession, or a second-tier skill on the open list (like defenses like Mind Resist). This fine tuning assists with the process of rebalancing some professions with the collapse of certain lesser skills together.

While one option is to remove the Strain skills, another is to keep them for the self-teach aspect and keep the cost of them at a 3 XP level. This doesn’t give an advantage to Strains in regards to XP, but would provide the ability for self-teaching. At this point, with the number of players in play, self-teaching isn’t anywhere near as much of an advantage as it once was. Now you can walk around and find a teacher for most things just by engaging and roleplaying with others. I can see an advantage to keeping the self-teach aspect to Strain skills for brand new players who don't have connections yet, but I can also see longer term advantage of having a design system that encourages them to talk to others to learn skills. 

The Parallel Issue of Oversight, Trust, and Privatized Ownership

Something that has been brought forward by a handful of people a few times is the idea of bringing in an Ombudsman, or group of Ombudsman, to oversee the interests of the players as a balance to the ability that Directors have in regard to taking corrective action (up to denying service or banning an individual) relating to the Dystopia Rising community.

This isn’t the first time the concept has been brought up and it’s definitely not the first time that I have thought about it either. Any time we can build more of a self-sustaining and self-checking aspect of the network of franchises, I am down.  The idea of an ombudsman has a couple of issues that we would need to find a workaround (or really, a complete restructure of the concept of the ombudsman) regarding how an ombudsman works.  An ombudsman isn’t the only idea for an oversight system, so I will go into a few of them to poke at some of the issues and consideration.

To make sure we are all on the same page about this subject, here is a quick definition of what an ombudsman is as follows:

Ombudsman

1 :a government official (as in Sweden or New Zealand) appointed to receive and investigate complaints made by individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials The town's ombudsman said he would look into charges of corruption.

2 :one that investigates, reports on, and helps settle complaints An ombudsman will deal with complaints from the hospital's patients and staff.

In concept it seems like a perfect answer to the idea that players do not have a response to Directors (Term for local franchise owner or hired employee overseeing a chapter in DR) using their business owner/franchise ability to deny service or take corrective action against a participant. When looked at as an abstract concept, it really does seem perfect. Once applied however, the position of ombudsman causes issues.

To explain why an ombudsman causes issues, I want to explain how a similar and parallel issue that has existed (and still exists in some circles) and how it was addressed by Dystopia Rising. Any business that is federally registered as anything other than a non-profit business (which is very different than a not for profit) cannot use volunteers for work related details without hiring those individuals or contracting these people out. Details that are not a part of standard participation might count as work if these items fall into certain fields or have certain labor requirements. While NPC (or NAC as I like) or being a NPC organizer for an NPC shift doesn't define as work, items such as required downtime engagement or production of documentation or data entry might be. I say might because this is a gray area with enough wiggle room for legal teams to fence in, so instead of having that potential, we decided to err on the side of caution with changes we made. While this potential issue wouldn't engage the largest percent of the community, it was an issue that we faced regarding storytellers who were not only functioning as an organizational marshal for their NPC shift but also were writing plot.

Working with labor laws (and I am not a lawyer, I just work with what our legal team advises us as to ensure we are operating within legal guidelines), we needed to change the “accepted LARP standard” of how plot production works a while back. To do this we started contracting writers to write plot, and pay them as contracted writers. Second, we removed the position of “Story Teller” and ensured that all marshals were doing the same length shift as their NPC shift. Because while NPC shift and marshaling during a NPC is acceptable, being required to do more than everyone else was not. We also made sure that certain things that should have always been done (such as character sheet / database management and taking of money for transactions) all were being handled by Directors and paid employees instead of marshals.

So, this new design allows us the ability to pay writers and to operate within acceptable business guidelines. Items that are in the grey area of being work or not no longer are a part of the day to day activities of team members and the government gets the taxes it wants (the real reason why there is a push for cash transactions instead of barter or trade).

You may be seeing the issue already with an Ombudsman position. An Ombudsman would be required to be a point of contact for players, to record and respond between events on a prudent timetable, would be required to sign contracts, and would have to work as a social contact while representing the interests of the players while working within legal guidelines and community guidelines.

This means that the Ombudsman would have to be hired as paid employees by the local branches.

This becomes an issue because over a long period of time no community will completely trust an individual whose financial involvement in their community is funded by the people that they are supposed to be a checks and balance for. As humans we have drives for rebellion, and given our current political climate, zero trust for "authorities".

For a long time, people would come to the creators of the game world and the franchise creators when they needed to “go over a Directors head” because they didn’t agree with a decision or action that a Director took. The issue with that is unless a Director is acting outside of the guidelines of operation and franchise contracts, there very little that the franchisees (the game creators) can do to adjust operation. In the past there were times we overstepped our capacity as network creators and became directly involved with issues players were having either at the players request or at the request of the Director. Directors would ask the creators to become involved if there was an issue they saw larger than themselves, and more times than not the involvement of a third party without all details and information would exacerbate a situation instead of actually assisting with it.  

As much as some people chatter about it, Directors can’t “just have their franchise taken away” from "National". That isn’t a leverage point that vaguely exists due to the way that franchise laws work. It would take another full three or four posts from our franchise lawyers to completely explain, but to sum up, franchise law is designed to protect the local branch from too much oversight from the franchise owners. If a branch screws up enough, and after being given notification to correct their issues relating to franchise operation and operations guidelines, franchises have 90 days to correct the issues (assuming it is in relation to franchise operation). There is a lot to it, but if you want the starter info, check out the American Bar Associations 101 introduction page for basic details. 

http://apps.americanbar.org/buslaw/blt/2010-03-04/grueneberg-solish.shtml

Before we get too far off the topic of Ombudsman as a position, let’s talk about why Ombudsman and franchise law intersect. Now again, I am not a lawyer or an accountant, but I am working off the knowledge and advice I have been given to formulate my own opinions which should not be seen as legal or financial advice. With that in mind, an Ombudsman traditionally operates in such a way where the Ombudsman is hired as an impartial third-party individual or company that is allotted and entrusted with the power to negotiate a middle ground. A player chosen by popularity vote, and then hired and paid for by a Director, will not be neutral in one form or the other. Either the player who is taking the role of Ombudsman will see themselves as a “white knight guardian of the players” and fight against the Directors for the interests of their friend circles, or that individual will see that the paycheck that they receive from the individual chapters is dependent on their performance in a job. In the first instance we have the issue that an Ombudsman has no way to take away the legally provided right of operating a business and the ability to deny service away from the franchise owner in the instance that the two disagree and in the second instance we have an individual who will soon be seen as more of a “customer service contact” than an Ombudsman who will not actually institute a form of change. I would guess it would be less than two months before a paid Ombudsman would be accused of being a crony.

That is part of the sticky wicket. The individual Dystopia Rising Chapters are clubs and event based service providers when you break things down to the most common-place terms. They function much in the same way that other social and community groups function when there are people where the club or group owners decide someone is no longer welcomed in that group. You can actually be banned from groups like the NRA, expelled from the Freemasons, and you can even be removed from the international book club associations if they find your activities are detrimental to what it is that they are attempting to organize.

One set of thought that I have had to address the issue is that what LARP needs is an independent non-profit group that functions completely outside of any individual LARP. This group would function as a focus for community needs for not a single LARP, but across multiple LARPs as a sort of community organization or club that ensures that its player-members abide by a unified code of conduct and that the event runners that associate themselves with the organization are “certified” (or as close as one could become) to running live events safely and fairly. This group could host a community guideline that isn’t enforced at a single LARP but instead is enforced as being a part of a community that would be more enforceable due to the cross-game potential. This group could work as a resource for education on fair play, techniques for meta-design aspects of LARP such as bleed and steering, and maybe even offer notes of achievement when a person has completed learning and review sections.

This is a project that I have considered and knocked around in my brain for a long time, but it has some major downfalls to it. First, there is nothing that would force any individual game or network of games to abide by a single community standard and decentralize the oversite of community membership within their own ranks. Allowing a third-party control over what is effectively your home community (that you see face to face regularly) as well as to entrust unrelated organizers to keep to highest standards is a giant leap of faith for most event runners. Every person I have talked to about this idea has named people that they would love to see oversee such a group (preferences) and individuals that they would never trust to oversee such a group (history or bias).

Which leads us back to the original issue. Trust. If players do not trust a Director to make the right decisions, they do not trust that Director and very little will force a person without trust in a Director to accept any decision that Director makes without seeing it as wrong unless they happen to benefit from or agree with the decision made. If players do not trust the Director but trust an Ombudsman, that trust will only exist for as long as the player agrees with the decisions the Ombudsman is making or if the players find the Ombudsman socially agreeable enough (popular) to hold the position regardless of their performance or decisions. Once an Ombudsman’s decisions vary from the popular opinion, the Ombudsman will equally be distrusted. If players do not trust a Director or an Ombudsman, an independent third party that functioned as a “best standards” and “community operations group” would only be embraced and have any form of use as long as the local event runners AND the players trusted in the independent third-party operations group. And in regard to the independent third-party group, without some form of membership contract and affiliation contract (where the individual event runners were legally obligated to observe the advice and actions of the third party) there is no enforceable way where the third-party group could FORCE change to happen save for tactics of de-association and negative publicity. This, in turn, would result in an environment where the third-party operations group would not have any actual power to institute change unless the parties involved were already willing to negotiate (and accept potential correction in the instance that they acted wrongly). In the instance that both parties involved were of steady enough mind to negotiate, discuss in a civilized form, and present information and counter points a third-party group becomes almost irrelevant save for the means of organizing and book keeping for the procession.

The idea of a third-party organization working as an Ombudsman would, holding a community to a defined standard and being a middle ground for issues of conflict, also brings up questions of privacy as well as legal concerns relating to potential issues that cross over into the realm of legality. When an issue relating to a crime (assault, endangerment, harassment, etc.) there becomes an issue of standard of process. In the instance that an accusation of a member committing a crime happens, which also overlaps with a breach of a community standard, issues regarding libel become very real. If a victim chooses not to engage the police, but goes an Ombudsman or third-party group, the action of saying “This person has been removed from our group for having committed activities that are defined as a crime” could be perceived as damaging or potentially libel relating to the independent individual or third-party reporting to the company that is deciding on the potential of denying services of the accused.

Being a Long Term Chronicle Game Runner and Community Leader

One of the things I do on a regular basis is I help people get into running events. Many of the people that work with or for Imagine Nation are all people who at one point or another said something along the lines of “I want to run LARPs or events professionally.” Before moving forward there is a number of conversations I have with people with this as an interest to try and give as much information as I can from my 23+ years of experience.

Be it someone looking to open a franchise from one of our sister companies, or someone looking to work directly for or with us, there is a conversation I always have with these would-be event runners.  It’s a conversation that normally happens after I point out all of the truly amazing things with being an event runner with the hopes that the responsibilities and stark truths of event running don’t make every person run away.

“Understand that with the way gaming is right now, you will be dealing with issues and concerns that you could never imagine. You will deal with circumstances that you probably would never guess are related to “running a game” and you will need to be prepared for your life to change.”

I then go into examples of some of the things that my event runner friends, coworkers, and myself have dealt with over the years. I explain some of the expectations that people will have of you, be they justified expectations or not, that they will probably have to face as the years go on. I talk about the worst aspects of the job so that when they have good moments, they can enjoy those good times much more.

I tell them these things, and now all of you these things, so that they can make a more educated decision. After starting this talk with another potential co-worker yesterday, I did have the thought that maybe it was time to share this conversation with the world (and maybe get even more unexpected duties from other game runners).

So read away at the warning label that comes with being a long term game runner, and if you are one, feel free to add your own in the comments. 


I tell those interested in event running of the following...

Sooner or later you will have a player come to you and tell you that someone who either harassed or assaulted them is also attending an event. It will break your heart. You will need to believe them, you will need to stick up for them, and if those people do not feel strong enough to present themselves to the public you will need to take the social attacks intended for them on yourself. You will need to be a wall between the victim and the accused while trying to provide tools and contact options for the victim to use. You will need to watch members of your community choose to suffer in silence because they do not trust the authorities.

Sooner or later you will have people who will come to your event that have interest, culture, and views that are starkly different than those of the culture you are trying to cultivate. You will need to determine if that person, and those views, are damaging to the whole and decide what the culture you are focusing on is. How do you react to the individual who is a member of that alt-right, but does not openly express these views while at game? 

You will have people who will tell you in one breath to pay them or others for their efforts while also damning you for taking money for your labors. In the eyes of many everyone seems to be working and laboring save for the people who organize the field and create the materials. 

Sooner or later you will need to take corrective actions against someone who is popular, and some of these popular people will have perspectives so skewed that they will be incapable of accepting that they are wrong (even while still actively acting in wrong ways). 

You will need to work with guidelines presented by the labor board and follow operation standards in accordance to tax codes and labor laws. Hiring writers instead of using STs, removing 6 hour marshal shifts and having marshals do the same time as all other NPCs (instead of a standard NPC shift), and not allowing anyone but our directors/employees to handle money and take care of book keeping isn't just best practices for DR... they are the needed legal practices.  

You will want to give everything you can to your community and you will never feel like it is enough. You will give and give and give and without setting boarders for yourself you will give so much of yourself away that one day you may find that you have nothing more to give. So save your heart, mind, and soul and set borders. Set appropriate means to communicate, and sometimes shut off the outside world.

Eventually you could do well, and in doing so, you will have people who view them as competitors who will act like shit-heels. No matter how good and pious you are, there will be someone out there who will want to shit all over you for their own interests. These greasy shit people will be fonts of negativity, and that no matter how badly you may want to engage these people (and by engage that urge may be to physically or socially engage them), that you will need to take the high road and not engage them.

There will be people who treat you ill, who insult your work, who will still feel entitled to reap the fruit of your labors. These people will treat this group like a club or a bar where for some reason the patrons feel they can call the bartender a motherfucker all night, and yet still expect the bartender to be willing to serve them drinks (or stay in the bar).

You will make mistakes. Accept this now because chances are good you will hear about any mistakes you make for decades. Expect people to measure these mistakes in cumulative measure regardless of how long it has been or what you have done in between. Mistakes have no statute of limitations, and you will hear about these things YEARS later. Own them, accept them, and learn from them.

The scope of cost to work involved will never seem fair to either you, or some of your participants, for completely opposite reasons. Renting sites costs thousands of dollars for a weekend. Taxes cost thousands of dollars a year. Insurance, props, and miscellaneous costs will build up every weekend. To some people paying for 48 hours of event is unreasonable. To some people they expect the highest quality and largest investment of time by you for little or nothing. 

You will no longer be able to turn off “game runner brain” when attending events that are not even your own. This means you will never be able to be a normal player, or have the self-focus of just being a consumer, ever again. You will always put the interests of other players first, you will always try to find better ways to do things in your head, and even when you are not currently running an event you will make efforts to make the game better without consideration for yourself.

You will be expected to have answers to community and cultural issues that religions, religious leaders, politicians, and governments don’t have answers for. You will eventually be asked to give oversight and mediate in issues relating to subjects that are much larger than “a game”.

 

 

 

BLOG POST SIX - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

Today we are going to talk a bit about general design concepts instead of focusing just on mechanical theory. As I see commentary and discussion happen in regards to the mechanical design theory for Dystopia Rising, I realize that there is an "invisible" design concept involved in the creation of Dystopia Rising that may not be apparent to the outside world. 

So today we are going to go into a design philosophy I have that could be entitled –

Meta-Design:
Encouraging Stranger Engagement (aka making friends mechanics)

An interesting thing that is obvious to me, but may not be obvious the everyone else, is one of the largest meta-design focus of the DR LARP system. The focus I am talking about is that nearly every skill, every resource, and every mechanical device is designed around the idea of causing excuses for players to interact with each other.

Dystopia Rising LARP is a build based on the core meta-mechanical idea of “skills allow you to engage large and live an epic life, while encouraging players to interact with strangers”. In combat, teams have the advantage over individuals. Teams with better gear do better than teams without gear. Gear production is created by people who have taken part of their build to be non-combat related. Production people are either completely devoted to the economy game or have combined combat and production skills with professions that are resource management based skill professions. Producers that take combat skills or want to produce on a larger scale need to work with players who have chosen resource management as part of their build.

To simplify I use the example of a single crafted sword. Someone needs to wield the sword, someone needs to make the sword, someone needs to make the workbench that the sword is made on, someone needs to get the resources for both the sword and the workbench together. This causes not only a flowing simulated economy, but also triggers the real economy of Dystopia Rising: player to player engagement.

Player to player engagement is steering by design that goes into the Dystopia Rising system. Your friends you made at Dystopia Rising, it is incredibly common that you interacted with a person as their character before you interacted with a person as themselves. The alibi provided by the game, the design steering to give you excuses to want to engage new people, and the meta-story of “us latching together against the rest of the world” are all design decisions made to help players have a more enjoyable time by interacting with each other.

So, when you are thinking about suggesting that a single Profession should have all of the means to be self-sufficient, when you want to add a skill to a Strain so that it becomes more standalone efficient, understand that single person efficiency isn’t always the goal of the system design. We make professions have holes so that players have excuses to play well with others.

 

BLOG POST FIVE - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

Good morning all!

Today I am going to expand a little further on the idea of “Stability” as a rating, which a good number of people have expressed opinions on. Without a full fleshed out initial concept on the board it is difficult to efficiently debate (not that it prevents the internet from doing so) the idea or how to suggest improvements on the concept. So today I am going to focus on the concept of “Stability” and then also take a few seconds to remind people that this is a discussion, not something locked in stone. 


Stability (name and concept still being workshopped)

Stability is a rating that is a statistic that helps determine a character’s overall capacity to endure situations that go above and beyond what the standard wasteland survivor can endure. Every Strain starts with a rating between 3-5 based on the general cultural history and medical disposition of each Strain.

Each rating of Stability that is purchased is done so at an exponential cost of 10,20,30,40, and 50 XP based on your first, second, third, fourth, or fifth and above purchase of Stability. Stability is not a rating that needs early or mid game point investment, and could be left at starting statistics indefinitely.

Stability is not a score that commonly goes over total of 10, and effects that cause a loss of Stability do so at a very low rate and are rare. Stability is not a “damage type”, but is instead designed for very specific situations that should cause a drain on how often a player pushes themselves.

Stability can be regained via skills such as Entertain and Head Shrink before or after a rating hits zero. Replenishing Stability ensures that a person who has been mentally pushing themselves to the limit take time to tend to their mental health, to sooth the mental demons of the wastelands, and help people "stay people". 

When a character initially reaches Zero Stability, that character is under the effect of the psionic skill “Nightmares”. Once the player has removed themselves from others in their fear fugue state , the player then takes a moment to choose a Mental Quirk that they would add to their sheet. All mental quirks will have the same mechanics, so choice of Mental Quirk is based more on what role-play the player feels comfortable with and would like to experiment with.

Mental Quirks can be removed via skills such as Entertain and Head Shrink once the effected player’s Stability is returned to full (larger stabilities means it is less likely that you will gain a Quirk, but it also means it takes more to assist you once you are actually effected by something).

Examples of Stability Loss:

When a player has a Lazarus Drought used on them, it causes a loss of two Stability.
A full 10 count of the skill “GNAW” causes the fallen Strain being eaten to lose a Stability.
When a player dies and enters their grave scene, loss of five Stability.
When a player first uses the skill torture the first time on a target during a 12s, that player loses one temporary Stability.
Each time a player has the skill torture used on them, that player loses one temporary Stability.
When a player uses advanced certain Psionic and Faith skills or Psion/Faith concentration skills, those skills cost of one Stability.
Effects that allow you to willingly entering into the metaphysical grave space (grave robber procedures, silent observer brew) have a cost of one Stability. More may be lost within the scene in the morgue.
A rank 4 Brain Sieve or similar Director Approval Required NPC could call “By My Voice, Lose One Stability” ONCE.  


Much with any item or situation that allows a player to spend mind points, cost of Stability (when it exists, which is not common) will be listed in the skills or items that cause stability loss. For text purposes, this will make the rule set explaining Stability only slightly larger than the space given to Body or Mind. 

BLOG POST FOUR - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

Yesterday I had a lot of hoops to jump through for the Kickstarter that starts later today, a publication I am working on, some family matters, a hired-on project that is currently in the works (and under NDA), as well as dealing with all of the mundane life stuff.

It's amazing how much laundry you can build up when you don't stop to do it in two weeks. So today I am going to probably do two updates to get me on track with my next few months of projects and releases.

Conversation about the focus of consolidating skills in DR 3.0, and the limited samples I gave, started some great conversation between mechanic minded gamers that was incredibly positive. It was positive not only in the fact that people were debating ideas and theories without resorting to nastiness and salty arguments (the sad standard in gaming culture). This encouraged me, and made me want to go further into some of the initial proposed changes to skills for further discussion and debate.

So, without further ado here is a list of more of the changes I am initially looking at before I start reading feedback summaries. This all could change based on the most common / wanted feedback.


 Meta Design Changes –

These are not changes to specific skills, but do interact greatly with how skills function. Being able to talk about some of the individual changes I would like to make means understanding some of the larger meta-design ideas I’ve been thinking of. Again, these are concepts and not etched in stone.

 Meta Design Change: Blueprints – There are a lot of blueprints out there, and without a doubt there are some blueprints that by design are “winners” while others are considered “losers” due to not being as efficient (especially when it comes to brewing and cooking).

In the shift of blueprints most existing brewing or cooking prints that create more than 2 servings of a product will be cut down to 2 servings. Instead of focusing with Cooking being about making brews more efficient by increasing the number of item cards produced, Cooking will focus more on its own unique meals and effects that are not dependent on using Brews.  

Meta Design Change: Craft Levels – This isn’t a skill change, but is a meta design change to be considered for the rest of the changes to make sense. Instead of running equipment, brews, and meals with an analogue system of 1-10 it is my initial intent to change crafting so that all items are Poor Quality, Average Quality, High Quality, or Master Quality items (effectively a scale of 1-4). This would make Poor Quality your Starter Gear, Average Quality items without any improvements done to them, High Quality items that have been improved but are not outstanding are rare creations, and Master Quality being items crafted with crafting skills via Concentrations or Advanced Concentrations.

This will change the math of effects from an analogue of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10… (effect) to 1,5,10… This will simplify math, make it so that equipment improvement does not need as many trips to the post office, but will have roughly the same “cost and investment” as the system currently does for improving equipment.

Meta Design Change: Body, Mind, and Stability THIS CONCEPT IS STILL UNDER SERIOUS REVIEW AND DEBATE ON MY TABLE RIGHT NOW.  Players measure their physical health and the ability for their character to force themselves forward to do more via the stats of body and mind, however the idea of mental health has always been based on Derangements instead of a more analogue gauge in Dystopia Rising. Instead of continuing to treat mental health as s digital change of “Sane or not” and having a series of “Derangements” that effect someone’s play post death, this proposal is to change “derangements” into a measure for players to use. Mechanically each Strain would have a starting Stability rating. Stability can be purchased the same way mind points and body can be purchased at the same scale. Instead of being exhausted when a player hits zero Mind, or in bleed out when a player hits zero Body, a player who hits zero Stability they trigger the “Flight” aspect of Fight or Flight response, and the player chooses from a list of fictional mental conditions to role-play until their Stability is tended to (making Head Shrink more like Medical Genius instead of being an On/Off switch). The less Stability a person has (current or total), the harder it is for them to deal with their mental condition.

This change would also remove the Derangements list and instead replace it with a series of fictional mental conditions that the players would have agency regarding their manifestation.  Mechanically this would streamline mental trauma and remove the parallel between real mental health concerns and ones portrayed fictionally. This change would also allow certain Psionic Skills to wear down the mind over time, or have a cost in “Stability” to use at higher concentration level abilities.


Skill Changes

Barricade Becomes a crafting item on the default crafting list instead of its own skill

Bless Weapon Roll this into Holy Rites and build a Faith based tree the same way that Psionics currently have a Psionic Ability tree. This faith based tree will result in some of the more “common place” skills on the Priest list to be shifted off of the list and made available via new professions or the open list.

Bounce Remove craft level requirement. Improving shields will focus on other mechanical benefits.

Building Tomorrow and Forging the Future Consolidate into one skill with high-cost and low-cost prints. Concentration focus allows for “third tier” improvements.

Check Value - This skill should be removed since values fluctuate faster than could be recorded on an item card. Checking the current value of currencies will be rolled in with the rest of the "Check" skills.

Disarming Blow / Disarming Shot Consolidate into a single skill

Entertain Reduce performance requirement time, if Stability is introduced allow for replenishment of Stability in addition to Mind

Head Shrink Become a system closer to Medical Genius where “preventative maintenance” can be done to recover Stability points to prevent someone from having a total breakdown.

Instruct Do away with skill, allow multiple expenditures of Teach with the same time investment

Improved Armor/Shield, Improved Pistol/Bow, Improved Weapon Consolidate into a single skill

Knockdown / Takedown – Condensed into a single skill

Lore: Semper Mort - When originally decided to not be included, Semper were a "new Strain" that were a grand mystery to the wastelands. There were also only 5 chapters and under 3,000 players. By the time this book comes out the Semper will have been around for 10 years, which is long enough to put some Lore together on them. 

Sever and Gun Aficionado Consolidate into a single skill

Blog Post Three - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

Today is a conversation that I am hesitant to start, but I think is worth the conversation. The reason why I am hesitant to start this conversation is that the line by line items that are being discussed are still in the initial review phase and are some of the most likely items to fluctuate between now and the feedback forms come in. Today I am talking about consolidating redundant skills.

Some skills are very useful, but only in very specific situations where the plot writers have incorporated the skill into the plots and modules they are releasing into the world. Some skills are incredibly useful on their own, mostly because they engage the ongoing aspects of the world during the majority of an event. Being able to swing a melee weapon is almost always useful when there is a fight and being able to heal someone else’s wounds is also very useful as well. Being able to identify the value of an object, not as useful.

There are also some skills that are divided across multiple skills that are unnecessary divisions for the sake of sub-dividing a skill into multiple costs.


Examples:

Throwing + Throwing Javelins. The difference between these two skills is so small that there is no need for two separate skills to outline thrown damage and could be collapsed into “Thrown Weapons”. Turning these two skills into one allows for a wider arrange of physical representations, crafting options, and customization in the thrown weapons arsenal of a player.

Destroy Weapon+ Destroy Armor+ Destroy Shield + Break Weapon+ Break Armor+ Break Shield + Force Barricade can all be broken down into a single skill that is themed something like “SHATTER <Variable>” where the user can spend mind points, use whatever weapon they wish for doing their kool aid man impression and have the effect of “My thing breaks that thing”. This also turns three and a half pages of mechanics into less than one page.

Concentrated Fire – This skill is annoying in function. While the idea of being able to hit certain areas of a person is cool, when you are using a point based health system it offers you very little use other than to increase mind point costs to combining skills together and occasionally allow someone to juke that they are shooting their friends in the groin. This skill could be done away with all together and by adjusting the cost on skills such as Sniped Shot and Scatter Shot you could incorporate needed targeting into the call without Concentrated Fire.

Check Status+ Check Quality+ Analyze Compound+ Analyze Creature – These four skills get limited use and some players tend to work their asses off to do whatever they can to avoid having to use these skills. Looking at item cards, asking “how many punches can you take”, and other forms of meta-bending “I’m asking you a mechanics question, but couching it with in game talk so I’m not technically avoiding using a skill” sort of nonsense. Collapse all these skills together into a single “Analyze” or “Inspect” skill with variables and now the ability to inspect a person, object, creature, or currency is all under the same header.

Cover of Night+ Fade in a Crowd+ Vanish – All of these skills allow you to disappear under different variables of “When I used this people shouldn’t be able to see me”. The skill can be reworked to give a better explanation of when and how it can be used and all three of these skills could be collapsed into one skill.  


There are others that should be consolidated as well, but even with this starting design shift concept we have turned 17 individual skills into 4 skills. This consolidation also changes roughly 8 single sided pages of mechanics into about 2 ½ single sided pages of mechanics. This consolidation not only makes the individual skills more useful, available across more lists, and creates a situation where less mechanics variables need to be remembered but also it allows us to introduce new skills and new professions into the same volume of “mechanics space”.  The goal is to have 3 different variant means to interact with the same resultant effect for three different styles of role-play preference.

As an example of this concept of three, right now the only ways to gain produce in play (other than some prints) is via check-in while having the skill animal handling or by being a hunter using the skill hunters mark. A third option for producing produce, with a different mechanical and RP focus, should be introduced so that not everyone is completely reliant on Farmers. Herb production currently only reliably comes via Farming and occasionally via scrounging. A third means, such as a Gatherer profession, would allow players a different avenue to go down if they want to produce resources but don’t want to be a farmer or scavenger.

With skill consolidation this does mean that the total number of skills each Profession has will be reduced to a standardization of 10-12 skills instead of the 15 skills currently on each list. While this doesn’t mean a huge change for post Profession lists (since many of them have overlapping skills that will be consolidated) it does mean a rather large restructure for the non-psionic skills that are on the Psion list and an adjustment of the skills available on the Priest list and Assassin list. This will also mean that some defense skills that are only available on a limited number of lists will instead move to the Open List to allow for a rebalance (such as Mind Resist).    

BLOG POST Two - REWORKING GAME DESIGN THEORY FOR DYSTOPIA RISING: EVOLVED

Today’s talk, Strain Variants and the addition to variables in the local Strains. 

With 3.0 (Dystopia Rising: Evolved) we will be focusing on providing more role-play background options for players without bogging down the system with unnecessary and redundant mechanics. With this includes adding different options to the Strain descriptions, and bringing some of the Strains (mechanically and in flavor text), in line with the ongoing table-top world. 
The four Strains that will receive the highest degree of adjustment for narrative will be the Genjian, Iron Slaves, Saltwise, and Solestros. 

The first part of this revision is a redesign of the iconography. Both Solestros and Genjian had their Strain iconography created 9 years ago, and the iconography has not received an update since. In the time since the two Strains were originally created the description of both have developed to tell the full story of sun bleached surfer/desert culture and people whose “cargo cult culture” came from corporations based in India, Russia, and Japan. The goal for Solestros was to tap into the culture of the desert wanderer of the south west and earnest farmer culture found in the wastelands. The goal for the Genjian was the last outposts of humanity who have a skewed world view based on existing on the remains of business culture.

9 years later, I feel like both failed. To get that vibe you need to read into the material and it’s not visible in the iconography and artwork. Mechanically both suggest completely different stories from intention, and will need a revision to “tell a story without telling the story”. As a writer it was a hard lesson to learn that the art and the iconography speaks more than language does. So both require a revision to allow the iconography and the mechanics to match the focus and intent of the story.

So, with those two revisions we also will be giving more visual and role-play examples for how people can interpret the Strains in visual costuming and Role-play. What about Iron Slaves born in the wild after their parents escaped? The game has been around long enough now that this is a viable character concept. What about Saltwise that spend more time in the deep then they do on land. Why do Saltwise that live on shores and Saltwise who have almost always lived in the deep have the same visual and social cues? 

There isn’t a reason. If we are thinning the mechanics and using less space on basic language, there is no reason to not add a single page for each Strain that gives different variations for play. Mechanically they would all be the same, but for the Saltwise that wants to do more inspiration from underwater life and the one that wants to do more "on the shore" sort there is no reason why we can't have options for both.

This doesn’t mean that all Strain skills, advantages, and disadvantages shouldn’t be reviewed. Without a doubt with the shift in mind and body values, combined with the adjustment of redundant skills, every Strain and Profession should be reviewed. That is part of the reason we are taking 2 years to do the update. 
 

Blog Post One - Reworking Game Design Theory for Dystopia Rising: Evolved

Welcome to the first in a number of posts over the coming year relating to theories, potential design choices, and thought processes behind potential changes in existing LARP mechanical design.

First of all, this is all theory design conversation. None of this is set in stone, and if you find yourself getting anxious or angry about potential changes in mechanical design in your hobby I suggest not reading it. If you get angry, treat the internet like a bathroom stall wall, or really want to just be super negative this isn't really the place for you.

As a follow-up to the anxious aspect, if feel like responding to the thread, feel free to. However if you do a very long response your response may be better suited as feedback to your Director. As a blog, reading a post that requires multiple scrolls of my track wheel just isn't going to happen.

I want to talk a little bit about one of the largest changes proposed for DR 3.0, which is body and mind shifts.  As you may have seen in the initial announcement, our current proposal is to have both body and mind have an exponentially growing cost until 5 XP per point. This means the first 10 you buy costs 1 each, the second 10 you buy costs 2 each, the third 10 you buy costs 3 each, the fourth 10 you buy costs 4 each, and from that point forward all mind and body costs 5 each.

PDF Attached of expanded base body and mind charts combined with damage squash to show comparable number of uses / strikes taken. 

PDF Attached of expanded base body and mind charts combined with damage squash to show comparable number of uses / strikes taken. 

With this is also a proposed flattening of both damage and mind point costs for skills to adjust to the lower levels, and to provide standardized damages and expenses to simplify player book keeping in the field. This does include a rework of armor values that will shift from 1-100 to 10,20,30,40, and 50 points of armor at flat levels. This does include a rework of weapon damage to have weapon damage do a scaled range of 1,2,5,10, and spike 20 damage.  This would effectively make the new slaughter 20 points of damage, to use casual tones.

Mind points is a little bit more of a case by case shift, where crafting and resource production skills will have slightly higher cost but produce higher valued resources. This will cut down on the numbers of trips back and forth, will increase the potency and strength of brew and meal uses, while cutting down on the sheer volume of prop and production materials needed. Improving equipment will be on tiers instead of an analogue, so players can make more out of their crafting role-play instead of seeing it as a detriment or time sink that they “need to get through over and over”.

With the mind point shift, concentration skills would shift from the 20-mind point cost down to a theorized 10 mind point cost while secondary concentrations (based on the framework of advanced professions with new additions and revisions) would shift to a 10-mind point cost. While reducing the massive increase at the multiple hundred XP mark, it still allows progress and growth to allow for "massive undying survivor" builds while increasing the ability for new players to use their new character sheets and become involved. 

This will also result in reworking on certain mechanics (like Baywalker & Pureblood flaws) since maximum numbers are so much lower. Being struck with 10 Poison to a Baywalker ends up being the same as being hit with the new equivalent of a slaughter (which is a bit much). This will also require a rebalance adjustment of starting mind and body totals since having less than average mind and body is now more of a detriment for a Strain than it was in the past. 

This design change will also make firearms deadlier in the wasteland. With proposed weapon reworks your ability to unload a stream of 10 damage hits from range becomes much more powerful than it once was.

Later I’ll talk about either skill consolidations or the idea behind having three mechanically identical Strain variants within the Strains.

Dunbar's Number, Morality, and LARP

squirrel-water-mirroring-nager-158258.jpeg

Do our brains register long term characters as actual people?

A theory regarding the abstract and the applied.

I would argue that most people, when provided an abstract moral question, choose for good. Unless there is an outside source of conflict relating to how they were nurtured, or a biological situation which causes a person to process thoughts and morality differently than the norm the majority of people choose "good" over "bad". When a person is given an abstract situation, without real world connotations and connections, many people would choose an answer that would provide the most theoretical positive response. If asked “You have an excess of food, and a person next to you is starving to death, do you share your food?” the majority of people will respond with yes.

The theoretical becomes more complex when real world variables are applied. If the same question was asked in regards to a starving person, and the starving person happened to be Hitler, the question is nowhere near as cut and dry from the perspective of the person answering. To feed the starving Hitler is to provide continued life for an individual who causes so much suffering and pain, and to not feed the starving Hitler is to directly cause the death of another individual.

This idea of the abstract and the applied morality is important to keep in mind for a question I am going to ask later, but for right now I need you to put the idea of the applied perspective verses abject morality aside and consider another concept.

The next concept I want you to consider is “Dunbar's Number”. To summarize the concept for the sake of this blog post, Dunbar’s Number states that there is a limited number of individuals that a person can be connected to and identify as “people” or members of their tribe. The idea is that any individual can only truly care about a number of people (between 100 and 250). Dunbar's number states the number of people one is able to know and keep an social contact with. It does not include people we KNEW and don’t keep a social relationship with nor does it count people just generally known of without persistent engagement. Where this number lies between the 100 and 250 mark is theorized to be directly related to the long-term memory of the person in question.

Dunbar’s research also states that we have “inner circles” of friends and connections that vary from 5-15 people who are considered the inner most connections we share.  This theory has been proven (according to Dunbar) using phone and communication records of over 35 Million people and 6 Billion calls that humans organize themselves in this “circles” mentality by default.

This explains the reason why our brain processes betrayal, unequal levels of familiarity (where one person considers another as a closer relationship than reciprocated), and being removed from one’s circle as unpleasant or even painful. This social structure design is literally built into our emotional psyche.  

Now that we have these two concepts on the table, I want to take the rest of this post to muse with a theory I have started to put together. My theory is that chronicle LARP play, where an individual character has the ability and develop relationships and connections that could be perceived as “real” over a long duration of time, has the potential that the character as well as the player could hold two overlapping relationship “slots” in our real-world minds. That a person who I consider part of my inner circle, who portrays a character that I have built a fictional narrative relationship with over the years, could also exist in one of the non-inner circle slots of my “acceptable people” relating to Dunbar’s number.

Furthermore, I want to suggest that since a single individual, portraying multiple “identities” that are attached to by a human’s psyche as part of the limited restriction, can become a higher priority to us as humans than individual relationships due to the multiple layers of connectivity that have been created.

To give an example I am going to provide three fictional people: Alex, Chris, and Pat. Alex and Chris are LARPers in an ongoing chronicle game and Pat is a non-LARPing person that both Alex and Chris know. Alex plays a character named Brosh and Chris plays a character named Drom and Pat knows them through the quilting organization (A portrays B, C portrays D, and P knows A&B via Q but not via B and D).

Alex and Chris’s alternative personas Brosh and Drom are siblings in their fictional narrative at LARP. They live together, fight side by side, share experiences together, and have each other’s back. While during the duration of the LARP Chris perceives Brosh as a friend and Alex perceives Drom as a friend. While each of the LARPers are viewing the other from a fictional perspective the bleed of emotions, agency of engagement by the real person over the fictional persona, and the real chemical responses the LARPER has when their CHARACTER experiences a simulated environment are all real.

My theory is that because Alex sees Chris and Drom as two similar, but different, people that Alex creates two different levels of attachment. Alex may have Chris as part of their inner circle and Drom as part of their extended 150 connections that they make.  This means that the physical form that is the host for both the conceptual identity of Chris and Drom becomes even more important to Alex. This would suggest that the engagements that Alex has with Chris and Drom will bleed back and forth between the two making it so that the actions and engagements of the real persona will influence the third parties perception of the fake persona and vice versa.

The average Dystopia Rising LARP Network game has more people attending it than it is theoretically possible for one person to care about.

The average Dystopia Rising LARP Network game has more people attending it than it is theoretically possible for one person to care about.

This also suggests that since the connection that Alex has with Chris (because of both the identities of Chris and Drom) is more potent than the connection that they have with Pat from their quilting circle, it is very likely that if a question of morality were to be brought into question that placed both Chris and Pat at odds with each other with Alex being the object of observation and “judge” of the situation, that Alex would be fighting against their own nature to believe, apply, or observe wrongdoing by Chris if brought forward by Pat.

Applied example continued. After years of playing the same personas together month after month, Alex is approached by Pat. Pat tells Alex that Chris has been sexually harassing them for months, and that Chris is acting as a predator. Pat has no evidence in regard to this but provides a narrative that matches the timeline, opportunity, and situations that are all believable.

Because Alex has an inner circle relationship with Chris as well as a secondary relationship with Drom, Alex will be less able to default to assist the theoretical victim (Pat) due to the fact that this becomes a situation where one person is accusing TWO people of committing an unprovable or hypothetical wrong.

This theory makes so much sense to me. It explains why LARPers want their non-LARPing friends to participate so badly (because it makes multiple levels of connection). It explains why once a group, organization, or network becomes a certain size that internal sub-communities are going to grow and treat the other groups as “outsiders” or even enemies. It explains why social development growth can happen at such an accelerated state during LARP, and it explains to me why players are incapable of seeing objectively outside of their rank and file of overlapping connectivity.

 

The Strange Observation of Outrage

Despite the title, this is a really positive update from me. For those of you that don’t know, over the past two and a half months I have gotten married, went on my honeymoon, moved into a new house, and have had some of the most memorable life experiences ever. I have also landed some very cool partnerships, worked on some amazing projects (the NDAs prevent me from talking about them just yet), and within the past few weeks the layout for the last DR book has started to wind up.  Utopia has started to get some major headway, I’ve reconnected with some creatives that I thought I might have lost forever to dark voids of third parties, and the creativity is on a full high.

Life has been fucking amazing.

For those of you that follow the internet noise and drama in LARP circles, you probably also know that the past few months have included some incredibly difficult times as well. There were death threats, people drawing lines in the sand, and people who I once thought were cool being completely shitty. The negativity was so potent that not only did I look to remove myself from LARP all together, but I also questioned some of the ties I had with people who called themselves my friends.

While I hit some of the highest highs, the internet and a handful of people were determined to be what I felt were complete and utter assholes.

Many weeks went by, and then something happened in the real public eye that shocked all of us. Neo-Nazi’s, racists, and alt-right white supremacists assaulted not only Charlottesville, Virginia but also then followed with rallies and marches in cities around the United States.

And while most of civilized humanity recoiled and reacted with the degree of outrage, disgust, fear, and fervor that should be expected… there was something that I noticed on the internet. Many of the people who had, with one of my games or another, had a freak-out online that were freaking out about the events in Virginia were doing so at the same volume, potency, fervor, intensity, and duration as they freaked out about LARP or gaming related items.

I had to think about this for a few days and really gestate it. Why were people acting the same way about Nazis marching in Virginia as they were about their favorite FPS character being nerfed?

I think I have come to a few conclusions, but not rock solid on any of them. The first conclusion that I came to was that games and gaming meant as much to these people as real world issues did. This was both concerning and complimentary to me since I have seen people become overly invested in things I have created. The truth is that we encourage the “only play at game” mentality to try and prevent this, but there are gamers who define too much of their mundane/not-at-game life around the hobbies they have. I don’t know if there is a solution to this or what could be done other than to encourage these people to take a break and (without it being insulting) find a life outside of gaming.

The second conclusion I came to was that people AREN’T equally infuriated and engaged, however they only understand one form of voicing discontent. Maybe we have reached a point in society where people feel that the only way to have their opinion listened to at all is to scream as loud, and as offensively, as possible in the hopes that it makes change. Water too cold for your coffee? If the employee doesn’t give you what you want, yell and make threats. Dislike the direction of your favorite comic book show? Yell and make threats. Dislike a game rule change? Yell and make threats. Dislike Nazis marching the street (the one you really SHOULD flip your lid about)? Yell and make threats.

Normally when you get to the end of one of my blog posts there is some sort of witty summation that either causes a fight or draws everything together in a nice irony. Unfortunately, this one is still out there and I don’t have a witty punchline to end things with today. I still have to figure out how to tell people that game design is worth it (despite the evidence).  I have to convince writers and game designers that the hobby is worth engaging in and that the abuse they see is the exception and not the rule. I have to spend time explaining to people that yes, because you berated and were a total shit to my coworkers, friends, and myself, I don’t want to be your friend and I don’t plan on doing projects with you in the future.  I need to parse the fact that people are flipping their shit at the same levels about a female Doctor Who and real Nazis on the march.  

I don’t know how to tell people that they are taking the wrong shit too seriously and the real shit not serious enough.

Excitement For Change

One of the most exciting things I do is creating new worlds, systems, and mechanical designs. While it doesn’t look exciting from the outside (since it’s a lot of time looking out windows silently and then hours and hours of writing), it is without a doubt one of the best things about being a content creator and game designer. Being able to create new worlds, stories, and creating the building blocks for thousands of people to play with is without a doubt summarized as “the tits”.

Seeing thousands of people working on costumes, creating stories, and building their own experience using the world that you invented is incredible. Part of the reason you never see me stand up in front of everyone when I visit a DR game is because I love standing at the back of the crowd and seeing all of it in the picture. The Directors. The writers. The team of players. All of it. Seeing the costumes and the friendships that were brought together with your imagination is enough to make nearly any weight that comes with it so much lighter.

Recently the DR Network announced that we would be paying plot producers as writers instead of following the hobby standard of “story teller” at games. A ton of people loved this. Some people were scared. A small handful were angry.

Hiring Story Writers is something that needs to be done as part of the culture of LARP. With the way things are with companies reviewing how CCG tournaments and how conventions operate, it made us wonder about the standards of LARP. So many months ago we had a team of lawyers advise us on what changes should be made to not only do the ethical thing for the hobby, but also to be ahead of what potential issues could come down the line in the future.

Understand I’m not a lawyer, and I hire them and listen to them instead of making my own guesses and conclusions. So, what I’m putting out there is a distilled thought process based on what information we got in a rundown. Marshaling for your NPC shift isn’t defined as “work” if it replaces your NPC shift. NPC shifts are a part of the experience offered and sold as a LARP, and with that having a higher level of trust for an NPC shift and a higher level of trust for adjudication during a game isn’t work. Was it right for us to ask for an extra two hours? Arguable one way or the other. What we did when we wanted to find the best set of practices was that we reduced the marshal shift from six hours to four hours, which is a standard NPC shift.

Then came Story Tellers. Story Telling as it has been traditionally defined by LARP is really two different gigs. One is doing a NPC shift and organizing stuff like a marshal does and the other part is writing stories. While running a shift at an event isn’t defined as work (again, replaces NPC shift) we cut the two hours down just like marshals and made it 4 hours.

But then there is the part of getting a game for free in exchange for writing stories.

Writing can be, without a doubt, a job. Myself and many other people are freelance writers that literally write content for a living. Is every time someone writes considered “work”? That is an area that is incredibly murky in the courts. The same way that the idea of every time someone creates art, is it work (even if not done professionally, and done for the love of it) writing falls under the same category.  What makes it even murkier is the idea that people who were doing the role of Story Teller in Dystopia Rising were effectively being compensated by their local hired companies to write for them.

For the most part, everyone is happy. Story Tellers were getting hundreds of dollars’ worth of free experience in exchange for  doing something they loved doing as a hobby and everyone wins. The only person who doesn’t win in that scenario is the government.

The government loves its taxes. No matter what your opinion on taxation laws in the US, the fact remains that if there is a transaction of goods or services rendered for materials of value that could be measured in financial means, the government wants a cut. So while Story Tellers were getting over $100 of value each month, and there is a legal argument in regards to it being defined as “work” or not due to the unpublished nature of the writing relating to it being a component of the experience provided, the decision was made that we needed to get ahead of this.

Now if we left it as is, the Network as a whole would be fine. Our franchise contracts with the individual branches state that at any point the legal standard of the united states overrides any portion of organization and design of the network, and it is the accepted responsibility of the franchisee to operate within federal and state legal guidelines.

But we don’t leave our people hanging out in the wind, and instead decided on best practices for moving forward.

The other issue is that if it is defined as work, then the Story Tellers should have to declare their cost of entrance on a 1099 tax form, because even bartering is required to be filled out on a 1099. This means the Story Tellers who don’t know how to handle taxes, due to no fault of anyone involved, could also not have been filing their taxes correctly.

So with as much love as I have for making things people enjoy, we needed to find a way to be able to provide that opportunity to the players without endangering the individual chapters legal status (and there are dozens of different options local branches could take to address this). So we broke down the idea of what a Story Teller is into its components, took the portions that are arguably work, and made that a paid job.

Now people have an easier way into the industry, finances get to the people who are working, and the government gets its taxes according to freelance standards. The next problem was finding what the “standard rate” for a writer is. As a writer I can tell you straight out that I have had a wide array of pay for a wide array of projects.  I know what I have been paid as a writer, I have references for what average standard pay rates are for many different sort of writers, but no standard could be found for what to write someone who is creating derivative module descriptions in roughly 400 word blocks. The closest we could find was current standard rates for original armature fiction writers for magazines and anthologies, which came down to $.02 cents a word for new writers.  AGNI pays 1-4.9 cents per word. Fiction writers for Asia Literary Review receive 5 cents per word.

And all of these ranges were for established writers and new professionals producing completely new content for publication. These writers create the source, the world, the base IP, and original ideas. There wasn't a standard for what boiled down to fan fiction. 

The other issue is that the contract that the writer has isn’t with Dystopia Rising LARP Network. The contract is with the individual franchise where the franchise is hiring writers to produce materials that are only used at their game. What story gets run at a local game has no influence on the publication company or the franchise production company unless the franchise company directly hires to produce ongoing long-term over-arcs for the entire network.

So how do you handle it?

Best answer? You let the individual franchise owners define their own contracts of hire and just institute a bottom line of fair and acceptable pay that is higher than some of the standards and lower than some of the higher end publication ranges. Since hiring writers is directly between the people hiring them and the people being hired, it ends up being a conversation that they have to have and not us. The only thing that we provide is a standard suggested minimum for contract so that people who are not used to hiring writers have some sort of idea of what the bottom floor should be.  Writers can be hired by the word, by the project, for multiple month over-arcs, for guest writing spots, and a whole lot more… all defined by the local franchise.

Does it work for everyone?

Hell no. There are people who currently have jobs that say they can’t do work for other people. It sucks, but the definition of work and income is so squirrely state by state that it needs to be researched and engaged by a local franchise. Hell, we won’t even touch that (or want to).

Is it the best practice we have to date?

Yup. And once a better practice that works for the government and also games is found, we’ll use that.

A turning point of note.

This is not an easy thing for me to write and it is very long. If you want actual engagement about everything regarding right now with LARP, you are going to have to read a very long document. If you want to pull pieces without reading the full content, or make commentary without giving it consideration, I am not going to give any of myself to you in response. I don’t have much of me left right now, and if you do not want to listen, then I will not speak.

To some of you I am the person who creates cool things that gives you a place to have a community away from the world. To some of you I am a strange concept of “authority” that is either loved or hated based in our hobby. To some of you it would seem I am the anti-christ.

About 10 years ago I created the world of Dystopia Rising because there was something I saw in LARP culture that I hated. I hated the fact that a player’s social status was based on their character. I hated the fact that most females were treated as “ghoul-friends” or “healer girlfriends”. I disliked fantasy as a core concept of play, and I wanted to build something that was different culturally and as a game.

And over the past 10 years we have been able to initiate many changes that not only effect our game but also LARP as a hobby. The removal of sexual assault as casual content, the streamlining of mechanics, and opening the door to work with the international LARP community have all been huge steps forward. Increasing transparency in LARP event design, using new techniques for checking in and tending to the care of the player, and focusing on community over game design have also been groundbreaking steps we pushed forward in American LARP.

As the years went forward we were asked to address larger and more complex issues that even politicians and religious leaders don’t handle well. Pushing the limits of “what is game culture” we did our best to work with LGTBQ and groups that are often unjustly marginalized socially in the world to push for safer spaces and finding a place of respect for all gamers.

And with our successes and losses, with our growth and development as a larger and larger network, our efforts became more and more removed from directly influencing and doing the thing we love. After the first five years of running the network live my friends and loved ones saw the weight of being the point of contact have a serious effect on me. When one in three hundred people treat you viciously and cruelly, and that ratio turns from three hundred to six thousand, it reaches a point where you give more and more of yourself up to the job. I had a number of failed relationships, lost friendships, and lost opportunities that were without a doubt directly related to the parts of my soul that I had given up.

Around that time, I also had one of the worst scares of my life. I had a false positive for a terminal illness diagnosed, and for a handful of months I was functioning under the idea that I had a year left to live. In retrospect, I did one of the most telling things ever. I had, what I thought, was maybe a year left to live and instead of taking that time to live and experience and travel or do whatever else a dying person is supposed to do with their last days… I pushed myself to write 2.0. I didn’t want to die knowing that I didn’t leave a legacy and template to make things better for my family. That was how much of yourself you have to give to do what we did. We gave up ourselves because we loved what we did. Also, as an unrelated aside, that is the reason why there are so many small errors in 2.0. There is no deadline in the world like the one where you think you may actually end up dead.

As time moved forward the negativity related to the job did not go down. Ashley took over being the leader instead of my partner and “threw me in my writer cave” so that I could create instead of dealing with all of the aspects of the job that were making me hate what I was doing. After a couple of years Ashley too started becoming overloaded with the toxicity, the demand, and the weight of handing the network as well as handling business decisions.

And the scope and scale of the shit we dealt with wasn’t some “so-and-so cheated at make believe” stuff. We were dealing with issues that involve lawyers to protect our IP, trying to help people who were in distress between members of the DR community for events not happening at DR, and dealing with being the mouthpiece and visual go-to for explaining that our hobby was not everything wrong in the world.

And it just wasn’t the exterior aspects that were big deals. We were dealing with the LARP culture attempting to claw itself apart and cannibalize each other with the interests of individual people driving horrible actions. Lawsuits between Directors and now former Directors. Spite/anger games being launched trying to push down other games to make their own look good. TV shows attempting to make a farce of what we did and who we were. Major magazine and news “reporters” digging to find the “this is what is wrong with this hobby you never heard about” stories that don’t exist. We have spent as much time in court rooms, working with accountants and lawyers, and forging forward in the uncharted areas of LARP business taking hits and dealing with stress as we went.

And as the external aspects grew, a voice started to grow saying “It’s a business. We are customers.” That voice became a really big issue. As the people who made everything that is DR, that write the books, that do all of this frustrating and ulcer creating and unappreciated (and often unseen) labors yes, it is a job. We run a business where we franchise our materials to smaller businesses so that they can do in other areas what we did in the north east. They pay us to use the books, to have us share thousands of pages of documentation, to get access to training, to get the tools that they need to build their local business and community. The local chapters sign contracts to have access to privileged and proprietary information that include unpublished (and with that partially unprotected) book content, they get a wide array of resources that are not only important for the running of a game but also give them direction and knowledge that if it were put public could negatively affect our entire business.

The items that Directors get wind of early includes when we are looking to release novels, deals we had with TV companies, business decisions that influence us greatly, and items that when we were younger and looser with our information, without a doubt bit us in the ass.

But the community as a whole doesn’t really see that. They see the fact that we focus on building community and culture and assign the concept of their “Dystopia Rising Experience” to a large and vague bubble instead of all the smaller companies that run it. They see “national” as a team of people that come in and kick down doors and watch over things with a magnify glass. They see us as the big brother that engages an area and over-rules their loved local Directors.

And I don’t blame the Directors for not changing this perspective, because no one likes being the bad guy.

But when the three of us actively get involved in a direct situation it is because one or multiple of the following have happened: A) the Directors asked us to help address something that they feel they are incapable of handling, B) there is a situation that directly effects the business and operation of the network as a whole, C) we have gotten enough feedback that there is an issue on national level, or D) there is something large enough to effect the greater community on a high percentage scale.

Every time there is a “rules update handed down from national” what is actually happened is multiple Directors disagree about how a rule works, they ask what the initial intent was, and then the Directors let their games know.

With all of this as the background, let’s get to the part that is the conversation of the day. Understand that as I talk about this, that I am going to purposely remove the emotional ties and connections to the conversations involved because of how vehement people have gotten.

A Director shared screen shots of materials in the franchise and NDA restricted area with a player.

The player approached one of the national team members and said, “A Director gave me screen shots from the Directors area, and I don’t like what you wrote in it.”

The player then talked for a period of time with Jeff.

That Directors area included (and since have been pulled) links to download the chapter specific DR operations materials, content such as local game stats for threats, yearlong meta plots, details about Downfall, posts from Directors asking for assistance and feedback on issues ranging from rules calls to how to assist sexual assault victims who have confided with them at game, to a wide arrange of business decisions.

The scope, scale, and content of the screenshots and access have never been turned over so there is no current confirmation of how much access this player was given (in theory by a Director).

The player refused to say how they got the information. At first it was stated that a Director sent a screen shot. Later the player said that someone they knew found a way to have access to the boards and send a screenshot. It was then said again that it was a Director. Please note that this was later rescinded, but without a doubt is the reason for the next step since it was rescinded after the letter was sent.

The letter sent to the player, after attempting for twelve hours to find out how much information was leaked and how, was that the player would not be welcome at Dystopia Rising events for a indefinite (meaning un-known or uncertain) volume of time unless we could settle where he got access to said information, and how much information was attained. This had to be worded by our lawyer because a if this this information actually came from someone breaking into the systems this then could potentially fall into the realm of computer crimes and would require a very measured and specific email due to potential legal involvement.

To the time where this is being written, the player is still not banned. He was given a choice as to either give the details of the information and how the information was received or not be welcome at the events. (Post note- This was written before we had a chance to talk with the player in question and was posted after decisions were made. Since then the ban was dropped because there was noone entering the restricted areas and we found that the player did not ask for these details).

Now that this part is out there, now is where the first part and the second part come together.

Since this has all gone public, here are a small fraction of the comments and quotes from those close to the player.

“I own pigs and land. So does my neighbor”
“Ill burn the game to the ground.”
“Bunch of assclowns running the game..."
“Good job, corporate asshats!”
“This motherfucker better hope I don't run into him.”
“Lets just fucking riot and kick the shit out of them.”

And let’s make it clear right now, none of this actually came from the player involved. According to a post he put up he too was getting shitty attacks from other members of the DR community, and I have no reason to not believe him. In addition to these public posts came a number of private emails, private messages, and incredibly vile threats to different members of the DR creative team.

So that is the part that is not only going to stop, but will never be allowed to happen again. These people threatened my family. They threatened my friends. The people who said these things will never, ever be forgotten. I am a person who has grown to react slowly when I am informed, and when there is a threat to me and mine, to never forgive. Ever. We take every ounce of the weight that comes with the actions we take.

The player in question was emotionally effected, but was engaging. Even as it was going on I reached out to the player and we both agreed that we saw each other’s side of things. I understood that he felt that a friend had taken a huge risk, and done him a solid, and that he felt a responsibility to keep silent because he owed that person a debt. He understood that from our perspective the person who shared access or content with him potentially has endangered not only the network of businesses but also exposing other forms of sensitive information regarding players.

So, I sit here looking at a lose – lose – lose situation.

I have a player who I like, who despite having this huge issue in the middle we could talk and express our sides without conflict. But because neither he, nor the Director, are willing to step forward I have to look at not only how everything got here but also reconsider what materials are trusted to Directors.

I have a company that created the entire shell of the community, and was the focus point of creating the safer space that I wanted back when I was a gamer instead of a game designer. The structure and security of the business requires ensuring sensitive information is kept private and creating a space where the Directors can discuss details that shouldn’t be public.

I have a community that a portion of is attacking itself because they love the player, and love the game, and the entire scenario is shitty. I can’t force the Director to stand up, and if I just go by the system logs it will add accelerant to the fire.

I have Directors who are caught in a limbo between their community and needing to do what is right for their business where many of the players will not understand the needs that the Directors have and the Directors can’t completely be a part of the passions and thoughts the players have.

Lastly in the lose – lose – lose tree is the fact that I don’t know if I have the heart to keep doing this.

Running a network is like taking all of the enjoyable parts out of game design, writing, and events and replacing them with being the fire-fighter for other people’s playgrounds. We get called in where there are issues, problems, and we always end up having to work through proxies and other people. I spend more of my time creating tools for other Directors to use than actually developing and moving the hobby forward.

Every week there is a new fire somewhere, and a new argument somewhere, that the Directors reach out to us about. There is always some new giant-larp explosion due to the size of our network, and there is only so much ability to care and give that I have in me.

When I thought I was dying I gave everything I could to making a legacy and making sure that the community could go on without me. If I were to get that same life situation today, I would not hesitate to spend my last months with my perfect wife and my friends and loved ones.

Also, when I ran a game that averaged 300 people, I could talk to everyone individually and take care of what problems happened in person. If two people had a conflict, I could just work with them to make it better. If someone broke the law, I knew that I would be the one to call the police. If there was a problem with the rules, or something needed an update, I could just make the update without having to work 16 other branches and thousands of people through the process.

We have been bridging the line between community and business for so long that I feel like I have nothing of me left to give to help. Every time there is something that is instituted, introduced, or brought forward there is a group that are abusive because of it (or use the change as an excuse or tool to do so).

This is still discussions, and I am not 100 percent sure of process, but I can’t see a win in this situation that involves me still being actively involved as both a community leader and a resource developer. I feel that the “national team”, otherwise known as the people who actually make DR, need to be a business and step away from the day to day community engagement. Much in the way that other LARP networks have a core group that develop their resources, tools, and materials and then licensed companies that buy rights to run networks… I think that maybe there needs to be that division between the creation and operation aspects of the game and the community.

I love you all, but there is only so much of me I can give. I need other people to lift the weight so I can do what I am great at, and still be me.