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A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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Project: Deathmatch

United Kingdom
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Original Post

Last week I talked about the nature of doing a battle royale / hunger games style LARP and the challenges involved in creating the ruleset for that game. This week I want to talk about a possible ruleset that overcomes those challenges.

The kern of this solution came about from being introduced to the film Rat Race, which occasionally flicks back to a series of wealthy gamblers betting on nonsensical things, quite often to the detriment of those involved. This forms the core of the deathmatch experience, the player core gets split into two groups: the warriors and the gamblers. The warriors are deposited randomly into the play area with meagre weapons and supplies while the gamblers move around as a single extremely well armed mob.

There is an extent to which the warriors are the "real" players and ultimately one of them will win by being the last player surviving. If it's necessary to charge players real money to enter (in order to pay for the game) I'd run it such that entering as a warrior would come with the charge while joining the gamblers would be free, keeping the game accessible to everyone. Any warrior who dies can join the gambler group as a new character, which means that the game can feature player elimination without being boring as hell for whoever's eliminated.

The goal for a warrior player is to be the last man standing, the goal for a gambler is to be the wealthiest at the end of the round. This creates two parallel but related games, with points of interaction, both of which need to be functional in their own right.

In the hunter game players need to move around the arena, keep themselves alive and maybe kill the opposition. It rewards stealth, quick thinking and scavenging. This requires rules to facilitate kills and to deposit useful things into the arena.

Kills is easy enough, each player can start with a martial arts training knife and a single hit to any location disables it, a torso hit delivering a kill. This sort of locational damage has worked in LARP for years, to an extent it relies upon players not cheating, but short of attaching a ref to each player (expensive, time consuming and ruins the stealth element) any system will have this vulnerability.

The possibility for better weapons should exist, while options here include the full range of LARP weapons it's probably worth avoiding in this context. They're expensive, easily damaged and can inflict a significant injury if misused. For pistols and rifles there's plenty of space to use existing toys, water pistols and cork guns probably serve best in this capacity. Pellet and paint markers carry too much of a risk of injury and nerf weapons involve littering a public space. It's a bit harder to justify alternate melee weapons, there are plenty of swords and axes marketed to children that would be cheap, disposable and useful - they never look great but could serve well enough.

Finally, there's space for food and medicine. These are easily acquired and distributed, the problem comes with the effect of use. A good system might be to number those distributed into the arena and have players phone in to say "I'm eating / using item #??". That lets the refs keep track of what they need to recover after the game and gives options for unexpected effects. For instance a player might acquire a poison they could add to an item so if a player calls in having eaten it the ref informs them of their unfortunate demise. Similarly if a player doesn't call in eating food for a long enough period they could be called with a weakening effect, followed half an hour later by a death effect. That helps to alliviate the "what if everyone hides and it's really boring" problem, in that players will be forced to move towards food rich areas.

I'm not quite envisioning a hunger games cornicopia scenario, instead this is somewhere that the gamblers interact with the warriors, so let's talk about their side.

The gamblers each have tokens representing the currency of the setting. Each betting opportunity allows them to place one bet against another gambler for a quantity of their choice, the winning gambler gains their bet, their opponents bet and an extra token. This means that a player can never really be eliminated from this stage of the game, as two could place zero bets against each other to get one of them back into the game.

The most obvious opportunity is to bet on the order of warrior deaths, so periodically whoever is taking the role of master of ceremonies could make declarations along the lines of "who dies first, X or Y?" However certain scenarios produce new opportunities, for instance if there's not enough food in the arena, dropping a pile of food and announcing it loudly and publicly (perhaps two horns or other audio cues would be needed here, one to signify "something good over here" and one to signify "something bad coming from here") could allow a bet like "will more than two people die trying to get this?"

The impact of gamblers being in the same space as the warriors creates some room for interesting play. It seems prudent to include a rule that a gambler who kills a warrior without permission from the master of ceremonies (except in self defence) forfeits all current and future earnings - to prevent the better armed and organised group simply wiping out the warriors - but that still leaves plenty of wiggle room. There could be announced moments where the group is off the leash and for a set time period (15mins?) they can kill as they please. The gambling group could be permitted to capture warriors if the big group runs across them and they're not hiding well enough, then require them to run some gauntlet or best one of them in a duel or some other test of skill - that creates game for both groups as well as making the general warrior game more interesting (assuming that the feeling of being hunted is part of the appeal for a game like this). I can think of a dozen scenarios and interactions here but they're perhaps best left out of a public blog post since it'll be more interesting for them to be surprises if I actually run this game.

A danger to the integrity of the game is that peace might break out. While desirable in the real world, this sort of game could suffer from the warriors banding together and refusing to kill each other, so motivating that is necessary.

To an extent requiring periodic food consumption and limiting the food in the game can achieve this on its own. Another option is to make use of the gambler group, say that having killed another warrior is a "get out of jail free" card if they catch you. Both of these together should be enough, but it's worth seeing if there are more options available.

Another possible problem would be the warriors getting together to decide to take down the gambler group. This seems unlikely to work as the gambler group is better armed and in better contact with each other, but since they can fight in self defence the mere act of attempting it could force the game to a premature conclusion that would be somewhat unsatisfying for everyone involved. On the other hand an attempt that took some buildup and had a chance of success could be dramatic and interesting, it's hard to find the balance there.

Ultimately if it was going to happen it'd need to come from a tension between two points that could be resolved in play with a nontrivial effort. The players in the warrior group would need to be made *very* aware that they're likely to lose badly if they attack the gambler group, even if they all work together. Then something needs to be added to the arena that evens the odds. In Battle Royale Shinji's plan to blow up the school requires a series of components he spends half the book (or manga or film) putting together, so deploying a bunch of items that when combined allow the warrior group to set up an ambush that could kill the gambler group in its entirety might lead to an entertaining climax.

I've always held that things like that should be earned though, the balance of such a thing would still need to be such that it failed more often than not and going for a usual solo win is the path of least resistance. I'm genuinely not sure what players would do if the game was balanced that way, it'd be interesting to see.

I've more thoughts on the topic, but it's already at 1500 words. What do you think? Is there the basis for a game here? If it was £10-20 would you play?

Next week: Back to boardgames
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