Developing a Territory System: Initial Thoughts
I’m going to be running a brand-new LARP of Geist: The Sin-Eaters for my local Camarilla domain. This has a number of challenges, most of which caused by the fact that this game has never really been LARPed before as an ongoing chronicle; it’s only been out for a few months. One of the problems I’m running into is that of the political game, and I’d like some suggestions.
For large-scale LARPs — the local Vampire game sometimes has 30 players at a single session — it’s simply impossible for the GM (or even several GMs) to pay personal attention to everyone. I think of it like an amusement park; the roller coaster can only hold so many people at once, so the extra have to wait in line. At amusement parks, they use interesting environments, real-life previews of the ride, and video to amuse attendees. At LARPs, the most common technique is the political game.
What we’re talking about here is player vs. player conflict that does not usually require the mediation of a GM. In Vampire, this is a complex interplay of clans, covenants (political and religious groups), and the hierarchy of the city. Someone has to be Prince, and the Prince has to keep everyone happy enough to stay alive. Each of the clans and covenants is vying for Status, which grants them special benefits, and intrigue and backstabbing abound. The good thing about this from a GM perspective is that 99% of this activity is social. People talk, scheme, connive, hold meetings, and not a single die roll (or card pull, in this case) is needed. Struggling for status keeps most of the players busy while small groups pursue more complex challenges or engage in combat with the GM moderating.
Geist, however, doesn’t have a political game built in. PCs are organized into mystical groups called “krewes,” of 3 or more characters. These krewes often conflict with one another, but not in a structured way, and most of the examples in the book either depend on inter-krewe combat or an external NPC/monster threat, both of which require GM moderation. I need a way for krewes to have social conflict without the need for a GM, so that I and any assistants I have are free to run scenes with small groups of players.
The idea I have is based on scattered bits from the book that portray krewes as sort of like street gangs. There are many resources in the game: Mementos of the dead, places where ghosts gather, and Haunts where one can enter the Underworld. The struggle to command and control these resources can take the form of a territorial conflict, like street gangs fighting for territory. If I divide the city (Charlotte, in this case) into sectors, and let the political game be a mostly-social struggle over who controls what, then that provides a political game that’s appropriate to the setting and mood of the game as a whole.
The problem I have, then, is devising a simple system by which PCs can: A) care about possessing territory; B) conflict over territory with plenty of give and take; and C) conflict in a primarily social way. Combat can occur, but it should occur at a minimum.
For A, I’m thinking a hard benefit and a soft benefit, to use vague terms. The hard benefit would be a +1 bonus to various tests related to owning territory. Gathering information, following a suspicious suspect, convincing locals, and opening a gate to the Underworld all get a slight bonus if you control and are familiar with a territory. The soft benefit is that you get first dibs on any interesting plot seeds or potential resources that appear in your territory.
B and C are tougher. I need to come up with a system that is simple and diplomatic to manage territory. What immediately comes to mind is the board game Diplomacy wrought small. In Diplomacy, players control regions on a map of Europe. Conflicts over territory are very simple: if there are more attackers than defenders for a region, the attacking player gains control of that region. Where the game comes alive is in the negotiation and backstabbing that occurs between rounds, as players make and break alliances for mutual defense.
Thus my idea for the territory system. Krewes and individuals control regions of Charlotte. To take over a region, attacking PCs must control an adjacent region and spend a number of downtime actions (actions taken between game sessions, of which there are a finite number) which is greater than the number of downtime actions taken by defending PCs. Larger krewes have more actions to spend, which gives them a natural and appropriate advantage, but a krewe (or individual) who attempts to control too much territory will be unable to defend it. The political game that occupies the players is a jockeying for allies, manipulation to make other krewes think your actions will be different than they are, and general taunting and posturing.
This is still a nascent idea; in fact, I developed it further in the course of writing this post. What do you think? Are the rewards sufficient to grab players’ interests? Does the territory system sound complex enough to allow for effective conflict but simple enough to be run for twenty players? I’d love to hear your input in the comments.