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.

9 thoughts on “Developing a Territory System: Initial Thoughts

  1. One thing that comes to mind in all this is that it’ll be rather difficult for players to travel from city to city and LARP in this because there’s no standardization in this social stuff. Could be a problem.

    1. Yeah, that is a problem. Hopefully, since this only concerns local territories, out-of-towners won’t need to be concerned with it, and locals won’t need to worry about it when going out-of-town.

  2. what if you made it so that that there was another system for gaining territory? Maybe you had to convince enough minor characters from another territory to join you that it was simply a coup-de-tat. spies and infiltrators would replace common footsoldiers. maybe each region has an npc “governor” who you can be bribed on to your side.

  3. I’m just now getting my Geist Venue up and running. The basics of what your saying makes sense. In my domain, we only have about 16 active players, and so far, only 5 of them have any interest in games other than Requiem. So, if I can find a way to satisfy the political/social players, I’m hoping to increase the number. I might even use your idea on how to do so, with a bit of tweaking.

    Each area (I’m thinking) of the city will have something in it a character might want. One of the three Avernus gates for example, or perhaps a static momento. By controlling those territories, you control those things. As for game play, each character will be able to control X amount of square blocks where X is equal to psyche+presence or psyche+manipulation (whichever is lower). For every PC you form an alliance with, you can combine these traits. For every 5 NPCs, you get a +1.

    At that point, the mechanics would be simple enough. Players may either negotiate with each other, or, if they must fight it out, they mediate it based on whoever has the higher score. But if the new territory exceeds their capacity for control, they will be unable to control it until they can meet the requirements. At that point, if someone else comes in to take control, they would receive a negative modifier based on the excess (so for example, if they are 4 points shy of having full control, they would be at -4). In these instances, if the defenders loose, they select what area is lost (since their strategy of defense would include where the weak points are.)

    Another way to occupy player boredom that I will at least try a few times before either making it permanent or scrapping it is, when players create their characters, they will have a choice of geists I have created. These geists have basic backgrounds and personality descriptors. Each game, players will have the option of picking one of these geists at random and play that NPC during their more quiet times.

    1. I ended up using a very simple system, which you can read in the VSS. Essentially, players publicly claim territory for benefits; a territory claimed by more than one person or group provides no benefits. The benefits are a +2 to pulls like gathering information, navigating, opening gates, and establishing initiative, all when within territory you control.

      Any conflict over territory must be handled IC, with no special mechanics; unless the system is abused, a character must choose to abandon a claim in order to lose territory.

      Players haven’t really shown much interest in the territory system. As a last attempt at generating some inter-PC conflict, I’m considering modifying the system to give 1 plasm per game for every graveyard in territory you control, to be split among the people controlling it. This would be in addition to my established random plasm pull at the start of each game.

      Your system looks interesting, but seems very complicated to administer. I don’t feel like I have the time and energy to run a particularly complex system. Also, Charlotte is laid out in a very organic fashion, so it’s not an option to use set areas like “square blocks.”

  4. It’s true not every city is set up on a grid formation. I just emailed the MST for Geist about my idea and why I wanted to implement it. One of the things that could be done is, rather than square blocks, the map of the city could be gridded out. This thought just now occurred to me when i read your post.

    I like your idea of granting bonuses for situations (ie investigation) and so forth, and might utilize it. However, I think by having “concrete” resources, it would give players more interest in obtaining and protecting those areas. It could also be used as part of a story line. For example, a one ton bronze statue in someone’s home turns out to be a fetter. But it’s in a part of town nobody controls, at least not yet. The players would then need to RP through making alliances with each other to gain control over that area, or possibly just fight it out.

    As for complexity of the system, I’ll have to try it out and see how it works. To me, it seems simple enough and utilizes the Psyche of the Geist in the way it works within the cannon material as described on page 22.

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