Playing & Running the Game

First Things First

This section is designed to give advice on how to run the game and play the game. In particular it's designed to iron over any of those little wrinkles which we see so often in LARPs where people find themselves suddenly realising that they have no idea how much a suitable price for an adventuring party is. It's also a set of guidelines wherein I'll express my preferences for this sort of game, and where I'll lay down the basic assumptions of the world of the White City.
Anyway, on to the first of the First Things that come First...

Why Adventure? - Adventuring Parties - Adventure Design - Setting

Why Do People Adventure?

When you get right down to it, adventuring is a silly profession. It's cold, it's dangerous, it has no pension plan and since adventurers inevitably have their biggest source of income coming from other people who've hired them to do their dirty work, it follows that somebody must be making money by other means. There's a couple of reasons, and it's vitally important to understand them and to make sure that at least one applies to your character.

If you happen to be rich and you feel like a night's entertainment, you can pay for a gay escapade... Many people are attracted to adventuring for the money. It is an assumption of the world of the White City that there actually is quite a lot of money to be made in adventuring and that, furthermore, there is enough money to be made digging up ancient ruins and battling giants to keep people from all fiscal groups interested.
Players, if you're using money as your character's motive, keep in mind that they probably want the trappings which money buys; consider converting your cash to Wealth instead of just buying better armour.
GMs, for gods' sake remember that money-motivated characters will stop making sense if the rewards of adventures are too small or are constantly snatched from their grasp. Don't worry about PCs getting rich, the ladder of Wealth is steep and there's plenty out there to tempt even a suddenly wealthy adventurer.

Boredom and Curiosity
When you get right down to it there's a little part of all of us (okay some of us) that loves the idea of travelling to forgotten cities and fighting dead gods in frozen wastes. Of course, most of us find that there's a bigger part of us that likes warmth and safety but that's not true for everybody and a number of adventurers adventure purely for the sake of adventure. Often these are independently wealthy types who really don't have anything better to do.

The Only Way Out of the Ghetto
I'm not going to make a big song and dance about how dark this setting is, because basically it's your standard fantasy stew, but there are social divisions and if you're the latest swineherd in a long line of swineherds and have just had your best hat eaten by a pig you may just decide that you'll take your chances with the nameless horrors thank you very much.

In the world of the White City there really are Dark Malevolent Things out there that will destroy all humanity if they get the chance. Somebody has to save the world and some people are the kind of people who hear "somebody" and assume it means "you". Players and GMs take note; duty-motivated adventurers may be incompatible with many adventures, particularly those that begin "I'm funding an expedition to the City of Chains to see if there's anything there we can sell".

So You All Meet In A Tavern...

The logistics of running an adventuring party are something which is often glossed over. So as to give you an insight into the view from the other side of the black hood, I'm going to give you a rundown of the process of putting together an adventuring party from the point of view of the patron. The aim here is to come up with a reasonable estimate for the hiring fees of adventurers and, more importantly, the probable payoffs of adventures, and also to provide GMs with a set of guidelines for designing reasonable patrons, fees and rewards.

1. Find Your Rumour
Most ideas for adventuring parties begin when [Patron] discovers a rumour of Terrible Darkness/Untold Wealth/Untold Wealth Guarded By Terrible Darkness. These sorts of rumours are fairly common and your average Patron type will be savvy enough to sort fact from fallacy. Here we come to the first interesting variation. Being able to sniff out a decent rumour requires a relevant Lore skill, or contacts in the relevant area. There is no reason why a PC couldn't be the one who first picks up the trail, indeed it's quite desirable, since it means the "why should we do this while you sit here in the warm" line stops flying since odds are your Patron will be coming with you.

2. Pay the Men
What usually proceeds is a briefing, which is often handwavy and unsatisfactory because people aren't sure what sorts of things are supposed to get said. The big issue is money. To avoid confusion I am making an Uber-GM call right here and now and stating the following:

So now you know. It is also worth noting that travel expenses are expected to be met. It is not generally considered part of the duty of an employer to provide his employees with healing potions and the like, that's what the cash in advance is for. It is considered de rigeur to tell your employees anything you know the knowing of which will help them do what you want them to. Travelling expenses for long journeys are expected to be paid, it tends to cost about 3 Hexa a head to send people to the Whistful City or the City of Silk, 5 Hexa a head to get to the Port of Glass or the City of Crossroads. Provisions for the journey are also expected to be provided by the employer and cost 1 Hexa per person per day.

3. Payoff - Economic Viability
You'll note that to send a party of five adventurers on a treasure hunt to the City of Chains, assuming a week long mission travelling via the City of Crossroads, will cost 60 Hexa in expenses even without the fees of the adventurers, this is a reasonable sum of money but is kind of high risk. The adventurers may fail, or may abscond with your cash. There may just be nothing there. Assuming that one time in eight the adventurers do make it back with the loot and assuming you've promised them half, you have 110 Hexa invested in this caper, and if you don't make at least 880 Hexa you're going to be losing money in the Digging Up Ancient Cities game. For you to make 880 Hexa there needs to be at least 1,760 Hexa in the haul, and that's just to break even long term. If you want to actually make your fortune you'll be looking to dig up as much as ten times this amount on the one dig that pays off.

Designing an Adventure

There's precious little advice that can be given about this process (at least usefully), however since this section is for guidelines, I can lay down some of my own preferences for how I'd like to see this thing run. These are only guidelines, but if you break them I'll get all upset and think that nobody listens to me.

"Why this shower of idiots?"
Guideline number one. Make sure that the PCs are suited to the adventure. If it involves a lot of sneaking about, then take Rangers and Thieves. If it involves parleying with Gods take a lot of Ordained characters. If it involves a lot of heavy fighting take warriors. Similarly the PCs need a good reason to go; "Because we're being paid" is usually a good reason, but if you're going to risk your life on another man's behalf the rewards should be big. "Because it will save the world" is also a reasonable reason. Another thing to note is the rules for advancing levels. Often the opportunity to do something that will put them up a level will provide a motivation for PCs to go off and do things regardless of the reward offered.

There is no shame in defeat
A lot of GMs are a little bit leery of allowing PCs on LARPs to lose. Sometimes this is understandable, if they need to succeed to save the world then it's probably best to fudge things to avoid trashing the setting, however in my opinion it is infinitely preferable for the PCs to occasionally have to just drop swords and leg it than for them never to feel in any danger. I am hesitant to suggest that GMs actually try to kill PCs, but for gods' sake don't bend over backwards not to, you'll only do the game a disservice in the end.

"We've got to save the world AGAIN?"
Do be careful about throwing in too many "or the world/the White City/life as we know it will be destroyed" plot hooks, because ultimately it gets silly and the PCs are eventually going to twig that you're never going to let them destroy the world, so they'll get careless.

Archvillain fatigue.
A good archvillain takes a good long time to build up, moving behind the scenes for months before the PCs actually get to scrag the bastard. I would be much obliged if people looking for a Big Bad to get away at the final moment picked one already extant in the setting, because it provides a feeling of continuity. Since I'm a physicist and like to classify things, I am going to define three distinct categories of villains.
At the lowest level you get the Villains, these are the guys behind individual adventures, dodgy sorcerers, dubious merchants and of course that old favourite The Guy Who Hired You, feel free to make up as many villains as you like because the world is crawling with them.
Above the villains you get Archvillains. The guys the villains secretly work for, the Big Bads of the campaign. GMs should feel that they are allowed to design their own archvillains, but I ask two things. Firstly, make sure your archvillain doesn't clash with any archvillains that are already out there. Secondly, unless I'm given a good reason to say otherwise, archvillains are public property, design one and you give everybody licence to use them as archvillains in their games as well. It is bad form to kill off another GM's archvillain, but don't labour the point.
Finally on the villain hierarchy you get the Ultimate Cosmic Evil. These are strictly limited to the Powers I have defined but fundamentally with the Bound Ones, the Vitriarchs, the Light and the rest there should be plenty of terrible soul destroying evil to throw at people.

Die, Die, Die!
Another brief note on the archvillain thing. Be very, very careful about creatures that the PCs can't kill. There is little that annoys a group of player characters more than monsters they can't hurt. If you want a long fight it's better to have Monsters (the people playing them) return as new monsters (the gribbles being fought). "There's too many of them!" is a nice dramatic thing to shout as you go into a retreat, "No effect, guys" is less so. For more information about monsters and immunities to damage check the monsters page.

How Many Encounters?
This is a pacing issue. I believe that the general consensus is for ten to twenty encounters per game, although it varies according to how long you want things to go on, how much stuff you want to cram in and how much you're willing to make up on the fly. It also depends how long you want your individual encounters to be. There has been a tendency in recent games for encounters to be quite short - three PCs fight four monsters until the monsters die, then they do a bit of healing - but there's no reason why that has to be the case, having a LARP which consists of three 45 minute encounters is fine if you can work it. The most important thing to remember is that people are often going to be running around outside in the cold and the last thing, the absolute last thing you want is for people to be standing around feeling bored, damp and chilly.

What Sort of Encounters?
The White City relies far more on human antagonists than most LARPs, they're easier to phys-rep and can show up everywhere without the usual fantasy ecology problems. On established roads brigands are your biggest threat, the same goes for cities, in uncharted wilderness you're still just as likely to meet new tribes of humans as you are to run into strange gribbles. On the other hand strange gribbles are always fun, check out the monsters page for ideas.

Setting Specificities

What with this setting being as close to non-standard as you're ever likely to get with a generic fantasy LARP there's a couple of things I think I should probably highlight and clarify for all y'all.

Magic is dangerous. Really dangerous. To both the user and the target. PC Sorcerers are nasty, a third level Blood Sorcerer can bind the Big Bad to herself by magic, hold a knife to her own throat and start negotiating. A second level Ash Sorcerer can turn your Big Bad into a pile of dust with a touch. Be aware of these things, and either find workarounds for them or just let them happen. By far the best way to avoid your archvillain being turned to ash/blinded by the glory of the Light/blood-tied to the party healer or whatever is to not have them show up unless you're willing to risk getting them offed. See the notes on "archvillain fatigue" above.
Magic is still more dangerous in the hands of NPCs. A single NPC sorcerer can royally mess up a PC with a single effect (strike them blind, permanently bind them by blood, etc.). You should be very, very wary of using NPC sorcerers, and PCs should be very wary of tangling with them.

Attitudes to Magic
Magic is generally respected, but not terribly well trusted. Under the proper circumstances it is a pious activity, but only under the proper circumstances, and it's quite difficult for the layman to tell whether a given sorcerer is favoured by the gods or usurping their power to his own ends. Reaction to sorcerers, then, will go from quiet respect (for Ash Sorcerers, Light Sorcerers and, depending on the area, Chain Sorcerers) to fear and suspicion to outright terror and hostility (Glass Sorcerers). Openly casting spells can be a very good way to either really annoy somebody or scare them away. A fair few brigands will be unwilling to tangle with a sorcerer, but those in positions of authority will be inclined to keep rogue sorcerers under strict control.

The Divine
The Divine is something of a double edged sword. On the one hand it should be a real and pervasive presence in the setting, on the other hand PCs should not be facing Gods on anything like a regular basis. Followers and servants of the divine should be common, as should - much as I hesitate to use the word in this context - motifs which fit the powers involved.

Other Spaces
First, please note that anybody caught using the term "plane" will get their eyes plucked out with a LARP safe skewer. The only "plane" people are likely to refer to is "the Shattered Plain", which contains the Glass Tower where the Vitriarchs come from. It is possible for PCs to wind up in realms separate from the physical world, please note two things.
Firstly, this is a big deal; most people never leave the physical realm except when dead or sleeping, some Dream Sorcerers wander the dream-realm fairly regularly but that's the closest you're ever going to get to people making frequent journeys beyond the physical. Journeys to the Burned Realm are rare but heard of, usually to plead with the Burned Lords for the return of a loved one. Nobody in their right mind goes to the Shattered Plain.
Secondly, note that the number of otherspaces is strictly finite. Scholars recognise the existence of the Shattered Plain, the Burned Realm and Dream, and that's about it. It is possible that there is a realm of Light somewhere but nobody's found it yet, and the Priests of the Light insist that Light is a state of being rather than a place you can go to. There are no elemental planes, spirit worlds or even fæy realms, it's Ash, Glass, Dream or nothing.

Naming Conventions
In order to make things more coherent, I'd like people to at least be aware of the naming conventions I've used in the world of the White City. Personal names are largely European (including English) with the nobility taking a Mediterranean tint. Place names and the names of most nonhuman races that aren't cribbed from the list of common fantasy gribbles are purely descriptive, "City of X" "People of Y" "Lady of P and Q" and so on. Similarly for Powers.

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This page last updated: 27th April 2006

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