Current Thoughts – Storyteller with Gothic: Age of Ashes

Age of Ashes

Age of Ashes is a Live Action Role-Playing (Larp) game, set in a medieval post-apocalypse. Running for an entire weekend every few months, the larp explores themes of horror and community. Many of the Larp’s stories are built around the player characters, working in enemies and aspects of player character backgrounds, making for a more customized and personal game. Age of Ashes is run by a team of eight storytellers, with additional help from community volunteers.

Much of my focus has been on integrating new players and tying in their character backstories into larger plots. These plots are constructed as modules, similar to premade adventures in tabletop rpgs, containing combat and social encounters as well as story and lore worked together.

 

 

Logo of Gothic Age of Ashes, a skeletal snake eating its own tail, presented above flame.

Module Writing

Module construction includes the general plot of the module, potential branching paths and responsive conditions, as well as all fully designed Non-Player Characters (NPCs) . NPCs are then given to storytellers and volunteers to act out in the game itself, following the guidelines of the module and reacting both to the targeted players and the playerbase as a whole. These modules can’t be constructed in isolation, I work with both other storytellers and the head storytellers to avoid redundancy and build a cohesive narrative.

Each plot has to work with the existing mechanics of the game, creating challenging enemies with the right level of difficulty and other challenges which can be interacted with through player abilities. Each plot also has to consider the player base as a whole, interacting not just with their targets but encouraging ripple effects through the weekend, as well as followup games.

 

Photo of Kevin on the the Age of Ashes About Us page, with a brief description below.

Mechanics

Joining Age of Ashes after the game’s launch, I took part in the first rules review, updating game systems for clarity, ease of use and balance. Larp mechanics are limited because players can’t reference character sheets on the fly, or easily reference the rules. Many abilities that players and NPCs have also aren’t known by the player base as a whole, so they must be expressed in commonly understood terms. Through combining those terms, entirely new effects can be described.

Individual modules often involve new mechanics, or new uses of mechanics, whether that is new monsters, new diseases and magical curses, or new puzzles to solve.  When in doubt, I’ve been designing these edge-case mechanics to allow new uses for existing player abilities, giving players that sense of agency and expanding ways the game can be interacted with.

 One notable case came up in the rules review. We wanted to add an ability to monsters that allowed an illusionary attack that could be disbelieved. While there was an existing call that allowed you to resist mind control, we were worried that allowing this would strengthen the call compared to other abilities.

Instead, I suggested that we used our already existing social system, with the ability to disregard social calls, to also disregard these illusionary strikes. If an illusionary attack was called out as Ethos Strike, players would already know that they could call Disregard Ethos to resist it, allowing us to add new abilities to monsters without requiring additional player knowledge or vocabulary.

 

Multiplayer Design

While many of my modules are initially inspired by individual characters, Larps are fundamentally a social multiplayer game. Unlike a traditional MMO, players effectively can be quest givers, spreading information about existing plots, and drawing in a larger part of the playerbase. Plots can be set up to encourage this behavior, but also to encourage other behavior among the playerbase.

Limited resources or conflicting goals can encourage player vs player combat, both with direct violence, and more subtle intrigues. Limited resources, whether that is magical artifacts, or more mechanical resources, can also encourage player cooperation and bargaining.

 By setting up not just direct interaction but indirect incentives, players can entertain themselves long after an NPC steps off the stage, allowing for more plot and game to happen in the game than the game’s resources would normally allow.

 

 

 

Rules write-up for Ethos from Age of Ashes, allowing players to ignore Ethos arguments and demanding that others hear out their argument.