Starlight LARP Design Blog

Rules, Setting and Design Blog for the Starlight LARP system.

Announcing: Starlight, a new linear LARP system

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Welcome to the design blog for the Starlight LARP, a new local linear system in Oxford, UK. This blog will follow the system’s development and may be a little chaotic, so bear with me if it looks a little disorganised.

The stuff I’ll be posting will be strictly game related, or at least game design related but relevant to this game in particular. If you’re interested in keeping up with that as development continues, it should be possible to subscribe to this blog through RSS or other methods.

EDIT 27/05: Everything essential for the first playtest is up. Expect to see some tweaks here and there before July, and I’ll be putting up the remaining sections in dribs and drabs in the meantime.

EDIT 14/07: The first playtest went well, you guys gave tons of great feedback, and people have requested more Starlight. Given this, I’m considering running a second playtest. Further details on that, and a detailed summary on the feedback and changes that have been made to the system after the first playtest will be posted soon.

EDIT 19/07: Took slightly longer than I thought it would, but here’s the debrief from the first playtest:

First Playtest Results and Commentary

First Playtest Rules Changelog

EDIT 30/08: We’re having a second playtest! Check out the details here:

Second Playtest Announcement

EDIT 22/09: Everything essential for the second playtest has been added or incorporated. Hopefully more content will be going up as the week progresses, so keep checking back.

EDIT 14/12: Long time since the last update, but the second playtest was a success and again there was a lot of useful feedback. Due to organisational issues and conflicts with other systems I’m having difficulty establishing a date for a third, but watch this space since there may be an announcement at some point.

Details from the second playtest will hopefully be added in the near future.

EDIT 29/02: Added an update and a summary of the feedback from the second playtest.

Second Playtest Results and Commentary

EDIT 14/05: The third playtest is happening! Read about it here:

Third Playtest Details

Things coming soon:

  • Integrate the rules changes from the second playtest and establish a canonical ruleset.
  • More detailed setting material
  • GMing and Adventure Writing Guide
  • Ritual Reffing Guide

Written by Starlight LARP

May 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm

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Dynamism, Dodges, and Design Decisions

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So the Third Playtest went well. Expect to see a post dissecting that soon. For now, here’s a post outlining one of the approaches I used when developing Starlight’s combat system.

Dynamism, Dodges, and Design Decisions

Line Fighting

Given nothing other than a set of larp swords and a bunch of body hits, larpers typically resort to forming up in two lines and stand apart at sword length, trying to get hits. It’s a fairly natural process, encouraged by the principle that if you can be flanked or surrounded you’re in trouble, and it’s easy to capitalise on anyone trying to break out of the line in order to get an attack in. It generally isn’t helped by narrow terrain or obstacles which allow the ends of the line to be more easily defended.

So what’s the big deal?

Line fights, as typically happen in games like White City, are dull. Two groups of people line up and try to flick at each others’ hands* in order to score enough hits to stop the other side fighting back as effectively. In a system where every fight has the same dynamic, it’s difficult for fights themselves to be interesting or memorable unless something weird happens or there’s a special rule involved that shakes things up.

And when every fight is static, there’s no room for thinking, no room for decision making. You take your place in the line where you can and you press your advantage and try to get your hits in, but you’re never really making any decisions. The static nature of the fights also typically means that combats are reduced to a straight test of hard-skill ability against your opposite number (assuming they’re well balanced – if they aren’t then the problem is only made worse because that usually removes the test of skill component).

What’s the alternative?

More dynamic combats, where combatants move around and aren’t glued to their place in the line, have the opportunity to be more memorable and take many different forms to the standard line-fight. They allow for fighters to make more decisions about who they fight and how, and require fighters to have an awareness of what is going on around them rather than a monomaniacal focus on their opposite number. They allow for greater use of tactics and co-operation in a fight, and allow for more types of skill to be used that isn’t just “how quickly and accurately can I tap that person’s hand”.

*This is in part a straw man, since it represents the combat style at its absolute worst, but it’s still a pervasive problem.

Dynamism and Anti-Dynamism

Combat styles are an emergent property of a system’s combat mechanics, including the degree of dynamism that combats exhibit. Decisions about mechanics can therefore be used to address this natural tendency towards line fighting (or indeed to promote something different altogether). Different game design decisions have different impacts on the combat style that eventually evolves; I like to frame these in terms of how they contribute or take away from a more dynamic combat style. Many design patterns can therefore be regarded as either dynamic or anti-dynamic (or neutral).

For our purposes, dynamic combats are those with movement and (potentially) separation between combatants. Where there is no dynamism, the combat is static – this is the ground state for many balanced line-fights. Dynamic mechanics serve to increase a fight’s movement and separation. Anti-dynamic mechanics serve to reduce it. For a combat to not be static, a degree of dynamism must exist to counter-balance the anti-dynamic pressure to hold a defensible line where you are protected by your friends.

Holistic Combat Design

No single combat mechanic can be taken in isolation; it must be considered within the context of the rest of the ruleset. A particular mechanic may be dynamic when included in one ruleset, and anti-dynamic in another. Since combat styles are emergent properties of the game rules as a whole, it is important to recognise this variability and as part of the design process consider how game mechanics interact with each other (and, of course, with other design constraints).

One heuristic for judging the dynamism of combat as a whole is to sum across the dynamism of its mechanics; this isn’t going to give a 100% accurate picture of a combat (only testing with players will do that), but for design purposes it’s probably still useful. By judging each mechanic in terms of the others in the system, it’s possible to more accurately determine its utility in combat and also to draw out unintended consequences of combining certain mechanics in certain proportions (for example, is that once-per-adventure shot of Slay actually any good if it’s likely to be Dodged trivially)?

Importantly this also means that certain mechanics will reinforce the effects of other mechanics, and this needs to be taken into account for balancing purposes (for example, Paralyse becomes much better if the player can call Mass Fear immediately afterwards, as it opens up a greater opportunity to capitalise on the effects of the Paralyse).

While we consider the effects of all combat mechanics as a whole, evaluating the dynamism of non-call mechanics is probably best left to another post. For now, we are going to consider calls in particular.


Almost all combats include calls, as a method for varying combats beyond simply hitting each other a set number of times. There are two typical forms of these: damage calls (which relate to the number of hit points worth of damage a call deals) and effect calls (which have some other non-numeric effect).

Damage calls in and of themselves are neutral as far as dynamism is concerned; what matters is the magnitude of the difference between the numbers. Someone calling quads against a monster party calling singles is likely to be quite confident in their ability to cause damage, which may mean that they press the fight. Conversely, having an appreciably smaller damage call than their opponent tends to make combatants more cautious and defensive. However, where damage calls are approximately even (or where no opportunity exists to press the advantage the disparity gives), there is no dynamic impact.

Effect calls are far more likely to be either dynamic or anti-dynamic in nature. Their wide variety of effects can even extend to causing or ceasing movement directly.

Effect Calls in Starlight

STRIKEDOWN – Neutral. Strikedown on its own doesn’t exactly encourage movement, but in context is most effective when used in a combat in which there is lots of movement. Given that Starlight’s combat system tends towards movement, the major shifts it causes in the flow of combat are still effective at promoting dynamism.

STAGGER – Strictly dynamic, as it forces another combatant to move.

IMPALE – Anti-dynamic for targets, dynamic for archers. Impale is anti-dynamic for any potential target because the best position to stand when there are archers around is near to another combatant. When combatants clump together their mobility becomes more limited. Equally, it rewards archers who move into opportune firing positions by making archery effective in combat. This is the only primarily anti-dynamic call in the system; its inclusion is justified by the benefits it gives in other aspects of the game’s design.

SMASH – Neutral / slightly dynamic. If a weapon or shield gets smashed, the flow of combat is altered in a sudden way which often promotes movement. This can also disrupt shieldwalls effectively, reducing the tendency towards clumping. However, used defensively it can shut down an offensive press or even cause combatants to be removed from the fight temporarily.

HATRED – Strictly dynamic, as it compels another combatant to move and potentially change target.

FEAR – Dynamic, as it constrains another combatant’s movement based on a moving point, and will usually force them to choose a different target (which often involves movement).

In summary, Starlight’s effect calls are mostly designed to be dynamic and in conjunction, work to create combats which constantly flow and move. All three playtests have confirmed this result, which means that the game design decision to exclude anti-dynamic calls as far as possible and include as many dynamic calls as reasonable succeeded in its aim of producing more interesting and varied combats.

Other Common Effect Calls

DODGE/EVADE – Intrinsically anti-dynamic. Dodge calls encourage fighting styles which ignore hard-skill dodging and movement, in favour of counting off Dodge calls. It rewards clumping, since it multiplies defensive factors (for this reason, Dodge is a far better call in the hands of an experienced combatant than it is when used by a new player). Further, Dodge-style calls are frequently used to bypass or shut down powerful damage or effect calls, meaning that they encourage a “flatter” style of combat and even remove the dynamic effects of damage call disparities to a point. Worse, since both players and monsters tend to get stocks of Dodges, effects on fighting style are amplified.

Dodge calls are a particularly egregious offender in terms of anti-dynamism, primarily because they get worse the more you add, so while one may not adversely affect a combat overly much, eight or nine certainly will (especially when this is large relative to the number of dynamic calls that are used in the combat).

DISARM – Neutral. Like Strikedown, Disarm represents “creating an opening in which to strike”. The primary difference is that disarm does not restrict movement – however this means it is harder to capitalise on effectively, and when combat is already static it reinforces that.

STUN – Neutral. Again, Stun represents “creating an opening in which to strike”. Typically stun calls allow the person taking them to continue to defend themselves or to step away from combat temporarily. Its dynamism or otherwise is largely determined by the context.

ENTANGLING/PARALYSING – Neutral / Anti-dynamic, as they encourage less movement and indirectly punish separation from others.

REPEL – Strictly dynamic, as it forces another combatant to move.

Design Implications

Developing a LARP game successfully will usually require the designer to pay attention to the combat style that they want to promote. Through judicious combination of mechanics and other design patterns, combats can be made more or less dynamic as desired. Overcoming the tendency towards line fights is difficult, but certainly possible.

Consider carefully the full implications of any given game mechanic – while its presence may be justified for one reason, it’s important to consider the unintended consequences of its effects elsewhere, as part of a holistic view of the game design. Equally, there may be justifiable reasons to compromise in some areas – provided these points of compromise are noted, the designer should still be able to develop a solution which best fits their goals.

Written by Starlight LARP

May 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm

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Third Playtest

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Okay, so it’s time for the third playtest!

This is going to be more of an evaluation game, as it’s one of the trio of playtests being run by OURPGSoc with a view to potentially replacing White City. Hopefully things will run smoothly – I think we’ve ironed out most of the kinks already so it should be a matter of just finding edge cases. As last time, we’re going to be running two linears. This has become the standard format for Starlight, so hopefully most people will get to play.

The when: Saturday May 19th, meeting up between 11-12 and continuing until 5-6ish, with an optional pub visit afterwards.

The where: Initial meet: the Magic Cafe, Oxford, 11am. After midday, we’ll be heading up to Shotover where we’ll be until we finish, and thereafter probably the Angel and Greyhound pub.

The who: As before, anyone is welcome, though this playtest is primarily geared at potential regulars to the OURPGSoc linear – whether you’re a White City regular or if you’ve lapsed and want to try something different, this is for you!

The what: If you have shields and/or bows, please bring them along as they’re more heavily featured in this system than in White City; the club may not be able to supply a large number. Setting appropriate kit is not required but would be welcomed. Since it’s Shotover and it’s likely to be raining this week, you’ll want solid and comfortable footwear, and maybe a couple of layers if it’s cold/wet.

If you’ve got any questions, please contact me and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Written by Starlight LARP

May 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Second Playtest – Results, Lessons and Commentary

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update, but with a recent AGM at OURPGSoc electing Oliver, who ran on the platform of exploring new systems, it looks like Starlight is back on a front burner for a while with a potential view to a candidacy for the replacement to White City. It’s quite likely that we’ll have another playtest during Trinity Term and/or over the summer.

Feedback on the second playtest was generally positive again, which I’m very happy with – and, more importantly, it appears that the system has stabilised to the point where very few changes or tweaks need to be made. More on those later. As for the results of the second playtest, many of the notes from the first hold true – the following are points of particular note.

Key points of positive feedback:

  • The system remains both accessible and easy to pick up and play.
  • The rules in general are very solid and mesh together well, requiring few changes since the last playtest.
  • Ritual magic worked, meaning that its prior success wasn’t just a fluke (though it is now obvious that it is challenging to GM).
  • The system doesn’t fall over when you try to run very different types of plot.
  • Combat against multiple weak enemies feels awesome, and combat against single huge opponents feels like the struggle it should be. In particular the latter are easier to stat than White City.

Key points of criticism:

  • The game remains GM intensive. Plans to combat this essentially revolve around having a core GM team who are available for other GMs to call upon if they need help, as noted in the notes from the first playtest.
  • Starlight is very different to White City in terms of how statting and pacing works, which means that GMs will need to put aside their expectations.
  • More setting detail is required for players to connect with the game.

Other points to note:

  • We’ve still not effectively explored mechanics surrounding the afterlife. This is a key point to consider for the next playtest.
  • Combat is very different to White City, both in terms of its dynamics and in terms of its mechanics. The Oxford Style of larp fighting which has developed in response to White City’s particular mechanical quirks doesn’t necessarily cope well with some of the differences. This may be a good or bad thing, depending on perspective.
  • There were still a few weapons that we didn’t get to test. Again, a point to consider for the next playtest.
  • Radios for GMs are a good plan.

Designer Commentary

I’ve still not played or crewed, having GMed every game so far. Maybe this situation can be corrected in the next playtest. I’m especially interested to try out several builds which use different skills to the ones that people have typically picked so far – there seems to be a lot of experimentation with skills, and a few clear favourites, but the feedback suggests this is just a matter of preference rather than poor balancing.

One point worth noting is that a lot of the feedback was fairly similar despite the playtest group having a number of different people in it; this is useful because it means that the feedback is revealing truths about the system.

One thing I am particularly happy about is the growing tendency for parties to actually make meaningful decisions about how they interact with the various elements of the linear and even the adventure as a whole. Admittedly this has in some cases been forced by mistakes in statting (which I’m certain GMs will be able to get a handle on for the future), but primarily the characters feel like they have real agency and are making decisions commensurate with that. Something I want to encourage for GMs in future is to write more alinear plots, in order to support this sort of behaviour.

The playtest was also quite helpful for discovering some of the answers to questions posed by the last playtest; obviously at this stage a lot of this sort of plot and encounter design has been deliberately experimental in order to test the limits of the system, so I’m confident that we’re starting to get a better handle on how it’s more likely to work in practice. What remains for the next playtest is to try out a few last things – especially the post-death experience, which I’ve been keeping quite close to my chest so far because I haven’t finalised the mechanics. Expect to see an update on that in the future.

Because it’s been a while since the last playtest, my memory is somewhat hazy. I think I’ve caught everything of note, but if you were at the playtest and have any particular comments, let me know and I’ll update this post.

Written by Starlight LARP

February 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm

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Setting – Culture

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Out-of-character references

  • The Heroes and the things they left behind are strongly inspired by classical-era civilisations. Greek, Roman, Persian, Egyptian; all these and more are encouraged as starting points for Heroic culture.
  • The Spirits and things associated with them are strongly inspired by mesoamerican civilisations. The cultural tropes surrounding the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec and Inca peoples are a good starting point.
  • The people of the world are caught between the two – some take inspiration from one or the other but many take from both. Players should feel free to interpret these with a fair degree of freedom – after all there are a lot of villages in the forest.

Culture In The Valley

There are as many variations in culture in the Valley of the Twin Rivers as there are villages, which themselves are countless. There are some common threads which bind them all together, however:

Veneration or Fear of the Spirits

The Spirits of Place are powerful, often capricious, sometimes outright hostile. And they cannot be avoided; every place has its own governing spirit. If you want to stay anywhere for any length of time, it must be placated – often worshipped. Most demand that the people that live on their land live in harmony with it; since the spirits derive their very selves from the place they represent and occupy, it is rare to find any that will allow disrespect or disregard for the land.

Hunting and Gathering

It is hard to grow crops when everything is choked by trees, vines, and various undergrowth. However, hunting the beasts of the forest is possible as is gathering fruits and edible plants. This means many small tribes are nomadic, and larger ones tend only to gather in places where food is especially abundant.
If the hunters are lucky they might have metal tools and weapons, perhaps made of bronze or iron and handed down like treasured heirlooms. If they are even more lucky they might live near one of the few towns where metalworking traditions are kept alive, or near a poorly-protected and long forgotten temple or tomb where grave goods from the World That Was provide an incredible bounty.

Absence of “Heroism”

This is not universally true, because the presence of the Stars is starting to allow a select few to feel the Heroism of ages past once again. However for the majority of the Valley’s inhabitants, daily life is a struggle to subsist. Innovation and progress is all but non-existent, and ambition to improve one’s lot is often swamped by more immediate needs. History too has been lost and whilst there do exist folk tales of the World That Was, it is relegated now to mere myth.


The world is very small when the next village is a few days’ uncertain trek through dangerous forest. Many villages and tribes are aware of things which are nearby, but anything further abroad may as well be lifetimes away. Even those who have lived in an area their whole lives might discover something new not a day or two’s walk away, hidden by the forest. Travel between villages is not common and deliberate long distance travel is often regarded as plain crazy, even in nomadic tribes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Heroic Characters often find themselves driven to travel when they attune to the stars, whether they are seeking betterment for their family or village, personal power or glory, or just looking for adventure.

Written by Starlight LARP

September 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm

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Setting – Geography

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The Mountains

What is known of the world lies in what was once a colossal flood plain, carved from the surrounding mountain ranges by the Twin Rivers. Their exact source is a mystery, though a myriad tributaries wind down from the mountainsides, and the rivers themselves wind for a thousand miles amongst the forests to the sea. The mountains themselves grow like fangs in the jaw of some immense monster, capped with snow and nightmarishly treacherous.

The forests of the valley extend far up the sides of the mountains, until they meet the frigid air and howling winds that whip across their tops. From the distance the mountainsides are verdant at the bottom, but stark and snow-covered at their tops.

Before them lie a mixture of foothills, cliffs and crags, carved out by the waters and home to complex and dangerous cave networks which descend far underground into deep fissures. The spirits of these places are treacherous and complex, and do not tend to welcome explorers. Ruins of times long past are easier to find here, yet to be completely overgrown, but tricky to reach and dangerous to trek to.

A careful observer on a clear day might spy wisps of smoke rising from the mountainside, or the tiny glimmer of a camp fire faltering in the night. The mountainsides are indeed inhabited, but not by many, and those who hail from there eke out a meagre existence indeed. The rocky slopes make it difficult to keep animals, and all but impossible to grow crops. More people are to be found in the lower regions; small villages living off what they can hunt in the hillsides and what they can scrounge from the edges of the sprawling forest.

No sane person ventures far up the mountainsides, which at their easiest are an arduous climb fraught with the danger of rockslides, avalanches and savage beasts. The nature of the spirits of the peaks is unknown, as is the answer to what lies beyond; to most people the mountaintops are simply the edge of the world.

The Valley

What was once a flood plain filled with farmland has become overgrown with choking forests, thick and verdant. There is much now that is lost to the forest, some of which may never be reclaimed. Ancient tombs, lost temples to forgotten gods, abandoned overgrown towns and much more lie deep within. What now survives of civilisation are villages dotted along the banks of the river, where people eke out an existence from what bounty they can scavenge from the dangerous forest around them.

Below the mountains, the rivers wind through a vast valley carved by the sheer inevitability of time. Stretching out for many miles on either side, the entirety of it is filled with forest capable of swallowing cities in its midst. Though it is more hospitable to travellers than the mountainsides, the valley is still filled with dangerous creatures, chaotic and unpredictable spirits of place, and is thick and large enough that hunting parties and explorers could find themselves rapidly and completely lost.

However it is the valley itself which contains the clearest signs of what went before. It is not uncommon to find entire ruined towns, even small cities, overgrown and abandoned to the overgrowth where they slowly crumble to dust as they are broken by root, branch, vine and spore. These towns are almost never inhabited, however, for the spirits which rule them are jealous and angry indeed – remembering a time long since past when they were depressed and ground beneath the heel of the people that once lived in them.

There are people who live out in the deep forest, isolating though it can be. They survive there through hunting, if they are lucky, or by scavenging if they are not. It’s rare to see anyone keeping animals or growing crops in the deep forest because clearing land for any length of time is very difficult. Sometimes villages grow on a forest trail, or on the land of a particularly benevolent spirit.

The forest fills the entire valley even out to the sea, but the coastline is not much more habitable than the interior. There are a few villages dotted along, but the art of sailing anything more than a canoe is long lost – and itself made dangerous by the beasts of the sea and the raging storms which batter the coastline. Sharp and treacherous reefs are inhabited by vicious sharks, poisonous fish and predatory salt-water crocodiles, amongst other creatures. What lurks further out is entirely unknown, for no-one dares look any more.

The Rivers

The twin rivers have, like most things, lost their names over time. It is probable that their ancient names are still recorded somewhere waiting to be rediscovered, but to the people who live on or near them, each one is “the river”; the other is usually too far away to be worth considering as anything but “the other river”.

The rivers no longer flood (or at least they haven’t in living memory), but that they once did is evident to anyone who looks – the rich soil which covers the bottom of the flat valley was deposited there by them in times past, carried from the broken peaks far above.

It is this richness which makes the river banks the last place where it is easy to find anything resembling civilisation. Villages are dotted up and down the banks, occasionally even rising to the size of small towns in some places where the river is bountiful. There is fishing to be had on the rivers in places, and abundant fresh water. Occasionally there is even enough space to grow crops of various kinds, or keep animals. Travel between these villages is often by canoe if the waters are calm and the travellers willing to risk the perils.

The rivers are of course not as placid as they might initially seem. They have their own fair share of predatory animals, in places they turn into raging torrents which rush through rapids and down falls, and they have a tendency to creep over the years as they wend new paths through the alluvium so that entire villages are forced to uproot and move. The spirits of the river are often hasty, powerful, quick-tempered and easily offended – and those that live on their land are almost entirely dependent on their health and mood.

The City

At the sea the two rivers finally meet and at their confluence lies a great city, built countless years ago but now almost completely uninhabited, crumbling into ruin as it is retaken by the forest like everything else in the World That Was. Its name now forgotten, it merely sleeps as a monument to ages past. Rumours have it that it contains the lost technology of ages past, monsters from the deepest parts of the human imagination, tribes of cannibals long since reverted to feral barbarism and the secrets of the Heroes themselves.

The rumours are not far from the truth of it. There are many miles of the old city streets which have not seen a human in generations. Vast overgrown networks of sewers, catacombs and rooftop walkways make the city a labyrinth of paths that might take lifetimes to explore fully.

As the forest runs rampant through the crumbling stone there are many animals which stalk the old streets, and people too – if they can be called that. Feral tribes dwell deep in the heart of the city, hunting their prey and warring amongst themselves – cannibalism is common and outsiders are often set upon or driven away mercilessly. There are spirits of place here too, but they are often broken and demented, or completely withdrawn and guarded against anyone who dares try catch their attention.

And it is true also that there is much to be found here – if it hasn’t been destroyed by the ravages of time and the encroachments of the forest. The City’s depths are extensive and much of it has been completely untouched since the World That Was ended. It is clear that the City was once the greatest monument to civilisation and all its arts; who knows what it might contain?

Geographical references

Geographical references are relative in the Valley, and usually directions are given in relation to some feature rather than to an arbitrary set of cardinal directions. Terms that are heard often are “riverwards”, “mountainwards”, “seawards”, “upstream”, and “downstream” amongst a thousand other variations depending on village or tribe. Maps are virtually unheard of since the Heroes left, but most of the people left behind have a working knowledge of local geography even if they don’t know about much beyond their own village.

Written by Starlight LARP

September 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm

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Second Playtest

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Hello again!

As most of you know, over the last few months I’ve been writing Starlight, a new Oxford linear system. We’ve had one (fairly successful) playtest of the system so far, and I’d like to invite you all to the second playtest.

You can read more about the system elsewhere on the design blog, but for those of you who don’t want to trawl through the articles there here’s a quick summary of the setting (shamelessly filched from the note about the first playtest):

The Heroes have left, leaving behind the stars in the night sky. The world has fallen into disrepair and the forests are reclaiming the land, as those left behind abandon the will to change the world. But with the stars the Heroes left a legacy that a lucky few are slowly learning to control, and the almost-forgotten heroism of the past is rising once more…

And the system:

A simple and intuitive linear system focused around dynamic combat and character stories. The combat rules are designed to be simple and promote roleplaying as well as leading to interesting and varied fights. Characters are extremely flexible, progression is outwards rather than upwards, and death is not always the end.

We’ve had one playtest already (which you can read about here) and we learned a lot about the game and how the rules could be substantially improved. Of course, there’s probably a lot more that could be improved, and I’m conscious that we missed a number of things in the first playtest. I’m also hoping that through more playtesting we can get a wider spread of people involved and therefore get more feedback.

We’ve been given the date of Saturday 24th September, again occupying the traditional White City slot. This time I’m hoping to run it more closely to how I envisage a regular game panning out, so we get a better look at whether we need to change anything logistically. That is, we will be running a pair of mini-linears written by different GMs, and with different parties. This should mean that almost everyone will hopefully be able to play if they want to. We’ll have lunch and a Q&A/rules wrangling session between the two.

There will be a few more updates going up on the design blog between now and the event so be sure to check back to see more content as it goes up (you can also subscribe via RSS).

The when: Saturday September 24th, meeting up between 11-12 and continuing until 5-6ish, with an optional pub visit afterwards.

The where: Initial meet: the Magic Cafe, Oxford, 11am. After midday, we’ll be heading up to Shotover where we’ll be until we finish, and thereafter probably the Angel and Greyhound pub.

The who: Anyone is welcome, whether you’re one of the regular White City crowd or not. If you’re planning on turning up from outside the city, please let me know so I can get a decent idea of numbers. Crash space in the city is usually easy to find, but contact me if you’re struggling and I may be able to help.

The what: The society can lend LARP weapons to some extent. If you have them, please bring your own, especially shields and/or bows (the society has a number of these but they’re more heavily featured in this system than in White City so the more to go around the better). Makeup and kit aren’t provided by the society, so whilst you may be able to borrow some if you’re lucky, please bring your own if you can. You’ll want solid and comfortable footwear, and maybe a couple of layers if it’s cold/wet. Hopefully the weather will hold out but it’s a good idea to be prepared.

Written by Starlight LARP

August 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Rules Changelog: First Playtest

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Rules Changelog and Errata

The original rules posts will be updated at some point soon. Until then, this changelog should list all the changes made to those rules as a result of the first playtest.

1. Combat

  • Effect calls are now written in UPPERCASE to make them visually distinct.
  • CLEAVE is renamed SMASH.
  • Point of clarification: In addition to their regular effects, STRIKEDOWN, STAGGER, IMPALE and SMASH still do a single point of damage when they strike a person.
  • When a player is healed after being struck by an IMPALE, their armour is still on zero hits until it is repaired (whilst not intuitive, this is to make sure that players only have to remember a single number of hits).
  • FEAR is altered from “will by preference not come within 5 metres of the source” to “will avoid attacking the source”.
  • HATRED is altered to “The target now should attack the source of this call by preference for the rest of the encounter. This does not force the target to directly attack the source if doing so would be impractical (for example, due to being separated by an impenetrable mass melee, or being physically restrained by other party members, or not carrying weapons). They should also roleplay being angry at or having an irrational hatred of the source.”
  • The durations of FEAR and HATRED are altered to “until the end of the encounter or one minute, whichever is shorter”
  • The GLOBAL call is removed, in favour of explicit OC instructions from the GM whenever a global-scale effect occurs.
  • Feet on the floor are now valid targets.
  • The working ratio of beads in a bead bag is 17 white, 2 red, 1 black.
  • A character healed from Incapacitated through use of the Healing skill is restored to one hit, plus the number of additional maximum body hits granted by skills like Toughness.
  • The wording “Each blow struck on an incapacitated person causes them to draw an extra bead from the bag” is changed to “Each blow struck on an Incapacitated person on the ground causes them to draw an extra bead from the bag”. This means that you have to be hacking someone to death on the ground in order to increase their chances of death rather than getting a quick hit in whilst they’re falling over.
  • When a character chooses to Burn Out they are restored to 10 base body hits plus the number of additional maximum body hits granted by skills like Toughness, and gain one RESIST to IMPALE per encounter. They may not be healed or have their body hits restored through any method, and once either reduced to zero body hits, or a dramatically appropriate period of time has passed (as determined by the GM, usually the rest of the adventure) are completely and finally dead and completely gone.

2. Skills

  • All characters may use and strike with great weapons without requiring a skill.
  • The Great Weapon skill is altered as follows:
    • Rank 1: You gain one RESIST to SMASH per encounter which targets a great weapon you are wielding. In addition, you gain one STAGGER per encounter.
    • Rank 2: You gain a second STAGGER per encounter and one STRIKEDOWN per encounter.
    • Rank 3: You gain a third STAGGER per encounter and a second STRIKEDOWN per encounter.
  • The Archery skill is altered as follows:
    • Rank 1: You are proficient with bows and may use them in combat. Normal characters may not use bows. You may at GM discretion recover a proportion (usually up to half) of the arrows that you fire, at the end of an encounter.
    • Rank 2: In addition, you may at GM discretion fashion arrows in the field, given time and materials. One minute’s appropriate roleplaying is enough to recover all lost arrows.
    • Rank 3: In addition, you may, once per encounter, call STRIKEDOWN against a target on a successful hit with an arrow.
  • The Healing skill takes approximately 1 minute of uninterrupted roleplaying to heal a person.
  • At rank 3 (only) the Healing skill may be used mid-combat. The skill text is reworded so it is clear that it is not possible to do this at lower ranks.
  • In general, regaining a lost body hit through the use of the Healing skill is something that requires overnight rest; more hitpoints require more time. Rituals are intended to be the source of quick healing.
  • The Repair skill takes approximately 1 minute of uninterrupted roleplaying to repair an item or to repair a suit of armour to full hits.
  • The HATREDs granted by the Presence skill can now be targeted at anyone, not just the closest people.
  • The Cleaving Blow skill is removed.
  • The Strength skill is altered as follows:
    • Rank 1: You are exceptionally strong, gaining one STAGGER per encounter and one STRIKEDOWN per encounter.
    • Rank 2: You gain a second STAGGER per encounter and one SMASH per encounter.
    • Rank 3: You gain a third STAGGER per encounter and a second STRIKEDOWN per encounter.
  • In addition, the Ranger skill from rank 1 onwards allows you to intuit aspects of local geography.

3. Magic

  • Most Minor rituals take approximately one minute of uninterrupted concentration to perform. Major rituals take approximately five minutes of uninterrupted concentration to perform. Powerful communion rituals may take longer, at GM discretion. Use of rituals in combat is at GM discretion.

4. Equipment

  • Arrows – GMs may assume that a typical archer is carrying at least ten arrows unless they are physrepping more.
  • GMs are encouraged to design interesting and varied unique items, including ones which are effective outside combat as well as ones which are effective in combat.
  • Unique items are the system’s primary method of differentiating characters outside of skill choices (which at have a tendency towards homogeneity when characters are sufficiently advanced), so a truly unique item is an effective way of creating this differentiation between characters.

B. Safety

  • Players are reminded to be vigilant and aware of their fellow players mid-combat, particularly those who are on the ground or who may be in your way if you are struck with a STAGGER. This is especially important if you are wearing a heavy or bulky armour physrep.
  • GMs are encouraged to tailor the calls given to NPCs to the party and the terrain in order to keep combats safe.

D1. Social Contract

  • PCs looting weapons, shields and armour from the corpses of NPCs is explicitly acceptable behaviour.
  • NPCs attacking PCs on the ground is currently at the individual discretion of the GM, and needs more testing. Either way both PCs and monsters should be made explicitly aware of what is to be expected on each individual adventure.

Written by Starlight LARP

July 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm

First Playtest – Results, Lessons and Commentary

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Thanks to everyone who made it up for the first playtest, and for all your constructive and helpful feedback and criticism. Feedback regarding the event as a whole has so far been overwhelmingly positive, and I’ve been requested to run at least a second event (and possibly turn it into something more frequent). I’m currently attempting to secure a date for a second playtest (ideally sooner rather than later). More details on that, as well as a comprehensive rules changelog, are to come soon.

Key points of positive feedback:

  • The system was simple enough to pick up and play.
  • The system lent itself to roleplay both during and between combat encounters.
  • The two-linear format works well both to keep down unnecessary filler plot and also to allow more people to play.
  • The system lends itself to rolling encounters very well.
  • Ritual magic works well when GMed by someone who understands it.
  • The system gives GMs the flexibility to run multiple types of plot, and players the flexibility to try different tactics to overcome a problem.
  • Combat was generally interesting, even for characters who aren’t combat-focused.

Key points of criticism:

  • GMing in general is quite demanding; it may be necessary to go up to 3 GMs per linear, possibly with radio communication between GMs.
  • Ritual magic in particular is difficult to GM effectively.
  • Parts of the rules as written need rewriting for clarity.
  • The preponderance of shields (and to some extent, bows) may inadvertently make the system less accessible.
  • There are slight imbalances in the skill trees as written which need ironing out (detailed later).

Other points to note:

  • Shotover is still not particularly great for dynamic combat. Line fighting still happens as it is promoted by the terrain. GMs need to be mindful of combat locations for this reason.
  • We didn’t get the chance to test collapsible-tip weapons, throwing javelins, or claws.
  • Non-human physrepping will probably be improved in the future.
  • The setting will be fleshed out further to give more for players and GMs to get their teeth into – as it is it was rather sparse.
  • Carrying kit and/or food about can be a pain, especially with rolling encounters and the two-linear format.
  • People seem to be in favour of a semi-permanent ref team who can ensure metaphysical consistency, perhaps a pool of people that can be used as co-GMs.
  • In future the different colours of beads in the bead bag need to be indistinguishable by touch (oops).
  • High-vis for GMs is great for visibility and obvious-OC-ness, whilst making them a magnet for members of the public going “so what’s all this then?”.

Designer Commentary

It’s worth noting that I’ve yet to play or crew. I GMed the first adventure and co-GMed the second, so this perspective is not so much from actually playing the game so much as observing it and trying to keep it running smoothly.

I feel (and feedback seems to have confirmed) that the game is currently meeting most of its design goals, and I’m happy that most of the changes to the system are relatively minor rather than complete rewrites of entire mechanics.

The combats are definitely more interesting to watch and (apparently) fight in, and they tend to be more dynamic, at least within the constraints of Shotover. Statting and restatting monsters on the fly is somewhat easier than White City, and changing combats to accommodate player action is fairly simple. There’s also more scope for varying the format of combats so that it isn’t just “all the PCs vs. all the monsters” every encounter.

There’s much less downtime for the party – I think the “time faff” call was only used a few times during the second adventure, which is pretty positive. There was no battleboarding, which again meant little-to-no downtime and breaking OC. Rolling encounters worked, though I suspect that having people who are used to rolling encounters playing and crewing helped in this regard. Still some work to be done by GMs in getting to grips with it, but as this is a new GMing style I’m certain that all it’ll take is a bit of practice.

In particular I am pleased that ritual magic worked, as on paper I always worried that it was the weakest part of the system because it would either work really well or fail terribly (always the risk with something so fluff-driven and poorly defined). I still worry that reffing it will be a challenge, so I’ll be writing a specific guide to reffing ritual magic at some point. I’m also fairly confident that players will be able to explore the possibility space of ritual magic effectively provided that GMs are flexible and accommodating.

Stuff That Still Needs Testing

  • Dead PCs, and their interaction with live ones
  • Greater variety of skill selections
  • More varied spirits of place with different and interesting responses to rituals.
  • More incapacitations and healing, possibly what happens when the party gets TPKed.
  • Differences in adventure format; maybe testing out less linear-oriented, more decision-tree oriented/more freeform styles of adventure?
  • People dying, and people Burning Out

Written by Starlight LARP

July 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm

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Quick Update

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Just a quick update on where we are with Starlight: we’ve only three weeks to go. Between then and now are Odyssey and the 3YGB; it’s a busy summer for LARP and I hope people aren’t completely exhausted by all of the events.

Things that are still to come:

  • A more detailed overview of the geography of the setting, with more specifics and examples.
  • A list of various mechanics and variations that we may end up playtesting on the 9th.
  • GMing guide and GM-focused notes on design
  • Migration onto the domain (thanks dude!)

Finally, there’s one last thing that I would really like some feedback on. I’ve discussed this with a number of people here and there, but as it’s something I’ve tried to focus on in design, I’d like to have a more open discussion.

Accessibility for non-combatants

There are two major trains of thought I’m currently following, both with the same goal – make Starlight fun to play for those who are unable to fight.

Train-of-thought 1: Non-com rules. Something along the lines of Maelstrom’s “stick your hand in the air, and people will try not to hit you, but you can be incapacitated by anyone who is within arm’s reach”. This makes the game playable (barely) for those who don’t want to get hit in combat. The disadvantages of this are that PCs using these rules are extremely vulnerable a lot of the time. It also doesn’t negate issues related to mobility much, as the combats are still likely to be dynamic.

Train-of-thought 2: The setting lends itself rather well to dead PCs coming along on a living adventure (or even vice versa), supported by an ongoing ritual. Dead PCs might not be able to affect/be affected by the material world. The disadvantage of this is that it gives the other PCs an ally who is both useless and incredibly powerful at the same time, which is hard to balance. Making the game interesting for someone playing a dead PC in a living party may be tricky. If this is implemented, it will need some serious thought as to how to make it both useful and not overpowered at the same time.

If anyone has any more ideas, or comments on the above, please let me know (comment on this blog or see me in person).

As an aside, there’s one minor change to the rules – alternate ways to take Stagger and Strikedown. Feedback on these would also be appreciated.

Alternate Stagger: you may treat Staggers which strike objects you are carrying as a Cleave. You may treat Staggers which strike you as a Strikedown (either normal or alternate).

Alternate Strikedown: when struck with a Strikedown you may instead choose to drop everything you are carrying and do nothing for three seconds.

Written by Starlight LARP

June 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

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Setting Overview

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Here’s a slightly more detailed overview of the setting. Exact details are still subject to change based on feedback and inspiration, but the general overview is likely to be the same. The setting is very much a blank canvas in terms of the fine detail, and is designed to give players and GMs as much freedom as possible. I’ll be adding in more detail over time, mostly examples and explanations.

The Valley of the Twin Rivers

What is known of the world lies in what was once a colossal flood plain, carved from the surrounding mountain ranges by the Twin Rivers. Their exact source is a mystery, though a myriad tributaries wind down from the mountainsides, and the rivers themselves wind for a thousand miles amongst the forests to the sea. The mountains themselves grow like fangs in the jaw of some immense monster, capped with snow and nightmarishly treacherous.

What was once a flood plain filled with farmland has become overgrown with choking forests, thick and verdant. There is much now that is lost to the forest, some of which may never be reclaimed. Ancient tombs, lost temples to forgotten gods, abandoned overgrown towns and much more lie deep within. What now survives of civilisation are villages dotted along the banks of the river, where people eke out an existence from what bounty they can scavenge from the dangerous forest around them.

At the sea the two rivers finally meet and at their confluence lies a great city, built countless years ago but now almost completely uninhabited, crumbling into ruin as it is retaken by the forest like everything else in the World That Was. Its name now forgotten, it merely sleeps as a monument to ages past. Rumours have it that it contains the lost technology of ages past, monsters from the deepest parts of the human imagination, tribes of cannibals long since reverted to feral barbarism and the secrets of the Heroes themselves.

The Heroes and the Stars

Hundreds of years ago, in generations long past, the Heroes of old ruled over the valley of the twin rivers from their great city, and their works were mighty beyond reckoning. But all that they were has all but been forgotten and lost, since they abandoned the world leaving only the Stars behind them to light the night sky. No-one now alive can say that they know much of what the Heroes were or what they did, or even why they left. It is as if the very essence of heroism left the world with them, and now those left behind struggle to survive amongst the remnants of the World That Was and the ever encroaching forests.

Something is changing. The Stars shine brightly as they have for generations, but slowly a select few have attuned themselves to their power, whether through study, through meditation, or simply by their very nature. Those who find themselves attuned to the Stars are starting to be able to draw upon their power – the power of the long-lost Heroes of old. The world is changing.

The Spirits of Place

Not everything in the world has faded away with the absence of the Heroes. The Spirits of the Land have grown large, have multiplied, and become powerful. Embodying the nature of the place in which they reside, they are manifestations of the verdant power of the forest and the solid might of the earth. It is said that once they were driven into submission before the conquering might of the Heroes, but now free once again they have retaken the land that was once theirs.

It is also said that those who draw upon the right stars can draw upon the power of the land, upon the very nature of the Spirits themselves and through stealing and shaping that essence, and enduring the wrath of the spirits thus provoked, shape their very desires.

Written by Starlight LARP

May 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm

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