Self congratulatory ego blogs should be a thing, fortunately I haven’t got the ego or the smugness for that sort of thing. I’d rather talk about a thing from a technical point of view.
So Hades ran. And from what I have been told it ran well. So I’d like to talk about the things that guided me on it. Some bits will be vague because of the nature of a game based partly on mystery, but I will try my best.
The players had a hell of a punt with the event brief of ‘You have died, welcome to the underworld’ and I’m damned thankful they did. I knew it was a hard ask, and i knew it was going to lose me players (That and folk who want crunch, i’m not sad about that though). But it was a choice that was required to run the game, it was that or an insanely large wiki and i’m not as talented as Lrp dad.
What do I mean by that? Well at its core it was about making sure the players acts mattered and no one ended up on ‘gate guard duty’ or was ‘Third shield bearer on the right’, that they were important, the things they cared about would be the focus (and allow me to beat them with those things) and that they could change the plot and world as it was written. Trust me rewriting on the fly is hard, but was damned worth it. Central to this was player backgrounds and how they interacted with the underworld, that no npc’s that would steal focus and the plot was not treated with any immutable reverence. Of course some of those backgrounds read like Mythic legends, some like Le Carre, some like political dramas, others like tragic love stories.
It was also about giving them firing artillery pieces and burying crew alive whilst making people cry.
If it was a rule it had to be hidden and if it was in the game area it had to be there in game:
I believe in rules light systems, no one wants to play Mass Effect and watch the calculations the engine is running in the back ground. Now if I was running a pvp heavy gankfest I’d be all over rules, rules that I’d get about twenty people from different systems to rip to pieces for me so I knew they actually worked, but Hades isn’t that game. For Hades to work it needed no calls, but I also wanted supernatural elements for the players to play with.
How we got round this was to make any rules part of the world, all easy enough to be explain in game and in character. The interaction of emotion and memory creating cool stuff, which we tried to use show rather than tell at the start with NPC’s who were there to explain things in character. There are no rules beyond ‘React to everything, don’t expect a reaction.’
Using weird powers in this works, this is partly down to an amazing crew who just want to enable the players (Trust me Enable is the right word) and the intentional small size. You will not have to do maths while being hit in the head here…..
The flipside was when players came into their powers…..wow. The powers that the players created on the fly (I only ever said yes or riffed with them IC on building them and made it really clear they didn’t need my approval unless it was something really odd.) were tremendous, tied to the characters in personal ways and in one case was mythic and has altered the underworld utterly by its existence. However not one of them effects game balance, is ‘a gamy item’ and doesn’t add to the world in a meaningful way.
Having one player rewriting the game through augary, another sending people blind with magic, another binding two factions to peace (or else) through mythic symbology and having players influencing the living all though rp, no dots were spent in ‘talk to person with pulse and influence their actions through role playing at them’ or ‘Manufacture pistol that fires the flames of hell’. Just cool ideas, I have a feeling red smoke is now shorthand for flamethrowers now………
The players were creating powers and items that were mythic, interesting and characterful.
And on items, we banned cameras from parts of the game. There were moments I wanted players and crew to just have little private moments that no one would ever see but them. I sort of torn by that as their was a beautiful vignette that would have made a beautiful painting that is only in the head of three people now, there is something awesome and a bit sad about that. I’m very pro photos at events, so the other thing I wanted was cameras embedded. So they had to either be hidden and no one saw them or part of the game…..Cameras have a huge mythos about them and the soul. Our two NPC photographers (Oliver and Oscar) not only got good shots, but as npc’s delivered amazing performances and helped one character unlock the powers a camera has over the soul. This was the sort of thing I was very keen on, everything being embedded in the game so there was nothing to break immersion. Hell without those two in character with their cameras the game would have lost a lot of its atmosphere.
On cooking I made a choice to make cooking IC and no food wagon. Other than the loos, there was no reason to leave the game area, which meant you didn’t have to have the jarring moment of going in and out.
Run the game I wanted to run and be damned:
I wanted to run something that was mine, and what I believe to be good and would enjoy playing. Lots of roleplay, combat that looks cool, trusting players with abilities that they could take the piss and break the game with, take risks, giving players the power rather than holding onto it, have an emotional core to the game and treat that as important as stabbing. Say ‘yes’ or ‘yes, but’ never no and every crew member gets a crack at a starring role npc. (We had an Airsofter with almost no lrp experience as part of the poker game for fetters as an British solider who had died in Afghanistan. He was great.)
I got lucky, I got a bunch of players and crew who bought in. To be clear, I still believe players make games work or not. The best writers or crew in the world can’t do anything if the players aren’t up for what they are running, but a bunch of players can have fun in a locked container full of rabid rats if they are the right players. When people make comments like ‘bloody players’ what they are forgetting the players are the core of any game.
All of that said, I wanted to run something I believed in with no compromise or I’d end up seeing it as a chore. So I did.
Another thing I got asked early on, why cap numbers? Well I don’t want to write for 40 people, I want to write for 20. If I want to write for 40 I can write for a mates game, I want to enjoy writing for 20 for me. Realistically if I could get away with it financially I’d run for 7 people, but to put on what I want that’s £160 pound tickets self catering isn’t going to work (Magnificent seven in the underworld should be a thing.)
Everyone had to be safe and respected in an unpleasant world:
It was an active choice to make the world of Hades gender neutral and that sexual violence as a topic was off the table, my politics and beliefs and my game. However when I got the players backgrounds in I soon realised we would have to deal with racism, suicide, domestic, violence and homophobia in this game. One of the two panic attacks I had going into this was ‘oh shit how do I do this?’ and then it dawned that racism would be a topic due to having so many different people from the past in the game and it I doubled down on that panic.
I just went with it and trusted my adult players.
To be really clear, my player base is amazing and we have systems in the game that allow players to explore themes in a way that means it won’t impact others, and going forwards I think I will have discussions about comfort zones. The one thing we ran out that was close to the bone, misfired (although not noticeably) in a way that I think meant it was better and less in your face.
The other thing was having a crew that was inclusive of each other and respectful. Even on Saturday night in torrential rain in the crew room and caravan everyone kept each other going and we’re supportive.
Yes I have drunk the PD cool aid, but that’s ok. ‘Cause you know, when did not being a dick become uncool?
Combat and coolthentic:
I wanted historically coolthentic rather than actually authentic. This is because not everyone has the budget and skills to do accurate and sometimes looking cool is more important than right. Everyone looked amazing. When the photo’s hit you can judge for yourself.
I wanted combat to look epic, and it did. When I turned round to see what could only be described as a ‘princess bride’ style sword fest going on between a Nazi officer and a Papist I was happier than I have been in a long time. People bought into cool fights, hell the musket on musket fighting looked like those desperate fights in Sharpe.
Which brings me onto guns. I knew I didn’t want airsoft as eyepro would look shit and I’ve seen airsoft vs hand to hand, it’s not fun for the hand to hand person. Nerf would look silly alongside the effort everyone had put into kit so it boiled down to shouting bang or going bang.
I went with blank firers, popper muskets and cap guns. In a small game they can work and mainly did (I may have developed a man crush when one player took a silent mimed shot to the shoulder and then explained the meta physics of why it had happened.). It also meant by being up front with ‘we are using blank firers’, we could also simulate artillery strikes in coming with flash bangs, flamethrowers with smoke, get players loading arty with bangs and smoke everywhere. Next time a field gun rather than a Neblewerfer.
Josh, do we have a tank?
So yeah that was my thinking behind Hades, that and all the stuff I rant and scream about as what I like in games. It definitely wont be for everyone and that’s ok. The idea that we have to go to events, that we have to like a thing or that there is a ‘right game’ or right way to run one is absurd, but this worked for me, the crew and the players at that time so i’m kinda happy with that.
Apparently it worked.
So Hades: Dancing Macabre and Hades: Odins fall are next allegedly……suppose i should write something……
I know some torch singers, a jazz band and can actually resurrect BB king from the dead? Right? Right?