Essential reading for anyone thinking of writing or running an adventure,
introducing a plotline or having anything to do with a referee.
- BASIC PHILOSOPHY OF THE RULES
- DEALING WITH PLAYER REQUESTS
- WRITING ADVENTURES
- Writing the Adventure
- Getting the Party Together
- Props and Costume
- Preparing for the Adventure
- Running the Adventure
- Going Non-Linear
- Unseen Action
- Concluding the Adventure
- WRITING PLOTS
- WORDS OF WISDOM
The Referee is responsible for ensuring player happiness. Referees must therefore see that players are treated fairly (and feel they are treated fairly) and that the LRP world remains a living place for characters to adventure in.
Referees are responsible for governing player/character activity to ensure that the guidance of the rules is maintained. They are responsible for promoting players creativity both in their individual character action and in adventure/plot writing, while at the same time ensuring that contradictory events are not set in motion, and that all current activities are appropriately influenced by any other ongoing activities. The Referee must also help all ideas find fruition, not just those that are shouted the loudest.
Although players are expected to follow the rules of the game system, it is the Referee’s responsibility to ensure this is done. The rules are intended to provide for a balanced system in terms of individual character power and are designed to prevent abuse by powermongers and to avoid penalising novices. They are a background to a roleplaying environment, and as such are in many ways distinct from it.
The Referees role is that of communicator and arbitrator, not of dictator!
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For anyone who proposes to introduce changes to the rules, it is important to understand the basic philosophy behind the rules.
The Rules were originally written in 1983 for a linear adventuring system in which characters were created to participate in a single linear adventure. Characters were created of a specific class at a level appropriate to the adventure, and those few that survived were often never played again. Over time, the concept of Treasure Trap world was developed, and characters were played more than once. With the continuation of characters and the introduction of interactives to complement linear adventuring, the rules system was developed to allow more realistic flexibility for developing characters and to attempt to maintain a game balance for characters.
A major revision of the rules was the introduction of the skill based system in 1997, which sought to allow a steady and flexible character development to meet player demands. The skill based system retained all the features of the previous class based system allowed characters to develop by picking individual skills rather than being constrained to follow a single class which defined all the skills acquired. Unfortunately, the final rules that were produced included the results of compromises and amendments that skewed the balance and left some areas badly flawed.
In 2001, it was noted by some members that the hits system was horribly complicated and that this dissuaded many potential new members. As a result, a 'basic' version of the rules was produced.
The basic concept of the skill based system is to divide skills into ability classes, and to make specialisation in a single ability class more economical than dabbling in several classes.
The system aims to minimise the potential for abuse or advantageous play by powergamers or wargamers. Thus, it seeks to avoid giving advantage to carefully planned character development over unplanned development. It should not be possible for a player to arrive at a situation where they say, "Oh, I could have got the same effective abilities for several XP less by buying this and this instead". or "I should have taken this instead of that, because it is much better and for the same or only slightly more XP cost."
The system seeks to allow players to do the development themselves without needing ref involvement at every step. Thus, there should be no rules introduced which need the ref’s approval before being allowed.
The XP gain is intended to be clear, simple and automatic on meeting specific conditions. There is no reliance on the subjective opinion of referees, and no preferential treatment for those better at acting, costume making (or buying!) or who carry out extensive downtime activity. The system does not penalise those who are less experienced or talented or who dedicate less money, time or resources.
The aim of the rules system is to provide a fair balance and limitation on individual character power (eg, spells, melee damage, defences). It is not intended to provide rules or skills for roleplaying (eg, personality traits, behaviour guidelines), as these should not require such.
Durham University Treasure Trap exists for the benefit of its members. Consideration of the many and varied wishes of its members is key to its success and continuation. It is important to recognise that, as well as the many vocal members who express their desires, there are many silent members too.
In all rules, arrangements and running of the system, referees must ensure that they give due consideration to all the membership with a view to making the society attractive to as many people as possible.
Some players don’t like to push for extra powers and abilities. They accept the system as written, and play their character ‘straight’ Other players find it near impossible to play a straight character, and will always request some special characteristics, privileges or activities. One of the tasks of a Referee is to cater for the requests of the latter type of player without offending the sense of fairness of the former type.
For those players who seek skills, abilities and advantages for their characters beyond those provided for in the rules, any advantages allowed must be (at least) fairly balanced by disadvantages. Advantages should not be given simply in exchange for extensive character backgrounds, ‘logical justification’, nice costume or constant hassle. To do so promotes an elite of the most committed and disadvantages and dissuades the many more who are generally content to play the system ‘as is’ and perhaps have less time, money or skill.
In considering whether or not to allow a request at all, the Referee must consider the following:
Where possible, benefits which broaden or specialise the abilities of a character are preferable to those which increase existing abilities.
Any advantage should be at least countered by a disadvantage. In considering disadvantages, the Referee should consider:
Where there is doubt, the referee should err on the side of over-disadvantaging.
When benefits and disadvantages are assigned, they should be recorded for reference to help future Ref’s make consistent decisions.
An adventure is a one off activity which involves a number of characters. It may be part of a greater plot, or it may exist solely as its own end.
The Adventure begins with an idea of a quest or a mission or even simply a journey the party must undertake. From this idea, a general structure of an adventure must be built, eventually detailing specifics of individual encounters.
Encounters may be divided into three categories:
Common These are those encounters with the common inhabitants of an area, be they goblins, mewlips or bandits. Common encounters should be realistic and have little bearing on the level of the adventure. For example, bandits are generally low level nuisances preying on weak targets. They may appear on first or eighth level adventures - in the former as a hard fight, in the latter as a cowering ‘non-encounter’ or possibly begging instead of attacking. Just because a high level party wanders through an area doesn’t mean all the natural denizens become a lot more powerful.
Rare These are rare encounters with unusual or unique inhabitants of the area. These may consist of special monsters, traps or puzzles and can be chosen appropriate to the level of the adventure.
Plot These are encounters directly related to the source of the adventure. For example, if the party are hunting a necromancer, it may be appropriate to have a number of undead encounters. Such encounters are more likely to be near the source (eg, the necromancer), and will probably have driven other common encounters (eg, bandit ambush) out of the area.
An adventure would typically be a mix of common and plot encounters, plus a couple of rare encounters for variety. The plot encounters would be more concentrated toward the ‘source’.
Provide a variety of types of encounters (fighting, thinking, talking, magic, spirit, trap and/or mixes of such) in order to keep all party members involved and feeling useful. Set encounters to test the party. Remember to add appropriate magic use to fights.
Structure the adventure with regard to monster setting on the day. If you have an encounter which requires a lot of briefing to set up, then set a ‘stop & talk’ type encounter with just one or two monsters before it. This will slow the party and give you time to set up. Also, a combat before the ‘stop & talk’ will further delay the party due to the need to battle board.
Have some ideas for extra ‘stop & talk’ encounters which you can drop into any point of the adventure if you suddenly find you need a bit more time.
Depending on the number of monsters available, consider the possibility of setting two (or more) encounters at a time, which will allow you to stay permanently ahead of the party.
Remember that monsters who walk past the party (eg, merchants on their way to town) will at some time have to turn round and come back past them. Consider some ‘from behind’ encounters to do this (eg, hunters, spies for the big baddie), rather than simply calling time freeze to get them past.
The interactives and timelines provide the ideal opportunity to prepare characters for an adventure. The longer the build up, the more involved the characters are likely to be in the adventure, and the more likely the right sort of characters will eventually sign up for it.
Give consideration to the sort of events which are likely to be happening prior to your adventure as a result of whatever you have set as the source of your adventure, and put these in the timelines. These events don’t have to point obviously to a source or an adventure, but they will build a flavour.
It is always nice to get the party together in character, which is most easily done at an interactive. This also lets other players see for themselves events going on around them. Make sure, however, that the event is well publicised in advance in order that players have a chance to arrange to adventure with their friends and also that they bring the right character to sign up on the night. Also, take the opportunity of the advance warning for any out of character requests or information you need to pass on (eg, no spirit users, no evil characters, etc)
One of the distinguishing features of Live-Action Roleplay is that players experience everything individually, in their own way and in their own time. In order to do this it is essential that your adventure has clear and distinctive props and costume.
Props don't have to be brilliantly crafted, just distinctive enough that players can recognise what it's supposed to be without the ref having to break into the game to explain what's there. Eg, white tabards/headbands might be enough to represent skeletons providing the players have been briefed in advance. But, better props will create a better atmosphere. If certain props are going to be focal pieces of scenes in the adventure, then they should be as dramatic and realistic as possible.
Run through your encounter list and detail any costume or props needed. Check the availability of these sufficiently in advance to make/buy new kit if needed - those skeleton masks you are relying on may have been lost on the last adventure.
Running an adventure requires three referees.
Brief the monsters. They will perform much better if you tell them the whole plot in advance as well as giving full briefs at each encounter. Keep reminding them what is to come. Also, let all the monsters know who is who at each encounter, don’t brief specials in private.
Keep the adventure moving. Get monsters out and on the move when the encounter is done. At each encounter site, set the encounter as soon as you can to ensure you will be ready should the party arrive sooner than expected.
A non-linear adventure (or encounter) is when a monster group or groups is set and allowed to roam free. This can provide a more realistic environment for certain encounters, but must be set right to work.
Consider how the encounter will begin. If the monsters need to be placed before a ‘Time In’ then they will need a signal.
Consider how the encounter will end. Who will decide the encounter is over and how? The monsters will need to know (a) the encounter has ended and (b) where to regroup. Bear in mind that the monsters may have travelled some way from their start point by this stage.
Consider how changes in conditions during the encounter will be received. What if, for example, the party needs a long time out. With localised encounters the monster ref always has the ability to step in and end the encounter of it is getting out of hand. In a wide encounter, there is no easy way to rebrief the monsters once they are set.
There is often quite a lot of inter-character activity going on which the adventure setters will be unaware of. For example, one character may be planning to steal the artefact the party is questing to retrieve or assassinate another member of the party at an opportune moment.
In order for characters to have the opportunity to pursue independent activities, keep the party time-in as long as possible. Don’t end encounters the moment the last monster falls, but give characters a chance to lick their wounds and search the bodies in time in. Especially after the last encounter, if there is a return journey, let the characters do this in ‘time in’ so they can conclude any other business they may have. If you are going to skip time (for example, if the adventure has overrun) give the players enough warning.
Get together for a debrief and a chance to recant tales of the day. Follow this up with accounts in the timelines, not just of the activities of the party, but of the consequences of their actions. The consequences should run at least a couple of weeks, more if appropriate, as the results of their actions are seen to take effect.
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A plot is an ongoing situation which influences the lives of characters to some extent. Usually, the source of the influence if unapproachable - either due to its being too powerful or due to lack of knowledge of what the source is.
A plot exists to fuel the imaginations of the players and to drive the motivations of characters. In creating a plotline it is not necessary to have any end or resolution planned. It is simply necessary to define the source of the influence, and then to report on the visible effects of this influence to the players (typically through the timelines or encounters at interactives, but also possibly by inserting encounters into others adventures).
Having said how simple a plot is to conceive, a good plot is best discovered in stages by the activities of characters - gradually discovering the forces at work or the deeper and deeper extent of the influence. The writer should consider how information can and will be discovered by players. Some will be ‘handed’ to the players (eg, through timelines or staged encounters) and some will be actively obtained (eg, through research or adventuring).
A plot may spark one or more adventures, but these should be mostly in response to the players wish to pursue the source rather than by the writers desire to run an adventure. Eventually, this may lead to a resolution and conclusion of the ‘plot’. Alternatively, the ‘plot’ may reach a natural end, effectively resolving itself, and simply fade away.
Throughout the life of a plot, it is important that the interaction of the plot with other plots and adventure preludes is harmonised. Keep the ref team informed!
Here are a selection of short pieces of advice which have been compiled by referees over the years.
Never assume that the party will figure anything out, ever.
If you plan a hideously devious plot based on deception and subterfuge, expect at least one character to figure the whole thing out within the first five minutes (unless the event relies on this happening).
If a character can eat or drink a vital prop, they will. If they cannot, then they will either lose it or hide it away and refuse to tell the rest of the party they have it.
An adventuring party has only two speeds - too fast (aka. "Time out, we’re not ready yet") or too slow (aka. "Lets have a bit of a rest and a snack before pressing on").
If you leave the party without a guide, they will discover a new path and you’ll never see them again.
Be nice to the police. It’s not their fault that the vicar called them out after seeing hooded figures performing a midnight ritual in the forest.
A huge amount of effort can be out into the preparation of any LRP event, yet frequently many encounters are only half finished, letting down the skill and effort put into the writing and leaving players to face bland and predictable routines. The unfinished part to which I refer is the monster setting - the final in situ scripting of a monster group.
"Okay everyone - orc ambush, five hits. You, you're the leader - seven hits." Now that's okay for the start of the briefing - let everyone know the system basics - but so often the brief ends there, and the encounter is another instantly forgettable orc bash. The encounter lacks any vibrancy because the monsters are lifeless. Less than even one-dimensional, each orc is a formless part of the amorphous group.
Most 'monsters' are capable of giving some personality to their part, but this rarely happens unprompted, and a good group interaction won't occur unless all the monsters have differing priorities and/or objectives. It is the monster setter's responsibility to give at least the basics of interactive briefs - and that means individual briefs. It doesn't take much time or effort, but the effect on the encounter is dramatic (!).
Name the monsters. The first step to developing individual personalities has to be to give them a name. If time is short, use a real name derivitive: Julia, Kirsten and Anna become Gurjul, Gurkir and Guran. From there, begin to develop personalities and motivations.
"Gurkir, you would quite like to see Guran killed so you can take over. Gurjul, you're out to impress Guran. Gurgra, you're Gurjul's mate but a bit of a coward. Gurob and Gursi, you hate each other. Gurdun, you fancy Gursi madly. Gurjo, you just want to get home, and are quite happy eating vegetable stew."
Okay, these characters are very shallow, but they are now characters rather than just monsters. The extra brief only took a few seconds, but already the encounter is transformed and the monsters can interact with each other. If time permits, even more 'interactive briefs' can be given (ever briefed a paranoia party?).
The encounter should become a living scene, into which the party could appear at any time. When they do arrive, the party should see some unexpected behaviour as the interaction between the orcs continues throughout the encounter with the adventurers. The fight could even develop into a three way battle as the orcs begin fighting amongst themselves.
Not only has the encounter become more 'real' and more of an experience for the players, but it is also more fun for the monsters who have something to do besides wave a sword. All sorts of encounters benefit from this additional briefing. Border guards cease to be a bunch of bored monsters stood around while someone checks the party's papers, but become a group of characters involved in an interaction of their own - discussing the latest troop movements, or the new beer in town, or how big an ogre really is, etc.
A warning: Don't straightjacket the party by scripting results. The briefing should only ever script the motivations of the individual monsters, never their actions - tell a bandit they are cowardly, but not that they will run away. Just set the environment and let events develop themselves.
And finally, a good briefing has the added benefit that it allows the monster setter to set more than one encounter and 'leave them running' creating an interactive yet non-linear environment (especially if different encounters converge).
When I was at Peckferton ... (well, I wasn't actually, but I was at Durham University which is the next best thing) ... we used to run real adventure's that presented real challenges to the party. None of that anguished, moral dilemma, "I'm so tragic" role-play rubbish we get nowadays. I'm talking about the days of linear - Classic Adventures, full of those Classic Encounters:
Someone in the party is the plant. In a true Classic Adventure Party there will be at least one character volunteering to be the plant. They get to play with the party up to the last encounter when they join the Big Baddie and help to kill everyone.
The Bandit Ambush
What adventure would be complete without a bandit ambush. No matter how obscure a route the party takes, or what time of day or night they travel, there will be a bandit ambush waiting. The bandits, who should be massively outweaponed and outclassed by the party, will demand money, weapons, and maybe a party member before they will allow safe passage. For chortle value, the bandits should at some time during the negotiations disclose their comedy name (e.g. Juan Cornetto).
If the party refuses the bandit's demands, the bandits attack. If the party hands over some money and weapons they are obviously a push over so the bandits attack. In true Classic Encounter style, the bandits will all fight to the death. Running away is for roleplayers.
The Orc Ambush
The orc ambush is very similar to the bandit ambush, except it skips all the boring dialogue and goes straight to the fight. Also, the monsters get to grunt and roar a lot more and probably get a few more hits. The orcs get to wear pig noses which make them look scary. If the monster setter's not a complete wimp, a couple of monsters get to be ogres or trolls (lots more hits and you get to roar louder and use the biggest weapons).
The Nightgoblin Ambush
Nightgoblin's only have one hit, so they won't fight anyone frontally. They do have squeaky voices though, so they can run around a lot and annoy the party. If they get the chance they can run in and stab someone in the back. The basic idea is to get the party to split up chasing the nightgoblins at which point the Big Monster comes out of hiding and kills a couple of characters. Sometimes there's no need for the Big Monster as the nightgoblins alone do enough damage on a disordered party.
The Dying Person
The dying person tells the party what they have to do to defeat the Big Baddie. Sometimes they hand over a vital item. Then they die - it stops them having to answer awkward questions.
Pro adventure writers might combine the 'Dying Person' encounter with an 'Orc Ambush' encounter. Now that's genius.
The puzzle was created by something very powerful a very long time ago for obscure reasons. In spite of it's longevity it is somehow not a landmark that the party were aware of. Maybe it only appeared recently after all, or perhaps it moves around.
Usually the puzzle involves statues - either along the path or surrounding an item the party need. Sometimes the statues speak or cast magic or animate temporarily depending on what the party do. There are myriad variations on the theme, but basically the character's have to solve a puzzle which involves them getting hurt when they go wrong.
The Force Wall
This invisible wall of force just exists. It stretches as far as the party investigates in both directions, and is as high and as low as they can test. It was created by something very powerful a very long time ago for obscure reasons. In spite of it's size and longevity it is somehow not a landmark that the party were aware of. Maybe it only appeared recently after all, or perhaps it moves around. Different versions of the wall allow passage in different ways:
- Version 1: Curiously, there is an opening in the force wall not far off the path the party are following. Odd that the path leads right up to a solid section of the wall, while there is no discernable trail to the actual opening. Still, an opening there is, though it is probably so low that characters will have to crawl through. Easy enough, except for the monsters waiting eagerly on the other side.
- Version 2: No openings at all in this one. However, a quick riddle or dance will solve it and cause the wall to dissipate (temporarily). Alternatively, the wall may demand a certain approach (walking backwards, piggy-back, carrying no metal, etc.) before allowing passage. The enigmatic clue is traditionally delivered by one of those ubiquitous talking statues, but can sometimes be mimed or grunted by the monsters waiting at the other side.
- Version 3: This wall is exactly like version 1. The monsters on the other side, however, are giving version 2 type clues in an attempt to get the party to perform silly dances or throw their weapons through first.
The Fleeing Peasants
A horde of screaming peasants come down the path at the party. Inexperienced parties will usually hack them all to death, and can then be mocked for killing unarmed peasants. Any role-players in the group will suffer some conscience/guilt thing. Any surviving peasants will warn of demons ahead. When the party get's ahead, they discover that the demons are really: (a) a goblin, or (b) demons.
Once the players are accustomed to the 'Fleeing Peasants' encounter it's time to go for the variant. In variant 1, the peasants all carry concealed poison daggers and try to kill the party (they've been sent by the Big Baddie). In variant 2, the peasants all carry a nasty disease which they pass to the party.
The Final Encounter
There's only one way to end a Classic Adventure, and that's to kill the entire party. Occasionally it's necessary to let the party have one shot at killing the Big Baddie first, just to let them know they can sometimes win, before hitting them with hordes of baddie minions. All the monsters should join in this encounter as something nasty. The more nasties the better as it gives the players a variety of ways to die. At least one should be something the player's cannot kill. Classic player's take the opportunity to die heroically here, but some may try to 'survive the final encounter'.
Surviving the Final Encounter
Sometimes the monster setter gets it wrong, and one or two characters legitimately survive by killing all the monsters they can and throwing the unkillable one's off a cliff or something. In such a case, tribute to the players and may their names go down in legend.
At other times the player's may adopt less sporting survival tactics. 'Playing dead' won't work on a true 'Classic Adventure' as the monsters should mercilessly hack apart anyone on the ground, even if they look dead. Attempts to hide can be easily overcome by having plenty of monsters with spirit sight or the like which can see cowering characters even when hidden.
The favourite cheat has to be 'running away from the last encounter'. Adventure writers can get round this by including plenty of monsters with range spells (like paralysis) or by surrounding the last encounter with a force wall. Some adventure writer's actually plan the last encounter as something from which the player's are expected to flee (the 'run-out') but this is just asking for trouble unless the run-out is at least two miles and the monsters have a jeep.
An even more cunning cheat is 'not going to the last encounter'. This is a ruse frequently adopted by experienced 'Classic Adventurer's'. To get round this, simply set the adventure on a different plane so they have to be at the last encounter or they die anyway and don't get a fight. An alternative is to have a ritual at the last encounter which needs all the surviving characters there, though this doesn't work too well as most character's are quite happy to dump the others in it for a chance to survive.
Classic Character Backgrounds. They turn up every time I run an event, and yet they still variously surprise, amuse and frustrate me. I've probably even used them myself in the past. I was reminded again when a friend began describing a character background he had just received. So familiar is the form that he had barely begun and I was able to complete the description for him. It goes something like this:
*The Death of Kin*
Grunt is a simple fellow, with a mother and a father. Then evil folk come along and kill his parents (I use a male Grunt here, though it could be female. Generally, though, it's male). If Grunt had any brothers or sisters, these get killed too. It is important that Grunt has no family ties, as these could be used by Referees to force a 'Roleplaying Situation' on Grunt, who will be far to busy being hard.
Occasionally Grunt's family is killed by natural causes, for example, in a fire or ... a fire, or even ... a fire. Yes, a fire does seem to be top of the 'accidental' causes of death.
Sometimes players take this opportunity to give Grunt an uncontrollable hatred for the creatures that slew Grunt's kin (or a paranoid fear of fire). Sometimes they don't. If they do it will be an uncontrollable hatred or paranoid fear, never a general unease, distrust or discomfort or any other 'in-between'. It has to be all or nothing 'cos that's the way Classic Characters are.
Following the removal of kin, there is an optional interlude for the characters who want the 'Ace Fighter' ability (as opposed to those content with the 'Ace Assassin', 'Ace Scout' and/or 'Ace Mage' abilities). The optional interlude basically consists of Grunt being captured by the slayers of his kin and thrown into a gladiatorial pit for a couple of years. Grunt will then escape to the wilderness. Note that Grunt always escapes the gladiatorial pit - he is never rescued. Rescue would give Grunt a friend, who would then have to be killed off.
*The Wise Old Man*
Grunt is only left wandering the wilderness (or the backstreets and alleys in the case of City Grunts) for a very short time, because Grunt is inevitably discovered by a Wise Old Man who takes him in. The Wise Old Man teaches Grunt his vast knowledge and experience and then dies (must remove all potential of current personal relationships). The Wise Old Man obviously has no living friends or relatives, for these are never mentioned and certainly don't turn up to collect any inheritance. I believe these Wise Old Men were Grunts in their youth, and that Grunt too will eventually stop adventuring, become a hermit and one day pick up some poor unfortunate boy with no family ties.
Following the death of the Wise Old Man, Grunt discovers some powerful artefact and/or arcane lore which the old man has left behind. Well equipped now to face whatever the world has to offer, Grunt heads out in search of adventure. He usually ends up sat in the corner of a tavern, looking hard. Alone. Already there are signs of the hermit he will become.
i like my gaffa stick
some say that tape is bad
no, i will not have it said
latex has had its day
It used to be so plain and clear
In the glorious days of old,
Orcs were bad - you killed them all
And made off with their gold.
Then the bloody social workers
Got involved in LRP:
"Orcs are people too" they'd say
"It's surely plain to see."
So instead of cutting off their heads
And slaying all their kin,
We had to bring them back to town
And give them counsellin'.
Now half the city guard are orcs,
We've got a Nazgul as the mayor.
The drow are all accountants
And it's just too much to bear.
So me and all the heroes now,
Are packed and leaving town.
We're heading for the wilderness
Where we'll try to settle down.
And we'll make ourselves a living
The only way that we know how -
By robbing orcs and goblins
And by killing bloody drow.