Sometimes I write loads for an update – and then realise I need to summarise - and sometimes that summary gets really long as well......
Case in point this hit four pages with a lot of background and
explanation and asides before I realised – lord that is long and not finished.
So short version. The larp Odyssey is based around arena combat –
it has stands – and I genuinely enjoy sitting in the stands with
wine and sausage watching as people beat each other up with foam
rubber swords for my amusement.
Sadly Odyssey is coming up towards the end of it's designed life (4 more events and it's done), it's not been a commercial success and so it seem unlikely that another company will choose to make something else based around an arena. Which means no more arena fights for my entertainment because as far as I know Odyssey arena focused combat is as far as I
now unique (do tell me if I'm wrong I might well break my “PD only”
Since a picture speaks a 1,000 words I'll use this photo to show
you why I want there to be more arena based larp.
Because from the looks on there faces something amazingly cool has
happened – and they all got to see it. Apparently at the last
Empire one of members had an awesome drag out fight with the opposing
general – I know this because the person playing the general came
by to thank him for it. I was on that field – I had no
So following a couple of long conversations with some fellow
Odyssey people my brain starting ticking over what you might do –
game design wise to try and keep the arena combat but sort out some of
Problematically the bit of Odyssey I do – the god game – works
(and works well enough to be moved into Empire as the Eternal game).
So I have very little direct experience of the arena – this is
based on conversations with people – so it's possible I've got the
wrong end of the stick. I should also say that I've nothing but the
highest respect for the people that designed Odyssey – that it
works at all is a tribute to there vision. So it's very possible
that more skilled game design minds have already look at this problem
– but hey it's been rattling around my head so I best get it out so
I can think about other things.
First step to solving a problem is working out what you think that
problems actually are.
Firstly as a warrior the number of fights you can take part in is
pretty limited. Basically you get to take part in one attack and one
defence a day. Those fights are intense – but short – the great
battle for Athens took 5 minutes for example. So you get twenty
minutes of action over a weekend – which is a pretty low action to
time ratio. There are quests as well but it’s an issue.
Secondly – at game release – the amount of stuff that warriors
could do that was not arena based was limited – which meant people
spent some time distracted. Profound decisions have worked hard on
that area of the game to their credit – and I think somebody
turning up who used to play but stopped would find a very different
game. Some of this is that there are just more quests per player now
(and they sorted out the issue where we once sent the whole of Persia
to deal with some bandits – there were about ten of them – they
very sensibly put down there weapons when the 80 or so players
appeared and scowled at them).
Thirdly - while the arena seeks to give you epic combat where
skill matters – it does not guarantee it. So you can turn up to a
fight to discover your opponents have given up so they can
concentrate on another fight or on the flip side you are the other
fight and superior numbers are about to roll you into the ground.
Problem number 3 is especially bad when combined with problem
number 1 – because only have four fight sucks when two of those are
terrible. This then gets worse when you realise that number of
people is a key factor in a fight, so of course you are going to do
everything in your power to outnumber your opponents to win. The
game does have a feedback mechanism for this – the Gods want
entertainment – but that feedback mechanism is a confused channel
compared to winning which is clear (made less clear because the Gods
are also very keen on you winning as well….).
Fourthly – every epic moment requires that some other player
fails. Some people are much better than others in a fight so some
people are just going to keep getting those epic moments. One of the
great things about Odyssey is that the truly great warriors stand out
– there names are shouted across the arena but one of the bad
things is that some people are just never going to get that moment
and be an also ran.
Problem four might be solvable – magic/buffs/general shinies can
be a great leveller. But there are two reasons that does not quite
work – the in game reward cycle and rational choice. The reward
cycle means that the really good people tend to get the shinies - the
person that just dropped 4 opponents with a dramatic flourish is the
one going to get noticed, is the one going to get the shinie toy (and
lets me clear they deserve that reward). But the net effect of that
is that the winner gets stronger while the loser has even less chance
next time around. The second time is rational choice- magic only
makes so much of a difference compared to skill. I’m not a
brilliant fighter - bit of a flapper who hides behind a shield if I’m
honest. You could magic me up the wazoo and I know I’d still get
torn apart by anybody half way decent – so why bother magicing me
up the wazzo in the first place? Save that for more useful people.
So what do you need to do.
There are two things you need to sort out more then anything else–
the first is you need to get people more fights. The second is those
fights have to be more balanced at least in numbers – because it's
numbers that really determine if a fight is going to be a walk in the
park or not. Fortunately I think the solution to both of those is
the same – control the numbers going in. Have fixed numbers on
They don't have to be the same number – because imbalanced
fights can create epic moments – but they need to be 9 vs 6 not 20
vs 1 – and the people signing up to that fight have to know what
they are getting into.
Background wise – you stop using the arena as a proxy from
battles and treat it like an actual arena – with preset limits
solely intended to ensure amusement to the crowd.
That removes some of the dead space that can exist in Odyssey –
the sacrifice attack to force the opponent to burn resources – that
takes 30 seconds but has a half hour slot because it was not clear what exactly was going to happen. If you've got a 9 vs 9
battle scheduled you can call that 15 minutes - and away you go. On
the other hand if you've got a 30 vs 30 grudge match then give them
the full 30 minutes slot. You can also drive action by having a timer - attacker wins by the end or the defender does. Means the attacker has to do just that - attack.
If you are controlling how many people then the cunning and
manipulation has to be who is fighting each battle. Which means
rather then the Odyssey 'War leader says we go here' each player
needs to be involved in arranging where they personally are fighting. Which is
good as it gives you something to do. You can make groups - I fight with my brothers only - but there smaller, informal and flexible.
That means you need to limit the number of fights people can have
– otherwise you'll just send El Tasty the finest swordsman into
every single fight (also you need to give everybody a go). But
rather then a hard limit – use increasing resources – it costs
more and more each fight you go into. So at some point you have to
ask your self 'do I want El Tasty or do I want to save my money for
Finally giving people the chance to shine. Well the obvious
solution is leaguing – split the player base up into skill ranks.
Trouble with that is – what if El Pretty Good manipulates things so
they stay in the bottom league and slaughter people? I think a
better solution is to have sets of weapons – and then have some
fights limit the sets of weapons that are allowed in that fight. So
this character fights ambidextrous, this character fights sword and
shield, this character fights with a two hander. This battle is only
for two handers – that gives you a better chance to shine in your
chosen field the one you are best at. It's not perfect but then neither is leaguing.....
The devil is in the detail – but a game based around an arena
with those rules – provided you managed to make the stakes high
enough (and one things Odyssey does do is make you care about those
fights) might well solve some of the issues. Oh don't get me wrong
the devil is in the detail – how much does each extra fight cost –
how to do you manage the paperwork and ensure that somebody does not
get missed out and end up with no fights at all?
But this is 'short version' is long enough I think......
Background wise – for some reason I think decadent empire with a
gilded class (relatives of the Emperor perhaps) kept from the true
power by utterly Machiavellian civil service but given this one route
to struggle amongst themselves for privilege and status. Perhaps
with the Byzantium fervour about chariot teams thrown in – a
faction you support for the joy of supporting that crosses religious,
economic, and social boundaries.
Edit - changed something about Odyssey life cycle because I'd got the wrong end of the stick somewhere.