This page contains entries written by members of the Game Team and other people involved in the design and running of OSLRP events. Often originally taken from Facebook and other places, they are written to give more of an understanding of why the game works the way it does, and the intent behind some game elements.
written by Nathan McDonald in February 2019, between Events 2 & 3
Firstly a bit about me, Orion Sphere is the first game I have really been involved in the running of, having got into LRP some 13 years ago thanks to my old HR Manager! I’ve played various fantasy, sci-fi and other systems in my time and love this hobby and I fell in love with this concept when Mike and Conan spoke to me about NPC-ing for the MegaCorps. To say I ran with it is probably an understatement as I am now helping with other aspects of the game!
I’m going to talk today about Missions and Bounties! These are two vitally important portions of our game which we feel very passionate about, because we see them as fundamentally different to how most other Live Action Roleplay systems bring ‘plot’ and ‘activities’ to their player bases. They are also the primary mechanism for players to engage with one of our unique selling points, the Starship Simulator.
As Mike has already written about, we wanted to introduce new and different ways for our players to engage with the game and as we were perusing around the various inspirations, we thought about the things we loved in our genre, the science fictions TV shows and movies yes, the roleplaying games of course, but also computer games. All RPG or MMORPG type computer games have some kind of ‘running plot’ (or story) which is given by mainly forced interactions with a primary NPC (or series thereof), but in addition to these primary plotlines there are also ‘side-quests’; either given by NPC’s you cross in locations you visit or obtained from various points of interaction, in some cases these being as explicit as computer terminals with quests you can choose from. Thus, an idea was born; this is a sci-fi game, we can do that! This will enable players to pick and choose the types of things which they can and want to do and are not reliant on finding the right NPC to be able to go and do a mission. Albeit we have learned fast that we do need to ensure a better wider understanding of the missions is needed among our NPC team as I became a bit of a single point of failure, particularly at Event 2 where I was needed elsewhere much more!
At every Orion Sphere LRP game, you will find a list of publicly-available (more on that later) missions in our central ‘Corporations’ complex. This list will be updated over the course of the weekend and is made available via computer screens/projection screens and heck even a White Board at a push, when we need to get something out to the player base more quickly than we have time to update our computer files. These missions constitute the things which various parties want the players to do, while they are on the planet/in the system where that particular event was set. The missions are all managed by the Clearance Organsiation (CO), the MegaCorp responsible for managing the contracts and money in the Universe. There will be more on the Mega Corporations in my next blog, but for now think of the CO as the galactic lawyers and bankers and you won’t go far wrong. The CO will pay you whatever value is attributed to the mission in question, if it’s conditions for completion are met.
Missions can take many forms and approximately 50% of them will require you to use a spaceship either to travel to a nearby location or because the objective is in some way in space. Each mission is displayed with the following information: • A unique identifier (We also use this identifier to key-code if missions are one-off or recurring (i.e. they can be completed multiple times), • Name of the mission, • Short description of the objective, • Who placed the mission (Usually a MegaCorp or one of the factions, occasionally it is unique to the Event) • How much you will be paid
The types of missions are varied, in space these may be thinks like combat missions to target space pirates, rescue missions for stranded vessels or survey missions for interesting nearby phenomena or to simply complete system surveys, we’ll probably do a blog about the Space Simulation side of the game in the future, but the way the simulator works allows us vast amounts of flexibility and also allows an element of random (cosmic) encounters to be thrown in to any mission. Our ground or planetary based missions may involve finding items, surveying or mapping areas, eliminating local threats, sampling local biology or progressing specific objectives which link to the main plot/theme for the weekend. The recurring missions tend to relate to the weekends primary theme, the one-off missions may or may not do so. We have also put some thought into ensuring at least a few of our missions are explicitly ‘child friendly’; making the objectives achievable by younger members of the game and we hope enjoyable for them! Going forward we are also going to be looking at ensuring we have some missions which explicitly consider accessibility requirements, we’ve put a great deal of thought into this side of our game this year, having seen some other systems doing some excellent things and we want to try ensure all elements of our game are accessible.
Missions scroll through periodically on one (or two) computer screens, we had some issues with the pacing on this which we have looked at for our next event, but these are only one side of the publicly available activities which our players can interact with. The other is Bounties. Bounties are very similar in terms of how they are presented to the players, but there is one major difference in that they are not ‘go and do’ type things; in order to be able to complete a bounty, you will need to in some way shape or form, find some information relevant to that bounty in the game environment in order to be able to complete it. That information may be available from an NPC, it may be available via an item found lying around, an NPC may in fact be a target of a bounty, but did you find that out before they left, or were scurried away? The majority of public bounties are for people to be captured, occasionally but rarely a bounty is publicly placed for a target to be killed, but as many bounty targets typically have affinity with one or more of the factions and/or one of the MegaCorps, the CO does not look favourably on another faction or MegaCorp placing a public bounty for execution on each other. As a result of bounties being inherently more complicated and difficult to complete, the rewards are much more significant.
Now we’ve had a good bit of feedback on Bounties; there was some confusion about how one could ‘take up’ a bounty and progress it effectively, indeed at Event 1 no bounties were completed, although a few were at Event 2, one of which linked back to some player action which had happened at the first event. However we recognise that the element of having to go and find information to be able to complete a bounty requires to do a bit more signposting, so we will be seeding more information into the game at our next Event, Accord, in relation to the bounties. We’ll also be making sure that all players who have interacted in efforts to pursue a bounty will get some response to that. As Mike said in his blog again, reacting to what our players do and giving them a direct return on it is an imperative part of how we want to run Orion Sphere overall and so we hope those players and indeed the new ones will enjoy the follow ups we have for them!
One final thing to say about Missions and Bounties, which may or may not have been obvious to our players so far is that this is one of the main ways in which we are currently seeding into our game some on-running plot arcs, with their own implications and galactic impact above and beyond the focus of each individual week. Will Captain Ironhand continue to collect the spoils of her piracy, just what was that cult doing on that neighbouring planet we didn’t get around to investigating, is K’Ragi really that powerful he can wipe out Free Union fleets with impunity, and what really goes on deep in the heart of Texas? You’ll have to come play our game to follow up on those references!
Now, I’ve spoken here a lot about what is publicly available; those things which are posted on the Missions and Bounties screens publicly. But in addition to what is publicly available, like all good large and interactive environments, there are other missions which are available from other NPC’s which you will see around and whilst this may seem like things given out in a more traditional fashion, the CO will still be tracking these and often be the ones who will pay out for their completion. Any MegaCorps or Faction NPC, of indeed NPC’s you may meet whilst doing other missions may have some things available for you to do, if you have the right sort of reputation that those NPC’s may want to engage you to do those missions of course, I’ll come back to reputation in a later blog. They may also have alternative or supplementary objectives to complete whilst doing public missions which other factions and MegaCorps do not know about, typically these would be more nefarious objectives than the publicly stated ones, in the case of bounties, this would often be kill/execute rather than capture. These are not openly referred to in the game, but we do still track them in the same way and in 95% of the cases, the CO is aware of them, very rarely the CO is the subject of a mission or bounty and are deliberately not looped in. This CO involvement is important, as the CO can act as arbiters in the case of any dispute, any mission or bounty undertaken without the CO’s knowledge is inherently considered ‘illegal’ in galactic terms, that doesn’t mean to say that it is policed, but it does mean for example, that payment for completion cannot be enforced.
I’ve spoken a bit about why we did this for in character and thematic reasons, but there is also a good reason why we do this from an out of character perspective as well. The missions and the associated activities we largely expect players to do for those missions form the backbone for our encounter-planning, it lets us have a set of encounters we can roll out as needed we have planned for, but without us having to have a rigid and set schedule when they must or must not happen. In fact with one or two exceptions, there isn’t really a specific schedule for any encounters at our events, we have a general flow and idea and certain missions need to happen in day time (light), others in the evening (dark), that is about it. We can respond to what a player wants to do and when, within the limitations of what crew we have available at a given moment and we are thankfully blessed to have great and willing crew members!
We also believe that this format provides a solid signposted and goal-based introduction for people new to Live Action Roleplay. We understand that not knowing what to do can be one of the most intimidating things for people at new systems and we recognise some LRP’s struggle with this and equally others have addressed it very well. It breaks things into discrete and manageable tasks which link to Factions, MegaCorps and elements of our game that let new players introduce themselves to (individuals and themes) as they go and get the right help to move things forward at a pace which suits them. This is equally true for experienced players as well as new players of course, with increasing recognition coming from an individual’s interactions with the MegaCorps, Faction or event specific NPC’s getting those players, new and old, noticed and drawn into the reputation side of the game, which I will go into more detail about, another time.
written by Conan Daly in February 2019, between Events 2 & 3
Competitive games have to be balanced, right? Otherwise it wouldn’t be fair, and if that’s the case then what’s the point? Humans (and some animals) have an innate sense of fairness, and the perception of unfairness often causes people to object or become angry. So when designers design games, they usually try to balance things out so that the game is perceived as “fair”.
However, live roleplay isn’t a game that you can win (mostly). It can be competitive or cooperative, and usually a mixture of the two, but rarely with a defined endpoint. Although a Character may have a specific set of in-world goals, the goals of the Player tend to be defined by loose statements such as “play my character well”, “have a good immersive experience”, “enjoy the challenge of combat or engaging with plot” or “learn more about the game world”.
So without defined “win” states, the question arises - do we need to be “fair”, and does this mean we need to be balanced? Would attempts to make it 100% balanced dilute the other goals of the system - like a rich theme and interesting, diverse setting. When designing OSLRP, we made some specific design decisions relating to balance that might, from the outside, seem unfair.
The way we designed the game, we wanted to grant advantages to characters that align strongly with our briefs for how the game world works, as an encouragement to “play to type”. We also wanted to give advantages to players who go the extra mile to create something cool and interesting - by working with them to add it to the system or giving them some rule advantages for creating something so impressive. Balancing these advantages out conventionally would override this philosophy, so we just……didn’t.
When designing OSLRP, we expanded the definitions of what balance meant beyond pure game mechanics. We included two other balancing methods - Balancing by Culture, and Balancing by Physrep. When we consider any new game element it is in the context of these elements as well as by the raw mechanics.
The Factions (and their dominant species) are an example of Balancing by Culture. Each of the 4 Factions in Orion Sphere are designed to have strong thematic differences. The Ascendancy, Dominion, Commonality and Free Union are all radically different, and each one has a clearly defined culture, reinforced by our NPC Faction Representatives as well as by a few mechanical or plot-based structures. Within each Faction, you also have the Vassal Species, which are partly influenced by the Culture Balance philosophy, but more on that later.
The Free Union is the cultural baseline for our game. The Sovereign Worlds are culturally diverse, and Free Union players have a lot of freedom to create a background and character concept that suits them within the very broad confines of the Faction. The trade-off is that they don’t really have any special advantages.
The Ascendancy, on the other hand, is militaristic, stern and brutal, and demands that its citizens behave in certain ways. These demands create a “culture burden” - Ascendancy characters are expected to obey orders from those in the hierarchy, attend loyalty parades, profess their loyalty to the Ascendancy and occasionally get dressed down if they step out of line. They have a specific costume brief and a distinctive style, but by conforming to the Faction ideals, Ascendancy Terrans get access to Discipline training and slightly higher Group Income. Ascendancy characters can also interact with the powerful Noble Houses and become pawns in their schemes in return for certain advantages.
Similarly, the Elysians of the Commonality have advantages in their psionic powers and associated technology, although again they are expected to align to a cultural and costume brief. The Elysian’s advantages are balanced by their cultural expectations - while there is cultural scope to use all of their psionic powers (there is a “peace and harmony” strand as well as a “mentally dominate people” strand), it is still quite restrictive in some ways. Commonality members are expected to show up to group meditation sessions, discuss issues and resolve problems by debate.
Digressing briefly on Psionics - Elysians will always have the most powerful psionics in the game, and although other vassal races can have psionic powers, none will ever have the power and utility that Elysians have - this is a deliberate choice to reinforce the position of the Elysians as the masters of psionic power. Within each species’ psionic power, each Path isn’t balanced against the others - as a whole they give direction towards the main play styles we envisioned for the species that has them.
Finally, the Tulaki Dominion are centred around their religion. The Faction has been designed so that almost all of their interactions should be seen through the lens of the Path of Tulak. The Path informs the Dominion culture and they can gain advantages from it, such as Devotional Skills and the possible intervention of the Immortal Spirits. As well as their Cultural Balance, the Tulaki castes have a significant element of Balance by Physrep - the larger castes have a greater physrep requirement, but greater associated advantages.
Each Faction has a culture distinct from the others - this creates differing views, conflict and to a certain extent creates “separations” between Factions. The intention is to make each Faction feel “alien” in outlook to all the others - they are all working on a different set of cultural assumptions, place value on different things and seek different outcomes from each other, which hopefully makes the game more interesting.
Sci-fi settings are often populated by a diverse array of alien species, which is something we wanted to include in OSLRP. If we can eventually get to a scene reminiscent of the Cantina in Star Wars Episode IV then one of our major goals will have been ticked off. To help accomplish this, but not dilute the Faction identities, we introduced the concept of Vassal Species - aliens who were under the authority of one of the 4 Factions - and we allow players to submit their own Vassal Species to potentially add to the game.
The actual game advantages a Vassal Species has (which is usually the lowest priority for the person submitting) reflects the background, physrep trappings and character of the vassal species - but it's basically something we come up with that feels characterful. Similarly, Tulaki Megasaurians get stats based on their physrep. We wanted a cool variety of physreps, with the vague brief of “massive lizard person” - we already have giant rocky tortoise shells, huge carapaces, extra height and broadening padding. This stuff can veer into the territory of Awesome, but Impractical, so we have created rules to balance some of the restrictiveness of hulking around with a massive amount of restrictive plating (much like other systems make bulkier plate armour better than thin leather).
The overall “rule” (it's not a rule) is that if you want to make the system look great and go to a load of effort to do so, then we want to reward you for it.
Some other large LRP systems try to strive for balance the more creative aspects of their games by imposing a fairly rigid equitable system, with strong oversight and severe (sometimes hidden) restrictions on what is or isn’t possible. Depending on how they are implemented, these creative aspects can create a sense of arbitrary success or failure (if the criteria are hidden and subject to chance as they are rebalanced behind the scenes) or of overloading the game organisers as they try to balance the infinite imagination of player submissions with the structure of the game and the rules.
In OSLRP, the primary creative outlet for player ideas is the Inventions system - Scientist characters can propose a New Thing to appear in the game. There’s a couple of reasons this mechanism exists. Firstly, creating new science things is very much on-theme for sci-fi games, and it would feel like the game world would be a lot shallower without it. Secondly, our capacity for creating new ideas is limited by our imagination and free thinking time, and outsourcing some of that to creative players saves us a lot of effort. Thirdly, and most importantly, it lets players tell us what they want to see more of in the game, and lets us build challenges and stories for characters to roleplay around. Once we’ve received a submission we rate it on two metrics - how powerful it is within the existing rules, and how much it “fits” with the setting and circumstances of creation. Then we set requirements for how many Research Points, game items and samples are required to invent it.
The main drawback of the creative system is that we don’t know how a given Invention is going to affect the game balance once it hits the field. We can make an invention challenging to develop and expensive to build based on how powerful we predict it might be, or how much we want to see it added to the setting, but once it exists it is impossible to know exactly how much it will affect the game. Now, there may be ways to claw back an unbalanced device (vastly upping its maintenance cost or re-jigging it when it comes back in for maintenance), but for at least a time it will be out “in the wild” with little oversight of how it is used, by whom, and for what purpose. For the moment, we’ve gone with a “wait and see” policy on this. How things yet to be invented will affect the game, we cannot yet know or predict - we want to leave this system theoretically as open as possible.
This point relates somewhat to the “we don’t plan Sundays” design blog from a few weeks ago. At event 1, some players came up with a plan that we had not thought of as a conclusion to the game. They had put in the roleplay, were willing to commit IC favours and resources towards their goal, and were willing to take risks to implement it. The solution fit within the world, leveraged existing game elements, and would still take hard work, skill and good timing to implement, so we made sure that the opportunity to follow through was made part of the final encounters for the weekend.
Alternative solutions and workarounds to problems are a core part of the sci-fi media that inspires OSLRP. While making adjustments to “the deflector dish” or similar can be a tired trope in media for observers, for the in-universe characters who are Doing The Thing they are “Eureka!” moments. Since our players are playing those characters, coming up with a workable idea and successfully implementing it feels amazing. Players are infinitely more imaginative and resourceful than we can be, and if they are willing to put in the work to make their plans a reality, then we aim to allow for the opportunity to succeed. We’re not going to make it easy, and it won’t always work, but there will always be room to try. If you have the tools, and are use them in ways that are consistent, then we’ll give you a chance, and if it fails then there will be a reason - it will never be “because Magic says it doesn’t work”.
Although Orion Sphere is a competitive PvP game, we don’t want to enforce arbitrary balance between the Factions. There is no “status quo” to which the game state reverts after each large-scale plot arc - everything that happens will affect the balance of power between the Factions, and while they are so massive that inertia is strong, the idea is that the actions and decisions of the player characters should have long-term impacts on the setting. There are a few “game resources” of which a proportion are split evenly between the Factions, but by and large most assets are ready to be seized by groups that have the initiative and wherewithal to do so. Assigning a set number of powerful items, off-camera armies or designated ritual slots to all Factions equally makes characters take those things for granted, and the rich story that they are supposed to add to the setting becomes meaningless, and the mechanisms that enforce the equality seem arbitrary and capricious. We want to avoid that.
If we do intervene to rebalance the game state, it will not be by assigning additional resources to the weaker Factions. Instead, we will create opportunities via plot for that Faction’s groups and players to claim or capture a resource - this should encourage players to value what they have fought for, and be invested in the story behind it.
We built OSLRP to let people explore and create an interesting universe. We left a huge amount of room to expand and add more things to the game, both IC and OOC. We want your weird and wonderful ideas to become part of the game, but sometimes the rules might end up a bit warped or even broken by them …… and that’s ok.
Build cool kit. Invent new technology. Hatch the Acid Birds. Talk your way out of deadly feuds. Kick over bins and start fights. Save the Alien Queen.
Make stories. We’ll help.
written by Mike Rees in January 2019, between Events 2 & 3
Let’s talk about… GAME DESIGN, ‘FINAL BATTLES’ AND SUNDAYS.
Live roleplay events have been happening in the UK for some time! There have been good ones, bad ones, AMAZING ones and truly terrible ones. There have been games run which have been absolute labours of love and events which have been hastily put together from the ‘larp trope identikit box’. There are things which have been proven to work many times before which you may find elements of in lots of games. Be that the NPC who meets you at the start of the game and asks “You may wonder why I’ve called you all here” or “DEFEND THE RITE” style fights, “collect X Macguffins to stop the world ending” and FINAL BATTLES.
I’ve been involved in running events before where we have, while planning, used the sentences “and that will build up to the final battle”, “how do we make the final battle interesting?”, “they can’t find that object until the final battle”. All valid things to say, but working on the assumption that a fest style larp weekend event will have to have a big fight at the end to resolve all issues. It’s a given in event structure that the event has to build up to an obvious set piece denouement or that the weekend is somehow unsatisfactory. And yes, that’s not *strictly* always a fight at events. It’s sometimes a rite or ritual, some grand summoning or a machine being fixed. It could be laying to rest the ancient bones of a villain or hero, a presentation of awards or crowning of a king. Now, I’m not saying that these are necessarily BAD THINGS or that these are things we don’t want to happen at Orion Sphere. If we are telling stories together we want a beginning, middle and end.
What about player agency? What about the actions of players over the weekend? Yes, we design and plan a story – but how can we decide in advance what is going to happen when we don’t know what the players will do? What kind of game the players want to play?
Which is why we made the decision with Orion Sphere to NOT WRITE SUNDAYS. Which is wonderful and terrifying. We set up a sandbox, we populate a world with creatures, often ‘a problem’, we make things to poke and prod and we consider how we structure information being released about ‘the problem’. We create interesting NPC’s which are designed to push and pull the players in certain directions and have definite agendas of their own. Our recurring NPC’s and the shadowy command structures of factions and megacorps also have goals and aims and preferred outcomes which they may try to get the player characters to buy into. But we will not decide what happens at the end of the weekend.
This runs a risk from a plot writing perspective. What happens… if nothing happens? What happens if people just don’t care about what is happening on the planet that they are visiting? What happens if the problem is solved on Saturday afternoon?
The answer to that is… whatever happens… is the right thing. Because the agency is with the players. We won’t change the goalposts or the internal logic of the universe to force people into an ending that we wrote months ago. Even if we spent some time making a cool prop in case they chose to summon the king of the Octopus People. We can use that prop some other time. This approach also rarely leads to a nice, clean event ending. If there are enough threads to a plotline for it to feel real, then without an engineered “solve-everything” solution there will inevitably be some loose ends. Player choices need to have consequences that ripple out into the wider setting, and if people are still interested in following up on those loose ends they should have the opportunity to do so.
At the last event we had a race called the Kulkani. The Kulkani, due to their racial background, were more aggressive when outside under the open sky. They were headstrong and stubborn and believed that the planet that the players were on and all of the technology it contained was theirs by birthright. They were an intrinsically warlike species who would die for their beliefs. They were not a stupid species, they were capable of negotiation under certain circumstances but were designed and briefed to be a hair trigger away from violence at any point. Foolishly, we assumed this design would lead to combat, aggression, bullets and knives in the night and should the players try to take control of the planet – inevitable conflict.
Obviously, it didn’t.
It turned into something, in our opinion, far more interesting. There was assorted political manoeuvring to get this race on side, from the get-go people were not aggressive towards them at all and in the end - THEY GAVE THEM THE PLANET. There was a little more to it than that… but I wouldn’t want to give away some of the sneaky, underhanded shenanigans. But let’s just say… we didn’t expect that. And we designed the game and the agendas and the motivation and encounters… and player agency led to something we didn’t expect.
But when we receive feedback from the event we have variations on the comment “I didn’t have anything to do during the final set piece” or “I would have enjoyed more combat”. That is the downside to doing it this way. We were aware that combat focused characters had nothing to shoot at. We were aware that there was no ‘opposition’ to this ending. But… that’s the ending that happened based on everything players did all weekend. And we decided not to undermine that player action and let the ending that happened… happen.
If people wanted the aliens to be more aggressive - they could have been aggressive with them. A sudden but inevitable betrayal would have led to combat – and there were a few tense moments – but no one did. We’re not saying anyone should or shouldn’t do anything… that’s the point. There were lots of potential endings. This was the one we got.
And that leads to the final point: The ‘MAIN PLOT’ doesn’t need to matter. We’d like it to. We’d like you to be engaged with whatever is happening in whatever part of the galaxy you’re in. There will often be a standalone plot at every event based on the locale – this is really friendly to new players or people who can’t make every event. But your character doesn’t NEED to engage with it to have a good time.
Roleplaying with your faction/ rivals, interacting with the megacorps, completing other bounties and missions, finding ways of interacting with the wider universe, raising your status with entities, trading, flying spaceships and… whatever game you choose to make in the sandbox that we have built for you. If the ‘problem’ isn’t resolved, we promise the universe won’t end. When that happens – it’ll be down to player action…