One of the first live roleplaying games I took part in occurred at a Sydney gaming convention in 1994. The game was called Shadowkin, it was based on White Wolf’s “World of Darkness”, there were sixty to eighty participants and the area the game occurred in covered the entire outdoor environment of a high school, as well as several of the classrooms to depict specific locations of importance.
I was a new player to this campaign, so were half of the other players. There was no real attempt to pull new players into existing stories, everyone was basically left to their own devices unless they knew existing players (who would then hook them into the various stories). I was playing a Werewolf of the urban “Glass Walker” tribe, but the only players I knew had characters who were Vampires. Thus began a very strange story that lasted about four years, culminating in some very strange Lovecraftian and xenomoprhic twists when my Werewolf contracted the “Vicissitude Virus” (from the “Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand” sourcebook).
This post isn’t about that story, or the ways it could have gone very differently, instead it’s a post about some important things I learned about live-action gaming and massive ongoing campaign play during that game.
With this many players, there is a balance between GM numbers versus players which becomes complicated. The less GMs there are, the more time players need to wait before they can get the attention of the GMs, so the aim is to create a setting and system that requires as little GM intervention as possible. The more GMs there are, the smoother you might think things should work, but when there are multiple GMs, they need to be on the same page regarding the developing story. More GMs means more need to coordinate, and more downtime when the players can’t access the GMs, which then brings the whole system full circle (with players needing to wait for GMs).
One of the ways to overcome this was radio headsets, where GMs would have certain codes that could be transmitted across the entire range of the game at a moments notice. These codes would transmit anticipated changes in the storyline, or call for quick meetings that would discuss the altered destiny of the story. I’m sure there were other aspects to the radio communication system, but I wasn’t a part of the GM structure and was too busy trying to find a story to hook myself into.
Another great innovation in the Shadowkin set up was the notion of name badges with encoded data. I hadn’t seen this in previous games, and I haven’t really seen it in many games since. The “name” badges didn’t actually state names on them, because many people operated under pseudonyms anyway. Instead they detailed a range of things that might be picked up by heightened awareness, psychic intuition, or other supernatural powers.
Certain Werewolf gifts allow the sensing of a spiritual affiliation in a target (Weaver/Stasis, Wyld/Chaos, Wyrm/Entropy), and each of these would have a specific code that appears on a name badge (in major and minor forms). If a werewolf character has the appropriate sensing gift, but low awareness skills, they might be able to pick up the major spiritual energy taint but would miss the lesser energy traces on a target. If another werewolf had the same gift, but a higher level of awareness they might pick up both the major taints and minor energy traces. Thus being able to see how badly affected the target was.
Vampires are always considered creatures of entropy in this setting, and thus every vampire character would have the “minor entropy” symbol on their badge, those with low humanity and those followed other paths of enlightenment would have both the “minor and major entropy” symbols on their badge. Faeries being creatures of dream would have “chaos” codings, those with higher levels of banality showing a minor chaos symbol, while those with low banality would show both code symbols.
Vampires have very different senses that don’t perceive this spiritual resonance. Instead they can perceive auras if they possess the right discipline (Auspex), a few other races could similarly read auras with the right powers. Auras show things like diablerie (consuming the soul of another vampire to gain power), anger (a common trait among certain werewolf tribes and faerie groups), other emotions, true faith (appearing as a glistening purity), etc. Each of these has their own code symbol.
Faeries can see one another in their true form, and there were a range of encoded symbols for each of the faerie races, such symbols could typically only be seen by other faeries, but there may have been one or two Kiasyd vampires capable of reading these as well.
In later years of the campaign when I took on some of the GMing duties, I remember seeing code sheets that depicted 30 to 40 code glyphs, there may have been more (maybe 60 or so).
There was also a rotation of symbols, maybe half a dozen different schemes that were regularly rotated. This meant that when one player saw the “Pirate Wingding” Symbol on a character during one game (using coding system 4), and they shared the knowledge that this meant “Major Chaos Energy” before the next game….then during the next game, that symbol might mean something completely different (using coding system 5).
It basically meant that supernatural powers could be used to sense things without the constant presence of the GMs to answer every little question.
In this game we could use a very similar system. Characters with “Etiquette” as an ability might be able to tell what culture a person is from based on their subtle mannerisms. Those who strongly resonate with their culture might have a higher level of this symbol, while those who had spent a long time away from their culture might lose the strength of their accent or mannerisms (thus having a lower intensity symbol). Characters might be able to deliberately obscure their mannerisms, but a few minutes of talking with the character reveals the truth to someone who knows what they are looking for (there might be specific skills that allow a character to fully obscure their origins and thus cover up the symbol).
Similarly, we could simply allocate symbols to mean “enchanted”, “cursed”, “forgery”, “authentic”, “valuable”, “unstable”, and then allow characters with certain abilities (“awareness”, “medicine”, “mysticism”, etc.) to instantly recognise the symbols associated with these (or perhaps recognise them after a few minutes of conversation/appraisal).
At this stage I’m thinking of symbols for…
Enchantment (Minor, Major)
Cultural Cues (Imperial/Colonial, Freebooter, Pirate, Settler, Church, Native, Cult)
Racial Features (Nullan, Dhampyr, Wyldkin, Faeblood, Pureblood, Avatar, Incarnate)
Quality (Low, Moderate, High, Exceptional)
Authenticity (Poor Quality Forgery, Good Quality Forgery, Real)
Health (Diseased, Infected, Poisoned, Undead)
Stability (Stable, Low Instability, High Instability)
Elemental Energies (Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, Metal, Other?)
(The various 3 point cultures and races would probably have glyphs only identifiable to other members of their own groups, and a few specific others who were very familiar with the groups in question).