LARP Design: Apprenticeship and Cabals 2

This post is a bit different from most of my LARP design talk, because I’m thinking through how to handle something from the player side. In this particular case, there’s neither Plot direction nor formal game mechanics at stake. In Altera Awakens, magic has just reawakened after quite a long nap, so there’s basically no surviving magical society or tradition. Developing the schools of magic and the society of the Wise from scratch, in-play, is a big part of what I find so compelling about the campaign.

My character, Rajavada Cinna Satyavarha Kotravi, is a wizard, and at this point the only wizard in the game. (Come play a wizard with me.) Since wizardry has a cooperative-casting mechanic, I’m hoping that won’t be the case forever. Moreover, I’m interested in playing a wizard who has apprentices. But, you know, so does everyone, right? Everyone’s into self-aggrandizement, so why should anyone else agree to that?

Which is what I’m here to talk about in this post. I’m hoping that some combination of making it a compelling fictional structure and offering interesting in-game support will make this fun for someone. (Come play a wizard with me.)

Because one ridiculous idea deserves another, I also think “Archmage” is the kind of title that would be a lot of fun. (And because of the game’s backstory, I don’t think there’s a pre-existing NPC who can credibly claim the Archmage title.) I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way! So just as I want to bribe other players into being my apprentices by making their gameplay more fun, I want to figure out how to support and improve everyone else’s experience enough that they agree I should be Archmage.

Is this all kinda dumb? Sure, but let’s see where it goes.


Come Play a Wizard With Me

In Altera Awakens, wizardry uses a Jenga tower as its game mechanic. Your game stat is how many Jenga towers you can build per reset. You cast multiple spells from each tower build, and the fundamental tension is how many spells you can cast out of a tower – maybe you get five spells of two bricks each (10 bricks out of 45 should be quite easy, all told), or maybe you get twice that. Sustained power is a wizard’s major problem, because I could easily throw a third or more of my daily power in one fight. I’m potentially willing to put a portion of my daily casting power on the line. I can’t safely assume that I’ll always have the greatest number of tower builds – I’m pursuing a fair variety of skills, so a more focused character could walk into the second event ahead of me, or pull ahead when I get distracted with any of my goals that aren’t just being Moar Wizard.

Wizards start with bricks attuned to three of the six elements. Gaining the other three elements requires a substantial outlay of treasure (15 each, so a total of 45, of one of the common magical crafting components). I figure that making it easier for a later-entering apprentice to get up to the full breadth of function is… well, once they have it, they don’t need it again, but it’s removing an in-play hurdle.

Wizards also need individual spell formulas. Just as we did in Dust to Dust, each wizard spell is a text prop. It’s possible to gain spells as rewards for adventuring, but it seems that BGA-based spell research will be a primary driver of new spells entering the game. Once you have a spell, you can duplicate it (through various means) to give to another player, or you can let them cast from your spellbook. By being the first wizard in the game, I’ve gained a slender edge in spell research… that only matters if you’re focused on competing rather than cooperating.

On an out-of-play level, wizards need spell packets. I’m not quick at it – I’m not especially speedy at anything, to be honest – but I could potentially cover another gameplay hurdle by promising to make sure the other player had a supply of… let’s say 30-40 spell packets per event.

That pretty much covers what wizards need. What wizards want is more capacity for spell research, more materials to throw at that research, and potentially a variety of items created with Alchemy, Smithing, and Tinkering (especially Tinkering). Further, every character (not just wizards) has some material need for consumable items. Paying in gold or in kind could work, though both of those shift more of the burden of this project onto my team. I think I have some marginal buy-in from them so far, but if that turns the corner to helping apprentices have fun but annoying the crap out of my team, then the whole plan is no good.

My thinking, then, is something like:

  • You agree to become my apprentice for one year, with the option to re-up at the end of that year. During this time, you are not an apprentice to any other wizard than me, unless I die and stay dead.
    • The reason to do this rather than go event-by-event is that it feels more like the supporting fiction of master and apprentice wizards. In a sense, I’m deliberately creating the possibility of a situation where we’re unhappy with the arrangement but “stuck” with it. I’m hoping that would be the fun kind of conflict.
  • At every event I attend, when you decide to cast spells and I’m not immediately busy with something else, i agree to let you have all of the power you can take out of one of my towers. If I need to use one of your towers, typically for purposes of casting spells with four or more elements, I pay you back with another of my towers, possibly shifted to the next game day.
    • I’ll probably have a lead in total towers for a good while, and I have enough fighter-side power that I’m not too worried about having less wizardly firepower. The second sentence is really about “when a fancy ritual comes up and I really want to participate,” in addition to just wanting to have all six elements available.
  • By the end of your first year as my apprentice, you will have all six elements of bricks, or you will have the Quintessence necessary for it (since I can’t make promises about a tinkerer’s production schedule).
  • I will provide you with a collection of X spells from my grimoire, delivered at the end of your first year or sooner. The spells will be of my choosing, and I promise not to give you anything I know is useless.
    • I don’t have a whole lot of spells yet, and I don’t know how many is a good number to offer without just saying “hey you can copy everything you want out of my grimoire.” That might be good cooperative play, but it’s too contrary to the fiction of master and apprentice wizards to feel right. Still, I veer toward the generous rather than the stingy.
  • You agree to share your spell research findings with me. I get an option to buy copies of your newly-researched spells from you. You agree to let me direct X (a small number) of your BGAs, which I will use for magical research.
  • I promise to provide 30 spell packets per event to you, unless you contact me beforehand to tell me you don’t need them. You’re free to donate them to Altera Awakens and collect Cookies for them.
  • I promise to pay you a stipend of X gold per event. (Or, X per 1-day event, Y per 3-day event.)
  • If you need help negotiating deals with alchemists, smiths, or tinkerers for magical goods, I promise to help you.
  • In matters of magical policy, negotiation with entities of great power, and similar matters of high import, we’ll discuss the matter and I’ll take your advice into account, but you agree to follow my lead, arguing only behind closed doors.
    • I figure this is actually one of the potential dealbreakers for a lot of folks, what with expecting a constraint on behavior, and having a sort of autocratic tone. I don’t plan to play Cinna with an autocratic style, but it’s awfully hard to sell apprentice and teacher with constant public arguing. This is the kind of potential conflict I’d like resolve through OOC negotiation beforehand.


Ave, Archmagus!

There are a whole bunch of different types of spellcasters in Altera Awakens, along with several crafting skills. The crafting skills start out mundane and trend toward overt magic as they progress. They all need different configurations of Stuff, and I’m not going to try to summarize them here. I think the fiction of being a good Archmage is about providing leadership and coordinated purpose to disparate magi, and helping to resolve specifically magical disputes and problems. That’s what you do once you’ve got the job, though. What can you do to demonstrate leadership and support other magi beforehand?

As it happens, wizardry is characterized as a generalist school, reasonably good at everything except mental magic. What I took from that is that it could intersect with other schools, and engage in hyper-specific metamagical study. I’ve gotten buy-in from Plot to develop wizard spells that strengthen other spellcasters, and with that many schools, I’ll be at it for a long time – now that I’ve finished the first such spell, I know that I can expect to develop more than one spell per school. Real talk, this is exactly the style of wizardry I hoped I was signing up for.

My hope, then, is that I can persuade everyone that the position of Archmage is about providing support in exchange for influence.

  • First off, I’ll eventually have the means to bolster every other caster, and I’m prepared to commit a substantial portion of daily power to that. Obviously, I could have all the power that the system allows and I’d still never have enough to do something for every caster in the game, so I’ll have to work out a way to limit the offer to big battles and projects.
  • I’ve got a good supply of Cookies and a general intention to earn more. I’ve got a few Academia features and plans to buy more. I can use these to make copies of spells and crafting formulas, for the schools and crafts that require text props. The thought here is that every school and craft is likely to have its own masters and apprentices, who can cover most of this on their own but might need a go-to for support every now and again.
  • I plan to learn Lores and Specialties that are generally useful to other mages’ research, and teach those Lores pretty freely. That’s another diversion from my own advancement in Wizardry, though.
  • When other magi undertake research projects that directly support the good of the Wise or the town of Verinfall (which I assume will be a thing), I’d plan to have resources to commit to that work, and attempt to influence other PCs to do the same.
  • Let’s take it as read that I’ll also be approaching general roleplay with an eye toward building connections between other magi and getting discoveries into the hands of those who can use them.
  • What does an Archmage receive in return, other than a fancy title and probably a really cool hat? This is a lot trickier to figure. This sort of veers down a pseudo-domain-management road that Plot may have no interest in supporting. It would be about building a foundation of resources to commit to those town-wide projects, perhaps in exchange for considerations granted for the first three bullet points.
  • The big thing about being Archmage is getting that title to stick when it comes to interacting with NPCs. It’s much more acceptable to insist on titles and dignities while interacting with NPCs than PCs, after all. (There’s a whole other conversation about how to be an asshole to a character played by an NPC without being an asshole to the person playing them. Let’s assume I’ll do my best to thread that needle.)
  • ETA: I can volunteer extra time to write and run spell research content at events for other spellcasting characters. Maybe this is directly linked to being Archmage (like, because I’m the Archmage I can set up the thing that helps them in their goals) and maybe it’s not, but this is a way I can put forth extra effort and improve other people’s enjoyment.

That’s pretty much what I’ve got. If you play Altera Awakens (whether or not you play a spellcaster), I particularly want to know what you think about this. Let’s start with discussing it out-of-character – if, for example, me pursuing this really wrecks your enjoyment of the game (perhaps because of implicit competition), talk to me about that. If you don’t currently play Altera Awakens but you live in the American South… come play a wizard with me. Even if that’s not practical for you, though, I do welcome thoughts and ideas.

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2 thoughts on “LARP Design: Apprenticeship and Cabals

  • John Nunn

    You may or may not want to make any agreement to be X number of events rather than a year. Years make sense in-play, but any number of RL things (unemployment, emergency surgery, other LARPs…) can easily interfere with the idea, leaving it incomplete on both ends. Or leave it at a year to give both of you an escape clause just in case, for whatever reason, it’s not as much fun as you’d hoped.

    That said, this is actually the sort of thing that might interest me. I really can’t add a fourth LARP to my schedule (not and have any free weekends), but an arrangement like this could even be viable for an occasional player. You probably wouldn’t have to make as many packets! 🙂

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      Yeah, any game rule or arrangement has to figure out whether it’s about events (which don’t have a consistent IC way to talk about them) or in-game time (which is weird on gameplay but naturalistic for roleplay). That said, I’m regarding every element as negotiable.

      I’d be all about playin’ wizards with you!