Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Team Player

Hello everyone!

I'm back from a hiatus-- as some of you know, I'm an archaeologist, so this past summer was spent on excavation in Japan. I had little-to-no internet access, so this blog was on a summer break. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my tendencies, the weekend I returned from Japan, I headed straight to a LARP (no better cure for jet-lag), and that LARP, in particular, started me thinking about in-game teams. I wanted to throw some thoughts and questions to my readers.

Full disclosure: I love IG teams, especially when they're small and relatively close. They make me invested in the game. They give me something to do when there's downtime. They provide structure and support for my ideas. My best PC experiences have resulted from an extant team, while my worst ones have largely come from the absence of a team. All this being said, I also see the limitations of teams: they can, for instance, come across as cliquish and exclusive. They can make things difficult in terms of fairly hooking multiple people for modules.

What do you think about coming into game as a team? Or forming a team in-game? What are the advantages and disadvantages of teams? What have been your experiences with a team, and of what things are you cautious when entering game with a complete team?


  1. I find that even if I am not part of a team, I still tend to migrate towards people I know but do not have any hard attachment to. Like you, my experiences have been much richer and fulfilling when I am part of a team, but I think the limit for me is a team of 3-6 people, or roughly half of a module group. That way the group can count on each other to perform a specific function / bring specific skills to the table, then you can fill the rest of the group with less of an issue and potentially get people you would not have normally interacted with involved.

  2. If I could play a LARP that had no teams at the start of the campaign, I would.

    But I think even if a LARP was explicitly designed to avoid teams,(how would one do that? Hmm, food for thought. I think I have some ideas) teams would develop. LARPing is a social activity.

    If teams are going to exist (and every LARP I've seen has them- it seems inevitable) I'd prefer to start a LARP with a team. I find it can be incredibly difficult to break into a team once they're formed (and they are generally formed as the LARP starts) unless you join the campaign late and are explicitly invited to join a pre-existing team (generally one that includes your out of game friends.)

    It is really nice to have people with whom it's easy to coordinate on plot with, chat with in-character during down time, and pull you into modules. Not having a team can ruin a LARP experience, or at least largely detract from it. I'm feeling it in Cottington Woods.

    I think awareness on the parts of the players can help- some players are very cognizant that others players are getting left out, or that people are getting shut out of plot they're really into, because teams are filling up the modules. And they might say to their teammates "I'm going to sit this one out so that this other PC can be the tenth person" or something.

    But it doesn't really happen reliably enough, because it takes initiative on the part of the players. I think it's mostly up to the staff to want to counteract the team issue and implement things from the administrative side.

    For example, most hooks that aren't specific will just ask for the first X-number of people willing to go, which often results in a group going because they were hanging out together in the tavern, or else when people go to find other PCs to fill out the group, they ask their teammates first.

    To counteract this, the hook needs to make the targeted PCs more specific. This is usually "everyone with the X header" or "everyone with the Cursed trait" but I think there are better ways to do it, if you use a little creativity.

    Cottington Woosd had a great example that I really loved. A spell needed the "6 least trustworthy people in town" to go off. It was a nice, non-meta description. (No one needed to say; "clarification, we need 6 people with -insert mechanical term here-".)
    It made for great roleplaying fodder- people had to discuss what untrustworthy meant and who qualified, and not all untrustworthy PCs want to be recognized as such! But even better, it forced the PCs to create a group that wasn't a team.

    I'd love to see more hooks like that.

  3. This is coming from a PC who has never *entered* game as part of a team.

    Depending on the LARP, I find Teams to be problematic on a game level. While not true of every team, I've seen the worst problems being:

    * Module/Plot exclusion. This is especially true of anything seen as a "Team Plot". Also, it's harder to run uncertain loyalty plots or plots that meets everyone's needs.

    * Clique Behavior/Isolationism. Some Teams tend to see other players from their own microcosm. If all of your social needs and IG skill are being met by your team, your incentive to go exploring other relationships beyond them drops dramatically.

    * Penalizes solo players. If Team Plot exists, they may lose out on those plots. If the game is primarily team-based, they need to be more socially proactive to forge relationships (and not everyone is playing an extrovert).

    In general, PCs will congregate with the people they like. PCs will already spend downtime and preferentially take OOG friends on modules. Teams tend to take this moreso in that direction.

    The LARPs I enjoy try to develop complicated and rich relationships between PCs Who Aren't Together during the course of the campaign. Games that give PCs reasons to interact with EVERYONE are better than those that only give you reasons to interact with your TEAM.

    Groups developed IG are also desirable as they tend to fall into Plot, Beliefs, and/or Shared Characteristics rather than as a pre-game construct.

    Obviously there are very good cost-benefit reasons for teams to exist. It's just from my experience that they tend to be an obstacle as a Staffer (i.e. break teams up so players can interact with others) and as a PC (i.e. excluded from modules that were filled with teams).

    Whether or not you should go into game as a Team or Solo is game dependent. Some games can provide the incentives for everyone to connect in the game (and can be relied on to provide plot for every PC).

    Games that cater to teams, well, you better be part of a team!

  4. So far, Aralis is the only boffer LARP that I have ever PCed, and I started with a few connections, but no formal "team" per se. In some sense that was actually fine for me, as most of the plot that I have run into in Aralis is either nationality / religion plot, or "do you have X trait?" plot, and I had intended the character to be one that can interact with just about everyone in town. At the same time, I have more recently joined a team that I really enjoy being on, for in-game and out-of-game reasons, and I think that has definitely helped my enjoyment of the game as a whole.

    This past session I especially noticed the difference, as being on this specific team meant that I was in a cabin atmosphere that I really enjoyed (especially with a potluck! Mmmm, potluck), and that I have people that I can pull into various plots when needed. And, conversely, that _they_ can pull _me_ into their plots as well.

    I do agree with fairescape though, in that nonstandard hooks help to make the game interact with each other more as a whole, and that it is somewhat difficult to evade that issue without staff assistance. I have heard the Generic Plot problem in multiple games, and as someone who is often a module hook I haven't come up with a good way to hook Generic Plot without just getting the first person that I run into (and their entire team as a result).

    I do think that discouraging Large Teams could help with this problem as well -- if your team is 5 people, and the encounters your team goes on call for 8, you will always need 3 more people even if you just bring your whole team. At the same time, if you always bring the same 3 other people, then you effectively just have an 8 person team... And, of course, if you have a group of 12 close friends, it's difficult to force that group not to be a close group in game. That's a tricky one!

  5. I intentionally came into Endgame without a team, and no IG connections to anyone. I'd attempted a couple other games before (NERO, Madrigal) as part of teams, and really did not have a great time with the way that the teams were so ridiculously exclusionary. Endgame, while teams existed and occasionally had team oriented issues, was much more inclusive to solo PC's. I had a good time with it, as I was not bound by what my team wanted to, versus what I wanted, although the downside was that it was a little harder for a while to get involved on occasion. Even when I did end up joining the Blackburn's team later on, I stayed purposefully fringe so that I could keep that flexibility, while also having a set group to count on having my back. The dynamic there also dramatically improved after the OOG implosion, and the group became a small cluster of loosely organized "associates", instead of a "team". I very much like that set-up, as it allows me freedom to do what's best for my character, while still having the social benefits of a team unit.

  6. Team dynamics are something interesting to me that I'm still learning as a newer larper. I didn't have any PC connections when I started playing, and ended up sticking with the team that hosted me for my first game. I didn't "shop around" per say, I just sort of let my character's persona/story progress dictate how that would play out or if she'd join a team at all. In the end, joined a team.

    But that doesn't seem to have impacted my fun factor, nor my ability to get sucked into non-team modules/hooks of interest to me. I lean FAR more heavily on "keyword & keyrings" during game to find my fun, and the Team effectively just becomes another type of keyword.

    In truth I would say I spend the bulk of my time off doing things NOT related to my team directly. It ends up playing out more like: if the thing I'm about to help with is short bodies, I offer to recruit help from my team if they want. If my team is short for something they're doing, they ask if I'm free to help. But rarely - if ever - do I get in situations where a pack of the team gets together and says "okay we must now go accomplish something as a unit!" we sort of ebb and flow from each other's company throughout the event. The only "dedicated" time is the saturday dinner. It's like the one time where everyone drops everything to "get back to the team".

    To this day I am always hyper paranoid about the etiquette around teams, hanging with other teams, and so on. But so far it's going good!

  7. Unless you're the brave, daring, independent sort, like Istamira there, willing to chance coming into a game solo and hoping for the best, teams guarantee you two things and give you an excellent chance of another thing.

    A team of players you like to hang out with guarantees that you will spend social time with people you like. It also guarantees that if the game is a total wash for you that you will have something to do, even if it's just roleplay with your friends.

    I make the latter sound like a consolation prize, but to me it's huge. I can spend most of an event doing nothing but roleplay with others. If you're shy about going out and doing that with people you don't know, then a team gives you that built-in.

    The thing that you get a much higher chance of with a team is plot attention. Plot staffs are very busy people trying hard to entertain as many people as possible in as little time as possible. If they can grab a team, they entertain (you hope) all the people on that team in one fell swoop. It's easier to grab a team of eight people than it is to try and entertain eight loose, unafillited individuals.

    If you're good, you can come up with a team idea that gets all of them and hooks them into something of interest to a bigger audience too. Sometimes a team can be your plot hooks for you.

    I've also found that there are two different types of teams, the ones that do everything together and the ones that are really just an assemblage of people that sleep in the same space, maybe share a meal and occasionally have a common interest that pulls them together.

    I'm a huge fan of the latter because it gives you all the benefits of a team that I mentioned at the beginning, but it also gives you the freedom and flexibility to go out and interact with all the other players as you see fit.

    From my experience as both a PC and a plot staffer, teams... but don't lose sight of the solo players.

  8. I really have to agree with Albert on this one.

    In addition, I've found that the more team heavy a game is, the more isolationist or cliquish the team - especially if it has team only plot or tightly knit shared back story - the less roleplaying goes on.

    Not only do isolated cliques make it harder for people to roleplay with them, it also isolates them within their own team and cuts down on the likelihood that they'll have meaningful roleplay with anyone outside the group. I think this is especially true of groups that stay generally the same and play together across several different games.

    Even as an NPC, the best game for roleplaying that I've ever seen was 7 Virtues. Teams existed, yes, but the structure of the game *required* you to break into a wide variety of groups for a wide variety of shared plots. You had no choice but to roleplay - often intensely - with a broad variety of people. And the one thing I hear over and over again from 7V PCs is how awesome it was to get to know other players that they'd never had a chance to roleplay with before and that they created more out of game friendships because of it.

    Teams will always exist if for no other reason than the fact that people like to be comfortable when sleeping, which means they'll probably cabin with people they know given the chance. This is also why teams tend to be formed out of game and not in game. People may join teams in game, yes, but the formation tends to be out of game, and the criteria for joining in my experience tends to involve some discussion out of game about whether or not players are comfortable having the newcomer in the cabin. And if teams implode in game, expect to have people moving out of the cabin out of game.

    Another disadvantage of teams - or rather, large numbers of teams - is how hard it is on the solo or pair of players to proactively effect or *create* plot. The realities of NPC resources often dictate that. It's far more effective to entertain 6-10 players with 1 NPC than it is to entertain 1-2 with that same NPC. Which is why teams can create more plot for themselves or their interests a lot easier than a solo or pair of player can, in my experience.

  9. So, I think that the team dynamic is sort of inescapable in weekend-long boffer larps, just because of the nature of larp campsites. When you have to group people in small cabins, they're going to want to be with people they know/like, and that's sort of the foundation of a team right there, without any other impetus whatsoever. All it takes is a tiny bit more organization on the part of some player to take that into a formal team.

    I actually find games like 7V and Cottington kinda interesting/odd, in that they seem to simultaneously encourage and discourage teams. Encourage, in that both games had a header that pretty much specifically required you to have a team in order to function properly (the hearth mage/witch one), and discourage, in that plots rarely seem to be hooked in a manner that would actually let you bring your team (or even a significan portion of your team) on a mod with you. I rarely see most of my team except in town fights/encounters.

    Benefits of teams: have an automatic group of people to hang out with/organize food/etc, easier for plot to hit groups of people rather than individuals, have an automatic group you can grab to do things rather than trying to search around town for people with specific skillsets.

    Disadvantages of teams: teams can be cliquish, there's always the fun when people on the same team have different expectations for what the team is (example: some people think that the team is going to be a group that spends all their time together, vs the hanging out at meals and at bedtime and occasionally going on a mod together model Rick mentioned), if there are enough organized teams, it makes it harder on solo players.

    As a comment to something that got mentioned a number of times above, I have struggled a lot, as a plot member, with how much attention to give solo players vs teams. There have been a lot of comments here about 'don't forget the solo players'... and I'm never sure how to balance that. If we hit a 12 person team with team specific plot once an event, how often should we hit a single person with targetted-only-at-them plot? Once per 12 events seems low. Once an event seems high, though that seems to be the expectation from a lot of solo players (not specifically once an event, but that they should get the same amount of targetting as X team). Not sure what the right balance is there, but would be interested in hearing people's thoughts on it.

  10. Oh, should probably mention that many of the benefits of teams (more plot attention, having a group built-in to take on mods) only works if you actually bring your team on mods. I can't count the number of times I've hooked a mod for one person on a team that we figured would get the team doing something, only to see them ignore their team standing around and go find 7 other people to do things with. Which is fine and completely their right... but sorta defeats the point of being on a team.

    Which brings up an entirely different discussion about 'team' plot vs 'plot aimed at a person they bring their team on', but that's probably a seperate discussion entirely.

  11. I agree with JJ in that the cabin setups do tend to encourage teams. For one thing, as many people have said, you want to spend some social time with your friends. And for another, many people aren't comfortable sharing a cabin with total strangers.

    These two things don't have to go together-- I've stayed in cabins with people I know but without being part of their "team" per se, and I think that can work out as well, if you actually do already know people.

    Asking people to submit housing requests based on "housing units" (ie, who do you want to stay in a cabin with) rather than "what team are you on" can help with the out of game comfort factor but without necessarily requiring a team. Which I think is definitely one way to do it, though some people clearly do like the in-game benefits from being part of a recognized team.

    In my opinion 7 Virtues had a pretty good approach to keeping things pretty open and fluid. Almost all plot was based on things other than what team you were on, whether that was which religion-type thing you followed, which nationality you were, or what kind of modules you wanted to go on. I had a small team of people I came in with backstory connections to, but then discovered I rarely spent any time with them, because our interests were so different. Instead, I spent time interacting with people with whom I shared the most plot interests, and who were interested in going on the same kinds of modules as me. And since I was interested in different types of things, that means I had 2-3 different groups I routinely interacted with and did things with.

    In some ways this was kind of sad, since I did actually want to hang out with the people I stayed with, and I rarely got time to! But in other ways it was good, because it meant I got to mix with different players and get to know a lot of people in different contexts. My module groups would usually consist of a few people from several teams, and a few solo people, and these would be different groups depending on the plots I was in.

    I think this is a really good way to balance out team plot-- to run plot that targets groups of different compositions based on interests and tastes as well as things which lend themselves well to in-game groupings. People from a particular place, people of a particular religion, people who want to do lots of social roleplay while wearing fancy clothes, people who really like going out into the woods, people who really like high stakes intrigue roleplay, people who like codes, whatever. I think that if you get a lot of different groups comprised of a cross-section of different players, you can try to get people mixing with other people and not just their team, and also try to make sure that every individual player is in a reasonable number of different groups. I think that can really facilitate interaction and make it easier to not miss people with plot.

  12. Having been involved in the creation and maintenance of a few teams and just couldn’t resist tossing in some words of my own.
    Drawbacks like self-isolation and exclusion of others from mods, among others are limitations that aren’t inherent to teams so much as that they are reflections of the player ON the team.
    Bad players are bad players regardless of whether or not they team up. They’re just more visible when they do. Teams that run around being exclusionary, hording information etc. are made up of people who think that’s a good way to play. Those people would be undesirable regardless of whether or not they’re on a team.
    Solo players are easy for teams to pickup to fill in mod space. It’s the smaller groups that might find themselves broken up or undesirable because they are perceived as unwilling to break up.
    There are numerous team builds but two of the most common in my experience are:
    “Collect’em all” – A team that collects members in an effort to have all possible interests and skill sets covered. This way when they come together they can compare notes and be sure that everyone has had an opportunity to know about / be involved in every plot line available.
    “Once major thing in common” – a team where ever member shares in something critical like race, homeland, over-arcing plotline…
    These models (not to mention the many others) all have their own positives and drawbacks. The second is more prone to being cliquey whereas the first sometimes gets so big that it ends up split into a number of smaller groups more closely matched to the second. The point of defining these is that teams are made of up people in so many combinations that generalizing their impact on and value to a game is not to be taken lightly.
    The following is based on the team that I am currently on rather than generally speaking for all teams.
    My team brings a dimension to the game that would otherwise be lacking for me. Knowing someone has your back either in combat or in general is a really uplifting feeling.
    I’ve been known to say that LARPing is a team sport. Skills, no matter how “all purpose” are better when paired with others who have complimentary abilities. If what I care about is boss hunting, my team allows me to strategize. If what I care about is treasure, more hands means more picks and more searches. If I’m goal oriented, then putting more minds and hands toward that goal is always more effective and my team will support me in my goals.
    My team looks out for the interests of its members. If I’m taking a nap or am in another building my team is cognizant of what I’m interested in and can grab a hook / encounter that I would otherwise have missed. We share major goals and take the time to care about each others personal goals.
    Our dynamic makes me happy. My best moments in PELs are moments when they really shined or when we worked together really well. LARPing wouldn't be any better for me than playing videogames at home without my team.

  13. The opinions and perspectives being shared here are pretty interesting. My opinion is generally very much in favor of LARP teams; I probably would not have stuck with LARP if I had not been brought into it as part of a team. Part of this, however, is probably because the game was already several years into its campaign.
    Now, years later, I know a lot more of the regional LARP community and consider many people to be friends. If I were to hop into a new game on my own, I'd probably be able to enjoy myself as a solo or partly-solo character, even in the absence of a formal team.