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Adventuring Within Amtgard:
An Introspective Behind Modern Harvest Wars

[09/13/2010] [Lurker]

For the last several years at Harvest of Souls War, an event in central New Mexico, we've aspired to create an event that caters to battlegamers within Amtgard who enjoy an event model focused less around just fighting and more around the spirit of adventuring or gaming with a purpose. Games with a direct goal to players beyond just fighting are often more fun and more universally enjoyable for players; those who just wish to fight can do so, but those who want to, say, capture a castle, or destroy the evil lich, or steal all of the treasure in the land can be more directly involved in the situation as well.

In a standard "shatter battle" in Amtgard, you have two or more teams, and the only goal is to remove the other team from play by killing them until they are all dead and out of lives. Obviously in this scenario, the people with the best equipment or who are the best fighters have the most fun. After all, if you walk out on the field and are killed in 10 seconds, and have to wait to come alive again and didn't get to do any fighting practically, you are having less fun than some badass guy who can just run the field and stab everybody. The only option is to fight, and people less capable of doing fighting than others are going to have less fun as a result.

In direct contrast to that, imagine a game of "Capture the Flag". In a typical CtF game, there are two ways to win: kill everybody else until they are out of lives, or capture the flag. You have taken a standard battlegame, which favors better fighters, and introduced a new, second dimension to it. A significantly larger portion of your populace will have more fun in this second type of game, because if you aren't the best fighter, you can still hope to outwit your opponent and capture their flag, circumventing the fighting process. At the same time, though, the fighters aren't left out, because they can still just kill the other team to win. The scope of the game is wider, it is more fun, your players are less apt to complain, and are more likely to be immersed in the game and have fun because they have more, new options available to them.

Every year in recent history, the autocrats of Harvest War, in designing games for the event, make the assumption that all players will prefer a game with at least two dimensions to it. I think a good number of people understand this. Even now in Amtgard, there is a general shift away from shatter battles and toward two-plus-dimensional games. That's even something that's been taken into consideration for the upcoming rulebook version 8- the idea that we might want our rules to be more flexible in accommodating different types of games, such as those with infinite lives or a different system entirely.

So at Harvest War, we take that direction, with a stated goal of having essentially what amounts to a bunch of adventuring parties in a campaign, rather than just vanilla games. We have a big thing for introducing magical items, event-only relics, special monsters, etc.... every year we introduce wooden coins, given out at gate, called "PVCs", or "Pegasus Valley Coins" if you have the time to say that, with the intent that these coins can be just event favors, or used as currency in games. With a game mechanic of treasure and items, we've created an environment where in a given game, some teams will just try to kill everybody else, some teams will hide in the dark collecting items so they can gain more firepower than other teams, some teams will barter or negotiate with other teams to gain the upper-hand, and after that too, we even have some teams like the usual team fielded from the Savage Highlands out of Ruidoso who prefer to just jump into the game and roleplay their characters. We try to appeal to all of those groups, with a unique and flexible event design.

This year at Harvest War, I decided to blend our unique event style with the popular card game, Dominion, to yield a concrete event theme that I could advertise that would be edgy and new. I had teams collecting PVCs in games, out of games, as a prize for winning games, et cetera. With these coins (and I made multiple-coin vouchers too so that we wouldn't run short of coins), these players could purchase item cards for their team from the reeve. Items did a lot of neat things. There were potions and such that were expended immediately (handing the card to the reeve when you get a chance) and did things like healing you, adding a life to your total, enchanting your weapons, and the like. There were also relics, which had an ongoing effect, that happened all the time and wasn't used up.

I put most of the cards I used this year into a handy document for anybody interested, actually ( In the upper-right-hand corner of the card is the cost in Pegasus Valley Coins that it takes to purchase the card. In keeping with the Dominion theme, we also had victory cards, which accrued points for your team toward winning the event. The winning team ended up with 37 points from victory cards (3 principalities, two duchies, and two baronies in total). Also, for those of you who are interested in item cards for your own event or at the park, I've got a copy of that document with the coins, coin costs, and land cards removed:

That's the gist of this year's event, anyway. We had about 5 teams of 5 people on the field, rotating between games. Teams made alliances, broke alliances, bartered with NPCs, had the option of playing as NPCs in some games, and used items to try and gain an advantage. My monarch liked the idea so much that we're taking the leftover item cards and just using them at our park for a while.

Another thing I'm a big fan of in these sorts of quest-like scenarios is for the reeve to be less like what we think of as an Amtgard reeve (impartial, there for rules disputes) and more like what we think of as a dungeon master in an RPG (guides the players, introduces scenarios, etc). While I'm reeving, if I think a game is going too slowly, or it's too one-sided, I might change the rules or add in an extra alternative objective. During one of the capture-the-flag games this year, when teams weren't scoring quickly enough, I added an extra, unguarded flag off to the side that anybody could capture to score with. In some of the other games, if teams were falling too far behind, I introduced new items mid-game so they had a chance to catch up. It's a system where as the person running the game, I change the rules or situation slightly while it's running to bias toward people who could be having more fun than they are, I suppose. The end result didn't rob the better team of victory (the best fighters actually still won almost every game, and won the event), but the other teams were happier because it was more fun and more interesting for them. Running the scenario was something that I considered to be wholly separate from the impartial reeving that I was also doing.

At last year's event, we had even more fluid DMing in place; in the large battlegame that lasted 3-4 hours, we would outright change the rules after a certain amount of time to prevent stagnation and represent progression in a campaign. Whereas the initial goal of the game was to capture a castle made of forcewalls and hold it, after that we turned it into a scenario where one team had a separate victory condition and the other teams had to stop them, and after that, the team that was in the lead got their own victory condition too. The fluid objective style allowed players to have an effect on the progression of the game, but also to decide their own fates and actions in the game to a degree. A lot of people really liked it. This sort of game style should be used with discretion, and you shouldn't shoehorn anything, because there is a point where people will respond to you with "what the hell are you doing?" and stop playing. It's about being flexible and responding to your players.

In general, the element of choice is essential to fun for any group of Amtgarders, whether you are running games for the stick niche or the flurb niche doesn't seem to matter a lot, and indeed, either group can enjoy games run for the other side of the spectrum to a good degree. Something that I like to stress a lot is a fast-pased model of gaming, where players have multiple avenues to win a game. I think that having the extra dimensions in a game can be very important, because it means your game is fun for more people. It's all about catering to your players; some people want to feel like they are just playing D&D in live action, and some people want to feel like they are just fighting. The Amtgard populace is a careful blend of the two.

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