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I like rules-light larps and I like larps where abilities can be resolved in real time without needing an artificial mechanic like paper-scissor-rock or some kind of card system.

Combat is reasonably simple to physically represent in larp because we can all take out our latex swords and if you get hit, you're wounded. The game can be played in real time, without needing time-stops or special cards. The mechanic is simple: if you hit someone, they are wounded. If they dodge, or parry, they are not hurt.

I'm looking for a mechanic that can be used for magic and 'contest of will' type situations that can flow as well as combat does. I'd like magic to have the same flow as combat with some kind of 'attack' and 'defence' that the players can act out.

I know there are systems where people compare scores ("I have 5 will power, I cast charm" --> "I have 6 will power, I resist") but I'm not interested in that kind of system. The system doesn't need to cater to a variation of skill levels. It can be like simple larp combat where the skill (or will power) of the player is what matters.

I thought of using something like a staring contest (first one to blink loses) but I thought I'd also see if existing systems already had a mechanic.

Thanks in anticipation!

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How about holding your breath? –  Dakeyras Feb 18 '13 at 18:18
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@DerekTomes: ...as an asthmatic who prefers to play wizards, I don't. A physical contest system needs to take into account that some people are inherently unable to compete on even terms. (Tests requiring colour-recognition have the same problem - a small percentage of your players just can't do it.) Of course, if you have a small group it may be that it's not a problem for any of your players. In which case go right ahead. –  Tynam Feb 19 '13 at 17:15
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Hi Tynam, I think that all tests of skill are going to favour someone. Fighting will favour the athletic and the people who train at fighting. Not blinking (apparently) disadvantages women on the contraceptive pill. Holding your breath would favour pearl divers. My personal preference is for games that don't involve complex character sheets with skill trees and character points. I'm favour a 'if the player can do it the character can do it' kind of game. But, good point. –  Derek Tomes Feb 19 '13 at 19:56
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@DerekTomes: What you say is completely true, but there's a difference between favouring skill and favouring natural ability. LARP fighting favours those who train, but anyone can practice and get better, and you stand a small chance even against a stronger opponent. Beware of contests which don't have that much variation, because then in a match between the same two players the same one will always win - which is probably not the game design you wanted. –  Tynam Feb 22 '13 at 15:48
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iocaine powder? –  flies Apr 3 '13 at 22:44
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4 Answers

White and Black balls.

Your willpower is represented by white balls: one ball per willpower point. The skill of the attacker is represented by black balls: one ball per skill point. Mix both in one bag, the defender takes a single ball from the bag but does not show it to the attacker. If it is a black ball, the test has failed. If it is a white ball, the test has succeeded. The defender then puts the ball back into the bag, the black balls are removed and returned to the attacker, and the action resumes.

To speed things up (so it flows better), you could have a certain number of black and white balls in your bag already and make one or more selections depending on the skill level of the attacker: any black, you lose.

Bonus points: Determining the change of success is a trivial statistical exercise left as an exercise to the reader.

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This seems like a really fun & nuanced way to resolve the problem, except that the asker specified he wanted it to flow the same way combat does. LARP combat doesn't (usually) stop to set up probability example questions. This is a good start, but how could it be made faster? –  Oblivious Sage Feb 19 '13 at 15:37
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@ObliviousSage You could throw the balls at each other :) –  Tacroy Feb 19 '13 at 17:12
    
Thanks for the suggestion Sardathrion. This is close to what we have at the moment. It's kind of what I'm trying to replace. It has some disadvantages that I'm trying to get rid of, namely that it needs physical props and it requires time to set up and resolve. –  Derek Tomes Feb 19 '13 at 20:00
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If you want the system to be entirely prop-less and able to be done while in physical combat, consider word or math games. For instance, the caster could state the spell and a command word for a single target will attack and then start counting. The person opposing now has to say a word that follows some predefined rule structure before the attacker gets to a target number or else they are hit.

This could be done as

  • a quick one time attack/defense (defender succeeds or fails) "'Flame'! Continue in 3! one one-thousand, two-" "Engulf!" "Drat!"
  • a one time attack/defense with magnitude (you got 3 right answers, you needed 4 to avoid being affected, you are affected with strength 1) "Sleep! Five Multiples of 24!" "uh... 2, 4, 6, 12 aaand-" "Time! you forgot 8 and 3. You're affected for x amount of time"
  • a back and forth until one person fails the challenge (could be used for a situation where the loser is the one affected, regardless of source) "Foods starting with A!" "Apple!" "Avocado!" "Alfredo!" "A... crap, I'm wounded"

Caster strength could be represented by lessening of time to respond or more required answers. Defender strength could probably be used to either add time or to add "auto-successes" in the second or third example.

All of this has the benefit of being fully doable within combat. A mage could be fighting someone else and start casting at another combatant, but both involved now are distracted and must deal with both assaults at once. Of course the defender could ignore the contest of will and try to kill the mage before the end of the spell...

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Hi Lunin, thanks for the well written up idea. It'd work, but I'm really looking for ideas that make the role playing more immersion. Also, I'd need something that works for PVP so letting people pick arbitrary math questions would probably not work ("What is the area of a regular hexagon with sides 1" long?") –  Derek Tomes Feb 20 '13 at 1:37
    
@DerekTomes: If the target fails but the caster can't immediately offer the correct answer, then the spell rebounds and hits the caster instead of the target. –  Oblivious Sage Feb 20 '13 at 2:18
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@ObliviousSage I was thinking something like that as well actually. Also there could be pre-defined problems tied to individual spells or schools (maybe different schools of magic use different kinds of questions so someone could literally be weak to a sphere of magic because they're poor at that kind of problem) For flavor it could be something like the caster has to rattle off words tied to the power that match the criteria and the defender has to rattle off words that counter the power and match the criteria (such as water/cold related things if it's a fire spell) –  Lunin Feb 20 '13 at 2:27
    
It's wandering a bit far away from what I consider role playing. It might be an interesting exercise for school kids that is marginally more interesting than a spelling bee but that's not the flavour or larp I'm after. –  Derek Tomes Feb 20 '13 at 3:04
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Any contests of will for the purposes of intimidation, seduction and other kinds of charisma are easily done just by allowing players to talk to each other. Yes, this unfairly benefits naturally charismatic players but it does give those who struggle a place to learn a life skill in a safe place.

When it comes to magic, the easy way to do it is to ignore combat magic and make magic more theatrical.

A trend in UK LARPs has been to minimise the amount of effects that could be used in combat to a small number (increased damage, ignoring armour, knockdown, ignore damage and so on) but allowing many ways to get those effects with different costs. These include downtime crafting (regular and magic varieties), the blessings of the Gods, active spells, character skill and so on. Profound Decisions Maelstrom game was a prime example of this. The Odyssey rules are very similar but I have no direct experience of them.

These systems often have a looser way of using magic in game - ritual magic. A group would go to a ref and give them an out of character description of the effect they were trying to achieve then play through the ritual. In many cases this requires access to a particular site and/or a significant number of players. The refs would judge the quality of the performed ritual and decide the result. Interesting rituals made for better results.

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Thanks for the link to the Odyssey rules, I hadn't come across them before. –  Derek Tomes Mar 19 '13 at 21:58
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Try this for magic sometime.

Plant your feet, wave your arms about and speak loudly and clearly an incantation (about 25 words). Then touch someone to buff/heal or huck a decorated bit that looks like your spell effect.

The counters are dodging the thing that gets hucked, making the mage fumble their incantation, Shooting the mage from afar, ganking them before the finish their incantation, or backing out of their effective range.

Some groups use glow bracelets with streamers, painted up tennis balls, or beanbags with or without decorations. Higher standards for better effects usually works. Just pick your spell component back up and reuse it.

This creates battlefield dynamics like having to hold ground, protecting healers from bowmen, and having to take ground to get your sides thrown spell components back.

There are skills involved that someone can get better at to become a stronger mage, such as memorization, better aim, and making choices under pressure.

It also prevents targeting issues in a swirling melee. Spells delivered by pointing or shouting work alright one-on-one, but not well at night, from behind, or while you're distracted.

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