Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Essay On The Braunstein - Part The First, For July 15th, 2014 - Art or Science?

Braunstein meets the Petal Throne - the usual chaos

I was markedly cheered up by an e-mailed request from a reader; it's a wonderful change from the sort of 'current events' news that I am being inundated with, and I thought I'd have a run at answering the request - this will be a long post, and there will be follow-up posts coming as well. So, anyway:

[A reader from The Big Easy e-mailed:]

I started looking over your blog and watching some of the videos from your games. Right now, I'm not so much looking for info about the nitty-gritty mechanics ( though  love that stuff too), I'm more looking for advice and info on planning one of these big table, multi player games. No one has written much about that stuff. It really seems more art than science ( which I'm down with!).

Any chance you could write a blogpost about that stuff?

Well, I think you are right; the Braunstein style of game -for an overview of which please see:

- may very well be more art then science, but let me make a stab at giving you some information on how I practice the arcane art.

First off, the game is based in whatever world-setting or period you like. It's completely open; pick what you like, and run with it. (I happen to prefer Barsoom or Tekumel, but that's a personal choice.)

Next, think about how many players you'd like to have at the table. Braunsteins are a cross between free Kreigspiels and poker games, so having more then two players is a must. Each potential player gets to play a 'side' - in these games, there are a lot of different factions, all with their own goals and objectives. The more the merrier; I have found that six 'sides' seems to work well, and one can have multiple players on a side - for even more fun and mayhem, give the individuals on a 'side' or 'team' goals and objectives of their own. The idea is to give players a chance to work for and against each other, so give them reasons to negotiate and ally as much as possible.

Think about how long you have to play the game - this is actually really important! I am lucky that I have a dedicated game room, where I can leave games set up for as long as we need to, but you will probably not have that luxury. So, think about how fast you want the thing to go - and I should also say that the faster and more furious the game, the better it is for everyone to play and to run! Players who get rushed often make the funniest mistakes and decisions, which simulate the confusion you find in the real world quite nicely!

Consider what size table you are willing to deal with. I have a 48" x 48" table always set in the game room, which uses my modular terrain system; I also have three 30" x 60" folding tables, and I use these to make a 60" x 60" or 60" x 90" table. Larger tables are not always better, by the way; if you do not have the players or the factions to use the space, it gets wasted and ignored. My largest games happen on a 60" x 120" table, which seems to be the biggest useful size; my June 2013 game was done on this size of a table.

If I may, I'd like to offer a sort of table of 'Suggested Table Sizes for Players":

Four to six players:  48" x 48"
Four to six players:  60" x 60"

Four to eight players:  60" x 90"
Four to eight players:  60" x 120"

Six to twelve players:  60" x 120"

So, having got the size and shape of the game thought about, let's move on to structure.

The idea is to get the players scheming and plotting, as a big chunk of the fun of the Braunstein is having the players negotiate and deal with each other. Let's take an example, my "Saving Serqu's Sisters" game...

The one common goal for all of the players is to find the two sisters / McGuffins; each 'side' has different goals for wanting to find them, mostly involving a hefty ransom. This gives one source of conflict and negotiation; we add more to the mix to keep things lively. Let's assume that we have six players; we write up short and simple little notes for each, telling the players what they have 'on the table', and what their goals and objectives are. In the case of this particular game, I had four 'teams' of mercenaries out looking for the girls, and one large 'team' of locals who were not keen on having the visitors get all the money. The idea of having this large team was to be able to add more players to the game if more showed up; at the actual event this team had four players, for something like ten people playing around the table - some of the mercenaries 'doubled up', with more experienced players helping less-experienced ones.

Everyone has, more or less,  the same goals: Get as much loot as you can. Keep everyone else from getting it. In addition, I also specified who liked and didn't like who, as a guide to alliances and hostilities. The large team was made up of some of Tekumel's vast collection of hostile non-humans, who had the goal of killing as many humans as possible; the humans, as one might guess, then got the additional goal of not getting killed by them.

Set things up to that the players have a reason to connive and plot; have one team allied with another, but hostile to a third. This is vital - use a large sheet of paper or a white board to plot this out, and you won't regret it.

Okay; that's the general plan. Next post, I'll look into the murky waters of more detailed planning...