Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chronos Universal Larp System

I wrote last month about my experience playing in Rise of Tiburon, an amazing larp run by Nerdy City. The game used a version of the debuting Chronos card system as it's interface for actions in the game. I'd heard about it a year back just as it was entering it's Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of interaction with the system. This by no means lessened the experience of the game, but I made myself a small and silent vow to make up for the deficit and buy the corebook.

My copy of Chronos came in today. It's not a large book, only 70 pages in total. There is, however, a lot of information going on here. The book is designed almost in a 'Book of Five Rings' format, with each chapter taking on one of the four classical elements which in turn feeds into the theme of their corresponding chapter. Interspersed throughout the book are four short vignettes from four different worlds, three of which appear to be focused around a specific game set on these rules: Ex-Arcana, Dreamless, and Devil Days. The fourth was an assassination set in a contemporary setting focusing on an assassination in the middle of a gaming convention. Writing what you know, huh guys?

Chronos is a card based mechanic system. You build a deck consisting of a core card, and supplemental skills, specialties and augment cards. This deck is for all intents and purposes your character sheet, but reads more or less like a Tarot spread. This makes it very easy to transition from a Tabletop -which they refer to as Narrative Play, more on that later- and larps. The Core card has the standard stats such as Health, Focus, Speed and so on, but also has several skill stats such as Brawn, Dexterity, Acumen, Resolve. There are two sets of these numbers on each card, one for action and one for defense. Challenges are done by adding up the action and adding up the defense, the one with the higher number wins the action. 

When combat is declared, the entire scene is taken into Chronos Time. All physical actions are slowed down, and all combat must be (safely) acted out in that time. Combat rounds last 30-60 seconds, and anyone who doesn't do an action in that time has not acted for that round. This means that, if everyone knows what to do and knows what cards they are using, the roleplay doesn't stop just because someone wants to fight someone else. This also means that instead of sitting there deliberately thinking of what to do, you have to respond to what is actually going on. This also means that combat is going to end soon. There is an entire conversation/rant that I'd like to give on this concept but it would detract from the review. Follow ups to come.

So having a card based role play system leads to some other interesting concepts. Along with the core deck, there will also be cards based on specific games in the line, expansions and other such things. This is actually ingenious from a business stand point, as you're selling both the games and the cards. However, it's weakness is that, for the most part, you're limited to by however many cards you have. This can be augmented by printing out pdf copies, but if someone just has the core deck printed out to him, then they reach limits. I'd recommend buying the pdf and the deck just as a backup, it's 10 dollars more, but it's a long term investment. 

The book goes into description of the Universe of Chronos, or more appropriately, Multiverse. Each game of Chronos is related by one thing: Aether. Aether is an energy source from outside Space/Time that allows for marvelous advances to occur. How it manifests depends on the world it's in, as is the way it's harvested. The general concept shows that Aether appears at some point in history, and from there time splits off into an alternate realm. So this is how Steampunk Mages may come about, how Devils can roam about in the 1950's and fight for the souls of boring squares and how the Fae can make it's deals. All of these worlds exist both separately and yet connected by the Aether. This allows for a potential overarching story, both by whatever game runner wishes to take it on and by Eschaton themselves. It gives me an idea for a story/character concept I'd love to attempt one day (guys, if you're listening...)

The other two chapters focus on more practical matters. One talks about running a Chronos game, but some sections talks about logistical concerns that any gamerunner should consider. Most fascinating though is the discussion defining what, as far as the Chronos system is concerned, is the intent of play for these games. They speak of safety, consent, and an understanding that these products that they are making and running are a form of play and play should be paramount. The goal, they say, is to make an immersive world that goes beyond rules and costumes and for the time being feels real.

In the brief time I got to hold a set of Chronos cards for Rise of Tiburon, I never once felt the need to use them. They told me of what I could do, at what at the core of my character I was. My character had a childlike glee for building fighting machines. When we were handed out our decks, I was expecting a core card that described to me something along the lines of the Innocent, with a lot of Acumen and Resolve but low on Dexterity and Brawn. I had found he was a Trickster, prone to obfuscating and keeping things secret. His cards also had a hardy bit of Brawn to them. That informed me a lot of my character and his play. I never had to use them, but they told me what he could do.

And that's the least, and in some ways the most this system can do. The Chronos system is an ambitious effort, both mechanically and as a business venture. I think the overarching universe of Chronos is something that can lead to a lot of variations, homebrewed games, and interesting crossovers that would make for fun encounters. I'm personally interested in Ex Arcana, which shouldn't be a surprise considering my love of all things Mage. It will be interesting to see where the Chronos Universe goes, both through Eschaton and the gaming community.



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