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Author Topic: Narrativist Wargaming  (Read 2229 times)
amiel
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« on: January 22, 2002, 04:49:31 PM »

None of you probably know who I am (can you say long time lurker, I knew you could). I have this idea and I wanted a bit of feedback to see if it's worth fleshing out. This seemed like the place, so here goes:

I was reading a book (Harry Turtledove's Tilting the balance if you must know), and I thought...this is a great story. What I'm thinking here would be a setting and mechanics that could act as a platform for a narratavist take on a wargame.
     Features I want:
1 Story oriented resolution(drama/fortune most likely).
2 An ability to zero in on all the small struggles that make things happen.
3 Something to bring the unwarranted happen.
     Features I don't want
1 An abundance of tables.
2 Almost anything resembling a simulationist approach(Avalon Hill beat me there fair and square.

I'm thinking something a bit more fantasy based than the book I described.
Can someone here point me at something that might be a place to start, give me pointers, tell me why this idea sucks worse than a root canal?
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-Jeremiah J. Davis
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2002, 06:05:57 PM »

Quote from: amiel

Features I want:
1 Story oriented resolution(drama/fortune most likely).
2 An ability to zero in on all the small struggles that make things happen.
3 Something to bring the unwarranted happen.


This sounds like the perfect way to start! As far as designing your own game, I'm still working on my own process. But here's what I've got so far:

* Decide on your Premise
* Consider the Unknown Factors
* Hash things out. (here's where I need to refine my process :)

Premise
(for a good discussion on this: http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1209">How Much Premise Does it Take?  I've recently decided (thanks Hardcoremoose!) that my Premises will be phrased as a question, though Ron defines it (correct me if I'm wrong, Ron!) as the simpler: "What gets the players' interest."

For your game, it sounds like you've got it: "How do small struggles affect the outcome of a massive conflict?" Since you're aiming for a Narrativist game, sounds like, you may want to alter that Premise. Something like "How do personal ethics play into the outcome of a massive conflict?"

Unknown Factor
Making this a concrete step in design is new (for me). I give a brief run-down over at http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1211">D/F/K & the Unknown Factor.

Possible Unknown Factors for your game:
* Outcome of small struggles
* Events within the small struggle
* Direction of the overall story

Of course, you could come up with entirely different ones. From here, you can decide the mechanic that best fits what you want. Do you want the Players to have a strong sense of control? I'd go with Player-Determined or Player-Influenced mechanics. Should there be a large element of chance? Try Player-Influenced with a strong emphasis on the random part.

And with a Narrativist bent, the outcomes could be largely influenced by dramatic elements. So for a combat between two rivals, instead of physical strength or skill, the relationship between then would affect the outcome instead.

Hashing
This is where you keep refining your game, considering your Premise, and looking at your mechanics. The big thing to keep in mind is: Does my System support my Premise?

Of course, this is just my input. Feel free to ignore me or, if you have a different opinion on the process, let me know!!
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2002, 08:06:41 PM »

Interesting idea.

Zak gave a pretty good rundown of the process.  It's real similar to the one I go through when designing games.  

By "wargames", I assume you're talking about classic miniature wargaming.  Cripes, that's so far away from narratvism, and yet I completely see where you're coming from.  I spent some time doing Warhammer 40K minis, but that's all the farther it got.  I liked the idea of creating the personalities, but I knew once they hit the battlefield, their "coolness" just wasn't going to be a factor.  But man, a narrativist wargame?  Could be cool.

Seems to me the way to do this is to find a way to preserve it's "wargame-ness" - it's attention to tactical detail - and somehow allow that stuff to roll over into some sort of story concern.  We all know from Ron's essay that Gamist and Simulationist mechanics can still be present in, and even enhance, a Narrativist game (see The Pool for a good example).  If you could turn a wargame's combat-oriented, tactical style gameplay on its ear and use that to drive a story/premise forward...

I have no idea how you'd do that at the moment.  But sheesh, there's no shortage of drama on a battlefield - seems like stories would emerge, even if they are very short, verly localized stories.

I'll think on this.

- Moose

And Zak - thanks for the props, man.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2002, 10:44:41 PM »

Quote from: hardcoremoose

I have no idea how you'd do that at the moment.  But sheesh, there's no shortage of drama on a battlefield - seems like stories would emerge, even if they are very short, verly localized stories.


But if you wait for stories to emerge, you're veering from Narrativism as I understand it. The mechanics should force the stories so that Players experience them as they are happening, rather than as an afterthought or post-game analysis.

Dont' know if that's what you meant or not, but I thought I'd bring it up.

This reminds me of a thought I had on large-scale combat (for D&D, but it would work anywhere), where the PC's conflicts would determine the overall outcome. I was thinking along the lines of a Sim-type game, where the outcome of the party-scale battle would be extrapolated into the massive-scale. But for a Narrative game, the themes explored in the microcosm of personal battle would echo in the large-scale.
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Skippy
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« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2002, 11:03:18 PM »

I toyed with the idea, briefly, of a Bug-Hunt type game, (ages ago on RPG.net) based on Starship troopers et. al., with a similar concept.  The essence of my vision was to have a director-stance wargame, where the character was the sum of the individuals in the troop, battalion, whatever.  To keep the action high, as attrition factors in, the remaining units become more combat effective, so you get the "few good men" left over by the end of the adventure (film).  I didn't get too far past the initial idea stage.

One of the keys to a wargame is the distance between the player and the units- they are nothing more than battle units.  You may like a particular figure more than others, but nothing like an RPG character.  How to maintain that distance, and still protagonize the "characters" as needed for a narrativist experience?  That was my reasoning for the character as sum concept, but I'm sure that there are other ways to do it.

The one thing I would recommend is to keep combat simple for a narrativist version.  Too much rolling or number crunching will be detrimental to the action in-head.  I'd recommend something with a heavy Karma mechanic, perhaps light Fortune modified.  (many wargames use Karma mechanics anyway, so this shouldn't be too unusual.)

Anyway, best of luck,

Skippy
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2002, 11:22:55 PM »

Zak,

Yeah, you're absolutely right about story emerging during play.  I didn't mean to imply that the storytelling should emerge retrospectively, but it certainly sounded that way, huh?  What I meant to say is that if we have so many great stories about warfare - and I'd venture to say that we do - then there must be a narrativist way to handle those issues.

So what are the qualities of a war story that we find engaging?  Hardship endured?  The fact that one man can make a difference?  The fact that one man is totally insignificant?  Or are we not concerned at all about the larger battle going on, except as it reflects on the smaller dramas comprising it?  What other premises might be explored by a game like this?


Skippy,

I'm still a fan of your bughunt idea.  I'm not sure if it's G or N - more G than N as I remember it - but it was cool.  You should do something with that someday.

- Moose
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Bankuei
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« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2002, 11:39:24 PM »

If you're worried about losing the character identification with a protagonist, you might want to think about small unit tactics.  If you look at Blood Bowl, which has a team, players still identify with each player that stands out for whatever reason, even if its "rolling lucky".  Of course, it doesn't hurt that BloodBowl and most other games workshop games always gives a rundown of stats on each character that's above standard.

Perhaps what you're thinking of is a little more abstract, such as a general rating in strength or power, but perhaps with traits playing a bigger role such as, Tenacious, Cautious, Stoic, Battle Hardened, Cunning, Vicious, or Brutal as playing a bigger role than other stats.

Chris
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sdemory
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« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2002, 07:20:26 AM »

Have you taken a look at the mass combat rules for L5R and 7th Sea? They're relatively straightforward and not too terribly strategically intensive, but show an interesting way to throw story bits into a large-scale battle... you capture the enemy standard, break the line, have a chance to enter a duel and the like. Combining that sort of dynamic with a standard flank-and-shoot wargame could be very slick.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2002, 07:24:19 AM »

Warning, blatant plug ahead.

Universalis does exactly all this perfectly well. I've actually done battles that zoomed in on one character's performance only to have that performance affect the battle as a whole. In one classic instance the individual leaders of two groups confronted each other in a gun battle that ended up being decisive in determining the outcome of the battle. In another case the failed efforts of an ace pilot led to the eventual failure of an entire mission to destroy an alien race.

Moose, you've got a copy; do you see what I mean?

So, to contribute usefully to the thread, yes it can be done, and done well, IMO. If you want such a system, you simply have to let go of the majority of the simulative aspects of wargaming. OTOH, you can get a simulationist version of the same thing by allowing player successes to add to unit die rolls, which may be unrealistic, but versimilar to the particular genre.

Also, see the thread in which Mike Sullivan (AKA Epoch) first discussed his new Goblin game concept, in which the idea of using Hero Wars was discussed.

Mike
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amiel
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« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2002, 08:40:38 AM »

My fault for not being more specific. I don't want minis(though I may use them anyway, so cool, so pretty;)
Anyway... I used the term wargame to get a response. What I meant by wargame was that I want to tell the story of a war.
I want to (as mentioned) show the smalll stories of the war, how they affect the big story of said war.
The idea mostly came as a gut response to a comment made in above mentioned book about war bringing about the best and the worst in people.
I want a story created as you go with small battles, big battles, traitors, small scale plundering, etc...
BTW...thanks for the thoughts and suggestions so far... and thanks for not saying the idea sucks worse than a root canal;)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2002, 08:55:48 AM »

Hi Amiel,

Given that by "wargame" you are indicating "happens during a war," I'm not sure how it differs from any reg'lar old RPG experience. The setting is whenever, the situations are those which might be expected to occur during war; the stories arise from people and so forth under those conditions.

The wargame-aspect of it all makes sense to me if we are talking about system and mechanics - kind of a retro thing, really, considering that RPGing began (at least to some extent) as "hopping down in scale to play the people" in the context of an ongoing traditional wargame activity. If that were the proposed issue, then all sorts of neat system or techniques discussion could get going.

But if we lose that and simply talk about role-playing using wartime as a setting/situation, then I'm not sure what is being asked after all. It's a great topic, sure, but the actual role-playing or techniques concerns don't seem to be special to me in any way.

Am I misunderstanding your last post about this? Or, if not, what concerns or issues would you be interested in discussing about wartime-as-situation? I certainly think it's interesting even without the traditional-wargame context. The http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=737">Intense wargames thread on this forum dealt with some of this, and it seemed like a hot topic to various people in different ways.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2002, 09:01:12 AM »

Damn, I'm trying to edit my last post and it ain't doing it.

What I wanted to add:

"The one thing I'm parsing from your post is that the war itself changes, proceeds, and alters the setting as it goes, as an umbrella regarding the smaller, local stories-of-play within it. That seems to me to be quite functional and interesting."

Again: good topic, interesting stuff.

Best,
Ron
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amiel
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Posts: 49


« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2002, 09:39:02 AM »

To differ from "traditional" roleplaying in this prospect:
You got it spot on with the ubrella concept. Specific character identification I actually want to be lower than in most rpgs.
Why?
I want each player to have multiple characters at different points in the conflict, I want traitors(every war has at least one), and I want to keep track of the overall ebb and flow of the war. That's right, I want to eat my cake and have it too. I still want some of those little stories. I want to keep track of a major battle from the point of view of a little old ground pounder.
Am I more or less clear than before here?
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-Jeremiah J. Davis
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2002, 09:50:13 AM »

Hey,

Totally clear, now. It's an interesting question whether to scale up just a tad from what we think of as "reg'lar role-playing" or to scale down substantially from wargaming; I think the former seems more likely, myself.

I highly recommend reading Pendragon, a very, very extensively developed RPG which provides a lot of action in the gray area between wargame and role-playing. [John Wick, original author of L5R and also of Orkworld, shows a fair amount of Pendragon influence in his designs, especially concerning "what the culture or tribe is doing" as opposing to "what the character is doing." Also recommended.]

Best,
Ron
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Laurel
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« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2002, 09:53:05 AM »

Quote from: amiel

I want each player to have multiple characters at different points in the conflict, I want traitors(every war has at least one), and I want to keep track of the overall ebb and flow of the war. That's right, I want to eat my cake and have it too. I still want some of those little stories. I want to keep track of a major battle from the point of view of a little old ground pounder.



I can almost imagine this potentially as pyramid.  At the apex, you have the ground-pounder or other protagonist.   The player works down, creating greater scope until at the bottom, he has his entire army or nation.  At some points in the chronicle, the player would be taking actions for the entire army and "armies" could equate to characters.   This was bantered about on another thread.   Relationship maps between each rung on the pyramid would be essential.
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