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[rant] usage:"Wargame/Wargame roots"

Started by komradebob, April 26, 2005, 07:02:02 PM

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Pardon gentle readers, but I'd like to take a moment to vent.

It has to do with the usage of the terms "wargame" and "wargame roots" that often comes up in the Theory and GNS forums.

Today, I was reading some interesting thoughts from Darrick in the GNS forum. He'd e-mailed me a copy of some of his writing. I was pretty interested in what he was working on, since it overlapped with some of my own recent experiments.

However, in reading it, I came across the phrase "wargaming roots of rpgs" (I'm paraphrasing actually).

This phrase, in the context that it was used in Darrick's writings, and in the context it often comes up in other conversations, just plain set my teeth on edge. Here's why:

When these phrases are used, they almost always refer to "traditional toy soldier games"-miniatures table top games. Very occasionally, they refer to hex-and-chip type games. In either case there tend to be two problems I have with the usage.

1) They often are shorthand for a variety of issues, and assume a certain standard for all wargames- level of rules complexity, emphasis on tactical situation, emphasis on inter-player competitiveness. Even strictly referring to miniatures wargames, there are a variety of rules in existence, something that doesn't seem to be accounted for.

2) They often display an unawareness of non-miniatures type wargames. Outside of TTSGs, there are many other types of wargames. Some of those styles share elements of sim or narr rpg design, something that posters talking about the wargame roots of rpgs overlook repeatedly. In fact, there seems to be some issues of parallel development going on right now with rpgs and wargames.

Here's what I'm asking: Before you go with the urge to post something about "wargames" or "wargame roots of rpgs" check out what's going on with wargames. You don't have to play them-just please find out what is out there. This site: Wargames Develeopment Handbook has a listing of a variety of different styles of wargames and wargame related topics that will hopefully be informative.

[Side note: Ignorance is a two-way street. If you check the post on that site discussing rpgs, you may blow your Mountain Dew out your nose in shock...]

/Rant off,

Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys


Well, see, the problem is, it's not as ignorant as you think.

When people talk about the "wargame roots of RPGs", that's really shorthand for "wargame roots of D&D" which in turn is shorthand for "miniature wargame roots of D&D", which is entirely accurate, as D&D came out of the historical miniatures wargame Chainmail, and when people say "wargaming roots", that's what they're talking about.

I don't see a problem with this shorthand because when talking about RPGs, it's fair to mainly talk about historical miniatures wargaming -- because that's what D&D, and any game that descends from D&D (however remotely) came from. Not to mention that early RPGs were mainly marketed through outlets frequented by wargame miniature hobbyists. Hell, the term "campaign" comes from miniatures wargame play.

So, I don't see the phrase as an ignorant, so much as recognizing that saying "the historical miniatures wargaming roots of D&D which influenced all subsquent RPGs" takes too long to say, especially when, generally speaking, no other form of wargame influenced early RPGs.

So, yes, there are other forms of wargames. But, generally speaking, there are no other forms of wargaming that influenced early RPGs. Hence, the "wargaming roots of RPGs" refer to 1970s-style miniatures wargaming.
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Hi Robert,

It would also be fair to say that while some folks mean the term in a disparaging way, others also mean it in, "This works well for wargames, not necessarily for all rpgs" sort of way.  And, to be honest, when used disparagingly, it's not aimed at wargames, it's aimed at poor design that uses inappropriate mechanics for their goals.  "I want a game about romance, but I can't figure out the movement rates..."



Bankuei wrote:
QuoteAnd, to be honest, when used disparagingly, it's not aimed at wargames, it's aimed at poor design that uses inappropriate mechanics for their goals. "I want a game about romance, but I can't figure out the movement rates..."

See, I could live with that understanding. It is just that I see the terms bandied around disparagingly the way I see "freeform" used disparagingly, or "GNS- Evangelizing Edwardsian Anti-Funist Forgisto Herectic" (well, okay, that one I made up) used disparagingly. It's a convenient club to bash stuff with, without ever looking at the stuff in question very carefully.

I think that both wargamers and rpgers tend to think only in terms of when they last saw their cousins, and fail to take more recent developments in to account. The short-handing mentioned reinforces this unfortunate trend. Both wargames and rpgs have evolved in significant directions since 1974. Using "wargame" to mean "1970s style tabletop miniatures (and only one brand of that!)" acts as a mental barrier to cross pollination of ideas between these two related hobbies.

On a related note, I've heard the concept of the direct evolution of historical mins-> chainmail-> D&D->other rpgs. I understand that lineage, however, I also believe that there are a number of other concepts beyond miniatures gaming that actually combine to create role-playing games as we have them today.  I don't think the evolutionary jump from minatures gaming to rpgs could actually have occured without those unmentioned influences being present somewhere very early on. I think that the miniatures gaming influence may well be regularly overstated due to the fact that there are artifactual remains of that influence ( I have a number of little lead ones sitting on my work table right now), where the stuff that existed primarily as concepts doesn't have as easily recognizable evidence.

And yeah, as a wargamer, it does grate on me when someone disparages the hobby and pigeonholes it without examining it.
Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys