Narrative wargames

2

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  • @komradebob gots it and wins.
  • As @komradebob says it's pretty funny and chaotic. I've also done written orders that cover just 2 minute intervals (this is the classic approach). But this requires quick refs to keep to pace up.
  • Fascinating! Thank you so much!

    How much leeway do the players have in interpreting those orders? What if circumstances change and they are clearly a bad idea, for instance? What is "good play" under such circumstances? (And is there a way to make "following orders when they're clearly a terrible idea" fun?)

    How does simultaneous resolution of orders work, in practice? Does it end up looking like a "turn" or round of combat in a typical RPG?
  • edited January 18
    Historical evidence suggest : "Follow the line of command" and "Die for your country". ;)
  • Historical evidence suggest : "Follow the line of command" and "Die for your country". ;)
    If you disobey orders and succeed, you're a genius.
    If you disobey orders and fail, it's probably better that you die in the attempt, as then entire disaster will be blamed on you.

    If you obey orders and succeed, you're reliable and your superior is a genius.
    If you obey orders and fail, you've probably died for your country anyway.

  • How much leeway do the players have in interpreting those orders? What if circumstances change and they are clearly a bad idea, for instance? What is "good play" under such circumstances? (And is there a way to make "following orders when they're clearly a terrible idea" fun?)

    How does simultaneous resolution of orders work, in practice? Does it end up looking like a "turn" or round of combat in a typical RPG?
    On the first part, some of it is intentionally paradoxical. meant to represent the way that even easy things are hard when your side's plan meets the enemy's plan. Many times, this is part of the point, like in the Sandhurst ( British military academy) training exercises. It's to teach you the way to go forward when nothing ever goes exactly as intended.

    Those officers-in-training are being conditioned to deal with unexpected failures and general "friction", but also to look for and exploit those things when the enemy is experiencing them.

    IOW, they're wargames meant to get you out of a wargame mentality, if that makes sense.


    On the second part, really it's easiest to imagine it if you've seen how a turn of Diplomacy with all simultaneous resolution works. Yes, it is like a round of RPG combat, but with everyone going at the same time, and then the results all worked out.


    Unless it isn't, but that's, y'know, variations on a theme, mechanically.

    Often in Diplomacy, there are the more removed-from-the-center-of-action events/order resolution that are pretty easy to work out with simultaneous orders, and then there are one or two spots where there are real multi-unit scrums going on and those are a bit trickier to resolve.

    If it helps, imagine that each player in an RPG has to write down:


    1) Where their character will move ( noting specific path if necessary)
    2) Which enemy their character will attack, and by what method ( noting where the attack will be launched from, if necessary and allowed)


    Those are all turned in to the GM, who then reveals all of them ( or possibly one at a time).


    First of all, characters are moved along their designated paths, with any conflicts of movement that might stop them noted and dealt with, measuring any partial movement as necessary to determine where/when contact/conflict occurs ( or doesn't-you might miss).


    Do that for all characters. Resolve any paradoxes/conflicts of the maneuvers as necessary, with whatever mechanics are at hand.


    Now resolve any attacks. Some attacks may have been made impossible by the results of the previous phase ( maneuver). Sometimes alternative attacks/counterattacks are possible or even forced as a result of maneuver conflicts.

    Resolve any remaining movement or forced movement due to either maneuver or combat.

    Apply effects of combat results that have not yet been applied. In RPG terms, even though you already know how many HPs you've lost for a given character, it's only at the end that everybody takes the damage simultaneously.



    There are variations to every single part of that depending on the specific rules of the game or, if a GM has a large amount of leeway, they may determine the order certain things take place in. A bit like a GM in a PbtA game, deciding what order things should take place and be resolved in based on the fiction.


    That was certainly true of the old Free Kriegspiel style referees in their training exercises, and it's a controversial approach. Of course, those old time cadets couldn't complain quite as easily as hobbyist gamers can about the approach.
  • akooser:

    Sorry to over-enthusiastically post so often.

    Have you developed any "working guidelines" for what sorts of things make for well-balanced personal goals within a team?

    I guess, what I'm asking, is how does a scenario designer consistently create personal goals that create interesting friction within a team, without immediately causing that team to fall into complete chaos?

    And then of course, do it again, for the second team?


    Any tips on that?


    I mean, weirdly, I can almost imagine how to do that more easily for a bigger number of individuals/individual factions, than I can for 2 Teams of 3 individuals each.


    OTOH, I also imagine whatever method of running a game, it has to be vastly easier to run with two ( infighting, friction filled ) team, than 8 self-interested individuals/factions.
  • Great answers!

    But I'm still having trouble picturing it. Here's why:

    It's hard for me to imagine a system where a) you can write orders that are clear and detailed enough that simply reading them out gives you enough information to know exactly what the units are going to do (which seems necessary for simultaneous resolution - e.g. I've played a lot of Diplomacy, and one of the basic assumptions is that if the orders you write are even slightly ambiguous, they are invalid), and b) there are still interesting decisions for the lieutenants to make when they carry out those orders.

    Does that make sense?
  • Hmm. I can see some of the confusion.

    You seem to be talking about two different levels at once though, the upper, human player level, and the below human player level of the unit pieces.

    Let's say there are multiple levels of command, like this:

    Side Red:
    Strategic command level ( or, whatever): NPC level. Basically, this is the scenario info level. You know what I mean: You work for Red Nation, on XYZ front, under command of Field Marshal von Rottenberg. Here's what your overall force is up to on this front. Here's what your army is up to, and more specifically, this is what your collective forces are attempting to accomplish right here on the map.


    The On Board Boss Level:The real player, playing the overall commander of Team red, developing the plan for carrying out the goals of the scenario as outlined above. I'll just call them the General.

    The Colonels: Also real players, the ones tasked to act as a sounding board for the general's overall plan, then each tasked with carrying out a portion of the plan.


    The Majors and lower: The cardboard chits or metal monster menz or whatever. The markers, representing those flesh and blood types about to go into the meat grinder.


    As I understand it, the human players have a fair bit of leeway to interpret the strategic level info in whatever way they want in developing their overall plan. While they might have limited intel/recon or even wrong intel, there's (generally) nothing coming from the scenario "strategic" side that is ambiguous*. It's up to them to carry it out however it makes sense.

    [Possibly not true, depending upon campaign considerations. Orders that amount to "It's vital that we take OBJECTIVE quickly, but also limit losses in case of enemy counterattack [deemed likely]" are more than a little ambiguous]


    Within the two steps of the real, live players levels, all bets are off. It's up to the General to generate a plan with the help of the Colonels, and everyone's job to carry it out to the best of their abilities. If it's ambiguous, it's ambiguous. That's part of the Challenge.


    [This is also where personal goals can come into play, for the Colonels or General, creating friction]


    I needed to state this last bit, but that was more for the general reader than you, Paul_T.


    What I'm pretty sure you're mostly asking about is what happens when The General or The Colonels write out orders for the Majors/chits/miniatures/gumdrops/whatever, and those orders are ambiguous.


    From what I can tell of having read Verdi's book about Frei Kriegspiel ( a long time ago, going from memory now), the Ref just plain either interprets what the units would do based on their personal experience as an officer and/or creates an ad hoc series of possibilities, weighted on likelihood, and throws a die for it. Probably keeps it a simple d6 throw, at that, and simply reports the outcome back to the players.

    Games meant to be played without a ref, or with minimal refereeing ae more likely to have pre-built rules for this stuff. This can sometimes, especially in older ( but not truly old) system,s amount to a very complex analog AI.
  • IOW, if you wrote the tactical level equivalent of " Take the bridge quickly, but take the minimum casualties possible in doing so!" and handed it in, the ref would probably look at that as ambiguous and make a call or throw a die ( 1-3 Officer does a quick frontal assault to take bridge by main force regardless of casualties, 4-5 as above but withdraws if the attacking units suffers more than 10% casualties, 6 launches a more textbook, steady operation to take bridge that minimizes casualties at the cost of time but continues until bridge taken).


    In any case, the chits always attempt to do what they think you want them to do, at least initially.

    [Unless you're playing a game by designed 2 Hour Wargames. Then your toys do all kinds of strange things on their own, as soon as they start coming within sight of the enemy. Occasionally, you, the human player, get something like input. Those games are wonderful that way]
  • @Paul_T I'll have some time either today or this weekend I can draft some visuals for you.

    @komradebob has the main points.

    In our games typically there a grand plan drafted up. Then there are the secondary orders given out to to folks like

    1) Take the road in the forest by 8:00 am and link up with the 23rd. Avoid enemy contact if possible.

    Once units are out of line of site an new orders coming from command take X minutes to arrive and may be intercepted depending on the route the messenger takes. These low level commands allow some interpretation and leeway for players to mess around and try to get at their goals.

    We also allow players to move to the pieces and generally take command of the troops.

    If there are non-combatants (there should be!) or non-aligned military units that falls under Ref duties.

  • This is astonishingly accurate.
  • Excellent summaries and examples!

    Perhaps I can clarify my question further:

    Given a setup where Player A is told to "take the bridge by 18:00", and Player B is told to "defend the bridge at all costs", AND given "simultaneous resolution", how do we maintain "fog of war" so as to give them both a reasonable way to decide what to do and then resolve those actions?

    Or does those players, in turn, write more specific orders, which are then revealed simultaneously?

    In Diplomacy, it makes sense to reveal and then process all the orders simultaneously, because no one can 'react' to other moves happening on the board. In a more 'realistic' simulation of a battle, though, once I march around the edge of the lake and see enemies where I didn't expect them, I am going to modify my plan, and so might my enemy. Logistically, how do we handle that, at the table?

    In my imagination, at least, all kinds of things will be happening in the battle which might affect my decisions, and the order in which we resolve them seems like it would be pretty important!
  • Related question:

    Is it possible to play in this style online? If so, do people do it, and how does it go?

    (I'm unlikely to get the chance to do it where I live, but I'd live to participate in or simply watch this happening, whether live or recorded, which would clarify more than pages and pages of description!)
  • Excellent summaries and examples!

    Perhaps I can clarify my question further:

    Given a setup where Player A is told to "take the bridge by 18:00", and Player B is told to "defend the bridge at all costs", AND given "simultaneous resolution", how do we maintain "fog of war" so as to give them both a reasonable way to decide what to do and then resolve those actions?

    Or does those players, in turn, write more specific orders, which are then revealed simultaneously?

    In Diplomacy, it makes sense to reveal and then process all the orders simultaneously, because no one can 'react' to other moves happening on the board. In a more 'realistic' simulation of a battle, though, once I march around the edge of the lake and see enemies where I didn't expect them, I am going to modify my plan, and so might my enemy. Logistically, how do we handle that, at the table?

    In my imagination, at least, all kinds of things will be happening in the battle which might affect my decisions, and the order in which we resolve them seems like it would be pretty important!
    I'm not entirely clear on what you're asking, but I'll take a stab at it.

    In Diplomacy, you have two turns per year, IIRC, Summer and Autumn, or something like that right? Each one has orders written and outcomes resolved before the players go back into a free play negotiation period, then do the next turn's orders writing, correct?

    If I understand properly what akooser is talking about, the orders cover roughly 15minutes of scale time, rather than a full season, as per Diplomacy.


    Other than perhaps having a bit more detailed outcomes for those scaled 15 minutes of action, I don't understand why you'd think they were any different in broad outline.


    Now, in your specific example, of coming round the lake and spotting the enemy, well, things are at a smaller scale than in Diplomacy, so there may be some kind of reaction check ( there would be in those games made by 2 Hour Wargames I mentioned) and resolution of that and other follow up checks of different sorts...or there might not be.


    If things are a bit more freeform, a lot will depend on the GM. But yes, whatever happens, you then go back to writing orders after that 15 minutes of representational action is resolved.

    ( There may be issues with order transmission as noted above. There may also be issues with the personalities of individual NPC sub commanders as well, such as overly-cautious or overly aggressive officers modifying your orders. IOW, you might tell them to do one thing, only for them to ignore the order, or fail to receive the order in a timely fashion or at all and continue to follow previous orders, or to act in some annoying way on their own. It will vary from game to game, from GM to GM, and whether such rules even exist in the set rules chosen as the basis of play. I've noticed that Horse and Musket or earlier period games ( and gamers) tend to love those sorts of rules in a way often skipped or lessened in more modern era games ( training exercises excepted).
  • Good questions @Paul_T

    Given a setup where Player A is told to "take the bridge by 18:00", and Player B is told to "defend the bridge at all costs", AND given "simultaneous resolution", how do we maintain "fog of war" so as to give them both a reasonable way to decide what to do and then resolve those actions?

    So B is already in place on the bridge or possible in route.
    Ideally (well in my ideal kriegsspiel) one group or the other out maneuvers using fictional positioning. The battle is over at that point. Most kriegsspiel is all about the maneuver, position, and fictional command. The pew-pew is less interesting.

    Sorry for the aside there.

    Right so we have some chance of the groups spotting each other. As soon as visual contact is made then all bets are off. B needs to defend and A needs to take the bridge. How the happens is up to the players. At this point we might drop down into 2 min written orders or freeform it for a given amount of game time (15 mins) and then roll to resolve.
    Totten does this is a lot.

    Team A advances to within 300 paces of B who is holding the bridge. Can A advance and take the bridge? Both sides argue theirs case and we sort out the odds then roll on the odds table.

    A arguments
    3:1 units against B
    300 paces
    Fresh troops
    B is actually on the bridge so column formation

    B arguments
    Senior commander
    1 unit of skirmishers hidden
    Local support

    This might end up being 3:1 or 2:1 against B.
  • Oooooh! You just dropped in Variable Length Bounds there!
  • @komradebob yeah! Pure Totten.
  • For the folks following along at home, Variable Length Bounds just means that the game/Ref can use turns of different lengths during the course of play.

    IOW, they can zoom in/zoom out or use slo-mo/montage or whatever terms makes most sense to you. Turn length is more about the amount of action going on and control available and when you get to use new inputs, not a consistent amount of time.

    And it can be very variable, not just one or two or three different time frames written into the rules (like the Day/10 minute exploration turn /one minute combat roundof old timey D&D), based upon current need.

    If it helps, treat Bound as a synonym for Turn, and it makes more sense.

    It's useful for when some overall long 'projects" are being worked on, but there is also an opportunity for some action-packed violence ( or spates of it), but no one involved is quite sure when those will occur, or how frequently.


    Off the top of my head, think about maybe a siege situation in the Middle Ages as an example. Sometimes Days/week/months are the appropriate turn lengths. Sometimes it gets zoomed down to more RPG combat scale. VLBs give you the ability to use the right scale of turn necessary to cover a long subject like a 3 month siege more readily and easily than more traditional set bound/turn lengths.


    [ I'm super glad you mentioned them @akooser. I'd honestly forgotten them, but they'd work amazingly well for a couple of more espionage/resistance oriented scenario concepts I'd pondered in the past.]
  • How well does a more freeform approach go over, akooser?

    My inclination would be to use something fairly loose and leave stuff in Ref hands, and I've heard of other folks doing convention games in that style successfully, yet it seems to run so very counter to mainstream commercial rules that I'd expect a high crash and burn rate among gamers.

    OTOH, perhaps this all relates to the NOT JUST WHITE GAMER DUDES, EVER!! bit of advice upthread.
  • Yeah more AW-ish freeform style works pretty well. Written order is fun with the sliding interval and if everyone is on board (NJWGDE rule).
  • Excellent!

    But my question was particularly about map management there. Unless you actually have separate maps for everyone, how would that scenario play out?

    With dummy markers, for example, wouldn't the players "see" a dummy marker approaching the bridge and be able to guess that it's the enemy?

    Also, in that scenario, what kind of fictional positioning might allow a side to win that objective? Is it stuff that might show up on the map, or the kind of thing that you would need to know about the history of whatever kind of warfare you're simulating to employ?

    Can you give an example of how it might play out? (Your example details for setting the odds, above, are really illustrative!)
  • With dummy marker(s), you may not know what the marker is exactly, or if it even represents a real unit, until some sort of interaction occurs to confirm some or all of the info.

    Done right, you may have enemies retreating before the Angels of Mons :wink:


    It isn't quite as Fog of War as some other options, but it is an easier to implement approach, generally. It's why it often saw use in two player, no referee, boxed wargames for a long time ( especially Avalon Hill and SPI games from the 60s/70s/80s).
  • Decoy counters works in a scenario with heavy cover or at night, and are specially useful for hiding the type of unit in a War of the Ring scenario where a specific unit is the target (or the scourge).
    The confusion between targets types in real life goes as far as mistaking allies and enemies tanks (we sell so many...)
  • I understand the principle, sure. I would imagine it has limitations (e.g. "go see if that bridge is undefended!" - if the referee hasn't placed a marker there, we all know it's undefended), but I suppose that's an acceptable sacrifice now and then. I would still imagine it requires some very specific referee skills to keep the "board" and its movements unclear, but I'd imagine those can be learned, like GM skills.
  • I understand the principle, sure. I would imagine it has limitations (e.g. "go see if that bridge is undefended!" - if the referee hasn't placed a marker there, we all know it's undefended), but I suppose that's an acceptable sacrifice now and then. I would still imagine it requires some very specific referee skills to keep the "board" and its movements unclear, but I'd imagine those can be learned, like GM skills.
    Whoa, let's back up a bit, because I think I sere where the confusion partially is coming from. Maybe.


    Dummy markers are being used when there are at least two human players (other than the ref) competing with one another, not ( generally) when it is being run like an RPG, with all players on one side versus NPC competition.

    Soooo, pretend there are 4 player each in two teams, Red and Blue. Everyone has team orders + individual goals.

    Right, so let's go down to one individual Blue player, Blue #2 ( "Colonel Aqua").

    Colonel Aqua gets the following markers:

    3X Infantry Brigade
    1X Artillery Battery
    1X Artillery Limbers
    1X Light Cavalry
    4x Dummy/Blank Markers

    When it is Colonel Aqua's time to set out his markers, he places them face down on the map/board. Only the backs ( all blue in color presumably) are showing. During play, he can look at his own pieces, the ref can look at them, possibly members of his own side can look at them, but the enemy cannot look at them except in certain circumstances.

    If Colonel Aqua begins moving those markers, there's no real way to know if the markers are real, or fake, or their type until something happens that clearly confirms its existence and identity. Generally, Dummy markers are removed at that point.

    In a head to head, no referee game, generally all markers are placed before play starts. The same thing probably happens in a refereed game as well, if these types of methods are used.


    So, feasibly, Colonel Aqua, defending the bridge, could set up 4 Dummy markers on and around the bridge, with the rest of his forces elsewhere, or intermixed with the dummy markers.


    With that in mind, you'd still need to probe to see what, if anything was actually defending the bridge, if you were a member of Team Red tasked with securing the bridge.

    I mean, there are 9 Blue markers near the bridge, on both sides of the river and on the bridge, but which are the real forces? Is the bridge held directly, or have the enemy forces set up scattered with some on both banks, but none on the bridge? Have the enemy forces actually set up on the far back of the bridge or are they all on the near side of the river, ready to make a series of fall back defenses across the bridge as necessary, to hold you up longer?


    The same thing could be done with Team Blue as a whole. Maybe Team Blue ( the defender) can take all of their Dummy Markers and give them to whatever team members they want, in any amounts. In that form, you could feasibly create a whole phantom front or attack column.


    If both sides have Dummy Counters, well, things are pretty interesting, at least at the start of the battle.
  • FWIW, @Paul_T , wait for me to ask a ton of clarifying questions when it comes to multiplayer initiative, individual player scale/scope of actions, and methods for getting much of anything done in a period of 4 hours or so real-time.


    The stuff you're asking about I have experience with.


    It's that other stuff that I find hard to visualize/grok fully. :neutral:
  • Ah! Excellent. As usual, an example helps clarify very nicely. (I didn't realize, for instance, that the players get to place those markers themselves.) A very nice partial solution to fog of war challenges!

  • It depends. I can think of a few games where the Ref or the scenario place the markers, but that's usually the way I've seen it done.
  • Ohhh yeah. Sorry got lost in work ;)
  • Ohhh yeah. Sorry got lost in work ;)
    Damned inconvenient, Real Life, what?
  • (I haven't been posting/reading as often recently, but I'm following this with interest! Esp. as I'm just starting up a Frostgrave campaign, and so have orthogonal but related concerns in mind.)
  • I understand the principle, sure. I would imagine it has limitations (e.g. "go see if that bridge is undefended!" - if the referee hasn't placed a marker there, we all know it's undefended), but I suppose that's an acceptable sacrifice now and then. I would still imagine it requires some very specific referee skills to keep the "board" and its movements unclear, but I'd imagine those can be learned, like GM skills.
    Yeah, there a lot of GM training and also adapting this to your local stakeholders ;) What works out here in Nuevo Mexico may not fly in your area.
  • Also, in that scenario, what kind of fictional positioning might allow a side to win that objective? Is it stuff that might show up on the map, or the kind of thing that you would need to know about the history of whatever kind of warfare you're simulating to employ?
    I'll get an example written out too @Paul_T

    Typically fictional position stuff is related to what's on the map. In others words the map is a living world. So my farmers have access to their wheat fields. They can use that to leverage other stuff. Like we'll burn our fields unless you give us equal rights or standing during the ceremonies.

  • (I haven't been posting/reading as often recently, but I'm following this with interest! Esp. as I'm just starting up a Frostgrave campaign, and so have orthogonal but related concerns in mind.)
    I'm curious about this tangent, since I have been putting stuff together for Rangers of Shadow Deep!
  • Oh and the freeform approach needs some structure. Like bathroom breaks and what not ;) And the some space where folks can have quieter conversations.

  • One of the big things for the refs in these kind of games is wrangling out the intent. Totten talks about his. He called it will the intent into play. The ref asks clarifying questions to get at the fictional intent. The ref helps to judge the intent using very specific rules to come up with an odds ratio.
  • @komradebob This "multiplayer initiative, individual player scale/scope of actions, and methods for getting much of anything done in a period of 4 hours or so real-time" all comes down to the design of the game.
  • edited February 9
    @komradebob This "multiplayer initiative, individual player scale/scope of actions, and methods for getting much of anything done in a period of 4 hours or so real-time" all comes down to the design of the game.
    Yer killin' me here!

    I mean...well, yeah, obviously! :smiley:

    What I was hoping for were some examples of already existing techniques to accomplish that.
  • Hahahah so secret @komradebob
  • The main design tool is that the players can run 90% of the game without a ref present. Jason's game I mention above does this really well. My main job was setting the stage, keeping track of real time - every 15 mins an event card was flipped that changed things. Making sure folks knew they could move their toys anywhere on the map unless someone stopped them.

  • Hahahah so secret @komradebob
    I'm going to have to learn secret handshakes and dress up in robes of some sort to learn these secrets, aren't I.
  • Ha. I need to find a different of saying this then @komradebob . Let me think about that.
  • Ha. I need to find a different of saying this then @komradebob . Let me think about that.
    It may be one of those things you've done so much it seems second nature for you.
  • edited February 15
    @akooser:

    One of the big things I'm wondering about in a more freeflowing, multi-faction games, how do you both handle movement and prevent what I think of as the Vampire LARP Combat Pile-in.


    That's what I would see in LARPs in ye olden tymes of the 90s where, supposedly, some sort of combat was occurring at a distance from the "Elsyium" or whatever, yet suddenly every Vamp in the game was there because combat took longer to resolve ( in real time) than it took to walk across the bar ( in real time) and gather your pals and return.

    (It was a major thing that turned me off to combat heavy and Vamp LARPs, actually)
  • How many players can meaninfully participate in these narrative wargames? A dozen maybe? Or even a class of students? If those are possible, how exactly?
  • Oh, I like those questions!
  • @hamnacb depends on the design. 4-8 or up to 20-30. How is a better question. I mean if your goal is 20 people then that design looks way different then 4 people right? Each game has to be tailored to your expected value of N.

    I run Shock Social Sci Fi with 22 people in a classroom. But I redesign it a bit to make it work.
  • I would really dig through paxsims and see how their games are designed. That's where I usually go first. https://paxsims.wordpress.com/
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