Monday, 10 February 2014

Forging the Narrative...#2

Greetings wargamers and hobbyists, and welcome once more to the War Room for the second part of this sporadic emission, which serves as a vent for my musings on campaigning in the miniature wargaming hobby.

After considering in part one what a campaign needs to be like in order to garner and maintain interest from participating players, for part two I would like to consider some of the first practical decisions that have to be made when planning the campaign itself.

For me, a good campaign needs a strong theme or narrative (after all, 'Forging the Narrative' is the name of the game these days), and this means that there needs to be an engaging story running through the whole thing, like letters running through a stick of rock. The question is, do you want the campaign to follow a set plot path through from beginning to end, or do you create a back story that leads the participants to the threshold, and then let the story develop naturally as the armies battle it out and attempt to achieve whatever objectives they have been set?

Each of the possible routes is perfectly valid, but the decision you have to make is whether you want the story to play out as you envisaged, ensuring the climactic final confrontation you originally planned, or whether you are happy to let the participants play out the rest of the story naturally, come what may as far as the story is concerned.

The ways that each of these options could work out are numerous. For example, when letting the players dictate the outcome, in a map based campaign the story that develops will be driven by the actions of the armies on the map, and where they choose to move, expand their empires, and engage their enemies. You might be playing a campaign that, instead of a map, allows players to choose the scenario to play next, and who against, which gives them a good degree of control over match ups and how the plot develops.

If you want to take more of a hand in pushing the story in the direction you want, you might have a map campaign or a narrative campaign with a pre-determined route that the armies battle down on order to reach the destination at which they will face their final battle. An example of this might be the Storm of Chaos Campaign (ooo, my favourite!), that Games Workshop ran what seems like an age ago now, which was played in stages, each one bringing Archaon and his horde closer to their prize - Middenheim, the City of the White Wolf.

So, I guess that's the simple question: do you as the organiser want the players to play out the story you have decided on, ensuring that you can plan a suitable finale? Or do you allow the players to take a greater role in determining the direction that the story takes, and risk losing the strong theme among all the strategic moves, avoidance tactics and power play that can ensue?

The answer to this question comes with the answer to another question: What do your players want? Do they want to be told what is happening around them, where they are going and who they have to fight, or do they prefer more autonomy, and a greater feeling that their actions are having a wider impact on the campaign?

In our own Club Campaign - ably run by Nick, with just a little input from myself - the Warhammer 40,000 Campaign that we are playing through has a simple structure, with some embellishments to allow the players a sense of involvement, but ultimately is dictated by the choice of scenarios and supporting story that we have put in place, and I think that we have found a good balance. Above all, it is still relatively simple to play out, once all the planning is done and ready to rip. 

The campaign has been laid out in three stages and at each stage, each of the players (eight players divided into two teams) play a battle against an unknown opponent (players are allocated their scenarios by their ‘Supreme Commander’), with the final stage being a grand finale. In the final showdown, tactical bonuses are awarded to each side depending on which battles they won earlier in the campaign, making their lives easier or more difficult depending on how they got on.

The clarity of knowing that the campaign will be completed in just three gaming sessions is a great way to ensure participation, maintain interest, and assures players that there will be a satisfying conclusion without it dragging on for months. Petering out into nothingness is probably the biggest threat to any campaign, so I think that starting simply and clearly is best. Let more involved and complicated campaigns come with time and experience, as players and organisers get a more developed idea of what they want, what works and what doesn’t in their gaming group.

This is probably a nice place to stop, as the next thing I want to talk about is 'factions and alliances', which raises more questions about simplicity VS drama and plot.

Until next time, thanks for reading...

P.S. Still no real progress, but got the three mini's undercoated. Soon.

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