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Author Topic: Thoughts on RoS mass combat  (Read 9931 times)
Ben Lehman
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« on: February 13, 2003, 12:16:20 PM »

I don't know if Brian Gleichman is a dirty name around here (he has said some mean and nasty things about RoS) but I have just been reading his articles about tactics at rpg.net and had them combine with some ideas about RoS mass combat that have been churning in my head.  I have no idea if Jake already knows the shape of his mass combat system but, even if so, maybe this will provide some interesting ideas to people working such things out on their own.  I lack enough free time right now to flesh this out into a full system, so it will most likely remain skeletal on it's own accord.  Anyway, enough rambling introduction.

Although RPGs frequently have "mass combat systems," there is rarely any acknowledgement that there are really two levels of non-personal combat -- the tactical and the strategic.  Most games focus solely on the tactical, but the strategic level is actually far more important (resulting in phrases like "winning the battle, but losing the war.")

Thus, I think that a satisfactory mass combat engine will model both the tactical and strategic levels of warfare.  Ideally, the strategic level should be to the tactical level as the tactical level is to the personal level, and it should be possible to interpret each strategic roll as a simplified group of tactical rolls, and each tactical roll as a simplified group of personal rolls.  Simply put, each die result in tactical combat could represent the outcome of a personal combat (or small number of personal combats), and similarly with strategic and tactical.  If you had the time, you could roll out all the personal combats to decide tactical outcomes, and the tactical system would still be useful as a framework for doing so.

Right.

So, the basic idea for the tactical system is such -- it is first and foremost very similar to the personal combat system, but designed to cover situations where the personal combat system would become obnoxiously difficult to resolve -- groups of 20 - 500 people.  These people would be divided into "squads," probably by what weapons they are using.  I imagine that, in trying to model the strong advantage that RoS gives to outnumbering your opponents, the size of the squad would determine the number of dice, whereas the skill of the squad would determine it's attack and defense difficulties, as well as its resistance to damage (toughness, more or less.)
Each squad, depending on what type it was and the skill level of the commander, would have access to different "techniques" such as "charge" for cavalry or "hold the line" or pikemen.  These techniques would be quite powerful, as you would only be able to commit dice from troops that had access to them (a cavalry charge should be able to frighten sword infantry even if the infantry outnumber the cavalry by 3 to 1.)
Wounding:  Shock represents casualties, and is taken from whatever unit was used to defend from the attack.  "pain" represents the confusion following a strong attack, and is spread throughout the entire group.
Pool refresh, as usual, is automatic.
Conceivably, the commander could have to make a skill check to pull of more esoteric techniques.
Spiritual attributes could be added if and only if a vast majority of the squad, and the commander, have the same or similar spiritual attribute coming into play.  Further, the gift "true leadership" allows the commander to add his spirituals.
Rounds are probably 5 minutes each.

That's about it for tactical level.

Now the strategic level.  Sadly, this is the place where you really need to start using a map.

The strategic level is for when the tactical level becomes obnoxious -- 400 - 20,000 man armies.  On the strategic level, there are really only two types of troops -- armies and navies.  These are, most likely, best handled as seperate "attackers" with different people controlling them, so there is no real need for different techniques to different troops.  If you really wanted, you could have different army "types" with different "techniques," but I don't really see that such is necessary, and unecessary muddling sucks.  There are general techniques, though, available from the skill of the general.
Essentially, you have armies.  Each one has a dice pool determined strictly by size.  Experience is largely unimportant, as most large armies are most greens and conscripts, but an experienced army could have bonuses to ATN or toughness.  The DTN is strictly determined by the terrain the army inhabits, and quite possibly the ATN as well.
You can split your armies dice pool into assorted groups, and have different ones in different places.  Nonetheless, for simplicity, an entire army is considered to have "initiative" or not at any given time.  The attacker declares any number of "strikes" to different territories, and the defender must then allocate armies in defense of those strikes.  Results are rolled, armies killed, etc, as normal RoS combat.  Different techniques would cover attacks that are to occupy territory, raze an area, or just kill enemy troops.
The real kicker is this -- your armies don't refresh automatically.  You must provide them food (from the area they are on or with convoys) in order to buy a refresh.  Further, as an optional rule, armies that are not fed for multiple turns could go "bandit" and simply occupy the territory and ravage the peasants.
Spiritual attributes do not generally apply in strategic combat, but a general with the gift "true leadership" can apply them.
That's all on strategic.


anyway.  Comments?

yrs--
--Ben
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toli
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« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2003, 01:31:07 PM »

Ben,

I like the general approach that you have.  I would place more emphasis on opposed rolls using strategy and tactics skills.  The skills exist, so they should have a big role (otherwise what's the point of having them).  Various modifiers for things like tactics, troop morale, troop experience, weapons & armor, and army size could add dice to these rolls.  The level of success could affect damage to each side.   Eg.  at the tactical level, pikemen who 'hold the line'  vs.  a cavalry charge might get +2 dice.  The cavarly might lose dice for running headlong into  wedge of spears.   Winning by 3 might mean 10% losses for the winner, and 30% losses for the loser.  Winning by 5 might mean 5% losses for the winner and 50% losses for the loser.  

I think I would reverse the shock and pain use.  Shock could represent temporary, recoverable losses.  Pain permanent losses.  This more closely follows regular combat.  One might use a leadership roll to recover shock losses (reorganize the unit).  % success = immediate recovery, 3 successes = after one round.. or something like that.  I might also let the number of sucesses from a leadership roll add dice to the strategy or tactics rolls.   That way, SA's could be added directly to the rolls like normal....

You left out the level of the individual.  What happens to the individual PCs in combat? I had thought of (1) a battle roll to avoid random damage from things like arrows, and (2) some sort of CP vs. a likely opponent.

I think that I would also find a way to combine the two.  That way in a bit battle, several PCs can be involved.  If a PC (other than the army commander) heads a unit, the number of tactical success could add (or subtract from) the number of strategic success.  If a PC wins his opposed tactical skill roll by 1, there is no effect at the stratigic level.  If the PC wins by 3+ an additional success is added to the strategy roll.  If the PC wins by 5+, 2 success are added.  If the PC loses....success are subtrated similarly...

One thing that I haven't been able to figure out how to add in is the effect of armor and mobility in certain situations.  In general armor shoud prevent damage.  However, if an army is routed, heavy troops will have a harder time escaping than light troops.  Likewise cavarly would suffer less damage that infantry...oh well.

Any way those are my thoughts...NT
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NT
Brian Leybourne
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« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2003, 02:58:42 PM »

Interesting. I've actually been working on Mass Combat lately (in-between bouts with the Character Generator and Combat Sim). Some of your thoughts are very close to what I have been doing.

Brian.
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Brian Leybourne
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2003, 03:12:10 PM »

Quote from: Brian Leybourne
Interesting. I've actually been working on Mass Combat lately (in-between bouts with the Character Generator and Combat Sim). Some of your thoughts are very close to what I have been doing.


BL>  Don't know if you're at liberty to share them, but I would certainly be interested in seeing where we agree / differ.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2003, 03:25:54 PM »

Quote from: toli
Ben,  I like the general approach that you have.  I would place more emphasis on opposed rolls using strategy and tactics skills.  The skills exist, so they should have a big role (otherwise what's the point of having them).  Various modifiers for things like tactics, troop morale, troop experience, weapons & armor, and army size could add dice to these rolls.


BL>  I am very fond of having the number of dice rolled be strictly based on troop size, simply because in my experience mass combat systems often run up against a problem with size not mattering enough.  I think that those things (morale, experience, weapons, armor) would have a big effect on TOU, WILL (for damage soaking) and similar things.
As far as the strategy and tactics skills, I quite forgot about them (my RoS is presently 3000 miles away.)  I am torn between wanting to make them useful and not wanting to make them TOO useful, because they are skills, and should not substitute for actual player ingenuity or the capacity of the military force.  That said, not having them should really screw you over.
Some thoughts:
  Those skills could be used to generate "command points" (ala sillohouette tactical) before engagement, which could be used to boost roles, automatically succeed in maneuvers, etc.
  Those skills are useful in refreshing pools / recovering from "pain" temporary CP losses (I got shock and pain reversed -- oops.)
  Those skills must be rolled to perform more complicated maneuvers.
  Those skills determine the mobility of troops (possibly with above...)

  I dislike the use of % damage.  I think that damage could work the same way  -- penalty dice stacking until the unit is eliminated (no more CP) or routed (level 5 wound.)

Quote from: toli

You left out the level of the individual.  What happens to the individual PCs in combat? I had thought of (1) a battle roll to avoid random damage from things like arrows, and (2) some sort of CP vs. a likely opponent.


So I did.  Here was my thoughts on the matter --
Each personal scale victory for a PC translates, roughly, into a free success on a tactical level roll.  For instance, if a PC archer takes down 5 enemies in a round (that should be an amazing roll -- maybe we should shorten the rounds to 1 minute?) then that would give 5 auto-successes on the attack roll (dice are not rolled, merely considered success.)

Similarly, each tactical-scale victory would translate to an auto-success in the strategic level.

Armor -- I imagine that this would add to the DTN of the unit (the TOU represents the ability to fight together and hold good position even in melee, not the armor that they are wearing) but subtract / add difficulty to any movement attempts.

yrs--
--Ben
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Brian Leybourne
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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2003, 03:41:48 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
As far as the strategy and tactics skills, I quite forgot about them (my RoS is presently 3000 miles away.)  I am torn between wanting to make them useful and not wanting to make them TOO useful, because they are skills, and should not substitute for actual player ingenuity or the capacity of the military force.


They should most certainly substitute for player ingenuity. People with very poor RL tactical skills should not be penalised when they want to take a battle commander, just as people who player a lot of wargames and think well strategically IRL shouldn't be able to get away with doing well in battle despite not spending the points on those kinds of skills.

In battle, the "Tactics", "Strategy", and of course "Battle" skills should be very important.

Just my 2c.

Brian.
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Brian Leybourne
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Brian Leybourne
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2003, 03:44:29 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
Don't know if you're at liberty to share them, but I would certainly be interested in seeing where we agree / differ.


My notes are very messy at the moment, as I have not got around to tidying them up (I'm almost done with V1 of the Character Gen, so that's been taking up my time). Let me get them into some semblance of order first.

Brian.
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Brian Leybourne
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2003, 03:52:53 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
As far as the strategy and tactics skills, I quite forgot about them (my RoS is presently 3000 miles away.)  I am torn between wanting to make them useful and not wanting to make them TOO useful, because they are skills, and should not substitute for actual player ingenuity or the capacity of the military force.


Quote from: Brian Leybourne

They should most certainly substitute for player ingenuity. People with very poor RL tactical skills should not be penalised when they want to take a battle commander, just as people who player a lot of wargames and think well strategically IRL shouldn't be able to get away with doing well in battle despite not spending the points on those kinds of skills.


BL>  In certain game systems (say, Amber) I would certainly agree with you here, but RoS sets a precedent that, especially in regards to combat, dice can replace tactics only with great difficulty.  In RoS combat, the game designer can apparently beat nearly anyone with a "boy with a stick" character (at least, so I am told.)  Why?  Because he can make good use of the system.  Similarly, I have often had the experience of a novice player with much larger stats being beaten by a more clever, experienced player.  This, I feel, is a distinct part of the coolness of Riddle of Steel, and thus should extend into the mass combat system.

I am not, particularly, a wargamer, (my interests lie more with heavy RP, LARPing, and such) and my intent was not to design a "wargamelike" system which required the players to master a whole new set of skills.  It is intended to be similar to the RoS combat system -- thus, hopefully, someone with RoS personal scale combat experience could bring that to bear on the tactical and strategic levels.  Indeed, I think such a scaling is vital to any RoS mass combat system.

For instance, a lunge-heavy fighter would be more likely to charge in with a general melee and try to generate as many dice as swiftly as possible to destroy the opponent.  A more cautious fighter might hang back and rely on the techniques availible to his archers and pikemen.  On a strategic scale, this is the difference between rapid strikes to gain ground and a gradual, defensive wearing down of the opponent's armies.

Anyway...  I suppose it is a difference of opinion here, and both sides are pretty valid.  In fact, RPGs are constantly walking the line between in-game skill and out of game skill (if everything relies on the first, the game is hardly any fun, and if everything relies on the second, you're not really role-playing.)  I have had great fun arguing your side in discussions about social mechanics for LARPs, and I can certainly see where you're coming from here.

yrs--
--Ben
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toli
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« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2003, 04:30:45 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
Anyway...  I suppose it is a difference of opinion here, and both sides are pretty valid. --Ben


I think you are entirely correct there.  I would call it a difference of preference though not opinion.  I personally prefer mass combat systems that slide to more PC control and less Player control, if you know what I mean.  More RPG less war game.  Ideally, we would be able to get BOTH eventually.  A faster more abstract RPG approach and a detailed war game approach.  I would still allow some level of tactical decision, I'm just not sure how to do it...  

My approach to mass combat is influenced by the Pendragon Battle system which is largely abstract and relies on PC skills to determine what's going on in the battle.  There is a GURPS system too that is also RPG based not wargame based.

I don't think I would base the system too closely on army size.  There are pleny instances of smaller, better equiped, better trained forces defeating large uncontrollable armies.  I DO think size should matter (don't even think of commenting on that phrase) but I would just apply it differently.

Either way, I'd be interested to see what you come up with in the end.  I certainly wouldn't be upset with two systems for TROS one a RPG like battle system and the other a war game system that could be used with mineatures....heaven forbit...NT
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Darth Tang
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2003, 09:36:23 AM »

Ben, I really like your squad combat ideas; I think it has the makings of a decent skirmish system. The idea of 'units have skills' was in RM's War Law, and gave long-term campaigns a huge motivation to train, train, train.

And therein lies the weakness in your 'strategic' level: numbers are no valid use for unit strengths. History is replete with examples of smaller, well-trained units beating much larger forces. The Roman Legions routinely beat forces of extreemely warlike people many times their number because of training, equipment, and tactitcs.

IMO, as an RPG GM, what is needed is three things:

1) A skirmish system to resolve fights too large to handle with the game system. Say 30-40 per side. *

2) A battle system to resolve fights of 50-250 per side range (roughly; figure Goblins would field more, Ogres less). *

* = Both systems should allow interaction and effect on the battle by multiple (a party) of Pcs in leadership roles. Such as the Party Leader in command, with PCs commanding sub-units. And be quick & clear.

3) A quick way of resolving mass battles which covers general factors. This would be to preserve GM imparttiality; the GM would 'resolve' the battle by die rolls in a few minutes, and then work the PCs through the events in narrative style. FFor this, there' a good system in the Shengoku rules. I used it for a large battle in which the PCs were guarding one commander's heir. The battle was too large for a band of adventurers to affect, so their part came when their side collapsed...the idea was good, but lacking a decent & quick skirmish system, I didn't get as much out of the system as I hoped.
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Darth Tang
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« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2003, 09:41:12 AM »

You can download their mass combat rules (for Sengoku) for free here:

http://www.goldrushgames.com/downloads.html

Its pretrty for for #3 in my above post.
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arxhon
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« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2003, 09:16:58 PM »

Ben's approach is the most thought out of the bunch, and obviously the product of some work.

I ran several tactical level combats in WFRP. The advantage here is that i happen to also be a WFB player (WFRP got me into WFB) and so knew what the stats were for the various troops and could resolve combats the party were not involved in fairly quickly and accurately, with a few simple d6 rolls.

For combats the characters did get involved in, i used the standard combat rules for the PCs, and the simplified rules for the NPcs. The party wound up doing better than the NPCs since they could do assorted levels of wounds as opposed to the simple "hit, wound, save" that i was rolling for the NPCs. Which is as it should be, the characters were heroes and should be more 'killy" on the battlefield.

This worked very well since the two systems are relatively interchangable.

For something like TROS, where it has Strategy and Tactics skills, well, things get a little stickier. Characters should have some effect on the tactical level. On the strategic level though, unless they are in command of the army, their actions won't have too much effect on the battlefield. At this stage, characters should be involved in small raiding actions, scouting, assassination missions.....if they want to get involved in frontline fighting, then a simple roll to determine what happened to them may be all that's necessary 'i.e." oops, you died. Well, you knew there was a good chance of happening before you went out. Sorry.If you like, you can spend a Luck to stay alive." A little harsh, but a reality. Warn the players, first, of course.

A simple roll or 6 for every day or week or whatever of fighting will resolve overall strategic actions.

Tactically, a character's leadership, in telling the unit to 'Go that way! Kill those archers before they slaughter our knights!" and individual fighting skills will have a decent effect. It will take a combination of quick rolls and individual combat to properly resolve these levels of conflict.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2003, 05:08:10 PM »

Quote from: Brian Leybourne
Quote from: Ben Lehman
As far as the strategy and tactics skills, I quite forgot about them (my RoS is presently 3000 miles away.)  I am torn between wanting to make them useful and not wanting to make them TOO useful, because they are skills, and should not substitute for actual player ingenuity or the capacity of the military force.


They should most certainly substitute for player ingenuity. People with very poor RL tactical skills should not be penalised when they want to take a battle commander, just as people who player a lot of wargames and think well strategically IRL shouldn't be able to get away with doing well in battle despite not spending the points on those kinds of skills.

In battle, the "Tactics", "Strategy", and of course "Battle" skills should be very important.

Just my 2c.

Brian.


But isn't that a simulationist sort of stance?

Its the sort of thing that just sounds right to one person and just wrong to another, like types of music can be.

With mass combat rules, stuff like this has to be decided from the start (if its narativist, simulationist, or some other ist I haven't name called).

Take for example, shooting a bow. A player might be very good at shooting a bow, but that doesn't mean his characters get that same level of skill. But this isn't purely for simulationist reasons...the bow shooting player just can't express his physical skill in any way in the game. So the other schools of play, like gamist and narativist in this case just take the path of the simulationist (I think)

But when it comes to tactics, it isn't a physical skill of the player, it's at a mental level. Its somthing he can express...he can actually express somthing truely of himself into the game world, he's not limmit by phsical elements (which is part of the reason why game mechanics are needed...they cover the physical bits of the imaginary world, while the player handles the emotions/thoughts). Side note: This can really produce solid suspension of disbelief.

I'm of a belief that a lot of people want to 'win' at a game because of what they chose to do themselves, not because they designed a character in a certain way. Otherwise their just a punter and not the jockey.

Well, just some thoughts on the matter. Sometimes its hard to know where player skill should end and PC skill begins.
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Jake Norwood
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« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2003, 06:51:40 PM »

Re: Noon's previous post

The thing with TROS is that all three modes appear in one form or another (it was written without any "theory" in mind...just the way I like to play). I think that narrativist issues should be wildly important just to give the battles the proper drama. I think that the "thinking it out" thing (gamist? simulationist?) is a staple of the TROS mindset--that the player's decisions are worth more than his dice. The skills are there however to model characters that are better at something then a player is (just as not all proficiencies are equal in dice).

It needs to:
-have a strong narrativist slant
-demand hard decisions and put fate in the players hands more than the characters
-be fun

Jake
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2003, 02:50:31 AM »

Quote from: Jake Norwood
Re: Noon's previous post

The thing with TROS is that all three modes appear in one form or another (it was written without any "theory" in mind...just the way I like to play). I think that narrativist issues should be wildly important just to give the battles the proper drama. I think that the "thinking it out" thing (gamist? simulationist?) is a staple of the TROS mindset--that the player's decisions are worth more than his dice. The skills are there however to model characters that are better at something then a player is (just as not all proficiencies are equal in dice).

It needs to:
-have a strong narrativist slant
-demand hard decisions and put fate in the players hands more than the characters
-be fun

Jake


Of course your right. TROS obviously has a blend of styles, otherwise it wouldn't have the blend of realistic combat and spiritual attributes (which are a bit at the end of their repective spectrums).

But I would say that given the realistic combat, at least in page count, is the primary component (however, the way SA are implimented is subtly powerful...perhaps more so). Perhaps I should have said from the start some 'ist' has to be chosen as the primary focus, others blended in. Well, either that or some focus will become dominant through the writing, by its self without guidance.

I think the concept that 'the players descisions are worth more than his dice' is more a leaning toward gamist, as simulationist would mean that you can only use so and so tactics if you have so and so dice in the right skill. Just an opinion, of course.

Personally I think skills are best employed as an assistant. For example, the player is presented with the tatical scenario...he's given an opportunity to figure out something himself. If stumped or if he just wants to, he can fall back to the skill: tactics or such. A pass means the GM hands him a pre-prepaired hint or tactic he can choose to use. He may even blend this tactic with his own ideas and hybred it.

Personally I'm wondering just how detailed and gamist/simulationist (god I feel wankey for using those terms over and over!) people want this. Myself, I'd be tempted to run a big battle by just having one PC at each one, fighting guys...how successfully he fights strongly influences how the rest of the battle goes. He chops off a head and his fellow men at arms chop off enemies heads. Doesn't much much sense at all, but I think its more narrationist. You'd also have the 'Hey, though we PC's can't kill all the bad guys in this battle, by fighting our way to the top of that hill and pushing that pacariously balanced rock down on the enemy, the actions of us few will have a significant impact' sort of stuff and similar. Perhaps less cornball though! :)

Then again I think some would prefer unit A to roll dice against unit B until one of the counters is removed from the table. Its valid gaming style, but really to me that crys out to be blended with another style. I would hazard to say the myriad complexities of massive combat requires a primary focus on narrativist style as default, because you just can't get enough detail in to really cover the big battles. Besides, even in this modern age, who really knows the exact details of what happens in every battle, every war? It all gets distorted, all you ever get are stories (or statistics...damn lies, of course!). So having exact mass combat systems where you have control and knowledge of all, is probably more unrealistic than a simulationist or gamist should want. Fog of war and all that.

Then again, some people would think that narrativist version of mass combat is just too loose assed to do it that way. And it really can be.

So, how much to blend is a question. Then again planning at such a level can be stiffling...then again, a dominant style will come out in the end, regardless.

EDIT (Because I always edit): But yup, atleast there's always one thing to focus on always....FUN!

And now I run out of anything to say, if I had such to begin with! :)

Callan
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