A Narrativist Wargame / A Walk Through The Forge

Started by DevP, April 12, 2012, 03:47:49 AM

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I'm going go for using all four of my Forge threads as my inspirations, and will build a Narrative Wargame of some sort. If you're a bit tl;dr, my very next post will start describing an actual game and title. However, I'd like to start with some meandering about the linkages between these threads, and some Forge memories while I'm at it.

There are the posts I got:
(1) Narrativist Wargaming
(2) Converging Plotlines in the Land of Nodd
(3) Accuracy vs. Precision
(4) Ever-After: Currency & Advancement

I first came to the Forge around '03 and '04 (ask me about my coil-bound copy of Dust Devils! I have no idea where it is either). In these posts above, I was struck by some of the familiar names I found: Zak Arntson, Mike Holmes, Paganini, Jonathan Walton, Shreyas Sampat, Ralpha Mazza, Chris Chinn and of course Ron Edwards. Threads #1, #3 and #4 are from "Forge Classic", barely overlapping with when I starting reading. Thread #2 is a bit more modern (if '07 counts as such), I see Paul T, who's written a bunch here and there. It's neat. Some of these threads are hashing out core theory stuff, especially stuff like #3 where we're trying to nail some terminology down.

I should mention that some of those names above are people who've become IRL friends. I've burned a lot of hours with the Forge and the various post-Forge communities, and - great gaming aside - it's given me some real connections to people that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I've had a small part in the creative life of various individuals, and they've been a part of mine. That's something undeniably cool.

But seriously, that's more than enough name-dropping. The greatest strength in a creative community is when newcomers are able to contribute. I'm taking the most inspiration from Thread #1 ("Narrativist Wargaming"), posted by amiel with 49 posts. We see Ron all over this thread giving some useful info (Ron is seriously a generous dude in terms of his willingness to give feedback), and I really dig the process talk from Zak and hardcoremoose going into useful process talk. Everyone has a chair at the table in this conversation, and that's as it should be. If this game goes anywhere, I need to email amiel a beer.

As my first meta-ingredient, I'll take narrativist wargaming. I've been interested in using tabletop to tell broader political stories, and war is as powerful a crucible as any. I've seen this concept reveal itself repeatedly in my timeline. A few years ago, I played a session of "Warhammer 1001K" with Mr. Walton and Mr. Paoletta in Boston; as the name suggests, this was a hack of "1001 Nights" and "Warhammer 40K", using ad hoc miniatures and terrain to ground our grim stories. More recently, Joe Mcdaldno has been working on "narrativist miniatures game" (sans war) through his blog. There's a concept here that grabs people.

Thread #1 also talks about using relationships and focusing on multiple characters - perhaps more than one character per player. Interestingly, Thread #2 ("Land of Nodd") and Thread #4 ("Ever-After") also both have devices for trading narration and character roles.  So we have my second meta-ingredient: multiple characters per player. (It's interesting to come back to this, because for a while I have eschewed multi-character focus in my games in favor of single-character focus.)

Thread #2 is about a related design goal: making sure plotlines converge, possibly through the use of targeted mechanics. The meta-ingredient of plot convergence is definitely necessary if the game is broad in scope and featuring many characters. The game makes reference to a variety of influences and mechanics, and I'll be more broadly considering these. Presenting "a very rigid procedure for play", for example, sounds helpful for a game that aims to be sweeping in scope.

Thread #3 is an interesting delve into some fundamental design issues of accuracy and precision. The thread goes into a few different angles and possible definitions here, but there's an interesting questions about: what kinds of facts are available in a system, which facts go into a resolution system, which facts come out of this system, and how well this system emulates the expectations of the setting. My resolution system will directly tackle these questions of accuracy and precision.

Thread #4 has lots of great ideas about the use of roles to structure play (with some blur between whether these belong to the player or the character). We see broader "super-character" archetypes having broader narrative influence over the individual characters within smaller stories. So, I'll look to adapt character archetypes and player roles. (I guess I've made stealing from Mr. Walton a meta-meta-ingredient.)

Now let's talk about narrativism. There's much mention of it in these theads, and in appropriate Forge tradition, the definitions get a bit blurry between proper GNS Narrativism (Story Now and Premise) and various narrative techniques (narration trading and shared authority). I'm no literalist when it comes to definitions, and have accepted that when people talk about "narrativism", they can mean many different things. I'll take on the goal of using it all: story now, premise, narration trading and shared authority. ("Ever-After" and "Land of Nodd" seem to be drawing upon several of these.) Thus the last meta-ingredient: narrativism and narrativism.

I'll leave you with some choice quotes from the posts above.

Quote"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."

Quote"I'm excited about the potential of this game to play out stories with converging plotlines (like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, or the books of Steven Erikson). Do you think any rules support would be necessary for this sort of play, aside from what is already there? Can you think of any mechanic to encourage and reward, explicitly, drawing various plotlines together?"

Quote"So if you get lots of data about what major vein was hit when the bullets rip through Superman's skin you have a precise but not accurate system. If you know the attack failed (and always will fail with a hand gun) but the system leaves it to the player or GM to tell why it failed you have a precise but not accurate system."

Quote"Drops are drops of water from the Ocean of Streams of Story"

Thank you for reading.


So, "Walk Through The Forge" was actually referring to my meanderings above, but it's perfectly fine (if a bit in-jokey) as a working title. And it certainly fits. And so:

Through the blacksmith's toil, steel is wrought.
By the will of tyrants, war is borne.
And in the forge of the battlefield, you uncover the truth.
Only the strong and the foolhardy would dare to...


I'll definitely use player roles to split duties so that the game is playable in a single session. Character archetypes will some set of tarot or oracle cards (something that I frequently come back to in my designs). The game might only be played once because it is, of course, played over the cartographer's map, and the outcome of battles will render that map useless and meaningless. I want to tell stories that are both personal and political.

Yikes. I may have written myself too much game.

Jason Pitre

Very compelling from my perspective.  Please do tell more about the cartographer's map, if you might?  Are they drawing a map during the course of play, producing an artifact? How does the map interact with the system?
Genesis of Legend Publishing
Telling New Stories around the Digital Fire


They're definitely modifying a map in the course of play, and using the map to frame opportunities and conflicts. I probably will veer away from making the map a tactical game in its own right, due both to time constraints and focus. But we've seen in various games (AW, of course) how a map creates a lot of buy-in and and suggest new opportunities.

I said "cartographer's map", and I was thinking that one player would have the job of adjusting the map through the game. I also thought they would create the map in the first place, but perhaps it makes more sense to create some pre-established "playsets", combining a map and some key places and people so that the game can get underway faster.

In my notebook, I have the various meta-ingredients and I'm trying to find a good implementation for each.