Friday, May 15, 2020

'Campaign Gaming'? 'Wargaming'? 'Role-playing Gaming'?

Chirine and Vrisa, in the thick of it. Again.

Oh, yeah, here's something to do with the topic...

All this discussion of my model castle, both here and over on my Proboards forum, prompted a question from one of our regular readers as well as sparking a thread on the forum about rules sets.  What’s being asked about is how we integrated ‘straight role-playing games’ with what are now called ‘war-games’ – specifically, big miniatures battles - out at Phil’s.

I think that the first thing that needs to be remembered that back in the day, we didn’t know that there was any difference between what have - forty-five years later - now become two very different and very separate genres of games.

Back when Phil had started his original Twin Cities Tekumel game, Phil had been following Tony Bath's rules for running a campaign - he had a manuscript copy and knew Tony pretty well from the Society of Ancients. However, the players treated the campaign as a straight war-game campaign, and tended to run riot on the game table. Phil was a very, very good Ancients player, but trying to run both the game and the opposition was not working; if he ruled on something, he'd be accused of cheating to favor himself. (His players at the time, his original group, were a bunch of 'win-at-any-cost' 'power gamers', and not a lot of fun to game with if you didn't happen to like that particular style of gaming.) Phil had run about three to four big miniatures games before I started, and he didn’t do it afterwards - I wound up being a sort of 'deputy GM' for miniatures games, mostly because I had come on-line as the 'court painter', and he regarded me as a neutral. His players did not, which is why the group split.

We went on to our own games, and fought out several big battles on the tabletop like Castle Tilketl, Third Mar, and Anch'ke. Phil let the results stand, and he included them in his novels because they made for better dramatic narrative. But, we trusted Phil not to cheat, and he trusted us to do the same; it was a very different GM-player relationship then what he'd had with the other group.

From my point of view, both as a GM and player, it's pretty easy to do games like this in a campaign setting. We did this in Phil's campaign, back at the very beginning - I came in right after Michael Mornard won his Qadarni and Dave Houtla lost his (and started the war with Yan Kor.) What Phil had done was have the various Temples offer the players positions in the legions that they support. The players at that point, were all the classic 'barbarians off the boat' and were eking out a living in the odd-jobs market and trips down the Jakallan Underworld for Lady Mnella. So, being offered jobs in the forces was A Good Thing for the players. They mostly got commissions as junior officers, like most mercenaries would be, and were packed off to the Northwest Frontier.

    The context of all this was that this was at a time here in the Twin Cities when nobody knew how 'fantasy'-based RPG campaign were supposed to work. 'Fantasy gaming' at that time was a miniatures game - a 'war-game', if you will - where you lined up your lead elves and orcs ahd had it out on the table. The majority of 'fantasy' miniatures lines available reflected that reality; the first Tekumel miniatures, for example, were primarily 'military' miniatures, per Tony Bath's Hyborian campaign. This was, at that time, pretty much the only model that anyone had for how these things worked - and since Phil knew Tony through The Society of Ancients, and Tony had sent Phil a copy of the manuscript for his book on how to run a campaign - that was the play model that Phil used for his campaign.

    Back then, we had no idea that what's now called 'TTRPGs' were a different genre of game then what are now called 'war-games'; we slid from one to the other all the time - and didn't know we'd be Doing It Wrong some forty-five years into the future, in the opinions of some of the modern gamers I've talked with. We had already had the precedent of 'personality figures' in our games, which represented our in-game selves, and would appear leading our troops in the table-top battlefield. From there, it was a very short step - and to us, a natural progression to have these figures represent us in our 'role-playing' adventures.

    So, we had our characters hired / appointed / got drafted into legions, as deemed proper for our temples. In your case, your Vimuhla / Ksarul / Sarku people would be in a Vimuhla / Ksarul / Sarku unit, usually as low-ranking officers to start, and they'd be handed a set of orders and some NPC troopers and told to get on with the job. That's what Phil did in his campaign, and as I like to say "mayhem ensued".

    When I got started in Phil's group, it was as the 'court painter' to help Phil make the stuff he wanted to use in his games. Since this was an established group, Phil started me off at 3rd level - roll 1D4 for this - and I became a military sorcerer attached to the group's military force. Since I happen to be good at logistics, and the other players weren't, I became the group's 'staff officer' pretty quickly; I was in charge of producing the maps, for example, and that's how I started down the slippery slope to being a publisher.

    You don't need miniatures to play this kind of thing. You can roll up NPC troopers, or use dice / chits to represent them. You can use a set of RPG rules for smaller 'skirmish' games, with the PCs and their soldiers, or use a set of miniatures rules for larger battles that the PCs run as commanders. I normally play the opposition, but it's much funnier to bring in 'ringers' to play the PCs with a live opponent - I'm doing this for my S&S games, for example. You'll need to generate maps of the areas of operation, but that's fairly easy. Phil would have us a large-scale map, and Craig Smith would do a smaller-scale one of the area; I'd do the 'tactical' maps of the immediate area.

    I still do this, and I still run stuff the way Phil did it - run the game as if it was an RPG, with a good dose of free Kriegspiel in it like Dave Arneson did. Don't give the players a copy of any miniatures rules that you're using to run the game / campaign! They need to run their PCs, and not try to 'play by the rules' and be 'rules lawyers'. They need to game the world, and not game the rules. The players are there to run the show, and the troopers are there to kill stuff and do stuff as per the players' orders.

    I'd advise not trying to do this as a large miniatures campaign. Use maps and counters, like the old SPI games, and have your ringers give the orders; the players, being the junior officers / sorcerers, have to work inside this environment. "Qadardalikoi" or something like it from the Ancients period will work for rules - I set up my rules specifically as campaign rules, with this kind of situation in mind. If you need maps, let me know - I have spares of NW Frontier, for example. I thing I've got at least one sheet of blank counters, too, but any set of them from an Ancients board game will do - what you want is a tactical display of who's where. You might also want to look at a copy of Tony Bath's rules, if you don't already have them - it's what Phil used al the time.

    What you want is an 'adventure generator' for the players. The high command makes it's moves, in ignorance of each other, so the players are sent out as scouts to see what's going on. Then, once the larger forces come into contact, they serve as the people actually trying to run units - you can also have the ringers help with this, on the other side. I'd suggest mostly doing this as an RPG, but miniatures are what I like.

Does any of this make sense?

[EDIT - June 1st, 2020: The photo I had at the top of this post has been removed; I thought it was not a good thing to head the post with, given what happened Saturday morning.]


  1. Sure does. By the way, am I remembering correctly that you are working on a new rules set, post-Qadardalikoi?

    1. Thanks; I worry that I ramble on too much.

      Yes, a second edition to my rules; game play has advanced quite a bit since I first wrote them, and our games have evolved quite a bit. So, I thought I'd write some of that up for people.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks - it's a relief to know that I can be of interest to people. :)

  3. It makes perfect sense.

    And who in Gehenna says that's Doing It Wrong?!? It sounds like a blast; a set of games at different levels, the outcomes forming a narrative and influencing subsequent campaign events.

    1. Thank you! I worry that my ramblings will bore everyone.

      Answering your question, many of the gamers I've talked to over the past five+ years seem to 'have issues' with what went on forty-five+ years ago, as it doesn't seem t be the same as what they do nowadays. I'm not the only one who's had this reaction - both Michael Mornard and Bob Meyer have run into this, as well.

      The kind of campaign gaming that we did 'back when' had a different approach to games and gaming; it's a very different approach to what I see in 'mainstream gaming' at conventions and in the game stores. We ddi have a blast, and I'm hoping that people will find it a fun style of gaming.

      I'm not out to preach or compel; I'm out to have some fun with friends, and I believe that there are many ways to do it - I'm telling about how a bunch of people had one such approach.

      "We made stuff up, and we had fun!" - M. Mornard, Ancient Gamer

  4. It makes perfect sense. I am currently looking into trying to recreate some of that original feel of how campaigns were run By Tony Bath - his legendary Hyboria campaign still is a good source of inspiration. See also my blog for some of the materials I am trying to collect on Tony Bath's Hyboria:

  5. Great! Thanks! Happy to be of some help. :)