Tournament Play vs Narrative Play

Posted: June 27, 2016 in Wargaming

Turn3Cycle2The target audience for this blog post is my gaming group.  What I’m writing about pertains to our campaigns, though can be applied outside as well.

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles for Bell of Lost Souls that explained what exactly narrative play is.  That series starts off here:

https://baelsoubliette.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/forging-the-narrative-what-is-narrative-gaming/

https://baelsoubliette.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/forging-the-narrative-what-is-narrative-gaming-part-ii-guest-editorial/

https://baelsoubliette.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/forging-the-narrative-part-ii-the-campaign/

https://baelsoubliette.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/forging-the-narrative-part-ii-the-campaign/

It generated a lot of conversation on BOLS, and highlighted that gamers and what makes them happy are very different.  Sometimes explosively so.  This is why before any campaign that I run, I make it a point to establish from the beginning that this is a Narrative Campaign.

What does that mean?

Pointedly, it means that its not fair.

Tournaments and leagues, and often pick up games are created and designed to be fair.  That is, the forces are symmetrical and the scenario is sterile so that the only thing the players have to play against are each other.

That has been the cultural default for wargaming since the mid 90s, so over twenty years now it has been ingrained and built up that all games should be set up like this.

Narrative Gaming takes that concept and spins it on its head.  The tales of battles often feature asymmetrical battles and environments that are just as deadly to the armies as much as the enemy are.

The bottom line of narrative gaming is that not all games are going to be fair.  There will be some games that are pretty even sure!  However, not all games will be like this.

Narrative gaming is not for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with someone that wants and needs absolute balance and fairness at all times.  Thats what tournaments and leagues are for, and as its the cultural default, players should have no problem finding these to join because they are literally everywhere.

Campaign Days, Narrative Scenarios, and What You Can Expect
Campaign days feature a day out of the month when we can all get together as one group and play a game together.  It is one of the pinnacles of the campaigns that I like to organize and is why I have them always on the last saturday of every month, so that players can plan accordingly.

Any campaign that I run will largely feature narrative type scenarios.  A narrative scenario can be fair, or it can give certain sides bonuses for playing well that month, or simply through where the battle is located.

Typically in every event that I have run over the past almost twenty years, there will be a campaign day event that ruffles someone’s feathers.  I have a long list of tirades, rants, rage quits, and exodus because a scenario wasn’t fair.

Even after talking about how narrative scenarios won’t always be fair.

The most explosive of these was the Lustria fantasy campaign.  Jungle fighting meant that forests once again blocked line of sight, and quicksand could swallow knight units up easily.

This ran counter to internet-meta where gunlines had laser guided cannons that could shoot across the table and where you min/maxed high armor saves, so even after this was knowingly stated there were a couple of players that were personally offended by these rules and went on a large scale tirade about how it screwed them over.

Despite this, the Lustria campaign was also one of the most successful campaigns that I have ever been a part of.

Now at this time, this is where I say… narrative campaigns are not for everyone.  Narrative campaigns are to me a time to play in places you don’t normally play in campaigns and pickup games.    Narrative games are a time to play with models you don’t normally play because they don’t adhere to the internet-meta in standard tournament scenarios, but could shine in narrative scenarios.

Case in point… if you’re fighting in a jungle you don’t max out on cannons and knights.  Jungle fighting is not for those things.

The Lustria campaign was just one of those examples.  I can pull several, but I will not because they all share the same point:  narrative games are a time to play to the story and sometimes the story is not going to be kind to you.

Aqshy, the Hellish Heat, and Exhaustion Screws Me Over
The Aqshy campaign day time of war was pulled from a scenario that warhammer world ran.  It definitely made players think about how to overcome it, and there were ways to overcome it, but those ways were not how you traditionally play a game of warhammer.

When your army is falling all around you to the elements, and points are on the line as is reclaiming an artefact, that means you have to play aggressive and you can’t park in a corner and play a conservative ranged game.   You have to move forward, grab that artefact and score as many points as you can before your men fall over.

There are plenty of tales of this kind of battle in many books…where two armies clash in a hellish landscape and in the end as the smoke rises a lone hero staggers out clutching the prize.

I’ve said it once before and will say it again… the winner of the Sword in Azyr Empires will be the player that learns how to build an empire, and learns how to overcome obstacles.  It will take more than doing spreadsheet math on statistics and knowing that every scenario will be sterile and not offensive to your force.  Regardless, giving it your best effort will often reward you.

Case in point was Alex and his skaven fighting in a scenario that did not favor his low bravery rats, but he ended up being a failed exhaustion check away from taking 2nd place at that table.  And the failed exhaustion check was MY chariot failing it and dying, thus robbing him of the points that would have carried him up.

Campaign Days are one battle in a series of many.  Not every campaign day will favor you and not every campaign day will be an uphill battle for you either.  In five months there will be somewhere near twenty games you can play.  One campaign game that did not favor your army is not going to kill a player from being able to claim the final prize, just like winning a campaign day is not going to guarantee any player from claiming the final prize.

The campaign system is designed so that there is no way for one person to just run away with it easily.  The higher you are, the harder things can get.

Its Not Fair, Sportsmanship, Rules Arguments
So we know its not fair always, its not always going to be fair, and campaign days are going to be scenarios where the environment can be just as devastating as your opponent.  Expect that.  The reason that the scenarios are not given out ahead of time is because min/maxing the scenario is something that I am trying to minimize.  You are being tested on your ability to react and adapt as much as you are tested on being able to spreadsheet out your statlines and max out efficiency.

This is where tournaments and leagues differ from narrative games, and to reiterate – Narrative Games and Campaigns are not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that.   However, if you are a player that demands perfect symmetry and balance and sterile scenarios, recognize that and stick with tournament gaming or other events that will cater to that.  Most of the campaigns that I run are not going to fall into that category.  There are plenty of other events that are purely competitive and all about symmetrical gaming, I like doing events that are different and offer a different side of wargaming (a side that I began with in the 80s before tournaments became a huge thing)

In terms of sportsmanship, during a game where points are on the line it is expected that you will finish out your game.  You can’t just get up and walk away to deny people points.  Personal conduct is the most important aspect of any game, and all of us to a person are expected to hold ourselves at the highest level of sportsmanship and conduct.  It is understandable that sometimes you lose your cool when bad things pile up, but it is all of our responsibilities to make sure that we keep ourselves in check.

If you are having a rules argument with someone, simply ask me during the day for an interpretation and we will have it resolved in a few moments and we can discuss it later.

If you have any questions on narrative gaming, or what to expect… please feel free to contact me.

 

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