Writing of War

I’ve managed to get some work done on the new TSoY book I’m supposed to be creating. Difficult to make time for uninterrupted writing, but perhaps I’ll manage now that the holidays went away. Aside from planning the book and writing some chapters, I’ve been planning more campaign frames for playtest. Specifically, I’m figuring out how to run the War in Khale, which is something that is featured pretty prominently in the original TSoY text. Despite being laid out, however, I don’t think the text much concerns itself with the specifics of how to run a campaign around the war – especially resolving mass combats is something people seem to have problems with, if forum threads wondering about it are any indication.

Aside from the mass combat rules I sketch out, I have war maps, which are my answer to how a dramatic, cinematic game might get some structure into a war story without devolving into nitpicking over geography and resources. Like so:

The simple warmap a SG starts with...

The simple warmap...

...grows intricate through play.

...grows intricate through play.

Success brings resistance...

Success breeds resistance...

...resistance breeds conflict.

...resistance breeds conflict.

Burning bridges are replaced by new routes to victory.

Burning bridges are replaced by new routes to victory.

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3 Responses to “Writing of War”

  1. Nick Novitski Says:

    This seems like an excellent idea, and I look forward to seeing it and your mass-combat rules in the book. I hope that my questions are not nit-picking…

    How do you know when you’ve won? By which I mean, how do you know when a side has no more resources to marshal towards their goals? Do you just decide on plausibility as a group? If no one can think of a good way to effect a change with the known traits of their force, is that the end? Couldn’t you have rules for deciding when someone deserves to describe another previously-unknown and helpful trait to keep them in the fight, and when they don’t?

    Between fig. 2 and 3, presumably the black side says “Well, how could I get control of the waterways…hey, open support from that guild of fire wizards that Julie’s character ran away from would help, right?” I assume that the group can decide together whether that’s plausible or not, from their shared conception of the setting. That seems like it would work for coming up with conditions, but how do you decide how many steps the process requires? That is, how do we know whether to say in response, “Well, the fire wizards should help, but they’re mercenaries. Expensive ones. That kind of force requires a big commitment from the people funding the conflict, which they aren’t willing to do as of yet. How could they be made interested?” Especially if the setting hazy and un-filled in, and you don’t know whether the fire wizards can just be brought in without incident or not, how do you know when more obstacle-links should be made up and added to the chain, and when you have enough?

  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    I write about the details in the thread I link above – you should check that out as well if those graphs seem interesting.

    The basic method for finding out the winner is outright stated in the war map – that darker box with “Control of Starmetal”, that’s the Ammeni strategic goal in the war. So we might say that the war is at an end when the Ammeni have fulfilled all of their preliminary objectives and we have resolved the final fight for the starmetal. At this point the war ends because the Ammeni have no longer any reason to fight. Of course, the opponent might formulate their own goals, in which case the war (or a war, anyway) might go on as they still try to fulfill their goals. Such a war could go on until both sides are satisfied or one side has lost their capability to make war – this would be resolved normally through the SS conflict resolution system, it’s quite adept at telling us when a character can no longer continue conducting a war.

    Other goals (including the goals of the Khalean guerrillas) can surface during play simply through characters in powerful position setting those goals. “We will not rest until the Ammeni have been beaten back to their country!” says a Khalean warlord, at which point we can add this goal on the map and figure out what exactly stands in between the Khaleans and their goal.

    This seems simple, but you’ll note that it’s completely different from the common wargame paradigm of resource attrition – this is not about resources and beating an opponent, but simply about what we’re showing in a war movie. If we’re showing a scene with a dramatic final battle for the control of the starmetal, we’re not going to turn around to enumerate forces afterwards – the story is over and the war won after that battle. If this weren’t so, then the battle in question wouldn’t have been the crucial battle – and the whole point of the war map technique is to let us know when we’re upon that final battle.

    As for how the map is filled in, that’s largely up to the Story Guide – TSoY has a powerful Story Guide whose job pretty much is to answer these questions. “Hey SG, my character wants to know if fire wizards would help him secure the waterways now that the resistance has cut off my supply lines.” Then the group discusses whether fire wizards would, in fact, be helpful, and the SG makes a decision. After that he decides what it takes to get the fire wizards to help – that depends on the setting and something I call “dramatic coordination”: the SG makes his call largely based on whether the game and the player character in question needs adversity right now, and what sort of adversity would be interesting. So it might be that the fire wizards want a lot of money (provoking the question of where you’re going to get it), or it might be that they want something else.

    In any case the actual process through which the war map is filled resembles a war room scene in military fiction. Think Star Wars, it had several war room scenes with both sides following those Death Star battles on their monitors, making plans and executing them. “We can’t destroy the Death Star without somebody shooting a torpedo up the exhaust pipe.” is simply another “X is required to achieve Y” relationship for the war map. Whether it’s the SG or the player who fills the map depends on who happens to be the authority formulating plans for the war; this method is intended to work whether player characters are controlling the war or just executing the decisions.

  3. Nick Novitski Says:

    Hah! I think I see the mis-step I made: I was trying to imagine both sides as being equivalent actors, as in a war game, when in fact, the players are taking action on one side towards the stated goal, and the GM is responding on the other towards entertainment. I was looking for some kind of explicit agreement ahead of time as to a pacing resource, maybe. “I start with 3 foo points, and when you finish those, I can’t introduce new facts, so the war will soon be over.”

    But instead, the war is the game until it isn’t any more, and the goals and efforts of the enemies happen off-camera, behind the scenes, since they have no importance at all compared to the goals of the players.

    I suppose my mistake came from worrying that a system like that wouldn’t allow for players as antagonists, which is something that some groups claim they can handle on the social level. But I suspect that it would be very rare for two players to have two goals that could not possibly be stated orthogonally. If one says “I will fight the Ammeni because I want my culture to survive!” while another says “I will fight for the Ammeni because I want to be rich!” then their conflict clearly need only last until the methods towards achieving their goals become synonymous. As long as the shared goal of the group is to produce fun interplay, it seems perfectly possible (preferable?) to have multiple goals that can be disrupted and combined.

    I should have also taken the opportunity of the previous comment to say that what I managed to read of Solar System before I lost it in a supermarket was among the more astounding RPGs I’ve seen, and I’m very much looking forward to your next edition of TSoY.


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