Chatting with a friend on twitter recently it became apparent what a clustered and confusing the world of non-Computer gaming is. Given this is my principal hobbies are roleplaying and wargaming I thought it might be handy to have a very brief summary of this world.
But what’s the point – can’t all this be done on computer? Well maybe one day but I’m not convinced. I have tried video games but there is nothing like complete freedom to create a world, breathe life in it and experience in-character conversation for me that roleplaying offers. Equally computer wargaming seems very stale and abstract at the scale I like and the banter with an opponent I that is all part of the fun is missing. Conflicts tend to be run on railway tracks with none of the surprises a real life smugly smiling opponent can throw at you.
Firstly wargaming and roleplaying are two different thing but easily confused because of shared universes and the enjoyment of colourful characters feature in each. I’ll deal with each in turn and then give a few thoughts on genre.
Wargaming is playing with toy soldiers. It can take several forms:
Skirmish wargaming: each toy soldier (figure) is an individual on the battlefield. They might move in units but the conflict is focused on small scale battles. This is very popular for such genres as fantasy, SF, Wild West, Commando raids and similar settings where a few individuals can make a big difference. Where it differs from roleplaying is the focus on purely martial solutions to problems and hard and set rules regarding movement, damage etc; The excellent Stargrunt by Ground Zero games
is an example of this scale of wargaming.
Intermediate level wargaming features rules where figures represent a number of men (say a rifle section or 10-20 men) and vehicles are represented individually or in sub-units. The battles will be more significant but you lose the personality aspects but significant historical engagements can be represented. Flames of War which is a WW2 set me and Jim are going to be trying soon is an example of this. Famous wargame systems Warhammer and Warhammer 40k are halfway between skirmish and intermediate level.
Large scale is each figure is a platoon or company (50-100) men and vehicles represent 4 or more. Major battles can be portrayed and personally it’s my favourite for wargaming (I like roleplaying for the small scale stuff.) Rather than individuals you can inject personality into whole units and formations or notable commanders who may have an effect on the battles with their leadership and tactics. The SMLE Free state rules we use for VBCW wargaming.
As well as traditional terrestrial wargaming there are rules of naval fighting (both historic sea battles and Science fiction space conflicts like Revolutionary Biscuits of Italy Revolutionary biscuits of Italy ) and aerial fights.
A wargame campaign is a series of battles – these might be written out as a narrative, or commanders might do hidden moves on a larger scale map before meeting for a fight (a kreigspiel) or even have other players commanding the country they fight for moving their armies on a map while they fight the engagements that result when they meet the enemy (a play by email game like Nueva Esperanza or Scramble for the Spheres.)
Roleplaying is ‘lets pretend for adults’. In the gaming sense it generally involves people trying to act and speak in character. Each person is playing one character (at least at any one time) with the exception being the Games Master (GM) who controls the plot and is trying to put an entertaining and narrative and world together for his players.
There is overlap between skirmish roleplaying and wargaming, often in the rules used for combat. However roleplaying systems tend to be more flexible and the characters aren’t limited to violent solutions to their problems being able to take negotiate, sneak, discuss, bluff, bluster – anything
the players can think of that’s consistent with the universe the games set in. While it’s often easier for the GM to have a military or paramilitary (i.e police) team to explain the characters adventuring together it isn’t essential. I’ve played games where characters have launched coups, fallen in love, fell into lifelong feuds and friendships.
The action is usually described vocally which is why roleplaying can work quite well through skype (like my spy game http://alfiesantics.wordpress.com) but some people like to use figures, others like to dress in
character and others again use replica (safe) weapons what’s called live action roleplaying where they actually ‘fight’. That’s not my bag as I find my imagination has a much better special effects budget that any live action game I’ve been in, but each to their own.
Likewise email, twitter etc; can be used to keep character interactions flowing between games if the players have the time and interaction (yahoo groups used to have a lot of this type of activity back in the day.)
Genre traditionally wargaming was focused on historic conflicts. Roleplaying on the other hand has always tended towards the fantastic – for an example here is a few famous roleplaying games:
Dungeons and Dragons – middle earth style adventuring with magic and dragons.
Call of Cthulhu – Most often 1920s-30s set gaming against a background of a cruel universe populated by insanity inducing cosmic horrors but can be set in other periods.
Champions – 4 colour superheroes.
Traveller – Science Fiction
However these dividing lines are less clear now. The rise of alternative history or counter-factuals in scholarships has seen a rise of such periods as the Very British Civil War 1938 set in an alternative Britain which I’m very fond of. Wargames have also cropped up dealing with such things as
zombies and s teampunk to name a few speculative genres. Equally roleplaying has seen more historical or pseudo-historical games turn up
One can use both types of gaming to support each other for instance the battles I fight with Jim in the Very British Civil War here feeds units and events into the roleplaying game in the same universe here http://alfiesantics.wordpress.com . The SF battles of Revolutionary biscuits of Italy and Nueva Esperanza will in time I hope influence a roleplaying game set in that prodigal Empires universe (and a SF version of the Onedin line but that another story..)
I am aware I haven’t touched upon such mysteries as heroclix, board games and collectible card games but I think the first rule with these things is write what you know. I hope this article might be some use to those who haven’t experienced any gaming without a pesky game controller or mouse involved. Where a mouse is involved it’s as a tool for the imagination to use rather than a crutch for it…