Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Brownstone Campaign

This is an extended pitch for a wargame/pseudo-rpg campaign idea I had the other day.  I posted a shortened version of this on G+, but I wanted to work up something that would explain more of how I planned on running it.  The battles will be fought using Richard Borg's Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition while the campaign will be resolved using a hand drawn map and a Matrix game.  It is obviously heavily inspired by Dave Wesely's Braunstein campaign.

The idea for the Brownstone Campaign is that it takes place in a valley in the fictional Cumberbatch mountain range.  The valley is dominated by the town of Brownstone, which controls a major rail station that runs the length of the valley and connects two parts of the Confederacy; however, Brownstone and the smaller towns in the Northern Cumberbatch are largely supporters of the Union, and Lincoln has ordered one of his generals to seize the valley.

Six players in my home group will take the role of both Union and Confederate generals.  Each side will have a major commander with a large force and two minor commanders with smaller forces.  These forces will be composed of varying amounts of Battle Cry infantry, artillery, and cavalry units.  The commanders themselves will have individual names, sub officers, and command values determined in advance of play.

Each turn for these guys represents one week of time, and they can move 1 point at a time. - unless their argument includes some reason they would be able to move faster.  Battles only occur when arguments say they do.  The goal is to get the most victory points by holding towns, winning battles, and completing other objectives, after 4 months.

I'm going to draw a map of the valley that will contain c. 20 points or nodes.  Each point will have a board setup decided on in advance for use with battles, with the events of the campaign deciding which side enters from where.  Before a battle, I will secretly ask each commander involved what there general plan for the battle is, how many men they're willing to commit, and how many units they're willing to lose before giving up the field.  I'll use this information to place the units myself, taking into account the properties of different troops, commanders, and terrain in order to decide things like which of the two sides starts closest to the hill they both want to take.

Battles involving more than one general on a side will (until I can acquire another copy of the game) mean that only a small contingent of one commander's forces will appear on the field, and the battle will be controlled by the superior ranking officer (not the officer with the superior command score).

In addition to this, I plan on running a G+ game where players take the roles of one of the following people:
Abraham Lincoln (who is constantly wiring the union commanders with his instructions)
The Mayor of Brownstone
The Confederate "General" in charge of the administration of the Valley Department
an Abolitionist
the Editor of the Local Newspaper
Or others if someone has a better idea

The newspaper editor, the mayor, and any additional figures created by the players will have to roll to see what their loyalties are, since they are not immediately obvious here.

Between sessions of the wargame campaign, I'll contact them (either through hangout or play by post, not sure which yet) and inform them of what happened in the war.  They will in turn, give me a number of actions they wish to take - some of which will be in the past in order to catch the G+ timeline up with the wargame one.  I'm thinking these will also rely on the matrix formula but will be a great deal more freeform.  These players will want to win their own victory points based on their role, so the abolitionist wants to see the valley taken by the Union and to see the slaves held by the smallholders in the southern part of the valley freed, while the mayor simply wants to advance his political career.  This will obviously be harder to score.

Anybody have any thoughts/advice?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making a Medieval Sandbox III: Example Settings

Below are five places and periods which I think would work for a Feudal Anarchy (or another similarly hardcore medievalist) campaign.  The astute observer will note a slight bias towards earlier periods - due to the fact that they allow for future campaigns to be set within the Feudal Anarchy time period of 1050 - 1250 - and towards Southern Europe - which is just because I like the Mediterranean.  Note that many of the areas will retain similar features in time periods other than those suggested.

Suggested Time Periods: The life of El Cid
Unlike Averoigne, this setting allows for characters from a wide number of backgrounds - including Muslims and Jews.  In addition, the political situation seems ideal for player characters as swords for hire for either a Christian or Muslim lord since warfare, both religious and secular, is incredibly common in the region.  There are also a number of interesting historical personages that the PCs can interact with, and that's always cool.

Suggested Time Periods: Before September 1066; The Reign of Robert Curthose
It would be difficult for me to think of a setting that more matches the assumptions of Feudal Anarchy than Normandy - or broadly Northern France in general during the same period.  It is home to the sorts of small scale warfare that is easy to get PCs involved in, and there's no shortage of famous people to butt heads with, including not only William the Bastard but also his father Robert the Magnificent, William's three sons, and Walter Tyrell.  Later periods show a marked reduction in the small scale warfare mentioned above, so it's best to stick to earlier time frames.  A similar setting, though one I will not bother to separate into its own category, would be the Ile-de-France in the same period, where one can help Louis the Fat against the nefarious Thomas de Marle.

Suggested time Periods: The Second Crusade; The Albigensian Crusade
Like Iberia, Occitania allows for characters from a wide variety of backgrounds, and the political situation is not unlike that of Normandy,* with feuding lords and small scale warfare.  You also get the Peace of God movement and a few heresies, which may make for interesting things for the PCs to become involved with/oppose.  It also lacks the direct contact with Muslims, which removes some of the darker aspect of religious warfare in the period.  For those wishing to add that back in, Occitanian nobles participated in the conquest of Lisbon in the Second Crusade and the Albigensian Crusade is about as dark as it gets.

Sicily/Southern Italy
Suggested Time Periods: the life of Robert Guiscard, the creation of the Kingdom of Sicily
I have always preferred this region to the other Norman conquest, but that's partly because of my interest in the crusaders that it would produce.  Again, like Iberia and Occitania it allows for a wide range of characters, but with the addition in this case of Byzantines.  In addition to internecine warfare, one could also get involved with the Crusades, the struggles between the Pope and the German Emperor, or Byzantine succession crises.  I am also reminded that Columbia Games planned on doing a sequel to Lionheart called Tancred, which would've covered this area.  Shame that didn't pan out.

The Welsh Marches
Suggested Time Periods: The Anarchy
Merrie England is probably what most people are thinking of when they think of a hardcore medievalist game, and I think this is probably the best setting for such a game.  While obviously different from the Southern European settings, it allows for a fairly wide breadth of character types - English, Norman, Welsh, and possibly those from other areas - as well as a great deal of raiding across the border.  The Anarchy is the quintessential Feudal Anarchy period (duh), and in addition to the real world historical figures one can interact with there are also fictional ones such as Brother Cadfael (or those guys from Pillars of the Earth I guess).  There's also already some gaming products that cater to this area, such as the Robin Hood book by Ice, and its very easy to find sources for this in English.  This will likely be the setting for my next playtest.

This list is, obviously, not exhaustive.  Noisms correctly observed in a comment to yesterday's post that the Crusader States would make an excellent setting.  They share many characteristics with those above; however, I am normally wary of using them because - as someone who claims to be a historian of the First Crusade - I find the violence and horror of the period more readily immediate than that in the above settings.

*That is a gross simplification that I am embarrassed to even write, but it will serve for gaming purposes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making a Medieval Sandbox Campaign Part II

I've written and rewritten this post several times since January(!), Part of the reason for my finding this post difficult is that I'm discovering that I have not quite yet mastered the art of making this type of setting for my own game, and as I continue to work on Feudal Anarchy I'm figuring out new things that work and don't work (mostly don't work).  This is an attempt to distill all of that information in a way that is useful to others.

Most RPGs, and Feudal Anarchy is no exception, are action-adventure affairs.  This means that PCs tend to be violent people doing violent things, though campaign events, tone, genre, and player agency is ultimately the determiner of whether these actions are those of noble heroes or venal murderers.  In either event, it is best to make sure that the place you set your medieval campaign is one that will provide this kind of adventure.* Periods within the Middle Ages that are characterized by the consolidation of centralized power and improvements in administration - while not to be totally avoided - are less suited to this sort of game than those characterized by petty struggles.  For example, the Anarchy will provide more room for adventure than the reign of Henry II.  Other examples of places/periods that will produce this sort of environment are France under Louis the Fat, the Albigensian Crusade, and Iberia during the Reconquista.  It should be noted that more peaceful periods, such as the aforementioned reign of Henry II, may also be used as "peace" in medieval terms is considerably more violent than one would expect.

In addition to providing excitement systemic violence has another benefit: it creates a chaotic situation whose outcome is more easily affected by PC action.  The turmoil that politically characterized much of the 11th and 12th centuries means that a few people with sharp minds and sharp swords can do quite well for themselves.  One might think of the likes of Bohemond of Antioch, William Marshal, or Eustace the Monk to see what I'm talking about.

Feudal Anarchy is currently focused on representing fairly small sandboxes - typically no bigger than a county.  When designing one for your game, it is important to keep this scale in mind, and there are several advantages to keeping it small.  The most readily apparent to me while running the game has been that the players get to know their lieges, vassals, and other NPCs very well and that the interaction between them can easily be used to generate adventures with very little effort on the part of the GM.  The small scale allows these relationships to be manageable without the world feeling strangely sparse.

However, be careful not to make it too small, or to make the obstacles that exist in the setting to easy for the PCs to topple.  This was the problem I ran into with my Cocanha campaign.  For this type of campaign to really work, the aforementioned relationships with NPCs need to provide adventures for a long time.  If the villains are too easily disposed of, you start to run out of options very quickly.  Another thing to avoid is setting it on a small island.  What I found very quickly was that it was difficult for me to introduce new threats because I'd have to explain how they got on this tiny little island without anyone noticing.

This brings me to another point: you want the small sandbox to feel like it's part of a larger world.  Partly, this is to allow an influx of new adventure seeds once the campaign is already going, but an even larger part has to do with the genre.  If you're playing a "hardcore medievalist" RPG, you want to rub shoulders with the likes of Richard the Lionheart, Thomas de Marle, or Ermengarde of Narbonne.  That's part of the appeal.  If your setting is too small and isolated, it's difficult to explain why those kinds of historical celebrities to show up.

Border areas, while not the only type of place that works for this sort of thing, strike me as ideal.  They are almost always in turmoil, with at least a sort of light warfare in the form of raiding going on on both sides of the border.  They are typically politically important enough that famous people, particularly kings or magnates, will visit them, sometimes bringing war with them.  Most importantly of all, they provide a kind of porous gateway between cultures that can explain some rather strange party makeups, and allow for new adventures to be easily introduced.

I hope to do more posts in this series covering specific topics, like specific periods that would make good games or matching party themes with different regions, but that will have to come once I've gotten my head more fully around the issues involved.

*One could, of course, run an entire RPG without this sort of action-adventure nonsense, but that is not the intended goal of Feudal Anarchy.

EDIT: I forgot to mention someone played my game!