I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of running a MechWarrior campaign and using BattleTech for in-game mech battles. The fact that the PCs are involved would put a different spin on the wargame aspect (and vice versa), and it sounds like fun.
There are other RPG lines that also have (or had) wargames associated with them, including D&D and the D&D miniatures game, and it might also be possible to adapt unrelated wargames to some RPGs (or vice versa), even if neither the RPG or the wargame is designed for this purpose. Either way, I’m curious what this is like.
Have you run an RPG campaign that dipped into (or centered around) wargame-based combat? What’s it like? What unique GMing challenges does it present?
We did exactly the one you mention– played Battletech and Mechwarrior. It wasn’t really tricky, but the Mechwarrior part faded into the background. We were mercenaries, hired to fight… but that was a high school game. I think we could amp up both parts– if only Battletech battles didn’t take so long.
We still tell tales of “the Ogre”, an assault mech that didn’t have enough heat sinks or long range weapons… piloted by Lt. Kizmaz. Played by my dad.
Of course there’s Savage Worlds. SW is written so that it can be used as miniatures skirmish rules…Actually part of it’s ancestry is Rail Wars, so…
Savage worlds is soon to release the WK Pirates licensed RPG. Youy don’t use the Pirates minis rules for ship combat, but the assumption is that you use the minis for the SW ship rules.
Uhh… Not to be snarky, but D&D basically is a miniatures wargame. D&D minis is just a simpler subset of D&D.
Ian, it’s still an RPG line with a miniatures wargame associated with it regardless. And technically, you don’t need miniatures to play D&D, although the rules certainly encourage it.
Going back to the main topic, Miniatures Handbook from Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has some rules for larger scale battles with miniatures, Malhavoc Press’ Cry Havoc has larger scale mass combat, and Heroes of Battle from WotC has rules and focus on small scale encounters that take place within or outside of mass combat battles (imagine a narrow focus on the main characters during the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the Battle of Pelennor Fields in The Lord of the Rings books and movies).
Ian, in one sense you’re right. In another you’re wrong.
To the extent you’re right points out that sure, you can use a wargame for combat in an RPG.
But to mistake the D&D combat system that is essentially a wargame as the entirety of the D&D RPG is to miss just what an RPG really is.
For a long while I really struggled at identifying just what it is that makes an RPG and RPG. Then suddenly one day, I realized what Vincent Baker (Lumpley) meant by the Lumpley Principle, paraphrased as: “System is the procedures by which a group of players make and accept creative contributions to a shared imaginative space.” I realized that what was critical was that creative contribution to a shared imaginative space. When you are playing Battletech, you may make some creative contributions, but they are totally irrelevant to the resolution of the game. Nothing changes when you declare that your unit goes berserk because of some event. But in an RPG, if that creative contribution is accepted, the game DOES change to accomodate your berserk unit.
So the question Martin is asking is if you can use wargame mechanics as a resolution system in an RPG, and the answer is sure. Proto-D&D as played by Arneson and friends and Gygax and friends, started as a wargame, but they started to make and accept creative contributions. And suddenly they were playing an RPG.
If a group of us sit down to play Monopoly, and I say “my pawn is married to your pawn (perhaps because we happened to land in jail at the same time), so when I land on one of your properties, you should not charge me rent” and you (and the other players) agree, we might now be playing Monopoly the RPG (as long as such creative contributions continue).
I suspect if you watched a lot of miniatures gaming at Origins and GenCon, you would actually find an occaisional wargame as almost RPG. And depending on the game, the GM and/or players might not be aware or not, and it might not be intentional or not.
One sign of possible RPG play: a player tells one player that he shouldn’t do X because X is not in the spirit of the forces he’s playing, despite the rules providing no mechanical support for that spirit, and the player accepts and plays the limitiation. Creative contribution made and accepted.
Oh, and perhaps I should actually answer Martin’s question. In one sense, as Ian highlights, of course the answer is “Yes.” In the other sense, I think what Martin is really asking is have you ever used an external set of wargame rules (whether closely matched to the RPG like Mechwarrior and Battletech or D&D and the D&D Battlesystem or not). To that, the answer is basically no.
I have flirted with the idea of using a wargame of some sort to resolve mass combat, but in the end, decided that insufficient focus would be put on the PCs, and in most cases, the system would dramatically change how the PCs are modeled by the system. Individual PCs might be more or less effective, or the different system might even constrain the PC concept in some less mechanical/more color/imagitation way.
In the end, resolution within the system has to focus on the PCs.
As I’ve come to understand just what an RPG is, and what system is (per Lumpley Principle), and how the rules text (the rule book) is part of that system, I have come to a clearer understanding of why I never was comfortable with how the wargame would actually mesh with the RPG.
An old gaming group of mine played the Star Trek RPG for about a year, and we used Star Fleet Battles for our ship to ship warfare. Worked out quite well actually. We threw in soem RP aspects in the battle of course. We arranged the gaming room into a makeshift “bridge” of our ship. So, when things had to be done during the combat the player running the captain had to first give an order, then a bridge officer had to either carry out the order or relay that order to one or more underlings in their departments. It was a lot of fun. It helped that a bunch of us already knew Star Fleet Battles extremely well, otherwise it probably wouldnt have gone as smoothly as it did.
Using wargames to run large battles is an old idea, but not used nearly often enough.
Several years ago I played in a D&D game based on fantasy medieval India. The campaign ended with a massive battle in which the guild of wizards attempted a coup. The GM used a homebrew simplified wargame system. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough. We had city guards as our forces against the horrors the wizards summoned. The key was balance. The guards needed us. We were high level and could face the tougher monsters, or could kill the easier ones quickly. Mass damage spells could take out large groups of enemies at once. However, we needed the guards. Without the guards we would have been overrun, sections of the city destroyed, and isolated PCs possibly killed
I can’t speak to every use of a wargame in an RPG, but I think the following are good guidelines for wargaming in “heroic” genres to simulate large battles. The most obvious setting is heroic fantasy, but this should equally apply to pulp action and lots of space opera.
– The PCs need to be key to the battle. Otherwise the resulting wargame will feel disconnected from the RPG. We’re talking heroic games, let the PCs be heroes. Of course this can take many forms. It might be a climactic fight with the leader. It might be slaughtering piles of lower level enemies. It might be making a stand at a gate to give the rest of the forces time to fall back and regroup. It might be sneaking around in the confusion of the battle to engage in critical sabotage.
– The NPCs also need to be key parts of the battle, otherwise it’s just the PCs surrounded by scenary. You can do that without wargaming rules. By making the NPCs important, you make the battle seem larger and more important. Ways to keep the rand and file useful include: keeping the attackers at bay which the PCs are busy elsewhere, providing distractions, massing and counterattacking in areas where PCs aren’t.
– The PCs’ lives should not be in as much risk as the rank and file. Wars should be violent and messy. Lots of grunts are going to die. For for a heroic game that’s not appropriate for the PCs. This is not to say that the PCs should have no risk (otherwise you eliminate the chance for mourning a comrade who was overrun in battle, or for the heroic doomed last stand), just less than the average mook has. The rules systems people use for heroic games tend to reinforce this; make sure it doesn’t disappear when you switch to wargame rules.
huh… regarding mechwarrior and battletech, i can’t imagine doing otherwise.. every mechwarrior game i’ve ever played in has gone like that.
i’ve also used car wars in one gurps game, and ogre in another. fasa’s star trek had its starship combat simulator.
I’m with Ian on this one. In it’s current incarnation the emphasis is definitely about miniatures-based combat. Yes, we can ignore it (I do!) but it still accounts for a heck of a lot of the rules; I blame Attacks of Opportunity 🙂
I’ve used Star Fleet Battles (was that the name?) and Car Wars in the past, and had a great time. Now though, when I’m role-playing, I’d MUCH rather use my imagination. That way the models are cheaper, and animated too!
Although I’m not so blessed to be skilled with my use of computer games, I anticipate that someone somewhere would use a computer simulation war game to resolve large-scale combat for the players, then return to the rpg rules for the rest of the game.
Interestingly, where I’ve seen this put to use is with fantasy football. I’ve seen players use a game like Madden to organize their player draft, using the game’s own draft feature. Then, during the course of the season, the fantasy football game is run week to week as normal.
I have considered using miniatures rules in a game; however the game fell through before play started.
On the heels of Alan’s post, I figure on using PCs in wargames like so: Either the PCs comprise the entire attack group, and the enemies are a large group but significantly less powerful than the PCs are singly; PCs are a strike force at the EDGE of combat, so that their actions can influence the direction of the combat without risking them directly; or the PCs are the commanders, and therefore hanging back so that they can better have a grasp on how things are tactically over the entire field. In this way, the PC’s individual combat prowess can still matter, but the NPCs and battle elements can still shine through… (and it also means that I can generate more “set-piece” style sub-battles within the larger one without breaking story flow)
Yep, this definitely isn’t a new idea — but I’m glad to see that by and large, it sounds like it goes pretty smoothly.
Alan’s and Kestral’s guidelines sound like a great starting point for making RPG+wargame action hum. Thanks for the feedback!