The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

“Or there is Appendix 20, an account of Deception Plan “Cloak”, whereby General Slim deceived the Japanese by a fake crossing of the Irrawaddy. He confused Nine Section, too; we dug in at no fewer than three different positions in as many hours, Grandarse lost his upper dentures on a sandbank, little Nixon disturbed a nest of black scorpions in the dark, we dug in hurriedly in a fourth position, and the general feeling was that the blame for the whole operation lay at the door of, first, Winston Churchill, secondly, the royal family, and thirdly (for some unimaginable reason), Vera Lynn. It should be understood that we did not know that “Cloak” had worked brilliantly; we were footsore, hungry, forbidden to light fires, and on hundred per cent stand-to – even though, as Grandarse, articulating with difficulty, pointed out, there wasn’t a Jap within miles.” – George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here

I promised to explain why the Aslan Border Wars thread has been cancelled… it’s like this…

Since 1977 I have been enamoured of the idea of running a campaign at multiple levels simultaneously; a game of grand strategy at a high level, generating events and missions for a roleplaying game at a lower level. It has never worked, for several reasons.

Disparity between timescales is a problem. Roleplaying campaigns run much closer to real time, with (say) a session every other real-world week in which the PCs’ timeline advances a few game weeks. Strategic wargames usually have turns that represent months to years of game time, and even if you play them by email they rapidly outpace the RPG campaign – with some boardgames, you can easily get 20 years ahead of the RPG in an afternoon. You then have a choice of either slowing down the strategic game to a few turns each real-time year, or accepting that the PCs have no real impact on events at the strategic level. In the former case the players wander off to do something more interesting, and in the latter case you are essentially saying the strategic game doesn’t matter – the PCs can’t affect it, and it won’t react to anything they do, so why bother?

Even if you can make it work, you’re ensuring that those with a role in the strategic game learn things that should surprise their roleplaying PCs, and increasing GM workload by running two parallel campaigns.

It’s arguably not realistic either. The PCs in an RPG typically form an elite squad, usually some sort of mercenary black ops team, or the crew of a small ship. If you read memoirs by people operating at that level – George MacDonald Fraser, say, or Eugene Sledge – you discover that they frequently have no idea where they are or why. Part of this is the natural chaos of such events, and part of it is operational security, but the upshot of it is that the visible events driven by high-level strategy should realistically be perceived by the PCs as unexpected and apparently random, things which they avoid or take advantage of; and that means the GM doesn’t need to plan those events out in detail, Old School random encounters are a perfectly reasonable way to simulate them.

So much for the theory. In practice, this means I’m mothballing the Aslan Border Wars thread. I will move it into the GM Notes category as part of the historical record, but expect no further updates. The implication of this is that the official Traveller timeline no longer applies to the Dark Nebula campaigns, but this is not something I generally take into account.

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Comments on: "Crossing the Irrawaddy" (2)

  1. […] thought that before, and been wrong. So what have I learned from it? Well, see the post about Crossing the Irrawaddy for the more philosophical version, but here are the […]

  2. […] Crossing the Irrawaddy and the Aslan Border Wars Retrospective explained the final demise of the Dark Nebula semi-homebrew campaign […]

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