donderdag 21 juli 2011

Campaigning... a curse or a blessing?

A few issues ago in a well reknowned wargame magazine, Mr Rick Priestley wrote down a two parter about organizing and running campaigns. This got me thinking about some things, and I thought maybe it wasn`t a bad idea to share these with the outside world.

First of in my thoughts, being a campaignmaster requires someone with a certain sado masosistic streak. Your bound to put in hours of work only to see it sizzle away to sheer nothingness. Private issues of players, one side gaining the upperhand, stand by`s, loss of intrest... all those things are bound to happen sooner or later in your campaign, or effort to run one.

I dare to say I have *some* experience in running those things, having put together about a dozen of the things with on average 8 players for an average run of 3 months. I can also say with a certain degree of certainty that they drain you completely, and each time I need a few weeks to get back in a `wargame mood` afterwards.

So, what traps are there in these undertakings?

Social Life, the bitch of all bitches

It happens. Every player enters in these enterprises with the best intentions and solemn oaths of dedication. But then social life inevitably bites you in the nuts.
Children get sick, wifes get annoyed, holidays have to be made, collegues get sick... those things are common and this can throw campaign schedules in strong disarray. You need to tinker out a system that can on one side keep the story and the intrest going, and on the other side has to be flexible with these sorts of events. Of course, no system can hold it`s own when over half of your group gets to deal with SL issues.
Try avoiding the traditional `holiday` seasons for this, like december / januari and july / august, and it will save you a few gray hairs.

The Gamehopper

Every club has them. Players that are (over) enthusiastic and jump on each and everything that gets even a little bit `hot` at the moment, loosing all intrest in their previous activities.
Not a bad thing, as you know those players will play with all their heart in your enterprise... but only for a short time. Avoid issues with these kind of players by not granting them `main liner` factions, but more of the smaller factions that tend to fight on the sides of the campaign story. Factions like for example Native American raiders or riotting villagers in an ACW campaign, the kind of force that can occasionally roam his nose in the overal story but not influence the complete campaign. The `special events` card so to say...

The Warhammer-kiddo

I know, not a flattering name and a blattant generalisation, but it is a slang term here, and it ain`t a pretty one. This is the player that, like most of us, started playing with Warhammer, but still has the `win at all costs` mentality of the average GW or other tournament. I know, you got them with Flames of War, you have them in Warmachine, you even have them in Chess, but hey, I didn`t invent the term, though I use it.
This kind of player, put harshly, kills campaigns. One thing you don`t want, is someone turning army lists in and out just to get the best of the best and then stick with it time after time after time. Armies in history didn`t have all elite forces during all the time.
These are also the kind of players that will fight any attempt that a campaign master will introduce to try and restore temporary balance or tension in the campaigns.

The Buddy Syndrome

In every game group you have people who play each other more then other opponents. Sometimes they seem to even play only each other during campaigns, and this is fine with me. I try to maneouvre them in a kind of `nemesis` factions, going all out on each other, and rarely involving or influencing the flow of the campaign. They often are also quite venely matched because they really know each other and their playstyles.
If you know this in front, which you usually do because you know the people of your gaming group over the years, you try to get them to parts of maps where, for the flow of the overall campaign, a deadlock would be a very handy tool to work with, without having to deliberatly or obviously relate to your godlike powers to create bottlenecks or stall advances.

To be God... or not to be God?

Whoch brings us to the campaignmaster himself. Your up for a tough time, that is one certain guarantee. Players will not turn up without warning, the story or flow of the campaign might not go as you had envisioned, and you`d probably end up with an odd number of players, resulting in you having to take to the field while running all the paperwork of the evening at the same time.
As your campaign is kicking off, I always made certain I had a couple of events that would grant some benefits prepared to be implemented at certain time points in the campaign, to keep the intrest running and to avoid the pitfall of repetition.
I also try to have a plan B (and C, and D,...) which are implemented when one side gains to much an advantage in to short a time. Usually something along the lines of reinforcements or bonus gains for the winner. The risk if, it all keeps getting sour for the losers at that time, the campaign is over as the whole plan failed and the gap has gone from `to big` to `gigantically unovercumable`.
Then there is the `me first` issue. I always try to avoid to take the lead in the games played and such, as this can lead (and I saw it happen) to boredom with the organiser himself. He has played his games, the rest still has to do truckloads, and all support melts like ice in the Sahara... leaving the whole shabang in Limbo between being unresolved and being played out.

No, life is cheap for a campaignmaster. Your the first to be put on the sacrificial alterblock when it goes wrong, even though in the end you have put hours and hours of paperwork and thought in the thing, even after clubhours. Life for the player is supposed to be simple: make an army list and turn up to play, because if you ask people to manage their resources, guaranteed almost half won`t have done it and the whole thing grinds to a halt.
Now, why don`t you play with fewerm but more dedicated people? Simple, because as your part of a club, it is just not done to leave people out just because, well, you can. You can`t make it happen to say `NO` to the Warhammer kiddo because he is a min/max powerplayer. You can`t say `You can`t play along` to the gamehopper because you know he will last perhaps up to half of the campaign. And what about the quiet guy that has to spend evenings thumbing because he doesn`t get an opponent or someone to play against in a game of his choice? Let him sit at the side or ask him to play an occassional game with your group?
If your a small group of friends, sure, you can do this. If your part of a club that welcomes all, you can`t. Well, unless it`s people you know while cause trouble, and then not from a campaign point of view but in general, causing frictions in a group and all. Those you just punch on the nose and pray they never set foot in the clubhouse again.

And if all else fails... then there is still the greatest frustration of a campaign master. Be assured, once you did a few it is on the one side veryy addicting... but your group will keep feeding that addiction because they don`t want to run things themselves. Your going to be in that unenvyable spot of where people look to you to organise their social gaming calendar, and rest assured that they will comment on the fact that they THINK you don`t have other intrests or activities. Been there, still hear it...


It is worth it! It really is. For a creative mind of a wargamer, nothing is more satisfying then closing up a campaign because the story has played out. Wether this be small narrative games of pulp to megalomaniac campaigns involving the whole first world war, if it doesn`t implode upon itself, or at least does so after a decisive result and number of games has been achieved, your gonna feel good and satisfied.
Tired, drained, but satisfied, so give it a try!

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