Friday, November 20, 2020

An Attack of Gout

I mentioned previously that I have begun playing the historical simulation, Here I Stand, with some friends. (I say "historical simulation" rather than simply wargame, because, in this case, the game models more than military conflict.) Its design is complex, not so much because of difficulty, but because it has a lot of moving parts. Learning each part takes time, as does learning how they all relate to one another, never mind how to make use of them effectively. So, it's been slow going initially, as one might reasonably imagine. 

Last night, though, progress was made and I began to feel as I were getting a handle on it. The game is card-driven, like many contemporary wargame designs, The cards, like the one depicted above, can be used in two ways, either for the event described on it or for its value in command points (CPs). CPs are used to pay for actions, like "raise regular troop," "explore," or "burn books." Naturally, the best events tend to have concomitantly high CP values, meaning that players are forced to decide between whether to play the card for its event or cash it in for CP to power other actions. It's an engaging approach and I found it gave me a lot to think about as I played.

The Ottomans had amassed a fairly large army under Suleiman and had marched to within striking distance of Vienna. That's when the card above came into play. Because it's labeled "response," I, as the Habsburg player, was able to make use as a kind of "interrupt" on the Ottoman player, as he prepared to launch his attack against my capital. Now afflicted with gout, Suleiman could not advance with his troops, which made the attack against Vienna dodgier. Coupled with another response event employed by the player of England (which caused unrest in two Turkish-held cities) and the Ottoman threat was neutralized for the time being. 

I can't begin to express how delightful I found this. This is exactly the kind of unexpected turn of events that happens in real world history; it's also what I strive for when it comes to the history of a campaign setting. I'm keen to find a way to mechanize unpredictability into macro-level campaign events, which is why this card and its effects on the game so charmed me. I firmly believe that a key element to the longevity and success of a campaign is that one remembers the referee is as much of a player as anyone else. As such, he should be surprised from time to time. To do that, there needs to be some method, some system to take certain decisions out of his hands. I'm still not entirely sure what form this will take, but it's a matter about which I've been thinking a lot lately. That's why I'm tinkering with a series of nested tables to generate campaign events, taking inspiration from multiple sources, including wargames like Here I Stand. As I get further into this project, I'll share some of the results here.

Also: in the same game, I dispatched Johann Eck to Leipzig to debate Martin Luther and succeeded in besting him, news of which struck a blow against heresy in Strasbourg, returning it to the bosom of Mother Church. Theological debates are one of the many sub-systems of the game and are quite fun in their own right. They also introduce another level of unpredictability into the flow of the game and served to inspire me further. I have a feeling this game is going to give me quite a few ideas and I'm looking forward to watching the alternate history of 16th century Europe unfold with my friends.


  1. I was just thinking about how Dave Arneson used Chance Cards in the Blackmoor campaign for just this kind of purpose, and remembered that Paleologos posted about this in the OSR Grimoire earlier this month:

    Now if there were only some way to work with these cards in a long-term campaign such that the PLAYERS would get and could hold cards to affect the long-term developments of the campaign, especially at the End Game as in your example above, and not just random events generated by the Judge for the overall campaign.

    That sounds like something product-worthy. I should check around, I am sure someone has already done it...

    Lion Rampant published the Whimsy Cards almost 30 years ago, though those were for individual character play, IIRC.

    Those might be used as a model, though players should be able to hold cards between games if they wish.

    1. This is a brilliant thought and deserves some pondering! Hopefully will affect my games going forward. I just don't know how yet...

  2. Ah here is one set, for 5E/Pathfinder Kingdom Events...

  3. Glad you're playing HIS, GMT games are pretty well designed and generally fun. In terms of card driven dramas and similar ideas to cross seed with, there's another old game 'Geronimo' by Avalon Hill (?) which manages the idea in a unique kind of way and might pay a little investigation. Probably translatable to a campaign, we used something similar in the meta-campaign which surrounded our RPGs years ago.

  4. Aha, it's good to find someone else looking to expand the scope of what a wargame can be (i.e. not just a military exercise, but taking into account the world in which battles take place). This world is political, made up of imperfect humans, there are resources that nations need and battle for, and of course the unexpected suddenly occurs, causing the wargamer to shift course dramatically. I play solo, so I need something that has a lot of this. I am working on a project that considers a lot of the things you are looking at too, and it would be good to compare notes. My project is called Generic Wars and I have been posting my ideas as it unfolds in my blog "dalethewargamer". I would also expect we are not the only ones who have ideas on this. Many boardgames have been developed along these lines. I play solo, and I like simple, not terribly detailed. Some folks like detailed tables of data that must be researched before a unit can take a step. I started late in the hobby, so I don't have luxury of time.

    One thing I have noticed about wargamers and wargame bloggers in general ... these are all very interesting folks, with great ideas and opinions, and it's fun to participate in discussions. I'll follow along as you develop your ideas further.