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"What is Narrative Wargaming?" Topic

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Beaky Nose15 May 2021 3:56 a.m. PST

I keep seeing this pop up in the previous few years. Narrative Wargames.

From what i can see it seems these are just what we'd call skirmish wargames, 1 model = 1 man fights and usually with camapign system. And the scenario has a story behind it.

But isn't this just what skirmsh wargames have always been? Am I missing something?

Or is this a new spin on what we've always done to make it seem more thrilling? Or to disatcne from old school big battles? It seems companies like Osprey and Modiphus with the new 'trendy' rules use the term a lot.

Am I an old 'seen it all before' or is it just Kool Aid?

Personal logo Stosstruppen Supporting Member of TMP15 May 2021 4:04 a.m. PST

You have the idea. I supposed they could be similar to a D&D campaign as well.

Beaky Nose15 May 2021 4:05 a.m. PST

Thanks for confirming. Has the term always been around & I missed it or is a a new term?

MajorB15 May 2021 4:23 a.m. PST

Narrative wargaming is described in the link below, and no, it's not what you would call skirmish wargames.


Schogun15 May 2021 6:15 a.m. PST

I first saw mention of narrative gaming as "Matrix Gaming." I decided to try it at Origins many years ago in a game called "Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective." All of the players would create a narrative of what was happening then vote on the best or most logical story.

Trouble was, there were four of us and the other three were friends. So they concocted a story that I was the murderer, voted 3-1 against me and knocked me out of the game. The GM just shrugged, said that's the way the game works.

That was my only experience. But a better GM may have directed the game differently.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine15 May 2021 7:02 a.m. PST

Narrative wargaming, for me at least, is linked to campaign games rather than competition style games. In other words your armies slowly build a narrative or history as each game you play, and it's results, have a knocking effect to the next game. Units and characters gain reputations and stories as the narrative builds.

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP15 May 2021 8:29 a.m. PST

OK, just talk me through it.

As Prince Rupert said, narrative gaming can also be a way to have a campaign setting without all the campaign falderal.

A person running the affair (or a committee composed of some or all of the participants) can take the results of the last game and others before if relevant and postulate future events or subsequent scenarios. It gives a logical progression and tells a story or narrative without the time consuming, mind numbing, quartermaster enthralling, campaign killing details.

Finknottle15 May 2021 12:16 p.m. PST

Many moons ago, our late friend Charlie ran a 1905 naval campaign as Big Red describes. Results of previous battles, plus which players would be available (with which fleets), would give him scenario fodder for the San Felipe Naval Militia to enjoy. Plus, added reefs, sand bars, or assorted small islands for me to run aground upon in some manner.

Thresher0115 May 2021 5:26 p.m. PST

Story telling.

Old Contemptible15 May 2021 8:47 p.m. PST

Gather around the campfire.

Martin Rapier16 May 2021 12:04 a.m. PST

I have played narrative games both in the sense of a loosely (or not so loosely) linked campaign, as well as the dialogue type adventure/experience games.

They have both been around for quite a long time. Ive still got the journals from our mid 1980s Napoleonic narrative campaign.

Bandolier16 May 2021 1:52 p.m. PST

In the Warhammer Sci-Fi and Fantasy scenes it means playing your armies with a back-story for the forthcoming battle. Narrative is often used to distinguish friendly games from competitive-driven games.

In historical terms, it's essentially a well-planned, contextual scenario that can be at any level of command. So, for most of us here, it's what we've always been doing.

Beaky Nose17 May 2021 8:54 a.m. PST

Thanks everyone this is intersting to read. I don't think the rules I've read have been matrix games so wonder if the term has "drifted" in pure games terminology rather than the way pro wargames use it. All good information and insight though, thank you.

Dexter Ward19 May 2021 5:28 a.m. PST

Don Featherstone talks about Narrative Wargames in a couple of his books, so this predates Matrix games. I think it is mentioned in both Wargames Campaigns and Solo Wargaming

shthar10 Jun 2021 12:14 a.m. PST

Adventure Gaming?

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2021 6:35 p.m. PST

For me, narrative gaming involves a storyline and may be skirmish, campaign, or a large battle. The story has some sort of focal point, conditions, goals, etc. that a cast of characters, or a single character, are involved in. A story unfolds based on the rules and scenario conditions. Add some music for a soundtrack, and you have a movie.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Jun 2021 7:29 p.m. PST

Narrative gaming is where the outcome is determined by the decision of the scenario controller (a person or a group) based on the context (background, which grows as the game progresses) and player descriptions of actions.

This is in opposition to rules-driven wargames where formal, a priori dynamics for interactions are defined.

We often inject this into rules-driven wargames when the rules behave "borken".

F'r'ex "Yeah, OK, that's [expletive deleted] … you just rolled all ones on three dice five times in a row for reinforcements. Take your dudes and do like a free move with 'em."

In this case, a statistical outlier event drove the rules into a performance space they weren't expected to transit. so the narrative approach declares what is "realistic" by background criteria outside the rules.

Wolfhag23 Jun 2021 11:14 a.m. PST

That's interesting. Did the Navy use it in their games/simulations?


Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Jun 2021 4:50 p.m. PST

Most large military wargames that I've seen (Navy, Army, Joint, NATO, SEATO, other nations, …), designed, worked, etc. have a "white cell" of "referees". They monitor player actions and outcomes. Their job is to keep the event "on track". Basically, if you're paying $250 USDM for a 1000+ person LVC C4I exercise, it's nice to keep the events focused on the C4I objectives, instead of wandering off to other possible performance spaces.

One of the ways they do that is to moderate any of the automated outcomes from the computers or other adjudication systems. Throwing out outliers, making decisions "easier" or "harder" based on the context, changing the scenario content to fix the focus, etc.

wehrmacht20 Aug 2021 8:04 a.m. PST

It's certainly not referring to "matrix gaming" when used in the tabletop miniatures context.

Think of it as the opposite of tournament gaming – instead of lining up forces of equal "points value" opposite each other and fighting to the death, there's a real scenario (could be more or less complex) and a "story" being told in the game.

Narrative games are often fought between unequal forces with interesting or unusual objectives, and can be part of ongoing campaigns. Winning at all costs is not the goal; telling an interesting and absorbing story is.


Blasted Brains23 Aug 2021 6:21 p.m. PST

Sounds sort of like what was going on with the gents at General Tremorden Reddering's pages all those years ago. Or maybe what General Pettygree is doing. I like that last the best. When I use the term 'narrative gaming' that is certainly what I mean, using miniatures to tell a story, whether it is in the context of a game or just for telling a story. Like what WarIn15mm does.

But I'm a KISS sort, keep it short and simple.

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