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Scrumlandia: The Start of Something Special?

The Second Saturday Scrum Club played another game of Chainmail this weekend, after having such a swell time back in January when Keith Sloan ran his "Battle of Emridy Meadows" scenario for us using the rules.

But first we spent an hour and a half brainstorming and “blue-skying” how we might cobble together our own Braunstein-esque RPG/wargame campaign, discussing how we might borrow concepts and mechanics from a variety of sources spanning the entire gamut of fantasy gaming’s history, from Arneson’s Blackmoor and Gygax's Castle & Crusades Society games to a variety of RPG systems over the decades that have attempted to incorporate "domain" creation and management rules up to what we're able to glean from the blog postings for the upcoming Oathmark wargame system. 

Rich brought over a slew of different RPG systems we might want to consider for the sessions in the campaign in which we scale down to that level of action. We've also revived an occasionally discussed idea of getting the old TSR Battlesystem on the table (something of which John and I both have owned one edition or another of for decades and have yet to play). Battlesystem (especially 2nd ed.) feels a lot like a cleaned up and expanded version of Chainmail at heart, so it might be what we end up adopting when the story arc telescopes back out to mass battle sessions. 

Rich remembered some potentially useful material from a "world building" issue of Dragon Magazine (#293), and John had once for another game group tried pulling together something akin to what we're developing which has some nice material we're likely to plunder for our own game.

We're not completely sure how we're going to organize it all, which is exciting and a little intimidating, as all blank slates are. I'd really like to develop a way for us to run it without somebody having to take on the role and work of game mastering the entire thing, which is how these games are usually played. I think this is where we might be able to develop some novel subsystems and mechanics for resolving certain parts of the game.

Here are some very raw ideas I've floated that we'd need to develop further but might get us on the path to a referee-free campaign model: 
  1. Regularly Updated Between-Game Event Tables. Between games each player would have to roll on a couple of events tables, one with unforeseen benefits and another with unanticipated challenges/setbacks. These tables would get refreshed by the group in between games with every player contributing two new "events" to the beneficial and detrimental tables. Example events on such tables might be something like a plague sickens all of the horses in that player's kingdom, reducing their effectiveness in the next battle, or a bumper crop allows the hiring of some mercenaries to augment your forces in the next battle. Because the tables would get updated between each session, some of the events that players contribute to the tables could possibly reflect developments in the world up to that point in the game. For example, after a battle in one session, somebody might populate these event tables with some events related to the outcome of that battle (e.g., the violent storm evoked by the wizard in the last battle makes any flying units reluctant to join the next battle, or, say, the violent storm in the last battle means the plains have flooded and the next battle will be fought on fields that are now one-third marsh lands). 
  2. Shared Between-Game Storytelling Mechanics. I also want develop some way to allow us to plot non-combat activities between games, a simple mechanic to resolve the probability of success/failure and the outcome of either. The idea needs more refinement, but one possibility would be for each player to simultaneously announce 1-2 ulterior objective in between games, say, for example, arranging a marriage between my king's son and a royal daughter in a neutral kingdom. Or perhaps I try to send a stealth group of elite guard to steal a dragon's egg that a nearby group of orc's found. Or my dwarves want to prospect for new gold veins in the nearby mountain range to increase my kingdom's wealth. These are sub-plots/objectives that can be made up "whole cloth" by each player as the game unfolds; none of these things should be game breakers, but they would add narrative flair and provide the opportunity for small advantages or failures. These "sub plot" tasks would need to have three components (1) a statement of action, (2) an explanation for why it is at all plausible, and (3) the proposed outcome. The success or failure of this subplot would then be determined by having all of the other players anonymously assign the task a difficulty or probability rating (say, level 1-5, easy to hard) according to how persuasive and realistic it was presented. Those assigned levels are averaged, and then there's a simple die roll of some sort to determine the level of success against that averaged difficulty rating. Let's take two possible examples:     
         (a) Say I make up a sub-plot in which I want my dwarves to go prospecting in some mountains in my own kingdom to look for a new vein of gold which I propose would allow me to upgrade one unit of my light footmen to armored footmen. Everybody secretly throws a chit in a bag rated 1-5 (easy to hard); there are three players who think that sounds very doable and throw in a "1" chit in the bag, two players rate it a "2," and one player thinks that task should be a "3" level of difficulty. If there are six players besides myself, that would equal a 10 out of a total 30 points, which we might deem according to our "Task Difficulty" chart to fall in the "Moderately Easy to Achieve" category. The player with that objective then rolls a d12 against a target number for that category of difficulty (say that "Moderately Easy to Achieve" tasks need a roll of four or higher to succeed). A roll of 1 or 12 has special consequences that a random player can decide (e.g., I rolled a one, so it is decided that a cave in in those mines means I actually lost a unit of light foot, or a 12 means I actually struck a really large vein and can upgrade the armor for two units instead of the proposed one).
          (b) Say I want to assassinate the general of the dwarven forces in another player's kingdom. I make the case why I think I have a shot for succeeding. Players anonymously throw in chits grading the difficulty, and this time the results are a 24 out of a possible 30, which places it in the "Improbable" category, requiring a roll of 11 or higher to succeed on a d12.

Each Player Running Two Distinct Factions
One idea I've put on the table is that each player would potentially have two sets of forces in their domain of control, a grouping of "good" and a grouping of "bad" actors in a region. So, in practice, as a player I might claim a region in which I run a dwarven city-state with some smaller human settlements, but I would also have as part of my domain an underground city of goblins and their hill giant henchmen. 

So, maybe for one session I'm running the goblins in my region against the elves in somebody else's region, but in the next session my dwarves are joining up with another player's troops to fight off belligerents from another player's forces of "not-good"/chaos. I guess one thing I like about the idea is that nobody has to commit to playing "good" or "bad" guys for the entire campaign. I might enjoy leading a small army of rat men or undead from my domain sometimes, but I don't know if I'd want to lock myself into that for a full campaign.

"Winter Is Coming," or Narrative Focal Points for Campaigns/Seasons
I really like the idea of each campaign or season being organized around some central theme or narrative, some sort of event or dilemma that we all have to contend with in our own ways. So, if each "season" takes something like six to eight sessions to conclude (e.g., five big battles plus three RPG sessions), then each player might have their own chosen individual objectives and priorities (as every province naturally would) but also some overarching objective or event all the players are contending with at the climax of the campaign.

The Battle of Red Crag

Here are some photos from the battle we enacted at our gathering. Good times were had, even though Chainmail felt a little creakier without Keith as referee who would have quickly resolved some of the questions and ambiguities we bumped into. That said, Chainmail is still a very quick playing and bloody game, which I like a lot.

(l-r) Jared and John
(top to bottom): Joe and Rich

(l-r): Steve and Jared 


 Parting Shots and Closing Thoughts

It's interesting how quickly this game is coming together. From the time I started writing this blog two days ago to now, John Sears has already developed some cool ideas around establishing the geography of our domains and the starting forces we might derive from them. I'll keep folks posted on those and more as this progresses. Perhaps this is an upside of the coronavirus: Folks are focusing their attention and new free time from foregoing commutes on fun past times like this. I'm just hoping we all live to get to play this game!



  1. That is something special and looks amazing to boot. Sound like it got everyone's creativity working too.
    Good luck staying alive over there :D.

    1. Thanks for the kind note. Hope you and yours are coping well in these strange times...


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