How to Run a Supercampaign - Part II

My last post was the first in a three-part series, looking at how to plan and prepare a Supercampaign.  This week, I'll be exploring how you can administer the campaign with a gamesmaster - as well as some thoughts for how you could do it without one.

The Campaign Map


A real map of the area around Nancy, we're using it at the moment for our FPW game.


So, as discussed, we have our campaign map.  The next step for the gamesmaster is to give the players a list of their forces, which they can divide up how they like.

This would be an example list of forces for a brigade, say (made up - since this map is part of a still-active campaign and I don't want to give anything away!).  In a real supercampaign there would probably be a lot more than this.

  • Infantry regiment
  • Infantry regiment
  • Artillery battery
  • Cavalry squadron
  • Wagon train
  • Brigade commander
  • Regimental commander
  • Regimental commander
Each of these is represented by a base of 2mm models in our campaign.  The player then would divide them up into columns, in order of march.  Let's say the player goes with the following organisation

Column One
  • Cavalry squadron
  • Infantry regiment
  • Regimental commander
  • Brigade commander
  • Wagon train
Column Two
  • Infantry regiment
  • Regimental commander
  • Artillery battery
Working out the Details of the Columns

Next step for the GM is to work out the details of the columns - how fast they are, how big they are, how far they can see.  I've done a lot of reserach on this, based mainly on Major General Hamley's Operations of War (1873) and General Derrecagaix's Modern War Vols. I and II.  These figures should hold true for all 19th Century warfare.  First column is the average speed on the march, and the second is the length of the column on the march.





There's a lot of number crunching here, but for a simple example, Column Two would take up 1.25 km (1km for infantry + 250m for artillery).  Its top speed would be 4kph.

The Master Map

Once you have the columns all divided up and at their start points, you can start taking orders from the players and acting them out on your secret Master Map.  In our FPW game, each turn is an hour and it covers a roughly 50 x 100km area.  The ACW one was one day per turn, covering 200 x 400km.  Your scale should depend on the number of models you have and the size of engagement you want to fight.

This is a whiteboard-based order of battle I created for my ACW army, so I could annotate losses and reorganise my troops.
Reconnaisance Range

The 'reconnaisance range' of a column again depends on its composition.  If there is a good cavalry screen, like Column One, it could probably 'see' 10km, whereas Column Two would be lucky to see 4km.  As the GM, it will be your job to feed back reconnaissance reports for each column, based on how far they can see.

Organising tabletop battles

When two enemy columns meet, you play a tabletop battle.  GM discretion is vital here - if one side has a vastly superior reconnaissance range, you may decide to give that player the option of giving battle or pulling out.  When the forces are deployed, it's your job to put them into the right setup, based on what they were doing when the battle started.  Were they both marching towards each other, in which case each unit will be fed onto the field turn by turn?  Or was one side attacking a defended position, so they would start with all their forces on the field?

Roll with it, and don't rely on 'The Rules'

Describing it makes it seem terribly complex.  The key is not to be too prescriptive.  I can't write rules for every scenario - so I don't - and just use the key set of figures above and interpret every situation as it arises.  That's why it's important to know a little bit about the period.

Post Battle Phase

Once battles have been fought, the GM tallies up the casualties and annotates each players' list of forces accordingly.  After a suitable rest period (usually at least 24 hrs for large engagements, perhaps 2-3 hrs for skirmishes), the players regain control of their pips and the loser can move away.

Ending the Campaign

There is no 'victory point' system here.  We usually have an overarching campaign objective, very broadly defined, and it becomes very clear which side is the winner soon.  Usually our campaigns end by mutual agreement once one side's army is too battered to continue.

An ACW tabletop game in full swing.  We use the real
world maps to determine what the terrain should be.
Intelligence

Perhaps the most difficult job for the GM is providing intelligence to the players.  It's not compulsory, but it does add a hugely rewarding and exciting extra layer to the game.  The GM feeds information, some true, some false to each player and sits back to watch the ensuing carnage!  This can be as complex or as simple as you like, but it needs to be rigorously noted by the GM so they can keep track of who found out what information when.

Gamesmaster or Not?

A popular question I've had is what if there is no GM?  Of course, the GM doesn't take part so it takes a bit of self-sacrifice to volunteer for this difficult job.  Or perhaps there are only two players available.  There are a number of options here:
  • Go without a GM.  This is the easiest option.  The advantage is in its simplicity - the disadvantage is you lose a lot of realism by knowing all your enemy's moves as he makes them.  Of course, if you're not interested in the strategy side of the campaign and are only interested in fighting tabletop battles, that works out quite well.  I should mention that for certain specific games this is also the appropriate choice - the ECW campaign was GM-less because it was based on a siege, there was less manoeuvre, and we reasoned we would all be able to see everything as it happened anyway.
  • Randomise.  This is an option KB is exploring for fighting an NPC campaign.  The two players fight on the same side, and a simple D6 system ransomises what they see in front of them as they march.  In a more complex vein he is also working on a system where both players input their moves into a specially-designed Excel spreadsheet which automatically tells you what you're facing.  I think he'll be publishing more on this on his own blog when the project is finished.
  • Battleships.  This is a sort of mix between the two, where the players answer a series of questions along the lines of "have you got any forces near X junction?"  This will of course give away the location of some of your forces, but not all of them.  I haven't tried this option yet to see if it works.
And that's the crash course!  I've simplified a lot of it, because I think the key point is not to have too many rules and deal with each situation as it arises.  If anyone has any questions, I'd be very happy to answer them below.

Ed

Comments

  1. A great set of lessons, which I will take to heart the net time I try to run a campaign like this. Thanks for taking the trouble to show us some of your secrets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mike! When that time does come, I'll of course be happy to help with any queries if you have them. Glad you enjoyed it!

      Delete
  2. I’ve read this several time and been pondering it for a good 24hrs, so its a great addition to the series – thanks! A few random thoughts

    - a very effective and old school approach very reminiscent of Donald Featherstone’s campaign books. Love it. Totally agree that you can't have rules for everything an that a gentleman's approach is best. GMs certainly help gentlemen who while otherwise are very fair spirited gamers can get emotionally invested in a campaign... :-)

    - how did you impede troop movements for terrain? Even if remaining on roads, troops get ‘inquisitive’ when moving through tons and slow down..

    - did you have any random event during the map moves? Or have historic events happen to provide period flavour?

    - did you include weather at all?

    Thanks again and looking forward to the next instalment in due cours

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure Ed will have plenty of answers in response, and I will be happy to chip in with my thoughts after. However one this worth mentioning is that the GM is not so much an Umpire as you described above, but an administrator - not only monitoring the relative movements of the troops, but factoring in the elements you described above - and relaying as accurate a report as is relevant. In reality I don't think most of the campaign elements themselves, e.g. the strategy *need* an umpire as you're never entirely sure what the opponent is doing fully. Perhaps its just us, but we've never had a dispute that couldn't be solved with a bit of sensible discussion and a dice roll. Similarly, our approach and these campaigns in particular are about producing an account or story of a campaign as much as they are about winning it.

      Delete
    2. I'd broadly agree with that, although I think the line with umpiring is blurred sometimes as there are anomalies that you have to interpret without consulting with the player - usually, as KB pointed out, with the aid of a dice!

      - Troop movements are generally quite approximate. Those figures are not theoreticals, they are based on Hamley's own experiences and are realistic estimates including the standard ten minute halt every hour and other vagaries of marching along. I generally shorten marches as they pass through towns or when two forces are using the same road - often 'by eye' reducing the march by about 10%, say.

      - My usual procedure is to have a fate dice every turn. A roll of 3 or 4 means no event, 2 or 5 is a bad / good event, and 1 - 6 is a calamitous / excellent event. I then dream up something appropriate based on reading memoirs. For instance, a '6' result might be something like a short cut has been discovered, increasing the speed of a column. A '2' result could be a disgruntled general demanding to go at the front of the army! Then the player has to write a short in-character letter to placate him, and I judge how good it is. So yes, the period flavour is basically 'cuffed' from my reading of memoirs.

      - Weather is randomised, yes, but also influenced by historical records. For instance, if the officer's memoir says that on a given day it was 'raining', on a 1 it thunders, on a 2-5 it is indeed raining, and on a 6 it is cloudy. Weather reduces marching speed and increases the rate at which units become fatigued - again no rules for this but I will just decide at what point the men have been pushed too far, and that threshold will be slightly sooner in poor weather.

      Delete
    3. Agreed there, although I suppose that's where semantics come in, those (from my ACW experiences at least) are admin (historical/general) anomalies rather than player disagreements, so that's where I'd differentiate from traditional Umpiring a game compared to GMing an RPG-heavy campaign

      Delete
  3. Another superb addition to this series, covers all the bases nicely without getting bogged down in details. Excellent work as ever!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks very much! Had to scrub it for detail so as not to give too much away about the current campaign...

      Delete
  4. Next installment will detail your upcoming "across the internets" grand campaign so we can all join in, right Ed? ;)

    Great to see more into you lot's minds on how these very fun to read about campaigns work. A shame there's only the one more part to be posted after this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, that wasn't the original plan but I suppose I could bring it forward... there might only be one more in this series but there will shortly be more updates on the Franco Prussian War campaign

      Delete
    2. That is something we've spoken about doing more than once over the years, and coincidentally the post I started writing last night does actually go into that...

      Kieran/Headologist (having to post from other account)

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Necromunda Campaign Superpost!

English Civil War Superpost

Laser Destroyer Conversion