Saturday, 31 October 2015

How To Run a Supercampaign - Part III

Afternoon everyone, and time for my (belated) Part III in the series, How To Run a Supercampaign.  In Part I, we looked at how to prepare for these campaigns and Part II saw a delve into the mechanics of administering them.

For the third and final part, I'll be exploring how to add character and fluff to your games, bringing them to life.  Although the mechanics of a map campaign in this level of detail are perhaps unusual, they're not unique.  Player feedback has told me that the fluff is the best part of a Supercampaign.  I don't want to tell people how to write fluff - many of you are already experts on creating it.  This is more on how to make simple, easy fluff that doesn't take hours.


The aim of fluff is to make the players love their armies.

Another great aspect for the
gifted photoshopper is the
chance to see yourself
reincarnated throughout
history, like Ollie in the
Franco Prussian War...

We play 2mm games quite often - sometimes standalone single missions.  Fun though these are, we often comment on how reckless we are with them.  Since there's no follow up, and no character, we have no compunction in charging madly at each other in a reckless fashion.  The fluff changes that - of course because we're playing a campaign, there's a motivation to preserve your army for future battles.  But fluff makes you have a tiny sense of what it must have felt like to be a general ordering men to their deaths.  

At the Second Day of the fictional Battle of Chattanooga, I decided to charge some of the Confederate guns.  The charge was repulsed with some timely double canister, and the models fell back with heavy loss.  Except, because I had been leading my army for months at this point, it wasn't just a stand of models, as this excerpt from the writeup shows:
...and Ollie in the
American Civil War!
The gunners of Lieutenant Preston’s Helena Battery saw the mass of blue come rolling down the hill towards them.  The Yankees would be on them in minutes.  Addison B. Preston ... quickly ordered double canister loaded, and calmly held his nerve while the Yankees thundered closer.  When the closest were fifty yards away, the command “Fire!” was drowned out by the near-simultaneous volley of six guns belching shot and fire at point-blank range.
 On the Federal side, the charge was immediately lost in the smoke and those who survived immediately dropped to the floor or fell back in confusion.  The 25th suffered 282 killed and wounded that day, out of 410 engaged, the majority from Preston’s one canister volley.  Among the dead in front of the guns was Colonel Buckner, whose body was later recovered “still gripping his sword tightly in his hand”.
This is what gets the players' emotional investment going.  So, how do we do this?

Staying 'in character'

The best way to do this is to make all written communication between you and the players 'in character'.  Of course, it would be easy to supply players with a convenient map, with red dots marking the progress of their troops.  However, we often give scribbled notes to each other which describe where the men are in an inexact way:
The 16th Ohio passed Georgetown this afternoon, and are encamped on the road just south of Rope Creek, some six miles from the town. 
That also gives the players an extra challenge in tracking the movements of their men, making it all the more immersive.

Relaxing in the garden, thinking
up my next campaign move...
Recording the battle for posterity

The feeling of 'history breathing down your neck' is one many soldiers have reported.  A big campaign, built up over a number of weeks, will give a sense of that.  Players know that once the campaign is over, social events in years to come will degenerate into reminisces of the glories of past battles (I can confirm this from experience).

So, it's important to make some record of your battles.  I usually scribble some notes down as the GM, to save them for a write-up later on.  I spent most of last year off work with an injury so I had time to produce books on the ACW and ECW campaigns.  This is a luxury - but the easiest way to do this is writing battle reports for our respective blogs, in an 'in-character' style.  It's something we already do, and lets you browse back in years to come and reminisce!  One blogger very good at this is Zzzzz over at Devos IV (click here for a particularly good example from the last few weeks).

Incorporate quotes and memorable moments

I always like to translate real-life events into in-character tidbits (see here for a full tutorial).  Another example from the Chattanooga campaign - in one battle, a Confederate cavalry brigade was badly mauled and forced to surrender when they were surrounded by Yankee troopers at the Battle of Commerce.

Particularly memorable episodes of battles are immortalised
forever in these battle maps - this one tells the story of
Gladden's Brigade's gallant defence of the Stone Wall and
Bloody Pond outside Chattanooga.
My brother Ollie made an offhand comment during the battle about how he would miss 'his boys' now that they were marching into captivity, which I sneakily noted down and again wrote into the book:

On the 16th, word began to filter through to the army about the scale of the defeat at Commerce.  The news affected Oliver deeply.  Surgeon Callcote recalled:
 

I hardly ever saw the general express any emotion whatever, but when the news of Withers’ routing at Commerce was received he struggled to maintain his composure and was heard to repeatedly mutter, “My boys!”
The joy in reading your actions and words written up as if you were a real general, then reading them later on, cannot be overstated.  It's one of the most rewarding aspects of providing write ups for supercampaigns, and the reason we love them so much.

Conclusion

I hope this series has been of interest, and crucially that we've covered the whole aspect.  Both the nuts and bolts of running the campaigns, as well as touching on the abstract of how and why they can be so rewarding.  Of course, the key here is the GM, and although we touched on some alternatives to GMs in Part II, all participants need a certain amount of free time and investment into the process to really make it work.

But I can tell you that it really, really is worth it.

5 comments:

  1. Another great instalment on this series, thanks!
    I can see that I'm going to have to spend some time getting much more familiar with Photoshop :-)

    Sorry you had such an injury, but its fantastic what you invested the time into and it clearly helped maintained your sanity during a difficult period. And what moments to have - brilliant!

    I think my biggest question is how the GM-player integration worked. You said that you "scribbled notes to each other which describe where the men are in an inexact way" - how did this work exactly? The the GM work out that Red force could now pick up intel on blue force and so told the blue force commander to scribble a note on his dispositions? Or did you do this at the end of each day as a matter of course with the assumption of local spies and note passing?

    thanks again!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Paul! Yes, it was a disappointing time (took me off a career course I wanted to do) but this was so rewarding I think it more than made up for it.

      I've fired you an email with some more detailed answers and examples but essentially the first one is the way that it works. When I say inexact I really meant that stuff was verbally described to the general, rather than being shown on a nice clean electronic map, creating an extra layer of immersion.

      But it's the GMs job to work out 'who can see what' and pass relevant information accordingly. Usually the person being spied on doesn't even know it - just as in real life! Since the GM is omniscient I don't have to ask for the information. That's one aspect that only a GM can do, if you opt to go without one it's really not feasible.

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  2. Nice. S'bit easier when it's almost wholly a work of fiction, but yes, there's always things to pick up from the game to slide into the narrative.

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    Replies
    1. Yes fair point, you can leave a lot more unsaid in a fictional universe I suppose. It would be good to get all your fluff collected together one day, in a big tome...

      (Seed planted - walks away)

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to write up and post this series of articles. It made for some interesting and enlightening reading.

    Perhaps some day in the future I'll have the opportunity to try out something in this vein myself. Perhaps.

    ReplyDelete