Saturday, 11 November 2017

Postmodern Wargame Rules

Once again I have been reading about postmodernism. My sins (in a previous life, of course) must have been really bad. Or possibly this is, in fact, purgatory. Either is possible. Douglas Adams did hypothesise that if anyone figured out what the universe was for, it would instantly be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. His second hypothesis was that this had already happened.

One of the problem that I, at least, have, is trying to get to grips with what postmodernism really is. I suspect that the true postmodernist would rule the question out of court. Even to ask the question is to be insufficiently postmodern, I suspect. On the other hand, extreme postmodernism views the entire world as a construct, mostly of human language. As Alvin Plantinga once pointed out, on this basis a roomful of people not thinking about the Moon could make it disappear. Somehow, that does not happen. He also observed that not thinking or talking about it would be a tremendous and very cheap way of curing most medical problems.

Be all that as it may, the more serious postmodern philosophers take hermeneutics seriously. By this they mean that a text can have multiple interpretations. Each interpretation cannot be ruled as being wrong. I am not mad because my interpretation differs from yours. The problem is that this can land up in both smugness and relativism. Smugness because, of course, such things as the Reformation and the murder it evoked would not have happened if everyone was as smart and as tolerant as postmodern hermeneutic philosophers. Relativism because, so far as I know, no-one has come up with criteria for deciding which of the alternative interpretations is, in any sense at all, better.

Now of course we hear the cry in the distance ‘It is all relative!’ This is one of the claims of the late modern (and whatever comes after that) world. The problem here is that the statement itself ‘it is all relative’ is not a relative statement. It is an absolute. It is really saying ‘everything is relative except this statement’. The response of most sane, non-postmodern people who stop for a moment and ponder it is to rule the statement itself out. There have to be some absolutes somewhere, otherwise nothing, including the internet, would work.

By now you are probably wondering where the wargame content is, or, probably, you have already guessed it and are about to stop reading anyway. Fair enough. I am, almost certainly, insufficiently postmodern for most postmodern tastes and not nearly modernist enough for most modernists. Mea culpa (hey, dog Latin; this is a blog of culture and taste).

Anyway, as those of you who read the blog more than once, and who are not Russian bot-nets who occasionally bombard the site with spurious hits, will know, I am attempting to perpetrate some wargame rules, both of them in areas about which I feel I know too little. This is, of course, highly postmodern. At least, most postmodern philosophers feel they can comment on anything without the need for understanding it. Hence the Sokal hoax, for example, which is one of the funniest incidents in fairly recent academic scholarship I am aware of.

My lack of knowledge apart, there is an issue of interpretation. Opinions in historiography vary, often widely. For some, the landing of Spanish troops on the shores of England would have provoked fanatic resistance from the inhabitants. There is some evidence for this. English forces were not as badly trained and organised as earlier historiography suggests. The regime did have loyal supporters, and English troops fighting on home soil might not have been as bad as their counterparts sent abroad.

On the other hand, who would really have wanted to take on the regional (or global; again, opinions differ over the might of Spain) superpower in the cause of a regime which had as its head an unmarried woman of a certain age without children? Not only that but Elizabeth was excommunicated and could appear vacillating. Furthermore, if Parma’s forces had got ashore, would the hardened professionals not have made mincemeat of the English trained bands? England was not the Netherlands. While earthworks could have been constructed, large-scale flooding as used to defend Low Country cities was not an option. The Spanish probably could not be bogged down in siege warfare until they went bankrupt again.

We thus have a problem of multiple interpretations. If the Armada landed, the English might have had a chance, or they might not. The case can be argued either way. There is no final evidence, in the form of the Armada landing, which could decide the case. We can become lost in a welter of conflicting opinion, all backed up by evidence of some form or another, all open to interpretation and re-interpretation.

As I have mentioned before, the problem confronting a wargame rule writer is that this sort of situation cannot prevail. We require greater certainty than the evidence can yield, and a more concrete basis of interpretation than historiography can give us. In short, we have to guess. We have to go way beyond the evidence and do things no historian would accept (I know there are historians who are wargamers; I guess they have to accept it was well).

All we can do is to write down our pre-rule writing suppositions. I think the English trained bands may have given a good account of themselves fighting in their own counties, therefore I have decided they will not run away as soon as they are shot at by the Spanish. I have, of course, only highly indirect evidence for this; in part this supposition is based on the fact that I would like to have a worthwhile wargame at all. But at least that presupposition is clear and my lack of evidence for it is stated. Someone can, of course, come along and challenge it but then, possibly, there is no way they can confirm their assumption and we will have really boring wargames.

Somehow, in postmodernism, reality still intrudes. Derrida wrote texts and expected people would read them, even though that activity was questionable in his eyes and what the reader was doing was potentially ambiguous. Nevertheless, Derrida’s texts exist. Nevertheless my ‘Wars of the Counter Reformation’ rules exist.


  1. I'm afraid that its too early in the morning for my brain to cope with pre,post or mid, modernism and at the best of times I struggle with any of the forms of Latin, Imay Adbay.

    However, while one can't know, one can at least look at the evidence and compare it to other similar situations and assess relevance, possibilities and vague probabilities and make one's best guess or throw it all in.

    Once we have looked at whether or not there was a nucleus of who were trained and armed to an acceptable level and whether there may have been men among them who had see service and maybe action whether in Ireland, Scotland or on the Continent, and then looked at what we know of the Spanish soldiers who would have landed, keen veterans, tired veterans, raw recruits, etc, one can look at the compare these forces to other relevant ones where we have some evidence.

    In the absence of flooding what other terrain strngths and weakness, how open the country, how many rivers, closed fields and so on, how many towns needed to be occupied to control the territory and secure supply lines once away from the coast?

    How well did English levies fight in other wars such as the Wars od the Roses a mere 100 years before? what about the English Civil war 60 odd years ahead?

    The French civil wars saw sudden increases in armies with new troops fight with and against professionals, how did they do?

    How experienced and smart were the generals, oh wait, in wargaming that is us!

    1. I agree, but the comparisons can be tricky.

      Generally, the trained bands were trained, at least 1585-8, when the danger was perceived to be at its height. Some of the officers were experienced, some were appointed because of reliability and social status.

      As for the Spanish, it depends on who landed. Parma's were obviously experienced, but I'm not sure who the troops on the Armada itself were, whether they were levies or experienced.

      As for defences, there were few in England. I don't think the WotR persuaded anyone to fortify, and the first modern defences were at Berwick on Tweed. This leads some commentators to suggest that the Spanish would have cut through southern England like a hot knife through butter.

      It is an interesting question about how well levies would fight in the early modern period. They seem to have done fairly well if decently officered, but if not are prone to panic. It leads me to suspect that the experienced troops were not that well trained either.

      So yes, some evidence, which I am still garnering, but sometimes the evidence just makes things a bit murkier...

  2. I am troubled by the comment from Plantinga that you cite. Social construct theory, as I understand it, would not require or lead to of the disappearance of the moon if people did not think about it. It sounds a bit like those gotcha moments where people suggest that anyone stating that science is a social construct should stick their hand in a bowl of boiling water and see how much of a social construct they really think it is. They stem from a misunderstanding of what a social construct really is. They underlying reality exists, but our relationship to it is a social construct. Or something like that, anyway. I'm probably not po-mo enough for this.

    Anyway, that's enough rambling about things I don't really understand. I'm left wondering if your rules are a social construct in themselves; a socially mediated mode of interaction negotiated between you and yourself (because you are a solo gamer), in the same way as other players might negotiate an understanding of the rules between themselves and other players at the club (or wherever). The rules have a physicality of their own that cannot be denied, but their use and understanding is the social construct.

    1. I think to be fair to Plantinga he was reacting to some of the sillier moments in early-ish postmodernism with claims that the whole of everything is a social construct. There is an extent to which science is a construct, but also an extent to which we bump our noses into stuff. Reality has a habit of inserting itself into our constructs. We just don't really notice because our constructs are the reality. At least, if they don't conform then we will get killed on the next zebra crossing.

      Anyway, yes, wargaming and wargame rules are social constructs. I can write about them and you can react because we know what we are talking about (in broad terms) and trying to achieve. Understanding them (or anything else) is neither empiricism nor idealism. In the first we simply believe that we see them. In the second we see them and understand something. But only when we reach a point of judgement - this is so (or these rules are too silly for words) - do we really understand and are able to make use of that understanding.

      Interestingly, I've recently been asked about the socio-cultural nature of learning, and I was just having a ponder. We do negotiate learning (say, a new rule set) with others. Even a solo gamer does so, by negotiating with the norms of the hobby, history, "facts" and so on. But how that works I'm not sure.