Saturday 25 May 2024

The Proof is in the…


… reading. Those few of you who have taken up following me on Facebook will be aware that the final proofs for the Solo Wargaming book have arrived and, by the time you read this, should have been read and returned. I am not entirely sure I am the best person to do this, but needs must. I think that I am far too close to the text to discover any great errors or mistakes – so far I have run across 4 things or so that could or should be amended. As a novie book writer, I have no idea whether this is good or not.

Anyway, I teased on Facebook with the start of the table of contents. If you want to see it, you’ll just have to use the link above and go and have a look at at what is in Chapter 1 and the start of Chapter 2. So here I will show something else, which does not appear to have anything wrong with it.



This is, obviously, a section of the list of references. A long time ago, when I wrote the Polemos: SPQR rules, Mr Berry remarked that he had never seen wargaming rules with references and footnotes before. That was, probably, true, and it is broadly true of wargaming books in general. As someone of a vaguely academic bend, I do referencing and footnoting and so on. Publishers, on the whole, do not much like footnotes, as they use up a fair bit of real estate on the page, and they prefer endnotes. However, Pen and Sword have not complained, and so the text has footnotes, to tell you where I get the information and ideas from. As someone who worked on the edge of academia until fairly recently, I live in fear of being accused of plagiarism. So, as much as I can, I have documented where the stuff comes from.

The above image also shows the rather alarming variety of what I have read, from something to do with Aztecs to Macbeth, science fiction to the history of Israel, and all sorts of points in between. I even managed to cover a bit of World War Two and Napoleonics, which I do not, on the whole, wargame very much. On the other hand, as the regular reader of the blog will be able to establish, I do read quite a lot. Mind you, not everything I read is documented here, which is probably just as well for the sanity of the said reader.

It is, as I hinted above, a rather strange experience, proof reading the final text. I submitted the manuscript to the editor about a year ago, so far as I recall, having already, of course, proof read it once. Then I got the copy editor’s comments back, which I suppose counts as a third proof read. Then I got the first proofs back, which was a third proof read. I believe that the publishers sent it to an independent proof reader as well, which would be the fourth. And now I am doing it again, so the fifth proof read. I am willing to lay money on there still being some errors, typographical, logical, or grammatical left.

As I said, I am maybe not the right person to proof read at this stage, although I am the inevitable proof reader. I am, as the last paragraph suggested, very close to this text, even though I have not seen it for a few months (quite deliberately). Nevertheless, as I was reading it this time I found I knew what came next, and what went before, and all the points in between. I even knew what I was trying to say, even though, on occasion, I would not put it like I did last year. Things move on: a book is a snapshot of a set of ideas at the time; they are printed on paper not written in stone and can, and do evolve.

As an example, when I was a paid employee, we got a paper back from the journal after it had been refereed. The referee’s comments were positive, except that they had a question: ‘You write this here, and yet you wrote the exact opposite in a previous paper. Could you explain what has changed?’ Um, no, not really. Things move on.

So it is with the book. My ideas, some of which have been blogged here, change. I have been engaged with skirmish level wargames, and with the Italian Wars I have read a bit more about warfare and a bit more about wargaming. My ideas have evolved. The book is not my definitive and everlasting last thoughts on the subject.

That said, I still like it as a text. I hope it will be useful to wargamers generally and to solo wargamers, be they full-time solo or part-time. There are a lot of ideas in it, I think, some of which, after my re-reading of the text, I might try to develop myself. One of the challenges of how I chose to write was to not be didactic, and not to supply any complete rules for anything. The idea was to challenge the creativity of the solo wargamer. It seems quite likely that I have ended up challenging myself.

So, what now? The Text will, presumably, go for printing and will then launch itself on the world. This, of all of the processes, is my least-liked bit of publishing. I really do not like looking at the final product, at least initially. When I was publishing academic papers I had to get someone else to open the packages – this was in the days, of course, when you received a bunch of printed pages as the paper. It is perhaps a psychological oddity, but there it is.

I hope that some people will read the book. No doubt some will not like it very much. Some might find it too obvious, or boring, or it might just not cover their own favoured periods in their own favoured way. That is life, and that is publishing. I’ll try not to take the criticisms personally, and hope that many more people will find something useful or encouraging in it. I suppose, on that note, I’ll wind up by showing you the final paragraph of the whole thing.








Saturday 18 May 2024

Sienese Disaster

It was all going so nicely. I decided to, in the Estimable Mrs P’s words ‘have a battle’. It took a while to organise because I decided to revisit the Italian Wars campaign and see how Siena was getting on at taking over central Italy. The answer was ‘rather well’. I started with a few moves where not much happened except that I captured, took over, or negotiated suzerainty with a number of cities.

It was all trundling along rather nicely, and my personal rating was increasing steadily. There were a few hiccoughs, such as a rebellion in Siens itself, with external aid, but the rebels submitted readily enough when I appeared with my army outside the walls. No problems, I thought, this will land up with me being practically canonized in Siena.

Well, the system is not set up to give the solo wargamer an easy ride, of course. The next random event was an external enemy appearing on the scene, and the dice roll indicated that they were the French. I was not too worried by this, as the French are a small army (12 bases) and I was at full strength. All that is needed is to be aware of their Swiss pike, who are very destructive, and to meet their gendarmes with gendarmes, which I could do.

Then I rolled for allies for the French. A heart was drawn, and then a 3 rolled on the dice. Ouch. Three allies. These turned out to be three bases each of crossbow skirmishers, crossbows and, cripplingly, gendarmes. Who on earth would loan the French that many gendarmes?

Anyway, now I had a problem, and I pondered long as to what to do about it. I could stand on the defensive (obviously) or I could call in allies. The problem is, even calling on allies might not guarantee a win, and I would not be able to call on them again for 3 years anyway. I had a fair potential for allies, of course, having taken over eight cities, but something suggested that I shouldn’t.

The terrain rolling might have suggested that this was reasonable, as I was partially defending a stream. That seemed to give good scope for being able to ignore or avoid some of the French hordes. The other side of the table was a bit cramped by enclosures, and hopefully, the French cavalry advantage would be negated, especially as I had an advantage in mounted crossbows.



A few moves in and you can see the situation developing. My mounted crossbows are in the middle of the shot, skirmishing, while the French left gendarmes have crossed the stream and are in disorder (brown markers). On the far side, you can see the French right making progress. On reflection, I think this was a mistake on my part. The French gendarmes were probably unnecessary over there, at least in such strength, and could usefully have been employed on the left, infiltrating on the far left side (nearest the camera) behind the fields and then swinging onto my right flank. As it was, four French bases were tied up by two of mine at the stream.

Moving on, the next picture shows the critical point, in my view, of the battle.


The French infantry are crossing the stream, covered by their skirmishing crossbows. This has worked well for them, although you can see that the skirmishers have mainly been disposed of or dispensed with. On the far side, the stand-off between the French gendarmes (4 bases) and my gendarmes (2 bases) is continuing. The French simply cannot afford to risk crossing the stream with the accompanying disorder and being exposed to a charge as they struggle up the bank.

The action, such as it is, is on the near flank. As predicted the terrain has caused the French cavalry to reduce their width, and my mounted crossbowmen will, this move, recoil theirs, exposing the gendarmes. After a bit of hesitation, I charged them with my right flank cavalry. It was, I thought, a gamble, but worthwhile. I could crack open their left and I might get their main general (the French, learning from the defeat of a large Spanish army, had a sub-general with the infantry).

In theory, that could have worked. My troops gamely charged home. But then the dice deserted them. While one enemy base was recoiled, the other actually recoiled my gendarmes, followed up and put them to rout. At the end of the turn I rolled for my army morale – only one base down. Then I rolled a 6:1 on the morale dice and my brave troops fell back a move. Except the gendarmes on the left who were in combat, and whom the dastardly French managed to gang up upon and rout the next turn.

That was not quite it. I threw my mounted crossbows out on my right to delay the gendarmes and the infantry started to get stuck in, my sword and buckler men magnificently holding the Swiss pike on my centre left. However, the dastardly French gendarmes, who, recall, had not charged so were still in hand and accompanied by the army commander, simply ignored my skirmishers and turned in on my centre right foot, charging downhill onto their flank. Naturally, this was successful and my other sword and buckler men, a base of shot, and a base of crossbowmen, were routed.


The charge of the French gendarmes was halted by the rough ground in my centre, but the French centre left, with the sub-general, was about to turn to take my centre left in the flank. As it was, my army decided it had had enough and withdrew.

*

There is a certain fascination, not to mention a thrill, in designing a system that can defeat you. As it is all is not lost for Siena. Granted, I am 5 bases down in the army and that will take 5 years to make good, but I might manage on allies. The French, however, might go after some more of my cities. On the other hand, my personal rating, while having taken quite a knock, is still fairly high.

On the other hand, I might surrender and spend the rest of my days drinking Bordeaux at the French court.









Saturday 11 May 2024

Paris, 1635


No sooner said than sorted. That is, of course, not quite correct. The sharp-eyed and really bored among you will note differences between the setup here and the one suggested the other week. However, that is simply because the assembly was demolished and then rebuilt, and I did not make a map nor look at any of the pictures for the scenario when rebuilding. So the scenario is as below.


The idea of the scenario is that my player character, a man of good wit and very little else, has to proceed from the near edge of the table, where you can see him with his walking stick, to the far edge to meet a certain M. White, an English secret agent. I am to be his translator, having facility with English and Latin.

The negotiations between the English and French governments are in a delicate state. The French have shut off the Spanish Road from Italy to the Low Countries, and the Spanish would like reinforcements to still get to their possessions in what is now Belgium. The obvious route is along the English Channel, but of course, that has to be by the permission of the English Government and Royal Navy. The RN, of course, has been massively expanded using the controversial Ship Money under Charles.

There are differing views of the potential treaty, of course. There are pro- and anti-treaty factions in both England and France, the Dutch probably have a view as well, as do the Spanish. The set up above has a number of civilians on the street. These are, in fact, markers for random encounters, ranging from street entertainers and traders to agents of the various government factions. My aim is to get along the street without being intercepted, hurt, and, preferably, drawing my sword.

And so I proceeded. The first encounter, in front of the shops on the left, was with a Spanish secret agent. He was quite aggressive, blocking my progress towards the marketplace. Fortunately, the next encounter, whom I managed to trigger while trying to avoid my Spanish interlocutor, was a patrol of the City Watch.


They took a rather dim view of a gentleman citizen being hassled on the street, and moved in, whereupon the Spaniard legged it up an alley, to reappear later in the marketplace.

Fortunately for me, the watch decided to hang around, because my next encounter, just behind the wagon towards the top of the picture, was with a bunch of drunk students. These proved very difficult to get away from; I had to charm my way past them and the character’s charm is rather low. The drunk’s charm was high, although their wit and dexterity were lowered significantly. This caused me a problem as, as I was trying to sidle past them, the leader of the students tripped over his own feet and landed at mine. His colleagues, somewhat muddledly, thought I had struck him and attempted to pursue me.


The watch, too, became interested and I hurried on towards the corner where I encountered a Cardinal’s Guard loitering. As I was employed by the Cardinal, I hoped that this would provide some protection, but he was a bit slow on the uptake. In the picture, you can see the Spanish agent has just got ahead of me in the marketplace, as well.

Further up the road to the left, the next encounter has been unmasked, which turned out to be a sober student. Hearing the commotion on the street with his colleagues, he assumed that I had assaulted them and started to pursue me. He kept failing his wit rolls (he had a wit of 7; I don’t know how universities recruit such people now, it must be for their fees).

The oncoming student had the effect of persuading me to double back past the Cardinal’s Guard and drunken students towards the shop on the right, where the lurking encounter turned out to be a couple of Huguenot officers. Fortunately, these were pro-treaty, and one of them had a wit of 18. He failed to spot what was going on, but his colleague did and moved to cover me from the advancing Spaniard.

In the ensuing fracas, the Spaniard hit me below the belt (the cad!) and I lost an action, but I managed to stagger out of the fray. One of the drunken students took exception to the assault on a Frenchman and hit the Spaniard back, which stunned him too. In the ensuing chaos, I managed to slip away while the Spanish secret agent was surrounded by students, the City Watch, the Cardinal’s Guard, and a Huguenot. He drew his sword, but only to surrender it to the sergeant of the City Watch.




The next two encounters, both triggered at the same time, were with a bunch of street entertainers and some traders, so, as the Watch arrested the Spanish secret agent, I strolled (or limped) up the road to the tavern and saluted: ‘M. White, I presume.’

*

Well, that was fun. It turned what would have been a ‘You meet at the local tavern’ into an amusing game, and also one which I learned quite a lot from. One was the usefulness of having a grid on which you can quickly roll up non-player characters. In Flashing Blades most things are rolled from the main attributes of the character, so you can roll someone up, look at their strength attribute, for example, and work out their chance to land a punch on you. Something for next time.

Another thing learned was the importance of context. This scenario is in the Latin Quarter of Paris, near the university. Hence the chances of students, both drunk and sober. I was lucky that I only rolled up one encounter of someone against the treaty, though. The Spanish agent caused enough trouble, A bunch of English or French anti-treaty agents would have caused a whole lot more.

The planning for the scenario was simple. The situation was written up, my message from the Cardinal typed in a peculiar script, and a table of random encounters, (20 in number – FB uses 1d20 rolls most of the time) written, and off I went. I wonder what happens next...

Saturday 4 May 2024

Humanity

 Humanity

As those of you who have bothered reading my Facebook page will know, recently I have been reading

Glover, J., Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (London: Pimlico, 2001)

The first thing I have to say about it is that is was not exactly what I was expecting. It is not a history of, say, philosophical or theological ethical thinking in the Twentieth Century, but a history of, more or less, how things have gone badly wrong, and occasionally, have not.

In the book, for example, you get a section on ‘Tribalism’ which can be related to a race or a nation. As Glover observes, all of these things are, in fact, human constructs. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities gets a name check here. We are taken on a rather scary ride through various conflicts, such as Rwanda and the massacre in 1994, and the chaos in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In this case, Glover bemoans the lack of a suitable internationally accredited force that could impose order and stop the naked murder and ethnic cleansing that was underway. As a book written over 20 years ago, it is scarily up to date.

There are other items perhaps of more interest to the wargamer. Glover argues cogently that the First World War ensured that the military was no longer so sure it should not target civilians. The Allied blockade of Germany did so target and, he notes gloomily, was continued beyond the Armistice. Somewhere around 750,000 civilians died from starvation. By the time the Second World War came around, the bombing was supposed to be precision-targeted at military installations. A bit of practice indicated that this was, with the technology of the day, impossible. As civilians had already been targeted in the blockade, it was a shorter step to area bombing. Again, Glover notes that this continued even after the Allies had air superiority and could have reverted to precision bombing.

Moving further along the line, Glover discusses the development of the atomic bomb, and how it started with trying to deter Hitler’s Germany from doing the same. In fact, the German A-bomb effort was destroyed at the cost of 28 civilian lives, by partisans targetting a ferry. But the project had its own momentum. The targeting of Japanese cities and civilians by area bombing was already established. It was only a short step to using the atomic bomb.

A further issue with the A-bomb specifically is that everyone tried to believe that the decision to use it was someone else’s. The scientists were only developing a bomb. Their job was to make sure it would work if it were used. The use was the responsibility of the politicians and military. The military, of course, followed orders from the politicians. The politician with ultimate responsibility was Truman, and he created an advisory committee to recommend the course of action. The advisory committee spent its time trying to guess what Truman and Churchill wanted to do. Eventually, the decision was made to use the bomb, of course.

Another aspect is what Glover calls the trap. Exemplified by the soldiers in the First World War trenches who, if they went over the top, got shot and, if they refused, also got shot. They were, in short, trapped. Glover outlines a number of instances of informal agreement across the lines, not just the Christmas Truce of 1914. Needless to say, High Command on both sides tried to put a stop to this.

Glover’s discussion of the outbreak of the First World War and its contrast with the Cuban Missile Crisis is instructive. In July 1914 no one could find a way out of warfare. The mobilization timetables were fixed and everyone, as it were, got on the train. There were options for limiting the war. For example, Germany could have gone to war with Russia and not France, and not invaded Belgium. However the military was out of control and refused to change their mobilization plans. Carnage ensued.

With Cuba, Kennedy was firstly aware of the destructive potential of nuclear war and also aware of the risks of sliding into it in the same way as in 1914. Krushchev also wished to avoid war, having seen the effects of the Second World War. Both managed to keep their hawks under control and find an acceptable solution. It can be done, but we need wise and well-informed politicians to do so.

Glover then trots through the Terror of Stalin, Mao’s China with the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. This is all to do with Belief – in the great leader, in the creation of a better society, and so on. This is well worth reading, if only as a salutary to today’s politicians who seem to be trying to make a cult out of themselves, and to the people who seem to uncritically follow their every word and pronouncement. The views of the British Communist Party members about what they could do over the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 are instructive and alarming.

Finally, we pitch up with Nazi Germany. While Hitler was not the greatest mass murderer of the Twentieth Century, Glover regards the regime as the worst, bringing together both tribalism, in the sense of nationalism and Lebensraum, and Belief, in the messianic claims of Hitler and his acolytes. Thus through multiple little compromises, the distortion of the philosophies of both Nietzsche and Kant, and a large dose of anti-Semitism in the world at the time, the Holocaust was born. Glover points out that railway bureaucrats were quite happy to charge the Reich for return tickets for the guards on trains going to concentration camps, but only singles for the guarded. Children went free. The bureaucrats did not regard themselves as murderers.

No one gets off lightly. Not, obviously, the Germans who, at best, acquiesced to what was going on. Not the Western politicians who decided that they had taken enough humanitarian refugees. A few, such as French civilians who hid Jews, the Italian army who decided that aiding the deportation of Jews was beneath their honour, the Danes who enabled the escape of most Danish Jews to Sweden, and a few others who spoke up against various outrages get positive mentions. But they are not many.

As for wargaming content, well, there is not much, of course, but perhaps sufficient, when coupled with a previous post on the Scope of Wargame Ethics, to give us pause for thought, at least at a strategic level. If the military does not believe in area bombing of targets, they will want armaments that permit precision bombing, and that will affect the equipment they, and wargamers, can deploy. Similarly, wargamers can decide if they attempt to plaster the city which contains a ball bearing factory, or attempt to hit the factory itself, accepting appalling casualties in aircrew to achieve it. In this sense, at least, ethics does have an impact on wargaming.



Saturday 27 April 2024

Moving Further On…


You never know, something coherent might emerge. Another update on my painting activities and the next wargame thinking are nigh. Incidentally, if you want to keep up with the slow drip of things moving chez Polemarch, you can check Facebook. It even comes with occasional pictures. It is a page rather than a profile, which seems to mean there is less gunk on the feed. Maybe.

Still, with a minimum of delay, the first round of painting recently has been these:


The creation of a Korean navy has inched forward, with these five turtle ships. During the Japanese invasion, the Koreans deployed a maximum of seven of these in any given battle. While iconic and famous as the craft that saved Korea, there were not that many of them. Apparently, and understandably, after the war, the Korean navy went a bit turtle ship mad and had dozens of them The black flags are authentic, the glyph is supposed to read ‘turtle’ in Korean. Like that is going to happen in 1:2400 scale.

Next up, and slightly overexposed, are a bunch of dismounted cavalrymen and such like:


So far as I can tell, these are all Redoubt Enterprises dismounted cavalrymen, multi-part figures, except for the Musketeer second from the right, who is a Redoubt figure as well, in even more parts. I had some difficulty with him of persuading his scabbard to stay fixed to the figure. Perseverance paid off, sort of.

These were not the only batch of big figures completed, remarkably for me. There are some more dismounted cavalrymen:


The two figures at the left are, I think, Wargames Foundry of some vintage. These were multipart figures when ‘multipart’ meant coming with a separate arm which you could position as you wished. The others are dismounted cavalry as previously. A slight problem with some of these figures is the positions of the legs and torso can make them a bit unstable, the two figures third and fifth from left being being cases in point because the the backhand slash posture they are in (there may be a more technical term in fencing for that).

Finally in this romp through the last of my unpainted 25+ mm figures are these Parisienne folk from Warbases, acquired at the Stockton show last autumn. Yes, you did read that correctly, these were purchased last autumn and are now finished and based. The others have been in stock, I would say, for well over 20 years.


I quite like these figures, I confess, although as is common with civilian figures I would not want any more. There are only so many uses for plague doctors and people who follow horses with a shovel that you can find. On the other hand, I do wish some manufacturers would make more civilians, just straightforward merchants, market traders, customers, and people drinking a pint at their local, for example. Most of the world, at least in my RPG or skirmish game universe, is a civilian. For that matter, some soldiers who are not brandishing weapons would be nice too. Still, mustn’t grumble, as they say. I couldn’t do any better.

You might be wondering where all this is leading. So am I. I suppose that the Korean fleet is fairly obvious, at least when, in the dim and distant future they have a Japanese fleet to engage with. But these big figures? Well, I do have an idea, and the kernal of it is to be found in the picture below.


Here you see a nice, peaceful, street scene. The date is 1635, and the location is Paris, somewhere in the Latin Quarter, near the University. The buildings are Usborne 20 mm card, from their old Medieval Town set, and I think they are rather nice. I might be about to be told off for not having ‘proper’ 28 mm buildings, of course. On the other hand, most people opt for smaller footprint buildings these days, because it saves space on the table.

The wagons and market cross at the far end are from the same source. They are, perhaps, a little undersized, but the point is that these sorts of things are there to get in the way, rather than anything else. Along these lines I am considering making up the Usborne beehives. Nothing gets someone’s attention more than throwing a beehive at them, I suspect.

Along those lines, many years ago, when I was a RPG umpire running Flashing Blades, the player characters encountered a harpsichord at the top of the stairs. ‘Why is there a harpsichord there?’ I was asked. ‘So you can push it down the stairs at people, of course.’ Sadly, they never got the chance, but the idea was good. In role playing games these things matter.

The picture shows the opening scene in my new Flashing Blades based skirmish game. My character, as yet unnamed, is nearest the camera. His aim is to arrive at the tavern in the marketplace unscathed, where he will rendezvous with a certain M. White (whom you can see standing outside the pub in the distance, to the right).

Unbeknownst to me, of course, there are a fair number of interested parties. M. White is an English agent, sent to negotiate a treaty between Charles I and Louis XIII (and Cardinal Richelieu, of course) against Spain. The Spanish, of course, have an interest in stopping the treaty, as do the ultra-Catholics in the French government opposed to Richelieu’s policies. There are also pro- and anti-treaty English factions, as well as other French parties with interests in stopping or facilitating the treaty. At the moment, I am blissfully ignorant of all this.

The plan is that I will proceed from my edge of the table to the tavern in the marketplace. At 6 or so locations along the way, a random encounter will occur. The encounter can be anything from sober students (and drunk ones) to ruffians and thugs, street players, or agents of any of the parties interested in the treaty. Any combat will be resolved using my own solo swordplay rules and Flashing Blade. These rules are actually described in the Solo Wargaming book, so I won’t repeat them here.

So, a nice easy scenario to start with. What could possibly go wrong?





Saturday 20 April 2024

That Book Again


Well, it is still a while until publication, but someone on the Lone Warrior site has asked about the content of the book. Well, not exactly asked, but grumbled there was no list of chapters and doubted that there would be anything new.

Fair enough. If you put a book out there you can expect grumbles and criticism, although it might be a tad unfair before the book and its content have been revealed. Authors have feelings too!

Still, it is probably a good idea to reveal, even slightly, what is in the book, and, possibly, whether there is anything new. That, of course, is rather subjective. None of it is new to me, naturally, because I wrote it. On the other hand, it was submitted to the publisher last June (or thereabouts) and my memory of the details is getting a little shaky. There may be things in it that will surprise even me.

Still, with little further ado, here is a list of the chapters and some idea of what the content consists of.

Chapter 1: Why Solo Wargame

Naturally, the book starts with a discussion of solo wargaming and why it is a reasonable proposition. It is a bit of a surprise to find people around who still denigrate solo wargaming, but they do. So a bit of justification might be considered to be required, although I’m not really sure it is necessary. Anyway, the answer to ‘why wargame solo?’ is ‘why not?’ of course. There are advantages and disadvantages, but that is life, and I try to discuss them.

Chapter 2: Battles

By a ‘battle’ I mean, here, of course, a wargame. The chapter covers setting up a one-off wargame, choosing a historical period and size of the game from role-playing to large-scale actions. There is also a consideration of how to generate terrain, and two incompatible systems are suggested. That might give the reader a bit of a warning that the book is not a consistent set of rules for solo wargaming. It is, more, a compendium of ideas for the wargamer to take and use to their own ends.

The chapter also contains a discussion of how (and whether) to general both sides – dubbed the divided general and the automated general, and finishes with a discussion of bias and how to detect and correct it.

Chapter 3: Campaigns

Campaigns are, of course, sets of wargames strung together, but how they are strung together is the backbone of this chapter. Various historical periods are considered, as are the assorted scales that can be used. The use (or not) of maps is included, as is my ‘campaign in a day’ system, which some readers of the blog might recall. There are discussions of map moves, reconnaissance, communications, and getting from the map to the tabletop and back. Finally, there is a discussion of recording your campaign and mixing scales.

Chapter 4: Personalities, Logistics and Randomization

It might possibly be thought that the content of this chapter is a bit of a rag-bag of stuff that wouldn’t fit in chapter 3, and to some extent, you would be right. However, a couple of systems of character-creation are described (compatible ones, this time), and then some suggestions for how to use personalities in campaigns. Next, unit histories are suggested – units have personalities too. This is, admittedly, an old idea but worth reviving, I think, if only for the entertainment of the solo wargamer.

Next up, logistics, that topic most wargamers shy away from, is considered, with a couple of ways of dealing with it which, hopefully, will mitigate the pain. On the other hand, I did land up looking up the payload of a Dakota while writing it. The scars still show….

Finance, recruitment, and diplomacy are also thought about in this chapter. There are, of course, a number of ways of dealing with this and it depends on your campaign and its scale; an imagi-nation will have to consider it, a simple theatre game not so much. Still, it is quite interesting to ponder, and I make a few suggestions how to handle such matters.

Random events of various kinds are suggested, ranging from high command demanding half your units to the weather grounding the enemy air force. All sorts of things can and did happen in warfare; I think all you need is a table and a bit of imagination, and I make some suggestions.

Chapter 6: Siege, Naval and Air Wargames

Those slight prima-donnas of wargaming are then discussed. Every time I say that, actually, I am bombarded with examples of siege, naval, and air wargames, but really I think most wargamers are interested in land warfare. Sieges in a campaign can be thought of as a slight inconvenience or as a potential set of wargames, and ways of dealing with both are suggested. Naval wargames are also discussed with thoughts about scope and scale. It is inevitable that these are different from land wargames, of course. It is similar to air games, and there are a variety of ways of dealing with it, again. There is also an example here of what you can do as an air campaign, which is interesting (I think – I lost Malta when I tried).

Chapter 6: Advancing

This, the final chapter (who cheered?) discusses how to keep going. I consider sources of inspiration – books, films, magazines, and even an opera. I ponder why reading military history can be less useful than expected. There is also some discussion of taste in wargaming, although I refrained from a full-blown examination of wargame ethics. I also explain what I had to miss out of the book and reiterate the purpose of writing it.

So, there you are. That is what is in it. Does it contain anything new? The footnotes will indicate from where I have obtained ideas and suggestions, so I will grant that not everything is new. There are also one or two bits from the blog included, but I do deprecate self-plagiarism. A lot of it is, in my view, fairly new or ideas that really should be looked at again.

There are no photographs of nicely painted soldiers in the book. Firstly, that would have massively increased the price point and, secondly, I would have had to find out how to take nice photographs and how to paint wargame figures nicely. I know my limitations. It is much more a book for ideas of how to wargame solo, rather than show off my wargames. There might be a place for both in the wargame canon, but pretty pictures are not me, as a quick review of blog posts here will reveal.

So, there you have it: a bit more than the publisher’s blurb, but a bit less than the actual content (you’ll have to buy the thing for that, I’m afraid). I should imagine that the website also takes cancellations of pre-orders if you are put off by the above.

If you have questions, please comment. You can check on progress (what progress?) toward publication, and what else I’m doing, on Facebook.



Saturday 13 April 2024

Of Dungeons and Things


Well, more of the things, really. The dungeons part of the title is really because I saw the other week that 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Dungeons and Dragons (TM, no doubt) by Gary Gygax and David Arneson. This was brought to my attention by an article in the Guardian, which is quite interesting in its own right.

I confess I have never played D & D. My own role-playing days started with Runequest and progressed through Call of Cthulhu, various science-fiction-based stuff, and finishing up with Steve Jackson’s Toon and Flashing Blades (which is still available, I notice). I once got banned from playing Toon as a character because I was too good at it. The knack of playing Toon was to do something, no matter how silly, rather than to hesitate and get ‘boggled’. Possibly I am so saturated in TV cartoon lore that I just do silly naturally.

Flashing Blades was very much up my street. I recalled watching the badly dubbed series on daytime TV when I was off school for the summers (and doubtless my parents were out; they didn’t approve of daytime TV. O tempora, O mores!). Still, having got all the science-fiction and fantasy out of my system, perhaps all that was left was historical silliness. And Flashing Blades provides that.

Of course, now, as a fully paid-up solo wargamer without a role-playing group to boot (they all stayed in the south), I have to try to figure out how to role-play on my own. Now, this is not a problem, really, but the Guardian article has an interesting take on the whole idea of role-playing games, which I agree with and which will, I think, be of considerable assistance in my ruminations.

The article suggests that role-playing games are ‘collaborative world-building’ games. The idea is not to win something necessarily, but to construct as believable world, most often, of course, a fantasy world with monsters and the usual plethora of weird and wonderful creatures. It does not have to be like that, of course. Any sort of world can be built.

The rules of the game then become more like guidelines for the collaboration of world building. A monster that takes a swipe at the player characters is not necessarily a mindless brute, but in a properly run RPG has a purpose of its own, is set in the landscape (mental or physical) for a reason, and has some sort of motivation. In a world like that, simply killing a monster because it is a monster, or because it has a gold coin, or whatever, starts to get frowned upon. A world is more complex and subtle than that.

Another way to look at RPGs (and indeed, wargames in general, I think) is that they are exercises in telling stories. We do not know the outcome of the story when we start, which is why a wargame is not a novel, but we tell the narrative in such a way as to start to progress towards some sort of end, some sort of satisfying finish, or at least, end of a chapter or scene.

Writing a RPG campaign, or a wargame scenario, is not as straightforward as writing a novel. While novels are (the best of them) character-led, an RPG is player plus chance-led. We cannot know when planning, whether a particular outcome will occur. I once had half the PC party jump off a tall building in pursuit of something or other, and die. So I had to consider how to get them out of that and back on the track of the plot. This is not necessarily something that can be planned for. Similarly, in a wargame scenario, it is difficult to accommodate one side rolling a load of sixes and the other ones. But such things do happen.

As a solo wargamer, things are both a little more pointed and a little less. They are more difficult because there is no collaboration in the world-building. This might be an advantage in that as the dungeon master I might have a vision of the world that the players do not grasp; that cannot happen in a solo RPG. On the other hand, the world relies on one imagination only, and my character’s actions within it. This might be somewhat limiting.

I think the overall design of the scenario and campaign in solo RPGs is one which, even more than group games, is episodic in nature. Thus, there is an overall narrative arc – escort the ambassador to the port – and a series of scenes within that – meeting the ambassador, getting him from A to B, avoiding ambushes, the ambassador’s own attempts to get captured and so on. As a solo player, I can be more flexible, not deciding on the next scene until the last one is completed, keeping within the overall narrative arc.

The fount of these musings has been the painting I have just been doing. As seen recently, I have finished 5 more dismounted cavalrymen, and just now a bunch of civilians (Parisian folk, by Warbases). The question arises as to how to use the, of course. I have in mind reviving the Treaty of Corbie scenario and reworking it a little better than the original. There is certainly enough scope for a bit of skulduggery (hard to do as a solo player? Not necessarily), with different interest groups hoping to lay their hands on the treaty – pro and anti-English factions, French factions, and Spanish factions, and probably quite a few bystanders (hence the civilians). I have also been building some 20 mm scale card houses, which fit in quite nicely.

All I really need to do now is some design of the initial scenario or two, and the overall arc, which I already know. I might invest in some trees and hedges and so on, but most RPGs dispense with such niceties, and so I probably will as well. I shall have to see.