Playing Narrative Games, Part II

How to prepare for a narrative event

By Bill Castello

So how do you get ready for a narrative event? Simple answer, however you want, but it should include at least a good backstory for your army. Once you know what the embedded narrative elements are, you should look at your existing narrative army. You need to see how you will fit your army into the existing narrative elements. (If this is your first event, maybe you have to create an army from scratch, more on this later).

For starters, ask yourself some questions;

Why does my army exist?

Why is it here, in this place, fighting for these goals?

Why is my warlord here and what do they hope to accomplish?

What is my army’s overall goal and is the same or similar to the campaign goal?

Once you know these answers, even vaguely, you can craft your backstory. For some folks, this is nothing more than a sentence or two. For others, it can be a full multi-media extravaganza with army lists published in magazine format, videos and the like (I’m pointing at you, Mr. Steve Foote, master narrativer). This is another area where the more effort you put in, the easier it will be for you to fold your army into a narrative event or campaign.

Prepare to be challenged, but never be the judge. As you enter the event or campaign and meet the like-minded folks that will be going on this narrative journey, make sure to have an open mind. Never look down on anyone else’s level of preparation, and certainly, don’t judge. Some folks may be new at this and not have your level of preparation or effort. They may also have four kids and no time to dedicate to generating a rich and multi-media backstory. It is never helpful for someone to preach at another player on ‘how to narrative better’. Of course, if you have real constructive criticism, find out if they want your input, and then freely give it. We’re all here to help others tell a story together.

How to make a list

If you don’t already have a list for your narrative, here are a few things to think about. First and foremost, you don’t have to dumb it down or make a ‘soft list’ for your narrative army. What you do need to do is try to make it make sense, given the embedded narrative. Think about the backstory you have been presented with and how your army might fit into that.

If the backstory has elements of ‘your army has been stranded in this desolate waste for years, searching for an escape’, then perhaps you may want to have more elite forces and less of the ‘ground-pounder’ troops. After all, the weak would have perished and only the strongest and hardiest would still be around, looking for a way out. Conversely, if the narrative is more like ‘your army has just arrived in the area…’ you may want a preponderance of troops, and few of the more powerful units. After all, this excursion may be nothing and those powerful forces are needed elsewhere.

The biggest thing to think about is the point limits. Try to have a decent ratio of the ‘tough as nails’ to ‘squishy objective holders’ in your list and carry it forward as you grow your army, if the campaign or event has a growth mechanism. If the system you have penalizes losses, meaning you have to spend glory/coin or some other currency for replacements, it will usually be cheaper to replace troops than elites.

At this point, you may also want to start thinking about your goals. Not victory conditions, but rather, goals. Is your goal to grow this army to gargantuan size and slaughter all before you? Perhaps the goal is to escape a desolate waste or enemy controlled area. When you choose an army, try to think about what kind of units will help you achieve that goal. If you’re on the run, pursued by the enemy, then you may not want to have slow, ponderous monsters in your list. If you are the pursuers, you may want to look for fast cavalry units and speedy, hit-and-run units.

These are the sorts of things to think about. Many NEOs will tell you that you should build an army to a certain point limit, but they may also say not to worry about the ‘matched-play restrictions’. Of course, the power gamers would spam the best units in the game at this point to try to wreck face at the event. But we’re narrative players, we’re not going to do that, right?

But what if it makes sense? What if, narratively, your army should consist of all one type of unit? Talk it over with the NEO! If you have a good idea. Maybe between the two of you, you can come up with some limitations that would make the game fun for both players, and still let you have nothing but a certain unit. If it is an especially powerful unit, perhaps you are plagued by ammo or power shortages and only one quarter of your force can move or shoot in each turn. If it is a common troop type, perhaps they are exhausted and cannot run or charge during the game?

These are just ideas, but they may help to spark a thought for you. The idea is to make a fun list that you will enjoy playing, and your opponent will enjoy playing against. If your list is full of the absolutely latest, greatest beasties ramped up with excess power from previous games and won glories, are you in the right place? Are you helping to tell a story on the table, or are you trying to dictate a story to your opponent? If the latter, maybe you should have bought a ticket to the GT?

Bill is a host of the Rolling Bad Podcast and NEO for Coalescence, NOVA Open, and now Oasis Aflame at LVO 2020: you can hear him talk about this exciting new narrative event at Casual NEON Podcast.

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