Playing Narrative Games, Part III (of III)

This is the final part of the series Bill Castello wrote for players to better enjoy narrative play in Warhammer Age of Sigmar. You can read Part I and Part II.

How to approach the game

So, you have your list, you have your tickets and you’re at the event.  You line up for your first game. You gaze into your opponent’s steely eyes, sensing the desire to slaughter…  Wait, that was the GT again. So you rock up to the table with your opponent and you look at the battleplan. If you’re really playing a narrative game, then this battleplan is a suggestion to you and your opponent on how to get things rolling. 

So now is when you recall your objectives and talk about them with your opponent.  The NEO has probably poured blood sweat and tears into making all these battleplans, so do try to live up to the spirit and the letter of the plan.  However, with your opponent, make sure that you both can work your army into this battleplan. Maybe you need to set up some objectives, not victory conditions for this game to work between you.  Maybe the battleplan looks great as it is and you can play it straight up. 

Work with your opponent to make sure you can both tell a combined story and neither one of you is going to be ‘handed your butt’ because of the set-up rules or victory conditions.  If it is going to be one sided, maybe make a rule that says your opponent’s first dead unit gets to re-enter without summoning points or some other mechanic.

Then there is the ‘skill equivalence’.  This is always a tough nut to crack. If you know that you are a far better player than your opponent, or vice-versa, you may need to establish a handicap of some sort.  Of course, if you just think you’re better, maybe it’s best to play a round or two first.  But if you know the story, perhaps it’s your opponent’s first organized game ever, take that into account… nuff said.

As you play the game, play the game to win, but also play to tell the story.  A fact of life is that we play games to test our skills, tell a story and have a good time.  Winning the game should never be looked upon as a bad thing or something to avoid because you’re ‘a narrative player’.  You should be trying to achieve two things, the victory conditions of the battleplan and the objectives that you have for your narrative army.  Too many NEOs think that playing to win is a bad thing. Playing obsessively to win is a bad thing. But in every game there is a winner and a loser, it’s why we have tie-breakers and very few draws.

If you find yourself concentrating too much on the win, maybe it’s time to pump the brakes.  Look at your opponents face and their body language. Are they laughing and joking with you, or laughing at your crazy ‘luck’.  Are they sharing the experience or an unwilling participant trying to keep up? If you get the sense that not all is well, you’re probably right.  It may be time to take a break and talk about the game going forward. Perhaps your opponent is almost tabled and it’s time to give them a path to victory that may not be in the battleplan?  Maybe there is a way to have them achieve a goal or objective to salvage something out of a bad set of die rolls, or poor decisions? 

Remember, you’re telling a story with two authors, don’t be the jerk that monopolizes the story completely to your narrative.  Conversely, if someone is railroading you, don’t hesitate to look over and say, ‘hey this isn’t working well for me.’ Narrative games are two way streets.  It’s never wrong to call over the NEO and explain that this is just not working for you.

How to find the limits

I don’t exactly mean the limits here, but I do mean you should feel free to poke around the edges and have a little fun with your story.  Work with your opponent to tell the story that you both want to tell. If you cannot do that in the boundaries of the battleplan or the embedded narrative, flag down a NEO and work with them to bring your story to life.

As long as you and your opponent agree to a change you propose, you should feel relatively free to vary from the printed battleplans.  If you both think there needs to be an extra objective on the board, feel free to add it. If you think a separate deployment plan is needed, try it.

Do keep in mind, in those battleplans or events that have a growth mechanism (i.e. the award of coin/glory or any currency used to enhance your army during the campaign.) you may need to involve the NEO.  The battleplans may be balanced in a certain way to prevent an overabundance of currency.  

In short, you should feel free to ask your opponent, or the NEO to do anything.  Even to the point of transferring a unit from one game table to another. The NEO may decide to attach some strings, make a die roll or even charge currency, but asking never hurts.  All they can do is say no. But most NEOs will be willing to at least discuss any ideas you have, and if you and your opponent agree on it, then they will most likely approve anything.  Push the boundaries!

How to end the game

So, the game is finally over, there was much shenanigans, hooting and hollering and general mayhem.  You lost by one lousy victory point, but the game was a smashing success. Everyone had fun. But, life is what it is.  The other guy won and gets more points/currency/loot etc. So how do you snatch victory from the Beastclaw Raider jaws of failure?

Well, did you achieve any of your army’s objectives?  Remember those from a while back? Maybe you set an objective to explore all four corners of the board.  If you were able to do that, you can say you lost the battle but you’re achieving the primary goals of your army. 

So, why am I telling you to lie to yourself to feel better about losing?  Well, this is where you have to involve the NEO and maybe even your opponent.  Did you let the NEO know you had a list of side objectives before the event? Did you have a backstory that narratively told the NEO what you were REALLY after in this event?  If you did, maybe you’ll get some real currency for it. Maybe you’ll just get a smile and a nod, but remember, this is your story to tell. Your army is your story to craft, the game is just a single chapter of your army history that the other guy helped write!

Maybe the victory conditions for the battleplan didn’t even apply to your story.  I’m not saying you should play with your own set of victory conditions, but if the result of the battle can be made to tell a better story for your army, who cares about the victory?  For instance, we’ll say your General died in the battle, a glorious last stand but eventual death of a beloved war-leader. Well, now it’s time to groom the next guy in line to be the new beloved general.  If there is currency in your event, maybe toss a few coins at your ‘new’ General to make him a little better, give him a better chance in the next battle, since he learned what killed the last general.

So, if there is growth potential in the event, you now have a roadmap to getting stronger.  Sure, you took your lumps in this battle, but you’re going to be all the stronger going forward.

How to keep it going

So, you’ve played a few narrative games, your army has gone through some changes, names have changed.  What will your army do now? Well, if you’re in the middle of an event or campaign, you have to, most likely, keep going with them.  But now is the time to start thinking about where this army will end up. 

Does the event have a mechanic where you have to use currency to replace losses or bring on replacements?  Maybe you start to change the complexion of your force. If you were not fast enough in the last game, maybe some cavalry is in order.  If perhaps you were too fast for your opponent(s), maybe you move that elite cavalry unit to another front in this great war and take a unit of slower foot soldiers.  Remember, the idea is for everyone to have fun, if you are 3-0 and have smashed all your opponents leaving them with sad faces, drop from the event and join the GT, you’re not here for the right reasons.

If you have the resources, and find that your winning too much, or too easily, maybe part of your army needs to be recalled to attend the victory parade.  Maybe even your general has to go receive the laurel wreath of victory from the king. You’ll need to promote another hero from your army to take over I his stead? 

If you find yourself on the short end of the victory slider, maybe you need to flag down the NEO and negotiate a handicap, or perhaps an edge to help you out.  Maybe discuss with your next opponent some mechanic to even things out. So, monsters cannot take objectives in this battleplan, maybe one of yours can for a while, the possibilities are endless.  Remember, the story is the thing, not the win/loss column.

To sum it all up, remember these things about a narrative event/game.

1)  You’re there to tell a great tale of adventure, heroism and world shaping events, as well as having fun!

2) Make sure you and your opponent are sharing the fun.  Watch their body language and attitudes. If they are just going through the motions, take a break and talk it out.

3) Engage with the NEO and your opponent to break some rules, push some boundaries and take the story to new places.  Most NEOs are more than willing to kill their darlings if it will enhance the storyline for everyone. 

4) Win if you can, lose if you must, but always make it fun!

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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