Monday, April 15, 2013

19th Century Imaginations - Characters in wargames for imaginary nations

So, every since Tony Bath's Hyboria Campaign (see Rudi Geuden's great page on the topic), the idea of generating personalities for the various rulers and personalities in the fictional kingdoms an empires involved in wargaming has sort of "stuck".  One of the things pointed out in the three part article on the Hyboria Campaign over at Hill Cantons is that Tony's campaign never was a roleplaying campaign, and although the setting was fantastic, there were no non-earthly elements to it (no overt magic, no spell casters, no fantasty races, etc).  This makes it (as it always has been) the perfect Ur-example of a historical fiction based wargaming campaign from a fantasy setting, but without fantasy elements.  You know - Imagi-Nations.

Then along came Role Playing Games, where creating characters became a scientific art (or an artistic science, but whatever - you get the idea).  Lots of creativity, yes, but also lots and lots of rules and structure.

For a wargaming campaign setting, however, I don't believe you NEED to know the minutiae of all that, in order to have compelling characters.  A short run down of capabilities and motives is all that is required.  The system that Howard Whitehouse devised for his terrific game of British Imperial forces vs. the forces of the Mahdi - "Science vs. Pluck" is perfect.  It gives some background to the character, an indicator of general experience, and some specific traits.

And still . . .

Since I DO have role-playing in my blood I think it might be nice to see what specifics each character might have.  So I have been thinking about a role-playing system (it has to be simple, relatively speaking) that might foot the bill.

The first that comes to mind, especially given that I am dealing with the second half of the 19th century, is of course Space:1889, that wonderful tour de force from Frank Chadwick, back when one of the greatest gaming companies of all time was still in existence - Game Designer's Workshop.  The strengths of the system are (1) it is simple, (2) if individual combat (for duels, or assassinations, or whatever) is required, then it is easy to adjudicate, (3) it is made for the Victorian Milieu, and (4) It does have a nice NPC motivation generator.  In fact, I have used Space:1889 character generation in concert with that found in "Science vs. Pluck" in the past, and it works extremely well together.  The drawback - since the skill system and statistic system is so simple, there just simply are too many similarities among the characters.  Still, it might work, it might work.

The second one that comes to mind, is the D6 system, especially close to the original West End Games version of the Star Wars Role-Playing Game.  This works well, has a nice system that I like (and it is not TOO much different from the Space:1889 adjudication system, not too close either, making it a nice alternative to consider) for skills and combat, and is easy to understand characters from, even if you are not conversant in the rules.  However . . . This one would require a lot of work on my part to create character templates, I think. I'll have to take a closer look. One of the neat things, however, is the vast number of different settings that the D6 system has been applied to, not least of all the marvelous Pulp games that Peter Schweighofer and his publishing company, Griffon Publishing Studio.
Finally, the third one that comes to mind is a game that is based on a cultural world much like that late 19th century, albeit in a pure science fiction environment.  That is Classic Traveller (or more accurately, Classic Traveller as it has been re-envisioned and re-packaged by Mongoose).  This one has all the character types I need - Army officers, Navy officers, Spys, Nobles, Diplomats, Barbarians, Scientists, etc.  It has a great stat/skill system, and a wonderfully non-complicated system for skills and combat.  Unfortunately, inherent in the skill system, are a number of different skills that are Specifically for high-tech science fiction settings (this is appropriate, of course).  And, there is not the clear cut personality attribute generator that exists for both Space:1889 and Science vs. Pluck.  However . . . since neither of those systems has anything to do with the actual statistic or rules system - the could easily be transplanted to Traveller.

So - which one to pick?  As Sherlock Holmes would put it, this is definitely a three-pipe problem.  I'll get right onto smoking those pipes, and come up with a solution, and then start posting here on my decision, along with some game charts to make whichever I choose work for the Balkanian games I work on.

1 comment:

Jonathan Freitag said...

Chuck, I agree with your conclusion on Whitehouse's SCIENCE VS PLUCK. Whitehouse provides an excellent foundation for an alt-history campaign.

Another option for a 19th Century campaign is Hensley's FIELDS OF HONOR wargame rules. Although out of print, I see it frequently on eBay. FoH provides telescoping battle rules as well as campaign rules with appendices covering most of the 19th Century conflicts. Leaders (and their subordinates) are given attributes and personalities can be tracked through the careers a LEGACY OF HONOR roll.