Monday, September 4, 2023

Wargame Design: RPG Lite and Wargaming


Long time readers of the blog will know that I have an interest in RPG or Role-Playing Games.  Therefore, I also have an interest in the overlap between wargaming and RPG games.  In RPG games, a player often only controls a single player in the game, while in a Wargame the player controls multiple characters.  Therefore, there is a big difference between the play experiences.  Wargames came first, and RPGs grew out of the wargaming scene by changing the "scale" of the games.  The closely linked nature of the two types of games is interesting to me.  

What is RPG-Lite

Typically, a wargame is interested in resolving the 4Ms within the game.  Those 4Ms are Movement, Missiles, Melee, and Morale.  When you add RPG-Lite elements you are adding a few more pillars into game play, and adding more options a player can follow to resolve the game.  

Typically, RPGs have a different set of criteria beyond the 4Ms.  Those are commonly referred to as the Pillars of Gameplay.  In this case, RPGs use the following as the basic forms of the game; Exploration, Social, Combat, and Intrigues. 

When a wargame includes elements of RPG-lite it is allowing players to resolve conflicts within the game outside of just the 4M process and instead dip into the RPG Pillars of Gameplay as a form of resolution.  

So, typically in a wargame you resolve a challenge by either shooting it or hitting it with a stick.  If you are adding elements of RPG-Lite a player could resolve a challenge with a social ability, Intrigue, or even exploration.  

Here is an example in gameplay.  Player A has a unit standing on the objective.  Player B moves his unit up, and the commander of that unit tries to "bribe" the unit holding the objective to move.  The game has a mechanism to resolve the bribe attempt, and the result is Player A's unit leaves the objective, and Player B's unit occupies it.  The challenge of moving Player A's unit off the objective was not resolved by shooting or melee. It was resolved by an intrigue.  This is RPG-Lite in a wargame.  

What are the RPGs Pillars of Gameplay

Typically I break-up the Pillars of Gameplay into the following four categories when thinking about RPGs: 

1. Social - This Pillar focuses on interpersonal interactions and power dynamics based on these interpersonal relationships.  For example, in Turf War there is a mechanic using a Brains check to talk your way past a guard to get to an objective. 
2. Combat- Most Wargames cover this in detail.  However, in an RPG sense this covers 1-on-1 duels, skirmishes between small groups of individuals, and Mass Battles which involves units fighting each other.  

3. Exploration- Exploration is focused on using the environment in a new and interesting way to resolve a challenge or conflict.  This may involve finding secret passages, discovering a new path through the mountains, uncovering a lost temple, revealing a mine field, etc.  The player can use the environment in a way to resolve or complicate a situation.  For Example, in Ragnarok a player can "burn a forest" to change the keywords associated with the terrain.      

4. Intrigue- An intrigue is where a player is trying to use subterfuge, espionage, criminal, or covert means to drive a result or resolve a challenge.  For example, in a game like Mad Dogs with Guns you can find blackmail material that you can use to influence NPCs in game and in the post-game.   

Integrating Pillars into Wargames

To create RPG-Lite a wargame needs to integrate the Pillars of Gameplay into their core mechanics.  This typically involves a few key factors: 

1. Attributes
The game will need to have an attribute that goes beyond the 4Ms.  You may want to consider a general attribute that can be applied to each Pillar or that can cover a few.  I often use a generic "Brains" mechanic to cover the Social and Intrigue Pillars.  This attribute is used for tests that involve these Pillars.  

2. Rules Mechanics
The game needs space and mechanics to resolve these alternate Pillars.  How does a player try to talk their way past another player's models?  What happens if they succeed?  What happens if they fail?  These questions need to be covered by the rules via mechanics.  Thankfully, if you apply the Unifying Theory of Mechanics this is easy to cover. 

3. Special Rules 
The last method of integrating these Pillars is via Special Rules.  Obviously, special rules are semi-unique methods of resolving a situation that may or may not fall within the normal scope of the rules.  They may or may not need an attribute to resolve.  Many Exploration Pillars can be handled with special rules such as scenario complications or terrain rules.  Scenario design is also a place that can highlight RPG-lite elements.  However, Special Rules can also be used for any of the pillars.  

For example, in Heirs of Empire there is a campaign special rule can be used to "bribe" an enemy unit to switch sides during the next battle by spending campaign points.  This thematically fits with the period, as bribing units to change sides was common.  In addition, it is an "in-character" method for a commander to remove a threat without shooting or clubbing it.  

Why Add RPG-Lite Elements to a Wargame?
Ultimately, the best reason to add RPG-lite elements is to make your game fun!  The question is, why do they help make a game fun?  

1. Meaningful Decisions- RPG-Lite elements add more decision points that a player may need to make outside of the normal shoot/fight matrix.  The calculus of any given decision is made more complicated as now you have shoot/fight/talk/dirty trick/explore.  The more meaningful options there are to decide, the more interesting the game play.  

2. Hooks- RPG-Lite elements are a great Hook for gameplay.  A unique Hook can make a player decide to try a game and put it on the table, rather than play the 100th version of the game they always play. 

3. Re-playability- If there are more potential solutions to a game problem, there are more reasons to play and try the different combinations out.  The game can not be "solved" and new approaches can be consistently applied to it.  This quality makes players interested in trying and playing a game, as it is not the same experience every time. 

Final Thoughts
Role-Playing Games are an off-shoot of Wargames, therefore if makes sense that the two should influence each other.  Wargames tend to focus on the 4Ms for game structure, challenge and resolution while Role-Playing Games tend to focus on the Pillars of Gameplay.  Once you understand these RPG Pillars of Gameplay it is not hard to integrate these into the mechanics and rules of your wargames.  The addition of RPG-lite elements can add to a games re-playability and work as an excellent set of Hooks for the game.      

Bonus Content
Kill Team continues to be the favorite game at my FLGS.  Not a shock really.  To that end, you may recall I painted up my old late 80's Harlequins to play a few games.  They hit the table in a 3-way battle against some Marines and Grey Knights.  

We tried to grab an objective in the stone circle.  I completely misused the Saedeth/Performance rules early and never really got better with them.  However, the Strategic Ploys and Invulnerable saves were nice.  However, my opponents mostly didn't bother shooting at me, as with 3 AP all around we were up in each others grills pretty fast.  

We had a good run!  We completely wiped out the Ultramarines, and the Grey Knights were down to 1 model left.  However, I ended up losing by 1 VP to said Grey Knights.  On the plus side, some of my Void-Dancers actually survived the battle!  That is a bit unusual for me! 

Until next time..... 


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