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Enoby

How to make a successful narrative game?

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Hi all,

I've been very interested in Narrative gaming in AoS for some time, but I've always had one problem - the group agrees to have a narrative game, but it just turns into matched play with characters who have names. What this amounts to is the narrative breaking down as people try to one up one another and become focused on winning. 

Anyway, when we can, another group I'm in will be having a narrative game. To try stop it turning into matched play with names, I think it would be useful to have a few ground rules but I'm unsure of what. While we have all said we want to have a narrative game,  we all agreed on a narrative game before and it broke down so I don't think initial intent is the issue. So to clarify, people want a narrative game until actually playing it.

I think the main crux of it is that someone starts losing and they become focused on winning, to the harm of the narrative. When one person starts doing this, it spreads as everyone ends up playing catch up. 

We have tried Path to Glory but it ended up being a bit too unbalanced. I know narrative games aren't balanced, but some people were left having no fun if their battletome had a particularly weak PtG segment as they lost every time. This time I think we'll end up using points as a guideline, but the points won't always be matched (and we don't have restrictions on unit types). 

I'm looking for advice for how to make the games more rewarding for those telling a story, and less about just winning a game that has a story behind it. Story based objectives would be great (though I don't know how to start with them), as would anything else that would encourage the use of weaker but more fluffy armies/units. 

Any other tips would be super helpful too, thanks!

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Posted (edited)

I made a 'second edition' of sorts for Path to Glory that reigns in the balance concerns considerably as well as bulking out the options. (See the Road to Renown thread in this very subforum for more.)

As for general narrative advice:

-Set up a league with prize support, none of it for winning. Best painted, best background, best story, best rivalry, the possibilities range from common to quite unique. People already want to win inherently, there is no need for prize support to offer further incentive.

-Free for all games. FFA has a strong degree of self-balancing because players with strong armies get ganged up on (and when they complain you can always respond 'bring a less threatening force next time').

-Not the greatest technique... but it helps if you have a broken matched play army in reserve. Like top-tier tourney broken. Bust it out when people start min-maxing too hard. If you are not up to it you can also get a trusted friend to play this role. The key to making this work is putting the army away, or handicapping it, when going up against players that do not min-max. And don't be subtle about that; let people see that bringing toned-back armies gets rewarded with toned-back games.

-Design your league such that people have some degree of control over their matchups, allowing them to avoid armies they are certain to lose against. Something I have found works quite well is a system where people can play any number of games in a given 'round' of the league and choose which result they want to carry forward. Suddenly the pressure is off to make every battle a win.

-Utilize a dismissive attitude towards OP builds. Many times I have seen players with a optimized army be proud of it and seek recognition in conversation, even going so far as to brag about how powerful their army is. When the reaction is to shrug and say "yeah whatever" then turn and praise some other army for how fluffy and well-rounded it is that sends a message.

-I don't know what country you are from but I will say if it is the US keep in mind you may need some persistence and practice before it pays off. US culture is extremely competitive and not everyone realizes how toxic that is. But usually once they 'see the light' of realizing that winning has no bearing on one's self worth they like the feeling.

Good luck!

Edited by NinthMusketeer
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Points above are great advice.

It will really depend on what you mean by narrative gaming and campaigning.
It all exists in a spectrum. If you mean that you enjoy your battles having a sense of meaning, a reason for why armies fight and goals they and their characters are trying to achieve, they they are compatible. On the other hand, if you mean that you want to spontaneously tell stories on the battlefield because "that's what my character would do"... it's more complicated (tho not impossible, u just need to find the right crowd).

But if you are aiming for the first situation: its doable, if people are minimally amenable to narrative, you just have to show them how(then they get hooked, as mentioned above ;) )
One way you can manage that is to set narrative objectives: battles are fought over particular objectives because they are the altar of something-something, of the tomb of whats-its-name. If properly represented on the battlefield (instead of some old random marker) this will change the experience completely. AND! the winner gets to take a specific campaign reward for winning that (that they may lose later on if it is stolen).
A good example of a flexible system for even narrative one-offs, Duncan (Nacdnullah in this forum) has a plug-and-play battleplan that can serve all those needs: https://www.tga.community/files/file/107-battleplan-stuff-of-legends/

You can also set narrative objectives for the campaign, specific to each army. They get X points for accomplishing specific things, so you reward the kind of narrative behavior you want to see. What you will see emerge is a competition to win... by doing narrative things.

Experience systems also work well, and you can use PtG reward tables for that (and just do everything else with points). Just ensure that you have an underdog bonus system for battles against more powerful opponents (that way, even by losing a battle you may come out with a nice boost of experience): this prevents the runaway leader syndrome. 
And by uncoupling the Experience bonuses from the actual "campaign points" required to win the campaign.... you have a balancing mechanic that allows others to catch up in ability, but not in overall campaign progress.

 

It's also essential to have a campaign manager, or GM. It won't work without one, or a a couple, because people will want arbitration over disputes, to ensure fairness and even handed decisions (so it is fair throughout the campaign,, for everyone).

These aren't hard in stone of course: you'll have to experiment, and adapt to your group.

Good luck! :D

 

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7 hours ago, Enoby said:

Any other tips would be super helpful

Hi,

how do you organise the narrative part of the games?

In my case, and I dont state this is the norme, I organise the narrative for games as a GM in a role playing game would do.

1 - I confirm who will be next players. if only one is avaiable, I'll be opponent, if 2 player are available they will encouters. Also confirm with them what they will play as army.

2 - I will, as GM, elaborate the story. Based on previous event of the campain, previous decision taken, and finding a good reason to put the 2 opponents in conflict somewhere.

3 - Elaborate also the battle scenario that will match the story and involved forces. anyway, unlike in a matched play tournament, in the battle plan, opponent on the battlefield may not especial seek victory (over victory points) but more to achieve goals (killing a specific caracter from other army, reaching a specific point of the battle field to find item/path to somewhere/information...). My objective in this battleplans is not to try to elaborate a symetric or equilibred play, but to provide to both player ability to make story progress the way he may prefer by actions. So by this way, players will intend to win or dominate the battle to make the global story going "theire way" (or presenting theire faction as "the good" in this chapter of the story). I usually already provide outcome options to players befor the game, so they have an idea about what they have to acomplish and decision "winer" of the battle will be able to take.

=> player need to definitively agree with the aproach as it can lead to battle really unbalanced, and even in some case, battleplan were on player will "lose" battle for scenario reason. Idea is to provide, in such case, goal achivable for him anyway (like surviving X round, killing x % of enemy army, ...) to keep player involved and motivated to fight (not beeing just here waiting for the end). Even "loosing" does not prevent beeing rewarded for what have been achiev on the battlefield.

4 - an idea I got, but I was not yet able to implement, is to enforce for all player usage of a hero, build using the Apotheosys Anvil. This way, I could implement in scenario some perks to allow player to make theire hero progressing. E.g: all player have to take in theire army a 10 DP hero (counting for 100Army pts as we try to keep using army point system to help to balance battle), but I'm considering implementing a system of "XP" allowing for exemple, for a win or specific acomplishement, the player to use more DP (adding a capacity) but while keeping hero "costing" 100 army point (e.g wining battle arewaring your hero of 2 extra DP to use in the Anvil to get new aptitude making hero 12 DP but still counting as 100 Army point for futur battles). Same aproche possible with artefact that player could find and keep.

In short, idea is to create a climat where players come and participate not intending to "win the campain" but more helping the narative to progress. Also "rewarding" player to participate (XP, artifact, choising way story will go next step), even if player, due to scenario, will not win the battle (as traditionnaly intended in matched play battle plan).

I admit that it may be a really non common aproch as I didnt find material of such sort of campain/story online for AoS. I may have this approach only because I played a lot of "paper RPG" in the past and really try to recreate this experience but with cool mini in AoS context.

Obliviously, this bring also lot of constrain, like not having too many player involved (or it is hard to keep track of everything ans story will go in to many direction with to many faction). You also have to keep all player updated about story progress (implying keeping notes, and eventually try to consign everything in a file, adding picture to make it nice looking ;) ).

I hope it help and may give you some idea!

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, RedMax said:

In my case, and I dont state this is the norme, I organise the narrative for games as a GM in a role playing game would do.

For our gaming group this is it.  But even one step further.  While the GM will always take into account player interests and desires when we are playing narrative it is understood that the GM  has final say on the actual lists that are played.  They “earn” this right by (a) ensuring that lists are reasonably balanced and (b) that the lists are narratively consistent. Of course the GM would immediately lose this trust if they gave themselves an advantage but in general as long as the GM is committed you’re more likely to see them go the opposite direction.

Certainly list building isn’t an aspect of the game that should be completely ignored.  But nearer tournaments we play plenty of matched play lists where this is emphasized.  And for us that’s what it really has to come down to.  If you’re playing narrative you’re playing it for the sake of the narrative, NOT to prove you can min-max the best list.  But fully willing to say we’re lucky there.

Our group’s most recent narrative  (Khorne Mortals vs Khorne Daemons competing to see who could secure the most skulls for the skull/throne and blood for the blood god) was disrupted by Covid and our game streams have been more one off and/or escalation set ups. The positive is, again, these style games let our players flex their list building and competitive muscles.   But hope is whenever in-person gaming becomes more practical players will be excited to play narrative again.

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7 hours ago, RedMax said:

2 - I will, as GM, elaborate the story. Based on previous event of the campain, previous decision taken, and finding a good reason to put the 2 opponents in conflict somewhere.

3 - Elaborate also the battle scenario that will match the story and involved forces. anyway, unlike in a matched play tournament, in the battle plan, opponent on the battlefield may not especial seek victory (over victory points) but more to achieve goals (killing a specific caracter from other army, reaching a specific point of the battle field to find item/path to somewhere/information...). My objective in this battleplans is not to try to elaborate a symetric or equilibred play, but to provide to both player ability to make story progress the way he may prefer by actions. So by this way, players will intend to win or dominate the battle to make the global story going "theire way" (or presenting theire faction as "the good" in this chapter of the story). I usually already provide outcome options to players befor the game, so they have an idea about what they have to acomplish and decision "winer" of the battle will be able to take.

 

 

I really love this approach ! I was planning on trying something similar with a friend, start a narrative campaign with just two people and one being a GM. This way it's not as much "winning the game" (because if that was the aim of the GM he could always make it happen) but developping the story. 

And for your point 4) I was thinking of doing that with allegiance abilities/endless spells/artefacts, unlocking them as you go ! 

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, Enoby said:

What this amounts to is the narrative breaking down as people try to one up one another and become focused on winning. 

That's a narrative in and of itself. That happens in my narrative campaigns all the time.
My advise is don't fight the current, flow with it. (imagine me saying this sitting on surfboard during sunset, or meditating on top of a mountain.) ;) 

Genuinely don't fight it. Because this tells a story as well. Let them one up each other and fight to win. It's what countless of feudal warlords have done (I imagine). But give it a little consequence and you're playing narrative in my mind. For example if you and me are starting to get a little frisky. We play a grudge match. If one of our generals dies we cannot use that model (in real life not the warscroll) and the warscroll artefact combination in the rest of the campaign (or x amount of games). So you got one lord of change model and it dies, you cannot field that model anymore. You have two lord of changes and your general dies, you can have the other take over but not with the same artefacts and traits. But that would still mean next time you are playing only one. 

What that means that we will have match with a bit more concequence. And if my lovingly painted general is in danger, I will run him away. After the game then 'award' both a title depending on their actions. Then forever more that Ogor that ran away will be known as Grogg Bolt because he ran that fast. Then next game will I double down on that joke, or is he out for vengeance. These kind of things make it narrative games, develop their own story. 

Biggest advice I ever got: prevent having a story in your mind, but let it happen and follow it. 

Edited by Kramer
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And because I wanted to separate the two posts.

This is what we are playing now and will restart soon with more people and everybody will bring their own converted Anvil of Apotheosis hero, that will general every battle. Maybe it'll spark an idea. 

We are now playing a narrative map campaign on TTS for the city we used to study in. Just an old map with some places highlighted as location that were relevant to us. Between every round I will write up a little "intercepted" report for every battle when we are with a bigger group. Naming a few exciting things that happened from every battle. And awarding cool events and actions with a new title, an extra territory that has no value but symbolises a victory, etc. 
In the end one player is deemed the winner and (depending on the amount of players) we might follow it up with a massive multiplayer king of the hill style battle. The winner of the campaign and the winner of the hill will get a little price. I love the idea of converting a little battleworn statue that they can place as terrain in every battle or something. At which time every player will get a little 'photobook' with all the intercepted reports and a few pictures etc. 

2091928384_Groningenronde2.jpg.09e7417c6102cf700002b887757cb586.jpg

The full rules are:

You win if you get to 6 Glory points or by claiming the three red zones and completing the special scenario that follows. 

Every round:
1. Players select which location they will be taking if they in. 
2. Determine battleplan
          You always play in the best defended location, roll off if its a tie. 
3. The winner gains one glory point and takes the location chosen in step 1. (the defence level is set back to 1)
4. The winner may then upgrade the defence level of one location up to level 3. 

Defensive levels:

Level 0: 
Discovering the land:
- You decide which deployment zone you set up in.

Level 1: 
Settling the land: 
- You decide the Battleplan 
- You decide which deployment zone you set up in. 

Level 2: 
Minor settlement: 
- You decide battle-plan
- You decide which territory you set up in 
- You can set up two terrain pieces before deployment

Level 3: 
- Play a siege/streets of death battle or you decide battle-plan
- You decide which territory you set up in 
- You can set up two terrain pieces before deployment
- Gain 2 Glory points as long as you hold this territory. If this location is lost, you lose the 2 Glory points as well. 

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4 hours ago, Beer & Pretzels Gamer said:

GM  has final say on the actual lists that are played

4 hours ago, Beer & Pretzels Gamer said:

If you’re playing narrative you’re playing it for the sake of the narrative, NOT to prove you can min-max the best list

Yes definitively. An this is something player need to agree and be aligned with or they will be frustrated. Anyway, this is sometime a goos source of inspiration. If a player want to test a specific "trick" or "theme" (e.g. just finished to paint a specific new unit and want to have it playing central role or specific task).

This is usually great opportunity to ensure that unite or hero will do what they are designed to do the best. If a player want to play in this unit that is obliviously a "hero hunter", let's ensure that in th ebattle plan, there is a goal to reach for him to hunt an ememy hero. This way, even if this player "loose" the battle from narative point of view, he can win some of his goal making both player having successed in what they have to do (breaking the "I win so you loose" case). On top of that it can lead to really epic situation!

1 hour ago, Ninelives said:

I was thinking of doing that with allegiance abilities/endless spells/artefacts, unlocking them as you go !

Yes definitively a good source or reward. I also spot some interesting artifact in Forbiden power.

Now all the subtility is in the power escalation. I see alligeance artifact as minor impacting improvement (at hero level) so if a player will play a lot of game, this sound to me good type of reward to avoid him progressing too quick. Another player playing less often will require either more artefact as reward (bot then loos a litel the feeling of earning something good) or having more impacting reward.

Also, some player may switch faction during campain. So that what I love with granting them Destiny points. They can move to another faction and keep something like equivalent of progress on theire hero.

I also try to see if there is oportunity to have visual impacting chage. E.g I prepare a game where a bande of gloomspite will be involved. Leader is a Loonbos on giant Squig. There is on way it think about where event may lead him to get a mangler squig in the futur (we already own the mini obliviously). Many opportunity in most range like Mighty Lord of Khorn moving into DP or Bloodtrither (that could even movel into a Skarbrand after some difficult battle to reflect how damage he suffer).

In any case, it link back to what was say before by B&P Gamer, GM neet to have last word on list (and I will even add on army balance). a 1k vs 2k game may be great with correct goal balance. As some game 2 vs 1 (2 player that naratively make no sens to fight against could be coalition agains the GM).

 

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