KrrNiGit Posted October 16, 2021 Share Posted October 16, 2021 A tale of 3 ways to play The core book for Age of Sigmar (AoS) has 3 ways to play; narrative, open and competitive (in the core book competitive play takes 8 pages while narrative takes 33 and open 8 (this does not include the 222 pages of actual narrative in the core book)). I don’t think most of us take this split seriously. Most events and clubs seem to be competitively focussed, or at least the ones that put themselves out there/I could find easily are. The people I have met there play competitively so any discussion with them shares that focus. Talking about competitive play is easy; who won, what armies are doing well, what are the stats etc. We spend hours making cool lists that will crush our enemies, see their war dollies driven before us and hear the lamentation of their self-esteem. I find it much harder to talk about a narrative or an open play game. If I try to tell someone the story of my little army I get embarrassed; what will they think of me? It’s not like we are all nerds playing with tiny figurines or anything. There is no set language for talking about it either. Open and Narrative games have a context that exist solely for that game. A competitive tournament has a context that is already understood by the majority of AoS players. Competitive play is already universally understood, it has a language and focus that does not exist in Narrative or Open play. If you have played a competitive game you have a good idea of what any competitive game will be, if you have played one open play or narrative game you have played one open or narrative game. This imbalance is worth talking about. Should we care about all of the 3 ways? Should we bother to keep them? If one of the ways wasn’t worth the effort surely the others would benefit from getting the effort redirected to give them more attention. or What is GW saying by keeping these 3 ways to play consciously part of their core game? Wouldn’t they get a better return on their effort by focussing on the competitive community over other players? What does having a designated space for narrative and open play say about our game? By keeping the 3 ways to play GW are saying that the game can and should be played multiple ways. They want it to be enjoyed in a variety of ways by a variety of players. Have you ever felt bad that you were doing it wrong? Then don’t, Warhammer is for you! Makes sense for GW as a company, the more excuses people have to play the more people have excuses to buy GW. So for (what at times feels like) a minimal effort GW increases their customer base and therefore sells more models. What about us though? What does having open and narrative players in our wider AoS community mean for us? Our game is wider than we give it credit for. Look at a competitive tournament. While it focusses on competitive play, they tend not to be exclusive in their focus. Not only are there competitive games, but also painting awards and sports awards. A good tournament rewards all types of players and gives them all a place to hang out together. After a tournament some people talk about the cool armies, some about the winners and some about the cool moments in the games they played. All had a valid experience at the event and TOs should be looking at rewarding and welcoming them all. Because if giving more people an excuse to play works for GW it should also work for any TOs trying to build our community. While there is a separation of these “ways to play” in the core book, I think all 3 permeate the entire game to certain extents. Look at how GW writes rules: The rule has an evocative name, followed by flavour text and finally rules text explaining what it does. The rule is not just there to be a game interaction but to support an emotional experience for the players and tell us something about the characters who have them. Look at chess as a counter point. The pieces have thematic names (knight, rook, pawn, etc.) but the rules covering how they interact is not trying to create an evocative moment about the pieces (i.e. the knight charges over the silly pawn and wipes out the foolish bishop) but rather a game moment (this piece takes that piece creating this game state). These moments can be just as memorable but not from the story they tell in the world of the game but in the interaction between the players at the table. A good game of chess is played between two good players across a board, a good game of Warhammer can be the same, but it can also be played within the world of the game. They don’t have be nameless pieces but rather their own individual characters interacting in their own world. Good narrative play tries to push the players beyond the mechanics and into the world of the game itself. Narrative play: the play’s the thing So if the narrative is imbedded within every part of the game, why do we need a specific narrative way to play? Hopefully by looking closer at this section in the Core book we can find some answers. In the core book we are given a campaign mode (Path to Glory) and some narrative battle plans. The idea of a narrative battle plan should not be that unreasonable or unknown to most people. People in history have never fought over who has the most people standing within 3 circles on the battlefield. Instead there is always a reason for each armies objective, its only in the abstraction required for balanced matched play have we lost this. When we tell the story of an historic battle, it is who fought there and why, what did they want to achieve. In the story of the battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans held the pass to prevent the Persians from conquering all of Greece, not just them plonking their army on a spot and camping more points than their opponents before they were tabled. In our narrative battle plans we can recreate moments and retell them through our games. Most importantly the narrative helps give our games purpose. They help us build a context to our play rather than just scoring more points than our opponent. Even senseless violence can have justified reasons (even if they are not reasonable). Narrative battle plans try to bring this into how they work. We aren’t battling for a circle, instead we are battling for a single pass across a mountain range, or for a pile of gold or for (in certain sci-fi setting) the high ground. More over these battles imply consequences and stakes beyond one player winning and the other one losing. We held the pass and stopped the evil empire from conquering helpless Greece. Path to glory, our campaign type of narrative play builds out how these stakes go beyond the game itself. It is a campaign mode which is designed around creating and driving story hooks for your characters (see Warhammer weekly from the 13 Oct 2021 for a great deep dive of this mode). This is NOT your parent’s path to glory. Gone are the random tables and limited options. Instead the focus is on the campaign mechanics. There are restrictions and bonuses, balancing factors and risks. It very much is about creating a way to play out a story with twists and turns, about getting you involved with the world your little figures inhabit, getting you invested before the game pulls a red wedding and kill all your heroes. This is not cobbled together junk to keep those narrative fan boys happy, this is a serious attempt to create a way to play focussed on your engagement with the world of your models. Narrative play then is about building out the world our miniatures inhabit. It gives us a context and purpose for our games, it gives us stakes to play for. Having a narrative enriches our play, it gets us invested not just in the game but in the world GW has created. By playing a narrative game you are not only playing the game across the table, but you are playing in the world your models inhabit. What about open play? Open play: where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. This section of the core book seems to get derided the most. It’s just “baby mode” where you push toys around and make mouth noises while yelling WAAAAGH for no reason. But is that really the case? If it were this section may as well be a kid’s colouring play mat or removed entirely. Instead there are a lot of pages dedicated to it. The Open Play section contains different deployments, objectives etc. and a way to generate your own unique missions. To use an analogy it is taking the hood off the car and letting you tinker with the engine. Want to play uneven battles? Well, here is what you need to tinker with to get that. Want to play a game with random objectives each turn? Well here’s a table you can roll on. Whatever you want to do, open play is for you. It is full of options and examples of how you could play differently. Open play opens the heart of the game to the players so they can turn it into something great. This space is the modders section of AoS and personally I am waiting for someone to come along and craft the DOTA of AoS and revolutionise our war game. In D&D and other TRRPGs the idea of house rules, or modifying the game engine to suit what the players want out of it, is common and accepted. Their game is about having a shared experience between players and they understand that the rules are there to give them a framework to have that experience within. Their rules are not sacrosanct. The Open Play section can do a similar thing for us AoS players. It demonstrates how we can modify and change our game to have a better shared experience between the players. Having an Open Play section tells us players that the rules are there to help us reach our desired outcome of playing, not that the rules out of the box are the only way. Open play gives us the option to ask our opponent ‘how do you want to do this?’ and the tools to make it happen (or at least it should). Some of my earliest experiences playing Warhammer games were in the late 90s. A Warhammer store (a Games Workshop store at the time) had just opened at the local mall and me as a young 10ish year old fell in love. As you can imagine back then I was more the kids play mat type of player making mouth noises at my friends. Any sort of matched play game would have gone way over my head, my attention span and my budget. However every Friday night at the store they played a big multiplayer game. Everyone brought in a squad that they had painted and plopped it on the one table. The red shirt (GW staff at the time wore red shirts) would then split the units into two rough teams and we had one big battle. Looking back on it, it was dumb and not at all correct, but it was hilarious fun and something I remember fondly many many many years later. Playing in games like these helped me feel included and part of the store’s community even if I was too young to 100% grasp what was going on. For me this was an example of the Open Play mindset. The red shirt took the rigid game ruleset and bent it to create a fun shared experience which helped build his store’s community. Having this section in our core book codifies this approach and mindset as part of our hobby. Our ruleset is not some holy relic we must follow (or you aren’t playing pure AoS) but rather they’re more like guidelines. We are the boss and it is up to us to shape the game to help us get what we want out of it. TL:DR Looking at the 3 ways to play has helped me see our game differently. It has invigorated my curiosity and got me enthused for trying out the different game modes on offer. I even have some ideas for potential mods I’d like to build. Do you consider yourself a balanced player? Do you think it is worth giving some of the other ways to play a try? If you could change anything about AoS what would it be? Why don’t you give it a try and see how it goes? 3 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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