Monday, 14 December 2020

Understanding the "5 X from Y" series. Part 2.

 Continued from yesterday, now that we are all on the same page and have answered the various questions, let us talk about the assumptions of the games then.

Not all of these are equally important, but hopefully they will help you understand where the design comes from. Of course, that does not imply they are the BEST way of doing a game (or even doing a war band game) but if you are looking to play the game I wrote, it's probably useful to know why I wrote it the way I did. 

That way, you can hack it up and add your own house rules :)

1 - Miniatures game - Not role playing game

I've spoken before about how I don't think miniatures games and RPG's are as distinct as we make them out to be, however there are fundamental differences.

One of these is that the game assumes we are here to have a miniatures battle. There are usually ways around this. Not all turns in Five Leagues has a battle and there's often ways to avoid it if it does come up, but ultimately, we assume that we are sitting down to move little figures around and go pew pew (or chop chop). 

This may seem obvious to the reader of course, so I apologize :)

2 - Emergent narrative

This probably cannot be stated strongly enough. The goal of the game more than anything else is to create an emergent narrative. In other words, a story that is created from the events on the gaming table, rather than a pre-determined outcome.

This means that the game generally avoids over-arching stories and predetermined scenarios (though I have done them on occasion). Instead, it relies on linking together the randomly generated outcomes as and when they line up just so. 

This ties into:

3 - Player driven narrative

This is something I should probably have made much more explicit, but it was always intended that the player helps drive the narrative that is created. Sometimes this just means adding a bit of story to link the pieces together ("Oh, this must be why we were having a hard time in town this turn"). 

Other times it means changing an encounter to fit the story or even adding a custom scenario to finish out a story arc that has happened. The Story Point mechanic is here to help with this, though it can of course simply be done on the fly as you want.

An example is that you meet a character on the road, then fight an odd combination of bad guys and personality leading them. You decide that ought to be something significant and create a custom scenario where you fight the same personality again but with a boost, leading a different type of enemies (maybe something more nefarious). 

Once this "side story" has concluded, you return to the normal campaign because:

4 - The game is meant to be episodic

This is especially clear in Five Parsecs with inspirations drawn from shows like Trigun and Cowboy Bebop but the games are meant to function less like a 100 part epic story, and more like a tv show where you tune in to watch familiar heroes deal with the "problem of the week". Occasionally a story arc bridges a few episodes in a row, but eventually we go back to something new.

This is why the encounter tables, other than broad themes, don't try to generate "consistent" enemy types, because that's not how a Star Trek episode (f.x.) works. 

Since a lot of people find time to game about once or twice a week, this works particularly well in my opinion.

5 - Varied encounters are desirable

As a result of the episodic nature, as well as the origin in miniatures games, the rules prioritize encounter variation over story consistency. From a miniatures battle perspective, having more variety in the types of encounters is a plus, since it means more types of challenge, a chance to paint up new bad guys etc.

However, sometimes that can lead to a chaotic feel, where you are fighting skeletons one battle and bank robbers the next. Some players enjoy the variety (or embrace the episodic feel in point 4), others prefer a more consistent feel to the story (as suggested in point 3). 

6 - Simpler mechanics

The turn, combat and morale mechanics are simpler than what you might find in other miniatures games, since they are aimed at the solo player. While almost any game CAN be solo'ed (I occasionally play ASL solo, after all) as a writer, I propose that a solo-oriented game should be a little simpler than a two player game, since a single person has to keep track of all of it. Few things discourage me as much as playing a few turns of a game and then realizing I completely screwed it up.

Of course simple vs boring is always a conflict. If the game is too simplistic, it is easy to lose interest. 

7 - Solo front and center

As suggested above, this is first and foremost a solo game series. While there are ways to play with a friend, the assumption of the rules is that you are sitting at your table and playing out your adventure.

This means that every game mechanic is written with this in mind, and the solo functions are built into the game. Additionally, the games try to avoid die rolls to determine enemy actions and activities, preferring to rely on guidelines for the "AI", to prevent long series of dice rolls (we're rolling enough dice in the campaign sequence as it is!)

8 - do, fight, find out

While the campaigns are structured differently between each game, they all follow a general gameplay loop that I'd call "Do, fight, find out". You prepare for the battle ahead by carrying out actions, then you fight a table top encounter and finally you determine the outcomes of that, whether it means new items, experience improvements or dead comrades.

This loop is a big part of what sets a war band game apart, but I think the addition of the "Do" step is a big part of what makes this series stand out from others of its kind. 

9 - Campaign length

While Five Klicks and Five Leagues do have "victory" points that can be reached, in the end the campaign length is always assumed to be up to you. A campaign of 4 turns is short, sure, but if you had fun and felt you got what you came for, it's a good campaign. Others will prefer to keep going for 20, 30 or a hundred battles. 

As the designer, my assumption is that you will eventually reach a point where your war band cannot be meaningfully challenged by the encounters you are facing. At that stage, you have effectively won the game and it's time to think about retiring the crew and starting over.

In the end however, whatever makes you happy is what you ought to be doing :)

10 - Difficulty

A common question is whether there is a balancing mechanic for the power of your war band vs a given enemy. There is not, and it is intentional that there is not. My intent is that some encounters should always feel easy, while others should be quite scary for the player. Remember, you always have the option of making a fight of it and then retreating before you get over-run.

This is more purely a reflection of how I personally enjoy playing the game. It is not impossible that I will change my mind on this in the future. 

Of course, the games DO include difficulty toggles, whether it is the actual difficulty setting of the campaign, story points, the "stars of the story" options or similar choices. But at least currently, once you take the field, you are at the mercy of what the dice brought up.

* * * * *

And that is that. I hope these 10 points help you understand the game better or even entice you into getting started. Let me know if you have questions.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Understanding the "5X from Y" series - Part 1

 The past year has seen a big explosion of people coming into the "Nordic Weasel" fold, especially through the "Five X" series (Five Parsecs and Five Leagues especially). More importantly, it is people that don't just buy the book and move on. I see the games regularly recommended on forums, I see photos pop up, I see talk.

That's all good! What is more awe-inspiring to me is that I am beginning to hear from people who are taking their first steps into miniatures gaming, and have chosen my games as the place to start. We all remember our first game and the idea that something I wrote could be that for someone is truly humbling.

But more eyes also means people with a wider range of experiences, particularly for people entering either from other "war band" hobby games or from role playing games. Five Parsecs and Five Leagues are games of many influences and I have never fully believed in the hard separation between miniatures games and RPG's that people tend to enforce, however, it is unavoidable that some of the expectations vary some.

As such I thought I would take a moment to write a post that is well overdue, laying out a little bit of common philosophy, as well as answering some questions that come up semi-frequently. 

This part 1 will answer assorted common questions:

What is the link between FiveCore and Five Parsecs? The names are confusing!

It turns out I am bad at naming things. The story goes something like this:

First there was Five Men in Normandy, a game of solo-friendly skirmish actions in ww2. 

Then came FiveCore which started as just the core mechanics of Normany in a stand-alone package, but developed into its own full-fledged game over time.

The original Five Parsecs was an expansion for FiveCore. This is the one with the blue cover. 

When the time came to update it and turn it into a stand-alone game, I felt that a new game engine aimed specifically at solo players would be the best option. As such, Five Parsecs 2nd edition became a thing.

When I adapted the rules to fantasy, keeping the naming convention seemed to make the most sense, but in hindsight of course, I don't blame anyone for getting confused!

I've heard the original version of Five Parsecs was way better?

The mechanics were more in-depth but also had far more special cases and exceptions, as they were intended primarily for games with another player, where they can help remember all the stuff.

The original switch-over slimmed down the game a lot and as a result a lot of fluff-text and flavor was cut, which was a mistake in hindsight. As the game has developed, a ton of additional detail, new things to do and more involved "universe" aspects have been added to the game. If you checked it out when 2nd edition first came out, it's almost an entirely new beast now.

What happened to Bug Hunt, Salvage Crew and Gang Warfare?

These were spin-off games that used the same mechanics. I realized fairly quickly that trying to keep four versions of the same game up-to-date and compatible was basically impossible to do for one person, along with developing new games. As such they are "legacy": Fully playable games on their own, but not receiving future updates. Bug Hunt in particular remains rather popular and you can easily port in encounters from the main Five Parsecs rulebook. 

Salvage Crew has been reworked into a supplement for Five Parsecs.

Are Five Parsecs, Leagues and Klicks the same game?

No, they use similar concepts but the game engine and campaign structure is reworked for each. So it's easy enough to move from one to the next, but they are never just "ported over" without making sure it works. Five Leagues has much more involved hand to hand combat rules for example, while Five Klicks has base-building aspects.

Are the games stand-alone? 

Yes, all of them are stand-alone except the original blue-cover Five Parsecs book, which requires a copy of the FiveCore rulebook to play.

Are all the Nordic Weasel games like these?

Not at all. All NWG titles share my views on game design of course, but some are specifically "competitive" games, some are historical battle games, some are multi-purpose, some are even RPGs!

Are these games retro-clones?

No, the only retro-clone is Renegade Scout and I think it has developed so extensively that it barely qualifies as a clone any longer.