Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In Praise of the Emergent Narrative 2

I've written about the emergent narrative before.  I like it.  I think there's something exciting about a story developing from chance and player choice.  Much more fun than spending all my time writing a story/script for the players to follow.  YMMV.

Anyway, I was reflecting on this yesterday, as I gathered with a few friends to play Warhammer 40k.

One of the elegant things about wargames is the development of an emergent narrative.

Each of us built an army.  2000 points worth, using the miniatures we own.  I have Space Marines, so does BP.  MP has Tau.  NC has Orks.  We put together two tables.  We arranged terrain -- one table was an urban cityscape.  The other was more rural with alien forests and a couple hills.

We were randomly assigned to each table.  BP would play MP in the forested hills.  I was slated to play NC in the ruined city.

We placed our armies and then the battle was on.

Here are some of the emergent narratives that appeared in my game --

  • The ork warboss utterly and completely destroyed one of my dreadnoughts before it could do much of anything.  It's drop pod was next.
  • My rhino's were spared the devastating attack of the twin ork zap guns due to the fortunate use of their smoke launchers.
  • My assault squad closed with a group of mega-nobz only to have their morale break and fall back behind cover.
  • My chapter master paused long enough, and took a rocket blast for his trouble, to call down an orbital bombardment that crushed the ork warboss's retinue and his battlewagon.
  • My terminators and my other dreadnought were very late to the party -- coming in from reserves. So late that the tide had turned toward ork victory and couldn't be turned back.
  • My chapter master, on his bike, went toe-to-toe with a group of ork killa-cans, damaging them pretty badly with his relic blade.  A lone marine, with a melta gun, kept making his saves against the killa-cans, and was still standing at the end of the battle when the cans were long gone.
  • My rhino, with its tactical squad destroyed to the man, charged through two ork squads, causing them to break and run.  Despite the best efforts of the ork warboss to rip it open with his cybernetic claw, it was still on the board at the end of the battle.
Great stuff!  This is what makes these battles exciting.  The little stories and observations that come from the conflict and the random rolls that happen.  :)
The orks surround a group of marine scouts (in the crater) as terminators teleport in nearby and an assault squad comes in from below.  The ork warboss prepares to join the fray (near the grey building)

The marine chapter master (on the bike) with his relic blade attacks a group of killa-cans.  Two marines join in.  Only the one on the right was standing (out of a group of five) at the end of the battle.


Anthony Simeone said...

Definitely agree. In their own way, old-school RPG games ARE "story games." BUT, the story comes together over the course of a campaign, and is "complete" at the end of the campaign. This is different from the other sort of story games, where much of the character story is created beforehand by a game master.

Daddy Grognard said...

And then there is another school of thought that says no story is ever wholly complete, since there are a myriad of plot hooks that an emergent story produces and if the DM and players have the flexibility of mind to follow them up, producing new spin-off campaigns.