It's hard to follow current events without thinking about the ordinary, everyday and routine whirling into the extraordinary, and why and how this happens. It's something we all face, albeit on a far lesser scale, when we refuse to accept a thing and set events in motion to change it, whether planned or in the heat of the moment. We might break delicate balances, cause distinct worlds to merge, make ourselves and others highly uncomfortable in the short term.
Looked at like this, gaming seems even more like escapism, with a relatively ordered situation, clear rules, perhaps a top-down view and a cool head while the characters and models are driven on into the crucible on our behalf. Why do we get this luxury? Didn't a wargame ought to show us too more war, or a roleplaying game force us into what could suddenly look a less appealing role? After all, the fun will always come, at the very least, in knowing we can make a nice cup of tea at the end, leave it all behind. In that light, why not put ourselves through a more real grinder, why not live the game more?
In the comments under the latest triffle The Angry Lurker was his usual inventive self and brought this thinking on strong. Read what he has to say about what one unit of men - one group of people - might have to go through. Would you fancy that? Whatever the answer, how about getting closer to it? How about a confrontation that whirls us too, with events moving a breakneck speed and threats emerging left, right and centre, or worse - lying in wait unseen with sharp blades; a dungeon that defies the memory and the lines on the paper as if we ourselves were squinting in the oppressive dark, keeping quiet hearing the crazy sounds close by and gasping in the airlessness?
In my reply to Angry I probably had in mind already the approach to setting up a game used in some of the scenarios in When the Navy Walked, a wargame reviewed here a while back, with no strict deployment zone and units set up in reaction to each other and at certain distances. I ran down this track and wondered how we might bring this chaos into games generally.
The current thinking is that rather than the scenario, mission, adventure or dungeon existing in a complete, or near-complete form which the players enter and follow, it might be broken up into more compact elements, even tiny pieces, with these not determined until the moment they appear. Some games do this already of course, but how about taking the concept, expanding on it and using it more widely?
I imagine doing something like this through a series of tables or sets of cards, with the tables or decks chosen setting the theme or context. In wargaming this could be border skirmish, invasion or war of attrition, or local disturbance, insurrection or revolution, as well as all manner of other situations in which force might be potential or kinetic.
For example, an option under border dispute might be a patrol. One unit is placed, with a result or card indicating a random number of auxilliary units, located in particular conjunctions, but with these conjunctions partially unknown. To get this effect, counters could be placed by the opponent, with only half representing friendly troops and half nothing or a wildcard.
To this basic situation could be added a stray opposing unit stumbling on the patrol. An option coming up if the invasion set is in use too - the players agreeing to play an escalating dispute - could indicate that a point on the table has been identified as strategic, but this might remain unknown to the other side. If the insurrection set is added, a unit might suddenly receive conflicting orders causing it to act against the 'controlling' player's wishes. Reinforcements and other kinds of support could arrive, but where and when, and why? Things like this, at Don't throw a 1. Suddenly landing zones could need to be cleared, civilians evacuated, equipment secured.
The more complex wildcards could even be independent parties with unclear motivations, in a modern or sci-fi setting workers banding together for protection, or to force their own agenda, strapping themselves into equipment and making the tools of peace a weapon; in a historical or fantasy setting there could be trappers, even partisans, holding out in a terrain feature, no friend to either of the factions in play.
It's easy to see how this approach could be expanded to work also games involving more complex interactions than those based only on causing injury and death. To expand the so-called 'sandbox' as a metaphor - perhaps too far - this adapted play area would have all kinds of nastiness lurking just below the surface, with pets rushing through and kicking structures down, spades snapping, rain beginning to fall and even parents calling increasingly impatiently for the players to come in for their dinner.
In some ways this would be easier with something more closed-in like a dungeon crawl. Geomorphs could be broken up into smaller pieces and introduced randomly, even moved as the party moves on, the point being a simulation of disorientation more than accuracy. Encounters could come with unexpected mixes, standard creatures or items modified with raised or lowered stats or new skills or equipment, to be fresh and fear-inducing in our reality too. Parties could be broken up on the selection of an option, as if one member looked around and found he'd not kept track of the others.
The nature of the complex could become increasingly clear as the options from one set begin to build up, or manifold even if multiple sets were being used, with the different possibilites - mine, monastery, maze and so on - not necessarily all true, but appearing together as a reflection of the uncertainty and cycling interpretations of the party.
At any rate, this approach in whatever kind of game would be aimed at taking the kind of variety usually provided by supplementary rules and systems and making it central, with nothing certain, no ground solid, and the players feeling the tension more keenly than usual. The chaos of the push out into the unknown would be there. The chaos of actors known and unknown, the usual limits being crossed, needs and desires on the loose and life in flux. If we want war, we all but suffer through it; if we want to be someone else far away with a more exciting life, we get a truer sense of that extreme experience.
Assuming this kind of game could be created, would we play it? Could it exist beyond a temporary experiment? Perhaps once tried we wouldn't go back? Is the grass greener? There's a song for that, or rather many. Here's the easy one, "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who. The point is surely making the new boss no boss, just us, or more us.