Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Choose-your-own-annihilation and cheese with peas

Pegboard left an interesting comment at Faeit 212 yesterday. Here's the essential part:

Tzeentch book has a table on every page. You start by rolling a d6 per page number and comparing it to the table. Your army then takes that many hits. Your opponent gets that many models back. If you roll an even number, you go back a page, odd, forward a page, roll more dice and then your opponent gets the special rules haywire and feel no pain.

It's a joke of course, presumably aimed at GW and a certain thinking on randomness and fun, but there's a radically conservative idea in there. Wargaming and roleplaying have long used tables for resolution, but they've fallen out of favour in the mainstream even if a business model based on large books of rules hasn't. Games like DCC still get good mileage, and there are the funky system-neutral tables at the The Dungeon Dozen.

Imagine this: a choose-your-own-adventure-style book of tables for use at the table, for gaming without randomisers like dice, but with more potential effects and less linearity, at least as many outcomes as table entries. Choose your action, check for contexts and apply the results, maybe jump. But not Student's-t-like distributions: there could be nested tables, option trees and 2D or 3D charts, even close-the-eyes-and-point pictures.

But it's still squeezy cheesy peas. Give it a name - 'wargamebook'? - and that's obvious.

Ditch the paradigm and get a whole new world, or an old world anew. So how about this.

Not a game per se, but a truer heir to the history of the book not only as tool and means of transmission, but as store of knowledge for the future, far beyond any edition cycle. A book of war, a means to know battles more fully than through cold definition and relation alone, by actually exploring at least the more technical problems on the tabletop or floor.

Numerical stats become linguistic scars, and imagination and bitter experience replace the army lists, and incapacitation and death are less abstracted, not just 'hit points' or 'wounds', but incapacitations and deaths. The kind of approach we call ultra-rules light, which means only that the system draws on rules already known, through the real world.

With the tables and the charts could go historical works of engraving, painting, classics of literature, modern photography and reportage. Not just a flight from the icy reduction of mechanics, but from time. You'd take it off the shelf 1d6 generations on, when maybe Gdub is a dodo and Wizards cast out, and study the patterns - pattern? - the graphic descriptions and images from the bloody history of Earth and other worlds. You'd line up the toy soldiers of the day in the old forms, to dead logics. Turn the pages, the stomach.

These days of course it would likely be an app by kneejerk default. But that could even help. See, say, lose/lose, and the harm done to the user. A warbook app could develop the thinking: as the people kill each other and themselves, the content itself is deleted, the experiences, memories and knowledge lost. The work fills with emptiness. Horrors are forgotten, until they return again from the white space at dark moments. Network the devices and have every loss shared, till no one has anything left except the shared loss.

I realise again I'm skirting again, not quite getting there. It makes me think of that idea of cave paintings as a message down the aeons and wired-up gamebooks running Itras By.


Kelvin Green said...

Part of the reason that I liked the old Realms of Chaos and Ork books was all the random tables.

Cygnus said...

Whoa, Porky... very good. If that's skirting, then Francis Ford Coppola was skirting too. Apocalypse Now was by no means true to military history, nor was it a right statistical sample thereof! :-)

Porky said...

@ Kelvin Green - Happy days. It might not be so long before those books get reprinted too. With the republication of the classic D&D material, and the way things are going, I can see a day when every past edition is supported. It wouldn't necessarily be a full win/win for anyone, but it could do a lot of good.

@ Cygnus - If you see that, I'm not complaining. On the subject of accuracy, statistics could and maybe should play a larger part, even if less visibly. There's a long history of attempted precision of course and as official documents, and more subtle historical tools become available, they would fit.

Fuller recreation could come with time too, with a possible step on the way being people willingly hooking themselves up to devices to experience the pain of the physical damage. That might start with consoles and maybe move to cinema and TV, but it could be borrowed for tabletop gaming and even other less obviously related activities like reading, blurring the forms more, and maybe helping define new.