My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing Battle Narratives

There is an interesting thread on the Old School Wargaming forum that is discussing writing a proper battle narrative. I find it interesting because I often wonder if anyone ever gets anything out of the ones I have written. After all, I don't always enjoy the ones I read so it is very likely that others don't enjoy mine either. So, what makes for a good battle report? Here are some of the statements made in the thread so far (some contradictory):

  • It is not really a dissection of the rules sets so much as just seeing how a battle developed and the extent to which both sides' battle plans succeeded or failed.
  • I think it is an integral part of the hobby; wargames are story-telling games. So the write-up is for me part of the satisfaction of the whole gig.
  • So the Traditional battle narrative can be a useful tool to promote this [historical] association.
  • My personal favorite version is that which blends narrative with game mechanics, partly as it helps to understand what actually happened, partly because it helps me feel that I was there, saw and did etc and partly because it can help open a window on rules that I haven't seen.
  • I particularly like ones where you can glimpse a bit about the players behind their little 3 dimensional avatars.
  • For me a really well written narrative without any reference to the game might as well be pure fiction but can be rescued to some extent by extensive pictures of a game to allow you to guess at what really happened.
  • A report which features inanimate descriptions of events and die rolls with no infusion of imagination can be useful to understand mechanics but won't dram me back.
  • Even a mediocre blend of narrative and reference to actual game mechanics will hold my attention again and again. Charles Grant was a master of this sort of blended report. Lawford & Young's Blasthof game in Charge! is a superb example.
  • Put the game-mechanic stuff in footnotes.
  • [The report] describe[s] the action generally in real life terms but introduce the rule details where necessary.
  • One of the things that either approach must have is a map or photos with captions.Otherwise I'm lost and lose interest.
What other points do you think make up a good battle report? Is it narrative style, mechanical, or a blend? How valuable are pictures without arrows, details, etc.? Do close-up action shots really add anything to a report?

All of this got me to thinking about my own reports. Especially for DBA (the ones I write up the most) or DBA derivatives, the elements are not named they are just a type. Maybe that needs to change. Maybe a narration of the turns. I've definitely decided to stop doing one picture per player bound (with the occasional two pictures - move then combat outcome - per player bound); it is too much and doesn't really convey enough information.

I am leaning towards using maps to show the overall movement and results, with pictures of the miniatures to support some specific action in the narrative, such as a critical melee.

During the games, I still take a picture at the start of the attacker's turn; it helps me remember the action and count the dead. But, as I look back on them, I don't see the "eye candy" value of a wide-angle shot of the whole board, the troops, and my opponent's belly.

I'd like to hear what you think on this.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting post! The thing that I like to see most in battle reports is the writer identifying key decisions that were made, why they were made that way (ie: what they hoped to achieve), key mistakes made, and some kind of judgement at the end as to how they might have done things differently if they could play that same game again. That's how I try to write my own battle reports.

    There need to be a small amount of game mechanic stuff and a quick summary of the early game which leads to the main decision point, but for me it's all about the decisions that happened.

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  2. It also depends on why you are writing a battle report. For me, I write fairly detailed rule mechanic writeups. This is because I am comparing many rules and checking them for fast play. So I am writing them so people can see, in detail, how the rules mechanics work and play out. This should help people see if they are interested in them. I also like to read similar battle reports as that helps me understand the rules and the mechanics.

    But..if I was not writing a battle report for such a purpose as above - for instance if I was writing up my 8th battle with a particular ruleset - I would hopefully be concentrating more on the tactics of play, decisions made (and why), a few examples of play, especially where it was critical. Similar to what PTR said. One day, probably years away, I want to be at this stage of battle reports. Until then, I'm still enjoying rule comparisons. I do not think I am great at it yet.

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  3. At some point though you have to recognized that "I've already done that". A good example is Shaun's series on one specific battle. Rather than restating the scenario over and over, you created one blog entry that says "here it is", then put in a link in subsequent blog entries.

    In a DBA blog, for example, I don't think I would explain the mechanics of DBA each and every time; rather I might do it once and then reference the mechanics in the other entries like Shaun does with the scenario.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").