Creating backgrounds for DBA battles

11 August, 2009

This post grew out a response to Neldoreth’s comment on the Battle of Navenby.

One of the things I’m finding I enjoy most about DBA is creating scenarios with some background. I think the game is well suited to this for a number of reasons. For one the armies are small, so it’s easier to build historically matched armies; then the games are quite quick to play so it doesn’t take too long to play a game and then write it up. But perhaps one of the main reasons is that the system is quite abstract, so you’re encouraged to imagine reasons for the different outcomes. I use the dice rolls as a measure of the combatants’ commitment. You could imagine a situation where both sides rolled 1s (5+1 v 2+1) and start to think that they’d actually amicably agreed, given the situation, that the loser should take off without bothering to fight!

This fairly high level of abstraction extends into the campaign system. A less abstract system would have to deal with the most regular military activities of the age I’m interested in, raiding and guerrilla responses to invasions. Neither make for satisfying wargames, and are therefore ignored, though in writing up a campaign you could describe them as part of the background to any of the battles.

I noticed when I played HOTT that I didn’t enjoy it as much as DBA, and I think the reason was the HOTT armies I used were ad hoc ones put together to try out the rules. DBA battles are between opponents with their own history which you’re able to bring to any battle. I’ll be interested to see if HOTT is more interesting when I finally have a few armies finished that can fit into the Hesperia campaign background.

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9 Responses to “Creating backgrounds for DBA battles”

  1. hrldplmr Says:

    I’m sure you will find HoTT more interesting when you can put names to your elements. Then you will have Tom & Bert instead of the Bh (trolls), say. Even with historical armies it’s a little bit empty if you don’t know the names of the protagonists.

    • Mark Says:

      You’re right. I could do that with all my elements—try and keep some sort of battle honours for them. If I had more time and was better organized I would. I know that some of my Wb elements, particularly the Galwegians, have triumphed against ridiculous odds on occasions! So far the HOTT armies have been pretty haphazard, and now I’m working on DBA it might be a while before I get back to HOTT, but some time down the track no doubt …

  2. Tim Says:

    I second hrldplmr – it’ll be more interesting when you have a background to it!

    The abstract campaign system deals with guerilla responses to invasion quite well – when an army invades a location that doesn’t have a field army present it has to “besiege” the area… now not all cultures are fortress builders or whatever – so instead of thinking of it as “besieging” a city or fortress, I think of it as “pacifying” an area!

    • Mark Says:

      Well, as far as HOTT goes, I’ve really only finished one army, the Goblins, and now I’m busy with DBA, which in time (if I actually get back to painting!) will build up the figures for some of the human armies. I’ve actually developed quite a lot of background for Hesperia, which I think will make HOTT much more interesting when I get back to it. I’d like to finish one of the other purely fantasy armies, though, the dwarves or elves. That’d help to get me back into HOTT.

      Good point about the campaign system—shows that I’ve only read about it, and been inspired by blogs such as yours to try one of my own! Some armies that are fairly weak in pitched battle often had armies ideally suited to guerrilla defences, but it’d make for a pretty dull campaign if this was factored in and they had an incentive to avoid battle.

  3. TWR Says:

    I’m afraid I disagree with others comments. Historical wargaming will always have, at least for me, more depth and colour than any fantasy system. After all you have the great captains of ancient history including Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio, Pyrrhus and of course those not so famous generals kings and tyrants at your finger tips.

    • Mark Says:

      I’m not sure the difference is always so great, as you can base a fantasy campaign on sources too, mythical history (an Arthurian one, for example) or on a book (one set in Middle Earth would be very rich in background). Admittedly, there are some historical periods that are richer in sources than any fantasy setting, but then there are also many historical armies that have fewer sources than some fantasy settings.

      For me it depends on how much you identify with the armies you’re using. I could easily identify with armies from Middle Earth more than with many historical armies.

      There’s also the element of creating some sort of ‘what if’ to a campaign, and with the DBA campaign system this can be very strong, as the protaganists are equal in the number of provinces they start with and the size of their army, something seldom the case in actuality. This can relate to how much you identify with an army. It’s possibly what has made DBA more satisfying for me than HOTT so far, as I tend to identify with the underdog, and in history they tend to lose, while in literature the ‘good guys’ usually win (I guess you could sympathize with the bad guys, so this could still be a factor in a HOTT campaign). However, I’ve not yet tried any refights of fantasy battles to make a fair comparison.

      Finally, some of the character of any wargames army also comes from the figures, and fantasy armies, if anything, could have the edge over historical ones—certainly for colour!

    • Tim Says:

      Oh, no need to “disagree”, I wasn’t saying HOTT would be MORE interesting that HISTORICAL DBA… I agree with you 100% – Historical games have always been my first love as well.

      I was just saying HOTT games with some background (depth and colour, etc) would be more interesting than one-off, ad hoc HOTT games with no background whatsoever! Might as well play checkers!

      ANY game is going to be more interesting if there is some background to it!

  4. TWR Says:

    I better understand what your intent now.

    Certainly wargame “history” can be very different from the actual history especially when campaigns are involved. It also has to be said I’m just not a big fan of what is typically defined as fantasy gaming.

    Further, some of the HoTT games I have seen take the concept of alternate history too far for me. For example I could understand HoTT games between armies from Middle Earth but struggle with the concept of Tiger Tanks attacking Orks.

    Call me old fashioned I suppose…

    • Mark Says:

      I’d agree with you there. HOTT lends itself to just about any sort of army, and there are those who seem to have a lot of fun coming up with bizarre armies for it. Each to his own, but I much prefer what could be called pretty old-fashioned and conservative fantasy armies.


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