Friday, March 7, 2014

The making of The Raid: how a scenario is born... Part 1

Anyone who has ever written a game scenario before knows that is a very grateful job, usually quite an amount of work and also a bit like cooking: you play it a lot faster than you cook it up!

For me researching and writing scenarios is an essential and enjoyable part of the hobby. Usually it also involves building and painting stuff, as I have yet to write the first scenario for which I already have all the terrain, figures and props. In most cases, acquiring a single prop item is the spark that sets of the whole creative process. So my ideas usually start small and unexpectedly.

My biggest (and so far only) failure in wargaming projects ever was my uber-ambitious 20mm Samurai Twin Army Project. After acquiring nearly a thousand figures and about 8 years I had to admit, looking at about two dozen painted ones, that I was beat. So when I came upon an advert for the then still to be published ruleset Ronin I knew life was giving me a second chance!

The cover of two bedraggled samurai fighting on a mountain path set the creative juices flowing. The set looked good and I –always a sucker for a good deal- pre-ordered the book and a bag of 28mm miniatures. While I was still painting these ideas blossomed (cherry-blossomed actually) for terrain and buildings and alongside the painting I built a Shinto shrine and the classic Tori gate. Perhaps vague memories of Shogun were stirred at that time. Who knows? In any case, at Crisis Antwerp the good people of Karwansaray Publishing treated me on their great samurai demo. Even during play I instinctively knew I had to buy some more ninja's and Japanese civilians. One never knows... about 2 minutes after finishing the demo game, I bagged the last Perry ninja set at the show, which surely must have been a favourable sign.

In the car on the way home from Antwerp I pondered a game featuring a ninja raid (the Ronin book has a scenario for one) and an idea started forming in my head of building terrain on a more grand scale. Bit by bit I could already see a large Japanese fortified manor looming in the distance.

I like to make stuff with my hands and not for the first time I started painting figures, drawing sketches and building stuff before the game itself was properly thought out. Sketches developed from doodles in the margins of work notes to full drawings and schematics for building the walls, shoji doors etc. Being busy with work related studies for a while and finding myself without time to build and paint I amused myself with thinking out construction of roofs and doors, layout plans and specific rules for the game to add to the standard raid scenario. Ordering stuff of course takes only a moment so some cherry blossom trees made their way to me from somewhere in South East Asia. One cannot play a medieval Japanese skirmish game without those. Don’t you agree? I thought you would.

The Ronin book scenario was quite straightforward. A small group of ninja attacks a larger group of something else and must steal or assassinate something. A decent start, but obviously more flavour needed to be added. Anything worth tinkering with is worth tinkering with A LOT in my book so I started to use the gaming table with the walled manor that was already forming in my head as a stage for dozing sentries, crashing-through-doors rules, climbing-walls rules, and distant weapon caches that needed to be reached to have anything more than a katana at your disposal. Now a more cinematographic (47 Ronin, anyone?) approach became possible.

Of course the game had to be tactically interesting and this means the players need choices. After all, when you can’t make the wrong choice, then where’s the excitement?

From this grew the idea that the Ninja player initially should not know where their victim is exactly. So the “Manor”-player, the Defender, must be able to hide the target. This means that the manor must facilitate this. So apart from a detachable roof that enables play inside the manor model each major room should have a lid below the roof to hide its contents from the ninja player. The Defender knows what is underneath it. The Ninja player finds out only when his figures enter the room.

But of course this should not deteriorate in a trap-the-ninja game too easily. So randomness was introduced for the Defender. He throws dice into each room for every figure in it and the score determines whether the figures are awake and alert or asleep. And even he may only look once the ninja enter. Imagine his surprise when everybody is asleep and the ninja sneak by….

Being asleep of course demands the possibility for awakening. Noise is introduced as a factor. For the Ninja to avoid, for the Defender to exploit. Shouts, shots, explosions, fighting and crashing through carpentry all risk waking everybody up. Dice rolls and scores introduce chance. The slumbering samurai may be a sound sleeper, or may wake up at the sound of any silent footfall.

With the scenario taking shape the demands that would have to be met by the building became clearer. Foamboard was acquired and the first shapes of walls and groundplate were cut. For storage purposes I usually build large buildings in two stackable parts so it will fit into a large box. The local super market provides these. So building can commence!

To be continued....