Monday, April 8, 2013

Why Total War always draws me in....

A few years ago, I tried to run what is essentially a play-by-post version of Total War, with nations created by players and myself taking the position of the computer, set in a D&D setting with D&D rules alongside some nation-building rules I had created.  A fellow DM found this old game, which had been abandoned around turn 5 just because of its complexity and the poorly thought-out nature of its implementation, and asked for a copy of the rule set.  Sadly, those rules are long lost in the mire of transferred data from my old laptop to my new one, but it did encourage me to reread the adventure.   What I found is that my deep-seated love of Total War comes, not only from the battles and tactics, but from the very agents and characters and specifically, their traits.

Traits are a fun consideration for a game.  I feel they let the character grow over time, and prevent the sort of mismanagement that many hero-type character get in games (namely that they are either always at the battlefield or languishing away in some city).  Because of the nature of traits, and the fact that you can get bad traits as well as good in any setting, they almost cultivate carefully training and weeding out "bad" agents and generals and cultivating the good.  I recall a number of times i had a great general with one bad trait, and was playing a game against time until the RNG decided that trait got worse until it made him untenable.  That said, almost all my battlefield generals had chirugens and horribly scarred in Rome Total War, because the General Bodyguard unit is the earliest heavy cavalry you get, and the Faction Leader and Faction Heir have good sized bodyguards.

Traits also add a level of personality to your generals and agents you wouldnt get otherwise.  That spy that you've sent around everywhere?  Well, he has a small child he uses in his missions, perhaps he cares for the kid and is responsible...or perhaps he's exploiting the little bum for his profit.  And that general that has conquered all of your enemies?  Well, he's going around with an entourage of a mercenary captain, a chirugen, and captive slaves from all over the world.  Even as RNG effects, they at least give a "hmmm" moment, and that is worth some depth of storytelling.

In the campaign I ran, I did not have a list of traits, but I had a range of effects.  First I'd roll for a trait to happen, then I'd roll to see if it was good or bad.  Finally, I would roll to see what the effect was, and how severe.  Sometimes this would add a trait, and sometimes it would modify an existing trait.  For example, I had a player who had a mistress, which added an assassination chance to his character (but if he offed the mistress he could easily remove that chance).  A random trait came up to increase his chance of recruiting certain agents.  I changed the mistress into a Well-connected mistress, which had the assassination chance, but also an increased chance to recruit agents.  This simultaneously built up his relationship with his mistress (who eventually sired him an heir), and gave him a more difficult choice (keep the assassination chance or loose the mistress and her well-connected trait).

One of the more fun sides I had was a warforged side, who had a lower population, but a steadily increases birth rate (increased by 1% every 10 years).  The leader had a trait that made him prone to malfunctions (negative traits), but he rolled very well and only got one by the time the game ended.  It was an interesting story point, and the player played it very well.

Link to the original game thread

Thanks for reading,