"War" is our generic term for any significant multi-player or long-term conflict. It can be a literal war between two armies, or a conflict such as two noble houses attempting to compete for trade dominance in a shadow, or two factions of courtiers trying to be the most impressive during a festival period. Wars are typically conducted over multiple days of play, and likely have some amount of built-up investment prior to the commencement of the war.
In all wars, there are two sides, a conflict, and conditions.
The sides (or "teams") represent a point of view on the conflict. The players on each side are at least nominally working towards the same goal. Other interested third-parties not strongly aligned with either of the sides nonetheless need to pick a side to join; since players can join or leave sides at the beginning of a turn, third-parties can switch sides whenever it's convenient for them.
Each side (or "team") picks a "captain", who is responsible for negotiating on behalf of that side, and whose character's stats will be used to resolve conflicts. (A side can change captains at any time, so you can swap who the captain is, if you want to use someone else's stats in a round.)
Having more players on your side is a definite advantage, but it is a limited one. Since players must spend Focus, and Focus comes in limited quantities (there is a maximum you can stockpile, and it refreshes over time bit by bit), Focus devoted to the war effort is Focus those players can't spend elsewhere. Getting a bunch of players to devote Focus to you will in fact help you win a war, but they are doing it at the expense of other activities that they could be spending Focus on — so the rewards for them have to be worthwhile. Similarly, since only one character's stats, gifts, and items are used each round, having lots of players on your side gives you more flexibility as to what your team can do in a round, but advantage of PC numbers doesn't turn into automatic clobbering.
The conflict is what the war's about. At the beginning of a war, both captains must agree to what happens if either side wins. This can be defined quite broadly, or very specifically; we suggest that in most cases, broad is preferable. Note that the outcome of a war does not need to be definitive resolution of the whole issue, but it should be sufficient that it effectively resolves an arc of the story. A good rule of thumb is that it should resolve things sufficiently that the teams involved can at least partially disband, and that it the result should be decisive and clear.
For instance, Corwin and Bleys raise an army, and assault Amber. Eric has a number of others on his side, including Julian, Caine, and Gerard. Corwin and Eric are the captains, negotiating on behalf of their sides. They agree, "This conflict is about Corwin's assault on Amber. If Corwin's side wins, he successfully fights his way to Eric. If Eric's side wins, Corwin is captured." The outcome of the war, in this case, doesn't decide the future of Amber, but it does resolve the military conflict, allowing the story to move on.
Sometimes, one side has already agreed to lose in advance, as is likely to be true when an NPC villain is involved. In this case, the conflict shouldn't be whatever it is that's already been pre-arranged — it should be something else significant that is still contested. For instance, the conflict may be, "Does the villain win the hearts and minds of the populace, despite losing?"
The conditions are any specifics that the two parties want to agree to ahead of time. One of those conditions should be an agreement on what kind of events end the conflict, so it doesn't go on indefinitely. The conditions can also specify things such as, "No PCs can be killed." Pre-arrangements like a villain ultimately losing should also be explicitly stated as conditions.
The score starts zero-zero for the two teams. However, one or both sides may have made preparations. The captains should agree that preparations (in the form of token spending) will be able to take place before the aggressor side takes its first turn. The captains may also want to agree in advance, as part of the conditions, what sorts of preparations will be acceptable.
The conflict and conditions together constitute the "war contract". Both captains must agree to the text of the contract. Once the war has begun, the contract should not change. If both teams are genuinely amenable to a contract change midway through the war, they can agree to the new terms. However, under almost all circumstances, the contract should be the ground rules that everyone has agreed to; the contract is a protective measure intended to ensure that communication about the scope of the conflict is clear, and that both parties have agreed to the limits of the potential consequences.
To get a war started, the captain of the initial offensive team should do:
The captain of the opposing team must respond with +war/accept player or +war/reject player
At that point, either captain can edit the war's Conflict and Conditions. Only one person can edit a contract section at a time. The commands for this are +war/conflict and +war/conditions — both invoke the editor.
When a captain feels that the conflict and conditions look good, he should do a +war/agree to agree to the contract. (Any subsequent change to the conflict or conditions automatically negates this agreement, as does using +war/cancel) When both captains have agreed, the war begins.
Tokens can be "cashed out" into points towards a team's score, at the rate of 3 points of invested Focus to one point towards the score. This represents preparations made prior to the war's commencement. In general, teams should declare preparations as soon as the war begins, unless there's a surprise reserve or the like that will only be brought into play later.
Tokens can only be spent at the beginning of a turn (i.e., before the captain has declared his action for the round). Any player on either side can spend tokens at that time.
You can "cash out" a token with +war/spend token-number
This will automatically declare the token to the opposing team's captain, who will be asked to handshake with +war/ok player or +war/deny player
If the token cash-out is accepted, the Focus is spent on it (and the token altered to indicate this), and points added to your team's score.
The two captains take turns taking actions, so the teams are alternatively on "offense" and "defense".
Players can join or leave a side at the beginning of a turn, with +war/join war-number with captain or +war/leave, respectively. For a player with alts, once one of his characters has contributed to a side (either by being captain for a turn, or spending any Focus), none of his other characters can join that side.
A team can switch captains at the beginning of any turn. The captain speaks for his side, OOC, but the turn is focused on his character's actions and how they affect his team's position. Therefore, if the turn should be focused primarily on some other character's actions, that other player should be made captain for the round. The current captain can make someone else captain with +war/captain player
At the beginning of the turn, the captain of the offensive team chooses the following:
- What he's going to try to do. This should be phrased as something which can succeed or fail, and the captain should clearly state what the effect of success or failure is. For instance, "Bleys will try to bring his ships through the storm intact," is a good statement of intent. "If he succeeds, his ships make it through the storm. If he fails, he is delayed," is a good possible statement of outcome. There are other good statements of outcome possible, too, of course, such as, "If he succeeds, his ships make it through the storm without significant losses. If he fails, only a handful of ships make it through the storm." Since there's a big gap between intent and potential outcomes, it's important for intent, success, and failure to all be explicitly stated.
- How much risk — low, medium, or high — he wants to assume. The greater the risk, the greater the potential to score points towards a win or to name facts beneficial to his side — but the greater than chance that the opposition can do the same.
- What stat, and optional item and/or gift, he wants to use for the conflict.
The command for this is:
+war/levelrisk using stat [and item] [with gift] [= statement]
where level is "low", "med", or "high". If no statement is given, the editor will be invoked.
The captain of the defensive team must then agree that the statement of intent and outcome, and the stat, item, and gift, all make sense. This is just a simple handshake of agreement of +war/ok other-captain or +war/deny other-captain
The RPG system then crunches numbers, and it comes up with the initial results. This may add directly to the offensive's team score, and generates "counters" that are put in the following four "buckets":
- Points towards the offensive team's score
- Facts that the offensive team can state
- Facts that the defensive team can state
- Points towards the defensive team's score
Every player on both teams can spend Focus to change what buckets the counters are in. One point of Focus moves one counter, into the next favorable bucket. For instance, if a player on the offensive team spends a point of Focus, he can:
- Move one counter from the "Facts that the offensive team can state" bucket to the "Points towards the offensive team's score" bucket.
- Move one counter from the "Facts that the defensive team can state" bucket to the "Facts that the offensive team can state" bucket.
- Move one counter from the "Points towards the defensive team's score" bucket to the "Facts that the defensive team can state" bucket.
Conversely, a player on the defensive team can spend a point of Focus to move one counter from the "Points towards the offensive team's score" bucket to the "Facts that the offensive team can state" bucket, and so forth.
Each time a player spends a point of Focus, he must make a statement of how his character's actions are contributing towards his team's efforts, using +declare to indicate any relevant abilities, items, or tokens. A player can spend as many points of Focus as he likes during a turn, but he must spend the points one at a time, with an explanation to go with each one. The opposing team's captain does not need to handshake this, but any issues over the specifics of what's being done should be negotiated.
A player moves a counter into a bucket with:
+war/act bucket-to-move-to [= statement]
where bucket-to-move-to is "yourscore", "yourfacts", "theirfacts" or "theirscore".
Players do not need to go in order, although captains may wish to ask players to do so. The turn is considered over each captains asserts that his team is done spending Focus, with the command +war/ready (Any further spend of Focus automatically negates the handshake, as does a +war/cancel)
When the turn is over, if there are at least as many counters in the offense's facts bucket as there are in the defense's facts bucket, the action succeeds; otherwise, it fails. (If both fact buckets have zero counters, the offense still succeeds.) The results of this are whatever was agreed to as part of the earlier handshake between the captains.
Also, at the end of the turn, the counters in the "points" buckets directly change the score for each team (for instance, if there are two counters in the "Points towards the offensive team's score" bucket, the offensive team's score goes up by two). The two captains must then negotiate over the facts. For every counter in the team's Facts bucket, the team gets to name a fact about the conflict. A fact may be used to inflict a consequence on any player on the opposing team who contributed Focus during that turn.
Facts do not need to be consequences directed at players; facts can be used to simply make statements that are directly relevant to the conflict at hand, or used to give desired color to the scene. For instance, in Corwin's attack on Amber, a fact such as "Arden is on fire" is very reasonable. A statement such as "It begins to rain," is also reasonable — made more so if the team stating it has access to weather control, but it can also be a circumstantial statement. The acceptability of such a thing is up to the captains to negotiate.
Similarly, captains may agree to allow a fact to nullify a consequence — for instance, Eric might try to use a fact to wound Corwin, but Corwin could offer to use a fact of his own to contradict this.
Either captain can write the facts using +war/facts — this invokes the editor, and only one captain can edit the facts at a time. Once both captains are satisfied, they should use +war/continue to handshake the facts. (Any change to the facts after a handshake negates the handshake automatically, as does a +war/cancel)
Once the two captains handshake the facts. then the next turn begins, with the offensive team becoming the defensive team, and the defensive team becoming the offensive team.
Deciding when to roleplay things out is a matter of personal taste. We recommend that players go through the turn, then determine what sort of scene framing best suits what happened, and play out the scene accordingly.
Ending the War
At the beginning of any turn, a captain can ask to end the war with +war/end. If the captain of the opposing team agrees and also does a +war/end, the war is over. Captains should always agree to end a war if one of the end-conditions agreed upon as part of the war contract are reached, but they may also end it earlier with mutual agreement. The side with the highest score wins the conflict, and whatever results were agreed to as part of the war contract should be played out.
Since everything is tracked — the war contract, along with the intent, outcome, actions and facts of each turn — players can refer back to the war "document" for exactly what was agreed to.
There is also a small reward to participants, assuming enough Focus was spent during the war to "fund" it. A percentage of the total Focus spent by both sides during the war is allocated to the winning and the losing sides, with the winning side receiving the bulk of the points. The points are then split evenly between participants on each side who spent at least 1 point of Focus during the war.
Ultimately, the war system is intended to facilitate negotiated storytelling in a fair and structured way. Players must balance control over the specifics of the scene with control over the end-outcome. Facts named during the scene can be used to narrow the options available to opponents, or to inflict direct consequences upon opponents, but they also control the fine-grained arc of the story, and allow small victories to be achieved against the tapestry of the larger arc of the story.