Battle scenes are pretty boring. Simple as that. Posing large numbers of troops, emitting cavalry maneuvers and whatnot is simply something that does not translate well into text. There are important things happening, but for all that they are important, they are also surprisingly trivial in play. What that practically means is that the details of the conflict should be the backdrop to an interesting scene.
To steal Julian as an example, let's suppose he's overseeing a battle in Arden. There's a bad tendency to want to pose out the whole battle, which results in several dull hours for everyone involved out of a desire for completeness and a sense that it would be "cheating" to skip over those steps.
If, instead, you imagine how this scene would play out in a movie or book, we might have a few moments of Julian sternly giving order, but then we cut away to the fray and cut back when Julian and the enemy general catch each other's eyes across the battlefield. Or maybe we come back to Julian in his command tent, making a hard decision with a deep personal cost. One way or another, the story of the battle is really about that moment or choice.
We want that to be the case with these battles as well. For those invested in the battles, we want to zero in on what their scene(s) in the story of this battle is. We want to make this matter for them in a manner that is more direct and personal than the general question of whether the battle is won or lost.
This is not going to be to everyone's taste. Among other things, this suggests shorter, purpose driven scenes to make up the war rather than large-group posing over time. It also moves the focus away from types of action that some players enjoy. The good news is this — for the most part, the longer, more involved scenes are the ones which require less staff oversight, so if you want to sit down and get into the nitty gritty of a small unit clash, do it, but do it on the side as your own scene (see "Additional Scenes", below). Staff is happy to answer questions or hand over small tokens to help make these scenes happen, and we actively encourage it. What we can't do is take responsibility for running all of these scenes.
But What About Winning The War?
This is a stranger war than any player v. player conflict, simply because the final outcome is already written (in The Guns of Avalon). As glass-half-full staff, we view that as something that allows a lot of flexibility — even if we screw something up, the outcome is still the same. Still, no one wants to feel like they're investing for nothing (even if they get a scene out of it). To that end, we're tracking the invested focus (including side scenes), and its most direct impact is to reduce the bucket of focus we're sitting on which is labeled "Problems for Amber once the war is over". It's a pretty big bucket, but not infinite.
On Involvement in the Scenes
The scenes we've chosen are based entirely upon what players have chosen to do — the things they've made important through roleplay and through token-writing. The content of the scenes themselves will similarly be based on who's involved, and the tokens they've made. In other words, the scenes are based on the participants and what (we believe) they care about; ideally, we want each character to be important in some way. The more we understand what a character is invested in, the better we can tailor the dramatic choices available to them.
For people who are used to GMs having a specific situation that they're running people through, with a set-up that they're trying to "defeat", this might be something of an odd, unexpected model. You might be wondering, for instance, why we've released most of our detail about what's happening after token creation rather than before, and why we put so much emphasis on writing tokens for this. The answer's simple — your tokens determined what would be important. They were, as we've tried to explain previously, your communication with us about what was important to you.
Our mode is one of trying to help facilitate your telling of your character's story, not of telling our story. We're providing some structure and framing and villainy, but in the end, we are tying together and improvising upon elements that players have provided, with a framework of the Zelazny description of the battle. The more initiative you take in introducing story elements that matter to your character (for instance, by writing tokens involving those elements, or by talking to the staff directly about what you want out of battle participation), the more we can tailor a scene to what you, the participant, are interested in. The spotlight will shift around, of course, but we're making an effort to make those contributions matter in some way.
This also means that there's no "right" scene or "best" scene for your character to be in. The scene that's probably the right fit for you is the one that you think your character has to best reason to be emotionally invested in — the place where their story lives. Get involved, get invested, and if we can, we will try to give you a dramatic piece of story. (That's an ideal, of course; we can't promise that we'll live up to it. But it's our goal to try, and to more you give us to work with, the more we'll be able to do.)
The investments listed below are not final. Some of the characters listed are expected to have larger investments by the time this is over, but this represents the core. If you are looking to add a character to this list, you should contact Benedict and create a +token. We'll be willing to take nominal tokens right up to the last minute (and if you want to have a role, but don't want to worry about missing the scene, nominal is a good plan) but it is harder to integrate serious (3 point) or major (6 point) investments as things go on, so please talk with Benedict before creating such a token.
We're not asking the houses to invest in this as houses — every house is assumed to be committing to this as suits their abilities, and we're not in a position to run a war and test run any prop-driven systems at the same time.
With this skeleton of the conflict as outlined above, you are welcome to create and play additional side-scenes that fit into this overall narrative. The Black Road thread is ubiquitous, so anything from creatures in the shadows of Amber City to incursions in the Golden Circle is fair game. The source material in Guns gives you some examples to work from. If you're a prop controller of a Golden Circle shadow, you can pretty much have any kind of weird fantastical horror invade the place you control, and if you're not, feel free to use the canonical stuff or ask the staff for a seed idea — we're happy to make a suggestion. Again, this is your story, and we're putting the elements of the setting out there for you to make your own, dramatically, in your scenes.
And here's the extra fun — if you do such a scene, and you want it to matter, make a token for it, and invest in it based on how important it is to you (0 for color, 3 for noteworthy or 6 for very important) and let Benedict and the staff know. If we can manage, we'll incorporate your scene into the narrative. They will also be tallied for purposes of countering the (rather massive) Black Road Invasion token pile.
Character names can be read as follows:
Names in normal text have made an investment (3 focus) and will play an important role in the scene.
Names in italics have made nominal (0 point) investments. They will contribute color to the scene, but will nto be central.
Names in bold Have contributed heavily (6+ focus) to the scene, and will be pivotal.
See our notes for more details on what these things mean.
1. Arden, on the edge of Garnath
This is the first domino, the point where the excrement hits the spinning blades. The incoming force is far in excess of anything seen before, and the question is not about stopping them, it's about holding them along enough to warn Amber.
Bijin (But absent)
The force here is far larger than Arden is able to stop, and to be frank, stopping it is not their job. This is going to be a battle of skirmishes, hit and run and guerrilla tactics.
A surge of troops came down the black road, presaged by strike teams cutting off the Ranger's lines of communications. A handful of troops from Kitezh were in the right place at the right time and held the Pass of the Moon above Garnath while messengers rode at speed through the enemy-filled countryside to carry their warnings to Amber. The troops held until the odds were too greatly stacked against them, and in a fury of thunder and lightning the very mountainsides were pulled down, blocking the pass and holding off the enemy charge. (log)
Unbeknownst to the defenders, they were aided in their efforts as the commander of the enemy forces was engaged in an extended skirmish with a unit of rangers, with hunter and prey changing roles at the drop of a hat. Both the enemy commander and this unsung ranger were both carried over the edge of the same waterfall, and out of sight.
2. The Banks of The Oisen
The last major fortification before the rolling plains that slop upwards to Kolvir, this is the place to make a stand. This fortress of the Knights of the Oisen is not designed to stop a force of this size, but desperate reinforcements and supplies have been pushed into place to shore it up. In character, the hope is to hold them here long enough for the forces at sea to be brought to bear. Out of Character, we all know they're going to break through. This is a place for last stands.
This is the fortification fight - defensive and bloody. Of all of the battles, this one is the most certain loss. The best case scenario involves holding out long enough that the enemy is forced to go around, allowing the forces here to attack from the rear, but there's no way that won't be costly.
The defense came at Fort Oisen, the keep at one end of the great stone bridge over the river.
The initial push from the road involved a successful gambit which injected a swarm of poisonous insects into the courtyard of the keep, decimating the reinforcements. With failure a certainty, the defenders opted to deny the enemy the resource, destroying the keep and bridge as they fled, though a handful of men remained in the keep, holding the walls and buying time for the retreat.(log)
Meanwhile, the last of the refuges fled to Amber a step ahead of the battle, facing their own dangers. (log)
3. The Beachhead
The main hope of holding the forces at the Oisen is to launch a counterattack from the south, landing substantial forces and striking the enemy's flank. This collection of ships and foreign allies is a large, powerful force, but hastily assembled and not ideally suited for the task at hand. Still, what could stand against it?
There are a lot of ships invested in this one, even though there's no naval opposition….OR IS THERE?
With the bridge out, the enemy sought another route across the great river. The Bisen Ford was the only real option south of the bridge, so the Men under Gerard And Caine's command, including flags of several great houses raced from the sea to stop them at the Ford. There they found the enemy working to extend the Black Road through dark blood magic. The effort was stymied in bloody battle. At sea, some darkness struck from the water, sinking The Fuge, but the purging fire of the vessels death seems to have taken the menace with it. (log)
4. The Final Stand
The plains of Kolvir, within sight of the city walls, this is where the last battle will be fought. Eric will fall, Corwin will return, and Amber will come closer to falling than she has in her history. But there's a lot of fighting that has to happen first.
This culminates in the events in The Guns of Avalon, which makes this a little more fixed, but also means it's the place to be if you want in on those events.