Thursday, May 28, 2015

Narrative Mass Combat: Part 3 - Narrating a Scene

Narrative Combat. Natural Language and Playing out a Scene.

Step 1: Pick a Style. The first place to get a style is to absorb the style of my favorite author. Currently it is Christian Cameron and Bernard Cromwell for low tech, for Scifi its David Webber and John H. Hemry (aka Jack Campbell) when it comes to ships.

Step 2: Study the Style. What I did was I re-listened to the scenes again and again. The tool that made it more possible than my previous attempts in studying is using Pacing to study the method. There are 3 stages in Pacing and it is the tool by which I can find out what the writer is trying to achieve and what tools he's used to achieve the pacing goals.

After Identifying the Tools, I examine their formula and try them out. These tools include ready phrases and formulas to describe a scene. Keep a close eye for these.

Here are my Tools as an Example.

Geographic Storytelling:
I learned in mass combat and in Airsoft, the Terrain needs to be verbally mapped. The spatial area has to be communicated step by step, making the other person repeat or ask for clarification. When ever I describe terrain the first thing I need to have everyone have mentally mapped is the point of orientation. 
If we use in this there are a number of ways to do this, here are the ones I use: 
1) Have a Map! Simple, still one needs to give maps context. Note a map is not-realistic because people really dont have full information. Unless there is magic there are no accurate maps and distances, which gives the GM a ton of room. As one runs narrative combat this wiggle room just makes it easier for GMs and Players to run narrative combat. 
Go to Google Maps and visit many old battlefields via Terrain view to see the small the gaps and choke points are in the terrain.  
2) Map it from the PC's view, and tell the player what the PC's terrain mastery tells which vision alone cannot (this means telling him what normally lies beyond what he can see). Start from the immediate surroundings and proceed towards the horizon. Describe how much "noise" or concealment the area has, the weather, and the many tricks of the light that happens as time passes over the outdoors. Brightness makes shadows darker, Dimness lights up cavernous canopies, etc... A rich outdoor experience is the best teacher and school in this kind of narrative and if it improves one's GM why not have more outdoor experiences!
3) Map it from the Stories of the Scouts.  Like #2 but you have a composite and even more confusion and inaccuracies. This is pretty great as such methods emphasize key information gathering skills of the players. 
Formations and Geography
Some great french general said warfare was geometry. He's kinda right because people occupy space and people cannot help but follow the paths of the land. We may walk over difficult paths but we cannot not do that all the time when endurance is a finite resource. 
So it helps to know a man is as wide as a shield, about 0.7m or 2/3 yards. The same distance as a pace. That ranks are as much deep because of shields and weapons. That a 30m/yrd pass takes 45men to hold.
I discussed organization and groupings in a previous chapter. Here the 300 man battalion can hold 200m/yards three ranks of men deep. I learned to play with the ranks and numbers.  It helps to know that there are channels and paths in the geometry in the land, herding mentality, and crowds follow a sort of fluid dynamics. These tools help us visualize, and describe the scene. 
Since I use roll20, my Effective Communication Training tells me I have to keep sentences mid sized (not running), and limited to 2-3 before checking for confirmation and comprehension. Every 10-15 minutes I have to spend 3-5 minutes (1/3) trying to have this mental sync with the audience and narrate the scene.  
 Since I'm limited to ~3 sentences I have to describe efficiently. I describe directions oriented to where the cardinal directions. I have to be consistent and always moving from Cardinal to Ordinal. Confirming understanding then proceeding to describe whats happening.   
Experience and Mastery Kicks In.   
Mount and Blade, Airsoft, Athletics, and Martial Arts training along with an avid love of history and authors and professors who teach the subject is the deep well by which i draw from. I constantly deepen this well all the time. While movies and popular media give everyone some idea mastery makes it easier. I dont think its fair to make something out of nothing without any skill and practice involved and that is the expectations and the fun of mastery.   
Step 3: Know the Gap and Build a Skill Map. Reading this article is not going to make anyone like Neo and master a skill. No such thing exists, but Identifying (or learning to Identify) the small easily learn-able skills and building up towards the harder skills can be possible through the advice here and from the advice of others willing to share their techniques.

  • Geographic Story Telling
  • Outdoor Experience: Camping, Hiking, Area Knowledge of actual places visited, 
  • Team work and experiencing some Play skirmishes in Larp, Airsoft, PC Games like the Total War Series, Mount and Blade, etc... Take my favorite games and put them into words I can describe to my players
  • Understanding Groupings, Organization and Workstreams. The Art of War and Strategikon have maxims and take the Economies of Defense or Economies of Action and contemplate its full implications. 
  • Understand Communication, Command, and Entropy of an Organization under pressure. The stories of confusion, fear, and human frailty under adverse conditions colors the scene and informs us how and why and what it looks like. 

What happens next is how or if we choose to prepare. Preparation is prevention to cure, or to solve problem while they are easy before they get harder. In Narrating a scene I need to build up my skills and my well of knowledge. I cannot expect it to be perfect and awesome all the time, but I do want to learn and capture what magic manages to show up in a game (by recording that game).

If this feels like overwhelming and a sudden explosive challenge after the slow build up of the two previous articles, its fine. It is gonna get harder and its going to be about active and conscious practice and consistency. There is time to get things right, as long as there is a rough start vs not starting at all.

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