Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Early Thoughts on a Late 19th C. Campaign

I have been re-reading Tony Bath's magnum opus on setting up a campaign, and perusing Donald Featherstone's and C.S Grant's works on the subject. I've also been reading Henry Hyde's Wars of Faltean Succession and William Silvester's The Solo Wargaming Guide which has extensive chapters dedicated to the subject. [The latter two are available on Wargame Vault. The former are available from John Curry's History of Wargaming Project in reprint form.]

Spoiler alert: they all make maps sound really appealing. 

However, I have only ever used a map for a campaign once, where the map was serving any other purpose than to show where battles took place (the others were linked or point to point campaigns, the maps were window dressing). I have used maps dozens of times for RPGs however, and rather enjoy making and populating them. 

The issue arises however, whether to campaign on historic geography or fictional geography, with historical factions in a historic campaign, historic factions in a fictional campaign, or fictional factions in a fictional campaign. You probably recognize this as a mildly expanded view of Tony Bath's campaign taxonomy.

I think I can throw historic factions fighting a historic campaign over historical geography right out the window. Russia and England didn't come to blows in the late 19th C., despite "The Great Game". However, as an alternate (read: fictional campaign) that has merit, I think, despite Bath's assessment of that combination as being a compromise bearing all of the negative hallmarks of all compromises.

Two obvious what-if events of the alternate history variety that stick out at me: 

  1. What if the Panjdeh Incident turned the Great Game into a Great War (not the Great War, but maybe, a prequel set 20 plus years earlier)?
  2. What if Russia did actually invade New Zealand

These would be fictional campaigns over historical geography.

 But what if they were, say battling on Mars?


I had the Heliograph reprint of Space: 1889 in print. Gave it away. Bought the PDF. Which might actually be more useful.

Space: 1889 gives you pretty much everything you need, if not in the core book, in the course of some of the supplements (Conklin's Atlas comes to mind) to run a campaign set on Mars. I would probably do away with some things from the setting - particularly the Martians. I prefer my Mars to be in a period post-Martian civilization where nature has reclaimed the planet and terrifying eldritch horrors lurk in long abandoned cities.

The factions would be historical, the campaign and the geography fictional (that is, the Victorian view of Mars, not the reality). In any case, I may use some of the RPG bits for the interludes to the main action regardless of which campaign option I settle on.

Similarly, there is using literary fiction (as opposed to RPG fiction) as a basis. 

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet contains maps that I find visually appealing (so much so that I saved this from being tossed in our donation pile as we cleaned out my son's bookshelves. The stories are quite enjoyable, too.):

Inside the Front Cover

Inside the Back Cover

I could of course have England and Russia fighting over one of these maps - or even one of my own creation - but I could also go all in, having disposed of the historical campaign and historical geography, and go with fictional factions as well - the method preferred by Tony Bath, William Silvester, and Henry Hyde. 

So, while the toy soldiers may be clad like British or Russian forces, they could be Ginland and Vodkalandia (I was using Vodkia, but I just don't like it). Using the locations on the maps, what if the Tangerinans invaded Wild Island or the Bluelandians battled the Popsicornians? Or the city state of Nevergreen fought the city state of Seaweed Bay for control of Blueland and the mineral riches of the Awful Desert?

And finally of course, the ultimate variation on this theme: it could be Ginland and Vodkalandia fighting over a land I have yet to create or name, but for the sake of my wargaming history, I'll call, for now Jimland.

That's a whole lot of words to end up with me saying, I have no idea which one I want to pursue.There are too many appealing options. And yes, sure, I could do them all. However, knowing there's never enough time to do everything, forces me to consider, "which one should I start with?".


  1. A really enjoyable post. Lots of ideas,intentions and inspiration. I really look forward to seeing how this develops. I find that I think about projects when doing the dishes, going to work etc and sometimes ideas just come to the front of the queue. Just try to enjoy the process knowing that there is much enjoyable craft and gaming ahead.

    1. Thank you, tradgardmastare. Your last sentence contains some great advice. I am finding that thinking about this does occupy a lot of otherwise "down" moments and it's all rather fun to think about.

  2. The maps are very nice - I really like the coastal railway; lots of battles could be fought over this vital communication line. Dreaming up a Campaign is one of the best bits, which may be why I have many projects that never got further than the planning stage!

    1. I hadn't even considered fighting over the railway, but indeed that could make for several enjoyable actions. As more of a ready, fire, aim type of person, I try not to get too hung up on the planning stage, but at this point, to continue the firing line analogy. I haven't even decided which rifle I want to use!

  3. John,

    These are very similar debates that led to me putting my late Victorian figures in storage until I make up my mind. I know you will persevere and see this through.

    On maps! Hexographer is a wonderful resource and the free version is what I use. By converting a map to hexes, campaign movement becomes easier to quantify. Hexes also make is easier to add unexpected encounters and other “narrative” elements to the campaign. What ever way you carry it out, I will be excited to follow it and know it will be done well.

    1. Reese, thank you for the reminder about Hexographer. I had used it a few years ago for a D&D campaign but had forgotten the name of the program. I'm still debating the approach I want to take - but using the map from Tales of My Father's Dragon as the basis for something similar but not identical is winning. The debate rages on as to whether or not the troops represent fictional countries or historical countries in a fictional land.