In my game world there was a major war, about 25 years ago game time. During this war, the military powerhouse of the continent tried to conquer the rest of the continent. In retrospect, I’ve had difficulty explaining why they failed. I can tell you some of the reasons: I was using a bad game that treated adventurers as gods and “regular guys” (including soldiers) as wheat to be mowed. I was young and wanted the player characters to be so important that they dominated everything. One fireball (and they had plenty) could kill huge numbers of “bad guys”.
OK, well, I’ve retconned a lot of what happened in that pivotal battle, including adding some unknown actions from competing global secret societies (see my earlier post). But part of what I now have to think about is, “What did they think they were going to do anyway?” I mean, they went trudging off to war, expecting to conquer the continent. OK, by my own descriptions, they had ten years to plan the whole thing. Ten years to study the targets, their logistics, and every other aspect of what was going to happen. Admittedly, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, but they would have known that too. Just because I was an ignorant child, doesn’t mean that they should have been.
So now I find myself thinking through what they planned to accomplish. I think it matters, because it should speak to how they prepared and some of the actions they took while doing it. I had always said that they were attempting to take their targets as whole as possible. There was no burning of the crops or salting of the fields. They knew they were going to need those crops to feed their soldiers through the winter. But now I need to elaborate on that a bit more. Now I need to determine how far and how fast they planned to go.
This might seem silly, trying at this point to figure out what they would have accomplished if things had gone their way, but I think it’s important. First, it needs to be logical that they would have taken the actions that they did. Otherwise the entire city is run by morons. Also, by knowing what they thought would work, and what actions they took to get there, I will better know exactly how they were as they retreated. One of those things is that I have frequently gone back and forth on whether or not they had provisions on their way home. If they planned to hunker down in their newly conquered territory and then reap the harvested crops of that region, they may not have had ample stores. If they planned to keep moving, that go-go-go attitude would have needed to have been fueled by even more supplies. This matters because as I write the recent history of the small towns and villages they would have encountered on their retreat, I need to know how desperate the soldiers were. If they were starving, they would have attacked villages, whether or not they could easily win. If they were properly outfitted, discipline would have been better.
It also matters for those cities that would have been attacked. They now owe a debt of gratitude to the small city that held off the huge army. Politics and attitudes would be completely different if it became know that a particular city was next on the list and would have fallen shortly after. That does affect the game world.
It also matters because the folks back home would have been expecting certain things from the attacking forces. Would they have already been lining up replacement horses for cavalry units, expecting to deliver them in the spring? Would they have been manufacturing arrows? Which cities were they going after and what preparations were being made? One of the cities they did take is on a river, and is upriver from another major city. Were they planning on going after the huge coastal trade port that same year? the next year? Were they building barges? I think these are pretty important things to know, because they can have ramifications. And why do I care about ramifications? Because ramifications lead to missions!
What missions? If they had built barges (they didn’t, but if they had), then they would have tapped the lumber from that area for that season as well as leaving barges lying around. That might have led to any old guy getting his hands on a military barge and becoming a river merchant, or maybe a river pirate. If they were starving on the way home (and clearly some would have been), they would have raided villages. So now personal treasures and perhaps slaves are back at the home city and there are villagers who will want them back. (Think Nazis stealing art treasures.) A less disciplined retreat also means an army stretched across miles and miles of terrain, an army where pockets can be defeated by clever ambushes. That means fewer soldiers returned home and the home army needed to work quickly to build back up, especially if they were expecting a retaliatory strike. More, it means that ambushed squads would have been looted and those weapons and armor are now available in black markets across the entire region, instead of just in the attacked city. Maybe some of the soldiers traded their equipment for food. What happened to the deserters? If the aggressors never intended to attack a particular city, then the deserters might be more welcome there, or at least not outright attacked. If it is known that a particular city was the next target, they would treat any deserters as enemies of the state.
This is just one example of how knowing what the plans were will help you see how it affected the world. I wish I had been smart enough thirty years ago to have thought through all of this, but I didn’t. Older and wiser now. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes instead of making your own.