I commented that not only are these two groups not separated by a vast gulf on opposite ends of the gaming spectrum, they are so closely related that the line dividing them often becomes so blurred as to be indistinguishable. Of course there is little room to fully develop and explain an idea when commenting on other people's posts, so I thought I'd take an opportunity to expand upon the line of thinking that Porky's post started me on.
I've been playing miniatures war games nearly as long as I've been roleplaying and, if I remember correctly, my first miniatures war game was Starfleet Wars, which I began playing in the early days of 1981. This was a grand game of space ship battles that consisted of five factions, each with their own line of metal ships.
I played the hive-like Entomalian faction, and a group of us spent countless hours moving our spaceships around my my best friend's basement floor. Such was the scale of the game that we needed the entire basement floor to play on - no game table could contain the star systems we fought over - so we spent a lot of time on our hands and knees, with tape measures, maneuvering our fleets into combat range. The thought of doing that now makes my joints ache. But it wasn't just the battles that turned us on, it was the immersive nature of the collaborative story of galactic conflict that unfolded in our games. We spent much of our lunch hours at school talking about the game and spinning background stories of the empires we championed. There were five factions: the Terrans, Entomalians, Aquans, Avians, and Carnivorans, so even though the game provided little background information about these empires it was easy enough to wrap our heads around how they would look and behave.
|Star ships of the Entolmalian Empire|
Based on the T.V. series we all knew and loved (with some wonky stuff from the animated series thrown in), SFB had the advantage of a common frame of reference for all players. But somehow, as much as I loved SFB it never had the level of immersive story-telling that I enjoyed with Starfleet Wars. Perhaps this was because the Star Trek universe was already so detailed there were few gaps left to fill in.
|A Federation Dreadnought and Constitution Class Heavy Cruiser|
confront a Klingon D7 Battlecruiser
And here, I finally get to the point: certain games were able to blend miniature battles with roleplaying so seamlessly that it became difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. Now, although I did play the Star Trek RPG, and I loved the Star Trek Combat Simulator, I don't recall ever integrating them. You could, but the characters from the RPG consisted of crew members of a star ship, and in the combat simulator game each player controlled one or more of his own ships, so it wasn't such a seamless blend. There were games, however, that did manage to pull this off.
One such game was Car Wars. Although it was originally intended as a fun, fast-paced pocket game, where each player drove around shooting at other player's cars with machine guns, it grew into much more. We had a long-running campaign that was run by a game master and all the players were part of a group that faced opponents controlled by the GM. We even had encounters out of our cars; since the game included statistics for drivers and rules for sidearms and such, we gradually transformed the game into a roleplaying game - a style of play that was eventually supported by rules supplements.
The same was true of Battletech, a miniatures war game of armoured combat in the distant future. FASA eventually released a roleplaying game called Mechwarrior that was based in the Battletech universe and opened up whole new avenues of play.
I once played in a very enjoyable Battletech campaign in which the players were all members of an Inner Sphere mercenary company and the game had all the trappings of any science fiction rpg, except that in a setting frought with internecine warfare, battles were seldom long in coming, at which time our characters would climb into the cockpits of our mechs and we'd shift into wargame mode. This didn't seem usual to me at all.
Nor should it, given D&D's genesis from the miniatures wargame Chainmail. Yet, somehow or other the hobby splintered and became dichotomized into roleplaying and wargaming, and the two seldom meet anymore. Back in the early days of D&D it was commonplace for campaigns to fall back on the Chaimail rules to resolve large-scale battles, and according to the Wikipedia entry, this is something that happened regularly in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign. Indeed, large-scale warfare is such a commonplace theme in role playing campaigns that many modern rpgs have mass combat rules to resolve them.
As I read Porky's post my revelation was not Hey, our two hobbies have a lot in common, it was Huh? When did the hobby split? Because, as far as I'm concerned, miniatures war gaming and roleplaying are two facets of the same hobby. Both types of game use a set of rules mechanics to simulate play in a campaign setting and serve to help a narrative storyline unfold through play. And often the two sets of rules mechanics can be used in the same campaign - thus, to my mind, roleplaying games are just miniatures wargames with a tighter narrative focus. Miniatures games are a panoramic view of the cinematic action, whilst in roleplaying encounters the camera has zoomed in on individual characters. It's all the same storytelling - just on a different scale.
If I had to guess, I'd say that it was probably the growth of Warhammer into an industry that established miniatures wargaming as a separate hobby altogether. I remember back when White Dwarf was a general purpose gaming magazine with D&D adventures in every issue, and when Citadel Miniatures were intended for use in D&D campaigns. Warhammer was created as a way to play with those miniatures in a more structured fashion. But as Warhammer took off in popularity and Games Workshop went corporate, they created an industry all its own. Now it's possible to walk into a GW hobby centre, filled with young folks at the gaming tables, many of whom have never even heard of D&D, let alone played it.
But, I think the biggest culprit responsible for dichotomizing roleplaying and wargaming is time itself. How many different games did we play back in highschool - in those halcyon days of our youth before the responsibilities of adulthood laid claim to so many of our waking hours? Hell, what didn't we play back then? At the moment I am in the middle of a very enjoyable Warhammer 40K campaign, but I've had to put my Swords & Wizardry campaign on temporary hiatus to do so. This is a sad reality, and I fear that I will never again be able to wallow in a bacchanalian orgy of gaming like I did in my teens, which reminds me of one of my favourite Calvin and Hobbes quotes: "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."