War is boring

19 March, 2009 at 9:22 pm (roleplaying) (, )

To be more precise, roleplaying in war situations tends to be boring unless the characters are specifically constructed for it.

This post is part of rpg blog carnival, hosted at The book of rev.

The problem

You are playing this fine character, all tangled up in whatever is happening in the game; politics, looting the local megadungeon or struggling between losing your humanity and having to drink blood to survive. Then there’s war. Maybe your character won’t get involved and everything will be fine as the war will be a background event and simply add pressure to whatever is already going on in the game. Maybe your character will get involved. That’s when trouble starts.

What is there to do in a war? Most characters will follow orders, wait a lot, occasionally fight a bit, rinse and repeat. This is only interesting if the combats are quite enthralling, even when repeated, or one wants to focus on the psychological problems of being a soldier. Neither of these are true of my gaming and, I dare say, most gaming.

Some characters will be in the luxurious position of giving orders. They will have limited information, make decisions based on that, and get back limited information of the effects of those decisions. I’d hazard this would get fairly boring fairly quickly unless one were playing a real war game, in which case, carry on.


One obvious solution is to draw attention away from the war, in whichever way one chooses to. Maybe an opportunity to take on a heroic quest that will resolve the entire conflict will conveniently manifest? Maybe one does not get too involved.

The characters taking on special missions is another popular solution. It works if the characters are fairly competent fighters and preferably have other relevant skill sets. Guerilla warfare, assassinations, destroying supply chains, poisoning wells, … By participating in such activity characters can, in interesting game systems, learn relevant skills and really start shining at the activity (or players are encouraged to make their characters competent if there are points, levels or feats to distribute).  This will reduce to cahracters being essentially constructed for warfare scenarios, assuming sufficient time, where sufficient depends on the speed and method of character advancement in the game.

Secondary characters: One easy option is to play other characters, ones built for the situation at hand, until the war ends or gets interesting for the primary characters. Or it could just be skipped in play: There’s war, roll on this chart to see if your character gets wounded or some other interesting thing happens.

Customised characters

Sometimes one wants to play in a wartime game. It pays to build a character who is interesting to play. Generally, at least moderately skilled characters are better than unskilled ones. One may want to have a mentally unstable character and follow its arc, or take a socially unstable group and see what happens to them under pressure. Everyone building specialists that can partake in guerilla warfare is one option, as it gives a degree of freedom and variety not offered by large scale battles.


Adding a war to an ongoing game is a drastic change and can make many interesting characters moot. Before killing a good game , consider what kinds of activities the characters might perform in the war. Talk to other participants, see if they are interested in playing those activities. If not, make sure there is a way out.

If you are playing in a game where there is a war brewing, it would be polite to inform the GM of this stuff and perhaps say that you’d like another character to play during wartime in case this one doesn’t end up being interesting. There’s no shame in saying that your character is no longer interesting to play, though transforming the character so that interest can be maintained is often an option, too.


Permalink 13 Comments