Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Les Miserables the Wargame:The Premier Performance
Over the past few years, my entire family has become heavily involved in local theater. My son Nick and daughter Maya perform each year in the school plays and musicals and they have each performed in local community theater productions. Nick in fact won a local award for his high school musical and competed in the National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York, actually performing during the award ceremony at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway. Since I retired from the Navy Reserve a couple of years ago, I’ve performed in several community theater productions. My wife helps quite a bit backstage, mostly with costumes. We’ve been big fans of the Les Miserables musical for years and so eagerly waited to see the movie.
Watching the barricade scenes in the movie, it occurred to me that I already had most of what I needed to stage a game based on that fight. Thus was Les Miz the Wargame born. It premiered at Historicon this year and I think was quite a success.
The formidible barricade
The rules I used were based on Howard Whitehouse’s Astounding Tales! and the large scale battle rules I wrote for AT! called All God’s Children Got Guns. Although designed for pulp games, they are quite capable of adaptation to other genres.
I had 9 players who each controlled one of the lead characters along with one or two “units” of extras. None of my games are particularly serious so this was more in the way of a spoof with the lead characters getting special rules particular to their motivation in the movie. For example, Eponine had a special rule that whenever Marius, the object of her unrequited love, was hit, she could make a stunt check and leap across the table to take the bullet herself.
I made it clear to the players that it was virtually impossible for the rebels to win an outright victory but each character had victory conditions other than a military victory. A lot of them involved setting a glorious example by dying for the cause of liberty.
Part of the first assault
The game consisted of a series of assaults by government troops on the student-rebel barricades. If one or more of the 3 government units lost a morale check, the government player could declare an end to the assault. Between assaults, any government casualties were returned. The rebels had a much smaller capacity to return casualties to play and one character could loot the dead for extra ammo as the rebels had a limited ammunition supply. Finally, the government could roll for the entry of the 4 artillery pieces and the rebels could roll for the unlikely general uprising by the entire city.
"Lovely Ladies" throw some interference
The biggest special rule was that any in-game communication had to be sung, since the entire movie/stage play was sung. Additionally, a player could reroll a bad dice roll if they could sing a few bars from any musical. If the song they chose was from Les Miserables, they could choose the better of the two rolls, otherwise, they were bound by the second roll. No song could be repeated.
The death of Enjorlas
I was a bit worried that some players wouldn’t get into the over-the-top nature of the game but I needn’t. All of the players embraced the spirit of the game with gusto, if not particularly good singing. One player had an incredibly extensive memory of show tunes and another had a remarkable ability to come up with game-appropriate lyrics on the fly. It was a thing of beauty to see.
Nick and I were struck by how similar the battle played out to the movie. Inspector Javert, who starts as a spy behind rebel lines was discovered quite quickly but released by Valjean. The first assault was fended off but with some losses to the rebels. The second was cut short by Marius threatening to blow up the barricades with a keg of powder. The third assault proved to be the finale since the artillery showed up and devastated the remaining rebels. Valjean knocked Marius unconscious and escaped with him into the sewers but was pursued by several of Javert’s gendarmes.
The final assault
Where it differed from the movie was interesting. Enjorlas, the main rebel leader was killed at the end of the second assault. Eponine survived the fighting in the streets but chose to lead the gendarmes on a different route away from Marius. When the gendarmes discovered this, they shot her. But Marius lived. Javert suffered a moral crisis from being released by Valjean and flung himself off the nearest monumental architecture. The street urchin Gavroche, who is shot on the barricades in the movie, survived to pop a cap into the dead body of Javert, just to be sure…
A great bunch of players made the game a rousing success. A very good example of the enthusiasm they brought to the game is from Walt O’Hara, whose blog, Third Point of Singularity, is a great gaming resource. After the game, he prepared a comic book version of an AAR that is far more eloquent than the foregoing:
Walt's original is posted at http://www.calameo.com/books/000114110f6d02e42d677