Saturday, December 16, 2023

Free Kriegsspiel & The Flat Circle Of Time

FKR (Free Kriegsspiel Roleplay) is a new appellation for an old playstyle, one with a diversity of roots, a limb of which lies in the 19th century among the wargames of the Prussian officers. Indeed it is this limb which donated the first two letters of the acronym FKR. 
Free Kriegsspiel, as practiced by the Prussians, did away with much of the humdrum of "Dice, and Tables of Losses, and Rules." in favor of relying on Referee (Umpire) jurisprudence and adjudication. One of the primary documents we have from the period which describes this style is "Beitrag Zum Kriegsspiel" or "The Tactical Wargame," of which an English translation made in the same period can be found here

While the whole of the text is interesting from a historical perspective, what I chiefly want to share in particular is several segments of the two prefaces which have proven themselves to be rather timeless.

To quote my friend Weird Writer (of the blog Roll To Doubt):
"The Elusive Shift presents the flat circle as starting after the publication of OD&D, but it seems we're one century late on repeating stuff"

Without further ado, a series of excerpts from "The Tactical Wargame."


"The General, it will be seen, holds the view that the elaborate rules for deciding certain results by the throwing of dice are needless and that the Umpire may well be left to settle all doubtful questions arbitrarily. Whether he is or is not correct in this is not, for the student, of great importance. The principles of the Game are the same whether the Umpire is left entirely free to decide all the issues, or has in certain cases to to resort to the dice. There is no difficulty in applying the recognized "tables of losses," &c., to a Game played on the lines laid in the present treatise." (page 6, italics mine)  

The fiction takes precedence over the method of adjudication used.

"The utility of the War Game is universally acknowledged at the present day. Nevertheless, cases are often met with in which attempts to practice is have been very speedily abandoned... Now, when I have inquired into the reason, I have, in most cases, received the answer, "We have no one here who knows how to conduct the game properly." (page 9).

A classic problem which no doubt resonates with many nowadays.

"For what the Game especially requires is a knowledge of the capabilities and fighting power of all arms, as well as of their principal accepted formations. Now, the elementary training of an officer ought to have laid the foundations of these acquirements; and even what it has not sufficed to do so, the very playing of the Game would develop more fully such knowledge as might be already possessed." (page 9, italics mine).
Playing the game is the best way to learn it.
"It is, indeed, only by severe toil and a great expenditure of time that any one who has not learned the Game by actual practice can, through unassisted study of the books of instruction, so thoroughly master the subject as to be competent to undertake the conduct of an exercise of this kind. So it comes about that there are assuredly in the smaller garrisons many officers who should be especially fitted, from their position, to take the matter in hand who utterly shrink from doing so." (page 10, italics mine).

As above, the game exists as a social game which is best learned via actually playing rather than merely reading, and the style of Free Kriegsspiel is a method which allows for a greater ease of entrance into play.
"I in no way underrate the service which the received books of Instruction, with their Rules, Dice, and Tables of Losses have rendered, and will render in the future. It consists chiefly in this, that the Umpire finds in the Rules, fixed principles by which the limits of the capacity and fighting power of the troops are defined, that the effective use of weapons gains full credit by means of the Tables of Losses, and that the dice, which give to chance its due influence, provide an apparent security and partiality in the decisions." (page 11, italics mine).
Rules and procedures still have their places as tools for the Referee.

"In the exercises on the ground itself, when it becomes necessary, for example, to say to an officer, "Imagine that you see a column of infantry debouching from that village on to the high-road," it is often found that very good officers who, when they see the enemy immediately know what they ought to do, find it very difficult or even impossible to think of him in a given position. The reason of this is, that they want the needful imagination, and this defect is generally overcome by the placing of the pieces." (page 13).

Theatre of the mind not working for your players? Use some minis!
"The following pages are only intended to assist those who may not happen to have learned the Game in the third form." (page 14).
Rulebooks, play examples, and the like are means for introducing players who lack a group to learn from via play.

"I write especially for those of my brother officers who, it may be, have been hitherto frightened away by the Dice, and Tables of Losses, and Rules." (page 15).

Once again, a statement which resonates with many who, in the current era, will cite similar reasons for having been drawn to FKR as a playstyle.

As you can see, many of General v. Verdy's thoughts and comments have a kinship with those of the present day. Throughout the history of the hobby FKR as a playstyle (or rather its many antecedents upon whom the appellation is backwardly applied in this case) has proved itself a well-used option to those issues that arise in games which drift away from the world and into the mechanics of play, which under a Free Kriegsspiel derived playstyle remain but tools.