Ok an autopsy sounds like an odd name but far more intrigueing than a review, to clarify it isnt an autopsy because Animosity II isnt dead, it lives on in us all! (I didnt get to use that phrase in the campaign so I had to wedge it in somewhere)
Coming into Animosity II for the first time this year I had absolutely no clue about its history, content or indeed major players within it barring the murmurings of some respected NEOs (Narrative Event Organisers) and a cool looking trailer that somehow drifted across my twitter feed one day. With Corvid robbing me of the chance to attend RAW (Realms at War, fantastic narrative event you should check out) this year I found myself looking for something to scratch that narrative itch. So as a new comer I approached Animosity II as “Some sort of Socially Distance Narrative thing”, which in the most basic terms, I was right.
So What is it?
In the modern wargaming world I’m sure we’ve all seen the terms “Socially Distant” gaming thrown around, its the Corvid equivalent of “Pro Painted” on eBay that it sort of tells you something but gives very little context. So when I tell you Animosity boasts the reputation of “The Original Socially Distant Narrative campaign” that gives you absolutely no idea of what is involved.
At its heart Animosity II is an living setting with a loose Age of Sigmar story Framework, that players can influence by joining one of 6 broad Coalitions (more on these laters) by submitting upto 5 “narrative reports” per week (1 of each type) of near enough any type of hobby, or hobby adjacent activity:
Battle Reports (Age of Sigmar, Warcry, Tabletop Simulator, Soulbound)
Storytelling Reports (Staged Photos, Videos, Audio Snippets)
Writing Reports (500-3000 words of setting appropriate written fiction)
Arts and Crafts (Drawing, Non-Miniature Painting, Map Making, Costume Design, Sculpting etc)
Hobby (Specifically miniature related hobby, so painting, assembling, converting models or terrain)
Working as a Coalition it is your job to plan, report on and influence the Story that turn through a choice of 3 narrative paths, usually in opposition to or in concert with at-least 1 other Coalition. At the end of each turn Team Animosity would then take 3 days to collate reports, and work out who “won” which path before publishing an Unfolding narrative document featuring their narrative write up of results and occasionally guest featuring some players submissions. Many players were thrilled to get a passing mention, feature or inclusion but at times others also lamented not being included but with nearly 200 reports every turn it would have been a logistical nightmare and narratively counterintuitive to include literally every report. To my mind the team struck a good balance between inclusion of player assets here to credit them and make you feel invested, and the attempt to provide a coherent story breakdown.
This gaming format encourages socialising with other gamers through Discord (other chat services are available) to maximise your chances of success in how your allocate reports that week, and also creates that bond of allegiance where you can only succeed by working together as a team. With so much distance between people in the current climate having a setting that fosters these bonds and teamwork is a fantastic diversion.
Animosity had a playerbase size that surprised me, with the Discord chat being active 24/7 with a revolving door of various nationalities and timezones taking it in turns to be online around sleep and work. To say it is an international endeavour would be an accurate assessment and with this it can a times highlight a stark difference in personalities, with some characters being far more used to being vocal and dominant both in an out of character whilst others prefer a more reserved approach. With this element you need to approach the Discord based element with a degree of patience and understanding (and at my age a keep online dictionary to interpret some of the youthful talk), whilst for the most part I felt included and for some of the first times since lockdown part of a wider community there were times where I felt a touch riled or put out by some (I hope) good natured jibes at actions from that or the previous turns which involved me going full british and politely retiring from the conversations to the safety of my own Coalition channels.
The Animosity Team ensured that at all times the language in use was family friendly, a nice carry over for those of us most used to playing within Games Workshop stores it encourages a largely positive, engaging conversation and by its nature tends to deter insults being thrown around (Though apparently Soulmunchas considered being told they Munch Souls insulting, poor branding choice there).
In the community channels there was always the chance to engage with other hobbyists, either in just casual hobby related chatter within “Community” or to show off your latest work and get hints and tips from the “Hobby” channel. Even going so far as to allow you to discuss cooking in “Da BBQ Pit” and throw jabs at each other in “Da War Pit”, I personally found the channels in the vein of the latter to generally be a bit much and encourage a touch too much enthusiasm so it got muted almost immediately to prevent myself getting drowned in all the enthusiasm and caps lock going off.
For a more focused intent each Coalition also found themselves with their own Coalition channel consisting of:
The Warroom – To plan and strategise based on the last turns actions and this turns narrative path, this largely also became a smaller scale community channel
Narrative – A place to put your Story ideas, work in progress story hooks or ask to collaborate
Hobby – a place to show your Hobby submissions before they got submitted
Info – Only available in later turns, providing a breakdown of your wins/losses in the campaign that was a big asset.
Animosity has been running for a number of years now, both in fantasy and in Age of Sigmar so the story can occasionally reference throwbacks to a bygone era, whilst these might add flavour its entirely possible to approach the setting with no prior knowledge of Animosity beyond the setting brief on the website. Similarly I found some players reference old animosity things in their casual banter or narrative that simply went over my head but none of this was sufficiently distracting to detract from a proper Age of Sigmar narrative experience (especially if you’re like me where you prefer your Fantasy Battles references minimal in Age of Sigmar).
I wont go into details as to what the main story actually was, as that is freely available on the Animosity Campaigns website, instead I want to look at how individual players can contribute to it. The Team provide weekly a framework of 3 narrative goals for each faction to explore, and how the players approach these is entirely down to the coalitions in question, if you’re feeling diplomatic you could try and negotiate your way through narrative paths all the while remaining weary of the old double cross (Though by the end it felt alot like double cross was implied with every diplomacy which detracted slightly from it), you could contribute your reports to immense battle spreads and flavour them to your personal approaches (from exploding boats, to unique soul bombs, to a trojan giant squig fish) or even try something completely unique (at one point the Wretched coalition sought to drain the lake through Gnawholes to flood their oppositions).
Not everything you write will make the actual narrative, which led to some debate as to what the expectation of writing was, do you write as though you succeeded in your aims and keep everything crossed or simply a build up with intent and let the Team decide your success or failure? Turns out the team prefer the latter but it was something that played on my mind writing for the first 4 weeks before clarity as many of the included narratives turn by turn had been written as though they had succeeded lending to the illusion that was neccessary for your lore to get included in the rolling narrative. With so many players its impossible to include every players narrative in each unfolding turn, but we saw a great number getting showcased week by week with a few regular contributors getting a touch more spotlight than others but this may simply be down to being “big characters” both in character and out of character making their inclusion easier.
Overall I enjoyed the narrative, including a final turn switch where we were forced to ally with an arch enemy coalition, though that very narrative sweep made it impossible for me to contribute to that specific narrative path. After many turns of fighting against this coalition to the bitter end, only to have to ally I couldnt bring myself to do the narrative backflips to go from “Kill them All” to high fiving and fighting off another threat.
AFTER TURN DEBATE
Due to the way the team works much of the “success” or “failure” of a narrative path is hidden from players, at its core the faction who submit more reports on a narrative path are the “winners” but the exact mechanism is hidden behind the curtain by the team. This led on more than one occasion to some very snide out of character comments from some vocal members of the community when they had lost a narrative path. For my own part as part of the Perpetual Coalition our turn 4 saw us submit 36 reports to a particular narrative action, working together as we never had before to weave what we felt was an epic action, the out of character response when our opposition found out they lost? Bitter, Snide, Rude.
Whilst this is the exception, to 3 otherwise plesant turns and 1 middling it was a stand out turn for me as it crushed the morale of my coalition when they kicked off, what began as simply griping eventually turned into condescending insults about our narrative and the assumption we had simply found a way of gaming the system. The resulting bad feeling had me feeling like I’d simply leave the campaign entirely as the bad taste it had left in our mouths was hard to ignore, and indeed going into turn 5 having to work with these players on our combined narrative was that much harder due to out of character poor feeling.
YOUR STORY, THEIR SETTING
The Animosity team worked hard to provide an engaging setting players could feel invested in, but the core of the system works best when you arrive with a personal narrative or story to explore. This is simply due to player numbers its easy to feel lost in the crowd if you dont make the weekly narrative summary you can end up feeling as though you didnt contribute (made all the worse if your faction lost that week), by having a personal story to explore you can make narrative growth and impact every week even if it isnt showcased. The best player narratives in the setting came from those who understood the setting, so here’s some bits I picked up:
– Keep it reasonable – dont approach the setting with a god and full city in tow (my mistake) its too big for the story
– Keep it personal – your impact on other players can feel minimal, so writing your own personal narrative works best
– Try to include others – Whilst not every player is happy to have you impact their story many are looking for story hooks to get involved with. Put out a call for what you’re looking for and see what happens.