Writing an AAR

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Writing an AAR

Post by mgluteus »

There have been a multitude of well written, exciting AARs on this list. I would like to have the best authors discuss how they write their reports. Especially how do they keep track of the action throughout the game with out interrupting it any more than the necessary photo taking? I sometimes get so involved (even as game master) that I forget to take notes or photos!

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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by Vis Bellica »


I take no notes throughout the game, but do take lots of photos. I then work out the narrative of what happened by looking at the photos!

Writing an AAR is like taking a long journey: it's all about that first step...in this case, the first few paragraphs. Once you have them down, then everything else tends to flow from there.

So, what I would do in the first paragraph is the following:

1) Set the scene: "Dave and I got together to fight a game of XXX set during the XXX campaign in about XXX."

2) Describe the sides: "Dave was fielding the XXX. He had XXX platoons/brigades/regiments of XXX backed up by XXX batteries of XXX. His force was strong in XXX but weak in XXX. I was fielding the XXX. I had etc"

3) Describe the battlefield: "We were fighting on either side of a muddy field. This would have XXX effect. On the left there was a small wood, on the right there was a walled farmhouse giving good cover etc"

Now pick the best photos (not necessarily all of them, sometimes less is more) and organise them into chronological order. You can follow the action on one flank, then shift to the other flank ("Meanwhile, on the left...") but this should be like storyboarding a film.

Then add captions to the photos: these can either describe what is happening ("the XXX advanced quickly on the right"), or making a comment on tactics or something ("the muddy field begins to bite"), or be a funny comment ("Should have gone to Specsavers..."), or even a quote from one of the figures in the photo ("Can I go home now, sir?".

Some people finish at that point.

What I do, however, is write a narrative to fill in the gaps between each photo. Sometimes this might merely be a couple of lines expanding on the captions. Sometimes it might be three or four paragraphs telling the story of the game between two photos. Whichever, I know that all I have to write is what happened since the last photo up to the next photo.

Tell a story. This takes practice, but it is not that difficult to transition between writing down what happened and telling a story. Remember that this is not a military report, it's something designed to amuse the reader and enthuse them about the game.

As many of the people who read my reports of the games they have been in with me, I also never let the truth stand in the way of a good tale!

After you've described the game, presumably finishing with something like: "with the death of their general, the XXX fled the field" or "unfortunately, time beat us, and we had to end the game at this point", give a little post-game analysis.

I usually start this with: "A great game, enjoyed by both sides" and talk about the what-ifs: "my opponent, XXX, agreed that if only I had kept the XXX in reserve instead of throwing them away on a useless charge..."

Finally, I finish with a thank you for all concerned.

And that's all there is to it. Resign yourself to the fact that it's going to take you at least an hour to do, but console yourself with the thought that you (and others) will spend MANY hours reading and re-reading your reports and enjoying every minute.

A couple of rules to help:

1) Always describe the situation from the army being spoken about: "The French advanced their left flank. Seeing this, the Austrians moved their right flank forwards".
2) Don't take the piss out of your opponent. I did that once, and haven't gamed with the chap since then. I am persona non grata!
3) Modesty is good: even a colossal victory should be described as a "scraping a lucky win"!
4) If English, then a bit of self-deprecation is mandatory.
5) Blame the dice.

The more AAR you write, the better and faster you get at them.

If you want examples, there are literally hundreds at www.vislardica.com: good ones, bad ones, short ones, long ones...hundreds.

If you don't have your own blog, or website or FB group to post them in, I am always happy to post any for any of the company-sized TFL games (IABSM, CDS, Q13) onto VL: just send me the pics and text and we'll go from there.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by mgluteus »

Thanks for the input. I don't have a problem writing up the AAR, but appreciate the guideline as is is an excellent one to follow. I also take a lot of photos but am always amazed when someone reports that his opponent rolled two 6s a 5, 3 and a 1 or some such detail. If you are playing in a game, taking enough photos to be able to recreate all the action that occurred must slow the game down, does it not?

I am looking for ideas that doesn't rely just on the photos.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by MLB »

I rely on my iPhone to take pictures and use the Notes app to keep a note of key moments. I take a lot of pictures, they not only jog my memory, they help put events in the right order. Sometimes I may just photograph the dice or something similar as a memory jog.

I use a shorthand for my notes and the predictive text function has an uncanny way of remembering these. For example I use ‘mtr’ for mortar. When I type ‘mt’ it automatically offers me ‘mtr’, the next word it offers is ‘fires’ and the next is ‘smoke’. That makes writing the notes easier and quicker!

Does it interrupt the game? A little, but my regular opponent understands why I’m doing it. I often make the notes while he ponders how best to use his command dice and I’m sure he doesn’t begrudge the extra bit of time it gives him to plan his phase.

After the game I cut and paste the raw notes into the blog design page and then populate it with the pictures. This gives me the bare bones in the right order, from there I go back and turn the notes into the final narrative. I try to do this as soon after the game as practical, while the memory is still fresh. I then do another edit, which is more about ensuring the narrative flow makes sense and add comments, observations and background.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by Capt Fortier »

Thanks Dick for an inspired thread and thanks Vis Bellica for your most useful guidance. For a relative newcomer, this is very encouraging.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by Seret »

Take as many photos as you can, they're a great reminder, especially if you're writing the report up some time after the game

I take note of:
  1. Starting and finishing force morale
  2. What caused drops in force morale
  3. Casualties to core and supports
  4. What the support picks were
That's about all you need IMO.

For the actual write-up, I've always based mine around a modified form of the mnemonic we were taught for giving briefings when I was in uniform:
  1. Ground
  2. Situation
  3. Mission
  4. Execution
  5. Administration
  6. Command & control
Which turns out as the jaw-mangling "GSMEAC". It doesn't map exactly to writing an AAR, but it has always pointed me vaguely in the right direction.

So explain the ground to be fought over, what each side's mission is (especially in campaign games where you've got larger issues at play), outline their pre-battle plans, then describe the action in the game. I finish up with the post-battle casualties and how that relates to the progress of the campaign, then I do a little "lessons learned" at the end. What worked, what didn't? What did you learn about the rules or tactics in general?

Chucking in some fun stuff like a "Man of the Match" or a wooden spoon award can be fun, too. It's all about spinning a good yarn.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by drewbinsky »

Capt Fortier wrote: Sun May 27, 2018 1:36 am Thanks Dick for an inspired thread and thanks Vis Bellica for your most useful guidance. For a relative newcomer, this is very encouraging.
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Striking a balance between preserving the game's momentum and documenting critical moments is the secret to producing compelling AARs.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by Dog who drinks paint »

Not sure I can add much to the excellent advice above.

I never take enough pictures, but especially find I've missed shots of the climactic moments because I was too caught up in the game (I'm almost entirely a solo gamer). I take pictures using my phone, but the poor quality of these matches the poor quality of my painting and modelling.

I take brief notes as I go, typing them (badly) on the draft page of Blogger, and then rewrite them into a coherent narrative afterwards. I record the detail that seems relevant at the time (including some, but not all, the command dice rolls in CoC for example). The trick is to extract a through-line narrative, rather than just making it 'one damn thing after another'. MLB is the expert at that, in my opinion.

The feature most commented on by the kind readers of this Forum, is the humour. I have no advice on that, it is a compulsive habit that I cannot shake. (When I managed people in a large, staid corporation, new recruits to my teams would ask colleagues "How do you know when the the boss is only joking?" The answer was invariably "His lips are moving".)
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by rogerc »

Bit like others here I take lots of pictures and use these as prompts, I try to do the AAR within a couple of days of the game before I start to forget what actually happened. Other than that the above advice on humour, self depreciation, not slating your opponent all very valid. My AAR have a fair bit of my personality in them which I dont think is a bad thing. Ultimately that means your readers will enjoy them or not come back.
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Re: Writing an AAR

Post by Munin »

For me a lot depends on what I'm trying to accomplish and who my audience is. A while back we did a bunch of games using a lightly-modified Dux Britanniarum to game out some stuff going on in a friend's RPG campaign, and all of the AAR's for that were purely in-setting prose. I relayed what was happening in the game as observed by the "characters" who participated. The only place I noted anything mechanical was either in picture captions or asides where I was explaining how a particular rules mechanic became important (e.g. how interpenetration of fleeing units adds Shock to the units they flee through). That audience wasn't interested in Dux Brit so much as they were interested in the result of the battles - noble so-and-so was captured, viking leader X was killed, noble leader Y was particularly heroic, etc. With games like this I take lots of pictures but make almost no notes because the narrative is half creative license, half unreliable observer anyway.

For the Totensonntag CoC campaign I'm playing through now, I'm writing those AARs for Goonhammer. That audience is largely comprised of people whose only wargaming experience is Warhammer 40K, and may not be familiar with either the historical context of the campaign or the nuances of the mechanics in CoC. As such, my AARs for that series are phase-by-phase account. I talk about how the dice get used for activation because the intent is in some ways to teach the game itself. CoC's activation mechanism is one of its best features, so showcasing that to an audience whose experience is 100% IGOUGO is important to convey why the game is so cool. Similarly, I try to talk about the decision space, both tactically and within the context of the campaign. WHY might I decide to activate one unit rather than another? What are my targeting or movement priorities? And what are the tradeoffs? This kind of explanation/analysis is great for showing people how good a job CoC does of offering up difficult choices. I especially love those "aw, hell" moments where you desperately want to do a particular thing and for whatever reason you can't. Or when you roll a huge handful of dice and they all come up 1s and 2s.

For those more detailed AARs I have a shorthand that I use to describe what is happening. So from a recent AAR, I might have an entry like:

T1, P4 (G): 65521 - T4 adv(4") coax @ S1 (1k1s br, 2s rt) JL hit -1 CI -2FM (6)

So this is Phase 4 of the first Turn, which is a German phase. The next bit is the actual command dice. The bit after that is what happened.
In this example it means that Tank 4 was activated, spending one CI on its driver to advance the tank (and it moved a total of 4") and another CI to fire the co-axial MG. That MG was fired at 1st Section, who sustained 1 kill and 1 Shock on its Bren team and 2 Shock on its rifle team, but that the kill was actually a hit on the section's Junior Leader, who suffered -1 Command Initiative, and finally that this hit resulted in a 2-point loss of Force Morale that took that side down to a FM of 6. This is pretty easy to write down as it's happening and gives me a pretty complete record for the details of who did what and what the effects were.

But even here I try to put in narrative elements. When something significant happens in the game, I'll put in a section that describes it from the POV of a person who might have been there. This is especially important in intro/outro areas, to kind of set the tone or get people into the mood. And as the campaign goes on, I explain less and less about the game rules and just talk about what's happening. Like I don't need to explain about how running adds Shock anymore, or that a leader might be able to rally it off. I can just say "Lt. so-and-so chivvied his men forward at the double-quick" and that's sufficient to capture the action.
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