Seeking Sanctuary in RPGs

On the way to work this morning, I listened to the podcast by “Dirk the Dice” ( @thegrognardfiles ) and friends on Cities in RPGs and on the “Thieves’ World” multi-system RPG supplement. That podcast is here .

In case you didn’t know, “Thieves’ World” is a shared world anthology series from the late 1970s and 80s. The name is the nickname for the city of Sanctuary, founded by runaway slaves from the Kingdom of Ilsig, later conquered by the Ilsigi and then later by the new power in the area, the Rankan Empire. Sanctuary has fallen on hard times, and is now a hive of scum and villainy to which the step-brother of the Rankan Emperor has been effectively exiled as the new Governor, an indication that as well as tales of larceny and magic, the stories will be inspired by the uncertain political situation, which even leads to the Gods of Ilsig and the Rankans clashing.

My first introduction to city based fantasy was the occasional city based Conan story or the Fritz Leiber “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series”, but for RPGing it was Judges Guild’s “City State of the Invincible Overlord” which I used for AD&D and The Fantasy Trip. Where the city and surround became not only a place for the adventurers to return between adventures, but also where thievery, underground excursions and dirty dealings could take place.

Judges Guild City State of the Invincible Overlord

Random tables helped this along, including the slightly comical tables in the JG “Ready Ref sheets” (designed for original D&D) and tables in the DMG, but in in the early 80s, I was switching to Chivalry and Sorcery. My campaign was based on lots of sources, including Middle-Earth, The Young Kingdoms and historical nations, and into that got coopted “Sanctuary” as an outpost of the sea-faring Korondarian Empire, with the Rankan and Ilsigi elements lightly adapted.

"Cities" from Chaosium

“Thieves’ Word” gave the GM background for the city and characters, it had essays on topics such as portraying fantasy realistically (you can read that one here ) or how you might portray aspects of Sanctuary life, it had tables for City encounters that would see life separately later on in the Midkemia Press/Chaosium “Cities” supplement (itself rebranded as RQ Cities at some point) and, importantly, among the nine systems for which character statistics were provided, was my FRPG of choice, Chivalry and Sorcery” by one of the original authors, Wes Ives. They were very bare bones, not many of the derived statistics or information that C&S was famed for, but I figured the numbers out as I need them

Like “Dirk the Dice” and his chums said, it was a puzzle at first on how to adapt this. We had a group of characters who were basically wandering exiles, but well connected, much as Prince Kadakithis was to his brother. So a mini campaign developed around a diplomatic mission that intruded in a power struggle between factions, Rankan, Ilsigi, criminal Hawkmasks and the mysterious cult of Dyareela. A chance to use the C&S influence and favour rules!

But once that finished, what to do? The characters were visitors to the city with no reason to stay. They moved on and Sanctuary played very little part from then on. I lost my copy in the intervening years, though I still read the original books now and again.

"In the Labyrinth" - The GM's book for "The Fantasy Trip" RPG

Wind forward nearly thirty years. For my birthday my most Excellent friend Dave Elrick bought me a copy of the Thieves’ World set and the Companion, which extended the information into the time of a later invasion by the mysterious Beysibs. I had been thinking about starting a solo RPG campaign using “The Fantasy Trip” (coincidentally I was thinking of starting with the multi-part City based adventure “Irillian”, published in White Dwarf and also mentioned in the podcast) but the arrival of this set gave me a better idea.

Central casting - Heroes of Legend by Jenelle Jaquays

Instead of my planned old-fashioned dungeon bashing campaign, I decided to create characters not in the depths of the criminal society of Sanctuary, but on the fringes, hovering between respectable lower class and the actual villains. So a freelance mercenary bodyguard, an apprentice mage, a scribe ok one actual thief. A few others. The mix in any adventure could change anyway through depending how the action went. I used tables from “Thieves’ World”, “Cities”, Jennelle Jaquay’s “Central Casting – Heroes of Legend” and other resources, mostly story/plot generating tools. Employers came and went with missions of varying legality and danger and so far it’s been lot of fun.

I can recommend that to anyone else wanting to use Thieves’World. Don’t necessarily get involved with the main characters and events, the whole series is predicated on the colourful nature of the fringes of society, so go for that and the location seems to have a much longer longevity.

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To a more realistic medieval RPG

The new Chivalry and Sorcery will include, for the first time, rules for characters of the Jewish and Islamic religions. These will be enough for character generation and more in-depth supplements may be produced later.

Now, there was a question about why do this, wasn’t medieval Europe a monocultural Christian world, not exposed to differences in culture or religion, where men fought and women tended the hearth.

This turns out not to be the case, Jews were in Europe since the days of the Roman Empire, even on the borders, in modern Cologne, there was a Jewish community in the 4th Century CE

They existed in the Frankish kingdoms and elsewhere, and it was not until the First Crusade that things started to get really nasty in the Christian kingdoms, even then the Pope Callixtus II, in the early 12th Century, issued a Papal Bull to protect them.

It got worse though, more restrictive laws were passed, but the fact that those laws were passed tells you one thing, that there were Jews there, part of society, to be discriminated against, it was not just a Christian only land.

As to Islam, not only did Spain have Muslim Kingdoms, but the Feudal Europeans came into contact with Muslims in a little set of ventures called the Crusades. Not only did Europeans fight the Muslims, they traded with them, the routes to the wars were the routes the spices took to Europe and the kingdoms of Outremer, as well as having Muslim populations, traded with Muslim kingdoms.

Muslim rulers had Christian troops fighting for them . Terry Jones, in his book \”Chaucer’s Knight\” puts forward his thesis that the Knight of Chaucer’s take was a bloody handed mercenary who had fought, at times for Muslims.

Women did, at times, fight.Sometimes disguised as men, sometimes not. Khawlah bint al-Azwar led a troop of women against the Byzantines in the 7th Century. OK, a bit early for C&S, so there is  Sikelgaita of Salerno, commanded sieges, at times took up arms and was wounded in battle.  Isabel of Conches in the 11th Century rode armed and armoured amongst her knights. In Beauvais, women defended the walls against Charles the Bold, notable Jeanne (La Hatchette) Laisne.

The Feudal European world was not isolated, any more than today’s is. It was varied, there were the exceptional, and your characters can be amongst those exceptions, and be historically accurate in doing so.

The Chivalry and Sorcery 5th kickstarter was here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cns5/chivalry-and-sorcery-the-medieval-role-playing-game

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Rosalie Smith

This was first written on a Psion 3a during commutes between cities to work and was published in “Alarums and Excursions” and later in the C&S “Armourer’s Companion”

This form is the one from the Armourer’s Companion and was edited to fit the space

Rosalie, youngest of the children of Lucas the Smith, was the very
apple of her father’s eye. Alone of his two sons and three daughters,
she had the natural talent and broad back required to be great in his
craft.


She was riveting the cuff onto a gauntlet when Alois D’Astogne led
his lame horse into the courtyard of the smithy. What, you do not
recognise the name of Alois D’Astogne, well he is the same Alois
One-arm that is now Lord of the manor of Verloise, but was then Duc
of Perlegne et Brionelle.


Anyhow, where was I, yes Alois. His horse had shed its right forehoof
shoe and of course he wanted it fixed. Lucas along with Rosalie’s
siblings were at the fair in Ville de Tonais so Rosalie offered to shoe
the beast.


His Grace of Perlegne et Brionelle was adamant that only a Master
Smith or at least a Journeyman of high standing was fit to attend to
his horse, Chasseur, not some untried girl who would be unable to
hold the hoof of a quiet mare, nevermind a war-trained stallion like
his.


He knew he was being unfair for all the Duchy had heard of Rosalie
as she was not only a Journeyman in the crafts of Blacksmithing,
Weaponsmithing and Armoury, but would soon be a master with her
own forge. That is after she had finished the suit of armour she was
making for the younger son of the Count DeLesquilles and persuaded
that miserly noble to part with the one hundred and fifty Carls D’Or
that were its price.


Seeking to humiliate Rosalie, the Duc proposed a wager that, if she
lost, she would abandon the life of a smith and live a life he considered more “fitting” to a woman. So Rosalie agreed saying that she
would pass any fair test and that should she win, she would shoe all
feet on Chasseur that day. Alois then revealed the task he wished
Rosalie to perform. Since the shoe on Chasseur’s rear right hoof
was coming off anyway, she should reshoe it in ice.


Well, Rosalie thought and thought then agreed. She took off the old
shoe, cleaned the hoof and measured it. Then she took some clay
her mother had and made a mould as if to make another shoe from
a cast rather than hammering it in the forge. This she filled with
water and some sawdust from the charcoal pile. Having done this,
she banked the fires of the forge, plunged the old shoe deep into its
heart, pumped the bellows like fury with the other hand and started
chanting in a low voice so Alois could not distinguish the words. The
air blasted through the fire till the shoe was white hot and still Rosalie
held her chant, then, when the shoe started to melt and lose its
shape the chant grew louder and she plunged the shoe into the
quenching barrel.


Steam roared and hissed as half of the water disappeared from the
barrel in a violent cloud, steam also shot from the water in the clay
as it was instantly turned to ice. Alois brought the horse forward and
turned it round ready for the shoeing.


With the application of the fluids of her body, she then took the ice
shoe and with sweat pouring from her brow, she barked three words
of power, and cemented the shoe to the hoof.


Alois blanched but he could not withdraw now, mounting Chasseur
he told Rosalie that he would gallop five times around the village to
test her work. It took half an hour but Alois was forced to admit the
efficiency of her work, and agree to let her shoe Chasseur properly.
With a sigh of relief, Rosalie spoke a word that unbound her spell
and the shoe melted away.


True to her word she re-shod Chasseur in proper iron horseshoes,
and so well that he seemed restless to gallop some more. Alois
mounted, then said to Rosalie that he anticipated meeting again, for
by now he had conceived a lust for her.


To this young Rosalie replied that was Alois not going to keep to his
bargain. This puzzled him and he asked what she meant by such a
strange question. She laughed, grabbed hold of Alois’s right leg and
dragged him off the horse for her bargain was to “shoe all feet on
Chasseur that day” and, as she told Alois, that certainly included his
rider.


Alois struggled and pleaded but the muscles of a master smith are
stronger than those of a seasoned warrior and he found himself hopping behind her to the forge. He tried to strike her with various tools
but she laughed and plucked them from his grasp as easily as taking
grapes from the vine.


Now she did not mean to shoe the Duc in the same manner as a
horse but with that type of metal shoe called sollerets that knights
wear. She had a pair discarded from an old suit that was to be
melted down for steel so she tore his boots off and placed him in
these sollerets as easily as I might put socks on a baby and then she
riveted them shut. Struggle as he might, Alois was trapped. No
twisting or kicking could free him, no plea or entreaty could dissuade
her from her intent.


After speaking some more words, she released Alois so suddenly
that he dropped to the ground like an old sack, but he did not lie
down for long. He leapt up and, as if syncopated to some rhythm
only he could hear, started dancing. He capered and jigged and
pranced all with a look of horror on his face. He skipped and spun
into the woods, bouncing and hurdling over roots and rocks as he
cavorted back to the chateau at Perlegne where the spell finally expired and he lay exhausted for five days before returning to the forge
to humbly beg Rosalie to remove the enchanted footwear.


And that, mes enfants, is why Alois One-Arm never dances and it is
also one reason that Rosalie Smith is now Smith for the Marquis
d’Embrion, the most powerful noble of the land.


What ma petite vielle, you want to know why he is Alois One-Arm. I
think I’ll leave that for tomorrow night. Goodnight.

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That is not dead which can eternal lie…

No one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century
That internet arguments fuelled by alcohol could lead one to do silly things….

Actually, all too believable

The year 2000 was, actually, the last year of the C20th and I was one of a group of people writing a 4th edition of the venerable role-playing game “Chivalry and Sorcery”, a tidied up version of 3rd trying to recapture the feel of the 2nd.

In the world of the biggest gorilla in the room, Wizards of the Coast had just released 3rd edition D&D, with the innovation that its system could be used as the basis for games by other companies as part of its “Open Game Licence”.

Somewhere, probably on Usenet, this was being discussed, and a comment by Matt Johnston, an RPG author for, at that point, Crucible Designs, asked why not, rather than write a niche game with its own system, instead get on the d20 OGL system bandwagon, and produce a worldbook to give D&D players a proper medieval game world.

It is a question that deserves a better answer than it got, the short version being one that it would mean starting again from scratch, the original authors would not have supported that and it would have meant perhaps losing the game’s unique identity. However, I had been drinking, so my actual answer was to try and produce a version of Chivalry and Sorcery that used a d20. Now it didn’t use the WoTC d20 system, in part because I didn’t know that system until years later, it used my own d20 system.

I knew I couldn’t recreate all of C&S, I was aiming for one page, and so went for “general feel”. As it turned out, that was too ambitions. I got it down to four sides of paper and that was with using a tiny font, which is fair enough, C&S 1st edition also had a tiny font.

So that was finished the next week, as C&S Essence, and went onto the Brittannia Game Designs website as a free download. I could do that as I was webmaster at the time and actually wrote or, at least, transcribed, a lot of the content. You can see the final version of the website here http://www.its-them.me.uk/marak/ with C&S Essence under “Freebies”.

That was well received. The fan club, the “Loyal Order of Chivalry and Sorcery” was still active, and two members did translations, Stefano Bartoletti translated it into Italian, Guy-Franck Richard into French. More than that, we found out that an anonymous Italian person had produced a version sent in a Fantasy Imperial Rome. This was without asking us and only years later did I find out that the setting, Lex Arcanum, was actually an existing RPG by Francesco Nepitello (renowned, rightly so, for “The One Ring” RPG).

For some reason, I don’t know why, but I suspect because I had been reading far too much “Flashman” at the time, I used the same system for a game of Victorian adventure, “Vis Imperium Victoriana” (ViV). Given the character background based on the Flashman version of Lady Sale in the First Afghan War, that has to be it. This was also available on the BGD website.

One weird thing to come from that was that someone started, but did not finish, a version of ViV for “The Fantasy Trip“, itself kickstartered back to life in 2018. Being a game of Imperial Adventure Literature, I put into the game that the attitudes of the time were racist and sexist, and the opportunities for characters reflected this. A review spoke of this as how unfun it was, and discussions later on convinced me that I had handled this badly.

I ran C&S Essence for the group I was with. I did that in the “Darken” setting I was writing for as a Dragon ruled kingdom of Men, Orcs and other usually enemy folk for BGD’s “Marakush” Game world, so the additions I made for the system were low fantasy and gritty.

Having written a more modern game with the system, Steve Turner of BGD asked if I would write a Science-Fiction version, well, Ed Simbalist, one of the authors of C&S had written the classic “Space Opera” SF RPG. I thought it would be 32 pages and quickly done, but I ended up trying to do my game as Pulp SF covering a similar scope to “Space Opera” and it took two years, play-testing it with the group I was playing with then.

Some of us even play-tested the spaceship combat system at our local wargames club.

Part of the problem with the system I wrote is that I am, or was, I am getting old, fairly handy with mental arithmetic, and the system had mechanics like “how much did you succeed by mechanic” and derived range and magic effect statistics that were a necessity of lack of space in the original C&S Essence. This new game, “Rocket Jocks”, simplified the skill success mechanic, and that made it more playable for everyone.

That did not see the light of day. The reasons why are valid, and not in the main, mine to tell, but years were to pass, and we come from 2003 to 2011. Over the years I had suggested to Steve Turner than sites like DrivethruRPG and RPGNow, might be good sales venues for his products. Print on Demand had matured to be worth considering too. Nothing happened though.

Suddenly he had this bright idea “Maybe sites like DrivethruRPG and delivery methods like Print on Demand are worth doing! Colin, why didn’t you suggest that”. He is lucky he doesn’t live in slapping distance ;). He started putting BGD products on DriveThruRpg and in 2011 asked about putting up C&S Essence.

I agreed, and started to increase the font size, add in some clip art and update the system to that found in, the still unpublished, “Rocket Jocks”. Steve then told me he planned to put it up for sale. For actual money. For that I thought it needed some more stuff in it before asking people to part with their hard earned cash. So I added in the Darken “enemy character” information and an adventure I had written years ago.

That got published, nominated for an award but some of the reaction was that the system/setting was too low key and the adventure had no obvious lead in. I did a free download to address the adventure lead in and add some extras to the system. I then thought about the lack of a “High Fantasy” fee to it and decided to create one or rather to use the Arthurian Mythos, as “everyone knows that”!

Famous last words. Turns out I don’t generally know as much as I thought I did about the Arthurian mythos and, in any case, it morphs, changes, twists with less concern for continuity than Brannon Braga. However, I got on with it, first as a setting for C&S Essence and later as a complete game with system in its own right. However work got more involved and I had less time to devote to this and, by late 2013 I got burned out, with most of the game written and I just couldn’t continue.

2013 seeing me with an insane early commute, knowing I couldn’t devote time to this, I asked Andy Staples if he would finish it for me. He told me, straight out, that he did not have much time himself, but if I could accept that then he would try his best.

A few years wind on. Andy’s situation doesn’t let him do much, which is as he warned me, and I took the Arthurian project back in 2016. Around that time Steve told me that he was finally able to get “Rocket Jocks” into getting edited and later on, actually have art commissioned. A bit of a change from my art-free or clipart games of the past.

I was a bit apprehensive about this. Since I had delivered the manuscript Pulp SF had become a bit of a thing again. There was even a game in the interim called “Rocket Jocks”, so the “Unique selling point” of my game was no longer there. Moreover, I was aware that my system written in 2000, would be a bit crunchy and old fashioned by today’s standards. However by late 2018, when I started to see the art, I reread my manuscript for the first time in years, and I was heartened that the system, apart from Psionics, wasn’t that bad, and the level of my corny sense of humour, I hope, makes it a lot more fun.

I also wrote a spaceship combat game, but I do not know if it will ever see the light of day. It is a complex, Star Fleet Battles/B5 Wars kind of box marking system for damage. If I can ever figure out a lighter system for this, and a way to get counter art, I may get this published as a free download later.

So, at the turn of 2019, Rocket Jocks – Blast into the Future is now available as a PDF and it, and C&S Essence v1.1 are to be made available as Print on Demand books and then Steve Turner asks me, “You remember that ‘Vis Imperium Victoriana’? Could we publish that again?”.

Obviously the basic answer is “Yes”. I had thought about doing it again back in 2011. Believe it or not I had even spoken to a musician to see if I could write his character into the new version. However I needed to correct the flaws identified all those years ago, to make opportunities more even for characters, without denying the inequality of the colonial age.

Changes to the system were fairly simple, to update it and to reduce some of the maths. The biggest time spent has been in research, to try and give enough of a feel of the time, without turning it into a sixty volume setting series covering seven continents and eighty years of history.

This is intended not to be free, but “Pay what you want” which puts me into “adding more of value” mode. Clipart has been added, free to use fonts for flavour used and I even put some photos of my own through filters to try and make them of the time and made a few pieces of art to illustrate it, Amazing given my own lack of talent in drawing.

It’s been a weird road. Basically three pieces of work written between 2000 and 2003 coming back to life nearly two decades later. It has involved machines using MacOS, Linux of various flavours, iOS, Android and several generations of Windows, storage systems including Floppy Disks, Zip Disks, USB Flash drives and cloud, and all sorts of text editors. Changed world.

I was planning to finish the Arthurian book this year, still do, but first ViV needs to be completed, and then I have promised myself that I will write a short story, just to get back into fiction.

Thanks then to Ed Simbalist, Wilf Backhaus, Wes Ives, Matt Gilbert, Phil McGregor, Mark Ratner and, accidentally, Matt Johnston for getting me down that strange road. And doubly thanks for all the contributors, translators, readers and play-testers for their help.

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Being Merry is not logical!

West End Games, best known for its Star Wars licence, also produced some Star Trek games, including three solitaire games in a box as a tie-in licence to Star Trek III – Search for Spock. It has to be said that the games aren’t anything to do with that film, or with Star Trek: The Next Generation, these are firmly set in the universe of the original series.

Designed by Greg Costikyan, John M. Ford and Doug Kaufman. The three games are “Free Enterpri$e”, “Kobiyashi Maru” and, the subject of this post “The Sherwood Syndrome”.

I guess that “Free Enterpri$e” is, in part, inspired by John M. Ford’s book “How much for just the Planet”, as both feature the Federation and Klingon Empire competing for planetary loyalty through commerce. I’ve not read the book, but I have read John M. Ford’s “The Final Reflection”, which I can heartily recommend “The Final Reflection” is a term from a Klingon game.

“Kobiyashi Maru” is the closest to a movie tie in, but that, is, of course, the second film, “Wrath of Khan”. Apropos of nothing, Julia Eckhar’s book “Kobiyashi Maru”, which will give you Kirk’s, Chekhov’s, Sulu’s and Scotty’s solution to that Kobiyashi Maru problem, as well as episodes from each’s life, is also worth a read.

So, onto “The Sherwood Syndrome”. It is a sad fact of life in the Federation that unsupervised Federation sociologists and nostalgia buffs will have adverse effects on planets. If it isn’t turning them into Nazi Germany then it’s Chicago in the Roaring 20s. In this case a rogue sociologist from the USS Archon is trying to boost the planet Syngreal version of King John into power over the barons and set himself up as the power behind the throne. Maybe given the name of the planet it is Mordred that is the model.

He has imprisoned all of the Archon’s crew, he thinks, and it is up to the Enterprise Bridge Crew, plus McCoy and Scotty, to free the prisoners and stop the takeover. The trouble is that the population is already wary of witchcraft, and, in a first for Kirk, he has decided to observe the Prime Directive, therefore use of Federation technology is discouraged. This makes the only logical decision is to don Lincoln Green and take to the Greenwood! The background for all this is contained in a short story by John M. Ford.

The board above shows the starting positions. The road with arrows is the path taken by the Royal Party. They will travel from city to city demanding fealty from towns, following the arrows. If they manage to gain fealty from all the towns then the Federation loses.

The Archon crew and 8 random neutral people drawn blind from a cup are placed in towns with an imprisoned marker. You are allowed to know, the colour, so crew or Syngrealian, but not the identity. Eight others are drawn at random from the cup, placed on the areas as you wish. That leaves others unused, so the game should be different each time.

There are office holders in each town and castle, and garrison troops in towns. All the people counters, except the Royal Party and the garrison troops, represent people, on the flip side there are numbers for how persuasive, useful in a fight or able to raise funds. If the character has a number on the picture side, then there is a paragraph in the rules giving information for that character and any special rules. E.g. Spock can add his persuasion score to another characters, the Mayor of a Town, if recruited, might be able to release any prisoner held in their town.

Uhura, accompanied by Sulu has beamed down and persuaded a castle’s lord to join the rebellion, Kirk ,Spock and McCoy has done the same with a town’s mayor

You need to keep track of the morale of the Royalist Party, the funds available to the Rebels and the how much of a Witchcraft scare there is. If Witchcraft ever reaches 10, then you automatically lose (this is noted under “Aiding the Poor”), so you need to keep that down. Using Federation technology, phasers, healing or the transporter will increase Witchcraft.

Royalist morale is uses as a modifier to the Royal Party gaining fealty of a town. As it starts at 10, then unless you can reduce it, all towns will swear fealt automatically and the Royalist will win in turn six.

You start with just the Enterprise crew and your aim is to recruit allies, and rescue prisoners. Other actions include move, rob from the rich (increases Warchest), give to the poor (reduce Witchcraft), heal injured characters, request Sanctuary and get horses.

The Warchest funds your groups on the planet, one per group per turn. If you have zero funds then recruited Syngrealians will start deserting you, and Enterprise crew will start getting injured. The Enterprise can supply you, but it will increase Witchcraft.

To and win you need to free the crew and any captured Enterprise crew, get a town in open rebellion and ensure Witchcraft is less than ten. To get a town in open rebellion means reducing Royalist morale by a lot. One of the problems is that you cannot directly reduce Royalist Morale, you can only get it as a side effect of recruiting certain characters or as a result of demanding money in castles, towns and the palace. If you reduce the morale enough that a town defies the King, that will accelerate the loss of morale.

All actions are resolved using a F10, with the “0” being a zero. For Federation/Rebel actions, high is good. When rolling for Royalist actions then low benefits the player. Most can be modified by spending gold or by the relevant ability of the character carrying out the action and any support from allies.

Meanwhile the King’s guards may home in on the rebels, seeking to capture them. Their initial orders are for a more lackadaisical “Patrol”, but can shift to a more aggressive “Search” then “Seize” as the game continues.

The game is more difficult than it might appear at first. You need to reduce Royalist morale enough that the Royal Party gets delayed, thus giving you more time to achieve your goals and get that town into rebellion, and that means recruiting Royalists and guards. The rules don’t say what happens when a Royal Guard is recruited, but, as one result for something else, can have the Guard removed, so I did that, as they don’t have any game stats so have no game effect on the rebel behalf.

While it can be a game with some fun stories with some of the characters you can recruit, and the actions you take, and the random draw of neutrals does make each game different, if the dice hate you then it can be frustrating. The Star Trek theme seems light, until you remember how often the original series did odd stuff like the “Roman Empire in the 20th Century”, “Vietnam allegory done hamfistedly”, “Gunfight at the OK Corral” then I think this “Robin Kirk and Little Spock” is just fine. This is well worth pulling out now and again for a bit of fun and frolics.

Thanks to Daniel King for pointing out this picture
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Travel Battle – The figures, the first battle and overall impressions

The figures (updated 02/01/2019)

My eyesight is so bad these days, that looking at the 8mm figures is better through the camera than with the naked eye. They have enough detail that, if painted, they should be enough for table effect. You will see here that the infantry only has one rank in place. This is because I haven’t decided yet if I am painting these. The units being on the diagonal signifies being formed in square.

The artillery is just two pieces, the wheels and axle flanked by two soldiers being the first, and the gun, trail and third soldier being the second piece.

Overall I wish they did more. I can buy extra sprues, though it might be better value to buy an extra set. As you can see above, the figures occupy enough space on the table on this initial set up.

It is obvious that the figure scale bears no relationship to the ground scale, otherwise the figs would be 2 mm. Only artillery have a range greater than the next square (6 squares), but if you look at the size of the farm, accepting the distance of one square to the next as being within musket range seems reasonable.

Infantry, by the way, over-spill the stand, so no lining up these infantry nicely. If you see the blue infantry in the middle, you notice squares with two ranks of infantry. Those are two stands (because only half the ranks are on each infantry stand) and in open squares you can have two units of infantry, as long as neither is in square.

Here are a Red Guard infantry (with colours) in front of 10mm GW “Battle of Five Armies” Goblins and beside Baccus 6mm Macedonian pike. The Baccus figures are not on a unit base, just the sort of tab base they are moulded onto. From this it looks like, if you wanted to add additional figures from other manufacturers, 6mm might be the better compromise. At time of writing, you could get 22 line infantry and 2 Guard infantry from Baccus for £7.50. That gets you 48 strips of infantry, two with colours and two strips per base would be like the supplied figures. I also photographed the Red light cavalry by some 6mm Baccus Cavalry. Sorry, didn’t dig out 10mm cavalry.

The Battle

Travel Battle is a IGOUGO game. The boards are oriented randomly, you each have three brigades, led by a brigadier on the round base, who need to trace a line for a unit to be able to move. Players place brigades down in turn until each has placed their three.

In the turn photos, Red will have moved and fired, Blue will have moved but not yet fired.

Turn one

Red starts. They moved forward. Initially the Blues were mostly hidden behind hills and buildings, limiting the targets for the Red artillery. What Red fire there was was ineffective.

The Blues move forward and start spreading out, you don’t see it yet, but the Blue artillery strike lucky, causing one unit of Red artillery to retreat, fail to rally, and disappear, and the other is just plain destroyed. This put a gap in the brigade on the hill, leaving one unit of infantry isolated and out of the brigadier’s command.

Turn two

Red Heavy Cavalry attacked the Blue infantry and initially did badly, losing one unit and causing one to retreat, but Heavy Cavalry (and Guard Infantry) get a re-roll, if they want, and on re-roll the Red Heavy Cavalry pushed the Blue infantry back.

The Blue’s advance on the right and centre, on the left the infantry on the road form square. The Blue artillery fire is ineffective.

Turn three

Red cavalry attacks the Blue infantry in square and comes off the worst. The Blue are closing down their right with thir other infantry and cavalry brigades.

The Blue artillery causes another unit to be destroyed. The problem with going into square, you make a much more inviting target, in this case artillery gets a second dice to roll to affect you.

The blue infantry flanking the artillery attack but are pushed back, also pushing back the brigadier.

Turn four (last turn)

The Red Heavy cavalry tries to force the infantry out of the woods, but are driven back in retreat, but rally on the board edge. The Reds have more success with their infantry in the middle, managing to destroy unit of Blue infantry.

The blues advance and close in across the front. The Blue artillery destroys a Red Guard infantry unit and causes another to retreat to the board edge where it rallies, the blue infantry repeat the feat.

At this point I call the game, as I have to do something else. However it does not look good for the Reds so that seems fair enough.

Conclusions and comments on the rules (update on 01/01/2019)

This was a nice fast game that, if you are going to be brutal, are more boardgame than wargame. However the rules, while simple, have adjustments for troop types and situations. Eg Cavalry that charging infantry which have not formed in square get two dice to roll, and choose the best.

You can put two infantry units in one square, giving them two dice for attack/defence.

Pushbacks can cascade, pushing other units out of position. In the FAQ it suggests units unable to retreat should lead to auto-destruction

Any unit that isn’t a brigadier itself, can push a brigadier aside, possibly leading to loss of control of a brigade.A nice wargaming point that, that there is a command and control feature.

Infantry in square get two dice Vs cavalry (attacking or defending), but artillery gets two dice when attacking them.

Corner to corner attacks are a thing, so units can support others. (Or just attack corner to corner, but it looks better as part of a line)

Roads increase travel along them, infantry can defend buildings, etc, etc.

All this in a few sides of A5. The system means that both sides can affect the other in their turn and their enemy’s, giving agency and helping lead to the speed of the game, even looking over the rules for my first battle and taking off the time photographing, these four turns only took just over half an hour.

Simple or not, I got a couple of things wrong, you need a whole turn to go into or out of square, but they did not affect the game much. Having diagonal movement/range may offend some folk, but it simplifies things.

There is a faq and some additional rules. I would like to try and find some figures I could use for skirmishers and horse artillery for the additional rules.

I am very much glad I bought this. I think I will end up painting this, perhaps as Russians versus French. This is my first Napoloenonic large scale battle rules, but the results seemed reasonable this first time.

I can see that the retreat and rally rules might cause a lot of back and forwarding, as brigades may have to retreat to be able to recover rallied units, as they cannot move without contact to a brigaadier. If that occurs then that is going to be unrealistic.

I do not think the Perrys have totally closed the door on doing more with it, but it is what it is, a wargame, with all you need, in a very portable box, a bit of fun to be had in a small space.

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Travel Battle – First impressions

My first impressions on unboxing “Travel Battle” from Perry Miniatures 
£50 though you might find it cheaper.

Front of the Travel Battle Box
The Travel Battle box is
38.2 cm x 29.5 cm x 6.4 cm

In the summer I had an idea of playing (and kind of reviewing) three Napoleonic board wargames. Well, I got one done. A few months later I saw this in the local shop. It is as it says, a complete wargame in a box. Figures, terrain, dice and rules for a Napoleonic wargame. It is based on a game that the designers came up with when one was recovering from a serious injury, that used a gridded board and 6mm figures. The rules are very simple, the rule-book thin and even has advice for painting the figures and terrain.

Back of the box

I had been tempted to get it for a while, it was reduced a bit so I got it for myself as a Christmas present. Inside are two board, which together give you a battlefield of 51 cm x 25.4 cm. They are isomorphic so can be arranged in any manner and they will match up.

It looks like something you could put in a day pack alone with a laptop and a few things and the board, if you were travelling on a UK intercity train, would fit on a table if four of you could grab one of the seats with the big tables. Obviously trains shudder about a bit, not tested it but the rough terrain board tilted about 40 degrees before a base slid off, so hopefully it will be OK.

Each side gets two sprues, enough to make four brigadiers (you only use three), two units of Heavy Cavalry, two units of light Cavalry, two artillery pieces and eight units of infantry (2 guard, six line). Cavalry and infantry are three figure sets to a base, one brigadier or artillery group to theirs.

My first thought was “can I get more? These are 8mm in size, not a scale anyone else produces. They seem to be pretty much in proportion and to have a decent level of details for the size, as far as I can tell without putting them under a magnifier, which would be a silly thing to do, until you want to paint numbers on buttons. I may compare them to some 6mm Ancients I have to see how noticeable the difference might be. You can buy extra sprues from Perry Miniatures but, although they had planned to produce other units, they haven’t. I get the feeling they still might, in theory, but it is way down the priority list.

A Farm using three of the six supplied buildings. Each building comes in two halves and need to be glued together

Which brings me to a quandry. The idea of this is that this is a complete game. And it is. I will get into rules and gameplay in the next post, but you can play each side with slightly differing arrangements of the divisions, and the boards can be placed differently to give variety. But the instinct to expand with larger armies and boards is a fairly natural one. By the way, it is cheaper to buy an extra boxed set than buy the component boards and sprue equivalent.

The other issue for me is to paint or not to paint. This is a travel set, complete and playable out of the box, at least if you blutak or glue the buildings together (not the treetops, back to that) and the figures to the bases. Once glued the figures are going to be hard to paint the insides of ranks/columns of, so if you are going to paint then better to do that first and then glue in place. I think, for trying out the game-play, I’ll glue just one figure set to a base, and, if I decide to paint them, then I can do that then finish the job.

I mentioned not gluing down the treetops, the pictures above and below shows why, if troops move into the woods then you take the treetops off and stick the troops in.

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Waterloo Three – 1 – SPI’s “Napoleon at Waterloo”

Introduction
For some reason I have been inspired  to re fight the battle of Waterloo\La Belle Alliance three years after all the cool kids were doing it.

I will be using board wargames to do this and will follow the same basic plan for each side for the battles to see how the three games compare.

The three games are SPI’s “Napoleon at Waterloo”, SPI’s “La Belle Alliance” from their “Napoleon’s Last Battles” quad and River Horse Games’s “Waterloo: Quelle Affaire”. Why these? Because they are what I had.

Firstly, “Napoleon at Waterloo”. This was marketed by SPI as an “introductory wargame”, often given away with magazines, and my copy is a “print and play” version from Matthijs van der Zanden. It certainly simplifies things even from the early 1970’s state of the art, for a battle famously fought on a ridge, there are no slope/height rules. The only terrain effects are for woods, which block bombardments by artillery, and buildings, which double the combat strength of the unit inside.

The game map - Napoleon at Waterloo

The battlefield, The French seek to exit top left,Allied starting positions in red, French in blue. The Prussians will come in from the east.

The Napoleonic Wars is not my period. So there are nuances of tactics that I will miss, things I should be looking for that I could say this has or does not. The only thing that immediately stood out were those combat strengths. I tend to think of artillery as having a strong punch but vulnerable to assault. Cavalry as exploits of gaps and able to break unprepared infantry. Infantry can hold of cavalry, but to do that then they sacrifice mobility and become vulnerable to artillery. You do not get this sense in NaW. Artillery being able to bombard or support attacks is as close as you get to that combined arms idea.

The French Plan
Knowing that the Prussians are on our right, the last thing we want is to get tied up on the right. Our objective is the Brussels road, which is on our left, from our initial deployment we will shift our force to the left, save for a number of units of cavalry which will advance up the right, to stop the Allies from being able to match our moves and continue to block our advance.

The Allied Plan
Hold the French here, maintain our lines and if we required to give ground then do so  in good order, while keeping the between the French here and Brussels. The Prussians will come.

The French start their grand manoeuvre, the Allies act to preserve their defence

The battle opens
The French send cavalry up both flanks, the Eastern move to keep the Allies from shifting to block the Brussels Road, the Western to drive the Allies in. Clearing out a detachment in the woods near Hougoumont, the main part of the Guards start the Westward march. The centre is not to get heavily engaged just yet, just enough to again, keep the centre pinned.

The Allies, refuse their flanks, and hold their centre.

The Allies are being pushed in

The second turn
The French plan continues to have its planned effect, the Allies are being pushed back, and towards their centre. In a purely gaming sense the Allies are using the Zone of Control rules to slow the French advance, as enemies must halt upon entering a Zone of Control. As the CRT favours a defender retreating at near even odds, this works for them.

The third turn

The Prussians arrive

Not the best picture, but the Prussians have arrived, cavalry to the North, and sufficient strength to hit the French line from the rear, but the French are starting to open up the road to Brussels.

Have the French left it too late to execute their plan?

The fourth turn
The French and Allied lines are starting to rotate a bit, with the Western line going back further than the eastern. The French are trying to disengage from the East, heading West without getting entangled with the Prussians. Where the Allies are making contact, the French are retreating if they are able, though the French cavalry on the Eastern flank is getting slaughtered.

The fifth turn
The French are starting to escape up the Brussels Road. The French are continuing their disengagement and heading to the Road, some of the units are forming a line to maintain a corridor behind which other units can retreat.

I think the last vestiges of similarity to the Battle of Waterloo and this game break down here. The conditions have allowed it to become more of a race game where the French are just trying to avoid being touched and made “it”.

The sixth turn
Continuing their orderly withdrawal, enough French units escape to achieve their victory conditions.

Of the Prussians, only the cavalry managed to hold any French to battle.

The verdict
I can see why this simple wee game got used as an introductory game. There are some subtle concepts in it for such a simple and short set of rules.

For example, If you have units in your Zone of Control then you have to attack them, and you cannot ignore any units if it is possible to attack them. In the photo to the right, the French cannot ignore the 6-4 infantry unit so as to concentrate on the 3-3 artillery. This at least stops units attacking others and ignoring the other two next to it.

It lacks any sense of the topography of the ground, strange in a battle where the ridge, however slight, played such a large part in the story of the battle. The only terrain are woods, roads and buildings.

It did not come up in this game, though it came close, but if the French destroy enough Allied units, the Allies are demoralised and fight less effectively.

However, at the end, it was a game rather than a battle. You could have had the same sort of game in a Eurogame with some twee theme. The French actions were not insurmountable as far as playing goes. The Allies could have retreated to just defend the line of the road, spacing so as to allow them to retreat and hopefully force the French back on their turn. That would have been just as artificial as the way this game played out, and somewhat less fun.

It was still a quick game, and I’d play it again, but the next one is SPI’s “La Belle Alliance”.

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Thoughts on finally playing Kings of War

Saturday 10th Feb I finally got to play the Kings of War wargame against other human beings in a tournament in Stirling. I took my Lord of the Rings Uruk Hai but used the, as the “Kingdoms of Men” faction, a useful catch all that lets lots of historical figure ranges be used in the game.

Sharkey as wizard, Army Standard Bearer and General

Sharkey as wizard, Army Standard Bearer and General

Because I am a Tolkien Purist, my deliberations over my force resulted in no monsters, no flying things, but a force that, wizard and orcish nature aside, would have excited no comment in medieval times, pikes, cavalry, sword and shield armed troops, archers and a couple of ballistae.

I’ll sum up my performance in that I think my army served me better than I served it. My foot guard of heavily armoured Uruks were strong in the attack and defence, the heavy pikemen, when used correctly, defended well and were relentless in the attack, they held their ground, even Sharkey survived an attack by giant eagles!

That’s a lot of zombies

My deployment suffered from lack of an effective strategy to deal with flying units. I had ideas about units behind my main line, but it didn’t execute well. In my final game I decided to go on an all out offensive, which worked where I had the strength, but I left my flanks weak, and once the troops there were cleared I didn’t have reserves to keep them covered. The Uruk Hai archers may look tough, but in reality they are Kingdoms of Men peasant archers. There was one battle where they got a useful flank attack, but in general, though they have a higher melee chance than ranged, don’t rely on them on a fight.

This isn’t a battle report,but my thoughts on the rules. The basic troops across the factions work similarly to each other, which is what you need. Infantry is infantry, archers are archers, cavalry in different roles can be shock cavalry or harassers. What keeps them from being too samey though, slightly different statistics, are have the tweaks of abilities and magic items, even in the same faction, your Shieldwall may be harder hitting but your opponents may be more skilled. Then you get monsters, flying things, wizards and weird constructs to bring in the strange and fantastical.

Combat may vary on skill in hitting, or effectiveness in defence, but the deciding factor in does a unit stick around is its nerve, bigger units have a higher nerve, they have more people in them and so survive longer. The disadvantage of the bigger units of course being that they are less maneuverable, smaller units might be able to turn to face a foe where a larger unit cannot. This is one of the places where the abstractions in Kings of War breaks down, there is no way for a unit to reform to, say, column or the like. To be honest I rarely if ever saw that in other fantasy mass battle games I’ve played.

The “similarity of function” can fool you though. You see a unit of Ogres with roughly the same footprint as one of your regiments, so you hit it hard, but that’s a horde, it has more survivability than one of your regiments, maybe not as much as one of your hordes, but enough to keep it surviving your ‘knockout blow’.

Army list for my Kingdoms of Men army

Army list for my Kingdoms of Men army

The turn is fast with no charts to consult for combat, all the numbers are on the army sheet. I can seriously recommend doing that, the only time any of the battles I was in hit a snag was when one of the opponents didn’t have his printed army list (against the rules of the tournament, but ach, skip it) so had to keep flipping back and forward to check the stats of his units, I had all I needed for fourteen units one one clearly printed sheet of A4. As the only other numbers involved are modifications to hit, of which there aren’t many and are easily remembered, it wasn’t confusing for a n00b like me. I may not have a grasp of the tactics, but at least I had a fair command of the rules.

I didn’t find not having dice rolls in my opponent’s turn was a big deal, I am supplying info on my units, and chatting and responding to what is happening, so I actually am involved in my opponent’s turn, and once the movement has gone, the shooting and melee go quickly enough, unless huge quantities of dice are involved.

Loads a dice

That’s a lot of dice. You need pretty much all of them or, at times, even more

I still think that there is, viscerally, a lot more fun and involvement in picking up and rolling handfuls of dice than checking charts of modifiers for a single die roll. It just seems more involving and fun. The doubling/tripling for flank/rear attacks is nice, and gives me a sense of achievement when I did it to someone else and a big groan when it happened to me. A big groan! I heard that more often than I felt the sense of achievement.

The games were run on scenarios. That I liked. You could get points for destroying your opponent’s army but the win for the scenario was worth more than those for enemy units removed. I know that that scoring structure was for the tournament, and is not the same for pick up/friendly battles just using the main rule book, but it did change the nature of what we were about, mind you, on another table it cost someone a victory for misunderstanding the conditions. At least that is one mistake I didn’t make!

Real life is a bit hectic, and club attending isn’t much of an option when you have carer responsibilities and ridiculously early starts for work, but I want to play this again, both with the army I used here, and with the dwarf army I intend to make for it. You can do a couple of battles in the same time as some older mass battle games, and try stuff out, I do not get the feeling that there are killer lists out there and the support for the game seems committed to keeping a level playing field, not to selling new armies/books for the latest killer army in a arms race calculated to drive sales.

A last word on the environment. Stirling’s Common Ground Games is a decent venue and relatively easy for me to get to. There are plenty of tables there for the players, a cafe that sells a drinkable black coffee, the burgers were so-so but edible, and the atmosphere was not polluted with gamer fug. Wish Glasgow had an equivalent, the only ones I know of are only for card gamers, no harm to them, but not set up for tabletop battles.

On the whole, 13/10, they’re good games Brent!

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The Emerald Tablet – early fantasy wargames rules

I have written before about an early set of fantasy wargames rules (Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age) before but they are not the earliest set of specifically fantasy wargames rules I ever saw.

I know I have been wargaming since at least 1978, but I was interested earlier than that. It may have been seeing the book “Know the Game:- Wargaming) or not, but I got that earlier, I know that because my Dad bought it for me. You can find pictures of the cover and some of the internal passages in this blog post about Phil Barker here. In later life finding out about Phil Barker’s reputation explains why I found that booklet a bit hard going.

Card for the Olympian Spirit Bethor

A couple of years after I was at a wargames show, probably at the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow, and I saw this game being played. Most of the figures were historical, but there were monsters, demons and angels scattered about, and coloured cards covered in intricate symbols. this was my first introduction to “The Emerald Tablet” (TET)

The Emerald Tablet rules – 1977 from Creative Wargames Workshop Designers – Joseph Miceli, Tom Loback & Jay Facciolo

The kind of game I saw, where normal troops were supplemented by summoned units, creatures and angelic/demonic spirits is not a style I can remember seeing in the last 30 years. Firstly Tolkien derived troops became the norm, or at least faction based (like Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Fantasy Warrior, Wargods of Aegyptus or Kings of War) and the demons and monsters started on the field as part of the army troop selection.

In TET, almost you could wish for is in there. Normal troops, heroes, leaders, gigantic mounts, monsters, trolls, giants, shape-changers (It’s the only ruleset off the top of my head that lets you model the forms of Beorn consistently in itself) , flyers, war machines, different sorts of magicians, powerful magic that could backfire on the caster and which is affected by the hour of casting the spell. You don’t get rules on deployment, so deployment advantage powers aren’t part of the game.

For the era it was a well produced book. The text is across the page rather than being put into columns, there are illustrated examples, though some of the “uninvolved figures” represented by hollow circles, are a bit hard to make out, and there are the intricate borders all around the pages. There are four designs, used in the same sets of two, sometimes flipped around.

One strange thing is that the magic cards, essential for using the range of ceremonial magic and summoned entities, was not always sold with the book, they cost extra, which seems strange. There were also some blank or indistinct pages in my copy, which seems to have been a common enough problem for pdfs replacements to have spread around gamers.

Some of the formations units can adopt

The set-up and mechanics are a lot different to most current fantasy wargames. The basic formations and maneuvres are ones that will be familiar to people who play historical wargames, particularly black power era ones, as your units can form line, column, wedge, skirmish line or square. The illustrations show four figures to a stand or multibase which is a suggestion for making moving figures easier as four is just the basic width for column, or in the wedge example above, each line has to have at least 4 figures more than the one before. That stand is not the unit, the unit can have multiple stands and they rules suggest leaving a few figures unmounted to make removing casualties easier.

Moreover, the base size for a figure is not the same for each figure of the same species. The formation that the figure will be used in determines the width, as does the height and weight of the thing that the figure represents, this will mean that two lines of the same width, one of close order infantry and the other open order infantry of creatures of the same size, then the close order infantry will have twice the number of figures in the fight. The close order human has a suggested width of 15mm, which is another sign of the age of these rules, when 25mm was 25mm, and wargames figures were often in profile. Trying to fit heroic 28mm to the same size would be hard.

Flyers have three height levels, the higher the unit the further it has to travel laterally to make an attack

There are rules for changing formation, with less well trained or motivated units taking longer to shift formations , and only the best trained units able to do the more complex maneuvres.

The advantages of a formation are missing or abstracted in a current fantasy wargame like Kings of War, eg a pike or spear unit cannot form a defensive formation with all the spears outward with a movement penalty the usual price. However any ruleset has to try and strike a balance between “realism” and “playability”, between “simulation” and “game” and most fantasy sets try to be quicker, fun games rather than all day Kriegspiels.

Another difference that stands out from something like WHFP or KoW is the issuing of orders. Many games have restrictions using mechanisms like limited command points, random card draws or push your luck dice rolls, but in TET they use the old idea that all units have one written order that they must follow, and it requires intervention from a Commander or Sub-commander, directly or via message (carried telepathically or by an actual messenger).

The idea of point designing units from scratch is old-fashioned these days. It is much more common to only give a limited set of types for each faction, with minimal customisation. Sometimes this is argued from a point of balance, but mostly it seems to be to give the company a great deal of control over their game after the purchase of the rules, and to give scope for selling new troop types and the figures to use for them later on. This is not just true of fantasy and science-fiction games, it seems to be quite common in big company historical games too these days.

The closest I can think of, from the top of my head, for the idea of designing your troops from a base set of stats to which you add characteristics, and then assembling your army is Crusader Miniature’s “Legions of Battle” (derived from their Crusader Miniature rules and illustrated with Mantic figures). Unlike “Legions of Battle” though, whose troops design is simple and lot of fun, designing units for TET is complex and it’s useful if you have a calculator handy.

TET  talks about castings, by which it means a figure, but as I will use the term casting for magic, then I will use the word figure. Units up to about cavalry size are made up of between 5 and 50 figures. Large figure such as chariots or warmachines are in units of 1 to 8. To figure out the base cost you cross-reference the height of the thing represented with the weight, so a halfling or dwarf, both under 5 feet, the halfling would cost 1 point, the dwarf 2 points. Then you add the equipment and abilities. However, not being sane, instead of just using a set number of points, TET uses percentages. So your halfling and dwarf

    • in chainmail with shield add +35%
    • add a spear that’s an additional +20%
    • some experience in battle, +20%
    • Regular troops +30%
    • led by someone with some experience, +20%
    • Strength and endurance,
      • a halfling is weaker than a man, -20%
      • a dwarf is roughly human strength, +0%
      • a halfling has human endurance, +0%
      • a dwarf has the endurance of two men, +20%

So a unit of 10 halfling soldiers costs 20 points, the dwarves 50 points. As you design this then you are going to have to note various levels of ability, like level II leadership, on your notes as this is going to have an effect in battle, as you total up all the advantages in height, weight, reach, leadership etc that your units involved in the melee have. There are 25 categories of advantage including how fatigued your unit might be, and some advantages are cancelled out by circumstances, e.g you get no advantage for the longer weapon if you were just forced back in melee.

Who can attack

Like a lot of wargames of that era, combat is a matter of finding out how many casualties are caused and the first stage of that is how many figures you have involved in the fight, basically it is number of figures touching base, plus some overlap, some from the next ranks if they have a long reach weapon like a spear or pike, the longer the reach, the more you count. There are other circumstances that can affect the combat, the strength of heroes or if a unit has a significant height/weight advantage over the enemy, then each figure in the bigger side counts as four for the purposes of the combat.

Chart used to help figure out how many casualties you cause in a fight

You then use your advantage number plus number of figures involved to obtain a number to which you had a d20 roll divided by 100. With me so far? Any whole number is that number of automatic casualties, any number after the decimal point is the percentage chance of another casualty, so 3.34 would be 3 automatic casualties with a 34% chance of a fourth.

It works, but battles with this would less need a chess clock than a chess calendar, and it does not have the visceral appeal of buckets of dice.

Complex as they are, the combat rules work, even if they do drill down to the detail of what happens to draft animals when enemy units touch them (spoilers, they die), when do gigantic war mounts stampede, what areas does a breath weapon cover and what angles war machines can fire at to hit flying targets They are at core standard style wargames rules of the era, and could be used for battles from Ancients to Renaissance, perhaps even Napoleonic with some house rules, but the authors have given thought to the effects of the fatntastic on the mundane, e.g what happens when a fire elemental causes casualties to a bombard, you check for it exploding of course.

Cards for Evocation circles for High Magicians and Thaumaturges

It is the magic that make this set of rules different from anything else I can remember reading or seeing played.

The authors claim that the magic is based on medieval grimoires and understanding of magic, and from my limited knowledge, that seems a fair claim, if you take it as late medieval Kabbalism and later

If the unit creation, movement and combat rules seem fiddly, well at least they cover familiar territory for the wargamer. Magic is split into “Innate”, basically spells cast from the powers of the mage, and “Ceremonial”, rituals to summon powers of the Astral plane. The innate powers are somewhat limited in scope to the mage, such as levitation or invisibility for the big powers you need to summon and command astral beings. Magic costs power, called Magic Endurance Points, successfully cast or not, and the more powerful (and expensive) the mage then the more of these they will have. Probationers, the lowest grade of mage, have only one innate power, Combat, but can assist more powerful mages in Ceremonies.

High Magicians can summon Angels or Olympic Spirits, Theurgist can summon Demons, Thaumaturges can summon all types. So why would you want to summon astral beings, purely as bigger monsters for combat? No, particularly as you risk madness or the loss of your powers. The summoned beings have powers that can be directly used in combat, yes, but they have powers that can affect the environment of the battle and outcomes of fights. The cards for the astral beings list the powers that each has, e.g . The Demonic King Beleth can create troops or cast the spell of Friendship (congrats, that enemy unit works for you now).

Summoning astral beings requires the mage and up to two assistants to create a circle of evocation. The hour of summoning can be significant, adding to the chance to summon, so if using evocation in a battle then you will have to roll to find out when the battle started, and there are four game turns to the game hour. Moreover, Angels and Olympic Spirits have associated colours, and if your mage figure is painted in colours corresponding to that colour, then congratulations, you get another summoning bonus.

For demon summoning then sacrificing intelligent beings increases your summoning chances. Sacrifices are a resource that need to be escorted by your apprentice mages, so your enemy could lower your chances by targeting your apprentices.

Astral powers are beneficent (aid a unit) or klipothic (harm a unit or create enemies) and include summoning elementals (eg an Air Elemental can disrupt or damage a unit), sewing discord (causing units to disobey orders), improve morale, directly affecting success in combat and more. When casting your powers you roll d100, the higher the number then the greater the effect, so if casting Creating Troops then the higher the roll the more points to spend and the types you can choose go from Open Order Infantry, through Close Order then any.

Heroes and figures in casting circles have innate magical protection against harmful powers but if you want to protect your troops then you might want to invest in magic amulets for the figures in your units.

So. Is it playable. Yes. It’s been a long time since I used these rules but they are certainly playable? Would I play them? No. The state of the art has advanced in 40 years and rebasing figures to the irregular sizes demanded by this system would be a pain. One of the considerations in a set of wargames rules has to be “do they feel right”. Do the results seem believable. It used to be thought that this demanded exacting complexity to model every facet of a battle, but various designers have found that you can abstract elements of a battle out without losing believable results. Cavalry charging pike get roughly handled, artillery can decimate blocks of formed infantry, cavalry and infantry can overrun artillery. The streamlined rules work and you can still have flying troops and fear causing horrors.

These days I would rather play Kings of War for mass battles, or Lord of the Rings for skirmish, though I have thought about adapting the magic concepts to Legions of Battle. In fact, before Legions of Battle was published, I had written almost all of a Dark Ages fantasy adaptation of the Crusader rules, I like them that much, but it’s nice to remember sometimes where you came from.

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