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

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!

Posted in Kings of War, none yet, Wargaming, Wargaming | Leave a comment

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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The once and future manuscript

As I have written about before, when my taster rules for the classic Chivalry & Sorcery, Chivalry & Sorcery Essence was printed, I thought of it as a toolkit and not as a whole game world. I did put in a bit of the more gritty Darken kingdom of the Marakush game world in as an example, but that was just that, an example.

Chivalry and Sorcery Essence has the ideas of C&S, but uses a d20 system. No. Not that one.

  • Your starting skills are based on your Social Class, starting Vocation with some choices for the player on what to spend points on
  • Magic is a skill and is tricky.
  • The faith someone has in their religion affects what they get out it.
  • Your chance to succeed is STAT + SKILL LEVEL – MODIFIERS.
    • If in a contested skill then Highest Successful roll wins.
  • Success affects how much damage you do
  • armour reduces damage not your chance to be hit
  • you have a few combat tactics options.

I got criticised for not doing a High Fantasy setting, I thought “Arthur was easy”, that it could be included as a free article. It wasn’t. It is time for an update on the project.

After storming through the project in 2013 and 14, I kind of burned out, mostly because of work rather than this. I handed it to a friend, knowing that they would not be able to take it on as a priority.

Earlier this year (2017) I took it back. I have made some progress, not as much as I would like, time is still a factor. The game was 80% done. It is now 90% done but I would like to offer this precis of what is in it

It is technologically and socially the Dark Ages. There are some more medieval romantic ideas in there, but I have tried to create a relatively plausible Romano-British era setting. OK you don’t have Gothic or Italian plate armour, but you have the Sutton Hoo Helmeted Saxons and Late Roman style Romano British Cavalrymen doing their thing

A cut down version of the manuscript contents

    • Social Background
    • Training and Vocations
      • Including two kinds of Christian priests, Pagan priests  (inc Druids) and different sorts of mages
    • Blessings and Flaws (optional)
      • Perhaps your character has a gift from the Fae, allies, enemies, a curse …
    • Character Advancement
    • Optional Combat rules inc The Great Blow,  Shield bash and Hit Location
    • Magic and Magicians inc the Saxon Necromancer and former Druidic Initiates
    • Spell types including Glamour and Shaping spells
    • Enchanting rules including auguries and purification
    • Magic heirlooms
    • Religions of Roman and Celtic Christians, Druids and Saxons
    • Holy Artefacts
    • The societies of the British, Saxons, Irish, Scots and Picts
      • The kingdoms of the British Isles
      • Major Personalities of the British Isles
      • What Chivalry means to British, Saxon, irish, Scots and Pictish knights
        • Tourneys and jousting
      • Warfare at this time
    • The Otherworld and creatures of it
    • Monsters, Beasts and instant NPCS
    • Running a campaign
      • An alternate view of Arthur
    • A starting adventure

When Vortigern ruled he was suspicious and saw every man as his enemy and so he sought to build himself a strong keep to retreat to should he ever find himself in danger. However every attempt to build the tower was doomed. During the day the builders would build it up, and each night the stones would be found strewn across the site.

The wise men whose advice he sought, told him that only the blood of a boy born without a mortal father would quieten the restless spirits of this place, and Vortigern sought such a boy until the young Merlin was found.

Merlin was not afraid, and spoke back, saying that the wise men did not know what was causing the problem and had sought to delay matters by setting what they though was an impossible task. Merlin said to Vortigern ‘Have the ground dug up to show what is there’

They did so and revealed a lake. Merlin then said to Vortigern that the lake should be drained. It was and underneath were two sleeping dragons one red and one white.

‘There, ‘ Merlin said, ‘ is your answer. By day they sleep, but at night they fight, and in so doing the stones of your tower are overthrown. Now, wait for nightfall, and watch and learn, for the White Dragon represents the Saxons, and the Red ourselves.’

That night the White fought the Red. The Red held its ground for a while, then started to be forced back. It rallied and pushed the white back for a short space of time, with some to and froing as both white and red contested the White’s part of the lake bottom, but eventually the Red was thrown to the far end of the bottom of the drained lake where it remained. When dawn came, the white Dragon vanished, though the Red faded more slowly.

Merlin turned to Vortigern and said

‘This is my prophecy, the Saxons are driving west, in our time. There shall be some respite before the Saxons gain the upper hand and force us to hold only a corner of what we now possess. Later though, after a long time, it may be that we shall remain, long after the Saxons are forgotten, but that will be a short twilight before the fading.’

Merlin left, not to be seen for some years, but his hateful prophecy remained.

Posted in Chivalry & Sorcery, King Arthur, Role-Playing Games | 2 Comments

“but what is original is not good…..”

“and what is good is not original” goes the quote from Samuel Johnson, in response to someone who sent him a manuscript to read. To quote someone else, the TL:DR version of this post would be “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you, their tastes might not be the same

Fantasy Flight Games recently announced they wet reprinting the D6 West End Games Star Wars RPG, I assume the 2nd Edition revised. A brief twitter conversation with Matt @chimpy20 Hayward about this and reading Grant Morrison’s “super Gods” get me thinking about old game nostalgia and the proliferation of new RPGs.

Grant Morrison’s book talks about the waves of new comic book artists and writers and the need of some, including himself, to denigrate the work of established artists/writers as fuddy-duddy,  churning out safe standard work, as part self-publicity, of making their own name.

Fashions change, new work builds on the old and very often what was old is resurrected, either as part of nostalgia by those who was then or rediscovered by a new generation. This is as true of RPGS as it is comics, but, speaking from my own experience, nostalgia is probably the stronger pull in RPGs, just witness the eBay prices for old RPGs. Reprints for collectors are nothing new, neither are games that try to recapture the feel of an older game, usually Original D&D or AD&D.

I was not in the first wave of RPG players, but I was playing in the late 70s, starting with D&D, and following the same path of discovery that the writers of the second generation of RPG writers carved out. D&D has problems with logic and reality, never mind an obsession with weird pole-arms. The Vancian cast and forget magic system, the abstraction of combat, the limitation on non-human advancement, even the whole notion of class and level, went through house-ruling and fanzine variants, them new RPGs arodse to address these perceived shortcomings.

Complex systems meant to model reality in combat, task resolution, skill learning and magic were tried. I loved these. Different character paths were possible, different tactics in combat, without needing huge books of extra feats and options some laters RPGs tried, a complex but concise system as opposes to a simple but encyclopaedic one.

There are some systems that seem perfect for their world, like RuneQuest 2’s implementation of Basic Role-Playing others might have a elegant system, but no compelling world, still more have a terrible system but a world people love to play in, Palladium’s Rifts falls into that category for me, neither part of that appealed but I know people who love it, clunky as the system is.

The attractive thing about a fair few modern RPGs, like Symbaroum, is that they come wrapped in their world. That is not a new idea, but we build on the ideas that came before and try to prove we can do better. This is as true of long lived games like Chivalry & Sorcery as it is of the retroclones like the Old School Renaissance D&D a likes. In the latters’ case they aren’t just trying to recapture Dungeon style gaming, they aim to do something better, for example more consistent rules and/or a better entanglement in the gameworld, both true of Astonishing Swords and Swordsmen of Hyperborea. Doesn’t always work of course, Johnson’s quote is as true of RPGs as it is of music.

At long last we are at the reprint of WEG Star Wars. FFG has it’s own in-house system. They are not proposing to bring the D6 game back to life however it is the one I would play given a chance, not the “living” FFG game. I have not played the FFG game but I read some of the material, which seemed wooly in style and limiting in scope, and it did not enthuse me as did the WEG game. The Ghostbusters descended system and game material of the original strike me as suiting my tastes better.

This isn’t just a grognard disdain for the new though. Venerability does not mean playability, I point you at the original SuperHero 2044 just as neither is novelty. Neither is this about “having fun wrong”. Policing another’s fun, unless it is illegal and/or scares the horses is not only wrong, it’s pointless. Tastes differ and it can be worth playing a game not to your taste if part of a group because that’s what friends do for each other (Doesn’t mean that you can *always* find fun it it, sometimes despite everything it can be a chore).

However whether you might prefer one game over another is not just down to absolute taste. Context also important. These days for me the most important type of context is the amount of time real life gives you and your group to play. I still prefer “crunchy” systems in an absolute sense, but I will prefer to play simpler, more abstracted systems because they resolve system calls more quickly and the story can progress. I used to play 10 hours on a Saturday so I had time to be involved in epic tactical combats, now a couple of hours play a week is a rare luxury.

The point I am building up to is this. While policing someone else’s fun is wrong, if someone says that your way of having isn’t, then getting outraged is probably not worth it, particularly if it is an off-hand remark or a remark in a space limited forum like Twitter. If you get a chance to find out why, maybe a bad experience of other preferences then you may find that useful, but unless you are in a face to face over a beverage, a protracted discussion will probably do neither of you any favours nor will it be fun.

From my own PoV, I will try to stop making easily misinterpreted blanket statements of preference and qualify them where possible. It’ll save time and heartache

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Way too long a post on how to lose weight

TL:DR version of this. No secrets. Boring routine comprising eating less and exercising more and recording food day to day to keep an eye on things. Not giving up because you enjoyed yourself one day.


I have been overweight most of my adult life, I have managed to lose major amounts of weight three times. How major? In two cases basically the mass of an adult human.

Keeping it off? Not so good at. I plan to learn how to do that this time, but I have lost it in the first place and occasionally people ask me “what is your secret?”.


The basics

Firstly, I don’t have a secret. I have no “5/2” or “Atkins/Dukan” style thing going on, what I said in the summary at the top about boring routine, that is it, but I will put down what I do and what advice occurs to me.

Firstly I think that it has to be right for you. Having someone hassle you won’t help, doing it for yourself, for reasons you feel are right, at the time that is right for you, that helps you hit the right mindset.

Secondly. As the summary above implies, the way to lose weight is to expend more energy than you take in. As a rule of thumb, 500 calories less food per day that what you need to maintain your weight will give you a 1 pound loss each week. There is a calculator here. I record each thing I eat and the exercise I take. You can use a notebook for this, but I use an app, I use an app/website recording this, My Fitness Pal – http://www.myfitnesspal.com/. With that you can also put in your height/weight/lifestyle and your weight loss goals and it will calculate your calorie needs.

Thirdly. Recording everything is key. Boring, but key. It is too easy to graze and forget little things eaten when cooking or at the desk and forgotten biscuits at the work desk. If you want to keep control then record the lot. If you eat more one day, have a drink or whatever? No problems, just go a bit lighter the next few days to counteract that.

But you may ask, I’m going to get hungry. How do I handle that?

Fourthly. Regular meals and spaced out snacks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner but also a morning and afternoon snack AND a supper before going to bed. My snacks are usually fruit (banana in the morning, orange in the evening) and supper is warm milk (living on the edge, huh!). By having these things spaced out regularly, hopefully you are never too long before you get something and that will help you hang on till then.

Fifthly. As you will know portion control is important and empty plates make people feel hungry. It does not help that dinner plates these days are much bigger than they were back in the 70s, almost twice the surface area. We bought replacement plates online to add to those remaining from our 70’s set. This wee psychological trick does help. Don’t be silly, don’t use side plates as as substitute. You are not punishing yourself, just trying to undo the effects of ridiculous dinner plates the size of an olympic swimming pool

Sixthly. If you are exercising, remember you will need to eat a little more to fuel it. I usually have an extra snack half an hour before I start, so that I don’t feel faint towards the end (it happened, the physio [metaphorically] slapped me and told me why that occurred). I also have a slightly more calorific lunch on those days. If you get a chance, a sports physio can help you plan a routine that suits you.

Seventhly. Measure progress, but not too often. Weekly is a short enough timespan to help prevent feelings of “ach well, I’ll make it up later” getting out of hand, but more often than that will send you mad. Weight differs from day to day. Ensure that, as far as possible, you are wearing similar clothes, at the same time and under the same circumstances, e.g. before breakfast, each time. If you are exercising you may add muscle mass as you lose fat, so also keep an eye on what is happening to your clothes sizes, just in case the raw numbers aren’t encouraging.

Eigthly. Don’t get het up about “setbacks”. If you have a day when you ate a bit more than you think you should have or you have a celebration that includes food and drink, then that is that. Don’t give up. That was that day, this is this day, get back into it.

Ninethly. If you have a lot to lose, then hold off on buying new clothes as long as possible. If you bought clothes every size change then you will spend a fortune. You will end up with baggy clothes and it’ll be a bit silly, but when you do get replacement clothing it will feel so good.


Thoughts about food

A few thoughts about food. I think commercial Slimmer meals are a waste of time. It is better to prepare things yourself if possible. Make them to your own taste and more appetising than your usual cook chill meal.

Avoid diet drinks, things with sweeteners. Not only do some have potentially bad effects, including affecting your gut bacteria, but the brain reacts to them as if they were sugar, your blood sugar will spike and crash and you will feel hungrier. WebMD on this. Better to stick to tea, coffee, herb teas if you like that sort of thing, water. I put lime or lemon juice in water sometimes to give it some taste. In Scotland we have “soft” water, no chalk in it. Nicer to drink.

Avoid low fat products Fat isn’t the problem in any case, but low fat profucts often use sugar to make up the flavour. Just use normal products and keep an eye on what you use.

Be wary of diabetic products some sweeteners used in diabetic products will basically give you the runs.

Try to increase the proportion of the meals that are protein and reduce the carbohydrates. Usually for meals uncooked weight of carbohydrates like rice or pasta should be no more than 75g, a little over 2 ounces per person. Believe me, it’s enough.

So obviously a big thing is to keep meals interesting. Flavours you like. Meals should not be a drudge, but a nice taste. Lunches for me these last two summers have been salads with about 40g of cooked grain, like pearl barley, lentil or cous cous (seasoned) some cooked meat like chicken breast, chunky peppered beef or tuna. The idea is to put this into a container so at lunchtime they can be heated. The other container has salad leaves, sundried tomatoes and or baby tomatoes, some olives and some flavoured hummus or cottage cheese depending. Follow that up with an apple. The seasoning and the hummus/cottage cheese actually give it some flavour. The heat in the meat/grains is nice.

If you have a sandwich, most of the calories are often bread, so as I say, you want to have more protein as a proportion. If you are in Scotland, a morning roll, being airy, is not that bad as a container of a good meaty sandwich.

The main meals are usually normal meals, though if we had a big lunch then we will take a smaller dinner, closer to being a lunch.

Abstinence is easier than reduction. With things like chocolate, crisps and chocolate I fnd that not having any is a lot easier than trying to have a small amount only.

Fat isn’t the issue. Well, fat has calories and too many are what you are trying to avoid,  but in general fats are useful for the body to help it absorb nutrients. Fat as fingered in the 50s, using some very skewed and cherry picked evidence. Sugar is much more of a problem. Have a read here or here.


A typical day for exercise and food

I don’t drive. So I walk more than you might if you are a driver, but I still use public transport. I used to walk to work and back in Glasgow (helping me do 10,000 steps) but damage to my knee means I can’t now. However walking between home, bus, train and shops mean I usually walk an hour or more each day.


usually porridge, or toast with cream cheese or cottage cheese or a boiled egg with buttered oatcakes

Morning snack

Usually a banana. On gym days I also take a seed, nut and or fruit shot of around 100 calories


As described before, a meat salad or roll with grain mustard, chock full of meat and salad, or a decent, hearty soup. An apple or yoghurt to follow.

Afternoon Snack

Orange, or a couple of buttered oatcakes


Normal enough, but exercising portion control and trying to keep the carbohydrates down and the protein and vegetables up.


Warmed milk. Friday I treat myself with stirring cocoa (not hot chocolate) powder into it.

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7TV Skirmish Wargame, the 60’s adventure TV RPG waiting for you

On Twitter, someone asked about a suitable RPG for running games set in the world of “The Persuaders”, an action adventure series with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, one of many from production company ITC, some serious, some, like this, with comedic elements. I immediately thought of Crooked Dice Studio’s 7TV, a skirmish wargame set up to have heroes and villains battle in scenarios of the sort to be found in programmes like “The Champions”, “Jason King”, “UFO” with a side order of Bond. The system was originally created for a free set of Doctor Who miniature rules but, with Warlord having obtained that licence, the free set seems to have gone. There are still a couple of bits of Doctor Who still in the rules.

These are, as I said, wargame’s rules, for a skirmish game, so why would I point someone to this as the start of trying to run an RPG. For a start off, and never mind that skirmish wargames are the start of RPG systems, the 7TV rulebook is choc full of references to the inspirational source material in the form of script excerpts and “Radio Times” style TV Listings with programme and people names that are obviously lightly changed from the originals, write “Ken Troy-Martin” instead of “Troy Kennedy Martin” or “Department X” instead of “Department S”, that sort of thing.

The wargame scenarios are designed to be created with themes from the shows, which makes them a useful way to set up the framework of an RPG adventure and sets of linked episodes are part of the game. Add to that both the synopsises of the fake TV programme listings and the wealth of the real, original TV to mine for inspiration and any GM has a lot to work with in terms of framing adventures.

Characters, both heroes and villains, are made up of archetypes, with special abilities, with, of course, a few background extras to make up the numbers. Their profiles are not just combat stats, they have intelligence and can have special abilities. Tests of their statistics can be modded into a skill system, add a few skills to give boosts to chances to succeed, though the resolution system might be a bit too gritty, being based on a single d6.

The game has “Audience Appreciation” as a balancing mechanic for the side that loses initiative in combat, that could be changed into a Fate Point like system for dice boosts/re-rolls, for aiding allies or summoning extras to aid you.

There are plenty of gadgets, weapons and vehicles for characters to use, traits and special effects to give characters some differentiation and you can see that this is 90% on the way to being an RPG already, and it should not take much effort to put in that last 10%

Posted in Role-Playing Games, Wargaming | Leave a comment

The Old School has more than one classroom

A missed opportunity in the Golden Age of RPGs

The fault is @BigJackBrass’s

For a few years now, thanks to dedicated writers and easier routes to publishing, there have been nostalgic attempts to recapture the *feel* of older role-playing games, mostly “Dungeons and Dragons” using either the OGL d20 system or a house system. I have argued that, to me, Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is itself a retroclone,an attempt to recapture it’s earlier, simpler self, after the excesses of 3rd and 4th editions.

Book one of Chivalry and Sorcery: The Rebirth

This is not a new thing though. Another game from the start of the hobby had a larger edition attempt to recapture something of an earlier edition. That was 2000’s “Chivalry and Sorcery: The Rebirth” aka 4th edition. That attempted to marry the new system introduced in 3rd edition with the feel of 2nd edition. Second edition C&S had potential to be something else, something great enough to wrest focus away from the behemoth that was 1st edition, and I think it should be celebrated more.

Firstly, a bit of history. When D&D first come out, in its 3 books in a box, people saw it was not perfect and started to tinker with it.The magic system and the combat system were frequently “house-ruled”. People also had an appetite for a premade world, which seems to have surprised Gary Gygax, who seems to have enjoyed making his own and seen that as part of the game.

Into this enter two Canadians, Ed Simbalist & Wilf Backhaus. They had produced their own manuscript (Chevalier) for an “advanced D&D”. This would reform the game to have a definite place, a feudal society patterned after that of England and France, it would have a more realistic combat system, mages would be students of esoteric lore, rather than support weapon teams and clerics would be part of a functioning religious structure.

C&S 1st edition, the Tolkien influence was strong then

They took this to Gencon in 1977 to try to sell to TSR. They saw Gary Gygax berate a TSR staffer and, in their words, looked at each other and said “not to that guy!”. They ended up selling it to Scott Bizar of Fantasy Games Unlimited, changed the rules away from D&D, renamed it “Chivalry and Sorcery” and a classic was born. This had everything. Character generation included hobbits and more Tolkien-like elves and dwarves, but you could also play as a monster, orc, vampire or the like.

Chivalry and Sorcery included everything. Sets of pre-generated NPG and Monsters over a range of levels. Goblins need not be stuck at level one, dumb targets any more. A range of mage types, some of whom made better NPCs than PCs, Secret Magical Societies. An essay on Feudal economics, essays on Gamesmastering, an entire figure wargame, it was all here, photo-reduced so that 4 typed pages became one eye wrenching page of tiny text. It was more complex than D&D, combat and magic had so many more options, but it also had more depth. It wasn’t as gonzo as D&D, which may be a matter of taste, and it was such an eye-opener on what RPGS could be, that I didn’t play D&D for over 30 years, missing out on AD&D2, D&D3, D&D3.5 and D&D4.

Chivalry and Sorcery 1st edition Sourcebook – Drop the rock

Chivalry and Sorcery served me well, the base settings was expanded with other cultures, including intelligent dinosaurs and crocodile descended people in their on “Lost World”, other facets of medieval life, essays on world creation and games-mastering and the siege game for all society, “Drop the Rock”.

Cover of book one of Chivalry and Sorcery 2nd edition

Then, in 1983, 1 walked into the games shop to find a box on the shelves, a new, 2nd, edition of C&S. Rather than a densely packed single volume of everything, we now had three separate volumes,

  1. Character generation and skills
  2. Chivalry, equipment, the Clergy and Combat
  3. Mages, magic, NPCs, beasts and monsters

And all in text that you could actually read with the unaided human eye. The system had changed slightly, particularly combat which allowed for a D20 alternative to percentile dice , but the first major shock was in character generation.C&S 2 characters did not have the completely random draw from life that C&S 1st characters had. You could design your characters using a point cost system, though you did have a random number of points to buy things with.

And characters had always started off at a random age, but irrespective of age they were level one, assumed to be the same in skill and experience.

No longer. Now we had a system of previous experience based on age (pro-rating) It was complex, as you calculated the experience points you would have gained prior to play, but here was the thing, you used those points to buy skills. Previous experience was not a new idea, Rune Quest,Traveller and DragonQuest all had them, but in a class and level system? The whole point was you had levels. That was your experience. Your previous experience of live was encapsulated by being level one and not level zero.

As for buying skills? Skills previously had been class limited, thieves thieved, knight could use the good weapons and armour and foresters knew when the deer were to hunt. Now characters could buy skills outside their “class”, you could create your fighter with a few spells or thief skills, or a mage who knew one end of a sword from another. They were unlikely to be as good as a specialist, and have their fall range of class skills, but you could have them. My necromancer of Royal birth had the skills at arms expected of a knight, the flip side was that his magical researches went not as advanced as they should have been. C&S stepping away from class and level would continue in 3rd and Rebirth/4th editions, which are more skill based, but Class (Vocations) still matter for the ease with which some skills are learned over others.

This is why I subtitled this as a missed opportunity. You had a strong lineage of a game, well known, if usually as a game people used as a research tool rather than played, revamped as a more responsive character system. Where it did not take off is probably in part due to the reputation for complexity that was still deserved by this second edition.

Comparison of text size of C&S 1st and 2nd editions. The 2nd edition size isn’t that much bigger, but it is bigger enough to make a difference!

Both combat and magic are still involved. This was a deliberate design decision (the player was expected, for example, to be an expert in how spells their character had worked in the system, as almost a live role-playing equivalent of the complexity the character had to go through to shape natural forces. So much so that looking up the rule-book for spell details was forbidden to players of mage characters! This is a definite illustration of the 70s and 80s idea that modelling realism required options and control, but with the downside that events that would have been fast in “real life” took a really long time to work through. C&S was not alone in this, many games of the time had that flaw.

Although I loved this at the time, and we could get through things quickly enough once we had done them a few times, in retrospect I prefer a more streamlined, abstracted approach, even if I am incapable of designing one myself 😉

There are other oddities too. In a Class and level game like D&D, hit points go up with levels as an abstraction of increased defensive skill in a game without defensive skills. C&S has defensive skills, parry, block and dodge, that increase with the experience of the character, so it is a bit silly that Body Points increase with level. I assume a hold over from “Chevalier”. I loved that you could still play as a monster or stereotypically “evil race” such as goblin or troll, that Monastic Fighting Orders were there to explain “Paladins” but I missed the weird esoteric Magical Orders that Mages had had in C&S 1st, long before Ars Magica.

So, what would I like to have seen Ed and Wilf do to nudge it over into perfect. Expand the skills system into a true skill system, use the experience to measure level progression, but also buy skills with that XP, rather than have automatic skill progression in the vocation.  Categorise them by vocation so that you can apply penalties for other vocations learning, but let anyone learn anything. Do away with some of the derived stats like PCF, make them weapons skills purely.

Simplify combat a bit, using the weapon weight/bulk as a factor versus the Strength or Dex of the character to see how many blows they get in. C&S Essence does that sort of thing. Magic would also be a skill but, given my own experience with Essence, I am not sure I can capture what the guys were trying to do with a much simpler system, but I keep on trying.

I recently played a revamped version of RuneQuest 2, one of the other popular non D&D games at the time, and one well regarded for its combat system. That built in the concrpts of the relative speed of characters and weapon, of the potential deadliness of combat, and having been influenced, like C&S, by author experiences with the Society for Creative Anachronism. However I think that time softens the memories somewhat. While combat can be faster if you get some solid hits in, it can also be a long slog, which is actually also true of D&D and C&S. Both those games can have combat speeded up in a number of methods, and C&S has one of those methods, the Critical Hit, as an option. Use that and the combat becomes faster and more deadly. Mages should still steer clear of a fight though.

Chivalry and Sorcery 2nd edition is a good RPG, suffering a bit by its reputation deriving from the 1st edition, and needing a bit more time and care to tweak it. It shows why it engendered so much love that when Steve Turner and Ed Simbalist decided to create 4th edition, they chose 2nd edition as the model, not the extraordinary 1st edition or the more closely related, in terms of system, 3rd.

It is the edition of C&S I turn to when I want to try and capture the flavour of C&S in something I’m writing. It’s the edition I most used when running a play by email game and I so, so need to get a game of this again! Dammit!

Posted in Chivalry & Sorcery, none yet, RPG | Leave a comment

A bump in the hero’s road

Pawr-ambrith looked around the campsite at the wagon guards that were now his comrades. He was the only elf here, possibly the only elf in the Eastern Kingdom, and he knew that elfs were feared as sorcerors and bringers of bad luck.

He sat down on the tail of the wagon to eat the stew he had just been served when he saw Webdav lumber into view. The hulking man had made no secret of his disdain for the elf, and it looked like now was his time to make his move.

Webdav walked past Pawr-ambrith as if he was going to get his own supper before swinging wildly, a rock in his hand. if he had connected then the elf’s brains would be have been splattered across the wagon, but the elf slipped under the swing and aimed a kick at the side of the brute’s knee.

Webdav roared and reached for his club, Pawr-amrith stepped back warily,surreptitiously moving his hand to the hillt of his knife when a look of insight came to Webdav.

The huge man pointed at Pawr-ambrith and roard “NO! Not going to happen to me”.

The elf looked quizzically at the man ans said “what do you mean?”

“You. You are a protagonist! I know how this works out. You beat me somehow with your tricksy elf ways. Then one of two things happen.

“Either the wagon master throws me out. I join your secret enemies and later with them and the servants of the Chaos God and attack you. You brutally slaughter me after some badinage.

“Or, having being beaten by you I gain respect for you and become your friend. Later, when you are being attacked by the servants of the same Chaos God I save your life and, after a few noble or perhaps self-deprecating words, I still die!

“Not going to happen to me elf. you just stay well away from me!”

Having said his piece, Webdav stumped over to get his supper and moved to the other side fo the capfire from Pawr-ambrith.

Pawr-ambrith gave the others a smile but, inwardly he seethed. he would never become a hero of a forumulaic fantasy novel at this rate!

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A night or two of play – Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerors of Hyperborea

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperborea box title

Title from the box of 1st edition

Player’s book cover

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerors of Hyberborea (ASSH) is a fantasy and horror role-playing game set in a world combining the feel of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborean Age with the pulp horror of HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, which is fair enough as that is what Robert E. Howard did. It can be set in any campaign but the default setting is kind of a far future, Dying Earth exhausted world with bits of Moorcock and others thrown in.

Single combat matrix for all classes and levels

Single combat matrix for all classes and levels

It is a “old school” class and level RPG, being modelled after original and Advanced D&D, in both system and book design, but much cleaned up and streamlined, with nice, clear text and better illustrations than the originals tended to have. The combat matrix here, though it looks like one of the tables for Class combat in the old AD&D, works for all classes in a unified table.

ASSH has four main character classes, the usual fighter/magic user/cleric/thief selection, with subclasses for each which are either specialist forms (eg the Illusionist for magic users), or combinations of classes, such as the Warlock fighter subclass who can use magic).

ASSH CHaracter sheet

Character sheet

The ASSH character sheet looks a bit daunting at first, but generating a character is easy and as you do so some of the apparent complexity of the sheet becomes clear. For example the two row table in the middle of the right hand side.Is just your characters chance to hit the various armour classes at your current level. You do not have to consult the chart in the book.

It is typical that my first play of this 1st edition is as the second edition has not long finished its Kickstarter.

Covert to "Rats in the Walls"I am not going to write up the adventure, because it is a commercial adventure, but I want to write about the experience. It is not really a review of the game, but there will be a bit of reviewing going on.

I ran the adventure “Rats in the Walls” which is for 4 to 6 1st level characters. As the title suggests, the adventure involves rodents. This is the first near straight Dungeon crawl I have run in thirty years and it was a fun return to the past.

The first thing you notice is that there is far less that your character is seemingly able to do. There is no shared skill system which any character can tap into, but instead limited skills for each class, Thieves having the most, but any half-decent DM can fudge uncovered skill areas. Want to jump from the balcony to the top of the tent, roll under your Dex minus 4.

The second thing you notice is how fragile 1st level characters are. Yes, as D&D is still a thing, now in its 5th edition, this will not be a surprise to D&D players but as someone who has played other games for the last 34 years the fragility is astounding. One decent, normal hit from a weapon will kill a character. This is why I had each player start with two characters, in case the first one died.

I said that this was a near straight Dungeon crawl, the adventure has two main acts. The first one allows for role-playing and investigation. I confess to a bit of silliness as the innkeeper started off his involvement by intercepting an old man who was moving to the characters’ table and throwing him out before he could give them a quest.

Reactions during play were fun. Magic users getting used to the idea that they do not have power or magic points that regenerate. At level one they can cast one spell a day, more if they have high intelligence, from their stock of three spells that they start the game with.

Combat was quick, as, at least at first level, a decent hit from a normal weapon will kill any but the luckiest character. It might grind at higher levels but, of course, fighters get more attacks per round at higher levels and the squad heavy weapons team, sorry magicians ;), will have more powerful spells.

Here is a good example of ASSH’s streamlining. Rather than an effect based on some formula, the ability of characters to fight/cast magic is given in terms of Fighting Ability/Casting Ability.

Fighting Ability is the marker of skill from which you can check your chance to hit.
Casting Ability is the number of spells you can cast and can affect the power of a spell.

The class level table shows that for each level. For specialists the Ability equals the level but for others the progression is slower.

A 5th level Paladin  (fighter sub-class) at level 5 has a fighting ability of 5.
A 5th level Necromancer has a casting ability of 5 but their fighting ability is only 2.

That Paladin can cast magic, but not until level 7 and then only at Casting Ability 1.

Similarly both Necromancers and Paladins can Turn Undead(*) but less effectively than Clerics.

(*)My wife has always felt that Turn Undead should be just that, become a skeleton, ghoul, lich whatever.

Sven successfully cast "Turn Undead"

Sven successfully cast “Turn Undead”

One thing that took me by surprise,  but maybe should not have since we are not a dungeoneering group usually, was the lack of the old habits I remember from when I was a kid.

Checking any wall, floor or altar for traps, secret doors or hidden features. Thinking back it is amazing that more monsters aren’t alerted by the sound of ten foot poles banging off every surface as the party advance along the corridor.

Neither was there scrabbling around looking for precious monetary treasure, for as we know, what does GP equal, that’s right, XP. Tasty, tasty experience points.

ASSH also gives awards for clever ideas as well as slaugtering foes and stealing their stuff, which I think is always a good idea.

I do have a few niggles. Firstly with the adventure. The maps for the building interiors are tiny, squashed into the page count, but around a table top that might not mater so much, using Roll 20 as we were, cutting and pasting from the PDF did not make for good resolution maps.

ASSH, 1st edition anyway, I believe the 2nd edition will be a single volume, comes with two thick volumes each split into different sections. That means that the contents page for each section is at the start of that section. I would rather that it was all at the front of the book. There is an index, but still and all. There is so much in these books that the PDF

The only other niggle is the spell list. Rather than be listed by class or by level they are listed alphabetically. I think having them split by level and then alphabetically would make things easier to find. This is a minor thing, though having the physical books, as always. is preferable to working just with PDF. This is one I investigated having professionally printed and bound before I was lucky enough to get a boxed set. The only reason I did not buy a boxed set was that it was only available in the US and then you risk a hefty import duty for a boxed game.

Right. Now to prepare for next week’s game, more dark dealings in Hyperborea!

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