Sunday, 11 August 2013

Simple Mass Combat for D&D

In the Icewind Dale game the group will be embroiled in a small war. The militia of Lonely wood will attempt to hold off an alliance of the local Bear and Wolf tribes.

I need an abstract way to resolve this in a quick and satisfying manner. I went with a hack of the Savage Worlds + Legend of the 5 Rings mass combat systems. Here's how it works:

1. Assign Tokens
The stronger force gets 10 tokens and the opposition a number of tokens based on their comparative strength.

[Barbarian tribe has 50 warriors and 10 veterans (each worth 2 men) = 70 men strong verse Lonely Wood's 20 warriors, 40 militia (.5 men) and 5 veterans = 50 strength. Barbarians start with 10 tokens to Lonely Woods 7].

2. Work out adjustments
+1 for each token you have greater than your opponent
-1 if your attacking a defended obstacle
+2 if you have serious magic support
+x for great plans/actions (this bonus should cap at +2)

[Barbarians get +3 for more tokens but -1 for attacking a defended point, Lonely Wood get +2 but only for the first battle round as after that their mage runs out of good spells.]

3. PC and NPC Hero's or serious monsters pick level of engagement

  • Reserves: -5 on their attack roll but take -2d6 less damage. Cannot duel or be involved in a duel.
  • Engaged: normal attack, normal damage from battle. 2 in 6 chance of duel.
  • Thick of things: +5 on attack roll, +1d6 damage. 4 in 6 chance of duel.
4. PC and NPC Hero's and serious monsters make an attack roll
Each hero rolls a standard attack (Base Attack Bonus, Strength, magic weapons etc) to represent their fighting skill/luck over the course of 1/2 an hour to an hour. Add in any bonus or penalty from their level of engagement.

  • <11: overwhelming numbers and bad fortune - take 3d6 damage
  • 11 - 15: +1 to your sides battle roll - take 2d6 damage in the process
  • 16 - 20: +2 to your sides battle roll - take 1d6 damage
  • >20: +2 to your sides battle roll - take no damage
If you want to make the +1's and +2's more interesting you can add the following flavour.

+1 Events: Grab the banner, Attack the supporting troops, Save a wounded comrade, Save a wounded enemy, Get round the flank, Hold the line.

+2 Events: Take enemy banner, Prepare to dig 2 graves (automatic vengeance inspired duel if you want), Hold strong point (notable building), Get clear shot at general, Charge! and make a stand when cut-off.

[In my test battle the barbarians earned +6 from heroic deeds with the PC's earnings +5, Lonely Wood's priest got a 'shot at the general' but missed.]

5. Resolve any Duels
This option is generally only for PC's. Depending on their level of engagement they could have the chance to initiate a duel against a random NPC hero. They could spot their rival, assess the threat to themselves and decide against calling on a duel and there is no harm. If they challenge and their foe declines then things end there but the cowards side takes a -1 to their morale for the rest of the battle. If the duel is accepted fight it out as a normal combat in which no one else interferes.

[In the test battle Jon the PC mariner hacked down a full helmed female combatant and Leif had the opportunity to duel a bear but declined].

6. Calm before the storm
Hero's can receive a single heal spell from friendly clerics or swig a potion if available before things heat up again.

7. Inflict casualties and remove tokens
Each side will have nominated a general who is allowed to fight just like any other hero. Each side rolls a d10 and adds 1/2 the generals fighter levels. Also add or subtract the generals intelligence and wisdom modifier. Finally add any bonuses earned to the battle roll by hero's as well as the starting adjustment.
  • <6 your side inflicts no lost tokens
  • 6 - 10 foe loses 1 token
  • 11 - 15 foe loses 2 tokens (foe loses an extra token for each increase of 5).
[Tormund giant bane, barbarian general rolls 8 adding +2 for 1/2 his fighter level, +6 from his hero's actions and a further +2 for more tokens and attacking a defended point. A total of 18 means the Barbarians remove 3 of Lonely Woods 7 tokens. Leif the PC halfling has been voted general and rolls 4 adding +2 for 1/2 his fighter level, +5 from heroic actions and +2 for magic support. A total of 13 means the defenders of Lonely Wood remove 2 barbarian tokens.]

8. Morale check
The side that lost the most tokens checks morale (standard 2d6 roll under). If both sides lost the same number of tokens both make a morale check. There is a penalty to the morale check of 1 for each token lost. A general's charisma bonus improves their sides morale as can other factors. If a side fails it's morale check by more than 4 then the side routs ending combat. If they fail their morale check then they withdraw and a second battle phase occurs before the battle is completely resolved. If they pass the morale check combat grinds on. Start from the top.

[The tide of battle appears to be with the Barbarians as they inflicted more tokens worth of casualties. The defenders of Lonely Wood make a morale check. Morale for a man is 7 circumstances add +2 for defending an obstacle, +2 for defending their homes and families and -3 for losing 3 tokens. Leif the general needs to roll 8 or less. He rolls a 9 and the defenders of Lonely Wood are pushed out of the town and must commit to another round of combat as they retreat into the woods.]

9. Casualties and recovering tokens once the combat is completely over
Roll a d6 for each token. Winners recover a token on a 4+, Losers on a 5+ and routed troops on a 6. The ratio of tokens lost to starting tokens is the % of troops lost.

[The forces of Lonely Wood were smashed as they fell back. Without the protection of the palisades and Kiernan the wizard having exhausted his spells all their tokens were lost in the final round of battle. A die was rolled for each of the 7 tokens removed and 3 tokens were recovered as a result of some good rolling. The town was lost and roughly half of the defenders slain. The survivors fled to Targos where they regrouped].

Friday, 9 August 2013

Rogue Trader - Space Marine and Imperial Guard free for all!

A few weeks ago Optimus Prime and I went back to where it all began. It seemed fitting given that the Autobot supreme leader was headed overseas. Our miniature obsession started with Rogue Trader. That's not strictly true, for me it started with a pack of 40k mercenaries before moving on to my first set of miniature gaming rules: a lavishly illustrated hard cover version of Rogue Trader. Without rules I was just using the minis as lead action figures; rules made it much more mature. Sadly the books spine went and my copy of Rogue Trader rapidly fell apart but I still loved it.

As we had done as unruly teenagers we rolled up a mission using the charts in the book and employed whatever models we had to hand. The mission saw two rival marine factions vying for control of a water treatment facility that was currently in the hands of an NPC faction of rebellious Planetary Defence Force (PDF).

25 years ago the terrain would have been lego and my Millenium Falcon, these days I have hills and trees. Shame about the esky ice packs that stood in for our water towers.
Note the Red Marines hiding behind a hill. Such cowardice is an affront to the Emperor!
The Planetary Defence Force, an NPC faction, were controlled by random rolls.
The end of turn 1 saw a Blue Marine picked off by a las cannon. 
The end of turn 2 saw more Blue Marines cut down by lasguns. T3 and 4+ power armour isn't great. I also learn the joy of follow-on sustained fire and the rules behind deviating weapons. Both rules changed dramatically through editions.
Take that sustained fire plasma pistol traitor!
A squad of rebels move to intercept the skulking Red Marines picking one off...
... but are trounced in response. A pair of traitors put up a stiff resistance refusing to rout.
The Blue Marines are having a tough day at the office. Their charge is hindered by the ineffectiveness of close combat in this edition.
As a reaction to being charged you can stand and shoot with devastating effect. Seeing his companion shot down this marine breaks and runs. Marines did not become superhuman powerhouses till the next edition.
Going into close combat really hurt the Blue Marines. The guards easily found the weak points in the Emporers finest's armour slaying the remanants of squad two with their combat knives.
With Blue team wiped out Red Team had command of the battlefield. They had lost two battle brothers and had smashed the PDF arrayed before them through a withering display of focussed fire.
The PDF had been intended as an interesting diversion as the two rival marine factions took pot shots at each other. Instead they became the main game and smashed me. Marines aren't that tough to kill in Rogue Trader and the dice certainly weren't with me yet again as my armour saves were atrocious.

It was a fun and fast game. The random mission generator provides plot hooks that make the whole enterprise that much more meaningful. Rogue Trader - still as good today as it was 25 years ago.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Cthulhu post mortem

I’ll be the first to admit that I'm not the best at running a serious game. My style is laid back and I tend to joke around. But this Cthulhu game was a special request for a mate who’s headed overseas. A final roll of the dice with the old crew. You need to be in the right mindset for a Call of Cthulhu session. A few weeks back we weren’t but we soldiered through to the end of a quality scenario - Edge of Darkness.

Where it went wrong:
  • No pre-generated characters prepared. While the players came up with some Cthulhu staple careers: cop, criminal and professor they set the tone of the evening by creating a 100 year old arsonist/butcher, a randy Tom Baker with a mean streak and a wrestler cop that would have been at home in a Naked Gun film were it not for his brutality. When it comes to pre-gens I think including a picture will help players get into character.
  • I started the group separated. Each had a mini roleplay moment as we brought them together at the hospital. This is generally an excuse for players to muck around. It’s why I start all my D&D games these days at the entrance to the dungeon. You need to start the session with a bang to set the tone for the evening.
  • No props. Having the Latin chant prepared that would go on to be used to unsummon the beast would have been a good idea. The ritual is where the tempo of the adventure picks up. It is the heart of this adventure.
  • I didn’t take charge and set the tone from the beginning. While I had read through the adventure twice and taken some notes I felt like I was scrambling. I spent some time going over things and highlighting passages while the players created characters. Things would have gone much better if I had been ready to kick off right from the get go.
Things went well enough but could have gone so much better. Cthulhu needs more prep and player buy in order to be successful than a simple game of D&D.

Enough whining! Here are some things that happened:
  • A police car was parked on the curb across a hospital entrance. It was left with lights flashing and sirens blazing while its owner paid a visit to a dying professor.
  • A grieving son who dared to question who the players were and why they were there was answered with a spear tackle and then handcuffed to a radiator in the hospital hall.
  • Liquorice allsorts (think jelly babies) were employed as both bribes to grease bureaucracies wheels and weapons to be tossed at uncooperative npcs.
  • Doctors were threatened with guns and nurses pelted with liquorice.
  • A small town shop keep was intimidated, threatened with a gun and cajoled in a desperate attempt to get information she simply didn’t have.
  • A homeless man was encouraged to risk his life exploring an attic. He sensibly declined and ran for his life.
  • Our hero cop went mad during the ritual unsummoning at the sight of the living dead.
  • Our criminal hero dismembered the undead farmer’s wife with his shotgun as he targeted each limb systematically. Being a hardened criminal he was not unduly disturbed by his butchery.
  • The good professor ended the scenario with his eyes closed, ears blocked and a tenuous grip on sanity. He had continued the chant through to dawn, banishing the fiend and saving the day.
  • A house was set alight to obliterate the evidence. Arson solves most problems in an rpg.