Friday, December 11, 2009

No Scale in Man-to-Man Combat

I've said it before, but I've had it highlighted for me again recently. There are no scales given in Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat (corollary: same for the Fantasy Supplement), and I think that it's Gygax's single most fundamental oversight in the design of the original game. In any other miniatures context he's careful to specify the key 3 scales (figure, distance, and time). But the whole issue is conspicuously absent from the Chainmail Man-to-Man rules.

This caused a lot of grief over the years, IMO. First of all, the lack of figure scale made it unclear that the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement was actually for man-to-man action only (1:1), not mass combat, and thereby contributed to the faulty notion that original D&D had a mass-land-combat wargame included. Secondly, the lack of a distance scale precipitated a pretty short-sighted hack to OD&D that 1" = 10 feet (an evolution of Chainmail's 1" = 10 yards); this resulted in 25mm miniatures not actually fitting into a proportional space on a map, and really crazy convolutions like AD&D's DMG p. 10 (where it is specified that when using miniatures, ground scale should actually be mapped out at 1" = 3⅓ feet!). Thirdly, the lack of a time scale likewise caused Chainmail's mass combat turn (1 turn = 1 minute) to be carried over directly to D&D; and while this was entirely reasonable for Chainmail's 1:20 scale, it was frankly entirely unreasonable for man-to-man (1:1) swordplay and bowfire, again resulting in long-winded and unconvincing justification attempts in places like AD&D's DMG p. 61.

As much as I try to give priority to the original versions of the D&D rules, and hew to them as closely as possible, this trio of scaling issues is the #1 item that I simply cannot accept in OD&D and/or AD&D. It's the principal reason that miniatures never really worked all that well in classic D&D tactical play. I do feel that Holmes went in the right direction with a 1 round = 10 seconds time scale, and 3E was in fact a relief to allow 1" = 5 feet ground scale, thereby matching the miniatures we've always used. If Gary had only considered the issue more carefully when writing the original 2 pages of Chainmail Man-To-Man Combat, or sometime shortly thereafter.

17 comments:

  1. Err... "Holmes turn" or "Holmes round" - A Holmes combat turn is 100 seconds (Ten 10 second rounds).

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  2. Fair enough, I've gotten used to OD&D using "turn" interchangeably for both. Fixed it in the post.

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  3. I actually prefer the 10' scale, and would rather dispense with the 25mm miniatures than use a 5' scale. I just use tokens, coins, checkers, whatever, and stack them up when multiple characters or monsters occupy the same 10' space. And with a 10' scale, I can fit four times as much dungeon or battlefield on my gridded mat before I have to erase anything.

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  4. I have long hated the mess that are D&D map scales, but I like 10' squares. 5' squares makes every map huge!

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  5. I am still not convinced that the Fantasy Supplement is only for man-to-man combat. It seems to me that 1:1 combat was intended to be used when heroes or individuals were involved, and 1:20 (or whatever) scale was used whenever they were not.

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  6. That one's pretty hard to swallow with all the evidence we've seen in the last month or so.

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  7. Seems to me that is what is being suggested in Dragon #1, but I am out of the loop as regards this evidence. What did you have in mind?

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  8. S&S p. 1; OD&D Vol. 3, p. 25; Wargamer's Newsletter #127, etc.

    http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2009/12/problem-with-endgame.html

    http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/12/1972-gygax-article.html

    Re: Dragon #1, I'm assuming you're referring to the "Battle of Five Armies" by Larry Smith, which is "modified from the Chainmail rules by Gary Gygax". The stuff mentioned above is all directly by Gygax and is quite consistent.

    Smith's possible misinterpretation of Chainmail is a superb case study of the kind of misreading I talked about in my 12/5 post.

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  9. I have read those articles, doesn't seem like a whole lot of evidence to me. I would say Smith was doing pretty much what was intended with Chain Mail to play as it indicates the game is supposed to play.

    Anywho, I do not want to get into a lengthy discussion of this in your comments section, so I have started a thread over at the OD&D boards. Suffice to say at this juncture, that I think that this is a post facto misunderstanding of the rules.

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  10. Well, personally I've got to take Gygax writing "The FANTASY SUPPLEMENT written for CHAINMAIL assumed a man-for-man situation." on S&S p. 1 as authoritative.

    Not the only place I saw him write that, too. On top of that, acting like some of Chainmail is 1:20 and some is 1:1 doesn't make any mathematical sense (as I've written earlier).

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  11. Well, the thing is you are ignoring the rest of what is said in Swords & Spells, where it is clear that Chain Mail was being used by Gygax with the fantasy supplement to fight larger than 1:1 battles. Indeed, when Gygax played Battle for the Moathouse back in 2006 using the Chain Mail rules it was fought on a scale of 1:10 with 1:1 heroes.

    It is all very well to say that the Fantasy Supplement was written on the basic assumption of 1:1 combat, but the way Chain Mail was set up was as guidelines to handle several different scales. In fact, it often makes zero sense in its translation of scale between 1:20, 1:10 and 1:1.

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  12. "Well, the thing is you are ignoring the rest of what is said in Swords & Spells, where it is clear that Chain Mail was being used by Gygax with the fantasy supplement to fight larger than 1:1 battles."

    I don't see any quotes for that, and many statements by Gygax that the opposite was true.

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  13. As I say, I do not think this comments section is a suitable forum for a full rebuttal or continuing debate, so I will direct you to the thread I started in the OD&D forums: Fantasy Supplement Scale

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  14. One problem with deciding that "fantasy combat was always meant to be man-to-man": Hobbits.

    Chainmail 3rd edition says of hobbits: "They can fire a stone as far as an archer shoots, and because of their well known accuracy, for every two Hobbits firing count three on the Missile Fire table."

    WHich is a clear reference to the Mass Combat missile fire rules, and there's no indication, anyhwere, as to how one is to adapt that to the man-to-man missile fire rules, which of course are totally different.

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  15. "Which is a clear reference to the Mass Combat missile fire rules, and there's no indication, anyhwere, as to how one is to adapt that to the man-to-man missile fire rules, which of course are totally different."

    No, this isn't specific to Hobbits. This is one of the "gotchas" that trick people, that all of the combat with mundane figures refer back to those tables, even though they're being used in a 1:1 scale.

    I pointed this out in my Dec-5 post, paragraph 5, item (4).

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  16. Y'know, I keep seeing things like this and I think that was Sham (over at Sham's Grog and Blog) did was correct: We need to keep reading these old texts over and over until we actually see what they say.

    I don't mean to bust your chops on Christmas, but here's a case in point: Here is the first paragraph of the Man to Man rules from Chainmail 3rd ed, 7th printing:

    "Instead of using one figure to represent numerous men, a single figure represents a single man. Use this system for small battles and castle sieges. When using the Man-To-Man combat system all preceding rules apply, except where amended below."

    So what I get from this is:

    Figure scale: 1 figure = 1 man.

    Ground scale: Preceding rules apply.

    Time scale: Preceding rules apply.


    In other words, I respectfully disagree with your premise. But I do like what you have to say in general, so I'll have to add you back onto my blogroll (I can't remember why I ever took you off...)

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  17. I'll stick to my statement that "There are no scales given in Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat".

    And the most important issue is again that most people don't realize that the Fantasy Supplement is a subset of Man-to-Man Combat (1:1).

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