Monday, November 28, 2011

Book of War: Heroes

Here are the key parts to an extremely important section in Book of War: the rules for Heroes. (Text between the rules below is indicated as Open Game Content per the OGL).


The term "Hero" refers to any special, high-level creature represented by an individual figure on the tabletop. This can include a fighting-man warlord, a fully-grown dragon, an advanced giant-type, and so forth. Creatures should have at least 10 HD to appear as a hero figure at this scale, and characters are assumed to have several bonuses from magic, weapons, and abilities...

Armor: Use the table in the Core Rules to find the hero's AH value; characters with negative ACs are given AH 7. In addition, heroes embedded in a larger unit are effectively immune to non-hero attacks (both melee and missile); acting solo, heroes can be meleed by only 1 normal figure at +1 to hit (due to rear attacks from being surrounded), or missile attacks as usual. Finally, some creatures will be unhittable due to the need for magic weapons (such as elementals, lycanthropes, undead, etc.)

Hits: Compute a hero's HD rating by taking their D&D Hit Dice and dividing by 10 (rounding down); usually this results in just 1 HD. (More precisely, you can divide hit points by the average of 10 hit dice, e.g., 35 for six-sided dice.) Also note that heroes will never check morale.

Attacks: For high-level heroes, the most salient single factor in mass combat is simply their attack rate per round. (At this level, one almost always hits any normal creature automatically, and does at least one full HD damage; therefore, factors such as armor and attack level become irrelevant.) Consider the character's D&D attack rate and see the adjacent table; the result is the number the hero needs to roll on a 6-sided die to score one figure hit. This ignores target AH.


Now, I have long assumed that this section would be the most contentious part of the Book of War rules. The reason is simple: Many players expect that mid-level PCs (say: 4th-8th level or so) can appear on the tabletop as solo figures, and to fight at an advantage against many normal figures. But that's not the case when "normal" figures are at 1:10 scale. Simply put: if a standard figure represents 10 Hit Dice of men, then a Hero must have 10 Hit Dice minimum before they have the equivalent staying power of even 1 "hit" of damage.

Or actually, it should be even worse than that: we've seen that higher Hit Dice are actually devalued in terms of real hits taken (proof one, proof two). Looking at those prior statistics, if we were being completely honest, then it should take a hero of at least 15 Hit Dice to have the equivalent staying power of 10 separate, normal men (i.e., a standard figure with 1 hit). But let's be generous to a fault towards our Heroes, and also for simplicity, we'll just divide D&D hits by 10 and round down. I don't think that many people will complain about giving them this benefit-of-the-doubt.

So in practice, almost all heroes (10+ level knights, barbarians, giants, dragons, etc.) will appear in the game with just 1 hit; although they might have fairly high armor, they will be eliminated as soon as they take a single hit in the Book of War 1:10 scale. Lone heroes (esp. in melee) go down about as fast as any other figure type; the game is quickly lethal to them, so you should plan on protecting heroes with an entourage, or using the monstrous types -- especially dragons -- as a powerful single-shot attack mechanism. (Also: Treating dragon breath as an area-of-effect attack, then at this transformed scale they effectively need to be in contact with the enemy to make a useful special attack.) If your expectation is that a pricey hero is going to mow down dozens of figures (i.e., hundreds of normal men), then you'll be a bit disappointed when that doesn't occur.

Why is the standard player expectation any different than this? Well, I would assert that almost all previous D&D-type wargame rules have more-or-less intentionally obscured the facts of hero efficacy, in the interest of artificially inflating the importance of these fantasy great men. Here are some ways in which that was done:
  • First, Chainmail Fantasy rules (1975) were really at man-to-man scale (1:1). Therefore, the heroes and superheroes found there (4th and 8th level fighters) could reasonably take out many of the normal men against which they faced, and this tradition colored what came later. But at 1:10 scale it would be a very different situation. Gygax was always consistent about this (see here).
  • Although you wouldn't know it from the trade dress or artwork, the Warhammer Fantasy wargame is also based on a man-to-man, 1:1 scale, and so again individual heroes can make a significant difference. Quote: "Scale: In Warhammer each model represents a single warrior, monster, machine or whatever, whilst an inch on the tabletop is equivalent to about five feet in real life -- the same as the scale height of the models themselves." [Warhammer 6th Ed., p. 279, 2000]
  • Gygax in the 1:10 scale Swords & Spells rules said this: "So if one opponent has a lone hero (4th level fighting man) facing several figures of men-at-arms (or orcs or similar 1 hit die creatures)... the hero will... sustain damage until sufficient hits are scored upon the figure to kill the hero." [S&S, p. 1, 1976] But what's left hazy and unsaid is that this will occur automatically on the very first turn of combat (if you do the math; noting that there is no random method in core S&S).
  • Doug Niles in the Battlesystem ruleset was at least a bit more honest about the situation: he wrote, "From a mathematical perspective, the attributes of heroes in a BATTLESYSTEM scenario are inflated beyond those of creatures in the units surrounding them. However, the conversion is based on the assumption that there is an intangible quality to heroism that exceeds the hero's worth as a fighting machine." [Battlesystem Miniatures Rules, p. 106, 1989] By my calculations, Niles' heroes have been multiplied by about ×5 the endurance from what they really have in D&D.

I suppose an additional reason why people might presume super-powerful hero-types, especially for monsters, is that you may be using very large miniatures for creatures like giants and dragons (that is, in the same scale as the other miniatures that we use to represent 10 men each). These very-large miniatures will visually give the impression that they should be worth the same as many normal figures, when that's not really the case. Suggestion: You may want to procure smaller-than-normal figures (10mm scale?) for the solo giant monsters you'll be using in your game, to more accurately reflect the actual space taken and overall power level. Of course, that's not a requirement as long as all players understand their actual profile.

But where are all the 4th and 8th level "heroes" in BOW, then? Well, if you read my Design Notes in the book (or really, any classic edition of D&D), you'll note that fighters of about that level are already presumed as leaders, scattered among the normal men on a pro-rated basis anyway. For example, looking at the 1E AD&D DMG p. 30-31, we see that there is a serjeant of 1st-level for each 5 or 10 men (i.e., 1 or 2 included in each of our figures at BOW scale); a lieutenant of 2nd-3rd level per like number of figures (20-30 men); and a captain of level 5-8 for each 100-160 men (10-16 figures). Broadly similar numbers can likewise be seen in the monster listings for men in OD&D (Vol-2, p. 5), 1E (MM p. 66-69), and even 3E (MM, various humanoid entries).

Surely, we're not going to individually simulate the large number of officer-level types included among all of our normal troop figures; and so, it would be artificial and silly to include a single fighter of 4th level on the table just because they're a favored PC (and also they don't have the staying power of even a normal 1-HD figure; and they would also have an attack output deficiency when compared to 10 men fighting normally). So on top of the statistical endurance issue described further up, it also seemed to be in synch with the D&D demographic tradition to abstract away all of these automatic officer-types, and only feature solo heroes when the get to 10th level or above. And one more thing: restricting ourselves to such high levels made for the very elegant attack mechanic (effectively ignore all enemy armor) seen above.

So, in contrast to the long tradition of artificially-inflated and obscured "hero" types on the wargaming table, I've written this part of Book of War -- in accordance with my own demeanor and interests -- as a bit of a "brutal truth" in regards to how D&D heroes would function on the large-scale battlefield. Among other things, it satisfied my personal curiosity as to "what would really happen", whereas the prior D&D-branded products always raised my hackles that something didn't quite add up right. It's actually been quite a relief and a satisfaction to finally see how those interactions would play out, and even if it's surprising to you, I would recommend that you try it out by the book if at all possible.

If you then still have an overwhelming urge to see epic "above and beyond" heroes, even in contradiction to their D&D-specified power levels, then you can of course follow the path of Doug Niles and others by arbitrarily inflating hero powers to whatever level you find satisfactory -- although at that point you'll need to change all of the price-balancing yourself. I'm hoping, however, that you'll see the many good reasons to avoid that kind of artificial bias in your D&D-based fantasy wargaming.

7 comments:

  1. A very well reasoned argument. Also, it explains another reason for 'Name level' PCs to start gaining followers, men-at-arms, etc.

    I've always had the thought that the reason high level play suffers so much in high-level play is that at name level the PCs should start creating a 'barony,' 'temple, or what have you. Why? Because I feel like the Lake Geneva crew (and Dave and Bob) were using the campaign events as 'scenario builders' for minis. These guys weren't just role-playing; they were coming from a wargaming background and this isn't something they just dropped.

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  2. Off-topic: One thing that BoW has convinced me of is that D&D is way too generous on missiles. Your statistical analysis seems correct, but missiles seem too effective at the mass scale.

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  3. So how does a figure representing Alexander and his companions work? (Rather than just Alexander or just 10 heavy cavalry.)

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  4. Thanks for the comments!

    Anthony -- Totally agreed. It's an additional nice synchronization that BOW heroes basically start at Name level.

    Faoladh & Alex -- I definitely agree that man-to-man shooting in D&D at long range is ridiculously easy (although rather more reasonable when shooting at a big mass target: as the mechanic started out in Chainmail). And I also think that it's exacerbated by the very low value given to shields in D&D, especially versus arrows (although that's not something I wanted responsibility to "fix" on my own).

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  5. Alex J. said: "So how does a figure representing Alexander and his companions work? (Rather than just Alexander or just 10 heavy cavalry.)"

    Basically, I include what I call the "Entourage" rule, in which a single figure can represent both a high-level hero and a regular group of 10 "royal bodyguards" or whatever. They take up the same space and simply fight & act just as they would independently (the entourage is indicated by a removable tag/flag on the figure)

    This seemed important to me, because there's so many spells & abilities in D&D that can entirely wipe out a bunch of low-level guys, but leave a high-level hero in their midst standing (or even unscratched). For example: Sleep, confusion, death spell, fireball, etc. So it seems to me generally infeasible to somehow glue their hit dice together and act like they're a single entity.

    One advantage I specified is that the hero in this case counts as "embedded" (effectively immune to non-hero attacks; because the guards keep sufficient attackers away), and also they can refuse "special combat" if they so choose (i.e., need to cut down the guards before the hero is necessarily vulnerable).

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  6. Delta, if you were DM'ing a campaign, and your PCs wanted to participate in a combat that would use BOW, how would you resolve the issues between the various types of classes/characters within a figure (assuming the PCs had a party size of 10 characters/followers/hirelings)?

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