Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book of War Expansion: Knight Exemplar


My good blade carves the casques of men,

My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
[Alfred, Lord Tennyson]


The Book of War Heroes section has details and pricing on a sample selection of individual knights, barbarians, dragons, and giants; each, of course, tenth level or above.

Now, by "knights" I'm indicating high-level pure fighting-men, and these were actually statted out with an eye towards the AD&D Deities & Demigods Arthurian Legends section (including "Knights Renown" at 10th-level, and "Knight Commanders" at 15th-level, like Arthur himself). With "barbarians" I meant fairly high-level multiclassed fighter/thieves, in the same vein that Gygax statted out Conan at various ages in Dragon Magazine #36, April 1980 (including the "Barbarian Lord", Ftr12/Thf8, as Conan age 25; and the "Barbarian King", Ftr16/Thf12, as Conan at age 30).

In each case, I transformed the characters into my OED minor house modifications to OD&D, and tried to make some reasonable interpolations for magic gear and the like. Because of this, even with very conservative assumptions for magic arms and armor (like just +1 plate and shield for Fighters level 10), most of these characters get converted to Book of War at AH7, i.e., nominally unhittable by any normal men rolling the usual d6 to attack (as is correct in OD&D for any AC lower than -1; and even if you use an "extended natural 20" rule from AD&D or the like, then the chance to hit is still statistically negligible).

But fortunately, this is balanced by the fact that if a lone hero confronts a mass of men, they'll be surrounded, with every edition of D&D giving bonuses for rear attacks in such a situation. Hence the key rule: "acting solo, heroes can be meleed by only 1 normal figure at +1 to hit (due to rear attacks from being surrounded)" [BOW p. 13], which allows normal troops to hit even AH7 solo heroes if they roll a 6. Here's a spreadsheet where I did the analysis in both OD&D and AD&D to see that +1 in BOW was the appropriate bonus in this case (.xls format):


Now, as careful as we might try to be with those statistics, things can still get a bit wonky when you face off hero-against-hero in our reduced BOW mechanic -- especially since heroes can have so many special abilities and varying attacks and armor (the "heroes ignore armor" simplification does break down a bit when confronting other heroes with really out-of-this-world AC values). Therefore I include the suggestion for "Special Combat" on p. 14: when heroes contact other heroes, it might be best to switch back to regular D&D-scale combat and play out that particular engagement at full precision (an idea common to both Swords & Spells and Battlesystem, for example).

I actually don't do that in my own standalone games (particularly with non-expert gamers, it's simplest to just resolve everything with the one BOW mechanic, instead of additionally instructing them in more detailed and time-consuming D&D play). I think that you would especially want to do that in the case when you've got important backstoried PCs and NPCs taking part in the battle. In any event, if you want to run "Special Combat" you'll need detailed statistics in order to run the man-to-man battle. To that end, here's a document specifying stat blocks for each of the human Heroes appearing in Book of War, along with research notes on where they come from (.pdf document; stat blocks within are Open Game Content):


So finally, looking closely at those preceding documents, you'll see another hero type that was included for a while, and then finally cut from the official release. This would be the "Knight Exemplar", representing the world's finest fighting man of 20th level or so -- either Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad, and none other, per the AD&D Deities & Demigods book.

This is a problematic figure for the game, because his armor winds up converting to AH8, that is, truly unhittable by any normal man (notwithstanding the rear-attacks bonus mentioned above). So the "Knight Exemplar" is a hero who really can smash through a mundane army of practically any size, with standard troops utterly helpless to do anything about it. This presents a real price-balancing dilemma: regardless of cost, this guy wins versus any normal men; and the game is then really dependent on whether the enemy can bring elite-types or opposing heroes (or a dragon or wizard?) into play against him. It seemed pretty likely that this august personality could possibly break the whole game if players had unfettered access to him, which is why he was removed from the final publication.

But here he is presented below, for your consideration, if someone like this comes into play in your battles. The cost is possibly tentative, but it's the best that I could extrapolate. Note that, like other knights, he is given the best possible attack score due to his "Great Cleave" -- ability to hit as many normal men as he can reach (i.e., D&D attack rate as 3+/round, and so score a hit on 1+, as shown in the hero's "Atk" column). Use with caution! (Text between the rules is indicated as Open Game Content, per the OGL.)


Hero

Cost

MV

AH

HD

Atk

Dam

Notes

Knight Exemplar

80

12

8

2

1

4

Magic sword, lance, horse


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.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Super Saturday: People in Your Neighborhood Pt. 1


Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?

In your neighborhood? In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?

The people that you meet each day


It's been about 5 years now since I moved from New England, where I grew up, to Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Obviously I was pretty ignorant of the whole concept of different New York neighborhoods, locations, and geography until I moved here -- and so all of the New York references baked into classic superhero comics, by the original creators who were born and bred here, were entirely lost on me growing up. It's only in the last few years when I go back and re-read some of the classic issues that can I pick up on all of the local color and specifics: sometimes it's even a bit jarring how close to home they hit, literally.

Here's one, a discovery from my favorite run of my favorite creator with my favorite superhero -- In Walt Simonson's 1980's run on The Mighty Thor, one of the very first things he does is to discard the mortal identity of lame-legged doctor Don Blake (giving the transformation power instead to newcomer Beta Ray Bill), and then he has Thor turn to SHIELD for a new civilian identity (which is just Thor in work clothes and glasses). He also needs a new job and dwelling: although as Nick Fury tells him, "I got an apartment for ya, but ya haveta settle fer Brooklyn. Even SHIELD can't find nothin' in Manhattan". [Thor #341, p. 7].

So he winds up in Bay Ridge:


He's in a third-floor apartment (just like I am), off an avenue that looks pretty much just the same as the one near me (maybe a bit wider):


Now, one of the freaky things around here is that this fall, a new guy started waiting tables at the bar/restaurant on the corner of our block, and this guy is totally the spitting image of Chris Hemsworth. It's so completely uncanny that I'm entirely distracted whenever I go there to eat now:


So apparently that's one of the super-people in my neighborhood, and I've got to say that's pretty darned cool.


Hey, come on now -- my bedroom looks exactly like that and you don't hear me complaining!


[Pages from The Mighty Thor #343, p. 24; #344, p. 6; #373, p. 4 by Walt Simonson]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book of War: Unit Setup

The Book of War Basic Rules start play like this (text between rules is indicated as Open Game Content, per the OGL):


Initially, units are selected for each player. Initiative is rolled by 2d6 for each player (high roller acts first in each stage of setup; re-roll any ties). Terrain is set up on the playing surface, units are placed in formation, and then the first turn begins.



The way I've got it written in the book, terrain is determined by random method, and goes back-and-forth between the players, as they roll and place each piece of terrain. After that, I can think of perhaps 3 different ways to handle placement of each player's army:
  1. All At Once: One player sets up the entirety of their army on one side of the table, then the other player does the same. This is actually what's intended in the book.
  2. Screen In Middle: A screen could be temporarily set up in the middle of the table, blocking the view from either side; then players setup simultaneously and unseen.
  3. Piecewise Placement: One player places a single unit; then the opposing player places one unit; and so forth until all units have been placed.

Sometimes experienced wargamers are a bit surprised that what I'm officially suggesting is go with method #1, All At Once. For example: to my understanding, Warhammer usually uses a method like #3 -- and in fact that's what I originally started doing in early drafts and playtests for the Book of War game.

But that was found to have several drawbacks. First and foremost, it creates a delay in starting the game that I personally found quite aggravating; as each unit is placed, a lot of chess-like thought and time can possibly be spent as each player analyzes the evolving setup and decides on their next placement (by instead doing it "all at once", each player does a single step of board analysis, and then deploys one coherent setup strategy). Secondly, you basically need another side table to stage the miniature figures of each army beforehand, so that you can keep track of what has and what hasn't been officially placed yet (we found that trying to do it all on one table was confusing and error-prone; whereas with the "all at once" method a player can just move all their units to the desired start locations and then announce "I'm done"). Third, if you were to go in unit-by-unit sequence, then that requires advance specification of exactly what "unit" groupings will be used, which is a further complication and delay (as opposed to method #1, in which a player can just take a pile of figures, setting them in units and location as desired in the single step).

Obviously, the intent behind the Warhammer-style method like #3 would be to smooth out and balance army setup, such that neither side gets a big advantage (especially, by seeing how the first side deploys, and the second responding to it); but as I say, when we playtested it, we got really impatient, because that phase of setup took so much longer than any other (like on the order of the actual gameplay itself!). So then I suppose you could do what I suggest for #2 above; use a screen for simultaneous setup, which is certainly a balanced method, but requires some kind of large screen, and is perhaps logistically not very practical.

So the final thing about using method #1 is that any advantage to the second-deployer (and surely, there is one) is inherently counter-balanced in that the other person then gets first move, which presents its own significant benefits in Book of War play (as I've written before, getting first strike is very desirable, and sometimes even the very first move-attack sequence will serve to rout units of the opponent). In fact, to date, I certainly don't have any strong evidence that one is significantly better than the other. Granted, most of the games I play are on a relatively small table (3×3 feet), and thus it's sometimes possible for missile attacks to reach a target on the very first turn -- but I presume that a longer table would wind up reducing the benefit from both first move and second setup (not able to attack on first turn; but each being able to change configurations before contact the enemy).

In any case, all of methods #1, #2, and #3 seem completely reasonable depending on different players' tastes, and should certainly be accepted as possible variants for Book of War play. Me, I like to get to the action as soon as possible, and the "all at once" method even has its own balancing benefit, as we've found. Can you think of any good alternatives that I missed?

Monday, November 21, 2011

First Google+ Game

Subtitle -- In Which Delta Actually Plays D&D (And Not As DM)

So last weekend I queued up for my first old-school D&D game via the Google+ video chat facility. Very nice; technically it worked without a hitch for me, and was much smoother and easier to run than I expected. This was with my good friends from Boston, with whom I had my longest-running regular weekly D&D game from 2000-2005 or so.

Familiar Feelings:
  • D&D really is goddamned fun to play!
  • I think we all continue to become better D&D players, and it's really a pleasure to watch happen. Truly it has been said, "Superior play makes the game more enjoyable for all participants" (Gygax in the AD&D PHB, p. 109)
  • One of the key play tips that I'm reminded of: Don't keep any surprises from your fellow players. When we were first playing together about 10 years ago, many of us (including me) we fall prey to a "cinematic" desire where we'd pull some special tactic in a fight that no one else knew about, and get some spotlight moment where everyone was agog at our PC. Don't do that. Like any sporting group, the rest of your team needs to know about any special moves, feats, spells, secrets, equipment, or plans that might come into play: that way, they can plan and likely improve on your idea. We're so much better at this now than we were before.

New Observations:

  • I spent some time playing solo D&D in the last year, and I think that very much paid dividends in how I built and equipped my PC. If possible, I might recommend that anyone go through the old-school meat grinder in which they expect to lose a score of PCs or more, very quickly. I've got a whole folder-full of dead solo PCs that I used up -- and every time I did so, I picked up some new lesson that I should keep in mind while playing D&D, or the surprising effectiveness of some minor item on the OD&D equipment list.
  • Target 20 doesn't look any different to the players than 3E-style ascending armor class. I was somewhat surprised that I've been using "Target 20" for a few years now, and this never occurred to me until another DM ran it, with me as a player. In either case, the player rolls d20, adds attacks bonus, and tells that to the DM, who does the rest. The difference is really in whether the DM utilizes old-school, one-digit AC stats (adding & comparing to 20 on the fly), or new-school, double-digit AC stats (subtracting old AC from 20 and documenting that in advance).
  • Roles are not synonymous with classes. Of course, the new-new-school rage is to talk about WoW-style "roles" -- which aggravates me right off the bat, because it's yet another step away from concrete, in-world language and descriptions ("tank" and all that). But even if you accept that, what struck me in this game is how it's a misunderstanding to think that original D&D classes were locked into any particular party roles. In our game, we had two 2nd level dwarven fighters -- one a heavily-armored, slow, front line shield man; the second lightly-armored, quick, crossbow-focused, and highlighting dwarven scouting/ listening/ detection abilities. Exact same OD&D race and class; two totally different party roles.

Technical Items:

  • In setting up a webcam for the very first time ever, I was somewhat frustrated by my inability to find any way to technically test it before going online with others. After the fact, I found a very nice website that would do that: TestMyCam.
  • Knowing that Google now wants to force consolidation of all your accounts with them, I actually made a new email address just for use with Google+ to prevent that. Call me a privacy nut if you like; it's not paranoia if they're really out to get ya. :-)


A very nice game, and a very nice tool! Unfortunately, due to time constraints a computer setup issues in my apartment, it's unlikely that I'll be able to do this on a "constant" basis. But hopefully some more games will occur in the future.

Read the other guys' takes:


Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Night Book of War

Here's a Book of War game from earlier this summer, in which I opted to use a bunch of "giant class" monsters (orcs, ogres, and hill giants), while my opponent fielded an army of normal men. See how that worked out:


Start -- Basic Rules with Advanced Fantasy Troops; 200 points. At the top you can see my opponent's army -- she's decided to take a large number of regular crossbows, plus some horse archers on the far end. The random terrain has come up with a Stream, a Marsh, and a patch of Rough ground. At the bottom you see my army: A spearhead of 4 Ogre figures (40 ogres), 1 Hill Giant figure (10 giants), surrounded by groups of Orcish Medium Infantry (chain mail, AH 5).

Terrain was set up first, then my opponent's army (she won initiative), and then my army set up in response. My army is all-melee, my opponent's is all-missile troops, and the terrain very much favors the missiles (all of it slows me down, but none of it provides any cover, as opposed to a wood, hill, etc.) I've decided to set up my ogres as a "blocking" force, with the giants behind, and hoping that I can punch through with that group and into contact before they're all shot down.



Turn 1 -- Opponent goes first; she charges ahead with the horse archers, and shots from them and some of the crossbows have already knocked out several figures of orcs, and in fact routed two of those units. Not cool.


Turn 2 -- Here I've moved ahead, with ogres & giants trying to march through the easiest corner between the marsh & rough; while my orcs on the far right are halfway wading through the stream (and you can see the remnant of one of the groups routing off the table). My opponent has mostly remained still so she can freely shoot at my approaching monsters -- crossbows slightly repositioned so as to form a "circle of death".



Turn 3 -- Two moves later, and I've finally gotten the ogres into contact with the enemy, delivering a single hit. I've lost two ogre figures along the way, although the giants have been protected from hits so far. Meanwhile, the enemy horse archers have mostly devastated the orcs in the stream; one unit has advanced through the stream and is circling around the back of the field. I also have a unit of orcs struggling through the bad part of the marsh.



Turn 4 -- The enemy fires. Something that my opponent does regularly, which I try to avoid at all costs: Fire into melee at her own troops. Per the Book of War rules, this splits the shooting attack dice against each unit involved in a melee (anyone within 3"). So I don't like to spend half my attack against my own guys, but my opponent routinely does this and accepts the collateral damage. Here she's charged crossbows into melee, getting their attacks, and then following up with shooting (from both crossbows and horse archers), getting more hits against both me and her own forces in red. I'm down to one unit of ogres; the hill giants have taken 4 hits (out of 8); and the orcs in the marsh are all dead, too.



Turn 6 -- With the opponent's aggressive stance, every one of her figures is getting to make attacks against my remaining forces each turn. The giants go down one turn, and the ogres the next. Victory for the opponent! And disaster for me.



Postscript -- This was a fairly lopsided game, and pretty much a "perfect storm" against the monster army that I was trying to test out. My opponent: (1) made a brilliant meta-game decision to pick all missile troops, (2) received completely ideal terrain, that slowed down my movement, while giving her free range of fire, and (3) had pretty much perfect setup and tactical use of her forces (no mistakes that I could spot). End result: All my guys got mowed down pretty mercilessly. So I guess that's exactly the position you want to be in if you're leading an army of men against primitive monsters; but I can think of plenty of other situations in which things would have been more dangerous for the men. We shall see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book of War Expansion: Giants Galore

In the published version of Book of War, in the Advanced Rules section on fantasy troop types, there is only one generic type of giant listed (i.e., hill giants). For some time I had other types of giants included there, but relatively late in the process I decided it was better for thematic and space purposes to replace them with other stuff. Below, you'll see the other giant types that appear in the OD&D Vol-2, Monsters & Treasure book. Perhaps what's really interesting here are the prices; most of the other statistics are converted directly from by-the-book D&D. (Text between the rules below is hereby indicated as Open Game Content.)


Unit Cost MV AH HD Notes
Giants, Stone 60 12 5 9 Throw stones, damage 2
Giants, Frost 65 12 5 10 Throw stones, damage 2, cold-immune
Giants, Fire 70 12 5 11 Throw stones, damage 2, fire-immune
Giants, Cloud 80 12 5 12 Throw stones, damage 3, detect invisible

Giants: Most giants throw stones at ROF 1, range 20", damage 2. Stone giants specially have damage 3 on throwing attacks. Cloud giants can detect any hidden or invisible foes within 6" with their keen sense of smell.


Keep in mind: Each type above represents a mass troop at 1:10 scale -- that is, as usual, each figure purchased represents a team of 10 giants working together. Solitary giants should cost about one-tenth as much -- and in fact, several such types do appear in the published book section on Heroes (where I felt they were a better fit for the advanced giant types of Frost, Fire, etc.; and where they play off nicely against special attack forms such as dragon breath and wizard spells). We've analyzed the giants' throwing stones ability before (here, here, and here). Also, I've used the mass Frost Giants to attack the Keep several times in my Siege on the Borderlands using these rules (here and here). And finally: Storm Giants are a special case -- they did not appear in D&D until Sup-I Greyhawk; they have special abilities beyond the scope of the ones above; and I'll leave their discussion for a later time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book of War: Advanced Rules

The Book of War Basic Rules present a simple, complete game on their own that can be played without any advance knowledge of D&D (although it is a product of extrapolating from those rules). The Advanced Rules basically provide a mechanism to take any D&D creature type and more-or-less instantly start running it in a mass combat situation -- for example: when you are surprised by a random encounter roll with 40-400 goblins or the like. Here you'll see the kernel of those conversion rules from page 10. (Text between the rules below is hereby indicated as Open Game Content.)


One of the guiding principles of this ruleset is to make converting any creature type from the FRPG as simple as possible. Many of the most notable types are presented further below, with appropriate costs. Here are the primary guidelines for such conversions:

Movement Values and Hit Dice are the same as presented in the FRPG rules (and recall that all large creatures gain +1 to hit per 3 HD, as per the Core Rules). Armor Hit values can be converted by looking at the table in the Core Rules section and correlating AC to equivalent leather, chain, or plate types (or alternately, see Optional Rules: Exact Armor). Ranges for missile attacks are also as per the FRPG.

Monsters with extra attacks gain an equivalent number of dice when attacking. Likewise, creatures that do 2 or more dice of damage (say, giants) score that number of hits with each successful attack, but this is limited by the target's HD. For example, a 2-dice attack against a 1-HD target scores just 1 hit; that is, a normal man can't be squashed more than once by a giant's melee attack.


So I think that's pretty simple, in that the game fundamentally just uses the same stats that you'll already be looking at in places like OD&D Vol-2 (with a switch from AC→AH for the easy-to-apply-in-mass ascending target on d6). Note that for simplicity, I just ignore any incremental hit point bonuses (e.g., ogres just appear as HD4, trolls as HD6). The damage-limitation above has come to be referenced as the "no rollover minutes" rule. Also: In the book, this section presents the rule for converting cavalry, which we discussed previously.

Special abilities may require some further thought or massaging in order to elegantly play out in our wargame scale. For example, orc/goblin types have "light weakness" which indicates a -1 to morale in sunny weather (the D&D -1 to hit is negligible at our divide-by-3 scale). Regeneration such as for trolls it accounted by removing 1 hit per figure engaged in combat (at the time of the trolls' morale phase; which is sort of in exchange for them being fearless by default). And of course, the infravision possessed by all non-men/halflings can be extremely important during a night or underground engagement.

I included details for a stock variety of fantasy soldier-types -- specifically, I wanted to at least cover all the types that appear as men-at-arms options in D&D (such as OD&D Vol-3, p. 23 and other places). Divided into alignment categories, and each with a few different equipment profiles, they include: Lawful -- Halflings, elves, and dwarves; and also elite (3rd level) men, halflings, elves, and dwarves; Chaotic -- goblins, orcs, gnolls, plus (elite) bugbears, ogres, trolls, and hill giants. That's actually all I could fit in the pages devoted to fantasy types, but the primary idea is to serve as examples for the conversions you can do for any type from D&D. We do assume that larger types will be fitted with correspondingly larger, square bases (generally following what you see in Battlesystem or Warhammer or whatever you've already got them on).

Of course, while the initial creature-conversion is pretty close to being trivially easy, the correct pricing of each type is a completely different story. Special abilities may require some subjective judgements; for example, I made sure that any orc/goblin types were at least 1-point cheaper than equivalent men (in light of their special morale-weakness); and likewise elves/dwarves were required to be at least 1-point more expensive than men (respective of their special abilities). If creatures appear naturally in your campaign (such as by random encounter roll), then accurate pricing is likely a non-issue; but if you want to accurately balance combats for a standalone game, then I would again direct you to the Book of War Java pricing simulator program (or wait for me to expand to certain other types here on the blog).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Maze of Peril

I just got done reading Maze of Peril by John Eric Holmes, editor of the first D&D Basic Set, and a D&D aficionado who based the book on games played with his sons. The book is still available by mail from the publisher, New York-based Space & Time (here). I was impressed.

First, there's something very satisfying about the book having monochrome blue artwork for the cover -- the same as Holmes' classic "blue book" D&D rules. According to the author's biography, he also published short stories in a magazine called Bluebook, so I guess there's some sympathetic magic tied into all of his works in this way.

I would call this a very well-written book: Like the pulp short stories which I have come to prefer -- Conan, Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, early Elric, etc. -- stuff happens rapidly, the plot barrels forward with intensity, and internal monologues and motivations are almost always left off-screen (perhaps they are deeper for being left unsaid, in a Hitchcockian sense). It's not like the bloated fantasy novels that are common today, and quite unlike, say, the Thomas Covenant novels that I more-or-less grew up on. (An aside: Shouldn't the short story format be ideal for this age of size-is-irrelevant digital readers, Twitter, and micro-messaging? Does a successful venture for that exist and I don't know about it?)

To whatever degree Holmes based this on his home game, I'd have to say that it's flat-out the best conversion from game to written story that I've ever read. Somewhat surprisingly, given the title, perhaps 1/2 or more of the story takes place outside the dungeon (with various scenes in a town, tavern, and nearby cemetery). The story follows the point-of-view of a halfling adventurer, which is much more satisfying and works better that I would have expected; the character here feels very much in the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser mold -- amusingly self-interested, jaded in a casual fashion, and like a lot of old-school D&D characters (although the name "Boinger" is really the one thing in the book I wish could be changed). Despite the back cover copy, the characters are at no point working to "... perhaps... save the world", which is actually quite preferable in my mind.


D&D Adjudications

Now I'll spend some time thinking about the rules of the D&D world as fleshed out here by Dr. Holmes (again: editor of what might possibly be the single best-selling version of D&D ever). First, the milieu is extremely well-textured, and in its way, believable (the D&D rules are interpreted with great verisimilitude). Perhaps the only thing that struck me as wrong was the "wahoo" population of the town tavern scenes, including all the usual PC races, plus centaurs, fauns, etc., apparently as standard patrons. Almost everything beside that I could at least consider using in my own games at some point. Warning: Some spoilers below.

There is an elf character (the boon companion of the protagonist after the initial chapter). Normally he is a stealthy fighter; there is just one point where he casts a spell, in the privacy of his quarters, and to do so he must strip off all of his armor and equipment. "'Can't have iron touching the body anywhere,' he explained, 'no iron, even nails in the boot heels. It drains the flow of force from the other world.'" [p. 34] Now, that's actually a really attractive (and mythologically compatible) explanation for the troublesome OD&D language on how elves "switch" between fighters and magic-users. However, on second thought, that's contradicted by the standard D&D appearance of elves in chain mail, even when casting spells (as early as OD&D Vol-2); and also by magic-users in general being customarily armed with daggers (and usually carrying spikes, lanterns, etc.) At one point, the elf succumbs to a sleep spell, so pretty clearly the AD&D-line's elven resistance to the spell is not being used here.

Other details: A lot of play is given to the sense & stealth capabilities of the halfling and elf. There are no thieves explicitly called out in the book (and the halfling is wearing chain mail), yet at one point this pair stage an infiltration and theft in town -- climbing up a tower quietly by rope-and-grapple, sneaking in a sealed window -- and at another point the halfling goes checking for pit traps with a regular pole (so obviously, this can bolster the argument of those who think that the thief class is extraneous in D&D). Significant attention is paid to the one knight character in "full armor" (the only person who appears in plate mail). Locked doors are broken open by force; serious planning takes place before a swim (all armor off and given a flotation device); and much care is given to keeping the elf's bowstring dry and unslung during travel. There are some great scenes with a group of Amazon warriors.

There are possibly some liberties taken regarding the power-level of the characters in question. Early in the book, a hard-won fight takes places with a handful of orcs; the wizard is described at one point as being second level; all of the party except one is felled by the aforementioned sleep spell; and the characters seem to have at most one or two signature magic items among them (which is actually well-focused, for storytelling purposes). Yet at the same time the group winds up engaging huge lycanthropes, a golem, a purple worm, etc.; they survive being directly blasted by a fireball spell (just barely); and the wizard casts a spell that certainly appears to be cone of cold or something very similar.

Spells end when the casting magic-user gets killed. Now, this is a pretty common feature in fantasy stories (for example, I just read the same thing last night in the Conan story by de Camp & Carter, "Red Moon of Zembabwei"), and in fact, I find that this is frequently a standard expectation of those new to the D&D fantasy game. But of course it's not a feature of any officially published version of the D&D rules, and I could imagine some problematic side-effects if this were a standard ruling (like: how it exponentially makes the PC wizard a preferred target of foes, and moreso with every spell they cast).

Something happens to a golem which is so extraordinary, I would never have thought to allow it under standard D&D rules. But it's rather brilliant in execution, and my instinct is to accept it with great amusement and salute the DM for it (from the perspective of a player-in-the-game, say). This particular bit I'll leave off for you to find elsewhere.


On Clerics

Now, here's a meditation devoted to the status clerics within Maze of Peril (knowing that D&D clerics are a super sore spot from me; deleting them is at the top of my major house rules in the right sidebar here).

First and foremost, the cleric and the knight in the story are explicitly and prominently Christian. The cleric's spells are in Latin and named as such [p. 46-47]; he says, "I must do morning mass" [p. 51] and "Lord of Hosts, aid me!" [p. 119]; his healing spell is triggered by the words, "In nomine Patrie, in spiritus sanctu, de reart invisium..." [p. 115] (a minor modification to the trinitarian formula), etc. The knight calls himself "Sir Geoffrey Haymort of the Cross" [p. 69]; he is described by the cleric as, "the flower of Christian knighthood" [p. 100]; he argues for "the finer Christian spirit of fair play" [p. 116], etc.

Now, as much as I have a problem with the D&D cleric, I find this to be totally acceptable. Obviously the original D&D cleric description is shot through entirely with Christian details (crosses, Catholic level titles, Biblical-origin spells, etc.), and this coloring-in from those details is actually a very great relief. Among my biggest problems with the D&D cleric is its sublimated "quasi-Christian or crypto-Christian" status as James Maliszewski attributes to Gygax (in his excellent post on The Implicit Christianity of Early Gaming) -- which specifically allowed it to evolve later in a direction of supposed-pantheism, and for me, compounded the problems and frustrations and nonsense, over and over again. (For example: "Cleric blunt weapon restrictions make no sense for non-Christians!" it was argued 30 years ago, and still today on Grognardia.) For me, it's a much better option to fully embrace what appears in OD&D (Christian clerics) and make those details consistent and strong (either that, or ditch the whole class -- for which there are yet more reasons -- but not to transform it into a mangled, unhinged fantasy pantheism). Holmes' success here actually made me re-think for a day or two whether I should bring clerics back to my games (Christian ones, exploring and facing off against the horrors of a more ancient world).

Now, other pagan gods are mentioned in the book, always by non-humans, at least in passing as oaths or curses. The elf utters "Crom's devils!" [p. 35] (from Conan); the halfling says, "Mithra save us!" [p. 85] (which is pretty similar to the Conan deity Mitra); an Amazon refers to "the Goddess" [p. 82]. Furthermore, the elf asserts that he can tell time underground by sensing the position of the moon above: "'I can feel the pull of the goddess once her silver orb clears the horizon line"... The cleric cleared his throat, embarrassed at the mention of his companion's pagan goddess." [p. 112] A cult of frog-men worship a huge demonic idol straight out of Lovecraft and/or Howard: "Dagon fatahgan! Ia Ia Dagon", they chant [p. 120].

And yet, none of these non-humans or their gods are described as having clerics at any point. The frog-men are described as having "priests" with magical powers -- but I keenly noted what one of these powers was: a "priest" of Dagon casts the aforementioned sleep spell, indicating that he's actually a magic-user. All of this I am also perfectly fine with. I expect to use demonic "priests" who are actually wizard/sorcerer/magic-users, myself. And I think that you could run a campaign very nicely, as Holmes suggests here, with the only functioning clerics from a human, Christian society -- other gods being ambiguous, or false, or cast down, or Crom-like in their uncaring. That's how the cleric class worked in original D&D (and the B/X line), although it was overturned as of Supplement-I (Greyhawk permitting NPC clerics to dwarves and elves).

Picture this -- The game's play takes place almost exclusively in a "Borderlands" area, in an explicitly medieval time period. Off-screen there is a civilized human empire of some size, Christian, but we don't expect to ever spend time there (after all: it's staid, settled, and boring). In this borderlands area, Christian adventurers rub shoulders with older races who maintain memories of otherwise forgotten pagan gods (and thus having no standard clerical magic). Consider the reason Holmes gives us for the adventuring cleric here: "the man started to tell a long story about his abbot, who was it seems, most unreasonable, and sent members of his order off on long quests as punishment for the most insignificant of offenses" [p. 36].

Some other details which are intriguing, if nonstandard by the D&D rules: Trapped underground, the cleric's spell-powers return after a day, without any preparation on his part, and apparently without even certain knowledge of whether or not he has them back yet (the elf says, "Brother Ambrose, a day has passed, see if you can heal the magic user" [p. 130]). Near the end, a scroll described as "resurrection" is used by the wizard (!) -- at which point the cleric removes himself, because "traffic with the dark powers offends my clerical composure" [p. 145] . And perhaps the single most sharp break with any PC cleric I've seen: the clerical party member is apparently totally unarmored at all times (e.g., he "trudged along in his leather sandals" [p. 45]) -- which is certainly a standard expectation of the non-D&D holy man that I've pointed out before (here, cleric items #10, 11, 14), and one which even the creator of "blue book" D&D could not resist in his own story-telling.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Compilation of D&D Miniature Scales

Suggested man-to-man/dungeon action board scale when using miniatures for different iterations of classic D&D:
  • Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat (1971, p. 25): Undefined.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, Vol-3 (1974, p. 8): 1" = 10 feet.
  • OD&D Sup-III, Eldritch Wizardry (1976, p. 7): 1" = 2 feet.
  • Holmes Dungeons & Dragons (1978, p. 9): 1" = 10 feet.
  • AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979, p. 10): 1" = 3⅓ feet.
  • Moldvay D&D Basic Rulebook (1981, p. B61): 1" = 5 feet.
  • Mentzer D&D Players Manual (1983, p. 57): 1" = 10 feet.
Any others from this era that I missed (official D&D rulebooks only)?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Night Book of War

Here's a Book of War game from a few weeks ago, when my girlfriend decided to try using the option of war elephants with archers mounted on the back:


Start -- Basic Rules; 300 points; War elephant option. At top in red, opposition has selected crossbows, 3 figures of war elephants with archers, and medium infantry. At bottom in blue, I've chosen medium infantry, regular archers, and two groups of horse archers. I've batched my infantry & archers into two big units in the hopes of surviving morale checks; except that I placed a small unit of 3 infantry as a feint/delay tactic near my right side. Terrain are 2 areas of woods surrounding a hill in the center of the board. Red has set up first and will take the first turn.



Turn 2A -- On the first turn, opponent moved full, while I moved full on either flank (note horse archers galloping into enemy rear in top-right), and moderate half-moves in the center (no shooting because the hill crest was blocking us). Now, opposition has come through the woods, taken the top of the hill, and makes the first missile attacks of the game. Each of my lower units have lost some figures, but my horse archers there have routed. This sucks; they'll flee off the table in the next turn. (As we've seen, getting the first attack in BOW is highly desirable.)



Turn 2B -- Now I move forward and make my counterattacks. I'm trying to clear out all the supporting crossbows before taking on the elephants in the center. This goes well; infantry attack on the left, archers, in the center, and horse archers also get attacks around the woods to the rear; crossbows take heavy hits and they're all routed. I've also sent my small unit of infantry into combat in the woods on the right, and this will delay the enemy infantry there for a turn or two. Already, things look much better for me.



Turn 3 -- Well, this sucks. While enemy crossbows flee to the rear, elephant-back bowmen on the hill have shot at my archers, killing 4 figures, and the unit has now routed. Also, on the right, her infantry are finishing off my small unit there.



Turn 4 -- My big infantry continued into the woods, getting more hits on the retreating crossbows there before they could get away; also, there was another fleeing crossbow unit that got shot down by my waiting horse archers. Opponent has turned her forces around, and elephant archers have scored one hit on my horsemen. But, luck smiles on me -- my archers have managed to un-rout just before they escape from the table (scoring exactly the minimum requirement of 9 here) -- so now they'll get to turn around and harass the enemy from a direction she thought was secure.



Turn 5 -- What's happened here is that my horse archers ran into melee against fleeing crossbows at the edge of the woods, finishing them off; and my big infantry unit has done an about-face and started to wheel out of the woods (planning to charge up the hill en masse and catch the elephants on rough terrain). Before I can complete this, on opponent's turn, the elephants get just 1 figure of attacks (4 dice), because the other figures are blocked by the top-crest of the hill, and scores of 5+ are needed to hit my medium infantry in chain mail. But most grievously, all of those dice have come up 5 or 6, killing 4 of my figures, and then I've also lost the morale check. Even 1 pip higher would have succeeded; but now my whole infantry force is going to turn tail and run off the side of the board. Dammit!



Turn 8 -- Three rounds go by, and the elephants have shot at my retreating infantry to make sure they don't come back. Meanwhile, my horse archers have come forward through the woods, shooting at the elephants as they ride by (as long as they keep the target to their left-hand side, they can shoot even 180 degrees to the rear in the middle of their move). Foot archers are firing everything at the elephants in an attempt to degrade them. Here, with some good rolls, I manage to take out one of the elephant figures. Huzzah! But, with the elephants' high hit dice, that's not enough to force a morale check, and the opponent's infantry has maneuvered into position on the hill for an attack.



Turn 9 -- Opponent tried to position her infantry near the edge of the hill, out of my archers' range, but close enough to charge in the next turn. Unfortunately for her, she's miscalculated, and my archers have opted to shoot at them, with devastating results. In that infantry unit, 7 of the 8 figures have just died -- and yet they've heroically succeeded at the morale check, and on the next turn will in fact charge my archers, preventing them from firing in the next turn as they are forced to melee the lone infantry (much like how I used my rogue infantry unit back in Turn 2B). And on the next turn I actually make the same mistake, getting my horse archers too close to the elephants, after which they also get shot down. (Lesson: Trying to be fiddly and overly clever in Book of War rarely pays off.) This leaves the elephants against my foot archers.




Turn 12 -- The End. Once the elephants finish off my horse archers, they turn to my footmen with devastating results. Here, my archers are fleeing off the board -- but opponent is not letting them rest, as inflicting further hits prohibits any attempt at un-routing (a lesson she's taken to heart from Turn 4). Victory for the opponent! The war elephants have won the day.



Postscript -- We like to call this game "Killing Me Softly with Her Elephants". Turn 5 was probably the pivotal moment in this game, in which I suffered hits on every single enemy attack die, and then had my largest unit miss morale by 1 point.

One thing I did not do in advance of this game was check simulated unit matchups against elephants before selecting my army, and as it turns out -- horse archers are actually the very worst unit you can field against elephant archers. So recommendation is not to repeat that if you think you might be facing off against war elephants (even though my horse archers did a fair job in the rear of the enemy position against already-damaged crossbows). Our consensus is that the elephant archers played out a lot like tanks here -- big, hard to put down, and with a fairly crushing ranged attack. But maybe if I'd been smarter with my army selection, and a bit more dice luck, things could have turned out differently.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book of War Expansion: War Elephants

There was one obvious historical unit type that I was on the cusp of including in the Book of War Basic Rules, but ultimately I decided that they didn't fit for space, complexity, and thematic (medieval European) concerns -- War Elephants. Here are two different types that you can add to your BOW games. (Text between the rules below is hereby indicated as Open Game Content.)



Unit Cost MV AH HD Notes
War Elephants, Spears 45 12 5 6 Spearmen (2 per howdah)
War Elephants, Archers 50 12 5 6 Shortbows (2 per howdah)

War Elephants: These elephants each have a mahout (driver) and 2 men in an armored howdah (tower). They count as cavalry for most purposes. Spearmen melee as normal (total 2 dice per elephant figure), and archers shoot as normal (total ROF 4 per elephant figure), although they can fire in any direction at will. Elephants themselves melee at 2 dice, bonus 3, damage 2. All melee attacks are halved in non-open terrain or stormy weather; also, archers can still shoot in melee at half-dice (figures in contact only, i.e., at most one rank of elephants).


Design Comments: You'll see that a force like this is a little bit more complicated to handle than other stuff, which is one reason why I didn't want them in the Basic Rules (actually, the mount-with-many-riders is unique and makes them a bit more complex than pretty much anything even in the Advanced Game). The elephant stats are based on the 1E Monster Manual p. 38 (either Asiatic 10HD or African 11HD); and again I think that Gygax went overboard with the attacks there, so I've reduced them to 2 attacks for elephants here (although even that work has a "no more than two" attacks per target rule, which should arguably apply in close-ranked mass combat anyway).

There was some consideration as to exactly how the mechanics of fighting war elephants should work in D&D (can you melee the guys in the tower? does it suffice to just kill the driver?), but ultimately it seemed best to simply apply the BOW standard cavalry rule. I treat elephants as "not naturally aggressive", since there's so many reports of them being frightened off from certain historical battles. Therefore we double the sum riders hit dice (3 men × 1 die each × 2 on mount = 6HD); and this gives at least a chance of their failing a hit-dice-based morale check, as desired (even if it will be a small chance). And elephant figures are presumed to be on some larger base size; my own are 1½×2½ inches (about 40×60mm), but whatever you get yours on is probably okay, too.

The 2 men in each figure-howdah basically act as normal, with the above-noted advantages for archers (note: half-dice missiles in contact are the result of only the front 1:1 howdahs having a shot; and the tactical result, ROF2, is actually the same as they'd get in normal melee, as per spearmen). And the other thing you see here is that if the mount is entirely more powerful than the riders, then we have to track their attacks separately. For example: In a standard melee in open terrain, these figures will roll 2 attack dice each normally for the spearmen, and a further 2 dice with a bonus of +3 each for the elephants, these causing up to 2 hits damage (see MM, taking one-third hit dice for the bonus, and following the 2 dice damage indicated for attacks there as well). This extra damage is capped by the target HD, so it does not apply to enemies with only 1HD (see the BOW Advanced Rules p. 10).

The actual hard part of the design process, setting the price, came last: By adding them to the BookOfWar simulator program and hand-tuning until they were approximately balanced with other basic types, as usual (note: they've been playtested somewhat less than other core types, so pricing is possibly more tentative). Possible further options: Consider giving the elephants themselves heavy armor (total AH6; cost for that armor currently unknown); and possibly force routing elephants to flee in a straight-line-away path only, and attack any friendlies they contact there (try to avoid that at all costs!).

Therefore, if they make sense in your campaign, and you've got the money to spend, these war elephants can make a very powerful addition to your Book of War armies.


(Picture detail from "Schlacht von Zama" by Henri-Paul Motte, circa 1890.)