Papier Und Spiele: Book of War vs. Chainmail

Schematic of goblin battle on path

Blogger ahabicher at Papier Und Spiele occasionally takes a really close look at my Book of War rules for classic D&D wargaming, and I think it's really helpful to get the perspective of someone who cares so much about D&D mass combat who isn't me. This week he's done a test of a battle between two tribes of warring goblins -- done twice, once in Chainmail, and once in Book of War, to see how they compare. I kind of love this to death. You should read the action

In the interest of full disclosure, I will collegially point out a few things in the report that I would personally interpret or run differently:

  1. Overall Book of War is trying to simulate classic Dungeons & Dragons combat (with its "Alternative Combat System" as of 1974 with d20 attack matrices), moreso than the original Chainmail book with its custom troop-type tables. That said, I'm constantly referring back to Chainmail myself for lots of stuff like the man-to-man combat sequence, modifiers, creature special abilities, movement and missile ranges, catapult/boulder/fireball targeting mechanics, etc., which are included by reference in Original D&D.

  2. I don't roll initiative every turn, just once at the start of the battle, then alternate sides sequentially. This follows what's in Gygax's later Swords & Spells, but it's opening my eyes for the first time that Chainmail and also Battlesystem determine initiative every round. I can see now in my text I left that a bit vague.

  3. Revisions we've made since the 1st Edition publication adjusted the successful 2d6 morale target from 10 down to 9. This was specifically to synchronize with the OD&D reaction table, which has success at a value of 9 and up (and is referenced as one of the two or three possible ways to adjudicate morale in OD&D: see Vol-1, p. 13). But that wouldn't make any difference in the current play-through, anyway.

  4. There's common debate about whether in Chainmail a player should be throwing 1 attack per figure, or per man (i.e., 20 dice per figure). I do think comes down to sloppy-casual writing in the original Chainmail text, in that Gygax would swap around "man" and "figure" for the same thing interchangeably, even at mass scale. When asked in 2005 on the issue, Gary responded, "Read 'man' as 'figure' and you have it. One die is just that...". You can see the full exchange here. So there's at least an interpretation that allows for much fewer dice when running Chainmail.

That said, I can acclaim enough how incredibly valuable this battle report is! Without giving away exactly how this fight goes, I can't help but highlight ahabiche's ultimate takeaway:

Book of War is faster and easier. It is the better choice to determine the outcome of a battle within the context of a roleplaying game, when we may want to determine the fate of specific individuals by the RPG rules in single combat, and our goal with the mass battle is to find out how it goes.

If you want to see more about the current state of the Book of War ruleset, check out the sidebar, and/or our continuing biweekly series of live playtests on Youtube. Fight on!


  1. They didn't fail morale so it didn't come up, but I believe the ogres would not have needed to test morale when damaged since no figure was removed. Also, agreed on only rolling one die per figure in Chainmail; this is the first time I've ever heard of anyone rolling ten or twenty dice per guy.

  2. I've recently started using Book of War instead of Chainmail myself. I might have to try and re-run my current campaign's most recent mass battle using both systems and write up a similar report.