Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Complete Guide to Fantasy War?

Dreaming out loud and water-testing rears its ugly head again. Between the finished fantasy miniatures rules for By This Axe, I Rule and outtake material for the domain-play sourcebook Hill Cantons: Borderlands I feel like I have enough material for something I have been dreaming about as twin-souled roleplayer/wargamer for years.

Namely a comprehensive, modular supplement for incorporating war and military campaigning into an old school fantasy roleplaying game—a certain something that would scratch a lot of itches for me at the same time.

My idea for this synthetic beast would be something that would allow you to be able to conduct a war as a series of stand-alone or interlinked mini-games under the umbrella of a unified one-stop shopping product. With it you could, for instance, use the abstract mass combat rules to play out a large-scale battle with little PC investment in one session, seamlessly dial down to a small-scale miniatures battle the next with the players pushing around their lead equivalents; run a raid in the next as part of a traditional rpg session—all the while running the campaign overall as a free-form matrix game.

The Guide would be fully compatible with pre-third edition D&D iteration and their related clones and copy cats. (Conversion would also be provided for Runequest, Stormbringer, Legend and their BRP-ilk if there is sufficient interest). In other word you keep playing with the rules you already use. A quick and easy conversion guide based on the ones currently inside By this Axe would translate your existing PCs, NPCs, and forces into system compatibility—and re-translate in-game effects back into immediately useful terms for your tabletop rpg campaign.

Features:
Abstract Mass Combat Rules. Think the paper and pencil rules of Mentzer's Companion set, minus a layer of bean-counting and with more options for pre-battle strategic and tactical choice and stratagems. Play will be enhanced by optional use of simple card or hex and cardboard mini-games (templates and materials to be included with the book).

Skirmish and Small Battle Miniatures Rules. This is the current core of By this Axe. Fast and furious rules for running fantasy and medieval-era battles with one figure being the equivalent of either 5 or 20 in-game creatures. They were des

Big Battle Miniatures Rules. A larger scale system for running the truly epic battles at 1:50 and 1:200 scale.

Siege Rules. Comprehensive rules for storming castles and other strongholds for both miniatures and the abstract combat rules. Guidelines for both the long, slow wearing down of fortifications and the sudden sharp shock of an assault.

Free Form War. Guidelines for using a simple, free-form “matrix-game” resolution for military affairs.

Battles as Adventure Locales. A chapter on how a GM can use battles, sieges, raids, etc. directly in a more traditional rpg session.

Guide to Affordable Alternatives to Miniatures. There is more than one way to get the experience of a miniatures tabletop without breaking your pocketbook. A rundown on proven shortcuts will be explored here.

Simple Campaign. A simple, abstract way to run battles, skirmishes, and raids with little book-keeping. A simple system will handle recruitment, objectives, operational maneuvers, and logistics.

Grand Campaign. The down-and-dirty granular way to do the same above. Heavy emphasis on the detailed bits that grease the sinews of war.

What do you think? Something worth pursuing? Something you'd use? Should I cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war?

32 comments:

  1. Yes to all. I say go for it. I lay my services as playtester before you.

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    1. Fantastic, I always appreciate your feedback.

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  2. You might want to dig out the old Advanced Fighting Fantasy books, which I think tried to do some of these things (although on a smaller/less ambitious scale).

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    1. I will have to check it out as I missed it.

      What I really want is something that:

      1. Works cross-compatibly at all levels. I always thought it was strange that all of TSR's attempts at capturing war were all mechanically so incompatible with each other. Chainmail didn't really line up with Swords & Spells and Battlesystem. And none of them worked easily with Warmachine or the Birthright card battle game.

      2. Takes little work to be compatible with the tabletop RPG you already playing.

      3. Has some very simple and free-form levels to it for those who want to be able to work it in, but don't want to be juggling a bunch of spreadsheets and unit rosters. (Crazy grog that I am I tend to like that granularity, but I can see why it would swamp a GM).

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    2. You've got it in one. Great as all TSR's wargame systems were, like you say, they didn't really match up. Conversion notes for d100 rules would be great.

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  3. I'd certainly love a way to bring the King Stephen/Empress MAtilda conflict front-and-center in my Wessex campaign. At least for a session or two.

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    1. That's what I have an eye for, dropping it in for a flexible amount of time. No need to get caught up in a giant other layer if you don't want it, use the simpler layers et voila.

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  4. Sounds like a great project.

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  5. Being an RPG and miniatures gamer, I'm interested.

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  6. I second noisms comment re: AFF. However, I think the mass combat rules were published in Allansia, the rarest of the three books.

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  7. As a non-wargamer who feels he's missing out, I say yes.

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  8. I'd love something like this. What I am especially looking for is a good system for platoon level combat and a bit above, a system for managing a fief or a area of similar size, and a good system for siege combat.

    By the way, I'm having trouble with the 'By This Axe I Rule' link. Anyone else?

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    1. Thanks Jason, that was a very polite way of saying that you have spinach in your front teeth. Link fixed.

      Small scale fief-running and wilderness clearing/survival are covered in Borderlands (which I should be reporting back on this in this coming week).

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  9. That sounds like something I'd buy. It would apparently being going a good deal beyond Delta's "Book of War" (which i haven't had a chance to grab yet).

    I love RPGs, love minis and wargames, & am always looking for new ways to address the interaction of PCs and armies/battles. "Battles as locales" is something I'm especailly interested in now.

    I'd be more than happy to playtest parts in my home campaign, FWIW -- I don't think you'll have any trouble getting playtesters though. Any help I can give is yours.

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    1. Delta's Book of War is quite good, very elegant and balanced. The internal math hinges around a 1:10 scale so it's a bit tough as a model for larger-scale games. Both Book and By this Axe have a foot in Chainmail so there is some resemblance in how they play (though mine also has another foot in some even older school rules like Tony Bath's Hyborian campaign).

      I was re-reading Battlesystem 1st ed. before the game tonight and it surprised me how little attention there was to integrating tabletop rpg play. The Bloodstone modules did, of course, but the rules proper just don't have much to say.

      I'd be stoked to have you playtest any part that would jive organically with your own campaign. That'd be the point.

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  10. Yes to all! For our forth coming encounter, I would like to do the Grand Campaign...with some Abstract Mass Combat till we actually work out the logistics to have
    our troops on the same table. Then when we actually do
    manage to marshal our forces do a few Big Battle Miniatures and Siege Rules....just a few thoughts but
    I think they are workable.

    Donald II
    Supreme Ruler
    Evil Empire On The Brazos

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    1. Emperor Donald,
      Now you are talking! We could definitely use some real grognards on board.

      I like the idea of starting backwards with the kind of medieval-fantasy campaigning (a la the Castles and Crusades Society) that spawned D&D in the first place.

      We are kicking around a May date for another mini-con, maybe that'd be an ideal time to field some of the tabletop battles.

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    2. Back story and a good pretext are everything
      to a well run campaign! We should start with
      a paper and pencil (notional encounter) with my light cavalry running into one of your boarder outposts or some such.

      May is definitely doable for me, in the mean time building the back story will
      only help add color to the game. Presentation is everything at a Con...)

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    3. Totally agree especially with medieval and fantasy campaigns. I have a few contexts I could plug in for a nice and bloody war: the overseas wars of the Overkingdom in the Hill Cantons, the border wars of the Colony in my Domain Game, Hyboria etc.

      I'll think about it.

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  11. I confess I haven't read it yet, but the ACKS guys have a web supplement for the main rules called Domains at War which may offer some insights.. As a Backer you should have access to it Chris.

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    1. I have read them. I think they are a bit limited for what I want.

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  12. I would be interested in this - I've seen other books on the subject, but have never actually purchased one.

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  13. Another thing that you might be interested in is Games Workshop's Mighty Empires - the .pdf rules for the old one are available here: www.games-workshop.com/gws/content/article.jsp?aId=1400005

    That said, I imagine that, with your tastes, the campaign level game will be more 'hex and chit'?

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    1. I love Mighty Empires. It has a good clean elegant approach,if a bit abstracted, to campaigning.

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  14. Ditto what Zavoda said. Be worth looking at Knights and Magick for inspiration too. Its one to one scale, oddly enough.
    I think especially proper rules for war and campaign management are lacking for D&D and have hardly been touched since Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign.

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    1. K&M was my very first set of mini rules. In fact I was involved in an effort to revive it with a second edition about 6 years ago (back when I was only doing historical minis).

      It has some really clunky mechanics like each combat entailing a roll of a d10 and a d6, but it's comprehensiveness--a five-volume set with entire booklets on heraldry, painting, historical background, campaigns, etc.--is a major inspiration on how I am thinking about the project.

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  15. I love the idea. I have a loosely related system simmering on the back burner, and I'll bet many if not most of us do, but with your wide knowledge of games and experience on your projects so far there's no doubt at all you could really make something out of it, and actually get it done. I'll be very happy to help out with feedback and playtesting too.

    The advice I'd give first - on the off-chance you don't already know - is keep the basic framework simple, modular and as multivalent as possible, and spend as much time as you can spare in the early stages smoothing, smoothing and smoothing some more, all the while making notes when the inspiration comes on detailed subsystems to link into it.

    It's massive, but not so massive it can't be done, especially with the level of support there is here already. You could farm out individual elements, or at least farm out some of the stages in the development of them, at the very least the more detailed wishlisting and brainstorming.

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    1. Thanks, that's sound advice. I am thinking of having a top-level group of play testers that could be calling the shots from a strategic stage.

      My typical impulse is to layer granular subsystem on top of subsystems, so I will be fighting that in this project (except in the Grand Campaign where the freak flag will be unfurled). KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) will be the guiding principle.

      The good news is that I have a lot of springboard material already ready. Not only do I have the small mountain of material from By this Axe and Borderlands, I also have a number of notes from a very similar project I tried to do for medieval mini campaigns a while back.

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  16. You might want to think about using DBA/DBMM/HOTT mechanics for the large-scale battles--use stands with multiple figures, and make combat less granular.

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  17. "Battles as Adventure Locales. A chapter on how a GM can use battles, sieges, raids, etc. directly in a more traditional rpg session."

    Of course, here you might want to look at Pendragon's battle system - which involves a series of encounters for the PCs taking place within a larger battle.

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  18. Late to the party, but I'd be interested in such a product, as well.

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