Saturday, June 25, 2022

Saiki and Surrounds

Takato Yamamoto

Saiki

Saiki, a soon-to-be castle town on the coastal delta of the Banjo River in southern Bungo. It is the seat of a fief of 20,000 koku. The great forested hill is crested by a fort and the beginnings of castle foundations and constructions. Its trails overlook a small but growing town, crossed by a minor canal and outlined by broad flooded fields.

Governed by the Gohda clan, senior retainers of the Otomo clan, from their manor and fort. The late Elder Lord Gohda has recently passed, leaving the clan and the fief of Saiki to his son, the Young Lord Matsunoshin.

The Saiki domain is rich in undulations, has little cultivated land, and has little income from agriculture. Since the coast is a rias coast there are many uras, and it is used as a port for fishing and marine transportation bases. Forestry is also one of the sources of income that supports the clan's finances. The weather is humid with hot summers and cold winters. It often rains throughout the year.

20 horsemen, 40 musket men, 20 archers, and 100 spearmen.

Saiki Surrounds

To the northeast, the island of Onyujima sits right off the coast. Its thickly forested hills are home to Ishima Village and several remote shrines.

Directly to the north is the village of Usutsubo. Beyond it lie great hills, covered by woods. In these mountainous forest hills, the Azuma clan ninja train their art.

Folks trade with the large village of Yayoi, east upriver along the Banjo. Regular river traffic makes its way back and forth, a common stopping point for traveling further inland.

Across the Banjo Delta to the south lies the Kitachi River Valley. Along it lies some minor villages and the fallen Shojuji Temple. This is considered a destitute place that never really recovered from the Kyushu Campaign 13 years ago.

South of these lands lies the province of Hyuga. The northern fief of this province is ruled by Takahashi Mototane, a Shimazu clan retainer appointed by Hideyoshi himself. Within the last two years, he has completed his ruin of the Mitai clan and has gained control of the 48 Forts of Takachiho, various fortifications in the steep mountains, valleys, rivers, and plateaus of the region.


Monday, May 16, 2022

A bird with one body but many heads pecking itself to death


Tokugawa Ieyasu with help from the Jodo monks of the Daijuji temple in Okizaki, defeats the Ikkō-ikki at the battle of Azukizaka, 1564 by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

A bird with
One body but
Many heads
Pecking itself
To death.  
- An unknown poet 

Japan. The late 16th-century. In this darkest and most violent age, endless war has left a country divided. A country, once ruled by a unified government, that has split into many warring clans. Legendary warlords strive for supremacy as conspiracies and conflicts wither the empire. 

Instruments of a Warring Age

Armor Types

It is common for piecemeal and scavenged portions of these armors to find their way into the hands of desperate farmers, predatory bandits, and wandering ronin. Their mismatched crests and designs betray their lowly station. Wearing portions of these armors grants their benefits and vulnerabilities, but halves weight and increases its AC by 2 (max 8).

Okashi gusoku.
Okashi-gusoku.

Okashi-gusoku.

Okashi-gusoku: Munition-grade, plain armor mass-produced and loaned to low-ranking ashigaru. These often have inventory numbers written inside or large crests on the chest. [AC 7].

Tatami-gusoku.

Tatami-gusoku: Lightweight portable folding armor consisting of small iron or leather plates connected by mail. Its collapsable nature made it convenient for transportation. However, this extreme flexibility makes it vulnerable to penetrating or blunt attacks. [AC 6, 7 vs bludgeoning and piercing].

Tosei-gusoku.

Tosei-gusoku.

Tosei-gusoku: Modern armor made from plates of iron instead of the individual scales used in the old-style armor. This armor is emblematic of the samurai of the age, though many variations of its design and manufacture can be found throughout the land.

Lower-ranking samurai tend to wear simplified and relatively plain designs while those with a certain amount of wealth can afford to emphasize a surprising amount of individuality. [AC 5, penalty on athletic action & stealth].

Nanban-gusoku.

Nanban-gusoku: Western-style plate armor imported from or inspired by the Portuguese. It is imported, expensive, and heavy but has a notable reputation for being bullet-resistant. [AC 3, 2 vs bullets and missiles, penalty on athletic action and stealth].

Menpō.

Menpō: Iron, leather, or a combination of both which covers the face from the nose down to the chin. Can be combined with a kabuto. [Protects against injury to the face and neck].

Kabuto.

Kabuto & menpō

Kabuto: Three or four plates of iron combined in a dome, with a neck guard along the back. Its plain and utilitarian form allows fantastic shapes and crests to be placed on top. These shapes often mimick forms from myth and nature such as cow horns, headscarves, fish, and crescents among many others. Can be combined with a menpō. [Protects against blows to the top of the head].

A type of conical war hat called a jingasa is worn by ashigaru and samurai alike. It was often made from leather or metal.

Weapon Types

Tantō.
Tantō.

Tantō: A short, stabbing dagger often made with highly ornate decorations although the great demand of blades means that there are plenty of lower quality examples. They are often worn in a pair with the older style tachi (sword). [Piercing damage].

Women often carry a small tanto called a kaiken (dagger) in their belt for self-defense. Such weapons are traditionally given as wedding gifts. [Halved piercing damage]

Wakizashi.

Wakizashi: A short companion sword worn at the side used as a backup or auxiliary sword. It is well suited to close-quarters fighting, beheading defeated opponents, or even committing seppuku. 

Often worn with a katana in a pair called a daishō. When entering a castle, palace, or another notable dwelling it is customary to leave the longer blade and continue to wear the wakizashi inside. [Slashing damage].

Daishō style mounted katana and wakizashi.

Katana.

Katana: A curved, single-edged blade with a circular guard and a long grip to accommodate two hands. It is worn with the edge facing upward. Although not the most dominant weapons on the battlefield, these blades are often given as gifts between daimyo, offerings in shrines, and are symbols of both authority and spirituality.

In these violent times even farmers, townspeople, and monks can own a sword, however, certain lords are known to conduct sword hunts to forcibly remove such blades from anyone identifying as a farmer. [Slashing damage].

Tachi.

Tachi: An older style of blade, often worn by high-ranking samurai. The blade is longer and had greater curvature than a katana, and is worn hung by the belt with the cutting-edge down. [Slashing damage].

Ōdachi

Ōdachi: A huge greatsword, requiring both hands to wield. Impossible to carry and draw from the waist. It is carried on the back, in the hand, or otherwise by servants. While it can deliver devastating downward cuts, it is also used to strike down enemy horses while mounted or even on foot.

Despite their lethality, the usage of such blades is dying out and they are often considered impractical on the battlefield. [Slashing damage +1].

Samurai holding a kanabō.

Kanabō: Club-like weapons constructed out of heavy wood or made entirely out of iron, with iron spikes or studs. These clubs come in all shapes and sizes, with the largest being two-handed and as tall as a man, while smaller ones are one-handed and the length of a forearm. [Bludgeoning damage, +1 damage for two-handed varieties].

Three yari (Kagi yari, omi yari and su yari) mounted in koshirae.

Yari: A long, straight-headed spear. Its lighter weight makes it perfectly suited for both thrusts and sweeping slashes but these advantages become liabilities if the enemy gets in close. [Piering damage, reach].

Yumi.

Yumi: Asymmetrical bamboo and wood laminated bows. They are exceptionally tall and fire bamboo ya (arrows) which are close to a meter long or longer. [Piercing damage].

Tanegasima.

Taniegashima: Matchlocks based on those introduced by the Portuguese. These weapons have been wholly embraced in this violent era and have become the most important arms in the country. [Piercing damage +1, alerts wandering foes, pierces most armor].

The largest handheld versions of these are called Ōdzutsu (hand cannon) and have more in common with small artillery than a handheld rifle. [Piercing damage +2, alerts wandering foes, pierces most armor].

 Inspired by the very cool Straits of Anián! A very neat format to take a look at OD&D.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Musings on the ideal of the "individual scale wargame"

Following up on my previous takes on OD&D and wargaming.

Last year I started a new campaign of OD&D, but with one small catch. Rather than approaching it as I would with a B/X campaign or any other "typical" setup, I've been using it as a supplement of Chainmail. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that I've been running a Chainmail campaign using the fantastic medieval supplement called Original Dungeon & Dragons.

What does this mean? Well, it means that we are using Chainmail as the base of our rules for things such as weapons, procedure, morale, weather, dueling, sieges, and more. And then we're looking to things such as classes and dungeons and wilderness an addition rather than the other way around. I find that it makes quite an interesting mix-up compared to, say, playing OD&D as a straight adventure game. Perhaps it is a similar destination, but the journey has been quite fun.

"Individual scale wargame" is a good term for the type of play that we go on about!

Credit to Melancholies and Mirth for planting that term in my mind!

It's really got me thinking about how elegant of a setup it all is. Here's you have a wargame so distanced from the concerns of any individual character, more concerned with the routing of armies and battlefield tactics. Only great heroes or monsters are singled out. Now add in some slight nuance such as experience (and therefore personal advancement), hit points (rather than hits), and concerning yourself with the fate of a singular character (rather than scores of 1:20 figures). We have some additional stats for them that tell us a bit more about the nature of these individuals (and may have a small mechanical impact here and there). Classes let us have some mechanical guidelines for some classic character genres and we are off to the races here.

From here, it's all the usual action and reaction, coming back to this rule baseline when a conversation is insufficient or the need arises. It lets one flow rather fluidly in terms of setting stakes from chases in the shadowed depths of the underworld, to great raids on rival bands, to grand sieges on the ramparts of some forgotten fortress. And just as easily one can handle matters of exploration and intrigue that are so staple in the genre of adventure without being weighed down by overly mechanical concerns.

In terms of thinking, this feels a far cry from beginning at the usual starting point of adventure game and thinking of how to scale up to "domain play" or handle "mass combat" at the table. I find it quite interesting that so often later editions or other modern ttrpgs revisit wargames to "restore" some semblance of the above aspects but they don't quite hit the same marks in my opinion.

"Mass Combat Fantasy Roleplaying" eh?

Cooking up a Recipe

With this setup in mind, I've of course been starting to think on some other games that have given me this impression before. Things like the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles (yes, before Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1e) or the good ol' Rogue Trader. Games where the divide between rpg and wargame was explicitly blurred and expected to be crossed when creating interesting scenarios to play in. Where it wasn't just a match of two armies with 500 points, but an overall style not entirely dissimilar from what you'd expect from playing an rpg with a referee.

Perhaps by looking at how OD&D was mapped to Chainmail and applying the concept to some other wargames I enjoy, something neat can come about: a change in perspective that, while perhaps minor in the grand scheme of things, has resulted in some very fun times at the table.

Let's look at what defines a single figure in Chainmail.

A figure of heavy foot has some statistics on movement, morale, an entry on the combat table to show how they perform against various categories of foes, and some special rules they are eligible to take advantage of (e.g. gaining an impetus die on the charge). Oh and a point value of course.

Relatively simple! On the scale of 1:20 that gives me a good idea of what my 100 strong group of mailed warriors could do.

This continues for the fantasy supplement as well with figures such as orcs and the like. The main area of expansion comes with special rules for figures, with fantasy figures building on the base categories of units with special abilities, capabilities vs other fantastic foes, drawbacks, and options such as magical spells.

But even still they remain relatively simple to sum up. Take a fearsome giant for example:

GIANT
POINT VALUE: 50
ALIGN: NEUTRAL/CHAOS
NOTE:
	- REQUIRE 12 CUMULATIVE HITS TO KILL.
	- ACT AS SMALL CATAPULTS.
		- 20" RANGE.
		- NO MIN RANGE.
		- CAN MOVE ON TURN IF NOT THROWING.
	- NEVER CHECK MORALE.
ATTACK AS: 12 HEAVY FOOT
DEFEND AS: 12 HEAVY FOOT
FANTASY COMBAT TABLE: AS GIANT
MOVE: 12" CHARGE: 18"

Squint and you can practically see the information for 12 HD giants so common in old school bestiaries (although the terminology is a bit more Chainmail-esque).

So the OD&D translation simply goes:

  • Hits to Hit Dice (and the more discrete Hit Points so hits aren't always death)
  • Attack values changed from "men" to table entry based on level or HD.
  • Defense values are taken as a type of Armour Class and separated from # of men.
  • Movement kept the same (no mention of charging).
  • Addition of numbers encountered, lairs, and treasure.
  • Special abilities simply refer to Chainmail and/or are expanded and altered in the text.

This holds true on the end of player characters, with the important addition of advancement and stats.

  • Player figures can improve and actively gain more abilities. An interesting thing to keep in mind when the LBBs encourage you to play as pretty much anything; starting weak and becoming strong.
  • Players have stats that are largely exclusive to them. The classic six attributes help describe your character, set them apart from other 1st level folks, and give some minor bonuses or penalties. They don't really come up in regards for monsters in the like. No real point in trying to pin down the strength score of a dragon or something.

What to do with this?

My goal would be to have a very open and flowing game using some of my favorite wargames to engage in interesting play in a refreshing and free manner. Experiences more in the vein of the thinking adventures I've run using OD&D and Chainmail, and less in the vein of matched wargame play or the usual ttrpg. Something that is satisfying in this wonderful manner. Something that feels distinct from the industry's efforts to turn such things into modern ttrpgs and embraces the openness of the traditional wargame mindset. 

I'll need to take what I've gleaned with this campaign and revisit some of the ideas I've had in the past such as HammerHack, Outlaw Merchant, and others.

In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions for neat games that have come out in this vein. Space Weirdos or Forbbiden Psalm come to mind but that's just based on vibes.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Fantastic Medieval Wargame Campaign: OD&D Musings II

Lang, F. (1924). Die Nibelungen.

As I mentioned in my last post, my working approach for when close-up violence breaks out in my OD&D is probably best explained with examples. It varies a bit from what you usually see (at least what I've seen*) so let's talk about mêlée and other related concepts.

*Delving Deeper is pretty much the only clone I've seen that really dives into this level of "what if" when playing OD&D using a ton of bits from CHAINMAIL.

Dore, G. (1879). Orlando Furioso.

Hell yeah! Fighting Capability!

The pulpy nature of OD&D sets it apart from its later descendants. This is very obvious if you make use of CHAINMAIL and/or that sneaky bit in M&T about monsters gaining multiple attacks vs normal people. So, what's do the LBBs have to say about this stat?
Fighting Capability: This is a key to use in conjunction with the CHAINMAIL fantasy
rule, as modified in various places herein. An alternative system will be given
later for those who prefer a different method (Men & Magic p.18).

Key indeed! A figure's FC denotes the number of people that figure fights as in normal combat, followed by the fantastic-type the figure fights as in fantastic combat (if applicable). So-called "normal men" have no fantastic fighting ability.

In normal combat, multiple blows are struck. In fantastic combat, there is usually only one exchange of blows:

  • Capabilities versus "normal men" are simply a matter of allowing one attack throw on the Attack Matrix I.: Men Attacking table for every "man" equivalent, e.g., a character with an FC of 3 Men would attack three times. Figures lacking an FC stat simply have one throw for every hit die unless noted otherwise, with any bonuses being given to only one of their attacks. So a Troll (6+3  HD) would attack "normal men" six times with one of the attacks having a +3 bonus.

  • Capabilities versus "fantastic foes" are simply a matter of using the plain old "alternate combat" system that we always use for OD&D. Make your one attack throw unless noted otherwise and deal damage as normal. 
When it comes to determining what can be treated as "normal" here, I'd suggest avoiding trying to make any hard and fast guidelines. Arneson mentions in The First Fantasy Campaign that:

"The following facts should be borne in mind for most creatures encountered in small groups. That is these represent "Hero" type monsters."

This type of "I know it when I see it" judgment works fine for me! The authors didn't use CHAINMAIL like this at all. Consider what Gygax had to say on this: 

Any PCs are exempt from this even at first level: a "normal man" is ALWAYS 1 HD and cannot advance or gain levels. PCs are all "supernormal" since they can go up levels. Any monster of 1 HD or lower is treated as a "normal man" for purposes of this rule.   
—Gary Gygax, 1973.

This approach basically carried over to the SR FAQ, Swords & Spells, and AD&D until it got transformed into cleave or something. Personally, I find the disconnect between 1 to 2 HD or classed figures here way too drastic. A 9th level fighter can contend with several 1 HD foes such as mercenaries or orcs in each round but a single 1 HD Magic-User demands all their attention? No thanks, bro.

Also, character-types gain more special abilities as they improve in level based on their Fighting Capability:

  • Hero-1. Denotes that the figure can now participate in fantastic combat, albeit with a -1 attack throw adjustment.
  • Hero (Anti-Hero): Denotes that the figure need never check morale and that the morale of any normal-types lead in combat by +1. Further, in normal combat, they are unaffected by fewer than 4 normal hits in a combat encounter.
  • Superhero (Anti-Superhero): Denotes that opponents must check morale when approached or to approaching within 15". They can also detect invisible foes within 3".

  • Wizard: Denotes that opponents must check morale when approached or approaching within 12".
    • In CHAINMAIL, Wizards gain several special abilities, but it is in this writer's opinion that these are relegated to spells, e.g., seeing in darkness, throwing fire missiles, turning invisible, etc.

So for example, if a Hero was leading a couple of mercenaries and was throwing down with an Orge there are some tactical choices now at play. The Hero could protect their fellows by engaging in fantastic combat. The Ogre would then have to focus on the Hero or conduct normal combat with the mercenaries, but couldn't do both.

Striking a Foe

N.B.: Rounds are one minute long. An "attack roll" is not one swing, but is used to gauge your effectiveness over the course of the action. A "hit" may not necessarily mean a literal wound is inflicted or blood is even drawn. Melee distance is 10ft and is not static.

In the initial round of melee, the higher weapon class attempts the first blow.

A spearman (WC 8) fighting a swordsman (WC 4) would attack first.

In subsequent rounds, the lower weapon class attempts the first blow.

If the swordsman survived, they would now get the first attempt going forward.

Attacking from the rear, flank, or from above may override this and grant the first blow.

The swordsman fighting from a rampart would strike first, regardless.

Every blow has a counter-blow until figures exhaust their attacks.

A Hero (Lvl. 4 Fighter w/ Fighting Capability of 4 Men) is attacking a Warrior (Lvl. 2 Fighter w/ Fighting Capability of 2 Men). The order of striking would be Warrior, Hero, Warrior, Hero, Hero, Hero.

OR

The attacking figure strikes blows until they exhaust their attacks. Then counter-blows may be attempted. 

A Hero is attacking a Warrior. The order of striking would be: Warrior, Warrior, Hero, Hero, Hero, Hero.

N.B.: I find that the alternative may be a bit much but it is in line with how many classic adventure games handle multiple attacks. Feels too one-sided at times and against the Chainmail blow/counter-blow spirit found in the Man-to-Man rules but YMMV. It's definitely easier to track in a larger melee!

Before an opponent strikes, a full parry can be attempted. This subtracts 4 from the attacker's throw, but the character parrying loses their next blow. If the attacker still makes their roll and gets exactly the number needed, the parrying weapon will be broken by a heavier weapon (or merely dashed away if the weapon is magical) and no damage inflicted. If, on the other hand, their opponent misses the defender is allowed a counter-blow if equipped with a lighter weapon.

The Hero deftly parries with the dagger and attacks the Warrior with a riposte!

Before damage is rolled, a shield may be sacrificed to negate a single strike. This only works for conventional attacks--other, specific types of shields might stop magical attacks.

Having been hit with a terrible blow by an Ogre, the Hero's shield is splintered but they are unharmed this round.

So basically some rather minor additions that can spice things up and get folks thinking. But what else?

Dore, G (1886). The Legend of Croquemitaine.

Length, Weight, and Weapon Uses

So we are accounting for weight with parrying and length when it comes to gaining the first strike. That already makes choice rather important in a game where HP is low. What I do next is toss in some weapon uses (100% stolen from Luke Gearing's OD&D and Wolves Upon The Coast btw). I find these rather more intuitive for folks than giving them an array of weapon piercing capabilities or an entry from the M2M table in Chainmail. It gets them thinking about actionable tactics before they even mark off the gold to buy a weapon.

1d6 with dis/advantage b/c it's cool and easy and gives choice without as many "correct" answers

weapons powers ditto

— Luke Gearing on the bird site

A player's reaction once someone tears their shield away with an axe or ruins their plate suit with a mace is usually wanting to try it out themselves. Working as intended.

As pointed out by Luke, these "weapon uses" are just a place to start. Everyone at the table should look beyond them. The goal is to get you thinking about combat as a puzzle and not just taking a spear for reach and a mace for armor busting and calling it a day. I just want to constantly remind players to try solutions and attempt things in combat the same way they deal with less violent problems or puzzles.

So the classic CHAINMAIL weapons through this lens are:

  • Dagger (1). Throw-able. Usable in a grapple situation.
  • Hand-Axe (2). Throw-able. If 4+ damage is dealt, the hand-axe bounces, ‘attacking’ again.
  • Mace (3). Increases AC of those struck by 1 to a maximum of 7. This effect is permanent.
  • Sword (4). Riposte** once.
  • Battle-Axe (5). May sacrifice 3 damage from an attack to attempt a weapon/shield strip. Roll a second attack - if successful, a weapon or shield can be ripped from the grip of the opponent.
  • Morn. Star (6).* Those struck are thrown backward if unable to make a Paralysis Save. Use the damage rolled to determine distance, minus the HD of the creature struck.
  • Flail* (7). Ignores shields.
  • Spear (8). Throw-able. Can be "set" to receive a charge, dealing double or even treble if the force is sufficient.
  • Polearm (9).* There are a broad variety of polearms. Some excel in formation-fighting, others are great hacking weapons. Pick either:
    • Grant a nominated adjacent ally a -2 to incoming attacks.
    • If a 6 is rolled for damage, roll another d6 and add the result. This effect can be triggered multiple times. Those targeting the wielder are at a +1 to-hit.
  • Poleaxe (9).* AC of the target is treated as 7 when attacked.
  • 2-hnd. Sword (10).* Upon a killing blow, the wielder can roll another attack. This effect can be triggered multiple times.
  • Mnt. Lance (11). Inflicts double damage on the charge.
  • Pike (12).* Can fight in multiple ranks.
*denotes weapons requiring two hands.

**Riposte: Attacks against the wielder which score below 7 result in the wielder being able to attempt a counter-attack, resolved normally.

I think this avoids the issues with weapon capabilities that I outlined before and largely accomplishes my goals. It's a setup that rewards choice and experimentation as well as tables working together to actually think about how they use their weapons. Good deal!

That said, I have been tempted by the novelty of table lookups lately...

Dore, G. (1886). The Legend of Croquemitaine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Fantastic Medieval Wargame Campaign: OD&D Musings I

Back in Chainmail, AC 3 was plate not just "plate mail."

A Medieval Arms Race

Chainmail takes into account aspects like weight and length with weapon class. Much like how armor classes correspond to specific types of armor, weapon classes denote specific kinds of weapons. I use the following:

1. Dagger
2. Hand Axe
3. Mace (including War Pick, War Hammer, etc.)
4. Arming Sword
5. Battle Axe
6. Morn. Star (including Goedendag)
7. Flail (the peasant flail, not the "ball-and-chain" type)
8. Spear
9. Polearm (including Glaive, Fauchard, Partisan, etc.)
9. Halberd (including Bardiche, Voulge, Guisarme-Voulge, Lochaber-Axe, etc.)
10. Long Sword (including Claymore, Zwei., etc.)
11. Mtd. Lance
12. Pike

The lower the WC, the shorter and/or lighter the weapon. The higher the WC, the longer and/or heftier the weapon. In Chainmail, the WC helps determine things such as who can parry who or who gets the advantage of the first attack at various points in a melee. The relative WC also granted the opportunity to strike multiple blows against "slower" weapons (Gygax & Perren, 1975, p.26). Neat!

While the length aspect is easy enough to use in normal OD&D play, the capability of weapons vs armor has a more troubled history... yeah. But it is desirable! 

Chainmail's Man-to-Man table showing the target to kill on a 2d6

Chainmail's table does capture some intuitive things such as long weapons being good against horsemen, a mace being really good against plate, etc. There is some weirdness, however. The two-handed sword is a nuke for some reason. Flails are also extremely effective across the board. Some of the arbitrary decisions show if you squint hard enough and think. According to Gygax (1975) at this time, "the spear was a weapon primarily of barbaric peoples or poor ones" (p.3); and this table reflects this with some notable penalties.

So rather than trying to salvage a conversion of Chainmail's table or the flawed Greyhawk/AD&D approach, I think this presents an opportunity to streamline and build up. Just like how Chainmail's tables represented Gygax's ideas on the reality of medieval combat, I want something to reflect my own opinions.

There's a lot of good reads on my mind and several sources that show their age but are very much in the spirit of OD&D. So, where to begin?

Padded armor w/ helm (AC 7). Goedendag (WC 6) and dagger (WC 1).

Some Considerations for Mêlée Combat

Just to keep the basic premise on the board, armors in OD&D/Chainmail have a "class". Shocking, I know. It abstracts the general ability of that armor to protect its wearer. Having a good AC doesn't mean you're literally harder to hit (it's unfortunate that "hit" and "miss" see such common usage imo), it means your opponent is less likely to be able to land a telling blow, i.e., one that bypasses armor and could kill. In LBB OD&D, this is largely a matter of level. The higher level you are, the easier it is to land a telling blow on a target, regardless of armor, and deal damage. Magical weapons help too. 

And remember, there is no AC bonus due to dexterity or magic yet! AC is entirely decided by armor (for people at least). Modifiers go to the attack roll, such as those from magical armor. So the ability to defeat armor should entirely modify attack rolls if we want to keep d6 only damage.

How Armor Should (Probably) Work

N.B.: I'm assuming average HP for 1 HD and d6 damage rolls here so 1 hit = 1 kill.

AC 9: No Armor. All weapons should be equally scary here. Cutting blows will be nasty as will solid blows with a bludgeon or powerful thrusts. 

AC 7: Padded Armor or Gambeson (i.e. "Leather"). Cutting weapons should be less effective but still able to land a solid cutting blow. Thrusting attacks should be able to more easily bypass this type of protection as should bludgeoning. 

AC 5: Mail (Ringmail or Chainmail). Cutting weapons should be even less effective. Thrusting can deal with this type of protection, but it isn't a guarantee. Bludgeoning is effective. Trying to cut or hack at someone and you'll bludgeon them to death before you cut through.

AC 3: Plate. Blows actually penetrating should be rare. At close range, a heavy crossbow might be able to do and arrow or bolt wounds to the face through a visor could happen. Countered by striking at gaps of mail, blunt force trauma through the armor, or taking them down and getting a precise thrust in. You remembered your war hammer right? Your dagger for the armored wrestling?

+1 AC: Shields. Shields are very important. I'm largely fine with the utility they can offer in melee (an AC bonus or an impromptu bludgeon) but ranged is another matter. Arrows are hard to armor against, but shields can offer quite a bit of protection here. Perhaps they could be treated as softcover à la Chainmail?

"Cover: Soft cover such as brush, woods, waist-high fences, and walls will reduce missile cassualties by one-half (drop all fractions)" (Gygax & Perren, 1975, p.12).

Only causing half hits (i.e., 1-3 damage) could be an interesting way to model this. Especially compared to the later attempt in the 1e DMG via small/medium/large shields and limiting the number of hits they were effective against.

Glaives by Wenedlin Boeheim

Now, what about the weapons?

The big pitfall here is of course painting weapons with broad strokes (much like AD&D 2e did). Not all slashing/bludgeoning/piercing weapons are equal. Surely a wooden club cannot deal with armor like a flanged mace could. A military pick could deal with hard armor better than a spear. 

On the other end of this spectrum, even the "every weapon has a unique vs Armor profile" that CM and Greyhawk/1e used glosses over the fact that weapons generally have multiple uses. With a sword, you could half-sword to treat it like a short thrusting spear, wield it like a hammer with a murder strike, or thrust and slash as normal.

My current working approach is probably best illustrated by showing how I handle things in OD&D. Which is probably deserving of its own post.

So a few open questions for the adventure game folks! 

  1. Do you use any considerations of weapon capability vs armor in your games?
    1. If not, why?
    2. If so, do you find this extra element worth the effort?
  2. Do you factor weapon length at all in your games? Would a spearman have any notable advantage over someone with a shorter weapon?

Viollet-le-Duc (1874).

Wait! Don't forget the Arquebus! 

Arquebus. Cost: expensive, range: 18", enc: 100.

A notable absence in the transition of weapons from Chainmail to OD&D. The arquebus ignores mundane* armor, effectively treating such armored targets as unarmored. They have a range of 18" and fire every other turn in combat. Gunners can move up to one-half of their normal movement and still reload or fire, but if they move more than one-half they may only fire if they have initiative**.

The arquebus is incapable of indirect fire and cover (e.g., trees, walls, rocks, etc.) is quite important. In addition to the usual benefits of cover, half cover or less causes a -4 penalty and over half cover causes a -8 penalty (!).

Firing while rested on strong support (e.g. a wall or fork rest) grants a +4 adjustment.

The discharge of an arquebus (and especially a volley of several such gunners) could be a cause for a morale check.

*The applicability of this to monsters is, of course, left to the Referee's discretion.

**In Chainmail, they may only fire if they "beat their opponent's die roll". Rather than literally rolling off, I take this to mean that moving and firing at once is tough and isn't always an option. If this is too fiddly, just dump this option.

Friday, July 2, 2021

A Fistful of Mechs

Armored Core V by yutori-custom

Wanzers (derived from German wanderpanzer; wander for "walking", and panzer for "armor") are weapons from an older age, discovered buried in the ground. They are refurbished and crudely rebuilt to be used as military weapons. While nowhere near as powerful as their past iterations due to their poor reconstruction, they retain strong offensive and defensive capabilities, making them powerful war machines and highly sought after.

Most stand 5-7 meters tall and are designed for urban combat situations. They are primarily focused on ground-based operations and have limited aerial capabilities, being unable to fly for or maintain height for an extended period of time. They do have heightened mobility on the ground, boosting and gliding along the ground at high speeds.

n.b. The rules already have some opinions on how vehicles work. Per the rules on p.88:

  • "... allow each vehicle to have hit points, movement, AC, ST, and weaponry just like a character, and maybe also special attack or repair options."
  • "The characters engaged in the battle are allowed control over one or several of these things each."
  • "For some things, the characters' stats can be used."

See my post on modern violence for how to handle movement, equipment burden, and weapons. Mechanically speaking, these are piloted dragon stat blocks using modern weapons and the normal combat rules with some added bits and a coat of sci-fi paint.

Adjudicating Wanzers

In addition to the general vehicle rules, keep the following in mind:

Mods. These act like the implants on p. 89. Minor mods can grant the listed bonuses, mod keywords act like very limited groups (i.e. can grant double rolls), and major mods replace an attribute altogether.

Mods complicate the piloting process. Only the most experienced pilots can wield such machines to their full potential. Pilots can only utilize one mod but can accommodate one more at levels 3, 6, and 9. 

Weapons. Equipped on each arm, with two more stored on bay units on the shoulders. Swapping a current weapon with one stored in a shoulder hanger counts as a small action. Some mechs may have heavier or experimental weapons equipped on their back as well. These have their own restrictions.

Keeping in mind that I treat these like dragons, HD 5+ mechs can attack twice, HD 10+ three times, and HD 15+ get four. The last attack must be AV 10 and they have to forsake their move. 

Weight. As mentioned above, wanzer's use the rules for equipment burden and act as if they have a backpack (i.e. 14 slots). They count AC, weapon size, and spare ammo towards their total. 

While they can use two-handed weapons with one arm, they still count as two slots!

Damage Types. All weapons and armor come in three damage type categories: Kinetic (KE), Chemical (CE), and Thermal (TE)

Bullet-based projectiles deal KE damage, Chemical/Explosive type projectiles deal CE damage, and energy weapons deal TE damage. 

If the damage type is an armor weakness (W), it's treated as AC -1. If the damage type is an armor strength (S), it's treated as AC +1.

These can cancel out! If you have TE weakness, but get TE strength from some source, you'd treat it as normal. Neither a strength nor a weakness. 

Critical Damage*. When a Wanzer is reduced to 25% HP, they must make a critical damage roll (d6):

  1. Loss of Footing: pilot must save or the wanzer staggers, giving foes Combat Advantage.
  2. Knocked Unconcious: pilot must save or skip 1d3 rounds.
  3. Weapons Down: the wanzer's weapons are down for 1d3 rounds.
  4. Comms Down: audio/video feed down for 1d3 rounds.
  5. Cockpit Fires: 1d3 rounds of 1d6-1 damage to the pilot.
  6. Malfunction Explosions: 1d6 damage to mech and pilot.

    *Stolen from Ternwillow

    Making Wanzers

    I generally handwave the process but these random tables could help streamline things.

    The main parts of a wanzer are as follows:

    • Head: visual sensors, scanners, CPU equipment, etc.
    • Core: pilot controls, grants HP and ST.
    • Arms: weapons are fixed here.
    • Legs: govern movement type.
    • Generator: powers all other components of the wanzer.
    • Boosters: the thrust system that lets a wanzer boost along the ground or jump in the air.
    • Arm Hangars: store weapons and allow swaps mid-engagement. 
    • Shoulder Unit: an optional utility hard-point.

    Being refurbished and scavenged war machines from a bygones era, you don't exactly get to go shopping for the perfect configuration. You make do with what you have. 

    Roll 1d6 to determine the wanzer type:

        1-2: Light. HD 4-10. AC 4-6. Strengths: KE. Weaknesses: CE & TE.

        3-4: Medium. HD 6-12. AC 5-6. Strengths: KE. Weaknesses: CE & TE. 

        5: Sniper. HD 4-10. AC 4-5. Strengths: CE. Weaknesses: KE & TE.

        6: Heavy. 8-14 HD. AC 7-9. Strengths: TE. Weaknesses: CE.

    Randomly determine Hit Dice and use that to get Hit Points

    The Saving Throw is equal to HD+5. Randomly determine AC as well.

    Determine its leg-type (d6):

        1-3: Biped. Standard. Legs are good for walking when you aren't gliding along.

        4: Reverse Joint. Great jumping ability. Grants CE Strength and TE & KE weakness to Heavy types.

        5: Tetrapod. Can take a turn deploy, gaining Combat Advantage on ranged attacks but can't move.

        6: Tank. +4 HP and +1 AC but twice as slow (i.e. two move actions to travel a short distance).

    Weapons follow the linked rules above for simple weapons. They could be handguns, shotguns, gatling guns, machine guns, howitzers, battle rifles, sniper rifles, laser rifles, laser blades, physical blades, cannons, etc.

    Take four weapons, give them fittingly military tech-sounding names, and work out what they are.

    You may take RLDs (spare ammo) for any weapon, counting each RLD as a minor item.

    Give it a cool call-sign (or steal one from your favorite mecha anime or vidya).

    Roll (d6) for what kind of mod you start with and work with your Ref and fellow players to figure out what it is.

    1-3: Minor Mod; 4-5: Keyword Mod; 6: Major Mod.

    Sample Wanzer - THE HANGED MAN

    From Armored Core V

    CALLSIGN: HANGED MAN | PILOT LVL: 6

    HP: 35 (HD: 10)AC: 8 (Strength: TE, Weakness: CE) | ST: 15

    WT: 16 used / 16 total

    WPN SYSTEMS: 

    • R ARM: UBR-05/R (medium CE rifle, long-range). 1x RLD.
    • L ARM: Tansy RF12 (medium KE rifle, long-range). 1x RLD.
    • R BAY: ULB-13/H (medium TE laser blade, melee).
    • L BAY: USG-11/H (large KE shotgun, short-range).
    • SHLDR: UMM-20/H Surat (medium CE missile, long-range).
    MODS:
    • KT-2R3/Dafeng. Minor. High-powered booster. +2 inventory spaces.
    • Verseau RG-04zz. Minor. Advanced CPU fire-control system. +1 Initiative.
    • Analytical AR enhancements. Keyword for sensory task rolls and other relevant tasks.
    ---

    If you can't tell, I've been on a bit of an Armored Core and Front Mission kick over the past few months. I suppose this is just how they finally bleed over into my hobby time.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2021

    Modern Day Violence in Whitehack

    Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

    I've been running a table through a Whitehack spycraft game set in an unclear time in the late 20th century. This is a far cry from the typical faux-medieval milieu, but only a couple of adjustments have been needed to transition from swords and spears to the semi-automatics and machine guns. Remember, keep it fast and nasty.

    n.b Whitehack 3e has an optional rule section for "modern and futuristic weapons" already. I used this as a base and combined it with some additional considerations, but it works well enough on its own!

    Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

    ABSTRACT DISTANCE & MOVEMENT

    During a frantic firefight, the last thing I want is to count the exact distance when the guns come out.

    MV is removed. There are now five broad distance categories: close, short, medium, long, and distant.

    • Close is everything within a couple steps.
    • Short is how far a person can walk in ~10 seconds.
    • Medium is how far a person can run in that ~10 seconds.
    • Long is how far a person can run in a minute.
    • Distant is the distance a person could run in 10 minutes.

    These are relative to people. Just replace "person" with "car" or "speedboat" if you need to scale up.

    In combat, characters can move up to a short distance with a movement action. Two movement actions let characters move up to a medium distance. Moving within a close distance only needs a small action.

    Stolen from Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells

    Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

    EQUIPMENT BURDEN

    In the vanilla game, equipment burden affects your Movement (MV). We don't have MV so the MV penalties for carrying a ton of junk need adapting. Now, equipment burden affects your ability to act effectively. Strength can still be used to overcome this, however.

    Each character has 10 slots for equipment, but the tenth slot may be occupied by a 5-slot backpack or another suitable container, for a total of 14 usable slots. Having high Strength affects your ability to handle equipment beyond your number of slots. 

    At the end of each time unit* when you are over-encumbered, you need to pass a Strength task roll or rest for one time unit before doing anything else. If you exceed your maximum load by more than one, you need to pass a Strength task roll to start moving at all, and then again every time unit

    The amount you are allowed to exceed your limit by is increased by +1 at Strength 13 and another +1 at Strength 16.

    Stolen from Suldokar's Wake.

    *Here "time unit" simply refers to whether we're dealing with rounds, turns, days, etc.

    Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

    WEAPON ADJUSTMENTS

    These John Woo gifs are no coincidence. Be sure to stretch the phrasing of the Strong's cleave ability to include ranged weapons and enemies adjacent to one another!

    Weapons are grouped in large categories for ease of play.

    • Unarmed. 1d3 damage. Punching, kicking, etc.
    • Small. 1d6-1. Brass knuckles, knives, etc.
    • Medium. 1d6. Axes, bats, swords, etc.
    • Large. 1d6+1. Claymores, spears, halberds, etc.
    Ranged weapons are grouped similarly.
    • Small. 1d6-1. Medium range. Revolvers, pistols, etc.
    • Medium. 1d6. Long range. Heavy pistols, semi-auto weapons, crossbows, etc.
    • Large. 1d6+1. Distant range. Rifles, shotguns, machine guns, longbows, etc.
    For ranged weapons, the given range is its standard range. Weapons can be fired one distance category further away at a -4 AV penalty. Longer shots are nigh impossible.

    Small weapons are easy to hide. Large weapons need two hands to wield and are extremely conspicuous. Medium ranged weapons can be used with one hand in a pinch (-2 AV), but often work much better with two.

    n. b. Remember that weapons will have other benefits and drawbacks in different circumstances as well. The Referee should consider these and apply Combat Advantage, penalties, and other adjustments as appropriate (e.g. usable in a grapple, reach, armor-piercing, concealable, loud, etc.). Use common sense and discussion.

    These make most weapons quite easy, but may not properly portray everything!

    E.g. a shotgun could do 1d6+1, but would have a short range. A flamethrower could hit everyone in a cone up to short range for 1d6 if they fail a save. Crossbows can fire every other round. Black powder muskets may fire once every three rounds. Modify to fit whatever you're thinking of.

    Stolen from Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells

    Hard Boiled (1992) dir. John Woo

    OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

    Don't stand out in the open in a firefight. Take cover.

    • Cover stops bullets. Characters hiding behind cover cannot be hit by direct fire.

    • Partial Cover is when characters attack from behind cover. -4 AV to hit a target behind partial cover.

    • Concealment hides you from attackers. -2 AV to hit a target behind concealment.

    Armor grants AC as normal, but we're not dealing with chainmail or plate suits.

    • Light. AC 2. Civilian-grade protective armor such as that provided by leathers or layers of heavy cloth.
    • Medium. AC 4. The more obvious type of body armor, like a security-grade tactical outfit or bulletproof vest.
    • Heavy. AC 6. Heavy-duty military-grade tactical body armor; impossible to hide and extremely protective.

    Armor and cover may not always apply during all types of attacks. Use common sense and discussion.

    Some other quick additions that have come up:

    • Explosives deal full damage to everyone in close range and half as much within short range. Those who can dive for cover can save to avoid damage.
    • Incendiaries catch a target on fire unless a save is made; 1d6 damage per round until put out.
    • Let the Strong's cleave ability include ranged weapons and enemies adjacent to one another.
    • Use the 3e rules for Burst and Full Auto for automatic weapons (pp.84-85).
    • Ammo isn't tracked exactly. Use the 3e rules for abstract ammo (pp.84-85).
    • Add the Suppressive Fire special combat option from 3e (pp.84-85).
    • Add the Spray Ability for the Strong to choose from in 3e (pp.84-85).