Monday, July 29, 2013

Stout Hearts and Willing Swords (Updated)

(Draft edited 31 July 2013)
A simple wargame by Ross Macfarlane

Stout Hearts  Part 1. Set up and basics.

This is the second draft of a set of simple rules for resolving movement and combat in tabletop miniature wargames inspired by heroic fiction whether historical or fantastical in origin. The main changes are to revert to the old Featherstone idea of armour saves which has led to a number of other changes to facilitate this and keep melee and missile fire consistent but there are others such as to make shieldwalls explicit again instead of implicit.

lease note that this is not a complete gaming system. A game masters/organizer is required to choose or design a scenario and add house or scenario rules where needed, preferably in accordance with a background storyline, of their own choosing or design. To get the most from the game, players will need to be equipped with a strong imagination of their own.


The game requires at least 1 person in which case that person will be GM and solo-player rolled into one. If 2 or more persons are available the game may be played as a conventional game with one or more players on each side playing against each other or as players with personal goals playing against a GM controlled enemy. There is no theoretical limit to the number of players.

The rules assume that figures will be singly based but with the help of some markers and imagination troops on multi-figure stands may be used.

All dice are traditional 6 sided dice.

Heroes: Heroes are individual figures who are above the crowd. A hero may start as part of a unit whether as the unit commander or as an ordinary ranker, be a general or be on their own. They may even be an animal or non-human. Each player must pick one and only one Hero who represents himself and who will always attempt to move as the player wishes.  All heroes who are not a player’s personal figure are non-player heroes and must test as per the orders rule when the player goes to move them. Heroes must be given a name and  assigned a Power of 1 (Minor Hero), 2 (Hero) or 3  (Great Hero). When a hero takes a hit his power is reduced by 1. If reduced to Power 0, the next hit will kill or incapacitate him. Player heroes and all Great heroes do not normally die but will instead collapse from blood loss and be captured or buried under a pile of bodies to later escape or be rescued. A GM may of course overrule this but beware, if the main hero dies, the story usually ends and you may need to start a new series.

Last but not least, having too many heroes in a single game will probably spoil the broth.
Generals. A General is a hero who commands an army or in a large game, a portion of an army that is assigned to him. In the case of an alliance, one general may be in supreme command or both the armies might only recognize their own general. It is usual for one of the player’s to have their personal figure as the General but it is not necessary. If the General is not a player-character, units must test as per the Orders rule. If a General is killed he is not replaced during the game or rather whoever takes over does not have the same authority, units must test as per the orders rule.

Units. A unit is a group of figures that must normally stay together. A unit might or might not contain a hero and might be a non-military group such as a group of villagers or be a single large creature with or without a crew. There is no minimum or maximum unit size but around a dozen heavy infantry or ½ that number of cavalry or light troops works well. A unit may be ordered to split off a detachment for a particular purpose, such as to guard a bridge and this then becomes a separate unit. Units are classed primarily by function. Non heroes are killed if they take a hit.

Units may be classed as:

Heavy Infantry trained and equipped primarily to fight hand to hand in tight ranks although some units may also use some missile weapons. They are normally assumed to be armed with some combination of spears, swords and axes but heavy infantry with two handed pikes have special rules.

Light Infantry trained and equipped to operate in looser formations for rapid movement in all sorts of terrain and normally relying primarily on shooting with bows, slings and javelins but usually armed to fight hand to hand as well. Light Infantry may only carry light armour at most plus a shield.

Heavy Cavalry trained and equipped to fight on horseback and rely on shock charges although some are also equipped with missile weapons.

Light Cavalry trained and equipped to operate on horse back using rapid movement and missile fire to harass and weaken the enemy but also normally equipped for hand to hand combat as well. Light cavalry may only be equipped with armour plus a shield.

Artillery trained and equipped to use catapults and other engines of war to attack the enemy at a distance.

Train equipped with wagons and beasts of burdens to transport goods and only capable of limited self defence.

Elephants trained for war and usually carrying a crew as well. Treat the elephant and crew as a single hero figure with a power of 3 in melee. When shooting count the crew as foot archers.

Civilians neither trained nor equipped for fighting.

Special and custom units. Due to the breadth of imagination in heroic fiction not to mention history, the GM may have to slot units as best as possible, camel riders as cavalry, goblins  as light infantry and so and should feel free to customize their characteristics to taste.

Armour. The rules assume that most troops are "armed" that is they have some basic protection, a shield and possibly a jerkin or stout cap. Those who lack any substantial protection, a peasant or  unarmoured archer perhaps, should be classed as unarmed. Troops who are more heavily armoured than usual, having mail plus helmet and a large shield or a full suit of armour or riding armoured horses should be classed as Heavy Armed. Light infantry and light cavalry may not be heavy armed. Heavy cavalry only counts as heavy armed if their horses are protected but may still be able to count as heavy armed when they dismount. Armour is classed as follows:
Light Armour: A helmet and/or minimal body protection such as a fur.
Armour: A helmet and metal or proper fabric or leather protection for the torso.
Heavy Armour: A helmet and mostly metal armour for torso, arms and legs. For cavalry this must include some horse armout while mounted.
Shield: Any substantial shield. A pavise or similar counts as cover not a shield.

Unit Quality.  Most units are assumed to be competent. Units such as a General’s bodyguard may be considered to be better than average and rated Elite while civilians, untrained levies and troops who are demoralized or disaffected should be rated  Poor.

Formations and Facing. Units normally form as a loose cluster of figures all facing the same direction, the unit’s front is then considered to be the area directly in front of it and reaching out to 45 degrees of either side of straight ahead. Everything else is its flank. A unit may form into a circle but may not move if it does so.
Skirmishers. Light infantry may disperse as skirmishers with more than an inch between figures and with each figure facing as desired. Their facing is then determined individually.
Hedgehog. Heavy Infantry with long 2 handed spears may take a whole turn to form up in a hedgehog with bases touching, at least 2 ranks deep. They may face out in all directions and then have no flank. As soon as the unit moves it is no longer in hedgehog. Units in hedge hog count as defending an obstacle if charged frontally,
Shield wall. Heavy infantry may take a turn to form a shield wall with figures in base to base contact and at least 2 ranks deep. The shield wall will move at reduced speed but counts as being in cover. Infantry with long 2 handed spears get the same benefit with the reach of their spears and the think cluster of spear shafts providing the cover.
Garrison. Any infantry defending fortifications or buildings lose all formation but may face in any direction and the unit is considered to not have any flank in a direction that at least 1 figure is facing.

Magic. Magic is problematic in a simple game.  In my limited experience, magic in traditional heroic tales usually appears most often in the form of enchanted weapons or armour, spells or potions used in private, far from the battlefield, or as summonings of monsters or magical creatures, undead and the like. Magical items will raise the power of the owner by 1 or will bestow a special capability, speed, invisibiity etc  as defined by the GM. Pre-game enchantments and potions are probably best written into the scenario with both the effect and how it is dispelled. In the same manner a summoning may just be represented by adding a  special unit or creature to that side’s order of battle or the magician may have to try to raise it during the game. Apart from that, magicians are treated as unarmed heroes whose power may not be used in combat but they may use the magic rule to cast a spell instead of moving. Spells are each rated by their Power ranging from 1 to 4. When casting a spell roll 1 die. A modified roll of 4,5, 6 indicates success. A modified score of 1, 2 or 3 indicates  a lot of chanting and hand waving with no visible result. A modified roll of 0 or less means the spell goes wrong and the magician will suffer a horrible death.  Add the power of the wizard to the die roll then subtract the power of the spell he is attempting  (for example, a Power 1 wizard tries to cast a level 3 spell he will have a cumulative modifier of -2 (+1 -3). He needs to roll a 6 to succeed, and on a roll of 1 or 2 will die a horrible death. (Priests may be treated in the same way but may not use spells, only prayer, preaching and, of course, loud choruses of "Hallelujah!".)

Fireballs/lightning bolts etc: Each inflicts 1 hit on a target within 12” to the front. The power of the spell is equal to the number of fireballs being cast.
Summoning a demon. A demon is treated as a single heavily armoured hero or a beast. The power of the demon is equal to the power of the spell. The demon will appear next to the magician and may be moved immediately. In order to control the demon, the spell must be successfully repeated each turn. On any turn that it is not controlled, the demon will attack the nearest unit of either side and then leave the table.
Enchantment. An enchantment allows a magician to control a hero including a player hero. The magician must have line of sight to the hero within 6”. The power of the spell is equal to 1+ the power of the hero being enchanted. If successful the controlling player may make any valid move with the enchanted hero including attacking his own side. The control lasts until the magician’s next turn at which it must be repeated to maintain control. If a 0 is rolled the hero sees the wizard and slays him with a thrown dagger or something suitable.
Confusion/Illusion. This is a Power 1 spell and causes 1 unit within 12” and line of sight to halt in confusion. It immediately loses hedgehog formation if applicable and may not make a charge reaction this turn or move or shoot on its next turn.
Others. Any spells desired, illusions, raising the dead etc may be set out and assigned a power level by the GM before a game.

Stout Hearts  Part 2. Playing the game.

Initiative. At the start of each turn each side rolls one die and adds the General’s Power. The side with the highest score chooses whether to go first or second for that turn only. In case of a tie, the previous turn’s sequence is repeated.

Sequence of play. The first player issues and resolves any challenges then moves and/or shoots with any of his units then resolves any melees. The second player may be able to react to the charge. Once all combat is resolved repeat reversing roles. Do any end of turn activities called for by the scenario then start the next turn.

Challenges. Each player turn, one hero may issue a challenge instead of moving or shooting. Any opposing hero within 12” may accept. The heroes will move into contact between the armies and will proceed to fight a melee. The melee will continue immediately until one of the heroes is struck down and killed or captured or is forced to retreat.  Once the duel is over, the winner may retire a move and the turn continues. If the winner had a lower power he will immediately gain 1 Power.

Orders. All units and groups are assumed to move in response to orders whether of the general or their unit commander.  No order is required to shoot or rally.  A player’s personal figure may always move as the player wishes (subject to the rules of course). If the player’s hero is also a unit commander, the unit will always obey his orders.

If the player’s hero is the general then all units within 24” of him will follow orders unless  of course they  happen to be under the control of another player’s hero and he decides not to. If the general is not a player general then he must roll 1 die at the start of his turn. On a 6 he must order at least ⅓ of his units to advance at least ½ move or charge. On a roll of 1 he must order at least ⅓ of his units to fall back at least ½ move. On any other roll he may issue orders as the player wishes.

If a unit or a non-player hero is not within 24” of the general and a player wants it to move, roll 1 die with  a modified score of 4,5 or 6 indicating that it has received the order or is moving on its own initiative.

+1 if Elite, -1 if Poor, + the Power of the non player hero if alone or if the hero is the unit’s leader.

Units  in ambush who have an enemy within shooting or charge range must take an order test if the player wishes them to remain hidden and NOT charge or shoot.

Heavily armoured infantry or any infantry in shieldwall: 4”
Other heavy infantry not in shieldwall: 8"
Light Infantry, Elephants 12”
Heavily Armoured Cavalry: 12"
Other Heavy Cavalry 16” 
Light Cavalry, Flying Creatures 20"
Wagons, pack animals, civilians 8”
Light Artillery 4"
Heavy Artillery may not move.

Units may move forward up to their full move which may include wheeling or may retreat straight back at ½ speed while facing the enemy. They may also turn then 90 or 180 degrees then move ½ move. No individual may move farther than the unit’s  maximum. Skirmishers and light cavalry may move full speed in any direction and change facing as needed.

Interpenetration. It takes a whole move for 1 unit to move through a friendly unit except that cavalry and light infantry may pass through skirmishers and vice versa without penalty. Cavalry which begin their move in melee with enemy light infantry may pass through them.

Dismounting. It takes a whole move for cavalry or infantry mounted on any form of transport to dismount or to remount their transport.

Heroes which are part of a unit move with it. Heroes on their own move may move in any direction at light infantry or light cavalry rates unless heavy armed and may face any direction.

Charging. A charge is a move into contact and must bring as many figures as possible into contact. The target of the charge must be at least partially within the unit’s front before it moves. If at least 1 figure is within the enemy’s front then the charge must be made against the enemy’s front. A unit may not charge through the front of one unit to attack a different one.  Heavy cavalry which has been charged from the front may declare a counter charge and will meet the charging unit ½ way.

Terrain. The nature of terrain features will need to be decided by the GM. in general, skirmishers are not slowed by terrain being assumed to run when needed and to move easily around obstacles. Other troops move at ½ speed if they cross one or more obstacles or move through a terrain feature which is deemed passable but an obstacle to movement. Some terrain  features may be classed as impassible to some troop types. Normally all terrain features are impassible to wagons except along roads and trails. Visibility into or within woods etc is 2”. Infantry concealed on the edge of woods  will not be seen until the enemy is within 2” unless they break concealment to move or shoot at which time they may be seen as normal.

Archers on foot may shoot up to 16” to their front but may not move and shoot in the same turn. If their unit is in melee but they are not in contact they may fire over head at the enemy unit but may only target enemy figures who are not in contact.
Light infantry with javelins or slings may move 1/2 move and shoot up to 4” to their front at any point during their move. They may also shoot if being charged.
Light cavalry may move up to 1/2 move and shoot up to 4” in any direction at any point during their move.
Heavy Cavalry with may shoot up to 12” with bows if they don’t move or may throw javelins as they charge.
Heavy Infantry with javelins may shoot as they charge or if they are being charged.
Artillery may shoot 36” and ignores armour but may not move and shoot. Light artillery has up to 2 crew. Heavy artillery has up to 4 crew. Heavy artillery may break down walls. The strength of a wall must be determined by the GM. Palisades should be around 3, weak stone walls 6 and fortresses, 12. Each hit scored by heavy artillery reduces the strength of the wall by 1. When reduced to 0 a breach 1 figure wide is created.

Effect. Roll 1 die for each figure shooting, needing a 5 or 6 to hit. The owning player may assign hits on a unit in any way he chooses.
+ Power if a hero or +1 if Elite archers
-1 if the target is in cover or are skirmishers or if the line of sight is obscured (for example if firing over friendly troops).

Armour Saves. For each figure hit roll 1 die to see if their armour has been overcome. Light armour is worth 1 point, Armour 2 points, Heavy Armour 3 points, +1 if carrying a shield, +1 if mounted on a horse. If the die roll is greater than the armour value then the figure is hit. If not the hit does not count. Infantry with 2 handed spears cancel the horse point. Infantry will 2 handed cutting weapons reduce the value of infantry armour by 1. (For example an infantryman with light armour and a shield will be hit if the armour roll is 3 or higher)

Melee. Pair up opposing figures in contact. Roll 1 die for each figure in contact and compare them. Any figure which has a higher total than his opponent will inflict a hit if the enemy's armour is overcome (reminder: heroes lose 1 power for each hit if reduced to 0 the next hit will kill them, others are killed if hit). If multiple figures are fighting 1 enemy, compare his one die roll against each enemy roll . The single figure may only inflict 1 hit but if he rolls higher than more than 1 enemy, he may choose which to hit. The single figure however, may be hit by more than one enemy.

Die Modifiers (The maximum modifier that may be used is +4)
+ relative quality modifier (hero = +power, elite = +1, poor =-1) (for example a Power 1 hero fighting an average warrior would add +1 but if fighting a poor levy would add +2)
+1 charging at least 6" over open ground.
+1 if in cover or defending an obstacle or a hill or if in shield wall
+2 if fighting the enemy flank or rear

Resolution. Compare the number of hits suffered by both sides after a round of melee. Include missile fire hits that turn. If the hits were equal or the difference is only 1 then it is a tied melee and will continue during the next melee phase unless either side retreats voluntarily. Front rank casualties may be replaced by rear rank figures.

If one side suffered at least 2 hits more than it inflicted it will recoil ½ move facing the enemy and must rally on its next move. The enemy must advance up to ½ move in an attempt to keep contact unless they are defending cover or an obstacle or pass an orders check to hold their position. If an elephant is forced to fall back it will turn in a random direction and move full speed, charging into contact and fighting a round of melee out of sequence against the first unit of either side which it meets. After one round the elephant will be killed by its mahout or wonder off and be removed. 

Rallying. Roll 1 die. 4,5,6 = recover and may act as normal next turn. 1,2,3 = Retreat a full move leaving the table for good if the edge is reached. 
+1 if Elite, -1 if Poor, +power of hero General who has joined the unit.
If a player hero is with a unit which retreats he may choose to leave it. Other heroes must pass an orders check to leave the retreating unit.

Winning and Losing. It is best to have a mission to be accomplished within a reasonable time frame but in the absence of any other conditions or of one player conceding, this is heroic warfare so the fight is to the finish!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Laying the groundwork

The first step in cobbling together a new set of rules is to figure out just what you want from them and how you intend to use them. Easy to do in the broadest sense but somewhat trickier when you try to force yourself to be explicit.

In this case, my intent is to play tabletop miniature wargames which evoke the battles and skirmishers from epic or heroic literature whether fictional, historical or fantasy. Examples of the sort of literature I have in mind include Hal Foster's Prince Valiant comic strips and Robert E Howard's Conan tales but also Rosemary Sutcliffe's novels. Note that the intent is to evoke these not replicate them. I will also include enough of a nod to history as to satisfy myself.

As in the use of negative space in art, sometimes it is useful to define what the rules are not.

The majority of games will be solo but I do not wish to design a player vs the game (or GM) style of wargame but desire a conventional player vs player approach for the rules. Should a one sided approach be of use for a particular game then suitable techniques can be incorporated into the scenario design.

I also do not wish a role playing game or a game focussing on individuals other than the main heroes. The rules will need to handle the occasional one on one duel style of combat but most games will involve clashes between groups of men whether these form a small raiding party portrayed at 1:1 or small armies portrayed at 1:10. The difference will be purely theoretical with Heroes having their capabilities and separate identity and everyone else operating as units of men.

Lastly I wish the game to be as gimmick free as possible. There should be an absolute minimum of overt rules to resolve actions but the story lines and player decisions should emerge from the player's imaginations and the scenario design not the game mechanics . The foe to be outwitted should be their opponent or the situation, not the rules. The combat and morale dice should be sufficient friction to render outcomes unpredictable.

The Prince, wielding the Singing Sword for the first time, holds a bridge against a "unit" of Vikings, for a while at least.
Illustration borrowed from the Wikipedia article on Prince Valiant.

On the whole my expectation is that missile combat will be normally be an annoyance or spur that causes some casualties. Individual combat between heroes may be quick or prolonged but will usually end with one or the other being killed or incapacitated. Principal characters will of course normally be wounded and taken prisoner or be rescued or left behind rather than killed.  Melees between units should often be prolonged with one side being suddenly and irrevocably broken, either by being surprised, perhaps by an attack in the rear, or by being worn down.

Mechanic wise, the rules in general will be similar to Rattle of Dice, with initiative, move or shoot, fight melee etc with simple rolls and simple tests but with extra rules for the characters.

The first draft should be ready in a day or three.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three Spokes Are Better Than None.

Yes rumours of my demise  etc., etc..  I've just been off to help celebrate a friend's wedding and the slightly matter of a 4,200 km round trip has kept me off the web for the last week, apart from a few quick peeks over coffee and wifi at various Tim Horton's. (thanks Tim!). But, now, I'm home and sort of  rested (not to mention once again thinking that it was a kilo-kilometer too far for a 1 week round trip) and regular blogging should resume this weekend.

I knew I was starting to recover when I started applying paint to some of those 40mm Merten medieval ladies this morning and pondering rules. Its true, I said I was going to use a slight variant on Medieval Mayhem. After all, it is at just the right level with what seem the sort of right individual focus but still simple, but there is all of that die rolling. Its not so bad in a multi-player game where each player has a dozen or so figures in a few groups but I can see working up to solo games with 50 or 60 figures or more in  a dozen or more groups and never mind movement, with combat followed by effect dice and morale, there can be several hundred rolls in a turn. Quite apart from the wrist exercise and time, it seems to diminish the drama not to mention numbing my mind.

It still needs some thinking but surely its not beyond me to do something as simple as Rattle of Dice, (Rattle of Swords?) with provisions for heroes, and armour and magic to provide a fair simulation of comic book and fictional battle. Stay tuned, the wheel is being reinvented again.

Archive photo from July 2010: Episode 11 Raiders in the Pass

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rattled by Rebels

The game began with the appearance of a dusty wagon escorted by redcoats  and a handful of Larsen's Lancers. They had been on the road for days but remained vigilant as there were rumours of discontent amongst the Brethren of the Plains as they settlers of mixed blood who had moved inland were now calling themselves. The convoy was nearly half way through the shallow valley when the first rebels topped the ridges on either side, just out of rifle range, and descended rapidly into the valley. 

Seeing no enemy ahead, the Colonel deployed skirmishers to cover the rear. ordered the lancers to support them and pushed  the column forward. As the first shots rang out it was immediately obvious that the reputation of the Brethren for accuracy was well founded. Suddenly, from the woods ahead, a horde of wild Atlantican warriors surged forward with blood curdling screams. Calmly the Green Tigers levelled their rifles and fired a last minute volley that sent the warriors running for the woods even faster than they had run out. 

Taking advantage of an initiative shift, the ambushers rush the wagon but are repulsed. 

It was time for the coup de grace. The lancers were ordered forward to sweep away the enemy to the rear and end the encounter. The lancers dropped their points and galloped forward expecting the enemy rabble to flee but these held their ground and aided by a flanking fire, dropped 1/2 the lancers as they rode in. The remainder reined about and galloped for safety, rallying at the head of the valley. 

Suddenly more Atlanticans appeared on either side, opening a hot fire and threatening the wagon. Acting quickly, the Tigers deployed a handful of skirmishers to cover the front of the wagon and doubled the rest back to cover the flank while the company of Buffs covered the rear. The remnants of the Lancers,  veterans of many a fray, rallied and prepared to intervene again. To any veteran of fights on the North Atlantican plains, it was no surprise  that the warriors who had run back to the woods reappeared as quickly as they had disappeared. It was a surprise though when they over ran the skirmish line and swarmed the wagon. Before they could loot it, the Lancers charged again and drove them off for good.

So far so good.

Suddenly, the Black Fox, who had been lurking behind the brethren's skirmish line, let loose a war whoop and waving his sword led his men forward. The red line had been stretched too thin and had suffered too many losses. The brethren swept it away and were about the wagon before anyone had time to react. Cursing, the Colonel gathered up a handful of Tigers and was able to lead them to the rescue before the rebels had time to loot the wagon or take charge of the team. All was not yet lost.

...and The Fox is on the!

A fierce and prolonged melee followed but despite the Fox going down with a slight wound, the soldiers were no match for the enemy in hand to hand either and were soon retreating up the hill. Counting up his losses, the Colonel decided that he had no choice but to abandon the wagon and attempt to save what was left of his men.

How did it come to this?


Well, there we are, an enjoyable hour or so of gaming with several turns of fortune. There may have been some question about one or two of the choices  made by the good Colonel but then who knew the enemy had so many 6's in them?

The rules actually worked better than I expected for such a small game but that's OK.  I was especially surprised that the melees worked even though there was often only 1 or 2 dice per side but then I realized that it was not so different than 2 Morschauser stands facing off and my desire to fight out individual combats was merely a cultural hangover from other Colonial systems. 

So will I be using Rattle of Dice on a regular basis? Not for the upcoming Atlantican campaigns, the plan is still to use MacDuff which is not much more complex once you extract the actual rules from the all the explanations. I have, however, updated MacDuff to use the same morale system as Rattle and Hearts of Tin, twiddled some details of the melee rule and have gone back to simpler terrain and formation change rules. All as a result of the game at Huzzah where I wasn't 100% pleased with some aspects and where I improvised as GM to get around things. 

What this means is that, in practice, the main differences between Rattle and MacDuff are now the figure to figure melee resolution mechanism and reaction fire rule in MacDuff as well as the option for card sequencing instead of initiative.  What I need now is an "everything you need to play"  2 sides of a sheet summation of MacDuff for the 1860's.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Of Battles and Skirmishes

Its a beautiful HOT summer weekend and I'm Officer of the Watch and Duty Watch rolled into one while Kathy is off to dog show. This means I can't wander far and its hard to grab more than an hour at time to myself but a lot can be done with an hour here or there. It seemed like a good time to take some troops outside but scouting around for just the right spot just reminded me that the lawn needs cutting,  the gardens need weeding, that it was hot out and that I was tired. Suddenly, a cold drink and a book in the shade seemed more inviting than preparing a battlefield, dragging troops downstairs and coming up with a scenario. I retreated upstairs, turned on another fan and looked around for something easy to set up and play.

A column of Faraway troops under attack by Brethren and their Atlantican allies c 1845.

The table was still set for Picket's Charge but lately I find that fighting battles tends to feel like work. Work to set them up, work to come up with plans, in the case of historical battles work to research them, work to fight through them. Worse than that, battles tend to have consequences.  At least in life, in campaigns and in continuing imagi-nation story lines. I started to think about Petit Guerre settings and scenarios.

I'm not sure that I've ever thought about the difference between battles and skirmishes in quite this way before. It may be due to a lack of context for so many of my games over the years or that many of the various rule sets I've played tended to produce one level of game and so there was no clear  distinction even if a given scenario was more plausible as one or the other. I have tended to think of size as the difference between a battle and a skirmish but now I am thinking it is more a matter of intent and consequence. It is not that skirmishes cannot have consequences but they are usually either cumulative such as in a prolonged guerilla campaign, or else accidental  as in the death of Lord Howe shortly before the battle at Ticonderoga.

Battles are serious affairs not usually under taken lightly or without reason. Much of the writing about generalship over the centuries is about how to conduct a campaign so that you can force a decisive battle that will destroy the enemy's capability or will to continue the fight and about how to avoid having the enemy do the same to you. Once battle is joined, the aim is usually to destroy the enemy's army not to seize some minor terrain feature except as a means to an end. A skirmish on the other hand is usually between two detachments whose loss would be regrettable rather than decisive and the goal is usually some smaller, limited but specific objective such as the destruction or protection of property or capture of a strategical terrain objective such as Ruffin's night attack before Talavera. These sorts of limited engagements are typical of Grant's Tabletop scenarios and form ideal scenarios  because the gamer is assigned troops and assigned a mission much like an intermediate general without having to concern himself as much with preliminary off table manoeuvring and the campaign situation.

Having decided to do a skirmish on the existing terrain, a variation on the ambush of a convoy seemed like an easy and always good scenario, especially for solo play with programmed ambushers randomly placed. Prince Valiant has been on my mind but I've tried to avoid doing any of those without a story line. The 16th Century was also a valid choice but I'm unsure about the rules and anyway, I didn't have a  printed copy to hand. So Atlantica beckoned.

The "plan" calls for a long period of border warfare with occasional major expeditions so no explanation is needed. Due to a combination of distractions and indecision, my Atlanticans can only muster a handful of figures in "modern" dress so their ranks were filled out with 18th Century ones and reinforced with Brethren of the Coast and rebellious settlers to make up to 36 ambushers. I still need to work out the details of the backstory but the rebel settlements were founded by European hunters and boatmen who inter married with the Atlantican tribes in the 18th Century and were later reinforced by rebels fleeing the Blue River district after the failed rebellion. The convoy consisted of a single supply wagon escorted by 6 of Larsen's Lancers and 2 companies of infantry each 12 strong.

This is the sort of game that MacDuff was written for but I had never actually played Rattle of Dice as published on the blog. The sole test game before I decided to just roll it into Hearts of Tin was using some rough notes. I decided to give it a go.

It didn't take long to realize that I had made some omissions and at least one typo as well as another mistake that probably reflected a mental blip after thinking about Charge!.  Given the low numbers of figures I was severely tempted to add a MacDuff style figure to figure melee  system, and to add the after melee  test I used when I migrated the system to HofT but I decided to just go with what I had written, the only change being the addition of a 1/2 move penalty for formation changes as proposed on War Diaries of a Little Englander.

The typo was in melee where I wrote count 1/2 of the 2nd & 3rd rank instead of 1/2 the 3rd & 4th rank. The 2nd rank was already covered by including figures in contact and those in contact with them. The quasi typo was by writing count remainders of more than 1/2 when what I usually do is count remainders of 1/2 or more. The main omissions were that the shooting dice listed were for muzzle loading rifles, breech loaders rolling 1 per 2 instead, and that I hadn't included ordinary wagons, something I needed!  Anyway I have updated the original Rattle of Dice post with the corrections in red and added an evade rule for cavalry and skirmishers which I did not use today.

Tomorrow, we'll see how it went.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Unstable bridge infrastructure.

4 Heroes of the Revolution hold in town as the bridge blows behind them. 

On Thursday I visited Ron for another East Front Memoir game. Reserve Demolition from Scenarios for Wargames. There are 2 options for blowing bridges in memoir, one where it is automatic and one requiring a die roll. We went for the latter but had trouble duplicating the proposed system where messengers arrive with orders, first, to delay blowing the bridge and then, finally, to blow it. We ended up shuffling 2 airpower cards into the deck to signify that the bridge could be blown. Any player pulling one of these had to place it face up but could draw another card. We weren't actually using aircraft rules.

I can't remember when I had such good cards and dice, at least early on. I stormed on the table, destroyed a counter attack without blinking and pressed in to town with tanks and infantry. Then I stalled  and was blown apart by artillery and a counter attack by infantry. By the time I got more troops up the order had been received to blow the bridge. It took a couple of turns but I'd run out of cards and while I was able to  infiltrate an infantry unit across the bridge, they weren't able to stop the demolition. However, the scenario required Ron to save 60% or more of his army. My early push had taken out 5 out of 9 units leaving him with just under 60%. A draw! Urrah!

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Real Man of Steele or Forty Years in Canada

Colonel Flint of the Queen's Lancers, 1866

I haven't made a lot of book recommendations but I enjoyed this one so much I can't help myself. It is the autobiography of Sam Steele and by default an account largely of the formation and development of the North West Mounted Police. My copy was published as part of the Prospero Canadian Collection but is available as a free ebook. 

He began a military career by volunteering for the militia during the Fenian Raids, served in the Red River expedition, was a member of Canada's first regular artillery battery where he served along side not only a veteran of the Crimean War but also an 88 year old officer who had fought in Bull's troop RHA at Waterloo!  He joined the NWP when it was formed and rose to high rank as he served through the settlement of the west and the Riel Rebellion, the construction of the railway through the Rockies and the Yukon Gold Rush. When the Boer War broke out he raised the Strathcona Horse and led it in the field before being asked to form a South African Mounted Police. Finally he served as Major General in the Canadian Army during the First World War. 

Among the things that make the book so interesting are the many descriptions of his encounters with a long list of people, some famous including numerous British and American officers to Indians such as Sitting Bull, others less well known such as the scout Jerry Potts and others completely unknown. Some of the incidents he either witnesses or took part in or reports as hearsay are worthy of any adventure moves.  More than that are the descriptions of every day life and service, all the nitty gritty of how many miles ridden on patrol in how much time, provisioning details, how various crimes were solved and on and on. It is also a description of the rapid change from wild prairie peopled by warring Indian tribes and whiskey traders  to "civilized" farmland with modern cities of up to 200,000 people by the turn of the century 30 years later.  

Of particular interest to me, despite being brief, is of course his part in the South African war. Oddly enough, his accounts of a few skirmishes, like the accounts of several Boers that I have read, are reminiscent of those lithographs and illustrated news after all. It is possible that I will have to relent and forego the big battles and fight the little war instead. The problem still remains of scale, something on the order of 1,000 yards to the foot with a line of 12 figures well spaced out representing a battalion and patrols of 1 or 2 figures having a role. There will definitely have to be some sleight of mind and some theatrical magic employed to get the right effect.

The Queen's Red Lancers from Faraway's Household Brigade.
The uniforms are copied from those of the English 16th Lancers between the adoption of the tunic in 1856 and the switch to black plumes in 1880. The figures are Zinnbrigade 1900 Prussian Uhlans right out of the mold apart from the officer and the addition of rolled cloaks. He was made from one of the lancers. I cut off the lance, straightened his right arm, removed his left arm and cut him at the waist.  I added a left arm from wire and putty and used an ACW horse from Merten. I kind of wish I'd gone for a more authentically toy soldier single yellow stripe on the pants and a single bold red stripe on the girdle rather without the more accurate "light" that separates them but I'm not redoing them. Final basing finish for all of the Atlantican armies is under discussion.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Prince Valiant: Mapping New Ground

I'm not planning on playing the Prince Michael game until August but I figure that it won't hurt to start working on the scenario before I get to painting for it, especially since day time temperatures exceeding 32 degrees have made my painting desk, tucked under not yet insulated attic and eaves, uninviting .

From the archives, Prince Michael's first battle.

The main drive is partly to play a different sort of tabletop miniature game and partly to do an homage to the Prince Valiant comic strips. (As an aside, comic strip seems like an inappropriate term since the stories were not comic in nature but to re-label them as something else now smacks of revisionism and of confusing labels with substance.)  This game will bring three things to the table which are not usually seen there; skirmish gaming, magic and non-human figures, centaurs actually.

I did play a little D&D back around 1976 and did once have a few conventional wargame units (sic) of elves, dwarves, orcs and so on but its probably been more than 30 years since such a thing has appeared on my table. Skirmish games have not been as rare, I doubt if I've ever gone more than 5 years in between playing or staging one, but they aren't a main stay of my gaming despite trying to talk myself into it several times as the best way to do multiple periods.

The skirmish game is a natural for a Prince Valiant setting being at least if not more common than battles but I admit that the centaurs are just out of place. There were episodes with monsters such as giant reptiles but I don't recall ever seeing mythical creatures. Still, since I now have them, (they came bundled with other figures) I figure I may as well use them and I won't promise not to field goblins or dwarves or dragons at some future date, after all, these are Prince Michael's adventures. Magic is a little different. There was magic in Prince Valiant but it tends to leave you unsure as to whether it was real or smoke, potions and wisdom with perhaps a bit of "the second sight". I'll try to keep this in mind when drawing up rules.

Characters in waiting, all by Merten. left to right, front to back: mother and son, name unknown as yet, unknown lady, servant perhaps?, enchantress, Lady Lila with hawk, Princess Inara mounted and on foot (when priming the mounted princess could not be found until just after I'd finished which is a good guide to her character.) Back row, centaurs with one of the Dukes knights for comparison, the human half of these centaurs is big!!

A quest or task is often central to traditional adventures so the game will be based on such a task with the adventures being just things that happen along the way. The premise so far is Prince Michael and his companions have been tasked by Duke Stephen to proceed to Belmont Castle and then escort Princess Inara to the hunting lodge at Poplar Grove. Rather than take the long road around, he decides to take a short cut through the Perilous Forest.This is where we will begin.

 One of the reasons the forest is called Perilous is that it is criss crossed with paths that seem to change every time you go in. My idea at this point is to start with a table top forest with no paths. Each turn I will dice to see if there is 1,2,3 or 0 paths ahead and will then select one to follow for that turn. Once laid out, I will leave them on the table but I won't map them so they will be gone by the next day/game so when the Princess insists that Michael take her back through the forest to the hunting lodge rather than going around, it will be just as dangerous.

While travelling through the forest there will of course be encounters. Some dangerous, some benign, possibly even some helpful. I'm currently working on whether I want to roll for an encounter and then pick one of say a dozen pre-prepared ones or if I want to randomly place markers on the table and have Michael stumble on one if the path comes close. I'm not much on roll playing but luckily Prince Valiant was more about 3rd party narrative so I won't subject myself to role playing encounters and dicing for reactions, I'll just dice to see if the encounter is friendly, neutral or hostile and then resolve it, for example, an encounter with a witch might put the party to sleep with consequent loss of time and you sure don't want to be in the forest at night!

So far the following encounters are envisaged.
1) A party of Centaurs who may be hostile to trespassers
2) A witch/A beautiful enchantress
3) A large bear
4) A giant crocodile
5) A marauding band of Saxon raiders
6) A marauding band of Picts lying in ambush
7) A woman in distress and needing to be escorted to safety
8) A knight errant seeking fame and adventure

Any other suggestions?