EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rampant Thoughts

I've decided to post my thoughts on Dragon Rampant here. One play test is not much to go on but very few of the mechanisms are original, instead it is a clever blend of Old School and  Current Fad with an original twist or two.

I'm only going to give a very brief overview of how the rules work, there's lots about them on the net already.  The play is normally igougo with one of those  "first activation failure ends your turn" rules which are used in many contemporary British rule sets. This one has a nice twist in that failed rally tests and failed uncontrolled charge test failures  don't end your turn. When a unit is activated it carries out all of its actions including shooting and charge resolution. There are no continued melees.

Combat and shooting is unit vs unit so units can be composed of singles, multiple bases or even a single base. Combat goes the handfuls of dice route with hits modified by armour then morale if any hits are scored. Basic units have basic stats but these can be modified in various ways when building your army.

 My comments fall into three basic categories, "Like it", "Don't like it", "Hmm"

 The Good:
A1. The system is very flexible and encourages a narrative approach. Units are defined by the effect they have in battle, not by what they look like, so, if you can spin a story and pay the points then you can make your army anyway you like.  For example, when I started assembling Hordes of the Things armies from old figures a few years ago, I made a base with a witch calling up a dense mist or fog from which is emerging a nearly naked, painted barbarian warrior. The rules had one category that worked but it had very limited uses. Here I had an option to pay to make him invisible until he attacks. Sounded perfect until I read closer and found that it only protected him from shooting, great vs some armies maybe. Instead I could have used the magical mist as the equivalent to "shiny armour" to make him harder to hit, if I hadn't run out of points! My old prePB range, nearly naked, tattooed, Minifig Pictish archers, kneeling with their tartan cloaks pulled over their head  on the other hand, fitted the "Scout" class to a tee!

A2. Quick and easy. It should be easy to teach at a convention and a series of unit cards or a one page Cheat sheet with rules and army list and a 5 minute intro should be enough to get players going.

A3. Dicey! The combat results would be easy to predict if dice were dependable but the handfuls being thrown mean that, like in Charge!, low probability results can almost never be ruled out so even a "sure thing" can go south. However, it also means that most combats will tend towards the expected result if there is a large advantage on one side. Keeps everyone on their toes while encouraging sound tactics.

A4. Clever. The unit stats and special magic etc attributes are well thought out and once learned will do a good job of encouraging troop types to be used in an appropriate way for their type.

The Bad!

B1. I HATE first failure ends the turn activation systems. From a theoretical point of view they do a piss poor job of recreating how historical armies are run and commanded. From a practical point of view, I have played too many games of this system where one side went turn after turn without being able to do anything. It wasn't fun for either side and in most of these cases it was against friends I only rarely get to play against.  In one case we got smart, reset the table and played Charge! which saved the day. In my play test my prejudice was immediately aroused when after 4 turns only 2 units had been able to move, both sides combined, but luckily it got better.

I don't like activation rules at any level any more (I used to in the 90's) but they are part of the system. If playing on my own I would be tempted to have the activation failure only affect that unit. If every unit failed their test well that would feel like a magical curse. At a convention  I might resort to giving each player a limited number of Activation cards which could each be used once to over turn a failed activation. (Blessings of Danu or something)

B2. No Command function. Yup, the commander doesn't even affect the activation rolls. They do have a cheerleader  function though which is to say they give a minor morale bonus to nearby units.

Hmm.
C1. Massed Battle lines are prohibited. No unit may come within 3" of an enemy unless charging. I'm OK with that, but also, no unit may come within 3" of a friendly unit. What!?? Yup, you may NOT form a cohesive battle line. Not only is it awkward to implement in play (I cut out a little 3" square no-go forcefield template but even it was hard to use.) but flies in the face of usual shield wall or phalanx fantasy battle formations. I suspect that it was designed to avoid having to write a rule saying all charges are one unit vs one unit and so on but it weird and requires a bigger table for a small force than would otherwise be needed.  Anyway, my Scottish schiltrons had to be formed somewhat like Republican Roman legions in chequerboard formation. It would probably be less noticeable if using 40mm units on a 4" or 6" frontage.   Anyway, in a fantasy game its not really a big deal but it would bug me in an historical setting.

C2. No flanks or rear. Or to put it another way, its as easy to charge or shoot at a target behind your left flank as it is to do so at a target to your front. Presumably the low level of the game means the individuals can turn quickly and without worry for formation but given the trouble most units have in walking straight forward without chewing gum, its just as well they can automatically spin about like tops when charged.

C3. Points systems! I used to love playing with these but these days I hates 'em and loves 'em all at once! This is not a theoretical objection, but is based purely around the amount of time I wasted trying to get the exact right point score while best capturing my vision of the various units.

C4. The Theoretical Scale. Yeah, who cares but  its supposed to be 1:1. Since bowshot is only 18", which would suggest about 1" to 10 yards at least, this suggests a scale of at least 5, if not 10, men per figure for humans making an infantry unit something like 60 to 120 men or a very reasonable small company. But groups of 12 spearmen, forming a defensive shieldwall? Really? OK back to who cares what the theoretical scale is, just play the game and think about the storyline.

Will I use them for my Prince Valiant game? Maybe, probably. Will I use them at home apart from training for Huzzah? Not likely. Would I play them with friends who wanted to? Sure. 

18 comments:

  1. That's a fair assessment I think Ross. I very much agree about first failure ends the turn activation systems, something of a contemporary blight.

    I came to a similar conclusion about Dan Mersey's rules generally, that I'm happy to play if other people want but I wouldn't pursue the option left to my own devices. That's no bad thing I guess, his rules are very accessible and easy to use and I appreciate why they are popular.

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    1. Yes I can see the attraction as well, especially compared to some of the more draconian "Thou Shalt" rules that are out there these days. I wonder how I would have felt about them 40 years ago?

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - sounds like a good place to mine some ideas even if I didn't actually use the rules properly.

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    1. They are that as well as being very "tweakable".

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  3. A nice summary of the rules, I like the hmm section. I bought the rules earlier this year, with the intent of using them on a gridded tabletop.

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    1. I had the same thought and oddly enough, so have others. Here is one useful discussion: http://snv-ttm.blogspot.ca/2015/12/lion-rampant-hexified.html

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  4. We've tried Lion Rampart (the historical equivalent to DR). I had much the same experience. However, I know folks on the web get some lovely looking scenarios working using LR so I may review them at some point.
    Cheers, Peter

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    1. I have played worse rules. They appear to be very adaptable to scenario design.

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  5. I agree with those who posted above. I played the Lion Rampant version many times with Jeff and we made some modifications which is easy to do with these rules without causing too much fuss. The consequences of the failed activation are a big issue for most of the people I know who have played these rules.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Codsticker, Sudden death activation seems to be a love it or hate it thing with many gamers.

      By any chance would that Jeff happen to be one of the wargaming Jeffs that I know or have known?

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  6. Fair assessment of the rules , a house rule instead of the 3" spacing is - has to stay 3" from an enemy but only 1" from a friendly unit . Like the idea of a failed activation only effects the unit concerned .

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    1. I can think of a few minor tweaks but at this point I'm only assisting at a public event.

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  7. I am also no fan of the currently popular failed activation systems--I share your sentiments. Well said.

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    1. The popularity of some new fads often escapes me.(as some of my preferences no doubt escape many others).

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  8. DR is a nice set of rules, that can easily be modified to suit your own needs. I guess everyone will have their own pet peeve issues (whether its activation rolls, or combat resolution, or points system ...), but the core engine and mechanics are flexible enough such that they can be adapted without too much fuss.

    Personally, I have used the system on a hexgrid, which works remarkably well. Look up these posts on my blog(labeled DragonRampant and LionRampant): http://snv-ttm.blogspot.be/search/label/DragonRampant and http://snv-ttm.blogspot.be/search/label/LionRampant

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  9. The activation thing has vexed me for a while. I'm not sure as I've only played one game of LR, but have greatly enjoyed TMWWBK.

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    1. The systems that have an initiative phase aren't quite so bad. I like a game where you get to do'something' even its it not all you'd like. The more player input, the better.

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