Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Chainmail Part 1

And so we begin at the beginning. When Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren released their rules for medieval miniatures, there was an interesting little section in the back - The Fantasy Supplement. This was the first inkling of what would eventually become Dungeons & Dragons, and so that makes Chainmail my first stop on this epic journey. Alas, I'm not covering the Fantasy Supplement just yet. Today it's the Mass Combat rules and the Man-to-Man rules, and more specifically what needs to be taken from them to make regular OD&D combat a bit more robust.

(As an aside, does anyone know what Jeff Perren's contribution to Chainmail was? Did he have any hand in the Fantasy Supplement, or was that pure Gygax? I'd be interested to find out if Perren is a sort of lost originator of the game.)

As far as Chainmail goes, it appears to work pretty well for mass combat. The applicability to my campaign is simple - if the PCs get themselves into a mass combat, these are the rules I will use. The only thing that has to be ignored are the references to real-world armies, aside from mapping them to their closest Greyhawk/D&D equivalents.

But as anyone who has read the original D&D booklets will know, the rules for combat there are pretty sparse, and Chainmail is recommended to fill the gaps. Most of those are done in the Man-to-Man section that I'll cover below, but there are few things in Mass Combat that are also needed.

The Turn Sequence: Chainmail has two combat sequences - move/countermove and simultaneous. They run in basically the same order - Movement and initial missile fire, artillery fire, the rest of the missile fire, then melee. So basically both sides move, then both sides fire missiles, etc. In the first method the two sides alternate each phase, and when its simultaneous the orders are written ahead of time.

It's not explicitly stated, but the intent is clear. Each side rolls a die, and the winner gets to choose whether he will go first or last. If the scores are even, the simeltaneous method is used. Simple.

The main problem here is meshing things with D&D magic, but I'm thinking of having most of the spells go off during the artillery phase.

Terrain Effects Upon Movement: These are pretty self-explanatory. Chainmail gives a few sample terrains, and how they affect troop movement, and they seem workable for D&D as well.

Movement rules: OD&D is once again ambiguous as far as movement rules go, but Chainmail gives the following: Armored Foot = 6", Heavy Foot = 9", and the unarmored guys such as archers move at 12". This all matches with AD&D, which makes me happy. To make it explicit, plate mail equals Armored Foot, chain equals Heavy, and leather counts as unarmored.

And yes, all movement and ranges here are given as inches, but one inch equals ten yards.

Fatigue: So here we have rules to simulate battle weariness - if you fight or move for too long, you take penalties. It's an interesting addition to D&D, but I'm tempted to leave it out and just use it for mass battles. It's yet another layer of complication added to the game, and not one that was used in later editions. But in the interests of including everything, I will probably use it for a few sessions, before ruling that the PCs have become inured to combat and no longer suffer from battle fatigue.

Missile Fire: Again, there are a lot of things covered here that don't make it into OD&D proper. Rate of fire, cover, firing over the heads of your buddies. Split-Move and Fire is a useful ability which lets you move and fire a missile during the movement phase of combat. The only PCs that will probably have this ability are elves, as we shall see later, and it gives them yet another advantage over everyone else. Pass-Through Fire is similar, as it lets stationary characters fire during the movement phase, but anyone can do it.

The book then gets into rules for catapults and cannons and such, which aren't going to get used much. The most likely place it is going to crop up is with Giants, who use the catapult rules for their rock-throwing.

Morale is covered next, but I'll be going into that below, as the system for man-to-man combat is a little less complex than that used for mass battles.

The last relevant section, mostly unrelated to combat, is a random weather chart. I'm the sort of DM who likes to use these things. I'll have the weather charted ahead for about amonth or so, so I'll know whether it's likely to rain or snow or what have you. I like having that extra bit of randomness in the game - you never know when the PCs might get ambushed by trolls in the middle of a raging storm that keeps blowing their torches out...

So that's it for Chainmail Mass Combat, and it proves one thing: if you're willing to do the work to mesh OD&D and Chainmail together it really is a system that has everything you need to run tactical combat. There's a lot more stuff in the Man-to-man section, which I deal with below.

I'm ambivalent about the relevance of the Chainmail man-to-man system. There are things here that I'd like to use, but I think it really gums up the simplicity of OD&D combat. There's one thing that really makes me want to run a few sessions with Chainmail combat: that is, that the regular D&D combat system of rolling a d20 and trying to hit a certain Armor Class was said in OD&D to be an Alternate System. In other words, by the book the Chainmail combat system is the real one. The problem is, which one to use? I tried really hard to make Chainmail combat work, with an eye to using it in my first few session, but at this point I think I'm going to give up on it. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things I'll be porting over.

So, to the system itself. Firstly, it should be noted that it only works with regular-sized humanoid opponents - if you're fighting a dragon or a giant or something, the Fantasy Supplement has rules for that.

But it's pretty simple. There's a reference table with the weapons listed down the left-hand side, and the armor types listed along the type. Cross-referencing them gets a target number, and the attacker has to equal it on a roll of 2d6. In regular Chainmail a hit here kills instantly, but for D&D purposes you roll damage and subtract from hit points as usual. Now this works very well when you have 1st level characters and 1 hit die monsters fighting, but I'm not sure yet how it functions when you get stronger guys in there. I assume you get as many attack rolls as you have hit dice.

That's the basics out of the way, but there are a few other fiddly bits that can enhance (or slow down, I guess) regular D&D combat.

Missile Fire: There's not much to add here, except that we now get modifiers for firing at short, medium and long range.

First Strike: Chainmail has a very nifty way of determining who gets to go first in a melee. In very general terms, on the first round the guy with the longer weapon goes first. On every round thereafter, the guy with the shorter weapon goes first, having gotten inside his opponent's guard. There are some other exceptions, and some rules for rear and side attacks, but that's the gist of it, and I like it a lot.

Parrying: Yes, it exists this far back! You can parry a blow, but not if you're weapon is too much bigger than your opponent's. If it's too much smaller you can still try, but there's a chance your weapon might get broken - but you can also make a counter-blow. If your weapon is very much smaller, you always get the first blow, and may parry or strike again (but that chance of your dagger breaking is still there). It's a convoluted read, but once I wrapped my head around it sounds workable. So long as my players don't go around parrying everything in sight I'll leave it in.

Multiple Attacks: This is another rule I'm not so sure about. It says that if your weapon is 4 classes smaller than your opponent's you will get two attacks a round, and if it's eight smaller you get three! This really isn't in the spirit of OD&D as I envision it, and I'm still puzzling out how it will work when there are more than two combatants involved. It also gives no real reason for PCs not to all use daggers, given that in OD&D everything does 1d6 damage. But, in the interests of the project, I'm going to leave it in for special one-on-one duels. I'll need to give it a bit more thought, though. I don't think I'll be using it for regular OD&D combats.

Morale: Again, nice and simple. You roll for morale when a third of a force has been killed, by rolling 2d6 and comparing it to a number based on the type of troop, i.e. Heavy Foot, peasants, etc. There's nothing concrete that I know of to assign values to certain monsters, but it shouldn't be too hard to do on the fly.

Morale is also checked when troops are subjected to a cavalry charge, but that's not going to come up too often in a dungeon, I don't think.

Mounted Combat: Mounted men get a bonus when fighting footmen, but footmen can try to unhorse riders, which might result in stunning them for 3 rounds. Love it.

Leaders and Berserkers then get a mention, and a few bonuses. These berserkers are the awesome type who won't stop fighting until killed, but not the super-awesome type who might attack their buddies. Ah well, there's always later.


To finish up the Man-to-Man section, there are rules for conducting a joust. Once again Gary has provided us with a fun little sub-system which bears little resemblance to the rest of the rules. Each player selects an attack and defensive position, and these get compared on a chart - riders can be unhorsed or get their helms knocked off, or break their lances. It's pretty cool.

As far as relevance to a D&D campaign goes, in the OD&D set there's a section on finding random castles in the wilderness, and often if you find one ruled over by a high-level Fighter he'll challenge you to a joust. That's where these rules will come in. My only concern is that it's not a system that takes into account the skill of the character - but that's ok. I'll just say that jousting is a discipline set apart from any of the D&D core classes, and can only be mastered through experience (i.e. studying the tables in the booklet or actually jousting a bit to learn the system well).

That's it for Chainmail proper, and tomorrow I'll be delving into the Fantasy Supplement, wherein lurk lots of tasty bits of D&D history.

1 comment:

DHBoggs said...

Some of the answers to your questions can be found in this post http://odd74.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=menmagic&action=display&thread=3034&page=2 Also go to the Chainmail section of the same board. Basically Perren wrote the initial rules for mass combat, Gygax revised them and wrote man to man, joust, and fantasy partly cobbed together from anonymous sources and partly original. As far as I know Perren is still alive and probably still runs a Hobby shop in Wisconsin.