Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Chainmail Part 2

And now we hit the really interesting stuff: the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement. Released well before D&D, this set of rules for integrating fantasy elements into medieval wargames is an obvious prototype. There are so many things here that are recognizably D&D that it makes you realize that Gary had all the important stuff worked out from the beginning.

After a brief intro discussing the importance of scale between figures in fantasy combat, we dive right into the meat of it: Monsters, baby!

The entries are pretty sparse, focusing almost solely on how the monsters function in battle. It's pretty much assumed that the reader will be well-versed in fantasy lit, and for such a niche product that's fair.

Hobbit: Hobbits here can hide really well, fire sling stones with the range of a bow, and are more accurate to boot. I love the little aside that they don't really belong in a wargame. Gary often lets slip a little contempt for our midgety friends, and it's more pronounced in D&D.

Sprites (and Pixies): Good old irritating fey folk, where would D&D be without them? They're annoying right off the bat, with the power to stay invisible permanently - though after a while shadows and air distortion give them away. They can fly too, but not for long.

Dwarves (and Gnomes): Stout folk that live underground and can see in the dark, what more fluff do you need? Giants, Trolls and Ogres find the little buggers hard to catch, which is an ability that ports over to D&D. Also, Dwarves hate Goblins and Gnomes hate Kobolds, and either will attack on sight - more stuff that gets brought forward into D&D proper.

Also, Dwarves and Gnomes equated as pretty much the same thing? Yeah, this is probably why we don't have Gnome PCs anymore.

Goblins (and Kobolds): It's interesting that Goblins and Kobolds are lumped in the same entry - Kobolds weren't conceived of as little dog-men just yet. They can see in the dark, but hate bright light. The hatred given them by Dwarves and Gnomes is also reciprocated. AND! There's a small mention of Hobgoblins as slightly tougher versions. Gary had a master plan, I tell you!

Elves (and Fairies): Elves are seemingly armed with bows and magical swords more often than not, which fits reasonably with later stuff. They can split-move and fire, which means they get arrows off during the first phase of a combat round, pretty much before anyone else. That's killer, and goes a long way to cementing these guys as radical archers. They can turn invisible as well, which I find a little problematical - it's not something that elves do innately in later editions of the game. It's explainable, though - either all of the elves represented here are wearing Elven Cloaks, or they're high enough level Magic-Users to cast Invisibility. Sorted.

On top of that, elves are pretty uber when they get a Magic Sword in their hands. These bonuses are brought forward to D&D (as an oblique reference back to Chainmail, alas...) but they don't make it into later editions so far as I am aware. I'll tie this in with my conception of Elves as a race on the wane - as time goes on, their powers diminish.

Also, Fairies. They don't get anything here to distinguish them from Elves, so right here I'm going to say that these guys are the equivalent of 4e Eladrin - the elves of the Fairy Realm. There won't be many of these guys around early on, and they won't become genuinely well-known until the 4e era.

Orcs: Orcs, how I love them! And look what it says right here - Orcs are nothing more than over-grown Goblins! This may be true in my campaign, or later facts may come to light to discredit this theory - inept Sages will cover up a lot of discrepencies before this project is through!

It also sets up here that Orcs are quarrelsome, and those from different tribes are likely to fight each other. I've never seen this tidbit used in an RPG session, but it's a great rule for wargames.

There's also a mention of giant Orcs that fight better. Orogs? That is a surprise to see so early on, even though they aren't yet named. Presumably they are a reference to Tolkien's Black Orcs of Mordor. Or possibly the Uruk-Hai, but I see them more as Hobgoblins.

Heroes (and Anti-Heroes): The genesis of the D&D level system begins here. A Hero is the equivalent of 4 men in battle, and if you look at the XP table for Fighters in later editions, Hero is their title once they hit 4th level. An Anti-Hero is simply a Chaotic version of the same thing.

Heroes can also insta-kill flying dragons if they have a bow! You know, like Bard from the Hobbit. Nice genre emulation, but it turns dragons into something of a glass cannon, and makes them less effective than other flyers, in my opinion. I was toying with leaving this in as a special ability for the very first crop of Fighting Men, but the it dawned on me that just about every hit in Chainmail is an instant kill. So that idea is out the window.

Rangers get a brief mention as being Heroes with an extra +1 to everything. Nice, and more in keeping with Aragorn than what comes later.

Super-Heroes: These guys are the same as Heroes, except they fight as 8 men, and any enemies they approach instantly have to check morale. And yep, 8th level fighters in D&D are called Super-Heroes. I love it when a plan comes together.

I'll be keeping the morale thing in OD&D, as any Fighting-Man that reaches 8th level is going to have a reputation. It's a nice rule to emulate the fact that low-level monsters probably would run when they see that character coming.

Wizards: As well as wizards there are less powerful versions, named (from high to low) Sorcerers, Warlocks, Magicians, and Seers. In D&D terms, Wizards are 11th level, and the others are 9th, 8th, 6th, and 2nd respectively. They don't quite match up with the penalties assigned as compared to Wizards, but it's close enough that I don't have to rationalise anything. Huzzah!

They have a number of other abilities that can be explained away with M-U spells from OD&D (the Chainmail spell is on the left, and the D&D spell on the right): invisibility = invisibility (natch), see in darkness = infravision, immunity to missile fire = protection from normal missiles, and they can also dish out perennial faves like fire ball and lightning bolt. The fire ball is a little smaller than that in D&D, but magic spells will advance like that frequently as wizards find new innovations. Lightning bolt remains the same. But if you think these abilities are impressive, we haven't even gotten into the actual spells yet! (I'm saving them for after I'm done with the various monsters...)

There are several things that these wizards can do that D&D magic-users can't. Stronger wizards can counterspell against weaker, and that's something that never entered the core of D&D until 3e. Also, spell ranges are determined by the wizard's power rather than the specific spell. And though each spell has a complexity that roughly matches its D&D level, wizard's of lesser power can attempt to cast them with varying levels of difficulty. Finally, wizard's can use magic weapons, which in Chainmail generally means swords. I'm left with the conclusion that these are specialised Battle Wizards, and have received the necessary training to accomplish these feats. They will be separate from the Adventurer's Guild, but I'll allow PCs to gain these powers at some cost if they wish.

Wraiths: Wraiths fly about the battlefield and paralyse any normal men they touch. An Elf, Hero or Wizard can revive paralysed troops, so it is seemingly just a loss of morale or heart rather than a genuine drain of energy. Perhaps battlefield wraiths are weaker than their dungeon-dwelling cousins? They can also see in the dark, and raise the morale of their allies while lowering their foes', and they are immune to normal weapons.

Lycanthropes: Werebears and Werewolves get introduced, and each one enters battle with some animal companions of their type. They are hit only by magical and silver weapons, so they tick all the were-boxes. I'm aware that D&D lycanthropes don't get to summon animals, but then again they're encountered mostly in dungeons where they don't get the chance.

Trolls (and Ogres): These two creatures are linked in the same entry, but I'm going to chalk that up to a statistical similarity rather than any kind of in-setting connection - I doubt later sources would back that up anyway. In a pinch, we can wheel out the ever-present D&D sages for an incorrect assumption.

Ogres are just big brutes halfway between Men and Giants, and Trolls are specifically namechecked as being those from THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS by Poul Anderson. They can regenerate as noted in the Combat Tables, but that ability is here simulated by the fact that they can only be killed by Hero-types, Elementals and Giants. (And dragons, but that's covered later.)

Giants: What we have here are your generic giants - no sub-types, just a very big guy who can chuck rocks like a catapult. I guess the version here would be either a Hill Giant or a Stone Giant.

Ents: Tough bastards, and they can summon trees to fight as well. There are rules for setting them on fire, which will probably be everyone's first tactic on seeing them.

Dragons: Specifically the Red Dragon, otherwise known as Draco Conflagratio or Draco Horribilis. What is Latin doing here? Who knows, but I'm going to assume that it's stand-in for some ancient language of Greyhawk that was used to catalogue animals and monsters long ago.

They get the standard D&D dragon stuff - flight, a fear aura, the power to see invisible enemies. Fire breath, obviously. And, it seems that Dragon fire kills everything except Super-Heroes, Wizards and other dragons automatically - I'd say that trumps the Trolls immunity nicely. The rule that dragons can only breathe three times is included, but here they can rest for a turn to replenish the ability. Presumably the types of dragons that go about fighting in wars are a bit more vital than their average D&D counterpart dwelling in the dungeon and sleeping on treasure.

The entry ends with a brief bit about other types of dragons - blue, white, black, and green all get name-checked, with the appropriate breath weapons and climates mentioned for each.

Oddly, a Purple Dragon is mentioned - a rare flightless worm with a venomous sting in its tail. This sounds suspiciously like a Purple Worm, and also suspiciously like an inept D&D sage pursuing some cock-eyed color spectrum theory. I have a more interesting theory as well - perhaps a purple worm is what becomes of a dragon that has no treasure to sleep on?

Rocs (including Wyverns and Griffons): These three aren't distinguished from each other here, all being flyers that can detect hidden and invisible enemies. This applies more to the Roc than the others as far as D&D goes, if memory serves.

Elementals (including Djinn and Efreet): These monsters can only be summoned into the game, and they come in the standard four varieties - Water, Earth, Wind and Fire. Efreet are played as Fire Elementals and Djinn as Air, which is near enough for a war-game. Notably, only one of each type can be summoned at a time. This rule gets brought forward to D&D, but whether it survives into AD&D I don't know. It's certainly gone by 3e, and can be yet another magical limitation surmounted over the years.

Also, uncontrolled Elementals try their best to kill their summoner. Sweet.

Basilisk (and Cockatrice): Yep, lump the guys that turn you to stone together. Stronger figures get a saving throw, and everyone else is hosed (although the rules for who is looking toward its face are typically vague).

Chimerea: No, not the three-headed thingy with the lion body. This is a catch-all term for all sorts of weird beasts, such as wyverns, griffons, hippogriffs, etc. The word will have originated in this fashion in my setting, before coming to be universally applied to good old goat-lion-dragon face.

Giant Spiders and Insects: Another catch-all that does little but provide some basic guidelines for making your own monsters in this category. At least giant spiders get some solid treatment.

Giant Wolves (including Dire Wolves): Does what it says on the tin, but carrying goblins into battle is always cool. I'm a sucker for wolf-riding gobbos.

Wights (and Ghouls): These undead get a cursory treatment that only vaguely matches their D&D abilities. They're immune to normal missile fire, paralyze foes in melee, can see in the dark and have penalties in the light. Sounds more like the Ghoul than the Wight to me. I can either disregard the Wight reference, or like the Wraith say that those on the battlefield are a bit less powerful than their dungeon-dwelling brethren.

Zombies also get mentioned, as much less powerful creatures than the Ghoul or Wight.

Oh, and there's a Balrog in there somewhere, although my PDF doesn't have it. My notes tell me that they're well hard, immune to normal combat, and can immolate their opponents. They can fly too (BUT DO THEY HAVE WINGS??? I hear the Tolkien purists asking).

So that's that for the monsters of Chainmail. Rather than say that these are the monsters that exist in the campaign at this point, I'm going with this list as those most likely to be found in a mass battle. This list was an obvious reference point when Gary was designing the monsters for D&D, and as such there aren't many discrepancies between this and later editions for me to deal with.

Tomorrow I'll be finishing up Chainmail with a look at magic items, alignment, and the Wizard spells.

No comments: