Thursday, June 12, 2008

AD&D Mass Combat

The Battle of Emridy Meadows. Legions of the Horned Society facing off against the massed chivalry of the Knights of Holy Shielding. The woodsman of the Grandwood ambushing thousands of the troops of the Censor of Medegia. It's the stuff of legends. It also makes awesome background for a campaign.

When EGG and RJK ran that too-cool-for-school series of articles in the early 1980's in The Dragon (back when the "The" still preceded the "Dragon") which detailed various and sundry events in the Flanaess in CY 578/579, I don't believe it was any accident that many of them dealt with the movements of troops and various skirmishes and battles that were taking place. Given the miniatures wargaming background whence EGG and the other ur-grognards came, they expected their audience to be familiar with such things and appreciate them for what they were.

Indeed, we are also told that a miniatures combat system was on the production schedule, although I've never seen any inkling that it was anything more than a line-item in The Dragon.

Dungeons & Dragons, of course, stems from Chainmail and its Fantasy Supplement, and TSR attempted to bring the game back to its roots with the publication of Swords & Spells, the last (IIRC) of the little brown books, and dealing with mass combat using miniatures in that lovable if infuriatingly vague style typical of the time. Of course, that was all fine and dandy if you were in possession of many hundreds of dollars of splendidly-painted miniatures (probably thousands today), plus a terrain table. I've never heard of anyone actually having played those rules, although I'm sure it must have happened at some point. Aside from the lamentable Battlesystem (which is better off left forgotten), the idea of mass combat seems to have been largely ignored in the AD&D era.

I think an update of the Swords & Spells rules, in the AD&D style and under its auspices, would be a completely doable project. Unfortunately most gamers nowadays don't have the masses of miniatures that would make it usable.

Jump ahead several years and one game-type to the right. Napoleonics miniatures wargaming has been around for many decades (I was playing 25mm Napoleonics in college, as a matter of fact), and is one of the classic genres of miniatures wargaming. Back in the late 1970's the good folks at Game Designers workshop had the idea that you could do Napoleonics miniatures without the miniatures. Instead, they produced colorful cardboard counters in the same size as based miniatures, which were naturally much less expensive to produce and collect. Even today, in the collector's market, you can get a complete set of Napoleonic armies (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Prussian, etc. etc. etc.) for only a couple hundred dollars.

You can guess where I'm going with this.

I've put together a couple of visual aids. The first is a table displaying the base sizes for various combatant/weapon combinations from the Swords & Spells booklet. I've turned it into a handy-dandy table to make it easier to figure out what the base size should be for each figure. I made it in both fractions and decimals, just in case someone might need to use the information in a program like Photoshop. Anyone who is a fan of Swords and Spells will hopefully appreciate this bit of love.

The second is a sample of what a System 7-like counter could possibly look like when applied to the sort of AD&D-style mass battle miniatures game I'm talking about. (Speaking of which, a name for the project eludes me. Advanced Swords & Spells doesn't work for what is a hopefully obvious reason.) Of course, this is just a first pass, and it will take a lot of work to produce a whole army, let alone a set of armies, but I hope its enough to get the idea. Imagine a gaming table covered with colorful counters in different sizes and proportions denoting their type, brimming with heraldry, each with a handy set of basic info denoting capabilities. Download the files, print them out on card stock, and you've got an army for a couple of dollars worth of ink. Anyone could make their own units and armies as well; if your Ranger Lord has a company of 5th-level dwarven crossbowmen under his own banner, you'd have the tools to create your own units.

I would also like to put together a whole OOB for the major powers of the Flanaess (because, as the name of this blog might imply, I'm first and foremost a Greyhawk fan). EGG and RJK began the project in The Dragon, of course, as mentioned above. This would just be filling in the gaps. Naturally that would be beyond the scope of the OGL, and I certainly don't have the wherewithal to look into a license from WotC (although if anyone from Washington is reading this, I am certainly willing to entertain the idea of coming on board to develop such a project!). As a fan product, though, posted out on Canonfire!, perhaps, it might be done, as a means to encourage both DM's with their own campaigns and fans of other published settings to do the same. (Does the Forgotten Realms even have armies? From what I remember they don't really seem to mention it if they do.)

Such an AD&D-ization of Swords & Spells is not a light undertaking, and I do have a bunch of other projects on the gaming front. It's something I've been thinking about for a while, though, and if there seems to be some interest in seeing it, it'd certainly be an incentive to put in the work to see it through.