Can you play Dungeons & Dragons without Minis?

The question arises because some commenters at File770 brought up that minis were unnecessary, and one pointed out that to his kids “Old School” meant “that the game not be bogged down in setting up miniatures/toy soldiers or taking long breaks in the action to consult the rules”.

I’m all for games that don’t require taking long breaks to consult the rules, but I’m also wary of simplifying play by discarding them altogether.

So, can you play Dungeons & Dragons without minis?  Of course you can, but it would be akin to playing Monopoly without dice; players would choose which space they landed on to buy whichever property they wanted unless the banker capriciously says otherwise.

I’ve played several RPGs where minis weren’t used for encounters.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  But in the case of Dungeons & Dragons, the game’s rules assume that you’re using miniature.  You have to toss out a significant chunk of the game’s mechanics to get away with not using them, because suddenly movement rates, weapon and spell ranges and areas of effect become completely arbitrary, left to the DM to decide whether or not a person is where they say they are or doing what they say they’re doing.  In a way, this is incredibly unfair to players, each of whom may have a different mental picture of what’s going on in a given encounter.  When you have minis out, everyone knows exactly where they are in relation to each other, their opponents and physical obstacles in the environment.

I’m not saying that people who aren’t using miniatures are bad gamers or their games are bad or unfun – I’ve had great fun games in that didn’t use minis – but I will say that they’re playing it wrong.  Because when you’re not playing by following the rules, how else can you describe it?

Seriously, though, if you’re running a game or playing in a game, just try it sometime.  You’ll be surprised at how much more exciting and involved your encounters can be when everyone shares the same view of the combat situation.

Advertisements

B&B Dev Update

Combat involves a LOT of dice rolling. Like Yahtzee or Farkle, so it might be fun, and I don’t really see any reason to change it.  Just roll a fist full of six-siders, pick out any kills and knock down some minis/scratch off your unit HP.

combat matrix

Morale rules are less fun and may be fairly incompatible with standard monster morale ratings from basic games.

morale check

I feel like a failure as a technical writer because I haven’t figured out how to better explain and simplify the morale rules yet. I want to at least include a faithful recreation of the base mechanics of Chainmail, even if I intend to leave out the historical flavoring optional rules, like ‘Swiss just murder everyone’ and ‘all Polish troops are elite’.  But Morale and Cannon fire are doozies.

Anyway, to accommodate using morale from basic games for the S3M, I’ll probably need to make some major changes in how retreat and end of melee works.

I’m almost done with the core mechanics, but I find myself doubting the usefulness of B&B as a product.  I’m hoping that the S3M & Unit Cost Guide will justify and validate its existence in the OSR.  Unlike HALLS, though, I intend to see this through, because if S3M works it will actually be a functional cross-system module/mini-game that any group can use for platoon to company level fantasy combat.

Battlefields & BroadswordsTM

Battlefields & BroadswordsTM is an attempt to take a look at Old School fantasy miniatures rules and find a way to effectively bring them back into play as part of an Old School RPG campaign.

One of my biggest complaints about OD&D is that it is very poorly presented and rather messy. My biggest praise for Basic is that it took the workable mechanical ideas strewn across over half a dozen booklets and put them into something that was much more player friendly. I can’t help but wonder if some of the needless complexity as a result of organizational sloppiness sprang from the limitations of how many pages Gary could saddle stitch into a single booklet. Would the information have been presented better if Volumes 1-3 could’ve been perfect bound? Who knows.

In any case, Chainmail is a much easier to pick up and better presented system, though being complete in a single booklet definitely helps. The version I have has additions and various rules for incorporating elements from Dungeons & Dragons into the game. The base game needs very little work done to it because it works as-is. I may clean up the formatting a bit and make it look nice, but aside from removing certain historical reference elements. For my purposes, I don’t feel the need to have a specific unit of “Swiss” with their own mechanics, and though defining where assorted Turks, Janissaries, and Flems fall into in terms of units may be interesting, I’m content to let that be an exciting artifact of the Chainmail for those who discover it.   I think defining units based on their equipment or natural abilities, in the case of monsters, is more appropriate to my purposes. As such, I’ll be also changing a few terms: while “Light” troops remain “Light”, “Heavy” troops become “Medium” and “Armored” troops become “Heavy”, with these values corresponding to typical fantasy RPG armor ranges based on the described equipment).

Where is the value add in Battlefields & Broadswords?

Chainmail is great is if you’ve got a giant playing area and hundreds of miniatures. What it’s not great for is your typical gaming group who has limited space and only a handful of minis.

What I want to do with Battlefields & Broadswords is bring the mechanical simplicity of the Chainmail system to a scale small enough that players with only a few minis can still engage in medium scale battles. Personally, I find the War Machine mechanics from BECMI to be a dismal number crunch where one tediously feeds in a bunch of information and gets a battle result spat out. As a wargamer, I love the thrill of high level tactical combat, which is all but missing from most tabletop RPG experiences simply as a matter of complexity.

I hope to accomplish the following goals with something I’m calling S3M or the Simplified System for Single Miniatures:

  • Scale Old School miniature rules to a scope where groups with just a few minis and a board or hex-map can work mid-sized tactical combat into their games.
  • Provide an easy tracking system for units; players may wish to have mini-character sheets for their troops, though GMs can treat troops as stat-blocks as necessary.
  • Provide quick ways for players to figure out the cost to create, equip and maintain different unit types based on commonly used prices from old school gaming sources.
  • Adapt certain elements which generally require multiple miniatures to adjudicate (such as blast areas from siege engines) to use simple results tables.

I have my work cut out for me, but I’ve got to admit, I’m really excited about this!

Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 4, Factions for Flavor

This is going to be a briefer post than the others, largely because it does not involve number crunching. In fact, the purpose of this portion of the prep work is to reduce the amount of number crunching.

The battle and conflict as it’s statted out and scripted in the previous posts does not reflect the battle as a whole. While the 200+ Hit Dice of evil elven undead represents a formidable force more than capable of overwhelming the PCs and the fortress’s defenses, it doesn’t connote that “army” feel. It’s not big enough. Now, admittedly, this is going to be window-dressing, but it will certainly help the battle feel bigger.

Other factions –
Imperial expeditionary force – I’m not sure what all will have happened between the time I am writing this and when the encounter will happen, but one possibility is that Portsdam is destroyed by an earthquake. Whether that happens or things have just been so bad in the colony that word has gotten back to the empire, let’s say that an expeditionary force has landed north of Alfort and is on its way. Maybe 2000 strong, this force, while small will certainly distract a chunk of the Elf King’s undead army, preventing it from bearing its full brunt against the fort. If the PCs haven’t cleared out the Zombraire’s estate module, this force will probably be ambushed from west and arrive significantly weakened and unprepared to stand against Caelden’s army.

Eastern Goblin Coalition – The Southeast and Northeast goblin tribes have formed a military alliance. They understand that a limited human presence in Alfheim is preferable to the land being awash with undead elves. Sometime between now and when the battle is run, the PCs will be presented with a chance to dislodge the Northwest goblin tribe from the Old Island Fortress (if the PCs don’t go along with it, the goblins will later take this on their own). The Old Island Fortress will be used as a staging ground for the eastern goblin tribes to lend their support against Caelden’s army.

Northwest Goblin tribe – I’ve retconned my setting a bit to eliminate Orcs as an indigenous people of Alfheim; while Orcs are there, they’re mostly imperial mercenaries (note to self, the imperial expeditionary force should be comprised largely of Orcs). That said, I’m rewriting Starisel’s dungeon to be inhabited by goblins (with Orc stats) instead of the orc tribe. These will be part of the same tribe who were trying to take over Malek (the Nameless Dungeon) until they were slaughtered by undead. If the PCs can reconcile with these goblins (successfully run Cave of the Unknown), there is a good chance that they might be willing to commit to fight against Caelden.

So we’ve got a Battle of Five Armies, here, a perfect climactic fight for the campaign.

To incentivise the players to gather these allies, I might even take away the last two waves via some sort of plot-flash.

Siege of Alfort (Morgansfort): Tower Defense Style – Prep Work Part 3, Enemy Combatants

So, this part is going to take some tweaking, and maybe even some test runs, so these numbers are far from final.

Let’s have a run-down of the various undead we have to work with:

Skeletons 1 HD 20′
Zombies 2HD 40′
Ghoul 2HD* 30′ (paralysis)
Wight 3HD* 30′ (Level Drain)
Wraith 4HD** 40’/ (Level Drain)
Mummy 5+1HD* 20′ (disease)
Spectre 6HD** 50’/100′ (Level Drain x 2)
Vampire 9HD** 40’/60′

The bulk of the monsters are going to be skeletons & zombies, low hit dice monsters who should probably be ignored, if possible, in favor of the bigger baddies coming through. So, let’s come up with some ground-rules for how each of these monsters operates:

Skeletons – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’.

Zombies – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’.

Ghouls – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense and ‘go away’ so long as there are at least 3 HD of defense present; otherwise, remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present and continue along path.

Wights – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path.

Wraiths – move by flight through walls & buildings towards currently targeted zone. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path. Once, Nuromen may use “Sleep” to allow the elimination of 2d4 HD of defenders.

Mummies – move along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. When no defenders are present, continues along path.

Spectres – Considering their special ability of creating new spectres, I’m highly considering omitting these guys. We’ll see. moves by flight to towers, eliminating tower & rampart defenders. Remove 1 HD of defense per round until no defense is present. After reaching zone 6, will enter the chapel.

Vampire – moves along the scripted path. Remove 1 HD of defense per round, though continues along path without stopping.

Here’s a sample elven army.

60 skeletons
30 zombies
15 ghouls (accursed elves)
5 wights (undead elf knights)
4 Wraiths + Nuromen (undead elf mages)
4 Mummies (undead elf clerics)
2 Spectres (undead elven princes)
1 Vampire (Caelden, lord of elves)

Wave 1
10 skeletons
10 zombies

This wave might even be completely turned.

Wave 2
10 skeletons
5 zombies
5 ghouls

Some of this wave might be turned; I expect this to be the first wave to do some damage in zone 1.

Wave 3
10 zombies
5 ghouls
1 wight

This is something of a wakeup call with the wight. If the heroes are fighting from the walls, it should be apparent that someone is going to have to go down and deal with it.

wave 4
5 zombies
5 ghouls
2 wights

Things being in earnest now. Clerics within the castle will likely have run out of turning, and the wight’s level drain could be a serious problem.

wave 5
10 skeletons
2 wights
Nuromen

Boss wave. While the skeletons just march onto reduce various zone HD, Nuromen will be casting spells and with the two wights who accompany him, he’ll be pretty tough, even with his limited HP.

Wave 6
10 skeletons
2 wraiths

Consider this a sequel to wave 5, but at least these wraiths aren’t casters.

Wave 6
5 skeletons
1 wraith
1 mummy

The mummy is going to slowly tank his way through the defenses.

Wave 7
1 wraith
2 mummies

Ditto.

Wave 8
10 skeletons
1 Mummy

Consider this wave a reprieve?

wave 9
5 skeletons
2 Spectres

If things aren’t already really bad, this may be the end of things. The heroes might seriously consider running at this point.

Wave 10
Vampire

The vampire more or less makes a Beeline to the bank, the apartments, the chapel, then the keep. He’s got important things he wants in those places.
Goals:
Ultimately, the castle is meant to fall. The main goal the heroes should have is staying alive or maybe stopping Nuromen (wave 5). Anything after that point ought to be gravy, though they should probably try to either escape through the Chapel Tunnels, the Keep Tunnels or any other possible means.

On the off chance that 8 waves are defeated before the chapel falls, I would consider this a decisive “win” for fort, if it weren’t for those pesky spectres. While Caelden might ‘retreat’, there would be a ton of dead that would need quick sanctification or things could easily be worse than before, in which case, the fort falls anyway. If the heroes manage to somehow defeat all 10 waves, Caelden likely retreats to lick his wounds. In this final case, he’ll probably be treated like any other vampire and sent to his lair (I might stick him in the Gibbering Tower) to be hunted down.
Up next, I’ll detail the tactical scenario leading up to the siege.

Ultra Discount Minis for Impovrished Gamers

Dollar Tree has the ultimate way for you to start your minis collection for dirt cheap.

$1 for packs of 3 ceramic gaming-sized minis.  They may not be quite to scale, but they definitely fit 1″ square battlemats.

$1 a piece for ceramic buildings, cemetery fencing, mausoleums, tombstones(not really gaming scale), and even skeletal gazebos.

I spent $25 on a whim last night, and now have enough minis for most low-to-mid-level undead encounters. Also, if I ever play Warhammer ever in my life, I have enough pieces to make a little haunted coastal town.

I don’t see the skeleton minis on this link, but trust me, they were there.  I wish I’d had them for all of the skeleton encounters thus far in my game.  Up till now, I’ve been using old dried halloween pasta.

202316_v3

I might let my one-eyed goblin thief use that zombie pirate. And the reapers would work for wights/wraiths.

All undead modules you run must now include undead skeletal gazebos.

All undead modules you run must now include undead skeletal gazebos.