Mass Combat System Play Analysis

So, Friday before last, I got to test run my mass combat system. Essentially, I tricked my players into playing a hex & chit wargame with my by disguising it as Dungeons & Dragons, but it actually went really well! Much better than I expected, in fact.

The sides were comprised of about 40k humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings and just over 100k (mostly low-level) undead. The PC factions were led by 20th level Humans and max-level demihumans, while the undead were led by 9HD vampires and a level 30 MU lich.

Most undead units were 5k in size, each taking up 2 hexes. Smaller units (1000 or less) took up 1 hex and ignored facing rules, and a pair of 10k strong human infantry took up 3 hexes.

The undead’s objectives were to a)Cross the map with one of a various combination of units or b)kill a certain number of the PC heroes. The PC’s objectives were to either a)eliminate 6 units, b) destroy the lich’s siege engines, or c) force the lich to use half of his spells.

While I gave my players a few options of how they could set-up (envelopment, one-sided flanks, meeting engagement, or a prepared defense), they opted to run a prepared line defense in the middle, with cavalry on the flanks.

In about 11 turns over the course of 5 hours, the PC’s pulled off a stunning upset victory against the Lich.

Here’s why:

  • I forgot to put Permanent Fly on the Lich; I wasn’t going to pull a fast one after I’d already showed everyone the ins and outs of what I’d be running. This deprived him of his ability to do ranged spell damage as often as he should’ve been able to.
  • I allowed some of the smaller “special” units of undead to count towards the 6 unit count; I also forgot that I shouldn’t have allowed wights to take casualties from normal units.
  • The lich had no missile troops. My players did pretty well with their archers and skirmishers. While I did manage to collapse their left flank, many of my troops did so right into clerics who could blow up the weaker skellies.
  • Vampires are too weak to go up against the PC party I’d created pre-gens for; I should’ve used much more powerful undead, but I wanted to keep things simple.
  • Magic Missile was broken; I’ll fix it when I rewrite the rules; it should’ve been a fixed amount of damage based on the unit size (perhaps in relation to the target unit’s average HD) rather than multiplied by the die-roll. The elves were doing maybe 1/3 to half a brigade worth of damage per round.
  • Because I did not want to deal with 3 full levels of spells I didn’t have physical books for, the Lich didn’t have a number of abilities and additional reality-shaping spells that would’ve made this a cakewalk. As such, while he did death-touch a 20th level fighter at one point and began to rout PC units just by wading into the fray himself, he couldn’t have held his own if the PCs ganged up on him, in large part because of an absence of “contingencies”.

Here’s what worked:

  • The combat damage system. Once everyone wrapped their head around how easy it was to figure 10% of the highest two digits, calculating damage was a breeze. The rolls to hit and against armor class were simple enough that the players figured out how the system worked pretty quickly.
  • Leader Combat. Well, okay, it kind of worked. It needs to be improved maybe, or maybe implementing it on a smaller scale would work better. Really, the PCs cleaved through the Vampire colonels like butter; the unit regulars could only hit PCs on 20 and even the Vampires had a tough job of landing a blow on the heavily armored PCs.
  • Cavalry are weak in numbers but can do massive damage. They do the most damage with charges. It made me smile when the players came to the realization on their own that they were using their cavalry wrong; they realized what they SHOULD have been doing was, instead of leaving their cavalry in melee, withdrawing after a charge, regrouping far enough away that they couldn’t be attacked by a charging unit, then charge again from a flank to get the charge damage bonus.
  • Turning worked almost just as planned. 2d6 x 10% of a cleric unit divided by the defending unit’s hit dice. I required that the unit the clerics were attempting to turn must have line of sight on the cleric unit. This meant that cleric units staying behind other units, performing first aid, couldn’t turn; they had to come out where the undead could see them.
  • Giving the cleric units a 3 shot ability to prevent ½ damage to an adjacent unit, up to the total number of clerics in the unit, worked pretty well.

Here’s what was a little iffy:

  • The Combat Order in general worked just fine, and I’m still sold on doing initiative per melee, though the players did say that it slowed things down a bit. BUT if you weren’t using initiative per melee, I’d probably go with the following order within the combat phase:
    • Declare unit combat pairings and splits
    • Unpaired attackers do their damage first
    • Paired/split attackers do damage simultaneously (i.e. use the unit sizes of all units at the beginning of combat to calculate damage, rather initiative-loser potentially takes losses and inflicts fewer casualties)Now what’s with split attacks? When units were being attacked by more than one unit, I allowed the defending unit to make attacks against all attackers, splitting damage proportionally.
  • Magic. Some of the spells worked out, others didn’t. The biggest problem was that I used 1d6+1 x 10% of the casting unit calculate damage for Magic Missile. While it was fine for the 500 strong MU unit, it made the 3500 strong elf unit a murder machine. Additionally, there are just some spells that either don’t really work for mass combat or would require some additional development

Here’s what could stand some further development:

  • Accounting for hit die differences. This isn’t something I did, in part because a) I didn’t have time and b) it would’ve bogged down an initial test more than I wanted. I DID have one unit of 100 bone golems where I had their HP as the true unit strength, and, because they were a small unit, each individual could inflict a kill. So, with 4 attacks, the unit could theoretically kill 400 per round while they had an effective HP of 2400 instead of 100.I treated the PC units as “elites”, using the 2nd column of the to-hit and saves, and the ability to cast spells as a 5th level MU x3. This didn’t mean that everyone in the unit was 5th level, just that the average quality of the troop was such that it had a to hit bonus and a save bonus. This wasn’t reflected in unit strength/hit dice.

    The starkest difference was between skeletons and zombies, 1 hit die monsters vs. 2 hit die monsters; in theory, the zombies should be twice as hard to kill. I didn’t treat it that way (except for Turn results). You could do some tweaks to kills, where there’s a base 10% damage then reduce it proportionally by the number of hit dice. For monsters with more than 3 hit die, I think it makes sense to treat them like I did the Bone Golems (a large group of individuals attacking and simultaneously, while tracking the collective HP, but not treating them truly as a regular unit per the system). Because really, when the bone golems attacked, I was rolling 4 attacks for each one once rather than 100 times, and therefore assumed that those attacks all succeeded against individuals in the defending units rather than an attack against the unit itself using unit to unit resolution. This may actually be the best fix, as it can account for smaller numbers of large monsters (ogres, owl bears, whatever) fighting against mass combat scale units. The entire unit may not be attacking monsters, but all of the monsters are attacking someone in the unit.

  • Morale. The morale mechanics ended up not being used or tested, in part because I didn’t really write them down, so meh. Also, being undead, the Lich’s units weren’t subject to morale per-se. The players didn’t quite figure out just HOW killing the Vampire colonels affected the undead units. Being undead, they didn’t break and flee; they kept fighting, though they didn’t pull back or move further. I noted each time a vampire colonel was defeated that they dropped a sword that glowed black. These were +1 swords of control undead; if any PC had picked one up, they could either command or dispel the brigade the Vampire had been leading, but no players bothered.
  • Fleshing out the system for purposes of accounting, to better tie it to your B/X game. There are book prices for mercenaries but I think it would be worth crunching the numbers for custom equipping units, as well as figuring what “elite” means for both cost and ability (especially for casters).

I really think that there’s some potential to this system. It would absolutely work great with fewer units and at lower levels, I think, but hey, we wanted a stupid-high level battle against a lich.

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Mass Combat Rules Alpha

Given a week and a bad idea, this is what I came up with and will be testing out later tonight. There may still be some things that will get handled on the fly as they come up, but I feel comfortable handing this off to my players who are asking “what the heck are we doing?”

The scenario involves 11 Lvl 20 (or demi-human max) PCs leading “Elite” units (second column Saves & Thaco). 40k “good guys” vs. an army of just shy of 100k undead. Undead army is led by 30th level Lich, and his forces are broken into 16 brigades of vampire-led skeletons & zombies, plus a few regiments of wights, ghouls and thouls, plus a battalion of bone golems acting as his elite guard.

Note that these rules don’t constitute the “system”, are scenario specific, and leave out a lot of details that are included on the “character” and “unit” sheets which I won’t be posting.

Turn Order:

  1. Roll Initiative: Side with higher initiative goes first.
  2. Declare Casting
  3. Winning side’s Archers
    1. Archer may not move and fire
    2. Halfling skirmishers may move and fire, fire then move, or move, fire, then move again
  4. Winning side Movement
  5. Charge Combats are resolved
  6. Losing side Archers
  7. Losing side movement
  8. Non-Charge Melees are resolved individually, with individual initiative rolls per encounter.
    1. Damage is calculated simultaneously if initiative is tied.
  9. Winning side’s spells are resolved
  10. Losing side’s spells are resolved

(AOE damage spells in melee affect 50/50, unless casters have LOS on flank or rear of a Division/Brigade)

Movement is written on bottom of pieces; it’s based on unit’s equipment.

  • Regular movement costs 1 per hex
  • Rotating/pivoting a large unit costs 1 per 15 minutes (any point of axis)
    • “Facing” only matters for Brigades/Divisions (2-3 hex units)
    • A unit may do an “about face” for 1 movement point
    • Units may rotate/pivot or about face on the same turn they charge, but must use the charge movement to move in a straight line.
  • Leaders may double move, though this may mean they leave their units. Units without their leaders do not get the CHA bonus to hit.
  • Charge: units may move double their normal movement – this constitutes a charge
    • The additional movement from the charge MUST be in a straight line.
    • Unit with long weapons win first initiative over short, regardless of who charges
      • Unless defending unit is flanked or engaged in melee with another unit
    • If a unit charges and does not engage in melee, it misses its next movement
      • Missile/magic troops that miss their movement in this manner MAY fire on their next turn.
    • Leaving Melee – a unit may voluntarily leave melee in either of the following methods, or must in the 2nd method if a leader flees/is killed
      • On unit’s melee init; may not attack; costs 2 movement; retreating player chooses facing; does not provoke an attack

OR

  • On unit’s melee init; may not attack; costs 1 movement; unit faces direction it moved; provokes an attack.

 

Normal units do 10% of their strength in damage/kills. +10% per bonus for special.

Cavalry units do 50% of their strength on their initial charge, plus an additional attack. (This is noted on the cavalry character sheets, for a total of 4 attacks)

Magic units

  • Targeted/multi-target spells – 1 damage = 1 kill x10% unit str
  • AOE spells – 1 damage = 1 kill x 10% unit str

Magic User (individual)

  • Targeted spell – 1 kill
  • Multi-target spell – 1 kill per die
  • AOE spells – 1 damage = 1 kill

Turning – 2d6 x 10% of a cleric’s unit strength, adjusted by undead type.

Split Melee – if a unit is in melee with 2 units, it may make 2 attacks, halving any damage dealt.

Leaders – Leaders may fight with their troops. This provokes 3 individual monster attacks per round. Doing so, they will have a 1-6 chance per round of confronting an enemy unit leader. Both leaders may seek one another out, rolling on their initiative.

  • +1 leader is mounted with a foot unit.
  • -1 leader is hiding

Leaders may also leave their units and fight alone. Attacking alone provokes 1d4+4 monster attacks on an individual per round. Unmounted leader may not leave combat when attacked by a unit, unless a friendly unit engages the enemy unit in melee, allowing them to “escape”.

Lich Rule – Human/demihuman units may not voluntarily move within 6 hexes of the Lich. Units MUST attempt to maintain this distance, moving away from the Lich during their movement phase, even if it means breaking melee (see leaving melee). Heroes must fight the Lich alone; soldiers’ weapons cannot harm him.

(Scenario) Siege Engines – it takes a unit 1 round to destroy one point of siege engine. Certain damage spells such as fireballs may also destroy them.

  • XX – Division
  • X – Brigade
  • III – Regiment
  • II – Battalion

Errata (Halfling sling range 40/80/160); all Human and Elf PCs may have Standard War Mounts (15 HP AC15 (1d6/1d6; AB: 3)); Cleric units adjacent to units in melee may reduce that unit’s losses by 50%. They may use this ability up to 3 times, including on themselves.

 

Power Dolls

I think the wargamer in me has been subconsciously prepping for WWIII for the last couple of months. Not only did I start playing Fallout 3, I was, until last week, embroiled with a double header of NATO: the Next War in Europe, and over the weekend, I devoted several hours to one of my favorite childhood video games, Red Storm Rising. I’ll tell you what: RSR is the best Tom Clancy based game there is, was or ever will be.

But today, I want to spotlight Power Dolls, a game that I’ve been playing the past couple days and did some live tweeting of last night.

There are two things I love that I am always in the look-out for in combination – hexbased wargames and the real-robot genre. There are a handful of examples out there, but many have a very steep language barrier, such as the Gihren’s Greed series or the line of Mobile Suit Gundam hex & chit board games, and for whatever reason, many Japanese tactical wargames go for squares, rather than hexes, which are nigh intolerable (especially in cases where there’s no unit stacking).

First thing I’d note about Power Dolls, it has a lot more stuff going for it than you would expect of a game whose primary hook is “everything is piloted by women”.

There’s something about a war between earth(maybe) and colonists on this planet, and you’re playing as the colonists’ defense force in a bid for maintaining independence. Or something. I should really probably go back and go over the settings stuff again. But for whatever reason, the entirety of the defense force is composed of women who pilot mechs and air-planes or drive self-propelled rocket artillery.

army_mlrs_1982_02

Pew, Pew!

There are apparently only 10 missions, but given how long one of them takes to play through, that’s probably plenty.

Each mission starts with a large operational view of a theater, showing the situation, the mission, and the disposition of both your troops and the enemy’s. You have the option of selecting different pre-defined plans for the operations, which determine things like when forces get dropped, when air support is available, etc.

You have up to three drop-teams of mechs (depending on the operation; the first missions so far have only used two), a drop-team of off-board rocket artillery and a couple squadrons of air support.

Before each mission, you assign mechs, planes and artillery to your pilots, hopefully giving them some sort of configuration of gear and weaponry that compliments their skills. You then have to assign pilots to each landing group; the number of mechs in each group will determine how much air-lift it takes to bring them in; I’m sure that will matter more in later missions, since there are both heavy carriers and light carriers with some air-to-air capability. Any pilots not tied up in air-lift can be assigned fighter-bombers to offer ground support in one of the fighter wings.

So, what goes down, and gets depicted in the operational map, is your long-range artillery gets airlifted into position, then your first drop-team flies in and gets deployed on the tactical map, and as the mission progresses in 5 minute 1-turn increments, your troops are flown in according to the selected plan for the operation.

While the gameplay isn’t as crunchy as Battletech (there aren’t individual components that are tracked), it has a pretty robust selection of actions you can take during a turn. Each mech has three different rates of movement to choose from, which vary in per-hex movement cost, passive spotting radius, and defense against opportunity fire. Attacks are based on the equipment a mech has, but include everything from sub-machine guns and rifles to grenades and smoke screens. Units can drop weapons that are out of ammo to increase the number of realized action points. They can also call in air-strikes and indirect fire anywhere on the map.

I screwed up in a lot of places in the assignment of gear and deployment of forces in the second mission, partly because I didn’t pay enough attention to the mission briefing. I’d landed my troops around the bridge-head I thought I needed to defend, when really I should’ve air-dropped a handful of recon mechs to act as spotters and call in air strikes and off-board indirect artillery strikes while the enemy armored column moved south along the road. Instead, I had a massive tank division more or less punch through my scattered lines. By the time I’d started calling in indirect fire, most of my units who could spot were dead, cut-off or just trying to run away.

I may have to restart this mission so that I can go back at it with both better equipped units (fat lot of good my air-to-air missiles have done in this mission with no enemy aircraft) and better unit placement.

So, the good:

-Fairly nuanced tactical game; you have a lot of customization available to you in terms of how you can outfit your pilots. There are also a lot of different things each pilot can spend their action points on during your turn.

-The operational overview map is really cool. Even though you don’t do much on it, and so far only one mission has allowed for employing different “plans”, it’s a cool part that gives the game a wider feeling of scope than otherwise; for instance, you can SEE where your off-board artillery are located in relation to your front-line troops.

-The character art is pretty good; it finds a decent spot between ‘cute girls in mechs’ and the rougher look of more serious mil-sf animes. There is a character, though, who’s clearly an homage to Emma Sheen from Zeta Gundam.

-Hexes. They use hexes, man, HEXES!

The bad:

-The music is incredibly repetitive. For how long you’ll be playing this, you’re not going to be thrilled hearing the same bad midi-theme playing constantly.

-Speed of play. Not only are the turns incredibly long, this is exacerbated by the fact that the AI turn processes fairly slowly. Enemy turns take too long by most wargame standards. One mission of Power Dolls could easily eat up an entire evening, which is a double whammy when you realize you’re in a losing position after having sunk several hours in. I am probably going to have to go back to a save from nearly 4 hours of gameplay back to take another stab at the second mission (and hopefully this time silver haired yellow cat-eyes, cocky green-eyed brunette, and blue-bandana blonde won’t get blown up).

-The Fog of War doesn’t make sense when you’ve got air superiority and one or more fighter wings overhead. I get why spotting works the way it does, but it would be nice if there was a multi-step fog of war so that planes could spot units out in the open if they’ve bombed a target – even if they’re actually “gone”, you’d have an idea of the troop disposition from the previous turn as your pilots saw it on the way to and from their attack run.

There are also some complaints about the game’s AI; I can’t really judge yet, because if it’s bad, my strategy is probably worse than it is, at least until I figure out what I’m doing. We’ll have to see.

They’ve apparently made several sequels, but I’m not sure if any of them were ever translated into English. There’s also, apparently, a mediocre OVA based on it.

I’ll say that, for now, despite its flaws, I’m really digging Power Dolls. It’s definitely niche-within-a-niche, and the only other game that springs to mind along the lines of this is Cyberstorm (and that game was a very special kind of ugly). I’d love to find something that is mid-way between this and SSI’s Panzer General game, or even in a completely different direction, mid-way between this and Atomic Games/Avalon Hill’s V for Victory series. But as it is, if you’re desperately thirsty for hex-wars and giant robots, Power Dolls will definitely tide you over for a bit. You can find it at most abandonware sites.

power-dolls_6power-dolls_1power-dolls_2

Short Review & Wargame Roundup

You may have noticed that I haven’t been making my Short Reviews or Wargame posts here lately.  If you didn’t already know that you could find them at the Castalia House blog, you know now.  If you’re only following me here, this is what you may have missed:

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-formula-for-conquest-james-r-adams/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-bubble-dwellers-by-ross-rocklynne/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-battlefield-in-black-by-george-a-whittington/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-grifters-asteroid-by-h-l-gold-as-harold-c-fosse/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/air-assault-on-crete/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/air-assault-on-crete-part-2-and-invasion-of-malta/

Today, my first of two pieces on Avalon Hill’s War and Peace is up:  http://www.castaliahouse.com/avalon-hill-war-and-peace/

Later this week, I’ll be digging into some Retro Fandom, sharing a few highlights from the letters section of the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.  What do I have in common with Algis Budrys?  We both want more Albert de Pina!

Bull Run, pt. 3 (Wrap up)

In the end, Bull Run may have looked closer than it actually was. By the time the Union got moving and threatened my position in Manassas, I had far too much strength already bearing down on Centreville.

To make matters worse for the Union, the artillery regiments arrived with very little support, so that Hampton’s Legion and a few of Kirby Smith’s boys were able to ride out and harass the van while several regiments of confederate artillery made the odds astronomical. The benefits to this were two-fold: one Union infantry regiment routed was small potatoes, but having two regiments on the main road between the Union army and Manassas would buy at least a half hour before the Union could coordinate an attack on my camp. Worst case, Hampton routes, Kirby rallies his regiment back in Manassas while he sends fresh troops to stand in the way of the Union advance. The best case ended up happening and my troops on the road simply retreated back to the camp.

Further north, I had five brigades bearing down on Centreville. Jones ended up going fully around to the north from the east, forcing my dad to create a thin line to hold him off. Ewell kept pressure on the flanks with help from Holmes, while Jackson and Longstreet pressed upon on the Union camp with 8 regiments between them from the south. With Jones cutting off any retreat, the Union troops in camp were completely surrounded and surrendered around 4 in the afternoon of July 21, 1861. Presumably the bulk of the Union army spent the rest of the evening retreating round-robin by way of Sudley Springs in hopes of keeping Beauregard from threatening Washington.

Next week, we’ll be starting Air Assault on Crete. Now THAT looks like it will be one hell of a complicated game.