July 17, 2017 by oriskany
Good afternoon, Beasts of War. Today we’re kicking off a new article series, one that may be a little out of the norm for the material I typically produce. Recently I travelled to Canada for a visit with my friend Craig (BoW: @cpauls1), where I had the opportunity to try a genre of wargaming with which I’ve had very little experience: Fantasy.
Now I know what you’re thinking. For those who know me and my work, my typical idea of “fantasy wargaming” would be a team of Hawaiian bikini models with an insatiable thirst to play “Panzer Leader.” But as Sam used to say in his previous article series, it’s never a bad thing to try something new, and expand your wargaming horizons.
The experience was amazing, and now Craig and I have collaborated to co-author this series of articles to chronicle the tale. We’ll be looking at the rules system used (TSR’s Battlesystem 1st Edition), the armies in play, and the background setting for the game we played (Craig’s novel “The Sun and the Saber”), available on Amazon Kindle.
We’ll also be looking at how Fantasy compares and contrasts against other genres of wargaming (it’s surprising how much they share in common), and how Battlesystem compares against other fantasy wargaming systems like Kings of War, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, etc.
For this game (depicting a battle from the plotlines in his novel and potential sequels), Craig had spent months building a massive set of fantasy armies and gaming table, all of which was put into action during my visit. A half-dozen local gamer also attended the event, some tactical wargamers, others from the fantasy RPG world.
This is one of the great things about Battlesystem. Both 1st and 2nd Editions allow players to easily convert their favourite AD&D characters into “commanders”, “heroes”, and other important battlefield figures like priests and mages, and “role play” in the context of a gigantic “Lord of the Rings” scale battle.
So some of us that day were playing as hardened tacticians, some of us as free-wheeling RPG characters with veteran, high-level, immensely powerful characters with abilities that allowed them to rival whole units of hundreds of enemy soldiers.
Speaking for myself, I naturally fell into the more tactical side of the spectrum. I was given a brigade commander to play as my “character,” but really I was just trying to apply tactics I knew from ancient and medieval warfare in order to manoeuvre my army as best I could. The magic I would have to leave to my more RPG/AD&D-minded teammates.
A Word From The Gamemaster…
Craig Reviews Battlesystem
Battlesystem ticks all the right boxes for our group, particularly the wargamers among us. As a mass-combat extrapolation of the AD&D roleplaying game, Battlesystem is ‘Old School’ brilliant. It uses the same THACO, weapon stats, armour class, movement, and mechanics that AD&D does, but applies it to some company and brigade-sized units.
While that can make the system feel a bit clunky at first, it doesn’t take long to navigate the pluses and minuses of the Combat Results Table. Terrain, morale, discipline, and command are all taken into consideration.
If played as an extension of an AD&D campaign, placement of that coveted miniature – that character you’ve been playing for four years – is vital. It takes skill, discretion, and good fortune to keep your army in the fight and to avoid being pummelled into red goo. More than one ‘veteran’ character has met a humble end in a sea of one-hit-die-orcs…sniff.
Free-ranging player characters, and particularly spell casters, can also have a huge influence on a battle. A fireball lofted into an enemy line will remove a stand (representing up to ten soldiers or monsters), cause an immediate morale check, and can even rout a unit that is already out of command.
Magic tends to function as ersatz air power, but is versatile enough to fulfil a combat engineer role as well if you have characters with spells like ‘wall of ice’ or ‘thorny growth.’ Other spells like ‘obscure’ can drop down in carefully-chosen spots, acting almost like artillery-delivered smoke screens on a more modern battlefield.
There’s also glory to be had for player characters who don’t happen to be unit commanders: namely, whacking enemy heroes and leaders. I always sprinkle the opposing force with individual monsters and NPC thugs to keep our non-commander characters amused.
PCs are also free to wade into an enemy line and swing away, as there are three AD&D combat rounds embedded within a Battlesystem round. It doesn’t take a hasted, specialised 8th level fighter long to carve up a ‘stand’ of ten orcs, while a party of heroes can quickly reduce an entire company to red mist and bone chips.
As a criticism, the game can be a bit hard on pure role-players or pure wargamers, as the time eaten up by their respective segments can lead to prolonged navel gazing. Role-players can be left checking their phones while army players move dozens of unit miniatures, the reverse is true when the role-players are casting complicated spells.
That aside, we have discovered that Battlesystem holds surprising depth as a tactical wargame, and can be just as entertaining when played as a one-off, medieval simulation…with a generous measure of Tolkien thrown in, of course.
Oriskany Reports for Duty
Okay, time for full disclosure here. While a relative newcomer to fantasy wargaming, I have played Battlesystem 2nd Edition for decades. This is because the army list creation system in 2nd Edition has an amazing flexibility that allows the creation of armies well beyond the realm of AD&D.
I’ve used Battlesystem 2nd Edition for the creation of realistic Roman, Carthaginian, Celtic/Gaul and medieval armies, as well as non-AD&D fantasy settings. This has included years of wargames set in the world of Brian Jacque’s classic “Redwall” series, pitting defending armies of mice and squirrels against hordes of invading rats.
Long story short, Battlesystem can be used for a huge array of purposes. So I wasn’t a complete “babe in the woods.” I knew how to set up a cavalry charge, how to brace a wing with a phalanx of pikes, how to stage archers on high ground behind your line, and how to turn a flank with a well-timed strike of light or medium horsemen.
Basically, anything you can do in a system like, say…Kings of War, you can do in Battlesystem, only better. This is because older systems like Battlesystem handle fundamentals like movement, manoeuvre, missile fire, and melee combat in a far more detailed, granular, and frankly realistic way.
How much this experience would help me in Craig’s game, however, only the Dice Gods could say.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read this first instalment of our four part series. In the next piece, Craig will be outlining the orders of battle for the two forces and introducing some of the background to the battle. Meanwhile, we’ll both be sketching out our strategies for the game and perhaps opening the actual battle report.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this series so far. Of course, we know there are lots of fantasy players out there who have tonnes of their own stories, experiences, ideas, and favourite aspects of the genre. Please keep the conversation going by adding your input to the comment sections below! That’s how we “know” to keep writing articles like this!
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"Recently I travelled to Canada for a visit with my friend Craig, where I had the opportunity to try a genre of wargaming with which I’ve had very little experience; Fantasy..."
"That aside, we have discovered that Battlesystem holds surprising depth as a tactical wargame, and can be just as entertaining when played as a one-off, medieval simulation..."