Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Little Bit of War With Your Games

Yesterday I went out and picked up my first supplement to a really great historical wargame, Field of Glory. I picked up Legions Triumphant, detailing the Roman army and its allies for the later half of Rome's history (the "real" Roman Empire, not that cheesy fake one they had going on in Constantinople...). I have yet to play FoG, but I have some small experience with the "engine" that lies at its heart and I am really impressed with the writing, game design, and overall production values. FoG is born out of a wargame known as DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis), which later mutated into DBM (De Bellis Multitudinis) and the later HOTT (Hordes of the Things), an absolutely amazing little booklet. DBA is the "OD&D" while DBM (if I dare make this analogy) is more the BECMI / AD&D version of the game. HOTT takes the basic premises behind DBA/DBM and implements it for use in fantasy wargaming (the book has army lists for everything from King Arthur through LotR, Hyboria, Barsoom, Steampunk, Transylvanian vampires, and much much more).

According to my friend Masakari, there has been something of an uproar over the DBA/FoG metamorphosis, and I dare say it has certain similarities to the D&D timeline. From what I gather (any errors here are mine, not his), DBA is a small, simple, very stark looking and somewhat, erm, interesting to read document, and it has a strong, very loyal fan base. DBM is considered "pretty good", and a lot of fans like it, but a lot think it's unnecessary detail. FoG, with it's hardcover binding, attractive layout, glossy paper, full-color artwork, and other "extravagances", is considered by some die-hard DBA proponents to be a "selling out" of the original concept - one of DBA's writers teamed up with Osprey Publishing (the makers of those cool little Osprey wargaming booklets that detail specific battles/armies/time periods) to put out FoG, and because of this, the FoG books have a lot of great Osprey art in them as well as very nice photos of well-painted minis, on and off the table. There are also full-color diagrams of units moving against each other, something absent from DBA/DBM. I of course leave it to the reader to draw their own parallels between this metamorphosis and the evolution of D&D, but I find it interesting to see comparable drama.

Now, to move beyond this, I'm interested in talking about wargaming and RPGs and if anyone out there has found a suitable way to integrate the two of them. A couple of good RPGs from Dream Pod 9, Heavy Gear and Gear Krieg, are designed to have a seamless integration between the RPG part of the experience and the wargaming part of the experience. Back in the day, Battletech tried to do the same thing with its Mechwarrior RPG, although the result was nowhere neaer as elegant as far as I am concerned.

My musings back in February about a Grapeshot & Grognards RPG handling role-playing in the age of the Napoleonic Wars also got me thinking about the integration of RPGs and tabletop wargaming. For small-scale actions having an RPG battle within the larger framework of a reasonably-sized tabletop wargame scenario might be pretty cool. Of course, it would be a little pointless when trying to fight something as massive as Waterloo, but using one of the smaller scale wargaming rules sets to handle a few companies or a batallion or two fighting it out against like numbers, while the RPGers tackle theor own little corner of the fight, might be an interesting exercise.

There are other places where this bleed-over might be interesting. Playing a WW2 RPG, it might be fun to integrate the relatively new wargame Flames of War. Anyone playing the Fantasy Flight Games' RPG Dark Heresy will of course be familiar with Warhammer 40,000, and those who play Warhammer Fantasy Battles might wish to integrate Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay into the equation. This is of course along with any historical RPG being mated to any of the massive number of historical wargames out there, from small skirmish games of a few dozen models to massive wargames capable of handling tens of thousands on a side.

Anyhow, I leave it to you, gentle readers, to discuss whether or not you find any merit in the idea of integrating some wargaming element into your RPGs and/or vice versa.


Chgowiz said...

Civil War or WWI RPG/minis would tempt me a lot more than WW2, especially with GW just having released "The Great War" historical mini game. I'm waiting till I get a lot more minis painted for my fantasy game and things calm down a bit before I pick that one up. It sounds neat.

I'd be interested in taking something quick/dirty and rolling a WWI RPG with it.

To be REALLY quirky, I'd be way tempted to mix WWI and the concept of Harry Turtledove in his alternate universe Worldwar series - what would have happened if aliens invaded during WW2? Do something similar to WW1, maybe Cthuluish?

I have to admit, we munged our Mechwarrior with a lot of stuff that we transposed from Basic D&D and stupid things like that - but it was fun having reasons to swing into the Mechs and put your many credits on the line. We were doing gladiator battles before that was popularized in the Clan book series. It just made sense on the Outer Rim...

Joseph said...

I am a huge fan of FoG (although I never played either DBA or DBM), and actually wrote a little bit about using it in the Greyhawk setting not too long ago on my own blog:

Being a minis fan, I like the idea of integrating wargames and RPGs. I think where it could really shine is in the "endgame", where PCs have lands and followers of their own. I suspect that's the reason we see troop strengths for such PCs as Mordenkainen and Robilar in the olden days, although I don't recall ever hearing about such battles being played out on the ol' sand table in Gary's basement.

Masakari said...

My compliments to Joseph above for his "Of Bugbears and Burgundians" article. I've had the FoG manual for nearly a year now, but haven't had the opportunity to play it yet. I need to cycle back in to minis play some time in the next year....

A minor (but significant) nit: FoG didn't "evolve" out of the DBX family of games, which are the work of one Phil Barker. FoG is something backed by the military publishing company Osprey (its their first direct foray into wargaming, for that matter).

As far as I could make out from the sidelines, a lot of the angst in the wargaming community over the last year or two re: FoG stemmed from several things. One, the DBM crowd was getting burned out the existing rules, and restless for "something new". Two, Barker had abandoned supporting DBM for his newest historical rules system DBMM, which had a relatively lukewarm reception in the wargaming (especially the tournament) scene as a possible replacement for DBM. Three, FoG was released (with much hype) right around the same time the DBM community was having this bout of soul-searching.

All this culminated in a tremendous amount of fear that the tournament scene would split into DBMM or FoG camps, with both leaving unsatisfied DBX fans out in the cold and further fragmenting the already-badly-fragmented historical wargaming hobby. This was further exacerbated by feelings that DBMM was the "nail in the coffin" ending nearly 20 years of dominance by the DBX family of games. I've been out of the historical wargaming loop for months now, so I can't really say if the worries about a historical wargaming apocalypse have come true or not.

Masakari said...

One more comment re: DBx vs FoG paralleling trends in the current Old School/New School debate. It's worth noting that DBA was born in the early 90's as a reaction against the complex ancient/medieval period wargames of the 70's and 80's (i.e. the sort Gygax and co. would have cut their teeth on). At the time, older rulesets were viewed as overcomplicated, baroque monstrosities too involved with table-and-charting every possible bit of battlefield minutae, and DBA's focus on simplicity, abstraction, and fast play made it a hugely influential breath of fresh air.

My own impression from the sidelines: if you want to compare the situation to RPGs, imagine if Gygax had invented something akin to Rolemaster first, and THAT had dominated gaming through the 70's and 80's until someone else invented some flavor of Basic/OD&D as an act of rebellion in 1989.

The irony is that after 18+ years as the gold standard of wargaming (especially tournament wargaming), DBx fans seem to be tiring of the "simplicity and abstraction" that once made that family of games so appealing. One of the most common complaints I've seen about DBx is that the rules are too "gamey", and don't reflect the history they're trying to model well enough. This, in turn, has led to a profusion of internet-based, self-published homebrewed wargames rules with greater levels of period-specific crunch (or at least attempts to retain a fast-play DBx-style rules framework that "finally gets DBx right" for this or that specific battle or period...see here for some examples.)

This publicly stated desire for more precise historical detail is in part why FoG is as relatively "crunchy" as it is. I've heard people with more wargaming experience than I compare FoG to a fusion of Games Workshop's Warhammer rules with WRG 6, a popular historical ruleset published back around 1980.

The role of production values in all this does have its parallels across the wargaming and RPG communities, but that's another essay in itself.

Buzzregog said...

I've always thought a great end to a campaign, or at least a climax would be a huge battle of armies. Even better woudl be one of those campaigns with two seperate groups running at the same time, eventually coming to gether on opostie sides of the table. Logistics and time of being an old man make this less likely every year.

Chgowiz said...

@Masakari DBA's focus on simplicity, abstraction, and fast play made it a hugely influential breath of fresh air.

That *really* sounds appealing to me, as I've had an eye out for a simple/fast wargaming set of rules to use. Here's the $64b question - which one should I start with if I want to have generic wargames with the possibility of using houserules/supplements for fantasy or WW1 or "alternative history WW2" specific battles? DBA? FoG?

Masakari said...

@Chgowiz: If you're looking for "simple, generic, fast-play" wargaming rules than can support a wide variety of units/settings, I'd actually recommend trying to hunt down a copy of Hordes of the Things (HOTT), a DBA variant specifically tailored for wild, imaginative play (as opposed to the historical simulationism DBA itself was intended for). It's super-hard to find, but if you can (and I have), it's worth it. I HAVE, in fact, seen both generic fantasy and WWI/II-themed HOTT armies.

There's a Yahoo! group for HOTT here. I've found the Stronghold to be a good HOTT site (though woefully undersupported). As to getting the rules themselves, you can try buying it from the source at the Wargames Research Group, or try to track them down at some other trustworthy online wargaming store. (I did the latter myself. I don't recall where I found them now, but it was quite a chase.)

Badelaire said...

Thanks for clarifying the whole DBX/FoG thing - I kept thinking they were related to each other (they do feel somewhat similar, but that's probably because they are both fast, semi-abstract wargames).

And I will second HOTT. We sat down and were able to play a couple of simple games in a couple of hours, and it only took me a few minutes to understand the basics. And, if you want more detail in the game, it'd be easy enough to add some of your own (for instance, if you wanted to do more with magic, or more with different kinds of monsters).

Chgowiz said...

@Masakari As to getting the rules themselves, you can try buying it from the source at the Wargames Research Group, or try to track them down at some other trustworthy online wargaming store.

Is this to imply that ordering from WRG isn't trustworthy? They list it for sale on their site - is there some bad thing about ordering direct?

Masakari said...

No, I didn't mean to imply that ordering direct from WRG is sketchy in any way - it's just not what I did myself (mainly because I discovered another online site selling it before I discovered the page I linked to, and was getting desperate about HOTT's general lack of availability).

Chgowiz said...

Well, we shall see what they say, as I've just dropped them an email inquiring to the availability of both DBA and HOTT.


Matthew James Stanham said...

What a coincidence, I recently picked up a copy of Field of Glory, and I also find it to be a pretty good little war game. Of course, I have my problems with it (how many men actually are in a battle group? A cohort, a legion?), and all the way through reading it I was thinking to myself, "how to mix this with Swords & Spells?

As with the traditional D&D scene, I do not really care what other people think of the various iterations, though I am interested in thoughtful analysis of the good and bad, but that is because I will inevitably end up playing the game "my way."

A friend of mine commented to me in recent years that he doesn't think we have ever played a Games Workshop product "properly" (which is to say entirely by the rules). I found myself agreeing with the facts, but not the intent, since however you play seems to me to be the proper way.

Chgowiz said...

Just as a followup - WRG replied with a nice informative email. They have an Ebay shop up: and they do have copies of HOTT and DBA - I've purchased 1 each. They had 7 or 8 left of each.

It seems I'm taking a step into a vastly different/new world. Perhaps my foray in Games Workshop's The Great War is put on hold for a little while...

TheMetal1 said...

Combining an RPG and a mini's game has been in the back of mind for some time.

I've done the linked campaigns for Warhammer 40K which was a lot of fun, but with the arrival of Dark Heresy, I think there are a lot of options. I'm actually surprised that White Dwarf hasn't picked up on this as I'm sure the Games Workshop staff has experimented with this at one time or another (I'd be surprised if they didn't!)
Anyway here is my two cents on what might make a cool integration of the two at least for Warhammer 40,000.

Start out running a weekly Dark Heresy Game, centered on finding a particular artifact with say 6 players. By the third session, have them on a planet somewhere searching for this thing and perhaps finding a clue and that is when they stumble into a battle between two forces and they have to escape. We place the RPG on hold for the 4th week and then run a 40k minis game. As my FLGS that runs a 40K tournament once a month, I'd talk with the owner about running a scenario that overall victory will determine which way the plot goes. It behooves the players to participate in the 40K tournament so they can influence which way the plot may go, plus they get their minis game fix , the store owner is happy with more participants, and the RPG story progress.

How would it work? Well as 40k is generally separated into the forces of Imperium or Chaos, so if more players on the side of Imperium win the scenario then the plot moves a certain way. Likewise with the Chaos side. This might be challenging if a player has a Warhammer 40K Chaos army, but is playing a Scum working for an inquisitor in the RPG game, but hopefully the players will enjoy the game for what it is, and have fun trying, if they are Chaos in their attempts to capture the Inquisitors Scum.

The Inquisitor team starts in the middle of the battle with minis representing each character in the party. Their placed in standard unit coherency (2”) as the battle begins. Use a marker representing a door or tunnel, which shows that the characters just left a tomb where they found the artifact.
The goal of the game is essential Take & Hold, only that the objective moves and shoots once each turn. The side with the closes unit to the objective at the end of the game wins. Each turn the group may make one move and attack and control will move to the other player on the next turn. As the Inquisitor operates on his own agenda – attacking both Imperium and Chaos forces are at least somewhat understandable. Utilize the rules for Schaffer’s Last Chancers from the Imperial Guard Army book, selecting what best matches the characters for their stats. Further, the opponents have the options to shoot at the Inquisitors Team as well. If one of the Team is eliminated, they are placed on their side and do not move, if they are all eliminated, they are all placed on their side and it becomes simply a game of Take & Hold over the downed figures. Though notably this would reduce significantly the amount of Victory Points would be given out.

Victory Points would be standard, but with following additions for the Inquisitor team

1. 100% of Team remains: 300VPs
2. 50-99% of Team remains: 150VPs
3. 25-49% of Team remains: 75 VPs
4. 0-24% of Team remains: 25 VPS

At the end of the Turn 4 Roll for ending the scenario and do so after each successive turn.

Tally up the number of Imperium and Chaos force victories.

Example: 12 games played
4 Chaos victories and 8 Imperium victories

Tally up the % of remaining team members

Example: Of the 12 games played – 1 had 100%, 3 had 50-99%; 6 had 25-49% and 2 had 0-24%

The following week at the RPG session (#4) begin the game with the conclusion of the battle. In the example above, the forces of the Imperium won as a whole so the Inquisitor Team is in the hands of an Imperium unit. This could Eldar, Tau, Imperial Guard, Sisters of Battle, Space Marine, but for our example, the team is taken captive and imprisoned by a Sister’s of Battle unit headed up by a Witchhunter who is now charging the team with heresy for possessing a heretic artifact. Further more victories had 25-49% of the Team remaining, the Game Master then randomly determines that out of the 6 in the Inquisitor Team, 2 are unconscious and 2 are wounded characters. Of course if the Example had been a Chaos victory, then group is now in the hands of Chaos space marines, Heretic guard, Orks, Necrons, Dark Eldar, etc.

Should be able to do something similiar with Testament: Roleplaying in the Biblical Era or True20 Ancients (when that comes out) paired up with Fields of Glory or Warhammer Ancients.

Chgowiz said...

I just received HOTT and DBA in the mail from England. A quick review and it seems pretty easy! We'll see.

Badelaire said...

Matthew: I went digging in FoG and found a notation around the Battle Groups section that mentions the VERY approximate size of a FoG "Battle Group" at around 250 men, but with that varying if you want to use the game to play out far larger battles.

TheMetal1: That sounds like an extremely cool combination of RPG and Wargame - thanks for sharing!

Masakari said...

Hey, this thing's still going. Re: DBA, I'd also recommend checking out Fanaticus, a huge DBA resource page. I'd also recommend taking a gander at the Unofficial Guide to DBA, a very thorough collection of tips and play examples.

Chgowiz said...

These are great resources, thanks!

Matthew James Stanham said...

Matthew: I went digging in FoG and found a notation around the Battle Groups section that mentions the VERY approximate size of a FoG "Battle Group" at around 250 men, but with that varying if you want to use the game to play out far larger battles.Ah, I see it now; page 124, each base is very approximately 250 men. That would mean the sample Roman army from the battle of Trebia would be about two Polybian legions [(2 x 4,200) each legion being 1,200 velites, 1,200 hastati, 1,200 principes, and 600 triarii], or four legions if doubled.

Yeah, they are definitely none too bothered about how numbers interact with bases, battle groups, and space occupied. Interesting, though.

Badelaire said...

(Looks up the Battle of Trebia...)

Yeah, a little bit under the numbers...

I suppose one way to look at FoG is the same way one looks at Warhammer 40K or WFB - you're not fighting out THE battle, you're fighting out A PORTION OF the battle. Imperial Guard Regiments are thousands upon thousands strong with hundreds of tanks and APCs and whole batteries of artillery, but in a 2,000 point 40K battle you might only have 150 guardsmen, two tanks, two APCs, and a mobile field gun. So to rationalize it, you have to consider that you're fighting a PORTION of the battle, not the whole battle itself.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Heh, heh. I do remember reading something like that in the fourth edition version of 40K (and so probably in third edition as well, since it was basically a cut and paste job). It seems reasonable enough, but really it is just an excuse for why the numbers of combatants on the table are so few.

40K was originally more of a skirmish game, and whilst I like the idea that I am fighting just "part" of the battle, I don't think it really cuts it for my ancient and medieval war gaming needs.

Still, I do like the FoG idea of "battle groups" and "battle lines". I am planning on using cardboard counters anyway, so maybe I will just mess on with the scale and number of battle groups [i.e. instead of 10-15, more like 30-60+].

Have to give it a go as written first, of course.