Archive for April, 2011

As an experiment, I applied the rules from S John Ross’ Mediaeval Demographics Made Easy to the Border Kingdoms, my favourite bit of the WHAA world. This is what happened…


First, how big are they? Well… WHAA doesn’t have a scale on the map, nor does it need one; but several of the countries are based on France, which is about 500-600 miles across. It takes five strategic moves to cross a country, so each is about 100 miles. Crossing the entire map East to West would take 35 moves, so the map as a whole is 3,500 by 2,100 – call it 7.4 million square miles, about the same size as Canada and the USA combined.

There is a hexgrid version of the map online at the THW Yahoo! forum, which is 41 x 28 hexes, so I could call them 100 mile hexes and be close enough for my purposes. I was curious by this time, so asked on the forum – Ed Teixeira of THW confirmed that the hexes are in the region of 100 miles across (thanks Ed!). By my count, the Border Kingdoms have 63 hexes, and a hex is roughly 8,660 square miles, so the total area is about 546,000 square miles.

I figure a population density of about 40 per square mile – the same as mediaeval England – is about right. That’s at the lower end, but then there are goblins, orcs and dark elves half-surrounding it, so it’s not a happy place. The overall population is thus about 22 million – I’m working in big handfuls here because the error margin in my initial assumptions is about plus or minus 20%, so there is not much point in being tremendously accurate.


As this is an experiment, I’m using the average rolls for the dice Mr Ross recommends. Following his rulings, we find the city and town sizes to be as follows:

  • Acromerinth, the capital, has a population of 70,000 people, and covers nearly two square miles of ground. Wow, that is a lot more than I would have guessed. Roughly the size of Paris or Genoa in the mediaeval period.
  • The second biggest city, which I’ll label “B” for the moment, has 35,000 people. About the size of historical London.
  • “C” has 26,000
  • “D” has 19,700
  • “E” has 14,800
  • “F” has 11,000
  • “G” has 8,300.

The seven listed so far are the ones big enough to be called cities; from this point on we must call them towns, and decide whether we’re using the pre-Crusades model or the post-Crusades one. I’ll opt for pre-Crusades for this test.

  • Town “H” has a population of 6,200.
  • “I” has 4,700
  • “J” has 3,500
  • “K” has 2,600
  • “L” has 2,000
  • “M” has 1,500
  • “N” has 1,100

And below that, we tail off into villages and hamlets. So far, there are 14 towns and cities, with a total population of 171,400 – not quite 1% of the total; one urban concentration per 39,000 square miles.


Since a square mile of arable land at this technological level will support about 180 people, around 122,000 square miles of the Kingdoms are populated – about 22% of the total, or 14 hexes; so each populated hex has a town or city in it somewhere, surrounded by a network of villages, most probably every few miles along the roads between the towns. The remaining 78% of the Kingdoms (49 hexes) are wilderness. This is a dark and scary place to live.


To work this out, I need to know how long the Kingdoms have had a castle-building culture, and for no good reason I decide 500 years.

This and the total country population give me 98 ruined castles, and 440 currently in use. 75% of both categories are in the 14 town/city hexes, the rest are scattered all over the place.


I don’t need to work through Mr Ross’ entire list of shops and trades, but picking out some highlights:

  • There are 1,750 clergymen and 64 actual priests.
  • There are 350 noble families.
  • 200 healers of various stripes, of which 41 are “proper” doctors with some sort of recognised qualification.
  • 175 each of jewellers and taverns/restaurants.
  • 25 “magic shops” – places where you can buy ingredients, scroll paper etc.
  • 35 inns where the adventurers could stay

If I set the “SV” for wizards to an average value for unlisted businesses of 15,000, there are 4-5 wizards in town.


I’m not likely to use this method for many places, because I play fast and loose in all my campaigns. However, even with conservative estimates, the Border Kingdoms have many more towns and cities than I would have expected, and both the total and urban populations are higher than I thought.

A big, post-Crusades country like Capalan or Altengard is going to outnumber them dramatically. It looks like the big edge those two have over the earlier cultures like Seniira is not the arquebus, but sheer numbers of urban population.


These are my go-to rules for skirmish wargaming, and as you’ve probably noticed, a lot of this blog deals with them and other rules from the THW stable. So you’ll probably guess my conclusion; do yourself a favour and grab the freebies right away. You’ll either hate it, or start collecting the genre-specific rules.

Two things make THW rules unique; first, their approach to the game turn; second, their unparalleled support for same-side or solitaire play. I’ll tackle those first, then move into the individual games.


One of the problems for a tabletop wargame is how to simulate the chaotic ebb and flow of combat with a clear and understandable turn sequence. Mainstream wargaming has historically tried several approaches to the problem.

The most popular, since the days of HG Wells’ Little Wars, is that of alternating turns. Side A moves, shoots, and engages in melee; then side B does likewise. The problem with this is that a fast-moving army (Blood Angels, I’m lookin’ at you) can move into charge range unopposed, shoot you to pieces, and then charge home and finish your troops off while they’re standing around like lemons waiting for your turn. Some games attempted to deal with this by introducing a reaction phase, when side B could react to side A’s moves partway through side A’s turn.

The second most popular is simultaneous movement to strict written orders. The problem with this is you spend too much time scribbling orders, and not enough time actually playing. This rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s and can still be found in some games today.

I noticed in the 1990s and 2000s that some rules sets were starting to use playing cards; each unit drew a card, and was then able to move, shoot and melee in the order the cards dictated. I haven’t really played many of these, so can’t really comment – I’ve used it in Savage Worlds, but typically there are only half-a-dozen figures per side in RPGs.

In a THW game, most figures move, shoot and melee based on reaction tests; some of them won’t do anything at all, and as you move each of those that are active in turn, it spins off its own subturn, of variable length, in which its actions and reactions are driven by reaction tests. You can’t rely on your troops, apart from one or two key figures, doing what you want; and you can’t predict what the opposition will do, or when. I can best summarise this with a quote from the rules themselves:

Our figures start on opposite sides of a building and are out of sight of each other.

  • I activate and I move first.
  • I move my figure around the corner and your figure can see me.
  • You take an In Sight Reaction test.
  • Maybe you shoot at me.
  • Maybe you shoot at me but rush your shot.
  • Maybe you don’t shoot at me.
  • If you shoot me either you hit me or miss.
  • If you hit me I see how bad the damage is.
  • Maybe I’m only stunned.
  • Or maybe I’m knocked out of the fight or worse.
  • But if you miss I take a Received Fire Reaction Test.
  • Maybe I shoot you.
  • Maybe I duck back for cover.
  • Or maybe I run away.
  • We continue to fire back and forth at each other until either one of us gets hit, runs out of ammo, ducks back behind cover, or runs away.
  • When all the reactions are finished it’s your turn.

The big thing is you get to react to what I do just like in real life.


As so many of the figures on the table move and fight according to reaction tests, it’s entirely feasible to have one side with no players on it at all. If playing solitaire, you take one side and the rules act as an "AI" to command the other; if playing with friends, you can very easily all be on the same side. I love this, because it means when my son and I play together, we can play co-operatively rather than against each other.

Don’t be fooled though; the non-player reaction tests are basic, but generate quite complex and credible situations. The game ruthlessly punishes poor tactics. I do not often beat it, and my son (who is a much better tactician than I am) gets a good run for his money.


This is the latest incarnation of the Chain Reaction rules, a 42-page Acrobat PDF file, and is available free to download from Two Hour Wargames. The primary mechanical differences from earlier editions are a more complex approach to melee, and expanded reaction tables.

  • Prologue and Introduction: 2 pages. These explain the history and core concepts of the game, including the difference between traditional and THW turn sequences.
  • Equipment Required: 1.5 pages. Dice (d6 only), figures or counters, something to represent buildings, and a playing surface – 3′ x 3′ and up. THW doesn’t mind what figures you use, if any; the rules are neutral as regards miniature suppliers.
  • Defining Characters: 2 pages. As befits a skirmish game, the figures can be treated as individual characters. Each must have a Rep; this ranges from 1 to 6 or more, the higher the better, and the average soldier has Rep 4. In addition, figures may (but need not) have other attributes which make them better or worse at various types of tests. The key differentiator is whether the figure is a Star (one that will usually obey the player’s intentions) or a Grunt (an NPC who does what the dice tell him).
  • Getting Started: 1.5 pages. How to recruit your force, and army lists. You can play what you feel like, or use random tables to determine what your Star commands. Army lists are provided for military, police, insurgent or gang forces – each of these uses a different table for reaction tests, reflecting their motivations and training. (In earlier versions, there were fewer variants of these tables.)
  • Organising Your Force: 1 page. How to divide your figures into groups, how to allocate leaders and what benefits they offer, how leaders are replaced if they fall in battle.
  • Rules of War: 11 pages. This is the mechanical meat of the game; how to determine who acts when in a turn, what actions you can order your figures to undertake, movement, reaction tests, shooting, melee, wounds and recovering wounded, and challenges – this last is a neat mechanic for resolving any weird or unusual ideas the players have. Want to hotwire a car? Want to jump from roof to roof? Want to defuse a bomb? They are all challenges.
  • Fighting the Battle: 2 pages. How to set up terrain for urban or rural games.
  • Vehicles: 2.5 pages. Entering and leaving them, driving them, ramming them into each other.
  • The Battles: 3.5 pages. A basic patrol scenario, including Probable Enemy Forces. PEFs are a mechanism for solo or same side play; a number are placed on the table at the start of the game, and move about according to reaction tests. Each of them may, or may not be, an enemy force – to find out, you have to get a figure close enough to see it.
  • Reaction Tables and other quick reference sheets. 4 pages. After a couple of games, you only need these sheets to play. After a couple of dozen games, you probably won’t need these either.

Straight off the printer, you could play any 20th century or early 21st century conflict of your choice.


This is the gun-free version of Chain Reaction, intended for ancient, mediaeval, and fantasy skirmishes. It is likewise free to download from the THW website. It’s extremely close to CR3 in mechanics and other content, so I’ll only talk here about the differences.

  • No guns. Unless you count the arquebus. There are thrown weapons, bows and crossbows.
  • Shields. These are added, as they are much more commonplace on mediaeval battlefields.
  • Army lists. These are replaced with more appropriate ones; Barbarians (ancient Germans), Empire (Rome), Eastern Empire (Fatimid Egypt etc), Feudal (mediaeval European), Nomad (Huns), Northmen (Vikings), Dwarves, Elves, Goblins and Orcs.
  • The Battles: The CR3 patrol scenario is replaced with two scenarios, the stand-up fight and the raid.
  • No magic, though. For that you need one of the other rules sets.

Straight off the printer, you could play pretty much any ancient or mediaeval battle, re-enact scenes from Lord of the Rings, or use your Warhammer Fantasy Battle figures for something a little different.


There are a variety of other rules sets. These use the same basic mechanics, although those released prior to 2009 use earlier editions, and as a rule THW doesn’t update rules sets for the sake of it.

You can buy them direct from THW as print or PDF versions, or from RPGNow as PDFs. They cost around $20 apiece, and most of them have supplements, many of which are available free on the web. Ones currently available include:

Ones I Have

  • All Things Zombie. Reproduce the zombie horror movie genre. These are the rules I use for the 28 Months Later campaign. They are probably the most popular of the THW rules sets.
  • Larger Than Life. Gaming the pulp fiction of the 1930s and 1940s. I used these for the latter part of The Arioniad, season 1; they’re very portable.
  • Warrior Heroes: Armies and Adventures. These are the rules I use for Talomir Nights.
  • 5150. Science Fiction. The core rules cover adventuring parties and small military units.
  • Legends of Araby. Out of print now; a precursor to WHAA, with similar rules but a setting much like the Arabian Nights.

Ones I Don’t Have. Yet.

  • Colonial Adventures. 19th century colonial.
  • FNG. The Vietnam war.
  • Nuts. World War II combat.
  • Red Sand, Blue Sky. Roman gladiators.
  • Six Gun Sound. WIld West gunfights.

There are also a number of sporting titles, but sport doesn’t really float my boat as a gaming topic, so I’m unlikely to get them.

Firstly, I’m drawn more and more to the idea of telepathy and clairvoyance being trappings rather than powers in their own right; so I’ve replaced Coriander’s Mind-Reading power with Speak Language.

Secondly, I’ve decided that Arion needs to succeed with a Piloting skill roll at -4 to identify where he is, after which he can plot a route home; he can roll once per week to do this. For a run home, I’m unlikely to need maps of any intervening subsectors.

As usual, I roll the encounters en masse and then weave a storyline around them.

Arion’s research pays off in the first week; he rolls a 6 on his Piloting d8, and a 6 on the Wild Die he gets for being a PC. This allows him to keep the 6, roll the d6 again and add the resulting 4 to his score; total 10, which is enough. I now determine the direction and distance of the misjump which brought them here; under CT rules, this will be 1-6 d6 hexes in a random direction. That proves to be 5d6, resolving to 19 hexes, in direction 1 (counting from the top clockwise); home is therefore 19 hexes due "north" of Betiqu – a trip of about 2-3 months under ideal conditions. So, the Attica Subsector is two subectors "north" of the Imagoes one, and Arion misjumped from Ephesus.

While Arion is up to his elbows in holographic star charts, Dmitri and Coriander are out on the town.

Arion’s Log, 115-3011

Legal encounter, reaction 4 (attack on 8+) followed by a 6. The pair are released with a caution for some minor transgression, no doubt caused by Coriander’s Clueless hindrance.

Coriander did something silly today, while she and Dmitri were out seeing the sights – such as they are. Neither of them wanted to explain what it was, but Dmitri said the police were very unhappy, and they were lucky to get off without a beating. He paid a fine out of petty cash instead. Hopefully they will be more circumspect in future.

I spent all day at the Port Authority Navigation Office, trying to work out where we are. I’ll be doing that every day until I can plot a course home, so the log may not be updated every day.


Random encounter. 3 peasants, reaction 9. Not even worth working out, I feel.


Random encounter. 3 researchers, reaction 7.

I met a few researchers at the Navigation Office, who recognised me as not from around here. I invited them back to the ship to exchange astrogation data; they had no information on the Attica Subsector, but we did have a couple of navigational marker stars with similar spectra on our charts, and when we exchanged pulsar data I think I found a match. This should help with the route plotting considerably.


Patron encounter; Merchant. Probably he wants to come with them to scout out potential markets in Attica. I decide to roll reactions; none of the crew rolled higher than 5, so they don’t like him; he rolled equally poorly for Arion and Dmitri, but an 11 for Coriander – no surprise, everyone likes Coriander.

Today, I finished plotting our route home and logged it with the Port Authority. Soon afterwards, a local shipping firm sent a representative to call on us. Not unreasonably, they want to send someone with us to Attica and see what trade possibilities there are; none of us liked him, and I especially didn’t like the way he looked at Coriander.

Certainly, it would be useful to have someone with local knowledge on hand for the next few jumps; and you have to get used to crewing a ship with people you don’t like in the Service. However, we don’t like him, we have enough money not to take him on if we don’t want to, and there’s always the chance he is a hijacker or pirate of some sort – even a small, banged-up ship like this is worth a lot, and I suspect the local authorities wouldn’t exactly bust a gut for us if anything happened.


The Dolphin lifts off from Ustianan Downport, en route to Esusce.

I now have sufficient information to plot a course back to Athenai. Next stop, Esusce.

It’s surprising how little actual conflict the CT rules generate, left to themselves, isn’t it? The plots and combat require referee input, it seems. However, as expected, it’s a campaign I can run in my lunch hour at work, with no more than a handful of dice, a notepad, and the Starter Traveller charts book. That fills a hole in my gaming life nicely, meaning that pretty much every day I want to play, I can.

This one’s for Rick Devonshire (Hi, Rick!): How to do a WHAA dungeon crawl without figures or terrain. This is a didactic post with very little in-character dialogue. At the bottom of the post is the final dungeon, just as I scribbled it during play; one 5mm square to the tabletop inch.

Visually, this approach is not very attractive, but it has advantages:

  • It’s dirt cheap. The price of the rules and some dice, and you’re away.
  • It’s extremely portable. Anywhere I have room to set out the rules and a pad of paper, and roll some dice, I can do this.
  • You can make bigger dungeons than if you were using figures and terrain. Just use a smaller grid on the graph paper.
  • I can stop at any time if interrupted, and pick up where I left off.


I’ll use the Brass Dragons as the PCs (blue pen), and arbitrarily select undead as the opposition (red pen), although I could easily have diced for what they’re up against. I set W = 2”. The Dragons form up outside the entrance:

  • Front rank: Johann, Gervaise
  • Second rank: Ispitan, Gottfried
  • Third rank: Beatrice
  • Fourth rank: Sir Charles (grumbling about not being in the van), Jean-Paul

Blue numbers show where the characters are at the end of each exploration turn; red numbers show where PEFs and undead are at the end of the turns. “A”, “B”, “C” are the three PEFs, “S” = Sentry.


“Turn” for this report refers to “exploration turn”, with combat being detailed within that as necessary.

A roll of 2 on the Lair Entrance table (p. 59) tells me we start with a passageway. Further rolls in section 5 tell me it’s W wide and 4” long, with a left turn at the end. A roll on the Traps table (p. 58) shows there is no trap.


Same process as for turn 1, as this is another passageway around the bend. No traps yet, and the passage is as wide as before and 10” long, ending in a single door. A roll of 5 tells me it is locked; Gottfried to the fore, and he rolls 1, 3 vs Rep 5 to pass 2d6 and pick the lock. The Beyond the Door and Special tables (p. 61) and a roll of 1 on each, show me we have stairs down. A check on the Passageways table (p. 54) shows these are W wide and 7” long; because I’m running off the edge of the page, I decide they run off at a 90 degree angle.


Alas, as Johann steps through onto the stairs, he triggers a level 4 trap. He rolls 1, 2, 3, 5 vs Rep 4 and passes 3d6; the trap rolls 1, 2, 2, 5 vs Rep 4 and also passes 3d6. He is unharmed, but the trap remains dangerous. (If I were writing in character, I’d decide what the trap was at this point, but mechanically it doesn’t matter.)

Gottfried moves forwards as the party “specialist” (Rep 5) and I roll again to see if the trap springs a 6 means it does, and the trap randomly affects one explorer; that turns out to be Ispitan. The trap rolls 2, 2, 4, 5 and passes 3d6′; Ispitan rolls 1, 2, 2, 4, 5 and passes 5d6, disarming it as he has more successes.

The party descend to the second level.


At the foot of the stairs, they find a passageway 9” long and 2W wide. At the end are three doors, one on each side and one directly ahead. There is also a level 5 trap. It rolls 2, 2, 3, 3, 4 vs Rep 5 and passes 5d6. Johann, in the lead, rolls 1, 3, 5, 6 vs Rep 4 and passes 2d6. Johann is struck as if by a missile weapon of Rep 5 and Impact 5. I find the Firing Table in the Adventures QRS; Johann rolls 4d6 vs 3 (1, 2, 3, 6) and passes 3d6, while the trap rolls 3, 4, 4, 6, 6 and passes 3d6. As both scored the same number of successes, the trap misses him.

After rereading the trap rules several times, I decide this means it is disarmed.

The party quickly discuss their options and decide to try the east door. It’s locked, but Gottfried quickly deals with that. Alas, it proves to be a false door thanks to rolls on the tables on p. 61.

South door, then. This also submits to Gottfried’s lockpicks, and beyond lie stairs up to the first level. I’m certainly rolling a lot of specials today. These are not trapped, and end in an unlocked door.


Beyond the door is a chamber, 6W in area, with one other door in the west wall.

On finding the first chamber, I roll on p. 62 for the Lair Alertness. Rep 3, –1 because this is the first chamber, +0 because we have broken 0 doors down so far; 3, 6 vs Rep 2 is pass 0d6, so there are no sentries, but there may be occupants.

I set aside three PEFs, and roll 1d6 for each: 4, 5, 6. Since none of these is a “1”, none of them are in the first chamber.

The other door is locked, and this time Gottfried is unable to persuade it.


Knowing full well that breaking down the door increases the chance of encounters, the explorers backtrack down the stairs to the door they haven’t checked yet.

Gottfried has more luck with this. It opens onto a chamber, 12W in area, with one other door in the north wall. I roll 3, 3, 6 for the PEFs; as none of these are 1 or 2, there are no PEFs present.

(At this point, I have to pick up some visitors from the train station, so I put down the pens and graph paper. This is why I mark the end of turn positions; I can pick up where I left off, maybe days later.)

TURNS 7-14

(It is indeed several days before I can return to this skirmish. I open up my notebook, feeling smug, and carry on. I’ll speed up a bit, though, as you should have the idea by now.)

More stairs! No trap though. At the bottom is a left turn, just as well as otherwise I’d go off the page. We’re now underneath the original entrance corridor. A right turn next does take us off the page, so I resort to my usual stand-by of a cave-in blocking further progress.

Nothing else for it; back to Chamber 1 and break down the door. Ispitan mutters “Stand aside!” and breaks down the door by rolling 2d6 vs Rep (5), scoring 4, 5 and passing 2d6. A spell of mighty puissance, no doubt, since the door is now broken. Beyond is a wide corridor, at the end of which is a T junction. To the right, a short passage ending in a right turn (you can see I got the width wrong, but who cares?); that would end in a door, but it would be too complex to draw, so I make it a dead end. To the left from the T junction, a slightly longer passage ending in a door.

Beyond the door is chamber 3, which contains PEFs B and C (the room number counts as 5 now we have broken down a door). A couple of quick rolls on the tables on p. 54 reveal both PEFs are false alarms; the skeletons here are the plain vanilla, non-animated kind.

TURNS 15-18

It’s been pretty uneventful so far, hasn’t it? I decide Gottfried can take a Difficult challenge test on p. 64 to find a secret door in chambers 1 or 2, or the wide corridor from turns 11-13. The consequences of failure will be that he triggers a trap in each case, 50/50 for a level 4 or 5 trap. A Difficult test reduces his Rep by 2, so he is rolling against an effective Rep of 3. Corridor first; 3, 6 vs 3 is pass 1d6 – I opt to roll again, and get 1, 4. This would normally count as pass 1d6, but is reduced to pass 0d6 for the retry, meaning a trap is triggered. I roll 1d6, with 1-3 counting as a level 4 and 4-6 as a level 5 trap; level 4. The trap rolls 4, 5, 5, 6 and passes 1d6; Gottfried rolls 1, 2, 3, 3, 4 and passes 5d6, easily disarming it.

It’s the same story in chamber 2, except with a level 5 trap. The trap passes 5d6, Gottfried passes 4d6 and gets a Shield Die – a 6 – which negates one of the trap’s successes, so no harm done but the trap is still dangerous. The party misses a turn, composing itself.

In chamber 1, though, Gottfried finds a secret door. Beyond is chamber 4, which contains PEF A. This is the main body of the enemy forces; 1d6+6 gives a result of 12 on the “How many of them?” table, or 54 CV. I now dice on the Undead army list in the quick reference section until I get at least 54 CV of opposition. This proves to be 3 chariots, one of which is the Big Bad, 5 cavalry, 7 archers, and 24 infantry. Using the table on p. 10, I determine that the Big Bad has no particular advantages, just the usual ratings. They’ll probably be enough.

“Mummy!” cries Gervaise.

“Errm, no, actually,” says Ispitan. “Just skeletons… Oh, I see what you mean. That is rather a lot of skeletons, isn’t it?”

This is why dungeoneering parties are usually small.


Finally, a fight! Note that this is both good news, because we can hope to find loot now, and bad news, because now more PEFs will start turning up.

The two sides are well within 12” of each other, so a Test of Wills is in order. The skeletons have a Rep 3 leader, and Ispitan is Rep 5; but the skeletons are Undead, and so automatically pass 3d6, and inspire Terror, so Ispitan rolls –1d6 for that; he scores 1, 1, 6, 6 vs 3 and passes 2d6. The skeletons have passed one more d6, so test to charge. Since Undead always pass at least as many charge dice as their enemies, and Ispitan can choose how many dice he passes, he can’t pass more d6; he opts to score the same number of passes, so that as defender he can fire and cast, and then the skeletons will charge home.

Ispitan opts to cast Dazzle. He rolls 2, 2, 5, 5, 5 vs Rep (5) and passes 2d6; the skeletons resist, rolling 2, 4, 5 vs Rep (3) and passing 1d6. For the first time ever, Ispitan succeeds in casting a spell; the skeletons halt in place and can only defend using 1d6.

“Kill them! Quickly!” shouts Ispitan “Before they recover!”

“Are zey not already dead?” mutters Jean-Paul.

Nonetheless, the two crossbowmen open fire; Gervaise rolls 1, 2, 2, 4 vs Rep (4), and Jean-Paul rolls 1, 2, 3, 4 vs Rep (4); both pass 3d6. The skeletons, being dazzled, roll only 1d6 each; 1 and 6 vs Rep (3), so one passes 1d6 and the other 0d6. The crossbow’s impact of 7 at close range (less than 6”) easily pierces the skeleton’s AC of 2, and with rolls of 2 and 4 on the Firing Damage Table, both are Out Of the Fight. Two down, 37 to go.

Note that I don’t play melee exactly as in the rules; I resolve the entire combat by the first round of die rolls.

Sir Charles and Johann now wade into the fray, followed closely by Beatrice and Gottfried. It’s a big room, so I figure they can face off against three skeletons each – this is important, as in WHAA melee successes (probable this round) count against all figures in combat. (You’ll notice I haven’t needed to lay out figures or terrain yet, and I don’t plan to, either.)

Sir Charles, Rep 4, has sword and shield; Johann has Rep 4 and a halberd, but being a Star he ignores such constraints as fighting room. The skeletons each roll 1d6, as they are dazzled: 1, 1, 3, 1, 5, 5. Sir Charles rolls 1, 4, 6, 6 and passes 1d6; Johann rolls 4, 4, 4, 6 and passes 0d6. All are evenly matched, except for skeleton #4, which passed one more d6 than Johann; Johann is pushed back 1” and loses 1d6.

Beatrice is Rep 4 with a sword; Gottfried is Rep 5 with a dagger. Bea rolls 2, 3, 5, 5 and passes 2d6. Gottfried rolls 3, 4, 4, 6 and passes 1d6. Their 6 skeletons roll 4, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5. Bea renders two skeletons OOF and pushes one back; Gottfried pushes back all three of his. Two more down, 35 to go; but now things start getting more complex, as the skeletons have a chance to recover from being dazzled as per p. 30.


Activation dice appear for the first time. The party rolls 6, the skeletons 3; only the skeletons activate.

There are 35 skeleton figures left in the fight. On average luck, 25% of them (let’s say 9) will recover, 25% won’t, and 50% will roll again, of whom 25% will recover. I reckon that makes 13 skeletons active, and 22 still dazzled. However, those in melee already can defend themselves at full dice now, so for simplicity I’ll say those surviving 9 are the 9 who recovered, and all the others are dazzled. Those who are active and were pushed back close up again.

Melee is already in progress, so we repeat. I won’t bore you with the die rolls; Beatrice kills her third opponent; Gottfried drops one, but is rendered OOF by both the other two; Sir Charles holds his own against two, and pushes back a third; Johann pushes one back, holds his own against a second, and is struck a telling blow; his armour is pierced, and he is OOF. However, as a Star, Johann now takes a Hardiness test against his Hardiness of 3. He rolls 2, 3, 5; passes 2d6; and is merely startled.

(At this point I again draw proceedings to a close for the night.)


The activation dice are 5, 5; doubles, so another PEF appears on the map – we’ll call it “D” – in a random direction, 2d6” from the party. This implies a secret door in the north wall of the corridor where they appear.

TURNS 22-27

The melee continues in chamber 4, while PEF D closes in on them. We’ll gloss over the die rolls, as this is getting long enough.

Ispitan dazzles the skeletons again; Beatrice heals Gottfried; the crossbowmen drop another two, Johann rolls amazing dice and renders three skeletons OOF, Sir Charles disposes of another two at the cost of losing 2 Rep.

Then, PEF D barrels into the back of the party and starts laying into Ispitan – at least, until they resolve as a false alarm. Ispitan dazzles the survivors of PEF A for the third time, and everyone lays about them with a will, slaying 10 skeletons. Johann and Beatrice each lose another point of Rep (now on 2 and 3 respectively), though.

Ispitan continues to dazzle the foe – he’s on a roll here – and the others finish off the remaining infantry, and follow through into the cavalry, killing two.

More dazzling and hacking follow, reducing the enemy to two whole chariots and half a chariot, before the party fails to activate in turn 25, allowing the half chariot to recover – this one has had one of its two crewmen killed. However, Beatrice fights it to a standstill.

Ispitan’s luck finally runs out in turn 26, and he fails to dazzle the enemy, losing 1d6 from his spellcasting Rep into the bargain. However, the skeletons fail to activate, and by the end of the turn only one chariot crewman remains in a fit state to fight.

The lone remaining skeleton leaps on Gottfried, rightly discerning that he is the most dangerous thing within reach, but precisely because he is so dangerous, Gottfried demolishes him in short order.

Panting, sweating, and bleeding in roughly equal measure, the party look around them. Having cleared an occupied chamber, they can now check for loot, using the table on page 63. We get a modified roll of 6; some items of interest, but nothing special.

“Next time, “ says Johann, “I pick the dungeon.”

“Fair enough,” says Ispitan.




The fighters are pretty banged up, so the party withdraws in good order back to Acromerinth, and rolls for advancement, with the following results – changes marked in bold:

Name Class Rep Hard Weapon AC Move Notes SS Align CV
Ispitan* Missile 5 3 Staff 2 8 Caster 7 TW 5
Johann* Melee 4 4 Halberd 4 6 Warrior 4 FS 8
Gottfried Melee 6 3 Dagger 2 8 Thief 3 RM 5
Sir Charles Atain Mtd Melee 4 2 Spear, Sword 6 12 Elite Trained 2 SS 4
Beatrice Melee 5 1 Sword 2 8 Healer 2 SS 1
Gervaise Missile 5 1 Crossbow 2 8   2 SS 2
Jean-Paul Missile 4 0 Crossbow 2 8   2 SS 2
Total 27

So, everyone except Johann is a bit richer, and most people have gained either Rep or Hardiness – except Johann, who gained neither, and Isiptan, who lost a point of Hardiness. Must’ve caught something in the tomb.

Fantasy Maps and Travel

Posted: 22 April 2011 in Reflections

I’ve had a lot of fun lately drawing maps for the Irongrave setting; but I’m not going to use any of them for the campaign, because the exercise has brought me to a deeper appreciation of the simple brilliance of WHAA strategic movement.

It’s extremely fast and easy, requires almost no maps, and I would argue is a realistic simulation of how the Middle Ages saw travel.


Gamers are used to maps that mimic the detail and accuracy of contemporary ones; these are created using post-Industrial Revolution survey techniques, and satellite imagery.

In 10th or 11th century Europe, the sort of map you could get hold of looked more like this:


That makes the WHAA map of Talomir, or the ones in the end covers of fantasy novels, look pretty good.

As an educated person, you knew that Scandinavia existed, but you weren’t sure if it was an island or not. You knew that Africa, China and India existed, and roughly where they were (“Directions to China? Sure. Go to the Holy Land, then walk into the rising sun for three years.”). You had no idea what shape they were, or how big.

Arguably, you could simplify the ancient and early mediaeval world map even more; at the strategic level, the part from Byzantium to Beijing is a straight-line corridor with the Silk Road running along it.


A one-month strategic move in WHAA takes you about 100 miles. (Five moves to cross a country, and most of Talomir’s countries are based on European ones about 500 miles across.)

That’s less than five miles per day, on average. Consider, though; there’s no universal currency or credit arrangements, no universal language, no maps to speak of, bandits everywhere, not much in the way of roads and a limited choice of where to stay overnight.

Estimates of how far the Roman legions marched in a day range from 5 to 20 miles or more, depending on whose calculations you believe. At the low end of that scale, 100 miles per month looks reasonable.

It took Marco Polo three and a half years to travel 4,000 miles overland along the Silk Road. That’s pretty close to 100 miles per month on average. It took him two years to get back by sea.

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s trip from Hobbiton to Mount Doom is about 400 miles and took him a little over six months; 100 miles per month on average is still looking good. (I’m using Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-Earth as a source, and fighting back the urge to base a campaign on it because the maps are so pretty. No, Precious, we mustn’t.)


It’s realistic in a fantasy campaign to have little or nothing in the way of maps. It’s realistic for travel to take longer than you would think.

It’s dangerous, too; of the 600 people who set out with Marco Polo to return to Italy, 18 of them made it. That makes even the casualty rate in my adventuring bands look quite reasonable.

Inspired by the free building rules at THW’s website, I made up some quick and dirty dungeon generator rules in the same vein.

The dungeon is made of a grid of tiles; the default is a square, 9 tiles in a 3 x 3 format, but others are obviously possible. I plan to use 8″ x 8″ tiles, specifically the ones from the Fat Dragon Games Copper Dragon sets, but 6″ by 6″ is more popular.

Roll for each tile in the layout at the start of the trip, and slap them on the table – this gives the party more information than they would have in a “real” dungeon, but honestly, without knowing what’s in each room, it doesn’t help them that much.

Tile Type (1d6)

  1. Corridor, runs straight across the tile.
  2. Corridor, 90 degree turn
  3. Corridor, T-Junction
  4. Room
  5. Room
  6. Room

If several room tiles are adjacent, there is a 50% chance they are each part of one big room, and a 50% chance they are separate rooms, connected by doors. Anywhere a corridor intersects a room tile, there is a door.

Here’s a sample layout, drawn in Dungeon Crafter; it’s pretty basic, but good enough for my quick weekend evening dungeon crawls. On the table, this map would be about 2’ x 2’, which is too big for my desk (would need to use 6” x 6” tiles for that, or change to a 2 x 3 grid), but about the right size for my dining room table.


Of course, this still leaves us with the questions of dungeon dressing, monsters, treasure and NPCs; unless and until inspiration strikes, though, I shall use the rules I already have in WHAA, Dungeon Bash, Red Tide and others.

Review: The Dust

Posted: 20 April 2011 in Reviews

This is another 7-page free downloadable supplement for Stars Without Number, which sheds light on lost Terran Mandate technology.

This partly fills the niche occupied by the Ancients and their artefacts in Classic Traveller; rare, possibly unique, devices which can no longer be built.

The titular Dust is a nanite communications and surveillance medium, formerly common on core Mandate worlds. The supplement first explains the final days of the Mandate, during which the Dust seemed like a good idea to those in power; then, the powers available to the Dust at various densities, ranging from haze, through fog and cloud, until finally it reaches storm proportions. Dust storms are capable of the same sorts of activities carried out by the nanite swarms in the recent remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, or the smoke monster in Lost.

The document then moves on to a more general discussion of late Mandate technology, Tech 5 and up in the game. It begins this by explaining why such technology is so weird-looking, then provides random tables to determine its appearance, method of control, how it outputs data and manipulates matter, and some interesting side effects caused by age or improper use.

As an example, I created a late Mandate repair kit by this method. It’s a tube with a grip on one side, decorated with smooth, curved surfaces, which adjusts machinery using focalised sonics. It’s activated by pressing a button, presents its readouts as coloured dials, but the user bleeds slightly from all their pores after using it. That should worry the PCs.

A dozen examples of Mandate technology follow, with a brief discussion of the dangers of trying to sell it.

Another entertaining expansion for the Stars Without Number setting, and you can’t argue with the price.