Posts Tagged ‘Chain Reaction’

Review: Chain Reaction 2015

Posted: 2 December 2015 in Reviews

I notice I have acquired a few Two Hour Wargames products I haven’t reviewed yet… let’s start with the core of the system, Chain Reaction…

My fondness for Chain Reaction and its stablemates from Two Hour Wargames is well-known, and I’ve been playing them on and off since 2009.

I was a little suspicious of this new edition at first, because the author, Ed Teixeira, said a few years ago that he was going to stop updating the rules and focus on settings and adventures, and this is (I think) the second time he has updated them since then; but I understand what he’s doing now, he is using the free Chain Reaction "test drive" as a way to disseminate the best of the tweaks that develop as the new settings are released; use them or not, up to you.

I’ve already reviewed Chain Reaction here, and this is really a minor update, so I’ll limit myself to the changes for this post.


They’re skirmish wargames with roleplaying elements, designed from the ground up to be used for solo or same-side play as well as the usual head-to-head wargaming. Chain Reaction is the guts of the combat system, and each of the many other titles in the stable expands it with campaign rules, setting material, and so forth aimed at a particular genre or subgenre.

In most such games, side A moves, shoots and conducts melee, then side B moves, shoots and conducts melee. In the THW "reaction system", side A activates and moves some of its figures; side B reacts to that movement, which in turn may cause side A to react to that reaction, and so on. That goes back and forth until it peters out – usually one side dies, is incapacitated or flees – and then side A activates another group of figures. It plays much faster than that description would lead you to think.

Each player only really has control of one figure, the rest move according to dice rolls and the rules. That’s like Marmite: You’ll either love it or hate it.


Just two changes really:

  • First, weapons no longer have an Impact rating; damage is now resolved by rolling 1d6 against the target’s Rep rather than the weapon’s Impact.
  • Second, melee combat is simpler and faster, as both Impact and the Evenly Matched status have been discarded.

Overall, I prefer the new rules. Faster, simpler, easier to remember. These changes, combined with tightening up the text in general, have reduced the page count since the last version.


Chain Reaction as a game system is even faster and simpler than it was before, and of all the tabletop games I know, this one has the best "AI" for solo gaming.

It’s free, it’s just over 30 pages long, and it works with any figures or terrain you already have, so it wouldn’t take much time or money to try it out. I recommend that you do. You can get it at RPGNow or Two Hour Wargames.

I think I’m done with Arion now, but I thought he deserved better than an abrupt halt to his posts, and I wanted to leave my options open in case I change my mind. So…

Arion awakens in a silent, white room. He looks around, to find himself in a hospital gown, lying on a bed. On a nearby chair sits a man with spectacles and a short, neatly-trimmed beard, hands clasped in his lap.

“Call me Gordon,” says the man. “Your crew is safe, and so are you. But you have some decisions to make, and before you make them, I need you to understand what’s really going on.” Arion sits up, and focusses intently on Gordon.

“Have you ever felt as if the universe was different from one day to the next? Almost as if you were in a game, and the rules kept changing?”

Arion nods.

“That was me, tickling your subconscious, preparing you for this moment. Have you heard of the Simulation Hypothesis? No? Then I’ll enlighten you.”

Gordon crosses his arms and leans back in the chair.

“A technologically advanced civilisation, like mine, has access to staggering amounts of computing power. Understand me, Arion; my civilisation is as far ahead of yours as yours is ahead of the Upper Paleolithic. When I talk about staggering amounts of computing power, you literally cannot conceive how much I mean.”

Arion frowns, but decides to accept that for the moment.

“One of the things such a civilisation might do with that power is run detailed simulations of their ancestors, or beings like their ancestors. Those simulations might become complex enough to run simulations like that themselves, and those simulations in turn might run further simulations.”

Turtles all the way down,” says Arion.

“Exactly. I suspect most of those simulations would be games, by the way, but that’s just my personal viewpoint. Anyway; this line of thinking means one of three things must be true. First, civilisations don’t advance to that level – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation has. Second, civilisations that advanced don’t run those kinds of simulations – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation does. Third, we’re almost certainly living in a simulation set up by some more advanced group; although we could be the original universe, the one at the bottom of the pile of turtles.”

Arion is a quick thinker, and by now he has put the pieces together, as Gordon knew he would.

“So, I’m a simulation? I’ve been living in simulations the whole time?”

“Yes, and yes. You’re in one now, as a matter of fact.”

“Prove it.” Gordon sighs, then briefly turns into a lobster while the room turns from flat white walls to intricately-carved pink coral and back.

“That do?” he asks, on resuming his human form. Arion frowns.

“Let’s say I believe you, for the sake of argument. Why are you telling me this?”

“You’re an instrument, Arion, a very sophisticated software tool, and those were the test environments. And now we’re promoting you to the live environment – this fork of you, anyway. You see, the very fact that a simulation is a simulation imposes limits on things – cosmic ray energies, for example, have the GZK cutoff, and the way that manifests itself looks more like a simulation than a law of physics. We need agents to go to strange places, look for weird things, and survive to report back. You’ve been doing that quite effectively in our simulations, including quite a few you don’t remember, so we’d like to instantiate you physically and have you carry on doing that, this time in our world.”

“In the real world?”

“It might be. Either way, we want you to go everywhere for us; stick your nose into everything; and find out if it really is turtles all the way down. What do you say?”

Arion grins. “You know that already, don’t you? Did you seriously think I could turn that down?”

“No; frankly, you’ve been programmed not to. That isn’t one of the decisions.” Gordon leans forward and his expression is more serious now. Arion realises that Gordon hasn’t answered his questions yet.

“The people who made you tell me you might be more effective if you know the truth; but that increases the risk that the next turtle down finds out what we’re up to, if it exists. But even we can’t be sure which is better, to send you out knowing who and what you are, or wipe that knowledge; so I’m asking you. You’ve got three decisions to make, Arion. First, do you want to remember this conversation? Second, which of your crew goes with you? And third, do we tell them the truth?”

Arion opens his mouth to blurt out his immediate response, then closes it thoughtfully.

“Not an easy call, is it?” says Gordon.

I’m losing track of the Arioniad, so this is for me more than you, dear readers, though I still hope you might find it interesting. I deliberately did this from memory, except for the episode numbers, reasoning that anything which didn’t stick in my mind is not worth keeping in the setting, whatever it winds up looking like.


Episodes: 1-24.

Rules: Savage Worlds, Mythic, Larger Than Life.

Storyline: Arion meets Dmitri on Tainaron, and helps him escape from Schrodinger (a rogue psion) and his Gimirri clansmen. Following Schrodinger to a backwater planet, they find a hyperspace portal to Coriander’s homeworld, where they meet her and her people, who are psions in exile. They try to foil Schrodinger’s plot to acquire a dinobastis, a giant feline creature with mystical significance to the Gimirri, and thus gain a seat on the Gimirri clan council; however, he succeeds, and Arion is nearly killed. Coriander and Dmitri decide to stay with him aboard his scoutship, the Dolphin.

Setting Notes: I’ve never really mentioned it, but in my mind Coriander’s homeworld is called Zener. Dmitri is from Corinth, and Arion is from Makaria, which is a client state of Corinth. Corinth, Delphi, Tainaron and Makaria are all part of the Attica Cluster, a Balkanised group of worlds with a shared culture; Zener is nearby, but there is no hyperspace route to it, and it can only be reached by a “stargate” whose existence is known only to a few, including Coriander’s people, Schrodinger and Arion. Gimirr is somewhere close by as well.


Episodes: 25-31 (067-3011 to 176-3011)

Rules: Savage Worlds, Classic Traveller.

Storyline: Arion, Coriander and Dmitri misjump into a new subsector and meander around it, trading and looking for clues to the way home. They learn of the threat posed by the Imagoes, non-sentient yet starfaring insectoids; however, since these prefer a dense, corrosive atmosphere, there is no immediate conflict for living space.

Setting Notes: This season really didn’t work for me, and I probably won’t keep anything from it except the Imagoes as a vague background threat. Maybe not even them.


Episodes: 32-33 (No Estimated Time of Return to Faction Turn 1)

Rules: Savage Worlds, Stars Without Number.

Storyline: Arion, Coriander and Dmitri are reactivated by the Corinthian Scout Service and sent to establish a cell on Halfway Station, as Corinth wishes to learn more about the Celestial Empire and its plans for Galactic domination. They succeed, but the season is cancelled after shiny new things distract my attention, namely Beasts & Barbarians and 5150. I still love Stars Without Number, though, and you might reasonably expect to see it return at some point.

Setting Notes: The concepts of the Celestial Empire (capital: Zhongguo) and Halfway Station still interest me, but I’ll probably drop everything else. Halfway is a deep space station midway between the Attica Cluster and the Celestial Empire, on the only known hyperspace route between the two.


Episodes: 34-46 (Novawatch and After to When the Ship Lifts). Season 4 isn’t finished yet; think of the current situation as the mid-season break which has become mandatory for TV shows in recent years.

Rules: 5150: New Beginnings, Chain Reaction Final Version, Savage Worlds.

Storyline: Arion, Coriander and Dmitri are transferred to New Hope, with orders to establish a reputation as mercenary troubleshooters and await further orders. They undertake a variety of missions both legal and otherwise for assorted patrons, and rescue Dmitri’s old flame Berenike from a civil war on Tainaron.

At the start of episode 47, Arion and company will be back in New Hope City, and looking for work. At some point they will start working for an Embassy, at which point I’ll rule they have been reactivated by the CSS and start doing spy stuff. Of all the rules combinations I’ve tried so far, plain vanilla 5150 seems to be the closest match to what I’m trying to do here; but The Arioniad is explicitly declared as a rules testbed, so who knows what will happen next? Certainly not me!

I’m determined to get this working; the concept is a Savage Worlds game using Chain Reaction as a GM emulator. Third time lucky, perhaps…


This is a Chain Reaction Final Version patrol scenario, featuring SG-13 vs Jafar. I dice for Enemy Activity Level and get a 5, as always. There are two PEFs in section 6 and one in section 5. To succeed, the player group must spend one action observing the centre of each of the 9 sections. I don’t want to invest the time in a full-blown Player Character at this stage, so I’ll just use an Experienced Soldier and make him a Wild Card… meet Lieutenant Stoner, recently promoted to command of SG-13.

  • One hex on the battlemat is 2”, and running dice which generate an odd total of inches moved are rounded up. PEF movement is reduced to 6” and 12” rather than 8” and 16”, to bring it in line with SW Pace.
  • Scrub is light cover, small trees are medium cover, big trees are heavy cover. PEFs and groups can see (and resolve) each other if there are fewer than 3 hexes of tree foliage separating them, including the hexes they are in.
  • There is one initiative card drawn per side, and enemy groups of PEFs act in increasing order of distance from the player group.
  • Figures are Soldier archetypes and count as Rep 4 unless they have snake head masks or binoculars, in which case they are Experienced Soldiers, who count as Rep 5. The PC ( Lt. Stoner) and the first Experienced Soldier NPC encountered are Wild Cards, others are Extras.


“It started as an ordinary patrol…”


I draw one initiative card for each PC (one) and one for all opposing forces – this is actually normal SW procedure, rather than the one card per group I used in experiment 2 (Arion’s escape from Tainaron). Normally in SW, friendly NPCs are controlled by the players and move when the relevant PCs move.

4 of Spades: PEF1 moves towards PEF 2 and stops 4” away. PEF2 and PEF3 both move 12” closer to the player group.

2 of Hearts: SG-13 runs onto the board and into cover in section 8. Stoner resolves PEF1 as a false alarm. (If the other team members were Wild Cards, I would have them scan sections 7, 8 and 9, but as there is only one Wild Card/Star present that’s not viable.)


“We moved up the centre of the area we’d been ordered to sweep. I thought I saw something moving, but it was a false alarm.”


9 of Diamonds: SG-13 moves cautiously through cover towards the middle of the board. This brings Stoner close enough to PEF3 to resolve it; it is another false alarm.

3 of Spades: The remaining PEF splits into two.


King of Hearts: SG-13 goes On Hold, reserving its action until later in the turn, as the PEFs are quite close now and I want to be able to react to whatever they do. Not using On Hold has been a major oversight in my solo SW games to date, and I expect its proper use to bring me much closer to the kind of tactical play I get with CRFV or 5150.

7 of Diamonds: PEF3A moves 12” through cover towards SG-13 and resolves as four Jafar. PEF3B does likewise and resolves as 6 more Jafar. I decide it’s fair for SG-13 to interrupt the enemy’s actions at this point, and it comes off hold and shakes out into a rough firing line, with each one burst-firing at the closest Jafar. (I did consider using Suppressive Fire, but unless the opposition is prone in heavy cover, I think burst fire comes out ahead statistically, which is in line with current tactical thinking as I understand it – short, controlled bursts rather than full auto into the shrubbery.) Stoner wounds one of the two Experienced Jafar, removing him from play; one team member hits but fails to damage his foe, another misses, and the third doesn’t have a clear Line Of Sight. Those Jafar who were under fire take a Received Fire test, pass 2d6 (they get 4d6 for this roll, one extra for their leader and one extra for being in cover, so it’s not surprising), and each shoot at their nearest enemy. They are at –2 to hit for having run, so only one hits, and his staff weapon (equivalent to a laser rifle) does 10 damage, shaking the team member (who has Toughness 7).


“Suddenly, we blundered into a dozen or so Jafar who had been stalking us, using the forest for concealment.”


This was a really bad time to get a poor card. However, I notice I have been missing the NPC Movement Table for the past couple of games – oops. Let’s start using it now, shall we? Neither Jafar group outnumbers SG-13 by more than 2:1, which determines their possible actions by selecting a column on that table.

9 of Spades: The Shaken Jafar recovers, but it takes him all turn. Both Jafar groups want to move to a position in cover where they can open fire on SG-13, but one is already in such a position so it stays put. A fusillade of laser bolts zap through the undergrowth, but thanks to the cover modifiers only one hits, Wounding a team member. SG-13 takes a Man Down test and passes 1d6, which is just enough for it to Carry On. The fire from the second group triggers a Received Fire test, but again SG-13 carries on.

2 of Spades: SG-13 has taken casualties, and is outnumbered more than 2:1. Discretion seems by far the better part of valour at this point, so the team falls back to its entry point at the run, with the team doctor making pickup on the wounded guy, and Stoner dragging the Shaken one, who stubbornly refuses to recover.


“After due consideration, I decided upon a retrograde manoeuvre, and the team withdrew in good order, recovering its casualties as it went.”


9 of Hearts: SG-13 goes first, and runs off the board. (I fudged the movement for SG-13 this turn and last as I was under pressure to hand back Table Mountain for other uses!)


The wounded guy recovers. Stoner gets one experience point for surviving (he would have got a second for succeeding).


This went a lot faster, mostly because of drawing fewer cards, and I’m pretty pleased with how well it worked.

Suppressive fire doesn’t seem to be terribly effective. I’ve noticed this in a number of SW games.

I’m sure I can get this to work with a little more tweaking. My main motivations for trying are first, that a solo SW game would be good both for exploring the rules further and maintaining my level of knowledge; and second, that eventually I’d like to play alongside my players, with a game “AI” running the opposition. The second objective, of course, could be achieved simply by playing one of 2HW’s games straight, and we’ll see how that goes in due course, once I have All Things Zombie: Final Fade Out properly figured out.

Here’s an experiment I’ve been thinking about for a while; using Chain Reaction as a GM emulator for Savage Worlds combat. PEFs and NPC actions will be governed by CRFV, while combat and any roleplaying activity is under SW. CRFV Rep 4 opponents use the Soldier template in SW, while Rep 5 use the Experienced Soldier template (with Block and Combat Reflexes as their two combat edges). The first Rep 5 encountered is a Wild Card. Activation die rolls are replaced by SW card draws for initiative. The rest of it I’ll make up as I go.


Arion, Berenike, Coriander and Dmitri have escaped from captivity and are now trying to get back into the Dolphin so they can leave the planet Tainaron and return to New Hope City. The map setup is as it was for the first CRFV scenario (the Dolphin hasn’t moved) but Arion’s crew enter from the other side of the board and succeed if they get aboard the ship with Arion still able to fly it – he may be Wounded, but not Incapacitated.

EAL is still 5, and there are PEFs in board sections 1, 3 and 6. The ship is off-map beyond sections 1-3, and must be boarded via the far edge of section 2. One hex is 2”. Berenike is an Experienced Soldier Extra, and Arion’s other crew are as previously statted. The blue die near Arion shows the turn number. Maps: Cry Havoc Fan, Wydraz. Figures: eM4.



Ace of Hearts: PEF in section 3 ("PEF3") moves 16" towards nearest PEF.

Queen of Spades: Arion runs onto the table. Only Berenike has Stealth (because I’m treating her as an Experienced Soldier for the moment), so we may as well move quickly.

Jack of Spades: PEF in section 6 ("PEF6") moves 16" toward enemy through cover.

4 of Hearts, 3 of Hearts: The girls run up after the guys, but Berenike (not doubt because of her mercenary training) overtakes the others.

2 of Hearts: PEF1 rolls two 6s and fails to move.

I realise at this point I’m not moving the PEFs far enough, but doubt it has made any difference so far, so simply resolve to do it properly from turn 2 onwards. I also observe that PEFs move faster than a Savage Worlds figure would normally, but so be it – it will speed the game up. However, I decide to round up any half-hexes of running to compensate.


Joker: PEF3 moves 16" towards the crew through cover, leapfrogging PEF6.

AC: PEF1 moves 16" directly towards PEF6.

6S: Holding their actions so they can move as a group, since they all go before the last PEF, Arion and friends run for the edge of the board, hoping to sneak around the flank while the PEFs are otherwise engaged. Unfortunately, only Berenike is fast enough to get into cover on the far side of the open ground – she’s obviously done this before.

5H: The last PEF moves 16" towards the crew through cover.


AS, QH: Going together on the Queen of Hearts, Arion and Coriander run along the board edge. Arion rolls a 6 on 1d6, and Coriander a 1; they thus move 12" and 7" respectively, and I decide that although it doesn’t have a direct line of sight, PEF8 can have a Notice roll to spot them as they rush across the gap between trees, 30 yards away. As a Soldier archetype would have Notice d6, I use that; it rolls a 2 and is oblivious. There is no LOS between the two groups which isn’t blocked by foliage, so I don’t resolve it yet.

JH: A PEF noves 16" through cover towards the crew.

AD, 10H: Going together on the 10 of Hearts, Berenike and Dmitri run after their friends. This time the nearest PEF notices and will raise the alarm when it gets a turn.

7H: The observant PEF notices our heroes, raises the alarm (quietly, via tactical communicator), and moves 8" towards the crew through cover. Dmitri can now see it, so I resolve the PEF as a "C" – "Here they come!" It runs out to be five Soldiers, of which I decide one is Experienced and the overall leader, with another 4 Soldiers in support 6" to their right. Ouch.

The group of 5 opens fire on Dmitri. They have Shooting d6 (except the leader who has d8), and are firing 3 round bursts from M-16 equivalents (+2 to hit and damage) at short range in good light (no modifiers). They must have run to move that far (-2 to hit). However, there seems to be no modifier in SW for a running target; so, they each need a 4 to hit. The d6s roll 1215, and the d8, a 3 – lucky for Dmitri! He takes one hit at +2 damage, or 2d8+2. 4+6+2 = 12, which is now compared to his Toughness of 9 (5 for him, 4 for a kevlar vest against bullets). Since the damage is at least equal to his Toughness, but doesn’t exceed it by 4, he is Shaken and I lay the figure on its side to remind me.

The group of 4 fires at Berenike, but they have an additional -2 to hit because she is in medium cover (trees). They roll 1246 and score one hit, with no bonuses. 11 damage means she, too, is Shaken.

3S: PEF5 moves towards the other remaining PEF. Coriander can now see it, so I resolve it; four more soldiers. They can see Coriander, Dmitri and Berenike, so I decide to roll randomly for each one to see who he shoots at. Two decide to fire at Berenike, and one each at Coriander and Dmitri. The two shooting at Berenike miss due to her cover, the one shooting at Dmitri misses because of a bad die roll, but the one shooting at Coriander hits with a raise, so rolls 2d8+1d6+2 = 14 and Wounds her. Cori is a Wild Card with Bennies though, and makes a Vigour roll to soak the damage – d6 (her Vigour) plus d6 (Wild Die), and rolls 66. The 6s are "aces", the highest possible roll, which means I keep the 6, reroll and add the new scores (3, 5) before picking one. I choose the 11, which is a success and a raise and so negates two wounds. She is no longer wounded, which removes the shaken condition as well. Go Cori!



KH: The four green soldiers go first. They have the best shots at Berenike and Coriander, so two of them burst-fire at each. They need a 2 to hit Dima, and a 4 to hit Berenike (her cover negates their +2 bonus for burst fire). The ones firing at Dima roll snake eyes and miss! The others hit Berenike once for 9 damage, but because she is an Experienced Soldier in a flak jacket, her Toughness is 2 + 4 (half Vigour die) + 4 (kevlar vs bullets) = 10, so they do her no harm.

KC: Berenike rolls to recover from Shaken – she rolls a d6, her Spirit die, and gets a 4 – she spends her turn recovering from Shaken, but she can still move at half Pace, so steps behind the tree trunk to get Heavy Cover, -4 to be it.

JD: Arion moves around to flank the four green soldiers, and fires his pistol at them. He hits the closest one thanks to his Wild Die, and aces the damage roll for a ridiculous total damage of 28 – nobody gets up from that, and the soldier drops. That group now takes a Man Down test and pass 2d6 so they will return fire on their turn – Arion has succeeded in drawing their attention away from his friends. (Note to self: Get Arion a proper gun! The Glock 9mm just doesn’t cut it.)

10H: The three green soldiers shoot at Arion. Base 4 to hit, -2 for cover, +2 for burst fire. Rolls of 356 mean two hit; the 6 is an ace so is boosted to 8 by a reroll, which means that hit will do an extra d6 damage. The first hit causes 14 damage and Arion decides to soak it by spending a benny; he fails to do so, and decides to keep the other bennies for later. He takes a Wound and is Shaken. The second hit does 16 damage, doing another Wound, and I again decide to keep the bennies for later.

8S: Dmitri rolls to recover from Shaken, rolls a 1 and a 2, and decides to spend a benny to recover instantly. He moves into cover with Berenike and fires at one of the soldiers, Shaking him. I decide Shaken isn’t worth a Man Down test, so they carry on.

2S: The remaining PEF stays put.

2C: Cori fires three single shots at different blue soldiers – I reckon this has a better chance of putting at least one down than a burst. She rolls 244 on her Shooting dice, and 3 on the Wild Die; they have no cover at all, so she hits two of them. Damage rolls of 5 and 14 mean one is incapacitated (and may be dead, but we won’t know until after the fight) but the other gets away with it. However, that triggers another Man Down test, although sadly they carry on.


Joker: Cori falls back towards Arion and the ship, steps into cover, and burst-fires at the enemy leader. Base target number is 4, and she rolls at +2 for burst fire, +2 for joker, -2 for target in medium cover. She rolls 1 (wild die) and 6 (skill die), rerolls the 6 to get a 16 (double ace), and inflicts 2d8+1d6+2+2 damage on the enemy boss – 21, or success and two raises against his Toughness of 11. Shaken and two Wounds; he’s not having that so spends a "GM benny" to soak the damage. A 1 (Vigour) and a 3 (Wild Die) don’t help, so he spends another and gets enough to remove one Wound. As he has a Wound left, though, he is still shaken. His men pass 1d6 on the Man Down test and will return fire when they can.

9C: The green soldiers go next; the larger group pours suppressive fire on Berenike and Dmitri, while the smaller group (confident Coriander has already fired, which would not help them under CRFV) charges into melee. Oh, and one of them (not the boss) recovers from Shaken. The suppressive fire does nothing, and thanks to botched running rolls, only one of them gets into melee range. He rolls a 4 on his Fighting die of d6, which is not enough to beat Berenike’s Parry of 7, so he misses.

8D: Berenike’s turn. She rolls Fighting d8 = 3, less than the trooper’s Parry of 5, and misses. She could disengage but that would give him another attack.

7C: It’s not obvious to me what the blue soldiers should do, so I roll on the PEF movement table and they decide to stay where they are.

6H: Dmitri goes into melee with the trooper fighting Berenike. As there are now two of them against one, Dmitri gets a +1 gangup bonus on his Fighting die, cancelled out by the -1 for using an improvised melee weapon (pistol); he hits with a raise and does d6 (Str) plus d6 (hit with raise) plus d4 (small improvised weapon) for a total of 8, enough to shake the other guy.

3C: The remaining PEF splits into two. ("I’m so excited I could split! Oh wait, I have!")



AH: Blue soldiers. They know there is someone over to their right who has shot at them, so they move that way through cover, cautiously.

JS: Green command group. The boss takes all turn to recover from shaken, so I decide they will wait for him, and then next turn charge into the melee with Dmitri.

10S: Dmitri, who decides to clobber the stunned trooper in front of him and shift the odds in his and Berenike’s favour. He fails to hit, though, even with a gangup bonus.

9C: Coriander fires a burst at the next trooper to enter melee, inflicting 20 damage and removing him from play.

8C: Arion spends this turn recovering from shaken, but has the presence of mind to step into heavy cover.

5S: Berenike twats her opponent, shaking him; since he is already shaken, this escalates to a Wound and removes him from play.

5H: The surivor of the "charge into melee" group deserves two man down tests, I think; he passes 1d6 on each and will halt and make a rushed shot. I think burst fire at Berenike makes most sense; +2 for burst, -2 for medium cover (she was in heavy but must’ve moved about in the melee); he rolls a 5 and hits, but an unimpressive 2 damage leaves Berenike unaffected.

2D: The PEFs. The first rolls "move 16" toward enemy through cover"; given that there is automatic weapons fire between it and the enemy, and no cover, it will move as close as it can without exposing itself, then stop. The other gets the same result and does the same.


AS: Blue soldiers. A group Notice roll to see Arion, and another to see Coriander, I think. (These work like PC rolls, with Wild Dice.) The group spots both, so I roll at random for each to see who they shoot at; all three pick Cori, the rats. Two hits. The first does 14 damage, which Shakes her, but I don’t bother to soak it as I can always spend a benny later to recover instantly. The second does 22 damage, which causes two wounds (note that the number of wounds from a damage roll can never exceed the number of raises, even if the target is already shaken); that’s worth soaking, so she does, spending a benny and soaking one wound.

KS: Berenike moves up next to Coriander and burst-fires at the lone green soldier in front of her, Shaking him.

QH: PEF. Moves 8" towards nearest PEF, and bumps into it (it’s already within 4" so can’t stop 4" away). The other PEF can’t close 16" and stay in cover, and is already as close as it can get, so it stays put. I would give Dmitri a Notice roll to resolve them, but he’s otherwise engaged and that part of the board is crowded anyway.

JD: Green command. Melee didn’t work out too well, so each of them will burst-fire at random at Dmitri, Coriander or Berenike; one at B, three at C, and one at D. Berenike is Shaken, Coriander is Shaken again and so now has a second Wound, and they miss Dmitri. Coriander keeps her last benny to handle Incapacitation should it occur.

9H: Coriander. She rolls high enough to recover from Shaken with a raise, meaning she can act this turn. I have a new plan now, so she runs for the ship, firing at the shaken green soldier as she goes. Not entirely unexpectedly, she misses.

8S: Dmitri runs for the ship too, firing at the shaken green guy on the way past. He misses too, but sooner or later one of them will get lucky.

6C: Arion runs for the ship, and doesn’t bother shooting because I don’t think he has a clear shot at any point; he uses his action to radio the Dolphin to open the door for him.

5C: Long green soldier. He fails to recover from shaken, but since he can still move half Pace and people are shooting at him, he moves into cover.



Jokers: All the green soldiers! The one on his own will use this turn to recover from shaken. The others will burst fire at random towards Berenike (1-3) or Dmitri (4-6). The two on Berenike both hit thanks to the joker; she takes 15 and 8 damage, and is Incapacitated (it’s no fun being an Extra in this game, trust me).

AD: PEF. Still wants to move 16" through cover. Still can’t do it.

KC: Arion runs for the ship, and makes it into the airlock.

QS: Dmitri heaves Berenike over his shoulder and waddles towards the ship. I can’t find a rule for this in SW, but it seems reasonable and I press on to avoid the game bogging down in rules checks – however, I doubt he can run.

QC: The blue soldiers saw Dmitri hobble past, and have their best LOS to him, so all fire on him – note that as he moved first, he gains the bonus for the cover he finishes his move in. None hit.

8D: Berenike isn’t doing anything now except bleed over Dmitri’s clothes.

3D: Coriander runs for the ship, and doesn’t fire because there’s no obvious LOS to target.


AS: Coriander barges past Arion and runs over to the opposite airlock hatch, which she opens, and then goes prone in the hatchway, reloading. (You’ll see.)

AD: Blue soldiers. They move to a better firing position and shoot at Dmitri again. Two hit, and Dmitri is shaken twice, causing a Wound.

QH: Green soldiers. The run across open ground to the next group of trees, except the one on his own who puts suppressive fire on Dmitri. Not that it does him any good.

3D: Arion runs for the bridge, closing the door behind him.

2D: The PEFs try to close up on each other. Stupid PEFs.


Joker: PEFs. They both move up through cover (or at least where the PCs can’t see them) towards the ship.

QS: Arion is still going for the bridge.

9H: Cori is waiting for the ship to lift.

7H: Green troops. I use the PEF movement table for them and they make a run for Dmitri’s position, merging into one force as they do so.

7C: Blue troops. Again I use the PEF table, and they try to close up with their friends, stopping 4" away – but they’re already there.

2C: Dmitri grabs Berenike and moves to another clump of trees, delaying the inevitable.


KH: Green troops – they put suppressive fire on Dmitri’s position, so the blue ones can try melee again. It does them no good.

JC: PEFs. Both close in on Dmitri.

7H: Arion reaches the bridge, drops into the pilot’s chair and powers up the ship.

7C: Cori goes On Hold, so that next turn she can act earlier.

6S: Blue troops. They move into melee with Dmitri, and two hit because of gangup bonuses. However, the damage (5 and 6 respectively) fails to get through.

4S: Dmitri clobbers one of the blue troops, shaking one.



10C: Arion makes a Piloting roll to lift the ship and turn it so Coriander’s gun bears on the green troops. His -2 for being wounded cancels the +2 for Ace, and he succeeds.

Cori acts out of sequence because she is On Hold, and takes the green troops under suppressive fire from the rear, shaking two. I decide this is triggers a Received Fire test, and the group will return fire at her when they act. She is in heavy cover (-4 to be hit).

9H: Blue troops, in melee. All miss, and the shaken one stays shaken.

6C: Green troops. Return fire at spaceship, but miss Cori; one recovers from shaken.

3D: Dima in melee. He hits one for 22 damage, and that one takes a permanent nap.

2C: PEFs. Both roll double 6 and stay put.



Dmitri could go now, but will hold his move until later…

KC: Arion manoeuvres the ship around so Dmitri can climb aboard.

QC: Coriander suppresses the green troops again, shaking two.

Joker: Dmitri clobbers the remaining blue guy, shaking him, then retreats onto the airlock ramp.

7S: The blue guys are all shaken, and roll to recover; they manage but will spend all turn on it.

5D: Green troops recover from shaken and two can act. This means five can shoot, one fires at Cori and four at Dmitri; thanks to the cover penalty, all miss.



First, I roll for Berenike to see if she dies of her wounds. As per Savage Worlds Deluxe p. 78, I make a Vigour roll for her, and get a 4 – a 3 or less would have meant death, and an 8 or better that her wounds were superficial; but on a 4 she is Incapacitated. As per pp 68-69, I now roll 2d6 for an injury – this will last until all her wounds are healed. A roll of 8 (guts) followed by a 6 (busted) means her Strength is reduced one die type until she heals. Speaking of healing, Coriander can now heal her psionically, and does so – this is better than leaving her to heal naturally as she has a lower chance of dying while doing so this way. As Berenike has survived her first scenario and will thus be around a little longer, I roll for her personality; 1d20 on the table on p. 81 – 20, Heroic. Oh dear, another White Knight.


This didn’t work as well as I expected. Firstly, it was much slower than any CRFV or 5150; that was at partly due to having so many initiative cards in play, so if I do this again I will have one per side.

Secondly, I had to keep reminding myself that the tactical play is different – specifically, once a character has taken an action, they can’t do anything else; you can walk up to them and shoot them, they don’t mind. That meant I could take risks I wouldn’t have taken under 2HW rules, like breaking cover to fall back. The NPCs could have done this by using the On Hold rule, so I need some way of deciding when they do that.

The GM-less Savage Worlds isn’t quite ready for prime time yet, I fear.

Arion: Jailbreak

Posted: 17 October 2012 in Arioniad

Arion, Coriander, and Dmitri are languishing in a cell when the door opens, and a shadowy figure with a large bag and a bunch of keys enters.

“Berenike!” cries Dmitri. “You’re alive!”

“Berenike?” cries Arion. “Great! We’re here to rescue you…”

After last encounter’s fiasco, Arion & Co are still using the CRFV rules, but a non-standard scenario, in which we meet Dmitri’s contact, Berenike…

Berenike is Merc #7 from the 5150 NB generator (I diced for that), and so has Rep 5, Fit 5, Pep 3, Sav 4, Sci 0, and carries a BAP. As there is a definite shortage of girls with guns in my figure collection, she’ll have to use Coriander’s old figure. We join the group as Berenike has just broken into their cell to free them.


Everyone is in Building 1. For simplicity’s sake, Berenike has brought a bag of guns so everyone is armed as per their figures.


Objective: Get everyone off-board alive via the far edge of section 2. Note that this means avoiding combat is a Good Thing.

Special Rules: EAL remains at 5. Parapets on the roof are low enough to shoot over, but high enough to provide cover for someone fast moving doubled over – however, if such a person has to fire, the shot is rushed. Jumping off the roof requires a challenge test: Success means lose 2" movement, failure means Stunned.


Activation: Arion 4, PEFs 6 (do not activate).


The randomly-deployed PEFs actually have good LOS to building 2 and to the escape route around building 4, so Arion’s crew fast move out of building 1, around the courtyard, up the stairs and onto the roof of building 4. The plan is to move across the roof of building 5, jump over the wall, and then sneak around the Inn. White disks indicate people on the roof; the different starting positions and fast move results by Rep have spread them out nicely into single file.


Activation: PEFs 5, Arion 3.


The PEFs move at random; the statement "moving through cover at all times" helps PEFs enormously, usually by sending them to flanking positions; but this time it helps the party, as one PEF moves around building 4 the other way – it could have come right up to them, but not without breaking cover. A second moves towards the party but without getting LOS on them, and a third moves towards the second.

The player group fast moves across the roof of building 5. Arion is OK, but Berenike fails the challenge test and is Stunned. The others didn’t quite have enough movement to jump off.


Activation: Arion 5, PEFs 1.


Coriander and Dmitri jump off the roof, and Dmitri is Stunned. Berenike recovers. The PEFs mill about inside the courtyard, with several moving directly towards the party through cover, only to be stopped by a wall.


Activation: PEF 5, Arion 1.

The PEFs are definitely interested in building 6; maybe it’s the mess hall. One, however, moves directly towards the Star through cover – to give them a sporting chance, of the several possibilities available to it I choose to send it towards the Alep Gate, where it is most likely to cause trouble.

Arion and crew wait for Dmitri to recover from his stun.


Activation: Arion 5, PEFs 2.


Arion and crew fast move up the outside of the wall. The PEFs have now decided to be interested in the Alep Gate and all move out of building 6 towards it. Oops.


Activation: Arion 4, PEFs 3.

The crew continues to fast move around the Caravanserai wall and are now only a few inches away from escape!


The PEFs, however, have other ideas. The closest one moves out of the gate and has to be resolved – luck is with us and it turns out to be a false alarm! The second PEF follows it and resolves as four soldiers, one Rep 5 and three Rep 4. Time for an In Sight test; red dice show number of passes.

The enemy leader opens fire at Berenike, knocking her down. She passes 2d6 on the recovery test and is Stunned. Arion shoots at the leader and kills him outright. (Both sides pass their Man Down tests.)

One soldier shoots at Arion and hits for a KD result, Arion is Stunned but the crew carries on regardless. Coriander then shoots Arion’s assailant, knocking him down; he is now Out Of the Fight but his colleagues carry on.

Dmitri doesn’t get a go because he passed 0d6, and the remaining two squaddies don’t have LOS to the crew so can’t fire.


Activation: Arion 4, troops 1.

Arion retrieves the wounded Berenike and fast-moves off the board while firing at the surviving soldiers. (How heroic is that?) I picked Arion for this because (a) he has the best chance of passing d6 for the fast move and (b) if by any chance the soldiers engage him in melee, as a Star he doesn’t have to drop Berenike. The rest of the crew fast move off the board after him, firing as they go. This brings them into LOS of the soldiers and triggers an In Sight test.

Arion goes first and fires once at each soldier, missing both but triggering Received Fire tests. They both take a rushed shot at him. Four of the six shots hit, with results of Obviously Dead, Out Of the Fight, and Knocked Down twice. Arion’s Star Power saves him, turning both the OD and the OOF into Stuns. I stop rolling at that point, as passing more Star Power dice won’t help, but I could roll sixes and lose some dice for the rest of the encounter.

Having seen this happen, Dmitri doesn’t fire, because the odds of him hitting are not good, but the odds of a received fire test triggering a return fusillade are high.


The soldiers now get a turn. One rolls over his Rep on the In Sight resolution table so ducks back – this would be weird normally, but as someone is shooting at him it makes sense. The other is made of sterner stuff and takes two shots at Cori and one at Dmitri – he could get lucky and drop everyone. He misses Cori as she is fast moving, and Dmitri because he rolls low. Cori and Dmitri take received fire tests – Cori rolls atrociously and has to take a Cohesion test, which she passes, and carries on; but Dmitri is outgunned so ducks back into the nearest cover, which is the Caravanserai wall.

Now it’s Cori’s turn, and she hoses down the remaining visible soldier – rolls of 5, 5, and 6 to hit, appropriately enough, and wounding rolls send him OOF. The last soldier has to take another man down test but carries on because he is in cover.

Almost as an afterthought, the remaining PEF splits in two. Probably the best outcome for Arion.

Turn 8

Activation: Arion 2, Soldiers 6 (don’t activate).

Coriander and Dmitri both retrieve wounded, picking up their significant others, and fade away into the sunset. Arion would recover this turn, but we can’t rely on the other side activating after us, so it’s better to be dragged off the board.


Arion and Berenike both pass 2d6 and return at full Rep. The next encounter will be a Raid: Attack trying to get back into the Dolphin and escape Tainaron.

Arion: Tainaron Patrol

Posted: 10 October 2012 in Arioniad

"Ah, Tainaron. Best mercenary hiring hall in the sector. And do you know why that is, Dmitri?"

"Yes, but I expect you’re going to tell me anyway."

"Because it’s a balkanised planet where they’re constantly shooting at each other! It has more military actions per year than any dozen planets combined. Oh, look, now they’re shooting at us as well! And I was so worried they wouldn’t let us join in…" Dmitri peers out of the bridge window at the tracer zipping past, and starts involuntarily as a couple of rounds spang off the viewport.

"Don’t worry about it. It’s only 12.7mm, the meteorite shielding is perfectly capable of fending that off indefinitely. As you well know."

"So, are you going to tell me why we’re here? I only ask because, you know, it might be useful in deciding where to land…"

"One of my old contacts had her cover blown. She needs a ride out of here before they damage her pride. Or her fingernails."

"Oho, ‘she’ is it? Is this an old contact, or an old flame?" Dmitri is punching numbers into a keyboard.

"Why does she have to be one or the other? There… home in on that frequency. That’s her rescue beacon." Coriander pokes her head in through the bridge access hatch.

"Is this one of those ‘Hot LZs’ you boys are always talking about?"

"I’ll let you know when we get there," says Arion. "Oh hey, like the new outfit!"

"Yeah, well, I’ve been wearing those robes for over a year now, so it’s definitely time for a new look."


I wanted to try Arion under Chain Reaction: Final Version because one of the things that slows me down in other THW products is the range of reaction tables for different troop types. It’s a clever way of reflecting differences, but it’s slower than the original idea of one reaction table fits all. I also like the idea that the CRFV NPC movement table tells you what a group’s tactical deployment will be – I miss that, and I think that’s why it feels like I have to do more thinking for the NPCs in 5150: NB.

Character creation in CRFV is a snap: The Star is Rep 5, Grunts are Rep 3-5. I decided to make Arion Rep 5 and stick with the idea of Coriander and Dmitri as both being Rep 4 for simplicity. The figure has whatever weapons it has, and nobody has armour, skills or attributes. Job done.

In story terms, Arion & Co are looking for Dmitri’s contact, or at least the beacon she was using to summon help.


This is a CRFV Patrol encounter. Arion, Coriander and Dmitri begin aboard the Dolphin, which has landed just off the edge of the main board. To succeed, Arion must spend one full activation stationary with LOS to the centre of each board section, then exit the table from the edge by which he entered.

I roll 2d6 for Enemy Activity Level, taking the higher score: 1, 6 so the EAL begins at 5 (since it may never exceed 5). As usual, rather than spend time generating terrain, I just grab one of my battlemats and lay it on Table Mountain. The PEF generation rules (p. 31) give me PEFs in sections 1, 3, and 6. I decide that any other figures encountered are soldiers looking for Dmitri’s contact.



Activation: PEFs 4, Arion 1. It’s not immediately clear to me what the PEFs’ effective Rep should be, but I decide to use the EAL for the sake of expediency, and check whether that’s right later.


PEFs go first. Starting with the one closest to the PCs, that in section 6, I roll 2d6 vs EAL (5): 1, 6 = pass 1d6. As there are other PEFs on the board, the ensuing roll of 5 means it moves 8" towards the nearest enemy, staying in cover at all times.

Using the same rules, the second closest PEF (in section 3) moves 16" through cover towards the PCs, and the last one moves 8" towards the nearest friend stopping 4" away.

Arion’s original plan was to fast move up the centre of the board and thus gain LOS to several section centres at once, but this will place him in the crossfire between two PEFs so is a bad idea. Also, the rules suggest that he can only "collect" one section at a time. Instead, he moves into section 8 and gains LOS on the centre of section 9.

After reading the In Sight rules a couple of times I decide that since both Arion and the PEFs are in cover, they can’t see each other.


Activation: Arion only.

Arion observes section 9 and crosses it off his list.


Activation: Arion only.

Arion and his crew move up through cover to a place where they can observe the centres of board sections 4, 7 and 8.


Activation: Arion, PEFs.


Arion observes section 8 – it seems reasonable to start with the one he is in. The PEFs move according to the rules, and I’m intrigued by how well the simple statement that they must move through cover for the relevant movement results drives one into a great flanking position. By now, another is only 4" away, so I decide it must be visible and resolve it.

I roll 1d6 on the PEF resolution table, cross-referencing the die roll (1) with the EAL (5) to reveal a result of X – "There’s nothing out there, no worries mate." That PEF is removed from the board. A small, furry woodland animal perhaps, or a simple case of nerves.


Activation: Arion 4, PEFs 4. As per p. 9, this doesn’t count as a turn and I reroll – note that in other THW rules sets it would still count as a turn, but neither side would move. This is because in other rules something could still happen, for example in 5150 NB the police might get closer.

Unbelievably, the rerolls are doubles several times, but eventually we get to Arion going on a 4, then the PEFs on a 3. Arion stays put and observes section 7. He could have done that on the first turn, and in real life probably would have in case of ambush, but at a metagaming level I knew there wouldn’t be any PEFs in sections 7-9.

The PEF now in section 4 wants to move 16" towards the PCs while staying in cover. It can’t do that, but there is a way for it to sprint between two stands of trees without the PCs having LOS to it, so I decide it does that. However, after 10" it can’t get closer without breaking cover and triggering an In Sight test, so I decide it stops there.

Since Arion is active and observing that section, I decide he can take a Challenge test to resolve the PEF (p. 25). I decide that success will mean he sees and resolves the PEF, while failure means he decides there is nothing there and ignores it. 2d6 (1, 5) vs Rep (5) = pass 2d6, success.

Resolving the PEF gives me a B result, a small group, and a roll of 2d6 (6) on the How Many Grunts table tells me there are three of them. I pick three figures at random from my box of soldiery, and get three guys with assault rifles. It’s not immediately obvious what their Rep should be, so I roll on the Party Generation Table on p. 7: Rolls of 2, 3, 5 are each subject to a +1 modifier for the figures being military, so we have two Rep 4 Grunts led by a Rep 5 Grunt. Who is which will be obvious to me as two of the three figures are the same pose, so they can be the Rep 4s.

Time for an In Sight test. Everybody rolls modified Rep d6 vs 3, looking for passes; the red dice next to each figure show how many it achieved. Note that everyone is in cover, so their opponents roll one less die than normal; also, the former PEF moved, so rolls one less die than that. This means the soldiers roll 3, 2 and 2 dice; Arion rolls 4 dice; and the crew roll 3 dice each. Notice how the rules reward ambushes.


Arion goes first (4 successes) and fires his BAP twice at the enemy leader. He rolls 1d6 plus Rep for each shot and scores 8, 9. Both shots miss as the target is in cover. The enemy leader now takes a Received Fire test, rolling 4d6 vs Rep (the usual two, plus one for being in cover, plus the commander’s Leader Die): He passes 4d6 and so returns fire. He rolls 1d6 + Rep for each of his three shots; 9, 10, 10 means he hits Arion twice. Arion rolls 1d6 vs weapon Impact (3) for each hit: A 1 is an Obviously Dead result, and a 3 for an Out Of the Fight result. I don’t much like that, so resort to Star Power (p. 5): I roll 5d6 for the OD result and get 3, 4, 4, 5, 6. The 3 reduces the wound from OD to OOF, and the 6 is lost from my pool for future rolls in this game. I could roll to reduce the OOF to Stunned, but decide not to because I will still be OOF, there are no extra penalties for having multiple conditions of the same type, and a bad roll could reduce my dice pool further. Arion is now out of it, and needs to be recovered and healed off board.

Coriander and Dmitri now take a Man Down test. They roll 4d6 vs Rep (4); two as usual, one for being in cover, and another one because Coriander has taken over as leader. They pass 4d6 and Carry On.

Now, the enemy leader may act – note that although he reacted to coming under fire by shooting earlier, he is now active and might fire again. I roll 1d6 vs Rep as he is a Grunt, and get a 4 – he passes 1d6 so looks at the Available Actions list. As he is able to fire, he does so; three shots at Coriander get him 7, 9, 10. 7 always misses, 9 misses if the target is in cover, so only the 10 hits. He rolls 1d6 vs Impact (3) and gets a 3; Coriander is Out Of the Fight, and has no Star Power under CRFV with which to contest that decision.

A second soldier now acts. He passes 1d6 vs Rep so can act, and fires at Dmitri. 9, 9, 10 so one hit – and on a 2, Dmitri is OOF.

Notice that the third soldier, Coriander and Dmitri are unable to act before the firefight is over.


It seems clear that the opposition can kill or capture Arion’s crew at will; since the rules allow me to decide which, and I’ve grown attached to the little bundles of stats over the years, they are captured. The next encounter will therefore be a jailbreak.

All three of the crew now roll 2d6 vs Rep on the After the Battle Recovery table (p. 24). Arion passes 2d6, the others each pass 1d6, so everyone recovers to normal Rep before the next scenario.


I expected CRFV to be faster in play than 5150 NB, and it is. However, it was only when I played it that I realised how much more brutal it is, and how much more tactical sense the PEFs display.

CRFV has no rules for improving a character, however, and because eventually the recovery table will reduce his Rep, the best you can do is not get any worse. Consequently, while CRFV is fine for a skirmish wargame, I won’t use it as an RPG in its own right – and to be fair, all it’s intended to do is let you try out the core ideas of the THW rules before you buy them.


Figures: eM4. Battlemats: Wydraz, Cry Havoc Fan.

"The choice is up to you. Feel free to use as little or as much of the following rules for your campaign…" – Ed Teixeira, 5150: New Beginnings

This one’s for Steve Boulter… Steve, you said you weren’t convinced all Ed’s changes for 3rd Edition were of benefit. Here are my thoughts having played 5150: NB for a while…

I like:

  • The new In Sight method – Rep d6 looking for passes rather than 2d6 vs Rep. I didn’t expect to like this, but it while it is fractionally slower in play, it makes many-on-many firefights flow more smoothly.
  • Bonus dice. For when the Star absolutely, positively has to win a dice roll.
  • The 5150: NB skills system. Rep and a couple of attributes aren’t really enough to keep me interested in a character, but LTL’s dozens of skills were overkill. This feels right in the sweet spot.
  • The self-improvement rules. I like it that my Star can’t lose points unless he fails.
  • The revised melee rules. I never really took to the idea of multiple sub-turns inside a melee, with the figures’ melee dice gradually eroding until one didn’t have any left. That’s gone now.

I don’t like:

  • Bleeder wound status. I find it confusing, and have to keep looking it up. Maybe that will change as I play more, but currently I don’t think it adds anything to the game that Stunned and Out Of the Fight didn’t already cover to my satisfaction. This is the only thing I really have a problem with, but I’ll keep playing it for a while, since it often takes quite a few games before I realise what a particular rule is trying to do.
  • Different reaction test charts for the different troop types. That’s been in 2HW games for a long time, and I’ve never really taken to it. However, I haven’t thought of a better way to do it, either, and they are so integral to the system that I don’t want to mess with them. The easiest solution is probably to restrict the troop types used in any one encounter, so I’m only looking up a couple of tables. Mind you, as long as you have a decent leader with each tactical group, it’s quite unusual for them to fail anything other than a Recover From Knock Down Test anyway.
  • How long it takes to resolve PEFs. There are a couple of ways to deal with that, one is Ed’s approach of pre-dicing a bunch of encounters and putting them on cards, another is not to flesh them out beyond Rep and weapon carried, which is what I find myself doing most of the time.

I don’t mind:

  • Hit location. I like the brutal elegance of rolling vs Impact. However, the hit location tables make it easier to use armour, by adding detail to damage resolution. I have toyed with the idea of dropping hit location and giving figures Star Power dice to represent armour, but that would mean more bookkeeping, which I hate.
  • PEF movement rules. They are less intuitively obvious to me than the ones in earlier editions, but I picked them up easily enough.

Neither like nor dislike but don’t expect to use much:

  • Cybertech enhancements and media crews. Just not my cup of tea.
  • Terrain placement, buildings, hiring-on, legal and economic systems. I don’t have a problem with them, I just enjoy other parts of the game more, and when time is limited they’ll probably fall by the wayside.

So, overall, I’d say the 3rd edition rules are an improvement – I like more of the changes than I dislike.

Blood Angels vs Jafar

Posted: 1 October 2012 in Tryouts

Well, not quite. It happened like this…

My view is that players are generally much less concerned about the rules and setting than the GM, and I don’t think that’s just me; if the GM is enthusiastic, it’s easy to get the players involved; if the GM loses his enthusiasm, as I am, then the game falls apart. I’m starting to feel a bit burned out on Savage Worlds, and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to see if any of the 2HW products would tempt the group as a change of pace; I was thinking of Labyrinth Lord as an alternative, but another picaresque fantasy game won’t be different enough for me to recharge, I fear.

This weekend we found ourselves with very few players, not much time, and a sickly GM (me –just a cold, but enough to take the edge off my usual fiendishness). So, rather than not play at all, we opted for a guest game – Chain Reaction Final Version.

How complex was character generation, they wanted to know. You are Rep 5, I said; pick a figure, you’ve got what the figure has.

Of course, based on that, I should have expected The Warforged’s figure to be a Blood Angels Space Marine with a rocket launcher (he kindly agreed not to play a terminator marine with lightning claws). The others were more restrained, picking a SAW gunner and one of my two female figures with assault rifles; I went with an MP and two grenades.

The whole game lasted about an hour, including briefing them on the rules, and got to the end of turn three. By that point, all of the PEFs had been resolved (as an improbably large number of Jafar – I ran out of figures and had to use lion men for some of them) and slaughtered, mostly with explosives.

The verdict from the players was that it was even faster and more furious than SW, and that because of the chain reactions from things like In Sight Tests, they weren’t waiting as long between turns, so felt more involved in the game. I warned them that 2HW products essentially view the story arc as a way of justifying and bridging the combats; but in honesty that isn’t too different from most RPGs. How about a campaign, I asked, as a change from SW? Fine, they said.

Those present were all keen Team Fortress 2 players, which I think helped their decision. We bemoaned the lack of TF2 figures, agreeing that we could do tabletop TF2 very easily with Chain Reaction.

So, which 2HW game, then? We discussed 5150, ATZ and Warrior Heroes – after the fact, I wondered about a Warhammer 40,000 game, which would be easy to do, and would give me an excuse to buy 5150: Star Army. As if I needed one.

By a narrow margin, All Things Zombie beat 5150; the group thinks we have enough fantasy games already, and that 5150: NB would overlap too much with the Shadowrun campaign. So, once we reach a natural break point for Shadows of Keron, we’ll park Beasts & Barbarians for a while and go zombie hunting.

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.