Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Medieval warfare!

It's been a while since we've had a new Weasel system hasn't it?

While we're still a little bit away, I wanted to take the time today to talk about the next original Weasel rules set: Knyghte, Pyke and Sworde. 

The game is, as you can no doubt guess, medieval warfare.

There are a lot of motivations for writing a game. Sometimes it's tied to a specific mechanical idea, sometimes you want to explore a specific aspect of warfare, sometimes you don't can't find exactly what you are after.
In this case it was the latter. Most games on the market seem to cater either to strictly warband style skirmishes with only a couple of figures or they use a small number of figures to stand in for a larger force.
What I wanted though was something that was more tangibly man to man but which would let me play at a range of scales at the lower end of the spectrum: In other words, raids and patrols.

I also had a hankering for a more old-fashioned turn sequence. "Command rolls" are very common in gaming today and they have a lot to commend them, but I think they also change the focus of the game. As I knew I wanted to work with a lower scale, I wanted the player to have a bit more control over things than is normally the case.

Lastly, while I wanted to be able to cover a wide range of gaming from dark ages to the emergence of the harquebus, I also wanted to able to eventually cross into things like wargaming in the world of Hárn, Robin Hood or King Arthur.

Game size
The rules are intended for games ranging from 4-5 figures on each side up to 30 or so. A typical unit is 6 figures (though options are included to play at half scale with 3 figure units) and a typical "army" is 2-4 such units plus a couple individual figures.

I wanted the rules to be pretty affordable for people who want to start gaming the medieval era, as well as allowing players with current armies for games like Lion rampant to be able to play immediately.
It was also important to me that the game would scale down well, allowing a fun lunch break game with only 4-5 miniatures each.

Mass Skirmish
The figures are not standing in for a larger number of men. A unit of 5 Saxons represents a band of 5 actual Saxons. Combat is man-to-man as a result. When two units meet, it is a series of duels with men being pushed back or falling in the mud, not an abstraction.

It was important to me that the game would feel fairly tangible and personal.

Core mechanics
The turn sequence functions through alternating activations. Every unit will act each turn, with players taking turns to pick a unit to act with.
One of the character types is a Scout, who can be used to be clever. On their own, the Scout is just one lonely figure without any special fighting or leadership skills, but they allow you to take your turn and move just the one guy, forcing your opponent to move another of their units before you commit your cavalry for example.

Melee combat is an opposed roll between the two warriors with an injury roll to see if the loser is wounded or knocked out.
Missile attacks are rolled against a target number, so they can be rolled in batches.

For Morale, I opted for a different approach. A lot of "Who got the most hits" type systems for deciding who checks Morale don't feel right to me in a skirmish. If 4 men charge 4 enemies and one of them gets wounded, is that really a panic inducing level of defeat?

To my view, a group of hardened warriors would expect people to get hurt or killed, so that shouldn't bother them. As such, any unit can take one casualty each turn and not be bothered. If they take more than that, a quick morale check is made which can result in them retreating or fleeing the battle field.
This also helps reward players for a bit of combined arms: Shooting up a unit before charging them is much more likely to send them running away than just trading blows in the shield wall.

One addition I think you'll find interesting is Exhaustion.
Some actions (running, fighting in melee, rapid archery) cause the unit to get an exhaustion token.
This prevents it from running or conducting rapid archery the next round (as the men need a breather) but it also penalizes you in melee (your men lose on a draw).

This means players will have to pay closer attention to what is happening: Charging into one unit and savaging them, but being open to a counter-charge could be a disaster. You may have to prioritize between running those reinforcements up to get stuck in as quick as possible, but potentially fight at a disadvantage, versus advancing more cautiously and being ready for a fight.

Leadership

At the lower level of game we're looking at, a leader is not going to have the sort of perfect radar vision of the battle field that their player has.
However, a trusted commander in the right spot should still make a difference through directing an archer, shouting a word of encouragement to a man at arms and so forth.

Leader figures have a pool of Charisma points which let them give a bonus action to a figure in range.
This allows you to take a vital shot, move someone into melee (with a bonus), redeploy someone to cover a vital gap in the barricade and so forth.

Simple and colorful I hope!

Fighters

The other type of individual figure is the Fighter. These are not all-conquering mega-heroes, but I wanted to capture those battle-hardened killers that show up in stories like the viking on Stamford bridge, the gallant knight challenging his enemies or Bronn from Game of Thrones.

These characters receive a solid bonus in combat, meaning they will generally best a regular warrior in one on one combat, though luck (or bringing friends) might turn the tide.
They are still ultimately mortal however, not all-conquering superheroes.

Stylized unit types
There are 7 types of unit in the game: Light, Heavy, Charger, Polearm, Missile, Skirmisher and Powder, as well as 3 types of character: Fighter, Leader and Scout.

Characters are measured by 3 ability scores with each unit type having a default profile and one rule to set them apart (heavy troops get a save vs missile fire, polearms negate cavalry bonuses and so forth).

Army building

A points system comes included.
This lets you quickly pick a "standard" unit of each type at either normal (6 figure) or half (3 figure)
 size, then if you like you can buy to upgrade some of the ability scores (veteran troops, better armor etc.).

It should be a decent balance between "Do I want the glaive or the voulge for my polearm troops?" and games that allow no customizing at all.

Overall principles

Throughout the goal has been to create something that feels dramatic and easy to visualize, while being easy to play. There are very few modifiers, most rules have few exceptions and the core system should be very adaptable to different scenarios.
It is also very easy to house rule or add your own things to.

All in all, the game should feel pretty "Weasel'y" and long-time fans should feel right at home.

The hope is to be able to play from roughly 500 to 1500 or so, at least at first.

Fun bits
Of course, a simple campaign system is included letting you figure out what happened to the wounded, offering some simple progression options and so forth.

There's also tables with army advantages and drawbacks which can be used as rewards/penalties in a campaign game or when creating scenarios.

A scenario generator with a random objective for each side is a must of course as well.

What about...?
Fantasy stuff, full on pike and shot etc. is something people always have an interest in.
Provided the system does well, both are definitely possible.
Fantasy would probably be a supplement with mostly new unit types and a magic system, the latter might be better as a stand-alone game but I am not sure about that yet.

Of course, players are ambitious so you probably could get started on setting up your own Lord of the Rings battles with a couple simple house rules.

2 comments:

  1. I've played quite a bit of your 5 Men at Kursk (and 5 Men in Normandy) so am interested to give this a try. I'm particularly interested in trying a small skirmish system for the ECW or a little bit earlier for the Border Reivers period. Are these rules useful for that sort of caper? thanks!

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    1. You may have gotten the answer to this by now, since you got eaten by the spam filter, but yes, ECW was on my mind when writing this and by now, we have a dedicated pike&shot expansion too.

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