Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Maneuver Warfare Handbook

I read most of Lind's Maneuver Warfare Handbook this evening, and as usual when reading this prompted a few thoughts relevant to gaming (although, unusually, more ideas related to my job - maneuver warfare applied to software development looks like a particularly weird, German flavor of Agile I expect).  The quick summary is that maneuver warfare is a mode of fighting which emphasizes distributed action rather then central control, and which has a few standard tools (mission orders / commander's intent, schwerpunkt, and the search for gaps in the enemy's surface) to make that organizational structure work.  When used properly, the more rapid reaction times of unit leaders closest to the action (who no longer have to wait for high command's permission to act) allow them to out-react their adversaries, forcing confusion, panic, and defeat.  Also emphasized are adaptability to circumstances and initiative by small-unit leaders.  This allows a smaller force to defeat a larger one by capitalizing on failures in enemy command and control.

Which sounds a lot like the sort of thing a human force in Domains at War could use to defeat the numerically-superior orc force in Battle of the Teeth, for example.  Create and exploit weaknesses in their formation as a result of their poor command and control, punch through, kill their commanders and force morale collapse.

Some of the small-unit fire-and-maneuver examples also had me thinking about Stargrunt again (where suppress-then-assault is king), though to some extent using ranged units to disorder troops in Domains at War is similar, and the section on never doing the same thing twice reminded me of the Starmada metagame of old (and that one time I cloaked ships but didn't move them, because my opponents were used to cloaked ships reappearing on their flanks and rear and had started turning to counter).

There was an excellent line about how attrition-warfare forces seek to engage and destroy the enemy "where and whenever" possible via superior firepower, which reminded me of 3.x gamers and how hard it is to get them to refuse a battle when they start playing ACKS.

One thing that I haven't gotten much sense for while wargaming has been friction (and in general properly confusing fog-of-war), though.  To some extent Starmada's written orders created some of this, because it was easy to goof and put your ships out of position.  Unfortunately, that's about as far as serious fog-of-war and friction can go without becoming a huge pain on the tabletop.  Computers could handle the sheer volume of chaos required better, but most computer wargames these days are not for audiences interested in unpredictability (to the point where some players argue that a good competitive RTS should have no randomness).  Perhaps I ought to write one.

In any case, pretty good book.  Very to-the-point!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

DaW: Mercenaries of the Vale of Traitors

Last session, the players in my Midnight Vikings ACKS game received a grant of (terrible, unsettled) land from the Troll Lord in exchange for having slain a dragon in his realm.  On their way out of his capital, they decided to hire more mercenaries, which left me in a bit of a quandary.  The normal mercenary availability table just doesn't quite fit a part of the world where horses are rare and most sentients-at-arms are orcs.  So I cooked up some custom setting-appropriate units using Domains at War and this very helpful post on the forums.

Reavers: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC 4, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML -1, 3 battle-axe 11+.  Wages 12gp/mo, availability as Heavy Infantry.
Norse warriors equipped with a chainmail byrnie and a battle-axe in both hands.  Traditionally used for crewing longships and raiding coastal settlements.  They are capable sailors and possess the Seafaring proficiency.  Reavers are probably best used to chase down and kill enemy light infantry, which cannot withdraw from them (because the reavers are fast) and probably cannot match them in melee.  Reavers may also be useful for harassing slow heavy infantry like dwarves.  They don't really have the morale or AC for a slugfest with fast melee infantry like orcs or for holding the line against cavalry, though.
Veteran Reavers level into the Jutland Barbarian class.  Their stats are as follows: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC 4, HD 1, UHP 8, ML 0, 3 battle-axe 10+, wages 24gp/mo.  Veteran Reavers can scale walls and cliffs without siege ladders ("In your monastery, killing your monks"), and are hard to kill - after a battle, only a quarter of their casualties are killed or maimed, while the remaining three fourths are lightly injured (instead of a 50-50 split for most units).
Huskarls: 2/3/4 Formed Foot, AC 5, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML 0, 2 spear and shield 11+ melee (with bonus damage on charge) or 2 spear 11+ ranged.  Wages 11gp/mo, availability as Heavy Infantry.Norse warriors equipped with spear, shield, and chainmail and trained for defensive and field engagements.  They also possess the Seafaring proficiency.  Pretty basic heavy infantry with accompanying tactics; form a battle line for bonus morale, advance towards the enemy in a shield wall (to avoid disruption by his ranged troops and accompanying breakdown of formation), spear-charge, and then slug it out (ideally with another element of the army turning the enemy's flank).
Veteran huskarls level into Fighter, and have the following stats: 2/3/4 FF, AC 5, HD 1, UHP 8, ML 1, 3 spear and shield 10+ melee with bonus damage on charge or 3 spear 10+ ranged, wages 23gp/mo.
Skoglanders: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC 2, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML 0, 3 greataxe 11+ or 2 longbow 11+.  Wages 14gp/mo, availability as Bowmen.  Upcountry tree-cutters, hunters, and inexperienced bandits armored in leather with great timber-axes and flatbows.  Skoglanders are effective missile troops (as longbowmen), but more lightly armored, stronger in melee, faster, and cheaper.  Fairly standard archer tactics; strongest before melee is joined, deploy in front of the heavy infantry, disrupt the enemy's units to delay his advance or put holes in his line that your heavy infantry can later exploit, and withdraw through the friendly heavy infantry line if under attack.  Not sure how to best use them later in the battle.
Veteran skoglanders level into Explorer, and have the following stats: 2/4/6 LF, AC 2, HD 1, UHP 6, ML 1, 4 greataxe 10+ or 3 longbow 9+, wages 26gp/mo.  Veteran skoglanders are also difficult to spot; when in obscuring terrain, they gain an additional +2 to AC against missile attacks (for a total of +4).

Skirmishers: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC3, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML -1, 2 spear 11+ or 2 javelin 11+.  Wages 6gp/mo, availability as Light Infantry.  Tribesmen from the far north practiced in hit-and-run raiding and equipped with crude ring mail, spears, and javelins.  They are trained in winter survival and the use of skis, and maintain their strategic mobility (ie, overland movement, not combat movement) in snow.  Their javelins are effective at disrupting the shield walls of enemy heavy infantry.
Veteran skirmishers level into Ivory Kingdoms Barbarians (weird, right?  But it actually makes sense with their tech level, weapon selection, and mobility focus), and have the following stats: 2/5/8 LF, AC3, HD 1, UHP 8, ML 0, 3 spear 10+ or 3 javelin 10+, wages 18gp/mo.  Veteran skirmishers are very fast for infantry (2/5/8) and hard to kill.
Hunters: 2/4/6 Loose Foot, AC1, HD 1-1, UHP 6, ML -1, 2 handaxe 11+ or 2 shortbow 11+.  Wages 8gp/mo, availability as Slingers.  Skilled hunters from the far north, proficient in the use of skis and winter survival (maybe I should make Skiing a general proficiency like Riding...).  Equipped with a shortbow, a hand-axe, and a quiver of arrows, and clad in furs.  They are effective with standard archer tactics; they're basically Bowmen with worse equipment and lower wages.
Veteran hunters level into Ivory Kingdoms Barbarians, and have the following stats: 2/5/8 LF, AC1, HD 1, UHP 8, ML 0, 3 handaxe 10+ or 3 shortbow 10+, hard to kill, wages 20gp/mo.
War Mastadons: 2/4/6 Formed Mounted, AC8, HD 19+2, UHP 6, ML +2 Unpredictable, 5 lances and tusks 6+, 6 tramples 0+ on a charge, and 2 composite bow 11+.  Wages 630GP/mo per mastadon and 6 crewmen, availability is 1d3-1 in Class I markets and 33% chance of 1 in Class II markets, with 5 mastadons per unit at company scale (only one per unit at platoon scale).  Great hairy mastadons in ring-mail barding, with an armored war-yurt containing six archers and lancers on their back.  As indicated by their unit HP, you don't have to kill the mastadon, just the guys guiding it.  Terrifying for the enemy when they charge, terrifying for their allies when they retreat.

Orc Pikemen: Straight from the book.  Wages 9gp/mo, availability as Slingers.
Orc Crossbowmen: Straight from the book.  Wages 6gp/mo, availability as Slingers.
Orc Boar Riders: Straight from the book.  Wages 33gp/mo, availability as Light Cavalry.

Iron Faces:
Iron Face Glaives: 2/3/4 Formed Foot, AC5, HD 1+1, UHP 10, ML 0, 3 polearm 9+.  Wages 17gp/mo, availability as Longbowmen.  The Iron Faces are disciplined, veteran orcs from the East.  They served the Great Dragon in his wars against the Wolf Khans for many years, but fell out of favor after a defeat and fled to the Troll Lord's lands, where they serve as mercenaries.  Their heavy infantry are equipped with standardized glaives, banded mail, and fearsome helmets that cover most of their faces (hence Iron Faces).
Iron Face Archers: 2/3/4 Loose Foot, AC5, HD 1+1, UHP 10, ML 0, 2 scimitar 9+ or 2 composite bow 9+.  Wages 27gp/mo, availability as Horse Archers.  The Iron Faces adopted the composite bow from their Wolf Khan opponents, and their archers, equipped with banded mail, composite bow, and scimitar, are rightly feared for their range and accuracy.
The Iron Faces do have boar cavalry (porcelry?) units, but they are typically not for hire, being the personal guards of Iron Face leaders.

Dwarven Spearmen: 1/2/3 FF, AC7, HD 1, UHP 8, ML 0, 3 spear and shield 10+ (with bonus damage on charge) or 3 spear ranged 10+.  Wages 30gp/mo, availability as Heavy Cavalry (for the time being, as Gnupur the Shaven has been hiring as many dwarves as he can for his crusade to reclaim the mountainhome.  Their base wages without competition are 20gp/mo and their availability would be as Longbowmen).  Dwarven heavy infantry with plate, shield, and spear.  Slooow but hard to kill, excellent for holding a fixed position or fortification.
Dwarven Crossbowmen: 1/2/3 FF, AC6, HD 1, UHP 8, ML 0, 3 hand-axe 10+ or 3 arbalest ranged 10+.  Wages 39gp/mo, availability as Cataphracts (again, their base wages are only 26gp/mo and their base availability is as Medium Cavalry, but Gnupur is hiring aggressively).  The dwarves take an unorthodox approach to ranged combat, with their plate-armored arbalestiers holding their own in the main battle line.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Variant Legates - Scholastics

It only makes sense that if there are legates with different doctrines, they ought to be at least a little different mechanically.  My biggest concern here is obviously the Scholastic Legates, because they are probably least intolerable to the existing PCs and so might make acceptable henchmen.  Unfortunately, it turns out that getting a decent mix of Divine, Thief, and/or Arcane values with no fighting produces some very anemic classes.  Divine 3 / Thief 1 leveled even faster than thief, but was horrifically bad at low levels, while Arcane 3 / Divine 1 didn't get 3rd-level arcane spells until ~70kXP (whereas normal wizards get them at 20kXP).  I considered Arcane 4 / Divine 2 with lowered maximum level and telling the rules where to shove it, and that might still be an option, but managing such a character sounds like a pain in the ass.


The simple option is to bring it back in and get something closer to cleric.  Divine 2 / HD 1 / Fighting 1 is a workable basis for a class.  If we trade armor down to leather, we can get two custom powers.  Probably want to keep weapons at Narrow, which lets us get wizard weapons (darts, slings, staves, clubs, saps) and swords and daggers (because if you're in leather with 2-per-4 to-hit, you probably should be able to use all those magic swords that get found, and also daggers are traditional for blood sacrifice).  Plus, this gives another reason the rest of the legates think they're heretics - they use blood-spilling weapons (instead of trying to save that blood for sacrifice)!  I guess they can keep shields; two-weapon fighting doesn't make much sense either, and shields are nice.

With those two custom powers, we can get Arcane Dabbling and Loremastery, which both seem appropriate.  Those two are both weak at low levels, though, which isn't great.  Black Lore (swapping the turning bonus for a bonus to blood sacrifice rolls, maybe), Familiar, Prophecy, and Contemplation would also be defensible choices.

The rest of the customization we can do on the spell list and the class proficiencies.  They get 28 class proficiencies, which are sort of a mix of cleric, thief, and wizard: Alchemy, Ambushing, Apostasy, Battle Magic, Black Lore (replace control undead with +2 bonus to Blood Sacrifice research throws), Collegiate Wizardry, Contemplation, Disguise, Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Eavesdropping, Engineering, Familiar, Healing, Knowledge, Language, Magical Engineering, Military Strategy, Mystic Aura, Naturalism, Navigation, Prophecy, Quiet Magic, Righteous Turning, Sensing Power, Swashbuckling, Theology, Unflappable Casting.

The spell list is sort of similar; a little cleric, a little wizard (via the witch spell list), emphasis on detection, curses, and concealment.

  1. Cause Fear *
  2. Command Word
  3. Darkness *
  4. Detect Danger
  5. Detect Magic
  6. Inflict Light Wounds *
  7. Protection from...  Evil?
  8. Read Magic
  9. Resist Cold
  10. Sanctuary
  1. Augury
  2. Bane *
  3. Cloak in Shadow (as Shimmer)
  4. Delay Poison
  5. Find Traps
  6. Hold Person
  7. Locate Object
  8. Resist Fire
  9. Silence 15' radius
  10. Sleep
  1. Bestow Curse *
  2. Cure Blindness
  3. Cause Disease *
  4. Continual Darkness *
  5. Detect Invisible 
  6. ESP
  7. Feign Death
  8. Glyph of Warding
  9. Invisibility 
  10. Speak with Dead
  1. Clairvoyance
  2. Control Undead
  3. Dispel Magic 
  4. Divination
  5. Inflict Serious Wounds *
  6. Nondetection
  7. Poison * 
  8. Protection from...  Evil?, sustained
  9. Speak with Plants
  10. Tongues
  1. Atonement
  2. Commune
  3. Dispel...  Evil?
  4. Fear
  5. Finger of Death *
  6. Insect Plague
  7. Quest
  8. Scry
  9. Strength of Mind *
  10. True Seeing
I think this variant would work out OK.  They would be strictly better with spears/polearms instead of either of their weapon choices, but less sensible for their background I think.  At low levels they turn, do knowledge things, and heal OK.  At high levels, I'm not sure straight caster-offense is as viable as for most divine casters; most of their offensive spells are save-or-suck, a lot of it at touch range, and no Flame Strike or Spiritual Weapon.  They should be fairly viable in melee with magic gear, Shimmer, and Swashbuckling, and once they're in close they can deliver those touch spells.  Taking Apostasy for Chameleon, Silent Step, Swift Sword, and Striking or Sword of Fire combos pretty well with Ambushing and Swashbuckling.  Could also use Apostasy to pick up some decent direct-fire support capabilities or a top-tier healing (Cure Moderate, Cure Major, Spirit of Healing, Salving Rest or Cure Critical).  Man, Apostasy is just really good with the Player's Companion spells, especially in combination with other casting-support profs like Battle Magic, Contemplation, and Black Lore, and it's even better on a Divine 4 class like Priestess or Witch than it is on this guy.

Anyway, I will probably do a variant Skami legate next.