Thursday, March 25, 2010

two thoughts on Chainmail

Thought One: This post by Evan  and the list of Chainmail monsters I made last month cross-pollinated in my brain a bit and got me thinking more about the intersection between Chainmail and OD&D.  When using the Chainmail combat rules monsters that fight like men (halflings, sprites, pixies, dwarves, gnomes, kobolds, elves, fairies, orcs, zombies, etc.) cannot hurt some monsters (true trolls, dragons, elementals and giant spiders).  To defeat the latter you need someone who can fight on the Fantasy Combat Table.  That means you need at least one Hero, Super-Hero or Wizard in the party to take on these baddies.  Third level fighters can operate as a "Hero -1", as can sixth level clerics.  As far as I can tell twenty second level fighters and a dozen fifth level clerics will be utterly destroyed by a single True Troll.   The True Troll can hurt them but they can't hurt it back, if they leave things up to the combat system.  I like that a lot.  Kinda like how the Holmes Basic monster list contains a bunch of monsters completely out of the league of normal 1st through 3rd level play.  Players are forced to out-think the monsters because brute force simply won't work.

Thought Two: What happens when someone runs out of hit points?  Looking at Chainmail reminded me of D&D's wargame heritage.  Wargames normally don't really care whether a chit full of troops is dead to a man.  Although the term 'killed' might be bandied about, we're really talking about casualties, a concept which covers a lot of ground besides outright death.  Any troop that can't fight is a casualty, whatever the circumstances.  Troops too wounded to fight are casualties.  As are those troops that are captured, missing, or disabled by psychological trauma.  To a general mustering forces for the next battle, a deserter is a casualty.  From this point of view, equating running out of hit points with pushing up the daisies over-simplifies the situation.  That's one of the reasons some minis games have random die charts like the one near the end of this post to determine the fate of special figures that have been "killed".  Here's a similar chart I first developed back in 2007 for when PCs and their minions hit zero HP.

Death's Door, v1.1.

PC's and important NPCs roll on this chart when their supply of hit points have been completely exhausted. First level PCs add one to their roll.

1. Dead. Only Raise Dead or Reincarnation can help now.
2. Mostly Dead, as in The Princess Bride. Character can take no actions until roused by magic. Cure Light Wounds or a healing potion each have a 50% chance of working. Each of these methods may only be tried once. Cure Serious Wounds always works. Revived characters are -4 on to-hits, saves, and damage for d12 days.
3. Major Wound. Knocked unconscious, awaken as per number 5 below. Loss of d6 stat points, each coming off a random stat. Total debilitation for d6 months, after which stat loss heals at one point per month of complete rest, except for the last point of stat loss, which is permanent. Cure Serious Wounds turns the months of recovery into weeks but otherwise provides no further assistance.
4. Unconscious and Bleeding. Must save versus Death Ray d6 rounds from now, then d6 turns later, then d6 hours. Any failed save results in death. Any cure spell or healing potion halts the bleeding, allowing the character to regain consciousness with one hit point. Someone taking 1 round for first aid and rolling Wis or lower on d20 slows the bleeding, bumping the check interval up to turns/hours/days. After such a wound hit points heal naturally at a weekly rather than daily rate until the character is fully restored. Awaken as per number 5 below.
5. Knocked out. Awaken d6 turns later with one hit point. All attacks, damage rolls, and saves are at -2 until the character gets d12 days of rest.
6+. Close call. Character still has 1 hit point. No further effect.

Maybe I should do a new revision with captured, missing, desertion and/or shell-shock as possibilities.  Another way to go would be a gristly Rolemaster/Arduin Grimoire style crit shart that one rolls on anytime you get whacked down to zero HP.  Most NPCs would give up or run away at that point, but the PCs could buck up and fight on.  Every subsequent hit would mean additional rolls on the gruesome critical strike charts.


  1. Anonymous7:19 AM

    To huntsmen, the kind who go shootin' for lions, the idea of "sporting" is that, yes, you have a gun, but you're out there facing something that can still kill you or at least maul you beyond repair. Cropping elephants from a helicopter = not sporting; facing a charging elephant on your own two feet at only a 50 yards with nothing but a rifle and maybe the opportunity for a single good shot = sporting (and many are the hunters who have been on the losing end of that bet).

    I sometimes think that basic combat skews a bit too much to the "cropping elephants from helicopters" side of things, and that "hit points" are just another way of saying "we're going to give the player every opportunity to survive where logic dictates he shouldn't."

    The more I read about Chainmail the more I want to get my hands on a copy.

  2. Anonymous7:35 AM

    I like the death's door table, but would modify it to include possibilities where the individual is not rendered unconscious. Something to allow characters to engage in a "final heroic effort" before dying. Sort of like this:

    "Bleeding out: character is too wounded to stand, and will die without first aid in 1 turn. They may perform first aid or magical healing on themselves to prevent death, but doing so will knock them out as per #5. Alternatively, they can choose to perform one final round of normal combat action, but doing so will kill them immediately."

  3. Re: Thought Two

    Many miniatures rules sets also have recovery rules for campaign games. While they vary in their exact execution they usually divide troops into classes (by type, moral grade, experience, whatever) and when planning the next set of moves on the campaign level you recover a certain percentage of your casualties in each class. This percentage may or may not include a random component.

    This is designed to cover reorganizing shattered units into new ones, recovery of stragglers, recovery of those shocked by combat, and so on.

    So it doesn't just apply to special figures.

  4. Huh... I had no idea Rolemaster and Arduin Grimoire ran thinks almost in exactly the same way as my Table of Death & Dismemberment. (Blatant plug, sure, but I figured glaurung-quena could use it for inspiration.)

    Still, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since the goal seems to have been how to include grisly wounds and critical hits without lots of math or making them happen in one shot out of 20, which really screws the players.

  5. trollsmyth: I forgot about that awesome table! Just to clarify, I mentions RM and Arduin as examples of crit charts with specifically gruesome results. Those results could happen at any time, not just when you run out of HP.

  6. Anonymous11:32 AM

    20 2nd level fighters and a dozen clerics getting whooped by troll = Grendel rocking ass thru Hrothgars' hall! Very nice post.

  7. Anonymous12:24 PM

    Does that mean a Hero can beat down an arbitrary number of zero-level peasants because he can engage in Fantastic Combat?

  8. No. Many figures are rated as both Fantastic Creatures and Men. A Hero is equivalent to four regular folks. Assuming our hero is armored and the peasants are not, this is how it would work.

    The hero makes four attacks per round. Roll a d6 per attack, each 5or 6 kill one peasant. The peasants would get one die each, hitting on a 6 only, with 4 hits needed to kill the Hero.

  9. Good food for thought. I'm used to BRP games which are particularly brutal. 0 HPs mean death and resurrection is not an option. As Stormbringer (1st) put it, "File the character sheet. He or she is gone."

  10. @ trollsmyth- I really dig that table. I'm going to make something like it myself.
    however, I think given the nature of the abstraction, regaining hit points should happen at a faster rate- and, perhaps,the rate of hit point increase as one goes up in levels should slow down.

  11. Aos: The way that table works, and the how it changes the perception of hit points, I have been sorely tempted to adopt something akin to 4e's encounter-based HP reset and healing surges.

  12. Ha... I've been thinking something very similar. I just don't want to be lynched.

  13. The table seems similar to what X-Plorers uses, and also the injury charts from Blood Bowl and Necromunda, which have a D66 chart. (Game rules are free from GW's website so why not take a look?)

    They have things like being captured and whatnot.

  14. trollsmyth: I should mention that I've been making good use of that table for seven months now. Thanks!

  15. @Trollsmyth:

    I found the table that inspired your table a few weeks ago, and have been dying to try it out. Yours is even better.

    I agree, using such a table certainly turns a character's HP into more of a "luck and stamina" Ablation thing, rather than true structural integrity. "Ablative Awesomeness" I heard somebody put it. For my own game, I'm thinking that PCs get back all their lost HP after a good night's rest (although if they're interrupted, or have to really rough it, they might only get back half their lost hp).

    My players ask if they can have all their hp back after they sleep /every single time/ anyway, so I might as well go with it.

  16. Re: #4. Unconscious and Bleeding. Must save versus Death Ray d6 rounds from now...

    This is what the old school movement needs: the return of the Death Ray!