Going back

I spent one more evening working on the “Chainmail only” concept.  Well, that and re-reading The Dying Earth, also known as “the Platonic ideal from which I throw my idiot shadows.”

The problem, which I now believe is insurmountable, is that Chainmail is a wargame.  If you want to play Chainmail, you play a wargame.  If you don’t want to play a wargame, well, Chainmail is not for you.

I want to play Chainmail.  I want to play a wargame.  Unfortunately, I can’t play a wargame online because you just can’t, and in real life I can’t realistically scramble enough people to regularly play a heavily kitbashed version of a kind of shitty 1971 game.  By “enough people,” I mean “one people.”  Once or twice, sure, but not regularly.

So I have what I think are some good ideas and literally no way to play the game I want to make, so I need to recalibrate what I want.

Obviously, OD&D plus Chainmail is doable because other people have done it.  The degree to which to integrate Chainmail is a matter of taste; it was developed for 1:20 gaming with fungible units, so if you’re moving to a model where man-to-man combat with distinct “characters” is the default, you have to make some sacrifices on one end or the other.

I believe I’ve adequately wrapped my head around Chainmail enough to use it as the combat system for OD&D.  I actually prefer the 2d6 man-to-man melee table to the alternative combat system; for one thing, the “armor protective types” ascending from 1 through 8 make much more sense in the context of, say, +1 magic armor, than the descending “armor classes” of 9 through 2.  So it’s a good thing that forward-thinking gamers discovered that 30 years after Chainmail.

For another, it integrates “weapon type vs. armor type” on one table with one roll, which is operationally less of a pain in the ass than say the later Greyhawk system.  I had a unified matrix for that sort of thing, the idea of which I stole from the Ryth Chronicle, but that did not exist during the initial OD&D era.

“Fighting capability” actually wraps seamlessly into both the mass combat system, which is very usable even at a small scale (it works out kind of like Tunnels & Trolls with initiative), and the man-to-man system, which probably becomes the default.  If you want to at least preserve the possibility of using the mass combat system — probably a good idea — you’d want to provide armor protective type and troop type ratings for your monsters and an eyeball method for assigning it to characters based on current arms and armor.

Hit dice function as both man-to-man fighting capability for monsters and accumulative hits for everyone so the “1 hit = 1 kill” and “simultaneous hits” concepts fall by the wayside.  I think the Fantasy Combat Table is probably another casualty of an “update” to OD&D because of a) the adoption of hit dice and weapon damage and b) it’s not designed for a mid-level world where multiple combatants on each side in every combat are “fantastics.”

The spell complexity system from Chainmail is another casualty, primarily because of the move to a constrained battle environment and 1:1 scale.  If your wizard is tossing lightning bolts, casting darkness, and shifting terrain on a battlefield-wide scale, potentially affecting hundreds of troops, there needs to be some limiting mechanism on the casting itself or the game devolves into blowing the points on a wizard and unerringly spamming the most powerful spells until you run out.  This is not as much of an issue in 1:1 gaming when you mainly want to charm one guy or open a locked door to a flagstone cubicle.  Chainmail does have a predecessor to the level-based Vancian system in that lower-level wizards can only “manage” a certain number of spells and can’t effectively cast spells too high for their level, it’s just more explicitly codified in OD&D.  (Some otherwise puzzling spell inclusions like massmorph do make a lot more sense if they’re understood as Chainmail legacies intended for use with mass combat.)

The point is that a very large percentage of the concepts in Chainmail can be integrated with OD&D to the extent that they haven’t been already in a modified form.  Obviously, some parts of the first three books assume that’s what you’re doing.

When and if I distribute my fantasy campaign rules, I’d like to include some of my “just Chainmail” ideas as a short appendix or whatever.  But for the main Faz system, I think I probably have to go back to 1974 OD&D + Chainmail as the foundation, and I will probably retain 1:1 “traditional” adventuring in the Underworld as the primary scenario model.

Anyway, this and G+ are my sounding boards for puzzling out potential projects, so thanks for enduring that.


9 thoughts on “Going back

  1. I have always judged Chainmail to be a wargame. The fantasy rules were the first attempt to capture the zeitgeist of what Dave Arneson was doing. I personally feel like the “spirit” of that was first fully captured in the three LBBs. The extensions of those (which later became AD&D) are just one example of what can be summoned forth from the depths of that idea.


  2. Dude, I don’t think you want to sit with some other jagoff in mom’s basement and play a wargame. What you probably really want, and the best chance to get actual humans to sit with you and indulge your fantasy and desires (and maybe even get invited to THEIR nice grown up house), is to run some D&D and have wars in it. So go ahead and tap into chainmail. Jiggle some of it’s little old timey crunch into your session. Have characters be individual units, use spells as they work in D&D, and whatever you can’t make work together you roll a die or two. “This is how many soldiers die on this side, and that side. This is the chance a character will take damage. This is the chance for the one side’s troll to get hit by a flaming cannonball” or whatever. It’s you vs. the players. You can do what you want behind the screen, and they never have to know how you are going about it.

    “I want to play a wargame.” Sheesh.


    1. I like wargames. I’ve been trying to stop looking at Advanced Squad Leader because I’m told it’s a rabbit hole that you don’t come back out of.

      But I’ve scaled back the Chainmail plans and am going with much more of a hybrid, with the Chainmail man-to-man system at the core. I’ve almost finished what I’m planning to use and I’m sure I’ll distribute it at some point, although I don’t expect it to be actually useful to anyone but me. (Like Gygax, I’ve probably built in stuff that makes no sense unless you’re the person who threw it together.)

      The heart wants what it wants, Captain Kirks Dick Blood.


  3. I hear ya. But unlike RPG’s where you actually come away with something (a small, private social experiment at worst) and (hopefully) spent time with an actual group of people where *fingers crossed* at least one is worth having in your life. The standard wargame, especially of olden days, seems to be sort of a waste. One on one stuff where afterwards I’d be all like “I should have used that time to walk on the beach and reflect on my life, or volunteered down at the Down’s Syndrome clinic. Some of the chick one’s aren’t half bad looking. Kinda Asian looking.”

    But then, on the other side of the coin, if you take out WW2 with it’s Panzer Blitzes or medieval times and it’s ballistas, and made it say, battles on Arrakis between great houses, or a post Apocalypse fantasy of elves vs. Nazi mutants like in Wizards, I’d perk up a bit.

    Fuck, Now I want to play a wargame.


  4. Unless you manage to pinch one or two of his rare’s while he’s in the loo hammering out his second spooge of the day. If you leave a lot of salacious material around (Nat Geo, Redbook, Fitness Mag), you can get most gamers to be in there most of the day and even have time to go through their backpacks.

    It would hardly be worth one’s while to snag a chit that represents a jeep or an elf hero.


    1. I literally paid rent for a while in the 90s with tournament winnings and selling singles. I’m now somewhat bitter that cards I sold for $100 sell for … somewhat more than that. So it goes, paying rent with Magic cards seemed, at the time, a prudent course :(


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