Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rules of Engagement

I'm going to use several sets of rules to play out this campaign. I'll use one set (Mythic) to help me generate characters, move the story along, and add randomness to the events. For small skirmish (one figure = one man) tabletop games, I'll start with "Mayhem: Warring Nations," from Two Hour Wargames. Once the collection gets large enough to play bigger games, I'll also add Don Bailey's "Pith Helmet" to the mix.

Mythic is a role playing aide, designed to allow solo role playing. There's a lot to it, but the part I use more than any other is a process for figuring out what happens next. The core of the system is something called the Fate Chart. The Fate Chart is a matrix, with the subjective odds of something happening up and down one side, and something called the Chaos Factor across the bottom. By comparing the odds of something happening (expressed in terms like "Very Likely") with the current Chaos Factor, you get the percentage chance of the event happening.

So, you ask the question "is the dungeon room I just entered empty?" You're in the lair of a tribe of Orcs, so you evaluate the odds of a "yes" answer as "Very Unlikely." The current Chaos Factor is (let's say) five. That gives you three percentile numbers: 5/25/66. You roll a pair of percentile dice. If the number is 5 or less, the answer to your question is "Extreme Yes." If the number is 6-25, the answer is "Yes." If the number is 26-66, the answer is "No." And, if the number is 67-00, the answer is "Extreme No."

"Yes" and "No" are fairly self-explanatory. "Extreme Yes" and "Extreme No" require a little more imagination to explain to yourself. Let's say the answer to the question (remember? It's "is the dungeon room I just entered empty?") is "Extreme No." So, you've not only stumbled on something. You're stumbled on something very large, very dangerous, or both. What's the next step? Ask the next question (e.g. "Have I run into Orcs?"). Figure the odds and roll again.

You can see (hopefully) where this process usually results in about what you'd expect in a given situation, but can also result in some very surprising results as well (imagine that the answer to that next question is "Extreme No." What _did_ you encounter?).

There's one more twist. If the percentile die roll is doubles, and the number on each die is less than or equal to the current Chaos Factor, a random event has occurred. Three more tables are consulted, a percentile die roll against each generating a piece of the focus (e.g. "PC positive"), action (e.g. "imitate") and subject (e.g. "pain") for the random event. So in this case, something unexpected has happened that is good for your character, having something to do with the imitation of pain. A simple explanation might be that your character realizes, just in time, that one of the "dead" Orcs he's just "slain" is playing dead, waiting for the chance to strike.

A lot has been written already about how to use Mythic for wargaming and wargames campaigns. You'll find all kinds of information about the game and ideas for how to bend it to your needs in the associated Yahoo Group.

Mayhem: Warring Nations
Mayhem: Warring Nations is an older set of rules, from Two Hour Wargames. Like all of the THWG games, the rules include a reaction system, which takes some of the control out of the hands of the player (a great thing, from the solo player's point of view). When certain things happen (e.g. a figure comes into line of sight, takes fire, wants to charge or gets charged, among others), a figure takes a test by rolling dice and comparing the result to a relevant characteristic (e.g. Willpower). The results tell the player what the figure's reaction to the situation is (e.g. running away, or standing to face a charge, ducking back or returning fire when fired upon).

Warring Nations was written for the Napoleonic period, but the mechanisms work quite well for Colonials as well. Also, it's been replaced in the THWG lineup by more recent, and more refined rules using similar reaction-based mechanisms. I own several of their rule sets, and recommend them all. As it's an older rule set, THWG has made the game available for free, here.

Pith Helmet
I should say that THWG has just released a semi-skirmish set of rules specifically for the Colonial period (Colonial Adventures: Fortunes Won and Lost). They look very interesting, but I haven't tried them. Besides, for this kind of game, in which a real-world unit is represented by a small number (usually 10-20) of figures treated as individuals, I already have a favorite set.

Many moons ago, I read a fascinating article in Historical Miniature Gamer magazine, issue #1. The article, Battle at Le Frommage, was part battle report and part rules description. Written by the author of the rules, Don Bailey, it gave a first class account of a reaction-based WWII rules system he'd written called "Sturm." I was hooked immediately, and wrote Don to inquire about a copy of the rules. He graciously sent me a copy, struck up a conversation, and introduced me to some fellow solo gamers via email. He also clued me into his Colonial rules, Pith Helmet. It is this group of gamers that spends their imaginary time in Gamdola.

Like Sturm (but using quite different mechanisms), Pith Helmet takes much of the control of the player's units out of his hands. Both are based on the reaction-based principles and experiments written about by Wally Simon in such places at The Courier. General direction is given and will usually be followed, but in stressful circumstances training and morale take over. Wonderful stuff.

Don wrote another battle report / rules description, this time for Pith Helmet. This article, "Skirmish at Utla," appears in HMG magazine issue #5. Keep your eyes on the HMG site. Issues 1-3 have been made available in PDF. Issue 5 may follow at some point. Or there's always eBay...

It you're interested in Pith Helmet, please drop Don a line.

It's Game Time
Three sets of rules, an interesting setting, and some evocative miniatures. Time to get the story rolling...

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