Thursday, April 8, 2010

After Action Report (PCs at War Part 3)

I spent last Thursday night running through some tests on my Risk-like battle system and we ran the game the next night. How did it go?

Well, the playtest went OK. I printed out some hex paper and cut-and-pasted two sheets together to make a map of the battlefield. I grabbed some color counters from my old copy of Stellar Conquest and started moving pieces and rolling dice.

The first lesson is that if you are going to use minis, you need BIG hexes. I printed 1" and 1.5" hexes and neither of these could deal with the number of units on the board. Ultimately, I went with counters and that worked fine on a 1" hex.

I played the first 6 or so turns over and over again, trying to get a turn sequence that worked. What I came up with was this:
  1. Alert Phase -- In my particular scenario, the defenders are unprepared for the attack and are generally undisciplined. I divided the city into zones and every turn, I rolled to alert a different zone. For each hex in the zone to be alerted, I rolled a d6. On a 3+, the hex got a unit. When all zones had rolled to be alerted (after about 4-5 turns in), the palace would alert and the King and his guards would head out to battle.
  2. Initiative -- Both sides roll a d6 and the highest roll can move its units first.
  3. Move/Pin -- Each side can move all of its units one hex. The advantage to having initiative is that if you are in a hex with an enemy, or move into an enemy hex, you can choose to pin that enemy stack and they would be unable to move that turn.
  4. Combat -- Any contested hex has a combat round. The combat is resolved in a Risk-like fashion. Each side gets a number of dice and then you compare dice highest to lowest. Maximum number of casualties in a round is 2.
  5. Reinforcements -- If your side is eligible for reinforcements, you roll a number of d6 and on a 4+, you get a unit. For instance, if the allied forces attack through the main gate, they would be eligible for 4 dice and up to 4 new units each turn.
PCs could move and resolve an encounter any time during stages 2-4. Thus, they could wait and see how things progressed before moving, or they could preempt the larger units and move first. Each hex, I would also roll on a random encounter chart to see if they encountered anything "special" during the battle.

Thinking about it now, I think that pinning is a little too powerful, since a single unit can pin a whole stack. Also, there is a tendency for the forces to blob up a little too much. The most effective tactic would be to gather your forces into a single hex and just pound through your opponents' separate stacks. I think both of these issues could be tweaked out with a few small changes.

Friday's game, I have to admit being a little hesitant about my system, but decided to go with it in any case. The players decided to attack the harbor and the allied forces took two stacks -- one went straight toward the palace and the other protected the flank and the way back to the harbor.

The PCs traveled ahead of the flank protecting stack and hunted lone enemy patrols, each patrol we played a little battle using the Pathfinder rules. To scale the battles, I determined that the first enemy unit would be 1d4+2 enemies and that each additional unit would add 1d6 to that number. The PCs stuck to lone units (remember the enemies were alerting piecemeal) and moved from hex to hex, killing them... but using valuable spells and healing bursts in the process.

One thing that I like about this simple mini-game is that it does produce interesting situations. In our battle, the main force heading to the palace got stalled and bogged down, forcing the players to consider how best to support that stack and protect it from being overwhelmed.

Ultimately, the King and his cohort stormed out of the palace and forced the allied forces to pull back and regroup before throwing everyone into an epic final battle. We broke up before resolving that battle and we will resolve it next session in a giant Pathfinder battle...

Enemy Force
  • Admetus the Corrupt -- 4th level fighter, riding a chariot drawn by 2 Shadow Hounds
  • 2x Commander -- 2nd level fighter
  • Commander -- 2nd level mage
  • 46 troops
Allied Force
  • 5 PCs
  • Peter -- 2nd level cleric
  • Orc Commander -- 3rd level fighter
  • 55 troops
We are playing this man-to-man scale... should be fun.

Ultimately, I was happy with how it went. I think the weakest part was the individual encounters had by the PCs. The fights with the patrols were quick, but not very compelling and not enough interesting random encounters really appeared.

I do think the overall system is worthwhile as an easy way to put characters in a war situation without having it overwhelm the game. I will put together a copy of the rules and post them soon.