Monday, August 01, 2022

Miniatures Combat in the SIEGE Engine

 SIEGE Engine games tend to eschew miniatures in favor of a "theatre of the mind" approach. This is, admittedly, a factor of your preferences as a gamer, GM, and designer. One must acknowledge the utility of miniatures as a visual reference, though as a GM and player I (Jason) personally feel that they tend to devolve the game from an exercise in shared storytelling to a board game, moving pieces around and losing the drama. Folks can agree or disagree on that to whatever degree they like; in the end, it all comes down to preference. 

None of this, however, means that you can't do miniatures-based combat with SIEGE Engine games. Everything you need to do so is already inherent in the rules. Let's take a look and see how it breaks down, as well as some rules to simplify movement and tactics in combat. 

As a quick note, these guidelines are just some things I've been playing around with. They should by no means be considered "official" or "core" until they appear in a rulebook! Use, abuse, change, and adapt them as you like. 

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The Basics

The basics of using miniatures are already there; most human beings and demihumns can move up to 30 feet per round, or 15 feet and still make an attack or take another action.  

At their most basic level, that's all you need to use miniatures in your game; simply decide on a scale on your tabletop and let it rip. Usually, for the standard 25 or 30mm size miniatures, one inch on the tabletop equates to five feet (or roughly 1.5 meters if you use the metric system). You can use either a tape measure or a grid with one-inch squares or hexes like a battle mat to track movement. 

If you use larger figures like standard sized action figures, you may want to expand the scale on the tabletop, doubling or trebling the numbers so a two- or three-inch square equates to 5 feet; likewise you can reduce the scale for smaller figures. 

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Adding Tactics and Complexities

Many games that utilize miniatures combat get weighed down on tactical options. In the end, it's up to each group to determine how far they want to go with this. In general, a few basics should probably be added in to make the visual reference worthwhile. These include "fly by " attacks, retreats, gang-up attacks, line of sight and cover, difficult terrain, and pass-through fire. 

Before you can add tactics and complications, however, you need a proper map. This can be as simple as sketching out the area on a battle mat or paper; so long as you know where walls, doors, obstacles and the like are, that's all you need. It's important to know, for visual aid reasons, where lines of sight lie, which areas characters might have difficulty moving through, and where they can take cover.

Some GMs and players like to get especially elaborate and build 3-dimensional terrain. This can add a great deal of dynamic fun to your visual aid, but it's also expensive and time-consuming. 

Fly-By Attacks

When you come within five feet (one inch) of another figure on the tabletop, unless that figure is an ally, you must stop to engage them. If you do not and you choose to move past, the enemy gets to make a free melee attack against you as you run by. This is called a "fly by attack." The attack doesn't count against their normal attacks in a round. 

Retreating from Combat

If you are engaged in melee combat with another figure and wish to withdraw, you can move up to 10 feet as a "fighting withdrawal." If you move any more than 10 feet, the opponent gets to make a fly-by attack against you just as though you ran past them. 

Ganging Up

When more than one person attacks a single opponent in melee combat, all attackers get a gang-up bonus of +1 per additional figure past the first. Thus, if four allies attack a single opponent, all get a +3 bonus to their attack rolls, as it is difficult for the opponent to defend aganst all of them. Normally, up to eight figures can attack a single opponent, assuming they can completely surround it. If the figure has its back to a wall, only 5 figures can attack it. If it's in a corner, as few as three figures may be able to attack.

Line of Sight and Cover

You can't attack something you can't see. When determining line of sight, trace a straight line from the center of the attacker's space to the center of the target's space; if the straight line doesn't pass through a wall or other large object, you have line of sight. Otherwise, you can't target the figure or object in question. 

In some cases, the GM may rule that a target is partially visible. Targets that are partially visible or can't be seen at all are considered to have some degree of cover. Cover improves the AC of the target and is deteremined as listed in the various SIEGE Engine core rulebooks.

Targets with full cover cannot be attacked at all. 

In ranged combat, targets who are engaged with other combatants in melee combat gain cover based on how many people they are fighting. If the target is engaging 1-2 opponents, they have 1/4 cover. If they are engaging 3-5 opponents, they have half cover. If they are engaging 6-8 opponents, they have 3/4 cover. 

If you fire into a melee and miss the target based on the AC adjustment provided by cover, you instead strike the cover. This could mean striking an ally instead of your intended target.

Difficult Terrain

Difficult terrain is anything that makes it hard to move, from a rubble-strewn room to moving through a swamp. What constitutes difficult terrain is up to the GM, but if you encounter it, movement is reduced by 50% so long as you remain within the terrain. At the GM's option, a Dexterity save can allow you to move at full speed through the terrain, but failing the save means you fall prone and have to use your movement to get up again. The difficulty modifier for the save is based on how rugged the terrain is, again, at the GM's discretion. 

Difficult terrain can even come into play in otherwise organized areas. Consider a bar. A character in a bar must maneuver around tables and booths, or even leap over the bar to take cover. The GM is within reason to declare the bar difficult terrain due to the number of obstacles in the way. 

Pass-Through Fire

Pass through fire occurs when someone with a ranged weapon is poised to "cover" an area and someone moves through that area. If you use your movement to set up and cover a specific area instead of moving, you may, once per round, make a free shot at anyone who moves through that area, in addition to your normal attacks that round. To take advantage of pass-through fire in an active battle, the target must be within short or medium range of your weapon.

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Zone-Based Movement

Another, more abstracted option for minatures-based combat involves dividing terrain into zones. Many miniatures skirmish-style board games use this option, providing boards that are already divided as such. Otherwise, the GM can create zones however they see fit. Using the bar area above, let's say the bar has a main room downstairs, a secondary dining room, a parking lot area in front, a back lot behind, and a second floor. The GM declares each of these spaces a separate zone. 

Characters in a battle can freely move about within the zone they currently occupy. They can move one zone away and still attack, so long as they have a clear path (a door; a window counts as difficult terrain and requires a full move to accomplish). As a full move they can travel up to 2 zones, but cannot attack. This eliminates the need to track specific inches of movement. 

There you have it: basic tactical miniatures rules for combat in the SIEGE Engine.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Arrows Kill – or do they?

The bow and arrow. There are so many myths and legends and hyping around the bow and arrow that getting a good grasp on its power is difficult. Was the bow the single weapon’s technology that would make or break an army? No. Whenever I watch some blockbuster movie with ancient warfare in it and the bow shows up, I begin to groan. Inevitably the rain of arrows causes mass destruction akin to a nuclear bomb in the enemies ranks. OK, I exaggerate, never-the-less, I have seen too many movies where the bow and arrow are presented as significantly more influential in a battle than they likely ever were. 

 


Not that they never were useful or the significant factor in battles; they were on occasion. There is a reason the bow is found in nearly every pre-modern culture and were widely used by nearly every army across the ancient world. Many people are aware of the battle of Agincourt and Crecy, where the longbow was used quite effectively allowing for staggering English victories over the French. There are other even more interesting battles such as the Battle of Sphacteria that caused the Spartan army to adopt the use of the bow and the Battle of Carrhae wherein Rome suffered one of its greatest military defeats ever.

But more often than not the bow and arrow were used as harrying weapons to break up formations, stimy attacks, blunt cavalry charges and for the most part prevent a foe from developing a strong attack or defense. The sword, spear, axe, and other weapons did the most damage and were the key ingredient in every army. It seems to me that the flight of arrows depicted in “300” was likely more reflective of reality than one might otherwise see. Of course this is all dependent on the situation, but the bow is not quite how it may seem.


It is quite useful (if the point is correctly configured) for hunting, piercing light armors, and even medium armor. Against heavily armored opponents, the arrow is nearly useless, nearly. En masse flights of arrows were useful and the occasional brilliant shot could prove decisive (that was exceedingly rare). But as a general rule, the arrow could not pierce tough metal armors.

One of the reasons the crossbow was once considered a machination of the devil was the bolt fired from it could pierce heavy armors. There were even attempts to outlaw its use by the ruling elites. The crossbow had considerably greater draw strength than a bow and one could quickly train in its use. Point being, the bow is not quite the super powerful weapon its often portrayed as. 

 

All that being said, there is a reason every army had archers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Isometrics and Patreon

I can't remember the first isometric dungeon I saw. I think it was in Ravenloft. Not sure. It could be that Ravenloft is the one I remember. In any respect, it left an impression. I recall trying to make isometric dungeons for my games, but having little artistic skill, did not understand the process so they kept falling flat. it then occurred to me the players would never see them until after the game and it would be a pointless waste of effort to make them. I chose poorly. I still love isometric dungeons. So I am giving them a whirl again. But who gets to see them?


What I decided to do was draw small dungeons for our followers in Patreon. One map would be a technical 2d map and another my effort at an isometric dungeon. I do not have a lot of time to devote to the latter, but we shall see how I progress over the years. I welcome all criticism and advise on making these.Now on to the maps and dungeons.

Steve and I were discussing what it is either of would want or need the most when running games. Without a heartbeat Steve said random dungeons or encounters. Something short and sweet he could throw into an evening's play with minimal investment of time, effort, or energy. I have been writing these one offs and short encounters for 6 months now (more or less) for our patreon account backers. I think there are forty or so now. Some of these had dungeons, others just text.

I am going to mix them up now. My goal is a dungeon one week with nothing in it. Basically it will just be a map with its current situation sans monsters and such. These are empty dungeons with the briefest descriptions of rooms. The Castle Keeper would have to supply the monsters or whatever might be inside the dungeon. In this manner the dungeon can be used for any level party. I will add an additional isometric interpretation because, well, because I am wanting to do them. These will only be available through patreon


Then the next week would be an encounter much like the one's I have done previously. I am changing one aspect of the encounters by not giving them a place per se. Rather it will be a description of a group of creatures or a single creature/monster and what its habitat is and how it goes about its dirty work. I will also mix demi-human, human, and humanoid NPCs into these. And on a final not, I am going to attempt to put together random encounter charts on occasion. These would be collected and constantly adjusted so everyone in the patreon would get the updates.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Session Zero

 

I prefer ‘session zero’ happen at home, through emails, in the head, or as a memory. This is simply my preference. Everyone handles session zero as per their desires and goals so it would be impossible and wrong to assert that “x” is the only proper manner in which to handle a campaign’s beginning. My preference, having gone through many a campaign (short and long), many hundreds if not thousands of characters, and nearly forty years of play, is simply to begin the game with a bang or near bang. I like to begin the game with a hand grenade thrown into the midst of the party that may or may not go off - so to speak.

 


So this is how I roll. The players will let me know before the game begins what type of character they would like to play. I sometimes place limitations on race, class, background, etc. but this is rare. It must be setting specific though. I then encourage everyone to come up with some background. It can be specific but I prefer it be somewhat nebulous so the background can be developed in play. I sorta want the character’s past to grow backward as well as forward at the same time. This meshes well with my philosophy that the past never really exists except in how we remember it rather than what it may have actually been. So big points are important but details are not.

To wit, a few answers to a few questions are all that I need to move an adventure forward in a meaningful direction. I base may adventures of the player’s characters goals and fears rather than off something I have designed sans their input. Some questions are; What are your character’s life goals? What are your character’s greatest fears? What does your character hate? What does you character love?

If possible or seems reasonable, I will have one or more of the characters know one another prior to the beginning of the adventure. It is not necessary that they do know one another through. What is important is that a series of events leads them all to one place at the same time. This is where it becomes a little difficult because I have to design a session zero encounter that is confined in space and time where some action occurs requiring the players to act together to overcome a challenge or even survive. 

 


The players, in session zero, are asked to describe their character’s appearance. Nothing more than appearance is necessary. Personality, life events, etc. are not what I am after. Personality comes out in play rather that descriptive preambles. Personality is expressed in appearance as well. The character’s past or pivotal moments in their life are not described, those reside in the character’s memory and only brought forward in roleplay or as necessary. This actually allows the characters to grow their characters backward fairly well and gives me (as the person running the game) fodder to work with and develop with the player over the course of sessions, week, months, and even years.

So where do the characters meet? This is always different and sometimes the most challenging part for me. I have placed the characters in a carriage, barge, caravan, that gets attacked or has a problem requiring the characters to fix. I have placed them in guard towers, frontier posts, mines, and even a besieged city. In all cases, the characters find themselves together, confined somehow in that moment and in space and are faced with a challenge within roughly twenty minutes of the game’s beginning. I have not started a game in a tavern in decades, though I might give that a try one day again – with a bar fight.

 


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Over River Hanging Empty Unplayed

The dark waters of the Prut begin deep in the Thelknet Wood. They move slowly, following an ancient course south before they turn north and east and then back again to the confluence of the Spring River. The channel is deep before the spring, the water seems still and quiet with a calm born of a windless dusk hanging over it. Tales relate that in the Days before Days that Ealor would rise from the sea and court Ea-Ranae, the moon, and here upon the banks of the Prut they sat and frolicked together. Whatever the truth of that the Prut is home to fey of wonderous beauty and the elves haunt the woods here, seeking signs of the moon before the sun rode high in the sky. 

The forest grows thick, all the way to the loamy banks of deep grass that hang like curtains into the water’s edge, housing what dark secrets in tiny caves few can tell. The fish are large here, swim deep and feed upon one another as fish are want to do. Strange birds dwell in the trees and wolves lope to the water’s edge in quest of water. At times there are stairs with no landings that lead into the water or swings from branches hanging empty and unplayed or bridges that rope in the two banks, bridging two worlds. The “Prut above the Spring” is a saying in the realms of New Aenoch and it is like to magical realm that few understand, or if they do, they choose to keep their understanding to themselves. It is a lonely, quiet river, the Prut.

After the Spring it picks up speed and deepens still and the dark waters turn a shallow gray, shrowded still by forest trees and linked by hidden paths. At last, they tumble into Udunilay and broaden that mainland tempest before it enters the Opens and the Sea beyond.

From ~ The Barachian Coast, Aihrde Expansion, The Prut River Entry. Aihrde



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