Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Three

This series starts here.

Layout in this game is pretty bad. Important sections are given little more than a line and a boldface title.

Like a lot of early games, combat is treated pretty abstractly in Fantasy Wargaming. The combat sequence works in several phases. First is a "pre-combat phase" that includes morale and berserk checks, declaration of intent, missile fire, and instant magic use. Next comes the combat phase, which includes three attack rounds: first, for characters who get the opportunity for a first blow, then a retaliatory blow, followed by a simultaneous flurry, or exchange, of blows (which can be replaced by an attempt to parry or dodge, or to disengage from melee). Each round is considered to be 10 seconds, so every character gets two attacks in each 10 second round. The final phase, the "post-combat phase", doesn't seem to be well thought-out, and includes a new morale check, followed by going back to the combat phase. This would mean that characters are only allowed to fire missiles or use magic once per combat. I'd replace that with simply returning to the "pre-combat phase", rather than bothering with the "post-combat phase".

Morale involves a modification of the basic mechanic, using a new table. It results in various levels of effect, from "Obey orders", which is the level at which a character will act as desired, through "Dither", which allows continuing difficult/dangerous actions, but not beginning new ones, "Act selfishly", which requires attempting to retreat, "Panic or surrender", which removes player control, to "Flee", which also loses player control. There are also notes on what happens on subsequent morale checks. Morale has always been contentious in roleplaying/adventure games, but I've long been in favor. Related to morale, there is also a "Control test", which is the chance that a character might go berserk. This is mainly for cultures that have a tradition of berserk (in the rules, Vikings), but also for characters with the combination of high Bravery plus low Intelligence.

An attack is either of missile or mêlée type, with different factors for each. As with most other checks in the game, this is done by adding together a number of factors to determine which column to use on a table. The table includes results ranging from a miss to various body parts. Characters can add 15 to the roll on the table by either charging or lunging, which then prevents them from choosing parry, dodge, or disengage options in the next flurry phase.

Now is as good a time as any to talk about one of the problems with the basic system. As presented, it is a clumsy system to use at the table, though not as clumsy as some. It takes time to look through the list and add up the relevant factors. This is mainly a problem with the way the list is organized, however. If the factors were divided into groups of similar factors (like listing the modifiers for each of the various characteristics together), rather than listing all of the factors of the same modifier together, that might work better by allowing a player to determine a value and modify it more easily on the fly as situations change.

The same chart is used to determine the success or failure of parry, dodge, and disengage actions. Various results are grouped into categories of "Failure", "Partial success", "Substantial success", and "Total success", which give various benefits ranging from no effect through reducing damage, shifting the opponent's attack column and reducing damage, all the way to taking damage on the weapon, completely dodging, or moving out of range. If the weapon is hit, damage is rolled as normal, then compared to a chart and the fragility of the weapon to determine if it breaks or is dropped. As an aside, the chart as printed includes one section that is not labeled. I think that this is supposed to be included in the "Total success" category.

Some locations, when hit, give special effects. These are effectively critical hits, and include double damage, stunning, temporarily blinding (from blood in the eyes), knocking down, causing weapon or shield to drop, or crippling or laming a leg. These could probably use some excessive results, too, like chopping off a limb or head and the like.

There are three pages of weapons tables, one of which is mistakenly left out of the large hardcover edition. All three pages can be found in the SFBC edition. The game includes no information on unarmed attacks. Weapons in the table are given weights that are very heavy in comparison to real-world weapons. A Short sword, for instance, is listed at "6lb-8lb". I personally own a short sword that is around 2 lbs, and that is fairly heavy, actually, for such a sword, so these weights are clearly far higher than they probably should be. Even stranger, the Long one-handed sword is listed as weighing "5lb-8lb", so the weights in the game are not even consistent with themselves.

There's a table of armor that takes up most of a page. Armor subtracts from damage on the areas it covers, but subtracts from Agility while worn. Shields are also rated with a "Defensive value", which corresponds to the rating weapons have to avoid being damaged when hit. I think that the values for Defensive values on the table are backward, but that's a matter for discussion, I guess.

Anyway, the next installment, we'll be talking about the Large scale combat rules.


  1. Oh my, weapon weights. It is strange that a game that is otherwise so painstakingly researched got this so wrong. (Ewart Oakeshott's books from the 1960s made a point of mentioning that one-handed swords tended to be in the 2-3 pound range, so it's hard to understand why the myth of the 10-pound sword dies so hard!) Must have been using the same sources as Gygax with his 8-10 pound axes and maces. :(

    I remember that when I first read FW -- the only alternative to D&D I knew of at the time -- I thought the combat system was great. Then I realized that the hit locations were kind of wonky if you're fighting monsters and made up a series of hit location tables for various body types, like serpents, quadrupeds, etc. And never used them.

    Also, I vaguely recall finding that the physique requirements for weapons tended to level out damage for mid to high physique characters -- you'd do about the same with a sword, spear, dagger, or axe. Maybe there were a few outliers like cinquedea daggers and great-axes. Good times.

    Also the first place I encounter damage reduction from armor, which of course makes a lot of sense.

    I think I misinterpreted shields as just adding their value to DR.

    1. The myth of the heavy sharpened crowbar is deeply rooted at this point. People don't realize how difficult it really is to swing a 10 pound bar of metal, never having done so themselves.

      When you made those hit location tables, did you just alter the results on the basic table, or did you come up with entirely new tables?

    2. Sorry -- didn't notice the follow-up qn until now.

      I drew up tables for serpents, insects/spiders, quadrupeds, winged bipeds, and winged quadrupeds, I think (It's been a good 25 years!) and IIRC they just translated established human hit locations to the other beasts...I'm not sure how, but I think arms = wings, groin = tail, and so on. Serpents of course just had torso, head, and vitals!