Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wargame Wednesdays - Chartless Combat

Wargame Wednesdays this week will follow up last week's discussion of the CRT with an overview of some of the combat systems used in board wargames, that don't rely on a combat chart.

I would like to investigate a few of these, starting with a game that *is* a wargame, albeit a rather simplistic one.  Risk (rules available here).

Staff and Friends of Gaming with Chuck enjoy a game of Lord of the Rings Risk
Risk, in all its many forms, consists of simply applying strength to the map (in the form of placing or moving armies), and then trying to use your "strength" to overpower that of your opponents.  There is a nice collection of the many different variants of Risk, linked to from the Board Game Geek entry on the original 1959 game. This is done by a simple combat mechanism that relies on compared dice rolls.  For the 2 persons in the world who might be reading a gaming blog, but for whom Risk has never happened, it works like this:  The active player has armies in a number of territories on the map.  On his turn, he can direct as many armies, from a territory, as he likes (except 1 - he must always leave at least 1 army in a territory), into an adjacent territory that has enemy armies in it.

  The attack is then played out in rounds, until either one side or the other is eliminated, or the attacker calls off the attack.  The attacker may roll up to 3 dice, but never more than one dice per attacking army (of course, he had to leave behind at least one to garrison the territory he moved from).  The defender may roll up to 2 dice, but never more dice than he has armies defending the territory.  Then the dice are compared - the highest dice are compared first, then the second highest (if each side rolled at least 2).  

The comparison is simple - highest roll wins, with a tied roll going to the defender.  The loser in this comparison loses an army.  Simple.  Elegant.  And, unfortunately, without a lot of room for modification.  There are variants of Risk that allow re-rolls, and those that allow for additional dice (but never more than the number of armies you have to lose), and those that allow bonuses to be applied to your own dice, and minuses to be applied to your opponents dice, but that is about it.  We will call this mechanism the "opposed dice roll" mechanism.

War at Sea from Avalon Hill (1975) is a multiple dice mechanism, but it is not an opposed dice mechanism.  Rather, each unit in War at Sea has two combat factors - Offense and Defense.  The Offense factor represents the number of dice that the unit would roll in combat against a target.  Each 6 inflicts damage, and each 5 inflicts disruption.  Each 6 rolled entitles the shooter to roll another d6 to see how much damage is done.  The Defense factor is how many damage points a target has.  Whenever a ship takes a Disruption result, at the end of the current combat round, it must return to a friendly port (at which point the Disruption marker is removed, but the ship is out of combat).  All 6s are resolved before 5s, so the ship will accumulate all damage from all shooters shooting against it in a current round (to see if it is sunk) before checking to see if it is disrupted and needs to return to port.  The combat is played in rounds - first the defender choosing which targets all of his shooters (which can be ships, air squadrons, or submarine) will shoot at.  Prior to the first round, there is a special round of ASW where all ships that can defend against submarines get to shoot at incoming submarines.  But the mechanism for rolling for, and determining hits/damage is the same.
 This technique can be called the "dice against target value" mechanism.  There are a lot of possible modifications that can be worked with this mechanism, such as altering the number of dice that a unit can roll (which happens in War At Sea, based on damage), or altering the target number that must be rolled.  The defense value of a target (which determines how many hits a unit can absorb before destruction, or in the case of War at Sea, how much damage, resulting from hits) can be modified.  So, even though this is, in some ways, a simpler mechanism than the opposed dice roll mechanism (simpler in that all dice rolls are against a single, static target value, or set of target values, rather than being at the shifting target of another dice roll), the fact that each unit has multiple factors (attack and defense), as well as the static target numbers, means that there can be more nuance and alteration representing shifting states in the combat.

In 1981, Frank Chadwick had a great (and to this day, still widely played) game design called "A House Divided" which also uses a chartless combat system.  There were a number of follow on designs (all published by GDW) that came after A House Divided (1981), including Soldier King (1982) and Attack in the Ardennes (1982), that used slight variations of the same system.  In this system, each unit has a basic combat value.  When it is attacking, it rolls a dice.  If the dice comes up equal to or less than the combat value, then a hit is scored on the enemy unit.  The combats are played in rounds, with the defender going first each round, and units being applied evenly before doubling up, but that is it.  Assign a unit, roll one dice, if it is less than your target number, you cause a hit.  Each game has different units that can take 1 or more hits, so the results of being hit vary with unit type.  Typically, when a unit is hit, it is reduced to a damaged state, and it's combat factor is reduced as well.  Some units (such as armor units in the Attack in the Ardennes game) have modifiers that are applied to the combat factor of those shooting against them (representing either large units, or in the case of tanks, heavy armor).
New version of A House Divided, showing Blue vs Grey on custom stands - the combat number for each unit can be seen, this is the target number for the dice throw to determine hits on the enemy.
 We can see that this system is also a "dice against a target value" system, but we will differentiate between this system, and that of War at Sea.  The difference is this - War at Sea has a "multiple dice against a target value" mechanism and House Divided has a "single dice against a target value" mechanism.This system allows for changes in the target number based on situation (for instance, against a heavy unit that as a modifier for it's enemies; against a unit in a defended area like a trenchline; or while making a hasty attack, like infantry vs cavalry, or across a river, or in bad weather, etc), and allows for different types of unit degradation by having specific values that a *hit* unit reduces to.  But that is it - not as many types of modification as with the "multiple dice against a target value", mostly because one of the variables - the number of dice - has been removed.

A  brief mention should be made of the wide family of Axis and Allies games (designed by Larry Harris, and first published in 1981 by Nova Games - the same year as A House Divided).  Again, these are often considered "simple" wargames by the hex-and-counter crowd (and they are, comparatively speaking), but they are also based on a "single dice against a target value" as with the Frank Chadwick system.  The biggest difference is in the complexity of the interaction between units and the map - there is a lot of detail and nuance in the Chadwick designs (and all the games that have come after them, there are a number from modern publishers), and the interaction between units and the map in the Axis and Allies family of games (which is very, very simple in comparison). A notable difference is that in Axis and Allies, and it's derived other titles, each unit as a target number based on whether it is on Offense or Defense.  On Defense, for instance, both Infantry and Armor units are trying to roll for the same target number, but on Offense, the target number for Armor allows for twice as many kills as an Infantry unit on Offense.  And so on for all the unit types.
Combat chart for Axis and Allies showing different target numbers for offense and defense.

As a further development of the "multiple dice against a target value" mechanism, there is a whole family of games, championed primarily these days by Columbia Games, but also frequently by other companies, especially GMT.  These are called, collectively, Block Games.  In this mechanism, a wooden block represents a military unit, and it stands up so it's current status and parameter level is only visible to the player owning the unit (typically).  When the unit gets into combat, it is laid down, as is the opposing unit(s), and both players can see the parameters.  The blocks are square, and have multiple values on them, based on damage levels to the unit, and the blocks can be rotated, the current state being the values on the side facing up when it is standing and facing the owning player.  These games frequently use multiple dice per unit, based on the damage state of the unit.  A full strength infantry unit, for instance, may have 4 strength points - meaning it could roll 4 dice in combat.  It would have a target number, which might be modified by the situation (terrain, type of attack, etc) or by the nature of the target unit.  An older design that uses this variation of the "multiple dice against a target value" mechanism is Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815, available from Columbia these days, but years ago it was available through Avalon Hill.  Originally the game was out from Gamma Two, but they became Columbia.
Obviously a solo game, as all of the units for both sides (French, and also British/Prussian) are facing the same way.  But the strength markers - dots - can be seen on the outside edge of each block, with the unit type represented by the symbol in the middle.

The interesting thing that is presented with the block games version of "Multiple Dice against a Target Value" is the attrition effect on the dice thrown.  And the (typically) mechanism for re-acquiring lost dice, through repair (reconstitution) of the units.  The types of modifications to the dice thrown and target numbers are very similar to other types of games using this mechanism, with the additional feature of the combat attrition affecting the dice thrown.  Earlier articles covered a variety of different block games and their mechanisms in Blocks of War I: Hellenes by GMT and then Blocks of War II: Wizard Kings.

The final variation on "Multiple Dice against a Target Value" is the alternative to the Block games from Richard Borg, the Command and Colors family of games.  In these games, each unit has a number of dice that it rolls (that, typically, is not affected by attrition), and each type of unit determines the results of the dice - which are varied and based on special dice, with special symbols indicating hits, retreats, morale effects, and so on.  The number of dice in these titles is modified by terrain, and sometimes by range, but not by the hits on the parent unit.  The dice results available are modified by situation (you can case a hit on a Sword in close combat, but not in missile combat), or by target type (Red Infantry Units ignore Sword hits), or by formation (if the target unit has two adjacent friendly units, it ignores the first Flag result).  So by using different symbols, for different results, a very varied, but nuanced to simulate the types of combat involved in the particular game, results.  This series of games, and the dice and their results was covered in an earlier article called Blocks of War III: C and C Ancients: Part 1, the Dice of War.  Since that time, Command and Colors: Napoleonics has been released.  Excellent game, but I think that my favorite in the series is still torn between Memoir: 44 and Ancients.

That's it for now on chartless combat.  I tried to move from Risk (a simple game, but with an opposed dice mechanism) up through a number of others, both easy and complex.  I tried to end covering a wide variety of Block games and eventually the Command and Colors series.

Next week on Wargame Wednesdays, a number of reviews of some excellent games from publishers in Virginia.

Traveller Tuesdays - Crucis Margin

In deciding to concentrate these postings on the Crucis Margin sector, a little bit of overview might be useful, for anyone interested in following along.

The publication of the Crucis Margin sector has a little bit of a history to it.  It was written by Dave Sering, and originally published by Judges Guild, as part of their licensed Gateway Quadrant.  They licensed, from GDW, the rights to develop a quadrant of four sectors (Ley Sector, Crucis Margin, Glimmerdrift Reaches, and Marantha-Alkahest).  These were published, along with nearly 2 dozen other products (mostly adventures) set in these sectors.  You can get a pdf of the original product from RPGnow.

Then along came Joe Fugate from Digest Group.  He created a computer generated listing of all the sectors in the GDW Traveller Universe's known space.  Some years earlier, the Judges Guild license had expired.  Many GMs still considered the JG data to be "canonical" (and it still is, in My Traveller Universe - MTU).  But while Joe preserved the data from Ley Sector and Marantha-Alkahest (which has been renamed the Gateway sector), he changed the data for Crucis Margin and the Glimmerdrift Reaches. One of the things about this that has always bothered me, was that the political entities in the JG products matched the borders that were drawn in the Keith Brothers supplied map of known space from the original Library Data supplements for classic traveller.  If you look at the website Traveller Maps, you can see at the low resolution map of known space, those original political entities.  But if you zoom in on the detailed view of Crucis Margin and Glimmerdrift Reaches, you see that it was totally changed by Fugate's work.  It is a pity that it became the "canonical" version, copyrighted by both Digest Group and GDW. 

Fast forward.... A few years back, there was a D20 version of Traveller published.  I ran it for a while - it was okay, I just didn't love the D20 system well enough to give up the traditional Traveller system.  Anyway, the publisher put out a great book on the Gateway sectors - but it was based on the changes that Joe made.  The product, called Gateway to Destiny, is nevertheless quite impressive. So while it is a fantastic supplement, and has all sorts of great data in it, it does not preserve the original Judges Guild data on Crucis Margin.

Enough with the publishing history.  This is the beginning of a new weekly column for Gaming with Chuck.  Presenting and expanding on the original Judges Guild information is where this column is headed.  I plan to release a variety of data, in weekly dumps, on the Crucis Margin sector.

There are some web sites that deal with the Judges Guild version of the Crucis Margin sector.  Most inspiringly, is Jeff Rients' Gateway Quadrant wiki.  Lots of articles and "library data" on the worlds, polities, races and so on in the Quadrant, including all of Crucis Margin.

The Zho Base website has a really nice sector data presentation.

Finally, Joffre Horlor in New Zealand has an equally impressive presentation of the data for the sector.

All of this is a presentation variation (and a modernization of the maps, especially in the case of Joffre's website) of the material that first came in the guidebook from the Judge's Guild product.  Along with the guidebook, that product also came with a poster sized map of the sector.  I still have mine *somewhere* but not sure where.  Still, the many digital versions of the data that are available today are fine with me.

The first place to begin is the spinward-coreward quadrant of the Sector (for an intro to galactic directions, see this article).  This contains four subsectors, the two most coreward are Ark, and Negoiul.  The two immediately rimward of them are Mandin and Olsztyn.  Of these, we will present Ark first.

Here is a listing of the 27 worlds that make up the Ark Subsector.

Aiwo          0101 D685745-5    Ag                 702 Na
Boe           0103 B897896-A                       101 Na
Acier         0106 EAC4352-9    Ni                 820 Na
Yaren         0109 B4746B7-A    Ag                 310 Na
Baiti         0202 B475436-C  S Ni                 620 Sx
Anetan        0204 C663759-B    Ri                 603 Sx
Nauru         0206 C499454-A    Ni                 200 Sx
Masinloc      0209 D520313-A    De                 501 Na
Nibok         0302 C354888-B                       110 Sx
Masyaf        0304 E756425-7    Ni                 902 Sx
Gali          0306 D797543-9    Ag                 703 Sx
Koniek        0308 C567782-D    Ag Ri              100 Sx
Etzina        0401 A454979-E  N                    110 Sx
Nashchaug     0503 D000353-C    As                 914 Sx
Buada         0505 B232411-E  N Ni Po              110 Sx
Tasmilma      0507 C768646-A    Ag Ri              100 Sx
Arket         0508 A886989-E  N                    120 Sx
Vryheid       0510 C400310-D  S Ro                 605 Sx
Uaboe         0601 C965669-A    Ag                 110 Sx     f
Martre        0606 C343689-B    Ni Po              100 Sx
Ewa           0702 A200789-D    Va                 103 Sx     f
Abricot       0704 A97A899-E    Wa                 700 Sx
Babia         0707 E554173-8    Ni Po              800 Sx
Malini        0709 B86A989-B    Wa                 110 Sx
Aldrin        0804 E000453-A    As                 203 Sx
Genk          0807 C66A969-B    Wa                 700 Sx
Djebeha       0810 B400682-C    Ro                 115 Sx

This is a typical subsector listing, presenting the Name of the planet first.  The next column (four digit number) is the Hexagon number on the sector map.  The next column is the very important Universal World Profile (UWP), which lists, in order:
Starport type
Planetary Size
Law Level
Tech Level

A nice article describing the UWP, along with links to definitions for each of these statistics, can be found at the Traveller Wiki.

The next column lists whether a Scout base (S), Naval base (N), or Both (2) is present.  Following that are trade codes, important for trade.

Next up is the three digit code describing some world specifics.  The first digit is the Population multiplier.  The UWP Population code gives the base 10 value for the population (for instance Genk/0807 has a population code of 9 - which means 10 to the 9th power.  It's population multiplier is 7, which means that the population of the Genk/0807 system is approximately 7 x 109 or 7,000,000,000 (seven billion) people, throughout the system.   The second digit is the number of Asteroid or Planetoid belts in the system.  The third digit is the number of Gas Giants in the system (very important, for frontier refueling).

Genk/0807 is slightly smaller than Earth, with a size code of 6 representing a mainworld planetary diameter in the range of 8,800-10,399 km (which, assuming a standard Earth-like density, suggests a slightly lower gravity).

The atmospheric code of 6 indicates a Standard, human breathable atmosphere (no specific taints or pollutants on a broad basis).

The hydrosphere has a code of A, or 95%+ of the surface of the mainworld being covered by water.

Further examination shows that there is a Tech Level of B, which is "Average Stellar" - meaning a society and economic base that is quite comfortable not only with space technology, but with starships and stardrives.  It is quite probably that there are all sorts of bases and colonies spread throughout the Genk/0807 system.

From looking at their UWP code for Government, we see that it is a type 6, which represents a captive (or colonial) government.  It would be up to the Referee to determine the story behind this government, but a reasonable glance at the subsector reveals that Genk/0807 is near Malini/0709.  They are both planets in the interstellar government of Sphere Fenix.  It is likely that Malini (or one of the government bureau on Malini) has conquered Genk, and treats it as a colony, or some sort of captive client world.  That Malini only has a population of 1 billion, and Genk has 7 billions is interesting.  Malini is also a water world, same tech level (B), but a better Starport, indicating a better starship manufacturing and support facility.  That Malini has a government that is a civil-service bureaucracy makes the possibility very interesting.

Finally, looking at the Law Level for Genk (a 9) it is quite a strict, and harshly controlled society.  Perhaps a Prison planet?  But it does have the same Law Level, for instance, as Malini - which is being considered as the patron world for Genk.

The final column gives the political affiliation.  Most of the planets in the Ark subsector are in Sphere Fenix, but some of the planets are unaffiliated.  From the original Judges Guild write up, we know this about Sphere Fenix -

Sphere Fenix was original settled by a very diverse group of refugees from the collapsing First Imperium. During the Long Night, these fugitives flourished into a series of mini-states. About 500 Imperial dating, a series of small but bitter wars broke out. In 724, the three surviving states declared peace on each other and met to discuss unification. Though the precise details of governmental structure took over 28 years to develop, Sphere Fenix dates its birth from that meeting. Though internal unrest has occurred since, the overall prosperity has continued to increase. A mutual defense treaty was signed with Ramayan in the 8th century Imperial. Technical assistance is received from Imperium military services and Imperial security is rumored to have great influence. In spite of having fought in no major wars in centuries, military prowess is high and it has become traditional to serve a term or two as a mercenary in one of the surrounding sectors, especially the Marlan Primate.

Writeups like these on the worlds of Ark will follow, at least the interesting worlds.  Along with it, I intend to publish details on Patrons, Ships, Locations and Missions.  Hopefully it will be fun.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monstrous Mondays - Contribution to Blog List

In contributing to the great effort to collect Monsters (for Gaming) on Mondays during October, I offer up the following list (all from my Fantasy RPG blog, Valley of the Old Ones), of home-brew monsters that I cooked up during adventure writeups in my setting, devised over the past few months.

The Monstrous Mondays effort was kicked off by Tim Brannan, over at The Other Side Blog.

Monstrous Monday

Filth Prawns (lesser and greater)

Ecology of the Rot Troll

Shadow Cultists

Dark Elves of Werms

Assorted other Horrific Monsters

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Theremin Thursdays - Edgar Allan Poe in Music and Gaming

Considering that Halloween is less than a week away, a very fitting topic for a posting on Music and Gaming is certainly music inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and his wonderful stories.

There is, evidently, a VERY LARGE body of work that has been inspired by Poe, which shouldn't be too surprising considering how well his writing has stood up to time, and seems to have universal appeal.

The one contribution to Poe-esque music that we'll discuss here at Gaming with Chuck is the phenomenal album from Alan Parson's Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.  This album was first released in 1976, and was APP's first album.  And it is a great album.

The tracks on the album are these:
  1. A Dream within a Dream (instrumental)
  2. The Raven (my personal favorite)
  3. The Tell Tale Heart
  4. The Cask of Amontillado
  5. The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether
  6. The Fall of the House of Usher (in 5 tracks)
  7. To One in Paradise
There was a later, 1987, release of the album that featured fantastic narration from Orson Welles at the beginning of A Dream within a Dream, and the first track of The Fall of the House of Usher.

The favorite track on the album, here at Gaming with Chuck, is The Raven, based on Poe's classic 1845 poem.

The poem has a wonderfully eery feel to it, and really drips of all sorts of dark and supernatural tones and themes, but really, it comes down to a Raven that visits a grieving lover, and refuses to give him consolation about the state of his departed lover's soul in the after life.  Creepy enough, but it is in the delivery that Poe makes this story so impactful.

As a take-away for gaming, it shows (at least for role playing games) the reliance of imagery and language in order to set a mood/scene for players.  For a look at how artwork and language can set the mood, take a look at this video, of a book on the poem, being read by Christopher Walken.

But, this is a posting about music, and so we turn to the Alan Parson's Project rendition - a song if not exactly the poem, certainly borrowing many lines from it, and inspired by the basic idea.

Okay, so we have basically an awesome poem.  And an awesome song.  All by Edgar Allan Poe, but how has Poe affected and influenced gaming?

Well, one of the main ways, although this may be a little indirect, is that Poe was an incredible influence on H. P. Lovecraft, who has had a huge impact on gaming.  Robert Bloch (yes, the Robert Bloch that wrote the story used for the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho, amongst other horror tales) wrote a very interesting comparison of the two men.  Lovecraft was so influenced and respectful of Poe that he even wrote a poem concerning the earlier author, called "In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d"
Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arched high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.

Lonely and sad, a specter glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, though his song
Peals down through time with a mysterious spell.
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know,
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.
Lovecraft's influences on 20th century pop culture and gaming have been great, and picking up in pace in recent years.  First, for gaming, there is the absolute classic role playing game, The Call of Cthulhu, from Chaosium. First released as a box set, written by Sandy Petersen back in 1981, the rules were based on the earlier Chaosium hit, RuneQuest.  The game (CoC) is still in print today, and one of the main authors is still Petersen (now joined by Lynn Willis).  This game produced sort of a gaming empire for Chaosium, although they weren't without financial problems over the year.  They always retained ownership, and kept in print, CoC, however. Over the year dozens and dozens of gaming supplements - new settings, adventures, supplemental rules, etc - were produced by Chaosium, and other (licensed) companies.  One of the most interesting was a setting called Dreamlands, which allowed players to play in a fantasy/horror realm, that is only reachable while in a dream state.  This was based on a sequence of Lovecraft stories, but could be said to be influenced by Poe's Dream within a Dream, amongst other things.

Some modern Lovecraft gaming influences must include the games from Fantasy Flight, including a Call of Cthulhu living card game (a card game, where periodic supplements are produced, to be added into the decks of cards the game is based on), as well as a fantastic board game, called Arkham Horror (AH).  AH was originally published by Chaosium, but it has been taken to new heights, including all sorts of marvelous add-ons and supplements, even including painted figures, etc.  Also from Fantasy Flight is the game Elder Sign, which is sort of a faster play, dice game of Arkham Horror.  AH itself feels like a roleplaying campaign, reduced to a 4-6 hour session.
Dunwich supplement for Arkham Horror, adding new board, cards, characters, etc.

But what about Poe? One of the direct links to gaming, for Poe, is Mystery Rummy #2 - "Murders in the Rue Morgue".  This is, of course, based on the excellent story by Poe.  If you have not read it, please, by all means - go read it now before finding out anything else about the game.  It is a detective story, an early example of the type of story referred to as a "locked room" story - where the murder takes place in such a way that there is little or no room for a logical explanation.  The story is very much worthwhile as a discovery, and the game features huge spoiler information.  A copy of the full (short) story can be found here.

Okay, there is a video review of the game online from the Dice Tower.

The game design comes from Mike Fitzgerald, who has done several different games in the series, and one related (but not in the US Game Systems published sequence of card games).  The relate done is Wyatt Earp, another excellent card game.

So there you have it - this week's Theremin Thursday - Music and Gaming article.  Fantastic music from Alan Parson's Project, based on Edgar Alan Poe.  Poe was a big influence on Lovecraft - who has been a phenomenal influence on gaming, and there is even a great little card game based directly on one of Poe's short stories.  Enjoy your gaming, and enjoy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wargame Wednesdays - the Combat Results Table

Another new (weekly) feature here at Gaming with Chuck, will be Wargaming Wednesday.  This, of course, is an effort to get some regular (irregular?) content on the blog related (specifically) to wargaming.

Classic Wargame - "The Russian Campaign" by Avalon Hill

For a first outing in this venture, I can't think of a better part of modern wargaming to consider, than the Combat Results Table (CRT).  Before considering the effect of the CRT on wargaming, a quick history and overview of how it works (if you don't know).

A variety of different 1-6 CRTs

This is a mechanism going back to Von Reisswitz' Krigspiel (1830s), but used specifically in modern wargaming, at least since the early Charles Roberts efforts that lead to the early days of Avalon Hill.  Charles' second outing in design, was Tactics II (1958, the year Avalon Hill was formed) that introduced the Combat Results Table to the modern boardgaming world.  A decent article is available from wikipedia.

The typical (at least if we consider the form that is included in so many of the Avalon Hill Classics) form is a table, numbered from 1 to 6 on the left side (referring to the results of a typical 6-sided dice), and the columns from left to right are labeled with odds, typically ranging from those most favorable to the Defender, all the way to the right with those most favorable to the Attacker.  These "odds" refer to an expressed ratio that comes from comparing the Combat Strength of the Attacker to the Combat Strength of the Defender.

Avalon Hill CRT with a chart (bottom half) allowing odds to be calculated quick and easy, just by comparing modified Attacker's Factor to a modified Defender's Factor

As an example of calculating odds, consider two units (represented in a wargame, of course, as playing pieces) that are engaged in combat.  The attacker has a combat strength of 6, and the defender has a combat strength of 4.  This means that the combat odds are 6 to 4.  This reduces to 3-2, or 1.5 to 1.

Unit counters from an updated version of "The Russian Campaign"
Taking a look at the sample combat results table here, we see that there is not a column the corresponds to 3-2.  In most (typical) cases, the odds round in the favor of the defender, so this would become a 1-1 attack.

Looking at the results in the 1-1 column, we see that if the die reads 1,2, or 3 then the results are that the Defender Retreats (results: DR).  If the die reads 4,5, or 6 then the results are that the Attacker Retreats (results: AR).

Example CRT from a Simulation Publications Inc. (SPI) game

Most CRTs have their results predicated on the military maxim that to have a decent chance (or expectation) of success, an attacker has to have 3-1 odds.  In the combat table pictured here, we can see that if the combat were a dice roll in the 3-1 odds column, the results would be on a 1, the Defender is Eliminated (results: DE).  On a die roll of 2 through 5, the Defender is required to Retreat (results: DR).  Finally, on a die roll of a 6, each side loses a unit (EE - each eliminate).

Okay, so all of these elements - the structure of the table, the fact that the columns are based on numeric odds, the size and nature of the dice, the types of results, the number of results per dice roll.  All these things can change, but basically all of the different types of CRTs result in a table of combat results, with a random (stochastic) factor being introduced by a dice roll (of course, there are dice-less CRTs, but we'll ignore them for now).

The fact that a CRT (at least in early form) gave the results of Eliminate, Retreat, or Exchange for either the Attacker or Defender or Both (in the case of Exchange), it meant that if a combat occurred and a unit was affected by it, the WHOLE unit was affected (either eliminated or retreated).  This means combat had a certain discrete granularity - if the units were Battalions, then whole Battalions were either living or dying in combat.
Example CRT (or BRT - Battle Results Table) from Chariot Lords (Excalibre Games, 1975), showing the "whole unit" effects, but rather than call it "Eliminate", here it is called being "Smote" to evoke the Biblical Warfare theme.  Below is a separate combat type CRT - detailing Siege results.

As games grew more complex, the idea of half units (basically, being able to make change due to losses in combat) came about - which is a much more typical representation (it seems) to real life combat.  No matter how bad a unit does, in MOST situations, it would survive the encounter with some fighting strength.  What this has, as an effect on combat, is that encounters are not so immediately decided, but tend to last a while.  In a lot of cases, this means games give the player the ability to react to results in combat, by moving in reinforcements, withdrawing, etc.

Another reaction to CRT based combat was to introduce separate combat factors for Attack and Defense.  This was done, early, in Blitzkrieg from Avalon Hill - Artillery units had high offensive combat values, but basically the same as an Infantry unit for defense.  Very nice, for the mid 1960s.

An interesting modification to the basic CRT is to have multiple results per dice roll.  This could be a result to the Attacker and Defender, or a Destroyed result, and Retreat result, for instance.  In cases where aggregated units (companies, battalions, divisions, brigades, etc) are involved, it IS likely that any combat will result in losses to both sides.  This type of CRT result is more nuanced, and definitely reflects the cost to a unit to engage in even a "successful" combat.

In 1970, PanzerBlitz was published by Avalon Hill, designed by Jim Dunnigan.  This is a game based on small units engaging with each other.  In order to reflect the effects of morale and disruption, the CRT for this game could result in a unit being eliminated, or disrupted.  Since combat was very tactical, the different ranges of the weapon systems involved was represented by allowing attacking units to engage at range.  Each unit had an attack strength, a defense strength, and a range.  Additionally, each weapon system was a different class weapon (armor piercing, high explosive, or infantry), and each unit type was a different class target (armored, soft, or infantry).  Depending on how these weapon and target classes interacted would determine if there was a modifier to the attack strength, before consulting the Combat Results Table.  So, this represents more changes (disrupted, versus destroyed or retreated) (weapon/target pairings resulting in changes to attack factor), to the basic idea of the CRT.  By the way, following up on PanzerBlitz, there were (and still are) a large number of small unit, or individual tank, type games that have a similar CRT mechanism. This even included the highly successful science fiction games of OGRE and G.E.V. from Metagaming (later Steve Jackson Games).

OGRE CRT, expanded out to work with either 1d6 or 1d12, showing Disruption (D) and Elimination (E) results for the target unit.

Not described yet, but in many games from the beginning, is the effect of terrain on combat, in a combat system based on a CRT.  Often this will come to play in one of two different ways - first, it could be a multiplier or modifier to the defense strength (or combat strength) of the defender.  If they are in, for instance, terrain that makes them hard to acquire, or protects them physically (like in a built up area, or in a fortress), then an increase in their combat strength will likely result in lower odds on the CRT, meaning a reduced chance for effect.  Second, it could result in "column shift" effects.  This refers to shifting the column (the odds based column, in most cases) to the left or right, representing reduced or increased chances of dealing significant damage to the defender.

PanzerBlitz CRT, along with Terrain Effects, and also elevation, and weapon/target pairing tables.

In the days of board wargaming, prior to heavy influence by computerization of the hobby, there was a large percentage of gamers who participated in Play by Mail gaming.  In this situation, each player has a game set up at their own home, and moves are exchanged via mail.  These days it is done via email, or through digital software representing the game, but exchanging turn information digitally.  When done through the mail, there was a requirement to have a combat results table that could be consulted by both sides, and based on some unpredictable (I won't say random) number.  The answer was the stock listings in the newspaper.  The players would agree on a newspaper they would consult.  When they completed a turn, there would be an agreed to sequence of order that the combats would be resolved in.  And there would be an agreed to Stock listing that would be the beginning of the combat.  Each dice roll required in the combat would be based on the final digit in a stock price.  This gave a sequence of numbers (that each player could consult independently), each from 1 to 10.  Of course, then, this required a CRT that was keyed to the random factors being 1-10 rather than the typical 1-6.  Such charts were produced, and Avalon Hill even made them available in "play by mail" kits for their popular titles.

There are still games (plenty) that get published using a CRT for combat resolution.  However, there have been lots of other mechanisms for doing unit-to-unit combat in the years since Tactics II.  The next article on Wargaming Wednesdays, here at Gaming with Chuck, will detail some of the alternate systems.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Traveller Tuesdays

I have been wanting to work on some science fiction gaming topics for some time, now, but I have not had the time. Just recently, as an exercise in practicing some new programming skills, I began writing a simple gaming app.

What the project consists of is a way to add system information to a planetary system for Traveller. It assumes you already have a UWP (Universal World Profile) and then fills in details as per the new Mongoose book on Scouts.

This got me thinking, what if I wanted to run sone Traveller? Would I use an existing setting (Spinward Marches, Vanguard Reaches, Gateway Quadrant)? Would I generate my own sector (14 Suns)? Or would I dispense with interstellar travel altogether, and have all the a tion take place in a single super high population system (with lots of planetary, sattelite, and artificial environments that are populated)?

After a few days thouts, I think I am going to use the Gateway Quadrant, the Crucis Margin sector in particular, and start developing some settings, patrons, and Amber Zone encounters. This will probably migrate to a different blog, with announcements here on interesting postings.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Theremin Thursdays

So, I have been thinking about starting up some day related themes on Gaming with Chuck, and I believe that Thursdays are a good day (as good as any) to explore music, and the relationship between gaming and music that is inspirational for gaming.

 So why the Theremin?

Well, first, because it is a fascinating and geeky instrument.

Second, because it goes so well alliteratively with Thursday.

And third, because - it is often (mistakenly) credited as the secret behind the soundtrack of one of the best Science Fiction movies of all time.

The movie, of course, is Forbidden Planet. By all means watch it again, and soon. The movie really is better than you remember - and responsible for SO MUCH more that comes after it in science fiction in popular media (which includes not only Movies, but Music, RPGs, and Computer Gaming - amongst other things).

The soundtrack was done completely as electronica, although not using the Theremin.  The soundtrack for Forbidden Planet was composed and written by Louis and Bebe Barron, and they referred to the revolutionary music as Electronic Tonalities.  This was done largely on scratch built equipment - crude synthesizers hand built by Louis, some 8 years before the first Moog.  But it was not on a Theremin. There is a nice short on youtube talking about the project and the results.

Here is a sample of the electronic tonalities from Forbidden Planet - this is a composition inspired by the long forgotten civilization of the ancient Krell.

The first (perhaps only?) movie that featured a soundtrack including a Theremin was Spellbound, by Alfred Hitchcock.  A great movie in it's own right, but not nearly so influential (at least at Gaming with Chuck HQ) as Forbidden Planet. Spellbound features the theme of madness - so features art inspired by Salvador Dali, and also the lovely Theremin infused with the orchestral score.

Okay, enough about movies, how about gaming?  Well, glad you asked, gentle reader.  There is an interesting theremin composition available that celebrates the music of the Legend of Zelda.

Which brings up an excellent segue - There is a great Zelda Medley composition that has been put together and performed by Lindsey Stirling.  Lindsey is a very geeky - and extremely talented - musician.  Here is her Zelda Medley (she plays the violin - incredibly well).

An unscientific poll has found that most gamers find Lindsey to be a much cuter Link than Link.

In addition to her Zelda Medley, Lindsey has done some other pieces that might be of interest to gamers.  These include:
Before going on to the gaming connection, it is only right to point out that the instrument that started this conversation - the theremin - has been featured in one of the cultural icon programs of our time - Big Bang Theory.  Here is a clip of Sheldon Cooper playing his theremin (which I think is a Moog Etherwave).

Segue - Although Sheldon Cooper was inspired to take up the theremin, it was NOT used in the soundtrack (or theme music) for the original Star Trek series (or any follow on).  It was, however, used in The Day the Earth Stood Still (second best early Robot sci-fi film, after the before mentioned Forbidden Planet).  That movie segues into other conversations related to films and gaming, which we will not pursue here, other than to say Klaatu Barada cough-cough-cough.

Okay, the tabletop gaming link to all of this.

Well, first of all there is a HUGE impact of classic sci fi on one of my favorite RPGs of all time - classic Traveller.  Available still today, 35 years after its initial release in 1977 (same year as Star Wars).  The current version that is a favorite at Gaming with Chuck is the Mongoose Games reprint, also known in some circles as Riki-Tiki-Traveller.  But when playing a classic Traveller adventure, such as Shadows, or Annic Nova, or Research Station Gamma, you can just hear the theremin music playing in the background.  More on Traveller in postings to follow soon.

Okay, Lindsey Stirling was mentioned.  While not at all related to the Theremin, it is music that has a STRONG relation to gaming.  Lets look at her songs.  First there is the Legend of Zelda composition - based on a game series (a very popular one) on a variety of different game platforms.

Next is the theme song from Skyrim.  An incredibly popular game, and soon to be the basis for a new MMORPG. The other day, while perusing game books in a book store, I found an impressive "cheat" book for Skyrim, located with the RPG books.  I flipped through it - even if you never played the electronic game (on a PC), the amount of material in there could make for a quite impressive table top RPG setting.  Dungeons, background, history, etc etc etc.  Well done.

Next up from Lindsey Stirling and Peter Hollen is the Game of Thrones piece that they did.  Impressive, and based on the tv series' that have been on (and no doubt, yet to come).  There are a number of really interesting games out for Game of Thrones, for the tabletop, including a great living card game, and several board games.  One of my favorite is the tactical battles game, Battles of Westeros.  The base game comes with armies, cards, and scenarios for clashes between the Stark family and the Lannister family.  Lots of add-ons expand those two, as well as adding lots of other factions (and armies).  Great looking map, great scenarios, and really nice plastic miniatures.  It is also related to one of my favorite board game designs, which has been covered on Gaming with Chuck before - the Command and Colors games (including Battle Lore).

 There is also a multi-player game, that covers the power struggles between the different households, as they all struggle to become high king.  Great game, with really nice components, out of print for a while but Fantasy Flight Games recently released a second edition.  This game was designed by Christian Peterson, who does a lot of the designs for Fantasy Flight, and is becoming quite a good game designer (some say, all Ameritrash, but I don't think so - this one title, at least, shows heavy Euro influence).

Finally, of course, from Lindsey is her Lord of the Rings medley (she even sings on that one).  Great job, again, and very inspirational.  The number of games influenced by the Lord of the Rings is, of course, too many to number here.  I will mention, however, the FANTASTIC job that Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) did, at one time, of chronicling the man lands and sites of Middle Earth for gaming purposes.  Their guides and modules were aimed primarily at their own Middle Earth Role Playing game (still very good, and very playable), and also their magnum opus Rolemaster (RM). RM started out as an add-on to Dungeons and Dragons, presenting modules that could replace weapon combat (Arms Law), beast and monster combat (Claw Law), and magic (Spell Law).  The first two were later combined into Arm Law/Claw Law.  ICE would go on to produce their own core game, in the book Character Law.  They would add to it, a monster and treasure book (called Creatures and Treasures), and some modules in their own world.  They would eventually produce a much more interesting world, Shadow World.  But the best stuff (hands down) that they ever did for fantasy was the extensive Middle Earth series.  They produced Middle Earth Roleplaying as an introductory version of RM, and suited for more casual gamers.  Many of their products are available as cheap (or sometimes free) PDFs on sites such as Drive Thru RPG, or RPGNow.

One of the most fabulous things about many of the Middle Earth products from ICE was the Angus McBride cover art.  Wow.   Other than the Brothers Hildebrandt, I think that Angus McBride inspired me the most in thinking about the visuals of Middle Earth.

French Language release of the excellent Middle Earth module, Carolan
 Without getting into the equally impressive list of Science Fiction games that were based on Star Trek, I will call an end to this article, but tune in again next week for more on Gaming and Music, on Theremin Thursdays, here at Gaming with Chuck.

Tags: , , ,

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Can D&D make you a better person?

This is awesome, and really hits on something I have felt for a long time. Sure, the stereotype of gamers is weird, out of touch, strange, unwashed, kind of socially backward, etc - you get the idea. But most that I have known (most, not all) rise above that. They become quite social. After all, gaming is basically a social activity - lots of human interaction, and a self organized hierarchical structure emerges in any game, or gaming group. Of course, they still do retain their own language, culture and mannerisms - but if they can project the social skills into other arenas of life, then (as the article suggests) the fact that they are gamers gives them a leg up. Now roll some dice....

 Here is the video from the article...