Why Skirmish Rules?As long-time readers of Rule One may be aware, I’ve some history of exploring Gloranthan battles using the Hordes of the Things fast-play fantasy wargames rules (Hott in Glorantha). “Fine”, you might well think, “I can see that bringing in a set of wargames rules might give us a different perspective on Glorantha but surely we can already do skirmishes using our favourite RPG rules?”
Well, yes, you can but the fact is that many RPG designers have gone out of their way to design games that simulate combat without requiring the use of miniatures. This does tend to mean that they don’t really support some of the things you can do more easily in a miniatures game.
Let’s face it, Runequest combats can be pretty static: “He hits me, I parry, I hit him, he fails to parry, I do 6 points of damage to his left leg…”. There’s no movement, no dramatic flow to the fight. Heroquest (version 2 especially) works harder at producing dramatic narrative but does so in a way that isn’t really suitable for a figures game and doesn’t really support the competitive gaming dynamic.
Where Song of Blades and Heroes scores is in providing a system we can use to enjoy a challenging game using perhaps a couple of dozen figures in a couple of hours. I have to say the rules have given my small and rather incoherent 28mm figure collection (those that weren’t already deployed in HOTT armies that is) a new lease of life. What is now a Vormaini raiding party was previously just a cluster of figures taking up shelf space and chiding me for having bought them on a whim. A dozen old and long-unused Tunnel Elves now see regular action as trollkin or troglodytes as the situation requires.
The RulesSoBH starts off using very basic, simple mechanics. A miniature represents a single individual and has just two characteristics; Quality and Combat. Individuals with a better Quality score are more likely to act in a given turn and are less likely to run away if the going gets tough. Individuals with a better Combat score fight more effectively.
The basic combat system is dead easy. Each side rolls a D6 and adds their Combat score. If my score exceeds yours you either fall over (if I rolled evens) or fall back (if I rolled odds). If my score is double yours, you’re dead. If my score is treble yours, not only have I killed you but I’ve done so in such a gruesome fashion that your mates may well be daunted and run from the fight.
Missile combat and Magic work in a very similar way but take effect at a distance. Magic can be used to cause damage like a missile weapon or a magic user can transfix an opponent. Transfixed models can’t act in any way other than to try and overcome the effect.
Movement and ranges are measured using three different lengths of measuring stick. I made mine from suitably painted lengths of bamboo skewer liberated from the kitchen drawer. This system makes movement and ranged combat pretty quick. There’s no fiddling around looking up the move distance of a particular troop type; you just grab the “medium” (green in my case) measuring stick unless the figure has, say, the Long Move Special Rule. These Special Rules and the activation system are where SoBH scores particularly. Firstly, though, let’s look at the activation system.
Who Does What?Mostly, a player will activate his figures one at a time (some special rules change this). When he chooses to activate a figure he can do so using one, two or three dice. For each of these dice that scores the miniature’s Quality score or higher he may make one action (move, fight, etc.). You can also use additional actions to attack more powerfully in melée, to aim with missile weapons or to cast more powerful spells.
However, if a player rolls two or more failures, that player’s turn ends immediately after this figure has done its stuff! This means that you can guarantee that all of your figures can at least try to act by only rolling one die for each but you’ll soon find that high Quality figures rolling several dice will run rings around you.
This system makes for interesting tactical decisions. Do I risk rolling three dice so this figure can aim, shoot, then run across the bridge or do I play it safer and just roll two and risk being caught in the open?
Special RulesWhen building your SOBH warband you spend points to buy Quality and Combat. values and to add Special Rules to your figures. These are what make your Trollkin behave differently from your human militia even though they may have the same Combat and Quality scores.
SoBH provides a long list of Special Rules and individual figures typically have up to three of them. Thus, my Vormaini pirates have Fearless which makes them immune to the morale-sapping effects of the aforementioned gruesome kill. My Trollkin have Free Disengage which allows them to break off from combat without their opponent getting a free attack as they do so.
The Hero is always assumed to roll six on one die so always gets to make one action. The Assassin kills just by beating his opponent rather than by doubling him. A character with Stealth can’t be shot at if in contact with an item of terrain.
These Special Rules take a bit of mastering in some cases but are crucial in giving the game its flavour.
Building Your Warband
A typical 300 point warband will feature about half-a-dozen figures but I managed to get my goblins up to a dozen by giving them crap stats!
Using SoBH in GloranthaWhile SoBH is a generic rules set, it will produce perfectly good Gloranthan games. Half a dozen figures a side would make for a nice little Lunar dart competition. Add a few more figures and you could do a Dark Troll attack on a benighted Issaries caravan. Given the right figures I could see myself gaming:
- Vormaini Pirates raid Trowjang
- Balazaring hunters encounter a family of smilodons
- A Mostali raiding party tries to destroy stolen Dwarf technology at Harpoon
- Char Un Cossacks attempt to burn Apple Lane
- Elves encounter Trolls where the Garden meets the Troll Stronglands.
SartaritesLet’s assume we’re looking at gaming raids between Sartarite clans or skirmishes between rebels and some Lunar garrison troops. My usual assumption is that the majority of troops will be rated 4+ for quality rising to 3+ for the better-trained or more warlike types. I’d save 2+ for the really elite types and tend to avoid 5+ as it makes for a really dull game for the player concerned unless he can boost the figures’ quality ratings using a Leader model.
As such I think I’d rate Sartarite Fyrd as Quality 4+ and give them an average sort of Combat value of 3. To be honest, you could stop there and not bother with special rules for these guys but Forester (no reduction to move distance when moving through woods) would help them against Lunar heavy troops. If you think the clan in question are less warlike and are likely to flee without a motivational leader, make them Quality 5+ but give them a Leader and make them Gregarious (+1 to quality rolls when acting as a group).
Weaponthanes or other leaders should generally be more likely to hang around and better in combat. I’d start with Quality 3+ and a Combat value of 4. Leader is an obvious addition to this.
If you wanted a warband built on a Humakti temple you’d probably want to rate all of your figures at least Combat 4 and I’d suggest Fearless (don’t take morale tests when friends suffer a gruesome kill) as an appropriate Special Rule. The leader of a Warband like this might have the Leader Special Rule but as losing a Leader requires nearby friends to make a morale check you might decide to go with Hero instead.
LunarsIf we’re gaming Sartarite fyrd against Lunar peltasts I’d be tempted to give the Lunars better Quality ratings to reflect their formal military training. So if their fyrd are 4+ our peltasts are 3+. The peltasts give us a chance to look at missile weapons. My preference would be to treat javelins as short range weapons so they get the Shooter (short) Special Rule.
Perhaps our Lunar patrol is led by a keen young Tribune? I’d be tempted to give him a 4+ quality to reflect his inexperience but boost up his usefulness with Long Move and Mounted. The former is self-explanatory whilst the latter gives him +1 in combat against foot troops and the ability to freely disengage from them too.
If the Lunars then call in the Char Un to deal with these troublemakers, we’re obviously looking at Mounted troops and I think Savage (all kills are Gruesome) is probably called for.
A Few OthersI’m sure by now you’re beginning to see how Song of Blades and Heroes has the potential to capture the flavour of Gloranthan skirmish warfare. I’ll finish off with a few more suggestions, though.
Gorp – Quality 6+, Combat 2, Slow, Poison, Animal
Krarshtkid – Quality 2+, Combat 3, Long Move, Stealth
Morokanth – Quality 4+, Combat 5, Savage.
Sun Dome Templar – Quality 3+, Combat 5, Steadfast, Gregarious.
And finally, a word about scaling. With characters like Jar-Eel and Harrek around this will always be an issue for any Gloranthan game. Personally, I’m not sure I’d bother with these super characters – play HOTT or Dragon Pass if you want to include them in your games. But if you insist, I suppose we could rate Harrek as Quality 2+, Combat 6, Assassin, Fearless, Forester, Free Disengage, Hero, Leader, Long Move, Magic User, Savage, Terror, and Tough. (Using these traits, Harrek would cost 280 points out of 300!- ed.)