Works in Progress

Conqueror: Siege Assault - basic concepts

Over the next few days I will be posting some of the working rules I've developed for Conqueror: Siege Assault.  These are the trial versions and obvious need to be firmed up.

Feedback is much appreciated.

The Fortress

Fortifications over time have varied greatly, form simple earthen mounds to wooden stockades and finally stone castles.  It is impossible for one set of rules to cover all of these materials in detail (and foolish to try) so instead we will focus on the essential structures and provide rules to support attacking (or defending) them.

Curtain Walls

This is the building block of all fortresses, and their height and materials are entirely up to the players’ imagination.  For convenience, however, we shall assume that they are at least twice the height of models being used to attack them and created in sections six to twelve inches long.  They should have some form of parapet along the top where the defenders can stand and this should be wide enough to support two models.

The key features of curtain walls for our purposes are that they can be scaled using ladders and breached with greater ease than any other section of the fortress.  We will look into this in greater detail later.

Towers

Towers are self-contained defensive works that overshadow the curtain walls.  Towers are much smaller (no more than four inches on a side) and too high to be reached by ladders.  Breaching a tower is more difficult (due the deeper foundations necessary to support their immense weight) and also more dangerous to the defenders.

The Gate

The gate is the most vulnerable and therefore important point in the entire fortress.  The gate may be simply a gap in the wall or a complex building featuring a portcullis and multiple doors.  Either way, possession of the gate is usually tantamount to taking the fortress.

The Keep

Some castles may be built with a keep, which is rally just an enlarged tower.  The keep is too high for ladders, too difficult to batter down (since it is often inside the curtain walls) and it serves as the last refuge for the defenders.

Rally Points

In field battles, routed units have plenty of room to try to make good their escape, but within the confines of a castle, there are less options.

Troops outside the walls will fleet away from the enemy as normal, with defending troops attempting to reach the (relative) safety of their fortress. 

Within the walls, defending troops will attempted to reach a rally point, that is a spot within the castle selected before the game begins.  This will usually be a tower or the keep (if there is one).

Attacking troops will attempt to escape and will only rally outside the walls.

Special Morale Rules

Limited Outranking

Because the tight confines of a fortress do not lend themselves to fighting in close order, combats will generally not see the outranking bonus applied.  Thus units scaling walls, using siege towers, etc. will not receive this bonus.  However, where space permits (such as a breach), the extra weight of numbers will be felt.  The simple rule is: if both sides are fighting from a position where normal ranks can be utilized, this is included, if either side cannot benefit from it, no one does.

Desperate Defenders

Troops defending a fortress are under no illusion regarding their chances of escape, and typically will fight with greater determination than in the open field.  To reflect this “backs against the wall” mentality, defending troops gain a +1 bonus to all their morale rolls.  Note that this applies even to units outside the fortress (since the sortie may be their best hope to survive).

Special Shooting Rules

Full Cover

Units within a fortress generally benefit from a -2 to hit modifier for being in heavy cover.  However, if the walls are properly battlemented (which they should be), units may take Full Cover, that is stay below the parapet or step back from the arrow loop to avoid any risk of taking missile fire.

Units within a fortress may start the game in Full Cover (and it’s a good idea to assume that they do), and may only emerge from it during their own movement phase – they may not “pop up” during the opposing player’s turn to participate in their portion of the shooting phase.

Once out of Full Cover, they may not return to it until it is once again their Movement Phase.

Overhead Bombardment

Models on the top of walls or towers are assumed to be equipped with copious amounts of missiles (rocks, boiling liquids, darts, pianos, kitchen sinks) that can be dropped on the attackers below.

These weapons make missile attacks as normal during the Shooting Phase using their unmodified Shooting Skill.  Unlike normal missile attacks, the resulting hits are not halved (because the targets are so closely packed together) and have an armor save modifier of -2.

Models may only target models “beneath them” aligning as if they were to engage in Melee Combat.  Just as with Melee Combat, only a partial overlap is needed to conduct the attack.

Models may move into position (either up to the wall or along it to reach a troop concentration) and still attack without penalty.

 


Geek Guns on hiatus

After 23 consecutive installments, I've decided to take a break from Geek Guns over at Bleedingfool.com.  The decision is based on a thinning of material to work with and also declining feedback.  People used to comment on the articles and now they're not.

I'm not writing this stuff for my health, so I figure I'll take a break, recharge, and maybe write more later.

There's also a sense that in trying to sustain a weekly column, I'm siphoning off creative energy that could be used for bigger projects.   When I was writing Long Live Death, I basically abandoned that site, and I started writing again only after the book was published.

So I'm going to take a break and see what happens.  I've got some ideas for a book and I know I'm being horribly indecisive, vacillating back and forth between projects.  My hope is that if I dam up the creative energy for a bit, it will cut a new channel and I can roll with the flood.


Conqueror: Siege Assault continues to grind forward

I've been tinkering with siege rules for Conqueror: Fields of Victory on and off for years.  I'm currently in an "on" cycle.

Though I'm not sure what will come of it, it's fun to do some recreational game design, especially when it involves cool figures and a neat custom-built castle.

One of the great obstacles is integrating siege warfare into a system designed for open-field combat.  In the close confines of castle courtyards and along battlements, things like wheeling and formation changes just don't apply.

I also want to ensure that I'm using the right amount of detail.  That was the hallmark of the original system and I want to retain that.

At this point, I'm looking only at the culminating assault (hence the name) rather than the strategies of a siege (undermining, blockade, etc.) so that the game moves quickly.  I've been tinkering with a grid where each player picks an option and that sets up the type of battle, but it's getting somewhat complex.

In the mean time, the assault ladders are being placed and battle beckons.


Conquest of the Empire 30 years later

Over the past few weeks I've been doing some housecleaning and that's involved reviewing my game collection.

This in turn has caused me to pull out a few venerable designs and re-examine them.

Those of a certain age will recall that during the 1980s, Milton Bradley made a concerted push into the burgeoning wargaming market with their Game Master series, which combined high production values and plastic army men with a design philosophy that was closer to Risk or Stratego than Advanced Squad Leader.

The most prolific offspring of this project was Axis and Allies, which has spawned endless variants, both official and player-driven.   However, that was not the first offering, and earlier this week I dug into a battered copy of it's predecessor: Conquest of the Empire.

This was a multi-player strategy game of the Roman Empire at its height.  The players are rival claimants for the imperial purple, and they fight out their contest on an excellent map of the Empire.

I bought my copy from a classmate, and it was already well-used and missing all the money tokens.  That didn't bother me because I had no interest in the game as written, but instead used it as a test bed for various alternative mechanics.

Thus my first actual playing of the game was only a few days ago.  It kind of sucks.

I was warned about this from my classmate, and I now see that it was true.  I won't go into detail, but if you are expecting the classical design excellence of the peerless Shogun (since renamed Samurai Swords and maybe renamed again), you're in for a huge disappointment.  Combat consists of single die rolls to eliminate individual units, which is a grossly inefficient way of fighting battles.  Apparently this was before MB figured out that hurling fist-fulls of dice is not only faster, but much more satisfying.

There's also an inexplicable rule for inflation that I won't go into, but essentially it punishes players for capturing too much territory.

All that being said, the game still looks beautiful, and a single page of updates should suffice to make this the high-quality social experience it was meant to be.  I'll post it once I get a chance to try them out.


Well, let's see how 2021 works out

Happy New Year!  As the song says, it's been a long December but there's reason to believe that this year will be better than the last.

Taken as a whole, 2020 has not been without its joys.  The publication of Vampires of Michigan and the subsequent writing of Long Live Death and its success was not something I contemplated a year ago.   The COVID lockdown has put our family under great strain, but we also celebrated the birth of our first grandchild, who has been a source of unceasing wonderment and happiness.

In many ways, how we approach life determines how we perceive it.  What makes a "very good" year versus a bad one?  Folks used to advise people to "count their blessings" and I think it's good advice - though not something sad people want to hear.

That's my other observation this year, something I'd noted before but I've now seen it spread on a far wider basis: misery loves company.  Online places I used to visit have become so unrelentingly negative that I can't even stomach them.  If you bring in good cheer, they boo you right off the network.

I'm not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions but I am going to enhance my efforts this winter to push aside complaints and try to hold onto moments of joy that might otherwise have been lost.

 


Vampires of Michigan: Pandemic

The title of this post is a teaser for a sequel I've been mulling over for a while.  I know, I know, I keep announcing my next project only to bail a day later.

The problem of course is twofold.

The first issue is not knowing how things will turn out.  That's a pretty tough position for a novelist to be in, especially if one wants an intricate plot. 

Then there's the problem that writing about reality cuts into the escapism that is part of why I write.

I suppose I could go all-in on wishcast/Mary Sue type work, but I like to think I'm above such things.

Still, I've got a notion how it would work, so maybe once the vaccine and election work their way through, I'll get to work.  Though it sold less than some of my other books, Vampires of Michigan did get some of the strongest fan response I've seen.  I'm pretty sure people would read it.

Maybe next year.


Music to write by

Last night I was bit by the writing bug, and cranked out 500 words on a new project, but I have no idea if it will go anywhere.

I seem to do a lot of that lately.  It isn't exactly writer's block, since I'm not under any obligation to write anything at the moment.

A big part of writing is mood.  With each book, I've had something of a soundtrack to facilitate creativity.

Battle Officer Wolf was written while listening to Enya's Amarantine album, over and over again.

For much of A Man of Destiny, I had a Star Wars mix of the darker ("imperial") pieces playing.

I had a special mix as well for Vampires of Michigan, which drew heavily from the Blood and Chocolate soundtrack.  (Yes, I know that movie was about werewolves, so sue me.)

Long Live Death didn't really have a soundtrack.  I just wrote it in a manic frenzy perhaps sensing the parallels between the faltering Second Spanish Republic and our own.

As for my other books, there was nothing specific, though Three Weeks with the Coasties sometimes caused me to look up the music that was popular at the time.

In any event, 2020 is winding down and so it will soon be time for me to start my 2021 book. 

Perhaps instead of thinking about topics, I need to think about music?


Another COVID project: a World War I card game

Around the time I was in college the great 90s card game fad started.  Perhaps the two biggest names to come out of it were Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering, but the fascination with custom/collectible card games quickly spilled over into wargaming circles.

The game that got my attention was Dixie by Columbia Games (which is still around).  Dixie was a fun little game of the American Civil War that allowed one to do run a small-scale in half an hour or so.  It was essentially the same combat system as the one used in their 'block games' for tactical combat.

It wasn't in the same class as other card games because while one could 'create' a deck, it had to conform to historical realities (one couldn't create a division made up of Iron Brigades, for example).

There were other card games, whose names I've long since forgotten, but Dixie inspired me to make my own game set in World War I.  I called it "Hymn of Hate" after a German war-song the British appropriated to describe the morning and evening barrages that fell daily.

The game went nowhere, though I did commission some artist friends of mine to make cards for it.  They went on to bigger and better things, and even used the card art, so at least it wasn't wasted.

All of this is the back story to a project that helped me keep Election Madness at bay, which was resurrecting that card game.

Between Hymn of Hate's original development and that last few weeks, I've played a lot more card games.  I got pretty addicted to Decipher's Star Wars card game (before George Lucas nuked it) and still have a good-sized collection of cards.  I've also used cards for some of my military operational wargames.

The result is that I've got a first-run version put together that pits two corps/army level commanders against each other for the mastery of the front lines.  I've been using normal playing cards to work with, but modifying deck composition to suit my order of battle needs.  At present, each side has a 60 card deck which includes the standard 52 cards plus the Jokers, two additional Aces, two additional Jacks and two more Jokers (total of 4 Jokers).

The number cards represent infantry battalions while the face cards represent barrages, trench artillery and recon elements.  I treat Aces as 'wild cards' that can do many different things to give the game more elements of strategy.

My goal is to get this to around 1/2 hour playing time, and it's getting close.  The trick is to balance victory requirements with decision making and also ensure that pure card draw doesn't determine the outcome.

I have a draft set of rules and when I get it cleaned up, I'll post it here.


Lord Jim and other thoughts

I'm most of the way through Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, which I haven't read in 20 years.  Conrad is more long-winded than I remember, but when he picks up the pace, he's great.  I see why he and Ford Madox Ford got along so well: they both really groove to long-form ruminations in their work.

Once I finish, I'll start reading Conrad's Eastern World, a detailed look at the sources for his writing.  My annotated copy of Lord Jim has lots of references to it, so I figured I'd grab a copy.  It's out of print, but I got a very new-looking copy.

I've always found Conrad evocative and getting back into him is a respite from the endless turmoil we're going through.  I'd like to write something soon - if only for the escape it provides.  Our household is currently in a state of transition (one kid moving back in, another moving out) so when the dust finally settles I might be able to write again. 

I've also started a gaming project which will get its own post later.


Leaving Ford for Waugh

Over the last several weeks I've been re-reading Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End series.

I've now reached the final book, The Last Post and it is just as disappointing as I remember.

Ford's series follows the pre-war and wartime experiences of Christoper Tietjens, a Yorkshire aristocrat with an unhappy marriage and outdated scruples.  He's an amusing, well-drawn character and the books are chock full of amusing social commentary.

The first book, Some Do Not- is a bit long-winded because Ford tends to jump back and forth in time and indulge in lavish description punctuated by lengthy internal monologues.

The next two books - which center on World War I itself - are much better.  They are focused, funny but also poignant.

Taken as a trilogy, it's an excellent work, which is why some critics (apparently including Graham Greene) cut the fourth book out of the series.

I agree with that assessment.  The Last Post is nominally about what happens to the characters after the war, but it is told from the point of view of Christopher's eldest brother Mark, who has grown so disgusted with the world that he has faked a stroke and now lies mute in bed, moving only his eyes.

He thinks a lot, though, and we get to follow his thoughts, which loop back and forth, and repeat themselves in a very tedious manner.  The whole book could have been condensed into a short story, but Ford is indulging himself, introducing the perspectives of Mark's wife, the gamekeeper, handyman, maid, etc. 

All of which is painfully detailed and rendered into various dialects.

I simply can't get into it, so I'm quitting early and turning back to one of my favorites, the Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh.  I intend to write a lengthy comparison between the two books because they are very similar.

Given my work and family schedule, I've abandoned serious writing for the time being.  I've begun a series of pieces for bleedingfool.com that will run on a weekly basis and I'll let you know when they go live.