Friday, August 10, 2012

Knights and Magick

I am envious (sometimes) of those people who can keep their mind and efforts on a single project for an extended period of time. Long experience suggests, though, that I will never be one of them...

I keep a finger in the role playing game world, in the forlorn hope that I might someday have some energy to spare for a game. I ran across the following on earlier this week:

This Kickstarter project is reaching the level where it is looking fairly tempting. long as I don't think about minor things like where the painting time is going to come from. I like the idea of plastics, especially for transportability, but not the need to build them from multiple tiny parts like most of the new hard plastic ranges. I also look at this and see all of the elements needed for a skirmish game project. Some of my favorite projects have been those with some outside constraint on them. The Medieval Mayhem project, for example, was originally built to a tight budget for a competition. So building something out of this one batch of figures might provide an interesting limitation. I sent my son off to the FLGS to pick up a Reaper sample figure in this plastic. I'll be attempting to paint it up this weekend, afer which I'll know for sure whether I'm in on this...

While brainstorming about this fantasy digression, I started thinking about the rules I might use. My Song of Blades and Heroes playtest in April was reasonable (despite Norman's distaste for the activation mechanic). However, my usual "go-to" rules for fantasy are Knights and Magic:

Knights and Magick was copyrighted by Heritage in 1980. I think that I picked my copy up at Origins in 1982, shortly after moving away from home for my first job. My original D&D/wargaming group had been playing it for some time, after spending 1976 to 1980 casting around for a set of rules that suited us and our figure collections. Chainmail, for example, required "too many figures", and the original D&D miniatures rules, Swords and Spells, didn't use dice for combat (which *still* seems odd). We also used to fight most of our games on a rather cramped little 3x4 foot table.

In a modern version of this, we had a nostalgia/reunion game in 2008, with a sixty or seventy figure skirmish on a similarly sized table at my parents house. Shown here are two other members of my original gaming group.

I think the overall result was fairly effective, and we had a good time with it, which was the point.

K&M is an interesting product. It was written by Arnold Hendrick, and developed and playtested by a team that included most of the cast of characters from the late, lamented Major General's Page. It is fairly straightforward, with an "I go, you go" turn sequence with one twist: all missile fire is done during the opponent's movement phase. (I borrowed this when I did my own Medieval Mayhem skirmish rules.) This has two happy effects : units can't run from cover to cover with impunity (or needing some sort of opportunity fire rule), and players stay engaged throughout both sides of the turn. Morale is checked to charge, to stand, and at casualty check point levels. Combat rolls are made against a target number read from a chart cross-indexing attacker weapon type with defender armor class, and modified by a figure quality rating and a short list of situational modifiers. The chart is a bit finicky by 21st century standards, but usable. I have copied selected portions of it when using the rules for things like historical Dark Ages skirmishing, to simplify the lookup procedures.

The rules are scalable. In the basic rules, it is anticipated that figures are deployed in units, perhaps of a dozen or so. Advanced/optional rules add a more detailed man-to-man level, with a active defense/parry ability added to figures, and the unit/leader rules deemphasized. It is noted that these rules should only be used in small games, as they'll add to the length of turns and slow down combat by reducing casualties. The rules are intended to be usable for historical and fantasy games, so there are optional rules for chariots, elephants, sieges, castles, and so on, as well as magic. That covers the first volume.

The second volume includes a guide to painting miniatures. The section on heraldry is particularly good; I've used it as a handout for a Historicon painting class. There are also sample army lists for typical fantasy armies such as elves and orcs, and for a range of historical armies from ancient Egyptians to medieval samurai.

Volume three covers scenarios. It includes a DIY point system which allows you to put numbers to whatever you might need. Then and now, I consider that to be a useful factor in rules. If I'm theoretically tied to the company for figures and point values, I'm not really interested. There are also some sample scenarios. Some of these are pleasantly bonsai'd. The smallest is laid out for a 2' by 3' table, and has force levels suggesting about 60 figures total. The rules will actually support games with even fewer figures, so I'm surprised that they didn't include an even tinier scenario. Nevertheless, the suggestion was there that you could get started playing in a small space with a small collection of figures and scenery and build from there. There is also, at the high end, a campaign system.

Volume four covers monsters for fantasy games. While keyed to the original Heritage figure lines, most of the monster types are generic enough that every manufacturer out there today covers them, and the generic point system from volume three should cover the rest.

Volume five is half-sized and covers spells. I'm not entirely convinced that the magic system is balanced in a point system free-for-all, but it is workable with a referee.

It is a very comprehensive package.


  1. I'm in exactly the same quandary regarding the Bones kickstarter. Sorely tempted to dabble in fantasy a bit with them. Looking forward to your review of the sample figure you mentioned painting. The plastic is a bit flexible and I'm interested in seeing how it holds paint.

  2. Starting to paint...I'll post a little later. As I type this, it's just in black gesso...