USR Friday: War and Military Campaigns

Due to life happening, this is a Friday entry; I’ll get back to normal Wednesdays next week.

War! What is it good for? Well, in game terms, it’s good for a lot of fun adventuring. War doesn’t necessarily translate into RPGs — the military is for big units of soldiers, a role playing game is for one person per player — but military-style action does make for good gaming. Here’s a few ideas for a team of adventurers in a military game setting:

  • Commando raids to defeat or capture an enemy leader
  • Silent scouting raids to infiltrate enemy lines
  • Demolitions teams that plant explosives in strategic spots
  • Recruit reinforcements to bring to the battle
  • Negotiating peace talks despite extreme tension between the warring sides

But of course a military action campaign does need some guidelines for simulating the military action. Dozens or even thousands of troops are charging at one another or opening fire while the heroes slip off to the side to get their mission done. The heroes could take a turn as temporary battlefield commanders (think of the big battles in “The Lord Of The Rings” or many “Captain America” comics). Or the story could lead to an extra level of challenge if the enemy forces win the day: if the Nazis cut off the Allied supply lines but the adventuring party is pushing toward Berlin, they’ll have to make do with the resources available to them.

War! Good God, y'all!
The only kind of war I like: historical re-enactments.

The conflicts between the forces the heroes support and the enemy army can be simulated with a die roll, called a Battle Roll. The simplest way to do this (the USR way) is to assign each force a bonus, depending on a few factors:

Size

The force with the bigger number of troops gets a +1. If they’re reasonably evenly matched, no bonus to either side.

Ability

A well-trained, disciplined force of elite troops (like Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines) gets a +1. A force of wild barbarians is strong and intimidating, worth at least a +1. A rag-tag group of insurgents or freedom fighters, or an unruly mob armed with pitchforks and torches, is probably a -1. Most troops, though, are the “average” soldier and offer no bonus (Star Wars stormtroopers, World War II grunts, and so on).

Equipment

Tanks and fighter jets, when the other side doesn’t have them, provides a +2 bonus. A samurai katana and a knight’s longsword are equal, but the force with assault rifles has a +1 against them.

Heroes

If the player characters take direct part in the battle, they provide a +2 bonus to the combat.

Add up the bonuses, and roll 1d6 + that total for each side. The higher result wins the round of fighting (representing a few moments to months of battle, depending on the story that you’re telling), and the losing force earns a -1 penalty to future Battle Rolls. If the rolls are a tie, there’s no penalty applied; the battle just slogs on. When one force’s roll is zero or less, the battle is over. There may be more battles to fight, or this may mean the end of the entire war, leading to time for peace talks or for a vanquishing army to add more territory to its holdings.

If the heroes’ side of the battle loses a round of fighting, one of the characters is personally affected (choose one randomly). It could simply be hit point damage, or it could affect the story: maybe a valuable item is lost, or a close friend is killed in the fighting.

Sir Lacren turned to face the men and women behind him. Last night, elven scouts had reported an army of trolls on the march. Lacren, the mage Ysellius, and the nature priest Berrak agreed: they would lead the army of South Watch against the trolls. The trolls were on foot; their slow movement gave Ysellius and Berrak time to create a few catapults and trebuchets to support the archers, mounted knights, and swordsmen and women South Watch could call to arms.

Adding up the bonuses, we have:

Trolls: Strong +1

Humans: Led by heroes (player characters) +2, War machines +1

The battle commences! After the players fight through one-on-one combats between their characters and specific trolls, a Battle Roll is made. The heroes roll a 5 and add 3 for a total of 8. The game master rolls for the trolls, and gets a total of 4. The trolls lose this round of the battle, and have a -1 to their Battle Rolls until the battle is over.

USR Wednesdays: Wild West

Cowboys and gunslingers is one of those sub-genres that hasn’t had too much of a history in the RPG realm, aside from the Weird West of the “Deadlands” RPG. The original tabletop western RPG is “Boot Hill” from TSR, and most of the generic game systems have had their own western component, from Rolemaster’s “Outlaw” to GURPS “Old West.”

USR is no different; Western USR has been out for several years. Today’s post isn’t throwing anything that came before it away. Instead, it’s just blending the old with the new. Well, new in reference to things on this blog. There were Quick Draw rules and some rules for Guns.

Cowboys, baby.
Ropin’ a steer is an attack roll, too. (image: public domain)

As always, a weapon provides a bonus to attack rolls. Using the Quick Draw rules, it also has a penalty to a character’s Initiative. Here’s the list again, scaled down to classic western weapons.

+1 (Light) weapons: Derringer, Bowie knife, cavalry saber

+2 (Medium) weapons: Wild West “six-shooter,” carbine (Wild West “buffalo rifle”), pick, tomahawk

A gatling gun has a +2/+1 attack bonus, and dynamite follows the gun rules from earlier in this blog except it uses a D8 instead of the modern explosive’s D10.

A horse gives its rider a +1 to Action rolls when riding is involved — chases, stunts — or maybe a +2 for that perfect mount.

And that leaves us room for an adventure for our band of desperadoes or lawmen (or even magic-using card players or steampunk gadget-makers, if you like).

1. Quest giver

There’s gold in them thar hills! At least, there was, until the Black Jacks, a gang of ruffians led by Black Jack himself (his Ego is a D12, and would be higher if he could), stole a half-dozen wagonloads of bullion and took it somewhere. That’s all the old prospector can tell you, even after you buy him a drink.

2. Early encounter

The mayor and the banker don’t know where the Black Jacks are. Nobody really wants to talk about the gang in the town of Patience, even after you rescue the mayor’s daughter from a pack of ravenous coyotes (these could be actual canines, or demon animals, or even a rival gang of thugs).

3. Clue to final confrontation

At the hoedown the evening after the heroes rescue the mayor’s daughter, she says she knows something about where the Black Jacks are: she overheard some of the town’s elders talking about needing money to solidify a deal with Duke Abbey, an English nobleman who’s been to town a few times before.

4. Secondary encounter or challenge

Investigation of bank records and the mayor’s papers reveal a letter describing a meeting between the Duke and Black Jack in two days, at the old mine two days’ ride from town.

5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite)

The journey to the mine is loaded with trouble, from a flash flood that turns to a mudslide to an angered grizzly bear wandering into camp.

6. Final boss

Arriving at the mine in time for the meeting, the heroes find Black Jack and his gang, the Duke (who has a few deadly gadgets in his sword-cane), and the mayor himself, who never told his daughter about the gambling debts he owes to Black Jack. Jack can have as many lieutenants as he needs to make sure every player character gets to have a quick draw showdown.

USR Wednesdays: Gun Locker

Continuing where we left off last week, we’re turning to firearms and explosives this time around. These weapons add new rules options to Domino Writing-style USR combat.

Ammunition: USR, in any form, is much too unbelievably simple to worry about ammunition. It’s assumed a character has enough ammunition (arrows, bullets, explosive charges) to never run out. But to add a little more challenge to a combat encounter, consider the following option: on an attack roll where the die result is a 1, the weapon has enough ammunition for just a single attack before it will be completely useless (or it jams). The hero won’t have time to refill ammo until it makes sense to do so in the story.

NERF Guns!
Guns everyone can agree on. (image: gadgetreview.com)

Pistol weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Dueling pistol (1600s to 1800s), needler
+2 (Medium) weapons: Regular pistol (assault pistol or revolver: .357, .38, .44, .45, 9 mm, Wild West “six-shooter,” WWII Mauser), laser pistol

Rifle weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Matchlock rifle (arquebus), flintlock (musket, blunderbuss)
+2 (Medium) weapons: Carbine (Wild West “buffalo rifle”), WWII infantry rifle
+3 (Heavy) weapons: Hunting/sniper rifle, laser rifle

Ranged weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Blow gun, bola, boomerang, sling, whip

Area of Effect weapons: When making an attack, the player names an enemy target, as usual. The attack is made with a +2 bonus to Action rolls. But an attack with one of these weapons also affects every other character (enemy and ally) within 5 feet/1 space of the target at a +1 to Action rolls. All of these attacks count as the same action for the attacking character.
The assault rifle, sub-machine gun, shotgun, “Tommy gun,” grenade, and the chain gun/mini-gun (which has a +3/+2 bonus) are all Area of Effect weapons.

Flamethrower: This is an Area of Effect weapon, which it continues to burn anything it hits, possibly causing more damage on the next turn.

Bombs and dynamite are Area of Effect weapons, but they’re also explosives. A weapon that is on a timer doesn’t rely on a hero’s skill to make an attack. Instead, treat a bomb like it has an Action stat of d10, “attacking” whenever it’s set to detonate. To disarm a bomb, a hero has to make a non-opposed Wits roll against a target number of 7 or more — and make sure the disarm attempt is appropriately tense!

Stun gun, taser: This is a special weapon that has a +1 bonus to attack, and if it hits, the opponent loses d3 turns in combat instead of taking damage. These rules can also be used for entangling weapons like nets, webs, and even whips and vines.

Tranquilizer gun: A larger version of a stun gun, with darts that attack with a +1 bonus. If the target is hit, the opponent loses d6 turns in combat instead of taking damage.

Chemicals: A chemical, whether coating a sword blade or fired from a grenade launcher, has an effect above and beyond the damage the weapon does to its target, if any.

  • Acid: d6 points of damage.
  • Nerve gas or tear gas: the opponent has -4 to his or her next die roll.
  • Poison: 1 point of damage per turn until the target is healed.
  • Sleep drug: the opponent loses d3 turns in combat.
  • Smoke gas: the opponent is unable to see on his or her next turn.

Even bigger guns, like a rocket launcher, bazooka, pulse rifle, and rail gun, may not be available to heroes to buy with Combat Gear points. If they are, the weapons probably provide a bonus of +4 or even +5.

USR Wednesdays: Weapons Rack

Though weapons and armor can be worth any bonus — in Domino Writing-style USR, they’re +1 (Light) to +3 (Heavy) — some equipment is typically bigger and badder than others. Here’s a weapon catalog to get your hero armed and dangerous, of archaic weapons. Look for guns and armor soon. This list of weapons is taken from an old role playing game I wrote years and years ago, which had a few good ideas in it, I think!

No bonus: kicks, punches, headbutts
Martial arts training offers a bonus of +1 (ninja mook) to +3 (black belt)

Archery weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Slingshot
+2 (Medium) weapons: Crossbow, longbow
+3 (Heavy) weapons: Composite bow

Blade weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Dagger (knife), cavalry saber, fencing sword (rapier, epee)
+2 (Medium) weapons: Hatchet (pick, tomahawk), laser sword, longsword, polearm (scythe, halberd), scimitar, short sword (cutlass, machete), spear
+3 (Heavy) weapons: Battle axe, chainsaw, greatsword, pike (lance)

Sword Rack
Look at all these +2s! (image: kultofathena.com)

Blunt weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Brawling weapons (brass knuckles, chain, large rock), club (baseball bat, cricket bat, baton), staff
+2 (Medium) weapons: Flail, mace, hammer
+3 (Heavy) weapons: Great hammer (maul)

Stun baton: This is a special weapon, which like other clubs has a +1 bonus to attack, but if it hits, the opponent loses d3 turns in combat.

Martial Arts weapons
+1 (Light) weapons: Caltrops, sai, throwing star (shuriken)
+2 (Medium) weapons: Katana, nunchaku

P.S.: since you’re looking for it to complete the set, the bo is a staff (blunt +1 weapon).