Chainmailing It In

A couple weeks back, my daughter and I were chatting about games, and I realized that she hadn’t played a wargame yet. I thought at first about brushing up on the old Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules, but then decided it would be fun to use Gygax’s Chainmail rules. I’d never used them before, so it was an opportunity for my daughter and I to both learn something new.

First step – read the rules. Second step – try to reorganize the rules so I could understand them. What the founders of the hobby had in creativity they made up for with a lack of organization! In the process of learning the rules, I discovered some things about old school D&D while I also gained an appreciation for those rules. What follows are a few takeaways for those who dig the old school, and those who have never read Chainmail. FYI – I’m using the third edition rules, which I found online.

Figures in the game are divided into two sorts, each using a different combat table. The lowliest of the figurines are the regular troops. These fellows use one of two combat tables. If each figurine counts as 10 or 20 warriors, you use the mass combat table. On this table, you roll 1d6 (one dice is easier when rolling lots of dice for lots of figures), and have one of six ratings for attack and defense – light foot, heavy foot, armored foot, light horse, medium horse and heavy horse.

The closest thing in later editions of D&D to these figures is the men-at-arms, bandit (brigands), etc. In the first edition of D&D, though, these fellows show up on the character class combat tables – Men, or Men +1.

If each figure represent a single warrior, you use the man-to-man combat table. On this table you roll 2d6, with your chance of hitting based on the attacker’s weapon and the defender’s armor. This isn’t completely different than the mass combat table, but is more fleshed out – lots of weapon types, lots of armor types.

Beyond these normal warriors, you have the monsters, heroes, super heroes and wizards from the fantasy supplement. Wizards get five “levels” – seer, magician, warlock, sorcerer and wizard. Heroes fight as well as four men, and thus in D&D they are fourth level fighters. Super heroes are eighth level fighters, because they fight as well as eight men. Wizards fight as well as two men. There are special heroes called rangers – who are essentially heroes +1 (which is why AD&D rangers have two hit dice at first level).

The hero-types can attack using the mass combat table or man-to-man table against normal troops, or they can use the fantasy combat table to fight other fantasy figures. Against normal troops, heroes take 4 kills to kill, and super heroes 8.

With hero-types, you also see the origin of saving throws. Several monsters have special abilities that the hero-types can ignore if they roll above a number on 2d6.

On the fantasy table, the chances to kill are based on the type of attacker and type of defender. If a balrog is attacking a dragon, it needs to roll an 11+ on 2d6 to kill it. The dragon needs a 6+ to kill the balrog. Elves and fairies use this table (sort of) if they have a magic sword. This suggests that the inability of some monsters to be damaged by anything other than magic weapons or monsters with lots of Hit Dice originates here.

You better leave this one to me guys

OD&D Chainmail Style

If we were to carry these rules over to D&D, we would find some interesting changes. Combat between humanoids would pit weapon versus armor, not attack bonus vs. Armor Class. PC’s above first level would dominate lesser foes by the number of hits it takes to kill them, and by the number of enemies they can attack. This is an important point that often gets  lost in later editions. Melee rounds are one minute long. The number of attacks a figure gets are not a representation of how many times he can swing a sword during the round, but rather an abstraction of the number of potential chances he has to inflict damage on an opponent.

In mass combat, hero-types and monsters can attack multiple targets, but not necessarily make multiple “attacks” against a single target. This is reinforced by the fact that in fantasy combat, pitting heroes and monsters against one another, the entire combat is resolved with a single attack roll by each combatant, and no multiple hits are required to kill – it’s just one and done.

Bringing this concept into D&D could be interesting. A monster with two claw attacks and one bit attack can use them to attack three foes, but can only use any one of these attacks against a single figure.


The fantasy combat table does include the concept of improved attack ability, even though the mass combat table does not. For example:

Figure Wight Giant Dragon Balrog
Hero 6 11 12 11
Super Hero 4 9 10 9
Wizard 6 11 9 7

This table shows the target number (equal to beat) on 2d6 a figure needs to destroy the listed foes. Comparing the hero to the super hero, you see the super hero effectively gets a +2 bonus on his attacks. This translates into different percentage increases due to the nature of rolling 2d6, as opposed to 1d20. It averages out to a +25% bonus across the board (including monsters not on the table above), or a +5 bonus to hit on 1d20. Interestingly, the wizard attacks wights and giants as well as a hero, but is better than a super hero at defeating dragons and balrogs.

Improvement in “level” is more obvious for wizards in Chainmail than for heroes/super heroes. There are the five levels of magic-user, from seer to wizard. In D&D, seer is a title for 2nd level magic-users, magician for 6th level, warlock for 8th level, sorcerer for 9th and wizard for 10th.

With each level, you gain more spells, a greater range for your spells, and your chance to successfully cast spells increases. Yes – chance to cast spells. Spells come in six compexities, with a target number that must be rolled on 2d6 for the spell to happen immediately. Failure by 1 means the spell goes off in the next round. Failure by more than 1 means the spell casting fails completely.

When Chainmail became Dungeons & Dragons, they combined the idea of improved attack ability from the fantasy combat table with the multiple attacks/kills concept in the form of Hit Dice/hit points. The weapon vs. armor idea survived in AD&D as the weapons vs. Armor Class table that most of us ignored as kids, and as the combat system used in Gamma World.

In retrospect, the introduction of levels (and experience points) was a very cool idea, bringing a facet to the game absent in Chainmail. Rather than just being a “hero” wandering around a dungeon looking for treasure, you got to play out the building of a legend, from humble origins as a man-at-arms to eventual super hero status. That innovation is probably what helped build Dungeons & Dragons itself into a legend.

Into the Unknown

Happy Fourth of July folks! Remember, it’s not enough to value your own liberty, you have to love other peoples’ liberty just as much as your own.

And also remember – two or three hotdogs is probably sufficient unless you want to put on a fireworks display in your gut to rival the one outside tonight.

Now then … I’m busy working, as I’ve mentioned before, on an Old West supplement for Grit & Vigor. I love working on things like this because they give me a chance to learn about things about which I only have a passing knowledge. A couple days ago, I started working on something like random encounter tables for PCs wandering around in the wilderness. I wanted to keep them relatively simple – just suggestions a VM could use to spice up an overland journey. I started out with some general categories of “encounter”, and then realized that I had no idea how frequent these things should be. What to do?

Then it occurred to me … Lewis and Clark kept a diary!

So now I’ve spent a few hours going through the diary and making notes on what they encountered each day, both while traveling in the summer and fall, and camping in the winter. Pretty interesting stuff – I highly suggest giving it a look – and here are the results, according to my encounter definitions (with the definitions following):

Encounter Travel Camp
No Encounter 01-46 01-31
Danger 47-57 32
Ruins 58-67
Herd 68-76 33-34
Predator 77-84
Warriors 85-91 35-40
Settlement 92-96
Travelers 97-99 41-00
Omen 00

Danger: This is a danger of some kind that strikes a person unawares, such as a snake bite, illness, a fall that results in injury, pests, etc.

Herd: This is an encounter with numerous large her-bivores, such as bighorn sheep, elk or bison.

Omen: This is an event that has spiritual significance to one or several of the adventurers.

Predator: This is an encounter with a large predator capable of killing an adventurer, especially if it achieves surprise. In the American West, this is probably a bear, cougar or pack of wolves.

Ruins: The remains of a settlement, such as mounds left by the Mississippian Culture, or an abandoned settlement (see below).

Settlement: A settlement appropriate to the region and time period. This includes trading posts and forts.

Travelers: An encounter with a small or large group of travelers. These people may or may not be capable of defending themselves, but their purpose is not one of violence and the group probably includes women and children. This could be a wagon train, a migration of American Indians or a prospector and his mule. There is a 1% chance that they are accompanied by a famous person appropriate to the time and place.

Warriors: An encounter with a relatively small band of armed men. It could be a hunting or war party of American Indians, a troop of U.S. Cavalry, a gang of outlaws or European fur trappers. There is a 1% chance that they are accompanied by a famous person appropriate to the time and place.

That’s enough for today – I have to prep the dog for the horrors of fireworks tonight. Be good to one another folks – love each other – it’s the only way forward!

History of NOD Part IV

Wow – so I let myself get lax on updating the blog again. In my defense, I’ve been super busy at work (real work, that one that plays for my mansion and gold-plated yacht) and super busy at home (NOD Companion just needs a little editing and layout work, NOD 22 is coming along nicely, Mystery Men! got a small revision and ACTION X has been reborn as GRIT & VIGOR and is also coming along nicely). So, there’s my excuse. Here’s my post …


With the power of the elves and dwarves broken, the world was left to the humans and their ilk. We now reach a time a scant five thousand years ago.

As the dragons of Mu-Pan slowly retired into secret places, they left their scions in charge of their warring kingdoms. In time, they would be united in an empire that would have to tolerate numerous dynastic changes and revolutions and stand up to the machinations of the weird lords of Tsanjan.

Thule harbored a rogue elven land called Pohiola. This nightmare kingdom would slowly give way to the invasions of the horsemen of the steppe, as they laid the foundations for such kingdoms as Mab, Luhan and Azsor.

Antilia and Hybresail would remain largely wild places, home as they were to the shattered homeland of elves and dwarves, its human and demi-human populations reduced to barbarism.

In the Motherlands and Lemuria, the human populations learned well from their former elven masters, and founded sorcerous empires founded on demon worship. In time, such empires as Irem, Nabu and Kolos would fall in spectacular eldritch fashion. In their ashes, a new empire was born that would rule much of the Motherlands – Nomo. Nomo was founded when a band of elven adventurers led by Prince Partholon left the shores of Antilia in a dozen longships and make their way to the Motherlands. Finding themselves among a tribe of human barbarians, they soon asserted themselves as their masters, founding the city-state of Nomo and eventually extending their control over much of the sub-continent. Under Nomo’s emperors and empresses a 2,000 year empire was begun which would end only with the disappearance of the Emperor during adventures in the mysterious West.

With the emperor’s disappearance, Nomo fell into factional fighting, with each faction supporting its own candidate for emperor. The former tributary kings and queens in the empire also staked their claims on the throne.

Thus it is in today’s land of NOD. City-states built on the ruins of kingdoms built on the ruins of empires, all threatened by encroaching chaos.

In Blood & Treasure, I introduced the notion of variant classes. These were meant to illustrate the way one might create new classes using old classes as a base, with fairly minor changes.


Half-orcs often grow up on the mean streets, learning to excel not as trained fighters but as street brawlers. These half-orc thugs advance as barbarians, save for as follows: They may only use padded or leather armor and bucklers, they have the following skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Gather Rumors, Hide in Shadows, Jump, Move Silently and Pick Pockets.


Gallants are elven paladins as dedicated to romance and wooing women as they are to righting wrongs and protecting the weak. While most paladins can be a bit stodgy, elven gallants are rather dashing and devil-may-care.

In a three-fold alignment system, gallants must be Lawful. In a nine-fold system, though, they need only be Good. Gallants cast spells from the bard spell list rather than the paladin spell list.


As adventurous as dwarves can be, their first loves are always gold, gems and silver. Many, if not most, get their first taste of adventure as prospectors, heading into the hills or depths in search of metals or stones to mine.

Dwarf prospectors have the following skills: Climb Sheer Surfaces, Find Traps, Hide in Shadows, Listen at Doors, Move Silently, Notice Unusual Stonework, Open Locks, Remove Traps and Spelunking. In addition, they can wield picks and hammers.


Gnomes are innately magical folk, and some learn from a young age to tailor their magical abilities to the profession of thievery. These gnome thieves are noted for their enjoyment of taunting their victims with pranks and riddles, leaving calling cards and boasting of their thefts before they happen.

In place of a gnome’s normal innate spells, a prankster can cast the following spells: Mage hand, open/closer and ventriloquism.


Many of the halflings that people meet are of a breed known as the pikey – wanderers from the east who live a semi-nomadic life among the larger races, making a living telling fortunes, picking pockets, stealing pies (they love pies) and bilking the naive.

Gypsies have the abilities of thieves, save they replace the backstab ability with the bard’s ability to fascinate. Their skills are as follows: Balance, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Escape Bonds, Gather Rumors, Hide in Shadows, Move Silently, Pick Pockets, Train Animals and Trickery.