Disclaimer: Battle! is a mechanical resolution system for mass combat maneuvers devised by Matt Weber and Jonathan White using the Burning Wheel and Burning Empires system by Luke Crane without the consent or consultation of Luke Crane or Burning Wheel Headquarters. While it is inspired by the genius there, these Battle! rules are by no means sanctioned by BWHQ.
We have playtested Battle! successfully, have found it quite fun, and do stand by these mechanics, but advise you to use it at your own peril.
The system is specifically designed to represent the commander's outlook on mass combat maneuvers while taking into account the bevy of individual components of a fantasy military company. We have used it for our GM-less Burning Kingdoms campaign, where four armies fought for supremacy over one territory.
Here are Scripting Sheets for Battle! Following are the steps taken to resolve conflicts in a Battle!
- 1 Break Down into Companies
- 2 Describe the Battle space and Draw a Map
- 3 Set Objectives
- 4 Make Contact
- 5 Set Company Dispositions
- 6 Add Positions to the Battle Map
- 7 Choose Company Actions
- 8 Specialist Actions
- 9 Matrix
Break Down into Companies
Each side in a Battle! is represented by one or more Companies. The Company has an officer/leader and an objective. These companies can be as small as a handful of thugs or as large as a Dwarven Host. The actual size of the company in play is dependant on the situation in your particular game.
The simplest and fastest battles involve just two Companies, one for each side. It is possible to add an equal number of additional Companies for each side, played by the other players at the table using seconds in command, relationships or circled up officers. These Companies would have their own objectives and act independently. It is also possible to play with multiple factions with differing intents, if multiple players lead different gangs, units, or armies.
Composition of Forces
It is key to determine the composition of your forces before you set the scale of the battle. Each player generally has an Affiliation with his company, be it a gang, a pirate crew or a vast army with multiple legions. The make-up of those companies should be pre-determined and recorded on the character sheet during character burning.
The competence of the forces is determined by the size of the commander's Affiliation. 1D = 3 skill, average troops. 2D = skill 4, trained troops. 3D = skill 5, elite troops. For a traditional armed company, each stock gets 5 lifepaths in their soldier sub-setting for free. These are the most basic, common skillsets for their troops, no matter what competence level. The affiliation is assumed to have all the skills for these lifepaths at the appropriate competence level.
Humans: Runner, Musician, Foot Soldier, Archer (or Crossbowman) and Scout Dwarves: Foot Soldier, Arbalester, Banner-Bearer, Horncaller, Axe-Bearer Elves: Rider, Herald, Soother, Bowyer, Spearbearer Orcs: Goblin, Sun-Blotter, Nightseeker, Legioner, Hatred-Bearer
If the Company is lead by a less obviously dileneated personage, such as Ships Captain, Freebooter, Thinker, Guard Captain or the like, feel free to select 5 free appropriate lifepaths that would concievably fit under their command.
A group of insuurectionists Outcasts led by a Thinker might contain Rogue Wizards, Striders, Insurrectionists, Poisoners and Smugglers, while a rebel force led by a Freebooter is more likely to have mostly Thugs, Bandits, Striders, Poisoners and Urchins.
Any higher/further lifepaths must be circled up or be represented in a character Relationship or further Affiliation. If a commander wants someone with an unusual skillset to be present during an upcoming Battle!, that goal can be accomplished with appropriate tests during the Building scenes, such as a Circles test to find a wizard who knows a particular spell.
There are multiple options for filling out any given company further.
If a favorable relationship is established during Character Burning or using the Building a Relationship rules (p.119) they may be used as a member of the Player's Company. If this is the case, they only have the applicable skills for their last lifepath, unless the player fully burns the relationship. Either way, such relationships are difficult and costly to attain, and thus give the added benefit of an applicable force or unit under them.
At some point before any given battle, circles tests may be made to locate, identify and recruit a commander of a specialty unit or force for a single upcoming battle. Failing the test means that they cannot make it to the battle in time.
Another way to build forces is to purchase other affiliations when and where applicable, either during character burning or in-game, per the Buying Into New Affiliations rules (p.118). These Affiliations are subject to the approval of the other players, and must fit the storyline.
If these affiliations are purchased, they may have the skill competency level equal to the troops of your highest affiliation. When purchasing extra affiliations, note that a 1D affiliation only denotes one further lifepath, a 2D affliation only encompasses 3 extra lifepaths, and a 3D affiliation receives another 5 whole lifepaths.
Describe the Battle space and Draw a Map
The Battle space is where the fighting will be done. It can be small as a single building or as vast as a whole mountainside. The target of the Conflict scene describes the battle scene based on the situation presented by the aggressor. He lays out in broad terms the arrangement and distances of various features. No need to be too specific, just enough to get the general idea across.
Draw a rough map of the battle space, a sketch to help everyone get the points straight in their heads. The hill, the streets, the guard towers.
Before the battle begins, each faction leader has to declare its the objective for all its companies.
It's assumed that engaging and destroying the enemy is part of the companies' plans. The stated intent should be in addition to that.
I want to occupy the temple grounds. I want to drive them into the dark tunnels. I want to seize the towers to control the river. I want to run them off so I can follow them back to their headquarters.
Keep the goals small and manageable. Don't try to win the war in a single battle. Use your objective to build a narrative appropriate to the scale and scope of the story. If, when you decide your objective, you can't conceive of a follow-up objective, revise it.
Contact represents the initial maneuvering, positioning and sighting that transpire as the opposing Companies prepare to engage. It represents the bigger picture of the battle scene and represents the unknown advantages outside of the obvious.
Contact is a versus roll. Each Company Leader may choose one of the following skills to roll, and may use any of the others as FoRKs if they have them.
- A Wise appropriate to the terrain (Forest-wise, for example)
If the Leader doesn’t have any of those skills, he shall make a perception test at double obstacle.
The winner of Contact gains the initiative in the engagement. They have been able to spot the enemy first and organize their troops accordingly. The winner may take the Contact advantage when setting disposition of forces, or may choose to occupy a position at the start of the Battle. A tie indicates that there was no advantage for either side.
Alternatively, the winner of Contact may choose to offer battle. This is the scene where the commander's meet in the middle of the battlefield, arrange terms for surrender and get a general idea of where their enemy stands. In doing so, the winner of contact gives up his right to a contact bonus for his disposition (no more element of suprise) and usually takes up a stronger position than his enemy. In addition, both sides are considered scouted, and may Charge or Skirmish at will.
If neither side wins contact, either side may choose to offer battle, but does not begin in a position.
Set Company Dispositions
This is the key determining factor in a company's disposition. It represents the Company Leader's ability to react to last-minute decisions or his overall command of his troop.
The leader of each company tests Tactics or Command with Tactics, Command, or an appropriate wise as FoRKs. Other players may help with Tactics (or Command if there are subordinates involved). If no one in the company has Tactics or Command, test Perception or Will and count half the successes, rounding down.
This roll establishes a Company’s starting Disposition. If one success or no successes are rolled and no bonuses from the following list apply, the company starts with a disposition of 1.
After you roll, add the following bonuses to your disposition if they apply to your company.
Contact +2 Greater Mobility +1 Outnumber +1 Vastly Outnumber +2 Right Tools for the job +1 Superior Equipment +1 Superior Infiltration +1 Superior Position +1 Superior Training +1 Vastly Superior Training +2
Description of Disposition Bonuses
This is the bonus the player who won the contact roll receives if they choose to take it.
Greater Mobility +1
If one side has mounts and the other doesn't or your stock has wings they get a bonus for their advantage. You may also apply this bonus if the majority of your company has a speed multiplier at least 1 full point higher than the members of the opposing Companies.
Outnumber +1 or Vastly Outnumber +2
If one side has more troops per company they get the Outnumber bonus. If one company outweighs their opponent by a staggering amount, we're talking Thermopylae or Helm's Deep here, they gain the Vastly Outnumber bonus to their disposition instead.
Right Tools for the Job +1
When one side needs specific equipment to accomplish their intent and it is clearly to their advantage, whether it is siege equipment or poisoned arrows, this represents the bonus given for planning ahead.
Superior Equipment +1
This represents equipment more appropriate for the conflict. If it's a bloody alley fight, a gang with knives has the advantage over a gang who doesn't believe in using blades. If it's a battle on an open field, the side with bows or crossbows would have the advantage over a side with javelins or rocks. A small company with Dwarven mail would have an advantage over a small company of humans with chain mail.
The Superior Equipment advantage should relate specifically to the equipment relative your company's stock. Trolls, for instance, have inferior metalworking to Dwarves, but this wouldn’t normally provide the Dwarves an advantage when fighting Trolls, because of Trolls’ natural armor.
Superior Infiltration +1
The company with the higher stealth ability has better control of the battle space. Total the stealth exponent for all members of the company, subtracting 1 for each of member of the company wearing anything heavier than leather armor.
For mass battles, simply add 1 to a Company's Infiltration rating for each military Lifepath with Stealth on it, and subtract one for each military Lifepath with Armor Training. The side with the highest non-negative, non-zero total wins.
Superior Position +1
In an engagement, one side may have an obvious advantage due to their position, a fortress tower, a trench, a hill-top. If the situation or the character's property grants some advantage apply this to the company’s disposition.
Superior Training +1 or +2
Companies that have more training than their opponents have them a great advantage in the conflict. Tally up the training skills for the company. Applicable training skills include Armor Training, Shield Training, Formation Training, and Mounted Combat Training. If one Company has only one more training skill than their opponents, they get a disposition bonus of 1. If one side has 2 or more training skills more than the opposition, they get a disposition bonus of 2.
Add Positions to the Battle Map
The Battle Space contains various positions that can offer Companies tactical advantages during the combat. Positions are rated from one to five. The more advantageous they are, the higher they are rated. The positions value determines how hard it is to occupy during play. Positions are not necessarily fortified, that is, they do not necessarily grant cover.
The target of the Conflict scene marks up the map, noting positions on the battle space. Anything that could give an advantage is marked with a P. These initial positions are all given a value of 1.
The winner of the Contact test may add up to two 1P positions to the battle space, or increase one existing position from 1P to 3P or two existing positions from 1P to 2P. The losers of contact may add a 1P position to the battle space, or increase an existing position by 1P.
After the players have taken turns modifying the map, the 'battle space host' (the player whose faction is currently in control of the Battle Space, usually the target of the Conflict) can increase any 1 position to a maximum of 5P. He can do this to occupied positions or to a neutral unoccupied position.
If there is a position that also serves as an objective for one of the companies, do not make it a position, because the only way to achieve the objective is to reduce the opponent's disposition to zero.
Fortifications are rated from 1 to 3. A Fortification raises the obstacles for a missile weapon shot opportunity or a commander's Charge Company Action Roll by its rating.
All fortifications are positions, but not all positions are fortifications.
Go around the table. Each player may chose add 2F worth of Fortifications to the battle space. Then, the occupying player (the target of the Conflict unless under special circumstances) gets to add an additional 2F to the battle space.
Occupying a Position
To occupy a position, a Company is required to make a successful Advance maneuver. The value of that position is temporarily added to the Company's disposition and is lost if the Company uses Advance, Charge, Flank or Withdraw or if their disposition is reduced by the position's value.
Distances and Movement through the Battle Space
The battle space is fluid, so exact distances and precise locations are abstracted into a neat package by the disposition pool.
To traverse the Battle space, a Company must move from position to position. If there is an intervening position between their current one and their goal, it must be occupied before the other, more distant one can be gained.
Choose Company Actions
After objectives, dispositions, positions and cover have been set, the leader of each Company must privately choose Battle! actions in order, one per volley, three at a time for the whole exchange. Actions are then revealed and resolved one by one against the opposing company. If at the end of the exchange both sides still have disposition, another exchange is planned and played out.
Optional Rule: Time Bonus
If the players wish, they may decide that time is crucial for victory. The first side that announces they have finished scripting gains a +1D advantage to their first volley Company Action.
Only use this rule if the players on both sides of the conflict are up to speed on the rules. It should never have the effect of punishing new players.
The Commander is key here, making all the Company action rolls, although his (named) seconds may help, but any uninvolved players must roll for soldiers and specialists during the individual actions. Everyone should be involved in the chaos of Battle!
- If a Company Commander has more than one of the skills listed for a particular maneuver, he may choose one and use the others as FoRKs. Additionally, one appropriate Wise may generally be FoRKed onto Company Action rolls, but as usual the use of the Wise must be accompanied by appropriate narration.
- Special racial equivalents of applicable skills have not always been listed, but may be used in the appropriate spot. For instance, an Orcish Faction Leader may use Brutal Intimidation in place of Intimidation in the Battle! rules.
- For naval engagements, Navigation may be used in place of Orienteering and/or Riding.
- The Advance, Charge, and Flank actions include the option of closing to Fight!, and Skirmish includes the option to close to Range and Cover. These options may only be taken if the Faction of the Company Commander who wishes to do so has a Conflict scene remaining to spend during that Maneuver (and only if that Conflict may be directed against the opponent in the Battle!).
Advance is used to close ground with the enemy or to take up a new position on the battlefield (even one that is behind you). Cover and disposition advantages provided by a position are lost if a company scripts an Advance, Charge, Flank, or Withdraw.
Company Action Test: Command, Conspicuous, Drum, Fife, Intimidation, Sing, Trumpet
To advance to a position, you have to overcome that position's target number as your obstacle, but you can 'build' towards that obstacle. In versus actions, the commander must win by the value of the position the company is trying to occupy. Independent Advances have an Obstacle of 1 plus the value of the position upon which the Company is Advancing.
After the position has been occupied, extra successes may also be spent to degrade enemy disposition at a two-for-one ratio. You may not take specialist actions on an Advance but you may spend 2 extra successes to Close to Fight! if Advancing on an occupied position.
Special Note: When advancing on an occupied position, it is always a versus test, no matter what the enemy commander scripted for that volley.
Individual Actions: Ride, Stealth, Soldiering, Links
If the company action in a versus test is a tie, an individual character in the company may make a tie-breaker test for his company. Test an appropriate skill from the list above versus the root stat for the skill used in the opposing company's action or the individual action skill for opposing maneuvers. Use root stats for tie-breaker if unskilled. Victory in individual action counts as if the player had won the company action test by the margin of success.
The Company must be in adjacent positions with the enemy or the enemy must be caught in no-man's land near the Charging Company's position.
This is the bloody clash of arms where one company rushes at the other in a desperate all-out melee attack in an attempt to overwhelm the enemy. When a Company scripts a Charge, they lose any fortifications or disposition advantages provided by an occupied position.
Company Action Test: Anthem of Courage, Command, Conspicuous, Intimidation, Sing
Test Command or Intimidation to get your soldiers moving. If the commander is joining the foray, he may test Sing or Conspicuous (or Anthem of Courage) as well. However, if the commander joins the foray, he becomes vulnerable: any attempts to close to Fight! that Volley have their Obstacle reduced by 1. Against independent actions, the Charge obstacle is 2 plus any fortifications the enemy may have. In a versus action, the Charge must overcome the opponent's successes plus their fortifications.
In a versus test, one strike opportunity may be taken for each extra success. You may also use one extra success to force the enemy commander to make a Steel test or 3 extra successes to Close to Fight!
Advantage dice to the strike opportunities may be bought at a cost of +1D per extra success to the Individual Action roll (see below), however only +1D may be added to each strike opportunity.
Example: If I win a Charge versus roll by 4 successes, I may take 4 strike opportunities, or 2 strike opportunities with +1D each, but I may not take 1 strike opportunity at +3D.
Individual Actions: Appropriate Weapon Skill
If a player is given a strike opportunity, he may test his troops' weapon skill against the enemy troops' weapon skill. The troops get a bonus of +1D if the Charge was scripted against a “Skirmish” action as the enemy bowmen fall before the rushing troops. If one side has some sort of height/size advantage (Trolls vs. Humans, cavalry versus infantry, etc.) they get a +1D advantage to their weapon skill. Note that this factor is negated by walls, such as when the defenders occupy a fortified position.
The company that loses on the weapon skill versus test loses 1 disposition. If the skill is a tie, there is no tiebreaker. Both sides lose 1 disposition.
If the commander is personally joining the Charge, as noted above, he may test his own weapon skill, rather than his troops', on one of the strike opportunities if desired. However, if he fails his versus test, he takes a wound whose severity is equal to the margin of failure (1 = Superficial, 2 = Light, 3 = Midi, etc.) in addition to the normal consequences (i.e. his side losing a point of Disposition).
When conducting a Flank, the commander attempts to swing a portion of his unit around to the side of the enemy unit so as to encircle them and threaten their position. Flanking Companies lose any Fortifications and disposition advantage provided by an occupied position.
Company Action Test: Riding, Strategy, Tactics Test one of the Flank skills to outflank your opponent. Against independent actions, the obstacles for Flank are: Shoot, Ob 2. Rally and Regroup, Ob 3.
For every 2 extra successes, the Flanking Company may subtract 1 from their enemy's disposition. They may also choose to spend up to three successes to gain advantage to their Company Action roll for their next Charge action. Each success allocated grants a +1D to the Company Action roll of a Charge that immediately follows a Flank. Flank successes may also be used to buy special actions and three Flank successes may be used to close to Fight!
Individual Action: Orienteering, Stealthy
If the company action in a versus test is a tie, an individual character in the Company may make a tie-breaker test for his Company. Test an appropriate skill from the list above versus the root stat for the skill used in the opposing Company's action or the individual action skill for opposing maneuvers. Use root stats for tie-breaker if unskilled. Victory in individual action counts as if the player had won the Company Action Test by the margin of success.
Hold Your Ground
Using the Hold Your Ground action, the Company focuses on defending themselves. They hunker down, brace for impact and protect their flanks. Hold Your Ground reduces the effect of incoming Charges, Flanking maneuvers and Scouting missions.
Company Action Test: Command, Conspicuous, Intimidation, Links
The leader of the company must either control, inspire or just plain intimidate their troops to stand still. It is a risky maneuver but excellent if properly scripted as it gives a +1D advantage against incoming Charge or Flank actions and an additional +1D advantage if your force's arms arsenal includes longest weapons like pikes (though not lances).
If your company successfully withstands the Charge, Flank or Scout they may spend one extra success for a special action, two successes to get a one-time disposition bonus for digging in and strengthening their defensive line or two successes to damage the enemy disposition once.
Rally and Regroup
This action brings the Company into a cohesive fighting unit, readying them for the next attack. It is the only way to recover from lost bannerman and runners.
Company Action Test: Conspicuous, Doom of Strength, Links, Oratory
Test these skills against Ob 1 if scripted against independent Withdraw, Scout or Hold actions, against Ob 2 if scripted against Advance, Ob 3 against Charge and Ob 4 against Flank.
A succesful Rally recovers the use of Bannerman, Runners and other lines of communication.
Two extra successes can be spent to Dig In and gain a one-time temporary position bonus for strengthening your companies defensive line. Up to three extra successes can be used to gain a +1D Advantage per success spent to the appropriate weapons skill in an immediately following Charge or Skirmish action. One extra success may be spent on a one-time +1D advantage to the next Company Action roll made by the commander or to execute a special action.
Using Scouts, the Company may spot maneuvering enemies before they get into position. This Maneuver allows your company to begin using the Flank and Skirmish actions.
Company Action Test: Inconspicuous, Observation, Orienteering, Riding, Stealth, Streetwise, Tracking
If Scout wins against versus actions, the opposing maneuver is spotted and countered before it can be completed. If scripted against an independent action, the Obstacle is 2. Test Observation or Stealth, Riding if you have trained horseman, Perception (at double Obstacle) if unskilled. Test Inconspicuous if indoors or Streetwise if in an urban environment and Hunting or Tracking if woodscraft is involved at all.
The primary effect of Scout, as noted above, is that if successful it permits the commander to begin scripting Flank and/or Skirmish. However, two extra successes may be spent to gain a specialist action.
The company must have successfully carried off a Scout before Skirmishing.
This is where your archers rain death upon the enemy line and your skirmishers rush out to meet them and keep them from attaining their objectives for this volley.
Company Action Test: Artillerist, Observation, Siege Engineer, Tactics, Links, War Engineer
In order to send Skirmishers at the enemy, the commander must organize the Company and give them a target. If scripted against an independent action, Skirmish is Ob 2. The skirmishing company gains a +1D advantage if scripted against Hold Your Ground.
In independent tests, meeting the obstacle earns a success. In a versus test, if you win, one special action or one Steel test may be bought per extra success. For two extra successes you may subtract one from the target's Disposition or increase the obstacle of their next Company Action. If rolling War Engineer or Siege Engineer, 2 succeses can be spent to reduce enemy fortifications by 1. In addition, you may generate Advantage dice for your next scripted Advance of +1D per extra Skirmish success as the archers clear the way for the Company vanguard. 3 successes can be spent to close to Range and Cover, as the Commander or other named character attempts to get a shot off at the opposing Commander (or other appropriate target).
Withdraw is a risky strategic maneuver aimed at clouding your opponent's strategy, drawing them out and using their momentum against them. Using Withdraw, a commander attempts to maneuver his Company rearward to escape the firing range of the archers and hopefully draw the opponent out of his position.
If the Company was previously Scouted by the enemy, a successful Withdraw automatically causes the enemy to lose sight of them. The enemy must Scout again if they wish to Charge or Skirmish.
Company Action Test: Strategy, Tactics
The Company Leader must organize his troops as they pull out. In an independent maneuver, withdraw obstacles are Ob 1 for Withdraw, Ob 2 for Hold, and Ob 3 for Rally and Skirmish.
In a successful versus maneuver, your opponent’s successes are subtracted from their Disposition and the margin of success is subtracted from your Disposition. In a failed versus test, your successes are subtracted from your Disposition.
In an independent test, subtract (your margin of success plus one) from the enemy Disposition and (your margin of success) from your own Disposition.
Individual Actions: Inconspicuous, Musical Instrument, Riding, Soldiering, Stealthy
If the Company Action is a tie, an individual character may make a tie-breaker roll, testing an appropriate skill from above against the root stat for the skill in the opposing Company's action for independent maneuvers or the individual action skills for opposing maneuvers. Use root stats for tie-breaker if unskilled. Victory in individual action counts as if the player had won the Company Action Test by the margin of success.
When a Battle action indicated that a special action is available, the company commander may spend extra successes to open up these options for specialists under his command. If multiple extra successes are generated, multiple specialist actions may be used per volley.
Field Dressing Characters with Field Dressing may attempt to patch up their fallen companions.
Take out the Runners, Horncallers and Bannerman If successful, this action gives a +1 Ob to all the enemy commander's rolls until he successfully Rallies. It is a versus test of your scouts' Stealth versus the enemy runners' Inconspicuous, Links or other appropriate skill depending on Stock.
Take out the Scouts This is a way to hide from the enemy spotters, forcing them to Scout again before using a Charge or Shoot. Test your cavalrymen's Riding or Observation against their scouts' Stealthy.
Force Steel Test This is considered a Surprise test, as the Commander is shocked to see the effectiveness of your company. If the Commander fails a Steel test, this causes the enemy troops to hesitate during the next volley.
Artillery Fire This effectively reduces the fortifications of the enemy company's position. Test your engineer's Artillerist against an Obstacle equal to the rating of the position's fortifications. Extra successes reduce the position's fortifications rating. If the fortifications are destroyed, the enemy loses the position bonus for that position.
Magic Get your sorcerers close enough to cast any intended spell.
Reinforce This represents time taken to create fortifications in a position. Test Architect, Engineer or Mason against an obstacle equal to 1 plus the desired total rating of the position's fortifactions. For example, if attempting to improve a fortification 1 position to fortification 2, the obstacle is 3. Fortifications can never be increased beyond a rating of 3.
Closing to Fight!
Sometimes, when the battle is not going well for the Company Leader, they may opt to take a chance to take out or capture the opposing commanding officer by closing with him on the battlefield. Each unit's commanding officer meets in a Duel in an appropriate locale on the Battle Space—preferably someplace dramatic, like the edge of a cliff or attop the battlements. Whoever wins the Fight! wins the Battle!, achieving their intent without further loss of disposition. If one of the Commanders chooses to 'withdraw' from Fight! (via run screaming or Run Forrest Run actions), then they must subtract 2 from their disposition and add it to the opposing Leader's Company's disposition. If the withdrawing Commander still has Disposition remaining after this, the Battle! returns to scripted Company Actions as normal. It costs three extra successes during a Charge or Flank maneuver to Close to Fight! A Leader may also Close to Fight! by spending 2 extra successes if successfully Advancing into a position Occupied by an enemy company.