Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Rysanthian Chronicle; An OD&D and CHAINMAIL Campaign Idea

Note: I apologize for the length of this post..nearly half of it gets into CHAINMAIL and D&D rules and history, so if you are familiar with all of that, you can skip down to the part entitled "The Rysanthian Chronicle; CHAINMAIL and OD&D" Thanks for reading, comments welcome.

As you may or may not know, Dungeons and Dragons was developed as a game by expanding upon the concepts of it's predecessor, the TSR miniatures wargaming rules named CHAINMAIL.

The big difference between CHAINMAIL and D&D is that the former is strictly a game of warfare and unconcerned with the individual character development one finds in a role playing game.

There are, arguably, three different combat systems in the single volume rulebook of CHAINMAIL.

The first is for large scale wargames involving historical period troops and where a single figure on the game table represented  unit of twenty soldiers.

The second is called the Man to Man rules--these were designed for smaller scale skirmishes where each figures represents a single combatant.

The third system was  to be the precursor of fantasy roleplaying as we know it today--this was the Fantasy Supplement of CHAINMAIL, which was included to be used in conjunction with the mass troop warfare rules for wargamers who wanted to recreate the epic battles found in the works of authors like Tolkien, Moorcock or Robert E. Howard.

The Fantasy Supplement charts and tables seem less compatible with the Man to Man skirmish rules, which seem to be mainly for historical and non fantastic figures.

The CHAINMAIL volume included separate combat matrices for each of these three systems: the troop Combat Tables, the Man to Man Melee Table (plus the Individual Fires with Missles Table) and the Fantasy Combat Table. Each of these tables used old fashioned six sided dice to determine results and in most instances (excepting fantastic monsters and super heroic types) a hit resulted in an instant kill.

I will discuss these tables briefly to  acquaint the player with their purpose so that you will understand their use in the Rysanthian game.

The Troop Combat Matrix

The troop Combat Table is broken down into attacker and defender troop types such as Light Foot, Armored Foot, Heavy Horse, Light Horse, and other designations based upon historical soldiers, arms and armor, and combat styles. One simply looks at the designation for the troop type attacking, finds the troop type being attacked, and is told the number of dice  to roll and the necessary result for a successful hit. You would roll a six sided die for every man in the attacking unit, sometimes two dice for very tough troops, and however many dice came up at or above the target number was how many men would perish in the defending unit...remember that with this table, a single figure stood in for twenty soldiers.  You kept track of these kills on paper and when all twenty men were dead or routed the figure was removed from the board.

The Man to Man Melee Table

This matrix was formulated in a manner that made the initiative (who attacks first) and the chance to hit a matter of the attackers type of weapon versus the armor type (or lack of armor) of the defender. You cross index these two factors to arrive at the number you must roll on a pair of six sided dice to strike your opponent and kill his figure instantly. It does not appear that this table was meant to be used with the Fantasy Supplement but it did become the basis for the later armor class and to-hit tables of D&D. There is also an Individual Fires With Missle Table for missle weapons .

The Fantasy Combat Table

This matrix is just fun! It was used to facilitate combat between Heroes, Superheroes, Wizards and all sorts of different fantasy monsters. All of these were listed on a vertical and horizontal column and you simply cross referenced the two engaging combatants to find the number that the attacker needed to  hit the opponent. Although the Fantasy Supplement was intended for use with the troop Combat Tables, no normal troops lower than a Hero could even roll on the Fantasy Combat Table, because in CHAINMAIL, most fantastic creatures were impervious to any sort of foe except other fantastic monsters or heroes. It should be noted that some creatures that could certainly to be considered mythical or fantastic also could not melee with the fantastic creatures specifically listed on the Fantasy Combat Table (the creatures on the table are the Big Boys) and instead used the normal troop Combat Tables. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins and most humanoid or demi human troops fall into this category, though each of these have certain unique abilities and limitations that made them differ greatly from the human troops they might melee with or against.

With these combat systems and attack tables, endless historical period or fantastic wargames could be devised or recreated from history or fantasy and science fiction literature.

Aside from the Fantasy Combat Table, the Fantasy Supplement in the CHAINMAIL volume consisted of a codified collection of archetypical monsters and hero type figures, all with designated rates of movement, morale factors, limitations, abilities and powers...not at all unlike chess where one becomes acquainted with the personal powers and limitations of each individual playing piece and builds one's strategies from the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of that piece. The seasonings of the works of many fantasy authors can be tasted in this brew, as well as mythology, making the Fantasy Supplement in CHAINMAIL the certain ancestor of modern roleplaying games.

To the Dungeon

Some points of history are debated among gamers, but it is my understanding that it was Dave Arneson who was to use the CHAINMAIL Fantasy Supplement rules to forge a new kind of game for the Castles and Crusades wargaming society, one where the individual Hero, Superhero, Elf or Wizard (or whatever) was to become a recurring character in an ongoing fantasy campaign setting.

Arneson devised a fantasy world for his games, the world of Blackmoor, and the CHAINMAIL figures who adventured there (and the cults and entities they faced) became personalities that were somewhat larger than just a playing piece in a wargame. I don't know how much Arneson's Blackmoor campaign resembled the one described in the Blackmoor Supplement later published with the D&D books, but Blackmoor was evidently a place of crypts, temples, dungeons and treasures with a character that was unlike the wargames of old. Word of Blackmoor reached Gary Gygax, and soon Gygax and Arneson were working together on what would become the rules to an entirely new sort of game which  reflected the possibilities and potential of the sort of game Arneson had been running...the game of Dungeons and Dragons.

In D&D, the most intriguing and exciting concepts of the Fantasy Supplement in CHAINMAIL were set out in more fully developed and more widely accessible forms. The "character class" was created, as were individual physical and mental attributes for a character. The concept of level progression and character advancement were outlined. Wilderness, dungeon and town settings were detailed, monster and magical item lists were expanded, and treasure tables were introduced. A system of Hit Dice and Hit Points replaced the old "instant kill" system from CHAINMAIL so that your D&D character could have a reasonable chance of continuing in one piece (relatively) from game to game.

The result of the introduction of D&D was that the evolution of CHAINMAIL was largely finished. It would forever remain solidly a wargame while D&D would be a "roleplaying game". Although it is probable that most of the people who initially played D&D were familiar with the older game, D&D soon became popular with an entirely new class of gamers who did not come from a wargaming background and accepted the novel game entirely on its own merits. And from this beginning sprang an entire hobby, new lines of games, and all kinds of evolutions and innovations that continue to the present!

The Rysanthian Chronicle; CHAINMAIL and OD&D

I have delved into the history of D&D and the Combat systems of CHAINMAIL to provide a basis for players who might participate in my games set in the world of Rysanthis.

The Rysanthian Chronicle represents an effort on my part to do a little "reverse engineering" from D&D as I learned it in the 80's to try to arrive at a game that is closer in spirit to those earlier games, streamlining combat and record keeping and fleshing out the wargaming aspects but retaining the essential elements of the "roleplaying game".

The game that I envision will revolve around the figures on the table and the environment of the adventure. 3D terrain will be used for each adventure. Dungeons and other adventure settings will hold all the traps, tricks, wonders and treasures as in D&D, and indeed, the D&D books will be used as sources for magic items, spells, and treasure, but the player characters will be figures drawn from CHAINMAIL and magical and melee encounters will be conducted using the CHAINMAIL rules instead of the D&D d20 Hit Tables.

The process for an individual player creating a character (or characters) will consist not of rolling up attributes or choosing a character class but of selecting troops and/or fantasy figures from those contained in the CHAINMAIL descriptions. All of those figures have a point value based upon their strength...each player is given an initial pool of 100 points with which to select from them. The player will do more than select generic figures, however...he or she will imbue them with names, personalities, loyalties, aims and ambitions that will be centered in the backdrop of the kingdoms and histories of the world of Rysanthis. The figures can then be employed by the player to pursue those aims against the larger backdrop of the game world or to simply adventure in search of plunder, guts and glory...the involvement of the figure in the bigger picture is completely dependent on the personality and traits created for the figure by the player. You can have a zealous knight in the service of a religious order, a dangerous freebooter, or a Wizard who cares only about seeking out lost arcana or even taking over the entire world.

Using the point system a player can choose to begin the game with a very powerful figure, like a Wizard, or a slightly less powerful character such as a Hero but with a magic sword and a few loyal normal warriors as his companions. Or one could opt to create a company of Elves. Players who have a favorite D&D character can bring them in as whatever figure the character's level is equivalent with. It would also be possible for players to select different figures for different games, so that one could run a Lawful Paladin through one game and the next have an evil Wizard with Orc henchmen...and occasional games where the players are pitted against one another are not an unlikely prospect! A little cooperation with the DM  and some forethought is all that is needed.

Each player will be given the campaign world book and can hatch whatever schemes they desire in the game for the cause of Law, Chaos or pure self interest!

The Actual Game Mechanics

The basic rules of engagement will be as follows:

In the Rysanthian Chronicle, the troop Combat Tables of CHAINMAIL will be used strictly for mass combats.

The Man to Man Melee Table and Missle Table will be used to facilitate warfare between all demi-human, humanoid, and human combatants, the exception being humanoid monsters specifically listed on the Fantasy Combat Table such as Trolls, Giants and Lycanthropes. Heroes and Superheroes will melee with men or manlike combatants on these tables as well, as will Wizards.

The Fantasy Combat Table will be used for warfare with or between fantastic beings listed therein. No figure below the level of Wizard, Hero or Superhero will be able to fight on the Fantasy Combat Table unless that figure either has a magic weapon (you then fight as a Hero) or is of a level which permits them to attack thereon with minus's--this means that normal troops are of limited or no use against the kind of monsters listed on that table! So in D&D, a 3rd level Swordsman can fight as a Hero -1, a 4th Level Enchanter can fight as a Hero -1, and so on.

The Instant Kill system is done away with and a limited Hit Point system is instituted; a figure in CHAINMAIL has a number of hit points equal to it's HD plus any bonuses as listed in the D&D books.  So, if a dragon in D&D has 12 HD, instead of rolling twelve dice to determine the dragons hit points, the dragon is considered to be able to withstand twelve hits. A Super Hero in the D&D Fighting Man tables is said to have a HD of 8+2; so that figure can withstand 10 hits. DM's have the prerogative of adding a d6 or a d3 to the hit point total of exceptionally tough monsters.

All hits do only one point of damage, with the exception of magical weapons. A magic sword will add 1 extra point of damage, certain rare relics may be so powerful as to add two.

Magic and Miracles

The Wizard is run exactly as described in CHAINMAIL with the exception that he melees with the appropriate combatants on the Man to Man Table and his fireballs or lightening bolts are conducted on the Missle Table. Whether or not he is impervious to normal missle fire in close encounters is a matter of debate--in the CHAINMAIL rules it seems more reasonable in a mass combat setting.

Any spells from the D&D books can be employed and have a Complexity Level equal to their Spell Level.

I am including a new figure, that  of the High Priest or Priestess, who functions as a Wizard in all respects except that he or she uses clerical spells and has the Cleric ability to Turn Undead. In addition, the cleric has a Holy Smiting power useable once per turn which calls down a thunderous blast from the divine realms (or infernal, depending on the alignment of the Priest) which is equal to the Wizard's Lightening Bolt.

This concludes my post for this evening...I was not able to address everything yet and I am sure that I am missing something but I am going to move ahead with the game and I will report the results of this strange alchemy after we have run a few games with it.

I will not be creating a new post for more rules, so be sure to check this post again if you are interested in any additional house rules for running OD&D and CHAINMAIL together.

Thanks and Acknowledgements to Jason Vey for his Forbidden Lore OSR CHAINMAIL supplement; it was very helpful to me in formulating these house rules.

Good night!


  1. This sounds like a really cool idea. Once you get the campaign off the grounds, do you have any plans to post play reports? It'd be really neat to see how the game works out in practice.


  2. Ed-I will indeed keep up the posts! Thanks for stopping in and reading. I am constructing a model for use in the game now and plan on running a game like this very soon.

  3. Interesting thoughts.

    I did want to discuss this though:
    "You would roll a six sided die for every man in the attacking unit, sometimes two dice for very tough troops, and however many dice came up at or above the target number was how many men would perish in the defending unit...remember that with this table, a single figure stood in for twenty soldiers. You kept track of these kills on paper and when all twenty men were dead or routed the figure was removed from the board."

    That's very different from how I've played it with other Chainmail guys. We roll number of dice per figure involved in the melee. Rolling the target number on the Combat table "kills" one figure.

    See Pg 15 - "Example of a small melee:", the "kills 8 and lose 2 HH" refer to results of HH rolling 30 dice and the heavy foot rolling 5 dice.

    "3 dice per man" and "1 die per four men" is misleading but its generally played that man == figure. To track # of men per figure, when Chainmail was played with easily 200+ figures, is crazy.

    Here's another example from the web:

    "20 units of spears led by the elf king roll 20d6 (with a +1 to each roll from hero leader (CM pg. 30) and kill on a 5-6. Probably killing 8 units. 10 units of dwarves (armored) vs. goblins (heavy) 10d6/5-6 kills. 5 units of men 5d6/6 kills (total about 6 dead units of goblin)."

    There are some other examples of how it was conducted on the web.

    1. Michael-thank you for your interest and the rules clarification. Before I start bending or adapting Chainmail rules for my role playing games I must definitely play it as it was designed and I am looking forward to some good wargaming. I will go back over the rules again! I appreciate it and please stop in again. Justin