Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book of War Comes to Gothic Greyhawk

It's been a few weeks since we had a game session - we reconvened this past weekend.  Our last game ended with the player's receiving a messenger pigeon with a note explaining how  a distant battle turned out - but I decided it would be fun to let the players command both sides in the battle, and play it out this week, using Delta's Book of War rules for miniatures.  Their own actions would determine the course of the battle, and thus the contents of the note.

First - a step back, to orientate readers.  I'm calling this current campaign arc "Race for the Demonomicon".   It began when the characters learned, while trading horses with hill men in the Sterich Valley, about their old enemy, the Witch, marching off into the wilds with her army of orcs.  She was seeking a foul book, the Demonomicon, and had claimed to have learned a clue regarding its resting place - the horde of Iggwilv, at THE LOST CAVERNS OF TSOJCANTH*.

The players researched the book back at the well-stocked library they inherited from the vampire, Strahd, and learned that Iggwilv (a legendary Greyhawk villainess) had compiled her multiple lifetimes of demon lore and demon magic into a famous grimoire, the Demonomicon.  They gained additional clues as to the location of the lost caverns, and set off into the mountains on their own expedition.  This was many game sessions ago.

On the DM's side of the screen, a number of powerful forces at work in Greyhawk have also launched expeditionary forces to be the first to find the book.  Based on their starting locations, I've been plotting their progress and identifying when they'll be in the area of southwest Sterich on the calendar.  There are many interested parties after the book.  While the characters were on a side quest to THE FORGOTTEN TEMPLE OF THARIZDUN, their gnome allies had a small force guarding the area of the Lost Caverns when the witch - the first seeker of the book - arrived in the area.

I set up two sample forces for the battle between the gnomes and the witch's orcs.  The gnomes were heavily outgunned, but the player's goal was to inflict some losses on the witch (knowing, as metagame knowledge, it would make their ultimate job a little easier since they might eventually have to face the witch themselves).  Enter, Delta's Book of War.

Book of War
Book of War is a supplement for OD&D that provides simple rules for running large scale miniature battles using D&D math around armor classes and hit dice.  I put together two basic forces for the players, added some scenario rules, briefed them on how to play, and then helped referee the skirmish.  (I'm going to put together an actual review of Book of War sometime in the next few days).

The players randomly made some terrain roles for the battle map, rolled for sides (the two 10 year olds ended up with the witch's overpowered forces) and away we went.

The gnomes fielded 8 Infantry Units, 3 Archer Units, and a parcel of magic weapons on one of the units.  The witch's side had 6 light Orc units, 3 Orc Archers, 5 light Evil Men, a Gargoyle unit (5 gargoyles), and a Troll hero.   I swagged the point totals, but I had it loosely at 50 to 75 in favor of the witch, a big gap.

Here's the set up (using little wooden blocks and discs for the troops - each block or disc is 10:1, so the 8 gnome infantry blocks at the top of the picture represent 80 gnomes, with 3 blocks representing 30 archers nearby).

Book of War is easy to play, so the kids quickly moved out their forces, even learning how to "wheel" their orc infantry.  We discovered the leather-clad orcs, with movement 12, had a significant movement advantage over the heavily armored gnomes, which only moved 6.  The dad's side had a few rounds where their archers, on the high ground, rolled nothing but low numbers - it already wasn't looking good for the grown ups.

The kid's figured out if they attacked the archers with the flying gargoyle unit, the magic items were too far away to help (and my test scenario is horribly flawed!).  Continuing their unchecked aggression, the kids charged their evil men over the hill, and finished wheeling the orc spearmen to bring them in on the gnome flank.  It was all over.
The guys really liked Book of War, it plays fast and fun, and they liked having something less abstract than War Machine, which we've used in the past.  We'll have to work in more Book of War opportunities (with evenly matched sides).

Meanwhile, back at THE FORGOTTEN TEMPLE OF THARIZDUN, the players read the note that contained the account of the gnomish rout they just played.  They spent a long time considering their next move.  Their last major action was a 3-week epic battle (3 weeks of game sessions) at the entrance to the Forgotten Temple, in which they fought wave after wave of humanoids and giant-kin.  They were exhausted and spent, but they had the strong belief that the dungeon was drained of armed resistance, and they'd soon be able to moon-walk around the dungeon from one unguarded chest to another, looting.

Unfortunately, the excursion to the temple was meant to be a side trek for them, and the witch and the Lost Caverns were their original goal.  Do they abandon the empty dungeon, leaving all that possible treasure unguarded, to hurry back to the gnomish vale and take on the witch?  It would be a 3-4 day tough march back to the vale, and who knows how many days further north would be the actual Lost Caverns?

On the other hand, if they stayed to explore the Temple, they were giving the witch unfettered access to the Lost Caverns, and a huge head start on finding the Demonomicon ahead of them.  A true dilemma.

After much debating, the following viewpoint won out:  The Witch was "lawful", and served the devils, not the demons; the group theorized that she wanted the Demonomicon to keep it away from Orcus and his minions, and wouldn't use it herself.  They knew where she had her lair - Witch Mountain, of course - and figured the worst case was they'd have to besiege her mountain to get the book if she beat them to it.  But their main bit of rationalization was that the forces of the Forgotten Temple were previously a major threat to their allies, and they owed it to the gnomes to make sure the place was properly pacified.  They also believed that a Holy Sword awaited them in the dungeons.

They descended into the dungeons of Tharizdun, experiencing black obsidian floors, and walls of mauve with ropy purple tentacles writhing just beneath the surface of the stone.  Each next room was asdisquieting and bizarre.  Minor treasures were found, and a bronze ladder was discovered in a secret room.  It descended down a shaft into the endless dark, only a cold draft coming from deep below to hint at what lay below.

The players are convinced the purple striations are evidence of the Mind Flayers, and the awful tentacle motif is more evidence that this place was an illithid temple.  The bronze rung ladder surely leads to the Underdark.

We needed to end for the night shortly thereafter, with many unanswered questions.

*Proper Gygaxian etiquette requires the capitalization of all vintage AD&D TSR products, just like in the DMG.


  1. Interesting. Have you ever played Battlesystem, either 1e or 2e? I'm wondering how it compares to Book of War. They seem superficially similar.

  2. So, I take it the note from the Gnomes simply read, "AAAAIIIEEE!!!!" ? :)