While wargaming is the grand-daddy of Dungeons &
Dragons, the RPG has evolved separately and quickly became its own entity. By
questioning many of the rules that may seem odd as to how they were formed, the
answers can usually be traced back to our wargaming roots. Ranges, Movement,
combat: All of it heavily borrowed from wargames and evolved to attract a much
larger audience. Some rules are more pronounced than others, for instance the
end-game, mass battles are eluded too in the form of attracting followers and
constructing buildings. The worlds that we create are all hostile to the
players, so the PC’s buildings will no doubt have to be defended from time to
time.War is a common event, however it
was an event that was not officially supported until 1985 with the publication
In 1989, the year that saw the release of AD&D Second
Edition; before many of the titles which expanded the 2e core system were
released, or even worked on, one of the first 2e products to come out was,
oddly enough, BATTLESYSTEM 2nd Edition. While the BATTLESYSTEM was
always well received within the industry (the original earning the esteemed “H.
G. Wells Award”, and the second edition winning the Origins Award for “Best
Miniatures Rules for 1989”), among consumers it was a different story. Dungeons
& Dragons had tapped into a new audience, and this one wasn’t too hip on
Written by Doug Niles, he really didn’t care if there was a
market for this thing or not. All he wanted to do was use the Dungeons and
Dragons magic system within a mass combat game, and when it comes to the 2nd
Edition version, it is safe to say that BATTLESYSTEM 2e would had been
published with or without 2e itself. The original 1985 boxed set contained a
ton of goodies typical of that era; one can almost put it down as a
play-testers box; as the 2e version of the game is polished, containing all of
the changes to the system from feedback that he had gotten, as well as changes
that he had made himself. Gone was the box, the scale of miniatures was
changed, as well as a more streamlined combat system that was easier to manage.
While the booklet was stripped down, its production quality
was improved, it featured glossy, full color pages, pages that were required to
illustrate the fantastic photographs taken by Michael Weaver and Ral Partha Enterprises
INC.While the game wasn’t as demanding
as WARHAMMER in regards to what figure you use, the Ral Partha brand has always
been a well-loved and well-trusted company which players typically stick with
to get their figures anyway.
The booklet contains three stages of play: Basic,
Intermediate, and Advanced.
The Basic rules was just that, a very simple version of the
game that gets players used to moving and understanding what each figure represents.
It is rules light, yet sturdy enough to handle conflicting armies meeting on an
open battle field. When I mean Rules Light, this is kind of an exaggeration;
this game is complicated and hard to learn on your own.
It requires an
investment into the materials needed to play the game, and as many 6 sided dice
as you can afford. You don’t technically need the metal figures to play, that
alone would cost you lots of money and time, and you don’t need to create the
elaborate sets depicted in the book either; but, even going on the cheap is not
an easy task. It is the lucky DM who has the space big enough to host regular
D&D games, this game recommends playing on a Ping Pong table! The larger
the space the better because once a unit leaves the field from failing their
Moral Check, it is gone for good, thus, by using your typical dining room table,
it makes it really hard to regroup your troops before they are off the board.
The Intermediate rules add our heroes into the mix, as well
as generals and advanced formations. It doesn’t do a good job of adding the
heroes. If you are thinking about putting your character on the table, you are
putting them in danger beyond anyone’s control. While some will put this as war
is dangerous, I consider placing your PC onto the field as the equivalent of high
stakes gambling; a couple of bad rolls and you are dead, just like that. It had
nothing to do with the decisions that you made, or how aggressive you are
playing, you are dead. Roll up a new character.
Sure, you can be captured, but that kind of depends upon the
enemy, doesn’t it. How many PC parties out there try to capture the biggest
threat in a scenario? Thankfully, you can avoid this by not placing your PC in
the first place, and just controlling the army itself. If you do place your
figure, you can treat it as a King in chess, capture the king and this phase of
the scenario ends and you go back to standard D&D to resolve the situation.
The Advanced rules are where all of your fun stuff is. Siege
Engines, Magic, fires, flying troops. Once you’ve mastered the previous
BATTLESYSTEM rule sets, now you are ready to add this stuff to your campaigns!
But, as you can see, that is hard to do. Everyone has to really want this, and
spend game time playing war games scenarios instead of D&D. That isn’t the
only problem with the system either, this is a two player game and Dungeons
& Dragons works best with 4 PCs. You can divide the troops among the party,
or whatever, but it is still a two player game. It doesn’t even need a DM,
though when you are dealing with the Advanced Rule Set, an impartial judge is “desired”.
The game itself is clunky, and more of a board game, and if
you have a difficult time finding players to play standard D&D, you’ll
really enjoy trying to find someone to play this game with you! I have lots of
dedicated players, but only one who has an interest in exploring Mass Combat,
but even then, we’d still rather spend game time playing D&D, not learning
some new ruleset.
Thankfully, this system is not the only thing that you get
when you buy this book. One can say that the Mass Combat system is just an
added bonus to why you’d buy this thing. Remember the Ral Partha photos I was
talking about? The book provides a wealth of knowledge and hints on not just
how to paint miniatures, but how to modify them, and take care of them. It is a
crash course on a part of the hobby that is very enjoyable to those who have
been bitten by the painting bug. One doesn’t have to spend much money to
partake in it; Ral Partha sells singles that are much cheaper than anti-psychotic
medication and provides the same results (not a qualified medical opinion).
Don’t judge this book by its cover (especially this book as
the cover is hideous), it is still a very inexpensive book to own, and something
is better than nothing. There are times when something happens and it just can’t
be resolved any other way! Yes, we can always write around war, or concoct some
house system, which I think is still a viable option, but it is still nice to
have this book as a backup! Those out there that have been able to use this
system say that it is functional, and while it is far from perfect, it is still
the best option to keep that Dungeons & Dragons feel to the game. What it
lacks in the strategy department, it makes up in ease of use and integrating
the magic system. At its root, it is a method of quickly determining the events
which take place during a massive conflict involving many combatants; I just
wish that it was easier to learn.
BTW the Appendix is brilliant, it contains a wealth of quick
reference material, worksheets to create your own units, a method of creating
said units, and The Art of Miniatures section, as I said, is the reason why you
should pick up a copy if you don’t already own one. I give the product a D+.
It begs the question, what do you, the reader do? I suppose
that the most common answer is to ignore it and write around the war, but let’s
just say that it can’t be done. You’ve got to run it, how do you, as a DM
resolve the issue?