9335 BATTLESYSTEM Skirmishes Review

BATTLESYSTEM was an intriguing product that fell victim to TSR’s inability to market its product. It had a terrible name that did not really identify it, I remember reading a reference to it in The Castle Guide, but not knowing which BATTLESYSTEM that they were talking about, but I think that its biggest failure was the lack of support for the system. This, I believe, was something that Dungeon Masters would really be into if it was better designed, and if further supplements helped us use it more confidently. As it sat, we had no idea how to build a fair army, nor did we really know any basic military strategies that would work well with the system.

The 2nd Edition of BATTLESYSTEM had reduced the amount of bookwork required, but there was still a lot to keep track of. The Castle Guide did provide an update to the BATTLESYSTEM and allowed users to conduct sieges, which was awesome! The Siege Engine didn’t really need the BATTLESYSTEM to function, but if added together with the alterations made to BATTLESYSTEM in The Castle Guide, they say that it improved the experience.

9335 BATTLESYSTEM Skirmishes, was released in October of 1991, there was a planned push for the product line, linking it with the upcoming Dark Sun setting, and Skirmishes was intended to make the BATTLESYSTEM even easier to use!

Skirmishes, was designed by Bruce Nesmith, co-designer of Ravenloft. The idea was to make BATTLESYSTEM easier to use for the purpose of role-playing; The battlefield itself was shrunk down from War level, to a more manageable Melee level that fell more in line with the Core AD&D rules, and instead of 1 miniature = 10 units, in Skirmishes, 1 miniature = 1 character.

This product allowed for all tables to be able to run some very advanced combat scenarios! It could handle the Siege, it could handle war-like battles, and it allowed the DM more precision in design. An ambush that plays out in our minds played out in a completely different manner on the table. Skirmishes added a new element of challenge to what we were doing.

The greatest advancement of Skirmishes was the elimination of almost all of the book work. Tracking BATTLESYSTEM armies was still a difficult task that would slow the game down considerably. Skirmishes system is FAST! Perhaps too fast; instead of hit points, the system used hit dice; a 7th level character was dead after 7 successful hits, which can be dangerous. It is balanced by the difficulty to score a true hit, allowing for the morale system to function, so it probably isn’t as bad as it sounds.

This game also used less dice, BATTLESYSTEM had required several buckets of d6’s so this improvement is seriously appreciated, and while this is a very good step in the right direction, it wasn’t perfect. It still did not remove the need for BATTLESYSTEM if you wanted to simulate large scale combat, however if you took the principals of Skirmishes Combat system and carry them over to the War scale it would make it easier to run, but it still doesn’t help us make fair armies, nor teach us advanced strategies.

Another problem with BATTLESYSTEM Skirmishes is the book itself is horribly over-written. I still don’t know if this was a replacement or not, all of the rules had been included in this book, but so many rules that comparing them to BATTLESYSTEM and the AD&D Core Rules is beyond what I am willing to do, so you are on your own in that department.

The text itself is so dry and boring that reading the back of a bottle of Tylenol is more exciting. There is just so much information here that  isn’t needed, and repetitive, especially if you’ve played AD&D for any length of time. Why they felt the need to completely re-write a book that had been out for less than 2 years is a mystery. While more complex, BATTLESYSTEM 2e was better written than this one. It would have been nice if Skirmishes did more updating and supporting than it did.

The sad thing is that this product was not utilized any more than the original BATTLESYSTEM, Dark Sun supported it for only a couple of months and then it disappeared. The greatest support that this product ever got was actually from Forgotten Realms, when the Horde attacked, unleashing a massive war that was kind of awesome, but still unneeded. Most users still ignored this product and just wrote around the war.

As far as Skirmishes legacy goes, this idea was allowed to go dormant until Wizards of the Coast took over. WotC provided an excellent update that made it even easier to use in Player’s Options: Combat & Tactics. Though I think that Skirmishes still has a place at our tables for the combat system alone; let’s face it, sometimes the players make some really dumb decisions that may require an impromptu and unplanned for miniature scenario, and we can get through it faster and easier by using Skirmishe’s faster combat system, but do you really need the book itself at the table? No. All the changes that you want can be summed up on a couple of sheets of paper, making this product more desirable in PDF form.

I give BATTLESYSTEM Skirmishes a C. It did improve the BATTLESYSTEM line, and it could of change the way that we game, but it was just so overwritten and didn’t go places that would had been more helpful to the users. It is a big shame that TSR didn’t have more faith in this product, if they would had kept at developing the line, it could had been very profitable for them, and offer us some really cool options, but it was dropped prematurely, I feel due more to lack of advertising and support than actual content issues. AD&D clubs could had used less Forgotten Realms dogma and more BATTLESYSTEM (God, I hate that name).  


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