Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chainmail scenario at 2013 Dragonflight convention in Seattle


I have long wanted to run a campaign along the lines of the earliest D&D campaigns with an emphasis on military campaigning. I wanted to do something that was partly a straightforward miniature battle with hundreds of simulated combatants, and partly a more traditional RPG with a dozen or so characters. I decided to use Chainmail for the miniatures battle and Labyrinth Lord for the RPG portion. It might have been better to use OD&D however because of the Chainmail game data contained in the rules. Without those rules hooks, the PCs interacted only with the fantastic creatures and by casting spells.

After sketching out a battle setup and subsequent adventure locations, I started to acquire and paint miniatures. I'll cover these in more detail in another post. I used plastic figures from Airfix, MiniArts and Zvezda. Despite some shortcomings especially from the Airfix figures, these were inexpensive and I was able to cheaply prepare roughly 200 figures for the game in a few weeks. Due to time constraints, I did not prepare all of the troop types I wanted but I think I was able to provide an interesting scenario.

At Dragonflight in Seattle on August 10 a local old school gaming group provided 3 players who took part in the game. I have been interested in playing in their games but have not been able to make it to any so far, so it was good to finally meet a few of them. None of them had played Chainmail before but they all have long RPG histories and knew Labyrinth Lord.

The basic idea of the game was that the Evil High Priest of Nebethet had acquired an artifact, the Black Heart of Esset, that allowed the creation and control of powerful undead. He moved to an ancient burial ground with an orc army and was digging up long-dead kings and turning them into wights. This activity being frowned upon, an army assembled to defeat the army. The artifact must be retrieved and the wights destroyed and reburied.

In play we only got through the first part of the scenario. The outcome of play was clear as the orc army routed away. However the High Priest was escaping, so despite a successful military outcome from the point of view of the forces of Law the ending is not determined. I hope to conclude the remainder of the scenario at some point.

The Scenario

Because the scenario did not have the balance I want I don't want to give a detailed OOB. I will sketch out the main characthers, villains and forces involved though.

Chaos OOB

  • Evil High Priest of Nebethet, 10th level cleric
  • Orkul Bloodhand, 5th level orc M-U
  • several wights mounted
  • small force of human archers
  • small force of human medium cavalry
  • large force of orc armored infantry
Forces of Chaos at start
Forces of Chaos at start


  • Baron Athelstan, 8th level fighter
  • 11 other mostly 4th and 5th level characters
  • small force of archers
  • medium force of medium cavalry
  • A large force of knights
Forces of Law at start
Forces of Law at start

The Battlefield

The battle takes place in a narrow valley. The attackers are channeled into the center of the field by hills on either side. A third hill as the three dug up graves of the ancient kings. The chaotic forces are set up in the center. There is a cave on the hillside at the end of the valley which is known to have another exit on the other side of the hill.

After Action Report

There were some definite problems in play caused by lack of experience with the rules on my part and poor testing of the scenario. Morale is a critical element in the rules and I applied the rules inconsistently. There was also an irritating mechanical problem - I did not mount the plastic miniatures, and the table we played on was a little wobbly. Every time someone bumped the table, entire formations fell over (I purchased 400 washers the next day and mounted all of the figures).

The biggest rules mistake was that I messed up the excessive casualty morale rules. Whenever a unit takes a certain percentage of casualties, a morale check needs to be made. I did not do this consistently. Another problem was that unit boundaries were very unclear for Chaos - the orcs were painted black. I had arranged them in units at the beginning and knew which figures were in which units but as soon as they started taking casualties and moving around I lost track of where the unit boundaries were. Movement stands would help this quite a bit. The miniatures for Law were painted in different colors so it was easier to tell where the units were.

The Chaos side was too weak to give strong opposition. One reason for this was that heavy horse is far more effective than armored foot. I ran some combats before the scenario pitting small numbers of heavy horse larger numbers of armored foot and realized that there would be a balance problem. A second problem was that the valley I constructed for the scenario was too narrow. The first orc unit that routed ran into second rank figures because there was no room to pass by. This causes the unit contacted to also rout.

Despite these problems though, I think everyone had a good time. The next time I play Chainmail I will do a better job of following the rules, especially the morale rules.

Forces of chaos routing as the Evil High Priest of Nebethet    
Forces of chaos routing as the Evil High Priest of Nebethet escapes

Future Developments

I will tweak the scenario to try to make it more challenging for Law. Orcs will be increased in number, and I'll probably add some light horse. I will make the valley the orcs are defending wider across so that units can rout away without running into other units and causing a chain reaction rout.

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