The Battle Board: A Game Within a Game

The Battleboard in BraveheartThe Battle Board is a LARP device which can be integrated into an adventure weekend. It is a board game within a game. In it, players command armies and engage in tactical mass combat. For important battles, they’ll be able to gate onto the battlefield and lead the offense personally.

This mechanic will simulate a large decentralized battle which lasts for the majority of the event. You will need a map of the battlefield which is divided into regions. Generally, the map should cover the town that the players are in and the 20 square miles around it. Design it like a Risk map, with irregularly shaped territories. During the game, tokens will be placed on this map to represent the player’s and NPC’s forces.

Hiring Soldiers – Throughout the weekend, players may acquire the allegiance of soldiers or mercenaries. NPCs playing the captains of each company will approach adventurers in the tavern, looking for leadership. Mercenaries will hire themselves out, whereas companies of soldiers might pledge themselves to the nobility. Make sure that there are enough companies that every player or team has access to at least one. Don’t make it too expensive -each piece will represent a piece on the game board, and it’s a lot of fun if everybody has a piece.

Each company has a value between 1-5, representing its size and skill. As a default, each number represents about 10 people (so a unit with about 30 soldiers has a value of 3).

Certain units may have special objectives or properties, such as local rangers who are sworn to battle all orcs, or local militia who cannot go more than two territories from their hometown.

The Game Board – The game map will be placed in the tavern, or some other accessable, safe location. Tokens on the board represent friendly and hostile companies, many of which will be under the command of one or more players.

For pieces, you can use tabletop gaming miniatures or use pieces from commercial wargames such as Weapons and Warriors. Put candles and soft lighting around the map, and dress up the area to make it feel like a war room. As the players wait anxiously for the scout to return with the results of the last hour’s orders, this should feel more immersive than a board game!

This is just a map, not a magical represntation of the battlefield. It will be  updated by a scout once an hour. The scouts have a complex communication system which involves flags, magic flares, and whispering wind spells. They are able to quickly survey the battlefield and send word on how the map should be updated. Once per hour, a player may talk to that scout and give order to any troops he commands. The scout will write down the command and relay it to the troops.

Once an hour, the scout will go off stage and process all the commands. When he’s done, he’ll return to the game and adjust the game board to reflect the results.

To make this seem as realistic as possible, do not let the players see the die rolls, and never reference the gameplay mechanics of this system. Their information about the battle should come from the scouts. It easier to imagine a real battle when you’re hearing a report, as opposed to thinking about numbers or other abstractions.

Battle Mechanics – you can use any mechanic you’d like to determining how far units can move and how to resolve combat. A very simple system is perhaps the best. When two units come into conflict, each one gets to roll a d6 and add its power value. The difference in numbers determines which side suffers damage, and how much.

Players are allowed to give creative orders to to their units, especially if the unit has a special concept or skill. For example, a player commanding a unit of dark elves might order an ambush when attacking at night. A unit of dwarves may have explosives they can use to level enemy walls. A unit of elven archers can attack units one square away if they are on higher ground.

Terrain can provide special conditions too – occupying a town might provide a defensive advantage, or an opportunity for adventurers to gate in and begin pillaging it (see below).

If the enemy makes it to the edge of the town that the players are in, they’ll actually show up on-stage with swords drawn — and attack!

Gate Stones – This battle will be going on in the background as the adventure weekend continues. For the most part, the action is on a map in the tavern. But players can participate more directly, too. By using gate stones, magical items which can be found during the weekend, they can teleport their party to the battlefield and relieve their troops. In these module, the players will fight waves of NPCs representing the opposing army. (for example, an army of 40 soldiers could be represented by 10 NPCs who each respawn 4 times) .

This type of relief might be required if the enemy unit contains an elite combatant such as a monster, high level commander, or other “boss fight” type character. (regular troops just aren’t equipped to fight magic-to-hit creatures!) Other special scenarios might also require assistance from the adventurers. For example, enemy archers stand atop a tower which gives them additional range. The players can gate to the top of the tower and stop the archers, allowing the troops below to move through the region unharmed.

Who’s in Charge Here? In a real war, there’d be only a few commanders who would make decisions for the entire force. But that wouldn’t be any fun for gameplay. In this model, all players are supposed to get a turn.

Historically, in addition to soldiers, medieval warfar utilized a lot of mercenaries. In our game, the nobles each get a unit or two of soldiers, but the mercenaries prefer to report to freelance adventurers or adventurer companies. If they suspect that their orders are actually coming from someone other than their commander, they’ll start to lose morale.

The Atmosphere of War – The region is electrified by the presence of war. Peasants will seek refuge, monsters will be roused from their lairs, and villages will be pillaged. The other encounters going on during the adventure weekend should reinforce the idea that there’s a big battle going on nearby! During these encounters, players might have the opportunity to do things which influence the battle. For example, the enemy army has marched through a local graveyard, sowing the area with necromancy as they went. The dead arise and the players must show up to save the day. In doing so, they earn the respect of the local militia. That party now gains access to a piece on the board representing the forces of that town. Or perhaps there is a swamp populated by hostile wild elves. If the players go there and make peace with them, they will be able to move troops through that space on the board.

The Climax – the most important battle of the weekend should be a climax of some sort, in which all the adventurers get to gate in to help. This is a big wave battle where everybody can help participate in the glorious triumph. But if they haven’t played the battle game well, and haven’t softened up the enemy forces enough yet, they might be overwhelmed! Players can retreat through the gate which took them here, but cannot return through it again.

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