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1/16/2012

[Review] Delta's Book of War

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I will be the first to admit that math is probably my weakest subject. Oh, I did OK in my math classes in high school and college, but it wasn't because it came naturally to me. This is why I am thankful that we have guys like Daniel "Delta" Collins active in the old-school gaming scene. You see, Delta is passionate about two things: the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons and math. Which is great, because he usually does all the heavy statistical lifting for guys like me. Need an example of Delta's work? Look no further than his analysis of the D&D combat algorithm, which lead to his most excellent "Target 20" core resolution mechanic (d20 + Level  + mods ≥ 20).

A few months back Delta was kind enough to send me a copy of Book of War, which is his rules supplement for fantasy mass combat and miniature wargaming. I wanted to take a moment to talk about the book, and share my review. Now, I have to be up front with the fact that I have not had an opportunity to try out the rules presented in Book of War. But I have been reading the book off and on since October, so I feel I have a pretty good handle on the working of the rules, and how they will play out at the table.

The Physical Thing
Book of War (BoW from here on) is a 24 page saddle-stitched paperback, measuring in at 5.8" x 8.3". The cover is in color, displaying an old painting of a medieval battle. All of the artwork used to illustrate the book was taken from a public domain source, and works well with the given subject matter and tone. The interior is laid out nicely, with a clean single-column design. The font choices and spartan design are very reminiscent of  the original D&D rule book published in '74, and I imagine BoW would look right at home next to the "little brown books." Overall, I found the book easy to read, easy to reference and I didn't notice anything editorially that I felt compelled to nitpick.

Introduction
Delta wrote this book with these goals in mind (quoted directly from the foreword):
  1. "To create a system that faithfully extrapolates standard D&D combat results on a mass scale."
  2. "To cultivate a game which can stand on it own as fun, entertaining, and elegant."
  3. "To realistically simulate actual historical medieval warfare, wherever possible."
  4. "I also wanted to avoid the need for any paper record keeping during play."
In my opinion, he has succeeded on ever count. Delta also explains that through the use of computers "billions of simulated runs" have helped him analyse the game's statistical data, and present a set of rules that is both solid and balanced. How's that for mathematical heavy lifting?

The Rules
The first section is titled "The Core Rules" and covers Scale (1 figure = 10 men, 1 inch = 20 feet, 1 turn = 30 seconds), Movement (light = 12, medium = 9, heavy = 6), and Combat, which is resolved by rolling a single six-sided die, and comparing the result to an Armor Hit (AH) value (no armor = 3, leather = 4, chain = 5, plate = 6). If the attacker's roll is equal to or higher than the defender's AH, a successful "hit" is landed, and for "normal men" this means that one figure (10 men) is removed from play. All this works in tandem with the original set of D&D rules, and has a simple elegance that I appreciate.

The next section, "Basic Rules," builds upon the core rules by first discussing the Sequence of Play. The game begins by first selecting units, rolling initiative (2d6, high roll takes first turn) and setting up the terrain. Each turn is broken down into three phases: 1) moving forces, 2) attacking opponent with missiles or melee, and 3) morale checks for units who have lost figures during the turn. Unit Selection is discussed next, covering in detail all you may need to know about archers, cavalry, pikemen and horse archers. Details include unit cost, movement rate, Armor Hit value and equipment carried. The remainder of this section has rules form Terrain (randomly determined by rolling 2d6), Formation and Morale (again, rolling 2d6). Delta manages to cover a lot of ground in these four pages.

Next, follows the "Advanced Rules." This is where the more fantastic elements, such as fantasy creatures, wizards, spells and heroes, are introduced. This section also goes into great detail explaining how to convert creatures from D&D over to BoW. Fantasy Units include all the oldies but goodies, broken down into two alignment categories: Lawful Units (elves, dwarves, halflings, men) and Chaotic Units (goblins, orcs, gnolls, etc.). Elite units on both sides of the alignment equation have supernatural abilities available to them (invisibility, regeneration, etc.). Hero units, such as knights, dragons and giants, are also covered. As you can guess, these guys are extremely tough, being 10 Hit Dice or higher. Wrapping up this section are rules for wizards and spells.

Delta has also included a selection of "Optional Rules," which are presented in a modular fashion, allowing players to add as much crunch to the game as they like. Rules for weather, darkness, modifying morale, an expanded armor table, alternate scale options, castles, ships, unit cost options, recovery and disputes. Lots of great crunchy bits to chew on.

One of the more interesting sections of the book is the "Designer Notes," where Delta discusses some of his design decisions. Wrapping everything up is a bibliography, a list of the art credits and a handy BoW reference card.

All in all, I highly recommend Book of War to anyone needing a simple, yet solid, set of mass combat rules for their D&D campaign. What Delta has delivered with this book epitomizes the do-it-yourself spirit the Old-School Renaissance is supposed to be about. BoW is exactly the kind of product that I love seeing come out of the OSR. Personally, I plan to use these rules in an upcoming game, and can't wait to see them in action.
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