EZG reviews Ultimate Battle
After the superb “Ultimate Rulership“, this would be the second one of Legendary Games‘ offerings to expand the rules of “Ultimate Campaign”. Page-count-wise, this pdf is 38 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
So, what do we get here? Essentially, an expansion of the mass combat rules used in Ultimate Campaign. We begin with a short summary of four zones: Camp zone, which is the “base” of the army, command zone, from where the battle is dictated, melee zone and ranged zone – said zones are abstract and not geographically distinct entities. Now first, we get a fixing of strategy – 5 types of strategy may be changed in lesser degrees without morale checks, in greater degrees with a morale check penalized by a number equal to the steps a strategy is changed. Each strategy has positive and negative influence on OM and DV (Offense Modifiers and Defensive Value) and also includes a casualty-modifier that applies to damage dealt to you and your enemies – best of all, this system fixes the doubling effect in the default standard rules for a more concise and strategic flux of battle. Two thumbs up!
Now the battle is grouped in phases – a tactical phase in which commanders issue strategy and special tactics followed by the ranged phase, the melee phase and finally, the rout phase, where morale may see units routed and broken. In the tactical phase, commanders compare their Profession (Soldier)-skill-checks: The winner reveals his strategy after the loser, allowing the commander to better adjust on the fly to an opponent’s gambits. Furthermore, by exceeding an enemy commander’s check by 5 or more, the commander can force the hostile army to reveal one of the tactics available to the army. In the ranged phase, armies may attack (via ranged weapons), advance or hold their position. Rather awesome – concise, easy to use information is given on how to handle difficult terrain like trenches, cities etc., with the DV of the structures determining the challenge. We also, thankfully, get rules for friendly fire with ranged weapons – nice catch here!
The rules for the melee phase have been changed as well – unlike in the standard rules, melee is not a constant whacking, but instead sees both armies checking for routs after attacking each, with the next round approaching. THANK YOU. The default made no sense and resulted in bland exchanging of whack-a-mole-rolls until one army falls – I much prefer this solution! Now on to the rout phase: At the end of a melee phase, the bashing is not repeated: Instead, armies check for morale – those that fail have their morale score reduced. Upon reaching zero morale, a loyalty-check may reset the score to 1, but sees the army fleeing, whereas a failed loyalty check sees the army disband – and yes, said loyalty-checks come with heavy cumulative penalties. Now being routed is bad – as any Warhammer-player knows, and while in these rules, the fleeing army has a chance to regroup to the camp zone, said escape is anything but guaranteed. Sounding a general retreat is also possible, but also carries a morale penalty with it – still, fighting another day is preferable to annihilation… Also neat: Mercenary armies and their lack of penalties for the kingdom upon being routed also get a sort mentioning. This chapter fixes just about all of the rough edges the system in Ultimate Campaign had in favor of a more dynamic and versatile combat – AWESOME!
Now, as you probably know, historic armies almost never fought until total annihilation – hence, we are introduced to the army conditions: Bloodied, Defeated, Destroyed and Disbanded. Bloodied armies can only be “cured” by reforming it and the condition is applied every time an army drops below half its hit points, reducing the ACR by 1 for all intents and purposes – and yes, this penalty is cumulative. Defeated armies have 10% dead, 1d4x10% severely wounded members and can be taken prisoner – these armies had their hp reduced to 0. Destroyed armies result from defeated armies – upon being attacked by the enemy (at -2 to their DV, ouch!) and if the enemy is at least half its size, the battered, defeated army is destroyed for all intents and purposes – 1d6x10% dead, 1d4x10% severely wounded and the rest deserted. To add insult to injury, the kingdom incurs a penalty of 1 to fame and the city from which it was recruited may demand a monument for the fallen. Now disbanded armies (failed morale and loyalty checks) have a devastating effect on morale of allied armies and also result in population-loss for the kingdom – 50% leave for safer, greener pastures. The kingdom also loses stability, fame and loyalty and the recruitment city incurs a penalty of -2 to law. OUCH!
Now fatigue in battle is covered as well as the topic of healing after battle- all tied neatly together with available buildings (herbalists and alchemists help just as cathedrals etc. do – neat!) and disease as one of the great agents of the reaper also becomes a factor: The factor of plagues is detailed as well herein and results in even more death – and strategy, of course! Holding that hospital suddenly seems like a very worthwhile endeavor! Have I mentioned the concise and cool rules for Parley (and breaking the temporary truce?) – nice indeed!
Now we also get tactics – quite a few of them, actually: Want to execute a cavalry sweep, for example? It allows you to have your army attack two hostile armies in one battle phase, but at OM – 4 and DV -2 and only half the damage – still, at times surely an option that proves to be useful. Covering Fire, an onslaught that is particularly reckless (and casualty-prone/bad for DV, but also superb for offense), pursuing foes, initiating pincer-maneuvers, creating “Landsknechtshaufen”, i.e. pike hedgehogs, strafing skirmishers – the tactics available should more than positively influence engagements, allowing for a much more varied and cool combat between individual armies and also offer cool additional incentives to keep well-trained veteran units around.
Now sooner or later the die has been literally cast and the battle won or lost – so in the aftermath of victory, further options abound: From the historically accurate paying of ransom money to the execution of enemy leaders, the attrition of manpower and the option to pillage and plunder the countryside, intern soldiers or recruit forced labor – a lot of different options allow an army to follow distinct lines in their conduct with others, potentially shaping the reputation of the kingdom they adhere to. And yes, for the more morally, let’s say…flexible commanders, committing massacres is also a distinct possibility, though one that should be well contemplated.
Now another issue of mass combat as displayed in the standard-rules would be that it breaks apart as soon as an army e.g. consists of few, but powerful adversaries – be they dragons or stone giants. Thankfully, the pdf actually offers an incredibly easy and yet concise, sensible solution to the issue by allowing for even armies of one and similar small-sized armies – complete with equipment, camouflage and ACR-modification. This is not only brilliant; it is all but REQUIRED. Thank you so very much!
The effect of a general of other great leaders present on the field of battle and a kingdom’s overall disposition also now feature in the complex equation of mass-combat, with the superb rules from Ultimate Rulership thankfully also being addressed – this is synergy of the type I love and expect. How is the influence of great commanders displayed? Via the leadership bonus, which depends on the skill ranks in Profession (soldier) and e.g. the leadership score, but less so on magical improvements – headbands of intellect and similar ways of metagaming the skill up only are half as effective.
Now the easiest way to expand these rules may be the addition of new boons since they are based on the capabilities of characters and soldiers – and hence we also get an array of boons. And oh boy, are they oozing flavor – Take “Death before Dishonor” or the offense specialists that benefit from an “Implacable Advance”, AoE/channel negative energy adding the option for magical barrages or allowing units to heal themselves: These boons are awesome, even more so since they can be made permanent for a vast array of different tricks, specializations and distinct elite-units.
Now armies don’t grow on trees as you might know and while Ultimate Rulership has delivered vastly superior recruitment rules (both standard and UR are covered here), this book adds another facet: Recruits are not yet soldiers – they cost a kingdom and need to be equipped, trained etc. And yes, equipping chariots, howdahs, mounts, magical armors, siege weaponry, weapons of different quality – all that and so much more becomes possible with these rules – all while remaining sensible with building-requirements, fitting all together like a concise, well-oiled rules-machinery. This is not all, though – reserve armies by building and yes, even a vast array of special abilities, from spawn creation to breath weapons await your command, resulting in even more varied armies that should bring the wonder and distinct differences between forces to the front.
Now whether it’s for a “Chain of Dogs”-like scenario or simply for a situation akin to Sabaton’s “The Price of a Mile” – marching armies and pushing them forwards is no easy task and this supplement also covers rules for marching armies: Camouflage, ambushes, supply trans, living off the land – all covered! The same holds true for difficult terrains, rules for visibility and even weather and high altitudes! The pdf concludes with an index of the pdf’s tables.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games unobtrusive two-column standard and we get beautiful full-color one-page spreads of three artworks by Tim Kings-Lynne and Mike Lowe alongside depictions of various banners and crests. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, with the second one being more printer-friendly.
Jason Nelson, as one of the masterminds behind Ultimate Campaign’s rules and head-honcho of Legendary Games dives head-first into a supplement that had me skeptical at best on first sight: The page-count is simply not that impressive. Add to that the fact that the rules in Ultimate Campaign, by virtue of the limited space available and the variety of topics covered fell short of their potential and we have a supplement that had anything but an easy standing with me. I’ve long been into mass combat, coming to pen and paper roleplaying via the route of Warhammer, but so far, neither Adamant Entertainment’s mass combat rules, nor 3.X’s Cry Havoc did it for me and Ultimate Campaign, while better, also fell short of my expectations in that regard.
Until now. This pdf is PLATINUM. Not gold, platinum. It irons out many of the issues of the basic system. It provides superior synergy with both standard rules and Ultimate Rulership. It expands the tactical options exponentially. It covers all the topics, from marches to commanders to special qualities and manages to end the rather trite attrition-rolling of mass combat melee in favor of a much more rewarding and tactical solution. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not only required. Anyone using mass combat without this book should really contemplate to stop now and shell out the bucks. I have almost never in my career as a reviewer witnessed a pdf so densely-packed with crucial coolness – concisely-written, Jason Nelson delivers mass combat as it ought to be: Abstract, but challenging and strategic – with this supplement, true strategic showdowns, complex military operations and desperate gambits all become possible. This pdf allows you to create brilliant battles of wits between enemy commanders and the PCs on a level that was, with the basic system, unthinkable. What we have here is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2013, a required purchase and a book that should be part of any PFRPG-DM’s library if s/he is only remotely interested in either Kingmaker or any other form of mass combat – final verdict? Unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval, given without even the remotest hesitation. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!