Saturday, January 28, 2017

Spell Contracts

[This is an alternative magic frame, for D&D-style magic.  I never really liked the idea that mages forget spells when they are cast, and here is my solution to that.  It doesn't work well with my current MP-based magic system, but I have a soft spot for it so I thought I would share.] 

Humans can't do magic.

What they can do, however, is summon and command astral entities that can perform magic.

When a magic user "learns" a spell they take the ritual they find in a grimoire (spell book) and use it to summon the appropriate astral entity (this generally take a day per level of the spell and 100gp per spell level).  They then make the specified bargain with that entity (which is generally esoteric, not particularly onerous, and does not need to be detailed if you don't want to), for the service of that entity (generally limited to once per day).   This is the Contract.

A magic user can maintain a number of Contracts of the appropriate level as indicated in the spell table.  So a 2nd level magic user can maintain two 1st level Contracts.  There is a possibility that a magic user could attempt to maintain more Contracts, but the additional contracts become severe burdens on the character (the costs become distinctly non-trivial).  [This is why clerics can get bonus spells.  The burden of maintaining these extra Contracts is part and parcel of the rituals the cleric takes part in as a matter of course.  Plus, they are already likely to be under the same dominion, and thus favourable to applications from the cleric.]

This ritual is only performed once (when the magic user "initially" learns the spell) and creates the Contract.  The magic user is then able to summon the entity once per day to perform the magical act the entity is capable of.  For example a sleep spell in my [old] game summons an astral creature which commences to sing a lullaby (sleep in my game is a non-combat spell and takes 1d10 minutes to have full effect).  It looks unlike a vertical cluster of multiple purple worms with mouths at the end of the upper tube that sing in harmony.  Of course most people can't perceive the creature (without magical assistance) so it just appears that the victims of the spell fall asleep.

The level of the spell indicates both the astral plane the creature comes from. [This variant uses the OD&D (and traditional) notion of higher (and lower) planes, as represented by the spell contact higher plane, rather than the Gygaxian AD&D notion of a single astral plane.]  If you need to give the creatures characteristics (for example if someone takes astral form and battles them directly), then they generally have characteristics equal to double their level, and hit dice equal to their level.  They also tend to have a number of abilities equal to their level (although generally one directly applies to the spell they are summoned to cast). However in most cases there is no need to do so (well, I've never had to).  Although it does mean there is more flexibility in dealing with the entities responsible for higher level spells (which is also why they are harder Contracts to impose and maintain).

A magic user could increase the burden of the individual Contract without it actually becoming burdensome for them by dedicating two spell slots to the Contract.  The usual result of this is that the entity can be summoned more than once per day.  If two slots are dedicated to the Contract, then the spell effect may be used three times a day, and with three slots (a massive commitment) it becomes six times a day.  You could use a higher level spell slot to maintain a contract with a lower level astral entity if you really wanted, but it would still count as only a single spell slot.

A magic user can perform the ritual again to summon the entity to change the Contract.  This includes cancelling it (effectively forgetting the spell).  And expanding it to allow increased uses per day.  Or to create a special one-use instance of the magic (with the contract commonly embodied in a scroll which is consumed in use).

The grimoire/spell book is only necessary for summoning the entity to make the contract, but most magic users hold tightly onto the spell books.  This is because the ritual is the only way to summon the entity if one wants to change or modify the Contract.  Without that original spell the magic user simply cannot summon the same entity again.  The only way the magic user can safely dispose of a spell book is to perform the ritual again, and cancel the Contract with the entity.   Then the spell book may be safely disposed of.  The exception to this is if the magic user duplicates the spell in another spell book.  This new/spare spell book has the identical spells.  Of course a magic user could always go on a quest to seek out the original spell book, but that is an adventuring option.  Just be warned that there are countless variations of low level spells that summon similar, but different entities. [For ease I rolled a d12 against spell level when the ritual is performed; if you roll less than or equal to the level of the spell, then it summons the same entity.  So it's not impossible to find the same spell, just expensive.]

Cleric spell (prayer) books have a large advantage in this regard, because they tend to be copied from the same source and summon the same astral entities (who are considered divine servants of their god).  For the standard spells of their faith a cleric can always negate the contract.  The problem is that clerics have a much more limited ability to create new spells.  Their spell knowledge is generally limited to those entities that are considered servants of their god.

Learning new spells is simple, and is essentially based on using the contact higher plane spell to find an entity on the appropriate plane and make a Contract with it using the Know% (taking a number of months equal to the level of the spell).  Of course, the higher astral planes are not places for the human mind to roam freely without danger, as represented by the Insanity% column.  Most research wizards are a few belfries shy of a bat.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Company

[This was supposed to be an overview of military unit structure in the campaign as a prelude for introducing the Level system wit regard to the military.  Instead I may have gotten carried away just describing the company.  Note that the game is not as complicated as this makes it out.  Again it is a simple [?] expansion of four lines on one table. Caveat lector.]

The Company

A Company is the basic tactical unit in the game.  For ease of use, a full-strength Company is defined as a unit of 120 infantry or 60 cavalry, since both of these effectively have the same frontage. Since cavalry is generally the more socially prestigious unit, they are generally commanded by a Senior Captain [Level 6 Military], whilst non-Guards infantry units are generally commanded by a Junior Captain [Level 5 Military].  In both cases the standard mode of address is "captain."

With non-human troops it is the size of the creature that determines how many creatures form a company.  If the creature has handlers, mahouts, or carries other soldiers they are not considered a part of this calculation.  So a company of war elephants (gigantic) consists of just 5 elephants (although each will ridden into battle by a mahout and carry a number of soldiers in a fighting platform on its back.

  • Tiny creatures cannot form companies.  [Unless they are battling other tiny creatures, in which case treat everything as if they were normal human sized and make everyone else larger.]
  • A small creature counts as 1/3rd of a normal soldier (360 per company).  [Note that traditional goblins (in particular but not exclusively), while they count as being small creatures for most purposes, do not count as being small creatures for this categorisation. And they will ripe the tripes out of anyone that thinks so.  Similarly if you campaign is unfortunate enough to be plagued with traditional hobbitses (they died on an as yet undiscovered island many eons ago) then they do not count as small if equipped with either Reach (spears or great weapons) or Missile weapons.]
  • A large creature counts as 2 normal soldiers (60 per company).
  • A huge creature counts as 6 normal soldiers (20 per company).
  • A gigantic creature counts as 24 normal soldiers (5 per company).
  • A colossal creature counts as 120 normal soldiers (1 per company).

A company will have a number of junior officers who assist the captain in leading the troops.  This will consists of two or three Lieutenants [Level 4 Military].  These lieutenants help organise the company on the field of battle.  A company without the minimum of two lieutenants will suffer a -1 penalty on both Morale and Readiness rolls.

A company will have a number of Sergeants [Level 3 Military] who maintain discipline within the unit. Unlike the case with more modern armies, sergeants do not manage the battlefield so much as they march behind the other soldiers in the company (in a supernumerary rank), and make sure they don't run.  Thus large and burly individuals who can handle themselves in a fistfight tend to be preferred for the role.  A full strength company will usually have six sergeants and a Sergeant Major [Level 4 Military] (who may act as a Lieutenant in an emergency).  If a company drops to having less than three sergeants it suffers a -1 penalty to Morale and Readiness rolls.

Note [1]: Elite Troops (such as knights and samurai) do not require sergeants because they are already Level 3 Military, and are assumed to be self-disciplining.

A company will generally have veteran Corporals [Level 2 Military] who act as file leaders.  Their major role is to organise the activities of their file (or maniple), especially in camp.  The extra material required for a file to operate on campaign is shared out amongst the members of the file, so that  one soldier has the cook pot, another carries half the tent, and so on.  Files tend to do everything together - eat, sleep, carouse, and fight.

Note [2]: A Corporal only has any actual authority in a Militia Company (or Watch), because Regular Troops are already Level 2 Military.  This doesn't mean that regular troops don't have file leaders - it's just that they are simply one of the soldiers as far as most people are concerned. Although they do have effective authority over Recruits (who are considered to be Level 1 Military).  A Militia which lacks sufficient Corporals loses it's Militia status and gets demoted to being a simple Levy.  Essentially a Militia is only a Militia because of the leavening of corporals.

Note [3]: Amongst Elite Troops [level 3 Military] a Corporal is a subordinate. Their job in the file (although it is more traditionally called a Spear in this respect), is to see that the needs of the actual soldiers are taken care of.  Including the replacement of lost lances - hence the evolution of the modern rank of "lance corporal." Another name for a Corporal amongst Elite Troops is a Squire, and their role in battle (and tourney) is generally a supportive one, and not a combat role.

A company will generally have a number of specialists attached to them.  These are considered to be Warrant Officers [Level 4 Military] when operating in the company, but their Social Rank will normally by based on their civilian rank (Guild Level or Commoner Level) unless they do something particularly stupid and end up being mentioned in dispatches.  Most of these specialist will be Masters [Level 3 Guild or Commons], and will be assisted by the appropriate Journeymen [Level 2 Guild], Foremen [Level 2 Commons], Apprentices [Level 1 Guild], and Workers [Level 1 Commons]

  • Quartermaster: The quartermaster looks after the company's consumable supplies, including storage and transport of same.  A company without a quartermaster has a -1 penalty to Morale and Readiness rolls in garrison as the troops have to fend for themselves. On campaign (or when deployed) this penalty increases to -3.  The unit will also be required to forage whilst on campaign (with the appropriate movement, combat, and morale penalties, as well as ransacking the terrain in which they are travelling if supplies cannot or will not be purchased).

    Having a good quartermaster allows them to add their Proficiency Bonus to both Morale and Readiness (as an army marches on its stomach).  Note that historically, in some militaries, a civilian paid the captain to be the company's quartermaster, and then shortchanged the soldiers on their supplies and pocketed the difference.  This was particularly true with national armies with conscript troops who would be hanged if they complained (or tried to return to civilian life).  A company with such a quartermaster doubles the penalties for not having a quartermaster.  The Proficiency Bonus increases both the quartermasters' and the captain's income instead.
  • Armourer: The armourer ensures that the company's weapons and armour are maintained (and damaged weapons replaced).  In a company without an armourer the individual soldiers will have to maintain their own equipment (this was generally the historical standard), and will suffer a -1 penalty to Morale and Readiness rolls.  If the company has an armourer then they suffer no morale penalty and may increase their Readiness rolls by the Proficiency Bonus of the armourer.  Also the officers may naturally purchase appropriate magic weapons at a discounted rate from the company armourer [For a typical master armourer this would be a plain ordinary +1 sword, so there is no need to get overly excited.]  However such an armourer would generally be too busy to do outside commissions.
  • Surgeon:  The surgeon ensures that the company's wounded are looked after (and that general health matters such as the proper use of latrines is observed).  A company without a surgeon suffers a -1 penalty to Morale and Readiness rolls.  A company with a surgeon suffers no penalty to morale and may add the Proficiency Bonus to Readiness rolls. In addition the members of the company may use the surgeon's Proficiency Bonus when saving against disease whilst on campaign, and when recovering from wounds.  [Note that a surgeon's bonus drops to +0 if the company has a corrupt quartermaster since good food and medical supplies would not be available.]  Note that if the surgeon is a Healer (capable of using magic to assist recovery), then the Proficiency Bonus is added to the company's Morale as well.
  • Chaplain:  The chaplain looks after the moral rectitude of the company and ensures that religious observances are held.  If the company is religious then the lack of a chaplain imposes a -1 penalty to both Morale and Readiness.  If they have a chaplain, then they may add their Proficiency Bonus to both Morale and Readiness rolls.  If the company is defined as non-religious, then the lack of a sky-pilot imposes no penalty, but neither does the presence of one give a bonus.
  • Magician: This is very campaign dependent.  If the company is unlikely to encounter magic on the battlefield then the presence of a mage will probably cause a -1 penalty to Morale and Readiness, because ... magic.  If on the other hand if magic is a standard part of the military arsenal then the lack of a company magician will impose a -1 penalty to Morale and Readiness.

    A military mage ensures that the companies regalia is properly maintained so that it may help maintain the company's magical integrity on the battlefield.  They are also responsible for performing auguries and eradication of inadvertent curses (and also may be the Chaplain if the priesthood has magical powers in the game). The presence of a company magician will add their Proficiency Bonus to Morale and to saving throws against magic.

    The offensive role of magic is dealt with by the Magical Combat Support Group (see Combat Groups), not the company magician.  Although the leader of a MCSG can act as a company magician for the purposes of eliminating the penalty for not having a company magician.

    [In my game a military unit is difficult to affect magically because it is too large.  It presents a unified target magically, especially since the standards of the company are usually defensive magic items.  It is only when the unit is broken, that it becomes a group of individuals and thus a much easier magical target.  This, plus the effects of enemy mages supressing all magic, tends to mean that national matters are still solved on the battlefield with troops rather than between magic users. Besides, most mages find politics a distraction from what is important - learning more magic ("you just can't stop at one spell!").]
  • Marshal:  A marshal is responsible for training new troops.  The lack of new troops mean that the company will not be able to train their own replacements (and will suffer a -1 penalty on Readiness rolls).  The marshal may apply their Proficiency Bonus to recruitment, replacement, and training rolls.   On campaign a marshal and his assistants "commands" the excess troops that serves as replacements for any casualties. These excess troops do not participate in the battle, so if a company consisted of 140 light infantry, 20 of those light infantry would stay behind to guard the baggage train and camp followers under the Marshal.  If there was no Marshal they would suffer a -1 penalty to Morale and Command throws were they to be attacked.

If an officer or non-commissioned officer has an expertise associated with one of these specialities then they may negate the penalty for not having a specialist, but they will be too busy performing their own duties to provide the normal Proficiency Bonus (however they may use their Proficiency Bonus when hiring the appropriate specialist).  Similarly, if their home domain has these specialities as part of the Domain (for example the noble that raised the Company has an armourer), they do not suffer any of the associated penalties until a month after they have left the Domain or until after their first battle, whichever comes first.

A company will usually be accompanied (even on campaign) by camp followers, many of which will perform services like laundry and cooking for the troops.  And well, servicing the troops.  However the presence of camp followers will slow an company down considerably.

A Company counts as a Military Domain of the appropriate Level.  Raising a Company depends on the milieu of the campaign.  Mercenary companies make good mobile Domains.  Note that in most cases nobles (or others) will only hire mercenary companies, rather than independent mercenaries, and pay the captain.  And the loyalty of mercenary troops is usually to their paymaster.  Mercenaries prefer escort, guard, and similar missions where the possibility of combat is minimised.  They do not look eagerly on taking part in battles.  However reputation is vital, both personal and as a unit.

Company Deployments

When a company deploys on the battlefield they do so as a single unit, with the captain leading from front and centre, with the lieutenants leading from the front on each wing (mainly being responsible for relaying orders from the captain and ensuring the wing manoeuvres appropriately), and with the sergeants marching behind (to ensure that nobody suddenly sees sweet reason on their first battle and decides discretion is the only part of valour).

Outside the battlefield they may deploy as various sub-units.  However while independent commands, these cannot generally perform independent operations during war.

  • A platoon is generally composed of 30 soldiers, under the command of a lieutenant and accompanied by two sergeants.  They may be sent to scout or patrol, to secure a location, or to escort a VIP.  In peacetime they are capable of reasonably independent operation.
  • A troop (if cavalry) or section (if infantry) of 15 soldiers, usually under the command of a lieutenant or sergeant.  They are generally limited to watch and guard operations where they are not generally expected to encounter enemy troops without the rest of the company being available for backup.  One particularly important duty of a section may be that of the captain's personal bodyguard, which is usually personally lead by the sergeant major.
  • As mentioned previously a file or maniple is primarily a logistical unit of between 5 to 10 soldiers who do everything together.  For ease of vertical integration with the sub-units mentioned above, we will consider a standard file to be five soldiers (a corporal, two other veterans and the remainder being trained recruits; green units will have less veterans and experienced units more veterans, but there is usually at least one newbie per maniple - a casualty replacement if nothing else). Note that these recruits are considered to be 2HD soldiers if they are Regulars, like the other members of their file  - they are just unbloodied (and usually too enthusiastic at this stage of their careers, not having seen The Beast up close).

One should also mention that double-strength companies can often be found, especially amongst cavalry units (to bring the number of soldiers in the company up to the magical number of 120).  For example in a late period Roman Legion (an Army [to be covered later]) the attached unit of Roman Cavalry (the equites legionis) was 120 men strong, and that the four companies of the first cohort (a Regiment [see later]) were also double-strength).  The best way of handling these is to consider them to be the Battalions [see later] that they are in reality. Including the ability to deploy as two separate Company-sized units.

Note [4]:  And yes, my dear pedants, I am quite aware that a Roman Century (or centuriae) was traditionally 80 men and a traditional cohort consisted of six  centuries.  But that doesn't fit into my classification schema anywhere near as well as having a traditional cohort consist of four companies of 120 men does. I have, in a word, taken liberties.  So there.

Whilst the commander of such a unit may use the traditional rank of "captain," they are effectively a Major [Level 7 Military] (if cavalry) or Senior Captain [Level 6 Military] (if infantry).  Similarly their two "lieutenants" are considered either a Senior Captain [Level 6 Military] (if cavalry) or Junior Captain [Level 5 Military] (if infantry).  Each "lieutenant" will be assisted by two Ensigns or Sub-Lieutenants [Level 4 Military] who normally perform the duties of a Lieutenant [Level 4 Military].

Note [5]: One of the things I really wanted to do was model the historical chaos where any commander was a "captain" and the troops under their command a "company" regardless of their size. However I suspect that for the purposes of building a rule set stricter definitions are probably better. 


I'd like to thank ACKS's Domains of War for the push to bring my system up to using 120 men companies rather than my previous 100 man companies.  And for their size/human-equivalent definitions (although I did add to them).  Also for their use of morale for having an insufficiency of warrant officers.  It is an excellent and highly recommended system that I did contemplate using myself.  But didn't.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

King of All He Surveys


A short discussion of what I am referring to when I later start talking seriously about Kingdoms, Principalities, and Duchies.  And I apologise in advance to any historians for the many assumptions an inaccuracies in the examples I am using to illustrate these terms.

The Kingdom is the basic polity of this game (regardless of whether or not it is actually ruled by a monarch or by some other method). It represents a specific people (a collection of tribes), and their sovereign ruler (however that sovereign might be selected).

The ruler of a Kingdom is a King (12th Level Noble).

The physical extent of a Kingdom is probably much less than you expect. The map of the British Isles shows a rough approximation of the Kingdoms that were historically located in the island. Note that boundaries were fluid through time as kingdoms warred against each other and conquered territory (this snap-shot is about 600-700AD), although at this time Northumbria has occupied the eastern half of Strathclyde (and will eventually occupy Lindsey, prior to the Danish invasion that reduces it to a shadow of it's former self). Similarly Mercia and Wessex have been shown to have swallowed the technically Minor Kingdoms of The Twicce, Middlesex, Sussex, and Kent (as they would eventually do). In Roman times Lindsey and East Anglia would have been considered part of Mercia (or Flavia Cesariensis as the province was actually called). In fact East Anglia's prominence here is probably as a result of the later Danish invasion (which aslso swallowed Essex).

Ignoring Ireland for the moment, the important Kingdoms here are Wessex (Saxon), Mercia (Angle), Northumbria (Angle), and Alba (Pict [later Gael]), and which should be considered exemplars of what it is to be a Kingdom.

Lesser Kingdoms and Grand Duchies

If a people do not have a sovereign then they might be considered a Lesser Kingdom. This is the case of Wales, inhabited by the Welsh people, who may respond as a group when invaded from outside, but in reality are composed of a number of Minor Kingdoms led by sovereigns who are effectively Warlords/Dukes (10th level Nobles). In the case of Wales the Minor Kingdoms are Gwynned, Powys, Seisyllwg, Brycheiniog, Gwent, and Dyfed.

Alternatively if the sovereign rules little more than a City State they might be considered a Prince (11th Level Noble) ruling a Principality (which is considered the equivalent of a Lesser Kingdom). This is the case with Lindsey, which is centred around the old Roman city of Lincoln.

A Duchy is considered the smallest sovereign polity. The ruler of a Duchy is generally considered a Warlord/Duke (10th Level Noble), and may be tribal in nature. Cornwall is just such a Duchy, and home of the Dumnonia tribe from Roman/Celtic times.

Sunderland (and the Out Isles) is considered to be the home of Norse immigrants, but generally lacks any overall sovereignty (most of the settlements are effectively autonomous and therefore under the control of a Baron (7th Level Noble) at most. Caithness would as a result be considered a Norse Minor Kingdom (equivalent of a Duchy).

Strathclyde is home to a polyglot of peoples from the Gaels to the West and the Britons to East, tahnks torepeated invasions from the North, West, and South. Technically Northumbria at this time extends through the western half of Strathclyde, having conquered the Minor Kingdom of Beornice, although the map shown limits Northumbria's Northern reach to Hadrian's Wall (after the Danish invasion the Kingdom retreats completely to the North as a Lesser Kingdom). That's the reason for the dotted line. This is the infamous Border region which really wasn't under the control of anyone for very long.  So it's mostly squabbling Barons (7th level).  Eventually, with greater order established over the region it is controlled on both sides by the March Wardens/Marquis (9th Level), drawing on troops of the respective High Kingdoms.

An Empire will often consider Kingdoms to be the basis of their Provinces (which are ruled by a Governor). For example the Roman Empire considered Northumbria to the the province of Maxima Cesariensis, Mercia (along with East Anglia and Lindsey) to be the the province of Flavia Cesariensis, Wales to be Britannia Secunda, and Wessex to be Britannia Prima (give or take some real estate).

High Kingdoms

A Kingdom technically consists of a single People ruled by a single sovereign.  A High Kingdom is formed when multiple Peoples (or Kingdoms) gather together in a single High Kingdom.

The ruler of a High Kingdom is a High King (13th Level Noble).

When the King of Wessex reconquered the lands taken by the Danish invaders he became the High King of England (an Anglo-Saxon High Kingdom).

When the King of Alba (or as it was originally known, Pictland) conquered the surrounding peoples (the Norse of Sunderland/Caithness and the Gaels and Britons of Strathclyde) he became the High King of Scotland (which, one must admit, was simply another name for Alba).

In both of these cases the High King is the absolute monarch of the lands under their control.

Ireland also has a High King (13th Level Noble), but is not a High Kingdom in and of itself.  Instead one of the subject Kings is acknowledged High King and becomes suzerain over all of Ireland. He receives tribute from the other Kings, which explains his heightened precedence, but his personal authority and power is limited to his own Kingdom (plus the tribute).  This is the smallest form of Empire, and thus a High King may also be referred to as a King of Kings.

Great Kingdoms

The Great Kingdom is the largest polity where a sovereign may exercise direct rule over the kingdom, although they only can do so with the creation of a full-fledged Royal Bureaucracy through which they delegate royal powers.

The ruler of a Great Kingdom is a Great King (14th Level Noble).

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the classic example of a Great Kingdom  (actually Great Britain alone is sufficient).

I suspect that most of what people think of as independent kingdoms are actually Great Kingdoms - Burgundy, Occitan, Catalonia, Portugal, and Japan are all examples of Great Kingdoms.

Great Kingdoms are very much an intermediate state between the idea of a Kingdom (with direct rule by the sovereign) and that of an Empire (with indirect rule by the sovereign). With an Empire the Royal Bureaucracy is converted into between 3 to 8 full-fledged Imperial Ministries that essentially run the Empire on the Emperor's behalf.  Each Province/Kingdom is directly administered by a Governor  (which tends to reduce the internal tensions - at least those arising from the populace - within the Empire).


The term Kingdom is a term of art (as is King, Prince, and Duke).  There are many Kingdoms in the game that are republics, meritocracies, theocracies, plutocracies, timocracies or even those whose sovereigns are women (and thus should properly be referred to Queen, Princess, and Duchess).  But the idea of the basic Kingdom is that they are a single People (which may be composed of one or more Tribes that identify with a common cultural heritage), that is ruled over by some sovereign authority (King, Queen, President, Governor, etc).