Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Abstract Combat in Book 4 Mercenary

I bought the Mercenary book back in the mid eighties, and have built lots and lots of PCs with the expanded book 4 rules. I've even a few times tried building a mercenary unit by following the system laid out in the book. But until now the Abstract Battle system didn't make much sense to me. I figured out what I was doing wrong: I tried doing it totally in the abstract. 

The Abstract battle rules work the best when they are integrated into a story, so that both sides have specific objectives, which are determined by their particular missions. Let me explain.

This evening, my boys and a friend were finishing up the adventure of rescuing a princess, who was kidnapped by a General in her world's army. He was trying to usurp the throne and marrying the princess was part of the plot. 

As I have mentioned before, this was my re-imagining of the Amber Zone adventure Coup D'Etat, which I reviewed a few years ago. The setting is Pampati, in Holtzmann's Corridor, and the princess is Princess Aurelia. 

Well, the guys rescued her from the General's army base where she was held hostage, then retreated to the Summer Palace where the King was trying to keep his government together by radio and telephone. 
It may be cold outside, but the princess is Hot!
I provided the PCs with a small force of household guards, and a few hours to prepare defenses before General Kang's troops rolled in. The guards needed officers to direct them, so the King commissioned the PCs to lead the troops. They blocked the entrance road with trucks, hid in the woods and dug in on the front lawn. 

Kang's forces were attempting to capture the palace (and therefore the Princess & the King) and the PCs were there to prevent that from happening.

Here's where the abstract system came in. I drew a map of the area on hex paper. Each of the defending squads had a die-cut counter, and the attackers had a number of counters as well. As rebel and defending counters were moved adjacent to each other, I resolved each of the encounters as a battle round under the abstract system.

I had previously determined the size, TL and efficiency numbers for both sides, and used the PC's decisions to decide whether the battle was a 'firefight' or and 'enemy attacking' situation. From there, the only thing to do was roll for resolution, and determine casualty numbers for both sides. The PCs were leading from the front, so the players had to make throws for their PCs to avoid becoming casualties. 

None of the PCs were injured, and in fact the defenders took rather light losses overall. The Battle of the Summer Palace teetered back and forth a bit, but the die rolls were all falling in the defender's favor. 

I allowed the PC who was overall commander to use his Tactics skill as another DM on the resolution throw. That's not in the rules, but I decided to allow it as it gave that player another way to feel in control of the action, and that his PC was being influential. Oh, there was also the low-level bombing (grenading) runs in the PC's air/raft too. 

At the end of the two-hour session, the PCs had triumphed, the princess was saved and a battle involving over two hundred NPCs did not get bogged down in dice rolling. This is the largest battle I've ever refereed in any role-playing game over a 30+ year career.

The abstract system allows the Referee to move a big battle along while minimizing the record-keeping. There was still lots of room for individual player initiative and referee interpreting of outcomes. Forces advanced, were stalled and fell back. I moved units around the map not by 'movement points' but by what made sense for what I thought they would do.

Give the Abstract rules a try - it will allow a Referee to throw a large force in the PC's path, but still keep the game moving along. The system is not flawless, but it works well enough for a thrilling set-piece battle that won't take hours to set up and resolve.

Have you used the Abstract rules?  Tell us what you think of them!

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