Knights and Knaves – Mass Combat

An overview of the rules and a playtest.

A Skirmish Leval Wargame by Phil Johnston and Les Benoodt: This ties in neatly with my quest for smooth mass battle rules that can be integrated in RPGs without much hassle.

The game demands a couple of minis or paper chits, and two 10-sided dice.

The rules

The game works with units of five or more combatants (five or more – very vague!) with a leader each. But it is the singular fighter, the individual, that fights. Each figure must have an armor rating, with 3 being unarmored, and every kind of extra giving bonuses. Each figure also has a skill level in melee and in shooting that ranges from 1 to 10.

We see that this does not work for my quest for smooth, as this extra armor and extra skills turn it into a minigame inside the game already, with separate rules.

Anyway, the units have morale checks with 1d10, where low is good, and high means rout, and the leaders have a command range, where units outside of the command range must determine their own fate by cast of the dice and an “uncontrolled action table”, until they can hear their commander again.

There are standing orders for units alone, and there is fatigue, which covers lack of stamina as well as lack of ammunition, if ranged.

The checklist for a round is pretty straightforward:

  • Horse panic
  • Man panic (morale)
  • Command ranges
  • Movement
  • Shooting
  • Melee
  • Falls, if applicable
  • Fatigue/Rest/Ammo

Within Shooting and melee, not only must there be rolls for every figure, so, every single soldier, but also extra rolls for damage after hits are determined. That is a LOT of rolling for a mass combat system.

Let us work with an example.

Viking raid

We imagine 30 Vikings attacking a mixed group of locals, 30 unarmored farmer militia, 10 solid soldiers and 10 archers.
The vikings have armor 6, like the soldiers. The farmers have armor 4 (they do get helmets) and the bowmen, in leather, get armor 5. Skill of the Vikings, battle-hardened, is 8. Skill of the soldiers is 8 as well, farmer skill is 4, bowman shooting skill is 9.

The vikings have morale 9, the soldiers have morale 8, the bowman morale 7, the peasants morale 5. Morale can be modified by leaders, fatigue, cover etc. Each unit has its own commander, the soldier commander is also the overlord over all defender units.

The playtest

The Vikings land on and storm the beach. A young boy has seen them and raises the alarm. The defenders walk out, and the two forces meet between the dunes. On one dune the archers assemble. The soldiers split the farmer militia in two halfs for left and right flank.

An orderly, open battle.

The vikings start, but they attack not the soldiers, they attack the left flank.

The archers shoot, and 9 out of 10 hit.

Effect is determined with 2d10 minus armor. 5 Vikings fall dead, 3 are wounded. Their morale holds, and they storm on, joining melee with 15 attacking the farmers of the left flank from the Viking pov, while 10 harass the soldiers in the center to deter them from falling into the flank of the left group.

Weapon value of Viking axes is 3, they also carry large shields. Weapon value of farmer spears is 4 in the first round, 2 in subsequent rounds.
So Vikings attacking the left flank roll 1d10+8+3 versus 1d10+4+4-2. Higher hits win.

We have to roll 15 times… that s a bit unwieldy for a mass combat system. But it says here: Each figure may attempt to strikeonce per turn…. each figure. One can probably divide them in smaller subgroups, say, groups of 5. That is three rolls. But it skews the result heavily based on luck. I still try it, and the vikings win every duel.

Damage is 2d10 for axes. Subtract armor 4 to find damage. I roll 15 times, and only one farmer on that side survives, wounded. It is a massacre.

Let us see how the center fares:

1d10+8+3-2= 1d10+9 versus 1d10+8+4-2 = 1d10+10. The soldiers have a slight advantage to hit due to wielding swords, which is better than axes. However, axes do more damage. Vikings win 6, soldiers win 4 duels. Luck. Then the damage: The four vikings who get hit are wounded, of the 6 soldiers hit, 5 die, 1 is wounded.

The vikings are winning this wholesale.

The farmers on the other flank position themselves for a flanking attack, but don’t get that far yet.

We get to morale. The one farmer flank is basically dead. The other farmer flank is routed in panic. The viking moral holds.
The soldier morale is modified by -4 for the slaughter going on. So they fail morale and are routed and flee the field. It is a full rout. That makes it prudent for the archers, whose morale holds, to consider an orderly, but quick, retreat, ere the vikings close the distance and hack them apart.

The battle is over, the vikings have won.

Summary

  • Focus on the individual unit makes it not really a mass battle, more of a simplified combat.
  • Morale has a huge impact, which is fine.
  • But hit points are effectively based on armor, not on any kind of levels or other characteristics of the figure.

Having special armor, skill, HP, and even weapon damage rules make it an extra game that can be played within another game, but there is no real connection, and even transcribing wound levels from one system to another is difficult.

Verdict

The system will work very well for skirmish-level wargames, but is not useful for supplementing roleplaying games. No contender for the systems already tested.

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Photo by Gioele Fazzeri on Pexels

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