Sunday, August 18, 2019

Mass Combat in Timemaster

Charles Le Brun          La Bataille d’Arbelles (fragment)          1669

The chapter on 'Battles' in the Travelers' Manual is only three-and-a-half pages, but this belies the emphasis on mass combat in TIMEMASTER™.  Preceding the 'Battles' chapter is a six-and-a-half page 'Heavy Weapons' chapter providing essential information about mass combat.  Additionally, the Guide to the Continuum includes a page about military formations and each of the time period settings devotes a military summary of least a couple of paragraphs.

Aside from normal person-to-person combat, there are skirmishes and tactical scale battles.  In normal combat, each counter represents one character or item.  Each combat round lasts five seconds and the scale can either be 5' per hex or 25' per hex.  For skirmishes, each combat round is still five seconds, but the scale is ten yards per hex.  Why have two distinct scales that are so close to one another (25' versus 30')?  The distinction is needless.  Anyway, we learn that skirmishes “are battles that involve no more than a few hundred men on each side.”  In skirmishes, “each infantry or cavalry counter represents 10 soldiers instead of just one.”  (original emphasis)

In contrast to skirmishes, tactical scale battles “involve hundreds or thousands of troops.”  We learn that each infantry counter “represents from 100 to 900 men” and each cavalry counter “can represent several hundred cavalry.”  Also, “Each vehicle counter represents 3 to 6 vehicles.”  The ground scale is one hundred yards per hex.  Instead of five-second combat rounds, tactical scale battles are divided into turns of ten minutes each.  The rules explain, “A turn contains one complete role-playing round at the end of each step.”  (original emphasis)  This statement is less than artfully expressed.  The sequence of play for a tactical scale turn lists role-playing rounds as distinct steps, so “every second step is a role-playing round” would be a more apt explanation, but still not perfect.  There is no role-playing round after the last step.  As such, the best statement would be:  “There are 19 steps in a turn and every even numbered step is a role-playing round.”  The rules explain why only nine role-playing rounds transpire during a ten minute turn:
...this reflects the reality of the battlefield environment.  Men on a battlefield, PCs included, find themselves often bewildered and unable to act as they wish because of the bombardment of their senses by strange and unpleasant sensations:  smoke and dust clog the air, masses of men move by, explosions shake the ground, bullets fly everywhere, and the screams of the wounded and dying rise from the battlefield.  Just staying alive and finding out what is going on occupies most of a man's time.
Of course, if individual characters engage in personal combat during a tactical scale turn, “that combat should be played out round by round before the next step of the turn.”

As shown below, the capabilities of troops, vehicles, and armaments are indicated by values on the counters.
'Movement Rate' represents the number of hexes the counter can move.  If there are two numbers separated by a slash, the number on the left is used for skirmishes and the one on the right is used for tactical scale battles.  “Troop counters may never end their movement in hexes containing other friendly troops,” we learn, except when troops are “being carried in or towed by trucks or APCs.”

To resolve an attack by a unit of troops, a percentile die is rolled and compared against the 'Missile Value' or 'Melee Value' as appropriate.  Situational modifiers may apply to whichever value.  A result less than or equal to the modified value is required to affect the defending unit.  This is a specific check, so the difference of the die roll result from the value at issue is determined and referenced as the 'attack margin' on the Action Table.  On behalf of the defending unit, 1d10 is rolled to ascertain the defense column on the table.  Some units, like tanks, have a 'Defense Bonus' which is applied to the d10 defense column roll (to a maximum of 10).

A successful attack means the defending unit must attempt a morale check.  Technically, defending vehicles attempt a vehicle destruction check, but the mechanics are the same.  Depending upon how well the attack succeeds, the morale check may have a negative modifier.  'Morale Value' is equivalent to 'Melee Value' and the morale check is pass-fail.  Even if the morale check is successful, if the precipitating attack achieves a 'K' result on the Action Table, the defending unit must “move back one hex, facing the same direction.”  If the morale check is failed, the defending unit is “routed” or – in the case of vehicles – destroyed.

“Routed” means different things depending upon the historical setting.  Prior to the first World War, “routed troops turn around 180 degrees and immediately move back one full move.”  While routed, “troops must continue this retreat movement, taking no other action, including firing or melee attacking...”  If a retreat would causes a troop unit to enter “hexes occupied by enemy troops, or hexes adjacent to and in the field of fire of an enemy counter not involved in melee,” the unit is eliminated.  During WWI or afterward, “routed troops cannot take any action, including moving or firing.”  Such troops retreat if the precipitating attack was melee.  (Presumably, they still move one hex with a 'K' attack result.)  Routed troops are destroyed if they are merely melee attacked or if routed again by a missile attack.  Is it necessary for the melee attack to be successful?  The rules are not specific.  Routed troops can rally and relieve themselves of their routed condition with a successful morale check.  Such checks can be attempted at the end of a round (in skirmishes) or turn (in tactical scale battles).

In other role-playing games, there are various ways to treat large scale combat.  Such combat can merely be a backdrop without the player characters and the battle necessarily affecting one another.  In other situations, the player characters have an objective which can alter the outcome of the battle.  Here, the focus need only be on those aspects of the battle with which the player characters interact directly.  The TIMEMASTER™ approach is holistic; the entirety of a battle is composed and resolved.  These mass combat rules are necessary because:
Demoreans are drawn to human battlefields; many of their plots against Parallel T-0 are attempts to change the outcomes of important battles (or little known skirmishes that are deceptively significant).
We learn, “In most battle situations, the PCs take one side or the other:  one or more of the PCs may even impersonate a military commander.”  The Continuum Master plays the opposing side.
In other cases, the players may not wish to control any troops.  The CM may then control all the troops in the battle, but should still have the players make all the dice rolls for one side or the other.
Really?  If the players don't want to control troops, they're supposed to sit around and roll dice while the CM plays a solitaire wargame?  Why bother?

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