Of Bugbears and Burgundians

Is there really such a big difference between a hundred gnolls armed with spears and a hundred French spearmen? I’ve been really enthused about the Field of Glory rules from Osprey Publishing since I bought them, and I am thinking, naturally, of how to apply them to battles in the Flanaess. I can think of nothing more exciting than to see a host of the troops of the Overking arrayed on a table against the combined forces of the Iron League, and I think Field of Glory would be a great rules set to use, even if it is not designed for use with fantasy.

If we look to the descriptions of mass combat in Greyhawk, they don’t read all that different from mass combat in Europe, and this is not surprising, given Gary Gygax’s background in medieval wargaming and general interest in military history.

My thinking is that it should be able to get most of the “fantasy” units described in real-world terms. Orcs and hobgoblins are drilled, gnolls are not drilled (the former being lawful in alignment, the latter being chaotic), and matching armor and weapons should be easy enough. The Overking’s Elite Guards are easy enough to classify in an army list, and overall parallels between the Flanaess and medieval Europe should be easy enough to make. The point being, there doesn’t need to be a special set of rules just to deal with non-human troops. A few special exceptions may exist, but no more than are needed for real-world troop types (skeletons are only half as likely to be affected by swordsmen and the like, for example, and never have to check morale). Details such as armor class, hit dice, etc. are easily taken care of by using armor type, quality and training, etc.

That leaves the impact of specifically magical effects such as dragons, elementals, and high-powered spellcasters. That’s a little trickier, but I think that delving back to the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement or Swords & Spells might prove beneficial. More when I have a chance to do a little digging.

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “Of Bugbears and Burgundians

  1. That's an excellent idea. I love all the books that osprey puts out. The attention to detail in the historical illustration is what I wished we could see more of in D&D materials. I like my Greyhawk to be reality-plus, magic,monsters,and mayhem.

  2. I think the main difficulty here would be incorporating the *ahem* non-historical aspects of Greyhawk into the rules set. Ogres, for example, are not quite the equivalent of Goths. Even the really big Goths. And magic would be somewhat difficult.

    On a side note, did anyone ever play the Greyhawk Wars boardgame from long ago? I only ever managed to play the darn thing once, but I’d still like to give it another whirl. Is it worth my time?

  3. I’ve got Greyhawk wars, but I’ve never run it. I’d like to. maybe we could mash them together? And what if you stand one goth on the shoulders of another goth and lash them together, that’s an ogre,right? Or maybe a really pale hairy thark.

  4. Hah, have you ever read the Prince of Nothing series by R Scott Bakker? One of the monsters there is called a Bashrag, which is basically a giant made by fusing 4 people together.

    We could scale the goths. 1.5 goths are a bugbear, 2 are an ogre, 3 are a hill giant. You’d just need a lot of rope to lash them all together.

  5. “…and I’ll form the head!”; sorry, I just had a very bad Voltron flashback. Thanks for the heads up on Field of Glory. I just picked up the main book out of curiosity and it sure didn’t disappoint. I’ll be ordering a few more later this week. With a few tweaks, this will be very useful. Thanks again!

  6. Any reason not to use regular D&D stats for units, with Hits instead of Hit Points? Eg a man or orc unit of 10 or 100 would have 1 hit and do 1 hit damage. Just roll buckets of d20, one per squad attacking in a regiment.

    20 men units attack 20 orc units – you roll 20 d20 as per regular D&D rules (whichever edition you use), every hit removes an orc unit.

    Ogre units have 4 hits each. Trolls have 6 hits, and get multiple attacks, 2 or 3 depending on ruleset. Giants only get 1 attack, but each successful hit can remove a 2-hit unit like a gnoll squad. Skeleton units have 2 hits vs most attacks, but 1 hit vs blunt weapons. etc.

    D&D grew out of a wargame; it goes back very easily.

  7. What you're essentially talking about there is using WHFB-like rules to mimic D&D-like wargaming, which isn't that far off the mark.

    For a much more abstract, but still very do-able system, I'd definitely look at HOTT (Hordes of the Things), the "fantasy wargaming" version of the DBX family.

    Another good place to look right now would be Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings wargame – they are putting out an expanded rules set to handle larger battles (the original rules worked best with a few dozen minis a side, the new rules are geared towards several hundred).

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