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A semi-sequel with limited mass battle rules

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My review of the original Warfare for Beginners noted that that product’s strength came from how it eschewed the idea of simulating the actual clash of armies, instead setting the large-scale battles as a backdrop against which the PCs undertook decisive missions which made the difference between victory and defeat. It was a great idea, as it got rid of special rules for playing armies without sacrificing the “feel” of your characters being involved in a major military conflict.

It’s a pity that Warfare for Beginners 2 breaks so thoroughly from its predecessor, even as it depends on it.

At one page shorter than the previous book in the series – having two pages of text and one of the OGL – Warfare for Beginners 2 is, for all intents and purposes, a completely different article from the one it follows. So much so, in fact, that I look askance at this book’s disclaimer of “make sure you have purchased that article first, or this won't make much sense to you!” True, WfB2 uses Victory Points – and doesn’t mention how they work here, clearly expecting you to already understand the concept – but that’s all that this product carries over from its predecessor; everything else here revolves around new mechanics.

Said new mechanics dive directly into the territory that the previous article dodged: the simulation of entire armies clashing. To the product’s credit, its system is simple and easy, but that comes with all of the critiques that go along with that simplicity.

Warfare for Beginners 2 holds to the idea that the PCs don’t simply await for opportunities to arise, but rather are military commanders who decide upon what tactics to have the troops perform, while the enemy responds in kind. In this regard, the book presents eight kinds of military tactics (e.g. ambush, artillery, etc.) with a sidebar briefly overviewing each one.

You can likely guess how things work from there. The PCs and the GM each pick a tactic, and then compare their results to a table on the article’s first page. Depending on the particular combination of tactic-versus-tactic, the PCs can either gain or lose Victory Points (or, in fact, things can be a wash, with the PCs neither gaining nor losing any VPs. This, however, was slightly obfuscated by the table presentation, which presented such results as simply blank squares, rather than a more-helpful “+0”).

Depending on what sort of mass combat rules you prefer, this simplicity is either making you despair or making you cheer. Regardless, it should be noted that the book does throw some wrinkles into the above process. First of all, the PCs can attempt (via a skill check) to ascertain what tactic their enemy will use (though curiously, the GM doesn’t seem to get to attempt the same). Secondly, both sides can attempt an opposed skill check to increase the efficacy of their chosen tactic – success means that the number of VPs gained or lost is increased by 1.

While that’s the sum total of the new mechanics, it is heartening that (also like the previous work in this series) WfB2 does take the time to talk about putting this into a narrative context. For example, it encourages you to put individual faces on the enemy leaders making the opposed skill checks, for example, which is a small but salient detail. Likewise, it talks about the need to dress up the simple comparison of tactics and the ensuing change in Victory Points into something that’s much more exciting.

Following this is a quick note that the scale of Victory Points – that is, the total number necessary to win or lose the battle – is increased under this system.

Unfortunately, the above is the only oblique mention that this article mentions regarding how to use this system in conjunction with the one from the original Warfare for Beginners. In fact, the use of Victory Points is the only thing linking these two products at all – notwithstanding that, you have two separate ways of having the PCs play in a military conflict. That’s a shame, because given the separate foci of these articles (one being commando raids by the PCs, the other being the large-scale movements of troops), they could have been very complementary. They still can be, but it would have helped to address issues that come up when using both systems together. For example, do the PCs need to personally lead their soldiers, or can they issue orders and then go carry out their own mission? Can they launch a small raid that affects the enemy’s use of tactics that day? More could have been done here.

As it is, this book’s system of mass battles is intuitive, but limited. It allows for quick and easy resolution to combat engagements, and even allows for some nuance with its system of opposed skill checks, but it still neglects a lot. There’s no way to incorporate terrain into this system, for example, and issues with more than two units going into battle isn’t discussed, nor is the size of the respective armies, nor their composition (e.g. one is undead, another has cavalry, etc.), though the book’s last paragraph promises that this will be covered in the next in the series.

Wait…the “next in the series”?

I went into Warfare for Beginners 2 under the presumption that it was an afterthought to the original rules, released too late to incorporate into its predecessor – why else would you release a two-page “sequel” that requires the use of the preceding materials after just sixteen days? It was only with the aforementioned promise of new material later that I realized that this was done on purpose, something that rubs me the wrong way.

The problem with Warfare for Beginners 2 is that it sits awkwardly between being its own product and being an adjunct to the original Warfare for Beginners (and subsequent WfB articles). Had the Victory Points information been entirely reprinted, this material could have stood on its own (minus any future products that build on the rules here). Had it gone out of its way to tie itself tighter to the previous product, it probably should have been merged with it into a single book, rather than strung out across a very thin series. As it is, we’re seeing two different ideas presented as part of the same material and THEN divided back into two different pay-for products.

Make no mistake, the mass battle rules presented here are serviceable, but could be much more than they are. For that, however, you’ll need to wait for the release of the next few pages to what’s essentially one book.

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