I am a big fan of Duty & Honour, Neil Gow’s indie RPG of romance and action in the Peninsular War of 1809 to 1813. Not long ago I ran a mini-campaign for my local game group and had a great time; you can read detailed write-ups at Obsidian Portal.
Of course I’m also rather partial to Reign, Greg Stolze’s fantasy RPG of lords and leaders — and the alternate history settings that Arc Dream produced for Wild Talents, and the ingenious Relationship rules that drive Monsters and Other Childish Things.
How about we put them all together?
It’s an easy recipe. Mix the mechanics of Reign with the setting and some rules concepts of Duty & Honour. Season well with Relationships from Monsters — recast here as all-important Reputations — and combat rules from This Favored Land. Add magic from Grim War or The Kerberos Club to taste. I’ve cooked up a new batch of skirmish rules for dessert.
Warning: This is not a finished product. It has not been playtested. If you use it, post feedback in the comments and I may revise or expand it as needed and as time allows.
Muskets and Magick
The year is 1809. War rages across Europe, and the men of Britain battle Napoleon’s armies in the hills and mountains of Spain.
Not long ago — in the last century or so, anyway; it began in secrecy and spread quite slowly — as Europe’s empires spread colonies across the globe, the Enlightenment met enlightenment. Modern scientific techniques combined with survivals of ancient mysticism to yield a rebirth of genuine magic.
A magician works magic by opening the way to the madness of the Otherworld. Spells invoke Otherworldly entities and persuade or compel them to work their will upon our own world. Usually a spirit works invisibly, which leads to the common misconception that the magician himself is the source of the power. But sometimes, rarely, they cross over fully enough to assume physical form. Then the great beasts of myth and nightmare walk the earth.
The player characters are soldiers in His Majesty’s army under Sir Arthur Wellesley, fighting Napoleon’s forces in Spain from a shaky toehold in Portugal. At first they are more or less ordinary men in a light company, skirmishers and scouts. But they soon encounter the deadly magic and monsters that the papers back home keep writing about. And having faced it once, they’re pulled forward to face it again and again. After all, while the British army frowns mightily on magic, that pragmatical atheist Napoleon has fewer qualms.
For an easy treatment of the otherworldly supernatural in His Majesty’s Reign we can turn to the Wild Talents sourcebooks The Kerberos Club and Grim War.
The Faerie and wizardry of The Kerberos Club are a natural fit with the Peninsular War. Remove the more overt Strangeness — there are no superpowered archetypes, though magicians can master High Magic and Profane Magic — in order to keep the focus of play on more or less ordinary men and women of their day confronting the supernatural. The creatures of the Otherworld are Kerberos’ Faerie commoners, peers and beasts. Sorcerers are Kerberos’ high magicians, whose powers are invested in rituals and sacred objects, or profane magicians with subtle folk magicks. Magicians of either sort might well truck with the creatures of Faerie to trade magical favors for strange promises.
The sorcery of Grim War makes for a more subtle, often darker approach. Sorcerers learn spells to call upon strange spirits called archons and daemons for power. The more powerful the spirit, the more dangerous and dire its demands upon the summoner. Discard Grim War’s mutants altogether.
An ambitious GM might blend the two, perhaps treating archons and daemons as particularly strange and dangerous Faerie spirits.
In either case, characters buy spells with XP, with 1 XP in Reign equivalent to 2 points in Wild Talents. That means starting player characters likely have very little in the way of magic. Spending, say, 10 XP in Reign gets 20 character points in Wild Talents, which is good for only a few dice in one or two very stripped down (or heavily flawed) Kerberos powers-as-spells or four or five low-power Grim War invocations or conjurations. In this campaign, where magic is meant to be rare and subtle, that’s appropriate.
The other option is the most obvious: Use the sorcery rules from Reign. That’ll require creating new schools of magic from scratch, which makes it a daunting option. I recommend keeping magic subtle and as close as possible to the way magic worked in the superstitions of the day. Deciding how to translate the historical understanding of magic into Reign terms will steep you well in the setting, so it may be the most rewarding option as well.
New skills, new advantages, Reputations and rank: Characters look a little different in His Majesty’s Reign than in the traditional sword-and-sorcery version.
Master Dice and Expert Dice
The Expert Dice and Master Dice of Reign reflect a kind of esoteric focus that is not much found among the Redcoats in Spain. In His Majesty’s Reign, characters cannot take Expert Dice with skills. A character can take a Master Die with a skill only if he already has 6 dice in it.
New skills include Discipline, Gambling, and Influence. Other new skills may apply depending on whether you use The Kerberos Club or Grim War for magic in your campaign. If you use one of those, I recommend discarding Reign’s Counterspell skill but keeping Eerie.
Discipline: You have trained hard to follow orders without hesitation and to master your fear in the face of fire, your impatience in the face of a night-long watch, and your boredom in the face of a day spent cleaning guns and polishing buckles. In combat, Discipline is used to maintain courage and to follow orders correctly (if, of course, you choose to follow them). Usual Stat: Command.
Gambling: You are skilled with games of chance and know the best ways to factor chance out of them — and to cheat, if necessary. This skill typically is used to represent an extended period of gaming between a small number of participants. First the participants agree on a stake — the amount each will bet — and then each rolls Gambling. If any of them succeed, each participant who fails loses his stake; that amount remains in the pot. Each participant who succeeds gets a share of the pot. Add up the widths of their rolls and divide the pot by that total. Each character who succeeded wins that amount times the width of his roll. If only one succeeds, that character takes the entire pot. If none succeed, determine the average of the highest die in each roll. Now divide the pot by that number. Characters whose highest die is lower than the average lose their stake; the rest divide the pot between them more or less equally. (How much is more or less is up to the GM.) Usual Stat: Knowledge.
Influence: You are skilled at moving in society and getting your way from oganizations and groups. This does not imply social status. A pauper from the street with a high Influence is still a pauper but knows how to wrap his betters around his finger. A noble with low Influence can expect deference from those around her but little cooperation while her back is turned. Influence works for groups exactly like Fascinate works for individuals. Usual Stat: Command.
Esoteric Disciplines and Martial Paths
His Majesty’s Reign does not use esoteric disciplines and martial paths. The Redcoats and riflemen of His Majesty’s army rarely have the time for very deep study of specialized, esoteric techniques. There’s little artistry to their martial skills. Learning to load quickly and march straight is usually work enough.
Characters have access to a few more Advantages to flesh them out. (If these look familiar, it’s because they come straight from Duty & Honour. If they suddenly vanish from this article it may be because Neil wrote and said to quit ripping him off.)
Agitator (1): You’re a dedicated activist for a particular cause — Catholic emancipation, an independent Ireland, you name it, but it certainly puts you at odds with the powers that be. You gain a +1d bonus with any roll tied to your chosen cause.
Blameless (1): You gain a +1d bonus when trying to avoid bring pinned with a crime or laden with fault for a misdeed.
Born for Battle (1): You gain a +2d bonus to Discipline for following a commander’s orders in combat (but only in combat).
Cosmopolitan (1): You gain a +1d bonus to tasks when confronting new customs or peoples.
Cutpurse (1): You gain a +1d bonus with any roll involving physical theft or deception.
Disciplinarian (1): Other characters gain a +1d bonus to Discipline when attempting to follow your orders.
Family Connections (1): You gain a +1d bonus when trying to impress with your wealth and status.
Fearless (1): You gain a +1d bonus with rolls to resist torture or intimidation and a +1d bonus with Inspire to rally demoralized men.
God’s Servant (1): You gain a +1d bonus with any skill roll involving clergy, scriptures, prayer or preaching.
Hard as Nails (1): You gain a +2d bonus with Discipline roll to resist shock from having a limb filled with Killing damage or torso filled with Shock and/or Killing.
Heartbreaker (2): You have two extra Personal Reputations (1d each) with past romantic conquests. You gain a +2d bonus to Fascinate when attempting a seduction.
Letter from London (1): You gain a +1d bonus when trying to influence a superior by virtue of your connections back home.
Pitch Perfect (1): You may spend 1 XP to reroll any Perform roll.
Stiff Upper Lip (1): You gain a +2d bonus with Inspire to rally demoralized men.
Illiterate: You can’t read or write. If this causes you significant trouble or embarrassment in play, you gain +1 XP.
His Majesty’s Reign assumes that the player characters are soldiers, though of course there’s endless room for other character types. For soldiers, a character’s rank tells you a lot about his background, and tells you even more about what will be expected of him.
The rank of each character is up to the players and the GM. There are no strict prerequisites — but if you’re an officer, you’d better know how to read so you can deal with the paperwork! If your character’s skills and background indicates a meager upbringing but you want to play an officer, say he came up from the ranks. If you want a character with high upbringing but you don’t want to be an officer, play a gentleman volunteer.
The main limitation is simple numbers — in a group of four to six players you don’t want more than one or two officers, or it gets hard to justify having them running around together at all times. Taking a cue from Duty & Honour, I recommend having one officer (two if you have 6 or more players) and one sergeant. The rest should be privates, corporals, and gentlemen volunteers.
British Infantry Enlisted Ranks
- Private (typically 50-90 per company)
- Corporal or Chosen Man (4 per company)
- Sergeant (3 per company)
- Sergeant Major (one per battalion)
British Infantry Officer Ranks
- Ensign (1 per company)
- Lieutenant (2 per company)
- Captain (company commander)
- Major (battalion commander)
- Lieutenant Colonel (battalion commander)
- Colonel (regiment commander)
The rank and file — the enlisted men — are, the vast majority of them, common men. They come from the cities and the farms, from families that are too poor to feed them or from careers that left them destitute. Discipline is brutal, living conditions are appalling, and the pay is shockingly meager — a private earns a quarter the wages of a dockworker even before the army takes half his pay back to pay for his equipment and rations. For a family trying to rise above squalour, having a son join the army can be a humiliating public proof of failure.
In the British army, some of the rank and file take an oath to serve a limited term (7 years for the infantry, 10 for cavalry and engineers) but most swear themselves to the army for life in exchange for a slightly larger signing bonus and the security of never having to scrabble for a job again.
Most rank-and-file British footsoldiers are privates. Those who stand out may be promoted to corporal (or “chosen man” in some regiments).
Those with extensive experience and proven toughness may be made sergeants and are responsible for seeing that the men obey orders. The sergeant major is a battalion’s top enlisted man.
British army officers are gentlemen from the upper classes: the scattered aristocracy, the wealthy, educated families of money — traders and financiers — who have elevated themselves by marriage into the aristocracy, and the rising middle classes with enough education to socialize with the upper classes and enough money to support a son in the service. But the army is the career of last resort for many gentlemen just as it is for the rank and file. The Royal Navy has all the prestige.
An officer typically starts as an ensign — many are barely in their teens; a youngster is usually put in the care of a veteran, trustworthy sergeant to learn the ways of the army — and is responsible for carrying the colors and issuing orders handed down from the captain. If there are no more lieutenants, it falls to the ensigns, however young, to lead the men.
A lieutenant leads men in battle directly, commanding a half-company when the company must be split up for maneuvering. Some lieutenants are given specific battalion duties instead, serving as quartermaster (managing supplies) or as provost officer (overseeing discipline).
A captain commands a company. A major commands a battalion. Colonels and lieutenant colonels command regiments, but there are far more of them with the rank than are ever seen in the field. Many regiments have a collection of colonels and lieutenant colonels holding honorary command on the rolls.
Officers are traditionally promoted by purchase — the rising officer pays a certain amount to the officer he’s replacing or to the officer’s family. (As of the Peninsular War, however, it needed two years’ experience to be promoted to captain and seven to make major. Before that, wealthy officers could sometimes rocket straight to battalion command.) The opportunity goes by seniority; if the longest-standing candidate declines to purchase the new rank, the opportunity goes to the next in line.
Very rarely, a man from the ranks is promoted to officer as a reward for exceptional merit. About 5% of British officers in the Peninsular War come from the ranks. Since they don’t come from wealth they often can’t afford to purchase further promotions, though further promotion for merit is possible (if, again, rare). Most often, such a man is made quartermaster if he can afford to reach lieutenant, and then never sees another promotion. It can be a hard life. Other officers tend to look down on men promoted for merit as upstarts who cheapen the quality of the officers’ mess, who can’t be counted on to behave like true gentlemen, and who are too close to the enlisted men to lead them effectively. Since most high-class officers have great physical courage — they have reputations to protect, after all — heroism isn’t enough to impress them. And often even enlisted men dislike officers who came from the ranks. It’s a common superstition that one must be lucky to have been born rich, and one is likelier to survive and succeed under a lucky officer than one who’s merely wise and brave.
Then there is the “gentleman volunteer,” a man from the upper classes who wants to serve but hasn’t found an opening as an officer. The gentleman volunteer doesn’t sign on as a private. Rather he serves as a volunteer with the rank and file. He marches and camps with the enlisted men but messes and socializes with his fellow gentlemen, the officers, until an opportunity comes to purchase an ensign’s spot or to be promoted for merit. Gentleman volunteers, eager for a commission, are notorious for their suicidal bravery in battle.
In His Majesty’s Reign, reputation is a character’s most powerful motivator. When your Reputation is on the line, you are more likely to succeed at a difficult task.
Reputation scores replace Reign’s Passions.
Again taking a cue from Duty & Honour, there are two kinds of Reputations, and each character starts play with at least one of each: Personal Reputations and Institutional Reputations.
A Personal Reputation describes your relationship with a particular individual, whether it’s a player character or an NPC. You must specify both the character it affects and the nature of the Reputation. “Beloved by the Duchess of York” and “Detested by the Duchess of York” are both valid Reputations but they’ll have very different effects in play.
An Institutional Reputation describes your relationship with a particular group or organization. It could be your regiment, your family, your mercantile company, the local church, or a ship. It could also be a subset of any of those: the rank and file of the regiment but not the officers; your parents but not a disavowed sister; your partners in a company but not the employees. It could certainly be your group’s Company.
A Reputation has a rating much like a skill, from one die to six dice.
No Personal Reputation can have a higher rating than your Charm stat. No Institutional Reputation can have a higher rating than your Command stat.
Each character begins play with Personal Reputations (whether it’s one Repution or more) with a total value equal to his Charm stat and Institutional Reputations equal to Command.
Example: A character with Charm 3 has 3 points in Personal Reputations; that could be 3 points in a single Reputation, 1 point each in three Reputations, or 2 points in on Reputation and 1 point in another.
Reputations can be improved or new ones created at the same cost as skills.
Using a Reputation
During play, whenever you and the GM agree that one of your Reputations is at stake or should serve as a powerful motivation, you may add one or more dice, up to the Reputation’s level, to a roll. It is always the player’s choice whether or not to call upon the Reputation and how much of it to use. The player must announce it in the Declare phase, though, before rolling any dice.
Putting a Reputation on the line is risky. If the roll fails despite adding the Reputation dice, your Reputation suffers. Each point that you called upon is temporarily harmed and may not be used until you repair it.
You can repair a damaged Reputation by undertaking some significant effort on its behalf, getting back in the good graces of whoever you’ve let down. This calls for a Fascinate roll for a Personal Reputation or an Influence roll for an Institutional Reputation. The Difficulty is 4 plus the number of harmed points in the Reputation. If the effort succeeds, width in damaged Reputation points return to normal. If the effort fails, another point of the Reputation becomes damaged.
If all the points in your Reputation are damaged, the Reputation is in crisis and is at risk of being lost altogether. At that point, a successful attempt to repair the Reputation repairs only a single damaged point. Each failure results in the Reputation losing a point permanently. A lost point may be regained only by spending XP in character advancement.
You may call on a Reputation for a bonus to try to repair another Reputation.
Example: You have a 3-point Personal Reputation and you call upon it for a 2d bonus to a critical roll. The roll fails. Two points of your Reputation are now damaged. You attempt a Fascinate roll to repair the Reputation, but that fails. That damages the third point of your Reputation. The Reputation is now in crisis. A new attempt to repair it succeeds with width 3; but since the Reputation is in crisis only 1 point returns to normal. Another attempt to repair it succeeds with width 2, restoring the other 2 points.
A rival might attempt to sabotage your effort to repair a damaged Reputation. This typically calls for a Fascinate roll for a Personal Reputation or Influence for an Institutional Reputation. If the rival has no Reputation with the same individual or group, the effort is at a penalty of -1d. A successful sabotage attempt gobbles dice from your Fascinate or Influence roll to repair the Reputation.
Sometimes the GM might decide that having a particular Reputation works against you, giving you a -1d penalty to a task. You may usually disavow or reject the Reputation to avoid the penalty die, but this harms one point of your Reputation.
These variants on Reign’s combat system help evoke the sense (and sensibility) of combat in the Napoleonic Wars.
These are the most common melee weapons found in the war for Spain. See Weapon Notes for special rules for a weapon marked with an asterisk.
- Axe, hand: W Killing
- Axe, heavy: W+1 Killing, W Shock
- Bayonet, fixed*: W+2 Killing
- Bayonet, sword, fixed*: W+2 Killing
- Bayonet, sword, unfixed*: W Killing
- Billhook*: W+1 Killing
- Dirk*: W Killing
- Halberd or spontoon: W+1 Killing, W Shock
- Knife: W Shock, 1 Killing
- Lance, cavalry (mounted)*: W Killing, W+3 Shock
- Musket stock or heavy club: W+2 Shock
- Pike or lance (dismounted)*: W+1 Killing, 1 Shock
- Pistol butt or light club: W+1 Shock
- Saber, infantry: W+1 Killing
- Saber, cavalry, or claymore: W+2 Killing
- Smallsword*: W Killing
Soldiers in the Napoleonic wars have much the same equipment whatever their nation.
- Infantry (line or grenadier): Musket with bayonet.
- Infantry (light): Rifle with sword bayonet; or musket with bayonet.
- Cavalry (light): Carbine or pistols, cavalry saber, light helm.
- Cavalry (heavy): Cavalry lance, cavalry saber, light helm.
- Officer: Pistols, infantry saber.
A few interesting exceptions:
- French heavy cavalry (cuirassiers) wear breastplates.
- French light infantry carry ordinary muskets instead of rifles.
- Dragoons are light cavalry who often fight dismounted.
- Mounted riflemen (popular in German and Dutch units) are dragoons equipped with rifle instead of carbine.
- Some sergeants carry a halberd or spontoon instead of a musket for greater visibility.
- Very young officers (age 12-14) carry dirks rather than sabers.
- Sword duels are traditionally conducted with smallswords, except between cavalry officers who usually prefer sabers.
Reload times are in combat rounds. A character may shorten that by the width of a Coordination+Weapon roll. Reloading requires both hands and concentrated attention to work the weapon, tamping rod, cartridge (a wrapping of thick greased paper), powder, and bullet. If the reloading roll fails and all the dice are 5 or lower, the load is fouled and the character must start over. In some cases the GM may call for a Command+Discipline roll for a character in the middle of loading to keep at it despite being startled by, say, cannonballs or dragonfire flying through the ranks. Failure means the load is fouled and the character must start over.
Ranges are close, long and maximum. At close range, attacks are at +1d. Between close and long range there’s no modifier. Between long and maximum, attacks are at -1d. Attacks beyond maximum range automatically miss.
Damage: W Shock, W+2 Killing
Weight: 1.5 lbs
Range: 6/20/80 yards
Reload Time: 7
Flintlock Smoothbore Musket (‘Brown Bess’)
Damage: W+1 Shock, W+3 Killing
Weight: 10 lbs
Range: 20/100/200 yards
Reload Time: 6
Flintlock Rifled Musket (‘Baker Rifle’)
Damage: W+1 Shock, W+2 Killing
Weight: 9 lbs
Range: 25/200/400 yards
Reload Time: 9
Flintlock Carbine or Musketoon
Damage: W+1 Shock, W+2 Killing
Weight: 8 lbs
Range: 10/50/100 yards
Reload Time: 6
Damage: W+1 Shock and Killing (Spray 2)
Weight: 6 lbs
Range: 10/20/80 yards
Reload Time: 6
Special rules apply for a few weapons.
Bayonet: An ordinary bayonet has no hilt and can be wielded only if fixed to a musket. While a bayonet is fixed, the musket has a -1d penalty when fired.
Bayonet, sword: The sword bayonet is meant to be fixed on the short barrel of a rifled musket. It’s longer than a standard bayonet so a musket and a rifle are equal length with bayonets fixed. The balance is terrible. Any attack with a fixed sword bayonet is at a -1d penalty in melee or when the rifle is fired. A sword bayonet has a hilt and can be used unfixed without a penalty, but it’s far more often used to chop wood than to stab men. At the GM’s option, any rifleman can take a 1 XP bonus once per session by saying in melee combat that his sword bayonet is dulled from everyday use and does only Shock damage in that session.
Billhook: A sort of short, thick-bladed machete, the billhook is an ancient farm tool that is carried by many light foot companies to help with clearing brush and cutting wood for barricades (or, more often, campfires). It can be used in combat with the Weapon (Sword) or Weapon (Knife) skill at a -1d penalty due to its clumsiness.
Blunderbuss: The Spray rating gives bonus dice to the attack dice pool. In addition, each set that comes up is automatically a separate hit on the target. If the attacker attempts multiple actions to do something other than attacking in the same round, the usual restrictions apply.
Lance, cavalry: A lance is an overlong spear that can be used one-handed from horseback but requires both hands when afoot.
Dirk: Dirks are long daggers, often made by filing down broken smallwords, issued to young ensigns (and midshipmen in the Navy) who are too small to wear a saber.
Saber, cavalry: The cavalry saber is a long, heavy sword, sometimes with a straight blade, made for sweeping blows from horseback. An old-fashioned broadsword or claymore, of the sort popular among officers in the Scottish regiments, is equivalent. Multiple actions with a cavalry saber are at a 2d penalty rather than 1d unless your Body is 4 or higher. The curved infantry saber is lighter.
Smallsword: This slim, whip-fast duelling sword gives a +1d bonus when used for multiple actions. Smallswords are notoriously fragile. On a missed attack where all dice are 5 or less, the sword breaks. The broken sword can still be used to attack but at a -1d penalty and it no longer risks deadly bleeding wounds (see below).
There’s a wide array of cannons in the Napoleonic era. Our focus is on individual characters rather than batteries of artillery, so we’ll rely on rules of thumb instead of detailed rules.
If a cannonball hits a character, it fills the hit location with Killing damage. If it hits a limb, it takes the limb clean off and does a further 5 Shock to the torso, and the character starts bleeding to death.
The same goes for a character who’s hit in a blast of canister or grape shot. If you’re part of a crowd that’s hit by a blast of grape or canister, roll 2d. If one of them comes up 10, the other one indicates a hit location that is blasted.
Each character within 10 yards of an exploding shell takes 2 Shock to each hit location from the blast and also must roll 4d for a light gun, 5d for a medium gun, or 6d for a heavy gun. Each die in that roll indicates a hit location that takes 1 Killing damage from shrapnel.
For more detailed rules, see page 58 of This Favored Land.
Without a great deal of practice and training to harden them, most fighters in the Napoleonic age can’t easily stomach actually stabbing an enemy with sharp weapon such as a bayonet or a knife, particularly face-to-face. If a fighter has no skill specifically in a sharp melee weapon (whether it’s the one being used or another), a face-to-face attack is hesitant and all Killing damage is treated as Shock instead. An attack in the heat of battle on an enemy whose back is turned does full damage.
Firearms and sharp, thrusting weapons tend to pierce deeply and produce heavy bleeding. This rule applies to attacks with a firearm, fixed bayonet, pike, lance, or smallsword. (But not a handheld knife, dirk, unfixed sword bayonet, saber, spontoon, halberd or billhook.) On a torso hit at width 3 or greater where the victim takes at least 3 Killing damage, the victim takes another 1 Shock to the torso per hour due to bleeding. At 4 Killing it’s 1 Shock per minute and at 5 Killing or more it’s 1 per round.
Napoleonic-era medicine and first aid cannot stop this bleeding. The victim can make a Body+Vigor roll to resist each new point of Shock, and if it succeeds the bleeding subsides and the damage stops.
Having a limb filled with Killing damage, or the torso filled with any kind of damage, triggers an immediate Command+Discipline roll. If it succeeds, the character may continue acting normally, though of course the limb is disabled. If it fails, pain and shock and fear take over and the character collapses, either screaming in pain or unconscious (player’s choice), and cannot act until treated with the Healing skill (if unconscious) or brought to his senses with either Inspire or Intimidate (if screaming in pain).
A single blow to an arm or leg for 5 Killing or more permanently maims the limb. Either it’s taken clean off or it’s broken or mangled beyond repair. The limb cannot ever be used again. Further, if it’s not treated properly, infection is very likely to set in which may kill the victim. See This Favored Land, page 62.
Armor and Defenses
Armor is far rarer in His Majesty’s Reign than in standard Reign campaigns. Heavy cavalrymen (who fight mainly with lances and sabers) ride into battle with breastplates (AR 3, medium weight), and most cavalry wear light helmets (AR 2, light weight), but footsoldiers are never armored.
Wealthy officers who can afford armor forego it under the all-powerful pressures of tradition and honor. Flaunting tradition and honor damages one’s Reputations, usually by 1d for each offense, and inevitably earns the mockery of one’s peers and subordinates and the disapprobation of one’s betters.
To make up for that, use the following rules.
Defending: A character who declares a dodge or parry roll gains the equivalent of AR 1 against all attacks that he or she can see coming, even if the dodge or parry roll fails. This isn’t literally armor, it’s reflexes helping to keep the character alive.
Backpack: Wearing a full (or mostly full) pack counts as AR 1 for any hit to the torso from behind, but it counts as medium weight.
Range: Any target gains AR 1 against a ranged weapon’s attack at long range as the missile’s energy is partly spent.
Use the standard Reign combat system for small engagements of a dozen or fewer combatants. Use the “Die, Men!” rules in Reign supplement 7 (available free at gregstolze.com) for large battles on the battalion scale. To resolve a whole campaign at once, use the Company conflict rules.
Use these skirmish rules for an engagement on the company scale, with about 50 to 150 fighters on each side but with the action focused on the players, or to play out the players’ portion of a larger battle.
A skirmish is resolved much like a normal combat. Each round represents the highlight of a few minutes of maneuvering and fighting for each player character.
The player characters must have a designated commander, whose Tactics skill will ultimately decide their success or failure in the skirmish. If they lack a commander, they can’t win the skirmish. Disorganized mobs rarely overcome disciplined soldiers.
Setting the Objective
What are the player characters trying to achieve? The GM and players need to decide this first. The objective of a skirmish ought to be something immediate — something that can be achieved as a result of a company of 50 to 150 fighters defeating another company of 50 to 150 fighters. Capturing a town, defending a supply column, and fighting through an ambush are all appropriate. Conquering a nation is best left to the full Company rules.
The enemies that the characters face are mostly Unworthy Opponents, and the GM must decide their Threat rating.
Threat ranges from 1 to 4, with most soldiers falling in around 2 or 3.
Here are the Threat guidelines from Reign:
- Base rating (unarmed and untrained rabble): Threat 1
- Armed: +1 Threat
- Well-trained or highly motivated: +1 Threat
- Magical advantage: +1 Threat
Thus a typical veteran French or British regiment has a Threat of 3. A conscript regiment that’s given muskets and thrust to the front has Threat 2, or Threat 1 if they don’t even get muskets (or are so unfamiliar with them that they might as well not have them).
The GM must also decide the Knowledge+Tactics dice pool of the enemy commander. This usually ought to be 4d to 6d.
If you want to randomize it, roll the player characters’ commander’s Knowledge+Tactics dice pool. The better the roll, the better the enemy leader.
- No sets: Incompetent commander (2d)
- 2x: Average commander (4d)
- 3x: Exceptional commander (6d)
- 4x: Masterful commander (8d)
- 5x+: Another Napoleon! (10d)
The GM next must determine the overall Difficulty rating of the skirmish. The overall Difficulty determines the Difficulty of the commander’s Tactics rolls, the number of dice in Unworthy Opponents that each player character faces, and the duration of the skirmish in rounds.
Like Threat, the Difficulty rating depends on a lot of factors: the numbers of the enemy; their strategic resources (i.e., if one side has cannons and the other does not), advantages in terrain or fortifications, and whether the objective is particularly easy or daunting for the players’ side.
The maximum overall Difficulty rating is 7. The minimum is 1.
- Base Difficulty: Equal to the Threat rating of the enemy
- Disadvantageous numbers, terrain, resources or fortifications: +1 or +2 Difficulty
- Advantageous numbers, terrain, resources or fortifications: -1 or -2 Difficulty
- The objective is complex or daunting: +1 or +2 Difficulty
- The objective is relatively simple: -1 or -2 Difficulty
Enemy Unworthy Opponents Dice: 3 plus 1 per Difficulty.
Sample Skirmish Ratings
- Easy: Difficulty 1, 4 dice for unworthy opponents, Duration 1 round
- Damned Hard: Difficulty 4, 7 dice for unworthy opponents, Duration 4 rounds
- Can’t Be Done!: Difficulty 7, 10 dice for unworthy opponents, Duration 7 rounds
In each round, each character typically is faced with one or more enemies.
Enemies are represented by an Unworthy Opponent dice pool. Each player character is assigned a separate Unworthy Opponents dice pool.
This doesn’t mean they’re surrounded by enemies. It may not even mean fighting particular individuals. It represents trading shots and blows with many enemies who come into range over the course of a few minutes. Each of their enemies and allies is likely doing the same.
Enemy attacks: The enemies attack with the Unworthy Opponents dice pool as usual. When enemies hit they do the standard damage for their equipment. Here are some samples.
- Infantry: musket at range, musket stock or bayonet in melee
- Skirmisher: musket or rifle at range, musket stock or bayonet in melee
- Cavalry: carbine or pistol at range, lance or cavalry saber in melee
- Officer: pistol at range, infantry saber (or dirk if very young) in melee
Demoralization: At the GM’s option (or if you like randomness, make it a 1 in 10 chance for each character each round), in lieu of an attack by an enemy a player character might suffer the equivalent of a Morale Attack from an enemy set. It might be from a cannonball or a blast felling allies nearby, or else a charge by enemy cavalry with sabers drawn — or by enemy foot with bayonets fixed — that threatens to scatter the line. Instead of physical damage, the enemy set inflicts width in penalty dice on that character’s dice pools until the character recovers. This penalty recovers at 1d per round. A successful Discipline roll by the character (instead of fighting or as part of a multiple action) restores width in lost dice.
Defending: Enemies can and should use spare sets to defend. In hand-to-hand combat their defense represents parrying and dodging; at range it can represent anything from obscuring smoke to bad weather throwing off your aim.
Reducing the Opponents: Compare the player’s roll with his Unworthy Opponent dice pool’s roll in a dynamic contest. If the player character wins, the player’s Unworthy Opponents dice pool drops by one.
If the player character wins the contest and his or her attack kills or maims an enemy, he or she gets a free Morale attack. If that succeeds, it removes height in dice from the character’s Unworthy Opponents dice pool.
If the player character attacks with multiple actions, each win removes a die from the Unworthy Opponents pool and each kill or maiming allows a free Morale attack to remove height in dice!
If a player character’s Unworthy Opponents dice pool drops to zero, the player can choose to take on half of the Unworthy Opponents dice from another player character in the next Declaration phase. If they’re not right next to each other, it may take a skirmish round spent maneuvering with Athletics, Ride, or Tactics to get there.
Tactical advantage: If the player won the contest, the players’ commander gets a bonus die to his next Tactics roll. If the player lost the contest, the commander suffers a -1d penalty to his next Tactics roll. If the heights are tied, there’s no bonus or penalty for the commander.
A character can attempt to overcome some other obstacle rather than fighting. This applies only if there’s something significant at stake. Success gains a substantial advantage for the players, usually a bonus die for a character (although First Aid to keep a mauled character alive is a good candidate, too).
Failure means a substantial disadvantage to the players, usually a penalty die for a character. The player and GM should work out the stakes during the declaration phase. It calls for a skill roll. The Difficulty is usually the same as for the commander’s Tactics rolls.
In each round, the commander of each side can either fight, lead his troops with Tactics, or rally demoralized troops with Inspire.
Leading: Leading calls for a Tactics roll. If it succeeds, the commander gains width in bonus dice that he can try to give to one or more allies (not himself) in the next turn — but each recipient must make a Discipline roll to act on the orders correctly and gain the bonus.
Rallying: Rallying demoralized troops calls for an Inspire roll. If it succeeds, it offsets width in penalty dice that have accumulated to his next Tactics roll due to failures in combat.
Fighting: Fighting is handled the same as for other characters.
In each case, if the commander succeeds, he gains a +1d bonus to the final Tactics roll at the end of the skirmish. If he fails, he loses a die from that final Tactics roll. Keep a running total of the bonus or penalty each round until the end.
Sergeants and Lieutenants
An officer or NCO who is not the overall commander can help make sure the commander’s orders are followed. If the commander issued orders to provide bonus dice, the NCO or officer can declare a Discipline roll instead of fighting to make sure the orders are followed. If it succeeds, one player character can replace a failed Discipline roll with the NCO or officer’s Discipline roll.
At the end of the battle — it lasts a fixed number of rounds according to its overall difficulty — the players’ commander makes a final Tactics roll.
If it succeeds, the players’ side wins the battle and achieves the objective.
If it succeeds particularly well — the other side rolls no sets, or the player’s commander roll double the enemy’s width or height — it’s a particularly triumphant victory, probably with many captives or the lucky capture of plans or an enemy luminary.
If it’s a success but it’s lower than the required Difficulty, it’s a stalemate. The players achieve their goal only partially.
If it fails, the player characters are defeated. If it fails and all the commander’s dice are lower than the Difficulty, it’s a particular scathing, disorderly defeat.
The Battle Awaits!
What’s next? That’s up to you. I hope this variant gives some of my fellow Napoleonics fans ideas for fun games using Reign and Wild Talents, not to mention Duty & Honour.
If you have suggestions or if you come up with your own schools of sorcery or rules for the setting, please log in and post them in the comments below.