May 192010
 

In the world of fantasy literature, well escape fiction anyway, there seems to be two schools of thought. On one end of the spectrum we have the Hero’s journey. A weaving story telling the rags to riches tale of a young hero and his band of stalwart companions. At the other, much more epic end, we have the deliciously machiavellian maneuverings of a grand army and all of the battles that result. One of these things tabletop fantasy has traditionally done very well. The other, not so much. I am speaking, of course, of warfare. Usually when a game goes this way we have to hack something together to make it work. Most of the time it ends up cumbersome. Well, Cubicle 7 and Adamant Entertainment reckon they have a solution in their latest product, Warpath.

The Product

I got my hands on the PDF version of the book. It’s 65 pages long in black and white and has a torn page background which looks a bit odd without color. To be honest, it’s pretty standard fair. We’ve got a mix of art, most of it is medium to high quality, but the variety in art styles prevents it from feeling particularly cohesive. The book also begins with several pages of fiction. I’ll be honest. I didn’t do more than skim it. I don’t mind little pieces of flash fiction in my RPG books, but I don’t want more than a few paragraphs at a time. It seemed well enough written but not so good that I actually felt the need to read it.

The book’s layout is done well. It is presented in a logical order and has a table of contents if you need to track down a particular section quickly. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t include internal links in the PDF, but the presence of an actual sample scenario more than made up for that.

The System/Rules

Warpath is a supplement for the Pathfinder Role Playing Game and makes ample reference to the core PFRPG rules. Even so, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use it with D&D 3.5. The only problem with that might be the lack of CMD or CMB in 3.5, which could potentially make things very annoying.

The basics of the system have players dividing their armies into units and representing those units on index cards (Hereon called recipe cards because I like food more than work.). On these cards you will lay out all of the stats for the unit. For the most part these are ripped directly out of regular PFRPG combat rules, although there are a few additions such as Unit Power and Unit Mass. You also draw an arrow so that you know which way the unit is facing.

Actual combat works the same way as in Pathfinder with a few differences. Positioning becomes very important, as do formations and overall tactics. Luckily this is all covered in detail in the book. The actual flow of combat is changed a bit as well. Commanders (that’s the players) roll initiative at the beginning and then move their units around. When a player attacks things are resolved in a specific order. First ranged attacks and then melee attacks. After each attack the overall unit stats are altered to reflect losses.

The presence of battlefield commanders can improve unit odds and also offer a nice target for the enemy. If all the commanders are killed/captured then the army is routed. Speaking of routing, that seems to be what you want to aim for. You can rout individual units (make them run away). If you can do it they suffer so many penalties that you can easily finish them off. Don’t think it is all just lining up in a field and running into each other though. Tactics and positioning are important in this game and the section covering siege warfare looks very promising.

There are a few other good bits and pieces in here, such as mass use of magic and a section on running a city. Both of which would be useful if you are playing through a military campaign. I also enjoyed the section on ransoming nobles. Of all the little extras, I’d say the quick battle resolution is probably the most useful. This little section offers up a few tables that a GM can use to determine the outcome of a pitched battle as well as the number of losses on each side. I expect this would see a lot of usage from me as I’d probably gloss over all but the most important battles.

How it Plays

I sat down with a friend and we used the point buy rules to build a couple of armies to bash each other with. This was actually much quicker to set up than your standard game of Warhammer. After you factor out all the furious scribbling on recipe cards that is. If we had already prepared units it would have been a matter of just a few minutes. The point buy rules are great. They are based strictly off of the CR of the base creature and a quick little formula involving HD and number of troops. It’s easier than that last sentence would have you believe. Easy enough for me to have an army of lizardmen face off against some goblins.

Things proceeded pretty much as you would suspect. We maneuvered our cards around for a bit and then the horde of goblins enveloped my lizardmen and the battle devolved into what I shall fondly refer to as mud-slinging. The superior goblin numbers gave my opponent a distinct advantage in flanking and other position related maneuvers. The lizardmen were taken out, but not without making a valiantly spartan attempt at holding off the horde.

In practice the battle wasn’t really anymore cumbersome than ordinary pathfinder combat. It was slower. Much slower. I can’t really blame the game for that though. Both of us spent far too much time staring at the table and trying to come up with the best plan. I can imagine this becoming even more involved when you have 5 players sitting at a table all with different opinions on what troops should be doing. I’d suggest an egg timer or something to help prevent this. I’d also recommend that you have a couple calculators as it is pretty easy to mess up troop recalculations after every attack.

If you’ve ever played a tabletop war game like Warhammer or Warmachine you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect, only with a distinctly D&D/PF feel to the rules. They even acknowledge this with a section on using point buy army creation if you want to play it as a traditional war game.

Verdict

Despite Warpath’s striking similarities to standard Pathfinder combat, I still found it enjoyable. This might have something to do with the shear numbers of characters involved in each fight. One thing I did have trouble with was shaking the feeling that I was just playing standard combat and was just calling each mini 200 of whatever it was. There are enough additional rules and little changes that make this not exactly the case, but it definitely sits back there nagging at you. Mind you, they advertise it as a Pathfinder supplement and not a standalone game, so it fits into PFRPG nicely.

I can see myself using this as a cheap war game when I get the hankering for one. I got out of the warhammer game a long time ago and I’m in no rush to get back into it, but I still enjoy the odd afternoon of pushing troops around. As far as seeing use in an actual role playing campaign? I’m not so sure. I might use the quick resolution rules once and a while and if my players ever end up in control of an army it might see some use. I can’t really see myself dropping it into a preexisting game. I think if I wanted to use this it would be if I wanted to do a Game of Thrones style campaign where troops, politics, and city management were the main focus.

At $10 and for the PDF I’d recommend it if you like wargames or are planning a game heavily focused on large scale military campaigning. If you don’t think you will be seeing many armies clash at your game table then you are probably better off home brewing up something a bit less comprehensive. The hard copy, at $18, is a solid skip if you ask me. There are only a few pages that you actually need for reference and you can print those. As an ex-wargamer I like the product, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

[tags]wargaming,  roleplaying,  rpg,  tabletop, pathfinder,  PFRPG, Cubicle 7, Adamant Entertainment[/tags]

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  2 Responses to “On the Warpath. Cubicle 7 and Adamant’s Take on Mass Combat”

  1. Sounds like it could be fun. I developed a system for mass combat in D&D 3.5 that seems like it might share some basic similarities, but I did always end up with the feeling that it was just “this figure now represents a bunch more like it”.

    The big question I have is, does it showcase heroic characters in those battles at all? For my system I set the scale to 4-8 units per squad, allowing a heroic PC party to stand on their own against the masses. I wonder how that would play in for a rule set like this, or are PCs just generals, and the soldiers win the war?

  2. I’m glad you got some use out of it! I designed the ruleset to be an addition to the PFRPG (of which I worked on as contributor and editorial intern),and also to facilitate more realistic, historical combat. Thanks for the review! I hope your campaigns can get more use out of it in the future!

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