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Yes, that title is a bit provocative.

We've been having some serious trouble in our campaign battles, which prompted me to take a look at the tables I was using - those for Defending and Attacking Saxon armies in the Book of Armies.

Just to be clear, I'm using the main rulebook's battle rules with two house rules: first, the reduction of critical hits to 1.5xregular damage, and second, the commander of a disengaged unit gets to choose between two units if they decide to attack. I've also incorporated the rules from BoB regarding rescue of unhorsed characters.

Even given this, battles are often brutal and not a whole lot of fun, in a way I hadn't noticed in a past campaign in which I just used the rulebook armies. 

Upon examination, the Saxon units in BoA are much more skilled, and almost always have a weapon or fighting technique (missile, great spear, or mounted combat) which negates the mounted/foot bonuses that should be a major factor in these fights.

(I won't get into the rest of the book without reading it more carefully - but this sort of thing seems to be a trend.)

I certainly think that battles should be dangerous - but it seems this pushes matters too far. I certainly don't want to see each session's training and Glory become about upping weapon skills and passions just so they have a decent shot at survival. At the same time, I like some of the distinctive units and special properties of these units.

So - do you use the armies in BoA? Would you consider reducing their skills somewhat, or mingling them with forces from the rulesbook list? Am I missing some rule here that would help?

 

 

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I do use both books. But, to be honest, I never run a battle on the fly, even cutting a night short if the players stumble into one.  I then play it out and introduce those points where the PKs can help their side. It helps me with the narrative of it as well as building the entire drama out. A battle tells a story and I want the players to feel they are important parts of it, even if they are going to lose big time.  How did they affect the story? How are they going to be view after the battle by both sides. 

"Yeah we crushed you all. Running like scared rabbits you were, all except that little pocket over there..."

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BoA is one of my least favorite books. I find many of its entries very poorly thought out; the skill & damage levels are way too high for some unit types.

That being said, one thing that might give your PKs more of a fighting chance is to remember that Great Spears only cancel the +5 vs. non-Lance bonus a knight gets and the -5 unmounted malus that the footman gets; the horseman still gets the +5 to his own skill for being mounted against a footman. Also, other melee weapons do suffer from the -5 malus. So a bunch of skill 15 PKs charging a bunch of Skill 20 berserkers with great axes should still be much in the PKs favor: 15+5 mounted +5 lance=25, vs. 20-5 on foot = 15.

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One thing about which I am seriously thinking is ruling that the listed damage *does* include the +1d6 for a two-handed weapon, where appropriate, at least for some entries (you know which ones...).  I initially assumed that it did, and only later spotted the bit about the GM having to add it.

If one is going with the logic that the damage reflects multiple wounds over a period of time and is not the same as an individual’s damage statistic — I can see that, but if so the Major Wound and Knockdown thresholds for PC’s should be increased.  

(And indeed for the opponents MW does seem to be remarkably high, not that I think that it matters much what their MW is — am I missing something in the rules where it is critical to know that?)

A more positive comment: I do very much prefer the way in which Glory works with the Book of Battles to the basic battle rules.  

Edited by Voord 99
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The BOA is something of a mixed bag. Several of us have chattend a bit about it in the past. Some units and insanely overpowered, and others are so pathetic as to not be worth starting up. There also seems to be a lot of errors in stats-at least as far as matching things up with the values from the core rulebook. I think BOA could certinaly benefit from some edting and correction.

IMO, the book does have three "hurdles" in design that probably led to some of it's shortcomings.

1) BoA tries to make the various units distinctive and interesting in some way. This is what lead to a lot of the places where armor and damage values don't mesh with the core rules.  This can lead to problems when payer characters realize that some enemy unit has rare/special armor that they want., and capture enemy troops to try an incorpate that armor into their own outfit. 

2) BoA also attempts to cover all eras, and this lead to several units who were either over or under armored. 

3) The BoA also has to try a challenge player knights of all skill levels. This latter one is a real problem. In Pendragon, especially KAP5, it's quite possible for a group of PKs to get the weapon skills over 20 and be able to mop of the floor with most of the on the tables. To offset this, there are a handful of super units on various tables, but those units become overkill vs. any lesser knights.

13 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

Even given this, battles are often brutal and not a whole lot of fun, in a way I hadn't noticed in a past campaign in which I just used the rulebook armies. 

They are supposed to be. Pendragon isn't a "nice & safe" sort of RPG. PKs are at risk, and players who don't want to lose characters should play some other RPG. But, I think you might be overlooking something about how long two handed weapons work, that could make a huge difference,  see below.

13 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

Upon examination, the Saxon units in BoA are much more skilled, and almost always have a weapon or fighting technique (missile, great spear, or mounted combat) which negates the mounted/foot bonuses that should be a major factor in these fights.

The weapon should only partially negate the mounted bonus, specifically the -5 to footmen. It shouldn't negate the +5 to being mounted for the horseman. That might be why your having such tough fights. Typically, PKs can go through most foot units, execpt for the special units, or when they get double or triple teamed.

Frankly, if you are using the core rules book, most opponents in the BoA should be a cakewalk for the PKs, with only other knights and the occasional overpowered unit being any real threat. 

13 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

I certainly think that battles should be dangerous - but it seems this pushes matters too far. I certainly don't want to see each session's training and Glory become about upping weapon skills and passions just so they have a decent shot at survival. At the same time, I like some of the distinctive units and special properties of these units.

Well, keep in mind that the whole feudal system was geared around providing knights for battle. The whole "squire" thing was really a 7 year basica training program. So, to some extent, the PKs should be upping their weapons skills to have a decent shot at survival- it's what real knights did.

Most of my players try to get Sword, Lance and Horse up to 20, ASAP, both to eliminate the chance of fumbling (barring penalties), and to greatly increase the chances of getting a critical hit when the +5 mounted bonus kicks in. 

13 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

So - do you use the armies in BoA? Would you consider reducing their skills somewhat, or mingling them with forces from the rulesbook list? Am I missing some rule here that would help?

 Yes, I do use the BOA, but I also go through and adjust some of the stats. Not so much to reduce skills, but usually to correct damage stats that don't seem to match with the rules (for instance when someone does 5D6 with a sword, but 4D6 with a javelin), correct typos (when someone does more damage with one great weapon vs. another), or to adjust the armor values to fit the time period. 

I could post one or more of my customized army sheets if you like. 

If I could somehow magically alter the BOA, I think I'd like to make it a bit more standardized in terms of skill and gear. For instance raw, green, regular, veteran and elite troops would each have certain skill ranges assigned to them.  Something like 7+1d3, 10+1d3, 13+1d3, 16+1d3 for skills. Then I'd like to rate armor based on what is available during a given period. So a unit with poor armor, typical armor, or best armor would wear different armors at different time periods. 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks to everyone for their comments and feedback. I appreciate the notice that great spears will not negate the +5 bonus the knights get, which I had missed.

I did want to answer some of Axgtgx's comments, largely because I think they were helpful in making some choices about my campaign and its philosophy.

Quote

 Pendragon isn't a "nice & safe" sort of RPG. PKs are at risk, and players who don't want to lose characters should play some other RPG.

Most of my players started their gaming experience with Call of Cthulhu, and the majority are veterans of a multi-year B/X "death at 0 HP" campaign. We've already had two knights die (one through crits, one through crits + bad decision making), and the players just created other characters and moved on. So I think we're good here.

I'll just juxtapose these two quotes here:

Quote

3) The BoA also has to try a challenge player knights of all skill levels. This latter one is a real problem. In Pendragon, especially KAP5, it's quite possible for a group of PKs to get the weapon skills over 20 and be able to mop of the floor with most of the on the tables. To offset this, there are a handful of super units on various tables, but those units become overkill vs. any lesser knights.

and

Quote

 

Well, keep in mind that the whole feudal system was geared around providing knights for battle. The whole "squire" thing was really a 7 year basica training program. So, to some extent, the PKs should be upping their weapons skills to have a decent shot at survival- it's what real knights did.

Most of my players try to get Sword, Lance and Horse up to 20, ASAP, both to eliminate the chance of fumbling (barring penalties), and to greatly increase the chances of getting a critical hit when the +5 mounted bonus kicks in. 

 

I'd agree that there should be an emphasis on combat in the knight's training - and I have no problem with killing a character who has been neglecting that. 

At the same time, I don't want a game in which all the PKs spend most of their improvement points from character creation to the start of aging raising the same three skills just so they can survive against BoA units. I'd prefer a game in which a PK works on their combat skills, but can also pursue becoming a Religious or Chivalric knight, or poetry, or politics. With the deadliness of Pendragon, there's a risk in neglecting combat ability - but I'd find it unsatisfying if players felt the risk was so great that they shouldn't improve anything else.

So I feel that the best thing to do would be to combine the rulesbook and BoA lists, and use the latter more for seasoning than as a staple.

That doesn't mean I don't want to see new army lists, of course...

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5 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

Most of my players started their gaming experience with Call of Cthulhu, and the majority are veterans of a multi-year B/X "death at 0 HP" campaign. We've already had two knights die (one through crits, one through crits + bad decision making), and the players just created other characters and moved on. So I think we're good here.

Just to make sure that you and your players are aware of this little detail:

In KAP, death doesn't happen at 0, nor even at negative hit points. You are just 'Dying' at that point. First Aid (one try per wound, successful or not) can bring you back to positive hit points: I have seen some amazing recoveries in my time thanks to lucky rolling. Healing potions (if one has any) or magic (usually of Faerie type which might carry a hefty obligation with it) can bring the poor knight back to positive hit points and hence save them. If he is still at 0 or negative hit points at stroke of midnight, then he dies during the rest of the night, past any help. Granted, usually magic is not available, so if the PK is still at 0 or below after First Aid, we let him get on with his last words and die afterwards, unless it is important for him to struggle on until midnight. Even Mortal Blows don't automatically kill the character, although a coup de grace can. A head chopped off is pretty instantly fatal, but that takes some doing if the knight is in armor...

5 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

So I feel that the best thing to do would be to combine the rulesbook and BoA lists, and use the latter more for seasoning than as a staple.

The way I do it is that I prepare my own lists of what I think make sense or sound interesting. Then I let the Battle rolls of the PK unit leader guide what kinds of opponents they meet. Nor am I afraid to throw a champion + lesser knights against the PKs, if the skill levels of the PKs are widely distributed. No reason why all the NPCs would have the exact same skill level, and it would make sense that the most skilled enemy would seek his counterpart for the glory and the challenge. Granted, I do not do this all the time, since it is nice to give the Players some badass moments of cutting through the average knights with ease using their Sword 25... But if they reach that level, they are probably known to the enemies as well, and that might mean that they get specifically targeted by enemy heroes, too.

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On 8/15/2020 at 7:14 PM, Morien said:

Just to make sure that you and your players are aware of this little detail:

In KAP, death doesn't happen at 0, nor even at negative hit points. You are just 'Dying' at that point. First Aid (one try per wound, successful or not) can bring you back to positive hit points: I have seen some amazing recoveries in my time thanks to lucky rolling. Healing potions (if one has any) or magic (usually of Faerie type which might carry a hefty obligation with it) can bring the poor knight back to positive hit points and hence save them. If he is still at 0 or negative hit points at stroke of midnight, then he dies during the rest of the night, past any help. Granted, usually magic is not available, so if the PK is still at 0 or below after First Aid, we let him get on with his last words and die afterwards, unless it is important for him to struggle on until midnight. Even Mortal Blows don't automatically kill the character, although a coup de grace can. A head chopped off is pretty instantly fatal, but that takes some doing if the knight is in armor...

 

I think we've got that one pretty down pat - it doesn't matter much when someone's on the receiving end of a two-handed weapon crit - but I appreciate the reminder.

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8 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

I think we've got that one pretty down pat - it doesn't matter much when someone's on the receiving end of a two-handed weapon crit - but I appreciate the reminder.

Yeah, once you go down far enough into negatives, there is little that can help. But I figured it was a useful reminder not just for you but anyone else reading this Forum, as new players drift in every now and again. :)

In our house rules, criticals cause only +4d6, regardless of base damage. This makes surviving them somewhat easier, while still keeping them dangerous enough to usually cause Major Wounds. And it lessens the already very very useful 6d6 base damage, as you do 'only' 10d6 on a critical instead of 12d6, and the weapon damage bonuses don't multiply, either. Arguably, the shield/chain bonuses should not multiply anyway: you can't take more than 6 points out of a shield, for instance, so it would make little sense that you do more damage to a guy holding a shield than a guy who is not (if you are using the changed Axe rule from GPC where you just roll 1d6 for the shield protection instead of extra damage, this is a non-issue for Axes, but might still apply for Maces). Of course we have the 'half-critical' rule in place, too, where there is a confirmation roll on the weapon skill: unopposed, failure means it is just a half-crit causing +2d6.

Edited by Morien
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On 8/15/2020 at 1:50 PM, SaxBasilisk said:

Thanks to everyone for their comments and feedback. I appreciate the notice that great spears will not negate the +5 bonus the knights get, which I had missed.

I did want to answer some of Axgtgx's comments, largely because I think they were helpful in making some choices about my campaign and its philosophy.

Sorry for the long delay in replying, an electrical storm took out my TV/monitor which in turn lead to my computer corrupting it's boot manager, and I've been off the net for awhile.

On 8/15/2020 at 1:50 PM, SaxBasilisk said:

Most of my players started their gaming experience with Call of Cthulhu, and the majority are veterans of a multi-year B/X "death at 0 HP" campaign. We've already had two knights die (one through crits, one through crits + bad decision making), and the players just created other characters and moved on. So I think we're good here.

I think so to. Compared to CoC, Pendragon is pretty tame. Yes, all the player knights are going to die, but at least in Pendragon they get a fighting chance and can go out in a blaze of glory. 

On 8/15/2020 at 1:50 PM, SaxBasilisk said:

At the same time, I don't want a game in which all the PKs spend most of their improvement points from character creation to the start of aging raising the same three skills just so they can survive against BoA units.

It's not just BoA units. Frankly most BOA units are fairly tame. It's more a matter of keeping up with the NPKs. Fighting is a knights' primary purpose so combat skills will tend to be important and worked on more than other skills. At least until the Romance Period.

On 8/15/2020 at 1:50 PM, SaxBasilisk said:

I'd prefer a game in which a PK works on their combat skills, but can also pursue becoming a Religious or Chivalric knight, or poetry, or politics. With the deadliness of Pendragon, there's a risk in neglecting combat ability - but I'd find it unsatisfying if players felt the risk was so great that they shouldn't improve anything else.

That shouldn't be a problem. With the way experience and training work, as well as the benefits associated with any of the religious or chivalry bonuses, PKs have a lot of incentive to work on those other areas. It's just that:

1) Early on, the knights will probably focus on getting their combat skills up to the level of most knights, and will probably push for a 20 both to always get their shield and to eliminate the chance of fumbling.

2) Once PKs hit the "wall" for traiing (15 and later 20) it becomes more useful to advance in other areas with training and prictice.

2) The nature of glory bonus points is such that players will tend to use them to improve things that are already at a high value rather than on more mundane pursuits.

 

As far as poetry or politics are concerned, it depends a lot on how the GM is running the game, and in what Peroid they are playing. 

On 8/15/2020 at 1:50 PM, SaxBasilisk said:

So I feel that the best thing to do would be to combine the rulesbook and BoA lists, and use the latter more for seasoning than as a staple.

I don't think the BOA armies are all that more difficult that the standard ones. Yes there is the odd elite unit, but they are rare. If your players are running into a lot of problems they might be making poor tactical choices. One thing about the Book of Battle is that there are a few ways to get killed trying something foolhardy and heroic. The vast majority of PK deaths I've seen have generally been due to critical hits (pretty much a given if you got a good sized group and at least a moderate length battle), failure to withdraw to heal up, or biting off more than they can chew (usually by going into intended melee against a tough opponent to rescue a fallen PK).

 

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BoArmies has some flaws, but is not ridiculous.

The main problem is the Saxons themselves. Their list, even the "beginners list", is tough. Their army is the most dangerous. They hit hard, very hard. They are skilled, even if they fight on foot. They are supposed to be scary. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

On 8/15/2020 at 7:50 PM, SaxBasilisk said:

At the same time, I don't want a game in which all the PKs spend most of their improvement points from character creation to the start of aging raising the same three skills just so they can survive against BoA units. I'd prefer a game in which a PK works on their combat skills, but can also pursue becoming a Religious or Chivalric knight, or poetry, or politics. With the deadliness of Pendragon, there's a risk in neglecting combat ability - but I'd find it unsatisfying if players felt the risk was so great that they shouldn't improve anything else.

There is no time for poetry during Uther's reign (and worst, during the Anarchy). If you want to be a romantic knight during Uther's time, even a chivalric or religious knight, the setting should be against you. This is the dark Ages, before the Dawn of Arthur's reign.

Of course, your players could maximize compose if they want, and even gain glory by this way. But it's a challenge. If they achieve anything, they can be proud.

So, basically, it's logical the Saxon Army is deadly, because they are supposed to be deadly. Look at the other armies, and you will see they are much more manageable.

13 hours ago, Atgxtg said:

That shouldn't be a problem. With the way experience and training work, as well as the benefits associated with any of the religious or chivalry bonuses, PKs have a lot of incentive to work on those other areas. It's just that:

1) Early on, the knights will probably focus on getting their combat skills up to the level of most knights, and will probably push for a 20 both to always get their shield and to eliminate the chance of fumbling.

My players are often rushing to their precious "sword 20" as well, precisely for this reason.

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5 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

BoArmies has some flaws, but is not ridiculous.

OH, there are bits of ridiculous in there, units with weapons skills of 30, or even 39, Robin Hood, Fezzig and Indigo from the Princes Bride

5 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

The main problem is the Saxons themselves. Their list, even the "beginners list", is tough. Their army is the most dangerous. They hit hard, very hard. They are skilled, even if they fight on foot. They are supposed to be scary. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

I don't think the Saxons are all that dangerous. The +5/-5 mounted bonus tends to shift them into the minor threat category against most PKs. That is, unless the PKs get outnumbered. It's ususally the mounted foes that are dangerous.

5 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

There is no time for poetry during Uther's reign (and worst, during the Anarchy). If you want to be a romantic knight during Uther's time, even a chivalric or religious knight, the setting should be against you. This is the dark Ages, before the Dawn of Arthur's reign.

Exactly. MUch like with history, that sort of stuff doesn't really come into play until the wars are over, and knights are looking for something else to do. 

5 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

Of course, your players could maximize compose if they want, and even gain glory by this way. But it's a challenge. If they achieve anything, they can be proud.

Yes, but, once the PKs have gotten their combat skills up to respectable levels it's not all that difficult to pick up other skills via training and practice. 

5 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

So, basically, it's logical the Saxon Army is deadly, because they are supposed to be deadly. Look at the other armies, and you will see they are much more manageable.

Oh there are other armies that are more deadly. The Saxons do more damage than most other opponents, but only when they win, which isn't all that common, when their effective skill is around 10-12 vs. the PK's effective skill of 25.

What keeps them somewhat dangerous is their high damage stat, combined with the 5% chance of a critical hit, and the relatively low armor protection of the early periods. Mathematically speaking, with all the die rolling,  the Saxons are going to roll one or two criticals per battle, and stand a good chance of dropping or outright killing a PK with one hit. 

But that is pretty much true with all the armies. It's less about the Saxons are more about the laws of probability. Most groups will see an NPC roll a critical every four or five battle turns, and critical hits are very nasty in Pendragon. 

 

5 hours ago, Tizun Thane said:

My players are often rushing to their precious "sword 20" as well, precisely for this reason.

Mine too. They focus on Sword (or other primary weapon, but for most sword is better), Lance/Spear Expertise, and Horsemanship, and then start to look towards improving other skills, such as Awareness, First Aid, Courtesy, etc.

Sometimes a PK might focus on characteristics (one PK started play with a 23 CON and took one major wound throughout his whole career), or traits (getting the chivalry or a religious bonus early can fast track a PK to hero), but even those characters work on getting their combat skills up. It's simply the nature of the setting.

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