Domains at War: Battles Review

Here is the second half of my Domains at War (D@W) review (the first part can be found here).   The second book that makes up Autarch’s mass combat supplement is Battles.  Where Campaigns looks at the sweeping scope of war, Battles focuses on the individual engagements.

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Domains at War: Battles Review

Domains at War: Battles is a 132-page PDF.  You can get it either by itself or as part of the Domains at War: Complete Set at drivethrurpg.com.  Like all Autarch products, D@W is a sharp-looking book with great art.  What differentiates Battles from Campaigns is that Battles is designed as tabletop wargame where you will play through the individual mêlées of your war campaign.  It is fully compatible with Campaigns as well as the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System.

Introduction

Battles starts off with a two-page introduction which includes a brief retrospective look at the origins of the RPG hobby.  From tabletop wargaming we have come, and to tabletop wargaming we return.  The introduction covers an outline of important terms and how to use Battles, either as a standalone game or in conjunction with Campaigns.

Chapter 1 – Basic Rules

This is the backbone of the Battles system.  With this and the first scenario in Chapter 9, you will be ready to play your first game.  The game is played on a hex map with markers that (at the basic scale) represent units of 120 infantry or 60 cavalry.  Units are broken up into divisions, which places a number of units under the command of a division commander.

Units are divided by type (foot, mounted, or flyer) and sub-divided based on formation.  Each entry on formation gives great historical and fantastical examples of that type of troop, except for flyers:  “Historical examples are sadly absent.”  In the basic rules, commanders help determine initiative order, morale bonuses for units, and have a pool of activation points used to control their division over the course of their turn.

Each round of Battles has the same sequence: Initiative Phase, Command Phases, and Morale Phase.  In the Initiative phase (which is happens each round), each division commander makes an initiative roll, establishing the order of the Command Phases.  In the Command Phase, commanders spend their activation points to move and attack with their units.  And in the Morale Phase, the overall army’s morale is diagnosed, and players’ check to see if their army breaks.

The resolution system will be very familiar to ACKS players; units have AC, Attack Throws, and Hit Points.  Attacks are resolved by rolling a number of d20 equal to the unit’s attack profile, adding the opponent’s AC to the unit’s Attack Throw value to determine what you need to roll.  Each hit nets 1 damage on the unit. Morale checks are resolved with 2d6 rolls along with a table of modifiers.

Autarch does a great job of making the integration of D@W with ACKS smooth and simple.  If you have played ACKS, especially to the point where your characters are eligible to participate as commanders in D@W, you will come to the table with a good grasp of the resolution mechanics.

Chapter 2 – Terrain

This chapter covers the placement and use of terrain for your Battles game.  With just the basic rules, it is assumed that the armies found an open level ground to battle each other on.  This chapter, plus the hex-token sheets provided with the Token Set, enables you to create a variety of diverse battlefields.

Terrain types are given special rules and characteristics, which affect movement and line of sight.  Look at the summary of the terrain types on page 33; it provides a nice overview of what you will need to keep in mind when using the different types of terrain.

Chapter 3 – Strategic Situations

When you are using Battles with Campaigns, not every battle will be fought in the same way.  Based on your choices during the campaign turn, your army might encounter another in ways besides a pitched battle. This short chapter gives you the setup and special rules for each of the battle types found in Campaigns.  The scenarios change the basic deployment rules as well as impose a variety of conditions upon one side or another.  FYI, ambushes are brutal in Battles, so set those up as often as you can.

Chapter 4 – Heroes

This chapter covers the full rules for heroes, including how to convert them from the base ACKS game and how to use heroes independently of units.  The rules here also cover the scenarios that would arise from taking a fantasy hero from an RPG and throwing them onto a battlefield. Heroes may use their spells, special abilities, and magic items at their disposal while on the battlefield.   The rules give you plenty of options for what heroes can do within a unit or out on their own.  This will provide your players opportunities to shine even in the midst of a mass combat.

Chapter 5 – Assaults

Sieges get their own chapter here, and I feel like this chapter is tied directly to its sister chapter in CampaignsCampaigns covers the initial siege, which will eventually flow into the assault of the stronghold, which you can play through with Battles.  This chapters covers the specific special rules needed for using fortifications, as well as siege engines.

Chapter 6 – Scale

Battles defaults to a company scale, meaning your armies will have between 600 and 3,000 bodies on the field.  This chapter covers how to adapt the unit stats to account for a larger or smaller encounters, as well as how this will affect heroes on the battlefield.  Spells, items, and Assaults can also be scaled.  This chapter highlights the level of detail and thought Autarch puts into their products.  The scaling changes are simple but effective, and the fact that they are included is a huge boon to the usability of this product.

Chapter 7 – Rosters

Much as you would expect, the unit stats are found here.  If it is mentioned in ACKS, or D@W: Campaigns, its statistics are found here.  Interestingly enough, unlike games like Warhammer, there is no way to ‘purchase’ units to build an army.  All of the mustering rules are found in Campaigns and are not based on a balancing of armies but what a player can realistically draw (or dares to draw) from their domain.

Chapter 8 – Conversion

This chapter contains the rules for building units for use within the Battles system.  Much like chapter 3 of Campaigns, this chapter will allow you to pull in creatures and races from other OSR and d20 based games.  If something has AC, Hit dice, HP, and To-Hit modifiers, you can convert it for use on the battlefield.  Examples are plentiful in this chapter, which is a huge help.  And at the end of the chapter, the rules for calculating Battle Rating and Wages (both very important stats in Campaigns) are listed here for a complete conversion rule set.

Chapter 9 – Scenarios

Two scenarios are given in the main book.  The first, Peril at the Fangs,is intended as an introductory scenario for use with only the basic rules.  Battle of Zidiumuses the full rules of Battles and moves the scale of the battle from the company to the brigade.  Both scenarios are grounded in the history of the Auran Empire (the ACKS’ default setting).  Peril at the Fangs pits beastmen against an understrength Auran legion, while Battle of Zidium is an epic conclusion to a massive war.  If you are familiar with the history of Rome, this battle is based on Zama, where Scipio Africanus fought Hannibal!

Chapter 10 – Armies

The final chapter is a list of special armies and units co-created with backers of the D@W Kickstarter.  These two armies are full of exotic units and special rules that were created specifically for these armies.

Glossary

Like Campaigns, any bolded word throughout Battles is found here with a definition. Also, like Campaigns¸ I suggest printing this out if you buy the PDF copy and annotating it with page reference numbers.

Conclusion

Autarch has created a lens with D@W.  This finely crafted piece allows you to view mass combat within your game.  It is up to you to focus the lens, choosing when to pull back and see the whole of a war campaign and when to zoom into a single battle.  The rules of D@W work seamlessly, allowing a group to flow back and forth between both rule sets as the story of the game and their interest demands.

While you can buy the D@W books separately, if you have even the slightest interest in Battles, I would highly recommend buying the Complete Set.  This set comes with Campaigns, Battles, the battlemap PDF (which I printed out and looks gorgeous), and a token set.

As a Warhammer player, I was not really interested in another fantasy miniatures game when D@W was announced, but I wanted to give this book a comprehensive review.  So my buddy, Chris, came over, and we worked our way through the first scenario.  Despite being trounced soundly by the beastmen who rallied to Chris’ banner, I had a blast.  (Chris really seemed to enjoy the trouncing as well.)  The basic game was simple to pick up, and within a couple of turns, we were hardly referencing the rules.  I am sure there were things we did wrong, but we had a blast and are going to get together and play the advanced scenario soon.

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