By way of introduction… the ongoing campaign
My friend Rich Mckee has been running an ongoing campaign of the relatively ancient roleplaying game EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE (EPT) for a long time now. I had some knowledge of EPT from a very long time ago– and I thought it was cumbersome and weird as a kid, with dense printing, weird script like font face, and incomprehensible names. My opinion has changed as an adult. When you’re playing EPT, the setting is almost a character in itself. The game is very much a product of the designer’s vision and that vision has stayed relatively stable for many decades, bolstered by a very eager fanbase. Thus, much like the world of Middle Earth, if you are adventuring in a specific place and time, all the other players know where and when that is, and what is going on around you. It’s like playing in a story. I’m impressed with that shared world concept, and my modern interest in EPT has really taken off now that we are playing in earnest. In the campaign we are in now, (months ago in game time) our characters were in the service of a local official and member of the nobility from the city of Thraya. He sent us North to investigate an unused property of his family and assess if the area was a risky choice for development or not– there had been all sorts of terrible rumors of an infestation of local monsters and ghosts in that locale. We went there and found some old buildings, which covered up extensive underground catacombs, filled with animated corpses! Having determined the rumors of the infestation were true and something had woken this LEGION of undead for some reason, our duty was to report this information back to our employer. It wasn’t that easy. One thing led to another, and we were at the point of being trapped with a horde of zombies outside a door in the catacombs, gradually breaking through. We desperately looked for alternative ways out in the complex of cells we were in and found an old sarcophagus. Upon opening the sarcophagus, up popped an ancient corpse of a woman inhabited by the soul of some demi-god named Duvan’ku. She didn’t immediately attack us but proved to be both intelligent and somewhat bemused by our presence. Undead are different in this world. She wanted to know what our difficulty was and we told her.. we needed a way out of there. She said, “Oh I can provide that if you let me out of here.” Sure, why not, what was the harm... We let her out, and two things happened. We jumped through this portal that she directed us to. That ended up transporting us to another place in the space-time continuum, almost on the other side of the vast continent we were on. Since there are no horses or much in the way of riding beast of any kind on Tekumel, we ended up walking back in the direction we came.. month after month. Meanwhile, back near Thraya the “other thing that happened” was the ancient being (Duvan’ku) we let loose in exchange for freedom from the dungeon we were in had not been idle. It turned out she was a dab hand at converting undead into disciplined army legions and military cohorts. She created a large army of the undead and marched it on Thraya. We were oblivious of this (being a half a continent away) but she proved to be a decent military tactician. The local officials scrambled to build a reaction force to take on the invaders made up of the local imperial legion, a polyglot Temple Guards unit, some assorted allied mercenaries and a few battle wizards and priests. Thus the stage was set for the Battle of Thraya, which took place far outside the view of the player character group. We were busy on adventures of our own, many leagues to the East. We didn’t realize the havoc we had unwittingly unleashed upon the world until we managed to trek back within the confines of the Tsolyani Empire. Steve Braun and Rich have wanted to refight the Battle of Thraya in a miniatures game with our monthly gaming group (the Second Saturday Scrum Club) but COVID 19 has put a halt to our monthly meetups, but not our gaming. Nowadays we mostly meet online and have run miniatures games using remote meeting software. I was more than willing to participate in a refight of the Battle of Thraya, just to see how it played out. The results of the game would go into “canon” in the story, one way or the other.
The rules were another old relic brought back from the dusty past, TSR’s ancient CHAINMAIL rules, the 3rd edition, which one of our players uses to run games with. They were simple and straightforward, and adapted to EPT reasonably well once you took the standard fantasy creatures used in Chainmail as a template for EPT creatures (which are incredibly varied). The game commenced by the human/allied side holding a long line and letting the enemy advance to them, at least for some distance. The only terrain for cover was on my side of the table after all. They got to within bowshot range and gradually my (only) archer unit started peppering their left flank. Unfortunately, this was slow progress. As long as I was aiming at single hit point creatures, that’s fine. That means– a hit kills a unit. Unfortunately, if you take a look at the OOB, the Undead had many units that were not single hit point creatures– only the “mrur” undead could be killed that easily. It took several hits to kill Shredla (armored skeletons). The humans boasted no comparable troops, although we also had heavy (armored) infantry, but that didn’t count. So any time the Undead scored a hit, the allies lost a figure, regardless of unit type. Chainmail has some stringent morale rules, too. Apparently leaders can’t even roll to influence unit routing, even when close to a breaking unit (I think… I’m not sure what the answer is to that even now). So when my units engaged the Shredlu, Qon, Demons and other “tough” specialized units, humans had to score two and sometimes 3 hits to make an enemy unit have one casualty. If your units are melting off figures, eventually (quickly in the case of the human/allies) your unit hits a morale threshold for breaking. The more morale checks you take means the more chances to break– and so it proved to be for the Human/Ally side. I had a fairly “elite-ish” unit with armored heavy infantry, and they headed for the hills. Then a unit of Allied Pe Choi infantry got shredded and headed for the hills, and then another unit of not-so-elite infantry in the center broke, and that was all she wrote. Steve called the game because the Allied line was collapsing, no matter how bravely they fought. It was a foregone conclusion.
This was a fun time and I’m glad we got together. There were a lot of moments of frustration as I tried to learn a new rule set on the fly, and dealt with things that seemingly didn’t make sense to me. Still, Chainmail was simple enough, and I think you can overcome anything with a little fudging here and there. My only real complaint was the scenario ground rules gave the Undead a serious advantage. Every unit has to be converted to a “standard fantasy archetype” as defined in Chainmail– for instance Tekumel “Demons” stat out as Chainmail “Ogres”. Steve gave certain undead units a “hit point bump up” for being “extra tough” and I think that unbalanced the scenario. I don’t say that as a sore loser– I would have said the same if I were on the bad guy side. Chainmail seems to be popular with some people in our gaming group. I honestly think I’ll have to play it a couple more times in order to more fully appreciate its charms. It was a decent set of rules but it didn’t grab me as it had others. I personally liked Chainmail 3.0 more than Dragon Rampart, as we had a player (his name rhymes with Itch) who didn’t activate a single unit on the map for 3 turns in the last game ever over Zoom. Live and learn!