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"Playtesters wanted for Sword & Spear Rules" Topic

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2,289 hits since 14 Mar 2014
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Marshal Mark14 Mar 2014 1:51 p.m. PST

I am now looking for extra playtesters for my Sword & Spear rules.
Sword & Spear is a set of wargames rules for large battles set in the Ancients & Medieval period. They are suitable for any scale figures and any basing standard. The only requirement is that figures are organised into units of equal frontage. A typical game consists of about 12 units on each side and games take around 2 3 hours. The rules are designed from a top-down perspective, focusing on outcomes rather than detail.
The rules feature a clever and innovative system for activating units that creates interesting and challenging decisions, keeps both players involved at all times and has a lot of depth and subtlety. Each turn is split into phases, where players each receive a number of command dice, which are rolled and then used to activate their units. The number shown on each dice determines which units it can activate (with better quality units being easier to activate), what the unit can do when activated, and the numbers also determine the activation sequence. Certain dice also give bonuses to combat, movement distance or shooting range. So there is a lot to think about, and allocating the command dice well is the key to success (although rolling lots of sixes helps as well !).
In each phase command dice are allocated, then units are activated in order. When a unit is activated it does everything movement, shooting and melee combat. So there is no turn sequence to remember and work through. A unit cannot be activated more than once in a turn, and typically most, but not all, units can be activated in a turn (although this depends on the quality of the units involved, so a horde of poor quality troops will not have so many units activated each turn.)
Each unit has a type (for example cavalry), a discipline rating (depending on the quality of the unit) and a strength rating. The strength depends on the unit type (for example cavalry are strength 3) and determines both the number of dice rolled in combat and the number of hits required to rout the unit. Many units will also have some specific weapons or characteristics such as Bows, Armoured, Spearmen or Impact, although an average level of protection and offensive ability is assumed, so for example, a unit of cavalry may simply be: Cavalry D4 S3.
The rules are relatively straightforward, and there are no "to hit" tables, charts or lists of dice roll modifiers. They can be played using only the one sided playsheet with very little reference to the rulebook after the first couple of games. In fact we find we hardly ever even refer to the playsheet now.
Missile shooting and melee combat use the same mechanics, with both units (all combat is one unit vs one unit) rolling a number of dice, lining the dice up highest to lowest and comparing. Each lost dice roll may result in a hit, which represents a combination of actual casualties, cohesion and morale loss. Hits can be rallied, but when the number of hits equals the strength of a unit it is removed as routed.
The number of dice rolled by each in combat is equal to the strength of the unit, and may be modified upwards if the unit has impetus, and also according to a very short list of situations which give a unit extra combat dice (for example being uphill or having extra friendly units in contact with the enemy).
There is not as much rock-paper-scissors in these rules as in many other ancients / medieval games, but it does appear in the mechanic for impetus. If a unit involved in a combat has a command dice allocated to it this phase, it may have impetus in the combat and will gain one (or sometimes more) extra dice. There is a list of situations where the unit does not get impetus (for example cavalry vs elephants, mounted vs spears). This creates differences in the way certain troop types interact together, and gives them strengths and weaknesses other than their two basic stats. This is probably the most difficult part of the rules to remember, but all of the situations should be intuitive to experienced ancients & medieval gamers.
Each army has a number of leaders, which are important as units do not perform as well if they are out of command range and perform better with a general attached.
We have played numerous playtest games, covering some of the classical historic match-ups (such as Rome vs Carthage, Indians vs Persians, Persians vs Saka, Medieval English vs Irish & Welsh, Normans vs Anglo-Danish). The playtest games have all gone very well, and we are finding that the rules work well, with very little tweaking needed after each playtest game.
The rules are very much suited to multiplayer games. Many of our playtest games have involved two players on each side, with each player having a command of around 7 10 units.
The strengths of the game are that it gives an exciting, interesting and challenging experience, plays relatively quickly for the size of battle that is being depicted, and the rules are straightforward to learn, whilst having the depth to retain interest after repeated play.

To find out how to get hold of the rules and get involved in playtesting see my website :

There is a forum to discuss these and my other sets of rules here :

Marshal Mark14 Mar 2014 1:54 p.m. PST

Here are some comments about the rules from the playtesters :

The rules are …"very uncluttered"…" nice, simple mechanics and play mechanisms. I think they're well worth a try."

"What I particularly liked was that it used a deceptively simple mechanic for both of breaking from the tyranny of IGOUGO and giving the feel that one was dealing with the real problem of pre-radio battle"

"having now played them, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the experience"…"much more than I normally do when faced with a new ruleset"

"For me, the game gave what I thought was a very realistic feel for a Dark Age (or probably an Ancients) battle. It made more sense of things like battle duration and move distances than any other set that I've played with. It seemed to focus on transmission of the Players' wishes to their troops, their receipt and how promptly and enthusiastically they were acted upon. "

"I particularly liked that movement measurement has been made so very simple"

"What I've found most interesting is that the right decision and the interactions are not obvious."

"Certainly the dice gods play their part"…"but ultimately the player's decision is, nine times out of ten, the critical factor. That I like."

Terrement Supporting Member of TMP14 Mar 2014 2:28 p.m. PST


Marshal Mark14 Mar 2014 2:47 p.m. PST

Thanks, I'll have to look into that. I've sent you the rules.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP14 Mar 2014 4:19 p.m. PST

Are these in any way related to a ruleset by the same
title published back in the early-mid 1970's ?

There was a companion set to those for skirmish level
(individually-based figures) called 'At Arm's Reach'.

Marshal Mark14 Mar 2014 4:24 p.m. PST

No, they are not.

warhorse19 Mar 2014 9:07 p.m. PST

A very interesting take. I like the simplicity and elegance of the movement system. Movement in ancient battle games is a crucial contributor to playability.

Marshal Mark25 Mar 2014 9:58 a.m. PST

To elaborate on the above comment, when a unit moves it can either do an advance or a manoeuvre. An advance is easy for a unit to do, and means the unit moves straight forward, with a small shift (up to half the frontage of the unit) to one side if required. It is harder to get a unit to do a manoeuvre (a higher activation dice is required) but in a manoeuvre the unit can move in any direction and face any direction, simply measuring the furthest moving front corner (like a single element move in DBX). A manoeuvre cannot contact an enemy unit.

This simple movement mechanics cuts out any need for fiddly measurement of wheels, turns etc, whilst still feeling like they are large units that cannot whizz around the battlefield.

Early on in the game you can normally activate most units and get them to go where you want. Later on, once combat is joined, there are many competing pressures and you want to use your good activation dice in multiple places, so the decisions about where to use them become much tougher and more interesting.

dooger Inactive Member22 May 2014 10:12 a.m. PST

We've played a few games now with the playtest rules and they have been an instant success. From the innovative initiative system to the straightforward uncluttered combat system we are looking forward to the "full" rules set…my campaign to convert the club from FOG and DBM can then begin….!!

Smokey Roan Inactive Member22 May 2014 2:19 p.m. PST

I'm studying them. New for me me (first experience with multi based ancients system) but so far I like, and will master it, and playtest it.

I like it.

Smokey Roan Inactive Member22 May 2014 4:22 p.m. PST

Sword & Spear is written in English, so it is easier for me to understand than say, the DBA rules .


Marshal Mark23 May 2014 10:49 a.m. PST

dooger – good to hear you're still enjoying them. I've spent most of today adding diagrams and pictures and getting the layout right. I'm really pleased with the way it's looking now, and hopefully I'll get the new version out to the playtesters that have provided feedback this weekend.

Smokey Roan Inactive Member24 May 2014 6:18 p.m. PST

Ready to try a small scale battle tomorrow night!

Romans vs Germans, at half level (6 units per side). Just to get the mechanics of initiative and movement down pat.

I'm glad I decided to base everything on 40x20 bases (except cavalry, on 40 x 30 bases)

made some cool sheet metal over linoilium movement trays, that hold 4 40x20 bases (2 ranks of 2 bases) and makes it a 80x40 unit.

Marshal Mark25 May 2014 2:06 a.m. PST

Sounds good. I hope you'll let us know how it goes.

Smokey Roan Inactive Member25 May 2014 8:17 a.m. PST


Smokey Roan Inactive Member27 May 2014 3:09 p.m. PST

We did it! 6 units each (4 legions and 2 aux vs 6 German units).

Was slow going, we had not mastered the rules at all (you can't master 'em until you play them a lot) but we got the acvtivation and movement and combat mostly down.

Our Strategy was bad, as you really have to know the activation mechanics well before you can take advantage of it, but that was on us, not the rules.

We will try again, adding a light unit and a cavalry unt and practice again.

(Kreesten beat me, my Germans were getting pounded)

greenknight4 Sponsoring Member of TMP30 May 2014 5:36 p.m. PST

Arnold Hendricks with the Old Courier had these rules out in the 70's. Well at least under that title? Are these the same??

Marshal Mark31 May 2014 4:49 a.m. PST

No they are not. I really didn't think it would be that confusing that they share the name with a set of rules written over 40 years ago.

Testiculies Inactive Member16 Jun 2014 6:44 a.m. PST

My group would be willing to help you with play testing if you still need help. We are the graybeard gamers group


Marshal Mark16 Jun 2014 3:24 p.m. PST

The rules are very nearly complete – I just ordered a sample copy from Lulu today. They should be available to purchase in the next couple of weeks, for £6.00 GBP for the pdf or about £14.00 GBP for POD from Lulu. You can pre-order the pdf on my website and if you do that I can send you the last playtest version, which was complete apart from photos and appendicies, so you can start with them immediately. I would then send you the proper final version when it's released.

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