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"Chainmail, Swords and Spells, AD&D, Battlesystem" Topic

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27 Jan 2022 8:21 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from "Chainmail, Swords and Spells , AD&D, Battlesystem" to "Chainmail, Swords and Spells, AD&D, Battlesystem"

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Albus Malum26 Jan 2022 10:32 p.m. PST

Swords and Spells. So what it is? its the evolution of chainmail and OSR/ and what would become AD&D into a wargame based on the Ad&D rules. While I have not played it, nor Chainmail, I would like to actually sorta recreate it. As Sgt Slag said, the rules are kind of cumbersome, but not necessarily flawed in its consept.

What the Swords and Spells does it take the concept that based on what armor and weapons and fighting ability a group of soldiers have, the better armed troops would create AVERAGE numbers of wounds and receive such. Based on what would become the AD&D Combat system.

If you had 1000 soldiers ( represented by 100 figures) over a legnth of time you would expect to have inflicted some many wounds to the other side and received similar ( all based on how well you are armed and trained to fight. )

The Swords and Spells combat system does just that. It gives you the average hits and damage that would happen if you rolled that 20 sided dice 1000 times using the combat tables and inflicted the appropriate amount of wounds.

Remember, Gary worked for a insurance company, and in this instance, I think what he did this 100 percent correct.

The problem is most people cant buy the 1000's of miniatures for a game, have time to paint the 1000's of miniatures and then take the time to roll 1000's and 1000's of dice during their game. Most people can only afford to buy 10's or 100's of miniatures and only paint a portion of them, and then want a game represented by so few figures on the board to represent a battle of thousands of soldiers. It just doesnt work.

If you have a battle that has 100 miniatures on the table, its a battle of 100 miniatures not a 1000 soldiers. What Gary created with swords and spells is a system to have that battle of 1000 soldiers represented by 100 miniatures. In such a battle you dont roll for each soldier, and you dont roll for each figure. When they meet, the battle proceeds. At that point, its a battle of how good you are as a general. Its maneuver, its positioning, its how you use your resources, its how you prepared for the battle, ie, its every thing people say they want, but dont really want.

From what I gather, Spells and swords behaves exactly like what would happen if you actually had those 1000s or 100000 miniatures on the table, and you rolled it out using D&D rules.

Yes it has some paper work, and it definately needs a rewrite, as its not nearly as well writen as the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guild is, many people complain about the DMG, but I my self have not issue with it, and my 10 year old boy, just finished reading it also, and like myself as a young teenager when I first read it when it was first off the press, I really thought it was a work of art. To this day, when I hear people complaining about the 1st ed DMG, I say to my self, that they must surely be quite stupid. (but I digress).

If people look at the dates, the DMG was copyrighted in 1979, and Swords and Spells was copyrighted in 1976. (Chainmail was released in 1971). Remember this was released before the Dungeon Master Guide, and before 1st edition. Its still in the Pamphlet era of TSR. It baffles my why with all the interest in the Whitebox DnD (OSR) that there is so little interest in Chainmail, and also Swords and Spells.

Now GW's Warhammer was released in 1983 and in 1985 TSR released Battlesystem. From what I can tell, the 1st edition Battle system was just a quick reworking of Spells and Swords, with slightly better wording, but hastily put together, and never properly supported. then in 1989, after Gygax and company were eliminated from TSR and 2nd edition released, they had to re-release Battlesystem as a second half hearted attempt to gain what they had lost to GW Warhammer (while trying to clone it at the same time, like most every other fantasy game tries to do). This time though, instead this time, they attempted to copy GW's game engine, of rolling to hit, then rolling to reduce damage, but just putting a different face on the d6 but add weapons with different damage types. While I am currently playing Battlesystem (2nd edition) and believe its one of the better fantasy wargaming systems, the reality is, the 1st edition more closely follows the AD&D combat and the Swords and spells most closely follows the AD&D combat system (as I read it, and have not played it). (note: eventually I will write my own rules, in the true wargaming manner, and it will be a combination of the Battlesystem, Chainmail, AD&D and maybe parts of Swords and Spells).

Now maybe its just me, but I HATE, yes I HATE!! d6 combat in wargames. In high school, you dont know how many times I played Risk and saw 2 armies defeat 20 or 30 armies because of flukes in rolling d6's. Every wargame, a 5 and a 6 is a hit, and for 20 straight rolls, I only roll a 1 or a 2. Small numbers of d6 dice rolls destroys so many games. What Gary did with Swords and Spells removes all of that, but at the same time, people like to roll dice.

What is the answer? Swords and Spells BUT… using page 10 (which is actually page 2 if you exclude the introduction pages) of the 1st edition DMG. In the DMG, Gary almost the very first words in the book talks about dice, and the Bell Curve and gives a nice picture of a bell curve of 3d6.

That bell curve is what Gygax needed to add into his Swords and Spells. If he would have added that, it would both add peoples desire to throw dice, and allow for random extreme possibilities in battle, yet still mostly produced average results, and straight up battles with large groups should produce average results unless there is good "generaling".
We all want to think of ourselves as generals, but when the entire fate of our game is the result not of our general-ling, (not that Im saying Im that good) but its the result of throwing a 1 on a d6 instead of a 6 on a d6 then maybe we should really look at some alternative systems.

In the late 70's, about the only dice you could buy were d6's. Our (accually my brothers) original Keep on the Borderland came with the paper chits that you drew out of the hat or cup because the other dice D4's D8's d10's D20's just were not that readily available, but now in 2022 with the internet and such, you can get bulk dice of any size you want. There is no reason wc can not throw 20 d20's to hit on a 16 or above, while you opponent needs to get a 17 or above because you have better armor. Ive done a few tests, its actually faster and easier then both the battlesystem editions to use a d20 and to know you subtract 4 to need a 16 to hit those troops wearing chain and shield, YES! Gary did this correctly also. everyone knows Chain and Sheild is AC 4 so subract 4 from 20 to equal 16 and you know what you need to hit! its the math you learned in FIRST GRADE and everyone says its SOO…. HARD….. to Figure OUT!.

But here is where it really gets interesting. the 1st edition was not a RPG like everyone seems to think it is! its the WARGAME that includes the RPG, but since we were all teenagers and none of us had miniatures, we only played the RPG and not the included wargame and then everyone complained because a portion of the book was the Wargame (minus the manuevering rules)!

Now to the GYGAX ARNESON lawsuit! the 1st edition AD&D was not Dave Arnesons, it was GYGAX's because AD&D is the WARGAME!!! not just the RPG ! and it is a continuation of his chainmail (back before they first met, into the Swords and Spells into AD&D.

(note: this is a continuation of the Altfritz's mesage on the Fantasy discuuson message board)

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stephen m27 Jan 2022 6:49 a.m. PST

Well your first paragraph say it all, you never played Swords and Spells. I have and when I got back into the hobby due to my teen son I dug them out figuring it would be a good way to start. Well the first few (5 or 7?) pages are nothing but formations your units can use. Forget that! I played a game of Dragon Rampant soon after and the unit formations being variations on unformed mobs made both more sense and played so much better. So if you are going to go down this rabbit hole I suggest adopting that approach to formations.

stephen m27 Jan 2022 1:16 p.m. PST

Seriously the game system is great. Even the inclusion of magic works, well.. But if you want to "do it over again" get rid of the formations thing.

Personal logo Sgt Slag Supporting Member of TMP27 Jan 2022 2:14 p.m. PST

I agree, we say we want to be great Generals, but we really want a fun game, regardless of good Generalship. At least, I am absolutely guilty of that. I also lay claim to being a Gamer, not a Simulationist. Simulations are for professional military types, who actually command troops in the real world. They want to win at a minimal cost of lives. Me? I just want a fun game to play as a diversion. Apples and Coconuts, or is it Almonds, or Cashews, and Apples? LOL!

I love your allusion to AC and d20 math. Everyone cries, "Woe!", when it comes to using THAC0. I love THAC0… I played 1e AD&D, as the DM, for nine years. I poured over the combat resolution tables for Classes, levels, and To Hit die rolls, cross-referencing the items, to find out what number each player needed to hit a monster. I would tell them their To Hit number (or higher) to score a Hit, but they never listened. I had to look it up every time. THAC0 was a minor miracle. I have never looked back. Cheers!

Albus Malum27 Jan 2022 4:01 p.m. PST

I had never seen a copy of swords and spells before about 2 or 3 years ago, when I downloaded it from the internet ( for free) while doing some reading about Chainmail.

Some of the older Wargaming material, and not just Gygax's requires knowing the terminology of the day to understand, which if you were playing it, you knew it, if if you just pick it up and read, your completely in the dark, as sometimes some vital thing for you to know is just left out.

Many of the older wargames are much more complex then the current newer offerings, this can be both a good and a bad thing. When my younger son gets a little older, I fully intend to play both the Chainmail ruleset and the Swords and spells ruleset, but being in a small town that I am, I dont have lots of other options.

The Thaco thing, most people think its a 2nd edition AD&D think but it included in the 1st edition DMG in the appendix of all the monsters. Thaco or combat tables, (maybe its in Basic also, not sure), but its all easy. What I usually did as a dm though was just to make a combat table for myself of my players, so I didnt need to remember " what level are your, what are your pluses, I just had a individualized combat table with the PC name and what he needed to hit.

The newer games, many have a much simpler writing style, which aids in ease of play, many of the older games, gives you a graph or table, and then mention something about them, and what they mention leaves your wondering what your missing. I think a lot of it has to do with technology. most of those older games were typed out on a typewriter, where as nowdays we have Word Processors, and its really easy to write and rewrite things and put things in order, where before, they typed something, then 10 pages later in the rules, they have the oh.. by the way… do this when this happens. I think if most modern games were done on typewriters they would be about the same as the old ones, with rulesets that can leave you wondering.

In a comparison of Battlesytem and Swords and spells, one of the things that Swords and spells has, is 5 different stages of Morale, where Battlesystem has three, and there are other games where your either good to go, or your routed. Which is better? neither? both?

Anyways, its good to see the Swords and Spells game mentioned, as its kind of the missing link in the History of the Game.

HansPeterB28 Jan 2022 8:03 a.m. PST

Thanks for the write up Albus. Takes me back… I played some Chainmail way back in the day but never S&S.

My issue with it (and similar games) is the assumption (that appears to derive from our obsession with technology) that weapons and armor in some fashion determined who had the advantage in premodern battles. In so far as I can tell, such was actually very seldom the case. Rather, most often, the bravest guys won, regardless of what they were armed with, although discipline, training, and tactics played roles as well.

That's just me though, ymmv. I also like rolling dice.

Regicide164903 Feb 2022 5:22 p.m. PST

Was there another set of rules around that time called something like Castles and Crusades? Might be entirely wrong. I played Chainmail a few times as a kid in participation games. Certainly for a kid, it was inspiring stuff. S&S I never played but others in the club did. I recall that we polarised about AD&D and Runequest as well haha. Happy days… especially for stoners.

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