Progressive Dice, a Misnomer

This is a follow-up article to “Progressive Dice for Effects Durations,” in which I propose a method to roll each turn for the chance for an effect to end. This, in order to maintain the secrecy—and suspense—of an effect’s duration when playing solo or otherwise without a DM.

So-Called “Progressive” Dice

“Instead of rolling for the effect duration at the trigger to know on what turn the effect ends, we roll the same dice at the beginning of each subsequent turn to see if the effect ends in that turn.

“A dice result equal to or greater than the current subsequent turn indicates the effect continues. Roll again at the beginning of the next turn. A lower result means the effect ends.”

—“Progressive Dice for Effects Durations

I’ve used progressive dice for effects durations and a number of other things for years. My assumption was that the chance for the effect to end each turn stands alone turn by turn, increasing as turns go by, therefore “progressive.” I also assumed that the overall probabilities, compared to the traditional method, were somehow the same.

Progressive Dice - Assumption

Writing the previous article forced me to think a little deeper on the method. I wondered if I’d got it right. Does it really yield a progressive chance, turn by turn, for the effect to end?

The smartest D&D mathematician I know is Dan Collins of Wandering DMs and Delta’s D&D Hotspot. A 40+ year D&D veteran, Dan is also a university lecturer in mathematics and computer science.

So, I sent him a query outlining the problem. Dan’s response, a few lines and a table of probabilities, shows how it is that progressive dice are not so progressive after all. For, using the proposed method, the chance of the effect ending is much higher in the initial periods than the later, so, not at all statistically equivalent to the traditional method.

In a traditional game, the DM rolls a single dice (or combination thereof) when an effect is triggered to determine its duration. A duration of 1 to 6 turns, say, is rolled on a d6. The probability that the effect ends on any turn is ⅙ or 16.67%.

Single Dice Roll [Traditional]

Using so-called progressive dice, “It stacks up differently,” Dan writes. “It’s very unlikely that you’ll get to turn 5 or 6, because you have to survive all the prior rolls to get there. Over half the time you’ll have the effect stop after two or three rounds.”

Here I had to make a saving throw vs. Death Ray. Reading the email, I was talking to Dan through the screen: The progressive dice method is so elegant, man—it has to be right!

Dan goes on to explain: “Computing a compound probability like this is a series of multiplications…” He also includes a table with a note that, if the calculations are correct, the sum of all chances should be 100%. I reproduce the table here.

Progressive Dice, Chance to End After Turn n
Turn Multipliers Product
1 16 16.67%
2 56 × 26 27.78%
3 56 × 46 × 36 27.78%
4 56 × 46 × 36 × 46 18.52%
5 56 × 46 × 36 × 26 × 56 7.72%
6 56 × 46 × 36 × 26 × 16 × 66 1.54%
Total   100%

So, it isn’t just the simple chance (bold) each turn that the effect will end. We have also to factor in the cumulative chance (italics), which is each previous roll inverted, that the effect hasn’t already ended.

Note that, in the previous article, we roll to see if the effect ends at the beginning of the next turn. “Ends after turn n” is a different way to say the same thing.

Progressive Dice - Correction

Therefore, at best, I misnamed “progressive dice.” Though the number to roll increases turn by turn, the chance to make that number is not at all progressive. The chance to end the effect after the second or third turn is much higher than the first or later turns.


So, what is a DM-less player to do? We might accept the statistical difference and use the so-called “progressive” dice in play. Or we might seek out other solutions. We look here at two—one of them works.

Single Dice, Effect Ends on a 1 (Not a Solution)

I thought of an alternative method. Roll the same dice every turn, with a result of 1 signaling the effect’s end. The effect ends automatically at the end of the  maximum duration.

It’s more simple than counting turns. But, if I’m following Dan’s lesson well, we still have to factor in the chance that the effect ended with the previous roll(s).

Effect Ends on 1, Chance to End After Turn n
Turn Multipliers Product
1 16 16.67%
2 56 × 16 13.80%
3 56 × 56 × 16 11.57%
4 56 × 56 × 56 × 16 9.65%
5 56 × 56 × 56 × 56 × 16 8.04%
6 56 × 56 × 56 × 56 × 56 × 16 6.70%
Total   66.51%

Ends on 1

Furthermore, I note that the total percentage is only 66.51, which is 33.49 short of 100. I’m guessing that’s because the effect automatically ends at the duration’s upper limit. The chance that it will end after the 6th turn is, in fact, 6.70 plus the remaining 33.49, or 40.19%.

Ends on 1 - Corrected

1 to n Cards

Dan suggests a card solution: a number of playing cards n equal to the upper limit of the range, 1 to n, one of which is an ace—or, if you have a deck of many things on hand, the Donjon (ace of spades) or the Fates (ace of hearts).

Shuffle the deck once when the effect is triggered. Draw one card from the top of the deck at the beginning of each turn. When the ace comes up, the effect ends.

Here, the shuffling is the dice roll, which determines on which turn the effect ends (on the ace). The chance that it will end in any particular round is 1n, just like a single dice roll. The only practical difference from the dice roll is that the ending turn, while predetermined, is hidden within the deck. Also elegant.

A disadvantage is that the card method cannot duplicate dice combinations. Melqart’s stun duration, 2d4 turns, for example, cannot be reproduced using this method. In this case, it was the first effect duration of the campaign, but dice combinations might be infrequent.

Another disadvantage is that you have to manage an additional tool at the table. The suspense about when the effect ends, though, may well be worth the trouble.

For myself, I love to incorporate playing cards into my D&D, and if there’s an opportunity to get more use out of a deck of many things, I’ll take it.

Other Solutions?

I’m interested to hear your suggestions for maintaining the secrecy of effects durations in a DM-less game. I would also entertain a counterargument showing that progressive dice do in fact produce progressive results. Because it’s elegant, man, it has to be right!

My thanks to Dan Collins for his statistical analysis of the problem as well as an alternative solution. For interested readers, Dan offers several venues to learn more about dice and probability. In an episode of Wandering DMs, Dan gives a course in Basic Dice Math, and in another episode with cohort Paul Siegel, he talks Dice Mechanics. In addition, you’ll find a plethora of articles about dice statistics on Dan’s blog.

OD&D’s “Recommended Equipment”

A 1st- to 9th-Level Campaign
The Outdoor Survival Map Amid Other Tools for a D&D Campaign.

Don’t Throw Out the Box the Map Board Came In

In this article, I don’t mean to say anyone is playing the game wrong. I mean to say that our OD&D games—or at least our esteem of the rules—might improve if we reconsider the ignored parts of Chainmail and Outdoor Survival.

A recent Grognardia article reminds me of a point I’d like to bring up. In “Retrospective: Outdoor Survival,” James Maliszewski gives adequate treatment to the 1972 simulation game, with due attention to designer Jim Dunnigan, mention of the included Wilderness Skills primer—which reminds James of The Boy Scout Handbook, and a brief summary of play and the five scenarios typical of a wilderness environment: Lost, Survival, Search, Rescue, and Pursue.

He doesn’t miss the map board, of course, and its suggested use in OD&D as the setting for impromptu adventures. James notes that Outdoor Survival is the second entry in Vol. I under the heading “Recommended Equipment.”

When playing OD&D, I think1 we don’t take the rulebook’s advice seriously enough. It’s true, “Recommended Equipment” is misleading. Considering the “Dungeons and Dragons” rules are first in the list, “Required Equipment” would be more accurate. We would hardly think of playing D&D without dice, to cite the list’s third entry.

Likely due to the cost of two more games in addition to the ten 1970s dollars we already spent on a box of three slim booklets—not to mention dice, we content ourselves to replace Chainmail with the Alternate Combat System and sometimes use Outdoor Survival’s map board as a wilderness setting.

In so doing, we neglect the other—admittedly cumbersome—combat rules, like move-and-countermove (Chainmail, 9), parry and number of attacks per round by weapon class (25-26), and I’ve talked enough about jousting.2 In fact, the Alternate Combat “System” replaces, with a d20, only Chainmail’s fistful of dice to determine hits.

Later D&D editions revisited Chainmail to restore some of the combat options. The Holmes edition’s oft-bemoaned implementations of parry and number of attacks per round (20-21) are examples, as is B/X’s oft-ignored combat sequence (B24). But OD&D combat, bereft of these options, becomes the stereotype “I miss, I hit… I miss again.”

We also explore the wilderness on a hex map, but without any dangers apart from monsters with lots of hit dice rolled on the Wilderness Wandering Monsters tables. For this reason, commenter Gus L., in response to James’s article, likens adventures in the OD&D wilderness to “a bus ride with fistfights.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. On the page before the wilderness monster table, Vol. III refers us to Outdoor Survival’s rules as well as its board to handle lost parties (17). Further, when a party becomes lost, food may well run short. In a desert, water is scarce. Maybe it makes for a less than heroic adventure, but rules to handle starvation, thirst, weather, and fatigue are found in Outdoor Survival. By breaking up the succession of fistfights, incorporation of those rules can turn the bus ride into a challenging journey accompanied by the threat of many-hit-dice monsters.

Grognardia doesn’t mention Outdoor Survival’s most interesting innovation for an early 1970s game. After we’ve learned the rules playing a Lost scenario and maybe a Search or a Rescue, lackluster as they may be, we must press on to Scenario 6.

Scenario 6: One of the most interesting aspects of OUTDOOR SURVIVAL is the opportunity it provides for devising your own scenarios. Once you have mastered the mechanics of play, many additional ideas, providing more testing of outdoor knowledge and skills, will come to you. Integrating these situations with the standard games will add pleasure and skill-sharpening to the playing.

—Jim Dunnigan, Outdoor Survival

There is a certain irony in that Scenario 6 appears under the heading “Optional Rules.” For best results, I recommend using “Dungeons and Dragons”—those slim booklets containing lists of spells and monsters—as additional equipment.


1 I use “I think” as a lazy and weak shield against attacks from those whose opinions differ. Excuses to my sophomore English composition teacher, who pointed out, “If you didn’t think it you wouldn’t write it, would you.”

2 Strategy on the Jousting Matrix

Turn Undead in Movement Phase

It was a table perhaps some decades ago. Remaining now are crumbling bits of dry rot wood next to a single stool in similar condition. One plate, flatware, a goblet, and two candlesticks, all of tarnished silver, lay amid the friable refuse.

Bending, Hreidmar scooped up the goblet. “Now there’s a treas—”

The north door opened and a troop of skeletons filed in. The first held a covered plater high in one hand, a threadbare towel laid over the bones of the other arm.

Thorsdottir stepped forward and thrust the Ouroboros1 toward the advancing column—“Back!”

The silver platter dropped to the floor with a clang. The cover rolled aside. Heel bones scraped stone as the skeletons turned away, fleeing through the door…

Lower Levels of the Lonely Tower
Lower Levels of the Lonely Tower.
The scene takes place in the central room (unnumbered), lowest level.

I’ve always counted Turn Undead as some kind of magic for the purpose of when, in the combat sequence (B24), a cleric should take the action. The B/X Rulebooks give no guidance on the matter (nor on a number of other details about Turning).

In my experience, Turning in the magic phase makes for some awkward moments:

  • Maneuvering and preparation for combat against half a dozen or so undead takes up time that will be for naught if the cleric’s Turning is successful.
  • Players, thinking about tactics in the movement phase, make a certain emotional investment in the combat, of which they are then deprived.
  • Missiles fired on the undead before they are Turned in the following phase is often anticlimactic.

During a recent Wyrmwyrd session, it occurred to me that Turning is only a quick gesture and maybe a couple spoken words. A cleric could easily do that while moving. If successful, the field is cleared—or at least thinned. If the Turning fails, the players can get into the combat with confidence their actions will be meaningful.

Rules Clarification: Turn Undead

A cleric attempts to Turn Undead in the movement phase of the combat sequence (step B, phase 2).

In the scene depicted above, neither side was surprised, and the player party won the initiative roll. Thorsdottir turned seven of nine skeletons.


1 The Ouroboros is the holy symbol of the Pantheon.

A Cleric Presents a Holy Symbol


Progressive Dice for Effects Durations

In the first foray into the Deep Halls, Melqart is stunned by the defensive explosions of scarab beetles. The effect lasts for 2 to 8 turns.

Normally, the DM rolls 2d4 and makes note of the turn on which the character recovers. Playing solo or otherwise without a DM, though, we should not know when the effect is to wear off.

In Melqart’s case, had I rolled the variable duration immediately, I might be tempted to plan the next turns—or otherwise use the information unconsciously. “We guard Melqart until he can move again…” This breaks the narrative tension and challenges verisimilitude.


For these occasions, I use what I call progressive dice. Instead of rolling for the effect duration at the trigger to know on what turn the effect ends, we roll the same dice at the beginning of each subsequent turn to see if the effect ends in that turn.

A dice result equal to or greater than the current subsequent turn indicates the effect continues. Roll again at the beginning of the next turn. A lower result means the effect ends.


Simple Variable Duration

A shrieker’s alarm sounds for 1 to 3 rounds after exposure to light. The next round is the first round of the effect duration. No need to roll this round, as the effect continues even on a 1. On the second subsequent round, the shrieking continues on a 2 or higher. Third round, the shrieking continues only on 3 result. In which case, it ends at the beginning of the next round, having reached its maximum duration.

Fixed Plus Variable Duration

A character quaffs an invisibility potion, which lasts a fixed period of 6 turns plus a variable duration of 1 to 6 turns (by my reading of Holmes, 37), which is 7 to 12 turns. For the first 7 turns, no roll is necessary. The character is invisible. At the beginning of the eighth turn—that is, the second turn of the variable duration—roll a d6. On a 2 or higher, the invisibility effect continues. Less than 2, the effect ends; the character becomes visible.

Table of Turns, Duration: 6 plus 1 to 6 (7-12) turns
Duration Turn
Fixed 1 2 3 4 5 6
Variable (d6) 7 8 9 10 11 12
*No. Subsequent Turn (1) 2 3 4 5 6
*The effect continues on a dice result equal to or greater than the current subsequent turn.
() No need to roll when the result can only indicate the effect continues.

Any Dice Combination

Melqart is stunned for 2 to 8 turns. Roll the same dice combination, 2d4, at the beginning of each subsequent turn, ignoring the first and second, when the result can only indicate the effect continues. But count all turns following the trigger as subsequent turns. At the beginning of the third turn of the duration, a 2d4 result of 3 or greater means the effect continues.

Table of Turns, Duration: 2 to 8 turns
Duration Turn
Variable (2d4) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
*No. Subsequent Turn (1) (2) 3 4 5 6 7 8
*The effect continues on a dice result equal to or greater than the current subsequent turn.
() No need to roll when the result can only indicate the effect continues.

In Play


More Dice Rolls: We are effectively replacing a single dice roll with a series of rolls, which we like to avoid as it takes more time.


Fewer Notes: On the other hand, rolling the usual way, the DM must note and remember when the effect will end. Rolling progressive dice, at least one player has a vested interest in the roll, so it isn’t easily forgotten.

Player Agency: Even with a DM, the player may be allowed to roll the progressive dice.

Increasing Tension: There can be a lot riding on that dice roll. As the turns pass, the tension mounts.

While Melqart squirms on the floor, moaning, palms over ringing ears, the harpy is leading the rest of the party—all charmed—to its nest. Will Melqart come to his senses in time to save them…?


Statistically Equivalent?

I am uncertain whether there is a difference, using progressive dice, in the statistical chance for the effect to end in any particular point in the duration.

Rolling in the usual way, we have a 1 in 6 chance for the effect to end after any of six turns. At the same time, there is a 100% chance (6 in 6) for the effect to last at least one turn, a 5 in 6 chance it will last at least two turns, 4 in 6 for three turns, and so on.

With progressive dice, the chance to end the effect increases as the turns go by, starting at 0 in 6 in the first subsequent turn, 1 in 6 in the second turn, and so on, up to 5 in 6 at the beginning of the turn of maximum duration. If it doesn’t end on this turn, it will certainly end at the beginning of the next turn.

Intuition tells me it’s the same chance, but that guy has been wrong before. I’ve put the question to a smart math person. Your comments are also welcome. I’ll add an update when I get something.

Once again intuition leads me astray. The so-called “progressive” dice method described in this article is not statistically equivalent to the traditional method. This method is still useful in play, provided we accept the limitation. For further explanation and an alternative solution, see “Progressive Dice, a Misnomer.” [08:30 21 January 2022 GMT]

The Importance of Wandering Monsters and Tracking Turns

Wandering monsters are a DM’s best friend. They are indispensable to old-school D&D game play. By draining the party’s resources without hope of a treasure reward, the possibility of such a random encounter keeps the characters moving, keeps the players on their toes. It raises the tension in a way a DM can only hope some planned story will do.

Keeping track of turns is a basic task a DM must learn. Not only wandering monsters, but light sources, party rest, and spell durations all depend on time keeping. It’s a habit that isn’t so difficult to pick up.

I make a simple four-by-six grid in the corner of the map or, as in this case, in the adventure log. That’s four torches or a lantern’s worth of turns. In one square of six, the party must rest or suffer fatigue, and every third turn (Holmes Bluebook) brings a dice roll for a wandering monster. Durations measured in turns are noted in the appropriate square. The turn a spell is cast, for example, is marked, as is the turn in which the party rests.

Turns and Order of March
Turns and Order of March: Melqart (M) Leads Penlod (P) and Hathor-Ra (H) into the Deep Halls.
“Ps” marks Penlod’s scouting position. Also shown are the order of opening doors and order of attacks by dexterity score (Holmes).

Adventure Log Excerpt

The photo above is from Dreaming Amon-Gorloth’s adventure log.

First Turn: At the rubble-strewn entry, Melqart lights a torch (“t”). The party enters. Penlod notices a secret door, and the group inspects the contents of the room beyond: a dozen skulls set into wall niches.

Second Turn: Entering the grand entry hall, the group encounters scarab beetles at the north door. The giant insects scurry. A burst of three explosions shakes the vault as jets of acid shoot from their nether parts. Melqart, stunned by the noise (“St”), slumps in a puddle of sizzling acid. Penlod throws a spell, and the insects collapse unconscious.

Third Turn: Penlod carries Melqart toward the entrance, while Hathor-Ra, carrying the torch, guards the withdraw. Among the rubble, the two are halted by an enchanting song emanating from within. The explosions attracted a harpy.

Fourth Turn: Turning, Penlod lets the magic-user slide from his shoulder. He and Hathor-Ra move toward the harpy’s lovely voice. The harpy puts a hand on each of their shoulders.

Fifth Turn: Now charmed, Penlod and Hathor-Ra follow the harpy down the grand hall, descending stairs, as Melqart comes to his senses. Lighting another torch (“t”) from his pack, Melqart follows the harpy song.

Sixth Turn: The harpy makes room in her nest. Just as the she descends to fetch the waiting Hathor-Ra, Melqart arrives at the top of the stairs. He casts charm person on the harpy.1

Seventh Turn: The party rests (“R”) while debating what to do with their new friend…


1 Holmes on Charm Person: “This spell applies to all two legged, generally mammalian humanoids of approximately man size…” (14). We could argue that a harpy, being only half mammalian, is not subject to charm person. A counterargument is that her mammalian half is very much so.

Optional Rules for Steep Stairs

In “Vertical Scale,” we consider stairs which incline at angles greater than 45 degrees. At the DM’s disgression, such steepness impacts movement and melee combat.


At vertical rises of 15 and 20 feet over ten horizontal feet, the distance traveled is 18 and 22 feet. For either, we round to 20 feet of movement.

Considering also the extra effort to step up and, in the 20-foot case, a vertiginous decent, we justify halving the explorer’s move rate. So, moving up or down stairs—a ten-foot square on the map—costs 40 feet of movement.

Moving faster, an explorer must roll his or her dexterity score or less on a twenty-sided dice or tumble to the bottom of the stairs, taking d6 damage for each ten feet fallen.


Higher Ground

If your chosen rules do not address the issue, add 1 to attack rolls for melee combatants on higher ground.


When a melee combatant suffers a violent blow (i.e. takes damage), he or she must roll against dexterity or fall and suffer damage as above.

Attack and Defense on the Fantasy Combat Table

“The possibilities for employing such creatures are almost endless, and the abilities and weaknesses of each should be decided upon prior to the game they are to be used in. For example, a giant spider might be unkillable by normal men, but will kill them unless they roll a save of 8 or better, and it would combat fantastic opponents as if it were a Lycanthrope” (Chainmail, 36, entry Giant Spiders and Insects).

In the last few monster descriptions (36-7), Gygax and Perren give examples of adding new creatures to the Chainmail system using the framework of the rules. Chimerea and other such mythical flyers, for instance, are treated “as the most nearly corresponding type of creature covered herein.” Giant Wolves attack as Light Horse and move as Medium Horse. Versus fantasy creatures, they get two attacks “as men” (which I read as two Light Horse), and they defend as a Wight. In the example cited above, a spider’s poison is modeled by a saving roll.

To assign attacks and defenses as an existing creature on the Fantasy Combat Table, some analysis is required. Scrutinizing the table, we see that each creature attacks with varying success against the others, and the creature’s defense is subsumed into the opponent’s attack. So, a dragon hits a wizard with a two-dice roll of 10, while the wizard hits the dragon with a 9. There is no separate defense roll.

Totaling all a creature’s attack target scores, we get a clearer, though simplified, view. Likewise, for defense.

The score required for each attacker-defender pair makes sense—or at least can be justified. Figuring out whether one creature is more or less powerful than another, however, is difficult. Totaling all a creature’s attack target scores, we get a clearer, though simplified, view. Likewise, for defense.

Fantastic Opponents by Attacks and Defenses

In the two tables below, creatures are ranked by best attacks and best defenses, respectively. The stronger attacker has a lower total. The stronger defender, a higher.

Order of Best Attacker
Rank Creature Attacker Defender
1 Dragon 82 130
2 Elemental 86 121
3 Super Hero 91 110
4 Giant 92 118
5 Treant 95 115
6 Wizard 99 121
7 Roc 101 109
8 Hero 117 76
9 Lycanthrope 118 78
10 Troll, Ogre 118 86
11 Wraith 119 108
12 Wight, Ghoul 121 67
Order of Best Defender
Rank Creature Attacker Defender
1 Dragon 82 130
2 Elemental 86 121
3 Wizard 99 121
4 Giant 92 118
5 Treant 95 115
6 Super Hero 91 110
7 Roc 101 109
8 Wraith 119 108
9 Troll, Ogre 118 86
10 Lycanthrope 118 78
11 Hero 117 76
12 Wight, Ghoul 121 67

Using these tables, we can more easily find the general power of a new creature. Once narrowed to a range of two or three existing creatures, we decide on an equivocal creature by a brief examination of those creature’s attacks and defenses, perhaps choosing one creature for attacks and another for defenses. One step further, if a couple scores vary widely from our vision of the new creature, we might assign different scores, taking the example of some opponents versus True Trolls (table, 34).

Comparing Creatures by Rank

Further analysis reveals the order of attackers mostly corresponds to that of defenders. Dragons and elementals, for example, are ranked first and second in both orders. Wights are last.

Rank Attacker Defender
1 Dragon Dragon
2 Elemental Elemental
3 Super Hero Wizard
4 Giant Giant
5 Treant Treant
6 Wizard Super Hero
7 Roc Roc
8 Hero Wraith
9 Lycanthrope Troll, Ogre
10 Troll, Ogre Lycanthrope
11 Wraith Hero
12 Wight, Ghoul Wight, Ghoul

In this table, we see that some types are ranked differently for attacks and defenses and that these are paired (italicized). Super-heroes are ranked third as attackers, sixth as defenders, while wizards are the reverse: third as defenders, sixth as attackers. The same with the pairs hero-wraith and lycanthrope-ogre.

Wizards, Power Levels, Complexity, and Choosing Spells

Chainmail doesn’t say how to determine which spells a Wizard may cast. Perhaps it is implied that the referee choses the spells according to the scenario. Or we might assume a Wizard may cast any spell.

Lanze Wizard Casts Cloudkill
At the Battle of Throrgrmir, a Wizard Casts Cloudkill.

If we want to determine a particular spell list for a Wizard, we could use a random method, either by drawing cards from a deck or by rolling dice. One way to get a number from 1 to 16 on dice is to roll a d8 and d6. The d8 determines a pair of numbers: 1 is 1-2, 2 3-4, and so on. Between the two numbers, choose odd or even based on the result of the d6.

I use the general term magic-user hereafter to refer to a Wizard of any power level, reserving the specific term for the more powerful of the class.

In the Valormr Campaign, Zosimos and the Elf King and Queen are seven-spell Wizards. All other magic-users have a point value of 80 (close to average by number of spells), and I dice for the power level. Spells are determined by drawing from a deck.


In addition to this randomosity, I added Chainmail’s optional Spell Complexity (33). Because the complexity was often higher than the user’s level, spells rarely took effect. A fireball, certain of effect, was more worthwhile than a spell with little chance of success. Magic-users became 80-point missile throwers.

After a brief trial, I did away with it. Spell Complexity is better used when the spell list is determined with some judgment.

Player Choice

To preserve some power in spell-use while incorporating Complexity, we might allow the player to choose spells of any complexity, either before play or in game. In both cases, the player judges the risk of failure.

Restricted by Complexity

To lean in the direction of later adventure games, we might throw out the chance of spell failure and restrict a magic-user to complexity levels at or below his or her power level, based on number of spells. A Seer has access to only Complexity 1 spells, for example; a Warlock, Complexity 4 and below.

Choose From a Subset or the Entire Spell List?

While the adventure game that grew out of Chainmail restricts arcane magic-users to a subset of spells—usually acquired over time and collected in a spell book, we might allow access to the entire spell list, possibly restricted by complexity as above. This carries the potential to slow play, as the player must consider more options. On the other hand, it makes magic-users a little more powerful and makes them appear more prescient, as they are more likely to have just the right spell for the situation.

Forces of Law

Apart from the Throrgrmir Civilization, Aeskrvald is the largest power center within the realms of law. Though a venerable and well-loved king still sits on the throne, the city is effectively ruled by a prince. The Prince of Aeskrvald coordinates the Forces of Law, but the armies remain independent.

Each Throrgrmir regiment represents one clan. At this point in Throrgrmir’s Renaissance, eight clans comprise the dwarven civilization. Each dwarf clan recruits a regiment. Regiment commanders are Dwarf-Heroes.

Ambush at Eckselon Pass
Ambush at Eckselon Pass.
Mordred leads the Gyrhawk army along the mountain trail. Oberon’s orcs, hiding in woods, await the moment.

Law Strengths

  • Many Hero and Super-hero types.
  • Many Wizards.
  • Many enchanted items.

Law Weaknesses

  • Fewest total points.
  • Few fantasy creatures.

Orders of Battle: Forces of Law

See General Notes on the Tables in “Chaos Armies.”

Throrgrmir (Dwarves) — 8 Regiments Budget 400
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
Harbard (Dwarf-Superhero) 50 1 1   50
Dwarf Boar Riders† 12 2 0   0
Dwarf Crossbows‡ 3.5 6 6   21
Enchanted Arrows 10 0 0   0
Magic Swords 10 1 1   10
Magic Armor 10 1 1   10
Subtotal   9 7   91
Typical Regiment Army
Dwarf-Heroes 20 12 1 20 160
Dwarves 2 39 9 18 144
Subtotal   51 10 38 304
Total   60 17   395
† Creature type not defined in Chainmail.
‡ Range 18″.
Aeskrvald — 5 Regiments Budget 450
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
The Prince (Super-hero) 50 1 1   50
Heroes 20 15 0   0
Wizards 80 5 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 6 1   10
Magic Armor 10 6 2   20
Subtotal   21 1   80
Typical Regiment Army
Armored Foot 2.5 50 23 57.5 287.5
Archers 4 8 4 16 80
Subtotal   80 27 69.5 367.5
Total   101 28   447.5
Grallune — 4 Regiments Budget 400
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
Ingegerd (Super-hero) 50 1 1   50
Heroes 20 15 0   0
Wizards 80 5 1   80
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 6 1   10
Magic Armor 10 6 1   10
Subtotal   21 2   150
Typical Regiment Army
Heavy Foot 2 9 5 10 40
Armored Foot 2.5 50 13 32.5 130
Longbows 5 8 4 20 80
Subtotal   80 22 58.5 250
Total   101 24   400
Lanze — 3 Regiments Budget 200
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
Arn (Hero) 20 1 1   20
Heroes 20 15 0   0
Wizards 80 5 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 6 0   0
Magic Armor 10 6 1   10
Subtotal   21 1   30
Typical Regiment Army
Armored Foot 2.5 50 8 20 60
Longbows 5 8 4 20 60
Subtotal   80 12 36 120
Total   101 13   150
Gyrhawk — 3 Regiments Budget 200
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
Mordred (Hero) 20 1 1   20
Heroes 20 15 0   0
Wizards 80 5 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 6 1   10
Magic Armor 10 6 1   10
Subtotal   21 1   40
Typical Regiment Army
Heavy Foot 2 9 5 10 30
Armored Foot 2.5 50 9 22.5 67.5
Archers 4 8 4 16 48
Subtotal   80 18 44.5 145.5
Total   101 19   185.5
The Heagh (Highlanders) — 2 Regiments Budget 60
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
(Hero) 20 1 1   20
Heroes 20 2 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 6 0   0
Magic Armor 10 6 0   0
Subtotal   3 1   20
Typical Regiment Army
Heavy Foot 2 8 8 16 32
Subtotal   8 8 16 32
Total   11 9   52
Noerdenheim (Northmen) — 3 Regiments Budget 80
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
Warsgar (Super-hero) 50 1 1   50
Heroes 20 1 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 6 0   0
Magic Armor 10 6 0   0
Subtotal   2 1   50
Typical Regiment Army
Heavy Foot 2 6 5 10 30
Subtotal   6 5 10 30
Total   8 6   80
Arbenshire (Halfolk) — 3 Regiments Budget 150
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
(Halfolk-Super-hero) 50 1 1   50
Halfolk-Heroes 20 3 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 0 0   0
Magic Swords 10 3 0   0
Magic Armor 10 3 0   0
Subtotal   4 1   50
Typical Regiment Army
Halfolk-Heroes 20 7 1 20 60
Halfolk 0 18 18 0 0
Subtotal   25 19 20 60
Total   29 20   110
Eglidain Burrows (Gnomes) — 2 Regiments Budget 60
Figures Points
Type Cost Available Current Subtotal Total
Command Element
(Gnome-Hero) 20 1 1   20
Gnome-Heroes 20 3 0   0
Gnome Bows‡ 5 5 0   0
Giant Weasels† 5 3 0   0
Enchanted Arrows 10 6 0   0
Magic Swords 10 3 0   0
Magic Armor 10 3 0   0
Subtotal   12 1   20
Typical Regiment Army
Gnomes 2 8 8 16 32
Subtotal   8 8 16 32
Total   20 9   52
† Creature type not defined in Chainmail.
‡ Range 15″.


Terrain Selection Modified by Local Terrain

Four hills, two woods, a marsh, and a river runs through it. Using Chainmail’s Terrain Selection method, a battle is fought over similar ground, regardless of the larger terrain in which the engagement takes place.

This is more true in my experiments playing the whole terrain-card deck. But even when limiting the draws to four per player (as the rules suggest), a forest battlefield could be barren of trees. Opposing forces in swampland might fight on a battlefield with a couple hills and no marsh. Conversely, in hill country, a commander might have to maneuver around a swamp. There is no intrinsic difference between battlefield terrain in different biomes.

The following modification simulates more varying terrain. It exchanges terrain cards based on the terrain types occupied by opposing forces on the strategic map.

Mordred and Oberon at Eckselon Pass
Mordred and Oberon at Eckselon Pass.
The Thane of Gyrhawk, travels through mountains on a trail. The Orc King intercepts. Both forces occupy mountain hexes on the strategic map. Ending experiments, I laid this terrain with four draws per side. See the terrain card placements in the photo below.

One or More Terrain Types

Depending on your strategic-level rules, you might fight a battle within a single biome, say forest or hills. Or, outside a campaign, you might be fighting a battle in which the scenario dictates the general terrain. In those cases, you have only one terrain type as input to the following card exchange.

Using the Valormr strategic rules, however, when two or more forces meet on the strategic map, each force occupies one hex. Each occupied hex may have terrain different from the others. We assume the engagement takes place somewhere near hex borders. So, we encounter a mix of biomes.

Replacement Cards

This method requires making additional terrain cards. As an alternative, a pencil mark, erased afterward, on the cards which these replace may suffice.

  • 4 woods
  • 2 marsh
  • 1 river
  • 2 hills
  • 4 wooded hills
  • 4 low hills
  • 4 high hills
  • 1 impassable terrain

Marsh, Pond, Gully, and Rough Ground ★

With this method, we group marsh, pond, gully, and rough ground into a category, designated by a star (★). In some terrain types, we replace one or more of these four cards, which we may choose randomly or by preference.

Simulating Maneuver for Suitable Terrain

A battle does not necessarily take place in a random spot between two armies. Commanders maneuver forces to fight on advantageous terrain. This is modeled in the strategic rules by the contact dice. The commander with the higher throw draws and places, in his or her first turn, a number of terrain cards equal to the number by which the throw was won. In this way we simulate the commander’s advantage gained by outmaneuvering the opponent.

Hills and Lines of Sight

A rise of seven feet or more over a hundred horizontal feet (7% grade) slows movement.1 This becomes the definition of a hill in a tactical wargame. All hills slow movement, but not all hills block lines of sight. At a scale of 1″:10 yards, a hill rises at least two feet over one inch on the table. At 1″:20 yards, the hill is four feet or higher. I round to five.

Class Height Blocks Lines of Sight for Creatures
Low 5′ Smaller than man-sized
Medium 10′ Man-sized to ogre- and troll-sized
High 15′ Up to giant-sized2

I represent hills of different heights with layers of cardboard, from which the contour is cut (photo above). A low hill is one layer. I add another smaller layer, cut to a similar contour, to make a medium hill. For a high hill, I add a third—larger—layer beneath the first. Thus, a high hill is also broader.

Terrain Card Replacements

We take the terrain types given in Chainmail’s Terrain Selection (10) as clear terrain. That is, when all engaging forces occupy clear hexes, we use the terrain cards in the numbers given.

For each non-clear terrain hex occupied by an engaging force, exchange cards as follows. When three or more forces meet, no more than two of the same terrain type should be considered.

Players may agree, prior to the draw, to substitute any card that makes sense in the battlefield scenario.

Clear: No change.

Forest: Exchange one hill and one ★ for one wood card each.

Hills: Exchange one ★ for one hill card. If a second force also occupies hill country, one ★ exchanged should be the marsh.

Forested Hills: As hills, plus exchange two hills for two wooded hills.

Swamp: Exchange one hill for one marsh; two hills become low hills. When a second force is in swampland, also exchange the gully for one river; all hills are low.

Mountains: Exchange the marsh for impassable terrain—a peak, an escarpment, or the like; two hills are high. With a second force in mountains, exchange one ★ for one hill; two more hills, now four out of five, are high.

Rivers and Coastlines: Apply the predominant terrain type as above. River cards define one or more tributaries or inlets.

Terrain Reconnaissance
Terrain Reconnaissance at Eckselon Pass.
A dowel, placed before the terrain-card draw, represents the general line of the mountain trail. Two hills (fore- and background) are high, and the pond is a mountain lake. The previous photo is the finished model. The lone hill opposite the stream is embellishment.

Positioning Rivers, Coastlines, Trails, and Roads

When forces occupy hexes containing linear features, these may be transposed to the wargames table prior to terrain card draws. The position of a river, coastline, trail, or road depends on the relative positions of the forces involved.

Careful placement lends to or limits tactical possibilities for one or more sides without depriving all forces of portions of the table. If all forces are on the same side, for example, the river edges the battlefield. If one force is on the opposite bank, or if one or more forces travel on water to enter the battlefield, the river may well run through it.


1 Foot Marches, ATP 3-21.18 (Field Manual 21-18), Department of the Army, April 2017, paragraph 1-28.

2 Relating the Chainmail giant’s stone-throwing ability to B/X, I get a stone giant, which is 14′ tall. Bigger giants could see over a high hill.