Sunday, November 18, 2018

Battles in Wilderland

Battles in Wilderland

From Pinterest. Artist unknown.

“That would be no good,” said the wizard, “not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary— especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door. And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar. So now let’s get on and make some plans.”

So, the game set in Wilderland is about burglars, not warriors or heroes. Even so, some special consideration should be given to how battles should be run in this sort of setting, because it does seem that armed conflict is part of this genre. From battles with trolls, to goblins, to spiders, to dragons, to the Battle of Five Armies, the titular burglar sees his fair share of combat. 

I imagine burglars in this setting are a bit like characters in Knave: a bit of jack of all trades. Characters gain special talents and feats through random rewards and magical items, but otherwise have no "class." Or, rather, all players are the same class (burglar). 

In these rules, burglar player characters gain an edge in combat by acting against a hated enemy or operating in their favored environment. 


Bonus To Hit

“Fools!” laughed Bard, “to come thus beneath the Mountain’s arm! They do not understand war above ground, whatever they may know of battle in the mines. There are many of our archers and spearmen now hidden in the rocks upon their right flank. Dwarf-mail may be good, but they will soon be hard put to it. Let us set on them now from both sides, before they are fully rested!”

Each character has a situational attribute called their Attack score. The base Attack score is 10. That is, without other bonuses, an Attack roll has a 50% chance of succeeding. 

The Attack score can benefit from a series of bonuses. An Attack score can never be raised above 19 by any method. 

A character has a favored foe, situation, or environment for which they are particularly trained. This is dependent on the character's race (see below). If any one of the favored conditions is true, the character's Attack score is increased +4. This bonus doesn't stack, even if multiple favor conditions are relevant. 

At the beginning of a character's turn, they may change their stance. 
  • By default, a character is in the Balanced stance. No change to Attack or Defense. 
  • The Reckless combat stance increases the character's Attack by +2 and reduces Defense by -4 until the beginning of his next turn. 
  • The Guarded combat stance decreases the character's Attack by -4 and increases Defense by +2 until the beginning of his next turn. 
The Rule of Two
Characters benefit from whatever is in their off hand. This is called the "rule of two" because whatever you're carrying in your second hand grants a +2 bonus somehow. 
  • If you are carrying a weapon in both hand, increase your Attack score by +2. 
  • If you are wielding a weapon two handed, increase rolled damage dealt by +2. 
  • If you are carrying a shield, increase your Defense by +2.  
The Rule of Two only applies with melee weapons. 

From Pinterest. Artist unknown.

Favored Conditions

Each burglar, due to prejudice, cultural training, or physical particulars, is especially deadly in certain circumstances. When one of your favored conditions is true, you gain a +4 to your Attack rolls.


  • Gain favor when fighting to defend your homeland.
  • Gain favor when fighting side by side with at least two others of your race. 
  • Gain favor when fighting against other men, because few have harmed men worse than other men. 
  • Gain favor when between the Hill and the Water (that is to say, when in your homeland).
  • Gain favor when your foe is also fighting somebody bigger than you.
  • Gain favor when underground. 
  • Gain favor when fighting a thief of dwarf treasure.
  • Gain favor when fighting against trolls, giants, and ogres, for they have stolen much from your people.
  • Gain favor when underground.
  • Gain favor when fighting against someone who has drawn your Blood. 
  • Gain favor when fighting against elves and elf-friends, for you hate them more than you hate everything else.
Wood Elves
  • Gain favor when in the woods. 
  • Gain favor when fighting against beasts, for you are a skilled hunter. 
High Elves
  • Gain favor when you can see the stars. 
  • Gain favor when fighting against monsters bigger than you, like dragons. 
  • Gain favor when fighting against necromancers and black sorcerers, for you are a champion of white magic. 
  • Gain favor when fighting one-on-one in a duel.
  • Gain favor when fighting against goblins, for you are descended from the heroes of the North. 

Great Beast

  • Choose an environment that you like to make your den and raise your young, e.g., swamps, woods, rivers, mountains, etc. Gain favor there. 
  • Make a list of other beasts you like to eat. Gain favor against those creatures. 


Battle House Rules 

Swiftly he returned and his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him. He scattered the bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed him.

And here are some house rules to spice up your combat. Salt to taste. Note: All tests are roll under. 

At the beginning of a combat round, all the players make a Dexterity check. Everyone who succeeds moves before the GM. Everyone who loses moves after the GM. 
If there is a surprise attack, the ambushers get to move first every round no matter what. All damage done by the ambushers during the first round of combat bypasses Sweat and goes directly to Blood.

Defense Rating 
If you are wearing no armor, you have Defense 10. 

Light armor grants +1 Defense. Light armor takes 2 pack slots. 
Heavy armor grants +2 Defense. Heavy armor takes 4 pack slots. 
Wearing a helm grants +2 Defense. Helms take 1 pack slot. 
Carrying a shield grants +2 Defense. Shields take 2 pack slots. 

Archers are at a great disadvantage if attacked. Roll your Defense check with disadvantage if you don't have a melee weapon in your hand. 

To make a missile attack, the attacker makes an Attack check. This roll is made with a -2 if their target is wearing armor and -2 if their target is carrying a shield (these penalties can stack). If the attacker succeeds, he deals 1d6 damage to the target.

If the target is currently engaged in melee, the attacker has an equal chance of hitting their target or anybody engaged with them. Handle this like LotFP. 

You do keep track of arrows. Every arrow that successfully hits an enemy is lost, as they break off the shaft as they keep fighting. Every arrow that misses can be recovered after combat. There are twenty-four arrows to a quiver!

To make a melee attack, the attacker tests their Attack and the defender tests their Defense. 
  • If the attacker succeeds at his test and the defender fails at his test, the attacker deals 1d6 damage or may elect to perform a maneuver. 
  • If the attacker fails and the defender succeeds, the defender may choose to perform a maneuver against the attacker.
  • If both the attacker and defender succeed, the attacker may choose to perform a maneuver against the defender. 
  • If both the attacker and defender fail, neither gains the upper hand. 

Critical Misses and Hits
If a melee attacker rolls a natural 20 on an attack action, his weapon is notched. The damage dice is dropped by one step until it can be repaired.

If a missile attacker rolls a natural 20 on an attack action, his bowstring breaks. He must have a replacement and spend a turn restringing it.

If a defender rolls a natural 20 on a defensive roll, his armor is notched. His Defense drops by one point until it can be repaired (to a minimum of 10). 

If an attacker rolls a natural 1 on an attack action, he scores a critical hit. The attack wounds Blood directly, bypassing Sweat (if he hits).  


They wondered if they were still lying there unharmed in the hall below: the spears that were made for the armies of the great King Bladorthin (long since dead), each had a thrice-forged head and their shafts were inlaid with cunning gold, but they were never delivered or paid for...

All weapons except bows deal 1d6 damage by default.
  • Swords: Swords use d6 for Feint and Evade maneuvers.  
  • Daggers: By using the Grab maneuver, a dagger can be used to attack Blood directly.
  • Axes: If you roll max damage with an axe, you can opt to destroy an opponent's shield.
  • Hammers: If you roll max damage with a hammer, your opponent's heavy armor receives a notch. 
  • Flails: Your opponent does not add the bonus from their shields when rolling Defense against your attacks. 
  • Polearms: You make your attack roll with advantage if you are fighting against someone wielding a shorter weapon than your polearm. 
  • Bows: Bows do 2d4 damage. Each dice can "explode." If you roll a 4, roll again and add the total. If you roll another 4, roll again, and et cetera. 
Rankin-Bass. I love the goblins' double throats in this movie.


Gollum threw himself backwards, and grabbed as the hobbit flew over him, but too late: his hands snapped on thin air, and Bilbo, falling fair on his sturdy feet, sped off down the new tunnel.

Beat and Bash - Deal 1 damage to your opponent. 
Disarm - Your target drops one thing that they're holding (their choice). 
Evade - You gain a +d4 to your Defense roll. 
Feint  - You gain a +d4 to your next Attack roll. 
Grab - You hold on to your opponent to try and get them good. Your next attack with a small weapon against a grabbed opponent bypasses Sweat and goes straight to Blood, unless they Shake You Off or damage you first. 
Knockback - Your target is kicked back into a direction of your choice. If this would put them in mortal danger (like falling off a cliff), they get to make a Saving Throw. 
Shake Off - You can cancel somebody's Grab maneuver with this maneuver. 

Trip - Your target can't move away from you next turn. 

Caveat Emptor: These rules are 2.0 revisions from my old OSR house rules. I have not playtested this version. I have only updated my previous version based on feedback from playtests. 


  1. "Sweat" and "Blood" are great terms! You mentioned first that bows deal 1d6 damage, then 2d4 exploding... did you perhaps mean crossbows for that second one?

    1. I'm trying to find out where the mistake is! I can only see "all weapons EXCEPT bows deal 1d6 damage." :)

      Frankly, if you wanted to make bows deal 1d6 damage, dealing damage at range is probably enough of a benefit. You could make blunderbusses deal 2d4 damage, exploding (see my first post for my thoughts on guns in Wilderland).

    2. My bad! I was wondering why you had bows do exploding damage though, any particular reason?

    3. I think that archery should do fairly high damage because...


      Huh. I guess I have to justify my intuition a bit. So, I think I think that because of three reasons.
      1) Longbows were a medieval warfare game changer. They can puncture chainmail. Medieval English men were required both to own a bow and know how to fire it. I think raising their damage to potentially very lethal jives with this tidbit in my head.
      2) If someone closes on you with a bow, you're actually fucked. Your hands are empty except for a rod of wood, and they can swing way faster than you can knock an arrow. Higher damage compensates for lower defense.
      3) Bard killed Smaug with a single arrow. Gotta, you know, represent dealing however-much-damage-a-dragon-has in the rules.

  2. Great Beast? Is this as in Beorn, or are you actually going to have rules for playing as animals?

    1. Half the characters in the book are animals: spiders, eagles, ravens, thrushes, wolves, etc. Seems fair that they'd get their fair shake.

  3. Love this series - How do you apply the bonus dice from Evades and Feints to a roll-under system? Do you subtract the d4 from the d20 roll, add the d4 to the character's Attack or Defense score, or something else?

    1. Cheers!

      I guess it all comes out in the wash, but what I do is temporarily increase the score by d4, and roll under the adjusted score. That makes more sense to the way my brain handles math.

    2. Cool, thanks! That makes the most sense to me as well. Addition is a lot quicker to do on the fly for most people, pretty sure.

      +2d6 from "Sing for Success" is a huge bonus for a roll-under setup. But if the player has just written an original Tolkienesque verse appropriate to the situation, they probably deserve to take the win there.

    3. Might require some tinkering. Caveat: Has not been playtested long term--just a few one shots. I figured the big bonus would be a big carrot to elicit the at-the-table songcraft. You could downgrade them to d4s if your table was just dynamite at making up songs.

    4. No idea! I think my main concern is that a lot of the bonus could end up being "wasted," given the cap of 19, which isn't actually a problem per se but might not have the best game-feel. I've been putting together some material for a game using your Wilderland stuff as a base, plus some things reverse-engineered from Adventures in Middle Earth. If I can keep it going for a while I'll let you know how the system performs.

    5. Please report back! Would love to hear your experiences.

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