The Tactical Display

In order to keep track of the movements of characters and their foes during tactical engagements where the PC’s are pitted against their foes in mortal combat, the GM must provide a bird’s-eye-view map of the site of the engagement with such details drawn as are useful to the players who want to get creative with the “props” available in the manner of a swashbuckling adventure film, AND each character and NPC involved (and in sight) will need to be represented by some sort of marker on that map which shows his position and movements as the situation progresses. The map is commonly referred to as the “tactical display”. The markers can take any number of forms but there are a couple requirements if they are to fulfill their more formal uses, all described in detail under the heading “Preparing for Battle”, to follow. The tactical display will consist of either one or more model set-pieces on a plain, featureless tablecloth, or as a map drawn out to scale on a large sheet of paper, or on some kind of large vinyl tablecloth made for use with water-based markers, easily wiped down and reused, according to the GM’s tastes (interest, time, & budget).

At the GM’s option, for the convenience of non-war gamers and those gamers who have accumulated such table-top equipment for roleplaying as the ubiquitous 1in. square grid sheet or tablecloth, combat movement, actions, and even magick have all been defined in such a way that these can easily be adapted to the use of a grid. The 1-inch grid will conform to the 25mm standard commonly used to track battles in roleplaying games, each 1in. square representing an area 5ft. on a side, 5mm to the foot.

If the GM himself does not have a Grid sheet and no one in the gaming group does either, he should in no way feel bound to find and use one. Small-scale battles are really more easily run without the grid. For those who have played tabletop war games already, no further explanation is likely needed.

The more involved the players get into gaming, the more elaborate the tactical display can become. If the GM and/or some of the players are also involved in tabletop wargaming, the display can include contour-cut styrofoam slabs stacked to show changes in elevation, scale shrubbery and trees, houses, fences, walls, colored felt cut-outs indicating water, sand, roads, mud, marsh, or other difficult terrain, and also collecting the 25mm metal figures discussed under the heading “Preparing for Battle”.

While it is nice when the players participate in helping to collect the props to use for tactical displays, it is the GM’s responsibility alone if he wishes to have them. It might not be too much to ask that the players each provide their own metal miniatures if the GM wants to use those as markers but, as they are not truly necessary, he may end up having to get miniatures for each of the PC’s in his game on his own.

The Scale of the Tactical Display

In RoM the 25mm scale used for the tactical display is referred to as “skirmishing scale”, the one most commonly used by the GM. Exceptions to the use of this scale may include ranged weapon conflicts (which may include magick) and larger battles where the sheer number of combatants makes the 1 figure: 1 character 25mm scale too difficult and/or expensive to set up and run.

The skirmishing scale is designed to best handle conflicts between small bands wielding hand-hurled and hand-held weapons, usually in somewhat more confined areas, in building interiors, in ruins, crypts and tombs, in caverns, and so forth. When characters meet or sight their foes at long distances it is unlikely that the GM can make use of the normal skirmishing scale and still fit both the PC’s and their foes on the gaming table. Just 100ft. in 25mm scale is over 8ft. in real space and it is likely the PC’s may first spot their opponents from time to time at distances three times as great as that, or farther.

Under these circumstances the GM should be able to fit both the PC’s and their targets on the same table together either by cutting the scale in half or to 1/5th. Cutting the scale in half yields a scale of 25mm = 10ft., or 5mm per 2 scale feet. Cutting the scale to 1/5th skirmishing yields a scale of 25mm = 25ft., or 1mm per scale foot. In either of these cases it is probably easiest to use one figure or marker to show the position of the entire party, unless and/or until any single characters depart or the party should split into smaller groups and move to a location an appreciable distance (more than 25mm) away, warranting the use of another marker.

In the smaller 25mm = 10ft. scale, the GM can represent a distance of 400ft. in a space only 1 meter (39in’s) across. This works well for the ranges of best accuracy for most bows and for the hand-hurled weapons of nearly all characters. At the even smaller 25mm = 25ft. scale the GM can represent a distance of 1,000ft. in the same amount of space, and that sufficient to encompass even the extreme ranges of most bows. Any greater distances, such as might be involved when first making sighting and recognition checks, can be handled on maps of a scale suitable for illustrating large swaths of countryside, as no mundane weapon can bridge the distance between them, except perhaps siege weaponry turned to use for anti-personnel, or magickal attacks, for which sight alone limits range when targeting strangers.

The GM should adjust the scale used as the characters come within closer proximity to their foes. In this way, more detail of the area in which they are located may be shown, until normal 25mm = 5ft. skirmishing scale is reached, BUT the players MUST be duly informed as the GM makes these adjustments so they do not get confused. The GM should be prepared to provide a patient reminder or two after the fact when he changes the scale, as not everyone changes mental gears at the same speed.

The character’s movement rates rendered in all three scales and also in feet per Pulse and mph, and his jump, leap, and running leap distances are already be recorded on the Character Record Sheet to facilitate the changes in scale during tactical play.

Preparing for Battle

As noted previously, in preparing for tactical play and/or battle some sort of markers must be found and kept on hand or carried to each gaming session to be used on the GM’s tactical display to mark the approximate locations of all characters, PC’s and NPC’s and beasts and monsters (as applicable), especially when the GM is anticipating the occurrence of combat or a tactical situation.

At local hobby or gaming stores, usually the same places where the polyhedral dice used to play the game may be found, the players and GM will find a wide variety of 25mm metal miniatures or figurines designed for fantasy roleplay intended for use in this capacity. These metal miniatures are commonly collected and painted and used to mark the positions of PC’s and NPC’s, beasts and “monsters” in tactical situations and battles. They are made in a wide assortment of races and also dressed and equipped so as to suggest a great variety of trades and social classes. If the player or GM cannot find a specifically accurate metal miniature to match a particular character, he is likely to find something that is at least close.

While the scale used is 25mm, some of the companies making metal miniatures have seen fit to alter the standard and make their 25mm figures almost another scale foot taller than normal. This may disturb some of the purists, but considering the fact that they are simply markers, it makes little if any real difference in play.

While metal miniatures are very nice and a great deal of fun to collect and learn how to paint (a process and skill requiring a great deal of patience and hand-eye coordination), they are NOT necessary to get the players through a contest or bout with their foes. The players should NOT put off starting up a game because they haven’t gotten the figures (metal miniatures) they want for their characters yet, either.

The players and GM should be aware that any marker is acceptable for the tactical display, as long as the characters can be told apart from one another fairly easily.

Some board games provide little flat cardboard markers which fit into slots on plastic bases, or even a collection of buttons or little metal pieces like shoes, hats, and the like which can just as easily be scavenged to use here for combat. Some gaming companies actually provide medieval swords & sorcery-style printed characters on cardboard for use in such plastic bases, or digital files of the same that can be down-loaded and printed at home, folding at the center to provide both a Front and Back side.

These substitutes can just as easily be used as a stop-gap measure until the players find the metal figures they want, or mixed in with the other players’ figures until a given player has found the figure he wants to use, OR they can stand as they are indefinitely, as desired.

Regardless of the type of marker used to show the position of a combatant on the tactical display, it should be mounted on a base specifically prepared for it that will enable the players and GM alike to see it and easily take note of when it has moved from ranged combat into the melée. A simple disc (base) alone cut to the character’s specifications (according to his height, in scale), perhaps out of balsa wood, marked with the fields of approach, and marked with a symbol or initial on it to indicate the character’s identity will work very well as a marker on the tactical display. The metal miniatures or other objects of that nature are favored for the simple fact that they have a bit more weight and are a little harder to accidently dislodge or shift when deployed during play. Perhaps a balsa disc so prepared could be glued to a slug or coin to provide it with a more desirable weight.

The size of the base or disc cut for a character should be equal to his Zone of Control, which is equal to the character’s height in diameter, as translated into skirmishing scale: 1ft. in scale = 5mm; 2.4in’s in scale = 1mm.

If the Zone were measured in the other two smaller scales and used to make bases or indicators, they would be so small and light they would be nothing more than an exercise in frustration to try to use.

While the base for the marker or figure should be circular, circles are difficult to cut even with a circle template, unless the player has a blade adapter for a compass. With eight possible directions from which a character can be approached in battle, octagonal bases are also considered acceptable, and certainly easier to cut. Whether cutting a circular base or octagonal, the player should always make sure that the lines dividing each of the eight orientations or fields of approach from one another are clearly marked.

Due to the fact that a metal miniature figure is likely to be posed in a position in which the direction that faces Front is ambiguous, the Front field of approach should always be marked with a “F” on the base on which it is mounted, and the same always when any random object is mounted to use as a marker. The GM or player mounting a metal miniature should be sure to position it on the base so that either the shoulders are squared off facing Front or its face looks out centered over that same field of approach.

The GM and player are advised to black out the Rear field of approach as a reminder that the character is vulnerable when approached from that direction and must turn around one way or the other in order to be able to respond to attacks from that direction with anything other than a Dodge and then only after having been warned, making a successful Sentry-Perception skill or AWA check, or surviving a shot delivered blind from that quarter.

In addition to the mounted marker or figure and the ubiquitous paper and pencil or pen, the GM and the players (if they are so inclined) will need a small ruler (6in. or 12in. length) or a small tape measure of narrow width (4ft. to 6ft. length) that also has one side marked in millimeters for measuring out movement and ranged weapon attacks or marking the extents of AoE dweomers, and the like. Those players running characters who are practitioners of magick should also have extra dice or some sort of marker of a dedicated shape to be used to mark the centers of the AoE magicks they cast, from which to measure to check and see if those passing too close have inadvertently crossed within them. To represent the bounds of those AoE magicks that have obvious visual effects attached to them, a simple piece of chalk tied to a length of string can be used draw their perimeters if playing on a felt tablecloth. The same trick can be used with a water-based pen or marker on vinyl sheets or tablecloths designed to work with them.

The GM should warn the players far enough in advance of the date his game will commence so those players who have a mind to can get their own equipment together, or he can request that each player get their own equipment OR make arrangements to share with another player PRIOR to the start of play, so none get their noses out of joint over the extra expense or constantly being asked to share by one or another player.

A character’s Zone is assumed to encompass his reach while also accounting for his general size and the space needed for him to shift about and make simple maneuvers like sidesteps, advances or even lunges, and back steps while still remaining relatively in the same place for the purposes of battle. It may be restricted on the sides when the character fights in formation, shoulder-to-shoulder or back-to-back with his comrades to prevent his opponents from making flanking attacks.

It is very important that the GM and player both understand that the character is NOT the marker or figure used to represent his Zone on the tactical display. The character is no chess piece to sit idly in the middle of the space he controls, but is assumed to be constantly drifting and moving about in his Zone, shifting and looking about to keep track of his comrades and opponents. This is especially considered to be true when engaged in battle in the melée, dancing from side to side, shuffling forward and back in response to his opponents movements, always on the move himself, as anyone would be who is engaged in a contest of life or death consequences.

The Details of the Display

Regardless of the surface used for the tactical display, with or without a grid, and/or the quality and detail of any models employed, the display is intended to remind the GM and the players of the nature and extent of the confines in which the contest or battle is taking place. The GM should always strive to make sure that the players all understand that the display is only a basic indication of the setting of the contest or theater of the battle and the current situation and participants’ locations, and should NOT necessarily be taken literally as the model(s) appear or as the maps are drawn. The GM must have with him his notes on the location with the specific details of the physical features and make some attempt to loosely indicate them when drawing any maps out on the display, and be prepared to field questions regarding the details of the place. The GM certainly can’t be expected to draw or model every little candlestick or loose rock, pile of rushes or stick of furniture on the site before the battle, so he should be prepared to flesh out the specifics of the setting as the players work their way into and through it. The players would no doubt lose all interest in the contest or battle itself if the GM took the time to go into that kind of detail in his description in the midst of the game before allowing the action to start.

Being familiar with the period and the conditions of medieval life as spelled out elsewhere in this book will help the players and GM alike immensely in this respect. Knowing what to expect in the way of structures (pillars, vaults, corbels, flying buttresses, hammerbeams roof trussing, thatched roofs, etc.), and lighting (candles, candlelanthorns, banks of candles, candelabrum, candlesticks and stands, candoliers, flambeaux, torches and cressets, braziers, etc.), social customs (chamber pots in bedchambers emptied out the window every morning, urine buckets outside main outside doors, courtyard laundry troughs, mounting blocks to get up and down from horseback by stable doors and main entrances to buildings, heavily curtained windows and tester beds to protect from errant fingers of the cold in winter, draught screens in cold windy weather, fires in fireplaces for light in dimly lit rooms in midsummer despite the heat, displays of silver plate on great racks called aumbries in the main halls of the wealthy, crockery, pots & pans, and utensils hanging from racks over kitchen fireplaces and work tables, buckets of sand and water by fireplaces for emergency fire control, etc.) and the like will all help guide the player in questioning the display to find the little things that should be present that may be used creatively to gain the upper hand and turn the tide of battle, and will aid the GM in fielding those questions.

The GM should always be willing to give a little along these lines, as well. The players’ questions are likely to lead the GM to make the little embellishments in detail that make the settings more rich and real and colorful for the players and can result in far more interesting sorts of actions during play, breaking crockery or bottles over peoples’ heads, throwing buckets of noisome stuffs or hot soups or stews, or backing a foe into tripping into or over benches or fire pits in a great hall, pulling curtains or tapestries down to cover and entangle a foe or even a group of foes – all the sorts of things that they see in the Swords & Sorcery genre adventure movies at the theater, both old and new.