Game: Cry Havoc
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
Review Dated: 21st, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Cry Havoc isn’t what I had hoped a War Event Book would be. That’s my bad news. I was hoping for a nicely abstracted system that could quickly handle any numbers of creatures, in a magic wielding fantasy battle and allow the PCs or important NPCs to stand out. I wanted to know what the side effects of a magical war might be. The good news is that Cry Havoc doesn’t mess up any attempt to deliver this because it doesn’t make the attempt. Cry Havoc takes the harder approach for a War Event Book and soldiers on with that instead. If you want to convert your d20 roleplaying session into a d20 wargaming session then you’ll benefit from the bulk of the 140 pages of this PDF supplement. Roleplaying isn’t forgotten entirely, Cry Havoc takes a little time to discuss different types of wars and the resulting campaign effect.
Cry Havoc is a pain to review. I don’t think it has made the best choices, this isn’t how I’d run battles and so in that respect the supplement rates poorly. On the other than, once I accept the product the PDF wants to be in its own right then it’s quite good. If you want to run battles like this then these are the rules to use. The mechanics in Cry Havoc like to take the average value for things, I’ll copy that and this review will offer an average numerical score after discussing the pros and cons.
The first tenth of the supplement discusses the likely effects, reactions and even reasons for a war. It does this with typical Malhavoc clarity. It explains the difference between a “civil war” and an “international war”. Oh dear. If you don’t know basics like that then you’re not going to cope with the combat rules later. One strength in this section is the discussion on how clerics and gods might react. Similarly successful are the comments on how a state of war will affect different classes of people on the land. It’s the “lower”, “middle” and “upper” social class, rather than the character class, that’s talked about in this way – and rightly so, anything else would be laughable. The poor will find it next to impossible to buy exotic important goods. This leads naturally on to the economics of a war and here I felt Cry Havoc fell short. Wars are expensive and get in the way of trade – duh. The supplement bases its observations on old medieval wars but that’s easy, I wanted help with the hard fantasy equivalent. In a medieval war you need to pay your troops; but they spend that money again, it doesn’t vanish, it goes back into the economy. In D&D fantasy you could have an army of wizards who do literally vanish money as they burn through their components. You need bat shit and sulphur for a fireball. In a time of war perhaps the local lords make it illegal to kill a bat. I think the other event books, Requiem for a God and When the Sky Falls would have explored these campaign related issues by Cry Havoc really wants to get on to the mass combat mechanics.
The meat of Cry Havoc begins with the Unit Combat rules. You’ll be using these if you want to run a large skirmish with miniatures. The suggestion is that the rules are suitable for several dozen or a few hundred individuals. The system works by grouping individuals together into units, working out the units’ attributes and then controlling them as you would an NPC. Perhaps in a slightly more abstracted way. A unit has its attributes largely calculated from the average values of its members. The unit’s Base Attack Bonus is the average BAB of its members. The full melee bonus is that average BAB plus average strength bonus, size, weapon damage modifier and other miscellaneous modifiers. Saving throws are worked out in a similar way. Hit Points become damage factors. There are plenty of examples, Cry Havoc oozes examples and although I began by scoffing at examples of how to calculate the average, I quickly came to appreciate the movement diagrams. Oh yeah: Attacks of Opportunity, they’re simplified (you can march past other units) but most people will thank the presence of the grid diagrams.
The whole battle takes place on a grid. I do think you need miniatures, paper counters, Cluedo tokens or even coins to keep track of where the units are and who they can fight, shoot or blast with magic. The alternative is horribly messy.
Given the need for some sort of battle grid, miniatures and dozens of calculations for each unit (which may spawn from dozens of different stat blocks) it’s safe to say these skirmishes require a lot of preparation. If the players provoke a battle that the DM didn’t expect – you know, leading the villagers out to meet the goblins head on rather than going down into the nearby abandoned mine to kill the gobbo boss – then there will be need for a substantial break in order to prepare. If you’re DMing and are faced with this situation what would you do? Call for the break and use special Unit Combat rules? Concentrate on the players’ successes in the thick of the battle and extrapolate the overall results from that? If you’re comfortable with the latter than Cry Havoc losses some of it’s appeal.
Cry Havoc does allow for the actions of important individuals in the melee. Huzzah! This is just the most important factor in any unit abstraction. Individuals can be commanders or heroes. A hero is someone or something powerful enough to stand out on its own and a commander is someone who is able to give units their orders. Units tend to require orders before they can be very effective. For example, to counter a spell the unit needs the counter spell order. If your PCs aren’t powerful enough to be a heroes holding their own individually or as a PC unit then the can (and there are rules for) joining another unit. On the other hand, if your PCs are easily strong enough to be heroes and in a position of command then Cry Havoc deals effectively with hero commanders. This was an important test for Cry Havoc and providing you’re happy with the mass mechanic system then the supplement passes.
The other stern test for Cry Havoc – ten-times more given the supplement’s wargame style approach – is magic. If the majority of a unit can cast magic, then the unit can cast magic. If the unit fails its Concentration check then there’s no spell. If the unit needs to bounce those dice and manages to make its collective Concentration check then we have magic. Chapter Four is devoted to Battlefield Magic and it’s 24 pages long if you count the new spells. Battlefield Magic is such a substantial chapter because Cry Havoc runs through a large whack of spells (including 3.5’s mass healing) and discusses their battlefield implementation. The mass healing or harm spells use damage factors instead of hit points. Not all the spells mentioned are re-written with new mechanics, for example you don’t get a damage factor for Call Lightening, it’s one the spells which would use the general translation table for damage dice to damage factors. We’re reminded that there’s one bolt per caster level (up to 10), that each bolt affects a single target but if used against a unit of small or tiny creatures then it can actually hit more. It’s worth remembering that units’ attributes are worked from the average value of the composing soldiers’ stats or the average value of the dominant troop type. So zapping a hobgoblin from a unit of hobgoblins won’t really affect the unit. Zapping a hobgoblin from a unit of hobgoblins and ogres could actually -improve- the unit’s attack value. Oops.
I wouldn’t want to use these rules with too many troops. Fortunately Cry Havoc has a second set of rules – and it’s here that I find my happy middle ground. These are the rules that I’d use. It’s this later section of Cry Havoc that moves the supplement up from “good enough if that’s what you want” to stand alone “good” in my mind. You can abstract a whole battle down to just a few dice rolls. You can abstract a whole war down to just a few dice rolls too. Excellent.
The “Strategic Conflict” rules represent a whole war – a war that should take months, years or decades to fight. This is one heck of an abstraction and Cry Havoc points out it should therefore be used wisely; perhaps only for a distant war which doesn’t really impact the PCs very much.
“Quick Army Combat” reels in the scope a little and reduces a single battle to a set of dice rolls. This is much more my level and is something I think the DM can cope with without too much preparation.
There’s a third option for the rule set, you can run a “Tactical Army Conflict” and reduce the abstraction to an hour-by-hour battlefield clash. Unlike the Unit Combat system, however, these Army Rules can’t cope with any special impact the players may cause and that’s a shame.
Each of these options actually has a different set of rules. I’d accept it’s correct to say that Cry Havoc offers up four different mass melee systems rather than just two. There are two distinct styles though; the first is the wargame and the second a set of mechanics used to handle battles in a roleplaying game.
If all this talk about mass battles, units, calculating averages and damage factors is all to alien for you and you’re beginning to desperately desire typical and uncomplicated D&D again then fear not – Cry Havoc has prestige classes!. The Death Dealer, Knight Commander and Shieldmate are the sort of mechanically polished prestige classes you’d expect to come out of Malhavoc
The supplement concludes with army record sheets and even terrain features to print off and use on your battle map. The inclusion of terrain illustrations must be the final proof of Cry Havoc’s wargaming crossover for a roleplaying supplement.
A “War Event Book” could mean many things to different gamers. Such a product could focus exclusively on the impact a war or succession of battles could have on the local economy and ecology. A War Event Book could even offer wholesale wargaming rules with re-prints of spells, units of character classes, battlefield monster mechanics and a new magic system. Cry Havoc is somewhere in the middle but with a leaning towards the latter. If you want a systems that’s as much a wargame as it is a d20 mechanic (and I think that would appeal to very many D&D players) then that’s what Cry Havoc does.