#Wargame Wednesday – Ukraine War thoughts on #MBT by James Day fm @gmtgames

The last few weeks the sinking of the guided missile cruiser RFN Moskva has taken up alot of my wargaming bandwidth. The event afforded me a deep look into Harpoon 5 by Larry Bond & Chris Carlson from the Admiralty Trilogy Group. This week I decided to go from sea to land and pulled out MBT by James Day from GMT Games (2016).

MBT: The Game of tank-to-tank combat on a tactical level in 1987 Germany is solidly part of the “Cold War goes hot” genre of wargames. Which means it comes close, but not quite all the way, to replicating ground combat in today’s Ukraine War. Although MBT may not be the most modern “fit” for today, it still is a great game at discovering lessons of armored combat.

Courtesy GMT Games

Wither the Tank?

One very common theme we hear from pundits and mainstream media is a constant harping that the Ukrainian use of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) has sealed the fate of armored vehicles on the battlefield. Sam Cranny-Evans and Dr Sidharth Kaushal from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI.org) looked at this thinking in a recent article titled, “Technical Reflections on Russia’s Armoured Fighting Vehicles” (April 27, 2022). In the article they tell us the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on lessons learned for armored combat in the Ukraine. Playing MBT helps to see these lessons on the gaming table in front of us.

The Good

Most of Russia’s tanks are well protected to the front. The frontal armour of the slope at the front of the hull, known as the glacis, typically combines high hardness steels with composites or materials like fibre glass that are known to be challenging for weapons like the RPG-7. The angle of the armour – 68 degrees – increases its line-of-sight thickness to 547 mm for some of the earliest T-72 designs – it may be more for others. The turret armour on Russian tanks is also relatively capable to the front of the tank. The ‘cheeks’ of the cast turret are hollow, allowing additional advanced armours to be inserted that significantly extend protection against some types of threat.

This is what MBT models best. Playing a game of MBT with its precise hit locations and penetration versus armor model is what the hardcore Grognard in me loves.

For the massed head-on engagements that they were designed for, and especially in defensive positions, Russian tanks are capable and effective vehicles – providing that they are properly operated.


MBT is—by design—a wargame that recreates the (past potential) battlefields of Europe at the height of the Cold War. The game—again by design—is optimized to simulate those massed Soviet thrusts or defensive stands. In many ways MBT is built around the U.S. Air-Land Battle Doctrine and the competing Soviet Army of that day. Both focused on combined arms. From the past two months of fighting in the Ukraine, the reformed Russian Army, though equipped with more modern equipment, appears to have lost the ability to execute combined arms operations. While MBT has many of the rules that can be used to simulate the new war we see today, what it doesn’t simulate is the poor decisions in the Russian operational art of this war.

The Bad

While stabilisation of the main armament has been improved and its recoil mechanisms balanced to reduce impact upon the vehicle during firing, most Russian tanks appear to lack the quality of stabilisation that most Western tanks carry. 

A second element of this problem is the mission system fit of Russian tanks. The sights and fire control computers are generally less modern than their peers. 

Russian designs are also very cramped, and few Western tank operators would want to operate a main battle tank with a crew of three – which is standard for all Soviet designs from the T-64 onwards. 

The first two factors are generally reflected in MBT as stabilization and sights are taken into account in the combat model. The last point does not directly appear to be modeled, but may play a part in overall determination of Force Grade and Morale.

RMN Boys at the Tank Farm in 2019…T-72 height to top of cupola is 7’4″ (2.2m)

While MBT has a good detailed model of platform versus platform, what it doesn’t capture very well are all the human factors in battle. Some are here, like Grade or Morale or even Tank Fright, but at the end of the day the real human factor in MBT is the players. To recreate the war in the Ukraine would require MBT players to make decisions that they might not be inclined to make.

The Ugly

Soviet-era tank design, starting with the T-64 and continuing with the T-72, T-80 and T-90 families – albeit with some minor differences – introduced an automatic ammunition handling system which sits beneath the turret of the tank. 

This is a problem for Soviet designs because the ammunition carousel sits in the hull, which is very well protected to the front by the glacis, but less well protected to the sides. If the side or roof of the tank can be penetrated, the projectile stands a chance of hitting the tank’s ammunition, causing it to ‘cook off’. This is where the charges and explosive projectiles catch fire – a fire which quickly spreads because of a lack of firewalls between the munitions. If enough of the ammunition catches fire and detonates, it will often result in an explosion that throws the turret a considerable distance and the death of the entire crew.

Suffice it to say that the damage model in MBT is built upon what today might be seen as a “charitable” view of Russian armored survivability against modern ATGMs.

Further, in MBT ATGMs (found in Advanced Game Rule are of the 1980’s. What is missing in MBT are rules for modern top- attack ATGMs like the FGM-148 Javelin.

Command & Control

The third and final point is the need to consider of Russian tactics and doctrine, which typically emphasise combined arms operations with a view to creating opportunities for artillery and close air support to deliver overwhelming force onto an opponent. Mission command – the delegation of authority and creativity to the lowest levels – rarely features in Russian training. This means that armoured formations operating independently from their supporting arms are probably doing something that they are not trained to do.

I strongly believe that if you want to play MBT and really understand modern combat, you MUST use the rules for Grade (5.8), Command Range (, and Command Span (7.43). These rules, along with Morale (and especially Optional Rule 7.1 Morale) are essential to getting past the simple “force-on-force” wargame that so many gamers seem to relish in. Of course, MBT does not have Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) in it either, but by using these rules you can get a bit closer to understanding the challenges the BTG commander has in combat. The more I think about it, the more I realize that MBT might actually be too granular a model to use to explore the effectiveness of a BTG in combat. Instead of a very tactical game like MBT it might be more useful to use a platoon-scale system, like Frank Chadwick’s Assault series from GDW in the 1980′s but updated for today. Maybe even a version of Less Than 60 Miles from Thin Red Line Games could be used…but I note that this game might be best used to depict only a single axis of advance and not the whole campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, Ukraine is a HUGE place!

Back to the Future

The demise of the tank has been talked about for almost 50 years now, especially in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli Wars of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that were the first to feature mass use of ATGMs. So strong was the sentiment that it even crossed over into science fiction:

Tanks were born in the muck and wire of World War One. Less than sixty years later, there were many who believed that technology had made the behemoths as obsolete as horse cavalry. Individual infantrymen of 1970 carried missiles whose warheads burned through the armor of any tank. Slightly larger missiles ranged kilometers to blast with pinpoint accuracy vehicles costing a thousand times as much. Similar weaponry was mounted on helicopters which skimmed battlefields in the nape of the earth, protected by terrain irregularities. At the last instant the birds could pop up to rip tanks with their missiles. The future of armored vehicles looked bleak and brief.

“Supertanks,” Hammers’s Slammers, 1979

Of course, the answer in Hammer’s Slammers was the supertank. While I am saddened that similar combat vehicles are not on the near-horizon for us, I am confident that there will be a response. Probably not from Russia, but from someone. More importantly, along the path towards that new technology will very likely be a wargame. It might be similar to MBT, but depicting not the past but a bold new future.

That’s a wargame I can’t wait for.

Feature image courtesy dreamstime.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Sunday Summary – From Reading Charlies to #wargame #roleplayinggames slamming ALIENS to #boardgame Tiny Epic Kingdoms with @ADragoons groundzerogames.net hammers-slammers.com @freeleaguepub @Gamelyn_Games dietzfoundation.org @SchilMil


All great reads…

It appears that the article that I wrote for the Armchair Dragoons, “An Active Defense of Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda, Central Front Series, Volume 1” is in a second round of voting for the 2020 Charles S Roberts Awards. Thanks to all who voted so far. Like I told Brant, the only way to be wrong is NOT to read all the articles.

Wargames Cross Over with Roleplaying Games

My published thoughts this last week focused on why Traveller: The Role Playing Game is the best way to “wargame” David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers universe. Comments about how RPGs are basically skirmish wargames will be addressed in a future Wargame Wednesday.

This weekend I did a deeper comparison of Hammer’s Slammers wargames by digging into how Striker II (GDW, 1993), Dirtside II (Ground Zero Games, 1993), and Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible (Pireme Publishing, 2010) stack up against each other. Look for these thoughts in Wargame Wednesday.

Roleplaying Games Cross Over with Wargames

I’ve been exploring Free League Publishing’s ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game this week. Thoughts coming in next week’s #RPGThursday. **Spoiler – A skirmish wargame**

Bored Enough for a Boardgame

Not really, but we finally got a boardgame to the table. On a weeknight no less. This summer I traded for Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2014) which is a really simple action-selection game. My Humans took on the Undead of RockyMountainNavy Jr. and the Dwarves of RockyMountainNavy T. Our first play took more than the 30 minutes advertised but was rather fun. RMN T took the win as often does by laying low and breaking away at the end. RMN Jr. gave it a thumbs up. I expect to see this one land on the table regularly as a quick weeknight after dinner adventure.

A Slow Ship From China

International shipping challenges continue to, uh, challenge the wargame/boardgame industry. Several of my Kickstarter projects updated with news this week. It’s mixed messaging.

#RPGThursday – Another perspective on Rolling Hot Like a Tanklord—or—Why the best Hammer’s Slammers game is NOT a Panzer Pusher #wargame but a retro 1970’s #RPG

Last week, in an answer to @TheGascon, I wrote about what my preferred rules for playing wargames in David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers universe are. That response was predicated on the assumption (unstated by Jim or myself) that we were both looking for the best wargame rules. While I stand by my conclusion in that article that Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible (Pireme Publishing, 2010) is best set of wargame rules for playing in the Slammerverse, the deeper truth is that Traveller: The Role Playing Game is actually my most preferred set of rules to use for Hammer’s Slammers. No, I’m not talking the combat systems in Book 4: Mercenary or Frank Chadwick’s Striker miniatures rules; I’m talking about the character generation and mercenary tickets found in Book 1: Characters and Combat and expanded upon in Book 4: Mercenary as well as later supplements like Mongoose Publishing’s Hammer’s Slammers (2009) and Spica Publishing’s Field Manual (2011).

Hammer’s Slammers minis rules

A Bitchin’ Sailor is a Happy Sailor

Why do I prefer a roleplaying game over wargame rules for Hammer’s Slammers? That’s because, to me, the core of a Slammer’s story written by David Drake is not the blowers or the combat cars or the powerguns. It’s the people. Look at the first line in the first story in The Complete Hammer’s Slammer: Volume 1, “Under the Hammer:”—“Think you’re going to like killing, boy?”

Nothing here about iridium-ceramic tanks or powerguns; just a very personal question. The story goes on to tell us about Rob Jenne and his first day in The Regiment. The day he meets Chero, or Sergeant-Commander Worzer. The day he also meets Worzer’s father, an ex-Slammer who is now a priest. The same day [spoiler alert] that Rob has to call artillery in directly on top of Worzer.

That’s Hammer’s Slammers.

Narrative in Wargames

These days, I often look for a wargame that not only teaches me a bit about the history of the conflict or battle but also creates a story along the way. Some wargames do this in surprising ways, like the naval simulation Harpoon (now in a 5th Edition from Admiralty Trilogy Games) which author Tom Clancy used to help write a chapter in his novel Red Storm Rising. Personally, I find wargame narratives good in a very Clancy-esque techno-thriller way; i.e. where the focus is the technology instead of the people. David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers stories are the inverse where the focus is on the character and not the tech. All of which is to say wargame rules, while able to recreate the technical conditions of a Hammer’s Slammers story, don’t quite capture the emotion.

Dance of the Vampires

A Cold Look at Rolling Hot

In my Wargame Wednesday Hammer’s Slammers article, I focused on the final battle in the novel Rolling Hot as my gauge of a good Hammer’s Slammers game. Let’s look at the description of the battle again:

Blue Three’s sensors had greater range and precision by an order of magnitude than those crammed into the combat cars, but the cars could process the data passed to them by the larger vehicle. The sidebar on Ranson’s multi-function display listed call signs, isolated in cross-talk overheard by the superb electronics of the tank pretending to be in Kawana while it waited on Chin Peng Rise north of the tiny hamlet.

There were twenty-five individual call signs. The AI broke them down as three companies consisting of three platoons—but no more than four tanks in any platoon (five would have been full strength). Some platoons were postulated from a single call sign.

Not all the Yokel tanks would indulge in the loose chatter that laid them out for Task Force Ranson like a roast for the carving; but most of them would, most of them were surely identified. The red cross-hatching that overlay the relief map in the main field of the display was the AI’s best estimate thus far of the the armored battalion’s disposition. 

Blue Three was the frame of the trap and the bait within it; but the five combat cars of the west and east elements were the spring-loaded jaws that would snap the rat’s neck.

And this rat, Yokel or Consie, was lying. It was clear that the leading elements of First of the 4th were already deploying onto the southern slope of Sugar Knob, half a kilometer from the store and shanties of Kawana rather than ten kays their commander claimed.

In the next few seconds, the commander of the armored battalion would decide whether he wanted to meet allied mercenaries—or light the fuse that would certainly detonate in a battle more destructive than any citizen of Prosperity could imagine. He was being tested….

The two sharp green beads of Lieutenant Cooter’s element settled into position.

She heard a whisper in the southern sky. Incoming.

Rolling Hot, Chapter 12

That description is a good wargame scenario, but it only hints at the human factors. Let’s go back to the beginning of the story and meet the commander of Task Force Ranson. Here is how she is introduced to us readers:

Camp Progress was a Yokel—was a National Army—training and administrative center, while for the Slammers it served as a maintenance and replacement facility. In addition to those formal uses, the southern sector gave Hammer a place to post troops who were shoeing signs of having been on the sharp end a little too long.

People like Junebug Ranson, for instance, who’d frozen with her eyes wide open during a firefight that netted thirty-five Consies killed-in-action.

So Captain Ranson had been temporarily transferred to command the Slammers’ guard detachment at Camp Progress, a “company” of six combat cars. There’d been seventeen cars in her line company when it was up to strength; but she couldn’t remember a standard day in a war zone that they had been up to strength…

And anyway, Ranson knew as well as anybody else that she needed a rest before she got some of her people killed.


But she wasn’t going to rest here.

Rolling Hot, Chapter 1

How do you portray Junebug Ranson in a wargame? Sure, one can play with rules for training or morale. Personally I like how Dirtside II/Stargrunt II from Ground Zero Games use Quality Die for different training. I also really like the morale rules in a game like Panzer/MBT from GMT Games where advances aren’t automatic and crews more often than not bail out of tanks after the first enemy round clangs off the front. But none of that capture what is going on in Junebug’s head.

The only way to do so is to roleplay the character. Here is how the “Character Roster” entry for June ‘Junebug’ Ranson is presented in Mongoose Publishing’s Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook written for Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition:

Playing Ranson: At her best, Ranson is a very intellectual commander, breaking every problem down into the sort of question that might be posed at an officer’s exam. She is adept at using whatever resources she has, even when this puts her troops in a difficult position.

“Character Roster,” Hammer’s Slammers, p. 87

As cold an calculating Ranson sounds, she is not totally heartless:

“Speed’s essential, Hammer resumed. “You have authorization to combat-loss vehicles rather than slow down. The victory bonus’ll cover the cost of replacement.”

“I’ll be combat-losing crews, Colonel,” Ranson’s voice said. “But they’re replaceable too…”

Cooter gasped. Wylde grunted something that might have been either laughter or pain.

Hammer opened his mouth, then closed it with an audible clop. He opened it again and spoke with a lack of emotion as complete as the white, colorless fury of a sun’s heart. “You are not to take any unnecessary risks, Captain Ranson. It is necessary that you achieve your objective. You will accept such losses as are required to achieve your objective. Is that understood?”

“Yes sir,” said Ranson without inflection. “Oh, yes sir.”

Rolling Hot, Chapter 4

Traveller Mercenaries

The core rules for both every Traveller RPG edition, be it Classic or Mongoose or T4 or T5 has the Army and Marine career fields. Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary, like Mongoose Traveller Mercenary, expands those career fields into a more detailed character generation system. Both books also have another of those famous Traveller sub-games, in this case “Mercenary Tickets” which is a contract resolution system for mercenary units. Mongoose Traveller’s Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook provides a very detailed look at The Regiment (and other mercenary units) and has rules for continuing a career beyond the military into a mercenary unit. All of which helps a player to create and play a mercenary character like found in Hammer’s Slammers.

It also comes down to the situations a mercenary is in. While the final battle in Rolling Hot is certainly dramatic, such a large battle is the exception, not the rule. Here the front narrative from Spica Publishing’s Field Manual is more inspiring:

“Well, sergeant, what we have here is an Instellarms Forager scout car, six wheel drive, three man crew. On gunner, commander and a driver. They have a cover on the turret, hmmm…did you guys see anybody get in or out, troop or the like?” I shook my head as he scrutinized the vehicle as it ambled around the airfield.

“That thing doesn’t have the power for an energy weapon, and ordinarily has a troop compartment unless they mount something heavy. I think from the profile though…” He squinted into the glasses and concentrated. “Uh huh, there’s the designator, and the periscope…sarge, that’s a Hyperion Mark 18a2 rocket launcher…Obsolete, but it still packs a punch. Problem is, there is no telling what’s in it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said, exasperated.

Rourke looked at me over the field glasses. “What it means is, the Hyperion launchers are a multi task weapons system, they’re designed to fire about a dozen different munitions, and I mean a lot of different stuff, AP, antitank, you name it.”

I could tell by his look just then that the same thought crossed both our minds.

“Let me guess, anti aircraft too, right?” He nodded at that.

“Sarge, if they deploy when the shuttle gets here…” Just then, we could hear the engines as the dropshuttle came into view, not three klicks out.

“Shit, boys, we gotta take the RV out, let’s hustle!” Rivalries forgotten, Rourke took team two as I moved in with team one…we had no more than three minutes to cross three hundred meters of field and blow away the RV before they nailed our shuttle and the platoon of men aboard.

No doubt about it, I thought as we moved onto the field…I need a raise.

“A Bad Thing in a Small Package,” Field Manual, p. 4

I’ll admit this is good fodder for a skirmish-scale wargame like Stargrunt II (GZG) or Tomorrow’s War (Osprey Publishing), but at the end of the day it’s characters and personal motivations that make it distinctive. For that, there is no substitute for the Traveller RPG.

Life’s a Forge

There are many character generation systems and I know that not everybody like Traveller’s career-path generation approach. Why not just buy a character? For me, the character generation sub-game in Traveller, with it’s legendary “die in character generation,” is way more inspiring. I really enjoy rolling up a character and seeing how they come into being. The character generation process is more informative (and formative) than any idea I might have going into the game. I actually play the game as I roll along. Let me show you how it works…

Joining the Slammers – My Way

Let me introduce Brant Wayhead, a young man just finishing high school on a low-technology world.

[For my example I am going to use Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition (MgT1e) as found in the Pocket Rulebook (Mongoose Publishing, 2008). This is not my current preferred Traveller rule set, that being Cepheus Engine as found in Independence Games The Clement Sector. I’m using MgT1e as it is “supposed” to work with the Mongoose Hammer’s Slammers, especially in terms of the skills list. In the interest of time I am also not going to use the advanced character generation system found in MgT1e Mercenary.]

The Universal Personality Profile for Brant is 7D7765 (Strength-Dexterity-Endurance-Intelligence-Education-Social Status). That “D” is hexadecimal for 13. This yield a +2 Die Modifier (DM) for all Dexterity-related actions and -1 DM for anything involving social graces. Brant hails from a Low-Technology world and comes out of school with Survival 0.

For his first term, Brant successfully joins the Army and is posted to a Cavalry (tank) unit. As this is his first term he acquires the basic Service Skills of Drive (Tracked) 0, Athletics (Coordination) 0, Gun Combat (Pistol) 0, Recon 0, and Heavy Weapons (Launchers) 0. Brant finds himself in the middle of a brutal ground war (Event 6) and successfully avoids injury and picks up skills in Gun Combat (Pistol) 1 and Leadership 1. Brant survives the war but fails to advance.

Still looking to make something of himself, Brant reenlists for a second term, again posted to the Cavalry. This time he learns to fly rotary wing aircraft (Flyer-Rotary 1). He finds himself in the middle of an Urban War (Event 4) and learns Stealth 1, Streetwise 1, and Recon 1. Not only does Brant survive this term, but he is also promoted to Rank 2.

It was during his second term that Brant met the Hammer’s Slammers. He decides to leave the Army and join the Slammers. On his way out of the Army he takes 10,000 Credits, a pistol, and is allowed to keep his Neural Comm implant.

Brant Waytread. Age 26. 7D7765. Two Terms Army (Cavalry). Rank 2. Homeworld – Low-Technology. Skills – Athletics (Coordination) 0, Driver (Tracked) 0, Gun Combat (Pistol) 1, Flyer (Rotary) 1, Heavy Weapons (Launcher) 0, Leadership 1, Melee (Knife) 0, Recon 1, Stealth 1, Streetwise 1, Survival 0. Possessions – 10,000Cr, Pistol, Neural Comm Implant.

[We now leave the Core Rulebook and move over the Mongoose Publishing’s Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook and the “Character Creation” chapter.]

Leveraging his two terms as a tanker in the Army, Brant successfully joins the Hammer’s Slammers as a Tank Driver. He picks up Driver (Hover) 0. Brant immediately makes an impact on The Regiment, distinguishing himself in battle (Event 12) and earning a battlefield commission to O1. Staying on with the Slammers for a second term (fourth overall), Brant is promoted to Tank Commander. The event roll this turn is “6 – Slammers Event Roll” which means I have to decide what era of Slammers history Brant is living in. I chose “Under the Hammer” and resolve Event 6 – “You befriend on of the other Slammers. Gain an Ally” as Brant is befriended by Danny Pritchard. The friendship may be professional as well as personal since Brant is promoted to O2.

Brant Waytread. Age 34. 7D7765. Two Terms Army (Cavalry)/Two Terms Hammer’s Slammers (Tanker) . Rank O2. Homeworld – Low-Technology. Skills – Athletics (Coordination) 0, Comms 1, Driver (Hover) 0, Driver (Tracked) 0, Flyer (Rotary) 1, Gun Combat (Pistol) 1, Heavy Weapons (Launcher) 0, Leadership 1, Melee (Knife) 0, Recon 1, Stealth 1, Streetwise 1, Survival 0. Processions – 10,000Cr, Pistol, Neural Comm Implant.

Brant is now 34 years old and his age is catching up with him (mandatory aging roll) but Brant keeps himself in shape and there is no effect. For the purposes of the game, I now move to “Chapter 10 – Conflict” in the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook and see what the latest Slammers contract is.

The Pope Can’t Help You Now

This contract takes place on a planet (New Rome) that is 8,000 km diameter (.7g) with a Standard atmosphere but only 30% water covered. The hundreds of thousands of people on this world are all part of a company/central government. The law level is low (2) but the world has a Type B starport to go with its very hight technology level (TL11).

[Worlds are created using the standard world generation rules in the MgT1e Core Rulebook.]

While the core rules have a table for determining cultural influences, I decide to use the Cultural Influences table found in the sourcebook Chapter 10. I roll a 26 on the table which yields “Catholicism.” Hmm….

I decide that this planet is a Young Colony. Since this planet is young and ruled from offworld there is a -3 DM on the Seeds of Conflict table. The result tells me that this is a “Rebellion against parent world.” The parent faction, The Trade Federation, has a Faction Strength of 16 with advantages of Space control, Superior Equipment, and Planetary Capital. The rebels, who call themselves the Moderate Alliance and have a Faction Strength of 8, have the advantages of Familiar Terrain and Popular Support.

For The Contract, the Trade Federation wants to end the war quickly and hires Hammer’s Slammers (Elite Mercenary) to support its contract Regular, Green armed forces. The Moderate Alliance hires Ander’s Legion (Average Mercenary) to put some backbone in it’s Irregular, Militant forces.

Using Resolving the War, I roll to see how the first month of the war develops. Both sides must make a Conflict Check which is:

2d6+Faction Strength+Commander Tactics+Mercenary DMs+Mission Result DMs

Since this is the first month I gave the Slammers a +2 Commander Tactics DM. Rolling each faction gave the following results:

  • Trade Federation – 2+16+2+7*+0=27
  • Moderate Alliance – 7+8+0+2+0=17
  • * [The Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook lists a +9 DM for the Slammers but because The Regiment is in an earlier “Under the Hammer” era I rule by GM fiat that the modifier is +7 because, as events in “The Butcher’s Bill” show, there are times even Hammer got a bloody nose.]

The Trade Federation loses no Faction Power but the Moderate Alliance loses 5 bringing it down to 3. After both sides pay their mercenaries the Trade Federation is at Faction Strength 13 and the Moderate Alliance is now 2. However, the Moderate Alliance leverages its Popular Support to gain back a single Faction Strength, bringing it up to 3. Even so, it looks like the Moderate Alliance cannot last another month unless something spectacular happens.

I now move to a Mission Scenario. As each scenario takes place over a two-week period I decide there will be two played with the results feeding into the next Conflict Check.

[Looking to generate a mission, I fall back on MgT1e Mercenary and the “Mercenary Tickets” chapter. I randomly roll that the mission is a Cadre-Training mission. This makes sense as the mission is described as, “Cadre missions of this type tend to be ‘hands on’ training runs that let the mercenary unit help one side of the conflict learn how to survive and hopefully be victorious” (Mercenary, p. 47).]

This makes me interested in what sort of army the Trade Federation has. Here I lean on Striker Book 2, “Rule 73: Military Spending.” To determine the Gross National Product one must know the Tech Level of the planet (11 or 14,000Cr) and any trade characteristics (Non-Industrial x0.8). Using a d10 to determine that planet has ~700,000 people, the budget is 14,000 x 0.8 x 700,000 should be 7.84 Billion Cr. I decide that the planet, depending on its parent world has only spend 1/3 of “what they should” giving a budget of ~ 2.6 Billion Cr.

Not wanting to get bogged down in building an entire Army, I stop at this point and go back to Striker Book 1 and build a basic Conscript Infantry Company of 100 soldiers that are 55% Recruit, 25% Regular, 15% Veterans and 5% Elite (Book 1, “Rule 5: Force Composition”). As this is a Cadre-Training mission I decide that Brant is assigned three blowers that are supposed to teach the local conscripts how to work with and not fear the supertanks.

For scenario specifics, I decide that Brant is in charge of an understrength platoon of three M1A1 tanks. These are first-generation blowers and as such they are more lightly armored and carry a 15cm powergun as compared to the “standard” M2A1 with the 20 cm guns. The Trade Federation conscript (green) troops generally have Gun Combat (Rifle) 1, Athletics 1, and no other real skills. They are armed with Flechette Rifles (TL9) and wear Ballistic Vests (TL 8, Protection 5). The Moderate Alliance Irregulars also have Gun Combat (Rifle) 1 and Athletics 1 but are armed with Assault Rifles (TL7) and wear anything from Jack (Protection 1) to a Flak Jacket (Protection 4). They also have more than a few Buzzbombs and tank mines. The situation is an ambush as the Slammers tanks and Trade Federation infantry are on a training march…

Beyond Reason

“Reason Six to all Reason Elements. Halt and lager. Take 15..” Lieutenant Brant Waytread watched through his tank’s optics as the local conscript platoon that the three Hammer’s Slammers tanks were working with paused awkwardly, looking around at one another until the few regular or veteran leaders barked out commands that the recruits, seemingly reluctantly, followed. The infantry troops spread out, mostly seeking shelter from the midday heat instead of taking good defensive positions.

“If they want to cool off that much, can I just run them over? They’d really like the fans.” That was Sergeant Vern Gamt in Reason Two. He didn’t have much patience for locals, unless they were of the female persuasion.

“Cut the chatter,” called Brant. “We’re here to train them,” he said with as little enthusiasm that he felt.

An icon winked on his HUD. The orange square with a “2” next to it was behind him and a bit further out than the platoon perimeter was supposed to be. The AI, by displaying the “2,” was warning Brant that something was amiss. As the hair on the back of his neck started to stand up he shouted, “Reasons! Button Up!” at the same time he hit his panic bar to lower himself into the turret—and not a moment too soon as buzzbombs lanced out at Reason One. Almost too late, Brant remembered the Automatic Defense System—ADS—was turned off because of all the “friendly” infantry nearby.

There were actually three buzzbombs, all coming at the rear of Reason One. Two hit while the third bounced off ineffective. Brant hadn’t been strapped in tight and he bounced around the turret. His helmet saved him from smashing his head against the cupola edge, but the electronics in it blanked.

[Buzzbombs are found in the “Equipment” chapter on page 119 of the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook. They have a range of “Rocket” and score 1d6x6 damage if hit. Two hit, both 36 points each. Neither can penetrate the (still) impressive 120 points of rear armor on a M1A1, though both automatically score an Armor hit reducing the rear armor to 118.]

Blinking hard, Brant activated his Neural Comms implant. “Reasons! Advance and circle back. Get out of the killing zone!” Before he even finished the order Reason One surged forward, which just served to throw Brant off-balance again. The bright white flash from outside his tank momentarily blinded him. He saw the friendly icon for Reason Three change from a green square to a red X.

[Since this was an ambush the rebels had planted their few tank mines in the field. Reason Three drove straight over two mines that detonated near-simultaneously—close enough I treated them as a single attack.. Tank mines are found on page 172 in the “Vehicle Combat” chapter of the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook. Against a heavy vehicle they detonate on a roll of 4+ and score 12d6 hits each. The combined attack of 41+45=86 hits overwhelms the 66 belly armor and translates to a Triple Hit against the Power Plant using the Expanded Damage Rules on page 173. Technically the tank should only be disabled but I decide to give the rebels a not-in-the-rules luck roll that (incredibly) is snake-eyes and therefore rule the plasma bottle is penetrated and the tank destroyed.]

Dead. Like he would be in a few moments unless he acted quickly.

A few minutes later it was all over. Reason Three was a burnt husk; nobody got out. Both Brant’s tank and Reason Two had taken several buzzbomb hits. No enemy were found—they faded back into the woods as quickly as they appeared. About half the friendlies were missing too. Only a few of those that stuck around had fired their weapons, but those who did hadn’t aimed at anything. Brant was sure the few friendly KIA were the result of friendly fire.

“Colonel ain’t going to be happy,” Brant thought as he dialed up Central. It took a few minutes but finally the Duty Officer took his report. As his AI updated, Brant learned that his ambush was not the exception. Many Slammers and local units were ambushed around the same time.

The second Mission Scenario I decide to approach in a much more narrative manner. This is actually my preferred way of playing Traveller; as a kind of solo choose-your-own adventure. I look at the skill checks as decision points that influence the action. Truth be told, this is often how I GM sessions too—a loose idea of a plot and let the player actions fill in the details. Sometimes it goes like I expected; other times not. That’s what make it interesting!

Gamt’s Gauntlet

“So just where is Sergeant Gamt?” Lieutenant Brant Waytread’s didn’t often raise his voice, but when he did those around him knew it was not a good time.

Corporal Emclub, Sergeant Gamt’s driver in Reason Two, swallowed hard under her commander’s withering stare. She responded, “I, uh, don’t know, sir. He went out.”

“Out?” Brant barked. “It’s dropping in the pot all over and he just went out?”

“He went to see his girlfriend,” Emclub said as she looked down at the floor.

“Oh, his by-the-hour girlfriend, right?” Brant didn’t need this, his helmet comm was full of chatter from other Hammer elements that all were reporting the same thing; the Moderate Alliance was striking at Trade Federation units across the continent, but most importantly they were striking at garrison units in cities that before had been off-limits. There were no attacks in this backwater town where Brant and his two blowers were training local infantry…yet. Brant had walked through town the night before and he sensed something was brewing [Successful Streetwise skill check.]

“Mount up. You’ll drive but slave Reason Two’s guns to my AI.” He didn’t have to tell his crew to do the same for they were already in the tank waiting for their commander. Brant turned and went down the hall to barracks room of the local forces. He entered without knocking.

“I need a two squads right now to search the town,” he declared out loud.

Blank stares came back at him from a few frightened recruits. Nobody moved. “Where’s your officers?” Brant demanded.

“It’s the weekend. They’re at home.”

“Well, your friends in the Moderate Alliance didn’t take the weekend off.” You could literally hear the sarcasm dripping off Brant’s words. “We need to go.”

Nobody moved.

“Via!” Brant exclaimed. It’ about to drop in the pot! Get off your asses!”

[I decided this was a type of Rally action that would depend upon leadership and charisma. I decided that the lack of local officers was a Formidable task based on -2 DM for no officers present, -2 DM for lack of initiative, and -2 DM for the innate hatred the locals have for Slammer troops. I also ruled that Brant’s +1 Leadership was not in effect since the locals intensely disliked the Slammers. Even a die roll of 11 became only a 5 after the -6 difficulty modifier leaving an Effect of -3.]

From the back of the room somebody said, “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” A few crossed themselves and bowed their heads.

“Newsflash, Father Book. The Mods don’t care about your Lord. I think today he’s foresaken you ,too.” Still, nobody moved.

“Via!” Brant repeated as he turned to leave the room.

[But what about that Effect -3? I decide that some of the local troops are secretly sympathetic to the rebels and will pass along a tip that the Slammers are coming. That Effect -3 will translate into a modifier for a surprise attack later on.]


Reason One and Two barreled through the gates to the compound and turned down the main drag of the town. “Do you know where to go?” asked his driver.

Brant had the hatch open but was lowered in the turret. “Gamt likes a place on the east side. Think it’s called Dolly’s.”

“Yeah, know it,” grunted his driver. “It’s expensive.”

“So I hear. It’s also in the old section of town with lots of brickwork buildings. Perfect ambush country. Keep your eyes open.”

The gunner seated beside Brant grimaced. ” We need some legs for this op.” Brant didn’t respond.

As they moved deeper into the east side the AI had difficulty tracking activity around them, On the display, the area covered around them kept getting smaller as even the advanced sensors on the tanks had difficulty penetrating the stone/brick buildings. Brant was on edge.

The first buzzbombs came at they prepared to pass through the gate that marked the entrance to the east quarter of town. Brant sensed as much as he saw the charges wired to the gate[Successful Recon check]. “Goose it, Reason! The gate’s wired!”

Reason One surged forward with Reason Two following close behind. The charges along the gate detonated but it fell just behind Reason Two [Attack roll 6=Fail]. Brant flipped the ADS to active…civilian casualties now be damned. The next few buzzbombs were swatted away harmlessly, but the streets were narrowing and the ADS would soon be ineffective.

The AI showed Dolly’s just a klick ahead. As Reason One and Two passed the last cross street the bright lance of a powergun shot out from a roof and connected with Reason Two. The bolt splashed off the turret.

[The powergun anti-tank cannon is found on page 118 of the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook. Although it states that it is not useful against heavy vehicles, it still is worth a shot. Also, remember that Effect -3 from earlier? I decide that it doesn’t simply add to any surprise roll, but if a hit is scored it will add 3d6 damage to reflect the very short range and falling shot. It scores 9d6+6 Destructive damage which means the 34 hit points don’t penetrate the 132 side armor but it does reduce it by 9.]

“Hose the buildings.” [Brant, Significant Action/Coordinated Action. Leadership skill check. Die roll 10+ skill 1=Success with Effect +2] At the same time he worked to keep the data flowing between Reason One and Two. [Minor Action/Maintain Comms. Communications skill check. Die roll 9+ skill 1+ effect 2=Success with Effect +4.]

“Goosing it.” [Driver, Significant Action/Maneuver. Drive (Hover) skill check. Die roll 7+ skill 1 + effect 4 =Success with Effect +4.]

“Hosing the rooftops.” [Gunner using slaved tribarrel. Significant Action/Attack. Gunner (Turrets) skill check. Die roll 12+ skill 1 + effect 4 =Success with Effect +9.] Several rooftops collapse preventing at least 4 buzzbomb/anti-tank gun teams from attacking.

As Dolly’s came into sight the AI showed a green icon at the front door. That would be Gamt. Reason One slowed and passed the door while Reason Two came to a near stop to allow Gamt to board. Brant’s driver must have been watching his own AI feed because the tank accelerated as soon as Gamt was aboard his tank.

“Welcome, Sergeant. Glad you could join us,” Brant said.

Before Gamt could respond Brant was distracted. Reason One turned a corner and came face-to-face with a large barricade.

Brant shouted, “Goose and go. Fire!” [Coordinated Action (Leadership skill ). Die roll 7 + skill 1 = Success with no Effect.]

Reason One’s main gun shot at point-blank range at the barricade, but missed. [Attack Action (Gunner-Turrets). Die roll 3 + skill 1 = FAILURE with Effect -4.]

The 130 tons of Reason One hit the barricade, breaking through but slewing dangerously to the left as debris hung up on the tank. [Maneuver (Drive skill). Die roll 7 + skill 1 + effect -4 = FAILURE with Effect -4. Translate into two hits on the Front of Reason One. The Mine Net and Main Gun are hit.] Brant couldn’t do much as he was thrown around against his straps. Reason One finally straightened out.

“Uh, thanks for coming get me, L-T.” At least Gamt sounded a bit contrite.

Brant wasn’t in a generous mood. “Was she worth it?”

“Not really,” Gamt responded. “Matter of fact, she tried to kill me. I was lucky to have my pistol close by. Don’t worry, L-T, I’ll be keeping it zipped up for a while…”

Conflict Check-Out

In the next Conflict Check I rule that the multiple battlefield successes for the Moderate Alliance means the Trade Federation suffers a -2 DM for a Dismal Failure on the part of the Slammers. The next mission is a Partial Success (+0 DM) as the Slammers win but again civilian casualties work against them. Part of the reason the Trade Federation took casualties is that they decided to not let Hammer be in charge (no +2 for Commanders Tactics). The next Conflict Check is as follows:

  • Moderate Alliance – 9+3+0+2+0 = 14
  • Trade Federation – 4+13+0+7+(-2) = 18

A Conflict Difference of 4 on the Conflict Results Table says the Moderate Alliance loses 4 Faction Strength; it collapses while Ander’s Legion uses their Bond to leave quietly, and without full pay. The Trade Alliance falls to Faction Strength 12 before paying the Slammers reduces it to 9. The Trade Federation sends Hammer’s Slammers on their way, sure that they really didn’t need to hire expensive mercenaries to fight a rebellion that quickly collapsed. Colonel Hammer knows better; as he is given a cold send off at the Starport he feels in his bones that The Regiment will be back. This rebellion is not really over, just paused. The rebels tasted just a bit too much success on the battlefield to not come back in the future.

Brant takes heat for losing a blower but Captain Pritchard points out to higher command that many units were ambushed and the locals did little to support. He also is “counseled” about keeping better tabs on his troops. Brant retains his command of the tank platoon but is burning to remove what he sees as a stain on his reputation.

Every RPG is Narrative, right?

One criticism I often hear about the Original 2d6 Science Fiction Role Playing Game is that the “Roll 8+ on 2d6 for success” it that it is too simple. I hear complaints that the task system is too binary; success or failure. I vehemently disagree and point all those would-be detractors to the rules for Effect. Sure, the rules weren’t really codified until Mongoose Traveller but I can recall playing games in the early days (i.e. the early 1980’s) where we always asked what happened if you just missed a roll, or what happened if it was a blow out one way or another. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were already playing with Effect.

If the degree of success is important, then subtract 8 from the total of the dice roll plus Dice Modifiers. The margin of success is referred to as the Effect.

Mongoose Traveller Pocket Rulebook, p. 50

Effect can be used simply as a die modifier like in a chain of tasks rolls or it can be the key to opening narrative moments. That second use is what makes building a narrative simple—you don’t need a Big Damn Hero Die in Firefly (Cortex Prime) or a Drama Die in The Expanse using Green Ronin’s AGE or a Triumph/Despair roll in Star Wars Roleplaying (Genesys).

Building the narrative is what a Hammer’s Slammers story is really about. It’s not about the supertanks; it’s about the people. To play that you need a roleplaying game….

Feature image courtesy Beyond the Sprues.

#Wargame Wednesday – Rolling Hot like a Tanklord in different Hammer’s Slammers games featuring #TravellerRPG and Game Designers’ Workshop, Metagaming, @mayfairgames, @MongoosePub, & www.hammers-slammers.com – all for @TheGascon

Thank Gascon

This Wargame Wednesday entry is courtesy of @TheGascon who sent me down this rabbit hole from Twitter by simply asking me which Hammer’s Slammers rules I prefer. In my typical way, the answer is not simple and to understand my thinking we need to look at several decades of wargaming history. Come along as I dig into a bit of my gaming past (and present) to show you my Hammer’s Slammers wargaming evolution from the early 1980’s to today.

Incoming—@TheGascon turns the BlogZ Hot

Rolling Hot

When I think of Hammer’s Slammers stories and wargames, the final battle in the novel Rolling Hot immediately comes to mind. Here, a severely understrength Task Force Ranson consisting at this point of a single hovertank and a handful of combat cars faces a (slightly) understrength local armored battalion. To me, a Hammer’s Slammers wargame needs to be able to recreate this battle—not necessarily the exact outcome but definitely the situation. Here is that situation as laid out so dramatically in the book:

Blue Three’s sensors had greater range and precision by an order of magnitude than those crammed into the combat cars, but the cars could process the data passed to them by the larger vehicle. The sidebar on Ranson’s multi-function display listed call signs, isolated in cross-talk overheard by the superb electronics of the tank pretending to be in Kawana while it waited on Chin Peng Rise north of the tiny hamlet.

There were twenty-five individual call signs. The AI broke them down as three companies consisting of three platoons—but no more than four tanks in any platoon (five would have been full strength). Some platoons were postulated from a single call sign.

Not all the Yokel tanks would indulge in the loose chatter that laid them out for Task Force Ranson like a roast for the carving; but most of them would, most of them were surely identified. The red cross-hatching that overlay the relief map in the main field of the display was the AI’s best estimate thus far of the the armored battalion’s disposition.

Blue Three was the frame of the trap and the bait within it; but the five combat cars of the west and east elements were the spring-loaded jaws that would snap the rat’s neck.

And this rat, Yokel or Consie, was lying. It was clear that the leading elements of First of the 4th were already deploying onto the southern slope of Sugar Knob, half a kilometer from the store and shanties of Kawana rather than ten kays their commander claimed.

In the next few seconds, the commander of the armored battalion would decide whether he wanted to meet allied mercenaries—or light the fuse that would certainly detonate in a battle more destructive than any citizen of Prosperity could imagine. He was being tested….

The two sharp green beads of Lieutenant Cooter’s element settled into position.

She heard a whisper in the southern sky. Incoming.

Rolling Hot, Chapter 12

Now let’s look back on the history of my Hammer’s Slammers wargames, or at least those titles I use to play out Hammer’s Slammers battles, and see how they did.

Rolling Hot, (c) 1986 by David Drake

Rolling Hot

“But Loyal to His Own”

I discovered David Drakes Hammer’s Slammers paperback book not long after it was published, likely around 1980 or the year after it entered print. This was around the same time I discovered the (now) Classic Traveller role playing game from Game Designers’ Workshop. In early 1980 I found the three Little Black Books in my first FLGS, Fascination Corner, in south Denver. I’m not sure which came first, Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary or Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers, but the two books are forever linked in my mind.

From a wargaming perspective, Mercenary is an interesting collection of rules. There are actually three rules for combat resolution given in the book: The Traveller Combat System taken from LBB Book 1: Characters and Combat, the Abstract System which is just like the name says, and a Free-Form System which is undefined. As much as I seem to remember differently the truth is that looking back at the Tech Level advancements in Mercenary they don’t even discuss hovertanks. At Tech Level 9 military vehicles transition from track-laying/wheeled to grav—ground effect is never discussed. Back then I passed on buying Striker, a set of 15mm miniatures rules, that also had the Classic Traveller vehicle design system. If I had Striker I “think” I would have tried to design the Regiment. Regardless, the lack of Striker meant I used the Abstract System in Mercenary but never truly had a force specifically-built based on the Slammers’ universe.

The closest I came to a wargame with hovertanks in these early days actual was Steve Jackson’s Ogre/G.E.V. microgames from Metagaming. I say “close” because, like Mercenary, Hammer’s Slammers was inspiration for play but not closely simulated on the tabletop. Another set of Metagaming titles, Helltank and Helltank Destroyer, actually came a bit closer but, like Ogre/G.E.V., were just not quite Hammer-like to be honestly called a Hammer’s Slammers wargame.

Classic Traveller Role Playing Game (i.e. “The Little Black Books”), (c) 1977 Game Designers’ Workshop

The Little Black Books of Classic Traveller

Book 4: Mercenary, (c) 1978 Game Designers’ Workshop

Striker, designed by Frank Chadwick, (c) 1981 Game Designers’ Workshop

Ogre, designed by Steve Jackson, (c) 1977 Metagaming

G.E.V., designed by Steve Jackson, (c) 1978 Metagaming

Helltank, designed by Phillip S. Kosnett, (c) 1981 Metagaming

Helltank Destroyer, designed by Phillip S. Kosnett, (c) 1982 Metagaming


The first “proper” Hammer’s Slammers wargame I owned was the namesake Hammer’s Slammers from Mayfair Games published in 1984. I am sure I got this one not long after it was published. Described by some as “PanzerBlitz in Spaaaace” this simple wargame with it’s interlocking modular map and asymmetric array of forces gives one a taste of the Hammer’s Slammers universe. Looking back on the game nearly 40 years later I still see a great simple wargame that, when played by savvy players and with attention to scenario design, is not always a walkover for The Regiment like some BoardGameGeek comments imply. Although published before Rolling Hot, this Hammer’s Slammers wargame can be used to recreate the signature battle if one is wiling to design the light tanks of the First of the 4th.

Hammers Slammer’s, designed by Jim Griffin, H. N. Voss, Neil Zimmerer, (c) 1984 Mayfair Games

Mayfair Games Hammer’s SlammersPanzerBlitz in Spaaaace?

“Night March”

For a while it looked like my Hammer’s Slammers wargaming was going dark. In the 1990’s I was getting my military career started and science-fiction games fell to the wayside as I focused more on “modern” simulations. That said, three games did enter my collection that I (longingly) yearned to use for a Hammer’s Slammers game. Although Striker II by Frank Chadwick entered my collection, once again I lacked the Traveller: The New Era vehicle design system book so I could not design Regiment vehicles.

It was during this same period that two other rule sets entered my collection, both from Ground Zero Games in the U.K. Dirtside II and Stargrunt II, designed by Jon Tuffley and others, challenged my thinking about what wargame rules could be. Up until this point in my wargaming life, Frank Chadwick and Game Designers’ Workshop defined miniatures gaming for me. In particular, I viewed Frank’s Command Decision (World War II) and Combined Arms (Modern) rules, which Striker II was built upon, as the pinnacle of miniatures rules. I respected (prided?) the “realism” in the rules and how these games were almost hex & counter wargames on a miniatures tabletop. On the other hand, Dirtside II and Stargrunt II challenged my viewpoint by giving me a set of miniatures rules that were easy to learn and used “design for effect” instead of “realism.” I also had never thought to use anything other than a d6, d10, or d100 in a wargame. Now, instead of looking up which exact weapon was used on a table in the back of a book, I was rolling a d4, d8, or maybe even a d12 Quality Die for units. It totally changed my thinking as to what a set of wargame rules could be. The vehicle design rules in Dirtside II also gave me a chance to design a hovertank, something I had not been able to do up to this point with other rule sets. In particular Dirtside II, with its vehicle design system, made recreating the Rolling Hot battle quite easy.

Striker II, designed by Frank Chadwick, (c) 1993 Game Designers’ Workshop

Dirtside II, designed by Jon Tuffley & Mike Elliot, (c) 1993 Ground Zero Games

Dirtside II from Ground Zero Games

Stargrunt II, designed by Jon Tuffley, Mike Elliot, and Steve Bease, (c) 1996 Ground Zero Games


The early 2000’s was a bad time for my wargaming hobby. Many issues conspired against me and the result was a lack of personal emphasis on wargaming. Instead, I leaned more into role playing games since, generally speaking, it took less space (and money) to buy a book than to buy a wagame. During this time, I rediscovered my passion for Traveller RPG with Mongoose Traveller (MgT). I loved MgT (at least the first edition) because it was basically an updated take on Classic Traveller. Starting with the core rules in 2008, the MgT line immediately added Book 1: Mercenary. Then there was a very exciting development….

In 2009, Mongoose Publishing printed a sourcebook for MgT titled Hammer’s Slammers. The book showed much promise as it was written with the support of David Drake himself. This book, featuring extensive background, showed me just how disconnected I had become from the Slammers universe and helped reenergize my interest in the series. As a wargame, however, the Mongoose Publishing Hammer’s Slammers was grossly lacking.

A decade ago I wrote on this blog my thoughts of the MgT Hammer’s Slammers. Alas, the years have not changed my thinking:

The Verdict: Let’s be clear about a bias first; I love the Hammer’s Slammers series of books and stories. More than anything else David Drake has defined for me what I think of when I hear the term “military science-fiction.”

This book is a true labor of love and worth the price for the background alone. Finally, in one place you have the entire history of the Slammers together; all the people and places, event and equipment. But how does it translate as an RPG?

Unfortunately, I feel that Mongoose fails to live up to the expectations here. Especially the boast on the back cover that claims, “With all vehicles created using the Traveller Vehicle Creation System, this book is guaranteed to be fully compatible with every other Traveller book, allowing you to mix and match supplements as you desire!”

So in no particular order, here are some thoughts on the book:

– What is up with the cover soldier? The outfit is nothing like I imagine a Hammer’s Slammers trooper to be like; blinking lights and the like and doesn’t even match the armor depicted on page 120 which is that used by the Slammers

– A “Mercenary Roster” is provided on page 21 comparing notable mercenary units; each is assigned a rating but ratings are never explained (ahh, on page 180 when making a Mercenary Contract the quality of a unit is used for a DM; quality similar to but not shown the same way as the ratings on page 21)

– Joining the Slammers can be direct or through The Connections Rule from the Core Book; you can also join the Slammers after finishing a military career as per the Core Rulebook or other supplement

– Who did the maps?  They are HORRIBLE—gridded squares with cartoonish graphics don’t fit this high tech military setting; easily the worst part of the book

– The characters are great but again the kit doesn’t match what is provided elsewhere

– Errors abound when cross-referencing items; is the Protection for Light Ceramic Combat Shell (or is is called Clamshell, Light) 10 or 12?

– Tank Powerguns are really powerful; like they should be in this setting

– It is impossible to make any of the supertanks using the Vehicle Creation System found in Supplement 6: Military Vehicles; so much for “guaranteed to be fully compatible”

– Vehicle Combat introduces new range and hit systems; one should backfit this to the Core Rules

In sum, Hammer’s Slammers provides great background but it is not seamless in its integration with existing Traveller books and supplements. Putting them together can be done in places (character generation) but not in others (vehicle creation).

“Got Your Powergun?” Feb 11, 2011

From a wargaming perspective, the combat system in MgT Hammer’s Slammers built upon the core combat rules in MgT. That is, they retained the focus on “vehicles as characters” and a very tactical (skirmish?) level of combat. One could conceivably roleplay a member of the Regiment but to fight took much more effort and much interpolation in the rules. At the end of the day, MgT was a near-total failure as a rules set for Hammer’s Slammers-style combat. From the perspective of Rolling Hot, MgT Hammer’s Slammers could certainly recreate the personalities but, even though all the equipment was there, recreating the battle in a playable manner was near-impossible.

Book 1: Mercenary, (c) 2008 Mongoose Publishing

Hammer’s Slammers, (c) 2009 Mongoose Publishing

Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers

“The Tank Lords”

At nearly the same time Mongoose Publishing was giving us Hammer’s Slammers for Mongoose Traveller, another British publisher was also working with David Drake to give us a set of miniatures wargame rules very tightly focused on the Hammerverse. The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook, written by John Lambshead & John Treadaway, provided background, vehicle design and technical specifications, as well as, “an easy play gaming system.” The many shared graphics between the Handbook and MgT Hammer’s Slammers shows how closely linked the two products are. Which makes me wonder—why didn’t Mongoose use the Handbook and its combat system like GDW did with Frank Chadwick’s Striker 30 years earlier?

In 2010, John Treadaway and John Lambshead published the ultimate version of the Handbook. Now called Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible, what started as a 50-page, digest-sized softcover Handbook grew into a hardcover, full-color 203 page book that proclaimed to be the “Ultimate, all-in-one rules system for tabletop gaming plus technical specifications, vehicle designs, timeline & background materials for the Slammers Universe.”

Like Dirtside II/Stargrunt II published two decades earlier, both the Handbook and The Crucible are tabletop miniatures rules that emphasize “design effect” over strict “realism.” As the introduction to the combat rules state:

These rules allow wargamers to re-fight the battles of the Slammers Armoured Regiment on a one to one scale, i.e. where one model equals one vehicle or one infantryman. Turning modern armoured warfare into a game, of necessity, involves a great deal of compromise. Thus the aim has been to recreate the spirit of the fast moving armoured engagements so brilliantly described by David Drake and so emphasis here is put on command and training rather than technology. Also, a simple ‘clean’ game system is employed so that the game flows quickly; infantry warfare in particular is abstracted. The rules focus on recreating an armoured skirmish game, as opposed to an infantry skirmish game with a few vehicles in support.

“Fighting with the Slammers: Introduction,” Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible, p. 106

Finally, over twenty years after Rolling Hot was published, there is a set of wargame rules that can be used to faithfully recreate the battle situation. Resolving that battle also won’t break your sanity.

Hammer’s Slammers Handbook, (c) 2004 Pireme Publishing Ltd.

Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible, (c) 2010 Pireme Publishing Ltd.

The Ultimate—Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible

“Caught in the Crossfire”

Although Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible is certainly the final word in my collection on a wargame for the Slammerverse, it did not enter my collection until very recently. In the meantime, I experimented with another set of rules. Between the time I was battling with MgT Hammer’s Slammers and now, I tried Tomorrow’s War (Second Edition) from Osprey Publishing. I had high hopes for Tomorrow’s War as it was based on the (somewhat) acclaimed Force on Force rules. Alas, Tomorrow’s War took exactly the opposite design approach from The Crucible. Unlike The Crucible which focuses on armored combat (very Slammer-like), Tomorrow’s War focuses on infantry combat first with a set of vehicular rules that feel are very “bolted on.” To be fair, all the elements of a good Hammer’s Slammers battle are in the rules, but the infantry-first focus leaves certain elements—like vehicular combat—lacking. One can recreate Rolling Hot using Tomorrow’s War but it doesn’t play out as smoothly as The Handbook or The Crucible allows.

Tomorrow’s War (Second Edition), designed by Shawn Carpenter, Robby Carpenter, (c) 2011 Osprey Publishing

Tomorrow’s War = Infantry First

“Standing Down”

At the end of the day, this Grognard is very comfortable stating that Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible really is the “ultimate” set of wargame rules. I like the rules enough that I am looking to invest in a line of 6mm miniatures to use for tabletop battles. Better yet, if @TheGascon makes a Tabletop Simulator (TTS) module for The Crucible, it may be enough for me to overstress my old laptop and play online….

Hammer’s Slammers works referenced:

  • “But Loyal to His Own” (c) 1975 by David Drake. Originally published in Galaxy, November 1974
  • “Supertanks” (c) 1979 by David Drake. Originally published in Hammer’s Slammers
  • “Night March” (c) 1997 by David Drake. Originally published in The Tank Lords
  • “Hangman” (c) 1979 by David Drake. Originally published in Hammer’s Slammers
  • “The Tank Lords” (c) 1986 by David Drake. Originally published in Far Frontiers, Vol. 6
  • “Caught in the Crossfire” (c) 1978 by David Drake, Originally published in Chrysalis 2
  • “Standing Down” (c) 1979 by David Drake. Originally published in Hammer’s Slammers

Sunday Summary – The No #Wargame Vacation Edition but New Arrivals Upon Return

Last week was vacation. We took along a few boardgames but the reality was we did so much together as a family during the day that evenings were down times and little gaming. The RockyMountainNavy Boys did get a very competitive game of Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004) in with a good family friend that I sat out.

New Arrivals

While I was gone a few new arrivals were delivered. The first was two trades that I arranged before traveling. I scored a (game only) copy of Drive on Frankfurt by designer Jon Southard that was published in Counter Attack Issue #1 back in 1987. I also scored a copy of a very old game, Hitler’s Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge, designed by Dave Isby in 1975 for Rand Game Associates. Look for first impressions of both of these in the future—maybe even another Armchair Dragoons #TBT entry like I did with TACTICS II.

The next item delivered was Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible. Written by John Treadaway and John Lambshead, this book bills itself as the “Ultimate, all-in-one rules system for tabletop gaming plus technical specifications, vehicle designs, timeline & background material for the Slammer’s Universe.” After reading David Drake’s early July newsletter I got worried that the curtain may be close to falling on the Slammers and wanted to get my copy before I couldn’t any longer.

Hammer’s Slammers: The Crucible

#Wargame Wednesday – Getting slammed by Mongoose Traveller’s Hammer’s Slammers vehicle combat for #CepheusEngine #TravellerRPG

Having gone on something of a Traveller RPG kick of sorts, I recently dug into the vehicle combat rules for the game. Doing so brought back some good memories, as well as some bad ones.

Combatting Traveller

When it comes to the Traveller RPG, combat historically was divided into two formats; personal and large-scale. For starships, the “personal” scale is what is known as “Adventure Class Ships (ACS).” ACS ship combat was first spelled out in Book 2: Starships (GDW, 1977). Larger ships, called “Battle Class Ships (BCS)” were detailed in Book 5: High Guard (GDW, 1977, 1980). Likewise, for ground combat, the personal scale was found in Book 1: Characters and Combat (GDW, 1977) and the corresponding ‘mass combat’ rules were in Book 4: Mercenary (GDW, 1978) written by one Mr. Frank Chadwick. However, for ground combat the publisher of Traveller, Game Designers’ Workshop, took it a step further. They published a set of 15mm miniatures rules by Mr. Chadwick called Striker (GDW, 1981). I was unable to buy Striker back in the day, but I did have a small Judges Guild game expansion, Lazer Tank, that whetted my appetite for more.

Striker from GDW

Mr. Chadwick also designed the planetary invasion game Invasion: Earth (GDW, 1981) that I lusted over but didn’t actually own until this year. Suffice it to say that when I thought of combat in the Traveller RPG setting, I viewed it though a Frank Chadwick set of lenses.

Striker II (GDW, 1994)

Over the years I was able to acquire Striker II (GDW, 1994), part of the Traveller: The New Era edition of Traveller. Striker II was also designed by Frank Chadwick and part of his GDW ‘house’ series that used the same basic miniatures rules for World War I in Over the Top (GDW, 1990), World War II in Command Decision (GDW, 1986+), and the modern era in Combined Arms (GDW, 1988+). It also didn’t hurt that Traveller-adjacent RPG games like Twilight: 2000 (GDW, 1986) used another Frank Chadwick design for their ‘mass combat’ rules, in this case a combination wargame/roleplaying game supplement called Last Battle: Twilight 2000 (GDW, 1989).*

Last Battle: Twilight 2000 (GDW)

Somewhere after Striker II, the vehicle combat rules for Traveller changed and Mr. Chadwick was forgotten. I first noticed this when I picked up the Mongoose Traveller edition of Book 1: Mercenary (Mongoose Publishing, 2008) and found a very abstract set of rules. Suffice it to say I found the “Battle System – Large Scale Conflict in Traveller” not to my liking. Further, it was obviously written by people that had NO IDEA about weapons. It was actually comical; in the first edition the furthest the heaviest support weapon (in this case a Tech Level 15 Meson Accelerator) could shoot was 1.5….kilometers. There were many reasons I came to dislike Mongoose Traveller, but as a wargamer this pathetic approach was a major reason for me to disengage from their product line.

It was actually comical; in the first edition the furthest the heaviest support weapon (in this case a Tech Level 15 Meson Accelerator) could shoot was 1.5….kilometers.

I fought. I resisted. This was the time I was finally, after all those years waiting, to get my hand on a copy of Striker. I vowed never to use the Mongoose Traveller, non-Chadwick approach. That is, until the 2009 release of Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose Publishing, 2009). I love David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of stories. I mean, this obviously was a real sci-fi combat game with Mr. Drake writing the Forward. I was sure that this was going to make Mongoose Traveller ‘mass combat’ awesome!

Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers (2009)

Defanged by a Mongoose

I was severely disappointed in the Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers. Oh, I enjoy having the history and characters and equipment of Hammer’s Slammers translated into game terms. Combat was another matter, with two approaches used in the book, neither of which resonated with me.

“Chapter 9: Vehicle Combat” was an extension of the Mongoose Traveller personal combat rules. It introduced a new scale, “Vehicle Scale” into the game. This scale was supposed to be a bridge between the personal and starship scales. Vehicle combat also continued the “vehicle as a character” approach to game rules. Every turn, the player characters (PCs) or non-player characters (NPCs) got actions. The most important action was Attack which is a Skill Check. Let me show you an example of how it works:

Lieutenant Danny Pritchard with Gunner-Turrets 2 skill fires the 20cm Powergun of his M2A1 supertank against the side of a TR6BKU-1 Black Skorpion turretless tank killer. The range is 2km making this a Long Range shot (+0 DM). Pritchard’s tank is moving but less than half-speed (-1 DM) as he shoots. He rolls 10 on 2d6, modified to 11 (+2 Skill, -1 Moving) which is more than the 8+ required for a hit. The 20cm powergun rolls 20d6+20 Super Destructive damage. Super Destructive means the first 20 points of the target’s armor is obliterated; in this case the 132 points of side armor is reduced to 102. The 20cm powergun then scores 82 points of damage – which the 102 points of armor stops. The Black Skorpion has escaped destruction, this turn.

The Black Skorpion fires back (assume an average crew with Gunner 2). At Long Range the 22cm coilgun has a -1 DM. The 2d6 To Hit roll is 7, modified to 8 with the total +1 DM – barely a hit! The 22cm coilgun scores 14d6 MegaAP damage. The damage total rolled is 49. The MegaAP means that the coilgun ignores armor points equal to 4x the number of dice rolled – in this case 14×4 or 56 points of armor. However, the front of the M2A1 is a whopping 175 points.

Laughing, Pritchard halts his hovertank and lines up another shot. Hit on the side again, the Black Skorpion loses another 20 points of armor, leaving it with 82. The Slammer’s powergun scores 92 damage, of which 10 penetrate and convert to 3x Single hits. Rolling for hit location yields Weapon (1st Hit = No Effect) – Sensors (First Hit = -1 to all future sensor checks) – Hull (31 remaining).

In the example above I hope you can see that Pritchard’s tank is proof against the deadly “tank killer.” It’s also going to take another hit, or two or three more, to finally destroy the Black Skorpion. It all seems very undramatic. I even tried to recreate the epic final battle from Rolling Hot where Task Force Ransom takes on 35 Consie light tanks. I couldn’t. That’s because the major problem with the vehicle combat in Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers is that it doesn’t get the attack vs armor right.

It all seems very undramatic.

“Chapter 10: Conflict,” starts off by saying, “The aim of the rules is not to precisely simulate a conflict but to give the Referee a framework for designing adventures.” There is certainly enough in this chapter to create battle situations, but the section “Resolving the War” seems to me like it is an adjudication system for, well, resolving the war! Except this time the resolution is highly impersonal with leaders and factions and DMs for successful missions. This is a campaign game system not a combat resolution model.

Cepheus Engine Rebirth?

After the debacle of Mongoose Traveller Hammer’s Slammers I went in search of other rule sets for use in my Traveller campaigns. I experimented with both Dirtside II (1993) and Stargrunt II (1996) from Ground Zero Games. I tried Tomorrow’s War (Second Edition) from Osprey Publishing (2011). I really like Dirtside II as it has a vehicle design system like in Striker but it just feels a bit off when in play.

Tomorrow’s War (Ambush Alley/Osprey Publishing)

Following the legal wars over Mongoose Traveller, I fully embraced the Cepheus Engine edition of Traveller. I especially enjoy The Clement Sector setting from John Watts at Independence Games. So far, Cepheus Engine has not published a mass combat set of rules, instead preferring to stay focused on the personal or vehicle combat scale of conflict. Further, no Cepheus Engine publisher has released a set of mass combat or “Battle Scale” rules like those found in the Classic Traveller Book 4: Mercenary or Mongoose Traveller Book 1: Mercenary.

What do I want? I want a good, clean set of large scale combat rules that use skills and vehicles created in Cepheus Engine. I want an updated Chadwick; maybe a relook at Striker with modern publishing sensibilities and approaches to game mechanics. Sure, some will say, “It’s an RPG, focus on the CHARACTERS!” Well, if you pay attention to what Mr. Chadwick told us in Striker several decades ago it will:

One important aspect in which Striker differs from previous miniatures rules is the role assigned to the player. In most games, a player simultaneously plays the role of every member of a military unit; no orders need to be given, and every man performs as the player likes. In Striker, realistic limitations have been put on the abilities of officers to command their units. Giving orders to subordinates is a time-consuming process; commanders will find it advisable to devise a simple plan and to give most orders in pre-battle briefings. Changes to this plan in the heat of action will be difficult except through on the spot leadership.

Striker: Rule Book 1 – Basic Rules, Introduction, p. 4

*To be clear, Last Battle: Twilight 2000 was designed by Tim Ryan but used Frank Chadwick’s First Battle system.

#Sci-Fi Friday – Finding the Lost Signals of the Terran Republic (edited by @cegannon1)

AS MUCH AS I LOVE SCIENCE FICTION, I find few series of books worthy of my time. As a rule I hate book series in the Star Wars universe (except the Thrawn Trilogy) or Star Trek (except the Vanguard series). I love my Hammer’s Slammers books, although they really are more a collection of stories in the same shared universe.

Then there is the Caine Riordan series, or more officially Charles Gannon’s Terran Republic.

Although the series follows one protagonist, each book in the series a different style of story. From first-contact to intergalactic war to intergalactic conspiracies, it all can be found in the series. For me, the Terran Republic has just enough, but not too much, handwavium to keep me from rolling my eyes. I might also be influenced by the fact series author Charles Gannon also wrote for the Traveller RPG.

The latest installment to reach me is Lost Signals of the Terran Republic. This was not a normally published book but a Kickstarter project from November 2017. Originally to deliver in May 2018 delays meant it would not be until May 2019 that the product actually arrived.

It was worth the wait.

Lost Signals is Charles Gannon’s way of letting others play in his universe:

However, no world is defined by a mere handful of experts and heroes. Rather, just as our own world is full of different people and perspectives, Lost Signals expands the universe of the Terran Republic by bringing together new voices and new stories in a unique format that intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Lost Signals Kickstarter campaign

I am still reading my way through the book but halfway through I am quite pleased. I am also intrigued. You see, the Traveller RPG universe of Marc Miller is one of my favorite settings. My RPG history is literally that of the Third Imperium. Although later years would see me explore other settings the Gold Standard, so to speak, has always been Traveller and the Third Imperium. Marc Miller wrote his own novel, Agent of the Imperium, that was another Kickstarter project. It opened my eyes to seeing Traveller in a new, refreshing way.

Which makes “A Fragment of Empire” in Lost Signals all that more interesting. Marc Miller wrote the piece, and it’s (spoiler alert) pure Traveller. Or is it? The Terran Republic doesn’t fit into Traveller canon…or does it?


#WargameWednesday Retroactive – Hammer’s Slammers (Mayfair Games Inc., 1984)

Courtesy BGG.com

After looking to create a Hammer’s Slammers hover tank in #CepheusEngine RPG last week, I decided to pull out my “real” Hammer’s Slammers wargame. I kinda remember playing this one several times when it first came out but it never reached the same status in my mind as the Yaquinto Panzer-88-Armor-series that my friends and I played so much. Much to my surprise, this simple game actually packages great depth of gameplay.

Hammer’s Slammers is a true hex-n-counter game using small counters, a thick modular mapboard, and a 2d6 Combat Results Table (CRT). There are four forces provided; Hammer’s Slammers (blue), another Mercenary Force (red), and two Conventional Armies (green and tan). Interestingly, there is no scale designated although units look to be platoon/battery organizations and each hex multiple (?) kilometers.

Hammer’s Slammers is taken straight from the first book. Hover Tanks, Combat Cars, Infantry on hover scooters, and Hover Self-Propelled Artillery. The “Red” Mercenary Force is the same plus optional Large/Small guns (for indirect or direct fire), Howitzers (indirect fire only), or a Self-Propelled Calliope (for Counter Paratrooper or Counter Artillery Fires). Slammers and Mercenary units generally pack more firepower, have better protection, and come with superior speed. Conventional Forces use Tracked Tanks, Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Large/Small Guns, Howitzers, Tracked Self-Propelled Artillery, Wheeled Self-Propelled Calliopes, and towed Calliopes. This mix of units lets one recreate many of the battles found in the books where the technologically superior but numerically inferior Slammers fought against other mercenary or conventional units.

The main rulebook is 16 pages long, but the first nine are reprints of the “Interludes” found in the original Hammer’s Slammers book. This leaves seven pages of two-column text and tables for the rules. Every turn each player sequentially resolves their action in the order of Rally (Moving Player) – Paradrop & Counter Paradrop FireMove (Moving Player) – Ranged Combat (All Players – Indirect Artillery & Counter Artillery Fire – Direct Fire) – Close Assaults (All Players). Once all players have gone the next turn begins.

Units that are Disrupted in Combat can Rally. For this each force has a Morale Number that must be rolled above on 2d6. Many scenarios have a variable Morale Number based on increasing losses – the more units lost the harder it becomes to rally a unit. A simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of play but adds a nice layer of realism.

I don’t remember any paradrop operations in the original stories so Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire seems a bit out of place to me. It does allow a nice way to enter units onto the map quickly.

Movement is again very traditional with each hex having a movement cost to enter. Hover and Conventional units have separate movement charts reflecting the different mobility of hover versus tracked/wheeled. There is not much difference but there is enough to be evocative of the setting.

Ranged Combat is where the differences between forces really stands out beginning with Indirect Fire & Counter Artillery Fire. Indirect Fire attacks the defense factor of the hex, not the units. This makes indirect fire very dangerous because the 8-defense factor Hover Tank in the Clear hex actually has a defense factor of 2 against artillery. To offset this vulnerability, Hover Tanks and Calliopes have the Counter Artillery Fire (CAF) capability which allows each unit to cancel a single artillery barrage in range. Of course, this comes at a cost; units firing CAF cannot fire in the Direct Fire phase.

Direct Fire is very simple; compare Attack Factor to Defense Factor, convert to odds, roll on CRT. Stacked units can combine fire and attack other stacks or individual units. Firing out to twice your range cuts the Attack Factor in half. Terrain Modifiers add to the Defense Factor. Combat results are No Effect, Disrupted (no indirect or direct fire, half movement), Defender Eliminated, or Defender Eliminated with Rubble (adds to movement and defense). There is an optional rule for Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) which allows Mercenary and Slammer Hover Tanks to “jam” conventional units which means the target cannot combine their attack nor spot for an indirect fire unit.

Close Assault takes place when units are in the same hex. All undisrupted units get a positive column shift and infantry fights with doubled Attack Factors. Units in Close Assault cannot leave the hex until all enemy units are eliminated.

There are other rules for Fortresses and Gas Attacks but generally that is it. You can play one of the 14 scenarios or Design Your Own using the point-buy system provided.

Slammers in Action

I played two scenarios. “Badger Hunt” is the introductory scenario that uses Conventional Forces only. I also played “Slammers” which is a three-way brawl with the Slammers squaring off against the Green Army (lots of long-range artillery and infantry with few mechanized) and the Tan Army (Mechanized and supported by a few Small Guns – no infantry). Each player has six turns to get as many points as possible (points are scored using the Design Your Own Scenario values). I used the Slammers with ECM to get as much high-tech effect as possible.

Hammer’s Slammers plays out much differently than I remember. I kinda remember the CPF and CAF rules and I don’t think I ever actually played with the ECM rules. I sorta remember the game as being very vanilla; simple and bland.

This time it was a much deeper experience. The low rules overhead meant the game could be played with minimal relearning. The differences in forces is just enough that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or best strategy. In the “Slammers” scenario, the Slammers start in the center and must determine how to deal with each force. I painfully learned that the Hover Tanks greatest asset is not its firepower but its CAF capability. The Hover Tanks ended up providing cover for the Combat Cars until they got close enough to dash in and deal with the guns. Of course, nipping at the flanks or blocking the direct route was that pesky tracked armor. This forced a decision; drop the CAF for Direct Fire or cover the force and let the lesser combat cars try to deal with the threat? For the Green or Tan Conventional Armies the key is combined arms and interlocking fields of fire. Artillery is in many ways still the King of the Battle.

Courtesy BGG.com

As much as Mayfair’s Hammer’s Slammers game captures the flavor the of books, it best replicates battlefield force-on-force situations. There is one scenario, “Hangman,” where a Mercenary force takes on Militia and Buses. It’s a one-sided bloodbath. The game has no real ability to present an asymmetric combat situation. I have to admit the best game I have in my collection for that is actually Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing 2011). This is a skirmish game played at a much more granular scale than Hammer’s Slammers. In many ways, Tomorrow’s War is a direct competitor to my other HS game, The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook (Pireme Publishing Ltd, 2004) which is a set of miniatures skirmish rules published in the UK which still has its own website.

Courtesy BGG.com

I also think back to the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook from Mongoose Publishing for their Mongoose Traveller (1st Edition) RPG. As I have written before that product was a real disaster.

So when I look at the Mayfair Hammer’s Slammers game today I actually see a real gem. The game is a close to an introductory-level game in terms of rules, but the variable forces and modular map make for endless play variations. As simple as the rules are, the designer has actually captured a good deal of the flavor of combat in the Hammerverse. The game also has a very small footprint; the “Slammers” scenario map was playable in an area literally 18’x24″. A 3’x3′ table is more than sufficient for even the largest scenarios!

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MUST PLAY MORE!



#RPGThursday – Heavy Hover Tank Design for #CepheusEngine RPG

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40927431

I absolutely love David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of military science fiction stories. I was so excited when Mongoose Publishing rolled out a Hammer’s Slammers supplement for Mongoose Traveller First Edition (MgT1E). Unfortunately, Mongoose did a very amateur job, demonstrating they really don’t understand the military and leaving us consumers with a poor product. Mongoose claimed that all the vehicles were created with the Traveller Vehicle Creation System and were supposed to be fully compatible with every other Traveller books. NOT SO!

The Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System is Cepheus Engine RPG successor to The Vehicle Handbook for MgT1E. I have had the CEVDS for a while now and decided to try to recreate something close to a Slammer’s hover tank.

TL-12 Heavy Plasma Hover Tank

Using a closed 5-ton chassis (3 Hull, 3 Structure), Armor 25, the Heavy Plasma Hover Tank is a main battle tank. It has the Hostile Environmental Protections System. It carries a Fusion power plant, Code K, and a hover propulsion system, Code K, giving it a top speed of 150kph, a cruising speed of 112 kph, and an Agility DM of +1. Three kiloliters of hydrogen support the power plant for 1 week of use. This vehicle is equipped with the Advanced Vehicle Control System, Class II Laser Comms (LOS or 50 km), Basic Military Sensors (-2), and a Model 2 computer. There is a Basic Cockpit for the Driver and a Standard Seat for the Gunner/Tank Commander. The vehicle has one weapon points. A large, heavy turret carries a TL-12 Rapid Fire Plasma Gun. Cargo capacity is 7 spaces. The chassis is armored with Superdense (x5). It also mounts an Explosive Belt. The vehicle costs 690.12 KCr and takes 1,125 hours or 47 days to build.




Price (Cr)


Chassis Base



Code 9
Configuration Closed



Superdense (Armor x5)
Reinforced Hull


Hull +2
Reinforced Structure Structure +2
Power Plant Fusion



Code K
Propulsion Air Cushion



Code K
Fuel Hydrogen



Fuel Capacity = 1 Week
Controls Advanced



Agility +1
Communications Class II Laser



Laser LOS/Very Distant (50 km)
Sensors Basic Military



Comms DM 0, Very Distant (50 km)
Computer Model 2




Accommodations Basic Cockpit



Standard Seat



Armaments Turret (Large Heavy)



Rapid Pulse Plasma Cannon – TL-12



ROF 1/6, 12d6 Dmg
Explosive Belt







Total time to create this design was about 30 minutes. This is still a lot more time that a GM wants to take to create a vehicle at the table, but fine for a prep session. The design is not a Slammer’s blower tank – it doesn’t have a powergun nor the armor to match. But it was a good exercise of the CEVDS and an encouraging start to designing vehicles for Cepheus Engine RPG adventuring.

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Manufacturer Settings (2009-2010)

At the end of the 2000-aughts my roleplaying collection again took a different turn. For a few years, I turned away from new game systems and instead invested in campaign settings. At the time, the seemingly most popular settings were published courtesy of major publishers, or what I term “manufacturer settings.” I realize the term is not totally fair; in more than a few cases the setting was a labor of love from a small-time or alternative author that teamed with the larger publishing house because they had the experience and marketing prowess to bring the product to market.

pic544013_mdUniverse of Babylon 5 used Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller (1E) game engine. This campaign setting was translated from an earlier D20 series. UoB5 suffers from poor editing and sloppy game system translation as well as poor production quality. Given how rich a setting the B5 Universe is, to have the game version be so poorly done is a travesty. A major disappointment.

pic651616_mdReign of Discordia (Mongoose/Gun Metal Games) was another campaign setting using the Traveller 1E-engine. Another system translation (originally True20) it suffered from many of the the same issues as U0B5. Another disappointment.

pic760617_mdWhen I saw Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose) I just had to get it. Here was going to be the RPG version of my favorite military science-fiction series! Even better, it used the Traveller 1E-game engine that I was so familiar with!

What a let-down.

The fact that it was Mongoose should of been a warning. That and the cover art – that soldier is nothing like I imagined Hammer’s Slammers to be. Opening up the book, the maps were so amateur and very un-military-like. The rules were an expansion of the basic game engine, and links to future products were promised (and never delivered).

In my disgust with Mongoose – they had obviously tried to cash in on the Hammer’s Slammers name and ended up doing a great disservice to the IP – I turned to another recognized gaming name. pic797297_mdSpace 1889: Red Sands (Pinnacle Entertainment Group – PEG) was the campaign setting book for Space 1889 using the Savage Worlds game engine. This was by far the best of the setting books I tried as it was a good match of setting (steampunk) and game engine (Savage Worlds – “Fast, Furious, Fun”). The campaign setting also works well with the

Courtesy Wessex Games
Aeronef  (Wessex Games) miniature rules I had recently found. Indeed, long ago I used Red Sands to create Aeronef characters.

By the end of 2010 my flirtation with campaign settings died out. Looking back, each of these settings I tried was backed by a major publishing house and closely tied to their game engine. In the case of Mongoose the poor production values reflected to me a cash-grab attitude the turned me off then like it does today. The second part of the problem was that there was little “new” in these settings; in each case the setting was a translation of an older IP or license into a newer game engine. Red Sands was the best done of my lot, but I was looking for more.

In retrospect, this era – 2009 thru 2010 – was a major disappointment. Interestingly to me, I purchased each of these settings in a dead-tree form. This was among the last times I did that. The rise of online publishing and the availability of content through sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG (and more recently the Open Gaming Store) were starting to dramatically change not only how, but what content was being delivered to RPG customers like myself.

All images courtesy RPGGeek except where noted.