Thud & Blunder is a set of skirmish rules for warfare set in a land of high fantasy. The rules are written by Charles Murton and Craig Cartmell of The Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare, who have also authored In Her Majesty’s Name, Daisho and Blood Eagle.
They are available as a 164 page hardcover book, or as an e-book/PDF, released on the 13th March and is available from North Star Figures.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an adage that could be applied to this set of rules. The core mechanics of their previous games give Thud & Blunder it’s basic skeleton, whilst the changes required to move the action into the realm of fantasy: fantastic beasts, magical powers, numerous warbands involving your favourite races from fantasy and a wealth of mythical settings add muscle to the bone. Flesh this out with a campaign system and you have a final creature which is both formidable and a thing of beauty.
In order to play, you will need at least a couple of warbands (around 5 – 20 figures a side), a few 10-sided dice, a measuring device marked in inches and a surface of at least 3 square feet on which to play – preferably with some scenery.
Figures have 5 attributes:
- Destiny – this is used for many purposes, including surviving a hit that has penetrated a figure’s armour or resiting the effects of Magic.
- Shooting Value – the bonus a figure gets to a ranged attack
- Fighting Value – the bonus a figure gets to a melee attack
- Speed – a measure not just of speed, but also agility
Figures may also have Traits and Magical Powers.
To keep things simple, WYSIWYG rules apply to a figure’s equipment.
At the start of a turn, players roll initiative to determine activation order. Once this has been determined, players each activate a single miniature in initiative order. This continues during each phase until all figures have activated.
Each figure may move it’s base movement rate + their Speed attribute in inches. Other actions during this phase can include running, charging, disengaging, flying, swimming, climbing, riding mounts and using some Magical powers.
Using the same initiative order, players with figures that have a visible target may attempt to attack it. Range is only measured once an attack has been declared.
A d10, plus shooting modifers, weapon bonus + other modifers gives a final result. If this result equals or exceeds the targets armour value, a hit has been scored. The target must make a Destiny roll to stay in the game.
Other rules are included for shooting at moving targets or whilst moving, shooting at groups, multiple attacks or shooting whilst in a fight.
The player with the highest initiative chooses one of their figures that is in base-to-base contact with an opponent and makes an attack roll. This occurs until all figures in base-to-base contact have fought in melee combat. It is worthy to note that combat between two models in NOT simultaneous.
The combat value of an attack is worked out in the same way to shooting, though it is worth noting that an opponents speed adds to their armour value.
Extra rules are provided for such things as outnumbering your opponent, disarming, entangling and magical powers.
Destiny rolls are made as result of attacks that have penetrated armour.
- exceed a figure’s destiny, and they are unharmed
- equal a figure’s destiny and they are knocked down
- roll less than a figure’s destiny and that figure is taken out of the game.
If a figure is knocked down, it cannot perform an action for the rest of the turn.
Once Initiative, movement shooting and fighting is complete, a new turn starts. The game continues until the conditions in the scenario are met.
That is the game in a nutshell. The rules then have chapters which discuss terrain and it’s effect on the battlefield, Armour and Weapons, Beasts (both mundane and fantastical), Traits (special skills) and Magical Powers.
One of the key differences between fantasy games and other genres is the existence of magic, and the ability of characters in the game to use it.
In some games, magic is treated in an abstract form, and simply becomes an alternative way to make a ranged attack. Thud & Blunder, by contrast, has a fully fledged magic system contained within it.
Magical Powers can be one of three different grades: 0, 1 or 2. The higher the grade of the spell, the more expensive it is in points cost for a figure to learn. The number of spells a figure has available is simply limited by how many points a player wants to spend on that member of the warband. Spell casters can be very powerful models, but also hugely expensive.
The spell book in the game is quite extensive. There are 27 Grade 0 spells, 25 Grade 1 spells and 15 Grade 2 spells.
Grade 0 spells include such things as Bless, Enchant Weapon, Bolt of Fire, Light, Detect Unseen, Hasten and Fly.
Grade 1 spells include Fireball and Lightning Bolt, but also various protection spells amongst other effects, including Break Enchantment, which can come in very handy.
Grade 2 spells include things such as Control Weather, Petrify, Polymorph, Teleport and Walking Dead.
Spells do not simply happen – a model must make a Destiny roll on order to cast a spell. Higher grade spells are more difficult to cast, but they are also more difficult to resist.
Spells can be cast more than once – they do not slip from the mind of the caster once they have been used, unless, of course, the caster fumbles the casting of the spell.
The magic system looks to be well thought out, and strikes me as one of the strengths of the rules.
As you might expect, there is a large section of the book devoted to the creation of warbands. You can either create one from scratch, or use one of the bands detailed in the book as a basis for your warband.
The warband lists provided in the book include:
- Adventurers (both novice and experienced)
- City Guard
- College of Wizards
- Evil Overlord
- Fomor Reavers
- Guardians of the Dead
- Hedge Knights
- Orcs and Goblins
- Thieves Guild
An example is then given of how to create your own warband, in this instance using Gnolls as the race.
Thud & Blunder is a scenario based game, thus making it much more interesting than simply lining up on opposite sides of the table.
There are twenty scenarios detailed in the book. You can add to these certain complications, such as different weather conditions or the presence of hazards or third party opposition. You can then place the scenario into various locations, ranging from an urban to a rural or wilderness environment or even an underground location such as a tomb, cavern or dungeon.
Combining all these factors together means that you can play literally hundreds of different scenarios, making the replayability factor of the game enormous. The scenario generator contained here is almost worth the cost of the book in and of itself.
The final chapter of the book discusses how a campaign can be played, giving ideas for both narrative and structure. This is followed by an example 5 game campaign which brings together ideas discussed in the chapter.
Whether it’s creating the exploits of an adventuring party, or the conflict between Dwarves and Goblins, Thud and Blunder provides a solid framework in which you game can operate.
Thanks to the warband creation rules, you can either follow the authors ideas for each fantasy race, or pursue your own thoughts on how each race should be constructed. These rules are both prescriptive and a sandbox, giving players the ultimate freedom in which to create their fantasy gaming world.
The rules are simple enough so that all the basics can be learned in a very short space of time, so the only times you will need to consult the text would be for trait and magic effects. This makes for a pretty fast game.
Potentially the only issues with the rules are the limiting factor that each figure activates individually, which means that whilst bigger games can be played, each turn could drag on somewhat if an excessive number of figures are used on each side.
Also, there is very little chaos – all figures will get to activate during their turn unless they have been knocked down or taken out of the game. It very much depends on how you like your games to go as to whether this is a positive or negative thing.
Ultimately, I’m massively impressed with these rules. Sound game mechanics and a huge amount of detail for weapons, amour, magic, creatures and scenarios makes this tome a *must buy* for anyone who wants to make good use of their fantasy figure collection.
Whilst it’s designed as a skirmish game, it can equally be used as the basic combat mechanics in a role-playing game. Indeed, the turn sequence has something of that rpg-like initiative based feel to it.
In a marketplace for skirmish games that is becoming increasingly crowded, Thud and Blunder raises the bar and sets a new standard.