My pleasure, thank you for inviting me.
You have written a fair amount of stuff over the years for the TooFatLardies Summer and Christmas Specials, tell us a bit about how you first came into contact with the rules.
I was always on the lookout for scenarios for my games. I purchased a “summer special” because it seemed like a bargain for the price. I thought I would get a few scenario ideas for my games; I was using Piquet at the time. I became enamoured with the spirit of the writing as it matched my own approach to gaming. The scenarios for “Kiss me Hardy” looked particularly interesting. I took the plunge and purchased KMH. I have been hooked ever since.
So which Lardy rule sets do you now use?
As I said, Kiss Me Hardy was the first and I have stuck with that, obviously Sharpe Practice – are there any gamers out there who DON’T play Sharp Practice? – I love Bag the Hun 2 and enjoyed being part of the playtest process, and Troops, Weapons & Tactics, or to be precise my own variant called Lazy TW&T which Richard has published serially in three of the specials. I like the flexibility of the rules that allow me to add bells and whistles where I want to.
Looking at Platoon Forward. This is your first full supplement for the Lardies. Obviously we are used to seeing rules and scenario supplements, but Platoon Forward looks like being something different. Can you tell our readers what they are all about?
Yes, indeed. Platoon Forward is essentially an enhancer. It is chocolate sauce for your ice cream or salt on your steak. It is designed for 20th century squad to company level games; indeed it will work on Lardy and non-Lardy products. It is NOT a tactical game system, you’ll need a normal set of rules to actually fight your battles, however it is designed to enhance YOUR game system by providing some background for your games. It contains a scenario generation system, a character generation mechanism that gives your key leaders some depth and a system of events that occur before, during and after your battles which take the God-like control away from the gamer. Like real life factors come to bear on our games over which the gamer has no control, and for me as largely a solo gamer this is a really positive addition. The way we have designed it allows you to add as much seasoning as you like.
Sounds interesting. Indeed sounds quite different to anything I have seen. I note from the review copy that the system is broken down into three parts. Can you run through what they are for us please?
Yes, sure. Part One breathes life into your force. Some of the ideas here I have taken from role playing games. You roll up three or four key members of your force with a handful of attributes each. So we find out what their personality is, what interests and motivates them, find out how good a leader they are and what their background is. How they turn out will decide not only how they perform in battle, but also how they interact with other characters and Non-Player Characters. An example would be if your platoon sergeant is friends with the battalion supply sergeant you just might get an “extra” BAR for your next mission.
I often play as the platoon leader in my games. Sometimes I am stuck with a bunch of duds as squad leaders. If I want to remove one of them from the platoon sometimes my company commander is sympathetic and once it backfired badly, as anyone who has read the report of the action at the Brick Lumber Mill on my Blog from Sept last year. The focus here is on interaction that affects the battlefield only. Platoon Forward in not a role playing game where you go the pub and thrash out this personal interaction over an evening. All this is handled by several die rolls and tables in a couple of minutes. Knowing who are the movers and shakers in your force and getting the ear of your commanding officer are all key in Platoon Forward.
That sounds interesting. So can you give me a couple of examples of how a character would “look”?
Well, look, here’s a handful of dice, let’s roll up a character now. I’ll roll 2D6 and cross reference the result on the first table. I’ve rolled a 5 and a 6, that gives us an optimist. You’ll also see that is written in blue, so that is a good thing. Half a dozen of the possible 36 results are in blue indicating that this is a generally likeable character. Another half a dozen are in red, which gives us the reverse, someone who is generally disliked. When it comes to dealing with other people you’ll find that being likeable has a positive modifier, so we can be pleased with that.
On the next table we roll a dice and get “government”. So this guy is a patriotic fellow who supports his government wholeheartedly. We roll a dice for his leadership skills – you can use this for any rule system, frankly they all tend to have three or four levels of ability – and then for his background. In this case we roll a 1 and get a guy who has come up from the ranks. This will help him in his dealings with his men, but he won’t feel so comfortable when interacting with the top brass. So, that’s our first character. We can assume he’s commanding a platoon. Let’s roll to see what is company commander is like.
Okay, so here we roll a few dice on the same tables. We get a result of a man who is corrupt, motivated by wealth and from a privileged background. So already we can see potential areas of conflict between these two guys. They come from very different backgrounds, one is generally a “good guy” who believes in the great cause, the other is essentially self-serving. All of this can make for some very interesting interaction over the course of a campaign.
Very interesting. And what about Part Two?
Part Two is where you test your platoon in battle using the scenario generation system. There are seventeen basic missions which may be run as offensive or defensive games. All of these have possible variations within them, sometimes in terms of what the mission is, always in terms of what forces you can come up against.
When playing a game you roll your dice to see which mission you will be undertaking. That then tells you what sort of terrain you need to be looking at, and then you can roll some dice to see exactly what the terrain is. The best part here for the solo gamer is you don’t know what enemy forces you will be facing. The enemy force strength is related to your force strength, so the larger force you choose to use for the mission the chances are that your enemy will be matched fairly, but at the start of the game what he has is unknown to you. It will be revealed to you as you spot it or as you come under fire on the board. A true unknown enemy! Superficially Part One is the “sexy” part of the system, but in truth Part Two gives you almost infinite variation in scenarios. Since I have developed part II I have not played a single published scenario; I generate all my own now.
What I really like is that even in a solo game I am obliged to use proper tactics in terms of reconnaissance, having to locate my enemy before I can neutralise him.
That does sound like a great boon for the solo gamer. Tell me about the third part.
Part Three is key to the campaign system. In Part One we created our characters, here is where we get the interaction that adds an extra dimension to the game. These are the external events that come to bear on our force, to use a favourite Lardy quote this is the friction that affects the battlefield. Some of these events can be positive, some can be negative. But both will subtly change each game to make it quite different.
There are essentially three types of events, happening before, during and after the game. The pre-game events will affect the scenario. Have you conducted reconnaissance against the enemy position before the game, have you cleared a path through the wire, are your men rested or exhausted, these and more will help or hinder you in the mission you are about to embark upon.
The in-game events are the next tier, with a whole raft of good and bad things that can happen in the game. The key here has been not to make this too likely, we don’t want a game that is centred on a whole load of random events, however like seasoning a pinch added to a game can really spice things up. My favourite is the Leadership test. One of the attributes of your characters is temperament. Sometimes one of your characters will act on his own. His actions will be modified by his mission, temperament and the battlefield situation. He might charge with his squad because he thought the enemy was falling back. He might start a flanking movement or decide the situation is too uncertain and do nothing! He will continue this action (or inaction) until a higher person in the chain corrects him. Sometimes this action works out great, sometimes not so great!
You mentioned using this as a campaign system. Can you tell me how that would work?
Yes sure. The key thing to realise here is this is not a campaign in a geographical sense. You don’t have a map and an ultimate objective that you are fighting towards. Rather this is a campaign where you follow your force from game to game, following the careers of your leaders and thus making it a campaign. Richard did a similar thing in Terrible Sharp Sword. Each game is potentially randomly generated and you get to watch your force progress from mission to mission. In many respects this represents the soldier on the ground’s view point of war, where it’s another day another fight, how these small actions fit together in the grand scheme of things is really a matter for the Generals.
Putting it simply, you dice to generate your characters. You dice to see what your mission is, you dice for the terrain, you then dice to see if any pre-game events occur. You can do all of this in a matter of moments, and of course your characters will last you many, many games as long as you don’t get the killed. During a game you may get one or two events occurring, and then after the game you dice for any post-game events. Again this is not a protracted process, a minute of two is all that is needed. What you will find is that your characters begin to interact with each other and with other NPCs such as the battalion commander, the adjutant, the quartermaster. It just brings everything to life but does so simply and with little messing about.
Could you use this system with a traditional map type campaign?
Absolutely, indeed I think this works really well. Let’s say you’re fighting the Battle of the Bulge, you can track the military situation on a map and play out a very traditional campaign, but by bolting on Platoon Forward you can get the interaction between the characters that really brings things to life. What’s more you can use the general backdrop of the campaign you are looking to fight, but use the scenario generation system to give you the games you want, selecting the relevant scenario to suit the campaign situation. You want a probe against enemy defences? You want a raid to snatch a prisoner, or a major attack or defence? They are all in there for you to choose.
Which rule sets do you see them being appropriate for?
In writing Platoon Forward I had to choose to set the game at one level. It becomes very confusing if you try to cover all bases with something like “Your Company/Platoon/Squad leader interacts with your Battalion/Company/Platoon commander (select depending on what level game you are playing”, so to keep it clear I have used the terminology of a platoon sized game. So we assume your main character is your platoon leader and the other characters represent the platoon sergeant and the squad leaders. That said, if you want to play with a larger force, maybe with I Ain’t Been Shot Mum or Flames of War, you simply shift that to be Company commander with three platoon commanders, the system works just as well, as indeed it will if you shrink it down to a squad level game.
To my mind Platoon Forward is ideal for any tactical level game. It is written specifically for platoon sized games which have separate squads, so Troops Weapons and Tactics, Chain of Command or Piquet’s Point of Attack. That said it will work easily for one level up such as I Ain’t Been Shot Mum or Charlie Don’t Surf. Parts One and Three will work well with squad based games such as “Nuts” and “FNG” but some of the scenarios will take a little tweaking. As it stands there are no asymmetrical other than “ambush” and “raid” included, so for Vietnam or similar conflicts you will need to create your own scenarios (not difficult with Charlie Don’t Surf as the rules have a scenario generator included). I intend to publish a supplement of asymmetrical scenarios such as “search and destroy” at a later date. I want these to have broad potential application; I regularly fight games of this nature set in Ethiopia in 1936 with one of my favourite characters, Sergeant Bustamanti. Be warned, you do tend to get attached to these characters once they develop their own personalities…
I am sure medical help is available. Seriously, could you adapt these for other periods?
Absolutely! Parts One and Three can be used almost as is for any period and level of warfare from ancients to modern Afghanistan. Human nature and interaction just hasn’t changed that much. Whether it’s “Hey guys guess what, we get extra arrows!” or “General, J-3 has allocated an additional battalion of marines to this operation”, the basic facts remain the same. I think it would be a blast for Sharp Practice and many of the scenarios would cross over as well. One of my back burner projects is to write some scenarios specific for Terrible Sharp Sword. I just have to buy the rules and paint some figures!
Actually Lard Island News can reveal in an exclusive scoop that Sidney is planning some kind of Great War campaign system on a similar basis, so I am sure he will shamelessly steal some of the ideas in Platoon Forward.
So, tell us, what was your starting point when developing Platoon Forward, I mean in terms of what you wanted to achieve, and what was the process that got you through to the finished product.
You give me too much credit. In truth I had no lofty goal. I play 90% of my games solitaire. I played a great game set in Ethiopia in which Sergeant Bustamanti emerged as an unlikely hero and didn’t want it to end after the game. I had tried various campaign systems over the years and they always start with a flourish and fall flat after two or three games. How could I game Ethiopia with just a squad? I was also re-reading Cross of Iron at this time and was interested in the interaction between Sergeant Steiner and his platoon, the company commander, Lieutenant Meyer and the battalion commander, Captain Stansky. I thought wouldn’t it be neat to have some of those interactions happen in my games? Then it came to me, why not focus on the men, not the specific portion of a military campaign? This way I was free to play as many battles in Ethiopia as I wanted over my time frame. If I wanted to attack in the first battle and defend in the second I could. After that the process was playtest, playtest, playtest. Four years of playtest in fact.
Next I wanted a solitaire system of enemy forces. I thought Lazy TW&T did a good job as a solitaire tactical engine but as I read through some of CS Grant’s scenarios I thought hey, wouldn’t it be cool to not know what was on the hill facing you? I tinkered with several systems but they were too arbitrary. Finally I hit upon one that uses a “sliding scale”. The more forces you bring the more Blinds the enemy brings. In addition, the modifiers are such that the odds are you will face a force similar in balance to your own, however there is always room for surprises, both good and bad. After I hit the “sliding scale” the system fell into place rapidly. The in-game events were added over a two year period and finally I realised that the whole thing was done! I continued to use it for my games and showed it to my brother and several friends who gave it a go. It was they who suggested that I publish it because they felt it was unique and cut across so many different rule systems by so many different companies, and was suitable for both two player and solitaire gaming. I spoke to Rich and he was interested so I get it all typed up and sent is across. Then it was just a case of waiting for his busy schedule to get is ready for publication.
Yes, getting a gap in Rich’s schedule is a bit like getting an audience with the Pope!
Believe you me, it is MUCH harder than that. However I must say that I think the finished article looks great. I love the cover. Rich wanted something that looked like a cross between those old After the Battle magazines and the cover of the German wartime magazine Signal. I really like the way he has a black and white image coming to life, really that sums up Platoon Forward. It adds colour to your games.
Well, thanks very much for your time Joe, we shall look forward to the long awaited release of Platoon Forward on Monday.