D&D Chainmail
Designers' Roundtable
By Jesse Decker

Lead Designer Jonathan Tweet

This month, Jonathan Tweet offers a preliminary look at building a warband for the upcoming D&D Chainmail game. Tweet, perhaps best known as the lead designer and author of the Player's Handbook for the new edition of the D&D game, serves as the lead designer for D&D Chainmail and is an avid participant in the in-house playtest league. Get a leg up on the competition with his tour through the basics of warband construction.

Wizards of the Coast: Where do you start when building a Warband?

Jonathan Tweet: To build a warband, you first have to determine what kind of warband you'll need. This simple-sounding step involves important decisions like what the maximum point total for each warband will be and what kind of games you're going to be playing in. For example, it's unlikely that a warband tailored to play in two-player head-to-head matches will fare well in a four-player free-for-all.

There are several general questions you'll need to answer before building your warband. Here's a sample list:

What's the point cost?

What terrain will be used (and will any custom terrain be allowed)?

What scenarios will be used?

How many players will compete at once?

How will the players compete (allies, free-for-all, etc.)?

For example, the first season of our organized play program will use 50-point warbands and the scenarios and terrain from the basic set. This set of parameters heavily influences warband design.

Wizards: Once you've determined the play environment, what do you choose next?

Jonathan: The first question you need to answer is, "What model do I most want to use?" There should be one model, either a powerful single figure or multiples of a cheap troop type, that serves as the backbone of your warband. This choice will dictate many of your strategic decisions, and almost has to begin with your excitement about using the model's abilities in a game.

Many players will be tempted to pick a faction and then try to use all of the faction's "best" figures, but choosing only one model is a better angle since it gives focus to your subsequent choices. A thorough understanding of why you picked your key troop type will make many of the strategic decisions that arise during gameplay easier.

Wizards: How do you select a key model?

Jonathan: As with most point-based games, when you build a warband in D&D Chainmail, you're looking for a way to spend your points efficiently. Mostly, it's choosing a model that you like. For beginners, simply choosing a model that looks cool is a fine place to start. As you become more familiar with the game, you'll find models that seem particularly effective against different strategies, develop favorite tricks of your own that work best with certain figures, and become better and determining what models will shine in the environment you're playing in.

Wizards: How do you select support for your key model?

Jonathan: That depends, of course, on the key model that you've selected.

If you've chosen a powerful model like the abyssal ravager or skeletal troll, you'll probably want the ability to put that figure under command or give it special orders. That means a compatible, competent commander.

If you've chosen a cheaper model, planning to use multiples, you'll need to decide how many of that figure you're going to use. Deciding how many of the same model you are going to use determines how focused your warband is. Support troops can, in this case, take away from your strategy. If you have one model in melee, it's almost always better to have other models running in. If you choose ranged combat, massed fire is almost always better. The cost and abilities of your main model determines what level of support you can add. Just like the example above, a commander is the most obvious type of support.

Consider protecting important models with a "screen." A screen model simply moves ahead of the important individual or group, taking the first charge, first barrage of arrow fire, and so on.

Wizards: You mentioned terrain earlier. How does terrain affect warband construction?

Jonathan: In D&D Chainmail, terrain choice is an integral part of warband design. In most standard scenarios, players each bring two pieces of terrain, giving them the ability to modify the battlefield their warbands' advantage. There's a very logical correlation to what kinds of terrain favor certain warbands. Warbands that concentrate on melee combat will need terrain that blocks line of sight, minimizing the effectiveness of opposing ranged attacks. Warbands that focus on ranged combat will want terrain that slows movement without blocking line of sight. This choice, although less complex than model selection, allows you to accentuate your warband's strengths and make up for its limitations.

Wizards: What warband do you play in the in-house league?

Jonathan: I play a Naresh warband that features the abyssal ravager. I chose the ravager because of its powerful melee abilities. The in-house league is full of dwarven warbands, making the ravager a strong choice. The ravager has a very high attack bonus, making it one of the few models that can easily hit dwarven troops, who of course have very high armor values. Also, the ravager's a great-looking model and a lot of fun to push around the table.

As support I chose a demonic gnoll adept and a cross-faction halfling sneak. The gnoll is primarily in the warband to let me put the ravager under command, but it also provides some minor spell support. The sneak (which won't be released until November) provides a very long ranged attack and provides an excellent advantage over warbands with no ranged capability.

Go to the D&D miniatures main news page for more articles and news about the new D&D Chainmail Skirmish Game, coming in October 2001! Or check out the D&D Chainmail message boards for a lively discussion of the D&D Chainmail game.


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