Special Chat: Chainmail
Featuring Jonathan Tweet, designer, Chris Pramas, designer,
and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, editor

October 12th, 2001

Based on the new D&D game, the Chainmail skirmish game offers you a fast-paced combat system that makes turn resolution quick and easy. We talk with creative director Chris Pramas, game designer Jonathan Tweet, and editor Jennifer Clarke Wilkes.

wizo_fours: Welcome! Jonathan Tweet, Chris Pramas, and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes join us to answer your questions about Chainmail. Let’s jump right into the questions.

bludgeon: Where did you get the idea for having the dwarves be communists?

Chris: I find a lot of fantasy stuff tiresome because you see the same tropes over and over. Why is it always kings, you know? So I figured, of all the fantasy races, who'd make the best worker's state? Dwarves, baby. That led to Mordengard. Guess it's my lefty politics.

stouthammer: Will we be seeing any promotional terrain cards for Chainmail other than in faction boxes? Maybe in Dragon Magazine?

Chris: Hmmm, nothing is in the works. Good idea, though.

kesh: The response to Chainmail has been varied, from excitement to disappointment. How do all of you feel about the response of the game by the community?

Jonathan: We're pretty happy with what we've heard so far. The real question is longer run acceptance and play, but for now we're pretty happy. We knew it wouldn't be perfect for everyone, and we knew that some people would really like it. That seems to be what's happened.

Jennifer: I've seen a lot of excitement, and my gaming circle really liked it when I previewed the game for them. They're going to be drooling over the models when I bring them home

Chris: I think the launch went very well, and now Chainmail will start to build steam. I'm pretty happy.

eluard: Is there any plan to include an abstract experience and/or treasure system for group growth in a league or campaign play?

Jonathan: Short answer: Yes! Long answer, that's what I was playtesting just last night. My Halfling Sneak and Human Death Cleric have both gone up a level, but I haven't won any treasure yet. Chris is going to be leading design on the project, though he's being a little tight-lipped right now. Remember, all people have seen so far is the starter rulebook. There is a lot more to come. Back on the topic of how the game's been received, the most unfortunate comments (I think) are the ones where people criticize the starter rules for not doing everything. We're working on more and more good Chainmail stuff for the future.

stouthammer: If the enemy nearest to my figure doesn't have a straight line to it (say due to terrain) but another mini further away does, is my mini then unable to charge? Or can it charge the nearest mini that it has a straight line to?

Jonathan: To charge the second-nearest model, you need to receive a 2-point order. Without that order, a model can only "worry about" the closest model. If it can't charge that model, it can't charge another instead. The "fog of war" means that an uncommanded model can't think about much except for the nearest enemy.

ergeheilalt: Are there any computer-based Chainmail game in the works? If so, when will the release date be?

Chris: Not at the moment, no. That'd be cool though! Wizards generally tries to make the most of its properties, so it could happen in the right circumstances.

Jonathan: I'd like to think that the tabletop game is so good no one would rather play digitally!

kesh: What sort of timeline do you have for increasing the power level of the game? Is this going to be a gradual ramping-up by a few levels each year, or will we be seeing units much stronger than what we have now before next summer is through?

Jonathan: We are going to be increasing the power levels of models over time. D&D has monsters and characters of all sorts of different power levels, and we want to cover a range. And it made sense to us that we'd start with the lower-level models.

Chris: We don't have a schedule per se, but we want to expand the range of possibilities with each release. There are a lot of cool monsters that we of course want to make part of the game.

Jonathan: Warbands for Set 2 will be 70 points as standard, rather than 50, and the Set 2 models will be a little tougher to take advantage of the warband power. But since the models are all on points, the less powerful ones aren't "worse" and the more powerful ones aren't "better." We usually find that warbands with a mix of power levels are good.

stouthammer: I have a question about Stratis' weapons. Ahmut has the spear, Drazen's Horde has the axe, Jangir has the flail, Ravilla (presumably) has the longsword. Thalos and Mordengard don't seem to have anything. What are the other two weapons and where are they?

Chris: Oh, there are lots of pieces of Stratis' panoply, not just those. That's the kind of thing we'll be revealing in the guidebooks over time. No spoiling it here!

stonwulfe: Does Chainmail have it's own, unique base, or does it look back to Warhammer and Mutant-Chronicles-Warzone?

Chris: Our starting point was the new D&D. We took those rules and tried to optimize them for miniatures play. Our design choices were certainly informed by games past, but our mission was clear: make a minis game based on D&D.

Jennifer: The name Chainmail of course looks back to the precursor to D&D. If you play Chainmail, you'll see that it's mechanically a lot like the new D&D, but the game starts with the new D&D and adds some twists of its own.

Jonathan: It’s very fast and tactical. We followed the d20 lead as far as mechanics are concerned, but we altered the rules and the scope in order to get the fast and strategic game we were looking for. In fact, Chainmail probably owes more to Magic: The Gathering than to Warhammer. Part of Magic's success comes because it plays quickly and is highly tactical. We have tried to make much the same sort of game with Chainmail.

eluard: How effective has it been in playtesting to use cheaper units to draw fire for more expensive units?

Jonathan: You seem already to know a good strategy. The "fog of war" rules mean that you can often control where your opponent attacks. You can use expendable units to draw fire, as you say, or to help bigger models gang up on the enemy. Lower power models can also be useful for slowing the enemy down and preventing them from ganging up on your best assets.

Chris: I believe that it all depends on what you are fighting. Against warbands with few command points, it can work very well. That also works well against wild troops. Many a conscript has become hyena food!

ergeheilalt: Will Chainmail lead to Birthright-like adventures?

Chris: That ball is in the court of RPG R&D. The Sundered Empire setting is a natural for development but it's their decision.

Jonathan: For now, as close as Chainmail is to the RPG, we're focusing on competitive battles. For instance, we'll have Organized Play using the standard battle rules from the starter set. We're sure, though, that lots of D&D groups are going to use the rules in different ways, such as running "adventures." Like D&D, Chainmail is a set of rules, and you can supply whatever context for those rules that you want.

Jennifer: It can be handy to use Chainmail for larger D&D combats, but something on the scale of Birthright would need some sort of mass combat system.

Chris: I've been running a D&D campaign set in the Sundered Empire at home. It’s been a lot of fun.

kesh: I've seen the term 'Set 2' used a couple times in the past two days. What is this?

Jonathan: Set 2 are models released in January to March. They'll have new special abilities and such.

stouthammer: Can you tease us with names of more minis we can expect to be released after December?

Chris: How's this for a tease? Drow Warrior.

Jonathan: There's an Otyugh. You can guess what that is. Aasimar Cleric. Spitting Felldrake, Snakestrike Duelist.

Chris: The dreaded Pulverizer.

Jennifer: Tiefling Fighter.

Jonathan: And one of my favorites: Thunderlasher!

jarek_gnoll: Will there be a release at some point listing the figures so far and their respective stats?

Jennifer: Yes. Look for quarterly updates.

Chris: That's a continuing process. The January guidebook will collect the stats for the October-December models.

Jonathan: The Set 2 Guidebook will summarize all the stats for the Set 1 models.

kesh: What are each of your favorite strategies to use so far in the game?

Chris: That's a really broad question. It depends on what kind of warband I'm fielding. I have always been a fan of the well-balanced army (in whatever minis game I'm playing). I like to have it all I guess. That said, it sometimes fun to play a Drazen's Horde band that has just pure melee power. One word: charge!

Jonathan: I like the mixed melee/archer warband. The archery lets me control the battle against melee warbands. They have to come to me or be whittled away at a distance. But I like to have melee capacity, too, so when the enemy gets to me, I can hold my own. Gnolls are good for that kind of warband. And low walls make for good terrain -- if I can force the enemy to climb over a wall to get at me, I'm in a good spot. But good archer armies beat me because I can't afford to shoot it out. I have to trudge across the battlefield to get to them, and my ranged ability doesn't help me.

Jennifer: I seem to have a liking for ganging up with a bunch of little guys. I like to move around and try for surrounds and ambushes when possible. Ditto on the low walls. They have many uses.

eluard: During the development of Chainmail, did you do any marketing research into how often figures actually get painted, and can you share that information?

Jonathan: We've relied more on personal experience and anecdotes. It seems to depend on the group. Hobby games are very regional. In some regions, painting's important. In others, it isn't.

stouthammer: Will there be more faction boxes for the existing factions? Will there be different miniatures and terrain cards?

Jonathan: We can't rule out any particular future product. We're definitely doing new combo boxes, but new faction boxes aren't on the schedule.

Chris: There'll be new terrain in the guidebooks.

wizo_fours: Chris, Jennifer, and Jonathan do you have any closing questions or comments for the audience?

Jonathan: Thanks for your interest.

Chris: And thanks for sticking with us! We're always curious to know how the game is working for you. Let us know on the Chainmail board if you have a chance.

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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