The following preview was posted on gamingreport.com. There a lot of detail regarding the book, though it's not a review.
RPG News: Conan: Free Companies - Out This Week
Posted 2004-12-19 09:15:06 by damonwhite
Damon White Reports: We have a special Christmas present for Conan fans - Free Companies has finally arrived. We must apologise for the delay. Unfortunately, a printing error resulted in the entire first run of the book being trashed and so we had to wait for the second - but it is here now, ready and willing to leap into your campaigns! The Free Companies takes a look at the
role of mercenaries in the Hyborean Kingdoms and is perfect to spice up scenarios set inland.
The first chapter gives an overview of the existing mercenary bands, including the famed Free Companies themselves. Each has details on how to join the organisation, what you can expect to be doing and the code of honour you will be expected to follow. This leads onto the standing armies of the kingdoms (no doubt those you will be fighting against!) and their units. For example, the Armies of Aquilonia have listed their Aquilonian Archers, the Black Dragons, the Black Legion, Men-at-Arms, Poitainian Archers and Knights, as well as several veteran units. Every major army of the Hyborean Kingdoms is detailed here (who said we are working on a Conan wargame?).
The Secrets of War provides all the Skills and Feats a mercenary character should have at his disposal, for those looking to make a career out of fighting (if it was good enough for Conan. . .). These include such feats as Aide de Camp, Battle Leader, Roaring Rage, Sorcerous Tactics and Take the Charge.
Rewards of Blood studies the life of the mercenary. What motivates such men, the duties they are expected to perform, along with a complete set of rules that covers characters looking for mercenary contracts. The camps of mercenaries are also detailed, including some of the less wholesome things that go on around professional soldiers.
Tools of Warfare covers how mercenaries gain 'supplementary' income (though the looting of corpses should not be strange to adventurers from other fantasy RPGs) and sacking cities. Personal equipment is also featured, along with siege tools, creature comforts, standard equipment for various companies and war machines, for those generals who feel the sword is just not efficient enough.
This book is not just centred on sword-swiongers, however, and even the dark sorcerers of the Hyborean Kingdoms will find a ready use on the battlefield. Shadows & Darkness covers the use of magic in warfare, and includes some new spells designed specifically for use in war - if your cholar has been looking for the ultimate power, he may just have found it here. Alchemical items and exotic siege ammunition is also the preserve of those more educated and a truly gifted individual may find he is worth more than an entire unit of spearmen.
Fields Awash with Blood provides a new mass combat system for the Conan RPG, one - in fitting with the genre - will lead to more narrative battles than ones where players have to break out the gummy bears (we haven;t brought out the miniatures yet)everytime a fight develops. Using these rules, you'll be able to handle battles ranging from small skirmishes to hordes numbering tens of thousands while still keeping the action focussed suqarely on the players. It is based on a battle system initially developed by Paul
Cockburn, so check it out. . .
Mercenaries of Note features the stats and background of many famous faces from the Conan stories, for your players to meet and no doubt butt heads against. Here you will find the likes of Amalric, Imbalyo and Ivanos. We have also included Copnan himszelf at two stages of his career, first as 'the Throat-Slitter', just prior to Black Colossus and then as a Captain of Turan.
Battle's Bright Flame is a chapter for Games Masters showing them how to integrate military style scenarios within a 'standard' (?) Conan camapign - your players won't have to sign themselves away for long-term military service for you to get the best out of this book. Instead, there are a dozen methods by which large scale actions and a brush with the Free Companies can spice up any campaign.
The last chapter, Outside the Rank and File, looks at multiclassing characters and provides new rules to reflect them without the need to dip into prestige classes. For example, you can now construct a Berserker by multiclassing into both Soldier and Barbarian, while taking advantage of some new rules that reflect the unique nature of the blood-crazed fighter. Scouts come from Soldier/Borderers while Gurerillas are made from Soldier/Thieves.
The Free Companies is priced at $24.95 and will be available in all good games stores and book shops this coming week.
As an aside, the new Shadizar city box set has just arrived in the office and it looks sweet! We are just waiting for it to arrive at our warehouse, so look out for it early next month!
Does the battle system give players a lot of control over units with plenty of opportunity to get up close and personal, or is it pretty much totally run by the GM with pleny of opportunities for PCs on the wandering officer roll?
The actual battles (in the narrative version of the mass combat) are controlled by a series of D20 rolls adding each units MC (Military cohesion?) factor and some situational modifiers. Players or NPC leaders of units can increase their unit's MC by 1 point for every rank they have in Knowledge:warfare above 5. You compare the scores and then a result occurs depending on the difference. I don't have the book in fron of me so I can't give you specific examples of results. These rolls are made whenever the GM desires and are supposed to represent important points in a battle.
The Pcs are supposed to be running around the battlefield geting into all sorts of mischief i.e. individual encounters or battle specific missions like seize the standard. These actions can cause and influence the outcome of a battle roll.
This system is supposed to use the battle as a backdrop for PC actions as opposed to an actual battle simulation.
You could indeed, but the idea is keep everything flowing and have the players involved in the thick of the action, so they'll be leading from the front.
The battle resolution system is actually quite smart (on paper at least, haven't had chance to try it yet). The course of the overall battle going on around the players is determined by a series of opposed rolls, as Masterporg mentioned, made every 30-60 mins of game time or so. The rolls are modified by circumstance (including the players' actions) and the outcome used by the GM to describe the scene.
The GM then presents the players with an immediate challenge, a sort of mini-adventure within the framework of the greater battle, like trying to take an enemy position, or defend a castle wall, in which the standard rpg rules are used (the players fight in mini-battles using the standard melee combat rules and the like).
During the mini-adventure, the course of the battle might be checked again, with the players' progress so far potentially having an effect, and again, the GM using the result to describe the scene around them.
The entire battle is eventually made up of one or more mini-adventures (so some GM preparation is required in advance) punctuated by the rolls that determine the outcome of the conflict.