Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tanks and Infantry

A plumed enemy solider darted across Freidrich's field of vision, hazy through the thick glass of the vision block.  He reversed desperately, feeling the treats slip and spin in mud or blood or water.  A clattering roar filled the compartment as Willie, sweating, worked the loader's hull machinegun from side to side. Above him, half-seen, Jans fired the turret self-defense gun in short, measured bursts.  Muffled screaming sounded from outside, and an alarming banging resounded against the side of the tank.  Did the enemy have bombs?  Friedrich wondered desperately?  The tank's rotation brought the enemy solider into view again.  The strange Roman-looking soldier knelt, and in both hands he hefted a heavy triangular weapon Friedrich had come to fear and loathe.

" Grenade!"  he screamed, and then the compartment exploded with smoke and fire and shrapnel.

A Light Tank and its escorting infantry.
The mathematical relationship between Tanks and Infantry constitutes one of the most important balances in Sabre and Raygun.  Infantry should be rightly terrified of tanks, with their armored hides, bristling weapons, and terrifying crushing weight.  But tanks should also fear infantry, who can make great use of terrain and assault the nearly-blind flanks and tops of a vehicle if they get too close.  Mathematically, tanks should have a fearsome damage output, but suffer a significant chance of being destroyed in Assault Fire and Melee with infantry.

In Sabre and Raygun, the players have choices with their vehicles and must decide how aggressively they wish to field them.  First, they must decide whether to Button or Unbutton their tanks -- that is, whether to run them with hatches open and the crew scouting for threats, or closed, protecting the crew but reducing visibility.  Unbuttoned tanks shoot more effectively, but are vulnerable to small-arms fire.  Second, the player must decide how close to the enemy they wish to drive.  The machine guns and cannon of a Tank are most effective in Assault Fire distance, where all models suffer from reduced Cover Saves.  However, at such a close range, Tanks are more vulnerable to enemy weapons, and are in Melee distance.  Tanks do not like Melee at all, where they are liable to be rudely destroyed by enemy grenades, firebombs, or other improvised attacks. 

Let us examine the threats and advantages Tanks face at difference distances.

Shooting Distance

If the Tank is over 6" from the enemy, it will fire at the enemy with normal Shooting Phase rules. 
 At this distance, all enemy models receive their normal Base Cover Save of 3+ (or 5+ for vehicles).  This may be modified for Soft or Heavy Cover.  The Tank will tank a long time to kill enemy infantry at this distance, but it will do so pretty reliably with its main gun firing high explosive.  Doctrines may help it to target and destroy threatening enemy models, such as guns or grenade launchers.

At this distance, the Tank will be very hard to kill.  All shots will likely hit its formidable Front Armor.  If it is Buttoned, it will be invulnerable to small arms.  Even Unbuttoned, it will probably out-range most normal infantry weapons, leaving it vulnerable only to long-ranged heavy machine-guns or other weapons. If a weapon rolls a 6 to-Wound, followed by another 6, it will Stun the tank regardless of AT value.

Assault Fire Distance

A Medium tank in the Assault Fire phase.
If the Tank is within 6" of the enemy, both sides will fire simultaneously.  Both sides will suffer reduced Base Cover Saves of 5+ for infantry, and no save at all for Vehicles.  A Tank at this distance can easily slaughter enemy infantry with its machine-guns and cannon.  (For you FoW players, consider this equivalent to a FoW assault phase.)

However, the Tank is potentially more vulnerable, too. All shots will hit its weaker Other Armor.  Weaker AT guns become much more dangerous at this range, and, since both sides fire simultaneously, the Tank cannot count on destroying them before they can act.  Moreover, all small arms have a minimal chance of hurting the tank.  If a weapon rolls a 6 to-Wound, followed by another 6, it will Stun the tank regardless of AT value. 

A Tank close enough for Assault Fire is also close enough for Melee.  It had better hope that it Suppresses or destroys any enemy before they can Charge.


Squish! Bang!
Tanks do not like Melee.  Infantry may fear being crushed beneath its mighty treads, but from a tank's perspective, if it is close enough to squash someone under its treads, it is in a deadly precarious position.  Tanks in Melee can be hurt by any weapon.  Unbuttoned Tanks, or Stunned Tanks, hit in Melee are automatically destroyed.  (It is assumed that the enemy kills or captures the crew.)  Buttoned Tanks suffer from double-sixes.  If a weapon rolls a 6 to-Wound, followed by another 6, it will Destroy the tank regardless of AT value.

Tanks in Melee are reduced to trying to crush opponents -- which they may do at a low rate of Attacks.  Should they survive, they are well-advised to back away from combat, which they may do freely.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Customizing the Free Cities: Spells and Doctrines

Sabre and Raygun allows you to customize your army with special abilities.  Even forces with the same skill and equipment may play very differently, based on their Doctrines.  The Free Cities book adds an additional layer -- spells, a special kind of optional Doctrine that can buff an enhance your force in multiple, exciting ways.


The Free Cities employ many elite, specialized units.  Their Doctrines reflect the differing military traditions of the cities, and, in particular, their approaches to combined arms. 

  • The Deadly Doctrine enhances the damage output of your Force in shooting and melee.
  • The Flexible Doctrine enhances squads of mixed troop types, emphasizing combined arms at the lowest tactical level.  It lets you, as the commander, take best advantage of your ability to mix basic troops into new formations.
  • The Specialist Doctrine enhances homogenous squads, rendering each troop type more effective at their best ability.  This is combined arms, too, but with an emphasis on the platoon, rather than the squad, level.  
  • The Proud Doctrine enhances squad morale, making them less likely to break or suffer suppression.
  • The Winged Doctrine enhances the Vehicles, Cavalry and Monsters in the Free Cities' force, perfect for players who like their armies fast.


Hare for hiding,
Falcon for seizing
Jackal for its mate,

Dragon for might,
Beast for endurance,
Serpent for mysteries.

Worm hates them all.

-- Martian Proverb

The Free Cities introduces a new type of Character, the Priest.  Priests can cast spells, which work just like Doctrines to buff units in powerful ways.  Each Priest chooses a Great Power to worship, each of which confers a different list of spells.  In addition, Priests can try to counter enemy spells when they are cast. 

  • Hare, the trickster, interferes with enemy Morale.
  • Falcon, the swift hunter, enhances a squad's to-Hit.
  • Jackal, the scavenger, grants a squad concealment.
  • Dragon, the fanged, enhances a squad's to-Wound.
  • Beast, the enduring, enhances a squad's Toughness.
  • Serpent, the immortal, foils an enemy's attempt to-Wound.
  • Worm, the devourer, weakens an enemy's Saves.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Free Cities in Brief

The Free Cities are independent outposts of Martian humans, who survive in the shadow of the Ancients through stealth, tenacity, and misdirection.  Like the Greek city-states of ancient Earth, they are small societies, with a keen sense of martial pride.

In designing the Free Cities, I emphasized the following core traits:


The Free Cities look archaic, with the swords, shields, ships and spears of ancient Greece or Rome, but they actually have higher-tech than the Colonists.  The shields contain force-field generators, the ships fly on anti-gravity, and the pikes fire blast rays.  The humans of the Free Cities do not understand the science of the technology they have stolen from the Ancients, but they know how to use it.


The armies of the Free Cities are combined-arms forces.  Each Triad consists of a mixture of troop types, specialized to a particular role:

  • The Lanceatores are long-ranged specialists.  Their raygun pike has a high Rate of Fire 3 when stationary, but only Rate of Fire 1 when moving and a lowly Rate of Attacks 1 in melee.
  • The Scutari are close-combat specialists.  The lack any ranged armament, but have heavy armor, and  a high Rate of Attacks 3 in melee.
  • The Venatores are maneuver specialists.  They have short-ranged gun with a Rate of Fire 2 either moving or stationary, but with a shorter 18" range.  They don't fear melee either, with a respectable Rate of Attacks 2.  There's no reason not to move these guys, and keep them moving.
In addition, they have a selection of elite, specialized support units, such as cavalry, light vehicles and monsters.

The Free Cities' player will need to use the strengths of their troops in combination to achieve victory.


 Free City forces are highly-skilled.  The regular, standing Legio troops are Skill 3.  Even the militia, drawn from the citizen population, are Skill 2, equal to most colonists.  The elite Praetorians are Leadership 3+.


The Free Cities love a good swordsman.  They have a strong melee element, suitable for the clash of sabres on the deck of a flying ship, or a duel with enemy warlords or dastardly minion.

All Free Cities forces wear armor.  Most of them are rated Armor 2, meaning most weapons will need a 3+ to wound them.  The heavy Scutari and Cataphracti are Armor 3, meaning most weapons will need a 4+ to wound them.

You can find the Free Cities Force Book PDF here.