Chainmail (game)

Chainmail (game)
Rules for medieval miniatures
Chainmail 3rd edition.jpg
Cover for the third edition of Chainmail (1975). Artwork by Don Lowry
Designer(s) Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax
Illustrator(s) Don Lowry
Publisher(s) Guidon Games
TSR, Inc.
Years active 1971-1985
Players 2 - 10
Age range 12 and up
Playing time six hours

Chainmail is a medieval miniatures wargame created by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. Gygax developed the game with fellow Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA) member Perren, a hobby-shop owner with whom he had become friendly, and the game was first published in 1971.[1] The 1971 edition includes a fantasy supplement, and is one of the oldest sets of rules for fantasy miniature wargaming, the others including the New England Wargamers Association fantasy wargame called Middle Earth[2] and Tony Bath's Hyboria campaign. The supplement contains spells and monsters that reappeared in Dungeons and Dragons.


Early history

The use of 40 mm Elastolin miniatures for medieval wargaming was promoted by Siege of Bodenburg,[3] which appeared in Strategy & Tactics magazine in 1967. This motivated Jeff Perren to develop a few pages of his own rules for these miniatures. He introduced the rules to Gary Gygax and the LGTSA. Gygax expanded the rules to sixteen pages[4] and published them in the newsletter of the Castle & Crusade Society.[5]

The Rules

In the core rules, each figure represents twenty men. Troops are divided into six basic types: light foot, heavy foot, armored foot, light horse, medium horse, and heavy horse. Melee is resolved by rolling six-sided dice: for example, when heavy horse is attacking light foot, the attacker is allowed to roll four dice per figure, with each five or six denoting a kill. On the other hand, when light foot is attacking heavy horse, the attacker is allowed only one die per four figures, with a six denoting a kill. Additional rules govern missile and artillery fire, movement and terrain, charging, fatigue, morale, and the taking of prisoners.

The Fantasy Supplement

The rules first appeared under the name Chainmail when they were published by Guidon Games in 1971,[6] becoming the publisher's biggest hit yet, selling one hundred copies per month.[4] For this edition of the game, Gygax added rules for jousting, man-to-man melee, and conducting battles with fantasy creatures. The man-to-man melee uses two six-sided dice (2d6) to determine whether a kill is made and took account of the attacker's weapon and the defender's armor. The armor sequence is almost identical to that which would later be used in Dungeons & Dragons.

Gygax wanted to capture the sort of swashbuckling action of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian books in a wargame.[4] The fantasy creatures and spells exploited the contemporary popularity of The Lord of the Rings and helped make Chainmail Guidon's best seller. In a 2001 interview Gygax recalled that the members began to get tired of medieval games, and I wasn't, I decided to add fantasy elements to the mix, such as a dragon that had a fire-breath weapon, a hero that was worth four normal warriors, a wizard who could cast fireballs, [which had] the range and hit diameter of a large catapult, and lightning bolts, [which had] the range and hit area of a cannon, and so forth. I converted a plastic stegosaurus into a pretty fair dragon, as there were no models of them around in those days. A 70 mm Elastolin Viking figure, with doll's hair glued to its head, and a club made from a kitchen match and auto body putty, and painted in shades of blue for skin color made a fearsome giant figure. I haunted the dime stores looking for potential additions and eventually found figures to represent ogres, elementals, etc. The players loved the new game, and soon we had twenty or more players showing up for every session.[7]

Each of the fantasy creatures are treated as one of the six basic troop types. For example, halflings are treated as light foot and elves are treated as heavy foot. Giants are treated as twelve heavy footmen, and require twelve cumulative hits to kill. Heroes are treated as four heavy footmen, and require four simultaneous hits to kill. Wizards are not limited to fireballs and lightning bolts: they can cast other spells, and a stronger wizard can cancel the spell of a weaker wizard by rolling a seven or higher with two six-sided dice.

Use with Dungeons & Dragons

Dave Arneson used Chainmail in his Blackmoor campaign, and many elements of Chainmail were carried over wholesale into Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in 1974. In fact, the original edition of D&D recommended that the reader own a copy of Chainmail. Gygax intended the Chainmail combat rules to be used in D&D, though he provided an alternative d20 attack option which eventually became standard.

Early D&D players could fall back to the Chainmail rules when conducting battles between armies, a situation where the D&D rules would be cumbersome. Improvisation was required, since D&D contained monsters and spells not covered in Chainmail. In Swords & Spells (1976) Gygax tried to fix the problem by introducing a dice-free approach for large battles, which averaged each monster's D&D statistics. Swords & Spells was unpopular, and its rules were discarded in later editions of D&D.

Later Products

In 1975, TSR, Inc. acquired the rights to Chainmail and released the 3rd edition, which was printed as late as 1979.[6] TSR then concentrated on role-playing games, leaving space for competition such as Warhammer by Games Workshop. In 1985, TSR released a successor to Chainmail called Battlesystem; it went through two editions.

A game based on the d20 System was available under the Chainmail name in 2002.[8] It was replaced the following year by the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game, which made the switch from metal figures to pre-painted plastics, following the trend of competitors such as Mage Knight.

Notes and references

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