Saturday, 17 November 2018

Why I like the OSR

There's been lots of doom and gloom in my gaming circles lately, so I'm writing about why I love the OSR to cheer myself up.

My gaming has really four distinct areas I'm interested in. Namely larping, Warhammer, World of Darkness and the OSR. I only really publish stuff for one of those, though.
In the case of larping it's because a successful larp is an event. You need a good venue, a team working with you, supplies for your effects and sets and stuff. You need a budget and a supply of people willing to follow your instructions. I don't have those. So, as a larper I mostly just play and have fun, or occasionally I follow instructions and make special effects.

For Warhammer and WoD, the issue is a little different. I have, in the past, produced a whole load of content for Warhammer. Alternate army lists, campaigns, rules hacks, and so on. Even entire variants on the game. I've produced homebrew for WoD as well. None of it got published. None of it is really publishable because it's so tied to somebody else's IP.
This is what bothers me. People over at The Gardens of Hecate or Iron Sleet is producing work as skillful, as beautiful, as creative as anything in the OSR. But because the IP they're working with is so tightly tied to the company that makes Warhammer, they'll never be able to really capitalise on on that, promote themselves and carve out their own niche like you might in the OSR.
Likewise in the World of Darkness communities I see STs putting huge amounts of work and creativity and funds into their projects. (One recent larp I was at booked out an entire hotel for their post-event crew party. The larp itself was at a different venue, this was just so the crew could unwind and get sozzled somewhere nice afterwards). Again, they don't get the recognition the deserve, while people pick apart what White Wolf are doing with a fine toothed comb.

This is a problem. These projects are, ultimately, fan works. They're a rank below the stuff officially published. It restricts creativity, but more than that it restricts your ability to publish. You can't buy anybody's homebrewed hacked together Vampire the Masquerade project on DTRPG.

This, then, is what I love about the whole OSR movement. Nobody owns it. Nobody has authority over it. It's a shared communal space that exists either through a weird quirk of a licensing agreement around D&D or else in a sort of rejection of the big company's claim that they get to decide what D&D is.
Rather the OSR is made up of fans, creators, the small press, the indie outfits, and the homebrewers. The lines between all of those are vague and blurry. Anybody can make something good, and publish it, and get recognition, without needing to give too much of a shit about the rigors of intillectual property. This is, really, wonderful and rather unique if you compare it to any other tabletop gaming community.*

The OSR has fuck all barriers to entry. Most gamers are familiar with the basics of six stats, hit-dice, levels, armour class. It's a lingua franca of sorts. You can get yourself some cheap-ass layout software (I use MS Office), some public domain art, and just make whatever you think is cool. Self-publishing is super easy and if you have a blog or any sort of social-media presence, you'll find an audience who are keen to see new, weird content from new, weird creators.
Nine months ago I released a daft project about using random tables to make a fairy garden, basically out of nowhere and with no industry credentials, and it went great. I'm not special in this regard: loads of people are dropping cool stuff (so many that I'm not gonna try linking, as this post will be entirely made of links) these days. It's a great time to be into D&D.
These days, if you want to make stuff for the OSR, the single biggest obstacle is sitting down and writing it. Everything else is great.

So, yeah. Not to downplay various real issues, but I felt it worth writing out why I wanted to be part of this creative community in the first place, at least in part for my own sake.



*the only exception I can think of is the historical wargamers, who again aren't really limited to specific franchises.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Law Enforcement in Esoteric Enterprises


Security Guard
The standard rent-a-cop that might be found guarding warehouses, banks and so on. Training and experience are very varied, some are veterans of the police or military that have drifted into the career, others are pretty much sitting ducks. Equipment is typically poor.
Security Guard: 3 flesh (1 dice), 3 grit (1 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 17+. Nightstick (+1, d8 damage). Radio and flashlight.

Beat Cop
The standard officer on the street. Reasonably well trained. Reactions and equipment vary wildly depending on your location; cops in the UK have only basic weaponry and are trained to de-escalate or restrain, while American cops have sidearms and the will to use them.
Beat Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 16+. Nightstick (+2, d8+1 damage) or tazer (+1, d6 damage and save or be stunned for a round) or pistol (+1, d8 damage). Strength and Wisdom 13. Handcuffs, radio.

Plain Clothes Officer
An undercover cop. Could pop up in all sorts of situations, from a plant in a criminal organisation to an unrelated officer pretending to be an environmental protestor. Smooth talking yet reserved.
Undercover Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 16+. pistol (+1, d8 damage). Charisma and Wisdom 13.

Riot Cop
Heavily armoured police sent to deal with large-scale disturbances. Seasoned veterans equipped for close combat. Aggressive, well disciplined.
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 17 (riot armour & shield, high dexterity). Saves 15+. Club (+3, d8+1 damage) or stun baton (+3, d6+1 damage and save or be stunned for a round). Strength and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs, gas-mask, radio.

Firearms Officer
For when the police really want to shoot somebody, typically only brought out to deal with armed standoffs, raids on criminal bases, and dealing with occult criminals. Well trained and determined.
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 16 (riot armour). Saves 15+. Shotgun (+3, d12) or automatic rifle (+3, d10) Wisdom and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs,  radio.

Police Marksman
As with firearms officers. Employed to shoot people the police really want dead. Slow, careful snipers. 
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 16 (riot armour). Saves 15+. Marksman’s Rifle (+3, d12 or –1, d12 if not aimed already) or pistol (+3, d8) Wisdom and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs,  radio.

Men In Black Field Agent
Black suits. Dark glasses. Earpieces. Strange firearms. ID doesn’t match any agency you’ve encountered.
An unearthly presence. Unsettling, commanding. Always composed, relentless, seems not to feel fear or pain. Civilians shy away from the instinctively. The police obey them without question.
Field Agent: 6 flesh (2 dice), 9 grit (3 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 14+. Hypertech Pistol (+4, d12). All stats are 13.
Can cast any of the following spells by brandishing their ID, 3-in-6 chance the spell is cast successfully when they do. Command, Sleep, Silence Dispel Magic, Antimagic Shell.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Men In Black Paladin
Smart suits. Scarred skin glimpsed behind porcelain masks. Odd weapons. Strange sigils on their cufflinks. Voices are mere whispers.
The specialists of the Men in Black. They display agency ID that hurts to look at. Their command of police and bystanders is absolute, mundane humans submit to their will wordlessly or cower beneath their gaze.
Field Agent: 6 flesh (2 dice), 15 grit (5 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 12+. Hypertech Pistol (+4, d12). All stats are 13.
Can cast any of the following spells by brandishing their ID, 5-in-6 chance the spell is cast successfully when they do. Suggestion, Dispel Magic, Protection from Weapons, Spectral Step, Spell Immunity, Time Stop.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Men In Black Abomination
Dressed in a smart black suit. Gloves over their hands. Face hidden behind a reflective black glass mask. They smell of ozone, the air around them crackles with static electricity. Silent. Unarmed.
Looking at this thing makes your eyes hurt. Civilians and the police shudder and weep where they pass. Small animals die, plants wither.
Their demeanour is blank and emotionless. They pursue their targets with a single-minded dedication. Injury doesn’t seem to bother them. The powers that be only bring out such creatures when dealing with the worst disturbances.
Abomination: 9 flesh (3 dice), 12 grit (4 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 8+. Hand (+4, d8 and memory wipe). All stats are 13.
On first encountering an Abomanation, Save vs Stunning or spend d4 rounds weeping and cowering. Save again if you see what’s under the mask.
Touching the Abomination’s skin attacks your memory: Save vs Stunning or forget the last 5 minutes.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.


Saturday, 3 November 2018

Look at this cool thing!

So this guy Oddsbod did art of the White Librarians from the stygian library. Here it is:

Suffice to say I really like it, and if you do too you can find more stuff like it at oddsbod.tumblr.com and twitter.com/oddsbod

Saturday, 27 October 2018

The Stygian Library Finished

So, the module is finally done. Here it is.
It's a project I started in June, first mentioned in this blog post. I've been working on it intermittently since, and finally got it done in a spurt of activity this month. It's out in time for halloween, too!

Really, this is a direct sequel to Ynn. The structure is exactly the same: you roll up locations as you explore deeper, building a map as you go. Some minor tweaks to this, such as the Progress score, minor alterations to running blindly, and what's on the Events table. But nothing huge. If you liked Ynn, you'll like this.
In terms of atmosphere, the Library is likewise similar to Ynn, with many of the same motifs appearing. Genteel yet dangerous environments, old machinary built into the space, mutation and madness. Things skew darker, though. Necromancy gets a big focus. Many of the monsters are ghosts of various forms, some of them the products of almost industrial processing. Other encounters are undead, or use the dead somehow. Similarly, many of the locations in the library feature magic that messes with the soul, and many of the library's machines use phantoms in the same way 20th century technology used electricity. Overall, when I've run it (or bits of it) you alternate between a sort of comfy 'English stately homes' feel, and a sense of subtle creepiness. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a horror game, but it has its spooky moments.
Mechanically, I've abstracted the process of finding specific information in the library to a running 'progress' score that accounts for navigating the place's layout, looking up references, putting facts together, and so on. Every time you read the right books, talk to the right NPCs, etc, you get a little bit closer to your goal. I've found that its fairly intuitive, since it mirrors the 'attrit away HP' mechanics we're familiar with: tot up numbers until you reach a goal.
There's books everywhere in the module. A d100 table for what a given shelf of books is about, and a couple of pages of special books that grant benefits to the reader. Bonuses to attributes in the manner of those old 'manual of bodily health' books, revelatory texts that let you switch class, occult works that let the magician or cleric add spells from the other's list to their own, that sort of thing. Rather than physical mutations, these books let you improve yourself through knowledge.
Lastly, there's a little class at the back, the Mummified Sage. Basically a scholar who's been in the library too long, died, and kept on researching without noticing. They get a little spellcasting (only one spell slot), some advantages for being undead, and a flat chance to recognise anything weird they encounter from their studies.

So, that's about it. Visually, it's a bunch of art nouveau and 19th century stuff mostly. All public domain. I think it works well together. The rest of the layout is pretty simple, with two collumns and big titles. It should work in play.

What now? I'm still hashing out and formalising the system I used to test it. I might bundle that system, this, Ynn and a hub location into a single omnibus. Howl's Moving Castle and Gormenghast are feeling like inspiration here, the players inherit an old magical mansion that they must explore, pacify and master, and which has portals leading to these two pocket dimensions.

So yeah. I'm happy enough with it, and I've had fun running it in tests. It's four bucks on DTRPG. You can get it here.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Into the Library - An example of play!

So I ran a little expedition into The Stygian Library last night. Just one player, my partner, who seemed to have fun. Here's how it went down.
The system was a weird cludge mostly using bits of Into the Odd, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Esoteric Enterprises. Set in the modern day.
The PC was Lucy Farrell, the scion of a wealthy family of occultists, with an interest in demon-summoning. A magic-user with 1 HP, intelligence 17, shit stats otherwise, and the spells Command and Fortune Telling in her spellbook.

So she's going into the library in search of a grimoire teaching her how to summon and control a particular demon.
She finds a doorway to the Stygian Library in her house's study, hidden behind a bookshelf. It's only three feet high, so she opens it up and crawls inside. Within, there's a dark room full of scrolls, with picture-frames on the walls. Lucy realises she can't see shit without bringing her own light source, and so returns with some candles to see by, very sensibly locking the door behind her. When she gets back, she finds the picture frames contain maps of various locations - some mundane, some mythical. Right away, she ignores the ominous ticking coming from below the floorboards and finds a map of the Library itself from among them (giving her some progress towards finding her goal).
Continuing to investigate, she looks for the source of the ticking, lifting up a loose floorboard to find a cobweb-filled lair the size of a coffin beneath, filled with dead mice. Within, an abandoned satchel, containing some cash and a strange book of esoteric exercises that increases the reader's physical health! She reads it (because it has a hunk on the front cover - Lucy is only 18 after all) and gets +1 dexterity! Then, being a reasonable individual, she picks up the satchel, so she can hand it in to the library's lost & found desk.
As she searches further, she hears a skittering noise approaching; the giant ogre-spider whose lair she'd found is returning. Before it can reach her, she's headed deeper into the library to avoid it.
Deeper in, she finds a room lit by a roaring fire, with a big stone sarcophagus. Investigating reveals that the tomb is that of one Lady Muriel Farrell, who died in the early 19th century. She thinks for a bit, and remembers that Muriel was a daughter of the family like her who went missing, everybody assuming she eloped. She says a quick prayer, and continues on her way.
Her way, as it happens, leads her to a chapel in the library. Here, she finds some candles, and on the pulpit a holy tome dedicated to Orcus, Dis Pater. She reads it and learns Cosmic Secrets that cause her to instantly level up! Since she levelled up reading the revelations of the Lord of Dis, the spell she gets is Speak With Dead. She gets a single extra HP, too!
This gives her a plan. She goes back to her ancestor's tomb, and casts Speak With Dead, calling up the ghost to have a chat. The ghost gives her some pointers on the layout of the library, including the rough direction of the demonology section, and roughly where to find the help desk! They chat some more, and the ancestor tells her that she'd died of 'having her brain eaten by a man with an octopus for a head'. After a long and heartwarming chat, the ghost asks to be dismissed since 'it's dangerous to be a ghost in the library'. Lucy obliges.
As she's preparing to leave, she encounters some nuns, also exploring the library! They're polite and helpful, but cross themselves and pray enthusiastically when Lucy asks if they know where to find books on demonology. Quite why she thought they'd know is unclear. Still, they give her pointers towards the library's help desk, which should help her deal with the lost property she's carrying. The nuns leave in one direction - discussing where to find a book called 'The Adventures Sensuale Et Romantique of Sainte Therese' - and Lucy goes back to her original entrance to start searching other 'shallow' locations for the help desk.
After not too long, she finds it, half-way up a flight of stairs, manned by a Yellow Librarian! She hands the satchel of lost property over, and is thanked by the Librarian, who gives her some pointers on where to find the Demonology section. Her progress score is doing alright at this point! Thanking the Librarian, she continues on her way.
At the top of the flight of stairs, she finds a room filled with statues, and containing many scrolls about ancient medicine. She's just starting reading one when she notices a puddle of rippling ink oozing out from under a shelf towards her; an Ink Elemental! She starts to walk briskly away, the Ink Elemental starts to ooze briskly after her. Pausing, she turns, and casts Command on it, telling it to leave her alone! The elemental passes it's save, and responds by engulfing her in a tide of ink. Maximum damage is rolled. Lucy starts to drown, hits 0HP, and takes critical damage. Lack of oxygen to the brain has given her permanent brain damage (disadvantage to any roll involving thinking clearly - luckily she's still int 17 - and a reminder every now and then that she's suffering 'sewious braim dablage') and causing her to cough up chunks of bloody lung as she starts dying.
She struggles free, staggers back down the stairs - pursued by the ink elemental and the inkblots that trail behind it, and collapses before the Help Desk, gasping out 'help... me...' before falling unconcious.
(During her unconciousness, the Librarian on duty does, in fact, help her - stabalizing her bleeding so she's not gonna die, and summoning more Librarians to fight the monster before it can damage any books. Lucy drifts in and out of conciousness, seeing them defeat the elemental, rip its soul out, turn the soul into a Phantom, and put it in a bottle for later.)
She awakens, and discovers that the magic the Librarians used to stop her dying has had the unfortunate side-effect of aging her by a good decand and a bit, and she's now biologically in her early 30s. And most of her body is permanently stained jet-black by the ink. And she still has sewious braim dablage.
She encounters a floating spell escaped from its spell-book, which encourages her to climb the stairs, casts Spider Climb on her a few times, and is eventually shooed away by a Librarian with a broom. At the help desk again, she helps the Librarian with his paperwork, and then decides to try and find a book about how to fix her braim dablage before continuing with her search for demonology. A few pointers from the Librarian on where to go later, and she sets off!
Upstairs, she finds some more rooms filled with statues, before hearing the approach of somebody fleeing from a swarm of bees! Hiding under a carpet, she hears the bees defeated by... some sort of magic... and makes sure its safe before emerging. Before her, a man with an octopus for a head is idly toying with dead giant bees. They talk, she thanks him for defeating the bees, and asks if he's going to eat her brain. He responds that 'no, you've got some nasty brain damage. It would be like eating a sandwich that somebody stomped all over wearing football boots.' He does, however, suggest that the book she's looking for lies in the Brain Room, which also contains many delicious brains. She asks him what he's doing in the library, and he says he's hear to eat all the brains, and that the Librarians think he's a monster because of it, musing that 'there's so much hatred in the world.' He further suggests that they should go looking together, and Lucy (seeing no other option), goes along with it. The neurovore declares that they are now Friends, and that his name is Urglefloggah the Spine Ripper.
Further encounters ensue. They meet some Librarians trying to fix a collapsed shelf. Urglefloggah goes invisible and sneaks off, Lucy tries to help. One of the librarians goes to get supplies, and Urglefloggah ambushes him around the corner and eats his brain. Lucy seems unphased by this.
A little deeper in, they meet some skellingtons, which helpfully point them in the direction of the Brain Room. As they get close, they are cornered against a portcullis they can't open as a monstrous Shade pursues some obsidian monkeys, killing them before their eyes as the pair hide. They see the monkeys become spiritual slaves to the Shade, and become concerned. Eventually working out how to get past the portcullis, they find a magical shroud that protects the wearer from having their soul damaged, which Lucy puts on, being somewhat concerned by what she just witnessed.
Deeper in still, they find a room filled with phantoms in jars! They decide to rest and recover spells here, but as they settle in they are assaulted by a mass of crawling, twitching limbs! Retreating back to the portcullis, they get to the other side just in time, and close it behind them, trapping the crawling limbs on the other side but also meaning they'll need to find a new route to the Brain Room.
So they set off. A few more, less interesting, rooms are found, including ones where Lucy finds a bottle of Conspiritor's Ink (invisible to authority figures!) and Infernal Ink (good for magical contracts!) before, eventually, they find a planetarium.
Urglefloggah sets himself down to read contracts while Lucy starts experimenting with the Astrolobe in the centre of the room. She establishes, after some experimentation, that if you set the astrolabe back, time goes back for the people in the room. Making a little cut on her finger, she sets time back, and finds that the cut has healed.
This gives her an idea. She sets the astrolabe back to before she was attacked by the ink elemental! Her braim dablage is undone, her skin is no longer ink-stained, and she's back to being 18!
Urglefloggah sees that her brain is juicy and whole again, and starts staring at her thoughtfully.
Urglefloggah passes his Save vs Friendship to see if he cares about Lucy enough not to eat her: turns out she's lunch now. Lucy tries to cast Command on him to make him leave her alone, but he passes his save!
In desperation, as he drifts towards her, Lucy sets the astrolabe back a minute. Urgelfloggah is peering thoughtfully at her again. He makes another Save vs Friendship, and once more, decides to eat her brain. She casts Command again (since she'd gone back to before the spell-slot got used!), but he passes his save once more! As he floats towards her, tentacles twitching, she once more desperately resets the clock!
Urglefloggah peers at her thoughtfully, and then declares "Oh, don't worry, I won't eat you. We're friends! Now, shall we go and find this big room full of brains, and then your demon-summoning book?" Lucy, realising that Urglefloggah has decided not to eat her, figures she's stuck with a clingy, overly-friendly neurovore who is - at least - not planning on eating her, and resolves to accompany him until she can find a way to give him the slip.
And we ended the session there.
All in all, we had fun. The player says they want to continue it, as there are all sorts of things they want to explore or try that they've heard about in passing. So that might happen.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Classes for an ItO-esque system.

So here's the deal for a stripped-down system I'm looking at hacking together. Largely inspired by Into the Odd.
You roll your six stats in order as normal. You can 'invert' them if they suck, so a 3 becomes an 18, etc.
Your class is determined by your best stat. If there's a draw, you get to pick between them.
Strength = Fighter (you all know what a fighter is)
Dexterity = Expert (covers thieves, rangers, doctors, assassins, etc etc. All the 'skilly' characters)
Constitution = Survivor (basically the dwarf/halfling, with big defensive bonuses)
Intelligence = Magician (vancian casting from a spellbook).
Wisdom = Cleric (small list of known miracles, pray and hope your god grants the prayer).
Charisma = Psychic (always-on minor supernatural abilities that /just work/).

All classes get a d6 hit-dice.

Each class has a benefit or two for their class.
Fighters add their level to rolls to hit and damage, and get to follow through as many times per round as their level (follow through = if you drop a victim, you can make another attack immediately).
Experts get a 'second chance' on skill rolls (IE roll-under-attribute) rolls. If they get their level or less on a d10, they succeed. They get to make this d10 roll even when normal humans can't roll at all (climbing without handholds etc). They pick one area of expertise (like stealth or medicine or outdoorsmanship or whatever) and roll their second chance for that on a d6.
Survivors get a flat +5 hitpoints at first level. They add +5 to their saving throws to avoid bad stuff. They get to pick one area (like running away or spelunking or whatever) and have a second chance on skill rolls there like an expert.
Magicians cast spells. (Spells don't have levels). You start with two spells in your spellbook and memorize them vancianly: you can have as many spells as your level memorized simultaneously. There's a big d30 list of spells including a lot that are like 'protection from ...' or 'charm ...' that roll a bunch of different spells into one template, where the magician picks what it applies to when they pick the spell. Experimental magic like casting spells weirdly or copying from somebody else's spellbook has a chance to cause fuckups (from a big table).
Clerics know the following miracles: Cure Sickness, Cure Wounds, Detect Unholy, Sanctuary and Turn Away Unholy. (unholy is undead, and also demons, worshippers of evil powers etc) (sanctuary blesses a victim so that enemies must save in order to be able to attack them). To cast a miracle, the cleric must roll their level or less on a d6 (6s always fail). If they succeed, the miracle happens, if they fail there is instead a complication as divine forces pay attention to them and make demands.
Psychics get a minor supernatural power from a big d30 list. It always works. Stuff like creating/controlling shadows, being able to move things without touching them, having a mesmerizing gaze. Freeform improv what you can do with them, with some guidelines for the GM (numerical/mechanical effects scale off level. So a first level psychic using their power to attack does 1 damage, etc). Get double the effect by taking d4 damage and risking a magical fuckup, triple for taking 2d4 damage and a fuckup, etc.

Once you've picked your class, your starting gear is picked off a table comparing your best stat (the one that determines your class) vs your HP roll. Same as how ItO does it.
I'm thinking this table maybe also generates your starting spells/powers/chosen skill as well.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Shit games don't get about combat situations.

So, as you'd expect I've never been in an active warzone. The number of actual punchups I've been in is fairly low. I've got comparatively little experience with real violence.
On the other hand, I've been in a lot of simulated combat. I've been larping for, like, ten years, I've done airsoft and dabbled in reenactment. The biggest battle I've been involved in was roughly 800 on each side. Big enough that each side is divided into units with unit commanders, runners to take commands from the generals and return with situation reports, actual formations and manoeuvres.

Here are some observations on how combat tends to go down based on this live-action experience, how games tend to get it wrong, and maybe how to fix it.

ONE: Shields
Shields win fights. Going up against somebody with a big shield without one yourself is fucking difficult. Like, maybe 8 times in ten the shield-user wins.
Shield walls as a formation are rock hard in a direct fight. Stand shoulder to shoulder, shields up, weapons ready, and a frontal assault trying to take that on is going to have real problems. Unfortunately, shield walls, because of their tight formation, move slowly, get broken up by terrain like woods, and are hard to maneuver. Plus, they're super vulnerable if you can get in among them or round the back or whatever because the densely packed mass of fighters make it hard to respond once somebody's past the wall.
How to model this: make shields better. No, not '+2 AC rather than +1' better. Like a shield fundamentally changes how you fight. A shield user going full defensive against an enemy to their front is basically unhitable. In massed battles, make 'shield wall' a formation you can take that makes it hard to move but gives huge bonuses to defence.

TWO: Reach.
Spears are good because they can stab you before you can stab them. Likewise, this is why swords are better than knives. Keep an enemy with a smaller weapon at bay, and they're not gonna be able to hit you without getting hit by your weapon first.
Counterpoint to this: if you get inside the reach of a long weapon, now the short weapon has a huge advantage. Get past the tip of a spear so you're stood next to the shaft and the tip is behind you, and you're spear-wielding victim is fucked unless they drop the spear and draw a shorter weapon. Same goes for knife vs greatsword etc.
How do you prevent them getting inside your reach if you've got spears? Lots of buddies. Line up a couple of ranks of spear users, get them (again) densely packed together and you get basically a fence of spikes pointing at you, and however you try to get past, you get stabbed. Pike blocks are like shield walls, but stabbier.
Again, this can in theory be countered by going around the side or getting right in among them if  you're super reckless. Getting in among them is gonna be hard though, since behind the front row of spear-tips there's gonna be another row from the second rank, etc etc. Actually charging a pike block from the front is basically just voluntarilly kebabing yourself.
How to model this: Work out the range you're fighting at: the person who's weapon's range you're fighting at gets the first attack, and the other only gets to attack at all if they can get past it somehow.

THREE: Archers.
Everybody hates archers.
There are two ways you can use them. A unit of archers all in one go can shoot at one of the dense formations above, just pumping arrows into them, and the casualties will be spread about and break up the formations: this can give you the weak-spot you need to break past their defence IF you time a charge well enough.
Otherwise, you're taking potshots at vulnerable spots, picking people off when they're out of cover or a juicy target. Shooting officers if you can tell who they are is super easy. Same for medics etc.
Arrows have limited range for being able to take accurate shots in the heat of battle. A lot of experienced archers will wait until their victim gets closer to shoot: most combatants know this and keep their distance/get into cover if they see an archer taking aim at them. Having an arrow nocked and at half-draw while scanning for targets has - in the past - let me hold of five enemies when it was just me: broken terrain between us meant I could definately drop two of them before they reached me and nobody wanted to be first.
As such, a few archers can define a 'threat area' and keep enemies at bay (unless they're heavilly armoured, bonkers, etc).
You can nock an arrow, draw and take aim at a slow walking pace. Your accuracy suffers a little, but it's doable. This is useful for projecting your 'threat area'.
Keeping an arrow nocked and half-aimed zooms your focus in on the targets in front of you. The rest of your situational awareness suffers.
You cannot shoot if somebody's actually in melee range. You're dodging about or backing up or parrying, you just can't nock an arrow in that situation. Legolas isn't real, that shit isn't practical. Drop your bow and draw a melee weapon.

FOUR: Being in a shield wall.
So, there's a bunch of you. You can see in front of you. Your flanks are obscured by your comrades to either side. Hard to tell what's going on in the wider battle, mostly. If you're actually in a fight, then you've got maybe one or two enemies right in front of you that suck up all your focus. Maybe the ones to either side of them too if the press is less dense. You know how the fight with your enemies is going. You can see how your comrades to either side are doing and - if your direct opponents give you the chance - maybe intervene too. Weapon reach is a big factor here: if you've got a spear you're much better at supporting those to either side of you than if you had a sword just because you can reach further.
Outside of you, your mates to either side, the enemy in front of you, and his mates to either side, you have NO FUCKING CLUE how the rest of the line is doing while in the thick of combat. You better hope your formation is strong and disciplined enough to hold: if it breaks then your nice shield-wall or pike-block will get rolled up as the formation is disrupted.

FIVE: Line-on-line fighting.
Line-on-line fights don't last long. A couple of minutes max. The lines start out a little outside of reach. Maybe ten yards. Push forward, try to find openings, take casualties. Pull back again.
The side that's been fighting worse tends to get pushed back in the press. This is simple, really: if your being overpowered in your duel, you'll take a step or two back to protect yourself. If the guy next to you steps back, you take a step back too so you aren't stood out on your own like a wally (and thus vulnerable).So, the side that's doing worse will take surprisingly low casualties, but will lose ground in the press and generally pull back, ceding ground to the enemy. (Do this enough and the wider formation between units breaks up, letting you start doing real damage by getting behind enemy units once the unit next to it has been pushed right back).
Discipline and leaders are everything here. Morale is a huge, huge factor. After shields/spears, morale is the biggest factor. Fights are seriously won by somebody with a loud voice shouting "PUSH FORWARD ON THREE: ONE, TWO, THREE, PUSH! AGAIN! ONE, TWO, THREE, PUSH!" and the rest of the unit going with it. If it's done to you by serious, disciplined troops who don't break formation, it's terrifying.
DO NOT BREAK FORMATION. DO NOT BE A HERO. DO NOT GO OFF ON YOUR OWN. That shit will make you isolated, vulnerable and dead in quick succession.
How to represent this: fights don't pin you in place over multiple turns. You close, exchange blows, and then one side gets pushed back. They probably don't break ranks and flee, they're just ceding ground.

SIX: Armour
You can run in armour. You can be agile in it. I have climbed trees in chainmail.
The problem is that it's exhausting. You get tired way quicker. heavilly armoured fighters are way more exhausted at the end of the fight than lightly armoured ones.
How to represent this: different movement rates for different armour/encumbrance is dumb. Enforce more rests for more armour, and if they don't punish them severely. Every event I'm at, somebody is an idiot, doesn't hydrate properly in battle, and makes themself ill: don't be that person and punish your PCs if they try to ignore fatigue.

SEVEN: Skirmishers.
Skirmishers are great. An enemy with a big shield, heavy armour, whacking great pike, etc is weighed down by it in the long term. Light troops aren't.
Likewise, an open and flexible formation lets you maneuvre waaaay more easilly. This is good for doing things like hitting flanks, sneaking around the back, taking out behind-the-lines juicy targets (like medics, commanders, wizards, artillary, etc), exploiting weak spots.
Skirmishers dart in, hit something vulnerable, and fall back before the formation can bring itself to bear on them.

EIGHT: Trading blows.
A simple observation: its really easy to hit an enemy in a fight, it just means that they're probably going to hit you too. Trading blows like this is pretty doable and actually fairly realistic if both sides are in full heavy armour (think gothic plate, a full coat of chain, etc). Being able to get a hit in while denying your enemy the chance to hit back is key to winning fights.
Simple ways to do this: Superior reach (or getting inside their reach). Pushing aggressively with a shield. Chucking a javelin at them as you close.
The #1 best way to do this: have a buddy with you when they don't. They can't fend both of you off.

NINE: Firefights
I don't play fps games so maybe this is all obvious to you, I dunno.
COVER COVER COVER. Be in cover or somebody will shoot you. If somebody is in cover, shoot at their position and they can't leave it. Now, your mates can sneak round the flank while they likewise pin you down. Or they can sprint to a better position while you keep them pinned to prevent them picking of your mates as they make a mad dash for it.
You flush people out of cover by either going round the side or chucking a grenade over it.
If you're crazy, a bunch of you can charge straight at them firing from the hip on full auto. Surprisingly effective if you're OK taking massive casualties in order to get that one bastard who's stopping you advancing.
Camouflage is important, since it's harder to pick you off if they aren't sure exactly which bit of the cover the shots are coming from. Colours that match the environment are nice (neon colours get you killed), but more important is breaking up your silhuette. Ghillie suits and capes are great for this.

TEN: Discipline and formations.
I've said this a lot, but seriously. If you break formation, you will get picked off by archers and skirmishers. If your formation loses its coherency, it loses its protection and light, aggressive troops will take advantage of it.
HOWEVER. Forming a shield wall and parking yourself somewhere will get you killed as more maneuvrable troops go round the side. Or just ignore you and go for the vulnerable targets. You need to keep moving forwards (to keep the enemy pushed back) or failing that to be able to fall back to a better position without turning your back.
Ideally you want to keep pushing forward. Hit hard, push the enemy back, claim ground.
DO NOT form a circle. If you're back-to-back with your allies, you can't step back if you need to. You'll be surrounded, unable to retreat, and pressed so dense you can't fight properly. You will all die. All of you, to a man. Better to break formation, run for it, and reform somewhere safe.

ELEVEN: People on the floor.
Executing a fallen enemy is quick and easy and you can do it as your line pushes past them. Do it to avoid nasty surprises: if you don't you are an idiot and deserve it when your enemies get mysterious reinforcements from behind you.
You'd be surprised how often you can pick up stragglers, injured allies (or ones who've lost a weapon/shield but are still in the fight) to reinforce you if your enemy aren't doing this.

TWELVE: Big monsters, elites, vehicles etc.
Something big and scary is basically worthless if it's not supported. A war-rhino or chariot or whatever will be surrounded and dispatched really easy if the enemy knows what they're doing. So, put the secret weapon in your formation, guard its flanks. If you don't, it's isolated, and isolated combatants quickly become dead combatants.



Much of this is based on my experiences at the UK larp Empire, and it's preceeding systems Odyssey and Maelstrom. If you're in the UK, you should absolutely try the events, they're pretty brilliant. There isn't much that compares to being part of a huge medieval style pitched battle in terms of sheer visceral spectacle.