Brant Guillory, 24 April 2023
Nations & Cannons has been around a few years as a standalone RPG available through the Indie Press Revolution folks at game conventions, among other places. We’d even spotted it in the wild at Origins. And now they’ve got a new Kickstarter campaign to bring the game fully into the 5e ecosphere with those underlying rules in the AWI setting.
So when we had a chance to catch up with Pat Mooney of Flagbearer Games, the guy in charge of Nations & Cannons, we jumped on it!
For the audience members who are new to Nations & Cannons, what’s the thumbnail version of the setting and the original rules?
Nations & Cannons is an adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons 5e for historical adventures set in the Age of Revolutions! Our current books focus on the Revolutionary War, but the rules can be used to play in any conflict during the long 18th century.
How does one build a compelling game setting out of a historical era where the outcome of the major conflict is already known? How much leeway do the players have to really impact the broader conflict as it unfolds?
Players take on the role of an irregular half-platoon of partisans, rangers, and spies. The scale of Nations & Cannons focuses on the petite guerre, and the adventure campaign in The American Crisis: War in the North follows (slightly dramatized!) espionage and light infantry actions from the Siege of Boston to Valley Forge.
The game is designed for heroic, behind-enemy-lines missions that might tip the scales of a larger battle.
The game is designed for heroic, behind-enemy-lines missions that might tip the scales of a larger battle. We’re playing in the margins of history, so while the general thrust of the war might remain unchanged, your successes contribute to the overall war effort and can achieve small, personal objectives. We have a number of premade characters which each have “key moments” throughout the campaign.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop the GM from verging into alternate history scenarios! We have built in a few small pivot points as optional objectives. So when the party sneaks into occupied New York City, maybe they manage to exfiltrate with Nathan Hale. Or maybe this time around, David Bushnell might succeed in using The Turtle submarine to bomb a Royal Navy ship in the harbor.
Tell us about something that changed significantly in during the development & playtesting of Nations & Cannons. What was it that you’d originally envisioned that had to be changed once you started playing actual games?
Our artillery rules must have gone through a dozen iterations! It’s important that cannons and mortars make an attack roll that can result in a misfire, but also that players in the area of effect (a line for round shot, cone for grapeshot, radius for a howitzer shell, etc.) can make a saving throw to avoid the blast. We came up with a “target point” system to reconcile sighting and aiming a field piece, which is actually an Intelligence check, as artillery manuals from the time used advanced mathematics to help determine trajectory and angle of fire.
Each artillery piece is served by a crew, which take cooperative crew actions in unison. Killing or incapacitating the crew will progressively lower the piece’s effectiveness and increase its misfire score. And of course, the number one thing players like to do after storming an artillery position is to turn a cannon back on its own lines!
Obviously a wargaming crowd like ours is going to be interested in the battlefield action. Talk to us about how the combat unfolds in Nations & Cannons, how it scales up from skirmish level (even if not well!) and the types of action players should expect when they sit at the table.
While Nations & Cannons is not a wargame, it shares a lot of the same DNA. It was very important to us that our enemies were not “bullet sponges,” given how devastating a .70 caliber musket ball could be! In order to challenge players, encounters are generally asymmetric skirmishes with players battling significantly larger groups of British Regulars. The idea is to capture the heroic fantasy of folk heroes like Daniel Boone, Nancy Hart, or Peter Francisco ambushing a patrol of Redcoats in the forest.
Many enemy types have triggered abilities, which allow these asymmetric battles to operate smoothly even with dozens of enemies on the field. I’ve already talked about artillery crews, but groups of British footmen can execute a volley fire when a Sergeant gives the order. If a Field Officer is nearby, they can steady the line and further improve the effectiveness of a volley. Cavalry units and infantry equipped with bayonets can charge en masse on the same initiative order, allowing the Gamemaster to bring considerable pain to bear on a player who’s caught out of position. Damage values are high all around, and movement, cover, and choosing when to reload become important tactical considerations.
OK, let’s get to the elephant in the room – 5th edition D&D rules? Seriously?! Explain yourself!
This project started with the mash up of “Alexander Hamilton definitely knew Vicious Mockery” and “muzzle-loading firearms slot neatly into 5e’s action economy.”
Most importantly, we do a lot of educational work with schools and museums, and since D&D is so widely played, it’s helpful to work from an existing baseline instead of requiring games-curious teachers to learn a whole new system. We’ve put a lot of work into making Nations & Cannons a compelling twist on 5e for the general public, but we’ve also embedded a lot of civics and historical detail that’s going to be valuable for K12 Social Studies programs.
We wanted to build a campaign setting that is set against the backdrop of history, but is still a heroic representation of the past. Where players are a cut above your average line soldier, and can create extraordinary effects (replacing spellcasting with “gambits,” feats of gumption and trickery) with careful planning—basically using black powder and courtly intrigue to fill in the mechanical gaps when you pull magic out of D&D.
The basic combat premise is that a flintlock firearm deals roughly 2x a standard melee attack, but requires an action to reload. Over the course of two turns, the damage balances out. So both playstyles are equally valid (and you definitely want to carry a sidearm if your musket jams).
Don’t forget, there are bonus questions this week from all of our interviews that we set aside for our Patreon supporters – just one of the perks of joining our Patreon!
If you’re looking for more info, make sure you check out
- The current Kickstarter campaign
- Discord Link for the N&C community
- Educator Program for those looking to use the campaign in schools
- Pat joins us on Mentioned in Dispatches
And look, if David Thompson brings home your game in his GenCon loot, you’re doing something right!
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In the days of the Revolution so bold,
Heroes did brave things we are told,
There was one who was spry,
And he caught a spy,
With a wit so sharp and so cold.
He snatched the spy from his horse,
And held him with all his force,
He then gave him a whack,
And sent him right back,
To his friends with a message of remorse.
So here’s to the hero so true,
Who knew just what he had to do,
He foiled the spy’s plan,
With a firm, steady hand,
And he did it all with a laugh and a “woo-hoo!”