March 4, 2024

Gunner, load AP! Target…errata and narrative rules complexity in War Stories: A World War 2 RPG

RockyMountainNavy, 8 January 2024

In memory of David Drake, I was reviewing the vehicle combat rules in Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition (Mongoose Publishing, 2008) and the supplement Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose Publishing, 2009). I then decided, for reasons, to look at how tank-on-tank combat is handled in War Stories: A World War 2 RPG designed by G.I. Garcia and published by Firelock Games (2022). What I expected to be a quick, simple study turned into unexpected errata and a surprising discovery of rules complexity highlighting the value of a strong editor in a game.

The War Stories story

War Stories is a roleplaying game set in World War II. Designed by G. I. Garcia it was published by Firelock Games in 2022. War Stories is built using the Year Zero Engine from Free League Publishing. This particular iteration of the Year Zero Engine leverages the Dice Pool design fork of the system using pools of d6s. A second system design fork using step dice (polyhedral dice) is used in another Year Zero Engine “war” roleplaying game, Twilight: 2000 4th Edition released by Free League Publishing in 2019.

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Courtesy Firelock Games

click images to enlarge

Consult the field manual

For this example, we are going to explore how an Allied M4A4 Sherman Firefly (see Chapter 7: Vehicles, Allied Tanks table, 120) shoots at a German Panther (Axis Tanks table, 121) in War Stories. While most of the vehicle data is available in the referenced tables, importantly the firing data for the main gun in each tank is found in Chapter 8: Weapons & Gear in the table “Heavy Tank Guns and Larger Munitions (Tech)” on page 151. Cross-referencing the vehicle data entry on page 121 to the gun table on page 151, we see that a Sherman Firefly carries a Class II gun with a range of 200m, a Blast/Damage factor of 25m/+4, and features the Qualities “Blast, Tech, AP5, Extended Range.” Those qualities are important especially “Tech” which specifies these weapons are fired using the Tech skill and “AP5” which is defined in “Qualities-Armor Penetration (AP)” on page 137 at the start of Chapter 8.

We are going to assume our War Stories tank gunner was created using “The Weapon Specialist” archetype found on page 25 with an Intelligence Attribute of 4, a Tech Skill of 1, and possessing the Specialization “Big Guns I” which grants a +1 die when firing tank guns (73).

Corporal Griffin—called Griff by most everyone—is the gunner for ‘Tilly’s Tavern,’ an M4A4 Sherman Firefly tank. Griff’s eyes go wide as he sees a German Panther tank appear out of the morning midst crossing no more than 300 meters in front of him…

To shoot at an enemy one uses the rules for Ranged Attack found on page 86 of War Stories. Note that while a normal ranged attack uses the Attribute+Skill combination of Agility+Ranged Combat, shooting a tank main gun—a weapon that has the Quality “Tech” in the table from page 151—is a Heavy Weapons test that uses Intelligence+Tech (86). As in a normal turn, Corporal Griffin can take a Slow and Fast Action (81). Griff will use the Fast Action to Aim and the Slow Action to Operate (i.e. make a Heavy Weapons Test).

As Griff adjusted his aim, he heard the gunner loading a round and the breech block slam shut. That was fast! The reticle settled on the side of the Panther as Griff slowly exhaled, paused, and pulled the trigger…

In basic vehicle combat, tank main guns can fire every other turn (126). However, if one uses the optional Advanced Vehicle Combat Rules for Ammo Loader, the loader must make a Heavy Weapons test to load the gun (131). The Sherman Firefly has a +1 die modifier for loading (121). For the purposes of this example the test is ruled successful—the main gun is loaded and ready to fire.

Griff’s Heavy Weapons test is Attribute (Intelligence 4) + Skill (Operate 1) for 5 die to start the dice pool (86). He gets +1 die for aiming and a +1 die for the Big Guns specialization (86, 73). The Panther at 300 meters is at Medium range which is -1 die but the size of the Panther awards +3 die (86, 122). Griff’s player rolls 9d6 getting 1, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 3, and 1—success! The player decides to use the two extra successes to provide a +2 Adjustment to the Damage Die roll (87). The Damage Die is rolled for a 5 (Critical Hit as a 3 or greater is rolled) to which a +2 is added from the extra successes for a damage total of 7 (87). The Vehicle hit location is rolled using the “Vehicle Hit Locations” table on page 126 with a d10 roll of 5 indicating “Main Body.”

At this point in a normal ranged combat attack there is a saving roll made for armor protection (94). Vehicle combat, however, operates a bit differently. Instead of an immediate Armor Save roll the armor penetration or AP Factor of the main gun is compared to the Armor of the target. Per the rule “Heavy Armor” on page 127, “To penetrate the heavy armor of an tank (or other installation such as a casemate) the weapon making the attack must have an AP rating equal to or greater than the Armor Rating of the target. If it is less the weapon simply cannot penetrate the target’s armor.”

According to the “Heavy Tank Guns and Larger Munitions (Tech)” table on pager 151 of Chapter 8: Weapons and Gear, a Class II gun has the Quality “AP5.” The flank (side) armor of a Panther tanks is 6 in the Axis Tanks table on page 121 of Chapter 7: Vehicles. Given the armor of the Panther, the shot clangs off harmlessly.

Griff flinched as the gun fired but he was able to clearly see the round ricochet harmlessly off the Panther’s turret. “Again!” he yells…

No can do

Looking across the stats for the Panther’s armor, it was at this point I realized that the only way for a Sherman Firefly to get a penetrating hit on a Panther was to shoot against the rear. Indeed, looking across all the Axis tanks, most were proof against a Sherman Firefly. Actually, most were proof against any Allied tank. Digging deeper into the rules the only way I found to improve armor penetration for the Allies appears to be to use British Armor Piercing Sabot ammo found on page 128 of Chapter 7: Vehicles and repeated again on page 151 in Chapter 8: Weapons & Gear of the rule book which awards a +1 AP.

[Wait a minute…why list this twice? Once in the Vehicle chapter and again in the Equipment chapter. Hmm., I wonder…]

Twice the rules errata

Like the dual listing of ammunition, in War Stories the factors for the main guns also appear in two places; first on Chapter 7: Vehicles on page 122 in the table “Main Guns” and a second time in Chapter 8: Weapons & Gear on page 151 in the previously referenced “Heavy Tank Guns and Larger Munitions (Tech)” table. The most immediate problem is not that the tables are duplicated; the problem is the two tables are not the same.

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Chapter 7: Vehicles, “Main Guns,” 122. Note AP factor and few Qualities. (photo by RMN) 

 

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Chapter 8: Equipment & Gear, “Heavy Tank Guns and Larger Munitions (Tech),” 137. Note several Qualities and AP factor. (photo by RMN)

 

The most obvious difference is the inclusion of the Flame Projector on the Main Guns table and the greater AP factors. The Main Guns table also lists fewer Qualities for each weapon. Importantly, the “Main Guns” table gives a Class II main gun a Quality of AP8 as compared to AP5 we found at first. Let’s see what difference that can make…

Take two

As Griff adjusted his aim, he heard the gunner loading a round and the breech block slam shut. That was fast! The reticle settled on the side of the Panther as Griff slowly exhaled, paused, and pulled the trigger…

As before, Griff’s Heavy Weapons test is Attribute (Intelligence 4) + Skill (Operate 1) for 5 die to start the dice pool. He gets a +1 die for aiming and a +1 die for the Big Guns specialization. The Panther at 300 meters is at Medium range which is -1 die but the size of the Panther awards +3 die. Griff’s player rolls 9 die getting 1, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 3, and 1—success! The player decides to use the two extra successes to provide a +2 Adjustment to the Damage Die roll. The Damage Die is rolled for a 5 (Critical Hit as a 3 or greater is rolled) to which a +2 is added from the extra successes for a damage total of 7. The Vehicle hit location is rolled using the “Vehicle Hit Locations” table on page 126 with a roll of 5 indicating “Main Body.”

At this point, the Firefly Class II main gun with AP8 in War Stories is compared to the Armor (Side) factor of the Panther which is 6. Note also the rule for “Range and Anti-Tank AP Ratings” on page 127 that states that AP drops off for longer range shots—at Medium range the AP is minus 1 meaning the net AP Factor is now 7. The entry for “Qualities – AP (Armor Penetrating)” on page 137 of Chapter 8: Weapons and Gear states that when comparing AP to Armor, “If the weapon’s AP value is equal to or greater, however, it may affect the target. The target’s save is negatively modified by the extent to which the AP exceeds the Armor/Cover value.”

Protection Saves take us back to the rules for combat on page 95 of War Stories. For the Panther, the side Armor rating of 6 gives it 6x Armor (Protection) die. This is reduced by one die due to the AP overmatch, leaving the Panther rolling 5 die. A roll of 3, 5, 6, 3, and 2 means one Damage point is blocked.

Per the Vehicle Damage rules for War Stories on page 128, damage is applied against the Chassis. The Panther starts with 8 chassis points; the now-six hits reduces it to two chassis points remaining. The hit, however, was a Critical Hit meaning a roll on the “Main Body Critical Hits” table in page 129 is made. A d10 roll of 6 reveals “Fire!” which means a smoldering fire has started in the tank with negative consequences. Most directly, per the rules for Bailing Out found on page 130, the Panther crew will have to make a Guts test to determine if they stay with the tank or bail out (with a -1 die due to the fire).

Advanced War Squad Stories Leader

Setting aside the obvious errata needed to correct the two different main gun tables, I was most surprised by the complexity of actions needed to resolve what should be a simple tank gun firing. To determine the results of a single tank firing required referencing many steps and and called upon rules strewn throughout the core rule book:

  1. Actions You Can Take (81).
  2. (Optional) Ammo Loader tests (131).
  3. Ranged Attacks test (86)
    • Ranged Attack Modifiers (86).
    • Multiple Successes (87).
  4. Damage Roll using the Damage to Vehicles rule (126).
  5. If Critical Hit then the Vehicle Hit Locations table (126).
  6. Determination of firing AP factor:
    • AP Factor taken from “Main Guns” table (122).
    • Main Gun Qualities from “Heavy Tank Guns and Larger Munitions (Tech) table (151)
  7. Panther Armor rating (121).
  8. Heavy Armor rule for comparison of AP factor and Armor (127).
  9. Ranged AP Factor drop off (127).
  10. Protection Save (95)
    • The rules saves from for penetrating AP hits are found on page 127 or 137 (take your choice).
  11. Vehicle Damage is applied using the Vehicle Damage rule (128).
    • Vehicle Critical Hit tables are on pages 128-130.
  12. Bailing Out determination (130).

I don’t have the GM screen for War Stories but I somehow doubt all those tables are on there. I will also tell you that figuring out all the rules and interactions took time—several hours in fact.

As a Grognard, I have many years experience sitting down with a game and digging deep into the rules to discern the core game system. I also (unfortunately) expect errata. If I like a game I will still dig in regardless of how much errata I discover like I did for my errata deep dive into the Cold War wargame Blackhorse from Tiny Battle Publishing. With War Stories I am not surprised to find that in a core rule book of over 250 pages some tables were not cross-checked properly. What actually surprised me is not the errata but the sheer complexity of the rules for a seemingly simple action like firing a tank main gun. I wasn’t expecting something like Advanced Squad Leader in War Stories with many rules cross-referenced here and there.

Narrative rules

The counter-narrative I will almost certainly hear is that War Stories is supposed to be a narrative roleplaying game and not a wargame and I am reading too much into the rules. War Stories itself sets that expectation at the very beginning of the core rule book where it uses the word “narrative:”

“War Stories is a roleplaying game set during the tumultuous period of World War II. This book provides all the background, rules, and scenario ideas needed to create tales describing the harrowing exploits and extraordinary adventures of those who participated in the struggles of the war. While much of this book’s focus is centered during the late years in Western Europe, it can be used to run narratives in virtually any theater or during any period of the war.” (“War Stories: A Historical RPG of the Second World War,” 9)

The vehicle combat rules in War Stories are a good example of how procedural rules can easily become complex when written out narratively. This in turn highlights the need for a strong editor. The procedure for firing a tank main gun generally follows the core game system rules for Ranged Attacks but the exceptions require extensive cross-referencing of rules in Chapter 7: Vehicles and Chapter 8: Weapons & Gear. In this case, the dual references found in these chapters, like the Heavy Weapons rule on page 127 which is nearly the content as the “Qualities- Armor Penetrating (AP)” entry on page 137, make for confusion since both are similarly but not identically written—an indicator that both chapters were likely written by two different people (or at two widely divergent times) and not rectified by the editor. The result is (at least) twice the rules, twice the chance of misinterpreting those rules, and twice the errata to clarify. Oh yeah, what about production costs?

Not only did my drill-down into the rules for main guns reveal errata, it also makes me question some of the editorial decisions in the core rule book of War Stories. For instance, why does the chapter on vehicles come before the chapter for weapons & gear? If the setting and rules are more focused on individual soldiers why put vehicles in front of a soldier’s kit? It is a small design decision but it almost makes the entire vehicle chapter feel like it was dropped in after major development of the core rules was complete. Given the original setting and campaign focus on the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne fewer vehicles are expected and when they do appear, like in the introductory adventure “The Tank” [spoiler alert], the vehicle is more a plot movement device than a weapon.

No grumpy Grognard

Maybe I should become more of a grumpy Grognard or a bitchin’ BGG user and post whines in forums or Discords about how poorly rules are written. Or, instead, I can try to keep my sanity and instead embrace exploring rules systems and discovering what is good about them even when problems are discovered along the way. I’m going to try the later but I fully understand that I may find challenges in unexpected places like I did in War Stories when simply trying to fire a tank gun.

 


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One thought on “Gunner, load AP! Target…errata and narrative rules complexity in War Stories: A World War 2 RPG

  1. Despite the poor arrangement and errors the complexity is inherent as each rile in the tank could be a player. They all want something to do. It’s not ASL. It’s 3 guys or 4 guys in a tank.
    As for the bitching part I think most folks would be seeking clarity not bitching, of course they could invest quality game time to line item out every unorganized element.

    I find RPG books tediously frustrating and long winded in general. I’m playing War Stories right now. And just wrapped up T2K play.
    I summarize all the key bits. And lean on gm chart. But it’s slow going and I’d probably get better solo narrative out of Combat!

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