A Ramble on Rules and Deathzap

I took the opportunity this morning after waking up rather early to play the next game in my Deathzap campaign on Oltra the moon of the planet Kannis. Since the game didn’t include the Legion of Kharthion I figured it would be a good opportunity to iron out and tweak parts of the rules that I wasn’t getting on with instead of thinking up a story.

The League of Zandor was assaulting a Su Khan position, on the hunt for some experimental ammunition the League could later use against the Synthos. The only real issue I’ve had with the rules as they currently stood was the distinct lack of crunch. Crunch is a difficult thing to describe. Certain rule sets work, the previous versions of Deathzap I’ve used have always worked, but were lacking a sense that they were reflecting something real. If you were to write a WW2 rule set for example you might draw up a table of the effective ranges of certain weapons, compare the penetrive qualities of those weapons against certain kinds of cover or armour and armour at different angles of fire, and generate a massive table that involved the use of a D100 and a scientific calculator. On the other hand for the purposes of gameplay, helping new players learn the rule set and being able to get through a game in a relatively short amount of time you need to simplify things somewhat. Say an elite soldier when shooting hits on a 3 or higher on a D6 and gets a better saving throw. You’ll get a faster and probably similar result at the end of the day when playing a game like that, but you might lack that sense of crunch. It’s all about balancing the two.

My obsession is with fire and movement tactics and I firmly believe that all 20th century and onwards infantry based rulesets should be too. Warhammer 40k for its massive popularity is lacking in this regard, and I have to argue is not a representation of how combat would play out in the universe Games Workshop describes. Maybe not all forces would act like 20th-21st century soldiers in the 41st millenium, power armour probably has a huge impact on how often you find yourself needing to take cover since infantry units can be like walking tanks, however certain forces would undeniably use near identical tactics to those we are familiar with today the Astra Militarum or Imperial Guard is one such force.

So where does all that leave Deathzap? It needs to be a crunchy representation of fire and movement while also maintaining playability and simplicty, oh and being fun to play solo to boot!

I opted to combine the current Deathzap rules with a set I’ve used in the past I dubbed the Simple Toy Soldier Game. Here are the Simple Toy Soldier rules taken from a previous post of mine:


The following are rules for playing quick skirmish games with 4-8 figures per side, armed with modern weaponry, and one figure armed with a light machine gun. The table or gaming area should be packed with terrain!

Players roll off to determine who has the first activation during a turn. During a players activation they can activate one figure. When a figure activates roll a die, this is the number of action points (AP) the figure gets.

For 1AP the figure can move 1 inch, or 2 inches if it doesn’t spend any AP on shooting this activation.

The figure can also fire at an enemy figure, for 1AP the figure can put 1 fire marker on a target figure in the open, for 2AP the figure can put a fire marker on a figure in soft cover, and for 3AP the figure can put a fire marker on a figure in hard cover. Light machine guns firing at infantry count their cover as one less, with a figure in the open taking two fire markers per 1AP spent. Or you can consult the table below, which shows how many AP you need to spend to put a fire marker on an enemy figure:

Target’s Cover Type
In the Open Soft Cover Hard Cover
Small Arms 1AP 2AP 3AP
Machine Guns 1AP (For 2FM) 1AP 2AP

If a figure moves into melee combat with another it immediately fights it in melee. Roll a die for each figure, adding one to the figure that initiated the combat. The figure that scores highest kills their opponent, and in the case of a draw both are killed. If the figure currently activating survives the combat any remaining AP it had are spent and its activation ends.

A figure can also cancel 1 fire marker on themselves for 1AP. Each fire marker not cancelled when the figure has spent all of its AP results in the figure having to make a saving throw, on a 4+ the figure carries on as normal, on a 1-3 the figure is killed and removed from play.

A figure can also pass, meaning spend all of its remaining AP without doing anything. You cannot retain any AP, it must all be spent before moving on.

Once a figure has been activated mark it with a counter. That figure cannot be activated until the next turn.

Once all figures have been activated the game turn is over. Remove all activation tokens from all the figures, but leave any fire markers, and roll off to see who has the first activation in the next turn. If the sides in a game are uneven, and one player has run out of figures to activate the other player is allowed to activate all of their remaining figures consecutively, until all figures in play have been activated once each.

If a side takes casualties during a turn at the end of that turn roll a die and multiply the result by the number of figures on that side still alive, then roll another die and multiply the result by the number of figures killed during the turn. If the result for killed figures exceeds the result for remaining figures that side routs and the game ends.

I find the easiest method of keeping track of fire markers on a figure is by using a die that is a different colour from the one you normally roll. I also use glass beads to show if a figure has been activated or not in the turn.

Shoving the rules above into Deathzap created a fairly interesting game. Since the firing rules are far more extensive in Deathzap and I wanted them to remain that way I had some work to do. Units are activated alternately now and based on their skill level roll a different die for that activation: Elite units roll a D10, Regulars a D8 and Basic units a D6. Pips on the activation die are then spent either moving or shooting. The unit can move 1″ per pip spent on movement, and when they come to shoot you pick up their dice and must first roll equal to or under the number of pips you’ve spent on shooting. Firing works basically the same from then on, however instead of inflicting casualties as you used to in Deathzap you inflict fire markers as in the Simple Toy Soldier Game. These fire markers then need to be removed by spending pips on the units next activation die or they’ll take a casualty for each one not removed. For example:

The Su Khan unit above had taken 4 fire markers from enemy fire. When it came for their turn to activate a D6 was rolled for them, since they were only basic troops. Unfortunatley a 1 was rolled killing three in the unit, and spending all of their activation pips immediately. In real terms, enemy fire poured into their position, three men were killed, and in the ensuing panic the unit failed to return any effective fire, choosing instead to keep their heads  very much down. All of that easily and quickly represented with those few simple rules.

The unit later broke as you can see below. The current morale rules still stand.

There’s a little tweaking to do in regards to melee combat. I didn’t use the simple rules from above in the Simple Toy Soldier Game since I wanted suppression to affect it, so melee played out basically the same as shooting. However this lead into a rather drawn out affair where two units of League troops fought the elite Su Khan unit for the majority of the game.

I’ll report back and post up the new rules once I’ve got something that will make sense.

Incidentally the League of Zandor won!

deathzap campaign oltra 4

2 thoughts on “A Ramble on Rules and Deathzap

  1. As weapons become more lethal, the maxim seems to be that if you are under effective fire, movement becomes difficult to impossible. Perversely though, it seems that as weapon lethality increases, casualties from small arms decrease. Even plucking one fairly old study out convinces one that it is neither straightforward or simple. Warhamster needs its body armour and zappy weapons to tell a story that is essentially straight from the swashbuckling 17th and 18th centuries. Pass me my chainsword please!

    “Bullets kill people more effectively, but fragment wounds predominate on modern battlefields”
    RONALD F. BELLAMY, M.D., and RUSS ZAJTCHUK, M.D. (n.k.) Assessing the Effectiveness of Conventional Weapons [Accessed 1/6/20] at: https://ke.army.mil/bordeninstitute/published_volumes/conventional_warfare/ch02.pdf

    Regards, Chris.

    Don’t let reality intrude too much into a Ripping Yarn, and keep the posts coming 🙂

  2. Thanks for that study. Will make some interesting reading. No worries, I’ll never let the rules get in the way of the fun and the story. My latest draft of the rules are actually much shorter than they were before.

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