OSR: Medieval Stalemate Simulator (or Six-Dimensional Warfare)

Such extraordinary efforts of power and courage will always command the attention of posterity, but the events by which the fate of nations is not materially changed leave a faint impression on the page of history, and the patience of the reader would be exhausted by the repetition of the same hostilities, undertaken without cause, prosecuted without glory, and terminated without effect.
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XLVI, Edward Gibbon. Historians quote Gibbon like theater students quote Shakespeare; because it's fun

Medieval warfare, between the 4th and 16th centuries, in any part of the world from Spain to Syria, was not fun. War never is, but medieval wars are particularly tedious, bloody-minded, and repetitive. Most of the time, armies sat and waited for something to happen. They burned fields to deny their enemy food and to try and force a battle. They chased each other like sprint cyclists, waiting for the other army to make a wrong move. Actual pitched battles were rare. "Between 1071 and 1328 in Flanders, frequently invaded, there were only eleven battles of note."

While knights could execute astonishing feats of arms, feigned retreats, and coordinated charges, the neglect of peasant levies and mercenaries (who were sometimes ordered to remain in permanent reserve, in case the glory of the mounted charge was diminished) often spelled disaster. But even if an army utterly crushed its enemies, the real failure of medieval warfare, the cause of centuries of strife, was the inability to exploit a victor or set coherent and achievable goals. An army could win a great battle and, within a few years, nothing would have changed. From Persia to Flanders, the same stories play out over and over.

It seems like you could make that into a table.

Six Dimensional Weather idea is so good I've spent the last few days adapting it to all sorts of topics. I've never liked linked tables, but this thing is perfect. I've got hexes on the brain.
Minor War

Here's how it works. Pick two belligerents. There are a ton of tables out there for generating kingdoms, barons, sultans, warlords, etc. I'm not going to write another. You should pick a cause as well. All Wars need a cause.

Roll a d6 per week of the war. Start in the middle (the war always starts with stalemate). Move hex to hex, week by week. If you hit an edge, slide to the next adjacent hex if the side you hit is sloped, or stay in the same hex if it's horizontal or vertical.

The typical campaign season was between 6 and 12 weeks, depending on the size of the war, the cause of the conflict, the proximity of the two sides, and few other factors. Just pick a number. After your campaign weeks are up, the war stays in stalemate until the next campaign season or major event. Each year, restart from the central "Stalemate" hex.

You can say that the war ends at any point, particularly if the causes are no longer relevant, the initial leaders die, or there are a string of disasters. The war automatically ends for 1d10 (exploding on a 10) years if you land on the "Truce" hex. After those 1d10 years are up, once side or the other breaks the truce and the war starts all over again. During the truce, there's a 50% chance each year of a new war starting (against a different enemy).

Major War
Same deal for Major Wars. The campaign season for a major war is 8 to 12 weeks. The "Siege" hexes mean critical, complicated sieges of capital cities or fortresses. Sieges are pretty much constant. Any "Stalemate" hex could mean "there's at least one siege going on somewhere". These wars are designed to churn in the background of your game, helped by material from here.

Death of a Major Figure
Side 1 1 Leader
2 Spouse of Leader
3 Heir of Leader
4 Ally of Leader
5 Major Religious Figure
Side 2 6 Leader
7 Spouse of Leader
8 Heir of Leader
9 Ally of Leader
10 Major Religious Figure

Religious Strife
1 New Religion Arrives
2 Miracle
3 Long-Forgotten Heresy Revived
4 New Heresy Developed
5 Church Conclave
6 Someone Married a Pagan
7 Unwelcome Divorce
8 Influential Visionary, Hermit, or Scholar Appears
9 Leader of Side 1 Excommunicated
10 Leader of Side 2 Excommunicated

You can easily adapt this system for a gonzo game by replacing the "stalemate" hexes with "plague of tigers", "alien invasion", "time travel" or whatever else tickles your fancy. Just remember to think about proximity and chains of events when you're adding hexes.

Example Minor War: King Crimson II vs the Count of Nebers

Year 1
King Crimson (pronounced like "saison") wishes to reclaim his ancestral patrimony, the province of Louchanc, from the duplicitous Count of Nebers. The province changed hand centuries ago and has been fought over ever since. The King plans a six week campaign owing to the weather. He does not seek any major allies.

Week Roll Result
0 N/A Stalemate
1 2 Stalemate
2 1 Minor Victory
3 6 Religious Strife
4 6 Slide to Minor Defeat
5 4 Stalemate
6 3 Stalemate

The first week of the war holds no surprises, but the Crimson forces push across the river Tholp and take the town of Unterammarbau. This minor victory sours immediately. Under pressure from the Duke of Nebers, who is also his uncle, the Archpriest excommunicates King Crimson. While the King writes conciliatory letters to the pontiff, his forces, demoralized and burdened by plunder, are pushed back across the river. When the season ends, both sides are back where they started, except poorer, wearier, and with fewer soldiers.

It's just coincidence that we ended up back in the middle hex. You can end the season anywhere, but you always restart from the centre next year.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. (Ignore that deleted post, it's me failing at understanding how comments work)

      I just made a batch of background wars that could mesh really well with this. I'll have to fiddle with it all, post-haste.

    2. Excellent! This system is also handy for filling in the gaps between big wars, or answering the persistent "what were these guys up to for 10 years?" questions.

  2. Most excellent system and easy to adapt to another "war" like a gang war between two crime families in a metropolis of mine. It starts in a stalemate and after 9 days it ends in a stalemate. Who had guessed it?

  3. This will come handy to my actual campaing, with a civil war going in the background.

    ¿how would you deal on wars with 3 or more sides? Im thinking of separate wars with each of the factions, but it seems like extra bookeeping