This is a public participation game that I designed some years ago, and have played through many times now. It is the game of the most famous part of the myths of Troy: the men coming out of the wooden horse and bringing about the doom of the City of Ilium.* Ideally you will have two referees to speed up play and make everything seem more pacey and involving, though one is adequate. With one referee and four players I played through a game in an hour and a half, and I know that the game has gone faster than this. When played slowly with friends and a few drinks, it lasted over half of an evening's gaming session. Part of the beauty of it is that the referees can control the length of the game and cut it satisfyingly short.
I don't expect anyone to stage this game exactly as I did, but I hope that what you see below might serve as a model to inspire other games.
Table set up at Durham Wargames Show. Down one side of the table you can see six character cards and the figures for those characters, inviting future passers-by to pick them up and have a go.
There are twelve heroes in the horse** (four major, four minor, four middling), and the game can be played by any number of players up to twelve, though four and six are recommended. If there are four players, each controls three heroes; if there are six players, each controls two. Twelve is a convenient number and you should be able to accommodate an awkward number of players, by some means or another. Here are some suggested fairly equitable ways of dividing up the heroes:
- Three players: (A) two majors, two minors, (B and C) one major hero, two heroes, and one minor hero.
- Four players: one major hero, one hero, and one minor hero each.
- Five players: (A and B) one hero, two minor heroes, (C and D) one major hero, one hero, (E) two major heroes. Give C and D the first two men out of the horse.
- Six players: (A, B, C, D) one major hero, one minor hero, (D and E) two heroes.
N.B. The player who plays Diomedes should not also play Sthenelus, and the player who plays Neoptolemus should play neither Odysseus nor Menelaus. This is to do with their individual character missions.
For other numbers of players, you will have to improvise. Since it is a fun participation game, people shouldn't mind too much if their heroes aren't quite as mighty as other players'. If more players want to join in after a game starts, you could invite players to hand over control of a hero or two accordingly.
I wrote out the individual stats on file cards, each card having the stats and notes for one hero character, and a picture of the figure representing that character. This proved very useful and effective. You of course may be using your own rules, but the cards as I had them appear at the bottom of this page. You might provide your own statistics, but keep the same notes.
The table represents the outer wall of Troy, with the Skaean gate in the middle of it, and from this, a street running to the megaron (palace). There is plenty of space around all the table edge for rolling dice, putting down character cards, leaning elbows down and all the other things that people in participation games like to do. You don't want anything near the edge where it might get knocked off.
You will need a fair few model buildings to stage the game. I used a large megaron, with a big porch in front, three doors leading to a central room, and another door leading to the back room. Fourteen houses lined the street, and next to the gate I placed a fortified tower. The tower overhangs the gate, and can be entered from the battlements on the walls, or from ground level through a door. A flight of steps also leads up to the battlements from the ground outside.
I placed a scattering of sleeping blind-drunk Trojans (casualty figures with no blood on them) and items in the streets and on the roof-tops. These included ovens, baskets, urns, pots, querns, bundles of firewood, shields, spears etc. These are decorative, but can also be used as players see fit (most likely for throwing and dropping off rooftops).
There are a few trees, mainly for decoration. One large oak tree near the Skaean gate is mentioned by Homer several times, and so was honoured by a model.
Also decorative are several rollers (made from cocktail sticks with the points chopped off) that were used to move the horse into the city, and a few parked horseless chariots near the gate and on the way from the horse to the megaron. These, though, can be made very useful if the players are clever enough to think of uses by themselves. The chariots are light and easy to wheel by hand, and can be used to make a barricade, and to cover a man's movements from arrows. Heroes by the gate might open the gate, and then make a barricade of chariots while they try to hold the gate. Other heroes might shield themselves from arrows while approaching the megaron using chariots. The rollers make perfect battering rams for bashing open the megaron doors. Don't give the players hints about these possible uses.
Some animals (pure white oxen, and pack camels) are tempting booty.
Brief for the players
There is no need for the players to read this. You can just tell them.
The war has been waged for ten years now. Each side has lost its greatest heroes. The Trojan Hector is dead, and so too is the Achaean Achilles. Ajax has gone mad and killed himself. Paris has been killed and then mutilated by Menelaus. Helen has been made to marry his brother Deiphobus. Now after all this, the Greeks have apparently given up and sailed away.
But wily Odysseus has concocted a plan. He and eleven other Achaean heroes have hidden in a giant wooden horse. This, thanks to a dedication to Athena written on it, and the duplicitous acts of Odysseus's cousin Sinon, has been hauled into the city on rollers. Cassandra, cursed by Apollo with the gift of seeing the future, has seen that the horse is full of warriors, and said so, but has not been believed. The Achaean fleet has departed, but only as far as the isle of Tenedos where it hid. The heroes in the horse have been listening for most of the night to the Trojans celebrating the end of the war. All around the horse there has been drunken revelry. Now, Ilium sleeps and all seems quiet.
Sinon is waiting outside the city and watching the gate. If he sees the gate opened, he will signal to the fleet which has slipped back quietly under cover of darkness, and Agamemnon will lead the Achaean army in through the gate to take control of the city.
The winner of the game will be the player who scores the most points. Points can be scored in various ways, some of which are secret. You get points for killing Trojans, capturing women, looting and claiming booty, and fulfilling personal goals mentioned on your character cards. Be careful not to offend the gods.
If you want to try anything like sneaking about quietly, changing weapon, talking to another character, dodging, evading, breaking off combat, or picking up an object, just tell the referee.
Diomedes and Anticlus have just thrown the huge bolt of the Skaean gate. Troy now seems doomed.
The game starts with the first two Achaeans climbing down from the horse. Do not tell the players what order to appear in. It is better to get them involved by granting the first man on the rope to the player who speaks up first, and to stick to this policy. Two can climb down per turn. After the players' turn, it is the Trojan turn, and the referee moves the figures as he thinks appropriate. At the start of the game, the city has not been alarmed and the Trojans think that they are safe, so the referee should not make figures attack unless the actions of the players prompt this.
Each turn the sequence is:
- Trojan Deployment
- Achaean turn
- Trojan turn
1. Trojan deployment: roll 1d6-1d4 (or 1d8-3 if you prefer). The result is a number between 0 and 5 (ignore minus numbers) and is the number of Trojans who deploy. For example, you might roll 5 on the d6 and 2 on the d4 for a total of 3. Look at the deployment chart, and cross off the top three Trojans that have not yet been deployed. Work your way down the chart from the top. I have tried other methods for determining Trojan deployment, and this I found to be the quickest. The chart has columns on it, each representing one building numbered on the map (1-16). The first three Trojans are "J" in building 8, "W" in building 5, and "J" in building 11. Cross these off (so that you don't accidentally deploy them twice) and place down the figures as if they had just wandered out of those buildings.
2. Achaean turn. The players then each have their turn, and get to react to the Trojan deployment. Don't feel the need to have them take their turns in the same order every time. Such formality can lead to a certain detachment. Better is to get them involved by surprising them with questions like "What is Diomedes doing?" and if a player grabs your attention and tells you what he wants to do, then reward this by seeing to him immediately. The more players are rewarded for getting involved, the more they will get involved, and the faster the game will go.
3. Trojan turn. Your place as referee is not to kill the players off, but to give them a good game. If the players give a Trojan little reason to suspect anything, then do not play the Trojan as suspicious. The Trojans think that they have just won the war. They will defend themselves if attacked, and if it seems fair and dramatically appropriate, then a Trojan might run into a house to escape a marauding hero, or perhaps to rouse everyone in it into action. The referee should be fairly generous to the players about the behaviour of captured Trojans. They should be played as accepting of their fate, and not trying to escape all the time. A character can quickly tie them up and "claim" them, and then move on.
If a player character enters a building, then consult the chart, and look down the column of that building's number, and place in that building all the Trojans in that column. Building 13 is empty and might be a disappointment to a pillaging Achaean hero. Building 4 has six people in it, and might make a hero worried. Some buildings have named characters in them, such as Cassandra who is in building 7. These characters are encountered when player characters enter the buildings, and they do not wander out (unless a referee feels it particularly appropriate). The exceptions are the Lukka heroes Aeneas, Old Iphitus and Pelias who are there to give the heroes some worthy opponents.
I tried putting the chart on this page in HTML code, but it looked awful. Instead, I have made it a file for you to download. You can have it in Word for Windows format (.doc, 126K) or Rich Text Format (.rtf, 399K).
The chart has a simplified map on it to remind you which building is which, and a key telling you which letter on the chart represents what kind of character. Of course, the reality is that you will almost certainly not have the same figures to use as me, and so you will have to do a bit of tweaking of the chart to fit what you have. You will need getting on for this number of figures. In playtest, about three-quarters of the figures typically came into play.
The Trojan Forces
All the stats that the referee needs to have to hand are on this Rich Text File. It prints out on one side of A4 paper, and includes all the stats for both sides, using my system. Note that the character names of Trojan heroes are in italics.
The major heroes are very good, but not so good that they needn't worry at all when up against a few foes at once. The heroes are slightly less good, and the minor heroes slightly less good again, but still good. The Trojan archers, spearmen and javelinmen are all a bit below par. The Lukka are somewhere around average, but not quite as tough. The citizens are all fairly feeble.
To do a perfect copy of my game (which I expect no one to do) you will need: 12 Trojan spearmen, 12 Trojan archers, 12 Trojan javelinmen, 9 Trojan civilian men, 3 Trojan civilian women, 3 Lukka archers, 3 Lukka javelinmen, 3 Lukka swordsmen, and three Lukka heroes (including Aeneas). You will also need figures for Priam (old man - King of Troy), Hekabe (his wife), Deiphobus (his son, an armed warrior), Andromache (his daughter in law and widow of Trojan major hero Hector), Astyanax (his grandson, a small boy, heir to Troy), Cassandra (young woman), Antenor (middle aged man), Pantheus (priest), Helen (woman, either young and beautiful or late middle aged, depending on how literally you want to take the legends). You could also have a decorative figure for Sinon, perhaps hiding behind the oak tree outside the gate, and for Stentor the herald, who might end the game (see below).
The Lukka were sea-peoples allies of the Trojans, under King Sarpendon, and are usually pictured wearing a crown of upward-pointing things that could be feathers or reeds or leather thongs. I painted mine green because I wanted to. No one really knows what colour they all were.
The Megaron Doors
I have mentioned that the rollers can be used as battering rams. This is only necessary if you decide to have the megaron doors barred from the inside, or held shut by Trojans. If the players are having too easy a time of it, and have a few heroes in position to deal with the doors, then place a challenge in their path, and have the doors shut. Otherwise, make them burst them open. It shouldn't be very difficult to do this, or the game might get frustrating. A hero must roll 16 or greater on 1d20 to batter open a megaron door on his own, and he may try once per turn. Heroes using rollers as battering rams can combine their strength this way, so three heroes using a roller would roll 1d20 each and total the result to beat 16. The inner megaron door to the back room is never shut.
All characters in Homer's poems recognise each other on sight, and if a player character in this game sees a named character in the game, then the referee should name that character to the player and explain who they are. No hints should be given as to what their significance is, however.
Cassandra is the beautiful but very strange daughter of Priam. She has the curse of being able to see the future, but never to have any of her predictions believed. She can see her doom and the doom of those around her coming, but no one has paid the slightest bit of notice to her ravings. She is going mad. When she appears, the referee should try to get her to run towards the statue in front of the megaron and cling to it. If anyone tries to capture her after she has clung to the statue, they will find her easy to capture as she does not fight back, but instead just clings on. If they pull her off the statue, the statue tumbles over and breaks, offending the gods. In the Greek myths, the statue was of Athena, and this act greatly offended her, and the consequences were dire.
Pantheus is a priest.
Andromache and Astyanax are Priams's daughter in law and grandson. He is an infant boy, and heir to Troy.
Antenor is an honourable man who did his best in negotiations to keep things peaceable. When Menelaus and Odysseus were in negotiations with the Trojans in Troy, a mob formed wanting to kill them both, but Antenor smuggled the two of them to safety.
Priam is the King of Troy, and father to fifty sons, many now perished. His wife is Hekabe (not the mother of all fifty!), and one of his sons is Deiphobus who has forced Helen to marry him after the death of Paris. In the myth, he was confronted by Menelaus on the night of the destruction of Troy, and slain brutally by him. These three are in the middle room of the megaron.
Helen is or was supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world. She has been portrayed in many different ways by different writers over the millennia. Some show her as innocent victim, others as knowing villainess. Citizens of Troy will not be happy that she has brought this fate upon them, and if Helen is left unprotected, then the locals will throw stones at her (I have played another scenario on the same table, about escorting Helen out of the city). She is placed in what I consider the most obvious place for her: the back room of the megaron.
Stentor, from whom we get the word "stentorian", was the loud-voiced herald, whose voice was as loud as fifty normal men. He is only mentioned once by Homer, and it is not made clear which side he was on. I have put him on the Trojan side for the convenience of this game.
The game ends under one of two conditions: either the heroes open the gate and Agamemnon turns up with the army, and takes over the situation, or the heroes spend too long in the city without opening the gate, having fun plundering, and the city wakes up and overwhelms them. Twelve men, no matter how heroic, cannot out-fight the entire city.
To open the gate, one man must spend four full turns undisturbed to throw the huge heavy timber beam bolt. Two men can do the same in two turns. Three men get in each others' way. Once open, Agamemnon is on the way. He will arrive after four full turns have passed after the gate is open. The gate may of course have been shut again in the meantime. If so, the arrival of Agamemnon's army rouses the slumbering watchers on the battlements and the game is lost.
If the players do not open the gate, or take ages about it, then the referee can bring the game to a conclusion by introducing Stentor the herald. Stentor sounds the alarm, and the whole city population, recognising this alarm and its importance, wakes up at once. Since there are many buildings of the city not shown on the table, one can imagine that the horde of angry and frightened Trojans would overwhelm even the might of such heroes as the player characters.
When exactly the referee introduces Stentor is largely up to him. If the players are still having fun, then let the game go on a bit, but it is better to cut it short before the pace slackens too much, leaving the players wanting more. Stentor should arrive to punish players who have spent all their time plundering and slaughtering, and haven't done the main thing they came here for: opening the gate. If the players have not opened the gate, and don't look like doing so in the immediate future, and the game has been going on for a while, bring on Stentor.
The points are allotted as follows:
- Kill Trojan soldier: 2 points.
- Kill Trojan citizen: 1 point.
- Capture woman: 4 points.
- Capture animal: 1 point.
- Kill Deiphobus or Lukka hero: 6 points.
- Capture Andromache: 8 points.
- Kill or capture Astyanax: 4 points.
- Kill Priam: 4 points.
- Capture Cassandra: 6 points.
- Cassandra gets you to pull down statue: -8 points.
- Kill Pantheus the priest: -3 points.
- Kill Helen: 6 points.
- Capture Helen: 15 points.
- Think of something clever (referees' discretion) such as using chariots as mobile shields or rollers as battering rams: 3 points.
- If Antenor is killed: -4 points for Odysseus and Menelaus.
- If Sthenelus dies: -4 points for Diomedes.
- If Menelaus kills Deiphobus single-handed: 8 points to Menelaus
- If Diomedes captures or kills a named character and Odysseus doesn't: 4 points for Diomedes.
- Per figure that Neoptolemus captures: -2 points for Neoptolemus.
And the biggie...
- If the Achaeans do not open the gate and keep it open for Agamemnon to arrive: all players lose all their points!
Points are shared between heroes who do things jointly. I found it easiest to get players to keep a pencil tally on the back of their cards of their points, and tell them about the extra things, like the minus points for killing a priest, at the end of the game.
Note that there are NO points for opening the gate. Someone has to open it, and while he is doing it, he is not gaining glory through slaughter and plunder. If no one does it, Troy does not fall, and the plan fails. Life in Greek myths is not fair, and neither is this game.
Troy usually falls, but about a third of the time in my experience, it doesn't. About one in four heroes dies. Players tend to like going in buildings to find out what's there, because it is a bit like playing lucky dip. Almost no one thinks of using the chariots as mobile shields, nor the rollers as battering rams. Just hacking away with swords is the most popular thing. Attacks on the megaron are surprisingly rare and almost never concerted. The megaron is a bit further away than the houses around the horse, and people are usually too distracted by playing lucky dip in the many houses to go for the palace. So far, in all my playtests, no one has captured Helen. People do quickly get into the spirit of slaughter, though. This is even mildly shocking. So far everyone who has got his hands on poor young innocent Astyanax, has killed him immediately. True, the Achaeans killed him too, but at least they kept him captive for a while before pushing him off the high walls.
A digital shot of a wargames table, manipulated in the hope of making it seem atmospheric. For really atmospheric shots, you should visit the Trojan War section of my photography pages.