BATTLE SYSTEM: What the heck happened?

David LaForce Douglas Niles Jeff Easley Steve Winter TSR

I’m not completely sure what I can say about TSR’s 1985 release of Battle System.  For one thing, I don’t own it, although it has been in my possession since 1988.  It officially belongs to my longtime gaming compatriot ‘Murphy’ who often says that it is on permanent loan, like an exhibit at the Smithsonian. 

Whatever the case, I have dragged this boxed set with me from north to south, then east, and finally west.  In all that time I’ve never played it, as there has never seemed to be a reason.  Inherently, I’m not a miniatures player, and as for mass combat scenarios in a fantasy setting, I just kind of make the rules up as I go to facilitate the forward momentum of any campaign I run.

Battle System then becomes a passing fancy, a very eye-catching box that sits on a shelf and collects dust.

Game design of the system was provided by TSR staff writer Douglas Niles, and I’ve yet to be disappointed with anything I’ve ever read that was produced by him, so that would indicate the system has a good chance of standing on its own as usable, although again I can’t confirm this.  Another TSR writer, Steve Winter, also was responsible for the included “The Art of 3-D Gaming” booklet which looks to be well laid out as well and contains some nice shots of painted miniatures from that era.  Diesel LaForce did the interior maps, but there are only a couple and they fall short of what he created for other products of the day.

Artistically, which is the point of this whole exercise, this is perhaps the leanest TSR product of the 1980s.  The cover, done by artist Jeff Easley, is a thing of beauty, and falls in the wheelhouse of his most productive cover years for the franchise.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at this cover with the triceratops riding barbarian and wished my characters could be involved in that battle.  The image was so popular that it was even reused on the cover of the module H3 The Bloodstone Wars.

However, the interior art, if you can really call it that, is nothing more than postage stamp sized images drawn from historic reference TSR must have acquired the rights to in the public domain, or used them at such a small size as no legal action could be taken against them.  This makes for a woefully uninspired set of manuals.  I’m dumbfounded by what I found inside this rather large box, although I’m sure a good deal of the budget went to the creation of the punch armies that comprise the bulk of the supplement.

In all, a final reason I never played this system was because it gave me no inspiration to do so, and the woeful art direction is the primary factor in that.  Sure, Jeff Easley is a genius, but he can’t carry the entire load, even at his esteemed talent level.  My only take-away from this boxed set is that it did help pave the way for the aforementioned Bloodstone series of modules, which happen to be the only 1980s TSR series I don’t own, although I’d love to.

Artistic Rating: 2 [out of 5]

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