Thursday, 4 April 2013

Large Chess

The people of Wetham appreciate board games - if they are played on very large boards. While Flaming Chess has been popular for hundreds of years, a variant known as Large Chess has become popular much more recently. Pieces are represented by people, and they move according to the regular chess rules but for one difference: moving on to an opponent's square does not indicate capture, merely combat - a fight to the death or surrender for the two pieces involved.

There are unarmed Large Chess leagues where teams compete regularly: pawns are boxers, rooks are wrestlers, knights fight according to the styles of faraway lands and so on. However, in recent years those with the means to organise such things have taken to invoking Large Chess to settle civil disputes and outstanding debts. Writs are served specifying dates and times for people to pay up or settle by the rules of the game, with both sides bound to abide by the result.

Most choose to pay.

The Rules of Large Chess
1. Play is conducted on a six by six board of 10' by 10' squares. Each team (generally black and white, although there is no restriction on colour choice) takes two opposite rows. The front row of each are pawns, the back row are rooks, knights, queen and king. Bishops are not pieces in such an unholy game of death.
2. Pieces in Large Chess move according to the standard movement rules. If a pawn makes it to the far side then they may be nominated as a rook, knight or queen from that point on, and for future turns may move as such.
3. Teams take turns to move. Players/pieces in a team can move to their King's space to confer on the next move, but must all be back on their space before a piece is moved for the next turn in the match. The King must announce in a loud voice which piece will move and where it will move to. Until the King has announced this, no move made will be valid, and only the move announced will be valid.
4. If a move would ordinarily capture a piece from the opposing team under normal chess rules then combat is triggered.
  • Opposing pieces fight to the death or until one is knocked unconscious; generally, if a piece is made unconscious it is considered unbecoming to simply kill them. Combat runs as per the usual action sequence in your game of choice. Pieces can surrender at the start of an attack round; if they surrender the victorious piece must not attack them further. Surrendering or unconscious pieces are removed from the board. Pieces killed are generally left on the board, according to custom.
  • Combat is conducted in the square of the defending piece. Assistance of any kind from any other piece is forbidden.
  • Pieces may bring anything that they can carry on their person in to the match. Pieces may cast magic on themselves or during combat but may not cast magical spells on any other piece unless they are directly engaged in combat against them and in the same square (attacking or defending).
  • If spell effects (darkness, spheres of pulsing energy, whatever) persist beyond the period of a combat, the match is paused until the spell effect is dispelled/reversed/expires.
  • Ranged weapons are permissible, with the restriction that they are not fired square to square.
5. Kings move as in normal chess, and the standard chess rules of forcing a checkmate apply with one great exception. If a King is placed in to check, the King can move themselves out of the way or move another piece in the path of the opponent as normal - or they can challenge the opponent to take them, if they can. The opposing piece moves directly to the King's square and combat begins. King's Challenge, as the move is called, is assumed to be to the death.
6. Large Chess is over if:
  • All pieces on a team apart from the King are captured/killed/unconscious.
  • A King uses the start of a move to announce that they forfeit (and accept whatever judgement/punishment levied against them).
  • A King is killed.

Large Chess is perfectly legal under Wetham's statutes as a means to solve disputes. People challenged to play for legal reasons can find plenty of people willing to serve on a team in bars and gambling halls all over the city. Some mercenaries and adventurers might even be willing to sign up.

These rules to Large Chess were inspired by the entry in the Taverns and Games random table (p62) in Vornheim by Zak S. Halflings are only found to the far north in my campaign world, so something different to the game mentioned in Vornheim needed to be devised for my purposes.
Big in my mind was a game that I played on the Atari 2600 as a kid. The game was called Archon - I only ever played this at my friend's house (curiously, noisms and I were reminiscing on this yesterday, and we both only every played this at that person's house, but never against each other). I remember spending hours trying to kill my friend's phoenix before it exploded and took out my knight. The mechanic of a piece going to a square and triggering combat is more or less lifted wholesale, albeit with the greater restriction of fighting in the 10' by 10' square.
I also had in mind the game of "Damage" as mentioned in Consider Phlebas; while the rules of Large Chess are not at all similar, I think I liked the idea of playing with teams of people who were perhaps willing to die for a game (for whatever reason).
And mostly, when the idea of potentially settling a legal challenge by Large Chess came to mind, I wanted to write up some rules because I wanted to see what the players would do, given the choice...


  1. If something is unclear in the rules - or could be made more clear - let me know in the comments and I'll try to tidy it up. Thanks!

  2. Nice. Reminds me of Battle Chess

    1. Cool, I'd not come across that. Thanks for sharing.

      Part of me wants to roll-up the opposing side right now, but I know as soon as I do that the players will decide to settle the suit brought against them by the alchemist.