Slammin' The Dirt - Jon Tuffley
The HAMMER'S SLAMMERS series of novels by DAVID DRAKE ranks among the best "Combat SF" ever written - not, perhaps, in terms of literary merit but certainly in action and "realism". Drake's gritty, action-filled portrayals of future ground combat are essential reading for SF miniatures gamers, alongside other classics such as Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS and Laumer's BOLO series. The SLAMMERS books have already formed the basis of a licensed Boardgame (by Mayfair Games, now long out of print) and have provided inspiration and ideas for many SF miniatures combat rules - the novels had a strong influence on the style of my own DIRTSIDE and DIRTSIDE II rulebooks.
There are many good SF novels based on infantry actions that lend themselves to gaming in 25mm or 15mm scales, but the massed armoured battles of the Slammers books really call for the use of 1/300 scale miniatures and rules
The details and statistics in this article are suggestions on how to classify and use the troops and vehicles from HAMMER'S SLAMMERS using the DIRTSIDE II rules for 1/300 miniatures games - they should also give sufficient guidelines to allow conversion to whatever other system you may wish to use, such as Wessex Games' "Hellfire", TBA's "OHMU" or even "Sp*c* M*r*n* "(if you are really THAT sad....).
There are six books in the series so far. The first volume, HAMMER'S SLAMMERS, consists of eight short stories interspersed with essays on the background, technology and organisation of the stories - it is from these that I have gleaned most of the information presented here; the remaining books (in order of publication: AT ANY PRICE, COUNTING THE COST, ROLLING HOT, THE WARRIOR and the latest, THE SHARP END) are basically complete novels, though some have an extra novelette included as well as the main story. Although a linked series, the books do not have to be read in sequence - each is a stand-alone episode in the annals of Hammer's Regiment. Several of the titles have been published in the UK in the past by Venture SF, though these editions are now out of print - check the second-hand bookstall at your local market! All of the volumes are (as far as I know) still available in the USA from BAEN BOOKS, and in this country via SF import specialists such as Forbidden Planet in London - try them if you have no luck locally.
The SLAMMERS stories (and several other linked works by the same author) take place in the mid/far future (the "late Third Millenium" is mentioned in passing), when mankind has colonised many star systems using FTL travel - referred to here as "Transit". Many of the colonial worlds are settled by different nationalities and ethnic groups, which leads to the same kind of conflicts as we see on Earth but with some interesting new permutations - rival Scottish and Japanese settlements shooting it out is mentioned in one book!
Because many of the colonies are small, struggling settlements with agricultural-based economies, locally raised forces tend to be little more than light militia and ranchers with shotguns. When a major dispute occurs, therefore, some groups will scrape together all the financial resources they can to hire a decent mercenary regiment for a few weeks, in the hope of ending the war with their neighbours quickly and decisively.
The best and most respected Mercenary unit in human space is Hammer's Regiment, an elite Armoured force raised on the Dutch-settled world of Nieuw Freisland and commanded by Colonel Alois Hammer - the Regiment is more commonly known to friends and foes alike as Hammer's Slammers. The series of stories follow the Regiment through campaigns on many worlds and for many varied employers, fighting sometimes against local forces in "peacekeeping" and Police actions and at other times against rival Merc units hired by the opposition.
Most other Mercenary Regiments are basically Infantry units - much cheaper to transport and maintain than the Slammers' huge Hovertanks, and thus a lot cheaper for colony settlements to hire. With the Slammers, however, it is a case of "you get what you pay for" - many employers are prepared to pay the high cost for the virtual certainty of a quick victory. All in all, this series is an absolute must if you are into good "hard SF" gaming, especially with 1/300 armour.
So, what does the Slammers' force consist of? Unlike many SF novels which contain only sketchy details of military forces, Drake has drawn on his own experiences as a member of the 11th Armoured Cavalry serving in Vietnam and has very thoughtfully provided a complete Table of Organisation and Equipment (TO&E) in the first book. This covers all the sections of the Regiment, including HQ/Command, Military Police (Joachim Steuben's famed and feared "White Mice"), Medical, Intelligence, Transport, Engineering and even the Field Brothels of the "Recreation Section".....! It is the "teeth" end of the unit we are really concerned with here, however - the actual combat elements (though the Recreation Section could give rise to some amusing scenarios...) .
Hammer's Regiment is primarily an Armoured force, but contains all the elements to make a balanced Combined Arms combat group. The main strike force consists of four Tank Companies, equipped with huge (170 tonne) Hovertanks; supporting them are eight companies of "Combat Cars" (open-topped GEVs equivalent in function to the present-day M113 ACAV), four companies of infantry mounted on one-man GEV "skimmers" and with heavy weapons carried on GEV jeeps, and finally three batteries of self-propelled GEV 200mm rocket-howitzers as artillery support. The exact composition of each arm is as follows:
Four Hovertank companies, each of 1 command tank and four line platoons of four tanks each. [In action, the company command tank is generally attached to one of the line platoons to form a five-tank unit.]
Four Line Infantry companies, each consisting of four platoons; each platoon has four 10-man squads, a command element, two "Gun-Jeeps" with Tribarrel Powerguns and one Jeep with 100mm mortar. All the Infantry squads travel on 1-man GEV skimmers - little individual hover-sleds - but appear to use these for transport only, dismounting to fight as normal light infantry. (The published TO&E does not specify a Company Command element, but I think it can safely be assumed there must be one - probably something like a Combat car and a couple of GEV jeeps).
Eight companies of Combat Cars, each of 1 Company command car and four line platoons of six cars each - five Line cars and a platoon command car.
Three Batteries, each of six 200mm GEV/SP Rocket Howitzers, one Command Car and two munitions vehicles.
The vehicles and equipment in Hammer's Slammers assumes two major technological developments - firstly fusion power plants small enough to be used in vehicles (as the FGP in the DIRTSIDE II design system), which are used in the Tanks, Combat Cars and most probably other combat vehicles including the jeeps (the Infantry Skimmers are battery-powered, and often ride in convoy "hooked up" to the bigger vehicles and recharging from their fusion cores as they go). The use of compact fusion power allows the massive Iridium-armoured tanks to be feasible, even at their enormous weight.
The second development is the weapon system employed in various sizes by the entire Regiment - the Powergun. This is a form of plasma weapon, firing directional charges of ionised copper atoms released by magnetic fields acting on a "cartridge" of copper/cobalt disks sandwiched between microporous polyurethane (there is an extensive essay on the theory of the weapons in the first book, though how much is real and how much SF pseudo-science I'm not sure - this is one for the armchair physicists among you!). The result is a very powerful plasma discharge weapon that uses discrete self-contained "rounds", described as flat black disks, fed from a conventional magazine arrangement rather than the "power pack" system required by laser weaponry. The Tanks use huge 200mm Powerguns as main weapons, while a 20mm rotary tri-barrel "Gatling" version is used as a secondary weapon by the tanks and also mounted on the Combat Cars and Gun-Jeeps. Infantry arms consist of 20mm Powergun "rifles" and 10mm versions in pistol and SMG formats.
There are other weapons used in the books, ranging from conventional assault rifles to a plasma-accelerated hyper-velocity antitank gun firing osmium rounds - this weapon appears in the last book, "The Warrior", and was my main inspiration for the HKP (Hyper-Kinetic Penetrator) system in DIRTSIDE II.
The overall picture of technology in the books is that while a huge variety of weapons are in use - hence any of the systems outlined in DIRTSIDE II are valid for the opposition - the Slammers themselves use Powerguns because they are significantly superior to all the rest, and this must be reflected in the rules for them. It should be noted that, especially in the later books fo the series, powerguns DO turn up in the hands of other forces but generally only as infantry and light support weapons - few other powers appear to have the money and technical support for the big Panzers.
One major offshoot of this is that air power is effectively obsolete in the Slammers' background; with Powerguns having the range of lasers but far higher lethality, and given the sophisticated computerised and satellite-linked fire control available to Hammer's Regiment, anything that dares show itself above the horizon will be instantly vapourised. This does not mean that the opposition should be prohibited from using tactical aircraft (they try exactly that in one of the early stories), BUT if they do then they will not last long....! The Slammers themselves do not have any airmobile assets for this reason, relying on GEV ground transport throughout.
Interface operations seem to be conducted by actually landing the troop transport starships on-planet, from which we can infer that they use a fair number of smallish transports for the Regiment rather than shuttling-down units from a few big non-atmosphere-capable carriers.
Hammer's Regiment buys and uses the best equipment and weapons available; this and the elite nature of the unit means they can and do win most campaigns they are contracted for. What this does NOT mean, however, is that they will win every battle; they are still relatively few against large indiginous forces, and as the Americans well know sheer weight of numbers can often give the highest technology army a nasty time (remember Drake served in 'Nam, actually as an intelligence officer, and his experiences are reflected heavily in his fiction). The Powergun is a new weapon system to be added to those already available under the DIRTSIDE II rules. It is strongly recommended that it is NOT treated as just another option to use in all games, as to reflect even part of its capabilities in the books it must be just too powerful - not much will stand against a Slammers' Panzer with its 200mm Powergun! When using such superweapons in the game, their effects must be balanced by the scenario being used - either by opposing the mercenaries with MUCH larger local forces, or with another merc unit that has some weaponry that can deal with the big tanks (such as the Hypervelocity antitank guns mentioned above).
The books describe the Powerguns (especially the big ones) as being line-of-sight weapons with ranges limited only by the targetting systems in use and the curvature of the horizon - basically the same as Lasers in this respect. No actual range is discussed for the lighter versions such as the tribarrels, but as these are mainly manually-operated it seems reasonable to restrict these somewhat (for play balance if nothing else). All Powerguns have one disadvantage, in that they cannot shoot THROUGH anything - the first object hit by the bolt will receive its full energy, even if this object is nothing more than a bush. The rules below are just one idea on how to integrate the Powergun into the Dirtside II weapons mechanism; if they don't agree with your personal interpretation of the weapons, then feel free to change them!
Available in all classes; the "tribarrel" used on the gunjeeps and combat cars is a PGN/1 (it is, after all, only 20mm calibre) while the 200mm main tank gun version would be a PGN/4. Suggested range bands are as follows:
Number of chits drawn for damage is as per normal rules, ie: equal to the weapon class - so a tank gun (PGN/4) draws four chits. All chits are valid in all cases;, but there is one special ruling: when firing at an Iridium-armoured vehicle such as the Slammer's tanks and combat cars themselves, treat each chit at face value. When firing at any OTHER kind of vehicle with less advanced armour (ie: almost everyone else's AFVs!), count each chit as DOUBLE value, as for close-range DFFG hits.
Treat the Slammers' infantry as normal Line units, with each ten-man squad split into 2 teams of 5; the "skimmers" are used only for mobility - there is no mention of the troops using them to actually go into combat. To reflect this in game terms, allow the infantry elements to move like SLOW GEVs when "mounted up"; they must, however, spend half a turn to mount or dismount from their skimmers and can only fight when dismounted. When they dismount, use a marker to show where the skimmers have been parked - the element must return to them before it can again use the extended mobility. If attacked or fired on while mounted on their skimmers, treat the troops as moving in the open. IAVRs, called "buzzbombs" in the books, are issued to elements as required (and often used against the Slammers by the opposition).
The Slammers' infantry elements always draw THREE chits in combat (both for firefights and close-assaults) due to the superior nature of their Powergun weaponry, compared to the two chits of normal troops. When fired at, however, they count as normal Line infantry units.
When setting up a part of the Slammers regiment for a game, pick the unit quality markers from a mix of two-thirds VETERAN and one-third REGULAR; if desired, a very few GREEN/1 markers may be used to represent freshly raised units under experienced officers, put into action to gain field experience. Other than this, the Leadership values on the counters should be an equal mix of level 1 and level 2 - no level 3's (Hammer's Regiment has many exceptional officers and some average ones, but any below-average performers don't make it as far as the battlefield!). Confidence levels will depend on the scenario; mostly the units will start at CONFIDENT (they know full well that they are better than the indigs), though other levels are quite possible in special circumstances. Remember that the Slammers are good - very good - but not invincible; they are still human and will still run if things get really bad!
The are many other aspects of the Slammers' universe that we have not been able to cover here, such as the use of centrally-directed fire from the hovertanks as point-defence against artillery fire, the "Calliope" multiple 3cm powergun vehicles used for AAA defence and so on. The flexibility and simple mechanisms of DIRTSIDE II should however permit you to fit in these and any other systems that you may wish to use. Experiment and have fun!
170 tonne hover AFV, crew of 2, 200mm powergun in turret with 20mm tribarrel powergun on commander's cupola. Iridium armour, fusion power plant. Slow GEV, class 4 (large), basic signature = D6, level-1 stealth (effective signature D8). PGN/4 in turret, PGN/1 in cupola (also functions as APSW). Superior firecon. APFC. Armour 5 (Iridium). FGP. Superior ECM.
Medium hover AFV, open-topped, with 3 tribarrels and gunners in open fighting compartment. Iridium armour, fusion power plant. Slow GEV, class 3 (medium), signature = D8. No stealth. PGN/1 x 3 on pintle mounts, enhanced firecons. APFC. Armour 3 (Iridium). FGP. Enhanced ECM.
Light, unarmoured GEV with single tribarrel on pintle mount. Power source unspecified (probably batteries). Fast GEV, class 1 (very small), signature D12. No stealth. PGN/1 on pintle mount, enhanced firecon. Armour 0 (softskinned). Basic ECM.
The Artillery vehicles are lightly-armoured GEV carriers with RAM Howitzers, counting as MEDIUM artillery; all types of rounds are potentially available, including Nukes if the situation warrants (though high-level clearance is required for their use). In most cases the unit artillery will be located off-table. Softskin transport elements are used for support units, presumably GEVs but possibly "borrowed" indig vehicles (wheeled?) in some cases.
Although no firm presently makes specific models of the Slammers' vehicles, there is enough of a selection available in 1/300 scale to provide some usable alternatives. For the Panzers, any largish turretted hovertank will do the trick - there are several good ones in the CMD range. For the combat cars, Scotia do an open-topped GEV with several pintle-mount guns that will serve nicely. Both CMD and Scotia do small open GEVs suitable for the Gun Jeeps, or these can be easily converted in this scale from present-day wheeled jeeps (pick one with a recoilless rifle or similar, cut the weapon down a little and add a "skirt" from milliput to hide the wheels). The infantry "skimmers" are a bit of a problem, as no-one makes anything really suitable, but they should not be hard to scratchbuild from scrap - alternatively don't bother with models for the skimmers, just use a marker to indicate whether the infantry are mounted-up or not.
So, there it is - a brief overview of the Slammers for 1/300 miniatures games. We haven't gone as far as to suggest scenarios, but may follow up with one or two in the future; for now, reading the books should giove you ample inspiration for some enjoyable battles!
Jon Tuffley, Feb. 1995.