Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wolves & Jackals

I’m one of those people who enjoy games within my games. I trace this strange quirk back to purchase of the 1979 edition of the Dungeon Masters Guide. In that book, along with a plethora of other useful odds and ends, I discovered Appendix F: Gambling. It was only a matter of time then before my players found themselves settling down to a game of Zowie Slot Variant or the like in between dungeon crawls. (It is with sudden clarity that I now realize where I got the term “zowie!” from. I’ve used it as short-hand for describing anything really bizarre or grandiose in my dungeons for years, but it isn’t until right now that I see where I got this term from.)

In the years since then, I’ve added some more in-game games to my campaign. I got a lot of miles out of the adventure, “At the Spottle Parlor” from Dungeon #12, adding Spottle as a common game of chance in the major cities of the Eastern Reaches. I own a copy of Three-Dragon Ante, but haven’t had a chance to implement it yet, although I see the possibilities in it. The second level of Ol’ Nameless has a wheel of fortune waiting in a decaying game den. I’ve even mulled over purchasing the Ravenloft Forgotten Lore boxed set just to get my hands on the divination cards and dice that are included in it. I enjoy those kinds of props in my games.

Just about a year ago, during the course of adventuring in my Saturday night game, we came across a copy of the game “Wolves & Jackals” while exploring a crumbling tower. Due to events that occurred during that exploration, the party fled from the tower extremely short-handed in terms of treasure. By which I mean that the only thing we escaped with was a copy of “Wolves & Jackals.” Being our sole gain from the excursion, the game served as a running jokes for a few sessions, one of the highlights being our druid and sorcerer attempting to teach the druid’s two orc henchmen how to play the game – “I bet I can fit more of these little wolves in my mouth that you can!”

The game was obviously just a bit of campaign-color, not intended for anything more than perhaps a few sheckles if sold back in town. But being the frustrated, non-designing guy I was at the time, I got the idea of coming up how the game would actually be played. A few days later, I had cranked out the rules to "Wolves & Jackals." Those rules are presented below.

If you’re like me; the kind of person who gets giggly over the metageekery of playing games within games (those you who spend too much time fishing in World of Warcraft know what I’m talking about), maybe you’ll find some inspiration in this. Referees looking for a way to kill time before the rest of the players show up may get some brief enjoyment out of these rules as well.

Wolves & Jackals

The game:
Packs of Wolves and Jackals are hungry, wishing to bring down prey. A game for two players, Wolves & Jackals combines all the elements of Chess, Checkers, Poker, strategy, and luck.

Playing Pieces:

  1. A standard chess board.
  2. 19 playing pieces. 8 light, 8 dark, and one circular chip to represent the Prey.
  3. Two 10-sided dice (known as “Teeth”) of two different colors.
As indicated below, Jackals are placed on dark squares along the two left-side rows and Wolves are placed on light squares on the two right-side rows. The circular chip (“The Prey”) is placed in the exact center of the board.

    Wolves & Jackals Board Set-up Players next ante their initial bets. Traditionally, 30 coins of a single denomination are used, their value agreed upon by both players. Each player antes 15 coins apiece and these are placed in the area labeled “The Mouth.”

    Beginning Play:

    Each player rolls one D10. The player with the highest number goes first. In the case of a tie, both players re-roll until a clear winner is decided.


    On his or her turn, a player may move one piece and one piece only. Initially, players may only move their pieces diagonally or in a straight line. Zigzagging is not allowed during the same turn. A player can move his piece either one or two squares. Players may not move a piece through a square currently occupied by another playing piece (either one of their own or their opponents). If their piece ends its movement next to a square not occupied by either an opponent’s piece or the Prey piece, his turn is over. If his piece’s move does end next to an opponent’s piece or the Prey, either diagonally or adjacent, he has the option to either end his turn with no further action, or to attack (or “Go for the Throat”) the adjacent piece.

    If a player begins his turn with an opponent’s piece adjacent to one of his, he may choose to “Go for the Throat” of that piece as detailed below. The only difference is if a player’s piece successfully Throat’s another piece before he makes any movement, his turn does not end as normal. In fact, in some situations, a player might be able to Throat one piece, make a move if the Throat was successful, and position himself for a second Throat attempt all in the same turn. Even if the attacker fails his Throat attempt, he may then move as normal, escaping from a subsequent Throat attempt by his opponent.

    Attacking – “Going for the Throat”:

    If a player chooses to “Go for the Throat,” both he and his opponent each roll one D10. The player’s whose turn it currently is, is considered the attacker. Both die rolls are compared and the player with the highest roll is the winner. If the attacker has the highest roll, he immediately moves the attacking piece into the defender’s square. The attacker may now either dispatch the losing piece to The Cave, or attempt to drag it back to The Den. In either case, if the attacker has already moved this round, his turn ends after choosing which result he wishes. If the attacker successful performs a “Go for the Throat,” but has not moved yet this turn, he may either dispatch the losing piece to the cave and then move as normal or attempt to drag the losing piece back to the Den. If the defender has the highest roll, the attack is considered a failure, both pieces remain where they are, and the attacking player’s turn ends.

    Resolving Combat

    Dispatching to the Cave:

    If the attacking player wins, he may decide to dispatch the losing piece to the area marked “The Cave.” The losing piece is immediately removed from play and placed in The Cave area next to the board. Any piece dispatched to the Cave remains there until A) the game ends, or B) a piece of the same side reaches any opponent’s space on the far end of the board (think like making a king in checkers). Upon doing so, the player may remove any one piece from the Cave and place it in any vacant starting square on his side of the board. The player’s turn then ends, but he may move the rescued piece as normal the following turn.

    Dragging Back to the Den:

    If the attacking player wins, he may decide to drag the losing piece back to his or her Den. The defeated piece remains in the attacker’s square and will move with the dragging piece each turn. If the player chooses this option, and has not yet moved this turn, the piece dragging the defeated piece may move back towards the Den. Otherwise, he must wait until his following turn to begin the drag. A Wolf or Jackal dragging either a defeated piece or the Prey may only move one space per turn. Additionally, the dragging piece may only move either horizontally or vertically. Diagonal moves are not allowed. The dragging piece may also not initiate an attack, but may defend itself if attacked. If the dragging piece reaches any of the three squares adjacent to the Den, the defeated piece is removed from play permanently. It cannot be reintroduced into play by any means.

    Should a dragging piece be attacked before it reaches the Den, determine the outcome as usual. If the dragging piece is defeated, the dragged piece is immediately dispatched to the Cave, and the winner may decide to either dispatch the dragging piece to the Cave as well, or attempt to drag it back to the Den. In either case, play continues as above.


    In the case of a tie, the attacker may choose to continue the attempt at the Throat. In order to do so, he must ante up a new bet into the Mouth. The defending player may now match the new ante, match and raise the bet, or concede defeat. If the defender concedes, play continues as if the attacker won. If the defender matches the bet, the dice are rolled again, with the highest roll winning the Throat attempt. If the defender matches and raises, the attacker must now either meet the raise, meet and raise again, or concede defeat. Raises can continue back and forth until one side either meets the final raise or concedes defeat. If the second dice roll results in another tie, the process begins anew.

    Bringing down the Prey:

    One of the two victory conditions of Wolves and Jackals is to successfully drag the Prey piece back to your Den. In order to do this, you must first bring down the Prey. Bringing down the Prey requires you to have two of your own pieces adjacent to the Prey piece.

    Any of the above diagrams are examples of “adjacent” pieces to determine if the Prey can be brought down. A player MUST have two pieces adjacent to the Prey in order to try and take it down.

    Once a player has moved a second piece adjacent to the Prey, he may immediately attempt to bring down the Prey. This is a static roll. The player rolls both dice and must roll a combined total of 12 or higher. In the event of an 11 or less, the attempt fails and the player’s turn ends. If the result is 12 or higher, the Player must announce which piece will be attempting to drag the Prey back to the Den. The Prey chip is then placed under the dragging piece and his turn then ends.

    On his next turn, the player may attempt to drag the Prey back to the Den. This is done exactly the same way as dragging an opposing piece back to the Den. The dragging piece may only move one space per turn, and only in a horizontal or vertical manner.

    Attacking a Piece Dragging Prey:

    An opposing piece may attempt to Go for the Throat of a piece dragging the Prey. This is resolved in exactly the same manner as Going for the Throat of an unburdened piece, with one exception. If the attacker successfully Throats the dragging piece, the Prey chip remains in the space occupied by the dragging piece and the defeated piece may either be dispatched to the Cave or dragged back to the Den. The attacking piece, however, remains in its own square and does not move into the defeated piece’s square as normal. The Prey chip is considered free and can only be brought down as detailed above (moving a second friendly piece into an adjacent square.

    Winning the game

    Wolves and Jackals may be won by either two ways:

    1) By successfully dragging the Prey back to your Den, or
    2) By being the last player with pieces remaining on the board. NOTE: to speed play, it’s considered good sportsmanship to concede the game if your last piece remaining is being dragged by your opponent.

    The winning player collects whatever bets have been placed in the Mouth, and should another game be played, has the option of going first in that game.


    In some regions, Wolves and Jackals is played somewhat differently. Variants differ from region-to-region, so it’s a good idea to understand any variant rules before sitting down to play in a strange town.
    1. Card Variant: In some places, cards are used to modify the results of the game. Some cards include:

      • The Ranger – Your opponent loses a turn as The Ranger enters the forest, looking to hunt.
      • Forest Fire – All pieces currently in play must return to their starting positions as a forest fire sweeps through the area.
      • Loose Bite – A piece being dragged may immediately escape from the dragging piece and move as normal.
      • The White Stag – The Prey is the mythical White Stag, requiring a roll of 16 or better to be successfully brought down.

    2. Larger Teeth: Some regions use d12s or D20s instead of the traditional ten-sided “Teeth.” The roll needed to bring down the Prey is modified accordingly.
    3. No Cave: All pieces must be dragged back to the Den.
    4. No Dragging: All pieces are merely dispatched, with the exception of the Prey.


    Sham aka Dave said...

    Great Game, Mike! I assume the bit in "Movement" concerning attacking before a move supersedes the bit in "Attacking" about a player's turn ending after deciding what his victorious wolf or jackal does with it's kill?

    If an attacker makes a kill before moving, leaves the 'carcass', moves and kills another, what happens to the original kill? Maybe I need to read the rules again.

    Good stuff!

    Michael Curtis said...

    I'll have to look over it myself. It's been awhile and I need to reaquaint myself with my own rules, much to my chagrin.

    Michael Curtis said...

    Thanks for pointing out the error in the rules, Sham.

    If an attacker successfully performs a "Go for the Throat" but has not yet moved that turn, he can either dispatch the defeated piece to the Cave and move as usual OR attempt to drag the defeated piece back to the Den by moving one space horizontally or verically, but not diagonally.

    If he has already moved prior to making a successful "Go for the Throat," the piece may dispatch the defeated piece immediately to the Cave and then end its turn OR choose to drag the piece back to the Den. If it chooses to drag the defeated piece, it must wait until the following turn to begin moving back to the Den.

    I've made the alterations in the posted rules to clarifiy this.

    Good eyes!