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"Morale mechanism - opinions wanted please." Topic

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Action Log

10 Sep 2012 8:18 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from Renaissance Discussion board

885 hits since 10 Sep 2012
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Elenderil10 Sep 2012 7:54 a.m. PST

I'm still plugging away at my 2mm big battle ECW rules. I want to avoid the slugfest mentality and reward players who hold a line back as a reserve to throw in as the first lines become ineffective. I'm toying with the idea of using a break point for units and formations larger than individual manouver units (Tercio/Battalia/Brigade call it what you will)based on a percentage of the "damage" they can absorb. The idea of the rules is too look at command and control rather than weapon technology as the main focus and I want players to have to make decisions on how best to use the forces available rather than pushing their little lead heroes to perform above and beyond the call of duty.

The rules use a mechanism where a units ability to stand and fight is measured as a numerical factor derived from their training and experience (so I can merge campaign rules in later on). It would be easy enoughg to say that, for example, Smythes Brigade has a total combat rating of 22 spread across 4 foot regiments. Once the Brigade reaches 60% of that figure they can no longer take offensive action, and at 45% they have to retire. These percentages are just made up for the example. What are your experiences of this type of mechanism? Does it work for you? Do you like it? What draw backs do they create?

advocate10 Sep 2012 8:27 a.m. PST

I do like the idea behind this, but can't think of a simple mechanism to make it work without a lot of paperwork.

I really dislike roster sheets. It's a purely personal thing, but I don't think I'm alone. I'm not sure haw tou would manage this without them.
And I think I would find it tricky to remember to change the status of a formation based on the sum of the casualties suffered by the individual units.

But if you can make it work in an elegant fashion, I think you'd have a great mechanic.

just visiting Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 8:50 a.m. PST

Playing a hard numbers game gives you knowledge that RL commanders never had; ergo, such a system is a bad, unrealistic system, imho, of course.

Simple is best. And never design into the morale system hard facts creating comparative morale that the real world does not possess….

Who asked this joker10 Sep 2012 9:10 a.m. PST

I think "just visiting" points out something quite valid. Morale should be random. Perhaps modified by unit status but random. I prefer the "Fire and Fury" morale system myself. Units that get hit a lot will likely not perform the way you want them to. Sometimes they will fall back and other times they might run away.


OSchmidt Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 9:16 a.m. PST

I developed a very simple method to reward players for holding a second line.

1. Allow troops to move swiftly so that things can happen very fast. (In my game the player with initiative can move the entire length of the table so long as he doesn't come within 8" of an enemy unit (I use 28mm troops) and he makes his movement roll. This prevents players from making little "do-se-do's" and swing yourpartners to match his movements, and doing a form of wargamial line-dancing.

2. Make combat EXTREMELY bloody and decisive. I mean whole units are wiped out and taken off the field with a single roll of the die. In my set of rules (18th century) I use combat results cards. Several cards will do just that, sweep an entire regiment off the field, and several combinations of other cards will do the same, either eliminated, or retreated up to three moves back (four moves back and they are eliminated.

3. Allow wide turning movements and troops to move off the table top (sholdn't need to do this with 2mm, should have lots of space on the sides, but if you don't then allow troops to swing round flanks, or even march entirely around the table top and come on in the enemy rear. This not so usually done in the games as there are two or three steps. The enemy must announce he is making a "wide turning movement" and then take the troops off the field. He must then "march" for a turn" and come in the following turn. This gives the defender a hint of what is going on and prepare (they usually don't).

Another hint, wipe out all modifiers to a handful, no more than five.

Once players realize their front line can vaporize in an instant, or the enemy can pounce on that unit he left unsupported, or the edge of the table top is NOT the edge of the world- they'll start making second lines naturally and learning how to use them.

I use only 6 sided die in my game and the troop statistics range from usually 1 to 5 for movement, charge, "to stand" "rally" and fire. Officers and some other things can modify these upwards or downwards, but never to less than1 or more than 5. Lows are good and highs are bad. If you roll a six- you're pretty much toast.

I always tell the gamers when O do a game at Historicon or Cold Wars "Don't get too attached to your units- they're not going to be around that long.

religon Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 9:44 a.m. PST

I want to…reward players who hold a line back as a reserve….

This has long been a game design challenge.

I am less inclined to think that command and control mechanisms or morale mechanisms will solve this problem. IMO the solution lies in the activation mechanisms. Perhaps fatigue rules or catastrophic army collapse rules could also be implemented.

While I have little knowledge of ECW conflicts, conflict in previous periods and later periods seemed to follow a similar dynamic with regard to reserves. Battle lines were rarely engaged at all points. Some portions of a line of battle were engaged and others were not. Rarely was more than a third of a force under heavy fire or in fierce melee at any given time. This suggests that games like Piquet or C&C Napoleonics with activation rules featuring only portions of an army activating each turn more accurately represents actual combat than liberal activation systems.

Gamers have greater concern for flanks than real-world commanders since the advantage of reserves or deep ranks within various game systems is outweighed by the desire to extend the flanks as wide as possible. Few games address RL concerns of stretching lines too thin.

If a great portion of the army is allowed to activate each turn, holding reserves as a tactic is eclipsed by the old adage of being the firstest with the mostest…concentration of force. I might suggest limited units activate each turn and retiring units do not count against unit activation.

Marry limited activation with some sort of fatigue-and-recovery system and a balanced, but effective, catastrophic army collapse mechanism, and you make holding reserves a tactic for more than just suckers. In theory at least…

MajorB10 Sep 2012 10:03 a.m. PST

I want to…reward players who hold a line back as a reserve….

Seems to be a good tactic in Hail Caesar. I recently completed a Punic Wars game where each army was arrayed in 3 or 4 lines of units.

just visiting Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 10:47 a.m. PST

Holding a reserve is its own reward; you don't require abstracting additional bennies for being smart enough to hold a reserve.

Flanking, off-table movement should be randomized as well: nobody had total empirical knowledge of the path the flanking units would have to take, ergo a lot could happen to either hold them up or prevent their arrival at all.

Successive lines of units, i.e. arrayed in "column of divisions" only works with armies that possess superior morale. Roman legions could get away with it, because the discomfiture of the front unit(s) nearly always resulted in the successive lines holding firm and drubbing the enemy as he broke through. Armies that have "dicey" morale ought to never array in column of divisions, simply because the broken morale of the first line will result in the likely loss of morale in the succeeding lines, and there in a trice goes your whole army….

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2012 11:06 a.m. PST

Playing a hard numbers game gives you knowledge that RL commanders never had; ergo, such a system is a bad, unrealistic system, imho, of course.

Simple is best. And never design into the morale system hard facts creating comparative morale that the real world does not possess….

JV: Yes and no. As a commander, you would watch your units, and from a number of observable factors, depending on the commander's experience, make a judgement as to the state of his units. That conclusion is represented by that 'hard' number.

Personal logo Dye4minis Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2012 12:23 p.m. PST

It will all start when we can get gamers to reject the notion that casualties are the yeardstick to determine unit performance. If this was really true, why can we find examples of units in ALL periods of units running with little or no casualties while others stayed till almost the end? We have missed a very important force in warfare as gamers…Unit Cohesion.

My use of this term is defined as "the ability of the unit's leadership to maintain control over the action of the men." How hard or easy that is/was is directly influenced by many factors, but mainly by the training and experience of the men, the leaders and how long have these men served under these leaders (and visa versa). The battlefields of history are filled with distractions that compete for the men's attention; attention they should be focusing upon to perform the tasks required to remain functioning as a unit. I have yet to see any rules that try to account for the efforts of the unit's leadership, per turn, to maintain control over the men.

So before we go further, the big question is how to quantify the seemingly unquantifiable? Easy 8th grade math (and I am NOT a math guy at all!)

In the rules I have been working on for the last 16 years, I have chosen to (yes chosen…for playability's sake) to break combat results, movement formation cohesion loss and fatigue into 25% of the unit';s total morale. If at the start of the game, a unit is rated as "x" value, with combat results and unit abuse thru movement is expressed in incriments of 25% loss of leadership's control, it not only begins to make sense, but very playable. Add in that the two forces of nature (Time and Distance) play their parts, units can regain cohesion (re: ability to function) also in chunks of 25% capability due to the efforts of the leadership, time and distance.

To track this without paperwork, I have been using a single mounted officer figure as a marker. HE migrates around the unit from leading from the front (no cohesion loss) to the right side (3 o'clock= -1; 6 (rear)-2; 9= -3; in a clock wise manner. If this marker ever gets back tp 12 o'clock via clockwise motion, remove the unit as it ceases to be able to function for the rest of the game. As leaders test at the end of their Brigade's activation, it is possible to move that counter counter-clockwise, reflecing a positive effect on the regaining of the men's efforts.

The 0-1, -2, -3 above refers to the inherant decline from original cohesion value from the start of the game (conveniently on a label under the unit's command stand). This starting number is determined before the game starts (several ways to do this, which can also reflect the effects of fatigue, logistics, weather, etc., btw).

If you have followed me so far, I think you can see how easy and quick a game can be played. (My first playtest game, we had 4 brigades of ACW per side, plus arty and cav being played along with rules explaination in 13 turns in 3.5 hours, total. Never a doubt who won by turn 10….we tried stupid things to test the rules for the last 3 turns.)

We need to change value sets from casualties (expressed in numbers) to something more akin to what the effects have on the unit to remain functioning as a unit.

I have collected ECW in 6, 10 , 15 and 28mm and have yet to play a game of it! Sold most of it off. Hope to one day soon play in a TYW game. (more diversity, imho).

Just some thoughts to prime the pump here.

Tom Dye (AKA :Mr. Unit Cohesion) 8>)

Elenderil10 Sep 2012 12:44 p.m. PST

Interesting points. I have already decided that I want "bare bones" mechanisms. I am using D6 only. Combat uses 3D6 morale 2D6 with the units current effectiveness rating replacing the third di. Units will normally have between 15 and 30 mins of fight in them.

ECW manoeuvres were slow and steady as the troops were not that well trained. The idea was to get them into action without risking them being disordered. I am trying to replicate that in my rules. So large movement allowances don't give me what I want. One of my bug bears is the line em up and let er rip approach, which to my mind comes from having flanks protected by table edges. That's one of the reasons for going to micro scales. Big table small army footprint is the idea.

What I'm thinking now after your input is using a break point plus a randomising factor. Then setting a number of trigger criteria like a unit morale test. This should allow the enemy to push harder against wavering units to trigger collapse. Any comments?

Personal logo Dye4minis Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2012 1:18 p.m. PST

Elenderil. Can you explain what you mean by using morale test? What exactly does this mechanic supposed to represent? No, not being snarky, just trying to understand what your image of morale is and how you plan to model it in your game. (What is the desired result this mechanic will bring to your design.)



Elenderil10 Sep 2012 2:14 p.m. PST

Using the word "morale" as a shorthand term that most gamers can relate to. What I really am trying to model is the erosion of combat effectiveness caused by a multitude of factors: fear, fatigue, confusion, disorder. Let's be blunt the level of casualties are not a true reflection of this as dead men don't worry about getting hurt. The level of casualties impacts on the living's estimate of their chance of getting out alive. I am more interested in a difficult to quantify concept willingness to continue following orders. In my view this erodes just through being within harm's way and other factors increase or decrease the rate of erosion. Getting your troops to do something be it return fire or manouver is better than just sitting and taking it. I believe that men in combat have a limited period of useful activity available and part of a commanders role is to decide when best to use this up and how. Cynically I see it as a resource allocation issue.

Personal logo Dye4minis Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2012 2:36 p.m. PST

I think I see. You are essentially doing what i am calling Unit cohesion. Remember, armies are not run in a democracy! The men must do what their leaders tell them or else…. I agree that the longer a unit remains in CONSTANT combat, the quicker their ability to function as a unit goes down. Reality shows that most combat is puncuated with periods of inactivity. This allows the "TIME" for the unit leadership to regain control over the men by many means (another whole post on just that!) This is why I see unit effectiveness being like a roller coaster, with ups and downs.

Closest I could find was 45 minutes of constant combat and a unit was usually spent, as an average. Notice, I said "constant" combat….with very little chances for unit leadership to really have a great chance of regaining lost control.

I can see your goal of resource allocation issue as when to replace worn out units from local reserves…on up the chain. Remember, there are units commited for the role of "Force of Destruction" and those held back for the "Force of Decision". The gamer who can understand those concepts will need to be able to project force allocations before, during (and in a campaign setting) after todays battle.

Units are comprised of men (read: individuals); no two are identical in abilities, skills, stammina and motivation. Your concept of erosion should only reflect the current state of affairs for the unit's ability to function…leaving the gamer to "manage",his units as you suggest. The number of remaining men under command is not as important as the unit acting as one. In H&M days, you really did not have to create casualties to have a negative impact upon a target unit. Just being shot at might just enough to render them less effective by the resultant distraction(s) associated with that. This makes the leadership challenge that much harder to regain and maintain control. this is why the concept of using figure casualties, as a marker for effectiveness, misleads gamers into thinking that numbers = effectiveness.

Thanks for the conversation. Good luck with your rules!


Maddaz111 Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 3:25 p.m. PST


1) Create a hard and fast system that models the chance of -

A unit running before contact, after being fired on for little effect.

A unit running after inflicting more hits in a standing melee

A unit standing after taking more than 33% effective loss,

An officer panicking and taking troops toward an enemy threat after taking losses.

Units just doing nothing whilst men mill about advancing and retreating all around them.

(if your system can capture all of those outcomes and do it with a level of realism then you can sell it!)

Most morale rules feel tacked on because they are – real troops do not have break points, morale rules etc, they have real feelings in a complex system, and it is impossible to simulate such chaos well.

Most of the wargames I played in the past had complex morale tests – they were long winded lists of friends advancing, enemy retreating, roll some dice, look up tables, check wind direction, and the colour of the command dice and the day of the week.

If you design and playtest the rules with a simple no morale rule – and then add morale at the end it will feel outside the rules rather than involved with the rules – I would suggest you Simulate morale effects within your other rules so that morale comes out in moving and firing and fighting, so that troops suffering from poor morale are sent by a good commander away from the fire until they have recovered. Only impose routs and breaking when movement and firing penalties have become so extreme that the unit is already negative in combat. If you can do all this with minimal record keeping!

Elenderil11 Sep 2012 7:16 a.m. PST

More interesting advice and ideas thanks everyone. My thinking cap is well and truely on again!

Timbo W11 Sep 2012 12:13 p.m. PST

Nice thoughts here.

Just a very simple option. But if you have a brigade with say 3-5 'units' in it eg battalions etc, then an easy one is to say when you start losing units (whether routed or whatever combat ineffectiveness measure there is) then

-roll a d6 and beat the number of 'broken/disordered/whatever' units.
-If you pass then carry on
-Fail once = no advance
-Fail twice = retreat out of musket range
-Fail thrice = run away!

I like the idea very much of using the position of the brigadier as an indicator!!

John D Salt Inactive Member11 Sep 2012 1:42 p.m. PST

Elenderil wrote:

What I'm thinking now after your input is using a break point plus a randomising factor.

SPI's old "Patrol!" boardgame had a quite neat way of doing this. Sides were assigned a "preservation level" which, once reached, would result in their morale breaking, and their becoming more interested in self-preservation than victory. Progress towards this level was made by drawing chits (numbered 1..6) randomly for each injury inflicted on a friend. So, although the number of points left to go before reaching preservation level was known precisely, the number of bad events necessary to get you there was known only roughly.

All the best,


RudyNelson11 Sep 2012 3:25 p.m. PST

In several of our set of rules. Morale is treated slightly different. It determines how long a unit will fight with reduced effectives.

For example fanatics or Elites will fight until the last stand is destroyed. Poor troops fight until half of their stands are gone. Average fights until two stands are left and Veterans fight until only one stand is left.

A simple no paperwork or chits needed.

We are looking at ways to adopt it for several other sets of rules as well. along with our order of movement determination system.

Ghecko11 Sep 2012 9:36 p.m. PST

All morale systems are artificial in some way. Have you considered removing commanders as loses increase? No doubt, as losses increase and your commanders are removed, such removal would have an affect on what your army will do via the game mechanisms.

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