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"Homebrew rules..." Topic

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Bozkashi Jones18 May 2017 2:38 p.m. PST

There are some good rulesets out there so I just wondered we so many of us use "homebrew" rules…

I use commercial sets GQ, Battlestations!Battlestations!, Sails of Glory, for example but for certain types of actions I prefer homebrew.

As an example, for small actions such as a couple of destroyers against a similar pair the main decisions are which way to point the ship and what to shoot at. For single ship actions the number of command decisions is even more limited with most commercial sets.

That's why I've been cobbling together a set that gives me a few more decisions. I only have a certain number of actions 4 so I can load the guns and fire them and still have actions left over. When I start taking damage though I have to start making decisions. Let's say I've lost some crew so I'm down to 3 actions, I take a couple of hits one starts a fire and another starts flooding the boiler room. Next turn I could load, fire, try and patch up the crew in the sick berth, stem the flooding, fight the fire… but I can't do it all. Maybe it's time to make smoke and sort out the ship. It gives me the "flavour" I'm after – to be the captain of a destroyer, like I'm in my own Douglas Reeman novel.

Don't get me wrong; I don't always want this level of detail. For a fleet action in the Med I'd use BB ideal for big actions. For something like the Barents Sea I'd use GQ as there would be a dozen ships in action, not to mention the merchants.

For modern I use homebrew with the emphasis on reacting and fast decision making it makes them more tense, exciting and players are more likely to make mistakes, which for me gives the "feel" of what I imagine modern naval combat to be.

For age of sail I use SoG; there seem to be plenty of good sets for small actions, but not many that replicate the command and control problems of a fleet action, so do players use homebrew or "house" rules to fill the gaps?

Just interested in your thoughts.


Mako11 Supporting Member of TMP18 May 2017 4:55 p.m. PST

After the age of sail, I suspect loading weapons isn't really an issue, unless they are knocked out.

There are always personnel, and/or tech to do that, unlike in the earlier eras.

Blutarski18 May 2017 8:13 p.m. PST

Home brew rules ultimately stem from dissatisfaction with one aspect or another of commercial rule sets. I started writing my "Steer to Glory" AoS rules as a reaction to (a)the awesomely cumbersome rule mechanics found in one rule set that shall not be named, (b) the ridiculously non-historical tactics encouraged by another set of rules that shall not be named, and (c) the complete absence in both sets of any restrictions upon Cypress Garden like cybernetically coordinated simultaneous mass motorboat maneuvers by one's fleet.


Bozkashi Jones19 May 2017 1:36 a.m. PST

Mako – yep, that's true, but I use it as a mechanism so that as a ship takes damage the firing becomes more sporadic, which is about the "feel" of the action reflecting what I've read about naval combat. The actual homebrew rules don't matter too much, I was wondering about why we use them.

Blutarski – that's what I was wondering, though obviously my lawyers tell me that I have no idea what rulesets you refer to ;-)

C3 seems to be quite poorly handled in most sets and yes, players have far too much control, so I can see why you would turn to homebrew.

Blutarski19 May 2017 4:38 a.m. PST

Boz My barrister, H Rumpole, advised me to refrain from being specific in that regard.

I concede that I am prone to hyperbole on occasion (currently under treatment). Most commercial rules are written and offered for sale by well intentioned people. Some are just better at the task than others.

The C3 problem was actually quite simply solved (to my satisfaction at least) by a very clever friend. Phil Jarvio, please get in touch if you are still out there! Been way too long.


Poniatowski Supporting Member of TMP19 May 2017 5:01 a.m. PST

What Blutarski said…. It is us, thinking we can make something better or trying to as it doesn't sit well with us on how it should be played.

I have written Napoleonic Tactical rules because I was unhappy with the rules out there… The closest thing I liked to what I had written is when I got to playtest some Fire & Fury rules as they were being designed for Napoleonics.. then they went and upped the scale and blew the aspect ratio up, like so many other games do….

SO, homebrew is what happens when we think we can do something better…. then, with luck, they get published.. only to be used to make someone else's hombre rule set.

Cursd Captain19 May 2017 7:35 a.m. PST

Because of disappointment. I started writing my own rules (no longer homebrew rule set) (or hombre rule set -- I like that) -- because local players had bought into the problematic rules named after a major fleet battle and published by a chain of stores, and were disappointed.

But, I recognize a coercive impulse in writing rules. I have recently been struck by Frank Chadwick's explanation for his very light rules in Volley and Bayonet: the players must decide if they want to act in period or not. Rules can't insure historical or realistic behavior by themselves. I wonder if anyone ever starts with a discussion of what kinds of things they don't want to see happen in the story and makes a commitment among friends to abide by those principles. I have seen this work in experimental RPGs like Microscope, where it's called agreeing to a "palette" for the game.

Murvihill19 May 2017 10:26 a.m. PST

After playing a few games in an era you decide what you want in a wargame: play-ability, scope of control, speed etc. Eventually you find that no set of published rules has everything in the combination you're looking for so you make up your own. The only exception to this was The Sword and the Flame, I've had so much fun with it I've never looked for anything else in colonials.

Yellow Admiral19 May 2017 10:49 a.m. PST

In the 90s I wrote a whole set of fleet action AoS rules because I wanted to used Andy Callan's super-cool flag signalling system in The Byng Touch but hated the rest of the mechanics.

Almost a decade ago I pulled that set out again and modified it so much that it became a different set of rules, because I wanted to play without rosters (all status tracked with props on the table), but still handle large fleets at a fast pace with unique vessels using proper sailing tactics and a realistic pace and scale of damage results. Unfortunately, I am too short of players in this area to playtest (or even play), so I dropped the project. I haven't had the willpower to ramp up the effort for far away conventions. "Maybe next year" plays on a loop in my head every time I run across the project in the closet.

I also have a set of half-baked rules for playing big fleet actions in the Renaissance (roughly 1500-1650), again partly because I have yet to see rules that do this the way I'd like it done, but also partly because I want to play games with swarms of the beautiful Langton Renaissance galleys and Valiant galleons on the table (they're pretty, but too small for single-ship actions). Most rules for this era are written either specifically for Lepanto or the 1588 Armada battles, and work poorly for much else. If I want unified rules to do both, or to play big, sprawling battles mixing galleys and round ships, I'm going to have to write them myself…

- Ix

Yellow Admiral19 May 2017 10:50 a.m. PST

On the flip side of this discussion: I am philosophically opposed to writing my own rules for AoS games games at the micro-tactical level: 1-2 ships per player, managing things like gun loads, sail settings, crew allocations, and other "captain level" decisions. There are already plenty of rules in the world that do this well enough, or will with only slight modifications.

- Ix

A C London20 May 2017 1:38 p.m. PST

I can think of two reasons why home brew sets are more common at sea than ashore.

1. Because naval is a minority interest a higher proportion of us start-out with a deep interest in the history. We are therefore more likely to find in a commercial set an inaccuracy which we won't stomach. Of course there are land wargamers who have spent years reading around their subject/ ferreting through archives but there is a greater admixture of players whose primary aim is a competitive game / to have fun rolling dice with their mates. These are more likely to accept a commercial set if it is clearly presented, gives a quick and satisfying result in three hours and does not diverge too obviously from reality.

2. Perhaps for this reason, a greater proportion of naval games are either direct refights or plausible "what ifs." These expose differences between the tabletop and history; and lead to commercial sets being rejected. A land game is more likely to be "200 points, you bring Romans, I'll bring Gauls, we'll dice for terrain as per the book." That approach suits competitive play, which cuts-out home brew. You can't have much of a competition if people in Seville play a different set from those in Madrid; and it helps if the same set is played in Paris, London and Chicago too.

I guess most of us would see both these factors as positives. They probably are on balance.

But it's a shame that 1 means that new players tend to start ashore rather than at sea. Peculiar too really, when you think that naval history is both inherently more interesting and more easily transferred to the tabletop.

While I prefer historical refights, factor 2 also has its downside. Tired people can play a "200 pt" land game on the way home from work with no need for preparation. While the need to find obits, complete ship data cards, etc might get naval games put-off to high days and holidays. Also, the occasional points-based game can test players and help them to refine their tactics.


Bozkashi Jones20 May 2017 3:56 p.m. PST

Interesting points Alan I'd never considered that naval wargamers tend to go for historical battles or plausible "what ifs", but you're dead right. Looking back on my AARs there are refights of:

Cape Spada 1940
Convoy PQ13 1942
Denmark Straits 1941
River Plate 1939
Operation Praying mantis 1987

And plausible actions including:

Renown and Duke of York intercept Tirpitz returning from Operation Sportpalast 1942
Beatty's 1st BC Sqn catch Hipper returning from a raid on England's East Coast 1914

In my limited experience of land gaming I don't think I've ever fought a historical battle. Maybe it's the work involved for naval gamers a bit of blue cloth can be the North Altantic, the Mediterranean or the Pacific and once one has the main units of one's chosen fleet plus a smattering of DDs, CLs and CAs pretty much any action is possible.

The interest in history is a good point too. Land gamers obviously have a similar interest but histories tend to follow corps or divisional level, with occasional mentions of lower level formations. This does make historical actions difficult (though not impossible) unless going for 'grand tactical' level. For naval the exploits of each individual ships are easy to find and so is that ship's part in a larger battle.

And I also suppose that sheer numbers play a part. Even scaled down Waterloo 1815 or Caen 1944 are big affairs. For naval gamers fleet actions will often still be less than 40-50 ships a side, unless doing Jutland or the WW2 Pacific battles. This is achievable the poor land gamer can't just paint his figures grey and apply a dark wash and some highlights, and they have to do hundreds of them.

And I now realise I've wandered off topic – when I started the topic!

Humble apologies…


Lion in the Stars21 May 2017 3:32 a.m. PST

I wrote a set of submarine v submarine rules because I didn't like any of the existing rules (my rules are a modification of Full Thrust), though I was inspired by NVDoyle.

I played Seapower with some house rules, mostly an expansion of the gun/armor tables to include 20" tubes and superheavy armor belts.

I also use David Manley's mods to Trafalgar.

Charlie 1223 May 2017 7:59 p.m. PST

Not so much homebrew, but another impulse is to move a proven system into another era. Currently, two of us are taking the GQ3/FAI system and adapting it to the predreadnought era.

Sailor Steve Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2017 10:25 p.m. PST

"Home brew rules ultimately stem from dissatisfaction with one aspect or another of commercial rule sets."

I feel exactly the same way, except in my own weirdness I tend to make it worse, not better.

My dissatisfaction is with generic damage locations. Following on 'Clear For Action' but going a lot further, my Ship Sheets have the front side filled with everything needed to run the ship – speed, acceleration, turn rates, guns, torpedoes, and a bit of history describing when the ship was modified. the back side includes everything needed for taking damage – a top-view of the ship, a damage chart for guns and another for torpedoes, speed-effect chart for when engines and boilers are taken out, flooding chart and percentage thereof for capsizing, and ammo supply charts.

It all looks complicated, but my friends who have tried it all say it plays a lot quicker than expected and while it is complex it's not really that complicated, and despite all the numbers seen at first glance it actually works like a flow chart, so you're only performing one simple operation at a time. On the other hand they're as crazy as I am, so what do they know?

Outside of that there is a single chart for firing and another for damage, so besides the individual sheet for each ship there are only two charts necessary.

It's cumbersome and slow when cruisers and destroyers start taking massive amounts of hits, but normally play is pretty fast, with each turn only covering one minute.

My main goal was not to be able to play fleet actions quickly, as that's already been done a lot, but to make me feel like I was on board a ship again, with all the complications to worry about. Silly, but it's just for me, and anybody I can get to play with me.

A C London24 May 2017 8:39 a.m. PST

Lots of good points made.

Thanks Lion for pointing to another reason for writing your own set: to focus on an aspect of warfare that you find especially interesting. An all-round set will contain bags of stuff extraneous to sub v sub fighting and will likely have to make compromises that you can avoid.

Charlie points to another adapting a favourite print set to a new period. Decades ago I was put-off pre-dreads by the quality of the rules available for them. Newer sets have been recommended to me, that I'd like to try. But I can see the point of bringing Fleet Action Imminent back in time.

Steve's captain's rules sound fascinating. People say that naval rules go into too much detail; but more often the problem is that we go into too much detail for the size of the action we're fighting. Rules with that level of detail wouldn't do for Jutland but they turn a small action into a good evening. I know of a set (haven't seen or played it yet) that covers just damage control. You deploy damage control parties and flood to try to keep an even-keel. Everything else is abstracted away. Not the only set of rules you'd want to play for a period, but one from which you'd likely be able to learn a lot.

Steve also underlines the point about the weight of knowledge naval players bring to a game. How many ashore know that much about the regiments they command?

I very much agree with Bozkashi/ Nick. My favourite is the ironclad era, during which (tho it pains me to admit it) there wasn't that much action. Still, I find that a greater proportion of my ironclad fights are historical/ nr historical than the land battles I fight using sets which cover periods in which there were many well-recorded battles.

Hope I haven't been too simplistic. Some land rules do lead you to actual battles. For example, the Fire and Fury sets covering land aspects of the American Civil War focus on refighting real actions.

Also, I don't think its simply a good/ bad equation. There is something to be said for quick, points-limited battles. I'd like to see more naval wargame competitions. But overall we get the better of the bargain.


Yellow Admiral24 May 2017 11:05 p.m. PST

Currently, two of us are taking the GQ3/FAI system and adapting it to the predreadnought era.
I'd love to see what you come up with. I started this project years ago, abandoned it ("too much wooooooorrrrk!" he whined…), and am now sort of leaning back into it a bit at a time. There are many pre-dreadnought battles I want to play before my pre-dreadnought gaming peers and I all die off, and I've always thought the GQ3 framework was an excellent starting point for the period.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral24 May 2017 11:11 p.m. PST

Revisiting this topic:

A project I started last year (and have sworn to finish this year!) is to pit the post-ACW US Navy against the navy of Napoleon III. This will naturally require some large fleet actions, and all of my favorite ironclad rules would be overwhelmed by the number of vessels. My hunt for rules to play out a true fleet-action approach to the 1860s in a short period of time (4-6 hours) has turned up nothing satisfying, so…. the writing begins. Wish me luck.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral24 May 2017 11:19 p.m. PST

My dissatisfaction is with generic damage locations.
A beef of mine for some time. As you say, it's appropriate to the admiral's eyrie, but hardly enough to move the imagination onto the bridge of a single ship.

I'll add another: predictable strike/sink points, at least in the Age of Sail. I've long felt that the (now very old) approach of providing a ship with a set number of "hull" boxes and declaring it striking or sinking when it runs out is too deterministic. The literal tipping point of a vessel is actually hard to predict, and morale failure is even harder (and less . I prefer to have the flotation/morale boxes (or score or whatever) represent the predictable buffer, after which the likelihood of disaster seems close but still a bit unpredictable.

- Ix

A C London25 May 2017 10:38 a.m. PST

Hi Yellow,

What size of French v post-Civil War battles are you plotting? I ask because this period interests me hugely. I have spent thirty or so years studying it and developing a set of rules for it. They are not quite there yet but already produce games (in my, not entirely unbiased, view) way above any other set of wargame rules.

Notionally, they are fast play. However, I've noticed that players (esp those new to the period) tend to enjoy the games more when commanding fewer ships. Also, that increasing the number of players doesn't speed play in anything like proportion. The convoy moves at the speed of the slowest. We tried Lissa at about half strength twice and neither game finished. We play in a pub, with only about 3/ 3.5 hours a game, so you might do better with 4 or 5 hrs. But I'm coming to feel that smaller games (esp if you can fit two into an evening) tend to give more pleasure than big ones.

David Manley has recently published a big-battle set aimed directly at Lissa, which might suit your needs better. I have not seen it, but he has an excellent reputation.

If writing your own, my tip would be to keep as close as you possibly can to the history. There's a temptation to fudge the gun/ armour balance to make penetration easier than it was in reality, in the belief that this produces a better "game." It doesn't; and once that crucial balance is broken the whole thing unravels. As this is far and away the most interesting era of naval history, the closer you get to reality, the better the game will be.


Yellow Admiral25 May 2017 12:02 p.m. PST

What size of French v post-Civil War battles are you plotting?
Numerous small coastal actions or high seas guerre de course raider/hunter encounters can be handled just fine by Iron & Fire or Sail & Steam Navies, but large-scale attempts to sieze or defend a port like Vera Cruz, Tampico, Martinique, or even New Orleans require rules that handle a fleet-scale battle with shore batteries at a reasonable pace. For that matter, even historical ACW battles like New Orleans, Charleston and Mobile Bay require this, and I haven't really seen rules that feel right to me. I&F and S&SN have the right feel of detail and design differences, but tend to bog with more than 1-2 ships per player there are just too many mechanical operations to work through for each move and shot. Games that reduce the movement and shooting mechanics tend to gloss over the design differences that I consider critical to represent in the early ironclad period.

You can see some of my thoughts about a Franco-American conflict in this TMP thread that got me started thinking about this silly subject. My dubious psuedo-historical narrative already includes two big battles at Vera Cruz: the American assault to take the port early in the Franco-American war, then the French counter-attack to take it back with a large fleet of a dozen+ SOLs supported by a good-sized detachment of ironclads, frigates, sloops, etc.

Caribbean naval warfare by remote powers always naturally settles into two phases: the "fleet ops" season from December through May and the "raids & patrols" phase during the hurricane season from June through November.

David Manley has recently published a big-battle set aimed directly at Lissa, which might suit your needs better. I have not seen it, but he has an excellent reputation.
I got them, and while I think they probably accomplish their goal of "Lissa in a day", they (deliberately) gloss over many of small but critical design differences which I'd like to see represented in the Franco-American conflict. The French and American ironclads had very different design approaches, the Confederates yet another, and ex-pat Confederate shipbuilders making a coastal force for Maximilian with access to French arms, iron and engines would have had another still.

There's a temptation to fudge the gun/ armour balance to make penetration easier than it was in reality, in the belief that this produces a better "game." It doesn't; and once that crucial balance is broken the whole thing unravels.
I'm on your choir, preacher, that's never a temptation of mine. One of my pet peeves is games that increase the pace and/or scale of damage in order to speed the game. The real result is to destroy the historical balance between fire and maneuver and thus lose the most important part of any wargame the decision cycle that gives the player the point of view of his historical counterpart.

- Ix

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