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"Religion in Wargames" Topic

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian20 May 2021 10:01 p.m. PST

Most game designs abstract out the influence of religion on the battlefield.

You could make the argument that 'God' in the game is represented by random luck. After all, if the outcome was predestined by God, it wouldn't be much fun as a game.

Yet religion was important to some soldiers. Many soldiers, in the past or today, make a special effort to get their spiritual affairs in order before going into battle, whether that means priests sacrificing before the battle, or the modern soldier who goes to confessional before arriving at his assignment. And on the other side, 'bad omens' could lower an army's morale.

When the Mahdi emerged in the Sudan, his early victories convinced his followers that Allah was on his side. Regardless of what you may think of Islam, there is no doubt that his followers were strengthened in practical, battle-influencing ways by their belief in the Mahdi and his cause.

Do men fight better when serving in a good cause? I would like to think that the Allies in WWII were heartened knowing that they were fighting against tyranny. Yet the Germans fought quite well too in a bad cause.

Your comments are welcome. grin

jwebster Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2021 10:44 p.m. PST

In war, the moral is to the physical as three to one

I would submit that it doesn't matter where the higher morale comes from religious fanaticism, full stomachs, charismatic leader, team spirit, nationalism, hatred of opponents, propaganda all good stuff to motivate people


Sho Boki Sponsoring Member of TMP20 May 2021 11:05 p.m. PST

But there already are the "Moral" modifiers in games anyway, Bill.

gunnerphil20 May 2021 11:14 p.m. PST

The Mahdi's troops believed that it was Devine intervention. And of course It may have been, but the fact that winning have him access to the weapons the losing left behind helped a bit.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2021 11:17 p.m. PST

Has no relevance to wargaming. What is motivating one to take arms against what or whomever is irrelevant to what we do on the game table. The assumption that every soldier on the battlefield is motivated by the same thing is hogwash. Lets take the ACW for example.

The motivation of Civil War soldiers to take up arms are not monolithic. Union soldiers may have taken up arms to fight to free the slaves but the motivation of others was not necessarily to end slavery but to preserve the union, with slavery or without.

Southern rank and file, most not owning slaves. May have been motivated by losing their status in society. By the simple fact that they were defending their state. Their have been countless writings on the subject.

But does that have anything to do with the Antietam game I am playing? It has no effect on the game I am playing. Religion as a motive in warfare is a great subject for a masters thesis but has no effect on the game I am playing.

Wilf1235820 May 2021 11:22 p.m. PST

Religion certainly motivated the Crusades…

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2021 11:47 p.m. PST

The presence of a religious leader in a battalion will provide them a morale bonus in my wargames. So as in real life my units get a chaplain. I don't typically issue more than one per battalion even though for many armies that's more than the norm. I also give using as small as a platoon a mascot, dogs usually, but sometimes a bird, or cat or even a horse. They also provide a morale bonus. Officers, musicians, medical and mess troops, also provide a morale bonus, even a political commissar might be useful. But I don't treat religion as any particularly special modifier.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek
Bunker Talk blog

Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 3:28 a.m. PST

Religion was pretty crucial to 'Fury of the Norseman' where priests could summon a divine wrath artillery strike on the Vikings.

Historical. Also Hysterical.

Porthos21 May 2021 3:38 a.m. PST

A better morale can be created by having both flanks secure, commanded by an experienced leader, being protected by hard or soft cover. A "religious subject" like the Holy Lance found in 1098 in Antioch seemed to have had a morale boosting effect, should we call that a religious effect ? How about the magic whatever the Zulus wore during a charge, believing it made them immortal ? The Flower Wars fought by Aztecs and their neighbours that were not "real" wars but just the means to catch some people for the sacrifices ? The belief in an afterlife (not only Islam, but lots of other religions, including of course Christendom) that made the fanatics under them fight suicidal charges ? I am sure that this kind of religious effects can (and should) be added in the rules of moral in a wargame.

Striker21 May 2021 3:54 a.m. PST

If it's a factor it should be wrapped in a general morale rating along with other influences.

arthur181521 May 2021 4:45 a.m. PST

Religious bigotry might be a factor causing troops to fight with greater hostility, such as the Protestant Parliamentary soldiers against the Catholic defenders of Basing House in the ECW. Not quite the same thing as higher morale or combat effectiveness, but they would be less likely to show mercy or give quarter.

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 5:07 a.m. PST

IF your wargaming is confined to a battlefield, and especially if it is redoing a historical battle, then whatever morale mechanism the rules have is probably enough; "it all comes out in the wash."

I include religion quite explicitly in my PRIDE OF LIONS rules for fantasy mass battles and campaigns.

In between, I think it is to taste and to theological assumptions.

Wolfhag21 May 2021 5:48 a.m. PST

What if your religion says that you are better than everyone else and you have the right and responsibility to kill, enslave or capture and ransom non-believers. What effect would that have on a tactical or strategic level game?


Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 6:09 a.m. PST

Well, first of all, facing an enemy like that would tend to discourage surrender.

Personal logo Sgt Slag Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 7:11 a.m. PST

In my 2e BattleSystem fantasy games, religious leaders are heroes. When they are killed in the game, it triggers a morale check. The same trigger occurs when a non-religious leader/hero dies, as well.

I may have religious magical items which boost troop morale, or even lower enemy morale, but it is all handled through game mechanics affecting troop morale. That is the only way in which religion affects the game play. Cheers!

lkmjbc321 May 2021 7:16 a.m. PST

To comment on the Germans in WW2. Many were believing Christians. The German army had a corps of ministers both Catholic and Protestant that served the spiritual needs of the army. A few top generals were also professing Christians, though the Nazis made their positions difficult.

As to religion in gaming, certainly strategic gaming can make use of religion. SPI's A Mighty Fortress directly addresses this (and in an interesting way).

My own DBA Crusades campaign also addresses this through victory conditions. Christians and Muslims get more points for defeating their opposites- but still get some points for defeating their coreligionists. The evil Byzantines get the same points for both.

These are caricatures of course, but make for great fun when Saladin allies with the Kingdom of Jerusalem to attack a fellow Muslim…and vice versa! The Byzantines are of course, "Byzantine".

On a tactical level for historical games I think morale differences will suffice. In fantasy as Doc has pointed out, anything goes.

Joe Collins

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 7:53 a.m. PST

Do men fight better for what they believe is a good cause?

Strategically, I think so. Belief in the rightness of a cause can get men to enlist, to stay in the army when pay is bad and rations worse, and to rejoin their units after a serious defeat.

But we're miniature wargamers, so we're tactical, and tactically I think not. Take a good look at Spain in the Peninsular War and the early portions of the AWI. When it comes to closing ranks under artillery fire, or standing fast against charging enemies, what counts are training, discipline and confidence in leadership, tactics and equipment. May not be comforting, but I believe it to be true.

Wolfhag21 May 2021 8:08 a.m. PST

And then there is religion in WH40K.


Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 9:08 a.m. PST

Religion manifests itself in different unique ways on the battlefield, and I think it is reasonable to incorporate this.
At Plataea, in 479 B.C., the opposing armies were drawn up opposite each other and the Spartan commanders performed the ritual sacrifice and checked to see if the entrails said the gods would be with them.
Umm, no.
Let's do another sacrifice. And another.
Result: a delay in starting the battle, so the men would go into battle knowing the gods were with them.
Some Seleucid commanders learned that a good way to deal with Jewish rebels was to attack on the Sabbath, when they weren't supposed to do any work. Not much fun as a game, but an effective plan until the Jews decided they could fight if attacked.
Bill mentioned the Dervishes in the Sudan. Their religious beliefs manifested in things like the mass charge at Omdurman in 1898. It's hard to imagine the German, British, or American units, no matter how religious or high morale the unit might be, launching a mass attack like that in 1944.


Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP21 May 2021 9:28 a.m. PST

In "Gone To See The Elephant," Mexican armies get an initial boost to their Resolve if Mass could be celebrated before battle, as was the case at Buena Vista/Angosturas.

Reducing the fear of death with the hope of Salvation is demonstrably true historically.


Wolfhag21 May 2021 9:54 a.m. PST

There is a miniature ruleset of ancient Greek warfare rules that includes the goat sacrifice.

Then there are natural omens like an eclipse, meteor/comet, etc that can be interpreted as a good or bad omen. Constantine had a vision and painted crosses on his army shields, they won.

Joan of Arc, Viking Valhalla if dying in battle.


Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 10:32 a.m. PST

I remember a Viking skirmish we did, where my Saxons were defending a village. The villagers randomly decided to go and pray at the village cross, rather than following the merchants who were getting out of the village.
The unit nearest the cross routed the Vikings opposite in short order, and the Viking army was defeated due to their flank being turned.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 3:31 p.m. PST

Hmm. In fairness, I can think of some officers and senior NCOs the reading of whose entrails would have improved MY morale--but I think more likely as an Intel NCO, I would have been the goat.

gamershs Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 5:05 p.m. PST

Never used him but I had one figure I called Holy Joe. If activated he would run up to a unit and start preaching. On a throw of 1-5 on 6 sided die nothing happened on a throw of 6 he affected the unit. On a second throw 1-4 the unit would stop for that number of turns (unless Holy Joe was eliminated) on a throw of 5 it would stop indefinably until an officer eliminated Holy Joe on a throw of 6 one company would break ranks, surround Holy Joe and defend him. If Holy Joe killed then unit took -1 to morale and if the company that had to be fought the unit would not advance to battle.

gamershs Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 5:05 p.m. PST

Never used him but I had one figure I called Holy Joe. If activated he would run up to a unit and start preaching. On a throw of 1-5 on 6 sided die nothing happened on a throw of 6 he affected the unit. On a second throw 1-4 the unit would stop for that number of turns (unless Holy Joe was eliminated) on a throw of 5 it would stop indefinably until an officer eliminated Holy Joe on a throw of 6 one company would break ranks, surround Holy Joe and defend him. If Holy Joe was killed then unit took -1 to morale on any morale check and if the company that had to be fought the unit would not advance to battle.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2021 6:17 p.m. PST

Varies a bit but religion can influence moral depending on the unit/period – in WWI some battalion commanders went out of their way to get a padre who was willing to stay in the trenches with the squaddies

The Crusades are an interesting example but Deus Vult aside there was a very, very strong economic undertone

mildbill22 May 2021 6:43 a.m. PST

Wallensteins Armies where a mixture of Protestant and Catholic units in war where the troops were generally on opposing sides. But every once in a while, one side would wake up in camp and then attack the other religions units. Happened more than once even though Wallenstein forbade such activity. How about writing a pre battle rule for that?

oldjarhead22 May 2021 8:16 a.m. PST

I don't use these as modifiers but I have painted mullahs, Anglican RC and Coptic priests and nuns as well as non conformist preachers. Very useful to have people who need to be rescued when setting scenario objectives.

Col Durnford22 May 2021 11:42 a.m. PST

Very interesting thread. I would say far less effect in modern times and a far larger effect in ancient times when people believe that gods walked the earth. I remember a line from the show Rome, one of the legionnaires says to another "Some people say there are no gods" the other responds "Probably a Greek". Followed by the retort "yea, F the Greeks".

johannes5522 May 2021 12:22 p.m. PST

When you look at the recent troubles (war?) between Israel and Palestinans you can't say there is lesser effect of religion. But of course mixed with politics which imho always was and is.

Wolfhag22 May 2021 5:12 p.m. PST

robert piepenbrink,



Rotundo23 May 2021 7:01 a.m. PST

Gunnerphil, My last name is Devine (you wanted Divine). My fantasy football team was the Devine Intervention. 29 years, no championship….

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