Help support TMP

"Wargaming Without Dice" Topic

113 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

Please avoid recent politics on the forums.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Historical Wargaming in General Message Board

Back to the Game Design Message Board

Back to the Dice Message Board

Back to the Ancients Discussion Message Board

Back to the Blogs of War Message Board

Areas of Interest


Featured Hobby News Article

Featured Link

Featured Showcase Article

Eureka Amazon Project: Nude Phalangites

More figures for the 28mm Amazon army!

Current Poll

3,988 hits since 20 Jul 2023
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Pages: 1 2 3 

Bolingar10 Aug 2023 1:55 a.m. PST

Speaking of rules lawyers, I've done my best to design Optio to be free of any grey areas. It's all yes/no, black/white, or it should be (my plan is for playtesters to dig up all the hidden ambiguities).

Here's a bit more on combat. A legion faces off against warband in scattered woodland which favours the warband.

Blutarski10 Aug 2023 1:40 p.m. PST

Fascinating discussion. Wish I had entered it at an earlier and more meaningful point.

I don't think that the issue at hand is dismissing the role of randomness in war as much as accepting the role of uncertainty. Whether the issue is fire effect, group morale reaction, command & control, psychological eccentricities of subordinate commanders, battlefield communication, unfamiliar terrain, weather … history shows that such uncertainties always seem to play a role in warfare.

I do however agree that, in order to keep things manageable in gaming terms, there must be a quick and straightforward means of resolving such cases of uncertainty. If anyone is interested, I'll be happy to post some of the mechanics I have developed to deal with such issues (designed for Horse and Musket era, but generally transferable to other periods).


Bolingar10 Aug 2023 2:07 p.m. PST

I'll be happy to post some of the mechanics I have developed to deal with such issues
Go for it!

Blutarski11 Aug 2023 2:57 p.m. PST

Hi Bolingar,
Here are the ACW (H&M) Morale rules. These rules were written back in the 90s and went through some initial play-testing put being aside in favor of my AoS rules project before they were completely wrung out.

WARNING – Some dice required.

I'd be interested in any comments/critiques you might have to offer. People like us do, after all, undertake these quixotic pastimes for the entertainment and approbation of our gaming brethren.

- – – – -


Morale Grades
Four levels of troop quality/morale grade are recognized: Elite, Veteran, Line, and Militia.

Elite: The best of the best – the best quality regiments of the Stonewall Brigade, Hood's Texas Brigade, or the Iron Brigade for example, which have previously displayed high bravery in action.

Veteran: Seasoned units, undiluted by large drafts of new levies, who have acquitted themselves well in at least one previous campaign, or units of intensively trained and highly motivated soldiers, i.e. – VMI Cadet Battalion or US Regulars;.

Line: The great mass of undistinguished units of trained, competently led soldiers who have already seen action, or who have not yet seen action but have been intensively trained.

Militia: Hastily organized, incompletely trained units of raw recruits seeing their first real action, or badly led line infantry.

Morale Condition – Infantry and Cavalry
Morale conditions reflect varying degrees of the unit's ardor for battle. The following morale conditions are recognized for infantry and cavalry:

Unit is in good order, under the control of its officers, and in all respects ready for battle. A confident unit advancing to the attack against an enemy in an equally Confident morale state will halt when reaching Decisive Range and engage in a fire-fight. It will advance to contact with any opponent in a lesser morale state. If receiving an enemy charge, it will hold its fire until Decisive Range. If starting a turn within Decisive Range of a Confident enemy, it will stand its ground. Confident units are denoted by all stands touching.

Cautious (Disordered)
A unit unformed or disordered by fire or terrain penalty, but still willing to fight. A cautious unit in the attack will close into an enemy's effective weapons range. In the defense, it will open fire at the effective range of its own weapons. If starting a turn within decisive range of any enemy unit of a superior morale condition, it will recoil back to effective range of the enemy's weapon class or to hard cover in its rear, whichever is nearer. Friends to its rear will stop the recoil of a cautious unit. All skirmishers, units in route/road column, or any units or elements incurring a terrain penalty during movement are Cautious by definition. Cautious units are denoted by all stands being slightly separated from one another.

A unit dismayed or overawed. A shaken unit will not advance against any visible enemy. In the defense, it will open fire at Effective range of its own weapons at ˝ effect. A Shaken unit within the Decisive range of an enemy unit in a superior morale condition will recoil back to the Effective range limit of opponent's weapons or to hard cover in its rear, whichever is nearer. A Shaken unit contacted by an enemy in Confident morale condition will become Broken. A recoiling or fleeing Shaken unit will interpenetrate any friends to its rear. Shaken units are denoted by all stands being both slightly separated and staggered relative to one another.

Unit has lost its will to face the enemy. It will immediately face about and retreat as a disorganized body at the skirmish movement rate in a direction as directly as possible away from the threat which caused the morale failure, without coming nearer any other visible enemy. It will interpenetrate friendly units in order to meet its direction of retreat obligation. A Broken unit will continue to retreat until it starts a turn out of sight of all enemy elements. A Broken unit will lose 1 casualty to straggling per each turn of retreat. Once out of sight, it will remain as a stationary disorganized body until rallied.

Any infantry or cavalry unit which suffers a Broken morale result within Decisive Range of a charging Confident enemy will surrender its Color Stand to the opposing player before fleeing and may not be rallied in the course of the game.

Any artillery unit which suffers a Broken morale result within Decisive Range of a charging Confident enemy will abandon its guns and be removed from play.

Any Broken unit of any sort fired upon or sighting any enemy advancing toward it will resume its flight, losing 1 casualty per turn of flight to straggling, until it is once again out of sight of all enemy. Broken units in flight are denoted by all surviving stands separated by at least one stand width from one another.

Morale Condition – Artillery
Crew-served weapons are treated differently for morale reaction purposes.

The Battery is in good order, under the control of its officers, and in all respects ready for battle.

Treat as for Confident, except that Battery will limber and withdraw in the face of a Flank or Rear Threat.

Fire is at ˝ effect. Battery will limber and withdraw out of sight of enemy if any enemy infantry or cavalry unit is within ˝ movement distance and advancing toward it.

Crews will abandon their guns and flee if a Confident advancing enemy infantry or cavalry unit is within its own Decisive range. Otherwise the Battery will limber and withdraw out of sight of the enemy.

When to Test Morale
Morale tests may be required at different and possibly multiple times during both the movement and firing portions of a turn. Each regiment, battery, squadron, or detached element thereof must immediately check its morale and apply the result whenever it suffers a Morale Impact.

A single event or situation may produce multiple Morale Impacts. Each Morale Impact requires a separate test.

Morale Impacts
Each applicable condition represents a Morale Impact.


Flank and Rear Threats
> Each visible unbroken enemy ELEMENT which is: (a) located within 1/2 movement distance of the unit or element in question; (b) is outside of its frontal fire arc; (c) is not itself within the frontal fire arc of any unbroken friendly unit; and (d) whose arc of fire includes the testing unit or element.

> Attempting to initiate a charge to contact.
> Being declared the target of a successfully initiated charge attempt.


Passage of Lines
> Attempting to advance through the formation of any friendly unit in a Shaken or Broken morale condition.

> Unit is interpenetrated by a friendly unit moving to the rear for any reason.
> Interpenetrating friendly unit is in Shaken morale condition or worse.
> Interpenetrating friendly unit is retreating with back to the enemy.

Influences of nearby friendly units
> Each identified friendly unit within 2 inches seen moving or falling back to the rear for any reason.
> Each identified friendly unit within 2 inches seen moving to the rear with their backs to the enemy.


Unit has been fired at by artillery or by any body of close order infantry.
Unit is under fire and unable to reply.
Unit is under canister fire within 1 inch.
Unit is fired upon by a previously unseen enemy at Decisive Range.
Number of D10 fire dice from close order infantry or artillery directed toward unit is at least 2x number of stands in unit.
Each casualty suffered by fire.

Any Morale Impacts caused by fire from a flank count double; those caused by fire from the rear count quadruple.

Pursuit of Broken enemy
A friendly unit in Confident morale condition must advance a full turn of movement in direct pursuit of any formed enemy which breaks within 1 inch of its front, unless it is restrained by passing a morale test.

Effects of Disorder upon Morale
Any close order unit disordered as a result of terrain or obstacle penalties during movement that turn and obliged to test morale for any reason must take one additional test for Straggling.

Disaffected Troops
Hungry troops, fatigued troops, drafted Militia, units under incompetent leaders, and units low on ammunition are classified as disaffected troops. Disaffected troops can never exceed a morale condition of Cautious.

Any unit required to test against any morale impact(s) at night must make one additional test for Straggling.

How to Test Morale
Morale tests are conducted in order starting with the worst case morale condition first, i.e. – broken, shaken, cautious, then confident. Within each condition, tests are performed in order starting with the unit suffering the greatest number of morale impacts. In cases of an equal number of morale impacts, test in order starting with the worst morale classification, i.e. – militia, line, veteran, then elite. Otherwise, test simultaneously.

One D10 is thrown for each morale impact.

Troop Quality Fail on score of: Pass on score of:
Elite 2 or less 3 or more
Veteran 3 or less 4 or more
Line 4 or less 5 or more
Militia 5 or less 6 or more

The presence of an attached mounted commander will permit that unit to IGNORE ONE Morale Impact during each phase of the turn (Before Movement; During Movement; After Movement; Special Case).

Effects of a Failed Morale Test
Each morale failure will cause an infantry or cavalry unit the loss of one casualty to straggling and will reduce the morale condition of the unit by one level, which in turn may cause a morale reaction. Artillery does not suffer losses from straggling. The worst morale condition which can be suffered is Broken, regardless of the number of morale failures suffered. However, one straggling casualty is always suffered for each morale failure.

Rallying a Cautious or Shaken Unit
A Cautious or Shaken unit may attempt to improve its morale status at the end of any game turn in which it has
(a) Not moved.
(b) Not conducted fire combat.
(c) Not been forced to test morale.

Throw 1D10 as if testing against a morale impact. Add +1 to any rally attempt D10 score if a mounted commander is in contact with the flag stand. The morale status of the unit will improve by one level with a minimum passing test score plus one additional morale level level for each dice score above the minimum and will start the next game turn as such.
A test failure will result in one straggling casualty per stand in the testing unit.

Rallying a Broken Unit
A Broken unit may attempt to rally at the end of any game turn in which it has –
(a) Not moved.
(b) Not conducted fire combat.
(c) Not been forced to test morale.
(d) Remains in possession of its colors
(e) Has a mounted commander in contact with its color stand.

Otherwise test to rally as above.

A Broken stand/element out of sight of its unit's colors cannot test to rally.
A Broken unit without its colors cannot be rallied.

The Attacker must meet the following conditions in order to execute a charge:

A unit must have sufficient movement distance to contact its object that turn.

The objective of the charge must be within the frontal fire arc of the charging unit.

The charging unit must be in a morale condition that will permit it to advance in some way.

Close order infantry and cavalry may charge any target. Skirmishers may charge other skirmishers, transport, or limbered artillery. Artillery and mounted infantry on their horses may never charge.

If the above conditions are met, the Defender must test its morale once for each discreet enemy unit charging it that turn.

A result of Confident permits the defending unit to withhold its fire until the advancing enemy has approached within Decisive range of its weapons.

A result of Cautious or Shaken permits the defending unit to withhold its fire until the advancing enemy has approached to within Effective range of its weapons.

A result of Broken will cause the defending unit to flee without firing.

The Attacker advances, tests its own morale at the point where it receives the fire of the Defender, and then completes its movement as follows. If Defender has fled without firing, no morale test is required.

A result of Confident permits the Attacker to return fire at Decisive range against an equally Confident Defender, otherwise to advance into contact with any Defender in a lesser morale condition.

A result of Cautious will cause the Attacker to halt at or recoil back to Effective range where its surviving stands will return fire against the Defender.

A result of Shaken will cause the Attacker to halt at or recoil back to Effective range where its surviving stands will return fire against the Defender at ˝ effect.

A result of Broken will cause the Attacker to immediately flee to the rear without firing.

If a Cautious or Shaken Defender is contacted by a Confident Attacker:

A Cautious Defender will become Shaken and will fall back in the face of the Attacker, remaining outside of Decisive Range.

A Shaken Defender will become Broken and will flee.

Blutarski11 Aug 2023 4:23 p.m. PST

Addendum to Blutarski's ACW Morale post above -

A stand of close order infantry occupies a 50 yd frontage
and holds five figures, representing a total of 100 men. A "casualty", whether by combat or straggling, represents the loss of one figure (20 men). One infantry stand is removed for every five casualties suffered by the unit.


Bolingar12 Aug 2023 3:43 a.m. PST

@Blutarski: I like it! The nature and effects of Confident, Cautious, Shaken and Broken on morale tests and attack and defence seem neatly worked out. I like the distinction between decisive and effective firing ranges and the factors that activate them. Have you posted any detailed AARs demonstrating these mechanisms in action? If you haven't, do so!

Bolingar12 Aug 2023 4:21 a.m. PST

@paperbattles: to be honest, I think your mechanisms would work very well for a PC game where the computer does all the sums, but I doubt players will want to mentally juggle this level of complexity. For me, the secret of good rules writing is to get rid of rules: simplify mechanisms or eliminate them altogether, making it easy for players to memorise what they need to know and concentrate on gameplay.

Bolingar12 Aug 2023 2:25 p.m. PST

Cavalry combat in Optio. A more fluid affair than infantry fighting.

Blutarski13 Aug 2023 5:58 p.m. PST

Hi Bolingar,
I have no AAR's of any of the test games run with these rules (the last test-game was nearly ten years ago). If I have a chance, I will play out a small solo scenario and give a write-up.


Phillip H19 Dec 2023 3:38 p.m. PST

The prior examples that come to my mind are:

Rules for Wargaming by Arthur Taylor (1971, Shire Publications)

Battle: the Game of Strategy by S. Craig Taylor (1979, Yaquinto)

The Complete Brigadier by J. F. Grossman (1982, Adventure Games)

En Avant! (2003) and En Avant! En Masse (2008) by Jim Wallman (Web published)

Battle is a board game played on a hex grid, at a much higher and more abstract level.

TCB remains a "horse and musket" miniatures game I like a lot, though I'm inclined to play it with an average battalion having 24 figures on 8 bases instead of 36 on 12. It might be nice to go down to 10mm size figures and perhaps use more.

People who don't like written orders or keeping rosters won't like either the Arthur Taylor or J. F. Grossman games. The latter explicitly endorses figure removal for recording casualties, but there are also morale and stamina factors to track.

TCB brings in a dice toss in two cases of potential command casualties, but otherwise is entirely deterministic. ‘Simulation' aside, as a game it brings plenty of ‘friction' simply from the players' commands and their simultaneous resolution.

Phillip H22 Dec 2023 9:32 p.m. PST

The ballistics of dice are no less predictable by Newtonian physics than those of baseballs or bullets; a human thrower simply lacks sufficiently precise and comprehensive information to predict each toss (as opposed to the long-term aggregate spread).

When comes to modeling a battle, the key question is whether I as commander would have access to the information. The more that is given to me to calculate, the more the labor approaches the impossibility of managing so much as a commander in the real world!

The infamous example is Richard Berg's The Campaign for North Africa (1978, SPI). That's a design crying out for automation, but personal computers of the time may have been too feeble (and certainly were still expensive and hence rare). The consultation of dice is a drop in the bucket next to the logistical accounting, which is of sufficient magnitude that most groups of players quickly find it too tedious to continue what is really more a simulation than a game.

The reason why an actual army commander left to the colonels the arrangement of each battalion's formation becomes evident if one attempts that with a hundred on the table. The basic rule of thumb is that one gives orders one level down and is aware of the basic disposition of units another level down. So, an army commander should order corps and know basics of what's going on with divisions; micro-managing brigades — never mind companies in battalions — is for good reason beneath the "pay grade."

So, there's a lot of imponderables, things that realistically should not be in the player's purview. To some extent, many (I think most) wargamers want unrealistically to go to a lower level and "wear multiple hats" or play different roles because it's fun. When it becomes instead drudgery, that's another matter.

To my mind, the most realistic way to introduce friction is by rather directly modeling the command system instead of abstracting it. This is the approach that George Jeffreys called the Variable Length Bound. Even without an umpire limiting players' information, there are limits to how fast a response can be implemented through the chain of command.

The initiative (or inertia) of local commanders in response to unforeseen developments is a probabilistic matter largely because only probabilistic data would actually be available to their real-world superiors. The occasions arise in the first place precisely because a superior even one level up has not yet been informed!

The ordinary presumption — violation of which can potentially incur a court martial — is to follow standing orders and the latest orders received. Even within that, though, there can be a significant difference on average between officers with different personalities.

That the long-term trend is stochastic regression to a mean does prevent the discrete events along the way from being sometimes dramatically — even decisively— interesting.

The art of command is chiefly one of avoiding the mistakes that make a misfortune potentially decisive. Events may have come to such a pass that perforce much rests on a gamble, but ideally they should not come to that on one's own watch, due to one's own decisions.

Erzherzog Johann25 Dec 2023 7:48 p.m. PST

The diceless wargame I've had the most experience with was many years ago (mid to late 70s or early 80s) playing Fletcher Pratt WWII Naval games. For those who are unfamiliar with the game, each ship was assigned a points value based on a formula for displacement, armour, weaponry and maybe other factors. Each gun had a value based IIRC on shell weight. Players took turns to move their ships and shoot. Shooting was done by stipulating the line of fire and estimating the range, before running a tape over to check the fall of shot. There was then a template for fall of each individual shot. Points were deducted per gun hit against the total for the target ship. Hitting a particular area resulted in more specific damage, eg a direct hit on a forward turret etc. Easier with 600th scale ships on the floor than 4800th scale on the club table! We had a lot of fun.

People started turning up at the club with different rules that required dice. Around then, I realised that the skill being tested in this game was how good an eye you had for distances over up to about 2 or 3 metres. However I'm not sure the dice-inclusive game really tested much tactical skill either to be honest. We'd try to line up broadsides, get destroyers into torpedo range etc, but I don't remember any tactical brilliance on anyone's part.

Over the years, I have come to think that dice are a useful element in a game. Wargames are about risk management. As someone pointed out earlier in this thread, DBx for example encourages players to attempt to retain cohesion as things fragment. But risk (and randomness) doesn't result only from enemy action. It also results, as others have mentioned, from innumerable other, often unquantifiable, variables. Do they average out with larger numbers? Maybe, but not always. A large group might as easily get lost en route to the battle, or go off course in fog as a small group. The tendency of a body of soldiers to shoot muskets too high might be exacerbated en mass than at skirmish level.

Are 'fog of war' issues all preventable through good player choices? Not necessarily. The Romans may have blundered into an ambush at Teutoberger Wald due to hubris by the (player) general, but Anzio and Arnhem both went wrong despite competent intelligence gathering. Decision making at higher levels (at Anzio they didn't want to reveal their code breaking, at Arnhem, (from memory), someone misinterpreted intelligence gathering – they sent the Mosquito photo-recon flights – it's just that someone misinterpreted the photos) resulted in the troops on the ground (the players' responsibility) being compromised by errors beyond the player's control.

To me, the question is, does the imposition of a random factor (dice) make a realistic outcome more or less likely? If less, then there are too many dice moments or their impact outweighs the manageable or knowable. If more, I'll happily play the dice based game. Certainly I don't think my opinion on this is based on the various perjoratives flung about in this thread, "Mum's cooking's best", "can't be arsed", "lazy" or whatever.


Fred Cartwright26 Dec 2023 4:17 p.m. PST

To my mind, the most realistic way to introduce friction is by rather directly modeling the command system instead of abstracting it. This is the approach that George Jeffreys called the Variable Length Bound. Even without an umpire limiting players' information, there are limits to how fast a response can be implemented through the chain of command.

I think it was Phil Barker who said that the purpose of a command and control system in real life was to enable a commander to do what he wanted. That of wargame rules was the opposite, to prevent the player from doing exactly what he wanted.

Pages: 1 2 3 

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.