Into the Woods

27 02 2011

 

Let me start by saying that I am REALLY pleased with the ways my trees have turned out.  So much so, that I am reluctant to blog about them for fear that next weeks work will really seem lame by comparison.  Not everything turns out the way I hope and on more than one occasion I have “taken a C” on a particular element of my miniatures and moved on.  Trees I nailed though.

A number of years ago I created trees for my original miniatures project.  I made about 20 or 30 one inch square stand with three trees on it.  It took a while to do but I was generally pleased with the results.  I used really colorful fall foliage because I thought it looked really nice.  In retrospect not my best move as very few battles where fought in the fall.  Still, it was my forest and I wanted fall colors.  Nyaah.

The first time we played with my trees I received a rude awakening.  20 or 30 stands of trees on a 8 foot by 4 foot table looked pathetic.  I missed creating the correct number of trees by well over an order of magnitude.  In fact I needed to go into mass production on my trees if I wanted my trees to look… well like a forest.  Instead of representing trees on my table with trees, we instead used green felt cut into patterns.  I stored the better part of a bolt of green felt along with my hills and would cut new pieces as needed whenever we set up a new game.  It was a workable but unsatisfying solution.

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When I revived the notion of having a Civil War table, I considered the trees to be a central part of the problem.  My forests WILL be made of trees.

Impact on Battle

Scarcely a single battle of the civil war lacked for trees.  Some battles, like the Wilderness or Shiloh could be said to have been fought in a forest.  Even in battles where there was much open terrain, stands of woods had a mighty impact on the battle.  Here are a few ways trees influenced the Civil War battlefield.

  • Reduced visibility – Troops in woods could become virtually invisible.  Troops within the woods themselves could vanish within just a few dozen yards of heavy forest and many impressive acts of deception where achieved by maneuvering just on the other side of a path of trees.  Jackson’s surprise flanking march at the battle of Chancellorsville was achieved largely by the presence of trees
  • Cover – There is lots of cover In a forest.  Holding a wooded area proved to be a successful tactic, particularly if a unit held the edge of a wooded area and fired at the enemy in the open. 
  • Building supplies for improvised cover – If troops did not have the great fortune to be positioned within a forest, being close to trees and having a few minutes to prepare was very nearly as good.  Confederated in particular seemed to be extremely skilled moving felled trees to where they could provide meaningful cover for crouching and firing.
  • Reduced movement – On the downside, movement through woods would occur at a much slower rate than in the open.  Potentially movement could be halved or even quartered based on the density of the woods.

Building Trees

In my original tree project I mounted trees on the same kind of bases I mounted my miniatures on, namely hand cut bass wood glued to a piece of metal.  My thought originally was that I could store them on magnets.  This is a deeply bad Idea.  Given that my scenario calls for at least 10 square feet of woods (and the more I think of it, more like 16) storage will be an issue.  16 square feet of storage space will be costly, especially if I have to cover it in sheet magnet which can be $10 or so a square foot.

If I make everything light, I could just chuck everything into a shoebox and fix battle damage as it occurs.  Also, I need something a little easier than hand cutting bases.  Don’t they make bits o’ wood already? 

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Michaels, seller of cool stuff, has on their popsicle stick isle, bits of stunningly cheap round bits o’ wood for about $1.99 a bag.  Huzzah!  A single bag will cover about 9 square inches in two different sizes(about 1.5 inch and 3/4 inch diameter circles.

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I start by gluing two layers of Fine ballast to the top of the disk.  This will make for the painted dirt service.

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Once done I spray paint the bases, generously, with brown paint.

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I then dry brush the bases with burnt sienna (a style of painting where only the raised areas are touched by the paint).

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I then paint the edges of the base with black paint.

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This finishes the painting of the bases.  Next step is to drill three different size holes in the base for tree trunks.  I do enough of this that I have a drilling station in my garage.

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I then cut dowels to fit the two larger holes.  These will become tree trunks.

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I then glue the two different size dowel bits to each of the bases.  (note:In the smaller bases, I either put a small or medium hole.)

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I then use ink to dye the dowels a more trunk like color.

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Once dry I apply glue and static grass.  This is a really bizzare process involving a blowing the grass using a large squeeze bottle.

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This finishes the ground appearance of the tree stand.

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Next I create trees.  To create conifer trees I use black bump chenille.  This is basically a pipe cleaner with alternating long and short hairs.

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I cut the chenille so that I have about 3/4 inch tall bits that go from wide to skinny.  I pull the a little of the black fur out of the chenille bit on the wide end so that I can attach these guys to the bases later.

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Next I put a “light” layer of glue on the chenille…

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… and dip the chenille into a dark mix of forest scenics grass blend.

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Once dry, I can glue the trees to the bases by taking the protruding wire coated in white glue…

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…and slipping them into the small holes in my bases.

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I finish the trees by super gluing different colored bits of clump foliage to the tree trunks.

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This is the completed batch of trees…

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… and this is about 4 completed batches of trees.

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I expect I will have about 8-10 batches of these trees by the time I am done.  It’s slow work but it beats the bejesus out of felt.





Stands 2.0

20 02 2011

As I established previously, my basic infantry stand is 7/8” by 5/8’.  Groovy.  With width and depth determined we have only the issue of height to be settled. How tall should a stand be?  Should it have any height at all?  This is one of those strange and nuanced topics that can divide miniature war gamers into different, almost religious, camps.

On one side are what I shall call the “flat-earthers”.  Soldiers did NOT fight on raised pedestals and neither should their miniature counterparts.  To the flat-earthers there is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing troops standing virtually level to the table.

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On the other side of this robust debate are a somewhat more pragmatic group that mount their minis on deliberately tall bases.  Many don’t like to pick up miniatures by their painted surface or or are concerned that some minis are fragile and might break.  Also… they think pedestals are cool.

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I like the look of both but I even if I didn’t, 6mm miniatures are just too small to pick up and move by the lead itself.  It would be great to have enough surface to move minis around without overly touching the lead itself.  Also… where would you put the labels?

Labels

So, another age old divide amongst wargamers is whether or not units should be labeled.  This is actually a pretty big problem with, again, several almost religious schools of thought. 

Most gamers prefer no labels permanently affixed to their miniatures.  This allows for great flexibility.   One does not have to know in advance their order of battle before painting and units can be assigned a designation as needed.  Armies can be generically painted and divvied up to their scenario dependent units on the day of battle.  The only problem is that it is not overly easy to track un labeled units on the table.  Usually a temporary label is joined to the mini’s for a gaming session.

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Another approach is to make the label free standing like a name card.

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In the image above, generic units are tracked using trifold labels.  (If you look closely, even the units themselves are massively generic;  25mm miniatures on circular bases are attached to green cards allowing the gamer to change the scale of the base or to reflect casualties by removing miniatures from their stands as they take hits.)  More common than the trifold label is the use of stickers or post-its to make a unit a battle time.

Another way to distinguish units on the battlefield without resorting to any sort of label is the distinctive paint job.

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There where a lot of variation with uniforms during the war.  By using Zoaves, great coats, colored bed rolls and back packs, and other variations in uniform you can create enough distinction to tell troops apart but this is a lot of work and , once again, 6mm is no scale for counting on uniform details for distinction. Besides, troops with distinctive uniforms where rarely able to maintain these distinctive looks more than a few months in the field.

Another reason for using thick bases is to allow for a beveled surface to attach a label.  I have seen many flat bases with labels but it always looks a little awkward to me.

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I like to bevel the backs of my bases and the base need only be tall enough to allow a 45 degree bevel to contain a single line of text.  This fits nicely on about a quarter of an inch.

Steel, magnet, card, wood, etc.

I have seen MANY different materials used for creating miniatures bases.  Basically, there are two approaches to basing miniatures.  Permanently base them and temporarily base them.  Now… I am a big fan of permanent basing.  To me it is more important that the miniature be well based than well painted.  The smaller the scale of mini, the more important this is and we are doing very small mini’s indeed.

However… IF I owned EMACULATELY painted 25mm miniatures and did not possess the skill or time to produce another whole set of painted minis AND I wanted to play many different games systems and scales with these minis I would be VERY reluctant to permanently base them.  It is not uncommon to see someone at a game convention attaching very big and NICE minis to a plain piece of thick card using trace amounts of rubber cement in order to temporarily make them street legal for one game system or another.

To make the pedestal deep bases I really have only one option for building material… wood.  I could run out and buy Bass or Balsa wood from Michaels if I liked or I could custom buy precut bases online from a miniature accessories company such as Litko.  Sadly wood as a basing material has one serious shortcoming.  There is no condition in which it is naturally sticky.

Metal is sticky… when placed on a magnet.  Magnets, conversely, are sticky when placed on metal.  Both give you the option of storing miniatures in an environment where you can be pretty confident that they will not shift.  Magnets can be bought sticky backed and applied to precut wooden bases with a great deal of success.  This is a really common scenarios.  If stored in a metal container or a metal bottomed container then this will work really well.

Metal bases, which can be glued to wood, provide a good base when stored on sheet magnet.  Additionally, if you wanted to cut your own bases and bevel them, it would also provide an excellent template for doing so and would be resistant to forces that might be used to shape the wood, such as a rapidly spinning disk of sandpaper.  I use this technology.

Making bases

To start with, I buy precut metal bases from the aptly named Wargames Accessories out of St. Petersburg Florida.  Not only do they have a wide variety of miniature base sizes but, if you happen to choose an amazingly odd size, such as 7/8” by 5/8”, to base your game upon then they are really eager to custom cut that size base for you!

Next… I need the right depth wood to get a quarter inch tall bevel, about the height of text I need, so I will use… <Math> …and keeping in mind Pythagorean theorem… <Math> …at 45 degrees… <Math>… and rounding the nearest depth of commonly available bass wood boards… <Math>… I therefore will use 3/32 of an inch as the depth of my bases.  3” by 24” Basswood boards are readily available at this depth.

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Next I use white glue to attach bases to the basswood in lines and columns.  Once I attach the base I use a small clamp to hold the base in place while it dries.  Because I only have about a dozen clamps I glue bases to the board after a painting session working on something else.

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Once I have a board or two filled up with bases, I cut around the bases using a scroll saw.

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For those of you that you that know me… yes… this seems like an excellent way to hurt myself.

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Once I have my bases cut out I then sand a strait edge onto all four sides using a belt sander.

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The metal doesn’t sand all that well so the bases typically get really well squared.  This process works very well.

Once all bases are sanded, I then tilt the guide on my sander to 45 degrees (or so) and put a bevel on on side.

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Repeat until finished

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I now have a set of bases that are just high enough to pick up without lifting by the miniature, beveled to provide amply room for a label and just big enough for the miniatures I am using.

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Hot Lead!

13 02 2011

It is with GREAT pleasure that I announce the long overdue arrival of a certain package from Sheffield England.  My Miniatures have come at last.

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My daughter snapped this photo of me shortly after I calmed down.

Buying new lead is a ritual of great importance to a seasoned miniature war-gamer.  As  children, we collect every shiny thing that is within our reach.  The words “I could paint this” easily come forth and in an instant that which hung on a peg in the nice game store now departs with us in a bag.  Sadly, most mini’s never get painted.  It’s not even close.  We place in boxes, in drawers and on top shelves every little piece of lead we fancy in our travels but… eventually… a tipping point is reached.  A slow and horrible realization dawns upon us… one cannot paint a quickly as one can own.  From that point forward there is no easy joy in just buying lead. One must actually paint it…

I do not buy lead I do not intend to paint… AND… I have just bought a LOT of lead…

What did I buy?

I bought a crap pot  of 6mm miniatures from Baccus 6mm Ltd in Sheffield England.

Yes… England.

Even though I am gaming the American Civil War, my Mini’s come from England.  I have purchased mini’s several times for the American Civil war in different scales including naval and they always come from England.  I find this odd.

Note: BTW…A “crap pot” is a unit of measurement for a miniature purchase roughly equal to a car payment.  It’s a nice fuzzy term because at no point am I indicating what kind of car it is our whether or not I had a trade-in or a down payment.  This purchase was probably equivalent of a 1998 Ford Taurus “crap pot” but still… I could drive this box of lead for a month. This was my Christmas…

While I am digressing… My figures took 6 weeks to make it to America because some idiot in Yemini shipped a bomb to an American synagogue last year.  I can’t say I totally blame the homeland security for the added scrutiny though…. someone wrote a gigantic “c4” on my box.

My purchase included:

  • 18 regiments of Union infantry (This is the bulk of the purchase)
  • 4 regiments of Confederate infantry
  • Various skirmishers
  • 3 regiments Union Cavalry
  • 3 regiments Confederate Cavalry
  • 8 Smoothbore Artillery and crew (Also big)
  • 8 Rifled Artillery and crew (Also big)
  • Wobbly piles of casualties

Infantry

Infantry are rather cool as they come in really usable strips of 4.

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The strip is 3/4 on inch wide and less than 1/4 of inch deep.  These strips have the soldiers at just the right width for mounting too.  As I mentioned in my Stands blog, a base 7/8” wide by 5/8” deep looks pretty busy with two rows of these guys.

Pictured above are union units (note the distinct Kepi cap).

I also ordered some Confederates

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Confederates wore Kepi’s as well but mostly they just wore whatever was handy.

I also purchased infantry ordered for skirmish.

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These guys are wider on the base and are firing their weapons rather than marching.  These stand are intended to be cut up and used one figure at a time.

Artillery

Artillery come with a gun and about 4 figures for manning it.  The figures are spread out on the stand similarly to the skirmishers above.

The “smoothbore” guns are built in a very handy single piece.

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Oddly enough, the “rifled” guns came with wheels unattached.  This will make for big fun while assembling but the result will be sturdier.  The crews are identical for both Smoothbore and Rifles.  The guns are roughly the same size and you have to be something of a Civil War geek to tell the difference without being told.

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The gun on top has a band around the rear for reinforcement.  Because of the time it took for the shell to clear the gun because of the rifling, this type of banding was really common.  Better a lumpy gun than a blown up cannon I suppose.  Once painted the difference will be much more obvious.  Smoothbores are mad of Brass and Rifles where made of Iron (which made them black)

Guns required large teams of horses to make it into battle.  I received 16 limbers for hoisting the guns around and about.

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BTW… the giant bag o’ limbers, along with its 32 strips of horses was the miniature element I found most intimidating.  Painting horses at this scale is tough work.

For a fun scale check, here is one of the smoothbores sitting on a penny.

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Cavalry

Cavalry come in two flavors.  Mounted and dismounted.  They can be one or the other in the course of a battle so when painting Cav, its important that you have both version based and ready to go.

Here is the mounted cavalry…

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and dismounted…

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These guys look almost identical to the Infantry skirmishers above.  The only difference I can tell is that there are no pictures of soldiers muzzle loading a gun.  These guys appear to have carbines.

Dismounted soldiers come with a really cool set of mini’s for showing that the horses are not just set free when cav dismount.  Basically one guy is standing around holding 3 horses.

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Casualties

I purchase what I am hoping is a lifetime supply of casualties.  These are just guys lying on the ground pretending to be dead… or sleeping (its hard to tell at this scale.  Oh… and horses are pretending as well.

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These guys come in strips of 4 that will have to by cut apart at some point.

I am really pleased with this purchase.  In my cursory view, none of the lead appeared damaged and I didn’t see a single piece of flash.  Everything showed up and in good shape at that.





“Skill Checks” and “Rolling for Effect”

7 02 2011

It is very tempting to come up with a list of things that could occur in a miniature game and then develop a mechanic for each of these.  Many-a-game is published with a booklet of charts and modifiers that are used in each particular circumstance.  These games can be fun but they have the critical short coming that everything that happens must pass through the hands of the man with the charts. 

To give an example of this in the extreme, we spent some quality time a few years back playing Yaquinto’s Ironclads in miniature.  Ironclads was a pretty detailed simulation of naval combat during the American Civil war.  The guys who put this game together REALLY put some thought into the effects of cannon fire on an armored naval vessels.  The game was always fast… as long as no one was shooting.

Theproblem

For every shot fired the following had to be done:

  • Determine if the gun arc covered the target ship.  Confederate and union ships each have a set of firing arcs based on whether the gun faced the side of the ship or to the bow or stern.  Also, arcs could change if the gun firing was at the end of a battery.
  • determine the range of the shot (long, medium, close).  This varied by gun.  By the way, there where hundreds of guns used during the war…. each with its own chart.
  • See if you hit, missed or if your gun blew up.  Speed (both firing and target) the quality of the firing ships crew, moral of the firing ships crew and the silhouette of the target ship all modified this check.
  • See where you hit (Deck, casemate, waterline).  This time the angle of the ship and the type of ship matter .  (This is a crazy chart I still have dreams about.)
  • Determine damage to the armor of the ship.  The armor of the target ship, the type of gun and range count here.
  • Determine if there is damage to the inside of the ship.  The type of gun, the type of shell, the range and the armor of the target ship are all important.  This step was a biggy.  Shots that went “indoors” broke stuff. 
  • Check for “Special” hits.  Once a shot went indoors it broke things, namely crew, hull and armor.  Sometimes you got lucky broke something else.  This could be a gun, the engine, steering apparatus, ventilation, the pump that was moving water out of the ship, the smoke stack or a particularly important officer.  This step was also a biggy and tended to bring the house down if something cool got busted. 

note: smoke stack hits where my favorite.  Imagine the plume of smoke coming off the train from the Hogwarts Express being routed into a space the size of a one story home.  Cough… Ack… Wheeze…

  • Record damage on target ship and update modifiers.  Losses to crew and hull caused other types of damage to the ship.  Ships slowed down, their crews panicked and ultimately, they sunk.   Each of these effects had its own chart.

It was not uncommon for us to play a game with 20 boats each with 6 or 7 guns over 20 turns.  It was an all day sucker.

What problems need solving?

What are we going to be doing with our little game the most?  Once I come up with a list of things that have to be done then I can noodle around with a mechanic or two that will work along with most of these activities.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that troops and officers might do in battle…

  • Officers attempt to issue orders
  • Troops move as far as they can
  • Troops shoot and kill other troops
  • Troops try to withstand a demoralizing event
  • Officers rally routed troops
  • Troops react to the actions of enemy troops
  • Officers take casualties

Ok… happily there is a trend.  Either a unit attempts to do something tricky (succeeding or failing) or the units sees HOW effectively it did something (it didn’t do it, it did it a little, it did it a lot.).

The first of these I will call a “Skill check”.  Can that officer issue an order?  Can those troops adjust their flank before being fired on?  Those guys are taking a ton of fire, I wander if they can keep from running away.  I need a skill mechanic that will give me a yes/no result.

The second of these I will call “Rolling for Effect”.  How many men did that unit hit with it’s fire?  Just HOW far did that unit manage to move?  I need a mechanic that measures degrees of success.

A base mechanic

While war-games are still struggling with simplification as a core value, roleplaying games long ago made a dramatic shift to making sure everyone who participated knew how to play.  Skill based mechanics are key to this success.  In skill based roleplaying games, characters have discrete skill levels for a number of things they may attempt to do over the course of a game.  A basketball player character might have a shooting skill for instance.  Shooting a point after might be as simple as rolling below that characters shooting skill with a dice OR rolling a number of dice equal to the shooting skill and seeing how many dice resulted in “successes”.

I want this.

In the case of my game, this sort of simplicity will work EXTREMELY well.  None of my guys use magic or hack computers.

SO… In general… A skill role will be made using a number of 6 sided dice based on the experience level of the troops.  Troops can be Green (2 dice), Veteran (3 dice) or Elite (4 dice). 

To succeed a skill check, one (and only one) dice needs to be a “4”.  Done.

Troops rolling for effect will count the number of “4”s rolled.  The effect being  rolled for will have an interpretation of each success. For instance, rolling for bonus movement might produce additional distance for each success.

Rolls by officers will use the command rating I mentioned in the Bag o’ destiny blog instead of experience level.

There… I ‘m done.  Let’s play.

Modifiers

Things are done with a varying degree of “difficulty”.  There will need to be a way to modify a skill check to indicate something is tougher or easier.  Going back to my basketball player, that free throw is easy but not as easy as a shot from under the rim, and not as hard as a shot from the three point line.  I need a list of modifiers…  Let’s start with this…

  • “In the paint” +0
  • “at the free throw line” +1
  • Three point range +2

Lets say that my guy has a shooting skill of 3 (three six sided dice) and he needs a single success for getting the shot in the hoop.

With a modifier of +0, I can see that I need a “4” one of my three dice to sink a shot from under the basket.  This is means our guy has an 87.5% chance of hitting a layup.  Sounds reasonable.

Similarly he needs a “5” to hit a free throw which he will do 72.125% of the time.  Better than both me and Shaq.

From the three point line he will need a “6” and he will succeed 42.129% of the time.  Good!

OK… so far so good.  Let’s add a new skill…. PASSING.

Our boy has a passing skill of 2 which means he has two dice.  We already know he needs a single “4” to succeed.  There… I just taught you a new mechanic.

Let’s create some modifiers!

  • Passing from three point range to three point range +0
  • Passing from three point range to the free throw line +1
  • Passing from three point range to “the paint” +2

This seems really familiar… These modifiers are similar to the shooting modifiers.  Now… they didn’t have to be but because they are they are really easy to remember.  Hopefully as I come of with modifiers for all the various skill checks scattered through out my game I will bear this in mind.

Long odds

I left some shooting modifiers out…  silly me…

  • being covered +1
  • being double teamed +2
  • Having a broken leg +3

Let’s say our shooter has a choice between taking a shot at the free-throw line unmolested or going into the paint but drawing a defender… which should he do”?  Answer… doesn’t matter (unless he is worried about his highlight reel).  It’s a +1 either way.  He needs a “5” to hit the shot which he will do 72.125% of the time

Let’s say he is double teamed at three point range… how tough will this be?  The answer… tough.  He needs “4” +2 for the range and +2 more for the double team.  He needs an “8”.

Do we tell the guy… “tough… you need an “8” and your dice just don’t work that way”?  He will likely respond that not only is this shot possible, he saw a kid do it just the other day.  I need a mechanic to deal with the improbable.

What we need is a way to extend the curve of probabilities beyond what a single roll of a six sided dice will give me.  A die will roll a “4” or better 50% of the time, a “5” or better 33.33% of the time and and a “6” 16.63 % of the time.  This curve is moving towards “0” too fast for me.  I need to add a “7” somewhere between 16.6% and 0%.  Why not slice it in half?

A six sided die on my planet rolls a “7” or more 8.4% of the time.  All I have to do is flip a coin whenever I roll a “6” to produce this result.  50% if the time I roll a “6”, I rolled a “7”.  Sweet. 

This does our basketball player no good though… he needed an “8”.  What if I cut that 8.4″% in half again.  4.2% of the time I rolled an “8”.  Roll a “6”, flip a coin, and flip a coin again.  Using this logic there is ALWAYS as chance to succeed when rolling a skill check no matter how many modifiers I pile onto the check.

So… Doug… where did you steal find this…

Shadowrun.  Shadowrun does something a lot like this.  It works like a charm.  I’m totally reusing this for McPherson and Revenge.  Shadowrun has a different method for long odds determination that looks like junk on a graph so my “coin toss” resolution is my own refinement.