Getting back in the game

7 07 2012

Troops get fundamentally tired of being shot at.  Not just tired in the “dead tired” sense but in the “they don’t pay me enough to do this @#)&$@!” sense.  When this occurs they walk off the job, or, as is more often the case, run pell-mell off the job.  Eventually running starts to look like a lot of work and they stop behind a convenient fence, a hill or in a barn.  At this point soldiers are on on or near the battlefield, recovering from the shock of battle. 

Maybe they do recover, maybe they don’t.  They may have it in them to be useful again today, even if only as units to protect a flank or defend a strong position.  They will never know what to do or where they are needed though because they are scattered and unorganized.  They no longer are a unit working with a single goal.  A ton of work must be done to get a significant enough group of them back together and give them an achievable goal that will inspire them to go back out and perform a dangerous job. 

This is one of the principle jobs of civil war commanders and their staff during a battle.  Good generals do this well. Bobby Lee famously waded into the 6000 surviving troops of his 12,000 troop assault on the third day of Gettysburg saying “This is my fault” over and over.  Not only did those troops rally but if contemporary records of that event are to be believed, they asked for another chance to carry the position with a second attack.  Regardless, those troops where in position to stop a Union counter assault. Other battles have notable failures where troops where around but were not able to be issued orders.  Recovering the Morale of troops is a foundational element of any Civil War Battlefield simulation.

Recovering Morale

Both brigade and division commanders can give orders for a unit to attempt to improve its morale.  This is literally an order by a general for a unit in its command structure to shape up.  Only one unit may be effected at a time.  It is totally conceivable that three units from a single charge should be huddling in the same barn but the order must be for a single unit (a regiment or artillery piece) to recover.

A unit that has been ordered to recover makes a skill check with the following modifiers:

  • -1 Unit Shaken
  • -2 Unit routed
  • -1 per stand lost
  • -1 if flanked (any of the shooting units can not be shot at)
  • +1 partial cover (fence or tress)
  • +2 full cover (building or works)
  • -1 if disordered (automatic if unit is routed)
  • + 1 for each foot the unit is away from the nearest enemy unit

Very happily, this list of modifiers is IDENTICAL to the modifier list for Flight Checks and Morale checks.  Huzzah!

With a successful skill check, the unit upgrades its morale status; from “Routed” to “Shaken” or from “Shaken” to “Good Shape”.  A routed unit that successful recovers morale (to shaken) can change formations too.  As all routed units are disorganized, this is a good thing.  

There is no bad outcome from a Morale Recovery check, failing just leaves it in its original (busted) state.


Consider the sad case of 47th Indiana.  As you may recall, we have shot the crap out of the 47th Indiana…


Having been reduced from 360 soldiers to a scant 30 in about 45 minutes of simulated battle, they “quit the field.”    We watched them degrade their moral and then flee until finally the found the backside of the battle and took a breather…


Now, they sit panting behind their fence listening to the battle and wondering how its going.  An order is given to reform!  (Some general must be bored because this is a seriously feeble unit now)

The following conditions apply to the poor 47th Indiana

  • The are routed
  • They are disordered (as are all routed units)
  • they have lost three stands (!)
  • They are in partial cover (woods or fence… take your pick (note… not both!))
  • They are (happily) over three feet away from the enemy

The 47th needs a modified 4…

4 + 3 = 7 for lost stands

7 + 2 = 9 for routing

9 + 1 = 10 for being disordered

10 – 1 = 9 for being in the woods (partial cover).

9 – 3 = 6 for being 3 feet away from the enemy

They need a ’6’ on one of their skill dice to recover their morale.  They are a veteran unit and get 3 dice.  Their general is also throwing in one of his dice because he cool that way and clearly has nothing better to do with his command influence.


Hey… we rolled a ‘6’!  Lets upgrade our morale to Shaken shall we? 


You can’t see it in this picture but the unit is now also in line. Note: I could create markers for showing formations for one stand units but this is a really odd occurrence and I doubt it will come up very often.

Now I have a shaken unit alone at the back of the battlefield.  In a subsequent officer order (perhaps even the same officer but a different order) another morale recovery order is given.

The following conditions apply to the poor 47th Indiana

  • The are shaken
  • They have lost three stands
  • They are in partial cover
  • They are still over three feet away from the enemy

The 47th needs a modified 4…

4 + 3 = 7 for lost stands

7 + 1 = 8 for being shaken

8 – 1 = 7 for being in the woods (partial cover).

7 – 3 = 4 for being 3 feet away from the enemy

They need a ’4’ on one of their skill dice to go from “shaken” to “good shape”. Again they are a veteran unit and get 3 dice and once again their general is also throwing in one of his dice.


All four die are rolled and each would have successfully rallied the unit.


The unit is now in “good shape” and eager to defend this section of the union line.  Huzzah!

My 50th post!

This has been the 50th post for McPherson and Revenge!  I started this blog in November of 2010 with little expectation of reaching 50 or even knowing I could stand work on a project that long.  By my own reckoning I am more than half way done but I still have a long way to go.  Thanks to everyone for reading and we’ll see if I can make it to 100!


Overcoming the Tyranny of Dice

17 04 2011

Someone once asked Napoleon what trait he most looked for in his generals.  His response says a lot about what war must have been like in the 19th  Century.  “Luck… Let my generals be lucky”

In games with random elements (such as dice) its very similar and I have only seen two strategies that work to mitigate this:

    1. Reduce the range of effects of a random event.  That is to say, make both the worst and best possible outcomes of a randomizer so near the same that no one really gets bent out of shape when the dice go cold.  Close Action does this pretty well.  In ten years I have never seen a game broken because someone was unlucky.  Quite the contrary… the game only breaks when someone is dumb.  Which is always.

  • Increase the number of dice rolls.  On a long enough timeline randomly generated numbers form beautiful and predictable curves.


I should take a moment and say that Jeff Hunt (the man, the legend) and I have spent quality time discussing this problem.  If you’ve ever seen Jeff roll dice when the chips were on the line, you would understand why dice tyranny was such a hot topic for him.  Besides being  a great advocate for reducing consequences for rolling dice (option #1 above) Jeff used to always point out how bizarre it was that there was no way to challenge the luck gods to a best two out of three.  If the fates have decreed that my battleship should be sunk on the rolling of a “one” on a six sided die, I should at least be given a second chance even if I should have to give up a couple of Victory Points or have to buy the next round of beers.  Fate should have to show up or shut up.

Introducing… Battle Karmatm

As we have previously discussed, Generals give orders.  Good generals are able to give lots of orders.  Once all the troops have been ordered what’s a good general to do?  Get some Battle Karma!

Battle Karma

Battle Karma represents some of the intangibles of a general.  On many occasions during the war, disaster was averted (or caused) because the seeming mere presence of one of the wars great men.  A cursory look at some of these events might lead you to believe that they where lucky or that they simple had superiors troops because nothing on the battlefield could explain what happened otherwise.  Perhaps nothing on the battlefield did explain it.  Perhaps the commanders and their subordinates had established trust and anticipated or discarded orders as the situation demanded.  Perhaps a general thinking ahead remarked to a lieutenant, “watch those trees… that’s where I would attack us from.”  Perhaps a general expecting failure went back to his tent and got drunk.  Shit happens.

A general may take one check per activation to get Battle Karma as one of its orders.  If successful, the general gets a token that my be redeemed later for a reroll.  A general may only check for  Battle Karma if he has less tokens than his Command Rating.  These tokens are kept near his stand on the table along with his influence dice

To be eligible for a reroll, the die roll in question must be made:

  • By the general himself
  • By a subordinate unit in the command structure of the general (a regiment of the Brigadier or Lt. General spending the Battle Karma)
  • By a unit in direct opposition to the General spending the Battle Karma.  These rolls should involve some interaction with units commanded by the general requesting the reroll.

This last bullet is really fuzzy and deliberately so.  Some actions are inherently interactive such as fire, reaction rolls and assault.  Others like finding improvised cover, rallying, and improving command efficiency are not.  Play testing will draw a better line here.

Why make fate repeat itself?

I imagine that a really common reaction to this rule will be “why take the odd results out of the game?”  I do not think that I am.  The net effect of the rule will not be the elimination of “the unlikely”.  In fact the opposite.  While bad generals will think twice about taking chances against the very capable, good generals won’t hesitate to take advantage of their less skilled opponents.  A one in 8 chance of success becomes a 50/50 with three Battle Karma tokens .  A good general may rely on an unlikely result.

Some other interesting dynamics will occur in game.  For instance, a general will not use his tokens to reroll a fail when there was only 1 in 20 chance that he would succeed.  On the other hand, if he should succeed then his opponent would undoubtedly challenge the roll.  The result will be to enforce that smooth curve that comes with lots of dice.  If a general does not like a bizarre result then he need only challenge it.  This will at a blow remove the “sunk battleship” result that drives the luck challenged to the point of despair. All you have to do is not run out of Karma.

Some generals will have spare Karma and will force rerolls on 50/50s just to burn through the opponents Karma.  It will become an interesting side game on its own.

There are a couple of historic-like results here but none more than the representation of generals “getting ready”.  In many games it is possible that a unit can not move but it is rarely explained and never feels satisfactory.  With Battle Karma, delay is explained as a general running around trying to make sure everything is just right.  There is a tangible benefit to sitting and doing nothing.


I used 20mm wide, 3mm thick round bases from Litko, along with a graphic a made myself to make the tokens using the same process I used for the Activation chits in my Bag o’ Destiny post.