EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Morale, Mêlée and Mores

That battles are confusing, scary things seems to be accepted by most wargamers. but there is less consensus on how that should be handled in a wargame.  The particular aspect of the question that I am once again looking at is "melee" or the outcome of a "charge" if you will (keeping in mind that memoirs from the horse and musket era often describe any advance to close range as a charge.)

When I was a young lad it was simple, the side that took the most casualties lost. Whether they actually lost because they took more casualties or took more casualties because they lost was a question that only arose later when I started reading more widely but habits had already been established by then so like so many things instinct battles with intellect when I approach this matter.
A gratuitous picture of Faraway troops in Northern Atlantica under attack by Tsankarlasse troops. (A mystery solved but not yet revealed). The game has confirmed my plan to use the same rules for my 20mm ACW and Faraway's "colonial" 1850's wars.  

In January of 2011 I was taken aback when I played a game of original Morschauser and was reminded that all melees (3" distance between units) were immediately fought until 1 side or both were destroyed.  It took a while to realize that, with one stand units, if you looked at a group of stands it was possible after a series of melees that player's might find themselves wanting to pullback surviving units to regroup. So, I went looking for examples of units pulling back with or without orders and for examples of units "rallying"  and launching a 2nd or 3rd attack or making another stand. It didn't long to find examples of units being ordered to retreat before they were destroyed and of troops breaking and running but even more examples where there is no explicit evidence of how and why an attack failed. Answers to the second question are harder to find. It seems like units that are ordered back are usually capable of another effort after a break though it is unlikely to suceed unless something has changed. When troops break, they can often be halted and reformed but the process seems likely to take hours at best so for most game purposes, one could consider the unit destroyed or rendered ineffective for the remainder of the day at least.

Recently I've been playing around with a medieval/fantasy game based on Morschauser's rules in which I have modified the melee rules to limit them to one round per player turn. I have declined to introduce a win/lose mechanism so essentially unless one side pulls back voluntarily on their own turn, you win or you die (eventually). I'm thinking of bringing that construct forward.

There is a closely related issue which is the effect of long range fire, especially by skirmishers and artillery but also long range volleys. There is no question that it causes casualties and can degrade units' combat ability but exactly how and to what degree is less clear. Certainly the absolute number of casualties from such fire was usually low and the instances of units being destroyed or routed by such fire are rare, usually including both a lengthy period of time and overwhelming firepower.

As Grant Senior pointed out in The Wargame one advantage of large units with 50 or so figures is that you can cater for losses as little as 2%. With a 4 man unit 25% is the minimum and it only takes 4 such "hits" to destroy a unit. One answer is a "disorder" status or similar which indicates that the unit is weakened temorarily over and above the physical casualties. Well enough. But what does it mean and should it get progressively worse?  As far as I can tell, while units sometimes indulged in long range firefights its hard to be sure whether these were attacks that were halted before they began or if they should be treated as indecisive combats (ie within my 4" (150 to 200 yds) decisive combat range.

I have been experimenting for the nth time with using a disorder combat result for shooting and in melee but have been allowing the disorder to stop attacks. In melee (again this includes firefights) it would probably be fair to say that both sides should suffer from disorder almost automatically in which case it could just be built in rather than being a possible result. One alternative that I am reconsidering is to revert to something closer to the old Hearts of Tin approach with multiple stands per unit each capable of several hits with combat strength being dependent on numbers of stands rather than a Battlecry/DBA approach which I have being experimenting with where a unit's combat value remains constant until it is destroyed. There is a lot to be said for the latter from a purely gaming aspect  but the other system seems to give a better "feel" even if the results mightly be broadly similar. When playing  a cardtable or portable game with 1 stand units the equivalent would be relating numbers of dice to remaing figures or "hits".


  1. The 'disruption point' system of Warr Without and Enemie addresses this situation with some ability.

    As the rules are free you could download and check it out.


    1. Thanks, I appreciate the input. I'm quite familiar with Andy Callahan's DP ideas and how much some like them but I'm, not really a fan either from a chore pov or a theoretical pov since I think it under rates the role and capability of unit ofgicer's and ncos esp in a 19thC setting where a player is handling a division or corps.

  2. As usual, Ross, when you post reflective articles of this type, you offer as veritable feast for thought. Perhaps it still comes back to the 'simulation/game' dichotomy, though I sometimes wonder if the issue is quite as dichotomous as we think.

    On the matter of melee/close combat/close range fighting, I tend to regard the die rolls to determine casualties as simultaneously determining the result. Take the 'Charge!' system. We have x guys attacking y defenders. We roll our dice: scoring 4 and the defender rolls a 5. We multiply our participating figures by these scores: 4x vs 5y. It so happens our x = 2y (we outnumber the enemy, two-to-one), so the relative scores are 8y against 5y. As 8y is obviously more than 50% greater than 5y, we win. We determine the casualties/hits by dividing the scores by 10 and rounding.

    What I have described above is not quite how it is described in 'Charge!', but in fact it is precisely the same in effect, merely seen from a different perspective. What I like about this is that it doesn't really concern us which came first: the casualties of the unit breaking. At that, the answer might well be 'both'!

    As it happens, my own sets also have a morale component that is separate from but can (sort of) modify the combat results, or at least their effects. The 'loser' must fall back, and take a morale roll, but a good roll might be enough to check its rearward progress. The 'winner' may stand (or even pursue) but, if its losses have been heavy enough, will also have to take a morale roll. A very bad roll might yet see that unit reeling to the rear. A 'drawn' combat might equally be resolved in this manner.

    My morale system used to be based on the SPI " Terrible Swift Sword" game system. In the early days of my set, even crack units might find themselves breaking in fairly innocuous circumstances. In an early campaign battle set in East Tennessee, a veteran Confederate regiment (4th S.C.), acting as a flank guard, had entrenched themselves on a low ridge facing a wood. Suddenly, two Union regiments 6th Vt and 12th Md) emerged from the undergrowth at (I think) medium rifle range (I had four intervals, then: short, medium. long, extreme). In the exchange of fire, the Union took several hits and lost, maybe, a couple of figures apiece. Enjoying the cover of its earthwork, the Confederates took precisely one.

    Now, at the time, I had no modifier for cover for the morale roll. Basically, I felt that the reduction in losses for cover took care of that aspect pretty much. Any unit that took losses, though, had to check. The result was: One of the Federal units faded back into the woods. The other stood (no doubt cat-calling their less staunch friends the while). But the Confederate unit abandoned its position! Any D6 roll from 1-5 would have kept it there, but, no, it rolled a 6.

    This was not a rout, exactly, though it would require rallying. A failed morale simply sent the unit back a move: in line, 6 inches, maybe. It was still a fightable unit. But it was off the hill and out of its works.

    I subsequently modified my rule set to allow cover to modify the morale check. Was that a good idea? I'm not so sure...

    1. re Charge, leaving out the details, defendive fire, man to man cavalry rolls etc, it sidesteps the question as do my various rules but there is a twist since no matter how badly a unit loses by it is only temporary as long it is above 1/2 strength but even the winner must retreat if understrength. Its not stated but I assume the figure removal is not meant literally.

      On the rest, been there, done that myself.

    2. It has occurred to me that the morale system I described in my earlier comment could be at least partially - perhaps wholly - independent of the casualties diced for. Now, Rules sets like Fire &Fury and General de Brigade assess losses AFTER the result of the close combat is determined, and are dependent upon that result.

      What i was thinking of is rolling for losses first, then taking a morale roll for both sides. Rather than there being a 'winner' of 'loser' to determine the result, any of the following might be applied:
      1. Straight roll with standard modifiers for losses so far incurred in the battle. Losses specific to the close combat are subsumed in the total. Now that I think about it again, this might work!
      2. Roll with modifiers according to the odds being faced. E.g. RED with 42 figures attacks BLUE with 24. RED inflicts 8 casualties but takes 10. But that leaves BLUE with 16 figures facing 32 - two to one odds. So RED's morale roll is accordingly weighted.
      3. As a result of a melee, if one side inflicts more than 50% loss upon the other, the morale roll of both is modified up or gown by 1 according. The result of the morale roll itself is what determines who won or lost.

      What do you think?

    3. I don't know about GdeB but in F&F a single opposed roll determines both result and stand loss which are inextricably linked. Numbers are a smallish modifier.

      Your proposal is doubtless as good as many others but I must confess that I don't believe that we have enough evidence to reliably determine casualties or separate physical casualties from degrees of loss of cohesion and morale.

    4. I think it is for that reason - we don't really know what happens inside a melee - it might not matter overmuch how we go about it. But I tell you what: I'm bally glad you have raised this topic and got me thinking more about it. I've been hung up on the Melee/Morale rules for by BB4ST game without reaching a satisfactory mechanic for either. It's past high time I did something about that.

    5. I find just writing these sorts of posts helps me sort my thinking a bit and then the comments make me think again and either clarify and confirm things or spark new ideas.

  3. Looking at the table in this picture: where Have I seen that before? :-)

    1. Yeah well, once I get the table set it seems a shame to clear the terrain after a single game.