Thursday, February 24, 2011

Real World Data -- Loads

I recently read a newspaper article on the heavy loads carried by combat soldiers and the impact thereof.

The key point was that carrying loads of 100 lbs in combat on a regular basis -- even when the bearer is a young, physically fit male -- causes injuries. A USMC after-action-report finds that heavy loads limit the mobility of riflemen with tactical consequences.

Note how well this maps to the rule of 7; a 100 lb load is around 7 stones, and that is apparently beyond the max load that can be carried safely. It also hints at some possible mechanical consequences to heavy loads beyond speed penalties. Perhaps there is a risk of long-term ability score damage or other long-term consequences to carrying such extreme burdens in combat conditions.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Delta recently had a great post on cavalry. It is worth reading.

It also made me think about morale. I love the idea of the AD&D morale rules. In the real world, most combats are not to the death; they are merely until one side or the other breaks and runs. Cavalry was integral to this process. A massed cavalry charge or unanswerable arrows from horse archers were both bad for morale. Likewise, cavalry made a fight decisive because after a foe broke and ran, pursuit horsemen could run down the routed enemy and finish them.

The trouble with morale is that it is far too cumbersome to use. We need a simple, faster system. Here's my initial hack.

A morale check is a dice pool against TN5. The pool consists of:
  • Base die (1) -- you get one for free
  • If within Leader's Command Radius (4+/-FIRE, or just 4 for OD&D types), add Leader's Spirit Primacy or 1, whichever is greater
  • Spirit Primacy, if any (apply any penalties if Spirit Damage has been taken); for mooks that don't have all their detailed stats noted out, this is either zero or one (if you decide the troops are elite or otherwise high morale)
  • Unit's Quality in relation to the Current Phase (in the first phase of a fight, add the Cardinal primacy, for example)
The TN is adjusted as normal; that is, for a threat or source of difficulty a tier higher than the unit, increase the TN by one per tier. For example, a normal man facing an orc is TN5. Against an ogre, that'd be TN6. And against a hill giant would be TN7. Use the worst or scariest threat impacting the unit.

In general, each PC should be controlling 4+/-3 other figures, maximum. This limits the number of morale checks that need to be made. Larger numbers of very weak followers should be combined into one figure.

Likewise, on the foe side, designate a few monsters as "leaders" (no more than one per PC or so) Each leader should have no more than 4+/-3 other figures under its command. If there are a lot of "mook" or minion types then combine them into larger figures.

Example: A pair of high level PCs goes into a goblin's lair. There are 16 goblins, but the DM batches them into groups of four under a goblin lieutenant. There are also three worg riders; the DM decides that they are important enough to dice for individually.

Generally, players decide what their characters will do. Players should check morale as anyone else. However, a PC can ignore the results of a roll and act exactly as their player decides. If, prior to rolling the dice, the player agrees to follow their results, then the DM should grant a bonus to such actions (for example, if the player takes their chances and ends up with "fight," give a bonus to hit).

  • At the start of each phase (each battle has three phases which occur every 5 rounds or so), make a morale check. Note that you make a check to see if a new phase begins whenever someone with a name goes down (including PCs, enemy leaders, etc) so that may trigger a round of morale checks via this mechanic.
  • If its leader quits the field or is hors de combat. Yes, this may mean double jeopardy.
  • When subjected to certain attacks that inspire fear: Cavalry charges or firearms would certainly qualify.
  • When suddenly plunged into darkness (surface creatures) or bright light (underdark creatures): Have you ever been suddenly plunged into total black inky darkness? It can be scary, especially if you're in combat and someone is also trying to kill you. This also makes spells like the lowly "light" spell perhaps quite useful in certain cases because it can provoke a morale check.
  • Unit observes other nearby unit out of control.
  • Unit receives a critical hit.
  • Whenever anything else that may be terrifying occurs, at the DM's discretion.
By default, troops are "in communications" until they fail their first morale check. Troops which are "in communications" act basically as their leader wants them to. Even if the leader doesn't have direct line of sight to the troops, they remain under the player's control simulating the unit following prebriefed orders under effective NCO leadership.

Once a unit fails a check, then it goes "Out of Communications." A unit which is out of communications is on "autopilot" and rolls randomly to see what it does based on either its quality or doctrine:


No Doctrine






















Example: A unit of impetuous knights (Cardinal/Offensive!) waits upon a grassy knoll overlooking a battle. Their leader has ordered them to wait to charge in until he blows a horn; he's planning on using them as a decisive force to crush the foe late in a battle. A new phase occurs and the unit checks morale -- and fails! The GM then rolls on the autopilot table to see what they do each round. The first round they hold in place (4), but then the DM rolls a (2) -- they charge, springing the trap early!

For a unit out of command, interpret the above results as follows:
  • FIGHT: Unit attacks in an intelligent manner (archers shoot arrows, they don't move to melee). Unit will attack a foe it is engaged with first, then a hated foe if within charging range, or the nearest foe otherwise. If no foes can be attacked in a given round, then the unit will move aggressively to set up an offensive posture.
  • FREEZE: Unit holds position in an intelligent manner. Unit will continue to melee if engaged, or consider parrying to hold a line or setting against a charge. If unengaged, unit may consider moving to nearby defensible terrain if that is a good idea. Unit may use missile weapons against a foe but will not seek to melee unless it is already engaged.
  • FLEE: Unit retires in an intelligent manner. If engaged in battle, unit will seek to withdraw and disengage. Unit will retire in good order towards the nearest visible leader, away from the worst visible foes, or towards a known place of safety--whichever is wisest.

A unit which is out of communications and fails a second check is out of command as well. Continue to dice for reactions as above. However, all reactions will be more extreme.
  • FIGHT: Unit will aggressively charge to engage (1) a hated for and then (2) the nearest foe. Unit will not be careful or cautious and may attack in a berserk manner.
  • FREEZE: Unit is struck with indecision. Unlike above when it chose a reasonable and intelligent course of action, the DM should now dice for a random reaction instead of picking one which makes sense: hold position and set vs. charge, use missile weapons, do nothing, etc.
  • FLEE: Instead of an orderly retirement, the unit retreats. The unit will move as quickly as possible (1-2) away from the nearest foe, (3-4) towards their leader or (5-6) to a place of known safety. The unit may provoke some attacks with this movement but it is barely controlled.
A unit which is out of command and fails a third check is out of control. Continue to dice each round for its action but consider the most extreme result. Also, out of control units are bad for their side's morale. Whenever anyone else sees an out of control unit they must check morale themselves. Thus, a clan of orcs can quickly devolve into a bloodfrenzied "fight," or an army can rapidly rout out of control in a chain reaction.
  • FIGHT: The unit blindly and berserkly attacks with wild abandon and no concern for its own welfare. It may inadvertently attack other friendly units. It may fight to the death.
  • FREEZE: The unit is absolutely paralyzed and takes no actions, even ones which can be accomplished in relative safety.
  • FLEE: The unit routs in panic. First it will flee from the nearest foe in the most direct manner possible, then towards its leader (if visible), or finally, to a known place of safety. It is possible for units to flee into an even more dangerous situation (for example, the fastest way away from a foe is deeper into a dungeon).
It is clear how a unit moves down the Communications-->Command-->Control slippery slope. But how does it climb back up the ladder?

First, a leader may direct the unit's reaction even while it is out of comms/command/control. To do this, the unit must be within the command radius of the leader. The leader then spends an action on a Quality+Spirit check (specializations in Rhetoric may be helpful), TN source of the fear. If succesful, the unit disregards its randomly rolled response and attacks (if the leader rolled cardinal), freezes (fixed), or flees (mutable).

Next, a leader may rally the unit. To do this, the unit must be within the command radius of the leader. The leader then spends an action on a Mutable+Spirit check (specializations in Rhetoric may be helpful). Success moves the unit back up the chain one step.

Finally, the unit may improve of its own accord. Any time the unit heals, move it up the morale chain one step for each hit healed. For example, if the unit uses a second wind or gets a break out of combat it will recover its composure. Healing from allies or magic may also have this effect.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I'm not quite dead yet!

Wow! It has been a month since I posted here! Lest anyone think I've given up the blog, I haven't. We actually spent a lot of time playing and talking about a S&W White Box set from Xmas. I've also been crazy busy with work, with little time for ye olde blog of late.

I do plan on getting back into the swing of things... Eventually. Sorry for the delay.