Monday, August 12, 2013

On Morale/Experience Grades

I posted this earlier today, on TMP, and felt it was useful to re-post here, with appropriate edits. I would love to have detailed feedback from my readers about this very subject.

The more I research the subject of morale/experience, the more uncomfortable I feel towards using morale grades. As others have pointed out elsewhere, past heroism on the battlefield was not a guarantor of future behavior.

If we can agree on that point, then can we also not agree that determining a unit's "morale grade" weighted by past heroism has a built in flaw?

On the other hand, my own recent thoughts on a particular unit's experience causes me to consider a lesser number of grades instead of more.

For me, untrained is really more of a modifier to Green. I mean, just how many ACW regiments went into combat with zero training? I'd rather have "untrained" as a modifier, because roving bands of marauders in the West may have not received official training at all, but were very experienced at the skills they needed for certain types of actions, but were entirely unsuited for other types of actions.

Experienced and Veteran are very similar, are they not? Again. I'm more of a mind to have "veteran" status act as a modifier, based on scenario parameters, to experienced troops.

Crack troops… A way to describe a body of men who will generally do what you order them to do, and perhaps a bit more? Like holding the line for over five hours and taking over 60% casualties while doing so. Admittedly, some regiments deserve this label for actions on specific days, but not for extended periods of time. The Iron Brigade was a shadow of its former self by 2 July 1863, still very good men, but no longer as capable as they were on 1 July.

These thoughts cause me to consider troops as being either, Green, or Experienced, because there is a definitive line that determines which is which.

Beyond these, other circumstances or characteristics can be plugged in as modifiers to a base system founded upon the two grades I listed above. This, then reduces the need to generate tables to as extreme as those found in the Empire series (which was very extreme), while still giving more variance than what is used in DBA.

Lastly, I am also of the mind that a unit's relative experience increases its efficiency in damaging the enemy (like knowing to lower the aimpoint when shooting downhill), but does not mean indicate whether the unit will fight or flee when under extreme stress. I think the latter had more to do with trusting the leadership of the regiment and brigade as well as the typical circumstances of being flanked, unsupported, and outnumbered.

Here is an example what I call "morale creep."

Morale Grades:

To the experienced (see what I did there?) wargamer, these should be familiar. We can then agree that they may even appear to be acceptable within a set of rules.

Being a manner in which morale is tested for fight or flight purposes, each grade must be given a value at which it either passes or fails, in order to obtain either result above. Now then, which die type that is used for morale checks is very important, is it not? Using a d6 with this list means we've few options for unique values as with 6 grades and 6 sides, the Untrained troops will likely always fail, without some major positive modifiers, but then with those same modifiers, a Crack unit will almost always pass and that is not an optimal solution either.

Else, we can combine into groups of two, the morale grades, we we would then have three unique values, one per group, and have three values not utilized, giving options for variance based on modifiers.

Untrained/Raw 5+
Green/Experienced 4+
Veteran/Crack 3+

With the target number listed as being the number on a d6 for a pass, then without modifiers we have no guaranteed passes or failures by any single morale grade, right? Well, then why do we have more than three morale grades?

Do we also have modifiers that apply to some grades and not to others, meaning that perhaps a Crack unit gets a positive modifier, but a veteran regiment does not? What contrived list of modifiers would give us those kinds of distinctions?

Now, let us use a d10...

Untrained      10+
Raw               9+
Green            7+
Experienced  5+
Veteran         3+
Crack            1+

Whoa! We are back to the same problem as before, nearly always a guarantee of failure for one grade and nearly always a success for another. Okay, okay, yes, I made this up, but YOU plug in values that you think would work. Consider that if you only have 1 pip difference between them, then Experienced troops would be a mere 20% less steady than Crack troops? But that would mean that Crack troops are a full 50% better than Untrained troops, but that does not seem right either.

How about a d20? Apart from being a bit more difficult for those with poor eyesight to read, and the fact that it rolls about a bit more on the table, a d20 surely has enough sides?

Untrained  16+
Raw           14+
Green         12+
Experienced 10+
Veteran         8+
Crack           6+

Now, this appears to be a better option, right? Um, well, no. Converted to a d10, these would be:

Untrained  8+
Raw           7+
Green         6+
Experienced 5+
Veteran         4+
Crack           3+

Yes, using a d20 allows us to achieve a result falling in multiples of 5%, but is that not really just a trick that we play on our minds, when the end result is what we are looking for?

We could move up to a d30 or even a d100, but why? Not every gamer OWNS one or both; I don't. Sure, we could use two d10s for a d100 result, but then the grades would tend towards something I last saw in Empire...something I want to avoid.

Instead, I am looking at the below as a possibility, using a d6:
Green 5+
Experienced 3+

Modifiers to Roll:
-1 Untrained
+1 Veteran

This provides a 33% (rounded) difference between the two grades, but a raw difference of 83.4% difference between Green-Untrained (AKA Raw) and Experienced-Veteran (AKA Crack), without having to create overly large, complex, and detailed sets of tables.

Yes, we would of course be using modifiers, but modifiers tend to be more intuitive between rule sets than are morale grades.

For an ACW game, we could consider support, leadership, enemy in flank or rear, and cohesion/order. Anything else?

We would then determine whether or not these should be positive or negative modifiers. This means that support can be assumed as the norm, but a lack of support would be a negative modifier to the die roll OR that a lack of support is assumed and the presence of it adds a positive amount to the die roll.

In the example immediately above, I would have support as assumed as the norm and give a negative if the unit in question is not supported.

By the same token, I would say that leadership could be either a positive or negative modifier due to the quality (or lack thereof) of the leader(s) present. And that an enemy in flank or rear would give a negative modifier (We can all agree on that one, I am sure).

Unsupported: -1
Leader: +1/-1
Enemy on Flank or Rear: -1

We can quibble over the degree of modifier, but for my purposes here, these are sufficient.

With all of this in mind, we can then also state that a morale die result of "6" is always a pass and a "1" is always a fail, giving us the extremes that we want to keep, because things like that did occur (where a green unit did surprisingly well or a very experienced unit did a fairly poor job).

All of this is not meant as a criticism of any set of rules or arguments, but rather an explication of my evolving thought process after years of study and recent pondering.

I am not a statistician, by any means, so I am purposely avoiding the detailed arguments such would give. My point isn't the numbers so much as the unnecessary degrees of distinction that we give for what I am seeing as little or no gain.  Complexity is becoming more of a turn off for people, even die hards, and overly complex systems of morale tend to bog games down somewhat. In my view, complexity for its own sake does not make for a better gaming experience.

Please feel free to disagree. I would love to know your own thoughts.


  1. Just a quick quip to say that I've also drawn the same conclusions (to an extend, of course) as to how to utilize dice and modifiers; only rarely is there an actual need to go from a d6, unless you prefer a greater diversity of outcomes than "Succes/Failure"

    1. I am currently finishing up the morale portions of a set of club/convention rules for an ACW game. So, I am about to put my "money where my mouth is" in this instance. Feel free to comment on those, when I get them posted.

  2. Personally I've gone to 3 grades - GREEN - TRAINED - EXPERIENCED.

    I then allow leadership and the random dice rolls to provide further variation.

    If you have too many grades (like Empire) then you lose the differences in the subsystems. I prefer fewer grades with bigger differences but agree that yesterdays heroes might be today's shirkers - having somehow felt they'd done their bit and it is someone else's turn to take risks.

    1. I do believe that grading experience/morale is useful at skirmish through regimental level games. As the player's command responsibility increases to corps and army commander, though, I really do think such grading of units is unnecessary.

      I am hoping to test out my own rules project this month and get it posted here.