Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Some Thoughts on Morale That May or May Not Ramble Incoherently

After reading Featherstone's Advanced Wargame Ideas and Tony Bath's Ancient Wargaming: Including Setting up a Wargames Campaign, as well as several free rule sets that mention it, I've decided to reduce the morale test requirement for each force

It appears that I've been a bit too generous.

So, adjusting the levels to a more reasonable number:

  • A force led by an aggressive leader tests morale after 30% lost
  • A force led by neutral leader tests morale after 25% lost
  • A force led by a cautious leader tests morale after 20% lost

Now, there is one problem, I admit. Morale in my game is tied to the loss of strength points (in Memoir of Battle each unit has a basic strength value, but MoB has no morale rules of its own). Because the campaign rules allow for the possibility of strength points to be recovered after the battle, I have interpreted that to mean a strength point is a measure of physical health but also of elan, esprit du corps cohesion and such. MoB supports this interpretation I believe, because elite units get +1 and poor a -1 to their basic value. There is no logical necessity that a poor unit must necessarily have fewer bodies than an elite one. A lost strength point, therefore, reflects physical and/or emotional damage.

Clearly, a 20% casualty rate is different than saying, 20% of the troops have lost their will to fight or even 10% are casualties, but 10% have curled up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs. In one case, you've lost 20% of your force for good and you may not be able to drum up fresh recruits to replace them. In the others, you still have something to work with - although you may need to do something about that thumb sucking.

In any case, I would offer that the MoB and the campaign rules I am using, are not at the "Did Pvt. Jones survive that barrage?" level but are higher up, at the "What's going on with 1st Platoon/Company A/The Queens Guard and do they have the resources to take the hill?"As such, being reduced to 80% of your strength, regardless of the means, ought to be cause for a cautious commander to rethink pushing onward.

I know that some wargamers dislike morale tests and believe it is by their will alone that forces should exit a battle, that a good player would do what is "realistic" (a loaded term if ever there was one when referring to toy soldiers, model vehicles and buidlings and dice rolling).

In some ways, I liken morale tests to alignment in D&D. As one blogger (I wish I could remember which) described it, alignment is the in-game representation of the voice of conscience. Morale is the in-game sense of the on-table commander that the losses may have reached a point where continuing is not the best course of action. Of course, alignment violations can have serious consequences in D&D, while a commander not only can stay on the field of battle after the morale test is taken, but they sometimes do if the dice fall that way, and they may even go on to win the day as a result. So it's not a perfect analogy but I think it shows how I'm viewing the morale test, at least in this campaign - more as a matter of the commander's character than an attempt to forcibly wrest control from the player.

Though it may in fact have the same result as the latter, the effect on me as the player is not "me against the system" but one of gaining some narrative insight to the commander's mind set.

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