Information Rich Combat Mechanics

June 13, 2017

The Modiphius 2d20 system is one I have used a couple of times to run convention games based around the Conan roleplaying game. I am thinking of adapting it for use in a Megagame.

First, a Quick summary of the 2d20 system:

  • You always roll at least 2d20.
  • You can roll up to three more d20s for situational modifiers, such as other players assisting you, to a cap of 5d20.
  • The roll is compared against an Attribute (usually in the 8-15 range) and a Skill (usually in the 1-5 range), potentially generating 0, 1 or 2 successes for each d20 roll
  • For example if you have an Attribute of 12 and a Skill of 3, and you roll 2d20 and get a 12 and a 2, you have three successes
  • If the number of successes equals the task difficulty, you succeed, and for each extra success you gain a point of Momentum
  • You can then spend Momentum to cool stuff in the game
  • Weapon damage is handled by rolling d6s
  • A damage roll of 1 or 2 inflicts damage equal to the roll, a roll of 3 or 4 does nothing, but rolls of 5 and 6 trigger special effects based on the weapon type (e.g. bypassing armour, or extra damage).

It recently occurred to me that I could adapt this as a mechanic for handling Army/Front level combat in Megagames. Traditional wargame mechanics often involve a lot of counting of various factors, followed by some maths as you try and make sure you reach the golden 3:1 ratio considered the minimum to ensure success in land warfare. In a Megagame there is no time for all this counting, you need to be able to take in the situation at a glance and get on with resolution. At the same time I want rich information from the combat result – if we are only doing a few combats each turn, then they need to actually move stuff around on the map and add to the game narrative.

ostfront-6-december-1941

The situation in Army Group Center’s sector of the Eastern Front on 6 December 1941. This is a German map, the Soviet reinforcements that are about to launch a counteroffensive are not on the map. Sourced from the Dupuy Institute blog.

Generally speaking, formations of Army/Front size are rarely destroyed in combat – the exceptions being encirclement (e.g. destruction of Army Group Center in 1944) and/or running out of space to retreat (e.g. British at the Fall of Singapore in 1942). What is important is how ready is the unit for further combat operations, and what is the momentum on the front.

So I am thinking of a mechanic where we are rolling d10s, and the important factors about a combat formation are readiness, on a 1-10 range, and quality, on a 1-5 range. A rested unit at full strength with brand new equipment would have a readiness of 10 (so most units would be rated nine or less). Quality is something that can be worked out based on historic performance (for World War Two, based on effectiveness scores from post-war quantitative analysis, I would put German units at 5-6, the  UK at 3-5, the USA units at 4-5, and the Russians at 2-3). Units roll a base 2d10, then +1d10 for each supporting unit flanking the enemy. Units then roll 2d6 for damage, but can spend supply points (or play special capability cards) to boost that up to 5d6 (I will have to playtest that cap, or perhaps allow it to be exceeded by special limited use cards).

The force being attacked also rolls for its defence, and the force with more successes is the force that gets Momentum points to spend. Units that are defending get bonus Momentum for defending river lines, urban terrain, mountains and prepared/fortified positions.

So we also rolled some d6 for damage, and while we throw away the 3-4 rolls as in 2d20, in this 2d10 system, the rolls of 1-2 are used for Attrition Effects and the rolls of 5-6 are used for Maneuver Effects.

Attrition Effects

Spend your Momentum points to reduce the targeted unit’s Readiness score by 1-2 points. The defender can also spend Momentum to hold the ground the occupy (the default assumption is that the attack does move the defender backwards) at a cost in Readiness.

In theory with 5d6, if you roll enough 2s you can take a unit from Readiness 10 to Readiness 0 in one attack, in practice its likely to take a while to grind forces down. At a glance in the European Theatre in World War Two, it was pretty hard for any force to sustain continuous operations with land forces for longer than a couple of months (the US/UK tended to run out of supplies first, the USSR to run out of tanks).

Maneuver Effects

This is where it gets more interesting and you can spend Momentum to:

  • reduce your own Readiness losses
  • reduce enemy Political Will (i.e. capture a large number of prisoners, or a city or other vital objective)
  • gain initiative for your side next turn
  • exploit the breakthrough (deep penetration and/or forcing flanking formations to retire)
  • capture enemy supplies that you overrun.

Using the two sets of dice, lets the game create a rich tapestry of potential game information. The downside is getting the players to make those decisions around spending Momentum quickly. This would be the key thing to stress test in playtesting the design.

Doctrine

One way of representing historic doctrine is to programme the first choice a side makes (or perhaps even the first two choices). For example, UK forces could be required to spend their first Momentum effect on reducing their own Readiness losses, Soviet forces on getting a breakthrough, and US forces on maintaining the initiative.

Initiative

I used to own a copy of a game called Renegade Legion: Prefect, which focused on hover tank battles on a planetary scale. The side that had initiative did nearly all of the movement and combat, while the side without basically sat there and hoped for a counterattack to give them the initiative. That concept bubbled to my head while thinking about this hack.

So my plan for this 2d10 system is that the side which starts the game on the attack holds the initiative. The initiative allows you to attack as many times as you like (up to one per Army formation). The side without the initiative gets a limited number of counterattacks. Both sides can spend Momentum on initiative, with a cumulative penalty for any side holding on to the initiative for consecutive turns. Another way of doing that might be to have an escalating supply cost, so you could hit a point where one side runs out of puff, no matter how well they are doing on the map. Frustrating, but a representation of Clausewitz’s theory of the culminating point.

A zero score for initiative could be taken as both sides are temporarily exhausted and spend a couple of weeks (or longer) resting or maneuvering before one side resumes offensive operations. Maybe both sides would be limited to a small number of attacks, like counterattacks.

Recovering Readiness

Units should recover Readiness quickly. Fifty percent of lost Readiness per two week turn seems okay as a starting position for playtesting. In this system I would just about never remove a unit from play, but at Readiness One I would not allow it to initiate attacks. Front lines would also be continuous – if you run out of actual Army formations, you would just deploy a Readiness One Battlegroup counter.

While Readiness should bounce up and down, quality would change only rarely – perhaps reflecting a unit gaining an elite reputation, or being issued with state of the art equipment in sufficient numbers to have an impact on operations (one Super Pershing does not a +1 Quality increase make).

…and now I really need to get back to revising The Colossus of Atlantis. GENCON is only 63 days away.

 


Pax Victoria

June 7, 2012

A bit of 2000AD influence here, but the concept for Pax Victoria is an isolated colony world, where a trillionaire businesswoman has established herself as Queen-Emperor Victoria II for a couple of centuries.  Funded by a monopoly on sales of Blood Diamonds harvested from fearsome leviathans of the ocean deeps, Victoria II has established a romanticised neo-Victorian colony world.  The upper tier of aristocracy have access to galactic technology, imported from off-world and maintained by the “Butler” class.  The other colonists are restricted to pre-1900 technology, except for a few educational and medicinal facilities.  So the colony is mainly steam-powered, save for the shuttle port (which galactic regulations require to have modern facilities for dealing with lost and damaged starships, so it has a small atomic power plant).

Victoria II has had a long reign, and through life extension technology she has celebrated a 200 year jubilee.  From time to time she has taken lovers as Prince Consorts, before plunging into decade long bouts of mourning following the consorts tragic early demise.  Her children, the darling princelings, have grown into administrative duties as they have matured.  The local natives are convinced of the divine origins of the off-worlders, and have signed a number of unfavourable 999 year leases, but nothing so bad as to trigger the anti-slavery clauses in the Galactic Constitution.  So while some rebels do strike from the jungles, the Sepoy units of the Imperial Army are usually sufficient to defeat them, and if not, the Imperial Guard has the Maxim Machine Gun 3000, and they do not.

Sadly, the beloved Victoria II has died after a decade long coma.  Tragically, she has neglected to name any of her children as her heir.  The Parliament she established so she could preside over ceremonial openings and closings has little power, although it is seen as a means for the common voter to express their will, all attempts at reform have been crushed by the conservative Lords.  So as the Queen lay dying, her children began plotting their own path to power…

Sequence of Events

Two weeks before the game night, I want teams to be determined and players mailed the background information and first set of options for team decision-making.  I want the teams to be making decisions in three areas:

  1. Their victory objectives for the game.
  2. Their stance on political issues relating to the status quo or societal change.
  3. Their preferred options for force build up.

Victory Objectives

The minimum goal players can select is an inherently defensive one – preservation of their sovereign independence and the territory they control at the start of the game.  Ambitious players can select stretch goals, which could include:

  • build a navy, army, or air force that is stronger than adjacent states/any state/any other two states combined
  • gain control of one/many/all the Blood Diamond harvest zones
  • gain the submission of one/many/all other states
  • capture capitals, forts and other key locations (individual hexes)
  • gain control of all ports in the inner/outer/all seas
  • gain control of the full length of the continental rail networks
  • gain control of disputed territory.

For each stretch goal, you gain an extra option point, but also acquire a victory point penalty (i.e. if you go for Napoleonic world conquest and fail, then you will lose the game of grand strategy, while someone choosing a Switzerland approach may find their goals easier to obtain).  I will describe these in qualitative terms, I will keep the maths hidden until the end of the game.  I would probably have some threshold effects, such as gain +1 action token per additional state you conquer so that world conquest is possible (if not exactly probable) so that players choosing that gamble should at least have a fun time executing it.

Political Issues

The players are Lords.  They run their states like petty fiefdoms.  This does not make them popular, but the players can choose between political stances that will increase or reduce the stability of their states.  Stability will change the chance of either the natives rebelling against the humans, or the common humans attempting a revolution to take power of their own.  Some stances may also change the number of option points available.  The final set of political stances will also determine how many victory points it costs to ally with other players (the greater the difference in stances, the higher the victory point cost).

Some of the stances could involve tradeoffs between:

  • secret police or free newspapers
  • votes for natives
  • independent centres of education
  • maintaining horse cavalry or building an airforce
  • conscription or volunteer armies
  • free trade or protective tariffs
  • allowing free industrial development or maintaining central economic planning
  • supporting the World Empire or balkanisation of the colony.

A stable state may not be as powerful, but it will not be home to the first rebellion/revolution (which is how I can respawn into the game any players whose states are conquered by other teams early in the game).

Options

Options represent an investment of energy, leadership and labour in preparing for the end of the Pax Victoria.  Most of the options are things players will want to do, but it will be impossible to do all of them.  The teams will each pick an option every day in the lead up to the game night (hopefully by consensus, if they disagree I would pick one randomly and reduce state stability).  The earlier a team picks an option, the more powerful it will be for them in the game.  For example, setting up a spy agency early on gives you a lot of spies in the game.  Setting up a spy agency as your last option gives you a small, pitifully underfunded agency.

Options could include:

  • building up the size of the army, navy or airforce
  • artillery or tanks
  • fighters or bombers
  • building up the quality of the army, navy, or airforce
  • spies
  • building various elite units (Guards, Marines, Airborne)
  • expanding Blood Diamond harvesting operations
  • completing railway/canal engineering mega-projects
  • fortresses and other static defences
  • naval bases
  • improving logistics, HQ staff

The goal would be to minimise the chance of one option being a clear game winner.  Ideally at the start of the game the different teams will have a mix of forces and abilities that avoid them being carbon copies of each other.

Geography

The design intent is to make Naval power much more important than it was in Flower Power.  The idea is to borrow and adjust the Circle Sea setting from Andrew Vallance’s epic play-by-mail game of yesteryear.  So imagine an ocean on a water world.  Now imagine a comet smacking into the world.  The crater that is left behind leaves a dimple island in the middle, with an outer circle of the crater wall.  Have a couple of straits eroded in the walls and you have two long crescents of land.  Each of the two continents have five teams of players on it.  Each team has at least one land neighbour, and usually 2-3, and has naval ports bordering on two oceans.

So players have some big choices to make.  It will be impossible for any team to have both a superior inner sea navy and an outer sea navy, and an army/air force superior to all of their neighbours.  Each state will be weak somewhere.  This should encourage diplomacy, alliances … and betrayal.

Combat

Ground combat will be attrition based in outcomes, resulting in small amounts of positional movement and army losses.  As long as a state has selected options that allow them to train and equip replacements faster than they take losses, their army will remain solidly on the field (unless backed into a corner and forced to retreat, or if being attacked by more than one player at a time).  Ground combat is at the Army level, with elite corps sized units.  Each Army has around ten tokens, which are placed in hexes to represent “front lines”.

The airforce will play a role in supporting army/navy combat, unless a state decides to spend a stupendous number of option points developing a strategic bomber force.

Naval combat is based on having superiority in a sea zone, and is much more likely to result in a decisive battle than ground combat.  Outnumbered naval forces will tend to hide in fortified naval bases, only poking their heads out to do raids.  Naval combat is at the squadron/fleet level.

Turns and Actions

We probably have two map tables for land operations, and a third map table for naval operations.  Assuming a 20 minute turn and 30 players, so 10 players per table, if turns can be executed in 30 seconds, players can be allowed four actions per turn.  If they take a minute to complete, then two actions per turn.  To help focus players, we probably make it hard for states to have more than three combat units per player.

Using a HAT system, each state gets a number of tokens equal to its number of players, plus some tokens based on options.  The default token is “Hasty Assault” (i.e. extra casualties for the attacker), but depending on how the state spent options it may get different, or additional tokens such as “Supply”, “Prepared Defence” (i.e. reduce defender losses if attacked, increase attacker losses) and “Prepared Assault” (i.e. bonus for artillery).

Exhaustion: once an army has attacked, it is exhausted.  It cannot attack again until either the next game turn starts, or some logistic resources are expended in a supply action.  It also suffers a penalty if attacked.  This should make players less frantic to be the first to move … so when a team is called up for an action, they have a few seconds in which they can choose to pass and wait.  In some ways, executing the last move can be advantageous (so the end of the game turn may be 20 minutes +30-120 seconds at random).

 

Anyhow, that is one possible scenario for next year’s Grand Strategy game.