Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Acrid Smell of Powder - Close combat

One of the things that has always stood out to me when reading about the Napoleonic Wars or American Civil War is how rare actual "hand to hand" combat is.

There's plenty of charges all over the place, but unless cavalry is involved, it usually doesn't lead to anyone fighting anybody.
Either the charge slows down / breaks up or the recipients forget if they left the oven on and dash off to check.

Of course, on the gaming table, it's positively medieval!
We want to move our little guys to contact and have them slug it out like the drill manual says they should.

Now, in big abstract battle games, you can fudge that a bit by assuming that "close combat" actually means "a wide range of things including actual hitting with sticks, close ranged volleys and so forth" but with "Acrid Smell of Powder" we were trying to avoid abstracting things too much, so that wouldn't fly.

Some rules use a morale check to solve this: Check morale to charge, check morale to receive the charge.
This makes more sense, but leads to situations where high-morale units opposing each other will usually end up crossing bayonet (as they will most likely both pass their check).
That's still better but it doesn't solve the fundamental issue: Close combat shouldn't happen very often.

Going back and re-reading accounts of charges in the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution, it suddenly became clear to me:
An opposed roll might be the answer.

If the defenders give way, it's usually because the attackers don't and vice versa.

This also lets us represent another aspect very nicely: The reputation of a unit.
If your guys have good morale, odds are they have a reputation as hard fighters (and may have the fancy uniforms or big hats to prove it) meaning they'd carry a level of intimidation with them.

Is a bunch of militia men going to react the same way if it's random line infantry advancing on them vs when it's the Guard?

So in the end, charging is an opposed roll: Each side rolls, adds their Morale and a couple of modifiers and as a result one side will usually give way or run away.
If the scores are very close, an actual fight breaks out (a Brawl, as you'll no doubt not be surprised to learn its called) and you get to hit the other guys with sticks.

One aspect that I considered was that actual hand to hand fights were more common when occupying buildings, redoubts and the likes.
You do get a morale bonus for holding an obstacle, but to my mind, the sort of determined defense at bayonet point is more a characteristic of larger formations:

A "blob" of 10 guys skirmishing probably would be more inclined to fall back to the next position instead.
This also helps create more movement and make the "mass skirmish" feel more fluid and energetic than a conventional black powder battle.

At least, that's all the theory: You'll have to judge how well it turned out.

If you didn't grab your copy yet, go do so here: