Saturday, August 8, 2009

Momentum and Leadership

Momentum - the tendency of those who have an advantage to increase that advantage - and the loss of momentum - That point where momentum fails and may swing to the other side - are important concepts to model, especially in a battle setting. Since I write a lot of military games, this is very important to me.

Most RPG combat is modeled on killing the enemy, but it is not the killing that matters in warfare - as we Americans learned in Vietnam. Body counts didn't win that war. What matters is breaking the enemy's ability to resist. As long as the enemy's morale is up, there is always the danger of a sudden loss of momentum and a reverse, as Jackson proved at Manassas and Thomas at Chickamauga.

This ties into my Life Spirals post a while ago - actually all my posts tie together, but that will come to light later as connecting elements are added - as the life spiral models the individual's ability to resist. A strong will and a solid foundation can bring you farther before that point, but at some point everyone has a limit.

My In Harm's Way military games are based on small scale battles, where the officers lead their men in person, so I keyed on Leadership and Discipline as the focal skills. These skills reflect the two styles of leadership. Now I would like to tell a family story by way of illustration - I am related to both of the principles in this story, and it has been passed down to me. I don't know if it has been recorded anywhere in print except a privately printed family memorial.

During the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American War of Independence, the British attempted to sieze an American redoubt in a frontal attack up a hill. It was the bloodiest battle in that war, as twice the British were repulsed, with huge losses. The third attack succeeded when the Americans ran out of gunpowder, and were slaughtered by British bayonets inside the redoubt - the Americans, being local farmers, had no bayonets.

Colonel Prescott - of "Don't shoot 'til you see the whites of their eyes" fame, gunpowder was scarce from the beginning - as the senior American officer present, rallied the remnants of the defenders, and made a successful retreat across Charlestown neck to the American lines. Having been promised reinforcements and powder which never came, he was furious. He stormed into General Putnam's office and demanded to see the general.

Putnam knew why Prescott was angry. He apologized to Prescott for there being no reinforcements. "I tried to drive the dogs," he said, "but they just wouldn't go."

Prescott replied bitterly "If you had led, they'd have followed."

There you have the two styles of leading. Leadership depends on personal inspiration. Discipline relies on training. The untrained farmers fought like demons when Leadership inspired them, but would not go when Discipline pushed them.

In the games, either skill can be checked at the choice of the player. If the player's officer succeeds and the NPC fails, the player's side advances and the enemy retreats. If the NPC succeeds and the player's officer fails, the player's side retreats and the enemy advances. If both succeed, there is a bloody scrum with neither side advancing. If both fail, there is desultory combat with neither side moving.

"What has this to do with momentum?" you ask. Here's where momentum comes in - each time the player's officer or NPC succeeds, he gets a cumulative small bonus to succeed next time. That bonus accumulates rapidly as successes pile up. If the character fails, all bonuses are wiped out. Once momentum is checked, it is no longer an advantage. Either side can begin a new string of successes. The conflict ends when either side obtains its objectives.

"Wow! That's really abstract!" you say. "What about the fighting?" If player characters are individually fighting, thier conflicts can be played out, but it doesn't matter in the long run unless they are wounded and unable to lead. The fighting within the battle matters to the individual, but not to the group. Losses are tallied after the battle, with adjustments for length of time and ferocity of fighting. If two commanders are locked in success, casualties will be higher. If they are locked in failure, they will be lower. Losers are worse off than winners.

All for today. this was a long post...



  1. Interesting, but in High Valor, I make conflicts--about three thingsm those things matter in the game, but I've changed "the win" dynamic of the conflict. Sometimes winning the victory in High Valor, is dying for the right cause--for faith, or valor. I think breaking the enemies will to resist is important, but sometimes controlling the stakes--what is at risk, and how it fallout. Is necessary.

    Looking at the martyrs in Catholic rolls and see how many lost their lives, but did it for their faith, and so made a difference FOR their faith.

  2. Hi Tim!

    Your point is valid, but in other games that would be a personal win condition - on the group or individual level - and not something that should be in the rules.

  3. And thus is inspired today's post!