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Unofficial Rules Variants

Morale and Attrition

by Bruce McFarlane

Most DBA critics point to the fact that the game makes no allowance for quality of troops and fatigue or attrition. As a result, these critics claim, DBA armies push each other back and forth until one side is lucky enough to roll four "kills".

It is my contention that in ancient and medieval warfare weapon type was far more important than fighting quality, since most of the armies were not made up of trained professional soldiers. Also, attrition is a bit of a red herring, since as soon as a unit could not maintain a fighting front, it would break. However, I have been experimenting with other periods and here both morale and attrition take on an added importance.

In this variant an element loses Combat Factors whenever it recoils. The amount of Combat Factors lost depends on the quality of the troops making up the element.

Troop Type First
Elite troops No Effect No Effect Remove from table
Veteran troops No effect -1 to both CF Remove from Table
Regular troops -1 to both CF -2 to both CF Remove from table
Conscripts -2 to both CF Remove from table

Casualty caps can mark the number of times an element has recoiled, or a roster can be kept for each element. Our group likes to manufacture labels, listing the desending Combat Factors such as:

+3 +3
+2 +2
+1 +1

These labels are attached to the bottom of each element. When the element recoils the owner simply crosses off the top pair of Combat Factors. The game still looks as good and has an added element of limited information.

Editors Note: At this point, I asked Bruce how he classified troops as conscript, regular, veteran or elite and received two replies, which I have edited together with subheadings.

Originally I developed a Morale and Attrition rule for DBA so that I could fight historical Horse and Musket scenarios, particularly from the Fire and Fury, Napoleon's Battles, Flower of Chivalry and the Highlander and Habitant series. (I love the scenarios-dislike the rules) The quality of unit was assigned by the pre-made scenario. From them we determined if the elements should be Elite, Veteran or whatever. Typically artillery batteries were left as "average".

However, I can envision a number of ways players could incorporate the Morale and Attrition variant into their regular DBA games:

Variant One

Upon mutual agreement each player could have a certain number of each morale level; say 3 Conscripts, 5 Regulars, 3 Veterans and 1 Elite. The players then secretly, before the deployment, assign a level to every element in the army.

Variant Two

Another variant we tried once was to roll a d4 three times to determine the number of Elite, Veteran, and Conscript elements. The rest were Regulars. The players then assigned these morale levels to that many elements. All this information is kept from the opponent until the end of the game. Fun game but we found that too many games were decided through the morale assessment rolls.

Variant Three

A die can be rolled the first time any element is involved in combat to determine it's morale level:

1 Conscript
2-4 Regular
5 Veteran
6 Elite

Variant Four

Players could make up their own matrix summarizing the odds of each type of element being a certain morale level. For example:

Troop Type 1 2 3 4 5 6
Auxilia Conscript Conscript Regular Regular Regular Veteran
Blades Conscript Regular Veteran Veteran Elite Elite
Warband Conscript Conscript Conscript Conscript Regular Elite

Concluding Notes

I find that the Morale and Attrition also add a lot to campaigns using DBA. One tries to lead with his Conscripts and save Veterans and Elites until the core of the army is threatened.

On the whole I prefer this morale system to the one offered in DBM - with its +1's sometimes but not others and -1's sometimes but not others. To me morale is separate from combat factors. Combat factors are physical; morale is psychological.

We have also found that this rule is a must if one is playing the post-1500 era variants. Without the attrition musket lines can blaze away at each other for hours and cause little damage (I shoot, you recoil; you recover and shoot; I recoil). With attrition (and a couple of turns firing) muskets (or bows) can be deadly. Also DBA's depth comes from the wide variety of weapons that can be used and there different combinations in any one army. Once you get to the Musket Era all you have is infantry, heavy and light horse and artillery. You need the morale levels to re-introduce some variety into the armies (a 12-element Veterian British 1776 army and a 18-element conscript and regular American 1776 army is an interesting match-up)

Bruce McFarlane
Canadian Wargamers Group

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Last Updated: April 5, 1998

Comments and suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, c.brantley@ieee.org.