Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Black Powder - Variable Staff Ratings

Despite developing my own rules for the SYW period, I still maintain my interest in Black Powder, as these remain my favourite commercial set. My pal Steve J recently announced he was buying a copy for his own SYW gaming, so I have been been re-reading and generally revising the rules in anticipation of encounters to come. Fighting some battles with BP will provide a useful comparison with games played under my own rules.

One thing that caught my eye was the subject of Staff Ratings. The rules state that 'the same rating is usually applied to the whole army - so the General and Brigade Commanders all have the same staff rating' (p.11). I usually stick with this approach, except where an historical battle is being reproduced and Staff Ratings need to be matched to the abilities of real officers.

However, it did occur to me that some fun might be had by creating a variety of Staff Ratings within an army. This would hardly be ahistorical, as some variety in the ability of senior officers would be bound to occur. This was, after all, still an age when family connections and aristocratic pedigree counted for just as much as military experience and command ability. So I constructed a simple table to generate Staff Ratings from 5 to 10 for both the commanding general and brigade commanders.

N.B. percentages give a basic idea of how likely each rating is, but add up
to more than 100% as each was rounded up to the nearest whole percent.

This basic table I would use for Austria and Great Britain (don't forget this is the SYW in Europe). For other nations I would modify the dice roll as below:

Prussia  +1
France  -1
Russia  -1
Reichsarmee  -2

The modifiers are of course subject to the condition that a Staff Rating can never be more than 10 or less than 5. Change them if you disagree with my conclusions.

There is a decision to be made about when to employ the table. One could set out the forces, then roll for each commander in turn and see what you get. This would probably guarantee both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Or, roll for Staff Ratings before deployment then allocate commanders to brigades, matching their abilities to your battle plan as far as possible. This latter might seem more historical, but remember that commanding generals couldn't always choose the brigade commanders they would prefer - as I have already mentioned, influence at court might count for more than military capabilities. A middle way might be to allocate brigade commanders to type of brigade (infantry, cavalry, artillery), then allow yourself to swap the commanders around after discovering their rating, but only between brigades of the same type.

You might also decide to leave the commanding general out of this process altogether and allocate him an historically typical Staff Rating. Personally, I think taking the chance on a random rating would be more fun. In BP, a low rated commanding general isn't a disaster, and the satisfaction of pulling off a victory with some dunce in command could be invigorating.

Nothing special about these ideas of course - any wargamer worth his or her salt could easily knock up something similar. But nevertheless I present them for your delectation and comments.


Bluebear Jeff said...

I like them, Keith. Nicely done, sir.

-- Jeff

Steve J. said...

I like your ideas on the variable staff ratings, and the thoughts of some 'chinless wonder' performing feats of 'derring do' on the table is too hard to resist.

I am re-reading Black Powder as my bedtime book and must say I'm impressed by the rules. I think I sold my original on the back of some poor experiences at the club.

Having played your excellent rules Keith over several fun games, I am now in a position to appreciate these rules more. I look forward to meeting up in the near future for a game of BP.

Keith Flint said...

Thanks Jeff and Steve.

Steve - will definitely be in touch.

Phil Dutré said...

We regularly give different ratings to different commanders within the same army.

However, we found that ratings of 7 and lower produce a very frustrating game, because of the failure rate of producing orders. It just isn't fun to have turns in which nothing is happening.

All our commanders are in the 8-10 range. Works best for us.

Ross Mac said...

I'm with Phil on the frustration level of level 7 and below quite apart from some theoretical quibbles which are neither here nor there.

However, I think the chart as you propose it would work quite well if combined with the optional "well drilled" characteristic for regular infantry of all armies. This would mean even incompetent Brigadiers could follow orders if given charge of a Brigade of Infantry but don;t trust them with a dashing flank march of Lord help you if such a fellow is commanding your cavalry!

Itinerant said...

Somewhat related - I just read this blog entry about tweaking commander ratings in Hail Caesar -

Keith Flint said...

Thank you gentlemen - very useful comments.

Gordon Lawrence said...

Good idea. I also like to use the commander traits as these add a lot of fun and a random roll for them helps. I, sadly, have whole biographies for my commanders in my SYW-based imagi-nation. Nearly cried when the dashing Jack Aubrey died in his first battle.

Keith Flint said...

Gordon, interested to hear you're a fan of the commander traits. I always left them alone as they added just that bit too much complication.

I also try to keep my use of special rules for the actual, units to a minimum for the same reason. It's just too easy to forget them in the heat of battle.

Nevertheless, my commiserations regarding 'lucky' Jack Aubrey (who turned out to be not so lucky)!