Sunday, October 19, 2014

Code Red - Dev Diary 4: Infantry Firefights

In this installment of the Dev Diary series I´ll be talking about the evolution of Infantry Firefights throughout the development of the rules.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Infantry firefights have changed remarkably since I set out to design the house rules. Of course there´s been a major break away from Force on Force with the introduction of my special changes, but even compared to the Firefights of the Houserules the mechanic has changed quite a bit with additional aspects being considered (such as conceilment) while reducing the overhead procedures and simplifying the mechanics.

Starting from Force on Force´s mechanics there was a reaction test determining who would deliver effective fire first, every unit then generated an amount of firepower dice rolled against a set of defense dice pairing off the results.

I chose to stick with the reaction test as there was nothing fundamentally wrong with better trained troops being able to identify a shooters location faster and returning fire effectively. If you treat the round of fire not as a matter of "who fires first" but with the interpretation of "effective fire" it makes sense. Bad shooters might have their rounds falling short or cracking overhead giving the target time to react before the shooter can start walking in the rounds into the real danger zone.

Furthermore, the Firepower pool was also kept for a start, though contribution of dice from different weapon systems was rebalanced later.

Instead of rolling defense dice however I chose to go back to a simple Cover-Save roll. Only effective cover  would if your Infantry would take more casualties or less when shot at. Units in excellent cover could survive several turns without taking casualties.

At the same time, I abandoned the notion of having two modes of firing (normal aimed fire and suppressive fire) and just merged that - all infantry fire is primarily meant to suppress the target.

To model this properly, the morale effect of fire on target units had to be increased substentially compared Force on Force - any serious amount of bullets impacting near the target should cause suppression and morale effects not just bullets causing casualties.

The conclusion was simple:  I added a morale check for every firepower successs inflicted on the target. Any failed check would result in a morale marker.

At that stage, an example firefight looked like this:

Our opponent opens fire on one of our fireteams in the open with his PKM group (no weapon team bonus).  Our troops spend one of their Initiative dice to attempt a reaction to move into nearby cover.
The reaction test results in a 2 vs. 3 and having the initiative, our enemy wins the test.
His MG starts shooting with 5D6 (3 men, 2 for MMG) = 1,3,3,4,5 - two successes. Our troops roll the corresponding number of successes as Saves and morale checks: 
2D10 for saves: 2 and 6.
They test for Morale with another 2D10, as their morale level is D10: Same result, 2 and 6.
Being on the move into cover means they are in the open and save on a 5+. With a roll of 2, one soldier is hit! With one morale die below 4, they also fail their morale and are "pinned".
Some effects like forced retreats for units being pinned down in the open where added later on, but it essentially stayed the same mechanic.

Some people remarked that the training level was not considered in the defense, but the mechanism is more detailed than it seems at the first glance:

Units take Reaction tests to determine who is firing first. Higher training level /troop quality means higher chances to fire first!  
If your unit go first, you have a real good chance of hitting your enemy with your full unmodified firepower and cause morale results. So in a sense, offense is the best defense in a firefight. If your opponent suffers casualties, gets pinned or even suppressed, he will not be able to shoot back as effectively,  which will reduce the amount of successes he can generate from his Firepower pool.  
Furthermore Units with better training generate more Firepower successes (on average) from a pool of equal size. They will thus have higher chances to kill or suppress enemies before the opponent can shoot back. 

Insurgents pinned down on a ridgeline

With more and more playtesting the system proved its value, but I felt like it was a little clumsy at times. 4-7 rolls to resolve the effects of a single firefight (Reaction test, Firepower Player 1, Save Player 2, Morale Player 2, Firepower Player 2, Cover Player 1, Morale Player 1) just seemed a bit excessive.

At the sime time I was reworkin the dice mechanics  and looking for ways to purge the Cover malus for untrained troops/Militias/Insurgents - Irregular forces with improper training, who where supposed to get shot down easier as they would not use cover to the best extend possible.

Thus, the current solution was born: Combined Cover-Saves and Morale rolls. This principle is still in testing, but throughout the first test games it has worked quite well:

Instead of taking a separat Cover-Save and Morale check, units just roll once.
I´ll not go into full detail here, but I´ll give you an example to show what the effects of these combined changes are:

A cell of 3 Insurgents with AK are firing at a regular Fireteam in solid cover. The Insurgents win their reaction test and go first, with 3 assault rifles they roll 3 firepower dice. They score two successes, so the Fireteam has to roll two dice for their combined effect-check: 
They roll a 3 and a 9 -  The 9 is a good roll, both for cover and morale and will not cause any adverse effects.  With the fireteam being behind "solid cover" and stationary "in cover", they have a 3+ save, so they won´t suffer any casualties.  However, their Morale is only average, so they´d need a 5+ to pass their morale check. As the 3 is below that threshold, they will get a morale marker and become "pinned". 
There´s a special twist with rolls generating casualties, but I won´t give that away for the time being. If you´re a good observer you might spot this detail in some of the future playtest reports.

Note that this example is already based on the new dice mechanic, a topic that I will explain in detail in the next diary.

What you can easily identify is that this cuts out 2 steps in resolving the firefight, bringing it down to 3-5 rolls (depending on the amount of suppression) while retaining about the same balance.

Remember that morale effects are having a cooldown - though your units will recover from morale effects it will take precious time and carry the danger of getting suppressed even further (or longer) unless you discard precious command dice to rally your troops.

Summing up: Infantry firefights are now more about suppression than casualties. You pin down your enemy (or better yet suppress him) to allow other elements to maneuver in or hit him with indirect firepower. Firefights on close range will give you some bonuses, just like flanking does.

With some luck and good tactics you can now overcome your opponent with skillful use of fire and maneuver. And if you really want to hurt him, you can always charge his pinned units and clear his positions in close assault....

Next week I´ll get a bit more technical and talk about the dice mechanic changes. 

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