My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ideas for Song of Blades Engine

I am getting a hankering for some skirmish gaming again, so I started thinking about Ganesha Games' Song of Blades and Heroes (SoBH) engine (e.g. also Flying Lead, Song of Drums and Shakos, etc.) and some of the enhancements I had been considering.

Dice Pools

I recently purchased the Die Fighting rules from Bob Jones and Repique Rules and there were some interesting mechanics in those rules that I thought could apply to the SoBH engine. Basically, Die Fighting uses the concept of dice allocation and dice pools to represent the abstract concepts of 'heart' and 'fatigue'. From the rules:
Think of these dice as elements of energy, of wisdom, boldness, courage, reliability, morale. Every army at the start of a battle possesses a cache of such intangibles spread over the quality of its troops and the effectiveness of its leaders. Every time that army commands or acts, it expends some of that supply.
In Die Fighting, a commander may direct his troops toward any objective with any action standard to the historical period. And while action are resolved through a roll of dice, what's not standard is that once rolled those particular dice are lost for the rest of the game. Not to worry, your army has a large supply of dice – of heart, if you will – and will be able to act and resolve future die rolls without problem. Until, that is, there are no dice left.
Basically put, you start out with a certain number of dice – a large number – and each time you roll those dice you throw them into a bucket, never to be used again for that game. (Okay, what you really do is keep count of the number of dice you throw and once you throw a certain number, you have no more to throw. You have lost.)

So, how to apply that concept to SoBH? The idea is that the more dice thrown, the harder the player is pushing the troops, whether the dice roll succeeds or not. If I am throwing three dice per figure, then adding an additional die for melee combat, I am pushing the troops hard, wearing them out, fatiguing them, stressing them. To me, using a dice pool seems like an excellent way to track stress and fatigue for a warband.

Recently I asked a question on about how many turns the 'average' SoBH game lasted. So far it is sounding like at about 10 turns. So let's start with that number: 10 turns. Now we have to figure out the number of dice thrown 'on average' in a turn and let that be our starting dice pool. If I ask that question I am sure the universal response will be "It depends", so rather than asking it I think I just simply need to pick a number and give it a try. If the average turn has five figures rolling on average two dice per turn, for 10 turns, that gives a warband 100 dice to start. Seems like as good a number as any!

One concept that exists in Die Fighting, that would be good to carry over, is the use of Leadership dice. These are essentially a certain number of dice that the player can use every turn, due to the presence of leaders. As they are free and renewable, they are very powerful, so should be used sparingly. At first blush I was simply thinking of giving a side one Leadership die for having a Leader, and an additional die for having an NCO.

Another interesting concept are free dice, which are simply dice you get to use that do not come from your dice pool, but are also not renewable. Usually these are granted for situations, but could also be used in lieu of combat modifiers. For example, a weapon might require you could throw one die from the dice pool and grant an additional free die when used in melee. You would then take the die of your choice to resolve that melee.

One final note: the dice use are not just for activations. As you roll dice to fight, those consume the dice in the pool too. (If you are fighting, you are getting stressed and fatigued.) So, if your opponent attacks you, the die you roll to oppose his roll comes from your dice pool. So you can use dice in your opponent's turn.

Everyone Gets a Chance

Another idea I have been toying with is how to give everyone on a side a chance to activate, but not take away the risk the player faces by pushing his troops too hard (i.e. there needs to be a consequence to rolling maximum dice all of the time). Currently, when a figure turns over, it is typically not that character that suffers as much as those that did not even get a chance to activate. The penalty largely falls on them.

My idea is to denote who failed two or more times, but allow the side to continue activating and turn over only once everyone on one side has had the chance to activate and either activated or failed with no allowable actions. So, where's the penalty? The following turn, all figures that 'turned over' cannot act at all. In essence they lose their next turn.

If you think this might be a bookkeeping nightmare, I think a simple marker on those that turned over will suffice. And when the next turn occurs, rather than activating the marker is removed. For those that don't like markers, I think you simply need to use innocuous ones. A small disc with grass or flock on it can be used to indicate that a figure has already activated for the turn (these would be removed at the end of the turn after all figures have had the chance to activate), while a small disc with a couple of rocks on it can be used to indicate that the figure will lose their next turn. During their next turn, the player would simply replace all rock tokens with grass tokens at the start of the turn, then start activating the remaining figures.

I think this change will make low Quality troops much more viable as warband members. Granted, it might change the game entirely, shifting the balance from using a few high-Quality troops  to using hordes of low-Quality troops, but only time and testing will tell how drastic the shift is.


The Flying Lead rules have an Overwatch rule that allows a player to 'spend' two actions in his own turn in order to spend one action firing in his opponent's turn (with a number of caveats and clauses, of course). I was thinking about such a rule that allows a player to interrupt his opponents' turn, but during that turn. So, for example, Player A finishes moving a figure, indicates that he will attempt to activate another figure and Player B calls interrupt in order to attempt to activate one of his own figures first. As with Overwatch, there has to be a penalty for that flexibility, so I would suggest the loss of one action (e.g. if you rolled two successes, you only get to use one; three successes would garner two actions, etc.). Note that the loss of an action does not mean it counts as a failure, only that one of the successes does not produce an action. Once you have completed the interrupt, you would place a token showing you lose your next turn (as you have taken it during your opponent's turn, after all).

Of course, you don't want people interrupting and recklessly rolling three dice with no consequence, so in addition to the loss of one action, if they roll two or more failures, they 'fumble', taking an additional token showing they lose an additional turn. Thus, on their following turn, only one 'lose a turn' token would be removed, leaving one to be removed the turn after that.

I Choose ...

One final option to try, which would be in lieu of the Interrupt optional rule above, would be to use the activation sequence of This Very Ground. In that game players alternate making activation decisions. However, the twist is that a player can either choose to activate a figure of their own, or have their opponent attempt to activate a specific figure of theirs. Once all figures from both sides have had a chance to activate, the next turn starts (and all 'moved this turn' tokens are removed followed by exchanging one 'lose a turn' token per figure for a 'moved this turn' token).

It is possible to use this rule in conjunction with the Interrupt optional rule – the This Very Ground rules allow for a figure that already acted to interrupt, but at a much lower chance to activate – but I think it would probably be a bad idea. But who know? Maybe for a future game.


  1. Very interesting. I have yet to actually purchase SoBH. I am currently reading RRtK and have read WHAA (by THW)and am trying to use Ed's concepts to play out an AGe of Blood campaign. I can't remember if I told you about my blog, but it is at if you are interested in taking a look. The concept of dice pools has a certain appeal to it, I'm not sure how it would mesh with the THW mechanic yet.

  2. It might be tougher with THW. I haven't really thought about it. It is easier with SoBH because it already has the concept of the player choosing to use 1, 2, or 3 dice when activating, each with it's own associated level of risk. What dice pool do is adds even more risk and benefit to that decision, which is essentially what I am aiming for.

    I went ahead and joined your blog. Welcome to the world of blogging.

  3. What sort of system is SoBH? Medieval, modern?


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").