Game Designers’ Corner: Thoughts on Volley Fire

Buck

I like mechanics that “feel right” as well as being good approximations of the physical effect being modeled.

I had a recent Email exchange with Lori Brom — just prior to the death of her dad, Larry.  In my note to her I mentioned that I might have been the only person who really liked the original volley fire mechanic in The Sword and the Flame.  For those of you who don’t remember it, her it is:

(I intentionally only show part of the card and didn’t put a lot of effort into making it look good, because I don’t have permission to reproduce it.)  So for British rifles, as an example, I would roll a SINGLE six-sided die.  If the roll was a “4,” the result is “1/3.”  That means that I would count up the number of firing figures and for every three figures, I would inflict one casualty on the enemy.  Then you would draw cards to tell if the casualties were kills, wounds, leaders, etc.  It was the “1/3,” “1/4,” etc. mechanic that appealed to me.  Then the question arose, “what about remainders.”  In the original rules, reminders were lost.  In an issue of the Heliograph, someone proposed a method by which you rolled on a separate chart with a d10 to see if the remainder turned into an extra casualty or not.

Clearly many folks who played TSAF didn’t like this mechanic, because in subsequent editions of the rules, Larry moved to a d10-based mechanic, and I think a die roll for each figure.  But the elegance of the original approach — as well as the single die roll — always made a lot of intuitive sense to me.  When you fire by volley, you KNOW most of those bullets don’t strike a target.  This mechanic replicated in an elegant way that felt like volley fire to me.

When we were developing GASLIGHT I initially toyed with this idea, but dropped it in favor of rolling for each figure.  I figured Larry know what he was doing when he dropped this mechanic from TSAF, probably the single most successful set of wargaming rules ever.  As I said earlier, I like mechanics that “feel right” as well as being good approximations of the physical effect being modeled.  To me, this felt right.

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