Humanizing the Roster System
By Joseph Morschauser
Reprinted from: Table Top Talk March 1966
Since the publication of my book, How to Play War Games in Miniature several years ago I have heard from numbers of people who have adapted the Roster System to their own needs. As many of you know the Roster System is no thing more than the use of trays with a few troops mounted on each. These trays represent a unit of some strength, the actual strength being listed on a Roster sheet with numbers corresponding to numbers painted on the trays. Many of the adaptations of the system I have heard about have been ingenious and imaginative. BUT none have broken new ground.
Then recently, A. W. Saunders of England wrote me about some small unit actions he had conducted. These were squad level WWII battles, fascinating in themselves but especially exciting to me because the general rules used sparked thoughts of small unit war gaming making use of a new (to me) form of the Roster System. This modified Roster System would allow war gamers to conduct little battles with small numbers of troops. At the same time these battles could be made so realistic that each individual figure used would almost become a person!
The technique used reverses the normal war game of battalions and regiments of faceless automatons who are shifted about a table top and decimated enmasse by a few rolls of the dice. The players are forced to rearrange their thinking from that of the ivory-tower Field Marshal to that of a sweating, swearing Sergeant Major who knows the strength of weaknesses of every many under his command. Considering some of the hi9h-echelon pomposity attitude which has crept into the war gaming hobby in recent years, this would be a very good thing. After an, people, not just weapons, make war and it’s about time we war gamers began to recognize the fact in our miniature battles.
The basic method, which for want of a better name I will call The Humanized Roster System, is quite simple. The tin soldiers are not mounted on trays but each figure is numbered with a small number on its base. Then a Roster is drawn listing each man. Unlike the Regular Roster System, this Humanized Roster does not list strength in numbers that each figure is to represent. Instead beside each figure’s number on the Roster sheet the individual capability and staying power of that man is set down. Added to this, for particular battles, such things as the amount of ammunition, food, etc., could be listed. Thus in effect what you are doing is actually listing a series of individual combat profiles of each soldier. As this man engages in action in your small battle his capabilities may diminish, his staying power shrink, his ammunition supply disappear or increase if he has received anew supply. Eventually his luck may run out as all his staying power disappear s and you have a casualty, a dead soldier who can help you no more to win the conflict.
How do you set up capability on a Roster? Think of it first in human terms! Does this particular man have good, bad or average eyesight? Is he a big, rough-tough man who would handle several of the enemy at once in hand-to-hand combat or is he just an average man with an average chance of surviving a rough-and-tumble? All these things can be expressed in terms of numbers or dice odds. Another thing to consider is the man’s capability to move about the battlefield. Naturally there is going to be a median, an average speed at which an infantryman can move. This median is the “infantry speed” used in large scale games. But in this individualized or humanized type of game it’s quite possible that one private might be short, stocky with short leg s, a great man with a rifle butt but not too fast moving in a charge. It’s also possible his buddy might be a lanky type, who could really move. Thus the lanky man should be given a bit more speed per turn than our stocky, short friend.
Staying power can be handled in a similar fashion. Some individuals can suffer a beating about much better than others or being quicker or having good reflexes, would be more likely to avoid getting shot or battered so easily. The raw recruit very frequently does not survive a battle as readily as the old soldier who is wiser in the ways of combat. An old soldier thus would be given a higher staying power (a number which in a sense is similar to the strength-of-unit number used in standard Roster games) while the new recruit would get a lower number. Of course if the recruit does well in an action or two, survives, his staying power number may be increased.
To really add a delicious personalized touch to games played under the Humanized Roster System one could go so far as to give each figure a name, an age, a biography of sorts perhaps. Thus when he fights on a battlefield he will become the cIo se st thing to a real soldier as is possible in miniature war gaming. Private Henry Isaacs, 27, of Devonshire, enlisted June 23rd, 1881, 5ft 4 inches, 173 pounds, blonde hair, blue eyes (sharp eyesight). Private Isaacs might be detailed with a couple of friends to hold a corner of a thorn bush barricade while the rest of the squad sweeps out to flank the attacking Dervishes. Isaacs isn’t very fleet of foot but he’s a damn good shot and a rough customer in a hand-to-hand tangle. When he hefts that Martini/Henry, the shoulder busting kick doesn’t bother him a bit either. He’s a good man in a solid position and by the end of the battle your opponent will hate his guts and you may be ready to award him a Victoria Cross!
It would be quite possible to use the Humanized Roster System’ in a massive battle involving hundreds of men, quite possible but damn improbable for the average war gamer. It’s best function would be in the small unit action where no more than 40 men per side are in use. With the amount of detail necessary no more than 40 figures are really practical. But a good deal of the Roster work can be done beforehand. The actual battle could be fought in 1-2 hours in a relatively small amount of space. And the battle reports one could produce after such actions will be capable of sounding more like detailed accounts of Roark’s Drift than a one volume history of all the wars of the world since time began.
There is no limitation of period for use with this Humanized Roster system either. You can fight WWII action between a few squads, a US Civil War engagement in a tiny town, a Zulu war battle, even a small battle between a few knights and their retainers. None of these will make you feel like a Napoleon but one thing they will do is bring back, on an adult level, that wonderful feeling of knowing each and every soldier. We all had this in our childhood battles. It was three boxes of Britians against several dozen dime-store heroes then and we knew every “man” involved right down to the scratches on the paint or the misplaced eye dot on the face!
The Humanized Roster system small game is well worth trying. It’s not meant to supplant those big battles. But it might take a bit of that pompous Pentagonese attitude out of the hobby and replace it with some fun. It might even make a few priggish tin soldier type Field Marshals realize that even miniature wars are still fought by people.