Random thought about unit characteristics

In table top gaming we are living in a culture of numbers and calculations. Almost any wargame or miniatures deals with its subject matter by some sort of “numbers comparing”.

Units are arrayed on a 2 dimensional plane, which has a visible or invisible grid of coordinates. These units have characteristics expressed in numbers like morale, ability to inflict damage, movement distance and so on and so forth. The player changes the game state by announcing an action and feeding the numbers through an engine to get a result.

Maybe it is time to break this paradigm of number crunching by swapping it with a narrative description engine. Well this is just a hazy idea at the moment, but when reading the beta rules of the Drowned Earth I immediatly questioned my gaming efforts in the last months.

Drowned Earth uses ONE test as its core game mechanic. This test always produces a result which is very positive, positive, bad or very bad (very broad and contentually wrong summary, but it gets the point across). It does not matter what you are trying to accomplish in the game – it could be buying an ice cream at the local store – you always do the same test. All that is left is to describe what the 4 possible outcomes mean in that situation and you are ready to go.

My idea now is this: what if the change in game state is a description through a series of words. For example let’s take a “revolutionary infantry division“. Division would be the term for “independent unit in the game”. The two other terms would describe “how” that unit is. Now let’s say this unit wants to cross a river. If the player rolls a “very positive result” the unit crosses without problem. A “positive result” would mean that the unit crosses but also gets the adjective “disordered” making it a “disordered revolutionary infantry division“. If the player rolls a “bad result” the division would fail to cross and gain the adjectives “disordered” and “exhausted” making it a: “Disordered exhausted revolutionary infantry division“.

Drowned Earth also has this very nice flowchart of the entire test procedure, which really eases the process of going through the test. If every possible type of action in the game would be explained by one specific flowchart the need of calculation or number crunching of any kind would be removed from the game.


  • No numbers of any kind
  • no calculations required
  • narration is produced by the game engine


  • how big would these flowcharts get?
  • how many flowcharts would be needed?

Let’s answer the second possible negative first: How many sub systems are needed in my campaign game?

  • Move
  • Crossriver? – not sure if this is part of move flowchart
  • action – action battle and siege are totally different kinds of “fighting”
  • battle
  • siege
  • rally
  • resupply
  • morale – could be worked directly in to the other flow charts?
  • new orders? – for now the CinC – aka the player – is an abstract entity, changing the orders of a division could be a flow chart, with misunderstanding results …
  1. Movement
  2. Action
  3. Battle
  4. Siege
  5. Rally/Resupply/Reorganize – action which removes negative temporary adjectives
  6. Orders

Types of “adjectives”

Unit type: infantry, cavalry, artillery, “train?”

light, heavy, siege, guards,

Morale: Bold, steady, nervous, fearful, panicked, routed

Organization: Disciplined, undisciplined, …?

Would be interesting to find any games that do this already. Many games do in fact feature characteristics which are words as well as characteristics which are numbers.

Miscellaneous: partisan, terrible, fanatical,


Author: bernhard1986

Father of a 2 year old, working at a star up in a rural community. Like the occasional solo game in the evening

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