Thursday, February 19, 2015

Old School Horse & Musket Rules (Down & Dirty)

  I have been reading Charles Grant's "The Wargame" recently and thinking about "old school" rules once again.  I can remember lining up hundreds of HaT, Accurate, and BMC 54mm PLastic AWI guys on my dining room table and having grand fictitious AWI fights.  (the finely sculpted Accurate 1/32mm plastics were always Guards....  Because they looked the coolest.  My favorite was the officer with the saber pointed straight out at the enemy.)

Anyways, in that spirit I wrote down some thoughts on "Old School" wargaming rules for Horse & Musket battles with toy soldiers and wanted to put them out there for everyone to comment on (or even try if you dare!)

Play sequence is "similar" to Grant's:

  1. Initiative
  2. Movement (alternate formations EG I move a unit, you move a unit)
  3. Artillery Fire (apply casualties at end of artillery phase)
  4. Stationary Fire (apply casualties at end of Stationary Fire Phase)
  5. Moving Fire (apply casualties at end of Moving Fire Phase)
  6. Morale
  7. Melee Combat

Line units move and not fire 12 units of measurement. Line units who will fire move 8.  Attack columns move 12. Artillery may move 6, foot limbered may move 12.  All cavalry move 20.

Inches for troops larger than 15mm.  Centimeters for 15mm and below.  If you're using blocks of 10mm or 6mm troops, consider making hits by base instead of by figure.  Just say each base fires with 2 D6 and takes 4 hits.

Unit sizes are 16 troops, including figures representing officers, musicians, etc (unit representing a most likely an 18th or early 19th century battalion or ACW sized Regiment)

Shoot groups of 2 figures.  So a full strength battalion gets 8D6 (8 six sided dice).  Game uses opposed shooting rolls.  So firer shoots his fire dice.  For every hit, the unit being fired upon rolls its morale dice to see how it stands the fire.

EG: Austrian foot at normal morale (4 stands of 4 troops each) rolls 8 dice.  Normal morale hits on 4+.  He rolls 1,1,2,3,4,4,5,6.  Every die that is "4" or higher scores a hit.  The Austrian unit scores 4 hits.  The Prussian unit he fires at is currently also at Normal morale.  He rolls 4 dice (1 for each hit) and rolls 2,3,4,5, canceling out 2 hits from the Austrian player.  THe Prussian player takes 2 total hits to his battalion.  The Prussian player places a small die with the "2" showing behind the left-most stand.

Morale Levels are Normal, Disorganized, Shaken.  For every 4 hits, you reduce your morale level by 1:    

4 stands full strength.  3 stands Disorganized. 2 stands Shaken.  Units reduced to 4 figures or 1 stand are removed.

For Shooting and Morale:
Normal Morale GREEN Dice hit on 4+ /  Save on 4+
Disorganized Morale YELLOW Dice hit on 5+ / Save on 5+
Shaken Morale RED Dice hit on 6 / Save on 6

ALTERNATE MORALE SAVE DICE OPTIONS (roll number or higher on 1D6)
MORALE Dice for Opposing Fire
Elite 3+
Regular 4+
Second Rate 5+
Hastily Trained Conscript / Mil. 6

UNits must take a morale check after losing a stand, prior to melee, and receiving a charge.  Must roll your morale level or better on 1D6.

Line up Battalions and roll as per shooting.  Winner must beat loser by 2 casualties.  (Prussian scores 4 hits, Austrian scores 2 - Prussian is the winner.)

Melee Sequence:

Moving player announces Charge and makes pre charge morale check.
Moving player moves unit in.  Player to receive charge makes morale check.  must pass or retreat full move distance.
If Morale check passed, player receiving charge may fire if he has not previously moved or if he has not moved over 8 (the maximum move distance allowed to fire in a turn).
Join units.  Resolve dice rolls during Melee Phase.
Melee Phase roll 1D6 for every figure in unit, striving to meet or exceed the Shooting/Morale number.  (Normal Morale 4+, Disorganized Morale 5+, Shaken Morale 6).  Both sides make Morale Save Dice throws.
Remove Casualties or use marker dice if troops are on bases.
Winner is the side who scored 2 more hits than opponent.

So that's it.  I've been having a difficult time with figuring out what scale to play this at.  I'm thinking of 1/72, individually based troops to give it that "toy soldier feel" that I got out of playing on my dining room table.  Not to mention the fact that individually based 1/72 guys can be used for skirmish games as well.  So maybe that decision has already been made!  

Thoughts?  Feedback?  There was alot of influence from Grant's The Wargame in that i thought his sequence of play was just brilliant.  Also, many games try to impart negative modifiers from the consequences of bad morale onto die rolls, morale checks etc.  I like the concept in "All The King's Men" rules where your To Hit and Melee dice are based on attrition (granted, in those games you can recover your morale level.  In these rules, you have 4 hits before losing a level - but in this game the level cannot be gained back during the game.)  Thus the morale results are built into the game and you don't have to worry about extra modifiers.  In this way, the game can accept large numbers of Battalions in a big fight without too much book keeping.

The book keeping will mostly occur during shooting  in each phase.  Since shooting is simultaneous per phase, you'll have to track casualties incurred this phase, then apply those casualties at the end of the phase.  It's a slight annoyance but it might not detract from the flow of the game.

I like the melee rules in that you get "buckets of dice" which I'm particularly fond of growing up on Epic Space Marine and the like.

Leave comments and let me know your thoughts!


  1. Love what you've done here, and I'd really like to give them a try, perhaps with late 17th century troops in stead.
    There's a real old school feel (obvious I guess) and that turn sequence reminded me of 'Squad Leader' on first reading.
    How would you rate these vs you recent (excellent btw) black powder ACW game. For me, the only difference would be that BP tries to be more 'modern' by having activations by brigade - but that doesn't mean it's that different from what you present here.
    If I dare say so, these rules might even give a better and faster game (SHOCK!).

    1. Darren,
      Thank you for your comments. The best part about the sequence is (IMHO) the casualties taking effect in some phases rather than other phases. (artillery, stationary fire, then moving fire). This gives your stationary troops an advantage in the defense, but still allows moving troops to fire, although after the stationary ones.

      I was going for Charles Grant's "The Wargame" but since I don't have massive collections of troops like he does in his books, I opted for a rules set that matched my collection better while still keeping the spirit of "The War Game" and "All the King's Men."

      There are some things I rather like about Black Powder, and you've probably heard me say before that Grant's influence on the writers of BP is obvious - BP has that old school feel to it but as you stated it's brought into the 21st century with the activation rolls.

      I think the rules I've written may be a little faster than Black Powder as you're not constantly forced to make break tests and send troops back. The only thing that sends troops back in these rules is losing a melee. (maybe that's not a good thing)

      I'm going to attempt a game of these rules sometime in the future and see how they play out.

      The cavalry rules still need some work, as does the artillery.

      I'm anxious to hear if you get to try them and how you like them.

      I am still itching to play "Lightning War" and have that on my To-Do list! perhaps next.

    2. Yes, that was my first thought upon reading them Stephen, that the play would be quicker than BP, and perhaps with little difference in terms of what is decided. I found the activation in BP a little stilted and artificial - Maurice being in my opinion a far superior ruleset. We really found that BP slowed down to a crawl after a while.

      I do want to try these out, and compare with BP, Maurice and even 'Might & Reason' which I have, but have yet to try. I love the old school feel - and, as you say, casualty effects throughout the turn. These would work really well for my AWI stuff (if I ever get it painted).

      What your comments really brought home to me, is how little some rules have actually changed when you get down to the mechanisms, and I think, in the 90s certainly, there was a tendency to 'trash' old school themes in view of apparently superior rules being produced.

      Perhaps, now that we're going back to the early days of wargaming, we're seeing that those old rules had more than a certain charm, but were founded on sound principles.

      Actually, there's a lot of discussion of this in Jon Peterson's 'Playing at the World', where the origins of wargaming (and how it became D&D lol) are analysed; some great research in the book. Of course, the same thing has happened with RPGs with the old school renaissance I suppose.

    3. I tried a few rounds with 2 battalions on a side and it's very quick. Much quicker than Black Powder but still rough around the edges...
      I have not played Maurice but I do own Might & Reason and LaSalle and am anxious to play them as well. Might and Reason would make an excellent 10mm game I think and is the reason I'm keeping my 10mm stuff (yet unpainted!).

      I have a ton of plastic AWI stuff in 1/72 which I will use for the game, and tons of painted 1/72 Napoleonics I'll use as well.

      What people want now I think, are gimmicks and mechanisms that are built into rules that are clever and put you into a difficult or advantageous position brought on by friction and fog of war. (look at BKC and its popularity)

      We shouldn't forget that the essential purpose of the game is to model combat and its effect upon troops. When it comes down to it, I want to maneuver units around and fight.
      The tension that comes from some unknown die roll can be fun and I do understand that friction is an important part of warfare, but when I was a kid, I wanted to get down to the nuts and bolts of marching the guys around, shooting, and the life and death struggle of melee. I guess I am still looking at gaming from that aspect now.
      As you stated, there are sound principles incorporated into games that they should be judged by; Movement, musketry(shooting), melee, and morale. Maybe command (the mere presence of the commend element and maybe their assistance with rallying).
      There are so many creative minds involved in our hobby though that I don't think anyone could take rules at face value and simply play them. So you have this evolution of rules sets over the years that brings us to today and the vast amounts of rules that are available, each one with varying degrees of difficulty and unique mechanisms built in to replicate friction, lost opportunities, and "blunders."

      Think about any popular rules set played around the world and the amount of house rules and club rules that are generated/developed from it on each continent. I guess it's the same with designers. They're influenced by a popular rules set from days of yore, and either build on it or use it as an inspiration to create their own.

  2. You have me thinking about this now Stephen :).

    Agree with your comments, and would only add that the barebones nature of these old school approaches, allows ease of 'tinkering' with the rules.

    I'm thinking now for instance, that 'friction' could be introduced without hamstringing the game, simply by allowing commander's a command radius - BUT this is not for moving units. Better commanders have improved radii as usual, but these allow one 're-roll' per turn - within their command radius, be it for firing or morale. Positioning of commanders to allow that single re-roll for a crucial attack or morale roll (simulating the fact that orders have just arrived or rallying has taken place for instance) could swing the outcome on a flank etc.

    Liking the simplicity more and more, and this ease of adding house rules, smacks very much of the 1960/70s approach to rules in the book I've been reading - something we've perhaps lost sight of as wargamers.

    Looking forward to trying these rules now (and hacking them to suit different periods of course).

    I agree too that the 'nuts and bolts' approach isimportant. I think Sam Mustafa has a good grasp of this concept with his stuff. I just got 'Blucher' and it adopts a lot of the same style as Maurice, but allows for a lot more 'hacking'.

    1. That's the beauty of building a rules set based on simplicity. There is ease of adding to it (kind of what I like about Team Yankee). Some games (think Shako) that crucial modifier of -1 or +1 makes a huge difference in rounds of combat so it's important to maneuver your battalions to where they can add proper support (proper being in terms of the rules for flank lines, etc).
      I rather enjoy rules like that.
      Nowadays, if you present an "old school" game to someone, it's called a "beer and pretzels" game which I disagree with.
      Let me know if you have any questions regarding the rules. We can come up with an answer to any questions you have. This has been an enjoyable discussion!!

      By the way, Bucher has gotten lots of very good reviews!

  3. Hi Steven!Great job as usual! Same flavour of rules I had the chance to read on D.Featherstone books. I got four of them last year. What about terrain effect on fire or morale"obviously keeping all as simple as possible)? Also interesting the rules proposed by the Duc. In one of Featherstone'd book I read something similar. I'm still in train back from office with no chance to read them but if I don't mistake one suggested rule regard the chance for good officer to let their units move a little bit once all movement stopped and or to target better enemy units...hope to be able to try them. It would be great a colonial version😁

    1. Thank you Marco! When I tried it out, I had some units behind a low stone wall (light cover). Like in Black Powder, I gave the unit being shot at a +1 on their Morale Dice.

      For heavy cover, or dug in troops (like Colonials) I imagine you could add a penalty to firing. In the interest of simplicity, I liked giving the morale dice a better chance of success so for example:

      SYW Prussian Battalion fires on a SYW Austrian Battalion in the sunken road at Lobositz. They roll a 1,2,3,4,4,5,5,6 scoring 5 hits! Since the Austrian unit is in light cover, they roll 5 morale dice, adding 1 to each dice rolled.

      So the Austrian player rolls his morale dice, rolling 2,3,4,5,6. Each dice adds +1 for cover so the final result is 3,4,5,6,7. The Austrian morale is Normal so 4 total hits are cancelled out by the Austrian morale dice.

      Does that make sense?

      Also - some added command bonuses would be neat. I think these rules are simple enough where you could get away with that.

  4. I'm going to try these out with a Marlburian battle soon guys. Maybe even add a few commander bonuses as suggested by Marfac.

    Perhaps the commander(s) can have options within their radius: reroll, extra move for 1 unit or rally if in contact (though danger of being hit).

    (This could end up as a whole separate rules development blog Stephen LOL)

    1. This makes me want to paint up either more 1/72 scale AWI troops, or start on those fantastic Zvezda GNW troops I have laying around.

      If you would like, feel free to post on my "Combat Team" rules google group (with a whopping 4 members!) Or we could start a new blog - whichever you prefer. The URL to the group is below.!forum/combatteamww2

  5. Thanks guys! Keep us posted! I'll try too with my Hat SYW..all unpainted (argh...) or with my colonials!