Monday, July 21, 2014

Horse and Musket version of Bolt Action

I was thinking lately that I don't want to have to learn a lot of different sets of rules for playing different historical periods at the same scale/level of game. That will only discourage me from getting miniatures in new periods that I don't have rules for. So I'm thinking about adapting the Warlord Games "Bolt Action" World War 2 rules to earlier periods, such as the "Horse and Musket" era, approximately 1700-1900 AD. Before getting into my specific modifications, here are some things in Bolt Action that I think need to be addressed.

  1. The long reload time of muzzle loading weapons needs to be represented.
  2. Rifled weapons should be more accurate than smoothbore.
  3. In Bolt Action, the roll to cause damage is based on the training level of the target, which I don't think makes sense for Horse and Musket periods. Aside from being behind cover, which is already represented by cover modifiers, I don't think soldiers were trained to avoid being shot.
  4. I want to be able to represent some troop types being slightly better or worse at shooting, or slightly better or worse in assault. In Bolt Action, most individuals are pretty much equal in offensive ability, but I want Grenadiers to be better in an assault than Militia, for example.
  5. Assaults should probably be less instantly decisive. With the need to reload most weapons after one shot, there wouldn't be as much shooting at point blank range to end things quickly. Having to beat each other with rifle butts might cause an assault to drag on longer.
  6. There needs to be some detailed rules for cavalry. I don't think cavalry is addressed in the Bolt Action rules, though there may be rules for it in one of the army book supplements. Even if there are some cavalry rules, they probably aren't to the level of detail that would be desired in a game where cavalry would be more important and prevalent.
If you can think of other areas where the Bolt Action rules might need to be altered or amended, let me know. I think those six points cover most of what needs to change, at a minimum. With the exception of cavalry rules, which I'm not sure about yet, I think all of those points can be covered with a few simple rules change, a few modifiers, and some new weapon and unit stats. My proposed changes are listed below.

  • When a unit fires, mark the unit with a smoke marker or other token to indicate that it has fired. Any weapons that require reloading (indicated in the weapon stats table) cannot be fired again while the unit has the smoke marker. After the unit successfully carries out another Fire order (now basically a Reload order), the smoke marker is removed so that those models may fire again in the following turn. This takes care of the first point above.
  • Models will have a "Shooting" stat to indicate their target number on a D10 when rolling to hit with a shooting attack. They will also have an "Assault" stat to indicate their target roll on a D10 to cause damage in an assault. The base damage roll for shooting attacks against all targets is 6+ on a D10. The change to a D10 for rolling to hit and damage allows a greater range of ability for the units and more modifiers in order to do things like making rifles more accurate than smoothbore muskets. Also, I have added Shooting and Assault stats to differentiate different units. So this covers the second, third, and fourth points above.
  • Some models have Assault Weapons (Bayonet, sword, loaded pistol, revolver, tomahawk, knife, etc.). A model without such a weapon has a -1 penalty to their damage rolls in an assault. A model with two such weapons receives a +1 bonus to damage rolls in an assault.
  • After an assault, the loser takes a morale test. If they fail, the unit is removed. If they pass, the assault continues. Fight another round of assault, with both sides striking simultaneously, at the beginning of each turn until one unit is wiped out or fails the morale test and is removed. Whenever this happens, the winning unit may consolidate as normal, and their order die is put back in the pool. This covers point 5.

That pretty much covers the rules changes, except for cavalry rules. Below are my ideas for Hit Modifiers and Damage Modifiers, as well as a few examples of weapon and unit stats. Let me know what you think of the idea, especially if there are any other things in the Bolt Action rules that you think would need to change, or if you have other suggestions for what to add to the list of weapons and units. Once the stats are all fleshed out, I'll need to add some detailed cavalry rules and get their stats figured out. Then it would just need scenarios and army lists, and then skirmish level games could be played for a variety of historical periods using the Bolt Action rules as a base.

Hit Modifiers
-1Per pin marker on the firer
-1Long range (over half)
-1Fire on the move (Advance order)
+1Point blank range (less than 6")
+1Rifled firearm

Damage Modifiers (shooting)
-1Target is 'down' infantry
-1Target is a small unit (2 models or fewer)
-1Target is in soft cover
-2Target is in hard cover

Damage Modifiers (Assault)
-1Assault against mounted cavalry (unless using a bayonet or pike)

Weapon Stats
Smoothbore Pistol61Yes
Revolver (rifled)92No
Double Barreled Shotgun122Yes
Smoothbore Carbine181Yes
Smoothbore Musket241Yes
Rifled Carbine301Yes
Breach Loading Carbine301No
Muzzle Loading Rifle361Yes
Breach Loading Rifle361No
Repeating Rifle362No

Unit Stats
Regular Infantry6+6+9
Light Infantry5+6+9
Elite Infantry6+6+10
Woodland Indian6+5+8

UPDATE: There is a new version of Horse and Musket Bolt Action that includes cavalry rules. It can be found here.


  1. Are we still skirmishing? Or are you going for battalions and bases as the squad?

    I still have issues with the dice randomness for activation, too much waiting around in bigger games, 24 dice can take an age to roll through!!

    1. Yes, this would still be skirmish level, with each model representing one person. I think there is always going to be a limit for skirmish games, where once you get too many models/units on the table, the rules bog down because they are designed for smaller games.

  2. Many years ago, while I was building model soldiers rather than wargaming, I became interested in the Rifle Volunteers. These were first formed in 1859 as a response to a perceived threat from France (who else?!!). There were units throughout Britain, with a wide selection of unusual uniforms.

    Since then, I've often considered building forces to fight this `war', but never seen a ruleset that really appealed. Whatever happens, this is not a serious project - after all, the war never happened - and fighting out the post-invasion skirmishes using a version of Bolt Action promises to be fun. So, you keep developing, and I'll keep following until I've got sufficient figures to give it a go.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement! Let me know if you try out something like that, and how it goes. I'll keep adding to and refining the idea. I don't think I'm really qualified to write army lists for a hypothetical 1959 French invasion of Britain, so you may be on your own for that part.

  3. Page 71 of the Bolt Action rulebook covers cavalry. They act like infantry, have a 9" movement rate, have recce while mounted, can only fir pistols or carbines while mounted (bows should be allowed here), they have 3 dice per model when fighting in close combat, regroup 2d6" after combat instead of d6", and con dismount and be treated as regular infantry.

    Are you going to consider 3+ units in a single close combat? Not possible with current Bolt Action rules.

    I like the shift to d10's.

    1. Thank you. I thought I remembered there being something in there about cavalry, but couldn't find it. I may still come up with something more detailed. I was thinking of treating them more like a half-tracked vehicle, with limited turns so they can't just turn on a dime while running, and extra movement along a road. Also, I don't see how being three times as good in an assault is really justified. I added a -1 modifier to damage cavalry in an assault because I think it makes sense for them to be a little more survivable, with the height advantage.

      That's a good point about having three or more units in a close combat. I suppose if you assault into an existing combat, you should get to attack (an choose the unit if there is more than one enemy unit in the assault already), without any attacks back, since the other units would have already attacked once that turn. But that may end up being too one-sided. I'll have to try it out and see.

  4. I can see your point about cavalry movement. Having them move similar to a halftrack would limit turning pretty much just for the run. And horses don't maneuver as easily as foot soldiers.

    Then next question. Would you then impose a firing arc on a cavalry unit as well? I would imagine the front 180, but that's just my opinion.

    I also think that cavalry should get a bonus in close combat, but triple the cleaning power is a bit much. It's not like warhammer where the horses can eat you too... Your -1 modifier is good, but what about giving the cavalry a +1 or 2 to hit enemies from their "superior" position. Perhaps even a bonus for charging, as the weight of a horse crashing on top of someone can do some serious damage (I have a feeling this is what Rick Priestley was thinking) so perhaps they gain 1 additional die the turn they charged.

    Just thoughts.

    1. Well, I may be over complicating it. Now that I know there are already cavalry rules, I may want to just start there and make a few changes, at the very least taking away the three dice in combat thing. I'll probably have to just try it out a few times to find out how effective they need to be in combat to feel right in the game. I'll have to think about how much of their effectiveness comes from just being on a horse, as opposed to how much is the training/skill of the cavalryman, or how much comes from using certain weapons (like a lance probably should be better on the charge than in a prolonged fight, and there were many lancers in the Napoleonic wars).

    2. I don't know how Black Powder approaches cavalry, but I do know Hail Caesar (I would imagine they are similar) and cavalry typically have a better initial attack (more attacks) but after that fall to about the same as foot infantry. I can totally see this as horseman being pulled from horseback, or unable to maneuver as easily when entrenched. The -1 to wound cavalry really could be argued either way, but I think that we've been ingrained to think that cavalry is better overall.

      I'm with you. When I start thinking about something I have a tendency to over analyze at times.

      But, after watching a few documentaries, I would imagine that most of the advantage comes from the initial charge. Getting locked in combat can alter how things are done. It is possible to fight from horseback, but to what degree.

      I don't know how much history you watch, but I kinda like this guy. It's Greater History and they cover a lot of different historical things. This video in particular is about the sword. It focuses mainly on a battle and on foot, but does have a brief section about fighting on horseback.