Musings on Marlburian modifications for the Black Powder rules

I haven’t played Black Powder Marlburians for a couple of months now, I simply haven’t had the time.  But I have been giving much more thought to the Black Powder rules and the mods that I (and others) had come up with in the middle of the year.  Much of the discussion can be found on the Last Hussar’s barracks blog here:

On reflection, the rules about moving through woods and artillery only having one movement were ones that I adopted.  The others I felt were modelled well in Black Powder without mods.  As regards wheeling through 45′ and moving around flanks, this is something that did happen in this general period, and I would be loathe to alter it.  My biggest concern was modelling how I perceived the contact phase would work.

I had read a lot about bayonets not being crossed in the open, and the defeat of the Gendarmerie at Blenheim when they chose to stand and fire rather than countercharge.  This of course translated into the need for rules to mimic this.  My answer was a special rule – ‘must give fire‘.  The idea was that units with this rule could not charge home in a single turn, but had to pause and shoot once they were within 3″ of the enemy.  It was simple in my head, but once I tried to apply the rules, we found that it bogged down the game a bit and gave a huge advantage to those units not given the rule.

I altered the ‘must give fire’ rule to be that any unit – charger and charged – with the special rule would be given the chance to use closing fire but forgo any charge bonuses.  I never playtested this though.

I recently read an article in the Lace Wars Yahoo Group files by Pat Condray on the historiography of wargames design dealing with the evolution of cavalry in this period which basically stated that his research had demonstrated that the French did not really have a doctrine in their cavalry tactics.  He went on to say that the reason that the Gendarmerie at Blenheim acted as they did when charged by Palmes was circumstantial, and that there are plenty of other instances where the gendarmerie charged with cold steel.  Suddenly the ‘must give fire’ rule seemed a bit superfluous for cavalry.  Why would they have to give fire if in reality they did not always do so? Maybe no rule was actually needed? Disorder and staggered might simply accommodate for using pistols rather than swords, or being at the halt when receiving the charge, or whatever vagaries there might be.

But surely we needed something to remain for the infantry?  After all, the charge was just an ‘advance to contact’ with musketry in the open wasn’t it?  Well, I was convinced of this until I received James Falkner’s ‘Marlborough’s Wars’ for Christmas.  Although I haven’t finished this yet, I am interested in the number of times that eye-witnesses seem to be describing crossing bayonets when not in built-up areas.  To be fair most of these are smaller patrols and skirmishes, but nevertheless it did happen.  Furthermore the result of contact was inevitably that one side broke and withdrew, whether through musketry or melee.  Did it matter how the result was arrived at, so long as it arrived?

So where am I at?  Well, to be honest, I now believe that Black Powder needs hardly any modifications or special rules to play the Marlburian period.  I still think that the mods for artillery are sensible as it was notoriously difficult to move around, and of course moving through woods is essential if you want to refight Malplaquet.  So they stay.  Everything else, though, is unnecessary as far as I can see based on what the Black Powder rules are trying to achieve – that is realistic outcomes through mechanisms that are simple and need interpretation.

Let me know what people think.



3 comments on “Musings on Marlburian modifications for the Black Powder rules

  1. Those initial thoughts have been evolved and refined. Unfortunately the most recent version is on my work computer, so I need to email them home to myself.

    Major changes:
    I’ve put in must give fire rule for some cavalry: There appears to have been 2 schools of thought – what I refer to as British and French as shorthand (though I’m not claiming any universality for these phrases, in the same way as Napoleonic Rules use ‘Prussian’ and ‘French’ systems.
    “British” has no fire die, and may countercharge.
    “French” has 1 fire die, lost from Hand To Hand. They give closing fire instead of counter charging. (Ideas taken from Chandlers “Art of Warfare on Land”)

    At the moment I have Cuirassiers as Charging only – not sure whether they should split along same lines.

    The other major modification is a trial of something many BP players do – Fire BEFORE movement. In our case we also are trying a -1 command if you fire. Fire comes after initiative.

    This means that the French can fire, then charge (on command). They don’t have to fire, and thus avoid the -1 command.

    I don’t stop wheeling – the rule is to stop that rather freemoving Warmaster system, where you can move a unit into its own flank. We now are trying any movement being striaght forward only (no oblique) , but you could get a 3 move command and wheel – move – move, thus end up in the flank of the starting position.

    Oh, and cavalry can not charge the front of formed, ordered, unshaken infantry – the French can at least use their pistols to try and get a disorder.

    • It’s certainly a thought-provoking ruleset. I didn’t end up buying the Last argument supplement yet, so unsure of the ‘official’ variations for WSS, but I certainly enjoyed the games that I did play free and unhindered by too many special rules.

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