This section will I hope turn out to be of some use to the skirmish gamer. By "skirmish game" I mean a game where a single figure represents just one fighter, rather than a unit of men, and the games involve a conflict between a fair number of men, so that it becomes too complicated to give each figure its own statistics, and tactics and command are considerations, rather than just individual heroics. Games where each figure has its own set of traits, and one side has perhaps six or fewer men, I consider to be more role-playing games than skirmish games, especially if each player controls only one or two figures. I have now written two skirmish systems with which I am quite smug, one for 15-30 figures a side, and the other for 50-80 a side. Below you will find a link to my new Type III Mark VI initiative system, which might just cause a revolution in wargame rule design. Yes, I can be that smug.

Introduction to my detailed skirmish rules My complete fast-play skirmish rules Rules for leaders and duelling The problem of skirmish game design Mass shooting in skirmish games Revolutionary initiative system Skirmish game scenarios

I have worked out a short skirmish campaign system, which involves six battles. The first five use a "three-fight" system that makes any one-off game interesting, and the last is a six-player climax. Since each of these ideas is separate, and might appeal to different people, I have put the discussions of them on three separate pages, but the file of the rules is a single document, so don't print them all out, because you may be disappointed to find that you have three copies of everything.

The three-fight system A six-player game Short campaign system


The intent

The intent of my rules is to create a realistic system for simulating fights between men armed with spears and swords and the like, where one figure (preferably 25mm scale) represents one man. The rules do cater for groups of men fighting in line, but these are meant to be a few fellows banding determinedly together for a quick fight, rather than huge formations of drilled professionals slogging it out as one body with a similar group of foes. The atmosphere of the game is meant to be pacey and dangerous. Archers and javelin throwers dash about from one piece of cover to the next, looking for a good shot; fighters with swords and axes dash forward when they see an advantage, clash for a short time, and flee for their safety if hard pressed.

The ground scale is 1:1 with the figures. In other words, if a figure is an inch high, and this represents a man five foot eight inches tall, then one inch along the table top represents five foot eight inches. Each tree model on the table represents a single tree, rather than marking an area of woodland. Each turn represents a short period of time, enough for a man with a loaded bow to look about him, pick a target, run a short distance, and take a reasonably well-aimed shot - in the region of twelve seconds.

The rules are detailed enough for role play gaming, and each individual figure may be given its own statistics, however in practice this is very fiddley for all but the smallest games, so it is imagined that players will have one statistic which will do for a number of their fighters.

The core of the system, and all the numbers needed, can be summarised on one side of one sheet of A4 paper (except the chariot rules). Most of this can quickly be learned.

Here follows not the full system, but a quick introduction to it, which will allow you to play small simple games. For printing purposes, you may like to download it as a Rich Text Format file or if you prefer pdf format file which may be easier if the formatting seems awkward, or you are not using A4 sized paper.


The full rules for this game go on for twenty four pages, and include details of many weapons, types of armour, characteristics of fighters, and include rules for sneaking, cowering, dodging, morale, fire, chariots, cavalry, fumbles, critical hits, initiative, and much more. This document contains just the basic core rules, and enough to have a pleasant enough bash with a one or two dozen figures per side. Follow the instructions below and you should fairly quickly get the hang of it.

Find yourself some figures to represent fighters. These should be based individually. One force will have six spearmen, and the other will have three axemen and three archers. Here are their statistics:

W D T S M R Notes
Spear10 4 13+35 1 -2W per neighbour, +2 closed. Long.
SwordX124 -1W versus non-X
W D T S M R Notes
Bow 124 13- 6 6 / 18 / 30Two of: move, load, shoot.
Dagger124 Short weapon.
W D T S M R Notes
Axe 9 5 15+25

You see that the archers are also armed with daggers and the spearmen carry swords. Before we pit these two forces against each other, we will fight one axeman against another. Place two axeman figures a foot apart. We shall call them Eric and Sven. Eric will have his turn first. He can move the number of inches listed under "M" for Move, which is 5. Move him five inches straight towards his foe. Since he is not in contact with his enemy, he cannot fight a melee with him, and he has no missile weapon, so this is all he can do with his turn. Now it is Sven's turn. Again, he moves five inches towards his foe, and now the two are two inches apart. In Eric's turn, contact is made, and so melee can be fought. Roll 1d20 for both fighters to see how well they do in the fight. Each has a "W" for Weapon Skill of 9. There is one factor to take into account, however, which is that each carries a shield. We know this because under "S" for Shield we see the statistic "+2". This is the number to be added to the W of an opponent. So, each must try to roll higher than 9+2=11. A skilful fighter has a low W score. There are four possibilities of what will happen;

  1. Neither roll is 11 or higher, in which case neither has harmed the other.
  2. One roll is 11 or greater (a "hit"), while the other is 10 or lower (a "miss"). The man who rolled a hit causes damage to his enemy.
  3. Both rolls are 11 or greater, but the rolls are different numbers. In this case, the lower roll is a hit, and the other is a miss.
  4. Both rolls are 11 or greater and both are the same number. Both fighters have hit the other.

In other words, each fighter must try to roll equal to or above his modified W, but lower than the roll of his foe. This system is very efficient. With one die roll it determines both the attack and the defence of a fighter, and it takes into account the skill not only of one fighter, but also the relative skill of his opponent.

Each turn a man is in contact with an enemy fighter, he can roll to determine the outcome of melee. Keep taking turns for Eric and Sven until one hits the other. Then roll 5d20 to determine the damage caused by the successful hit. You know to do this because under "D" for Damage, you see the number 5, which is the number of twenty-sided dice you roll to determine damage. Look at the results and see how many dice show equal to or greater than the "T" for Toughness of the opponent. In our example case, this is 15. Here are the possibilities:

  1. No dice equal or exceed the T of the opponent. The man is unharmed.
  2. One die only equals or exceeds the needed score. The man is driven back half a move (half his M). The victor may choose to follow up.
  3. Two dice are up to the mark. The opponent is wounded and marked as wounded in some way. From now on he moves two inches more slowly, uses one die less when rolling for damage, and all his skills such as W are at +4.
  4. Three dice are hits. The opponent suffers an incapacitating injury. Perhaps he is knocked unconscious. Perhaps he falls over and can do little more than try to staunch the flow of blood from a gash in his thigh. He is out of the fight.
  5. Four or more dice are hits. The opponent is killed instantly.

This is the basis of the combat system. Simple enough, I hope you'll agree. Now let us fight the two forces against each other. Set the up the spearmen in a line, and opposite them, two feet away, set up the axemen and archers in a ragged mob. Between them, put down something to represent a bit of hedge, and something to represent a patch of difficult ground. The spearmen will be in formation: a formed up group that fights as a unit. When formed up like this, they all move one inch slower than usual.

Let the mob have the first turn. We shall assume that the archers all start the game with their bows loaded. They may move and then shoot, or shoot and then move. They may not move a bit, then shoot, and then finish their movement allowance. They may not see targets through the hedge, and so in order to get a shot at the spearmen, must get into a position where they can see them. Keep playing turns as you did before until an archer can get a shot off. Keep the spearmen together in a line. If anyone moves over the difficult ground, subtract two inches from their movement rate. Make the men walk around the hedge.

Measure the range for the shots. Under "R" for Range (and Reach) you will see 6/18/30. These are short, medium and long ranges. Most likely, the archers will get a first shot when they are between 18 and 30 inches away. This is long range, and so you add +5 to their W. The spearmen are shielded too, which adds +3. Another factor is that the spearmen are in a group. For a group between three and seven strong, the factor is -2. The archers' skill is W12, so the archers need to roll 12+5+3-2=18. If they hit, determine randomly which spearman is hit, and determine damage to him just as with axe blows.

After shooting, the archers have to think about when to load. If they moved and then shot, then during their opponent's turn they are not loaded, and will start their next turn unloaded. They might like to stay where they are and load and shoot each turn, or perhaps move forwards and load, closing the range. Each turn they may do two out of these three things: move, load, shoot. For them, 6-18" is medium range, in which they shoot at +2, and in the range bracket 0-6" they are at short range, and suffer no penalty for range.

Try to get your axemen to attack in melee. Remember, you are not trying to play this game well in order to win - you are just trying out the rules. Note that the spears have a reach (listed under "R") of one inch. Because they have a reach, it is possible for a spearman to attack an axeman from a range of up to an inch away, while the axeman cannot strike back. In the notes, they are described as "long". When a fighter is up against a foe who has a weapon that out-reaches him, such as an axeman against a spearman, to get a blow in, the axeman will have to "close" with his spear-using opponent. The same goes for users of "short" weapons (such as daggers) against longer weapons such as axes. For the sake of example, we will assume that two axemen (X and Y) charge the centre of the spear formation (ABCDEF).


X fights C, but also will have to defend himself against C's neighbour B. Y fights D and will have to defend also against E. D will not attack X, because he is busy fighting Y.

X attacks, and tries as usual to roll above his weapon skill (W9) modified by the shields of his foes (S+3=12). C fights too, but he has the advantage of fighting in a coordinated group. For each neighbour in the line (he has two neighbours, A and F have one each) he would normally get -1W, but because he is using spears, particularly suited to this sort of combat, he gets minus 2W per neighbour =-4W. The axemen are shielded, though, so the final sum is W10 -4 for supporting neighbours in group +S2 for shields = 8. If the spearman hits the axeman, the axeman takes damage. If the axeman wins the fight, the spearman takes no damage, because the axeman has not closed. Furthermore, B also fights X. In this contest, the axeman gets a "defence roll". A fighter only gets one "attack roll" (chance to hurt an opponent in a turn) per turn. If two fighters attack one fighter, the out-numbered fighter makes a "defence roll" against the second foe. If he wins, he has defended himself, but inflicts no damage.

Let us imagine that with luck and fury, X beats both C and B. He has then closed with C. A good way to mark this would be to stand the figures with overlapping bases. Though C has suffered no damage so far, he is now in trouble. His notes say that he is +2W versus foes who have closed with him. We shall assume that D is still busy fighting off Y. This turn, X rolls as usual to hit, but C now loses the special -2W per neighbour, and is down to the usual -1W per neighbour in a formation. He is also +2W because he is trying to use a long weapon against a man who is right next to him. X is still shielded, so the roll to hit is now W10 -1 -1 (two neighbours) +2 (foe closed) +2 (enemy's shield) = 12.

One thing this example shows, is that groups are difficult to beat, but if the spearmen had suffered a few hits from archery, and if the axemen all charged one spearman on the end of the line, things would be rather different. A spearman on the end of the line charged by three axemen would have to win all three contests in order to keep all three at a distance, and would only be supported by one neighbour. One option a spearman has is to drop his spear and change to using a sword. When doing this, he gets no attack roll that turn, and only defence rolls with his new weapon. Swords are extra-wieldy weapons, and get the X-factor. The spearmen's sword skill is "X12". This means that they get -1W (which is good) when fighting against foes whose weapons do not also have the X-factor.

Also, shields do not apply to all opponents. A shield covers 180 degrees around a man. Therefore, if three men attack one man, then one man might be able to get round the back in his turn, and would not count the shield of the single man in the fight. Also, if two archers shot at one man from two directions, the defender could turn to face one archer, but not both, and one archer would get an easier shot.

If a man in a formed up group gets a "move back half a move" result from damage (one hit), then he only goes back one inch. A second similar result will drive him away from the group. If casualties open up a two-man wide gap in a formed group, then it is now two smaller groups. It takes a minimum of three men in a line to form a group, so melee can break a group up.

So, you have now tried moving, shooting, and fighting, both individually and in groups. There are just two more rules I'll tell you about and you can try a small simple game out using the rules so far. Get three spearmen in a line, and place one archer five inches in front of these. It is the turn of the spearmen, and they are going to charge the archer to see him off. The spearmen move at M5 -1 for being a formed group = 4" per turn. The archer is therefore just in range of them, because you must remember that they have a reach of 1" with their long spears. Move the spearmen forwards to attack the archer. The archer has a few options.

  1. He could drop his bow and draw his dagger. If he chooses this, he will fight the melee as usual, but against three spearmen he would have little chance.
  2. He could shoot at the spearmen as they charged. This is called "opportunity shooting" because it occurs in the turn when the spearmen move. The archer would need to have a loaded bow for this. If he shoots, he does so at +2W because this is a panicky snap-shot. He cannot see off all three spearmen with one shot. If he shoots, then when he is contacted in melee he will have to change to his dagger while in melee, and will lose an attack roll (not that he'd get an attack roll anyway, because a dagger is short, and so he would have to close with the spearmen), plus he hampers his ability to evade (see 3, below).
  3. He could try to run away. This is probably his wisest choice. This is called "evading". If he tried to opportunity shoot this turn, he halves his movement rate. The spearmen are moving as one, and so make just one roll for all three men, and move one inch slower because they are in a group. Compare the M of the archer with the spearmen (6 vs. 4) and add the difference to the faster side's roll and subtract it from the slower sides. In this example, the archer (assuming he didn't shoot) rolls 1d20+2 and the spearmen roll 1d20-2. Higher roll wins. In the case of a draw, evader gets away. Move the spearmen to where the archer was. If the archer got away, he is moved one full move away. If not, he is in melee and in a lot of trouble.

You now know enough to play a game. Fight with the above forces again, but this time choosing sensible tactics. There are many refinements to the above in the full rules, such as the risk of hitting friendly forces with missiles (for the moment, just rule that you can't shoot at a man involved in melee, nor through anyone), but this is enough to get you started. Fight it out until one side has twice as many men who are fine (not wounded) than the other, at which point the loser flees.

Here is a summary of everything you have learned so far:

  • W = Weapon skill. Roll equal or above this to succeed.

  • D = number of Damage dice rolled versus T of opponent (Toughness). One hit = driven back half a move (1" if in group); two hits = wounded (+4W, -1D, -2M); three hits = incapacitated; four or more = dead.

  • S = effect of Shield on opponent's W. Shield covers 180 degrees.

  • M = number of inches Movement per turn. -2" over bad terrain, -1" moving as a group.

  • R = Reach of melee weapons and Range of missile short/medium(+2W)/long (+5W).

Turn sequence:

  1. Movement and shooting. May move then shoot or shoot them move. Archers may do two of: move load and shoot per turn. Group target 3-7men -2W.
  2. Opportunity shooting (-2W, lose attack roll that turn, half move rate if evade).
  3. Evading (1d20 +/- difference in modified M, draw = evader wins, evaders evade full move).
  4. Melee. One attack roll per fighter. Must close versus users of longer weapons. Only defence rolls while closing. In melee, roll equal or above modified W to hit. Win fight if roll above needed score, and if opponent does this too, below opponent's roll. Both roll above and the same number = both hit. -1W per neighbour of formed up group (minimum three men to form a group), -2W when out-reaching spears. X-factor = -1W versus non-X weapon.



Whereas my other system works well and gives nice realistic results, I did find that large games took too long. I started writing it in order to speed up big role-playing game encounters, and came up in the end with something just about detailed enough for role-play gaming. With more than 30 figures a side, though, the game was just too slow. I was in e-mail correspondence with a chap called Richard Crawley, and we swapped rules. I sent him mine, and he sent me his. I tried his out, and liked their simplicity, but disliked most of the results I got. I thought that he had something, though, and so I started tweaking his rules, that were originally created for Wars of the Roses games.


My early versions I credited "by Richard Crawley, tweaked by Lloyd", but as time went on and my tweaks became more and more radical, there came a point when I changed it to "by Lloyd, inspired by a set by Richard Crawley". I have lost contact with Richard (his old e-mail address is dead), and if he finds these pages, I hope he isn't affronted by my rephrasing the credit this way. Many things, like the rules for movement, evading, morale, and shooting, are entirely mine, and nothing of his rules survives intact, but the core mechanism of melee combat, and the simple grouping of figures into Quality Ratings 1,2 and 3 come from his rules. I don't have Wars of the Roses figures, and so have added a couple more weapon types, and have made the rules more general (they now work fine for bronze age encounters, for example).


I will not go through all the rules on this page, since this would be repeating what is on the printable file (see bottom of this section). Instead, I will just stick to some general discussion of them.

One great strength of the rules is the simplicity of the points system. A man is worth his Quality rating (QR) regardless of his equipment, and to mount him on a horse costs 1 point. Having a simple points system is very useful, I have found, and I can put together equal-points forces in a jiffy, unlike with other rules I have tried. I found coming up with a fair and simple points system for my other skirmish rules impossible. So, a contingent might be 40 points in total, and could be made up of ten peasant archers (10 points), commanded by a mounted knight (4 points), with 4 mounted men at arms (QR2 + horse = 3, x4 = 12), which brings the total so far to 26, leaving 14 points which could be seven QR2 spearmen. Peasy.

The system has a lot of randomness in the allocation of adverse melee results. When a group of men fights another group and loses, which men suffer what fate as a result is fairly arbitrary. Knights are much harder to kill than peasants (the rules assume that QR3 fighters are well-armoured and tough), but one unlucky die roll can mean that a knight bites the dust while the peasant around him survive. One rule is that a player rolling a 1 when determining who won a round of combat loses a figure, even if he goes on to win the round (which is possible if he has some tactical factors in his favour, and his opponent rolls low too). That figure could be a leader. Skirmishes are quick, unpredictable, brutal affairs, and I like it that a player can never feel that a particular figure in combat is safe.

The rules are called "Medieval" and use words like knight, and include weapons like handgun, but they do work fine for other periods. I most commonly use them for British dark-age encounters. I recommend them for anything up to the musket period.

Printing the beggars out

I dislike having to leaf through dozens of pages when I'm playing a game and looking up a rule, and I consider that it is a satisfying intellectual exercise in rules design, concise English, and type-setting, to keep the number of pages to a minimum. You should find that it is possible to print out the rules on just three sides of A4 paper, and the fast play sheet is one side of A4. I should warn you, though, that you may run into trouble with formatting if you have a different edition of software from the one I used to create the file. I wrote it on Word for Windows 97, but I find that whenever I take the file in to Newcastle University to use the printers there, I have to tweak the pages or otherwise it comes out spread out oddly over five pages, which is very annoying. The University machines use a more recent version of Word.

Right then, here are the rules, in a downloadable, printable format. The file is in rich text format (.rtf) which you should be able to print even if you don't use Word. If you are truly baffled by them, feel free to e-mail me and ask questions. There are two separate parts to writing rules for other people to use. One is getting the rules to work, and the other is getting them across clearly to other people, and I may have succeeded at the first and failed at the second.


The .pdf format will probably be more convenient for people using a paper size other than A4, or those having trouble with the fotrmatting because their word processing package isn't the same as the one I used to create the .rtf file.


The rules for these print out on one side of a sheet of A4. At the foot of this section, you will find a link to a printable file of them.

Leader Traits

I was playing a short campaign set in medieval times, and wanted to add a bit of flavour and character to the game. One way to do this was to give each leader a name, and some individual quirk. Each contingent of a side had a leader, and each side one overall commander, and typically there would be two or three contingents per side, which meant that there might be in the region of seven named figures on the table, which didn't seem too much to cope with, and was enough to create some skirmishy character to the game.

The traits I came up with were appropriate for my fast-play skirmish system. You may be using other rules, but will probably find that most of the traits I devised could be modified to fit your rules. To make it easier for you to make the conversions, I'll explain that Morale refers to a number that starts at about 6 for a typical contingent of troops, and when it is lowered to zero signals the retreat of that contingent from the table. "QR" refers to the Quality Rating of a figure, where tough well-armoured and skilled men are QR3, typical soldiers QR2, and peasants and civilians are QR1. A Push-back is a melee result which means that a figure is moved back one base depth. A  Retreat is a more extreme result, where a figure is moved back two full moves immediately - the man has been spooked and has temporarily removed himself from harm's way.

Players do not get to choose their leaders' traits. Indeed, some of the traits would never be chosen, because they are disadvantageous. Instead, players roll 1d20 to determine what trait(s) each leader has.

  1. Quick: +2 to initiative rolls.
  2. Cunning: +2/-2 to initiative rolls, may choose either every turn. *
  3. Lucky: may reroll three rolls per game, once each, for actions involving self.
  4. Icon: may recruit from broken contingent on 5+ on 1d6 per figure withdrawing within 4".
  5. Popular: may exert command radius on allied contingent members. Re-roll trait if overall commander.
  6. Scoundrel: if enemy refuses challenge, fails Morale test on 1 only. Refusing challenge, fail on 1 or 2 only.
  7. Honourable: enemy suffers two Morale tests on refusing challenge. Must offer mercy to wounded duellist.
  8. Stalwart: may convert Retreat result on self to Push-back.
  9. Inspirational: may convert underlings' (within 4") Retreat results to Push-backs on 5+ on 1d6.
  10. Rash: must attack in front rank of melee within 4" or roll for Morale loss. Must follow up Push-backs.
  11. Timid: rolls twice for Morale loss on refusing challenge, plus cannot close voluntarily with enemy.
  12. Horseman: +2" on horseback and +1 fighting from horse. If killed on horseback, only horse dead 5+ on 1d6.
  13. Tough: counted as QR4 for wound table rolls.
  14. Swordsman: QR4 for melee rolls.
  15. Terrible: when causing Push-back to personal enemy, enemy Retreats instead.
  16. Half-hearted: if wounded, routs off table.
  17. Unknowable: QR 1d4 in melee, QR3 in other ways.
  18. Mighty: QR4. If killed, roll twice for Morale loss.
  19. Roll twice and gain both traits, ignoring 19 and 20.
  20. Roll thrice and gain three traits, ignoring 19 and 20.
* If using Type III initiative system, change to: Taunt: foes roll thrice for Morale loss when refusing a challenge.

So now in my games a figure is not known as "the leader of contingent three", but instead perhaps "Sir Percy the Scoundrel" which is more fun.


The rules for duelling again assume that players are using my fast-play medieval skirmish rules, but could be adapted to other systems. They rely on two things: that contingents/units of troops on the board have some sort of morale score, which when whittled away to zero means that they withdraw from the battle, and that victory is something on a sliding scale, rather than all-or-nothing. This means that duelling can increase the magnitude of a victory or ameliorate the misery of a defeat. Leaders of contingents can issue challenges, and there is a cost to refusing a challenge. The men following a leader who refuses a challenge will suffer some potential loss of morale, since their man proves to be inferior to their man. A leader who wins a duel can be an inspiration to his men whose morale will get a boost.


To issue a challenge, a knight must be within two move distances of the challengee; must challenge a man who is not in combat nor next to men who are in combat; and must be in plain sight of him.

Challenging men

A contingent's leader, if he is a knight, may offer a challenge to an individual in a group on the opposing side. If that foe has men of greater quality in his group, the challenger's side suffers a Morale roll - it is only honourable to challenge the strongest of the enemy. If the challenged man is of the highest quality in the group, but not QR3, then the challenged man may accept if he wishes, or refuse with no risk of dishonour. However, if he accepts, and in the fight the challenger is forced to retreat or pulls out of the fight after a wound, then his side faces two extra Morale tests. If the knight wins, his side makes a test to gain a Morale point.

Challenging knights

If the challenged man is QR3, and refuses the challenge, his contingent suffers a Morale roll. Subsequent challenges from the same challenger only have this effect on 5+ on 1d6. Any QR3 or higher figure may accept a challenge on behalf of the challenged, at the cost of a Morale test to the challenged side, and if the challenger then backs down, his contingent faces two Morale rolls.

The duel

When a duel starts, 1d8 is used to resolve the melee, not 1d10. The duellists must start to duel at least 3" away from their own men. A roll of 1 does not cause a player's duellist to die automatically.

Knightly outcomes

In a fight between knights, the following are possibilities: causing the opponent to Retreat scores 1 VP, gains a point to the winning contingent's Morale and loses one for the losing side. Killing the opponent is worth 3 VPs, +1 Morale, and the usual penalty to the opposition's Morale. If one knight is wounded, he may ask for mercy, declaring his foe the victor. If the other agrees, and lets his opponent retire to his lines, he gains 2 VPs and becomes Honourable if not already, or normal if he was previously a Scoundrel, and his foe rolls twice for Morale loss. If he refuses, one more round of the duel is fought, and he gains only the normal game gains for a victory, but loses the duelling losses for a loss. After this, play returns to normal.


Either side can cheat by intervening and sending reinforcements or attacking the winner of the duel while he is still alone. When this happens, the cheating side loses a VP. A knight whose own contingent cheats first becomes a Scoundrel. As soon as more men than two are involved, the fight uses 1d10 again as usual. A side that loses its duellist to a cheat loses no Morale points. If the cheated duellist escapes back to his own lines, his side gains a Morale point, and the opposition loses one, in addition to normal rules (so if he is wounded, he suffers a Morale roll as usual). If in a later game a cheated wounded or killed knight is replaced, there is a 50% chance that his replacement will, in righteous vengeful spirit, count as Honourable when facing the men who cheated his kinsman, and a 50% chance that he will count as Rash in the same circumstances.




It's tricky to get a decisive result.

I designed a skirmish system, to allow me to play with my wargaming figures as individuals. It came from playing RuneQuest scenarios that involved too many characters. The games took ages. I played a few games of Advanced Heroquest and was inspired to come up with a system better than it, that would be realistic in that it accorded with my beliefs in how ancient weaponry behaved, and that would suit wargames where I covered my table in terrain and set my miniature warriors loose.

My first attempt at the new system had one big flaw, which was that each figure had a number of "wound points" that he could sustain before he died, and this meant bookkeeping, and it meant that the game took too long. A later draft of the rules got rid of this complication, and instead had combat results of: unaffected, driven back a bit, wounded, and out of the fight. All wounded figures suffered the same penalties, and could be marked as wounded with a plumber's washer.

After many games, the system was working well, and I could simulate fights between men armed with a variety of weapons, on various terrain types, and things worked well in that I could get satisfactory results in fights between a few figures, but the games overall were usually not great. I would give each player what I deemed to be a reasonable force, well enough matched with his foe's, and then start the game. If both sides were controlled by competent players, I found that the amount of luck each had in the many little combats evened out, and each side would be whittled down at about the same rate. The games never were decisive enough to be interesting, but were just exercises in micro-management and attrition.

It is my feeling that skirmishes in real life are if anything more decisive than large battles. Men involved in them can see a high proportion of what is going on, and the loss of a few men might collapse one side's morale. Men are often within shouting distance of each other, and events are likely to happen quickly. Once one side has gained the advantage, the other is likely to run for it.

I can remember games I played with my toy Airfix soldiers when I was a small boy. One side would nearly annihilate the other, and sometimes it would come down to a fist-fight between the last two men standing. Though this seemed fun at the time, this isn't realistic.

One way to solve the problem is with rules for the overall morale of one entire force. At some point, the morale of one side cracks and its fighters flee. This is realistic, but it doesn't give you a good game.

You could define a point at which a side will flee. For example, when one side has lost half its men, it flees and the game ends, with the other side as the victor. The trouble with this is that I found that when one side had lost half its force, the other side had almost always lost almost as much, so the result still wasn't really decisive in feel.

You could come up with a die-roll system that requires one side suffering some adverse result to make a die roll, and if failing it, run away and cede victory. Again this doesn't give you a good game, because in small skirmish games, a force is small, and a few casualties and a bit of bad luck could mean that a player could lose through no fault of his own.

My first victory system required the fight to continue until one side was doing significantly better than the other. This didn't work either, as the game would normally have to go on for hours and the casualties pile up before this situation was reached.

The first practical solution seems to be good scenario design. A skirmish scenario should not require both sides to try and destroy the other, but should instead define some definite end-point at which victory can be resolved. For example, a scenario might require one side to escort a person safely across the table. If the VIP makes it, the game is won. If not, it is lost. Another example might be to define a moment when overwhelming reinforcements arrive for one side, chasing the other side off, and victory goes to the side that had done better up to that point.

The next solution is an initiative system. With one of these, players may not move every man they have as far as he can go every turn. When players are able to do this, they quickly see developing threats and counter them, leading to stalemate. If one side is able by some means to make several actions before the other can react, then a decisive game is possible. When one side has the initiative, it must choose wisely what it will do with its opportunities. Assessing priorities becomes very important, and this means that players have to make difficult decisions, and this leads to a good game.

I have now devised three initiative systems, all of which have at some time given me a good game. One involves cards. When the card of a particular set of troops comes up, those may act. This is quite good for multi-player public participation games, because each player seldom has to wait long before getting the opportunity to do something. It also can produce a fun game for a small number of players because when the action gets to the crucial parts, the tension of waiting to see whether a card that will allow X to happen before the card for Y comes up can get quite intense. There are problems with it though. One that is easy to describe is that it is not much a matter of skill that determines which unit acts next, since a player will almost always take an opportunity to do something when he can.

The next system I came up with was inspired by the system posted on the internet called "Rencounter". This involved a player's rolling to see how many activation opportunities he has in his turn, and then deciding what to do with them. Certain troops are very easy to activate, while others are not. This requires good decision making on the part of players, and is much better for games of skill. It encounters problems with multi-player games, since if the three players having a turn before you roll high numbers for activations, then it may be a while before you get to do anything, and if you then roll low, and fail to activate anything, this can be somewhat frustrating. A temptation, commonly yielded to with this system, is that people ignore their low-quality and difficult-to-activate troops, and rush ahead with their good troops, who then inevitably get themselves killed. You might say that stupid players deserve to be punished, but I have seen games ruined by many players falling into this trap.

The most recent system I have concocted is based on no other, but is instead, though I say so myself, rather original. It works very well for two-player games, but I am yet to test it with more players than this. The other two systems both suffer from the complication of mixed units. If a gang of men involves a rabble of peasants and two doughty and valiant knights, and the card system brings up the card for the peasants, do the knights get to go with the peasants, or do they stay where they are and watch the peasants make off on their own? I have come up with solutions to these problems, but I have found that players tend not to understand them, and so end up grouping their figures together by type, and the game ceases to be a skirmish game as I understand it, and becomes more like a battle game, with units of like-typed troops moving around in blocks.

My new system gets round this by allowing a player to do whatever he wants with any troops he wants. After each action, his opponent has a chance to snatch the initiative off him, affected by various tactical factors. It is still not a perfect system. Low-quality troops are almost as easy to move as high-quality ones. Perhaps I should combine it with the other two systems, but then might it not become unwieldy?

Good scenario design is the key. Initiative systems help, as do morale systems, but there is no substitute for a good story, and a scenario is like a story with a few possible outcomes and sequences.

A while ago, I played a few pirate skirmish games, and found them rather boring. In 25mm scale, a pirate ship is very big. There was not much room for manoeuvre on the table, and it was difficult to see why a pirate ship would want to attack another pirate ship. By and large, real pirates attacked merchant vessels, not each other as in the movies. Furthermore, if the two ships were evenly matched, then the only thing to do was to grapple the other and pour as many men as possible onto the opposition's ship. Each side therefore adopted identical tactics, and ended up alongside each other. Then the players rolled an awful lot of dice to fight each figure against its opponent. There were no difficult decisions to be made. Players just kept rolling and hoping for luck. You can see that this would be a dull game. If one ship out-matched the other in boarding party strength, then the other would want to escape. If it did succeed, then it would sail off the table and there would be no boarding action and a rather short dull game. If it failed, it would then be boarded and almost certainly lose. Again: dull.

My attempt at a solution has never yet been play-tested. It was a system for resolving a fight such as the boarding action mentioned above, not by fighting every man against his foe, but by coming up with two grand figures: one that represents the chance of a resolution to the fight in a given turn, and another that represents the chance of victory for one side. You keep rolling every turn to see if the fight has been resolved, then if the roll says that the fight has indeed resolved, you roll to see who won, and then consult a chart that allows you to calculate the numbers of dead, wounded, captured and fled.

The idea is to use this as a means to keep scenarios fast moving and fun. Imagine, then, a game where pirate ships do indeed clash. Each turn, we see if any boarding action has resolved. Each turn, those not involved in the boarding actions get to do their bit. So, a little jolly boat slips away from the fray and is rowed to the shore, and a few men get out with their treasure map, and go looking for the buried booty. Will they find it and bring it back before the fight ends? What will they do if their ship is taken while they are away? Will the rival shore party find them before they can cross the little island to another friendly ship? The interesting actions take place involving the few characters away from the action, and the main fights are just decorative backdrops. If I ever get this system to work, I'll tell you.


It's usually too deadly.

It seems to be the case that before gunpowder became common and firearms effective, shooting seldom decided any battle. Even famous encounters like Agincourt, where archers seem to have won the day, were decided in the end with melee. Henry V's archers certainly caused many wounds to the French, broke up their charges, and bunched them up ready for the slaughter or for drowning in shallow mud, but the French still did advance, and even Henry's archers had to get stuck in with swords, hammers, and daggers to finish the job.

In a skirmish game, archers do not shoot arrows a very long way, to drop them on to large formations of enemy troops. Instead, men shoot with flat trajectories to pick off individuals at short range. The chance of hitting a competent individual foe at long range is so slight that long range indirect shooting is best ignored in skirmish games. The most likely effect of such archery would be to get someone angry. To create the rain of arrows that can have an effect on a large formation of troops requires large numbers of archers, and is something for battle games, not skirmish games. In battle games, an individual archer is pretty much insignificant. In skirmish games, mass archery should be relatively ineffective.

I have done a lot of re-enactment and live-action role playing. One thing this has taught me is to use ranged attacks against people who are not paying attention to me. If there are thirty men on the opposition's side I can see, and I have a bow, then I would be a fool to shoot at the guy who is eyeing me suspiciously, clearly waiting for me to shoot, and who will almost certainly side-step my arrow or take it on his big shield. Instead, I am far better off shooting at the guy who is looking at someone else, perhaps watching his unit's flank, or getting orders from a commander. He won't see the arrow coming, and I am therefore far more likely to hit him. One archer can do this. Fifty cannot.

Imagine that a group of twelve soldiers is walking through a village. No one is shooting at it. The men walk through the village with ease. Now imagine that one archer is sniping at them as they go. All of them will now have to be careful, perhaps dodging from one piece of cover to the next. The sniping archer will be looking out for any man not in cover and stationary long enough for him to get a shot in. The difference between not being shot at, and being shot at by one man is therefore huge. Now imagine that a second archer is sniping from the same place. Will the behaviour of the twelve soldiers change much? Will they dodge twice as hard? No, and the number of them likely to be hit is likely to be little more than with one archer. In short, two archers shooting from one place are nowhere near twice as effective as one.

Imagine a line of twenty swordsmen. Opposite this line are twenty archers in another line. The swordsmen charge their foes. Every swordsman will be very keenly aware of the arrows coming at him, and none will be caught napping. If an opportunity presented itself, such as a swordsman's stumbling over for a moment on the way, then probably only a few of the archers would be able to exploit it, and even if they all did simultaneously, that would be twenty arrows shot at one enemy man, giving a greatest possible result of one enemy casualty. The archers will not all be men of the same calibre. Many studies have shown that in war, a small minority of men does most of the killing. Most men in World War Two did not shoot to kill, but instead if they shot at all, they shot to be seen to be doing their bit, and to frighten or suppress the enemy. In a skirmish, one should therefore imagine that of those twenty archers, only a few are really aiming to kill, and the rest are just hoping that the charge will come to a halt. Some might be hoping that the shooting done by their fellows will do the job, sparing them having to do any shooting, or perhaps even covering their retreat. Again, this points towards the same conclusion: twenty archers are nowhere near twenty times more deadly than one. If one man charges one archer, the archer will have to shoot to kill to defend himself. Perhaps the charge has been well-timed, and he won't get an arrow off in time, or perhaps it was badly timed and the charging man is very vulnerable. We write wargame rules to reflect this, and we give an archer a decent chance of hitting his man.

Unfortunately, we tend to leave it there. I have played many skirmish systems, and so far they all have a mechanism for working out the chance of one arrow's hitting and damaging an opponent, based on things like range, skill of archer, armour of target, amount of cover, and so forth, but then there is no mechanism for applying this chance to mass shooting.

Imagine that a figure is in a farmyard in a wargame, and for reasons we can only guess at, 10,000 archers are trying to shoot him. Now imagine that after the first 5,000 have shot, the man remains unscathed. Does the second 5,000 stand the same chance as the first 5,000 of hitting the target? I would say no, and here's why: if so many men shoot and all of them miss, then we establish that the target cannot be hit for some reason. Perhaps he is hiding in a well. Perhaps he isn't there at all, but is hiding around the corner, and no one saw him go there. Perhaps he is under an up-turned bath. If you were the commander of the archers, and saw that 5,000 arrows missed, would you not think that there must be something wrong? It's like tossing a coin 5,000 times and getting tails every time. Wouldn't you suspect that there is no heads-side on the coin?

With pretty much every task, there is a law of diminishing returns. In melee, one man can put another in danger. Two men put him in a bit more danger, but not twice as much. Only about four men can effectively fight against one other, and most skirmish rules have little trouble modelling this diminishment of returns in melee. Shooting is a different matter, though. Any number of archers might choose to shoot at a single target, effectively dooming that target if no law of diminishing returns is modelled into the rules.

One thing I have come across many times is the inverse square law. This comes up again and again in science. Breeding rates of animals, intensity of sound, effect of gravity, radiation of light, all these things seem to have laws, or good rules of thumb, involving square roots. To give one example, two cellos playing side by side are not twice as loud as one cello. Four cellos are twice as loud, and nine cellos are three times as loud. This is why full orchestras don't make people's ears bleed, and why soloists can be heard above the rest. It strikes me as reasonable that mass shooting in skirmishes should be about as effective as the square root of the number of men shooting, times the effectiveness of one man.

So, four archers should be about twice as effective as one, and nine archers should cause on average as many casualties as three singleton archers, and to be four times more effective should need about sixteen archers. How a particular rules system does this will vary, depending on the mechanisms used, but in my fast play medieval rules, I found that one very simple rule got amazingly close to the required result. If the first archer of a group shooting at a target shoots at full chance, and each subsequent archer needs to roll one higher (on 1d10) to get a hit (11 and all higher numbers are counted as 10), then the effectiveness of archery is almost exactly the square root of the number of men shooting. I tested the rule at long and short ranges, and with 4, 9, 16, and 20 archers, and the results were so close to the exact square root, that I was satisfied. This mechanism would not work for very large numbers of archers, but who ever heard of fifty archers shooting a single volley in a skirmish wargame?

I have played using this rule, and it seems to work pretty well. Archers and other missile users are still very useful. They can harass the enemy, pick off men in ones and twos, and force an enemy to act rather than stand and take a long series of missile attacks.

It should be borne in mind that the effectiveness of archery is greatly altered by the amount of terrain on the table, the size of the table, and the initiative system used. I had been using sets of rules without any rule of diminishing returns in skirmishes for ages, and had not noticed that archery was too effective. However, I always played with small groups of archers and lots and lots of terrain. Archers therefore seldom caught sight of the enemy for long enough to shoot more than a couple of arrows, and the enemy was seldom in sight of many archers at once, and so the problem was not obvious.

Recently, I played a very large six-player game with open terrain. The forces set up with the front ranks just within bow-shot of each other. Archery was very effective in this situation. I don't like to balance the rules by forcing players to pick forces with very few archers. This seems artificial and to be dodging the real fault of the rules: that mass shooting is too effective.

The most simple initiative system is one in which a player has a turn in which he uses all his forces, and then his opponent has a turn in which he uses all of his. With such a system, it is possible to predict exactly how many arrows an archer will be able to shoot against a foe charging him. In my fast-play rules, an archer has a range of 30", and a typical swordsman charging him would move 6" per turn. If he started 31" away, then he would get shot at when he was 25" away, and if he survived, again at 19", 13", 7", and 1", which is five times. In 25mm scale, an inch is about six feet, or two yards, which means that an archer got off five arrows as a man charged over sixty yards. If the charging man was moving at half the speed of a modern sprinter, that's still one properly-aimed arrow every 2.4 seconds, which is pretty good going under pressure. That's 25 arrows a minute.

The basic questions being asked of all the die-rolling are: What is the effect of the archery against the charging men? Does the charge go to contact, or is it brought to a halt or broken up? Do the charging men arrive in a fit state to beat the archers in melee? It strikes me that the overall effect of five volleys is going to be too predictable. In reality, I'd guess that either the charge would slow down and break up, allowing the archers to shoot more and more arrows into the enemy until they broke and ran away, or else the charge would be swift and terrible, and the archers would only get off one or two good volleys and the rest would be panicky and ragged shooting. The easiest way I have thought of so far to simulate this, is to use an initiative system that means that the chargers might get to move more than once between shots at them, or that the archers might get to shoot more than once between moves towards them.

The exact mechanisms for initiative are beyond the scope of this essay, but the big point of relevance here is that initiative systems will generally lower the effectiveness of archery, and sometimes by quite a bit. People will charge when they have the initiative, and consider the time to be right, and defending archers will therefore seldom get to shoot after every move by their enemies. So, if you, as I do, play games sometimes with a very basic initiative system, and sometimes with a more colourful one, bear in mind that you may have to tweak the effects of shooting up or down accordingly.

If you have a rules set for skirmish games that makes archery too effective, you might be tempted to lower the chances for missiles to hit. Having done this, you might find that lone archers or even small groups of them are too ineffective. What you need is some way of toning down mass shooting without affecting single shots too much. That's what I think.


How these were devised

If you read my essay on the problems of skirmish games, you will learn that for various reasons, an initiative system is desirable in a skirmish game. The simple I-go-you-go of an old fashioned wargame doesn't give me the results I'm after, nor such an exciting game. I had seen card-based systems and dice-based ones too, and devised one of each of these, and while both gave me some good games, both also ran into problems. I then stopped and thought about exactly what I wanted to be possible, and what might give me this result.

The situation that had come up was one in which one side wanted part of its force to run past the opposition, past one of its flanks, towards an objective in the corner of the table. I wanted it to be possible for the side with the initiative to run the whole way while the opposition just stood and gawked. I also wanted it to be possible for the opposition to get the initiative and head off its enemies before they got to the objective. A card system that required the card referring to a specific unit to come up in order for it to get to move would not give me this, because one unit would never get its card coming up several times in a row. The dice system I was using also made this manoeuvre rather improbable, and gave nothing for the opposition to do involving skill or even activity. All the passive player could do was hope that the active one would run out of luck.

My idea was this: my system would be one in which the active side would have the initiative forever, and could do whatever it wanted with that initiative, until its enemy DID something active to seize the initiative. I know of no other system that uses this concept.

How the rules work

The full rules can be written on a single page, and can be downloaded in rich text format (.rtf) here, however, you might like to read the following, which carefully goes through the rules, and why they exist.

One player carries out one action. An action can involve any number of his troops, as long as all of them are doing the same thing, and so long as they are all within 4 inches and sight of another figure in the same group. All consequences of this action are resolved, such as ensuing combat, morale, etc. The opposing player then tries to snatch the initiative away by making a die roll. If he succeeds, he then makes an action, but if he fails, then the first player makes another action, and keeps making more actions until the initiative is snatched away from him. The first action made by a player who has just snatched the initiative is subject to certain restrictions (see below), but all subsequent actions can be made by any body of troops within 4" and sight of each other.

An example of an action: a big block of troops, wider than a house, marches forwards and comes to a house. To get past the house, some troops will have to go either left or right first, but others could just walk ahead. The player controlling the troops chooses to move everyone past the house on the left. Because the troops all share the same destination (some point past the house on the left reachable by the foremost figure, with the rest following as best they can), this is a single action. If the player wanted troops to pass the house on both sides, this would be two actions. Example two: the situation is as above, but this time instead of a house, there is just a tree-stump. It is possible to move troops around the tree-stump both left and right and then for them to meet up ahead the other side, at a point they could all see. This is a single action, because the troops share a destination. Example three: a body of men is ordered to shoot at a body of enemy troops. Some of the men in the active body have no missile weapons, and some men are archers who will have to move slightly to get a line of shot. The men without bows needn't do anything, and can remain still, but they cannot move off to take cover or do anything else that would be extra to the order to shoot at the enemy. The archers that need to move a bit can move, and then shoot, while the others may move a bit or just shoot from where they are. The critical thing is that they must all act to shoot at the same target. The target is an enemy body of men, not an individual man (although target priority rules still apply). If there were men in another body who could be shot at, that would be another (separate) action.

The rules had to define what an action capable of seizing the initiative is. If some troops had an innately high initiative, simply because they were a bit ace, then their player would always choose to seize the initiative with them, perhaps by getting them all to move one pace to the left, and then having seized the initiative, he could move the peasant mob that he'd been wanting to move for ages. This would be an abuse of the system. Moving one pace to the left will not make the enemy reassess the situation and falter. Therefore, I ruled that troops must do one of the following in order to stand a chance of seizing the intiative:

  1. Move at full speed towards the enemy.
  2. Engage the enemy in melee or with missiles.
  3. Move into or out of line of sight of the enemy.
  4. Move at full speed to escape the enemy and leave the table.

The first of these (1) is clear enough, I think. If troops can move far enough to engage in melee, then they must. This is therefore not a decision to be taken lightly. If you want your best troops to seize the initiative, then you might have to send them in against the foe. The second (2) could do the job, as a strong exhortation to fight harder and finish a melee could seize the initiative, and shooting at the enemy could force him to change his plans (however there is a cost to these methods, as you will see below). The third (3) can be abused by a player moving one man at the back of the table repeatedly in and out of sight. This is forbidden, and a player must move in a way that plays some role in the scenario, perhaps round the back of the enemy to engage or sneak to an objective, and once moved, a figure cannot use this rule to get the initiative by moving back. If you find that players abuse this rule, or keep trying to, you might like to alter it to "move into [but not out of] line of sight of the enemy". Forces suddenly appearing from behind a hedge or whatever might well cause the enemy to hesitate. The last rule (4) was added after it happened in a game that escape, when escape was very clearly the best option, proved too difficult to initiate. It is a necessary rule for many scenarios in which choosing to escape can be a rational move for a player.

Of course, some troops are better at seizing the initiative than others. Leaders are especially important, as men will often wait for these to act, and follow them. Making individuals important in this way is good for a skirmish atmosphere to a game. I did at first have some leadership factors that were negative (traitors and incompetents), but I got rid of these now that I play it that individuals are chosen for initiative rolls, since no one would ever choose a bad leader to seize the initiative. When a passive player wants to snatch the initiative, he nominates a single figure to make the roll, and uses the base initiative rate for that man, and adds leadership factors if the figure is also a leader.

Base Initiative Rates
Sub-human : 22 Rubbish : 21 Poor : 20 Average : 19 Good : 18 Excellent : 17 Demigods : 16
Leadership Factors
Useless : 0 Adequate : 1 Good : 2 Heroic : 3 Inspired : 4

For the system to work, the die roll needed to snatch the initiative would have to be fairly unlikely to succeed much of the time. I wanted to use a single roll of a single die, and so this meant using a twenty-sided die. To snatch the initiative, the passive player nominates a single figure and tries to roll equal to or higher than that figure's base initiative. If the figure is a leader, he may add his leader's factor to the die result. Note that "sub-human" (zombies?) and "rubbish" troops (unenthusiastic peasants etc.) will never snatch the initiative on their own without a leader to rouse them, or better troops to follow.

Next, I needed to add tactical factors. The tricky part was getting this list short and simple. At first, it had far more factors than these, but I was able to whittle it down to four that are easy to learn and apply to all games, and one other that I'll explain in a moment.

Tactical Factors
2Can engage in melee or reach objective in one move, or shooting within medium range
2Per shooting action by the enemy in its initiative
-2Out of line of sight of destination
-4Engaged in melee (unless can automatically break off)
4Order card (specifying unit and objective)

The first of these is easy enough to explain. When troops are within easy reach of what they intend to do, then they are more likely to act. Troops in a good position to shoot or charge or reach their goal are most likely to be the ones to act next. The second factor requires a little light bookkeeping. Each time a player's figures shoot (including the time they shot to gain the initiative in the first place, if that's how they did it), the player hands his opponent a counter. Each counter acts as a bonus of 2 to his opponent's next initiative roll. The reason for this is that troops do not stand around doing nothing if they are being shot at. Eventually, whether given orders or not, they will run for cover (move out of sight) or charge, or shoot back. This rule means that a game cannot be won easily by one side with superior archers getting the initiative, and then keeping it while shooting unhindered for ages, mowing down the enemy. The third factor is also easy to explain. Troops who cannot see where they are heading are far more likely to faff about, and to prefer the safety of where they are, to taking the initiative and advancing, perhaps into danger. The fourth factor is there to stop people always picking their best leader figure to seize the initiative, even when he is involved in combat. Troops fighting are usually too busy staying alive to do much else. In a skirmish, the people in a position to look about them and decide what needs to be done next, and to act on it, are those who are not parrying axes and having spears shoved in their faces. It might be that troops are in a position to break off at will, for instance they might be fighting from behind a barricade, and so could retreat without their enemies' being able to do anything to stop them, in which case this factor does not apply.

To seize the initiative, therefore, the complete formula is:

1d20 roll to equal or beat base initiative rate minus any leadership factor and tactical factors

Or, if you prefer addition to subtraction:

1d20 plus any leadership factor and tactical factors, to equal or beat base initiative rate


Order cards

The last tactical factor is the "order card". You do not need to bother with order cards at all, but they can add a bit of skill to the game. Before the game starts, players can be granted a certain number of order cards. There needn't be a limit on the number of cards, since players would be unwise to use too many anyway. Each card must specify exactly which figures it applies to, and each figure can be mentioned on one card only. The figures mentioned on the card get a bonus of 4 to their initiative when trying to seize the initiative specifically to carry out the order on the card. If the initiative is seized this way, those troops and no others get to act as specified. It is therefore wise to keep the number of cards small, because otherwise each force benefiting from them will be tiny. For example, a card might say, "Sir Gawain and his men are to engage and kill Sir Blackheart". This would give Sir Gawain +4 to his roll to snatch the initiative, but only when attacking Sir Blackheart, and when Sir Gawain and his men gained the initiative, and advanced on the evil foe, they would do so without taking with them any allied forces. Other forces would have been told that attacking Blackheart was Gawain's job, and would let him get on with it. They might join him later, but the first action after seizing the initiative would be Gawain's contingent advancing on/engaging Blackheart and nothing else.

An order card can be conditional. For example, and order card could say "When the main gate has been opened, Sir Blackheart and his men are to rush through and set fire to the barn." Another could say, "If the barn catches fire, Sir Bedevere and his men are to try to extinguish it". An order card can also be duplicated for a given objective. For example, three different figures might all get a card saying "Get across the courtyard and unlock the door to the treasury." In this case, one man seizing the initiative using his card could then run across the courtyard, alone, and try his luck. If he failed, then there would be two other men with orders to have a go, but each would only get benefit from his orders to act alone. There is nothing to stop a player from forgoing his cards' benefits and trying to get all three men to go to the door at once, nor is there anything to stop the other two men later helping the first, but the act of seizing the initiative and acting on the order card is done solely by the figures(s) mentioned on it.

An order card must be specific in what is being ordered. It must specify a objective task, an enemy unit, or a place. "Attack the enemy" is too vague, because no specific enemy was mentioned. "Occupy a good position" is no good either, since a player must specify some actual position on the board, such as a building. Order cards are to represent the fact that things work more quickly with a good plan, but if a plan goes wrong, then troops will just have to improvise without the benefit of the plan.


Troops always fight one round of combat when first entering combat. Also, a player may nominate a round of combat with a group of his troops as an action. However, this is not enough. It can happen that two figures who are not essential to the action are left next to each other fighting for an age, before either of them is defeated. They would have fought at least one round of combat when they first met, but after that they may have become left behind by the flow of the game, and perhaps neither player wants to risk losing his valuable initiative by nominating as an action a round of combat by one of these men. Another rule was therefore needed. Whenever the 1d20 roll to snatch the initiative is a natural (before adding factors) 1, 2, or 3, then every figure in contact fights one round of melee. This means that a failed attempt to seize the initiative can have the side effect of causing a round of melee to be fought by everyone, including all those men on the sidelines of the main action, who then get to do something.

Reactive movement

Troops do not stand around doing nothing when people right next to them are being hacked down by the enemy. They either run for it, or help out their comrades. Consequently, troops may move reactively during their opponent's initiative, without seizing the initiative. The problem that needed to be fixed was this: imagine two opposing forces of ten men each. One has the initiative, and uses it to gang all ten men against one of the enemy. That man is then killed, and the ten then move on to gang up on the next man of the enemy. They surround the isolated man, some of them even standing with their backs to nearby foes who stand around doing nothing because they haven't got the initiative. This is clearly wrong. So, a player may choose to react with any of his unengaged troops who are within 4 inches of the enemy troops that have just engaged their friends. They must either run away at full speed or engage and fight one round of combat. This is reactive, and does not seize the initiative, so initiative must then be rolled for in the normal way.

For this rule to be easy to apply, some definitiom of the troops that can be engaged with reactive movement is needed. Troops that are eligible to be engaged by reactive movement must have have moved in the last move action to engage, or be contiguous (each figure within base distance of the next) with others that just have.


Shooting can also be reactive. Troops without the initiative can during the opponent's initiative react with shooting ONCE, that is to say to any ONE of the actions that the enemy makes, which may be of a string of several actions before initiative changes hands. Choosing when to react is therefore something to be done with care. Missile armed troops can only react in this way to one of two things: being shot at (in which case they must shoot at the people shooting at them), and seeing enemy troops moving. Target priority rules (if you have any) are ignored when shooting reactively, and so troops that are moving, who are further away than static enemy troops who might otherwise be target priority, may still be shot at reactively. There is always a lower chance to hit when shooting reactively. You will have to decide what this is in your skirmish rules. You might have a rule for shooting at moving targets, in which case you could use that. In my new skirmish rules, I rule that there is a -1 chance to hit on 1d10, my older rules use 1d20 and the penalty was 2, which was also 10% which seems about right.

This system was open to abuse. One abuse was that players would choose to react with a few troops to an action, then be disappointed with the result, and would then declare that they were going to react with some more troops. Unfair. When you react to an action, you declare ALL the troops who are going to react, and you may not react to that action with any more, and you THEN determine the result of the reaction, and if you don't like the result, then that's tough. Another abuse was that sometimes a figure would try to duck behind cover, and find himself being reacted to by a vast coordinated volley. To counter this, the rule is that only one figure may react with shooting per inch moved by each enemy figure, so if two men run two inches each to get behind a wall, up to four enemy archers may react. Only one archer may react to one man moving one inch or less to safety.

Sometimes, a game may get to a position where one side has positioned archers and other missile users all around the board, from where they can snipe at the enemy, while the enemy sits tight hoping for relief. In this situation, it can be frustrating for the player with the archers who must carry out desultory actions, since his men are so scattered. To counter this, is the following rule: if a player moves none of his troops, and nominates shooting as his sole action, then ALL missile troops in his forces can shoot once, as a single action. A player could do this a few times on the trot, but each time he would be increasing the chance of his foe's getting the initiative (see tactical factors).

Troops armed with bows and slings may move up to half their full movement and shoot in a single action. Javelinmen may move their full distance and throw. Crossbowmen and handgunners must be still for a whole action to shoot.

"To me!"

Games tended to end up with a lot of stragglers who were difficult to round up, because they were scattered, and so required many separate actions to bring into one group. To fix this, is this rule. A leader may stand still and call out "To me!" Any troops in his command (and any allies of theirs within 4" of them) who are further than 4" from the enemy may then move at full speed towards him as a single action, no matter how scattered they are, so long as this does not bring them within 4" of the enemy at any point.

This explanation took a while, and may seem like a lot to take in, but really the system is quickly learned, and a summary of it fits easily on one side of a sheet of A4, and can be downloaded in rich text format (.rtf) or pdf format, which might be better for people not using the same edition of Word as I used, or people trying to print on paper sizes other than A4.

© Nikolas Lloyd 2004


This system is designed to give you a wargame that is a bit more interesting than the usual equal-points matches. Instead, unequal forces fight on-table, while their allies try to make it to the table either to seal the doom of or relieve the out-numbered side.

The Three Fight System

Each player splits his forces into three groups, which may be of equal or varying sizes. These go off to three different locations marked on a simple map. A battle on the table is fought using figures, and this represents one of the three possible engagements. The other two engagements may be resolved with a single die roll during the main wargamed-out battle, and it is possible that reinforcements may arrive during the game, from one or two of these off-table forces. This means that it is usually the case that the battle on-table is between forces of different strengths. The weaker side defends, and is the more likely of the two to be reinforced during the game, and this adds a lot of character and interest to the game. Especially when the game is part of a campaign, it can be wise to retreat before destruction to save forces for later encounters.

I have been told that some ideas in this system do bear some resemblance to those used in a set of Peter Pig rules. Apparently it too uses a 6x6 grid with a few places where troops might be sent. That's pretty much all I know about it, however. Since I have never read those rules, I feel unsullied by the guilt of plaguerism. I used a 6x6 grid because it was simple, and seemed about the right size, and I could use d6s to assign terrain to them with random co-ordinates. I am confident that most of what I have written must be very different, because I have no psychic abilities.

The system uses little maps, and has suggestions for generating your own ones, but for the lazy owners of printers, I have drawn out eight for you. They are .gif files, and should print out nicely on a sheet of A4 at 72 pixels per inch. For the Arcturan mega-lazy, I have added the file of the basic map, complete with a few symbols, for creating your own. I drew my first maps out very quickly by hand with coloured crayons, and they looked fine to me.


Printing the system out

Right then, here are the rules, in a downloadable, printable format. They include the campaign system and six player scenario discussed in other articles in this section. The file is in rich text format (.rtf) which you should be able to print even if you don't use Word. If you are truly baffled by them, feel free to e-mail me and ask questions. There are two separate parts to writing rules for other people to use. One is getting the rules to work, and the other is getting them across clearly to other people, and I may have succeeded at the first and failed at the second.



This is a suggested way to set-up for a six-player game, which could perhaps be the climactic last battle of a campaign, in which politics play at least as big a role as combat.

You have to imagine that there have been skirmishes before this battle. The premise is flexible, but might be something like this: an area has revolted against the authorities, and three charismatic rebel leaders have put together forces that are fighting for control. The authorities (perhaps the king of the nation) have sent three commanders to the region to quell the revolt and restore order, with the promise that the one who distinguishes himself in this task will become governor, while the others might if they do quite well serve under him in lucrative but less prestigious posts.

This is the final show-down. Each of the six commanders has to think about what position he will have in the peace after this encounter. Perhaps it will be better to throw in one's lot with the other side, to be rewarded with a position of power and wealth by the victors. Because perhaps forces started off unequal, or perhaps because of losses and gains from the previous skirmishes, the starting strengths of the six forces are not equal. The first playtest worked very well with forces with points values of 133, 116, 96, 96, 92, and 62.

The two sides were 133, 116, 96 for the king's forces and 96, 92, and 62 for the rebels. The strongest of the king's forces sided with the rebels, and the weakest rebel then sided with the king. The defecting king's man then took over the rebel side and became its centre. The largest force on the king's side did not command, because the commanders all agreed to have the second largest in command, which meant that he ended up in the centre, which was just what the largest commander on that side wanted, because he planned to negotiate with the force opposite him. He then changed sides twice, most of the time standing idle with his archers in range of the forces near him. The situation for the king's centre was therefore hopeless, and this force was pounded to dust by elements of all three opposition forces. The end result was a victory for the defecting king's man, who didn't have to worry about sharing his glory with the man to his left, who was conveniently killed in battle while destroying the smallest force on the table. Indeed, the smallest force - the defecting rebel leader - did so much killing that he could have negotiated for a good position in the peace, had he lived.

The style of this last battle is perhaps not suitable for all periods and scales of battle. Ideally the setting would be one in which personal reputations would be well-known, and many factions would be competing over an area, and the winners on the field would also be winners of peace-time rewards. Conscripted soldiers fighting in big armies of World War Two, where there were two sides - axis and allied - would not suit this system. To work, one has to believe that any player might conceivably side with any other. It is near enough impossible to believe that a platoon of British WW2 Tommies might rally to Rommel's banner just because he was doing well at the time, whereas in the Barons' Wars of medieval England, or the clashes of the Border Reivers, or Italian Renaissance mercenary bands, or bronze age Achaean raiders, or dark age cheiftains warring over a small island, or clashes between Mouri, or American frontiersman, one can more readily believe that troops would rally to the flags of individual personalities who were successful and charismatic, and desert their previous commanders.

The battle has all players deploying on-table, knowing exactly what forces the others have. If everyone sides with the strongest player, then he automatically wins. Players have to make sure that they are on the winning side, but preferably after doing a minimum of fighting. The smallest players have the least to lose and make the most loyal allies, but the largest players have the most to lose, and threaten everyone and so have many enemies. Is it better to side with the biggest player? Perhaps it is easiest to back-stab from there, but perhaps it is easier and safer to corm a coalition against him.

Printing the system out

Right then, here are the rules, in a downloadable, printable format. They include the campaign system and three fight system discussed in other articles in this section. The file is in rich text format (.rtf) which you should be able to print even if you don't use Word. If you are truly baffled by them, feel free to e-mail me and ask questions. There are two separate parts to writing rules for other people to use. One is getting the rules to work, and the other is getting them across clearly to other people, and I may have succeeded at the first and failed at the second.



This campaign system makes use of the three-fight system and the six-player scenario described in other articles in this section.

Campaign problems

I have participated in many wargame campaigns, and they have all fizzled out. Sometimes this happens because they involve too many players, and people drift away. I think the biggest single factor is that people cannot see an end to them. A campaign drags on for ten, fifteen, twenty games, and people lose interest. Also, some people are very interested in things like the problems of supply, campaign logistics, and detailed analysis of the effects of wintering troops in foreign lands etc., while others just want to have a few games strung together, and care little for the off-table stuff.

Though I would love to take part in and complete a long and detailed and historically accurate campaign, experience has taught me to limit my ambition. That is why I came up with this system, which involves a campaign of just six battles. The last battle requires six players, but the first five can be just one against one. The results will always be decisive. A player, then, can join the campaign in the knowledge that he will be involved for no more than perhaps two or three games, which is not a large commitment. This makes players much easier to recruit, and unlikley to desert.

My system

The system involves three rounds. The first round has three battles, the second two battles, and the third round is a single climactic showdown. In the first five battles, the three-fight system is used.

The premise is flexible, but might be something like this: an area has revolted against the authorities, and three charismatic rebel leaders have put together forces that are fighting for control. The authorities (perhaps the king of the nation) have sent three commanders to the region to quell the revolt and restore order, with the promise that the one who distinguishes himself in this task will become governor, while the others might if they do quite well serve under him in lucrative but less prestigious posts.

Each commander of the king's side visits the area where one rebel leader has his operations, and brings him to battle. These battles are not single pitched decisive battles between all of the commanders' forces, but instead the rebel forces are split, not having strongholds to shelter in, nor single villages willing or able to host them all. Many of the rebels are trying to evade the king's forces, and so the king's forces must fan out to find them. These battles will not destroy the losers, but will weaken them. By doing things like winning duels, killing commanders, breaking enemy contingents, and holding the field, players score Victory Points (VPs), which represent the amount of humiliation dealt to the enemy. Commanders suffer desertion from their ranks in accordance with the VPs scored against them. VPs do not necessarilly represent fights and killings, for example an off-table (see Three Fight System) fight might result in 4 VPs' being scored, but perhaps no combat occured, but instead the forces of the king scared the rebels into deserting despite never having found them.

In the second round of battles, forces from each side combine, and two games much like the first three are fought.

The end battle

The style of this last battle is perhaps not suitable for all periods and scales of battle. Ideally the setting would be one in which personal reputations would be well-known, and many factions would be competing over an area, and the winners on the field would also be winners of peace-time rewards. Conscripted soldiers fighting in big armies of World War Two, where there were two sides - axis and allied - would not suit this system. To work, one has to believe that any player might conceivably side with any other. It is near enough impossible to believe that a platoon of British WW2 Tommies might rally to Rommel's banner just because he was doing well at the time, whereas in the Barons' Wars of medieval England, or the clashes of the Border Reivers, or Italian Renaissance mercenary bands, or bronze age Achaean raiders, or dark age cheiftains warring over a small island, or clashes between Mouri, or American frontiersman, one can more readily believe that troops would rally to the flags of individual personalities who were successful and charismatic, and desert their previous commanders.

This last battle was conceived originally as the end to a campaign, but it could be played as a one-off. To work well, the six forces should not be equal. The first playtest worked very well with forces with points values of 133, 116, 96, 96, 92, and 62.

The battle has all players deploying on-table, knowing exactly what forces the others have. If everyone sides with the strongest player, then he automatically wins. Players have to make sure that they are on the winning side, but preferably after doing a minimum of fighting. The smallest players have the least to lose and make the most loyal allies, but the largest players have the most to lose, and threaten everyone and so have many enemies. Is it better to side with the biggest player? Perhaps it is easiest to back-stab from there, but perhaps it is easier and safer to corm a coalition against him.

Printing the system out

Right then, here are the rules, in a downloadable, printable format. They include the six-player scenario and three fight system discussed in other articles. The file is in rich text format (.rtf) which you should be able to print even if you don't use Word. If you are truly baffled by them, feel free to e-mail me and ask questions. There are two separate parts to writing rules for other people to use. One is getting the rules to work, and the other is getting them across clearly to other people, and I may have succeeded at the first and failed at the second.


The .pdf file may be easier to print for people using paper other than A4 size, or using word processors that differ from mine in the way they format .rtf files. Both versions are formatted for A4.