Black Powder Overview – Part 2

February 5, 2010

In Part 1 we covered the basics of command and movement.  In part 2 we will get to the good stuff…COMBAT!

First, lets take a look at the anatomy of a unit.  Units are rated for Shooting, Melee, Morale, Stamina and Special Rules.  Shooting and melee values are the number of dice a unit gets to roll when it performs that kind of combat.  The melee value for an average unit is 6 dice while the shooting value for a unit is 3 dice. These numbers can go up or down if the unit is larger or smaller.  There is also a rule for tiny units.  They get 1 die.  The morale value is a saving roll number.  The lower the number, the better.  When a unit gets hit in combat, it makes a morale check for each hit received.  The average unit has a 4+ morale check.  The stamina number is the number of hits a unit can take before it becomes shaken and has to make a break test.   The average unit has 3 stamina points.  Special rules are just that.  They are special advantages or disadvantages that a unit might possess.  There is a heavy cavalry advantage, for example, that that makes cavalry more likely to drive back a defender.


Shooting occurs during the shooting step of the game turn.  It represents the ability of a unit to shoot at 20 yards or greater, according to the rules.  To shoot, grab the appropriate number of dice for the shooting unit and roll them.  The target number for each die is a 4+.  For each each die that is greater or equal to the target number, 1 hit is scored.  If any dice come up ‘6’, the target unit is also disordered.  The defender now grabs a number of dice equal to the number of hits received.  For each die that equals or exceeds the target unit’s morale number, 1 hit is negated.  Note that a unit that was hit with a disordering shot is disordered even if the player saved every shot.

Each hit reduces the stamina of the unit by 1.  If the stamina reaches 0 or less, the unit must make a break test. For each point below 0, a -1 penalty is applied to the break test.  lower is worse than higher.  Results can range from halt and do nothing to break and rout of the board.  Break tests are usually taken by shaken units (units that have 0 or less stamina).  Once the break test is taken, the unit’s excess hits below 0 are removed.  If it is hit again, it takes another break test.

Units can be rallied with a rally order from it’s commander or the CinC.  The commander cannot perform any other orders so it is best to try and make this the last order that commander issues.  If he makes the order test, the commander is moved to the unit and that unit removes 1 hit.  He may issue the order again on subsequent turns removing more hits but can never remove the last hit.

Defenders can shoot in certain circumstances.  If a defending unit is charged frontally, it may take a defensive shot before melee starts.  If a defending unit has it’s front crossed at close range (6″), it also can take a defensive shot on the crossing attacker.


Melee combat represents close range musket fire (under 20 yards) as well as hand to hand combat.  Units that are in base combat are said to be in melee.  They may contact a unit in any fashion but the attacker usually lines up with the defender. Both sides get to roll dice to try and hit the other side using the melee value.  Melee is resolved by comparing the total number of hits and the modifying that with situational modifiers.  The higher number (the side that scored the highest number of hits plus modifiers) is the winner.  The loser is driven back a move (I think) and has to make a break point if it became shaken as a result of combat.

Odds and Ends

The end of the book has advanced rules for period specific combat, special rules mentioned above to add abilities to units and a selection of scenarios for various black powder eras.  The scenarios have army lists, scenario descriptions and scenario special rules.  There is also a point cost system and troop templates for you to devise your own units for whatever time period you are playing in.  You can get unit ideas from the scenario section orders of battle.


This concludes my overview of Warlord Game’s Black Powder Rules.  The game is rather complete.  It can be purchased in the USA from for about $31.  I bought mine as a preorder for only $20!  You can also buy the game directly from Warlord Games for 30 GBP.

Black Powder
By Rick Priestley and Jervis Johnson
Published by Warlord Games

Black Powder Overview – Part 1

February 3, 2010

Black Powder is a set of rules by Warlord Game, based in the UK.  The game covers the period from 1700 to 1900.  While the style of warfare does change significantly from the beginning to the end of the period covered, there are special rules for adding details for the differences.

This is an overview.  I have not played the game yet and don’t feel it is right to give a full review of the game.  However, since folks inquire from time to time over on TMP as to how the game is played, this overview might give them enough information to decide whether to buy or not.

I will write this overview in 2 parts.  Why?  Simply because I have not read the whole book yet!

The Basics

The book is printed on good quality A4 sized paper and comes hard bound.  The entire book is in color and there is plenty of “eye candy” to provide inspiration for the reader.  The book is sectioned off logically and follows the flow of the game, using the sequence of play as an outline. Speaking of sequence of play, there are only 3 steps.  Order movement, shooting and melee.  The writing style is clearly narrative with a bit of tongue and cheek thrown in.  At 182 pages, the book might seem a bit daunting, especially since it is billed as a simple game.  However, many of these pages have historical sidebars with military anecdotes of various wars.  The book also includes army lists for the various periods.  Finally several historical scenarios come with the book as well.

Command and Movement

During the command and movement phase, players activate generals to issue orders to there units or brigades.  Warmaster players will find the game mechanics here very familiar.  The command rules are not exactly the same however.  Each general has a staff rating from 5 to 10 with 5 being the worst and 10 being the best.  This is the number the player has to roll under to give an order.  Before the dice are rolled, the player gives a general description of what the unit or brigade is supposed to do.  An example would be “The brigade will advance to the ridge and deploy in line”.  The difference between the target number and the die roll is the number of moves that unit or brigade can make to fulfill that order.  If the player rolls exactly the amount needed (difference of 0) that is also 1 move.  The maximum amount of moves that a unit can make is 3. Regardless, these moves are all taken at once.  A unit or brigade can have no more than 1 order per turn.  If a general fails his roll, no orders are given by him for that turn.  His units will not move unless they are entitled to a free move.

Free moves occur when an enemy is within 12″ of a friendly unit.  That friendly unit may make 1 move to close the range or charge.

If double 6’s (“boxcars”) are rolled, a blunder occurs.  The unit or brigade makes a roll on the blunder table. This can result in the unit making an unintended move that could leave a gaping hole in the line.

The command rules are similar to Warmaster in that you make command rolls to give orders.  Commanders can blunder and also miss rolls, thus ending the turn for that commander.  They are different in that with Warmaster, you dole out orders in single moves and perform combat on the spot.  A unit can potentially attack multiple times per turn.  With Black Powder, units may move multiple times but may only shoot and melee once.  The moves are allocated with 1 die roll though the repercussions for missing the roll are the same.  This can result in more chaos in the game…which is GOOD!

Movement and Formation

Movement in Black Powder is performed similar to the DBx series of game.  Measurement is done from the farthest point of the unit to the location that the unit will move to.  This leads to a free form style of movement that should dispense with the need to use turning templates and so forth.  All of the formations you might expect are there.  They are assault column, march column, line, square, skirmish and mixed.  Mixed formation is not order mixed but a mix of skirmish and line.  When a unit changes formation, it may face in any direction but it is rotated around the center front of the unit.  Quite simple and too the point.

A Quick Look at Combat

As I mentioned before, I have not read through the rules completely.  However, I did glance at the combat mechanics.  Basically, each unit gets a number of dice for for melee combat and about half that for shooting.  There is a basic number to hit (I believe 4+) and there are a few situational modifiers to this number.  Each die that comes up 4 or more counts as a hit.  Each unit has a stamina rating.  When that unit takes it’s stamina or more in hits, it becomes shaken.  A roll is required in the break table and the results can range form the unit halts and deploys to the unit routes off the board.  Each hit above the stamina rating is a further penalty to the break roll.  If the unit passes, the excess hits are removed but the unit remains shaken.  Further hits will cause a break test.  Eventually, the unit will skeedadle.  The law of averages dictate this!

In part 2, I will give an in-depth look at the combat mechanics and how break tests are performed.