Smoothbore Musket Range Relative to Artillery Ranges

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    Paul Edward Smith


    Just had two trial games of Black Powder so far both of which were enjoyable. However there is one issue that is gnawing away at me and that is the range of smoothbore muskets relative to the ranges for artillery. So musket range is 18″ yet canister range is only 6″, my understanding is that cannister range was greater than musket range. And again the maximum range for ‘Light’ smoothbore artillery (for example) is 36″ which is only double that of the maximum range of muskets when even ‘effective’ range for artillery was probably several times that of muskets. I appreciate what it says in the rules justifying the ranges (and I’m talking about the first edition here, but I am not aware of any changes to the ranges in the second edition), but am I missing something?

    Very grateful for any enlightenment.

    Cheers Paul

    Garry Wills

    Welcome to Black Powder. I think the rules were written for more crowded 28 mm scale battlefields. I play in 15mm and have increased the artillery ranges  by 25% and this seems to work. When you try historical scenarios it is obvious that the artillery ranges are too short. However I still keep the short range at the equivalent of 6 inches (6 cms in my case), this still seems to work, an artillery battery firing with 4 dice at close range is pretty dangerous., but then so is medium range with 2 dice and the -2 to save.





    Black Powder is an “abstract” morale game and for those gamers more used to time, distance, casualty based game it can seem strange.  So think in terms of three ranges… artillery bombardment range, infantry and artillery effective range, and decisive range.

    The latter range is “close range”.  The don’t really base those three ranges on the weapons per se or even the ammo… So close range is whatever range things are when both sides are close enough that one or the other is likely to give way after a short exchange of fire between the two units.  While we tend to think the artillery is issuing canister, in reality it could be ball firing down the length of a march column.  But at that range, the ball is likely to travel through the whole column killing maiming as it goes and leaving those left to wonder why they don’t beat a hasty retreat.

    Medium range is where both units are close enough to enter into an exchange of fire less likely to be decisive and more likely to lead to one or the other units breaking from “mental” attrition. At this range, the edge goes to artillery even light artillery… Remember at medium range a battery is inflicting marginally more damage than a 600 man battalion.  2 dice hitting on 4s but saving only on 6s… so 5/6 casualties on average, but if the unit then gets forced to take a break test, the effect is even greater.  At that same 18″ range infantry typically gets 3 dice hitting on 4s but saving on 4s… so 3/4 casualties on average, but if the unit then gets forced to take a break test, the artillery is significantly more effective.  So say both cause a unit to incur one excess casualty… the infantry targeted unit breaks on a 5 about a 28% chance of breaking… the artillery targeted unit breaks on a 6 or about a 42% (50% higher) with similar higher probabilities the unit will retire.

    At long range, the artillery is conducting bombardment.  By this I mean artillery when shooting at infantry if firing at targets that can’t return the fire.  It is far less likely to break units at this range but a great way to soften them up.   Hits are as much a reflection of the psychological impact of seeing your friend get a cannon ball through his chest as it is for actual casualties the unit is experiencing.  Of course, a good speech by your brigade commander and you rally back that loss of confidence (you don’t actually resurrect the dead) …

    In other words, these ranges are not like what you read in books regarding weapons and effective ranges.  They represent more or less psychological zones when a unit enters close range someone is going to break in most cases pretty quickly… when a unit enters effective range, units are going to get their confidence bled away and eventually break, but usually not right away.
    At bombardment range, units mostly get softened up so they won’t hang around as long at the other ranges.

    Think of the unit as a “living thing”… casualties are not casualties per se, but reflect the changed psyche of the unit.  In the end, the unit must decide whether it will opt to fight or flight… and reconsiders that decision every time it triggers a break test based on the cumulative and current stress being placed on the unit.  One historian wrote, that units never break because of casualties that it has taken, but rather when the remaining soldiers conclude at about the same time they are next.

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