Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Regularm virumque cano

Of rules and the man I sing (with apologies to Virgil and that great Irishman George Bernard Shaw, just in case).

It seems that any time a fellow war gamer embarks on a new project, he is inevitably asked, "What rules are you using?" When I'm asked that question, I usually have a ready answer, the rejoinder to which is often, "Well, good luck with that." I'm something of an outcast with my predilection for the more classical rules systems (such as WRG rules or similar from the 70s or 80s). I cut my wargaming teeth on them and have fond memories of the games I played. Others of my generation have less than fond memories of playing these rules, usually because they bred acrimony, discord, and decades-long grudges. I tend to view acrimony and discord as human failings and blame the players, not the rules, but mine is a minority opinion.

Preferences for war-games rules are nearly the most idiosyncratic thing about a war gamer—ranking just below his preferences for pizza toppings. There is probably a pseudoscience, such as phrenology and physiognomy, in the study of the rules a war gamer prefers and how that preference may speak volumes about his moral and intellectual character—or even his emotional state. I am fairly certain, myself, that devotees of certain rules systems are inherently untrustworthy, given to drooling, and often wet their beds.

Yet somehow two or more people frequently come together and play war games. Any agreement  between players on the rules used is due to considerable compromise by all participants (even among solo gamers). Once adopted, the rules become subject to numerous house rules, each of which is itself an item of contention. He who hosts the game is usually the arbiter of which rules variants, corruptions, and heresies will be used to the delight, dismay, or indifference of the other players.

Enter now the prospect of abandoning the task of revising someone else's rules and writing your own. There was a time when "home-brewed" rules were very common. Even many of the slick, full-color, glossy, eye-candy, hard-bound variety of rules that are available for a considerable portion of your paycheck were once someone's scribblings on the back of a beer mat at a convention. (Often they play just like it, too.)

Some few years back, some of us decided to get together and start a joint project using Copplestone Castings new Glory of the Sun range of figures. Among four gamers there were a dozen ideas for how to base figures and organize them in units, which lead in turn to the question of rules. For various reasons the project fizzled—not least of which was the uncertain future of the Glory of the Sun range. Mark Copplestone has poured all his talent and enthusiasm of late into his 15mm barbarian fantasy range (How are the mighty fallen...) and left off continuing the Glory of the Sun range indefinitely. Thanks to Nick Eyre at North Star Figures and Steve Saleh, the line has a new lease on life and a future as the North Star 1672 range. I recently ordered figures for several units and have begun painting Les Fran├žais. I corresponded briefly with Nick and the range definitely has plans for expansion.

This brought me back to the question of rules. Warlord Games is supposed to be releasing its Pike & Shotte variant of the Black Powder rules, but this has been anticipated for several years now without satisfaction. Also, while I enjoy the Black Powder rules very much, I'm not sure that I want to use an adaptation of them for this period. I'm a bit of a pike and shot geek, so I want something that really captures the sense of the period. I finally decided to go rogue and write my own.

My past rules writing experience has been adapting board games to miniatures and fussing with variants (or fixes) to existing rules. I've also attempted to create full rules sets on two past occasions. Back in the late 80s I started developing a set of rules for 15mm Marlburian that I called Nec Pluribus Impar. The idea came to me from reading David Chandler's excellent The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough. After reading Chandler's analysis of how armies of that era fought, I was struck by how generic the commercially available rules for the period were. This genericness was due to lumping the War of the Spanish Succession into the "horse and musket" period that covered all of 18th century warfare with little to differentiate the start of the period from its end or between how various nations practiced the art of war. I wanted something that contrasted the various military systems in use circa 1700 to 1720 and I came up with, in my humble opinion, some pretty good ideas. Sadly, I never pursued them to the end and I fear I have lost all my notes.

Over the last week, I've started writing out a new system to use with the North Star 1672 range, which I call Pike & Periwig. I have a lot of inspirations, since no one really writes new rules any more. I have stolen, plundered, and bastardized some of the best ideas I've come across in 30+ years of war gaming. I have also tried to add as much color as I can. It's a very baroque period that saw a huge amount of transition from the 30 Years War to the linear warfare of the 18th century and I want to capture that.

The ideas come pretty fast and I find myself jotting down notes as they pop into my head (before they pop out again) and every night I spend some time at the computer typing away. As an affectation, I wanted to style them after the 17th century military manuals I read on microfiche in the seminary library 25 years ago. I found a nice Open Type font and in Adobe InDesign I'm writing and designing at the same time. The font, 1589 Humane Bordeaux, has the antique style of printed characters from that period and includes all the historical styles and ligatures that were commonplace for the 17th century. I also have a couple reams of parchment paper to print it on.

I can save the work in progress as a PDF and upload it to my iPad, so I can review it and jot notes for revisions and new ideas while sitting in a coffee shop or on the bus. I hope to get the rules in a first draft and get it to some people for review and feedback this month. Of course, having just started painting the figures, it may be some time before I can play the rules. However, it's a nice feeling to be immersed in the project this way.


  1. I wonder if these would also fit the English Civil War??? Like you I have a hankering to fight this specific war but want a regimental set of rules that models the interaction between pike and musket.... not found one yet thought I do have a set of the Protz rules - will get them out and read them.....

  2. I think so. My starting point is 1660, which is very soon after the ECW. The tactics used were almost unchanged, many of the top commanders of the Dutch War were aged veterans of the Thirty Years' War.

    I loved Protz' rules about 90%, but the missing 10% was a problem. I thought the mechanisms for firing and combat were too cumbersome. I like to think that I'm reviving WGECW (plus other influences) with a new combat/morale mechanism plus a bit of my own chrome (or excrescence as the reader judges).

    I'll be happy to send you a WIP version of the rules if you want to take a look.

  3. David - very kind and yes, please... steve-the-wargamer at hotmail dot co dot uk should get me....