Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Checking Out Chainmail, Part 8
It's time to get back into the Chainmail rules, this time looking at missile fire and cover rules. Previous installments of this series can be found with the links in the left sidebar.
The missile fire rules in Chainmail distinguish between fire from bows and crossbows, thrown hand weapons, gunpowder weapons, and catapults. The missile fire rules I'm looking at here deal only with bows, crossbows and thrown weapons. The first thing we see in the missile rules is a table that shows the results for missile troops firing at unarmored, half-armored or shield-bearing, and fully armored troops. To resolve missile fire, missile troops are organized into groups and a die is rolled for each group. The result is then compared to a target number to determine the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy unit.
The number of archers in each group and their effectiveness is determined by the type of armor worn by the target. When firing at unarmored, half-armoured, or shield-using troops, the archers are considered in groups of up to 10. When firing at fully-armored troops, archers are considered in groups of up to 20. If the group of archers is larger than 10 or 20, respectively, they are divided into 2 or more equal groups so that each group is under the maximum. Archers cannot be divided into smaller groups unless they exceed 10 or 20, respectively. So, if a group of 16 archers is firing at an unarmored opponent unit, they would be divided into two groups of 8. If the same archers were firing at a fully armored unit, they would be considered a single group of 16.
Basically, the larger the unit of archers you field, the more chances you have to cause casualties against better armored opponents. If you field a tiny unit of archers or your archers take heavy casualties, they will only be effective against the weakest-armored troops, and they will not cause many casualties when they fire against them. On the other hand, if you field huge masses of longbowmen in long ranks, you can dispose of the bulk of your opponent's knights and heavy foot in short order.
Rate of fire varies between archers and light crossbowmen on the one hand and heavy crossbowmen on the other. The former can fire twice if they do not move or melee, once if they move up to half their movement, and once if they move their full movement and beat their opponent's roll in a roll-off. Heavy crossbowmen can only fire every other turn if they are stationary or move up to half their move. If they move their full movement, they can fire if they beat their opponent in a roll-off, but they cannot reload.
Horse archers can fire and be fired at after they complete half their move, and stationary foot archers can fire at troops that are in sight and range at the half move stage of the turn. These shots are part of the regular rate of fire. So horse archers basically strafe as they move rather than in the normal missile phase, and stationary foot archers receive their extra shot in the movement segment rather than doubling up in the missile phase later. This allows stationary foot archers a chance to shoot down anyone charging them as well.
Two ranks of archers are allowed to fire, and more ranks can fire if they are elevated above the front ranks. A unit of archers arranged on a stepped hill or pyramid could raind own significant fire on an enemy. Range is always measured from the front rank.
Indirect fire is possible if the troops are armed with bows. Crossbows are limited to direct fire only. Indirect fire is not effective at all against heavily armored troops, and archers firing indirectly reduce their range by a third.
Soft cover cuts the casualties taken in half. Overhead cover or woods eliminates indirect fire. Hard cover makes troops "arrow-proof" to direct fire.
Thrown weapons may fire once per turn, may always fire at enemy troops charging them, and may not fire indirectly.
All of this amounts to some very comprehensive missile rules with a lot of subtlety to them. How you deploy, arrange, and maneuver missile troops can have a great impact on the battlefield, as it should. With the split fire, pass-through fire, and indirect fire rules, missile troops are given some of the best tactical flexibility rules I've seen, and these rules do a fine job of capturing the roles and effectiveness of archers on the medieval battlefield. I also like the way the cover rules and the missil charts limit their effectiveness in certain situations. Against hard targets or targets with good woody concealment, archers are not very effective unless they are massed in large groups and firing directly at their targets. Against poorly armored opponents, even a small number of archers can be somewhat effective.