Skirmish rules
Skirmish rules
25 Feb 2017 / Nino /

Back in 2006, I started entertaining the idea of playing skirmish war games with my twin sons, then 7 years old. Since I had never played a war game before and knew nobody that could initiate me to the hobby, I bought a few books on the subject and started to search the Internet. Although I could get a hold of a number of excellent skirmish rules, as a novice I found them all rather complex,  and had a hard time sorting out which ones would work best for me. In the event, I decided to develop my own rules.

I wanted simple skirmish rules that could give a fast, if possible thrilling game with no bookkeeping, while retaining a distinct flavor for 18th-Century Petite Guerre tactics.  In short, I wanted my rules to favor the bold and the daring; to emphasize the uncertainties of command and troop reaction; to differentiate between aimed and volley fire; to account for the relatively long reloading time of muzzle-loading firearms; and to provide a fair balance between firefight and hand-to-hand combat.

Predictably enough, my skirmish rules draw much from existing rule sets dealing with horse-and-musket small-action warfare. As such, my rules do not claim to be any better than the rest, nor to be innovating, although there are a few features that,  at least to the best of my knowledge, are original and unique.


My rules are designed for 1:32 scale (54mm) toy soldiers. One miniature represents one man.

Units do not exceed platoon-strength. More typically they  represent piquets, small detachments of various size and composition.

One turn represents a short period of time, typically 5 to 10 s.

Distances are not to scale, one cm representing one pace. Terrain elements, such as trees, woods, buildings, rivers, etc., are also not to scale.

Point system

As most rules, my skirmish rules use a point system to assess the strength of the opposing forces. However, unlike most rules, whereby points are assigned to troop types rather arbitrarily, I wanted a direct, quantitative correlation between the points assigned to a particular troop type and its actual combat worth.

To achieve this, I calculated the point value of each troop type as an arithmetical function of its skill levels, which in turn correspond to the dice used by that troop type during the game, the general principle throughout my rules being that an action be performed if a dice roll is equal or higher than a given threshold. There are no modifiers, simply different troop types use different dice, or combination of dice, based upon different skill levels or coefficients. In this way, the point value of each troop type has a direct effect on the mechanics of the game.

The system may be better understood looking at the table below, which shows the point value of each troop type. The skill coefficients for Command / discipline (C), Aimed fire (AF), and Melée (M) correspond to the dice used to perform the respective actions. The skill coefficient for Movement (M) is assigned based on the relative mobility of each troop type (cavalry vs. infantry; troop types which do not suffer movement penalty on rough terrain vs. troop types that do).

The point value of unit leaders and sub-leaders (officers and NCOs, bandleaders and their seconds-in-command) is equal to 12 and 6 times respectively that of their subordinates.

Initiative and unit activation

A realistic way to deal with initiative is the key to a dynamic, realistic skirmish war game.

The mechanics of the rules should favor the players that show higher tactical sense and act consistently according to their goals, allowing them to keep the initiative for themselves to the detriment of more lethargic, or casual, opponents. The more consistent player should have a higher chance to deny his opponent the initiative and effectively hinder the latter’s ability to pursue his own plan. This adds to the realism of the game, rewarding a player’s tactical sense and allowing for fast, decisive actions.

In this perspective, an attacking player should be rewarded if he succeeds in keeping his opponent under pressure, inflicting him fire casualties and charging his units to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. Conversely, a defending player should be rewarded if he is able to frustrate the attacker’s aggressiveness, for example entrenching his own units (to reduce the effect of his opponent’s fire), or effectively anchoring and supporting them (so as to discourage his opponent from charging).

With this in mind, in my skirmish rules the concept of initiative is strictly connected to that of unit activation: only a player’s units that are not subjected to the opponent’s pressure (that is, units that are not taking fire casualties and are not charged by enemy units) are automatically activated and can be used during the player’s turn.

Conversely, all units that are under attack (suffering fire casualties, or being charged by enemy units) are considered temporarily out-of-control. They are marked with a red square, and must pass an activation test before they can perform any active action.

The activation test is carried out at the beginning of a player’s turn for all his out-of-control units, and consists of rolling dice corresponding to the unit’s command / discipline skill coefficient. Depending on the score, the unit may become in-control, and thus be used in the turn; remain out-of-control and pass the turn; or get routed altogether.


Units in a critical situation (reduced to less than 50% of their strength; charged from the back or flanks) must undergo a morale or reaction test.

The reaction test is carried out in a similar way to the activation test, and may result in the unit being put, or left, out-of-control, or getting routed.

Figures belonging to units in rout are each marked with a red triangle.


The maximum distance that can be covered in a turn is given by the speed that a figure or unit is moving at. Three speed levels are available: normal, fast, and slow. The corresponding distances are marked on a movement stick. Different movement sticks are used for infantry and for cavalry, and depending on the formation adopted.

Normal speed is used for deploying, advancing, retreating, in general for any movement performed  in relative safety. As such, movement at normal speed can be interrupted at any time and any other action can be performed in the next turn.

Slow speed is used on rough terrain and by wounded figures. It can be interrupted at any time with no penalization.

Fast speed is used to move in a haste, for example to reach cover. It can be interrupted at any time, but the figure or unit can not fire nor reload in the next turn.

Fast speed is also used to close in with the enemy when charging, or to run away from the enemy when routed.

Aimed fire

Aimed fire is used by individual figures deployed in open order.

You get a hit if you roll equal or above a threshold value corresponding to the target’s distance and the target’s condition (unmoving / moving / partially screened / partially protected).

The threshold values are the same for all troop types using a given weapon, but each troop type rolls a different dice combination based on its own firing skills.

For example, when firing a musket, untrained civilians roll d8+d4, line infantry roll d8+d8, light infantry roll d8+d10,  and so on for other troop types.

The threshold values are marked on a stick at 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 80 and 100 paces. Distinct thresholds are given for unmoving, moving, partially screened and partially protected targets. Different sticks with different ranges are used for different weapons (musket, pistol, carbine, blunderbuss, swivel gun, bow and arrow).

For example, an unmoving target at 40 paces is hit by a musket shot on a roll of 11+. Based upon simple statistic calculation, the likelihood of a hit (that is, of rolling 11+) is as follows:

54% if firing with d8+d12.

45% if firing with d8+d10.

33% if firing with d8+d8.

21% if firing with d8+d6.

9% if firing with d8+d4.

If the target is partially screened by, say, a hedge or tall grass, to get a hit at 40 paces you must roll 15+, and the likelihood of a hit drops as follows:

22% if firing with d8+d12.

13% if firing with d8+d10.

5% if firing with d8+d8.

0% if firing with d8+d6.

0% if firing with d8+d4.

When a figure is hit, a d4 is rolled to determine the effect of the hit (wound or death). Wounded figures are marked with a red disc, and suffer penalization in movement, fire/reload, hand-to-hand combat, and in general when performing any action during the game. Killed figures are altogether removed from the table.

Aimed-fire reloading

Once a figure has fired, a two-sided, black/gray marker disc is placed next to it.

In subsequent turns, if you choose to have the figure reload (alternatively, it can  move, or perform a special action), you roll one dice corresponding to the figure’s aimed-fire skills (for example, d6 if the figure fires with d8+d6).

Independent of the figure’s aimed-fire skill / dice rolled, the weapon is reloaded if the outcome is 4+.

Of course, the higher the figure’s firing skills, the higher the likelihood that the weapon be reloaded quickly. Thus, an untrained civilian firing with d8+d4 reloads by rolling a d4. On average he will reload after 3 turns, but he may get lucky and reload immediately after firing. To the same token, a veteran light infantryman firing with d8+d8 reloads with a d8. He has 50% chances to reload in the next turn, but he may get nervous and take much longer.

Once the figure has reloaded, the marker disc is flipped to show the gray side, and removed altogether at the beginning of the following turn, when the figure may again fire its weapon.

However, a player may choose to have a figure fire in the same turn it has reloaded (that is, while it is still marked with the gray disc). In this case, the player rolls a d4 (as opposed to a d8) in combination with the dice corresponding to his figure’s aimed-fire skills (firing in haste).

Volley fire

While aimed fire is delivered by individual figures fighting in open order, volley fire is delivered by whole units deployed in line, two to four ranks deep. The player chooses how many ranks fire each turn, all figures in a rank firing together.

When compared to aimed fire, volley fire is deadlier on account of the fact that many weapons fire at the same time at a given target.

Understandably enough, for both aimed and volley fire, the likelihood of a hit increases as the target’s distance decreases.

However, the comparatively higher effectiveness of volley fire as opposed to aimed-fire is more evident at long ranges (where aimed fire with a smooth-bore weapon is almost useless) than at short ranges (where, after all,  there should be some merit in actually aiming at the target).

To account for this, unlike aimed fire where two dice are rolled together, volley fire is delivered by rolling one d20 for each figure firing.

When rolling a d20, the likelihood of each individual outcome is always the same (1/20th, or 5%), and the likelihood that the outcome be equal or higher than a given threshold (condition for a hit) increases linearly as the threshold decreases.

Conversely, when rolling a combination of two dice, the likelihood of each individual outcome is not the same, but follows the typical Gauss, or bell-shaped, distribution pattern. In this case, the likelihood that the outcome be equal or higher than a given threshold increases more than linearly as the threshold decreases.

A comparison of the relative effectiveness of volley fire as opposed to aimed fire (with a musket) is given in the following table.

Since volley fire is delivered by a group of figures, deployed in close order, at a group of enemy figures, deployed in either close or open order, hits are assigned based upon some arbitrary method, for example to the figures which are closer to the firing line.

Hit figures are treated in the same way as for aimed fire.

Volley-fire reloading

Once a rank has fired, a black/gray disc is placed next to it. To reload the rank, a single d20 must be rolled and score 16+.

If more than one rank have fired, each rank rolls independently for reloading.

If you have enough figures to deploy a few platoons together and fire by whole platoons, or divisions,  as opposed to individual ranks, you may want to account for the higher efficiency of platoon firing by rolling one d20 for the whole platoon and reload the platoon on a score of 12+ as opposed as of 16+.

Hand-to-hand combat

When a figure comes in contact with an enemy figure, both roll a dice corresponding to their melee skills and weapons. A hit is scored on a 4+. If only one figure scores 4+, it hits its opponent. If both figures score unequal 4+,  they par up. If both score equal 4+, they both hit.

As with firing, the effect of a hit is determined by rolling a d4.

A maximum of two figures can oppose one given enemy figure, the second figure rolling without reaction.

Special rules apply for figures having a distinct melee advantage against their opponents, as is the case of figures fighting from behind a parapet, attacking a wounded enemy, etc.. In case of a melee resulting from the clash of units deployed in closed ranks, attacking from the flanks or rear also gives an advantage.

  1. Maybe using the term Natives might be more appropriate then savages.

  2. I take your point Craig. However, I used the term savages without any negative implication. Back in the 18th Century Europeans styled as savages (from the French Sauvage, “one living in the wilderness”) those peoples wo lived – or were perceived as living – in a state of nature, not corrupted by civilisation (hence “the Good Savage”; the “Noble Savage”).
    Other non-Europeans, like, say, people from India, Northern Africa, China, etc., would qualify as Natives but would not have the same combat characteristics as the tribesmen from America or Sub-Saharian Africa.