IntroductionThe Black Powder wargames rules are very popular - and rightly so in my opinion. They're an excellent toolkit which can be easily adjusted to provide the type of "Horse and Musket" game that you want.
One of the optional blocks of rules in which I've been particularly interested can be found on pages 94-95 of the original rulebook, under the heading The Personal Qualities of Commanders. Some may feel that this is edging into role-playing, but I've always been fascinated by the human effect in warfare and so I believe that these characteristics are entirely appropriate and desirable, even (say) in a large-scale Napoleonic battle.
So, why use cards?
Why indeed? The rules in the Black Powder book give 3 characteristics (Aggression, Decisiveness and Independence), each of which has a 1 in 6 chance of being rated "high" and a 1 in 6 chance of being rated "low". So we could just roll 3 dice for each commander at the start of the game and write down the results.
This approach will give us the mechanics perfectly well, but there's something not satisfying about it:
- If you're anything like me then the rolled-for characteristics would be written on rough scraps of paper. These would invariably be ugly and we'd need to refer back to the main rulebook every time we needed to apply the effect of a general's characteristic(s).
- Writing the characteristics out like this is functionally correct, but they're just labels. I need to get a better sense of the man to whom these characteristics apply.
Right, so a deck of cards with the characteristics on them can address all these issues: a single draw can replace 3 dice rolls, the card can have a quick-reference copy of the rule effects for the characteristic(s) on it and it can have a quote or a picture that helps to describe the commander as a person.
How are the cards designed?
If we ignore the trimmings, there are 2 functional parts to each of my card: the portrait and the rules summary. Let's take a closer look at each of these in turn:
I was determined to use pictures for my Napoleonic officers, but this was a somewhat daunting task! Collecting images of 54 period paintings wouldn't be too hard with the modern internet, but they'd almost certainly be quite varied in style and quality. It might have worked, but would have taken a lot of effort to get the effect I desired.
Fortunately, very early in my search for suitable images I stumbled across replaceface.tumblr.com . This is a godsend! It's a site where a modern artist has taken a large collection of portraits of Napoleonic-period Russian Officers and has replaced their faces with those of modern celebrities. Well, OK - I could have used the original portraits for my purposes if I could have found them, but that didn't matter: celebrities would work too. Oh, by the way - I've used these portraits pretty much at random, so the association of certain characteristics with specific celebrities is just coincidence. Mostly, at any rate.
Once again, there are 2 aspects to this functional part of the card. Firstly, the presentation: I was determined to include a rule summary for each characteristic. Sadly, in some cases with multiple characteristics this has resulted in quite a lot of text to fit into a small area. Although this has been achieved, the result is that the rules are in a very small font and can be quite hard to read if your eyesight isn't good. There's not a great deal I could have done different here, but at least the title of each characteristic is somewhat larger and the rules could therefore be looked up in the main rulebook if needed.
Next there's the distribution of the characteristics. To remain truly faithful to the probabilities of rolling 3 6-sided dice, we'd need 216 cards (6 x 6 x 6). However, a standard print-your-own, poker-sized deck has 54 cards (52 regular suit cards and 2 jokers). This is exactly 1/4 of what would be needed.
For a single characteristic, that's easy. 9 of the 54 cards should have High aggression and 9 should have Low aggression; the remainder should be neutral as far as this characteristic is concerned. But what are we to do when we add in more characteristics? A general can have more than one characteristic that is not average, surely?
OK, first decision: I won't put 3 non-average characteristics on a single card. That would make the card very full of text and hard to read and in any case the probability is quite low.
So, for our 9 High aggression cards, we should have 1.5 (i.e. 1/6 of 9) that also have High decisiveness, along with 1.5 that have Low decisiveness. Similarly if we honour the probabilities in the rulebook then we need the same numbers for High and Low independence. Awkward: they're not whole numbers.
This leads us on to my next decision, which is quite arbitrary but gives a reasonable distribution. Of the 9 cards that have High aggression, we'll have 4 that also have another characteristic: 1 each of High/Low decisiveness/independence. That works quite well: a card can have no exceptional attribute, sometimes one, or occasionally two. Of course, the same formula applies to all the other characteristics as well: 5 cards with each aspect (high or low) of the characteristic on its own and 4 with the aspect plus another characteristic as well. Excellent!
Can I try?
We've used these cards just once so far; you can read about it here: The Three Villages. I'm certainly encouraged to use them again, though!
The master file for these cards is a PowerPoint document. If you wish, you can view and download it freely here, All I ask is that you don't use it for commercial purposes and that you give me due credit if you share this with anyone else.
If you prefer to obtain a professionally-printed deck of cards, such as I have shown in the pictures above, then here's a link to the design on Artscow. I believe that you should be able to buy a deck by clicking the appropriate buttons on that page. Note: I have no association, financial or otherwise, with artscow.com other than that of a satisfied customer.