How accurate were early firearms?

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  • #700
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator
    #703
    Thaeris
    Participant

    I am not sure you can call that accurate by modern standards, but not nearly as inaccurate as some might presume. The research on that article was great, and the data was very interesting as well. I actually took the table from the text and compiled it into an Excel graph, and then added a trendline for both the aimed and area fire (as I’m going to call them). Assuming you cannot miss at point-blank range, both curves nicely match with cubic functions. With a little work, that might make for some really excellent material for a wargame or RPG:

    Musket Accuracy

    #720
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    Yeah, sorry for the delay on your post, and it looks like the XLS or image you attached still didn’t go through yet. Please bear with us we are still working out some kinks with the forum software.

    But your point is well taken and I’d love to see your graph. I should have been more clear in my original post – I’d say the Graz tests show us that the weapons were surprisingly accurate, the other shooting tests show us that the soldiers were not. That is more a matter of training than hardware though IMO.

    And it’s actually in line with comments I’ve made before about the skill level of a medieval vs. an Early Modern army. The former were much more expensive on a per-man basis, but if we can go by the standards of the medieval Shutzenfest (which itself is something we can’t be sure of) then the medieval marksman was far more accurate.

    #724
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    Very interesting chart. And yes it’s enormously helpful. This kind of chart can help a great deal with accuracy, so much in fact that I’d love to put it in the appendix of my missile weapons book, if you’d be willing to share it. Do you think you could do one based on the Graz test? That gives us kind of a baseline for earlier firearms and with kind of ideal shooting conditions.

    In Codex terms an average, minimally trained person shooting a “wall gun” (closest thing in the 15th Century to a musket) has a range increment of 50′, which works out to the following modifiers: +2 at 50′, 0 at 100′, -3 at 150 ft, and -4 at 200′ or greater. In terms of percentage, it means you need:

    an 8 to hit on a D20 at 50′ / 15 yards (60%), a 10 at 100′ / 30 yards (50%), a 13 at 150′ / 45 yards (35%), and a 14 at 200′ / 60 yards (30%) or greater.

    Based on your chart it looks like, for a musket using aimed fire it should be:

    a 2 to hit on D20 under 25 yards (90%), a 5 at 50 yards (75%), a 7 (65%) at 75 yards, a 9 at 100 yards (55%), a 12 at 150 yards (40%), a 14 at 200 yards (30%) or greater (though it gradually declines from there)

    … so I was clearly being a bit too conservative. The range increment should be almost doubled, and the bonus at shorter range increased.

    Contrary to your assumptions, I think both the weapons and the skill would be much better prior to 1550. This is what the data seems to suggest anyway. I wish I could find a detailed article about a shutzenfest, but the assumption circa 1450 was that the average person should be able to hit a target the size of a man’s head at 50 paces, roughly the same as a yard.

    #1702
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    As I was saying in the last post, it’s interesting to contrast this data with the Schutzenfest data

    http://myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=342360#342360

    Very early days in terms of evaluating or even translating the data but based on the first one, it seems that we can expect good shooters to be able to hit a 10″ target from about 120 meters fairly often.

    How do we translate that into a human sized target? It’s hard to say. But I’d say if you can hit the 10″ target say 30% of the time at that distance then you could probably hit the human target 80% of the time.

    #1707
    Philologus
    Participant

    Bert S. Hall’s “Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics” and the Bow vs. Musket blog are also good. I’m not sure if Bow vs. Musket groks that recruits could be expected to learn the bow or crossbow on their own time before they were conscripted, but someone had to pay for the powder and shot to learn musketry. So when early modern people talk about training, they are not talking about starting from scratch like a modern infantry school, they are talking about how much the paymaster has to spend to get an effective soldier.

    All kinds of ranged weapons are much less accurate in combat than in practice, for a long list of reasons. So you can’t really use target shooting to work out combat accuracy, just to rank different weapons in your rules.

    #1708
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    Well, target shooting gives us kind of a baseline. And we can assume it usually goes down from there (which is something you can quantify in a game, all the factors which make it harder). But shooters who could do much better than the average were a known quantity and played an important role in a wide range of well documented battles.

    There is also different kinds of circumstances for shooting. If you are involved in a fairly low-intensity siege, of the type which were very common in medieval and early-modern times, especially if you are one of the defenders, shooting at encroaching enemies through some aperture in a thick stone wall, at your leisure, and going back at the end of the day to sleep in your own bed, your actual battlefield shooting may not be that far off from your target shooting, especially if you did a lot of the latter.

    One of the biggest differences between armies in the medieval period vs. those in the later early-modern, is that the former – at least in the case of burghers- did indeed invest in their own powder and weapons, as it was a requirement for their citizenship. And not only that but they spent a great deal of time engaging in these various martial sports. The same was true for the other estates as well. Anyone (any male) with some degree of freedom who wasn’t a Clerk was probably spending some time in their life preparing for an dealing with weapons, and probably involved in some martial sport or warlike game. And, depending on their estate and rank – armor, horses, supplies, and all kinds of other gear.

    By the later 16th Century an increasing number of soldiers are being recruited from very poor areas (Black Forest in Swabia, Estremadura in Iberia) and trained in a somewhat systematic fashion in the manner of Landsknechts, as established by Max I with the help of Swiss officers and feldweibel. These people did not necessarily bring anything to the table except a willingness to fight for the kings schilling, but they didn’t need nearly as many of those (schillings) to fight, and thus far more of them could be recruited into the army.

    #1710
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    And destitute serfs, as an estate, had very little political clout; whereas the Swiss turned around and marched home the minute they weren’t paid (Pas de’argent, pas de Suisse) and the burghers often refused to march more than a couple of nights journey from town or for more than a few days. If they were pressured too much they might revolt.

    So for the prince, instead of a small ‘bespoke’ army with a small number of highly skilled but expensive fighters, it was very tempting to go instead for a much larger army of lesser paid, and (at least initially) less skilled peasants or serfs, but who were far more biddable and didn’t need to be paid nearly as much. And all you really needed them to do was either stand there with a pike or shoot a musket volley when told too.

    The Ottomans and Mamluks of course took this a step further by using slave-soldiers.

    #1711
    Thaeris
    Participant

    Jean,

    I’ve been tinkering around with another project at the moment, but I get the impression you’re working on this once again. Do you need me to get back to crunching numbers sooner than later on the information we have available?

    #1714
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    No need to rush anything – I actually just ran across these while looking for something else. But we are planning an update to Weapons Vol. II before Christmas if possible. I also expect to have 1 or 2 more of the Schutzenfest invitations translated (or at least, the parts about the distance to the target and number of shots for crossbow and gun) so that will give us some more data to play with. Might be a couple of days on that.

    If I can find the schutzenfest ‘songs’ and match them to the rules that would really be helpful because it will tell us how many people qualified at specific events, how many hit the bullseye enough times and so on, so we’ll have a more accurate baseline of how ambitious these regulations were. They also tell you things like how many accidents there were and so on.

    Stand by for more!

    #1715
    Philologus
    Participant

    One of the fundamental design decisions of GURPS 4e is that game rules need to be based around adventuring situations, because those are what actually matter for the story and because its too much cognitive load to require the GM to remember to apply a lot of different modifiers in the middle of an action scene. GURPS Tactical Shooting has a really good section by gun geeks (Hans-Christian Vortisch and S.A. Fisher) adapting those rules to less stressful situations, based on the current US consensus on performance of combat shooters. That design decision makes sense to me.

    In 16th century England, there was massive resistance by the citizens to modernizing Queen Mary’s militia law from 1558 because of the expense of buying new equipment and firearms. The weapons men carried to show their status and gender and hunt or keep order were not the same weapons they carried to defend against a landing or march into Scotland … this explicitly came up late in the 16th century, there were protests about disarming politically suspect groups and the compromise was that they could keep their bows and bills but not pikes and firearms because the former were enough to keep order and defend themselves. I have read a series of complaints against the expense of English militia laws going back into the 13th or early 14th century.

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Philologus.
    • This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Philologus.
    #1719
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    One of the fundamental design decisions of GURPS 4e is that game rules need to be based around adventuring situations, because those are what actually matter for the story and because its too much cognitive load to require the GM to remember to apply a lot of different modifiers in the middle of an action scene. GURPS Tactical Shooting has a really good section by gun geeks (Hans-Christian Vortisch and S.A. Fisher) adapting those rules to less stressful situations, based on the current US consensus on performance of combat shooters. That design decision makes sense to me.

    Indeed, i try to follow much of the same data Steve Jackson does, but I think Codex handles it a little more elegantly – The basic (DnD) shooting rules stay the same, but as the ‘stress load’ increases, fewer of the shooters dice are available for aiming.

    In Codex, players have 3 or 4 dice to use each turn. Each die can be used to do something, this case – move, shoot, reload hide behind cover, draw a hand weapon, etc. If nobody is shooting at you, or if you are behind say, 75% cover so you don’t have to worry much about defense, you can use all of your dice for your shot, and you just keep the highest roll.

    This way, it’s kind of nice because you don’t have to worry about a lot of arithmetic, don’t need to write anything down etc. You have your options literally in the palm of your hand.

    Alternately if you have a faster firing weapon than a muzzle loading firearm, like say a bow, you could shoot four times instead, but there would be a higher risk of a misfire. If you shoot with 2 (20 sided) dice your chances of a misfire are always much lower, if you shoot with 3 or 4 dice they are almost nil.

    Training also effects this, as for example reload times are reduced with trained abilities (Feats in DnD, ‘Martial Feats’ in Codex). Circumstances also matter a lot – aiming and having something to support your weapon on (gunwhale of a boat, rampart of a castle, branch of a tree, or aiming stake) also help a lot by conferring a ‘Free Dice’. This means if you committed say 2 of your dice from your pool for a shot, but you had the luxury of something to lean your weapon on, you get a ‘Free Dice’ so you can roll 3 dice instead and take the highest roll. Chances for a critical hit go way up, chances for a misfire go way down.

    This tracks very well with historical usage- hence the ubiquity of aiming hooks on medieval firearms and the widespread use of aiming stakes in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

    In 16th century England, there was massive resistance by the citizens to modernizing Queen Mary’s militia law from 1558 because of the expense of buying new equipment and firearms. The weapons men carried to show their status and gender and hunt or keep order were not the same weapons they carried to defend against a landing or march into Scotland … this explicitly came up late in the 16th century, there were protests about disarming politically suspect groups and the compromise was that they could keep their bows and bills but not pikes and firearms because the former were enough to keep order and defend themselves. I have read a series of complaints against the expense of English militia laws going back into the 13th or early 14th century.

    Indeed but by that time you are taking a more or less disarmed, or marginally armed population who no longer have much experience in war and forcing them to essentially become active soldiers again. In say, the vicinity of Zurich, or Berne, or Strasbourg or Nuremberg or Lübeck or Prague, both urban citizens and rural denizens would be much more accustomed to being called up for war.

    And they would also be participating in these warlike games like the Schütsenfest which confer all kinds of other (social, political, financial) benefits. So more incentive to make the investment. In every city under German town law, including the mediated territorial towns, purchasing a primary weapon, which by 1500 usually meant a firearm, as well as armor and some kind of sidearm, was a mandatory requirement of citizenship.

    The cost of a sword between 1420 – 1520, at very roughly speaking between one quarter to one half a mark, was expensive but well within the budget of a mid-level artisan or a wealthy peasant (anyone owning more than two hides of land, again very generally speaking). A military grade crossbow was about twice that, and the spanning device might cost half again as much, but again not out of reach by any means. Firearms were expensive in the early 15th century but got much cheaper by the end, with a simple “Kolf” arquebus also costing about a mark in Krakow in 1505.

    The biggest expense of all this military stuff was in fact armor, but that requirement was probably not as important for common soldiers by the later 16th Century in England (just guessing on that part though.

    #1724
    Hans Hellinger
    Moderator

    To give an example of the potential payout for a Schützenfest,

    First prize was 40 gulden in Ausgburg in1440, 101 gulden in Augsburg in 1470, 110 gulden in Zurich in 1504. This is in addition to usually two oxen and a silver cup. In a couple of early Schützenfest in Magdeburg (thirteenth century, the first was in 1279) first prize was a maiden.

    There were also many other prizes. Whoever shot the worst got a sow. Whoever told the best lie got 1 gulden. There were prizes for prostitue races, a long jump, a foot race, the fechtschule, and a horse race. Nor were these prizes negligeable. The winner of the horse race at a Schützenfest in Ausburg in 1446 won 45 gulden.

    This is all from Johannes Jansse’s Geschichte des deutschen Volkes seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters in 1896. Prof Tlusty corroborates much of this same data in her Martial Ethic, and also notes that so many women participated that a lot of the prizes were specifically for women – fabric, shoes, women’s jewelry and so on.

    So compared to all that a mark or two for a firearm isn’t a crazy investment.

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