Napoleonic Principles of War (NPOW)

Brief Description These rules are a variant of the Principles of War 19th Century rules, with new army lists by Richard Denning.
Period Napoleonic - The army lists included in the rulebook range from 1792 through 1815, and encompass Egypt, Europe, and Russia.
Scale Ground scale is 1" = 100 yards. Time and figure scales unknown.
Basing 30mm x 15mm for regular infantry
30mm x 30mm for regular cavalry
30mm x 40mm for artillery
90mm x 20mm for irregular foot
90mm x 40mm for irregular cavalry

Any number of figures per base.

Contents A4-size booklet and a reference sheet
Designer Tom Penn with Richard Denning
Publisher Published by The Victorian Military Society, via the author (Tom Penn)


Both PoW and NPoW are supported by a magazine. The publication includes articles, scenario ideas, Q&A, army lists, etc. For more information, write to:

Principles of War, the Magazine
c/o John Hollyoak, editor
The Faroows, Offmore Court, Offmore Farm Close, Kidderminster

What You Think

Ray Rangel (
Napoleonic Principles of War, written by T. M. Penn, is a set of miniatures rules that concentrates on the recreating typical engagements during the Napoleonic Wars. The army lists included in the rulebook range from 1792 through 1815 and encompass Egypt, Europe, and Russia.

My copy of the rules was obtained from Pappa Willie's Wargaming Central, a mail-order house in San Antonio, Texas. I have seen it featured in advertisements for many UK retailers in Wargames Illustrated. In addition, the game is available directly from the author. The cost of the rules is about 12 Pounds Sterling or about 20 Dollars U.S. Certainly a reasonable price, in my opinion, for a rulebook that will get as much usage as this one.

The rules are presented in the same sequence as a game turn, which makes referencing them easy. The rule book is a normal European A4 sized set with very readable 11 or 12 point type. Tables are well-thought-out and appear where they are needed in the text for clarification. Of course, all of the tables appear on the play sheet.

The game requires the use of four-, six-, ten-, twenty-sided dice and Average Dice. For those not familiar with what Average Dice are, they are six-sided dice with the one and the six replaced with a three and a four. Average Dice can be hard to find in the U.S. but it is a simple task to remember that a one becomes a three and six becomes a four. Markers of some sort are useful to mark units that are shaken. Casualty caps can be used for this purpose. (In a later paragraph, I provide an example of how I avoided using them altogether.) Measurements are in inches, so a tape measure will be required. A six-inch ruler is handy for shorter measurements.

NPoW is economical when it comes to the use of miniatures, being a regimental-level game (the smallest independently maneuvering units are regiments). A regiment consists of three bases 30mm x 15mm for regular infantry and 30mm x 30mm for regular cavalry; artillery batteries are comprised of single 30mm x 40mm bases. The bases that comprise a regiment never act independently and are always in contact with each other in one of only three possible formations. They may be formed (column), deployed (line), or square. Thus each regiment has a frontage of 90mm. Irregular units have a single base that is 90mm x 20mm for foot and 90mm x 40mm for cavalry.

When playtesting this game, our group used Battles for Empire basing (the same as Empire) which was only a little larger and it was sufficiently close to allow exploration of the game dynamics. The smaller basing, as suggested in the rules, though, has proven to be much more effective in regular play. Smaller one-inch basing as used in Fire and Fury, Mr. Lincoln's War, and Fields of Honor has not been tried, but I expect that it will work just fine. The drawback to using the larger bases is the fact that movement is not unlike that found in Rally 'Round the Flag, in that a unit can move in whatever direction it pleases as long as no part of any of the bases that comprise a unit exceeds the maximum allowed for that formation. Thus it should be apparent that larger bases than intended will somewhat hamper maneuverability while smaller bases will not.

The number of figures on each base is quite up to the individual as the strength of units is tracked using a roster. This also means, as noted above, that no casualty caps are employed. Stands are not removed during play until a unit has been routed or destroyed. When that happens, the entire regiment is removed from play.

Using rosters is not without difficulties of its own. Some way has to be found to differentiate between units on the table. This was some cause for concern when I first started playing. Players in the U.K. simply were writing the unit number that corresponded to its roster on the bottom of each base. This, of course, means that any time a unit is targeted, it has to be picked up and examined to determine which roster to use. I elected to create cardboard numbered counters. These counters simply have a number on one side and the same number superimposed on a red "X" on the reverse. The counters do double duty in that they not only identify a unit, they also show (by flipping the counter to the "X" side) when a unit is shaken. Since the counters are the same color as the game mat, the battlefield clutter is minimized. While on the subject of markers, it is helpful to mark which batteries have fired. I use cotton balls for this. While the visual appeal has nothing to do with actual game play, it is (to some extent) why we game with miniatures in the first place.

With the army lists provided, a six-by-four-foot area is certainly adequate for play. A GeoHex mat is what I use for a battlefield foundation. Larger areas can be used which provides for more area for maneuver. As with most games, though, once the battle is joined it occupies little space on the table as most units start moving toward the sound of the guns. The bound sequence can be a little disconcerting at first, especially to those of us who are accustomed to the traditional move-fire-rally sequence employed by so many games. The bound is divided into four main phases with sub-phases. Each player completes the sequence in his or her bound and then the opposing player bounds. When both players have bounded, a game turn is complete. The play sequence for a bound is (note that the phase titles are my own):

Phase 1. Charge Reaction

I. Test Morale
II. Test Morale if contacted in enemy bound
III. Move retiring, evading, or routing units
IV. Remove routed units
V. Spotting

Phase 2. Shooting

I. Firing
II. Enemy units suffering casualties or friendly units charging home check morale
III. Move retiring and routing units
IV. Remove routed units

Phase 3. Melee

I. Hand to hand combat
II. Morale test for all in melee
III. Move retiring and routing units and their pursuers
IV. Remove routed units

Phase 4. Initiative

I. Officers take initiative
II Movement
III. Officer replacement

Before play actually begins, the strength of each regiment and battery must be determined. This is where the use of rosters really shines. Each troop type and quality has a base strength. This strength is expressed as a number. For instance, a veteran line unit has a base strength of 8. Dice are thrown to determine the actual strength of the unit. The types and numbers of dice depend on the troop type and quality. If the unit is classed as "Steadfast" they throw 2DA. The result is simply added to their base strength. Therefore, the unit would have a minimum strength of 8 and a maximum strength of 18. Units are represented in the rosters as lines of boxes containing numbers from 1 to the maximum possible for that unit. The boxes in excess of the base plus the roll are crossed out. This process is repeated for every unit in the armies being fielded. At the end of the process, the opponents know their own strength exactly. They, however, know nothing of the opponent's actual strength, except, of course, the min and max that they might be facing.

Now there remains only one thing for both sides to do before the engagement actually begins. The C-in-C must give each Division commander orders. These orders are selected from a list and cannot be changed except by the C-in-C who must use his IP to do so. Variance from these orders by the Division commanders is not allowed.

The NPoW game on the table actually begins with phase 4. To decide who takes the first bound a D2 (e.g. coin flip) is used. The officers on the bounding side roll a die that corresponds to their rated quality. There are only three ratings which are "Good", "Average", and "Poor". Each grade has a DA, D6, or D4 assigned respectively. The number rolled is the number of "Initiative Points" (IP) each officer is allowed.

The officers use IP to perform actions on the field such as moving Movement Bases (whose function is described below), groups or single units, rallying a unit from a shaken status, causing units to interpenetrate, limbering artillery, etc. There is no limit on the number of IP that can expended on a single unit other that the number that was rolled. Therefore it is possible to rally a unit and move it by expending two IP. The number of IP required to perform an action is based on the officer's physical distance from the unit. It takes one IP to perform an action for every fraction of eight inches of distance. So it becomes readily apparent that the economics of IP becomes critical as more and more units become engaged. It is, not only possible, but probable, that there will not be enough IP to control everything that the officer might desire to accomplish in any given turn. Tough decisions and trade-offs have to be made.

When the game opens, there are no troops on the table. Rather, the bounding player moves, what in NPoW parlance is termed, a "Movement Base." This base is a piece of cardboard of dimensions specified in the rules. The C-in-C and Divisional officers have a number of these that are determined by the rules or by the published army lists. These bases may represent a group of units or none at all. Troops are placed on the table when, during the appropriate game phase and when LOS is established, an opposing officer "spots" the base. Whether a base is spotted depends on a die roll and a table that provides different probabilities for distance and terrain considerations. Once a base is spotted, the troops assigned to that base, if any, are placed on the table in the area and in a formation that corresponds to the size and orientation of the Movement Base. This is not to say that all troops must be assigned to Movement Bases. A player might want to go ahead and place units on the table if he feels that doing so would provide him and advantage. Unlike many rules, this actually makes light cavalry (like Chasseurs) useful in the field, i.e. they can be used for something other than cannon fodder. It also make the light battle cavalry (like Hussars) more useful in that he can use them to screen off or engage the opponent's probes and keep the scouting cavalry from getting within automatic spotting distance.

To sum up the start up of an NPoW game, starting strength is determined, units are assigned to Movement Bases, who bounds first is determined, Officers' IP are determined, and Movement Bases and troops are moved.

At some point, units are spotted or are voluntarily exposed and an engagement soon ensues. As this is a Napoleonics game, the first engagements, quite naturally, are initiated by artillery batteries. Artillery is separated into three classes, each having different distances where they are considered to be at short, effective, or long range. Each range band is associated with a multiplier. The multiplier is applied to the battery's strength (from the roster) to determine the final strength with which the battery fires. This final strength is found in the column headers of the casualty chart, the final column is shifted right or left depending on modifiers for both units, and cross indexed with the result a D6 die roll to determine how many casualties occurred. The number of casualties are deducted from the target's roster by crossing out boxes starting from the highest number not yet marked off. If a target's strength ever reaches zero, the unit has been utterly destroyed and is removed from the table. A unit reaching zero strength is a very rare occurrence as will become obvious when I discuss morale.

As for musketry and rifle fire, suffice it to say that these use exactly the same mechanics as artillery albeit the table of ranges is quite different. There are still three range bands but they are classed as short, long, and extreme. There are also more types of weapons listed in the table. As I said, though, the mechanics remain the same, i.e. add the multiplier from the small arms table to the unit's strength, etc.

If a player takes casualties as a result of any type of firing, the target units must test morale right away before the next phase may begin. Here, again, the strength from the roster plays a crucial role. To successfully make a morale role a unit must roll under its roster strength plus or minus modifiers with a D20. The modifiers are the typical ones you are sure to encounter in many games such as having an officer present, being supported on the flanks, be shaken (disordered), etc. The kicker, though, is the -1 for each unit in the same Division that has been lost. There are only four possible results of a morale check: Steady (no effect), Shaken (the unit is disordered and can take no offensive action), Retire Shaken (obviously the unit moves away from the attacker and is shaken), and Rout (move away and at the end of the movement the unit is removed from play).

Melee is handled a little differently than missile combat though it still hinges on the relative roster strengths of the units involved. Strengths of one side are totaled as are the strengths of the other. Both find the appropriate column, get shifted for modifiers and both sides dice and cross index within their respective columns to find out how many casualties they did to the other. Not unlike missile combat so far, but this is where the similarity ends.

The number of casualties occurring on both sides is compared and the side causing the most casualties is declared the winner of the melee. The loser then makes a morale roll as described above except that the result is automatically one worse (Steady becomes Shaken, etc.). The winner's result, on the other hand is automatically one better (Shaken becomes Steady, etc.). If the casualties are even, then neither side changes the morale result. If the units do not disengage as a result of the morale (they are Steady or Shaken) they remain locked in melee for another round. Provision is made in the rules to allow for pursuit by both infantry and cavalry.

As I said before, a unit's strength rarely reaches zero. What typically happens is that as units rout and the remaining unit's strengths diminish, their resolve starts to falter as it becomes harder and harder to make morale rolls. This coupled with the economics of the Division commander's IP budget (remember he must use IP to "un-shake" units, move others, etc.) spells the disintegration of command and control within the Division. Eventually, enough units have quit the battle that it becomes virtually impossible to keep the remaining, now weakened, units from routing - a Division collapses, the battle becomes hopelessly lopsided, the loser retires, and the game ends.

In summary, allow me to make a couple of general observations about NPoW:

First is that I was confused about what the game was trying to model when I started playing it, because the author never really comes out an states his intent. Perhaps it's obvious and I'm just dense, but it took me a couple of games before I realized that what he modeled was not really "the battle" but rather the command and control of the battle. The details of the engagement, e.g. behind which tree the skirmishers are hiding, is far removed from the level of this game. This game is a game of generals. Playing it focuses one's attention on problems that a general has to face, limited resources, lots of unknowns, and limited ability to change things on the field. Because of NPoW's extraordinary simplicity on the detail level and profound complexity at the command level, it is one of the most challenging games I have ever played and yet the basic mechanics are easily mastered halfway through the first game.

Second is that I have made no mention of two particular features of the rules because I have yet to use them. One is the points system. There is a system of determining the value of a given unit and assigning it a point value. The other is a procedure for arranging terrain on the game table. Both of these features are intended for tournament or competition style games. I have little interest in tournaments so I have not tried these facets to see how well they work to generate balanced games. I will say, however, that just about every advertisement for conventions in the UK feature PoW (the colonial elder brother) and NPoW competitions so I assume they must work fairly well.

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Online Resources

Principles of War Website
Unofficial website promoting these rules. Includes instructions for joining the POW mailing list.
Richard Denning's Napoleonic Wars Site
If you'll look under Wargames Page/Principles of War, you'll find an article about the Principles of War game system, plus downloadable rules samples.

If you know of other resources for this game, please let us know. If you have material you would like to make available to the Net, also let us know.

Last Updates
20 September 1999comments by Ray Rangel
8 September 1999added publisher's website
19 April 1998page first published
Comments or corrections?