Massed Combat - Missile Fire

Copyright Andrew Mussel © 2013

Edited by Phillip A Ellis for The Guild Companion

"'Holding Fire' entails a certain amount of risk and skill by the firing unit."


This article introduces some concepts and rules involved in running massed combats using Rolemaster. It is part of a far larger project, which greatly expands upon the concepts introduced in the "Refereed" section of the original War Law publication, it is designed to be easily adaptable for use by all editions of Rolemaster, though many of the mechanics will be more familiar to those readers who use RMSS or RMFP.

Two sample "Historical" infantry units are included (ODS format and Excel formant) as well as some of the weapons tables they would use. These illustrate the possibilities for a player to customise a unit, in much the same way as a character, so that differences in training, culture and equipment can be markedly different between two units. I don't claim to be an expert on the American Civil War, so the equipment, training and other details are simply a work of fiction.

Ranged Combat

There are several distinctions that need to be made when preparing the orders for units utilising missile weapons, these can utilise differing complex concepts and their use may require the implementation of shorter turn lengths to cope with the changing effects of range and enemy movement upon them.

Missile Fire: Designating Combat Activity and Preparation (Loading).

Unlike melee weapons, missile weapons require a set element of activity dedicated to loading. This activity requirement is generally fixed but varies by the type of weapon used.

In addition, each missile weapon type also has a variable activity requirement when an attack is made. The highest activity, must be used in order to utilise the unit's OB without penalty, whilst the Minimum activity requirement simply determines the level of activity below which the weapon cannot be used at all. Using less than the maximum activity modifies the attack roll by the reduction in activity.

After shooting, a unit may expend its unused activity as normal (to move, change weapons or reload).

It is important to note that since turns consist of variable numbers of rounds, the activity requirement for preparation of missile weapons can be partially completed during one round and held over to the next, in theory therefore, so could the activity required to make an attack, assuming the unit does not move between reloading activity.

Should an Infantry unit interrupt missile activity by moving or that is engaged in melee, that all previous "stored" activity spent in preparation is lost.

Missile Fire: Designating Targets and Splitting Attacks

Non-mounted units may normally perform missile attacks (including firearms and thrown weapons) as long as they have prepared weapons, either the beginning of a phase or end of a phase in which they do not move.

Missile attacks must be made at a predesignated target unit. This decision is made before the player knows what the exact intentions and the movement of any opposing enemy units will be.

Changing from a designated target is treated as an opportunity attack with the standard -20 penalty.

A player may wish to split a unit's attention between more than one target. In such cases, there is normally an additional -20 penalty applied to the attacks, for each additional unit/area attacked past the first, even if all the target units are in the same general area. This penalty can be circumvented if the unit has received training in either of the following unit skills: Divided Defence or Divided Assault. If so, a SM check (0% activity cost) can produce a bonus used to offset the penalty.

"Holding Fire"

Non-mounted units having made no movement during that turn, may, after having loaded weapons, designate a target unit that lies within the units frontal arc and then may choose to "Hold Fire" by using 20% additional activity over the maximum activity normally required to perform an attack. This is usually done to maximise advantage from favourable range categories. However, having doing so will often reduces the maximum number of shots that could possibly have been taken by the unit that turn.

The unit may then choose to fire at any point in that Turn upon that designated target/area by making a "Holding Fire" SM (using the units weapon skill as a bonus). This may result in an additional bonus to the shot due to a combination of additional aiming and preparation time taken.

This tactic entails a certain amount of risk and skill by the firing unit, especially if an enemy unit has the ability to contact the unit within the round that the shots are made.

Complete Success (110+) means that all casualties caused by the unit that round are resolved before any contact would occur.

Lesser results indicate that the attacks are resolved simultaneously with those of the enemy unit, even if the enemies attacks would normally occur in an earlier phase.

Compete and Absolute failure indicates that the units attacks that round are at -20 and that casualties caused by the enemy unit are applied first, with the possibility that the amount of attacks that the unit can make in reply are reduced.

Predesignated Ranges

Non-mounted units that have had time to "prepare the ground" can be assumed to have set range markers, these significantly aid in the ability of the defending unit to accurately judge ranges. Using such methods provides a variable bonus to the "Holding fire" SM, but only as long as the ranges are within the visual ability of the unit.

Volley Fire

Volley fire can be defined in two ways. Both serve to increase the effectiveness of a missile armed unit past that of the capabilities of an individual with a similar weapon.

"Volley Rotation"

This is the mechanical process of splitting a non-mounted unit into portions (firing ranks) and rotating their activity within the unit; so whilst part are attacking, others are at varying stages of the reloading process. Depending upon the size of unit, it's formation and the weapon used, individuals will be required to change their position (or stance) within the formation so as to facilitate the other members ability to shoot. This could be a matter of physically moving to the back of the formation or crouching down whilst re-loading or other such mechanisms of rotation. This allows the unit to maintain a faster, and in some cases an almost continuous rate of fire. Rules-wise, its use requires identification of the number of ranks in the unit and calculating the resulting effect on the rate of fire of the unit.

Volley Rotation has two disadvantages, firstly, that it is a basically static affair; whilst using it, that unit cannot move nor change facing. Secondly, whilst the overall effect serves to increase the overall rate of fire of the unit, the additional physical movement and timing required by the individual within the unit (change in position/stance within formation) means that the individual loading process may take up to 20% longer than normal. Fortunately, mechanical procedure is enhanced by routine, training and discipline. Units with the "Fill in the Ranks" drill skill, automatically reduces this required time by 5% per rank (Maximum reduction 50%), meaning that in certain cases, reloading becomes significantly faster.

Players whose unit use may choose to treat attacks made with "Volley Rotation" as either independent fire or as a "Massed Volley".

"Massed Volleys"

This type of attack replaces independent "aimed" fire and may only be used by non-mounted units. This represents a volume of shots by a unit into an area rather than at specific individuals. This is especially advantageous with inherently inaccurate weapons, those fired at excessive ranges or beyond the visual ability of the unit. Since the priority for this kind of attack is to simply concentrate on an area, the numbers of attacks made into the area and the density of target units are all crucial in determining the overall effectiveness of the attack.


  1. Target unit can only use DB derived from shields and either that provided by cover or formation.
  2. Substantial bonuses are received against large, dense targets (such as enemy units).
  3. Missile weapons can be used at ranges that exceed their normal ranges.


  1. Critical severities are always reduced by at least one (more at Extreme Ranges).
  2. Unit suffers attack penalty, equal to half the OB dedicated it, or -20, whichever is greater.

Extreme Range

Massed volleys may exceed normal RM missile ranges. However, firing at targets within these extreme ranges also radically effects both the lethality of attack and the damage caused.

"Extreme Range" Damage effects

Missile weapons (including firearms) have several "Extreme Range Categories" which exceed the normal RM ranges. These range categories can only be used when a unit is performing a "Massed volley".

The normal reduction in Critical severity when using a Massed Volley is increased by the Extreme Range Category that the attack occurs in.

E.g., an attack made at a target within Extreme Range Category 2 reduces the critical by a total of three severities. Thus a "C" severity thus reduced would simply cause no casualties.

Effect on Concussion Hits When Using "Massed Volley"

All Concussion Hits caused (even the additional ones due to casualties) are subject to the following cumulative modifiers when using "Massed Volley":

Target is within any of the Extreme range categories x1/2
Target is beyond the visual capability of the firing unit. x1/2
If no criticals were caused by the attack x1/2

"Looping Fire"

When using a "Massed Volley" at Long range or greater, Archers (using Long, Composite or Short bows) or Slingers may also "loop" missiles over intervening troops or barriers. Looping fire is not possible at shorter ranges or with firearms at any range. Using such fire enables ALL suitably armed members of a unit to fire simultaneously in one "Massed volley", including those in the rear ranks, regardless of formation.

Using Massed Volleys and Visual Capability

Whenever a unit makes a "Massed Volley" against a target that is outside of its normal visual capabilities then an additional -20 penalty is applied and any Target Size modifier is halved.

However, the firing unit does not suffer from additional penalties due to darkness or other forms of visual impairment/concealment. e.g. Fog, mist, smoke or"blur" spells etc.

Calculation of Extreme Range Categories.

1. Multiply the weapons current maximum range by 2.5, to get the maximum extreme range.
E.g., this now makes a short bow's Extreme maximum range 600ft.

2. The number of categories is determined by the calculating the distance between medium and long range and then adding equivalent sized categories until the maximum extreme range is reached.
E.g., short bow: 180ft (Medium range), 240 (Long Range) = 60ft increments. So a short bow would have Extreme range categories:

1 241-300
2 301-360
3 361-420
4 421-480
5 481-540
6 541-600

3. The attack penalties are also determined by the increase in penalty between the medium and long range. This penalty is then applied to each of the extreme range categories.
E.g., short bow: 10 ft (+10), 100 ft (+0), 180 ft (-40), 240 ft (-70)

The difference increase in penalty between the last ranges is -30, this makes the penalty -30 per each additional 60ft range category past that. (240-180 = 60ft.)
So the short bow would have the following additional "Extreme range" categories:

EX1 300 ft -100
EX2 360 ft -130
EX3 420 ft -160
EX4 480 ft -190
EX5 540 ft -220
EX6 600 ft -250

Calculation Of Target Size Modifier

Density Rating of Formation x Unit size x Racial Size Modification /20 = Target Size Modifier.

Example: A unit of 300 archers (OB 80 with short bow) fires a massed volley at a unit of 1000 infantry (AT9) in Line Formation 350ft away. The infantry have 50 hits each.

This is outside the normal range of the Short bows, so the only way the unit can attack at that range is with a massed volley. Using a massed volley reduces the units OB to 40.

The range modifiers are -130 (Extreme range 2) and the targets DB 20 for a combined penalty of -190.

However the target's size is 6000, so provides a +120 bonus. Added to the unit's modified OB gives positive modifiers of +300. This gives a net modifier of 110.

The attack results in a 21E result. Because it is volley fire made within the EX2 range category, the critical level is reduced by three levels (to an "B", a 12% chance per attack) and Concussion hits are reduced by half. The target unit suffers (300*0.12 =) 36 casualties.

Concussion hits caused by the attack are (300*21 =2400) + (50 * 36 = 450) = 2850 hits/2 = 1425.

Mounted Missile Fire

Performing missile attacks whilst mounted suffer from many complications and restrictions. Mounted units may not use volley fire, volley rotation or "Hold Fire". In addition, any missile or thrown attack from a mount/vehicle suffers a set ‚euro"20 penalty to the units OB.

Shooting from a moving mount increases the weapons Max% activity required to shoot and load by 10% for each pace the unit is above a walk. (Note that the Warfare Companion uses a Pace called forced march‚euro¶between walk and jog‚euro¶this causes an activity penalty of only 5%)

NB: Missile fire from a mount moving faster than a run is simply not possible.

These penalties to OB are modified by the riding skill of the unit. This is represented by an Equestrian Manoeuvre (or CM:Drive, for vehicles) SM that each such unit is required to make at the beginning of each turn.

Successful checks provide a bonuses which offset the OB penalty, in addition to modifying all that units M/M as normal. A Spectacular or Absolute Failure with this check simply prevents the unit from firing missile weapons at all that turn.

Example: A unit of Nomad mounted archers is firing short-bows whilst their mount is moving at a run. They have +70 OB with their bows and +60 Equestrian Manoeuvre.

In order to make a normal short bow attack the unit must normally devote between 30-60% of their available activity. Choosing to take the minimum activity, this leaves them 70% activity to control their mounts (This gives them +10 to the skill check).

They roll for their Equestrian manoeuvre check : 50 (roll) + 60 (skill) +10 (activity% mod) = 120. A +20 result on the SM table. This reduces the penalty for shooting by 20.

Because their mounts are moving at a run, the maximum %activity required to fire is increased to 80%‚euro¶so they will suffer a penalty of ‚euro"70 to their OB if they only use 30% to attack (Total OB penalty is Max%-Actual% plus an additional ‚euro"20 for being mounted).

So, the attacks would be 70 (OB)- 70 (mounted penalty) + 20 (Equestrian M bonus) = +20