Musing on Polish Winged Hussars in Tilly’s Very Bad Day

After a bit of Spitballing on Eastern Armies in Tilly’s Very Bad Day I decided that the rules as they stand do not simulate Polish Winged Hussars adequately. So here is my current thinking.

Polish Winged Hussars

I talked about the Hussars in the Army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th Century. Hussars were the Polish heavy cavalry (Brzezinski, 1987, 2006). They were bristling with weapons: lance, pistol and two swords. The lance was long, light weight, and deliberately brittle so it shattered on impact. However, the baggage train included spare lances and one of the swords was a long pointy thing used as a back up, but admittedly short, lance (the other sword was for close combat). Some Hussars had a carbine as well. Front ranks were all armoured (3/4 armour like cuirassiers) and rear ranks were mostly armoured.

Winged Hussar 1697 - Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Winged Hussar 1697 – Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Source: Dariusz caballeros: Winged Hussar companion – circa 1697

The Poles had other classes of cavalry: medium and light (Brzezinski, 1987). Light cavalry were intended to skirmish whether Cossack, Tatar or Wallachian. Medium cavalry could either charge or skirmish. Most medium cavalry were the Cossack pancerni and Lithuanian petyhorcy. However, the Poles lumped western cavalry – whether Cuirassiers, Arquesbusiers or Swedish style riders (Rajtar) – into this medium category. Aside from the Rajtar the medium cavalry were armoured, the pancerni and petyhorcy in mail and the cuirassiers and arquebusiers in plate (3/4 plate and back n breast respectively).

But the Polish Hussars were different. They had one and only one purpose in battle – to charge and break the enemy (Brzezinski, 1987, 2006). They were shock troops.

The proportion of hussars declined over time. This was largely because they were expensive (Brzezinski, 2006). The men were not particularly expensive, but the horses were. Each hussar had to have up to five horses, all of a superb, but expensive quality. The Cossack pancerni, for example, got by with fewer and cheaper horses.

Note: there are other types of Hussars, e.g. Hungarian Hussars, but the Light Cavalry troop type models them adequately.

Hussar Troop Type

My starting point was Horse. But I’m now tempted by a new troop type called “Lancer”. There are, so far, no other Lancers in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Just Horse and Light Horse. Having a lance as a weapon does not make a lancer. A Cossack armed with a lance, whether pancerni or light cavalry, is still expected to skirmish so is either Horse or Light Horse. Lancers, the troop type, should specialise in charging. Lancers would have all the characteristics of Horse, except they cannot shoot (see below) and melee better when charging (see below).

Hussar Troop Quality

From the Tilly’s Very Bad Day rules:

Superior units were viewed by both themselves and their contemporaries as significantly better quality than others of their troop type e.g. veteran Spanish tercios, veteran German Cuirassiers, and the Swedish Yellow brigade. Being superior is about attitude not equipment. However some superior units would also have had better quality arms and armour than their counterparts.

Well, if Polish Hussars are Horse, that definition definitely applies to them. So by default Polish Hussars would be Horse Superior.

But if I go for a Lancer troop type it is not so obvious. There are currently no other lancers. That would make them Lancer Ordinary. Doesn’t seem right. I’m tempted by Lancer Superior, relative to the other heavy cavalry of the period if not to other lancers.

Hussar movement

Probably like Horse with all the advantages and disadvantages.

Hussar shooting

Polish Hussars cannot shoot, ever. Which is why I’m veering away from Horse as a troop type.

Technically Hussars were equipped to shoot as they all had pistols and some had a carbine as well. But the thing is, they didn’t. The Poles had another troop type that focussed on skirmishing: light cavalry. The Poles also had a class of medium cavalry that could either charge or skirmish e.g.the Cossack pancerni. But the Hussars were different. They had one and only one purpose in battle, to charge and break the enemy.

Hussars in melee

Melee is where Polish Hussars did their thing.

Option: Horse Superior

My starting point, in Tilly’s Very Bad Day, was to treat the Polish Hussars as Horse Superior. To quote myself when Musing on Types of Horse in Tilly’s Very Bad Day:

Steven wrote:

What about Lancers

Some armies featured lancers. In the Spanish and Imperial service the guard companies retained lance throughout the war. I see no need to simulate these in a game focussed on brigades.

More eastern armies, e.g. Polish, continued to rely on the lance. But I think the generic rules for horse cater for these without modification. It might be that Polish Winged Hussars have a preference for charging. That is up to the player.

That would give Hussars 4d6 (Superior) charging at full strength and hitting on 4-6. This is fairly potent.

Generally I allow players to choose whether their Horse skirmish (Shoot and so not Charge) or charge (Charge to Melee). Western horse was equipped for both, having both pistols/carbines and sword. The more heavily armoured cuirassiers where expected to charge, but some didn’t and shot instead. The more lightly armoured arquebusiers were expected to shoot in support, but some charged. So Tilly’s Very Bad Day treats all Horse the same and lets them either shoot or charge.

That is the problem with using Horse to simulate Hussars. They didn’t skirmish. They didn’t shoot. So the Horse troop type isn’t a great starting point.

I’m also conscious that as Horse Superior both French Gendarmes or German Cuirassiers would be the same as Hussars in melee. It seems to me Polish Hussars were different, better. Certainly the Poles, and others, viewed Polish Hussars as superior to Cuirassiers in the Foreign section of the army. So I think I need something else.

Option: Lancers Troop Type + Lance bonus dice

I mentioned above about introducing Lancer as a new troop type for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. They have all the characteristics of Horse, except they cannot shoot (see above) and, in this option, they roll more dice when charging.

I was thinking +1d6 when charging. That would give Hussars 5d6 (Superior + Lance) charging at full strength and hitting on 4-6. Very potent.

Larry (private conversation) suggested 2d6 but only for the first round of melee. After the first round of melee they lose the 2d6 lance bonus, “because if they did it right, the lances are all broken!”

So there are some sub-options / choices in here: 1d6 or 2d6 for lances? First melee or first charge? First melee/charge or every melee/charge?

Larry is right to point out that Polish Hussar lances were deliberately constructed to shatter on impact. However, they did have spares on the battle field and could re-equip (I’m not sure I’d simulate that specifically). The Hussars also carried a long sword which was only used as a back up lance. So there is an argument for “every” charge.

If I went for first charge/melee, I’d go first charge rather than first melee, after all they might be caught at the halt. It also raises the question of how to track first charge/melee? Memory can fail, which is why I use markers a lot. So there could be a “Lance” marker next to every Hussar unit which is removed after the first charge/melee. But the even better solution is to duplicate the Hussars, with lances, with melee weapons. Old Glory 15s have packs exactly for that use case. 😉

For myself I think I’d start with 1d6 charge bonus for Lancers and see how it goes. I guess if I did go for 2d6 lance bonus there would be more incentive to also go for first charge/melee.

Option: Lancers Troop Type + Lance To Hit

This option, once again, introduces Lancers as a new troop type for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. But instead of the lance bonus dice they hit on 3-6 every time Horse would hit on 4-6 i.e. when charging except front of Pike+Shot. Wow, that would brutal.

Nominal unit size for Hussars

In Tilly’s Very Bad Day the nominal unit size depends on the unit type:

A unit is nominally a brigade of about 1-2,000 Pike+Shot, Shot or Rabble. Horse, Dragoons and Light Horse have half that number. Cannon have a few hundred men to man about 8-16 guns. Commanders represent a handful of men.

At the smallest game scale the nominal unit size is: 1000 for Pike+Shot, Shot, and Rabble; 500 for Horse, Dragoons and Light Horse; 8 guns for Cannon.

Hussars could follow Horse for nominal unit size. That would be 500-1,000 men.

But there is an argument to reduce the nominal unit size for the Hussars from 500-1,000 to 300-600. I have several reasons for this. The Hussars are always Superior and had more impact than their numbers warranted. Hussars deployed in a remarkably thin formation relative to other categories of cavalry. And there was a pattern of tiny Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth armies beating much larger Swedish armies, so pragmatically they need more units on table to have a chance.

Note on Dummy Lancers

At the Battle of Kircholm (27 Sep 1605) the Polish-Lithuanians deployed dummy hussars, camp followers on horses with lances. I assume, because these were horseboys and grooms, they are competent horsemen, but certainly not the quality of Hussars. What ever rule I land on, these guys are probably Inferior, so Horse Inferior or Lancer Inferior. If you are feeling particularly mean, and I’m tempted myself, you could make them Rabble.


Well, I know Hussars should behave differently to horse, but I’m not yet quite sure how.

I guess I favour: (1) new Lancer troop type; (2) Lancer Superior; (3) Move like Horse; (4) no shooting; (5) +1d6 when charging (every charge); (6) smaller nominal unit size (3-600).

What do you think?

Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF).


Brzezinski, R. (1987). Polish Armies 1569-1696 (1) [Men-at-Arms 184]. Osprey.

Brzezinski, R. (1988). Polish Armies 1569-1696 (2) [Men-at-Arms 188]. Osprey.

Brzezinski, R. (2006). Polish Winged Hussar 1576-1775 [Warrior 94]. Osprey.

Gush, G. (1975). The Polish. Renaissance Armies 1480-1650, p. 61-67. Patrick Stephens.

Jasinski: Polish Renaissance Warfare 1450 to 1699

11 thoughts on “Musing on Polish Winged Hussars in Tilly’s Very Bad Day”

  1. Hi, I would consider implementing for the polish ‘husaria’ that there is additional forced forward movement after a successful charge, it took quite some time for them to slow down after a charge – if you can do it without complicating the rules too much.

  2. To complicate further 😁: However if they did not break the enemy ranks – they were able to charge again quite fast (withdrawal & regroup was trained as a manoeuvre). At Kluszyn (1610 against the Russians & Swedes) the Husaria charged 10 times.

  3. The long sword was a called a panzerstecher. I don’t know the Polish word, it had a hardened point for armor penetration..
    I think that if that or the lance was successful in the initial charge it would be useless thereafter,
    especially to fence with. Except in pursuit.
    Maybe time for a ride back to the baggage train or just carry on with what weapons left.
    Anyhow, pluses for lance on first contact only.

  4. Actually there were 2 types of sword a long heavy “Koncerz” up to 1.5 m !) and regular “Szabla”. You are absolutely correct about the lances, they were light & hollowed out and only used in the initial attack.

  5. Nobody has mentioned that Polish horseflesh was probably the best in Europe at the time, and they were not for sale.Charging 10 times! Thank the horse.

  6. As far as followup goes after a charge, I’ve made my Royalist horse followup 3 tum if they win the melee and route opponents. This tends to get them into some sticky situations. It tends to make them the one trick pony that they were historically. Something like that should work for the Hussars.

  7. So I did some math…
    Following table shows chance of different units (left column) with full resolve routing different units (upper line) with full resolve within single charge to front, without any additional modifiers (support, charging uphill etc.). Simply put – what is the chance, that my unit with full resolve will charge enemy unit to front with full resolve and kill it within single meele.
    (there might be some errors in the numbers, as it is a long time since I finished school, although the results seem to make sense)

    Ordinary Horse Superior Horse/Shot Ordinary Pike+Shot
    Ordinary Horse 12,50% 0% 0%
    Superior Horse 31,25% 6,25% 1,23%
    Ordinary Pike+Shot 6,17% 1,23% 1,23%

    Superior Lancers
    (3+, no additional dice) 59,26% 19,75% 1,23%
    Superior Lancers
    (4+, 1 additional die) 50,00% 18,75% 2,47%
    Superior Lancers
    (3+, 1 additional die) 79,01% (sic!) 46,09% 2,47%

    Ordinary Lancers
    (3+, no additional dice) 50% 0% 0%
    Ordinary Lancers
    (4+, 1 additional die) 31,25% 6,25% 1,23%
    Ordinary Lancers
    (3+, 1 additional die) 59,26% 19,75% 1,23%

    As you can see, the only unit, that stands fair chance against lancers is pike+shot as the enemy has only 5+ chance for hit when charging to-front. Otherwise it is would be massacre. Ordinary horse has minimal chance of survival when being charged by superior lancers, only about 20% if we consider the most brutal version of this new unit. Not sure if that is a good thing for balanced games. The results are generaly what I feared – lancers are many times more effective against enemy horse than other units. The table doesn’t of course take into account the causalties lancers would suffer in such fight and it doesn’t mean they are invincible in combat. I just wanted to point out, that you would probably have to sacrifice at least two units of horse to kill one unit of lancers.
    The other thing to notice here is that additional die is slightly less effective than higher hit chance. The difference is smaller with larger resolve units, just as the difference when compared to combination of both options.

    My personal opinion based on the data presented here, is that Hussars might be a little bit too overpowered, especially when in large numbers. Based on the draft army list the Polish player can have up to about one third of his army consisting of hussars. Up to 6 units in small game, 12 in large one. In battle with 24 units as limit Hussars might even form majority over other combat units! And having so many units as superior and with such bonuses might prove frustrating to fight against. So I would probably make them Ordinary or reduce the maximum number of Hussars in the army, for sake of balanced gameplay.

    This is also related with the nominal unit size. I understand, that Hussars were deployed in smaller units than other horse, but having too many of them on battlefield might make historical scenarios unbalanced, unless playing against larger force. I would thus be very careful when considering reducing Hussar nominal unit size compared to other Horse.

    Last thing I wanted to point out is that the only way, how to stand chance against Hussars, or other lancers, is having LOT of pike and shot, as horse is nearly useless against them and dies too quickly.

    • Thanks Petr. That is a brilliant piece of analysis. Thanks for putting your time and energy into this. Now I’ll have to think about it.

    • I think these are the most interesting options to compare …

      Attacking Unit Ordinary Horse Superior Horse/Shot Ordinary Pike+Shot

      Ordinary Horse 12,50% 0% 0%

      Superior Horse 31,25% 6,25% 1,23%

      Ordinary Lancers
      (4+, 1 additional die) 31,25% 6,25% 1,23%

      Superior Lancers
      (4+, 1 additional die) 50,00% 18,75% 2,47%


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