Building the Auldearn Scenario: A Shot in the Dark

The header photo shows in the distance the meager Royalist forces defending the village of Auldearn.

During Hurry’s night march to Auldearn it had, according to Ruthven, rained the entire time. Near dawn, when the  Covenanter’s were four or five miles from Auldearn, they decided to fresh charge their muskets. The concern was that the powder charges might have become damp and would fail to fire.

Unloading a black powder musket is a bit of a pain. I have done it a few times* and it requires using a “worm” (basically either a steel corkscrew-like device or one with sharp, curving tines). The worm is a fixed to a rod (usually the ramrod) and placed down the barrel to bite into the soft lead ball resting on top of the charge at the bottom of the musket barrel. Once you have a good grip on the ball (and it might take several attempts) it can be slowly drawn out (the term is, “drawing the shot”). Normally you need to do this when repeated attempts to touch off the main charge have failed.

Ruthven mentions that it would have taken too long to draw the shot so the Covenanters fired off their muskets (although, logically, those that failed to fire would still have to be drawn if they wanted to be used in the coming battle). To muffle the sound they turned toward the seaside to fire (the mention of seaside suggests to me that they approached through Nairn).  A few Royalist scouts heard the firing and were able to raise the alarm. A shot in the dark prevented complete tactical surprise.

To give a greater sense of the confusion on the part of the Royalists portrayed in Ruthven’s account I decided to allow for a game option that breaks Minimore’s regiment into two smaller elements:


William Gordon of Mimimore’s Strathaven Regiment in a standard musket & pike configuration.


Minimore’s configured as two separate units, a small pure pike and a small commanded shot.

The Covenanter deployment is the same as the Gardiner Gambit but the Royalists are thinner and placed closer to Auldearn.

Auldearn Shot in Dark

The deployment map shows the initial positions for both sides at Auldearn. It illustrates the two unit option for Minimore’s. If the single unit option is used, Minimore’s musket & pike regiment should be placed where Minimore’s pikes are indicated (C10). The overall Orders of Battle for both sides is the same as the Gardiner Gambit.

Special Scenario Rules for this Variant

The Covenanter Focus on the Center.
As with the other variants thus far, Hurry is focused on what appears to be the center of the Royalist line (perhaps because Montrose had placed the Royal standard there or maybe he could simply see enemy activity in that quarter). To again simulate this focus, the Covenanter army is limited to rows D through G until at least one of their units is east of the marsh squares in Column 8. Additionally, they may not change face to either flank until a Royalist unit appears on a north or south table edge (to be able to turn toward both flanks an enemy unit must have appeared on both edges). The remaining Covenanter forces come on in boxes 1D, 1E and 1G, in any order, when those boxes become vacant.

Royalist Re-enforcements
The dirty weather had caused the Royalists to disperse around the area of Auldearn to find dry shelter. They had chased Hurry’s army toward Inverness the day before and assumed he would spend the night (at least) there. His sudden approach in the early morning meant that everyone had to be quickly turned out, organized and marched back into Auldearn. The only troops initially in the village were elements of the Gordon and Irish Infantry with MacColla.

At the beginning of the Royalist phase in turn four (and each subsequent turn), the player draws from the twelve court card deck for reinforcements. This represents the frantic and piecemeal concentration of forces as they are assembled and marched forward. The order of arrival roughly follows Ruthven’s battle description (although the deployment and timing of the conjectured Irish reserve is problematic).

Any Jack – nothing enters this turn

First to arrive, Laghtnan’s Commanded Shot
Q♠️-C12, Q♣️-D12, K♠️-A11, K♣️-A10, Q♥️-E12, Q♦️-F12, K♥️-X11, Q♦️-X10

Second, MacDonnell’s Commanded Shot
Q♠️-C12, Q♣️-D12, K♠️-A11, K♣️-A10, Q♥️-E12, Q♦️-F12, K♥️-X11, Q♦️-X10

Third, Aboyne’s Horse
Black Queen – B12, Black King – A11, Red Queen – A8, Red King – A5

Fourth, Strathbogie Foot and Montrose
Black Queen – D12, Black King – B12, Red Queen – E12, Red King – G12

Last, Lord Gordon’s Horse and Lord Gordon
Black Queen – H12, Black King – X11, Red Queen – X8, Red King – X5

Victory Conditions
All scenario variants will have the same victory conditions:
1) If the Covenanter player holds either the Auldearn Kirk square (C11) or any two of the three Auldearn village squares (D11, E12, F11) at the end of any turn, it is a Covenanter victory.
2) Either side may win on points in the usual manner (the Royalists break on giving up their 13th victory point, the Covenanters break on losing their 18th)

The game ends at the end of turn 16.
If the Royalists avoid the Covenanter victory conditions it is a Royalist victory.


The Covenanter army (in the foreground) approaches Auldearn. The intervening rising ground between the Covenanters and the village is Garlic Hill.

* My experience is with British and French 18th c. muskets but the process was substantially the same throughout the muzzleloader period.

2 thoughts on “Building the Auldearn Scenario: A Shot in the Dark

  1. Pingback: Playing A Shot in the Dark | In Red-coat Rags Attired

  2. I enjoyed learning about muzzleloading issues. Another area of expertise I didn’t know you had. I probably should have known. I’m again aware how little I know about gaming by your explanation in symbols. I was impressed by the detailed setup map. No wonder you are so busy with your gaming. Everything you do is done is such depth.


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