I have a world in which one side of a conflict has access to a sort of magical musket. These muskets are modeled on muskets in the time period when Europe was first colonizing the Americas. I describe them in more detail here.

The important part for this question is that they are about as effective as real muskets were, but they don't have to be reloaded. Instead they recharge slowly after a fire, taking about as long to charge as it would take a musketman to reload them, but without the gunman needing to go through the steps to reload.

The side using these muskets will have a very small standing military, along with a number of small lesser trained militias stationed in every major town. They will have to depend on these smaller militias and novice conscripts quickly trained in basic combat to expand their military when invaded.

Militia men are mostly trained to drive off monsters, not fight soldiers in war. Monsters are strong and common in this world, but are usually disinclined to come too close to human settlements. Militia's men usual job is to line up at a distance and take potshots at monsters (their accuracy is bad, but they can afford to shoot many times until they hit), which hurt but don't do serious damage to the monster, in hopes of hurting it enough to run it off before it gets closer. These militia men don't often expect to face real combat, against soldiers or monsters, just to scare off foes disinclined to come closer anyways.

For this question I'm trying to figure out how difficult it will be for these less trained recruits to use their weapons, and how big the difference between a raw recruit and a fully trained soldier in terms of combat effectiveness. As such I have a few closely related questions:

  1. How long would it take to train an untrained conscript to minimum basic effectiveness to be useful in an army (especially a very small one)?

  2. How effective would such a conscript be relative to a fully trained soldier?

  3. How effective would a partially trained militia man be compared to either a new conscript or a fully trained soldier?

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    $\begingroup$ Something you might want to consider (or perhaps you already have) is just how fast your magic musket recharges. You have stated it's similar to a normal musket reload time, but that time varies wildly. For example, I used to shoot a muzzle loading rifle for sport. I was never expert, but at my best I could do around two aimed shots per minute (target shooting conditions mind). Smoothbore muskets are somewhat quicker to load, an experienced shot might make 3 rounds per minute, an expert perhaps 4 or even 5 with a percussion lock weapon. Does your magic reload like a novice, or an expert? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ The magic muskets are a definite advantage. A single person could have say half a dozen of them and just round robin them - because the don't have to reload they can be shooting the next one in line while the others reload themselves. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JerryJeremiah I didn't meniton it in this question, but that issue was already brought up in earlier questions and I've modified the rifles accordingly. They only charge when a man is holding them and channeling magical energy into them, meaning only one musket can be recharged at a time. There is also a limit to rate the rifles can be made so arming recruits with multuple is generally not worth it vs recruiting more men and arming each with one. I may even say that riffles loose a charge if not held by a soldier to fully prevent this tactic, but haven't decided yet. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 15:50

3 Answers 3

  1. How long would it take to train an untrianed conscript to minimum basic effectivness to be useful in an army (especially a very small one)?

The Marine Corps Weapons Qualification Course takes about 3 weeks to fully complete (or 120 hours of instruction, give or take). Given that modern rifles are somewhat similar to your magic rifle - in that semi-auto rifles can be fired without immediately reloading them - you have a similar series of objectives that a well-trained soldier would need to know before they become "effective."

With that in mind, we could probably cut down on some things in your case. Since the muskets are magical, they probably don't need to do as much weapon maintenance training. Sighting at long distances is a skill we don't need as well. I'd say that probably cuts the requisite training by as much as 1/3, down to 80 hours, to full effectiveness.

A minimally effective musket soldier would only need to know how to aim and fire, and what to do under certain orders. I'd say if you want someone really competent and experienced enough to do that, without any ancillary training, it will be at least 24 hours of training and at most five days.

2. How effective would such a conscript be relative to a fully trained soldier?

Obviously, a fully trained and experienced solider would be far away more successful in a skirmish with a minimally-trained one. You could just about take it to percentages. A well-trained soldier will succeed against a lacking conscript almost 80% of the time, allowing for equipment failures and generally bad circumstances for the former. At range, the better training will mean picking better cover and having better aim. Also, better training means more efficient maneuvering and smarter combat practices. All these add up to a serious edge for better training.

In a mixed unit, however, tactics tend to better decide which squad or battalion will win an engagement.

3. How effective would a partially trained militia man be compared to either a new conscript or a fully trained soldier?

It would be fair to say they are probably about equidistant from each other in terms of success rate based on the issues mentioned in the above question. The militia force will have an effectiveness up to 63% against the conscript, and the soldier will be up to 63% effective against the militia-man. (Consider that 50% would indicate equal effectiveness between two units)

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer, but I still have to nitpick your descrepency because I feel like a math nazi today. you stated that solder has a 70 advantage over militia who has a 70% advantage over conscripts. winning 70% of the time means the soldier is roughly 1.4 times as effective (the difference between 70% and 50% win chance). so a soldier is 1.4 times as good as a militia who is 1.4 times as good as conscript that means a soldier is 1.4 *1.4 = 1.96 times as effective as a conscript, ie he would win 98% of the time aginst conscripts. that's different then your earlier statement of 80% win chance. :P $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen 67% makes it come out to the right number I think. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks dsolIen. I have edited the answer to include the appropriate figures. Thanks to Jerry for the assistance as well. $\endgroup$
    – Tmartin
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 16:48

Black powder

From this article on the Arquebus:

To avoid accidentally igniting the gunpowder the match had to be detached while loading the gun. In some instances the match would also go out, so both ends of the match were kept lit. This proved cumbersome to maneuver as both hands were required to hold the match during removal, one end in each hand. The procedure was so complex that a 1607 drill manual published by Jacob de Gheyn in the Netherlands listed 28 steps just to fire and load the gun. In 1584 the Ming general Qi Jiguang composed an 11 step song to practice the procedure in rhythm: "One, clean the gun. Two pour the powder. Three tamp the powder down. Four drop the pellet. Five drive the pellet down. Six put in paper (stopper). Seven drive the paper down. Eight open the flashpan cover. Nine pour in the flash powder. Ten close the flashpan, and clamp the fuse. Eleven, listen for the signal, then open the flashpan cover. Aiming at the enemy, raise your gun and fire." Reloading a gun during the 16th century took anywhere from between 20 seconds to a minute under the most ideal conditions.

(emphasis added)

So your black-powder process breaks down to this:

  1. Clean the gun
  2. Measure and pour powder
  3. tamp powder with rod
  4. drop lead shot
  5. tamp shot with rod
  6. paper (cloth) wadding
  7. drive wadding
  8. open flashpan
  9. measure and pour flash powder
  10. close flash pan, clamp fuse
  11. open the flashpan and await signal (aim)
  12. Fire.

That entire process must be perfect. Every time. Skip a step and you've fouled your weapon. Too much powder, it explodes. Too little powder, you miss your target. Skip the wadding, the bullet falls out. Too much flash powder, it explodes in your face. Too little, misfire. Drop anything? Bend over and get it, but don't foul the shooters to your left or right. Don't forget to take the rod out of the gun before you fire -- stories indicate US Civil War soldiers sometimes shot their tamping rod at the enemy.

All this while in the middle of a war, with enemies shooting at you and friends shooting around you.


  1. Wait for charge time.
  2. Await signal (aim) (in parallel with 1)
  3. Fire

You literally have basically 3 things to worry about. Is the weapon charged? Have I gotten the signal to fire? Am I pointed downrange at the enemy?


The learning curve here is more about safety than technique. Don't point it at your friends or your face. Wait for the "light to turn green" or whatever your weapon's indicator is for ready-to-fire mode. Then shoot. Then repeat.

Historically, training someone to reload an arquebus quickly took months. (granted, that's not just weapons training.)

I could train my 9-year-old daughter to accurately, quickly, fire your magical weapon in an hour. A soldier would take longer, to prepare them for combat conditions, to maintain weapon safety, etc. But basically it's "point the pointy-end that way. Push that button. Good. You're qualified."

Yeah, there's an advantage. To put it mildly.

You would still need to train them for the rest of military service. How to march. How to respond without thought to orders. Drill signals, etc. But weapons training portion? Easy.

How much would this reduce overall training time? Hard to say... I can't find any reliable documentation that breaks down training into various skills for the time you're talking about.

But given that the goal was to make loading a weapon "muscle memory" that they could do without thought, this process would be faster and less prone to error. So you could focus more on other skills the troops need. It should reduce overall training time by some measure, though.

Soldiers, especially rookie soldiers, would be less prone to stupid mistakes in their first battle(s) as well.


These muskets are modeled on muskets in the time period when Europe was first colonizing the Americas.

They were terribly inaccurate. The Spanish won many battles to the Aztecs just by forming a steel wall with their shields (rodelas) and their swords and pikes (sawn off to the middle because they were too long) and let their arquebusiers fire a barrage of fire at distances of 15 meters.

Your militia should train to shoot in three lines. One, shoots on their knees, one standing and one behind. When the kneeling line fires, it goes to the back, the standing line fires ten second later and kneels and the back line becomes the standing one. Rinse and repeat.

This is a very effective way of killing enemies at close distances. You don't need accuracy, because your soldiers shoot so many bullets that they would kill anything in from of them. Every ten seconds one line fires, even when they have weapons that take minutes to load.

Discipline is the key element to distinguish a levied soldier and a trained mercenary like the ones that fought in the wars of the 16th-17th centuries. They say that with 10% of casualties you can cause a rout on the other army. Your generals need to train the militia so they don't run at the first cavalry charge or at the first discharge of a volley of arrows. Also they need to train so they move like one man, each line advancing and going back at the same time. With the smoke, the noise and a long line, your soldiers can't hear distant orders, so they have to train a lot to move with precision.

Good morale can outweigh insuficient training. If your milita is confident on their weapons, on winning the battle, even if one line falls after a vicious attacke, the next one will keep on fighting.

The Battle of Camden in The Patriot is a good scene. The British soldiers keep walking at a steady pace even when they are shot at and some of them fall dead until they get to the perfect distance and they unleash hell, causing a rout in the Rebel forces.

  • $\begingroup$ Moving to the back is only releveant if you need to recharge your weapon, which is not requried here. It would probably be better to just keep everybody lying down on the ground, so as to make them a smaller target. Better still, hide behind trees, rocks, houses and whatnot. $\endgroup$
    – Clearer
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Clearer True, but the lines were several men deep. The ones in the fourth and five row couldn't shot. If reloading takes minutes (even if it is done by magic), clearing the front line gives line of sight to the next shoters. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 13:29

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