Saturday, 30 May 2020

St Cuthbert's Finger - Part 2 of 3

And so on to the battle. 

If you recall from the last post, Jarl Gundersson needed to locate the treasure concealed in the Abbey and then get it off the board (and back to his boats) via either the ford or the bridge shown below. Achieving this simple task guarantees the Vikings an automatic win. Gundersson's opponent, Aethelwulf needs to either block the crossings over the stream to prevent the Vikings passage or make contact with any unit carrying away treasure in order to take it back - which will be counted as a win for the Saxons. 

I'd already decided on the make up of the gaming area, which was crafted to fit the narrative in my previous post, but I noted that DB allows sea raider armies to choose and deploy one piece of terrain, so I allowed them to add to what was already on the board. 

The Current Mrs Broom (standing in for the Jarl) chose an impassable hedge line that was duly placed along a vulnerable open section of the road.

Dark age Northumbria. A pretty empty place by the looks of things!

Although I had already committed to the Saxon force's composition and additional traits (monks) in my previous post I deliberately didn't determine anything else until setting up the board. 

After a series of 1D6 and 1D10 rolls my Automatic Opponent (AO) revealed that the Viking forces overall posture would be "aggressive" and that the 2 strongest units (usually the companions and a noble base of some sort) must be placed behind the main line. The aggressive posture meant that the Vikings are not able to use any of their army's Leadership Points to cancel out or "save" hits scored on their units, while a cautious posture would have prevented them from boosting attacks with available LP's.

Randomly choosing from 1 of 10 pre constructed armies the Vikings ended up with this lot:

1 x Companion (including Erik Gundersson and Bjorn)
2 x Noble warrior
4 x Ordinary warrior
1 x Skirmishers (Javelin)
1 x Skirmishers (Bow)

This army came with an associated trait of Champions Challenge, of which more later.

The Vikings can not be sure at this point which board edge the Saxons will be coming on from so their set up strategy was to cover all the likely approaches and stall for time while they ransack the abbey. 

There should have been two strong units behind the lines but I forgot and only placed Jarl Gundersson (with the raven banner) there. Oops!

The two units to either side of the Abbey will be detaching men to search for treasure, the number of cohesion points they sacrifice to do this will be a permanent loss but the more they commit the more dice they get to roll for looting.

The final part of the pre game set up was to find out which board edge the saxons would arrive on by throwing 1D6.

Saxon deployment via board edges 1 - 6

A 1 or a 6 would have been ideal but once again the dice gods spat in my eye. The Current Mrs Broom rolled for me and produced a 5. 


I'm pretty sure such a crappy roll would constitute reasonable grounds for a divorce, but I'm not going to let her get off that easy!

Aethelwulf and his boys turn up on board edge 5.

I made a number of minor changes and tweaks to the standard DB rules which had been settled on prior to the game and which I'll list briefly below.

Mounted riders: Now as my regular reader will know I have been a strong advocate for the use of Saxon cavalry and can provide fairly reasonable back up for its use in battle. That said, the literary evidence mostly points to their use in swift operations against a weak or weakened foe (raids, scouting, pursuit) and not in stand up battle where the prevailing heroic warrior culture would advocate dismounting to prove your heroism - by fighting on foot in the thick of things. 

With this in mind my mounted units are not allowed to attack any enemy with a cohesion value greater than 2 (limiting them to combat with skirmishers or severely mauled units) though they may fight back in melee if they become engaged by an enemy with a stronger cohesion level than that. In addition the "dismount" trait which would normally have to be paid for out of the points needed to build an army has been abandoned, replaced with a rule allowing a full strength mounted unit to dismount when in base to base contact with a friendly foot unit in need of reinforcement. Once in contact the riders are removed from the board (their absence does not affect morale or army break points) and for the cost of 1LP two extra cohesion points are added to the "reinforced" recipient. Obviously the reinforced unit may not have its cohesion boosted to a level higher than it enjoyed at game start.

The turn order: I have previously documented my angst over issues with DB's handling of skirmishers. To this end I have stopped missile fire from being simultaneous, changed the turn order so that skirmishers from both sides go last, and given two options to enable skirmishers to avoid being easily overrun (usage will be highlighted in the game).

Cancelling hits: From previous play testing I'd come to the conclusion that allowing any number of the 3 Leadership Points available to a unit to be used to cancel out hits was seriously over powered, at least as far as shield wall units were concerned. On that basis I've only allowed 1 LP to be used in this fashion - per combat.

Uncontrolled charges: This was one of the aspects of DB that I really liked, though my play testing issues with its usage have led to a number of changes. Firstly an uncontrolled charge can be cancelled by the simple expenditure of an LP rather than taking a bravery test. (For none DB players a failed bravery test stops the unit from charging but also prevents them from doing anything else that turn). Secondly the compulsion to make an uncontrolled charge is removed for warriors that have already been in melee combat. A slight side advantage to this change is that Warrior units lucky enough to be expelled from a melee before destruction are not now automatically compelled to rush back into it next turn.

Rally: Not in the original rules at all. Any unit / base may attempt to rally back a small proportion of its fighting strength so long as it is not in combat or under missile fire. For a punitive 3 LP cost they may rally back 1 point of cohesion. Apart from the proviso that the unit / base can never recover its full strength I have applied no further restriction. Given the cost of such an action I can't see its use being repeated often.

Okay, enough already - on with the game!

On the way to the abbey Jarl Erik "the bold" Gundersson's men had found a peasant sleeping in a hut. A trader in the Viking's employ managed to conduct an "interview" of sorts with the man but the news he gleaned (after applying a degree of physical inducement) was worrying. Even after the trader's best efforts the peasant continued to insist that there was "no great treasure" to be found anywhere nearby. A rattled Erik called for the Godi* and after a hurried discussion they both agreed that the sensible thing would be to immediately offer a blood sacrifice to the God's to secure success. Fortunately for them the peasant was still sort of alive, which was handy.

All these goings on meant that Erik, the leader of the entire expedition, was late to arrive at the abbey. Heading for the sound of wanton destruction he and his entourage crossed the bridge over a narrow fast flowing stream and sent runners ahead to find out what Jarl Ulm and his men had turned up so far. 

They found the army had been deployed in a large crescent, covering all avenues of approach but no scouts had been despatched since resistance was expected to be minimal. It had been a hot day and a long march so while the chaotic clatter of destruction continued to emanate from the building, the bulk of the warriors outside discarded their war gear and lay around in the long grass playing dice.

Pacing up and down, irritated by the lack of news, Erik had resolved to go and start searching for the treasure himself when he noticed men getting to their feet and shading their eyes as they looked to the north west. Their sudden hurry to shuck on byrnies** and grab up weapons told him all he needed to know and he changed direction to find out what sort of pathetic resistance to his expedition had just turned up. Pushing his way to the front of the throng he had a bit of a surprise. 

From out of the woods to the north, a group of men had gathered beneath a big green banner. As they began to head his way they were joined by more; many, many more, sunlight glinting off armour and the diamond heads of their spears. Unnervingly they made little sound as they approached and the men around Erik began to appear restive. The Jarl raised his hand to still them while he did his best to weigh up the oncoming threat.

The newcomers slowed and spread out to left and right as a commanding voice called out, "An cumbrol swithren & winstren filciath! 

Merely 300 paces apart the two lines stood glowering at each other over the rims of their shields.

Erik could see his opponents were mostly peasants who he suspected were untried in battle. Perhaps if he could stall them for long enough he could retire his men in good order along with the fabulous wealth about to be acquired from the abbey?

Quickly he summoned the trader and sent him towards the interlopers with a message. If they would agree to pay a sum for peace he would withdraw and leave them be, but if battle was what they sought then in order to spare the lives of many he would be happy to settle the matter in a fight between the two sides respective champions.

Okay, as usual I'm going to add a few explanatory notes about the game mechanics and such. When I randomly selected the Viking army from nine other pre designed ones, the one I chose had the champions challenge trait assigned to it. Before any combat occurs this allows the trait owner to challenge his opponent to "duke it out - mano a mano". 

In a game where the number of leadership points you have is as important as how you spend them this is a risky but potentially worthwhile strategy to employ. With an initial six LP's each the Saxon's went on to add an additional two through acquiring a bunch of preachy monks as their army trait. 

In a straight, highest dice score wins roll off, with no mods, the loser of the challenge has to give up up one Leadership Point for the rest of the game. Taking the view that it might help to nullify the Saxon advantage a little I opted to give it a go.

After a lot of shouting across the gap between the two armies the battle of champions was seemingly agreed upon. The Saxon's choice was a huge haystack of a man, clad head to toe in mail, who strode out in front of his army expertly slashing a sword from left to right in some sort of exaggerated warm up display. The Saxon ranks proved unable to contain themselves at the sight of such prowess and let rip with a full throated roar of approval, followed by a chant that we might consider to be the dark age equivalent of "your goin' 'ome in a f u r k i n' ambulance."

The trader, who'd heard many of these people's stories over the years, returned to Erik to confirm the arrangement but also, given the size of the Saxon brute, a suggestion that might "mess with his opponents heads".***

Erik loved it. 

Thorvald the short was summoned. A diminutive figure who was pretty handy with a sling.  Pushed out into the "no mans land" between the two armies he selected a stone and began to swoosh swoosh swoosh it around his head. The Saxons fell silent. They'd heard this particular bible story themselves and could guess how things were about to go down. The two protagonists drew closer, the Saxon crabbing to left and right as he advanced with an evil grin on his face.

Thorvald let rip, the stone a blur as it sped through the air to hit the Saxon's metal helmet with an audible "spang!" The mighty warrior looked briefly dumbfounded then collapsed like a wet cloak falling off a peg.

The Viking's roared in delight. 

Taking a mock bow to his audience Thorvald drew a wicked looking Seax**** from his belt and advanced on the fallen giant to finish the job. Pausing next to his foe to encourage his comrades into an even louder frenzy he never saw the giant stir until too late. 

A mighty hand the size of a ham grabbed Thorvald's ankle and as the monster rose from the grass he dangled the poor northman upside down in a grip that couldn't be broken.

Displaying his prize to the Viking host he knelt and brought the small mans body down across his thigh in a slam that broke the fellows back with a sickening snap. 

The Viking's grimaced and collectively they went... "Oooh".

The Saxon advanced proudly on the Viking host and tossed their "champion's" unconscious form at their feet, like a broken puppet. 

Job done.

Yup the die roll ended up as 5 to 4 in the Saxons favour. The Vikings will find themselves short of a badly needed Leadership Point for the rest of the game. 

Oooh indeed!

Now the Vikings were honour bound to withdraw. 

Except they didn't.

From the Viking players perspective they needed to discover the treasure as quickly as possible. For each cohesion point (permanently) deducted from the bases initially adjacent to the abbey the Viking player would be allowed to make a 1D6 die roll to see if they'd found anything. The risk reward ratio was a bit of a challenge. 

Seriously limit a units combat endurance to have greater chance of finding something quickly…or not? Choices, choices!

Success would come from a 6 on the first search a 5 & 6 on the second then progressively down to an eventual 3,4,5 & 6 (so in theory finding something is not entirely guaranteed). Having seen how a gamble worked out for the champions challenge I went cautious and only took one cohesion point from the two units able to conduct the search. This would guarantee them two dice rolls per turn though the actual outcome would be very much be down to luck.

A glance to the rear showed Erik that nothing was forthcoming as yet from the abbey and around him the men had begun to mutter their disquiet.

There was really only one option left. The Jarl turned to a nearby attendant and nodded. The bondi raised Erik's semi sacred Gjallarhorn***** to his lips and produced three mighty blasts. 

In response to the summons Erik's men began running towards the raven banner from their far flung and now redundant positions of defence

Reinforcements race across the bridge and across the meadow from the marsh

Guessing what the loud horn blasts signified the Saxon leader, Aethelwulf, raised his grandfathers sword and shouted, "Guth raew filciath!"

"Form up the battle line!" 

Apologies for this blatant showing off but when else is a chap going to get to demonstrate his command of a language that no one else speaks and hasn't been used for nearly a thousand years? 

Waddya mean I've been wasting my time and your not impressed?

The fyrd that he'd gathered from four separate local hundreds shook themselves into a cohesive line amid their own urgent invocations to "trimmiath" and "abideth bebob…"

Yup that equates to "trim up the line" and "wait for it!"

Aethelwulf dramatically lowered his sword, the command to advance interpreted up and down the line by his thegn's…"Forth an fotes trim steppath…"

"On the command… Go forward one footstep!"



The Saxon's took one purposeful step forward, clashed their spears axes and swords against their shield rims and bellowed "Ooot!".


Another purposeful foot forward produced the same menacing baritone blast…


Meanwhile, sensing their warriors lack of resolution the Viking skirmishers directly behind the main line ran through the formation and hurled a shower of javelins before running back the way the they'd come.

Viking skirmishers rush forward to lob their javelins.

My solution to the defensive use of vulnerable skirmishers. With a 3 base width move they can interpenetrate a friendly base lob their missiles then retire back out of harms way.

Now then, its "fessup" time. The Saxons, as the attacker, had their foot units move first which brought them into the 3 base width range supposed to trigger an automatic charge by the Viking warriors. I forgot this and only realised several turns later! With the Vikings 5 leadership points (reduced from 6 due the bad champions challenge outcome) placed elsewhere I'd not have been able to stop them under my revised rules. Perhaps they were still unnerved by the terrible fate of  poor Thorvald? 

See you can rationalise anything when you're "free styling!"

Finally getting their war faces on, the Vikings directly in the path of the Fyrd ran straight at them, weapons raised, their battle cry a blood curdling mix of frenzied feral screams.

The slaughter begins. The imingham men's shieldwall on the right and  the Meadhamstow boys to the left.

Two 80 plus groups of vikings hit the centre of the oncoming shieldwall at exactly the same time, though with markedly different results. 

The men of the Imingham hundred contained the initial hit but the ferocity of the attack forced their inexperienced men to give a little ground. 

Off to their right the men of Meadhamstow, whose women and children lay not a mile distant, weren't about to give an inch. As the Viking warriors hurtled towards their line they took a single step forward just before the expected impact. The effect of this simple move blunted the impetus of the Viking assault and as the warriors slammed into an aggressive rock solid forward moving shieldwall the advantage of their charge was immediately spent. Cheap spears shattered Linden wood and burst through expensive mail. Helms were cleaved, bodies trampled in a heaving sweating maelstrom of blood fear and fury. No quarter was given.

Combat in DB is a simultaneous affair with the attacker and defender both able to take lumps out of each other at the same time. The Meadhamstow melee saw the Vikings roll 8 dice, needing 6's to hit. Though they managed a respectable 3 the Saxon shieldwall used 1 LP  to nullify a hit and overall they went from a cohesion of 4 down to 2. 

Now this was a serious loss but it didn't come without a very high degree of payback. 

The Saxons had moved into combat as well as the Vikings so even though their formation is a largely defensive one they rolled 4 dice needing 5's or 6's to hit. As you can see from the picture above they managed to hit with every single dice. 

Given their "aggressive" posture the Vikings had not been allowed to set an LP aside to nullify a hit and suddenly they went form a cohesion level of 5 down to 1 - i.e. just about to break and run. Worse was to come for the northmen because the victors of the combat (having inflicted more hits) were able to advance into the space formerly occupied by the thrown back warriors and in making base to base contact could ensure the Vikings would not be able to disengage.

Okay then - I can see that my footnotes are in danger of becoming a blog post in their own right, and with my typically over lengthy narrative I'm probably stretching the attention span of any normal person way too far. I suggest we knock things on the head for now and after you've recuperated from this written spaffing in a couple of days time, I'll finish the thing off to hopefully everyone's satisfaction.

Thanks for bearing with...


* A shamanic religious leader

** Originally a norse term for a coat of mail

*** I think we established in my last post that Vikings always talk in modern street language. 

**** A ubiquitous utility knife that came in just one style but many sizes.

***** A highly decorated ceremonial horn, associated with the norse God Heimdallr 

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Saint Cuthbert's Finger - Part 1 of 3

Okay my new 4x4 table's done, my TSS terrain tiles have arrived, the rules have been tested and two armies painted.

I'm fresh out of excuses.

I think it's time we had a ruddy battle on this so called war gaming blog, don't you?

If you're up for it, jump into the time tunnel with me…

We're going back...way back… <<cue swirling psychedelic effects>>

Who's that? Napoleon? No further back! <<Sorry about the weird BBC radiophonic workshop sound effects by the way but I’m led to believe it’s a contractural thing that comes with time tunnel usage>>

Yup this looks like it. Welcome to 795AD!

Hold on a sec there JBM I hear you cry, I hope your not thinking of launching straight into the promised game. I mean were going to need a little context here, a little meat on the bone.

<<sigh>> Oh okay then if you must. But you know how much I hate creating a narrative!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Erik Gundersson's cousin Bjorn arrived in early spring, soon after the ice had begun to melt. He came to announce the birth of yet another son and to show off a row of arm rings forged from a great treasure taken with little effort from across the whale road.*

As Jarl of Haugesund, Erik was not without his own wealth of course, but to hear his wife speak you would think they had not a peck of silver to their name.

"Why have you not done anything about the leaking roof above the door?" she'd demanded, "it's been two winters since I told you about it and it's still not fixed!"

Erik tried to explain how his ceremonial and law giving duties took up so much time, but Gunhildr was having none of it. The arrival of Bjorn with his ostentatious jewellery and obvious success had not made matters any easier.

"You’d do well to be more like that lad," she'd snapped on the night of his cousin's arrival, "I bet his wife isn't dressed as badly as her servants!"


Sadly Bjorn's edible shield concept never really took off.

Much later, after the ceremonial drinking, boasting, and loudest fart contest had taken place, Bjorn pushed one of Erik's snoring hearth guard out of his chair and sat down next to the glum looking Jarl.

"You know, we could go back?"

"Go back?" Erik slurred.

"Yeah, back to that place where all the loot was. Easy pickings man I'm telling you!"

Erik looked uncomfortable. His susceptibility to sea sickness had until now been a well kept secret.

"Come on cuz. Think how impressed Gunhildr will be, eh!" Bjorn said, making a crude poking gesture with his right index finger and circled left hand. "You might get to whittle away some of these lazy turds at the same time," he added, indicating the insensible bunch of thugs around them. "A few less sucking away at the family mead teat's gonna help with the finances, yeah?"

"I s'pose," Erik managed.

Bjorn clapped his hands. "Good, then it's settled. Just you me and these lads. We'll do a quick in and out. Remember, the fewer people involved the less we’ll have to share out afterwards. We'll keep it on the down low, okay."**

Of course both of them had forgotten the age old maxim that cautioned if you want to make the God’s laugh you should first tell them your plans. One of Gunhildr’s well dressed serving girls had overheard Erik and Bjorn’s conversation and later relayed it to a friend in the market. The friend in the market told her sister who told the Kub coach of the wife of Jarl Torsten. Jarl Torsten naturally wanted in on the action and passed word to his brother Ulm. And so it went on.

Two months later…

From his tent in the dunes Erik took some time off from retching to cast his eye over the twenty plus boats that had been drawn up along the surf line on the beach. Nearly 800 warriors and various notables had ended up muscling in on his and Bjorn’s “small” operation. Despite these numbers all they'd managed to accrue so far were some vegetables from a village that'd caught fire the minute they'd left and a balding old coot who'd menaced them with a wooden cross with some tiny dude nailed to it

The tent flap flew open and a grinning Bjorn entered. "That got him talking all right…" he said, tossing a handful of bloodied teeth onto the lid of his travel chest.

"And?" Erik groaned.

"Oh boy your going to love this!" Bjorn crowed. "There's this "Abba" thingy about ten mile inland from here, where…wait for it…they've only got the most valuable treasure in the world!"

"There'll be lots of Guards though?"

"No. None! Just a few crazies like our man out there."

"But the crazies have weapons?"

"Not as far as I know, though I guess those scratchy brown tunics could give us a nasty rash if we're not careful."

"Mmm 10 miles is a bit of schlepp. We could do with a guide,” Erik mused. "Could the prisoner be...err...persuaded d’ya think?”

Bjorn looked sheepish. "Yeh, slight problem on that score. See his legs sort of came off while we were chatting."

The following dawn the army set out west...

There then, I hope we're all a little clearer now? Turns out a lot of nasty men with sharp things are going to steal a load of women, rape a load of cattle and generally spill a lot of unnecessary blood because a drunken hen pecked man wanted to please his wife. Believe me, major wars have been fought over less.

Oh you want to hear about the other side.

Well now let's see. Ahh yes.

Ealdorman Aethelwulf was having his corns attended to when this fellow and several guards burst into the hall in a right old two and eight.

"The Heathens have returned"

"Cousin the Heathen's have returned," wailed Abbot Osberht. "It's clearly a punishment from God for our sinful ways. I said it would happen, do you remember? I said that drinking all that communion wine was going to come back and bite us!"

"Calm yourself brother Abbot." Aethulwulf said, "I presume they're up near Dunston?"

"Yes lord," Osberht snivelled, "and I hear tell that they are a mighty host."

Aethelwulf raised a quizzical eyebrow at this. "Dunston. For God's sake man there's bugger all up there. Give them a few days and they'll be off again, you'll see."

Osberht briefly pulled himself together. "But lord recall for a moment the great treasure we currently have in our keeping. I must remind you that the king himself has an interest in it and the abbey is but 10 miles distant from this devilish brood."

Aethelwulf drummed his fingers on the arm of his throne in concentrated agitation, knowing his position meant he couldn't afford to ignore the matter. "Dammit Osberht, we were going to have a hog roast out the back tomorrow," he snapped.

"But the king, lord!"

"Yes yes I know, he has an interest in the treasure.  Cutha," he shouted. "Call out the Fyrd. Oh and put the word round that the hog roast is off! I know I know, don't start man, we've all been looking forward to it…"

Okay, I think we can consider that as the scene set and the main protagonists sketched out a little.

So then let's get down to the nitty gritty. Having come to terms with the fact that I no longer have the space for larger 6 x 4 stuff, I'll be playing the forthcoming encounter on my newly crafted 4 x 4 table (the Gameathon 3000 RS) into which the 2 x 2 tiles from TSS fit quite nicely.

The Gameathon 3000 RS, which in no way resembles a pasting table.

I'll be using a tweaked set of DB rules and any slight changes to the original will be explained as the game takes place.

The map set up looks a bit like this:

I've been inspired (as has Kaptain Kobold) by Elenderil's very smart solo opponent AI, and sensing the occasional bit of unintended bias creeping into my gaming from time to time I've developed a very crude automated opponent of my own. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, the AO usually determines who is the attacker and who the defender (in this scenario it's not applicable) and the forthcoming stance of my none existent AO opponent which can be either aggressive or cautious. The difference between the two is in what the DB leadership points may be spent on. After creating my own army within the 32 point DB point allowance, a 1D10 roll by the AO determines which one of ten previously generated opposing forces I will have to face. As the defender the AO will set up its units first but the formation they are  deployed in is also dependant on a random die roll outcome. Though this sounds a bit arbitrary it really only concerns where the two strongest units in the AO's force are placed, i.e. wings, centre, behind the lines, in front of the lines and so on. Essentially it prevents me from setting up the enemy as I would have done if left to my own devices.

On the map above Erik's forces have crossed the bridge and reached the vicinity of the Abbey. Units adjacent to the building may permanently reduce their cohesion (combat effectiveness) as men within it go off to search for plunder. For each cohesion point spent the Viking player gets to roll 1D6 at the start of the turn to see if they discover the treasure hidden within. If treasure is eventually found the boys shown below will be deployed in base to base contact with the Abbey:

Remember us? Yeah, he used our picture in his last bloomin' post

This looters base does not count as a unit for morale and army break point calculations, and must make its way off the board and back to the boats by either the bridge or the ford. If Saxon troops of any type are present within 2 base widths at either of the crossings the looter unit (which cannot engage in combat) must wait until they have been removed or pushed back out of range before being able to cross. The game ends immediately with a Saxon win if any of their units make base to base contact with the looters and in a Viking win if the looters manage to cross the river and leave the via their board edge.

This should be a bit of an oddity with the aggressive warrior based army of the Vikings on the defensive and the largely defensive shield wall army of the Saxons on the attack, something to which neither side is well suited.

The numbers around the outside of the map denote which board edge the Saxon army will enter on (after a 1D6 roll) and won't be known until the game starts.

I have committed to the following force for the Saxons who I'll be playing as the attacker.

1 x Warrior Companions & Aethelwulf
1 x Noble Warriors
1 x Ordinary Riders
3 x Ordinary Shieldwall
1 x Noble Shieldwall
2 x Skirmishers (Javelin)

This lot come to 29 points with a further 3 points being spent on a group of monks. The monks add leadership points independent of Aethelwulf, which is always useful and seemed appropriate given the scenario. With 7 none skirmisher units the army can lose 4 bases before having to take a group wide morale test and 5 units before its all automatically over. When I set up and play the game next week we'll discover which army Erik has brought with him, whether they are aggressive or cautious, and what formation they will adopt.

Right I'm up early in the morning to go and wrangle some Mozzarella, so hopefully you'll all drop by some time next week for the AAR.


* If you're thinking Lindisfarne in 793 you're spot on.

** It's a little known fact that Vikings always spoke using modern urban street slang. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

A Day Late And A Dollar Short - Dux Bellorum Playtesting

Well I'm a day late and a dollar short, as usual. After two failed attempts with 25/28mm it's taken me 8 years to finally get around to building two opposing armies so that I can play Mr Mersey's Dux Bellorum dark age rule set in glorious 15mmovision.

Unfortunately, as my regular reader will know, I've spent the last umpty tump years in a zone blanche (zero internet) area of deepest darkest France, so I had no idea that the dark age gaming cognoscenti on the inter web had found a bunch of flaws in said rules and had been debating "fixes" since about 2012!

Yup, the God's let me play three frustrating multi hour "test games" and spend a lot of time scratching my head convinced that it was me "not getting it" only to then find the rest of the world had been there and done that some years back. Now I'm not a bitter person (yes I am) but given that I'm the guy who bought in to betamax (still won't let that go, will I) just as it was about to be phased out - you'll know  I have "form" in these things and was more than a little crushed to find the rule set I'd spent so long waiting to play was not entirely perfect.

Since I know from email correspondence that a couple of folks are belatedly thinking of getting into DB and Iain over at Caveadsum1471 has recently completed a veritable host of different armies with the same idea in mind, I thought I'd cobble together a list of "issues" that several others have discovered well ahead of me in the hopes that any readers following in my wake don't have to endure the same learning process.

My test games started with two 32 point armies (both sides had 9 and 10 units respectively - which is about normal for the game) and when I looked at the space they occupied I realised that a 2ft x 2ft terrain tile from Total System Scenic would happily accommodate them all. For a straight up slugfest this worked fine but the 4ft x 4ft I hope to use in future will provide more room for terrain and manoeuvre. In the picture below you'll see the protagonists have deployed skirmishers in front of their lines, ready to shower the enemy with javelins or tempt those impetuous viking warriors into an uncontrolled charge.

This was my first mistake.

15mm Vikings (left) v Saxons (right) on a 2ft x 2ft tile. Now there's small space gaming!

Given that skirmishers for both sides move first and cannot shoot until the start of the next turn, they generally get charged down and killed by the men they are intending to attack. Their weapon range is the same as the opposing foot units movement which doesn't help, also the mechanism to evade a charging enemy does not apply to units that have already moved - so that's them buggered "early doors" almost every time.

Mr Mersey says that skirmishers in this period were not your organised and trained soldiers of say the late Roman period, and I would have to agree that from documentary evidence it was a role given to the lower status old who would be unlikely to contribute much in regular combat and youngsters hoping to prove themselves in battle - at entry level. They would not generally have been well trained or equipped. With that said whatever the training or physical status of skirmishers then, I still believe the role itself would have remained relatively unchanged from the past, part of which of course is to break up the cohesion of advancing enemy troops.  Mr Mersey says that we just need to be more inventive in our use of them, get them round the back of your opponent, he suggests, and on a wider table that would be possible. Of course you can achieve degradation of the enemy from the flanks or even from behind but most folk put in that position want to have the shortest route back to the safety of their own lines and that puts them for the most part directly in front of their own side. Needless to say I remain unconvinced by Mr Mersey's argument since I still don't believe the way they are modelled covers the natural way they would perform in real life. These are scared old men and boys not SAS commando's ready to run behind enemy lines in order to inflict some tactical masterstroke.

Thankfully there are a couple of fixes that have been suggested by others, one of which I've tried and it seems to work.

Changing the turn sequence so that skirmishers move after everyone else helps a lot, as would taking javelin armed skirmishers out of the joint simultaneous missile fire round and allowing them to lob their javelins at the end of any move they've made. Another option so far unexplored would be to simply grant them the option to evade an opponent through the use of any leadership points assigned to them irrespective of wether they've already moved.

In the first test battle I was initially pretty sanguine about the loss of skirmishers because I recalled they didn't affect the morale break point of the army, sanguine until I realised that they DO count towards the loss of army leadership points that occurs when a unit is destroyed or routs. These fellows are easily killed off (as it stands) and their loss can cripple your armies flexibility. Disposable they aint!

Next up - using leadership points assigned to a unit to cancel any hits it might receive. There was no limit on how many could be used to cancel hits in the rule book (out of a maximum of three) but there needs to be. In a standard combat situation, say shield wall versus warriors, the shield wall roll 3 dice needing 5's to hit so will score one hit on average. The warriors roll 5 dice, needing 6's so will also score about one hit on average. If you use a leadership point to gain an extra combat dice, this will give you a 33% (for shield wall) or 17% (for warriors) chance of an extra hit - OR - you could use the same leadership point to guarantee cancelling a hit. The outcome for me was obvious, most saxon shield wall units were given a leadership point and they became very difficult to wear down let alone break when using them to (obviously) cancel hits. Two shield wall armies against each other, could've seen me there all week.

A Mr Lewis on a forum post I read suggests giving two extra attack dice for each leader ship point used, which would certainly make boosting a units aggression more attractive. Limiting leadership point usage  to allow only 1 LP to cancel a hit / turn might prove to be useful too.

I was especially baffled by the unordered charge rule that ensures warriors will automatically hare off after an opponent within range. It sounds reasonable enough and you get the chance to stop them by using any applied leadership points in reverse to make them fail a bravery test (and thereby not charge). The trouble is once they have failed their bravery test and refused to charge (which is usually good) they are then not able to do anything else that turn - even move a little (which is bad). Mr Lewis suggest just spending an applied leadership point to cancel the charge, thereby allowing the unit to potentially do something else rather than just sit there with their collective thumb up their butts. Methinks he might be onto something.

While there are now some answers on the line of sight / line of fire conundrum over at the excellent drphalanx blog site (sorry still can't do links) listed on the right I've discovered that a question mark of sorts hangs over the efficacy of using other units in support of combat (it's a maths issue - math if you're from over the pond - that concerns the value gained in the expenditure of leadership points which I'm currently too weary to attempt to explain). I have to be honest and say that I never questioned this aspect in my test games and I don't think it'll bother me over much going forward either.

"Waddya mean this one on one face off is a better use of my leadership skills than supporting the guys on my right?"

In essence then, it seems that while there are a number of issues that people have experienced playing DB, but they seem easy enough to fix with a bit of common sense or experimentation. I'm going to persevere with this and with a few house rule fixes that my opponent (me) is unlikely to object to I should still have fun.

In case anyone is wondering this site had a red background last week and looked much better until I went back and looked at old posts with some suddenly invisible blue italic rules commentary that blogger refused to let me change. Hey ho!


Thursday, 30 April 2020

The Safety Dance

I was taking my allowed daily walk today and thinking about doing a post on some none essential Peter Pig chaps that I've just painted when I found a little plastic soldier in the road and it got me thinking...

Like most folk reading this my initial introduction to wargaming came through plastic toy soldiers who either had marbles rolled at them or matchsticks fired from a Dinky Toy howitzer. I wasn't too discerning history wise at the time (well I was around 8) so it was not unusual to have Airfix Ancient Britons fighting WW2 US infantry or any number of other strange combinations depending on what I'd managed to get hold of with my meagre pocket money. A constant irritation at the time was the inclusion in nearly every set I bought of the token unusable figure, you know, the one with the weird pose that was meant to be doing something but you couldn't work out quite what. As I recall my definition of unusable at the time was anything you couldn't make "pew pew" noises with as you stormed the inevitable evil nazi beach defence bunker…

Other Evil Nazi bunkers are available.

The two poses that now come instantly to mind were the (I think) American soldier holding his rifle above his head presumably while wading through a river  and the British commando chaps that I later found out were meant to be carrying a canoe above their heads. Both would probably have done okay for someone surrendering I suppose - if surrendering had been a thing in my games…

Sometimes there was more than one strange looking bugger in a box...

Airfix Commando fist bumping (left) and Morris dancing (right)

Apart from the ones where I couldn't work out what they were doing there were the ones that just looked too daft to bother with…

Is that toilet paper he's holding? Is he about to wipe his… no surely not!


A Japanese soldier manufactured in yellow (bit racist?) apparently doing the safety dance. 

Anywhoo I've no doubt you'll have your own pet hates so we should probably have a vote sometime on the worst figure / pose made?

Finally, going back to my originally intended topic of 15mm Peter Pig stuff, I recently painted up the following chaps for use in Dux Bellorum as objective or strategy and tactic markers.

Slaves being led away by their Viking captors

Angry monks

The baby eating bishop of Bath and Wells

Loot! A box full of gems, a comely wench, a sack of grain, a barrel of beer and a very heavy box…of skulls!

Okay now I've made both of the armies and have no more excuses I'm off to have a trial run through Dux Bellorum.

Bugger me, I hope I like it after all this effort!


Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Swords Of A Thousand Men

Well not exactly a 1000 to be honest, though it seemed like it was when I was painting them. In truth there's only 160 of the buggers (80 per side). I know some of you guys could knock out this number before lunch but I'm an old slow coach with a low boredom threshold and poor eyesight - so I'm feeling fairly pleased with myself. I still can't get a handle on how much will be visible on figures at tabletop distance, though I know its less than I normally depict. I suspect that miniatures nowadays; even in smaller scales, are getting more and more detailed? Anyway whatever the truth of it my 6mm bods end up painted as though they were 15's and my 15's like 28's, and it all takes time, lots and lots of time. How poor old Iain over at caveadsum 1471 has managed his prodigious output for Dux Bellorum heaven only knows, but kudos to you matey!

Here's a few pictures of the Saxon contingent to whet your whistle, all of course in super blurry crapovsion (as usual). The Vikings wanted me to contact their agent before allowing any pics to be taken so we'll have to see them another day.

The Saxon line
A closer blurry look
Ooh look…monks (left of picture…sort of)
Behind the lines

As a former long standing member of the Engliscan Gesithas (englishan yeseethass) and Regia Anglorum, I have leant to speak and write Old English, made clothing footwear and equipment with traditional tools and materials, passed proficiency tests in fighting with dane axe, two handed spear, single handed spear and sword and generally been "into" the whole early medieval period in a big way. I say this not to appear boastful (though I do) but to beg your forgiveness in advance, again, if I get a bit preachy.

My forthcoming Dux Bellorum battles will be set in and around the year 796, 3 years after the desecration of the Lindisfarne monastery and nearly a hundred years before the Vikings came to Britain en masse looking for land as well as loot. The northmen the English encountered at this point were mostly fair-haired Norwegians, the darker haired Danes coming along with the later groups. These Norwegians are pirates traders and chancers looking for an easy mark. To people like this the undefended monastic sites along Britain's coast were a target that was just too tempting to ignore.

While we're now thankfully well past the whole horned helmet thing my Vikings have not been painted wearing fancy striped trousers, furs, or expensive silks. I appreciate that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence however the historical record and archaeology now attributes such finery to the Rus vikings in the East and / or the much later settled Viking kingdoms in the West. At this point in time and in this arena the choices facing both Viking and Saxon people were mostly wool or a coarse cloth made of flax.

Clothing colours for nearly everyone were muted and natural since deeper tones required greater concentrations of expensive dye to achieve. Expensive dye's required lots of money. Lots of money came from societal position etc etc. The 1% ers then and now occupied a small niche at the top of the population pyramid so in day to day life brightly coloured clothing would have been most unusual. In the context of my toy soldiers, the Viking lads arriving for a bit of plundering would have spent nearly a week crossing the North Sea in a boat that had little more than a foot of freeboard. Fancy clothes don't last long in that environment, I can assure you. With that said some of my Viking unit leaders have managed to find room in their kit bags for their Sunday best. I mean, who wants to go to Valhalla looking like a thrall?

The Saxons, already in situ and without the need to make a long and perilous journey to the battlefield could have worn more decorated clothes for their big day out and I have shown the leaders at least in this manner. Strong colours can be achieved with naturally occurring indigenous plants (think woad for blue) but even with a good mordant to fix the colour they all fade very quickly in normal sunlight. A months wear in normal weather sees a reasonable red become pink or orange and a nice blue deteriorate through lighter shades to grey.

Finally on the clothing front (thank the Gods for that) if anyones interested, the oft depicted coloured borders on tunics were actually strips of cloth on which intricate embroidery or tablet braid had been applied. When tunics wore out this decorative strip could be removed and reapplied to new clothing. Recycling. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In regards to equipment, the chosen period has been a bit of blessing since it allows me (just about) to get away with a mixture of early and late Saxon kit. Carinated and sugar loaf shield bosses appear alongside the more workaday later bowl types and for helmets there's everything from the Coppergate style to the later Spangenhelm's.

Coppergate Helmet - circa 7th - 8th century

Spangenhelm - 8th - 12th century

A carinated / sugar loaf shield boss. Used offensively on smaller shields 5th - 8th century

A later "domed" boss

I've covered cavalry and shields in a previous rant post so I'll let you off for now but attitudes to weapons and warfare are worth mentioning in a bit more detail. The bow was a useful hunting tool and logically should have been a regular on the battlefield. Contemporary poetry refers to them but creates a  sense that in the heroic warrior culture, prevalent at the time, their use was not quite the "done thing". I've allowed my Viking Jarls a group of skirmishing bowmen since they always come across as a more practical and less hidebound society. In Dux Bellorum the bow has more range than the common place javelin but confers no more hitting power. Used here as more of a sniping weapon we are a long way off from the era of the arrow storm! As for Saxons with two handed "Dane axes". In this period? No, not a chance. Regrettably the limited number of poses and weapon combo's produced by manufacturers has ensured their inclusion in the interests of variety if not historical accuracy. Soz.

Continuing on the subject of weapons I found that the use of a two handed axe in the front line of any shield wall to be a one way ticket to the afterlife. Unable to utilise a shield for your own personal defence you are far more, use directly behind the line, chopping down over the heads of the guys protecting the front of you. My Vikings have a number of stands where their two handed axe men stand proudly in the front rank and while this may not be practical I do think it looks more impressive so I unilaterally decided to sacrifice reality on the alter of appearance.

Style over substance. I built a career on it.

By the way if you are armed with a spear, the guy directly in front of you in an opposing shieldwall can protect himself fairly effectively with a shield. The guys standing on either side of him however are not always focussed on you, and I have scored many a "kill" on those whose attention has been locked on their own opposite number. I have often wondered if this is why the pawns (presumably representing the unimportant spear armed foot soldiers) in chess take opposing pieces diagonally?

So far I have created a Viking and a Saxon army each slightly in excess of the 32 points Dux Bellorum stipulates for a normal battle, basically with a view to mixing unit formations and types in order to create a little variety. Overall, being a stable agrarian society with a small localised warrior elite I have given the Saxons a preponderance of shield wall units over warrior types while the freebooting Vikings have a small number of bondi shield wall men and more warriors.

The force compositions are:


Warrior Companions: 5 points
Noble Warriors: 5 points
Noble Warriors: 5 points
Ordinary Warriors: 3 points
Ordinary Shieldwall: 3 points
Ordinary Shieldwall: 3 points
Noble Shieldwall: 5 points
Ordinary Riders: 3 points
Skirmishers (Javelin): 1 point
Skirmishers (Javelin): 1 point


Warrior Companions: 5 points
Noble Warrior: 5 points
Noble Warrior: 5 points
Ordinary Warrior: 3 points
Ordinary Warrior: 3 points
Ordinary Warrior: 3 points
Ordinary Shieldwall: 3 points
Skirmishers (Bow): 1 point
Skirmishers (Javelin): 1 point
Skirmishers (Javelin): 1 point
Skirmishers (Javelin): 1 point
Skirmishers (Javelin): 1 point
Ordinary Riders: 3 points

The Viking chaps have a couple of extra "character stands" such as captured slaves being led away and  boxes of loot being carted off. The Saxons have a bunch of monks (not sure what the correct collective noun is for monks) and a Bishop or Abbot to add flavour.

Games will be held on a 4 x 4 surface reflecting my currently constrained circumstances, which in 15mm still sort of counts as a battle rather than a skirmish. In the law code of Wessex's King Ine (7th century) he describes an army as any number of combatants greater than 35 so it looks like I'm good on that front. To think that with my 1:10 ratio I could have got away with painting only four figures per side. Dammit!

I'm not currently sure if I should do a limited campaign with this lot or just a series of one off battles, since my attention has begun to wander to my recently purchased Master and Commander set from Warlord Games, of which more another day.

And finally

Given the post title I felt it necessary to include this cheery tune from early 80's Psycho billy funsters Tempole Tudor.

Serious music aficionado's << cough - Msr Foy >> should look away now.

Be good and stay safe.