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. 


  1. Good warm up - looking forward to the battle. Intrigued by your paste table conversion and tiles. By coincidence I was planning out something similar today, so am looking forward to seeing how everything works out.

    Brother Abbot looks a fine figure to rally the troops and give the men a rousing send-off into battle!

    1. Hey Norm, I did think of converting a pasting table but in the end I made something from scratch. The paste table hinges came from off the internet and were about £4, then there was some 8mm ply for the base (which is a bit stiffer than hardboard) at around £20 and some L shaped edging that I screwed on to give the thing some depth and rigidity. I have the capacity to add some legs to it or the current favourite a 4ft something tall bathroom cabinet - though for the mo it'll just go on our small dining room table. As you might imagine the whole thing folds in half for (easier) storage. I originally bought TSS tiles when I got back into the hobby (around 2005) but they went the way of all things some time ago. I do miss my hexes, but to be honest I got fed up making roads and rivers etc and the TSS stuff has it all included. Lazy or what? I'll investigate if my hexon stuff will fit into this as well because I'd really like to do some more ECW stuff with Msr Foy's C&C adaptation.

  2. A perfect morning coffee read that JBM, shades of the great Pratchett methinks, had me chuckling out loud, which is quite disturbing for my wife at this time of morning, me being generally a miserable old sod when I wake up.

    Love the pasting table that is not a pasting table. Very much looking forward to the battle.

    1. Howdy doody Lee, glad I gave you a chuckle. I'm afraid my "quirky" sense of humour is not for everyone and I sometimes get carried away with it all. To be honest my other dark age posts have been a bit earnest and self important so I thought I'd add a little humour and a lighter touch. Less preaching more playing. Hopefully the pasting table that is not a pasting table will be unto the job. With the notable exception of the house in France most of what I make seems to end up upside down and on fire!

  3. Fantastic - I'm right up for this in the morning - very nice - and beautofully crafted, sir. Not my period, of course, but the Vikings used to sail up from Northumbria to raid St Baldred's church and settlement here at Auldhame - right on our farm. In fact they found a Viking buried here amongst the dead monks, in 2005, and it is thought it was Olaf Guthfrithson - a very big knob indeed - who died during one such raid in 941 - rather after your story, but near enough to give me a parochial interest.

    I'm looking forward to this.

    1. Bonjour master Foy, thanks for dropping by. Yeah I know Vikings aren't really your thing, but this'll be very light touch so no boning up on the subject will be required! Very interested to hear about old Olaf. As a survivor of the huge battle at Brunanburgh (where he was in cahoots with Constantine II) he went on to live a very colourful life. Definitely a big knob as you say. Is there any sort of plaque in place at the burial site?

    2. Olaf - no - it just went back to being a barley field - the archeologists had the place dug up for a few months, and they had a night watchman on the farm lane - presumably in case anyone broke into the site and stole some mud, or Olaf's relatives wanted to get his stuff back.

      It's documented here

      and I bought a copy of what turned out to be one of the more overpriced books in my collection. Obviously the tradition of robbery with violence is alive and well.

  4. Good scene-setter JBM. Is Aethelwulf going to give Erik the finger? Cuthbert’s I mean.

    Can’t wait to see what happens.

    1. I'm not going to sneak any punchlines past you am I mate!

    2. Iain’s just given you another one. 😉

  5. Great! I'm looking forward to it and I really enjoyed your back story, nice bishop! I'm still painting Dux Bellorum figures, almost finished the Irish, I like your pasting table/not pasting table!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain - God's man you've put some work into this one haven't you. Should be good for a lot of games with all those different forces. Have you any faves from the race / nationalities you've done so far?

      I think we should be given a march past on your blog!