Monday, August 5, 2013

A Behind the Scenes Look at Episode 13

This game was based on Betrayal, Scenario #43 from CS Grant's Scenarios for Wargamers.  As usual, forces, terrain and special rules were adapted to my resources and habits. 

(My apologies for repeating the same photos with different captions, with over 2,000 photos loaded onto my blog I was beginning to worry about reaching my free limit but I see today that there is still lots of room so next time I won't delete the extras.)

It felt a bit sparse fielding 4 infantry or 2 cavalry per "unit" but I had to hurriedly add 1/2 dozen figures and turn almost all of Prince Michael's British infantry over to the raiders to meet even that. As it turns out it was enough but I may need to add Urien of Rheged as an enemy to give a more comfortable home for the non-barbarian, non-Roman figures when I need to balance forces out.  

The designation of figures was made largely by looking at them and cross referencing past games as well as the scenarios.  The garrison was dressed in Roman fashion despite being native Briton's a useful and romantic if improbable conceit. The gate mercenaries were supposed to be Saxons but when troops ran out I included some Romans, including trumpet blowers, and hoped the allegiance roll would be friendly. Since the lone Irregular Celt stood out from all other parties and is a good deal bulkier than the average Elastolin, I made him a minor hero and put him on 1 gate. 
The rest of the garrison consisted of 4 infantry units, 1 in the tower, 1 in the "market" next to the wall on the right and 2 off table. The cavalry, consisting of a heavily armoured Sir Bors and his Elite squire, and the Garrison commander-Hero were also in the tower. Grant mentions artillery in the tower so I allowed the 2 catapult crews to sleep in the towers underneath their engines, awakening at the same time as other garrison troops. The infantry and cavalry were all classed as heavily armoured, the infantry having javelins (or throwing spears if you prefer)

The attackers were divided into 4 groups. In the book the advance parties are composed of 1 unit each of light infantry and light cavalry. I haven't done more Pictish cavalry yet (the main reason for their inclusion), the Saxons have none, and I'm not ready yet to have the Sarmatians revolt and become Huns in Britain so I stuck with light infantry. The Picts got 4 archers and 4 javelinmen, the Saxons, 4 archers and 4 elite light infantry of the fur bikini, shield gnawing, type, led by the newest addition, Eric the Redleg, a minor hero. 

The main Pictish body turned into 8 infantry and 2 light cavalry heroes, Dearg Mor and Buidhe. After his wounds last year, I decided to keep Dearg as an ordinary hero and rated the always unfortunate Buidhe as a minor hero. Not having enough spearmen for a hedgehog/proto-schiltron I called  the remaining Picts light infantry as well. 

Turning to the Saxons, Helgin was  a Hero/player General assisted by Raven, his elite standard bearer.  Not being able to identify any other discernible heroes, the 16 remaining "Saxon's" were classed as heavy infantry with javelin. 

Last but not least, there is provision for the citizens of the town to take to the streets to fight off the attackers. My stock of civilians for this mob thus far is limited to 1 milk maid, 2 labourers, a pageboy and a 1/2 dozen princesses and ladies. Not much of a mob.

I hadn't fit our young hero Michael into the picture yet. There were no troops left for him to command, I haven't done a mounted version of his figure yet and he is never one of the disciplined Roman garrison types.  My first thought was to place him with one of the gate guards but there should be a chance that these all go over to the invaders and anyway it might have unbalanced the scenario. Finally it dawned on me that he might have been at the inn and could appear as part of the civilians erupting into the streets. Since he is still young, I only made him a hero not a great hero. He has to have room to grow!

 A repeat view of the town. The garrison was quartered in the round tower and in the houses next to the wall in the upper right hand corner of the picture. The off table groups came in on the roads, 4 to the left of the tower, 4 to the right of it. The Inn where Prince Michael was staying is right next to the West Gate. (center of picture)

The game begins with the gates opening and a roll being made to see if any gate guards stay local. Grant suggests a die roll for a percentage but with only 4 in each group I decided 1 turned and the rest had a 50% chance of staying loyal. Each of my groups had 2 barbarians and 2 Romans and dice being the unpredictable things they are, the Roman figures all rolled loyal and the barbarians all went over. Hunh.

Turning to the advance guards, I started to move them and then realized the Picts were out of command. The odds of moving were 3 or better on 1 die, they laid low. On the 2nd turn, the alarm was given and the loyal guards attacked the traitors. At the South Gate the traitors struck down the loyal guards but the Picts outside still refused to budge. Luckily the main force also being light troops were rapidly approaching. At the West Gate the fight was a draw but the Saxons were at the gate and the last guard went down under Eric the Redleg's spear, this time being a hero helped.

Here we see Eric Redlegs celebrating his first victory.  I almost used my old cloth since it matches the bases on these figures better colour wise but once on I was reminded of how much of a nuisance the over hang is since so many things like dice and scenery are now stored under my table. I also noticed, once again, just how wide those 1" square bases are. Eric sports a prototype of 3/4"x1" rectangle with the corners clipped which I've also been experimenting with for Atlantica. Wide enough to be stable but not so wide as to keep every one in open order. I had meant to flock them but ran out of time so just slapped on some paint. Seems to match the table fairly well so I may just fill and paint. I like when bases become inconspicuous.

On the 3rd turn the remaining garrison troops turned to and formed up. On the 4th turn, the Saxons again went first and charged into the group in the market. The streets were narrow so it was 3 on 3, elite light infantry vs heavily armoured heavy infantry. The Saxons rolled 3 x 6's, the Romans 1's and 2's and it was over, the last figure routing. Oops!  No Romans left in this quarter! Well, I had directed the cavalry that way anyway and they reached a point just behind the Saxon flank. At the same time Michael and his volunteers appeared in the street before the gate. First move would be important next turn.

In the narrow streets, the attackers had a hard time making use of their numbers. Having solid houses discouraged me from looking to see how the rules would handle detaching a few figures to work through them and thus around the flank. I figured they would have to come out again to attack and it was faster for the light infantry to go around. As it was, house fighting didn't come up so that's still an unknown. Street fighting seems more typical of pre-gunpowder wars anyway but I could use more occupy-able houses.

The Picts at last entered the South Gate and the archers finally rolled a 3 and crept towards the wall before stalling again and being abandoned by me! Because of his +2, Dearg got to move automatically and I let him control any of his men within 12" which  might not be what the rules for a sub-general actually say, if they say anything but it was such a small force and of the same general troop type so treating them like a single unit seemed fair enough. The first attack went straight on with cavalry in the middle. Javelin fire during the charge took out 1 figure but I messed up, rolling 1d/1 instead of 1d/2. The game was 1/2 over before I rolled 3 6's on 4 dice for shooting during a charge and thought "something's wrong". For the rest of the game the barrage of missiles during a charge became less deadly.

The poor Picts with 2 handed spear and no shield were a problem. The weakest troop on the board. I need to think a bit about the shield wall and hedgehog rules. The original idea was for them to be defensive, making combat less decisive but with the switch to a modifier for an opposed die roll, they are the same as any other modifier. I'm going to check out the possibility of them requiring a difference of more than 1 to win or allowing the 2nd rank to roll and let the formation pick the best die or something More thought needed.

Anyway, returning to the combat, the Pictish combat rolls were bad and they were forced to recoil. The Garrison chose to stand fast on the hill with secure flanks. Having the hero general with them meant no chance of disorderly pursuit.

The knights prove their worth and the vagaries of the 2 vs 1 combat is revealed!

Back at the market on turn 5 the initiative finally shifted allowing the knights to charge into the flank of the Saxons. With a maxed out +4 benefit, Sir Bors just managed to tie the melee! His squire won his but that meant a tied melee so the Saxons brought up more men and I realized that I had been pondering 3 ways of doing multiple  vs 1 combats and hadn't really specified any, merely implied 1 of 2 options. The way I have been handling 2:1 in MacDuff whence the melee comes, is to let each side roll 1 die per figure and then choose which figure to use. Medieval Mayhem which I had been using for Prince Michael treats it a series of 1 on 1 combats resolved sequentially with the single figure rerolling each time. The actual writing implies a series of simultaneous single figure matches with the single rolling once and applying the result to each opponent much the way that Armati does for unit to unit melee. The melee is so deadly that anything that slows it down is good so I opted for the MacDuff version. I'm actually tempted to go farther and borrow the Charge! version of needing more than 1 pip separation to win to make melee less deadly but that raises the spectre of also adopting the rolling 1 die for 2:1 but adding 50% to the total for the 2nd figure. It needs some thought but I'll probably opt for the MacDuff version of the 2 on 1 and leave the rest alone.

I was initially bothered that none of my civilians looked at all armed but the blacksmith guy who is supposed to be holding a wheel looks ready to give a good punch and the guy swinging a bucket didn't last anyway. I could use some cudgel men though.

Back at the gate Michael and Helgin appeared at the same time and thus engaged each other. One would expect the Hero to win over the Villain  but 2 turns in a row Helgin rolled up and Michael rolled down. Oh CRAP! Before I could spin a plot twist or storyline to save Michael, the knights won the 2nd round of melee despite being out numbered and pursued the retreating Saxons right into contact with the Saxon leader. There were 14 angry Saxons outside (the other 2 Saxons had been taken out by balista fire from the tower) but the gate was blocked by the melee taking place in it. It was now Helgin's turn to roll down once and then again. He bugged out. The knights pursued into the mass of Saxons and I thought, uhoh, they're going to swarm around the flanks if the 1st round goes south, which it did. Luckily the happy thought came to me that the wounded hero could close the gate as the remaining knight pulled back giving a Macdonnell at Hugomont feel to the whole thing.

I was about to call the game at that point. The Pictish heroes were all wounded, they had been repulsed  twice,  the odds of beating the heavily armoured Romans, uphill were low and another squad of Romans had appeared behind the flank of the Pictish javelinmen. But the initiative shifted again. The Picts threw their javelins taking down another Roman uphill meaning they could now be out flanked and then doubled back for a last stand against the new squad. The Romans charged in 3 wide with a +2 advantage to each die and.....were slain to a man!! The rear rank survivor routing. uh oh! DICE! You can't trust them! The fat lady hadn't sung yet!

I sent the main body back in, wounded heroes to the fore.   The shower of javelins did the work and a drawn melee left the Tribune alone, wounded and trying hard to look brave. Luckily the other reinforcements were behind him trying to figure out which way to go and just within command range. He fell back, they came forward and on the next turn the initiative flipped again and they charged with devastating effect just as Sir Bors appeared behind the Picts.

Now the fat lady was singing!

Last charge!

Apart from the few minor points mentioned, the rules worked pretty much as envisaged. The format and vagueness meant that making one-off rulings  for special cases did not require breaking rules, merely improvising. Not a problem for solo games or games between like minded gamers and there are lots of existing rules for those who need a comprehensive and authoritative set. A decision on the 2:1 rule and the benefits of shield wall and spear will follow shortly.

Once again the initiative rule provided lots of uncertainty and opportunities lost and won while the command rules were just enough to throw a minor wrench into things at times. The dice heavy combat also provided lots of suspense, right up to the end. The combat odds could be weighted but never assured and even a great hero puts his life on the line when he wades in.

Prince Michael will be back.


  1. Ross Mac,

    What your battle report shows is that you can fight fantastically enjoyable battles with relatively small number of figures. I'd rather fight the sort of battle you have written about than a boring one involving hundreds of figures.

    All the best,


    1. I like the big ones, but not boring ones, once every year or so but yes small, fast and furious is the thing.

  2. What an epic!

    I must admit - its not my period and I wasn't expecting to take much from the report, but very well done.

  3. A most interesting post and great rules Ross.I so agree with Bob too.I look forward to the return of Prince Michael!
    best wishes

  4. Uh oh. Inspiration has struck again. After reading this I dug through my boxes for some Marx "Vikings" and the Emhar hard plastic Vikings I bought several months ago. Looks like my Colonials (which used to be top of the queue) will be waiting a bit now.

    Thanks for the fantastic report, Ross. And for the rules. I look forward to giving them a shot.

    1. Sorry about the distraction :) I ove those Marx Vikings, they're almost as good as the 25mm Mini-Marx ones I had as a kid (based on the WoW figures).

      Let us know how the painting and gaming goes.

      Oh and yes small 40mm, Mostly Elastolins bough as kits or damaged and fixed up or converted or just assembled and painted.


  5. Also...I think I missed this early on? These are 40mm figures, right?

  6. Ross, as always I enjoy reading your comments on a battle at least as much as reading the battle report itself. Thanks again.

    -- Jeff