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DARK AGE WARGAME RULES
Grey Areas. Any situation not explicitly covered in the rules, or a measurement that is “too close to call”, should be defined in “either/or” terms and resolved with a friendly roll off.
Units. There are four types of Units in the Dark Ages rules, representing British types.
1. Infantry are assumed to have some training and experience working together and adopting a protective shieldwall formation at need. Due to this defensive posture, they move slower than other Units. They may have large shields/short spears or small shields/long spears.
2. Warband are wild fighters who attack with speed and ferocity. Their lack of armor and individual style leaves them vulnerable to casualties. Some are Raiders who use terrain to advantage. Others are Warriors prepared to stand together on open ground fighting with great determination.
3. Cavalry represent household soldiers on small unarmored horses who use their mobility to hurl missiles with impunity until the enemy is weakened, then charge in to finish them off. As professionals, some may have armor and helmets and be eager to charge into melee.
4. Skirmishers are usually hunters/raiders w’bows & knives, or javelin-armed freemen w’small shields & short swirds. They harass with missiles, preferably from difficult terrain, charging if they see an opportunity. Some are aggressive household warriors with better weapons.
Figures & Basing
4-6 inch frontage per Unit with no prescribed depth, figure size or number per base. Mine are two adjacent 6cm bases of 2-6 25mm figures [WRG standard], for a total of 12cm [47/8”] or 5 bases of 2x1” cavalry singles. This makes all my Units about 5” wide, and 1.5-2” deep.
Dice. For more averaged results, I use a d5, which is the UK “average dice”, having pips of 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, eliminating 1 & 6. If you want more extreme swings, switch to a d6.
Line of Sight. LoS is measured from a Unit's front center point to closest visible part of target. It is blocked by any intervening Units, hills, woods, buildings, etc. that are scaled over figure height.
· Units may see into and out of woods, but not through two sides of a wood.
· Units must have LoS to shoot or charge enemy Units at the time of the shooting or charge.
A full turn has each player taking four phases:
Attacker [player A]: 1) Movement, 2) Shooting, 3) Melee, 4) Routs and Rallies
Defender [player D]: 1) Movement, 2) Shooting, 3) Melee, 4) Routs and Rallies
Playser sequentially move their Units, with no corner exceeding the total distance rolled in inches.
1. Class 1. Infantry move 1d5+2
2. Class 2. Warband, Skirmishers move 2d5+2
3. Class 3. Cavalry move 3d5+2
To fit through a gap or move along a road, the two bases may be placed one behind the other, or the cavalry bases may move sideways or in a column of bases for appearances sake. There’s no game difference for a “column” as the warriors are just flowing through a gap or along a road.
There are two terrain types, Linear and Area. Linear are 6-12” long x 1-3” wide. Area are 6-12” per side or diameter. Building or tree models are only decorative – move as needed to position Units.
· Villages. Area. No movement effect. Defensive bonus when inside.
· Hills. Area. No movement effect. “Uphill” must be defined by center point, crest or plateau. Defensive bonus when fighting from uphill.
· Woods, Marsh. Area. Only Skirmishers and Raiders may enter. Defensive bonus when inside.
· Lakes. Area, impassible.
· Rivers. Linear, impassible. Any Unit may cross at a bridge, a ford, or if shallow.
· Walls, Gullies. Linear. No movement effect but defensive bonus.
· Roads. Linear. Units get a 3” bonus moving entirely on a road, neither Charging nor Turning.
Only by Skirmishers and any Unit, and vice-versa.
Units Turn by rotating on their center or center front up to 180°. Turns are not movement and not measured.
1. Warband & infantry may Turn once, at the start OR end of their move.
2. Skirmishers & Cavalry may Turn twice, once at the start AND once at the end of their move.
3. Any Unit in melee contact with enemy Unit(s) that are not on its front facing may face one of the Unit(s) with its front. It turns a full 90° or 180° and bases of enemy Units are adjusted to maintain contacts.
Charge moves end with the Unit in Contact with an enemy Unit.
1. The target Unit must be within 45° of the charging Unit’s front and in its LoS to be charged.
2. Contacting the flank or rear is only possible if the entire charging Unit is past an imaginary line drawn along the Target Unit’s Flank or Rear Facing respectively.
3. Contact may be made by only one attacking Unit per facing; front, rear and either flank.
4. Contact is made by moving along the shortest line from the Charging Unit’s Front Facing to the center of any Facing that is not already in a contact, maximizing the amount of edge to edge Contact, if any, and minimizing any gap using all available movement to do so. It then stops moving.
There is no additional free movement to achieve fully aligned edge-to-edge contact [the so-called “closing the door” of DBA and other rules]. Any gaps are assumed to be filled with fighting men!
Units with javelins may perform a Moving Shot in their Movement Phase, either before or after their move. Skirmish bows may not shoot if they move but may if they only Turn [which is not considered movement].
Skirmishers and javelin Units may shoot at a single Target within range and within 45° off their front facing.
· They must have a clear Line of Sight to an entire Facing.
· Bows may not shoot if they moved during the Movement Phase – Turns are not movement.
· Javelins may not shoot if they performed a Moving Shot in the Movement Phase.
· Fulfilling the above restrictions, they may shoot into a melee.
· Range is 12” for bows and 6” for javelins measured from the closest points of the Units.
· Bows and javelins have three shots.
Roll 1D5 and subtract 2 if the Unit is armed with bows, or 1 if armed with javelins. This gives the number of Hits against the Target Unit, modified as follows:
o Terrain. Units defending woods, villages or walls halve Hits [round up].
o Shieldwall. Infantry Units assume a Shieldwall formation against any threat, so they halve Hits [round up] from shooting at their front or flank facings.
o Unshielded or unprepared. Double Hits from Units shooting at the rear Facing.
o Stacked Modifiers. The max defensive benefit any Unit may receive is ¼ Hits [1/2x1/2].
One-Sided Melee. Units only inflict casualties during their own player turn.
Roll 1D5 for the Unit, only modifying with +1 for Warriors, -1 for javelin Skirmishers / javelin Cavalry, and -2 for bow Skirmishers. The final result is the Hits against the Target Unit, modified as follows:
· Terrain. Units uphill or defending woods / river bank / gully / wall halve Hits [round up].
· Shieldwall. Infantry Units halve Hits [rounded up].
· Unshielded or Unprepared. Double Hits by Units attacking on the flank or rear facing.
· Stacked Modifiers. The max defensive benefit any Unit may receive is ¼ Hits [1/2x1/2].
There is no dividing of the Hits a Unit inflicts upon multiple Units attacking it [one enemy Unit may attack each facing; front, rear and either flank, for four total Units]. Units only fight melee combats to their Front, attacking a single enemy Unit in contact with their Front Facing. Melee concludes with the elimination of one of the sides, but Units in melee may turn to face attackers [see movement].
4) ROUTS AND RALLIES
· Any Unit with 15 or more Hits is removed from the table.
· Any Unit eligible to rally off Hits due to an Optional Rule does so now.
These come in several types to give an army some more “personality”. For every three Units in a force, a player may pick a suitable personality figure. All personalities function as a Unit upgrade that may transfer to another Unit within 6” at the start of the friendly Movement Phase. If in a Unit that is in melee they may not leave it, sharing its fate if destroyed.
· Hero. This is a warrior with personal fighting skill, or frenzied pagan shaman. Inspiring others with their skill and eagerness, Heroes give a +1 bonus in shooting or melee combat.
· Leader. This is a campaign veteran, such as a Roman Centurion. He knows that maneuver will win the battle more often than personal valor, and demands discipline from his men. A Leader gives a Unit one additional Turn that may be used at any time during its movement.
o Banner. This is an upgrade to either personality above. The Banner is a prestigious symbol of the personality and his people. It allows a Unit that is not in Melee, and has not moved or shot, to rally off 1-3 Hits [halve a d5 roll, rounding up]. A Banner counts as one of the permitted Personalities for the side.
· A Christian Priest rallies off 2-4 Hits [halve a d5 roll, rounding up, then add 1] since he has a suitable holy relic, standard, great exhortations, etc.
· RALLY VARIATION: Once a Unit has taken 5 or more Hits, it may not rally to below 5 Hits. This represents fatigue, fleeing, injuries and deaths unrecoverable during a short battle.
Battles often began with one side as the aggressor, making a series of attacks until fatigue or enemy resistance caused them to lose momentum. To simulate this, the scenario attacker has Initiative and goes first each Turn [if no clear Attacker, roll off]. But at the start of Turn 2 - and every Turn after - roll off adding +3 for the Initiative Side. If the Initiative side loses the roll, Initiative changes to the other side and they start going first each Turn. Note this allows the side seizing Initiative to go twice in a row as the turn order changes, which could be a critical moment in a game. While it is possible for Initiative to switch a couple of times, it is likely to only change once. Additional options:
· For more likelihood to change use +2 for the side holding Initiative, for less go with +4.
· Subtract '1' from the players dice rolls for each of their Units that have routed.
For each army of six Units, allow one Unit to be Elite, but one must be Levy to balance things out!
Elite / Stubborn troops = 18 Casualties before routing.
Levy /Nervous troops etc = 12 Casualties then routing.
The 1HW scenarios have 6 Units per side as the norm. This conveniently comes to rolling a d5 each time a friendly Unit is destroyed, attempting to roll higher than the total number of friendly Units destroyed to keeping fighting. If you roll equal or less your force routs and the game ends. With a three or four Unit army, roll a d5 halved [round up]. As this shortens the game a lot, you can roll TWO d5 and keep fighting if EITHER roll beats the number of Units lost. You could also get a +1 to your roll if your opponent has lost more Units, emboldening your force to greater efforts
In a campaign game, allow the opposing side to get one last free attack as they rout. For more "period flavor", consider fun ways to gain a bonus point or two on the die roll, like winning a pre-game challenge, praying to God [or 'the gods'], fatigue from force marching to an objective, etc.
IDEAS FOR UNIT TYPES
This is just to show how well the game mechanics can represent historical types [or myths!]. The internal mechanics are more nuanced than they appear. Relative values between fighting Units are very important.
Roman Militia. These are Infantry who melee at d5-1.
Roman Cavalry. These better-equipped cavalry on bigger horses shoot & melee at d5.
Arthur’s Cavalry. As above, but are d5+1. If “Roundtable Knights”, let them fight d5+2.
Mounted Servants. These fight with javelin but at d5-2. If Arthur’s cavalry is in play, they may also be upgraded. In this case, a second Unit must be downgraded.
Irish Nobles. These javelin Skirmishers fight at d5.
Scots Nobles. These Determined Warband fight at d5+1 with 18 Hits.
Viking Veterans. After deployment choose to fight as Infantry OR Warriors.
Generally speaking, even a small change is bit in this game. Give a single Unit a couple of upgraded abilities and you will quickly find yourself with the super-unit problem that plagues fantasy rules – so less is more!
Skirmishers and cavalry may make a full move directly back out of melee to Fall Back [FB]:
· IF they are from a higher movement class than all enemy Units in the melee
· AND no enemy are in contact with their rear facing.
If an enemy Unit is in frontal Contact with the FB Unit, dice-off their movement distances – if it wins the enemy Unit makes a free attack before the Skirmish or Cavalry Unit moves the amount it rolled.
Any shooting roll of a natural ‘5’ results in the Unit having used the last of their missiles with that shot. This replaces the three-shot limit. Statistically, this will result in more shots by a Unit.
The player indicates a Unit, states the intent of its move, rolls the dice and then fulfills the intent as much as possible. Units move the full distance rolled even if farther than desired. They may however stop alongside a Unit with a banner, at a terrain feature that gives a movement or combat bonus [e.g. road, hill], and must stop at any Unit they may not interpenetrate, Contacting for Melee if an enemy Unit. Warband must contact an enemy Unit if they roll enough distance.
Note, this section is the one most open to disagreements, so use with caution! A Personality with a Banner suddenly becomes essential if you use this rule.
Army lists - people love them, people hate them. Bottom line is that they are as useful and beneficial as gamers and game masters let them be. They certainly help newbies get started with a game, a benefit that cannot be underestimated in a fast-play set that will likely attract newer players. The trick is to not let building killer lists become the game’s main strategy. Altho optimizing a list is OK, the list needs to typify the warriors of the time, not be some strange amalgamation of fantasy and competitiveness.
Historical context is somewhat absent from the force matrix on p. 64 of Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames". It's worth noting that he has d6+2 Warband as 0, 1 or 2 Units max in a force based upon random rolling [you can’t pick the force] and an Infantry norm of 3-4 Units out of six. In my blog posts, I have been invading Strathclyde with a force of five Warband and a Skirmisher, which probably explains some of the problems I've had fending them off! Ergo, here's some lists that are closer to the RAW for those who want to try them out for pickup or historical match-ups, but with a bit more historicity.
Points and Unit values are not a part of the matrix as they are unnecessary. I did design a cost matrix of Unit abilities, and basically found that they are all about the same in value, strengths and weaknesses. Certainly in some scenarios certain Units are more valuable than others. Over the course of a small campaign or series of battles, it should even out.
Design notes for these lists. I've toned down Warband from +2 attack to +1. Overall, they were a bit overpowered usually overcoming even the solid Infantry Units in a straight fight. This is balanced by allowing any list to have a Unit upgraded by +1 and allowing Personalities. Thus the NT result is obtained, but we’ve some historical troop types that can be deployed in larger numbers. Using their speed, Warband can still often get onto a flank, especially if they pick good Skirmishers as options – Skirmish Units are essential. Preventing super-units nor super-armies, a sin to which most gamers are prone.
Also, I've switched the definitions to d5 average dice from the original NT d6, as the swing of results was a bit too extreme - it was often more important than good tactical play. All Units above the underline are required. All shooting has a 3-shot limit or optional ammo supply rule in effect - part of the Dark Ages supply and organization problem. If you want unlimited ammo, go get yourself civilized!
Warriors are Warband who attack at d5+1 and have same terrain limits as Infantry
Raiders are Warband who attack at d5 and can enter terrain like Skirmishers
Cavalry and Infantry attack at d5
Cavalry, javelins and Skirmish, javelins attack at d5-1
Skirmishers, bows attack at d5-2
Late Dark Age / Early Medieval Britain Armies
There are six Units in every army list. Most start with 3 -4 of the six being Infantry. Then they can round off their force with additional required Units and at least one choice. They are directly based upon the force matrix on p.64 of the 1HW book that I've fit into likely historical counterparts. However, you can always use Allies or rename a list if you feel it represents your understanding of the history better!
As the scale of the game is approximately 1/10, most of these little "nations" and their warlords would be hard-pressed to raise more than a few hundred specialty warrior types on their own, altho all would have some sort of full-time followers - the richer and more famous the patron, the more warriors he'd have in his personal household. These lists are meant to represent a "typical" force for this sort of common, small-scale fight of 400-700 men on a side. This is big enough to really make trouble and steal a lot of stuff, but small enough to move quickly and live off the land. Probably this would be 95% of the fighting a warrior would do in his life. A large battle with several thousand men was an event a typical warrior might only see once or twice!
Variations for All Armies
o Upgrades. One Unit made Household [+1 to D5 attack] OR Determined [18 Hits before routing], AND,
o Downgrades. One Unit made Levy [-1 to D5 attack], OR Reluctant [12 Hits then routing]
Units may only get one change, and cannot be upgraded past +2, or downgraded past -2. Units in italics may not be changed. Each list may select ONE upgrade and MUST then select a downgrade, also.
You may field 1-3 Units as an Allied force from another list’s required Units.
- If 1-2 Units, then if a natural '2' is rolled for Movement it will not move while the leaders debate what's in their best interest.
- If 3 Units, a Personality may be taken for the Allies, in which case they will not need to roll as in #2 above. This Personality counts against any total Personality limit chosen by the players for the battle.
- Personalities may only affect or attach to Units of their own list, Host or Allied.
1-2 more Infantry
If six Infantry are taken, may get two upgrades and two downgrades instead of one each.
1 Skirmishers, bow or javelin
1 Skirmishers, bow or javelin
2 Infantry OR 2 Raiders
2 Skirmishers w' javelins or bows
1 Cavalry w' javelins
1 Infantry OR 1 Raiders
1 Skirmishers w'bow
1 Cavalry w'javelins
1 Warriors OR Raiders
1 Skirmish Bow OR
Danelaw Norse [“Settled” Vikings]
1 Warriors OR Raiders
1 Skirmisher, bow OR
These may be mercenaries, raiders, an area plunged into civil strife and banditry, fallen Romans, whoever has lost the vestiges of civilization, clan, tribal or otherwise. Note that this is NOT an option from the 1HW lists, but should work if the Warband are mostly Raiders.
1 Skirmishers with javelins
1 Cavalry w’ javelins
1 Skirmishers with bow