Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wargaming the Barbarian Kingdoms (6th and 7th century) - Part 3, Franks under Merovingian Rule

The Franks, of course, are those Germanic tribes that were in the area previously called Gaul, and soon to become called France.  In the period we are looking at, for wargaming, they are ruled by the Merovingians, and the style of warfare during this time and for these peoples is definitely a telltale version of the tribal type infantry army, replacing the remnants of anything the Romans left during the last stages of antiquity - but starting to get a little more organized as the political units of the day get larger and more sophisticated.

Brief history of the people and period:
The Merovingian dynasty properly started towards the end of the 5th century, in 481.  That year is significant because Childeric, who had ruled the Merovingian tribe, among several tribes of the Franks, was succeeded in 481 by his son, Clovis I - and it was Clovis (Chlodowig) who united all of Gaul under Merovingian rule.   This will last until the year 751 (just outside our period, in the middle of the 8th century), when Pepin deposed the last Merovingian king, and established the Carolingian dynasty.

During the reign of Clovis, the original territory he recieved from his father (Austrasia), was added to by his military victories at battles such as Soisson (the Gauls of Neustria, defeated in 486), and Vouille (the Visigoths of Aquitaine, north of the Iberian peninsula, in 507).  By the end of his reign, the kingdom of France was pretty large, indeed.

From Wikipedia article on Merovingian dynasty
Clovis left the kingdom to his four sons, who defeated Burgundy in 532 at the battle of Autun, then captured the defeated Burgundian king (Godomar) in 534, and annexed Burgundy.  At this point, the only lands that could be called Frankish (German) that were outside the control of the Merovingian monarchs were Saxony and Frisia in the north, the Spanish Marches, Gascony, and Septimania (and Provence) in the south, the holdout german kingdoms of Bavaria, Carinthia and Lombardy in the southeast.  All those territories would come under Frankish rule, but not until the Carolingians began their expansion.

A couple of interesting cultural and historical factors from this period.  The Muslim conquest would reach southern Europe for some time (end of the 6th century, roughly), so the tribes in the south and west that the Merovingians had troubles with were other German, Gothic and related successors to the failed Roman period.  The Lombards, distinctively, retained their paganism in this period.  Clovis himself (first king of the Merovingians) is considered to be the last of the Pagan kings of the Franks, because after his victories over the Alemani (in 496 and 506), he converted to Christianity, and his people (who hadn't already) followed suit.

One of the aspects of Clovis' conversion is that he (under influence of his wife) adopted Catholicism, rather than the Arianism that was prevalent among the Goths, Vandals and Burgundians. This gave him (after the Alemani) something of a religious reason for subjugating his enemies. In addition it made the remaining Roman population loyal to him.

Around the period of 540 or so, for a few years, there was a bad outbreak of Bubonic Plague, although this wouldn't be as devastating as the later Medieval outbreak in the 14th century would be (because of fewer large population concentrations) it would be bad enough, and since it hit the agricultural areas hardest, it would have had a huge impact on this post-antiquity economy - which would have kept military forces necessarily small for almost all the belligerents we are talking about.
Wargaming the Merovingians

Merovingian Re-enactor
Let's start out by taking a look at the DBA army list for the Merovingians.  If we are talking about the period from 481 to 751, this covers a couple of DBA lists.

First,Early Franks, up until roughly 496 (corresponding, roughly, to the major unification under Clovis I with his defeat of the Alemani, and eventually setting up his capital at Paris) and then the Middle Franks.

The Early Franks (II/72d) in DBA really reflect the post antiquity tribal quality of the warfare.  The army consists of one element of cavalry, and ten elements of warband, and one element of psiloi.  The cavalry element is the general - representing a Frankish leader and his comitatus.  The warbands are the tribal warriors (round shields, and spear and ax - or the), and the psiloi would be maybe slingers or throwers of the angon javelin.

Their Alemani (II/72b) enemies (fought Clovis in 496 and 506) were similar - one cavalry element, seven warband elements, one psiloi - and the difference is that the Alemani had much better quality archery, so they receive three elements of bow, in addition to the psiloi element that might represent slingers or angon throwers.

In both cases, the general and his comitatus can choose to fight dismounted (especially useful in the many forested areas of the region), in which case the cavalry element becomes another warband.

The Middle Frankish list (III/5) covers the Merovingian Franks from the war with the Alemani up until the dominance of the Carolingian Mayers of the Palace (639).  This list (III/5) has two variants, corresponding roughly to the North and East, or Austrasian and Burgundian area (III/5a), and the South and West, or Neustria, Provence, and Aquitaine areas (III/5b).
The first of these (III/5a) contains:  the general is either a Cavalry or Knight element, and there is an additional mounted element which can also be Cavalry or Knight.  There are  six elements of warband, and then three elements which may choose to be warband, or may be upgraded to spear, and finally one element of psiloi.

The second of these (III/5b) contains: the same mounted elements as above (the general, and an additional element, each of which can be cavalry or knights), six elements of spear, again three additional elements which may be spear, or warband, and one element of psiloi.

Here we see the growing sophistication of the armies, as the mounted troops become much more effective as knights (introduction of new equipment such as the stirrup, and better armor).  As the region gives way from dense forests to more and more agricultural land, the troops can find more uses to fight in a tighter formation - hence the spear elements (also representing the greater training available under rulers of larger armed forces).  In the south, more spears than warbands represents the terrain, as well as exposure to the Goths and other enemies.

For miniatures - Baueda makes some excellent figures for the Carolingians, and they are promising Merovingian figures any day now.

The Essex figures are quite gorgeous, but their "Early Franks" seem to be from a much earlier period (the era of the Roman Frankish Federates).  However, their Saxon, Frisian, Suevi and Bavarian line is just about perfect.  Here are some pictures of the figures from that line.

Essex SXA1

Essex SXA4
Essex SXA2
Old Glory 15s makes a very nice range of Carolingians - and the infantry, at least (and truly, most of the cavalry) is useable for at 15mm Merovingian army.

In 28mm, one of the companies that is supporting a lot of Dark Ages gaming in recent years, is of course Gripping Beast.  As usually, they have a great offering for this period, and they would make a great army for a wargamer.

Okay, so what is the compelling reason to wargame the Franks under Clovis (and his successors)?  Three reasons, immediately that I can think of.  First - if you are a fan of late antiquity/early medieval wargaming, and want to explore the earliest history of what would become Medieval France.  Second, because of the interesting foes that the Merovingians fought against.  And Third, the most practical reason - you can represent a Merovingian army pretty easily with a a reasonable collection of Dark Ages infantry and some cavalry.  Mounted Saxons work well.  You could use Normans in a pinch, although your opponent is likely to call foul on the shields...  Still, this gives you a new set of armies, history, and foes to explore with your dark ages infantry figures (hairy men, round shields, chainmail, and a variety of fierce weapons).

Friday, March 16, 2018

15mm Napoleonic Game hosted at Williamsburg Muster

I ran two games at the Williamsburg Muster.  The first was a Napoleonic game in 15mm, using the Neil Thomas rules (the version from "Wargaming: An Introduction"), between a British army and a French army.

The two armies were the same size (typical for NT rules), but the British were definitely mainly on the defensive, as they set up in an extended infantry line (with artillery) defending a church.  The French were assaulting the line, bringing their infantry up in column, while probing for local weakness with their artillery and cavalry.

The tactical problem to solve here for the English is: There is nothing that can stand up to the French Heavy Cavalry.  The problem for the French is: How to succeed against the superior English firepower, while assaulting (and no numerical superiority)?

British in Line, defending the church of San Miguel
The rules from the introduction book and the rules from the specialized Napoleonic book differ  in a few areas - one of them is how musketry (with special national characteristics) is treated, the other is how artillery (same consideration - special national characteristics) is treaty.  Here I think we used generic values, but a slight nod to British infantry musketry, since they used the 2 rank system vs. the more typical 3 rank system used by the French and most other nations.
British Cavalry move out from behind the line.
There were some other differences, notably the superior quality of the French Heavy Cavalry (only one unit, but what a unit!!).
French Infantry respond to British Cavalry

The French on the move past the village of Duertez.

French Columns and French Cavalry, advancing.

In all, it was a great game, the four players really enjoyed themselves, and we got to talk a lot about the typical characteristics of the Napoleonic period and Napoleonic wargaming.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Interesting Random Tables for RPGs

Since the earliest days of D&D, random generation tables have been a part of the game. Among other things they would allow a dice-driven random selection of NPC and monster encounters, magic items, and other objects that a group of adventurers might find while moving through the fictional world.  One of the more interesting uses has been sets of tables to generate whole environments.  This has included random towns, cities, dungeons (especially) and whole continents and worlds.

Excellent examples of this popped up very early not only in the original D&D books and supplements, but also in the excellent tables in the many early Judges Guild products (adventure settings and magazines). But the very best may have been Gary Gygax's dungeon generation tables in the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.  Still loved and used.

Other very cool examples include the terrain/continent generation tools from the earliest versions of the ICE Campaign Law book (which, along with Character Law, would form the link between their early Arms Law, Claw Law, and Spell Law books, and the later whole Rolemaster idea).  Many, many other type systems appeared in print in the explosion of supplements and magazines in the 80s golden age of RPGs.

In recent years, many similar type offerings have been popping up both in Retro Clone RPG supplements, and the generally excellent sea of RPG blogs that aim at old school style roleplaying and DMing.  One of the most fun is the blog of  Jason Sholtis - the Dungeon Dozen  This a collection of many D12 tables of interesting (and sometimes whimsical) items to encounter in a fantasy RPG.  Jason has followed up the blog, with published collections of the tables (as of this writing, volume one is available in print or PDF, and volume two is coming soon).

One thing about the tables of Jason, is that in terms of topic, they are all over the place. Objects, people, conditions, monsters, locations - he covers it all. A great index has been compiled over at Blessings of the Dice gods by Jeff Russell. This is a great index to Jason's work.

random Dungeon start

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The fourth quarter of 2017

This has been a busy few months, and while I haven't updated the blog lately, but I have been busy.

I have been gaming with ODMS (weekly at World's Best Comics, in Newport News), as much as my work and teaching schedule will permit.  Those have been mostly miniatures games, some run by me, some by other club members. Most notably, in December I ran a very lopsided Russian Civil War game. More on that later.

I have been running some roleplying game sessions.  A family only fantasy game, here at GwC HQ, has been great.  I had a good time with a one shot Traveller game.  Recently I ran a more public AD&D (2ed) game at WBC. All fun.

Lots of board game sessions at the house, mostly family oriented.  New Titles we like include Photosynthesis and TtR:Rails to Sails.

I have gotten a new hobby painting are set up.  Hopefully I will see some new figures soon.

2018 looks bright, the Lord has been good this past year, and the gaming has been fine.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Local wargaming club - active and moving forward

The Old Dominion Military Society has reformed and has been gaming weekly with great success for several months. We recently held our summer convention (Guns of August) at the local military museum, the Virginia War Museum in Newport News, and it was a great success.

Check out the after action report on the club blog.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wargaming the Barbarian Kingdoms (6th and 7th century) - Part 2, Visigoths

Visigoths - originally, as Feoderati under the Romans, they established area of rule in Gaul and Spain. The early (but exciting) campaigns of Alaric I predate the period considered here.  In 507, however, the Franks, under Clovis I beat the Goths (under Alaric II) at the Battle of Vouille  Visigoth rule in Gaul was at an end, but the Frank's were established as a kingdom that would give us Charlemagne, France, Germany, and a lot of different kinds of cheese.

The Visigoths, however, survived the loss of Gaul.  They had a kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, or Hispania).  There, they survived (and in harmony with the rest of Christendom after converting from Arianism in 589) until being overrun by the Moors (Berbers and Arabs up from North Africa) in about the year 711 or 712 (the Mozarbic Chronicle of 741, written in Latin, is unclear).  That was the Battle of Guadalete between King Roderic of the Goths, and Tariq ibn Ziyad.

Battle of Guadalete
So, for about two hundred years, there was a gothic kingdom in Spain. It gave us a lot of interesting Gothic architecture and early cathedrals, but not a lot of details on military practices.
Tariq Ibn Ziyad

Looking at what wargames have to offer on the Western Goths is interesting.  Again, turning to the original DBA list (as a conceptual distillation of the 1982 WRG army lists, and benefitting from eight years of further research and debate) we see that there is an infantry core of five elements. These can be either spear, or warband, or a mix of warband and auxilia - depending on which allies or sources you prefer. But that establishes a solid infantry battle line, supported by two units of skirmishers (Psiloi), and finally a solid mounted contingent of four units of four Cavalry units, and a Knight (general) unit.  

King Roderic
This could easily represent the army of Roderic, at the battle of Guadalete.  There, his solid infantry line was a match for the Moors, but he lost because his right cavalry wing under a disgruntled commander abandoned the field allowing the numerous, but lighter, Moorish cavalry to flank the infantry line.  Legend replaces the commander with Count Julian, who turned traitor because his daughter was raped at Roderic's court, but this (while a great medieval narrative) is unsubstantiated.

Visigothic Warriors - from a later English sculpting method.

Refighting Guadalete as a decisive battle that ended Christian rule in western Spain, until the Reconquista, is a worthy war gaming goal, but the lack of other major foes makes the prospect of building a large Visigothic army seem like a futile enterprise.  It is, however, a great example of a balanced army from the Barbarian Kingdoms era.  There are, of course, lots of Possible match ups against sixth century foes, such as Byzantines, Ostrogoths, or even early Andalusians from the other parts of Spain.

For figures, standard dark age infantry (metal conic helms, round shields, and either sword, spear, or bow) make the battle line and Psiloi easy to model. Likewise, the cavalry (cloaks, metal helms, round shields) are readily available. The older Minifigs heavy barbarian horse and heavy barbarian infantry are nearly perfect, as well as many modern manufacturers.

A nice set of pictures of a painted army is here.
is here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wargaming the Barbarian Kingdom Period (6th century AD) - Part 1, Ostrogoths

The story of the Ostrogoths is a very interesting one, including their origin, and how they became to be considered a single people, but from a military/wargaming perspective, their war against the Romans (especially the Eastern Romans, or the Byzantines, as their identity was coalescing following the fall of Western Rome) in and around Italy is the most interesting, and where we find some potential scenarios and campaigns for good games.

The eastern Goths had come into Italy in the previous century, and held (as the result of a number of successful sieges and sacks) many of the key cities of the peninsula.  In a period of almost 20 years, under Justinian, the Byzantines waged the "Gothic War" in order to restore these areas back to Roman (Byzantine) rule.  This lasted from 535 to 554 AD.  Some Gothic strongholds in Northern Italy would hold out for another 8 years, not falling until 562.

The earlier period is the successful sweep of the Byzantines up the peninsula, crossing from Africa, and securing a number of strong strategic points up the Italian peninsula.

Early Phase of the Gothic War

Battles of this period feature an early Ostrogothic army, against a Justinian Byzantine army.  The fighting is suitable for somewhat larger battles, and also (due to the rough country and terrain of Italy) for smaller raids and skirmishes, that no doubt took place between Byzantine forces, and smaller Gothic strongholds and military units.  Eventually the Gothic stronghold at Ravenna would be conquered by the Byzantines in 539/540.

This leads to the second phase of the Gothic War (540-554 or event 562) where a revived Gothic push back against the Byzantines takes place under the Gothic leader of Totila.
Totila, painted by Salviati in 1549
During the push back phase of the Ostrogoths reclaiming the initiative from the Byzantines, the great Byzantine general Narses would suffer because he also was dealing with encroachments from the Franks and the Alamanni.  In 554 AD, Narses was succesful against the Goths, at the battle of Vesuvius (also known as the Battle of Mons Lactarius), by defeating the army of Totila, and also killing the king.  The Goths, after this, retreated north into Austria.

In the end, however, Byzantines were successful against the Goths in Italy, but it was a fleeting victory.  First, it kept the strength of the Byzantines from dealing with problems in the north and the east.  Second, once the Goths were subjugated, the area was swept over again, by another German group, the Lombards, who would prove to be a lot harder to dislodge (that task being left to the Carolingians).

Battle of Mons Lactarius in 554AD, painted by Adolf Zick (~1900AD)

The representation of the Ostrogoths in miniature wargaming is pretty interesting, even if the army only has a few distinctive troop types.  The DBA rules give a pretty good indication of what we can surmise from history (and how rules writers interpret that history into wargaming terms).  DBA (original) has Army number 86 (Italian Ostrogothic 493-554AD) with 6x elements of Knights, 4x elements of Psiloi, or skirmish infantry, and finally 2x elements which could be either formed as 2x more Psiloi elements, or 2x spear elements.  

Before looking at how they are represented in other rules, it is worth considering the basics presented by the DBA list.  First, is the cavalry. In a gothic army, that is the Ostrogoths that settled in Italy, or the Visigoths that settled in Spain, and the various places these two broad groups came from (stretching all the way back to Northern Eurooe, in what is modern day Sweden), the army was mainly focused on the Warriors being mounted, and fighting in a close order, for shock value.  The other members of the population, as well as absorbed and allied peoples, would generally fight on foot.  Mainly these were loose order skirmishes, designated to a role supporting the mounted warriors. But in the case of some absorbed peoples (like the remnants of local Romanized infantry, which would fight in a dense shielded formation, with sword and spear) the foot troops might actually fight in a formed up formation, not entirely unsuited for a place in the battle line.  Still, however, the main branch is the mounted warriors.

 This is very much the same as what we find in the original 1982 WRG Army List Book Two entry.  There, the army gets a mandatory 44-72 Gothic Cavalry (start at Heavy Cavalry, but some portion can be upgraded to Extra Heavy Cavalry, all with javelin/light spear and shield).  Add to those figures, up to 90 additional Gothic Cavalry (which start at Medium Cavalry, but can up upgraded to Heavy Cavalry, and can be upgraded to match the morale grade of the earlier lot, Irregular B).  This makes for a very strong cavalry section (as you would expect, given the history of the army at battles like Taginae and Mons Lactarius, where the Ostrogoths fought against Byzantines and Germans that countered them with a reinforced infantry center), but without infantry it will have problems against a mixed foe who can reinforce a central battleline of heavy infantry.  The only real infantry presence the Goths have is that of the Gothic Archery (presented in the WRG list as up to 100 Light Infantry, which can remain as Irregular D or be upgraded to Irregular C).

This is a very interesting army, for a wargamer, because of it's strange mix of troop types.  The heavy cavalry is very good, and may be a precursor for later armies in the post-dark ages period.  But, as it is only supported by light infantry archers, it might be tough against some armies.  Where this will do well (a-historically) is in games the give too much credence to archery, and games that do not provide structural problems to cavalry fighting deep formation infantry without support.  I own (and fight with) an Ostrogoth DBA army, but I have not yet tried it with Might of Arms, or Terry Gore's rules.  It should be (at least) an educational matchup against a sixth century Byzantine army.