Sunday, May 8, 2016

Solo Miniatures Game: Clontarf 1014!

Having recently rebased and reorganized my dark ages collection, it is time to host a game with the figures.  Much of what I have in that collection falls into five categories.
  1. Vikings - many figures are clearly vikings, as depicted by shield and banner designs.
  2. Normans - a decent sized Norman, or West Frankish, collection.  Could also be early Germans (i.e. Carolingian East Franks - Alemagne, Saxons, Austrasie, Baviere, etc)
  3. Saxons - armed like the Vikings, with with the Christian motiffs suspected in Alfred's kingdom, etc.
  4. Irish - The Irish are definitely the Irish, you can tell by their odd shaped shields.
  5. Generic - There are many, many fellows wearing a chainmail byrnie, with a round shield (or sometimes, occasionally, a kite shield sneaks into a group), and a variety of weapons.  They are not immediately identifiable as Irish Nobles, Saxon Fyrd, Viking Thegns, etc - but could be any/all of the above.
One battle I would like to fight is Clontarf, pitting the High King (Ard Ri), Brian Boru, against the rebellious  Leinster King, Mael Mordha, and his viking mercenaries.  Mael Mordha was also allied to Sigtrygg Silkbeard - the Viking king of the city of Dublin (a Viking settlement, as prior to the Vikings building up towns, Ireland did not really have any).  While the armies were not so very different, at some levels, in composition - it is tempting to think of Brian's army as "Irish" and Mael Mordha's army as "Viking" - but the truth is that the Vikings had been in Ireland for two centuries, and had strongly influenced Irish warfare.

A fantastic resource about Brian Boru, his rise, the battle, the sides, and the results is at the online gallery hosted by Trinity College, in Dublin.  The presentment at the College, during the 1000 year anniversary in 2014, must have been fabulous.  Here is an example of one of the outstanding paintings commissioned for the various chapters of Brian's life and the retelling of the battle:

From the time, we know about the battle from near a half dozen different places.  The first three are "annals" that were being composed at the time, and they all mention (to different extents) the battle.
Next, there is Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, or the history of the "War of the Irish with the Foreigners".  Finally, there is Njal's Saga, which has towards the end, a description of the book.

A great map of the battle appears in History of Ireland, in an article by Sean Duffy.  It shows the key occurrences of the battle.
Se├ín Duffy, 'What happened at the Battle of Clontarf?' in History Ireland, vol. 22, no. 2 (2014), pp 30-1: 31.
Aside from their fantastic online gallery about Brian Boru, Trinity College also has a fantastic online gallery about the Battle itself, and it will have much more information than I can recreate here.

The Battle
The battle itself was fought on Good Friday, April 23, in the year 1014.  The two sides, as mentioned, were Brian's army, and the Viking alliance against him.

The Viking alliance against Brian's army had four chief commanders.  First, was Sigtrygg Silkbeard - the Viking leader of the Hiberno-Norse settlement/town of Dublin.  Allied with him was Mael Mordha, the king of Leinster.  Their Viking mercenary compatriots were commanded by Brodir of the Island of Man, and Sigurd of Orkney.  Between them they had about 6,600 men, although 2,000 (the Vikings of Orkney and Man) had freshly landed for the battle.  Sigtrygg (who was, by the way, married to Brian's daughter) and Mael Mordha (whose sister, Gormflaith, was Brian's third wife) were in revolt against Brian, the High King of Ireland.  There is some legend about Mael Mordha being mad about losing a chess game.  The Vikings of Orkney and Man were fighting under a Raven Banner that was stitched for Sigurd of Orkney by his mother Eithne.  There is a great set of commemorative stamps (with art by Victor Ambrus), celebrating these personalities and their history, described in Frontiers Magazine.

Brian Boru was High King due to having subjugated Connaught, Munster, and both parts of the Ui Neill land - in short, most of Ireland.  Added to that, Leinster was a vassal land, although ruled over by Mael Mordha.  Brian Boru's army consisted of about 5,000 men.  These consisted of about 2,000 Munster men, and the rest split between Connachts and Dalcassians.  The Dalcassians represented Brian's tribe (which in modern days also gave us John F Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan), which is where he got his start as a leader around the mouth of the river Shannon.  The Connachts were men from Connaught.

Brian's men set up north and west of the Viking line.  The Vikings were spread between the shoreline and the Tolka river.  The Vikings of Orkney and Man were at the front, and the Leinster men under Mael Mordha were on a second line.

Here is an interesting 19th century map, interpreting what comes to us from the primary sources.

The Battle itself was a blood bath - with almost all the Vikings having been slain, and a good 25% of Brian's army.  It was a victory for Brian, except that after the battle while Brian was praying in his tent (and taking a rest - he was 84 years old at this time), Brodir of Man snuck into his tent, and murdered him.  Brodir was chased down by Brian's men, and put to justice.  Other than the many men, one of Brian's sons and several other relatives also died during the battle.

I plan to recreate it using 15mm miniatures.  Pictures of the battlefield and miniatures to follow in another post.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Article at Wood Planet Gaming Lodge on OSR

Jason, over at Wood Planet Gaming Lodge asked me to write an article (very kind of him!) for his gaming web magazine.  I played around with some ideas for an X-Wing campaign, and maybe a variant for Pandemic I have been fooling around with, but in the end I wrote a short piece on my history with RPGs and also why I like Old School Roleplaying systems, and OSR gaming in general.

Check out the other good stuff over at WPGL while you are over there - a great site!

One thing I didn't mention in the article, that I should have, is how much of my memories of gaming 4 decades+ ago involved some of the (now dated, but at the time extremely cool) Judges Guild products.  I could have talked about the current games I have been running (updates at Sword and Potion) in the City State of the Invincible Overlord setting....