The Successors Project: Part Three

So, at the end of Part Two, where I offered up a whole load of reasons why the various commercial sets of rules I play tested didn’t quite cut it, I rather foolishly promised to offer up my own efforts for criticism 🙂

Before doing that though I would like to say that my rules adventure wasn’t just limited to the 5/6 sets I physically road tested, I also watched You Tube play throughs of several other sets to see whether they would be worth a purchase, so, Sword & Spear, Mortem et Glorium and Triumph were considered (and I think a couple more but I can’t remember now 🙂 ) but the play throughs didn’t whet my appetite. Thanks also to the various contributors on LAF who came up with suggestions.

Before opening up, here’s a re cap of the main things we were looking for in a set of ancients rules; period specific, multi figure based and multi stands to a unit, low level book keeping, modifying factors but not a shopping list, a limit on the amount of randomness, visible deterioration of a unit.

Prior to writing and before I got into the play testing previously described I did a kind of project outline document (you can take the man out of project management……..) to help me understand where we might go with the idea but also to give Dave and a couple of other guys who expressed an interest a vision of the period. What came up for me was that there was a hell of a lot more fighting than I thought there was (and that was a good thing), 5 distinct wars/campaigns stretching from Greece to Asia Minor with an ever changing cast of characters using armies that, yes were clearly ‘Macedonian’, but were also subject to the whims of geographically available manpower. The core of the armies was definitely the phalanx and the Companions so that was where the focus needed to be but there was going to be a need to be a bit broader in scope.

Making the rules period specific was the easy bit given that I was writing them 🙂 and originally I had planned to just do the ‘pure’ period of the Diadochi, the real guys who were actually around with Alexander and who had all died out by 281BC, but the more I read the more I realised that their successors, the so called Epigonoi, flowed seamlessly on from them and kept the rivalry and fighting going up until the Romans came along and spoilt everything. So, still specific to the power of the phalanx and the Companions and the elephants etc, just for a bit longer than I originally planned and a few more exotics like Galatians; basically I cut it off at the point where the Romans are facing off to the phalanx, I just didn’t need the head ache of trying to come up with rules mechanisms to fairly represent the Republican legions and once you are into Romans you are into Carthaginians and then Spanish and then……..

Before putting pen to paper Dave and I had a chat about the look we were going for and what the size of the units would be and the base sizes within those units; once we had an idea of that I could go away and see what was the best fit in terms of historical reality. I think it’s very easy, if you are going for a bigger game, to gravitate towards bigger units just because you can, so pike units of 48 figures (done that), 64 figures (done that) etc but the drawback is that your table is never big enough unless you are at the Wargames Holiday Centre or similar and that isn’t an everyday occurrence. A natural result of the big infantry blocks is that you have to go big with the cavalry and so normal size units of 8 or 10 figures suddenly have to be 12, 16 or 20 figures strong which again occupy an awful lot of space and with a good many sets of rules are effectively redundant. The obvious problems with this ‘go big or go home’ approach is, the cost, the time to assemble the units for play, the effort in moving so many figures and the fact that it can be off putting to those considering entry into the period. Now don’t get me wrong, I like big battles and think that at Westbury that is exactly what we do, but the experience needs to be enhancing not exhausting. So, after cutting out various pieces of card (60mm x 40mm, 40mm x 40mm, 50mm x 40mm, 50mm x 50mm, 80mm x 40mm) and mounting random figures on them we came up with 40mm x 40mm for the foot (4 figures, 2 x 2) and 40mm x 50mm for the horse (2 figures) with a proviso that the horse might have to go 50mm x 50mm depending on the size of the castings – this was largely driven by the size of the Victrix cavalry but once we’d dumped them we found that standard metal cavalry would fit fine on the 40mm x 50mm. A contributory factor to this choice was that these base sizes and figure alignment would work fine with Hail Caesar or Swordpoint so if my efforts bombed out then we would still have a half decent commercial set to fall back on. Once we’d agreed on this I could take it back to the history and see if fitted in somewhere and if it did project that forward to determine the potential size of the units, recognising that we were concentrating on the mainstream units here, the phalanx and the shock cavalry (Companions and their derivatives), the rest would have to bend around them. As the rules developed the bases for the ‘exotics’ like elephants & chariots went from big squares to circles to the current octagonal – works great for having a clear notion of which direction they are going to stampede off in!

Now a phalanx is notionally 16,000 men strong, bloody massive, and sits on the battlefield in quite a flat linear formation, deeper that Greek hoplites but not like renaissance Swiss; however it isn’t one immovable block it is made up of several divisions and those divisions are made up of battalions, so it was down to the maths. After some playing around I came to the conclusion that I could have one base as one battalion (or syntagma), now 8 of those make a merarchia and 4 of those make a keras (or wing) of 8,000 men; pretty good I thought, we’d have 4 units of pike which would look cool in the centre of the battlefield and we’d still have room to surround them with the supporting peltasts, mercenary hoplites and elephants as well as have room for the cavalry, yes we’d be operating at half scale but on our standard 8 foot (sometimes 10 foot) x 6 foot table that would look good. For those of you who want to do the maths that made 1 figure = 64 real guys but when it came to the cavalry that just didn’t work; the smallest cavalry unit was the squadron (or ilai) of 256 men which would mean 4 figures, not too bad and absolutely fine for the army of Alexander where the squadron was the tactical unit but in the Successors period several ilai were combined into a hipparchy (or regiment) of around 1,000 men or 4 ilai so we’d be looking at 16 figures and there was usually 4 hipparchies per wing. Now for those who have much bigger tables and plenty of money this probably sounds perfect and good luck to you, double up the size of the pike blocks and away you go, but we wanted it to be doable, better to have 4 regiments per wing of a reasonable size that could operate as their historical counterparts did than have 4 behemoths that just take up space. I couldn’t make any progress with this at first and was thinking well ok maybe 2 x 16 man units per wing in 2 ranks? then it became blindingly obvious, just half it! double ranked cavalry units never work anyway so the base becomes the squadron, so a regiment is 4 bases, very do able and 1 figure = 128 men; actual play testing led me into having the elite cavalry as 3 bases so they could form wedge and the satrap cavalry as 4 which has worked so far and for the pike I ended up cheating a little by making them 9 bases strong in 3 ranks so they looked different to to mercenary hoplites alongside them and had a rank advantage.

Once the basic building blocks were established the rest of the prerequisites to play soon fell into place; there is hardly any armour so you either are or you aren’t, weapons are pretty standard, only the infantry have shields, there are shock cavalry and skirmish cavalry, there are melee infantry and skirmish infantry, so with the skirmishers it was just less figures on a base which did lead me to having the standard skirmish cavalry base as double sized – 1 figure on a base looked silly. I did however succumb to the non historical, purely wargaming formation, of Loosely Formed Infantry to represent peltasts and warbands; everyone knows there is no such formation really but it is a convenient conceit. The range of morale (or bravery or class or whatever you want to call it) seems pretty limited, there are elites and veterans, a whole load of mercenaries who are generally pretty reliable, a goodly number of levy who aren’t so reliable and the great bulk of the armies who are just that, the steady eddies who turned up, fought and died; I opted not to do a ranked hierarchy or stats but instead built in advantages and disadvantages for the various types in different situations. The one thing I did realise, and have tried to build in, is the effect of leaders; none of them are crap, most are pretty effective and some are downright amazing in the right circumstances, so again I’ve built in advantages in certain situations – Pyrrhus, for example, would be classed as ‘Daredevil’ which gives a decided advantage if he’s in the front rank of a unit when they are attempting to charge and when fighting their first round of combat but of course he is at a greater risk of being killed (although nobody is throwing tiles off a roof!). In a moment of madness I did come up with the idea of listing every leader from the period on a spread sheet and ranking them according to what I could find out about them, then ‘costing’ them in the army lists against the armies they could serve with; I actually got a a fair way through this with notes all over the desk and a pounding headache before I thought “what the hell am I doing, I promised Dave this would be straight forward” binned the lot, headache went away 🙂

The first big decision was sequence of play. I have no bias either way in terms of alternate or simultaneous, I’ve played both, written rules incorporating both, and there are plusses and minuses for both. I did think about the completely random approach which has become very popular of late, tokens out of a bag, cards from a deck, and refinements of that theme but I confess to having a real problem with it, to me it has very little to do with the reality of a massed battle, I can see the use in the chaos of a skirmish encounter but not beyond that. I was inclining towards alternate play, it’s easier to administer, there is a sense of generals trying to counter each other and I thought that if I gave an advantage to a certain kind of wily general when the players diced for who went first (let’s call it Initiative) that would give it a sense of excitement. The problem is that one guy is sitting on his arse waiting while the other guy has all the fun unless you then cheat it and have certain things as simultaneous – shooting & melee are the usual ones, but I didn’t want to do that. Then I remembered the idea in Civitates Bellantes of alternate moving but with the guy with the initiative going first in each phase rather than hogging the whole turn – FoG kind of had something like this. The problem with CB was that there were ifs and buts, the opponent could counter charge for example, not for me I was going to go with ideological purity! This wasn’t without it’s problems but I think I’ve got this to work now. So what were the phases to be?

Originally I went for 7 phases; Command & Control (Rallying), Getting into a Fight (charges), Manoeuvre (movement), Shooting, Finishing the Fight (melee), Galloping Off (enforced movement) and Shock of Battle (morale) but after some initial disastrous playtesting (it’s good to burst the bubble of over confidence) I dropped it to 6 and rethought what happened in each phase. Now 6 phases would be a lot for an opponent to wait around for but with my idea that both players would do each phase in order of initiative diced for at the beginning of each full turn there wouldn’t be so much waiting around and it would be like playing two turns in one; so in Command & Control player A (who won the initiative roll) would move his leaders, rally units and maybe write new orders then player B would do his; yes you could do this simultaneously but play experience has shown that at some point it’s going to matter who gets rallied and who doesn’t and the guy going second has a chance of getting the right units ready for being on the receiving end for the rest of the turn – one of the few advantages he will have. In the Contact phase (original title was a bit pretentious) player A will test and launch all his charges and the opposition will either stand or bugger off in some form or other and player A will fight a round of combat – a kind of ‘shock of impact’, only he fights, player B doesn’t fight back and there will be some kind of result, once all this is done player B gets to launch his guys. I wont bore you with every phase but the process applies in each, so in Manoeuvre where at different points of the game it will make a difference whether you go first or second the winner of the dice roll needs to think ahead a bit, in Shooting player B might have less guys to shoot back with, in Continuing Combat player A’s advantage becomes clear because in any stuck melee’s from Contact he is fighting first again, poor old player B is hoping to desperately hold on but this is also the phase where reinforcements can be thrown in, with Consequences you probably could do the rallying simultaneously because both players are testing for bad things that happened to them, they don’t much care about the other guys at this point.

All very well but how do things get resolved? At the start of the writing process I decided I was going to use just one dice type – I’ve used and written rules with several dice types but for the sake of simplicity (it’s an ageing group!) I wanted to use one and after a few trial runs I went for D8, it gave enough of a spread and as I progressed through the early ideas it sat best with where I was going, a kind of synergy. As stated earlier we didn’t want a shopping list all encompassing test which you used for everything but only certain things applied for certain events, my vision was a series of mini tests specific to the particular event (charging, rallying, casualties) with factors only relevant to that event and a standard pass threshold. Now the standard pass threshold didn’t work (I used 6), or should I say it necessitated too many factors to make sure good guys stuck around and crap guys bugger off and those factors were always the same, +2 if Elites, -2 if Levy, you get the idea; then in a lightbulb moment I realised that if I made the pass threshold specific to the class then the shopping list would get shorter and players would know that their Elites always needed a 4 and above and their Levy a 7 and above to, charge, kill, shoot, rally and only a few factors specific to the test would effect that. It’s worked surprisingly well.

Once the threshold thing and the dice were settled a lot of the peripheral stuff could slot into place, being standard wording for things like visibility, terrain types, deployment, orders, ranks fighting, movement restrictions – there really is only a few ways of doing these. For the terrain I went for the tried and trusted version of a few specific types and then have one player place them and the other player choose deployment edge; a simple scouting mechanism would create a difference in ‘scouting points’ which in turn would lead to one player moving or removing pieces and/or creating fords over waterways, putting roads through woods and scattering caltrops. for each point difference. Armies would be divided into simple commands each under a leader – X number of units under a leader who has a zone of influence, who deploy in the standard rectangle measured off the base edge, if a unit isn’t in zone it can’t do stuff. Orders are the big four (attack, advance, hold, skirmish) applied by default, so all elites attack, peltasts advance, skirmishers skirmish, no ifs, buts and maybes.

When it came to effects of the shooting and fighting the big question was what happens to the elephants and chariots? Everyone else is pretty easy to work out, good guys keep on going until they’re nearly all dead, skirmishers ‘don’t like it up ’em’, mercenaries are fine until stuff starts to go wrong, but the exotics were a challenge. Despite our modern day prejudices, coloured somewhat by Roman writers, the use of elephants wasn’t a complete disaster, in fact they were pretty effective within the confines of Macedonian warfare (otherwise why did they use them?) but when things went wrong it could be quite spectacular! I trialled various ideas; permanently random movement, stampede as soon as they are shot at, elephant guards, non elephant guards, tables for direction of movement, non of which did it for me. Where I have got to now is that, they move/charge at a standard rate and units near them or hit by them are unformed (similar for chariots), if they take casualties there is a 50% chance of the mahout/driver being killed and then the elephant/chariot stampedes/goes out of control – and this is where the D8 worked out well, roll the dice, count the flats round the octagon to match the score and there’s your direction of travel. Anyone in the way gets run through and disordered except formed infantry who stand and fight (chariots bounce off), a fixed number of casualties kills off the model which then becomes a piece of difficult terrain – the most fun in the trial games was when they didn’t hit formed infantry but just careered around making a mess until someone shot them down.

I mentioned casualties above and the exotics are the only units that carry casualties until death, so a little bit of book keeping or casualty counters. For everyone else the place I’ve got to is casualties are inflicted in whole figures during a turn and a complete base worth is removed and is the reason to test in whatever phase that happens but if by the final phase a unit has casualties amounting to less than a base then they are discarded, no carry over, no book keeping. As an example, player A Companions charge into some satrap cavalry, they roll 1 x D8 for each base in contact needing the threshold of 4+, they get pluses for being charging lancers and being in wedge, they manage to inflict 2 casualties so the satrap cavalry lose that base, get pushed back 1 base depth and test for losing against their threshold but hang on. Later, in continuing combat, the Companions go again, the wedge is now imbedded in the opposition now so no pluses but they do get one for following on, however they only inflict 1 hit so no test for the satrap guys. Now the satrap guys get to fight but they’ve lost a base and they’re disordered so it’s a tall order and they do nothing; the turn goes on and by the end the satrap guys are sitting there with the 1 casualty but they had 25% losses with the lost base and that is a reason for a Consequences test (morale), but they pass so the casualty is binned off and they hope to fight first next turn. There are nuances for how many bases fight at any one time (front ranks for the initial hit, everyone after that, except….), pikes get plusses for ranks, warbands do well 1st round, etc but the amount of casualty counting is minimal.

Usually the biggy in any set of rules after the killing each other is morale and this set is no different in that it has a turn mop up test but only against a limited criteria – multiples of 25% losses, dead leaders, friends buggered off, but passing favours the better threshold units; the bad results have usually come out of the mini tests in the shooting and melee.

The final thing for any set of rules is of course the army lists which people can argue over to their hearts content or just ignore and do their own thing. I quite like army lists as long as I understand what’s going on and I appreciate the efforts that authors have gone to, but if people want to ignore them by all means crack on. I’ve done mine as already defined units, worth X much, minimum & maximum availability so:- Cataphracts – Formed Cavalry, Lancers, Fully Armoured – 2 to 4 – 7 talents (points), simple and effective. What wasn’t quite so simple was me getting completely carried away! Because it was such a small time frame I knew I could do lists for all the main antagonists, so, Antipater, Perdiccas, Eumenes, Antigonus, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, but then there were the minor players, Seleucus (early on), Peucestas, Asander, oh and then Cassander and Demetrius, and then……. Utter madness, I’ve ended up with around 30, some very similar of course but all having some level of uniqueness, but mad all the same.

I think I’ve waffled on long enough here. It was my intent just to give a flavour but that is quite difficult and originally I intended to include excerpts from the rules but that looked crap so apologies for the solid text. If you want me to send you a pdf for you to take the piss out of (not for publication or sale to 3rd parties etc) then contact us at the blog or maybe easier, DM on the Twitter page or email at the group email address.

Many thanks for reading. Keep safe.

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