Heretical DBA Thoughts and Variants

Various ideas and variants that I've thought of over the years.  Feel free to try them yourself.  I'd greatly appreciate any feedback if you do so.

Random Army Breaks
ChessIn DBA virtually nothing is guaranteed.  Your knights will almost certainly ride down those pesky psiloi standing in the open...but it still is possible that you'll roll a one and they'll roll a six.  Distressing, but obviously your knights discovered a small patch of boggy ground.  (Which is why I completely and utterly disagree with players who remove this fog of war element by using D4 or average dice for combat or command pips.  You want certainties?  Go play chess - not DBA).

So why then is the army breakpoint always 4?  This leads to unrealistic desperation maneuvers to kill that last element.  Admittedly there is no guarantee that the last element will be destroyed, but should a general know that the enemy will break at exactly 25% losses?

So, amend the break rule to a die roll.  After the end of a player's bound, the player will roll an average die.  If the die is less than the number of losses he has suffered, then his army has broken and he has lost the game.  I think this nicely simulates the uncertainty that a general would face when commanding an army.  How much punishment can they take?  It would also simulate battle weariness.  The longer a battle goes on, the greater the chance that you will eventually roll low.

Alex Aimette tried this particular variant and offered some feedback -

We did try the random end variant proposed by Tony Stapells, and really enjoyed it.  Briefly, at the end of your bound, you roll an average die vs the number of elements lost, and if it is lower, your army flees. So starting on the turn when I'd lost three elements, I began to roll, and managed to pass it until I lost 5 elements worth of troops.  It removed a 'gamey' aspect of the game without any real complexity, and it made each bound very tense!  I now use the random [army break] all the time.


Random Game End
This particular idea is most useful in either a scenario or a campaign game battle, where there is a specified attacker and defender.  (Original mechanism pinched from Peter Pig's excellent "AK-47 Republic" in the RFCM series).  Due to the vagaries of combat night can fall, and battles end much quicker - or last much longer - than a general might wish it to.  By using this variant rule, it hopefully will give the players a sense of that fog of war, and definitely give the attacking player a sense of time pressure.

At the beginning of the scenario or battle, choose an ending number.  I'd suggest one between 30-40.  (But what do I know?  Still haven't playtested this one either).  Then play as normal, except that the players should keep a running tally of the attacker's pips thrown.  As soon as the tally exceeds the ending number night has fallen and the battle is over, unless the battle has already ended by one army breaking.  If dusk overtakes the battle before an army has reached its breakpoint, then the defender is deemed to have won.  As another variant it also might be interesting to play to nightfall no matter how many losses you have taken to determine how many elements you can save from the debâcle.  In a campaign situation this might be especially appropriate.

This rule would obviously provide the attacker with a need to attack as quickly as possible.  Ironically, the attacker might not be wishing to roll many sixes for pips!

Chris Brantley offered some interesting other thoughts on this variant;

You could specify that only pips actually used are tallied against the random game end point. Thus if you roll 6s but only need 3 pips, you only count 3 pips.

Another variant on the variant would be to roll 1D6 every turn after the total is reached and on a 1, then night would fall.


Winter Terrain
We actually used this once, since the Teutonic Knights preferred campaigning in the depths of winter.  Less chance of those pesky pagans from hiding in the undergrowth and unchivalrously ambushing the crusading knights.  (Original idea from the fertile and slightly fevered brain of Walter Wintar).

IceRivers are frozen.  Simply treat rivers as bad going.  Do not roll for river crossings.  Banks are not defensible.  This creates a long, thin, strip of bad going meandering throughout the battlefield.

Another option (which hasn't been used in play yet) would also have frozen lakes or ponds.  They would be treated as good going, just as on solid ground.  The fun would begin when an element is killed while on this frozen surface.  A kill would represent some hard fighting; not just skirmishing, so it is assumed that all that jostling would put some strain on the ice surface.  All units on the lake would immediately roll a die.  On a "one" result, the lake has cracked open and that unit falls through the broken ice and is counted as destroyed.  Combat continues as normal.  The lake is then treated as bad going.

Another unit destroyed will cause yet another "ice check" to every other unit on the lake.  If this sounds too drastic, rather than having the unit fall through the ice and die, it could be amended to a recoil.  But the lake would still be treated as bad going after the first time an "ice check" is failed and causes a recoil.


Larger Table
We use the 15mm scale for our collections of DBA armies.  It is an oddity of the rules that 25mm and 15mm figure scales play rather differently.  While I prefer the smaller scale figures, I actually think the 25mm scale plays better.  Why is that?

For 25mm, the table size is 48x48 inches.  For 15mm, it is half of that - 24 by 24 inches.  But the element frontage for 25mm is 60mm whereas the 15mm element frontage is 40mm - which is obviously NOT half.  So a 15mm army's frontage takes up proportionally much more of the table width than a 25mm army.  This leads to using the board edge as an invulnerable flank.  A cheesy game tactic at best.

To mitigate this problem, make the 15mm boards 36 by 36 inches.  Trust me - using a Greek hoplite army against a Persian cavalry heavy host really makes a General sensitive about the flanks on the larger boards.  And makes for a much more interesting game.

I'd also suggest that you still deploy the same distance in from the edge on a 36x36 inch table as a 24 by 24 inch table.  It takes a little longer to get into contact, but it does allow a little more time for the defending player (the one who set up first) to redeploy in response to the invader (who sets up second, but moves first).


Berserk Elephants
In DBA 1.1 recoiling elements can push back any friendly elements facing the same way...except war wagons and elephants.  I can understand that war wagons are fairly immobile and would be unable to allow shaken troops to retreat too far.  Yet elephants, although not too nimble, are still self propelled - unlike war wagons.  I've often thought that elephants would be more dangerous when they are retreating rather than the other way around.  Elephants were known to go berserk in combat; the elephant handlers often had a hammer and a spike to drive into the elephant's head in case of the elephant going amok into their own army.

Jumbo So, as a variant, ignore the existing DBA rule that does not allow recoils to push back elephants.  They will be pushed back as normal elements would usually be.  However when the elephants are destroyed...then try this:

On a result that kills the elephant stand, immediately roll another D6.  That roll is the number of base depths that the elephant stand will flee back.  It does NOT move the minimum movement necessary to avoid other stands. It does move towards the base edge and will avoid impassable terrain as per the normal rules.  If any element (probably friendly, but not necessarily) or part of an element is encountered by the elephant, roll immediately as per normal combat procedures.  I'm sure your gracious opponent will be pleased to roll for the rogue elephant's pip score.

Apply the combat results instantly.  If the elephant loses or ties the other's final pip result, remove the elephant.  If the opposing element is destroyed, remove the element.  This counts against the army breakpoint.  If the opposing element recoils, continue to move the elephant until it has fled the correct number of base depths.  Should this mean that the recoiled opposing element is contacted again, then fight another combat.

Once the elephant has fled the appropriate number of base depths, then remove the elephant.  Opposing generals should attempt to refrain from making "squishing" noises during the elephant attacks.

Angry Jumbo For the more squeamish among you or those that feel that berserk elephants would actually be very unlikely to completely destroy a unit (which includes myself actually) there is a different option.  When an elephant is destroyed, follow the same procedure above to determine the number of bases depths the elephant stand will flee.  However when another element is encountered do not roll any combat.  Simply move the element the shortest distance possible to remove it from the path of the rampaging pachyderm.  Elements pushed into impassable terrain or into other elements that are not facing the same direction are destroyed.  At the conclusion of the flee move, the elephant is removed from the game.


Surprise Attack
In DBA it is assumed that all armies are prepared to meet each other.  Neither one is surprised to meet the other.  Historically this was not always so, as Emperor Augustus, moaning about his lost legions, would tell us.  Although this variant handicaps the defender, it could be used to help balance certain unbalanced matchups.  Such as Teutoburger Wald - under DBA 1.2 especially, the warband player needs something to help balance the superiority of the Roman player, or perhaps the Prussians might catch the Teutonic Order unawares.

The attacker is presumed to have caught the defender foraging, on the march, encamped or otherwise not deployed or expecting battle.  The attacker and defending army are pre-determined by the players.  The defender then sets up the terrain and the attacker chooses the table side with a roll, as per the usual DBA deployment.  Attacker places his camp, then the defender places his.

Now, however, comes the (*ahem*) element of surprise.  The attacker places the defender's first element anywhere in the defender's normal setup area (600 paces from the board edge).  The defender rolls a die.  The resulting roll is the number of inches away that the attacker places another defending element, measuring from closest element corners.  The attacker can place this element in any facing he chooses.

The defender rolls another die, and the attacker again places another defending element that many inches away from the previously placed element.  Continue until all defending elements have been placed.  Attacker then sets up his entire army as usual, and then the defender takes the first move.

An option, which will help balance the scenario a little more, would be to allow the defender to setup a certain number of elements (perhaps four?) of his choice before the attacker is allowed to set up the rest of the defending army.  This would represent the defender deploying a piquet line while the rest of his army is scattered.

Obviously the attacker wishes to move as quickly as possible to take advantage of the defender's scattered deployment.  The defender must quickly recombine his elements into some semblance of an ordered battle line, which may mean sending off a "Forlorn Hope" of skirmishers hoping to slow the ambushers enough to allow the main battle line to form.  Good luck!

Animated diagram


Unknown Terrain
Another curious anomaly of the DBA rules are the terrain definitions.  Terrain features are set down and defined by the defender.  Both players know exactly how their troops will behave in that particular piece of tabletop decoration before their troops reach it...except rivers.  Neither player knows for sure what type of river it is until one tries to cross the waterway.

Which is excellent!  DBA attempts to limit the "omniscient" helicopter view of wargamers.  Should a general know exactly how steeply banked, or fast flowing a river is before his troops reach the actual stream?  No. And neither should he know how dense a wood is, or how steep a hill is before his men begin struggling through the terrain.

So, let's extend the randomness of rivers to the rest of the terrain laid down by the defender.  As with rivers, the first element to enter the terrain feature in question requires a roll on the appropriate table.  However, such a roll only defines that actual piece.  Seperate woods, for example, each require their own standard six-sided die roll.

Bad Going
Little underbrush, few BUA obstacles , slopes are fairly stable - all elements may move as a group move in this terrain, and any but auxilia or psiloi; and in, or mounted in contact with enemy in, suffer only a -1 in combat.  Mounted in the badgoing are still destroyed on an adverse combat result.
Normal DBA rules for badgoing - all elements move by column in this terrain, and any but auxilia or psiloi; and in, or mounted in contact with enemy in, suffer a -2 in combat.
Very dense underbrush, barricaded BUA, extremely treacherous slopes - all elements move as columns and must dice seperately and score more than 1 to move.  Any but psiloi; and in, or mounted in contact with enemy in, suffer a -2 in combat.  Note - Auxilia also suffer a negative modifier.

Gently Sloped Hills
Normal DBA rules for gently sloping hills - they are not considered badgoing, but do confer a combat advantage for troops upslope.
Upon closer inspection, slopes are slightly more difficult than first suspected.  They are treated as a 1-2 result on the badgoing table above.

And for completeness, here's the unmodified DBA river rule in chart form

River Crossing
The river is too shallow and easy banked to aid defense.
Defending units on the river bank, except at a road ford or bridge, add +1 to their combat factor.
Each element wishing to cross, except at a road ford or bridge must also dice separately and score more than 2 to cross.

Players may wish to apply die roll modifiers to the above tables based on their interpretations of the appropriate geography for historical matchups.  Romans versus Illyrians in rocky Illyria, for example, may warrant a +1 to the terrain rolls.  Conversely Pechenegs fighting Cumans on the open steppes could justify a -1 to all terrain rolls.  

Differentiating Warbands
Warbands in DBA are a homogenous troop type, which is understandable.  DBA is a simple fast play set of rules, and certain sacrifices must be made to achieve that goal.  Historically however, warbands tended to behave differently on the battlefield, depending on their origin.  Gallic warbands, for example, tended to rely on a fast initial charge to sweep their opponents away.  German warbands, while still emphasizing the individual fighting style, seemed to have more staying power and have a certain "mass" that the Gauls lacked.

Warband Command Luckily DBA already differentiates the two types of warband, even though for play purposes, DBA regards the two as identical.  "Heavy" warband are based four to a stand; "fast" warband are based three.

Combat values remain the same for both, as per the existing DBA 1.1 rules (+3 vs foot; +2 vs mounted).  Both warbands continue to have the option of a second rank adding +1 to their close combat values (again, as DBA 1.1).  A second rank may not be strictly appropriate given the scale of DBA, but it just "feels" right.  And looks right on the table - nothing like a mass of Gauls bearing down on a thin line of Roman legionaries.

However, warband mounted three to a stand can use an additional pip to move another 200p provided that second move ends in combat.  (The proposed 2.0 rule basically).  A second rank of supporting warband can follow the first as a group move.  As per the DBA 1.1 clarifications, should the three figure warband element win a combat, it shall follow up one base depth, but any second supporting element shall not.

Four figure warbands may also use an additional pip to make a second move, provided it ends in combat, but may only move an additional 100p.  Again, any second rank supporting element may also follow the first as a group move.  However, should a four casting element win a combat, that element and any supporting element, shall immediately follow up one base depth.  It is assumed the slower, but denser warbands, would be a more cohesive mob and be less prone to straggling as the faster three figure warbands.

Finally, since warband relied on individual warrior fighting skills, it is assumed that warbands would be less susceptible to bad going than troop types relying more on formation.  Warbands shall therefore only suffer a -1 combat modifier in badgoing.

(My thanks to Brian Peiper, who conceived this variant rule, and graciously allowed me to reproduce it here).  

Closing the Door
Closing the DoorIn DBA 1.1, slow troop types behave significantly differently in 25mm than in 15mm.  In 25mm, an element that moves 200p can, in one bound, move from an overlap position to a flanking position.  In 15mm, this is not geometrically possible.  To contact the flank of an enemy element requires the most distant corner to move more than 200p, which is not allowed.  Referring to the diagram to the right, in 15mm element 1 can only move to point A, assuming movement of only 200p.  In 25mm, the same element can move to point B.

Some players have a houserule which allows such 15mm elements to move a few more paces to contact the enemy.  It seems unreal that charging troops shall stop short of contact until the next bound.  And if the game were played in 25mm, it would, of course, be entirely possible.  It seems that DBA 2.0 will indeed incorporate this change.  Slow moving 15mm troop types will be allowed to contact enemy flanks in one bound.  So, again referring to the diagram, now 15mm elements moving only 200p will be allowed to swing to point B in one bound.

However, I like the fact that 15mm games would make it more difficult for certain troop types to break formation to contact an enemy flank.  Historically, spears and pikes would be employed in very linear formations, and would not be inclined to break their lines.  Especially if the enemy happened to be horse.  Personally, I think it ridiculous that a Macedonian pike phalanx (for example) would be allowed to charge - and catch! - a group of Tarantine light horse.  Unfortunately this is possible in 25mm.

So, reluctantly, the simplest and most rational solution to harmonize the artifical differences between the scales, is to indeed allow 15mm troops to "close the door".

However, to discourage players to perform unhistorical moves, moving pike or spear from an overlap position to a flanking position shall cost an additional two pips.  This represents the unwillingness of such troops to break their formation.  Moving any 200p foot element from an overlap into a flanking position onto a Cavalry or Light Horse shall also cost an additional two pips.  Note this is cumulative.  For example, those Macedonian Pike attempting to swing onto the Tarantine Light Horse flank will cost the general a total of five pips to do so.  This represents the great difficulty slow moving troops would have in attempting to trap faster, more mobile troop types.  

Campaign Allies
Phil Barker has said that campaign games are much more interesting than ordinary, one-off battles.  I'd definitely have to agree with him.  Campaigns create a sense of purpose that is lacking other battles.  Players treat their armies with more respect and perhaps play a bit more cautiously.  Suicide charges on the last turn of a scenario rarely occur in campaign encounters.  Armies aren't always perfectly equal size...the list of advantages is quite lengthy.

Campaigns, although a lot of fun, can unfortunately be somewhat difficult and time consuming to organize.  However, one of the great advantages of DBA is the small size of the armies, and the short time to play a game to completion.  The campaign rules that are included with DBA are an ideal way of creating a quick campaign, with very little paperwork (always an important feature in my opinion!) and that is capable of being completed in a session or two of play.

However, I think the Allied Contingent rule can be made both more accurate, and more exciting.  It is assumed that the allied army is marching to the aid of the primary army at all possible speeds - to the sound of clashing steel as it were.  Otherwise the allied army would start on the table with the primary army.  So scouting, if any, will be limited at best.  Any reports to the allied general will be verbal, possibly confusing and naturally delayed in the age before radio or telegraph.

So, should the allied general be able to precisely place his lead element on a table edge where it will do the most good?  I don't think that is accurate.  There is no way that the general will know the battlefield dispositions of the combatants before he arrives on the table to survey the battle for himself.

Therefore, in a game with allied support, before camp placement, but after table sides have been chosen, the ally general shall secretly record on a slip of paper the exact entry point of his army.  I'd suggest the easiest way of doing that would be by measuring the number of inches from a certain table corner.  The side(s) of the battlefield that the ally is allowed to appear on is determined as per the existing DBA campaign rules.  Again, as usual, the ally only appears when a six is rolled on the ally pip die.

The only change is that the ally general must secretly guess where he should best enter.  The other generals, including his on-table ally, may only know which side(s) of the battlefield he will be marching onto.  I think this subtle change will make allied entry a little more realistic, and a trifle more exciting and unpredictable.  

Random Followup
In DBA, impetuous troop types automatically advance one base depth after winning a combat, or after their opponents break off a close combat.  It nicely simulates the rash nature of certain troop types, such as warband or knights.  Unfortunately in DBA, although the combat results may be rather unpredictable, the followup move of the impetuous element is always one base depth and therefore entirely predictable.  And perhaps a bit unrealistic.

As an alternative, after an enemy element is destroyed by an impetuous troop type or if an enemy element disengages from close combat, roll a D3.  (To get a D3 result roll a normal six sided die, and divide by two, rounding up).  That is the number of element base depths the impetuous element must pursue in a line straight ahead.  The second rank of supporting warbands shall follow the first element's pursuit move (unless of course, you're using my more specialized warband rules).

Should the pursuing element encounter other elements (enemy or friendly) or impassable terrain, the pursuing element shall stop at that point.  Note that pursuits off the board edge are indeed quite possible.  An impetuous element that pursues off the table is counted as lost.  Also please note that only impassable terrain stops an element...mounted impetuous units can end their pursuit in badgoing.

Impetuous elements that win a combat, but fail to destroy their opponents followup one base depth as per the normal DBA rules.


Some DBA links -

Geoff Nurcombe's List of Armies
This is just a list of the DBA armies available within my little informal circle of wargaming friends.  Yes, we're greatly spoiled for choice.  At last count I think we had 95 separate DBA armies to choose from.
The DBA Resource Page
This site is pretty comprehensive.  If you like DBA, then you simply must bookmark this site.  It also has a MUCH bigger section of variants and houserules than me.  And I thought I was unique...
Medieval Armies DBA Page
Another wonderful website, packed with yet more DBA information.  Who would have thought a simple ruleset that can fit on a 8½ x 11 sheet (A4 size) would have generated so much interest?  Excellent content and well illustrated.  David also delves into a sadly neglected aspect of DBA - camps.  See what he's done, and how much colour a nicely constructed camp can add to your proudly painted army.

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