Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Normans without Horses

The traditional image of the Norman warrior is the mailed knight bearing a kite shield and couched spear astride a powerful destrier. These were the warriors who gave the Normans the reputation as the best heavy cavalry in the tenth and eleventh centuries, from Britain to Byzantium.  However, the mounted knight was hardly the only Norman warrior, and most certainly not even the most numerically predominant.  At the Battle of Hastings, most sources estimate that Duke William fielded one to two thousand cavalry out of a force of six to eight thousand.  Osprey's Campaign Series book Hastings 1066, citing Professor David Douglas, puts the cavalry numbers much more precisely at 1,070 Normans, 400 Franco-Flemish and 530 Bretons.  These estimates make the cavalry at most 25% of the Norman army.  What of the majority of the Norman army, the spearmen, archers and crossbowmen?  As low ranking sergeants or commoners, chroniclers showed little interest in recording their contributions to the battle.  Not surprisingly, The Bayeux Tapestry shows the Battle of Hastings opening with 12 horsemen and 4 archers, an inverse of the probable distribution.

Tactically, Norman infantry and archers initiated contact with the enemy, the cavalry holding back until the point of maximum impact.  The knights did not get all the glory, though.  The Bayeux Tapestry does depict England's King Harold's death by an arrow to the head.  

Gripping Beast Norman Spearmen

The three figures below are from Black Tree Designs.  I recently made my first purchase from the American distributor, and I am impressed.  The finish is a bit rough in some places, but the posing is unique and natural; the company's delivery was very fast.  

There is some debate about whether crossbow units were present at Hastings.  Nonetheless, they were an integral part of the Norman warmachine in Italy and undoubtedly accompanied Norman knights on the First Crusade.

Norman Crossbows, Crusader Miniatures and Black Tree Designs

For a challenge, I recommend playing SAGA as the Normans using the historical percentages from Hastings.  In other words, with a six point force, at most two units can be mounted.  

Gravett, Christopher. Hastings 1066 The Fall of Saxon England London: Osprey Publishing,  1992.

Battle of Hastings scene by scene: http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/BayeuxContents.htm

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Printing and Finishing Custom Dice

My previous homebrew SAGA dice have been printed on decal paper or on regular paper and affixed with spray adhesive.  I am now working on something a little more professional looking, waterslide decals.  This paper can be obtained fairly reasonably from a variety of sources, I found mine on eBay years ago for a guitar related project. At any rate, I have about a dozen sheets left, great for a variety of uses.

I create my custom pictures using a freeware program calked PhotoFiltre, or use the image files on the Studio Tomahawk forum.  The SAGA community should be really thankful that the game designers have opened so much of the game up to fan experimentation.

I tried to put as many decals as I could on a page.  The decal paper is not very expensive, but I hate to waste space, and I could always make extra dice for friends I am trying to hook on SAGA.

Spray the printed sheet with a glossy sealer, let dry for several hours.

Carefully clip and dip your decals in a cup of water for about 30 seconds.  You want the decal to slide off the paper and onto the surface of the die. Too much submersion and most of the adhesive is leached away, too little and the decal will not come loose from the backing.

SAGA Dice for Woodland Indians or "Skraelings"

Finally, I sprayed the gloss sealer on the dice, a couple of coats to get all the sides.  All together, it is not terribly expensive to produce a set of dice this way, but it is time consuming.  Of course, one could always use regular d6, but without getting too pretentious, part of the appeal of rolling dice in general and SAGA dice in particular is its connection to ancient ritual behavior.  The earliest dice to prehistoric and ancient men were "knucklebones," or the anklebones of livestock or hoofed game like deer.  Symbols and runes were marked on the sides for use in shamanistic rituals...or mostly gambling.  Symbol dice seem to carry greater significance than just a number of dots.   

SAGA dice for the Scots faction

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Dice Symbols

Woodland Indian dice symbols added to the Downloads page for use with Skraelings.  My next custom battleboard will be Woodland Indians later this summer.

The official SAGA battleboard for Skraelings is fun and unique with its use of imitation and elimination of your opponent's abilities, but what if two Indian warbands face each other?  More traditional shooting and melee  abilities will be necessary.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Time to Focus

Like most miniature collectors and games, I have a mountain of figures that seems to grow faster than I can paint it.  Currently, my unfinished projects are...

1. Some stray Norman and Byzantine infantry for SAGA:

2. The 37 figure Skraeling set for SAGA:

3. 16 Scot warriors from Crusader Miniatures purchased on impulse when I was reading King Hereafter months ago:

4. A few units of Song Chinese ordered from The Assault Group. I would like to do some skirmishing on China's western frontier with Chinese, Tibetans and steppe nomads.

Add to that the soon to be released plastic Norman infantry from Conquest Games - two boxes, definitely.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Byzantine Kataphractoi

One of the reasons I prefer SAGA and other skirmish games is that they cater to my budget and my diverse interests.  Napoleonic war gamers can build a two thousand plus figure army, all meticulously based and painted, and they are focused on that army for years.  For me, the appeal of SAGA is collecting 40-60 figures and researching that particular corner of the Dark Ages for a couple of months.  Then I can run them in some games, and then build an opposing army.

These cavalry bring my Byzantine army to a completion.  The Byzantines of the tenth and eleventh century fielded a far heavier cavalry than contemporary armies in Western Europe.  Byzantine warhorses were protected by quilted or scale armor, and the heaviest kataphractoi wore lamellar and scale armor beneath a quilted coat.  According to Anna Comnena, her father Alexius was struck by multiple Norman spear at the Battle of Dyrrachium in 1081. The spear embedded in his armor and he cut them off, and the emperor was then able to escape his pursuers.

The development of Byzantine heavy cavalry was an obvious response to the heavy cavalry found in late Roman Empire's allies and enemies.  The Sarmatians and Persians deployed heavily armored cavalry well before the Romans.  Also, the wealthier economies of Eastern Mediterranean states and the flatter geography made heavy cavalry a more viable option than the poorer kingdoms of the west.

The eight figures below are two packs from Gripping Beast.  The unit in the rear is a command unit, and the group in front are mace bearers.

Part of the reforms and policies of the Emperor Nicephorus was to standardize equipment for the Byzantine army.  Part of this was to insure that the cavalry carry multiple weapons; in case of breakage or loss a khataphract might carry two swords and two maces into battle. 

The command unit, in which the horses heads are covered by an iron plate instead of scale.

The full Byzantine band, consisting of 5 points of hearthguard (8 Khataphracts and 12 Varangians), 2 points of warriors (8 spearmen and 8 armored archers) and a general.  I might like to add a unit of levy archers later, but there is really no justifiable place in a SAGA warband for the most exotic unit available to the Byzantines: a Greek Fire crew:

...but I still want one.

Recommended Reading

The Alexiad by Ana Comnena. The Byzantine princess' account of her father's reign is praised for its forward looking approach to historical methodology.  That said, she worked to portray Alexius in the best possible light, especially in the aforementioned battle of Dyrrachium, a devastating loss for the Byzantines. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Byzantine Heroes for SAGA

The Byzantines are a natural faction for use in SAGA.  They exerted an inescapable pull on western Europe during the Dark Ages, the age of SAGA, and by the tenth and eleventh centuries, the empire had frequent interactions with Vikings and Normans.  On the other hand, the Byzantines fought with armies not warbands and engaged in battles, not skirmishes.  However, frontier troops called Akrita in romantic songs and poems display the heroic qualities of the Viking Age in their skirmishes with Arabs, Turks, Bulgars and other enemies of the Empire.  However, such rough environments as the Balkans and Asia Minor were no place for the pampered emperors of Constantinople.  

An exception would certainly be Basil II.  A tireless campaigner, he earned the nickname "the Bulgar Slayer," supposedly after ordering 14,000 captured Bulgars to be blinded, save one man in a hundred.  This lucky prisoner was only blinded in one eye and tasked with leading his comrades back to their territory.

The great general Nicephorus Phocus, described as short, bald and grotesque, nonetheless married the beautiful widowed Empress Theophano after the death of Romanus II and became the new Emperor.  After a few years, she tired of him and conspired to have her lover (and his nephew) assassinate him.  The assassins sneaked into his bedchamber and found the bed empty.  They panicked, fearing they had been discovered.  However, Nicephorus, ever the austere soldier-monk, was sleeping in the corner on the stone floor and was then slain. 

All figures from Crusader Miniatures.

I have put together more detailed faction rules, along with a abilities for a couple of Byzantine hero characters.  This should almost bring my Byzantine project to a close.  After adding a unit of heavy cavalry, they will go up against some Normans.