Sunday, September 23, 2012

SAGA Battle Report: Byzantines versus Normans

This kitchen table match up was a quick 4 point variation on the Escort mission scenario.
It was my first playtest of the increased armor and shooting abilities for the Byzantine hearthguard.

The Byzantine army consists of a unit of 8 Khataphractoi, 8 skutatoi, 8 armored archers, and a warlord (general with guards). 

The objective is to escort a Byzantine diplomat and his letters back to Constantinople in the winter of 1081.  The road runs between a farm and small hill.  The end point is the Roman ruins at the end of the table. 

On the other side of the hill, a group of Normans appears, consisting of 8 mounted Sergeants, 4 Knights, 8 spearmen and 8 crossbowmen.  

The mounted units are trying to flank the escort troops, while the foot soldiers are going over the hill (rough terrain).

Best roll of the night.   

The Byzantines make it to the end, with the diplomat, warlord, 3 archers, and 1 Khataphract. 

Conclusions: increasing the armor and adding the shooting rule for the Khataphractoi probably made a difference.  In previous match ups against the Normans, the Byzantines were 0 for 3.   Shooting with two units almost halved a unit of Norman warriors before they charged into the Byzantine infantry. A terrain layout that favored the Greeks also proved advantageous.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Musicians and Priests: House Rules

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. 

- Voltaire 

Well before SAGA, I had two modest sized armies of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Blame Bernard Cornwell. Somewhere along the way,  I added in Normans and Byzantines. Either through the purchase of unit deals or the occasional impulse buy, I have ended up with a number of support figures for each army. WAB made use of such figures, but SAGA does not.

This is a very minor house rule.  It is not intended to alter the game play and/or the outcome of a game.  Its main purpose is to add variety to the table and make some use of the musician and priest figures that I have accumulated.

1) Before starting a match, each player can choose one support character, either a musician or a priest.

2) Musicians and Priests are attached to a unit at the start of the game.  They can attach to any unit, Warlord down to Levy. They cannot switch units once gameplay has begun. Their base must stay within VS distance of at least one figure in the unit.

Each character offers slightly different advantages:

3) Musicians:  If attached to Warlords  musicians increase the range of the We Obey activation rule by an additional S length.

If attached to a group of warriors, hearthguard or levy, the musician increases their attack dice by one.

4) Priests: When attached to a unit, they generate one extra defense die.

5) Priests may not be mounted. Only musicians may attach to mounted units, if they are mounted as well. As an extra benefit, priests and musicians offer one additional casualty for their unit. It is the controlling players decision on whether to remove the musician or priest after suffering casualties.  Once their character has been removed, the benefits they offer are also removed.

All musicans are treated equally.  Drummers and string players are welcome.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Norman Infantry and Recommended Reading

As I continue my work on my Conquest Norman Infantry, I am impressed with how useful they are in a variety of roles.

Here is a group of unarmored Normans set up as Breton skirmishers.  I shortened the spears to javelin length and added a few bare heads from other manufacturers.  

A unit of Normans 

Another option included in the box is a double handed axeman.  Paint him a mustache and you have an Anglo-Dane huscarl.


Haskins, Charles Homer The Normans in European History.  Haskins deserves praise as one of the greatest medievalists of the early twentieth century, while he was less than successful as a close advisor to Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.  Although close to a hundred years old,  The Normans in European History is an excellent description of how the Normans evolved from Viking settlers (or extortionists of the Franks) into an organized medieval state in under two centuries.  Haskins' historical viewpoint is a product of his times, and he attempts somewhat unsuccessfully to view and define the duchy of Normandy in twentieth century nation-state terms. Available as a free ebook on Google Play and

O'Brien, Harriet Queen Emma and the Vikings. Popular history about a central, but often forgotten figure in the great game of pursuing the throne of England in the eleventh century.  Emma, a Norman princess, was married to two kings of England, Aethelred and Cnut, and mother to two as well, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor, and finally, aunt to William the Bastard (Conqueror).


Duggan, Alfred. Knight in Armor. Finest piece of historical fiction on the Crusades that I have read.  The eponymous knight, a young Norman who joins the First Crusade, is not particularly likeable or intelligent.  Published in 1950, it rests both chronologically and spiritually between nineteenth century romanticism and late twentieth century revisionism.  The march across the Near East is shown as a bloody, sordid and mostly unholy affair, and yet the final few pages capture the elation, desperation and triumph of achieving such an unlikely conquest.

Duggan, Alfred. The Lady for Ransom.  This time Duggan follows a band of Italian Normans who become Byzantine mercenaries and are present as the empire fell apart in chaos after the Battle of Manzikert. If Duggan wrote a bad book, I have yet to come across it, and this is one of my favorites.

Ludlow, Jack - The Conquest Trilogy.  Ludlow's trilogy is comprised of Mercenaries, Warrior and Conquest and recounts the de Hauteville family's conquest of southern Italy. Obviously impressed with Norman military prowess, Ludlow begins book one with the practical eldest brother William Ironarm who sought his fortune in Italy as one of many Norman adventurers. The series finally finishes with the domination of Southern Italy by the youngest brother, Robert Guiscard. The dialogue is terse and efficient, and it captures the political and military machinations of the Normans, Lombards, Byzantines and the Papacy very well.  Stylistically however, Ludlow is dry and clinical, and almost never evocative, as the setting demands.  Having finished the series on audiobook, the excellent narration by Jonathon Keeble compensates for the lack of mood in the prose.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012