Tactical Warfare In The Fantasy Genre: An Exploration Of Battlesystem [Part Two]

July 24, 2017 by oriskany

Greetings, Beasts of War, and welcome back to our article series exploring tactical wargaming in the fantasy genre. My friend and fellow community member Craig (BoW: @cpauls1) recently re-introduced me to this field with a huge 28mm fantasy wargame set in his The Sun And The Sabre novels, played with TSR’s Battlesystem (1st Edition).

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In Part One of this series, we took a very brief review of the Battlesystem rules set, talked about the system’s versatility (even in non-fantasy settings), and looked at how the game combines RPG and wargaming elements on one table. But now it’s time to take the field, and see how this massive game played out.

Dawn Of Battle

Craig Sets the Scene

To get us started, the game master and author of The Sun and the Sabre novels sets the scene of battle, from the perspective of my “guest” character in his campaign, a powerful warrior-cleric fighting for the Sun Empire.

Archpriest Orik Shano of Constance signalled a halt then looked back on the meagre forces at his disposal. When news of the invasion reached Constance, Shano gathered up six-score acolytes and hastened to the frontier, where he joined forces with Ragnar Harkielson.

The Harkielson Clan was the first in Vinmarck to answer the Emperor’s desperate call and now a thousand of Ragnar’s warriors stood ready on the Marshaling Trail, along with seven hundred hastily recruited mercenaries.

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In the moment it was all the unprepared border kingdoms could muster to stem the tide, and while the orc onslaught was alarming, the hellish column that now marched toward Shano was cause for even greater concern. It was a powerful force of legion auxilia: well over two thousand orc pikemen and archers.

Devilish barbed creatures winked in and out of existence among them, while a sickly white beast drifted overhead, churning the low scud around it … but Shano spotted a weakness. Their supporting cavalry had long since plunged into the Barrier Forest far to the south.

Orik Shano gave his captains a fatherly smile. He had cavalry enough to tear the infidels apart, and could sense the fiery wrath of their god charging the air around them. “Do you feel it, my children? Anthos calls them to judgement. Let us hasten them on their journey!”

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The Battle of the Bonefields is drawn from Book Three of The Sun And The Saber series, Victor’s Crown, which is due for release in the fall of 2018.

The GM Reviews The Forces

I believe the Sun Empire (the defending “good guy” force) has a slight edge, but I could be wrong. This could also be my attempt to pre-emptively justify a humiliating defeat at the hands of Oriskany and our gaming group, so I’m going to try and qualify my bold conclusion with a brief analysis of the two armies.

The Sun Empire force includes a barbarian horde drawn from the Harkielson Clan, the largest in the coastal kingdom of Vinmarck, and the first to answer the Emperor’s call to arms. They have a writ to recruit outside mercenaries, and have cobbled together a brigade of hired swords, landless nobles, and other ne’er-do-wells to bolster their ranks.

Their target today is the flank of the Seventh Legion’s advance, where two brigades of unsupported orc auxilia, a ponderous column of pike and longbow companies, have fallen behind the legion’s rapid advance.

Infantry

While my brigades of orc auxilia look formidable, they don’t really stack up on paper. The orc pike companies have weaker armour than the Vinmarck spearmen, who’ve also been trained to fight in “shield wall” formation. While Oriskany’s mercenaries don’t have shield wall, their armour is still better than my orc pike companies.

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In my advantage, my orc units are larger, with more figures per formation. This means they can take more casualties before having to take a morale check. All these units are also spearmen, meaning they can attack more than one rank deep.

Those Vinmarck barbarians pose a serious threat, however. These are 1st Edition AD&D barbarians, remember, so they roll 2d12 hit dice at first level, and a d12 for every level after that. That gives them thirty-six hit dice per stand at second level, almost double what the orcs have.

Oh, and did I mention there’s also a phalanx of Sun Empire pikemen in that Landless and Restless brigade? There are twenty-four figures in that unit and they can fight three figures deep. I added some heavy-hitting marsh trolls to my order of battle to even things up. We’ll see if it’s enough.

Advantage: Parity?

Cavalry

This is a no-brainer; I don’t have any. What I do have is eight stands of deadly raptor skirmishers (orcs on bipedal dinosaurs, what’s not to like?) which can gather into a loose open formation to charge.

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The Empire has a squadron of plated and barded heavy cavalry, enough to soil the drawers of the most hard-core orc, and a squadron of barbarians on medium warhorses, also enough to fill plenty of knickers on the receiving end.
They are augmented by twelve stands of light mounted skirmish armed with short bows.

Advantage: Sun Empire.

Missile Troops

At a glance the orcs would seem to have a massive advantage, with four companies of longbows to the Empire’s one. But the barbarians each have two throwing spears, even the mounted ones. The cavalry can also ride toward a target in column, release spears, and wheel out – a great tactic to soften up a unit before a charge.

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Still, longbows can reach out to 21”, and can fire twice in a turn (if they don’t move). Once they’re stationary on high ground and protected by infantry, they’re a game changer.

Advantage: Legion.

Magic

The Legion brought a pet dragon, which will likely have a lance imbedded in its forehead by the end of the first turn, but I’m hoping to get at least one fiery halitosis attack in before that happens. In addition I have an ice devil that can drop walls of ice every turn. His mission is to block the heavy cavalry before they turn my orcs into hoof jam.

The ice devil also has a 30% chance of gating in another devil, which will certainly happen if the empire doesn’t eradicate him early.

The barbed devils, on the other hand, are one-trick ponies. Like all devils, they can teleport without error, and have a decent attack. They’re here mostly to entertain the non-commander players, and will pop up if any character wanders off alone, or stands in the middle of nowhere and decides to start casting.

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The Empire’s player characters are fat with magic and healing potions. Two can drop fireballs, and one has a Staff of the Dragon that mimics red dragon breath. They also have a griffon-mounted druid that is the equivalent of my ice devil when it comes to laying down obstacles.

The command groups on both sides have clerics or shamans nearby who are loaded down with ‘Dispel Magic’ scrolls … so no one can cheap-shot a command group out of the fight by casting ‘silence’ on the bugler and ‘darkness’ on the standard. If either side wants an enemy banner they’re going to have to earn it.

The priests of Anthos tip the magical balance heavily in favour of the Empire, as the whole unit has two “flame strikes” per stand. That’s a whole lot of divine hell raining down on some hapless pike company, and the priests can do it twice. They also have two innate spiritual hammer spells, giving them a substantial ranged attack.

Advantage: Sun Empire.

Strategy Session

Oriskany’s Council of War

I’m a little out of my depth here, but I try to apply what I know about medieval combat and strategy in general. In short, identify strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths. Mitigate your enemy’s strengths into non-issues.

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Clearly the Legion has an advantage in missile weapons, while I have an advantage in mobility with great cavalry and lots of powerful player characters, some on whom are on flying mounts. One can even summon a silver dragon. So I will strike hard on my right, where those castle ruins will screen my troops from hundreds of orc longbows.

One thing’s for sure, I’m relying 100% on my teammates to play the ever-living daylights out of their characters. Our other big advantage is RPG player characters, most of which are tremendously powerful. I’m relying on them to know their magic rules and exploit them to the fullest, and support my push on the right.

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While striking on the right, I will hold the centre and left. With enough “artillery support” and “smoke screens” and “engineer barricades” via magic, plus solid infantry in shield wall formation, supported by longbows and a pike phalanx, I can hold these sectors and break Craig’s force while turning his right and collapsing the army upon itself.

Craig’s Evil-Doers Draw Their Plans

My only hope of beating oriskany in a tactical wargame is to get him drunk, and to that end I’ve deployed a bottle of homegrown honey whiskey.

Beyond that, given his superiority in cavalry, I am bound to have at least one refused flank, and may end up in a position of all around defence to ward them off. I will also try to avoid and delay his barbarians, which will turn my orc pikemen to crimson sludge in a prolonged scrum.

I will instead concentrate on the Landless and Restless mercenary brigade. That large block of pikemen is worrying, but it is not an immovable object, and of course I will suffer a heavy cavalry charge at some point, but if he wades into an unbroken pike line he’ll pay a heavy price.

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For a delaying action, I intend to drop ice walls and skirmish, and hopefully thin his barbarian ranks with archers before he can hunker down in a shield wall and advance in force.

The hill on my right flank and the ruin behind it will make for a good anchor while I advance up the road. Hopefully the red dragon can make a pass through his lead unit with a fire breath weapon before I lead with a marsh troll charge.

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I have no illusions about the dragon getting taken apart by flying characters and coming in for a five-point landing (feet, knees, face, face, face) but I hope he gets at least one attack in first.

Summary

All right, everyone. That’s the setup, strategies, and opening moves of the Sun Empire forces and brigades of the Legion. As we’ve seen in the photos, the die has been cast in the first blood has been drawn. Please return next week to see how this epic battle turns out.

Meanwhile, drop your comments and questions below in the comments! Craig and I would love to hear how your own fantasy battles have gone, or if you have your own strategies you might have tried at this table!

By @oriskany@cpauls1

If you would like to write an article for Beasts of War then please contact us at ben@beastsofwar.com for more information!

"The Battle of the Bonefields is drawn from Book Three of The Sun And The Saber series, Victor’s Crown, which is due for release in the fall of 2018..."

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"Meanwhile, drop your comments and questions below in the comments!"