Thursday, 11 April 2013

Dark Age Campaign

The recent 1066 themed issue of Wargames Illustrated has finally given me the nudge that I needed to collate various ideas I've had for running a Dark Ages campaign with some of the chaps at the Bristol Big'Uns club.

In some ways wargaming can be a little like gardening... bear with me here! What I mean is that you can spend so much of your time busily working on the latest project that you forget to take time out to enjoy the work you've already completed.

To this end, rather than hurrying to add Normans or Welsh to my collection, I plan to spend some time enjoying a mini campaign using Anglo-Danes and Vikings. Plus some the chaps at the club have Normans, Welsh, etc. The campaign is (perhaps rather grandly) entitled "The Three Kingdoms", representing the Saxons, the Welsh and the Normans.

So what's it all about then?

The Three Kingdoms campaign is intended as a simple framework for playing two of my favourite wargames; War & Conquest and SAGA. It doesn’t have to be those rules, any suitable rules that players enjoy could be used, but W&C and SAGA are my preferred options.

When & Where is The Three Kingdoms set?
The campaign is set in the South West of England, soon after the 11th century Norman conquest. During the early years of William’s reign there was plenty of opportunity for bold leaders to claim land, gold and glory!

Why run a campaign?
That’s easy to explain. Playing ‘one-off’ games is all very well, but having a series of battles set within a wider context – and allowing for one game to lead on to another – is when both the games and history can really come alive! The result of one game may affect another – or at least help decide upon what sort of scenario is to be played. This helps to give each game more meaning. It allows characters and reputations to develop. This desire is probably due to me playing various RPG’s for many years, although none recently.
Games will hopefully be a mixture of small skirmishes or raids, using SAGA, with larger battles, using War & Conquest, in between.

I'll be producing a map and some basic background information to set the scene but there’s no concept of daily movement rates, supplies, baggage, etc. No need to record the exact location of any particular warband at any specific point. This is what I term a “narrative campaign”. The players use the campaign background, along with their own figure collections and their personal view of history, to create their characters and forces. Players are encouraged to adopt the persona of their characters and to develop their background or history as the campaign progresses. It’s a bit like creating an action drama, but the script is written by those taking part, as they fight battles, win victories, settle grudges and ultimately gain glory in Dark Age warfare!

There are no winners or losers in the traditional sense. Although each battle should usually result in a win or loss, the most important aspect is creating an exciting story and playing some good games with friends.
The games can be played anywhere, at the club, at home, even at one of the gaming days as long as players are in agreement and are happy to create another part of the campaign story. Nor is there any need to impose a schedule, players can play as infrequently as they wish. It’s a very flexible approach! Players are also encouraged to think up new scenarios or other special rules.

How does it work?
SAGA requires as few as 30 or so figures making it an ideal springboard for a larger War & Conquest force. Also, Rob has some great deals on a range of the excellent Wargames Factory and Gripping Beast plastic boxed sets.

For example, you may have a small Welsh force whilst friends have Anglo-Danish and Norman forces. The first game could be a skirmish using the SAGA rules. The Welsh have raided the lands of the Saxons and, laden with booty, livestock and slaves, they are headed for a ford and back to their own lands only to find a vengeful force of Saxons blocking their path. Perhaps the Welsh go on to defeat the Saxons and in so doing, they ‘kill’ the Saxon warlord. However, the players both agree that instead of being slain, he is wounded and held captive by the Welsh. So what next? Will a large force of Saxons be mustered and march West to find their fallen Lord. If so then play a 1,500pt game of W&C. The Saxon objective is to capture and hold the Welsh rally point, representing the building where the Saxon Lord is being held. Events within this battle can then lead to other skirmishes or battles, and so on.

As you can see it does require a small amount of planning and some imagination on the part of the players, but the result is a series of more meaningful and satisfying games of toy soldiers.

Keeping track of the Campaign
As for chronicling the important battles and events of the campaign; the exploits of my forces will be recorded by a West Saxon monk, Leofric, writing at Glastonbury Abbey. You can be sure that any such writings will be heavily biased in favour the Saxon cause! I will encourage others in the campaign to publish their own version of events in some form – replete with some dodgy heroic poetry perhaps? A good example of this sort of thing can be found on Andy Hawes’ blog ( where he records the events of a series of Dux Brittaniarum games.

One person could try to chronicle the whole campaign, but I think it is more fun if several different accounts (suitably biased of course!) are published. Lively discussions are bound to follow and will prove to be yet another source of ideas for future games.

Orange Dave and I have already had our first battles, so in the next few days I will publish the first chronicles of the campaign.


Keith said...

Sounds great Matt.
I'm looking forward to reading all about it

Rodger said...

Sounds very interesting Matt!

wardy-la said...

I really like the idea of a loose campaign - I am trying to do this with our own dark ages games. I share your thoughts on the building of characters and stories taking on more meaning through this and I also picked this up through RPG's. I love the idea of a wargame having and RPG 'lite' aspect to it!

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