In the Footsteps of History

Using Real Conflict as the Basis
for Fantasy Battle Scenarios

by John Bianchi

A teenager came up to me a couple of years ago at Complete Strategist holding a copy of the Osprey Campaign volume on the Battle of Crecy.

"Do you know where they have the miniatures for these games?" he asked.

When I told him what he had was not a rulebook, but an historical account of a real battle, he seemed surprised.

"These really should be games," he said. "They're more interesting than what I usually play."

That got me thinking. History is the mother lode of strange and unimaginable circumstance. Military history in particular is more rife with the fruits of accident than any other chronicle of human endeavor. The "what-ifs" of every significant engagement boggle the mind, and they can provide us, whatever rules set we use, with the jumping-off points for campaigns and battles, fascinating, desperate, exciting, and black-comedic.

Who among us doesn't wish we could go back in time and play the role of Napoleon, trying to win at Waterloo; or lead the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin, trying to match wits against Saladin? Thanks to our shared avocation of tabletop wargaming, we can recreate the start of these battles on the tabletop, and then take them to unimaginable and - hopefully - very entertaining conclusions.

We can even take this a step further and use historical battles as a jumping off point for campaigns and scenarios in Warhammer Fantasy Battles. The Battle of Elfincourt - based on the lopsided 1415 English victory at Agincourt - was a featured scenario in White Dwarf a number of years back, and the Battle of Bogwurst - based on the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field - is a semi-historical scenario from the back of the Warhammer rule book. These are easy and fun to play, and provide a sense of the direction in which we can go to make our games more interesting.

If you play WFB as I have, many of your battles run together in memory. Everyone picks the pitched battle scenario, rarely venturing into simple variation, such as secret deployment or meeting engagement. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone, but I've been trying to break out of the monotony of pitched battle. Those of you who play 40k can understand this, since it seems most of you randomly roll for the scenario you'll play.

Variations are more memorable. You don't learn that much if you can't remember the battles you fought last month, let alone last season. This is what first inspired me to start playing scenarios and campaigns inspired by historical fact. The imagined stakes are higher in historical recreation; your solutions, more imaginative; the games, more memorable.

So far, the Warmonger Club has been very accommodating and tried their hands at both Bosworth and Agincourt using Warhammer Ancient Battles rules. We learned a lot from these - especially our disastrous Agincourt - on how to - or how not to - create successful scenarios. The 1525 Battle of Pavia has always been one my favorites, a fight complicated by the fact that most of it took place at night or in the fog of early morning. I thought this would provide us with the kernel of an unpredictable Fantasy Battles game and usable rules for fog of war movement.

The scenario would be simple. An army of mercenaries in the employ of the Emperor holds the Tilean (this was WFB, not Ancient Battles!) walled city of Pavia, but their paymaster is running short on funds. Unless the garrison gets paid, they'll surrender the city to an unholy (and inexplicable) alliance of Chaos Dwarves and High Elves. The Emperor sends his own army and a corps of Tileans to relieve the siege. To get past the besiegers without a fight, the Imperial general decides to relieve the garrison on a foggy night. It was a challenging battle, an entertaining one full of surprises and shocks, and when it was over; I saw the seeds for grudge matches and revenge scenarios.

This is what a strong story, whether historical or imagined, does for your games. It imbues your battles with heroes, villains, and stirring situations. It creates victory conditions that go beyond simply winning on points; in fact, points don't even need to matter so much as the number and type of troops facing each other. A larger context gives you real motivation for holding a town or guarding a pass - boring tasks for real soldiers that under certain conditions resulted in the unimaginable and improbable stories of Rorke's Drift and Thermopylae.

Historical situations provide these stories ready made for the fantasy gamer, and the creators of Warhammer have taken advantage of history, from building some of their own scenarios upon it to actually basing the Warhammer world on the one our ancestors used to inhabit at different times. As the 'consumers' of Warhammer, we can do what we like with the game, taking use of history to a more advanced and entertaining level.

The following is a scenario based on the Battle of Nicopolis, a fight that took place on the Danube River, pitting arrogant crusaders against the highly professional Ottoman Turks. We'll report on our version of the battle in a future issue, but I hope you'll give it a try and let us know how it goes at

Happy gaming.


The Siege of Neredepol

The history of the land of the Border Princes is filled with stories of misbegotten alliances, grasping despots, base betrayals, and mighty states brought low. In the last four centuries, the emergence of one steppe invasion force after another had resulted in numerous crusades called by the Emperor, the Arch Priests, or the Doges of the great Tilean trading states. While the Estalians have more often crusaded to rid their country of hegemonic rulers from Araby, the Brettonians have been all too willing to join crusades overseas against Araby and these steppe warriors, more commonly known as the Durgesh.

This is the story of Brettonian pride, and the cold professionalism of warriors on one of the greatest land-grabs in all the history of the border princes.

In the power vacuum caused by one steppe invasion following after another, the ruler of a small but skilled group of nomadic Durgesh warriors settled in the middle of the Badlands. This ruler set up a small principality and took the name Emir Osman I for himself. He and his heirs quickly established a system of acquiring land and the loyalty of those unaligned step nomads who had been chased off, though not beaten, by the crusaders. Over time, the Osmanli Emirate gained a reputation for intelligence in its dispositions and ferocity on the field.

It was Emir Marhaba who first proclaimed himself a full emperor - a Sultan - and he used his new status to order a grab for all the lands of the border princes while using diplomacy to keep the major powers of the old world from preventing his consolidation of power. Sultan Marhaba took many cities through reduction and siege, and the armies of several of the border principalities lay as nothing more than wrecks on the fields of their homelands.

When Marhaba took Neredepol on the banks of the Dabune river, the Emperor finally acted. With the Arch Priests, he called a crusade to drive back the armies of the Durgesh ruler. The call was answered by a combined force of Imperial and Tilean troops from several provinces, consisting of light and heavy cavalry.

It was then that the Brettonian King Raymond II answered the call personally. The Brettonians journeyed from their borders and joined the crusade assembling in Wissenland. The trouble started almost immediately.

The Brettonian King claimed precedence over the other nobles assembled, many of whom were kings in their own right and title. Since the Brettonians brought the best cavalry in the Old World with them, the other rulers agreed to give weight to Raymond II. When the 15,000-man army sailed down the Dabune to lay siege to Neredepol, the Brettonian king demanded the position of honor in the center of the squadron of ships. Upon arrival, Raymond told the mariners to stand off in midstream - telling them they would not be needed again, and led his troops to the lowlands between the gates of the city and the mountains to the south.

Before the gates of Neredepol, the crusaders met with the first of several nasty surprises; Sultan Marhaba had left a force within the city rich with supplies. He himself had sent for reinforcements and had arrived with a force that equaled the crusaders' in numbers, and it approached the crusaders from those mountains situated in their rear.

With a hard nut of a city and a river to their front and a force of 15,000 cutting off their rear, they were now forced to fight.

The Brettonian/Imperial player will use a force consisting of the following models with any desired legal upgrades or magic items organized in units of any legal size:

  • One General Lord (King Raymond)
  • Battle Standard Bearer
  • Three Heroes (Imperial Generals)
  • 35 Bretonian Knights of the Realm
  • 20 Bretonian Archers
  • 12 Bretonian Knights Errant (allied heavy cavalry - may not use lance formation)
  • 24 Bretonian mounted squires (allied fast cavalry)
  • 30 Bretonian men-at-arms (allied infantry)

The Osmanli Sultan will field a Dogs of War force consisting of the following models organized in units of any legal size with any desired legal upgrades or magic items:

  • One general lord (Sultan Marhaba)
  • Paymaster (counts as a battle standard bearer - but protect him! remember the special paymaster rule!)
  • 3 Heroes (Osmanli Emirs)
  • 20 Crossbowmen (may plant stakes - count as defended obstacle)
  • 20 Paymaster Bodyguard (Sultan's Janissaries - BSB goes into this unit to make it stubborn)
  • 32 duellists
  • 20 heavy cavalry (no barding)
  • 2x10 heavy cavalry (with barding)
  • 24 fast cavalry with spears and bows

The Crusader's table edge is the bank of the Dabune river, which is in flood. Anything going off that table edge does not return, as it is sucked into the swiftly flowing river, and counts as destroyed. The Osmanli table edge is all heights; the face of it counts as difficult terrain except for one 36-inch section in the front center, which is considered passable. The short edge of each table consists of several small stands of woods.

The Osmans must destroy the enemy army to lift the siege. The Bretonians must destroy the enemy army or be cut to pieces. Pretty simple, actually.

On a 4x8 table, the Bretonians and Osmans deploy in a standard pitched battle deployment area, with the crusaders by the river and the Osmans on the heights.

The Brettonian general consults the special rules section below to see how he will deploy.

The Osmanli general may place up to six units of light cavalry or duelists anywhere up to the midpoint of the table on the Osmanli side.

The Field should be set up like this:

The Osmanli troops have the drop on the Crusaders and so take first turn.

Prior to deployment, roll a d6. On a roll of 1-4, King Raymond retains control of the army and his Bretonian Knights must be set up at the front of the deployment area, with mounted squires and allied heavy cavalry taking position behind them. On a roll of 1-2, the Imperial nobles convince Raymond that honor will not be compromised if fast cavalry is employed to neutralize the Osmanli light troops deployed out in the open. In this event, allied heavy cavalry is still deployed to the rear of the Bretonians; there's only so much King Raymond will allow!

In addition, King Raymond's overweening pride causes the Lady to desert Bretonia this day. Her Blessing does not apply, nor do any magic items conferring any benefit from the Lady against shooting attacks. The Bret general is "on his own."

Osmanli crossbowmen can plant stakes once per battle - they remain stationary at the front of the unit and may only be used in one combat - they count as defended obstacles.

This should not present a problem - As long as the right troop types are used, Dark Elves, High Elves, even Orcs and Goblins can be substituted for the Dogs of War. If Chaos is used, the number of cavalry models should be cut by 30 %. As for the Crusaders - it really works for Brettonians to play the part, but Empire, HE, even DOW can fill the bill.

The Bretonians charged forward without following the Imperial generals' advice to clear the field of light troops with pistoliers and light cavalry. As a result, the Bretonians went in unsupported and got terribly bogged down. In spite of being misdirected and left exposed, the Brettonians did manage to make in into the lines of the Osmanlis, nearly breaking them. It was Sultan Marhaba's last minute unleashing of his household guard cavalry - long held in reserve - that caused the Bretonians to rout.

The panic was infectious, and the Imperials followed them into the overflowing Dabune river, where many were killed in the swim to board ship. It is said that many mariners pulled Imperial troopers aboard, while helping Bretonian knights to a harder fate through the use of ships cutlasses and daggers. Of the 15,000 who reached Neredepol, only some 4,000 returned: the rest were either ransomed or never heard from again.

Created by: system. Last Modification: Sunday 25 of January, 2009 02:10:43 PM EST by ZiggyQubert.

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