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Age of Arthur, Early Medieval Wargaming, Historical Wargaming

The Age of Arthur. Post-Roman Britain for the Historical Wargamer, Part 9: Scenarios (1): Mapless Campaign System and Scenario Generator

(This originally appeared in Wargames Illustrated 162 (March 2001), pp.22-28)

Scenario generator for early medieval warfare.

You will need: 1 deck of cards (with 2 jokers); 1 D6; 1 Average Die.  Note pad and pencil.

This system is designed to furnish a context or ‘scenario’ for tabletop battles with fairly small armies, set within the context of endemic early medieval raiding warfare.  It may also be used as a ‘mapless’ campaign.  Players take it in turn to be attacker, and keep a running total of their final prestige tallies.  The system is designed for use with the lists published in the last part of this series, but I hope that they can be adapted for use with other periods and lists.  They will also form the basis of the campaign rules and scenarios which I will propose next time.  I am immensely grateful to Nick Dorrell and the Wyre Forest Wargames club, and to Ryan Lavelle for play-testing these rules.

 The general principal upon which the following system is based is that the further into enemy territory you advance the greater the rewards are likely to be, but also the greater the risks…  Also, the longer a raid goes on, the greater the risks are likely to be.  All of the circumstances envisaged as possible events have early medieval precedent.


Determine an attacker and a defender.

The attacker throws 3xD6.  This gives him the strength, in hundreds of men, of his raiding force (therefore between 300 and 1800 men).  He decides on the percentage breakdown of this force according to the lists given in part 8 – choosing only from the ‘nucleus’ section (thus 10% royal bodyguards are possible) – and writes this down.  An army which is only 300 strong may be made up entirely of royal bodyguards.

The defender throws one average die to give the strength of his initial force in hundreds of men (thus between 200 and 500 men).  He also decides upon the percentage composition of his force, and writes this down.

Both of these dice rolls should be written down and kept secret; if you feel it necessary, get a third party to witness the dice rolls.  Thus neither side knows the size of their opponent’s army until the two sides come face to face.

Now lay out the cards, face down, as four rows of thirteen cards, with the remaining two cards laid as a fifth row, one six columns in from the left, the other six columns in from the right (diag. 1).

The defender declares in which of the two cards in Row 5 his army is located.  Mark both players on the grid with different coloured dice.  If certain cards are drawn (see below) the defending army will be moved directly to that point on the grid.  If so, the defender continues to recruit or move from that point.  This may on occasion result in the defensive army flying from one point of the grid to another; this is justified by the defender’s use of better guides, greater knowledge of terrain and short cuts, and so on.

You will need to keep a tally of the number of turns played, and five columns: one for the current size of the attacking army (noted as plus or minus from the original [secret] total); one for the current size of the defender’s army (noted as plus or minus from the original [secret] total); one for the attacker’s plunder tally; one for the attacker’s prestige tally, and one for the defender’s prestige tally. 


General sequence of play

The attacker chooses a card from Row 1 and turns it over.  He then takes plunder, destroys property, leaves the territory unharmed, or otherwise acts in accordance with the card uncovered (see below).  The defender adds 100 men to his army.

The attacker then turns over one of the cards adjacent to the last one he turned over and acts accordingly.  Thus ‘movement’ is by one card per turn, in any direction (unless prevented by the cards themselves).  The defender adds 100 men to his army.  The general principle is therefore that the defender’s army grows by recruiting 100 men each turn – unless the cards say otherwise, and unless the defending army starts to suffer from attrition (see additional rule 2).

The defender always moves after the attacker has moved.

 And so on.  When the attacker reaches Row 4 (or, alternatively, after the eighth turn if the attacker doesn’t advance that far), the defender may also move his army at a rate of one card per turn in an attempt to catch the raider and bring him to battle.  Each card moved through by the defender is removed from the grid (without, where appropriate) being turned over.  However, the defender does not receive the 100 men per turn reinforcement during any turn in which he moves his army.

 The Cards

Ace to Ten

Red cards: ‘Loot or leave’.  The attacker either plunders the card, adding its value (with aces counting as 1, and modified in accordance with the row in which he is – see below) to his plunder tally, and removes the card from the grid, or leaves it in place, to be moved through and/or plundered later.  This represents territory of which the ‘plunderable wealth’ is fairly fixed.

Black cards. ‘Burn or booty’.  The attacker either plunders the card, adding its value (with aces counting as 1, modified in accordance with the row in which he is – see below) to his plunder tally, and removes the card from the grid, or burns and destroys it, adding the card’s value  (with aces counting as 1, and modified in accordance with the row in which he is – see below) to his prestige tally, and removes the card from the grid. This represents areas where, if you don’t carry off or destroy the area’s resources, they will have been safely herded away by the next time you pass through.

Modify the cards’ scores thus:

Row 1:             Half the card’s face value (rounding up fractions).

Row 2:             The card’s face value.

Row 3:             One and a half times the card’s face value (rounding up fractions).

Row 4:             Twice the card’s face value.

Row 5:             Three times the card’s face value.


Picture cards:

Row 1:             Red King:       ♥          Extra 100 men reinforcements to attacker

                                                ♦          Extra 200 men reinforcements to attacker

Red Queen:     Slow communications. Defender misses his 100 men recruitment this turn.

                        Red Jack:        11 points worth of loot.  Treat as though it was a red

card (ace to ten).

                        Black King:     ♣         An extra 100 men to the defender

                                                ♠          An extra 200 men to the defender (chosen from

‘the rest’ in the list in Part 8 ).

                        Black Queen:  No loot to be had here; just enough food to keep the

attacker’s army alive.  Remove card from grid.

                        Black Jack:      Bridge down/floods.  The attacker may not proceed in the current direction.*  Leave the card in place, turned to show the route in which movement is barred (see below, additional rule 4).

                         Joker:               Throw 1xD6; 1, 2, 3, 4:         Attacker keeps the Joker; 5. Bad roads.  Stay here for one extra turn; 6. Bad omens. Retreat to own country – Raid Over!

 Row 2:             Red King:       Catch and slaughter an enemy contingent moving to the muster.  Defender misses this turn’s 100 men recruitment; attacker adds 2 to his prestige tally.

                        Red Queen:     Catch a reliable guide: attacker may advance an extra card this turn.

                        Red Jack:        Poor communications: The defender misses this turn’s 100 men reinforcement.

                        Black King:     Dissent in the attacking army.  Attacker remains where

he is for one more turn.*

                        Black Queen:  Murrain.  Attacker loses 1xD6 from his plunder tally.*

                        Black Jack:      ♣         Enemy army blocks ford (see below, additional rule 5).*

                                                ♠          Bridge down/floods.  The attacker may not proceed in the current direction.*  Leave the card in place, turned to show the route in which movement is barred (see below, additional rule 4).

                         Joker:               Throw 1xD6; 1, 2, 3: Attacker keeps the Joker; 4. Attacking king is taken ill.  Attacker remains here for one further turn; 5. Raid on attacker’s baggage train; Attacker loses 1xD6 from his plunder tally; 6. Defender keeps the Joker

 Row 3:             Red King:       ♥          Attacker captures enemy stronghold.*  Attacker adds 3 to his prestige tally.

                                                ♦          Attacker attacks enemy stronghold; defending army is there.*  If defender retreats, attacker takes stronghold and adds 4 to his prestige tally.  If attacker refuses battle, defender adds 1 to his prestige tally.  Otherwise a battle ensues.

                        Red Queen:     Enemy dissension.*    ♥          Defender misses 100 men recruitment this turn.

                                                                                    ♦          Defender may not move this turn.

                        Red Jack:        Good harvest. ♥          Multiply loot taken so far by 1½  up to maximum able to be carried by the army; see additional rule 1).

                                                                        ♦          Multiply loot taken so far by 2 up to maximum able to be carried by the army; see additional rule 1).

                        Black King:     ♣         An attacking contingent deserts.*  Attacker loses 100 men and 1xD6 from plunder tally. 

                                                ♠          The defender gains an extra contingent*: 1xD6 x 100 men chosen from ‘the rest’ (in the Army  List in Part 8 ).

                        Black Queen:  Pestilence of horses.*  Attacker loses 1xD6 x 100 horses.  That number of mounted troops may henceforth only fight as infantry.

                        Black Jack:      ♣         Enemy army blocks ford (see below, additional rule 5).*

                                                ♠          Bridge down/floods.  The attacker may not proceed in the current direction.*  Leave the card in place, turned to show the route in which movement is barred (see below, additional rule 4).

                         Joker:               Throw 1xD6; 1, 2.     Attacker keeps the Joker; 3. Attacking king taken ill.  Remain here for 1xD6 turns; 4. Attacking king taken seriously ill.  Remain here for 1xD6 turns, and then retreat for two turns. 5. Attacking king taken critically ill.  Remain here for 1xD6 turns, and then throw 1xD6.  1,2,3 = retreat for two turns; 4,5,6 = king dies: Raid Over!; 6. Defender keeps the Joker

 Row 4:             Red King:       ♦          Attacker captures enemy personality, and adds 10 to his plunder tally.*  N.B.: This can be added whether or not the plunder maximum has been reached.

                                                ♥          Attacker catches and destroys an enemy contingent separated from the main force.*  Attacker adds 3 to his prestige tally, and the defender loses 1xD6 x 100 men from his army.

                        Red Queen:     ♦          Reach a ‘Place of Prestige’.  If the attacker is able to return to his own land victoriously, he adds 10 to his prestige tally.

                                                ♥          Reach a ‘Place of Prestige’, but the enemy army is there.  Act as above, but if the defender retreats, immediately add 2 to the attacker’s prestige tally; the attacker may retreat without penalty.

                        Red Jack:        Capture a relic.* Attacker adds 5 to his prestige tally, and 10 to his plunder tally (not counted in calculating the maximum loot the army can carry).

                        Black King:     Plague in the attacking army.*  Lose 1xD6 x 100 men from attacking army. 

                        Black Queen:  Dissent in attacking army.*  Retreat next turn.  If not, lose 100 men and 1xD6 from plunder tally.

                        Black Jack:      ♣         Enemy army blocks ford (see below, additional rule 5).*

                                                ♠          Bridge down/floods.  The attacker may not proceed in the current direction.*  Leave the card in place, turned to show the route in which movement is barred (see below, additional rule 4).

                        Joker:               Throw 1xD6; 1. Attacker keeps the Joker; 2. Abortive attack on an enemy stronghold. Attacker loses 100 men; 3. Raid on attacker’s baggage train.  Attacker loses 2xD6 from his plunder tally; 4. Night attack on the attacker’s camp.  Attacker loses 100 men and 2xD6 from his plunder tally; 5. The attacking king is killed in an obscure skirmish.  Raid Over!; 6. Defender keeps the Joker

 Row 5:             Red King:       Attacker captures the defending king, practically alone, his army having melted away before the (apparently) unbeatable attacker’s advance.*  Raid ends in (probably unexpected) triumph and (at least  temporary) conquest!

                           Red Queen:     Attacker locates the defending king, attended by only 200 men.*  The defender has the chance to fight it out and at least die heroically.  He may challenge the attacker to single combat.  He may not retreat.  He may surrender, in which case theraid ends in (probably unexpected) triumph and (at least temporary) conquest!

                        Red Jack:        Attacker locates the defending king and 300 men, with results as for drawing a red queen.*

                        Black King:     Freak storm.  Attacking army is dispersed, only half remaining with the attacking king when the clouds clear.*

                        Black Queen:  A miraculous occurrence!  The attacking army must retreat directly back to its own kingdom (it must move through ‘blank spaces’ [see below, additional rule 1], taking the attrition penalties as it does so, but must divert around flooded fords or broken bridges [additional rule 4]).*

                        Black Jack:      Trouble at home.  The attacking army must retreat to its own kingdom, but may move around ‘blank spaces’ and broken bridges/flooded fords (additional rule 4).*

                         Joker: Throw 1xD6: The king is struck down by a mysterious illness  and dies: Raid Over!; 2. Raid on attacker’s baggage train.  Attacker loses 2xD6 from his plunder tally; 3. Plague!  Attacker loses 2xD6 x 100 men from his army. 4. The attacking army is dispersed by a storm; throw 1xD6: 1,2 = 2/3 of the army remains with the king; 3, 4 =  ½ of the army remains with the king; 5,6 =  1/3 of the army remains with the king; 5. The attacking king is killed in an ill-advised skirmish.  Raid Over!; 6. Defender keeps the Joker.

 Additional Rules:

  1. More loot than you can carry:

An army may only carry plunder up to a tally ten times its own strength in hundreds (or put another way, one tenth of its actual strength): i.e. an army of 300 men may only carry 30 points of plunder; an army of 1800 may have a plunder tally up to 180 points.  Once that is reached it may not plunder any more, but may burn areas (black cards), adding to its prestige tally.  Of course if an army’s strength falls, then the maximum amount of loot it can carry falls too.  Thus if, for example, an army of 1200 men, carrying 100 points of plunder is visited by plague and loses 300 men, it will no longer be able to carry that amount of loot (900 men can only carry 90 points of loot).  10 points will have to be abandoned (adding 1 to the prestige tally of the defender (see below).  There is no upper limit to an army’s prestige tally.

2.         Attrition:

When a card has been removed from the grid, that area of the country has, at least for this campaign season, been eaten bare.  An attacking army forced to spend a turn in a ‘blank space’ deducts its current strength in hundreds from its plunder tally (i.e. an army of 1200 men deducts 12 from its plunder tally; an army of 300 deducts 3; etc).  If it has insufficient plunder tally to pay this in full, then it loses 100 men in attrition for each turn it has to remain there.

Red cards moved through and left face up may feed attacking armies of any size for one turn before attrition sets in, and they are removed from the grid.  The attacking army may plunder the card (as above) on this second attempt, and remove it from the grid.

Picture cards previously turned over may also feed an army for one further turn before attrition sets in and the card is removed from the grid.  Only the Jack of Spades is left on the grid for the whole game (see rule 4).  Other exceptions are red jacks and black queens in row 1 (see above).  In other words, you turn the card over, act in accordance with what it says, and leave it on the grid.  It stays there until the next time an army lands on that space.  When they do, it will feed them for that turn (but no loot/plunder etc), but is then removed.

When the defender moves into a ‘blank space’ he loses 100 men in attrition.  If he stays put in a ‘blank space’ he loses 200 men in attrition (but since he will – probably – receive 100 men recruitment, this will usually likewise only reduce his force by 100 men).  It is assumed that attrition will often be worse among defending forces, who, seeing damage and devastation, may sneak off to defend their homes and families.  Otherwise it is assumed that a supply line can be established from friendly farms and royal centres.

3.         Jokers:

Where a player has been able to keep a joker (as above), he may play it once to overcome adverse circumstances:

  1. To counteract adverse effects imposed by the attacking player turning over a picture card (only in those circumstances marked by an asterisk in the lists above).
  2. To move two cards this turn.  This may help you catch the enemy army, or skip over a blank space and thus evade the attrition penalties. 
  3. To by-pass a broken bridge/flooded ford. 
  4. To by-pass a bridge or ford blocked by the enemy army.  The player may simply continue on his way, or he may use the card strategically, either to move his army around the flank of the enemy and bring him to battle with the river to flank, or split his army, move part of it around the flank and try to force the ford with the remainder of his army, thus catching his enemy between two fires (of course your rules should allow the enemy the chance to try to force the bridge/ford in the face of the weakened army, destroy that component, and then return to face the rest…  Perhaps a die roll to see how many moves before the flanking force arrives?).  If any of the above options is successful, then the player adds a further 2 to his prestige tally, to represent his cunning.

 4.   Black Jacks: Broken Bridges

Where the Jack of Spades is drawn, this means that a bridge is broken or a ford is flooded, and (unless the player plays a joker) the player may not proceed in that direction.  The bridge/ford remains impassable for the rest of the game, for all movement along the relevant route.  To represent this the card is turned to represent the route of travel barred (movement barred in both directions of course!).  Diagram 2 shows this and the cards which may not be moved to when faced with a broken bridge or flooded ford.

5.         Black jacks: Blocking a Crossing.

Where the Jack of Clubs is drawn, the enemy army, at its current strength (which is now disclosed to the attacker), blocks the bridge or ford.  The attacker may either move around the enemy (in which case he need not disclose his strength), withdraw from the ford (without loss of prestige) or attempt to force the ford, in which case battle ensues, and his strength is disclosed.

6.         Bringing about a Battle.

            Except at fords or bridges, battle may be brought about at a stronghold (see Row 3, King of Diamonds) or a Place of Prestige (see Row 4, Queen of Hearts), but it may also be brought about when one player moves into a square (or card) on the grid occupied by the opposing army.  The other player may decline battle and withdraw (in which case the advancing player adds 1 to his prestige) or give battle, in which case both armies are revealed and deployed, and the battle fought out on the table. This sequence will take place at slightly different points within the turn depending upon which side is advancing to combat.  Since the defender always moves after the attacker, if the defender seeks battle, the attacker responds at the start of the next turn.  If the attacker seeks battle, then the defender’s response takes place half way through the turn (and before the defender has received his 100 men recruitment).  Once he seeks battle, the advancing player may not decline it.  In other words, if you think you are facing about 900-1000 men with an army of 1500 and confidently attempt to bring about battle, only to find that your opponent actually has an army of 2000 men, then too bad!  Find some better scouts!

7.         Movement in Row 5.

            The defending player may move directly from one of the cards in Row 5 to the other.  The attacking player, however, must withdraw to Row 4, and move along that row, before being able to enter the other card in Row 5.

8.         Challenges

            When armies confront each other challenges to personal combat may be made (only one per turn).  If a challenge is accepted, then fight it out.  If it is declined, then throw 1xD6: 1,2 or 3 = +2 to challenger’s prestige tally; 4 or 5 = no difference to either party’s prestige tally; 6 = +1 to challenged party’s prestige tally (in other words, the challenged king successfully claims to disdain even to answer a challenge from such a lesser being, and shame redounds upon the challenger).

9.         The Ends of the Earth.

            If the attacker comes to the right or left edge of the grid and wishes to move further in that direction, then you may, if none of the cards have so far been turned over, simply add the column from the opposite side of the grid; if cards have been turned over at the opposite side, then deal a new column from those which have been turned over and removed so far (after shuffling them).  Alternatively you may decide that the campaign must be fought within the available grid; its edges represent sea, the Bristol Channel, borders with other kingdoms, etc.

10.   Sick Kings

A sick king, ordered by the cards to remain where he is, and who is attacked by the enemy, may withdraw from the battle, but the defender adds 1 to his prestige, as usual, every time that happens, AND the sick king throws a D6: 1,2,3 = he continues to be ill; 4,5,6 = the move is fatal to his health and he dies: Raid Over!  If the king moves through a blank space, then the die roll is modified to: 1,2 = he continues to be ill; 3,4,5 or 6 = he dies.  Raid Over!

 If the king’s guards decide to go down fighting, set up a scenario with a sick king in a defended hall, and fight it out as according to the ‘Rescuing Ragnar’ scenario set out by Anthony Clipsom in W.I. 155.

 11.       Who wins?

If (as is the plan) your campaign ends in a tabletop battle, then whoever wins that encounter wins the campaign, returning home with his loot in triumph.  If the enemy king is killed then, provided the battle is won, an attacking player gains an unexpected triumph and may proceed to (at least temporary) conquest of the defeated kingdom.

The winner adds 10 to his prestige tally.  You may modify this according to the scale of the victory, to a maximum of ten.  You should add or subtract prestige points for various events on the battlefield too.

An attacking army decisively defeated in battle loses all of its plunder (and all points therefrom).

If an attacking army decisively defeats the defending army, then the attacker may continue to move about the grid as he sees fit, without fear of molestation (except, if necessary) through attrition until he has done enough, gets bored, clears the table, or the cards compel the end of the campaign (think on!  What a waste it would be if you have inflicted a decisive victory, taken a substantial quantity of loot, and then rampage on, only to lose half your army through plague – in turn compelling you to abandon a fair amount of plunder – or succumb to illness or be killed in a minor skirmish!).

If either side wins a decisive victory, both sides throw a dice.  The player who throws the lowest withdraws two cards distance, and the campaign goes on.  If an indecisive battle is fought at a ford, then both armies can stay where they are, and simply return to the card grid.

To determine the overall score for the campaign add up the following:

Prestige tally at the end of the game.

Attacker’s plunder profit (this is calculated by taking the final plunder tally and deducting from it the final strength (in hundreds, rounding fractions) of his army, and dividing the result by ten (rounding fractions): Thus an attacker who ends up with an army of 1150 men and a plunder tally of 80 ends up with a profit of 7 (80 – 12 (1150 rounded up to 1200) = 68; divided by 10 = 6.8; rounded up = 7).  Of course, an unsuccessful raid may leave you with a negative score here!  You have to reward your warriors!!

The defender adds the total value of the cards left on the table and not turned over (not counting picture cards or jokers), divides by ten and rounds off any fractions.  Thus if 44 points are left on the table this gives the defender a score of 4 (44 divided by 10 = 4.4; rounded down = 4).

He also adds 1/10 of the total loot which the attackers had to abandon as a result of a drop in their army size.

Whoever ends up with the highest score wins the campaign.

These scores may be run over from one ‘campaign’ to the next.  You may decide that when the discrepancy between the two players’ cumulative scores reaches a certain level (say 50?), then campaigns cease to be campaigns and become mere tribute takings, with the lower scored player becoming a subordinate king.  If this happens, then you may play out a ‘major battle’.  Raise two large armies, including troops from outside the nucleus, up to the maximum allowed by the lists (5000 men) and fight out a major tabletop encounter.  If the ‘subordinate king’ loses his dynasty is replaced by a lesser branch of the victor’s royal family (if he survives the battle he is exiled); if he wins the battle the dominance of the other player is broken, and the old round of low-level campaigning begins again, with the hitherto subordinate player leading the first raid, and taking into it a prestige tally starting at 10.

A player who ends with a negative score on two consecutive raids is deposed, murdered (or put into a monastery) and replaced by another relative or a nobleman who looks as though he may be of rather more royal ‘utility’ (utilitas – much used as a criterion of good kingship in the early middle ages).

These rules are fairly provisional; amend them as you see fit, according to your games experience.  I’d love to hear any queries, responses or ideas.



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