Welcome to the Lard Island Studio where, for a change, we are taking a break from the Oddcast and Lard TV to discuss the forthcoming ancient rules for Lard Island News. I am joined today by Richard who is in the driving seat with what was originally called “Infamy, Infamy” but has now taken on its proper title of “Disciplina et Virtus”. Richard, welcome to the studio.
“Thank you Sidney. It’s a pleasure to be here.”
My first question to you must be why the change in name? “Infamy, Infamy” struck a chord with anyone of a certain age who grew up with the Carry On films, why did you drop it.
“To be honest, most of our rule sets start off with a project name which then changes once we get to the stage that we know it is going to be a real set of rules rather than just a fun idea. Dux Britanniarum began its life as “Beerwulf” if you recall. It was a bit of fun and when starting out on a journey with a rule set we tend to give it a project title. Now we can see the rules shaping up we can find a name that is more appropriate. In this case the Latin ‘Disciplina et Virtus’, Discipline and Virtue in English, seems right as these are the two key Roman martial values that one sees quoted in documents and even caved in stone on columns. In Rome the concept of virtue was taken to mean ideals of action and personal qualities expected of those who led. These values conform to the structure of the rules we are developing; the discipline of the men and virtue of the Leaders.”
Okay, that is interesting that even the name betrays some research and an attempt to get under the skin of the subject matter. I think people will recognise that as something core to the whole concept of Lard; that desire to understand the subject and to present a game that is based on historical events. I presume that research has been undertaken.
“And is still being undertaken. The ancient world is an intriguing place as we see a real clash of cultures. If we look around the world today, we see as many cultural similarities as we see differences in the way that we live and work. That was not the case in the ancient period where huge cultural differences existed between near neighbours. This was reflected in the way that they fought as well as their daily lives. Attempting to encapsulate those differences has been at the heart of this project. I don’t want to create a game where a German Warrior is the same as a Roman soldier. They had totally different mind-sets, totally different training, so even when the weapons were not dissimilar, the way they fought was like chalk and cheese. The Roman depending on his discipline and drills, the barbarian on his fervour and aggression. The way their Leader commanded and led was again a reflection of this. So two very different approaches that I wanted to model into the very heart of the game.”
How does that actually work in practice? What game mechanisms are used to show these differences?
“What I have attempted to do is to strip the game down to several core pillars upon which the rules could then be constructed…”
Is this using Sharp Practice as a structure? I know there was much talk of ‘Sharp Practice Ancients”. Sorry to interrupt.
“That’s a good and important question. To go back to the genesis of this, I had a few ideas knocking about in my mind that I wanted to try out. Essentially I saw Sharp Practice as a good basic chassis upon which I could possibly build the new rules. Essentially the reason for this was that Sharp Practice focusses on the skills and drills of the solider in the black powder era. How quickly can he load and fire; how well and how quickly than he execute changes in formation. To a degree some of this is hidden behind some rather fun mechanisms, so it doesn’t feel like you are eating a drill manual, but it is in there.
Here, with the ancient world, the drills are very different. The emphasis is much more on close quarter action rather than on ranged fire. But it’s still drill, so it seemed like a good starting place. What I wanted to do was to replicate the command choices of the commanders in some detail; after all this is a skirmish game, albeit a large skirmish. So, when under fire from archers, does the centurion order his men to put their shields up to protect them from the missiles, or does he form a Testudo to get even better protection but sacrificing mobility, or does he stand and suffer? I didn’t want the rules to assume that this stuff happened automatically, that seemed to me to be missing out on what allowed the barbarians to get a win when they caught their Roman opponent in the wrong tactical stance. For example why did the initial attack at the Teutoburgerwald meet with success? Quite probably because the Romans were in march column; because maybe the attack was sow swift and delivered from such close quarters that they didn’t get to launch their pila in the face of the onslaught. For a skirmish game these tactical steps and whether that are achieved in perfect order, not achieved at all, or just achieved but imperfectly are really important. It’s something I haven’t seen replicated in any wargame and for me that is something very interesting.
By introducing these ‘points of drill’ we allow the gamer to see the cinematic detail of a fight. So, ideally, if I am a Roman and a bunch of hairy barbarians start showering me with arrows from the forest, I want to close up my formation for protection. I want to put my shields up to give me protection against missiles. But maybe that’s what my German opponent wants? At that moment, partially blinded by holding my shields up, a sweeping attack comes crashing through the undergrowth. He’s potentially caught me wrong-footed. Of course I want to respond. Ideally I will hurl my pila into the face of the charge and then present my shields to the fore to receive the charge as a solid immovable formation. But that’s the ideal. So far in this fight I have had four point of drill. Close ranks, shields up, hurl pila, brace for the attack. And in many ‘big picture’ rules it is assumed that the Romans do just that; quite understandably. When designing big battle rules you have to take some of this small detail as read. However, in a large skirmish we have the opportunity to see if Roman drill can actually be delivered quite as perfectly as the drill manual would like.
So, to return to your question, Sharp Practice Ancients is misleading as this is NOT Sharp Practice. This is a totally new set of rules. However, the actions are Sharp Practice size and the emphasis on drill is very much to the fore as, in the same way that we consider the effectiveness of every volley delivered in those rules, here we are paying the same attention to the small components that make up combat in the ancient world.”
That does seem quite unique, I have seen such detail in small individual figure skirmish games. but never at this level. As you say, we mostly assume that the Romans do their stuff as though going through a finely-honed dance routine. So you say that a force is ‘Sharp Practice sized”, can you expand on that?
“Yes, certainly. For example, last night we played a game with a core Roman force of four groups of 8 Legionaries, one Group of 8 Auxilia, one Group of 8 Auxilia Archers and two Leaders. Fifty figures in all . The German core force was five Groups of 10 Warriors or Noble Warriors, one Group of six javelin armed skirmishers, and three Leaders. Fifty-nine figures in all. We did add some support units into that and if you wanted you could push this up to say 100 figures but there is no need.”
So bigger than Dux Britanniarum?
“Oh yes. And a totally different game. Dux is a real skirmish game with thirty or so figures. It has the feel of a small raid. Disciplina et Virtus is bigger and, like Sharp Practice, feels like a small battle. There are more command decisions to be made and the feel is that you are commanding a real force rather than a scratched together mob. Dux feels like the anarchy of the Dark Ages to me; D&V feels like warfare in a more formal world where order and chaos collide”
Right, you’ve told me how the Romans fight and you have suggested that the Barbarians have the opportunity to tactically wrong-foot them. How do the Barbarians fight? I assume they are more of a blunt instrument?
“That’s the assumption and on first examination it’s right. The barbarians are much more a “punch in the face” type crowd. In a bar fight they would be the hulk of a man looking to land one knock-out punch that broke your jaw and saw you fly through the window. But let’s not underestimate the command decisions to be made and the effort it will take to get the best results. The barbarians are much more limited in terms of what one could even vaguely consider as ‘drill’. They barely have any such sophistication. However they are generally faster, more nimble and just more violent than their civilised opponent. In terms of command, these people are from a different planet to the Romans. To them drill is an anathema. War is won by a primitive form of psychology. They need to get their men prepared and ready to attack, building up their fervour to a crescendo and then unleashing them. However, to simply allow a wild and unco-ordinated charge across the battlefield is to court disaster. Their leaders need to keep their men under control until the right moment when they then unleash a charge which resembles a nothing less than tsunami of violence. As with the Romans, who are attempting to play their game of getting their drill right in order to be able to react to the charge they know is coming; the barbarians need to get their timing right. To use their skirmishers to protect the main body from the pilum hurling Romans who will be ahead of their main body and attempting to disrupt Barbarian preparations. So, in a nutshell, both sides are playing the game in a different way so as to reflect their very different culture.”
What I am picking up on in what you are saying is that this isn’t a game where you just line up your forces and attack. Would that be correct?
“It would indeed. In fact it is questionable whether you line up your forces at all. We tend to use terms like asymmetrical warfare when talking about modern combat but so many of the issues present today were mirrored back then. Let’s consider those Roman Legions in the dark Germanic forest or the marshes of southern Britannia, the mountains of what is now Wales or the glens of Caledonia; this was not a comfortable environment for them. Every clump of trees could contain a bunch of screaming barbarians, every fleeting glimpse they saw on the crags above could presage the arrival of a hostile army. You can transport the emotions straight to Vietnam or Afghanistan and back again. I really wanted to allow the home-turf versus invader elements to come into play, whether that was real of psychological. So for the Romans, taking them as en example, operating in enemy territory should see them feeling like fish out of water, albeit pretty brutal fish. Conversely, when we think of the Barbarians, we shouldn’t be thinking like Tacitus, we should be thinking like Mao when he said “Many people think it impossible for guerrillas to exist for long in the enemy’s rear. Such a belief reveals lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops. The former may be likened to water the latter to the fish who inhabit it.” This is the Barbarians being at one with their environment and able to use that to surprise and wrong–foot the Romans.
On your point about lining up your army and advancing to contact, there are several issues to consider here. For the Romans, they move pretty slowly when in a combat formation, so for them the decision is about when to advance in a looser but faster moving column, and how to protect that, and when to form up for battle whilst knowing that if they declare their hand too early a more nimble opponent may well then out-manoeuvre them. For the Barbarians, the early phase is about deploying for battle and having time to rouse their men to a state of fervour so that they deliver an attack that is unstoppable. So for both sides the use of skirmishers to gain space and to protect their main force is key. This allows us to replicate that first phase of battle, that Primus Impetus, that Ceasar writes about rather than just focussing on one long battle line in a dice-fest.”
That’s a valid point. So often the ancient wargames of my youth were almost just that; a dice rolling contest. You start at one end of the line and work down it. How does one avoid that in a set of ancient wargames rules?
“You’re right. And largely I think it”s because when looking at huge battles we lose so much of the detail that makes ancient warfare unique. By zooming out we so often end up with Warriors versus Warriors, or whatever classification we choose to use, when what we are actually seeing is two sides that are utterly different. In zooming in, but not zooming in too far, I am hoping that we can shed some light on the detail that differentiates. There will be times when the line of combat break apart, men exhausted. It is up to the Leaders to decide whether to drive them back into the fight immediately or whether to try to rouse them on to renewed fervour, allowing them time to get their breath and enthusiasm back before they hurl themselves into the fray once again. How do troops and their leaders react as they see the neat battle-lines potentially fall apart, can they maintain order or do they just hack and slash their way forward hoping that the enemy’s morale breaks under the onslaught. Do they attempt to break contact and reform?; do they reinforce with fresh troops or do they stand off to create a second line? Allowing these decisions to be made as the melee evolves takes us away from that dry dice rolling approach that just slogs on and eventually sees one side beaten and the other side winning. That’s too binary for the game we are creating. Think back to Sharp Practice, where you gradually see a firing line disintegrate as the Leaders attempt to restore it to order; that’s the level of detail we want to see here.”
That sounds very different and uncharted territory in many respects. But throughout this process you have referred to Romans and Barbarians. Will there be other nationalities included in the rules?
“Yes. Absolutely. That said, please don’t think this is Ancient Warfare from 8,000,000 years BC to 1700AD. It isn’t and it can’t be. I really feel very strongly that to create a generic set of rules is to by default end up with that ‘Warriors versus Warriors’ approach. I want to keep the core rules to a pretty tight period post the Marian reforms, so really from Caesar through to the end of the 1st Century AD. Late Republic and early Imperial. So enemies are principally Gauls, Germans, Britons, Civil Wars, Slave revolts (which look fun to me – I’m Spartacus!) and the Jewish-Roman wars. I am keen to extend this to the earlier period covering Carthage and the Punic Wars and wars with the Spartans, with the Triplex Acies competing against other civilised nations with alternative systems. Ultimately it would be good to go the East with Dacia and Persia but as I say we need specific supplements to deal with very specific periods of history.”
Can you tell us where you are with the rules? When can we expect them to be released?
“It’s the obvious questions, but no. What I can say is that I am really pleased with where the rules are at present after a dozen playtests, but that is NOTHING in terms of what the rules need to go through. As always when creating a rule set, what we have done first is to create the framework with the core concepts. After that we have to fill in all of the detail to create something that is playable. There are several tiers to work through. First is stress testing the frame to make sure that is sufficiently robust to hang the rest of the rules on and, more importantly, to be sure that this is a project we want to take to fruition. We have done that. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Now we are adding detail and that takes time. We hope to have a really rough set that our initial wider play-test group can work with ready within a week. After that we work with feedback and add ideas in and take ideas out as we cycle through the process. As I said the other day on social media; we only know when a set of rules is ready when it is ready. Then we playtest it some more.”
Well, I’d better let you get on with that. Thanks very much for talking to Lard Island News. Hopefully we can discuss this further on the next Oddcast as I have had a few people “Asking Sidney” about the process of rules development.
“I’d be very happy to have that conversation.”
As readers of Lard Island News will know, there is nothing I like more than a game with narrative; apart, that is, from a game with really good tactics AND narrative. A good story can often be heroic, sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant, but a display of good tactics when combined with a good leadership narrative