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    I’ve been thinking for several months/a year now about a “Big” Battle opportunity for the Dark Ages. My pals & I have used SAGA for some years but expanding the horizons might be an interesting intellectual project to keep me busy for the next several months or so.

    Firstly, this is *not* to replace SAGA which is an excellent skirmish set of rules. I think they can co-exist in our groups’ gaming. Perhaps, long term, both might be used in a campaign context?

    I have read several existing rule sets. I’ve bought Dux Bellorum & Neil Thomas’ Ancient & medieval books, I have Britwalda (free online set) & SAGA itself to borrow ideas from.  I don’t think my ideas are better than others  but anything I produce may better fit my pre-conceptions. I have written a SYW rule set that took about 18 months to get right and am are well aware of the labour & the rewards involved in rule writing.

    I have two starting points for my rules. Firstly, I think standardised units & frontages don’t fit my understanding of Dark Age battles. I am going to work on the idea that “units” (groups etc) can vary in base size & number of figures. This of course means combat mechanisms must be devised that allow 2 units to fight one etc. To keep this manageable is a challenge.

    Secondly, the relatively small scope of Dark Age battles emphasizes the role of key individuals. At this stage I am thinking that as well as each army having a Warlord & attached bodyguard, there should be a mechanism to allow a finite but variable number of “heroes” (I don’t like the term) to be added to a force. These should be able to inspire their own units & cow their opponents. It may well be interesting to allow 2 opposing heroes in close proximity, to issue a challenge & engage in single combat? Ultimately, the gamer must be able to win or lose games but his/her use of these key figures.

    I have been working on a list & description of troop types. I realise that this is “gamey” for this period but some parameters are needed for a war-game to function.

    Clearly, movement, combat capabilities & morale will stem from these categories.

    At any rate & with apologies, I hope to periodically post questions & solutions  here & receive some wise & considered responses from you.




    Guy Farrish

    Interesting ideas.

    Don’t know if you’ve seen these before:


    by Andy Callan – possibly showing their age a bit now but definitely worth looking at for another way of doing Dark Age/Early Mediaeval warfare, if only for inspiration/pinch ideas


    Thanks, Guy, I have seen them. They’re fine & I was thinking of “borrowing” their 3 unit ratings rather than the 5 or 6 of other rule systems.

    My rules, working title “Dragon’s Blood” obviously won’t be a commercial enterprise so I am unashamedly borrowing a fair bit from others.

    An example is that I want the Warlord to be involved in melee. You can’t imagine a Dark Ages’ chieftain doing anything else. However, his death should end things so you run the risk of having a very short game indeed. So, I’ll shoe-horn in the SAGA system where if the Warlord is fighting with his bodyguard, any “hits” on him are deflected onto the figures in the bodyguard….until you run out.

    I should have something good enough to play test by June/July.



    craig cartmell

    ‘To the Strongest’ by Simon Miller is a set of big battle rules where you can finish a game in an evening’s play. There are full PDF versions of the rules you can get from his website, https://bigredbatshop.co.uk/, for just £10.

    Although aimed at Ancients it does have free lists for Early Medieval (i.e. Dark Ages), and I have seen games with a thousand figures a side being run quickly and easily.


    The Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare


    Thanks, Craig but I want to write my own.

    Again, not because I think I can do better but for the sheer fun of doing it.

    I’m currently trying to rough out a combat system. I have a few ideas & tonight I’ll sit down with a calculator (to work out probabilities) & some dice (to run tests). Can life get any better?




    I’m intrigued to see what you come up with, although I’m not entirely clear on how large the battles you are proposing are. Personally, I would not think in terms of ‘units’ but rather in terms of ‘battles’, i.e. larger formations composed of a number of contingents that you have to keep together for maximum effectiveness. Command and control would be key, with warlords being an essential element of that. I like the idea of heroes and warlords at the forefront of the fighting. It adds colour to the proceedings, as well as being important for morale. What self-respecting warrior would want to follow a warlord who does not lead from the front after all? However you decide to approach it, I hope you’ll post the rules here for us to see.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.



    Personally, I would not think in terms of ‘units’ but rather in terms of ‘battles’, i.e. larger formations composed of a number of contingents that you have to keep together for maximum effectiveness.

    Yes, I’m struggling with the term “units” & will need to come up with something else. I’m aiming at 8-12 “units” (there’s that word again) a side. At a rough figure scale of 1:5, these are pretty small “battles” @ 400-500 real men a side. So games aren’t major conflicts between petty kings but more like the argy-bargy of large raiding parties running into the local, “home defence” forces.

    I’m not sure about “publishing” whatever I come up with here as it will certainly & unashamedly contain some mechanisms pilfered from commercial sets & I don’t want any copyright issues (I think Mike might agree with me….).

    At the moment, I have a list of things that need researching.

    For example: should I allow a player to keep a reserve? I’m not sure if this isn’t too advanced for the period (though I suspect historians tend to dumb down the abilities of people in the period).

    And, how big a role should I give the tactic of ambush? Was it common or did military leaders disdain such practices like Beorhtnoth historically did?

    Lots to learn, lots to test…..



    Probably best not to post here, then, given how the rules will borrow from commercial sets.

    The Icelandic sagas record a number of stratagems that were supposedly used in Viking Age battles. Given the lateness of the source, and the propensity of wargamers to overuse such things, I suggest not including them as a part of the rules, but perhaps creating scenarios that use them instead. I think ambush would fall into this category too.

    The sources I’m familiar with from the period really don’t give enough detail, so you just need to decide to your own satisfaction whether armies may have a reserve or not. If a source does mention a particular stratagem, it may well be because it was unusual, so should not be an open option for all games.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.


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