Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hypothetical Hordes: A Song of Ice and Fire Part 1--Westeros

April has been a bit of a slack month as far as wargaming goes, so to pass away the time here's another look at how the armies of a fantasy setting might be translated into Hordes of the Things. This time I'll be examining "A Song of Ice and Fire;" George R. R. Martin's well-known fantasy series and the basis for the TV show Game of Thrones. (As someone who started reading the books in high school, it occasionally boggles my mind that they've become so popular, and even more so that there's a successful TV version...)

Anyway, ASoIaF differs from the settings I've previously examined in a couple of key ways--firstly, it would not actually be impossible to build these armies, particularly if you're willing to do a bit of conversion work. The continents of Westeros and Essos contain a vast range of cultures, but they're (almost) all ordinary humans with standard medieval weaponry--no six-legged flying buffalo here. Secondly, the number of plausible armies is in fact so large that I will split this into two posts, one on the armies of present-day Westeros, the second on the armies of the eastern continent of Essos as well as some notable armies from the setting's history.

A word of warning here: while these army lists are not going to reveal any of the big plot twists, minor spoilers are definitely possible, particularly for those who are not up to date with the show. And now, without further ado, some armies:

Given that the seven kingdoms cover most of a continent, it may seem a bit brusque to lump them all together. Still, with a few exceptions which I will examine separately, the Great Houses of Westeros all seem to share a common military tradition that mostly mirrors that of medieval Europe with armored knights supported by a variety of foot troops. Thus, any Stark, Lannister, Tully, Arryn, Baratheon, or Tyrell army will probably contain some proportion of:
  • Knights (mounted men in full armor, plate or chain, with shield and lance)
  • Riders (lighter-armored mounted troops with melee weapons)
  • Spears (Or pikes, but Hordes of the Things makes no distinction)
  • Shooters (Armed with either bows or crossbows)
Richer houses like the Lannisters or Tyrells can probably field a higher proportion of Knights, but cavalry should probably never exceed more than about half the army. One of the Knights should be the General in most cases, though in some cases a Hero might be around to pull rank. Now, let's look at a few specialist units that might be used to add a little variety:
  • Heroes--certain figures like Jaime Lannister, Robb Stark, Gregor Clegane, or Loras Tyrell demonstrate enough martial prowess to be classed as Heroes. (Behavior-wise... well, there won't be many Paladins in Westeros.)
  • Blades--some dismounted knights could conceivably be deployed as Blades.
  • Lurkers--ambush parties
  • Warband--Tyrion's mountain clansmen could be added to a Lannister army
  • Hordes--conscripted peasants, or city guards like the Gold Cloaks of King's Landing.
  • Sneaker--one of Melisandre's shadow children for Stannis' army.
Stronghold: Castles of every shape and size. Or a regular medieval camp would work too.

The southeastern-most of the Seven Kingdoms, Dorne is hotter and more arid than most of the rest of the realm, and might be more analogous to historical Arabs, Berbers, or the medieval Spanish than the kingdoms to the north. A Dornish army should probably feature lighter-armed Riders in place of Knights, and possibly Warbands in place of Spears or Blades. The Red Viper might be deployed as a Hero.

Stronghold: Spanish or Saracen castle

A small archipelago off the western coast, these guys are basically Vikings. Unlike mainland Westerosi armies, the Ironborn don't really do the whole mounted combat thing. Their army should be made up of some proportion of Blades and Warband. A stand or two of Shooters might be added as well. There are a couple of potential Heroes--Euron Greyjoy, maybe.

Stronghold: a couple of beached longships, or a castle.

Sort of like a cross between the Foreign Legion and the Teutonic Knights, they protect Westeros from threats to the north--the barbarian Wildings and the supernatural Others. Most of their strength is spent manning the Wall, a colossal fort of ice and stone that stretches across the continent, but they do send scouting parties north of the Wall at times. The Watch generally remains neutral in the affairs of the Seven Kingdoms, so their main opponents will be the Wildings and the Others. The Night's Watch should probably be a mix of infantry--Blades, Spears, and Shooters, with perhaps a stand or two of mounted rangers. All should be dressed in black. (Makes for easy painting...) For a little variety, the Watch could include a Hero, (Jon Snow or Lord Commander Mormont) a Horde or two (stewards or builders pressed into service to defend the wall) and possibly a Sneaker (a scouting party.)

Stronghold: It would be really neat to lay out a section of the Wall along an entire board edge with one of the castles serving as the stronghold proper. A less ambitious stronghold could take the form of a temporary camp.

A broad term for "everyone living north of the Wall," the Wildlings of Mance Rayder's army are drawn from a host of disparate peoples, united by a desire to live somewhere warmer with less of an undead problem. Some possible elements are as follows:

  • Warbands--warriors from various tribes, these should make up the core of the army. Not much armor; variety of hand weapons. Garb ranges from Inuit-like for northern tribes to standard fantasy barbarian furs and leather to ordinary medieval winter clothes.
  • Shooters--as above, but armed with longbows.
  • Knights--Frozen Shore warriors in walrus-bone chariots drawn by dogs
  • Behemoths--giants riding mammoths. Giants in ASoIaF are only about twice as tall as humans, robust and hairy.
  • Riders--Wildings on shaggy horses.
  • Hero General--Mance Rayder, the King Beyond The Wall
  • Beasts--a skinchanger with the animals he controls
  • Sneakers--a Wall-climbing party
  • Hordes--a less charitable take on the average Wildling warrior.
Stronghold: A vast collection of ragged tents, yurts, igloos, etc. or possibly a grove of weirwood trees.

Sometimes also known as the White Walkers, the Others are a mysterious supernatural race with a long-standing animosity towards humans. Most of their armies will consist of undead wights--reanimated human corpses with icy blue eyes. These would probably be best represented as Hordes. The Others themselves, including the general, would probably be best as Blades, armed with strange crystalline swords that can cut through steel. Others mounted on undead horses as Knights would also be a possibility. One story about the Other describes them as hunting with "packs of pale spiders as big as dogs" which could make for an interesting stand or two of beasts.

Stronghold: There really isn't enough information yet to know what the abode of the Others might be. A glacier might do, or some sort of otherworldly crystal castle.

These should cover main combatants in any Westerosi campaign, though I have left out some minor factions like the Brotherhood Without Banners, the mountain clansmen, and the crannogmen (twenty Lurkers and a Shooter general?) A future post (hopefully not too far in the future) will take a look at the armies of Essos--the Dothraki, Astapor, and more.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

HAWKs paint & play day

For the past couple of years, our miniatures club, the HAWKs, has been putting on kids' games at Historicon, with a giveaway of complete "game sets"--figures, terrain, rules--to the players afterwards. The figures are mostly donations, and the club paints them up before handing them out. Today we held a joint painting session/gaming day up at Chris Palmer's house, with the game being an NQSYW scenario, as a couple of people had added new units since the last game back in November. We painted all morning, took a short break for lunch, then set up the game.

Here's a few shots of the painting work in progress:

The NQSYW scenario involved a larger Northern Alliance force trying to seize a defended ridgeline before Pragmatic Coalition reinforcements arrived from off-table. It was a tight game, but in the end, the Northern Alliance was unable to establish clear control of the ridge.

The Northern Alliance deployment--Stanzbach-Anwatsch cavalry on the right flank, S-A infantry in the center, and the North Polenburgers with their light troops on the left.

The Wachovian infantry and Schoeffen-Buschhagen grenadiers along the ridge, with a couple of cavalry squadrons in reserve.

The game nearly ended within the first couple of turns, as I allowed the Stanzbach-Anwatsch cavalry to get around my left flank even as some solid shooting from the Northern artillery caused some damage to the center of our line. Fortunately, the first of our reinforcements were prompt in arriving, as a squadron of Schoeffen-Buschhagen dragoons appeared on the table just in time to intercept the brand-new S-A lancers. Down on the other side of the board, the S-B grenadiers struck fear into the hearts of the North Polenburg regiment (or perhaps the N-P's notoriously low-grade powder was to blame for the quality of their shooting) while both sides' skirmishers squared off.

The cavalry in the foreground were the reinforcements mentioned.

Stanzbach-Anwatsch infantry advance.

The next turn or so saw a number of additional reinforcements arrive as melees developed all along the line. A fresh regiment of S-B infantry was sent in to support the grenadiers, while some newly arrived S-B hussars managed to catch the S-A lancers as they were rallying. The Wachovian infantry on the hill, surrounded on three sides, nonetheless managed to put up a stiff resistance against the waves of S-A dragoons before being overwhelmed. Unfortunately, a careless mistake on my part allowed a North Polenburg cavalry squadron to break through and overrun our artillery battery, which I had situated in the center of our line. Further to the right, my cuirassiers (under the leadership of my co-commander) saw their first action against the veteran Stanzbach-Anwatsch infantry.

More of our reinforcements.

Naturally, my cuirassiers (in white coats with red facings) ended up fighting the S-A infantry (in white coats with red facings.)

Hoping to catch the cavalry who had overrun the guns, I sent my hussars up the hill--but found instead the gray-coated Stanzbach-Anwatsch dragoons. Trusting in Wachovian steel and our superior numbers to carry the day against our heavier opponents, I hurled my hussars into their flank, beginning a swirling cavalry melee that would last several turns and leave that fatal ridge strewn with the bodies of men and horses.

The Wachovians spur forward, guidon waving and moustaches bristling.

A closer view of the combat.

The results of the first round--seven to two in favor of the hussars.

No sooner had the gray-coated horsemen been sent fleeing in disarray then the sound of bugles was once again heard above the din of battle--the veteran 32nd North Polenburg Dragoon Guard was being sent against us, along with more S-A dragoons, their sabers still red with the blood of the Wachovian infantry. With no time to rally or catch a breath, the Wachovian hussars once again spurred into action, this time doubly disadvantaged against heavier opponents on fresher horses. Meanwhile, the S-B cavalry took advantage of the chance to attack still another squadron of the S-A regiment. In two turns of melee, the hussars managed to achieve a draw, while the combined weight of casualties from both combats finally drove the Stanzbach cavalry from the field.

Wachovian hussars face their North Polenburg foes as Schoeffen-Buschhagen cavalry crests the hill.

The Wachovian melee continues in the background as the S-Bs charge the S-As.

The final results of the cavalry melee.

Meanwhile, further down the line, the lead S-A infantry regiment had fallen behind to rally after their melee with the cavalry, and the North Polenburg infantry had broken after coming up against the S-B von Nordhafen regiment. This left the veteran von Nordhafens facing the second regiment of S-A infantry--untested troops.

Black-coated S-A infantry move forward.

The North Polenburgers have fled the field.

The new Stanzbach-Anwatsch infantry made a good showing, as they and the von Nordhafens annihilated each other. Meanwhile, the last of our reinforcements--a new pair of guns--had finally arrived, and with effective Northern forces reduced to a trio of guns and an infantry regiment halfway to breaking, it was decided that the Northern alliance would not be able to hold the ridge even if they had driven us from it. So ended another NQSYW battle, with a costly victory for the Pragmatic Coalition, and first-battle honors for several new units.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Take me out to the ball game...

Well, with warmer weather coming on, it's finally time for me to set aside the Byzantines and indulge one of my other interests--baseball! I was very excited when Caesar issued their set of baseball players (Sportsmen Set III) last year, but I somehow forgot to pick up some the other week at Cold Wars. Fortunately, in this era of online commerce, this is not a major obstacle, and when I got home from work today, I found a package waiting for me with a couple of boxes of the long-awaited figures.

Obviously the first team will be painted up in my own Baltimore Orioles colors (Go O's!) but I haven't decided yet who their opponents should be...

(It's a pity Caesar hasn't seen fit to release a similar set of football players--Ravens vs. Steelers would be the obvious choice there...)

Anyway, hopefully I will have the first few of these painted and ready to show off by the end of the week!