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.


  1. I've not read the books or seen the series, but the lists look quite interesting. I know there's a few people on Fanaticus who game this particular setting, although at least on does it with some kind of bizarre DBA 3.0/HOTT cross-breed.

    1. I'm not surprised--it's mostly a low fantasy sort of setting, so some DBA elements would probably fit right in.