DBA Arthurian Campaign – What are my options?

I like the Arthurian setting. I like Campaigns. I like DBA and HoTT Campaigns because they are relatively simple and quick. I’ve played a few games of Arthurian HoTT. I’ve run Britannia 600 AD as a HoTT campaign for six players, although it can be used for DBA. I like the idea of gritty dark age DBA games. A recent article by Martin Smith on his “Arthurian Campaign” for DBA got me thinking about campaigns in this period again. The question is, what to do? How can I improve on previous efforts? What does an even better Arthurian campaign look like? And what army lists to use?

He glutted black ravens on the walls of the fort,
but he was no Arthur.

From the Welsh epic Y Gododdin

What will it take to make me an “Arthur” of DBA Arthurian campaigns?


DBA Arthurian Campaigns – what has gone before

I thought I’d start with a quick look at what has gone before, i.e. any DBA Arthurian Campaigns that I’ve seen. Actually there is less than I expected. But definitely more than none.

I have presented the campaign systems in chronological order because there is a bit of an evolution.

DBA 2.2 Campaign System

DBA 2.2 (and earlier versions) has a cool campaign system. I’ve played this campaign system many times and it is brilliant for a one day campaign with multiple players.

The system uses a stylised map and the example is for six players. The maps only has cities (or the more abstract ‘nodes’) and the road network linking the cities. This reflects that armies marched along roads so cities which multiple roads leading out of them were strategically important.

DBA 2.2 provides lots of suggested six player historical campaigns but there is not an Arthurian option. The closest match is “Carausius’s Britain 296 AD”: II/64a is Middle Imperial Roman (Carausius in Brtain), II/73 Early Anglo-Saxon, II/72d Early Frankish, II/64a is Middle Imperial Roman (Constantius in Gault), II/54a Scots-Irish, II/68a Pictish.

DBA Campaign - Carausius's Britain - 296 AD

DBA Campaign – Carausius’s Britain – 296 AD

296 AD is far too early for Arthur. He is more likely to have been in the 410 – 600 AD range. So here is a campaign map for 500 AD with: II/81c Sub-Roman British (Low Land), II/73 Early Anglo-Saxon (Saxon), II/73 Early Anglo-Saxon (Angle), II/68b Pictish, II/54b Scots-Irish, II/81c Sub-Roman British (Welsh)

DBA Campaign - Arthurian Britain - 500 AD

DBA Campaign – Arthurian Britain – 500 AD

Age of Arthur

The Age of Arthur is a 2-9 player DBA campaign set in post-Roman Britain. By the default there are eight Romano-British kingdoms: Ceint, Dumnonia, Anglia, Gwent, Gwynedd, Elmet, Rheged, Strathclyde. Each has three provinces including a home province. Provinces are either British, Saxon or, more rarely, Irish.

Age of Arthur - Map - from the Armory

Age of Arthur – Map – from the Armory

The home province provides six elements to the army; British get 1 Cv, 1 LH, 1 Ps, and 3 pedyt[Ax, later Sp]; and Saxons get 4 Wb, 1 Ps plus 1 Wb or Ps. Other provinces provide foot; British provinces provide 1 element of pedyt[Sp], and Saxon provinces provide 2 elements of warbands [Wb].

the most unique thing about Age of Arthur is the card system. The campaign uses a system of card play to conduct the campaign and generate battles. On each turn a player chooses two cards from his hand and, one at a time, either plays or discards them. Each player has a base hand which always contains the following cards: Establish Claim, Raid, Renounce Claim, Saxon Settlement, and Cassus Belli. A claim is a declaration of future inheritance. Renounce claim is the reverse. When Cassus Belli is played, a war will start. Winning a war means the winner gets all their claims. Players can take sides in a war.

Other cards are: the Roman Way, Rebellion, Migrating Saxons, Migrating Britons, Claim to the Throne, Saxon Usurper, Rebellion, Schooled in War, Sly Fox, The Brave, Legendary Prowess, Legendary Clumsiness, Fall of the Mighty, Fool in War, Dumb Ox, The Knave, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Out of the Monastery, Saxon Hater, Cast out the Saxons, Saxons Unite, Britons Unite, Merlin, Saxon Hater, Unexpected Inheritance, Treachery, Reshuffle, Hill People, Warlord, Warrior Prince, Men of the Hearth, Irish Subjects, Irish Scourge, Irish Friends, Irish Invaders, Assassin, Long Ships, Northerners, Night of the Long Knives, Sorcery, Dragon’s Breath, Charisma, Hammer of the Gods, Ambush, Plashing, Knights of Renown, Knights Errant, Grassfire, Hidden Ditch, Steal a March.

Each player has a rank: +1 for having a British ruler; +1 for each province the player owns; +1 for each Warlord the player controls; +2 for each vassal the player controls; +3 for the Bretwalda card; +3 for the Pendragon card. Rank determine the outcome of ties, and victory if the time limit is reached. The game ends when one player becomes Pendragon or Bretwalda and has all other players as his vassals

I collected this system from the internet a long time ago (2013) but never played it. Perhaps because, at the time, I was anti-cards. Clearly that has changed, given my Populous, Rich, and Rebellious – English Civil War Campaign.

Britannia 600

In 2007 six of us decided to a do a club project. Hence Campaign Rules for Britannia 600 AD. This was an adaptation of the DBA 2.2. Campaign System, but overlaid on the map of Britannia, the Avalon Hill board game. Britannia 600 AD was a great club project and enormous fun. But it is a while ago now, and two of the guys who played in that campaign (Mike and John) no longer even live in the UK.

Britannia Map

Britannia Map

I chose Britannia map because I’ve always loved the Britannia board. The board game still often features at christmas if I can get a bunch of players together. Britannia seems an obvious setting for a DBA/HOTT style campaign. Rather than attempt to recreate the entire time span of the game (45-1085 AD) I thought I’d concentrate on a period that specifically interests me, 600-700 AD.

Britannia 600 AD is a one day DBA/HOTT campaign is for 2-6 players (7 at a stretch). The campaign we played had six player nations: Alba, Strathclyde, Northumbria (North Angles), Mercia (Lords of the March), Powys and Wessex (West Saxons). You can play it as a straight DBA campaign with realistic troop types, or a semi-serious campaign, i.e. a blend of realistic with fantastical elements under HOTT. The only reservation is that it must feel right, so the fantastical elements should be consistent with the mythology that was current at the time. We played a semi-historical version using HoTT. Armies are 12 elements for DBA or, in our case, 24 AP for HoTT, plus a camp/stronghold. I revised/revamped the Army Lists significantly.

I did add some elements to the DBA 2.2. campaign system. I replaced the node map with the Britannia map. The player nations all started with five provinces on the map (not the 3 of the DBA 2.2. campaign map). I added non-player neutral nations: Dal Riada, Dumnonia, East Angles, Ireland. The neutral nations started with between 1 and five provinces and two of them (Scots, Irish) had field armies. I introduced a barter currency based on cows and sheep. From that came taxation, recruitment costs, bribery of neutrals.

I have lots of supporting material on this: Introduction, Campaign Rules, Army Lists, 15mm Figures, Painting Guide, Excerpts from Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Big Day, Armies, Northumbrians v Welsh, and Mapless Campaign.

Kaptain Kobold’s Solo Arthurian Campaign

In 2012 Kaptain Kobold (Alan Saunders) published Dux Bellorum: A Solo HOTT Campaign. In this HoTT campaign, Arthur defends Britain from raiders and invaders. This is a super simple campaign system that provides a lot of favour. Although written for HoTT, it can easily be adapted to DBA. It is intended for solitaire play – the Kaptain often plays solo – but would work perfectly well for two players. It would also work with Arthur being the main player and a supporting cast of other players being called upon to be the enemy nations.

Arthur’s army starts with 18 elements but only 12 can be selected for a particular battle. The campaign lasts for 20 years with random events each year: Peace, Plague, Levy, Defeat minor raid, Offensive Campaign (fight battle as attacker), Invasion (fight battle as defender). For a battle, the enemy is determined randomly from: Irish, Welsh, East Saxons, South Saxons, North Britons, or Picts. Enemy nations are eliminated after two consecutive defeats, but subsequently can provide Arthur with mercenaries. Arthur starts with one glory point and gains glory points for defeating minor raids (1), winning battles (1), eliminating an enemy nation (1), and eliminating all enemy nations (2). Arthur loses one glory point upon a defeat. Arthur’s kingdom collapses if his glory points drop to below zero. If Arthur’s army drops below 12 elements, he automatically loses battles (1 glory point loss) and also loses the campaign. So if Arthur’s army is depleted he has to hope for a “levy” event to bring his forces up to strength, before he has to fight any battles. In terms of victory, Kaptain Kobold says “At the end of the 20th year the campaign automatically ends. How much Glory do you have? Can you do better next time?” I guess survival is its own reward.

No map is necessary but I couldn’t help myself making a stylised one.

DBA Campaign - 2 player Arthurian

DBA Campaign – 2 player Arthurian

DBA 3.0 Campaign System

Disappointingly the DBA 2.2. campaign system has disappeared from DBA 3.0. Presumably because of copy right issues with Richard Bodley Scott leaving the writing team; Richard was the author of the campaign system. There is one page on campaigns. This has some sensible but very high level suggestions for how to play a one day campaign. Not specific enough for my purposes.

Martin Smith’s Two Player Arthur Campaign

In 2018 Martin Smith worked up a variation of Kaptain Kobold’s system and then wrote up a Arthurian One Day Campaign report. Naturally, as a wargamer, Martin tweaked Kaptain Kobold’s system for his own purposes, for example two players (Arthur and the barbarians), not solo. Martin and his friend played the whole campaign, with 9 games of DBA, in one day (between 10 am and 4 pm) . Apparently it was intensive but fun and the games were fast and furious. The campaign ran over 20 game years with the chance of random events each year: peace, plague, levy, minor raids, offensive battle, or defensive battle.

Martin changed Arthur’s start army to be 19 elements from DBA 3.0 ‘s II/81a Sub-Roman British 407-470AD. Arthur could only choose 12 elements for a particular battle, but at the start the Arthur player had a lot of choice; 19 elements of a wide variety including Roman types (Kn, Bd, Ax). After the battles the player rolled for each Romano-British element destroyed; it could be removed from the campaign permanently, returned to the reserve unchanged, or returned the reserve but downgraded (Kn to Cv to LH; Bd to Sp to Ps or Hd). So over time the Arthur’s army became more British than Roman. By the end of the campaign Romano-British army resembled army lists II/81c or II/81d lists.

Like Kaptain Kobold’s version the enemy nations were: Welsh, North Britons, Scots-Irish, Picts, East Saxons, and South Saxons. Martin used the DBA 3.0 army lists for the barbarians but added variants depending on whether the barbarians were defending or invading, plus the possibility of barbarian allies. For example, when the Saxons invaded they got 12 warband but when they were defending they got only 8 warband, but with a couple of hordes and a psiloi. Similarly, when defending the Irish had light chariots, but when when invading they only had foot.

Again, no map is necessary. However, the same map I made for the Kaptain Kobold system works for Martin Smith’s two player (see above).

Martin Smith’s Four Player Arthur Campaign for solo wargaming

In 2020 Martin Smith evolved his ideas further. This time Martin wanted a four player campaign where the battles fought solo because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. He wrote up this concept in an article in Slingshot, the Journal of the Society Ancients, issue 334, “Arthurian Campaign” (Smith, 2021). It was this article that caught my attention.

Martin new campaign had four Romano-British kingdoms, one per player: Rheged (northwest), Ebrauc (northeast), Dobunnia (southwest) and Britannia Prima (southeast). In contrast the previous campaign only had one Romano-British entity.

Romano-British players could choose one ‘stance’ each campaign year:

  1. To invade a neighbouring barbarian nation
  2. To invade any other Romano-British Kingdom
  3. To recruit forces to bolster their army, or
  4. To strive for peace

Both “invade” options lead to table top battle. As does a random barbarian invasion. “Recruit” is a chance to get lost elements back. “Peace” can be a fast track to campaign victory, if the kingdom is not attacked. Barbarian raids and offensives are random events.

The umpire controlled the five barbarian nations: Welsh, Scots-Irish, Picts, East Saxons, or South Saxons. [Okay, I admit it, calling the Welsh ‘barbarian’ seems a bit harsh as they led the Romano-British resistance against the invading Saxons.] Martin dropped the North Britons from his earlier list of enemies as they had morphed into two Romano-British kingdoms (Rheged, Ebrauc) in his updated campaign.

Of course this doesn’t need a map, but I made one anyway.

DBA Campaign - 4 player Arthurian

DBA Campaign – 4 player Arthurian


Arthurian Maps

What about maps? You can see from the examples above that there are lots of options for maps.

Arthurian Maps

Arthurian Maps

Mapless: The Kaptain Kobold and Martin Smith options don’t even have maps because they don’t need them. That is a pragmatic design choice and I’ve even written up some material on mapless campaigns.

Static Node Map: Well, I like maps. Lots of people do. So even though Kaptain Kobold and the 2 player campaign from Martin Smith don’t need it, I have drafted a map for use with these campaigns. This isn’t really necessary because armies do not move. But it does suggest a positional relationship between the nations.

Node and Road Map: DBA 2.2 offers a stylised map. Nodes are the cities or other key locations. Armies move along the roads which link the nodes. This was pretty easy to turn into a map for a 500 AD Arthurian campaign. Practical but not super aesthetic.

Provincial Movement Map: Both Britannia 600 AD and Age of Arthur have realistic maps based on a map of Britain. For Britannia 600 AD this isn’t surprising since the whole thing started with the idea of using the board game’s map. Kingdoms cover a number of provinces, with one province being the home. Armies move between provinces and can conquer provinces of rival factions. There are a lot of provinces on theses maps so both maps support eight players. Eight is a lot of people and both campaigns are likely to have less players and more neutral nations. So, from my perspective eight is too many.


Arthurian Time period

Arthur is meant to have led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The 10th-century Annales Cambriae link Arthur with the Battle of Badon (516–518 AD) and also mention the Battle of Camlann (537–539 AD), where Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) both died. So 516-539 AD is the period I think Arthur is most likley to have operated. Of course it might have been before, after, or not at all.

Martin Smith set both his campaigns in 420-39 AD. This allows him to use ex-Roman troops.

It is no surprise that my own Britannia 600 AD starts in 600 AD. I don’t recall there was any logic behind that choice aside from giving my mate Mike a chance to field Northumbrians; he is originally from Northumbria. It really is a bit late for Arthur.


Arthurian Army Lists

I thought I’d collect the various army lists here so save me looking for them repeatedly.

DBA 2.2 Army Lists

II/54a Scots-Irish 55BC-432AD: 1xLCh(Gen); 2xLch; 1xLCh or Wb[Fiana or Attacotti] or Ax[Warriors or Romans]; 6xAx[Warriors]; 2xPs[Skirmishing Javelinmen]
II/54b Scots-Irish 433-846AD: 1xLCh or Ax or Wb(Gen); 9xAx[Warriors]; 2xPs[Skirmishing Javelinmen]

II/68a Pictish 211-499AD: 1xLCh(Gen); 2xLH[Horsemen]; 5xSp[Spearmen]; 1xSp[Spearmen] or Wb[Atecotti]; 3xPs[Archers]
II/68b Pictish 500-846AD: 1xCv or Sp(Gen); 2xLH[Horsemen]; 6xSp[Spearmen]; 3xPs[Archers and crossbowmen]

II/73 Early Anglo-Saxon 428-617AD: 1xWb(Gen); 10xWb[Warriors]; 1xPs[Archers]

II/81a Sub-Roman British 407-428AD: 1xCv(Gen); 1xCv[Equites or alares or Welsh gentry]; 1xAx[Cohortales or numeri] or LH[Equites Dalmatae]; 8xAx[Cohortales or numeri]; 1xPs[Archers]
II/81b Sub-Roman British 429-441AD: 1xCv(Gen); 1xCv; 1xAx or LH; 5xAx or Sp; 3xWb[Saxons] or Ax or Sp; 1xPs
II/81c Sub-Roman British 442-539AD: 1xKn or 1xCv(Gen); 2xCv; 1xSp or LH; 7xSp; 1xPs
II/81d Sub-Roman British 442-539AD: 1xCv(Gen); 2xCv; 1xSp or LH; 7xSp; 1xPs

DBA 3.0 Army Lists

DBA 3.0 army lists where they differ from the above

II/54a as DBA 2.2
II/54b Scots-Irish 433-846AD: 1xLCh or Ax or Wb(Gen); 9xAx[Warriors]; 1xPs[Skirmishing Javelinmen]; 1xPs[Skirmishing Javelinmen] or Hd[Saint and praying monks]

II/68a Pictish 211-499AD: 1xLCh(Gen); 1xLCh or LH[Horsemen]; 1xLH[Horsemen] or Wb[Atecotti]; 5xPk[Spearmen]; 1xPk[Spearmen] or Ps[Javelinmen]; 3xPs[Archers]
II/68b Pictish 500-846AD: 1xCv or Pk(Gen); 2xLH[Horsemen]; 6xPk[Spearmen]; 3xPs[Archers and crossbowmen]

II/73 as DBA 2.2

II/81a Sub-Roman British 407-470AD: 1xCv or Kn(Gen); 1xCv[Equites or alares]; 1xLH[Equites Dalmatae] or Cv[Welsh Gentry]; 1xKn[Equites Catafractariorum] or Cv[Alares]; 2xBd[Legionari of VI Victrix or II Augusta] or Sp[Pedyt]; 5xAx[Cohortales or numeri] or Sp[Pedyt]; 1xPs[Archers]
II/81b Sub-Roman British – Vortigern’s Army 429-441AD: 1xCv or Bd(Gen); 1xCv[Equites or Commitatus] or Bd[Commitatus]; 6xAx[Numeri] or Sp[Pedyt]; 1xWb[Saxons]; 2xWb[Saons] or Hd[Militia]; 1xPs[Archers, Slingers or Javelinmen]
II/81c Sub-Roman British 471-580AD: 1xKn or 1xCv(Gen); 1xCv[Comitatus]; 4xLH[Light Horse] or Sp[Pedyt]; 4xSp[Pedyt] or Hd[Peasants]; 2xPs[Javelinmen]
II/81d Sub-Roman British – Strathclyde Army 580-1034AD: 1xCv(Gen); 2xCv[Comitatus]; 1xCv[Comitatus] or Sp[Pedyt]; 7xSp[Pedyt]; 1xPs[Archers, Slingers or Javelinmen]

HoTT

Arthurian Semi-historical: 1 x Hero General[Arthur] @ 4; 1 x Knights[Comitatus] @ 2; 2 x Riders[Romano-British] @ 2; 6 x Spears[Pedyt] @ 2; 1 x Shooters[Archers] @ 2
Alternatives: Knight General[Arthur] @ 2; Magician[Merlin, Morgana or Nimue] @ 4; Cleric[Bishop or Saint] @ 3; Dragon[Red Dragon] @ 4

Saxons: 1 x Warband General @ 2; 10 x Warband[Warriors] @ 2; 1 x Shooters[Archers] @ 2
Alternatives: Magician @ 4; Beast[War Dogs] @ 2; Dragon[White Dragon] @ 4

Ulster: 2 x Hero[Cuchulain, Connall] @ 4; Cleric[Cathbad the Druid] @ 3; 1 x Knight General @ 2; 4 x Knights @ 4; 3 x Hordes[Ulster foot]
Note: Heroes and Knights are all in 2 horse chariots

Irish: 1 x Magician General[Queen Maeve] @ 4; 1 x Magicians[3 witch daughters of Calatan] @ 4; 1 x Hero[Fergus Mac Roy] @ 4; 4 x Knights @ 2; 4 x Hordes[Irish foot]
Note: Magicians, Heroes and Knights are all in 2 horse chariots

Steven’s Army Lists

I hacked around with the DBA army lists quite a lot in my HOTT and DBA Army Lists for Britannia 600 AD. I have some of pet hates in the DBA troop types and I took the opportunity to address these. For example, I find the DBM/DBA categorisation of early Saxon warriors as Warband problematic (DBA II/73). Warband might be a appropriate for a wild Irish charge, but not the slow and steady approach of the Saxons. Saxon shield walls didn’t do a wild charge and could stand off cavalry for a considerable period (Heath, 1980). I also made an argument that the elite Saxon Hird should be Blade not Warband. Actually that probably applies to any elite infantry in the Arthurian age. Of course they weren’t all armed with swords, but they were “were superior in hand-to-hand combat to any foot” (DBA 2.2, p. 4). Making them Blades does make them vulnerable to cavalry in DBA, but less so than as Warband.

More generally I don’t like army lists that introduce arbitrary differences between armies. I generally think Dark Age armies would be pretty similar. This is the reason I did a Revised DBA Army List for a Western German Horde: 1xKn//Wb or Wb(Gen); 1xKn//Wb[Nobles]; 7xWb[Warriors]; 1xWb[Warriors] or LH[Alans, Huns]; 1xWb[Warriors] or Ps[Archers, Javelinmen]; 1xPs[Archers].

I like the idea of wildly charging Scots-Irish warband and I hate the idea of Pictish pikemen.


DBA Arthurian Campaigns – what next

There is much I like about Martin Smiths most recent campaign. And I think I will borrow heavily. Here are some things I like about Martin’s campaign

  • Four players. My current wargaming crew has four people in it. Say no more.
  • “Stances”. This is a super simple way to include some strategy. I particularly like the way “Peace” gives those players who want a passive approach, although this comes with a risk.
  • Player cannot be knocked out of the campaign. They are in until the end.
  • But losing the commander in battle has a consequence.
  • No map movement. Okay, I’d draw a map but only because I like maps.
  • Simple events (plague, raid, barbarian invasion)

Martin didn’t include a full set of campaign rules, but I’m pretty sure I can fill in the gaps and make it a bit more balagan-style. I would, of course, change the army lists. Or at least offer options that make more sense to me. Other folk can do what they like.

In fact I’m thinking about two campaign variations:

  • Legions have Gone (420-439 AD) – this the period Martin focussed on, with Roman style elements
  • The Bear Exalted (518-537 AD) – this is the most likely period for a historical Arthur

References

Barker, P., Bodley Scott, R., and Laflin-Barker, S. (2014). De Bellis Antiquitatis: Simple fast play ancient wargame and campaign rules with army lists [Version 2.2]. Wargames Research Group.

Barker, P., and Laflin-Barker, S. (2014). De Bellis Antiquitatis: Quick play wargame rules with army lists for ancient and medieval battles [Version 3.0]. Wargames Research Group.

DuBois, J. (2006). Age of Arthur. Armoury.

Heath, I. (1980). Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 [2nd Ed.]. Wargames Research Group.

Saunders, A. (Kaptain Kobold) (2012). Dux Bellorum: A Solo HOTT Campaign. Stronghold Rebuilt: Hordes of the Things.

Arthur defends Britain from raiders and invaders. A simple solitaire campaign set-up suitable for DBA or HOTT.

Smith, M. (2021, January/February). Arthurian Campaign. Slingshot: Journal of the Society Ancients, 334, 12-17. Society of Ancients.

Thomas, S. (2007). Britannia 600 AD Campaign. Balagan.

9 comments to DBA Arthurian Campaign – What are my options?

  • Steve J

    You certainly have lots of options out there, but these days for campaigns, I prefer a narrative and KISS approach, due to time constraints and to keep things focussed.

    • Steven Thomas

      I’m tending the same direction … towards simpler. The Kaptain Kobold and Martin Smith options both appeal to me because they focus on providing a thin layer of narrative for table top battles. Even the pretty simple DBA 2.2 campaign system now seems heavy by comparison.

  • “He wrote up this concept in an article in Slingshot, the Journal of the Society Ancients, issue 333, “Arthurian Campaign” (Smith, 2021).”

    Issue 334, actually.

  • Steve Gross

    Thanks for putting this post together. You are great at providing useful information for gamers and I for one appreciate your hard work. As a matter of fact I just finished painting a 2.2 version Sub-Roman British army. Now I need to get started painting a Scots-Irish army as I already have the Picts and the Saxons. Thanks again.

  • Justin

    I’ve linked to this post from the SoA forum. It has generated interest!

  • Dave Hollin

    absolutely echo the above, thanks for the info and summary on what’s out there for this Steve!

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