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Jan 30 15 2:58 PM

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Aside from the usual “I really like your rules … but this bit is wrong” or “I hate your rules because they don’t do what I want”, one of the points I’ve received the most feedback on is Skirmishers. As one jolly chap said: “They don’t work.” And another: “Skirmishers are broken.”This post pulls together some of what I said about Skirmishers on BGG, which some of you may not have seen before…Surprisingly enough, Skirmishers do work as I’d intended; I think that some people have got caught up in thinking of classical skirmishers and specialist skirmishers found elsewhere in the ancient world, which is reasonable enough. But Dux Bellorum’s Skirmishers ARE different to skirmishers in many games, because I want to see them flitting around the edges of a battle looking for opportunities but also being scared to get stuck in. I don't envisage Dark Ages skirmish lines flung out in front of armies. If you're a little guy with a javelin, would you really want to be thrust into the middle of a carve up between massive bears of men, tooled up to the nines and wearing boar emblems on their helmets? I wouldn’t, I’d just run away. I’d only get involved when I was sure they would have better things to occupy their spears than my weedy carcass.

I don't see skirmishing as a great tactical tool in this period: they should be vulnerable and useful on limited occasions only. My take on Dark Ages skirmishers is not that they were well drilled, brave, or intended to advance directly up to a formed enemy unit and lob their javelins at it. In Dark Ages battles, the formed units are still pretty fluid: they’re not weighed down with a load of armour and don't necessarily carry a huge encumbering shield, don't fight in restrictive battle lines, and mostly don't fight in a tight formation (excepting Shieldwall at the crunch point, but before immediate contact I don’t imagine they held such a tight formation); skirmishers won't hold any great advantage over the majority of troops in terms of mobility as we’re not talking phalanx vs psiloi.

In the battles fought in Dux Bellorum, skirmishers are just a weaker version of everyone else rather than a specialist light troop. They’re shifty and cautious and they’re possibly not experienced fighters. They’re probably being used as skirmishers because they don't have the equipment to perform a different role, not because they have been trained accordingly.Throwing them out in a line in front of your formed units isn't the way to use them on the Dux Bellorum battlefield: as you already know (and have possibly found out to your cost), in this game they can't evade so should be used differently.


1) Use them around the edges of your army (see 6 and 7 below) ... putting them out front will see them minced up.  
2) Don't bravely advance them and expect them to perform well; keep them out of the way until there’s an advantage to exploit. 
3) Take rough ground with them and sit them there.  
4) DO let the enemy come to you.  
5) Pile on LPs to dissuade attacks or to move away (not my favoured advice but try it if you insist on the skirmish line approach). 
6) Put them on a flank where the enemy is already opposed by your own formed troops, who are a greater threat ... if the enemy goes for your skirmishers their flank is exposed to your real fighters ... and if the enemy faces off against your formed troops, you can lob your javelins from the side.
7) Work them around behind isolated enemy units that are already in contact with your formed units and again lob javelins, or if you’re feeling brave, charge in to add the extra dice in combat.  
8) Or keep them behind your main battle line at the start of the game, and send them through gaps when the enemy is weakening.  
9) Use them to chase off/face off against other skirmishers, but just don't stick them in front of formed units. Except when you decide to use them to trigger an uncontrolled charge by enemy Warriors, pulling the enemy into range of your own formed troops.  
10) Be very afraid of horsemen, you can't outrun them. Skirmishers present a challenge for players to get the best use from them, there’s no one guaranteed way to bring success. In fact, what do you consider to be success for a skirmisher unit? I would say inflicting a couple of hits and not dying is a major result on a deadly Dark Ages battlefield. Try anything that seems sneaky and cowardly (in a tactical sense, not as a gamer!) ... that’s going to get you better results than advancing a skirmish line in front of your enemy’s heavy hitters.

So that’s my take on skirmishers and that’s why the rules work as they do; to me that’s one of the exciting aspects of writing a period specific set of rules, you’re not dealing with generalisations. Having them able to evade made them too powerful (or rather I should say, not weak enough) and too influential in the game for my liking. But as with any game you play, I believe you should tweak it to work for you.

Last Edited By: kurtusbrown Jan 30 15 5:22 PM. Edited 1 time

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#2 [url]

Jan 31 15 4:09 AM

Thanks for the article. There were quite a few blog posts I came across bemoaning the abilities of skirmishers in these rules. Such explanations / reasoning in rules are as good a reason to pick up rules in themselves. The inclusion of the above in Dux would have been great. Glutter of Ravens is like this, from what I remember. I imagine however, that with the rules published by Osprey space is limited, prohibiting the inclusion of such texts as above. For the Osprey rules were there sections that you had to cut / edit for publication that you would have liked to include, space permitting?

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#3 [url]

Jan 31 15 6:39 AM

Space is always the concern: I have 21,000 words in an Osprey wargame book to explain the game, so generally avoid too much design info - a few notes make it here and there, if I think they'll help players. But yes, the kind of stuff I've listed above is a huge part of creating a set of rules, working out exactly what you want units to do, rather than just following what everyone else has done before me. No point just regurgitating what's gone before, as there would be no point in putting all of that work into a new set of rules! Glad you found it useful though.

I'm going through exactly the same process at the moment for my next set of rules!

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#4 [url]

Jan 31 15 11:45 AM

It took us a few games to get the hang of skirmishers in DB. Now I find they are very, very useful and always take at least one unit, ideally two, to help protect my flanks and to harass the enemies.

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#5 [url]

Jan 31 15 4:41 PM

The next set of rules... well, I guess I will have to get them as well. So I am already looking forward to them and I don't even know what they are yet! By the time the are published I hope to have figured out how to base my dark age figures for Lion Rampant! Thanks for the explanations - hopefully we will see a few more! I know I for one look forward to reading them.

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#6 [url]

Feb 6 15 3:19 PM

I agree that a lot of skirmishers in the period would have been pretty ineffective, but i think there may actually have been some effective skirmishers in dark age and medieval battles. Main examples would be Almogavars or Almughavars of the Catalan Company, who were lightly armoured (described as "unarmoured"by some sources though this may well mean not having full chain or full plate rather than having no armour at all) and had spears and javelins. They worked along with light cavalry to lure knights into amushes in rocky valleys with great success. I'm guessing (not certain here) that they took out knights horses with javelins the same way English longbowmen destroyed them archery fire that panicked the mounts when they were wounded.

See e.g this on the battle of Kephissos in 1311 (though not clear in it whether they were skirmishing or not)

EDIt - found this on which says the almogavars deployed surrounded by a marsh and flooded it with extra water from a nearby river (by cutting a channel maybe?)

I'd argue though that inexperienced, poorly motivated, untrained and barely equipped skirmishers like Irish kerns might not have been effective, but this would be more down to the fact that they were inexperienced, untrained and poorly equipped, rather than because they were skirmishers. Veteran , high morale, skirmishers with even some basic equipment could be quite deadly given the right terrain and/or the right tactics.

Dark Age and medieval Byzantine psiloi also had some decent equipment - usually a leather or chain shirt, a shield, helmet and sword plus their javelins or bow. And English armies in the Hundred Years War usually included Irish hobelars and kerns and unarmoured Welsh spearmen who fought along with the longbowmen and armoured men at arms, stabbing horses and killing the wounded.

Also according to the WRG books on Armies of Feudal Europe and Armies of the Middle ages, as well as Matthew Strickland's The Great Warbow, slingers were still being used. Edward I even had an elite unit of them and they were common in Spain in the Hundred Years War.  Some medieval accounts claim sling shots could crack helmets and knock armoured knights unconscious or kill them (i'm guessing that either this is an exaggeration or else that this refers to iron or low quality steel armour, and to slingers using rocks or lead shot and maybe staff slings rather than just stones)

Last Edited By: Dunadd Feb 6 15 4:23 PM. Edited 2 times.

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#7 [url]

Feb 6 15 5:13 PM

Dux Bellorum Skirmishers

I think the skirmishers work just fine. In the period covered by rules (Britain in the 3rd - 8th centuries), I just don't think there were truly effective skirmishers. In fact, the term 'skirmishers' itself may be a bit of a promotion for them. In a highly stratified warrior society, these were the ones who didn't have the proper equipment, experience, or strength to join the warband. I think it's unlikely that they had any training whatsoever. So, they just hang at the edges of the battle and hurl whatever hunting weapon they have at the first enemy they see. They SHOULD die easily and should not be able to inflict heavy casualties on the true warriors.

During a DB game, I think skirmishers have only two jobs: 1) try to inflict a few cohesion losses on the enemy before being driven off, and 2) support an attack when the main lines make contact. You can't really use them to screen your main body the way some ancient skirmishers could, which I think is unrealistic for the period anyway. I usually send them straight to whatever terrain feature there might be on the flanks, and there they'll stay, sniping at enemies that come close and generally making a nuisance of themselves. If they manage to inflict one or two hits on the enemy, I figure they've earned their cup of mead.

If you want to play outside the period, I think it's perfectly fine to tweak the numbers to give them better performance. There certainly were competent, true skirmishers throughout the ancient/medieval world. Just not within the scope of the game.

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#10 [url]

Jul 6 15 3:24 PM

I think skirmisher are very useful expecially against a shieldwall army !! my friend use 4 skirmisher and ammass in flank and rear of a throw to me at least 6 dice at 5+, i must use LP and i haven't for the clash with his noble warrior..lethal !! next game i will use some cavalry to hunt his skirmisher mob...
This is a great tactical challenging...

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#12 [url]

May 1 17 3:35 PM

Trying to expand on the thoughts of "Broadsword" at Huns Warband:
Strategies and Tactics "Trained or Experienced Skirmishers"
May be only for Late Romans
3 Army points for the whole army if 5 or less units are eligible, 5 Army points if 6 or more
Bravery 6 (as for morale) just before contact and a skirmish unit can evade 1BW straight away from an attacker. The attacker can then complete his move possibly catching the evading unit.

Last Edited By: Yeras May 1 17 4:51 PM. Edited 1 time.

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