Showing posts with label book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book. Show all posts

Monday, 9 March 2015

With Maximilian In Mexico

The complete title of this book is 'With Maximilian In Mexico: From The Notebook of a Mexican Officer' by Maximilian Freiherr von Alvensleben. I was looking through my shelves for something to read on the train to and from Sydney the other day, and this book caught my eye. I hadn't read it for years, so took it along.

It's not a long book; I polished it off during the four hours or so I spent on the train. But it's an entertaining account of one man's adventures in Mexico during what appears to be 1865-67. The author was an officer in the US army during the ACW and after the war went south to throw in his lot with the Imperial Mexican army as part of the Austrian Legion. The tale is full of incident - one proper pitched battle and a number of smaller actions and skirmishes. It also features daring escapes and even has a recurring villain, although this latter feature leads one to the view that some of what the author describes might be, well, made up. Bits of it read far too much like a novel; I found the style reminiscent of Burroughs' John Carter books in places, or Flashman without the cowardice and womanising. My opinion is that the broad sweep of events is true, but that they have been embellished to make the tale more interesting. How many times, for
instance, can one man happen to be in hiding at just the right place to hear enemies discuss their plans or engage in expository dialogue? Not as many as Maximilian Freiherr von Alvensleben manages, that's for sure.

In terms of actual detail there's not much of direct use for the gamer here, but the book is useful for colour and embellishment, and maybe a couple of scenario ideas.

The book itself was a pleasure to read and handle; it's an 1867 original edition. Cheap and nasty, to be sure - there's a massive variation in the size of the pages, suggesting it was put together with whatever the publisher had to hand -  but in very good nick for a book that's nearly 150 years old.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

One Hour Wargames

As I posted the other day, I got a copy of Neil Thomas' 'One Hour Wargames' for Christmas. I have been quite excited about getting this after reading various posts elsewhere on the 'net. I was prepared for it being nothing new; the rules contained in it are simplistic in the extreme, and many of the scenarios are based on or similar to those in the Charles S. Grant book that I already have. But I felt the book was worth getting and reading just because sometimes inspiration for games and rules can come from the smallest throwaway comment, and it's always interesting to see the design process which goes on behind rules, even if the rules themselves are not to ones taste. In addition the book is being discussed elsewhere, so there is already a community of people playing with the concepts in it, thus doing some of the work for me, if work was required.

So what do I think of the book so far? I've read the introductory section, and the rules and period notes; I still have most of the scenarios to pick through. The introduction could have been written in 1974; I'm not sure it entirely applies to wargaming as I'm experiencing it now, but it's quaint, and I'm happy to read someone else's opinions. It also sets up the reason for the book; small games in a short time-frame.

The notes for each historical section are interesting, despite being brief. The author has concentrated on nine periods, each with a set of rules - Ancient, Dark Ages, Medieval, Pike and Shot, Horse and Musket, Rifle and Sabre, American Civil War, Machine Age and World War II. Some of these are focused on particular aspects of the era; the Dark Ages section is pretty much focused on Britain, for example. This focus is because for each period he has a set of rules and for each set of rules he restricts the games to having four troop types only. So his Ancient rules have Infantry (by which he means heavy infantry), Skirmishers, Archers and Cavalry. The idea is to give a flavour of each era without bogging it down in too much detail.

Each set has roughly the same mechanisms. The games are alternate move and a player can move all of their units; there are no command and control considerations. Units move, then eligible units shoot, then units in close combat roll to hit their opponents. In some eras some or all units can move and shoot. In others units only move or shoot. Combat is a D6 roll to determine how many hits are inflicted n the enemy unit. This can be adjusted by +2 or -2 depending on unit type and, sometimes, target type, then halved or doubled for certain tactical situations. Hits don't degrade a unit's ability to fight or move, but when a unit takes 15 hits or more it is removed.

The book contains 30 scenarios, designed to be played on a 3' x 3' board using about 6 units with a 4-6" frontage. Obviously you can scale that to fit your own figures and play area, scaling the rules appropriately. I would like to have seen perhaps a paragraph on doing this, but it's not hard to work out for yourself. The rules and scenarios could have been better written, perhaps, by using an arbitrary measuring unit like DBA 3.0's Base Width, then defining unit sizes, moves, ranges and board sizes in terms of this unit. However it's a minor quibble.

Anyway, having read the rules and the first few scenarios, I decided to set up a game. I went for Scenario 5 - Take The High Ground. Here's the terrain. The hill, wood and road are significant. Everything else is garnish.

One army sets up a couple of units on the hill, and is expecting the rest of its force as reinforcements at the top of the picture. The attacking army enters at the start of the game from the bottom of the picture. The objective is to control the hill at the end of the game.

I decided that I fancied using my Great Northern War Risk figures. This is an awkward choice because it fits partially into two periods covered by the book - Horse and Musket and Pike and Shot. I opted for the latter, because the rules looked a little bit more interesting.

The Pike and Shot era has four units types - Infantry (with musket and pike, naturally), Swordsmen (infantry with a melee capability only), Reiters (cavalry using pistol-shooting as a tactic) and Cavalry (cavalry that charge to contact). I decided to fit my armies to the rules rather than change the rules to fit the armies. After all, this was a test of the game, not my capacity for rewriting it.  The book has both armies randomly generated from tables. Any Infantry gained would obviously be infantry units. That was easy. I decided that Sworsdmen would be Cossacks, depicted as mounted, but possibly fighting on foot with sword, axe and short-range musketry. I did make one change for the other two troop types, deciding that all Reiters and Cavalry generated for the Russians would count as Reiters only, whilst the Swedes would count everything as Cavalry. Thus the Russian horse would be more ponderous than their Swedish counterparts, with the plus that they had a ranged-capability, representing dragoons or similar.

Armies in the book are generally of six (yes, just six) units. As generated I got:

Swedish - Four Infantry, one Swordsmen (Cossacks), one Cavalry
Russian - Four Infantry, two Reiters.

I randomly determined that the Swedes were defending, and diced for which units started on the hill - an Infantry and the Cossacks.

The Russians march on to the table. Ranges in One Hour Wargames are quite generous, so the shooting started straight away. In the Pike and Shot rules a unit which shoots (Infantry and Reiters only) must roll a D6 - on a 1-2 they are out of ammunition, and cannot shoot for the rest of the game. However these unit types cannot charge into melee until they are out of ammunition. It's an odd rule, but works in a way.

The Swedish reinforcements arrived, with their cavalry making a run for the opposite flank of the hill. Cavalry move quite quickly. I was using a 2' x 2' playing area rather than the stipulated 3' x 3', but just dropped all distances by a third. In the case of the 8" and 10" moves of Swordsmen and Reiters I just made them both 6", and assumed it wouldn't be an issue. It wasn't.

The Russians close up on the hill. The marker on the one unit shows that it's already out of ammunition.

On the other flank the Russian cavalry attempts to delay the Swedish reinforcements. Their range is also generous, representing horsemen riding forward in small groups to harass the enemy with pistol fire.

The Swedes took the initiative, with the Cossacks attacking off the hill before they were cut down by Russian musketry.

On the Russian right the woods were getting in the way. Only Swordsmen can enter woods in the Pike and Shot rules

The Cossacks attack!

Once a melee begins it only ends when one unit is eliminated; there's no rules for breaking off, falling back or anything like that.

Both Russian infantry units attacking the hill were out of ammunition now, so charged in.

On the other flank the Russian cavalry and Swedish infantry were closing. But without their firepower the Russians were going to be at a disadvantage fighting the pike-armed Swedes in close combat.

The battle for the hill continued. The rules are all about attrition really.

The Swedish cavalry was working around the flank, but came under fire from the Russian's reserve infantry unit.

In danger of being whittled down by musketry, the Swedish cavalry charge. Because that's what you do when you have a horse under you.

Meanwhile, two Russian infantry units break and run.

The Russian right forms a line as the Swedes move more units towards the hill.

The Cossacks swing into the extreme end of the line.

Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry break and run. The cavalry get a plus in melee, but against infantry they are penalised against the pikes.

The Cossacks also run; they took a lot of hits in their earlier combat, and this second attack was one too many.

Russian infantry turns to meet a fresh Swedish attack. The Swedes are now very much on the offensive, and the attacking Russians on the back-foot.

More Russians rout. And we're only just halfway into the game.

Russian cavalry breaks. They are now down to their last couple of units, and the Swedes still hold the hill.

A last Russian advance ...

 ... routs one Swedish infantry unit.

But it's not enough.

The final Russian unit routs, ten turns into a fifteen turn game.

The game played out OK, if a little fast for a scenario designed to last fifteen turns. But I did have some issues with arcs of fire and whether they were blocked by other units or terrain, whether you could fire on units in close combat and whether certain contacts were flank contacts or not.

I decided to give the scenario another go, but with the rules for a different period. Enter my 6mm ACW figures.

The ACW set is a little strange in that there's no close combat; all combat is shooting. To be honest for this scenario it made for a dull game, with two lines blazing away at long range, and the defenders being swept off the hill long before any reinforcements came up. And what was the point of their being on a hill anyway? It confers no combat bonus or advantage of any kind in this set.

The game settled into a long firefight and I gave up on it before the end, mostly because I got interrupted and forgot whose turn it was when I got back.

And another issue. In this set infantry can enter woods. And when two opposing units enter woods they can still only shoot at each other. But at what range? How do woods block lines of fire? The rules don't say.

Don't get me wrong. I think there's some interesting ideas in the rules given on One Hour Wargames. And any set of rules with designer's notes is worth the effort, because seeing how a person's mind works is always an insight. But I'm not convinced that the two sets I tried work as written; they need extra explanation (even a single page before the sets with some basic concepts would have helped).

The scenarios, however, look excellent. The maps are a little short on terrain, but that's not an insurmountable obstacle, but otherwise they mostly offer interesting tactical situations, and should provide a range of great games. It's just that I might try them with other rules.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Father's Day - Sneak Peek

The best way to get the Father's Day present you want is to buy it yourself. Which is what I did. It came today:

I had a quick flick through it, and it's chock full of unit and uniform detail, scenarios and an illustrated history of the troops involved. It's the perfect wargamer's guide to Ben Hughes' 'Conquer or Die!'. Which is the other half of my Father's Day present - a second-hand copy in perfect condition, ex-library (so bound and protected) and only $13, including postage, from the US. Bargain.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Land Of Counterpane

A blast from my past. The poem's by Robert Louis Stevenson, of course, but I found this rendition of it in a book called '366 Goodnight Stories', which I've had since about 1966. This makes it one of my earliest exposures to wargaming. I'd actually forgotten I'd got this book, despite it moving house with us several times over the last few years. I just assumed that it had long ago been given to  charity shop after we all grew out of it. Obviously not.

Wargaming in bed sounds great, but it's obvious Stevenson didn't own cats.

My friend Richard uses it as the title of his BLOG.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Fog Of War

You'd have trouble charging with cavalry here.
It's the Thames.
I have been idly flicking through Donald Featherstone's 'War Games Through The Ages - Volume 2: 1420-1783' (published in 1974) over the last day or so. One chapter which caught my eye is entitled 'The Fog Of War'.

In it he examines the effect of powder-smoke and dust on the battlefields of what he calls the 'Horse and Musket Period'. He says:

"The wargamer should view every action of the period as being fought, after the opening rounds had been fired, in a November fog with swirling, eddying clouds of smoke and dust blinding and choking friend and foe alike so that they intermingled, unable to distinguish ally from enemy, whilst targets disappeared in a cloud of smoke after each volley."

He then looks at ways in which the effects of this can be simulated in wargames and comes up with a mechanism involving infantry units acquiring a smokescreen of cotton-wool balls as they shoot and cavalry being able to charge longer distances to contact units hidden by such, with a risk of deviation. It even involves a special measuring stick, cut from dowel and painted in different zones. Very retro.

After reading the chapter I got to thinking - should the wargamer view every action of the period as Don describes it above? Is he correct in his assertion? And, if he is, do any games allow for this fog of war? Do the various rules for PIPs or initiative rolls or card-based activation cover it in an abstract, but sufficient way?

As my wife would say, what do you think?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The 13 Clocks

Time to maintain the HOTT content of this blog, since HOTT is supposed to be its primary focus. This is another article rescued from the original Stronghold. It is pretty much as John wrote it; I have merely applied a deft editorial hand - that means any errors in spelling or grammar are probably mine.

‘The 13 Clocks’ by James Thurber
Army Lists for ‘Hordes of the Things’ 
By John Whitbourn

First published 1951. Original illustrations by Mark Simont, but there is an edition with illustrations by Ronald Searle. This post uses pieces by both artists, culled from the 'net via the offices of Google.

Naturally, I have excluded many plot revelations and denouements for the benefit of those who have the pleasure of reading this book yet to come. You can read about it HERE of course.


Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill' (there is an evocative picture as a frontispiece).
I’d always imagined the book to be circa 18th century set, but in the absence of gunpowder references and from the general appearance of Searle’s illustrations the high Renaissance seems more likely.

Within the Castle time within is frozen at ten to five (accounts vary as to whether am or pm). Either way, it is always Then, but never Now. The temporal concept, 'Then', at one point materialises as a vulture and departs the Castle, ushering in 'Now'.

The castle’s windows are described as ‘Gothic’ and its stairs are made of iron. The main ‘black oak’ audience room at least is accessible via secret passages. Lances and shields hang on its torch-lit walls.

A ‘deep bell’ in the castle signals alerts.

In a terrible security lapse, climbing vines permit unauthorised access to some chambers by the intrepid.

The Castle’s dungeon contains horrible things including a (dead ?) thing without a head, plus ‘amusing’ bats, spiders and snakes. I’ve collectively termed them‘Dungeon Beasties’.

The world of the 13 Clocks is evidently a patchwork of islands collectively called ‘the thousand islands of the ocean seas’. The story’s setting is not named as ‘Coffin Castle’ until the penultimate page! Other named islands include: The Blessed Isles of Ever After, Yarrow and Zorn. ‘Good’ King Gwain of Yarrow is known to hunt wolves in woods on Coffin Castle Island although Yarrow is ‘many leagues’ away (and halfway from Coffin Island to Zorn).

Incidentally, Zorn lies 33 days travel by sea from Coffin Castle island.

Other islands are described as being ruled by kings and queens, whereas Coffin Island merely has a Duke. However, no higher allegiance owed by the Duke is ever mentioned and Coffin Castle is described as ‘his kingdom’ by the spy Hark.

The Duke ransacks ships in the vicinity and raids other islands. Coffin Castle’s island (it is never otherwise named) contains no deposits of precious stones - hence perhaps the Duke’s piratic tendencies.

Religion on the Island is unmentioned other than a reference to St Wistow’s Day. Taken in conjunction with reference to priests and monks, the thousand islands of the ocean seas’ are presumably nominally Christian.

There is a town below the castle, containing inns and taverns, including one called ‘The Silver Swan’. Is patrons include: 'taverners, travellers. tale-tellers, tosspots andtroublemakers'.

There is a town clock which strikes the hour. Also mentioned are dogs and citizenry in velvet gowns - the latter implying a degree of prosperity. A Town militia is not an unreasonable assumption given the existence of pirates - even if they are their own pirates ! In the army lists below I've assumed at least a portion of the militia could be swung to rebel against the Duke’s less than enlightened rule.

A ‘cool green glade’ leads down from the Castle to a harbour, where the Duke presumably keeps his ship(s) and inter-island trade is conducted.

Forests on Coffin Island contain wolf traps and therefore, logically, wolves. Other parts of the island are farmed (and ploughed by the dragging points of stars - in whose smoking furrows purple-smocked peasants sew seeds). Meadows are also mentioned, possibly implying rivers or streams.

The climate is not specified, although tangerines are referred to by Hagga, as is chocolate by the Duke. Either the local climes permit either/both or there is substantial international trade.


The Duke

The ruler of Coffin Castle (only named as such on the penultimate page ) is ‘a cold and aggressive Duke’. He is described as gaunt, six feet four and forty-six and ‘even colder than he thought he was’. His voice is like air dropped on velvet. He wears jewelled gloves (to cover disfigurements), one eye is covered a velvet patch (lost as a youth to a mother shrike bird he was going to maul) and the other glitters through a monocle. He limps due to his youthful addiction to place-kicking pups. He is armed with an apparently two edged sword concealed in a cane, which is put to frequent use to ‘slit people from their guggle [stomach] to their zatch. [throat]’ He has slain eleven men merely for staring at his gloved hands. When not engaged in homicide or piracy (he raids other Island Castles to kidnap inhabitants and plunder ships), the Duke amuses himself with torturing and killing animals (frequently mentioned in the tale), murderously thwarting suitors for his niece’s hand or in ‘thinking about beetles’.

In sum, 'His nights were spent in evil dreams, and his days were given to wicked schemes'. You get the picture. He also believes he has slain Time in his castle. Though avaricious for jewels, the Duke hates pearls, thinking them made of fish.

The Duke memorably sums himself thus: ‘We all have flaws … and mine is being wicked.’ For all his faults he has a way with words and a certain admirable bravery.

The Duke commands obedient ‘Varlets’ who can appear without word or sound to feed his enemies to a gaggle of voracious carnivorous geese who live in the Castle courtyard. Apparently, the geese relish such meals. Elsewhen, they subsist on hunting snails.


The Duke shares the Castle with his niece, Princess Saralinda, who is tall and 20 years old (going on 21). She wears freesias in her dark hair and is beautiful beyond compare. Her mere presence can light up a window like a star, permitting the Castle to be seen from afar by night. She floats like a cloud, her voice is like faraway music etc. etc. Even the Duke holds up his palms to her as if to warm them by her sheer gloriousness. An illustration depicts her as a swan-necked high-medieval princess.

A witch’s ‘tiny’, ‘clever’ and ‘awful’ spell has restricted her speech in the Duke’s presence to just ‘I wish him well.’ However, even then she can speak a silent language with her eyes. She also possesses intrinsic magical powers which can, for instance, imbue a rose with direction finding powers, or effect clockwork.

The Iron Guard

The Duke’s ‘Iron Guard’ of soldiers appear as a stream of lanterns when issuing from the Castle at night, but later are described as numbering only 11, including Krang, their captain (described the strongest of them all, and the finest fencer in the world - bar for one mysterious prince in armour who bested him a year before, ‘somewhere on an island’). Perhaps these 11 are merely the inner retinue and Duke’s personal bodyguard.
They are described as bearing spears and armour and move like ‘engines’. An illustration shows them in full ‘lobster’ plate armour redolent of circa 1500, and bearing weird halberd type weaponry. Since Krang is described as a fencer, sword armament is implied. Slingshots are also mentioned in a song, so the Islanders are obviously aware of slingers..

Xingu/Zorn of Zornax

A new arrival on the Island, Xingu the minstrel, ‘a thing of shreds and patches', aspires to marry Saralinda. He is soon revealed as a Prince in disguise, and none other than the ‘mighty Zorn of Zorna’, the youngest son of a powerful and wealthy (but indecisive) King. He is also a mighty warrior who has previously (and anonymously) defeated the otherwise invisible Krang, captain of the Duke’s Iron Guard. Xingu/Zorn is wildly handsome, chivalrous and hugely strong, being able to juggle with an eighteen stone tavern troublemaker, and or carry companions when pressed for time. He also ties a world-renowned warrior into a ‘Turk’s Head’ knot’ which he learned from his sister.

An illustration shows him as a splendidly clad and sword-armed Ruritanian or Renaissance prince.

The Golux

The unfortunately named Golux, who allies himself with Xingu/Zorn, is a unique supernatural trickster and the son of apparently rather ineffectual witch and wizard. Not everyone believes in his existence - for instance a captain of the Duke’s guard, despite 'having been to school'.

He is described as looking like a little ( five feet tall ) old man with wide eyes, a dark beard and indescribable hat. He is 'on the side of good by accident and happenstance’ despite childhood high hopes of being evil.

He has ‘no magic to depend on' but always seems to save the day nevertheless - sufficient to save ‘a score of princes in my time’. He can also do a score of things that cannot be done and ‘has a lot of friends’ and ‘knows a lot of places’.

The Spies

The Duke has a corps of spies. Named members include Whisper, Hark and Listen. They are dressed in black hoods and cloaks and wear velvet masks. Listen is invisible to all. Their loyalty appears to be either fanatical or questionable - which is understandable given that, for instance, ‘spy-in-chief’ Whisper is fed to the carnivorous geese merely for being obliged to mention the hated word ‘mittens’ in a report. Yet he returns willingly to certain death. Conversely, Hark appears increasingly insubordinate, although it is he who uncovers ‘Xingu’s’ true name by searching his quarters in the Town. Hark has black eye-brows.

The Ghosts

The Castle is haunted by an unseen group of ghostly children killed by the Duke in some horrible but unspecified way for sleeping amongst his prized camellias. They now throw ‘insolent’ or 'impudent' purple or black balls decorated with gold stars or stamped with scarlet owls. When trodden on, the balls unpleasantly ‘squutch’ beneath the foot and ‘flobb’ against the wall. They seem linked to the Golux in that these are said to be similar to the toys both parties used to play with. Certainly, the Duke concludes the ghost children on the Golux’s side.

Also, at one point, a unique ‘something very much like nothing anyone had seen before’ trots down the stairs in the castle. Likewise, at another point ‘something that would have been purple, if there had been light to see it,’ scuttles across the Castle floor. Their nature and allegiance are uncertain but the Duke seems unfazed. I’ve presumed their presence is tolerated because of a willingness to serve him and so have collectively termed them ‘Castle Nasties’.


Hagga is a magically blessed (or cursed) woman, variously described as in her eighties or thirties. The question remains unresolved even when we meet her. She lives in a valley hut (paradoxically ‘high on Hagga’s Hill’) which naked eye cannot see, ‘over mountain, over stream’, forty-five hours journey from Coffin castle through lightless forest, briar, thorn and bramble via a narrow path uphill all the way.

When she weeps or laughs she can - on rare occasions - produce jewels from her eyes. A previous jewel producing glut before she was sixteen led to the local economy being flooded and economic chaos. Consequently there is or was the death penalty (plus a fine) for making Hagga cry. Subsequently, she has turned a thousand visitors gemless from her door.

The Todal

The Todal is fearsome 'blob of glup', which either ‘gleeps’ or makes a sound like rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms or a musty sofa. Later we are informed it is made of lip, feels like it has been dead at least a dozen days and moves like monkeys and shadows. Apparently it cannot be killed. Mere mention of it is enough to turn a soldier’s hair white or a velvet mask grey. It haunts the Duke as an agent of the Devil sent to punish evildoers for having done less evil than they should.

However, since the Duke's evildoing seems to be set at a fairly high and constant level, I've allowed the possibility of the Todal acting in concert with the Duke, but only if Zorn of Zorna has declined its services.

Passing References and Presumptions

There are fleeting mentions of knights like Galahad, Tristram, Lancelot, Tyne and Tora, and of tournaments, wizards using ‘magic words’ and spells, witches, monks and priests, hangmen, dragons devouring damsels, snakes, monsters, whistling comets, owls, sheep and octopi.

There are 'no horses in the stable' in Coffin Castle, and therefore presumably no cavalry available to the Duke. However, the Golux can provide a pair of white steeds at short notice from unknown 'friends'

Given the Duke’s beast-torturing proclivities, one can reasonably assume opposition to him in the form of Outraged Animals. For instance, we are told that some years back a mother shrike bird evened the score by blinding him in one eye. Other, named, victim creatures are: nightingales, puppy dogs and kittens, bats and spiders and mice. Alternatively, as cruel children have been warned by millennia of mothers: ‘the king of the [insert species] will come looking for revenge!’. Accordingly, giant sized regal versions of the relevant species could shown opposing the Ducal forces.

Both witches and wizards are mentioned frequently, usually as journeymen mercenaries hired for specific tasks. They do not seem particularly formidable, although‘Good’ King Gwain of Yarrow is a wizard who can both curse and bless people and turn them into grasshoppers.

Therefore, Magic is evidently prevalent - though capricious - in the Thousand Island World. Even nursemaids can be powerful spell-casting witches.

Relevantly, the spy Hark also observes that ‘there are rules and rites and rituals, older than the sound of bells and snow on mountains.’ Furthermore, he knows that binding spells contain chinks and loopholes to permit right to triumph.

‘The Thorny Boar of Borythorn’ is mentioned as a formidable opponent. However, opinion varies as to whether it exists.

Though they do not ever appear in the book, the heroes’ close links with Zorn and Yarrow (I’ll say no more) raise the possibility of an allied contingent of archetypal knights and bowmen.


The Duke Of Coffin Island

Stronghold - A gothic castle on a hill OR a symbolic grandfather clock (stuck at ten to five).
1 x Hero General (The Duke) @ 4AP
1 x Blades (The Iron Guard) @ 2AP
2 x Beasts (Castle Geese) @ 2AP
2 x Sneakers (Fanatic Spies) @ 3AP
1 x Spears (Town Militia) @ 2AP
2 x Shooters (Town Militia) @ 2AP
1 x Lurker (Dungeon Beasties) @ 1AP
1 x Hordes (Varlets) @ 1AP

Behemoth (The Todal*) @4AP, Magicians (Witches/Wizards) @ 4AP, Dragon (Mercenary) @ 4AP, Hordes (Pirate Pals or Town Troublemakers, Sneakers (Castle Nasties) @ 3AP, Beasts (Thorny Boar) @ 2AP

*Only if not used by Zorn’s forces

Prince Zorn of Zorna Liberation Army

Stronghold - Harbour with ship, plus two white horses on quay.
1 x Hero General (Zorn of Zorna) @ 4AP
1 x Cleric (Saralinda) @ 3AP
1 x Magician (The Golux) @ 4AP
1 x Fliers (Then - A Vulture) @ 2AP
1 x Fliers (Outraged Birds) @ 2AP
1 x Beasts (Outraged Animals) @ 2AP
1 x Spears (Town Militia) @ 2AP
1 x Shooters (Town Militia) @ 2AP
1 x Lurker (Ghostly Children) @ 1AP
2 x Hordes (Town Troublemakers) @ 1AP

Behemoth (The Todal*) @ 4AP, Sneakers (Mutinous Spies) @ 3AP, Cleric (Hagga) @ 3AP, Magicians (King Gwain) @ 4AP Knights (Zorna or Yallow) @ 2AP, Shooters (Zorna or Yallow) @ 2AP Beasts (Thorny Boar) @ 2AP, Hordes (Town Troublemakers) @ 1AP

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Northern Lights - A Campaign Setting For HOTT

I was a fan of Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy within a few moments of reading the first pages of the first book. Needless to say that I was taken with its possibilities as a source of inspiration for HOTT armies and games.

The trilogy consists of 'Northern Lights', 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass'. The first book is called 'The Golden Compass' in the US for some reason.

I originally had the idea of coming up with two lists that represented the two, roughly opposing, forces in the first book (the Gyptian rescue party and the General Oblation Board), but felt that it didn't do the world in which the story is set full justice. There are no large battles in the first book, but enough small actions and mention of things in a wider context to come up with a set of simple lists for the major factions that are involved in the story. I felt that the lists are best presented in the context of a campaign.


First, some background. The trilogy essentially covers the story of a girl named Lyra, and her involvement in the schemes of her uncle, Lord Asriel and the mysterious Mrs Coulter. These schemes are involved initially with a strange elementary particle called Dust. As the story unfolds many other characters are drawn in, and the schemes have wider implications, but that is the tale in a nutshell. The trilogy covers an number of 'worlds', most essentially alternate Earths, but the first book, which we are concerned with here, is set entirely in Lyra's world.

Lyra's world is similar to our own in some ways, but radically different in others. The story appears to be set in the late 20th century, but the technology and culture of the world is closer to late 19th/early 20th century. In Europe, and possibly elsewhere, the church rules supreme, in the form of the Magisterium. The story mentions that the Papacy was abolished after Pope John Calvin moved its seat from Rome to Geneva, and the Magisterium set up to replace it. The church controls many things through a complex series of courts, boards and other organisations. Science is conducted in the form of 'experimental theology'.

The most important feature of Lyra's world is the presence of daemons. Every person is accompanied throughout their life by a daemon, which takes the form of some kind of animal. Those of children can switch forms at will, but as they grow older this happens less and less, and at puberty the daemon fixes into a single form for the rest of the person's life. This form tends to reflect the personality and nature of the person. A daemon cannot move more than a few yards away from its human without both of them experiencing pain, distress and, if prolonged or over a long distance, death. Daemons have their own name and can talk, mainly to their own human, sometimes to other daemons and rarely to other humans. They are nearly always the opposite sex to their human. The relationship between human and daemon is central to the book, and is complex, but it is best thought of as an external 'soul'. From a HOTT point of view, all human figures should be accompanied by a suitable daemon.

On to the lists. For a simple five player campaign, four lists suggest themselves, based on the political relationships described and hinted at in the story. These are the Magisterium, the Tartars, the Witches and the Panserbjorne. The campaign will be set in Scandinavia, mainly in the far North

Magisterium Expeditionary Force

Stronghold: A camp or local town
1 x Airboat general @ 3AP (Command zeppelin)
1 x Airboat @ 3AP (Zeppelin)
1 x Artillery @ 3AP (Cannon or fire thrower)
1 x Sneaker @ 3AP (Agent of the church, or absolved assassin) 
6 x Shooters @ 2AP (Soldiers with rifles)

This list represents a conjectural force assembled by the Magisterium to exert its power forcefully. Zeppelins feature in all three books in a military capacity, and use hydrogen as a lifting agent. They are armed with machine guns and can unload ground troops.

Cannon can be assumed similar to late 19th century artillery (breech loading); they are mentioned in the story but do not appear. Fire throwers are mentioned as a weapon, but only the Panserbjorne (see below) are shown using one in the book. Theirs appears to be a sophisticated catapult hurling a flammable sulphur mixture.

The Magisterium is quite capable of using devious means to achieve its aim, hence the inclusion of an agent as a sneaker. 'The Amber Spyglass' also introduces the idea of assassins who have undergone pre-emptive absolution. This means that they are able to commit appalling sins, safe in the knowledge that they have already been absolved, and makes them ruthless fanatics.

In 'Northern Lights', the only troops the Magistrium use are Tartar mercenaries. Since these are armed with rifles and machine guns the same is assumed for any other soldiers likely to appear. However, the Swiss Guard who appear in 'The Amber Spyglass' have repeating crossbows. The only uniform colour given is for the elite Muscovite Imperial Guard, and it is blue. No actual description of uniforms is given, but suitable late 19th/early 20th century figures can be assumed.


Stronghold: A tented camp
1 x Shooter general @ 2AP (Tartar khan and bodyguard)
1 x Blade @ 2AP (Champion) 
1 x Airboat @ 3AP (Zeppelin) 
1 x Artillery @ 3AP (Cannon or fire thrower)
7 x Shooters @ 2AP (Soldiers with rifles)

The Tartars appear throughout the first book as the main political enemy of Europe. There is mention of their ongoing invasion of Muscovy, as well as their having intentions in Kamchatka, and a number of characters in the story have fought against them at some time or another.

Most of the notes on equipment and classification for the Magisterium applies here. The gyptian John Faa talks of slaying a Tartar champion on the Khazakh plains, so one is included here for variety.

Tartars appear to be roughly equivalent to Mongols or Chinese, so rifle armed Manchu infantry would appear to be the best bet. The company of Tartars employed by the General Oblation Board all had wolf daemons.


Stronghold: A cave in a pine forest
1 x Flyer general @ 2AP (Witch queen) 
11 x Flyers @ 2AP (Witches) 

The witches of the far North are all women. Extremely long lived (several hundred years is the norm), the form clans throughout the wilderness, and interact little with other humans, being more in tune with nature. Rival clans are know to fight each other. Witches have the ability to separate from their daemons over a long time and distance, so not all witches need be depicted with one. Because of their nature, their daemons all appear to be birds of some kind.

Witches use magic, but not of the offensive battlefield kind, so do not justify any magicians. It would not be outside the bounds of possibility to classify a particularly powerful witch queen as a aerial hero, however. Given that the proposed campaign included two witch clans, one could be given an aerial hero general, and the other an ordinary flyer general.

They appear as beautiful, slender women wearing nothing but a few wisps of black silk, and riding through the air on pine branches and fight with bow and knife. The witch queen, Serafina Pekkala, wears a circlet of small red flowers as a crown. This army is a job for figure converters.


Stronghold: An ice fort
1 x Behemoth general @ 4AP (Bear king) 
1 x Behemoth @ 4AP (Powerful armoured bears)
6 x Beasts @ 2AP (Other armoured bears) 
1 x Artillery @ 3AP (Fire thrower) 
1 x Lurker @ 1AP (Bears in ambush)

The Panserbjorne, or armoured bears, live in the far north at Svalbard (on Spitsbergen). They are intelligent polar bears who make and wear mighty suits of plate armour, and have a fearsome reputation in combat.

This is one of those armies that is best depicted as having six behemoths. The bears are big; Iorek Byrnison is ten feet tall standing on his hind legs, and the bear-king, Ioufur Raknison, is described as being bigger than he, and their armour makes them more imposing still. However, such an army is not legal, so I have resorted to beasts for the rank and file. As mounted troops are not present in any of the other armies, this classification should work OK, making the bears fast, capable in bad going, and capable of overpowering human shooters if they can get close enough.

Another possibility is Blades, but this would make them far too vulnerable to aerial attack in bad going.

The bears that aid Lyra use a fire-thrower to oppose Mrs Coulter's zeppelin, and fire throwers are mentioned as part of the defences of Svalbard.

The lurker is included purely to offset the artillery, and has no justification in the book. Depict it as a bear erupting from a snowbank, or grade it as a water lurker and allow it to appear in patches of ice floes.

For figures use bears, the bigger the better. Armour would have to be scratchbuilt, as would the fire-thrower (a description of this is given in the book).

The Campaign

The campaign assumes that both the Magisterium and the Tartars are seeking to extend their control into the Northlands. This brings them into conflict with the witches and Panserbjorne, as well as each other.

Use the a standard five player campaign map. Clockwise, from the owner of the central province, the factions are:

Eastern witches, Tartars, Magisterium, Western Witches, Panserbjorne

In order to fix the factions geographically, I suggest the following:

The Tartars control an area roughly equivalent to Northern Russian and some of Finland.
The Magisterium occupies southern Sweden and Norway.
The two witch clans should divide the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland between them.
The Panserbjorne occupy the islands of Spitsbergen.

All routes to the Panserbjorne territories should be sea routes. Other sea routes may exist depending on how the factions are allotted into the geography.

Even these lists cannot do full justice to even the first book, and only touch on the scope of the other two books. The entire trilogy is recommended reading.
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