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The Visigoths Pay A Visit

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The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by AncientWarrior on Thu Jul 16, 2015 12:01 pm

Temporarily fascinated by a mention of the Battle of Naissus (Notes and Options portion of the Early Visigoths or Thervingi army list in Extra IMPETVS 2, page 20), and then frustrated by the lack of ancient evidence and sources that would assist in staging a refight of this historical encounter on the tabletop (see this topic thread for comments, discussion, and suggestions: http://soa.org.uk/sm/index.php?topic=1766.0), I decided to stage a one-off scenario wherein a vast number of Visigoths would pay a visit to Roman territory. Though separated by geography as well as a few centuries, I drew additional inspiration from the pictures and posts of a spectacular Pompey versus Sertorius contest (see http://caliban-somewhen.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/the-return-of-kriegshut.html) The obstacles were significant, however. My table was nowhere near 15 feet in length and my collection of painted and based miniatures was, ahem, well . . . non-existent. Despite these dual disadvantages, I carried on. I drafted then revised the orders of battle, prepared the inexpensive armies and equally inexpensive terrain, and then set up my fictional field of battle, all in anticipation of an enjoyable solo wargaming experience.

Orders of Battle
As I wanted a fairly large engagement (so what else is new?), I doubled the maximum number of unit types provided in the previously referenced Early Visigoth list. As I did not want to deal with the “hassle” of skirmishers, I did not purchase any of these troops. And, as I wanted an all-Visigoth formation, I decided not to field any Hun light cavalry or enlist any Ostrogoth allies. A total of 5 commands were prepared. These operated under a Poor Leadership Structure, meaning that generals or groups containing a general needed to be within 10 centimeters of friendly units (my chosen unit of measurement for the scenario) in order to gain a leadership modifier. Their respective compositions were as follows:

Command A -
x 8 units of CP Nobles (1 including a Fair General)

This force was valued at 188 points and would become demoralized (i.e., run away) when it had lost 12 of its 24 morale points.

Command B -
x 16 units of  CP Nobles (1 including a Charismatic General - the leader of the army)

This force was valued at 376 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 24 of its 48 morale points.

Command C -
x 14 large units of FP Warriors (1 including a Poor General)

This force was valued at 304 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 28 of its 56 morale points.

Command D -
x 22 large units of FP Warriors (1 including a Fair General)

This force was valued at 482 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 44 of its 88 morale points.

Command  E -
x 10 large units of veteran FP Warriors (1 including an Expert General)

This force was valued at 320 points (this cost based on a stated 16 points for the first unit in the formation and an assumed value of 13 points for the second unit) and would become demoralized when it had lost 22 of its 43 morale points.

Taking the minimum unit representations listed on page 8 of the IMPETVS rule book, it can be suggested that in this Visigoth army, there were approximately 9,600 heavy cavalry and 55,200 foot soldiers. (With 28mm figures and a scale of 1:100, this would have been a massive undertaking, requiring some 648 figures. This total does not include supernumeraries such as command vignettes, casualty markers and the like, etc. With 6mm models and a similar scale, the investment of money and time would have been more manageable, obviously.)

The defenders were selected from the Middle Imperial Romans (197-284 A.D.) list on page 12 of the Extra IMPETVS 2 supplement. In contrast to the Visigoths, this regular army contained only 4 commands. With regard to leadership, the Romans enjoyed a  Good command structure. This allowed generals to influence events and units 50 centimeters from their current position. Details concerning the composition of each command follows:

Command I -
x 12 units of FP Raw Legionaries (1 including a Fair General)
x 2 units of Artillery (Scorpio, Ballistae, etc.)
x 2 units of T Sagittarii (Archers)
x 3 units of FL Auxiliaries

This force was valued at 347 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 18 of its 36 morale points.

Command II -
x 8 units of FP Legionaries (1 including a Fair General)
x 6 units of FL Auxiliaries
x 2 units of FL Vexillationes Lanciarii
x 1 unit of CL Illyricanii
x 2 units of CM Equites Alares

This force was valued at 509 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 25 of its 49 morale points.

Command III -
x 2 units of CP Cataphractarii (1 including an Expert General)
x 6 units of CM Equites Alares
x 2 units of CL Illyricanii
x 2 units of CL Equites Sagittarii

This force was valued at 314 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 14 of its 28 morale points.

Command IV -
x 14 units of FP Legionaries (1 including an Expert General - the leader of the army)
x 6 units of FL Auxiliaries
x 2 units of Artillery (Scorpio, Ballistae, etc.)

This force was valued at 590 points and would become demoralized when it had lost 28 of its 56 morale points.

Using the same indicative representational scale as for the Visigoths, one could report that the Romans brought 1,000 light cavalry, 4,000 heavy horse, 6,800 auxiliaries, and 20,400 legionaries to the battlefield. Absent specific information about artillery models, it might be suggested that the defending Romans had somewhere between 40 and 80 bolt shooters and similar light pieces deployed in their ranks.

Terrain
The look of my smallish tabletop was based on the simple map found at http://www.tagmata.it/battle_of_nedao.htm. (Readers might also enjoy looking at a BBDBA report of this historical action at the following site: http://splendidlittlewars.blogspot.com/2015/06/battle-of-nedao-454-ad-bbdba-aar.html.) I decided that the Romans would defend the side of the field originally (i.e., reportedly) held by the German tribes. The Visigoths would approach from the direction originally taken by the Huns. Bogs are not specifically mentioned or categorized in the IMPETVS rules (see Section 3.0, Terrain and Deployment, pages 17-18), but it seems safe to classify these areas as difficult ground. The swamps (terrain features addressed in the rules) near the banks of the river were also classed as difficult ground.

Deployment
As Roman commander, I decided to arrange my weaker or raw legions on the right of the line. These units were closest to the swampy areas and the river. My first line of defense in this sector included 8 units of legionary infantry interrupted by 2 units of archers and 2 “batteries” of field artillery. The right and left of this line was protected by units of auxiliary infantry; 2 units were stationed on the right nearest to the swamps, and  1 was placed on the left. A small reserve force of 4 legionary units (including the commander of this wing) was located approximately 7 centimeters behind the main line.

The center of the Roman position was given to Command II. These formations were arranged in depth. The first line consisted of 6 separated units of auxiliary infantry. There was also a single unit of light cavalry placed on the left of this forward line. The second and third lines contained 5 units of trained and tough legionaries. The general of this command positioned himself in the third line, all the way to the right. As a kind of a link to the rookie legion units on the right, 2 more units of  auxiliary infantry (Lanciarii) and 2 units of medium cavalry (Equites Alares) were deployed on the right side of this command. It would be very easy for these 2 formations to shift further to the right and assist the less experienced heavy infantry units.

Command IV was assigned to the center-left of the defensive line. Once again, light infantry was deployed forward. There were 6 units in this sector as well, but they enjoyed the support of 2 additional “batteries” of artillery. The supporting legionaries were arranged in 2 lines of 7 units each. As with the center command, the general of this contingent (the overall general of the Roman army) was in the third line and attached to the unit on the right.

The cavalry of army was assembled on the left flank. Here, 4 units of light horse screened 3 groups of medium cavalry (each group contained 2 units). The reserve consisted of 2 units of heavy cavalry (Cataphractarii). The general rode with the unit of heavy horse on the right of this small but powerful formation.

Switching helmets to that of the VIC (Visigoth in Charge), I placed the largest contingent of foot warriors on my left. The first wave was made up of 14 large units; the second wave consisted of 8 large units. About 10 centimeters behind this wall of warriors, I arranged my smaller cavalry command of 8 units of Nobles. In the center of my line, I deployed my veteran warriors. These 10 large units of warriors had a bog to their immediate left and another bog to their right front. Their advance - more of an all out and out of control charge, really - would take them into the Roman commands stationed across the field. On the right flank, facing the Roman cavalry wing, I placed my large cavalry command. The front rank included 9 units of Nobles as well as the General (King) of the army. The second line contained 7 more units of Nobles. Well behind my veterans, I arranged another large group of foot warriors. This line of 14 large units completely filled the space between the aforementioned bogs. Indeed, I would probably have to move a few units in order to get around the difficult terrain features.

A brief additional note about the deployment of each army. The Romans were arranged in 2 or 3 lines and whether grouped into large formations or separated by small patches of open ground, the units were very organized, very “dress right, dress” with respect to their alignment. The Visigoths, on the other hand, were not grouped into any coherent or coordinated formation. The arrangement of their cavalry and large units of warriors were not defined by the edge of a ruler. In other words, there were 70 individual units of Visigoths on my tabletop. It seemed to me that barbarians would not deploy or arrange their units and contingents in the same way that a division of infantry in the Napoleonic era would. Given that the Visigoth army list defines both the warriors and cavalry as impetuous troops, it would be rather difficult, anyway, to keep these units in line.

Summary of the Engagement
On reflection, it seems fair to remark that the tone for the engagement was set very early on when one of the Roman subordinate generals (positioned on the right-center of the field) rolled double ones and thus decreased his leadership rating from Fair to Poor. From this inauspicious start, the dice gods continued to frown upon the Romans. It seemed that their volleys of pila amounted to nothing more than throwing day-old pastry at the onrushing Visigoths. It seemed that every time a legionary or auxiliary unit was called upon to take a cohesion test, a 5 or 6 would result. This added insult to injury, as it seemed that all sides of the Visigoth dice were 5s and 6s. Indeed, it was often the case that a Roman unit had a critical number of 1.

The action began, as one might imagine, on the Roman left flank. Here, the light cavalry armed with bows and javelins tried to slow down and disorder the horde of mounted Visigoth nobles. Their hurled and shot missiles, like the pila thrown later by their heavy infantry brethren, proved spectacularly ineffective. Not wishing to stand and fight the onrushing mass of barbarian heavy horse, the Roman light cavalry evaded. Enter the Equites Alares. These outnumbered formations attempted to countercharge the impetuous enemy cavalry but balked at the idea and so, received a number of attacks in a state of disorder. The subsequent melees were rather short and significant. One unit of Roman medium cavalry after the other was decimated and forced back in disorder. The supporting cataphract cavalry had little impact on this flank as they were constantly being run into by routing friends. By Turn 5 of the tabletop battle, it was all over for the Roman left flank.

Noticing the imbalance on this flank and remembering the first command roll for his side, the Roman army general began shifting some of his third line units over to the left. A unit of auxiliary infantry was ordered to support the Roman cavalry, and a battery of scorpions and ballistae were reoriented to bring some long range fire onto the swarm of Visigoth horsemen. The light infantry and light field pieces were simply overrun. The legionaries fared better, however, and severely damaged a couple of enemy units and forced one to run away. The Visigoth cavalry could move twice as fast though, and so, were soon moving around the left of this emergency deployment. A few units of barbarian noble cavalry were even working their way behind the still-forming defensive line.

While this local disaster was transpiring on the Roman left flank, the auxiliary infantry of the central commands did well - at least initially - against the advancing veteran Visigoth warriors. The Roman light infantry proved quite capable; they moved forward and brought the fight to the slower moving if still impetuous large units of Visigoths. The dice, as previously foretold, turned completely against the Roman effort. Auxiliary units started to fail and fall to the “take no prisoners” advance of the enemy warriors. Even the first line of legionary infantry could barely make a dent in the disorganized charge of  the enemy warbands. The pila volleys were completely ineffective; the Roman heavy infantry were pushed back in disorder and with severe casualties. Fortunately, the attacking formation of Visigoths was not as numerous as others on the battlefield, so there wasn’t a great amount of pressure being exerted against the main defensive line of the Roman position.

Over on the right flank of the Roman line, the few auxiliary units assigned to the raw legionary units did their job. They advanced on the slow moving mass of enemy units and started harassing the large units on its flanks. Just as in the center of the field, there were initial successes. The vast majority of the Visigoths kept creeping toward the thin, inexperienced line of waiting legionaries, however. Volleys from the deployed artillery pieces and from the supporting units of archers had little impact, if any. And then, the dice turned against the Romans on this flank as well. The auxiliary units were swatted like so many gnats. The first group of Visigoths charged home, erased the bothersome artillery pieces and their crews, and then proceeded to damage and disorder the trained-but-not-battle-tested heavy infantry. In a matter of moments, the Roman line was punctured in half a dozen places. Local counter attacks were attempted, but these failed more often than not. On rare occasions, there was a brief spark of Roman tactical ability and stubbornness, but just as soon as the Visigoths were checked or pushed back, in came another unit of barbarians and the Roman infantry found themselves flailing like a bunch of non-swimmers buffeted by 10-foot waves. With each destroyed or routed unit, the morale of the Roman command on the right flank approached its tipping point. The command on the Roman right flank was pushed over the edge when a large unit of Visigoths, accompanied by a subordinate general, crashed into a wounded unit of legionaries, pushed them back, and then followed them up to finish their bloody work.

Though the overall morale of the Roman army was intact (badly bruised, but not broken), both flanks had been defeated and there were a lot of fresh units of Visigoths waiting for their chance to get into the fight. Facing the very real threat of envelopment if not encirclement by enemy cavalry as well as the attention of 2 large formations of untouched enemy warriors, the Roman general conceded the battle and issued orders for his remaining units to retreat, to live to fight another day.

Commentary and Critique
I am not sure if it qualifies as irony or not, but it was interesting to reflect on the fact that this tabletop engagement was born out of a futile attempt to reconstruct the historical battle of Naissus - a major victory for the Romans over the invading barbarians.

As I am still very much a neophyte (or lowest grade of centurion if you will) with Signore Sartori’s rules, I am sure there will be those who object to the presented orders of battle and the size of some of the commands found therein. Along those same lines, there will also be those who take issue with my preferred approach to this grand and glorious hobby of historical miniature wargaming. While it was satisfying, at least to some degree, to see such large armies deployed on a smallish table, there was an accompanying level of difficulty in manipulating the miniature counters. The units of Roman legionaries were especially problematic. There was a certain subjective level of realism created, however, when they were covered with red casualty/damage markers after fighting a round of two of melee against the large units of Visigoths.  

Though I spent some time researching and recreating the terrain of Nedao, neither the bogs, swamps, or river played a significant role in this fictional action. If anything, the patches of boggy terrain served as “bookends” and marked the flank zone of one command or another.

Being a solo wargamer, I could not really follow the deployment rules provided in IMPETVS. I will sometimes devise special rules, roll dice, or prepare a variety of maps in order to take a large measure of control out of my hands when it comes to deployment. No such efforts were made for this project, however. I simply set up the Romans first. As they were defending against an invading force, it seemed somewhat logical that they would have the choice of the ground and position. I figured it would be historical to have the cavalry wing on the open flank. I thought the raw command would be “protected” by having its right flank on the river. If it had been placed in the center of the defensive line, a hole might have been punched through it, and this could have spelled major trouble for the rest of the army. (As it turned out, deploying this command on the right flank also spelled trouble - with a capital T no less! - for the Romans.) With regard to the Visigoths, I figured I would put my cavalry strength against the Roman horse. I also placed my army commander in the first wave of horsemen. This is generally not a good idea in terms of game play, but it struck me as historically plausible, so I did it. (In the course of the battle on the Roman left, the Visigoth general was involved and his unit did suffer losses. He came through it without a scratch, however. His reputation as a brave, battle tested, and charismatic leader was cemented and indeed, made greater.) I initially thought I would hold the veteran warbands back, but it seemed that they would probably demand a position where they would be in the lead, in the forefront of the contest of arms. As I had rather a lot of Visigoths, I had to place  two of the commands as supports or reserves. On the left flank, the smaller cavalry detachment followed close behind the foot warriors, but never did see any action. The command with 14 large units of foot warriors spent the entire battle moving forward 5 centimeters at a time when its activation card was drawn. It also did not see any combat. A wandering unit of Roman auxiliaries did come within 10 centimeters of this reserve formation before the light infantry was withdrawn.

Over the course of 5 days in July, 8 turns were played. As related in the summary, the scenario was not fought to its bloody conclusion. The Roman commander surveyed the situation on the field - saw the proverbial writing on the wall -  and decided, wisely, I might add, to yield and save what he could of his army. In point of fact, a prediction of defeat was made when the Roman left evaporated under an avalanche of Visigoth heavy cavalry. Based on the ineffectiveness of the bolt shooters (on both sides of the Roman line) and based on the sheer numbers of barbarians on the field, I wondered if the Romans could stand . . . would make a battle of it. With regard to the unit scale approximations, they were outnumbered from the start. Additional calculations showed, however, that they were ahead of the Visigoths by roughly 100 points with respect to calculated army value. Given these differences, one might ask if the fictional engagement was fair. Answering purely by reference to the determined numbers, the response has to be no. The Visigoths had more men and horses on the field. The Romans, at least on paper, had fewer but comparatively better men present for battle. A related question might address the historical validity of such a scenario. While I do not hold a doctorate in ancient military history, specializing in the armies and campaigns of Roman Empire, I think it can be stated and accepted that Roman armies were often outnumbered by their barbarian adversaries. I think it can also be said that sometimes the Romans won the ensuing battle and sometimes, they did not.

On this point, then, I think the tabletop action was realistic. Taking a closer look, however, I wonder how realistic it was for me, as the Roman army commander, to start shifting my legionaries to the left as soon as I felt that doubt about my cavalry wing. Having the “all-seeing” eyes of a wargamer certainly has its advantages. I suppose this immediate reaction/response could be rationalized away by saying that urgent requests for assistance came from the subordinate general in charge of the left wing. Even so, the precautionary or reactionary moves seemed a bit gamey. The use of command cards in an activation deck to determine who moves when and sometimes limit command and control addressed this to a sufficient degree I think. However, it did raise the question of what to do with impetuous troops that are within 30u of the enemy. The rules, as written, state that impetuous units are required to make a single, full move straight ahead. Employment of the activation deck may require some commands to sit idle for a turn or two, if they are really unlucky. I solved this minor problem by having impetuous units take a discipline test. If they passed, they were allowed to move. If they failed the discipline test, they had to remain in place.

I confess to being tempted to tinker with this rule governing impetuous units. I thought about requiring non-disordered impetuous units to move twice when their command is activated. Unless I misunderstand the meaning of the adjective, it seems to me that these units are eager to get a hold of the enemy. The are not that concerned with keeping nice neat lines and so forth. They are more interested in coming to grips with their opponent(s). It seems that a required second move might better reflect the stated “out of control” nature of these troops.

I have not kept count of the number of IMPETVS games I have played. I would estimate the number to be somewhere between 12 and 24, probably closer to the lower figure. For this action, I retyped the QRS (Version 6.0) tables onto 3 double-sided pages so that I could read them without having to resort to a magnifying glass. I also reviewed the Amendments and Clarifications published in Version 1.5 of  Advanced IMPETVS (dated February 18, 2014). I would like to think that I am getting better at umpiring a game, becoming more comfortable with the rules. At times, though, it impresses (or should that be depresses?) me as a lot of work. There are quite a few tables, and there are quite a few modifiers on these tables. Anyway. I think I handled or adjudicated the majority of the described action correctly, but there were, of course, errors made during play. For example, I neglected, at least initially, to give the Roman scorpions 2 additional dice when they were firing on the advancing large units of Visigoths. Given the quality of the Roman dice, however, I don’t think it would have mattered had I added 12 more dice to resolving the fire phase of these deployed units. Unless I read the tables wrong, it seems that the large units of warriors get some positive modifiers to their cohesion test in these instances, so the mistakes were not ones that significantly affected the game. There was also an instance or two of allowing a unit of Visigoths to use its impetus factor against Roman auxiliaries, and I think I either allowed some Visigoth heavy horse to evade the charge of Roman heavy infantry or did not allow them to evade. Again, accepting that I am certainly no expert with these rules, I do not believe these minor mistakes combined to ruin the game and or impact the final result.

Overall, the experience was educational and enjoyable. I confess, however, that like those wargamers who enjoy one aspect of this hobby a little more than the others, I often find that the research, preparation, and writing of narratives or related articles to be just as entertaining - if not sometimes more so - than the actual waging of war in miniature.

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Re: The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by GamesPoet on Fri Jul 17, 2015 10:57 pm

Quite the report!

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Re: The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by AncientWarrior on Sat Jul 18, 2015 2:18 pm

Appreciate the fact that you took the time to read it AND respond.

It appears that I'm on pace to match my Southern Italy story in terms of numbers of readers and replies posted.

Chris

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Re: The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by Greymouse on Sun Jul 19, 2015 7:21 am

Thanks for the report. Very enjoyable and interesting! I also like your experiments with the activation sequence. Not sure if I would want it to use it in my Impetus games, but definitly worth having a look as they can give you a very diffferent game.

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Re: The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by AncientWarrior on Sun Jul 19, 2015 11:48 am

Thanks for reading and commenting, Greymouse.
I appreciate that the solo mechanism of the activation cards is not / will not suit everyone (no pun intended). I simply find it a little quicker in terms of moving the turn along. It also, as mentioned in the narrative, provides for a fog of war element so that I don't have absolute control. The leaders of commands still improve or lapse based on die rolls. The command structure still allows them to have some influence.

Thanks again.

Chris

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Re: The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by Greymouse on Sun Jul 19, 2015 11:55 am

Oh I wouldn't say it doesn't suit me - especially for sologaming I think it's a great idea - as you said maybe a little refinement concerning Impetousity but it's a great startingpoint. And even so in a sologame I think it's not such a big thing when units are acting out of their commands sequence.
Usally I always love to try new things, it's just that Impetus is really one of the very few games that I like "as it is" (well as long as it doesn't come to Crusaders vs. Turks Wink )

Edit: Does anyone know of a keyboard that will prevent at least the most embarassing typos? Smile

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Re: The Visigoths Pay A Visit

Post by GamesPoet on Sun Jul 19, 2015 7:21 pm

I like the idea of having a quick reference sheet that can read better than the current one. Even if it was on 4 sides instead of just 2, that could improve the ability to read it with a larger size of type.

I also liked the depth with which the scenario was created and appreciate the explanation as to how it was developed. I tend to like creating scenarios that are close ot historical setups if possible (unless I'm doing Imagi-Nation gaming, although even there borrowing from history can be fun), yet with the ancient and dark age eras it is naturally more dificult to have such available, and yet developing something that is at least based on what knowledge we have, even if it comes from supposition, works for me.

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