Thursday, 25 September 2014

Lion Rampant & The Wars of the Roses

I could not stop myself from ordering Lion Rampant, given the various positive comments that have made themselves known across ye olde internet. As the rules appeared on sale in Australia before the UK by some quirk of fate, my sometime confederate, Rolf Grein, has already trotted out a set of unit profiles, which if you are a member of Boardgame Geek, you can download from here.   

I have to admit that before the book arrived, I was myself rubbing my hands together at the thought of dabbling with them to produce my own lists for the era. They have since arrived on my doormat and having read them, thought about it and then read them again, there is not much I would want to change. 

For those of you who do not know, Lion Rampant are a set of 'large skirmish' rules for the Medieval Era. Like low-level warfare in that era, they are pretty simple and straightforward. I think Mr Mersey does himself a bit of a disservice by his describing them as more 'Hollywood' than an accurate portrayal of real warfare of the era, because from what I can see they do a fine job and indeed an accurate one of what they are intended to be.  

They are not battle rules, or a skirmish game masquerading as battle rules, they are simply designed to play out fairly short-duration scuffles between rival minor lords in the era. Such actions are pretty much universal across the age, whether literally between one lord and another, or as the numerous minor actions of larger wars, as some of the scenarios demonstrate. In terms of the Wars of the Roses, or indeed Medieval England altogether, the numbers of personal quarrels, disputed inheritances and other conflicts, that were 'settled out of court' is staggering. 

The rules are designed to work for the entire Medieval Era, so generalised terms and terminology have been used to describe troop types within them. While most terms remained in use, they often changed their meaning, so when you are quite a bit pedantic like me, some of these can be an issue, especially as I am interested in the era that is right at the end of the period the rules cover.

In all fairness the terms used are probably the best ones for the longest periods of time the rules cover. As criticisms go therefore, that says more about me than the rules themselves. The thing is, all of the troop types and categories used in the rules, are pretty much spot on for the Wars of the Roses, as far as small-scale warfare is concerned at least.

As I mentioned above, I had planned to construct an impressive revision of the unit profiles for the Wars of the Roses and after reading through the book, I realised there would be no point in doing so, it is all already there. Instead I am purely going to cover how you can 'Muster Your Retinue' Wars of the Roses style. There are no special rules, rule changes, or anything else like that, just a slightly different take on force composition, but which still conform to the rules set out for them.  

Wars of the Roses Retinues

To paint a simplified pen-picture of the period, in Lion Rampant we are at the lowest end of the social pyramid. Our Leader figure will be representing a member of the landed gentry; an esquire in all probability, or perhaps he has been dubbed a knight at some point. In terms of land held, we are usually talking talking about a small number of manors, each composed of a central village, several satellite hamlets and free-hold farms; each manor having around 250 souls all told perhaps. In terms of total military manpower they will each produce around forty men.

Most of the population will be leasing land, for which military service is probably part and parcel of the rent payment. They will not like being forced to serve and unless their families or livelihoods are threatened, or things are going well, will give somewhat grudging service. These are the Archers and Serfs in Lion Rampant, forming perhaps 24% and 64% respectively of your manpower on a national average.

Dotted within and around the manor itself will be a small number of free-hold and small-hold farms, who while not owing any form of service, will generally do so for payment of a one-off or periodic payment, a 'retainer', the terms of which will have been agreed in a contract (an indenture), or in return for the use of mills owned by the player. They might also offer their services on a casual basis, in full expectation that you will return the favour should they need some muscle at some point, these are called 'well-wishers'.

These men are the Sergeants and Yeomen in Lion Rampant and also have their own tenant Archers and Serfs, which will supplement your own. As a troop class the Sergeants will make up around 3% of the area's manpower, while the Yeomen weigh in at 7%. In all therefore we have something like 1 Sergeant, 3 Yeomen, 10 Archers and 26 Serfs in total per manor. There is some porosity between classes, so some Serfs are effectively Archers, some Archers are effectively Yeomen and some Yeomen are effectively Sergeants, who themselves are sometimes so well-equipped, they are effectively Men at Arms. So in terms of manpower there is some wiggle-room in terms of actual numbers.

Either owning or having the stewardship of several manors will therefore give you quite a pool of manpower to call on and if you are wealthy enough, you might even have a small full-time military household, which would increase the numbers of Men at Arms, Sergeants and Yeomen at your disposal. Alternatively you might head a small local coalition, an 'Affinity', of like-minded gentry, some of whom you might also retain, in the same way as you do your local Sergeants and Yeomen and these will add their forces to yours. In all you can have quite a reasonable number of men of varying types to call-up as a private army.  

Mustering Your Forces

Generally speaking it would be unusual to call up the entirety of the forces you had at your disposal. If all your able-bodied men and those of your retainers and well-wishers, are all off the land, you and your confederates are losing money, which could cause problems in the future. Tenants and in some cases retainers, are only obliged to give so much service in any twelve-month period (after which they would want paying, presuming they even agreed to carry on serving), so future needs would have to be considered.

Before raising your forces, you would consider your aims and objectives, along with the likely opposition, very much in the same way as wargamers pore over their army lists today, looking to eke some advantage to confound their opponent's own plans. If you had them, household men were being paid regardless of what you did with them, so if you had them you would use them every time.

Sometimes it would pay to employ additional professionals temporarily, even some foreigners with their unusual weaponry (the Pastons employed at least one Frenchman and one Fleming, along with others 'late of the warres' and employed crossbows and handguns against the Duke of Norfolk's forces at one point). These men were not quite as loyal as the household men, so could be a bit of mixed blessing.

Next to be raised would be your chief retainers (Men at Arms, Sergeants and Yeomen), who within reason, were ready willing and able to serve at short notice. Lastly there were the various tenants, the Archers being most useful, along with the best of the Serfs, the rest being the last resort in manpower and pretty much a sign of sheer desperation.

Reading between the lines in Lion Rampant, there is an almost modular mechanism you can use, which enables you to form your forces in just the same way as at the time. While the typical size of a retinue is 24 points, 12 point retinues and even 36 point retinues are alluded to as well. I recommend you break your armies down into 12 point blocks, which in combination can be used to represent the variety of options open.

What you choose as your 'core 12 point retinue' is up to you and depends on how you see your on-table persona. If you have delusions of grandeur, you could go straight for the 'Household' option, while the 'Retainer' option is perhaps the more typical average starting point. The 'Tenantry' option is an add-on option, to either of the above.

Fielding a 24 point retinue, or even a 36 point retinue, composed solely of one option, is just as valid as one of each, or any combination of them. A 36 point retinue of just 'Tenantry' could quite easily represent Jack Cade's or Robin of Redesdale's forces and one composed wholly of 'Household' men, is comparable to the 'riding retinues' of large landholders. All 'Tenantry' in a single retinue should be of the same type.

You could of course just go for a free range of choices, just like in the rulebook, but going down the route of 'intelligent design' gives your force some actual character, rather than just "my Wars of the Roses retinue" and is especially great for simple campaigns. I designed the options as 12 point retinues, but you could use them for larger points values, as long as you follow the rules for each 12 point segment; i.e. if it says 'only one', that's one per 12 points. So without further ado, I offer the four types of retinues;  

  • Household - One unit of Men at Arms or Sergeants (foot or mounted), One unit of Sergeants or Yeomen (foot or mounted). The discrepancy in numbers between mounted and foot units represents adding extras without horses to a non or partially mounted force. The second Mounted Sergeants option is allowed to be mounted bows. Foot Sergeants and Yeomen can all be upgraded to Expert in respect to their primary weapon option and both the Second Foot Sergeant option and the Foot Yeomen can be equipped with bows.
  • Retainers - A mix of Men at ArmsSergeants, or Yeomen (foot or mounted). The same unit upgrade options are open as for household troops. There may be no more than one non bow-armed unit and there must be at least one bow-armed unit. A single unit of Bidowers, representing either, foreign professionals with crossbows and/or handguns, or 'forest dwellers' with crossbows, may be added to use up leftover points if desired.
  • Tenants - A mix of Foot Yeomen with or without bows, Archers and Serfs. The total of units of Yeomen with bows and Archers combined, must always exceed the number of non bow-armed Yeomen. Mixed units count as 'bow-armed units'. Any units permitted can upgrade to Expert.    
  • Welsh & Scots Border Tenants - A mix of Foot Yeomen with or without bows, ArchersSerfs and Bidowers with bows. The total of units with bows (Yeomen, Archers, and Bidowers) combined, must never exceed the numbers of Yeomen units without bows. Mixed units of Yeomen count as 'bow-armed units'. Any units permitted can upgrade to Expert.
Obviously all the normal rules apply, no more than four units of any single type and you cannot have two identical units exceeding 12 points in total. The option to equip Sergeants and Yeomen with bows, represents the more aggressive and/or better protected archers, who were not afraid to get into hand to hand combat.

Upgrading with a bow costs 2 points and is as described under mixed weapons for Foot Yeomen on page 36, except that the whole unit has them. They were not necessarily better shots than other archers, so there is no increase in shooting, other than upgrading them to Expert for a further 2 points (see Archers p. 38).

Otherwise most things speak for themselves. 'Expert' melee troops either have better weapons, or more substantial armour in effect, while 'Expert' archers are more skilled with the bow. You cannot give any unit double 'Expert' status, so as to gain a bonus in both melee and shooting, unless you wanted to apply such a rule to particularly elite Household troops within a retinue. Even then it should not apply to more than one unit of bow-armed troops. Personally I would avoid doing that altogether.

Mounted archers had both the riding skill and the bow skill to shoot from horseback. Range and accuracy would be affected however, hence no rule changes. Whether they did shoot from horseback is open to debate, it has been proven possible and indeed there are a couple of contemporary illustrations showing English archers doing so. Later Border Reivers certainly employed bows while mounted.

For the sort of informal raiding type warfare we are representing, it is a valid enough tactic. I suggest always counting them as firing with half their full amount of dice (and half as much again when reduced to half strength), they were not after all 'horse archers' per se. I will leave it for you to decide whether or not to include them in your games.

Wales and the Scots Border areas were particularly poor areas, with relatively few men earning the incomes that required them to be archers, hence the disparity with England. The Welsh apparently did not use the longbow like the English and tended to use it as a fairly close range ambush weapon. I have given the option to either field 'anglicised' Welsh forces, or more traditional ones, by allowing Bidowers. Either way, these areas fielded far more spear or bill-armed men in comparison to England. One of the Herberts lacked archers at Edgecote in 1469 and another took a force that was split 50:50 to France in 1492, while almost every other retinue barely had any non-archer footmen on their strength.

While there were still considerable numbers of men able to afford full harness and all the other accoutrements of the 'knight', there were increasing numbers of those who could not. Not all Men at Arms by this time were 'trained from birth' in the knightly arts and some were inky-fingered lawyers and the like into the bargain. Added to that there was the practice of mixing-in the richer yeomanry (Sergeants in Lion Rampant) and armed attendants (costrils and custrells etc.) as 'lesser men at arms'. Some of the mounted archers were almost as well armoured as the worst of the Men at Arms and often better skilled and experienced fighters into the bargain

I have tried to offer the option to either use Sergeants or Men at Arms interchangeably. If it is a unit of Men at Arms the level of armour and skill overall is reasonably high enough for them to count as such and if they are Sergeants, then take it as read that they are of somewhat lower in overall skill and/or armour worn across the unit members. 'Wild Charge' was still an issue with some men and taking the 'Drilled' upgrade represents a few wiser professionals within the unit holding them back.

So there it is, my take on War of the Roses retinues for Lion Rampant. If you try this out, please let me know how you get on. Have at it!


  1. That is a great write up. I believe I will use your ideas and use my native Clark county and Las Vegas as a fictionalized country for this game.

    1. I have been tossing the idea around for a bit actually, or just making up my own country.
      But at least this way I cam make major land marks, neighborhoods and townships into there own cities and regions.
      The real Clark County is over 8,091 sq miles or 20,956 km.
      Has a population of over 2 million, 5 major towns/cites and over 20 other large town ships.
      I will just make it a little less aired and breath life into some of the old riverbeds. And make some of the major historical and business names and families into noble families.
      Going to make the Major Mafia families into mercenary bands, and make the states that boarder Nevada into other countries.
      California will be the "Bear Flag Republics" loose Federation of city states leg by city burgers and rural land owners.
      Utah will become "Deseret" land of the "Latter-day saints" or Mormons. with their forces organized in "Wards" along the idea of Swiss Cantons.
      Arizona will be more medieval Spanish and northern Nevada being very mountainous will have a Highland feel and the other States of the northwest will be brooding forested lands with many Tribal societies.

  2. Sorry for the delay in replying, I've moved to Spain, so internet is a bit sporadic until I can get it installed.

    It sounds like you have it all pretty much worked out. I might have made the Mafiosi the actual nobility myself, they acted in pretty much the same way back then!

    If it helps, England's population was only 2 million or so in 1450 and there were villages roughly every 5 miles-ish and small market towns every 10-15. If there were more than 3,000 people in one it was a city like York or Winchester.

    If you have Spaniards, surely you need Grenadines or Berbers?! Very hilly and mountainous describes where they lived and having moved to 'Al Andalus' myself, I can corroborate this.

  3. The American southwest is very mountainous. Just did a cross state drive from Vegas to Lake Tahoe and Reno last weekend so I can attest to that.

    And I have been thinking of bring in Berbers and a Grenadian style culture. I mean why not? I am pretty much making my own setting.
    I will make Arizona a mixed bag with different counties and cities being controlled by the differing societies.
    More Justification for cross boarder raids.
    And I will use the different Mafiosi family's as nobles, some of them still exist here in Vegas. Only they went "Legate".
    But I sill would like to have a band of Condottiere lead by the Rat Pack.

    1. Yes, that's perfect for me, Frank, Dino, Sammy & Peter leading a company of mercenaries!

      Of course within the Southlands, there might be a movement developing around the one called 'El Vis'. ;-)

  4. Yes El Vis be praised! Worker of great deeds and all that a good Christian knight should be. I think the hardest part is coming up with Heraldry for the different groups.

    Also going to make Nellies AFB into the order of the Knights of St. Nellies. Mostly Knights from the Yankee Empire. Who protect pilgrims, holy sights and trade convoys.
    Which is an excuse to paint up knights in Stars and strips.

  5. Maybe I will use the Stars and Bars from the Land of Dixie for "El Vis" fallowing.
    A rat with different colors representing the different captains of the Las Vegas's mercenary army. Or I can use the different suits of a card deck to represent them.

    The urban troops are called the Metropolitan Militia, or Metro. Named from Metro combined police and sheriffs department of Clark county. So the heavy trained foot (Export Sergeants) and crossbow (Pavuses) men will come from there.
    from the separate neighborhoods will come the shooting clubs. (Bidowers or regular Crossbow)
    Because MMA and Boxing are still very big parts of the Vegas beating seen, I will also have some Fierce Foot to represent different Dueling schools. (Couture, Shamrock, Silva, Griffin..etc) I am also thinking of using these groups for games of Ronin or other skirmish games.
    The head of Vegas's council in the Doge Oscar Goodman and the other major house holds are Harrahs, Hughes, Wynn, Mayer, Adelson and Fertitta families.
    Bugsy Siegel or Scourge of the Mormons showed up to Las Vegas when it was only an outpost of the Deseret Empire. And with backing from the Knights of York and Solders from The City of Angles was able to dry them back into Utah and also to drive the Arizonans back over the Colorado river. So he is the founder and Patron saint of the city and of country of Clark.
    Now just need to figure out more of how I am going to mess with the Geography.

  6. The card deck idea sounds good to me, especially as there were four of them.

    You've got it all worked out from where I'm sitting anyway. I look forwards to seeing it develop.

  7. Whta a great insight into the potential for War of the Roses as a Lion Rampant campaign! I have got to do this in 15mm....!


    1. Thank you, although I believe most of the credit should go to Mr Mersey himself... I was expecting to have to do a whole cut and shut on the rules/lists and he surprised me with what he came up with.

  8. Very well done article. I think this could be used for many time periods in the Middle Ages, not just War of the Roses.



  9. Hi Jim,

    I just downloaded and skimmed this. I'll parse it later when I'm not getting the kids to bed. I've been away from gaming for almost three years but I'm coming back around to my Westerosi project.

    Back then, I was taken by your WotR variant for Dux Britanniarum. Are the bones of this ported from that earlier work? Do you like the fundamentals of Lion Rampant better for WotR / late medieval gaming?

    What I'd really like to incorporate into the LR linked scenario campaign is the Dux Brit mechanic evade/pursuit - i.e. incentive to cut losses when luck runs against you to minimize further losses and recruitment delays. Thoughts on that?


    1. Hi Wade, there's another post "Wars of the Roses revisited" which is more recent than this and expands on things more.

      There are similarities between this and DB, insomuch as they deal with the same type of game; 'local feuds' as opposed to the big picture. While I'm sure some of the earlier bits found their way into this, I made no attempt to transfer anything.

      For the actual games LR has no competitor in my humble opinion... but DB has an excellent campaign system which I think is far more suited to a GoT setting than my own.

      Porting the DB mechanics shouldn't be rocket science, especially as the 'Book LR' campaign rules are so basic. I was looking at something completely different for my WotR needs, where continuous warfare wasn't an element, so I didn't look at that...

    2. Thanks. I truly admire your mind for translating a good reading of the history into sensible campaign mechanics. Not the way my noggin is wired, but it takes all kinds and I'm happy to benefit from your gifts and others like you! Cheers!

    3. Thanks, some people are like Da Vinci when they put paint to figure, others are able to create astounding games and rule mechanisms... and I do what I do, which is mostly just reading what is already out there, but perhaps looking at it from different directions*... just transferable skills from my real world past studies and past careers.

      * which may of course be the wrong directions. ;-)