Thursday, 23 August 2012

Like grasping at smoke


Chasing them was like grasping at smoke.  We had followed their tracks for three days now.   Although we knew the paths and hillsides of the Grey Moors, all we could see of them was black figures barely-seen, darting in the half-light.  Sometimes we caught a glimpse of their spears, or heard the sharp cry of our cattle, stolen by them.  But more often, we heard nothing but the sound of the wind and the shriek of the ravens.


Only on the fourth day did we trap them, near the fell-side where my grandfather told me the Enemy had fallen long ago.  


They were nearer now.  We could hear their snarls and shouts in the heavy air.  They sounded more like animals in pain than men.  In the sharp shafts of seldom-sunlight, we could see their painted faces, stretched and twisted in anger and rage. 



Their horsemen goaded us, spears stretching in the fierce wind towards our braced shields.  Their children and young-bloods darted in the heather, snapping darts from strange bows, their javelins darkening the sky. 







But we were wary of them and we stared back, silent, with hooded eyes, waiting for the command to advance.   When the golden horn of Commodus sounded, we shouted three times, and marched over the twisted bracken, heather and stones.  Their blue and grey streaked faces looked stunned as we speared them in their wilderness haunts, casting them before us.  A rainstorm drew a veil over their slaughter.  Blood ran down my spear onto my hand, slick and dark, washing my fear away.



Yet even as we slew their yesterday’s-children, the painted warband shrieked and wailed from the far fell-side.  Their advance was as fast as a heath-fire in mid-summer, and they fell on our shields with a force I have never known.



From the edge of my eye we saw their horsemen ride down Rhys and Maddoc, and we became afraid.  Some of us ran to Lord Gaius’ shieldwall, braced and hard against the storm and the Enemy.  I saw the rest of my brothers fall or be devoured in the battle-shriek of a hundred painted hands and strange swords.


Lord Gaius pressed us forward, reminding us that it was our lands pillaged by the painted people, our cattle stolen, our homes burnt.  The hatred rekindled, and we shouted harder as we chased them.


They seemed to encircle us now, the rain stabbing into my face as I turned to watch them, ghosts in tartan, grey and blue against the orange gorse, Enemies of my blood.  But the shieldwall pressed me on, my new-brothers driven forward by the sight of our prey – and our cattle.



I saw Maelgwyn run with his hearth-men up the far hill-side, shields on their backs, to head off the Enemy intent on escape.


And then, in an instant, they were upon us.  I braced my shield, shouted my Father’s name, and stabbed at the daemons’ faces before me.  My arm and cheek were wounded, sharp scars but with deeper pain lingering, and the blood drained my strength from me.  I was not alone, and we fell back, the field littered with our Fallen as we closed our shieldwall up. 



In the distance on the hillside, I saw Maelgwyn still fighting, a blur of scarlet under a blanket of blue, green and grey hatred.  Our cattle were gone.  As the rain fell I felt cold, and swore revenge.


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So ends the most recent “Dux Britanniarum” playtest using Picts against Romano British forces north of The Wall.  It was a tough game, and as the British player I made quite a few mistakes – all the playtesters felt that the Picts are going to be tough opponents, vicious in close combat but brittle enough to break if you can stand against them long enough.


My childhood memories of reading (and re-reading) Rosemary Sutcliff’s “Eagle of the Ninth”, the evocative northern wilderness on the OS maps of Roman Britain, the stunning beauty of Scotland (captured above in Eddie John's excellent photography) and the mystery of the Picts, the “Last of the Free”, make an intoxicating blend for a wargamer.  Enough for me to have already ordered my own Pictish warband for “Dux Britanniarum”.  So, hopefully there’ll be more of the Painted Enemy here before too long!





53 comments:

  1. What a great AAR, very evocative.

    I'm thinking about doing Picts (or possibly Irish) for Dux Britanniarum after my Welsh are done. Do you have a list of figures that are needed for a starting force you could post?

    Many thanks!

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    1. Thanks Jonas. Richard is going to be doing a supplement for the Picts, Irish, Scotti (Dal Riada) and North British - that's what we've been play-testing. I'll be posting a list of the starting force figures here shortly, and building up and painting the units on the blog. Hope you enjoy that.

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    2. Thanks Sidney, I'm very much looking forward to that (as well as the supplement of course).

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  2. As is your standard wonderful pictures back up by equally wonderful Battle report!Love those atmospheric photographic pics!
    Looking forward to seeing your new warband!

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks Christopher! The photos are super, aren't they? But I'm not responsible for those - all credit to Mr Eddie John! Hope you enjoy the warband as it forms up.

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  3. Awesome! Makes we want to get those 20mm Late Roman figures painted!

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    1. Thanks Zornhau. Good luck with the late Romans!

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  4. Wonderful report and photos Sidney. Fantastic looking figures.

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    1. Thanks Rodger - pleased you've enjoyed it!

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  5. Greate AAR !!!!

    Perfect inspiration.

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    1. Thanks Michael - I've been very much enjoying what you've been doing with the two Dux also!

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  6. Fantastic!! We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Picts into the world of Dux Brit here in Peterborough!!! :-)

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    1. Andy!! Great to see you here! The Picts will be on their way shortly! More from the Painted People here in a bit.

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    1. Thanks you Black Guardian, much appreciated.

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  8. Wonderful write-up Sidney. We're definitely spoiled at the moment with rules for this era and both look great in different ways.

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    1. Tamsin, thank you, that's very kind. Yes, after years of there being a bit of a dearth of Dark Age rules there's at least three fine (and quite different) contenders for rule-sets. Which is brilliant for everyone regardless of which scale and type of rule-set they prefer.

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  9. Wow, great read! well done. Where are those skirmish type bases from?

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    1. Thanks Nate. The bases are produced by Martin and Diane at Warbases. The website is www.warbases.co.uk

      I can strongly recommend Martin's products and his great service. I can see you're in Australia, but I'm sure Martin can help you out. Otherwise, an equally excellent service and product for skirmish bases is provided by Litko in the US. I used Litko for many years and only stopped because of the high customs charges on bringing parcels into the UK. But that's far from Litko's fault, and I've always had outstanding service from Ron at Litko and his team.

      So you have a great choice - Warbases or Litko - best of luck with trying those out, Nate and thanks for dropping by.

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  10. Splendid AAR, pure poetry. Makes me even more envious of those folks who have figures ready to play. It will be a while before I get to play I fear ;-(, but still eagerly look forward to your next post.

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    1. Phil, thanks very much. You're getting there, old chap. Rome wasn't built in a day (even if it was looted in one!) Always great to welcome you here, though! Thanks for dropping by.

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  11. beautifully done report, it was more like reading a story. Nothing like a great looking table to accompany things.

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    1. Thanks Brian. Really pleased you enjoyed it. I'm focusing on trying to turn the AARs and the games into something special and memorable for the players - just like the kind of thing you do!

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  12. Very evocative, Sidney, some vivid word PICTures there. I just come off the prairie after spending two days with the modern Picts, a squadron from the Scottish Dragoon Guards. I could barely understand half of them. A blue painted Pict in a Chally 2 would be an awesome thing.
    It's wonderful to see Dux building such an excited and loyal following. Richard et al can be very proud to see how far it has evolved from Beerwulf.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Mike - fantastic to hear from you! I'm deeply jealous about your prairie experiences with the Dragoon Guards! They may be difficult to follow sometimes, but they're canny fellows the jocks. And they have a stunningly beautiful country to be very proud of. Richard's done well with Dux, but I think people will really enjoy it when they see what's coming next with the North British supplement. Being honest, that's the part I'm really interested in and find really evocative. Hopefully we may even be able to get a walk-on part for a Celtic abbot, from Iona, Armagh or Rathmelsigi to add to the colour!

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  13. A great report Sidney and the terrain looks very effective. Look forward to reading your future blog on building and painting a Pict Warband.

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    1. Thanks Pat! The terrain is pretty functional - simple carpet offcuts under a couple of cloths, with trees and gorse added. But it looks the part and does the trick for quick games at the club. We're hoping to do some more Pictish terrain in time for the Crisis show at Antwerp in November. Guess who drew the short straw on that??

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  14. Blimey! That was a good read. It sounded like an epic poem from days of old!

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    1. Glad you liked it Ray. not sure about epic, but I tried my best!

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  15. I loved that report. Facinating. great photos as well

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    1. Thanks John, I really appreciate that. You should know that your passages in the "Fall of the West" WAB Supplement where the Centurion and Warband leader talk to their recruits/ young warriors really opened my eyes to trying to use this sort of writing to personalise wargames a little more. Thanks so much for inspiring me with that, John!

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  16. Superb, inspiring battle report. Looking forward to getting our hands on the expansion :D

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    1. Mike, rest assured you and Andy will be among the very first to get your hands on it, mate!!

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    2. *beams*

      Meanwhile, back to hacking plastic for a figure for Leofric the Drunkard!

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    3. Now that's a great name, Mike. We never had a Drunkard on the table. "At", maybe, but never "on" !!

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    4. Blame the dice :D

      Actually, turns out it's a mixture, having just got back in from the work table - one Gripping Beast 'Penda' figure, with the uplifted hand that's supposed to be holding an axe widened a bit to take a spare plastic horn from a box of WF Saxon Thegns. Feels kind of sacrilege tp the figure, but the pair of severed heads he's holding seem to work :D

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  17. Oh man! You have to write a novel of your own.

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    1. Thanks Emilio, that's kind but I think a novel may be stretching my limited skills waaaaay to far! But its a very kind thought, thank you!!

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  18. This is a cool report, very evocative and I'm really considering getting these rules and some Dark Age figures. Are yours 28mm?

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    1. Thanks very much! Yes, all the figures are 28mm - from Gripping Beast. For the Picts I'm building up now, I've used a mixture of Gripping Beast, Wargames Foundry and Black Tree Design. Any other questions about the rules or what not, please ask away.

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  19. Nobody writes a battle report quite like you, Sidney; I felt I was there the rain streaming down my face streaking the mud and blood - I digress! Great look game Sir!

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  20. Thank you Michael - really glad you enjoyed it. It was a great wargame, being very tense with chances available for victory for both sides. The other games we've played with the Picts have been just as interesting. Just hope I can do them all justice with the write-ups!

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  21. Great report, almost felt like i was there!

    cheers
    Steve

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    1. Thanks Monty. Hopefully it was something a bit different!

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  23. Sidney, I almost missed this one! A wonderful report, looking forward to see more about these misterious people of the north of Britain

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    1. Benito, welcome back from holiday. I'm really pleased you enjoyed it. Lots more to come from North of the Wall in September...

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  24. "Eagle of the Ninth", "Sword at Sunset" and others of Ms Sutcliif's works - I also grew up with these, and this AAR gave me a similar mental image. Can't wait to see where this goes!

    X

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    1. Thank you very much X! Rosemary Sutcliff's books were all about conjuring images of a world long since past. Images which you wanted to read more about, imagine and visit. That's what I want to try to do with the Picts and Irish this autumn. I don't think the effect will be anything like reading Rosemary Sutcliff's wonderful books, but if I point anyone in that direction I'll be absolutely delighted.

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  25. I follow you from this corner and admire your magnificent work and dedication at the moment of fulfilling the tutoriales. An embrace

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