Thursday, April 09, 2015

Tabletop Teaser - Mercenaries

Inspired by a rather enjoyable Wargames Illustrated issue on Mercenaries I thought I would prepare a suitable scenario for just such a situation...


Allies in battle, whether tied by treaty, subjugation, duty or the promise of fortune; cannot be relied upon.  Most of the time such arrangements will hold, but there will always be cases whereby this arrangement does not deliver the results hoped for.  At Sekigahara (1600) the troops of Kobayakawa were turned by spies and negotiation against their former friends.  At Bosworth field (1485), the Stanley's held back from engagement until they could decide who it would be most advantageous to support.  Whilst at Lepzig (1814) Saxon Divisions changed side mid battle, turning on their former masters.

This scenario attempts to provide a degree of uncertainty to both sides as they attempt to defeat their foe in a civil dispute, each has unknowingly been in negotiation with the same mercenaries to aid their cause, who, if any will the mercenaries fight for; and who will be victorious?


Dashed lines indicate initial deployment dispositions

A wide plain used as common land lies between the two armies.  A small town is to the west of this and narrow track-ways led to the east down the middle of the field until they are diverted by a long ridge line that dominates the eastern edge.

Red deploys his forces to zone A and Blue to zone B; each anchoring his position with a patch of woodland on their right.  There should be at least half the width of the battle field between the two sides at deployment and neither may deploy troops beyond the track ways eastern side.


With suitable adjustments to terrain and forces this scenario could be suitable for any period.  It is presented here with pre-gunpowder weaponry in mind, but would be easy to adapt to Pike and Shot or later periods.  Small forces and similar equipment should permit players to divide a single force to represent the armies if needed, should a suitable civil war force not be available to them.

General Outline

Red and Blue represent opposite sides in a civil dispute, which may range from the trivially regional to the nationally historic.  Each side has met the other on a neutral field for a clash it sees as critical to it's cause, and has assembled their available forces.  Both sides have also been attempting to sway the allegiance of hired troops from a neighbouring region that has remained neutral.

Blue Force

Blue will have the following core force:

  • One Unit of Heavy Cavalry
  • One Unit of Light Cavalry
  • Two Units of Medium Infantry with long-ranged Missile Weapons
  • Two units of Medium Infantry with spears and shields
Additionally they have 500 gold coins with which they may:
  • Either attempt to buy the services of the Mercenaries by specifying any sum of money, or
  • Buy a single unit of Heavy Cavalry for 400 gold
  • Buy up to two units of medium foot troops (either type) for 200 gold each, or
  • Buy up to three units of skirmishing light infantry for 100 gold each
They need not spend any of this money.  It is uncertain what troops the Mercenary Gold force may bring to battle, but they are known as mighty and usually mounted warriors.  Blue should understand that the mercenary force is likely to be half the size of his own.  Even if they do not spend any money on the mercenaries, they will be able to parley for their support before the battle, but bear in mind, money talks!

Red Force

Red has the same initial troops and decisions as detailed for Blue above; it is given the same briefing.

Gold Force

The Mercenaries will arrive with the following troops:

  • Two units of Heavy Cavalry 
  • Two units of Light-medium infantry sword/axe-men
The mercenaries will not arrive on the field until the start of the first players second full turn; then appearing along the crest of the ridge line at 'C'.  The mercenaries should be controlled by the umpire in line with the guidance below.

Playing the Game

Give each player their briefing and ask them to choose how much money they wish to use on Mercenaries or additional troops. Once this is determined have each player roll 2D6; to this roll add one for every 100 gold spent on the mercenaries (rounding down if required).  This will give a result of from 2 to 17 on the table below:

  • 2-7 - They are offended by the offer made and will not fight for the party.
  • 8-12 - They consider the offer fair but are unsure of the party's ability to win, they will join its' cause only once it has destroyed more of the enemies units than it has lost (so it would join at 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, etc. as befits circumstance)
  • 13-17 - They are heartily impressed and will directly support the parties attack as soon as they arrive the field.
But; if the results for both Red and Blue fall in the same range, the mercenaries will not fight for either and will leave after observing 3 full turns of battle.  

The only other exception to any of the above being that if either Red or Blue blinks first and attempts to attack the mercenaries (shoots at them or declares a charge against them, moving towards them would not be enough), the mercenaries will turn on that side for the rest of the battle.

Once mercenaries commit to the battle they will do so enthusiastically for whichever side their programmed result favours.  The umpire should seek to use them in a reasonable, but aggressive, fashion; until such a time as victory is won or lost (see Winning The Game, below).

As far as Red and Blue are concerned, they are told none of the above, rather refer only to the result of the 2D6 roll; If it is even then inform them that the negotiations have gone well, and can expect matters to go their way. if it is odd tell them that the negotiations have gone badly, and that they cannot assume any support.  This may very well not reflect the true course of matters!

Each player will then deploy their troops.  The preferred method for doing so will be by indicating their dispositions on maps - then placed by the umpire.  Other methods such as deploying alternate units may also be acceptable.

Winning the Game

The battle lasts for 6 turns for each player, subject to the rules conventions used.

The game will be won or lost otherwise by conventional means, typically, whichever commander destroys more than half of his enemies units, may declare himself victor.  Mercenaries do not count towards this loss, but if they lose half their units, they will independently withdraw.  You may wish to count army commanders as units for the purposes of determining over half- subject to rule sets.

If both sides lose over half their force, it may be considered a pyrrhic victory for whoever is ascendant.   If both sides have over half their army left after 6 turns it may be considered a draw as each is in a position to pursue the campaign further.


The key to this scenario is uncertainty.  Neither Blue nor Red should be certain of when or indeed whether the mercenaries will appear and if they do, whose side they are on.  This will possibly make either player jumpy enough to launch a pre-emptive attack!  Not a wise course of action.

Whilst the scenario as written assumes largely identical armies, it would not be unreasonable to use differing forces built to an equal points value.  In this case it is suggested that Warhammer Fantasy/Ancients forces of 1500 points may form the core, with an optional 500 points to spend either on additional troops or on gold coins (at an exchange rate of 1 to 1) to buy mercenary favour.  In such a case the Mercenaries will have a combined value of 1000 points.  For DBMM a core force of 150 with 50 optional points and a mercenary force of 100 points may be more appropriate.

These ratio's (3/4 core, 1/4 optional and a Mercenary force of half the sum total of the player points) should permit the mercenaries to be a tempting proposition, but one the players may elect to forego.

1 comment:

  1. Superb - that will be a lot of fun - if only I could find an umpire.. :o)