573 AD – battle of Arfderydd, or Arthuret

I have been in the place where was killed Gwendoleu, 
The son of Ceidaw, the pillar of songs, 
When the ravens screamed over blood.

The Dialogue of Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd, The Black Book of Carmarthen

Let me take you back to the legendary ages of Britain, where historical flows mixed with myth. There’s no Arthur, he’s been dead for a few generations already, but the internal conflict between Briton warlords goes as fierce as ever – somehow it looked like the Angles-Saxons menace wasn’t…

But hey, it is the dark ages and a good family bash was always an appropriate prospect to gain fame and loot while also removing some pesky cousins and siblings out of the way to become a bigger name in the bards songs.

A good essay on this specific event has been put up by C. Nayland here and I consider it a very good launch platform for anyone entering or already into the age of heroes of Britannia.

One of my favourite wargames is Battles for Prydain, designed and produced by Eleazar Lawson – second printing was out a while ago so grab your copy – and using the Tabletop Simulator module I put together this same battle which, having played a couple times before, was surprisingly violent and fast.

In truth the battles in the dark ages shieldwall eras could go very fast or last what it seems forever. Apparently the real battle must have lasted long given the chronicles entries on the affair.

The scenario for the game features three forces. Those of York commanded by the kings Peredur and Gurci and the Pennines led by King Dunaut accompanied by Cynfelyn, and the opponents featuring the forces of Carlisle lead by King Guendolau.

There’s some fun factor rules for narrative flavour given Cynfelyn is featured in the chronicles as being afflicted by leprosy. It itself horrible but we are playing a game and despite his mortal disease ( for the era ) he still found in himself the will and strength to be present and fight.

I remember for certain that the first piece to fall during this game was the nose.

Kings of York and the Pennines immediately advance into the enemy lines in a furious charge.

“Shields ! SHIELDS !!! “

As both armies, actually a mere few hundred strong warbands, clash the York mounted warriors unleash a storm of javelins into the Carlisle horse.

Predictable initial clash, blood has been spilled. Heroic combats start erupting as famous warriors and their spears try to win renown by facing their peers. Unknown champions also try to best each other to win fame and name.

A brutal Heroic Combat phase sees valuable mounted warriors of Carlisle cut down while routing.

In a fierce combat under direct leadership of King Guendolan, one name and a hero emerges. Beric.

Carlisle forces are in a dire situation. The enemy has turned the right end of the line.

Turn 1 fully done ( pauses and rules refreshing included ). This is how bloody it can become after the lines lock. Heroic combat is very brutal even with the heroic units resilience. As it stands I wouldn’t place any bets yet. Scores fluctuate +/- according to actions taken.

Shieldwalls can be broken by dealing blows and player deciding to nullify the damages effect by breaking up formation.

In this case the Carlisle ( blue ) shieldwall denied two hits by breaking the shieldwall and going loose formation.

In the same vein, shieldwalls may result in getting locked.

Peredur of York…

( who, although he was clearly a king-sized jerk, was later remembered in Arthurian legend as Percival )

Battles for Prydain: Heroic Combat in Dark Age Britain 450-650 AD – Scenarios booklet

…leads the mounted forces of York crushing down the right of the Carlisle forces.

(…) javelins were central to the tactics of dark age Briton cavalry, poorly suited to the shock tactics characteristic of the heavy cavalry of later eras. This tactic is explicitly modelled by allowing mounted units (only) to attack in the javelin attack phase.

Battles for Prydain: Heroic Combat in Dark Age Britain 450-650 AD – Rules book

Another Hero emerges during Heroic Combat. Aeron from York.

With the second turn phasing changing to Carlisle forces the situation is bleak, with the entire right flank being rolled in and the center mass anchored into shieldwall formations. Still two heroic combats going on but even winning those won’t save the flank I fear.

Shieldwall formations are really tough but inflexible as all warriors stay in place and don’t go hollywood groups chasing enemies. Loose formation is more brittle but flexible and works around the shieldwall – which can then react by rotating into a new facing.

In the reaction phase the enemy counters with rotating the shieldwall to face both sides and the horsemen reposition.

Closure of Turn 2. Heroic Combats caused equal measure of losses to both sides. No Leaders have fallen, no new heroes. Both King Guendolau and King Dunaut forces Panic. King Peredur’s host is perfectly good with how thing’s are going. Battle is certainly a foregone conclusion.

Even without playing Turn 3 one can assess that is simply a matter of eroding what’s left from the Carlisle forces given that Panic stricken cannot do half the heroic fights. York cavalry will simply keep hitting the rear flanks.

Honestly it was quite short resolution. I’ve played the same scenario that lasted 5 turns, so a lot comes down to fortune and heroic performances and rolls.

This is an awesome wargame if you are into the era and legends and narrative quasi historical nature of it. It summarises all that can be read in the chronicles, triads and so on. It delivers a believable way of combat between border raiding groups up to “armies” clashing – take this as is as a battle of “twenty hundred” was surely to be sung about as it was a big event.

Thank you for reading. Have a good week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s