Solo Wargamer

October 17, 2009

Some thoughts on De Bellis Solitarius

Filed under: General — Jay @ 10:31 am


I’m currently doing the groundwork for a solo DBA campaign set in the Dark Ages and provisionally titled ‘Mighty Albion’. As part of the preparation I’ve played a few solo DBA games using the De Bellis Solitarius rules variant written by Chad La Mons. Although this is a generally excellent variant, some aspects have proved a little problematic in the games I’ve played. This has led me to think about making some changes for the purposes of the campaign:

1. Deployment

As written, this is quite rigid. For example, all of the NPG’s (Non-Player General’s) elements are grouped according to their type (e.g. all Spears will be grouped together). This fails to allow for mixing missile troops and other foot, or for mixing horse and foot. The deployment table also throws up, occasionally, some quite bizarre set-ups. So as an alternative, for each of the NPG armies in the campaign I intend to map out four ‘typical’ formations; then, prior to deployment, throw a D6. If the result is a one or two, I will consult the DBS rulesheet, throw again, and proceed as per the original rules. However if the throw is a three, four, five or six, I will set out the NPG army as per the equivalently numbered ‘typical’ formation.

2.  The Tactical Engine

While this is quite powerful as written, it does throw up some odd results from time to time. The NPG may fail to make an ‘obvious’ move, because of the constraints placed on him by the battleplan generator; or he may become excessively (and unrealistically) static and defensive after sustaining a couple of losses. These criticisms are partly dealt with by Chad’s caveat towards the end of his document, where he writes: ‘Exercise your best tactical judgement while at the same time remaining within the parameters of the NPG’s mood… It might be helpful at this point to view the NPG as your Commander, issuing out orders that you must manifest as best as you see fit.’

Despite this caveat, using the rules as written I’ve found that there will still be points where you think to yourself: ‘Hmmm, the NPG is committed to a defensive strategy, but in fact if he chose this moment to move his whole line into contact with my disordered one he would most likely win the game.’ It seems to me that in these circumstances – and equally for example where it would be madness to attack, or alternatively to not move that single element into a potentially game-winning flanking support position against my general – there needs to be a mechanism for varying the strictures of the DBS tactical engine.

To reflect this, I intend to try the following rules variant. Faced with the sort of quandary described above, rather than automatically implement the course of action prescribed by the DBS tactical engine, instead use percentage dice to determine the NPG’s actions based on the probability of how a competent player/general would act in the circumstances. For example, if a general assault rather than a defensive realignment might win the game for the NPG at a pivotal point in the battle, you might allocate a 75% probability to this assault occuring and a 25% probability to the NPG sticking to his defensive approach. Use this mechanism no more than three times per game. I’m hoping that this option, used sparingly, won’t break the tactical engine but will instead add to the enjoyment and realism of the game, and provide me with a greater challenge!



  1. I’ve found more or less the same thing, so abandoned the deployment bit and deploy as two players. I use so many house rules, the original variant is unrecognisable anyway!

    may the dice be with you.

    Comment by George — October 18, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

  2. Hi George, I’d be very interested in hearing what your other house rules are if you’d care to share them? Cheers, Jay.

    Comment by Jay — October 19, 2009 @ 10:58 am

  3. I look forward to reading how this campaign develops. My campaigns, despite a fair bit of heralding, are yet to take off. But once I get into summer I may have more time.

    Comment by Mark — October 19, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

  4. Although I think De Bellis Solitarius rules are sound and helpful, I hardly ever used them because I feel I don’t need them.

    Here’s what I do: I deploy first. Then, the Non Player’s General. Yes, I give “him” this advantage. The orders of battle are usually historic ones.

    When it comes to conducting the armies, there are several options. For example, a pre-stablished battle plan you have to follow, or perhaps you could introduce dice in decisions at specific moments of the battle.

    Anyway, I find DBA is extremely easy to be solo-gamed. I suppose it’s because it doesn´t focus on details but on overage view of the battle (as the historical generals did when their armies gave them the chance!).

    I really think every DBA fan should try it alone, at least once.

    Comment by Caballero Andante — October 24, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

  5. I agree, there seem to be loads of options for playing it as a solo ruleset. I like your idea of having the NPG deploy second, and using historical OOBs is a good alternative to the DBS deployment rules…..

    Comment by Jay — October 25, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  6. I am working on updating De Bellis Solitarius, so I would be interested in what you come up with.

    Comment by Dale Hurtt — January 3, 2010 @ 2:41 am

  7. There is now a Yahoo forum dedicated to this very subject: update DBS. It can be found at If you want better deployments and a smarter tactical engine, help us develop one.

    Comment by Dale Hurtt — January 24, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  8. Excellent, I’ll join the group. Thanks for letting me know! :o)

    Comment by Jay — January 24, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

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