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This scenario is designed to work with the “non-player general” (NPG) controlling the Danes, and the human player controlling the Saxons. It would be straightforward though to reverse those roles with a bit of adjustment.
I’ve used a tweaked (house rule) version of Hordes of the Things (HoTT) to play the scenario, but any suitable rule set will do. Overall the two sides should be reasonably well balanced. As the Danes are “professional” fighters they may merit a higher combat ranking than the Saxons, but you obviously need to ensure that the two sides are not so ill-balanced that the Saxons face an impossible task! In HoTT terms, I classified the Danish grunts as a mix of Blades and Warband, and the Saxons primarily as Spears sprinkled with a few Blades to represent household troops. I may amend this in future games to run the Danish side as an all Blade army, and/or run the inexperienced Fyrds at a combat disadvantage to reflect their rawness. I classified Uhtred and Svein as heroes.
In line with Bernard Cornwell’s fictional account of the battle, the main action begins on the Saxon right flank. On the other flank, Guthrum’s defenders and the Fyrds under Wiglaf pin each other in position until the fighting on the right is resolved.
Begin the battle by advancing the whole of the Saxon right wing, including Uhtred and Alfred, slowly towards Svein’s Danes, who will also begin to shuffle forwards. Once the two opposing lines are within a couple of moves of establishing melee contact, the first random factor comes into play. Needless to say, all these steps are optional – you may choose to just fight this out as standard wargame using the starting positions shown above, or pick and mix whichever bits appeal to you.
Single Combat – Uhtred versus Svein
In ‘The Pale Horseman’, single combat takes place during a pause in the fighting on the right flank, when Uhtred has a rush of blood to the head and challenges the Danes to provide a champion to take him on in single combat. Svein, who commands the Danish left flank, accepts his challenge. I’ve moved this forward in time as it would be difficult to model with the rules I’m using once the two shield walls have clashed.
First of all, dice to determine whether Svein answers Uhtred’s challenge – a throw of 3 to 6 on a D6 means that he takes him up on it, a 1 or 2 means that Svein opts to stay behind his lines (in which case, move on to the next section).
If single combat takes place, either use your own favourite skirmish/duelling rules to decide the outcome, or resolve it with a D6 throw for each combatant. In playing this out I added a factor of plus one to Uhtred’s dice score to reflect his effectiveness (and good fortune!) in the book. The losing combatant is removed from play, with the following impact – again determined via a D6 throw – on the loser’s side during the ensuing melee:
1: No effect
2 – 4: fight with a minus one modifier in the next round of melee
5 – 6: fight with a minus one modifier in the next two rounds of melee
Wulfhere’s Fyrd Troops
As the two sides come face to face, the troops of the Wiltunscir Fyrd under Wulfhere who are fighting alongside the Danes begin to have second thoughts. Do they really want to fight against their fellow Saxons and co-religionists? When the two shield walls are within a single move of each other, throw a D6 and interpret the results as follows:
1 – 2: They remain in position and fight for the Danes
3: They turn and retire from the battlefield
4 – 6: They defect to the Saxon side
The consequences of throwing a 1 or 2 need no further explanation.
If a 3 is thrown, the Danes will “shuffle up” and plug the resulting gap before the melee begins, as Wulfhere’s troops fall back (they play no further part in the battle and can now be removed from play).
If a 4, 5 or 6 is thrown, then we need to determine the effect that this change of allegiance has on the two battle lines. Again, throw a D6 and apply the following :
1 – 2: They pass through the Saxon shield wall without significantly disrupting it, and re-form immediately behind it.
3: They are incorporated seamlessly into the Saxon shield wall, other units shuffling up to incorporate them.
4 – 6: The defecting troops break the cohesion of the Saxon shield wall as they attempt to join it. Model this by moving the Wiltunscir/Suth Seaxa Fyrd units facing Wulfhere’s defecting units back one full move, then place the defecting units behind them. In this way the Saxons will have gained some troops but will have lost cohesion – definitely a mixed blessing.
In all of the above instances, the defecting elements immediately come under the command of the Saxon (i.e.human) general.
Now the melee on this flank begins in earnest…
Once the two steps above have been completed the fight on the Saxon right must be fought to a conclusion.
How will Guthrum react to what he’s seeing? Will he send some of his own troops to reinforce Svein? Or will he skulk in his defensive position and refuse to intervene? Although they’re allies he has no love for Svein and may prefer to just stand and watch.
At the start of each Danish turn from this point onwards, throw a D6. If a 5 or 6 is thrown, then Guthrum will commit some of his troops to reinforce Svein’s wing. Throw a D6 and apply the following:
1 : Guthrum sends a single unit to reinforce Svein’s shield wall
2 – 3: Guthrum sends two units to reinforce Svein’s shield wall
4 – 5: Guthrum sends two units specifically to target Alfred and his household troops
6: Guthrum launches an all out attack. He sends his flank units to support Svein’s troops and attack Alfred, and sends his troops on the main ridgeline facing Wiglaf’s Fyrds forward to engage them. Guthrum himself will advance down onto the main battlefield with his household unit, but will hold back from combat himself for as long as practicable.
Note that this is a one off event. Once Guthrum has sent reinforcements in or launched a general attack, this chance event is considered resolved and no further reinforcements will be committed.
Common sense also needs to be applied here. If there have been several rounds of fighting already on the Danish left flank and Guthrum sees that Svein’s wing is collapsing irrevocably, then ignore the dice and allow him to continue exercising caution. He won’t throw his own men into a hopeless fight for Svein’s sake.
If Guthrum has launched a general assault (a throw of 6 in the above action list), then the next stage becomes redundant and the battle is simply fought to a conclusion on the ground in front of the hill fort.
Otherwise, resolve the battle between the Saxon right and the Danish left flanks before moving on to the next (and final) phase.
The Attack On The Hill Fort
The battle on the Saxon right must be fought to a conclusion before moving on to this next phase. Obviously if Guthrum has launched a general advance then this phase is in any case redundant. Otherwise, and assuming that enough Saxon troops remain on the field of battle, the focus shifts to an assault on the hill fort itself.
This will be a frontal assault on the edge of the old hill fort immediately facing the Saxon left.
Redeploy any survivors from the Saxon right to reinforce Wiglaf’s Fyrds.
Similarly, redeploy Guthrum’s troops and any survivors from the Danish left to present the strongest possible defence of the ridge line facing the newly reinforced Saxon left.
Deploy Guthrum’s troops in a defensive posture and move your Saxon troops to the foot of the ridge.
At this point, and before advancing further, dice for the possibility of a rear attack on Guthrum’s position by Fyrd troops who have worked their way around to Guthrum’s rear. Throw a D6 and apply the following outcome:
1 – 2: The rear attack fails to materialise. Not good news for the Saxons, who face a (literal) uphill battle against Guthrum’s men
3 – 4: One fresh Fyrd units appears at the rear of Guthrum’s position (see photo above, top left corner, for placement)
5 – 6: Two fresh Fyrd units appear in this position
If the Saxons have succeeded in deploying to Guthrum’s rear, dice for his reaction (if any). Throw a D6:
1 – 3: No reaction. Guthrum is unaware of the threat until the Saxons carrying out the rear attack reach the flat ground within the walls of the hill fort
4 – 6: Guthrum realises he is in danger and may move up to three of his units immediately to counter the threat
The attack on the hill fort is then fought to a conclusion. Note that the fort represents a strong position and the defenders will fight at a factor of plus two while they hold the high ground.
The Danes will score a major victory if they kill Alfred and rout his army. They will score a marginal victory if they rout the Saxon army but Alfred lives to fight another day (by exiting the battlefield via his own baseline).
The Saxons will score a major victory if they succeed in routing the Danish army and capturing the hill fort. They will score a marginal victory if they destroy Svein’s flank, succeed in protecting Alfred, but fail to take the hill fort – provided they have at least two more elements left at the end of the battle than the Danes.
Any other position at the end of the battle will normally represent a draw, in which case the Danes and the Saxons will sit down and discuss terms over a nice cup of tea.
The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell – part two of The Warrior Chronicles series.
Hordes of the Things by Phil Barker, Richard Bodley-Scott and Sue Lafflin Barker.