The Bathelas Campaign Opens: the Battle of Deehash, February AB1

Battle of Deehash

The battle of Deehash in full swing.

AB1? Anno Bathelasis 1.

Given the strange mixture of troops both geographically and historically that are taking part in our imagi-nations campaign (named in honour of the late Tony Bath and his famous Hyboria venture, of course), it seemed easier to create our own calendar than try to fudge a date somewhere between 500BC and 1485AD!

The Context

The campaign features a motley collection of wargamers whose interests vary widely, but we have come together in the spirit of having fun whilst rekindling our interest in the ancients era. We are being very liberal in our interpretations, and miniatures ranging from very ‘old school’ 20mm size, whether metal or soft plastic, through to very ‘new school’ 28mm hard plastics and metals are being used. It’s all down to the individual player’s preferences, and as long as their frontages match up on the battlefield, that is absolutely fine: a great deal of squinting will no doubt be required, but that is all part of the fun.

The primary rules in use are Warhammer Ancient Battles version 1.5, with additions from the various army books that were produced by Warhammer Historical. Again, some fudging will be required since certain things listed in the rulebook were later re-interpreted in the army books, but since this is a fun campaign, and not a competition, points values are somewhat moot anyway and civilised discourse can resolve anything further (such as the fact that the rules specify short bows, long bows and composite bows, but then many troops are listed simply as having “bows”!).

The Belligerents

My opponent for the opening encounter was the admirable Philip Sidnell, my ever-patient editor at Pen & Sword Books, who steered The Wargaming Compendium to completion and who now calmly awaits delivery of the final final final final draft and artwork of Wargaming Campaigns. In short, a hero in all respects. He also happens to be a lifelong wargamer and something of an ancients specialist, having written the simply brilliant Warhorse: Cavalry in Ancient Warfare.

Phil’s imagi-nation is called Tartanos. After some discussion, and in keeping with my desire to have our imaginary nations on the campaign map taking positions relative to where the participant actually lives, Tartanos sits to the east of Byzarbia in a situation not unlike that of Arabia and Turkey to North Africa. His backstory is brilliant: ruled by families exiled from Byzarbia in the previous century or two, they brought in Celtic mercenaries to provide them with an army in short order. Many of the Celts settled, inter-married and are now counted as just as native as the original near-eastern types, but they maintain their traditions and somewhat bizarre attire. No doubt this explains why, to this day, the Arabs can be found playing bagpipes [true!]. [Note: Phil insists that I have this wrong, and that the Celts are in charge. But history is written by the victors, and this report was written by Byzarbia’s chroniclers!]

As for my Byzarbia, well, I first came up with the name a long, long time ago – it appears on one of my very first sketch maps of my world, a creation named as a mish-mash of Byzantium and Arabia. The intention has always been for it to be a pick’n’mix from those two mighty empires, and now I am slowly making the dream come true. The army will eventually feature a plethora of troop types, ranging from utter rabble through to elite cataphracts. Note that the stress should be on the word “eventually“…

Byzarbia has featured in a couple of the Ayton weekend events, in an 18th century setting, for distinctly ‘colonial’ outings. Both times it featured proved to be enormous fun, allowing the gamers to raise some hilarious and occasionally eyebrow-raising troop types – the sight of Norman’s camel-gunners mowing down mark Phillips’ huge elephants, whilst being assailed by flaming pigs is not something I shall ever forget. You can see a trailer about that Byzarbia here.

Here’s a map of Byzarbia – I’m in the process of creating a more ancient looking one for this campaign.

Byzarbia 1747

Map of Byzarbia, 1747. © Henry Hyde 2012

 

The Battle of Deehash

The first game of the Bathelas imagi-nations campaign featured the outnumbered forces of Byzarbia, hastily rushed to the Si’idnell Pass in the far northeast of the country, sandwiched between the Tenzhon Depression and the Sudur Afa hills, facing their belligerent neighbours from Tartanos, arriving from the east. [Coordinates D#10. Deehash, geddit? I’ll get my coat…]

Location of Deehash on annotated map

Location of Deehash on annotated map.

Determined to resist the incursion by the massed Celtic forces of Tartanos with their exiled Byzarbian overlords, the Byzarbian force, consisting only of some mixed infantry, a lone regiment of light horse archers and a couple of elephants rushed from the coastal city of Zabir, formed a line in the flat area between the hills and the below-sea-level depression astride the little village with its well, took a deep breath as the deep enemy formations took the field and vowed, “In Ava’s name, they shall not pass!”

Initial dispositions at Deehash.

Initial dispositions at Deehash. the right-hand edge of the table was deemed a steep slope down to the Tenzhon Depression.

Opening dispositions at Deehash from the Tartanos side.

The opening dispositions at Deehash from the Tartanos side.

In game terms, we were using the Warhammer Ancients Battles rules, version 1.5. The army lists required a bit of fudging – these are, after all, imagi-nations – with the Byzarbian force currently resembling Early Abbasid Cailphate Arabs and allies, and Phil Sidnell’s Tartanos mob being primarily Celtic, with a few Arab infantry thrown in. Byzarbia’s troops came to roughly 1,400 points based on those lists, whilst Tartanos topped the scales at just a shade over 2,000 points.

Note that the points totals are just a guide. because this is a campaign, we expect many, if not most actions to be fought between widely divergent forces in terms of numbers and styles, both geographically and historically, though vaguely Roman and suspiciously Greek or Macedonian seem to be popular choices!

The table was a 6′ x 4′ battle mat from Geek Villain. the miniatures were all 28mm from Gripping Beast, Perry, Aventine, Victrix and Wargames Foundry.

Let Battle Commence

The battle began with the Tartanos warbands and chariots advancing rapidly at the outset. In response, the Byzarbian archers sent volleys of arrows into the swift-moving enemy ranks, and the light cavalry surged and retreated on the right flank like a lapping tide, loosing Parthian shots towards the foe as they turned.

Opening moves, ith the Tartanos hordes rushing forwards.

Opening moves, with the Tartanos hordes rushing forwards.

Byzarbian horse archers

Byzarbian horse archers advance and retreat, delivering volleys by Parthian shot every time, whittling at Tartanos forces.

As the chariots, with the Tartanos general Airfix of the Long Arms aboard, approached the village, the Byzarbian general Kirik el Douglass realised that his forces would be overwhelmed unless he took prompt action. Archery alone would not be enough to stop the screaming, wode-smothered barbarians. And so, just as the enemy was thinking the moment was right to unleash a chariot charge, the horn sounded and the general himself, together with the two elephants and crews, hurled themselves towards the vehicles and their astonished crews.

Byzarbian general and elephants attack

General Kirik el Douglass and the elephants charge the enemy chariots.

One little advantage the Byzarbians had was that their forces are familiar with elephants, working around them and fighting alongside them regularly, whereas their Celtic foes quailed in their boots at the sight of these enormous, bellowing creatures thundering towards them. Tests were made amongst nearby units and sure enough, several decided not to stay and face the mighty beassts and turned tail.

Tartanos cavalry flees

Some of the much vaunted cavalry from Tartanos flees the field!

As for the chariots, the impact was dreadful as lovingly-crafted carriages were splintered underfoot, their crews tossed into the air and crushed flat by the raging elephants. General Airfix, a mighty and skilled warrior indeed, issued a challenge to Kiriki el Douglass, which was accepted and the two men traded blows, one on horseback, the other aboard his chariot. Honours were even as blade met blade, but with his fellow charioteers slain around him, Airfix’s sense of self-preservation kicked in and he turned and fled from the scene.

Generals duel

Airfix in his chariot duels with Kirik el Douglass, whilst the chariots around him are demolished, leaving him isolated.

Airfix flees the scene

General Airfix turns and flees, shoving his way to the rear of the following warband.

With the scent of victory in their nostrils, however, Kirik and the elephants sensed a key moment had arrived to split the enemy army in two. With ever more foes needing to test their morale, now not just because of the elephants but also because they were witnessing their friends in full flight, the Byzarbian leader shouted “follow me!” and a headlong pursuit began, which resulted in one of the elephants thundering ahead and crashing into a huge Tartanos warband that had been supporting the now-demolished chariots, just as their general shoved his way rearward through their ranks in his panic.

Pursuit of Airfix

Lynx the elephant pursues and crashes into the enemy warband, followed by the general and the other elephant.

As this was going on, Tartanos continued its advance on the right flank towards the village, with a unit of naked fanatics – one dreads to imagine the sunburn – rushing into combat with the Byzarbian combined spears and archers, despite withering losses to archery, almost an entire rank eventually being felled.

Naked fanatics charge

The naked fanatic Celts charge the Byzarbian infantry.

But the left flank was busy as it approached the grove of date palms and rough ground, deciding amongst themselves who should be the first to rout off the table as panic spread due to both elephants and fellow fleeing troops. At least three units decided that the slippery slopes down into the depression were preferable to chancing their luck against Byzarbia!

Tartanos troops flee

The traffic jam of fleeing troops on the Tartanos left flank.

But now, the forces of Tartanos showed their tactical nous and, with general Airfix managing to calm his nerves and return to the fray, the warband beside him managed to hold its own against the pursuing elephant. This was coupled by a clever manoeuvre by their neighbouring warband which, with curses and shuffling, managed to swing around and attack the elephant in the flank, peppering it with javelins and spearpoints in a fierce combat.

Tartanos closes the door

The leftmost warband swings round to attack Lynx the elephant in the flank, causing wounds and terrifying the poor beast.

Poor Lynx the elephant (it’s a long story…) decided that enough was enough, caught in the angle between two furious warbands intent on revenge, and he reared up, his crew hanging on for dear life, and set off on a stampede in a north-westerly direction towards the centre of the village. It happened so suddenly that poor Kirik el Douglass, who had been right beside the terrified beast, had no time to evade two tons of furious grey beast and was crushed to an unceremonious pulp.

Kirik el Douglass meets a sticky end

Kirik el Douglass meets a sticky end, crushed underfoot by the stampeding elephant.

Naturally, a ripple of shock ran through the Byzarbian ranks at the sight of this squishy demise, but with the bellowing encouragement of the army’s standard bearer, Reeshard el Kalark, who galloped from unit to unit shouting obscenities about what he would do to any man who left his post, the line in front of the village steadied. However, the small unit of spearmen south of the village, sickened by what they had witnessed, decided to adopt a position a little farther back, and Quinn, the other elephant, frightened by the behaviour of its fellow, was led to the rear in gentle fashion by its crew.

Byzarbian retirement

The second elephant and the small unit of Byzarbian spearmen lose their nerve and head to the rear.

With the line stabilised for the moment, the attempt by Tartanos to sweep up the hill to the north was further stymied by the arrival of a group of archers that had started the battle in the village, but their commander had soon realised that they would be better employed on the far left flank. These worthies added their fire to the archery of the main unit, and it was just enough to help whittle down the strength of the large Arabic unit and the skirmishers beside them.

Byzarbian archers stiffen the line

Byzarbian archers stiffen the line on the extreme northern flank.

The climax near the village came in the melee with the the naked fanatics. The fighting was terrible, and the raging Celts nearly smashed their way through, but after a furious encounter, honours were even – on a knife-edge, in fact.

It all came down to musicians.

Both the Celts and the Byzarbians had them, and these worthies were playing their hearts out to encourage their respective warriors. Each, therefore, was allocated a die.

The dice rolled.

Tartanos: 1.

Byzarbia: 4!

This tipped the balance, the melee was lost by the Celts – and they ran!

The once fanatical, bloodthirsty horde turned on their heels, and at the sight of this, the javelin-armed skirmishers and Arabic infantry in turn looked aghast at the sight, swivelled and took to their heels.

Tartanos' right flank collapses

The right flank of Airfix’s army collapses, with the skirmishers and Arabs following the naked fanatics’ lead.

The sense of relief around Deehash was palpable. The Byzarbians, having begun the fight fearing it may have been their last, were delighted. the horns blew, the drums beat, and a pursuit was ordered to usher these enemies from the field.

This left general Airfix in a fix. He had just two relatively intact warbands remaining in the centre – even his much-vaunted Celtic Noble Cavalry had decided not to get their swords dirty today and became tourists in the Tenzhon Depression behind the others, forming a Queue of Shame on the paths to the desolate desert.

Celtic cavalry join the rout

The not-so-noble Celtic cavalry join the rout off Tartanos’ left flank.

With units to either side heading home to Tartanos, he took the wisest decision he could, and ordered his remaining forces to fall back in good order. The Byzarbians reformed their large combined unit of spears and archers into a deep column, with spears to the fore, to advance towards and challenge the large warband with Airfix – but the combat never came, the forces of tartanos calculating correctly that such an encounter could well prove disastrous.

Byzarbia advances

The end is nigh, and the large Byzarbian spear/archer unit has reformed into a dense formation to challenge the enemy warbands.

As evening fell, the Byzarbians, having lost their general and the small unit of spearmen despite Reeshard el Kalark personally promising to insert their thrusting spears to make giant kebabs in them, realised that pursuit was out of the question, other than the light horse archers continuing to make irritating feint charges and Parthian shots. The two elephants were eventually calmed and reunited in the city of Zabir.

General Airfix accepts defeat

General Airfix concedes the field and thinks about what might have been… the marvellous Philip Sidnell licks his wounds and copes well with this Editor’s gloating!

That, then, is the account of the battle, a real corker and packed with nail-biting excitement as much as any game I have ever played. It was a learning curve for both Phil and me, since we were both returning to WAB after an extremely long interval, and it was only our second ever game. under such circumstances, gentlemanly conduct and patience counted for a lot as we took time to check and re-check the rules at every turn, making sure we have not omitted anything nor gained any unfair advantage. There were frequent cries of “oh no, I think I got that wrong!” answered with “just take them back and do it again, old boy” – a sign of two players determined to win or lose on the merits of their generalship, not taking advantage of the other’s lack of experience with a particular ruleset.

I already thought Phil was a lovely chap – he’s been my patient editor at Pen & Sword books for more than a decade now – and this experience confirmed my impression of him in spades.

Enjoy the photos!

P.S. I have posted an album on Flickr containing all the photos taken on the day.

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