Archive for the ‘Dark Ages’ Category

Well, it’s been a while since my last post. Work has kept me insanely busy this past year. It was hard to find time, but I managed to paint a few things now and then. As part of my ongoing Dux Bellorum project, I’ve finally started building the Late Roman army and here are the first units. First up is the Roman general and companions.

These are all made by Gripping Beast. As with the previous units I’ve made to use with Dux Bellorum, these are all mounted on large 120mm x 80mm bases, which is my new favorite basing method. This represents the general himself and his security team of elite cavalry troopers. I’m trying to represent real units as far as possible, so the troopers carry on their shields the insignia of the Equites Honoriani Seniores, a unit which served in Britain during the later period. The general has a different shield because, well, he’s the general, and who’s going to tell him he can’t?

Next up is a unit of cataphracti, also made by Gripping Beast. This unit illustrates one of the reasons that I like these large bases and that’s because they allow me to create a more dynamic scene. As you can see, the troopers are jabbing their lances in a lot of different directions. If I had all of the horses going in one direction, it would look a little weird with those lances swinging all around. So, I opted to have the lances going in one direction and the horses going in different directions. To me, it looks like they’ve just charged into contact with an enemy in front of them and are just now breaking to their right to ride away. There’s no evidence that cataphracts served in Britain, which is the setting for my Dux Bellorum games, but it’s possible that they might have been there for short campaigns or operations now and then.

Next up are the poor, bloody infantry. If you’re not familiar with the Romans of the late period, these aren’t exactly the barbarian-killing supermen that their great-grandfathers were. These guys are mostly conscripts, not as well-trained nor as well-equipped as their ancestors, and often were forced to go without pay. On the battlefield, they were mostly expected to stand in one spot while the cavalry did the major work. Despite these handicaps, the Roman infantrymen managed (usually) to keep the constant waves of barbarians in check and were capable of occasional acts of great courage.

I tried something different with the infantry troopers. I wanted to have oversized units, so I packed 18 men onto one stand rather than my usual 12. I plan to have a total of 6 units of Roman infantry (3 armored, 3 unarmored) and I want it to look like a solid mass of men when placed side by side. Numbers like that don’t come cheap, so I decided to get my money’s worth by using plastic troops. ‘But wait’, I hear you saying, ‘Nobody makes plastic Romans’. That’s true, but they come close. I used a box of Gripping Beast Saxon Thegns for the armored guys and GB Dark Age Warriors for the unarmored. I replaced their round shields with oval ones, also from Gripping Beast. The heads come from West Wind Production’s Sub-Roman heads, although I kept a few Germanic helmets here and there to reflect the troubles they had with supply. The trickiest part of the conversion was removing the big crucifixes that the thegn bodies were wearing around their necks. By the way, if you’re trying to remove those on your own troops, the technique I settled on was to carefully slice away the crosses with an Exacto knife, then (and this part makes all the difference) used a pin vice to drill out a few tiny holes in the cross-shaped bare patch on the front of the chainmail. If done right, you can’t even tell that there was ever a cross in the first place. The front rank of the unit, which is kneeling, is entirely from Footsore Miniatures (formerly Musketeer).

As with the cavalry, I wanted to go with a real regiment, so I painted the men in the colors of the Secunda Britannica, a legion that served in Britain at the same time as the Equites Honoriani Seniores shown above.

In addition to the regular troops, Dux Bellorum allows you to add special units as purchasable “strategy & tactics” options, so I made a few of those. The first is a bunch of praying monks to beseech divine support for your little army. These are all Gripping Beast.

The second is a pack of war dogs and their handler. I imagine them as itinerant dog handlers who hire their services out to the highest bidder. It’s a family business, and the old man is showing his son the ropes before eventually turning over the keys to him and retiring to southern Italy, or someplace else that’s warm and hopefully free of invading enemies.

The dogs  and the younger man are from Gripping Beast, and the old man is from Foundry. The dogs looked like Scottish Deer Hounds to me, so I tried to paint them that way.





To go along with my growing Dark Age forces, I decided to make a “town” terrain feature for the boys to fight over. But I thought that if I made it look like a small section of a full-sized town, it would just look too unrealistic. Towns are big, sprawling things and you’d need at least a full table for it to make sense visually. But I thought a single homestead would make more sense on the table and still convey that this is “urban” terrain.

I consider this a kind of first draft of a terrain piece. I’m looking at it and seeing things I’d like to improve. So, I still may make some changes or additions to it.

I started with a piece of thin plywood that measured 24″ x 12″, and I sanded down the edges so they wouldn’t appear so obvious when set up on the table. I glued down the outer wall, which is made from two packs of Renendra picket fences. I tried to set it up in such a way that I could comfortably place my infantry units along the edges to defend it. Then I painted it and added ground cover. The two structures are resin dark age buildings by Gripping Beast. I placed them both on their own bases so that I can remove them when troops occupy the terrain feature.









My friend Francisco and I have been playing Dux Bellorum about once a month, and we recently tried the scenario “The Bard’s Tale”. If you’re unfamiliar with the rules, this scenario is pretty standard except that both sides have a bard with their army, and victory is determined by the glorious acts of heroism he witnesses. Think of the bard as the Dark Age equivalent of an imbedded reporter, bearing witness to the battle for the benefit of the folks back home. Forget all the usual things about winning and losing a battle, they don’t matter here. All that matters is how much (or how little) glory the bard witnesses.

In the scenario, each player attaches his bard to a unit at the beginning of each turn. While he is attached, the player gains points for whatever happens to the unit, both good and bad. Think about that for a second, because it dramatically alters the way the game is played. Even if the unit is wiped out you get points, and the more spectacular the battle the more points.

I had the Saxons and was the repeller, with the following forces:

1 x Leader and Foot Companions

1 x Noble Warriors

5 x Ordinary Warriors

2 x Skirmishers (with bows)

1 x Fanatics

Saxon left wing. The fanatics are way out at the far end

Saxon left wing. The fanatics are way out at the far end

Saxon right wing. Leader & companions are in the center of the line

Saxon right wing. Leader & companions are in the center of the line


Francisco had the Romano-British and was the attacker, with the following forces:

1 x Leader and Mounted Companions

2 x Noble Riders

1 x Noble Shieldwall

3 x Ordinary Shieldwall

He also chose the “Imposing Horses” strategy for his force, giving his cavalry an attack modifier when charging.

British right flank - The shieldwall

British right flank – The shieldwall


British left flank - The cavalry

British left flank – The cavalry

The terrain was nothing special, just a small patch of woods on the left and the right with an old Roman road running down the center. The Romano-British started the game by slowly moving both flanks forward. The Saxons responded by moving their left flank, including the fanatics, forward into the woods directly in front of them while the skirmishers on the right headed for the other patch of woods.

The Saxons

The Saxons

British start position

The British

The British shieldwall approaches

The British shieldwall in the distance approaches

As the lines came closer, the fanatics on the Saxon left charged out of the woods at the nearest British unit with bloody results. The fanatics were wiped out, but the fury of their assault inflicted casualties on the shieldwall, weakening it. This was where I made my first bard-related mistake. Instead of placing him with the fanatics where he could witness the glorious charge, I placed him with one of the warrior units that I thought would be in combat. I was wrong. No points awarded.

The fanatics charge out of the forest.

The fanatics charge out of the forest.

By the way, in the photo you see, the individual command figures on small square bases represent “Leadership Points”, which gives the unit certain benefits in combat. The bards are also on square bases. Wherever you see casualties on round bases, these represent cohesion losses.

At the same time that the fanatics were making their heroic but unwitnessed charge, the British cavalry at the other end of the line charged forward and smashed into the Saxon line.

British cavalry charge

British cavalry charge

The cavalry certainly put a dent in the line of Saxon warriors, but were mauled in the process, taking many casualties before falling back. It’s good to note here that cavalry of this period, although powerful, were not the panzer-like monsters that later knights would be. In this period, the mostly threw javelins rather than charging home.

British Shieldwall

The push and pull of battle began to break apart the lines into a series of fights between individual units.

Saxon king

Saxon king

British Initial Charge

Losses begin to mount

Losses begin to mount

Saxon King Awaiting

Francisco and I started to get the hang of putting the bard where the action was going to be. As units began to crumble and rout off the table, we both racked up a lot of bard points.

The Saxon king and companions was pummeled by repeated charges back and forth. One more cohesion loss would destroy the unit.

The dead cover the field

The dead cover the field

British units now began to back away, not wanting to add victory points. The Saxon skirmishers who had been shooting into the British left flank, now fell silent less they kill off the remaining British cavalry (Archery adds nothing to bard points since there’s no glory in it).

Finally, the Saxon king managed to charge forward in one last, glorious, bloody charge attended by the Saxon Bard. He was killed in the process, but managed to take out another British unit. The rest of the Saxon line surged forward, causing even more losses among their foes.

Saxon King Charges

With so many dead, both armies now had to check morale and it was the British that broke, leaving the field to the surviving Saxons. However, we counted the points and found that the British had far more than the Saxons. In a finale reminiscent of the Welsh poem “Y Gododdin”, their bard came away with a tale of glory mixed with tragedy.

Three hundred gold-torqued men attacked,
Guarding their land, bloody was the slaughter,
Although they were slain, they slew;
And until the end of the world they will be honoured.
And of all of us kinsmen who went together,
Sad, but for one man, none escaped.

                                                                    – Y Gododdin





Early Saxon Warband

Posted: December 4, 2014 in Ancients, Dark Ages

This is a continuation of my Dux Bellorum project. After having completed the Sub-Roman British, I’ve now moved on to the dreaded Saxons. 

First up is the warlord himself, along with his companions. Surrounded by his fiercest and most trusted warriors, the warlord has struck down another enemy. To his left, his scop weaves a verbal tapestry of obscene insults aimed at the enemy nobles. To the warlord’s right, his wizard casts spells to confuse and frighten the enemy.

Most of these are from Gripping Beast, but the wizard and scop are by Musketeer. Rather than use banners, I decided to go with animal skulls as standards. As one of the last pagan german tribes, I wanted to give the Saxons a primitive look to contrast them with their sub-Roman enemies. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate from a historical standpoint, though.

Saxon Warlord I

Saxon Warlord II

Next up are the “noble warriors”. These would be the Gesith or possibly the Duguth warriors, with better armor and more experience than the average men. These are also from Gripping Beast:

Saxon Gesith I

Saxon Gesith II


A bit further down the totem pole are the “ordinary warriors”. These are by far the most numerous troops in the Saxon force, but so far I’ve only got a few units finished. They are a mix West Wind, Old Glory and Musketeer figures:

Saxon Duguth I - Copy

Saxon Duguth II - Copy

I’ve given my Saxon army two skirmisher units armed with bows. In my basing scheme, I’m putting skirmish units on smaller bases. (120mm x 40mm, as opposed to 120mm x 80mm for non-skirmish units). These are all Musketeer figures:

Saxon Skirmishers


Finally, I’ve made a unit of “fanatics”. As stated in the Dux Bellorum rule book, there isn’t much historical evidence for their existence, but gives the player the option to have a unit of them anyway. That’s good enough for me, and I figure that I can always opt to play them as ordinary troops if I want to. These are Gripping Beast with a couple of Old Glory figures. I did a slight bit of converting on one of the men in the rear to have him swinging a victim’s head.

German Fanatics


The next army in this series will be the Picts, which I’m painting at the moment. I’ll be sure to post photos of those after I’ve finished a few of units.



Here is the third post in the series (Following Part 1 and Part 2 ) as I slowly build my Romano-British army for Dux Bellorum. This time, I’ve got the infantry to show.

First up are the “ordinary shieldwall” units. I like using the 120mm x 80mm bases for this because I don’t need to worry about swords and spearpoints getting snapped off during a game because they don’t extend beyond the front edge of the stand. This also makes it easier to store them as well.

As you can see, the ordinary shieldwall as not particularly well armored, and I used a mix of troops in order to give an irregular look. These guys are definitely not regulars. They’re farmers and fishermen with whatever armor and weapons they can find, kept together by a few junior officers.

Shieldwall 2


Shieldwall 1


Shieldwall 3


Next up is a unit of “noble shieldwall”. These men have much better armor than the other men, but their role is the same. These men group together with the rest of the shieldwall to form an unbreakable defense line (or so it’s hoped). These are the anvil while the cavalry shown in the earlier posts are the hammer.


Noble Shieldwall


This basically completes the Romano-British army, at least enough to play a game. It’s a small army, with only three cavalry, including the commander’s unit, and 4 infantry. I have enough points to add another unit or some skirmishers, but these points can also be used to “buy” some of the special strategies in a game. Eventually, I plan to expand the armies I build so that I can use them with other rules such as Hail Caesar and Impetus.

In addition to the actual units, I’ve also created some markers for the game. Rather than using dice or poker chips, I like to use markers that look like they are organic to the action. So, the first shot here is of some Saxon casualties (To go with the upcoming Saxon army) used to mark hits on a unit. These are from a pack of Old Glory casualties from the “Somerled the Viking Slayer” range. They’re really supposed to represent a later period than what I’m working with, so I made some minor conversions to let them fit in a little more. I changed some of the helmet types as well as a couple of head swaps. You get 20 casualties in a bag for a low price, and they are not bad sculpts at all, so it’s a pretty good deal.

Saxon Casualties


Last up is what I’m using to represent Leadership Points (LPs). Basically, I’m using command figures, but I differentiate them from the casualties by putting them on square bases. So, for example, if you see an enemy unit with three figures standing next to it, that unit has 3 LPs.

This figure is from West Wind. I need 6-9 markers for each army, so I’m going to also use the Musketeer Miniatures Arthurian character figures for this. The bonus to this method is that I can simply use them as command figures if I play another set of rules. I’m all about flexibility!

British LP


The next army in this series will be the Saxons. I’ve already finished some of the Saxon army, so hopefully I’ll post those shots next month. See ya then!


This is a continuation of the Early Dark Age project I started here. To recap, I am building several armies for playing the Dux Bellorum rules. I’m starting with the Romano-British, then the Saxons, followed by Picts and then Late Romans. Normally, building 4 wargame armies is a HUGE endeavor (for me, anyway), but Dux Bellorum uses small armies, which makes it much more feasible. I’ve decided to base each of my units on single stands, Impetus-style. I like the look of the bases and I figure that I can use them equally well for Impetus or Hail Caesar rules if the mood strikes, and probably other rule sets as well.

At this point, I’ve finished the Romano-British general’s stand (King Arthur himself) and have moved on to another unit of noble cavalry. If you take a peak at the previous post in the link above, you’ll see that I’ve changed the placement of some of the men. I’ve also changed my mind on the shield patterns and decided to paint them out. I wanted to give the noble riders the look of “icy-hued shields”, and this is just my personal interpretation of what that might look like. The lower ranks will have all the pretty shield designs. King Arthur 1

King Arthur 2

King Arthur 5 King Arthur 3

All of the figures are by Gripping Beast and Musketeer Miniatures. I have a second noble cavalry unit that I’m currently working on, so that will make three cavalry units in total, including general.

In addition, I’ve made up some casualty markers to mark hits on units. The ones featuring Saxons doing deplorable things to helpless Britons are by Gripping Beast. The one showing a nobleman supporting his wounded buddy is by West Wind, from their Death of Arthur vignette. The horse was once standing normally, but I hacked off the rear legs and sculpted new ones along with the saddle, which represents the absolute pinnacle of my limited sculpting abilities.



Next article in this series, I’ll present the Romano-British shieldwall.


Arthur Rex

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Dark Ages, Uncategorized

I recently bought the rule book Dux Bellorum, and it has fired up my interest in getting into gaming the early Dark Ages. I’ve never actually played that period, but I’ve always liked it better than the later Dark Ages (You know, Vikings, Normans and Saxons. And more Vikings!). One of the things I like about the rules is that the armies aren’t huge – Averaging about 10 units per side, with each unit occupying a single stand. This means you can get into it without a financially crippling initial investment. I could feasibly build all of the armies listed in the book before I’m old and grey.

I decided to go with 120mm Impetus-style stands, even though the game can be played with smaller stands. I just like the look of it, and it will give me a chance to really purty ’em up. Here is my first unit, my Romano-British warlord and companions, King Arthur. As you can see, the groundwork is unfinished. These are all Gripping beast figures. I’ll post some more pictures as I go.

King Arthur Front

King Arthur Rear


Posted: May 7, 2012 in Dark Ages, Uncategorized

A few months ago, I heard about a new set of wargame rules called Saga, set in the Dark Ages. Unfortunately for me, Saga was sold out everywhere I looked, but it did give me a good excuse to haul out some of my Dark Age figures from the lead pile and paint them in anticipation.

I seemed to have mostly Saxons, so I was sure I’d have enough to make a warband, whatever the composition would be. These are from a variety of manufacturers, and I accumulated them over the years. There are several Old Glory figures, some Gripping Beast, one Essex figure, and a few from a German company that has since gone extinct. Wish I could remember the company’s name.