The Night Before The Battle
By Nigel Stillman

Gnashrag the Orc warlord watched the Bretonnian battle line approach. Suddenly he spied Ugrug’s boys surge forward. “Nar! Yer spoiling da plan!” yelled Gnashrag. Then Grotnob’s Gobboes, for no reason whatsoever, started to fall back, squabbling among themselves. “Gork save us,” thought Gnashrag, “wot a bunch of gitz.”

How much control does the General have over the course of events once the battle has begun? Not much. When the regiments start to move, the dust rises, the smoke of the guns obscures the view, confusing and contradictory reports come rushing in and couriers fail to deliver their vital messages. Orders are misunderstood or ignored, the most reliable subordinates have already fallen, the least reliable donít do what is expected of them, the plan goes astray, the enemy do the unexpected and so it goes on. What is the General to do except put himself at the head of his reserves and charge in at the decisive moment to swing the balance, showing his banner surging forward, inspiring his flagging troops by heroic example, hurling back the enemy breakthrough? He might send out couriers to change orders or prompt his subordinates into action, but the results are uncertain and there will be inevitable, fateful delays.

The truth is that when the cannons begin to roar, the greater part of the Generalís work is already done and the outcome is down to fate and fortune. This being so, the plans and preparations made by the General in the days before the battle, his choice of troops, the route of march, the choice of ground, the choice of subordinates, inspiring the troops and many other factors, influence the outcome of the battle greatly. Herein lies the greater part of the Generalís work and where his talents, or lack of them, will seal the fate of his army. His decisions and judgements on the eve of battle will often be as decisive as anything he does on the day Ė maybe more so. A General who is fortunate to be able to direct the course of battle, rather than merely react to events, is most likely to be one who has made his plans well and taken everything into account before swords are even drawn.

This aspect of generalship is of course the last thing to be considered in the average wargame. Campaigns and scenarios try to deal with these things and confront the player with some of the real challenges of command. The wargame, however, places the player in a fortunate position of control which a real General could not hope to enjoy. The wargame is not wrong to do this, because a game which makes everything variable and out of the playersí control is no more realistic and much less interesting. What is needed are mechanisms for representing the aspects of generalship which are not usually taken into account.

The mechanism described here operates before the battle begins. It represents the Generalís judgements on the days leading up to the battle and on the eve of battle itself. The choices made by the player as General create opportunities and circumstances which can give his army advantages in the battle. Of course, the opposing General will be doing the same, but his judgements will be different...

Before the Battle

It is the evening before the battle. The sun is setting. The enemy are near and battle is expected tomorrow. All the reports you are going to get have already come in from the scouts and spies. The troops are resting in camp and eating what for many of them may be their last meal. There is only time to do one more thing before daybreak, when all efforts must be directed at getting the army up and moving. In this last quiet moment, the General, that is you, must opt to do one of the following things.

Choose one from the following list.

  • Call a council of war
  • Equipment inspection
  • Consult the omens
  • Sacrifice to the gods
  • Study the maps
  • The last supper
  • Inspired oration
  • Survey the battlefield
  • Fraternise with the troops
Leaderís Personalities

The next thing you must do is to establish the personalities of your subordinate commanders. These include all your character models and all the other leaders of units (remember every unit has a leader even if it doesnít have a Champion). In the case of units with multiple characters only roll for the one with the highest points cost. Do not roll for your General. Any unit led by the General will not be affected by their original leaderís personality.

One of the principle tasks of high command is to know the abilities of your subordinates and, if possible, to appoint the right men as leaders of units. Even though the General will usually not be able to change unit leaders (because they are tribal chiefs or feudal barons for example, who canít be easily removed and replaced), he can take into account their personalities when making his plans. So, for example, it would be best to deploy a well led unit in an important position in the line of battle.

All armies must roll to determine each leaderís personality on the chart below. However if you call a council of war this will effect the results (see over the page).

Leaderís Personality Table (2D6)

2 Rash and impetuous. A unit led by this leader will counter-charge as a charge response against enemy charging from the front (the unit moves 4" towards the enemy, and the enemy charges as normal; both units count as charging; models attack in Initiative order). Test against Leadership when enemies come within 8" of the unit. A failed test means the unit charges them.

3-4 Treacherous. This leader secretly harbours some kind of grudge or is jealous of your position as General. He would quite like to see you defeated and maybe even overthrown. A unit led by this leader will not charge the enemy and will never move at more than half rate (this includes marching).

5 Cautious. A unit led by this leader will not charge enemies more than 12" away from it. If occupying cover, the unit must test against Leadership to move out.

6-8 Decisive, intelligent and uses initiative. A unit led by this leader operates exactly as you, the General, would wish. The leader has understood what is in your mind and knows what to do.

9 Unreliable. A unit led by this leader will not rally when fleeing, he will just assume the battle is lost and head for home. When pursuing, the unit will rush off in search of plunder far behind the enemy battle line, so roll an extra D6 for pursuit.

10 Incompetent. A unit led by this leader is poorly trained and its equipment is neglected. Discipline is lax and morale is low. The leader doesnít bother to inspect the troops or drill them regularly. Their pay is owing and their rations are meagre because he keeps most of the money for himself. The unit suffers -1 Leadership, -1 WS and -1 BS.

11-12 Expert veteran. This renowned leader has the devotion of his men. A unit led by him operates exactly as you would wish. Even better than this, the unit may re-roll any failed Break test or Rally test. The unit is so well trained that they count as having +1 WS.

Equipment Inspection

You decide to check over the baggage and inspect the equipment, especially war machines, artillery, gunpowder or siege devices. If something is amiss, you instantly order men to put it right. If anything has been neglected, you will discover it before battle.

Advantage: One missile unit or battery gains +1 BS or may re-roll any misfire result in the coming battle because you ordered them to spend the night looking after their equipment.

Disadvantage: One random character must be made an example of and demoted to the ranks for neglecting his duties and so will not take part in the battle. He remains under guard in the baggage camp.

Consult the Omens

Everything that is within your power has been done, but there is much that is beyond your control. Maybe you should consult the gods for guidance. As the sun sets, you summon the priests to scrutinise the omens.

Who can predict the will of the gods; roll a D6 on the chart below.

D6 Result

1-2: The omens are dismal; tomorrow is not an auspicious day to fight a battle and the portents indicate defeat. Unfortunately, you have no choice when to fight, because the enemy are already at hand. Though you may be sceptical of superstition, your troops are not. As the rumour spreads, they are filled with a sense of dread. In the coming battle, all troops will roll three dice to rally and choose the worst two scores.

3-6: The omens are favourable; tomorrow is an auspicious day to fight and there are portents of victory! The news spreads through the army filling the troops with confidence and banishing their fears. In the coming battle you may re-roll any failed Panic tests and Fear tests.

Sacrifice to the Gods

It is wise to placate the gods before going into battle. This is both prudent and respectful. It is best to get the gods on your side and it is certainly tempting fate to ignore them. Therefore, you summon the priests and perform a sacrifice. You call upon the gods for divine intervention and vow to offer up to them the captives and the lionís share of the booty if they grant you the victory.

The gods are fickle: Roll a D6.

D6 Result

1: The sacrifice was not acceptable. The gods are offended! Not only do they ignore your pleas for help, but seek your doom. Whenever the General suffers a wound in the coming battle, roll a D6. On a roll of a 1, this is a mortal wound and the General is slain, regardless of any remaining wounds.

2-6: The gods are impressed. In the coming battle you may re-roll one failed test against the Generalís Leadership during the battle.

Study the Maps

You spread out all the maps in your tent and discuss the routes of approach to the battlefield, trying to guess where the armies will meet. You ask the opinion of your scouts and interrogate some locals which they have rounded up. This diligent scrutiny reveals possibilities for you to exploit with your army.

Advantage: You discover a way to outflank the enemy position and order one unit of troops to approach the battlefield by this route. One unit of your choice may arrive anywhere on either side edge of the table at the start of any of your turns, then moves normally.

Disadvantage: The maps may have been inaccurate and the locals may have given misleading information. The troops you despatch by the roundabout route may lose their way. Roll a dice on the turn you want them to arrive. On a score of 1 or 2 they do not arrive. You may dice again in subsequent turns. If they fail to arrive for three turns, they donít turn up at all.

Call a Council of War

You summon all the regimental commanders to your tent for a council of war. You tell them the battle plan and ask their opinions. Each one has his say while you sit quietly watching. It is possible that someone will have a good idea to improve the plan or notices a fault. Who knows what else might be revealed at the council? Take note of who is confident, who may prove unreliable and who was too drunk to attend.

Advantage: If you call a council of war, you find out the strengths and weaknesses of your regimental leaders and their ability to act according to plan. You can deploy them where you think they will be most useful (or do least mischief) in the coming battle. When you roll for each leader to determine his personality before the battle begins, you may re-roll any undesirable results once per leader, to represent promoting a replacement for an incompetent one! You may then swap around the results you have rolled to apply to the leaders of your choice, to represent you appointing your most trusted lieutenants to lead the most important regiments (in game terms you only swap personalities not models).

If you do not call a council of war, your regiments will deploy for battle with whoever happens to be their leaders. Roll to establish personalities exactly as described on the previous page.

The Last Supper

Many of your men will not outlive the next day. Why not cheer them up by issuing double rations so they can have a feast. Your generous gesture will make them all the more loyal and confident. If any of those boring quartermasters say that the rations will be expended, tell them that tomorrow night your victorious army will be feasting on the victuals of the enemy! This is greeted with loud cheers.

Advantage: The troops awake the next morning feeling well and confident. All troops (not characters, as they eat well anyway) count +1 to hit in hand-to-hand combat.

Disadvantage: The troops are slow to get ready for battle after feasting and drinking late into the night. The enemy army may either have the first turn or may deploy any units 4" further forward before the battle begins.

Inspired Oration

The great generals of the past always made a heroic and inspiring speech to the troops just before the battle, or so it is said. Therefore you should be no exception, destined as you are for greatness. Scribes will record your speech for posterity and the troops will be inspired to follow you. You summon a supply of candles and parchment, stay up late into the night composing your speech and learning it off by heart.

Advantage: The General makes the speech at the start of the battle before his assembled troops. The speech is indeed heroic and inspiring. When it is finished, the troops raise a loud cheer and bang their weapons against their shields. The range of the Generalís Leadership bonus is now doubled from 12" to 24" for the entire battle.

Disadvantage: The General burned many candles composing what turned out to be a short, but effective speech. Now he is tired and not very alert. He suffers -1 WS, -1 BS and -1 Initiative throughout the battle.

Survey the Battlefield

You decide to use the last remaining rays of the setting sun to look over the ground between your army and the enemy, so as to choose the best place to deploy for battle. The long shadows reveal the lie of the land and suggest possibilities.

Advantage: You notice a strategically important terrain feature and give orders for light troops to occupy it at once so as to be in place when the battle begins. In the coming battle, you may deploy one unit and any associated Champions plus one independent character anywhere on the battlefield, excepting the enemy deployment zone, before any other deployment.

Disadvantage: Enemy scouts spot you and take shots in the dark. Your unit with the highest Leadership accompanies you on this task as your bodyguard (if more than one unit is eligible, determine which one by rolling a dice). Now you must roll a dice for each trooper. On a score of 1 he was shot and will not be taking part in the battle. Roll also for yourself and on a score of 1, you begin the battle having already suffered one wound.

Fraternise with the Troops

You wander round the camp disguised as a common soldier, laughing, joking and playing dice with your troops. Everybody knows who you are but pretend not to recognise you; flattered as they are to be able to talk openly with the General himself. You say a few words of encouragement to the young recruits, listen to much grumbling about rations, pay and long marches and maybe hear words of wisdom from veterans.

Advantage: Word gets around the camp. Your men now know that you care about them and share their concerns. They will follow you with devotion and will fight with determination in the coming battle. All regiments may re-roll any tests to rally.

Disadvantage: You lose a game of dice with the biggest and best of the veterans. You must show good humour and lose an item of your wargear.

D6 Result

1-2: You must part with your cheapest magic item.

3-4: You lose an exotic piece of armour (-1 armour save for the entire game).

5-6: You lose your warhorse, chariot or other mount (if you are on foot, roll again).

The item is immediately exchanged for drink or some such frivolous pleasure as soon as your back is turned and may not be used in the battle.