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Drafting a Plan of Attack

June 26, 2017

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that buying everything at once was a bit of a risk for me. I’ve learned the hard way that there is such thing as having too much of a good thing, at least as far as this hobby goes. In the past, having so many new models have shocked me into indecision, procrastination, and eventually complete inaction. Determined to avoid this particular brand of hobby doom, I returned to the drawing board to draft up a solid build plan…

And boy did I open a can of worms! As it turns out, there are a lot of elements to consider before even touching clippers and glue. What game system will I be using the most, and which rules are similar enough to allow me to use most of my collection in those games as well? How many men should go into a unit? Should they all be armed and/or armored the same way or is an eclectic approach allowed? How should I base the models? Individually or multiples on the same base? Do they need to be ranked up squares like small regiments, or on circles in a loose formation? How did Vikings actually fight? Does this matter? Choices, choices, choices!

Luckily, I set ground rules for occasions just like this.

I started with Rule #1: Court Narrative, not Mechanics. Having already begun my narrative with my earlier fiction, I wanted to reinforce that with my models. Above all, I wanted to build small, tightly knit units headed by one of Jarl Einar’s hand-picked, “named” men. To do that, I needed to find rules systems that supported my vision. I found a few that fit my idea of scale, basing, and unit size, and leafed through them to see if they could co-exist. These made the final cut: Gripping Beast’s SAGA, Osprey’s Lion Rampant and Dux Bellorum, and Games Workshop’s Warhammer Ancient Battles. I consulted each system for commonalities and finally answered my unit size and basing questions.

I decided to set my base unit size at twelve and to base models individually on 20mm squares. Each of the chosen game systems focuses on a small, skirmish scale, but also has room for a few decent sized units. SAGA tends towards groups divisible by four, while the Osprey duo deal in groups of six to twelve. Warhammer Ancients doesn’t have a hard and fast rule on unit size, but generally wants more than ten models in a unit. As for basing, only Warhammer insisted on a game-wide basing standard of individual 20mm squares, and since the other games didn’t protest it seemed easier to base that way. I’ve always been partial to squares for historical gaming anyways, mainly because I like to be able to cleanly rank up my models into lines when the situation calls for it. That will be more important than ever when forming a formidable Viking shield wall.

Basing and unit size secure, I began to draft a list dividing up the models in the kits into groups of twelve. At this point, each group was only a number, with no defining quality. To give units their spark, I turned to Rule #2: Gather a Host of Heroes. As I mentioned before, I wanted each band of warriors to have an easily discernible leader. In my mind, this leader is equal parts folk hero, drill sergeant, mentor, and drinking buddy for his merry band of scoundrels. In fact, he most likely hand-picked these men from his friends, family, and neighbors before setting off for a raid. I tried to imagine the sort of men Stoneheel would need to pull off a successful raid or battle and came up with this list of roles/archetypes:

  • Second in command
  • Solid warrior to anchor the line in the shield wall
  • Two junior warriors to hold the right and left flanks
  • Savage warrior to lead his line breakers
  • Grizzled hunter to serve as master of bow
  • Wily scout to lead his forward elements
  • Cruel taskmaster to handle newly captured thralls
  • Eccentric innovator trying cavalry tactics

 

I wanted each of these to be represented as a leader with appropriate units to support them. From there, I began clipping bodies from sprues and adding them into clumped units, all the while fleshing out the leader’s backstories. It wasn’t long before each had a name, a brief history, and a group of like-minded, plastic cronies to order about. Already the units were conforming to Rule #3: Compose a Saga. My initial list became this:

  • Hakon Gunnarsson, the “Thrice Drowned.” Jarl Einar’s second in command.
  • Bjorn Svensson, the “Millstone.” The stoic anchor at the Shield Wall’s center.
  • “Black Handed” Hrodolf. The irreverent guardian on the Shield Wall’s right flank.
  • “Thorny” Geir. The ill-tempered commander of the Shield Wall’s left flank.
  • Torvald Kjellsson, the “Bloody Storm.” The berserker who leads the Linebreakers.
  • Blackfeather, the enigmatic hunter leading Einar’s bowmen.
  • Egil the “Wary” and “Hare Foot” Ulfar Haraldsson. Twins who lead Einar’s scouts.
  • “Goat-eyed” Skuld. Einar’s twisted thrallmaster and torturer.
  • “Ironshod” Igulf Tryggrsson. The eccentric pioneer of Danish cavalry.

 

After just an hour or so of tinkering, I had most of my cast of characters. My motley group has taken some liberties with history, but all in the spirit of the all-important Rule #4: Be a Student of History, not a Slave to it. The units will follow that same sentiment, featuring mostly historically accurate groups of spearmen with shields and very few swords, but with others absurdly wielding dual axes and such mixed in as well.

Plan in hand, I was finally ready to begin building the first unit of the warband…

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