Individual characteristics in skirmish games

By Rob Morgan

Jim Rohrer asks two questions which are, in many historical cases, easy to answer. Setting aside the possibilities of recreating the exact numbers and specific characteristics of say, ‘The Seven Samurai,’ ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ or ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ all of which have sound potential in a skirmish game, or even a skirmish campaign, there are many real examples.

In Medieval terms, take for instance the Burgundian ‘lance,’ which comprised, originally, three men — a mounted knight or man-at-arms; a Coustillier, a light-armoured horseman, sometimes a Serjeant-at-arms; and a valet or page. Ideally, all are mounted and though the page wouldn’t take part in a formal battle array, in a skirmish, certainly. Easy to name and give attributes to each.

If you want a slightly larger formation, after 1470, these three were accompanied by three mounted archers and three foot soldiers — a hand-gunner, a crossbowman and a halberdier, sometimes a pikeman. All were part of the same lance, owing allegiance to the knight and ideal in size for a skirmish force. The French used a similar structure, with three mounted archers accompanying knight, Coustillier  and page. In Brittany the basic three would have a footman armed with a guisarme and two or three archers.

In Germany, the basic three — a knight and two sergeants — would be accompanied by up to 10 foot-soldiers, and these would be half archers and the rest armed servants. In Eastern Europe, especially Poland, up to 12 foot-soldiers would accompany knight and page. An easy scenario lends itself here: Lance meets lance, equal fights equal, or ambushes the others! I’d recommend dipping into a book I’ve reviewed for the SWA, and that review appears in this website on the Reviews page. The book is ‘Fighting Men’ by Treece & Oakeshott, plenty of scenarios for the skirmisher, and plenty of background information.

I’m not sure about attributes. Don Featherstone describes men as average, or veterans, raw recruits or elite. Well, if you go back to any decent text, and the Ospreys will do, on the Vikings for instance, you’ll find warriors with names like ‘Eric soft hands’ or ‘Bjorn tree-leg’, and ‘Sven one-arm’, which seems a fairly straightforward descriptor! If you choose to skirmish with a mounted force, don’t forget the characteristics of the mount. Not all horses are chargers of Arab lineage! Ann Hyland’s superb ‘The Medieval Warhorse’ and ‘The Horse in the Middle Ages’ will provide you with all the information you need.

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1 Response to Individual characteristics in skirmish games

  1. jimr says:


    These are great ideas. The standard elements of the “lance” (or other unit name) lend themselves to individualization of the figure.

    At this junction I am now thinking that larger figures are needed for this type of gaming. I can distinguish a mounted figure from an infantry soldier without much difficulty in 15mm but other details would be difficult to see.

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