and how come they aren't right in DBM?

This page last modified: November 16, 2000


Something is rotten in the state of warbandom in DBM.

The main problem is not as some people think, that they are too weak, or, as newcomers to DBM often think, too powerful, but that they just don't quite work realistically.(1) The main reason for this is their somewhat artificial division into loose and close formation catagories that restrict the close formation catagories entirely to good-going. Another problem is the tie in with equipment and classification, a relic of older WRG rules sets. A few years ago there was a long discussion of Wb on the DBM e-mail discussion group which gave birth to my ideas about changing warbands. Alas, the authors thought them too complicated, and DBM has since moved on, to version 3, so they became out of date anyway.

But, after some prodding from Rhett Covington, I have now revised my proposals, again with the help of the DBM-list. I have decided to use Keith Barker's Wb (X) classification idea, since this has the best chance of being accepted in any future edition of the rules. (I feel the need for 4 types of warband - adding an (X) catagory is the easiest way to do this).

If I had to redefine DBM Wb from scratch, they would look slightly different (compulsorily double-based, for instance, as would be most heavy foot)- but we have to face facts - there are a lot of warband elements out there, and not everyone wants to rebase every one of them!

In my opinion the main problem with Wb isn't really the divison between 'close formation' and 'loose formation' - since that is really cosmetic - but that the 'close formation' ones get penalized a -2 tactical factor for fighting in bad-going. Nobody has yet to come up with any evidence that Wb were unduly worried by fighting in broken-ground: yet a -2 tactical factor is more than just unduly worried when you start at such a low combat factor as Wb do.

On the contrary, even those Wb noted for normally fighting in deep compressed formations, such as the Franks, were actually noted by contemporaries like Sulpicius as being expert ambushers and forest-fighters. Yet these troops, currently graded Wb (S), are penalised a -2 when fighting in woods, and so are almost valueless there (especially against contemporary opposition graded as Ax (S)!), and this should be reflected in their not taking the -2 penalty in bad-going.

So under my proposals, no Wb would take a -2 in RGo/DGo. In compensation however, they would then have to destroy Pk, Bd, Sp and Ax (X) by doubling them when in RGo/DGo rather than beating them (as indeed was the case in DBM version 1, if I remember correctly...)

Presently Wb (O), with -2, but also with a quick-kill, are actually an easier proposition for Romans to fight in DGo than they are in GGo, since the chances of the Wb winning are the same in each case, but the chances of the Romans doubling the Wb in DGo are much increased over that in GGo. This doesn't seem right, since we have only one instance (Livy, see below) of Roman legionaries being advantaged in bad-going compared to warband, but many more of them seeking out GGo to deploy properly in, while their enemies often actively sought out bad-going to fight the Romans in/from (Nervii ambushing Caesar from marshes, Arminius attacking Varus in woods, etc.). It is true that the Galatians had problems with coping with Roman and Greek light troops in rocky-ground, but nowhere is it suggested it was the terrain that was the problem - on the contrary, at Mt Magaba, the Galatians chose to deploy in rocky terrain, which would be stupid if they were so disadvantaged there. I will discuss the case for Galatians in detail further on.

Of course, Wb (F), with no -2, AND a quick-kill, presently massacre Bd in bad-going, which is perhaps even worse, since while Romans often were beaten up in bad-going, they were no slouches there either. Varus doesn't need the attacking Germans to have a quick-kill to get his 3 legions slaughtered given them initially strung out in a long column: charges in the flank giving lots of overlaps on a column of Bd will quickly see them elimnated, quick-kill or not.

Losing both the quick-kill and the -2 will essentially make Wb/Bd combats in DGo equal propositions at factor 3 each. The Romans won't follow up, which is certanly a long-term advantage, but the Wb will have the numbers, so ought to prevail. To make the more mobile Wb (F) somewhat better in rough-going than the slower (O) troops, they will retain rear-rank support in RGo, while (S) and (O) Wb will get it only in GGo (remember that Ax cannot claim rear-rank support against Wb, so they will also be at factor 3; Wb (F) need to have a higher factor than Wb (O), or they will be worse off since they follow up the full distance an Ax recoils, while (O) Wb do not follow up into overlap in the same manner). Given Livy on one hand saying legionaries were better in bad-going than Celtiberians on account of their heavier armour, and the barbarians' charge being disrupted by the bad terrain; and, on the other hand, Tacitus saying Romans were disadvantaged more by bad-going than Germans were, I am forced to conclude that the two must be about equal. Having both sides fight at factor 3 ( or with Wb (F) at 4 in RGo) with no quick-kills will provide this balance.

In my proposals, I would reserve Wb (S) purely for those noble warbands (and their immediate followers that made up the rear ranks), who were often armoured and that fought when on foot, at least when in the open, in deep compact formations, such as the comitatuses of Alammanic and Frankish chieftains. I believe that carrying a heavy throwing spear is by itself a completely inadequate reason to grade a warrior as superior to his neighbour carrying a throwing spear a pound lighter - only those warriors with significantly better morale (and/or protection) should get the extra resilience the (S) grading imparts.

Other warbands that fought in such deep formations would all be graded (O) - the mass of the warriors of Burgundian and Frankish armies for instance. I would propose that Wb (S) and Wb (O) should only get two rear ranks of support against mounted troops (rather than the 3 that (S) Wb currently get) - 4 ranks total makes Wb just too effective against mounted, especially against Cv (S) now that the (S) factor has been lowered in DBM version 3. While the Franks did fight Byzantine cavalry effectively in Italy, it must also be remembered that the Byzantines also managed to defeat them, and this was very difficult in version 2.1, and virtually impossible in version 3, where the Cv die more often. (It must also be remembered that many of these 'Franks' were actually Burgundians in any case).

A new catagory would be created to deal with those warriors of exceptional ferocity that did not fight in compact formations, such as Indonesians. These would be called Wb (X). They would fight as if Wb (S) when in close combat (but not receive extra rear ranks against mounted) against most opponents, but otherwise count as Wb (F). Wb (X) would be mounted on the same sized bases as Wb (F) - but should have an extra figure on them. This will distinguish them both from ordinary Wb (F), as well as (O) and (S), and at the same time allow old-style Wb (S) to be converted to (X) by just adding on an extension to the element's base rather requiring total rebasing. It will also have the pleasing aesthetic effect of mixed Wb (X)/(F) formations (chiefs leading their followers) having more men at the front, as they bunch up together to fight. Against any except Cv, LH, Ax (except (X)), Ps, Bw or naval, they would fight as Wb (S) when in close combat.

The reason I have decided that they should not count as (S) against opponents that use shooting as their primary combat mode is that most such warriors were not well protected (many being naked in fact), and seem to have gotten their reputation for ferocious charges, rather than ignoring casualties due to missile fire - troops like Indonesians, who were often without a shield, let alone armour. Livy says of Galatians for instance, that their "wounds were plain to see because they fight naked... ...when the point of an arrow or a sling bullet has buried itself in the flesh, leaving a wound slight in appearance, but causing acute pain, and which does not come out as they search for a way to extract the missile, these same men become maddened and ashamed at being destroyed by so small an affliction; and they throw themselves prostrate on the ground... So on this occasion, on all sides were falling on their faces, while others rushed against the enemy and were struck by missiles from every direction"...

He describes the naked Gaesatae similarly: the "Celts in the rear ranks indeed were well protected by their trousers and cloaks, but it fell out otherwise than they had expected with the naked men in front, and they found themselves in a very difficult and helpless predicament. For the Gallic shield does not cover the whole body; so that their nakedness was a disadvantage, and the bigger they were the better chance had the missiles of going home. At length, unable to drive off the javelineers owing to the distance and the hail of javelins, and reduced to the utmost distress and perplexity, some of them, in their impotent rage, rushed wildly on the enemy and sacrificed their lives, while others, retreating step by step on the ranks of their comrades, threw them into disorder by their display of faint-hearedness. Thus was the spirit of the Gaesatae broken down by the javelineers".

Thus the vast majority of Wb will move 150p. Most Wb were noted for swiftness - and is the reason most DBM Wb are graded (F), not (O), despite the (O) grade supposing to be the ordinary benchmark classification type in DBM (121 instances to 20 by my count). I think we all agree that being braver and more ferocious than average (ie. many of the current (S) grade) is no grounds for lopping off 50p of the movement allowance of otherwise fast-charging nearly or even entirely naked warriors. The only ones that will go 100p are those types that were noted for moving in solid blocks (when in the open, that is), keeping their cohesion even at the expense of moving quickly, such as the Helvetii and many Germans (and not all Germans did so at all times). I assume they would retain some cohesivenes, even in bad-going however, and thus they move slower and follow up less distance than other Wb (future editions of DBM may of course see all infantry following up the same distance - so who knows?)

Wb (S) will thus only be those especially brave and/or armoured types that fought massed - typically nobles. Franks for instance, would be (O), with only a few, say a half-dozen or so elements, being allowed to be (S), rather than the whole lot being (S) as is currently the case. Wb (O) would of course be able to support Wb (S), as they can do now. The altered Wb (S) catagory would still cost 5 AP. Compared to the current (S) catagory, they lose their quick-kill against Pk, Bd, Sp and Ax (X) when in bad-going, fight only 3 ranks deep against mounted (actually probably an 'advantage' against elephants) and get no rear-rank support in RGo. They would of course, not take a -2 in bad-going in compensation, which is a very major benefit. This seems a reasonable balance in terms of losses and gains, so the AP value would remain the same.

My Wb (O) would still cost 3 AP. These Wb (O) would lose their quick-kill against Pk, Bd, Sp and Ax (X) in bad-going, and not get a rear rank in RGo. They too would not take a -2 in bad-going in compensation. In addition, they would get 3 ranks against mounted. This makes them quite a lot more cost-effective than now, but at present, the current Wb (O) are not cost-effective at all, which is why we never see them in tournaments, even themed tournaments - even by the guys brave enough to bring Wb (F). This is largely due to their taking a -2 in bad-going, which I will eliminate, making them at last a reasonable troop type. In comparison to Wb (F), also 3 AP, they will be a little more resilient, being graded (O), be considerably better against mounted, but move considerably slower, and fight worse in RGo, so will be priced right at 3 AP.

I would still classify most dismounted nobles as (S), since they were almost invariably armoured, would have their mobility impaired by worrying about their mounts (even if they are no longer represented on the DBM playing-board, they are likely to be somewhere in the vicinity in real-life), and, especially charioteers, are never numerous enough on the tabletop to take excessive advantage of the extra rear rank supports available to (S) Wb over (X) warband.

Wb (S) thus would be almost the equal of Ax (S) in bad-going, except that they would cost more (5 AP compared to 4 AP), follow-up after combat, and can't kill Ps - a very common troop type in bad-going. Wb (X) would be much closer to Ax (S) in bad-going, moving the same speed, but still following-up after combat, and unable to kill Ps, and fighting as (F) against the sorts of troops that tend to inhabit RGo - Ps and Ax. As they would get a second rank in RGo, and the benefit of moving impetuously through DGo, they will be about the equal of Ax (S). I see this as a much more reasonable representation of South-Eastern Ax/Wb jungle fights than the current scheme of things with such a dichotomy btween thse graded as Ax and those graded as Wb (S). The new Wb (X) catagory would cost 4 AP rather than 5 AP, since the bonuses of being (S) are not so great in version 3, and they will fight mounted only 2 deep, and fight many troop types as if Wb (F) rather than (S).

Wb (O) would be much closer to Ax (O) in ability in bad-going - costing the same, and fighting pretty-well much the same there (I propose no rear-support in RGo remember). They still couldn't kill Ps, and would still move much slower, and so would still be quite inferior to Ax (O) in the terrain Ax (O) like best.

So what troops would be reclassified in my scheme of things? All those troops currenty classified as Wb (O) would probably remain Wb (O), and those that are (F) would remain (F). Cavalry and the like that currently dismount as Wb (S) would still do so. Those few that dismount as Wb (F), like some Geometric Greeks, I suggest really ought to do so as Wb (O) instead. Of the other troops currently graded (S), Franks, Gepids, Rugians et al., including those in the Patrician Roman list, would become (O), except for a few noble elements on foot. There is simply no way to justify these types using a spear one pound heavier than that used by the Burgundians, while fighting in the exact same deep formation, as being (S) because of it rather than (O). Such a slight technical difference in weaponry would not have had such a profound effect - if it did, then other nations would have copied these weapons more (rather than give them up with time like the Saxons did!). An exception might be made for Chatti iron-collar-wearers who could remain (S) - I suggest that the Chatti list be amended so that not all Chatti are (S) - only a small proportion were iron-collar wearers, the rest would be (O).

Most other Wb (S) would be regraded as Wb (X) - Aztec Cuachics, generals of nations otherwise leading Wb (F), such as Dacians or ancient Britons, the warriors of Malaya and the like, and also naked Gallic types such as Gaesatae and early Galatians. Since the only battle accounts we have of these latter types fighting is when they are on the defensive in stationary positions, we have no information if they charged less quickly than other Celts - this certainly seems unlikely.

Therefore I would rewrite the rulebook definition of warband as the following:

WARBAND, including all irregular foot that rely on an impetuous and ferocious charge to sweep away enemy foot. They are all irregular.

Superior (S): Full-time warriors fighting densly packed such as Chatti iron-collar wearers or the comitatus of a Frankish or Alamannic warlord, and dismounted irregular cavalry.

Ordinary (O): Others fighting in dense formation such as Helvetii and most Germans.

Fast (F): Fighting in loose formation and emphasizing speed in the charge, such as Gauls, Celtiberians, Ancient Britons, Dacians or Galwegians. Also war dogs.

Exception (X): Exceptionally feared and ferocious warriors emphasizing speed in the charge and often lacking effective protection such as Malays, Indian Chavers and Aztec Cuachics. Except for differing numbers of ranks for rear support, they are treated as Wb (F) for movement, basing and when in close combat to their front with Cv, LH, Ax (except (X)), Ps, Bw or naval, otherwise as Wb (S).


The army-lists note that they proved unable to stand up to skirmishers with javelins in difficult terrain, and while this is true, the difficulty was with the skirmishers, not the terrain. Pausanias gives the details on the invasion of Greece:

10.22.13 has the Aitolians attacking the rear of the Galatian marching column, where the baggage was. Again in 10.23.5 the Aitolians attack the rear and sides of a column (this one already engaged in the front, and with most of the Galatians suffering from hypothermia). Again in 10.23.12 the Aitolians attack the Galatians on the march with a shower of javelins. In none of these accounts is bad going talked about - and we don't need to postulate any tactical factor penalties to ensure troops attacked both in the rear and flanks get killed, since they will be unable to recoil on account of being at the rear of a column, not to mention being doubly overlapped.

The closest the Galatians get to fighting in the open is at 10.22.6 when they frontally beat a small hoplite force, but again, afterwards, the Aitolians set upon them as they marched along a road, shooting their javelins, which cased great damage due to the Galatians being so numerous and protected by nothing other than their thureoi; and at 10.21.1-4 when they try to force their way through Thermopylae. Here they meet the Greeks (apparently hoplites since they are in a phalanx, and use aspides with porpaxes) head on, in the narrow pass, while the Greek light troops apparently hold the higher ground on one side (as they shoot missiles in amongst them), and their fleet showers them with missiles from the muddy shoreline. Only here is the going of the ground is mentioned: smooth, although slippery in places as the pass being covered with streams, and it is only mentioned to say how cavalry were no use to either side, not to say the Galatian foot, or the Greek hoplites for that matter, were disadvantaged! No need to posit a -2 tactical factor for bad-going here (which the Greeks, fighting in phalanx, would be at least as disadvantaged by, if not more so!) when once again the Greek are simultaneously assailing the flanks of a Galatian column.

Hence there is no evidence that Galatians were disadvantaged by bad-going in Pausanias. Let us now look to Livy, our other source on Galatians,when describing the battles on Mt Magaba in 189 BC:

In 38.19 he records that their "principle reason for undertaking hostilities was their belief that when they occupied the highest parts of the mountains and conveyed there supplies sufficient for their needs for an indefinite period, they would tire the enemy out by exhausting his patience. For they felt sure the Romans would not venture to climb up where the ascent was so steep and the going so difficult; and, if they did attempt the climb, they could be stopped or hurled back by even a small force.... ....Moreover, although they were protected by the very height of their position, the Gauls surrounded the summits they had occupied with a ditch and other defensive works".

Now I posit forming up on a rocky hill would be fairly odd if your own men would be disadvantaged there (and a -2 tactical factor is a very major handicap indeed).

In 38.20, the Roman general "set out to reconnoitre with his whole force; none of the enemy came outside the fortifications and he rode round the mountain in safety, and noticed that on the south the hills were covered with soil and sloped gently up to a certain height, whereas on the north they were steep rock faces, almost perpendicular".

During the course of the first battle Livy (38.21) then tells us that the Gauls were discomforted by the Roman light troops because the Gauls were unprotected with just narrow shields: "The Gauls had inefficient protection from their shields, which were long, but not wide enough for the size of their bodies, and, besides that, were flat in surface", and that the Roman light troops had both better swords and shields for close-in fighting: "others rushed against the enemy and were struck by missiles from every direction, and when they came to close quarters they were cut down by the swords of the skirmishers. (This class of soldier has a three-foot shield and and carries in his right hand javelins which he uses at long range; he also has a 'Spanish' sword at his belt, and if he has to fight in close combat, he transfers his javelins to the left hand and draws his sword.) By this time there were few of the Gauls left alive". There is mention of the terrain being a factor.

In the second battle, 38.26 says the Galatian "cavalry were dismounted, since horses were of no service among the rugged crags". That is the only other mention of terrain, though once again the Roman light troops had the better of the Galatians who "received all the more wounds for being so closely packed" and "not one of them dared to run forward from their ranks for fear of exposing his body to shots from all sides".

So here too, there is no mention of terrain disadvantaging the Galatians - other than their cavalry, who therefore dismounted; on the contrary they purposefully chose a rocky height because they thought it would disdvantage the Romans as they approached. This would be madness under DBM since the Galatians all take that -2 combat factor.

So the lists notes are misleading in mentioning terrain as a factor. There is simply no mention of terrain problems in any accounts of the Galatians fighting; that terrain was not the problem is easily demonstrated by looking at how those other Gauls currently graded as Wb (S), the Gaesatae, fared at Telamon: fighting defensively on a similarly raised hill, but this time one that was perfectly good going (for the cavalry action was fought on it there earlier), they were similarly unable to stand up to the Roman light troops, and suffered exactly the same problems (see the Livy quote above), with a few lone chargers being killed as they moved out of the battle line and the rest suffering under the rain of missiles just like the Galatians at Mt Magaba.

Not including war-dogs, or generals, I count 121 different Wb classifications in the DBM army lists: 20 (O), 36 (S) and 65 (F).

I can't see any that are (F) that would need regrading except for the dismounting Geometric Greek cavalry who I think really should be (O), not (F) since they were possibly armoured, and should certainly be wary of their mounts' well-being, and shouldn't move any faster than the almost-the-same men dismounting from chariots. People could possibly argue for the following to be regraded to (X): 2.54 Scots-Irish Fianna and 3.40 Viking beserks.

The following Wb (S) would be regraded as Wb (O):
2.47 Chatti other than the minority iron collar-wearers
2.67 Early Otrogothic allied Germans
2.71 Gepids
2.72 Early Franks et al. (except for say 5 elements that remain (S) - either that or allow more cavalry)
2.83 Patrician Roman Feoderati
3.5 Middle Frankish Franks or Alammans

The following Wb (S) would be regraded as Wb (X):
1.14 Early Northern Barbarian warriors (Red Ti)
1.38 Libyan Egyptian Invincible Meshwesh
1.61 Early Garthaginian Gauls
2.6 Bithynian Galatians
2.9 Syracusan Gauls
2.11 Gallic Gaesatae
2.18 Early Macedonian Galatians
2.19 Seleucid Galatians
2.20 Ptolemaic Galatians and Celtic bodyguard
2.27 Pyrrhic Galatians
2.20 Galatians
2.34 Pergamene Galatians
2.35 Later Macedonian Galatians
2.42 Tamil Chavars
2.53 Ancient British naked fanatics
2.68 Pictish Attecotti
3.46 Norse-Irish kings' sons
4.37 Indonesians
4.63 Aztec Cuachics

The Estonian nobles of 4.27 I am unsure about - I feel (S) is better given their horses, but maybe (X) is more appropriate if they are leading footmen.

So at most, 26 out of the 121 Wb types would be reclassified, and of these, 13 are Celts going from (S) to (X), and 6 are Germans going from (S) to (O).



Of course, I would also contend that there are some troops presently classified as Wb that shouldn't be. Take Hannibal's mercenary Gallic infantry. Did they ever engage in ferocious charges like Wb by the rule-book definition must do so? No! But what of Bd (I)? A much better choice - it means they will actually be able to resist the Roman legions (but have very little chance of actually beating them) long enough for the Carthaginians to be able to envelope their flanks. Try doing a Cannae refight with Wb (F) - it just doesn't work. Either the Wb will get (very) lucky, and burst through the multiple lines of Bd, or (most likely), they will be slaughtered long before Hannibal's plans can mature, even with a Varro actively trying to encompass his own destruction...


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