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Unofficial Rules Variants

Bow Supports

By John McWalters

I was playing my Nubians against my Old Kingdom Egyptians last night when a rule variant for Bow came to mind. I thought that I would share it to find out how far-fetched it is.

The variant: Allow a second rank of Bow to provide a +1 support to a first rank of Bow when it is conducting a ranged attack.

Obviously, they have to be facing in the same direction and be in column. Neither can be in contact with an enemy element, nor providing an overlap, nor be "in" bad going or river.

This seems to be a fairly logical use of Bow, and would fit the definition of "dense shooting." Does this seems reasonable?

Comments and Feedback

Jim Davis: I would suggest allowing English Longbowmen to fire their elements two ranks deep with an effective range of 250 paces. This variant rule would make results such as Agincourt possible and more accurately reflect the power of massed longbowmen against packed dense targets.

David Kuijt: John McWalters proposes "back-rank support" for double-ranked bows for shooting combat. They allow it in DBM (-1 on enemy rather than +1 friend, but very similar).

I don't think it is good for DBA. The question is really one of scale. In DBA every element is HUGE -- not a thin line of figures, but a deep mass of men. DBM also allows back-rank support for Cavalry, Blades, and a bunch of other things not appropriate for DBA. In DBM you can have up to 4 deep ranks of Pike for example, with each one giving a +1. In DBM you have 3-5 times as many elements on the board; each element represents a much smaller group of men. I think it is fair enough to treat each DBA Bow unit as if it already includes a double-rank of DBM bow.

So no, I don't think it is a good idea. A single DBA bow element is already a mass of archers as deep as can conveniently mass their fire; putting another unit behind them blocks off the other unit. Just my opinion.

John Meunier: I'd also dissent on the bow variant. (+1 for rear rank.) David's argument alone is very good. I'd also point out that giving the +1 would make Bows +5 vs. mounted. I think this would unbalance things.

John McWalters replies: I realize that these are deep ranks. However, the same can be said about a second rank of anything - Spear, Pike, Warband or Psiloi. 15mm is more than 50 paces. How much are you really gaining with a second rank of 30ft poles?

I suspect that the DBA abstraction does not represent that much depth. The book describes 4 to 8 ranks of troops. The second rank of Bow might not have a direct line of sight, but should still be able to indirectly shoot over the first rank with a little coordination.

The +1 to Bow, instead of a -1 to target, shows that it is not as effective as an overlap because of the reduction in range/accuracy. I don't want the bonus applied in Close Combat because the front rank of Bow will be too busy fighting for their lives to coordinate with the rear rank.

In response to the +5 vs Mounted argument. If you were a Cavalry element which would you rather face?: A) Doubled rank of Bow at +3 to +5 (You can't be doubled if you roll a 3+.) OR B) Overlap of Bow at +2 to +4 with double the frontage (You can't be doubled if you roll a 4+.). The back-rank support does not seem to imbalance combat in this instance.

Anonymous: 30ft? Who had weapons that long? But, anyways, the way I've always thought of it is not so much that the rear weapons reach the enemy, but that: 1) the rear ranks add inertia, both to resist attacks and to increase the impact when on the offensive; and 2) the rear ranks add more replacements when men fall in the front rank. That was one reason the Swiss seem to have had for deploying in depth.

I neglected to mention Psiloi. My understanding of Psiloi back-rank support is that missile-armed skirmishers would either fire over the heads of the guys in front of them, or would run out from behind the heavy infantry, harrass the enemy, and then run back between their lines. There's a great description by King Matthias Corvinus (~1450-1490) of the latter tactic.

Sometimes it does seem odd that other troops get back-rank support, though, given the scale DBA is on. I suspect that DBA is good as an overall abstraction, but if you start looking at specific ranges and scales, it looks a bit inaccurate. I don't know, though.

Jim Davis: First I agree that there should be allowed two ranks of bows to fire. Second, I feel we need to take into conderation the effects of different bows against their targets and not just lump them into one catagory. I would suggest eliminating the quick kill for bowmen against knights (and dismounted knights) unless the bow element was armed with crossbow or longbow.

Larry Nullinger, Jr.: I say no to the bows in depth, they are dangerous enough to mounted as it is. Consider this with a +5 vs Mtd. and two overlaps you have a factor of +5 vs +1(Kn/Cv) and +0 for Lh. Also makes them very effective vs. foot, especially those poor pikers.

John McWalters replies: Actually, it does not change the lethality of a ranged attack any more than an overlap. It is an optical illusion.

And so on... up to -

For the same number of Bow elements in a combat, it is still more effective to use them as overlaps. At best, the support rank helps to cause the target to recoil. It does not make a ranged attack more deadly. The best solution for the target is just to close and attack the bow. I think that this is historical, too.

The commander that puts his Bow into a second rank is trading valuable frontage for a slight advantage in ranged attacks. It will only help to get the target to back off (recoil) a little bit.

Joe Moss: On the quick kill point however, little as this game has to do with anything remotely resembling reality: 1) bows don't quick kill blades and 2) bows quick kill kinghts not because their arrows penetrate massive knightly armor, but for the same reason they are +4 vs all mounted - horses don't like being hurt or killed by arrows, and running away, balky, pained, or dead horses make mounted groups lose cohesion, perhaps entirely, for the duration of a battle. Add to that that a great big target, like a horse, is much more likely to get hit by massed arrows of any kind than the riders and the note that knights depend on tightly massed charging formations for their effectiveness and the quick kill makes perfect sense to this imaginative gamer.


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Last Updated: Jan. 28, 1999

Comments and suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, c.brantley@ieee.org.