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Unofficial Rules Variants

Command Interruption

By Douglas Barker

The DBA rules state that it costs an extra PIP to move a group/element more than 1200 paces away from the general, or 600 paces if there is intervening terrain. I assume this is due to the increased difficulty of sending signals/orders by flags/bugles/messengers, as well as the natural habit of people to be less motivated while the boss isn't around.

As a variant of this rule, I would like to propose that intervening enemy elements also count as intervening terrain.

Similar variants (via Tim van Dongen) would be to treat friendly units in contact withthe enemy as if there was intervening terrain between them and the general, or to have EVERYONE needing an extra PIP to move if more than 600 paces away from the general if the general is in contact with the enemy.

I haven't really playtested any of these yet, but would like to hear other people's opinions.

Gamer Feedback

David Kuijt: The command rule variants Douglas Barker proposes are interesting. I'm not sure about treating enemy elements as intervening terrain -- in most cases the signals would be by flag, or by drums, or some such, and enemy elements would interfere as much, or as little, as friendly elements.

The rule reducing control of units in combat by considering them as if behind intervening terrain, which reduces control range to 600 paces, is interesting. I'm not sure I like it, though. Some troops (i.e. Mongols) were very effective at withdrawing from combat under command. Also, I'm not sure withdrawing from combat should be penalized more than it is already. You already need to be faster than your opponent (and not flanked etc.), and you pay a pip per column to withdraw (like all retrograde motion). Light troops (psiloi, auxilia, light horse) need the option of withdrawing; heavy troops (Knights, Blades, Spear, Pike) have the huge advantage of combat factors already.

However, I DO like the proposal for reducing the General's command radius to 600 paces if the General is in combat. Historically, Generals in combat did give up quite a bit of control of their troops, which is why they usually refrained from getting involved until it was crucial or could not be avoided.

Doug Barker replies: I'd like to thank David Kuijt for his opinions on the variant rules dealing with command (or lack thereof). I would like to respond to a couple of his points, though. Concerning the fact that friendly troops would inhibit the utility of visual and aural signals, it is my opinion that unless they are actually in contact with the enemy, messages can still get passed along or through friendly troops either by messengers or by a system of relaying the CinCıs visual/aural commands. Once in contact with the enemy, such a system would no longer be useful, but can still be easily represented by just using enemy elements as blocking terrain.

As for the point made about the ability of some armies to withdraw from contact on order, I think this is more of an exception than a rule, and to a large extent is already reflected by the tendency of units like LH to flee rather than die. Any loss of flexibility or ability to withdraw by a mobile army like the mongols using this variant are balanced by an equal loss of flexibility and mobility of the enemy. It seems to me that the only real problems this variant rule can cause involve sending units on deep flanking moves or penetrations to sack the enemy base-camp. Again, I havenıt used these variant rules too much, but when I have played using them they have tended to force a greater concentration of effort by the main battle line rather than the guys Iıve managed to infiltrate behind the enemy. Thanks again for the input.

David Kuijt answers: In setting a distinction between friendly and enemy troops inhibiting the passage of commands (command range), the underlying assumption is that most (or at least many) commands would be passed physically, by messengers. IF that assumption was true, I agree that troops in contact, or enemy troops, would inhibit order passing.

However, I disagree with the underlying assumption. The heuristic used in DBA is line-of-sight, pure and simple. There is historical evidence to support the use of signal flags, horns, and drum signals to trigger maneuvers in Medieval battles. Do you have any support for the theory that medieval or ancient generals used personal messengers _more_ than they used visual or aural signals? To use the (perhaps overused and slightly extreme) Mongol example, accounts of their battles remark on their movement entirely in silence, controlled by flags and the naccara drummer. I've come upon no mention of messengers.

As for your second point, you say "Any loss of flexibility or ability to withdraw by a mobile army like the mongols using this variant are balanced by an equal loss of flexibility and mobility of the enemy."

That is entirely inaccurate -- to withdraw an element from combat it must be faster than the opposing element.

If the Mongols are fighting another Light Horse army (Cuman, for example) then the variant will have little significant effect. Few elements will have any chance to withdraw from combat, because the speeds of elements in combat will largely be the same.

If the Mongols are fighting one of their other opponents (Mamluk Egyptian, Polish, Hungarian, Serb, Japanese, etc., etc.) then the variant will make it very difficult for them to redeploy or withdraw their Light Horse from combat.

Which, as I stated earlier, I find un-historical. Most Light Horse armies made a practice of massive redeployment; the Mongols are only the best-known example. Seljuqs (Manzikert!), early Ottoman, Parthians, and many other examples exist. I also think the rule is unbalanced -- the Light Horse armies are difficult to win with as it is.

Just my opinions, and I hope you aren't offended by how definitely I state them. If and when you do playtest these rules, I'd be very interested in hearing how they turn out.

Doug Barker concludes: Thanks again to David Kuijt for his thoughtful reply to my last post. No need to worry - no offense taken. I make no pretense to being an expert in ancient history, let alone ancient military history.

I don't think I explained myself very well concerning messengers. In my mind, this category is not limited to a courier, but can also represent the passage of orders through a series of flags/bugles/etc acting as "relays" down the line of battle. This would certainly be disrupted by contact with the enemy. Of course, this does open up the argument of why put anyone NOT in contact out of command radius, but I think that it would make sense in an abstract game system like DBA.

By loss of flexibility to both sides, I meant that if one side has a hard time disengaging, the other side should have similar problems taking advantage of openings/opportunities. I agree that effects on game balance will be greater when using disparate types of armies, but I'll have to play it out 10-15 times before I'll make a conclusion one way or the other.

Tom McCafferty: I'm on the side of rules-as-written, but quite like the idea of perhaps limiting the general's control if his element is in combat/contact. I'll have to test out the command ideas a good few times.

I'm not too sure about the impact at the big-battle DBA scale of things. I usually try most of these things/variants, then go back to RAW.

Recall, DBM has a +1 for any PIPs spent if the general's element is in edge contact with an enemy element. This works really well at the DBM scale, where you do pay a price in command control if your general goes into action. This might work equally well at DBA scale.

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Last Updated: Feb. 6, 1999

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