DBA Resources

Variant Rules

English Longbowmen

By David Kuijt

This variant rule is for English Longbow of the Hundred-Year's War period (who were fairly well armed and armoured, willing to enter melee combat, and often supplemented their defense with spikes or field fortifications), and for English Longbow of the Wars of the Roses (who were quite well-armoured indeed!):

+2 Missile rating vs Foot (and +2 defense against missiles to keep the combat appropriately bloody on both sides).

+3 Close Combat vs. Foot (because they are well-armoured and equipped for such combat, and willing to enter)

+4 vs Mounted (all types; close combat or ranged combat)

200 pace move (like all heavy foot).

This should be a scenario-specific rule for facing historical enemies only, but I don't think it would be too unbalancing (since the Bow get a slower move as well).

It is possible that other historically elite and well-armoured archers might also get these benefits: off the top of my head, the Ottoman Janissaries and the Samurai archers would also be appropriate.

Comments and Feedback

Kyle Burley: The DBA Resource page Longbow suggestion from D. Kujit is right on. +3 from HOTT and Heavy inf move from Armati, I like it.

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.

Ron Vaughan: Most sources give long bows a 300 yard/meter range, so a 300pace range would be appropriate. The idea of longbow fire value at +2 vs foot defence +2 is interesting-- it reflects the superior penetration of the longbow, but giving the armored knight or man at arms the same defence as psiloi is not right. Perhaps longbows should be +3 vs foot at under 200 p range. Otherwise the English can't win at Agincourt!

Tim Bancroft: The +2/+3/+4 and 200pp balance for longbow seems to be pretty good. I'd have some concerns over making the range 300 as the target faces were only 240 and even flight shooting with long bow only goes into the 400-yard range. That said, to give some impact I've used the DBM movement rules and shooting ranges to try and ensure that LB have at least a chance without having to move into range (as Ron Vaughan says, otherwise Agincourt becomes almost a white-wash for the Oriflamme. Maybe the range needs to reduced to 150 on those scales. The foot +3 @ 200pp still seems too long given the armour of the period - perhaps at 100pp and certainly at 50pp!

Roy Beers: I like some of all the ideas - how about a second rank assisting fire (so total possible for friends assisting fire is -3); and plus 4 against mounted, plus 3 against foot, at up to 200paces; normal factors at greater ranges. I think strength as well as ammunoition would be harboured for effective range shooting, and that longer-ranged shooting would be more harassive and less intensive. But I would end shooting into woods, even with a penalty, and The Legend of Robin Hood notwithstanding. Very close range shooting amongst trees would be built into the combat factor.

For HYW battles I've long thought there should be a "linear obstacle" terrain feature to represent the hedgerows of Poitiers and other battles where the English used dense thickets and hedgerows to protect their front. But I agree the longbows need to be beefed up; apart from Agincourt, the English will also lose Falkirk, Halidon Hill and various other longbow victories over the Scots. I wonder whether there should even be a plus 1 bonus for shooting at Pk which are two elements deep, to simulate the carnage wreaked on Scottish schiltrons by longbow shooting. That would make us Scots Common fans all the more determined to bring about a largely longbow-free battle like Bannockburn - or to wage forest warfare like a Douglas warlord - by avoiding Agincourt-style shooting galleries like the plague!

John Garvey: The proposed varient is very similar to the one used by Wim Oudshoorn in his Kingmaker-DBA campaign "Warrewyk". I believe Ken Blackely has a download of Warrewyk on his website. Click on "Downloads". It's in WordPerfect format.

He has the cf of bow at +3 vs foot (including shooting) and doubles the range. As this is only for Wars of the Roses, and since both armies have scads of archers, the effect is not unbalancing. However for 100YW, you want to at least give the French a chance (they did win after all!).

One idea which is a fairly minimal change is to allow blade to support archers with a +2 against foot, but let the support be similar to Ps support. That is allow the blade to support bow elements to their front AND to either side.

This would give a line of 100WY archers a cf vs foot of +4. I believe a 100YW army can have around 6 or 7 Bw and 3 or 4 Bd depending on choices. Tough to crack, especially on a hill. But purely defensive so you don't end up with killing teams of Lb archers roaming the battlefield at +3.

So how do the French break it? Dismount the Kn and tackle it head on. Fairly even struggle. Or if IV/64(c), bring up the Art and shoot at 4 vs 2. Both tactics were used by the French.

Philip Woutat: Historically, one of the great advantages of the longbow was its ability to thin the ranks of the targetted even before the enemy closed with the longbowmen (Lb) (where their better arms and armor than their historical bow-armed precursors came into play). Since DBA has no mechanism to allow for attrition this way, however, to reflect this the ranged combat factors need to be changed accordingly. I would propose that HYW and WOTR English, and all other bow elements of comparable lethality, be given a +3 versus foot, and all foot troops be given a +3 versus ranged combat except for those like Ps which are currently +2 versus foot. This would enable Lb a realistic chance of being able to reduce the ranks of the foot troops attacking them before meeting them in close combat. I could see troops drilled in shield wall tactics perhaps getting +4 versus ranged combat (e.g. the Roman testudo formation), but that might be as unusual amongst Sp and even more unusual amongst Bd than the HYW-English-caliber is amongst Bw!

The longbow also had an appreciably longer range than many other bows, and well-trained troops had a high rate of fire. This combination warrants an extension of the Lb range from 200p to 300p, simulating directly the longer range and indirectly the increased weight of fire that could be brought to bear on the enemy before closing with them. Alternatively, I suppose, one could allow Lb 2 rounds of ranged combat each bound, but this isn't as elegant a solution within the existing game mechanics as simply increasing the range. Arguing that other bows should have their game ranges reduced to less than 200p is ludicrous in that it would become too easy for any troop type to avoid exposing itself to any ranged combat before closing for close combat.

I certainly agree with reducing the Lb movement rate to 200p. What I am still quite uncertain about, though, is whether the die-if-beaten-by-mounted that regular Bw are subject to is just as relevant for the more heavily-armored and more melee-capable Lb troops. Maybe it is; I'll need to do more reading before deciding.

Ken Blackley: I think it can be argued that the longbowmen is already well represented by the DBA bow class. English longbows won some great victories, but mostly in situations that would give them victory as bows in DBA. Let's look at some of the potential historical matchups English Longbow face in DBA terms:

  • Bows versus Pikes: Pikes are dead meat against massed bows. An advancing pike is at 2-1 when shot at by three longbow units. Even if the pike isn't destroyed, he is probably recoiled, making it difficult for the pike line to close. And when the pike unit finally does make contact, it fights without any rear support, and probably facing overlaps. The situation gets much worse over boggy ground. And if the longbowmen have artillery present, they can force the Scottish sciltrons to advance, often over bad ground. Sounds about right to me.
  • Bow versus Knights: Needless to say, this is a no-winner for the knights. Unless the knight has a God-given gift with the dice, his knights will be recoiled or killed on the approach, and then slaughtered by the longbow quick-kill on contact. Crecy, anyone?
  • Bow versus Bow: Except for one or two cases, massed longbows never faced massed crossbows. The most notable exception was at Crecy, where the longbow badly outshot the Genoese crossbows. But the longbowmen heavily outnumbered their Genoese foes. In DBA if two bows shoot against one bow, odds are the lone unit will be defeated. Without direct evidence that equal numbers of longbows could outshoot an equal number of crossbows. one could argue that bow-versus-bow in DBA does a good job depicting crossbows versus longbows.
  • Bow versus blades: this is the one that gets most people upset. Blades can make mincemeat out of bows in DBA. But blades did fair well against longbows historically. Look at the Wars of the Roses, where both sides featured dismounted men-at-arms (blades), billmen (blades) and longbows. Longbows are rarely mentioned in any battle accounts, and the battles were decided by melee, not by missile fire. At Poitiers, the Prince of Wales, realizing the futility of meeting the final French division with his longbowmen, mounted his knights and destroyed the enemy blades that way. At Agincourt, the advancing French blades were defeated; but this was over bad ground, which gives blades a -2 melee factor in DBA. The French line was disjointed by archers fire, and then destroyed in melee. A lone advancing blades fight at 1-2 against double-overlapping bows in the bad going.

So, where's the problem? DBA bows are lethal against Scots pikes and French mounted knights, as they were historically. They are just as good as French crossbows, but will usually outnumber them, and can slaughter advancing French knights. They are also rendered largely ineffective by blades, as they were in WOTR and by French foot knights advancing over good ground.. Heck, they are even poor against artillery, as they were at Castillion and Formigny.

Phillippe de Commynes, in his eyewitness account of the Battle of Montlherey remarks that longbowmen are needed to be present in great numbers for them to be of any use. This fits well into the DBA depiction of the longbow as a weapons whose main superiority over other bows is that there are usually more of them! Raising the Lbs combat factor to 3 versus infantry would distort the longbowmen's strength and do no more than continue the myth of the longbowmen as some sort of medieval "super-soldier.

However, what should be changed the current dismounting rules. Medieval knights did not dismount during battle; this was done at deployment. Allowing Knights to turn into Blades in front of the Bows is not only unhistorical, it is damaging to game balance, and makes it impossible to recreate many of the battles of the Hundred Years' War.


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Last Updated: Nov. 28, 2002

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