Saturday, 22 September 2012

Terrain Troubles

As some of you may be aware, I am running a (solo) campaign in a fictionalised Europe of the Roman era. It is fictionalised because I want to use both Late Republican and Early Empire troops. If you are not aware of this, you can find out by hitting the ‘Fuzigore’ posts on the blog, but I doubt if it will make much difference to what is below.

In Fuzigore, I have recently arrived at my first battle. I did this ‘properly’ for want of a better word. The movement of the two armies was plotted on hex paper, using a map I copied from an old road atlas of France. The protagonists are, of course, two tribes in my country of Cillag, who are the real world equivalents of Gauls.

Those of you with good memories will realise from the above that I must have finished painting the second Polemos army of said Gauls, which is quite correct. I have also finished eight half bases of civilians (my noble role playing character Ocram is with one of the armies as a civilian observer). This is the end (more or less) of the first phase of my ‘doubling’ project, which aims to provide tow each of the listed Polemos armies. This arises because, of any given nation in the time of the Romans, the answer to the question ‘Who did they fight most?’ is usually ‘Themselves’.

But I digress.

I have decided to try to do the terrain in a decent manner, not least because I would like a photo-record of the battles for my war diary. The armies are now in contact, in the real world a bit south of La Rochelle. The battlefield is fairly open with a few woods and two settlements.

Here, my troubles with terrain begin.

The settlements are not, in truth, too much of a problem. I have some old Baccus hovels which are already painted, so basing them up and making them look pretty, or at least similar to the bases of the soldiers is not a major problem. I did toy with the idea of making roundhouses out of card, but found it is very hard to make a card roundhouse round, so my citizens of Cillag will have to be content with longhouses.

The woods do not present too much of a problem, although I am thinking of making the sort of ‘roof wood’ that is described in the DBA rules, which consists of a base, some stalks to support the roof, and a roof with lichen on it to show the wood itself. I might; I will see how time goes.

The real problem I hit, however, was the enclosures.

Now, the issue is not materials. Over the years I have collected a fair bit of hedging in 6 mm scale. In fact, I discovered an alarming quantity of hedges in my terrain box, and so I happily sat down to consider how to use it. It came in single hedges of about four inches in length, and it is here that I hit a problem.

A 100 mm strip of hedge is, in 6 mm scale, 100 feet long. That is fine, and so a square of these hedge strips would constitute a reasonably sized ancient field.

However, in the ground scale of the rules, 40 mm is 200 paces, or, put another way, 10 mm is 50 paces and so 100 mm is 500 paces. This seems to be getting a bit big.

I case you do not believe me here, an acre is what a man can plough in a day, at least in medieval terms, and is 4840 square yards. 500 by 500 paces is 25000 square paces, which is a far too large an area of the battlefield.

Now I know that probably the farming would have been in strips, so the fields would have been bigger, but 50 or so strips seems to be a bit big.

I have mentioned before the dissonance there is between the figure scale on out wargames table and the battle scale. The terrain, as I mentioned there, is the mediator between the two. Buildings, it seems are not that much of a problem, on the whole you stick to the figure scale. Trees too are general of the figure scale. Even the hedges I have are the correct scale for 6 mm figures, being about 8 mm high.

But the area of enclosures seems to be a bit of an issue.

Looking at my rule sets, it seems that most dodge the issue. An area of enclosures is a set of fields and hedges, and does not need to be represented accurately on the wargame table because you need to get troops in and out and so just some representation of hedges or walls is sufficient.

I confess that Polemos: SPQR also dodges the issue, suggesting that a bit of felt with a few representative hedges on it is sufficient.

Having tried this out I am no longer so sure. A scattering of hedges does not look the part, I fear. But a full blown figure scale field is far, far too big for the ground scale of the table. So I am in a bit of a quandary.

Perhaps I should just experiment until I find something that looks right, but I fear that all this pondering what we are doing while we wargame is hitting me. How can I have a game with fields on the table knowing that the scale of them is wrong, one way or another.

Normally, in a post like this, the last paragraph would be a stunning resolution of the problem, in this case a visually acceptable method of representing fields which both looks correct and is a reasonable scale representation of the ground in the tabletop battlefield.

Not so here, I think.  I am still struggling with this one, so in desperation I as the obvious question:

Is it just me?


  1. On reading this, I am struck by two questions.

    1. Would fields in this period in Gaul have been enclosed with hedges as you describe?
    I have not checked any texts for this, but I seem to recall that enclosures were a part of settlements, rather than around separate fields. If this is the case, then you could just model the enclosures at an appropriate scale onto the bases for the built-up areas.

    2. Would the fields have had a significant effect on units of troops, whose footprint was as large as that of that typical Polemos base?
    If the troops occupy a huge area, presumably the enclosures that would affect them and thus need to be modelled on the battlefield are large in their own right, which permits you to build larger enclosures.

    In the end, and assuming that the Gauls had enclosed fields, I would aim for an aesthetically pleasing solution that works for the game, rather than trying to get the perfect marriage between reality, figure scale and game scale.

    I realise that you already have 6mm terrain, but I have seen 6mm games played successfully on tables with 2mm terrain. These games looked good despite the difference in figure and terrain scale. You might consider taking that route, or aiming for keeping the vertical scale of your terrain in line with the figures while trying to match the horizontal scale to the rules. I hope these ideas give you some inspiration and I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  2. Not sure about hedges at all. I had thought that an ancient Gallic field system would be marked by a bank and ditch boundary.

    I'm with Ruaridh. Have it the right size for the ground scale and make it part of the village enclosure.

  3. I skip the entire issue and do not play with, or put down, hedges or fields for ancient games, whether in 6mm or 15mm.

  4. Well, thank you for the suggestions; at least I have managed to identify a problem, even if it is not an easily soluble one.

    I have, of course, no idea about how Gallic agriculture worked. I suppose it varied, depending on which region was under consideration.

    My thought on this did start when someone pointed out that the requirement for hedges was a result of needing to control stock - keeping them from eating or trampling corn, for example, or even eating their own winter pasture.

    I know that, for example, around some British hill forts there are elaborate ditch and bank creations, probably for stock control rather than defence (I have in mind Trimontium in the Borders, but I do not think it unique).

    I guess you are right, though - go for the correct look and feel and not worry about the details too much. I suppose this is a bit of a follow up to the WW2 post in some senses. We have to distort the ground scale to play the game.