Saturday 15 February 2020

Polemos: SPQR Clarifications

Polemos: SPQR Clarifications
JWH has asked a few questions on PM: SPQR so I thought I’d have a bash at answering them here. The answers are not guaranteed – time, writing other rules, changing my thinking, and my own encroaching lack of familiarity with the rules might have changed some things.

I recently played a game of PM:SPQR and was a bit surprised by some of the rules. compared to more recent rules I have written, there are an awful lot of tempo points around, which changes the balance. particularly for skirmishers, quite a lot. I am still pondering....


What exactly is the pursuit rule in Polemos SPQR? There doesn't appear to be a place in the rules where everything is described together but as far as I can make out...

1 - Light Horse, Cavalry and Tribal Foot which rout their target must pursue in the next movement phase. Other troops can choose whether to pursue or not.

Yes, p. 33.

2 - As routing bases move in their next (and subsequent) movement phases, it is possible that the pursuing base will catch the routed base. What happens in these circumstances?
3 - Routed bases "move as fast as possible" which I think should be 3BW for anyone on a horse, 2 BW for anyone on foot. How fast do pursuing bases move? Does this change over time

The idea is that routed bases move at 3 BW for mounted, 2 BW on foot – note that they will have recoiled first in most cases as well, putting them 3.5 or 2.5 BW away from the pursuers – and they don’t slow down. Pursuing bases go at top speed for the first move, one BW less for the next and so on until they are moving at 1 BW. There is no effect of pursuers contacting already routed bases.

4 - Pursuing bases get 2 "terrain" (i.e. not from casualties) shaken levels when "rallying from pursuit". Do the bases get shaken from the moment they begin pursuing or from the moment they begin rallying?

From starting to pursue; it is to represent the disorder of the ‘tally ho’ moment. If the pursuers are contacted while pursuing, they are in some trouble, which seems about right.

5 - If routing bases contact a friendly base that they cannot burst through, the base is removed. What do pursuing bases do at that point?

Carry on pursuing. Just because the base is removed, that simply means it no longer even remotely looks like a coherent body running away. It doesn’t mean that there is no-one to pursue.

Foot Skirmishing:

6 - Foot skirmishers have a range of 2BW. They may move 1BW towards or away from their targets in their movement bound but must pay TPs to do so if they move do not remain in ranged combat range (i.e. 2BW). But this means that foot skirmishers are always in charge range of even foot opponents - is this intended?

Yes. The secret is, therefore, not to skirmish foot with foot skirmishers. I think I would change the eligibility to charge unshaken enemies to only cavalry, chariots and tribal foot now, and I’m not sure about chariots.


7 - "Bases moving into charge range of legitimate targets must declare a charge". Is it intended that this should take place immediately the base moves into charge range, or done in the next player phase?
Next phase.

8 - If the charge does not happen, then must the opposing side declare a charge in its turn or not? Does this differ depending upon whether the opposing side's base is halted or advancing?

No, they don’t have to counter charge and no, it doesn’t matter if they are halted or advancing.

9 - Roman legionaries are rubbish at charging (typically factor 0, +1 for being armoured versus +2 for tribal foot/auxilia enemies, +4 for pike enemies). Is it intended that the Romans, when advancing, should move within 2BW - declare a charge next turn, probably fail - if the opposition does not launch its own charge, the legionaries then advance towards the opposition and (hopefully) simply advance to contact?

It isn’t really intended that the legionaries should charge at all – only in exceptional cases do they appear to have done so (Caesar at Pharsalus is the only case I can think of). Hence the rule change I noted above for charge eligibility. The Romans’ best tactic, I think, is simply to advance, not declare a charge (rule change q. v.) hope to hold the barbarians on the first turn of combat and then hit back in the second. A second line of legionaries is always useful in these circumstances.

Ranged Combat:

10 - In the ranged combat example on p.29, is the -1 modifier "for each extra base shooting at the same target" misapplied? Surely there is no extra base shooting at Parthians-1 & Parthians-2 and what should have happened is that Romans-1 fires at either Parthians1 or Parthians-2? Or alternatively, Romans-1 and Romans-2 fire together at Parthians-2 only, and then the modifier is applied?

Yes, somehow that factor got badly mangled between writing, proof reading and printing – I’ve no idea how that happened, or where. Anyway, the ‘-1 each extra base shooting at the same target’ (p. 27 ranged combat) does not apply in the p, 29 example. If the Parthians were shooting back, one of the Roman bases would get a -1. I suspect the P’s and R’s got mangled, or there was in fact a much longer example edited for space reasons.


It just goes to show that writing rules isn’t that simple a job. We made a conscious effort not to try to cover all options in the rules as it is an impossible task and only lands up with incomprehensible prose which causes much argument and as many questions as a looser approach. Language being what it is, there will always be ambiguities; the Polemos approach is for the players to find a way which suits them and is believable for them.

Still, I hope the above helps and, if it doesn’t, that you’ll let me know. As it says somewhere, the rules are not carved in stone and, if something doesn't make sense, we can change it.


  1. Not so much a rules question, as a history question: how do you think that foot skirmishers should operate in this period?

    1. In SPQR they operate as a sort of ablative front to heavier infantry, and can recoil through a column of the latter. That seems to be OK historically.

      If operating on their own, I think the base is a safe core for the troops, who are sent out in smaller clusters to throw javelins, sling stones or shoot arrows at the enemy. In that case the claim of 75 men per base doesn't work, they should be the same number as ordinary bases.

      In the ancient period, of course, skirmishers could win battles - they were able to charge shaken enemy formations. I suspect that we underestimate their capabilities.

    2. Late to the party but interested in adapting PM for use in the dark ages. Things I an toying with...grids. I think PM would be speeded up and simplified without sacrificing the core mechanics. Being single bases would work well I think in square grids.

    3. Yes, I think that could work. One of the early playtests of PM:ECW was conducted on an Excel spreadsheet, after all. The key is in the troop definitions, I think. Please keep us posted how you get on.

  2. I certainly will. I have a very unhealthy interest in rulesets! Might even get a mention in Slingshot since I am the current editor šŸ˜‰