Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Focus On .... Welsh Javelins

The Welsh faction's unique style comes in the form of the way their battleboard caters for the hit and run tactics of the Dark Ages Welsh peoples. All troop types are capable of carrying and throwing Javelins. They are very much a skirmish force and not designed for close combat. They can be mounted, but suffer more penalties for doing so due to a lack of armour. How can you utilise this hit and run force? Here are the rules from page 44 of the Main Rulebook...

"Welsh Warlords are equipped with javelins. They may be mounted on horses.”

“Welsh Warriors and Hearthguard are equipped with javelins, but due to their lack of armour and protection, they have their armour value reduced by one against enemy shooting…”

“Welsh Warriors and Hearthguard may be mounted on horses (and this would also decrease their Armour against shooting by one…)”

“Welsh Levies are equipped with bows, slings or javelins”.

To see what Javelins do in the game here are the rules from Page 23 of the Main Rulebook...

"Javelins may be used the end of a Movement activation. Immediately after movement, if the unit has no figures engaged in melee with the enemy, the unit may perform Shooting as part of that activation. This doesn't count as a a separate activation, and doesn't generate additional FATIGUE.

Gripping Beast Welsh Warriors - painted
Painted Gripping Beast models from their Saga Welsh range

When it comes to boosting the combat or defense abilities of the Welsh, the options on the battleboard include...

Hit and Run - This is a reactive ability that acts as a counter to an enemy unit activation and allows you to activate one unit of your own within M of that enemy unit. You can't engage melee, but you can use it to back away OR to get in some javelin shooting before the enemy impact you in combat!

The Deadly Strike - When shooting with Javelins the enemy unit Armour is reduced by one and you can re-roll any failed attack dice. Nice indeed.

Taunting - allows you to draw out an enemy unit towards yours. Can be useful to pull units into missile range. Combined with other abilities, could well be devastating.  editor's note- this is AWESOME against norman horsies!

The Rising Out - you can activate all Warriors and Levies though not for melee. You can picture the 'scoot and shoot' javelin effect this can have on your enemy.

When searching for strengths on the Saga Welsh faction you also need to look at other battleboard abilities. With 'Holy Ground' and 'Children of the Land', you can see that the Welsh can make excellent use of hit and run tactics and to slow down the enemy a little. The Welsh faction is all about keeping away from melee for as long as possible, using Javelin hit and run to weaken the enemy, then strike for the objective at the right time. Making use of difficult terrain is a must especially against mounted forces like Norman Knights. The ability in Saga of the Welsh units to be activated for movement possibly up to their exhaustion limit and each time deliver a shower of javelins make them highly prized missile troops. If you have at least one large foot unit (say 12 Warriors) you can deliver a lot of firepower onto an enemy unit in a single turn. Following this up with a charge into melee using the 'Strength Lies in Numbers' battleboard ability to boost the Attack dice.)

What are the weaknesses of this type of force? Any enemy with good shooting abilities will be a threat. Normans seem to be a good example here. You need to neutralise enemy bow and crossbow troops quickly and also any mounted forces. Keeping away from fast moving mounted enemy is also a key. Keep you foot troops in difficult going (Children of the Land!) and behind cover to keep their armour defence up. You are not fearless Viking warriors. Your skill lies in shrewdness, accuracy with the javelin and running into the mountains to live to fight another day.

One other tactic discussed across forums about the Welsh is their ability to use the mounted hearthguard or warrior armed with the javelin. This makes for a unit that is both susceptible to missile fire but equally is capable of moving 12 inches then throwing javelin 6 inches and then being retreated 12 inches. This gives it a reach of 18 inches or metric equivalent when moving and throwing and then a second activation to retreat it. This puts it out of reach of all but extended bow fire from Normans (or a couple of movement activation of cavalry!) making them less likely to be charged by enemy infantry.

There is an excellent article on this Sagatapestry site about mounted Welsh troops by VAeric....(link)

mounted Welsh warriors
Fearsome mounted Welsh Warriors with javelins

This leads on to the historical part of this faction. How realistic are the Saga Welsh and their skirmishing javelin throwing tactics with their Dark Ages counterparts?

Not a huge amount seems to have been recorded about the battle tactics of the Welsh in the Dark Ages. Much of what we know comes from the way they lived (society) and later in the post Norman Conquest of the early medieval tactics used against the English.

Typically, the Welsh would not fight in flat, open ground as this favoured mounted units such as Norman Knights. 

a typical javelin
What about the weapon itself, what was the Welsh javelin like? A typical javelin is around 6 to 7 feet long and is basically a light spear that could be used as a hand to hand thrusting weapon. The Welsh version of this weapon has possibly been described as 'not unlike the Roman pilum'. Given this information, it tells us that these weapons were designed to deliver a potentially deadly blow at an effective range of around 20 metres. Also, a hit could slow the opponent down by penetrating shield and armour - reducing the enemy defensive ability (gaps in the shieldwall / dropped shields).

For the mounted soldier, a horsemen was not unknown to have carried up to 10 javelin into battle.

Welsh tactics very much revolved around foot troops attacking from the cover of trees, scrub or rock, throwing their javelins and then retreating before the enemy could follow up. The Welsh used speed at the expense of armour, keeping armour light or non-existent and shields small and round (buckler size). Enemy warriors on horses or foot with heavier armour would find it impossible to pursue their lightly armoured enemy into forested or mountainous terrain. Once the Welsh had softened up their targets, then they would move in for the coup-de-grace, typically accompanied by loud shouting and screaming. Usually this would consist of clan or family groups working together but not necessarily in a greatly co-ordinated way as a whole to achieve their aims. If the warband took a beating they would slip away only to come back the next day with renewed vigour.

The response to this was learned through losses in battle. The Vikings kept mainly to the southern coastal areas. The Normans would wait until the Welsh moved off the lower lying land as part of their cycle of subsistence farming. They would quickly build wooden motte-and-bailey castles as a base to control the local populace. There is at least one report that English forces were ordered to strip off their chain mail to allow pursuit of the Welsh.

You can see from the above that Saga has taken the abilities of a fast, light infantry force with hit and run tactics and used that to build the flavour of the Welsh Battleboard. One area that seems to be in contention with history is the use of mounted troops in Saga. Historically, it seems that the Welsh tended to fight on foot, with cavalry dismounting to fight in battles. Notably, Welsh bow are at least once remarked to have been able to deliver a decent "parthian shot" over-the-shoulder as they retreated. In regard to the javelin, I find it hard to envisage throwing a javelin from horseback with any great accuracy. I can only marvel at the skill required to do this. One thing the Welsh were reported as doing is to spend a lot of their spare time honing their fighting skills!

Here is another link to a great blog of Saga-fest (link). The image below comes from this site and shows a group of Welsh Levy armed with Javelins.
Welsh Levy armed with Javelin - source: http://dusttears.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/wyvern-wargamers-saga-day-15th-september.html
Welsh Levy about to hurl their javelins

Ultimately, I think the Saga Welsh faction have a lot of character and make for a skirmish force that a thoughtful player can use to great effect. They make a distinct contrast to the combat oriented Vikings and the cavalry of the Norman faction.

About the Author: "ambler" / Mike lives in the North West of the UK. After years of RPG's and GW wargaming he now plays in a long running Amber Diceless RPG and plays Flames of War at the NWGC in Stockport. Saga is a recent addition to the games-under-the-belt collection. Check out his blog: www.not2oldtowargame.wordpress.com

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