As we examined in the previous volume of these Chronicles, raiding is an important feature of the period covered by Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain. As a consequence, if you are playing a Briton faction, you better be prepared to suffer significant harm and desolation from marauding raiders. But that does not mean you are helpless in trying to mitigate, punish, or even deter these depredations, as you are going to see forthwith.
In the 3rd century AD, the barbarian pressure on the borders of the Roman Empire contributed, along with other internal factors, to the major crisis which threatened the very existence of the Empire (for more on this, see GMT Games’ Time of Crisis on P500). As a result, among the many reforms initiated by Diocletian and his successors, a major reorganization of the Roman military took place. Gone were the thirty or so legions garrisoned near the borders, replaced with a three-tier systems of limitanei (border guards), comitatenses (mobile regional armies) and palatini (elite troops under direct control of the emperor, at least nominally). As the barbarian pressure relented very little throughout the 4th century, this was complemented by a refortification of the cities throughout the provinces to shelter the populations and provide strong points for military operations.
The role of the limitanei, posted in forts in strategic locations, was to regulate the border in peace time, and stop small raiding parties, but they never were meant to stop a major raid or invasion. In such a situation, they were to secure the strong walls of the cities where the population would find shelter, and wait for the mobile field army. This strategy deliberately let the raiders ravage the countryside, loading themselves with plunder, while protecting the populations and denying them lasting control, as barbarian bands were typically ill-equipped and unfit for complex and lengthy siege operations. Once the comitatenses, typically cavalry these days, arrived on location, they would, in liaison with the local troops and authorities, try to deny the barbarians forage and water, and eventually crush them, hopefully discouraging other would-be raiders back home to dare defy the might of the Empire next time.
The situation in Britain was a little bit particular as it was an island, with only the northern frontier susceptible to land infiltration, with the continuous wall famously built by the emperor Hadrian in the 3rd century, and, at least as importantly, its buffer of client kingdoms to its North, providing a fairly efficient barrier. As a result, most of the raiding, including from the northern British Celts known as the Picti, took place by sea.
Starting in the 3rd century, Germanic raiders sailing from the long lowland coast stretching from Frisia to Jutland, plagued the coasts of Britain and Gaul. Known to the Romans as Saxoni, their depredations prompted the creation of a special command known as the Count (Comes) of the Saxon Shore (not because it was populated with Saxons, but because it was threatened by them) in Britain, and of the Armorican coast in Gaul, based around a number of coastal fortresses from which operated squadrons of picati warships.
In the meantime, Celts from Hibernia (Ireland), known as Scotti (or Scoti – the term, which gave us our “Scots”, seems to have had a similar meaning as “Viking” in later Scandinavia) had been crossing the Irish Sea in their small shallow-draft curraghs to raid the plum British countryside and capture slaves and valuable hostages for ransom. Unlike the Saxons, their attacks were usually more of a low-intensity, pervading nuisance, and, possibly because rich Roman cities and villas were sparser in the West, never prompted the establishment of a similar “Scotti Shore” system.
In game terms, just like the late Roman Imperial system, counter-raider warfare in Pendragon is a multi-layered affair. The first layer is made of the sea and border patrols which, as explained in the previous issue of the Chronicles, reduce the number of raiders in each raid by the number of Dux Forts bordering the sea or off-map region (Caledonia) from which the raid is originating. To ensure that these patrols have an impact, the Britons should make sure to protect and maintain the said Forts, and, as long as possible, to force the Barbarians to come by sea or over the Wall, i.e. to try to deny them island bases from which raids can be launched, circumventing these patrols. Eventually though, events elsewhere will probably compromise the continuation or extent of these patrols, and the growing barbarian presence on the island will render this layer essentially inoperative.
The second layer is offered by the strength of the walls of the Briton strongholds, especially those with strong Roman walls, i.e. the Towns and Dux Forts. In case of attack, Briton units can withdraw behind these walls, within the limit of their Holding Capacity (2 units for a Hillfort or Fort, 4 for a Town, up to 6 and 8 for the two Cities, Eboracum and Londinium). There, they are immune from field battle, and enjoy strong defensive advantages if the enemies decide to try their luck in an assault on their walls. However, they can be vulnerable to a coup de main if insufficiently garrisoned…
Sheltering behind strong walls will do nothing to prevent the Barbarians from plundering the countryside but will preserve forces and, usually, Control of the region, as raiders do not contest Control, and the possession of a Stronghold is required for Control. Control is important for many game functions, including the Civitates’ victory conditions, but, more to the point here, it is also essential for the next layer of the defensive system, Interception!
Intercept is a Dux Command that allows Dux troops to move and battle in the same action! Even worse for the Barbarians, as for the Dux March Command, such a move is not restricted to adjacent spaces but can move along Controlled Roads as far as desired! Obviously, there are some limitations, starting with the fact that this Command can only target Raiders, not true troops such as Warbands. More importantly, an Intercept can only take place between Controlled spaces, representing the need for local informants and support to allow the mobile troops to effectively fight marauders. Hence the importance for raiders of destroying Briton Strongholds in order to prevent a lightning counterattack. Nonetheless, the hard-hitting Dux troops are the backbone of counter-raider defences, providing the hammer to smash raider bands against the anvil of the Briton Strongholds.
Even if an Intercept is not possible, either due to a lack of Control or scarcity of funds or troops, regular troops like the Civitates Militia can battle raiders at their turn, in all likelihood streaming from their strongholds, and possibly calling on reinforcements from neighbouring spaces through their Reinforce Feat. However, if troops have to be Marched into the attacked region first, the likelihood of the raiders having returned to their boats and villages with their ill-gotten gains before they can be brought to battle becomes very high.
It is to be noted that raiders often are not interested in a fight, especially when confronted with an overwhelming force, and so will typically try to evade these counter-attacks. This is where the nature of the terrain becomes key, as the Scotti are particularly adept at melting into the woods and hills of the Western and Northern parts of Britain, while the Saxons are at home in the marshy fens of Eastern Britain. They may even on occasions feel bold enough to try to spring an ambush and turn the tables on their would-be destroyers! Nonetheless, the clear terrain and dense road network in the core regions of Roman Britain, which also tend to be the wealthiest, tend to become ideal killing grounds for those raiders who dare trespass there…
Finally, it is important to consider the higher level of the struggle, beyond each individual raid: just like the steady erosion of revenue from sustained raiding will eventually constrain the ability of the Britons to defend themselves effectively, it is vital for the Britons to deny as much as possible the Barbarians the product of their depredations by destroying the raiding parties before they can Return. Not only will it limit the opportunities for Barbarians to Settle on British land to contest Control and create better bases for further raids, but starving them of Renown is the best way to prevent or at least limit further raids, at least until the next Epoch Round where Saxon and Scotti Renown if too low, will be reset at a minimal value, representing the emergence of new leadership if you have been able to destroy the reputation of the current leaders, earning yourself at least a respite from the tides of fire and blood…
We have been alluding to Field Battles and Assaults in many occasions in this and the previous installment of the Pendragon Chronicles, time to look at these in more detail in the next installment!