The Pendragon Chronicles – Vol. 9 – The Fall

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Now that we have surveyed a range of individual aspects of Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain, we would like to see how they interact to transport us into the final travails of the Roman presence in Britain. As we discussed in the previous Chronicle on Imperium, Pendragon for the first time in the COIN Series not only provides a dynamic simulation of Britannia, it models the transformation of the island’s political-military-economic affairs from one system to another. While Andean Abyss enables you to enact the relations among diverse factions in modern Colombia to varying outcomes, the system of insurgency and counterinsurgency represented functions essentially the same at the end of the game as at the beginning. In Pendragon, we can begin in a diocese of the Roman Empire and end amidst warring kingdoms of the Dark Ages. To see how, we must view the behavior of Pendragon’s elements as a complex and interlocked whole.

Roman Diocese

Pendragon begins with the Roman imperial defense and governance in full operation. Consider our first systems map below, showing the key interactions within Britannia as Roman provinces bound to the wider Imperium:

As portrayed in the game, we see the central pillars of political-military Briton Control, economic Prosperity, and Briton Resources. These pillars are mutually reinforcing:

  • Control allows the Recovery of any lost Prosperity;
  • Prosperity ensures that enough Resources remain at hand;
  • Resources pay for the fortified Towns, Militia, Roman Forts, and Cavalry to defend Control.

The rest of the Empire via Imperium imposes a heavy drain on Briton Resources by levying Taxes. But it also helps sustain defenses by making any Cavalry that become Casualties Available again for Training and by maintaining the Roads so important for prompt Intercept of any Raiders that might appear ashore. Critically, the Imperium under Roman Rule also catalyzes the economic activity that enables full Prosperity (golden cubes in the top rows in Pendragon’s Regions).

The Scotti and Saxons send Raiders at this interlocking Roman defense, but their impact is too small to undo the equilibrium. The Roman system stood this way for generations upon generations, and might have continued to do so without some new shock.

The Fall

And that shock came during the late 4th and 5th Centuries AD. As a glance at our next systems map below reveals, affairs in Britannia became markedly more complex:

Nevertheless, within that schematic’s intricate web, we can track the shock’s cascading effects from right to left, in a summary of just one possible path:

  • A Conspiratio Barbarica [Event 73] kicks off great Barbarian migrations into the Empire. The knives are out, and Barbarian leaders and local conditions [38 Rising Seas and 58 Ard Ri, for example] add to an accelerated rate and volume of Raids on Britannia’s Prosperity;
  • The swarming Raiders not only put Britannia’s Prosperity under new stress, they mass sufficiently to Assault the Strongholds maintaining Briton Control and encourage Barbarian Warbands to Settle and place even more pressure on that territorial Control;
  • The loss of Control degrades the economic Recovery that once made up for the damage of Raids to Britannia’s Prosperity—now diminishing steeply and undercutting the ability of the diocese to raise Revenue in its defense;
  • The impact of the above economic downturn begins a vicious circle, in which fewer Briton Resources are at hand to restore expensive Roman Town walls, Build any new Roman Forts, Train Cavalry, or sustain campaigns of Interception against the next waves of Raiders. Even more Raiders get through to Briton Prosperity and get back with Plunder to feed even more Raids. Cavalry pressure on any new Warbands and Settlements diminishes as well, putting yet more stress on Briton Control;
  • Searching for an escape from the vortex, the Britons Invite Foederati to fill the defensive gaps. But these Barbarian mercenaries here and there turn on their paymasters, only accelerating Barbarian Settlement—even while channeling scarce Briton Resources via Annona to Barbarian Renown fueling yet more Raids;
  • Curtailed Briton Control and Prosperity shake confidence in the Imperium itself.

And now—at the moment of maximum pressure on the Roman system—the key weakness of the larger Empire manifests in miniature on Britannia. While the Dux benefits politically from the Barbarian Conspiracy, amassing Prestige as they stand valiantly between the island and the interlopers, the Civitates soon feel that Rome’s protection leaves much to be desired, and that they can no longer safely indulge in their privileged position.

Consequently, the temptation to take the diocese’s administration in their own hands becomes more and more overwhelming. But seizing political control (Dominance in game terms) calls for massive lordly Wealth, and poses a direct challenge to the position of the military Dux. As Briton Cooperation progressively breaks down, security is further jeopardized. To meet the growing threats on their own, the civilian lords must embrace anew the ancient military traditions of the British Celts, and field Comitates loyal only to them. But raising and maintaining Comitates constitutes another drain on Wealth, compromising the Civitates’ ability to maintain Dominance…

The battle for internal Dominance is on: a drain of effort and Resources from counter-Raiding and—more catastrophically—a challenge to the health of the Imperium itself [for example, via [80 Cutting the Ties or 75 Coel hen], as both parties scramble for ways to break the deadlock in their favor. And the deterioration of the Imperium begins to tear down the Roman defense system entire. With Briton Autonomy and ultimately Fragmentation, fewer Cavalry are restored from Casualties, Roads so vital to Intercept fall into disrepair, and Prosperity now longer recovers to Roman-era living standards.

Warring Kingdoms

As the Barbarian Conspiracy ripples, a few new factors develop while many of those under stress fade from the scene, others are inherently episodic and lapse on their own. Our final systems map shows a diminished complexity to Britain’s affairs from the period of transformation, as the island settles into a new equilibrium—multilateral warfare among the proto-kingdoms that will eventually see ascendancy of the Saxon newcomers.

While temporary shocks such as the Conspiracy or individual Barbarian kings may no longer encourage waves of Raids, the Warbands and Settlements of the Saxons and Scotti already planted make Raiding the rest of the island easier. They simultaneously give rise to Scotti and Saxon Control—in direct tension with Briton Control but also contributing a bit to Recovery and thus easing downward pressure on Prosperity.

At the same time, Fragmentation of the Imperium leads to independent Dux Control and Dux Resources. The Factions are now locked into a direct and rather symmetrical four-way contest. Fortified Towns, Foederati, and the issue of Civitates-Dux Dominance are still there, but with diminished influence over developments, as new forces and war for Control eclipse them.

As the Chronicle on Imperium noted, none of the shocks and outcomes just outlined are foreordained. The Imperium may weather the Barbarian invasions, the Britons’ internal struggle over civil-military Dominance may fail to escalate, Barbarian Warbands and Settlements may fail to sustain a lodgment. As you play, you will recognize the fundamental interactions we depict here and—we hope—look for the particular cascades and spirals that your path engenders.

If our depictions here of the Fall appear over wrought or confusing, bear in mind that these illustrations are actually simplifications—a distillation of the full complexity that Pendragon’s simulation of Roman Britain will bring to dynamic life on your table. It is a magic power of boardgames that they can reveal to us and immerse us in an understanding of intricate historical affairs far more readily than any prose or static two-dimensional drawing.  We hope that you will agree that Pendragon casts just such an amazing magic.

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5 thoughts on “The Pendragon Chronicles – Vol. 9 – The Fall

  1. I have enjoyed these designer’s notes immensely. This is one of my favorite periods and the care and detail involved in bringing to the board the intricate, intertwined nature of the fall of Roman Britain is evident in these reports. Very much look forward to the publication of this game.