Sunday, 30 September 2012

Heraldry 101, part 5 - charges, and arranging them

Now we have fields, divisions and ordinaries, we can move on to more interesting things: charges, and how they're arranged on a shield.

Here are a few example blazons with some of the more common charges.

A five-pointed star is known as a mullet, so the blazon for this shield would be argent, a mullet gules.

If the star has a different number of points, it's blazoned as a mullet of N points.

A circle is known as a roundel, so this shield would be described as argent, a roundel gules. Just to be awkward, there are exceptions to this, as there are to a number of heraldic charges. Specifically, in the case of a roundel or, it's more correctly blazoned as a beazant.

Next up we have a sword, which is heraldically known as... a sword, surprisingly enough. So here we have vert, a sword argent. To be really specific, we have a sword argent, hilted or.

If we had the sword point down, it would be referred to as inverted.

As I noted in the section on the rule of tincture, secondary colourings, like hilts of swords etc, don't have to obey the rule.

This next one is a nod to the arms of France. The strange leafy thing is called a fleur-de-lys, and is a remarkably common heraldic charge.

Now, obviously, we can blazon this azure, three fleurs-de-lys or, but that doesn't tell us anything about how they're arranged. In this case, they're in a horizontal line... a fess, in fact. So we blazon this shield as azure, three fleurs-de-lys in fess or. Notice again how the colour adjective comes right at the end.

If they were arranged vertically, they would be in pale, and I'm sure you've already figured out the analogous terms in bend and in chevron.

 And here we have the humble arrow, in this case, sable, three arrows palewise in fess argent, barbed and fletched or.

Ok. It's a bit of a mouthful, but there's a couple of important things here. Note  that we said palewise in fess. This means the individual arrows are palewise, or in other words pointing up and down like a pale, but as a group they are arranged in fess.

Conversely, this very similar shield would be sable, three arrows fesswise in pale argent, barbed and fletched or.

Like a sword, the arrow has its own terms for the secondary bits of colouring, as do many other charges. In many cases it should be obvious from the blazon, but here's an example of one that might not be, and our last, most complex blazon for this post.

So, here we have or, a rose gules slipped and leaved proper; on a chief azure, two roses argent.

Note that the main rose is blazoned as slipped and leaved, which means it has a stem and leaves. In this case they're blazoned proper but I could have got away with slipped and leaved vert.

The roses on the chief are ordinary heraldic white (Yorkshire) roses, and that's what you get if you just blazon a rose of any colour.

That's it for this post. Next up, animals. Predominantly lions, 'cause heralds are fond of lions!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Battle Report - 26 Sep 2012 - IABSM3 again

Apologies for the lull in posting - I've been pulling 10+ hour days at work the past week, and frequently the last thing I want to see after work is a computer. Hence you've been living a bit on pre-written posts :D

Wednesday night at Gavin's saw a rematch of the previous IABSM scenario, but with the rôles reversed, and me playing the Germans against Pete and Matt, with Gavin umpiring.

Some of the resources at my disposal.
I deployed a platoon of infantry along the northern edge of the wood, along with a Pak40 and a tank killer squad with a Panzerschrek and my FOO, and waited. The British opening artillery stonk shook up a few sections and took out a couple of the Pak40 crew - could have been worse.

The advancing British.
Fairly early on I spotted a couple of platoons of British (despite a little confusion with how many dummy blinds the British were allowed) but couldn't get the Axis Blinds card to call in some mortar fire - and once I did, couldn't get the Axis Support card for it to arrive.

In the meantime, the British had spotted something in the woods, but weren't sure what, so one of the British Big Men bravely snuck up for a better look and found the Pak40.
"My word, chaps. A Jerry anti-tank

A couple of infantry sections opened up on it, and despite it being dug in, it took a fair amount of damage. And finally the Axis Support card came up.... and I blew the roll.

The Germans in the woods open fire.
One of the British sections came up to the nearer hedge, so I deployed a couple of sections off blinds and opened up. Most gratifying, as the section in question took four casualties and about ten shock, and didn't stick around.

About then, one blind of British tanks deployed and commenced unloading on the Pak40, to surprisingly little effect. And finally! An Axis Support card and a successful roll.

Not a bad result: one British section pinned and rather shocked, and one blind, which I suspected was tanks, reduced to zero actions for the turn.

The following turn, they made the smart choice and deployed off blinds. On my blinds card, I deployed the PanzerKnacker squad and the PanzerSchrek...
"Here, Hans. You did know this
is the last round for the
PanzerSchrek, yes?"

Just in range of the lead Sherman, too. Which was nice.

The next turn saw the card for the PankerSchrek come up before the Shermans. Which was, as they say, also nice. Three actions, so fire, reload, fire.

"Ja. It was my lucky round."
First roll - double 1. Which means a) I miss, and b) the next shot is the last because the PanzerSchrek is out of ammo.

Oh well. Better make the most of it. Double six. I get to roll 16 dice (13 for the PanzerSchrek and 3 more for ambush) against the Sherman's 6, and beat it by four hits.
Result, a very satisfying KABOOM!

The Pak40 gets in trouble.
Under the trees further to the left, things weren't going so well - an infantry section close-assaulted the hapless Pak40 (which had managed one shot on a Sherman and quite convincingly missed), and that, predictably, was that for the crew.

That was followed by the two infantry sections under the trees getting picked on, one being down to zero actions (and only two men).

And sadly, about there, we ran out of time. Hopefully Gavin and the guys can finish this off sometime, in which case, watch his blog for the second half!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Probability for Wargamers 3 - Loot that Farm

Let's go back a couple of weeks to the last Dux Britanniarum battle Andy and I fought. Chris Stoesen commented on the battle report that it was a shame I didn't get the loot, and I was prompted to wonder, just how hard is it to get the loot?

Basically, to get the loot, you need to roll a 6, so how many rolls is it typically going to take? Let's rephrase that as 'how many times do you have to roll before you have a better than even chance of having succeeded?'

Obviously, on the first roll, you have a 1/6 chance of success, and therefore a 5/6, or 83.33%, chance of failure. What's our chance of success on exactly the second roll?

Actually, that's pretty easy. We need to fail on the first roll, and succeed on the second. That tell-tale "and" hints that we should multiply, so that's 5/6 * 1/6, or 5/36, which works out to 13.89%. Our chance of succeeding in no more than two rolls, then, is the chance of succeeding on the first roll, PLUS the chance of succeeding on the second having failed on the first, as these are mutually exclusive events (yes they are - think about it). That's 1/6 + 5/36, or 11/36, which is 30.56%.

But actually, there's an easier way, because we know the odds of failing twice - that's the odds of failing on the first roll AND the second. 5/6 * 5/6, or 25/36, or 69.44%. So the odds of not failing twice (i.e. succeeding on one of the first two rolls) is one minus that - 30.56%, as before. By extension, the odds of succeeding in three rolls or less is one minus the odds of failing all three, or (1 - 5/6*5/6*5/6).

I have to admit, at this point I bunged it in a spreadsheet, and it turns out, after filling down a few rows, that for a chance of succeeding more than half the time, you only need to make four rolls - 51.77%, to be exact.

Right - homework for this post. The rules actually say that if you roll a 1, there is no loot to find, and you can stop rolling dice. How does that change the odds? How many dice do you need to roll for a better than 50% chance of success now? The best method of attack might be to work out the chance of getting to roll again next time, and proceeding from there.

The answer will be in the next post, and may surprise you. I suspect it may surprise Mr. Clarke, too :D

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Battle Report - 24 Sep 2012 - IABSM3

Last night saw me umpire a game of IABSM at the club between Reuben (as the Germans) and Carl (British) - we used the opening scenario from the rulebook.

You will note the rules (on my iPad), Rueben's nice 15mm Germans and British (and please ignore the MG42 team's paint job, he says), and some custom made Warbases blinds markers, which I am very pleased with.

As an introduction to IABSM it went pretty well - I completely spaced on a couple of rules, but nothing that I didn't realise and fix (hint, the fire table returns hits not shock!) :D

Carl advanced until he found - the hard way - Reuben's two MMGs, which he'd separated and left one Big Man with each. It took him quite a bit of work to winkle them out of their well dug in positions, but he did, in the end. I suspect that Reuben could have done a little better if he'd supported them with one or both Zugs of infantry rather than left them on their own.

We ran out of time, but it would have been interesting to see if Carl had managed to winkle the two German Zugs out of the buildings.

Below are the very nice Warbases blinds markers - for those curious, the 10 markers (five of each design) plus postage came to £9, and I am as happy as a very happy thing. Debating whether to base a couple of scout-type figures or vehicles on each of the appropriate nationality and base them, or let them be. If you want some the same, I'm sure you can drop Martin from Warbases a line via and ask for 'the IABSM blinds like wot Mike 'ad' :D

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Probability for Wargamers 2 - The Gambler's Fallacy

I wasn't expecting to have to write this one, but it appears I do :D

The most common misconception about probability is SO common it has a name - The Gambler's Fallacy. It's the mistaken belief that past independent events affect future ones.

To explain it with an example: suppose you toss a coin five times and it comes up heads five times. Assuming its an unbiased coin, what is the probability of the next coin being a head?

The amusing thing here is the gambler's fallacy manifests itself in two ways here, depending on the person concerned: some people say 'it's bound to be another head', and some people say 'tails are due'. Both are wrong - this is, in fact, entirely irrational behaviour.

What if I'd tossed the coin in private, and it had come up heads five times in a row, and I hadn't told you, and asked you to say whether heads or tails was more likely? The odds are still evens, 50%, call it what you will. The coin doesn't have any memory of its previous tosses.

It does rear its head in more subtle ways: let's go back to the previous post. The chance of not getting a 3+ when rolling 3 dice (note, it doesn't matter if you roll three dice together or one after the other, or the same dice three times) is 3.7%. The chance of succeeding is therefore 96.3%.

What if you throw three dice one after the other, and fail on the first dice?

I'm pretty sure some people's (conscious or not) thought process would be "that's alright, Mike said I have a 96% chance of success on three dice, I'm still good!".


You're not. You now have to make 3+ on one of two dice. So the probability of failing to do so is the chance of rolling a 1 or 2 twice, which is 1/3 * 1/3, or 11%. Your chance of success has dropped to 89%.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Probability for Wargamers 1 - Hitting on a 3

This is going to be an occasional series on probability and statistics, and is largely going to set out to answer variants of the question 'just HOW hard was that?' or 'how ridiculously unlucky have I just been?'

For the first article, we'll go back to any number of games of WAB where I've demonstrated a prodigious ability to miss with the fair Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. This one's quite useful, because it covers both of the two basic concepts of probability, namely when to add probabilities and when to multiply them.

So, to hit in WAB you need to roll equal to or greater than a certain number on a d6. If we want to get three or more, say, then four possible numbers on the dice will get us that: 3, 4, 5 or 6. Each of these has a 1/6 chance of coming up assuming the dice aren't loaded, and since these are mutually exclusive events (we can't roll a 3 AND a 6 on the same roll of one dice, for example), we can add the probabilities, which gives us a 4/6 chance, or 66.67%, of rolling 4 or less.

What's the odds of failing?

That's easy. We know that success and failure are a) mutually exclusive events and b) the only possible outcomes, so the total probability for them must add up to 1, or 100%. Hence the odds on failing are 100% minus the odds of success, i.e. 2/6, 1/3, or 33.33%. (Yes, obviously it's the 1/6 chance of rolling a 1 plus the 1/6 chance of rolling a 2, but sometimes you'll find this trick much easier.)

So: what's the chance of my barbarian Queen, with three attacks on a 3+, not hitting at all? That means I have to fail with the first dice, AND the second, AND the third. That phrasing is a dead giveaway - these are independent events (whatever your superstitions about dice), and this means that in order to figure out the odds of them all happening, the rules say we can multiply the probabilities together. So, the odds of failing three times are 1/3 * 1/3 * 1/3, or 1/27, which works out at 3.70%.

Man, my dice rolling sucks!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

"To Britain's Shores" - Godric

And here is our narrator in all his glory. His mail coat's actually a little long for the period, but I'm rather fond of the figure (it's in fact one of the hero figures from GW's Lord of the Rings metals), and he was one of the first figures I painted after I picked up wargaming again.

Usual process - Citadel paints over a black Army Painter undercoat (it predates my conversion to Army Painter paints), Tamiya Dark Earth texture, Javis  Spring Green static grass. I may re-rebase him on a round base to match Leofric, or I may switch to the other near identical figure which is on a GW 25mm round base!

Next up, finding figures for Aelfric and Ecgwine.

As an aside - for those who hadn't noticed, Andy's report for the first game in the campaign is now up.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Battle Report - 17-Sep-2012 - Operation: Squad

Another club night - sadly AndyM couldn't make it for our scheduled game of IABSM3, so instead (since t'other Andy had likewise stood him up) Carl and I decided on a game of Operation: Squad.

The British mortar team find a nice safe spot to hide.
We set up a game with the Germans defending a small farm - a cluster of two buildings - against a reinforced British squad. I deployed the Panzergrenadiers along the hedge line in front of the farm, all except for the two MG34 teams which took up positions on the upper floors of the buildings.

It started off pretty well (once we'd remembered the rules!): I did lose a man to the British sniper, but Carl then sent his heavy machine gun team across the field, and one of the MG34s basically mowed them down.

Unfortunately, the other MG34 only had one window to shoot from, and looked unlikely to have any targets, since the British approach wasn't down the road (which was a lovely kill zone), at least to start with. Even worse, the British squad commander managed to get a spot on the original MG34, and called in the mortar team. Direct hit on the corner of the house. Not good.

The Panzergrenadiers' remaining MG34 gunner with a
field of fire down the main road.

Things went rather rapidly downhill from there: I lost another to the damn sniper, who kept picking off the one guy with any chance of spotting him. I did managed to pick off one rifleman with the remaining MG34, but by then I'd hit break point, then lost two more figures to failed morale rolls...

And that was that.

Overall thoughts? I still adore the Op: Squad reaction system - we had several occurrences of it during the game which were just perfect. However, I think there are two or three major flaws that need some attention before I'd want to use it again for a scenario with unbalanced sides..

To begin with, scenarios with one side defending don't work: if one side outnumbers the other, it gets a bunch of free, uncontested actions at the end of every turn. There are a couple of obvious fixes for this: either a) use single-figure blinds (sort of like IABSM) to make up the numbers or b) make up the points difference with Wait actions.

Second - mortars are too damn accurate. It seems to be far too easy to lob a mortar bomb right where you want it. (And no, this isn't sour grapes - we did notice this in the playtest of a couple of the scenarios I ran at the start of the year).

More seriously, it's just too damn lethal. The first couple of times I'd played it, I'd put the carnage down to inexperience, but I really wasn't expecting the battle to be over with the Brits still, for the most part, two fields away. Again, not that hard to fix: dropping the base dice roll for combat from 3d6 to 2d6 could be one option.

It is though, as it stands, clearly designed as a pick-up game for fun, with roughly equal sides. And for that, it works great.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Back from the Front, as it were

So, yesterday we - myself, wife Anne, son James and Chris from the club - piled into our trusty Roomster and headed for Norwich and the Eastern Front wargames show.

Made it to St. Andrew's carpark just in time to see Dewi from the club getting out of his car, and thence to St. Andrew's Hall before 9 to discover that Grahame and Adrian had been there since just after 8 and everything was just about set up for Pyramid of Peril - so much for hurrying! It at least got us some time to raid a cashpoint and admire some of the other games on show, including the guys from Norwich Rearguard with a Very British Civil War game with genuine hidden movement (two completely identical tables, duplicate forces, a screen and a very busy umpire). Also catching the eye were Southend Wargames Club (sorry, guys, if I could figure out which was your live web site I'd give you a link too!) with a recreation of the Dark Ages battle of Benfleet on some very very impressive terrain using SAGA. Sadly, James had swiped the camera for a walk round Norwich when I actually had time to grab some photos!

As far as shopping went, I picked up a copy of the second Hail Caesar army list book and some more Army Painter acrylics from Warlord, and had a fair amount of success at the bring and buy, acquiring some Victrix Athenian hoplites for £12, an MDF church for a fiver, and best of all a copy of the Lord Of The Rings cooperative board game for £6.

For those who missed it on its previous outing at Hammerhead, the premise for Pyramid of Peril is this. The Germans have unearthed (having been foiled some years ago by Prof. H Jones and Tintin) a mystical artifact that has the power of raising the dead, which they intend to use on the Russian Front to generate reinforcements. Unfortunately, as the sun rises across the desert, they discover that it does, indeed, do exactly what it says on the packing crate, and have to survive against the undead Eternal Guard until the sun sets again.

We managed to get three games in, with varying levels of participation - everyone seemed to have a good time, and the end result was 2-1 to the Combat Archaeologists of the Deutsche Afrika Korps, with the last fight being the decider. It actually was a lot closer than it looked - at two points the undead hordes were one move away from claiming a victory, but in the end, the German superior close combat ability won the day.

Herewith a batch of photos, some of which I took and some of which were taken by James. I recommend clicking on them and viewing in Blogger's slideshow viewer.
The sand table ready for action
The German pom-pom gun. Originally a pencil sharpener!
Oberleutenenant R. Harreihausen and the Combat
Archaeologists of the DAK prepared to sell their lives dearly
in the face of the onslaught of the forces of Mighty Ra.
Iron Crosses (posthumously) for this lot!
Stand firm!
The mounted Eternal Guard.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Heraldry 101, part 4 - ordinaries, and the Rule of Tincture

A key thing to be aware of in part 3 is that everything described there is a division of the shield into two or more parts. What we're going to cover in this part are ordinaries, simple geometric shapes placed on the shield. A term often used to refer to the background colour of a portion of a shield is the field, and things placed on it are also termed charges, so we can speak of placing charges on a field.

The names of the most common ordinaries should actually already be familiar to you:
Bend sinister
The first of these, then, would blazoned azure, a pale argent. And so on.

A couple of things to be aware of: first off, the distinction between per fess and a chief. Per fess is a division of the shield, a chief is a charge placed on it - the same is also true of per quarter vs a quarter. You'll also note that a chief occupies roughly the top third of the area of the shield, whereas a division per fess is much closer to halfway.

Secondly, I've deliberately left the various forms of cross out of this particular article, because the cross and its derivatives merit a post all to themselves. Also, many of these ordinaries have diminutive forms, or different names when there's more than one of them. I'll cover these too in a later post.

Finally, be aware once again that charges are placed on the field, rather than being divisions of it, and as such, a very important rule of heraldry applies, called the Rule of Tincture. This rule basically states:
A colour may not be placed on a colour, nor a metal on a metal.
Simple, really. But, as they say, honoured as much in the breach as in the observance. The rule of tincture first pops its head up in around the 14th century, and one may guess that it's a formalisation of earlier conventions, largely about picking contrasting colour combinations that were clearly visible at a distance.

Things to be aware of about the rule of tincture:
Arms of Geoffrey of Boulogne
and Baldwin of Boulogne, King
of Jerusalem.
  • it doesn't apply to furs or to things blazoned as proper. Technically, then, "or, a horse argent" breaks the rule, but "or, a white horse proper" does not!
  • it doesn't apply to charges placed across divided fields, the details (claws, tongues) of things like lions etc, and marks of distinction or cadency (of which latter, more in several posts time).
  • its application becomes more rigorous as one gets closer to the present.
One of the most famous breaches is that of the arms of the Crusader Kings of Jerusalem, blazoned as argent, a cross potent or between four crosslets or. One theory is that this was allowed to break the rule at the time, as it was a coat of arms of an exceptional holy and special nature.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Battle Report - 10-Sep-2012 - Dux Britanniarum

The first battle of the campaign Andy Hawes and I are fighting, as chronicled on both our blogs.

We rolled the farm raid scenario, with, unlike last time, a fairly reasonable set of terrain. The Saxons got three turns head start, which, with some decent dice rolling on my part, was enough to get them pretty much up to the farm, except for young Ecgwine and his warband, along with the missile troops, who snuck round the far side of one of the woods.

The British diverted one unit of warriors to deal with Ecgwine... I used an Evade card to pull him and his warband back into the wood, and then managed to get the drop on the warriors with good old Leofric and another bunch of Saxon warriors. Score one to the Saxons, as the British lost their amphora and legged it, although leaving Leofric once more wounded. (I'm sure he'd do much better if he spent more time sober!)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Aelfric had moved his heartguard to block the path that the British were taking, causing them to have to take up position forming shieldwall half in and half out of a wood - we ruled they were OK doing this without shock penalty, but obviously couldn't move. As I had a rather nice hand at this point, I charged the British warriors, while holding their comanipulares back with a Goad card, and chased them off.

It was, as they say, all going so well...

Andy's comanipulares somehow managed, in the course of the next couple of turns, to cause BOTH my units of Gedriht to flee one after the other. Meanwhile, the unit of warriors in the building had completely failed to loot anything. At about this point, I decided a tactical withdrawal was in order, which Andy, perhaps prudently, decided not to contest.

Great game, as ever - Andy is still among my favourite opponents, and I continue to find new reasons to love Dux Britanniarum!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Eastern Front

A quick reminder and plug for Eastern Front, the Norwich wargames show, this Sunday 16th from 10 a.m.

I (and several others from Peterborough Wargames Club) will be there with our participation game, "Pyramid Of Peril", also known as 'the continuing adventures of the Combat Archaeologists of the Deutsche Afrika Korps". Feel free to pop along and say hi - we should be pretty easy to spot, look for the sand table, the pyramid, the 40mm skeletons and the bunch of folks in blue club polo shirts!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Heraldry 101 part 3: left, right, top, bottom and divisions

As you're probably starting to figure right now, heraldry has a language all its own - mostly archaic French and Latin, with a few borrowings from elsewhere. So, lets add to those a bit more. First off, the shield itself:

If you speak Latin (yes, I do) you'll note that the left side of the shield as you look at it is referred to by the Latin word for right, dexter, and vice versa. This is because they're actually referred to from the viewpoint of the person carrying it.

OK, now we've got that out of the way, we can move on to actually dividing a shield up, since a shield of a single, plain tincture is both boring and rare. There are any number of ways of doing so, but these are probably the most common:
Per fess
Per pale
Per bend
Per chevron
Per bend
We can now start describing our shields in proper heraldic language, using what's called a blazon. Because of the Norman-French origins of a lot of the language used, you'll discover one of the most common features is that adjectives come after their noun, for example (when we get to it) a lion or.

That first shield in the group above would be blazoned as per fess, or and gules. The order of colours is always from dexter to sinister, and chief to base (top left to bottom right). So the next one would be per pale, or and gules. One can also say party per bend, or and gules, or party per pale, etc etc., although that's the more formal version and somewhat less common.

The Royal Arms of the
United Kingdom
Quarterly shields are often divided up like the one in the image, with identical quarters in the dexter chief and sinister base: this is primarily because quarterings often occur when two families entitled to bear arms intermarry. In this case, quarterly, or and gules would be clearly understood as meaning the above. In more complex cases the quarters are numbered left to right then top to bottom. Taking the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom as an example, the simplified blazon (leaving out the bits we haven't covered yet), would be quarterly: I and IV, gules,...; II, or,...; III, azure...

Just as an aside, if you were to have a shield of a single tincture, it would in fact be blazoned with just the name of the tincture. For example, the arms of Brittany, which are blazoned simply ermine.

And there we go. Next time, I'll cover actually putting things on the shield. Which is also going to introduce us to the most important rule of heraldry.
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