Monday 29 October 2012

Religion and the Empire - the Cleric Army

The Church
Since its establishment, the Catholic Church became a powerful institution, owning lands, levying taxes and laws. As its power and wealth grew, the Church was able to influence the Kings and rulers throughout Europe. Within the Empire, elected Emperors would need to be anointed by the Pope to ensure their authority remained a valid one, without this validation, the head of the Empire remained a King. 

Despite her dominance, the hereditary rights by the Catholic Church were being questioned by learned individuals, claiming corruption and excesses. The Lollards, led by John Wycliffe, gained an ear in England, parts of Scotland, certainly in places across the Channel as the term entered the Middle Dutch language at this time.

Lacking a standardized training for parish priests, beliefs arose which would seem heretical by Rome. Peter Waldo of Southern Germany criticized the wealthy and powerful clerics during the 12th and 13th century and Jan Hus would re-echo that theme wishing to reduce the clergy’s authority in matters secular and ecclesiastical. 

The movement, although short lived was followed by a more alarming upheaval within the Church, the establishment of a second Pope. The Great Schism from 1378 to 1417 saw Pope Urban IV held papal court in Rome, while the French elected Pope Clement VII ruled from Avignon, essentially dividing a Christian Europe in half. 

The Clerical Army
The Church was not reluctant to take up arms for the defense of their domains or press home the use of force to resolve a political crisis. The Bishopric of Trento, which plays in our campaign was one such example of keeping the Italian city states from the south at bay, and the Dukedom of Tirol in the north as well. For the good cause, there were always recruits willing to re-align their faith by assisting the Church, but for the most part, the Church “persuaded” the nobles within their domain to do their duty. In cities where the Guild system ruled, the Church exerted influence among Guild representatives. More than not, the Church appealed to their sense of commercial gain by nudging the opposition out and gaining lucrative contracts.

From the DBM army list, a Clerical force could muster most; men-at-arms, spear, crossbow from the cities, mercenaries and Heerban or Militia.. There is some discussion of what arms the Heerban used; spear, glave or club, but on the whole, the quality of the Heerban declined. By mid-15th century these would be horde.

As a matter of course, our list would have Hd as in medieval times, peasants were obligated to work on Church lands for free. This duty would extend the Church’s need for a labour force during a campaign. Add to this, a plentiful number of priests scattered about the army. Based with the Commander’s element are an array of banners, both religious and City.  

Further reading:


Monday 22 October 2012

Transport by land and river

One of the nice aspects of creating this campaign is the discovery of lesser known information of everyday life of the late medieval period. Researching for this topic, travel by land or water slowly built up files about horse breeds, carriages, Water Boards (waterschappen), toll ways, piracy, guild system and more.

Over Land
By the Late Medieval period, roads between commercial centers were better maintained and supported by levying tolls or pavage. A pontage, would allow usage of bridges along the route. The advantage to this, one could use wagons to haul goods and depending on the cargo an armed escort could be chartered to protect valuable goods moving between centers. Away from the “road” network, goods moved over tracks using pack horses. All, were not without risk.

Moving livestock to market, farmers made use of drover’s roads; wide enough to accommodate the movement of flocks or herds and with ample grazing on either side.

If medieval man needed to travel longer distances overland, the horse (hackneys) remained the best form of transportation. There is much discussion about which were the better breeds to ride, but the fact remains a variety were needed when a noble and his entourage went visiting his estates. With a shortage of suitable inns, supplies needed to carried on the backs of pack horses (sumpters).

Over Water
Since our campaign centers on realms within the Holy Roman Empire, travel by water meant along the waters of the North and Baltic Sea or by the great rivers. With the exception of the Danube, the majority of rivers within the Empire flowed in a north-south direction. The variable depth of rivers sometimes meant using a combination of water and land routes necessary. As with roads and bridges, one could expect to pay tolls for stretches of waterway between towns to offset the cost of clearing debris, soundings made, and the maintenance of canals, dikes and the like.

 By the start of the 15th century, ship and boat types remained for the most part cogs, hulks and barges. Shape had not changed much, but the addition of a rudder and a second or third mast helped improve the use of ships for commerce. More on this topic when I describe the roll the Hanseatic League played during this time.

The Perils of travel

Other than bandits and pirates that prowled the seas and land, there were the added danger of natural predators; wolves, wild boar, and bears. Traveling in company with an armed escort helped deter impromptu attacks from small numbers of outlaws, but this period was also rife with nobles waging their own level of banditry with their well-armed retinue. 

Ships traveling the North and Baltic Seas had their share danger. The coastline from Friesland (Frisia) to Prussia was dotted with inland havens which served as pirate bases. During the numerous wars between the Scandinavian kingdoms and the Empire a number were employed and given charters to operate as privateers.

For the Game Table
In the campaign, Storm Within the Empire, scenarios can be generated to play out banditry or plunder raids using fewer number of elements. These can be interesting as if successful can bring a degree of economic discomfort by the losing side, which in turn may escalate to a force of arms.

There are sufficient numbers of wagons, civilians and animals to bring life to the game table. What I do lack at the moment are naval items; cogs, boats, barges, harbours and fishing villages. Added to the project list.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Eala Frya Fresena

Last week we play tested DBA 3.0 with two Late Medieval armies taking the field. A long time veteran of DBA, this was Lex’s first game with the new version. He thoroughly enjoyed the game a rule set he made the decision to collect his own late medieval army, The Frisians.

Frisian Freedom (Eala Frya Fresena)
Out of curiosity, I searched among the Dutch, German and English sources on the Internet and was able to piecemeal a brief history of “Frisia” during our campaign period. Of note, Bavaria Straubing held domains in the Low Countries, so historically they did clash with the Frisians on a number of occasions. The area labeled Frisia is now modern day Friesland and Groningen. Oost-Frisia or East Frisia is now Northwest Germany.

Situated along the north coast line with dunes, forest and swamp area, Frisia like its neighbor East Frisia, retained a certain independence which sidestepped the establishment of a feudalistic structure as was developed elsewhere throughout Europe. Free-Frisia, as it was known, organized itself into semi-collective of parishes from which governing officials were elected on an annual basis.

The coast was dotted with fishing villages while further inland cities grew from trade centers, a number which did gain full rights. The city of Stavoren as an example, became a member of the Hanseatic League and was renown as commercial center for wine, beer, natural stone wood, grain and fish.

Political Structure
From the breakup of the Carolingian Empire, Frisia became a favoured location for Nordic settlements. Despite the expansion of the Bishopric of Utrecht in the north, the 11th and 12th century, Frisia firmly remained independent. Exercising influence over the parishes were the “chieftains” or clan leaders. Internal grievances were quickly put aside when external threats arose and from my reading this was rather frequent.

Under John III, Duke of Bavaria, there are five attempts at subjugating the Frisians. None were successful. The Hanseatic League in an attempt to stamp out piracy conducted from the havens in Frisia were also defeated.

The Frisians of the 14th and 15th century should follow the IV/13e Free Canton army:

1 x General (Kn or Sp), 8 x spearmen (Sp), 1 x Frisian dardiers (Ax) or javelinmen (Ps), 2 x archers (Ps). Terrain type: Littoral. Aggression: 1.

Looking at the list it seems at first glance heavy in number of spearmen, when in fact the majority of expeditions sent to subdue the Frisians failed. While spearmen are perfect for defending tight spots, the countryside is predominately, dunes, forest and swamps necessitating a few more loose formation types. The Frisian chieftains formed loose alliances with bands of pirates who would qualify as Ax or Ps. The Frisians were also joined by a large number of peasants, possibly 5Hd.  

This is by no means a list recommendation, but for our campaign purpose, the Frisians would have the following list:

1 x General (Kn, Cv or Sp), 1 x Kn or Cv, 4 x 4Sp spearmen, 2 x 4Sp spearmen or 5Hd, 2 x 3Ax Frisian raiders, 2 x 3Bw or 2Ps. Terrain type remains Littoral.

Aside from piratical raids along the sea trade routes, the Frisians remained well in their boundaries, so an Aggression of 1 remains unchanged.  


Saturday 13 October 2012

Cities and Towns

This topic first appeared here eight years ago and in that time much new information and books have come into my possession I felt compelled to revise the old text and eventually develop a campaign for the period. Western Europe experienced dynamic change following the Black Death of 1347/48. The death toll estimates range from 30 – 60 percent leaving few cities with a population of more that 3 – 5,000. Within the empire, 90% of the 4,000 settlements within the empire had a population of 1,000 inhabitants creating a landscape of abandoned villages and hamlets; the survivors having fled to “safer” havens of urban locations.  

Military self-sufficiency

The system of guilds will be covered at length in another post, but during the 15th century it was not uncommon to find city guilds boasting an armoury equipped for every alarm. Each town had quantity of equipment and specialist to maintain and repair it. Fletchers, smiths, stable hands, crossbow makers and cannon founders supplied their own town’s needs with a small number of cities developing into an armaments industry, such as Nuremberg.

The production of cannon by the early 15th century was not limited to large cities or town as even small village were able to produce them. Internal needs prohibited many cannon founders to accept contracts from outside, a rule strictly enforced by the Hanseatic League (1385).

How the individual citizen was to be equipped depended on their status leaving only the wealthy to supply mounted contingents, property owners, armour and weapons and with the poor supplied with any weapons left in the armoury.

City Walls

High walls became the primary form of defence for cities, towns, castles and manor houses even hamlets would have some form of rudimentary protection. An escalade by the besieger was the most common form of taking a city, a problem easily solved by raising the height of the walls. Naturally, as the technology evolved from stone shot to iron shot from cannon cast in a single piece, the defence of a city or town became problematic. Such weapons inspired fear to collapse a city’s resistance as witnessed by Charles VII of France capture of sixty towns in one year.

To counter this, urban centres thickened their walls as an improvement and it also facilitated the placement of its own artillery and having guns than an enemy could be sufficient to frustrate a besieger. However simple the solution it did require an inordinate amount of time and expense leaving many cities content to make small scale repairs. 


Divided into four quarters, the defence of each sector became the reasonability of the guilds located there. This worked well for a time as guild members knew their neighbours and were ever vigilant towards strangers, yet extreme vigilance proved difficult for protracted periods. Day and night time watches needed to be maintained and prepared for an occasional expedition outside its walls. Guilds were also responsible to spend time on weapons drill and tournaments were organized to foster a level of rivalry among the guilds and appeal to the social interests of the community. These were for the most part shooting competitions with bow or crossbow and for the urban elite there were mounted competitions.

By the first half of the 15th century, economic prosperity meant a growth in population of urban centres producing more apprentices and journeymen. Yet not all guilds grew equally leaving some quarters with less manpower than others. To fill the deficit, bands of mercenaries could be hired to replace the local citizenry for the duty of watch or the expeditions outside the walls. Between 1414 and 1454, Danzig found difficulties to keep its citizen soldiers from deserting their musters and lists.

Keeping abreast of the technological advances coupled with the economic and social changes the ability of cities and towns to defend itself quickly eroded, but viewing the greater picture their rivals suffered no less.

Possible Application to a campaign system

The older DBA2.2 did include a campaign system for 2 to 6 players. Each player controlled a realm consisting of three cities, one of which one served as its capital. The number of recruits raised for each campaign season depended on the number of cities in your possession. The attacker had an option to challenge an opponent on the field or besiege one of his cities. Victory on the field or cities captured generated prestige points. 

A campaign game set in the 15th century should offer possible conflicts between the Bishoprics, the state, cities and the noble families. There are some campaign systems done earlier but these would need to be expanded to allow conflict situations to be generated at different levels. The possibilities surrounding the North German States to include Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Russia will prove an interesting challenge. 

Revised 26 October 2020


Urban Life in 15th-century Germany,

Towns and Defence in Later Medieval Germany, D. Eltis, Nottingham Medieval Studies 

Sunday 7 October 2012


These maps should help the reader placing key locations within the Holy Roman Empire. The campaign opens with the Duchy of Bavaria, now split in four minor duchies based around their capitals of Munich, Ingolstadt, Straubing and Landshut.

Map 1

As you will note, the four duchies are clustered in diverse pockets with isolated fragments scattered in other domain. Most likely family relations account for the fragmentation, nonetheless, this does open the door to a myriad of scenarios.

Map 2

Within the Empire there are two major houses which dominate the political scene; the Habsburg and Wittelsbach. As we approach the 15th century, this map shows the sphere of influence held by both houses. While the House of Habsburg is concentrated in lands bordering Hungary and in Swabia, the domains of Wittelsbach, outside of Bavaria are scattered over a greater region to include parts of the Low Countries, the Rhineland and around Brandenburg.

Map 3

This illustrates the gradual expansion of Bavaria-Ingolstadt within one or two generations. Information is very scarce as to how this was accomplished, but no doubt this included marriage alliances, political and military force.

Map 4

From this map you can surmise, Bavaria-Landshut and Upper Bavaria lost lands to Ingolstadt. No doubt, more information will surface when listing the cities for each of the duchies.

Map 5

This map gives a better impression of Straubing holdings and their Grafschaften.

Map 6

This map is dated 1477 and gives an impression of Bavarian slow assimilation of the minor duchies and the growth of Habsburg lands. Bavaria achieves complete unification in the next century and remains in the same relative size for several centuries.

DBA Campaign extension

Draft: 02-10-2012

Storm Within the Empire uses the DBA 2.2 Campaign as a core system. The additions listed here allow the player to experience the medieval period in more depth. The player who finds greater enjoyment at undermining his opponent by creating economic and political compromises may find this of interest. 

1 Maps – This primary game centers on the Kingdom of Bavaria after its division into four minor duchies, these are Bavaria – Ingolstadt, Bavaria – Munich, Bavaria – Straubing, and Bavaria – Landshut. You will note from the map, all duchies have lands surrounded by or are nearly encircled by rival houses. The goal for Bavaria is the re-unification to its former state. Historically, 100 years and the machinations of six or seven generations would pass before this would become fact.

Built into the game are a number of periods when the game is moved forward in to time so the “kingdom” may interact with events taking place elsewhere in the Holy Roman Empire.

2 Resources – The original campaign system, resources to support a 12 element DBA army were generated by the quantity of prestige points a player had banked at the end of a campaign year. This was done by totaling the number of cities held and victory in the field.

With the increased number of cities a higher score is possible. Add to this, trade between cities, taxation and tolls a player can generate more wealth, however, there are necessary expenditures to maintain a humming economy. Not only the army but other institutions, such as the nobility, the church, the guilds, require their share as well.

A record sheet will be used to note income and expenditures per month. The record sheet is currently being developed. This will also list possible revenue and costs for the ambitious who wish to plan ahead.

3 Campaign year – Movement during the seasons of Spring, Summer and Fall is now expanded to months of the year. The game starts with March and ending with November with the months of December through February used to rebuild and plan.

Each of the armies use the Book IV/13c list with options. For a standard game, these armies use Arable as their home geography. Bavaria geographically is much different than the rolling plains of Westphalia. To add variation, each city/town/hamlet is coded to represent Arable, Hilly or Forest geography.

4 Movement – Is still done in two stages and with the same restrictions regarding hostile controlled nodes. Movement between cities on land or by river is noted on a player’s record sheet. An opponent occupying a location on a river also contests use of the river.  

5 Invasion – Declaring the invasion of an opponent’s territory historically was the final solution as other means had been exhausted. Each month, a player can specify a number of other options on the record sheet to include, raids, trade rivalry, banking, entreating alliances, building castles and such.

Raids: Do not require the full army strength, but use mobile elements whose primary goal is to raid enemy territory and carry off livestock, plunder, or resort to mayhem which can derail an opponent’s well laid plan. These small scale actions can be resolved using the standard DBA 3.0 game with additional non-combat elements used to represent baggage, livestock and such.

Trade rivalry: A player may instead resort to compete on an economic level by establishing trade agreements with kingdoms whose goal were the same as your opponent. A series of economic treaties could deny rival kingdoms from necessary trade of excess product, receiving necessary goods or services (salt, precious metals, trained artisans to name a few) this bring your opponent into an economic vice.

Banking: This is an option that requires good planning as the upside, a player can gain necessary funds to undertake whatever needs be done, building castles, armies or hiring mercenaries, an extra incentive for negotiation and the like. The downside or default on a loans can bring a detrimental effect to a kingdom. The Bank is not represented by a player, but based on the amount required, the debtor establishes first  a guarantee. A die roll determines the “length of time” and “insurance” costs added to the loan. If the player does not accept the result, he may roll again next month. The final result is then added as a debit post to their record keeping. Any amount still owed at the end of the year may have an adverse effect in devaluing the “prestige” of the kingdom; alliances of marriage become less attractive, setting trade agreements would bring risk factors to name a few examples.

 Alliances: Negotiations can take place during any month. Historically, such alliances were sealed through a marriage bond noting the necessary dowry and treaty conditions (a defensive alliance is one example). Note: this test takes place two generations after the partitioning of Bavaria into four duchies on the death of Ludwig.

Construction: Maintaining a level of simplicity, construction must be classed as new project, expansion of an existing structure, or public enhancement. A new project, whether this is a castle, church or bridge will have preliminary costs added to the overall costs, whereas expanding or refurbishing an existing structure such as city walls, adding boats to an existing merchant fleet and the like will have basic costs.

6 Supply – DBA 2.0 required armies to be in supply while campaigning away from their home cities. This has been modified as historically, a campaign period was generally set for 60 days. This meant an invading army brought supplies which were augmented with necessary foraging. With regards to sieges, this meant quick exhaustion of the surrounding area eventually necessitating searches further out. Lack of supply was the usual case for sieges being lifted.

For the besieged in a castle, having ample supplies, water and a garrison were sufficient to hold out. Defenders behind the walls of a city, this was not enough. Not only were supplies needed for the garrison, but also for the general population and if these were found lacking, then a city would most likely surrender. Other factors facilitated the surrender of a city; either by treachery, economic reasons (commercial or guild city) or one devastated by disease.
7 Giving Battle – Initiating battle follows the same pattern as a standard game. Armies greater than 12 elements use the double size board as per the Big Battle option with the same restrictions regarding number of mandatory and optional features. The game map has been annotated to reflect the type of geography armies to be used for battle, these being Arable, Hilly, Forest, and Steppe (Hungarian plain).

8 Participation by Allied Contingents – There are no changes to the current system, however, DBA 3.0 allows for the inclusion of allied contingents within the standard 12 element sized game. Aside from treacherous behavior which was prevalent during the Wars of the Roses, unwilling participation should also be present. These are not necessarily allied contingents, but can reflect nobles coerced to participate in a campaign. These should be recognizable by coat-of-arms, banner or composition of elements. In battle, these are moved after all other elements have done so. A low PIP score will ensure their lack of participation for that bound.
Allied contingents remain a component of the main army so are not recorded separately.
As a result of treachery, they may change allegiance.

9 Results of Battle – Historically, the main purpose for war was conquest of land and acquisition of wealth through ransom. Nobles took care of one another so knights “destroyed” in battle by the winning player are captured and held for ransom. The amount to be ransomed is in direct relation to title and lands. Within the campaign victory conditions may differ with the standard DBA game. Some scenarios may call for raids which may produce small scale victory, but done regularly will deliver noticeable results.

Do not overlook the costs of a campaign which can exceed the wealth gathered, thus lowering a noble’s prestige. 

10 Standing Siege – This section is completely re-written as a separate game with each period of play corresponding to a month within the campaign.

During a month of siege both sides can plan to reinforce, relieve, break out or break off a siege. The attacker should plan for a prolonged period while anticipating a defender’s options for relief or breaking out.

Failure to care for adequate supply was the primary reason for the failure of many sieges. So to represent the capacity of an area, values are set for Arable, Hilly, and Forest regions which limit the amount of supply to be gathered from the countryside.

11 Tributary Rulers – Under the original rule set when a player participation diminished, an offer of servitude could be extended to another player in the role of tributary rule. This meant no military moves would be done with consent of the overlord. In this variant, that status would be reached as a result of economic or political setbacks resulting in a tributary status. Enforcing loyalty of the tributary lord could take the form of a marriage alliance. 

12 Conquest – Storm Within the Empire was originally designed to take the fragmentation of the Kingdom of Bavaria into four smaller duchies and begin the slow process of unification. Historically, this took a century. Not to be dismayed, this allowed a player to step away from the unhurried process and move elsewhere within the Holy Roman Empire to begin afresh in perhaps Austria, Bohemia or Hungary.

The participant is no longer constrained but can move along with the gradual progression of actual events of the 15th century. Events in Bavaria will last for no longer than one or two generations and then emphasis will shift to Bohemia and the religious upheaval. And so will the campaign continue to change location within and outside the Empire as time marches on.