Monday, February 9, 2015

Restitutor Orbis: Rethinking My 3rd c. Romans

Back somewhere in the dawn of time (2005, I think), I started a 28mm ancients project with Kevin Smyth in an attempt to get some WRG ancients play going. Kevin and I managed to have a few games and Bill Stewart and I ran a few games also in 2010, but it never caught on (alas) and my predilection for the WRG rules has caused the local gentry to regarded me as being dangerously insane.

I had been painting some of the excellent 28mm A&A 3rd century Romans. I also have a bucket o' unpainted A&A Sassanid Persians. The project has languished for quite a while. Kevin long since sold off the army he painted for the project. I attempted to do the same with mine at our recent Drumbeat event, but I got no buyers. I'm starting to see that as a good thing and I'm wondering what next to do to restore the world of my Middle Imperial Romans.

Why the 3rd century?

The 3rd century is an intriguing period. It's the background of Harry Sidebottom's excellent Warrior of Rome series and his new Throne of the Caesars series. Rome fought pretty much everyone in this period, especially itself, as rival emperors and break-away allies caused all kinds of trouble. The empire neared collapse and might have broken up except for the brief, but salutary, efforts of Aurelian.

Like most of his predecessors, Aurelian was murdered. A corrupt official, fearing retribution, used forged documents to snooker some officers of the Praetorian Guard to kill him in 275. He may have been briefly succeeded by his wife, Ulpia Severina. In any case, the Senate put Tacitus on the throne, but a year later, Tacitus went crazy and died (or was assassinated—or went crazy and was assassinated) and Florianus came to the throne; in a matter of months, Florianus was murdered by his own troops and Probus became emperor; Probus hung on to the crown for six years, but then he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard and the army proclaimed Carus emperor; Carus was, apparently, struck by lightning within a year and succeeded by his brother Numerian; Numerian was assassinated and succeeded by Carinus, who was Carus' son. There wasn't a lot of job security in wearing the purple. Finally, in 284, Carinus was defeated and killed by Diocletian, who established the dominate and reigned for two decades, bringing in a degree of stability.

3rd c. Romans dominating the lesser peoples
So, things started, slowly, to get better for the empire and it was due largely to Aurelian's work in reuniting the fragments. For defeating a Alemmanic invasion, a Gothic invasion, and restoring the western empire, Aurelian was named Germanicus Maximus and Gothicus Maximus. For defeating Zenobia's rebellion, he was named Parthicus Maximus and Restitutor Orientis (Restorer of the East); shortly after that, he was named by the senate Restitutor Orbis, Restorer of the World.

Back to the minis

So, back to restoring the orbis for my wee, near-orphaned legionarii. I'll have to re-base them, it seems, which I am loath to do. I'm not quite sure how I'll re-base them, that will depend on what I want to do with them. Maybe one clue to what I'm thinking is that I placed an order for a lot of single-figure bases from Litko, which arrived just this weekend.

Lion Rampant

I've given some thought to adapting Daniel Mersey's excellent Lion Rampant skirmish rules (Osprey) for playing ancients. The mechanics of the rules are simple enough and it's just a matter of fiddling with the types Mersey defines for Medievals in Lion Rampant. Cataphracts, for example, would be like mounted men-at-arms, legionaries would be like foot sergeants, lanciarii like bidowers, etc. There may need to be some creative variations to capture the full flavor of the troop types in this period, although Lion Rampant does have some variations already that would work for things like Sassanid Asvārān (mounted sergeants with bows, basically).

I have a lot of figures, especially foot, so the project would require a lot of single-based figures. I'm not against that, and as I've noted, I have a lot of Litko bases coming. Single basing the figures would also give me a lot of options for skirmish gaming. It's tempting. There's also the issue that I have many more figures than I need for a Lion Rampant project. I have enough legionaries painted to make four 12-figure units, plus auxilia, plus several cavalry units, plus bowmen, lanciarii, and dromedaries. That doesn't touch the mass of unpainted stuff...

Hail Caesar!

I've played a few games of Hail Caesar from Warlord Games. I like it pretty much, but Warlord's offerings like Hail Caesar, Black Powder, and Pike & Shotte typically require buckets of figures and I would need to buy more cavalry from A&A in order to flesh out my Roman units. I have a lot of unpainted Sassanid cavalry, but at 12 figures per unit, I have only enough for maybe four units of clibanarii and one of cataphracts. I also have a couple elephants and a lot of dismal levy spearmen.

Because Hail Caesar has somewhat agnostic basing requirements, it's likely that any multi-figure basing I use for HC will work for most other rules that use multi-figure basing, except WRG, and skirmish gaming, and Field of Glory. One clever thought would be to mount them for Field of Glory. The bases would easily work for Hail Caesar as well. But that might be too clever. Any multi-figure basing tends to lock you into games that require it. If I want to get away from projects that require a lot of figures, I have to eschew multi-figure basing.

Damn the torpedoes, full WRG ahead!

I could also just stay the course and get enough Sassanids painted and based for WRG to play a game against my Romans. That way I wouldn't need to re-base anything (which is a happy thought). This course of action might only confirm my insanity with those already inclined toward that opinion—I might even think myself insane. In my own defense, I wouldn't have to re-base anything, as I mentioned (there must be some sanity in that). I also wouldn't have to buy more figures.

Various skirmish projects

This sort of ties in with Lion Rampant. As individually-mounted figures, I can use them for any of the skirmish games I favor. The bases for infantry are 25mm x 30mm and for cavalry are 25mm x 50mm. These are the same sizes I use for the figures I have mounted for De Bellis Velitum.

The number of figures I have is a bit much for "true skirmish" gaming, which I define in my post Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short: The skirmish game (part un)part deux is coming, I promise. However, having figures to spare gives me the option to use the non-standard mountings required by some skirmish rules, such as the diamond-shaped bases for infantry figures in Milgamex' Sword and Spear.

I can also modify some other "false skirmish" type rules, Like Pig Wars, that use larger numbers of single-mounted figures. For all I know, Saga may come up with a variant that applies to the Later Roman Empire, which would be ironic since I just sold my copy of the rules.

Sell 'em

There's also staying the course and selling them later in the year at Enfilade! between painted and unpainted figures, I might get $1000.00 for the lot, which is a lot to sink into other projects.

Whither now?

At this point, every option is just a potentiality. I have about 150 25mm x 30mm bases and maybe 70 25mm x 50mm bases to work with. I also have boxes of Litko bases to use for multi-figure basing. I have yet to decide which way to go, but some day soon, I may just start popping my wee legionarii off their custom bases and putting them on some other basing. Stay tuned.


  1. I think A&A's Late-Roman range is very nice. I was thinking of getting some without regard to historical interest in the period per se. That said, I think all of the rules you've mentioned work for particular type of scenarios and games. Lion Rampant would probably require the least amount of figures. Oh, now I remember why I never followed through - I was still playing WAB (I know, I know...before I saw the light), which would've necessitated a 100-plus figures for a decent pointed army.

  2. May I offer a suggestion based on a lifetime (45 years) in the miniature hobby? Think about single basing on bases with magnetic bases. There are a number of companies out there and this will give you the ability to play anything from a skirmish to a full scale set-to. You can usually have your local duct work company make up metal bases to your specifications or a company like Litko might have them available.
    Skirmish style basing also gives you the ability to raise other forces in smaller numbers.

  3. All my Litko bases have the magnetic bottom bit. I store them in metal lined boxes. I could easily get metal cut to the sizes I want and then make ersatz multi-figure bases.