Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Year of Living Rampantly

The year isn't over yet, but looking back at this point, it's clearly been the Year of Living Rampantly. I tend to be pretty eclectic in my gaming, but 2017 (and going back into 2016) has been predominantly devoted to playing—and painting minis for—the various flavors and variants of Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant rules.

That this should be so is a testament to the enjoyability and versatility of the system. Lion Rampant offers players tactical choices and challenges that don't require arcane rules, but instead focus on the excitement of the game. That may be a complimentary way to say that they abstract a lot of detail, but abstraction is crucial to any playable system. Many miniatures rules forget this and we soon forget them. (Who plays Empire anymore? Or, sadly, WRG Ancients.)

With Lion Rampant, you're free to focus on building retinues, terrain, and scenarios. The system is simple enough to accommodate tweaks and additions without breaking anything—though some regression testing is required (I, for example, can break anything). The retinue lists are pretty free-form, allowing you to try multiple combinations of unit types to build the retinue that best matches your style of play. In Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant, you can't have more that 12 points or four units of the same type (whichever is less). On the other hand, The Pikeman's Lament doesn't have that restriction. You could, for example, create a 24-point company that consisted of three units of veteran Forlorn Hope at 8 points each. You're only limited to one regimental gun per company and you have to have between 3 and 10 units. Within those rather broad confines, you're free to create whatever force your research or imagination takes you.

Because units require few figures (all units are 6 or 12 figures), you can easily build well beyond a 24-point retinue and provide many more options. My eventually-to-be-completed El Cid Spanish have a pretty full compliment of units, really enough for 2+ retinues, so I can have a lot of variety.

It's rare that a set of rules comes along that strikes a chord with so many players. It's rare, too, that a system opens itself to so many variants that keep the simplicity of the rules and yet express the character of the variant period covered.

The "Rampant" family of rules fall into what I've described elsewhere as "false skirmish" rules. That's not a pejorative, but a means of comparison with what I call "true skirmish" rules in which each figure moves, shoots, fights, runs away, etc. as a single entity. Even though the "Rampant" rules use a 1:1 figure scale, the way they work doesn't really require that scale. The basic maneuver element (that thing that moves, shoots, fights, runs away, etc.) is a multi-figure unit.

It's pretty easy to "bathtub" larger battles with the "Rampant" rules. A unit that ostensibly represents 6 or 12 men, could stand in for a troop, squadron, company, or regiment.

Lion Rampant (LR)

I first played Lion Rampant right after it was released in 2014. Kevin Smyth was eager to get right to it and give 'em a try with his massive collection of 100 Years War figures. Kevin, Dave Schueler, and I played a game at Meeples Games in West Seattle. We played subsequent games at other venues and I was pretty much hooked, but I didn't have painted figures for a retinue.

First game and I'm already facing death by arrows

Back in 2000, Kevin and I were hot to trot about the 100 Years War using a Late Medieval variant I wrote for Todd Kershner's Pig Wars, which which Todd has added into the Pig Wars 4th edition that's available as a PDF from Wargame Vault. The precursor to that project was buying a lot of Old Glory 28mm Medieval minis. I had a lot of them still unpainted when Lion Rampant came on the scene 14 years later (who could've predicted that?). They're still unpainted three years later.

I almost nearly triumphed in a Lion Rampant tournament last year—except that I didn't attend because I didn't finish painting my retinue (the aforementioned Spanish) because of Grendel's sickness and death. I'd blame him out of habit, but de mortuis nihil nisi bonum and all that. The retinue had been going along pretty well with the handy Miracle Dip method. It never got started again, however, and I played in a Lion Rampant game day this summer with a borrowed retinue.

Chasing away the oiks

Note to self: Finish the freaking' Spanish!

Postscript to note to self: Then get on with the 100 Years War figures!

The Pikeman's Lament (TPL)

These rules came out in January this year. They're a collaboration with Michael Leck of the excellent Dalauppror blog. I'd been waiting eagerly—OK, impatiently—for them since their publication was announced a year earlier. Reading several posts on Michael's blog about them, kept whetting my desire. I think I'd rather be surprised by the serendipitous release of a rules set than to endure a year of anticipation, but once they were in my hot little hands, I wasn't disappointed.

I wrote my review of them earlier this year. I include a link to a nifty Quick Reference Sheet in PDF (8.5 x 11").

I played my first game of TPL at our Drumbeat game day in February. I even had figures painted for it! (Although most of the figures in the game were Bill Stewart's, freshly rebased to the 3-2-1 system.)

Pikemen cross the bridge of doom (Bills minis)

I've been a sucker for pike 'n' shot gaming since the 1970s when I played SPI's Musket & Pike, WRG's War Games Rules Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Century (1490-1660), and Bill Protz' Wargamer's Guide to the English Civil War.

My first project for these rules was to be English Civil War and I have a pile of Renegade (who appear to be on haitus again until 2018) and Bicorne minis for the era--enough to make multiple companies for Roundheads, Royalists, and Scots. However, the ECW got sidetracked by The Irish Project, which is going so well that I may run out of minis to paint for it. It's interesting that the only two projects for which I've painted (or will potentially paint) every single figure involve Jim Bowen figures. The other project is my prehistoricalistic Europeanoids (more of these are en route to me as I type this, so I'll have unpainted minis soon).

Irish pike ca. 1600
English pikes (better commissary)

Dragon Rampant (DR)

I bought my copy of Dragon Rampant as soon as it came out in 2015. I'm not really a fantasy gamer, but I couldn't resist. I have more to say about these (and my project with them) in an upcoming blog post. It's coming soon-ish, but don't hold your breath. I can be suddenly and unexpectedly lackadaisical about posting.

This variant primarily adds magical/fantastical options that change the complexion of the game without being overwhelming. Basically, you can add dragons, were-beasts, unicorns, leprechauns—whatever—to your game. This makes for gaming scenarios that come from the vast realm of fantasy fiction, like Robert E. Howard's world of Conan the Barbarian, etc. I have FGU's venerable rules Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (another blast from the 70s, but still available as a PDF.). Dragon Rampant addresses the battles of that world better, I think, than RAOTHA—at least they play faster and require fewer minis and Thugra Khotan can still do nasty magic things to hapless Khorajan noble cavalry.

I haven't played Dragon Rampant yet, but I have started a warband for it...

WIP: Centauress archers (NSFW)
WIP: Heavy centauresses

The fact that I'm painting a warband is really a testament to the system because in 40+ years of miniature gaming, this is the first time I've ever painted fantasy minis. No orcs, goblins, mages, elves, etc. at any point before this. It's kind of an earth-shattering event. My only other foray outside of historical minis has been sci-fi (Silent Death and Beyond the Gates of Antares), which also shattered the earth at the time.

I'm working on a post for this and the warband has come along pretty well so far. I have hopes of completing it by the end of Thanksgiving weekend—but I just picked up a Reaper hydra to use as a Great Warbeast, so my timetable may be extended.

We've got a Dragon Rampant game day scheduled for January. I'll be a bit gobsmacked if I actually have minis to play a game completed well before the event rather than setting them up on the table still reeking of dullcote.


The Rampant year actually started last year when Kevin Smyth and I collaborated on a variant of Lion Rampant for Cortes' conquest of Mexico (Quetzalcoatl Rampant). We played several playtests leading up to hosting two games of it at our local Enfilade! convention in May.

Rodeleros emerge from the corn
Men in feathers are no match for us!
Dog & pony show - Mexico 1518

Chariots Rampant is a variant for the Bronze Age. I'd given some thought to making a variant for this, but Pat Lowinger (from 'round these parts) published a version in Issue 80 of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy (WSS).

The (for now) silver spearmen

Soon to be one of Pharaoh's mighty chariots

Also appearing in an issue of WSS (Issue 82) is a variant created by Nathan Ward for the Punic Wars called Eagle Rampant in Sicily. It's focused on the First Punic War in Sicily, but could be adapted to the second or third wars also. This is a promising variant and will give me something to do with the piles of Crusader Carthaginians and Spanish that I collected in an abortive attempt to do Fields of Glory in 28mm scale.

I also have to mention my first variant to these rules, Crepusculum Imperii, covering the Late Roman period. I have, alas, sold my 3rd c. Romans rather than rebase them (I hate rebasing). However, I've got an eye for revisiting the period. I don't know if anyone is actually playing them, but they get a lot of hits on my blog. Also, Nathan Ward gave them a shout-out in his WSS article:

Honorable mention: The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK)
I give these rules honorable mention because they're not strictly a variant of Lion Rampant, but they are written by Dan Mersey and have many "Rampant" tendencies to them. I've played TMWWBK only once at our game day at Ft. Steilacoom. Kevin Smyth ran a game of "America Rampant" that was a what-if of Spanish and American forces clashing along the Mississippi ca. 1800-ish.

About to be overrun

These rules may be perfect for rescuing my pile of still-unpainted-after-all-these-years Dixon American Civil War figures from undeserved neglect. I bought a lot of these minis back in the 90s with the intention to play I don't recall what. (Truly I don't. I blame age or feline-induced feeble-mindedness.) I think maybe I just liked the figures and thought that something would come together once they were finished. As if.

I talked up using TMWWBK for ACW with Kevin at the game day and the idea met with approbation. Though much more focused than I, Kevin's interest in this project may get sidetracked for something shinier. (Note the comparative adjective "shinier." In my case, I can get sidetracked by anything of equal, or even lesser, lustre. Such is the working of my lizard brain: "Oh look! A shinier  shiny  thing.") In any case, even if I manage some discipline, ACW will be a project I won't start until after our Enfilade! convention is over in May. I'm making admirable progress on The Irish Project and have some smaller "Rampant" projects in the works that consist only of 24-point forces. Points-wise, The Irish Project will require about 4 to 5 24-point TPL companies' worth of minis.


Lion Rampant and its spawn have had a revolutionary impact on the hobby, IMO. They've opened up niche periods of gaming that a lot of people eschewed before that. For example, Medieval gaming never had much popularity in my neck of the woods (Kevin notwithstanding) until Lion Rampant. I would never have imagined doing Cortes in Mexico if I didn't have Lion Rampant as a system to create a variant from.

I've done a lot of painting for "Rampant" projects so far and I have a lot of painting yet to do. So many possibilities for new retinues...

I expect that my rampant living will continue throughout 2018. I don't see myself starting any new projects (stop laughing) in the near future—other than the possibilities aforementioned.

I wonder if I can get Sigourney Weaver to play?


  1. Author Daniel Mersey?

    We played a game of ACW using TMWWBK last summer with the 3-2-1 basing and it went well - Dick eventually charging forth through Bob's troops like "crap through a goose".

    1. Doh! I must have been thinking Schnellboot Rampant.

  2. Great reviews, and I totally agree with you about the versatility of the games.

    You twice refer to the creator as David Manley, rather than Dan Mersey. Is this your intention?

    1. I never know my intentions. I'm always trying to keep these two authors apart. They both live in the UK, both write rules I play, both have the initials D.M. Thanks to all for the corrections.

  3. I dream about Sci-Fi version od *Rampant rules, for all old Citadel/GW miniatures on the shelf.

  4. I agree that this is a great system. I've played a lot of Lion Rampant with my sons (12 and 10) and we are getting ready to play a Dragon Rampant campaign. One boy will be using GW Dark Elves and the other Lord of the Rings High Elves. I'll be fighting them with my Romans. Great system.

    Who is the manufacturer of your female centaurs?

    P.S. The author's name is Daniel Mersey.

    1. Corrected. Thanks.

      The centaursesses are Shadowforge. They're available only through Eureka Miniatures in Oz. Great service, pricey shipping to the US.

  5. I do like the 'Rampant' series of rules , easy to build up forces , once you've learnt one of them you can pick up the rest quickly and fun to play 10/10 .

  6. I like the rules too, but wish t h e dice were 6 and 3 vs. 12 and 6. I like the table to be dedicated to minis and terrain, and multi player games can have a lot of dice laying around. One rule set. Also,I know that an "unofficial" version appeared in a WI issue, but I'd like to see a Napoleonic set published.

  7. I've just taken the plunge too, picking up Dragon Rampant recently. Might have to get some of the WSS magazines issues you mention. That Punic War variant sounds interesting, and would work with figures I already have. Thanks for the info and the inspiration!


  8. Great fun set of rules, your Irish look great! I'm just starting late Roman in 28mm for another Dan Mersey ruleset Dux Bellorum, small battles in dark age Britain, he's just the right side of abstract for me.
    Best Iain

  9. Exellent blog post!!!

    Thank you very much for all kind words regarding TPL.

  10. I totaly agree. The Rampant series are really great sets of rules. I've enjoyed TPL in particular. /Mattias

  11. I, the old wargaming veteran, have also turned to the "Lament" series to reconstitute my old collections. While certainly not by any way "historically accurate in tactical methodology" the player can certainly bring out the rules even after months of not playing to have a good game as the system is so easy to remember. I really think that is the key to the success.
    Anyway, good post!