Monday, September 1, 2014

The Books of Summer

Summer is ending, but the summer reading goes on. I always have a lot on my plate when it comes to reading. My eyes are bigger than my brain. (Most things are bigger than my brain.) There are stacks of books in various places all over my house because I'm often reading multiple books at the same time and I have nowhere to put them all. Even when I'm not in the middle of a book, the shelves are full to groaning and my iPad is stuffed full of ebooks for my Kindle and Nook apps. A lot of what I read are weighty (sometimes ponderous) academic tomes on history, theology, archaeology, grammar, politics (God forgive me), or the more high-brow kind of literature, poetry, essays, etc. So every now and then, I need some literary roughage to clear out the system.

This roughage takes the form of books that don't cause me to stop every other paragraph and ponder the deeper meaning of the world. Instead, they are just pure reading pleasure. I can fly through page after page and stay up late into the night (too late, perhaps) trying to get in just one more chapter, page, paragraph...

My most recent cerebral colon-blow came from M.A.R. Barker's long out of print Tékumel: The Empire of the Petal Throne novels The Man of Gold and Flamesong.

Greg Maggard (a.k.a. El Grego of the many blogs) got me intrigued with the world of Tékumel from postings on his blog The Pewter-Pixel Wars. I remember Tékumel from the 1970s when M.A.R. Barker published the RPG Empire of the Petal Throne. I never played the game, but I liked the figures produced for it by Ral Partha Miniatures. They looked like Meso-Americans gone wild. In fact, my friend Ron Towler and I considered them as possible ersatz Mayans for a gaming project we were thinking about (and never did). No one made Mayan figures in the 70s—in fact, I don't think anyone makes them now.

Barker first published Empire of the Petal Throne through TSR in 1975. Nine years and much EPT stuff later, he published The Man of Gold, the first of what would be five novels set in Tékumel, whose most powerful kingdom is Tsolyánu, the Empire of the Petal Throne.

Tékumel is a devolved world. The planet had been terraformed to some degree by space-faring hi-tech humans long ago, but a cosmic catastrophe had cut its solar system off from the rest of the universe. Only the planet's sun and two moons provide light; the skies are devoid of stars. Since the catastrophe, the world has descended into a roughly 1st c. technology, even then many resources are unavailable. Iron is very rare and most weapons and armor are made from the very tough hides of an indigenous animal, the chlen-beast. In this world of low technology, working bits from the ancient world before the catastrophe remain and are highly sought after. The world also contains "magic" in the sense that some people are able to tap into power from the "Planes Beyond."

There are also several non-human races on Tékumel. Some are indigenous and inimical to humans and other races, others were brought to the planet by humans in the time before the catastrophe.

The Man of Gold is the story of a young low-level priest named Harsan who gets caught up in the search for an ancient object which the few ancient texts refer to as "The man of gold." He alone posses the ability to find it and use it, but he's contending with unscrupulous elements from within and outside Tsolyánu who want to use the man of gold to gain power for themselves.

Hot on the heels of The Man of Gold, I managed to find a used copy of Flamesong, Barker's second Tékumel novel. I finished it just this morning. Like Man of Gold, Flamesong is a page-turner. The Flamesong of the book's title is a destructive weapon that comes from the gods. Trinesh, a hereksa (a commander of 100 men) in a Tsolyáni legion, gets caught up with characters from the enemy kingdom of Yan Kor and haphazardly travels with them around the kingdoms of Tékumel in tunnel cars (a remnant of the pre-catastophe technology) as both allies and rivals through the various situations they find themselves in. In the end, Flamesong is thwarted and things more or less settle into the status quo ante.

Barker is often compared to J.R.R. Tolkien (by Barker fans, incidentally, not by Tolkien fans). Both wrote novels set in fantasy worlds whose verisimilitude was achieved by creating a depository of history and culture—including creating whole languages—outside the novels, and then drawing on that depository for the breadth and depth required for meaningfully describing the worlds they created. Tolkien broadly modeled his work on the Northern European Dark Age. Barker modeled his on India/Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, pre-columbian Meso-America. Both were philologists and professors. Both told gripping stories. However, the comparisons end pretty much there.

I thoroughly enjoyed Barker's novels as fast-paced swords 'n' sorcery adventure tales. However, there isn't anything deep in them. One of the things that strikes me about Barker's books is that they read a lot like you'd expect a post-mortem of an RPG session to read if you gave it some good literary flourishes. This isn't accidental. Barker's novels followed his RPG by almost a decade. The world of Tékumel was created not as the background of a novel, but as the background of a role-playing game. Barker wrote numerous background booklets for Empire of the Petal Throne in the late 70s and early 80s.

Tolkien, on the other hand, was the inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons, although he had nothing to do with the game and died the year before it was published. Tolkien's inspiration for Middle Earth had much more to do with his own world view, which was profoundly Catholic. Tolkien wrote that Lord of the Rings was "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work." Although Lord of the Rings was never allegorical (Tolkien disliked allegory), it did express deep Catholic ideas in the world Tolkien created and in his characters.

Barker was a convert to Islam in the 1950s (the initials M.A.R. stand for his Muslim name, Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman), but I'm hard-pressed to see anything Islamic in his themes, characters, and in the world-view expressed in his books. In an interesting contrast to Tolkien, Barker is quite profuse in his descriptions of religion and sex in Tékumel. Tolkien never mentions either about Middle Earth. Instead, Tolkien's work speaks of faith and love.

I could go on—and if you're still with me at this point, thanks for hanging in there—but I can sum up the distinctions between Barker and Tolkien thus: Barker writes a great story but, unlike Tolkien, never rises to the level of great literature. For literature to be great it has to show us what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Tolkien scores high on all three and Lord of the Rings is considered by readers to be one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century or even of the last millennium. Barker's novels are rather obscure and appeal to a niche audience. Nevertheless, if you can find a copy of Man of Gold or Flamesong, buy it and enjoy it.

Earlier in the summer, I got around to reading C.S. Lewis' space trilogy. Although I'm a fan of Lewis' writing, I'd never had much interest in the space trilogy before, but I read something that referred to the series quite favorably, so I was interested enough to get a hardback set of all three: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

I burned through the first two volumes very quickly. Perelandra wore me out, not because it was tedious—to the contrary, it was riveting—but because the depiction of evil in the book was deep and disturbing.  I know this is a departure from my commitment to literary roughage, so I've put the third novel, That Hideous Strength, on hold.

I've posted earlier of my love for H. Beam Piper's book Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. I picked up a copy of John F. Carr's biography of Piper last week. So far I've just nibbled at it, but with Flamesong finished, I'm about to dive in more deeply. Piper is a fascinating and enigmatic character. He's a bit obscure in the sci-fi genre except to his devotees (such as my humble self). He might have been one of the greats if not for the fact that he killed himself in 1964, pretty much right on the cusp of wider success.

Carr's book tries to uncover the mysteries of Piper, who seemed to be very active in his lifetime in obscuring any real knowledge about himself. It's almost as much a detective work as a biography because so much of what Piper told others about himself turns out to be untrue, so there are only snippets of letters and personal remembrances to go by. He destroyed much of his unfinished work, which is a pity perhaps. He was embarrassed by his juvenilia (so to speak), which is why he burned it.

He never made much money as a writer and lived far beyond his means and put up a false front in regard to his financial well-being. He amassed an impressive collection of antique firearms, which he loaned to the local historical society. Even when in dire financial straits, he was too proud to take back the collection and sell it for the money he needed to live. Instead, he shot pigeons on his roof and ate them to avoid starvation until another advance or royalty check came his way. The experience made him vow to never let himself starve like that again, which must have been a factor in his suicide.

I also have a recently acquired copy of Federation, a collection of Piper's short stories for his Future History series. The last story in the book, "When in the Course," has only been published here. It uses a similar setting as Kalvan, including the names and characters of the people in Hostigos, except there is no Calvin Morrison and no Paratime Police. Instead, the story involves interplanetary settlers, who side with Prince Ptosphes and Hostigos against Styphon's House and its allies.

"When in the Course" was only discovered among Piper's papers some 16 years after his death. It's his original conception of the story of the "Gunpowder God" that was reworked and published as Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. It makes one wonder what other gems he had that went up in flames. He was working on a novel about the great Spanish Renaissance general Gonzalo de Cordoba, The Great Captain. It's a great shame that that work was unfinished and lost.

I started "When in the Course" a while ago, and then switched to re-reading Kalvan, which I liked better. I need to settle back and get through "When in the Course." I'm sure I'll find it rewarding.

Postscript 9/2/14

I finished "When in the Course" this morning. It definitely doesn't have the same feel as Kalvan. I can see why it was re-worked into the Paratime series. Piper had been serializing the story in Analog magazine when he died.

Apparently, publishing Kalvan posthumously while the serialization in Analog was still in progress was a sticky issue.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cutte ye Bridge! (an ECW skirmish game)

We played a small game of ECW skirmish on Saturday using Ganasha Games' Flashing Steel rules. These rules use the same basic game engine as Song of Blades and Heroes, which we used to play our Bronze Age Europe game.

Bill Stewart wrote the scenario: A flying column of Roundhead foot and dragoons under Captain Dullard has been sent by Rupert the Rich to seize Goingbroke House and outflank the defensive position of Lord Goingbroke. The key to this maneuver is the capture of Shorttcutte Bridge and Butler's Botton, a local ford. Lord Goingbroke has sent some foot under Captain Templar to hold the line and, if necessary, deny the Roundheads the bridge by blowing it up if in imminent danger of capture.

Phil Bardsley, Bill, and Dick Larsen were the Roundheads; Chris Craft and I were the Cavaliers.

Chris and I set up our men, I lining the road from the wee market village of Cheap Goingbroke, and Chris manning both sides of the bridge with explosives in hand to destroy it.

William's dragonnade advanceth menacingly
Phil came down through the village, Bill's dragoons went up the middle, and Dick's boys skirted the river to Butler's Bottom.

A warme welcome for ye Round-heads
My advance guard of three musketeers manned a stone wall and peppered Phil's company at medium to long range with no effect beyond slight discomfiture. As Phil advanced farther, I was able to render one trooper hors de combat with a little bit of volley fire.

Phil undeterred
Another few shots and there were more holes in the ranks. Bill started moving in towards my other positions along the road and sent men towards the bridge against Chris' force.

William's dragoons skulk forward whilst Dick's men prepare to brave Butler's Bottom
Seeking glory at the table's edge, as is his wont, Dick sent his men across Buttler's Bottom only to see several swept away by the current. He nevertheless made it across with a sufficient force and trudged on deliberately towards the bridge while Phil and Bill kept our attention focused on this side of the river. Bill moved his dragoons ever closer in and massed them by some buildings for an attack on the bridge.

A skulking of dragoons
There was a great deal of general shooting now and lots of smoke on the field.

Ye shooting groweth hotter
Phil continued on intrepidly and was soon at my throat. A brief fight for the wall and hedge line left my three musketeers dead as door-nails and my first line of defense breached. Chris managed to get the gunpowder in place in readiness to blow the bridge and manned the hedges on both sides against Bill and Dick.

Emplacing ye gunne-powder
At many places, the fighting amounted to trading musket shots across the width of a hedge.

In mortal combatt an hedge's width apartt
Phil's onslaught down the road forced me to abandon part of my position along the hedges and take a new position on the hill. From there I continued to pepper him with musket shots, to little effect.

I moveth to an hygher grounde thence to discomfit myne enymyes
But Phil pursued me uphill and we we soon locked in mortal combat on the crest.

Ye Round-heads attacke most furyously
Meanwhile Dick advanced down the table edge and lost a few more men to Chris' musketry. Chris pushed back a strong attack by Bill on the near side of the bridge, but the tentacles of doom seemed to be closing and we decided it was time to blow the bridge.

Bill's dragoons hasten past to ye bridge
Dick's men skulketh foreward in ragged arraye
Chris had managed to get the barrels of gunpowder in place and needed to light the fuse, which required a skill test. Passing that the fuse burned and we wouldn't know until the end of next turn what resulted.

Ye fuze is litte, hasten away!
Chris managed to get all his men away from the danger zone and at the end of the turn, he rolled for effect and the bridge blew up most satisfyingly.

Ye bridge ytt bloweth uppe!
The game was called a tie, effectively, although most of our forces were cut off by the bridge blowing. Chris had only four men on the far side of the bridge while Dick had a larger force—even after losses to musket fire and Butler's Bottom—and so was assumed to be able to get the upper hand against Chris' few men.

We had a slow start getting used to the nuances of Flashing Steel, but in time we clicked along. The rules play quickly and easily. As with Song of Blades and Heroes, there are a few things I'd like to see the rules have: facing (rather than shoot and fight 360º), armor values, and separate values for hand-to-hand and shooting combat. FS and SoBH do address these things abstractly already, except for separate shooting/HtH values. 

Dick used his own figures; all the other figures were painted by Bill Stewart. These are from the very nice Old Glory range that goes back about 20 years or so. I was able to put out my new Conflix buildings and get into a game for the first time the Miniature Building Authority bridge I got last year. I have several Renegade and Bicorne Miniatures for the ECW. These stand nearly a head taller then the OG ECW figures, even though they are both sold as 28mm ranges. Renegade is out of commission currently, but hopefully not permanently. However, Bicorne offers the same figures as are in the Renegade range and more.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lo, the lowly slinger

Maybe it's because my name is David, but I've always had an affinity for slingers in wargames. There's something intriguingly primal about smiting your foe with a rock, even one flung from a distance using mechanical aid.

In every ancients wargame I play, whether big-battle style or skirmish, I make sure that I take any slingers I can get from the available troop types in an army list. These figures are also among first ones I paint. In fact, it's always a matter of deep chagrin for me when I get interested in a range of ancients figures only to discover that they left out our friend the slinger. So, this post is my humble paean to a humble weapon.

The sling in warfare through the ages

Slings are one of the earliest known weapons, being essentially an extension of throwing a rock by hand. Though likely used first for hunting, they became common in prehistoric warfare. They go back to Neolithic or even Paleolithic times. Like the earlier developed atlatl, the sling was an application of the principle of mechanical leverage long before Archimedes invented defined it.

Petroglyh of slinger from Çatal Hüyük ca. 7500 BC
Evidence for the use of slings can be found in the archaeological record in places all over the world, mostly from pictographic evidence. However, evidence from skulls dating from Mesolthic and Neolithic times show indentation wounds that must have come from stones that were hand thrown or slung.

Petroglyph of slingers from the island of Naxos, ca. 2000 BC
There is also physical evidence. Even though slings, which are made from organic material, don't survive over time, slingstones do. However, slingstones can be difficult to identify. Unless the sling bullet is formed from clay or otherwise shaped, it's difficult to say that a roundish stone found at an archeological site is a projectile rather than just a rock. Excavations of the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age city of Hamoukar in Syria have uncovered more than 1300 projectiles that were apparently used in the violent overthrow of that city.

Clay sling bullets in situ at Hamoukar, Syria ca. 3500 BC
In the ancient world, slingers were either highly regarded as elite missile troops or generally despised because they used a peasant weapon—yet one with great asymmetrical effect, as Goliath of Gath learned to his dismay.

You're laughing now, but wait for it...
Slingers appear in Homer where the Locrians are said to have "...trusted in bows, and slings of well-wound sheep’s wool, the weapons they brought to Troy, and with these they fired missiles thick and fast, trying to break the Trojan lines." (Iliad XIII)

Slingers on a silver rhyton from Mycenae
The Israelite tribe of Benjamin had a corps of 700 deadly-accurate left-handed slingers, as related by Judges 20:15-16. Assyrian wall reliefs showing the siege of the Judean city of Lachish in 701 B.C. depict slingers to the rear of archers, which has been interpreted to mean that slingers outranged them. It could also mean that the slingers used a high enough trajectory to shoot over ranks in front of them. It's interesting that in no ancients rules I'm aware of are slingers allowed overhead shooting, nor do they out-range bows.

Assyrian slingers form up behind the archers
Recovered slingstones from Lachish show what a wallop these things could inflict. The large size may also be due to their use in a siege rather than in the field.

Slingstones bigger than meatballs
In the Anabasis Book 3:3, Xenophon relates how his troops suffered from the Persian slingers and bowmen. The Greek missile troops consisted only of Cretan archers and some peltasts with javelins. The Persian archers out-ranged the Cretans (perhaps because they used composite vs. simple bows) and the Persian slingers outranged the Greek peltasts. After a fruitless attempt to drive off the Persian missile troops, Xenophon enlisted from among his ranks 200 Rhodians, whose skill with the sling was legendary, to become an elite corps of slingers. Because they used lead bullets in their slings, versus the fist-sized stones of the Persians, the Rhodians far outranged and neutralized the Persian slingers.

Rhodian slingers continued in use by Greek armies; Pyhrrus had a corps of 500 of them at Heraclea. Hannibal employed slingers from the Balearic Isles in his campaigns in Italy. Rome employed both Balearic slingers and Rhodian slingers after these areas came under their control. Some lead sling stones recovered from archaeological sites have inscriptions on them in Latin or Greek that say things like "catch!" or "take this!" A practice not dissimilar to writings on ordnance in modern times.

Roman slingers from Trajan's column ca. 113 AD
Slings continued in use through the Dark Ages and into the Middle Ages. The Prophet Mohammed was wounded in the face by a slingstone at the Battle of Uhud in 625. The sling gradually fell out of use in Europe during the middle ages, although it was retained at least into the 14th c. in Spain.

At the Battle of Kappel in 1531, Swiss soldiers carried stones in their pockets to use as close-range missiles. Although not an example sling use, it still shows how the ballistic use of stones could have an effect. The Swiss stone-throwers were credited with stopping a cavalry charge at one point. (Kappel, by the way, was the battle where the Swiss reformer heretic Ulrich Zwingli was killed. He was badly wounded and found on the field where he was finished off by an enemy captain fighting for the canton of Unterwalden named Fuckinger—no doubt from Fucking, Austria (the comma here is important!).

The Spanish conquistadors in the 16th c. encountered slings in the hands of the Aztecs and Incas whom they conquered. These missiles were more feared than the native arrows and javelins because, unlike those weapons, the slingstones had deadly effect against the armored Spanish troops. There is evidence that Coronado's men used slings themselves—in addition to their arquebuses and crossbows—in his 1540 Cíbola expedition in the American southwest.

Clay figurine of a Meso-American slinger ca. 300 AD
Meandering nostalgic digression: I had some old Minifigs Aztec slingers from their 70s-era Aztecs range. I quite liked them, but I don't know what happened to them (as, alas, I have no recollection of how I came to lose a lot of long-lost things), but I recall them in a type of overall suit with a shield and head-gear that made them look a bit like Big Fig from the old Fig Newton commercials: Hit it, Hal! Apparently, these figures are still available, so I've ordered a few. Minifigs tells me that there's a two-week casting time and then shipping after that. I'll post an update when they come.

The staff-sling supplemented, and later superseded, the shepherd's sling that was in common use for so many thousands of years. The staff-sling simply attached one end of a sling to the end of a pole with the other end slipped over a peg at the top of the pole. Using the weapon was similar to the action of a trebuchet. Although the actual range of the staff-sling may have been no greater than the shepherd sling, it was handier for throwing larger projectiles and even incendiaries in siege or naval warfare.

Slingers in wargames

In reviewing a set of ancients rules, I always have a keen eye about how slings perform in them. I'm not really looking to see whether they perform better than bows, only that they perform differently and not be lumped into a group with bows as long-range missiles (as opposed to javelins and darts, which are short-range missiles). Unfortunately, the latter is often the case.

There are a few rays of light, however. I was pleased to find in the skirmish rules BattleLust by Columbia Games that slings and staff-slings are separate missile weapons. I even found that staff-slings are less accurate at close range than slings, but have the advantage of range and outperform the humble shepherd sling at longer ranges.

WRG Ancients (6th ed.) had separate stats for slings that gave them better effect against armored troops than bows, even if their range was shorter. The WRG 5th edition ancients rules separated staff-slings from the rest, but the humble shepherd sling was counted among the bows and javelins.

Rogue's Gallery: Slingers I have known

The following are a few of the slinger figures I've painted and played with over the years.

Balearic slingers
These are from Crusader Miniatures. I blogged about these guys earlier when they were painted for a 28mm version of Field of Glory. I abandoned the FoG project, but not the figures. I've since re-based them on single-figure stands for use in skirmish games.

Bronze Age Europeanoids
These are from Monolith Designs 40mm Prehistoric Europe range. I completed these figures as part of my Bronze Age Europe skirmish project. The Song of Blades and Heroes rules I use don't give slingers any kind of distinction; they're just like anyone else with a distant shooting weapon. Although, SoBH is versatile enough to allow my own tinkering with special slinger rules…

Greek slingers
These are some of the beautiful  figures from Foundry's World of the Greeks range sculpted by Steve Saleh many years back. I've played with these figures in my De Bellis Velitum games. Alas DBV counts slingers as any other "shooter" no different than bowmen, cross-bowmen, staff-slingers, or even the fabled Lithuanian bat-dung hurlers.

Naked Guy With A Rock (βράχος-ρίψης γυμνιστών)
One notable figure from among my Greek slingers is the bollocks nekkid guy holding a big rock (so, not actually a slinger). In one of our DBV games, he took on all comers and walked away. Legend has it that he retired with his trusty rock to an island in the Cyclades where he entertained tourists with lurid tales of taking on an army single handed with nothing but his rock and a smile.

What does one wear to a rock fight?
Rock flingin' Picts
These excellent figures, made by Black Tree Designs, were a very nice addition to my Pictish forces for Pig Wars, which are otherwise from Old Glory's Age of Arthur range. Old Glory doesn't offer Pictish slingers, so I was quite happy to find the Black Tree figures in a blister pack at The Panzer Depot stall at an Enfilade! convention long ago (so long ago that John Kennedy, proprietor of TPD, was actually at Enfilade! selling things instead of sitting it out like Achilles among the Argive ships).

On deck
I've got several other packs of slingers: Saxons, Irish, Byzantine (staff-slingers), Spartans, etc. that I'll eventually paint and get into games. I'm rather keen, now that I think of it, to do something with Aztecs and Conquistadors. I likely won't use the old Minifigs "Big Fig" slingers, but Eureka makes a nice range.

I've also got a lot of 15mm ancients still in the raw lead. Some of these are the excellent Rhodian slingers from Xyston. I just don't have an application for them yet. The mind, however, churns..., etc.

While fiddling about on the Interwebs for information about slings, I discovered the website, which is devoted to reviving the sport of slinging. The site has lots of information about modern-day slinging with links to other sites. Some of the sites linked to offer slings for sale. I couldn't resist. I ordered a split-pouch sling made of woven paracord from David the Shepherd. It's advertised as being ideal for slinging golf balls, although until I learn how to aim and control the sling, I'm sticking to marshmallows. They won't stop Goliath, but they won't go through a neighbor's window or drop some ill-fated passerby either.

Sling and sling-mallows
So far, I've only slung marshmallows around the house. My success is marginal; mostly I just alarm the cats. Part of the problem is that the marshmallows—and I even got the jumbo ones—don't have enough weight to seat properly. They tend to fly out in the wind-up. I think that once they go stale, I'll have an easier time with them.

I've also looked into getting a Balearic style sling made of woven sisal from T.J. Potter Slingmaker. This is a lot more like the ancient weapon and is modeled after the slings still in use in the Balearic Isles of Spain, where annual slinging contests are still held in honor of the islands' history of producing the finest slingers of the ancient world.

The big problem with slinging in these modern times is finding a place to sling—especially to practice—that is open and far from anything/anyone that could get hit by a stray shot. I expect stray shots to be my standard release for some time.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Song of Blades and Heroes: Mayhem at the Megalith

[Disclaimer: I know, I know. I promised to blog every week. I haven't. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I started this post in February, I think, and am just now finishing and publishing it. Enjoy.]

We recently played out first game of Song of Blades and Heroes at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. It was Phil Bardsley and I against Bill Stewart and Dick Larsen. We used every figure I have painted so far of my 40mm Bronze Age Europeanoids (except for the four-figure hippie cult group—maybe next game...). I also got a chance to use my nifty Jelling Dragon bone dice (I have 20 now) for the first time.

There was no subtlety to the scenario. Just set up and have at. Dick and I faced off over a stream and Phil and Bill contended for the Bridge of Sorrows (Bill's sorrow, as it turned out).

Face-off by the stream
The sides were more or less even. We each had a hero, some warriors, and a couple missile troops each. I used minimal special rules just so we could get through the game quickly and get the basic game down pat.
My hero steps forth all alone
The rules use an activation system whereby players attempt to activate a single figure at a time by rolling one, two, or three D6. The result is compared to the figure's quality rating (Q) with any result equal or greater allowing for one action. For example, a figure with Q=4 would get an action for every result of 4-6. So, a designated figure could get up to three activations or none. The trick is that any activation attempt that results in two or more failures ends the player's turn. 

I started by trying to advance all my men. The first out was my hero, who advanced to the stream's edge. However, my next attempt was an epic fail, so no one followed the hero. Dick, who probably threw 6's for 80% of his die rolls, quickly took advantage and forced my hero back to the dubious safety of being in company with his faint-hearted fellows.

Dick's boys edge up...
On the other flank, Phil moved out strongly against Bill, who was content to try to hold the trans-riparian end of the bridge, but not for long.

Bill's Bronze Age bad-asses
Phil's tallest hero on earth leads his warriors toward the bridge
Phil was soon contending the bridge and pushing bill back. Phil's hero, the tallest figure on the table and swinging a death-dealing axe, was in the lead. 

Horatius not holding the bridge
Bill's hero was soon struck down, but Phil's hero followed him to Valhalla shortly after. Nevertheless, Phil kept the upper hand—especially since he quickly waded the stream and came at the bridge from behind Bill's defenders.

Phil's hero gone, but Bill's annihilation is at hand
The combat rules are very DBA-like. A fight is always between two primary figures who compare their combat (C) values plus one D6. Extra figures in contact can affect the score by reducing the outnumbered figure by -1 for each extra figure he's in contact with. The modified results are compared and the higher score wins in one of four basic ways: 
  1. A simple win with an odd die result pushes the enemy back one base depth. 
  2. A simple win with an even die result causes the enemy to fall (fallen figures much more vulnerable to continued attack).
  3. A win by twice the enemy's modified result (but not three times) is a kill. If the enemy is fallen, only a simple win is required to kill him.
  4. A win by three times or more than the enemy inflicts a GRUESOME KILL (which we mark with a little Litko skull token). If the enemy has fallen then only doubling the enemy is required for a gruesome kill. A gruesome kill also spreads panic among the deceased's fellows, who must check morale.
First GRUESOME KILL of the game
The first gruesome kill was inflicted on me by Dick's hero and one of his mooks. I was only doubled, but my figure had fallen, making it more susceptible to a gruesome death. I checked morale for each figure within one long movement stick by throwing three dice per figure and checking the results against the figure's quality. A figure moves one medium move stick away for each fail, if there are one or two failures; for three failures, the figure just bugs out and is removed from play. The resulting morale chaos sent most of my men running one or two moves away (no one bugged out).

Dick's wayward warriors wade the waters
Dick mercilessly followed up on this advantage by pressing forward. Because he couldn't seem to roll less than 6 on any die, he easily made his activations.

A world of mayhem
Battle of the standards
I managed to inflict a gruesome kill on Dick at one point, which sent some of his men scurrying back. However, Dick's special talent for rolling high kept his force pretty intact despite their fearful revulsion.

Run away! 
Dick whittling me down
In the end, Dick managed to reduce my force to just a few figures while he remained mostly intact. Phil and Bill had chopped each other up pretty well, but Phil held the bridge with his remaining figures. The game probably took around 90 minutes, but that includes a great deal of chatter amongst ourselves and pauses every now and then for photo ops.

The rules play quickly and make for an enjoyable time. We used pretty generic values for the rank and file with special characteristics only for our leaders. Adding more detail and variety to the figures will involve adding name tags (and having to come up with interesting Bronze Age European names!) and tracking the characteristics on rosters. The special abilities will add more time to the game, but also more character.

I hosted two games of SoBH at our Enfilade! convention in May, including the hippie cult group as major players in the victory conditions. Both games went pretty well and the players had a good time.

Ganesha Games has a forthcoming set of rules called Song of Spear and Shield that are a more detailed set of ancient skirmish rules. I'm eager to see these published, but I'm not sure how much effort the author is making to releasing them. Ganesha Games is a one-guy shop and he has a lot of irons in the fire. If the rules are published this year, I'll be ecstatic. I won't be holding my breath.

I've ordered some 28mm Cutting Edge Near East Bronze Age figures from Warlord Games. I plan to play skirmish games with them and SoSS would be ideal for it, especially because they include rules for chariots, which SoBH lacks.