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DBA Online Tactics     

The Truth About Blades

By Chris Brantley

Military history article about Blades

Some consider Blades to be the preeminent troop type in De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) and with good reason. The following short essay serves only to reenforce and explain that perception, but I invite more experienced gamers to share their own perspectives on an issue at the cutting edge of DBA.

Why do I say that Blades are preeminent? If you play the odds, blades are a sure winner in the long run. Blades have the highest combat modifer versus foot (+5) and even though only +3 versus mounted, they have little to fear from cavalry or light horse absent atrocious die rolling. Even knights inspire little fear in a solid line of Blades, since both fight with +3 modifiers insuring an even-up fight with no quick kills without doubling.

But even the high and mightly Blades must fear the quick kill potential of those impetuous Warbands.

The Classic Match-up: Blades vs. Warband

One of the classic historical match-ups in ancient wargaming is the charge of fanatical Warbands against a steady line of Blades. Just conjure up an image of Gauls or Early Germans assailing Roman legionaries and you've got the idea.

In DBA, the match-up of Warband against Blade is potentially deadly. If your Blade element's modified dice roll is less than half that of your opponent's Warband, you are destroyed. But unless your winning roll doubles the Warband's result, they will merely recoil.

But what are the odds in this match-up? What chance does a Gallic or German Warband have against their Marian Roman Blade nemesis?

With a close combat modifier of +3 for Warband versus a +5 for Blades, Blades will kill Warband 17 percent of the time, force it to recoil 55 percent of the time, tie to no effect 11 percent of the time, and be killed 17 percent of the time.

Thus, Blades will prevail 72 percent of the time, but risk death one roll out of every six rolls on average. A small touch of mortality to keep the Legios honest.

Warbands can narrow the odds considerably, however, by using a supported line. A two deep Warband line fights at +4 versus the +5 of Blades. If you rework the percentages, Blades will kill supported Warbands 6 percent of the time, force them to recoil 52 percent of the time, tie to no effect 14 percent of the time, and risk death 28 percent of the time. Blades still prevail 58 percent of the time, but have a much harder time killing the warbands and risk their own death at least one roll in four. Despite the modest advantage in a heads-up fight for Blades, supported Warbands become the real "killers" unless Blades can take advantage of the Warband's shortened lines to assail their flanks.

By the way, figuring the odds and playing strictly by the numbers is not necessarily considered good form for a DBA player, or any wargamer for that matter, but I posit that any good player knows from experience what a good match-up is and what is a clear long-shot.

What Else Do Blades Fear?

While Warbands are probably the greatest threat to Blades, Blades can also be beaten in the right circumstances by other circumstances; their weaknesses being:

  1. Scythed chariots in good going. (+4 combat modifer plus a quick kill potential)

  2. Unprotected flanks (potential +1 or +2 modifier for opponent can shift the odds).

  3. Facing bad terrain troops in bad terrain (Blades suffer a -2 combat modifer in bad terrain making them the equal of Auxilia and only a +1 advantage over Psiloi)

  4. A wall of supported Pikes. (A supported pike element at +6 versus foot has a slight statistical advantage over blades at +5 versus foot and should win if their flanks are secure).

  5. Having to chase light horse or any faster element in a 200 pace per turn dash to cover your unprotected camp.

  6. Unlucky die.

The morale of the story:

Gird your loins against the impetuous charge of Warbands and trust to the odds to see you through. Keep your Blades away from Scythed Chariots, supported Pike and bad terrain. Project your flanks and your camp. Roll no worse than average.

The Nightmare of Blades

Thus, with a +5 combat modifer versus foot, Blades are one of, if not the "killer" element of DBA. If your goal is to win consistently and the plodding but irresistible tread of a solid line of Blades is how you derive tactical satisfaction, then you should be able to give your opponents nightmares with the following DBA armies listed below with their Blade maximums.

Max. No. of Blades Army Lists
10 Vikings (106a)
9 Marian Romans (59) and Early Swiss (161a)
8 Leidang (106b) and
War of the Roses English (179)
7 Free Company (172)
6 Polybian Roman (46b), Early Samurai (127a), Scots Island and Highlands (128), Early Burgundian (173), Medieval French 170), and French Ordonnance (178)
5 New Kingdom Egypt (11), Early Imperial Romans (64), Anglo-Norman (134) and Hussite (176).

To achieve the maximums listed above, in several cases, you will have to dismount Knights and/or choose Blades from among several troop-type options. For example, Free Company (#172) list allows you to field 2, 4, 5, or 7 blades depending on whether you choose to dismount your knights and/or exchanged longbowmen for blades.

Even if your army is not predominantly comprised of Blades, you can still use the one or two Blade elements you may have at your disposal as a potent striking force, with the goal of punching holes in your enemy's lines and following up with flank overlaps.

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at brant@erols.com.

Copyright Wargaming.net 1999-2013
DBA 1.2 Rules Wargames Research Group 1995
DBA 1.22 Rules Phil Barker, Richard Bodley Scott, Sue Laflin Barker 1990-2000