The Ballad of the Lone Psiloi
By Chris Brantley
Named for the classic Greek light infantry, Psiloi ("cy - loi") are the skirmish troops of DBA. They wear little or no armor and are equipped from a wide assortment of missile weapons including javelins, bows, crossbows, slings, and even handguns in the later medieval ordonnance period. Most were irregular troops impressed into service for the duration of the campaign with whatever simple weapons they could provide for themselves. Others were well drilled and expert at their craft like Alexander the Great's Agraines and the mercenary slingers of the Baleric Islands.
Psiloi move in open order and shoot their missiles in close proximity to the enemy, and so are not allowed to engage in Distance Shooting like DBA Bow. They move more quickly than other DBA foot and are not slowed by bad going. They are the masters of rough terrain, of the hit and run attack, and of swarming around the enemy's flanks. They ply their trade in dire apprehension of all mounted troops who can ride them down in an instant on open ground.
Although hardly a menace in Close Combat, Psiloi can play an important supporting role if properly used. All experienced gamers at one time or another find themselves singing the Ballad of the Lone Psiloi, a story that invariably involves a doughty little Psiloi element out there on its own, slowing down a whole wing of the enemy's advance from reaching your weak flank, while you marshall your forces on the opposing flank for the decisive blow. In many a game you'll find that a resilient little Psiloi is all that stands between you and the enemy's camp and the prospect of quick victory. Few players will speak the praises of an all-Psiloi army, but almost all will welcome one or two of these useful auxiliaries in their list.
I have not bothered to work out the combat percentages when Psiloi is matched against various other troop types. Quite frankly, they are irrelevant. Psiloi, by and large, is not expected to win. Their +2 Close Combat modifier puts them on par with Bow and just above the wholly unreliable Camp Followers. They have only a three percent chance (1 in 36) of killing Auxilia, Warband, Cavalry, or Knights heads-up in good going. They only have one quick kill possibility (see the Classic Match-Up Below).
What Psiloi is expected to do is skirmish and harass, to buy time, to cover your flanks and protect your Camp against the end run, and to provide support to the main battle line and to those friendly Cavalry elements who find themselves beyond the support of your main line.
What makes Psiloi so useful is that they are so hard to kill. Unless doubled, Psiloi can only be killed by Knights; otherwise they recoil. If doubled, only Knights, Cavalry, or Light Horse in good going, Auxilia, or other Psiloi can kill them. Otherwise they flee. In either case, they are back in action the next bound, and your opponent will have to try to shove them out of the way all over again.
Psiloi can also be quite handy providing support in Close Combat. They can interpenetrate through friendly troops without difficulty, which allows you to deploy them in front of your main battle line without fear of a recoil disrupting your line. There, whether they win or lose (which is the more likely outcome), they can help break up your opponent's line and make it vulnerable to overlaps when you counterattack with your main line. Morever, if your Psiloi are pressed too hard, they can just retire to safety through the main battleline. If the line is comprised of Spear or Blades, they can provide support (+1) by lobbing their missiles over the heads of their allies at attacking mounted troops.
Finally, Psiloi, along with Auxilia, are DBA's rough terrain troops. Difficult terrain does not negatively affect their combat performance. In rough terrain, Psiloi actually become the equal if not superior of most DBA troop types, who suffer a -2 Close Combat modifier. They can also quick kill any mounted who happen to venture out of good going.
The Classic Match-Up
Although not necessarily the most frequent to occur, the classic match-up for Psiloi is probably against Elephants. In open order, Psiloi could avoid being trampled by Elephants while at the same time annoying the sensitive beasts greatly with their slings and arrows.
DBA provides Psiloi with their only quick kill capability against Elephants. With a +2 Close Combat factor, Psiloi will have a hard time killing Elephants who are +4 vs. foot. Elephants will die 17% of the time, Psiloi will recoil 47% of the time and flee 25% of the time.
What Do Psiloi Fear?
The chief cause of Psiloi mortality is Knights in good going. Any mounted troop-type in good going that doubles Psiloi in Close Combat will kill them.
Similarly, Auxilia and other Psiloi can kill them, but only by doubling them in Close Combat.
The Morale of the Story:
Don't be afraid to use your Psiloi aggressively, they are hard to kill.
Use them both in front of and behind your main battle line; in front to disrupt your opponent's formation and behind to offer close-range missile support to your Blades or Spears. Use them to occupy the enemy's Elephants, to protect flanks, support far-ranging Cavalry, and/or as Lone Rangers to slow down the enemy's advance. Put them in rough terrain when possible. And keep them away from Knights in good going at all costs, as well as other mounted troops on open ground.
Picking a Psiloi Army
While Psiloi armies may be attractive from an economic standpoint (only 24+ figures to buy and paint at two per base), relatively few gamers prefer to game with armies in which Psiloi are the predominant arm.
Unless fighting a similar historical opponent or gifted with large areas of difficult terrain in which to operate, a Psiloi-heavy army will seldom stand up to the beating that must eventually come when the main battle-lines come to grips. You can disperse your Psiloi to seek out favorable flank and bad going match-ups, but a bad roll of the PIP die will greatly hamper their mobility. But if the challenge of light troops appeals to you, then here are some armies for you to consider:
||Early Libyan (#4a)
||Later Libyan (#14b)
||Later Hoplite Greek (#32), Ancient Spanish (#52), & Blemye or Nobades (#63)
||Early Armenian (#44), Moorish (#65), Early Gothic or Vandal (#70) & Italian Ostrogoth (#88)
||Midianite Arab (#5), Early German (#57), Ancient British (#60), Norman (#102c)
||Maccabean Jewish (#56), Scots-Irish (#61), Dacian (#68); Annamese (#71), Early Byzantine (#86), Andalusian (#103), Leidang (106b), Anglo-Norman (#134); Sicilian (#135); Numidian (#154), Early Ottoman (#160a) & Knights of St. John on Cyprus and Rhodes (#162a/b)
If you are interested in having one or just a couple of Psiloi in your army, then you're in luck. Including those listed above, 160 of the 180 official DBA army lists provide at least one Psiloi as an option.
However, if you are distainful of skirmishers, then you can choose from twenty armies that allow no possibility of fielding a Psiloi: Early Shang (#6), Later Shang (#16a), Early Indian (#21a), Palmyran (#76), Korean (#78), Patrician Rome (#81), Early and Later Samurai (#127a/b), Early Medieval Scandanavian (#131a), Ayyubid Egyptian (#143), Feudal English (#145), Khwarizmian (#146), Later Polish (#149), Teutonic Order (#151), Ilkhanid (#159a), 100 Years War English (#168), Medieval French (#170), Early Burgundian (#173), Hussite (#176), and Burgundian Ordonnance (#180).
Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques are welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at firstname.lastname@example.org.