A drizzly day at Lunt

The Roman fort at Lunt was quiet, the day we visited. Very quiet. Actually, me and Diane were the only visitors on a damp and drizzly weekday afternoon. Possibly for that reason, the staff were very friendly and eager to chat.

We paid our £3.50 admission charge each, and avoided a spell of rain by walking around the visitor centre, which has been set up in the reconstructed granary store on site. To a large extent, this has been set up to accomodate groups of children, which is fair enough as they apparently get a lot of school parties and families turning up. Don’t be put off by that. There’s an array of (reproduced) Roman armour, shields, weapons and other equipment to examine, including a lifesize mannequin of an auxiliary cavalryman mounted on a lifesize mannequin horse.

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What is that instrument called?  And what does it sound like?

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There’s a good reason for having him there. The thinking is that Lunt, during the latter part of the 1st century BCE, served as headquarters for the cavalry element of a cohors quingenaria equitata (a mixed unit of foot and mounted auxiliary troops). The strong evidence for this is the finding, at Lunt, of a gyrus – a circular paddock in which horses could be trained. We were told that only one other gyrus has so far been found as part of a Roman fort in Europe.

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The gyrus – 34.06m in diameter, apparently.

The gyrus has been rebuilt on site. Inside it, there’s a wooden post set up for training with the gladius. And yes, I did want to have a go at that, but regrettably no wooden training gladius was available…

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Entering the gyrus.
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Inside the gates of the gyrus, with Diane helpfully providing a sense of scale (she’s about 5’8″).

Also reconstructed, there’s one of the fort gates, now serving as entrance to the site, and a small section of the wooden walls. Parts of the walls have seen better days and look as if they’re on the verge of collapse as brambles and other shrubs are pushing them over, but at least you can get some impression of how things must have appeared in Lunt’s heyday.

Other than that, there isn’t much outside the granary store besides foundations and some information boards (oh, and a toilet block, which was appreciated!). If you want to visit, it may be worth keeping an eye on Lunt’s website at http://www.luntromanfort.org/ for one of their events involving re-enactors, talks and workshops, which seem to be held periodically. The site is only opened during school holidays, by the way, which is also something to bear in mind if planning to drop by.

Back in the visitor centre, there’s quite a large diorama showing the fort as it may have appeared when in use. It contains plenty of interest, and staff claimed that every member of the Roman garrison is represented on there somewhere (I can’t verify this, I didn’t count!) but for some reason it’s been taken from its original (and logical) horizontal position and upended onto one edge, so that as an observer you’re given a sort of bird’s eye view. I don’t really know why this has been done. I’d much prefer to see it laid flat and in a space where I could walk around and look at it from various angles, and not be given the impression that the whole thing is liable to fall off the wall at any moment. A couple of miniature Romans have, in fact, fallen off and lie forlornly at the bottom of the glass case. As a side note, I’m pretty sure that the wagons on the diorama are yet another iteration of that Airix ‘Wagon Train’, only this time converted from their Wild West origins into two-wheeled Roman wagons.

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The diorama.  Notice the irregular shape of the boundary, unusual for a Roman fort.

Nearby, there’s a full sized and functional scorpio, a Roman bolt-shooting engine. Quite impressive it is, too. While we were stood looking at it, one of the two women on duty wandered over to join us. I made some comment about it being a shame the scorpio was festooned with DO NOT TOUCH notices, as I’ve always wanted to shoot a bolt from one.

“The thing is”, said the woman sadly, “we’re not allowed to do that anymore”.

“How come?”

“We did use it to actually shoot a bolt, once”, she said, “but missed the target completely. The bolt went flying through the open window of a nearby bungalow, passed right through the house, and came out of another open window on the other side. Nobody was hurt, though”, she added hastily.

As we were leaving, I noticed a signpost indicating an Air Museum somewhere down the road nearby, but we didn’t have time to check that out. Maybe we’ll look on another occasion. It stopped raining, too.

Tewkesbury: “such evil lanes”.

There’s been a slight pause in both gaming and blogging, while I’ve been away on a family visit to Leamington Spa. While there, however, I did have opportunities for a few related activities. The obligatory trawl of local charity shops turned up a couple of board games; and I was able to visit both the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury, and the Roman fort at Lunt.

For now, Tewkesbury. As it happens, we’d picked a day of heavy showers, which is probably not ideal for tramping across boggy fields. In fact it was raining so hard when we arrived at the town that we spent our first half hour in Tewkesbury sitting in the car, in the car park, eating sandwiches while the weather took its time to settle down a bit.

Not the most auspicious of beginnings. But the rain eventually cleared, and we walked into town along Gloucester Road, taking our time to check out the heraldic banners – belonging to various noblemen who fought at the Battle of Tewkesbury – festooning the houses along the route and, in fact, pretty much every building in the town centre. The banners are apparently a regular feature over the summer months, organised by the Tewkesbury Battlefield Society (a fine example of what such a local society can bring to a town) and you can read a little more about them at http://tewkesbury.org.uk/projects/.  Actually, not all necessarily belonged to noblemen.  We did notice the banner of the memorably-named Doctor Mackerel, who apparently was among those Lancastrians captured after their defeat, but whose lives were spared.

At this point, to save me repeating (and probably not so well) an account of the battle that has been written over and over elsewhere, here’s a handy link to a brief description of what actually happened in 1471:  http://www.battlefieldsofbritain.co.uk/battle_tewkesbury_1471.html

A quick visit to the Tourist Information Centre, then we located the Tewkesbury Museum. Which is tiny, and really is like a local museum for local people, the kind that is generally staffed by friendly if eccentric volunteers, and is irredeemably disorganised. The point of interest here, for anyone exploring the 1471 battle, is a large diorama that was built in 1971 to mark the 500th anniversary. Given its date of construction, it’s hardly surprising that this is populated with Airfix plastic figures from the same venerable ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ and ‘Robin Hood’ sets that supplied most wargamers’ mediaeval armies at the time, along with a few wagons that I recognised from the Airfix ‘Wagon Train’ turned onto their sides as a makeshift barricade on the left of the Lancastrian line.

Diorama 1
The Lancastrian army is on the left, here, with the Yorkists advancing from the right.
Diorama 2
Yorkist horse charge down from their hiding place on the wooded hill, to attack the Lancastrian right flank.
Diorama 3
View (albeit a blurry one) from behind the Yorkist centre.  The building in the background is Gupshill Manor – the queue for the bar must have been long, that day…
Diorama 4
Yorkists on the left, Lancastrians on the right.  The River Swilgate is in the foreground.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive. As it happens, I think the diorama is quite well done, and rather evocative. And luckily it’s avoided the sort of dire fate that notoriously befell the 1966 diorama of the Battle of Hastings once Hastings Council laid hands on that…*

On, at last, to the battlefield itself. There’s an official Battle Trail very helpfully signposted from the centre of Tewkesbury. Wait, did I just type “helpfully”? Let me put it this way. If the idea is to confuse would-be battlefield walkers, this has been successfully achieved. One end of the trail is indicated, but not the other. The path, once you’ve gone across the Gaston Field (now playing fields) behind the abbey and climbed the hill, comes to a fork where there is no signpost to indicate whether it continues down a narrow and overgrown pathway skirting the cemetery, through the cemetery itself, or through the housing estate (for the record, it turned out to be the alleyway). Emerging back onto the main Gloucester Road, it then takes you back towards the town, avoiding what would have been a very welcome break at Gupshill Manor, which was a feature on the 1471 battlefield – it’s that half-timbered building on the diorama – and is now a pub, perversely left off the Battle Trail by several hundred yards. My recommendation, for anyone trying this walk, is to turn left on the Gloucester Road at this point and head to the Gupshill Manor for a drink or two before going any further!

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A view across the Gaston Field towards Tewkesbury Abbey.
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As above.  The monument to the left memorialises the battle.
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These information boards have been placed at a few points along the route of the Battle Trail.

Back towards the town, past the Aldi supermarket, the Trail cuts to the left across another open field to Bloody Meadow. At this point, we were both in need of refreshments, and were a bit put off in any case by the gathering of fresh rain clouds and the idea of wallowing through the mud, so instead of following the route any further we just kept on walking back into town and to a debriefing session at the Berkeley Arms. Where the discovery of a very nice rum-infused ale called Swordfish, and the pub’s handy 2-pint-takeout service, did help to compensate for any disappointments along the walk.

To Bloody Meadow
Bloody meadow is over there, across this field…

In summary, then, not the most successful expedition that we’ve ever set out upon. But it has at least served to rekindle my interest in the Wars of the Roses. And the book of British battlefield walks has subsequently been taken down from its place gathering dust on my bookshelves.

Note on the title: The phrase, “such evil lanes”, is a quote from a contemporary description of the battle and the ground over which it was fought.  Modern Tewkesbury seems quite a pleasant little town.

Note on the *: In case anyone doesn’t already know the story, apparently (as it was told to me) Tony Bath was commissioned to build a diorama representing the Battle of Hastings, to commemorate the 900th anniversary.  He built a proper reconstruction of the battle using large numbers of 30mm “flat” figures.  Unfortunately, after a while, Hastings Council chose to rip this apart and replace it with a scene of 14th Century armoured knights galloping around on horseback in front of some gaudily coloured tents.  So much for history.

Campaign chance cards

Given that my existing campaign rules have been in use for several decades, I’ve decided it’s past time that they were revamped. For a start, I’ve taken a look at the system of chance cards. As I mentioned previously, said rules are largely based on Tony Bath’s venerable book, Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, and so inevitably the core of the chance cards are the ones mentioned in that book. However, I’ve been adding to them.

I’ve also decided that I actually need two sets of chance cards – one tactical, for use on the tabletop, the other a strategic set for use at the campaign level. More on the tactical chance cards later, as I’m still working on those. Really, I’m still working on the campaign cards too, but at least I’ve progressed further with those, to the point that I can actually make a set to play with.

The rule for the campaign cards is simple enough – one card to be drawn at the beginning of each campaign month. Dice rolls add some random detail to whatever event transpires, and also decide where and exactly when it does so (I’ve drawn up a chart for that – wargamers are fond of charts – though it’s a roughly sketched one as yet and largely unreadable in my handwriting).

Anyway, here’s a list of the campaign chance cards as they stand right now.

Border raids.

Coastal raids.

Migration/refugee crisis.

Minstrel spreading tales.

Bandit attacks.

Disaster at sea.

Flooding.

Earthquake.

Plague.

Drought.

Heavy rains.

Peasant revolt.

Urban riots.

Mutiny.

Storms.

Bumper crops.

Religious revelation.

Crop damage.

Efficiency in the treasury.

Corruption.

Discovery of new resource.

Treachery in high places.

Forest fire.

Sex scandal.

Assassination.

Sudden unexpected death.

Religious riots.

Enemy spies uncovered.

Fraudulent quartermaster.

Intelligence network success.

King Vajnayar’s dream

“I saw two great golden serpents that rose up before me, and between them stood Utila the Many-Breasted. She drew me into Her embrace, and then She carried me up into the sky.

As we flew high above the sacred earth of Uttara, She gestured towards the blue expanse of Gargolis Bay, and She said to me, ‘The waters of the bay belong to Uttara, for all time, from the eastern cliffs to the western marshes, from the river’s mouth to the open sea. All belongs to Uttara and to the Kings of Uttara, as does all the land around, by my gift and thus by divine right’.

Then a ray of golden light struck from behind me and, piercing my heart, shone forth from there to cast itself like a spear against the walls of Marash.

And thus I awoke, radiant with the promise and the duty laid upon me by Utila the Many-Breasted, Herself”.

Recorded by the King’s own hand, on the 2nd day in the Month of the Boar, the year 335.

The 2nd Styrenian War – background

Date: First day of the Month of the Boar, in the year 335.

In the year 295, King Anaxatos of Pramanda, turning his eyes upon Styrenia to the south of his empire, upon its fertile lands and its wealth, sent an army under the Satrap Mahaba to conquer that country. But the Styrenians, a stubborn people, stood firm behind the walls of their cities and towns, resisting Mahaba’s advance; and they sent for aid to King Meleagros of Kavalla, the empire that lay to their west.

Thus the Kavallans first came to Styrenia, and at last in a great battle beneath the ancient walls of Habordah the Pramandan army was shattered, and Mahaba himself was taken captive.

Styrenia, after, became first a protectorate of Kavalla, and then was incorporated as a province of the Kavallan empire. Forty years have passed since the Battle of Habordah. Now, trouble stirs again.

A new king, Vajnayar, has been enthroned in Uttara to the east. He has set his heart upon glory and conquest, wishing to expand his realm into Styrenia’s rich valley. Meanwhile, to the north, Anaxatos has passed over to dwell with his ancestors, and his son Anaxerxes desires revenge for the humiliation of his father. Birds have flown between the palaces of Pramanda and Uttara, bearing messages between the two kings.

Beneath the paths of the birds’ flight, Styrenia lies unsuspecting. Yet, wise men always fear the approach of war, and prepare themselves accordingly in the times of peace.

Dario Baldini

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Arms of the Baldini family

Dario Baldini, b.1429; younger son of Gilberto Baldini. Like his elder brother Roberto, Dario is a gloomy individual with a womanising streak. However, having suffered facial disfigurement in a fire, as a child, he remains both unmarried and embittered. Giotta’s prostitutes know him well, and gossip of his reputation as a skilful lover, yet they also know that he will do his best to avoid actually paying for their services. On the other hand, he is an easy man to bribe.

Although intelligent, and capable of a certain dark and cynical wit, Dario is rather inept in both the military and political fields (perhaps as well, given his faults). Even so, he has some experience in both, as a consequence of his aristocratic privileges; privileges that he likes to flaunt in an arrogant manner. Physically, he is a coward, but he will go to considerable lengths to protect and preserve himself and his own best interests, supported by a degree of low cunning. Given the opportunity, he has a tendency towards disloyal intrigues.

Styrenia remapped

As the Italo campaign is taking quite a long time to set up, I’ve decided to pick up another project in the meantime – a return to the environs of the Styrenia campaign, that last saw action during my schooldays forty years ago. The original map is in a fairly fragile condition now, so the obvious first step has been to redraw it. Styrenia011

Observant readers may notice some differences between the original map and this new version.

1. The river system has altered in places. This has nothing whatsoever to do with me misinterpreting lines on the original and thus drawing the rivers differently by accident. Over a span of forty years, Kavallan engineers have surveyed and mapped the region properly, so this map is far more accurate and reliable than the old Styrenian map. Obviously.

2. Four decades of, first, Kavallan influence and, then, Kavallan rule have led to significant improvements in the Styrenian infrastructure, and to the growth of settlements. Most notably, a new port town has developed at Dariush, which was formerly a mere fishing village. In the desert region, places that were once no more than a well or oasis and a huddle of adobe buildings have expanded into large fortified villages or small towns, and they have been linked by a network of roads, creating vital routes for travel and commerce between Styrenia and the rest of the Kavallan Empire, to the west.

3. The area covered by the campaign map has expanded a little to the east and to the south. The Pramandan Empire is still to the north, beyond the mountain range, and is connected to Styrenia by a single narrow pass. The border with the Kingdom of Uttara is marked by the first river to the south-east of Dariush. Two other, smaller realms have entered the Styrenian arena. The small area of plains shown to the east of the (dark green) hill country is the western edge of Paltrya; the hills to the south of that, bordered by the same river that divides Styrenia from Uttara, are occupied by the wild tribes of the Natori.

The Styrenia campaign is, at least partly, a “fantasy” setting designed to use a number of the 15mm ancient armies in my collection. To make things easier to visualise, for anyone who might bother to follow this over the coming weeks and possibly months, here’s a handy guide:

Kavalla = Macedonian.

Pramanda = Achaemaenid Persian.

Uttara = Indian.

Paltrya = Parthian.

Natori = Numidian.

Styrenian = the warbands and light cavalry from my Ancient British constitute local militia, with a small number of Sub-Roman British providing a small standing army stationed in the provincial capital, Habordah.

I’ve mounted the campaign map in a cheap clip frame (99p from Wilkinsons – no expense spared, here!). The changing positions of troops can then be marked on the glass using a chinagraph pencil, saving the map itself from being scribbled over.

The other thing worth mentioning at this stage is that I need a calendar of sorts to mark the passing of time within the campaign. Feeling lazy, I’ve decided that everyone in this alternative world uses the same lunar calendar, giving them thirteen months each of four weeks and with each month named after an animal. So, the sequence of months runs (starting on the equivalent of our 1st January): Boar, Fox, Water Dragon, Owl, Adder, Wolf, Ram, Goose, Bull, Wren, Earth Dragon, Cat, Crane. I used a simple enough method to name the months. I have a deck of cards called The Druid Animal Oracle; I just shuffled them to randomise the process, then drew the first thirteen cards and named the months in the sequence that came up.

That’s much of the setting up done for the revamped Styrenia campaign. With this one, I am only bothering with character development as and when it’s actually important to the narrative. The next post in this thread will give a brief background to the situation in Styrenia and the neighbouring lands, on the last day of the Month of the Crane, in the year 334…