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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Back to the Future with the Die is Cast ancient rules

This article explains how I started the Die is Cast rules back in 1992 and how I gradually designed the new version for 2012.

My initial experience with ancient wargaming started with the popular Wargames Research Group rules (WRG) in 1971. At the time they were fairly much the universal ancient wargames rules although of course there were other sets that had their own fans. But the spell was broken with the release of 7th edition WRG in 1986, a lot of people including myself did not like them and we simply carried on playing with WRG 6th edition. But my own interests were for refighting actual historical battles rather than the equal points games that you get on normal club nights. So in 1992 I developed my own set of rules, Alea Iacta Est (the die is cast) with the emphasis on refighting battles from history. A points system for these rules was a waste of time as real commanders just turned up with whatever troops they could muster, they were not interested in making a battle fair. And I introduced a few wrinkles of my own after the experience of using other rules, including Peter Gilders In the Grand Manner, Napoleonic rules.

So the original Alea Iacta Est had very much simplified morale rules for light troops, a combat result table as in the WRG rules but using decimal results (like the Newbury rules) so that players did not have to keep track of partial figure casualties if they did not want to, different melee systems for infantry and cavalry and generals of different effectiveness (Phil Barker likened it to ‘buying a pint of charisma’).

But times change, players expectations change as well, so it was time to re-vamp the Alea Iacta Est rules and develop a new edition. In fact over the years the rules had been tweaked, trying to improve what was already there but this time it was going to be a radical modification. Possibly what inspired the change this time was the fragmentation of the ancient rules market. Warhammer Historical had closed, new rules for 28mm individually based figures were being published and similarly for those people using element based armies, there were a number of different rules sets to choose from. The first thing was to realise what people wanted from their rules. Army lists were a definite must, most people will be playing an equal points game at their club or at a tournament, so if you want people to play, that option must be there. The next thing was the combat system, the old combat table was too complex for today’s gamers, what they want to do is roll the dice and see the result. To go along with that, keep it simple, we play to have fun not to get qualifications in gaming. And lastly, the name had to go, people just did not understand what Alea Iacta Est meant.

So the development of the Die is Cast rules started. The big thing to consider was the combat system, a choice of opposed rolls (both sides roll the dice and compare the difference) or simple die rolls with the results indicating a hit or not. In fact I went back to a time before dice, H. G. Wells Little Wars where combat was simply a comparison of the numbers of men involved in a combat. The side with the most men killed the same number as the enemy but might capture some more to give the larger side the advantage. Very simple indeed but also very bloody and without much option to allow for superior quality troops. Since dice per fighting figure has been extremely successful for Games Workshop (GW), that seemed a good system to adopt. The GW standard game system introduced in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules requires the now familiar; roll to hit, roll to wound and roll to save system. Lots of rolls reduce the vagaries of chance and lets the players have a lot of fun. But three rolls seemed a bit excessive and with idea of keeping things simple, my idea was to get a result with a single roll of the dice. The solution was to allow pairs of figures to use one die and to cover everything in that one die roll but the traditional six sided die was a very coarse tool. So to give more variation in the roll, D12’s are used instead. Surprisingly when I recently bought Tony Baths Ancient Wargaming, the same sort of system was in use; one die for a multiple of figures (groups of five in the Peltast and Pila rules) and two rolls, to hit and to save. Alright I have done away with the saves but Tony Bath’s rules also have differences for the way that infantry and cavalry fight, exactly as the Die is Cast does. My own rules were returning to the methods that were used in the first ancient rules.

Now according to my original plan the main task would have been over. I had changed the combat system to a simpler one just involving dice, so supposedly it was a small matter to go through the rules and make some adjustments to accommodate the new system. But it was not that easy. Since each group of figures was rolling a die, there was enough random chance in that to eliminate the old combat chart random factor but part of the generals characteristics had been to modify that old random factor. So a new way of generals being able influence the combat ability of the unit that they were with had to be found. Some rules give an ability for the general and their bodyguard to fight themselves but the problem with that method is that it can be used equally to bolster the performance of a weak unit (as indeed does allowing the generals command ability to replace that of the unit that they are with). To encourage generals to lead elite units, my choice is to allow the unit to re-roll some of its failed hits depending on the general’s combat ability. That tends to be of more use to elite troops rather than the rabble, encouraging players to use their commanders to lead their best troops.

So now onto some play-testing of rules and that soon showed that combat had become much more bloody, unbalancing the existing morale system. So the morale table had to be changed to accommodate the new combat results and eventually after a series of games, the gradual damage a unit suffers was eliminated from the rules, vastly increasing the speed of taking a morale tests. But a unit which has suffered severe damage should be reduced in combat potential, so now a unit which has reached fifty percent losses is simply penalised by being unable to advance further and having reduced morale. After further play-testing, routing units and units in march column also had their morale value reduced, to reduce the chance of broken units rallying and marching units resisting an attack. The overall result of these changes was that combat became more brutal and that broken units were unlikely to be rallied, so battles could indeed be short and sharp.

After playing WRG 6th edition, my rules of choice for 28mm scale games was Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB), which saw years of adaption’s by the players more away from the original fantasy game system to something like historical battles. The combat results of WAB had always depended on the addition of a rank bonus but in WAB2 the importance of that had been greatly reduced, so that units no longer had to be formed into small columns to be effective and allowing lines of battle to be established rather than a scattering of units over the table-top. Nothing like rank bonus applied in the Die is Cast, so that was not a problem but there were several good rules which seemed useful to adopt; a much larger force losing a melee but hanging on in there was one, provision for an effective impetuous charge and the associated difficulty of controlling those troops another.

Now the original Die is Cast rules had always been designed for individually based figures in the style of WAB or WRG 6th. But one of the key tenets for the Die is Cast is that any scale or basing of figures can be used with the rules. So a separate section has been added to the rules allowing the use of element based figures. With the new combat system, that was easy to do simply by defining the number of attacks and the number of hits each base can take. That allows a player to move between playing armies with a different figure scale or basing system and keep the basic game rules the same.

If the standard version numbering system had been kept to, then these rules should have been version 4 but that version was changed so much that the new rules have skipped a number and are named version 5. Unlike the previous rules, army lists are now published and available for free download on the Veni Vidi Vici web site. The rules themselves are also on the site as a free download or available for purchase in a printed format.


  1. Interseting history of the development of the rules

    Do you know if there any players based in Scotland?

  2. I have tried to find any players of anything in Scotland and it looks if they are few and far between. It seems that only cities have wargames clubs in Scotland.

    I have added a link to the TDIC yahoo group for those wanting to discuss meeting up for games. There is only a very small community at the moment but it is growing.