My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Dux Bellorum

I have owned the Dux Bellorum rules for a number of years. In fact I purchased them before I fell away from tabletop gaming for a few years. I recently started thinking about them again and maybe building an army or two1 to finally try them out. I was talking with Matt, a co-author on my Wooden Warriors blog, about what rules he was going to use with his new armies and the discussion came up about Dux Bellorum. So after explaining to him about what the rules were like, with comparisons to De Bellis Antiquitatus (DBA), I decided to take that and make a post, seeing as I put so much work into the explanation. Mind you, this is not a review – as I have not played a test game with the rules and I don't do rules reviews without test games any more – but rather this is a detailed description of my reading of the rules.

Dux Bellorum seems like it "fixes" DBA in a way some might like, given some complaints about those rules.

First thing is that the army lists gives you the unit types you can have and the numbers of each. Each unit type has a point value and like HOTT, you choose a game of X points. So army sizes will vary. It seems like a standard game is 32 Army Points, so you end up with about eight to ten units per side. You can also buy 'stratagems' with those Army Points.

Units are physically whatever size you want because everything is measured in Base Widths (BW), like the new DBA and Polemos before it (which is where I first saw the term used). You just need to be consistent in everything being the same base width. But, you can even fudge that a bit as he talks about using multiple bases per unit and counting the unit's frontage as a base width rather than a single base. The intent is to use a 40mm wide base for 15mm, so army sizes are small, as would be the gaming table.

The foot unit types are: shieldwall, warriors, bows, and skirmishers. The mounted unit types are: riders and skirmishers. Riders covers everything from the common medium cavalry to Irish chariots to Roman Cataphracts. The Leader's unit are called Companions and they can either for foot or mounted. If foot, they can be either shieldwall or warriors. If mounted they must be riders. Further, a unit can be either Ordinary or Noble. Missiles are either bow (which includes crude crossbows and slings) or javelins. Javelins can fire on the move while bows do not (unless mounted).

Each unit has the following stats:
  • Move (how many base widths),
  • Bravery (roll 2D6 or less to act),
  • Aggression (# of dice rolled when attacking),
  • Missiles (same as Aggression, but for ranged combat),
  • Protection (the To Hit roll your opponent has to make when attacking you), and
  • Cohesion (the number of hits you can take).
The unit is removed when the Cohesion hits '0'. A unit loses no fighting power as Cohesion goes down.

Unit moves are 2, 3, or 4 base widths.

Every Leader has a certain number of Leader Points (LP) per turn. Everyone gets 6 for free, but you can spend Army Points to get more Leader Points per turn. (Remember, Army Points are used to buy units.)

Just like DBA and HOTT, DB allows the use of Group moves, with a group being multiple units that are touching, aligned, and facing the same way. They also have to be of the same unit type, however. (Ordinary and Noble can mix, however, as can Companions.) Skirmishers are never in a group. Groups are only one base deep. Groups are important because they: a) limit the number of Leader Points that can be allocated to them; and b) use the highest Bravery value of the group for everyone.

Each turn both players allocate LPs to units (or groups). Missile fire occurs before movement, followed by close combat, and then finally morale checks are made. Both players complete each phase before moving on to the next phase, so this is not a traditional IGO-UGO.

For each unit lost during the game, you lose 1 LP. During the turn. LPs assigned to your unit/group may be used to: interrupt an opponent's movement to move one of your own units/groups; boost Bravery for a Bravery test; boost Aggression for close combat (but not missiles); cancel 1 Hit2 caused during the turn.

Missile fire is pretty simple. Look at the Missiles rating of the unit(s) firing and add up the total. Roll that many dice looking for 5+ (regardless of target). That is the number of hits, unless the opponent spent LP canceling hits. Cohesion is reduced by the number of hits.

Not only is movement staggered by players, but it is staggered by unit type. All aggressor (attacker) skirmishers move first, then all repeller (defender) skirmishers move. Then all aggressor mounted move, then all repeller mounted. Finally all aggressor foot move, then all repeller foot move. Each unit/group attempting to move must pass a Bravery test. Like DBA, DB limits group moves more than units and has restrictions to units' movement when within 1 base width of the enemy's front (basically a Zone of Control). As this is the Dark Ages, Warriors have to test for making uncontrolled charges when they are within charge reach of the enemy. These tests are individual, rather than by group, so your whole battle line may fragment.

Close combat does not require stands to 'square up'; combat can occur at any angle. Essentially Aggression determines how many dice you attack with and the enemy's Protection determines what number you need on the die to hit. Both sides attack and all damage outcomes are simultaneous. Keep track of hits as the loser (lower number of hits inflicted) retreats from combat 1/2 BW. Ties mean they stay in combat.

You check morale when you have lost 50% of your army (excluding skirmishers). You rout when you have lost 75% of your army (excluding skirmishers).

It sounds like the rules might press all the right buttons for some. There is command and control at the unit/group level, replacing PIPs. There is unit quality, making for different army sizes. And there is unit attrition.

The rules are available from Osprey as either ePub or PDF. Amazon sells it in Kindle format too, but if going digital, do PDF so you can print (which you cannot easily do with the Kindle version).

1 If you read my other blog, Wooden Warriors, then you know that I was making my own, minimalist miniatures for those armies. Funny thing is, while looking for a wood sanding tool I ran across a box of several fully painted Dark Ages armies in 15mm that I had purchased before I stopped gaming and received right when I stopped. I simply shrugged and packed them away to be forgotten. Ah well, guess I will build something else!

2 Canceling a hit for 1 LP is the one area that I have heard described as the "fatal flaw" of these rules. When you consider that 1 LP increases your Aggression by 1 – which is equivalent to throwing one more die in combat, which may or may not hit – it is a better deal to cancel 1 hit 100% of the time rather than adding 1 die which may hit 33% (or so) of the time. The best recommendation I have heard, so that players don't simply spend LP canceling enemy hits, dragging the game down, is that 1 LP grants you one save die. If you roll your Protection (which is the same value the enemy rolled against to hit you in the first place) you cancel a hit. This makes the LP spent on Aggression just as valuable as one spent on canceling hits. It is probably the house rule I would use from the beginning.


  1. Great review of the rules! I have to be honest, when I read Dux Bellorum, because of the manageable army sizes I immediately thought of 25mm. With a large collection of 15mm dark ages figures I rebased just last year, I am now convinced to give them a try in that scale.

  2. Dale, I'm not sure if you're a member of the Society of Ancients or not, but there have been some mod rules published in Slingshot over the last twelve months or so allowing the rules to be used for other eras. One interesting suggestion was to attach leadership points to leader figures, who could use LPs only in the unit they were physically attached to, or for units in the same group as their unit. An army with 5LPs might choose a 3LP leader with the elite infantry for example, and two 1LP leaders to place elsewhere in the army.

    I'll have a look and see if I can find the relevant issue numbers.


    1. I used to be a member. Honestly, I found Slingshot too academic. I collected all of the printed issues and bought all the digital ones for when I could not get the paper. Have stacks just collecting dust. Every so often I flip through, but ... The old ones had rules in them (like Tearless Hoplite Battles) and more wargaming and painting topics. But it sounds like it may go in waves. Perhaps I will pick up a new copy of the digital issues to see what I have missed. Relevant issue numbers would be appreciated. Thanks.


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").