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"Battlefield terrain generation" Topic

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MichaelCollinsHimself12 Sep 2016 6:28 a.m. PST

Gentlemen I`m asking for your suggestions for items/types of terrain feature for battlefield generation rules for my ancient rules.
Anything that isn`t in provided for in the rules you`re using at the moment perhaps and you`d like to see included – even any stuff to avoid and your pet-hates?
What kinds of terrain should a defender should have? Or, how might an attacker may play a part in the terrain selection? It`s an open question – any thougths at all that you may have on the subject would be appreciated.



P.S. I Opened this up to solo wargamers, as they perhaps may use battelfield generation rules more often.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2016 7:09 a.m. PST

Hmm. I have my doubts about a general or universal system, I'm afraid. Good defensive terrain changes quite a bit as firearms get better. For that matter, good offensive terrain changes with the decline of close order and the rise of radio communications. And the sort of terrain you look for when you want your platoon or warband to ambush someone isn't the same terrain you'd look for sending in the 21st Panzer. So you might want to sort by broad period and scale. I've been known to just take historical battles of the same era and general locality and use them for ahistorical battles, dicing to see which edge the defender starts with.

Hates, though. The worst are the things which render most of the battlefield useless--the impassable river with one bridge and all variants thereon. Understand, I've got no problem with a "hold the bridge" or "take the pass" scenario, but when you do that, the table has to be so tightly focused that you don't have 2/3 of the table and half the troops just there for decoration. I've been the decoration once or twice. No way to spend a wargame. As a general rule, if it's a bridge-storming situation, the farthest point of the battlefield should be close enough that a gun sited there could bring fire down on the bridge. For anything further away, you get those backdrops of painted scenery we stole from the model railroad people.

And I'd like to see what you come up with.

MichaelCollinsHimself12 Sep 2016 7:34 a.m. PST

Hi Robert,
I`m interested in ancients – but I thiught Medieval players might have some ideas on this too.

"..bridge-storming situation, the farthest point of the battlefield should be close enough that a gun sited there could bring fire down on the bridge."
That`s a good point – thanks! I`ll have it in mind for Mountain pass, or those impassable river games!

i`ll be letting you know how things progress!


M C MonkeyDew12 Sep 2016 8:15 a.m. PST

A defender on a hill seems pretty standard if available.

Hill fronted by bog even better.

Woods or other difficult terrain on the flanks if possible.

Rarely would a general have been fortunate enough to have all three conditions.

Mostly open terrain I should think unless one or both sides were tribesmen seeking to ambush an enemy.



MichaelCollinsHimself12 Sep 2016 9:48 a.m. PST

I was thinking about basing the general terrain on the defender`s country (no surprises there) but with additional, over-lying terrain features (woods/rough gound) to be diced for by the player with modified rolls for his side of the battlefield …with a random distribution elsewhere – maybe two rolls providing coordintes on a grid?

Some terrains will be almost entirely the same all over anyhow; grasslands, dry, arid areas or forests/woodlands.

UshCha12 Sep 2016 9:49 a.m. PST

It really depends on context. One side in the real world may chose almost never to enter good cavalry terrain even when attacking.

The sides and the context are critical. The automatic terrain generation needs context. Many competition game generators give more than may be historical open ground to give cavalry a chance. Google earth of the area involved my help you.

MichaelCollinsHimself12 Sep 2016 10:06 a.m. PST

Thanks – good idea, I`ve used google earth before for my Napoleonic scenarios, and I`ll make a mental note to use it again for ancient ones. I`ll be trying to ascertain the correct historical terrains for each war and campaign that the rules will cover.

Bismarck12 Sep 2016 10:56 a.m. PST

Two Hour Wargames has a die based terrain generator in its Vietnam rules, FNG. Varies by Corps and Area. Usually represents specific terrain well, but you can have some weird results which can be easily re rolled. They well may have the similar versions in some of their other rulesets.
Great for solo. Not sure if they have these for ancients, medievals, but you might ask Ed from THW about it.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2016 11:22 a.m. PST

most Ancient battles were on open terrain, flat in most cases. Certainly the early Romans and Greeks fought in hilly terrain, and forests in Germany, but plains dominate the type of terrain found for *most* Ancient battles.

The problem is that often 1. the defender did have their choice of ground and 2. The attacker didn't know the terrain as well as the defender.

I have seen a number of different approaches. The Age of Reason campaign system provides a large number of terrain maps which the defender can choose from depending on the type of terrain and the campaign [the number of maps is limited.]

Others have used the grid deployment of terrain you've described.

MajorB12 Sep 2016 11:35 a.m. PST

There are 35 battle maps in "Lost Battles".

Pick one.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2016 11:43 a.m. PST

Battlegroup Kursk has a terrain generator in the rule book. I've used it a time or two---works fairly well with a little interpretation.

Weasel12 Sep 2016 2:21 p.m. PST

For "fight in lines" periods, relatively open space with a few major obstacles to funnel a bit seems to work best.

Lately, when writing scenario generators, I've taken to just describing the nature of the feature rather than be specific.
A "linear" feature might be a wall, a hedgerow, a fence or a stream.

That allows players to use whatever they have in their collection.

Optionally allow the defender to swap two features around.

Great War Ace12 Sep 2016 7:56 p.m. PST

Terrain Generator

I've shared this before, but here it is again….

Andy P15 Sep 2016 4:12 a.m. PST

the perfect captain has a terrain and campaign generator called "battlefinder"


Weasel15 Sep 2016 10:20 a.m. PST

Andy – That looks really nifty, thanks for sharing!

Mars Ultor15 Sep 2016 10:32 a.m. PST

Clash of Empires has a quick and interesting terrain generation system, which I think pretty well mimics one general trying to lure another onto favorable terrain. The basic gist of it is this: Player who wins the initiative roll chooses either the climate type associated with his own or his enemy's army (which is on the army list). Next he chooses up to 4 pieces of climate- appropriate terrain, as can his opponent, to put into a pool (large pieces count twice). Then take turn placing terrain. When all is placed go to each terrain feature and either side can ask for a contested roll which might tilt, move, or altogether remove a terrain piece depending on the roll (player with Initiative gets a bonus here). Usually this produces a battlefield with some advantages to the general who won initiative.

Zephyr115 Sep 2016 2:30 p.m. PST

Could always go with a card draw to randomly generate terrain. To make it more chaotic, place the cards facedown on the play field before revealing them, then replace with modeled terrain features. Just an idea… ;-)

Last Hussar15 Sep 2016 3:20 p.m. PST

I made a grid and tiles. the grid is 8x8, made with wall tile spacers. I then made a load of tiles with various terrain. You can adjust the ratio as you see fit for that particular area, but I put a lot more than 64 into a bag, varying woods hills etc.

Place the tiles at random on the grid. Each tile equals a 2ft/60cm square on the table

Place a pawn per … whatever Army, or even subdivision (eg in some Black Powder games we have 1 pawn per brigade)

You move your pawn- usually we stipulate it must not increase the distance to the enemy pawn. When the pawns are close enough to make a table up, generate the table.

Each of the 2ft squares on the table is gridded and numbered 1-9 – like a Noughts and Crosses grid.
Roll a d10 – the terrain type for the tile goes in that rough area (doesn't have to be too precise,just dont take the mick)

If you roll a 0, then roll again, then a second time. The terrain in those 2 squares should be linked in one large feature. Every extra 0 is one more grid square – so 0,7,0,1,3 would be a feature covering one corner half of the square on table.

'Blank'/grass land squares get minor obstacles the same way – hedge, fence etc.

This allows the commanders to try and manoeuver into battle.

Weasel18 Sep 2016 12:33 p.m. PST

Zephyr – I think one of the Chain Reaction based games had something like that, where you don't roll for the terrain type until you have a guy with eyes on the feature.

Turns out intel was wrong about this being flat, tank-friendly terrain :-)

Ottoathome18 Sep 2016 1:01 p.m. PST

Make sure you have enough ACTUAL terrain to do what your battlefield generator mandates.

MichaelCollinsHimself19 Sep 2016 9:24 a.m. PST

Today I worked out the basis for selecting terrain features for battlefield generation – and so, all I have to do now is work out the probabilities of terrain features in the various campaigns that I`ve selected for my Rome v Barbarians rules. I guess that I`ll be visiting googleearth quite a bit now of course and I`ll be looking at the general areas around those historical battelfields for the additional features to be added to the general topography. Once I`ve done that, I`ll move to the game table to do some testing to see what might need tweaking to make them work!

The photo shows the terrain for the battle of Watling Street (61AD) in an earlier test game.


MajorB19 Sep 2016 2:56 p.m. PST

I guess that I`ll be visiting googleearth quite a bit now of course and I`ll be looking at the general areas around those historical battelfields for the additional features to be added to the general topography.

You'd be surprised how much some battlefields have changed in the intervening centuries from the time of the battle until now.

Great War Ace19 Sep 2016 5:53 p.m. PST

Hastings, my speciality, is massively altered from the hilltop battle in the narratives. Heh, the "hilltop" is gone, for one thing; one of the first things to go, by the hand of man. Then the marshes largely dried up and the headwaters of the Brede and Bulverhythe got puny and moved further away. Of course, the building of "Battle", abbey and town, completed the changes. Arguably, the battle reenactments each year are not even on the same ground where the battle took place….

MichaelCollinsHimself19 Sep 2016 10:32 p.m. PST

Yes, point taken, but it`s better than not looking at all!

The battle of Gergovia…

By Dysmorodrepanis – Own work (own photo), CC BY-SA 3.0,

on googleearth: La Roche-Blanche, Puy-de-Dτme or Le Plateau de Gergovie

Rick Don Burnette20 Sep 2016 1:50 a.m. PST

We have to define "ancients" If we, as a starting point, include the forests of Asia and Europe, the hills and rivers of China, the badlands of the MidEast, then you have a huge problem. Indeed, if we define Ancients by time and geography as 3000 BC to say, 1000 AD and include Mayans, Chinese as well as the usual Middle Eastern and European, then the old saws about mostly flat terrain fall apart
And if you intend your rules for tournament play, what is the hill or rived worth?
and yet I find the whole inquiry into terrain quite irrelevant as few rules of any era get the terrain effects playable or measurable and the figures dont mix well with the trees anyway

Great War Ace20 Sep 2016 6:45 a.m. PST

The key to making historical terrain work on the modern ground is to only allow for effects specifically mentioned in the original sources. These are few and far between! But where there is zero mention of terrain it is safe to say that no decisive terrain affected the battle either way. If terrain features in the battle affect the outcome it should be a simple matter to place the terrain on the gaming area with its historical effect clearly defined.

A clear example of specifically mentioned terrain is Agincourt, where both the mud and the flanking woods constrict movement and even create exhaustion.

A minor example would be the wood at the rear of the English army at Morlaix, which they retreat into after running out of arrows. Arguably the wood made their fighting retreat, and survival, possible. How you would "rate" the wood is the sticky part. But its affect on combat was real. Probably it allowed a fleeing army to escape; or, a defending one to make use of the trees to negate superior numbers, thus causing the larger French army to give up the fight at that point. (MAAs do not like fighting in trees!)

Back to Hastings: the "slope" is variable where it still exists. The "hilltop" was steeper, probably a lot steeper, than the existing slopes. It is mentioned in at least one source as being "rough" ground. So the hill itself plays a part in reducing the invader cavalry charge effectiveness. Once the cavalry gets past the flanks and onto the hilltop that terrain advantage goes away and the final attacks on the remaining English army are more effective than the earlier, uphill attacks had been. Etc……..

MichaelCollinsHimself20 Sep 2016 8:48 a.m. PST


Re. defining the period…

Although I have asked Medieval players for comments, the aim is to provide this for the following wars in which Rome fought with Barbarians:

Jugurthine War 112–106 BC
Cimbrian War: 112-101 BC.
Rebellions in Spain: war with the Celtiberi 98 & 82 BC
Sertorian War 80-72BC
Caesar`s Conquest of Gaul: 58-51 BC.
Roman-Parthian Wars: Crassus at Carrhae 53 BC
Roman-Parthian Wars: Publius Ventidius Bassus 39-38 BC
Roman-Parthian Wars: Mark Antony 36 BC
Lupia River 11 BC, Teutoburg Forest 9 AD & Idistaviso16 AD
British Resistance and Rebellion: Medway 43 AD, Caer Cradoc AD 51, Boudica 61 AD and Mons Graupius 83 AD.
Roman-Parthian Wars: The Armenian War of 58–63 AD
Dacia: Domitian`s raids 85-87 AD & Trajan`s campaigns in 101-106 AD
Roman-Parthian Wars: Trajan's Parthian campaign 116 AD

I`ve posted to medieval players because they often use rules that have battlefield terrain generation rules; I thought their experiences in doing this would be valid and useful to the project.

Morlaix is an interesting one – and an example of how terrian made a big tactical difference to the outcome – open ground there would have been the end of the Earl of Northampton`s men – I think I might have that terrain effect covered in my rules already.

Rick Don Burnette21 Sep 2016 9:22 p.m. PST

So your definition is not Phil Barkers WRG and doesnt include Asian conflicts during those years you cite.And thats good because you at least wont have Egyptians vs Vikings in downtown Sicily
But your definition isnt the tradjtionl

MichaelCollinsHimself21 Sep 2016 11:21 p.m. PST

That`s right Rick,
I`m trying to focus on the Romans in period and they won`t be meeting Zulus, not even at a neutral venue like the Camp Nou !

MichaelCollinsHimself23 Sep 2016 9:16 a.m. PST

I`ll be testing the terrain generator for the Jugurthine Wars over weekend sometime. I have divided it up in to 4 different terrain types after studying the likely locations for the historical battles.
These terrain types are: open plains, undulating terrain, hills, and ridge lines.

For the sizes of farmsteads I`ve gone for 4 pieces, or 6 pieces of terrain of about 7.5x7.5cms.
So, 4pcs like the farm at the bottom left or 6pcs at the centre top and top right in the photo:


MichaelCollinsHimself02 Oct 2016 5:08 a.m. PST

The photo below shows the first test of the terrain generator for the Jugurthine Wars.
This was an open plain scenario with Jugurtha himself present choosing the positions of the diced for terrain features.

The successful dice rolls for each terrain type and feature have been left on the table.

For this test I used 6x4 ft of my table and divided the table into 24x18inch grids. The centre has a meandering river with scrub lining two banks (represented by the brown ribbon – some better looking meandering rivers will follow I hope). Four low hills, six small farms and one large farm was determined and two of the hills have scrub/rough terrain on one side of them.


This morning, I returned to testing the terrain generator again.
It all seems to be working fine. This time, on the same palyiing area, I set up a battle in undulating terrain; which is mostly grassland but with a few farms here and there.
This time, I`ve left ALL of the dice that determined the terrain features on the table – even the unsuccessful die rolls.
More photos to follow when I`ve recharged my camera`s battery !


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2016 12:18 p.m. PST

I think that terrain generators or at least various maps, such as provided in the campaign part of Age of Reason are really needed for tabletop games. I think my one issue with terrain generators is the lack of choice of ground. It isn't enough to randomly generate a table and then let the defense choose which side, or some 'optional' terrain.

Often, from ancients up through the 19th Century, defensive ground was chosen in advance of a battle for very particular reasons… and commanders had a number of locations where they *could* have chosen to fight apart from meeting engagements.

MichaelCollinsHimself02 Oct 2016 1:20 p.m. PST

Agreed, for the Jugurthine war I have chosen four different terrain types which approximate the types of terrain that the battles were fought in.
For example; two of these terrain types are largely based upon the hills surrounding the city of Citra and the sort of terrain that Jugurtha chose to harrass and engage the retreating Romans in 2nd battle of Cirta in the plains to the north and east of Citra.
At the outset, the probability of getting "useful" terrain features in the defender`s third of the battlefield is increased by a positive modifier. So, there is a reasonable possiblity of "chosing the ground" within the terrain type area.

Rick Don Burnette08 Oct 2016 8:56 a.m. PST

Using Google Earth for anything before 1800 is a bad idea because of the urban and rural makeover of too much of those earlier battlefields or geographic areas. This problem is most severe in N France, Flanders, Germany where the landscape has been altered. Indeed, Waterloo itself contains that Victory Mound that ruins the original field

MichaelCollinsHimself08 Oct 2016 12:35 p.m. PST

Well, I`m not ONLY looking at Google earth – I`m also reading stuff and looking at maps.
And yes, you can quite safely ignore railways and canals of course…

MichaelCollinsHimself12 Oct 2016 10:06 a.m. PST

So, Aquae Sextiae (102BC)

Maybe a little more wooded now and
more grazing animals used on uplands then ?


Bibracte (58BC)

My guess is perhaps that there was more woodland then…
I thought that this might have masked the flanking movememnt of the Boii, but there may be a rise on the left of the Roman second position that might have had the same effect.


Rick Don Burnette12 Oct 2016 2:41 p.m. PST

I asked in a post in General Messages (Terrain and Scenics, Variable Terrain) about how to handle situations where one or both sides do not know the terrain they are entering or in. The responses included the use of an umpire and the real possibility that because the terrain generated is unsuitable for one or both, a delay or cancelled battle

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2016 2:57 p.m. PST

"…how to handle situations where one or both sides do not know the terrain they are entering or in."

That rarely is the case for both sides in a set piece battle. A meeting engagement certainly, but even there, the encounter will be in one side's territory, giving it a leg up on the terrain and 'guides.'

Ottoathome12 Oct 2016 2:59 p.m. PST

I've tried this before but never could get it to work consistently. As I noted before one of the problems was that the generator often overran my terrain.

What I did was I made up maps of a dozen battle fields in hexagonal form which were 12 hexagons by 12 hexagons. Off this you chose the specific map by the type of action being fought, river crossing, rough country, open terrain, built up, rolling hills, etc. On that the defender could choose any 54 hexagons of terrain in a square of 6 by 9 hexagons. That was the battle field that was used in the game. No specific area could be chosen twice.

NOW!! the key was that in each of the 144 hexagon maps they had been made up using the ACTUAL hexagons of terrain I had. For example on the rough country, somewhere on the 12 by 12 map were the 15 forest hexes I have and the 24 hill hexes, along with swamp, blocked hexes ponds etc. On the open terrain, there were only two or three forests and two or three hills out of the 144. Likewise road hexes did not in any map exceed the number and configuration I have.

These are actual hexes, each of which is 12" across the hex on the parallel sides. Thus it was impossible to outrun the terrain available. I made these hexes out of 1/4 luan plywood because I wanted a geomorphic terrain. Note that the game IS NOT HEXED BASED, there is free movement and you don't have to remain within the hexes. You can use the same idea but remember you have to always match what you can provide at a moments notice to the maps.

It's a lot of work, but it works.

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