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"Halsallian Arthurian" Topic


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723 hits since 13 Jun 2017
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Comments or corrections?

Henry Martini13 Jun 2017 10:53 p.m. PST

Guy Halsall's ideas about post-Roman Britain and the Saxon 'invasions', as espoused in his book 'The Age of Arthur' and his series of articles in WI back in the late nineties, don't seem to have had much influence on the hobby as far as I can see. For instance, whereas in WI Halsall provided a single army list to cover all combatant ethnicities/polities active in Britain during this era, rules that have appeared since, such as the two Duxes, adhere to the traditional sharply defined racial/national distinctions. Has anyone applied Halsall's 'one size fits all' approach to their Arthurian gaming? This would mean, for instance, depicting not only Saxons up to 600AD as warband with small shields, but Romano-British units too.

Henry Martini14 Jun 2017 6:05 a.m. PST

Correction: that should of course be 'Worlds of Arthur'. 'The Age of Arthur', by John Morris, was the work Halsall sought to demolish.

Personal logo Cyrus the Great Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2017 12:08 p.m. PST

I am not surprised. Old historical "facts" and wargaming myths die hard.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine14 Jun 2017 12:17 p.m. PST

To be honest I think gamers prefer Arthur according to Cornwell war dogs and all.

I remember the articles in WI and he Guy made a lot of good points but in the end the army lists, while probably the most historically accurate take on the period, were frankly a bit dull.

Henry Martini14 Jun 2017 6:48 p.m. PST

But could the WI list (there was only one) not be used as the basis for adapting lists in other rules? I'm thinking particularly of the game I have experience of, Dux Bellorum, which includes a table that divides the 'Arthurian' era into early (before 450AD), middle (450 600AD), and late (after 600AD) periods and dictates whether a particular army's core infantry units may be warrior or shieldwall within each period. The strongest clash with the Halsallian view of the era is the restriction of Romano-British armies to the use of shieldwall (in the early and middle periods; this army type isn't allowed in the late period).

I think that for Dux Bellorum players who favour the Halsallian thesis a reasonable compromise would be to allow Romano-British armies to be fielded as shieldwall in the early period, but not the middle period. This would represent the persistence of residual Roman units for a time, followed by attempts to maintain Roman levels of training and discipline among successor forces for a while beyond their dissolution. By the middle period discipline would have broken down, and weapons, equipment, and tactics would have conformed to the new 'Saxon' patterns as proposed by Halsall.

The only other modification needed to the Romano-British list would be to restrict the use of bow units to the early period (their mode of operation implies a relatively high level of discipline hence Mersey's restriction of such units to Roman and Romano-British armies).

Halsall wrote the WI series long before Dux Bellorum was published, but he had read Mersey's earlier Arthurian rule set, 'Glutter of Ravens'. He criticised the degree of freedom of manoeuvre it allowed to individual units, which was carried over to DB. I think he has a valid point, but the central problem is that both sets include Late Roman lists; while a high degree of manoeuverability might be appropriate to well-trained Roman units it doesn't seem right for successor/invader warbands. As a general rule movement of individual units probably needs to be much more restricted. Roman forces only could then pay points to use Mersey's more liberal movement rules, which could be redefined as a 'Strategy and Tactic' called 'Well Trained'.

Who asked this joker15 Jun 2017 7:36 a.m. PST

First off, gamers want to have variety in their armies. They want to look at an army and see that "this one is Irish and that one is Pictish, and the one over there is Saxon. That last one is Arthurian. You can tell be the large amount of cavalry it has." As mentioned, having all armies look like Saxon armies would be pretty boring.

Halsall, from what I remember, bases his findings mostly on archaeological evidence. The evidence is, of course, only one part of the story. He often poo-poos written evidence because it has seemingly fantastical elements in it or simply does not line up with what he has interpreted from archaeological evidence. To me, you must strike a balance between the two. This is where his methods fail.

I have no problem with the free maneuver of DB. I've played a number of times and though the armies were quite rigid in feel. These armies are not drilled at all and move in mobs. When they form a shield wall, likely the front rank formed the low part and the second rank the high part. Ranks were also uneven or disordered in appearance being the armies were undrilled so the shield wall would likely take on an irregular shape.

Finally, Halsall participated in a yahoo group on Arthur many years ago. The group was dedicated to Arthurian wargaming and discussion. He would often come across as a belittling know-it-all, often not considering others points.
he would point to archaeological evidence and often dismiss other ideas and evidence. In short he could be quite abrasive and acerbic. He eventually left in a huff over some sort of heated discussion.

So you asked why and I told you. wink

Henry Martini15 Jun 2017 8:16 a.m. PST

The only question I posed in my OP was 'Has anyone applied Halsall's 'one size fits all' approach to their Arthurian gaming?'

Actually, as Halsall emphasised in his WI series, aesthetically differentiating armies becomes even more important when they're all derived from the same list, and so he encouraged gamers to make each army distinctive through the use of varying hairstyles, clothing, shield designs, and the like. This is easy enough to do with the huge variety of Late Roman and Arthurian era figures on the market these days and clever painting.

In 'Worlds of Arthur' Halsall devotes considerable page-space and goes to into great detail to explain why the textual sources are unreliable as historical evidence. In reading that book it was very clear to me that he laboured intensively for many years to arrive at that academic position. I have neither the training nor the inclination to duplicate his efforts, so I'm obliged to rely on the impressions generated by my critical faculties and intellectual instinct, and I found his thesis thoroughly persuasive.

An individual unit in DB can move in any direction as long as no part of its base exceeds its move allowance. That's pretty liberal.

Who asked this joker15 Jun 2017 11:58 a.m. PST

I guess we will agree to disagree.

Henry Martini18 Jun 2017 3:34 a.m. PST

I disagree.

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