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"Terrain for Ancients - what do you do?" Topic

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Areas of Interest


1,008 hits since 30 Jan 2018
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ScottS30 Jan 2018 9:21 a.m. PST

Some eras seem to lend themselves to awesome terrain tables. I've seen beautiful jungles for WWII in the Pacific or Vietnam, wonderful snowy fields for Napoleonics, and impressive French towns for WWII.

What do you do for terrain for Ancients? What makes a table interesting?

Nick B30 Jan 2018 9:32 a.m. PST

It's a really good question. I have often thought that there are few rulesets which provide a interesting table for a pick up game which reflected the defenders choices.

Whilst far from my favourite rule set (personal preferance) I actually liked the DBM set up where by the each force add a set score for their army to a die roll to determine attacker defender. The defender then has both compulsory and choice terrain to suite their army.

I also really liked the ideas (I'm sure done elsewhere) in the WHA Siege and Conquest where by the defender could buy terrain to set up choosen ground e.g. by sacrificing 50% of your points you could set uo an Agincor defence with forest to either side and a slope to defend.

Generally though – it's a case of adding some scenario flavour to avoid a straight forward line em up and charge across a barren field (regardless of how that is probably how many battles actually looked!)

Perris070730 Jan 2018 10:46 a.m. PST

Well. Ancient tables can contain walled cities or fortresses that can be very impressive to look at. The desert scrub tables always impress me. Even one as simple as this is pretty impressive. link

Rich Bliss30 Jan 2018 11:05 a.m. PST

I match the terrain of the actual battle as closely as possible, adding vegetation and elevation in an educated manner based on known geography.

Cooldude30 Jan 2018 11:25 a.m. PST

For historical scenarios setting up terrain to what was actually there can be supplemented with odd scatter terrain here and there can lead to a nice looking table. Bearing in mind the scatter terrain will just be for astetics and does not affect game play. For standard pickup games or non-historical scenarios I generally will leave plenty of open space for maneuver but also include several pieces of hindering terrain to make things interesting. Optimally one would also leave plenty of room on the flanks.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Jan 2018 11:44 a.m. PST

One of the things that always turned me off of ancient gamins was the paucity of interesting terrain.

catavar30 Jan 2018 11:59 a.m. PST

I used felt cloth to show the affected area and then placed terrain (rocks, long grass, trees, vines) that could be moved. Did the job and still looked half decent.

ScottS30 Jan 2018 12:02 p.m. PST

One of the things that always turned me off of ancient gamins was the paucity of interesting terrain.

I understand, believe me. I can't help but think of how (supposedly) the Persians police-called the ground at Gaugamela before the battle so they wouldn't be hindered by the terrain. It may be accurate, but I don't know if I'd want a game set on ground so flat and bare.

I'd like to come up with something to counter that. I don't know if I'm up to re-making Carthage:

But some terrain would help…

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

This game from Simon Miller's The Big Red Bat Cave looks pretty good to me:


He has many, many more eye grabbing photos of his games on his blog:

From yesterday, well made camps can add a nice little distraction:

TMP link

There are lots of eye candy and inspiration out there. Your game will have the visuals that you like and provide.

Ancients is a pretty broad subject. Do you have any particular areas or eras that interest you?

Sobieski Inactive Member30 Jan 2018 4:30 p.m. PST

There was no shortage of interesting architecture in the ancient world, any more than later on. If you can't find something to put in some local colour from the pyramids, the sphynx, obelisks, pylons, the Ishtar gate, androsphyxes, prangs, pagodas, funeral tumuli, Doric temples, cyclopean fortifications, crenelated fortifications, muris Gallicis, thatched huts, aqueducts, viaducts, stockades,dolmens, stone circles, and the great range of Roman civic architecture, I can't imagine what would satisfy you!

I game in 10mm, and do many of the above in 6mm (which scales I use for the rest of history as well). Most are quite easily available, and scratchbuilding isn't too hard.

Mars Ultor31 Jan 2018 9:57 a.m. PST

Though it has a paucity of players these days, Clash of Empires did have a good system for non-historical battles. To sum it up, for an average size table, the player with initiative chose 1-4 terrain pieces (average size) and the other player got to choose the same. It's placed in a pool and players take turns distributing. After, review each piece's placement and players can make a contested roll if they don't like it. The winner gets to roll to alter the terrain (I think it was 1 = no movement, 2-3 rotate on an edge, 4-5 move up to ? inches, and 6 = remove altogether). The process sounds sort of mimics one general trying to lure another onto a favorable terrain. There's a bit more to it, but that's the core of it.

TMPWargamerabbit31 Jan 2018 10:13 a.m. PST

I have used the COE system for several ancient games. Seems to work out well. One thing most ancient games seem to have…. lack of terrain. Terrain hasn't change much from the Biblical days to the early Horse and Musket period.

Elenderil01 Feb 2018 12:19 p.m. PST

The CoE system seems very similar to ADLG.

Yellow Admiral01 Feb 2018 1:00 p.m. PST

I've heard many ancients gamers say that ancient battlefields "didn't have terrain", but I never bought it.

First, many famous ancient battlefields were notably open spaces, but not all, and ancient authors were much more interested in telling exciting stories of heroism (and villainism?) than dry analysis of important factors, so they had little incentive to mention small terrain variations. I think the truth is that in many cases we just don't know all the significant terrain factors. I should note that there is a greater acceptance of terrain on miniature Medieval battlefields, and there's no good reason to think they were that much different.

Second, even if you do prefer the featureless battle plain, there's no reason not to make the battlefield look interesting. Playing with miniatures automatically makes the aesthetics important. When I moved on to horse & musket gaming with a strong tradition of dressing up the battlefield with militarily insignificant bits like rocks and bushes (and even ploughed fields and buildings and fences), I lost all interest in billiard-table ancients games. I like miniature battlefields to look pretty, so these days I prefer to at least put out moveable scatter terrain for aesthetic purposes.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral01 Feb 2018 1:10 p.m. PST

Most terrain generation systems for ancients games have the players choose and place terrain pieces. This always felt far too artificial to me.

I had an idea once to make prepared terrain panels that were far too big for the armies. The defending player would choose the panel (or a set of 4, or something) and place his camp, the attacker would place his camp, and then the armies would deploy interactively between the camps, in the process choosing which open space(s) they would fight in. I deliberately wanted to make the panels square so that players could choose any edge, and large enough that an army deployed in a maximum width line without any reserves would still not be able to anchor both flanks on table edges. The points were:

  1. To make the terrain selection faster
  2. To make the deployment process feel more like a pre-gunpowder general's decision cycle
  3. To force players to protect flanks the way our ancient counterpoints did, using terrain, cavalry and light troops, not the "edge of the world".
  4. To enable long marches around the flank to happen on the table instead of using artificial rules for randomly arriving on some flank table edge

Once I moved on from DBA this idea looked a lot less attractive, since large armies with hundreds of miniatures require lots of space, and large terrain panels are a storage problem, but I might still be able to make this work with BB-DBA, ADLG, or even TtS, if I ever get fully into pre-gunpowder gaming again.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral01 Feb 2018 1:13 p.m. PST

PS: I love looking at the pictures on the Big Red Bat site. I'm a bit ambivalent about TtS, but the pictures alone have come close to rekindling my interest in ancients.

Yellow Admiral01 Feb 2018 1:15 p.m. PST

PPS: Olicanalad's blog is another inspiring site. That guy makes nice looking game tables.

ScottS01 Feb 2018 4:21 p.m. PST

His work is amazing. I'll cop to drooling over his Punic Wars armies more than once.

Elenderil02 Feb 2018 2:45 a.m. PST

I got to thinking about this overnight. Like Yellow Admiral I don't fully accept the idea of the featureless battlefield in the ancient period. In the Anglo – Saxon period where Wessex was fighting the various Viking armies battles often involved defending ridge lines (Ashdown and Ethandun for example) or disputing river crossings (Malden). Fights close to settlements were also common.

In the earlier period terrain is sometimes mentioned as at Milvan Bridge or storming the hill fort at Maiden Castle. There are no good reasons not to have terrain. Italy and Southern Gaul were well settled so lots of agricultural features. Not just fields but irrigation ditches, olive groves, orchards and scattered farm buildings. Large areas in the less settled areas were rolling hills and forests.

I would start with hills, streams, gullies, marshes, woodlands, then move onto man made elements. I'd include fields, vineyards, olive groves, orchards, ditches, villages and similar. If you intend having armies from other than Europe then desert features like oasis, water cisterns, rice paddies and jungle could all come into play.

So there are lots of options.

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