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"What would you change about DBA rules?" Topic

De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA)

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Winston Smith28 Dec 2016 10:16 p.m. PST

It seems that every 2 or 3 months, someone feels compelled to ask what *I* would change about TSATF.


But why does nobody ask what should be changed about DBA?
So, I'm asking.
What would you change about that great sacred cow DBA?
Or is the question too blasphemous to even consider?

Coyotepunc and Hatshepsuut28 Dec 2016 10:39 p.m. PST

I would need to go back to DBA 1.0 to answer this:

Don't change the army lists. Add new options, sure. But keep the old lists "official."

Personal logo Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2016 11:00 p.m. PST

I've never found a perfect set of rules.

I've played all versions of DBA since it's first printing and I've changed lots of things. To name just a few: I added big battle rules before Phil Barker did his own, then I modified his to suit my own campaigns bett)er. I adapted the "march" rules from DBM before Phil added his own LH/PS version, and then later used my own anyway. I have completely ignored the *&^%$#@! "denizen" rules since they were written (and I throw noisy puerile tantrums when anyone forces me to play with them). I make special rules for particular period troops for particular period campaigns. And on and on. I admit I haven't played much DBA 3.0, because my interests seem to have wandered out of ancients in the long gap since DBA 2.2. Maybe I'll get back to DBA one of these years. <shrug> If I do, you can bet money I'll come up with a list of house rules for that version, too.

I do this same kind of thing with all the rules I use to run games. The evidence is all over my land gaming site and my naval gaming site. I'm sure if I played TSATF I'd have a similar litany of changes, period characteristics, and scenario-specific rules for it.

- Ix

TheDaR28 Dec 2016 11:14 p.m. PST

Most changes I'd make would not be the rules themselves, but rather the presentation. DBA3 helped some, but compared to many rulesets DBA is still dense, difficult to decipher, and due to Phil's editing constraints and style, related rules are sometimes not near by each other. Controversial (and eventually schismatic) as the WADBAG guide to 2.2 was, reading that was the lightbulb moment that moved DBA from "why in god's name would any one suffer through playing this nonsense" to "oh! I see!".

Rules wise? Probably the only thing I'd consider changing is how PIPs are determined. A string of particularly lousy rolls on one side and good rolls on the other can turn an otherwise enjoyable battle into a crushing defeat that's fun for neither side. I'd probably try something like Blucher's MO system, where the opposing player makes a concealed roll of some sort (likely 3d6, keep the middle), and then the active player makes move until they run out and the roll is revealed.

Of the other fan rules I've seen, the only ones I thought were sufficiently interesting to merit incorporating into the main rules was the idea of splitting Aggression into Invasion and Maneuver, such that determining terrain does not always determine who goes first.

Beyond that, DBA is quite fine at what it does. It's not always the game I want to play, but if I'm in the mood for a quick game of historicals that's reasonably abstract, there's DBA.

Mako1128 Dec 2016 11:52 p.m. PST

Longer ranges for bows and other missiles/guns, especially relative to movement rates.

Reduce the benefits of flank attacks a bit too.

Toronto4829 Dec 2016 12:05 a.m. PST

Prefer to play L'Arte de la Guerre which to me is DBA as it could have been

Green Tiger29 Dec 2016 1:16 a.m. PST

The whole just put your whole army in a great big line across the table an d hope to get an overlap thing and the ability to twiddle your units around so they can get behind other units in defiance of all historical probability – because that's the only way you can kill them etc, etc…

Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2016 2:19 a.m. PST

We usually ditch BUAs in our DBA games. Apart from that, pretty happy with the rules as written

langobard29 Dec 2016 2:37 a.m. PST

I very much enjoy DBA, but visually it leaves me cold. I now play it with Impetus basing (effectively 4 stands where DBA had 1) and 'the look' is a lot better!

Instead of having a Sarmatian army of 36 figs, I have 144 figs.

Gross, I know.

(Someone had to say it, I figured it may as well be me…) but at least it LOOKS like I'm fielding an army now, not a dozen playing pieces.

Not to mention I can also play Impetus if my friends feel so inclined.

Durban Gamer29 Dec 2016 2:57 a.m. PST

DBA 3 is superb for an exciting, quick and easy to set up game. I've sometimes thought it might be nice to be able to change 2 or 3 of the optional stands in one's list, after seeing the terrain. That would add point to the optional extras, but would prejudice armies with few options. Historical rationale would be that general leaves behind off the battlefield guarding his line of march some troops that are not suitable.

Who asked this joker29 Dec 2016 4:40 a.m. PST

Add a square grid. It immediately takes away all of the geometric ploys and forces you to concentrate practice to win the game.

Durban Gamer29 Dec 2016 6:19 a.m. PST

Agree with you, Joker. And that would also make games even faster.

vtsaogames29 Dec 2016 8:43 a.m. PST

DBA 3.0 got rid of the damn BUA denizen rules and the increased movement does away with the silly and a-historical pre-contact shuffle.

But then Triumph! (son of DBA) is pretty good too. Waiting to see which rules my group prefers. And we're flirting with Basic Impetus 2.

A minor thing, but much prefer the term skirmishers to psiloi.

lkmjbc329 Dec 2016 9:45 a.m. PST

I will take a better layout, simplified/standardized wording, and 4 more pages of diagrams as granted…

Concentrating of the actual rules…
I would allow Ax to recoil either their base depth or 1 full BW. This would allow them to break contact with heavy infantry… and make battles like Cannae more viable and make the troop type function in a more realistic manner.

On a more shaky note… I might consider making "Fast" Blade move only 2 BW in rough and bad going… though I am not convinced this is needed.

Further, again on a more shaky note, I would allow "Solid" Bow rear support from "Solid" Blade as well as side support.

That is all that I am considering.

Joe Collins

Thomas Thomas29 Dec 2016 9:55 a.m. PST

I would make the presentation more user friendly.

I would get rid of "psiloi", "warband" lables and use standard Light Foot, Medium Foot etc.

I would fully support Big Battle and Campaigns.

I would have period specific rules esp. for medievals.

Add fantasy (or at least fantistoical) as part of the core system.

I would vary commanders so that some would be erratic and others calculating (effects range of PIPs).

I would add an easy to use point system.

As I've already done all this with A Game of Fire and Ice and you go get one at Wargames Vault – my list is pretty predictable.

As an aside DBA3.0 has increased bow ranges, gotten rid of many geometric tricks and the ncreased movement makes grand manauver possible.

Thomas J. Thomas
Fame and Glory Games

Dale Hurtt29 Dec 2016 9:57 a.m. PST

Agree with Joker! Add a square grid. I hate the micro measurements and micro angles.

BelgianRay29 Dec 2016 1:44 p.m. PST

Just don't play them.

Personal logo Bobgnar Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2016 3:06 p.m. PST

Almost everything that people have mentioned, they can do themselves. What's the set rules that you don't modify it. DBA, Like TSATF, is a rule tool kit, for people to make what they want. I have made lots of changes in games that I've played over the years. The second game I ever played, in 1991, was a giant battle game. I wrote the first article on big battle DBA, and convinced Phil to add that concept to 2.0.

My local group plays lots of big battle games and hardly any, if any, one on one style games.

In version three, he took many suggestions from players to improve the game a substantial amount. Fixing up lots of quirks and gimmicks that had come up over a decade of playing plus 3 years of development. We did need another six months of play testing I think, to work out some of the wrinkles that are still there. Actually the rules are clear but most people don't understand the intent :-)

All in all, I don't think I would change anything in the rules, as far as rules go.

I would like to change the author. I would like an author who is responsive to questions from his players, who writes in a clear And simple text. Someone who puts examples and illustrations in the text to make it clearer. If the author would just take a little time to answer a dozen simple questions about some slight problems still in the rules, we have the best set ever. So not change the rules, just clarify them.

GarrisonMiniatures29 Dec 2016 3:22 p.m. PST

Play solo, so already use my own modifications on a game by game basis. Rarely use camps or built up areas, will happily modify number of elements per game, and tend to keep +1 superior -1 inferior combat factors.

Who asked this joker29 Dec 2016 8:03 p.m. PST

Add a square grid. It immediately takes away all of the geometric ploys and forces you to concentrate practice to win the game.

Auto corrected…hmmm.

practice = tactics. There whould be an "on"in there too. grin

Piyan Glupak29 Dec 2016 11:53 p.m. PST

I have a distinct preference for earlier versions of DBA. For solo play, my preferred version is 1.1 (using the v. 2 army lists). If concocting my own variant, I would use version 1.1 as the basis, but include most of the version 2.2 terrain rules (with built up areas being either impassable to all armies or bad-going that restricts visibility like woods) for tournaments and pick-up games. Denizens would not exist, and all armies would need camps unless they had lots of war wagons. The version 1 terrain rules are very flexible, but are more open to cheesy terrain, in my opinion.

I do like the changes to elephant combat factors in 2.2+, where they are more powerful against infantry, and slightly less against mounted.

The big thing that I would change is that I would get rid of the square board. The larger the square, the less convenient it is. Usually, it is easier to find a table that can take a board that is wider than one that is deeper. Increased width of the playing area improves DBA in my opinion, by substantially reducing or eliminating the "edge of the world" effect. Increased depth has little or no benefit,, and is sometimes inconvenient. For the smaller figures sizes (figures up to 15mm) I would suggest something a 32" by 24" board.

Camp followers are usually a nuisance to buy, and play little part in games. I believe that they are unnecessary (although I have them and do use them).

One thing that I understand that version 3 does that I strongly approve of is the recommended basing allowing players to use slightly deeper bases instead of the most shallow ones. I don't like the 40mm by 15mm bases (60mm x 20mm for larger figures).

Durban Gamer30 Dec 2016 5:56 a.m. PST

Yes, the 20mm deep foot bases are less likely to fall over on hills than the 15mm deep ones.

Thomas Thomas30 Dec 2016 7:23 a.m. PST


DBA 3.0 fixes the terrain rules and allows larger board sizes. It also changes the elephant factors.

In addition it allows a more flexiable mounting scheme.

In short it solves most of your concerns (BUAs can be taken as Hamlets thus avoiding all the Denizen stuff).

Thomas J. Thomas
Fame and Glory Games

Piyan Glupak30 Dec 2016 10:15 p.m. PST

Thank you for you reply Thomas.

I have tried DBA version 3, and formed an opinion of it. :-)

Piyan Glupak31 Dec 2016 6:27 a.m. PST

@Winston Smith – please excuse my ignorance, but what is "TSATF"?

coopman31 Dec 2016 8:00 a.m. PST

TSATF = The Sword and the Flame

Piyan Glupak31 Dec 2016 9:40 a.m. PST

Thanks, coopman. Must admit that I hadn't come across them.

tribunemike03 Jan 2017 7:31 a.m. PST

Agree with langobard as we also starting using our Impetus based armies in DBA. Looks great on a 4x4 table or bigger. We still play regular based DBA on on our weekly game DBA night but larger based on weekends and conventions. We have done BBDBA Bosworth Field and Cynocephalae at cons and the bigger bases draws a lot of interest. Frankly I like the current DBA 3.0.

warhorse10 Jan 2017 3:10 p.m. PST

Tribunemike, we are beginning to try out DBA 3 on our Impetus-based 15mm armies. It has fixed the "backyard BBQ" look of DBA to a large extent. We like the Big Battle look, but really don't find much value in the Big Battle experience. It plays a bit too much like 3 parallel DBA games for us…

Thomas Thomas12 Jan 2017 9:31 a.m. PST


What would you add/change to Big Battle to improve the feel?

I play a lot of Battle the Throne style where battle commanders have their own adgendas (very medieval) but wonder how to more closely integrate a big battle army.

Thomas J. Thomas
Fame and Glory Games

warhorse15 Jan 2017 8:46 a.m. PST

I would scrap BBDBA as written. I'd get rid of the broken commands rules, and say victory/defeat is loss of HALF the TOTAL army. Seriously, BBDBA is supposed to engage multiple players. Well, damned well engage them then, and keep them engaged.It sucks when one side loses because basically a command breaks very quickly (oh you just lost 4 guys, cheers Jimbo, thanks for playing, see you next week?)… Boring at a club level.

Let a command fight on till its basically wiped out. That to me is the point of BBDBA, no? Believe me, as a commander, it sucks badly enough when I lose my s***, why punish me again because I lost one more, and now my whole command is gone, and the game basically over…

That's a lot of packing and unpacking of elements, when basically 4 elements represents the beginning of the end of the game…death spiral…

BBDBA? We don't play it..

JMcCarroll15 Jan 2017 11:17 a.m. PST

On a tie, Knights die to Blades/Long bows/X-bows.
The entire game is based on the more you beat your opponent, the worse it is for them. A tie means no one got better or worse then the other. I could see a flee result instead. Blades are still the favorite of the gods.

warhorse16 Jan 2017 4:18 a.m. PST

JMcCaroll, that isn't realy true from the point of view of the Knights… Think of their trajectory. If the win they smash through, if they lose they fall back, and were able to get (almost?) everyone out of the melee. On a tie, they got fought to a standstill. If you're Knights fighting Longbows, though, that is unfortunate…

Thomas Thomas18 Jan 2017 11:10 a.m. PST


You are correct about Big Battles multi-player problem. The "break" rules often mean a "broken" player has nothing to do but move routers for most of the game.

Here is a far better set of big battle rules that are included in A Game of Fire and Ice but will work for any DBX game:

A broken command can give individual orders as normal but the only Group Orders it can give are "Holds". Broken elements are -1 in combat (not -2). Elements that are not "Held" or are not given an individual order Rout (and are removed from the table – so no need to move Routers).


Your are correct re ties. They represent units locked in an on going close combat. Some types like Blades thrive on these types of combats – others such as mounted do not. Longbows killing Knights on ties represent Knights charging in despite Stakes and the Yeoman not flinching – very bad for the Knights who would have been better off to break off (ie Recoil).

Thomas J. Thomas
Fame and Glory Games

Personal logo Bobgnar Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2017 11:41 a.m. PST

Warhorse, regarding BB DBA. Why do you think it's for multiple players when Phil actually writes,
"BIG BATTLE DBA This is a variant enabling a single player on each side to use a larger army divided into commands and a larger playing area, but without the increased historical detail of DBMM. This differs from the standard version only as described below."

Our local group plays a big or giant version of DBA all the time, but we don't use Phil 's single player break rules. Rather than go to a wholly different set of rules as Tom suggests we just make variations based on the scenario. Lost generals are replaced with a sub commander who gets no bonuses, commands falling below a third continue with certain penalties. We don't use the high medium low dice either. The commander-in-chief rules dice for all generals and allocates them, or each general rolls his own.

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