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  1. #1

    Medieval Knight Levies

    I've been toying with the idea of various rules changes to make Birthright more historically accurate. And, recently, I've been looking at the idea of making knights available only as levies or at ridiculously high costs. The effectiveness of these units would have to be changed to reflect their nature. But, I was toying with the idea of letting a regent use his law holdings to either, collect income (scutage) or raise knight levies (military service).

    Collections from provinces would reflect the bulk of the scutage that most regents would collect from various holdings -- the shift from military service to scutage having occurred over the past 1500 years. However, the knight levies would reflect the old school feudal duties. And, it has the byproduct of making these holdings more important once again.

    Does anyone have thoughts on this?

  2. #2
    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    London, England
    One issue I have with some aspects of realism is gameplay viability - if for example I restricted feudal duty of service to, say, 40 days then in game terms the unit was only available for a single domain action round in any meaningful sense making it unusable in most part.

    You also get all sorts of issues if going too medieval, if for example the nobels want a war as a chance for advancement you can get big armies almost for free but with only minimal control which may make historical sense but doesn't work so well in a game context.

    At present the focus may be overly on gameplay, but I'd err towards saying 'no more than 'x' units as a nod towards realism rather than moving away from the idea of standing armies. In practice those 'units' could then mean nobles/etc ready to fight in a few days rather than actually marshalled, or represent a 'base number' of nobles looking for trouble at any one time rather than a fixed population of knights, but the player would still be able to 'use' the unit over a number of domain rounds or turns in a conflict.

  3. #3
    Junior Member stew31r's Avatar
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    Nov 2006
    Burlington Iowa
    Andrew hit the biggest issue out there for realism of knights, after roughly a month of feudal service, they then entered moneyed(payed) service, which often cost so much that they were sent home once the moneyed service period began, thus limiting them to periods when they're home kingdom was being invaded and wars so big rulers didn't care about the expense

  4. #4
    Senior Member Jaleela's Avatar
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    Jan 2007
    New England
    We actually use "calling up the feudal host" in our the players are very careful about when and where they call out the feudal host.
    d'estre bons et leaulx amis et vrais ensemble et de servir l'un 'autre envers et contre tous

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    At 11:16 AM 10/7/2011, Nicholas Harrison wrote:

    >I`ve been toying with the idea of various rules changes to make
    >Birthright more historically accurate. And, recently, I`ve been
    >looking at the idea of making knights available only as levies or at
    >ridiculously high costs. The effectiveness of these units would have
    >to be changed to reflect their nature. But, I was toying with the
    >idea of letting a regent use his law holdings to either, collect
    >income (scutage) or raise knight levies (military service).
    >Collections from provinces would reflect the bulk of the scutage
    >that most regents would collect from various holdings -- the shift
    >from military service to scutage having occurred over the past 1500
    >years. However, the knight levies would reflect the old school
    >feudal duties. And, it has the byproduct of making these holdings
    >more important once again.
    >Does anyone have thoughts on this?

    I like the general idea. It`s always seemed problematic to me that
    the military of a domain is really only "paid for" with gold. That
    makes it a simple economic function, and there really is a lot more
    to it than that. If nothing else, raising an army means those troops
    are no longer available as a labor force, meaning they are removed
    from the production ability of the population. While one could
    assume that that loss is part of the payment for the units
    themselves, it seems to contrast with the fact that those troops are
    removed from the economy on an on-going basis, while the GB cost and
    maintenance seems more apt to describe the cost of their being
    mustered and outfitted rather than their generalized economic
    impact. Similarly, it`s hard to picture the loss of something like a
    unit of knights as having no material or social impact upon the
    province from which it came. Even though they would be removed from
    the direct economy, knights would be the leaders or assistants to the
    leaders of that province. Losing them in battle means the province
    has some sort of administrative vacuum to fill, and their leaving a
    province for war means that home province might suffer all kinds of
    social ills. Treating something like the feudal system in a way more
    in line with what BR calls levies makes a certain sense in that context.

    It`s important to note, however, that it`s easy to trip over the
    rules when one is trying to portray specific real world
    dynamics. That is, the whole issue of what a "levy" is versus what a
    "knight" is becomes an issue. As a couple folks have noted,
    "knights" are problematic since the term itself represents a whole
    range of things from mounted soldiers to courtly behavior. Knights
    come with retainers, exist in various forms in various systems, may
    themselves be landed, etc.

    So, I would avoid too much specificity when describing what it is
    that is being represented. When it boils right down to it a -1 or -2
    to population is a pretty abstract concept, and it could be
    attributed to anything from the diversion of blacksmiths to shoeing
    horses to the cost of plumes on the helms. Everything from banditry
    to loss of motivation of those left behind since they are no longer
    "under the lash" of the knights who rule them (or assist those who
    rule them...) could be part of the issue.

    Similarly, I can`t help but wonder in that context if ALL units
    raised shouldn`t be treated as levies, or have some sort of similar
    impact. After all, the rationalization for scutage and feudal dues
    goes up and down through society. The value of the knight on a
    destrier is more notable than the peasant with a bill hook, but it is
    the same logic that would apply to both, isn`t it?


  6. #6
    Site Moderator AndrewTall's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    London, England
    The problem that I get is the domain turn - if you have a default that the knights, etc aren't called up then player A invades player B on month 1, conquers month 2 and invests month3 before player B gets a single active military unit.

    In practice mustering was actually fairly noticeable as far as I can tell (rue scholars please input), so if player A was planning an invasion player B should be aware of it but that doesn't work too well in the normal game system where a specific espionage action is required to detect and the mustering only takes a season anyway.

    If you abstract to the GB cost being 'made available' units and say that they are deemed to form as soon as required, with the bulk of the time units actually being dispersed around their home province then it might make a little more sense although you'd tie units to provinces then not just to a domain and it wouldn't work well with large armies.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Jaleela's Avatar
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    Jan 2007
    New England
    I think it all depends on the level of granularity that the DM/players want.

    (I'm about the state the obvious)
    A domain action round = one month or four weeks.
    There are Three domain actions per per domain turn.

    The opening move is based on a domain initiative roll. It is at this point that a player may choose to move if they win, or hold until the other player has made all of their moves for the first action round. This gives a delay in response.

    I break it down farther - into weekly initiative rolls. These weekly rolls add a sense of urgency, can help determine if the defenders get caught flat footed, determine how far into the domain the invaders get, the invaders could get caught flatfooted by a swift moving cavalry unit that pulls a hit and run on their troops, etc... A weekly roll could have people burning bridges to force the invaders to find another ford across a river, or burn everything and take all the food (hello Napoleon and Russia).

    Standing army units should be available to the regent, but they should know where they are stationed, only those in immediate line or close to the regent may be able to engage the invader or at least occupy a portion of their army if they are in a castle or fortification (this bleeds off troops as they have to besiege the obstacle); if the army is large enough it moves on to its next objective. Non-combatants will flee or offer resistance (e.g., burning the bridges and crops).

    By the end of the first week, the regent of the invaded domain will start receiving word from messengers or from the people of the domain. It is at this point that the regent, assuming he has some actions left, can summon his standing army, have a lieutenant do something, or summon the feudal host (this will take time as the nobles will have to be notified and send out word to their people to muster). The army should be able to respond by the second or third week (depending on weekly initiative rolls.

    By the beginning of the second turn, the feudal host can respond to their summons and ride to meet their regent at a location. They are available for 40 days and will disband automatically after one domain action + 10days. One of my players doesn't summon the entire feudal host, he rotates them so that he has coverage in the event of a major war. So as one group is getting ready to leave, the other is arriving.

    The weekly initiative roll could also determine if the regent arrives at a prepared battlefield, or if secondary troops are coming, if they ride into the middle of a battle in progress.

    Historic incidents:
    1471 Edward IV pursues Lancastrian army. Performs a forced march to catch the Lancastrians and force the battle of Tewkesbury.

    1476 at the Battle of Morat, the Burgundian army hadn't been paid for a while, the troops rolled out to receive pay, the Swiss army catches them flatfooted, because Charles failed to listen to his scouts (they'd given him false information 3 times before - so why should he believe them this time?) and the Burgundians are forced to flee the field, loosing much of their baggage and Charles the Bold's artillery.

    This may not work for everyone, but we've had a lot of fun using this granular system to make battles and invasions more intense, and to occasionally bring the countryside to bear.

    Higher level domain play defaults to the standard domain initiative roll.

    Just some thoughts.
    d'estre bons et leaulx amis et vrais ensemble et de servir l'un 'autre envers et contre tous

  8. #8

    I have explored some of those ideas (about raising all units as levies and what knigh units are really comprised of). What I've kinda come up with (in my mind, at least) is that the more traditional feudal units were knights and levies.

    You had "knights" which were the toughest and most decisive units of the medieval battlefield. And, when you talk about a knight (i.e. I can field 400 knights), you're really talking about lances -- which are composed of knights and all of their supporting retainers, but you're only "counting" the knight himself.

    A knight was the tip of the spear for a lance -- which was composed of three to nine personnel (depending upon the SOP established by the country and the general wealth and power of the knight in question). At the minimum, a lance included a full knight (heavy cavalry) a mounted swordsman man-at-arms (light cavalry) and a page/squire (non-combatant shieldbearer). Other variations include: (1) knight + 2 pages/squires + 3 men-at-arms + 1 archer (possibly mounted); (2) knight + page/squire + man-at-arms + 2-3 archers (possibly mounted); (3) knight + man-at-arms + page/squire + 3 mounted archers + 3 footsoldiers (crossbowman, handgunner, pikeman). See the following article:

    I know, in the past, there's been a lot of discussion about limiting the use of knights (usually by increasing the requirements to muster knights and putting caps on the total number that can be raised) -- because a lot of people understand and appreciate what knights were and how difficult and costly it would be to actually field these units as part of a standing army.

    So, what I'm gradually gravitating toward (as a recognition of that fact) is incorporating knights into the levy rule system -- as the old school of feudal levies consisted of those units supported by a whole bunch of peasant infantry levies.

    I think the other standard regular army units used in the setting reflect what medieval armies gradually evolved to -- standard standing armies supported by scuttage


    I agree with you. Mustering should be a fairly noticeable event. In my mind, the surrounding kingdoms should always know when a neighbor is building up a large army -- regardless of the scout assets available . . . . They may not be able to ascertain specific details -- composition and disposition. However, they should have some advance warning and possibly have the chance to alter their turns to react. I also like the idea of units taking a while to train and assemble. I usually go with the number of months being the original GB cost of the units from the Rulebook -- although I have toyed with altering the cost of units too.


    I have experimented somewhat with different rules for combat resolution. I ran a short-lived game where I ran a war on the Southern Coast -- which actually proved to be fairly realistic. I looked through several mass-combat rules from different sources until I found something that I liked. It took forever -- which is what eventually killed the game. But, I liked the realism -- matching up units based on where I thought they would be positioned on the field and what their targets would be, pitting one or two units against each other to limit numerical advantages, resolving 30-50 troops at a time (the number each side could commit at a time varying according to terrain), having battles resolved primarily by breaking morale (with troops being counted as casualties, prisoners, dead, etc.). I liked the results, but (like I said) it took forever.

    Some of the campaign setting's original battle rules actually proved to be fairly useful -- specifically the old rules for how castles worked and how they had to be neutralized. Diemed put together a large army and tried to conduct a blitz of Medoere before anyone could react. So, I said Medoere had small castles on its borders -- a reasonable assumption. And, Medoere's battle tactics were to deny the enemy a conflict -- fighting a retreating battle. It's most powerful units (knights and elite infantry) fell back into the castle. Those who couldn't fit fell back. So, Diemed was caught in a wierd position -- where it had to decide how much of its army it had to leave behind to neutralize the castles and which units it left behind. It wanted to send it's most powerful units forward to engage in an actual battle at the capital and finish the war. However, it had to be careful because the knights and elite infantry would break out if the siege force it left behind was too weak. It turned out to present some interesting tactical challenges.

    I still need to figure out a way to make it work effectively though. Like I said, it took a long time to resolve.

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