Monday, 15 September 2008

DBR: A Glimpse Behind The Curtain

In addition to DBMM (and before that DBM) I play DBR and have armies for the French during the Italian Wars, the Danish of the Thirty Years War and English Civil War Parliamentarians .  As a result I monitor a number of Yahoo! groups and various web forums for interesting snippets.

Last week I came across a longish posting by Mike Guth which throws some light on the development of the rules and I think is deserving of the widest possible audience.  Mike was one of those who helped develop DBR as is acknowledged on page 27 of version 2.00 of the DBR rule book.

To place what follows in context, Mike was commenting on one of the most awkward parts of DBR: the heavy command (PIP) penalties the rules impose for breaking up a group.   Mike said:
“The reason for the cumbersome PIP penalties is because this is the 1600s and not the 1800s. 
Take the example two  elements of dragoons.  They are presumed to represent separate companies raised by their own officers, possibly never having drilled together and in some armies not speaking the same language.
Whilst happy to follow one behind the other, in DBR it is presumed to take more “command effort”, or PIPs, to get each company to do anything beyond forming a company line, charging, or following the lead company. 
Deploying a column of companies (elements in the game)  into line while advancing was not described until the  French Revolution.  So this would require additional “command effort” within the game even if it left the companies adjacent to one another. 
The Prussians of the 1700s insisted on keeping the companies in numerical order.  So you might consider yourself fortunate that you are allowed to expand a stationary column for one PIP. 
This extra “command effort” is particularly true for large pike and shot blocks. The shot companies may not have drilled together and are firing by rotation.  Thus successive ranks of the shot may no longer have any physical relationship to their original company, the pike raised with the shot, or with their own officers.
Phil Barker was relatively wedded to the idea of elements (= companies) functioning independently during the period. The independence of elements is also, for better or worse, at the core of the DBx system.  There is historical precedent for this. 
  • Authors like Barwick of (1560) confirm that shot would, and perhaps should, split from units to skirmish; even during battle.
  • Pike units even in the ECW were often amalgamations of pike from several units.
Despite this, the  larger formations of the period, however ad hoc, did tend to stay together during battle.
For DBR the compromise was to add the PIP penalties for breaking up groups rather than going to a strictly unit based game.  In this way the rules encourage players to form groups at the beginning of the game and keep them together except in urgent situations.  This fits well with the fundamental duties of the majors and generals of the period as described by Barret and Ward writing in the 1500s and 1600s.
To understand the flavour of the period better, keep in mind that during battle most of the officers would leave their companies to congregate in the front ranks of the pike blocks.  This ”position of honour” is hardly the best place from which to effect complex evolutions of troops.
Finally, consider this; you may be intelligent enough to find a hill from which to direct the battle but you may only have 6 or 7 staff officers to convey your orders to units in combat.  Assuming your staff could find the officers and convince them to take advantage of an opportunity that only you can see.  Hopefully all could read, because chances are that none of you could spell.”
Mike Guth, 2008 edited from an original post on Yahoo!
I think this is an excellent explanation behind an initially puzzling, and problematic rule mechanism.  When I wrote to Mike to get his permission to use his post here he made an additional point about the mechanism:
“I will not claim that the current PIP system works entirely as intended. Particularly for units breaking up and moving into the attack. The "charge" order where a group is broken up to go into the attack was meant to take fewer pips than an order breaking up a group and sending it into multiple directions.”


  1. Not a time period I have studied (or gamed) but what was written made good sense.

  2. Mike got it mostly right, but for the wrong reasons, I think. His comments on 18th century stuff is just wrong, (and I'll tell you why) but the real take away is that large groups men, embattled for war, tend to pretty much go in one direction. no matter how they're organized, and the desire of wargamers to instantly change their crappy battle plans colors in the most lurid way the many complaints about why their figures can or cannot do this that or the other thing.

    Now back to Mike's comments: the crack about deploying into line from column while advancing not being described until the French revolultion is utter garbage, and anybody who's read the The Prussian Infantry regulations, the Prussian cavalry regulations, Czetteritz's "Officer's manual", Warnery's 'Remarks on cavarly" Wolfe's "Instructions to Young Officers, Millan's "Manoevres for a Battalion of Infantry upon Fixed Principles" just to name a few, basically shows that there is just a lot more going on than can be conveniently described by DBR or indeed, any set of rules. So things get boiled down to their most basic. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but people have to get their head around the concept, and in almost 20 years of playing DBx rules, I see people choke on this again and again.


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