Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror.
— Nennius, Historia Brittonum, 50
From Nennius’s twelve battles and the victory at Mount Badon to the disaster at Camlann, Arthur’s story is one filled with battles to fight and wars to wage. As one of his knights, you will be called upon to command warriors in battle and raise armies for war.
Warbands are groups of about 50 men and women with weapons and at least some training in combat. You have a personal warband, called a comitatus, but to field a real army you will need to recruit others, either by forming new warbands or convincing local chieftains and warlords to join your cause.
Battles as Challenges
If you have a battle that you don’t want to spend much time playing out, you can play it as a challenge. The warbands use their skills, rather than the characters’ skills. Otherwise, the battle plays out just as described for the rules for challenges.
Warbands should take conditions, even when a battle is only played out as a challenge. A losing warband should take one condition if it had two successes, two conditions if it had one success, and three conditions if it was not able to win any successes.
Battles as Conflicts
More often, you’ll likely want to play out battles as conflicts that take place between two or more warbands. As in physical conflicts, you play your individual character, who gets to perform an action. In a battle, though, you have some special options, mostly tied to your Lead skill.
Remove Morale Condition: You can remove the largest morale condition from a warband under your control by making an overcome roll with Lead against an opposition equal to the number of shifts that condition absorbs.
Create Advantage: You can create advantages for your warband, typically using Lead but potentially any other skill. For example, you might use Fight to create a situation aspect like Inspiring Example on your warband as you personally lead the charge.
Issue Orders: Most likely the option you’ll be using most, when you issue orders you make an overcome roll with Lead against a Mediocre (+0) opposition. You can issue one order, plus an additional order for each shift you gain on this roll. Each warband can only perform each of the four actions once in a turn, but you can give orders to any number of warbands under your command.
Begin Flashpoint: You can take an action that will zoom in on a smaller conflict in the battle. See Flashpoints below.
Initiative in a battle is set by the Lead skill of the commanders. In case of a tie, the commander with the fewest number of warbands goes first. If a tie remains, the one commanding the warband with the highest Move skill goes first. If a tie still remains, the GM can arrange them arbitrarily. PC’s should go before NPC’s.
- Overcome: Warbands most commonly use overcome rolls to move into adjacent zones, though some battles may call for them to pursue special objectives that might involve overcome actions for different purposes. For movement, each zone typically has an Average (+1) difficulty, though aspects on zones (like Rough Terrain, Swamp, Forest, or River) can increase the difficulty. Moving typically requires an overcome action using Move, but you can use your shifts to move into more than one zone. For example, if several zones in a row have no aspects, and you make a Good (+3) Move roll, you can move into three zones in succession, spending one of your shifts on each. If one zone has a Forest aspect that raises its difficulty to Fair (+2), you can still move two zones, by spending your first two shifts to enter the first zone, and your third and final shift to enter the second zone.
Warbands can also defend zones they occupy against other warbands trying to enter them. If you try to enter a zone occupied by another warband, that warband can try to keep you from entering with a contested Fight roll. If you fail the roll, you cannot enter the zone. If you tie, you can enter the zone, but the enemy gets a boost against you. If you succeed, you can enter the zone. If you succeed with style, you can enter the zone and you get a boost against your enemy.
- Create an Advantage: Just like characters, warbands can use their skills to create advantages by placing aspects on themselves, their enemies, or zones on the battlefield. For example, you’ll note that aspects make overcome rolls to move more difficult, so warbands can create an advantage by placing difficulties in zones (like Caltrops or On Fire) that will make it more difficult for warbands to enter them.
- Attack: When a warband attacks, you must first choose whether you intend to do damage, or push your enemy back.
If you want to do damage, you’ll typically need to be in the same zone, although archers, skirmishers, and other warbands with appropriate stunts can attack from an adjacent zone. As in physical conflicts, the other warband makes a defense roll. If you fail your attack, you don’t damage the enemy (and, depending on their defense roll, they might have even gained a boost against you). If you tie, you don’t cause any damage, but you do gain a boost on your enemy. On a success, you cause damage equal to the number of shifts you gained. On a success with style, you cause damage equal to the number of shifts you gained, plus the option to gain a boost against your enemy by reducing your damage by one shift.
Attacking to push your enemy back works the same way in that you compare your attack roll against their defense roll, but the outcomes are slightly different. If you fail, you don’t move your enemy (and, depending on their defense roll, they might have even gained a boost against you). If you tie, you don’t move your enemy, but you do gain a boost on them. On a success, you successful move your enemy. Move them into any adjacent zone of your choosing. On a success with style, you move your enemy into any adjacent zone of your choosing and cause them two shifts of damage in the process.
- Defend: When another warband attacks, you will typically defend with Fight or Endure, although some stunts may allow for your warband to defend with other skills. When you fail, your enemy will be able to drive you back or cause you damage, depending on the goal of their attack. If you tie, you grant your opponent a boost. If you succeed, you stop their attack. If you succeed with style, you stop their attack and gain a boost against them.
At various points in the battle, the action may zoom in to smaller conflicts. GM’s plan some of these when preparing the battle, while others are triggered by players. Flashpoints influence the overall battle as a special instance of one of the four actions.
- Overcome: The broadest catch-all category, overcome flashpoints can establish important details about the course of the battle. For example, in a siege, an overcome flashpoint might focus on your attempts to breach the walls.
- Create an Advantage: Flashpoints that create an advantage change the course of the battle by adding aspects to it. The most common sort of flashpoint like this in warfare at this period would be the duel of two champions on the battlefield. The winner in this conflict gets to add an aspect to the scene with two free invocations.
- Attack: An attack flashpoint focuses on either dealing damage to an enemy warband or driving them back, focusing on the warriors at the front lines. Such flashpoints often revolve around cavalry charges, commanders heroically leading their loyal warriors into battle, personal battle against enemy leaders, or seizing a critical piece of ground. The winner in this conflict makes an attack as if she had rolled +4 on the dice.
- Defend: A defend flashpoint focuses on repelling a major attack. Such flashpoints often revolve around desperate fights to defend the walls or a village or some other structure or ground, shieldwalls holding against the brunt of a massive cavalry charge, or holding the line against a massive attack. The winner in this conflict defends against the attack as if she had rolled +4 on the dice.
Before the battle begins, the GM should lay out three victory conditions for each side. These conditions should be orthogonal, so that even if one side has won two of its conditions, it remains possible for the other side to still win. Victory conditions could involve holding a particular zone when the other conditions are realized, winning a particular flashpoint, taking out or inflicting consequences on a certain number of enemy warbands, or just about anything else that could be accomplished in a battle.
Battles can also have time limits, requiring one side or the other to accomplish its victory conditions in a set number of rounds. Depending on the battle scenario, running out of time could mean a stalemate or victory for one side over the other.
These rules blend elements from the mass combat rules in the Fate Core System Toolkit (pp. 163-167), the “Drops in a Pond” supplement [PDF] by Leonard Balsera, and Dux Bellorum by Daniel Mersey.