Saturday, June 16, 2012

'Worst Case Scenario #1': The Combat of the Thirty / Combat des Trente, 1351

I came across a description of this little donnybrook while reading Barbara Tuchman's 'A Distant Mirror' and thought it might be a good scenario for a large, multi-player game.

By 1351 the Hundred Years War was already grinding through its first generation of combatants. The Battle of Crecy (1346) had been an unmitigated disaster for the prestige of French arms and it had placed their nobility on their collective back foot for years afterwards. With the French warrior elite seriously denuded by arrowshafts it allowed bands of mercenary companies (much of them English soldiers unemployed from the King's service) to roam the countryside, raiding and laying waste to large areas of France. 


One of these mercenary companies which operated out of Brittany was commanded by Robert Bramborough, an Englishman under the flag of Jean de Montfort, Duke of Brittany. Bramborough's men raided far and wide, particularly making a nuicance of themselves to Jean de Beaumanoir, Governor of nearby Josselin.

Exasperated by Bramborough's shenanigans, de Beaumanoir issued a formal challenge of arms so the matter could be settled by cold steel.  The challenge was taken up and it was agreed that each party would select thirty combatants to meet in open melee in a test of combat. The combat would be fought until one side held the field, either through the death or capture of all of their opponents.

The ground chosen was at an old oak halfway between the two opposing camps ('The Halfway Oak'). The melee lasted for several hours with the contest first favouring the English but swinging to the French when Bramborough himself was killed. The French ultimately won the day but it was a bloody slog - with all the participants being either killed or wounded.  Many of the English-Breton force were captured and held for ransom. 

The Combat became legend during the period, being seen as the pinnacle of chivalric arms, and all those who survived were recognized as celebrities throughout Europe.  Many a battle-scarred veteran of the Thirty was given priority beyond his station at the dining table of lords. Pretty rollicking stuff! 

From what I can gather the majority of the combat was conducted on foot but this did not prevent fighters from mounting up and bash away on horseback as well (supposedly it was how the French ultimately broke the English-Breton group). Missile weapons were conspicuously absent as to these chivalrous men saw them as not being cricket. Other than that pretty everything else was on the menu: sword, axe, mace, lance, the works.

I think this would be a great scenario for a large group with each player getting 5 or so combatants to command. Points could be awarded for kills, woundings and captures (with bonus points for the ransom of higher ranking knights). As its a close-combat skirmish scenario the playing surface could be quite small, I'd say 4' x 4' would be more than enough room for the mayhem. For rules I'm thinking something like GW's 'Lord of the Rings' could be used... Actually, what might be brilliant is a card-driven system like 'Sharp Practice' where each knight gets an activation card and every figure is allowed a couple actions. That way the progression of the turns would be completely random, keeping all the players on their toes. I have a home-brew system called 'Leading Man' that uses a similar mechanism (along with a camera crew to accumulate 'Fame' points) it could be quite good with this scenario (hmm, look out lads!).

I primarily game in 28mm and I know there are several excellent ranges of Hundred Years War figures in that scale. Front Rank, Perry Miniatures and Foundry come quickly to mind. What about other scales? Can someone chip in with what could work in say 15mm and 20mm? I'm thinking that with a bit of liberty regarding the correctness of the armour this could easily be done on the cheap with the current Perry plastics. Just try to use models that don't have too much plate armour or the 'snout' style helmets (which I understand came in later in the period).

Below is the historical list of combatants who took part in The Combat of the Thirty. For some inexplicable reason the chroniclers have the Brits with thirty-one on their roster. Maybe the French were feeling on top of their game and allowed themselves the handicap...

Franco-Breton Force

Sir Jean de Beaumanoir, Constable of Brittany, Governor of Josselin
Sir Olivier Arrel
Sir Caron de Bosdegas
Sir Geoffroy du Bois
Sir Yves Charruel
Sir Guy de Rochefort
Sir Jean Rouxelot
Sir Robin Raguenel
Sir Huon de Saint-Hugeon
Sir Jean de Tinténiac

Geoffroy de Beaucorps
Hughes Capus-le-Sage
Olivier de Fontenay
Louis de Goyon
Alain de Keranrais
Guillaume de la Lande
Guillaume de la Marche
Geoffroy de Mellon
Guillaume de Montauban
Olivier de Monteville
Maurice du Parc
Tristan de Pestivien
Guyon de Pontblanc
Geoffroy Poulard
Simonet Pachard
Geoffroy de la Roche
Jean de Serent
Alain de Tinténiac
Maurice de Tréziguify
Geslin de Trésiguidy

Anglo-Breton Force

Sir Robert Bramborough, Captain of Ploërmel
Sir Robert Knolles
Sir Thomas Billefort
Sir Thomas Walton
Sir Hugh Calveley
Sir Hervé Laxaualan
Sir Richard Lalande

Squires & Men-at-Arms
John Plesington
Richard Gaillard
Hughes Gaillard
Huceton Clemenbean
Hennequin de Guenchamp
Renequin Hérouart
Hennequin Le Mareschal
Raoulet d'Aspremont
Gaultier l'Alemant
Bobinet Melipart
Jean Troussel
Robin Adès
Perrot Gannelon
Jennequin Taillard
Raoul Prévot
Croquart the German
Dagworth (nephew of Sir Thomas Dagworth)

If someone decides to give this a go, or has already done it, please drop a comment and let me know how it played out - I'd love to hear.


  1. Sounds fun, exactly the kind of thing you never imagined actually happened until you read about it.

    I think Sharpe Practice would work well and has plenty of scope for some fun random events. 30 might be too many and slow the turns down, how about modding it to have a deck of 30 cards, but only play the top 15 in a turn, the next turn play 15 them shuffle up and start again. Add some more randomness ot the bloodbath and might remove the need for the tiffin cards. (I've a great board game caled Mr Jack which does something similar).

    1. I agree Phil, good idea, you'd want to keep the activation cards to a manageable amount to speed gameplay as much as possible. Perhaps giving one card per high-born Knight might work. Then the Knights can attempt to command nearby squires and men-at-arms to assist them in the melee.

      I'll have to check into this Mr. Jack you speak of.

    2. In brief, Mr Jack is a light two-player board game with eight Jack the Ripper suspects roaming a Whitechapel board. One player plays the inspector, the other Jack. The Inspector aims to eliminate suspects and accuse the right character. The Jack player confuses the issue to prevent an accusation, or tries to escape Whitechapel.

      I guess it has loose similarities to Cluedo, only it involves actual deduction and plays in about 30 minutes! I'd recommend it if you like that sort of thing.

    3. Very cool. It sounds similar in mechanics to the Battlestar Galactica game where people try to discover who is the cylon. I'll have to see if I can source a copy.

  2. Hi Curt, I think there may have been an article about this in one of the wargames mags about a year ago - I'll check back through to see if I can find it.

    For the "Fame" bit, you could always replace the camera crew with Heralds and maybe bards. As an added twist, have 1 herald and 4 bards (or other witnesses) - herald will always assign Fame correctly but bards may assign it to the wrong person (roll a D8: 1 = someone not in the combat, 2-3 = the losing combatant; 4-8 = the winning combatant). To be assigned fame, the herald/bard must be within LoS and a given range.

    1. Damn! Scooped by the pros! Oh well, perhaps we can put a different spin on it.

      I really like your bard/herald ideas, Tamsin. My 'Leading Man' rules allowed the actors to use their Fame points to get control of the camera, force re-writes (re-rolls), and basically bugger up other players. If I ever give this a go I think I'll try incorporating a few of these chaps from the 'medieval press corps'.

    2. That Bard/ Herald idea is a really excellent one. I particularly love the bit about incorrectly assigning the "fame" to the wrong knight!

  3. This sounds like a plan!!!! I'm sorely tempted to give this a go myself, I'd use 15mm Essex figures, 8 figures for £2.50, you just can't go wrong!!!

    1. That would only take about 8 packs - a very economical way to go! Let me know if you give it a try, Ray!

    2. But 28MM or 40MM would look so much better painted with terrain :-}

  4. Oooh this is a period I have great fondness for. I too came across this event discussed when reading a history of the HYW. I loved the idea of fielding forces of Free Companies roaming the French Countryside, and used to pore over the WAB lists in the Medieval Supplement...

    I probably have enough figures already in 28mm to give this a go... and would probably use the GW LOTR style rules as they are what I am most used to for skirmishing...

    A card activation system could also work, perhaps in a GASLIGHT manner, rather than a card per figure, perhaps they could be grouped into 3s or 5s perhaps? A knight/lord and his squires... activating as a group?

  5. Yes, I've wanted to do a interlinked set of scenarios based around a Chevauchee through medieval France - I think it would be quite interesting to try to model the balance between greed and good sense with the raiding party as they range further away from friendly territory

    Please give it a whirl - I'd love to see how it plays out for you.

    In regards to rules: I agree, activations by groups of figures would probably speed up gameplay.

  6. That would be awesome! I agree, each player having 2 Knights and 3 Squires/Men-At Arms would keep the flow well, and I just LOVE the Lardie's card mechanism for smaller games like this (each card activating a Player and his group, not individuals).

    I agree that VPs would be the order of he day, with bonuses for critical hits and negatives for knights 'ganging up' would would not have accorded with the honour system of the day.

    I love the HYW and think that because of the spectacular massed combats at Agincourt and Crecy (both of which I have been too and thoroughly enjoyed) it gets missed for skirmish games. This is a real pity as the free companies add real flavour here.

    I so wish I could come play in your recreation of the Battle fo the 30!

  7. PS For more flavour of the period I thoroughly recommend Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest series:

    Take away the main storyline and there are some awesome games to play!

    Paul - now following your blog!

    1. Thanks for your comments Paul!

      Yes, Cornwell's Grailquest is good adventure reading for sure. Almost all of his books have great scenario ideas (I have a soft spot for his Arthurian trilogy which I think is his best work to date).

  8. Curt, it sounds like an absolutely terrific scenario. I certainly love the idea of scenario based Chevauchees in France. I always have loved the idea of Free Companies, right back to when the first list I can remember for them appeared in Book 3 of the 6th Edition WRG Ancient's Army Lists!

    1. Ah, yes, I remember that book well! By that admission it certainly does date us though!

  9. Ray is burning my earhole about it at work, I've got to admit it's not a bad idea!

    1. Thanks Fran. As long as it only your earhole I don't feel too worried for you...

  10. You've got me looking for options in 28mm plastics too darn you!

    1. Excellent! We must keep the wheels of industry turning...

  11. I would try SAGA.

    There are battleboards for the 100 Years Wars and the Perry's make such nice miniatures :)

    1. Yes, it could be a great scenario for SAGA! I could see were it could be run with multiple 'warlords' per side (to reflect the higher ranking knights). I'll have to do a search for these 100 Year War battleboards you speak of. Thanks for that!

  12. Great post Curt! I have a shedload of Foundry Baron's Wars/early HYW stuff that have been in the to-do pile for years... this would be a great project! (Though for me it'd have to be LotR rules, naturally ;-)

    1. Thanks Dallas! Oh yeah, that Foundry stuff would work brilliant for this (in fact I think I have some of those stashed away as well...) LOTR would work quite well. I could see alot of 'follow me' orders being given! Perhaps higher ranking knights might have their stats tweaked a bit to reflect others recognizing their fealty to them, better armour, higher level of courage, etc.


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