As a teenager, I owned a copy of GW’s Mighty Empires. I didn’t play WFB or something similar and therefore didn’t use it as a campaign engine – me and my friends just had a blast moving around the beautiful map, discovering stuff and fighting each other with the simple rules that allowed to determine the result of a battle without playing it on the tabletop.
When I thought about doing a campaign for SAGA, Mighty Empires came to my mind again. I definitley didn’t want a warband-style campaign where you progress with your group in an abstract way, competing with players like each one was some kind of independant gangster boss. For me, the four factions of the core SAGA ruleset are firmly situated in the historical background of the Norman Conquest. Being a warlord at the time meant playing a role in the larger military and political schemes. I know that SAGA is no historical simulation, but still I felt like infusing some history would actually heighten the fun.
So I decided upon a map-based system that has the board-game feel of Mighty Empires. However, as SAGA is based on small skirmishes instead of large battles between full-size armies, I scaled it down. I also hugely simplified it: no rules for supplies, for instance, and no seasons. The reason for the latter was that I reckoned one turn would represent only one or two days.
The campaign is based around the events of late summer 1069, when a Danish fleet sent by Sweyn II appeared at the coast of England, ready to support the revolts against William’s rule. The Viking player commands a small group of Danish raiders whose orders are to harrass the local Norman lord. The Norman player will have to defend his fief and drive the Norse back into the sea.
Each commander will have 15 points of SAGA troops at his disposal. He can distribute them between three armies of at least 3 and no more than 6 points each. The point value of the armies will be concealed. The turn sequence consists of dicing for initiative and moving the armies around the map, with each battle being played out as soon as it happens, i.e. when two armies occupy the same hex.
Apart from basic terrain features, the map shows the Norman castle and five villages. The Vikings will have to plunder the villages, which is achieved by staying there undisturbed for one round. The Normans start in the castle, the Vikings in the ship, which moves two hexes per turn and can drop off armies when in coast hexes.
Battles are resolved in the normal way as games of SAGA. For resolving the aftermath, I had the problem of dealing with the incredible brutal results SAGA produces, where sometimes the greater part of each army is destroyed. However, despite the blood-and-guts-poetics of the SAGA rulebook I always interpreted the destruction of one unit as a mixture of people dying, people just being out of action due to wounds and people routing (the latter one also being my rationale for the Viking LOKI ability, a justification I seem to need as the player on the receiving end). So, after a battle each player can make a saving roll for each of the points he lost, succeeding on a 4+ for the winner and on a 5+ for the loser. The loser also immediately has to retreat 2 hexes in a straight line, while the winner may draw one bonus card.
The bonus card system serves to give the winner some more advantages without having to resort to much book-keeping. There are several bonus cards, which when played give some kind of bonus for movement (e.g. double move or crossing a river) on the map or for SAGA games (mainly during the set-up phase, e.g. by setting up last or shifting some terrain).
Armies that are smaller than 3 points have to retreat to the castle respectively the ship in the shortest way possible (they may chose the most sensible way, for example using bridges if no great detour is necessary instead of dicing if the can find a ford to cross, which is required for crossing a river hex without a bridge). They will never fight but immediately retreat when an enemy army moves into a hex they occupy. Thereby, it is possible to chase an army until it can no longer move (e.g. it doesn’t succeed in rolling for fording a river, or it would move into the sea), when it will be destroyed.
The game ends when the Viking player has plundered all the villages or when the Norman player has succeeded in destroying all Viking armies. It will also end when the Norman castle or the ship are plundered – this makes it necessary to guard the base and adds to the strategic challenge.
The whole thing is deliberately light on the rules side. For example, we left it open which scenario will be played when two armies crash. If they meet at a river, the Battle at the Ford is the logical choice. For other situations, it will depend on what seems to make sense for the narrative and, most importantly, what game we fancy playing at the moment. No doubt some modifications will be necessary, however I hope that we now have a basic framework for not only generating exciting games of SAGA, but also situating them in a larger story that at least thematically resonates with the dramatic history of the Norman conquest.