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The Battle Of Jomsborg (skirmish rules)

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I meant to post this awhile ago, but honestly forgot all about it. Last year in my Revelations 1001 historical fantasy campaign Our Heroes got involved in a massive Viking naval battle. (Viking "naval battles" mostly consisted of pulling the longships alongside each other and then fighting hand-to-hand, so it's really more of a melee battle that happens to take place onboard ships.) While I didn't want to wargame out the entire battle, just the number of fighters on the PCs' ship alone would be too many to handle individually. So I grouped most of the warriors on both sides together into squads of 5 and used a simplified version of the mass melee rules from FH. I thought it worked out pretty well, so I thought I'd post my results here.




Individuals (PCs and major NPCs) were represented by their own paper minis. Squads were represented by counters.

  • To simplify, all squads started out with 5 warriors.
  • Each squad adds +4 to its starting BODY for unit size (see FH mass melee rules for further discussion)
  • To simplify, I started all squads with 15 BODY (11 Base +4) just to make the breakpoints easier, but it would work with different BODY scores
  • All other Characteristics were basically the same as the individuals'
  • While we're using Hit Locations and sectional armor in this campaign, for squads we just treated all hits as being vs. Torso (9-11)


Rather than increasing the damage that units do (as per FH), I represented that by giving squads Autofire attacks:

  • Attacks against other squads hit on 1-for-1
  • Attacks against individuals hit on 1-for-2, as normal


Each squad has a Readiness Level: which is affected by both Casualties and Morale:

  • Full: +1 OCV, +1 DCV, +1 Morale, Autofire x5
  • Shaken: +0 OCV, +0 DCV, +0 Morale, Autofire x3
  • Disrupted: -1 OCV, -1 DCV, -1 Morale, No Autofire
  • Routed/Destroyed: Unit is removed from play
  • Most squads started as Full, but a few went in Shaken due to various reasons



  • Squads start with   15  BODY
  • Units that have lost   5  BODY cannot be above Shaken (+0)
  • Units that have lost  10  BODY cannot be above Disrupted (-1)


Morale Check:

  • Each squad has a Morale Roll, which is based on EGO with certain modifiers
  • Squads must make a roll when a Unit takes damage > 1/3 its current (not starting) BODY, or when directed by GM.
  • Failed Morale Check drops the Unit one Readiness Level.



  • A successful Rally raises a Unit’s Readiness Level, but it cannot exceed that indicated by its Casualties.
  • Units get a free Rally (Morale Roll) post-Phase 12, or may take it as a Full Phase action per Recovery rules.
  • Individual Characters may make Oratory Rolls or PRE Attacks to give bonuses/penalties to Rally Rolls.


For each unit type, I gave the players a 1/2 page character sheet, along with a 1/2 page rules reference.


I used  Alea disks to represent each squad because they're awesome and you can write on them with dry erase markers. Each PC got a color to represent the troops they were controlling to make it easier to keep track of them, and the enemy troops were similarly color-coded. Written on each disk were 3 things:

  • Unit type (mainly axes vs. sword & shield)
  • Readiness Level
  • Body damage taken, represented by hash marks


I'll post some pics further down so you can see what it looked like. The beauty of this was that Body Damage and Readiness were the only characteristics that changed, so writing them on the disk eliminated the need to keep track of "Wait, how many body does this squad have left?" and so forth.


That's the basics. I'll post the scenario and how the battle went in follow-on posts, along with some pictures, and end with my thoughts and observations.

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I've run several events with large armies and the PCs running around during the battle acting independently.  The Mass Combat rules published in Fantasy Hero 4th edition and revised for 5th worked pretty well but I couldn't tell how much the players enjoyed it or not.  I wanted it to feel like they were involved in something epic and showing how badass they are by standing up to entire units of bad guys but people didn't seem that enthused.

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Here's an example of a character sheet for a unit, in this case a squad of five Swedish Vikings. For simplicity, there were only two types of this unit, both of whom use the same sheet: 

  • Broadsword & Shield or
  • Great Axe (better offense, lower Defense)
  • Both types were also assumed to have bows (or at least had some available on the ship)

Note that on the Attack table:

  • "Atk Roll" is OCV+11+modifiers for that attack
  • Under DCV, the higher number represents units with shields

As noted above, we use Hit Locations and Sectional Armor in this campaign, but for simplicity all hits on squads were treated as being against torso (9-11).


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5 minutes ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

I've run several events with large armies and the PCs running around during the battle acting independently.  The Mass Combat rules published in Fantasy Hero 4th edition and revised for 5th worked pretty well but I couldn't tell how much the players enjoyed it or not.  I wanted it to feel like they were involved in something epic and showing how badass they are by standing up to entire units of bad guys but people didn't seem that enthused.

Yeah, it's a fair point. When asked, all my players said they really enjoyed it as a nice change of pace. But when it came time for the next battle scene, they said they'd prefer to just focus on their characters and have me narrate what's going on around them.


Lesson 1: Talk To Your Players. (Which is never bad advice.)

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Scenario: the Battle of Jomsborg


The year is 1001, the setting is the "real" medieval Europe, plus some low magic & a few monsters.


Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason, a larger-than-life living legend even by Viking standards, was believed to have died in last year's Battle of Svolder, when the mercenary Jomsvikings betrayed him to his enemy, King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark - tho no body was ever found. For more backstory, and an amusing look at Viking era politics (at least as portrayed in the sagas), see this post.


Anyway, the PCs were in Kiev recently when they learned King Olaf is alive and has fallen in with the evil Prince Kor, a steppes nomad leader who may or may not be the literal Antichrist. In fact, they suspect Olaf may have become the embodiment of the Horseman Of War. ("Why yes, his horse did have a reddish coat now that you mention it...") Olaf passed through Kiev a month before the PCs, heading north and recruiting every warrior he could. The PCs have been furiously racing to catch up. In Gotland, they learn that two weeks ago King Olaf and his forces attacked and destroyed the Swedish capital Sigtuna, killed the Swedish King, and burned down the pagan religious center at Uppsala. Olaf then passed through here, hired all the warriors & ships he could, and departed 4 days ago with 30 ships and around 2000 men. They deduce that he's headed for Jomsburg, the fortress of the Jomsvikings.


July 24th: Our Heroes reach Jomsborg to find a fierce battle taking place in the bay outside the fortress:

  • King Olaf’s forces: 25 ships, 1700 warriors, including a large number of berserks (due to Olaf's powers as the Horseman Of War), plus
    • King Olaf
    • Bayan Tarkan, a Turkish sorcerer (demonologist)
    • Prince Yaroslav, 13-year-old son of Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev, sent off to learn The Ways Of War; Vladimir has asked the PCs to try not to kill him
    • A couple of other Individual Bad-Ass Viking Captains
  • Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard: 30 ships, 2000 warriors
  • Jomsvikings (allied with the Danes): 20 ships, 1300 warriors
  • Our Heroes: 2 ships, 120 warriors plus 10 freed Welsh slaves (marginal fighters), and 5 PCs
    • Thyri: Swedish Viking shieldmaiden
    • Geralt: Irish holy warrior
    • Aeddan: Welsh ranger/archer
    • Abida: Muslim alchemist
    • Edmondo: Roman Catholic priest


[BTW, Olaf Tryggvason, Sweyn Forkbeard and Prince Yaroslav (later known as Yaroslav The Wise) are actual historical (or at least legendary) people. Same for the Jomsvikings - basically Pagan Viking Templers, which is as awesome as it sounds. The Battle of Svolder I took straight out of the Icelandic sagas; King Olaf's body was in fact never found, and rumors that he had survived persisted for years. But this Battle of Jomsborg is completely fictitious.]


LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!! (When I have more time to post...)

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Battle Report:


When Our Heroes arrive, the battle has already been going on for some time, with losses on both sides. The Danes and Jomsvikings are having difficulty coordinating their forces, and some of them were even fighting each other. (As a result of the Horseman Of War's mind control ability.) Olaf's forces, on the other hand, fight with single-minded determination and many of the men around him have gone Berserk.


Spotting Olaf’s red longship in the middle of things, Our Heroes make their way past the outer ships, most of whom are too busy fighting other enemies to worry about it. When a couple ships get too close, Abida drives one away with an alchemical Cocktail of Molotov. Not to be outdone, Geralt calls down The Fire Of Heaven on the other enemy ship. The Heroes' 2nd longship is rammed by an enemy ship and drawn into a separate fight, but the main ship (with all 5 PCs) makes it through taking nothing worse than a handful of arrows. They reach Olaf's ship, which is already engaged with a Danish ship; they come alongside and lash their ship to Olaf's.


Thyri & Geralt lead their ship’s complement across to engage the enemy warriors. Aeddan stays on their ship with three squads of archers, shooting into the fray with deadly effect. Aeddan's trained falcon even joins the fray, harassing and distracting opponents - until it gets too close to King Olaf, who cuts the bird in half. [Sad Aeddan Is Sad] Father Edmondo's prayers help to strengthen and heal their own troops, while Abida lobs more alchemical concoctions at the enemy troops. Things are go well at first, until Thyri is blinded by her own hair in her eyes (later revealed to be the result of a rune spell), another longship of Olaf's men join the fight, and Abida rolls a natural 18 with one of her Cocktails of Molotov, setting their own ship on fire! Unable to extinguish the fire, Our Heroes jump onto Olaf's ship, and cut their old ship loose.


Thyri shakes off the blinding spell, and Father Edmondo blesses her with the Strength of Sampson, which she uses to charge ahead and engage King Olaf himself. Meanwhile, Geralt and Aeddan take down a number of Olaf's men including the sorcerer Tarkan, and Prince Yaroslav (who fortunately survives). Thyri receives several minor injuries courtesy of King Olaf, but is able to hold her own until her companions can force their way through the remaining troops to join her. Surrounded, Olaf stands with his back to the mast and fights on...until a well-placed arrow from Aeddan pins his kidney to the mast, and Thyri cuts his head off.


With Olaf’s death - and the end of his Inspire Fighting effect - the fighting quickly peters out. Our Heroes have won the day for Danish King Sveyn, who showers them with rewards at a huge feast in Jomsborg!

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I promised pictures. This first one is "fleet scale." We mostly narrated their way through this part of the battle, so we could get to the main action.

  • Ships labelled with a red O and a number are Olaf's forces, a mix of Norse, Russians, Slavs, a few Turks, and whoever else he could recruit.
  • Ships with a blue D are Danish forces under King Sweyn
  • Ships with a yellow J are Jomsvikings.

The PCs' ship can be seen right-center with a blue circle with a 2 on it. It is lashed to King Olaf's ship (O1 with a star), which is in turn lashed to a Danish ship D4. On the far side of D4, another of Olaf's ships (O24) has just come to reinforce.


You can also see the PCs' other ship bottom-center, where it was stopped and engaged by O18.


To be clear, we didn't fight out the results of any of these other battles; just the one the PCs were in.


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This picture shows how we labeled the disks to represent different squads. The colors represent whose forces they are:

  • Red, orange, blue, purple & green are Swedish troops controlled by the 5 Players
  • Black represents the freed Welsh slaves, also controlled by the Players
  • Brown and tan represent friendly Danish troops controlled by the GM.
  • White and grey represent Olaf's troops, aka The Bad Guys. Whites are "normal" troops, whereas Grey means the squad has Berserkified.


Written in the center of the disk is "Sw" to indicate sword-and-shield troops or "Axe" to identify battleaxe troops. (For a few of them I forgot and wrote "Olf" for Olaf's forces."


The number at the top represents the squad's current Readiness Level, +1 for Full, 0 for Shaken, or -1 for Disrupted.


The tick marks on the bottom represent how much BODY damage the Squad has taken.


So you can see the blue disk in the top right is a squad of the PCs' Swedes, wielding sword & shield; they've taken 10 points of Body (out of 15), and their Readiness has fallen to -1/Disrupted.

By contrast the purple disk in the lower left hasn't taken any hits yer, and it's Readiness if at +1/Full.


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Zooming out, here's a view of the 4 lashed-together longships that formed the PCs' battlefield. And yes, in hindsight I should've folded the edges so the ships were actually adjacent, but you get the idea.


This is just about in the middle of the battle described above. The PCs' ship is at the bottom; above it is King Olaf's larger ship; above that is the Danish ship; and at the top, a smaller ship of Olaf's men has come to reinforce.


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Close-up of the PCs' ship. You can see where Abida's "oopsie" has set the ship on fire, but it hasn't started to spread yet; Abida and the Welshmen are trying to put it out, but with no luck. Aeddan, Father Edmondo, and a squad of Swedes stand amidships, waiting for a clear space to jump across to Olaf's ship. At the bow, three squads of the PCs' Swedes just polished off an opposing squad and are getting ready to also jump forward.


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Two shots of Olaf's ship. The PCs' forces have mostly swept the rear (right in the picture) of the ship clear of enemy troops, except for one squad of Olaf's Berserks (grey), and a squad of Danes (brown disk) whose minds have been fogged by an enemy spell and have turned to attack the PCs' troops.


In the bow (2nd pic) Geralt comes to the aid of some of his troops who are being cut down by one of Olaf's barbarian captains. Behind him, two of the few remaining Danish squads hold off the young Russian Prince Yaroslav and some of Olaf's forces.




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Last pic shows the Danish ship. The Danish crew is mostly gone at this point except for one last, badly hammered squad. King Olaf himself is here, having just cut down the Danish captain. Thyri, in full Berserker mode, has charged ahead of her allies and is caught between two squads of Olaf's troops. (Don't worry, she'll be fine!) The Turkish sorcerer is seen in the top left.


At the top is the ship of newly-arrived reinforcements. Note the reinforcements are already wounded from previous fights they've been in off-camera.


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Lastly, if anyone ever needs some longships, here are the maps I made. The large (40-oar) and medium (32-oar) ships spread over 2 pages; the small (20-oar) ship fits on one page. And then I have some "fleet scale" longships. I can't remember where I found the actual clip art I used for those ships.


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