Saturday, 29 January 2022

Lion Rampant in the foothills of the Pyrenees

On 16 July 1212, an army led by the allied Christian kings of Spain defeated the forces of the Almohad Caliphate of al-Nasīr, signalling the ultimate decline of Islamic power in Iberia. A number of crusading knights from beyond the Pyrenees had joined the Spanish campaign, although many of them departed before the decisive battle. This skirmish represents a detachment of French troops making their way back to France who are caught by an advance party of Moors in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The Moors, led by the Valencian warlord al-Mutahawir, hope to gain some booty while deterring future interventions from Christian powers beyond the peninsula, while the French, under Count Raymond-Roger of Foix, hope to avoid the fate of Roland and Oliver in the mountain passes…

The rules used for this game were Lion Rampant, with a scenario loosely based on ‘A Gentle Stroll’. The forces were supposed to be around 50 points per side, though dodgy maths on my part meant the French had an extra two units of mounted sergeants—as you’ll see, this didn’t affect the outcome unduly. The Moorish objective was to prevent as many French units from escaping off the far short table edge, while the French needed to get more models off that edge than were killed or routed by the enemy.

The Moors were hidden at the start of the game, though it was clear to the French edging down the road that there were several key locations from which an ambush might be sprung. Indeed, the prospect of the narrow pass flanked by high ground on either side looked so daunting that the army hesitated before even approaching further. Meanwhile, the Moors kept themselves behind the rocks and trees, giving the whole field an atmosphere of eerie quiet. But as the first French mounted crossbowmen established a screen behind which the rest of the army might advance, groups of lightly armoured Arab warriors appeared on either side of the pass, supported by medium cavalry to the north. All of the Moors were clearly armed with bows along with their swords and spears, which made the prospect of proceeding straight up the road thoroughly unattractive to the crusaders.

As the French foot sergeants took up defensive positions along the road, the mounted crossbowmen swung around the wood east of the pass to see if any Moors might be hiding among the rocky outcrops north of the road. Immediately, Arab light cavalry burst into view, spraying the crossbowmen with arrows and bringing down half of them within a few minutes. The rest of the crossbowmen dismounted and began returning bolts of their own.

South of the road, two squadrons of French mounted sergeants drove toward another suspicious outcropping, flushing out more lightly armoured infantry and cavalry bearing bows. Nevertheless, the 
sergeants struck one group of horsemen who sickened of the close combat and fled. Close behind them, a group of heavily armoured knights smashed into the infantry, but had to retire as the Almohad warriors held their ground. Inspired, the mounted Moors turned to face the enemy, while those foot loosed a well-placed volley of arrows that killed half of the knights.

Meanwhile, to the north of the road, mounted sergeants charged the light Arab cavalry, who peppered them with arrows as they wheeled and rode back toward the hills. A group of crossbowmen on foot, sent forward against their will by the encouragement and threats of Raymond-Roger, rushed up alongside the remaining dismounted crossbowmen, and together they poured more shafts into the mounted Moors, who stayed just within range on the northernmost hill. As the sergeants pursued the evading Moors, they cleared the edge of the woods and came within sight of al-Mutahawir’s personal guard. The impetuous captain waved his sword and charged the sergeants, who wheeled to meet him. Men and horses on both sides went down in the crush, before both parties pulled away to gather their strength.

Back to the south, the knights and sergeants drove forward once more into the Arab infantry, this time scattering the timid and forcing the braver ones to seek shelter a safe distance away. But a shower of arrows from the cavalry behind sent one of the squadrons of sergeants riding pell-mell for cover. Two more knights fell, stuck like pincushions, while the brave Hugh de Lacy held his ground, preparing to spur his steed for a lone, (vain)glorious charge against the retiring infantry. Alas, the chance never came, for the Moors gathered their courage just in time to send him to join his brothers under another hail of arrows.

The crossbowmen to the north of the road continued to pump quarrels into the Arab cavalry on the hill, while the mounted sergeants turned their backs on al-Mutahawir and closed with those just east of the rise. The Moors did not react in time, and the heavy impact of the sergeants drove them from the field. Those on the hills withered under the attention from the crossbows, which picked off man and mount while staying out of range of their composite bows, before being finished off by the sergeants as they fled. 

But as the Moorish cavalry to the north melted away, so did the French sergeants to the south, who were all too close to the Almohad bowshots. The French infantry, until this point huddling on the road out of range, suddenly surged forward to engage the Moors to the south. As had happened several times over the course of the afternoon, the Moors did not immediately react. 

Despite the recklessness of their commander, the Muslim warriors seemed much less eager to take action, allowing the initiative once again to pass to the French while al-Mutahawir stood in his stirrups, gnashing his teeth in frustration.

French infantry was also fanning out to the north of the road, moving into the thick woods that screened them from the Moorish light troops on the cliff above the crucial pass. As the Moors still dithered, the foot sergeants picked their way through the undergrowth and those crossbowmen with horses mounted up to swing round the trees, the hill to the north now being clear of the enemy. The situation on this side of the road was now becoming perilous for the Moors, as only the light troops and al-Mutahawir remained to face the crusaders who had cleared the north-eastern hill. 

However, it was now Raymond-Roger’s turn to stand paralysed. As his crossbowmen moved forward to draw a bead on the Moors above the pass, and the foot sergeants reached the edge of the wood, the victorious sergeants remained celebrating on the hill, deaf to his distant imprecations. As for his own troop of knights, they were too busy cheering a success which they had done nothing to achieve to respond to his repeated insistence—strewn with pleaded cajoling and blasphemous threats—that they must seize the opportunity presented to them.

Initiative had swung back to the Almohads, who swung west of the pass to cover the road and prevent a breakthrough in the north, leaving the blooded French to hunker down defensively to the south. However, another group of crossbowmen had now come up to the front and began picking off the light infantry on the southern side of the pass. A methodical shooting war began, as crossbowmen engaged the Moors above the pass at long range, whittling down their numbers and driving them off ridges around the pass. Paralysed once more, the Moors looked on as another group of foot sergeants rushed up the road and prepared to charge over the southern hill while the remaining sergeants south of the pass ventured forward again.

A group of heavy Moorish infantry which had been sheltering behind the hill now sprang into action and rushed to block the pass. This momentum brought the fleeing light infantry to their senses, and from the western base of the hill, they loosed arrows into the advancing mounted sergeants. This was too much for their battered nerves, and their initial retreat became a rout.

The only remaining mounted French troops were now north of the road, where the mounted crossbowmen, sergeants, and Raymond-Roger now began to close the distance. The Moors had now lost half their force, and while morale held among the cavalry, much of the infantry now wavered or quit the field. The mounted crossbowmen rushed to the top of the abandoned northern ridge above the pass, only to be immediately felled by bowshots from Moors on the other side of the road. The mounted sergeants, confident in their own invincibility, charged the light cavalry, only to be shot down and driven back under arrows from the evading horsemen; like their comrades to the south, the survivors fled for their lives.

As Raymond-Roger closed on a squadron of light cavalry, he was spotted by al-Mutahawir. ‘Come on, you sons of dogs’, the Moorish commander yelled to his two remaining ġuzāt, ‘let us go and win martyrdom for ourselves against these heathen Franks!’ 

‘My lord and most devout servant of God’, replied one, as the other shifted uncomfortably in his saddle, ‘why do you not challenge him to fight you alone, so as to determine God’s truth between you and him?’ ‘What a glorious suggestion, best of companions!’, replied al-Mutahawir, much to the relief of his men.

Spurring his horse forward, he shouted defiance at Raymond-Roger, who understood the tenor, if not the meaning, of the Moor’s words and peeled off from his squadron to engage him in single combat. Their swords clashed, shields splintered, and helmets rang as they traded blows before pulling back, exhausted and a little shamefaced, to their own troops. The French knights, rejoined by their commander rushed at the the light cavalry, which once more wheeled away, peppering the knights with a deadly volley of arrows that reduced their numbers by half and sent them running.

The French had now also lost half of their army, and while much of the infantry were unbloodied, the mounted men were all but gone. One group of foot sergeants slipped away, while Raymond-Roger’s men began to panic, sweeping their commander away with them. The panic spread, and another group of sergeants fled. In the road, an attack against the Arab heavy infantry by the foot sergeants had been repulsed, but pressure from the crossbowmen continued to push the Moors back, opening the pass.

As more French infantry rushed up the road, al- Mutahawir cried out, ʾ‘Allāhu ʾakbar!’ for the last time and rushed headlong into the advancing sergeants. His and his reluctant fellows’ horses were bloodily transfixed on the spears of the fresh warriors, and his own head caved in by a sergeant with an iron-tipped club. The loss of their leader convinced the remaining Moors, save one squadron of light cavalry, to seek easier prey elsewhere; the stalwarts soon regretted their stubbornness, as crossbow bolts brought them finally to the ground.

A dismal quiet settled over the battlefield, the ground to the east of the pass and along the road soaked with blood and gore. The Moors had been driven off with substantial loss, but the French had nothing to celebrate. All of the expensive horses that had been brought on campaign had been lost. None of the the knights, with their bright shields, shining helms, and fluttering banners, would ever see France again. The surviving groups of sergeants and crossbowmen wearily shouldered their weapons and trudged northwest, lordless and leaderless, hoping to hold together through the mountains and on till home.

A massive thanks to Vince, Chas, and Ken for playing this, my first game of Lion Rampant, with me. It was a great game, in which the crossbowmen showed themselves as star players for their ability to inflict damage at long range, and the ability of bow-armed light cavalry to run circles around heavier mounted units, particularly as the game wears on, was capably demonstrated once more. 

Everyone did really well; the Pyhrric nature of the result on both sides shows how well-fought it was on both sides (despite my inadvertent padding of the French side!). Most importantly, it played in the perfect spirit of friendly competition and good humour. 

Special thanks to Vince, who topped up my French forces with some of his (admittedly anachronistic) Normans and provided most of the terrain, and to Chas, who brought the Moors


  1. That is a lovely looking game and a really great set of rules too.

    1. Cheers Steve, the chaps were having a lot of fun when I checked in on the game, and I too have always enjoyed Lion Rampant.


  2. Just like being there Gregory, with us Moors standing round, contemplating the weather for half the game.
    The dice are fickle, but it was all played in a good humoured fashion, so the day went well.
    Many thanks for running an entertaining
    scenario. I can say it went much better than my first attempts at acting as umpire.
    I will just comment that the dodgy mathematics are far too advanced a trick for a first outing !
    All the best Vince

  3. A great battle report, Gregory. I was transported to the fray enjoying every twist and turn. The table set up looked terrific with some wonderful miniatures. I look forward to our Lion Rampant game in February.

  4. Fantastic-looking game, and a solid period for LR-style scenarios. Lovely stuff.

  5. Excellent medieval eye candy.


  6. Thanks for your comment chaps.
    I think Greg did a great job putting on his first game at club and producing an enthralling AAR to go with it.


  7. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words, and to JJ for posting it. I'm looking forward to playing your game at the next meeting, Mike!