Divided Loyalties

This scenario was originally conceived for a darkest Africa expedition game, with a column of explorers coming across a place with lots of treasures, and a native porter sneaking off to fetch his cousins to intervene in the looting by rival explorers. However, the setting has been changed to a medieval one, which is how I playtested it.

It was playtested as a strange two-player game, even though there are really four “sides” to be commanded. See below for how this was handled. Doubtless it could be adapted for three or four players (see below).


Duke Egbert is a bit of a git. He rules this region but he doesn’t treat his men well. He is not the man his father was. He has married a thirteen year-old French girl, who came with a huge dowry, and now he is spending his wealth on extending his already bloated castle, and building summer villas on his estates. He claims that times are hard, but he throws banquets and tournaments whenever her relatives visit. The two players are his captains, and they haven’t been paid in a year.

Each of the two captains is an experienced fighter, and has won the respect of the men of the dukedom. Each has come to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, neither has told the other. If they had teamed up, they would have had an easy time of it, perhaps, but instead they both worked in secret, unaware that they were not alone. Each has decided that Egbert needs his faithful troops more than they need him, and that they will teach him a lesson. This is a terrible thing that they plot, and so they do so in secret. Each has spread the word amongst the men that when an opportunity presents itself to get hold of a load of the Duke’s booty, that this shall be done. A codeword will be shouted, and then all men loyal to the plot will be expected to follow the orders of the captain shouting that word. As soon as booty is taken, the men will have become brigands.

A life as a brigand can be good in that the men may quickly come by lots of money that they are then free to blow in the taverns of the region, but for a band of brigands to survive any time it must stick together under a competent leader, and have some money to keep it going through the lean times. To persuade a man to become a brigand and effectively to renounce his allegiance to the Duke will take a hefty cash bribe, and neither captain has any money. Therefore the only thing they can bribe the men with is a promised share of the loot to come.

Both players write down in secret a percentage between 10 and 90 inclusive, that is divisible by 5. This is the amount they are promising to share with the men who obey them. The higher the percentage, the more men they will get in the game, but the lower the percentage, the more money they get to keep for themselves. The winner of the game will be the man who leaves the table with the most money that they get to keep for themselves, to put aside and maintain a life without a liege lord.

Table set up

The table is a stocky rectangle, with a road winding through the centre of it lengthways. Either side of the road is rural scenery, with fences, walls, hedges, and open land all right next to the road as well as scattered to the table edge. There are also wheat fields, trees, perhaps some small hills/bumps/crests, and whatever else you might like.

Seven containers are scattered along and just either side of the road, near the centre of the table, and next to these are groups of revolting peasants. The containers are whatever you have representations of: chests, caskets, crates, boxes, sacks, barrels etc. In these, is the Duke’s silver. If the peasants are left to themselves, they will run off the table carrying them.


There are four forces. The peasants are one force. These should be a match for about a third of the Duke’s men (if they fought in a coordinated fashion). Their motive is to escape with as much money as they can get away with. Given a choice between life and money, they will choose life. A player could control the peasants, and be given his own victory conditions, but also the peasants could also be a non-player force there just to make things interesting. All the peasants are footmen.

The second force is Oswald’s. Oswald is not a bad man, but he is a bit of a plonker. When it comes to the crunch, both of the player captains know that the men would prefer to follow a competent, seasoned, brave, and charismatic man like them, rather than follow Oswald. A few of the men will stay loyal to Oswald, perhaps because the word from the captains hadn’t reached them, and they have no idea what’s going on, or perhaps just out of simple loyalty to Oswald or the Duke. If Oswald dies, these men will withdraw from the table. Until then, they will obey Oswald and try to keep order, and stop everyone else from running off with the Duke’s coin.

The other two forces are those that will follow the player captains. At the start of the game, neither player knows how big these forces are. Each captain is mounted on a good horse, and has a loyal sergeant who is also mounted. There should not be many other mounted men. The soldiers in the column are all competent men at arms, with decent equipment, and some are well equipped knights. There are spearmen, archers, swordsmen etc. When the fighting starts, it will be necessary to be able to distinguish which men belong to which commander. In the playtest, uniformed men were mixed in with non-uniformed, and when the rolls were made to decide loyalty, one player got all the uniformed figures, which were swapped with equivalent non-uniformed men if necessary. Men loyal to Oswald were marked with a blue hoop.


The column of Duke Egbert’s men enters, about three abreast, on the road from one end of the table. This is the situation when the captains catch sight of the situation ahead.

Carrying treasure

Two men are needed to carry treasure, or one mounted man who cannot then be used to engage the enemy. Carrying treasure slows figures down by an agreed significant amount (it rather depends on how fast they move normally in your system). Knocking off a couple of inches seems about right, or even halving speed (but that might be a bit harsh). If combat results force a man to retreat by any amount, he must drop the treasure where he was. A dropped treasure can be picked up for no movement cost.

Turn sequence

Exactly what turn sequence you use will depend on whether or not you are using a clever initiative system, or whether you are just going to use a simple I-go-you-go sequence.

At the start of the game, the column is commanded by Oswald. Each time it comes to the turn of the column, a die is rolled, and if the result is even, one captain gets to control Oswald, and if odd, the other captain does. Whoever controls Oswald, the other player controls the peasants. At the start of the game, therefore, there are effectively only two “sides”.

At some point, one of the players will yell his codeword. As soon as he does, he takes his turn. If he waits too long, some of Oswald’s men or his rival’s men will grab loot. If he says his codeword too early, then the other player may then sit back and watch him attack the peasants all on his own, while also being attacked by Oswald’s men. If one and only one player has called his codeword, then the other player gets to command all other forces: his own, Oswald’s, and the peasants.

In order to win the game, a player will have to call out his code word and start grabbing loot, so it is very likely that both players will hold back for long. Once both players are controlling their own loyal forces, again a die is rolled every turn to see who controls Oswald, and the other player controls the peasants. This means that both Oswald and the peasants may change between hampering one player and hampering another, but neither player can be sure of the situation next turn. It also effectively renders the NPC forces as indecisive and lacking in purpose and initiative.

If you are using my own revolutionary initiative system then this should kick in only after both players have called out their codewords. One player with the initiative keeps it until it is snatched away from him, at which point the other player gets his initiative, then Oswald and the peasants get an action each in that order. An initiative system that should work for this scenario is one that gives a player a variable number of actions in his turn. He might get 1d4 of them, for example, or perhaps after each action he could roll 1d6 and get another action on a roll of 3 or greater.

Assuming that the scenario is being played by two players, the roll of the peasants and Oswald’s men is to make things challenging for the players. Neither should have as much initiative as the players. If they did, the treasures might race off the table before either player could catch them.

If your initiative system allows a player to move all the men in his command during his turn, then this might be the turn sequence to use:

  1. Die roll to see which player takes first turn
  2. First player takes his turn.
  3. Second player takes his turn.
  4. Die roll to see who commands Oswald’s men (simple 50/50 chance).
  5. Oswald’s men make one action.
  6. Other player then makes one action with the peasants.

An “action” here is something done by a figure or group of figures who are all within 4” of another figure in the same group (this assumes 25/28mm figures are being used), and all move in the same direction or with the same general destination/intent. This means that not all of the peasants or Oswald’s men will get to act in a turn, unless they are all together and acting in concert. Players controlling non-player forces are limited in that any shooting must be at priority targets (nearest and most obvious threats), and the peasants cannot voluntarily move to attack anyone else unless to join an existing melee.

Assessing loyalty

When a captain calls out his codeword, and not before, the loyalties of the men are decided. 1d20 is rolled as well as 1d6 at the same time, for each of the men in the column. This will take a few minutes, but need only be done once. If the 1d6 shows a 1, then the man is loyal to Oswald, but if it shows any other number then the number on the d20 decides which captain a man will obey. The formula is as follows: halve the difference between the two figures offered and add this to 50 and divide by 5 to get the number on the d20 to be rolled or less to show loyalty to the higher-offering captain. For example one player offers 40% and the other offers 65%. The difference is 25%, which halved is 12.5% added to 50 gives 62.5%, which divided by 5 gives 13 (round up), which means that a figure will be loyal to the captain who offered 65% if 1-13 inclusive is rolled on the d20. 14-20 indicates loyalty to the other captain. Fortunately for you, I have worked out all the permutations for you and put them on a handy chart (below).

Difference in Percentage of loot offered05101520253035404550556065707580
d20 loyalty to higher-offering player1010111112121313141415151616171718

The men deciding their loyalties are not stupid. If several men declare themselves loyal to one captain, a man amongst them is not going to declare allegiance to his rival. He will keep quiet, move to the edge of the group, and then leg it over to some of his fellows. To simulate this, players can not attack with greater numbers other men in the column until those men have either initiated an attack, or have moved to join their fellows and then acted in concert with them. Small numbers of men are free to attack greater numbers if they so wish. You’ll probably find that players pretty quickly band their men together, particularly if you are using an initiative system that goes by the single action, rather than one which allows all men to act independently every turn.

Calculating victory

At the end of the game, the players see how many bags of loot they have, and then calculate victory. Any loot taken off-table stays in the hands of whoever had it at the time. Each subtracts his offered percentage from 100, and multiplies his loot by this amount. For example, if a player has promised his men 35% of the loot, then this subtracted from 100 gives us the percentage he gets to keep: 65%. If he has got three bags of loot, then he has scored 3 x 65% = 1.95. His enemy offers 70%, and has got four bags of loot, so he only gets to keep 30% of 4, which is 1.2. So the man who got more bags of loot loses the game. One way to win the game is to secure a few bags of loot, and then get the peasants or Oswald to run off with the rest, depriving one’s rival of income.

Three and four players

With three players, one player would control the peasants. These get a victory if they can get off-table with three treasures, and a major victory if they get off-table with more than that. They score a shared victory if they can get off table with two treasures and at least half their men. The peasants should be given a leader figure.

With four players, Oswald is a player character. He can win by killing both captains, or by getting the most treasure off the table, of which he gets to keep 100%. If Oswald is a player character, he should perhaps be given more than 1 in 6 men of the column, but 2 in 6 is too many. Perhaps roll a 1d12 if you have one, and count a result of 1-3 as loyalty to Oswald.

Playtest report

One player wrote 40%, the other 60%. Oswald’s men started rounding up the nearer peasants when one captain yelled his codeword and took the first independent initiative. The die rolls favoured the higher offer and so one player had a definite superiority of troops. However, he needed to get five of the seven treasures to secure victory. The other player kept attacking him using Oswald’s forces, led by Oswald. This backfired when Oswald was killed in the fighting and his men withdrew. A few fights broke out between differing parties around the table, but the stronger captain managed to get a couple of treasures and to threaten a couple more. Peasants were scattering, some carrying treasure. The lesser captain used his own figure and his mounted sergeant’s to chase down fleeing peasants carrying treasure. This was good way to catch the peasants, because the mounted figures were so much faster. However, it was risk that backfired when he became isolated from his men, and a legitimate target for peasant archers, who shot him.


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