Saturday, July 5, 2014

Trireme: Battle of Actium

Replay of a portion of the Battle of Actium, using Trireme to pit Mark Anthony's fleet against Octavian. This is one section of the much larger battle, with 500+ ships engaged. 

Anthony's fleet had fewer ships (15 vs 20 Octavians), but with large marine contingents; Octavian's forces had smaller vessels, but better crews and firepots which automatically set fires with a successful ram. If an Antonian managed to board an Octavian, they almost always won; meanwhile, the Octavians tried to concentrate fire with their catapults to set the enemy ablaze. Of course, each side felt the other's specialty was overpowered...

The Antonian plan appears to have been to spread their four large ships across their formation, to lead with them, and to pull in their wings when those were threatened. The Octavian plan was to divide the fleet into squadrons of three; to attack the flanks, leaving little in the center; and to focus on ranged fire to avoid risk of being boarded. 

Ranged fire (2 hexes distant) turned out not to work too well unless you had a mass of ships dogpiling one enemy. From range 2, you had a 1/3 chance of setting one fire, which might inconvenience the enemy but cannot destroy him; the target rolls 2d6 plus the number of fires, and is destroyed in a 14 or higher. Lower rolls mean all or half the fires are extinguished, or the fires are carried over till the next turn and their crew is busy fighting fires and not available for boarding. 

From range 1, a catapult rolls 2 dice (needing 5 or 6) and an archer shooting from a tower rolls 1 die (needing 4-6), so there's a possibility of setting 2-3 fires and that in turn has a chance of killing a ship. But range 1 also means the enemy archers can shoot back; several of our ships lost all their marines that way. And you're also at some risk of being boarded. Given the Antonian marine contingents usually outnumbered ours by 2:1 or more, this was fatal; I think we had only one ship win a boarding battle, and that was against an enemy who was being attacked from two sides.

What turned out to be most effective was ramming with firepots. If you ram, your archers and catapults might set a couple of fires, and then your firepots add 1d6 fires. With good dice, you might set as many as 9 fires, and that will either sink him or leave him without anyone to defend against boarding. If the latter, you can board him and destroy him (assuming, of course, that his archers and catapults hadn't already killed all your marines).
Ramming by itself was ineffective; I believe our entire fleet put a total of one hole in one ship, which didn't sink it but did slow it down a bit. 

The Antonian fleet failed to maintain their formation, or use their large ships well; the quicker Octavians were able to take advantage in the confused melee that followed the formations breaking. The Octavian efforts against the flanks were successful; the Antonians destroyed a few ships in the center, but then they didn't have any vulnerable targets left, and it had cost them.

Post game discussion was on "toning down effects of fire". I suspect that isn't necessary--Octavian fire is more dramatic than Antonian boarding battles, but both sides lost 40% of their ships--but one suggestion was to give larger ships a negative DRM to the Fire Effects roll. Another possibility would be for ram firepots to roll 2d3 or 1d6-1 instead of 1d6, or something like that. 

Final count: 
9 surviving Antonians (including one with a serious fire, one de-crewed) out of 15 
12 Octavians (including at least two de-crewed) out of 20
The GM ruled it as an Octavian victory. although given the parity in losses, one might make a case for it being inconclusive, with the Octavians having an advantage.

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