A relief bringing cool breeze* swept lazily over the hot, dusty plains of Dorylaeum in the summer of 1097. To the east stood the forces of Kilij Arslan upon their innumerable steeds. To the west stood the glittering battle line of Bohemond’s vanguard of crusaders, protecting the camp that lay directly behind them by the marshy banks of the Thymbris river. Many miles behind them camped the main force of the Crusaders with Godfrey. Seeing the mounted hordes of Turks on the horizon, Bohemond sent messengers to Godfrey requesting aid, and prayed to God that they could hold off the Turks long enough for him to arrive. It would be a long day.
*i.e. a standing fan.
The battle opened with the Turks surging forward on their right flanks, the swarms of horse archers supported by the small contingent of heavy cavalry led by Kilij himself. Their left flank proved slower off the mark, somehow missing the order to advance and lingering by the river overlong.
The knights, seeing the advancing enemy, charge forward recklessly to meet them. Brave as they are, the storm of arrows that come their way from the Turkish archers catches them off guard and drives them back. It is all Bohemond can do to rally them and get them back in the fight.
The horse archers continue to unleash their arrows into the charging knights, causing confusion and disorder among them. As the knights close with the light horsemen they throw their spears and skewer a few of the screaming pagans with their unholy demonic cry of “Allah Akbarghhhhhh…”, while those with lances lower them into couch positions and prepare to drive through them when they seem to just melt away. The cries of “Deus Vult!” die in their throats as their disordered ranks find themselves facing the well formed ranks of Kilij Arsalan’s elite heavy cavalry, who unleash a hail of arrows themselves before charging to meet the intruding Europeans. The horse archers charge up the slopes and attempt to sweep round the flanks of the Crusaders, though are slowed by a few lucky shots from the defending crossbowmen.
The Turkish horse archers on the left finally rouse themselves and begin to move forwards, not liking the look of the heavy cavalry melee nor the solid line of shields and spears that was the infantry, they plunged into the marshy river grounds, attempting to use the terrain to flank around the enemy. They gain some success, with the two sides exchanging potshots at each other as they moved past.
The melee between the two heavy cavalry forces continues, with the battle ebbing back and forth throughout the morning. The Crusaders seem to be getting the better of the fight to the North, but to the South the Turks are pushing the knights back towards the lines of infantry. Both sides are in rough shape, but the Turks take courage from the sight of the horse archers flowing around the enemy infantry and towards the camp at their rear.
The melee continues with both sides taking heavy losses, but a group of knights manage to reform and charge deep into Kilij’s Guard Cavalry, and with a roar of triumph drive them from the field. Kilij moves to take control of another group of his heavy cavalry, these fresh from fertilising the valley floor with the blood of the infidels and attempts to turn back and attack the knights in the flank, but as he turns another group barge into him at a charge, disrupting his troops and engaging in a frantic combat. The knights prevail and from their midst the one known as Tancred, nephew of Bohemond, launches himself at Kilij in mortal combat. The two fight valiently, but the Norman proves the stronger fighter and slays the great Sultan, raising his bloodied spear in victory to God Almighty and screaming his victory cries. Urged on by his glorious combat, the knights drive the remaining Turkish heavy cavalry from the field.
Meanwhile, Bohemond, aware now of the Turkish flanking action, sent word to the infantry to fall back to defend the camp. They turn about and start a march back towards the camp, exchanging fire with the swarming horse archers as they do. The Turkish horse fall upon the camp, but the Crusader infantry aren’t too far behind and attempt to drive them off. Bohemond turns his knights around and rushes to join the infantry in the defense of the camps.
The horse archers run rampant through the camp and attack the infantry from a distance, but just as they feel their victory is assured a dust cloud on the horizon materialises into a contingent of knights charging down the valley at them. More worryingly still, the dust cloud behind them seems considerably larger. Where did these knights come from? There surely can’t be another Crusader army coming?!
Godfrey arrives at the head of the army, having charged well ahead of the rest of the troops. As his knights join him in drips and drabs the Turkish horse archers gather to try and drive back this new threat and give themselves space to flee, while the Crusader infantry closes in behind them and the original knights, tired though ebullient, begin moving around their flanks.
More knights continue to arrive down the valley as the noose closes tighter around the now panicking horsemen. With the full forces of the Crusaders bearing down on them, slaughtering them in their hundreds, and no sign of their great Sultan anywhere, the horse archers break and flee into the hills and marshes. The pursuit lasts long into the evening as the rest of the army arrive, eager for blood, while the weary victors plunder the camp of the great Sultan.
God clearly smiled down upon this mighty crusading endeavour.
All in all a good fun game. I used Hail Caesar as the rule set as I’d not had a game of it in around a year and a half. The scenario I designed worked out well, though I may make a few tweaks if I play it again. It gave a good fun game and I think had the Turks not been so sluggish on their left for the first few turns it could have gone a different way. For the scenario I decided the Turks could have a minor victory if they managed to plunder the Crusader camp for a few turns without being driven off, and a major one if they were able to break and drive off the Crusaders. The Crusaders would have a minor victory by just holding on until Godfrey’s full army arrived on Turn 10, though I had units of knights charging ahead of the main force start arriving from Turn 6 on a dice roll (6+ Turn 6, 5+ Turn 7, 4+ Turn 8, etc). If I play again, which I hope to some day, I’d probably make a few tweaks. I would perhaps add another unit of heavy cavalry to the Turks, or, possibly more likely, reduce the number and strength of the Crusader infantry. I had the infantry causing a -1 to-hit on ranged attacks which made them very difficult to damage. I had a special rule (that I didn’t use) that the knights could be ordered to dismount and join the infantry, which would convert them from medium to heavy infantry units, on reflection I should probably have kept the -1 to-hit for then too, though perhaps a faster acting Turkish action could have collapsed the Crusader flanks as at least one unit was on the verge of being Shaken. I will have to play again sometime to see.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did playing it and as ever, thanks for reading!
P.S. if you want to read about the real history that inspired this battle you can do so here.