The Crescent and the Cross
The Crusades were a devestating series of invasions of the Middle East and other regions by European Christians. Acting on a call by Pope Urban II to reclaim the holy land from the heathen Muslims, the Crusaders were certain they had God on their side, and that victory was assured. Of course, the Muslim peoples of the region, known collectively in the West as the Saracens and Moors, were equally certain that Allah would assure them of victory.
This unshakable faith on all sides of the conflict lead to almost 200 years of losses and gains, with Crusader states established by the victorious Christians, only to be lost a few short decades later by their Saracen enemies. Countless thousands died, kingdoms were lost or bankrupted, and we still experience the long-term consequences of this conflict today.
The Crusader Era makes for a fascinating game setting, and the various factions, so fueled by faith, for unique new warbands and styles of play. Where the Dark Ages were dominated by powerful infantry, the High Medieval period was the age of cavalry, so expect games to play quite differently in this era.
The crusaders were those of the faithful who answered the call of the popes to go to war for God. Most were noblemen leading bands of retainers and conscripts, but crusaders could come from all walks of life - travelling to the Holy Land held the promise of both spiritual and material reward. The church offered absolution or indulgence for past sins, while the promise of new lands to conquer and wealth to plunder ensured that there was no shortage of "pilgrims".
The majority of crusaders came from the Kingdom of France and from England, though every Christian country was represented. "Taking the Cross", as going on crusade was known, was risky - it is estimated that only 1 in 20 crusaders even reached the Holy Lands, but the promise of heavenly reward and earthly wealth proved seductive to many.
A crusader warband is typically led by a feudal noble, and consists of his house retainers commanding professional men-at-arms and peasant conscripts. Crusader warbands have access to a broad range of battleboard abilities, making them a flexible army that is ideal for less experienced players, with the one caveat that many of those abilities are linked to a particular virtue that must be attained before those abilities may be unlocked.
After the First Crusade saw Christian territories, the Crusader States, established throughout the Levant, many European Christians embarked on pilgrimage to the newly liberated Holy Lands. But while the Crusader cities themselves were safe and secure, the journey there most certainly was not. These travellers needed to be protected, and to that end a number of religious military orders, the Milites Christi, were established throughout Europe. The most famous of these were the Knights Templar, but there were dozens, if not hundreds, providing protection, medical care and even financial services to the pilgrims making their way to and from Jerusalem.
Most of the Milites Christi were monks who took vows of poverty, chastity and faith, but they soon accrued vast fortunes and estates as they collected fees, tithes and donations from across Christendom. This wealth and power would prove the downfall of many of them, but during the Crusades, at the height of their power, these holy knights were without peer, receiving the best training, the finest weapons, armour and mounts, and a vast network of fortresses that could provide them with aid wherever they travelled.
The Milites Christi were a highly trained force of warrior monks who fought as well on foot as they did mounted, but they were primarily a cavalry force, and as such both the Warlord and hearthguard of your warband are mounted. Warriors may be fielded as cavalry, infantry or with crossbows, reflecting their flexibility in battle. Milites Christi were marked by their piety, which forms a central mechanic of the Milites Christi battleboard. The effectiveness of many battleboard abilities depend on the current piety level or else may be enhanced by spending piety. Managing piety along with one's SAGA dice is core to mastering this faction.
Though the Umayyad Muslims conquered much of Hispania in the early 8th century, they could not dislodge the last of the Christian princes from their strongholds in the mountainous North. Devestated by the loss of their homeland, the Christians embarked upon a "Reconquista" to drive the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. This would span a period of almost 800 years, with the Christians finally succeeding in retaking the last Muslim stronghold, Granada, in 1492.
Located in the Cantabrian Mountains, the Kingdom of Asturias resisted Muslim expansion until 924AD, when it became the Kingdom of Leon. It was joined by the kingdoms of Castille, Navarre and Aragon, and between them they worked to push the Caliphate gradually South. Of course, nothing in history is ever that clean or simple. The Christian princes fought amongst themselves as often as they did the Muslims, and at times regional loyalty meant much more than loyalty to God and Christendom, or for that matter, the Caliphate. So it wasn't unusual to see Muslim mercenaries take up arms in Christian armies, and vice-versa. The politics of Iberia were a notoriously messy affair.
Despite the infighting and other difficulties though, the Reconquista gradually won back ground for the Christian kingdoms, until by 1250, only the Emirate of Granada remained.
The Northern Kingdoms were ruled by the Infante (princes) under the command of the king, known in medieval Spanish as the Rey. As with other feudal European realms, they would command the fealty of a small handful of noble knights, each in turn maintaining a force of professional men-at-arms and levying conscripts from the peasant population as necessary. Spanish warbands also often made use of Moorish mercenaries. The Spanish are a highly reactive army, with many of their battleboard abilities being used during an opponent's turn. This makes for a fun, challenging style of play that requires a good working knowledge of the opposing faction's battleboard, along with good timing.
The term "Saracen" was used by Christians to refer to the Muslim people of Arabia, Egypt, the Caucasus and other Eastern Muslim regions. In reality Saracen could refer to Seljuk Turks, Arab Tribesmen or even Persians from modern-day Iran. As with "Christendom", the Muslim world was nominally united under the banner of the Caliphate, but the internal politics and intrigue rivalled any to be found in the West.
The Muslim world was split politically from its inception. The enmity between Sunni and Shia began as a question around the rightful successor to Mohammed, and regional or tribal loyalties often counted for more than any allegiance to the Caliph. Consequently, a series of Caliphates were established over the course of the history, each in turn supplanted by a rival faction. The Rashidun Caliphs who succeeded Mohammed were replaced by the Umayyads, who were toppled in their turn by the Abbasids, and they by the Ottomans.
The Crusades unified the Muslim world against the infidel Christians in a way that nothing else ever did. The First Crusade and the loss of much of the biblical Holy Land was a cataclysm for the Muslim world, and in the face of foreign invaders it was easy to set aside religious and political differences.
Saracen warbands are usually led by a regional governor, the emir, commanding an army of highly trained Ghulam slave soldiers, with fierce tribesmen or city militia making up the bulk of the force. Saracen battleboard abilities often include a random element, reflecting the will of Allah in all things. This results in a highly variable range of abilities that can make Saracens a challenge to master and get used to, but can equally make for some truly spectacular displays of martial force.
The Moors were the collective by which Christianity referred to the Muslim people of North Africa and Spain, which included Berber and Arab peoples, and later also Muslim Europeans. As with the Saracens, the Christians regarded them as a monolithic threat - heathens to be resisted and, with the help of God, eventually destroyed.
Leading an army of Berber Muslims, Tariq ibn Ziyad, a commander of the Umayyad Caliphate, conquered much of Hispania in the early 700's, and established the Emirate of Cordoba. The Umayyad's soon lost power in the East to the Abbasids, but held on for another century in Hispania, before a civil war in 1031 saw the now Caliphate of Cordoba disintegrate into a number of independent Muslim kingdoms called taifa.
Much of Hispania, by then known as Iberia in Europe and as Al-Andalus to the Muslims, was reconquered and incorporated into the Almoravid Empire by 1094AD. The Almoravids were a Berber Dynasty centered in Morocco, who united much of Northwest Africa and ruled with the tacit approval of the Abbasid Caliph at Baghdad until 1147AD, when they fell to a rebellion by the Almohad movement.
The politics of Iberia were murky to say the least, with Christian and Moor often uniting against rivals to gain wealth and power. Even the famous El Cid, a national hero to the Spanish, fought as a mercenary for the Muslim rulers of Zaragoza, regaining his reputation as a great strategist after he had been disgraced for backing the wrong king in Castille. Thus, a Moorish warband is as likely to be led by a rogue Spanish noble or a mercenary Berber Chief as it is by an Andalusian nobleman such as an Emir or Sayyid. The warlord leads a force of Moorish cavalry skirmishers, with both Hearthguard and Warriors, the Jinetes, fighting in a similar style. Levies are drawn from poorer Berber tribes and infantry skirmishers.
Like the Spanish, the Moors too are a primarily reactive army, with their battleboard abilities mostly played in reaction to mistakes by an opponent. These abilities often reflect the murky politics of the Iberian peninsula during the Reconquista, with powers like Corruption, Betrayal and Discord messing with the opponent's resources. They can be a challenge to master and play well, requiring careful timing and a knowledge of the opposing side, but they reward the player with a game that reflects the intrigue and power games of the time.
The Mutatawwia ("Volunteers" in Arabic) were religious fanatics who enforced strict religious law, and punished any they deemed guilty of laxity in their faith. By the time of the Crusades they had become more disciplined and professional, but they remained a conservative, strictly religious grouping, and they answered the call to resist the infidel invaders with zealous determination. They were eager to martyr themselves, and fought with the fearless determination that only a true believer can muster.
Mutatawwia warbands typically came from the less wealthy nomadic tribes of the Caliphate, such as the Bedouin of Arabia or the Berbers of North Africa. Less well-equipped than the more settled Saracen and Moor forces, they relied on their fanatacism and fearlessness to win the day. This is reflected in the Martyr mechanic, with many of the Mutatawwia battleboard abilities requiring the sacrifice of a model in addition to the usual SAGA dice cost. These martyred soldiers are kept track of in the Martyr Pool, and may be used to empower other battleboard abilities in turn. This mechanic makes for a careful balancing-act between using abilities and losing models, which can be tricky to master, but can reward the player with devestating surprise attacks to unleash on an unsuspecting opponent.