SAGA has a huge variety of factions that reflect many different play-styles, tastes and levels of experience at the game. While not necessarily 100% historically accurate, these factions are closely modelled on some of the most important peoples, nations or groups of the Dark Ages.
This is the first of a multi-part series of articles that looks at each of these factions in a bit more detail, both from a historical point of view as well as touching on gameplay rules and tactics. Part one covers the four factions included in the core rules, along with those from the Northern Fury expansion. I also briefly discuss the bonus Skraeling faction, which is available from Studio Tomahawk's website.
The series is meant primarily to help new players in choosing which faction or factions they'd like play, but it can also serve as a first step towards getting a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of other factions. As they say after all, "Know your Enemy".
The Vikings are the quintessential Dark Ages faction. Modern audiences romanticise them as great warriors, fearless explorers, free men and women who knew their own worth and demanded respect from their peers.
In reality Vikings were a diverse mix of people, cultures and attitudes hailing from different regions of Scandinavia and the Northern shores of the Baltic sea. The word "Viking" actually derives from the old norse word for "pirate", describing what these people did as opposed to who they were. They were the Danes, the Northmen, and the Ascomanni. To the Slavs they were the Rus, to the Arabs and Byzantines they were the Varangians. They raided, traded and eventually settled all over Europe, founding colonies in Ireland and England, in France and Sicily. They established the Rus Princedoms that later became Russia, colonised Iceland and Greenland, and even reached North America. It is hard to underestimate the profound role the Vikings played in reshaping Europe after the fall of Rome.
Befitting their nature as raiders, Vikings are an aggressive faction that relies on offense and their great stamina to carry they day. As such, their battleboard balances melee and fatigue management abilities, making them a great army to start off with if you're new to the game. Vikings are at their best when they can charge into melee as quickly as possible and start wiping the floor with their enemies. With most of their abilities being offensive, Vikings have only a small selection of reaction abilities, which focus on dealing with enemy shooting attacks.
The Vikings tried, with varying success, to conquer England for almost 200 years. Led by the sons of the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok, the Great Heathen Army conquered large areas of central England in the late 860's, establishing the Danelaw and subjugating the Saxon population. It was an uneasy control though, with the Saxon kingdom of Wessex resisting fiercely from the South under Alfred the Great. By 954 they had lost control, and for a brief time Alfred realized his dream of a united Saxon England.
The Danes were not beaten though, and in 1013, Sweyn Forkbeard finally conquered all of Saxon England, subjugating it and making it part of his Danish kingdom. He ruled for only a few years before his death, with the title passing to his son Canute. Canute worked hard to unite the Danes and the English, and over the course of the next two decades, he established the North Sea Empire, forging most of Scandinavia and England into a unified naval power. His empire would not outlast him, but he has been named "the most effective king in Ango-Saxon history" by some historians, despite the fact that he was a Dane.
The Anglo-Danish are the unified Anglo-Saxons and Danes that lived first under the Danelaw, and more properly, the later North Sea Empire. Whereas their Viking forebears rely on their own stamina and aggression, the Ango-Danish are more adept at wearing out their opponents. Their battleboard focusses on special abilities that manipulate or add to an enemy force's fatigue, with the balance being made up of strongly defensive powers such as the shieldwall and push.
The French duchy of Normandy was established in 911, when King Charles III of Frankia offered the region to the Viking ruler Rollo in return for his protection against future Viking raids. The newly settled Normans soon converted to Catholicism and adopted Frankish customs, blending their own traditions with those of their hosts. Eagerly adopting the emerging Frankish feudal system, they fashioned the familiar form of government we so closely associate with the later Middle Ages.
Despite their efforts to integrate, the Norman rulers were never fully accepted by the Frankish aristocracy. They remained relatively poor and isolated, and together with their Viking wanderlust and aggression, this soon drove them to adventuring again. They fought as mercenaries and raiders, establishing new footholds where opportunities presented themselves. Soon they had established themselves in Sicily, and were serving the Byzantine empire as elite soldiers alongside the Varangian Guard. And when the English king Edward the Confessor died without an heir apparent, the Norman Duke William was quick to lay his claim to the throne.
England fell to the Normans in 1066, fundamentally altering English law and culture and ushering in the Middle Ages. The Normans would go on to to conquer Ireland, Wales and parts of Scotland. They were also amongst the first and most eager Crusaders to travel to the Holy Land, founding the Kingdom of Cyprus during the Third Crusade and eventually conquering the Canary Islands.
The Normans were the first knights, combining their own warlike heritage with the culture and feudal society they adopted in Frankia. As such, Normans are primarily a cavalry force, relying on mobility and shock to overwhelm their enemies on the battlefield. These knights are often supported by highly capable and well-equipped ranged infantry, usually in the form of the heavy crossbow. The Norman battleboard reflects these tactics, favouring offensive abilities that emphasise cavalry charges and withering ranged attacks.
When the Angles, Saxons and Jutes began invading Britain soon after the Romans left, the romanised Britons resisted fiercely at first, giving birth to legends of King Arthur and his knights. They could not stem the tide though, and were gradually pushed West, North and Southward, as Anglo-Saxon England came into being. The Northern Welsh became the Kingdom of Strathclyde, while those that fled South eventually settled in Frankia to become known as the Breton, lending their name to the region, Brittany. It was in the West though, in modern-day Wales and Cornwall, that Romano-British culture was most strongly defended.
"Welsh" is actually derived from an old Germanic word translated as "foreigner" or "Roman". The Welsh were Britons, and referred to themselves and their land as "Cymru" which meant "fellow-countrymen". The Welsh fought for and valued their freedom, and remained stubbornly independent, sometimes to their detriment. By 875 Cornwall had fallen to Wessex, while the independent Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys and various smaller realms were locked in perpetual defensive war, first against the Saxons of Mercia, soon followed by the Vikings, Irish and eventually the Normans.
In many ways, the Welsh are the underdogs of SAGA. They are the original inhabitants of the British Isles, by turn conquered by the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans. Yet they remain fiercely independent, fighting a bitter guerilla war against more powerful enemies. Their tactics reflect this, favouring hit and run attacks and ambushes. They also feature abilities that reflect their deep connection to and knowledge of their lands, granting them greater mobility while hindering their foes.
The Anglo-Saxons were the descendents of the Germanic invaders who conquered much of Britain after Rome withdrew from the island. They came first as foederati, barbarian mercenaries employed by the Roman army, but soon became an invasion force as the mercenaries began to carve out kingdoms of their own.
The Angles, Saxons and Jutes adopted many aspects of Roman culture, most notably Christianity, blending it with their own traditions and legal system to forge an uneasy coalition of Anglo Saxon kingdoms known as the Heptarchy. The three main powers of the Heptarchy were Wessex to the South, Northumbria to the East and Mercia in the center, though this balance of power would soon be upended by the coming of the Vikings.
Anglo-Saxon warrior-culture emphasised the importance of the common freeman in defence of his homeland. Every man was required by law to maintain his own weapons, to keep himself fit and able, and to respond when the Fyrd, an army of free men, was called upon to defend the kingdom. Anglo-Saxon warbands benefit from large groups of warriors and levy, the individuals drawing strength from their countrymen as they stand shoulder-to-shoulder. This emphasis on an army of people bravely defending their homes is reflected in the Anglo-Saxon battleboard. The majority of battleboard abilities focus on large offensive or defensive formations, with the balance reflecting the bravery of the Fyrd in standing fast against fear and exhaustion.
The Bretons were the descendants of the Romano-British who fled South across the English channel when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded Britain. Initially divided between three kingdoms, Brittany would emerge as a unified state during the 9th century.
The coming of the Northmen to Frankia was a traumatic experience for the Breton, with large tracts of their land seized by the Vikings, most notably parts of what would later become Normandy. The Bretons eventually reclaimed their lands from the Viking settlers who would later become known as the Normans, but by the time the Normans invaded England in 1066, Brittany had become part of Frankia, and the Breton were being pressed into service by their more agggressive neighbours.
Like their Welsh cousins, the Breton are a people surrounded by more powerful neighbours, many of whom perpetually covet the lands of others. But whereas the Welsh have turned to predominantly infantry-focussed guerilla warfare, the Breton favour mounted hit and run tactics. They are weaker in melee and rely on mobility and ranged attack to outpace and outwit their foes. This is reflected in the Breton battleboard by multiple shooting-phase abilities, along with melee abilities that allow them to evade and harass enemy warbands.
The Jomsviking were a legendary order of mercenaries dedicated to the worship of their old Viking gods in the face of ever-expanding Christianity. The legend tells that they were primarily active during the 10th and 11th centuries, and that they operated from the stronghold of Jomsborg, located along the Southern shores of the Baltic sea.
Prospective members were rigorously screened, subjected to various tests of physical ability, attitude and discipline. Once admitted to the order, they lived an almost monastic life, in many ways resembling the lives of later Christian military orders such as the Templars or the Teutonic Knights. The Jomsviking were forbidden to show fear or flee a battle, except for orderly retreat in the face of overwhelming odds.
This strict code of conduct and rigid attitude is reflected in the Jomsvikings' introduction of the Wrath mechanic, which represents their righteous fury in the face of unworthy opponents. Wrath is a new resource, which is gained when an opponent elects to increase it in place of suffering the effect of a particular Jomsviking ability. The trade-off to this lies in the fact that other abilities are empowered by the Jomsvikings' Wrath level, increasing the risk of a truly devestating attack or counter attack against that opponent. Carefully choosing which abilities to play when in order to manipulate your opponent is an important component of playing this faction.
The Scots were initially Irish migrants who settled in Western Scotland and Northern Ireland. They established the kingdom of Dal Riata, which grew to prominence during the sixth century, coming into conflict with the Britons of Strathclyde, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Bernicia and Northumbria, as well as the Picts native to Northeastern Scotland at the time. This ongoing conflict between the Dal-Riata Scots and the Picts would lead to a series of conquests and counter-conquests over the next century or so, until the two finally merged in the late 800's to form the Kingdom of Alba, which would later become modern Scotland.
The Dal Riata were expert seafarers who engaged in both trade and raiding, while the Picts had a long history of conflict, both internally and with other peoples, most notably the Romans. This rich warrior legacy was reflected in the pride and martial skill the Scots would later become known for. It also informed their relations with their neighbours, as raiding and piracy remained an important part of their culture.
The Scots are a primarily defensive army that relies on a combination of strong defense, measured retreat and counter-attack to confound their enemies. This multi-faceted approach to warfare is reflected in the fact that the Scots have access to some fantastic battleboard combinations, though it will likely prove a fun challenge to discover which abilities work best together.
"Skraeling" was the name given by Viking explorers to the Innuit people they encountered in Greenalnd, and later to the Native American people they met when they discovered North America. As with the Vikings themselves, the Skraelings were a collective description for a diverse group of people of which relatively little is known. The word "Skraeling" may derive from the old Norse word "skra", which translates to "dried skin, and may refer to the hides worn by the Innuit and other native people, but this is by no means a certainty.
The Northmen explorers of Vinland had several encounters with the native people, some of which were peaceful and involved trade, but they were eventually forced to retreat, and later to abandon their plans for settlement entirely due to the resistance of the Skraelings. The skraelings were a formidable enemy, with deep knowledge of their lands and an ability to evade and stalk their foes which to the Northmen bordered on the supernatural. When they eventually left, one of the Viking leaders, Thorfinn Karlsefni is recorded as saying that, despite all the land had to offer, they would ever be under threat from the native people.
The Skraelings are a bonus faction made available through Studio Tomahawk's website Skraelings are most useful to experienced players with a good working knowledge of both the game rules and the various factions they might face in combat. They favour skirmish tactics that undermine the effectiveness of an opposing warband by denying them the use of their battleboard abilities or subverting it for their own use. This reflects the fact that the Skraelings were masters of their land stalking foreigners who would have no idea of the threats the land and its native people posed.