We're continuing our SAGA faction rundown this week, and taking a look at the factions described in the Viking Age supplement "The Raven's Shadow". With the exception of the Franks, these are all factions from the British Isles, focussing on the peoples of Northern Britain and Ireland.
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes who would periodically raid the Roman province of Gaul from their lands along the Rhine river, even as others were offering their services as mercenaries to the very same Gaulish garrisons. After the Western Empire's fall, the Franks were united under the rule of the Merovingian dynasty, which over the next decades was able to conquer much of Gaul by the 700's. Francia, their newly founded kingdom, became arguably the most important direct successor to the Roman legacy, absorbing Roman law, customs and religion eagerly.
The Franks did not abandon all of their Germanic customs though, and due to the practice whereby a kingdom would be divided equally between the monarch's sons, Frania under the Merovingian dynasty remained a fragile state, with each generation's sons fighting over the inheritance their father had left them. With their attentions constantly on matters of war and succession, the Merovingian kings ceded increasing amounts of power to their Palace Mayors. This would eventually lead the Pepin the Short, Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, deposing his Merovingian king and proclaiming himself the first Carolingian King.
Frankia enjoyed great success under the rule of the Carolingians, growing to absorb most of Western and Southern Europe and establishing the Frankish Empire. This would culminate in the coronation of Charles the Great as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, firmly establishing the Franks as the true successors of Rome.
After Charles' death the Carolingiangs eventually fell victim to the same practice that destroyed the Merovingians. Though he had only one heir himself, Charles had three grandsons, and upon his son Louis the Pious' death, the empire was divided permanently, establishing the kingdoms that would become modern-day Germany, France and Italy.
The Capetians, the third great Frankish Dynasty, rose to power in and united France, ruling for over 300 years and playing a significant role in the transition from the Viking Age to Medieval Europe. Along with the Normans, they were amongst the most active participants in the Crusades.
The Merovingians inherited many of the military practices of Roman-Gaul, and the descendants of Roman soldiers and foedorati continued to serve under them. Cavalry formed an important part of the army, but warriors would generally dismount to fight or rely on ranged weapons. These practices continued to evolve however, and by the time of the Carolingians, warriors were as likely to fight from horseback as on foot, and by the time of the Capetians the Franks were primarily a cavalry army. Reflecting this, a player building a Frankish player chooses to build a Merovingian, Carolingian or Capetian warband, with each having distinctive approaches to mounted and ranged combat. Frankish Battleboard abilities are distinctly defensive in nature, with many played as reactions on an opponent's turn. It also introduces the Battle Pool mechanic, which alters other abilities depending on the number of dice in the pool. These considerations make the Franks one of the more complex SAGA factions to master, but also one of the most interesting.
The Irish of the Viking Age are a loose alliance of rival tribes and clans nominally held together under the High King. Like the Welsh, they were of Celtic rather than Germanic origin, and they had a distinctive culture to that of people like the Saxons, Vikings, Franks and other Germanic peoples.
Under the high king, they adhered to the Brehon law, and the fusion of Christianity with traditional crafts led to an early renaissance of sorts, with Irish craftwork, most notably their ornate sculpture, metalwork and jewellery, sought after across Europe. Following the example of Saint Columba, Irish monks founded monastaries throughout the British Isles, into Frankia and even beyond, spreading Irish scholarship, and in the process making significant strides in Christianising the early Germanic peoples of Western Europe.
As elsewhere, the coming of the Vikings changed everything for the Irish. It ended Ireland's Christian Golden Age and lead to more than 200 years of intermittent warfare. The Vikings established fortified settlements of their own as well, founding cities such as Dublin and Limerick and eventually becoming the Norse-Gaels as they intermarried with and adopted the culture of the Irish.
The Irish were raiders. Before the coming of the Vikings they would raid neighbouring kingdoms, and afterwards they adopted guerilla warfare as their tactic of choice against the invaders. They were also not above learning from them, adopting the use of Dane Axes to complement traditional weapons such as the javelin. The Irish Battleboard features a variety of abilities that balance offense and defense fairly equally, reflecting their tactical flexibility.
The Norse-Gaels were the immediate descendants of the Viking raiders who initially came for plunder and then to settle in Ireland. They established settlements all along Ireland's Eastern coast, as well as colonizing the Orkney Islands and the Hebrides. They were quick to start integrating with the local population, adopting Christianity and Irish culture while nominally remaining subject to their Viking kings in Scandinavia.
The Norse-Gaels would eventually merge altogether into their host population, leaving a lasting legacy but disappearing as a distinct people. The Norse-Gaels of the Hebrides merged with the Scots, lending lineage and family names to some Scottish Clans, while many place-names and histories are Viking in origin.
The Norse-Gaels were very similar to the native Irish in their approach to warfare, which is reflected in the fact that they have very similarly constituted warbands. The Norse-Gaels however add the unique mechanic of Challenges, duels of honour between opposing champions. Many of the Norse-Gael Battleboard abilities are dependent on or able to influence the outcome of a challenge. Challenges are a fun mechanic, but can be tricky to master, and the Norse-Gaels are generally recommended for SAGA players with a bit more experience.
Strathclyde, also known as Cumbria, was the principle Briton Kingdom of the Old North (the "Hen Ogledd"), the last bastion of the Britons after the invasion of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Like their cousins in Wales and Cornwall, they resisted near-continuous pressure by the Saxon kingdoms and later the Vikings. They were also at near constant war with the Picts, their traditional enemies, and with the Scots, who would eventually conquer them in the 11th century to form Scotland.
The Strathclyde Britons were the descendents of Briton tribes such as the Dumnonii and Novantae, whose tribal lands were located between the Antonine and Hadrian walls at the Northernmost border of Roman Britain. As such, they retained more independance from Rome than their Southern cousins, and were also more able to resist the Saxons when they came. They retained much of their Briton culture, and the region remained pagan for much longer than in the South. Some historians speculate that Alt Clud, the precursor kingdom to Strathclyde, may figure into the legends of King Arthur.
Unlike their Welsh cousins, the Britons of Strathclyde favoured mounted combat, relying on stout, hardy ponies and the element of surprise to win battles. Reflecting this, Strathclyde players have the unique ability to deploy some of their units "off-table", to be brought onto the table later in the game through the use of various Battleboard abilities. This allows Strathclyde warbands great tactical flexibility and a strong element of surprise.