Japan in the 16th century was a bad time to be a farmer. The wars for control of the country had lasted for generations, and local samurai rulers oppressed the peasant classes ruthlessly. But perhaps this village would be different, as a plucky band of rebels deployed to try to fight off the samurai lord Dasubeda and his minions as they came to collect taxes and men for his armies. Can the rebels hold the bridge and defend the village?

We fought this scenario using Ronin, the samurai skirmish rules from Osprey. If you’re not familiar with them go and have a read of that review. It’s a cracking little set of rules.

The Forces

The defending forces used the “Ikko ikki” list. These were rebels who rose up to resist samurai control of the country, centred around one of the Buddhist sects. On the table were:

Rebels (Ikko Ikki faction)

  • Han. Leader, Rank 3 samurai (daisho, heavy armour, “fast” attribute)
  • Tsubaka. Rank 3 samurai (naginata, heavy armour, “Yojimbo” bodyguard rule
  • Ruka. Rank 3 sohei (Katana, medium armour, “Fearless” and “intuition” attributes)
  • The Princess. Rank 2 Monto Gashira (daisho, no armour)
  • Monto banner bearer. Rank 1, wakizashi.
  • 2x Monto archer. Rank 1 (Yumi, wakizashi, medium armour)
  • 3x Monto spearmen. Rank 1 (Yari, wakizashi, medium armour)
  • 2x peasants. Rank 0 (improvised weapons, no armour)

Quite a mixed bag from these guys. The foot troops are the three spearmen and two archers, led by the samurai and his faithful bodyguard. A fierce warrior monk accompanied them, he’s a decent swordsman and his “intuition” ability would give him and extra defence counter in his combat pool every time he fought. The Princess is a competent fighter, but lacking armour could be vulnerable. The rebels brought a banner to bolster morale, and two non-fighting monks who are pretty much just there for fluff.

The Bad Guys (Bushi faction)

  • Dasubeda. Leader, Rank 5 samurai (daisho, heavy armour, “Fearless”, kenjutsu, yadome-jutsu)
  • 4x Ashigaru handgunner. Rank 1 (Teppo, wakizashi, medium armour)
  • 4x Ashigaru spearmen. (Yari, wakizashi, medium armour)

This is a much simpler warband. A big mob of identical ashigaru split between spears and guns, led by an absolute combat monster. Rank 5 samurai are scary dudes, and this one was also immune to morale, a superb swordsman and with heavy armour and the arrow-deflecting skill “yadome-jutsu” he’d be near invulnerable to arrows. Frankly, he’s terrifying.

The Ground

Like most Ronin games, the scenario only needs about 3×3 or 3×4 feet for games this size. The stream forming the border of the village was difficult ground, and models trying to cross would have to test or be swept downstream and possibly drown. The bridge formed an obvious choke point for the villains trying to enter the village, while the defenders would benefit from plenty of cover in the form of fences and buildings.

Deployment

The Rebels chose to deploy their spear troops at the bridge, with the archers behind fences on either flank of the position. The best fighters and the two monks were having tea in a nearby house.

Rebel spearmen guard the bridge, with archers on either flank. Their banner watches over the cabbages, while the leaders lurk bravely in the rear.

 

The bad guys would be coming down the road and out of the woods. Their spies had informed them of the rebels’ presence so they fanned out into line looking for a fight. The ashigaru split up into two detachments, each a pair of guns and a pair of spears.

The Plan

The scenario is essentially the “Hold the Bridge” game from the North Star mini-site for Ronin. I didn’t bother with the scenario time limit, as both players were new and people tend to be a bit tentative when they’re learning the rules. The natural limit imposed by a night at the club served us perfectly well.

Apart from that, it’s a straight-up fight for victory points. Both sides would score equal to the rank of any slain models, and the bushi would gain points for taking heads and potentially lose them if their samurai was killed by a lower ranked model (oh, the shame!)

The Game

The rebels won priority for the first turn and wasted no time in putting their archers to work. As the white armoured ashigaru troopers emerged from the trees they started peppering them with arrows from their two archers. The long-range and the targets’ armour limited the effect, but after a couple of turns of trying to close the gap two shots had found the mark and put light wounds onto two of the soldiers. For their part the ashigaru maintained their discipline and their own gun-armed men held their fire, as they knew they were much more effective at shorter range.

The rebel leaders stayed in their house in the village, perhaps not realising how close the enemy were, which left the three spearmen holding the bridge on their own. Soon enough the villainous Dasubeda and his men had closed the gap, and the arquebusiers let off a devastating volley of smoke and fire at the three spearmen. Two of them were hit, one seriously wounded.

As the gunners started the long process of reloading, the ashigaru spearmen moved in for the kill. Now the rebels’ leaders had seen the danger, and has Han, Tsubaka and Ruka ran towards the bridge the battered spear detachment sensibly chose to retreat back over the bridge towards their friendlies. Meanwhile the two archers continued pelting the advancing soldiers with arrows, but were struggling to find the mark.

Dasubeda led his men from the front. Cool as a cucumber he ignored the flying arrows and the trails of blood left by the retreating rebel warriors, striding onto the bridge with his sword drawn. Behind him his gunners kept reloading, and the other two spearmen stood ready.

The rebels chose their moment to counter-attack, and in true warrior style the rebel leader squarely blocked the bridge with his trusty bodyguard beside him. The evil lord met him in one-on-one combat, while an ashigaru kept Tsubaka busy. With the big man occupied, the rebels’ warrior monk Ruka stormed across the river, intending to single-handedly carve his way through the ashigaru. No fewer than four ashigaru met him on the riverbank to try and stop the mad monk.

The first hand-to-hand combats of the game saw Ruka the monk choosing an even split of attack and defence from his four tokens, while the ashigaru had no fewer than eight in their combat pool (three defence, five attacks). One of the  ashigaru attacked first, but Ruka defended ably. Striking back the monk chose to attack one of the ashigaru that had already been wounded by an arrow, and a skillful attack saw him cut the unfortunate man down. The other two ashigaru made attacks with spear and sword, and one of them managed to inflict a light wound on the monk, while the monk struck at another ashigaru but failed to wound him.

On the bridge Dasubeda wasted no time attacking Han, and easily found his way through the rebel samurai’s defence and inflicted a grievous wound on him. Han tried to counter-attack, but his blows didn’t find the mark, and the riposte from Dasubeda inflicted a mortal wound. Uttering his last words, the rebel leader fell on the bridge he had sworn to defend.

The last fight this turn was between Tsubaka and the ashigaru. In a slightly bonkers turn of events, both the samurai and the ashigaru opted to go 100% of the attack. Frankly, I thought choosing no defence against a samurai would be curtains for the ashigaru, but some poor dice rolling meant that Tsubaka only managed a light wound from his three attacks, although he did manage to turn aside both attacks from the ashigaru without any danger.

So a bloody first round of combat had seen the rebel leader slain on the bridge, while the rebel monk had taken on four men on the riverbank, cutting one down and fighting off the rest. The rebels had to take a morale test for losing their leader but passed it easily.

By now the ashigaru gunners had reloaded and fired a volley at the archers over the river, wounding one of them. The rebels rallied their spearmen who had earlier retreated, one was badly wounded and would take no further part in the fighting, but the other two splashed across the river to help Ruka. One slipped in the water and we rolled to see how far he was swept downstream, managing to go a full 11″ under the bridge and away from the fight.

The mad monk was still battling three men on his own, and a solid round of hack and slash from both sides managed to do not a lot. The monk was being held off by sheer weight of numbers. Things on the bridge were also going badly for the rebels. After cutting down Han, Dasubeda stopped to take his head, putting the bad guys up 4-1 on victory points, then set his sights on Tsubaka who was bravely trying to hold the bridge with his naginata. The evil samurai’s skills with a sword were too much though, and he easily carved his way through Tsubaka’s defence and struck him down mercilessly.

This left nobody holding the bridge for the rebels, although in the river one rebel soldier managed to wade through and engage one of the men fighting the monk, but one of the arquebusiers ditched his unloaded gun and drawing his wakizashi joined his comrades fighting the monk. Meanwhile, downstream the rebel soldier who had been swept away managed to climb out of the river, but was immediately set upon by two more handgunners. Despite outranging them with his spear, they managed to dodge his attacks and one of them struck a fatal blow with the sword, sending the unlucky rebel tumbling into the river.

A rebel monto tries to get out of the river and take out some ashigaru gunners, but they prove more than able to defend themselves with their swords.

 

Things were looking really bad for the rebels. While one of their soldiers and an ashigaru battled with spears in the middle of the river, the deadly Dasubeda strode down from the bridge and joined the group of his men trying to subdue the brave warrior monk. This gave the villains an impressive combat pool of eleven, leading me to go scrounging for extra tokens, as I had never expected anybody to need that many in a single combat! As expected this avalanche of attacks was too much for the monk Ruka to possibly defend against, and the expert swordsman Dasubeda effortlessly found a hole in the monk’s swordsmanship and finally cut him down. As a mark of respect for how well the monk had fought the samurai didn’t immediately take his head, and allowed the fallen monk’s body to be swept away by the current.

 

With this, the bridge was now firmly in Dasubeda’s hands, and the surviving rebels had no choice but to fall back and abandon the villagers to their fate.

The Butcher’s Bill

Pretty one-sided casualties in the end. On the samurai side:

  • One ashigaru spearman killed and one badly wounded by the monk

For the rebels:

  • Han, Tsubaka and Ruka all killed by Dasubeda
  • One Monto spearman killed fighting ashigaru
  • One Monto spearman badly wounded by gunfire

There were a few other light wounds sprinkled around,  but those are the headlines. In terms of victory points, the forces of evil absolutely crushed it; 11 to 1.

Next time we play the rebels might have to get revenge by cutting the head off the snake. I’m thinking maybe the ninja assassination mission against Dasubeda himself…

Lessons Learned

  • The rebels went down because they were outclassed on the bridge, and outnumbered in the river. The rebels committed their guys piecemeal, and several of their troops remained uncommitted. The monks and the princess may not have been the best fighters, but if they’d backed up the brave monk they could have kept some of the ashigaru busy and allowed him to fight at less of a disadvantage and make some better headway.
  • The attackers coordinated their guys well. The guns delivered a volley into the spearmen holding the bridge, then immediately sent in their spears, forcing the unsupported rebel spearmen to run away or get chopped to bits.
  • Tooled-up rank 5 samurai with a weapon skill are absolutely badass. Options for taking him down? Gang up on him with at least two good fighters, or a lucky teppo shot to the face at point-blank? Apart from that he’s going to win a one-on-one fight with just about anybody unless the Dice Gods decide to have a little laugh at his expense.