Choosing a DBM Army

DBM is deservedly one of the most popular ‘ ancients ‘ wargaming rule-sets produced. It allows you to field large armies of conveniently based miniatures (typically 15mm scale although other scales can be used) in exiting games that are usually finished inside three hours. It has undergone continued and continuing development, and is now at Rules Version 3. But DBM is broken in some respects, and it is usually difficult to re-create historic battles with it and get a historic result. So how do you choose which army to buy and paint up? Here is a rough guide through the DBM minefield – and how to select and buy an army for it.HISTORY – YOUR INTEREST

This is by far the most important aspect of choosing an army to buy. What are your interests? Biblical warfare? Medieval warfare? Do you feel an affinity with any army in particular? Admire any general in particular?

Or even just want to see as many elephants , chariots bold knigts on the tabletop as you can then this too will also influence your army choice.

Always, always, choose an army that you want to own, regardless of its performance on the tabletop. This is because you will usually be buying (unless you are very wealthy) a heap of unpainted white metal, and to get you motivated to paint it will require enthusiasm engendered by a real interest in the army.


By far the most popular periods for wargaming are found within DBM Army Lists Book 2 (armies which start between 500 BC to 476 AD) and , to a lesser extent, DBM Army Lists Book 4 (armies which start between 1,071 AD to 1,500 AD). ( I disagree with book 4 as in the club I think most people have armies in books 1,2 & 3 with a only a few in book 4! ) Book 2 covers well-known ancient heroes like Alexander the Great and well-known states like Rome (and her enemies). Book 4 covers the medieval period including well-known wars like the 100 Years War and the War of the Roses. You should find it easy to find an opponent if you choose an army from one of these books , especially Book 2 .


Some of the armies only existed for very short periods of time, and this can make it difficult to find historic opponents to fight. For example, the Book 2 Army List for Palmyra covers just 13 years, 260 AD to 273 AD, whilst the Sinhalese army from the same book covers 1,689 years, 175 BC to 1515 AD! You will find more opponents with matching dates with the Sinhalese than the Palmyrans.

The other thing to look for in longevity is stability. Do the troop choices change much during the period covered by the Army List? For example, if your army changes from irregular auxilia (3 figures per 20mm deep element – we’ll cover what an element is later ) to spear (4 figures per 15mm deep element) during a certain period of time, you will have to decide which period you wish to represent – or else paint up double the amount of figures.


Forget Power Rangers, the ultimate morphing is using your wargames figures in more than one army. For example, you can use the same figures for Gauls, Germans and Galatians, provided all are based as Warband (O) or (S). My Slav javelinmen (irregular auxilia in non-descript tunics, trousers and hats) have done sterling service as Welsh auxilia (Blasphemy!), Armenians, False French brigands etc and are currently starring in the Club campaign as Afghan hillmen.

Obviously the figures have to look approximatly right – you can’t pass off Roman Legionaries as English 100 Years War billmen, even though they are based the same and are both classed as Regular Blade (O)! However, it’s easy to build an army if you only have to paint half of it. For example, if you start with Classical Indians (Book2 List 3) you can add a few Greek figures to get a Graeco-Indian army (Book 2 List 36) . Add a few cataphracts and you have a Graeco-Bactrian army ( variant of Book 2 List 36) . All three armies are very different, but contain many common figures. This is the way to build lots of armies very quickly, so it ‘ s worth baring in mind when choosing an army.


It’s worth playing a few games with different armies to find the kind of troops you are happiest with. Some people like using armies heavily slanted towards mounted troops; others prefer using solid blocks of infantry. Some people like to take the offensive, and enjoy using knights and warband armies, whilst others like to sit back with fortifications and bowmen and watch the enemy bounce off. Others like to play cat-and-mouse, darting around the tabletop with Light Horse armies. Find out which playing style suits you best. However, most armies have quite a few troops types, and it is usually possible to mix and match different troops types for an all round force.


Firstly, the DBM Army Lists were produced at Version 2 before the Version 3 rules came out, and Version 3 of the rules radically changed the performance of the grades of troops within DBM, whose Army Points value was set in the Version 2 Army Lists. Follow that? Consequently, most troops graded as ‘S’ (superior) are overpriced and those graded as ‘I’ (inferior) are under-priced – those graded as ‘F’ (fast) probably provide the best value in the game now, and those graded as ‘O’ (ordinary) or ‘X’ (exception) have not changed. A good example of the impact of the change is that people who used to use Light Horse (LH) superior (S) armies are now fielding LH (F) armies instead – the difference in points between 7AP for a LH (S) and 4AP for a LH (F) mean that the LH (S) will be outnumbered by 7 to 4 and, crucially, the performance of the LH (S) is no longer good enough to compensate for this.


Generals. Regular or irregular? You pay more for regular generals than irregular ones, the rational being that regular generals allow you to swop PIP dice between commands, and irregular generals don’t. Fair enough. Except that you can only swop PIP dice if both the CinC and sub-generals are regular – any other combination (regular CinC with irregular sub-generals, or irregular CinC with regular sub-generals, or regular CinC with ally-generals etc) means that you pay through the nose for regular generals despite the fact that you cannot use the facility you are paying for! This is one of the silliest rules in DBM. So the best advice is: go for an army with all regular CinC and sub-generals or go for one with all irregular generals – otherwise you are throwing away AP. Note that this does not apply to allied contingents – they cannot swop PIP dice anyway – so the best combination for an army with an allied contingent is to have a (cheap) irregular ally-general leading the allies.


Troops. Regular or irregular? Most regular troops cost more than irregular ones. The extra cost in AP is to pay for the greater manoeuvrability of the regular troops, but the advantage varies a lot between troop types and is not always worth the extra cost. For example, auxilia (Ax) and cavalry (Cv) have special rules for manoeuvre, and gain virtually no benefit from the additional cost of being regular. (The benefit is that it costs less to move for a third and subsequent time, and less to hold when you have broken the enemy). Consequently, in my opinion, you should always choose irregular cavalry and irregular auxilia where you have the choice.

Where the increased AP for regulars can really pay dividend is with troops that, if irregular, are classed as ‘impetuous’ – and really we are talking here about Knights and Bd (F). Left to their own devices these troops will hare off all over the battlefield, and cost valuable PIPs to contain. Conversely, when they get into combat they do not need PIPs to be spent on them to advance to contact, so their impetuosity can be an advantage. Here you pays yer’ money and takes yer’ choice.but Knights are much harder than Blades, so I always take regular Bd (F) where I can (to keep them out of trouble), and take irregular Knights where there are lots of them and regular Knights where there are just a few. The rationale for the Knights is that if there are a lot of them they are probably your assault force, so going forwards on their own is not a problem – they will have their mates with them to back them up! Small numbers of Knights are often your ‘fire-brigade’, rushing to shore up a crumbling command, so control and manoeuvre are essential.

Troop types such as blades, bow and spear do benefit from greater manoeuvrability if regular, but they only have a movement of 50 100 (100 Paces) paces (except Bd (F) – see above), which means that it is not advisable to attempt grand manoeuvres with them on the table anyway – unless its straight forward. In my humble opinion, neither bow or blades are worth the extra AP for being regular, so always take irregular blades and bow if you have the option. Spear are a more difficult choice, because irregular Spear suffer the strange indignity of being subject to the stupidest rule in DBM – namely that they must follow-up defeated opponents, thus exposing their flanks to two overlaps. Consequently regular spear can be worth the extra AP, but not superior spear, which cost a staggering 7 AP each!

I said ‘most’ regular troops cost more than irregular troops. However, Psiloi, Light Horse and Pike cost the same for regular elements as irregular elements. It stands to reason, therefore, to take regular Light Horse, Psiloi and Pike if you have the option.

You will notice that I have missed out lots of troops types here, and for a good reason. Elephants, Expendables, Camelry, Warband, Hordes and Ships are always irregular; conversely Artillery and Galleys are always regular. The others I have missed are Boats and War Wagons, and it is very rare for you to get the option in the Army Lists to choose between regular or irregular with these.


Different troops have widely different applications, effectiveness and cost (in AP). Here is a brief guide to the troop types that may make up significant proportions of your army.

Knights are universally popular, being mobile and hard hitting (and expensive in AP). In going they count as good they run down a staggering variety of opponents just by beating them on combat score. They do, however, always follow up (except KN Kn (X)), so use them in bulk or protect their flanks.

Cavalry are more manoeuvrable than knights and cost less, but are less hard-hitting, needing to double most opponents before they kill them. Cavalry have a good survival rate against foot – they flee, for example, from Pikes and Spears (and Auxilia (X) – and are very good on the flanks where their manoeuvrability and relative low cost make them an attractive flank option.

Light Horse are the most manoeuvrable troops on the table, and, if you wish, can avoid combats you do d n’t wish to fight. They are, however, the least hard hitting mounted arm, but cannot be killed by most infantry. A universally useful troop type, but see the earlier examples for the relative effectiveness of superior vs fast Ligh t Horse for their cost in AP.

Cavalry (S) used to be the most popular troop type around, but Version 3 of the rules have reduced the effectiveness of all superior troops have put Knights in the first place as the most popular mounted arm for the AP.

The best anti-mounted troops who are themselves mounted are Camelry and Elephants. Camels are very cheap – Cm (O) are just 6AP – and are very good against all mounted. However, they are very weak against foot and tend to die in droves, so are best used exclusively against mounted troops. Elephants are very strong, but slow moving and few and far between ( Except a few armies like Unless you have a a Burmese Army (B ook K 3 List / 9) . They are typically used against Knights or in support of slow moving infantry blocks. They are also very expensive, and are generally not worth upgrading to superior (They are as it does’nt have help when those pesky troops come along).

Pikes are very strong if attacked to their front, but their flanks are very vulnerable to attack. Hit a four-element deep pike block in the flank and you can kill seven or more elements at a stroke! They also tend to be quite expensive, and have suffered the same very stupid rule amendment in Version 3 as irregular spears: they to have to follow up defeated opponents, thus exposing their flank and throwing away any advantage they might have gained. If you use pike, use lots and protect the flank!

Spear elements are common in many armies, and many of the same rules apply to Spears as to Pike. Use lots and guard their flanks. If you are facing an army where you expect to lose some elements – facings Knights or Warband for example – use enough Spear to field them four elements deep. Only the front two elements will die if defeated and you then have two overlaps!

Blades are one of DBM’s weakest elements, the ‘Blade’ category covering a wide variety of troops with different fighting styles and different weapons. Heavily armoured Roman legionaries, lightly armoured (and unshielded) billmen with two-handed cut and thrust weapons, two-handed swordsmen – all are covered by the category ‘Blade’, with factors not only for melee but for being shot against as well! Blades end up being jack-of-all-trades and master of none – and it has got worse over successive rule Versions. What has made blades very weak is that knights now kill them just by being beaten by them, rather than doubled. This means that Blades go down in droves to Knights, even though Blades have now got a factor of 3 against mounted instead of their original 2. Blades also tumble like skittles before Warband, which means that most Roman armies just cannot stand against opponents they beat off with ease historically. In previous Rule Versions, Blades didn’t used to get killed if they were behind fortifications, but under the current rules Warband just roll-over them whether they are behind fortifications or not. (People who think DBM is historic should bear in mind the following conversation I had with Phil Barker under an earlier Version of the rules when Blades were only killed by Warband in the open. I said to Phil that his book ‘Armies and Enemies of Ancient Rome’ states clearly that German Warband could not stand a toe-to-toe fight in the open with the Roman legionaries and always lost, but under DBM the Warband always won. Phil’s answer was succinct: “stand your Blades in a wood”. Of course, thick woodland is the ideal historical deployment of the Legions! If you have to use Blades use small numbers for specific anti-infantry duties or buy lots of fortifications and light troops to shield them. Basically this means that most Roman armies are very weak – by far the most popular is Patrician Romans who are the only Roman army after 400 BC to have no compulsory Blades! Experienced players with Roman armies tend to set up the entire army in a small corner of the tabletop – not a very exiting game for either them or their opponent.

Warband are a type of heavy charging infantry, classed as impetuous but with less of a move distance than mounted impetuous troops so Warband have to be controlled for a longer time before melee. The most common warband are graded (S) or (F). Superior warband are superb against infantry and, if used in mass, against cavalry. If they get into combat in a cohesive group they are almost unstoppable. However, your opponent will try every means possible to break up nice blocks of warband into isolated groups that can be picked off piecemeal, and will certainly try and hit your flanks. Wb (F) are popular because they get into action faster and with their extra 50 paces are somewhat easier to move about the tabletop (although manoeuvring with any impetuous troops can be difficult). They also need fewer figures than Warband (O) or (S). Warband can be very frustrating to try and use effectively, but conversely offer a cheap, powerful troop type. Warband should always be double-based , for although it is galling to loose two elements instead of one to missile fire when shot at, the benefit of always keeping the two ranks together when impetuous outweighs any disadvantage .

Auxilia are light troops who excel in rough going (and if they don’t need to manoeuvre, in difficult going as well). They are superb for dominating the pieces of terrain that your heavy infantry and mounted dare not enter. Use them sparingly though – armies with lots of Auxilia will have to use them in the open where their advantage is less pronounced. With a 150 paces move they can handle surprising well those mounted troops that the Auxilia outnumber (but not Knights!). More than any other troop type, always try to get irregular Auxilia, as their low AP cost makes the +1 AP for Regular even more expensive pro-rata. The 50% increase in AP from Irregular Ax (I) at 2 AP to Regular Ax (I) at 3 AP is the worse rip-off in the DBM world!

Psiloi – that’s foot skirmishers to you and me – are excellent for use in rough and difficult terrain where their extreme manoeuvrability means they are able to excel. They are also very useful to screen large bodies of foot from bow fire, and cannot be killed by foot in the open unless flanked, so are the perfect thing to hold up enemy foot. All this for just half an element equivalent! Use them for these roles and they are AP well spent. However, beware of being caught by mounted troops, who kill Psiloi just by beating them. Also, at 3AP, Ps (S) are not as good value for AP as Ps (O) for just 2 AP. Given their nuisance role the superiority is not really needed , although it can be useful, and Ps(O) can not only give rear support in combat, they can also kill Light Horse in combat .

Bowmen cover a variety of missile weapons, and are universally good against mounted troops. Version 3 of the rules has given them a rear supporting-rank in combat as well (although not against everything) so they are not too shabby against foot now either. They have, however, lost 50 paces of movement (only 100 paces instead of 150 paces) so they can no longer keep up with other types of lighter troops. This means they cannot manoeuvre as well as they used to be able to, and again the extra AP for being regular over irregular is poor value. Also, since their grading is of limited value in shooting (their primary function) you should always go for inferior (I) bowmen when you can. Irregular Bw (I) at 3AP are very good value for money, and armies featuring these heavily have become quite popular.

Artillery (S), (I) or (O) is of extremely limited use. It is largely immobile and has limited use for defensive armies but no use at all for offensive armies. Because it has a long range (except inferior artillery) and because it negates the (S) status of troops it can be useful for taking out expensive enemy elements. The exception to the ‘limited use’ category is Artillery (F), which has special abilities, and Artillery (X) – handgunners – who shoot like bowmen on steroids (but only at 100 paces range) but melee like Spearmen on crutches. Overall the main use of Artillery is against Elephants or War-wagons, or to create a zone that no expensive enemy elements dare enter. Artillery (F) is usually worth the 10 AP you pay for it.

That is most of the troops types that will feature heavily in your army selection. I haven’t covered war-wagons, hordes, expendables or naval, as these are sideshows to the main fight. ( T he only exception s being a Hussite army (Book 4 List 80) with wall-to-wall w ar-wagons and Sicilian and Italian Slave Revolts (Book 2 List 45) with wall-to-wall Horde. Both these armies are as common as rocking-horse droppings ). oh my poor Hussites – I think they done rather admirably on wednesdya J – Anyhow I think you should mention WWg(I) as it counts as 3EE and is great for Army Break points!

One last point – if you don’t have fortifications in your army, buy mobile baggage – its (limited) ability to move may save it from destruction!


Bear all these points in mind when choosing an army. Remember to play a s few games to find out what you like then choose an army that you are enthusiastic about owning.

In my next article I’ll talk about choosing the troop manufacturer, buying the troops and painting the army.