The effect of commanders on battles in the ancient world is the subject of many books and varied opinions. In Imperium, I have preferred to go with the idea that the overall commander significantly affected the outcome of the battles. Thus, who commands the battle should have an effect on the in-game results, above and beyond the actions of the players. The player should notice, in short, the difference between a Varro and a Hannibal.
Persons in Imperium are equipped with five skills and three of them are directly relevant to the battle system. These skills are Command, Combat, and Guile.
When we consider the track record of the more capable (ancient) generals; it is easy to observe that one of the key abilities is their ability to throw the enemy off balance and dictate the pace of events. This is one of the way the Command skill is used in the battle resolution system; when forces close for battle, the relative Command skills of the generals involved are used to determine the course of events. Command skill also directly influences the in-battle combat value of units, reflecting the greater efficiency of competently commanded units.
The Combat skill is used to represent both the hand-to-hand fighting skill of the General, as well as his “Presence” on the field of battle. Classical warfare of this period had a tension between the ideal of the “Heroic Warrior” and the more responsible image – espoused by Polybius and Onasander – of the general as a “Battle Manager”. This tension is built into the Imperium battle system by the choice of where you deploy your General. Generals can be ordered to “Stay Back” (representing the battle manager), or take the front by being attached to a specific Regiment. Generals attached to a regiment boost the regiment’s combat value significantly (although modified by the Combat skill); however, they are also at a far greater risk of being killed or injured during the battle with potentially devastating consequences for the army. Generals who stay behind the battle lines can also be killed or injured in the course of the battle, but the risk is lower, and the immediate consequences for the army are not as serious.
The plan is that some cultures (for example Gallic culture and some variants of Hellenistic culture) may have a Heroic ethos, meaning that their armies will actually fight worse if the General does not fight in the front line (reflecting the cultural pressure). Whether fighting in the front line or lurking at the back like a smart Roman, the Combat skill will be important for the General, as it determines the likelihood of the general surviving episodes where his life is put into danger… such as of course in battle.
Guile is, of course, the classic ambush skill; it is used anytime base cunning is required. It is used to determine the success of an ambush. Thus a Roman general with a low guile rating and an army poor at scouting marching into a region occuppied by Hannibal with excellent Numidian and Spanish cavalry (superior scouting units) and a master of deception risks learning the same lesson about the art of ambushes in Imperium that Flaminius historically learned at Lake Trasimene.
Skills in Imperium range from 0-10; with most persons ranging in skill from 3-7. A historical Hannibal at his peak might rate a 10 in Command, a 6 or 7 in Combat (a 10 would be reserved for someone like Alexander the Great who led a charmed life on the battlefield), and a 10 in Guile. A Julius Caesar might be 8 or 9 in Command, 8 or 9 in Combat (Caesar effectively inspired his troops from the front line in times of crisis), and 8 or 9 in Guile. Persons also have traits, some of which are naturally going to be military in application.
I’m hoping that the above model will permit for a reasonable simulation of the key characteristics of ancient generals. It does achieve at least some of my objectives for the system. Skilled commanders will definitely have a significant impact on battles, making it possible for them to win battles even when outnumbered. It will also be possible for a general with brawn but little brains to win victories, simply through the effect of sheer personal combat prowess. Oh yeah… and facing Hannibal will be nasty. 😉