Turning Feudal Contingents into Wargames Units

A bit of a long time since the last post, but I’ve been having a bit of a break from the Sengoku to do some other things. When I get back to it, it’ll be to have a go at the Battle of Inō. As all the units in the armies will be feudally organised contingents at even the lowest level I thought I’d offer a few ideas on how to divide feudal contingents into wargames units.

Examples of contingents from the 1550’s are pretty much non-existent, so I’ve revisited the detailed breakdown of the 1587 retinue of Hōjō vassal Ida Tanenori.


The first thing to note is that by 1587, the Hōjō were almost certainly organising by weapon type, and these 300 men would likely be grouped by weapon with senior vassals acting as officers. However, Ida was a castle lord in his own right and his contingent would not have been further divided and allocated to someone else. In wargaming terms, if you’re playing a game where the units represent 300 men or more, then this unit is still a ‘mixed weapon’ unit regardless of how it’s internally organised.

Let’s imagine instead that the contingent is from 1550’s Owari. Ida Tanenori has direct control over his own men (the top row) and his direct vassals (the first column). He does not have direct control over his vassals own retainers. Vassals numbered 2, 3, and 4 are the senior vassals Wada, Shiina and Mitani. You can see these names occur among the lesser vassals as well. These may have been retainers/family members of the 3 senior vassals and if so would have come under their control rather than Ida’s direct control.

My ‘bushidan’ units (representing feudal units with mixed weapons) are about 50 figures strong, and Inō is going to be a 1:1 battle in terms of figure scale, so here it seems like a pretty simple process to turn them into wargames units. 300 men can be 6 units of 50-ish men, 3 for Ida and 1 each for the senior vassals. The units could be given ratings for responsiveness to orders to make Ida’s own men slightly easier to activate than the 3 vassals, but this may be an unnecessary detail.

However, looking a bit closer at Ida’s own contingent and there are 150 men that he controls directly. Now, there’s nothing stopping him from organising these men as he wants, there may be some minor groupings of a warrior and a couple of retainers that need to be kept intact, but broadly speaking Ida’s men can be organised into different wargames units. My skirmisher units are around 15 figures, and my ashigaru or samurai units around 24-32. Similarly, in game terms, where a bushidan unit has 3 ‘hits,’ skirmishers have 1 and formed infantry have 2. So Ida’s contingent could instead be represented by 3 skirmish units, 2 units of ‘ashigaru’ spears and 1 unit of foot samurai, giving the same number of ‘hits’ as 3 bushidan units. There’s been a lot of rounding of numbers in this process, but it suffices to demonstrate the principle.

This would leave the whole force as 3 skirmishers and 3 formed units under Ida, probably with a rule requiring them to be in some kind of proximity to each other, and 3 bushidan units to represent the men brought by the senior vassals.

Of course, while the principle is all well and good, we don’t have such detailed breakdowns of feudal contingents, so a lot of guesswork is going to be involved. Broadly speaking, a feudal contingent will likely have its largest sub-division as men controlled directly by the contingents’ lord, and other divisions by the senior vassals, as in the Ida example. However, this kind of thing is really only useful for small battles. If you’re looking to do battles of 10,000 men or more, then your basic unit sizes are going to be too big for these kind of sub-divisions.

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