Hey guys. I'm Woolymammoth, member of the Immortal Blood timeline and active RPer at the BGS forums. I sometimes take steps over here. I enjoy RPing political and war RP's, ad well as those who's genre is dubbed "siege". Duval's guide was a guide over at the BGS forums that proved useful. I do NOT take credit for this. Duval is still around to this date, and he'd be glad to answer any and all of your questions. If you have any, ask him at the BGS forum.
This guide is made for those of you crazy enough to try and undertake RPing an army, a navy, a group of soldiers�anything. Obviously each and every RP is different. There are varying amounts of realism, so please feel free to pick and choose what you would like to follow. This isn't meant to be a be all end all guide, merely a general primer. DO NOT look for tips on tactics, strategies, or suggested styles of fighting.
In this guide I'm going to say some things, especially about weapons and the mindset of soldiers some might find silly, controversial or downright wrong. However, this guide is not the place, and neither was it intended, to hash up old pointless arguments like can an arrow really pierce chain mail, the effectiveness of a cavalry charge, etc. If you have a very strong opinion about that kind of stuff, PM me, I love history arguments. Now, onto the guide.
The Golden Rule
***Soldiers are normal people, and normal people don't want to die!***
If you only read one thing in this whole guide, It should be this. Your men are not mindless killing machines, they are brothers, fathers, sons, shopkeepers, clerks, farmers, coopers and the occasional gentry. Just like it's hard to imagine your local barber or your cousin to go off and start hacking through orcs left and right, its hard for your men to do as well. Like everyone they are goverend by rules like fear, hunger, fatigue, hope, thirst, desire etc., etc.. Your army should be as much of a living, breathing, complex character as your generals or knights.
Before the battle
Equipment - When you create your army and start to describe what type of equipment they wear, think long and hard about the environment. Campaigning though Skyrim? Furs and heavy blankets might be a good idea. Wandering around the Alik'r? Probably could lose some of that hot armor. Now, part 2. Yea, it'd be awesome if you had a whole army equipped in enchanted ebony armor with claymores, bows and silver poisoned arrows. Imagine though how much that would cost to outfit a couple thousand guys. My wallet aches just thinking about it. Rare armor is rare for a reason. Give the bulk of your men normal kit.
On the march - Human beings are reasonably sensible. Time and again simple soldiers prove that an army on campaign is an army that can travel light. During Sherman's grand march through Georgia (God save the Union :P) one of his bummers was kind enough to keep a good diary. In it he explained that he cut his blanket in half to save some weight. Now just stop and think about that for a second. If a pound and a half of extra blanket is that burdensome to merit chopping it in half, do you really thing your TES army feels like carrying around a pike, a longsword, and a shield and a crossbow on top of a suit of dwemer? Not likely. This brings me to another good point. Tents. Forget everything you've ever seen at a reenactment or in the movies. Big tents are heavy, difficult to dry and way to much effort to set up. Sure a general or a lord knight will get a spiffy tent, but by and large the PBI (Poor bloody infantry) will have to make due with shelter halves or even nothing at all.
Baggage - again, not the glorious thing that makes for a good movie or dramatic painting, but still vital. If you are going to carry around food, and tents and ammunition, and the inevitably necessary medical supplies, it has to be carried somewhere. The army is usually followed by a long line of carts, mules, spare horses, wagons, camp followers, sutlers, etc. This baggage train will also contain your vital pay chests that allow you to keep such a large army together. To lose your baggage train is basically the death knell of your campaign, no food, no supplies no money. It's not impossible to campaign without a baggage train, but it puts a huge strain on your men.
Rough terrain - ever read a history book and been amazed how simple things always prove the biggest problem? The English army was nearly trapped in France during the Agincourt campaign because of a river. The French army at the same battle were massacred because a muddy field made it hard to ride horses. The Takeda army was destroyed by the Oda at Nagashino because of a bamboo fence. The Army of the Potomac was decimated at Fredericksburg because of a hill and a wall. Get the point? What is easy for one person to get by, alone is next to impossible for an army of thousands. This goes for forests, rivers, swamps, thick undergrowth, sand, mud, etc. There is a reason why battles are usually fought in big open fields and why armies like to march on roads.
Mobilizing - Hurry up and wait. Anyone who has ever been in the army or worked with an army knows exactly what I'm talking about. If you want your men lined up, ready to march at 7am, you've got to wake them up at 4 or 5. It takes time to gather people and get them ready to fight. Ideally you'll know there's a battle soon, and they can prepare the night before.
Basic needs - Food, water, shelter. Without your army will be in some serious trouble. I really hope I don't have to say much on this.
Taking casualties - please be fair in this. It is my own personal belief that the more willing you are to take damage, the more willing other RPers will be to receive yours. So do take casualties, and do it in abundance. Now the general rule for how casualties work in real life is a 1:4 ratio. That is, one man dead for every four injured. It fluctuates through time, sometimes being higher, sometimes lower, but 1:4 is a good mid-line ratio. There should be far more hurt people than dead people. This can have a serious effect especially when you take into account that for every wounded man, there is at least 2 others caring for him.
Hurting the enemy - Character control is an easy thing to distinguish. Army control (?) is a bit hazier. There is a dangerous grey area as to what is acceptable to say about the enemy army. Tread lightly. IMHO it's ok to say you kill a single soldier in your post. It's less so to say you're hacking left and right, loping off arms and legs and killing scores. It's absolutely bad and verboten to say things like, "My men were carving their way through the enemy center" or "for every one of my man that died, I killed three of theirs". just like for a one on one fight RP, it's enough to say we aimed and fired, or the men were fighting like this HOPING to kill twice as many." Ideally you should PM the person your fighting and work it out in the background.
Surrendering (the S word) - People in the army are just that, people (or elves, or beasts) and with a few exceptions, you should see the golden rule. If you are in a hopeless fight, try surrendering. I guarantee that your opponent will be surprised. At the very least this will give him a headache as he now has to care for you and your men. It also brings up an excellent chance to interact with the other side. Surrendering is not dishonorable or cowardly, it is a normal part of a military on campaign. In the middle ages, it was commonplace for knights to surrender (or in their terms, yield) because of the golden rule; that was the whole point of fighting. If you got lucky, you captured someone rich, and ransomed them away. One good prisoner and you won ye olde lottery.
Prisoners - Unlike the movies, spitting in the face of your captor is probably not a good idea. If you ever get the chance to read a published diary, you'll understand how terrifying the experience is. You are at the complete mercy of whoever captured you. Outright defiance is akin to hanging a bright neon please kill me sign around your neck (see golden rule). You want to be defiant? Keep your dignity, have your men march better than the enemy. Parade your captured soldiers as if they were the emperors personal guard on coronation day. Don't do anything that could be taken as outright defiance or rebellion.
Last Stands - Don't, just don't. They are so common in war Rps, that its a clich� now. The gallant last stand, where the men fall, facing the enemy, valiant to the last are touching and noble deeds in real life, but they are very, very rare. Forgive me for sounding like a snob, but leave heroics to real heroes.
Withdrawing - There is nothing wrong with pulling back. Let me repeat that, there is nothing wrong with pulling back. Out numbered? In a bad position? Leave, simple as that. Why stay and fight if you have no hope of winning? See golden rule if it's still unclear.
Withdrawing in the face of the enemy - Difficult, extremely difficult. This is right up there with having an army march on two different roads and come back together as the most difficult military maneuver. A withdrawal can VERY EASILY become a break, or rout. Imagine being there, under constant attack, scared tired and thirsty. You're going backwards anyway, why not just run to safety? Please see the golden rule.
Breaking/routing - like surrendering, this is rarely seen in War Rps, and like surrendering, this is much more common in real life than we'd imagine. There is a difference between cowardice and panic. Think of the Spartans. History's most [censored] badasses right? "This is Spartaaaaaa" and all. They even broke, ran terrified from two hundred [censored] couples (Theban sacred band, IMHO, one of the best fighting units in history). Go on Wikipedia and look up Leuctra, battle of. Does that change anyone's opinion of their fighting ability? No. Everyone has a breaking point, some are higher than others, but it's still there. If you are pressed hard on two sides and under a constant and heavy missile/spell fire, chances are your guys would prefer to get the hell out of there rather than wait to die. Again, see golden rule, and last stands.
Reforming - Complete and utter routs do happen, where men scatter like grass in the wind, never to come back. More often than not, though, soldiers will break and run in panic, but after they reach a safe distance, they will calm down reform, and try again.
Weapon effectiveness - Who doesn't love a good battle scene in a movie? Swords and axes hacking through armor with ease, in a Icelandic Saga-esque orgy of violence. Really though, if it was that easy to hack through armor would people even wear it? What's the point of carrying 90 pounds of crap if bjorn turbo-nord can axe you like he was slicing bread. Chain mail can stop most sword slices, and some stabbing. Plate armor might as well be impervious to most edged weapons. There are primary sources out there that describe what it looked like for 2 real, honest to god knights to go at it with sword and shield. Most blows just bounced of. These fights could seriously last until both men were too tired to continue. My point is, calm down with the whole cleaving people in twain bit. Armor actually should do the job it was made to do.
Fatigue - It's a universal rule throughout every army across the world and through time, everyone is tired. The TES world has certain things that we don't have in real life, fatigue potions for example. This will allow your TES armies to go just that bit farther when doing manual labor, marching, etc. However it is not a replacement for rest. Yes I know in the LOTR rings the orcs ran everywhere and never got tired. This is not LOTR, and you cannot do that. Nothing annoys other Rpers more than seeing a post saying that you've taken your army at a dead sprint, across difficult ground, through the woods and over a river to have them attack up a hill. People can't do that. Even if they could they would be in no shape for the grueling physical demands of battle.
Arms of Service
Cavalry - First off, for this guide, and in reference to what I'm going to talk about, Horses are exactly like people (see golden rule). They get scared, they panic, they can be tired hungry and thirsty. Just because your knight isn't tired from riding around all day, doesn't mean that poor horse isn't. He's been carrying your fat, lazy armored ass through hill and dale.
While men can be trained to ignore fear and charge into a mass of men, horses are smarter than us it seems, because they tend to not do that as much. I won't get into the specifics of a cavalry charge (if you want though, I suggest John Keegan's Face of Battle. His study of what actually happens in a charge is an eye opening read) but just know that horses wont really jump headlong into pikes, spears, or other generally pointy bits. Lances work because the point is so far ahead of the animal you can spear someone before the horse comes to it's senses. There are usually four possible outcomes to a normal cavalry charge. I have them in order from most likely to nigh improbable.
1) the infantry gets scared and just runs the hell away. 2) The infantry stands, and the horses go around. 3) The infantry, through negligence or accident has a gap in their lines that the cavalry exploits, which usually then leads to outcome 1, or 4) a horse gets killed, collapses into the line, and then leads to outcome 3 then 1.
*exception* There are special kinds of horses called Destriers that have been trained to ignore the pointy bits. These things are basically Clydesdale sized pit bulls, they bite, kick and run people down. They will charge headlong into a pile of infantry. These animals are, however very expensive. Think of them as the Mack trucks of the battlefield. present but in limited numbers, ideally only the rich knights, or lords should have Destriers. Due to the downright mean temperament trained into these horses, they are impossible to ride around for most normal trips. Battle only. Expect to have a spare horse to ride to town, unless you want that mean bastard to start biting guards and trampling children.
Artillery - Right away you should know most artillery does not work like in the movies. Explosions are stupid. Those trebuchets, onagers, catapults, ballistas, or even cannon if you're a redguard will all do the same thing. Giant stones bounce in a straight line. (god forgive me for using a movie to prove a point) Remember in the movie the Patriot, where mel gibson and heath ledger (rip) are watching the battle from a house. The cannon ball bounces around, taking of legs and heads and stuff? That's a surprisingly good depiction of how things work. Imagine you were five years old again, throwing rocks at a bunch of GI Joes. You knock over a couple in line one behind the other. On water, it's the same thing. Stones or iron balls shot at a low angle will skip across the surface, things at high angles will simply sink.
Navy - Naval battles are slow, painfully slow compared to land battles. They also usually have fairly simple tactics. This is a necessity because most ships are driven by wind. If you turn this way and that and dodge around, you'll usually spill the wind from your sails and be dead in the water until your crew can readjust. Also, ships are surprisingly difficult to sink. Almost everything on an old wooden ship will float. The usual outcome of a naval battle is that the ship is either captured or burns. At the battle of Trafalgar, one of the greatest naval battles of all time, only one ship actually sunk. The rest were, you guessed it, captured or burned.
Now onto fire. Fire is a ships worst enemy. They are basically giant floating matchboxes. Ships can catch fire with surprising ease. The ropes to the rigging are tarred, most planking is filled with tar and hemp fibers to make it waterproof. These things will burn if you look at them wrong. Very, very dangerous stuff.
Types of equipment
I've noticed that Pikes seem to be popping up as more and more popular in battle Rps. They are simple and very effective. The clashing of two Phalanxes or pike blocks (I know the difference, but for this guide I'll use the term interchangeably) is a horrid and violent affair. Now, there are two styles of Pike fighting: Push and Point. They are exactly what it sounds like. Now I wont go into a detailed description of the effectiveness of pikes on different units, but just keep this in mind, the pike keeps the enemy far away, and as long as the enemy doesn't break into the formation, they can't hurt the pikemen.
Push style = An excellent account of what really happens when two pike blocks come together and hold their nerve can be found in the description of the Battle of Langside. Pike heads get caught in flesh, clothing, and armor, pushed down into the ground or thrust up into the air. Once the points became immobile, The pike blocks ended up "pushing each other to and fro with their spears." According to my sources , pike fighting, while extremely dangerous, was not very fatal. Men received ghastly wounds, but most survived. The real massacre began when one side or the other broke.
Point style = Less common than Push style is Point. This involves actual fencing with pikes. In period accounts of the English Civil War, one reads examples of the front few ranks becoming disabled, their pikes broken, dropped or stuck. These men then usually drew short swords and rapiers and went about a ghastly hand to hand fight on their knees while the two pike blocks pushed overhead. They cut pike shafts, tried to pull the enemies away, and generally caused problems. (God help me, this makes two times) But, for those of you who don't like reading, an excellent depiction of pike fighting can be seen in the end of the Spanish movie Alatriste with Viggo Mortenson. It's on you tube, and shows the true horror of what the Swiss called "Bad war".
Pike blocks and phalanxes do have a very serious weakness, they cannot operate on rough terrain. In a formation that requires unity to survive, crossing a stream, walking through woods or climbing a fence might as well be a death sentence in the face of the enemy. Loose groups of men cannot and will not be able to defend themselves with a pike, it's all or nothing.
Alright, now get ready. I'm going to express my own opinion about the effectiveness of missiles against armor. This is up there as being controversial as whether or not "Feudalism" is a real thing or not. Everyone who wants to send hate mail, please PM me. OK? Everyone clear on the rules?
In general, arrows are a very effective weapon. On the battlefield they can wound, disable and kill knights, soldiers and horses. However, unless at close range and using specially Bodkin tipped arrows, one cannot penetrate armor. (oh god, here comes the hate mail) Arrows are light weapons, and usually fired at an arc. At long ranges, the momentum is spent and it does not have the force to break chain mail or plate. At close ranges, they can cut through chain mail with ease (remember the bodkins) and sometimes can pierce plate. There are medieval accounts of mailed knights being literally pincushion with arrows, but sustaining no wounds. Most of the French dead at Agincourt who died from arrows received those wounds in the joints of the armor, where there was only simple mail, at close range.
Now, on top of that, different arrow heads have different purposes. You give everyone bodkin arrows, expect a lot of wounds, but few deaths. You give everyone broad heads, you'll wreak havoc on the infantry, but the Knights will soak up arrow fire like a sponge and keep coming.
Unlike in Oblivion, it's rather difficult to carry around 300 arrows on your person. Even with a quiver archers will most likely be limited to between 15 and 30 arrows. Like in real battles, you will be forced to scramble around, back and forth to the baggage carts to retrieve more.
As for flaming arrows. I know they look awesome in movies, but no. They don't work in real life. The rag attached to the end makes an otherwise precise weapon imbalanced, the speed of it flying through the air is usually enough to put out the flame mid flight too. I don't care what you saw in gladiator or Total war, real life doesn't work like that. If anyone can dig up PRIMARY sources that talk about the effective use of flaming arrows, I'll change my story. Outside of that, flaming arrows, like explosions = stupid.
I think this area is pretty much common sense. I'll only comment on a few things I think are underrepresented. First off, swords, like every thing else in life have varying levels of quality. A knights hand crafted sword, fitted to his height, weight, balance and fighting style will be more robust than a normal foot soldiers. If said knight rides up to said foot soldier, there I a chance that that PBI's sword will shatter. Swords are not axes, crowbars, hammers, or any other kind of tool. They are swords. You use one to cut firewood, to open a lock, or anything else it's not made to do, it will break. Block with the edge, it will chip. Use it too much, or if the sword is too old, it could snap. Get the point? (haHA! Punny!)
As the name says, a battlefield is very confusing. There are a number of factors that come into play which cause problems. Noise and smoke are the two biggest. Noise, is rather obvious and wont be discussed. Smoke however can come from a number of different sources. Ever driven down a dirt road in a car or on a bike? You know that trail of dust kicked up? Imagine that coming from the feet of ten or twenty thousand guys. Unless it rained the day before a battle, your men will probably kick up at least some dirt. If you're in a desert, or in the middle of a dry spell, expect that dust to become a fog. This can cause men to be confused, to attack allies (Green on green) charge when they shouldn't or retreat if they're winning. Yes I know it'll hurt your cause if you portray this part in an RP. However, if you go about it in a mature fashion, it brings a ton of interest and character to the RP.
In games like Rome: Total war or Cossacks, you're given a top down perspective of the battle. That's not what you would see in real life. Try this out, just to get a taste. Open up one of the Total war games, go to options and change your perspective to the thing called general cam. Now play a skirmish. Hard isn't it? Not having an all seeing eye complicates things a great deal.
Hand in hand with this part on perspective is something called a screen, almost unheard of in almost every battle RP I've ever played, from TES through world war 2 (sigh, I miss the old DoD Forum RPs). A screen is where you place a line of skirmishers, cavalry, whatever in front of your men. Those skirmishers kick up dust, the horsemen even more so. The enemy only sees who's in front, and it's very hard to determine the amount of men one is facing. Again, it takes a mature Rper to pretend you can't see something in someone else's post. Yea we know your opponent is massing on your left, but does your character know that? Not likely. Not likely unless you use�
How else will you know what is going on in front of you or around you if you don't send out scouts. Usually mounted and on good horses, these men are the eyes of your army. Without them sending back information, how will you general know what's in front of him. Imagine that war is a huge, expensive game of blind man's bluff. Your scouts would be the hands you have stretched in front of you to keep you from running into a tree.
Moving through a line of men
Unlike in videogames, this maneuver is actually extremely difficult one to pull off in real life. Say you have some skirmishers out front. Enemy cavalry is menacing, and the skirmishers pull back. Where are they going to go? You'd better have a gap in your lines to let them through, otherwise they'll force their way through your men and create gaps. Now, go to the cavalry section and read what happens when there are gaps in your line. it's the same thing for retreating men. The bad thing about retreating men is they'll probably be freaking out, and claw their own way through your line. On a battle field, panic spreads like chickenpox in kindergarten. Better to mqke room for those pqniced men rather thqn hqve them fight their way through.
This one is simple physics. The more men you have one behind another, the greater force and momentum is present. Like the Thebans at Leuctra, and the French army during the Napoleanic period, a huge mass of men will push aside a thin line. If you have five hundred men in a three deep line, and the enemy had five hundred men in a five wide column of a hundred rows, That column will put a significant dent in your line because for each man fighting there's a hundred pushing on his back. This becomes especially important for Pike blocks (See push style) The French used this simple tactic to dominate all of Europe and beyond. The only way the British were able to defeat the great columns were by stopping them with musketry before they reached the thin red line.
sometimes battles lasted all day, and into the next. Fighting is difficult and tiring, after extended hacking and stabbing, the poor bloody infantry would get tired. There were and will be lulls in the fighting. It's entirely possible for the men to remain behind their shields, catching their breath and staring at the enemy a mere two or three feet away. Sporadic and unplanned breaks have happened. After a brief rest, or once an officer sees the men not doing their job, fighting may flare up again. (they are on the clock after all�) Hardly would make a good fight scene in LOTR or Alexander, but it happens. The longer a unit is engaged in prolonged fighting the less likely it will be to attack or advance. The physical and mental stress of fighting wears down ones willpower (the real kind not the skills kind).