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Heroic Forays
Crackpot Mialbox: Polynimbus and James Q & A on Heroic Action in Battle
© 2019 James LaFond
The following is an addendum to an extensive discussion of military parameters in a fantasy setting at a medieval tech level, essentially a discussion of simulating the parameters of muscle-powered warfare. The main body of the article will be posted next week.
Military Questions
Wed, Nov 13, 8:23 AM (4 days ago)
I have an additional question.
I'm creating rules so the heroes can engage in "heroic forays" at critical moments to sway the larger battle in their favor.
My question: just how small can a tactically significant action be?
What is the smallest percentage of men of an army that can sway the outcome of a battle?
What, over historical time, might be the usual percentage?
A small hill, and the first army to hold it gains an archery advantage...
A large rock in a plain. A man with his side to it can't be flanked, anchoring the entire line...
An 10 foot section of undefended parapet...
The first 10 men leading a charge...
A 20 foot gap in the enemy's lines, or your own...
Assign action values to your heroes, commanders and units. For instance, using a 1d6 initiative check and assigning abilities of 0 [never] through 5 [almost always] in various abilities:
-1. Initiative [ability to act, governing the below abilities]
-2. Maneuver [units with 1 are road bound, can't side step, etc]
-3. Morale [hold or break?]
-4. Cohesion [combine efforts with other units]
-5. Reaction [the quality of intrinsic leaders, like do they post sentries]
-2. Duel [fighting other champions between the lines was generally done for a morale bonus]
-3. Devotio [a suicidal oath meant to summon divine aid which also acted as a morale boost]
-4. Leadership [getting results in person such as John Bell Hood]
-5. Generalship [getting results via delegation like Robert E Lee]
-6. Heroics [stunts like Robert E. Lee or Joan of Arc putting themselves in danger to inspire action or shore up morale]
The percentage of men in close combat who might turn the tables could range from Promachus of Pellene deciding a battle between his few thousand and the Corinthian five thousand by slaughtering enough normal men to blow a hole in the line and roll it up with plenty of help from his friends, to the battle of the 600 champions where all but 3 died. This is an "intersectional" question. It's not a big deal if Joe Crow slaughters ten enemy in the middle of a swirling chaos of horsemen on an open plain. But if he puts ten enemy to the sword and thereby takes a crucial eminence which can be used to flank the enemy, well, that is a big deal from the stone age to the space age.
There are many examples of men in the age of guns turning the tide in a battle. In muscle-powered warfare, this was highly positional and would tend to focus on bridge battles and in narrow spaces.
A Roman legion facing overmatched barbarians tended to get the job done with a quarter to a third of their force.
Alexander used most of his 35,000-man army to hold against larger forces of Asians while he attacked with less than 5,000 elite troops and won every major battle in that fashion. He scored a 5 on almost each ability and used them all to excess.
The battle of the Hot Gates is a good example where you had 7,000 allied Greeks fighting a force of perhaps 50,000 Asians. Some of the Greeks were effectively hostages, such as the Thebans. Without the 300 Spartans and the 400 Thespians, the battle would not have even happened. That is a clear 10% ratio of elite effectives to support troops.
According to the Marshall Study, industrial age conscript armies featured two-thirds of combat infantrymen not trying to kill the enemy. The value of elite units, though necessarily smaller due to the extensive vetting, is that all of these fuckers are killers, rather than some. In medieval settings these are your knights and your Viking-type barbarians. 70% of your infantry will be looking for the door.
With medieval battles we are looking at breaking points for units cascading into breaking points for the army. For instance, if the Thebans run at The Hot Gates, the Spartans send their helots to put javelins in their backs and the line holds. But if the Spartans run it is all over.
When a higher status unit breaks, lower status units break.
When higher morale units break, lower morale units have to make morale checks or break.
Muscle-powered warfare is largely the management of unit integrity in a bid to maintain army integrity. The slaughter happens after an army breaks.
The reason why Asiatic armies such as the Turks and Mongols spread such terror and were so effective, was that they had a high proportion of horsemen available to pursue broken foes and slaughter them. In medieval battle between Christians it was common to slaughter infantry levies and round up downed enemy knights for ransom. Often the infantry were little more than spectators who were there to be slaughtered by the winners, like making NFL fans watch on the field and then get beat up by the winning team and their fans after the game.
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