Arms and Tactics
"Audacious? Certainly. Reckless? Perhaps. But I say to you now, to be more cautious would embrace certain defeat. Take refuge in our audacity. They expect us to demonstrate in front of our camp, not attack."
— Michael Melissenos, Belharan general, shortly before the Battle of Satricum
In every society around the world, warriors fight in different ways, and those ways are dependent on the society that produces them and the arms and armor available to them. Weapons and protection are the tools of the trade, and tactics the method.
Bronze weapons and gear remain the favored choice of all those who can afford them, but thanks to the labor (and rare tin ore) that goes into making military-worthy bronze, they are uncommon outside the warrior elite. In fact, their price forces even aristocrats into economies. When wearing body armor, many warriors concentrate their bronze around their vitals and cover much of the rest with thick textiles, such as laminated linen or layered wool. Similarly, the trusty bronze spear is usually the weapon of choice, not least because it requires less bronze than does a larger war-axe or sword; it may be complemented by a bronze dagger or hand axe as a sidearm. Anyone who uses more bronze than that is truly a wealthy individual. Many cannot even muster that much bronze, and are forced to use weapons of relatively soft iron, sharpened wood, or stone.
Infantry remains the core of most fighting forces, with obvious exceptions like pastoral herding tribes (who favor horseback) or centaurs (who must rely on allies or subjects if they want to field infantry). Usually, the most experienced warriors will be those who have the training to accurately employ ranged weapons like javelins, arrows, and especially magic, although a few veteran champions choose instead to make themselves well-armed and -armored enough to anchor a battle line often composed primarily of those less well-equipped. Combat generally begins with an exchange of missiles and, if applicable, magic, followed eventually by a clash of battle lines when the missiles are exhausted or when one side or the other can no longer stand the onslaught of arrows, javelins, and sling bullets.
Centuries ago, Belharan notables preferred chariotry to slogging around on foot; chariots allowed great warriors to ride into battle quickly, or to stay mobile as they flung javelins or loosed arrows at the foe. Contact with centaur tribes and the gradual submission of the great herds changed this, as did the breeding of horses both large and small to carry single riders. Nowadays, despite Belhar's fall, chariots remain popular as ceremonial vehicles and in combat on relatively flat lands, but cavalry and centaury are becoming more and more prevalent for military purposes. Horse-riding bipeds and centaurs, usually in the same tribes, now dominate the great steppelands, herding stock and clashing over pasturage. It is these tribes that have begun to trade cavalry horses and camels as far afield as Tronarii, Yvennes, Gaba, and Jassira, all of which have begun to mount warriors of their own on them. Bipeds who ride horses often arm themselves with bows, javelins, or light spears to harass slower-moving infantry. Centaurs, however, remain the most prized hoof-warriors for would-be potentates, and the few taurs that deign to serve outside their tribe or herd often achieve positions of great military prominence. There are even small populations of other taur groups in the Heartlands, descendants of immigrants from long-lost lands once ruled by Old Belhar. Some are humpbacked and well-adapted to waterless places, others ferocious and strong with the fur and tails of lionesses.
Battlemages are prized additions to any military force because of how few people (let alone warriors) have special magical education beyond a few casual cantrips — and because magic can have an outsize effect on any battlefield. The most favored large formation for infantry packs them together in large, fairly-dense blocks to keep soldiers from running away, but a well-placed concussive blast or chain lightning spell can tear the heart out of any such battle line. Since many infantry formations are effectively useless if they need to disperse, this means that in order for their own foot soldiers to stay together, battlemages spend as much of their time warding magic away from their own allies as they do casting offensive magic against the enemy. Because of this disproportionate effect in combat and their necessary separation from the rank and file — one cannot see where to cast spells if one is packed into the ranks with everyone else — battlemages often rise to command mercenary companies or achieve high rank in formal militaries. The fact that many of the military orders of the Seven are primarily composed of magic-wielding warriors (even if magic is not necessarily their strongest suit) is one of the things that makes them so impressive on the battlefield.
Difficulties of command and control inhibit easy maneuver on the battlefield. Flank attacks, ambushes, feigned retreats, and the like are sometimes employed by large armies at the beginning of a fight according to a pre-agreed plan, especially if they contain well-trained troops, but complex evolutions in the midst of battle are usually beyond the abilities of large armies. In smaller groups — for example, warbands — shouted voices make complex orders and tactics much more viable. For larger armies, once fighting is joined, there is often little for a commander to do but hope their army is victorious; they cannot command beyond shouting range of their own voice, and they can rarely disengage their forces from a melee once committed. Often, then, the best thing for a commander to do is simply plunge into the fighting themselves, or to place themselves with one of the few groups that can take new orders mid-fighting: cavalry, chariotry, missile infantry, battlemages, or flying forces like valkyries and harpies.
- There are several historical allusions in the codex entry.
- "Melissenos" is, like many Belharan surnames, the name of a Byzantine aristocratic family.
- The transition from chariotry to horseback cavalry is an aspect of the historical late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Many of the other particulars of warfare are adapted from classical history.
- In Silly Mode, "warband" is given a specific numerical qualification, based on the definition in the Laws of Ine of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon legal code from the seventh century preserved in the legislation of Aelfraed the Great.
- The Silly Mode version of the codex entry jokes about how many weapons and armor pieces in the game are there simply for Rule of Cool purposes and not because they make any sense given the time period, technology, etc.