In the past, I've approached the topic of how a small group/realm/team/unit can fight in a line fighting environment. My previous post about it was largely centered on the small unit being a discrete entity (like during unit battles, etc). Instead of answering the question "how do you line fight?", I gave alternative strategies to use against organized groups. Instead of giving strategies for a small group to work off of others on their team that are maintaining the line, I focused on how the small group could succeed on their own against another group.
After some discussion and a tiny bit of fighting out in the West, I realize that I've missed part of this topic in previous posts. So, instead of talking about how a group succeeds without line fighting, lets look at how to work with an established line, and how to teach people line fighting skills that will help them integrate with a larger team.
Leveraging Existing Skills
Groups that don't get much line fighting in at practice tend to do a lot of skirmish fighting. While skirmishing doesn't work well when fighting against a line heads up, the fighting style that comes with it naturally blends into flanking and harassment tactics. When working with a larger team, then, it seems natural that a skirmishing group would avoid being part of the main line, and work on flanks.
The only real change required is in the group's priority. In a pure skirmish, the goal to is to win small chunks until you can mop up in force. On the flank, your goal is just to deliver people to the back of the enemy line while preventing the enemy from doing the same. It isn't a huge change in tactics overall, but it means that the team needs to be looking for the opportunity--if not actively pursuing it.
I mentioned harassment, which is probably one of the lesser used skills in Belegarth. One fighter distracting a handful of enemies without engaging directly in combat or getting bogged down can create advantages else where. Just when the enemy decides to give up pursing a harassing fighter, the fighter can move up and take a swing or two and back off. Using just enough aggression and throwing a few shots here and there, that one fighter can keep the enemy's attention. This strategy doesn't work quite as well during a large line fight, but works quite well in a battle with many teams (unit, realm, etc).
Why Line Fight?
So, if so many places do lots of skirmish fighting, why line fight at all?
The basic building block of line fights is really the pair. In a one on one fight, even a single hit to the arm can be decisive. Working in a pair, though, buys time to recover from such a hit. If we were to consider support weapons in the mix, we also see that the pair can cover multiple ranges in a mutually beneficial way. If a spear was entirely on their own, they would often be rushed, but with a partner, they can overlap their threat ranges and build a more robust defense.
What if we had a pair of pairs, each with a spear and a sword/board fighter? They gain the benefit of overlapping ranges on the spears. If one of the pairs is rushed, the other pair can provide support. If the enemy fields a spear, the two spears can work together to kill it while their shields prevent them from being overran easily. As we expand that along the line, we start to see that the whole line is really just small groups of 2-3 people working together and supporting other groups of 2-3 people next to them.
The only real weakness here then becomes the flanks/rear of the line, or any space between the smaller groups of fighters that an enemy could move through with impunity. That's why the flanking and shock trooper tactics are so important on offense and defense.
Besides the sort of "safety in numbers" mentality to forming a good line, the other primary reason is for spatial control. In the relative chaos of a skirmish, it is very difficult to control a space, such as an objective. Forming a well spaced line prevents the enemy from getting behind it without a fight, making it easier to control the space and enemy access to it. Games like capture the flag or monarch battles can be won and lost by how well a team controls the field.
Teaching Line Fighting
If the pair is the building block of line fighting, it seems natural to me that doing drills to practice as a pair is a great way to start teaching line fighting. I'm particularly a fan of 2v1 drills for this purpose, I've most likely mentioned it previously. The goal of the pair is to kill their opponent without being hit. This forces the pair to work off of each other's strengths/weaknesses to kill a target. Meanwhile, their opponent gets practice fighting multiple targets.
A different approach is to use a "stand and deliver" drill. Two teams of people (equal numbers preferable) line up and face each other. Especially with newer fighters, basic sword and shield is the preferred equipment. Instead of a wide open field, the area is either marked slightly wider than the line or has a herald on each end to act as an edge of the world. I have also seen this done with a line in the middle which the fighters couldn't cross instead. The basic idea is that there is no backstabbing or flanking. As opponents die, the fighters shift on their line to aid their allies. When teaching using this drill, the emphasis is on teaching fighters that they are fighting the three fighters opposite them (the one in front, and one on each side of them).
Either drill can be used to help develop skills for dealing with or supporting support weapons. A pair with a spear in a 2v1 drill, for example, both trains the pair to work together and teaches their opponent how to defend against the spear/sword&board combo. In a stand and deliver drill, both teams learn a valuable lesson on watching their flanks (or the friend's flank) for incoming spear stabs, while support weapons get a taste of fighting each other across a line fight.
If you aren't familiar with bridge battles: picture a bridge spanning a river. Anyone that falls off the bridge or the banks of the river is dead. It's the most basic of choke point battles to set up.
Okay, first off, bridge battles can be dangerous without going over safety with fighters. Even then, higher density of fighters mixing with polearms will eventually cause accidents. However, bridge battles are a way to force line fighting. The narrow space prevents any flanking and causes even a small practice to be a line fight of one form or another.
If a realm is newer to line fighting or bridge battles, it's probably best to ease into it with limited weapons. Glaives and other reds can be particularly dangerous even with a good bit of experience because it doesn't take much divergence in a swing to end up unintentionally hitting a different target in the head. Starting out, I'd recommend sticking to just sword/board and emphasizing swing safety heavily. Depending on the practice space and fighters, limiting shield bashing and kicking may be useful early on as well.
Safety disclaimers out of the way, consider what is required to win a bridge battle without any support weapons. Fighters have to work together and maintain a fairly straight line. If anyone gets too far ahead of their neighbor, the enemy might be able to pick them off without repercussions. In order to gain any advantage, the fighters have to work together to draw out enemy swings so they can be countered or to block for a teammate while they swing at an opening. Because the lines are so densely packed on a bridge, fighters get experience being attacked from several opponents and learn to block angles they may not have otherwise.
Changing the width of the bridge or adding additional bridges of various sizes can change the intensity of the fighting. Foot bridges that are only wide enough for one or two people can add a bit of fun and strategy. Wide bridges can help lessen the intensity if safety might be a concern.
The whole idea of doing the occasional bridge battle at practice is to get fighters a taste of line fighting that they wouldn't otherwise get.
- It is hard to teach "head on a swivel," but it might be one of the most important skills to have. Scanning the area for threats lets you and your team get a better chance of surviving.
- Line fighting requires matching the enemy threat. If a great fighter moves off to the flank, your team needs to have someone (or a group) move to challenge that fighter. The line spacing has to adjust to match large threats (like a mass of armored up fighters that look antsy to charge).
- Supporting your Support. A spear isn't much good if it gets overran.
- As always, communicate. And listen. Alert your team to problems and do your best to respond if others need help.