I talked a bit about the anatomy of a line last week. Today we're going to look at flankers, shock troops, and reserves. All three require that a strong line has already been established. These three are usually only seen at events or large practices, when the number of fighters on the line won't miss their absence. I'll be piecing it all together in post about decisive action next week.
As far as equipment goes, those that fight on the flank generally prefer mobility. Short, light weapons and punch shields are most common. Armor is usually scarce on the flanks, but a few pieces here and there aren't unheard of. Support weapons rarely flank, unless part of a larger force. Side note: if you've never tried flanking in full armor with a longsword, it will be tiring, but fun.
If you are going to flank, it is essential to work off of your line, and have at least some awareness of where the wing anchor is. Your first task is defending them from being flanked. After that, they can usually offer you some assistance by pinning a few of the enemy in place for you. On the other side, sometimes they can help you, should you get bogged down by the enemy flankers, by flanking them for you. This marks the most common transition between roles, switching between flanker and anchor.
Mobility is key for flankers. Getting a leg hacked off far away from the line will quickly put an end to any flank attack. Flankers should avoid being strung out too far from the enemy line so they can still be a threat from a knee. In general it is going to be preferable for them to lose an arm than a leg.
Reserves are rare in normal practices, but become somewhat common in larger events and around choke points (bridges or castles).
In smaller scales, archer guards are the most common reserves seen. Besides their goal of protecting the archer, they will act as a lookout and last line if defense against flankers that have made it behind their line. In larger fights, the reserves may be a sizable force, ready to push against a gap or fill in where casualties are high.
Those in reserve have a mixed selection of equipment. Support weapons wait here to spot a good area to engage. Experienced fighters will sometimes stay in reserve in order to get better perspective on the enemy situation, often taking a leadership role. Unarmored and shieldless fighters may stay in reserve to avoid concentrations of spears or archers.
When the line is about to break or the enemy is on the verge of breaking, shock troops are what turn the tide. Medium to heavy armor, and/or high speed, combined with good battlefield awareness make them ideally suited to bolster your own line or pick apart the enemy. While usually a fairly experienced fighter, a keen eye for gaps in the enemy line, or your own, is more essential.
Shock troops are often either in reserve or take a place among the line. They switch to the role of shock trooper when decisive action needs to be taken, pushing into the heart of the enemy line. They fulfill a need similar to flankers, but concentrate their efforts towards the thick of fighting. Support weapons may be deployed in this role, stifling an enemy advance or breaking a weaker section of their line.
Whole groups of fighters can also be used as shock troops. Five to ten fully armored fighters with large shields charging into your line in a tight formation can have big impact (looking at you, Uruk-hai). In these situations, the group is often trying to force decisive action, even when no obvious opportunities present themselves.