Thursday, June 19, 2014

Choke Points

If you've been to a few major events, there is no doubt you have seen a bridge, city, or castle fight. All three have one theme: choke points. Anywhere that forces people to fight across a small opening without any way to flank it fights about the same. These are the most intense, and dangerous, battles we usually see.

What separates this type of fighting from most others is the difficulty of causing decisive action. Unlike field battles, where there are gaps and flank routes, choke points are usually decided by attrition, to a degree. The stalemate phase ends up being the majority of the fight, until numbers dwindle on one side or the other to the point that gaps can form.

Xemeo's face shows just how intense fighting over a castle can be.
Photo by: Ellie Apland

Obviously, this type of fighting favors long range, heavy armor, and large shields. Support weapons do a great majority of the work. Spears and glaives focus their efforts on killing the front lines, while archers and javelins focus on taking down the enemy support and targets of opportunity. This can leave most shieldmen on the defensive, blocking arrows and spears while protecting their support.

However, the role of the sword and board user isn't to be underestimated. Individually, they are extremely vulnerable, especially if they were to push forward. As a coordinated group, they can push forward, one step at a time, to apply pressure on the enemy. This can force the enemy line to engage and open up their defenses to swing, giving your side an opportunity to dish out some damage in counter. Experienced groups often move together well, pushing up to the call of "step" nearly in unison.

Choke points are one if the times when using a kill pocket formation can give your side a great advantage. Defending a bridge is usually better accomplished from the friendly side of it, forming a kill pocket just outside of the crossing. The edges should just be in swinging distance of the bridge as the main force is in a semicircle between them. The goal is to end up with more fighters on the front than the enemy can possibly achieve as they cross the bridge. It also opens up angles for archers and support weapons to abuse. Note that you may need some reserves to act as archer guards and block arrows for the edges of the pocket.

Casualties will happen, of course. Anyone legged is in a pretty dangerous position on the frontline. Headshots happen most often in this situation, many times from shots directed at other people. If you are uncomfortable here, back away and let fresh fighters fill in the front rank. The dead need to clear the area as soon as they get a safe moment to do so. Lingering around the middle ground during such intense fighting is just asking for injury. As the front lines fall, shields need to step up and protect the support. Anyone capable should pick up fallen support weapons and get them into action immediately.

Individual action can sometimes help force a decisive action. The full armored charge of an individual can distract and reposition targets so that the line can push forward and inflict heavy casualties. On a rare occasion, the fully armored rusher might squeeze through intact, albeit with his armor mostly gone. This minor breakthrough is only likely to result in a few support weapons or archers being taken out of the fight, but that is usually a good trade for one person.

Once the numbers begin to thin and one side is reduced to only a single line of defense without reserves, the other side will often push one side of the choke point in force, using their superior numbers to force a major breakthrough. Attrition had already decided the battle, but this charge can reduce casualties and hurry the situation along. Because choke point battles are often part of a larger fight, finishing them quickly can help apply pressure in other battles across the field.

When battles are fought across several choke points, sometimes it is best to fight defensive on most of them, applying extra forces as they are needed to either boost defense or flood a gap. Situations with three bridges, for example, might see a large reserve force wait behind the middle bridge. Fighting defensively across all three, the commander waits to see a battle begin to turn in his favor and dispatches reserves accordingly. Archers, in particular, are often switched between bridges to apply extra force quickly.

City battles are similar to the three bridge example, in that once one section has fallen, flankers have free run to back stab other sections of the line. City fights are just a complex series of choke point battles. Unlike the bridge scenario, the array of corners and paths opens up flanking attempts and gaps in the enemy line. Vision gaps are somewhat more common in complex city layouts. Any section that pushes up too fast may be exposing their flank by moving past a side corridor that connects to the enemy backfield.  Teams that have a better awareness of the city's layout are at an advantage, being able to quickly get to the most advantageous positions in the maneuver phase of the battle.

Regardless of what type of choke point you encounter, your goal is to maintain a strong line and win the battle of attrition.  Cautious fighting can pay off, but you still need to inflict casualties to the enemy.  At some point, you may be forced to have your line be aggressive and push up into the fight, accepting that you may lose some fighters.  As long as your team works together and keeps in a tight formation, you should be able to keep the pressure on and start winning the fight.  Just be mindful of safety, of yourself and anyone else that is legged or dead in the middle.

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