Sunday, June 29, 2014

Archer vs guy with bow

This is in no way meant to point fingers at any particular archers. This is in no way intended to be a guide on how to shoot arrows. I'm not much of an archer, so this is largely taken from the viewpoint of "guy getting shot at, all the time".

People complain about archers, a lot. Archers complain about people, a lot. The combination of miscommunication, flawed perspective, and getting shot in the face have lead to countless disagreements and heated discussions. As a herald, I've often been forced to spend too much time monitoring archers and their targets to keep bad calls and poor hit taking from ruining otherwise good fighting.

But, "archers aren't people", it must be entirely their fault. Some blame, does in deed, land squarely on the shoulders of "guy with bow". More on him later. However, people seem to get all bent out of shape about bad calls or getting shot. I'm sure I've been upset plenty of times about poor calls, but I try not to let it ruin a day of fighting. If I know for sure a call was bad (like hit arm clean, and they called leg), I might mention it to the archer after he fight. This isn't meant as a complaint, but as a gentle reminder to watch their shots closely. The same idea behind asking someone of a shot I threw landed or not if I think I hit them. Open, calm communication.

I did mention "guy with bow". These are people that give good (and unskilled) archers the bad name. We've all seen it. Bow strung incorrectly, arrows that barely pass, calls almost every shot wrong. Then there are good archers, people that rarely have complaints against them, other than maybe from being too good at killing someone that day. Rather than go through a list of what "guy with bow" does wrong, lets look at what good archers do right.

1) Knows the rules. Yes, there are plenty of people with bows that haven't read the Book of War.

2) Plays safe. Half draws, even outside of the distance, especially when rushed. Stops fighting if the bow or arrows cause an unsafe situation.

3) Calls off questionable hits. "Nothing". If they aren't sure, they don't want you to take the hit.

4) Gives target benefit of the doubt. Shots on the borderline are left up to the target's discretion, as long as they took the hit.

5) Avoids full draw face shots. Still will shoot you in the face, but doesn't do a full draw at the minimum distance allowed.

6) Watches their shots until they hit. Many archers get caught up pulling out their next arrow rather than watching the last one hit.

7) Calls hit zones, not "dead". Saying dead could mean the archer is dead or the target.

There are, of course, several factors that separate a good archer from an unskilled one, but that's better left to the archers to teach. What separates an unskilled archer from a "guy with a bow" is not being a detriment to fighting and not creating a negative environment.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Theory Thursday: Strategies of WAR (the event)

Today we are going to take a look at a large scale battle as a case study. War is a great event near Indy, you should check it out if you get a chance. For the entire day, two teams battle it out to control 5 objectives in two rounds of regen battles. Holding the objectives gives you points based on time held that vary by the type of objective, the enemy castle being worth the most points and your own being worth the least. Each team has a mobile respawn point, or two, called Valkyries. They have a limited supply of revives before they have to return to base to recharge.

The basic layout of WAR.  Not quite to scale.  Note that neither team starts with
an objective.  The castles are just marked for clarity.

Given the terrain and objectives, the fighting is a long series of fights over choke points. Support weapons and good leadership are essential for winning this type of fighting. Of course, thanks to the scale of the engagement, communication between areas is spotty, at best. Objectives may fall with little notice.

The path near the lake is usually a hotspot of fighting, given that it is nearly the midpoint between both respawn points. The junction between this path and the dry riverbed, in particular, is often highly contested. Usually, whichever team has managed to take the side path has a slight advantage, allowing them to attack from an extra wide front and push the enemy back. For the forest side, losing here can be disastrous, allowing the enemy to block off the main route out of their base.

Typical engagement.  Both teams fight over the main choke points.  Blue team
started on the plains, giving them a little easier access to the lake and riverbed objectives.

There are, of course, other paths the forest team can take, one of which will put a force directly behind the fight at the junction, and another that leads out to an objective. This really highlights the importance of leadership and battlefield awareness. Seeing the enemy coming and responding quickly prevents them from gaining too much extra advantage. The flanking route can be shut down by a small force, and the other objective can be held with a few reinforcements. If the forest side pushes too heavily through the woods, rather than the path, the main attack has a good chance of getting to their castle.

If the lake path battle shifts in favor of the forest team, the dry river bed and lake objectives become new choke points. The plains team ends up having to split their forces and can't easily shift reinforcements from one to the other. However, if they break the enemy on one path, they have an easy shot at the other path's flank.

Red team pushes out of the junction, hoping to make ground on the river
bed and lake objectives.  they go pure defensive on the woods objective.

If the red team fails to hold out on both flanks,
they are in danger of losing the fight all together.

Should either team reach the enemy castle, they are often going to be forced to fight on two fronts, the castle entrance and the nearby respawn point. This is especially dangerous of the enemy has a Valkyrie stationed in the castle as well. If the attack can't push into the castle quickly, it will eventually be overrun by respawns as its own numbers dwindle.

Blue team made it to the enemy castle, but now has to deal with all those
respawns.  Looks like they'll have to play it safe and hope to get reinforced.

Winning the castle fight is rough and time consuming.  If the rear of the force (supply line, essentially) is secure, Valkyries and reinforcements can make from the respawn point it to help keep the fight going.  It seems that fighting cautiously and using the few respawns carefully is a key to success.  Should then enemy Valkyrie nearby run out of respawns, that is the moment to put pressure on the castle and hope to take it.

Once inside the enemy castle, holding it is a matter of holding a single choke point for as long as you can keep respawns flowing.  If you are extremely lucky, and have taken their castle while holding the path to their respawn point, you can more easily reinforce the area and keep them at bay.  Just be sure to monitor other points for forces funneling around the lake through the woods.

In our example, blue team's castle is a little harder to attack.  It is very difficult to cut off its reinforcements from their starting point because the open area allows them to easily flank a group.  This means that red team would need to spread out and bring many more people to act as a rearguard for their attack.  If your group isn't good at maintaining a strong, spaced out line, you will have a hard time here.  That's why the teams switching sides between the two rounds can be extremely important.

If you aren't sure what to do, make sure you are fighting over a point or keeping the enemy away from them.  There is no sense fighting over a piece of woods near their base if they hold all the other points.  Try to avoid getting stuck in one area.  If you get bogged down, look for alternative routes and easier targets.  Sometimes, changing where you attack will draw a larger force than the enemy can afford to send.  For example, this post talks about a pair of people attacking a base by themselves, but managing to draw a sizeable force to deal with them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tactics Spotlight: Shock Trooper Offense

Shock trooper is a term I throw around pretty loosely. The truth is, shock troopers can fill whatever role their team needs, and usually play a large part in causing or stopping decisive action. Today's tactical spotlight looks at a few things that shock troops do on the offensive.  Remember, fortune favors the bold! 

Minor breakthroughs are a pretty common goal for them. With a bit of armor and a plan, they aggressively force their way through weak points and gaps. One of the more common targets is polearms, rushing in to disable the wielder and do as much damage to the formation as possible. If their team follows up the charge, it may even lead to a major breakthrough.

Other than just happening to be on the line, in the thick of fighting, shock troopers sometimes act as an advance force for their team, strafing the enemy line and picking off targets of opportunity during the maneuver phase. They accomplish this by using the space between the lines to maneuver, relying on vision gaps to let them get a few shots off before being noticed.

Should the enemy line have a sufficient weak point or gap, the strafing trooper can easily attack it and attempt to break through. Succeeding at this point buys them a chance to take out key targets and archers before their team even has to fight them. However, once the gap is exploited, it will often force them to redress the ranks. Therefore, it is difficult for such a maneuver to gain the team much of an advantage unless the trooper is extremely successful at killing their numbers or being a sufficient distraction.

Top: the armored up knight strafes the line, sacrificing armor to get kills and limbs.  He uses the vision gaps to pick his targets.
Bottom: While strafing the line, he notices a gap, sacrificing most of his remaining armor to push through and start killing the enemy backfield.

Shock troopers can also be found causing and exploiting gaps during the battle itself. Often, it requires two or more working together. One trooper engages the enemy next to a gap, pinning them in place and allowing the other trooper to slip past unopposed. This is also a common tactic seen on the flank when one side has more flankers than the other.

A group of shock troopers has great potential to wreak havoc on a line, especially if each if them is capable of holding their own behind enemy lines. In this instance, a common practice is to follow each other through a gap, using the first one as a distraction to cover the others on their way in. Once through, they split up and work to deal as much damage as possible.

The pair of knights notice the spacing gap in front of them.  The left knight pushes in on the enemy knight and keeps him preoccupied, allowing the right knight to push around, through the gap.  Notice the two fighters to the left of the action, they are going to have to fight defensively or be overrun.

Even in the event they can't group up, a pair of shock troopers can strafe the line on opposite directions, crossing paths midfield. This creates a situation where vision gaps get created as people turn to defend against one shock trooper only to be cut down by the other. This indirect teamwork still relies on each person's ability to attack and defend on the move.

Shock troop offense is usually a high risk, medium-high reward.  In order to gain the most benefit, the rest of the line has to work off of any gaps or weakness the shock troopers create.  They also need to keep in mind that they may be left on the defensive while the shock troops focus on killing the other enemy flank.  Communication and situational awareness will also help the team take advantage of a minor breakthrough, possibly even rolling through a gap in force.

I'll talk more about how to stop shock troopers and defensive tactics they use a little next week.  Until then, good luck and good hunting.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Battle of Fort Frost

The following is based on a true story. Names and locations have been altered or omitted out of respect for the dead. Due to the graphic nature of this story, reader discretion is advised.

Fort Frost, named after one of its chief architects, rested along the Suydam river where it could protect the only passable ford for miles.  Channeled around the front of the fort, a branch of the river served as a moat against frontal assaults, with only a drawbridge and small footbridge allowing anyone to enter the fort proper.  Traders and travelers could make use of the shallow fords to cross both branches, but the road passed directly under the watchful eye of one wall of the fort's defenses and a small redoubt tower.

War would find the fort, its position too valuable to be squandered easily or ignored.  The summer heat still lingered during the early parts of fall that year, prompting an attack near the beginning of October.   Fortunate, for the defenders, the harvest feast had drawn in a great deal of local soldiers and knights from their campaigns elsewhere.  They would be well prepared.

Word had spread about the army marching towards the fort, giving them time to prepare a few defenses along the ford.  The drawbridge, like much of the fort, had fallen into disrepair and could not be shut.  They would have to fight hard from the beginning in order to hold out.  Without the gate, they decided to position their forces to each crossing, hoping to be able to defend the bottlenecks from whatever the enemy had in store for them.  The outer defenses that had been placed across the moat would have to be abandoned, as there would not be enough men to hold them and secure the fort.

It was after midday when the enemy approached.  Cloudless skies and the sunny morning had left the humid air at a sweltering temperature across the barren plain to the West.  The enemy approached en masse, carrying no siege equipment and without cavalry; they would find no need of either.  They pushed up into the hail of arrows coming from the fort under cover of a shield formation until they reached the outer defenses.  What had once been planned as the first layer of defense was quickly repurposed by the attackers to protect themselves from arrows and to station archers of their own.

Defenders of the fort try to hold ground near the ford.
Photo by: Ellie Apland

Soon the battle raged across all three crossings.  The attackers found the two bridges to be well guarded.  A central redan tower jutted out into the moat, allowing the defenders to rain arrows down from the sides of both bridges as well as from the main wall.  Palisades had a similar effect in guarding the flanks of the ford, making any attempt to cross a dangerous affair.

The ford was the first to fall. The outer palisades had given them cover from the bulk of the fort's arrow fire, allowing them to mass troops there unopposed. A great blood price had been paid for the crossing, but the attackers had pushed back the defenders to the side gate of the fort. A small band of them skirted past the fort and looked for another way in. They would find the rear sally port lightly defended, only a few guards and one older knight.

Fort Frost at the height of the battle.
With the attacks at the bridges and side gate, this small battle would prove decisive, the victor having free reign to attack the enemy rearguard. The attackers formed up and advanced on the back gate. They expected to easily push through and swarm the fort.

The attackers were unprepared for the ferocity the knight had on the defense. He strode out, by himself, leaving his men to guard the gate. Outnumbered, he fought more as a predator than cornered animal. He strafed back and forth across their line, herding them more than fighting. Anyone who strayed from the line was cut down with a growl. He knew, from his many years of experience, that he only needed to buy time for his allies to crush the rest of the attack.

Even with his skill and determination, it was inevitable that the attackers would land a blow here and there.  The first hit him squarely on the left greave.  It would have been enough to break a man's leg, but it barely slowed him down, his armor absorbing the hit without much complaint.  He returned the strike in kind, cutting into his attacker's arm with a quick slash.  That man would never be able to hold a sword in his right hand again.

The Knight strafed the line, back and forth, keeping the enemy at bay.

He strafed the opposite direction, trading blows with a man towards the middle of the formation.  His bracer was left dented and nearly falling off from the damage, but he managed to land a solid strike to the armpit in return, just above the armor.  The blood flowed easily, covering the victim as he dropped out of formation.

Another swing clanged off of his right greave as one of them rushed in to try to stop his maneuvering.  Undaunted by the charge, he planted his foot squarely in the middle of his attacker's shield.  The sudden impact sent the man reeling, and easy prey for the knight.

As the din of battle subsided around the front and side of the fort, reinforcements arrived to bolster the rear gate's defenses.  They found the knight, still holding his ground against the remnants of the attackers.  The pile of dead surrounding the knight was a testament to his fury.  He took little notice of his allies and continued to press the attack until each and every one of this enemies was either dead or fleeing.

The immense effort finally catching up with him as the adrenaline faded, the knight sunk to the ground, fighting to fill his lungs with breath.  Cheers of victory reached his ears from men who would never know of his role in saving their lives.  Those that witnessed it would drink in his honor that night.

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Basics of Footwork

This is a quick guide to footwork and range control.  I'm sure I could go into greater detail, but this covers most of the basics.  Feel free to comment if I've missed something.

Footwork is a difficult topic to teach, especially to new fighters.  They have far more pressing matters on their mind, like keeping a good guard and swinging.  Most new guys, therefore, end up with a quick and dirty intro to footwork that amounts to mostly how to position their feet in static defense.  This ends up being a lesson in stance, more than footwork.

Proper footwork is far more about dynamic scenarios, ie. how to move and position yourself and your opponent to gain an advantage in the fight.  Any time you advance or withdraw from the enemy, you are using footwork to engage in the "range game".  By shifting around your opponent along a diagonal, you change the angle of both your defense and theirs.  These two concepts combine to make footwork one of the most essential keys to both attack and defense.


Most lessons start with the basics of stance, positioning your feet about shoulder width apart with one foot more forward than the other.  The goal is to give you a good, solid base while angling much of your body away from the enemy, reducing the area they can target.  Which foot is forward is more of a matter of preference and situation.  Shield foot forward, combined with good shield work, can prove extremely good at fighting on the defensive from multiple angles.  It draws your shield to cover more of your sword side and can be particularly effective at cutting off certain angles to protect against spears.  Sword foot forward offers a little faster attack because your sword will be closer to the target, but requires greater skill in sword blocking and counters to be at its most effective. This is why sword foot forward is often used by a majority of experienced fighters for most situations.

Now, of course, shifting your weight to your rear leg allows you to move your front leg quickly.  This is usually advised when fighting in a more static situation, like in the middle of a line fight.  However, as we begin to move and shift in a more dynamic situation, it is far better to keep your weight more evenly distributed.  You need to be able to shift directions quickly.  Each time you place too much weight on one foot or another, you lock it in place for a moment. Skilled opponents will wait for you to plant your foot before they swing at your leg, making it nearly impossible for you to dodge.

When advancing in the opponents range, slide in your current stance unless you have a reason to change position.  If you step normally, you will end up  changing the angle of your defense and planting one foot as you walk.  Changing your stance while in the opponents range has a similar effect. If your opponent's sword is free, they'll likely be able to take your leg with ease in either case.


"The range game" is a pretty broad topic, but there are three main ranges you should concern yourself with when it comes to footwork.  The worst range to be in is when your opponent is the only one close enough to swing.  This makes you extremely vulnerable.  Ideally, you need to either be out of their range or in your own range.  Note, that the if you can swing, your opponent may also be in range.

While approaching the enemy, try to maintain your defenses until you have something to swing at.  There is little use in having solid footwork if you completely forget to keep your shield up.  If you have a shorter weapon than your opponent, you will have to weather a few swings on your way in.

Now, if you are trying to maintain a certain range, you need to match and counter your opponent in footwork in order to keep them where you want them to be.  If they step towards you to reduce range to their preference, slide back.  If they try to retreat out of your preferred range, slide up.  Again, maintain your defense either way.

Most people learn to advance and retreat in line with their opponent.  By adding in angles to the mix, you can gain even greater advantage in range.  If you step back and to the side away from their sword, you drastically increase the range from their weapon with the same amount of motion.  On the advance, you can advance towards their shield side, angling past them, in order to keep your shield in the way of most of their attacks.  Note that two fighters with the same handedness cause angles to offer the same benefits and drawbacks to the other fighter.  If you advance towards the opponent's sword arm, you open up an angle for both of you to attack.

When it comes to targeting different areas, footwork can change what is open to you.  Bending at the knees lowers your arm, bringing your sword closer to low targets.  Stepping and bending your knees can change from being completely out of range to being able to target a leg easily.  Much the same can be said for advancing at an angle, bringing you closer to strike at an arm.

One trick some veteran fighters use is to advance in a spiral, slowly closing the range as they circle.  This allows them to sometimes catch an opponent off guard when they fail to notice that the range has changed.  This is most commonly used in a one on one fight or when an experienced fighter is outnumbered.


When pushing in on an opponent, part of your goal is to force them to take a static defense.  If you can manage to get their feet planted, their legs become easy targets and they have little they can do to out maneuver you.  Part of how I manage to do this is to change the angle of my advance, starting with one side, then changing to push past them on the other side.  This does leave one of my legs somewhat vulnerable as I have to shift my weight from one direction to the other, but most opponents will focus on keeping their defenses since I am coming into range to swing.

When shifting to the opposite angle, the opponent is likely to have planted their defense to the first angle, and now have to shift their weight to rotate the opposite way.  This makes it very difficult for them to get their feet and torso repositioned.  As I shift to the new direction, I often change stance such that my outside leg is the lead leg.  This forces my defenses to angle towards the opponent as I move past.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Battlefield Terminology

I always find myself talking about communication and its important role on the battlefield.  However, due to the widespread nature of the sport and general lack of formal training on the matter, I thought it might be a good idea to go over some of the terms I hear and use on the field.  There will likely be a large difference in terms from realm to realm and unit to unit, but the core principles are of each phrase probably has an equivalent in your area.

"HOLD" --  Yeah, I know, everyone should know it, but it never hurts to remind everyone that the call of a hold is a very important safety measure.  When someone is possibly injured, someone calls a hold and everyone within earshot on the field stops fighting and takes a knee, and then repeats "HOLD".

"HOLD KEEP THE LINE" --  Never say "hold the line", see above.  This is a call for a section of the line to stop falling back and close up any gaps. 

"MIND THE GAP" -- You'll hear this call usually from someone in the middle or next to a spacing gap.  They are trying to get reinforcements to spread out to cover the distance.

"LEFT SIDE IS FOLDING" -- The left side of your line is getting crushed and rolled around.  See this post all about the subject.

"HURRY UP RIGHT SIDE" -- The left side is in trouble and is forced into fighting defensive, they need the opposite end of the line to push (see below) and make something happen.

"PUSH" -- Contrary to some views, this doesn't mean rush in with reckless abandon. Pushing is stepping up into range and swinging, with a slow, determined pace.  You need to force action by moving the whole section into the fight, rather than maintaining the stalemate.

"PUSH THROUGH" -- Rather than just pushing up to the line, they see an opportunity to force some fighters through a gap. A couple of people may not make it, but you may be able to cause a minor/major breakthrough.

"CHARGE!!!" -- Still, not quite recklessly, but force your way through their lines and try to take a bunch of them with you.  If you survive, you'll be in their backfield or have all of them dead.  See this post for a little more info.

"ROLL RIGHT" -- This is a flanking maneuver.  They want you to circle around the flank and try to fold it back, ie. rolling the flank.

"SLIDE/SHIFT RIGHT" -- Often used to fix spacing gaps, they just want you to shift down the line without changing the distance to the enemy.

"GAP LEFT" -- This is more likely letting you know there is a gap in the enemy line that can be exploited.  If the person yelling this is engaged with a target, they might be suggesting you go through while they keep the gap open.

"SPEAR RIGHT" -- There is a spear moving in from your right, prepare to block about 5 seconds ago.

"STAB/LOOK LEFT" --  This is a common phrase I use to let my support know there are open targets on my side that they may not be able to see around me.  This is usually a vision gap or staggered gap they could exploit in the enemy line.

"WATCH RIGHT" --  An enemy has stepped into a good position a step or two out of range to your right.  They could possibly kill you in a matter of a few seconds...or less.

"BEHIND" -- Enemies are in your backfield, might want to look behind you or even block your back.

"[your name here], BEHIND" -- Someone doesn't like you and is about to backstab you, definitely back block and hope for the best.

"ARROW UP" -- An archer has their bow up and at least partially drawn an arrow.

"ARROW/JAVELIN" -- Projectile is airborne. Look to block or cover. Stupid archers...

"I CALL YOU OUT" -- They want an honor duel, one on one without interference. Squires are generally obliged to accept when called out by a knight.

"RED, DOUBLE,REDREDRED" -- I have a glaive and I'm still alive! Read this post to see what you can do to help.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Supporting Your Support

Support weapons come in all shapes and sizes, from small two-handers and short spears to massive 12' glaives and archers; and anything in between. Regardless of the form your support comes from, it usually doesn't come equipped with its own shield and has some weaknesses of its own. While a spear working alone can cause some damage, it is very vulnerable to being rushed or shot without someone to guard it. Today's post is all about how to be that shield and work with support weapons.

I can never stress the importance of communication enough. The support user should be directing you to move up or shift as needed to cover where they plan to strike or if they are switching sides. You need to call out threats and targets so they can react to the broader situation, rather than focusing too much on one area. Because the support weapon will be doing most of the offense, it is your job to watch for dangers like fighting into a kill pocket or staggered gap and communicating the danger to your support.

The first targets to watch out for are archers and javelins. Your support should be trying to keep you between them and most of the missiles, but you still need to watch them and block any that come into range of your shield. Even if you aren't sure the arrow would hit your support, still try to get the block to be safe. During most of the fight, try to keep your eyes on the archers and use your peripheral vision to keep watch the line. Many archers look at their target before even putting nock to string. Use this fact to your advantage as you scan back and forth across the line.

Notice I'm watching for arrows as my support is looking for targets in front of me.  The bulk of the fighting is to the right of frame, leaving the glaive well protected from archers.
Original Photo by: Steve Lies.

Polearms, if not already engaged at the start of the fight, will often be attacking from the sides. You may well be their first target if they catch you off guard. That is why it is essential to keep watch of your surroundings. Either of you should call out incoming polearms as soon as you spot them. Use your sword to deflect stabs or put your shield in the way. You support will also be trying to keep the enemy off line to reduce the chances of either of you getting hit. If you have armor, keep it angled as best you can to cut off easy kills. This will draw the enemy closer to use a two handed stab or strike, opening them up to your support.

Once the enemy support weapons are dealt with, the enemy will be forced to either withdraw or act. The most common response is to back up to form a kill pocket, but often times a single person will rush in to try disabling the support weapon. Their rush is directed at the support, not you. If you can, side step into the rush to cut off the approach and shield check them, which buys your support time to back up. If they manage to get past you, swing as they pass. If you can take out their weapon arm or kill them, your support should be safe. The person next to you in line should also have a free swing or two in order to ensure the rusher dies.

The one in the middle is doing what he should do, keeping himself in the way of the rusher.
Original Photo By: Ellie Apland

Although much of what I have listed above is purely defensive, you do gain a few offensive options. Spears, in particular, often cause the enemy to lower their guard to protect against low stabs. This leaves shots towards shield side shoulders wide open, especially if you have a longer sword. Don't be afraid to take these opportunities if you can do so safely. Even if they raise their guard to block, you are reopening the low side for your support. When you aren't the one directly guarding the support, you can try to swing in such a way as to pull the enemy defenses your way and open for the support.

As long as you and your support communicate and work off of each other, you will find far more success. It doesn't matter which person is getting the kills, as long as the enemy is being cut down. I'll probably write about how to be a good support in a future post, but the core principles of communication and teamwork are the same as I've discussed here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


This post only looks at one case of outnumbering, but it is a pretty common scenario. I think I'll do a part two and look at some others.

Your team is winning, the line battle is already won. Just one legged knight to deal with to win the day. You and four of your friends surround him, waiting to strike. You circle like vultures on a corpse, then it happens. One of you strayed too close, and is cut down. The other four push in as the knight spins and strikes, furiously clinging to life like a cornered animal. The moment passes, and the five of you are dead.

Surrounded, but not quite dead yet.
Five to one odds should have given you an advantage, how did you lose? Maybe the knight read last week's post about how to fight outnumbered, not that it would have helped too much in this case. More likely, the five of you, despite moving in together, weren't working together. Each fighter waiting to swing when the knight's back is exposed, only to be blocked by a well timed and practiced back block or spin. Because each of you was fighting with the goal of waiting for an opening, the more experienced fighter going to use that as bait to get you out of position.

Surrounding someone is sort of standard practice. Makes sense, a fighter can only see around half of his surroundings at a time, and can really only block two sides at any given time. The problem becomes that now, each of you is spaced out, and can quickly become vulnerable to attack without having someone in reach to help out. That is assuming all of you stay out of range until there is an opening.

There are a few options for winning a fight like this. The first is simply to all push in and swing. Note that head level swings, cross shots, and high wraps have an extra chance to hit someone in the head, especially someone who is legged, spinning, and being hit from three more directions. Try placing shots from the side, maybe around 45 degrees. Going vertical will probably be a headshot and going horizontal has a good chance to skip off of a shield into the face.

If each person steps in and swings in a safe way, regardless of how open the shot is, one or two are likely to make it through. From the front, slot or cross towards their arm, they are likely to back block with their shield and expose this area. A swing to the shield, therefore may easily turn into a face shot here, as they will be prone to spin into it. The two on the sides should swing for either an arm or the good leg. The one behind him should swing for the legs, because a back block will stop most other options.

The key is to SWING. Too many fights are lost because no one swung a sword, other than the guy who is outnumbered. I have seen fighters take down whole sections of a line without ever being swung at, when all it would take is one shot to have stopped them. I am, of course, not saying you should charge in and flail your sword about, just that you should be sure to take the chance and put a good, solid strike towards your opponent.

Of course, that is a great plan, until your quarry begins to move towards one side of the circle or the other. Feel free to act as the bait and slow up a little, or even back up, if the knight pushes your way. Hopefully your teammates will have a chance to catch up and all swing while he's fighting you.

The other option is to work in pairs, rather than spreading out. This means that the knight will have to fight outnumbered in either direction, rather than picking off one person at a time. In our five person example, the fifth fighter can either group up with one pair or roam free. If he chooses to go his own way, his goal is to stay alive and be a distraction. If he strays too close, he's the easiest and most likely target.

With the paired approach, each group should fight somewhat defensive as they move in, trying to ensure one or the other has a block for incoming swings. The most common advice is to attack from a 90 degree angle from each other. That way, one pair is less likely to be fighting without support. Each pair can position themselves so that one of them is to the outside, for a better angle of attack.

Being a huge fan of glaives, I feel I have to mention the other option, let support weapons do the work. Post up just out of range (accounting for a lunge) and let the spear or glaive fight those you outnumber. If they decide to rush, put yourself between them and the support weapon. Stay safe and guarded and work off of whatever openings are available. Next week, I'll cover a bit more about working with support weapons, but it seemed like it was worth mentioning here.

Regardless of the strategy, stay together, work with your team, and communicate. Swing, swing, swing. Safely. And don't assume that wide open back will stay that way.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Decisive Action: Overrun

This post might need graphics, I may add them later.

Overruns are a pretty rare thing in Belegarth. Most attempts end up meeting a line that is too well prepared, or the charge is too disorganized to have much effect. Armageddon gave me a few opportunities to witness and participate in a number of full on charges. Since it isn't common, now seemed like a good time to jot down some thoughts.

The most common charge, beyond a single person rushing, is a section trying to overrun the enemy. Big shields, lots of armor, and a bit of coordination can make it fairly effective. Even if they only reach a stalemate, there is good potential to get a few people through the line towards those pesky archers. I've seen it work here and there, but the risk is pretty high. If the sectional charge fails and suffers high casualties, their line ends up having too few numbers to hold back the remaining enemies. It can also cause a staggered gap next to the rushers, allowing someone to get behind your line.

The truly rare sight is the entire line/unit/realm charging head first into the enemy. Groups with less armor and experience tend to get cut down before doing too much damage. Even when they have much greater numbers, a more experienced group will do a decent job of countering them through maneuvers and good fighting.

So how is this ever going to be a successful strategy? Well, it seems to me that coordination is the main factor. Few groups have the cohesion to rally behind orders quickly enough to avoid being strung out here. Section charges are often intended to be more of a wedge, but your whole line can't do that without essentially allowing the enemy to form a kill pocket around your charge. As long as everyone pushes together and keeps a strait line, you'll see much more success.

Timing, as it so often is in this sport, is essential. Starting the charge too early in the maneuver phase of the battle gives the enemy time to change position and react to the charge. Too late and the lines have already reached the stalemate phase and your charge has less momentum. There isn't really an exact moment that is best, other than perhaps just before they raise their guards,just before reaching the stalemate phase.

If everything goes to plan, and the line reaches the front at the same time, it is up to each individual to try to push through and kill what they can. Part of the trick is making sure you are guarding your side with your shield, at least once you are inside the tip of their spears. Focus on quick kills and weapon arms. The more damage you cause, the less risk to you and the rest of your line.

Defending against this type of charge is a pretty broad topic. Plenty of options. You could always just charge them and have mass chaos in the middle. But really what beats a charge is maneuvering. Shifting the whole line to one side or backing away can cause the enemy to stagger and lose their punch. Thinning the middle while they fight defensively and pressing the flanks will likely get the enemy stuck in a kill pocket or even fully enveloped.

I've also seen a few sacrifice themselves to stifle the charge. By a handful of people charging in, the enemy has to slow down and deal with them, allowing the friendly line to step up and line fight, rather than suffer the full charge. With any luck, those that pushed in will stay alive long enough for their team to come to the rescue.

Moral of the story, trying to overrun the enemy is fun, but has a good deal of risk. Sometimes it is necessary, like when trying to avoid fighting two groups by pushing through one of them. Also, makes for great video.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Post Mortem: Armageddon 2014

Yet another oppressively hot, humid year at Geddon. I had a great time and am officially exhausted. Always a good sign. Since I just got back into town, I thought I'd write down a few thoughts about how the event went. Remember, none of this is meant as a jab at anyone. These are just observations to keep in mind for the next year.

Organization. This year seemed less organized than normal, not sure why. Troll was good, seemed to run smoothly, and as far as I could tell, it was all scheduled and taken care of. There seemed to be some confusion here or there about who was head herald and weapons checker. This happens. We really need to advertise these things (at troll perhaps) so people know who to talk to about their concerns. The disorganized feeling may have just been from not having personally been involved with the planning and execution of the event.

Weapons check. Same problems as always at check. Any inconsistencies cause people to grumble. Changes in checkers or head checker can alter the standard from one day to the next. This is something that the National Marshal Certification should help alleviate much of this problem, long term anyway. Roping off the area was a great idea and worked way better than cones. Overall, it seemed to run smoother than at Spring Wars.

Heralding. Seemed kind of light on heralds, but the field wasn't too large for them to handle, except maybe for unit or realm battles. I didn't personally see too many problems, only a few complaints about archer calls (which heralds were on top of). One note for the site, if used next year, need something to delineate hard edges of the world. Hay bales or marking paint would do just fine. Heralds had to spend a disproportionately large amount of time trying to enforce boundaries that weren't obvious.

Scheduling. Two endurance trials and several kingdoms battles all squeezed into Saturday. Of course, two of my friends were getting knighted, congratulations. It was just unfortunate there wasn't an easy way to work then in better. I suggested they raced through the trials, but no one seemed to go for it. They were, however, scheduled more off of peak fighting timed. On the bright side, with so many different things pulling fighters from the main field, most people seemed to find something to do. Weapons check was probably opened longer than necessary, didn't give people a reason to hurry to check.

Feast. I didn't stick around for Saturday's feast, so I can't speak on how it went or the timing. I do know it didn't interrupt fighting, which is good. I didn't eat Friday's feast, just wasn't something I wanted. I didn't hear any complaints, so it must have went relatively smooth. I don't remember if anyone actually announced it was being served. I may have just missed it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Guilds of Belegarth

Finding someone to teach you how to fight in Belegarth is rarely hard. Long standing knightly lineages have spread a wealth of knowledge across the country. Units and realms have worked to train their members and practice martial skills.

But what if you want to learn to sew? Or how to run an event? Or you have a skill you want to improve on that isn't fighting? For a long time, you'd have to find someone else that had that skill and hope they had an answer. Unlike fighting, where we now have at least a little structure to training, crafting and service have been lacking. The fact is, Belegrim need a place to grow and develop, where experts are easy to find and learn from.

That was where the idea of the Guilds of Belegarth was born. Under the mentorship of its members, Belegrim could not only learn a new skill, but eventually master it. Those masters, in turn, could be a mentor for others to follow.

At present, there are two guilds. The Artificer Guild focuses on all things crafting, from sewing and leather working to brewing amd weapons crafting. The Seneschal Guild is about all types of service, whether it is running events or serving the local realm. They are both open to anyone to join.

In order to reach the rank of Master and join one of the councils, members must be taken on as an Apprentice by a Mentor in a system not unlike many of the Knight/Squire systems throughout Belegarth. The idea being to give each Apprentice a guide along their path to reaching the rank of Master.

Sound like something you want to be involved with? Find us on Facebook or talk to a member in person. Tell your friends.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Battle of Lakepoint

The following is based on a true story. Names and locations have been altered or omitted out of respect for the dead. Due to the graphic nature of this story, reader discretion is advised.

War had settled into the lands to the East. Winter neared, and the harvest from the surrounding farmland was vital to surviving the harsh cold months. Armies had fought over the lands for years, it was only natural that eventually they local warlords would reach out to their foreign allies for aid.

The Kingdom of Numenor answered their allies calls, dispatching a sizeable force of fighters seeking to prove themselves on the battlefield. The skill and experience of this force was enough to sway any battle in their favor. The strong warrior traditions of their culture had made them ideally suited to the intense combat they would soon find in the fields and forests.

Tales of valor and victory abounded. Each Numenorian could recount some deed witnessed or committed that had proved their martial prowess. One such tale is of the Battle for Lakepoint, a small garrison that cast its influence across the most vital supply route through the area.

The icy hand of winter had already swept across the fields, leaving behind a chill in the air and ice on the breath. Larger forces had become bogged down in the thawing mid left by the morning rain and ice storm. The two found themselves alone, separated from their army, and behind enemy lines.

The squire had found his knight, outnumbered by a patrol, along the supply route. The two dispatched the undisciplined fighters in short order. Their years of fighting side by side had made their ability to work with each other effortless.

They took a moment to gauge their surroundings, finding themselves only a short distance from the garrison at Lakepoint. With the main army well engaged with their own forces, the fort would be lightly guarded. If the two of them could dispatch the defenders, it would force the enemy to send reinforcements.

They approached the garrison, and kept a watchful eye on the guards. Only a handful for each of them to kill. The knight put on a grin. His squire, knowing the intent, nodded in agreement. The two set off to the fort.

Surprise had seen them into the front gate unimpeded. The two fought as they usually did, taking turns as attacker as the other guarded them. The squire cut them down with sweeps of his glaive as the knight prevented any of the enemy from closing in. In turn, the squire applied pressure to one side as the knight pushed forward and hacked apart the other.

At first, the fight seemed much in their favor, the sentinels had been woefully unprepared for an attack. But then, the full force of the garrison returned as a pair of patrols began filing in. The number of enemies had easily tripled since their attack began. Most men would have considered surrender at such odds, but the pair fought on, renewed by the increasing challenge.

The knight and his squire should have died that day. Each had taken several blows that would have easily killed a man, despite their armor. Just as the enemy believed they had delivered a deathblow, the bloodied fighter would let loose a flurry of blows in return. It was as though the gods themselves had deemed their cause important enough to stave off death and bless them with an angel to watch over them.

A stream of blood trickled from the fort into the lake. The pair of warriors had cut down the garrison to the last man. They were both covered in blood, their own and the enemies. Battered and bruised underneath their armor, they rested, objective secure, and waited. The blood and bodies had been enough to keep the next patrol at bay, but word would soon enough reach their masters.

Fresh reinforcements arrived as soon as they could be mustered from the enemy castle. The army marched down the supply road directly for the fort. The knight put on his usual grin. His squire shook his head and they both laughed. They set off into the woods.