Sunday, September 6, 2015

Spear Formations

Whoo, it sure is dusty in here.  Been a while since I put out a post.  So, of course, why not put out a nice, wordy bit that was supposed to be published months ago.

Last time we looked at Sotahuuto, which was a good sample of spear formations we can see on a larger fighting field.  For Belegarth, a few of these are highly ineffective, due to the limitations on one-handed stabs versus armor and the rules for sufficient force.  However, I'd like to go ahead and include those types of formations here for the sake of completeness.  Hopefully people that fight in other sports can find some value in my evaluation of those formations that don't really make sense for Belegarth.

For starters, what do I mean by "formation"?  While one spear often forms up with a shield man, this isn't necessarily a formation.  This is meant to be more of a big picture perspective, what a whole group of spears and shields working as a unit might attempt.  Learning to combat these well-organized teams of spears will make fighting against the sort of ad-hoc groupings we see on a typical Belegarth field a little easier.  Below you'll find my analysis of strengths and weaknesses of each type.  I've given each one a name of my own design, roughly based on historical terms.

Types of Spear Formations:


The ad-hoc formation is your typical mismatched group of fighters with the occasional spear or support weapon.

  • Spears can operate independently and adjust position easily
  • Easy for spears to deploy after fighting starts, boosting their effectiveness
  • The line isn't dependent on the spears and can move freely
  • Less coordination between spearmen
  • Spearmen often have to rely on random shieldmen
  • Spearmen must look after their own safety, because the formation isn't geared to protect them
How to Kill It:
  • Avoid the spears and push elsewhere
  • Kill pocket--try to force individual spears into a bad position and counter them with spears from the flanks

A phalanx is a unit consisting of nothing but spears, preferably very long spears (15' or so).  By arranging themselves in tightly packed ranks and files, they are able to concentrate their offense.  These are exceptionally rare in Belegarth (maybe almost never), but we did see one group in the video from Sotahuuto attempt it.

  • Very concentrated offense
  • Long range versus most other fighters
  • Overlapping spears help defend against rushers
  • No/limited defense against missile weapons
  • Cumbersome--many people tightly packed make it difficult to maneuver
  • Manpower intensive--it takes many people to fill in the formation compared to other solutions
  • Very limited attack and defense at "point blank" range
How to Kill It:
  • With Arrows!--even blindly firing a volley will get kills
  • Out-maneuver it--the formation can't hold together well on the move or while turning
  • Flank it--use part of the group as a distraction while the rest attack from the sides/rear
  • Kill Pocket--let the spears push into the center and fold in on their flanks, this forces the spears to spread their offense as the frontage expands in the curve.
  • Overrun it--a well timed, full line charge where everyone pushes forward can succeed.  This is very risky.
  • The wedge--a small group of well armored fighters concentrate a charge up the middle.  Their goal is to force the spears to fight at point blank.  This is risky, but less so than a full overrun.

Shielded Phalanx

Like a phalanx, but with the front rank equipped with swords and shields. Still not likely to see it in Bele.

  • Better missile defense than a pure phalanx
  • Strong defense against rushers
  • Still cumbersome
  • Loses some offense/range from first row of spears vs. a pure phalanx
  • Shields can cut off some lanes of attack for the spears
How to Kill It:
  • Out-maneuver it--the formation can't hold together well on the move or while turning
  • Flank it--use part of the group as a distraction while the rest attack from the sides/rear
  • Kill Pocket--let the spears push into the center and fold in on their flanks, this forces the spears to spread their offense as the frontage expands in the curve.

Something you won't see in a Belegarth field today, an entire group of shield/spear wielding fighters.

  • Greater range than a sword/shield formation
  • Solid defense against missiles
  • Very maneuverable (for a spear formation)
  • Much better at closer ranges than a phalanx against unarmored foes
  • Can't effectively fight armored opponents (in Bele)
  • Still has difficulty fighting at point blank
  • Outranged by longer spears/glaives
How to Kill It:
  • Tank out--shove armored fighters down their throats (in Bele)
  • Range--Use longer support weapons and fight defensively
  • Charge--They aren't good at fighting super close, get in there all together and fight them at point blank. 

In between every shield is a spear.  Every other person in the line is a support weapon.

  • Strong defense/offense mix
  • Every spear has someone to hide behind against missiles
  • More maneuverable than a shielded phalanx
  • Spears are very cooperative and have overlapping ranges
  • Efficient use of manpower to cover an area. (for a spear formation)
  • Often has uneven skill distribution--there is likely a weak spot at a spear or two
  • Relies on spears cooperating to be effective
  • Rarely has a backfield/reserves--vulnerable to minor breakthroughs
How to Kill It:
  • Vision gaps--a wavy line can cause vision gaps that allow a small group (or one fighter) to get behind the formation.
  • Wedge/Rush--a practiced fighter can rush a spear with a little support or distractions.  A group can force their way through.
  • Coordinated Missiles/Spears--a shieldman can't cover themselves and a spear from multiple angles of attack. Have archers and spears coordinate against a pair at a time.
One spear, two shieldmen. The main difference between interlaced and triples is that the triples act with much more independence than a typical line. Usually, the spear is on charge of their triple.


  • Strong at close range
  • Resistant to missile attack
  • Usually has most experienced fighters using the support weapon and leading the triples
  • Harder to rush against
  • Can exploit gaps and be used to flank
  • Less coordination between support weapons
  • Easier to cause gaps between triples
  • Support weapon doubling as a command element makes it a priority target for missile weapons
How to Kill It:
  • Kill Pocket--try to pull one triple into the pocket
  • Flank It--have 1-2 shieldmen engage each triple from the front, keeping the spear's attention. The rest need to maneuver around and between the triples.
  • Rush Them--assassinate the triple's commander/support weapon.  A skilled fighter can make it through the middle well enough to kill them.  Gets riskier as their shieldmen improve in skill.
  • Out Support Them--triples have less support weapons than other spear formations, if you can get a few extra spears to help out against them, it drastically reduces their effectiveness.

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