Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Replay: Sotahuuto 14

Ok, this is something new to me and the blog, so hopefully you find it useful.  If it seems helpful, I'll look into doing other posts in this type of fashion in the future.

A reader from Europe sent me a link to video from one of the large foam fighting events they've attended over there.  While it isn't Belegarth rules (tap fighting, head legal, and a few others), the video does illustrate a few concepts that are universal to the large scale fighting we see at events.  Please note, those are indeed 15' spears you see everywhere.

Here's the video, it's nearly 40 minutes of quadcopter footage of the event.  The noise from the copter might be a little annoying, fair warning. Those later castle battle are pretty insane and worth a watch, especially with destructible haybale walls. However, I really only want to look at the first battle for this post.  I chose this first fight to look at because it illustrates how important maneuvering can be.  If someone wants me to look at other fights or videos, I'd be more than happy to later.

For starters, our friend from Europe and his group are among the black/purple clad group at the center, we'll call their team the good guys.  The green group to their left appears to leave an intentional gap, I suppose as a trap or some variant of a kill pocket (the blue area marked below).  The right flank has pushed forward aggressively, just out of frame in this first picture.  We can see a gap, marked with yellow start to appear even this early in the fight.
Maneuver Phase of the battle.  Blue=intentional? gap.  Yellow=Gap to watch later

Other keys to this part in the battle are how the enemy forces are arrayed. Directly ahead of their middle, the good guys are up against a high (insanely high compared to Belegarth) concentration of spears.  They've already grouped up and have no signs of changing course.  The enemy line is already curving away, bowing out towards our friends.  This makes the entire field a scaled up version of a kill pocket.
Stalemate Phase of battle.  Even the spears are mostly at max range. 
The enemy has cut off the flanking group, but haven't fixed that gap yet.

Once the lines are close enough to engage, we reach the stalemate phase.  At this point one would expect that our little yellow gap here would have been closed up, but groups maneuvered away from it to engage our friendly flanking groups.  The enemy black/yellow group pushed out to engage, leaving only a few skirmishers to cover the area.  We can also see that the friendly lines haven't engaged the outside corner at all, leaving a large chunk of forces to the right flank of the black/purple group essentially in reserve.

The moment when decisive action could be taking place. 
Easily could have happened sooner than it did in the video.
Black lines are what I would have my line do at this point.
A closer look at the gap.  The group friendlies directly across from
it eventually push through.

This all sounds like a huge advantage for the friendlies, and it is.  However, there are few things that could have helped our purple/black friends survive the encounter a little better.  At the point pictured above, we see that gap still lingering around unopposed.  We also see our purple/black friends keep a solid line in the face of that giant mess of spears (highlighted in red).  The problem here is that holding their ground actually costs them a lot of casualties as we'll see when the copter makes another pass later.  The black lines here are what might have helped them get through this mess with a few more fighters intact.  Rather than standing strong against the concentrated spears, the line should have spread out (towards the right flank) while forming a kill pocket (the curve back marked here). 

By shifting forces to the right of the main enemy strength, it reinforces the group that should have already been pushing that gap.  By spreading out and backing away, it forces the enemy formation to spread their offense in different directions, preventing a whole group of fighters from being lost quickly.  Those directly opposed to the spears need to fight purely defensive and let the enemy advance.  Their whole goal is to buy time for flankers flooding through the gap to win the day.

When we see the camera come back to this section, we see that the group along the right flank that was engaged with the enemy black/yellow group joined with a few of the friendly corner group to push the gap (finally), but by time this happens our black/purple friends have been cut to shreds.  This makes the clean up much more difficult later.

The moral of the story: engaging a spear formation head on is rarely the best course of action. Making use of defensive maneuvering can both save lives and set up your enemy for being flanked.  Keeping an eye out for gaps early in the fight can give you some idea of where they will be later.  This particular case shows that they often form between two groups of fighters that are good at maintaining their own coherency. Because groups/units don't usually share leadership, you'll find groups can often lose track of their support unless their own anchors are doing a great job of keeping the whole line together. Creating/attacking/exploiting these gaps can be crucial to killing enemy formations and skilled groups.

In my next post, I'll take a look at some strategies for taking down spear formations.  It's a lot to cover, so I didn't want to include it all here. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Small Unit Tactics

Not all groups enjoy the thick fighting at the center of a solid line.  Others lack the experience, numbers, or equipment to do so successfully. These groups often suffer at larger events, where the lines are densely packed.  Skirmish tactics work a little differently when facing such lines, as opposed to the more open fields of their home practices. A skirmishing group needs to capitalize on their best asset: maneuverability.

A skirmish line will quickly be picked apart should they face a group of experienced line fighters directly, especially if numbers aren't in their favor. However, this doesn't mean skirmish lines are incapable of winning the fight.  It takes a different approach for them to succeed.  Rather than attempting to rush into a line fight, the skirmishers need to fight the front of the line on the defensive. Their main goal has to be survival, only taking advantage of a few kills as opportunity presents them. By keeping mobile, they might be able to get the enemy to spread out or lose track of a few of the skirmishers. By drawing the enemy directly ahead, a few people on the wings might be able to flank around the enemy.

While most people "flank" by merely running past the ends of the lines until they are far enough to get around unopposed, a little more teamwork and tactics can make flanking a much stronger, faster tactic.  It is best to work in groups. Pairs work fine, but larger groups have more options.  Each group must set for itself a goal of delivering one fighter (or small group of fighters) the enemy's back.  This mindset allows flankers to function much closer to the core of the fight and still get someone behind the lines unopposed.  As an added bonus, some of these tactics also apply to heavy line fighting for shock troops, which could help a group transition to that style of fighting later. 

Let's look at a few specific strategies. 

Pin and split

Pin and split is my generic term for a great move that you can accomplish when, as a flanker, you outnumber the enemy that is in your way.  At its most basic, a 2v1 situation, one person engages the enemy, allowing the other to slip by unopposed.  Regardless of how well the pin survives, they buy their teammate plenty of time to cause havoc.  This strategy also works well for exploiting the edges of a gap in the enemy line. 

A larger group of fighters can enact this strategy well, even doing so multiple times as new threats approach.  Each time an enemy turns to counter them, the minimum number of flankers peel off to pin them as the rest continue flanking.  Remember, the goal is always to get at least one fighter to the rear of the enemy's main line.

Another extremely effective way to use this strategy is to counter flankers.  If your own team's flankers have become bogged down on the flank, fighting a line battle, the two fighters nearest them could try to pin/split against the enemy anchor.  The second closest to the end engages the enemy anchor heavily, probably fighting a 2v1 on the enemy flank.  The friendly anchor is then free to backstab the enemy flankers, freeing up a large force.  This is an exploit of the gap between the enemy line and their flankers, but could be used against almost any gap.


When outnumbered, but not outmaneuvered, a team can attempt to split up.  By being more mobile than the larger force, their goal is to survive and pick apart any stragglers they can until the smaller force has a decisive advantage.  The skirmishing team still needs a few people to take the enemy head on.  When the enemy advances, the line spreads thin, leaving just a few fighters to keep the attention of the enemy core.  The rest flank around, using strategies like the pin and split. 

However, because the skirmishers are outnumbered, getting into the enemy backfield alive is going to be difficult, if not impossible, until several enemies are dispatched.  If the skirmishers can manage to  get their flankers to meet up behind the enemy (turning the line into a circle), they are now free to run in opposite directions.  At this point, the skirmishers must work off of each other.  By running in opposite directions, vision gaps will eventually be created that allow one of them to pick off an unsuspecting enemy.

A large part of the strategy requires that each skirmisher acts as a distraction first, staying alive as best they can.  Then, only take shots that are nearly guaranteed hits.  Kills are preferable, but legs will help reduce the enemy's ability to maneuver against you and arms will help soften them up for future attacks.


Small groups should learn to work in pairs when possible. The goal is to develop tactics that work well when targets are isolated, while maintaining some safety in numbers. While you won't always be able to make a 2v1 situation happen, you want to be able to win the fight without losing much of your capability. 

You may find 2v1 drills particularly useful.  It helps build teamwork for the pair and helps the solo fighter practice for being outnumbered.  The pair has a goal of killing the solo without either of them being hit, while the solo tries to land a single hit on the pair.  Alternatively, you could have the solo fighter try to stay alive for a set amount of time or number of swings. This can help them prepare to be a pin or to keep the core of the line busy for a wolf pack strategy. 

One strategy for a pair is to plan, in advance, where to swing.  For example, one will swing high to the sword arm, while the other swings low to the shield side hip.  This forces the enemy on the defensive, because their shield will usually not be able to cover both angles, forcing them to block with their sword or die quickly.  Following up with a couple of swings will likely kill the target, as long as both keep the pressure on them. 

When the pair is on the defensive, it becomes important to not only block for your partner, but lure enemy targets out for them.  You can fake swings to try to get the opponent to counter, leaving their arm open to your partner.  Placing swings to one side of their shield or guard might draw their defenses over, letting your partner attack the other side. 

Against a solo opponent, the pair needs to move such that both can swing at the target or so that neither can be hit easily. The most favorable positions for the pair are either with the solo fighter facing the gap between the them, or with the pair slightly offset towards the solo's sword side.  This allows both to swing, and the latter gives a great angle against their weapon arm. 

"Good" in this case, relative to the pair. 
On the flip side, the solo fighters will need to use solid footwork and sword blocks/parries to stay alive. Most of their footwork will have them backing up, often to an angle.  Against a pair, their goal is to isolate one of them by stepping away from the other.  His preferred positions are either lined up against his sword side opponent (so his shield blocks off the other well), or with one enemy blocking off the other's angle of attack.  The second one is harder to pull off, but is the safest.


I can never seem to stress this enough, but communication is vital to success as a small force.  Even without a command structure or leader, the group needs to all be aware of the overall plan.  Without communication, strategies like wolfpacking can quickly fall apart into chaos. 

Experienced vets may be less verbal, relying on their combined experience and reacting to the situation as best they can.  However, even vets will make sure to communicate openings they see or dangers around them. Starting out, simple communications like when to move or change spacing are necessary (vets usually adapt to the space well, without needing specific commands for it). One thing all groups need is a direction or target, and communicating that goal, or changes to it, should be a priority. 

Call out dangers to your line.  Call out targets, gaps, and weak points in the enemy line.  Equally important, relay calls from others.  For example, if you line needs to shift right, and you hear someone call it out, then you should repeat it down the line. Warn your allies of arrows about to be loosed, javelins at the ready, or support weapons taking notice of their flank. It is a lot to keep your mind on, but the more of these things you can keep your team informed about, the more successful they will be.

Leadership ("Driving the bus") 

Smaller groups sometimes lack any sort of command structure.  Even large realms have many people that could take charge, but no clear, default leader. That doesn't mean they lack leadership. In these groups, individuals usually take charge of the area around them as needed. Groups of veterans often have a very decentralized form of command, especially during a protracted line battle where individuals manage their own area. Those with the best line of sight, or that notice problems sooner, often begin taking charge of the few people around them. 

If someone else is issuing orders, do your best to support them.  Note, I didn't say "blindly follow a terrible plan".  Support the plan by maneuvering yourself and others in a way to help the plan succeed.  This might mean moving to cover a gap that no one else saw or being aggressive to draw the enemy's attention. Sometimes it means doing something that is opposed to the orders, such as taking a run through a gap rather than standing your ground.  The overall idea is to make the group more successful at its current mission. 

If no one is taking charge or communicating, take command and do your best to help the team.  Even a bad plan is usually going to be better than no plan. When it comes to actually taking charge of the group, do your best to navigate the group into favorable fights.  Try to issue orders that make sense for who you are ordering around, ie. don't have the 300 lb guy in full armor and a tower shield flank.  Play to your group's strengths.  More armored up fighters will need to form up against the bulk of the enemy, while faster fighters need to maneuver around. Try to engage targets such that your backfield is relatively safe (not facing the majority of the enemy groups). 

Most of the fight relies on your individuals finding success, but issuing commands to regroup or shift the line can give those individuals a better chance to survive.  Your goal, as leader, is to maintain the line during a fight.  Watch for gaps and weak points in both lines and move your forces to exploit or counter them.  Learn to spot vision gaps, especially along the enemy flank.  If their anchors aren't paying attention or are drawn into a fight, deploy a few flankers around them.  If your flankers need a better angle, shift the line to present the enemy's back to them. 

"Driving" isn't easy, even in a small, skilled group. Don't be discouraged by a bad fight or if you think you may have made a bad call.  Learn from the strategic failures and try to fix any issues with communication within the group. You'll get a chance to redeem yourself next fight. 

One side note, when a small group is part of a large team, they should do their best to integrate with the group.  Issue commands not only to your group, but those around you that lack leadership.  This is a great opportunity for smaller groups to get a better feel for line fighting, and working with support weapons.  Also, don't hesitate following orders from outsiders in this scenario, especially ones that seem to know what they are doing.

This section probably could be its own post.  I might try to put together a more detailed version, perhaps as a post-mortem next time I drive the BOF bus.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Squire's Path

While I have discussed knights and squires in the past, I've had a few people ask for a few more specifics about the squiring process.  Newer realms that aren't next door to an established order of knights often seek to start their own order, but several of them will hesitate because they haven't been around the traditions enough to really understand the process. This post's goal, then, is to share my view of how squiring works in a well-established order of knights.

My home realm has many knights, several of which have held their title longer than Belegarth has been its own sport. That isn't exactly common, but many realms have such experience, with or without the title.  Knights here are allowed one squire, and a second if they call and pass a vote to allow it. With so many knights, that means there can be many people going through the squiring process at any given time.  They only true requirement for them to get knighted is to earn enough votes from the council of knights. 

I say that's the only true requirement, but the rest of the requirements come from their knight, and the standards the other knights will use to decide how to vote.  The realm's general requirement is that each squire must beat all of the active knights in challenges, set by the knights.  These can be duels, field challenges, or non-fighting displays of skill or knowledge.  Many knights gauge their squire against Kyrian's list of squire tasks, as it encompasses nearly every type of task one could give a squire. Once a knight feels their squire has completed their tasks, they will bring them up for a vote to be knighted. 

The knight and squire relationship is important to the process.  In addition to their direct training, knights apply their experience to guiding their squire through the process.  Occasionally, this can be harsh truths, comforting words, or a kick in the right direction.  They help keep the squire on task and motivated to finish challenges and tasks.  They also need to point out weaknesses that need improved and extra tasks (like running a specific event).   The main thing the squire needs is a little bit of help outlining what they need to work on and where they stand. Some of this could be done by a realm taking on a squire in lieu of a knight.  Those realm squires, without a knight, do miss out on a little bit of the fun part of squiring--fighting alongside their knight. 

One misconception that seems to be common is that a squire learns everything from their knight.  While a knight teaches their squire many things, a great deal of learning comes from others.  Squires must be on a quest to learn from as many people as possible, while doing their best to think critically of their own techniques. A lot of skill develops from self-evaluation and adapting to overcome skilled opponents.  By challenging the best fighters and seeking their criticism, one can often find what needs to improve, but it takes concentrated effort to actually fix technique. This also applies to service, as most knights have much experience in planning and running events, and can be great at recruitment and retention. Even in areas that have few knights (or those of equivalent experience), a realm might be able to pass along its shared experience and knowledge to a squire who seeks to learn all their area has to offer.  However, one may need to venture beyond their realm to gain more specific knowledge that elder realms/knights might be able to offer. 

As a squire, I always set for myself the goal to "do what a knight should do".  That means a lot of different things to each person, but gives one a guideline to follow.  If there is a gap in knowledge or skill that prevents achieving that goal, then obviously that is something that needs to be worked on and improved.  It also frames the mindset of service, as in if I would complain that a knight should be doing a task, why wouldn't I just take care of it? Of course, this also requires an idea of what knights do, or to have knights to emulate. 

The answer to the problem is complicated, as each knight brings something different to the table.  There are some that make a distinction between "fighting knights" and "service knight". All knights should be both, to varying degrees.  Fighting skill (or knowledge of fighting technique) is important for building a stronger realm and can be a great way to bolster recruitment through displays of top skill.  Service is a broad category, but even knights that focus on fighting still serve the realm through teaching.  It is also helpful for event planners to have fighting experience so they can plan fighting that keeps attendees involved and entertained.  The point here is that both sides bolster each other, and it is important to develop in both areas. 

One aspect of fighting skill that is often overlooked in discussion of squire tasks is field leadership. Taking command and helping the group find success on a large field is something knights should be doing (see above). Many knights have their squires read classic books on military strategy (Art of War, etc) to help build this sort of strategic mindset. Often, squires will be tasked to lead realm battles or shepherd a flock of new fighters to test their leadership.  Developing a keen eye for the flow of a line fight and gaps in the enemy line not only boosts their ability to personally influence the fight, but also to lead others to the same ends.  Smaller groups/realms might find that having a reliable commander might make the experience at major events more fun as they find more success on the field. 

Knights don't have to be the best one on one fighters in every style. However, they do need to be well versed in a variety of weapons and techniques.  Most knights end up specializing in a few weapons or styles, and are often experts in one or two.  I would say "mastered" one or two styles, but I have always felt that there will always be room to improve. At the end of a squire's path to knighthood, they should be able to display a high level of skill in a couple of styles.  Even being an expert in a support weapon should qualify. Controversial as it may be, even a non-combatant might be able to display fighting knowledge that rivals even veteran fighters--leaving the path of non-com squire open to those realms that would find it fitting.  To fit the mold of "someone that could run a realm", a knight needs to be able to teach fighting technique, not necessarily excel at it.  For example, I'm no expert on flails or bows, but I could teach someone how to use them effectively.  
All squires should be experts on the Book of War (and/or Dag's Manual of Arms). And by expert, I do mean expert.  They will need to know the rules for combat to be a herald, and the rules for weapon construction to check weapons and to build them. Even someone that has been in the sport for a while should review the rules and study them a little bit periodically, especially if one plans to work towards knighthood.  The hard part for newer realms, or those farther from the traditions, is that it is difficult to learn unwritten rules and old combat conventions without exposure to long serving veteran fighters. This is where disparity appears between realms and regions, especially in realms that rarely make it to large events.  Knights pass along this tradition to their realms.  Squires in more isolated realms should make it a point to visit older realms and learn from elder knights. 
Squires/knights should do their best to be paragon of sportsmanship and a good representative of the sport. They need to be an example to others of how great fighting can be.  By having fun, fighting hard, and coming away from a fight with a positive attitude, they can help make a mediocre day of fighting into a great time for everyone on the field.   From a recruiting standpoint, they need to be able to talk to newcomers, teach them the basics, and get them fighting.  They should be approachable and helpful.  Consider who recruited you to the sport, who really sold you on sticking around, and do your best to emulate them.

The benchmark for when a squire is ready to be knighted should be high.  The process should be hard enough to forge a strong fighter and realm leader. It should last long enough to give a squire opportunity for growth and success, as well as a chance to fail and recover, but each one's path is different and takes its own time to complete.  There should be no rush to be knighted, for the more difficult and time consuming the challenge, the more rewarding the title will be.
A bit of a side note.  Several people concern themselves with the prestige or reputation of the title "knight". While it is something that many people honor, the meaning of the title rests in the hands of those who have earned it.  Anyone can call themselves a knight, but those that have earned the respect of the knights they have aspired to be will find their title much more meaningful.  The title is more that you have been accepted to join them as a peer of the order.  For those knighted under realms, it is a mark of that realm's respect and appreciation for your efforts. As long as a knight upholds the goals and aims of his realm, there is little reason to concern themselves with what outsiders think about the title.