Monday, December 3, 2018

The Three Best Practice Scenarios: Reflection on the 2018 Fighting Season

As we have closed out the melee fighting season (which in the East is April - November) I've seen a lot of growth in our local group.  We had roughly 15 practices with attendance ranging from 5 to 12 fighters.  This was in addition to roughly 8 melee events.  To quote our newest fighter who attended his first event this past November, "I felt prepared for every scenario except the bridge battle."

What our newer fighters lacked that your typical SCA fighter would have had was solid one on one skill.  What they had, on the other hand, was great field awareness, an understanding of how to work together, how to solve problems on their own, take initiative, finish fights quickly and move through the enemy, and maintain the integrity of the line.  Our spears were especially strong this year.

Three Practice Scenarios

I'm sure I've written on each of these in the past, but I'm pretty confident that these were my favorites.  Each one focused on a critical aspect of melee aspect of melee fighting, and just as important, they were all very fun.  One of the main differences between the way I run practices and most of what I have seen in the SCA is that I don't spend much time drilling.  Instead, every scenario is a game.

1 - Broken Field Rez Battle

I try to size the field to the number of fighters that we have, but essentially I take a few lengths of rope and create "Llama Pits"  (pits full of flesh eating Llamas that cannot be crossed).  We put a resurrection point on either side and we would either fight unlimited resurrections or allot a set number of lives.  Objectives can be used as well (I now use small colored blocks of wood.  Each side is assigned a color and has to try to collect all of their wood before the other team gets theirs.  Blocks are placed about 2/3 of the way across the field).

What I like the most about these battles is that it clearly defines a simple tactical decision that a fighter must make.  When they come back from rez point, they have to decide, "Do I go to the left of the pit, or do I go to the right of the pit?"  Instead of just seeing a mob of guys and returning back to the same spot they were in when they died (as is very common among fighters), they look and see what the situation is on the left, and what it is on the right.  Even if they don't make good decisions, at least they are thinking tactically.

2 - Orcs and Goblins Battle

We normally do these as single death field battles.  The goal is to put all of the best fighters on one team, and all of the worst fighters on the other team.  The KEY to this battle (which I heard was a piece missing from a recent event up here) is that the numbers must be set such that the less experienced team has more fighters.  What typically works for us is 3 on 5, but as our newer fighters got better, we had to make the teams 4 on 4, with the 3 best fighters teaming up with a brand new fighter, while the other team had four newer, yet experienced fighters.

What makes this scenario great for training is that it forces the new fighters to take ownership over the results of the battle.  The key to winning any unbalanced scenario for the larger team is to create small numbers advantages, and seizing those opportunities quickly.  Meanwhile the fighters who end up in one on one situations have to learn how to identify that they are at a disadvantage and simply try to stall the fight and survive.  Often times newer fighters will either stand around and wait for someone else to do the killing for them, or they will do heroic solo charges at one or more fighters and die horrible deaths.  These battles force them to make smart decisions.

I'd also like to note that these fights were also very fun and valuable for the experienced fighters who had to learn how to win fights while being on the smaller team.  I've also thought about doing this scenario as a broken field battle in order to make the advantages and disadvantages more pronounced.

One way where I saw this pan out well was at our Norse War in several single death field battles.  A couple of times a knight on the other team would fan out wide on their left flank.  Two of our newer fighters would match him on our right flank.  As soon as they recognized the advantage, which usually didn't take long, they'd jump him, get the kill, and then immediately turn into the back field, which normally lead to a quick victory.  Keep in mind, these battles had even numbered sides, so they had graduated to the point where they could take ownership of the fight even though there were better fighters on their team.

3 - 2v2 Unlimited Rez Battles with a Fighter Waiting at Rez

This is a very simple battle.  Two versus two, with one person waiting at the resurrection point.  As soon as the first person dies, he goes to rez and forms a new team with the person waiting.  They immediately join the fight.  At this point it might be 2 on 2 on 1, or maybe another person died and it can be 2 on 2 or perhaps 2 on 1 on 1.  The key to this fight is to move quickly and keep the pace fast.  The entire purpose of the fight is to make quick decisions.

The real value of this scenario is that it trains you to see things and make decisions quickly.  Often times newer fighters are trained to wait for commands, or to follow the more experienced fighters.  This scenario forces them to make quick decisions on their own, which is what you'd want from any fighter when, say, a knight breaks through your ranks and gets into the backfield.

All in all I was very happy with how well everyone progressed, but at least as important, everyone had a fun year and were motivated to keep returning week after week!

Thanks for reading.  - Bari of Anglesey

Sunday, October 7, 2018

That's a Terrible Plan (yet everyone does it)

We fought at an event this weekend and finished off the day with three single death field battles.  One side was a unit of ~9 fighters who practice together somewhat regularly and consisted of a range of experience.  On the other side (our side) we had one unit of 5 who practices together regularly (myself and 4 fighters from the Philly practice ranging between 1-3 years of experience) and 6 unaffiliated fighters with limited experience. 

The organized team of 9 had 4 shields, 4 great weapons, and 1 archer.  Our team had 4 shields, 3 spears, 2 great weapons, and 2 archers.  Despite shield being my worst form, I took it as my biggest concern was getting run over by an organized heavy unit who likes to charge, especially given that we were fighting in a small rectangular field with no room for mobility (~15 yards wide).

"That's a Terrible Plan"

When I showed up someone had already come up with a plan.  It had something to do with dividing ourselves into left and right flanks and funneling the army into the middle, which I wasn't opposed to.  But then when we lined up, he wanted all of the shields to form up in the middle with everyone else behind them.  I took one look at them and said, "That's a terrible plan."  Yes, I was being a jerk.  I didn't mean to say that out loud, and truth be told, maybe there was someway to implement what he was thinking that would have worked, but we just weren't able to figure it out in the 30 seconds of strategizing that we did.

What was Wrong with It?

There were two main problems.  The first was that it was confusing.  Complicated plans NEVER work, not within the context of a mixed group of fighters who don't practice together, and the ones who do only get together a couple or few times a month.  People who come up with these crazy plans need to understand that they aren't commanding a bunch of troops in a tabletop miniatures game.  While they may understand what is going on, in order to execute it, you need 100% of the people involved to understand it as well, and then you need the enemy to cooperate. 

The second is something that a vast majority of heavy units do wrong.  Unless you are protecting a specific objective point, never turtle your shields up in the middle of the field.


This isn't to say that shield walls aren't effective, but the lack of protection on the flanks is a major weakness.  To make a shield wall work, either the flanks need to be well protected either by strong fighters floating out away from the wall, or by a boundary like a castle wall or thick woods.  Or they need to be moving quickly at their target so that they can run the target over before the weak flanks can be exploited.

The Other Issue
I've said this a billion times.  There are two ways to win a game of rock, paper, scissors when the other team throws rock.  You either throw a bigger rock, or you throw paper.  In the first battle we met their rock with our rock.  We had two archers and three spears while they had one archer and no spears.  We had young, fast, mobile guys, while they had big, old guys.  We had a bunch fighters who don't practice together (and the ones who do fight skirmish style) they had an organized unit who has years of experienced running people over with a shield wall.

We could have run that scenario fifty times and would never have won a shield wall versus shield wall battle.

The Fix;  Spears to the Front

If you ask heavy fighters what would happen if you put your spears in front of your shields when facing an impending shield wall charge, 9 out of 10 of them are going to tell you that the shield wall will just run them over.

Yet this is exactly what we did, and we won the last two battles (again, that's not to say that we were the better unit.  We still had a numbers advantage) despite losing badly in the first battle.

How Does it Work?

The spears run out in front, way out in front, so that everyone else in the unit is at least 5 full feet behind their spearmen.  Best case scenario, the spears get get a kill or two before the enemy can initiate their charge.  Worst case scenario, the enemy begins their charge 15 feet away from the main unit.  As they are worried about face thrusts from the spears, they have to charge blindly, allowing the rest of your unit to freely maneuver into good killing positions while your spearmen backpedal out of harm's way.

As a shieldman, instead of being on the front line, I sat in the back on the right flank making sure that no one got into our backfield.  I then looked for opportunity kills, and they did present themselves. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

This Has Become Our Favorite Practice Scenario

I call it an Orcs and Goblins battle. We did it again last Friday and everyone loved it.

How it Works

Any scenario will work, but we like to do it as a field battle.  The key is to unbalance the teams so that all of your experience is on one team, and everyone else is on the other team.  Everyone fights with their best weapon form.

Begin with more fighters on the less experienced team, and then which ever team loses gains a fighter from the other team until the teams are well balanced.

Why it is a Good Scenario

-  Its good practice

Novice fighters don't need to be able to kill veteran fighters.  It takes years and years of practice and a little bit of talent to beat the best fighters on the field.  Frankly, its a hopeless cause for most less experienced fighters.  What they need to learn to do is beat them when they have a numbers advantage, learn to recognize what that looks like, and utilize some basic tactics to make that happen.  Its rare for a novice fighter to beat a duke, but any three novice fighters can if they practice for it. 

This practice also makes the novice fighters take ownership of the tactics and taking initiative.  When the talent level is evenly spread out on both teams, the novice fighters tend to follow the veterans, and mostly let the veterans do the killing while trying to avoid getting killed, themselves, by veterans.  This scenario forces them to do the killing.

Its also a really good fight for the veterans as they have to figure out how to handle being outnumbered and expect to have to get multiple kills. 

Additionally I really prefer having uneven numbers because it forces tactics to be used.  When the numbers are even, often times teams will just mirror each others tactics, sometimes even just pairing up into singles fights.

-  Everyone has fun

The novice fighters, especially, really like this scenario.  They get to kill people, and never feel overwhelmed by experience.  I think they especially get an ego boost knowing that they are largely responsible for the scenarios that they win, while the veterans love the challenge of being outnumbered.

Last Friday's Fighters

We had 8 fighters and we lined them up by experience.  One was brand new (walked by our practice and we talked him into putting on loaner gear), one has been fighting since the mid 90s, while the rest were in the 6 month to 4 year range of experience, all consistent 2-4 times a month practicers.

1:  spear - decades of experience
2:  shield - some youth fighting plus 3 years of heavy
3:  pole - two years
4:  shield - 1 year
5:  long sword - 6 months very consistent
6:  pole - 6 months
7: shield - 6 months
8:  spear - first time in armor

The Teams

We started with a three on five.  1, 2, & 3 vs everyone else. 

Since we only had eight fighters, we tried to avoid two on six.  If three on five would be overwhelming for the five, we'd start trading fighters by making the smaller team out of 1, 2, & 4 or 1, 2, & 5.

Likewise, we tried to avoid four on four with veterans versus novice.  Instead, we'd pull in the least experienced fighter on the team.  So 1, 2, 3 & 8 vs 4, 5, 6, & 7.  Essentially we do what we need to keep the experience on the same team.

The Results

We ran four fights before taking a break.

1)  3v5.  Experienced team wins.

This worked out kind of how I had hoped.  The novice team never committed to the attack, allowing the veteran spear to kill three fighters before they committed.  The novices almost pulled out a win at this point as one of their shields rushed the veteran pole and got a kill, making it 2v2 with two shields vs a spear and a shield.  They ran in and tried to take out the spear, who managed to squirm away as his shieldman got the final two kills.

2)  3v5.  Novice team wins.

Since the scenario was competitive, we ran it again.  This time the novice fighters rushed the experienced fighters and got an easy win.  Less learned.  Novice team levels up!

3)  4v4.  Experienced team wins.

We moved the brand new guy onto the experienced team.  With two spears, a pole, and a shield against two shields, a long sword, and a pole, the novice team new they needed to rush the experienced team.  Their charge was unsuccessful, but the fight was close.

4)  4v4.  Novice team wins.

Same fighters, same tactics.  This time the novice fighters win.

We had an odd shaped field

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bridge Battles: Organization is the Key - Pennsic 47 (part 4)

Bridge battles have been a bit of a frustration for me.  I'll freely admit that I don't have all the answers for how to win these, but I do have a lot of thoughts on the subject.  The tactics for a bridge battle will vary depending on the victory conditions, the fight format, and the types of troops that each side has.

Single Death Attrition Battles

Back in the 90s I seem to remember that every year we'd have one big bridge battle fought to the last man with no time limit.  Truth be told, these sucked.  It involved sometimes well over an hour of standing in the hot sun, only to finally make it to the front rank and, if you were lucky enough to be one of the fighters to actually kill someone, you'd likely fight for a short bit before getting hit or being thrown off the bridge.

Since this format doesn't require any ground to be gained, spears and archers become key players.  A tactic that we'd often use is to bring our spears to the front filling the entire front line.  We might even have a gap between us and the rest of our unit behind us.  Every now and then, the other side would mount a charge and we'd simply fall back into our ranks as our shields and poles would step up to repel the charge.  We may lose some ground early on, but eventually we'd take out the better fighters and leaders, and then overwhelm them with spear superiority.

This was especially effective in the mid 90s when the SCA had just transitioned to allowing face thrusts at Pennsic, and most units still had the mentality of fighting with their spears in the 2nd rank (while ours were out front).  Counter charges were usually pretty obvious, either with a small unit of guys all wearing the same tabards working their way to the front, or a loud guy yelling, "Okay, we are going to charge on the count of three!  ONE!  TWO!....." and by that point our spears had already retreated.

These days I will have to admit that people are much better about guarding their faces, and charges are much less obvious.  To that I say, "Good job fighting world!  You learned."

Timed Single Death Control Point Battles

Placing a time limit on a bridge battle and changing the victory conditions so that whomever controls the bridge by having more troops beyond the half way point can change the tactics drastically.  Instead of counting kills, you are taking ground.  This now makes shieldmen, particularly large shieldmen, much more valuable.  In these battles, you can usually afford to lose a lot of fighters during a charge because you expect to have more than enough to make it to the time limit.  Spear duels taking minutes to get a kill are of far less value in these battles.

I said, "can change" above because at Pennsic 46 the bridge battles were done the same day as the field battles.  This caused a lot of fighters to drop out, leaving us with what seemed to be just enough fighters to fight to the last man by the time limit.  So what were supposed to be timed control point battles actually turned into a attrition battles.

Unlimited Resurrection Control Point Battles

This is what we fought this year at Pennsic 47.  The battle was an hour long with points for holding the center of the bridges awarded at unknown intervals throughout the fight.  The main difference between this scenario and the one above is that there is no chance for a win through attrition, and eliminating key fighters (like a commander or a spear god) has a much smaller affect.

The other key difference that I observed this year is that the problem with getting units organized is even more pronounced.

Organization is the Key to Victory

     - How timed control point bridge battles are won:

Shields to the front and charge together.  Once the bodies start piling up, spears need to start filling the gaps because they can shoot across the dead bodies without the risk of being charged.  Once they clear out the dead, shields need to be ready for another charge by filling up the second rank and starting to fill in ~25% of the spots in the first rank.  Call another charge.  Repeat this process until the battle is over.

The front rank should always either be shields and/or spears (with some opportunistic exceptions).  If spears are in the front rank, then the second rank should be shields, ready to repel a charge or initiate a charge by running past their spears.  The poles are always in the rank behind the shields.  Spears are either in the front rank when the fight is static, or in the third rank during a press.

There should be a small gap after the third rank letting everyone else know that they are not in the fight, and to be patient.  If archers are allowed on the bridge, that needs to be organized and worked into the plan.

Organized column charges can be effective as well.

     - How timed control point bridge battles are lost:

Selfishness and a lack or organization.

The problems with these battles is that at any given moment, most people are standing around watching other people fight.  They begin to feel like their only chance to fight is to jump into a spot as soon as they see one open up.  So you have spears standing in the front rank when shields are about to charge.  You have shields standing in the front rank behind dead bodies where the spears should be.  You have spears in the second rank of a push where poles should be.  You have poles in the front rank taking up a spearman's spot.  And you have everyone in the way of your archers.

This problem is even more pronounced in an unlimited resurrection battle because there is no sense that if you wait you'll get your turn.  Instead there's a lot of butting in line and shoving to the front.

My Frustrations This Year

Early in the battle I was trying to get our ranks organized.  It was difficult to get people to listen, but even more problematic was noticing that as I was doing this, some of my own guys were ignoring me and just shoving their way right to the front.  When the battle was over, I talked to people about how they thought it went, and I heard a lot of, "Oh, that was great fighting!"  "I loved it.  I just kept charging in and hitting people!"  "I got like 5 kills every time I was at the front!"

But we didn't win a single point.

Killing 5 people in the front line may be fun, but it does us no good if they are immediately replaced by 5 more people.  We needed to take ground, and all I saw were small teams of 1-3 people trying yo accomplish that mixed in with a ton of individuals counting kills.

Our Most Successful Year

In recent history, our most successful bridge battle was Pennsic 45.  We fought with Atlantia and easily took 4 of 5 bridges that day and, as I found out later, each battle we were the only team to take a bridge.

We mixed in with Atlantia the last two years and were not as successful.  The difference?  We worked together that year.

I was the warlord of Anglesey at Pennsic 45.  I made some bad decisions the previous day and realized that a good leader doesn't come up with the best plans.  He finds the guy in his group with the best plan and listens to him.  That guy was Karuk, who had commented that our biggest weakness is this instinct to individually go in and find a place to fight, rather than to be patient and go in together.  When we fight as a group, we have a better sense of how to work together, and just as importantly, we are much more willingly to cooperate and not be selfish when we work together.

We had talked to the Atlantian warlord, Rusty, and worked out a deal to give us the right 1/3 of the bridge while the Atlantian army took the left 2/3.  It worked out beautifully!  People cooperated.  Spears rotated in and out very smoothly.  Leaders charged at opportune times and everyone else supported.

Last year we were given the full front rank, and it didn't work out as well.  I believe that was because instead of having the right weapon in the right spot, we just had all of our weapons on the front line with no one to rotate in and out.

This year's problem was as I described above.  People would just shove their way into open spots and try to collect kills.

Thoughts on Capping the Bridge this Year

Blue decided to concede the northern bridge and form a kill pocket at the end of it.  Truth be told, I had no opinion on the tactic at the beginning of the battle, but I noticed the flaw in the plan .....well, to be frank, I noticed it when a knight standing next to me pointed it out.

This is not a bad strategy in an attrition battle, and it might even work in a single death timed control point battle.  The problem here is that this battle had unlimited resurrections, so the other four bridges always had unlimited resources, thus it really had no effect on them.  Ultimately all we accomplished was giving away a point every time the scores were collected.

In the end it didn't make a difference in this battle, so maybe it was worth it for the learning experience alone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Pennsic 47 (part 3) - Woods Battle

Many many moons ago I used to walk into woods battles with absolutely no concept of tactics or strategy.  I had heard, or rather overheard, that there were, like, flags or something that needed to be captured.....or whatever.

Seriously, I'd wander around the woods and then fight whatever people I found with different color tape on their helmets.

It wasn't that I wasn't competitive.  I just never thought of it in terms of implementing a strategy to win the battle.  I just cared about killing people, and likely used kill counts as a measure of success.

Only in the last two Pennsics have I focussed my efforts toward capturing and holding flags, and with that comes a lot of thinking about how to do it and how my unit can be more effective in the task.

Sticking Together

Given the personalities within Anglesey, we are each very easily distracted by killing opportunities.  Sitting in a second rank, doing a job that involves standing around, or having to walk past lots of fighting to get to a position are all very difficult things for us to accomplish.  Often times we will get to rez point and walk back into the woods and hear something like, "we need fighters to go this way," and we think, "oh, that sounds interesting.  Maybe it will be better fighting than what we had before."

The problem that you run into is if you have a 30 person unit dedicated to fight over a position, and then 10-15-20 fighters start drifting off in different directions, you've given up a large chunk of fighters who were holding said position.  In my opinion, unless that position is clearly a terrible place to be, you should stick to it unless there is a coordinated plan with the leadership on the field to move your fighters to another position.

Equally as important, your unit *should* fight better together than it does working with different units that have different methods of fighting.

This year I think Anglesey and the rest of the Bog fighters did a better job of sticking together.  We fought on the blue side, and were given the pine trees to the right of the center banner.  After dying, fighters were to resurrect and come straight back to this position.  I believe we did that well.

Center Banner Layout

From the blue side (represented in green below), the center banner had a "bridge width" channel that was bordered on the left with some rather thick trees, and a medical area that was taped off on the right.

This created what was effectively a bridge battle over the flag, with a more skirmish style spear battle on the flank.  The midrealm seemed to make concerted pushes alternating between The Tuchux and Dark Moon, two sets of organized shock troop units who are well built for making these kinds of pushes.  The East's answer to that was Blood Guard, a similarly built unit.

The flank, on the other hand, was largely controlled by skirmish style spearing with shields and glaives used to keep any chargers at bay.

In the short video below you can see a first person perspective from the red side of that flank.

The picture below shows the basic path that Chad (the camera man) takes in the video (marked with a red dashed line):

Fighting Over the Banner

Essentially there are three main fronts in this battle with regard to the center banner that are fought quite differently.  In the center channel you have what I would call a classic bridge battle type scenario.  Organized units with big fighters that are heavy on shields tend to fight in this area.  There's a back and forth between the spearing while static (usually in order to allow the shields to recover), and then big coordinated charges to try to take real estate fairly quickly.

If I remember this battle correctly, red was better at making big pushes toward the flag with shield heavy charges, while blue was better at whittling red down with their spears, and then taking the flag back once they have been weakened. 

Which is the better tactic?  It all depends on what you have to work with.  Red was pretty successful every time they mounted a charge, but I believe that blue held the banner for a great majority of the time.  If a unit wants to capture a banner at a given time (like they know the battle is about to end), red's tactics are generally more successful.  They are also very exhausting, which comes into play in a 90 minute resurrection woods battle.

Fighting on the Right Flank

The second front is on blue's right flank, which is more or less a skirmish battle.  Though neither side will get any points from gaining ground on this front, if one side can push the flank far enough such that they can get completely around the medical area, they can get into the backfield of the main fighting force at the flag.  Because of this danger, more often than not fighters will be pulled away from the flag area to reinforce the flank, which then weakens the center unit. 

Fighting in this area is often heavier on spears, and more of a slower stand and peck kind of battle.  Looking at the short video above, in an area that holds 8-10 fighters, the rate of death was ~1 fighter every 20 seconds. 

Here ground is generally gained in one of two ways.  Either spears will pick apart their opponent such that a clear advantage has been gained, and then a big, slow push will begin which will cause the enemy to back away from their position.  The other is when, occasionally, a shieldman or two will find a weak spot in the line (maybe a position with only spears) and will pounce on them, break a hole, and get a few kills.  If successful, the other side will walk backwards to adjust their front.  If unsuccessful, the chargers will die leaving their own side weakened, and then will have to back themselves off of the slow push referenced in the first part of the paragraph.

Fighting on the Road to the Left of the Banner

Not pictured above is a road to the left of the center banner.  The fighting here tends to be more of a mix of the two positions described above.  There's more big coordinated charges than on the right flank, but more skirmish fighting than in the center.  I feel that this position is less critical than the other two, though it still has to be controlled.  More ground needs to be gained than on the right flank in order to get into the enemy's backfield, but it can still happen if left uncontested.

Nuances to Fighting on the Flank

The Bog fighters don't really fight as a single unit in this region, but rather in small clusters filling important gaps in the line.  In any given position you'll find 3-5 or more of us working together, but also mixing in with other fighters.  There are little subtle nuances that lead to killing opportunities as well as defending our line.  Some examples:

-  Getting the shields out of the way and into support positions.

In the first picture below, you can see shields up on the front line accomplishing little more than being targets.  Hey, who am I to tell them how to enjoy their battle, but if you want to be effective, I'm a big fan of getting shields off the line with rare exceptions.  Those being a) if there is no one else to fill that spot and b) if you are so good that you can effectively bait and fend off good spearmen.  Most people are not.

In the next shot you can see where Rygus (Anglesey), Sir Rory (Serpentius), and myself (being sneaky) take the front line with no shields in our way. 

And shieldmen are behind us, watching the battle, and discouraging anyone from rushing us.  Furthermore, they are protecting the corner of the medical area, which leads right into the backfield of the units fighting directly over the center banner.  In fact, a little before this screenshot, I had called one of our newer fighters over (pictured as the right most fighter in green) as I noticed that there was a critical weakness in that area with a couple of shieldmen directly across from that position.

-  Using spears to control the areas between the trees.

At the very end of the video, you see Chad ask the spearman to move to the left of the tree.  Shortly after he did that, Sir Rory moved into the position that he just abandoned and got a quick kill on the camera man.

Pushing the Flank

For a brief moment I was put in command of the center banner.  Oh, yeah, I got a kick out of that and tell everyone I run into.  I'm not too proud to brag!  During that time I saw that we had already lost control of the banner and did not really seem to have the numbers to directly take it back.

So I walked down the flank to see what was going on.  I noticed that we actually had about a 2 to 1 numbers advantage.  I found the only knight I could and asked if there was a plan to hold that position and he said no.  So I decided to call a push on the flank to try to apply pressure in the backfield of the center banner.  There were three fighters on the other side who were just hanging out, ready to waltz into our back field, so I asked three fighters to keep an eye on them.  As for everyone else, I called a big push forward.

Given the numbers advantage, it was actually quite easy.  Walk forward, and the enemy will walk back.  Shots didn't really even need to be be thrown.

Personal Approach to this Year's Battle

I died a lot last year fighting with a spear, mainly just by being too aggressive and not noticing that I was drawing the attention of enemy fighters.  Most of my deaths were from someone hiding behind a tree that I didn't notice.

This year I deliberately slowed down a bit and took more time to survey my surroundings.  As a result, I hardly died at all this year.  I made it a point to cycle in and out of the fight and take some time to watch the battle.  If we had control, I rested and watched.  If I saw a weakness in the line, or a hot spearman on the other side, and stepped in and went to work.  If the problem went away, I stepped out and let some of the younger fighters take over.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Pennsic 47 (part 2) - Field Battles

Shew!  These were the toughest field battles I ever remember fighting in (likely my 14th set of field battles at Pennsic since '94).  They were tough partly because we were so outnumbered, and partly because it was so hot and humid.  They were also tough because I was more cognizant of what was going on on the entire field than I'd ever been before.  Its much easier to stand in the front rank and throw a spear at whatever you see than it is to watch your army get surrounded and try to figure how the hell your one little unit will survive.

The Scenarios

We fought 5 field battles on what I can only guess is about a 200yd x 200yd square field, comprised of maybe 1500 total fighters (that's a complete guess).  The East lined up on the west end of the field while the Mid lined up on the east end.  There is a significant hill that peaks on the north west corner.  The fight is a single death battle.

The Strategy

There's a reason why this blog isn't called The Strategic Fighter.  I don't have much experience with large scale strategy and don't pretend to know a whole lot about it.  From watching the videos, it appeared that in each battle the Mid adopted a different tactic, either pushing on one of the flanks, or on both flanks, or pressing the entire army forward in one big move.  The East, on the other hand, with exception of a small unit that positioned itself in the middle of the field for a few battles, mainly waited for the Mid to advance.  Its not uncommon for units on the hill to stay up on the hill and make the enemy come toward them.

Unit Makeup, Terrain, and Weather Considerations

The Bog Celts are a rather unusual group of fighters.  We tend to skirmish well and have a lot of melee experience, but we don't follow commands well and currently don't have a lot of shields.  Last year we put together a unit of 40 fighters with about 50% shields.  This year we put together 31 fighters with only 30% shields.  This means that we tend to be good at relatively quick maneuvering (due to the skirmishing), filling in gaps, static battles, attacking flanks, and cleaning up.  We are not, however, built for stopping large units who wish to mount a big charge.

I knew that attrition was going to be a factor in these battles.  Some portion of the fighters on the field were not going to fight in all 5 battles, and if one side could be affected more, it might swing the battle.

Consider this;  it was very hot and humid.  Most people on the field were middle aged, over weight, have not done a lot of cardio before war, are covered from head to toe with only the face exposed allowing for minimal heat dissipation, wearing 40-50 lbs of armor, and had to cover a couple hundred yards of walking and fighting, not to mention the potential for walking up and down a hill.  Beyond the Xs and Os of the fight, minimizing the amount of movement on the field might be a factor worth considering.

..........or maybe I'm overstating it.  I will say, however, as I've gotten older, pacing and conserving energy have become bigger priorities, and I've been noticing my older friends sitting out more battles than they used to.

Best Laid Plans Often Go Awry

Last year we did very well in three of the four battles, pretty much rolling through whatever came at us.  Two years ago we had a small unit of 10 (it was a hot Friday) and found ourselves unopposed on a flank in each battle. Our unit was also almost exclusively seasoned vets, and as a result we were able to do quite a lot of damage given the great field position.

Our biggest weakness was not being able to reform after the initial engagement was complete.  We have a lot of headstrong, independently minded fighters in the group who just want to fight.  So this year we wanted to focus and taking a second to pause and regroup.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves in very different circumstances this year.  Instead of being unopposed on flanks, we found ourselves constantly walking into (and trying to avoid) kill pockets.  Being outnumbered, it was very difficult to outmaneuver what we hoped would be bigger and slower units.

Ultimately what we hoped to do was to find a gap in the field and get through to the back side and start rolling up on the flanks of engaged units.  That did finally happen in the 4th field battle, though a few of us dropped pretty quickly to archery.  In the first three, however, we were constantly pulling out of kill pockets (see below) and moving away from the larger forces coming at us from the top of the hill.  Instead of hitting a flank hard, we were sticking and moving, sticking and moving, sticking and moving. Instead of collapsing an army, we were hoping to merely get more kills than we had fighters, one at a time, and avoid a larger mass coming toward us.

Diagram turned 90 degrees from picture above.
(Top of diagram is left of picture.  Green figures represent the East/Blue side.)

Fight to the Last Fighter

Despite being outnumbered and overwhelmed in the first few battles, we managed to pull out two wins by the absolute skin of our teeth.  It was a good feeling knowing that for every last kill that I fought for, and for every last kill that anyone else on our side fought for, that it actually mattered in the end.  Not only that, but for every person who fought in any battle and even only did little more than die, that might have been the difference of making just one more person on the other side sit out one of the last two battles.

Much of what I talk about in these blog posts is small team tactics.  Most of what we do at our local melee practice is running a variety of scenarios with 2 on 2 up to 6 on 6, mainly just getting people used to working together in small teams.  I was elated to know that of the last 10 people remaining on our side who had to win battle #5 by killing the other side's last remaining fighters, that two of them are from the melee practice group that we put together in Philly.  There was also a third person in that group who was one of the many people who inspired my approach to fighting back in the 90s, and who uses exactly the same melee methods that I do.

Command and Communication

Command in Anglesey is simple.  Half the people in our group know what to do given what's right in front of them, and the other half know to support the first half when they do it.  Beyond that, commanding is more about communicating what is going on in the battle, and getting people out of bad spots.

Communication is the more difficult piece that I am learning the hard way.  I have many weaknesses, but one of my strengths is my field awareness.  This actually used to be a weakness of mine, but over the last 4 years I've worked really hard at improving it.  I'm having to learn that most other fighters don't see and hear what I do, or more importantly, when there's fighting going on, they don't hear shit.

Last year I had to pull our unit out of trouble and it was actually caught on Chad Burns' Combat Camera Corps video.  My commands were shouted out very quickly and I ran away immediately.  The lesson I learned is that they need to be a little more deliberate, and I need to give people time to react.  Anticipating what the enemy will do ahead of time helps, but I also need to remember that middle aged men in 50 lbs of armor aren't going to sprint me down in the middle of a field battle when I'm pulling a unit out, so I will normally have a bit of a window to get my commands off.

This year, however, I was still not very successful.  One time I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Anglesey, pull back!" five times in a row, and no one listened.  If I had to guess, I was probably 10 - 15 yards behind the unit.  Each battle I got more and more deliberate about yelling out commands.  In the last battle, I actually ran up to each fighter, grabbed their shoulder, and yelled in their ear.  This was by far the most successful, but by the time I got to the last fighter, the rest of the unit had disappeared.

Given this experience, moving forward I have the following in mind:

-  Train the newer fighters to echo commands when they hear them.
-  Lean in like a quarter back when yelling commands.  I don't need to be in their ears, but I also can't be shouting commands from 15 yards back.
-  Its okay to leave people behind.  I can spend 3-5 seconds getting our guys out of a kill pocket.  The rest?  They are just going to have to be our speed bump, and maybe they'll learn.

General Thoughts on Training for Battle

Given some of the above issues, as a former varsity basketball coach I know how to fix some of the problems.  I could, for example, run some drills and call a hold every time someone doesn't echo a command.  We'd then do some sort of "punishment" in order to reinforce proper habits.  This works great for a high school basketball team that practices 2 hours a day, 6 days a week.  But what about a group of adults who meet sporadically in a hobby that they do purely for fun?

Anglesey is spread out mostly in three kingdoms (Atlantia, East, and Aethelmearc).  We can get 70+% of our active fighters to the same five events a year, but beyond that, people practice on their own.  My approach to training and fighting philosophy is what I like to call "street balling."  Everyone needs to be able to fight with random people on the field.  The fundamentals about how to perform basic jobs on the field and the ability to read what the enemy is doing are key.  Most importantly, we always try to get small advantages in the fight.

This is much different than, say, Dark Moon or the TuChux who seem to work more on organized unit tactics?  Which way is right?  If I may quote myself from a recent conversation I had, "Who are you to tell me how to have fun in my hobby?"  In short, whatever keeps you and your friends coming back out is what you probably should do.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pennsic 47 (part 1) - Allied Champions

Pennsic was hot!  Very hot....and very humid! 

And this year's Allied Champions battle was very different than in recent years in that the fight only allowed for a total of 5 substitutes.  That meant that 70 of the 80 fighters on a given side had to be prepared to fight for the full hour in the late morning of a very hot and humid August day.

The Format

With exception of the substitution policy, this year's battle followed the traditional format.  We fought in a rectangular field, each army starting at opposite ends, with the goal of capturing the other team's flag which is situated near their starting point.  Upon death, a fighter goes to the resurrection corral where they must wait for the corral to be released (once every 3 minutes).  If a flag is captured and brought back to that team's own flag, then a point is scored, the fight is stopped, and both sides are reset.

Last year's battle had ~30 substitutes per side, with unlimited subbing in and out.  This, combined with near perfect weather,  caused the battle to be much faster paced and higher energy.  Knowing that I only needed to fight for 6 minutes at a time before resting for 3, I was able to push myself very hard.

This year's battle was fought much more like a marathon.  His Majesty Dietrich of Atlantia and I had a short conversation prior to the fight about how our plans were to play mostly defense in for the first half hour and only taking shots that were sure kills, hoping that we'd still be in the fight once the other side started dropping out.

Additionally I'd like to note that Anglesey picked one of its newer up and coming fighters instead of a more seasoned veteran because this fighter was young with low body fat, and we thought he'd fare better in an hour long resurrection when compared to our middle aged big bubba's.  The main point being that heat was a major factor to strategize around (note my bare arms, below, for heat dissipation). 

Basic Strategy

In general, both sides meet in the middle.  Though the ultimate goal is to reach the banner, that's rarely done with an aggressive push from the middle.  A numbers advantage must be gained, which typically snow balls.  In other words, a small advantage allows for more kills, which leads to a bigger advantage which allows for even more kills, which leads to an even bigger advantage.  If the side are relatively balanced, it is not uncommon for both sides to push toward the banner from the right.  This is generally done with the spears, but sometimes a weakness can be exploited with shields (see below).

Tactical Mistake from Red

We (blue) were able to push hard on the right and grab two banners early on due to a mistake by Red.  Their far left flank was one rank deep with only spears on it.  Twice, a loan sheildman from our side was able to rush the spears which gained us lots of kills and a lot of ground.  On the third fight Duke Timothy and another knight with a shield moved onto the far left and did a great job of securing the flank, but that was only after being down 2-0.

Atlantia's Secret Weapon

I'm a stinker and give away all the best secrets.  His name is Hugo, and he's a beast of an unbelted fighter.  He's probably the fastest running fighter at Pennsic.  Two years ago he grabbed the first banner, but the point was taken away because one must wear a gauntlet in order to grab the flag.  This year he sacrificed hitting power and precision for the ability to grab the flag by wearing a gauntlet instead of fighting with the much preferred basket hilt.  As a result, he was able to run in and get the first two points.

Lord Bannon McLordy Pants

Bannon Macdugal of the Concusare (loooong time friend and ally of Anglesey, fighting together as kindred celts of the bog) also managed to grab two flags.  Being almost twice the age of Hugo, I asked how he was able to do it.  He said that as he got close to the banner, he waited until each of the 5 fighters defending the banner were engaged with other people, and then he used that opportunity to spring into action.

Oh....and that earned him a Lordship, which we tease him mercilessly about. 

Spear Movement Around the Flanks

As a spearman, the biggest thing you should be looking for in battles like this are opportunities to create kill pockets.  If you are at the point of the fight and driving the other team back, then you are in a good position, but those positions are so few relative to the number of fighters on the field.  Everyone else needs to figure out how to create a tactical advantage.

Normally what happens once a line starts to thin out is that a gap and/or bulge will form between the center and the collapsing flank.  Placing oneself in the gap can allow for opportunities on either the flank or the center.

Note on How to Handle Corral Releases

As I said earlier, though this is a game of field position, in my opinion, the numbers advantage is key.  There were times when we'd get about 3/4's the way across the field, and the corral would release near the flank that we were pushing.  We were told from the sideline to "stay the line" and to not "give up ground."

Like with any topic, I'm open to hearing different strategies.  This is one, however, that I disagree with, at least on the surface.  Lets say, for example, that we are down to our last 30 fighters, and they are down to 15, and then the corral opens up.  Before our guys can get up the field, we'd be at a 30 to 75 disadvantage, which is nearly impossible to defend.  Its always been my belief that, regardless of what ground you've gained, you have little choice but to walk back to mid field, reset, and press again.