Monday, September 4, 2017

River War - 11 v 11 Field Battles

Had a wet and rainy River War, but fun nonetheless.  Captains were determined through a series of Roman melees, and teams were picked.  There were three small units, and a bunch of unattached fighters.  The units were Hrafnox, Bloodguard, and Anglesey.  Though to be more specific, I'd like to call it Hrafnox Travel Squad, Bloodguard South, and Anglesey East.  I say that because anyone of our groups can be amazing or less impressive, depending entirely on who shows up.  In this case, Hrafnox had their most practiced fighters (and they are looking really very good these days), Bloodguard had a mix of high end and newer fighters, and Anglesey had mostly fighters with 1-2 years of experience (plus myself).

Once teams were picked, Hrafnox and Bloodguard ended up being one side while Anglesey East and a mix of unattached fighters made up the other team.  The field was wide enough to do a small amount of maneuvering, but narrow enough that both flanks can be easily controlled (maybe 15 - 20 yards wide?).  There was a slight hill from one end to the next, with a steeper hill from flank to flank.


The first thing I looked at was weapons mixes and what we could do with them.  Our opponent had, in my well as everyone else's opinion, the better units and the better fighters.  Whenever that happens, I think about the game rock, paper, scissors.  There are two ways to win this game.  1)  If their side throws rock, then you throw paper.   2)  If their side throws rock, you throw a bigger rock.  Whatever they were going to throw was going to be bigger than ours, so the only chance we had was to throw something else.  Looking at the weapons mixes, I noticed that they had 4-5 spears, so we went with no spears (something that is very rare to see out of Anglesey).  If we could press them in the fight, then we stood a chance.

The Big Picture with Newer Fighters

I often get stuck in this paradigm trying to figure out what is THE best method, or style, or strategy that is a one size fits all best way of doing things.  Likewise when a lot of people learn to fight in the SCA, they think that the way that they were taught is THE right way to do things.  There are actually lots of right ways to do something (though even more wrong ways) and much of it depends on the makeup of the fighters involved.

This also largely depends on the experience of the fighters, both individually and collectively.  When I used to be a high school varsity basketball coach, I read up on systems of play.  I found it very interesting that at the very lowest levels, the plays were very structured and very simple.  Once you got to the high school varsity level, the structure stayed, but the plays got more and more complicated.  By the time one got to the pro level, a lot of the structure went away.

You see, the least experienced players need to know where to go and where everyone else is going to be, and they need to be able to process this while playing a fast paced game.  An offense might, for example, always have someone standing in the corner.  So you know there's always going to be someone there to throw the ball to.  At the high school level they can handle more complicated plays, and be able to process the movements of their teammates more quickly.  At the pro level, OTOH, there is this very advanced sense of play where each player has a myriad of things that he can do, and his teammates can anticipate which one he's going to do and generally know where to go and what to do, all in a fraction of a second.

Applying this to the SCA, newer fighters generally need a lot more structure while experienced fighters can feel the flow much more quickly and can have room to improvise on the fly.

Our Approach

Opponents who are any good generally come up with one of two systems for what is essentially a 10 man team battle.  They will either set up one big unit, often as a shield wall, and try to steer that mass at a flank or a weakness that they can spot, or they will split off a small flanking unit (usually no more than 3 flankers) and try a hammer and anvil approach (the main unit press forward while the flankers pinch on the outside).  In my personal opinion, I think the former approach is easier to teach and more appropriate for less experienced fighters, but that the hammer and anvil approach is more effective if implemented well.

Lately I've been using a different approach that looks to exploit either of the above approaches.  Instead of a main unit and a flanking unit, I set up two equal strength units that both move onto the flanks.  I then set myself as a floating commander in the backfield between the two units and call out which unit to press the attack based on their positioning.

At this point, its a pretty easy read for me.  If we are facing a single large unit, either pinch on both flanks (giving us the better position in the fight) or charge at the big unit's flank with whichever unit has the flanking position.  If we are, instead, facing a main unit and a flanking unit, one of our units will likely be across from the flanking unit, while the other will be across from the main unit.  In this case, you attack the flankers and stall the engagement against the main unit.  If you allow some flexibility in the units, some fighters can peel off and hit the flank of the main unit as they are pressing forward onto our other unit.

Initial Problems and Improvements

In our very first engagement we got slaughtered.  Our left unit went after the flankers and they plain just ran around us.  The fight was over very quickly.

So we corrected that by moving much more aggressively to the flanks.  Over the course of the next several battles I was realizing that Anglesey East, with very little experience in the unit, was not doing a good job of stalling.  The first couple of fights they charged when the other group charged.  Then, even when they stopped doing that, they would still walk toward the enemy quickly when the other group charged.  It took me a while to get the idea across, but they finally figured out to literally try to stay out of the fight as long as possible and to pull Bloodguard with them.  We went from killing very few people in these fights to killing over half of their side.

Always remember:  Kill quickly, die slowly.

At one point a member of the other team suggested giving us the uphill advantage.  It wasn't much of an advantage, but it wasn't insignificant.  So after switching sides we started doing a little better.  The knight on our team suggested trying a different strategy.  Instead of attacking the flankers, the mixed unit turned down the hill and slammed into the main unit on the oblique.  This worked out well, with one problem.  Anglesey East stalled and tried to stay out of the fight.  I explained at this point that with the oblique attack on the main unit, they needed to charge with them so that we could attack with higher numbers and a flanked position.

By the end of the day we were able to take a group of people who don't fight together, 8 of whom have 1-2 years of experience, and go from getting slaughtered to actually being able to hold our own.  Someone told me we even won 1 or 2 battles.  I don't know if that was true, but if we were close enough to even believe that to be the case, then I consider it a moral victory.  If anything, we were definitely delivering 7 or more casualties by the end of the fights toward the end.

Taking the Initiative

Successes in any of these formats come from taking the initiative when opportunity presents itself.  Anglesey East was struggling because they were committing 70%, both when it came time to get engaged, or when it came time to refuse engagement.

The Skirmish Approach

The eventual goal is to be able to win battles like this without units and commands.  We can fight under that system when we have our veterans on the field, even with 40-50% new fighters.  When the new fighter ratio is literally at 83%, some organization needs to be applied.

Lessons Learned

Two constructive criticisms I got from the other side was that I left Anglesey East leaderless and they both recommended that I should have stayed with the group.  The problem was, our entire side didn't have an experienced leader, so had I done that, we might have had the same problem with the other group.  I'm not certain that *I* needed to be the leader, but that someone should have been.  I think that's going to be the next step in our training.  They didn't need a great leader, they just needed someone to make the calls that needed to be made, and I need to start asking some of the newer guys to take this on.

Having said that, I thought we did very very well given the lack of experience on our side.

Pennsic 46 - 3: Field Battles

This year we had, to the best of my knowledge, ~1200 fighters in total on the battle field to fight the four field battles.  In this blog post I'll do my best to give an overview of the fighting, but its going to be largely from the perspective of my unit and where we were situated on the field.

Anglesey and The Bog

My unit is Anglesey (green and gold), and this year we brought 23 heavy fighters to the field.  Galatia (black and white) brought 6, The Concusare 12, Red Branch 4, and Mountains Keep 9 (rough guesses).

Rough totals (54 fighters):

25 Sword and Board
17 Spears
8 Polearms
4 Archers

~22 newish fighters, and 32 solid veterans (mostly 15+ years exp)

Our unit, for the most part, is a collection of early period celts who fight as free (no fealty to the crown) fighters based mostly out of the D.C. area with a small contingent of Anglesey out of Philly, and Mountains Keep (not traditionally part of the Bog) being an Atlantian Household out of N.C.  Our fighting style is much more wolf pack / skirmish than most SCA units.

In short, we hate politics and we love to fight!


This was a task for us this year.  Its been a long time since we've really had to worry about this.  In a good year, we'll bring 25 fighters to the field, with at least 20 being long time veterans.  We had a lot of growth this year, which doubled our numbers and brought our inexperienced ratio to over 40%.

We don't fight in a classic SCA style (and we hope to never have to) which means we couldn't just pile then new people in the 4th rank, or intersperse them into a shield wall.  We also like to bring as many fighters to the point of killing as possible, which means our front gets spread very wide which is difficult to command.

To tackle this, we did a handful of things:

1)  We trained our new fighters to fight within our system.  This involved lots of small drills when we only had 3-4 people at a practice, on line guides explaining our system, and a lot of feedback at battles from the new people.

2)  The buddy system.  We gave each new fighter a veteran to follow around and explained to them how to fight with that veteran.  For the most part what we really wanted to accomplish was to have our new fighters spread out evenly within the unit, rather than to have a clump of them creating a weakness somewhere in the line.  I learned this lesson at a Battle on the Bay field battle where three new guys entered the field from the left and stood on the left flank.  In the next fight our left flank got horribly rolled in quick order.

3)  A three commander approach.  Each unit had its own commanders, but we put three key commanders on the left flank, center, and right flank (I was right flank).  The three of us have a long history of fighting with each other, so intentions can be communicated without needing to be vocalized.  Some of it is the way a person moves, some is actual hand signals, and some is simply a psychic link that you pick up from years of fighting together.

4)  Spreading out the talent.  We essentially made sure that we identified a few key veterans and placed them, again, on the right, left, and center appropriately.

Field Battle #1

First person view

There's not really much to talk about tactically in this one.  From my perspective, both sides more or less marched across the field and met in the middle.  It looks like there might have been some good flanking going on on the south side of the field from the allies, but its hard to tell.

On the north side of the field, the Tuchux formed a block on their right flank with two units, about 4 ranks deep.  Across from them was a large contingent of the East Kingdom in a mass that appears to be maybe 6 ranks deep.

The Bog is the next unit over from the Tuchux and in a line 25 wide and 2 ranks deep with some archers behind that.  Behind us was the Atlantian Army and another large group, while across from us appeared to be the Barony of the Cleftlands and Mid Royal along with maybe another group.

In this battle the Tuchux marched up the right flank while hugging the right boundary, and the East Army came down directly across from them and met in the middle.  We moved forward and met the unit directly across from us.

From here it appeared that the Tuchux and the East were more or less holding ground against each other.  We were able to whittle the unit in front of us down as Atlantia came around our left from behind and started pushing hard on the flank.  I didn't see any real tactical plays in this battle, we just simply out fought (Skill?  Numbers?)  the other side without making any big mistakes.

What Could Have Gone Wrong?

As I said, the fight pretty much came to us with an even front.  Had we held back, we would have kept Atlantia (behind us) out of the fight too long, and the Tuchux left flank would have been exposed.  Had we pushed forward, we would have worked ourselves into a kill pocket.  Had Atlantia not moved around us to get into the fight, our left flank would have been exposed.  In this fight, everyone on our side did their jobs well.

Command Errors

I was the Vice Warlord for Anglesey.  Our Warlord and myself were two of the first people dead in our unit.  I can't speak for her, but I got stupidly aggressive, over extended myself, and got hit by a well known spear expert (right at 1:50 of the second video).

After watching the rest of our unit fight well on their own, it gave me confidence that I can let them do the fighting and win while I focus on watching the field and directing traffic.  A lesson well learned.

Field Battle #2

First person view from the left flank (Atlantia)

In this battle we (the allies) were told to reverse the field.  Anyone on the left moved to the right, etc.  That seemed to take more time than we expected.  The Tuchux were still on the right flank when the cannon fired, and for whatever reason we were about three to four units in from the left (no idea why).  Atlantia was hugging the far left.

A veteran in our group yelled out, "prepare to distract the best we can," which was another way of saying we are out numbered and probably won't survive the fight.

Immediately the Plastic Romans (scutums with 6 castles on the front), Darkyard (black tree on a white shield) and Dark Moon (black and gold sun pattern) pressed pretty hard on their right with another large unit pressing forward kind of in the middle.  On the other side of the field the East stayed at the top of the hill while our right flank held off for a bit at the bottom to see the battle unfold.

My unit stayed as far back as we could, and in fact walked backwards a bit, in order to stretch the battle out so that we'd have time for the Tuchux to march across the field and get into the fight.  The initial engagement looked liked this with the fronts outlined and my unit circled, and the Tuchux path marked across the back of our side of the field.

Tacitcal Notes

Darkyard and the Plastic Romans appeared to make un uncoordinated charge straight into Atlantia.  Two thoughts:  1)  If you are going to charge, you need to get your shields together and form a wall and press into the enemy all at once.  2)  Even if you did that, its not going to be effective against an army thats formed up 6 ranks deep.  Charges are only really effective at wiping out a weaker force.  If the force is stronger, you just die faster.

Drawing the fight backward seemed to effectively pull our enemy into a kill pocket.  From the picture above, it appears that a unit is moving in on the flank of whomever is pressing us.

Commanding the charges:  I managed to stay alive through this whole battle.  As a commander, I mainly watched the flow of the battle, and any time I saw we had an advantage on our enemy, I called a charge.  Usually this was when we came up on a unit that started to turtle themselves up with the "deer in the headlights" look.  THAT is when you want to charge and wipe them out so that you can move on quickly to the next fight.

The Result

We out fought our side, no better way to explain it.  The Bog then swept back into our backfield and moved north toward what was left of the East Army.  The Tuchux took a direct route across the field and hit them from the other side.  They took a more direct approach with respect to the direction that the East was fighting, while we came in looking for a flanking position.  We were able to clean up and win the battle by a small margin.

Field Battle #3
The field battles got a little more interesting as the day progressed.

First person view from allies' left flank

In this battle, the Allies stacked the left flank and left the right flank pretty empty.  Maybe they expected the East wouldn't come down off the hill?  Purple, on the other hand, did the same, which meant they had a large force on the north side of the field while we had a large force on the south side.

We lost this battle, and here's what I think happened.  For starters, Iron Lance and another group marched up the hill and engaged the larger East and Mid units and lost without delivering many casualties.  Remember what I said earlier?  Don't charge if you are out matched, you just die sooner.  Right off the bat we lost almost 10% of our forces.  Meanwhile our left flank was really far out of the fight.  In general, you want to hit early where you can win, and delay where you will lose.  This was working out better for purple than for us.

The Tuchux left the right to move around to the left side of the field, only to come back and try to pull the East and Mid armies into the corner of the field.  Had the East and Mid shot through the gap in an attempt to fight the rest of the allies, the Tuchux would have been in a good position to attack from behind.  Instead the East and Mid came down the hill right at the Tuchux, and were able to defeat them in a short amount of time due to a big numbers advantage.  Hindsight being 20/20, if I was the Tuchux, I would have kept going into the fight in the middle of the field and make the East and Mid chase.  Sure, they'd be coming up from behind, but before they got into action, the Allies would have about a 4/3 advantage, and a good flanking position.  If they can mop it up early enough, the battle is won.

Meanwhile on our left, we took too long to get into the fight, and when we did, purple did a really good job of stuffing us.  The Bog ran into the plastic romans, who did a much better job of sticking together than in the previous battle, and it took us way too long to get through them.  If you look at the videos about half way through, there's a line on the South side of the field that is just one big static fight.  The East and Mid were able to charge across the field and clean it up after they had finished with the Tuchux.

Command Mistakes

We needed to get into the battle quickly, so we started moving out ahead of the rest of the army.  I thought this was a safe play because we could move onto the left flank and then allow the rest to come at the front and we'd be in a good spot.  One of our veterans in the back was yelling for us to not do this as he had a different vision of how we should engage.  This caused a lot of confusion in our unit, and we got very disorganized.

I over estimated how fast the unit could move.  I'm a distance runner and often forget that we have a lot of bigger and older people in the group who really can't move faster than a fast walk for any great distances in armor, so a "light jog" across the field doesn't suit us.

We needed to pull out of a bad situation late in the fight, and I yelled "Bog Troopers out!" quickly a few times, and then ran.  No one responds to that name, and its not very recognizable on the field (it sounds kind of garbled and generic).  I also moved much faster than necessary, and didn't take the time to gather everyone.  I forgot that units move pretty slow at the 5 minute mark of a field battle, so I can take a little more time to grab people.  Also, "Anglesey," is a much better word as it has a very unique, distinguishable sound that can be heard over all the chatter.  The non-Anglesey groups will hear it and respond if they want, or not.

Field Battle #4

For some reason this video won't load, but you can easily find it by searching for Renegade Paladin, or Pennsic XLVI - Armored Field Battle 4.

This was my favorite battle, tactically.

The battle begins with the Allies moving fast and early on the south side of the field to establish a flanking position (correcting the mistake from the previous battle).  Our initial set up was the same as the first battle, with the Tuchux, Bog, and Atlantia back on the North side of the field and across from the East and Mid big units.  As the flanking occurred on our left, there was no engagement on the right.  The East and Mid wanted to hold the high position on the hill, and we refused to come up after them.

At this point it appeared to me that we had a good flanking position in the south and what seemed to be a numbers advantage.  With a large gap to our left, a hill in front of us, and what looked like a small numbers advantage for the other side on top of the hill, I was content to stay out of the fight for the time being.  Again, fight them where you can beat them, stall the engagement where you can't.

Early on I think purple was gambling that we'd come up the hill after them, and then realized that we weren't coming.  Needing to get into the fight before their right falls, two units march quickly down the hill to position themselves around our right flank (probably a smart move).

(correction:  I believe Edward stuck with the Mid group)

In response, Atlantia moved out to meet them before they could envelop us.  Meanwhile, we pressed forward to both keep the East from following down the hill and onto our flank, as well as to put flanking pressure onto the East if they were to go straight into the Tuchux.

This placed us in a risky position, but we had a few outs if things got too dicey.  Mountains Keep was protecting our left/rear in an attempt to hold the Mid off of us if they tried to change direction and come straight at us.  The worst that could have happened to us would have been if the East would have come straight at us, but I believe there was a low % chance of that happening, because that risks leaving their left flank open to the Tuchux  (FWIW, Balthazar, our left commander, made the call on this move).

After moving forward, the Mid stopped and changed direction to move straight into our backfield.  Fortunately the presence of Mountains Keep was strong enough to slow them down just enough to allow us to pull back out of the kill pocket and into one of our own.

Ultimately Atlantia was able to push through their opponents as we were able to fight the mid back up the hill with some of Atlantia coming around us, ultimately enveloping the East to finish the battle.

Command Mistakes

Ultimately I don't think there were any major mistakes from either side.  Purple gambled that they could hold the high ground, while Red gambled that they could send the bulk of their army around the left flank.  The final results of the battle was just a matter of not making any big mistakes and out fighting the enemy.

Final Thoughts

I am far from an expert on any of this.  I'd probably fought in field battles in 12 different Pennsics, and this is maybe the second year I'd put any thought into what the units on the field are doing.  Before that, I was a fire and forget kind of fighter.  Show me the enemy and I'll point my spear at them.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pennsic 46 - 2: Flanks, Charging a Weakness, Getting Organized, Clearing the Beachhead

Anglesey and the Bog supported Atlantia and largely fought over the center banner in the woods.  A commander gave us a bad idea to run straight at the banner in one particular instance, which prompted one of my kinsmen to say this about him:

"He doesn't understand tactics.  All he knows is that if you hit something and it didn't kill it, hit it harder."

I've found that time and time again, many tourney fighters in the SCA don't understand the power of flanking, nor do they understand how and when to execute a charge.

Controlling the Flanks

Given the choice to take an objective, its almost always going to be easier to overpower the flanks than it is the middle.  Now this certainly has a lot to do with the specifics of the situation, and the makeup of the units.  If you have a very tight, organized shield wall full of scutums, then you can risk going straight at the flag and setting up a defense on the other side of it.

In most cases, you are just going to find yourself surrounded once you punch through.

Charging a Weakness

Charges can be effective.  Some units are built such that the only thing they can do is charge.  But charging won't solve all problems.  Charges accomplish exactly one of two things:

1)  Winning the scenario quickly when you are stronger than your opponent

2)  Losing the scenario quickly when you are weaker than your opponent

During field battle #2, the biggest thing I did as a commander was call charges when I saw we had a weakened enemy.  We have a very strong spear unit, and tend to lead in with our spears up front and attempt to pick apart our opponents.  Our shields and poles stand behind us ready to support us if we get charged.  Once the the opponent's line has been weakened, however, its time to get really aggressive and run them over so that we can move on to the next fight.

Charging into a stronger opponent just makes their job easier.

Getting Organized

The most difficult aspect of fighting at Pennsic is that ultimately you end up fighting with random collections of fighters.  I've found that the biggest challenges in the woods, bridge, and wall battles is getting these random fighters to work well with you.

Having said that, the biggest factor is getting shields off of the front lines and out of your way.  In the past, I used to just stand there frustrated that they are in my way and not accomplishing anything.  I've since learned that if you simply ask them to move out of the way so that you can take their spot, they are usually more than happy to oblige.  "Hey, shield.  I've got a spear.  Let me have your spot."

When a shield is standing up there, he has no idea what is going on behind him.  All he can do is stand there and hold the line until he sees or hears something different happening.  This is where you tell him what's going on.

If you are a shield, understand that you generally have two jobs.  You are either charging, or you are repelling a charge.  Once that is done, its time to get out of the way and let the spears work.  There are exceptions where a gate or flag must be held, and a tight shield wall will do a better job than a line of spears and polls, but these are the exceptions, not the rules.

Clearing the Beachhead

In the very beginning of this video until about the 1:20 mark, you can see a breakout occur followed by fighters filtering into the other side of the wall.

Generally speaking, once this occurs, fighters need to make a conscious effort to move past the break and take ground on the other side.  I walked up to the lane at about the 1:00 mark and started telling people to funnel through to the other side.  Often times people will stop right at the hole and plug it up.

Something similar occurred on the northern most bridge in bridge battle #3, but no one followed the knight who broke through and the advantage was lost.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pennsic 46 - 1: Getting Yourself out of a Bad Situation - 4th Field Battle

So much to write about Pennsic and so little time, so I thought I would just put these together in small pieces.

I overheard fellow Kinsman Seamus give some advice to a newer fighter, and I think it really summed up possibly the most important factor regarding large scale melees.  You need to be able to recognize when you are in a bad situation and figure out how to get out of it.

Field Battle #4

The bog started off on our far right flank, we were identified in the following video as "aaaaaand who are these people?" at the 3:40 mark.

Pictured here with Atlantia in the background:

The Tuchux took the far right, we were next to them, and Atlantia and a smaller group were behind hind us.  The Bog consisted of Anglesey, Galatia, The Concusare, and also had Red Branch and Mountains Keep in with us.

The above picture represents a little more than 1/3 of our side.  The rest of our side, moved quickly to engage on the left flank.  We were content to stay where we were as the East Kingdom as well as other units were holding the top of a hill and appeared to have us outnumbered.

The Bad Situation

Eventually the East marched down the hill and into the Tuchux.  Their right flank was exposed to us, so we started to move in on it.  However, at the same time, another unit started to pinch in on us from our left, which placed us in a very bad position sandwiched between two large units.

Above you can see us positioned in an arc on the bad side of a kill pocket.  This is a very bad situation.  How do you get out?

Getting Out 

Ultimately we pulled our line back so that we were even with the Tuchux.  As this happened,  Atlantia marched around us on our left and into the middle of the field (or maybe around us to envelop the East).  Its unclear to me if they engaged any of the units that were threatening our left, or if they merely posed a threat to them, but it seems as though they went into the middle of the field.  Nevertheless, by pulling pack, we managed to turn their kill pocket into our kill pocket.

Ultimately after we pulled back to redraw the front, we were able to sweep all the way around them and envelop them with another unit (Atlantia?).

The Tuchux commander saw our maneuver and thanked us for securing victory in this fight by giving as a rarely used Tuchux salute, which was pretty cool.  =)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Get into Action: Two Battles, Different Results

I've spent some time recently watching a series of battles and I found two that really stood out to me.  Each battle had pretty much the same fighters, but very different results.  Some may figure out who, when, and where these battles happened, but my point here is not to call certain individuals or certain groups out for their ineffective fighting, especially when the fight itself may not be a good example of their capabilities (not to mention, I could be completely wrong in my assessment, and that ain't fair!).

Seizing the Initiative

I wrote about this in my last blog.  In a quick moving battle with no limit to the frontage, you need to get yourself involved in the fighting as quickly as possible.  This doesn't mean to charge head first into the first group you see, or to leave a giant hole in your line so that you can run somewhere else and start pounding on someone's shield.  It means that you need to be having an effect on the battle.  This includes:

-  Running over a weaker opponent
-  Taking free shots with a spear or pole when the opponent is out of his range
-  Moving in on a flank and getting the enemy to curl in on itself
-  Holding off a unit of equal or greater size
-  Running to a place on the battle field where fighting can/will occur
-  Defending a weakness that could be exploited if you were not there

What I like about the two specific battles I'm referring to is that I believe a lack of seizing the initiative had a large impact in how the battle turned out, and it happened for each side in different battles.

First Battle

This one was pretty straight forward.  Red team sent its right flank hard and fast into green's left flank and attacked well into green's backfield.  Green's center and right flank pressed forward at a much more moderate pace.  Green's center was expecting to engage red's center, but red's center followed its right flank.  As a result, green's center unit stood in the middle of the field unsure of what to do, all while taking on archer fire.

While some of green's center slowly moved right to get involved in the fighting, a good chunk stayed together in the middle of the field waiting for a fight to come to them.  23 seconds passed until that happened, and that was with both units who returned from the flank at pretty close to full strength.

If 23 seconds doesn't sound like a lot of time for you, sit there and count 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc. until you get to 23.  Half of the people on the field were dead by this point.

In my opinion what needed to happen here was one of two things.  That center green unit should have either moved left and engaged the red unit that moved to join the other unit on their right flank, or green should have quickly put a lot of pressure on the unit to their right in an attempt to finish them off before the flanking red units returned.

Second Battle

The second battle is a little more complicated, yet for this reason I think its more important.  The above battle, in my opinion, is pretty straightforward and obvious.  You make that mistake once and then you fix it in the next fight.

Its the subtleties, IMO, that gets someone to really understand tactics.

For this battle, I'll focus on green's left flank (about 50% of their army).  The right flank is not pictured.  Shown below, red begins with a unit of 13 fighters, and a unit of 11 fighters.  Green begins with 18 and 4, for a 24 to 22 fight (red has slight advantage in numbers).  Green began the series of fights with 4 more fighters, so in theory, they have a 6 man advantage on the right flank.  Given the routing of the previous battle, green hopes merely to contain the left flank (though winning would be a bonus).

Green moves out hard to the left and red moves out to meet them.  Red's central unit (pictured in the upper left) begins to move to meet green, which would have put them in a great attacking position with a 24 to 18 advantage plus a flanked position, but green sent a 4 man suicide squad straight at them, causing red's center unit (all but 2) to pull out and deal with them.

Now its hard to say what the better play would have been.  In fact, upon assessing this battle after several times over, I don't think red made any bad plays.  I just think there were small tweaks that could have made the difference.  In this case, I think red would have been better off leaving 4-6 people to deal with green's 4 man suicide squad, and send the other 5-7 guys hard and fast into the flank of the larger unit.  Instead, it took them a while to deal with 4 guys, all while turning their back the the larger green unit.

As the red center unit finished off the 4 man suicide quad, green's left unit slowly started to move in on the backs of red's center unit.  I don't think this was a great idea, but it did keep a sort of slow chaotic mess happening on the left half of the field while the right half was, hopefully, winning their engagement.  Keep in mind, green went into this assuming that it was the inferior unit on the left side.

I'd also like to point out that when this happens, its not usually a commander yelling, "you six, move that way.....but meander a bit and kind of slowly reform over there somewhere."  What happens, instead, is one guy sees someone he thinks he can kill, and then it draws the attention of one of his friends, which draws the attention of two more friends, etc. until half the unit ends up fighting somewhere else.

Something else I'd like to point out.  As this was happening, there were a lot of people on red team that were meandering in the background, not really engaged in the fighting.  There was one point were I saw 4 fighters facing a lone spearman.  It shouldn't ever take 4 people to deal with a lone spearman!

Having said that, red hasn't lost a fighter, yet, so I can't fault them for fighting "poorly."  But I do think they were winning much more slowly than they could have.

Once enough green had moved right, red's right unit made a big charge.  At this point they had a 12 on 8 advantage and probably more talent.

Red's right unit charged as green's left unit retreated.  When the engagement had resolved itself, I don't believe red lost a single fighter while only one green fighter escaped.  As this happened, the toilet bowl continued in the other engagement.

At this point in the battle, red has hardly lost anyone on the left half of the field, while green is down at least 11 fighters.  You might ask, how can I possibly think that red wasn't doing everything perfectly?  Believe me, I had to ask myself that same question.

But here's what I've got:

1)  Red waited a full 16 seconds after green had split off 10 of its fighters to go and fight the other unit.

2)  It took them another 20 seconds to run down 7 of the 8 remaining fighters, which drew them 15-20 yards further away from the fight.

At this point, green's right units had just finished up on the right side of the field.  Unlike red's flank, who fought until the last man was killed, green's right flank left a few stragglers and moved quickly (running) to engage in the bigger fight.  Red's flank was slow to get back into the fight.

As a result, green was able to hit the left flank of red's center unit very hard.  In just a few second, red was completely enveloped, and within 10 seconds, 6 red fighters were killed.

The last mistake that I believed red to make was that when their flanking unit came back to the fight, many ran to the center of the battle field looking for a fight rather than taking a direct line at one of green's flanks to bail out their enveloped friends.

Still, at this point in the fight, red is pretty much even with green.  Green ended up winning with only a handful of fighters left alive, but what allowed them to clean up in the end was having a number of advanced spear fighters left alive, who usually have the advantage once the shieldmen are worn out from the initial charges, and green also had a handful of younger, faster fighters who had the stamina to stay strong at the end.

If you had asked me at the 90 second mark who was implementing the better tactics, I would have said red.  However, red allowed green to stay in the game.  I think red made three small mistakes, any one of which could have won them the battle had they been more assertive about their advantages.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Southern Region War Practice

Just got back from this fine event and wanted to write a few thoughts down.  First and foremost, I don't intend to give away any "secret plans," or call out any particular group as being more effective than another, nor to contradict any of the teachings that went on there.  I really try my best to either stick to what I'm pretty confident I know about, or to address something in a way that is a matter of "thinking out loud," rather than a definitive declaration on a fighting tactic.

The Event

~95 heavy fighters
~25-30 knights, and the rest were mostly well practiced and experienced unbelts.
There were very few easy kills, and those with less experience were always near someone good.

4 field battles
3 bridge battles
a 16 minute Allied Champions Battle

Field Battles - The Toilet Bowl of Death

Both sides had 3-4 units.  I'll call them units 1, 2, 3, and 4 for our team (left to right) and units A, B, C, and D for the opposing team (our left to our right).  I was situated in unit 3 which was 14 fighters with a mix of weapon types (at least 4 spears if not more).

We lost the first three battles, but won the 4th, which tells me that it was likely the tactics that made the difference.  Sometimes a fight is completely won or lost due to the quality of the fighters on each side, but tactics can shift the advantage from one side to the other if the groups are close enough in ability.

As the first battle unfolded, unit A (their right flank) charged pretty quickly across the field while unit 1 (our left flank) waited to receive them in a tight formation.  I didn't know much about unit A's ability, but based on the confidence with which they moved, and the "swagger" that they carried, I believed that they were going to be a very strong unit.

My biggest fear was that our left was going to lose, and that it was going to lose before our right even got engaged.  Even if unit A is at half strength after the engagement, it places us at a big disadvantage because we'd have 8-10 unopposed, probably talented, fighters coming into our backfield.  The only way to combat this is to try to get an advantage of our own on the other side.

After watching the videos, combined with my memory of the engagement, what happened instead was that units 2, 3, and 4 were slow to engage.  Unit 4 did get out faster than the others, but still slower than unit A (the right flankers from the opposing team).

The opposition also seemed to have a pretty spread out left flank, which made it difficult for us to hit them and roll their flank.  In the second or third battle I moved to their unit to try and help them push the flank around, but when we got there, it wasn't clear where we needed to hit.  We were a hammer that couldn't find a nail.

Anyway, the general strategy that both sides employed is an Attack Right, Deny Left, which is what often causes the toilet bowl of death, with the battle rotating counter clockwise on the field.  Being that most fighters are right handed, units tend to be stronger on the right than on the left, which lends itself to this "hard right" strategy.

Seizing the Initiative......Effectively

After losing three battles, it was pointed out to us that the other team was doing a great job of seizing the initiative and we were not.  I agreed that statement, but I think there's some key nuances that need to be addressed. 

Let me explain again what happened.  We went hard right and they went hard right.  They went harder and got their killing units into action more quickly.  When I saw our left under attack, and at risk of folding, I wanted our unit to push harder, but I don't believe we pushed hard enough.  Remembering the time I was on the right, we couldn't find a place to attack.  We should have committed ourselves more, but I'd also like to add that their left did a great job of denying.  In addition, after watching the videos, I noticed that there was a large group of fighters on our center/right who weren't engaged at all. 

After losing a battle, our unit 1 adjusted and ran right into unit A (seizing the initiative).  There's one problem with this;  this is the unit that lost the previous engagement with unit A, so in effect, they may have just been running into battle to die sooner.  Maybe they killed more people this time, and maybe they did it at a point in the fight that put unit A in a less dangerous position after resolving the engagement, but it still wasn't going to win us the fight. 

The way to win that battle is to draw out and drag out the losing fights, and to seize the initiative on the winnable fights.  Die slowly and win quickly.  Die while pulling them out of the fight and kill while moving toward the fight.  Losing units need to stall and draw the fights away from the middle of the field, and winning units need to hit their opponents quickly and turn toward the middle of the field.

And there should never be units standing on the field unengaged.  That doesn't mean you should always be attacking, but that you shouldn't be in a position that has no effect on the battle.  In general a unit needs to be doing one of three things:

1)  Attacking
2)  Stalling/Occupying a more powerful unit
3)  Waiting for a unit to expose a weakness and then attacking that weakness

What you mustn't do is stand in the middle of the field and wait for the fight to come to you when there isn't one coming to you.  If you see a strong unit coming toward you, and you know that standing there and waiting for them to come is what is keeping them from attacking others, then you might be doing a good job.  But if you are simply waiting for units to finish killing off your friends before they come at you, then you are probably not doing a good job.  Your 10 guys standing there means that the opposition has a 50 on 40 advantage and will come at you with 25 guys when they are done.  The exception to this is if you don't think you can take a unit that is near you, you may let them pass by so that you can hit them in a weaker spot, or when they are engaged with another unit.

The two biggest problems I think I see are:
a)  engaging too late
b)  engaging too soon

Profound, eh?  =)

Using the Right Unit for the Right Job

After three losses I remember thinking to myself, "We have a big bubba hard hitting shield wall in the deny position, and a mixed weapon skirmish unit in an attack position.  We need to switch places."  Fortunately someone else had the same idea and we did.

I can only assume that unit 1 was more direct and more decisive than we were once they moved to the right.  We moved to the deny position and actually got out in front pretty fast, but out plan was not to hit the straight on.  We moved out and left, which meant that if they ran through us, they were going to go through us and out the far side of the field, which would give our right more time to clean up.

Once we got there, unit A spread out, as did we, placing us both in a stand off.

At this point I'd like to talk about the rock, paper, scissors approach.  If we come at them with rock, they have the choice to either meet us with a bigger rock, or to play paper.  They spread out, hoping to either envelop us when we charged, or to slow down our effectiveness.  It turns out that we had the same plan, so we both played paper.

I can't be certain who was right in this instance.  They had been winning all day, so we thought we needed to simply slow them down.  They, on the other hand, seemed to believe that they needed to slow us down. 

Ultimately I believe it worked to our advantage.  In the first field battle, unit A attacked at the 22 second mark, significantly before our right side engaged.  In the 4th field battle, they attacked at the 36 second mark, well after our right side engaged.  In fact, over half of our unit had already disengaged and moved on to fight others before they called for a charge.

Either way, I thought it was wise to move our unit into the deny position and utilize unit 1 in the attack position.

Dying Slowly

Quick note here, I noticed on at least two occasions that whatever group I was in was about to get munched.  I don't know that I can describe exactly how to do it here, but there are ways to slow this process down and draw it out.  Usually it involves disengaging, re-engaging, circling out, running around, hitting on the edges, etc. etc.  What it is not, however, is just standing there and taking it, hoping that throwing up your shield or swinging your stick is going to save you.

You have to figure out at what point its a lost cause and to just bail and find somewhere else to be.  It might be joining up with another unit, or it might be making them kill you at the far end of the field.

Bridge Battles

Hind sight being 20/20, I feel comfortable saying these were a mess.  I don't think they were a mess because people didn't know what to do, but rather because bridges require a lot of cooperation between the fighters on a side, and that simply can't happen with mixed units. 

In "to the last man" bridge battles, the strategy is always the same.  Both sides come out swinging until one side starts losing, then they pull themselves off the end of the bride into a kill pocket hoping to draw the other side in, and closer to their archers.

The winning side has two choices:  employ the same tactic and make the battle suck for everyone, or gamble that you can beat the other side despite the disadvantage of fighting on their end of the bridge.

When you have mixed units fighting on a narrow bridge (9 feet, which can fit 4-6 fighters across), is that everyone just crams themselves in the front hoping to get "their spot" and fight there until they die.  Spears up can be a good tactic.  Shields and spears mixed evenly can be a good tactic.  Shields up and constantly charging can be a good tactic.  Shields in the middle, spears on the sides can be a good tactic.

Random people hogging the front line is not.

None of this is to say that it wasn't a good experience and that they weren't good fights to learn from.

EDIT:  after watching one of the videos, it appears that the other team was doing a decent job of commanding on the bridge.  I still think that individual units may have done better.

Bridge Battle Suggestions

1) Sir Manfred brought up something at the end of these battles.  I can't remember the specifics, but I'll throw my own twist into it. The battles really should be fought with units, and each unit employing their own strategy.  At AE War Practice, the Tuchux did not mix in with Cloven Shield.  One battle had Cloven Shield go in first, the next battle had the Tuchux go in first.  I really believe this is a more effective method, both for fighting and learning. 

2) Get the spears out of the second rank.  They either need to be in the front rank and fighting ,or out of the way.  One person told me that their strategy is to have a single line of spears down the middle to feed into the front, which I think is a sound tactic, but to have a large cluster of spears waiting to file into the front after people die is just asking to get run over in a charge.

4)  Right handed spears fight around the right sides of shieldmen, left handed spears fight around the left side.  IOW, just because you see a spot on the front line doesn't mean you should take it.  It may not be a good spot for you.

3)  When people die, let the spears fight.  Shields are there to charge and to repel charges.  When dead guys are piling up in the middle, don't run up to the edge of the dead people and form a wall.  NO ONE is going to charge over those dead people. 

Allied Champions Battle

I thought this went pretty well and the more and more of these I do, the better I understand them.  The only thing I'd like to add is that the endurance aspect of this fight was not really addressed.  Aggressive spear fighting and shield charges are tiring and will wear you out.  In my brief experience, attrition has always been a factor in how this battle turns out.  Personally I have worked on my cardio and learning how to fight more conservatively for specifically this battle.

Finally a Note About the Heat

A friend sent this to me and I told him I'd post it:

The Sun, and why it hates us.

Southern region war camp was held this past weekend, and great renown was earned.  One of my chief experiences that day was... Heat Exhaustion.

'Oh, just suck it up boy-o!  It's part of the game!'

Here's the thing; Heat Exhaustion can quickly become Sun Stroke, which can literally kill you if you do not get treatment as quickly as possible.

If you begin to feel faint, dizzy or just can't focus, then you really need to get off the field and out of the sun for a few minutes.  Popping your top can help a great deal, as can a stiff breeze and cool fluids.  The idea is to keep your CORE temperature as low as possible while you are out in the sun and the heat.  Cool fluids do this well, but the best thing is to armor down or at least get out of the sun with plenty to drink. 

The second component of Heat Exhaustion / Sun Stroke is loss of electrolytes.  These lovely chemicals are what allow us humans to sweat and get rid of heat from our bodies through evaporation.  They also have a hand in nearly every process in our bodies, including how our brain works. 

No electrolytes? Brain no work good.

As a tip, if pickle juice tastes amazing... then you really need to drink the pickle juice.  Sports drinks [no caffeine, that hurts water processes] like Powerade, Gatorade, or the Walmart special will do wonders to keep you at the right levels.

End of the day; Heat Exhaustion is THE most common injury we suffer on the field, and we must think of it as a serious concern.  Drink the water, Pop your top and take a five minute break in the shade.  That's all it takes to keep you healthy, and it's a much better deal then paying for a ambulance and a over-night stay at the hospital.


William Martinet

(Dan Krause)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Aethelmearc War Practice: Filling the Gap, Adapting to a Fallen Flank

This is my second post about last week's war practice and this one will focus on two tactical scenarios within the field battles.  The layout was essentially one large single death field battle with ~100 on a side.

Filling the Gap

We fought with the Tuchux and the other non-Aethelmearc groups.  Anglesey and Galatia brought with us 5 spears (four with 6-30 years experience), a veteran pole arm, a veteran shield, and two new shieldmen (one with ~18 months experience, the other at her second event).  We also had a newish archer.

Now it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out what our capabilities are.  If we could find a static place in the battle we were deadly, and had just enough back up to keep the bad guys off os us.  However, if a fresh unit wished to dedicate a charge at us, there was nothing we could do to stop it.

As a result I wanted us to form up behind a large unit near a gap.  The larger unit would protect us, but the gap would be a nice place to shoot out and find some good killing opportunities.

When we initially lined up, the Tuchux were to our right, and a large unit (I believe it was a combination of Cloven Shield, the Mid, and maybe another group) formed up on our left.  Before the battle began, our guys were meandering about on the front line between the two groups.  It was a struggle to motivate them off of the front line as I had to make it clear that I didn't want the two main units to think that we were going to plug that gap.  They needed to know that there was a hole there, because we sure as hell were not going to stop a shield wall coming at us.  Had we moved forward with the main units and saw such a unit come at us, we would have had no choice but to pull out, leaving a hole that they weren't expecting, and possibly leading to a bad field position.

As each battle began and the two sides engaged, we pretty much pushed into that gap looking to exploit a flank or a bad position for the enemy. Last year I saw this many times, however they seemed better prepared this year.  We always seemed to be up against some of the best spears that Aethelmearc had to offer and if I remember correctly, the results were fairly close each time.  We never really crushed through that gap, but we never really lost it either.

Adapting to a Fallen Flank

I don't consider myself to be a great field commander.  I'm pretty good if I know what to do ahead of time, but if I'm given a situation that I'm unfamiliar with, I don't come up with ideas quickly.  A fallen flank, however, if a scenario that I've seen plenty of times and one that I think I'm pretty good at adapting to.

Consider the following diagram:

Here you can see that our left flank is collapsing.  This actually happened several times that weekend, and I'm not really sure why.  I'm a strong proponent of controlling the flanks before anything else.  Maybe the scenario was set up intentionally (it was a practice, after all).  Maybe they just couldn't muster up enough strength to hold that position.  Maybe it was bad tactics.  Either way, our flank kept dropping.

Now I'm not in charge of that flank, but I do have influence over my own group.  In this situation, we really only have four options:

1)  Keep fighting as usual - this is the worst of the four as it would lead us to getting surrounded and dying quickly.

2)  Make a hard push through the people we are facing (we did this in a similar scenario at last Pennsic's field battle).  This is generally the best option IF we can overpower our opponent and come out the other side with minimal casualties.  This was not the case.

3)  Pull out and move left - this attempts to reposition our unit to stop or slow the collapsing flank.

4)  Pull out and move right - this is ideally done either when the left flank is a lost cause, or if there is a small unit to the right that can be quickly taken out once we've moved over there.  In this case its a tradeoff;  give up the left flank for a good position on the right.

In each case at the war practice we did not overpower the fighters in our position, and there was no opportunity to our right (we would have been running into the backs of Tuchux), so we pulled out and moved left to slow that flank.

Slowing a Fallen Flank

I once said, "If you are going to die, then die slowly," to which my friend laughed as if what I was saying was ridiculous.  Not at all.  You don't do anyone any good charging into a death trap only to take yourself out of the fight.  If they have you beat, retreat, draw them our of the fight, or stall.

The video below is a good example.  At the 1:00 mark you can see our left flank completely fall, but then slow a bit.  This was the point where we redeployed to cover that flank.  By 2:00 you can see that the enter battle has rotated 180 degrees with our left falling, but the Tuchux pushing through on our right.

I first appear on the left half of the screen at 2:41.  You can see me and a small group of fighters stalling the fight for about 2 minutes.  We almost won the battle by giving the Tuchux some time to finish up their fight.  We actually ended up doing a full lap around the battle field trying to slow this group up, getting a kill here and a kill there along the way.