To put it in perspective, last Pennsic we brought 18 fighters with an average experience level of 15 years. Only 5 fighters had less than 8 years of experience. This weekend, on the other hand, 5 of our 9 fighters were very new (~1 year of experience or less....two of them were at their second event).
The Ten Man Tourney
In the middle of the tourney the knight running it asked, "Hey, are you the guy that writes that fighting blog?" I smiled and said, "Yes, but please don't judge anything I wrote by what you see today!" We did not make a good showing in this tourney, but it was a great experience and I really learned a lot.
Before I get into tactics, I'd like to quote one of our spear maidens who fought with us in this tourney. "Fighting in a 10 man tourney requires a completely different skill set than fighting in a 150 person battle." She's a 5'1" spear fighter who probably doesn't weigh much over 100 lbs. Her skills allow her to use her size to go unnoticed and poke people in the face in larger battles when they don't expect it. If she gets into trouble, she can turn and run and usually find someone to use as an obstacle for defense. In larger battles, one can disengage from one position and go and join up with 20 fighters in another position.
None of that applies to a 10 man tourney. There's no way to go unnoticed. There's nowhere to hide. There's no other unit to run to. In addition, as my fellow kinsman Seamus, who has fought in many of these tourneys put it, "Its much closer to ACL type fighting." Fighters tend to be big and strong and they take a hard, decisive hit to get killed. This places spears and smaller fighters at a distinct disadvantage.
Bringing a bad weapons mix, new fighters, and people we'd never fought with before, it was a real challenge, so we had to adjust our tactics in order to try to find something that could work.
Our first approach was to use our standard system, which is to lead out with the spears and leave the shields back to support. If the opponent is slow to the attack, we might get a kill or two before the first impact. I also took it upon myself, being fleet of foot, to run into the backfield and hope to pull at least two fighters off the line.
This went poorly. We lost the first two battles killing only 4-5 fighters on the other team. I sat out the third battle and discovered what was happening. We were spreading wide, as we normally do, and our opponent would send a large crew at one section and wipe them out. This is actually an example of why the shield wall often beats the skirmish formation. They amass a group of fighters and send it straight at a smaller group. The problem was that the fighters who were not being engaged did not react.
In the last three battles I gave my job up to a fast new fighter and moved myself to the middle of our backfield so that I can watch the battle unfold and call out commands (Badger was thinking something similar). The commands were pretty simple. We'd split into two, go wide, and I'd yell at which ever group had the advantage to attack. I'd then run to wherever I thought I could help.
We started having a lot more success at this point, getting 6-7 kills on our opponents, and even winning our last battle (yay us!). Adding our two experienced late arrivals helped as well.
These changes accomplished a few things. It got our stronger side engaged when needed, it allowed someone on the field to watch the battle unfold, and it made better use of my fast footed skills. I was able to run into a fight unopposed, often getting kills on fighters who were tied up. In my earlier role, I'd often find myself in a one on one situation, which just took me out of the fight. This was bad on my part being one of the most experienced fighters on our team.
Making the Most of What You've Got
I'm guessing that many will read this and think that the tactic shown above is just stupid. Hmmm....it might be. Why not just block together into a shield wall and hit the opponent on an oblique? With spears, new fighters, lightweight fighters, and the fact that we don't ever fight that way, I saw that as playing rock, paper, scissors, and attempting to win by throwing a much smaller rock than what the other team was going to throw. Why not switch out the spears? That wasn't really an option, either. Two of us already did, but the rest had one reason or another why they just couldn't grab a different weapon (like one fighter had a bad back. Another was only authorized in spear, archery, and siege. etc.)
So we did the best that we thought we could with what we had. Ultimately any unit is going to have to make the same kind of decision. What do you have, and what's your highest percentage play? I'm a big advocate of utilizing spears in large melees, but if your unit is full of 280 lb sword and board fighters, different tactics would be in your best interest.
If anyone reading has any suggestions for other tactics we could have tried, I'd love to read them!