Wistric’s Weekly Warfare #2: Line Fighting

(From the archives)

Let’s say my favorite method for attacking a line (run around behind it, DFB) is not an option.  Whether you’re part of a larger army, or you have to hold a position, or just “stuff happened”, and you now are looking at the pointy ends of your enemy’s swords.  Now what happens?

Attacking a Line

The goal of attacking a line boils down to one of two things (or a mix): Break the line or move the line.  If you ARE the line, it’s the opposite: hold the line (stand fast) and break the charge.

Like every fight, it begins with an attack.  There are a few ways to attack a line, which vary depending on the specific goal:

Line charge: Advance as a line.  You can charge, but you still want to pull back the throttle before you jump on the sword points of your enemy.  If you want to push a line and take ground, this is what you’ll probably do.

Flying wedge: Attack as a V, with somebody really suicidal at the front point.  You charge, that point hits first, and if it punches through your wedge has just split the line.  If the point dies, your charge pretty well stops, and the arms of the V end up facing the line, just like an attack in line.  This is an even balance of breaking a line and moving it.

Column charge: Attack as a column X people wide (Column of #) and as many ranks deep as necessary.  If it’s a column of 4, only those four people hit the line first.  But if they die, the next four are right behind them, and rank after rank hammers on a single point in the line until the line breaks.  Hopefully at that point you have enough fighters left to exploit the breach, run around behind the line, and DFB.  This is the best way to go about breaking a line.  A way to improve the success of the column charge is to fountain: The first rank, instead of charging straight through the line, moves to each side, entangling the enemy’s blades as it slides, so that the second rank can strike cleanly and go straight through.

 

Defending the Line

What if you’re a defending line, and there’s a line/wedge/column charging down your throat, do you just pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and take it like a sailor?  Of course not.

You can counter-charge.  Meet them halfway.  Lines tend not to be able to actually charge across a field in good order (Stabby McSpeedy gets far ahead of the line while The Lazy Fencer brings up the rear.  I’ve been both of these).  If you counter-charge, and keep your line, you catch McSpeedy without the support of his line, and he might as well not have anybody else on his side (This is how you die real, real fast in your very first Pennsic field battle while Baron Alejandro chuckles in amusement).  By the time Lazy F. shows up, the rest of his line has been taken apart one at a time and he’s just as dead as McSpeedy.

You can pike:  Form a double line.  The front line kneels and sticks their swords out.  The rear line stands behind the kneeling front line and also sticks their swords out.  Walls of points are really discouraging to columns and wedges.

You can intimidate.  Try the white-scarf stomp.  As they approach, take one large, loud step forward, as though you know what you’re doing and you can’t wait for them to get in range of you.  That generally makes attackers pause for just a second, and that means all their momentum goes away.

Other equally confusing, pause-inducing actions can be made up on the spot (I’ve given the order to Can-Can before.  It worked.  Once).

 

Static Line Fighting

So we’ve hit a stalemate, and barring a really lovely column charge against an unprepared line, or a counter-charge against an unprepared enemy, things tend to end up as a line-vs-line engagement.  What now?

Firstly, do NOT lunge.  You will be stabbed from three sides, and probably won’t even kill your target.

Secondly, targetting: The fighter in front of you is watching you.  He’s probably got something in each hand.  You’re not going to get an easy shot through his defenses.  What you will get, though, is diagonal shots at the exposed hands of the fighters on either side of your opponent.  Be quick, move just your hand and arm, and tag the enemy’s hands.  Don’t over-expose your hands and don’t take your attention off the fighter directly across from you.

Lines hate two things: Close distance, and actually throwing a shot.

Take advantage of this.  If you want to advance, you step.  Your unit commander will call “step”, and everybody will step forward at once while making sure they don’t get stabbed (if just one person steps, see the bit about lunging).  You will now be in close range.  Lines hate this, and your opponent will back up a little.  If you keep doing this, they keep moving backward.

Of course, just like in fighting a single opponent, you’ll need to be able to control the swords pointing at you.  Just as in single combat, the easiest way is to get physical control of your opponent’s sword with a bind or sweep.  Given that you’re fighting at long distance, you won’t be able to do large motions, however you will be able to displace or immobilize your opponent’s blade enough to provide an opening for your teammates’ to strike.

You can also use the same mind games: Provide false openings to lure a shot that is intercepted by your teammates.  Make use of the natural “tracking” instinct of your opponent that causes their sword to follow yours, again exposing them to a strike.

Reading back through the last two paragraphs, you may notice that your actions aren’t taken to give you an opening, but to give your teammates an opening.  So, too, should you be watching for your teammates to give you an opening. 

And again, do not lunge.  Should the guy next to you lunge, be prepared for all the people who will kill him.  Try to kill one of them as they throw their shot (afterall, they’ll be lunging, too).

If you want to intimidate/distract/annoy your enemy, throw a LOT of shots (shower shooting, let’s call it).  Not huge shots, barely more than a feint.  You shoot at their hand as they’re setting up for a shot, and they have to defend.  You do it every time they’re even thinking about throwing a shot, and they start getting really frustrated.  You shoot at their face, and they go into instant defensive mode, even if your point is a yard away from them.  They may even back up, just so they can have a little more breathing room.  While this is going on, it’s a good time to see if somebody can get around behind them and start the DFB.

But don’t lunge.

And now, the skirmish line.  Instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, the line spreads out, about a sword length apart.  Any enemy who tries to charge through that gap has two swords to deal with, and now your line covers more than twice as much front.  Skirmishers won’t be able to hold a position, but they will be able to hold attention while the rest of the unit acts.  What do you do with the people who would stand in those gaps?  Send them around behind the enemy line, DFB.

Additionally, a skirmish line can precede a charge, lightly engaging (at long range, without committing to shots) to distract the enemy while the charge follows quickly behind (say, five steps behind, just long enough for the enemy to look at the skirmishers and forget to look further away).

But don’t lunge.

1 comment to Wistric’s Weekly Warfare #2: Line Fighting

  • Charles Fleming

    Hi, Wistric! Let’s see if I can leave a comment here. I think I posted this to the Atlantian Rapier Net once, but it bears repeating. When in a static line, don’t just focus on the opponent in front of you. Pay attention. Expect the unexpected. In the Gulf Wars woods battle a couple of years ago, I was part of a squad whose job was to flank the enemy and cause chaos from behind. No DFB, alas, but you could foul their swords. I walked up behind an Ansteorran Don who was obviously the leader of his part of the line, and tangled him up. (“What are you doing!?” he asked. “Fouling your blade, milord,” I replied.) Facing this Don were several able-bodied Trimerians who stared stupidly and DID NOTHING. They could have gacked the Don and blown through the line, but no. I died for nothing. The moral of this story is: Your line may not be as static as you think. Watch and be ready.

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