Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 16: Why I Hate Line Fighting   Leave a comment

I hate line fighting.  Hate it.  Like a rash.  In a tender place.  Far too often lines advance and then set up at long range, poking at each other, and doing absolutely nothing else.  The vast majority think it’s a sort of orgy of one-on-one fights.  It’s boring, it lacks initiative and strategy.   It sucks.  And then you die because some panicky goob backs into you, fouling your blades and pushing you onto your opponent.

Okay, so, correction, I hate STATIC line fighting.  A line that moves and keeps moving is a beautiful, though highly rare, thing.  So, too, a well handled skirmish line: beautiful, but rare.  So rare that I can safely say “I hate line fighting” and leave it at that.


Period fighting

There are two ways to view, from a period perspective, what we do with swords in large groups.  Either we’re re-creating “honor duels” as they tended to be fought, or we’re re-creating armed battle.

While honor duels are commonly envisioned as fought one on one, with a man in a stupid wig dropping a handkerchief or something, in reality the Seconds tended to join in, which led to bringing Thirds, who also joined in, and occasionally passersby would jump in as well, because they were Italian.  Or French.  Or English, or German.  Really, if you have a sword, why not let it out to play?  Honor duels therefore had a tendency to progress towards gang warfare.  And in small melees (5 man tourneys, for instance) gang warfare works as a good analogy.  Small melees = street fighting, and should be conducted with the same brutal aggression as a gang would.  The tactics of armies don’t really work in small melees.  Instead you maneuver to gain an edge of just one person, and finish it from there.

Where it breaks down is when you get more than, say, twenty people on the same field.  Then you have the lightest of light infantry fighting each other.  At this point the armies usually revert to infantry tactics of lines and columns, which leads to the surreal experience of armies of barely armed fighters trying to maneuver as though they could actually hold ground.  Were it period, this would result in lines of rapier fighters all dead from a bullet.  The other option, maintaining the mindset of gang warfare, leads to chaotic, disorderly hordes.  Though very, very fun, mobs of fighters tend to be less effective, and somewhat dangerous.


Non-period fighting

Too often, we fight more based on the Three Musketeers than on, you know, reality.  You remember the climactic battle from the version with Chris O’Donnell as d’Artagnan, and Oliver Platt, Jack Bauer, and Charlie Sheen, and Tim Curry rocking the Richilieu ‘stache?  Anyway, the four musketeers approach the king’s palace, and a line of the Cardinal’s men stand in their way, and oh no whatever shall they do?  But then the milling crowd throw off their cloaks and, behold, they’re all musketeers, too, and two lines of fighters close and fight.

‘course, being musketeers, why didn’t they just shoot the cardinal’s men, so exposed and unprotected, with their muskets?  Eh, don’t nit-pick!

The two lines closed, breaking down into a hundred single combats, and the four snuck inside where Gary Oldman (also rocking the villain part) lost to Chris O’Donnell (movies are bullshit).

So the battle, while visually impressive, is horribly flawed, even from an SCA perspective (cross-shots!  Flanks!  Comeon!).

Standing in a static line with a force that is meant to be moving quickly exposes one to being destroyed by a more-mobile enemy.  Standing in place gives up the advantage of the rapier fighter.


Not heavy fighting

A large part of the problem comes from the fact that we fight on the same field as the armored fighters, and in almost all cases the heavies determine the format.  So while armored fighters are exactly the people who should be fighting bridge battles and gate battles and line battles, fencers are stuck using those same fields to our lesser advantage.

Heavies work best on a scale >10 fighters, fencers work best on a scale <10 fighters.

But as is obvious, fencers aren’t armored fighters.  It makes little sense to fight on their field in the same way they do.  They can charge through a line, we can’t.  They can call shots to their body light because their opponent didn’t have opportunity to generate power, we can’t.  While fencers usually run gate battles as infinite rez for attackers and limited rez for defenders, heavy gate battles tend to be fought no rez.

Maybe one day fencers will figure out that they can, in fact, move those hay bales and turn a bridge battle (which we suck at) into a broken field or town battle (which is our forte.  Notice the ‘e’).  As for gate battles… well, I’m sure some people like standing in a killing cup, waiting for somebody to jump on their swords, or love being the person jumping on the swords.  Just not me.


When lines are useful

If you have to hold ground, then, yes, you need a line.  That line is going to get to stand in front of the piece of ground and… stand there.  Sometimes, they might get to fight an opponent, but mostly they’ll stand there.  If anybody brought a crossbow or a couple of RBGs, the line will take it up the ass and life will suck, but only for a short time.

So, static flags or other markers? Form a line.

Structure (house, gate) holding?  Form a line, in this case a killing cup just inside the doorway.

Containing/denying access to a corridor of travel?  Probably a line is gonna be best, if you don’t have a White Scarf handy to stand there and look scary, going “ooga booga I am Vyv!”  Yeah, we had him do that last War of the Wings, when he was saying “But I’m so rusty!”  Our response was “But you’re Vyv, nobody’s going to charge you”.  And it worked.


Good scenarios for rapier

As mentioned, town battles and woods battles are excellent scenarios for rapier.  They have fronts less than ten people wide, and a plethora of those fronts so as not to result in stacking at choke points.

Broken fields, which are really the same as woods or towns, but with less orderly structure and fewer bushes, accomplish the same goal.

Bad scenarios for rapier

Bridge battles, where you end up 10 wide and twenty deep, doing fuck all until a short, artless charge at the enemy.  The same for Wall Battles.

Gates.  Again, take a bunch of people who can move fast, and put them in a static killing cup, or have them charge straight forward and die.


Small Unit Organization

An army of small units (say, five each), cooperating, rather than a single large unit, gives the rapier army the speed and flexibility of response that is the talent of rapier forces.  Any scenario that supports the squad-level organization, rather than expecting the army to act as a single unit, is a Good Idea for rapier.  If there’s a clearing in the woods or “plaza” in the town, two or more units can come together and form a line long enough to secure the space and then push forward, or break off and run the flanks while some units hold the front, rather than standing there doing nothing except wiggling your tips.


But Really…

If you feel you must form a line, and the scenario doesn’t require it be static, don’t stand still.  Keep your line moving, and learn to charge (see Dante’s Charge Drill) and wrap and basically do everything except give your opponent the chance to pick you apart from long range while you give him a static target.

Posted April 17, 2009 by wistric in Melee, Wistric's Weekly Warfare

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