Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 17: Group Initiative   5 comments

Having discussed the role played by personal initiative last month, and the calculus of costs and benefits, risks and rewards, we reached the conclusion that there’s no hard and fast rule for when to take personal initiative.  You could say the same of group initiative.  But you’d be wrong. 

As a unit, whenever possible, you take the initiative.  Seize it.  By the balls.  Do not let go until initiative screams with the death gurgles of your enemy.

To switch into D&D speak: Roll for initiative and get a goddamn critical success, or take it at swordpoint.

To quote the great military philosopher “some dude”, “He who hesitates is lost.”  If you stand there with your thumb up your ass while your opponent enacts their plan, you will die.

Take initiative whenever initiative is there to be taken.  Be the first to the field, the first to organize your units, the first to come up with a plan, the first to distribute the plan.  “Lay on” should mean something other than “mill about like a crowd of hippies waiting for the tear gas and fire trucks”. 


Aedan’s Secret of 5-man Tourneys

Master Aedan has gone around the past six months spilling a dirty secret.  As Favorite Provost of the Dragoons (until last Pennsic, when Dante got white scarfed, and then Ymir, when Celric got bleached) he was part of the winning team at the previous two Atlantian 5-Man Tourneys at Pennsic.  The secret he’s been spilling is the first step they took to seize initiative: start at the middle of the field.

The vast majority of melee units start at the edge of the field.  It’s habit, also a bit of ingrained politeness.  However, the Dragoons have been starting at the mid-field point, letting their opponents start at the edge, and meeting their opponents before they came off the hay bales, pinning them against the walls almost immediately.  The Dragoons thereby deprived their enemy of room to maneuver and enact a plan.

Duke Cuan, at one of the field battles last Pennsic, did essentially the same thing.  One minute before “Lay on”, he marched the entirety of Atlantia out to the mid-field mark.  The opposing units, in response, barely moved forward and instead scooted to the left, pinning themselves against the hay bales.


Dictate the Terms of the Fight

In  his “Art of War”, Sun Tzu instructs that, for victory, fight on the ground and in the time of your choosing  (he says a whole bunch of other things, all worth heeding.  Give it a read!)

Sure, on a 50 X 50 melee field there’s not a whole lot of ground to choose from, but there is ground and there is time.  You can hit your opponent from the flank, or refuse your own.  You can hit your opponent as he’s still shaping his line, or solidify your own line and await his attack.  As with the Dragoons, will you have half the field at your back, or just a line of hay bales?  Some ground may be uphill, some ground more pitted, some grass slicker and harder to lunge on.  Maneuver to put the sun at your back, this is war, no need to be polite.  By controlling where a fight happens, and your pace for coming to engagement, you control the entire tempo of the fight as well.

With initiative, you get the chance to dictate their positions and yours when you meet, to mass your resources against their vulnerabilities, and protect your vulnerabilities.


Dictate Movement

So, once you’ve met the enemy (and, no, Pogo, he’s not us), do not surrender the initiative.  You must continue to dictate the flow of the fight.

If your goal requires that you do not be moved, then you don’t move.  Lock your feet in place and stand there blocking your opponents’ shots.

If your goal requires that you advance, then you advance.  You step forward one half step, binding and deflecting your opponents’ blades.  Then you take another half step forward.  And another.

Once you get the basics of taking a half step forward, try taking a half step forward and to the right.  This will move your opponent back and to the left (anybody ever watch The Critic?).  If you step forward and to the left, they go back and to the right.  If you do this a lot, you start pushing them around the field and, behold, you can steer them like a car.  Once you can steer your opponent, steer him back into his own line.  Behold, you’ve now disabled two fighters.  Push him further, and you’ve disabled three. 

At any point in here are you trying to kill them?  Nope, just move them.  Once you throw their line into disarray, then the dying happens.

Musashi (apparently it’s Cartoons and Eastern Philosophy reference day) describes this as imposing your will upon your opponent.  If you want them to move, move them.  If they want you to move, deny them.


The Minutiae of Dictation

It’s really easy to say “don’t step back”.  That first lunge to the face, though, makes the Monkey Brain say “Let’s get the hell out of here, bro!” and your feet will move back without you wanting to.  When Monkey Brain faces an advancing enemy without an easily-accessible hole, Monkey Brain wants to back up and buy time.  If you get to a spot that you can’t move from, press your back toes into the ground and leave them there.  Then, you have to defend against those lunges to the face, and the belly, and everywhere else.  You can’t do it by backing out, so what do you have left?  Just your hands (and body voids).  Your job is to hold a piece of ground, then you stand on that ground and your hands and whatever’s in them will have to move incoming points offline.  You know what’s not required in this situation?  Killing your opponent.  It’s not in the job description, don’t do it.  This company doesn’t pay for thinking outside the box.  Trying to kill somebody requires weakening your defense, and in that moment you have failed to follow the goal, made yourself vulnerable, and possibly fucked the whole thing up.  Be 100% defensive, block and block, and don’t counter.

It’s also really easy to say “If you must advance, then you advance.”  Just like standing your ground as somebody lunges at you, this isn’t easy.  This is, in fact, a little worse, because you’re advancing onto pointy objects.  But you do it anyway, and you do it the same way you stand your ground: Your job is not to kill them, it’s to take ground.  Your feet must take a step forward, so protecting yourself falls to your hands.  Bind blades, push them offline, and step forward a half a step.  Easy to say, easy to do.

The point is position, not killing.  The point is position, not killing.  The point is position, not killing.


Practice It

Get a friend.  Tell them to move you from your ground with a frontal attack (assume people on each side of both of you).  Don’t be moved.  Start by giving them 5 seconds to do it in, then 10, then 15, then 20.

Get a friend.  Tell them not to let you move them from where they stand with a frontal attack (assume people on each side of both of you).  Bind their swords and then move them one step.  Start by giving yourself 20 seconds to do it in.  Then 10.  Then 5.  Then move them two steps.  Then three.

Get a friend.  Pick a point near them (let them know it’s there).  Steer them to that point.  Start by giving yourself 20 seconds to do it.  Then 10.  Then 5.  Then screw with them and pick a different point, and don’t tell them.

Get three friends, split two and two.  Repeat.

Get five friends, split three and three.  Repeat.

Get seven friends (if you’re like most fencers, at this point you may need to get somebody drunk), split four and four.  Repeat.


And by Spike, if you have to charge into a killing cup, don’t let Monkey Brain screw it up.

Posted May 1, 2009 by wistric in Melee, Wistric's Weekly Warfare

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