Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 21: Woods Battles

There is, quite possibly, no greater rush on the melee field than the first clash in the woods.  At ‘Lay on’, the enemy is invisible, unlike all other scenarios, and you charge forward towards your goal not knowing if you’ll make it before the enemy appears; not knowing if you’re running into the entire enemy army or a small delaying force.  And then, suddenly, there they are, just a few yards away from you, running through the trees to get to you just as you run towards them.  Up to that point, you have no idea if you’re going to be outnumbered or if they are, if you’re going to end up running back to rez point or if you’re going to drive your enemies before you.  Your brain does quick math, your feet don’t stop moving, and before you can really figure out your survivability you’re in the midst of the opposing army, doing your damnedest to hurt them before they hurt you.  It’s like having a wave break over you, and it is glorious.  The surprise of the engagement adds just that special soupcon of adrenaline rush that is missing from field battles.

All of this assumes you run in the woods.  You REALLY should run in the woods.  Otherwise you wind up on mop-up duty, coming up to reinforce a line of gasping fencers who look at you and wonder just where the hell you’ve been, or you’re the one getting mopped up, and that just sucks all around.  Could you twist an ankle?  Er… maybe.  Field awareness, though, extends to being aware of the ground ahead of you, so keep an eye out for foot traps.

 

Pennsic Woods

The greatest woods battle in the Knowne Worlde is, of course, at Pennsic.  Or, Bastogne, but that wasn’t a rapier battle, and there were no rezzes. 

The Pennsic Woods takes the format of five static flags to be captured and held, with possession checked at random timepoints throughout the fighting.  The map of the Pennsic woods, for the curious, looks like this:

 Pennsic Woods

Atlantia always starts on the north side (the bottom of the map, labeled “Middle Kingdom Entrance”), due to… well… sheer orneriness.  Or luck.  That may change this year, because this is the first time we’ve stayed allied with the East two years in a row (the East and the Mid switch from one side of the woods to the other each year and Atlantia generally switches allegiance each year, so we get stuck).  Of course, with the friendship war going on, we may not be so lucky.

Anyway, the flags that are available to capture go between in the open woods, the upper spruce line, and between the upper spruce line and the lower spruce line.  The two times I’ve been to the Pennsic Woods battle, Atlantia’s had the open woods flag (last year we ALSO had the upper spruce line flag).  The open woods boils down to a foot race: first one there wins.  After that, terrain aids in defense: the trail from the enemy rez point goes uphill, so the enemy rarely arrives in force.  Of course, it’s a long-ass haul from the Atlantian rez, so if we’ve lost the foot race we don’t arrive in force either.

Last year, one of the armies holding one of the flags said something to the effect of, “We can’t fight in a line well enough to defend the flag, so we’re going to form units concealed in the woods and attack them in the flank as they come for our flag.”  It is my considered opinion that this is not an efficient means by which to defend a flag.  You must, sadly, form a line and take the enemy’s charge like a sailor.  Given the length of the front to defend (approx. 250 yards in the woods), forming a line all the way across is going to be difficult.  Generally, units are stacked densely around the flag, with skirmishers filling in the gaps between lines.  Skirmishers in front of lines also serve to disrupt any concentrated attack.

And, of course, it never hurts to have massive numerical superiority, which has been the predominant deciding factor the last two years.

 

WotW Woods

The WotW Woods has not been mapped, yet.  It has in the past taken the format of two static flags and one mobile, and three static flags (this last seems to be the permanent version).  The rez points are at the west and east ends of the field.  Generally, one flag is within ten yards of each rez point, and the third flag roughly equidistant.  Both sides have a lightly-wooded area within 15 yards of their rez point, then a screen of thicker trees, and then a central lightly-wooded area.  The fighters approaching the central flag from the East have a slight advantage, as a wider corridor feeds to the flag from their rez point.  More of the Western approach on the central flag is screened by trees.  However, in three years this has not proven decisive at any time (usually, it’s numbers).

This is one of the few events where rapier combat archery shows up, and an imbalance of just one archer has proven brutal: one archer suppresses the enemy archer, and the second archer is free to rain three shots a minute on the enemy.  So be kind to your archery friends, lend them your old masks, and help them make garb.  This leads me to one of my favorite stories from the WotW Woods:

Two years ago, Windmasters allied with Black Diamond, as did three fourths of the Kingdom, giving us a 40 to 16 advantage.  We also had the only archer.  At lay on, Windmasters, coming from the East, grabbed the central flag and turtle up.  A few seconds later, Walter Triplette and two of his lads (the enemy), came running towards us from the tree screen.  Being Rapier Champion, I step forward to bravely face the charge, and maybe take one out before they hit the Windmasters line (I figured Triplette and his Piggeboies would all die, but could take 50% of Windmasters with them).  The Piggeboies paused in their charge, and in that moment a crossbow bolt flew over my shoulder and dropped one of them.  They turned to see this new threat: Livia Zanna, cackling and reloading.  She dropped another, and I shrugged and advanced on Walter.  Another bolt flew past me and struck the bell of his sword.  He shrugged and we played at range a little bit, before a couple of Windy Kitties came out to reinforce me and chase him off.  The rest of that day was, for Livia, a big long game of “Shoot Walter”.  Walter is a nice, sweet-natured man, which is a good thing: were I in his shoes, I might hold a grudge, ‘cause that must have sucked.

In general, the WotW woods is fought with one group securing the central flag, one small reserve protecting the rear flag, and the remainder of the army fanned out in a line along one tree screen or the other to face the enemy as they came through the trees, which disrupt any sort of orderly line.

 

Moreso than any other scenario, a woods battle rewards complete knowledge of the terrain: where can you move forward unseen by the enemy, where will thickets hinder motion, where will trees provide assistance in defense.  The nature of a forest means that any large unit will fragment quickly, so a clear command structure is also absolutely necessary.  Of course, it never hurts to outnumber your opponent 40 to 16.

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