Discussing Tactics: Distributing experienced fighters

The Warfare has had a lot of discussion recently on fighting individually, but precious little discussion on melee. I would like to start a weekly discussion where a scenario is given and we discuss the optimal ways to fight in that scenario.

The Scenario: You are commanding a 5 man melee team. You have 2 experienced fighters, 2 fighters that have been practicing melee on and off for a 6 months to a year, and 1 fighter has no melee experience. Combat skill in this case is roughly the same as the fighters experience. Your opponent has a roughly equal distribution of skill.

The Question: Given the above scenario how do you distribute your fighters for the best results?

To try and get as many unbiased answers as possible responses will be hidden for a few days [ed: Hopefully] and then opened for discussion.

22 comments to Discussing Tactics: Distributing experienced fighters

  • Ruairc

    Assuming two equal entities, there’s not much to exploit. If there’s not much to exploit, there’s little way to tip the odds and no dominant strategy.

    There are two things: 1v1 and 2v1. Everything else is a more complicated or combinatorial version of these. So that’s all you need to look at.

    The more experienced fencers should be seeking favorable 1v1 matchups, where they can out-skill their opponents (or at least prevent them from crushing anyone else) or flash to a surprise 2v1. The less experienced fencers should be seeking 2v1 matchups via maneuver, because an advantage of numbers is (usually) easier to use and more certain of good outcomes than an advantage of skill.

    The most important skill in melee is knowing when to be aggressive. The heuristic is this: if you have the advantage (in numbers or skill), press the attack and go for the kill. If you’re even, maneuver to gain an advantage (forming a 2v1 or a favorable 1v1). If you’re disadvantaged, maneuver to negate the opponent’s advantage (but try not to expose anyone).

    Forming a line invites the zero-experience guy to be overwhelmed and doesn’t accomplish anything in a 5-man kill-em-all situation, so don’t do that. Fight as two pairs and one solo, or three solos and a pair. A 3-2 or 3-1-1 split may work, but because novice fighters suck at maneuver (and so hinder larger units more), I don’t see this being a recipe for success.

    In closing, maneuver warfare is the best.

  • Letia

    What are best results? Winning? Teaching? Everyone having a good experience? Creating group dynamic that work well?

  • Celric

    Put one of the experienced fighters opposite theirs on one end, and the other one in the middle of the line, with the inexperienced fighter in between them, and the less experienced ones on the other end. Have those two take ground quickly, stay together, and give them orders to stay alive. The inexperienced one sticks with the flank-preventer experienced guy on the end, while the other one zeroes in upon and kills the least experienced fighter on the other side. This gives immediate number advantage to that side. That same fighter joins the larger side left (which should be the side with the two less experienced fighters, crushes those foes, then turns upon the rest, easily mopping them up.

  • Brian

    You need more information.

    Are the two experienced fighters aggressive? Can they kill on demand or do they prefer to stay alive against overwhelming odds?

    What about the melee novices? Are they good single fighters, but lack a strong understanding of multiple opponents? Or are they new to rapier in general? Does their lack of experience in melee impact their ferocity? What about other sports experience, such as football, soccer, or basketball? Ever played paintball, airsoft, or laser tag? How about running? What is their level of fitness?

    How well do the fighters know each other?

    Each of the above answers change how best to respond.

    • Dante di Pietro

      I assumed that “inexperienced” was a euphemism for “bad.”

    • Tassin

      I assume “average” fighters for the relative experience levels, but if you want to answer the question for teams with specific skill sets then please list your assumptions and have at it.

  • Dante di Pietro

    I’d put the two best people on the far left flank, the worst one in the middle, and the middle ones on the right, as close to the edge as possible. They would prevent a flanking maneuver on that side while the heavy hitters push and roll on the left. That’s likely your best bet for repeatable success, which is the goal whether training or competing.

  • Terasu

    I put the most experienced people on the flanks with the least experienced in the middle. If your opponent rolls a flank in a five man, usually the battle is over. I may switch it up and adjust to stack one side with the most experience for a hard push, but in that scenario, everyone must keep moving and do not stop to establish a line. The weak side of our five man cannot hold out long due to the lack of experience.

    • Tibbie Crosier

      Terasu, I like your response. Another problem I’ve seen with putting an inexperienced melee fighter on the flank is that the other team can isolate that fighter from the rest of his team. Conversely, an expert melee fighter on the flank can draw the attention of multiple fighters on the other team, giving a numerical advantage to his own teammates.

  • Wistric

    There’s a thing the Turnip Farmers do that I’m liking more and more. They stack their line 3 in front, and their flankers behind the line, so at “Lay on” they can react to their opponent’s disposition without revealing their own. It yields a BIT of initiative, but also makes you more flexible and still preserves your ability to execute a plan if your opponent doesn’t throw a curve ball.

    In this case, it does depend on your opponent, but I’d go with the three less experienced fighters in line, least experienced in the middle. The two hard-hitters can split out left and right, but I think I’m more likely to have the line slide left or right to anchor their flank on a field edge, drawing the opposition towards that side, while the two hard hitters roll the other flank. Naturally, we move forward and let them do the retreating.

    • Terasu

      I am familiar with this one. I have done this at a few events. Similar to football where the linebackers delay on a blitz to get the offensive linemen to commit to a defensive lineman who is rushing. Once that happens, the linebacker rushes the ends of the line, or blows through, and goes for the sack. We just use the temporary advantage to catch some people off guard, but this takes some mobility to pull off as well as some people who can stay alive at a disadvantage for a couple of seconds.

  • Gawin

    I got to this late, but I didn’t read the comments yet 😀

    I’d put my least experienced fighter in the middle and either put my most experienced fencers on either flank or I’d stack one flank with both of my experienced fencers, depending largely on other characteristics like speed, offensive capability,etc.

  • Ruairc

    This is interesting.

    Celric – “protect the inexperienced fighter and punch through the middle”
    Terasu – “shore up the flanks.”
    Dante – “oblique order.”
    Ruairc – “divide and conquer.”
    Wistric – “cavalry tactics!”
    Letia and Brian – “get more information.”

    • Wistric

      Rapier melee is a light cavalry analog.

      • Ruairc

        In analysis of rapier melee, I’m often reminded of “Multiple Small Unit” strategies from my wargamer days. Mobility trumps mass. Guerrilla warfare works, doubly well when there are no cities or forts to hold.

        I do think that everyone can be both hammer and anvil.

    • Celric

      Yes? Though less ‘protect the inexperienced fighter’ and more ‘allow the inexperienced fighter to become a (potential) force multiplier for someone that might be able to do it on their own, but no longer has to’.

  • Tassin

    My Take: I see three options for this scenario.
    1. Concentrate your experienced fighters and have them go after a target hard. Have your other fighters fight defensively and delay. The benefit to this approach is that it allows your experienced fighters to fight at full
    speed because they don’t need to match pace to a fighter who doesn’t fully understand the positioning needed to fight a 2v1. To me this gives the best chance of winning a fight where you have local numerical superiority and
    then rolling the rest of the opponents line. The risk is that if your other fighters can’t survive defensively in a 3v4 you can lose pretty badly. Overall though it is often easier for less experienced fighters to fight
    defensively than offensively.

    2. Split your experienced fighters on opposite flanks. This gives better odds that you will have an experienced fighter on a non experienced fighter. At worst it creates an even fight. The goal for this distribution
    should be to have whichever fighter gets the better matchup on the flank to try and turn the opponents line in on itself or quickly kill the enemies flanker, causing disruption for the enemy and an advantage for the rest
    of your line. The risk is that you may not actually get a better than equal matchup depending on how your opponent distributes his fighters. Additionally, if your own flankers get too far out it can leave them vulnerable.

    3. An equal distribution of experience, possibly explicitly pairing an experienced fighter with a less experienced one. I see this as more of a training option than something for a tournament fight. The benefit to
    this distribution is that no one part of your line is likely to be exposed to an opponents actions. The risk is that if your fighters aren’t on the same page the positioning of the line can fail spectacularly as the
    fighters unwittingly find themselves in a temporary 2v1 expecting their partner to be supporting them.

    • Dante di Pietro

      How does this rock paper scissors out?

    • Celric

      “it is often easier for less experienced fighters to fight defensively than offensively.”

      While it is true that it’s easier to ‘fight’ defensively, a less experienced fighter that allows himself to fall into strictly defensive techniques has zero percent chance to be victorious. Sometimes it comes down to expectations: if your less experienced fighter can win 25% of the time by being offensive on his own, then finding a way to bump that up with support to 50% is better than the certainty that they will absolutely lose eventually and the only variance is ‘when’.

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