Wistric’s Weekly Warfare #1: Threat Assessment

(From the Archives)

As you may have heard, fencing is all about timing and measure. It is also a matter of knowing your own abilities, so that you can take advantage of any openings you generate through timing and measure. The same applies to melee: The timing of your attack and the distance and direction from which it approaches your opponent will create the opportunities to attack. The abilities and resources of your unit will determine its success. Those resources include your numbers, your relative talents and skills, and your available time.
Where you concentrate your numbers, where you devote your talents, and where you spend your time are all determined by your goal. If your mission is to seize and hold a hill, a fight against a low-threat value, small sized unit far from that hill will gain you very little (unless they happen to be in your backfield). At every level of the fight, your response should be equivalent to the threat against your success. With our small unit far from the goal, you want to devote the least amount of time, the fewest numbers, and the lowest level skill set necessary to neutralize that unit.

The distinction between “neutralizing” and “annihilating” is important. For any given situation, it will always take a greater commitment to annihilate an enemy than to simply keep them from playing a role in the battle. One fencer can neutralize a fencer of equal or greater skill simply by standing in his way, at long range and fighting purely defensively, whereas it may take two fencers of equal skill, or one fencer of significantly greater skill, to kill the enemy.

So how do you, before and during the fight, judge the threat posed by an enemy unit? Begin by assessing the threat level of each fencer in a unit.  To provide some general rules (and, yes, there are always exceptions to each rule)
1) Look for scarves. A white scarf is more of a threat than a yellow scarf is more of a threat than a blue scarf
2) Look for armament. Case is better than sword-and-dagger is better than sword-and-buckler/stick is better than single sword is better than sword-and-cloak. Keep in mind that a longer sword is more of a threat than a shorter sword.
3) Look for physical attributes. The height, age, and speed and grace of movement are all traits that can be observed before “lay on”. Watch out for the big young guys who move as though they actually control their bodies. Pay attention to whether the enemy looks tired or fresh.
4) Look for competency. A fighter carrying case, but holding his swords parallel six inches apart, is a lot less of a threat than a fighter carrying a sword and dagger who actually looks like he knows what he’s doing.

The threat posed by a unit will be, roughly, the average threat posed by its fencers, plus a few other indications. Uniform dress, a clear command structure (look for a single guy giving orders), and good order in movement ( i.e. keeping a line while advancing) all mean that your enemy likely train together.
Be aware that these indications can also be used to bluff. The well-trained Kappellenfechters could advance onto the field holding their two swords like total goobers, leaving their uniforms at home, and moving in some amount of disarray. The result would be our enemies relaxing their guard just enough for us to slaughter them.

So far, the discussion has been from the perspective of unit command: How will the unit commander use her resources against the threats posed? But at some point in every battle, the command structure will break down, if only slightly.

After the Kappellenfechters have torn through the enemy line, we the individual fencer may find ourselves separated from the commander (or he may be dead already). It then falls to us to make snap decisions and, quite possibly, to direct any other Kappellenfechters standing near us: Is the white scarf heading this way from a distance more important than the guy with two swords standing right near me? How quickly can I neutralize one or the other? Can I stop that white scarf from joining the battle (the answer is ‘Yes’, just get in his way and don’t get stabbed) and will that be the most effective use of my weapons right now?

Beware over-committing resources: If we drag Our Favorite White Scarf out to fight with us, is it to our best benefit for me and OFWS to go try to kill a single blue scarf with a single sword and cloak?

On the other hand, we gain advantage by forcing our enemy to over-commit their resources. If one fencer holds up two equal fencers, keeping them away from the fight at the top of the hill, we’ve gained an advantage. If somebody who’s been fencing for one year holds up a white scarf or a yellow scarf, we’ve gained an advantage.

So, when you have the opportunity to kill or neutralize an enemy, their backs to you, and no other orders, be sizing up the enemy line, from their scarf to their weapons to their uniform to the way they move, and decide for yourself which one you’re going to kill first. There is nothing like laying your sword on the shoulder of a white scarf and informing them of their unfortunate demise.

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