View Full Version : Designing a 1500s Style Medieval Battle - Am I Doing It Right?

2013-11-17, 01:53 PM
I'm the battle designer for a medieval fantasy visual novel (https://www.facebook.com/QueenAtArms). Right now I'm designing the first battle in the game and I want it to be as realistic as possible.

There are two nations, Orthera and Sylgard, on a frigid Britain-sized continent. A decade ago there was a war between Orthera and a smaller nation of military zealots, Montecrist, which defeated Orthera and took it over, assuming its name. Since then, Orthera and Sylgard have been at peace. Orthera regards Sylgard as one of its states, and Sylgard tolerates this rather than get into a fight. Although recently the Ortheran King has been conscripting many men from both Sylgard and his own nation, ostensibly for an attack on Panservoy, a nation across the sea.

Orthera and Sylgard have similar tech levels. They both have horses, longbows, swords, pikes, and other polearms. There's a little bit of magic in the setting, but it's very weak and very rare so it's rarely relevant.

Sylgard executes a sneak attack on the Ortheran capital, with their troops disguised as Ortheran troops (using decade-old uniforms that look "close enough" until you get up close.)

Here's a rough sketch of the battle map I'm working on. The Ortheran Castle is on the upper left. The Ortheran Capital is surrounded by a wall with a (currently) open gate. The tavern is on the left, next to a bell tower and some houses. The Ortheran War Camp is outside the gate in the bottom left. In the upper right is an old, ruined keep.


The Sylgardian Longbowmen (disguised with old Ortheran uniforms from 10 years ago) attack the Ortheran troops coming out of the tavern at 3am from the belltower. It starts to snow and they retreat towards the ruined keep. A small group of quick-thinking Ortheran scouts grab horses and chase after them, following them to the ruined keep. The Sylgardians have built a huge pyre at the top of the keep to taunt the Ortherans, and one of their wizards was trying to create terrifying illusions of demons and other bogies to scare the Ortherans. However, the snowstorm has obscured all vision and this plan isn't working at all.

The Ortherans from the tavern raise the alarm, rush to the warcamp and arm themselves. The Ortheran scouts come back and report that the enemy has retreated into the keep. The Ortheran pikemen advance towards the keep. As they get close to the keep, the Sylgardian longbowmen try to hail them with arrows, but the Ortherans were smart enough to bring a line of shieldbearers to block the arrows. The Sylgardian knights charge down on the Ortheran pikemen with their horses, but the pikemen are well-trained enough to repel the horses. The Ortheran's own longbowmen have arrived, and hail down arrows on the Sylgard knights, causing their horses to panic and forcing them to retreat. The Sylgardian longbowmen have mostly run out of arrows and have come down to fight the Ortheran pikemen line. Later the Sylgard knights are able to regroup and cut through part of the Orth pikemen's line.

At this point the Sylgardians have caused a lot of damage and confusion already and are considering retreating. The Ortherans are totally confused. They don't know who their enemy is and their morale is low. Some of their important people are dead, and their crazy Commander is fighting on the front lines instead of commanding them.

At this point, the MC has reached the Commander's location. She realizes that he's kind of crazy. The Commander wants the remaining Ortheran army to charge the ruined keep and just attack it blindly. I need to figure out what the MC's strategic options are, that the player will be able to make for the army, and what kind of outcome those options might have.

If the Ortherans charge the keep, they will be killed by the mounted Sylgardian knights. (game over)

If the Ortherans retreat to the safety of the castle town, they may lose some of their troops to the Sylgardian knights (if the Sylgardians are still gutsy enough to chase them... they have also suffered some losses and met their goal for the battle.) The Sylgardians may also be able to loot their warcamp. However any Sylgardians who follow them into the castle town will be killed, as the location is very well illuminated and there are more troops there.

Perhaps the Ortherans could also retreat to the warcamp? I'm not sure what fortifications the warcamp would have. We could also put the warcamp inside the gates if we want this to be more simple.

What other kinds of strategies would be interesting/foolish work/not?

Thanks for any/all help! I know this is a huge mouthful. I have a build of the game and the game script as well, if anyone is interested in playing it and seeing how it looks from that perspective.

2013-11-17, 05:03 PM
You might have the wrong era. By the 1500s, pikes largely made heavy cavalry a lot less useful, longbows were typically replaced with crossbows, and Arquebusses started to make armor obsolete for most infantry (some would wear small pieces, but for the most part they eschewed it).

2013-11-17, 06:16 PM
It seems about right. actually 1500s was when full plate was actually the GO TO armor.. guns were still iffy for a 180-ish years ( really untill the mid 1800s with repeateding rifles were guns actually reliable, most died from infection not the actual gun) Im not too concered about the weapons/armors becuase maybe they just like long bows better than crossbows. The corssbow really was only more used becuase it didn't take years to train a crossbnowman. besides this is a fantasy novel and fantasy stuffs..

My only thing is the suspension of disbelief. how is an army large enough to seriously threaten a capitol managing to sneak right up to its gates?

I coudl see this completely as a trying to kill a commander and his elite troops at some out of the way city.. but somehow able to get all the way up to the cpaitol with out of date uniforms is too much for me.

and as a side note.. a commander is not crazy for just wanting to fight WITH his tropps some of the best military leaders in hisotry did as much, alaexander the great, IMO the greatets military mind ever did the very thing.

this is what the war camp would probly look like (http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/79900/79923/79923_camp.htm)

2013-11-17, 06:55 PM
Thanks Ngilop! That illustration of the camp will be super useful to our artist.

Hm, yes I have similar concerns with the Sylgardians getting so close to the capitol. Based on the maps we've been working on, I think that the Sylgardian capital is about a week's march away (70 miles or so?) The border of Sylgard is only about half that distance, though. The capitals of the two countries are very near eachother... probably not the best idea on their part.

I'm not actually sure how big the Sylgardian army is. I don't even know the number of troops in each army (although I'll need to pin that number down at some point, because the game is supposed to have battle reports where you get a list of how many men you lost.) Right now they're just "as big as the plot demands." I need to figure out something realistic now, that can support the next 3 chapters of the story. It's hard!! ^_^;

Just to Browse
2013-11-17, 07:24 PM
Things that bother me:
There seems to be very little around the ortheran castle... what do the Sylgardaiadaaardans want anyways?
I assume the syldargaiadnas are trying to sow confusion or something... What is the benefit of shooting people up at 3am? If they have such a good ambush, why not just torch the town and warcamp?
Why on earth did the syldagaafds run to the keep? That sounds like it's just inviting siege tactics
Why are there ortheran's in the tavern at 3 in the morning?
Why is there a war camp stationed outside the castle?

From the current perspective, I imagine the best tactic is to siege the Ruined Keep. Assuming it doesn't go anywhere, the ortherans can keep the sylfaragans starved until they die. If they have big weapons (catapults, big fireballs) this is definitely the best strategy.

Another idea is to send in a small strike force... like perhaps the main character by himself, so sow havoc and whatnot.

A terrible idea would be to chase or engage the syldafaras, because running into a group of people without ranged weapons in hole on high ground is just crazy talk.

2013-11-17, 07:28 PM
I would use the sieges of Vienna as information. In the second one the besiegers had worse artillery than the besieged. They dug angled trenches to move their artillery slowly into range of the walls, and were only defeated by the sudden entrance of Poland into the war.

2013-11-17, 08:09 PM
Hm, yes I have similar concerns with the Sylgardians getting so close to the capitol. Based on the maps we've been working on, I think that the Sylgardian capital is about a week's march away (70 miles or so?) The border of Sylgard is only about half that distance, though. The capitals of the two countries are very near each other... probably not the best idea on their part.

With this in mind (and this is probably going to sound a little bit odd), you might actually consider taking a good look at the grand strategies of the American Civil War to consider how strategists actually plan around this sort of thing.

Obviously the battles themselves wouldn't be particularly helpful, thanks to 350ish years of technological progress, but the grander stuff might be interesting: Early offensives toward the capital would make sense early on, but would likely just end up as bloody stalemates. At that point, the smarter strategists try winning by attrition, cutting off resource routes and occupying key points a la the Anaconda Plan.

2013-11-18, 05:07 PM
Thanks guys! This is some great feedback and I'm using it to work on the battle some more.

I'm trying to avoid anything involving a siege because there's going to be a big siege in Chapter 3.

My headcanon right now is that the Sylgardians are annoyed because recently the King of Orthera has been using bandits to harass them. He's supplying the bandits with weapons and helping them fence what they get from the Sylgardians. The king gets to hurt Sylgard without people realizing who is doing it, and is able to make a profit by selling the stolen goods at fair market value (as opposed to the bandits having to sell the goods for less than that.)

2013-11-28, 02:31 PM
A fair bit late, but my main suggestion would be to swap the longbowmen for crossbowmen. Longbows en mass could and often where, (except at fairly short ranges), employed in high angle area saturation firing. That means a shieldwall out front won't do much as the arrows are arching way over their heads. Crossbows as i understand it are only really effective on much flatter trajectories. Even then though i question the effectiveness of a shieldwall. Good solid steel shields would be able to turn them aside, but mass manufactured milita ones might not have so much luck.

Only real fault i can pick that other's haven't. Though if someone with more than an armature knowledge of these weapons wants to contradict me, feel free.

2013-11-28, 03:09 PM
A few thoughts:

1. Around 1500, there were pretty few uniforms on european battlefields, much less identical uniforms for a whole army. Of course, nothing stops your fantasy armies from using them if someone shells out the money.

2. There should be some explanation how the sylgardian army managed to reach the capital without blowing their cover. Medieval armies travel not at very high speed and few things cause more gossip than large military forces moving through the countryside.

3. At 3 a.m., a medieval city gate should be firmly shut by default.

4. An ambush from above a bell tower won't cause major losses amongst the tavern guests. Unless there are firing platforms on that tower, you can't bring many bows to bear at the same time and not even drunken soldiers will stand in the open to be shot. They'll run back into the tavern and use the houses behind the tavern as cover for their retreat. If I were to attack that tavern, I'd block the doors with carts, torch the building and post men at the windows to slay anyone trying to escape through the windows.

5. If the Sylgardians can manage to sneak a force into the capital at night, why do they waste time to kill some drunken, unarmed soldiers? Why don't they try to rush in their whole force and capture the gates, towers and walls to lock out all the enemy forces in the war camp?

6. I hope those Sylgardians have good logistic trains and medicines if they start a war in winter. If anything goes wrong, they will be nailed down outside the city by the snow and starve or freeze to death.

2013-12-01, 02:21 PM
@Berenger: that's actually made me look at a bit more than the weapons and i have to agree there's a bigger issue here.

I assumed the whole thing with the bell tower was a case of a support group engaging early when they should have held back because the belltower was right next door to the taver (in physichial term's), but really the Tavern shouldn't be anywhere near the main target, i.e. the war camp.And for raiding that the forces brought to bear are just totally wrong

This is supposed to be an attack to raid their military assets right? Well in that case an attack on the war camp with the view of overwhelming the defenders whilst they sleep and torching their supplies should be the aim here. The bell tower and the tavern don't fit that and even if they did, the soldiers there would have to run back through the forces moving in on the war camp, unless they retreat to the castle they can't warn the war camp, and if they do it will take time before anyone reacts, more than enough for the forces gathering to raid the camp to rush in a bit impromptu.

Also the force composition is all wrong here. For a raid like this where your seeking to sack the enemies military assets it's going to be primarily infantry with small contingents of archers and cavalry, probably light cavalry. The Archers can help sow initial confusion with fire arrow volleys as the infantry rush up out of the dark at the walls and the light cavalry can cover the retreat. But for the actual grunt work of overrunning the weak warcamp fortifications and sacking the camp the infantry are required, cavalry can't work their and archery can't really cut down or burn up enough men and material fast enough. An actual raid like that needs the infantry in the camp to butcher the men as they struggle to get up and get their gear on and t set everything on fire, the archery as a lead in can slow that down but it can't achieve the aim alone.

Also if they don't break the fortifications fast they'll have to retreat before the camp gets fully organised. The fear and confusion of the fire arrows should delay the enemy mounted units even more than the gearing up time would as the horses would need calming, (targeting them deliberately with fire arrows would be especially helpful). But the enemy infantry coudl start a disorganised retreat quickly so if they don;t get in fast they're going to have to fall back.

Also a fast raiding force like this, close capitals or not is going to need more than the usual speed. Likely the entire force will be composed of troops who can at least ride horses there, even if they can't mostly fight from horseback, (though the use of dismounted knights would make sense).

Overall though if your looking for a raid gone wrong to result in a pitched battle. It won't happen. No raiding force would be large enough to stand an open battle with the warcamp forces. They'd be obliterated in short order.

If your looking to throw your heroes in here there are two options i see to make them critical.

1. Have your attackers break the gate down, (it won;t be that sturdy at a war camp), but then encounter a small force of rapid responding enemy troops they can't break and your heroes have to break through that 30 or 40 men for the army inside a limited number of rounds.

2. Have it go wrong at the gates, the raiders retreat to their horses and at some narrow gully somewhere a few miles from the city the heroes have to hold the enemy army for a few minutes while the rest of their force in the valley behind mounts up and rides off and the light cavalry re-form from an earlier sally. At that point they'll be relived by the light cavalry so they can get to their horses, (have a member of the cavalry lead them up behind the charge, the whole thing could be done in 3 rounds if you time it all right).

3. Switch attacker and defender and have your heroes defending their war camps gates against a raiding force while the war camp get organised.

In this instance i'd recommend ordinary sized bows over longbows or corssbows, they can shoot fire arrows but aren't as big and cumbersome as longbows.