Small unit training for the Imperium
by Jon Daniels
Legion. The very name itself brings to mind ranks upon ranks of warriors, as immortalized by Homer:
So buckler pressed on buckler; helm on helm; And man on man; and waving horse-hair plumes in polished head-piece mingled, as they swayed in order; in such serried rank they stood [Iliad, 13.131]
Recent movies such as “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” have once again brought the joy of small unit tactics to the common man. But, on the battlefield of the LARP, it is often a different case. Gone are the aligned and drilled ranks, replaced by skirmishers racing into position and the ability to quickly strike. Small pockets of resistance form around healers and combat mages, but they are well surpassed by the disorder and chaos of the others.
I am a first and foremost a duelist. I prefer the speed and flexibility of the 3’8” saber, with a hand-and-a-half hilt as my ‘war sword’, and never am without the accompanying ‘companion sword’. I have never managed to learn how to properly use a shield, and gave up trying long-ago. This resulted in me learning the bow, javelin and footman’s spear. I earned the title of ‘master of arms’ in 1983, and prided myself on being death with a blade in five LARPs.
Nothing has ever given me as much trouble as two or three poor swordfighters who were well drilled in the rank and file. At one time, when Jasda and Kügen were pursued as thieves and assassins, there was a household that produced mediocre swordsmen, but exceptional legionnaires. After the fall of the Alliance, these techniques were used as part of the training to create the Mirkshaw Legion and were integrated into the Kiassan Ranger Circle Trials.
What follows is a treatise culled from years of experience, and has been proven through use. It is written with in- and out-of-character references, and exists strictly as an anachronistic guide to Captain-Marshals new and old. It is not complete and all-inclusive, as I follow a strong martial style and maintain a Gnostic slant on everything I do. It is also, often completely counter to the techniques of Dol Kügen: I was, and am, an expert assassin. Kügen the swamp runner has always worn the warrior’s mantle.
Master the Blade
The key to any chain is the individual link. In a maniple, the strength of the chain is within the skill of arms. I prefer to start a practice with single-sword drills, in pairs. Sword and shield, sword and buckler, two-handed sword, etc are only viable weapons with both hands. If you have only a single arm remaining, you can still fight with a short sword. Granted, any single-hand weapon will suffice, be it saber, axe, pick or batleth. The first ten minutes of any practice should be devoted to snap and spontaneous duels, without the benefit of armor, spell-like abilities or magic.
Peltast Drills (pairs)
The first step in developing teamwork is to train in pairs. Again, the weapon used should be a single-hand weapon, until enough proficiency is evident. This is a basic concept that has very advanced applications. Pair your fighters into teams, and have them face off against other pairs.
Some simple training drills for pairs:
- “Lead Left, Rear right”: pairs are very efficient when
fighting in confined areas, like dungeons, inside buildings and on-board
ships. When entering in a single file, the lead person breaks to the left,
the rear person assumes the right position. For engaging or defending
against the enemy, the person on the left has from the 8 o’clock to the 1
o’clock sector, the right has from the 11 o’clock to the 4 o’clock.
- “Lead Low, High Right”: The peltast was an advanced soldier,
using both missile weapons and their swords or spears. During this drill,
the fighter on the right uses javelins while closing with the enemy, and
the fighter on the left provides defense against the same. This can also
be adapted to include combat mages, archery or throwing axes. This drill
is best practiced with only one side using missile weapons.
- “Back to back, we attack”: This is a basic envelopment
drill, and is useful when outnumbered by the enemy or when fighting in the
dark. The pair stands back-to-back, and attempts to keep a ‘sticky-hands’
contact with each other. This drill is easily learned when using longer
weapons and armor, against multiple opponents using swords. The key point
is that each fighter needs to provide 100% protection for his/her partner.
This drill is also an excellent tool for night-fighting. When partnered
with a strobe light, it can often break the training plateau needed to
improve situation awareness.
Sardaukar Drills (trios)
Anyone who recognizes the appellation I used should have a basic understanding of the formation. In Frank Hebert’s Dune books, the Sardaukar were the best-trained shock-troopers within the Empire, and were easily able to deal with any force raised against them. One of their signature traits was fighting in trios, and they were only bested by the Fremen.
This set of drills is well suited towards mixed characters, as well as being the preferred envelopment formation. Two close-combat fighters can easily support a mage or archer in this formation. Dune reference’s aside, it was Alexander the Great’s experimenting with a phalanx that had archers defended by a crust of spearmen that gives merit to this formation.
- “Break Envelopment”: Team a single group as a trio, then set them against six people or three pairs. Initial bouts should be limited to single-hand weapons.
- “Repel Boarders”: with the trio placed on a bridge (real or simulated), have them face another trio, two pair or four individuals. The learning point is that the two forward fighters cover the majority of the battle, and the third can use a long-weapon to perform surgical strikes or thrusts.
While these drills can be practiced in nearly any formation, I’d recommend using pairs or trios. Maniple drills are nearly identical to pairs and trio drills, using both pairs and trios instead of individuals. Phalanx are large, square or rectangular formations that possess very little mobility. This is why the Roman maniple (as in able to be manipulated) was so much more effective. Maniple drills rely on reorganizing the sub-units depending on the opponents.
Paired Pairs: This is a simple enough exercise and has four fighters facing four or more opponents. All of the standard pair maneuvers are possible with this small-group. This is also a good technique for penetrating an enemy line, establishing a foothold through a chaosgate, or covering the entrance to a dungeon.
Pairs and Trios: This is the experimental phalanx, with three pairs of fighters protecting a trio of mages or archers. This is an excellent formation for reacting to an ambush, or for protecting wounded comrades.
Paired pairs and Trio: This formation can be used both for traveling and for attack. The pairs can be sent as flankers to envelop another formation, or to harass and eliminate a group of skirmishers. Additionally, if used as an anchor, an almost endless amount of trios can be sent down the center, with the pairs providing flank security.
Three Pairs or Two Trios: Depending on how the teams are arrayed, this formation can be very effective for driving a wedge into enemy lines. It is very effective in envelopments and ambushes, and can also move quickly. Security and scouting is nearly 360o in circumference, and the formation is very flexible. Tetsubu drills are easy enough to practice, with all of the opponents equipped with missile weapons, and the maniple trying to advance across an open field. This formation is also effective when paired with siege weapons.
With practice and time, the maniples can be extremely useful and come to your fighters as second nature. However, it is imperative that the basic skills at arms not be neglected. No matter how well trained a formation, eventually it will be rendered back to individual swordsmen. There is no alkahest for training and fighting in formation, and it is up to the individual Captain-Marshal to adjust for the individuals within a household.