Shadiversity Summarized 2: The Re-Re-Arming

We’re doing some more of this today.

Giants

As with a lot of these less straightforwardly humanoid videos, Shad’s conclusions are more solid, which I suspect is because there’s more room for creatures with significantly different physical qualities to actually use significantly different weapons for good reasons and less need to try and invent reasons why elves would fight at all differently from humans. So mostly my work here is just summarizing his meandering videos, and when my rambling is a more compressed version of your work, you know you have information density problems.

In melee, giants are going to most benefit from spiked boots and scythes. They’re both great at attacking enemies who are waist level or below. Even relatively light armors like leather are going to be really hard to penetrate for ordinary sized opponents, although (and Shad doesn’t make this point, but it’s true) giants are still going to want proper plate and chain armor for fighting other giants, which will be even harder to pierce. Giants who suffer from the square-cube law will probably be less keen on proportionately heavy armor because a greater proportion of their strength is taken up just standing up (although their absolute strength is still higher), but some fantasy giants are well over the height where they would be unable to stand without shattering their bones if they weren’t somehow magical (when you’re above ten or eleven-ish feet, you just can’t be bipedal anymore, even if you have much thicker feet and broader proportions), and these giants presumably have perfectly proportionate strength to humans. A giant in plate armor is basically invincible to mundane attacks, although the chinks at the joints (normally too small to be effectively exploited) may be big enough for human size attackers to cut apart.

This raises the question: What do humanoids do when confronted with a leather armored, scythe-wielding giant? Assuming you don’t have any player characters with magic weapons who can hew through steel like it’s butter, you’re going to want to rely on either ballistae or the sturdiest goddamn pikes you can find. Pikes are big enough to hit weakspots like the neck and eyes and a full formation may be able to get a pike through the slits in even a plate armored giant’s visor. This is still a battle that will favor the giants by a huge margin if there are remotely even numbers, but pikes and ballistae will given human defenders the best chance.

A giant with a bow is basically a walking ballista, and a giant with a sling is basically a walking trebuchet, and in both cases at far lower material cost and not too much worse supply cost. A ballista or trebuchet requires quite a few people to operate, and a giant eats quite a bit more than one ordinary person, and that mostly balances out, which means the lower material cost and improved mobility are just gravy. Giants are simply better at sieging human fortifications than humans are. On top of that, just like with plate armor, any giants who are giving the square-cube law the finger (including, by necessity, D&D giants who are too tall to walk without doing so) can make proportionately sized siege weapons to siege each other’s proportionately sized castles, and just like with giant plate against puny mortal weapons, these proportionately sized siege weapons will absolutely wreck human fortifications.

Basically, don’t fuck with giants.

Merfolk

Merfolk are at a serious disadvantage: They are underwater. This means any weapon that works by swinging is much slower and less powerful and ranged weapons are out, plus any kind of metal armor is a bad idea. That leaves us with polearms and leather armor (crafted from coral and shark hides rather than wood and cow hides, but same basic idea), which means mermaids are going to fight almost exclusively with phalanx formations. They have no artillery, which means any cavalry is going to be held in reserve to run down fleeing enemies who rout or to pick off infantry (if you can call them that when they’re swimming) who fall out of formation. Since they can move in three dimensions, they can swim above or below enemy formations to flank them from those directions as well, which basically just means that merfolk need slightly more doods to make a formation.

When fighting on the surface of the water against humanoids in boats or rafts, merfolk are going to rely principally on grappling hooks. They can loop one around a human from a distance, yank them off their boat, and drag them underwater where they will drown. Larger boats will be more resistant to this because it’s harder to accurately aim a grapple the further up out of the water you have to throw it to reach a target, plus they can stuff themselves with a higher concentration of archers to snipe the merfolk when they surface. Arrows will not penetrate more than a few feet underwater before losing momentum and drifting harmlessly to the sea floor, but contrary to Shad’s claim merfolk aren’t invincible, because they do need to surface to attack. The merfolk are at an advantage in most surface battle situations, however, because the area they can move in is extremely large (i.e. the entire sea) and totally surrounds the area the humans can move in (i.e. their ship or ships). This means that merfolk grapplers looking to snag a human can spread out more, making them harder to spot by human archers. On the other hand, merfolk grapplers have limited range. Human archers have no need to scan the water more than a few dozen yards from the ship, because any merfolk surfacing at that distance can’t attack anyway (and for that reason are extremely unlikely to surface that far away).

An interesting visual: If there’s a small squadron of ships (or larger fleet), the space between ships will be a killing lane where merfolk won’t want to surface, leading to a battle to press in from the sides, with the merfolk clearing out the archers from the outer ships before moving in closer. Despite the surface of the water between ships being absolutely lethal for merfolk, they’re perfectly safe just a few feet below.

Winged Humanoids

Shad refers to this video as “angels and demons,” but he makes it clear pretty much immediately that he means any winged humanoid, which covers only a tiny fraction of angels and demons as depicted by D&D and any other fantasy story with a decent imagination, and also includes some non-demonic/angelic creatures like aaracockra. I’m going to be using aaracockra in this article, because they don’t generally have magic powers the way angels and demons usually do.

In field battles, winged humanoids have no incentive not to engage in bombing runs from far above longbow range (we are, by the way, ignoring the fact that a full-size humanoid needs wings like 20+ feet span to actually achieve flight – aaracockra have wings about the same size as their arms and this allows them to fly because shut up). Thanks to gravity, an arrow volley fired straight downwards is capable of hitting its target from any distance within the planet’s gravity well, which means any distance that a winged humanoid can actually fly up to is well within the effective range of their longbow volleys fired downwards regardless of the normal range of the weapon. Accuracy may suffer, but it’s a volley, not sniping, so using sheer quantity of arrows in place of precision targeting was always the plan. You can also just lug a bunch of rocks up, and although that means you’ll have to land to rearm more often, a forty pound rock dropped at terminal velocity isn’t a bad siege weapon, especially against anything with a wooden roof. For as long as they can remain airborne and their ammo holds out, there’s basically nothing the enemy can do to thwart this strategy.

Shad argues that aaracockra wouldn’t be very effective archers because they couldn’t draw their bows properly while flying. There are two problems with this. Number one, a short draw has no impact on range nor much impact on power, because your arrow is going to accelerate to terminal velocity after being fired. Number two, if an aaracockra does need to get a full draw for some reason, it is not all that difficult for a formation of them pull their wings in, turn to the side, fire in freefall, then expand their wings again to arrest their descent and resume flying. The aaracockra may fall slightly out of formation while doing this, but only vertically, so there’s no chance of accidentally hitting each other, and it shouldn’t take them more than a moment to ascend or descend back in line with one another after the volley is fired. In addition to being a fairly easy maneuver to learn, this is also an awesome visual, although unfortunately (as Shad points out more accurately later on) not really necessary, since you don’t actually need a bow when you can just drop ammo directly onto enemies below. Aaracockra snipers in skirmish combat are going to want more accurate bow-fired projectiles, but not volley-firing formation archers in field combat.

Also an awesome visual is Shad’s proposed replacement: Flechettes. Pure metal bolts a few inches long and designed to angle themselves downwards when dropped out the side of a biplane, flechettes are definitely good at murdering anything underneath them. They’re smaller than arrows, but heavier, so depending on how much weight an aaracockra can carry and still fly outside longbow range, it may be better to bring arrows (if weight is the limiting factor on how much ammo you can bring) or flechettes (if space is the limiting factor).

They can’t stay airborne forever, however, something Shad seems to forget. An aaracockra army still needs a place to sleep and provisions, which means they must defend that main camp. If aaracockra rely exclusively on aerial volleys in a field battle, the enemy army can just march past them in tortoise formation until they run out of ammo and occupy their camp without a fight. Marching through a volley you can’t retaliate against isn’t a small achievement in terms of discipline and morale, but neither is it impossible, which means aaracockra can’t rely exclusively on their volleys to carry the day. Aaracockra still need to defend fortresses as well as capture them, and while they can jolly well use bombing runs on a castle when besieging it, sometimes you’re short on time and need to storm a fortress. Aaracockra aren’t big and strong enough to lift the kind of massive boulders that could plausibly reduce an enemy fortress completely to rubble, which means if they need to storm a castle, they’ll need to fight through the corridors of the keep (although they do get to fly straight over the walls and into the courtyard, so at least they don’t have to climb up to the battlements from siege ladders like plebeians).

Shad does tackle winged humanoids in melee just for funsies, though, and makes the point that when wielding a sword you tend to move it around you a whole lot including behind (think winding up a big swing by pulling the sword behind you – if you’re more familiar with HEMA, you know that for all this image is iconic, it isn’t usually a good idea, but you also know that there are tons of other, more common maneuvers with the same problem), which means an aaracockra is liable to hack into one of their own wings by accident while swinging it around. Polearms remain the best choice for aaracockra, although they are going to want to specifically gravitate towards stabby pikes (or shorter spears, if they can’t fly properly with something that long or that heavy) and eschew the more versatile halberds.

When descending into melee because they are out of ammo and need to press on, or when preventing an enemy field formation from taking specific ground (i.e. their main camp will fall if they don’t engage in melee to drive the enemy off, so they can’t just rearm and continue bombing runs), aaracockra will want to land the front ranks of their formation on the outside edge of the enemy formation (preferably the sides or back rather than the enemy’s front ranks), so that their front ranks can use a descending spear wall on the enemy. They won’t want to drop their entire formation on top of the enemy formation, because then their formation will be broken, intermixed amongst any surviving enemies, and the ensuing melee will descend into total chaos. That maneuver might be situationally helpful against enemies who will be easier to fight in skirmish than in formation, but generally speaking aaracockra want to land their front ranks on the enemy’s flank, shatter that flank on the descent to break the enemy formation while keeping theirs intact, and then put the enemy to rout.

Shad recommends weaponizing the feet. This isn’t a terrible idea, as it gives the aaracockra one more means of killing an enemy on descent, but if aaracockra are descending into combat at all, it’s because they need to intercept an enemy who is otherwise going to reach some place the aaracockra really don’t want them to reach. That means they need to body block the enemy advance. It’s worth using the descent as a charge, but the aaracockra will not be fighting the melee from the air, they’ll touch down (preferably in such a way that disrupts the enemy formation while keeping their own intact) and then engage in a regular field melee. The axe boots aren’t a terrible idea, but the aaracockra is still going to want a pike to fight with when they reach the ground, and since they can also use the pike to attack during the descending charge, the axe boots are probably not worth the cost for most aaracockra troops. The stabby shoes are a much worse idea, because if they get stuck in an opponent even momentarily it will drag their wielder/wearer down to the ground and break formation (or even in skirmish, it will drag them to the ground).

In close quarters, such as when storming or defending a keep, aaracockra are going to use spears in tight-packed phalanx formations just like they were regular humanoids. One thing to note is that, particularly for aaracockra assigned specifically to guard the interior of the keep and who thus know they won’t be flying in combat today, aaracockra could arm the actual limb parts of their wing with spiked armor and attack with their wings to get around enemy shields. This is something they’d want to do in addition to carrying a spear and shield, not by itself.

Wizards

Obviously this one is going to depend an awful lot on what wizards can do and how they can do it. Wizards in most fantasy settings need a free hand to use their magic, whether that’s with arcane gestures or by holding a wand or staff. Sometimes they need two free hands. In any case, there’s generally no reason for them not to wear armor (although notably D&D 3.X does have spell failure chance attached to armor, under the reasoning that it’s hard to make precise arcane gestures through gloves – but that just begs the question of why you can’t wear all the rest of the armor and only remove the gloves), especially not light armor which, despite the bizarre assertions of many fantasy roleplaying games, requires no training to move around in effectively.

Really, putting on a padded gambeson isn’t going to slow you down at all, regardless of what shape you’re in, and it’s still good for a point of AC (or, less game mechanically, it’ll make arrow wounds significantly less likely to kill you and provide you a bit of cushion against bludgeoning weapons), nor will putting on some thick leather on top of it (which is a questionable use of money given how expensive that would be for relatively little protection, but it’s still going to plausibly turn a glancing sword blow from a life-threatening laceration into a minor bruise). For that matter, whatever studies wizards require to learn their arts is probably not so all-consuming that they can’t spare 45 minutes a day for some physical training, which is really all you need to build yourself up to the point where you can comfortably wear a chain hauberk like all the other soldiers.

In terms of armament, the sword has been the go-to backup weapon for basically all of history up until the widespread adoption of firearms, so a wizard would probably want one of them if their magic has some kind of mana reserve that can run out unless that mana reserve is tied to their physical energy. If a wizard’s spellcasting ability is limited by their stamina, then if they can’t cast magic, they’re also too exhausted to swing a sword around and need to focus on getting to some place safe to catch their breath. Wizards whose magic is limited by stamina, or who can go on casting spells indefinitely, will still want a shield if they have a hand available for one (i.e. if casting magic takes only one hand), as a shield will provide all the arrow-catching and sword-blocking benefits when you’re shooting lightning out the other hand as when you’ve got a sword or spear in it.

Shad posits that wizards who use wands might turn that into the hilt of a sword, but this makes a couple of assumptions, which may or may not hold true. Firstly, can you drill a hole through a wand for the tang without destroying its magical potency? Second, if you attach a blade on one end of the wand and a pommel to the other, can the magic get through, or is every fireball you cast from now on going to hit the pommel and explode in your face? It’s a good idea if it can work, but there’s plenty of good reasons why that might be impossible.

The suggestion to turn the staff into a field polearm of some kind is less likely to screw up the magic power of the magic implement, because all you have to do is attach an axehead or spear point to the end. The axehead in particular isn’t even going to interfere with whatever glowing orb or weird twisty design that often ends up on top of a wizard’s staff. I’m not entirely familiar with polearm construction, however my understanding is that in order to get a good, sturdy polearm you do generally nail the head through the pole rather than just fitting the head to the pole tight enough to grip it super tight. If piercing the staff with a nail is enough to render it less effective or ineffective, you might just want to use it as a regular staff and just carry a sword or shield in your other hand. Another point in favor of the staff/wand + sword/shield combo is that polearms tend to break. Not so often that you have to replace them after every fight, but often enough that a professional soldier would expect to go through quite a few of them before retirement. If wizard’s staves are either very expensive (especially compared to how cheap even halberds are) or have some kind of personal bond to their wizard that can’t be easily replicated, bolting an axehead on to use it as a polearm might be a bad idea even if the actual act of attaching the axehead doesn’t damage the staff at all.

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