Combat Roleplay: Types of Combat Situations
Part Two: The Development of Horsemanship, Chariots, and Cavalry.
Hello, and welcome back to my current multiple part Combat within Roleplay!
If you want to leave a comment on any of my posts, you can do so... Here!
Where we had gone in part one was introducing the idea of different fighters specializing for certain fighting situations. We covered your beginners, your fighters for self defense, and your archetypal infantry soldiers. This gave us a nice basis to compare and contrast the different positions people fight each other, on the ground, as per normal. Fun times!
So, we're done right? People club each other like seals on the ground, some die, some live, the story goes on? Not quite. You see, there's more to fights than just learning how to hit someone, or going to war. And even in the subject of going to war, we have more ways people have cooked up to end each others' lives in the ways of battle. Some crazy person, thousands of years ago, figured he'd ride on a horse's back into battle. Even before him, some crazy Sumerian figured he'd ride a horse-drawn cart into battle. Some kind of madness.
This is a subject rarely tackled in roleplay, typically because most systems have it as incredibly cumbersome. D&D 3.5e is foremost in my mind with this. But in other systems, like in-game roleplay, roleplayers don't have too many means to simulate mounted combat. Though, even when they do, rarely is it implemented. Though this can get into the subject of 'pet RP' in MMOs (roleplaying in-character what out-of-character pets the game may have offered you regardless of feasibility), I feel there are more than enough situations where horsemanship (or other forms of animal-riding) could be utilized.
As such, in this guide we'll be discussing, you guessed it, cavalry soldiers and how cavalry units operate in combat scenarios. We'll begin with introducing equestrian skills, and how the use of beasts of warfare progresses through time. Thereafter we'll follow the progression of cavalry through the level of armament, and approximate place in history.
The guide is broken up into the following sections:
That's My Horse! The Basics of Equestrian, and the Everyday
To Ride or to Roll: Discussing the Advancement of Horsemanship Through Time
The Wheel and the Hoof: Identifying and Fighting as Light Chariot Units
The Rolling Thunder: Identifying and Fighting as Moderate or Heavy Chariot Units
Riding on the Wind: Fighting as a Light Cavalry Soldier
Delivery, No Sur-Charge!! Classifying and Fighting as a Moderate Cavalry Soldier
FORTH EORLINGAS!!: Fighting as a Heavy Cavalry Soldier
"Pvt Johnson, is that an Elephant!?": Identifying, Qualifying, and Fighting as a Super Heavy Cavalry or Chariot Unit
This guide will be painfully long, but hopefully highlight how drastically different fights can become when fighters are operating in different environments! I encourage people to play a wide variety of persons, and often cavalry is underused. Consider this my charitable effort to resolve that.
That's My Horse! The Basics of Equestrian, and the Everyday
"Your idiot fell into my hole. A CELEBRATION I SAY!" - Rolf, son of a Shepherd, to your new horse.
Our good friend Rolf will introduce us to many important things throughout our lives, but he may not be the foremost instructor on horsemanship we could get our hands on. But, his enthusiasm, and delightfully barbaric customs will grant us the morale to tread onwards.
So, as one of those who has only had introductory experiences to horseback riding, I can highlight my experiences in learning to ride a big, strong, hay-devouring, land strider.
In no way is it a spectator sport. In saddling a horse, you are committed. As Marianne Thornberry told Eliza in the Wild Thornberries, weight in your feet, not your seat. You're an active agent in riding, not only are you giving an effective stand in the stirrups, but your thighs are used to guide the horse. Not even then, your knees are used to assist in the piloting maneuvers, as with your hands and arms on the reins. In short, it's active work. Such as it is, it takes a bit getting used to getting up into the saddle without a stool of some kind to help, especially considering the horse is a living creature that may not be entirely apt to get stepped all over by some ambling fool.
More so even, we have to understand that horses are living creatures, not just a Ford Focus that you can park in your garage and leave. They need tending like many domesticated animals, and their limits need to be respected (or they might not respect you very much.) A solid supply of food and water, they like being able to go outside and not just lurk in a barn all day. Grooming is something that you need to work towards, especially when you're regularly suiting up the mighty beast. When travelling overland, horses don't typically spend all their time at a full gallop, stampeding over the countryside. Horses typically go at a nice slow pace, and typically that's a good idea. Obstructions in the horse's path could run the risk of hurting the horse quite badly, fence posts, large stones, etc. So, making sure you respect the qualities of your horse is something that should definitely be remembered when writing or roleplaying.
And that'll touch upon our last point for this brief, introductory section: not all horses through history were the same. They aren't today, but we typically don't have names or much differentiation between horses (unless you become VERY dedicated to the study and keeping of horses today) beyond the characteristics of their parents. Throughout history, this was different. There were many kinds of horses used for many different reasons, that were widely valued at different values in different times and different places. It's widely believed that a medieval knight's horse wouldn't have been the largest, fastest draught horse he could've gotten his hands on, for numerous reasons. Instead, an equally strong, somewhat slower, but more steady horse breed would've been more likely to fit the destrier of medieval knighthood. Similarly, hunting horses were a bit different, typically quite fast, robust, but not intended to shoulder the full burden of a knight. And there are many other examples of many different horses; typically, I feel Mount & Blade does a very good job of highlighting that there are different horses for different purposes. The fastest horses aren't always the most robust or easy to manage. A stronger horse may not be so fast, but capable of maintaining a high load while travelling at a regular speed. So, you've got quite the workload set in front of you for purchasing your first RP Horse!
AND, I would extend this to your other mounts. If you're in Elder Scrolls Online and you have your Cave Bear mount, or if you're playing Final Fantasy Online, and you have a giant wolf mount. Either of those could potentially be feasible in the lore (depending on your flexibility with lore); HOWEVER, you should try to avoid making your mount a special-snowflake uber-beast, psychic-twin, best friend. Your cave bear, your dire wolf, should all have disadvantages to balance themselves out to the level of another person's horse. Your bear may be super strong, fast, and have the capability to maul a horse in close proximity, but it's not likely to run very far before tiring out, and it's less likely to tolerate having you on it's back when it gets tired.
So, in short, horsemanship is a long-running product of many, many factors. The role of horsemanship changes over time, and such changes the function and expectations equally so. Technology and theory develops the initial use of chariots, and later cavalry. Further development allows more regular, intensive use of cavalry as time goes on. Towards the end, chariots are completely phased out for the preference of cavalry, heavy cavalry becomes more common, and typical level of equestrian technology spreads to most areas.
So, for those of you who will gladly saddle themselves for glorious roleplay, I encourage you to do so!
To Rock or to Roll: Discussing the Applications of Horsemanship Through Time
"Now he's too old to Rock'n'Roll but he's too young to die." - Jethro Tull
As highlighted before, riding an animal is a bit of a workout. It's not a mid-day relax for sunbathing. It's a process of physically guiding and steering a large beast around, to do your bidding. It could even bite at you, or try to kick you. You could fall down. It's dangerous!
That being said, it's not impossible to get a gain on, and over time, you can develop the innate familiarity to handle these activities without struggle. To the point that taking care of the horse, and being able to steer at a quick pace is not a severe issue. Where all the parts of the riding harness are known to you, and their adaptations appreciated. Riding with all the fixins' is much easier than riding a horse with no assistance, as it were.
BUT, even then, we must understand that humans weren't just set down on the Earth during your preferred creation myth with the innate understanding of how to ride horses. It's been a progressive system from the very beginning, all the way back when messengers (most likely) thought they could be more expedient and less detectable if they rode simply on a horse's back. You have to learn to tame the horse, train it, and have it react in a way that doesn't completely mess up your directions.
All of these amenities arrive over time, where many minds collaborated on the issue of horses as a potential use for warfare. Beforehand, horses were used to draw carts and chariots behind them. A cart drawn on wheels behind the horse can be ran quite fast at a full gallop, and avoids slowing the horse's more typical walking pace. These were easy to come by, and didn't require attempting to configure technology to perching man dangerously atop the horse. But, once the ideas came around and stuck, they weren't going away. Chariots and cavalry overlapped for some time, but eventually the developments of outright cavalry out-performed chariots in almost all effective uses.
The introduction of the saddle appears to be one of the earliest, when man first started riding atop the horse. It began as a method of sitting that man firmly, and perhaps comfortably atop the horse. Later, these saddles appear to shift into a greater role of aiding control of the horse, while simultaneously helping the rider stay firmly seated while perhaps more treacherously paced. Ancient cataphracts, Roman, and Carthaginian cavalry prove that before the advent of the stirrup, horses were ready to be used in war. The Romans used a lobed saddle for maneuvers, the Parthians used horse archers effectively and had no stirrups, and some suggest that - while not as effective as later on - the charge was used as far back as Alexander the Great at least.
But, eventually the stirrups come along, which allows the rider to be perched on the horse with reliable weight distribution. It is thought that the stirrup allows for armored men to sit horse, but that is becoming more and more contrary to the case - as earlier examples point out. Though, it does seem as men and beast become more heavily armored, the stirrups assist more and more, also allowing a greater speed to be reached in developing a truly mighty charge! Such became a major military stratagem of European militaries for a long time.
The bridle also had to develop somewhere, likely early enough on that it falls between the stirrups and the saddle - for proper handling of the reins (if not earlier.) Horse-shoes developed somewhere on the way, whoever kept messing around with horses stepping on things. And eventually we come to our current understanding of horseback riding. Different places in different times have certain standards as technology spreads over time. But, understanding this progression can give us an understanding of why certain things were common in different points within history. Why were chariots used in the classical period? Well, not everyone had effective cavalry. Why didn't everyone just use Heavy Cavalry charges? Well, the things to make the charge truly effective might not have been developed yet, and like all strategies, the mounted charge has drawbacks. The Mongolians exploited the charge tactic in order to overwhelm and kill charging European knights.
So, while there are some definite patterns that are established with horsemanship, namely the obsoletion of chariots in later warfare, it's still fair to say that numerous forms of cavalry could exist at one time, focusing on different things, and still being effective. Now, we'll start branching into each of those possible categories!
The Wheel and the Hoof: Identifying and Fighting as Light Chariot Units
"What do you mean I can't ride my chariot, simply because we are out of horses? Johnson, man the rickshaw! Today you shall be the loyal steed of a brave knight!"
Truly, our greatest hero. What Johnson is about to discover is the role of the light chariot in its place of ancient warfare.
That being said, not too many people have a solid idea of what chariots did in period. I mean, obviously they rode around, and were impressive. But, even that can be debated by some. It's a field of study that can be contested fairly easily, with differing accounts, in different places, at different times. But, we have some ideas, from some influential people, that we'll be drawing from specifically.
With light chariots, the name denotes the intended purpose. A chariot which is light. But, what does that mean, and why would that be useful?
Well, as we said before, chariots have a natural advantage in that they are fast. Drawing a weight behind an object in motion, propelled on spinning wheels, makes its potential velocity quite fast indeed. Especially in the fields and wastes where open space was in abundance, where chariots were quite popular in their development. It is suggested that Bronze-Age Britain had the greatest amount of land under the plow in its history, clearing away a lot of land where they could be use. Egypt was not always an arid expanse bordering the Nile, say many.
To our limited understanding, the chariots that we are focusing on are the lightest, and those with the least amount of firepower to them. While most chariots were light in construction, some were of slimmer form than others. The physics of what wheel you should put on your cart can be a little bit complicated, with terrain, non-constant work, and an amount of durability. Typically, it would make sense, in my opinion, for a lighter chariot to have smaller, less durable, less inert wheels to exert a maximal velocity, while still being large enough to bear load, and survive bumps.
Typically the load that a light chariot was designed to bear would be two riders. One of the riders would likely be a man who specifically handles the steering, while the other would be the owner of the chariot, who would be wearing his kit. The owner would likely be well equipped, but may not be the heaviest of troops possible, for both reasons of weight and economy. Though a light chariot would be an investment, perhaps a serious one in the ancient world, it wouldn't be the largest or even perhaps even most prestigious of cavalry investments. So, different persons would have access to them. A well equipped person could, as well as the most equipped. But, the most equipped may instead opt for a heavier chariot. The driver is suggested to have been as fully equipped as the owner, but I personally believe that would have been more the idea - less the reality. Most often they are named with a shield it seems. as to help keep himself, and the owner defended. Though, it is quite likely they would've had some form of weapon.
These units would likely be deployed to distribute troops to particular points on a battlefield, in addition to harassing infantry troops in disarray. A unit of enemy spears in formation could be distinctly harmful to the steeds of a chariot, due to the rear-placed position of the charioteer versus the forward placement of their horses. Having an exposed driver may make prolonged deployment more hazardous for the unit itself. The driver may be armed, but he might not be. Charioteers are described as having had runners with them also, to trail in support. Though, I personally am uncertain of the runner's position as a distinguished unit, or just units who happened to be nearby the chariot at that point in time. That being said, even light chariots could disenfranchise skirmisher units that lacked rigorous defense or discipline. Wielding powerful bows, or driving off those with lesser melee arms.
So, for the sports-car of the ancient world, as suggested by Lloyd of Lindybeige on YouTube, I feel that the depiction of a 'light chariot' is both reasonable, and likely to have seen some service in the Ancient World is a military unit. When not serving as a military unit, it would likely allow you the ability to cross the countryside in stylish prestige!
The Rolling Thunder: Identifying and Fighting as Moderate or Heavy Chariot Units.
"Your opinions are undesired, KNAVE! I have the big death wagon!!"
He has a point you know.
Though, I will say, I'm going against Wikipedia in this regard, in that I am sorting Medium and Heavy chariots together. I will not say that I don't think they're wrong for sorting Light and Medium chariots together as functioning similarly. I simply feel that it makes for a greater explanation of function to do it this way, instead.
As, while one could potentially yield a heavier light chariot, that is perhaps better equipped, perhaps with an additional rider, or in some similar form. But, so long as the end manifestation is the same, I still believe it to be a light, fast chariot, designed for the same principles as such. Whereas, I feel that a moderately armed chariot may be defined differently, but allow us to expand into the heavy chariot effectively.
SO! Let's say you're doing that, you're bulking up your light chariot. You could make it a better light chariot, and that's definitely desirable. But, there are some things that a light chariot can't do. It's not intended to meet a formation that can provide resistance against sudden force. While the horse and riders of a light chariot might be armored, the lighter-than-most form does yield to potential destruction by the bodies of those whom it would encounter in a charge, let alone strikes from their weapons.
If you wanted to have a more robust chariot that could withstand the battery necessary of a charge, that'd be gearing yourself more towards what I would consider a moderate chariot. A chariot that can perform as a shock unit against enemy formation, but can also be highly mobile on the battlefield. This creates a distinct hybrid between the two rolls of chariot, and I think that this is more telling than simply having a more robust, still fast, light chariot. The form changes, but the function changes more.
Still, you might be limited if you want to indulge a certain amount of swiftness, while also engaging enemies in charging fashion. Unless you strike a perfect medium, one will have to yield to the other. Even if you do strike a perfect medium, who is to say that the perfect medium will be the most effective thing to have in both situations? Tough call.
So, now we can begin talking about furthering the spectrum, to the use of heavy chariots, and how they were employed.
Many make the claim that heavy chariots substantiate the first use of shock cavalry. While I am not studied in these developments, it doesn't appear to be a poor observation. These heavy chariots were manned by up to four combatants, who would wield polearms and bows to deal damage as the vehicle travelled, likely not including a driver. Though it is likely that one horse was enough to draw one of these chariots, some scenes in artwork depict more than one horse trailing a chariot along, making the case for multiple horses adding literal horsepower behind them. This could be important, as one of the noteworthy qualities of a heavy chariot was that it wasn't particularly fast. A motivated infantry man could keep up with one.
Instead, one of the major benefits of this shock-unit was that it would sustain momentum enough to crash into enemy formations. With armored horses threatening to trample, a heavy wagon to do much the same, and armed men intent to completely tear through what they could from atop the cab. It must've been a powerful thing to see on an ancient battlefield. Some were even armed with scythes as to maim infantryman close to the chariot's body while it was in motion. The implementation is not disputed, though the effectiveness of it often comes into question.
That being said, they weren't perfect. Taming horses was still an early art, and though later period horses are documented as having charged formations recklessly (though often reluctantly), some question if this would have been done with frequency on those horses, let alone these earlier - perhaps less domesticated varieties. Engaging formations would force heavy chariots to dedicate their charging tactics carefully, or risk stopping, and putting the riders in almost instant peril. Another issue would likely be the cost to deploy them, perhaps requiring an industrious, ancient nation's nobles to donate significant sums to produce such with all the details considered. A team of five men, all armed, armored, with a heavy chariot, steeds to pull it, someone to maintain it, someone to maintain the horses, and someone to maintain the arms and armor.
So, for your ancient warfare needs, heavy chariots would definitely be of some strategic influence - if available. Your local king may fashion his entourage in the upcoming battle with several heavy chariot units, hoping to put the fear of the respective local gods into his enemy. Though not a cure-all, definitely a decision that at least would be absolutely badass for a Triple-A movie fight scene.
Riding on the Wind: Fighting as a Light Cavalry Soldier
"What's wrong, buddy? Can't hit what you can't see? Pick up that clinky chain-dress and speed it up. Gotta' go fast!"
- That one professional troll in your cavalry unit.
I got nothing. Proceed to next section.
Well, no, that's not true. While I can't follow our powerful memer's one-liner up, I can espouse a bit on the subject at hand. With the development of horsemanship early in history, horses were first ridden as a method of quickly travelling from one place to another. This showcases itself in messengers, emissaries, and such potentials. Eventually, most likely out of harassment by people looking to exploit these poor souls, defenses likely crept up to make the practice a safer, one more easily managed. Nobody likes a tax collector, after all, so you gotta' adequately outfit your tax-men.
Eventually, military men consider the application of having fast-moving, fairly well-equipped units on the battlefield to achieve specific purposes. In the beginning, this is almost entirely regulated to scouting, at least in what measures I can research. Having access to these troops would allow actions to be performed more efficiently than otherwise. The advent of employing these units in a military fashion caught on fairly quickly, and eventually, the practice of having light cavalry was no longer restricted to the experimental.
Throughout the classical, cavalry tactics would continue to improve. More and more regularly they would be employed strategically in battles to perform necessary functions. They became an important force when warfare demanded skirmishing. As time would progress, the success of large cavalry formations would reveal themselves to Rome via the Parthian Empire (successor to the Seleucid Empire founded after the death of Alexander the Great.) Though through the medieval, continued developments in horsemanship would allow greater security in the saddle, greater mobility and momentum, light cavalry persisted largely in the same way with its function.
So, great scouts, skirmishers, and nice for helping keep an individual alive when he can ride away from badguys! Even more than that, your horse is a weapon too!
So, how were light cavalry fellows often equipped? Well, typically, they were armed rather well. The level of technology provided to your horsemanship would allow a greater weight of armor on a person to be worn without risk. By the point of medieval technology, with wrap-around saddle, stirrups, reins, bridle, and all others, a fully armored man could still operate as light cavalry with no issue. Earlier on, it is likely that less armor would be a requirement in a society lacking some of those amenities. The more pressing issue is the armor of the horse itself. Horses are hard to kill, but they are an investment, and you don't want them getting hurt, getting pissed, potentially hurting you, and your investments! So, light cavalry typically does with very little armor, perhaps some of the lightest forms of barding, but typically, no armor seems to be the most common.
When it comes to what equipment they used, it seemed they were offered quite a bit of variety. Hand weapons, sometimes lances, and quite often bows. Mounted archers appear to be referenced as light cavalry into the medieval period. So, were the Mongols entirely unique in having horse archers? Not at all, I know for certain that at the very least military strategists of the time were aware of them.
The primary efficacy of cavalry is being able to move fast in-and-out of engagement. This allows you to reap all the benefits of "gotta' go fast", while dealing with very few of the horse's downsides. However, as you slow down, these downsides become more and more pronounced. As with the chariot, the horse is a living breathing thing, and controlling a living breathing thing is rarely an exact science. A level of skill is needed to demand effective command, and even then, certain situations may go on what skill alone can achieve. More so, horses are large animals that take up large space. You can only cram so many horses together, and that number is typically less than how many infantry you can cram together. So, when it comes to density of bodies, you can be outnumbered in formation by infantry. More so then, horses take a fair amount of space to operate effectively. How do you turn a charge? You really can't, not very well. The knightly charge was a development that traded almost all maneuverability for pure impact. Even then, when dealing with single targets, if you're not moving, the horse and you present a pretty well painted target for someone on the ground, who can do a bit more moving and thrashing than you can when you're not protected by distance.
So, a lot of these things play back and forth, and I feel often light cavalry gets a bad rap for being ineffective and bad. Definitely not the case. It doesn't do what heavy cavalry does, that's for sure. BUT, that does not make it bad. They make an appearance in almost every professional army from Rome to Renaissance. So, just like Maille armor, if it lasted that long (at least), it couldn't have been that bad. Again, ask the Mongols.
So, for those of you that indulge Mount & Blade: Warband with a really fast, maneuverable horse, and just loop around other horsemen, there is a spot for you in many major armies!
Delivery, No Sur-Charge! Classifying and Fighting as a Moderate Cavalry Soldier.
"Get you a boy that can do both. Okay, Frank, now show them a picture of Mongols and a picture of knights on crusade."
Now, here's a point where I can really attest the importance of including a Moderate section in these guides.
Moderate cavalry have existed since one could draw a distinction between two forms of cavalry, which was present into the classical period as early as the Greeks. In fact, unlike in the section regarding infantry soldiers, it seems that there may have well been a distinction specifically for moderately equipped cavalrymen in armies, not just an observed moderate between different functions given different names.
The Ancient Greeks distinguished between their cavalry in three ways. A light cavalryman who was primarily a scout and skirmisher, a heavy cavalryman who was given a lance and served as a shock trooper, or a heavy infantryman who could serve either from horseback or on foot. This third, dragoon-like specification goes back at least this far into Ancient Greece, if not earlier. We see this form of cavalry rather popular in the Migration Period, up until the high development of the charge tactics available.
Beyond this, we see practical examples of moderate cavalry existing in history. The Irish were known to have a light cavalry in the 1200s, rumored to ride without a saddle, that excelled in areas where the charge was not effective, such as the forests and bogs of the British Isles. In the Crusades of approximately the same time, we see Turkopoles / Turkopoli being referenced as local levies raised by the crusaders to fight against the Islamic forces. Similarly armed to the light cavalry of their opponents, typically they wielded bows and lances, and excelled as skirmishers and scouts. Though, if necessary, they could be called on to form an additional line of charge.
In these examples, it appears that horsemen themselves were armed rather well, given a sustainable amount of armor, as well as their horse. It's likely they were not entirely as fast as a light cavalryman could be, but with possible amenities and accoutrements, they could serve as a supplementary force in heavy cavalry tactics. Their presence and continued use through history, up through to the city-state of Renaissance Italy make a point as to their effectiveness.
That being said, they are liable to suffer all the same disadvantages that cavalry continues to suffer. As you slow down, you are more vulnerable as a large target that does not have the intricate mobility that a human on its own feet is capable of. Being of less armor than a heavy cavalryman, but placed into some of those strategic roles could place your life in danger should tactics fail. Being of more armor than a light cavalryman, but placed into some of those strategic roles could make you a vulnerable target when you're not as swift as perhaps is necessary to perform the task at hand. While serving between the two measures of effectiveness, often one will dominate. Even in a case where one does not, and it's an even split, there is a question of whether or not an even split would be advantageous.
So, I personally love the idea of moderate cavalry for use in roleplay. I feel it gives a great adventurer feel, it allows for a great many roleplay applications, and can possibly tie in some of those mounts people really like to use. So, I hope this has prompted you all to consider that too!
FORTH EORLINGAS!!: Fighting as a Heavy Cavalry Soldier
"Eomer. Take your Èored down the left flank. Gamling, follow the King's banner down the center. Grimbold, take your company right, after you pass the wall. Forth, and fear no darkness! Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day... a red day... ere the sun rises! Ride now!... Ride now!... Ride! Ride to ruin and the world's ending! Death! Death! DEATH! FORTH, EORLINGAS!!" - .
I got nothing, again. Damn, that's always a great read in the Lord of the Rings. I love the Rohirrim.
They are total badasses. And, they also started my interest in horsemanship, as well as cavalry use.
In the movies, they're definitely the heavy cavalry that the realms of Men needed to save the day. Shock and awe as they charge in full rank, blitzing through formations that struggle to reform their pike blocks. Spears, swords, shields, and gorgeous armor. The image of a knight, given all the badassery of a Germanic pagan.
So, how much of this is true? Well, succinctly so, the charge became a major development of heavy cavalry. Even early into history, in the classical period, we see the cataphract as a unit. The first horse-back shock troopers I'm aware of, they were put up against the use of heavy chariots as mounted shock troops, and seem to have won out in the battle of history. Though lacking a number of the developments necessary to boast full armor, it appears that they did so rather well. I am not sure how much momentum they could put into the charges, but it appears they were quite well equipped enough to blister into less dense bodies of men, or those routing, and make devastating impact. This extends through to the Parthians who contested the Roman Empire with their own, fielding massive formations of cavalry.
So, heavy cavalry can charge. What else? Well, though not so fast as lighter forms of cavalry, it can definitely speed up a man, and aid greatly in harassing less mobile formations of the enemy. In areas where the charge might be suitable, heavy cavalry may be used in sweeps against exposed enemies, or they may be dismounted and have fight on foot. Not to mention having a well armored steed makes it less likely that your horse will be neutralized underneath of you, save in cases of significant failure. This makes the position of heavy cavalry perhaps a safer one than most others on the battlefield. You also gain access to a substantial amount of kit. From your lance, or other types of spear, to your hand weapons, a shield, you are considerably well equipped.
Having said all of that, perhaps heavy cavalry isn't suited for everyone. To begin, the cost of maintaining all of the equipment, let alone your own, is significant in both time and wealth. Repeatedly we see this as a theme. Additionally, the full training of a horse that can dash against enemy formations is not a simple one. Additionally, dense formations of polearms can be seriously hazardous against a formation of cavalry that fails to exploit its tactical advantage. If the formation can halt the momentum of the horses, by whatever means its able, even in armor, the horsemen are at that specific cavalry disadvantage. If you stop moving quickly, you become a very large target that cannot compete with the mobility of a man on his own two feet very effectively. Even against lighter horse, there are counter-attack strategies that can be adequately employed to render heavy cavalry vulnerable as they attempt to charge.
So, we all know about the successfulness of cavalry on the battlefield, and often a lot of people on the internet chuck military victories almost entirely up to these exclusive heavy cavalry units. But, it's worth it to say that these units alone are not responsible for this. They employ devastating tactics that can be used to turn the tides of battles significantly, but they are just one piece in a much larger portion of military strategy. So, again, it's always worth being aware of what the context is.
So, from your early cataphracts, to your late knights, or even to your beautiful Rohirrim. Always remember, that it takes more than a horse and some armor to be a complete badass. It takes knowing how to properly use it as well, and acknowledging when you're disadvantaged.
"Pvt Johnson, is that an Elephant!?": Identifying, Qualifying, and Fighting as a Super-Heavy Cavalry or Chariot Unit
"Yeah, I heard about that Hannibal Bacca dude. He was that moron who never won anything because he tried to drag his stupid elephants over mountains in Europe. Stupid, Elephants aren't native to European mountains!" - That Guy.
Said some history edge-lord at some point, somewhere. But yes, to close this guide up, we're going to talk about the elephant in the room.
But, no, we will be talking about elephants, and other huge creatures you could substitute from your fantasy settings.
Super-Heavy Cavalry is a term that I'm cooking up for use here. As, while the general principle of serving as a mounted shock-unit may be the same, it is MUCH different to everything else we've covered. Whereas cavalry and chariots from before are principled in having swift, semi-docile beasts pacing across the battlefield with their soldiery in tow, these super-heavy units make use of different systems. Most often, it is to make use of a slow, but very large, strong creature that can power through obstacles in its path. The most typical we see in history is, as we can see, the elephant.
Indian Chariots as Wikipedia calls them, made use of trailing elephants in front of the battle lines to wreak havoc on enemy formations, while chariots would then ride in to exploit the resultant chaos. Carthaginian elephants were steered by a driver, and maintained a formation that allowed the cavalry to exploit situations stemming from the shock of the impact.
This produced a unit that required extensive resources to both train and implement effectively in battle. Possible friendly backlash due to the sheer lack of control one can have over such a large beast put the costly recourse of having the rider capable of neutralizing the unit into effect. While the destructive force of such units could not be rivalled by any other, the limitations were such. Being held up, or isolated from friendly units meant being entirely at the mercy of the enemy. Not much could be done from the back of an elephant, even if such troops were armed or armored.
Over time, these units fell entirely out of favor. Though, that being said, they provided a serious option for most militaries who had not yet developed the means to create full heavy cavalry. Even more so, in a fantasy world, where perhaps more satisfactory beasts could be provided to serve the needs of satisfactory super-heavy cavalry. Armaments could be decided as necessary per units, as I'm not quite sure I'm aware what the outfit of a standard super-heavy unit would be. Suffice that combat from atop an elephant sounds like a challenge in itself, and being able to climb on top of one easily may encourage some to limit the amount of armor they wear, not to mention with the potential of falling from a significant height.
So, when it comes to units such as these, there are quite a few options available. While they were only extant in certain forms, for certain periods of history, it's an interesting experiment we could definitely consider getting some great characters or setting out of.
Wowie! This guide took seriously forever to make! But, I think it was totally worth it to build. Horseman or horselady characters could be totally interesting to encounter out there, and though some of them are played, situations utilizing them are hardly expanded upon.
Next time, we'll be talking about characters who deal with death in a long distance relationship. It is one of two more sections currently planned. So, as of the current thoughts, we're about half way through this guide series.
Enjoy your writing and your roleplaying!
Farewell, Peers and Masters!