Combat Roleplay: Types of Combat Situations.
Part Three, Ranged Weapons, warfare, and personal combat.
Hello, and welcome back to the third installment of what I'm calling the Types of Combat Situations!
If you want to leave a comment on any of my posts, you can do so... Here!
Last time we had gone to the effort of examining how Horsemanship affects combat, through its associated practices, with dedicated use in chariots and cavalry. In so doing, we have covered in general a significant array of military history. Infantry going out to hit things with sticks, cavalry riding on something to go hit things with sticks. That's most of a battle, or general fighting society, right?
Well, we're forgetting the population of people who fling their sticks across distances to injure their enemies!
These units, perhaps most easily generalized as ranged units, are a staple of not only modern fantasy, but modern warfare itself. Our modern infantry use repeating firearms, serving primarily as ranged units. Hard to argue with a spread of approximately thirty 5.56mm rounds per man at a moment's notice.
Suffice to say, a lot of this guide, perhaps even more than previous ones, will be straightforward. Still, I feel there are some important points that could help anyone who wants a little more insight into this fighting role. Particularly the first two sections may come across as 'duh', but, they're there for completeness.
For our purposes though, the applications of ranged combat are significant, and can be displayed throughout history in numerous ways that are not only viable to RP, but very fun to play. The archer, ranger, or sniper archetype has a popular following, and even moreso than just the use of the bow, there's a lot that a character can get from this form of combat.
The sections in this guide will include:
120lbs Draw-Weight Bow. Dexterity Requirements? Identifying the Martial Participation of Ranged Combat Units.
Everything Including the Kitchen Sink. Sport, Novelty, and Convenience in Throwing and Shooting.
Spoiler Alert, David Kills Goliath. Fighting as Skirmishers, Slingers, and Peltasts.
Death From Afar! Fighting as Archers and Crossbowmen.
Ring Around the Rosie. Fighting as Mounted Archers and Mounted Crossbowmen.
Going In With a Bang. Fighting as Early Gunners, Turreteers, and Grenadiers.
Shot Heard 'Round the World. Fighting as Early Riflemen, and Late Swordsmen.
The BIG Bang. Fighting as Siege Engineers and Artillery Gunners.
Looking forward to talking about throwing and shooting things!
120lbs Draw-Weight Bow. Dexterity Requirements?
Identifying the Martial Participation of Ranged Combat Units.
"The physical force a projectile impacts with is directly caused by how coordinated its wielder is; for reasons. Physics."
I've had maybe one or two instructors who would disagree with this very common feature in RPGs, and in modern fantasy.
The idea of the scrawny, plain, untrained layperson being able to move deftly, command speed and agility without any need for physical training has been around for some time. And while that could potentially warrant it's own discussion, it is worth noting in this specific interest as some of this seems to be carried over quite firmly still in modern fantasy with regards to archers.
Most games pose minimal, if any, requirement on the user's physical capabilities to use ranged weapons. Instead, the primary determiner is how coordinated, accurate, or just how high-level they are. I'm not much of a prude about this, as it is a helpful balancing mechanic that does accurately portray a need to practice with your ranged weapon. Though, I think it is worth noting. With thrown weapons, slings, bows, and some other things, there is a significant physical labor involved. Typical high-late medieval war bows ranged in draw-weight from approximately 80 to 130 pounds. That is a SERIOUS weapon. Hunting bows could draw for less, with some modern big-game bows seeming to weigh in from 70-90. A bow for more typical hunting seems to fit anywhere in the range of 30-80.
So, while the dexterity focus is not a poor one, it doesn't tell the full story, and can lead some people to have some differeing opinions about historical archers.
Archers in history were different from each other, depending on time and place. The legendary Samurai of Japan were, primarily, mounted archers. English Longbowmen stood in rank with the army, wore armor, and fought. A steppe nomad may not have a full war-bow, though they might have a particularly powerful bow, useful for hunting and carrying. A skirmisher in the classical period won't have a bow, or much armor, but will use slings and thrown weapons to effectively harang the enemy. Certain medieval crossbowmen used sufficient armor as could be had while handling their crossbow, in addition to the famous free-standing pavise.
So, not all archers have to be a 'squishy', light, or perhaps even nimble troop. They can be forceful, strong, and defensible units. Physical strength might be a prerequisite for certain weapons, and that might make certain archers more physically prepared than your average layman, or perhaps even at an athletic superiority to members of the infantry forces.
This will be a major consideration in the subjects moving forward. Not only to mention that physical coordination is a measure of your overall physical capabilities, and is not so different from your muscular strength.
Everything Including the Kitchen Sink.
Sport, Novelty, and Convenience in Throwing and Shooting.
"Hey, Frank, watch this. I can knock that apple off my brother's head with this brick from five yards!"
I'd watch it.
But, this section is effectively going to cover another subject to preface this section, which is pretty much straightforward. Effectively, throwing shit is pretty fun, and pretty cool. Sometimes it's pretty effective. Same with shooting things. Shooting things is awesome. Wow, saying that definitely won't send the CIA to my doorstep.
But, games and movies can perhaps over-emphasize just how effective some of these things can be. Simultaneously, they can be under-played by opposing voices.
One of the primary points of contention are throwing knives. People didn't hunt with throwing knives, as quoted by Lindybeige. Very true. People threw spears, invented spear-throwers, used bows, and used traps to hunt. The effectiveness of throwing a knife may be, factually, less effective than throwing a spear in terms of effective magnitude. Yes, perhaps, sort of. Matt Easton of Scholagladiatoria gave a sound response to this, in that the common activity of carrying knives, the inconvenience of idly carrying spears or a bow, and the general action of throwing something at something else exists no matter what you have to hand. You may not have a spear to throw, but you may have a knife to throw, and it may still do some nice damage to an unarmored opponent. It might not. All considerations.
But, this doesn't devalue what the original criticism of Lindybeige was designed to achieve. Like the throwing knife of Call of Duty, granting an instant kill, or the critical hit of the throwing knife in RPGs, the prevalence of consumable throwing knives as random ammunition to be found commonly about the world, and carried idly. This system may not be the most effective, particularly in an active combat scenario. Neither were throwing axes all together universally common throughout history (THOUGH there are periods where they emerge into common use!) Throwing hammers don't seem to have been particularly tried outside of Dungeons and Dragons, feats of strength, and the highest figures of mythology.
But, there are options. As we'll see with the section on skirmishers. And that isn't to say that these things were never thrown.
Again, throwing things at things we want to break is a very human reaction. Sometimes its a tactical decision, or one of desperation, or just one of amusement. Swords were thrown. I have no doubt that a hammer could be thrown. I just don't imagine that Throwing Swords were too frequently a thing.
So, throwing stuff is great, it was done, but it's worth considering to what extent it was done, and how effective it will be in the scenario in which you're operating.
Spoiler Alert, David Kills Goliath.
Fighting as Skirmishers, Slingers, and Peltasts.
"This story was told in Biblical Times, and still people are laughing at how hard the dude fed the enemy team."
Suffice to say, this humorous proverb is kind of true. Don't feed, yo'.
But, on a much more serious note, it is perhaps worth considering where this myth comes from. In the classical period, particularly pre-medieval, but even during as well as after, there was a variety of ranged combat unit that is barely represented in modern depictions of combat. This unit was one that used ranged weapons in a moderate to close range. Typically lightly armored, with various levels of armament, these units would engage other lightly armored troops, as well as whole formations, from a distance. Their duty was to harass, manipulate, and inflict some amount of injury on the opposing force.
These forces are typically refered to as skirmishers, but this encompasses a wide variety of combatants.
The primary example this section is provided with is the story of David and Goliath, in which, David uses a sling to slay the fully armored Goliath. While likely having the weight of myth, David is rather accurately portrayed as a slinger. Typically unarmored, without means to afford much else, the slinger is armed with just that - a sling. A sling was an economic and flexible instrument in the classical world, which can be designed to work in one hand or two depending on range, speed, and power desired. Using stones, a fairly accessible resource, you could drive away animals and people, perhaps even dealing serious damage depending on your abilities. Typically, slingers are considered to be drawn from early, impoverished peoples. While effective in some cases, the stones can typically do nothing against shields, and pretty much only inflict pain through armor. Slingers play a massive role in the pre-medieval world, but effectively disappear in medieval societies afterwards.
But, there are more skirmishers than just slingers. One of the most iconic is the Greek peltast.
Armed with a light shield, numerous thrown javelins, and presumed to carry a sword, these units were introduced to Greece in rising popularity before the Peloponnesian War. Typically depicted wearing very light armor, though with some fully armed hopilites using pieces of their equipment, these units were deployed successfully against infantry and cavalry. Their equipment was cheaper than that of a full hopilite, making it more accessible to many men, making them prime mercenary or economic forces. Using javelines from a distance, and swords in close-proximity, they were best employed when an enemy could not directly attack them, or lacked sufficient ground to retreat easily. Some depictions show these men equipped with spears, but that appears to be the exception, but not an inviable one. As these units persist in history, they become more armored, wearing helmets and linen armor by the times following Alexander the Great.
These tactics appear to be emulated in ways by the use of the pillum in Rome, and similarly developed by other societies. Frankish skirmishers were famed for their use of throwing axes, presumed by many to serve a similar purpose.
By far, these units were valued for their mobility, their ability to engage from a distance (perhaps from total safety), and the support they could yield to different troops. They were a rather light infantry unit when brought into fighting with hand-weapons, but some were more armored than others. Some were perhaps more armed than others. Some were perhaps more aptly prepared for warfare than others. But, the use effective short-range projectiles against enemy forces has proved a reliable function against enemy badguys.
These forces appear to decline, and resurge, depending on the amount of armor used in conflict. Other weapons such as blow-darts, and spears carried solely for throwing, also make an appearance in history. Even during the crusades against mail armor, spears used for throwing make appearances in art and descriptions of events. In sieges, chucking things off of high places down on unsuspecting mugs was a thing that was also done. So, perhaps pieces of this never really go away, so long as there's SOMETHING to throw.
So, don't be afraid to pursue this in settings where it might fit. Throw everything but the kitchen sink! Then, throw that too!
Death From Afar!
Fighting as Archers and Crossbowmen.
"You would die before your stroke fell." - Legolas, to Eomer the Underrated.
A badass scene, and for some reason, I always consider badass archers thinking this when engaging an opposing unit of infantry, when they are sufficiently hardcore (and strategically successful). Even if I think in a less fantasy scenario, Legolas might've been making a poor choice.
BUT BOWS!!! And crossbows.
Suffice to say, bows have been used at least since the neolithic period. Man, the guy who figured that out must've had one hell of a following afterwards. Being able to shoot things quickly, and accurately, from a distance is really helpful. Throwing spears is a good way to do it too, but that requires carrying them all, physically throwing each one, and typically a bow can be trained to fire quite fast by comparison. The bow operates off of the tension placed on the wooden limb by the string. Typically the strain the bow is under is minimal when not being drawn, but upon doing such the bow REALLY wants to straighten back up. This resistant force that the bow provides determines its strength, and different bows are made to suit different weights of draw for people.
Hunting bows can range pretty well. I'm not sure what the lowest poundage tends to be, but I know most tend to fall between forty-five and eighty. These could be used just as well against people, if they aren't wearing armor or shields. To get around the use of non-plate armor, you're going to want a particularly strong bow, typically referred to as a war bow. These, of various shapes and size, tend to produce a draw-weight between ninety and one-hundred thirty pounds draw weight. That's a lot!
That doesn't even begin to mention the development of arrowheads. Different bows, exerting different amounts of force, against different targets of different hardness, will use different arrows. Arrow shapes develop over time as metallurgy does, and stronger, more effective arrows become available as a result. The arrows designed to pierce small plates in later period armor, or split through a lowered visor, may not have existed in earlier periods when less plate was being used. There are accounts of crusaders wearing only mail and the padding underneath of them, walking out of battles looking like pincushions. Doubtless, such would've been quite painful to endure, even if it protected your life sufficiently. Later period arrows against the same defense might have yielded different, though maybe not vastly different results.
Despite the physical trauma that projectiles could still have against a person wearing armor, the armor is still renowned through history for having defended against arrows quite well. Typically, their use was in different methods, or in massive volleys against the enemy where accuracy by volume may take effect. That being said, it is unfair to say that they were completely ineffective.
Crossbows, however, have a different point and position in history.
If we ignore the weapon cultsits on both sides, or mass media interpretations. Typically, bows are considered faster, having better range, and at times greater precision in more circumstances. They are infamous for having notoriously high draw weights that overshadow hand-drawn bows. BUT, there is a CRUCIAL difference between historical bows and modern reproductions which highlights a disrepency between the two draw weights. Medieval crossbows tend to have a much shorter power-stroke, meaning the distance by which the string is drawn under tension. A longbow can be drawn back the full span of the arm and the torso. A medieval crossbow typically had a draw of about... six to nine inches.
This is a dramatic difference, and can highlight the different levels of energy going into the bolt. Why was this done? Likely to prevent an early failure of the crossbow (breaking), and perhaps to give the weapon more pleasant behavior in the sudden release of the trigger.
So, being aware of this, crossbows in my line of thinking tend to fall into a handful of groups.
Light crossbows are the simplest, most straightforward, and most available. They likely pose a draw-weight between one-hundred fifty and four-hundred fifty pounds, which sounds impressive, but must be considered by the standards we've explained before. This would likely contain the earliest crossbows, such as those developed by the Romans (Arcuballista), with their use expanding through to the late medieval period. They would be easy to use, relatively easy to produce, and easy enough to carry with you. This would make it an optimal piece of equipment to give to a large group of people who may need to take up offending something from a distance, or for novelty use. The downside is that these crossbows may not have the stopping power to deal with sufficient armor, despite being heavy and sizeable in some cases. This would be in addition to the general range penalty, but perhaps a little bit faster rate of fire. It likely still wouldn't be quite as fast as a hand bow though. These would be hand-spanned (drawn by hand) for the lightest of them, or used a front-mounted stirrup in conjunction with a goat's-foot hook to bring more of the body into loading it, or belt hooks that draw the bow as you lift with the legs for the heaviest of them.
Heavy crossbows are what in my opinion often get interpreted as a crossbow, though they often have none of the necessary requirements to use, and are depicted as having all the benefits of a super-light crossbow. Suffice to say, these bad boys would be the ones definitely wanting for a stirrup at the end, If only perhaps to give you a place to keep it while using whatever machinations allow you to draw it back. This type of crossbow would be fitted with stronger arms, having greater stopping power, and perhaps greater range. Though, the rate of fire slows, and a touch more training is needed to be able to handle the draw strength of the bow. These beasts would likely content from four-hundred and fifty to eight-hundred fifty pounds in draw weight This one though can likely exceed the draw-weight of any hand-drawing methods almost immediately; perhaps save some of the strongest men making use of hooks on their belts in conjunction with the strength of their legs. Most are likely drawn by hooks manipulated by a pully system. Medieval inventories showing cross-bow proofed breastplates prove that some heavy crossbows were the benchmark for measuring armor effectiveness, and these are the beasts they might've wnated safety from. The concussive force from rounds fired by this weapon alone might be devastating, even if a puncturing wound isn't necessary. Though, for their trouble, they are also bigger, more troublesome to carry, and probably would require a greater investment in your inventory. These crossbows seem to emerge during the heart of the high medieval period, but progress in efficacy through to the late medieval. A number of them persisted for hunting, and occasional military use, in the renaissance.
The big kahuna, number three, is what most would liably refer to as the Siege Crossbow. These bad mamas are not drawn by the arms, nor the abdomen, nor the body itself directly by any means. Instead, a winch is cranked to forcibly draw back the string and lock it into place. This is due to the fact of the sheer draw strength required to manipulate this piece. Siege crossbows, such as we are defining them in this typology, could have a draw-weight from eight-hundred fifty pounds, but could exceed beyond a thousand pounds of draw-weight for effective use! Having this technological advantage means that the bow's resistive force can be easily in excess what a typical human should be able to provide, while still requiring a training level that is less dramatic than that of a long bow. The mass and stopping power of projectiles from this weapon are of such efficacy, that its effective targets excede that of people, but of the stone defenses in opposing fortresses as well. Firing speed takes a direct hit, range doesn't increase overmuch from what I understand, the weapon itself is even larger, but the shot fired from this crossbow would most certainly be worth the affect. These seem to be available starting in the beginning of the late medieval period, and exist for a bit into the renaissance before the mainstream applications of artillery.
Lastly, we come to the turrets and siege emplacements. The Scorpio of the Romans is one such example, providing ranged projectiles across the battlefield in deadly fashion. Another is the often fantasized Repeating Crossbow of Asia, which seems to have been much more a weapon intent on wounding a mass of lightly armored levies than effectively engaging in an armed force. These rely on separate means, but they are weapons that are recorded in effective use in history. Typically, placement is key, and maintaining an effective strategic purpose, whether offensive or defensive.
It's worth noting that most of these crossbows develop over time, starting with the Romans developing a light crossbow that was on formidable level equal to or greater than the bows of its time. They would also have their scorpio, obviously. We'd see them develop through the medieval to become stronger, more dangerous, and more impressive pieces of war. They likely dispersed through different forms of use in different times. In each type, I tried to highlight the general applications of different draw-weight crossbows, but still, its worth having a note of the whole picture.
But, before we go, we've already discussed previously how these ranged combatants might have to be as strong as their infantry counterparts in order to use their weapons. But, we left something out. Could they be as armored as their infantry counterparts?
Depending on the situation, I would say, mostly! Archers have a need to make full use of their hands while using a bow. So, gauntlets may be out of the question. But protection for the wrist and the rest of the arm could be fair game. Beyond that? Pretty much anything is fair! This is likely to be the same with crossbowmen, but I have had it argued that you might be able to work some crossbows with the use of gauntlets, though I've never done it. Helmets might need to address the situation of visibility, but most do through visors in the period where these bows exist, making most compatible for use in this regard.
So, for this much, I would say, archers and crossbowmen deserve to be badass! And they have just as much a place on the battlefield as anyone else, really. Fricken', samurai get all the credit for the katana. Do you want to know what their primary weapon was? The bow! So yeah, let's get some medieval archery badasses out there and pinging people for what they're worth! You don't gotta' be a skulky, sneaky, shadow-hidey, flippy-Orlando-Bloom-elf person to be a badass.
Ring Around the Rosie.
Fighting as Mounted Archers and Mounted Crossbowmen.
"Genghis Khan showed just how broken Nomad Horde Casus Beli is. No penalties for having only cavalry!"
Indeed, quite troubling. My heavy infantry cultural units will find this most tedious.
BUT, that's why we're bringing this up in this section, about the legendary horse archer! In many games, and productions, depicted as the apex soldier of the ancient world. The Horse Archer, some will say, could soar through the air and destroy stone fortifications through the sheer force of their bowstrings! Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration. But, numerous opinions put them as the inherent troops to win a battle.
This isn't quite the case, but they do have a number of strong suits.
We should reflect upon the last guide that I've written, in which I discuss cavalry forces at length. We can extend this to chariot use as well, but I figure that explaining cavalry will give a general idea of what charioteering was like as well.
The first thing to state is, that a horse allows you to move fast. Going fast is pretty awesome. It can get you out of trouble, and bring you to the trouble fast. You can also barrel into things if you're sufficiently armored or built up. This is perhaps the primary advantage of cavalry, and this persists with mounted archery. We did discuss a bit about how different horses, and equipment loads, were used to achieve different things. A horse that could charge into enemy lines versus a horse that could ride a man across landscapes as fast as possible.
One thing to consider about archery, in the briefest notion, is that effectively all the primary ranged weapons we've discussed use two hands. The larger slings tend to use two hands. Thrown weapons pretty much use one hand. But most effective anti-personel bows and crossbows make use of both hands in wielding (some exceptions may include the Roman Arcuballista.) We've discussed since the beginning that being an effective fighter means making use of your scenario as best you can, without overloading yourself, or making your life terribly inconvenient.
So, mounted archers may find it tedious to tie down a lance on their back, or to the side of their horse. That might not sound like a big deal? Yeah, so what. Though, it may also be worth nothing that a shield is perhaps not the easiest thing to sling around, especially when you're already carrying a bow of some kind somewhere. An additional point of note is that while most cavalry use shields weren't terribly large, most were quite thick, and made upf or their size with mass. So, no shield and no lance. Well, that's okay, just don't stack them up against enemy spears, lances, or too much heavy infantry!
Well, remember what we said about the charge tactic being popular? If you want to be able to outrun those charging, heavily armed and armored lances, who also have shields and armor too, you... may need to consider lightening the load of your own horse. So, while you don't necessarily need to remove armor from your horse, it might be an important consideration if you want that foremost efficacy.
So, without a shield, without a spear (at least at this particular moment), given to a bow and a sidearm (or a couple), what does this look like for an effective soldier?
Turns out, again, still rather effective. Just not the master of all trades like in some depictions.
The nomads that make for the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan, and other warlords before and after, are a prime example. Most are lightly armored, but are amazingly swift, able to use their bows with effective accuracy even in the saddle. While being a mark of bowmanship, it's just as much a show of their skill in the saddle. Being an effective warrior on a horse involves, well, being skilled in handling the beast that you're riding. That can be just as much a skill, and just as much a boon in fighting. I think it's no wonder that the Mongolians were not only able to masterfully field horse archers, but also to develop tactics to defy that of civilized men with relatively little formal education.
One of the impressive strategies I know that they had employed was to exploit the knightly charge. The mongols would see the knights addressed in a line, and make it appear as if they were fleeing. The knights would charge after them, expecting to hit a vulnerable mass in flight, and tear through them. The mongols would escape a necessary amount of distance, putting the knights out of reach of their standing infantry, before turning back to surround the knights and pick them off helplessly while outnumbering them. Horse archers (accompanied by the Mongolian lancers) aren't necessarily better than knights every time, but the Mongols knew how to make it that way.
But, are all mounted archers limited to this form of fighting? Lightly armed hit and run tactics? Nope. And we referenced one earlier.
Yup, the Samurai were primarily a cavalry unit. Their primary weapon shifted between a bow, and a naginata, depending on what the situation called for. The tachi, katana, or such as they are referred, were typically sidearms akin to the medieval longsword. The use of the bow, demanding two hands, restricted the use of the samurai from developing hand-held shields. So instead, they developed armor, and incorporated their shields into the armor by developing the protection for the shoulder.
A samurai could maybe use a naginata with a shield, and from horseback, and with a shield. But, not a bow. This two-handed weapon put a developmental need for equipment that would suit the samurai's purpose. So, that's one of the reasons why the two-handed, shieldless tradition of swordsmanship is quite popularized so early in Japan. As for their use, they were effective shock-troops. They would hit hard on positions, and out-maneuver pockets of land forces before reforming as necessary. The military tradition put an impetus on propriety and form, and the service of a samurai was not one taken lightly. Disciplined soldiers, well armored, used the bow effectively against opposition, as well as the other weapons that'd be made famous with them.
Though pretty much everyone knows that, it's worth restating for the point. Horse archery is pretty boss. Whether in a lighter, or heavier form. The juxtaposition of different needs and benefits plays out hand in hand.
What is perhaps their greatest drawback, depending on how armored they are, is the need to move. If you can't move on a horse, you're quite exposed. Either other cavalry, or infantry even, will have a significant advantage in dealing with you. Getting stuck, or stopping for no reason, are terrible things for cavalry. For that reason, and the means of accessibility while handling a horse, makes statically defending a single position more difficult. Infantry can do that all day, they just need to stand there. Cavalry? Well, it may be worth dismounting at that point.
But, you can always ride again!
So, for that point, I will say, horsemanship is awesome. Archery, is awesome. The combination of the two is just as awesome. I wouldn't say twice as awesome. But its own unique awesome.
Going In With a Bang.
Fighting as Early Gunners, Turreteers, and Grenadiers
"Okay, so we have some renaissance guns to use. Pistols, rifles, repeating crossbows, siege crossbows, blunderbuss... I equip my Chinese Fireworks."
The export of black powder to Europe, with some knowledge that it provided explosive capabilities, is something that traces back to the medieval. I don't know exactly when or how this relationship begins, but I learned a lot about early firearms in the Summer of 2016 at a class during the historical reenactment event, The SCA's Pennsic War. One of the things I learned were some of the earliest developments of firearms, both the mainstream and some of the obscure.
Some of the terminology we use today for these earliest guns are called gonnes, or hand-cannons. Wikipedia will give you immediate results, but I'm not entirely certain that its accuracy is completely up to date with modern finds. It claims that these weapons originate in China around the twelth century, and it migrates through to the Middle East and Europe in the fourteenth century. I believe the class I had provided evidence for finds that suggest that early gonnes were arrived in some number by the end of the thirteenth. If I can find the accommodating documentation, I'll edit it in.
These gonnes, such as they are, effectively served in the beginning as medieval bazookas. These would be a short, metal barrel at the end of a wooden pole you'd hold over your shoulder. There was no trigger, instead you'd have a stick with something burning on the end of that'll ignite powder through a small hole. Bang! Early guns, right in the hayday of the medieval. So, does this mean that so begins the use of field units of gunners, shooting down enemies in rank?
No, not yet. These weapons were slow to use, and at times inopportune. They appear to have served as siege, or counter siege weapons to begin with. Firearm bombardment was not only new, but effective in ways that coventional weapons of the time weren't. Though, we only highlighted one of the ways in which they weren't as effective as conventional weapons. Their accuracy seemed to be wanting. The primitive state of these firearms, and the powder they had access to, limited the stopping power to those unarmored or lightly armored. Though, these were new, and they were loud, so their use as a terror tactic or experimental technology could have lended benefits in and of themselves.
As some of the first developments from the original models of gonne we discussed was the development of a hook at the end of the chamber. This allowed you to hook the front of the weapon onto a castle wall's ramparts, battlements, or a balustrade, which could stabilizie the weapon and help deal with recoil. Though, we might want to think for a moment. Hook gun. Have we heard of these before? Why, in fact, yes, we have. This is the origin of the term Arquebus, or hook gun! This is where the name originally occurs, but it'll later be used to denote matchlock rifles as well.
So, these guns came onto the scene fairly quickly once they arrived. Though, it's important to say, they did not outright replace the use of bows, at least not the conventional bow and arrow. The advantageous range and rate of fire from bows gave them an advantage over early firearms, particularly those who lacked the stopping power associated with later guns. Crossbow use might have diminished, but largely bows existed contemporary with firearms for a considerable length of time. Only once firearms were able to compete with the range and reliability of a bow were they to overcome the ranged weapon of choice for thousands of years.
Later, larger gonnes would be made with larger barrels, and by the turn of the fifteenth century, could be fired from stands. Some years later, the French would develop the Hand Culverin, which was a metal, smooth-bore tube that had a wooden piece to crouch the weapon against the arm. This early firearm was the ancestor to the musket, and to the later culverin artillery piece.
These two weapons are what, in my opinion, constitute a good base to follow firearms through the renaissance. Continued additions to the gonne and the hand culverin will give, in time, the full suite we see by the height of the renaissance. In fact, continued additions to the gonne would give us the first weapons recognizable as early matchlocks by the 1450s.
But, we're not quite done yet. Some early overlapping weapon systems we've discussed still need mentioned, even if only briefly, and we'll leave furthering our discussion on these weapons for the last section. But, what do you think we're missing?
Well, the people who saw Grenadiers in the title and scrolled this far should be happy now.
I know less about this than our previous subject matter, but I've considered covering it in this section due to its applications, and by one or two suggestions about early-period grenade use. Suffice to say, I'm primarily doing this for the prior. The earliest references I have to grenades comes from the internet, which echoes the popular opinion that the earliest references of grenades being used comes from the Ming dynasty of China, spanning from the end of the fourteenth century (1380s) to the half-way mark of the seventeenth (1650). All documentation seems to suggest it was slow going before this form of fighting emerged in Europe, the end of the sixteenth century (1590s) being a round-about date.
Grenadiers were something of an elite troop for their day, and such is easy to imagine when you consider the situation. These were disciplined men who had to be at the front of the unit. They had to light their slow-match, wait, and then throw. And these weren't tennis balls, these were iron spheres loaded up with gunpowder, so you had to make sure that you were capable of giving a heavy object a really good toss. While most armies seemed to distinctly scrutinize for the tall and strong, for good reason mind you, you could likely get away with being a function grenadier who is just strong.
Much like the state of early firearms, and perhaps the earliest standing cannons, accuracy wasn't guaranteed. Accuracy by volume, or supremacy of bombardment allowed these weapons to function. Grenades could displace enemy formations of riflemen in ways that perhaps early guns had done to earlier formations of infantry. Explosives and firearms proved effective as deterrants to cavalry charge. The defensive use of certain explosives and firearms display the technological advancement of larger weapons that would later dominate the field, which we'll cover further in the next section.
But, what are character aspects we can consider for these early gunners or grenadiers, and how can we bring out an immersive side of our characters in this?
Well, with most of these characters, it's fairly straight forward. Early guns, with perhaps exception being quality gunpowder (as opposed to cheap gunpowder), were easy to field out to a large group of people, and direct their fire on numerous targets with minimal training. They were well inclined for use against cavalry, many suggest. They come into rank nicely with different infantry units, and fit the heart of the medieval period. In the later medieval, towards the end, we see the beginnings of the matchlock formally, allowing units to function even more conventionally than previously so. The ability to follow direction, an amount of discipline, and an amount of training in firing the weapon accurately would be things that a character would want to indulge in. These units would function solely as standing units, but later firearms would allow cavalry units to carry them as well after the full development of the matchlock, and the musket. Some of these, particularly officers of a regiment, would still carry dedicated melee weapons into battle.
Grenadiers largely function in the same way. These weapons could field against formations of enemies, infantry or cavalry, they did not require terrific skill or accuracy to make use of, and required the discipline to work within formation. Though, grenadiers have a higher requirement in being physically robust, capable of projecting a heavy mass by the force of their body a safe enough distance towards the enemy. Typically they appear to be without most conventional armor, save their military uniform, but are depicted frequently with a melee weapon as their sidearm, if not a conventional rifle of later renaissance date. Again, a grenadier regiment, for the reasons of their duties and their danger, were typically regarded as elite.
So, before we leave the medieval, or before we delve too far beyond the renaissance, firearms emerge in a form that could be played well in various settings that could feasibly encorporate their use. That being said, in this period, melee weapons were still a necessary component of warfare and fighting. Though, this is definitely marking the period where armor advances to its highest point, only to begin falling into partial obsoletion.
Shot Heard 'Round the World.
Fighting as Early Riflemen, and Late Swordsmen.
"Johnson!? What are you doing?? Don't bring a knife to a gun fight! Now hand me my sword and afix that bayonet!!"
Our good friend Johnson, proving again to be a most valuable asset to this military endeavor.
In this section, I'm only going to briefly touch upon the technological setting, as I've been doing that a lot throughout this entire guide series. But, now we're approaching more contemporary matters, of which I am less informed, and I believe those of my audience will be more aware. But, suffice to say that this sequence pans on after the last through history. The advancement of firearms to rifles, pistols, and the end of the age of swordsmen.
Perhaps a sad note, but a necessary one. I feel this is an area of roleplay that could be used to great effect, but seldom is.
To begin where we left off, the matchlock firearm mechanism arrives in its earliest stages half-way through the fifteenth century (1450.) This is the time in which we see firearms begin to steal into the front of what was modern warfare at the time. Matchlock firearms were lit, as you might imagine, with a burning match being dropped into a pan of gunpowder. This caused reliability issues, and limited rate of fire a considerable amount. Rearming the pan and relighting the match (though you wouldn't need relight the match every time) took time, and weather, people around you, and raw probability could attempt to dispute you.
The immediate solution that came next was the wheellock. It was a firearm that could ignite itself by the use of striking sparks using a rotating steel wheel inside of the gun. Coming into use around the turn of the sixteenth century (1500), these were expensive, complicated, and sometimes tedious beasts. To arm the gun, you needed a specialized wrench fitted to your gun's mechanism. Lose that, or drop it, and you can't reload. It was heavy, prone to damage over time, and costly to repair. But, it made up for the unreliability of a matchlock significantly. Lighting a match wasn't necessary, they were said to perform better in rain, around this time rifling was becoming available for both matchlocks and wheellocks. Though, one additional advantage remained. You could, in theory, arm the gun, and holster it.
This was brand new. Before, you had to have a lit match. You wouldn't want to just light a match and holster your gun. You could burn yourself, or burn away your match. if you're in the middle of a fight, it doesn't matter as much, as you want to be able to fire when you find your target. But, then you'd probably want to extinguish it when your life wasn't in danger anymore. The wheellock, however, allowed the ability to have shot prepared at any moment, though I doubt this was safe to do casually. These guns, to my knowledge, were not equipped with much of any safety mechanisms. But, I suppose this could be the origin of firearms that could be used stealthily, if only for one shot. In my opinion, this is what really sets off earlier firearms from later ones; the matter of how easy it is to prime a shot. That's just me though.
Issues remained with the wheellock, and come the second half of the sixteenth century, a series of developments would arrive to advance firearms further. Come the turn of the seventeenth century (1600), the flintlock would be ready. These were, as all others before, still muzzle loaded firearms. But, in about fifty years, breach loading would be offered to the flintlock as well. The true flintlock used flint to strike the pan, and the advancements of the firearm meant that the pan had to be primed less often. The priming of the pan was more reliable as well, serving better in different weather, and featured all the advancements up until this point. Some even had multiple barrels to allow more shots in a single loading action, at the cost of having a longer loading action. More advancements to the flintlock would arrive, and it would only be replaced in the mid-nineteenth century (1850s) by percussion cap firearms, and then cartridge-based firearms that we still use today.
Looking back now at the broad array of firearms this covers, we can draw some universals in the progress up through their use. Firearms became more reliable. Wheellocks addressed some of the problems of matchlocks, but introduced their own. Flintlocks addressed the problems of both, but still had issues. Percussion caps aided firearms further and became quite reliable, but had certain issues with reloading speed that all guns before them had. Even early cartridge firearms were somewhat unwieldy until the establishment of modern cartridge systems that only managed to become widespread around the time of the first World War.
So, progressively, as guns become more predominant, other weapons begin to face the sidelines. Armor becomes less frequently used, as it becomes less effective against the weapons being brought to bare against it. Cuirassier cavalry are famous for wearing breastplates, and helmets late into history. British military sources who saw frequently melee fighting adopted pieces of armor to resist certain types of wounds that became common. But, full suits and regalia fell out of fashion as this period drew on, even though coming into its height just before the turn of the seventeenth century.
Many often think that the sword was the first casualty in this technological arms race. That the pike was the last weapon to be used on the battlefield that wasn't a firearm, or wasn't a lance. And, well, I have reason to state that such a common perception isn't true. Swords persisted through into World War One.
The use of rifles did diminish the presence of the sword on the battlefield, such did pistols. But pistols were never primary weapons. Swords were most often, throughout history, sidearms. Such they remained. A firearm cannot physically stop someone striking you, nor mitigate a blow, nor effectively dissuade someone from rushing you with another melee weapon in most cases - save by shooting them before they can do so. This means that, for a period in history, many of the guns we've gone over may leave you vulnerable in situations against attackers that either have guns, or an intent to fight you physically.
Swords are good for this. A sword can stop someone from striking you, defend, and provide a physical barrier between you and someone attacking you more effectively than most firearms. A bayonetted rifle can do this, but a bayonetted rifle is not a dedicated melee weapon. A bayonetted weapon also presents a threat at a distance that is less effective if the person gets close to you. A sword has a bit more flexibility in that regard. Knives too, but they suffer an issue of having limited reach.
Swords are also very nicely paired with a pistol, allowing you the benefit of both. A sergeant of a company would typically wield these to defend himself, as to be able to lead his men effectively. Single shot through revolving pistols saw frequent use in this manner. Swords retracted in use progressively for other units.
Another common form of fighting involved the use of wielding a carbine, and a bowie knife. Once the carbine had been expended of its shot, or before if absolutely necessary, you could wield it in your off-hand defensively. This would free up your main hand for a fighting knife. Some regarded this system as superior to bayonet fighting in many regards, though some detractors think otherwise. I don't have a set in stone opinion, but I know that this system was common enough to exist with references.
So, while guns progress, and begin to take over the scene of battle, different characters will approach this differently. Long rifle snipers emerge, who fire a few shots accurately from a long distance. Short rifled dragoons or skirmish troops will engage rapidly, on horseback or on treacherous terrain. Officers and fighters of particular daring might fight with sword and pistol, or a belt of pistols. Multibarrel firearms existed, and various forms of shot munitions made close-range engagements more viable with firearms. As the firearm approaches full modernity, we get faster rates of fire that are accompanied by faster reloading times. The volume of fire overwhelms the efficacy of other fighting forms, showing the final displays of traditional cavalry and melee combat in World War One. Gallant cavalry charges against artillery positions, and direct charges against enemy trenches brought these weapons to bare one last time.
So, really, this is a great period to roleplay in. There's so much variety, and so much distinction in what goes on between different weapon forms, and battlefield tactics. A whole wide world is out there, and I encourage people to find it!
The BIG Bang.
Fighting as Siege Engineers and Artillery Gunners.
"Damnit, Johnson! What'd I tell you about whistling!? You always do that before one of those artillery shells land!"
This section may, in fact, be remarkably brief, as I highlight a necessary component of ranged combat as our dates go further and further towards the current day. Napoleon proved that artillery is vastly influential in warfare, in being able to lay siege and destruction on a position - at times regardless of its defenses. This is an issue argued in the modern day. What use is concealed carry when the government can have a drone blow up your whole street?
Well, that's an ethical question more than a practical question. But we'll continue on the earlier train of thought. We'd discussed how the earliest ordinance came about through the development of larger Culverin emplacements. From turret guns to finalized artillery pieces that would adapt into the Field Gun of later date.
Being efficient in combat while operating these devices is different from other rolls in military service, but not so different from earlier siege operations. Manning catapults, ballistae, or trebuchets.
The actions could be performed in armor, but actively doing work in the armor may be physically taxing. So, certain forces or units may forego such protection they could have, for greater ease of use. Some armor though may be a direct hindrance. Gauntlets, particularly, may keep you from having your maximum dextrousness in handling machinery. A completely enclosed helmet may prevent you from adequately responding to orders, or giving them as necessary to other operators.
Weaponry is typically open, but the amount of weaponry is somewhat questionable. Similar to armor, wielding too much may become overly encumbering for your duties, and as a result, you may shed unnecessary equipment as a result. Though, within reason, there's nothing stopping you from having an item like a crossbow or shield strapped on your back, with a sword and dagger at your sides. Pistols and rifles as well for the later period.
Now, here come a bit of contradictory elements you may want in your siege operators.
These weapons are things of science, precision, and expense. Aiming accurately is much more the preference than shooting wildly. Overcoming technical issues are a necessity, and doing so in effective time is even more so. This demands sharp wit, an intellectual disposition most times, and enough education to manifest these specific activities. It's hard to hire random slacks to do exactly what you say without question or error. So, it may benefit from having folk who are old enough to have this intellectual prowess, but young enough to still operate machinery. Basically, anything before enfeeblement.
The other desirable quality, almost in direct opposition, is being able to... well, oppose opposition! Siege weapons are highly valued, and highly effective units in warfare. Typically, they are seated atop highly advantageous positions. They typically involve a certain amount of investment into a cause. As a result, they are PRIME targets for enemy attack. As such, they should remain defensible, and perhaps not necessarily reliant on the constant supervision of surrounding forces.
Engineers, or soldiers attached to them, should be able to defend themselves within reason, but also remain mobile enough to break away and retreat if necessary. As while the machine is valuable, so are the bodies manning them. This may entice some of the engineers to be fit enough to wear armor effectively, to saddle a horse if capable, be able to defend themselves with hand weapons or firearms, and work on a battlefield with personal effectiveness. This might emphasize dashing young men for some duties, but who are still informed and clever enough to cooperate in operating the machines.
So, really, this brief section is just a primer into a very popular role in most modern roleplays. The engineer. But, it can go back into later medieval use too, or even Roman times! I encourage all kinds of roleplay, and I look forward to meeting great characters.
Oh man, this was a guide and a half, I think! Look at this, an entire guide based around people who use ranged weapons effectively in combat! And you know what, not once did I highlight super sneaky, stealthy types!
Maybe that'll be what I work on next time? Perhaps? I will say, I don't have too much left to work on in this series. The plan now, presently, is to work on one more guide, and then branch out to another series. Maybe, just maybe, I can fit another guide in that could bring in sorcery, but I'm not sure if I want to. If not because of personal interest, then because of the broad definitions involved in any sort of fantasy.
But, it was great to write for you all again! Do take care, everyone!
Farewell, Peers and Masters!