During the 15th century warfare in Europe was a mixture of the scientific approach to warfare and optimistic foolhardiness. The political and theological thinking of the day allowed for battle command to be taken on by untrained and enthusiastic amateurs, very often leading ill disciplined, and/or untrained, troops. In this environment simple tactics and disciplined soldiers would consistently win battles.There were some efforts at taking a methodical and scientific approach to warfare but luck and misplaced confidence, or misplaced terror, could have just as much impact on the battlefield. This was also the time in which the renaissance began and rational thought was increasingly applied to the art of war.
It is this time frame we have chosen for our game, where the actions and words of an individual can alter the outcome of a battle, when speeches and dramatic gestures can inspire a victory. At the same time science and logic are once more becoming a factor on the battlefield. Professional soldiers are starting to form standing armies with proper training and tactics.
We have chosen to limit the impact of gunpowder weapons in this version of history. However, historically appropriate muzzle loaded firearms will be allowed but will be rare and must have been specifically certified by the Cry Havoc organisers.
We cannot organise enough horses to make cavalry a serious battlefield component and horses come with many extra risks, so we have adjusted history to remove them from the picture.
This leaves us with foot soldiers using weapons that would have been familiar to people from ancient times. Swords, axes, spears, bows, shields and of course bills and poll-axes. We will be fighting with these weapons and trying to use historical tactics to increase their effectiveness.
The Army of Wessex
We will be portraying an army of the Middle Ages (or very early renaissance). It will likely comprise some household troops led by a lord or lady and some mercenary companies. Despite the sometimes doubtful loyalty of mercenaries, they were a source of highly trained, experienced and capable troops. They were often chosen to act as personal bodyguards and earned their reputations, by fighting battles and winning.
There are very few military manuals that indicate how to organise, train and lead an army in battle from these times. There are many books that explore fighting as an individual but these do not touch upon sizes of units, orders to be given or tactical advice. There are some clues to organisational structures in the records of pay and garrisoning of royal castles but nothing specific that details where people stood and how they moved as a unit (that we are aware of). We have resorted to the same books that were studied by military minds of the time.
The educated Military theorist would have used the works of Tacitus, Vegetius and Maurice’s Strategikon as examples of how battles were fought and planned. We have used the same texts to develop our tactics. Some ideas have been gleaned from other documents about the distances between troops expected for different actions and these have been used to establish some basic organisational systems. Essentially we have looked at the books and tried things out based on our understanding and experiences. We have kept the stuff that works and abandoned or adjusted the stuff that does not work so well.
There is an in-character military manual that lays out the systems to be used by the Savage Steel Company. There will are a number of characters that can be hired by players who can train units in moving between the different formations and illustrating their advantages and disadvantages before trying out the practical application of these structures.
Group tactics, discipline and army structure, most certainly have a significant affect on the outcome of a battle, however individual martial skill also plays a part in a units success and the chances of an individual surviving a conflict. There are a number of medieval manuals of the time like the Fight-Book from 1459 AD by Hans Talhoffer or the works of Sigmund Ringeck, that look at systems of weapon combat.
At Cry Havoc there will be a number sessions that will introduce a range of martial principles, such as True Times, Mastery of Self, Manipulation of others, the Dynamic Defence and the Martial Mindset, while also reinforcing control and increasing safety. These sessions will be led by a number of Historical European Martial Art instructors who’s characters can be hired for the purposes of this training.
All weapons are designed to maim or kill, but when it comes to melee weapons the medieval armourers really knew their business. A medieval long sword in the hands of a trained warrior could quite easily severe an unarmoured limb or even decapitate, an arrow from a long bow would have gone right through an opponent and the power of a pole axe could literally smash your skull to smithereens. This weapon technology of the time meant that armour was particularly important if you wanted to have any chance of surviving a battle. With some knowledge of what sort of damage medieval weapons could do and what protection armour could have given our ‘What you see is what you get’ rule system will allow us to represent the drama and brutality of a battle without getting bogged down in too many rules or actually endangering somebodies life for real.