Sunday, March 19, 2017

When Culture Leads to Combat

The Xadras people of Helatia believe in schooling.  They have universities; they even have universities for things other than magic.  In fact, the first university in Helatia was for the training of naval officers, so now (culturally) every university in Helatia trains their students in the aspects of sea faring.  What does this really mean?  Well the mages are typically taught astrology as the basis for learning about magic - astrology and star navigation.  The mentalists are taught cartography and geography, because chances are they are going to wind up being relay telepaths.  In knowing where the various cities are and the continent’s lay out, they have a better chance of understanding how the different relay stations will work.

But are there other impacts?  You betcha!  If the culture believes in schooling, then if you plan to be more than a “regular” soldier / warrior / fighter, then you better get some training.  What does training in the martial arts lead to?  Specialization!

Standard soldiers in Helatia are taught to fight with spear and shield and might even be trained to perform maneuvers like shield walls and various formations.  But that’s about it.  Within Helatia, successful (surviving) soldiers will typically choose a school to attend for further training, and each of these schools has a different style of martial art.  Just as Asian martial arts follow different disciplines, so do these.  But what do they do?

Helatia is a port city, and it was founded by people willing to travel the seas in order to find freedom.  While the city is maintained by olive groves and other farming, they still look to the sea for inspiration.  So rather than have their martial arts patterned after terrestrial animals, they pattern them after sea animals, especially scary sea animals.

 As we get into these, please understand that in Helatia, soldiering is seen as an honorable profession among professionals.  In this culture, these martial styles are seen as normal and even cool.  Mocking a soldier because he has a shark fin looking helmet will be a slight against his honor and every other soldier who hears it is likely to help him defend his honor.

      Sharks (sometimes barracudas) - These soldiers see themselves as juggernauts in battle.  They smoothly slide through battle sites, striking where they see opportunities, but always on the move.  Obviously these types of soldiers do not work in units that use shield wall tactics.  While they are one of the rarer styles, they can be incredibly effective in battles that do not run in tight formations.  They are often heavily armored and seem to prefer plate mail styles, with strong breastplates but lesser armor on their arms and legs to allow them to move more freely.  They are experts in their armor, able to move far more quickly than would be expected in armor that heavy.  Their armor is always custom fit.  These are not standard militia soldiers issued a suit of armor, but instead connoisseurs who can afford far better.  They are also infamous for having some of the largest helmets, feeling that once they see where their prey is, they need the protection over the ability to watch other portions of the battle.  Those helms are nearly always decorated with some manner of crest, stylized to look like a shark’s fin.  This makes it easy for their allies to see them as they cut their way through a battle (since they don’t stay in formation).

Sharks are most commonly dual weapon fighters.  This allows them to move through a battle slashing from both sides as they close in on their prey.  The “signature” move of a shark is typically a double weapon parry followed by a disarming move.  This is often the only thing that will slow them in their movement around the battle, as stopping to block, double disarm, and then attack does take a few moments (or most likely at least two actions).  They favor slashing blades and will not use piercing weapons as stabbing and withdrawing would slow down their smooth movements.

The most famous (and wealthy) sharks will often wear their breastplates with shark motifs etched into them, but then have some manner of exotic arm (and sometimes leg) armor.  Since they want their arms armored, but still to have as much freedom of movement, they have been known to have dragon scale covering their arms, but steel everywhere else.  While something like nemean fur would seem to work better, they typically avoid the use of fur as it ruins the overall look.

A historic (and really famous) shark was Janos Barlarkik (thought by some to have been raised within the Xadras culture but actually of Rhoric blood).  He lost his right eye in a battle with the Tanta Bosh.  Afterwards, he tended to move his head in an odd fashion.  It was his unconscious way of compensating with his left eye for not being able to see out of his right.  While he was not considered a saint while alive, after he died, the priests found out that he was indeed favored by their war god and was quickly made a ranking officer in the celestial army.  He is therefore often thought of as Saint Janos.  While alive, he trained hundreds of soldiers; some he trained to be sharks.  His sharks wanted to be like their hero, so they copied his odd head movements.  Typically only by imitation, this odd head movement has become common amongst sharks.  Many believe it is them trying to see better out of their great helms, and perhaps for some it is, but it is simply patterning their hero.

      Octopi - These soldiers are trained to fight back to back, most typically with a sword and a baton (or any parrying weapon).  Obviously, they are not cut out to face archers, certainly not at any distance.  The idea is that with eight limbs (like an octopus), the enemy never knows where the attack is coming from.  They tend to strike out in unexpected ways, including blocking for each other so the intended target can get an attack in under the now blocked weapon.  They are often trained to kick as well, especially if they can pull it off as a surprise.

They would often be considered to be wearing “medium” armor, most commonly chain mail, but often with added decorations (that will act defensively).  Octopus shaped epaulets are often seen as are some truly spooky helms.  When three octopi fight back to back to back, they are often called squids.  As a normal course of battle, these teams call out to each other in coded phrases that allow them to shift around, further confusing their enemies as to exactly who they are fighting.

      Crabs - As might be expected, a crab fights inside heavy armor and relies on that armor to keep him safe, more so than most other forms of defense.  They do tend to use shields, but smaller shields that will block melee weapons, because they typically are too slow to get out of the way.  These are certainly “tanks” intended to absorb damage from enemies while others kill those same enemies.  It is not uncommon for crabs to use weapons that are slow and ponderous, but if and when they hit, deal an enormous amount of damage.  Their fighting style is often to wait for the perfect time to strike, even if that means that they don’t attack as often as others might have.

      Eel - Eels are actually fight mages, typically trained to have a spell in one hand and a weapon in the other.  The idea is that they will fight in more of a swashbuckler or dueling style with their weapon (most commonly a lighter, faster sword), and then when the time is right, unleash a devastating spell right into the enemy’s face.  Though lightly armored, they are not the glass cannons seen in other battle field mages.

We went on a little too long on this one, so we’ll stop here, but we want to bring the point home:  Knowing things about a culture, in this case that they prize schooling over experience and that they are romantic about the sea, can directly lead to knowing more about how they fight and what they will do in battle.  As a GM you may not need to know this about your world, but your games will be a lot more engaging (fun) if you do.


  1. I remember watching an iteration of the Iliad where U and crew were bogged down by harpies, but used the turtling formation to save themselves, using shields to scuttle to their boat and eventually overturning their boat for protection.
    I could see the value in such tales from the great heroes in providing the innovative adventurer with uses for skills like these in decidedly otherwise inopportune circumstances.
    I just read a great article over on Noisms; Monsters and Manuals about anthropomorphic creatures and how infusing them with their animal behaviour can really add some stark realism, nature style...and remembered this post from the 'zine.

  2. Oddly, I don't give my "half men" their "natural" animal behaviors. This is probably because horses, goats and steers aren't the best animal-istic behaviors in combat. There are many centaur cultures in Fletnern, but their most original cultural is based on the Plains Indians. The satyrs never got far enough away from the elven culture to form their own.
    I'm not saying it would be wrong in all cases, but a horse's first reaction should be to run away, and my centaurs are far braver than that. Come to think about it, so are my unicorns.