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Old 07-17-2013, 09:08 AM   #1
Icelander
 
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Default Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

In fleshing out a large region including a sizable mountain range with considerable foothills, rivers running into a huge freshwater lake and some thousands of square miles of subpar acricultural land that is suitable for herding sheep on most of it and grazing cattle on some of it, I'm trying to introduce more than one monolithic culture.

The reference society is a TL1+2/TL2+1 (depending on how you look at it) Mesopotamian-esque society that never fell entirely, but which has lost the empire it used to rule and for the past three hundred years has had an imperfect grasp on this region.* The Empire and the nation-state which remains after the fall of the Empire are both named Unther and the people are the Untheri.

I aim to have two ethnic groups living outside traditional Untheri society which are essentially Untheri in origin, but with minor religious and cultural differences. We'll call them Rammanu (Amorite-ish) and Assurites (Assyrian-esque). Then there will be people that are closer to the peoples living to the west, albeit much less 'civilised' and with traditions of irregular mountain warfare instead of organised warfare by citizens of a city-state. We'll call them Threskeli and they are very much Thracian-inspired.

For my fourth group, I'll have a group of foreigners from a subjugated province of an empire to the east, who had a difference of opinion with their suzerain about the degree to which they were subjugated and were granted asylum in these mountains, in exchange for service as soldiers and border patrols. We'll call them Zouaoua or Zouavas and they are Zenata Berber-like.

Now, while many of these people are peaceful shepherds and fishermen, those aren't the ones my PCs will need to deal with. I'm looking for distinguishing equipment, fighting style, tactics, dress and anything else which will be obvious when fighting beside or against them. Ideally, I'd want each ethnic to have something to identify them, at least to knowledgable observers.

Since the TL they have to work with is TL2-3, it is pretty much a given that all parties will use thrown rocks, slings and javelins fairly extensively. Those who have access to good wood may use bows, at least for the elites. Armour will be confined to the 'noble' elite around the warlords and their retinues. It's likely to be leather, quilt or something similarly low-cost, except for very successful raiders (who'll wear whatever they seized from the expensively attired warriors they defeated).

I imagine that the Rammanu and Assurites will wear kilts and sandals and be fairly likely to sport beards. They will be the most likely to be partially or wholly settled, and thus have more resources and be more likely to wear armour, in particular helmets.

The Rammanu, closest to the reference society and least likely to be subjected to virulent prejudice from them, might even have village levies who fight as shock infantry to supplement the light infantry most common to all factions.

The Thracian-esque Threskeli will favour tunics, caps, cloaks and boots, in contrast.

Only the 'barbaric' Zouaoua-like people will wear trousers, wide and baggy ones, at that, in addition to loose caps.

The climate is such that all three styles work and adopting or retaining one is a matter of demonstrating a cultural allegiance.

What about weapons and shields?

1) Does it make sense for the Rammanu to be 'known' to be the best slingers and in fact have a much higher proportion of people who can use them effectively? Or would that provide such an advantage over javelins that the other factions would have to adopt them or perish?

2) Could some of these tribes use round leather shields, some crescent-shaped wicker-and-hide ones and others round wood-and-leather? Or are some of these so inferior to others that it makes no sense that people fighting against them for generations wouldn't adopt them?

3) What about grip? Can some favour a buckler grip and others a fastened-shield? What would be the effects of that on their other prefered equipment and their tactics?

4) What are likely weapons for the melee, both primary and sidearms?


*The mountains and the western bank of the lake have pretty much always been outside effective political control of Unther (the Akkadian/Sumer/Mesopotamian empire), as it was more expensive to project power there than any reasonable polity could hope to gain from doing so.
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Old 07-17-2013, 01:28 PM   #2
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

1) Thrown weapons
Mountains will limit move, this means thrown weapons will be more effective. On plains, a range of 20y means that you have 4-5 seconds to hit your enemy with move 4-5. At mountains where move is halved, you have 8-10 seconds.
As for what weapons to throw, I'd say darts, spears, axes, bolas and sticks, someone very poor may throw stones. You can make a case that slings will show up if you allow to reload with a shield. My house rule says 2 extra seconds for that(And my baseline is 1(3)). Some exotic tribe may use lassos, since with slower move, there will be more chances to do it.
If they have any access to metallurgy, they should use pila and plumbatae.

2) Shields
Since there will be more thrown weapons, there will be more shields, the heavy kind if possible. A shield is one of the best options against thrown weapons.

3) Melee weapons
Swords will be even scarcer. What you should expect is people who throw spears use the spear, people who throw axes use the axe, everyone else should probably carry a knife or a long spear if possible

4) Extra skills
Parry thrown weapons will be very good for anyone who doesn't want only a shield to rely on. Tactics will be very good for ambushes, since it's easier to hide and attack from thrown weapon range. Stealth will be good to stay safe from ambushes.

5) Armor
Armor will be almost always from cloth or leather, you may get straw or wood for very poor tribes, but I doubt it. Since move is already compromised, you can see more people on the light encumbrance, warriors will be at medium encumbrance. This is partly due to armor, partly due to ammunition.

6) Nobility
If nobility uses bows, it should have a shieldman like in the bronzeage or a paviseman like in the medieval times.
Forget about horses or anything like that. Nobility will carry the best armor possible as always. I think it's more likely that it will carry bigger shields and good melee weapons, serving more as a defense unit for the rest of the band.

7)Terrain usage
Mountains will help to use cover, attacking from a higher ground will increase your weapon range, you can even use boulders from a higher ground.
The mountainous land will also help to hide better traveling bands who don't want to get ambushed or attacked.

As for your other questions
1) Slings have an advantage of ammo and range and will be very good if you allow to use them with shields.

2) They could, depending on their culture, arabs and europeans used different styles of shields even though they fought for centuries.

3) Shields would be better than buckler on most cases if they're heavy, since they are the primary method of defense. However, if you expect it to break, or to drop it, I strongly suggest using bucklers.

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Old 07-17-2013, 01:42 PM   #3
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icelander View Post

1) Does it make sense for the Rammanu to be 'known' to be the best slingers and in fact have a much higher proportion of people who can use them effectively? Or would that provide such an advantage over javelins that the other factions would have to adopt them or perish?
I don't see why not. There are historical cultures that have favored slings who lived nearby to those who favored javelins and fought with each other. I'm not really seeing that slings are necessarily an advantage over javelins in any kind of absolute terms; it's going to be very situational, so each side will try to arrange situations where their method is better.
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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
2) Could some of these tribes use round leather shields, some crescent-shaped wicker-and-hide ones and others round wood-and-leather? Or are some of these so inferior to others that it makes no sense that people fighting against them for generations wouldn't adopt them?
They might not have the option; if one group has access to more forests, then they might make wood and leather shields, while another group can't afford to use up wood for that, so they resort to wicker or other bracing.
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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
3) What about grip? Can some favour a buckler grip and others a fastened-shield? What would be the effects of that on their other prefered equipment and their tactics?
I'd expect that the slingers would favor a fastened shield so they can use the off hand to reload, but other groups could use either, depending on their fighting style.
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4) What are likely weapons for the melee, both primary and sidearms?
Spears, axes and long knives.
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Old 07-17-2013, 11:46 PM   #4
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

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Originally Posted by gilbertocarlos View Post
1) Thrown weapons
Mountains will limit move, this means thrown weapons will be more effective. On plains, a range of 20y means that you have 4-5 seconds to hit your enemy with move 4-5. At mountains where move is halved, you have 8-10 seconds.
As for what weapons to throw, I'd say darts, spears, axes, bolas and sticks, someone very poor may throw stones. You can make a case that slings will show up if you allow to reload with a shield. My house rule says 2 extra seconds for that(And my baseline is 1(3)). Some exotic tribe may use lassos, since with slower move, there will be more chances to do it.
If they have any access to metallurgy, they should use pila and plumbatae.
Good point about darts. I had almost forgot about them.

All of the tribes have known iron and steel weapons for at least three centuries and bronze ones for millenia, with the Thrascian-like ones living closer to the steel-making neighbours and the Rammanu and Assurite more or less belonging to the fringes of an advanced bronze-using society, with copper and tin abundant enough to the south and east from this region so that iron was not automatically prefered by everyone (though the hill tribes had little enough to trade for the bronze).

The mountain range is actually a source of iron, though it's mined by dwarf-like beings that live deep underground and resent intrusions into the best mining areas. They occasionally do consent to trade it, at more-or-less astronomical prices, but fortunately they are very fond of sheep, game, wine, fruit, fish and olives, all of which different tribes are in a position to supply from time to time (though sometimes they have to raid for it).

I imagine that the Threskeli (Thracian-like) have blacksmiths of their own and have had for a long time. Assurites (Assyrian-esque), being outcasts from Untheri culture for reasons of their religion, were early adopters of blacksmithing in favour of bronzesmithing which would necessitiate trade with Unther instead of the Threskeli and their settled neighbours to the west, the Chessentans.

The Rammanu (Amorite-ish) have usually lived on fairly good terms with their fellow Untheri, despite the difference in religion, and are more likely to trade for tin and copper and have bronzesmiths. Like everyone, though, they'll have adopted more and more iron as copper and tin rose in price*.

The Zouavous (Berber-inspired) much prefer fighting to smithing and like to rely on being supplied by the power which they serve as mercenaries. They like to receive javelin- and dart-heads as payment for services rendered, for example. At different times, this has meant bronze from Unther or iron and steel weapons paid as tribute to Uther from Chessenta, but with the upheavals of the past fifteen years, they have been forced to obtain all their metal by raiding, mostly into the lands of their traditional foes, the Threskeli.

The thing keeping metal weapons and armour rare in the region is not lack of knowledge about metallurgy, it's more the fact that all these tribes are poor in material terms compared to their settled neighbours. Constant low-grade warfare doesn't help in that regard, either, though it has made the people of some of the tribes sought after elsewhere as mercenaries.

Such mercenaries might indeed like to use plumbata and pila, but in the internecine skirmishes and raids of the tribes, there is little need for added weight to penetrate armour. For one thing, armour is expensive enough so that most opponents won't own any, for another, most raiders rely on being able to travel in very difficult terrain and so like to be lightly equipped**. Add to this the fact that the the climate in the region is warm Mediterranean in the extreme north and gets hotter the souther south you go, all the way to subtropical in the extreme south***.

*As the Untheri empire declined and standards of road-building, trade infrastructure and law-enforcement fell, even intra-province trade rose in cost, bringing with it a hike in prices on anything not made within walking distance and lower standards of living overall.
**Also, that allows for more efficient looting, as you have lots of spare encumbrance. ;)
***And once past another mountain range there, it gets very hot and dry). But the people who live there, even if they are in some ways culturally similar, are at the moment too far away to matter in my game.


Quote:
Originally Posted by gilbertocarlos View Post
2) Shields
Since there will be more thrown weapons, there will be more shields, the heavy kind if possible. A shield is one of the best options against thrown weapons.
I expect all the tribes to use shields, but I had thought they'd value mobility for their raiding, so they'd try to use the lightest shields that could still provide them with protection.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gilbertocarlos View Post
3) Melee weapons
Swords will be even scarcer. What you should expect is people who throw spears use the spear, people who throw axes use the axe, everyone else should probably carry a knife or a long spear if possible.
I want each tribe to have weapons which are characteristic of them and which other people in the region consider emblematic of such warriors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gilbertocarlos View Post
5) Armor
Armor will be almost always from cloth or leather, you may get straw or wood for very poor tribes, but I doubt it. Since move is already compromised, you can see more people on the light encumbrance, warriors will be at medium encumbrance. This is partly due to armor, partly due to ammunition.
I'd expect this to lead to mobility being even more prized. The party with less encumbrance can climb where others cannot and thus dictate the distance and terms of any engagement.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gilbertocarlos View Post
6) Nobility
If nobility uses bows, it should have a shieldman like in the bronzeage or a paviseman like in the medieval times.
I see this as particularly characteristic of Assurite warriors. A noble with the bow, lance and hand weapon protected by a retainer with a large shield and spear.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gilbertocarlos View Post
Forget about horses or anything like that. Nobility will carry the best armor possible as always. I think it's more likely that it will carry bigger shields and good melee weapons, serving more as a defense unit for the rest of the band.
There are lands where horses can travel and a mounted raiding band could make out like bandits (pun intended) by rounding up cattle from settled Untheri or Chessentans.

It wouldn't be entirely implausible to posit some tribes, living in the less extreme parts of the hills, where they value horses.
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Old 07-18-2013, 12:35 AM   #5
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

You know, no fantasy culture seems to go in for throwing sticks and darts. Why not have a tribe that does that?

Also why not have a heavy utility knife like a Kukri? Any mountain people would like that.
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Old 07-18-2013, 12:42 AM   #6
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

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I don't see why not. There are historical cultures that have favored slings who lived nearby to those who favored javelins and fought with each other. I'm not really seeing that slings are necessarily an advantage over javelins in any kind of absolute terms; it's going to be very situational, so each side will try to arrange situations where their method is better.
Indeed.

There's also the different connotations of the sling as oppposed to a warrior's panoply. Slings are shepherd's tools that happen to be very useful in warfare. Javelins, shields, axes and swords have few other purposes than war.

The Rammanu see nothing wrong with every child playing with a sling and their adults viewing skill with it as a point of pride, as well as useful against wolves.

The Threskeli, meanwhile, might value displays of courage, manliness and physical prowess more highly than technical skill with a useful tool. They would compete in athletic feats, throwing javelins and jumping crags with shield and sword in hand.

A Threskeli warrior might be expected to have high ST and DX as well as 8 points or more with all of Axe/Mace, Brawling, Shield, Shortsword, Spear and Throw Spear. His Rammanu counterpart might be a shepherd defending his family while they make for the shelter of caves and has spent more of his points on Animal Handling (Ovicaprids), Survival (Mountain) and similar skills, but also has Sling at DX+4.

Dawdad and Ghoskos, so to speak.

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They might not have the option; if one group has access to more forests, then they might make wood and leather shields, while another group can't afford to use up wood for that, so they resort to wicker or other bracing.
True. I imagine that goat-skin is very popular, as it's far cheaper than anything they have to fetch from further away. In any case, shields would generally be regarded as disposable, as warriors probably often have to leave them behind to climb particularly tough cliffs.

The Threskeli would make a point of fastening theirs on the back, so they could claim not to have fled, but made a tactical retreat. The Rammanu and Assurites wouldn't care about shields, the Rammanu being more concerned with preserving lives and livestock and the Assurites being prepared to lose any number of shields as long as they got even with the enemy that caused their losses in the end.

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I'd expect that the slingers would favor a fastened shield so they can use the off hand to reload, but other groups could use either, depending on their fighting style.
Agreed. What kind of fighting style would encourage a buckler for raiding and skirmishing in hilly and mountainous terrain?

I'm trying to justify at least one culture (or at the very least, a tribe or two beloning to it) using bucklers, but they seem inferior if you aim to use any kind of missile weapon, as you can't carry spares in your shield hand.

Quote:
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Spears, axes and long knives.
In your opinion, what would best fit the Rammanu (Amorite-ish), Assurites (Assyrian-esque), the Zouavous (Berber-inspired) and Threskeli (Thracian-like)?

To give each ethnicity its own flavour of weapon? It doesn't need to affect stats, just a particular decoration of knife, shape of blade or other details.

I imagine that the Rammanu and Assurites are likely to use sticks, heavy clubs, maces and axes (depending on whether it's a peasant defending his family or a warrior).

The Threskeli are very fond of curved blades, forward heavy for optimal chopping, in length from knives of 12"-15" all the way up to huge glaives of 50" blade or more.
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Old 07-18-2013, 12:53 AM   #7
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

I still wonder why we don't read of more people's who had a sling as sidearm. It would be very convenient to carry and wouldn't weigh much.
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Old 07-18-2013, 01:08 AM   #8
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

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You know, no fantasy culture seems to go in for throwing sticks and darts. Why not have a tribe that does that?
I was considering having the Zouavous be fond of shorter and lighter javelins than their Threskeli enemies.

I think that throwing sticks are not useful for warfare if you have access to better throwing weapons such as axes and javelins, not to mention slings or even bows. They remain useful for hunting birds, though.

I wonder if skill with them is transferable to javelins or darts?

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Also why not have a heavy utility knife like a Kukri? Any mountain people would like that.
The ancient Threskeli were particularly associated with the forward curved sica/makhaira/kopis knife or sword in the minds of their neighbours. This is usually a Long Knife, but can be a Large Knife or a Shortsword, with the Falchion option applied.

This weapon is in fact popular among modern Threskeli as well as many of their more 'civilised' neighbours. Longer and heavier versions also exist, though they are not refered to as sica by the westerners. A particularly feared weapon is the sword-glaive, a two-handed weapon with a long handle and a long blade, reaching 50"-70" in total length, with about half to two thirds of that being blade.
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Old 07-18-2013, 01:42 AM   #9
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

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I still wonder why we don't read of more people's who had a sling as sidearm. It would be very convenient to carry and wouldn't weigh much.
I'd think this is because it wasn't particularly glamourous. Ancient authors wouldn't mention it unless it had some important implications for the story they were telling. It would be assumed that everyone was aware that many soldiers, even heavy infantry, would throw rocks at the foe when the situation called for it. And if those soldiers happened to have had a childhood were they learned to use a sling effectively, naturally they would carry one and use it.

See, for example, Vegetius and Xenophon. Vegetius clearly expects soldiers to practise with the sling, whether they are specialist slingers or not, and this is backed up by findings of sling bullets marked with legion insignia even when there weren't any attached slingers. Clearly, ordinary legionaries often had slings.

And Xenophon, of course, mentions how Rhodian hoplites were collected in a special skirmishing unit for the purpose of countering enemy missile troops. It being known that Rhodians grow up as superb slingers, it seemed to him obvious that they'd be carrying slings as sidearms on the march, as indeed they were.

I'd assume that anyone with Sling at DX could elect to carry a sling and a few picked stones or bullets, in case he needs to use a missile weapon. Anyone with Sling at DX+2 will almost certainly have one when he goes to war, no matter what kind of role he is performing.

And while the Rammanu are the most likely of my hill tribes to go to war as slingers, that doesn't mean that there won't be slingers among the other tribes. In particular, the Untheri of the lowlands and the Assurites use slings almost as frequently as Rammanu, though they aren't as famous for their skill with it.

And while the sling is not considered a warrior's weapon by most Threskeli or Zouavas, that doesn't mean none of them grew up keeping watch over sheep or goats and therefore know how to use one in a pinch or that none of them will take one to war in case they need a long distance weapon.
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Old 07-18-2013, 02:50 AM   #10
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Default Re: Reflecting cultural differences between mountain tribes in equipment and tactics

With such a background, I'd give somebody a distinctively-shaped sword that can be made both in bronze or iron. Something curved, with the edge outside or inside the curve. It's helpful, visually, and I think that GURPS Martial Arts also covers the difference in stats in comparison to a straight blade. So you have both flavor and function.
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