View Full Version : Description of armies/military tactics in fantasy writing
April 16th, 2006, 04:37 PM
Okay, so as you know, I'm working on becoming a dark fantasy/horror author, and the last time I asked for advice on writing, I asked about being descriptive about sword-fighting/ swashbuckling moves, and the folks here told me to just pay real close attention when I read fantasy novels that have that kind of stuff in them. Now, I'm wondering about writing descriptions and scenes of armies battling it out in fantasy; where and what can I read to learn about all the different military /battle tactics that were used in ancient battles that so inspire the fantasy writers of today, and how to write them? And where do I learn what the different parts of the armies were referred to, such as the archers, lancers, cavalry, infantry etcetera. Were thery referred to as contingents, squads, or what?
Any help on this matter would be dearly appreciated. Thanks :)
April 17th, 2006, 01:30 AM
Go to the military history section and find books on ancient warfare. Decide on analogs of each of your armies, eg Roman, Celtic, Medieval European, and dig out a couple of books on them and/or their enemies. Also consider reading the first few chapters of A History of Warfare by John Keegan.
When describing units, it is better to use terms that readers will be familiar. For example a Greek hoplite had a shield called an apis and a short sword called a xiphos. You could equip dwarf or aslan hoplites in the same fashion, but the Greek terms would go over the head of most people. Having squads of hoplites might grate on the nerves of a military history expert like myself, but I always forgive any writer. After all they are writing for people without my knowledge.
April 17th, 2006, 01:48 AM
Go to the web-site of the game Rome: Total War (sorry, don't have time for links:o ) and read the history section with a very good description of tactics and units. Quite interesting.
April 17th, 2006, 08:17 AM
An excellent introduction to ancient warfare is John Warry's Warfare in the Classical World, complete with many, many illustrations. After you've read that you should grab a general book on medieval warfare to learn the basic difference between these two eras. Once you have some general knowledge, books on specific eras, wars, battles, soldiers, etc. can be found in huge abundance, the Osprey series in particular produce some good primers that focus on the material culture of war and soldiers.
The good news is that there is no shortage of material, the bad news is that that can be overwhelming. Search ebay for bargains, and read where your interests take you.
April 17th, 2006, 11:57 AM
Zsinj -- I moved your thread to the Writing Forum, because it is really a writing question. The Fantasy Forum is for the discussion of fantasy fiction, and related issues. The Writing Forum is for writing and publishing issues, including research. We have quite a few authors here who are very expert in military issues. There may also be several archived threads about this topic for the Writing Forum that you may want to look up.
April 17th, 2006, 12:42 PM
Another great book for this is also by John Keegan - The Face of Battle. Its an attempt to explain what it must of been like for soldiers in the thick of battle. I say attempt because even the author admits its impossible to say what battle is like unless you've been there- and obviously we don't have access to veterans of ancient warefare. Actually, this book has been a great influence on me. If I'm writing a full battle scene, I try and keep it to the perpective of the character- who are usually on the line. Envelopments, defensive and offensive formations, etc., are all great, but I don't think they mean much to the soldier on the field. All they know is that they are to stand here, run there, etc.
Of course, whatever you may learn must be reformatted to fit your world. If there is direct, powerful magic, and such, this would effect how an army would fight. Even if you don't have mages throwing fireballs, being able to communicate telepathically/magically with another person would greatly enhance and transform how an army fights.
One writer who I think does a fantastic job of writing battle scenes is Steven Erickson.
April 17th, 2006, 01:18 PM
Find a real-world army to base all your armies on, at least loosely.
The armies in the ancient, medieval and renaissance world were all so different.
The Spartan society was geared around war, all full-grown men would pretty much live to fight and formed regiments of very powerful soldiers with a good sense of team spirit (always a good thing!). The people of countries who willingly joined with sparta (called Periocoi) went to war too, but basically weren't as good (they also did all the farming while the spartans just practiced killing each other all their lives). The conquered people, called Helots, were basically slaves... I can't remember if they went to war or not.
The ancient romans had finely disciplined, well-organsied legions of full-time soldiers carefully sorted into cohorts, centuries etc, with a very solid system. They also formed not-so-proffesional legions of auxiliaries from the people of conquered countries. These would often bring new unique skills to the roman war machine.
In the dark ages, armies would just consist of all fighting men banded together... the nobles would perhaps ride horses and bully their peasants into fighting, but thats pretty much the extent of the organisation.
In the middle ages, a knight would go to war with his band of retainers... peasants would band together as regiments of archers and billmen, it was rather well organised, and great armies could be raised in times of war from the common people. The nobles are their squires/retainers/servants/bodyguards were the professional armoured knights, and the peasants who trained with weapons in their spare time were the masses of archers, crossbowmen, pikemen, billmen etc.
Later on, in the renaissance, more professional soldiers appeared, most of these being mercenaries. In europe, alot of armies would almost entirely consist of mercenaries. A wealthy noble could find a loud of professional, very well-trained soldiers who would fight for anyone as long as they got payed. There were professional groups of mercenary pikemen, heavy cavalry, cannons, etc.
Later on, in the 17th century the first professional british army appeared, professional, well-organised full-time soldiers controlled by the government (to an extent... see the civil war).
There are loads more interesting armies from history (especially ancient history) which I know little about. The Assyrians with their seige engines, Alexander's Macedonian Phalanxes, etc...
Go research different armies from different periods of history and countries... find something you like, and loosely base your armies around it.
April 17th, 2006, 06:27 PM
I might also suggest doing as much as possible to learn through experience. While it may be true that you can't actually participate in ancient combat, there is a lot you can do that might give you some insight.
Learning a martial art for example can teach you weapon handling skills, what it feels like to fight with someone to complete exhaustion, how it feels to be choked, or to lock someone's arm, etc.
Joining the military might be an extreme example, but an invaluable experience. You may want to consider cadets if you are younger or a reserve unit if you don't want a career change.
Even participating in team sports can give you an inkling of front line experience. Play offensive line on a recreational (american) football team for a season and you'll have a pretty good idea what it must have felt like to be a legionaire in the front rank of a phalanx.
Hike and camp. The greatest obstacles to ancient armies were usually rooted in travel. They had to live on poor rations, carry just about everything, keep warm and dry, etc. Try hiking fifteen miles up a mountain if you've never done it.
April 17th, 2006, 11:08 PM
It might not be necessary to go into excruciating detail... I still don't know how Muad'Dib's Fremen were organised, what formations they used, etc.... that goes for the Sardaukar too. Not sure if a Bashar ouranked a Burseg. Even more hazy was the Atreides Duke's military.
A few (not too many) exotic words can go a long way... throw in a Reis (Ottoman Admiral), some Spahi cavalry, gazi, or even a koumbaradji (Ottoman grenadier)...
April 17th, 2006, 11:27 PM
Something I've seen in a couple books is where the writers borrowed a historical battle, changing details to make the historical account mesh with their story.
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