A Lesson by M.R. Smith

Bits and pieces of where armies will fit in your world.


My favorite part.

The armies of your fantasy world must reflect the level of technology present.  It'd be obvious to assume a Western-styled take on this matter, so that's the main approach I'll use (save a few Asiatic examples). 

You don't slap a breastplate and greaves on a hoplite-lookalike, then give them guns.  That's ignorant.  That's stupid.  That's extremely unprofessional.

You don't want to mix the use of a phalanx, like seen in Ancient Greece, with the Medieval tactics of heavy cavalry.  The best possible advice I could give you is this:  Find a historical niche and keep to it.  Don't venture out.  If you have magic present, do your best to shape what you have around that fact.  Are troops going to bulk up in five-man-deep formations when the opposing force has fire-ball tossing sorcerers?  No.  Obviously.  From a personal view, I'd suggest keeping it relatively low-magic.  High-magic will cause all sorts of trouble, though it would also give you all sorts of elbowroom for creativity.  That's for another time, another lesson, though.

If you're writing the less common (but equally valid) sword-and-sandal styled fantasy, refer to Antiquity.  The days of Ancient Greece and the early Roman Empire are the best examples of this.  Once again, Wikipedia is an invaluable tool for this sort of research.  Look up Persia for a more Middle Eastern feel.  Also, if one wants to go back further, refer to Assyria or Babylonia.

Fantasy has, and will be, intricately tied to the arts of war.  And war--as it will always be--is tied to the affairs of all nations.

For the record, if you want to skip going too in-depth with any of these, I'd recommend just stealing the basic Medieval theme and editing what needs edited as you go.

The questions!

What period in real history can you compare your fictional world to?  Are you clear on the technology of the era?  Have you thought of any unique takes on the tech of the time?  I strongly suggest doing as much research as possible when it comes to this.  Despite its being fantasy, obvious eyesore anachronisms will not work.  No gunpowder in a world with swords, spears, and shields.  No batteries.  No cars.  If anything is present that would be found in later, real tech, it'd be a good idea to adapt it in some way for the warfare of your world.
How are people recruited in any specific nation?  Are they levied?  Do they join by their own free will?  Are they paid?  Refer to the feudal styles of "recruitment", the Roman style, or even the Spartan's civil service.
How well trained is the basic footman (or lowest tier) of any specific force?  How are they trained?  Realize that peasants won't be well-trained, if they're trained at all.  Professional soldiers will obviously be much capable.  Knights, or any similar caste of the privileged (like the samurai), won't likely work well like the legion, but they will definitely be well prepared.
How prominent is cavalry?  Is the warrior who sits upon horseback dominant?  This is usually the case in many settings.  How heavily armored are they?  Are there knights?  Be sure to be wary of the idea of knight and the inherent connection to Christianity.
What's the common soldiers weaponry?  Can the basic soldier afford a sword?  Unlike the interpretations of Hollywood and modern culture, the common Viking did not use the sword, so be careful.  That was reserved for the truly respected, truly rich--the well-born.  The spear was the basic weapon, or, depending on the era, the short sword.  Also consider this:  Unless your nation supplies the troops with their arms, they more than likely get what they can, when they can, so they may not even have mail.  They could always scavenge, yes, but your basic footman will be too poor to have much of anything beyond a shield, s**t sword, and possibly some chain mail.  If not that, then definitely some sort of leather armor.
How is the army arranged?  Legions?  What is the most basic unit?  How many troops are within that?  What is the largest?  Consider the Roman cohort--made of six centuries, each consisting of 80 men, a centurion over each, assisted by junior officers.  Okay, such a detailed depth isn't that important, but it's always good to have a vague idea.  Is there organization?  Are they just massed together?  Look into the feudal arrangement.  Is there an army for any specific governed region, like the Themata of the Eastern Roman Empire?
Does any nation have a standing army?  A standing army does not disband during times of peace, and doing so, are generally better trained.  A force of suddenly conscripted soldiers will definitely lack, though probably be more numerous.
Who leads any specific force?  Does this person have influence?  Do they get along with the ruler?  Are they the ruler?  How capable are they as a leader?  Could they take control of the realm, if desired?  These things could be factors in your story.

Always consider tactics, too!

I can be lax on any of thousands of issues and themes in fantasy, but I never take my armies lightly.  Of course, my fantasy is virtually always militarily oriented, so some of these issues may not be so important for you.  I still can't stress enough how important these topics are, with even the loosest of planning.  It will help.

Okay, this next thing isn't a big issue.  In most--if not all--of fantasy, you'll see cross-shaped swords.  Believe it or not, this is largely a Christian issues.  Cruciform swords are everywhere in fantasy, and most people aren't aware of that.  Just figured I'd drop that.  I don't even worry about it, for the most part.

I'll probably add more to this as time goes on.  I've completely lost my train of thought.  As always, if there are specific topics you'd like to see covered, just leave a comment below!

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Posted 7 Years Ago

will be looking forward to more. This particular topic was just what I needed and the last bit about the cross shaped sword was a big 'wow' moment for me. learn something new everyday.

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Posted 7 Years Ago

I look forward to reading the next installments, please update soon!

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Posted 7 Years Ago

This is one area where I have always struggled, and am struggling now with my current project. Thanks for posting this. It will be very useful once I get around to fishing this piece out.
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M.R. Smith
M.R. Smith

Thereabouts, OH

Hello, I'm Matthew. I write. I read. I work. I eat. My main-stay genres are fantasy, science fiction, horror. I enjoy a good existential crisis every now and then, and, true to myself, I prese..