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Formation Fighting

by Rob

The Pike Wall

Units of pikemen make formidable opponents, when holding a position.

Due to the length of the pikes the formation may have a fighting front rank of up to 3 men deep. Up to 3 men in any layer may melee a given target. Thus, at it's most compact, a pike formation could deploy 3x3=9 pike heads against a foe.

Melee attackers roll reversed initiative (highest roll wins). The attacker can only close a rank if he

a) beats the pikemen in an initiative roll

b) chops the heads of all the pikes in melee with him (pike heads have AC 2, and typically save as thin wood - only slashing weapons may be used against these)

c) all the pikemen miss their attacks for that round. Note that a warrior may have to close up to 3 ranks in the tightest formations to close with the tightest possible pike wall, making a charge by all but the most heavily armoured troops practical suicide.

Once one of the above conditions are fulfilled the attacker may close to conventional melee with the first rank of pikemen. Note that even now the rank of pikemen directly behind the foremost rank may still melee (thus in close a foe would face the man closed, plus up to three pike heads from the rank behind them).

Pikemen are less effective when advancing. Advancing pikemen may only attack with the first two ranks, rather than three, and the opponent automatically closes with the pikemen after the first round.

Also, the men in a pike formation are tightly packed and, without shields, vulnerable to missile fire. A fireball spell thrown into a 3 deep formation of pikemen will typically hit between 20 and 30 soldiers. Missile attacks gain a +1 bonus to hit the wall of troops.

Pike walls are often combined with support troops wielding heavy crossbows, or on the Savage Coast arquebusiers (Pike and shot warfare). The hail of missiles in used in conjunction with a solid wall of pikes can be particularly lethal.


Units in a phalanx must be armed with shield and a short stabbing weapon, typically a spear or shortsword.

Units in a phalanx overlap their shields, providing increased protection. A man with one flanking companion gains a -2 AC bonus, one with friends on both sides gains a -4 bonus. This adjustment counts against both missile and melee fire, as long as the formation is intact.

Phalanxes typically charge opponents, and gain bonuses when doing so. Every additional man deep the formation is gives the front rank an additional +1 to hit, up to a maximum of +4. If in a given round a frontline warrior is downed, the man directly behind him may gain an immediate free attack. Thus the depth of the formation is crucial to success - the deeper formation will typically win an engagement.

A phalanx is more tightly knit than a pike formation. Movement rate is reduced to 10% of maximum - for every week of training this penalty is reduced by 5%, until after 18 weeks the formation can move at maximum rate while in formation.

Phalanxes cannot easily be held in rough terrain - a phalanx moving over boulder strewn, uneven, or steeply sloping terrain must roll d20 for every round of movement - a roll greater than the number of weeks trained indicate that the formation has come apart.

Phalanxes may not move at all in forested terrain. In light forests a phalanx may hold a defensive position, but to move the warriors must break formation.

Units flanking a charging or engaged phalanx negate all the phalanxes bonus. A flanked phalanx is in danger of coming apart - for every 5% of the force killed, roll a d20 - a roll greater than the number of weeks trained indicate that the formation has come apart.

Thus, phalanx fights are a matter of strategy - does one have a deep and therefore powerful phalanx, or does one have a thinner phalanx to gain a long front line in an effort to flank and surround his opponent?

Phalanxes are vulnerable to artillery fire (ballistae etc.). Due to the compact formation large missiles can cut a swathe of destruction through the tightly packed soldiers. When a siege engine rolls to hit against a victim, roll as if it has a ROF of 3 - ie each missile may strike up to 3 targets, instead if one.

A phalanx requires a minimum of 10 men to be effective as a formation.


A purely defensive formation, troops employing the tortoise must use large shields - (body shields in AD&D parlance). Overlapping the shields, both at the edges of the formation, and also above it by those in the centre raising their shields above their heads, provides the equivalent of 90% cover from missile fire. This grants substantial armour class bonuses, and even resistance to certain attacks (such as fireball - 90% cover grants a +4 bonus to saving throws, a successful save indicating no damage is taken, while a failed save still reduces damage to one half). Certain attacks - catapult boulders and so on - which project significant force may be able to penetrate the tortoises defences without penalty. Some attacks like cloudkill would obviously be unaffected by such defences.

Forming an effective tortoise is quite difficult, requiring a d20 roll equal to or under the number of weeks the unit has trained. Tortoises are even slower than phalanxes, moving at a speed of 4. A tortoise formation may revert to a more conventional phalanx at any time - this is typically done just before the unit enters melee.


Skirmishers are spread out. This formation is comparatively weak - skirmishers gain no combat bonuses. Skirmishers are fast, though, and less vulnerable to missiles and magic than tightly packed pikemen and phalanxes.

Skirmishers move at full speed. Being spread out (typically one man per twenty yards) area of effect magicks are virtually useless (a fireball would strike at most 3 targets, and the DM should recognise the difficulty of placing a fireball at precisely the right point in a line which is charging towards the caster...). Reforming skirmishers into a tightly controlled unit for melee is difficult, requiring a d20 roll under the number of weeks trained.

A tactic used by some nations is the concept of skirmishers armed with crossbows, or in the Savage Coast, arquebuses. Skirmishers armed with such weapons use the tactic now time honoured in the real world - advancing by squads. One unit rushed forward a short distance, a few tens of yards, while another unit hangs back and provides cover with their weapons. Then the first unit that advanced holds and covers, while the previously stationary unit rushes forward, and so on. The advantage is that half of the force has weapons cocked at all times. In game terms, targets of opportunity who break from cover are subject to fire from the unit covering - and their weapons have a weapon speed reduced to 1 to reflect their readiness and preparation. Troops that are specialised in their ranged weapons may automatically win the initiative in certain situations.

The non-weapon proficiency of Formation Fighting is required by all soldiers participating in all of the above. Needless to say, soldiers of those nations which hold formation fighting dear to their hearts (Thyatis and Darokin immediately spring to mind) will receive the proficiency during their army training (I would suggest granting this proficiency for free for those using the Myrmidon kit who are enlisted in an appropriate army).