Descriptions of Troop Types

A general description of each troop type is given here. In addition, specific historical examples are also provided. More examples can be found in books obtainable at a good wargame shop or at your local library. The more specific you make your soldier descriptions, the more detail and color can be added to a fantasy campaign.

Clearly, though, this is a fantasy game. No mention is made in these rules of the vast numbers of strange and bizarre troops that might guard a castle or appear on a battlefield. It is assumed that all troop types described here are human. Units of dwarves, elves, and more are certainly possible, but they are not readily available as hirelings. The opportunity to employ these types is going to depend on the nature of the campaign and the DM's wishes. As a guideline, however, no commander (such as the knight of a castle) should have more than one or two exceptional (i.e., different from his own race) units under his command.

Archer: This is a footsoldier, typically armed with a shortbow, arrows, short sword, and leather armor. In history, archers were known to operate as light infantry when necessary, but this was far from universal. Highland Scots carried bows, arrows, two-handed swords, and shields, but no armor. Turkish janissaries were elite troops armed with bow and scimitar, but unarmored. Byzantine psilos carried composite short bows, hand axes, and, if lucky, chain or scale armor. A Venetian stradiot archer (often found on ships) normally had a short bow, long sword, and banded armor.

Artillerist: These troops are more specialists than regular soldiers. Since their duty is to work and service heavy catapults and siege equipment, they don't normally enter into combat. They dress and outfit themselves as they please. Artillerists stay with their equipment, which is found in the siege train.

Bowmen, mounted: These are normally light cavalry. They carry short bows, a long sword or scimitar, and leather armor, although armor up to chain is sometimes worn. Historically, most mounted bowmen came from nomadic tribes or areas of vast plains.

The most famous mounted bowmen were the Mongol horsemen, who commonly armed themselves with composite short bow, scimitar, mace, axe, and dagger. Some also carried light lances. They wore studded leathers or whatever else they could find, and carried medium shields. Pecheneg horsemen used the composite short bow, hand axe, lasso, and light lance, and wore scale armor. Russian troops carried the short bow and dagger and wore padded armor.

Cavalry, heavy: The classic image of the heavy cavalryman is the mounted knight. Such men are typically armed with heavy lance, long sword, and mace. They wear plate mail or field plate armor. The horse is a heavy war horse and barded, although the type of barding varies.

Examples include the early Byzantine kataphractos, armed with medium lance, long sword, banded armor, and a large shield. They rode heavy war horses fitted with scale barding. The French Compagnies d'Ordonnance fitted with heavy lance, long sword, mace, and full plate on chain or plate barded horses were classic knights of the late medieval period.

In other lands, the Polish hussar was a dashing sight with his tiger-skin cloak fluttering in the charge. He wore plate mail armor and rode an unbarded horse but carried an arsenal of weapons—medium lance, long sword, scimitar, warhammer, and a brace of pistols (although the latter won't normally appear in an AD&D® game).

Cavalry, light: These are skirmishers whose role in combat is to gallop in quickly, make a sudden attack, and get away before they can attacked in force. They are also used as scouts and foragers, and to screen advances and retreats. They carry a wide variety of weapons, sometimes including a missile weapon. Their armor is nonexistent or very light—padded leathers and shields. Speed is their main strength. In many ways they are indistinguishable from mounted bowmen and often come from the same groups of people.

The stradiotii of the Italian Wars were unarmored and fought with javelins, saber, and shield. Hussars were armed with scimitar and lance. Byzantine trapezitos carried similar weapons, but wore padded armor and carried a medium shield. Turkish sipahis, noted light cavalrymen, carried a wide variety of weapons, usually a sword, mace, lance, short bow, and small shield.

Cavalry, medium: This trooper forms the backbone of most mounted forces—it's cheaper to raise medium cavalry than heavy knights, and the medium cavalryman packs more punch than light cavalry. They normally ride unarmored horses and wear scale, chain, or banded armor. Typical arms include lance, long sword, mace, and medium shield.

A good example of medium cavalry was the Normal knight with lance, sword, chain mail, and kite shield. Others include the Burgundian coustillier (brigandine or splint, light lance, long sword, and dagger), Persian cavalry (chain mail, medium shield, mace, scimitar, and short bow), and Lithuanian boyars (scale, medium lance, long sword, and large shield).

Crossbowmen, heavy: Only rarely used by medieval princes, heavy crossbowmen are normally assigned to garrison and siege duties. Each normally has a heavy crossbow, short sword, and dagger, and wears chain mail. The services of a shield bearer is often supplied to each man.

Venetian crossbowmen frequently served on galleys and wore chain or brigandine armor. Genoese men in German service sometimes wore scale armor for even greater protection.

Crossbowmen, light: Light crossbowmen are favored by some commanders, replacing regular archers in many armies. The crossbow requires less training than the bow, and is easier to handle, making these soldiers cheaper in the long run to maintain. Each man normally has a light crossbow, short sword, and dagger. Usually they do not wear armor. Crossbowmen fight hand-to-hand only to save themselves and will fall back or flee from attackers.

Italian crossbowmen commonly wore padded armor and carried a long sword, buckler, and light crossbow. Burgundians wore a light coat of chain and carried no weapons other than their crossbows. Greek crossbowmen carried a variety of weapons including crossbow, sword, and spear or javelin.

Crossbowmen, mounted: When possible, crossbowmen are given horses, for extra mobility. All use light crossbows, since heavier ones cannot be cocked on horseback. The horse is unbarded, and the rider normally wears little or no armor. As with most light troops, the mounted crossbowmen relies on speed to whisk him out of danger. An unusual example of a mounted crossbowmen was the German mercenary (plate mail, light crossbow, and long sword).

Engineer: This profession, like that of the artillerist, is highly specialized, and those skilled in it are not common soldiers. Engineers normally supervise siege operations, both inside and outside. They are responsible for mining castle walls, filling or draining moats, repairing damage, constructing siege engines, and building bridges. Since their skills are specialized and rare, engineers command a high wage. Furthermore, engineers expect rewards for successfully storming castles and towns or for repelling such attacks.

Footman, heavy: Depending on the army, heavy infantry either forms its backbone or is nonexistent. Heavy footmen normally have chain mail or better armor, a large shield, and any weapons.

Examples of heavy infantry include Byzantine skutatoi (scale mail, large shield, spear, and long sword), Norman footmen (chain mail, kite shield, and long sword), Varangian Guardsmen (chain mail, large shield, battle axe, long sword, and short sword), late German men-at-arms (plate mail, battle axe, long sword, and dagger), Flemish pikemen (plate mail, long sword, and pike), Italian mercenaries (plate mail, long sword, glaive, and dagger), Irish gallowglasses (chain mail, halberd, long sword, and darts), and Polish drabs (chain mail, scimitar, and halberd).

Footmen, irregular: These are typically wild tribesmen with little or no armor and virtually no discipline. They normally join an army for loot or to protect their homeland. Their weapons vary widely, although most favor some traditional item.

Examples of irregulars include Viking berserkers (no armor, but shield, and battle axe or sword), Scottish Highlanders (often stripped bare with shield and axe, voulge, sword, or spear), Zaporozian cossacks (bare-chested with a bardiche), or a Hussite cepnici (padded or no armor, flail, sling, and scimitar).

Footman, light: The bulk of infantry tend to be light footmen. Such units are cheap raise and train. Most come from the lower classes. They are distinguished from irregular infantry by a (barely) greater degree of discipline. Arms and armor are often the same as irregulars.

Typical of light infantry were Swiss and German pikemen (no armor, pike, and short sword), Spanish sword-and-buckler men (leather armor, short sword, and buckler), Byzantine peltastos (padded armor, medium shield, javelins, and sword), even Hindu payaks (no armor, small shield, and scimitar or club).

Footman, militia: These are townsfolk and peasants called up to serve. They normally fall somewhere between irregulars and light infantry in equipment and quality. However, in areas with a long-standing tradition of military service, militiamen can be quite formidable.

Some Italian militias were well-equipped with banded or plate mail armor and glaives. The Irish "rising-out'' typically had no armor and fought with javelins and long swords. Byzantine militias were well-organized and often worked as archers (short bow and padded armor) in defense of city walls. The Saxons' fyrd was supposedly composed of the freemen of a district.

Handgunner: This troop type can be allowed only if the DM approves the use of arquebuses in the campaign. If they are forbidden, this troop type doesn't exist. Handgunners typically have an arquebus and short sword, and wear a wide variety of armors.

Longbowman: Highly trained and rare, these archers are valuable in battle. They are also hard to recruit and expensive to field. A long bowman typically wears padded or leather armor and carries a long bow with short sword or dirk. Historically, virtually all long bowman were English or Welsh, although they freely acted as mercenaries throughout Europe.

Marines: These are heavy footmen who serve aboard large ships.

Sapper: These men, also known as miners or pioneers, provide the labor for field work and siege operations. They are generally under the command of a master engineer. Normally they retreat before combat, but if pressed, will fight as light infantry. They wear no armor and carry tools (picks, axes, and the like) that can easily double as weapons. They are usually found with siege trains, baggage trains, and castles.

Shieldbearer: This is a light infantryman whose job is to carry and set up shields for archers and crossbowmen. Historically, these shields (or pavises) were even larger than a normal large shield. Some required two men to move. From behind this cover, the bowman or gunner could reload in relative safety. If the position was attacked, the shieldbearer was expected to fight as an infantryman. For this reason, shieldbearers have the same equipment as light infantry.

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