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Alphatia - Warfare and Castles

by Rodger Burns

Just some thoughts on how Alphatians might view war and other conflicts between armies, and how this would likely relate to building of castles and other fortified structures. Material may go up over the course of several days; commenters should feel free to chime in at any point.

Classically, Alphatian warfare is fundamentally about warfare between wizards. Common soldiers exist only to provide bodyguard, garrison and other support services to the closest war-wizard - according to the older Alphatian military traditions, if a troop of a hundred common soldiers runs into just one unaccompanied enemy wizard the hundred soldiers are supposed to just surrender outright rather than let themselves get massacred by a flying, invisible, wall-creating, fireball and cloudkill-slinging death machine. (Mind you, this is one of the older military traditions; it took a massive hit when King Lucinius leveraged it to help pull off the Thyatian rebellion.) Conquest is largely a matter of dueling or forcing the submission of opposing wizards, and tactics a matter of setting up situations to force enemy wizards to duel on terms favorable to your side. Once the wizards have surrendered, the rest of the population is supposed to fall into line.

Modern Alphatian warfare is a bit broader in scope - today's generals are well-aware of the potential for half a dozen boltmen to concentrate fire and take down an enemy archmage, or even for a clever or lucky common soldier to plant something sharp, pointy and completely nonmagical in the enemy's torso. But because a prepared and alert wizard is still such a powerful force on the battlefield, even kingdoms like Greenspur and Stonewall organize themselves around a core force of wizards and other heroes, and plan campaigns based on how they can best apply focused use of arcane magic.

Some common tactical situations in modern Alphatian warfare are as follows:

I. Two wizards meet on the battlefield, each with a company of soldiers in support. The wizards start dueling; if there's a large difference in skill or experience this could end quickly. The soldiers on each side, meanwhile, start engaging on the flanks - for both sides, the goal is to distract or interfere with the enemy wizard while protecting their own wizard. If one of the groups of soldiers is tougher, gutsier or better trained than the other side, they probably manage to injure the enemy or make him blow a spell or two on magical defenses/counterfire; the opening this provides is hopefully enough for the attacking soldiers' wizard ally to gain a solid upper hand. If one of the wizards falls, his supporters probably either surrender or run away.

II. Two companies of soldiers meet on the battlefield. Neither has wizards obviously in support - the wizards may be invisible, or disguised with illusion magic, or possibly absent or never assigned in the first place (in the latter instance, the company has been deployed at least partly as a bluff). In any case, there's no opportunity for a duel to immediately break out; instead the soldiers go at each other in a fairly conventional manner (though probably a bit more cautiously than in western lands). Wizards on each side, at least initially, spend their effort trying to spot their opposite number (if any) via detect invisibility, ESP, etc. or else subtly dropping buffs and battlefield control magic rather than engaging - in this scenario, the first wizard to spot his opponent and attack with surprise likely wins the resulting magical duel, so revealing oneself early just to drop a lightning bolt or ice storm into the enemy line is generally considered to be a bad idea. If the soldiers' battle starts to go strongly one way, though, the losing side's wizard may not have much choice. Alternately, if soldiers' maneuvers can create a 'safe zone' where a wizard can reveal himself for long enough to pop off an unanswerable spell or two the effect could be devastating (Greenspur very likely trains for this). Trickery and double-blinds to make the enemy wizard think he has the drop on you are, of course, also fair game.

III. A wizard supported by a company of soldiers is defending a prepared position against attack. The wizard's presence means that any sort of attack is going to be fairly different from warfare in the west - probing skirmishes are common, coordinated assaults across a wide front (to make the defenders spread their strength and increase the possibility of a magically-enabled penetration behind the walls) are fairly common, sieges are uncommon since supplies can be magically conjured or teleported in, concentrated assaults are all but unheard of since one well-placed fireball takes out half the attacking force. The defenders' position is probably fairly lightweight, by standards of military engineers elsewhere in the Known World - walls only need to be sturdy enough to stand up to normal arrow fire and bounce lightning bolts back at attackers, if the attackers really want to make a breach they'll be using dissolve or disintegrate rather than catapults or battering rams. It's likely also designed for nodal defense (small strongpoints where a squad or platoon can hold off a large enemy force, connected by narrow hallways so that intruders can be easily bottled up, and no space wide-open enough to invite serious magical bombardment by the enemy) and built to house only its garrison, unlike Western castles which can take in large numbers of peasants and mercenary soldiers if necessary to protect them and increase the castle's defense.

For 'wizard', read 'high-level magic-user (15th-level or higher), or maybe a similarly-leveled cleric, or even fighter or thief kitted out with lots of magic items'. And those are fairly uncommon - though I'd say potentially less rare in Alphatia then elsewhere.

(Note: Probably not Thyatis, though. The difference between Thyatis and Alphatia is that Thyatis puts its elite types all into single super-units - the Knights of the Air, the Swords of the Grey Lady, the Imperial Collegium and the Thyatis City Arena 'reserve' - and uses those at choke points. The Alphatians spread theirs out, operating on a wider front and hoping to overwhelm their enemy by winning lots of small battles everywhere they have a 1-0 superiority in hero-types. The Thyatian method is likely more efficient, but the Alphatian method has the advantage of only needing to have the hero-types active and in uniform when you actually want to go to war.)