Enhance Ability Histories – Cannae

Welcome Variants, to a new series for the site, Enhance Ability Histories! Here we are going to be discussing historical battles, and how the outcomes of these conflicts might have been changed by the introduction of TTRPG style magic! I made an outline of the parameters for the series you can peruse by clicking here. Let’s kick this series off with a big one, the Battle of Cannae!

The Battle of Cannae took place in August 216 BCE during the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. Hannibal’s army had been pillaging its way through the Italian countryside for many years, shadowed by a Roman force too weak to defeat it. The battle began with Roman forces drawing upon the south bank of the Aufidus River, forcing the Carthaginian army to cross as well into a limited space where their cavalry could not easily maneuver. With light infantry forming the Carthaginian center and its heavy infantry and cavalry on the flanks, the Carthaginian line soon buckled to the might of the Roman legions. This, however, was Hannibal’s plan, and after routing the Roman cavalry, the Roman infantry was encircled and defeated.

Related: D&D is NOT a War Game

Roman tactics at the time were bold, and relied on their heavy infantry to carry the day, relegating the cavalry and skirmish elements of their armies to allies or auxiliaries. I think this would result in the Romans placing a heavy focus on Evocation and Transmutation to help with their fortifications and engineering projects. I imagine the use of high damage, area of effect spells launched into the enemy formation ahead of a charge by the Roman infantry. Meanwhile, I think they would make use of terrain-altering magic to limit the battlefield, to hinder enemy cavalry like they did when choosing the battleground for Cannae.

The Carthaginians, meanwhile, favored rapid maneuvers, flank attacks, and in Hannibal’s case, deception to lure his enemies into traps. I could easily see non-detection or cover spells like Fog Cloud or Invisibility being used en masse on the Carthaginian cavalry as they moved around the Roman flanks.

Related: War Talk Wednesday: Shock Charges

While the Romans would have likely used terrain-altering spells such as Mold Earth or Illusory Terrain to ward off the Carthaginian cavalry, Hannibal’s plan was too well laid and played into Roman egotism. Supported by Evocation spells like Fireball, the Roman infantry would still easily shatter the center of the Carthaginian line, possibly pushing all the way to the river bank, but would still be encircled by the veteran infantry of Carthage. While the Romans would still fall for this same trick, it might be possible for their Consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro to extricate more of their force, maybe crossing the river with Waterwalk or something similar to maintain their army to fight again another day. Try as they might, I don’t think the Roman legions could change this outcome.

So our first outing, despite the introduction of magic to the Battle of Cannae, ends the same way it did in our history, with the Roman army encircled and destroyed or routed. Do you think there could have been a bigger change? Or would another spell better suit the Romans or Carthaginians tactics? Let me know in the comments, and come back soon for another installment of Enhance Ability Histories!

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