New World, Who’s This? Army Composition

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Welcome to this week’s edition of New World, Who’s This?, where we discuss considerations to make when building a TTRPG world from scratch. Previously, we have discussed factions and the resources they are fighting over. Today we will talk about the fight itself. If you have been following the War Talk Wednesday series, you’d know that I have talked about various weapons and strategies that you can employ to spice up combat in your TTRPG games. When you are looking to design or narrate larger scale conflicts, however, you will need to consider the composition of the armies in play.

In many fantasy worlds, armies are composed of homogeneous blocks of the same units. You see lots of cavalry, but it’s always heavily armored knights or infantry in lock step with shields and spears— and all of them have a sword on their hip. This is not reflective of the reality of warfare, and so I tend to have my fantasy armies look a bit different.

If, (like most fantasy settings) yours is based on Medieval Europe, then yes, you should include heavy cavalry and spear infantry. However, relying solely on these two type of infantry leaves out many other effective and unique types of troops. For example, if we go back to antiquity in Rome or Greece, there was more light infantry – slingers, javelin throwers, and the like – screening armies. Roman legionaries fought primarily with sword and shield rather than spear. And these armies typically employed field artillery as well! The farther your inspiration drifts from Rome and moves closer the Dark Age, the less formality and uniformity your army requires. There are no central forges to outfit every soldier with the same armor, weapon, and helmet.

Let’s not forget, this is a fantasy army. This means that all the fantastical parts of your world should be included. If your knights in shining armor eschew the traditional horses and chariots to be mounted on griffons, dragons, or alicorns, be sure to include them in your standing armies! If mages and spellcasters are a part of your army (and they should be), how are they organized in battle? Will your Battlemages throw high powered fireballs into the center of an enemy formation? If they do, what impact will it have on the target soldiers’ morale? These are just some of the considerations that can pull an army conflict into the fantastical while exciting and engaging the players at the table.

While a solid wall of orcs with pikes marching towards Helms Deep looks amazing, putting some thought into the armies of your world can provide a lot of flavor. Different armor, units, and fighting styles can tell you a lot about those people, and give some variety to your world.

What sorts of units have you placed in your TTRPG fantasy armies? What advice would you have for a modern or future set game world? Sound off in the comments below!

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