Welcome to another War Talk! Today we are taking a trip back to a time before the Medieval roots of many TTRPGs and talk about a tactic first popularized in antiquity: the pike phalanx. The phalanx was a formation of spearmen popular among Greek and early Roman city-states prior to the Punic Wars. Phalanxes contained several rows and columns of soldiers tightly packed, wielding 8 to 10 foot spears and large overlapping shields, each soldier protecting the man to their left.
These formations would charge straight at the enemy, relying on momentum and weight to shatter the enemy lines. While formidable, the formation was vulnerable on the flanks, as the spears and formation could not easily rotate. Additionally, the right flank of the formation was particularly vulnerable, as the man on the far end of the phalanx had no one to protect him. This extreme right flank therefore, was typically held by the army’s most veteran troops. Such veterans included the Spartan Spartinites, Theban Sacred Band, or the Roman Triarii. Phillip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great improved on the formation by lengthening the spears to 12 feet, and providing excellent cavalry support on the flanks.
In your TTRGP gameplay this formation and its associated tactics can benefit groups who are not built for single combat. Goblins and Kobolds can use this to great effect in their lairs and caves. With tight corridors, small numbers of soldiers in these formations can block the route of advance of a party. Just watch out for fireballs and other areas of effect spells. It’s also a good way to illustrate a group with outdated tactics when compared with your Roman Empire or Medieval analog. That said, this was not the only era in history that pike phalanxes were used. To read more about that, be sure to check back in next week for the next War Talk!
Do you have a tactic or weapon you’d like to see featured on this blog? Let me know in the comments below!