Aristocracy and War

This has become fairly relevant to a high-stakes game, so I’m going to put my thoughts out for the internet to pore over. This is mostly a consideration of what the aristocracy is made of, what the command structure is like, and the distribution of the key skills of Command, Strategy, Tactics, and Logistics. While it’s approximate, given that many skills in LPs are optional and there are General points to buy up essential extra skills, I’ve considered the picture painted if the general truth is that people have pretty much all their LPs’ skills and nothing else.


For Men, the two paths to the nobility are great wealth and success or birth, and the latter is far more sure and the only gate into the echelons of the high nobility. But even birth is not enough; nobles are expected to be knights. Martial skill is a part of the aristocratic culture. And most knights will have risen through the traditional noble path: they will have been brought up as pages and squired for another noble knight, before receiving their own knighthood. They thus have at least combat training, if not experience, but very often lack any real experience as a soldier.

The stratification of Men plays out in the ranks and on the battlefield. Command is common enough; sergeants have it to get their men moving, and of course captains have it. Even captains of the guard can manage to command men. Strategy is available to captains as well. Logistics is the provenance of quartermasters. And Tactics, well, that’s only learned in the school of hard knocks, and that hard-earned knowledge can be found among the veterans. But here’s where things get tricky: captains rarely rise through the ranks; it’s an appointment, and thus goes to knights and lords. So the captain has Command and Strategy, but lacks Tactics; he can go for the big picture, but in the fray he’s clueless about how to seize advantages, and he’s just keeping his men together. And he knows nothing of Logistics to go with Strategy; he knows what needs to be done, but not what’s needed to make it possible. A good quartermaster is essential—but completely outranked, and a noble may well disregard the likely lowborn quartermaster’s recommendations.

There’s one possible saving grace: the Constable, who is also trained in Logistics. A captain elevated to that rank, effectively commander in chief, will have Strategy and Command as well. Still no Tactics, but at the grand strategy level that’s okay. This is the guy you want in charge: he’s got the tools to lay out a good deployment and see it done. The problem is with the appointment: the Constable is quite possibly an appointed noble who has never been a captain, or any kind of leader at all. Then he’s got Logistics and, well, nothing else. He can see to it that his plans are technically workable, but he’s reliant on advisors to come up with good plans. And may well lack the Command skill to get his men to turn plans into reality. That’s a risky situation. A wise king will not promote such an incompetent to Constable—but not all kings are wise, and a favorite promoted in peacetime may become a disaster when war looms.

So that’s the problem of Men at war: their stratified classes means the critical pieces of knowledge are all too often not held by one leader, and the class system can become a barrier to effective communication among the experts. A brilliant war leader will likely have to have an unusually eclectic set of experiences, be it varied lifepaths or crucial knowledge picked up in his own time—with General points.

(And as an aside, the Mercenary Captain LP provides nothing of use in command. And requires Pilot. It’s a weird lifepath.)


Dwarves have an even more divided society, but it’s in many ways divided horizontally instead of vertically; that is, where Men separate the high-born from the low, the Dwarves separate craftsmen from traders from nobles, though each can rise and be accorded great respect. There isn’t quite the same aristocratic social stratum. The prince rules his hold, and under him are various Dwarves who must, one way or another, do their work and earn their keep. Even more than Men, Dwarves prize martial skill; all Princes must have been axe-bearers. And like Men, there’s no need for real command experience, just something similar to knighthood. Although only roughly; the axe-bearer is squire, and knight rolled into one, and more easily available to the common man—well, Dwarf. As noted, Dwarves are less hierarchical, though it’s true that non-nobles must usually serve as banner-bearers before taking up the axe.

But there things differ. Dwarven princes do learn the art of Command; in fact, they’re likely good at it, with their optional Call-On trait to back it up. They don’t know any of the other key skills, but they’ve already got a leg up on the average noble among Men. The army, too, is similar: graybeards, like sergeants, learn Command. Captains have Command and Strategy. But the hierarchy isn’t as strict; captains may be promoted graybeards as easily as princes. The higher command, wardens and high captains, have the same skills. It’s the quartermasters again who have Logistics, here exclusively, but they can be drawn from the graybeards or from the nobility, and among Dwarves nobles aren’t so elevated that they’re not open to (stentorious) discussion, so quartermaster and captain are likely to hammer out plans both good and feasible between them. There high captain is probably the closest thing to a Constable. He lacks Logistics, unless he’s (somewhat unusually) promoted from quartermaster to captain to highest rank, but he’s definitely equipped with Command and Strategy. So the Dwarves are less likely to have incompetent leaders, and their leaders are less hampered by social hierarch.

But wait, where’s Tactics? Well… that’s not standard for the Host. They’re more apt to just throw themselves at the enemy and trust superior training, arms, and armor to carry the day. Oh, and superior coordination. The Horn-Callers have Links, allowing the Host to coordinate its actions like no other force.

So the Dwarves are perhaps less likely to have that singular commander who combines all the talents of a leader, but their leaders are at worst at least capable commanders and they’re less hampered by promoting useless aristocrats. Their Tactics are lacking, but that’s really no different in the upper echelons; their Links provide singular communication. Their princes make good commanders and may well take on the high command. And, of course, none can match either the quality of their gear or the nearly religious zeal with which they produce it.


Surprisingly for a folk often thought of as frolicking in the woods and fields, the princes among the Elves are again raised as fighters. They all take up the mantle of sword singer before taking the title. The Etharch, though he will always excel at command with Voice of Ages, may be a warlike ascended prince or a more contemplative loremaster—to say nothing of what other paths he may have taken in his long, long life. The Althings, too, are great lords among the Elves, and they need not have any military experience. Nor do the patriarchs and matriarchs in the wilds. So the Elves along have both militant and peaceful leaders.

The makeup of the Protectors, too, is different. They have no sergeants or quartermasters. They have captain, who may come through the ranks or from the princes’ number, and every captain has Command and Tactics. That’s not like the other captains, who have Strategy but lack Tactics! These captains can’t lay out the grand plans, but their other skills—Monody of the March, Silent Fury—suggest that they’re more likely to be in the ranks. The captain leads a smaller unit rather than setting strategy. That’s left to the Lord Protector. Again, the commander in chief of the Elves is different: he’s got Strategy and Logistics along with Command. In fact, he’s the only one with either. So one person lays out the plan with the knowledge to make it both worth executing and practicable. He’s something like an ideal Constable—but he’s going to be either a prince or a captain. If the latter, which is likely enough, he’ll combine all the key skills in one person. If the former, he’ll have to defer to the captains for Tactics on the ground if he doesn’t pick it up himself.

So along with the might of the Protectors (see Elves at War, the Elves have a command structure that all but guarantees skilled leadership. The cost is that they have no captains and quartermasters to offer advise or to take over in the event of the Lord Protector’s incapacitation. The senior command is a single Elf, which means an all too tempting target for anyone who would decapitate the Protectors and hamstring the might of the Elves. Though with the soldier-protectors on watch, the rangers prowling unseen as scouts, the prowess of the Lord Protector himself in battle, and the best healing of the soothers, pulling it off is no mean feat!


The Orcish hierarchy is simple: the Great Ones rule by dint of force and intimidation, and all others find their own place in the merciless pecking order. The same is true of the Black Legion—itself practically synonymous with the clan. There’s no real chain of command. Those Who Bear the Lash drive the goblins and lesser troops with Command, Intimidation, and savage applications of the whip. For the more powerful, the Head-Takers and the Named do the same, but with the Hatred-fueled Brutal Intimidation to up the ante. Only the Great Ones understand Strategy; Logistics and Tactics have no place. The Orcs do not plan in battle; they hurl themselves forward as driven by their masters or flee when they can. Similarly, they don’t organize the practical details of a campaign. They ravage the countryside, live off plunder, and eat their own dead if they must—and if they must cause those deaths, well, the weak have it coming.

The savage power of the Black Legions is probably only held in check by infighting and disorganization. Plenty of Commands are bellowed, but they are all too often conflicting or useless. Only the mightiest have an inkling of planning beyond hurling forces against foes, and enforcing those plans is difficult to say the least. Even a Great One who has mastered Logistics and Tactics will likely have more than a few Flights of Murderous Fancy in the process of trying to ram those plans down the fractious throats of every member of the horde. And it’s probably not worth it; better to ensure that the lessers suffer in battle so that the turnover of power amongst them keeps them from raising their eyes to your own position. The other races must constantly fear what would happen if the Orcs managed to overcome their Hatred enough to form a disciplined army.

Very interesting, of course a well seasoned knight (just like any other person) does pick up other skills in life (beginners luck) as well as those hobbies they had growing up (general skills), often it is such “x-factors” that allow mankind to succeed in life. But as they are the unknown qualitative factors you could not count them in your assessments of men, dwarfs, & elves. (I doubt the BW orcs have much in the way of such things)

That’s awesome. I feel as though I should print this out and put it in a “Burning Wheel advice” folder for myself.

Men are no more inherently able to pick up new tricks than any other stock. And you only learn what you attempt; a commander who never considers the lives he’s squandering or how to stop will never pick up the rudiments of Tactics, nor will a leader who always leaves the practical details to others learn Logistics.

And now, healing!


Men know many different healing arts. Field Dressing, Bloodletting, Apothecary, the more refined practices of Herbalism, even the technical and demanding Surgery. The young ladies of the nobility and the hangers-on of court learn some. Doctors and physicians are the ones with the most refined skills, of course, and they come from either the further education of those ladies or from further education of students. And, of course, a few of the clergy and monks find their calling includes healing, which usually brings them to court to rub shoulders with the powerful.

The trouble is with the army. Among soldiers, the only ones to learn any healing at all are the sergeants, who by dint of need pick up the quick and dirty tricks of Field Dressing. All the rest is in other lifepaths. The doctor lifepaths are the only source of surgery, but of then, only ship’s doctor leads directly to soldiering; physician can take that lead, but only teaches Herbalism, not Surgery. The other healing lifepaths tend to have no leads obvious and direct path to soldiering either. Midwives certainly don’t often join the army. Gardeners make surprisingly good healers with Herbalism, if anyone will listen, but they’re certainly not likely to uproot and follow soldiers around. Crazy witches learn Herbalism, but, well, even if they do somehow become camp followers they’re as likely to be avoided like the plague as sought out as healers.

Men have good healing arts, but they’re all too often available to the wealthy in town and at court, or to the luckier sailors; the Herbalists can be found all over, if you know who to ask, but tend not to become soldiers and aren’t necessarily obvious healers. Soldiers who are wounded are unfortunately likely to be on their own. Everyone else needs wealth or needs to know the right oddball.


Again, Dwarves are something like Men: their graybeards, like sergeants, pick up Field Dressing. And then they’re otherwise entirely unlike Men: the only other minor healing they have is among the adventurers, who can pick up Herbalism in their travels—but they’re quite explicitly not woven into the fabric of Dwarven society. Fortunately, what the Dwarves do have is the Khirurgeons, the best-trained fixers of wounds anywhere. They mostly come either from the veteran graybeards or the scions of nobility. Yes, that means khirurgy is probably a deeply honorable art, one for either the most respected veterans or the more studious nobles. And it’s among the Host, where it’s most needed. Ironically for Dwarves it’s everyone but the soldiers who lack access to healers—but one imagines that khirurgeons probably ply their trade a little more widely during peacetime, though they may be hard to find with Circles. Add to that the natural hardiness of the doughty Dwarves and you get a force where even if you put a soldier down he’s likely to be back on the lines, and sooner rather than later.


Elves don’t have surgery, but they do have an abundance of healing in the Song of Soothing… Song singers can be found in the wilds, in the citadel, and the even more specialized soothers ply their arts among the Protectors. The Song of Soothing is only equivalent to Herbalism, not Surgery, so it struggles a bit against midi and worse wounds. But Elves have it widely available in a common lifepath with no requirements, and for the Protectors the Lyric of Healing and the Doom of Strength to go with it.

So the Elves have less expert healing, especially compared to Dwarves, but none can match the availability of good healing, especially for smaller injuries.


Orcs, to no one’s surprise, eschew healing. The strong strike down their foes and the weak are in turn struck down; if they are hardy enough, they will recover. If not, they are culled from the horde. The only Orcs to know anything at all are the black hunters, who pick up Field Dressing—but they’re probably more likely to patch themselves up alone in the wilderness than help anyone else in need. As in battle, Orcs rely on numbers and savagery. Fortunately for everyone else, an Orc struck down is likely a threat ended.

Just wanted to say that this is brilliant. Never thought to go through and analyze the lifepaths this way (and now that you’ve done it, it seems the obvious thing to do). Excellent!

I just want to bring up Lembas and Star wine, as well as the Sorcerers and Faithful skilled in the art of healing. A huge detail for Elives and man.

Especially since only elves may carry healing with them.

Elven bread and Elven wine are a good point. Expensive, but a huge boon.

For Men I’m less sure. Only the Blessed Hands spell provides healing, and it works just like the Lyric of Healing—except where soother is an entry-level LP, sorcery requires the Gift and sorcerous training, usually two LPs. Getting into the military is actually going to be two more LPs on top of that. I’d call that rare, and I’ll discuss it below. Since I’m on the subject, let me address other aspects of the military:


It’s hard to say much about the Men; they are varied, and they are also largely the standard against which the other stocks are judged. They use all sorts of weapons. They have ships, although most sailors are Brawlers, not trained fighters; only marines and naval sailors learn weaponry. They have cavalry, though the cavalry are an odd bunch, taken from those with experience with horses (often the nobles or their hangers-on) rather than trained up from the infantry. They have stealthy scouts to spread out and engineers to build and man artillery for sieges.

One thing stands out: the soldiers don’t, largely, learn to use armor. Cavalrymen do, but they’re not usually from the rank and file. So do bannermen, probably so the guy who’s rallying everyone doesn’t die immediately. But the bulk of the soldiers? If they have mail, they’re figuring it out on their own; for reasons of inexperience and cost, most are probably in leather. Shields, at least, come standard. Men are also the only ones to make the formidable full plated mail, but it’s reserved for the very wealthiest.

Men have two supernatural advantages, sorcery and Faith. Both depend on idiom, of course. Neither obviously belongs in battle. Though nothing prevents mighty paladins from calling holy wrath down upon foes, there’s no simple and linear path from Faithful to war—and martial chaplains are notably short on Faith (and big on psychosis). Whether there is Faith at all depends on idiom; whether god allows his power to be used to send soldiers back to the front or whether he grants laying on of hands only to the meek is also an open question. It seems at least likely that god only aids in holy wars, and that Faith isn’t a regular part of the arsenal of Men.

There are some sorcerers ready to hurl spells at their foes, but the Gift is probably rare, and its strongest uses are difficult. One cannot easily rain White Fire down upon an entire army, sadly. Moreover, there aren’t easy leads from the lifepaths that get you Gifted and Sorcery to the soldier setting. Sorcerers don’t, usually, go to war; it takes an unusual path through life to bring anyone to the ranks of the arrogant wizards of war.


One subtle difference between Men and Dwarves: Men can easily take a soldiering second LP. Dwarves cannot. It takes longer for Dwarves to find themselves under arms.

Dwarves have an immediate, obvious advantage: their stuff. Their fine Dwarven arms actually cost slightly more, but Dwarven weapons are the uncontested best in the world, superior with a nice +1D balance die. And the cost evens out a bit when you consider that Dwarves of the Host get a bit more RP than their Mannish counterparts.

Dwarven armor is a bit odd. Mail is slightly cheaper, except for plated mail at identical cost. It’s slightly better, though, with the Dwarven reroll-a-one and no speed penalty. Strangely, although War Art is the best source of superior quality armor, Dwarves have no option to buy it in burning except in the form of fantastically powerful Forge Masks, Shields, and Dwarven Mail. So the prince may well be practically untouchable, but everyone else’s armor is just armor. Which the Dwarves can repair with ease, but still, it strikes me as a strange oversight. But one big advantage: the lowliest Dwarven foot soldier is trained in its use. Their infantry is hard to crack. They also have limited arms: their foot soldiers largely use hammers, while the elite axe-bearers use, of course, axes. Another oddity is that Dwarves are trained with shields but both hammers and axes are two-handed, with the exception of the light axe. Except that’s only available as a run of the mill weapon. So Dwarves generally forego shields? It seems like a slight oversight. In any case, the lack of spears is a bit of a weakness, and the choice of crossbow over bows is debatable. They can’t maintain quite the withering fire of bowmen, but crossbows make marvelous tools for sharpshooters and snipers.

Links, as mentioned, means the Dwarves have some of the best coordination in battle as well. No simple bugle calls and raised standards for the Host; their trumpets blast forth complex commands. It’s a shame they don’t have the Tactics to make best use of it, but at least they don’t get lost in the fog of war. Dwarven captains are also the only common military members of any stock to master cartography; the Dwarves move slowly, but they move unerringly. The Dwarves tend to be tough and disciplined, and under the watchful eyes of the khirurgeons their camps are less likely to fall to the plagues that sweep through the armies of Men and kill more than blade and spear. Their eyes can pierce all but the blackest nights, and Dwarves can march under the cover of darkness—or strike when Men cannot see to fight. And the artillerists and engineers of the Host can build terrible engines and use them with terrible precision to crush enemy fortifications.

What Dwarves lack is a navy and any sort of cavalry. Both make sense; neither have any place in the deep places they inhabit. But if they are forced to march against foes above ground they march slowly, on their own stumpy legs. Another surprising lack is scouts. Dwarves don’t do Stealthy, but they don’t even have any dedicated soldiers tramping out ahead and on the flanks. They need Links because they don’t really get advance warning until they crash into their foes—or the enemy sweeps in. Perhaps it’s an artifact of tunnel fighting, where you just move en masse and there’s little open ground to explore.

The magic of the Dwarves is not ideally suited to battle beyond their crafts equipping the Host. Rune casting is a personal thing, and uncertain, and uncouth. Greed might, if the cause were right, be tapped, but most battles do not fuel the personal fires of the soldiers’ Greed. Dwarves fight with blade and sinew, not unnatural powers.


The spearbearers and bowyer are the obvious “entry-level” martial lifepaths, but it’s easy an easy two lifepaths to get to sword-singer, ranger, or outrider, and of course another step from outrider to lancer. Except Elves, like Dwarves, have no path from Born to Protector. No one is raised into the military. The exception is the etharchal noble class. No, not by becoming attendants; that has training with swords, but without armor or shields they would not last in battle. What the etharchal can do is become soldier-protectors of the Citadel, trained in sword and shield and armor. But those are not, strictly speaking, part of the Protectors; Elves, like Dwarves, take longer to join the organized military.

What does this mean? The bulk of the military is probably spearmen and archers, with relatively plentiful swordsmen, scouts, and cavalry, and with heavy cavalry fewest in number. That’s probably similar to the Mannish makeup, actually, with cavalry as the elite. Note that while outriders are trained in mounted combat and shields, they don’t get armor training, and their weapon is the sword. With Stealthy they’re definitely more light cavalry, scouts, and skirmishers. The armored lancers are the heavy cavalry. Where Dwarves lack bows, Elves lack crossbows; they may fill the sky with arrows, but they are less well suited for sniping and sieging. Sieging especially; the Elves lack any talent with siege engines. They fight in battle, not outside the walls; they are themselves ill-equipped to take down great fortresses of Men or the Bastions of Hate erected by the Orcs. Their rangers are also a different bunch from Men: not entry-level, and also not trained with weapons other than the bow. They’re sneaky, but they’re at a disadvantage if they do stumble over the enemy in close quarters. Fortunately they’re very stealthy, skilled trackers so they’ll know when they’re on the enemy’s trail, and have keen Elven eyes to avoid mishaps; more on both later. They’re also skilled healers.

The Elven navy is simpler than that of Men, distinguishing only sailor and captain. Elves are less likely to have skilled craftsmen or healers aboard, but every Elf at see is trained with spear or sword, and the captains can ensure that the wind is always favorable—and the most skilled at Supplication to the Wind can, perhaps, ensure sure the enemy’s sails hang slack, or that sudden gales dash their ships upon the rocks.

Elves, like Dwarves, they have superior quality weapons as “standard” but at superior-quality cost. Unlike Men or Dwarves, their spearbearers and sword singers get their appropriate arms at no extra cost, suggesting that the Elves make sure their finest weapons make it to the front lines. Their run of the mill armor is slightly cheaper than that of Men; their Elvish armor suggests that superior quality is standard, but the cost is the same as for Men—though the armor of the Elves has no clumsy weight penalties through heavy mail. And their steeds, only slightly pricier than a stolid riding horse among Men and a third cheaper than a destrier, are among the finest mounts one could ask for: swift, steady in battle, and loyal to their riders.

How the Protectors operate is a bit different. Other stocks’ soldiers learn to forage, and Men learn countless soldiering tricks but leave the arms and armor to the support staff. Elves divide the labor differently: their fighters master fighting—and the making and maintenance of their weapons, in the case of bowyers and spearbearers. But it is the soothers who provide not only healing but also Foraging. A small difference, but one that shows the Elven mindset: to each the care of his own tools.

The nature of the Elves aids them in several ways in battle. Their resilience allows them to tolerate long marches, and the captains’ Monody of the March only aids that. Their riders sing the Lay of the Horse and their mounts move like the wind. Nor do they suffer from weather the way others do. And their keen eyes can pierce most gloom. Elves can cover shocking distance through the most wracking storms and arrive ready to do battle, and many foes have fallen by underestimating their mobility. Their immunity to disease, too, means that they don’t suffer the crippling attrition that afflicts other armies. They die in battle or they come home sound.

Another advantage easy to overlook is that unlike Men and Dwarves, Elves live forever unless their lives are cut short; though a war may claim many lives’ blood, and more to Grief, the veterans who survive will survive nearly indefinitely. The veterans of a great war may pass on their skill, but they themselves lose the vigor of youth and eventually die among other stocks. Not so for Elves; their veterans will be the backbone of the Protectors for the next war, no matter how long, as hale as ever; with their experience, they are in turn more likely to survive the next war. Men and Dwarves rely on fresh blood on the front lines. In many ways Elves are likely the opposite: the priority of the elder Protectors is to keep the new recruits alive until they gain experience to do it themselves. Those elders are no slower, and their arms no less strong, for the wisdom of their years. Again, a subtle difference, but a telling one, for the death of a young Elf may lay a dozen of his companions low with Grief. But consider: the Elves could well count among their number at least a handful of warriors who have fought in every conflict since the dawn of time, and they will have only grown stronger and wiser, though undoubtedly sadder as well. Where Men and Dwarves have only limited years to hone their craft, the oldest and mightiest Elves will have, you know, disgusting piles of stats and skills with liberal helpings of gray shades.

For emotional attributes, Grief plays a more direct role than Greed. Grief inevitably haunts the battlefield and can tear through the camps like a plague among Men. Fortunately for the Elves, mere mourning for comrades rarely causes the final wasting of the spirit that leads to death or departure for the west—those high Ob Grief thresholds are not common even in the most bloody conflicts. It is more likely to take those who channel their Grief too often into their songs on the battlefield, willing to risk that danger to protect their comrades and their homes. But then, those are the best candidates for the lancers: their Grief burns brightest.

And finally, the songs. Elves, like Dwarves, rely on their arts to equip their warriors, and with Antiphon Union they can provide powerful enchantments for a select few. Unlike Dwarves, their songs also aid them directly in the fray—and how! Spearbearers and bowyers are simple soldiers, but sword-singers’ blades are more potent for their Song of the Sword, rangers creep unseen as scouts and assassins with the Threne of the Chameleon—though it is very hard to master it well enough to hide reliably, and the gray mantles with their woven-in spells of concealment are beyond the means of most rangers. The lancers, at least the most Grief-wracked, sing the Song of Burning Bright and pierce the most hardened hearts with fear—shortly before skewering those hearts with lances. But any song well-sung will bring hesitation to foes, long enough to cut them down. And lords bring even more: if the Lord Protector is with them, his Strain of Far Sight gives him insight into every corner of the battlefield, and a master of the Anthem of Courage will ensure that the Protectors will not break so long as he stands. If the Etharch himself rides with them, the Voice of Thunder will carry his orders to all dedicated soldiers. Together, with the Strain to bring information in and the Voice of Thunder to send out orders, the Elves can adapt and coordinate impossibly quickly—though it requires the two highest leaders of their people to be present together.


The first thing to note about the Orcs: they don’t have a military, they are a military. There are the chattel who feed and arm the Legion, the Great who lead the Legion, and the Legion itself. Only the Servants of the Dark are at all separate with their own black and bloody plots. Even the nature of Orcs plays in: every one is armed from birth with clawed hands and great fangs. Every Orc is a killer. Every Orc is a weapon aimed at the Men, Dwarves, and Elves. And other Orcs, of course; they’re weapons without hilts.

Orcs have access to the same run of the mill gear as others, at least to heavy mail, but their low RPs mean the masses cannot afford anything but rusting, notched, and dented cast-offs, and few are trained in armor. Goblins learn nothing but Brawling and are driven forward to fight with nothing but fangs and claws, most clad in rags. They die in terrible numbers, driven by those who bear the lash. The ravagers act more independently with clubs, and at least cooperate with each other, but are still no match for better weapons and armor except in vast numbers. Even legioners rely on spears or, occasionally, other mismatched weapons and shields. The black hunters and night seekers, at least, as scouts and assassins, are stealthy with bow and garrote. Only Followers and those who ride the Great Wolves are well trained and armored, and Followers are either born Great and raised with the Rites or those who have already ridden. While there are well-trained and well-equipped Orcs, they are the elite few. They make the divide between Mannish knights and foot soldiers look positively collegial.

The Orcs do have several edges. First, the lash: the power of rerolling failures among the goblins and the legioners is no small thing! Second, their despair-shouters can strike fear and doubt into their foes with their Brazen Horns and give the vast, chaotic Black Legion a chance to capitalize on the wounds they inflict.

And third, their mounts. Even Elven steeds, as fine as they are, fare poorly against the savagery and intelligence of the Great Wolves. Those Who Sit Aside the Howling Beast and the Black Destroyers are fearsome cavalry indeed, and if they are not often the heavy cavalry of riders with lances, their spears and blades are still deadly, as are their mounts.

Even unmounted Wolves—either those who have lost their riders or those loosed unridden—are deadly if they can break past the bristling spears and swords of the enemy and lock their jaws on their foes. There are fewer Great Spiders, and fewer still who consent to be ridden—to say nothing of the few willing to ride!—but they too contribute to the Orcs’ violent work. And the Trolls, wrangled by Troll Lords, swing weapons with fearsome power. It may seem odd, but while Men and Dwarves and Elves can ally, only Orcs reliably work with other races. With fear and brutal intimidation and whips, yes, but the Legion binds the four stocks together.

Orcs have no seamanship to speak of. When they must cross water they rely on dark-hearted Men to ferry them. They do build terrible siege engines—mostly rams, and goblins die by the scores using them, but goblins are born to die. And while they can hole up in the Bastions of Hate forged from the ruins of what they’ve taken from others, they’re not much good at building anything bigger than small, simple fortifications for themselves. They make encampments, not citadels, and their nature forces them into the fray. No waiting out sieges behind walls for them!

The nature of Orcs helps and hinders them. They are never unarmed, clawed and fanged as they are. No darkness can impede their gaze. They do not flinch from pain as others do. On the other hand, all but a few Orcs quail under the sun’s rays. They battle fiercely under the cover of darkness but if forced to battle in daylight are little trouble. They, like Elves, may live forever, but unlike Elves, well, they don’t. Take a look at Brutal Life: past 4 LP, there’s a 1/6 chance of death, softened to mangling for PCs only. An old Orc is rare; an un-maimed one vanishingly so. An ancient Orc who has seen the ages pass? They are bogeymen. Any Orc who rules long enough with whip, sword, and spell will inspire enough Hate that his underlings will eventually gnaw his corpse no matter how many must die to do so.

And they Hate. The Hate of Orcs is made for battle. They may burst into sudden, inconceivable savagery, wielding weapons or just themselves with skill born of rage. They may perform super-human feats. And they can barely stand the sight of each other. Their loathing and infighting is the single greatest obstacle to their ambitions.

The Servants also wield terrible powers, but fortunately more limited than the Sorcery of Men—and also fortunately wielded by the mad Servants, not the Black Legion. The Servants may aid, but they have their own dark agendas. When they do help, they can darken the sun, fill their fellows with even greater battle lust, destroy fortifications, and even kill with their arts. Fortunately, none of this is easy for them, and their wariness may keep them from risking their own weakness from tax. For, you see, behind every great Servant is a lowly Drinker with head bowed in fearful respect… to hide the light of feral madness in his eyes as he fingers the crooked dagger that might move him up the ranks.

It’s important to remember that most military operations in that age would have been relatively small scale affairs, with minimal requirements for organized supply organizations, and most units left to fend for themselves on that front. As late as the Napoleonic Wars, Wellington was advising his officers to bring their own pack mules, because anything that went in the supply trains was free game. At this level of operations, most supply issues would be handled with a mixture of the Foraging and Soldiering, possibly supplemented by the Captain’s Haggling skill. The more permanent, professional companies might resort to hiring an actual quartermaster to handle supply issues on long campaigns, bringing the Logistics skill down to the company level, and since these kinds companies will often be captained by a career soldier (former freebooter lifepath), they’re more apt to listen to their quartermaster than the ad hoc organizations headed by a nobleman. It,s not until you get to the large scale military operations, the kind that would be overseen by a Constable, that logistics becomes an absolute necessity.

The question isn’t whether the skill is necessary; obviously you can win a small conflict with just some guys and some weapons. The question is, when war gets tough, who’s equipped to make it work, and what are the problems that are likely to crop up? If the Foraging can’t turn up enough grub, what happens? Does the captain Haggle for enough wagons to carry the salt pork?

But there is something in the fact that Men tend to get so many semi-extraneous skills and wises. On the one hand, it means the scrappy grunts make do. On the other hand, it implies to me that the scrappy grunts have to. All too often they’re left in the lurch, under-supplied and overstretched.

Another note: I thought about analyzing Roden, but they don’t really field fighting forces. The bucolic Fields just don’t, the Below are more criminal syndicate than army, and the Society is a thuggee-esque murder-cult. Of note, though, while it’s not all that easy for the same Roden to get to Brain, run the Gauntlet, and become a Mastermind, that does cover Command, Strategy, and Logistics. And there’d be interesting mileage in a city besieged by ravening Orcs. After the foppish aristocratic leaders commit one blunder too many the Men in the ranks turn to the finest minds Below. Can the Roden put aside their bitterness to fend off the Orcs? Could such cooperation lead to a lasting change in the relations between the two races? And how far would the Society be willing to go to prevent any rapproachement, even in the face of the Black Legion?

Great stuff! Very insightful read of the lifepaths.

Some comments:

  1. Never underestimate the Lash. With a whipmaster present, Orcs essentially get two tries!
  2. Dwarves don’t often get sick, so Herbalism never caught on. They just drink some nog and sniffle it out.
  3. You’ve intuited that the Dwarf society is fucked! It’s hidebound and conservative to the point of madness.
  4. Elven veterans freak me out. Fortunately, most of them go battle mad and hurl themselves at a balrog and go out with a bang.