The "Battlerider" model (again)

I’ve been going over the archives having a look for interesting things in preparation for our next BE game - which I hope will be at least Low Index.

I’ve had a good read over the Fleets in the Iron Empires thread, and it was quite educational until it slid into Traveller.

I’ve been thinking about the space-borne militaries of the Iron Empires, and how it works with a weird technocratic-feudal system on top of it.

Stuff We Know Already
This mostly comes from the game, the graphic novels are not explicit about structure since the action tends to focus on the ground for all of those currently published (but there are more coming, right Chris?! :)).

We know that:

  • efficiency is not a priority; not when compared to privilege and protection of that privilege
  • the Pilotry is an elite that is either restricted to those with privilege or to rare cases of extreme competence (at least for the Hammer, Magnates can by themselves a commission into the Court’s Anvil)
  • Lord-Pilots of the Hammer do not own their own vessels. (they are not part of the list of people that can buy military starships)
  • distortion drives, and the reactors to power them, are important artefacts; they are hard to maintain and extremely hard to assemble (one Iron Empires LP has Fusion Dynamics, and there are notes that tell us that humanity has lost at lot of the subtle applications of this technology)
  • distortion drives are important tools for maneuver in conflict situations (they allow for almost untrumpable “bug out” capabilities)

Okay, what has this got to do with battleriders then?
Well, I don’t think the “battlerider” model is too problematic for the Iron Empires, really.

I think that while operating fleets of carriers with very small, non-HEx-capable, attack craft is problematic for the reasons that Chris points out in the “Fleets…” thread - the cost of manufacture (and probably of training…). I think I could add to this the fact that what sort of noble elite wants to effectively commit suicide by going to war in the equivalent of an origami crane. Let’s leave that to over-educated communards who meet the obligations of their charter by flying in planetary defence squadrons! The need for nobles to pilot serious vessels acts to increase the minimum useful size of warships in much the same way that the technical and economic difficulties of fusion reactor maintenance does.

However, feudal warfare does give us a model for one elite, superbly-equipped, combatant who is supported by his lessers: the knightly lance. If you imagine the “parent” (in this instance a powerful BCD-enhanced HEx-capable Hammer warship) as the knight, then the detaching “riders” (less capable standard HEx-capable warships) are the retinue of sergeants and men-at-arms and pages that follow the knight. This allows the Hammer Lord in the central “parent” vessel control over his vassals, while providing improved strategic mobility.

Retaining some HEx-capability is important for the “riders” since HEx is used to move away from trouble rapidly (and perhaps to perform surprise “crash-emergence” attacks on enemy warships stationed orbitally). Re-connecting to the parent ship is not really an option if someone turns up looking for a fight quickly. Independent HEx-capabilities also allow the “riders” to operate semi-independently to improve interdiction radius (even Hammer Patrol Craft have the capacity to evaporate civilian craft with their ordnance).

I imagine this model is probably an ideal, and that it is not always able to be realised in the dirty universe that is the Iron Empires; however on those worlds with sufficient high index infrastructure (or Kerrn technical colonies) and respect for Imperial Methods Forged Lords may “encourage” (through Ordinances?) their subordinate Hammer Lords to provide themselves with BCD-capable retinues. After all if the muster is called at a certain place and a certain time is it the fault of him who fails to arrive - or is it the fault of his panoply?

Hi John,

I don’t think the Battlerider concept is a strange one for the IE universe… my concept of Hammer warfare includes “carriers”: ships that shuttle around wings of armed/armored gunships that have distortion drives, but aren’t equipped for interstellar distances (fuel-wise).

Also, as you suggest, BCD technology lends itself to the idea of strategic “taxis”, hurling reserves at ultra-high speed to a critical sector of the campaign. Kind of like rail lines in WWII being used to shuttle tanks to the front lines efficiently and at high speed.


Thanks Chris, good to know I’m not wombling off in totally the wrong direction!

I was wondering, and this relates to the whole carrier issue: what sort of vessel needs a pilot with a crucis?

The rider concept works only when
(1) some centralization increases scale efficiencies
(2) decentralization is not less effective
(3) the cost of decentralization on the riders and centralization on the carrier don’t significantly exceed the costs of equivalent force in self-transiting units.

In the case of battleriders, the scale efficiency is in maintenance and quarters; many of the quarters for the riders can be aboard the carrier, as can all the maintenance crew and stores.

The flexibility of low-distortion drives on several platforms allows for “Englobing” of an opponent of same total mass; probably with near identical weapons, and no risk to maintenance crew nor long-term stores, as the carrier remains out of direct range.

The question becomes, is it cost effective enough for the setting?

I think there are two parts to this actually:

  1. Was it cost effective (and hey, otherwise effective) in the earlier imperial era (assuming, as I do, that most of the technological systems in the IE tend to be maintained from then, as opposed to being recent innovation)
  2. Is it effective to maintain in the current era

The ‘contemporary’ IEs would seem to me to be built on the now-lost past a great deal. I get the impression that what has become traditional is hard to part with - except in the face of extreme limiting factors.

Social pressures are just another cost to factor… a non-monetary cost, at that.

Hmm, if this is in danger of becoming abstruse we could split it off or take it the private-message system?

I was thinking that perhaps there is a bit of “Preeminence of Ancient Knowledge” going on; this, coupled with economics, reinforces doing it traditionally.

I have trouble imagining what the educational model of the Iron Empires nobility is going to look like, but I would imagine it is more about traditional techniques rather than innovative thinking or sharing of experience outside of the tutor-student dyad.

I’m curious how you factor social pressure as a cost though?

(Aside: The monetary costs comment makes me wonder how money is used in the Iron Empires. I assumed that at the inter-planetary level it is mostly commodity trading and barter.)

Something extra I forgot earlier!

I’m actually not keen on this. Part of what I imagine is that each sub-unit is quite self-contained - the main use for connecting to the parent vessel is to facilitate BCD-capable expansion. A Lord Pilot is a nobleman and probably wants some autonomy afterall and I like to be able to imagine scope for Lord Pilots absconding from the battlespace when things go a bit wrong (albeit not at fantastically high speeds).

I suppose I’m trying to work out the meeting point between the modernist military structures and the baroque feudal practices. I suspect that the real answer is “wherever you want it to be, it’s your game” but I enjoy seeing where people imagine it to be since it offers options in interpretation that I may not have considered. While I don’t see a battleriders ala the Downbelow Station being practicable - or at least being especially popular - I think that the use of piggybacked warships with less strategic mobility (fewer, non BCD-enabled, distortion cells) does make some sense. For me it seems to be a good meeting point between what we might imagine is good practice for space-ship warfare and crazy feudal notions. Plus I get to use analogies about the knightly lance.

in the baroque model, the craftsmaster-engineers should be jeaously guarding their secrets… they’d want one large shop rather than a bunch of small ones.
think of it as how to get the most “knightly” ships out of it: you have few lords-pilot, but more than a big-ship navy can support. You have few master craftsmen, a few more journeymen, and a load of apprentices. It’s easier to have major work done by one lot of apprentices and a few journeymen, and it’s far easier to divy up the one pool. Sucks for dam-con, but then that’s also knightly… taking one’s lumps.

It also means that, for the same cost in drives, the combat vessels are faster and more agile.

Okay, this is just plain wrong. I thought I had checked it but obviously I had an inability to read “Magnate”. Magnates can buy themselves in anywhere!

I’m not following you sorry, you might have to break it down for me.

I follow that technical proficiency is protected, I follow that there is a procession of apprentice-journeyman-master within a guild structure. I don’t understand the next parts that seem to be about assignment of technical labour resources.

Presuming baroque style guilds…
Masters generally are rare; fleets will want masters.
Masters work using apprentices supervised by journeymen; journeymen work (usually) under Masters; often not their master from their apprenticeship.
Masters are reluctant to make new masters.
Masters also don’t like working with other masters.
Journeymen can open their own shops, but must pay dues to a master for “oversight,” or can be run out of town.

By offering a larger shop, the master has more prestige for supervising more people. By consolidating to one shop, he also doesn’t have “independent journeymen” nor other masters in close proximity… everyone in the rider group’s shop would answer to him, and be assigned by him; all the glory is his.

Don’t forget: Ego is a price to be paid as well… strong guilds work mostly on ego of the top end, and duty of the bottom in hopes of making it to the top end.

Also, a larger, centralized shop reduces tool duplication, which also reduces fleet costs, and further, allows centralized stores (also more efficient), and reduces administrative overhead (again).

I actually imagine the vast majority of shipfitters, technicians, engineers and even the general dogsbodies (the Yeoman LP) are based dirtside or on stations and make up the support structure for Hammer fleets.

I actually don’t imagine combat vessels having a lot of engineering assets aboard (the crew sizes don’t look like they allow for it either!) and relegate these to non-combat vessels that follow the warships as a “train”.

A terrible idea, certainly, but protective of the pride and perogatives of astroengineering guilds and delightfully medieval.