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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

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Desprez
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As an interesting aside to an epic fantasy wargame I've been designing, I came across a startling conclusion.

Aerial units in fantasy literature and movies area used all wrong.

That is, if you want a realistic fantasy setting. An oxymoron? Maybe, but I've always been interested in realistic effects given a particualr input.

So, if you stipulate that a particular fantasy element or mechanic exists, it should do so in a way that is logicaly consistant with the universe that it exists in.

I'm going to discuss the idea of flying units that DON'T have a significant ranged attack, and regarding engagements with armies advancing on your positions.

In designing flying military units, like griffon riders, or lotr's nazghoul and such, let's assume that races have figured out a way to breed and train them. Then mount the things and deploy them like flying knights.

Well, it turns out that these units, while they would probably make fairly impressive forces (depending on your setting, but let's be generous and assume we can armor them and such) they were immensly more usefull in attacking the enemy supply lines, despite thier combat capability.

That is, even if I made them impressive flying tanks, that's just not how they wanted to be used. See, they are expensive, as they probably should be. And no matter who they fight, there is always risk in battle, and they will probable take SOME damage, even if only minor. Plus, they can only engage so many units.

It was much more advantageous to use their superior mobility to consistantly bypass enemy formations and cut off support and supply, at little risk to themselves, and thereby short circiuting entire armies of the enemy their ability to advance or fight. Or at the very least, make him spend much more resources defending the entire supply chain, or keeping large expensive stockpiles among the main formations.

I certianly haven't seen every fantasy genere out there, but I don't think I ever recall a story where this was how they were used.

And the more I test and develop, the more I think mainstream fantasy has it all wrong. In a world where they exist, they would not have been used as flying knights!

Or have I missed an important fantasy story somewhere?
Am I overplaying the importance of supply? Do you agree with my conclusions?
What do you guys think?

Hedge-o-Matic
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

I agree with this. Given that every ground unit would, on some level, be terrified of a huge arial predator, effectiveness against fighting formations wuold be vastly multiplied by attacking the "soft underbelly" of any army: the supply lines.

But this is just one of an endless string of such conjecture. All magical effect, almost without regard to how minor they may seem, would have vast military considerations. Unless magic users were always crippled or physically handicapped in some way, few societies wouldn't make some effort at training them to be super-powered scouts, spies, sabatours, and communications hubs, depending on their abilities. This last is among the most important abilitiy magic tends to enhance, and, since it has few bells and whistles associated with it, people tend to ignore. But knowledge is power, plain and simple. Communications networks would rule all tactical consierations, if they were available.

I think that, in the case of flying units and magic use, most people are stuck in a mideval mindset. But with rapid communications, modern society becomes possible, even if people still ride horses everywhere and use swords. In fantasy settings, more developed magic would take up the slack for less advanced technology, and the end result would be hugely more developed than most consider.

Desprez
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

Hedge-o-Matic wrote:
In fantasy settings, more developed magic would take up the slack for less advanced technology, and the end result would be hugely more developed than most consider.

Yes, very true. I wonder if such thinking could lead to a revolution in the fantasy genere? Well, maybe not. Maybe you should write a book?

I wrote my previous post in a hurry and it was late. There are some other considerations as well, but I think you understand my main point.

I am patting my self on the back a bit here, though. I designed a combat system not by imagining the particular overall result I expectd and making the mechanics fit it, but by operating from a set of assumptions (the fantasy elements) with realistic mechanics, and seeing where the game takes it.

I'm proud because I think it is working out wonderfully. So much so, that I got an unexpected result, and I think the result is correct! So I figure I did something right from a simulation point of view.

I'll have to save the actual mechanics for another post.

Hedge-o-Matic
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

I'm writing my third book now, actually. It really cramps my game design schedule, let me tell you!

Infernal
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

If you had flying troops, then the first thing your enemy would do before engaging you in comabt is to develop a way to neutralise them. This is called strategic thinking.

I can see 3 ways of neutralising them:
1) Develop your own flying creature and equip and train them for a rapid response and intercept of other airial units (could this be the flying knights?).
2) Develop some method that negates the vunerability of supply lines (magicly create food and water?).
3) Develop weapons that can be used against fastmoveing arial units and use them to defend supply lines (fantasy equivalent anti-aircraft turrets).

It is likely that all 3 methods would be used to a greater or lesser degree, and as each method is developed then a counter method will be also developed (and so on in an arms race).

buthrukaur
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

If GRR Martin gets the Dragons into a full scale war in the next book you are likely to see a unique perspective on how to use Flying army units. Otherwise I don't think very many fantasy writers are creative enough to think all aspects of their books out.

I agree with infernal. Take a look at WWI. The Germans had Biplane bombers and the allies had fighters to counter them. The Germans then had fighters to defend their bombers from the allied fighters until the skies became another front to the war. Once technology is introduced it is quickly copied or countered by the other side.

Now if what you are talking about is one army with a major technological advantage that's a whole different story. Most wars today are arguable won by technology.

~Ben

Scurra
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

Hedge-o-Matic wrote:
I'm writing my third book now, actually. It really cramps my game design schedule, let me tell you!
My writing career went the other way, I must confess. I wrote a couple of novels, realised they were crap and noticed that my game designs were getting better at a faster rate. So my writing is now on the back-burner. And no, you can't read any of my novels, no matter how nicely you ask.

As for the issue of flying units in fantasy games: come on! The job of the fantasy writer in particular is to sweep you along quickly enough that the inherent absurdity of the scenario is not instantly apparent, even upon cursory examination. My own particular favourite example of this comes from Tolkien. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is described as carrying an umbrella. This sounds perfectly reasonable and you wouldn't even think about it, but the industry necessary to build umbrellas is significantly more complex than it appears to be at first glance, and certainly way beyond anything the Shire could produce.
But you don't care, because in your heart, you *know* that Lobelia would carry an umbrella...

buthrukaur
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Umbrellas?!?

I have to disagree here in that the Shire halflings were obviously well connected to trading with the chinese. Fireworks were well known to the Shire halflings. If they were willing to let the fireworks be purchased by Marco Gandalf then he obviously would be picking up other items for trade. Since the shire is one of the most wealthy regions in Eriador he would want to bring back items that appealed to his clients...
Silk Umbrellas
Fireworks
Spices (why do you think them such famous cooks)

See JRRT's masterwork is not so critical to the world of literature as its underlying subtle economic exposition.

:-)
~Ben

PS here's a link to real history on umbrellas
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_umbrella

Scurra
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Re: Umbrellas?!?

buthrukaur wrote:
See JRRT's masterwork is not so critical to the world of literature as its underlying subtle economic exposition.

Excellentl demolition job. I sit corrected.
:-))

Rick-Holzgrafe
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

WARNING: Serious and lengthy Tolkien-geekery ahead. Skip this post if you just don't care.

Quote:
Aerial units in fantasy literature and movies area used all wrong.

Not always. I agree, a lot of fantasy isn't very well thought-out, or very well written. But the great works that made fantasy popular in the first place are different, and we game authors could learn a thing or two there.

Well, some of us could. Desprez and Hedge-o-matic seem to have a good handle on it already. :) Desprez suggests that flying units would be best used for harassing supply lines. Hedge adds that an escalating arms race would result in both sides having aerial (and anti-aerial) resources, and that magic's most powerful use might be for communications.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a good example of these points. The palantiri (the crystal balls) were communications devices (and more), originally used by Gondor but later used (and abused) by Sauron. The Nazgul were used as aerial observers and as couriers.

But magic isn't entirely like technology, although the analogy is tempting. Gandalf's powers were innately his own, and were not something that could be duplicated by an R&D project. (See Tolkien's The Silmarillion for background on Gandalf and his true nature.) In the same way, Sauron and his powers, and the things he created with those powers such as the Nazgul, were unique and could not have been duplicated by the good guys.

No doubt Gondor could have bred flying mounts, given time and awareness of the need. Tolkien mentions that the Nazgul's mounts had been specially bred, which must have taken a long time; but they were revealed to the good guys only a few months ahead of the story's climax, so the West had little time to work up defenses and air power of their own. (They did manage to bring in the Eagles near the end!)

The Nazgul were used for communication and as couriers, as any rapidly-flying agent might be. But they had special abilities beyond the mere capability of flight. Their main use in battle was to cow their enemies by their very presence: the shadow of a passing Nazgul would strike terror into the hearts of the men of Gondor and Rohan. (The movie did not show this well, and went instead for dramatic shots of men suddenly grasped and flung by talons.) As for supply lines: If Gondor were invading Mordor rather than the other way around, then having the Nazgul strike at supply lines would have been a good idea. As it was, Gondor had no supply lines because they were at home and buttoned up for a seige. So instead the Nazgul were put to good use harassing and neutralizing the Captains of the West as well as panicking the troops.

The "Captains of the West" included Gandalf, who was kept so busy by the Witch-King that he was unable to save the lord of Gondor; and King Theoden whom the Witch-King attacked in order to quell the advance of the Rohirrim. In a modern war, a soldier usually can't see any leader other than his immediate CO. But in a medieval battle, the king was expected to be in the thick of it, with his battle held high nearby to show he was still in the battle. The presence of a charismatic leader was a huge asset to an army, and the death of that leader was a huge blow.

So why did I bother with this rant? I agree with Desprez and Hedge that fantasy elements should be used intelligently. I just wanted to make the point that magic and technology are not the same thing. I think if one is going to design a fantasy game, it should contain some of these elements that can't be mimicked by modern technology. Otherwise, a fantasy theme is just paint. You might as well be honest and call them fighter jets and attack helicopters instead of dragon-knights.

Desprez, good luck with your game! It sounds fascinating!

Infernal
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Aerial Fantasy Units - All Wrong??!

Quote:
But they had special abilities beyond the mere capability of flight.

Yes. And so...
Quote:
So instead the Nazgul were put to good use harassing and neutralizing the Captains of the West as well as panicking the troops.

If they didn't have the power to terrorise (the morale of troops is what could make or break and army) they would have been very useless. Infact near the end of the chapter "The Great River", one of the flying beasts that the Nazgul ride makes an apperance and Legolas kills it with 1 shot from his bow.

If the Nazgul could be killed that easily then they would have been a very poor troop, fit ony for...

Quote:
The Nazgul were used for communication and as couriers, as any rapidly-flying agent might be.

Magic isn't technology, and should never be though of as such (regardless of how advanced the technology might be). However even in fantasy books some forms of technology do exist (blacsmiths make swords, etc), so some form of technological thinking must be included.

If you have a flying soldier then the enemy can have them too (or some way to counter them) although not nessesarily in the smae maner (eg the badies may have dragons and the god guys might have Gryphons). If (in a story or game) you wish to have some level of balance between the 2 factions then you must provide some way for it to exist.

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