Monday, November 21, 2016

The Site Is Part of the Fight

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu assures that if a leader treats his
soldiers as sons they will follow him into the deepest valley. Why the deepest valley? Because a valley is a notoriously bad place to do battle. So much so that going there required more than skill from a fighter. In that sort of landscape, every physical and tactical advantage can quickly be lost. All the army would have left would be what they would need above all: trust in their commander. 

The environment in which a battle takes place can change the entire battle. It can immediately impart advantage or impose disadvantage. It determines the weaponry, the battle strategy, the vehicles of war, the style of fighting and can just as easily render each and every one of those ineffective. It can make numbers irrelevant, physical strength inconsequential and training inapplicable. To me, it’s importance is second only to the reason the fight is taking place. (See post  The WHY Changes the Fight)

The Lord of the Rings gives us a great example of how the site affects the fight. The stronghold of Helm's Deep was defended by 2,000 men of Rohan against more than 10,000 troops of Saruman. Watch this movie clip (sorry, book purists) and notice how each side uses the construction of the castle to their advantage. 

Ok, how did the construction of the fortress mitigate the number of Saruman's forces? They had to use ladders to climb the wall. And, as only one creature could climb at the time, the Rohirrim only had to battle a few at a go versus the entire lot at once. Legolas and Gimli found them to be easy pickings.

Speaking of ladders, why do you suppose Saruman chose to use them and diminish his power of numbers rather than employing more aggressive siege weaponry? (Ladders are considered siege weaponry. Yes, bunk beds come with siege weaponry.) They could have used a trebuchet to launch flaming pots of oil and a mangonel to attack the wall both of which would have protected troop numbers. Instead, the Orcs used a battering ram, explosives, ladders and those crazy long spears all of which have to be used in close proximity.

Well, consider the landscape of Helm's Deep. The valley was surrounded by high hills. Rolling a lot of large equipment through that landscape would have been difficult even for Orcs. They chose to use their energy to carry what was more portable. (A battering ram can be carried in pieces easier than larger items.) So, the terrain chose the weapons more than Saruman did.

Also, I'm not sure if you could tell, but there was only one entry point into the actual fortress. Those inside had to fight off no more than the number able to bottle neck through it. In another scene you would have seen the Rohirrim ride on horseback through the bottle neck onto the raised pathway leading to the outside, knocking off Orcs as they went. Again, they only had to battle a few at the time versus the entire army.

How did Saruman's forces use the construction to their advantage? They attacked through the culvert. Destroying it took down the entire wall. And, the thing about a wall is that it only works if it's up.

Terrain and building construct aren't the only ways a site can effect a fight. Climate of the location can as well. Wooden rifle stocks are effected by all climate extremes. Arrows aren’t as precise in mountain winds. Cold can alter the viscosity in machinery lubrication. Heat can warp equipment. And, any severe weather condition can ruin even the best laid plans.

But, above all, climate can effect a soldier. It can be mortally wounding at worst. But, even if it simply causes physical discomfort, that alone effects mood which can directly effect physical stamina and therefore the ability to use one's skills. A tired body will betray a tireless mind.  

The size of an area can change matters as well. A narrow corridor does a great disservice to weapons that require circular momentum i.e. nunchucks (which I have a lesson in soon - insert giddy giggle). A thickly wooded area with low branches isn’t the best for a fighter of great size. And, a clearing isn’t optimal for a small fighter who could use a buffer.
(How different would this Bruce Lee scene be if the two were in a narrow hallway? Very. But still, epic!!!)

When crafting your fight scene, consider the physical space and environment in which it happens: 

* How much of it is usable? Is it limited by walls, furniture, boulders, chasms or shoal filled rivers? 
* What roll does the terrain play? Is it rocky, steep, iced over? Can a horse traverse it? Can a human? Is it a buffer or a hinderance?
*  What about the climate? Does it effect weaponry or morale? What clothing is best suited for it? Will your hero regret wearing chain mail? 
*  Can the surroundings be a part of battle strategy and a comrade to your hero? Or is it a tool for the opposition?

The site can change the fight. Don’t just make a battle scene. Make the scene part of the battle. After all, it can be the decision maker and strategy breaker.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

Also, Happy Thanksgiving. I never imagined this blog would exist much less be what it has become. It is the brainchild of you all. I'm extremely thankful for all of you that read, respond, and make requests from this site. In two months, your numbers are edging, at this writing, on 10,000 from all parts of the globe. God bless you. And, as I say to all my fighter friends before they get into the ring, may God keep you safe and make you dangerous!

(This video has nothing to do with the post, I just like it. It's a Minecraft recreation of the fortress of Rohan. It has the caves and everything. :) )

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