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Thread: Battle Elves

  1. #1
    Site Moderator geeman's Avatar
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    Battle Elves

    OK, folks, in keeping with this recent them of all things elven, I`m
    curious how folks out in the Birthright community think the elves
    conduct war. A few specific comments and questions.

    1. Do elves really fight wars? Of course, they`d fight if they were
    invaded, but would they really engage in large scale, army against
    army battle? Yes, they have in Cerilia`s past at Deismaar, but was
    that battle the exception rather than the rule? Given elven
    immortality and apparently slow birthrate would elves "spend" their
    lives in something like pitched battle rather than favoring skirmish
    and guerilla warfare where their skills could be brought to bear?

    2. Are elven archers accurately portrayed? Elven mounted
    units? What should be different? (Loaded questions, I know, but I`m
    curious how people think about these units.) Should there be other
    types of elven units?

    3. Elves use magic, it`s their nature. What kinds of magics do you
    think they employ in war?

    4. Elves use nature, it`s their magic. What kinds of natural
    creatures, substances, terrain features, etc. might they employ in war?

    6. If elves were to besiege a castle would they do it differently
    from humanity? It`s hard to imagine them digging tunnels and counter
    tunnels.... What kinds of siege weapons would elves use?

    7. What kind of fortifications would elves prefer? Quite a while
    back, I pointed out that a few elven regents could easily keep their
    entire domains Warded (the realm spell) and still have plenty of
    extra time to spend gathering RP and developing their holdings. With
    a few dozen wizards at their disposal their could create vast,
    permanent thickets (the Plant Growth spell) to wall off their
    lands. What other kinds of things would the elves do for the defense
    of their realms? How might these things be done tactically to
    maximize their effects? Are there mundane techniques that are apt
    for Cerilia`s elves?

    Anything I missed?

    Gary

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    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    1. Do elves really fight wars? Of course, they`d fight if they were
    invaded, but would they really engage in large scale, army against
    army battle? Yes, they have in Cerilia`s past at Deismaar, but was
    that battle the exception rather than the rule? Given elven
    immortality and apparently slow birthrate would elves "spend" their
    lives in something like pitched battle rather than favoring skirmish
    and guerilla warfare where their skills could be brought to bear?
    I think this depends a lot on how you conceive of elves. By default, yes, elves fight wars, have armies, etc. They are depicted as having conflict with other races throughout history, and would not have been a major force at Deismaar if they were totally unused to and unsuited for pitched battle.

    One can certainly conceive of elves who are highly magical, fey, and unconcerned with worldly affairs, avoiding war by mystery and magic. Invading armies bumble around in the woods till they get lost and terrified, and then flee. The elven "military" is merely a contingent of their most skilled hunters pressed into service when necessary. Elves employ the animals, plants, and spirits of the forest to preserve their homelands, or summon elementals to do their fighting for them.

    But I don't think that's how they appear in the setting, usually. Elves are certainly skirmishers by preference, taking advantage of their superior mobility in the wilderness, but after drawing the enemy into their favored terrain, they seem to commit with cavalry and archers to battle. All elves may use minor magic, but most of them are not warcasters, and fight with bow and spear.

    2. Are elven archers accurately portrayed? Elven mounted
    units? What should be different? (Loaded questions, I know, but I`m
    curious how people think about these units.) Should there be other
    types of elven units?
    Accurately portayed where? I guess I don't understand the question.

    3. Elves use magic, it`s their nature. What kinds of magics do you
    think they employ in war?
    4. Elves use nature, it`s their magic. What kinds of natural
    creatures, substances, terrain features, etc. might they employ in war?
    Druidic magic and wizardry seem to me that they should be related for elves. Illusions, summoned spirits, elementals, and so on would be useful in a battle. They don't seem to approve of necromancy or BOOM spells.

    Elves prefer to fight in broken terrain that makes close ranks impossible. Forests in particular, hills, cliffs, and so on. Elves fight in all 3 dimensions, perching wizards and archers high in the trees. Useful forest creatures would be committed to the battle as skirmishers and shock troops.

    6. If elves were to besiege a castle would they do it differently
    from humanity? It`s hard to imagine them digging tunnels and counter
    tunnels.... What kinds of siege weapons would elves use?
    There are several possible answers, here.

    -Why would an elf besiege a castle? An enemy in a castle cannot possibly be attacking you, so ignore him. If he's really your enemy, he'll come out soon enough and you can kill him at your leisure.

    -The subjects of an elven siege would not know they were under siege until they started to die. Elves don't besiege using massed forces, they besiege using a single assassin.

    -All of humanity is under siege by the elves right now- the elves are merely waiting for their castles to crumble into rubble. A castle built of stone! How absurd. It will last a thousand years at best.

    -An elvish siege begins when your basement floods, continues while the trees grow their roots through your walls, peaks when the birds fly away with your roof, and ends when you move away.

    -Elves do not commit to sieges because they do not recognize castles as strategically significant. They move freely throughout the countryside, unable to comprehend that the humans think they are winning simply because they control 1% of 1% of the countryside inside their stone walls.

    7. What kind of fortifications would elves prefer? Quite a while
    back, I pointed out that a few elven regents could easily keep their
    entire domains Warded (the realm spell) and still have plenty of
    extra time to spend gathering RP and developing their holdings. With
    a few dozen wizards at their disposal their could create vast,
    permanent thickets (the Plant Growth spell) to wall off their
    lands. What other kinds of things would the elves do for the defense
    of their realms? How might these things be done tactically to
    maximize their effects? Are there mundane techniques that are apt
    for Cerilia`s elves?
    Elves probably don't build fortifications. A fortification speaks to a belief that one piece of territory, properly controlled, dominates the country around it, and that doesn't seem like an elvish belief.

    The entire forest is the elven "fortification". The trees and brambles break up your forces and provide cover and mobility for elven troops. If you keep your forces tight for defense, you get picked off by snipers. If you spread your forces to control more of the countryside, your lightly-arrayed troops get ridden down by the hunt. When you try to retreat, you find a line of elves blocking you, the hunt coming in behind, and an earth elemental appears 50 feet inside your lines.

    You can go totally the opposite way from this, obviously. The elves could build impossible crystal, wood, ice, and stone castles on mountaintops, the bottoms of lakes, out of giant trees, and so forth, but I don't think that fits the setting.

  3. #3
    Elves do use fortifications, as per Player's Secrets of Tuarhievel. For instance:

    Quote Originally Posted by Player's Secrets of Tuarhievel, Page 10
    The most important settlement in Bhindraith is the stronghold of House Tuarlachiem, a massive structure of stone and living trees that somehow have been fused. Certain legends hold that when this stronghold fails, there will no longer be any hope for elves on Cerilia. Considering this structure is located right on the border of Markazor, Cariele, and Tuarhievel and has withstood three millennia of assualts, this statement may be more than just hyperbole. Around 2,500 elves dwell in and around the fortress.
    So elves would have some type of hybrid fortification, that attempts to tie in the natural landscape (in the above case, trees.)

    I would assume, if they decided to go on the offense (and again reference PSofTh for a brief history of their warlike tendencies), it would be something akin to 'grown' or 'hybrid' siege weaponry.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    OK, folks, in keeping with this recent them of all things elven, I`m
    curious how folks out in the Birthright community think the elves
    conduct war. A few specific comments and questions.

    1. Do elves really fight wars?
    Elves have gone to war before the War of Shadows. Their subjigation of the goblinoids and kobolds and their war with the dwarves being examples.

    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    2. Are elven archers accurately portrayed? Elven mounted
    units? What should be different? (Loaded questions, I know, but I`m
    curious how people think about these units.) Should there be other
    types of elven units?
    I am not going to go into whether they are portrayed accurately, but I would assume other units should be available. Perhaps spearman or perhaps skirmishes of some sort. I think they would value agility and a loose formation.

    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    3. Elves use magic, it`s their nature. What kinds of magics do you
    think they employ in war?
    I would assume they would stay away from Evocation spells, but would probably gear towards elemental and nature. For instance, a spell that grows vines from the grown with thorns that tear into the enemy.

    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    4. Elves use nature, it`s their magic. What kinds of natural
    creatures, substances, terrain features, etc. might they employ in war?
    I would take what a typical army in the BR setting uses, and put a twist on it. Instead of catapults, maybe they use walking trees that hurl boulders or spores, for instance.

    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    6. If elves were to besiege a castle would they do it differently
    from humanity? It`s hard to imagine them digging tunnels and counter
    tunnels.... What kinds of siege weapons would elves use?
    I could imagine them instead using magic or magical effects to cause the walls to collapse instead of actually digging under it themselves. Or, even having giant moles dig in their stead.

    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    7. What kind of fortifications would elves prefer? Quite a while
    back, I pointed out that a few elven regents could easily keep their
    entire domains Warded (the realm spell) and still have plenty of
    extra time to spend gathering RP and developing their holdings. With
    a few dozen wizards at their disposal their could create vast,
    permanent thickets (the Plant Growth spell) to wall off their
    lands. What other kinds of things would the elves do for the defense
    of their realms? How might these things be done tactically to
    maximize their effects? Are there mundane techniques that are apt
    for Cerilia`s elves?
    See my previous post.

  5. #5
    Site Moderator kgauck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    One can certainly conceive of elves who are highly magical, fey, and unconcerned with worldly affairs, avoiding war by mystery and magic. Invading armies bumble around in the woods till they get lost and terrified, and then flee. The elven "military" is merely a contingent of their most skilled hunters pressed into service when necessary. Elves employ the animals, plants, and spirits of the forest to preserve their homelands, or summon elementals to do their fighting for them.
    That's basically how I envision the elves fighting a war. The elves have military units, not just a handful of skilled hunters, but they only fight once they have already won the battle. Battle under the best circumstances is a iffy business, and I don't see elves taking chances. Battles also kill a lot of your own people. In the Western Way of War, Victor Davis Hanson contrasts the Greek (and afterward western) way of war with the Persian and most other styles of war. The west, and in the game I think the humans and dwarves in generally, but especially Anuireans and Dwarves use a direct contest, close in, with heavy infantry, in which both sides fight and die, and one side is decisively and catastrophically defeated. On the other hand, there is a Souix explanation of war: if you were hunting a bear, and the bear went into a cave, and you knew that if you followed him, a third of your hunting party would die, but the bear would be killed, would you do that and go in the cave, or would you wait or attempt to lure the bear out? The elves are like the Souix. They see warfare like hunting. You don't fight because you can fight, people get killed doing that. You fight because you will almost certainly win the day with as few losses as possible.

    The problem is that the Western way of war is stronger. So how do the elves avoid final defeat? Mostly by using illusions, charms, and summonings to "bumble around in the woods till they get lost and terrified." The difference is that it is at that moment when I see the elven cavalry and archers showing up with assorted minor magics to finish off the already defeated invader. And by finish off, I mean annihilate.

    Ryan has mentioned some of his models of elves, and my model is drawn from both the Celtic, Norse, and Arthurian view of them as well as the Romulans from Star Trek. I think the Vulcans and the Romulans are the elves in Star Trek where technology is wizardry. The Romulans use a cloaking device to conceal their ships, but at the cost of huge energy consumption (slower ships, weaker shields, some tactical vulnerability, &c) so they have to win with a decisive first strike. I think the Romulans do have concerns about how many Romulans there are and not running out by bleeding themselves dry. I apply this template to the elves. They fight like Romulans. They use trickery, lay traps, hide, and then only "de-cloak" to unleash a terrible strike that utterly destroys their opponents.

    There is some concern about making elves normal so that they work the same way that humans do for purposes of making sense of the realm system. This might be especially pressing if you run mixed parties of human and elf regents. I don't think the elves play nice with the humans so I wouldn't run a mixed game. I also note that I had more problems with the dwarves being portrayed as too "other", because I do think mixed human and dwarf games are possible. So I prefer near human dwarves. Elves, I prefer to be magical, exotic, and defiantly not near-human. That extends to how they should wage war. Not as humans do, but to paraphrase the way Dan put it, waging "war by mystery and magic."

    All elves may use minor magic, but most of them are not warcasters, and fight with bow and spear.
    I agree with this, but it doesn't take a whole lot of decent level spellcasters to put a whole lot of magic on the battlefield.

    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    1. Do elves really fight wars?
    Everyone wages war. And often. Perhaps the elves a little less often then men, but everyone is fighting, almost continually.

    2. Are elven archers accurately portrayed? Elven mounted units? What should be different? Should there be other types of elven units?
    Archers and cavalry seem fine, because as I mentioned above there shouldn't be heavy infantry and because of elven movement in forests, they are already effectively scouts. The cavalry is for running down the enemy like light cavalry, not delivering shock like heavy cavalry. Elves only have combat units that engage and disengage on a whim.

    3. Elves use magic, it`s their nature. What kinds of magics do you think they employ in war?
    Charms, illusion, and summonings. Charms to trick humans into turning left when they wanted to go right. Charms that convince you to stop the march and look for water when you have enough to continue. Charms that enflame your hostility to Captain Rogers, who slighted you on some previous occasion. Let him charge alone, we'll let him take the arrows and follow up after to claim the victory. Illusions to distract, detour, and confuse the invader. Summonings least of all, but to bring in friends and allies, or call forth the very elements to fight the invader. Elves won't spend their natural allies, so they don't use animals or plant allies as fodder for human swords. They use them they way they use their own forces, to finish off an enemy without taking any more casualties than absolutely necessary.

    4. Elves use nature, it`s their magic. What kinds of natural creatures, substances, terrain features, etc. might they employ in war?
    Animals and plants can be the eyes and ears of the elves as the invaders blunder about in the forest. In general, the side with better intelligence always wins the battle to follow. The humans can make use of divinations to try and even the playing field, but the elves have good magical protections against being scryed or detected. The elves always know where you are, your order of battle, and the condition of your army. They act with near perfect intelligence.

    Finally there is terrain. They know it well (perhaps alter it now and then -I hear hillocks are in fashion this year) and combined with knowing where the enemy is and in what numbers, having already confused and frightened them, they use forests and rivers to keep the enemy from moving as they would like. So they frequently skirmish on one side of a river when the enemy is half across, use the forest as cover, and once the enemy is committed, move to another location, either to fight on a flank or wait another day.

    6. If elves were to besiege a castle would they do it differently from humanity? It`s hard to imagine them digging tunnels and counter tunnels.... What kinds of siege weapons would elves use?
    I don't see the elves sieging. Its the heaviest of heavy styles, and the elves are light. Sieges are eventually won because someone will lead a large body of mean through a breech into certain death. As much as any other cause, I think the humans won what they have from the elves because they build fortifications.

    7. What kind of fortifications would elves prefer?
    None. Fortifications are places you can't escape from where the invader can turn things to their advantage. I do think they will litter a place with traps and obstacles to channel attacks into kill zones, but they won't make keeps or defend constructed places.

  6. #6
    Member Hrandal's Avatar
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    Obviously, Rhoubhe isn't your typical elf, but he has a castle - Tower Ruannoch (from Sword & Crown). Its built from marble on top of a giant tree-stump. The construction is described as pretty standard (apart from the magical effects that surround it), but the aesthetics are noticeably different. It does seem to indicate that the castle is indicative of elven architecture in general (very tall pointed tower as the centrepiece.)

    Again, though, Roubhe isn't your typical elf, and it may be that his more lawful nature makes such a thing appealing to him where other elves would only wonder why he was bothering.
    "As soon as war is declared, it will be impossible to hold the poets back. Rhyme is still the most effective drum."

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    Site Moderator kgauck's Avatar
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    I don't think towers of this kind are militarily defensible. Good against adventurers, assassins, and bandits, but not against large armies. I think, for one thing, there would be far fewer towers still around to discover if they were used for defense. They have another purpose which I think is magnificence, or magical, or aesthetic, but not military.

  8. #8
    Birthright Developer irdeggman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geeman View Post
    4. Elves use nature, it`s their magic. What kinds of natural
    creatures, substances, terrain features, etc. might they employ in war?
    I hate the use of the word "use" here.

    I understand what you are getting at but "use" makes it sound more forceful and an enforcement of will than I believe the elves do with regards to nature.

    I think they use nature as in the using natural terrains to their advantage.

    I think that when they invoke the power of nature it is more akin to "asking" and "convincing" nature to work in a certain way.

    Their structures are built within nature not from natural things. What I mean is it is a lot like the Japanese minature trees, a little snip here a little snip there and it is "encouraged" to grow in a certain way.

    Sort of like the boy character (I'm drawing a blank on the name) from Heroes when he talks about "asking" the technology to do something. He doesn't "order" it to do something he "asks" and it responds.
    Duane Eggert

  9. #9
    Senior Member ryancaveney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    Accurately portayed where? I guess I don't understand the question.
    I interpret it as asking, "can one take the warcards seriously?" That is, can you really spend 4 GB to muster a unit of 200 1st-level warrior elves who fight in ranks like humans, dwarves and orogs do? Phrased that way, I think the answer is no. I think the only time the elves have standing-army warcards is when they get them magically via charming or summoning, so they're not really composed of elves. The only warcards made entirely of elves I can envision are the "Adventurers" cards from Blood Enemies, which just add bonuses to the stats of regular war cards, or something on the power scale of the Magian's Riders. That is, when an elven noble brings her military entourage to battle, it consists not of a thousand low-level grunts but instead a dozen high-level rangers, wizards and rogues. The only units in the army composed of elves are the elite special forces who are even more ridiculously skilled and hard to kill than Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando or Bruce Willis in Fifth Element; the battalions of regular infantry are charmed humans and summoned goblins.

    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    They don't seem to approve of necromancy or BOOM spells.
    I think this varies somewhat with terrain. That is, they don't approve of fireballs in their home forests, but see no problem with them if fighting in the plains of an already clear-cut human province.

    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    -The subjects of an elven siege would not know they were under siege until they started to die. Elves don't besiege using massed forces, they besiege using a single assassin.

    -All of humanity is under siege by the elves right now- the elves are merely waiting for their castles to crumble into rubble. A castle built of stone! How absurd. It will last a thousand years at best.

    -An elvish siege begins when your basement floods, continues while the trees grow their roots through your walls, peaks when the birds fly away with your roof, and ends when you move away.
    These are all excellent ideas, with which I agree. Single wizards also make great siege weapons, both as silent invisible assassins and as very flashy show-offs in a way which is often considered non-elven, but makes an excellent diplomatic impression on possible future opponents. A few castings of Earthquake, Soften Earth and Stone and Disintegrate render walls nonexistent. For a creepier approach, just slaughter everyone inside with Cloudkill, and then feed their remains to your summoned ogres who can then occupy the place and redecorate it in their own grisly style.

    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    They move freely throughout the countryside, unable to comprehend that the humans think they are winning simply because they control 1% of 1% of the countryside inside their stone walls.
    Ah, but castles aren't about winning -- they're about avoiding losing. A small force in a castle represents a constant threat of raids against supply lines, so a normal army must beseige it even if they don't want to capture it, just to keep its garrison from getting up to mischief after the main army passes by to its primary target. For this reason, I suspect elves who want to go past a castle just kill everyone inside on their way, as conventional defensive tactics have no hope of withstanding even a single mid-level wizard.

    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    Elves probably don't build fortifications. A fortification speaks to a belief that one piece of territory, properly controlled, dominates the country around it, and that doesn't seem like an elvish belief.
    I agree as far as internal castles go, but I think they do have their equivalent of the Great Wall of China for perimeter defense. For example, the entire border of the Sielwode, all the way around, is probably a tangled bramble hedge a hundred feet high and three hundred thick, which is defended by razor-sharp thorns, poisonous animals who crawl through it and carnivorous plants grown into it, and kept well-watered by river, swamp and rain to deter fire.

    Quote Originally Posted by DanMcSorley View Post
    The entire forest is the elven "fortification". The trees and brambles break up your forces and provide cover and mobility for elven troops. If you keep your forces tight for defense, you get picked off by snipers. If you spread your forces to control more of the countryside, your lightly-arrayed troops get ridden down by the hunt. When you try to retreat, you find a line of elves blocking you, the hunt coming in behind, and an earth elemental appears 50 feet inside your lines.
    Yes, exactly! Mobile defense in depth. That said, given their easy access to magic, the defense shouldn't need to be very deep at all before the invaders flee in terror.

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    Senior Member ryancaveney's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kgauck View Post
    it doesn't take a whole lot of decent level spellcasters to put a whole lot of magic on the battlefield.
    It doesn't even take many low-level ones. I refer you back to an archived post so old it's not even on this web site. In http://oracle.wizards.com/scripts/wa...L&P=R8753&I=-3 I wrote,

    You want a truly nasty warcard? Look at what happens when you make an infantry unit as 200 number appearing from the "Human, soldiers", "Dwarf", or "Elf" entries in the Monstrous Manual. Here's what you get, on average:

    humans: 200 0-level men-at-arms, d6 hp
    F6, F3.5, 13 F1.5
    20% chance of one cleric, level 5-7
    it's not clear to me exactly which leaders get to roll on the adventurers table to determine magic items. If the cleric appears, he will have 3.6 magic items. The two leaders may have 5 between them, or maybe not. (***)

    dwarves: 200 1st-level fighters(*), d8+1 hp, thaco 19
    F6, F4, 5 F3.67, F4.5/C5.5
    23.283 fighter magic items, .55 cleric (***)

    per two warcards, add:
    F8, F7, F6/C7, 2 F4/C4
    2.9 fighter magic items, 1.5 cleric (***)

    in camp/home territory/per 3 war cards(****), add:
    7 F3.5, 5 F3/C3
    3.95 fighter magic items, 1.5 cleric (***)

    elves: 200 1st-level fighters(*), d8+1 hp, thac0 19 (Sidhelien don't get bow/sword bonus)
    M8, 2 F6/M6/T6, 2 F4/M5, F4/M4/T4, 2 F3/M3/T3, 2 F4, 5 M1.5, 10 F2.5
    26.3 fighter magic items, 12.25 wizard, 2.2 thief (***)

    in camp/home territory/per two war cards(****), add:
    F4/M7, M7(**), F6, F5, 5 F4, 5 M4, 5 F2/M2/T2
    9 fighter magic items, 7.9 wizard, 1 thief (***)

    (*): in case you disagree, note that humans add some number of F1 or higher, while the other two species add F2 or higher. (Also note 1+1 HD has the same average hp as d10, and a better THAC0 than an F1).

    (**): these are listed as clerics, but Sidhelien don't have those.

    (***): BR is supposed to be a low magic setting (I am one of those who strongly disagrees, however, largely because of the immortal elven wizard issue), so disregard this if you wish.

    (****): per N war cards is calculated from "number of females... who fight as males" -- 50% for dwarves, 100% for elves, so that 600 dwarves / 400 elves may be considered as 400 / 200 + in-lair adults.

    So 5 elven units against 5 human units, given this setup, is a slaughter. Against 30 wizards of level 5+, the humans bring one measly cleric. Nary an arrow need be fired, given that the first-round fusillade of Lightning Bolts and Ice Storms alone will destroy all the human units twice over -- not to mention their 81 wizard-specific magic items (imagine, for a moment, a Wand of Cloudkill) or 65 assistant wizards of lower levels.
    Note that this is using no speculation on my part about universal elven magic use -- it is taken directly from the 2e monster manual. Even in D&D worlds other than Cerilia, the MM always said that any other race trying to fight the elves in a conventional battle will be annihilated on round one.

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