Friday, January 7, 2011

Pike and Cavalry in D&D Combat

Delta has a good post on a "Close Combat Trinity," explaining the relationship between swordsman, cavalry, and pikemen as "Historically: Swords best Pikes best Cavalry best Swords." In applying this to D&D, he notes that swordsman are well represented by typical D&D combat, but pikemen and cavalry are not. In particular, he notes "cavalry attack is intrinsic to the unit's own movement" and "pike attack is intrinsic to the unit's enemy's movement." This is not modeled in D&D combat where movement and attacks are modeled as distinct actions or fall into abstraction if you go by the 60 second combat round. Yet, this is a great disservice to the actual mechanics behind these two weapons and how they influenced warfare.

Henry VIII's horse armour from the Tower of London.
I agree that trying to represent the actual mechanics behind a cavalry charge or massed pikemen is not to be found in D&D. This is not entirely surprising since D&D has long since developed away from its war gaming roots and considerations for mass combat. So let's think about how we can bring that back.

The foundation of cavalry attacks is the concept of shock tactics. A cavalry charge was designed to break an enemy's cohesion and force the units to route. The attack was as much psychological as it was physical. A routed enemy could then be more easily mopped up and would yield the battlefield. In D&D combat, a charge only grants the attacker some bonus to hit and/or damage and maybe a malus to armor class, depending on your particular flavor of rule sets. Conversly, set pikes can do double damage to a charging opponent. Overall, these mechanics are pretty useless in terms of D&D combat and they rarely ever see the light of day especially in a dungeoneering setting. So let's focus on the concept of shock attack.

A charge on horseback forces a morale check on the receiving end. A failed morale check causes the enemy to break formation in some fashion. The greater the failure, the worse the effect up to a total route forcing the enemy to retreat in disarray.

Conversely, pikes would force an opposed morale check between both cavalry and pikemen. Three different results can adjudicate the end effect. A success for the cavalry and failure for the pikemen results in a route as above. A failure for the cavalry against a success for the pikemen results in the cavalry force being disarrayed while the pikemen retain their cohesion. The cavalry would be vulnerable to a follow up melee exchange and would require a good bit of rallying before they could reform ranks for another charge. A pair of failed results would result in both units losing cohesion with the cavalry unable to follow up in melee and the pikemen being unable to maintain a coherent line.

This could be scaled down to even D&D proportions: a single horseman could charge against a single enemy to force a morale check. Would be an interesting mechanic that adds another dimension to D&D combat.

Perhaps in a follow up post the mechanics could be sufficiently derived.

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