Monday, March 21, 2011

Goblin Skirmish Tactics

I just finished reading SC Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon. It is an excellent historical narrative of the Comanches that I would recommend to those people whom enjoy such things. While the time period and subject matter are far away from the EMP, it still gives me plenty of ideas to work with.

Goblins in the EMP are a former forest dwelling people who now live on the fringes of the Empire and in the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth, scraping out a living as best as they can. Goblins subsist on a combination of limited agriculture, basic animal husbandry, and raiding. Some goblin settlements have had success settling into an agrarian lifestyle in out of the way areas of the Commonwealth and have been able to avoid the ire of humans for the most part. However, many tribes look to raiding as a means of life as they strike into the Empire and the Commonwealth alike.

Goblins value indirect warfare to preserve their strength. They avoid decisive battles and seek to engage enemies far from goblin settlements. Their typical enemies come in the form of punitive raids. If their settlements are threatened, their warriors fight a screening engagement to allow their villages time to escape. Therefore, their preferred method of fighting looks something like the following.

Please excuse my horrendous graphic design skills.

Javelin throwers are armed with an Atlatl and darts, Archers are armed with short bows, and Spearmen are armed with short spear and shield. The ranged units engage unarmored or lightly armored foes at the yellow distance, heavier armored foes at the red distance. The black line represents the distance between the 2nd and 3rd rank.

Essentially, the javelin line discharges its ranged weapon and then falls back. Foes pursue into the next line of fire after which the archers fall back. The spearmen are there as a delaying force to allow the other two lines to reform as above to repeat the formation. The spearmen will sacrifice their shields and minimize their engagement time just long enough to create the needed separation, then they too fall back.

Overall, the goblins seek to engage solely in ranged fire and in a running battle. Being unarmored, they can outrun any armored foe and eventually force their pursuers to break off in the face of constant harassment. If enemy skirmishers continue to keep pace, the goblins will eventually separate the opposing skirmish forces from heavier troops and may use the opportunity to engage in a standing fight if it is to their favor. These tactics are used in rugged and forested terrain to avoid being run down by cavalry. Goblin raiders will disperse in every direction if their lines or tactics fail.

After a successful encounter, the goblins will repeat this tactic day after day attempting to both wear down their foes and to lead them father away from their settlements. The goblins' primary goals are to protect their settlements and preserve their fighting strength.


  1. Ouch. I wouldn't want to go up against that.

  2. Of course, D&D make it more complicated. One well placed Sleep spell can undo the most careful preparation...

  3. Seriously, I couldn't care how you run your goblins in your campaign, and there's nothing wrong with the tactics that you present that I can see.

    However, I'm only a poor AD&D player, and goblins as I remember are listed has having an intelligence of average (low). I know this has been modified and changed and so on for the last thirty years ... but I thought I'd warn you I plan to be writing a post soon about why the stupidity of goblins needs to be preserved. It is not meant to be an indictment of this specific post or of these tactics.

    Oh, and the above tactics would work for any race, wouldn't they?

  4. These tactics work just fine for any race. Some people would rather fight decisive battles than skirmishes, so they have a blind spot to a fight like this. Or they use skirmish tactics only as a prelude to the final decisive battle when lines clash and a force is swept from the field. Maybe only nobility is fit to fight wars so forces are aligned around armored knights and their entourage. Or any other number of reasons why their armies are arrayed and how they conduct warfare and none of them have to deal solely with intelligence.

    This also leads into why goblins are not 'stupid.' I don't want to run any humanoid races as inherently stupid or smart. I would look to societal issues as pushing behavior rather than any kind of inherent mental deficiency or surplus to a race as a whole. Goblins here understand their place in the world as it stands and would rather engage in a fight like this rather than risk decisive battles. What would a depleted race have to gain from fielding an army and conquering land when the Empire just raises another army and knocks them down?

    Of course, individuals show brilliance or stupidity, etc. These tactics showcase the idealized version of how a reasonably smart leader of a company would conduct himself.

    I look forward to your post.

  5. Well, I finally got it written. And apologies again.

    I guess the answer to why not just introduce the tactics as those used by intelligent races like elves and dwarves is obvious. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. No need to apologize when you are wrong ;)

    Sure, other intelligent races can/will/do use similar tactics. Whatever tactics best suit their society will be the predominant tactics they adopt, but not the only ones.