Season for War
Rokugani Military Tactics
When two opposing forces meet, the conflict begins far before battle is joined. Outriding scouts from both armies will usually locate the main body of the enemy and provide streams of reports on movements, numbers and composition. Denying the enemy this advantage is therefore paramount and opposing scouting teams often come into conflict while performing reconnaissance.
When both hosts meet, both generals will organise their forces and study the enemy for any signs of weakness, then the general will usually meet with their junior officers to discuss strategy. Unless one or both generals are in unusual haste to force a battle, this can take some time as endless manoeuvres and tactics are discussed. At the same time, this provides the troops with a chance to rest from the march to fight in optimal condition.
When one side makes a move, it is usually a cautious one to test the fighting strength of the opposing forces. The vanguard will clash with the enemy’s defence and attempt to break the lines. Fighting in formation is virtually unknown to the Rokugani, and once the lines are broken the fighting will devolve into hundreds of one-on-one skirmishes. Control of the troops is virtually lost at this point, and for this reason good commanders will usually commit troops in piecemeal to the battle, rather than throwing one’s entire fighting force at the enemy as fighting retreats are difficult to pull off.
Specific Formations and Tactics.
Rokugani warfare happens on numerous levels, and victory and defeat are measured in myriad ways. War can be a mental activity, involving the distortion of the enemy’s perceptions through ambiguous posturing, deliberate misinformation, and denial of communication. It can also be fought on a moral and political level, destroying the enemy’s ability to win by disrupting his alliances and creating disunity and fragmentation within his ranks. Ultimately, however, every war comes down to an engagement in the field, as the armies clash and their commanders struggle to achieve victory and escape defeat.Combat tactics in Rokugani warfare tend to be simpler than in other cultures, since once the samurai clash the battle tends to devolve into countless individual skirmishes. However, the battlefield maneuvers that lead up to those clashes can play a vital role in how the overall engagement plays out.
Although Rokugani warfare began as a crude matter of simply arming soldiers and hurling them into the enemy line until one side broke or retreated, that soon changed as soldiers and generals learned to take advantage of terrain, space, different types of troops, and momentum. Akodo himself wrote about the concept of army formations in Leadership, and over time these early concepts were refined and improved. As with all aspects of warfare in Rokugan, modern formations include a number of basic methods that are universal across the clans. While individual clans and families have invented their own tactics, the most basic approaches are so universally applicable that everyone uses them no matter what their army looks like. Even armies as wildly different as the Crab and Phoenix employ the same basic maneuvers to try to gain advantage over their enemy. These common formations are taught to soldiers, commanders, and generals all across the Empire. Despite this broad familiarity, they still remain effective, simply because executing and countering formations takes time and effort – if a general chooses the wrong one for the situation or the opponent, he is unlikely to get a chance to correct his error before the armies clash. Using a formation is thus quite challenging, and requires quickly and accurately analyzing the enemy’s strengths, weaknesses, and positions, then responding appropriately.
One of the basic objectives of any battle is to break the enemy’s front line and thus disrupt their entire army. The concept of the Anchored Line formation is to prevent this by using a heavy defensive unit to protect lighter units behind it – heavy infantry blocking advance against an archer squad, spearmen covering for skirmishers, and so on. The units usually stay within close proximity to each other so enemy units cannot simply bypass the “anchor” and strike the softer target beyond. The anchor may even be entrenched in some way – spears set into the ground, small trenches or barricades constructed to stymie enemy attacks, or the like. Naturally, an Anchored Line formation is difficult to maintain while moving. The entire point is to be an immovable obstruction, which is easier to achieve when the defending soldiers are allowed to plant both feet firmly in the ground and ready themselves for enemy attacks. Although it is possible to move forward in such a formation, it requires them to advance very slowly.
Even a single squadron of archers can be a significant problem for the enemy. Every army employs basic countermeasures against archer fire – straw barriers, concealing terrain, and even shugenja spells when they are available. Soldiers are also trained to wait for a pause in enemy arrow fire and charge from cover during that moment. The Archer Squad formation seeks to overcome these defenses by coordinating fire between two or more squadrons of bowmen. While one squadron fires, the next readies its arrows, maintaining a constant rain of attacks on the enemy.
Though the Archer Squad formation has advantages, sometimes sheer strength in numbers is able to overcome opponents where guile and positioning will not. An Archer’s Row formation gathers several squadrons of archers into one place, coordinating their fire in order to overwhelm a portion of the enemy army with a relentless barrage of arrows. Unless the enemy is heavily armored, it can effectively stop infantry advance through one particular area – restricting the kind of enemy threats the army has to contend with. Archer Rows can also be used as part of a slow advance or retreat – as one unit fires, the next one moves several steps, and the two alternate as long as needed. The Archer’s Row is actually considered the default deployment for armies with large numbers of archery units, such as Mantis and Crane armies. Even in other armies it is a common tactic, since most samurai are well-trained with the bow. Thus, most commanders factor the possibility of an Archer’s Row into their own plans, although the most common response is simply to wait out the barrage before advancing – an army cannot bring infinite arrows, after all. As a result, anti-archer measures are well-known and widely employed by most armies.
Though there is no particular name for this formation across the Empire, all clan armies understand the value of deploying with caution as they advance toward the enemy. This is probably the most basic formation of all, and typically features all the main front-line legions moving forward in a group at a slow pace. Sometimes the individual units will alternate fast and slow advances, allowing different forces to maintain the front while others stay behind in reserve. The purpose of a Cautious Advance is to give the army as much time as possible to react to changes in the enemy’s deployments, while maintaining its own ranks. Naturally, such slow speeds remove the possibility of quickly seizing on the enemy’s mistakes or openings quickly. This is a problem, but also somewhat the purpose of the Cautious Advance, since such “openings” might actually be ploys or traps by the enemy. Instead of falling into such ambushes, the army advances slowly and retains a strong position throughout.
“Lotus at Dusk”
Tactics of surprise and ambush have always been somewhat controversial in the accepted bounds of Rokugani warfare, even resulting in an Imperial condemnation of portions of Leadership itself. It is often considered dishonorable to make attacks on unprepared foes or on helpless targets – such as burning farm villages to deny supplies to the foe. However, the idea of what is a “fair” or “prepared” target is extremely subjective, and many commanders stretch such ideas to their limit in order to gain advantage. What has never been in question, though, is the validity of making a large-scale surprise attack against an enemy army. While the victim of such attack might wish to call it cowardly, in fact Rokugani culture accepts that once the call of war is answered and the armies are mustered, only a poor general tries to fault his enemy for attacking him by surprise. The Lotus at Dusk formation was first adopted by the Scorpion, but rapidly gained popularity and is now used by many clans. The formation is simple, requiring only two ingredients – multiple units and poor visibility. As its name implies, the preferred time to launch it is at dusk (or just before dawn), although fog or smoke can also be utilized. The general splits his army into multiple smaller units and sends them with much noise and energy in spreading directions. The pattern of movement evokes the wide petals of the lotus flower, hence the name. The purpose of the formation is specifically to distract the enemy and cause chaos as the spread out units suddenly converge, striking from many directions in low light, making their true numbers and intentions difficult to discern. The disadvantage of the formation, of course, is that an enemy who sees through the surprise and deception can potentially defeat the individual units in detail.
Many generals have had their plans of victory and conquest suddenly thwarted by a simple problem – harassment of their marching army before it ever reaches the enemy force. Indeed, in the Empire’s early history armies on the move were considered easy targets, since they lacked reconnaissance and could be surprised and overwhelmed by a sudden ambush. When not deployed for attack they were simply a column of men, unprepared and vulnerable. The Marching Column formation was developed as an answer to this problem. While the clans have different configurations of the Marching Column based on the strengths of their particular armies, the basic premise is always the same – moving soldiers in a way that prevents surprise attack while maintaining a decent marching speed. This usually involves moving in multiple columns, with heavier units on the outside flanks but screened with scouts. Units are kept relatively close together so they cannot be isolated and picked off one at a time, but not so close that they crowd or obstruct each other. Obviously, only so much can be done to keep a marching army ready for combat. However, the reality is that it very difficult to ambush an unprepared foe with a full army; such attacks are limited to smaller forces and scout units, and this formation is generally enough to handle such threats. The basic weakness of the Marching Column is the fact that the units are somewhat too close to each other to allow for any complex deployments, which also means archer fire has little chance of avoiding friendly targets in the event of a major engagement.
It should be no surprise that the Lion Clan boasts the widest array of both battle strategies and battlefield formations. They are, after all, the clan which originated the whole concept of an organized military and have taken it to new heights with each century. It is difficult to generalize about the Lion approach to formations, except to say that all of them are executed with precision and discipline. The Akodo generals have an almost endless supply of army configurations at their disposal, and have great experience in switching from one to another quickly.
“Rain of Death”
Typical Rokugani army arrangement separates out ranged units such as archers from the front-line soldiers, for many reasons. Just as the Akodo were the first to organize in such a fashion, they were also the first to experiment with breaking that convention. The result is a formation of mixed units that contains both heavy infantry and a small number of archers. By arranging these archer units among the regular infantry, the general can place them on the front line to deliver the maximum impact on the foe. Most protection against ranged attacks comes from distance, cover, and awareness – soldiers know when they are within range of enemy archer fire, and the arcing shots of long range archery often leave much to be desired in accuracy. By moving archers closer to the front, the Lion bowmen can strike with the precision typical of the Akodo, killing key figures such as unit commanders. This formation’s effectiveness, however, relies on enemies being unaware of the danger until it is too late. The number of archers is relatively low, so if they are detected before the enemy draws close their fire is easily mitigated.
An effective and visually impressive formation, the Tiger’s Mouth arranges two long narrow columns of spearmen who advance into the enemy line at the run. Once they penetrate the enemy’s front, they are expected to turn toward each other and attempt to crush the enemy forces between their ranks. If this is done properly it can be quite devastating, since enemy forces caught between two lines of Lion soldiers (usually ferocious Matsu bushi) are unlikely to survive. Like many formations, the Tiger’s Mouth is essentially a one-shot action, since the troops are unlikely to stay in position once the full chaos of battle descends. However, even a single successful execution of Tiger’s Mouth can rip open the front of an opposing army, leaving it deeply vulnerable to follow-on attacks from the rest of the Lion forces. Of course, if the two spearman units are outflanked or overwhelmed before they can fully execute their maneuver, the formation will usually collapse without success. In order to avoid this, the Tiger’s Mouth is traditionally executed by troops chosen for their aggression, running speed, and agility, allowing them to carry out their maneuvers before the enemy can fully react.
“Soul of the Lion”
In warfare, few things are as feared as a charging line of Lion bushi, and there are many reasons why. Fearless Matsu, seemingly omniscient Akodo officers, and unpredictable Ikoma create a force that few wish to confront. This formation places Matsu heavy infantry at the fore, leading the charge against an enemy line – often with spears or other polearms, in order to deliver the maximum shock impact. Behind them are Akodo swordsmen, while Ikoma light infantry guard both flanks of the formation with archery. The formation attempts to maintain its ranks as long as possible, the Matsu forcing a deep wedge into the enemy lines and leaving wounded or bypassed foes to be dealt with by the Akodo. At its best, this formation is an engine of pure destruction, methodically destroying one opposing line after another while the Ikoma ward off those who try to reinforce or to strike the flanks. Of course, once the Soul of the Lion runs out of momentum, a general melee ensues and the formation dissolves – but with any luck, by then the enemy army is already wrecked beyond repair.