Written by: Umberto Giano
Images by: Filipa Thespian & Dean Jones
Horse-mounted soldiers, or cavalry, are historically the third oldest (after infantry and charioteers) and the most mobile of the combat arms. From earliest times cavalry had the advantage of improved speed and over infantry, making it a factor which increases the fighting value of even a small force many times over, allowing them to outflank, surprise, and overpower enemies. Fighting from horseback provides the advantages of greater speed, height and inertial mass over an opponent on foot, not to mention the all-important psychological “shock” impact.
Armed forces in the Ancient and Medieval Periods understood and exploited the enhanced mobility and shock value of the cavalry. Mounted troops essentially served the role reserved today for tanks and motorized infantry. Some forces, in fact, were predominantly cavalry, particularly those originating in the East, most notably the Hun, Scythian and Mongol armies.
In the virtual realm of MMORPGs, fully functional mounted-combat systems are lean since the shut down of Warhammer, and players are forced to adapt systems/meters primarily meant for foot soldiers/ infantry to the purpose of cavalry. The best alternative is, of course, for players to role-play mounted combat, so it becomes necessary to have a working knowledge of the basics of mounted combat in order to generate the added layer of realism players demand.
Weapons suitable for mounted combat fall into four basic categories: lances, swords, mass weapons, and projectile weapons. The characteristics that make these weapons suitable for mounted combat carry a common theme: size, weight, and and suitability for one-handed use, as a rider’s opposite hand (the bridle hand) must be available to hold a horse’s reins and guide the mount as you reload, draw, and/or fire your weapon.
In describing the weapons used for mounted combat, the area of engagement (AOE) will be outlined for each. As an aid in visualizing the AOE, consider a bird’s eye point of view above the mounted rider and mentally superimpose a clock dial over this image, with the twelve o’clock position being above the horse’s head, three o’clock will be to the rider’s right, six o’clock to his rear, and nine o’clock to his left. This is the overhead clock.
Now picture the same clock dial over the off side (always to the horse’s right) profile view of the horse and rider with the horse’s nose at three o’clock and his tail at nine o’clock. The twelve o’clock position will be located above the rider’s head, and directly underneath the horse and rider is the six o’clock position. This is the off side clock.
The near side (always to the horse’s left) has the clock dial reversed, with the horse’s nose at nine o’clock and tail at three o’clock. This is known as the near side clock.
There are essentially two types of lance: heavy and light. The heavy lance is 10 to 12 feet long and is known as a “shock” weapon. Its purpose is to unhorse a rider in single combat, such as in a joust, or smash through the armor and shields of opposing lines. The light lance (6 to 10 feet long) is technically a longer-than-average spear and may be thrown from horseback. Both types of lances are typically one-use weapons, because they are too heavy and unwieldy to use in melee combat after the initial charge. To overcome the lance’s close quarter limitations, lancers always bear a secondary weapon, such as a sword or mace, that is more suitable for up close and personal battle.
AREA OF ENGAGEMENT:
The effective AOE with the heavy lance as a shock weapon, couched under the rider’s arm, is within a 30-degree angle of attack off the center-line of the horse on either side of its neck. That is between ten-thirty and one-thirty o’clock positions. To strike a target beyond this angle in a charge places an unacceptable torque on the rider’s grip and will usually disarm the rider upon contact with the target.
The AOE for the light lance is different. While the light lance can be used as a shock weapon like its heavier counterpart, it may also be used overhanded like a spear, which is particularly useful in a situation where the rider is riding parallel with or in pursuit of another rider. The AOE in such a case then expands to encompass the thrust delivered by the rider. This includes the area to the rider’s left, or nine o’clock, all the way around to the rider’s rear, or six o’ clock.
The so called “blind side” for the lance is that the AOE is unavailable for either offense or defense when the weapon is in hand. This is the area where the rider is most vulnerable to attack. For the heavy lance, it encompasses the area extending from about three o’clock overhead to around nine o’clock overhead. The light lance, being more maneuverable, only leaves the area vulnerable just to the left rear, or about six to seven on the overhead clock.
Again, it cannot be stressed enough: the lance, especially the heavy lance, is a one-use weapon. After the initial charge and thrust into the enemy line, the rider should drop the lance and rely upon a melee weapon.
A sword is a bladed weapon (edged weapon) used primarily for cutting or thrusting. While all swords may be used for cutting and thrusting, some are better suited for mounted combat than others. The three basic types of sword most suitable for horse mounted combat are the broadsword, saber, and rapier.
The term “broadsword” is applied to all swords with a wide, straight, flattened blade designed primarily for cutting.
Sabers are descended from the medieval scimitar and, like the broadsword, are designed for both cutting and thrusting. The blades are usually curved and always end in a sharp point. The characteristic which sets the saber apart from the broadsword is that it is sharp all the way down its front (leading) edge, and only sharp a third to one-half of the way down its back (false) edge.
The rapier possesses a long, thin blade with a sharp point and is typically around 40 inches in length. The rapier is a dress weapon of the upper classes and functionally is solely intended as a thrusting weapon in personal duels at close range. It is not at all suitable for mounted combat, however, when placed in a position of defending oneself and armed only with a rapier, it will work in a limited capacity.
AREA OF ENGAGEMENT:
All AOEs and blind sides for the swords listed below operate under the assumption that the rider is right-handed. If your character is left-handed, simply reverse the clocks.
The AOE for the sword will vary according to the use of its point or edge. The point is ideally suited for charges in the same 30 degree off-centerline zones as the lance, but the point of contact with your target will be much closer, rendering the rider more vulnerable.
When using the point in a thrusting attack in closer quarter melee, the effective range expands to a 270 degree arc starting at nine o’clock and traveling round to six o’clock on the overhead clock. A thrust may also be delivered on the horse’s off side clock from a position of straight ahead at three o’clock, in line downward to just ahead of the rider’s foot at six o’clock.
The edge blow of a broadsword or saber is delivered forehand to the rider’s right from three o’clock to twelve and backhand on the rider’s left from nine o’clock to twelve, as viewed on the overhead clock. Downward blows may be delivered overhand on the off side clock vertically from twelve o’clock to six, and underhand or polo-type swings may be delivered from six o’clock upwards through three o’clock.
The blind side for most swords wielded from horseback is just behind the rider’s left shoulder at about six-thirty on the over head clock. Downward blows from a sword’s edge on the near side clock must be delivered across the bridle arm and are ineffective below the waist.
The term “mass weapon” applies to weapons designed to deliver maximum damage to an opponent. Some have cutting edges like the horseman’s axe, while others are designed to tear through a foe’s protective armor and crush him. Mass weapons include the mace, horseman’s axe, flail, and warhammer among others.
AREA OF ENGAGEMENT:
The AOE for mass weapons is like that of a sword, with the exception of the flail. Due to the flail’s rebound effect, it should only be used from an area of nine o’clock overhead to five-thirty.
Blind side area for mass weapons is just behind the rider’s left shoulder.
Spears and Javelins
In the beginning, the earliest spears and javelins were used not only as thrusting weapons, but throwing ones as well. These weapons then fall loosely into the division for projectile weapons, and, as such, the AOE for all projectile weapons is best applied directly ahead of the rider. From this angle the target appears stationary, and aim is easiest. As the angle changes to the side, the forward momentum of the horse (or horses) must be factored into the aim to ensure accurate targeting.
Bow and Arrow
The best shape of bow for the mounted archer is short bow. Mounted archers using long bows usually have to dismount in order to fight, since the long bow’s size makes it virtually impossible to string and fire in the midst of battle conditions. Only the strongest and largest characters, mounted on a massive steed, will be able to successfully employ the long bow while riding.
The light crossbow is the perfect weapon for loading a bolt ahead of time and pursuing your quarry with the reins in one hand.
Firearms for mounted combat are divided into two categories: carbines and handguns.
Carbines are smaller, lighter versions of the muskets or rifles designed for the infantry. They feature shorter barrels and are generally mounted with some sort of sling and clip attachment that enables the trooper to raise the gun and fire it with one hand.
Black-powder weapons, whether carbines, pistols, or revolvers, will be used in period historical sims. Black-powder weapons require the rider to load, pour powder, use a ram-rod, and possibly wind a wheel-lock mechanism – this is impossible to accomplished while mounted except at a walk, trot, or canter. Note: All historical RPer’s using black powder weapons cannot reload while in motion, and all riders using a black-powder weapon should always carry a saber or mass weapon for melee purposes.
Modern riders will be equipped with an automatic pistol or service revolver, which can easily be reloaded and fired at a canter.
AREA OF ENGAGEMENT:
The AOE for most projectile weapons runs around the clock near side and off side – basically, anything the rider can point at, he can fire at.
The exception to the rule above is the use of bow and carbine, because the additional support of the bridle hand to aim and steady the weapon limits the rider’s aim to an arc of 180 degrees, from the rider’s nine o’clock left flank through to his right flank at three o’clock. Again, unless your character is an established expert archer, striking a moving target will be close to impossible, and only an extremely talented rider can release the reins and turn in the saddle, firing a bow or carbine backward at a receding or pursuing target as well.