Human Armies

Human Armies

Human armies on Nova are a ragtag mixture of knights and their feudal retainers.

Human Army Articles: Darry Army


A human army begins when a feudal overlord notifies his vassals that he is calling on their vows of military service. The notice is typically spread by herald, and specifies when and where the vassals to assemble, as well as how long their service is to take (though “for the duration of the hostilities” is a perfectly valid term). In the case of a single knight and his vassals this may be a straightforward process, but when many knights are involved in an army it may be a complex process involving many weeks or even months.


A knight’s tenants under arms are referred to as a levy. A human army thus consists of one or more knights and their levies. Those tenants who are rich enough to equip themselves as men at arms may fight with the army’s knights, while the remainder of the levies fight as infantry. Infantry levies are typically very poorly equipped, with no body armor and weapons that consist of farming implements. Some overlords equip their levies at their own expense, but even a very well equipped levy will be armed with nothing more than shields, helmets, and relatively inexpensive weapons such as flails or spears. As a rule, most knights levy less than half of their male able-bodied male tenants at any one time, so most few levies are larger than 100 men.

Specialist troops such as archers are highly sought after in human armies but rarely present in large numbers. Occasionally a lord will pass a law requiring tenants to own and train with weapons, but this is uncommon. Others offer a cash or other reward for troops who are proficient with certain weapons, in the hopes of inducing their serfs to train themselves. Others may hire “free,” or mercenary, companies, though these are never in plentiful enough supply, expensive, and often little more than brigands. It is no wonder then that human warlords are constantly tempted to hire a small band of orks, who generally work for free and are worth many times their number of levy soldiers.

Against Humans

The ratio of infantry levies to armored horse (including knights and men at arms) in a human army is quite high: at least ten to one, and often fifty it even one hundred to one. Each army thus has a huge disparity in troop quality between its armored horse and everybody else. This disparity is the main reason that armored horse is considered so devastating in battle: a trained, armed, and armored man can slay or put to flight many times his number of untrained and unarmored levy soldiers, some of whom may literally be unarmed. Armored horse generally fight as cavalry for this butcher’s work, to increase their victims’ dread and better pursue the fleeing.

For serious battle, however, knights and men-at-arms generally fight dismounted. Two knights may meet initially while mounted, but if their clash is not immediately decided, they are likely to dismount so they can bring to bear the full weight of their training and arsenal.

It is rare for knights to lead their levies personally; usually this job is delegated to sergeants and captains chosen (or appointed) when the levy is mustered. However, there are generally few enough armored horse in a human army that levy troops primarily fight other levy troops in battle. As a clash between two bodies of poor quality troops can have wildly variable outcomes, some forward-thinking knights do lead their levies in person. Nothing encourages a man to take the last few steps into the jaws of death like being able to follow the swath of destruction carved by his overlord.

All human military thinkers acknowledge that levies are mediocre troops at best when it comes to open battle. However, open battle is not the aim of human military strategy. Instead, belligerents attempt to capture one another’s castles. Storming or besieging a castle is manpower-intensive work: walls of circumvalation must be erected and manned, siege engines must be constructed, moats must be filled or bridged, and so forth. For this work, feudal levies are ideal.

Against Orks

War against the ork is another matter. As expeditions into ork territory are almost impossible to maintain (to say nothing of the military foolishness of surrounding one’s army by angry greenskins), human strategy against orks is almost entirely defensive in philosophy.

Some prefer to fight orks from a position of strength by hiding their vassals in a castle. Orks will attack castles (almost invariably by storm), but this strategy is not without risks. Ork siegecraft is considerable, if somewhat haphazard, and hand to hand combat in the cramped confines of a castle can work in the orks’ favor. Orks who breach a castle gatehouse or attain a foothold on the battlements can quickly turn a battle into a massacre. Still, if an invasion is large enough or the levies cannot be mustered in time, this is the only viable strategy.

The other strategy is to field as large an army as possible, as ork incursions are generally small. Even an ork can be brought down by pitchforks if there are enough of them. Knights and men at arms are even more important when fighting orks than when fighting humans, as only armored horse has a hope of matching an ork on equal terms. A knight who slays an ork in single combat – or even as one of several knights ganging up on the same ork – wins considerble glory, but also serves as an inspiration to the levies. In open battle against ork armies, human cavalry is usually sorely taxed riding from crisis to crisis to bolster the levies’ resolve long enough for their superior numbers to tell.

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Human Armies

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