I have a group of humanoid creatures that is in a foreign country and looking to set foothold there. They are not interested in exploring and do only want to survive. They can provide for themselves through foodsources in their encampment.

They live in a small camp that will eventually evolve into a castle. They know how to abuse heights in combat. E.g. position archers on hills, put the camp on a hill, etc.

What reason would this society have to use melee weapons in combat?

Tech level is medieval, no magic or very low magic.

I am thinking of a scenario where the camp is attacked by multiple soldiers in heavy armor. If the "defenders" can spot the "attackers" early enough, shouldn't ranged weapons like ballistae, trebuchets or catapults always be more effective than meele weapons?

The question boils down to:

How can I explain Melee units in a society that only focuses on surviving and will never attack? I am looking for any possible answers that improve the meaning of meele combat but don't render ranged combat impossible, just not that huge of an advantage against meele. This can be anything from weather/seasons/attackers armor etc.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ They may well emphasize missile weapons, but would they be willing to bet their survival that their enemies will never ever get close enough for melee? $\endgroup$ – user243 Feb 11 '15 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ ...fix bayonets! $\endgroup$ – Ghillie Dhu Feb 11 '15 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ If the people in a besieged camp only defended, they would lose 90 percent of the time or more. Sally out and disrupt the siege, destroy fieldworks, etc. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 21 '15 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ How is firing a ballista at someone approaching with hostile intent "defense" but charging them with troops "attack"? Seems the same to me. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 21 '15 at 21:05

Ranged doesn't have that much advantage over large numbers without accuracy and/or rapid fire, which didn't quite happen until after the industrial revolution.

This means a large wave of infantry can overwhelm the ranged defenses and just roll over the camp.

Also there are the large Roman shields, one of their tactics was to group several soldiers into a square and interlock shields to defend against arrows.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's the "testudo" formation: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testudo_formation. $\endgroup$ – user243 Feb 11 '15 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ It was an attack formation, though. You just didn't sit there in it, you charged the other guy's wall, or line and killed them. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 21 '15 at 21:03

Well for the same reason people in a besieged city or castle would. The attackers could break though the defenses. The reason for ranged attack weapons was not only to keep your enemy farther away, but to kill/maim them before they could get close. When dealing with a horde all you can do is soften them up a little and thin the ranks. That was a common tactic in the middle ages and even by the Romans. Attack with overwhelming numbers, 500 people defending in a castle? send 5-10,000 at the walls. If even half make it they will need to be repelled by more than arrows at 5 ft. if you don't have high walls to scale, only high ground, you better be able to do more than pull a bow or crank a trebuchet down.

  • $\begingroup$ I am reminded of the golbins in Castle Roogna. They mindlessly charge the castle, and the ones that reach the walls are crushed by the charging army behind them. Eventually, the bodies pile up and they get a ramp to the top of the wall! $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 11 '15 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ yes, I've read a story like that too. a good use for goblins! $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 11 '15 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ Starship troopers (bugs) and World War Z have scenes like that as well $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 11 '15 at 22:24

Archers alone cannot hold castle walls. A simple siege tower can put enemy melee troops on top of enemy walls relatively simply and you are now in a melee combat situation. If all you had was archers in a castle, it would actually fall pretty quickly to a semi-intelligent siege.

Just a reason why you'd see them...Your castle has two sets of walls. Your archers line the first wall and behind them are your melee troops. As the enemy approaches, the archers do their thing whittling down the enemy, however (through ladders, siege towers, climbing, battering rams at the gate, or even catapults to destroy the walls) the enemy overwhelms the first wall. Your archers retreat and fall back to the second set of walls while your melee troops move forward and engage in combat on and around the first wall while your archers fall back and get into position at the second wall. When archers are in position, your melee troops fall back allowing the archers to continue their whittle down of the enemy.

Byzantines were experts in these tactics and their walls would be 5 or 6 deep. After getting by the second or third wall, the enemy would be funneled into a narrow flat area between two walls...and then a wave of Byzantine heavy cavalry would charge down the narrow and flat corridor trampling anything in their path (at the time, there was nothing heavier or more intimidating than heavy Byzantine cavalry, tanks of the dark ages). This tactic made for an incredibly strong defensive role for a troop that's often regulated to 'attack only'. In the right setup, archers are really only a minor part of a castles defense.

  • $\begingroup$ While not Byzantine, the cavalry of the [Umayyad Caliphate] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umayyad_Caliphate)was the most fearsome force in the known world in the 8th century AD. That's part of what makes the French victory at the Battle of Tours so astounding! $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Feb 11 '15 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa - I believe the use of Heavy Cavalry by Umayyad was influenced by Byzantine tactics. And this link seems to agree books.google.ca/… $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 11 '15 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ Or the even earlier Parthian and Persian heavy cavalry, where the Byzantines got theirs from. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 21 '15 at 21:06

What humanoids ever do what they do, and develop skills and technologies, solely from logical observations about their current conditions? (Well, gamers and social Darwinists, both impractical examples.)

People have skills and technologies from tradition and experience of the past, not from a logical specialized analysis of their current circumstances.

Even if they were being logical, they'd be foolish to only have ranged weapons. They might emphasize ranged weapons, but if they completely lack melee skills and weapons, they're probably very vulnerable:

  • They'd be vulnerable before they had their fort built, and castles can take years to build.
  • They'd be vulnerable in any situation where an enemy got close to them.
  • Not all attacks start with an army approaching to attack you. What if outsiders come to visit and trade, and want to talk to to you up close, but then attack?
  • Unless your castle is very well designed and equipped, with heavy weapons that are sure to take out any siege equipment before any attackers get on/over/through your walls, you'd be better off with at least some melee ability.
  • Armor, shields, covered siege towers, tunneling, covered rams, etc., are various examples of devices that can protect against arrows and even ballistae. Ballistae tend to fire slowly. Trebuchets are hard to aim accurately.
  • What if they attack during a new moon, heavy fog, or they create a huge smoke screen?

Also, your people probably have melee weapons for personal contests with each other, and tools that are reasonable melee weapons anyway, such as axes and hoes. I don't think there are any humans who didn't know about spears, axes, knives and clubs. Spears and axes are pre-human technology.

So, ranged weapon emphasis sure, but absence of melee weapons, not without some non-practical reason, such as a cultural proscription. Maybe their tribe was once nearly wiped out by people using melee weapons, and the survivors decided such weapons were immoral/taboo. This would however be a practical weak spot.


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