I am Kaine!! God king of the Wraith-men exiles. With my brother Carrion and his twelve sons and their hordes, we have laid waste to many realms. It is only when we went to war with holy city of Morguss we got to fight worthy prey. My black legions march on their Holy Citadel that resides inside a mountain. The Paladins of Fury and the Battle Maidens sally out with the rest of the Holy Orders to fight for their god... it is my pleasure to send them to him.

The battle is long and bloody but even ones blessed by a god can’t fight against an actual one; my Death Walkers and Skin Takers make short work of them. I cut down all who stand in my way.

With the battle won all that was left was to kill the defenders on the walls; there are only a few knights and men-at-arms left. With some time for the Skin Takers to go to work on the dead, I ready my men to breach the wall and cut down the filth that remains. With a swing of my Screaming Mace, my men climb the ladders, but no one attacks. The walls are deserted; the cravens must have run into the city, but why? I would order my men to hunt them down like dogs but even dogs would die for their owners; these men are less than dogs.

Where I'm from, men do not flee from battle; even a child would stand and fight. It’s not like I have not encountered routed armies before but the citadel has no way of escape; running from the wall just makes it easier for me to kill them. "Better to stand and fight than die running"; at least they could have killed some of my men; all they will do now is give them exercise.

Question: Why would this Army Retreat if they will die anyway?

closed as primarily opinion-based by dot_Sp0T, Secespitus, RonJohn, jdunlop, Vincent Aug 14 at 22:50

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Mind destroying panic. Ever read LOTR? The situation you described is very similar to the siege of Minas Tirith. Basically, such terrors make people incapable of considering consequences or chances, and kill courage and loyality in their heart. – b.Lorenz Aug 14 at 12:33
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    The title "Why Would an Enemy Army Rout if they Will Die Anyway" is very confusing (presumably because you are not a native English speaker). It seems that you do not understand the meaning of "rout". – RonJohn Aug 14 at 12:40
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    @CreedArcon Your lieutenants should be able to tell rout (implied by your questions title) apart from ordered and planned retreat. If there are weapons cast away, and their wounded and dead are lying here-and-there abandoned on the streets, it was mindless rout. If all is orderly, and you feel a heavy air of meance, it was retreat. Of course a strong-willed leader might be able to stop the rout and organize a last stand. – b.Lorenz Aug 14 at 12:53
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    Please ask the question instead of having us wade through all the irrelevant text. – Jan Doggen Aug 14 at 13:08
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    @JanDoggen: This is world-building. We build worlds, we build atmospheres. The answer to this question may vary considerably based on the setting; a sci-fi combat based on space-ships and lasers is much different from the fantasy combat with swords, armors and maces presented here. I personally think that the OP did a good job of presenting their story, with enough context (Holy Orders, Walking God, Citadels, Skinning, ...) as to narrow down the setting. – Matthieu M. Aug 14 at 18:25
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Our boy Kaine here has lost touch with some aspects of Humanity, and he may be getting a little too overconfident.

During the siege of Stalingrad in WWII, a German soldier kept a diary. He wrote in a cheerful manner when they rolled up on the doomed city, "Why do they even fight? It's a lost cause, the outcome is predictable." Some weeks later, after the stout Russian resistance stopped the Germans cold, the same soldier wrote "These men keep fighting. They are animals." A few weeks later, he wrote ,"These men aren't even animals, they are Demons from Hell." I'm paraphrasing, of course. But it does show that even with all the signs and augury going in your favor, you could be wrong. Just remember, Stalingrad did not fall to Hitler's forces

Men might retreat for a few reasons. Some for simple fear. Some to die in the manner of their choosing. But when there is life, there is Hope. These stout men may be retreating to better defensible positions, and taking the time and energy that could be spent on the walls to set all manner of nasty traps for Kaine's Death Walkers and Skin Takers. Kaine is going into Their city. To engage in close quarters combat with people who know far more about the layout than he does. They will be desperate to avoid the Skin-Takers and could very well be laying traps of Greek fire, poisoned wells, acid filled cisterns. They could be setting up plague traps made from the bodies of the slain in hopes that disease will bring low the forces of evil. Breeding rats infected with rabies and the like. Or they could be focusing on the more mundane, like weakening multi-story structures to collapse on large groups of the enemy, digging deadfalls and pits with spikes. Anything possible to take as many of the enemy as possible for the cost of one heroic individual.

Every now and again, this sort of thing might work. The Russians were outnumbered, but they made the most of it and won.

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    The Red Army won Stalingrad by having flanking forces attack and surround the city. – David Thornley Aug 15 at 20:42
  • @DavidThornley True, but they had to hold out for a while in order for the flanking forces to get into place. Remember that Hilter's forces were covering insane amounts of territory just to get that deep into Soviet soil. – Paul TIKI Aug 20 at 13:34

Several scenarios come to mind:

Because there are escape routes you don't know about, the army is not running for their lives, they're getting civilians out through the tunnels you don't know about before taking a final stand within the citadel to give them as much of a head start as possible.

That's one option another is slightly less noble; there's always a chance they might in some unknowable way get away anyway, just because it looks hopeless doesn't mean it absolutely is hopeless. Soldiers will run towards that hope of escape even if it makes no sense at all.

"If I'm going to die I'll do it at home." Armies have often dissolved completely because soldiers who were sure the situation was completely hopeless decided to fight, for their families, with there families, rather than as part of an organised army. It's an impulse that often makes the situation even more hopeless, armies are harder to kill than the individuals in them, but it's understandable on a purely emotional level.

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    All valid options, might i suggest you also add, if some of them survive then they can keep their beliefs alive, if you killed all their god believers then their religion dies, if they run, they can protect their religion – Blade Wraith Aug 14 at 13:21
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    @BladeWraith Nope I didn't think of that, you're welcome to make the point in your own answer though. – Ash Aug 14 at 13:22

I give you The Siege of Masada

The defenders knew they were going to die, it was just a matter of when. And to that end, they defended their walls for as long as they could (the Romans literally building a giant ramp in order to get into the city), wearing down the soldiers and making the siege as expensive as possible: Masada had water in plenty and the defenders would regularly take baths in it, in full (auditory) view of the Romans, taunting them. The Romans, meanwhile, were in a desert and had to have water carted in along long supply chains.

When the final night came, the gates on fire, the defenders all committed suicide,1 denying the Romans all victory. Sure, the Romans took the city, but it was a tactical and strategic loss.

  1. Or killed each other, the historical accuracy here isn't as important as the sentiment

What happens before — and after — death?

If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And, if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order.Zoë, Firefly

Fewer people fear being dead than they fear dying. After all: we all know what a world without us is like; that is how it was before we were conceived and born, and that is not really so scary. But the manner with which we pass can be... unpleasant and quite scary... see example above.

Also.... if your religion requires you to be treated in a certain manner after death in order to proceed into the afterlife, and you know that your enemies will do anything and everything to your corpse but that, you know that you will not just die but you are also damned, for eternity.

Hence, even if have been promised certain death, at this point 1) you are not dead yet, the promise may not be fulfilled so 2) you have nothing to lose by just letting your denial of the inevitable/cognitive dissonance send you into a fully fledged panic.

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    Huh I always remember that as a Mal line, I've just finished watch Firefly again a week ago and can see the scene in my head with Zoe saying the line and I still think of it as something Mal says. – Ash Aug 14 at 12:52
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    @Ash You have just experienced the Mandela Effect, congratulations. :) The origin of the name of the effect comes from that people know that 1) Nelson Mandela was a famous anti-apartheid activist 2) they know that a famous anti-apartheid activist died while in custody. Hence the memory is: Mandela died while in custody. But no... it was (among many others) Steve Biko, but it was so long since people saw the film that they got things confused. – MichaelK Aug 14 at 12:56
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    @MichaelK how can they think Mandela died in prison, when he went on to be the President of South Africa? – RonJohn Aug 14 at 13:17
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    @MichaelK Yay someone finally explained the name, I've known what the Mandela Effect is for years but I've never been able to find a simple explanation of why it is called that. – Ash Aug 14 at 13:21
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    Of course, it was South Africa, not Zaire. (Since the South African country code is .za, I thought they renamed the country.) – RonJohn Aug 14 at 13:22

They're luring the overpowered nutcases into the city, where they know the terrain and can set up ambushes on their terms. Your forces might be better, but they don't know the layout of the city, and can be split up into smaller groups when scouting. For a good example of how this can work, check out Season 6 of Game of Thrones.
Alternatively, they're looking to lure the overpowered nutcases in, then blow up the city with them inside. Holy wars and suicide bombers do seem to go hand in hand.

They're defending their homes

They know the walls are lost, they know that your forces will be into the city no matter what they do. But each and every one of those soldiers has a home and family inside the city, and they all figured that they'd be able to defend their own homes against the scattered troops trying to pillage everything for longer than they could hold the city walls against a unified force. And that time spent with their families is all they have left, so that's where they wanted to be.

They've sacrificed their lives already for the eventual demise of their enemies.

The god Fury and his Battle Maidens have forseen the return of Kaine centuries ago and accepted that only the pure souls of their followers, given freely and invested into the holy throne, can redeem the balance of good and evil.

Only then will Fury take mortal form; his followers will return as angels and seraphim, and fight the Final Battle against the forces of evil.

The whole deal was given as a prophecy to an old wise beggar who scratched it on (now holy relicy) stone tablets. Kaine doesn't know how to read 'cause he's too busy fighting all the time, so there you are.


They might believe that you will not kill them, as long as they appear to not be part of the army. They may not know or believe any stories about you killing Everyone, so they throw down their weapons and run away from the fight.

Once they are clear of the battle, they can pretend they are non-combatants and assume you will simply enslave or conquer, rather than slaughter. Presumably, you need to replace your hoard, so they might be hoping for forced enlistment. All of these options can be escaped (ideally, from their perspective), so there's hope to survive, instead of being cut down on the battle field, with no hope.

They don't believe they will die.

They've deconsecrated the Holy Citadel and conceded it to you, and stolen off through secret escape tunnels either into hiding or in search of allies or are consolidating at a more strategic position.

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