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I am currently writing/hard-core procrastinating on a fantasy novel that includes a race known as Orthaks. Basically an amended version of Orcs, they range from seven to nine feet tall, weigh between four to six hundred pounds, and are significantly stronger than a human.

My question, then, is what are some realistic battle tactics that the race of men could use in order to not be completely dominated by this foe? I know relatively little about ancient battle tactics, but have already discarded a Greek hoplite-style phalanx or a Roman style advance, as the strength disparity would seem to render these useless. Cavalry also would seem to have less effect than normal, as the Orthaks can run at speeds approaching that of a horse, and their great weight makes a direct assault less devastating than normal. My primary answer to this currently is archers, used to prevent the enemy from reaching them at all, but I wonder if any melee style fighting could be used here.

As far as the weapons and tactics of the Orthaks, they have little tactical knowledge besides perhaps a basic pincer movement, and usually just charge in a mad rush. Their weaponry is not advanced beyond basic swords, axes, clubs, etc. They wear very little to no armor, but have tough hides resistant to swords or light bows, but something like an English longbow with a bodkin arrow would have little trouble penetrating.

To reiterate and clarify, I'm looking for some sort of ancient battle tactic that would give a more technologically and tactically advanced race such as men an edge over a significantly more physically advanced race such as Orthaks. This could also be at least partially applied to men fighting trolls, the Urgals from Inheritance, the Wargals from Rangers Apprentice, Orcs from Tolkien, etc. A race such as this is fairly standard for a fantasy world, although Orthaks are larger and stronger than most of these other examples.

Edit: It was brought to my attention by @JGreenwell that information regarding the topography of the battlefield would be helpful. This takes place in a large, relatively flat, open grassland. Also, I am happy with the answers that have suggested blocks of pikemen with archers in the rear, this seems to solve many of the problems I was concerned about.

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    $\begingroup$ 'My father always said that it was pointless to undertake a direct attack against an enemy extensively armed with efficient projectile weapons,' she said. Rincewind, who knew Cohen's normal method of speech, gave her a look of disbelief. 'Well, what he actually said,' she added, 'was never enter an arse-kicking contest with a porcupine.' $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 10 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ The english forces made a very clever tactical use of the welsh longbow in two battles during the Hundred Years' War (which, worth remember, they lost) and as a result this weapon is revered as the ultimate Best Thing Ever by a lot of people of english-speacking countries. The longbow is normal bow, only larger, so it fires bigger, heavier arrows farther, but it's cumbersome and hard to use. Definitively inferior to mongols or huns' composite bows in every aspect. But one thing is clear: if your longbows can injure your Orthaks, a broadsword will, and it will be far more deadly. Use them. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 10 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ already discarded a Greek hoplite-style phalanx or a Roman style advance, as the strength disparity would seem to render these useless — it's not about strength, it's about discipline, everyone work as one. Also, spears works good against human cavalry (rider is heavier and stronger than spearman), and strength and size works here against the riders. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Jun 10 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @LoganP98 You seem to claim that Orcs in Tolkien are also larger and stronger than men. Actually the Orcs in Tolkien are smaller than men. Only the largest Orcs are man size, and hobbits can be mistaken for the smallest breeds of Orcs. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jun 10 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ "significantly more physically advanced" ? - I'll take 4 healthy humans instead of one arthritic Orthak who needs 8000 calories a day. What would be the tallest possible height for humanlike creatures in earthlike conditions?. IMO, your writing is at an impasse because inventing how the logistics of the Orthak civilization work is an entire book all by itself that no one will ever want to read, but you need to write for yourself or none of this makes sense $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jun 10 at 20:56

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I think you have unfairly disregarded the Phalanx

Whilst other answers are correct about focusing on ranged weaponry and fortifications, they are primarily defensive measures. You need to be able to take to the field and push the enemy away, because focusing only on defence merely delays your defeat.

However your Orthaks sound like they have a lot in common with cavalry. They are large, powerful and move quickly, thus having a lot of momentum in a charge and frightening close-quarters capability. But, armies have had to deal with cavalry since antiquity.

Imagine charging towards this:

Swiss Mercenaries presenting three layers of spears

(Image credit to Liliane and Fred Funcken, source. Kudos to @ASGM for finding this)

This is a swiss pike square (Gevierthaufen), the medieval equivalent of a Macedonian/Greek phalanx. Those pikes could be up to 20 feet (6 meters) long. Before you can get within sword range of the first rank, you have to get past three ranks worth of pikes, all stabbing you repeatedly. If your Orthak is charging into this hedgehog of doom, then that just makes it easier, because his own momentum will skewer him.

Thus, when your kingdoms of men must take the fight to the Orthak, they will deploy large blocks of pikemen and slowly advance across the field, cutting down any Orthak who try and get into melee whislt archers shoot the ones who hang back.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that 600 pounds of overall weight and primitive armor makes for pretty bad heavy cavalry, but other then that I agree ) $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar Jun 10 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ That's not a Phalanx - that's a Gevierthaufen (or pike square). Also, it was 3-5 rows of pikers then rows of halberd units. Very effective as unit would sprint at the enemy (rapid deployment, speed actually helped them, & caught enemies off guard). First crossbows would soften, then pikers with halberd units behind them (the long axe/spear/hook weapon of the Swiss) go to work. As horses get stuck on pikes, riders either fall or halberds hook them and pull off the horses. Then just bring those long axes down and finish them. Similar concept to Phalanx mind you just not the same. $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jun 10 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ I should also note that "trench warefare" (i.e. fortifications, defensive measures, and ranged weaponry) is what destroyed the effectiveness of these units. 18ft pike is not very helpful in a trench when facing someone with a Spanish short sword (3ft) - not to mention how this effects cavalry. So fortifications are the best answer but, this is a good tactic if you are fighting on an "open field". Like (all of these have happened) you couldn't prepare in time, there are no static battlefields, no professional armies, or enemies took an unknown or previously thought impassible route $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jun 10 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Look specifically for Macedonian phalanxes in the time of Alexander the Great. Greek hoplites relied as much on heavy shields as their spears, where the Macedonians went all-in with two-handed, much longer spears, which is what you want here. $\endgroup$ – thegreatemu Jun 10 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ The painting is by Liliane and Fred Funcken (whose signature is visible in the bottom right), and is the cover image for part 2 of their book Arms and Uniforms: The Age of Chivalry" $\endgroup$ – ASGM Jun 11 at 0:38
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I wonder, how long can your Orthaks sustain their horse-speed running. In my opinion that would be a bigger problem then increased weight and strength.

First thing first, I wouldn't discount the cavalry charge so readily. A mounted knight with horse and armor would weight 1200-1500 pounds at the very least, twice as much as a heaviest Orthak. Given a long lance, a knight may also have an advantage in range. The cavalry charge should be supported by the rest of the army though, since for all intents and purposes you are charging another troop of cavalry.

The same consideration concerns the infantry troops. Orthaks are fast. You do not want to put your archers in the field against them unprotected. It wouldn't take the monsters long to charge the archers and gobble them up. In fact, I would propose that you need to use infantry in combined-arms troops, something similar to Spanish Tercio. Even if your humans don't have firearms to make a proper 'pike and ball' troop, you can combine pikemen with archers or crossbowmen.

I would repeat, humans should treat it as if Orthak army consists solely from light cavalry. They are scary fast, they can inflict a lot of damage, but they can be bogged down fighting pikemen, whereupon they are a good target for archers and/or a flanking charge by heavy cavalry.

If your army commander aspires to Caesar-like fame, there are tricks and traps you can use. Orthak seem to be heavy for bipedals, with a lot of pressure on the feet. Caultrops and other similar traps that target the feet would be effective. If your commander doesn't have cavalry or doesn't plan to use it in the battle, he can even divert a river on the battlefield, to literally bog the Orthak army down.

Another factor that can play against your Orthaks is their appetite. Being as big and fast as you describe them, they would need a lot of food. Scorched earth strategy should work against them. Disease and starvation were always a bigger threat to the army then direct battlefield confrontation.

Harrying tactics would do little against Orthaks, again due to their natural speed. Although it may be possible to provoke smaller groups to split away from the main army and to lure them to the prepared positions.

In short, it seems to me that if humans overcome the initial fear and surprise and translate Orthak army into familiar terms - 'barbarous light cavalry with little tactical and strategic insight' - they may win, using the appropriate tactics (anti-cavalry combined arms for infantry and flanking charge for their own cavalry) and strategy.

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    $\begingroup$ I hadn't considered using caltrops, that's a great idea. The rest of your answer is very helpful also, thanks! $\endgroup$ – LoganP98 Jun 10 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Scorched Earth policy. $\endgroup$ – Cullub Jun 10 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ +1 on the cavalery, but I think you underestimate the light cavalery and harrying tactics. The heavy, but fast (almost as fast as a horse) orthaks are much like heavy cavalery themselves, which combined with their stupidity (assuming that) makes them a perfect target to lure into an ambush. Here's a real world example from the battle of Adrianopole (1205), where the well prepared Latin heavy cavalery is largely destroyed by the Bulgarians, using such tactics- military.wikia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Adrianople_(1205) The orthaks should be much easier to trick and their speed and rage becomes $\endgroup$ – Velimir Tchatchevsky Jun 11 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Cullub thanks, I've corrected it $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar Jun 11 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ @VelimirTchatchevsky maybe. It can depend on the exact details of their speed, aceleration and endurance. OPs description made me think they can chase down a galloping horse. And being lighter they will certainly be more maneuverable then heavy cavalry. I actually read these Orthacs as more similar to light cavalry - in 19th century European terms. Fast, light skirmishing troops that fight in loose formation. It could swing both ways, depending on the details, IMO $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar Jun 11 at 5:21
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The logical way to face an opponent who is superior at melee battle is to avoid melee at any costs.

Fortification and ranged weapons would be key to winning. Skirmish / scout attacks would be the preferred method of engagement.

Building good defensive structure like forts would be very important. You would want to invest a lot of resources developing ranged weapons like catapults, crossbows or even canons.

It doesn't really matter if you are 9 feet and 600 pounds when you face a fortress full of archers and canons firing at you. As you mentioned, the Orthaks are not very advanced so they would not be able to mount attacks with siege weapons.

So you would let them come to you, let them crash and burn on your castles.

Also since the Orthaks don't seem very intelligent, you could strategically mount skirmish attacks on their supply lines/iron mines/farms while they are attacking elsewhere, gradually destroying their economy.

Once their economy is so badly destroyed that they can't even forge weapons you have basically won the war.

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    $\begingroup$ Fred, thanks for the answer. I have indeed worked extensive fortifications into the story, mainly guard towers placed throughout the Plain of Ortha (an expansive grassland where the Orthaks make their homes in scattered villages) to guard important trade routes. However, is there any way that the men could hope to have a chance in a melee battle, or do they simply face a certain massacre? Your answer is interesting and has a lot of correct information, but it doesn't really solve my problem (which may just be unsolvable). $\endgroup$ – LoganP98 Jun 10 at 3:39
  • $\begingroup$ @LoganP98 If you wish to fight a melee, then you would have to create a specially trained unit, something like special elite forces. Give them the best possible set of training in martial arts and weapons. Train these forces to fight in pairs, i.e. 2 men fight a single Orthaks, where one will be a heavily armed brute and other an agile and swift warrior. Then you can also use units of cavalry (horses, oxen, buffalos, elephants). $\endgroup$ – V.Aggarwal Jun 10 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ I love defensive structures as these were extremely effective against troops. As these are basically fast moving cavalry or infantry - I would suggest adding trenches to this answer (fast to build, increases effectivity of archers, helps "direct" or channel attackers to where you want them to go). As well as giving examples of others such as caltraps, regular traps (pits filled with spears is pretty effective against people running at you at full tilt), palisades & other barriers, etc.. (Defense in depth - run through one obstacle course and you just have to face the next) $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jun 10 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @JGreenwell This is a solid solution, unfortunately due to plot reasons this battle will be taking place on the Orthaks home turf, with very little time to prepare defensive fortifications. $\endgroup$ – LoganP98 Jun 10 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with defensive structures is they can generally be ignored. A politician looking to unseat a local lord must take the castle to claim legitimacy over a region. But a hoard of Orthaks would not need to conquer your lands if they could just make a living pillaging your farms and livestock while your armies hide behind walls. They take what they want and move on to the next province only to come back next year to rob you blind again. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 10 at 15:48
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I would recommend using something like a Boar Spear or Bear Spear in a Roman-style shield wall (multiple ranks.) These weapons are very long, and have crosspieces just behind the head in order to keep a furious animal as far away from the user as possible, while still bleeding them to death. Because these Orthaks are slightly smarter than the average bear, I would make the spears barbed to inflict additional damage if they back off instead of berserking onward. If your opponent acts like a wild animal, treat them like one. Metal should be used to reinforce the front bit of the spear to make it a bit harder to destroy.

The battle line would probably have a line of men equipped with something like the Roman scutum - a shield that provides good coverage against anything thrown. Behind them would be spearmen. In order to actually stop a charging Orthak, the spears need to be different lengths. You want the Orthak to hit all the spears at the same time, and you want each spearman bracing the spear against the ground and their foot.

This is, of course, only a frontline intended to stop charges into melee. Behind them will be some sort of ranged attacker, probably archers, to whittle down enemy numbers and force them to either charge or retreat.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why the downvote? This answers the question and seems quite logical to me. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jun 10 at 10:42
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Scorched earth. A being that big consumes much more energy than a human. Make it impossible for the to forage and pick up food when campaigning and they are doomed. C.f., the Mongols: one of the reasons they got stuck at the border of continental Europe was the lack of steppe where they could feed their horses (Europe at the time had much more, and dense, than today, forest).

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    $\begingroup$ At 8000 calories a day it won't take long. I'd be surprised if they even make it all the way there. And if Nature thought these creatures were a good idea, she'd be doing it. The only, living, bipedal analogues I can think of have load bearing tails (kangaroos). And the only body shape seemingly immune to scaling factors is the feline. Angry, giant, absolutely apex cats (with a plan) capable of taking down any other (imaginary or not) creature on the planet: that would be a problem, because scorched earth doesn't work against hypercarnivores unless you include yourselves; total war. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jun 10 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, you don't even have to destroy everything (don't completely wreck your ecosystem), only the things that they're capable of eating. Or destroy almost all of their food sources, and strategically poison the rest with an emetic agent (the only thing worse than requiring massive amounts of food is vomiting them up and wasting the calories). $\endgroup$ – bta Jun 12 at 0:58
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Ever heard of David and Goliath?

Goliath (/ɡəˈlaɪəθ/ gə-LY-əth) is described in the biblical Book of Samuel as a Philistine giant defeated by the young David in single combat. The story signified Saul's unfitness to rule, as Saul himself should have fought for Israel.

The phrase "David and Goliath" has taken on a more popular meaning, denoting an underdog situation, a contest where a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary.

On a more modern version, look at how the Vietcong fought their war against the US.

  • Avoid direct and traditional fight
  • Wear the enemy down, morally and physically, with a constant usage of hit and run tactics
  • Play dirty: scatter booby traps wherever you can

A booby trap is a device or setup that is intended to kill, harm, or surprise a person or animal, unknowingly triggered by the presence or actions of the victim. As the word trap implies, they sometimes have some form of bait designed to lure the victim towards it. [...] Lethal booby traps are often used in warfare, particularly guerrilla warfare,

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  • $\begingroup$ With this level of weight difference, a good old-fashioned tiger trap would be a very effective choice of trap against these creatures. Human soldiers could run across the covering without a problem, but the giants would be heavy enough to fall into the trap. $\endgroup$ – bta Jun 12 at 1:02
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I think the Mongols would have the right type of force to defeat an enemy like you describe. Their forces were almost entirely mounted archers and lancers (they did pick up other technologies from conquered enemies later i.e. siege craft.

Their composite bows were famous for their power and their ability to fire accurately from horseback. I'm sure a volley of arrows from these would be enough to slow a massed charge of creatures like you describe.

Tactically the Mongols tried to pin their enemy in place with their archers so they could be flanked and charged by the lancers. The lancers spear range should be longer than the reach of their enemy allowing them to hit their foe hard before retreating while the enemy is still shocked.

Which brings me on to the final reason I think this is a good comparison. The Mongol's were highly trained, well organised and well led. They could perform difficult horse back manoeuvres during battle. They were masters of flanking and the feigned retreat, both of which would probably be excellent tactics against a foe of brute strength but relatively low intelligence.

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The enemies major traits are speed, strength, size, low intelligence and weight. All of these can be turned against them or at least made useless.

As far as speed and strength goes, I totally agree with this answer and won't reiterate that all over. Thus remain size and weight.

Size can be fairly easily turned into a disadvantage. First of all with increased size comes slower movement, which limits your opponents to devastating blows while taking any option for faster fighting-styles. Guerilla-warfare would be absolutely deadly against them. A dagger in the back of the knee and you've turned a rampaging giant into a mostly immobile weapon-swinging opponent that is completely defenseless on it's rear side. Ropes should also work for on the battlefield to achieve the same purpose without the need to get close to them. Just tangle them up and you've got a package of panicking rage that can easily be finished off.

Next they will most likely use weapons that are appropriate for their size. So probably a 5 feet long sword (?) or something similarly large. These weapons surely could be devastating on open fields, if it's impossible to keep them at sufficient distance. On the other hand if the battle takes place in a forest, both the wielder and his weapons will be limited to little movement. A historical example of this tactic would be the battle of the Teutoburg forest, in which the Romans suffered a complete defeat against the Germans.

Due to their size in combination with their mental capabilities, they will be limited to fast attacks thanks to lacking logistic options on one side and a strong consumption of resources on the other hand. This offers several advantages to humans: withstanding long enough (most likely not that long), will deprive the Orthaks of resources required to continue the war. The possibility to wait longer increases the chance of being able to decide where battles will take place (the enemy must move or give up, humans don't have that limitation to the same extent).

Their weight can be turned against the Orthaks in quite a few ways. Lure them into swamps and watch them sink into the mud. Construct your bridges in a manner that allows humans to use them, but make them weak enough to give in under the weight of a few Orthaks. Construct booby-traps that only prime when a sufficient weight rests on them. Use their momentum against them. If they are charging, changing direction will become a fairly complex task. Drive them off a cliff and you might even wipe out a complete army, with no loss on your own side, if done correctly.

Last but not least, what makes armies so strong isn't only the equipment, but also discipline and order. A killing-frenzy may be a good tool for a short attack consisting solely of charging and slaughtering. As long as the frenzy goes on your opponents may not care so much about losses among their troops. Get them to stop, the frenzy wears off and any loss will make quite a different impression. If the guy next to you in the line suddenly gets his head ripped off by a large projectile that makes quite some impression. A properly trained army may withstand such incidents, but in a group of untrained people this will definitely cause chaos. Retreating will also most likely be a major danger for the Orthaks, since it will most likely happen unordered, leading to extreme losses, if your humans manage to use the situation to their advantage.

To summarize:

  • Use phalanxes of spears and heavy artillery, where applicable
  • Restrict their mobility by terrain, weapons, traps or any other means you could think of
  • The strategic limitations of the Ortharks especially in terms of duration of any military campaign offers ways to both weaken them and device better strategies for oneself.
  • Booby trap battlefields and routes the enemy-army will take
  • Impressive deaths (impressive like the impact of a ballista-projectile going straight through an Orthark) to demoralize them.

While Ortharks seem to be far superior, they are actually extremely weak except for a few specific scenarios that can easily be avoided.

EDIT: Greek fire shot by catapults or used in booby traps should also lead to some quite impressive effects among the Ortharks. Be prepared to get out of the resulting chaos though, as a group of inextinguishable Ortharks will most likely turn against anything it sees and wreck havoc. Useful as long as they only turn against each other, but definitely nothing one would like to get themselves into.

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The "(r)ealistic, logical way for men with medieval-era weaponry to compete with much larger and physically stronger foes" is to not fight on terrain which is favorable to the much larger and physically stronger foes.

"To reiterate and clarify, I'm looking for some sort of ancient battle tactic that would give a more technologically and tactically advanced race such as men an edge over a significantly more physically advanced race".

Since "(t)his takes place in a large, relatively flat, open grassland", the "ancient battle tactic" is to not fight there.

Run away and find somewhere else to fight.

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  • $\begingroup$ This would indeed be the smart move. Plot reasons, however, dictate that this battle will be taking place on the Orthaks home turf in the grassland, meaning that my only question is whether the men will have any chance at all, or if they will simply be massacred. $\endgroup$ – LoganP98 Jun 10 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @LoganP98 change the plot. Generals being bullheaded and saying Here we fight! when that place gives all the advantages to the enemy is how you lose. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 10 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ I was writing up an answer on how to use terrain to your advantage to make this a winnable battle until the question was edited to say "open grassland". As the question stands: this is the only actual answer from my perspective (and extensive study of warfare)...anything else is just handicapping yourself and I can cite battle after battle where this decision lead to crushing defeats of the defenders. $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jun 10 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @LoganP98 "but get ambushed by an unexpectedly large force of Orthaks." Ah. That reminds me of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where a large mass of Germans of different tribes ambushed three Roman Legions in the perfect place for the Germans to fight against the Romans. The Romans were slaughtered. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 10 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ @LoganP98 two more points: #1 an army on the move to fight another army somewhere else will have their armor (and probably long spears) packed away in the baggage train. #2 by the very definition of "ambush", a "large, relatively flat, open grassland" is not the place for an ambush, because there's no concealment for the attackers. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 10 at 18:33
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Another anti-cavalry tactic that your heroes can apply here is to choose and prepare the battlefield. Big and heavy foes might sink in swamps, would have trouble fording rivers, and could be tricked into charging into spikes or pits dug into the ground. The cheval de frise was a defense that remained in use into the twentieth century.

You say that the battle is taking place on a flat plain, but there still might be time to prepare hazards and fortifications that would stop a charge.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, Orthaks would find it easier to ford a river: They can walk through deeper water than a human or a horse. (Agreeing on the other points.) $\endgroup$ – toolforger Jun 11 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger Being heavier, would they have any trouble sinking in the mud or crossing bridges? But maybe not fording per se. $\endgroup$ – Davislor Jun 11 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Actually what counts is the relation of footprint area to weight. A quick search for elephant footprints turned up this photo (link to avoid copyright issues but you can always do another search): newscientist.com/article/… $\endgroup$ – toolforger Jun 12 at 14:14
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I really can't help you with battle tactics; however, if this was life I would tell you that they couldn't win by any sort of battle. The sheer size of the orthaks would make it extremely unlikely that they could be overtaken in battle. I believe they should look for alternative methods, e.g.,

  • Poisoning the drinking water or food supply.
  • Setting fire to their homes after stealthily watching their sleeping and rising habits, to see how and when would work best to set fires and trap them inside of their homes.
  • Setting traps is another.

This would seem the rather safer plan of attack to me. If it had to be a battle, then still, watching them for a while to see if you can take them down in smaller groups would definitely be a plus. If worst came to worst and a battle had to be fought, a well-thought out attack plan and a resignation that you had to fight to the death for your fellow soldiers is really the only thing left. Some things are worse than death.

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You have a big and exceedingly strong enemy, but why would that mean he automatically wins?

First, let's look at physiological traits. Their size means they'll overheat faster, their strength likely comes from using high strength muscle types that sacrifice endurance for strength, meaning they tire quickly. So humans would try to maneuver as long as possible and once battle is joined keep the fight going as long as possible. The human death toll early on would be high, but quickly drop as the Orthaks overheat and tire out. (You can find more on this in my answer here: Realistic fantasy Orcs.)

Your sizeable enemies also take up space. So for each Orthak in a line there could be multiple humans against him. This makes the age-old Phalanx very good against Orthaks, who would severely injure and kill themselves if they charged one similar to hoe cavalry will injure and kill themselves if they charged a phalanx that had their spears out and supported by the ground.

Technology will also help. Crossbows lack the range of the good old English bow, but at close ranges they do have the penetration power. Orthaks are large and easy targets that will quickly go down after a few volleys. Also accidental hits to vital areas like the eyes would take down a very large threat.

More technology could even the odds. Ballistas, onagers, catapults could all give a firepower that will kill orthaks before the fight ever begins, which could morally discourage them to continue the fight for long. Since Orthaks are probably brutal and warlike you don't have to chase them, you can simply dig in and wait. They'll happily run into a fortified area of stakes and ditches.

Also these Orthaks are simple minded from what you've told us. Baiting them shouldn't be too hard. Use horsemen to distract them, they could fire arrows or charge with lances. Sometimes they break off a charge, sometimes they would slam their lance into their adversary. This way the Orthaks would likely try and engage the horsemen, or at least waste time preparing for the horsemen to attack after which things like ballistas could fire another shot. It also serves to tire out the Orthaks.

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Perhaps you should have asked this of my keno instructor, who was maybe an inch or two over 5 feet tall :-) Size, in and of itself, is not an overwhelming factor: speed and agility are equally important. So your smaller humans, if well-trained (which it appears your Orthaks aren't) can generally keep out of the way of their larger but slower opponents.

You might consider the few professional basketball players who are close to 8' tall. Despite playing in a sport where height gives a definite advantage, they don't dominate the sport or give their teams an overwhelming advantage.

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I would say that size really does matter at all in a battle. But if Sun Tzu would be alive today and reading your questions, I think he would laugh at the problem and say, "Oh! It's very easy!" (It's not me laughing, it's Sun Tzu)

If you haven't heard of Sun Tzu, he's a Chinese philosopher-general who wrote the famous book "The Art of War". In his book, he lays 13 Chapters dedicated on how to fight successfully, not bloodily.

Regarding your question, if I would be the general of the human race in your story facing the Orthaks in a battle, I would apply the principles that Sun Tzu laid in the Art of War. For him, war is not battle of sizes, weapons, and numbers. It is a combination of the Weather, Terrain, Resources, Morale, and Backing of the People. He himself experienced fighting a force of 400,000 men of the enemy state when he had only 30,000 men in his hand. And he won the war, with little casualties.

I recommend you to read the Art of War if you wanted to have a hero in your story who is skilled in tactics and battle manuevres. Good luck on your story!

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    $\begingroup$ The Art of War is a great resource but only one of a great, great many. This answer could be improved by showing how Sun Tzu's tactics would apply to this situation (I know terrain & resources would be particularly applicable). If you want more information on the actual fighting strategy and tactics of armies of a similar era, I can also suggest reading Anne Curry's The Hundred Years' War & Jim Bradbury's Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jun 10 at 15:12
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Heavy Cavalry the Orthaks run as a fast as horses right? That is to your advantage if you're charging straight at them charging at you, it's an impact energy boost when you put a 12 foot lance in their chest. Being on horse back also erases their height advantage, or most of it. The really great thing is that because of their large size they're less able to "receive a charge" than humans because they can't pack together as tightly either laterally or in formation depth; that means they can't present a pike wall or similar to stall a charge of heavy horse. It's true that if heavy horse get into a melee with these brutes they're in trouble but heavy horse that get bogged down in melees with heavy infantry are always in trouble.

Horse Archers are also a possible option, they can stay out of reach and fire repeated volleys, if the Orthaks chase them that's all to the good the Parthian Shot is easier with a foe who can more or less keep up with you.

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The men have trained their hunting falcons for battle duty. Clouds of falcons land on the orcs heads and pull their eyes out.

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Building on Lisa Rainer’s answer: passive weapons; i.e., booby-traps.

Pick a location that’s secure for the moment (i.e., no Orthaks in sight).  Dig pits, put spikes (maybe poisoned) in the bottom, and cover them.  Then go find some Orthaks, yell “Nyah nayh!” at them, and then run around the pits and watch gleefully as the Orthaks run straight at you and fall in.

Also, you might want to look for information on “asymmetric warfare”.

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I noticed that although weather was mentioned, no situational solutions were provided utilizing specific conditions. Say perhaps it is windy, while probably unreliable, I suggest looking at using some kind of kite or small glider similar to the Saqqara Bird. These could be fitted with Greek Fire, or some kind of primitive explosive. Another (admittedly outlandish) idea utilizing kites, would be to use some kind of Ben Franklinesque device attached to a crossbow. I know it sounds silly, but check out rocket triggered lightning for a better idea of what I'm proposing. All of this would greatly depend on how you have developed your human generals/leaders. If they are sufficiently ingenious and out of the box, the technology does exist and the strategy might be feasible.

On another note, perhaps grenadiers could make a difference if they fit into your universe. Grenades themselves have been around since the 15th century, so while not ancient, aren't decidedly modern.

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The guys you are describing sound like the typical barbarian enemy of Rome but tougher. If they have tough hides then they are no different than a tall human wearing hardened leather which the Romans were built to fight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-cS_ptYF9I

Remember most battles were not fights to the death. The Romans had good discipline so they didn't break much but most of their enemies wanted to charge in, overwhelm the Romans, then live to tell the tale. Many battles that the Romans fought went something like "two sides meet, Romans throw waves of Pilum at the enemy, they get into a melee battle, they are not doing too well against the Romans, the enemy doesn't want to die anymore so the charge dies and they retreat with about 10-15% losses".

With your Orthaks they would be giant and easy to hit ranged targets but hard to hit in melee combat. I would have a front line with 1-2 shield bearers with short spears designed to attack their ligaments and finish off fallen Orthaks. Outfit them with Pilum too. Behind that I would have 16ft spears stabbing at their chest, face,, and just generally being scary. Behind them I would have dedicated Pilum throwers since they are so nice, tall, and easy to hit. Behind that crossbow men to take full advantage of their range. I'd bring Ballesta too so anything that gives you trouble can be skewered.

If you can inflict enough damage early on then you can demoralize an enemy that otherwise has a numbers advantage.

The absolute best tactic would be the Hun strategy of run around them in circles on horses, avoiding all melee combat, and pelt them with arrows till they stop moving but that makes for a boring story.

Is there anything they are allergic to or that can weaken them that can be mass produced and ranged weapons can be dipped in?

If you know little about ancient battle tactics then these three channels will get you into ancient era warfare and show you how to make a realistic world:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_vLHiWVBh_FR9vbeuiY-A

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMmaBzfCCwZ2KqaBJjkj0fw

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwO-UgquohXwoe7f0e6lMnw

Could probably copy and paste some tactics and only historians would be able to tell.

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There are a lot of good answers here, to put it simply, do not engage in melee combat. This is a summary, plus bits from my own mind:

  • Train everyone in the use of ranged weapons
  • Train their stamina to outmaneuver the Orthaks. You wanted it to be impossible to outrun them, so don't, just dodge. It will take a lot of energy and stamina for these big creatures to stop or slow down enough to change direction. They will tire out quickly and become exponentially easier to deal with. Split them up in battle, don't let them form groups that can gang up and kill soldiers trying to dodge them
  • Invest in making your raged weapons bigger and more powerful
  • Invest in making your soldiers better with them
  • Build heavily fortified positions, the Orthaks seem too dumb to siege
  • "the Orthaks can run at speeds approaching that of a horse", but not matching or exceeding it. So just ride horses and you can outrun the Orthaks indefinitely. Shoot bows from the horses. Not even a single casualty

Their physical advantage is simply not enough alone to guarantee them victory, and additionally you've added a handicap by making them not very intelligent creatures. In fact, they'd be lucky not to be the dominated ones.

However, despite specifically saying that you are looking for a tactical advantage for the humans, if you are keen on forcing this melee conflict to happen the answers you are looking for are

Shock Troops and Ninjas

Shock Troops

Shock troops are frontline soldiers, they are better trained and better equipped than normal soldiers. The way I would use them is to form squads of an arbitrary size, say 5. These men would be the biggest and strongest around with heavy armor, heavier than equivalent plate armor; weighing at least 80lbs. They would carry battleaxes or perhaps poleaxes rather than swords, swords are meant for humans; our meat cuts easily. You'd want and need the extra force that comes with a heavy axe to cut through tough flesh. The tactic I would use is send out fast units, the fastest horses and an unarmored, or lightly armored rider, meant to harass and piss off the advancing vanguard by filling them with arrows. They will charge and the light cavalry will retreat and spread out to split them up. At this point the shock troops will rush in and gang up on the individual or small groups of Orthraks and simply overrun them with muscles and steel

Ninjas

I don't think I need to explain what ninjas are. The tactic is maybe an hour before daybreak, you send them in to silently kill as many as possible. When day breaks, they will flee. During the main battle you will hope that the ninjas killed enough that the archer forces can dispatch the rest

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protected by James Jun 11 at 18:14

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