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This is a small civilization (more than just a town or two) almost under the shadow of the regional hegemon. The dominant civilization knows they are there, but don't go too deep into that swamp because they are so outflanked every time.

How could I have a set of normal humans be adept at getting around quickly using methods others can't? At least, not just infrastructure that an invading army can also use to good effect.

No magic, unfortunately, although there could be some post-apocalyptic technology used.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you mean by a "small Civilization." Are you saying they are culturally and technologically dissimilar to the "regional hegemon?" $\endgroup$ – user535733 Aug 1 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ I mean... imgur.com/t/airboat/GLLFE $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Aug 1 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ user535733: I'm thinking a couple of cities and about 8 towns. they are distinct from the hegemon since they don't regularly interact with them. They hide in fact, and are discriminated against, but don't cause enough problems to draw an army to get rooted out... Until halfway through the story of course. $\endgroup$ – MacIsaac Aug 6 at 5:49
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Depending on your swamp there are two key pieces of information:

  1. Routes where the water is always shallow enough and the ground firm enough to walk
  2. Routes where the water is always deep enough to use a small boat

A swamp is a maze without definite pathways. The conditions of the above routes could repeatedly cross each other without interfering, but knowing both is the only way to move easily through the environment.

Of course for the former you could set rocks or logs into the ground at pace distance on predefined routes. Fully, permanently submerged wood lasts a remarkably long time in a swamp type environment without needing much maintenance, and a little careful seasonal dredging never hurt the latter. Permanent residents should certainly be considering both maintenance options.


Beware:

There's a key technical limitation to using a swamp as your primary defence. Swamps can be very easy to drain. If the tribe is too irritating to the hegemon it becomes worth doing, and he can cut off the water and dry them out before attacking. The skills required have been available for thousands of years, the Romans did a good line in draining swamps, the Dutch are specialists at reclaiming land from the sea and have been for centuries. Put in a dam and divert the river feeding the swamp, or run a dyke round the coast means no more swamp and no more passive defence.

A tribe hiding in the swamp, not paying taxes and harbouring the odd criminal is one thing, actively attacking the hegemon from the swamp base is quite another.

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It seems to me the tactical advantage they'd have would be first and foremost knowledge of the terrain.

If they've been mucking about there as nomads for a while, they'll have learned where the (and I'm guessing at wildlife, so please allow for these being examples) 'gators hang out, where the birds nest, how to watch for water moccasins, and what to put on their skin (and how to dress) to keep the bugs off. They'll also know where the sinkholes and quicksand (or fast-acting equivalent) is, where the water flows with an actual current, how to find stable land, and where to find or how to scavenge for food.

This is going to be key to any battle, especially a lengthy one. On one side you're looking at an army--likely armored, which is the worst thing you can wear in a swamp--eaten up by bugs, possibly falling ill from bad water or the viruses the bugs may carry, being picked off by dangerous critters that hide in the water, and sooner or later running low on rations. On the other you have the natives, well able to booby trap their swamp, adept in knowing where to step and how to survive, well fed, often well rested, and able to vanish when the going gets rough.

Even if the attackers are technologically superior, the nomads have more than a fighting chance at winning, especially if they hit them with guerilla warfare instead of a head-on confrontation.

Of course, the easiest adaptation for using a method others can't might just be swinging on well placed vines or ropes--it takes practice to use those right and not whack into a tree. Rope bridges way high up are also a time-honored form of transit and ambush, so long as they're hung well out of the reach of saboteurs.

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If your swamp is a very hostile environment where the Swamp Rats have culturally adapted to as a matter of survival then beyond detailed knowledge of the terrain, they'll have skills that make them dangerous foes.

(1) Since they hunt in the swamp, they learned how to move without disturbing nesting birds. This lets them take their prey without warning. A large dry earth force wouldn't have those skills and knowledge and could be easily tracked from all the birds and bats they spooked as they moved around. The size of the force might be discernible by the size and number of the avians taking flight.

(2) Again, since they hunt in the swamp, they are natural croc-whispers and anaconda-whispers. They know how to move to avoid triggering their predator-prey response or scaring them monsters into attacking. If there are other giant and really dangerous creatures like 20' water buffalo living in the swamp, so much the better. They'll be giant-dangerous-creature-whispers too. The large force will need to guard against the creatures.

(3) If the swamps are prone to tidal or sudden flooding, then the settlements might be mobile, built on a combination of house-boat and wheeled structure. This another place were being creature-whispers works out for them since they can capture and harness the monsters to help them move around. Then let the creatures go.

(4) They'll understand the flora of the swamp and know which things are poisonous and which are edible and which are medicinal. They could coat their weapons in the poisonous ones, eat the good ones which would give them enviable logistics in a campaign. They might be able to sneak the poisonous ones into the water carriers and food supplies of the invaders by sneaking into their camps at night.

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  • $\begingroup$ A tidal swamp wouldn't provide the necessary protection anyway, the hegemon could just put the troops in a fleet of flat bottomed boats at high tide and it's all over before dinner. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 1 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix, except the villages are mobile and the people relocate, leaving the large force with a long and vulnerable logistic trail into the dread swamp of despair chasing phantoms that lead them deeper and deeper to their doom $\endgroup$ – EDL Aug 1 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ The Hegemon is based on a nearby plateau so the tidal swamp is actually very interesting to me. They have boats of course, but it's not their natural inclination. Could be a good way to surround and make the situation more dire, while having an explanation for why they get defeated as well. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – MacIsaac Aug 24 at 15:32

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