I've got a variation of 'humans' who have superior strength on average, with the top fourth of their population being comparable to 'The Mountain' from "A Song of Ice and Fire" (Roughly 8' tall and capable of killing a horse with a single punch). In addition to that, they also have a skin that effectively serves to be as effective as regular leather armor.

With those clear physical advantages, would this group be able to take a typically 'barbarian' fighting style, counting on their toughened skin to supplant for more common armor? Culturally, they would also have incentives to do so to have body tattoos that they value in display, though they do wear armor if they feel they have to.

With equivalent intellect to humans, would a race of humans like these have developed different tendencies in warfare, both amongst each other and against common humans?

The tech level is a general medieval fantasy era, though a very primitive sort of gunpowder is present, similar to the one found in medieval China.

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    $\begingroup$ Why on Earth would such a species develop along the same lines as the European civilization? The western European medieval society (and culture, and warfare) was quite unlike (as in not similar at all) with medieval Chinese society, or medieval Indian society, or medieval Persian or Arab or Turkish society. So yes, most certainly they would "have developed different tendencies in warfare", and in poetry, and in cooking, and in embroidery and in everything else. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ regular leather armor suck except boiled/hardened leather, because boiled/hardened leather type is quite tough compare to common leather except against piercing, historically there already example of barbarian strength and naked such as gauls and other tribe fighting more advance culture like rome befitting the barbarian, for tendencies of warfare its more depend on the culture or the land so need more context. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ How much do they eat? The size of historical armies - and hence, their tactics - had a lot to do with the ability to keep soldiers fed. $\endgroup$
    – G_B
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that leather armor was: #1. not as prevalent as most people imagine. #2. completely different from the biker jacket style "leather jerkin" most commonly found in movies and video games, and #3. almost nonexistent in the time and place most standard medieval European fantasy settings are based on. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, I imagine the biggest problem for this race is that if their "leather skin" is effective enough to actually matter, that would be far more biologically expensive. Combined with their size (also biologically expensive with diminishing returns), this race would probably be VERY susceptible to anything that caused a food shortage. If they haven't already harvested/hunted the land to the point that they can't sustain a minimum viable population anymore. $\endgroup$
    – Tezra
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 19:01

4 Answers 4



You haven't changed the status quo. You've just taken a group of thugs and given them leather armor skin and steroids. They're stronger, yes, but strength is already an advantage in combat. There are hundreds of ancient military techniques and formations that were explicitly designed to be used against superior foes (like encircling, using ranged weapons, ambushes, forcing fights on unfamiliar terrain, etc.), so it's unrealistic to expect warfare to drastically change because the already useful parts of it got more useful for one side.

Breaking it down, leather skin isn't especially useful if you're setting this in 'traditional medieval fantasy' which means superior metal armor is present and the majority of weapons can pierce basic leather armor from metal arrowheads to pikes to swords.

The eight-foot tall bruisers are kind of an interesting concept, considering the average height of a medieval knight was around 5 1/2 feet, but you wind up with anatomical problems (unless you want to magic that stuff away, or something), logistical problems, and finally, they're giant walking targets. Literally, they'd stick out like sore thumbs among their regular brethren, and if you had them form elite heavy troops, anti-cavalry tactics like using spearwalls would efficiently shut them down.

That said, if you decided to take them a train them in the Macedonian Phalanx and equip them with twenty foot spears, then you'd be capable of wrecking any army on flat terrain. But, and here's the most important point, it wouldn't change the way war was conducted. Just tilt the balance.

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the phalanx structure also create issues if it's a mixed army? The height difference would create problems with keeping the formation tight, and the difference in weapon length would make it difficult for the humans to participate in battle. I would personally think that(especially in a mixed army) they could make the largest impact as bowmen, with larger bows and heavier arrows they could decimate frontlines without being in range. $\endgroup$
    – skippy
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @BobMeijer I'm sure a clever commander can think of a few ways to keep any formation(s) together without squandering the giants' advantages. Lots of ways to solve the puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ very good answer. IMO they can tilt the balance in a number of ways, but they made incredible shock troops and ambushers (if the enemy can't get into formation they superior strength may be a critical factor). Without armour, they can't endure a long fight. Furthermore, they may be able to wield longer heavier weapons and be able to draw much powerful bow. $\endgroup$
    – RomainL.
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ @BobMeijer Not really. Start with a standard Phalanx using normal humans (e.g. 3 rows: Shields, spears, longer spears) and then back it up with an extra half-row of giants (half as many/twice as spaced, with even longer spears!) The main difference will be that the giants can stab down more, so you might find that you need 2 shield rows in a testudo formation to cover front-and-above. But yes, the bow aspect is more important: The increased strength and bow size means you can fire arrows 25-50% further, giving a 500-600 yard range and thus pick off enemies before they can return fire. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention given the increased height means they can fire small tree trunks from their longbows, which will be pretty demoralizing to an advancing foe, when 20-30 spears rain from the sky at a tremendous distance. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 23:11

Specifically answering the question of whether or not natural leather armor would be sufficient to allow these giants to fight shirtless a la Hollywood barbarians. No. Almost any ranged weapon can pierce leather armor, so they'd get wrecked if they relied 100% on their skin.

If there's any particularly strong trend in history with armor, it's that soldiers wear as much armor as they can afford as long as it won't overburden or overheat them. I assume that there would be no significant difference in the form of armor, except that the square-cube law probably means that, although their armor will be thicker than regular people's armor, it will be relatively weaker against their equally-sized opponents.

Weapons technology will probably shift a little in favor of piercing weapons as opposed to blunt or edged, and normal humans will use more polearms. Edged weapons like swords will be less useful against people with such tough skin. Blunt weapons are normally used because of extremely effective armor, but these giants (that pesky square-cube law) will have relatively weaker armor, which will make it harder for smiths to "beat" piercing weapons and "force" the use of blunt weapons. Blunt weapons and shorter weapons should still be popular at all points for specialist moments like siege assaults (where you won't have room for swinging longer weapons,) and eventually metallurgy and smithing will advance enough to make them the weapons of choice for taking on armored giants. Polearms may be a necessity for regular people to compensate for the reach advantage of the giants.

Additionally, archery may suppress gunpowder for longer, since these giants will be able to wield immensely powerful bows. And with their proportionately weaker armor, these bows will remain effective for longer.

Heavy cavalry may be delayed since it will take much longer to breed horses in large numbers that can support the weight of these giants.

Overall, I wouldn't expect a dramatic shift, just a longer road before heavy cavalry becomes king of war and a longer road before the advances in armor technology start forcing you to switch to gunpowder.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd say that they should miss heavy cavalry phase completely - before they breed big enough horses, the people they fight against should be compelled to develop good enough guns to make heavy cavalry obsolete. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 7:06

Historically, the elites who ruled over the masses of peasants wanted to be seen as something special. "Anointed by god", "blue blood", "descendants of x or z famous guy" or some other invention.

Well, our special humans here are special for real! They are something to look up to, for the common man. Like for real, because they are tall. Also stronger. Equal inteligence with humans. And faster, big size does not mean a creature is slow, think bears. They have a natural deep voice from the bigger lungs and throats that make them seem to be more manly. They are good battlefield leaders, they can lead lesser races from the front with lesser actual personal risk.

They like to practice duel while naked, and it works with that tough skinn. They do this in impress the weaker races, but also because its a lot more expensive to repair the huge armor they got.

In a real battle they always use armor and have the great strenght to effectively wield huge shields. The shields make them almost invulnerable to almost all missiles and hand weapons and can be used as battering rams. Combine this with a 5 meters long one handed pike and you have the finest heavy infantry ever.

What could be different in this society, beside the tendency of rulers to be giants ? The development of gunpowder and fire arms. This world has a bigger need for it.

A battery of several napoleonic type cannons with shrapnel and grapeshot could devastate a phalanx or shield wall of giant men.

The giants could be grenadiers. Historically grenadiers would be selected from the talles strongest men. Not a match for cannons, but deadly at close range, cities, forests, tossing grenades. But not kings of the battlefield anymore.


First, change the hide specifications for these "barbarian giants". You want:

A) Thick skin, maybe with a layer of blubber underneath (for greater protection and cold resistance). A hippo's is two inches thick and makes them quite resistant to bullets (though a 50. cal can apparently kill them with ease) but a sperm whale's is 14 inches thick (good luck shooting a bullet/arrow through that!) I'd go with the 14-in. skin.

B) Tough skin, think rhino.

C) Plated, a la Javan Rhino (I don't know how to put picture links, hopefully you can find a good picture): you see, these guys have built-in "plates"-folds of skin-that make them harder to hurt.

D) Scales. If you really want superior protection (especially from bullets), look at crocodilians. It's almost impossible to get a bullet through their scaly skins, and with the additional toughness granted by the hide-like nature and thickness of their skin, these guys will render firearms (hopefully) useless once they are developed.

Both when fighting each other or when fighting other humans, the focus will be on blunt force. Smashing, crushing, and otherwise trauma-inducing attacks will still hurt, if not kill, these individuals. Assuming their toughness evolved to protect them when fighting against each other, they would therefore have developed adaptations that make them more resistant to blunt force. This being said, a cannonball or flung boulder (via catapult) should still do the trick.

These guys will be like Urgals in Eragon, no, Kulls, due to their large size. Fierce fighters, renowned for combat, very hard to beat unless you have cannons and catapults, which smart kingdoms will both acquire and put considerable work into developing. That being said, they will adapt to make up for these weaknesses:

  1. Use Religion-These giants use propaganda and charismatic preachers to spread the idea that they are blessed, no, chosen of the gods to be the superior race, AKA rulers. Religion is a great medium for A) gaining power, B) maintaining power, C) shaping beliefs and values, and D) making authority stronger. Authority crumbles when it's questioned, religion usually comes with anti-questioning principles. This gives them power over everyone, and also enables them to outlaw cannons and catapults as 'unholy.'

  2. Use Sheer Power-This requires early giants to have had both vision and determination; enough to sieze power early in history and maintain it. People may revolt, but these guys have by now (assuming Dark Ages) designed the system to benefit them, culturally, socially, and of course physically. The methods of making cannons and catapults will be well-hidden and restricted, to prevent this weakness from being exploited.

  3. Use Saboteur and/or Intimidation-Elephants are surprisingly silent, having biological "silencers" in their feet. There are also graceful, large animals out there, as evidenced by this quote from the Huffington Post: "Despite their powerful size, bison are graceful creatures and move almost daintily, but with speed and purpose." If these giants have these traits, A) they're not the easy-to-counter slow brutes we typically see in media and B) they can sneak into places.

Let's say that when the giants hear someone is working on cannons or catapults, or weapons that would be effective against them, they attempt to put a stop to such nonsense with a show of force. This may work, but you know what's even more effective? Having whoever starts working on such a project assassinated. The resulting 'fear factor' will make anyone reluctant, if not unwilling to, develop anti-giant weaponry.

  1. Use Clever Tactics-If none of the above work for you, simply have the giants use clever tactics to mitigate cannons and catapults. Account for their weaknesses the same way regular humans do; through intelligence.

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