So, I decided to replace elves with tengu, a race of six-limbed humanoid birds.

Firstly, because I'm tired of seeing Legolas everywhere. Second is that compared to a bog-standard human-elf romantic subplot the fact, that a tengu is an anthro bird that can slice you open with their talons when angered enough, would make a relationship more "interesting".

However, there's a problem. Tengu are one of the most mobile and intelligent races, gifted with a long lifespan, however, they're also frail and physically weak. If they were to conquer any land, they wouldn't be able to hold it for long. They don't really have any interest in conquering, though, and that's okay.

The problem comes when holding their own lands against invading filibusters and other unwanted elements. They live in hardly accessible parts of mountain-ranges, though their agriculture requires some flat space. Their buildings use a mixture of wood and dirt, and most of their settlements (roughly the size of a larger medieval town) have a vertical separation, with the innermost layer sitting at the highest and subsequent layers deeper than the previous one.

Tengu replace elves in this setting's tropes, consequently, they have a long lifespan, low population, and birthrates. They don't really compete with other races over resources. In terms of export, their light armor design became a hit among the other races who were quick to adopt it.

Tengu are mostly isolationists in the sense that they normally don't initiate communication with others. Though others might want to employ tengu as messengers or scouts, still, the demand is low and tengu are picky when it comes to contracts, filibusters or their affiliates are an obvious no-no.

Also, they fly now, but it's mostly gliding (ratio: 15/1) with flapping-bursts that top at 90 seconds.

Tengu use pole weapons and light armor (hard linen plates over a thin gambeson and steel helmets). Regardless, they prefer to stay away from their enemies and pepper them with various ranged weapons when possible.

Sounds like a real hassle to take over, IMHO. However, I'm unsure if having the high ground is enough to deter mercenaries and various human nations from trying to invade the tengu. What else could ensure that tengu wouldn't be invaded by a foreign power?

The less additional details or unobtainium you have to introduce to make it work, the better.

The technology level is towards the end of the high medieval period. Society (except for the filibusters) is medieval as well.

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    $\begingroup$ Mountain defenses and a variety of ranged attacks are already plenty to serve as a deterrent as long as they're acting defensive. I'm not sure what else you're looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    May 11, 2020 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew I'm talking about nutty lost-causers that tried to invade other countries and establish slavery there. Though here it's just warlords that want to make their own kingdom through bloody means. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2020 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ There are a lot of details that would help here. What other races like the terrain the Tengu have? Is there magic in the mix? Do the Tengu have good trade relations with others, or are they isolationists? How internally cohesive are they? How numerous are they compared to other races? $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    May 11, 2020 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ Kudos for choosing something else instead of Elves, the world has had enough of skinny pointy ears people, they have been overdone too much and palette swapped to the extreme. I once read a funny comment in YouTube, it went like : "leave an elf alone in a dark room and it becomes a shadow elf, drown an elf and it becomes a water elf, make it live in the forest and it becomes a sylvan elf, leave him in the savana and it becomes a sun elf... Drug him and it becomes an high elf" just add any word before "elf" and voilà here's your originality. In the end they are just people, tall skinny ones. $\endgroup$
    – user75545
    May 12, 2020 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyu Around Elves...... $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    May 12, 2020 at 10:55

7 Answers 7


Sounds like a fair fight

The biggest problem that you indicate is that the tengu are physically weak. Fortunately for them, by the high medieval period, defending an area did not necessarily require the defenders to by stronger than the attackers. Depending on how you define that time period, you could have crossbows with cranks and other devices.

Drawing of a man winding a crossbow

And that glide ratio is a big deal. The tengu could glide over a valley and drop stuff on the enemy. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of a medium-sized rock dropped from 100 feet and crashing into enemy forces at 58 miles per hour. If they attack near dusk or dawn, they could drop rocks on enemy tents without facing much risk. Then they could land on the far side of the valley, climb to the highest point on that side, and repeat the attack the next time conditions are right.

Your enemies are filibusters, which were irregular forces that lacked the full support of a government. And the tengu hold the high ground. If they build castles and other fortifications, it would be difficult for anyone to conquer them, even a proper army. The key would be building strong enough defenses to hold off the attackers until they gave up and went home. Check out this well-written guide to siege warfare for a detailed description. The below excerpt is doubly true against filibusters lacking supply chains and relief troops:

Sieges were expensive and troops might be on a fixed term of service (40 days in English armies, for example) so time was also a factor to consider. In addition, the campaign season was typically limited to spring and summer, and the longer the attackers remained cooped up in their own camp, the more prone they were to attack from a relief force, disease, or even starvation themselves from lack of supplies in a hostile territory.

So you have a group of irregular troops trying to take the well-defended high ground, unsure when the next meal is going to arrive through their haphazard supply chain, and every night facing the fear of silent gliding enemies dropping rocks on their tents. Sleep tight!


Mountains + defense + an even sort of airborne intelligent race makes any sort of invasion absolute suicide. Mountains are full of narrow passes and paths flanked by nearly vertical rocky cliffs. Your Tengu don't need to be great at flying as long as it helps them take the high ground. Your invading army will need to walk through countless passes where tengus above can hurl a steady stream of missiles down on their heads while perched safely up on the cliffs. Since they can land up high, this means they are not limited by the weight of missiles they can carry with them

Your army will have no way to out maneuver said attacks, nor will they be able to move as wide enough of a unit to quickly bypass the ambush and just accept the attrition. Bows also don't shoot up very well. Most historical war-bows maxed out at 140-160 fps meaning when fired upward, by the time they reach 50m they would lose about 90% of their stopping power; so, your humans/orcs/whatever will not be able to return fire. Finding 50m worth of high ground in the mountains is not hard as the below image makes pretty clear.

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This kind of situation is so asymmetrical that even a few dozen tengu could conceivably defeat an entire army without risking a single warrior.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed. Just look at the history of Caucasus, it took Russian Empire over 150 years to take over that relatively small region, last 50 of them consisting of pretty much continuous warfare in the northern mountainous part. And that's with all numerical and logistical advantage that being an imperial army entails, which a rag-tag army of irregulars would lack. $\endgroup$
    – Alice
    May 12, 2020 at 23:58

They have got jack squat.

So no-one is interested in taking them over. The tengu spend most of their time meditating and discussing mediation with one another. They do not accumulate treasure and make nothing of any value, instead trading self-composed songs and poems (about meditation) which other races find cringingly painful. They make terrible slaves because they are prone to die for no apparent reason, and even if you take great care to keep them alive they will not do as they are asked, or screw it up if they try, and blame you. Plus they smell like frumunda and are covered with jumping bird lice the size (and shape, and color) of a Hot Tamale candy.

Legolas, please come back!

  • $\begingroup$ I alluded to it, but you probably want to have a riot shield on you when you break up with a tengu girlfriend. So, they're not exactly super peaceful, just disinterested and occasionally tsundere. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2020 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles That's why they meditate so much, to keep calm and get rid of excess agitation. If they are frail but can easily dismember even a human, any drunken fight between tengu would end with dozens dead, which is something they try to avoid, especially with their low birthrate. $\endgroup$
    – Alice
    May 12, 2020 at 23:25

If they have gunpowder, they'd be invincible.

Have you considered how much damage they can do, with 3 arms on each side, thus able to aim and reload even black powder revolvers with paper cartridges, on BOTH sides at the same time AND dual-wielding at the same time? Continuous volley like a slow machine gun. Yikes. I won't ever bother giving them Winchester Repeaters. (3 rifles firing together, it'd be like a f***ing LMG)

Or give them repeating crossbows. Imagine one side of arms fires and re-cocks, while the other side reloads.

You gave them six-limbs. I just made use of them. :D


Kamikaze, fires, boiling oil, explosives and chemical warfare.

No matter if you use a "medieval" setting, bombs, flame throwers and various types of grenades where invented around the 4th century or even earlier.

King X wants to invade the Tengu village/city/citadel/nation because his country is starving due to overpopulation and they need more fertile land for crops and farming to feed their people, what can the tengu do to save themselves and maybe not becoming food? Solve the overpopulation problem in the first place by dropping dead rats on the population to spread disseases or living rats and other rodents on enemy farms and crops so they die of hunger before they are able to form a military.

Or bomb drop the king's castle, the structure might be intelligently built to not be reached by trabuchets or catapults but tengu can just fly over it.

Another option is to take ill and sick tengu and send them to infect civilians, doesn't matter if they are killed as long as they spread the dissease to the enemies, a proud tengu will willingly sacrifice himself to protect his family.

Because rember, there's nothing scarier than losing in a fight where you are defending your family, that's the meaning of pure terror, the idea that someone you love died because you were either too scared or too weak, this is the worst feeling a creature can experience.


as described by others they possess incredible advantages for defence, but IMO their best way to defend their land is to never have to...

As a long-lived creature, long term planning should be more prevalent than In human society. They have a consistent diplomatic effort to ally with neighbours. If diplomacy is not working they rely on black ops to be sure that only lord and king that like them stay long in power.

De facto they made a defensive alliance league with their neighbours. Their wisdom help them to keep the alliance strong and to answer any threat military, commercial but also cultural.

Their professionals' warriors have incredible experience after centuries of training and war. Dispatching a few hundreds can really turn the table, they can help ally commander to find an original and bold solution to problem that may appear unsolvable. And they don't like to fight because losing a soldier is very tough for them, but when they do they are incredibly effective. For example, a couple of spartan saved the siege of Syracuse by the Athenian.


Tengu, or Tenku, are a real Japanese mythological being with a firm grounding in reality.

The myth is that tenku are bird-people, anthropomorphic ravens, known for living in the mountains and other inaccessible places. They were renowned for their skill at arms, including the spear and swords.

The reality of this myth would have been based in reality and the peculiarities of the Japanese warriors' code of honor, Bushido. In Bushido, the main differences between it and the Western military code of honour is the stance each takes on death and surrender. In the Western code, surrender was considered honorable, and required that the party accepting the other party's surrender treat them according to certain standards. In Bushido, surrender is dishonorable, and brands the person surrendering as a coward; the honorable course of action is to fight and die.

So, in medieval Japan, there were many wars between the rulers of the provinces. The majority of the soldiery were ashigaru, poorly trained and equipped peasant conscripts. However, there was typically a cadre of samurai, members of the warrior caste, who literally spent the majority of their lives either practising for or engaging in combat.

In these wars, one lord might be defeated in battle and be left with no escape where he could retreat, regroup and return to battle again. In such circumstances, the defeated lord was expected to die honorably, either in battle, or by seppuku, ritual suicide. His senior samurai would also be expected to either die in battle or commit seppuku. However, samurai as a group were people, and not universally paragons of virtue. So, some of these senior samurai would have fled the scene of their lord's defeat and retreated to make a life for themselves... Where? In the most defensible places in Japan: the mountains.

Of course, if it became known that a notable defeated samurai was hiding out in the mountains, the lord who defeated his master would likely send troops to dispose of this dishonorable holdout. However, if this samurai wore a mask, and dressed in a feather raincoat, he might go unrecognised, even if troops were sent to investigate.

If troops were sent to investigate stories of someone wearing a daisho (a katana and wakisashi, which were a pair of long and short sabres restricted to the samurai and forbidden to anyone else), the troops sent might have been a few younger samurai and some ashigaru. In most cases, the daisho wearing individual might have been a ronin, an unemployed samurai. Ronin frequently resorted to banditry to support themselves, and so had a bad reputation. However, some of these ronin may have been more than mere no-account unemployed samurai, but former senior retainers.

In the event of discovery, these former senior retainers would likely have fought for their lives, retreating to their inaccessible mountain dwellings if necessary. Given their likely skills, they would be able to defeat a disproportionate number of foes, especially ashigaru. On the other hand, if the samurai leaders of tbe detachment were to be defeated (i.e. killed), ashigaru were not noted for their bravery. It is entirely possible that they would flee rather than fight a man of such skill who would surely kill them, and by reporting this person as "a tenku" rather than a specific former senior retainer of a defeated lord, their own lord would have reason to ignore this person rather than spend more men trying to kill him... persons including the ashigaru who witnessed the first fight.

So, the arguments for real tengu living in the mountains is the same as for the historical tenku/ronin: the locations are very easily defended and very difficult to assault with a lot of men, making defeating a foe living there without a ruinous cost unlikely. A few highly skilled individuals in such a location could hold off an army. Before long, any advantage that might be gained from taking the objective could be outweighed by the cost of taking the place.


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