Avians are a humanoid species with bird characteristics, they all posses the ability to fly. Just as other species they can learn to use bows, swords and magic. Their main fighting tactic is using long spears to charge down attack and fly back up, they are aware using bows from high above would be safer but they are reluctant to change their old ways but will change if things get too bad. Their aesthetic and culture is vaguely based on Qin dynasty China.

Leonins are a humanoid species with lion characteristics, they posses enhanced strength. They are also capable of use of all weapons and magic. Their main fighting tactics are their world-wide famous unbreakable shield walls. Their aesthetic and culture is vaguely based on the Roman Empire.


  • They both have access to magic but they are both bound by an international pact forbidding them from using magic for large scale destruction on the battlefield, but they are allowed to use magic for healing and strengthening their troops (main examples being making troops bigger or smaller, magically protected, stronger, faster and braver).

  • The avians have most of their important cities high in the mountain making them difficult to attack while the leonins live in the plains south of those mountains but have more territory and people.

  • The conflict started because the leonins took in a prince that failed to set up a coup. This is the excuse for the war but the avians are interested in expanding their territory, weakening their neighbor, in glory and in their prince. The leonins originally wanted to destabilize the avians but now want to prove their strength and keep their pride, they also want a bit of glory.


I want this conflict to generate a big number of refugees from both sides and a large amount of animosity. In my view the conflict seems to favor the avians heavily, making it an easy victory due to their abilities to fly over the enemy's armies and walls and to attack from a distance with long spears or bows. How can I balance this and draw the conflict out into a long and bloody war, preferably displacing many civilians?

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    $\begingroup$ How good fliers are your avian people? Closer to falcon, or closer to chicken? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 17, 2022 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander they They can fly but not much faster than an average human can run and they tire in an equal rate to a human running on the same speed $\endgroup$
    – TurtleTail
    May 17, 2022 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Unless the avians are highly magical, if they fly they'll be much lighter than the leonins -- the heaviest flying bird is around 20 kg. This doesn't mean they'll look much smaller -- birds are low density, with hollow bones etc -- but it does mean that they'll do a lot less damage with muscle-powered weapons (e.g. spears) than a leonin would. If getting jabbed by an avian is a mild injury to a leonin, with dozens required to take him out of battle, but a single swipe by a leonin shatters an avian, that's a form of balance. $\endgroup$
    – addaon
    May 17, 2022 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ Do the international pact rules allow large scale protection? Because a city-sized magical shield dome would take care of the avian people’s overhead advantage, after which you’re back to good ol’ siege warfare. $\endgroup$
    – Ottie
    May 18, 2022 at 8:46

9 Answers 9


You can't fly in any but the lightest armour

Birds must be very light to endure staying airborne for very long, and though the largest birds of prey can lift animals as large as goats, it's only for shorter distances. Most avians would only be able to cover their most vital organs with metal, meaning they would not be able to fly into a volley of arrows with the same confidence as a heavily armoured foot soldier.

Furthermore, their large wings would be even harder to armour, and even if they fold them up when diving down on enemy soldiers, they need to spread them afterwards to fly away again, making them vulnerable to crippling wing shots.

The Leonin could counter Avian spear fliers by mixing archers (bow or crossbow) with their shield bearers (who could use spears just as long as the Avians'), allowing the shield bearers to protect the archers while the archers engage the fliers whenever they're out of spear's reach.

The hardest weapon to counter for the Leonins would actually be common rocks, as a rock dropped from 100 metres height will break your arm weather you have a shield or not. In order to avoid these, the Leonin army would have to disperse so each soldier can dodge rocks on their own, and the Leonin army would do well to avoid fighting in open, rocky places. The Leonin might also invent shields with a supporting leg that can take the force of a falling rock, but the added bulk would make them much less fit for use in melee.

Supply trains can't fly

Even if the Avians can fly in battle, they need tents for sleeping, extra clothing, cooking utensils, food rations (to supplement whenever raiding the local countryside won't work), tools for repairing weapons and fletching new arrows, and so on. All these things are probably too heavy to fly around with, so they need to travel overground, not to mention a supply of rocks for whenever they're campaigning in less rocky places. Furthermore, after a few rounds of flying up with heavy rocks, tired Avians would need a place for falling back to rest.

Over time, the Leonin tactics could shift toward surviving the initial onslaught, then charging this camp. The Avians, poorly suited for land-bound combat, have no good way of protecting the camp if they fail to stop Leonin from reaching it.

Mounting casualties encourage non-confrontation

As battles become bloodier for both sides involved, both sides are encouraged to find some target to attack which isn't the other army. Here you can think of the Thirty Years' War: Armies marching around, pillaging the lands for food and plunder as they siege down castles and cities currently held by their opponent. Not a lot of people are killed in battle, more are starved as their food stores are raided over and over, or just killed for being perceived as sympathisers of the opponent. Anyone who has the chance to leave will leave. Hundreds of years later, Leonin parents will still tell their children to behave or the Avians will come, and vice versa.


  • Make the invention of counter tactics play a part of explaining the ebb and flow of the war. So the Avians start out really proud of their spear fliers, making it the core of their army, but at first confrontations they suffer crushing defeats, allowing Leonins to penetrate far into Avian lands before the latter switch to simple rock dropping out of desperation. This proves super effective, putting the Leonins at full retreat and allows the Avians to retake all lost land and then some. Then this culminates inside Leonin lands as the latter learn to protect themselves and ambush the Avians.

  • The mountain homeland of the birds is going to be very hard for the Leonins to penetrate, since they're slow to travel through, more sparsely populated (i.e. have less food to forage off unfortunate farmers along the way) and provide the Avians with plenty of safe spots to strike out from. However, no city can survive without adjacent woodlands for fuel, giving the Leonin somewhere to hide in relative safety while laying siege to the cities. Maybe the Leonin have good night vision and the birds don't, allowing the former to advance and attack during the night. And maybe the Avians never built very strong fortifications in their homeland, never having experienced an invasion from land-bound enemies before now and finding walls mostly ineffective against local warlords.

  • $\begingroup$ Supply trains can't fly is the key. Come winter, the avians' territory is going to shrink to half a day's flight from their cities. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Aug 21, 2022 at 5:57

Assumption both groups are omnivores. Thus are in competition for food thus leading to prior wars/violence that caused the avians to be pushed into the mountains where they have a strong military advantage over the leonins.

Thus the two groups are in balance. The avians can do harassing aerial attacks and resource raids. But if the avains want to claim the better non mountainous territory they need to have boots on the ground. The ground upon which the leonins have clear physical superiority.

This is the same problem that the us air force has. They can destroy cities, but that can't hold any territory without putting boots on the ground.

The civilians are already mostly displaced. The leonins are in the lowlands the avains are in the highlands/mountains. The latest outbreaks of violence would just cause the civilians closest to the borders to move.


Lions jump high.

tiger jump


This looks like a tiger to me. It is definitely a big cat and it is really jumping. I figure the back legs are 5 feet off the ground and the paws are probably 6 feet above that.

Even with long spears, when your bird people get down into spear range the lions can grab them. And the lions are crazy quick; much faster than the birds because they have traction on the ground and they are cats. If the bird is higher than they can grab they will parkour up off a tree or off the top of a buddy to get some extra height. If a lion person can touch a bird person it is all done for the (delicious) bird person.

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    $\begingroup$ Downvoted because Leonids are described as lions and not tigers and there is a difference. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 18, 2022 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron : it is a new millenium and there is a place for some understanding of the "Leonids", who are actually species dysphoric opossum people. Let's let the Leonids live their own truths. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 18, 2022 at 16:29

Both sides indulge in attacks on food and water supplies.

Perhaps these are new spells, hence the lack of agreement against them.

Perhaps their subtle differences allow them to be indignant at the other side: the avians declaim on how the leonins' magic fouls a well for months on end, leaving anyone who drinks it sick, and the leonins, on how the avians' magic renders a well deadly even if only briefly. Perhaps leonins concentrate on the smaller animals, such that the avians can carry them off, and the avians retaliate by slaughtering larger animals, leaving most to go to waste while they carry off what they can.


Beefcake Wizards

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Other answers point out the Avians cannot stand and fight a shield wall because they are too flimsy. Even staying in the air they cannot use powerful bows because they are too weak. They need to be light enough to fly after all.

They can only harass civilians and poison water supplies and such. They cannot capture territory. Their raiding parties cannot stray more than a day's travel from their own territory because their supply wagons cannot fly.

Of course this assumes no magic. With magic they can scry the location of the enemy forces, and teleport their strike forces to rain down acid bolts on the unprotected granary on the other side of the map. When the Leonins muster their troops, the bird people simply teleport back.

This is a problem because typically Magic doesn't care about how strong you are. If your bird people "cast from their INT stat" then their mages have a huge advantage. They can fly and their acid bolts are just as powerful as the Leonin's acid bolts.

To remedy this I propose the mages instead "Cast from their CON" stat. They cast from the energy stored in their body. Thus a larger Leonin has a larger mana pool. A 100kg leonin can cast more acid bolts before tiring out than a 20kg Avian can.

  • $\begingroup$ I like your point building up from the other's and I like your suggestion. When I think of lions I imagine them sitting there like in nature documentaries and when translated into humans would give them a lot of "thinking" and wisdom. So this could put them in a magical advantage using their "WIS stat" for casting. $\endgroup$
    – TurtleTail
    May 18, 2022 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ It is pretty hard to write any story with teleportation magic being that easy and available. They could teleport them, drop acid, then teleport them back a second later, you wouldn't even need to fly in this situation, or even send a person at all. Probably best limiting teleportation magic between two fixed pre-prepared points. $\endgroup$
    – TurtleTail
    May 18, 2022 at 16:46

your setting is interesting and I believe one of the answer in the background of your world.

  • Avians population is limited: Avarian live in very hard to access cities. As such they have an hard time producing enough food to maintain a large population.

  • Avians flight capacity is invaluable they're able to move quickly, to conduct intelligence operation from the sky and harass their opponent.

  • Avians do not have effective CAS (Close Air Support), destruction magic is forbidden, they can harass with bow, rock their opponent, but it is not as effective as today CAS.

  • Leonins learn that if they move by night using their superior night vision and/or under the cover of forest they can avoid avians detection as long as they move in small columns such as to not let large and visible trace from the air. (example a thousand marching in field will make an easily noticeable from the air trace in the field)

  • Leonins launched successful attack on Avians "accessible large cities" forcing survivor to flee and abandon offspring and eggs.

  • In retaliation, Avians started a scorched earth policy, burning Leonins field. Forcing thousands to leave to find food.

From this setup you can then use the old and universal shield and sword trope. One of the group find a new way to parry others attack and the other find a new way to inflict damages.

But the main equilibrium come from the fact that Avian are not strong and numerous enough to directly attack leonid cities. And Leonind can't acces Avians cities. They may try but the terrain make them easy prey for the flying Avians.

War may then be prolonged as more Leonid field are burned, and time to time and Avians cities are raided and pillaged. You can even imagine Avians raiding small cities in force, as they can quickly assemble and move a large force in the air. Forcing the Leonid to develop counter measure. e.g. net over the city. Network of Anti-air ballista ect...


Set the battles in a location where flight is difficult, for example underneath a thick jungle canopy or in rocky valley with strong winds. Have a naturally chaotic magic field in the region that limits both sides to simply spells such as casting fireballs and healing, which would create a war of attrition with neither side being able to gain a magical advantage, but being able to create a lot of injuries.


While Avians have flight, it comes at a cost: Their bones are hollow, and thus fairly weak to blunt force. Even with armor, it would require less force to break a bird's bones than most land animals. Given that they need to be able to fly, armor strong enough to protect them probably won't be able to be worn in the air.

Add to that the facts that birds have to land eventually, there will come times when it will be easy to land physical hits.

Magic can greatly change this, depending on how it is used. If, say, there was a spell which would allow a large thrown rock or boulder to home in on a target, birds would immediately be at a huge disadvantage. While a strengthening spell could be used by avians, it would normally come at the cost of energy required for flight. Stronger bones = heavier bones = heavier object trying to fly.

Effectively, Defense and Mobility are inverses of one another.

So for large numbers of refugees and animosity, have the Avians aerial raid the Lionins, and have the Lionins snap the Avians' bones to ground them and keep them from their high-up cities.


Leonins have a superior economy and population

Avians are more deadly one on one, but leonins have superior carrying capacity, stamina, lifespan, and lower metabolisms. Their plains are also much more productive than the avians' mountains.

As a result, leonins can field well armored, well supplied armies many, many times larger than the avians, with better siege engines and better trained mages.

In winter, their logistical disadvantages increase but their metabolic advantages comfortably compensate.

They can erect forts overnight that would take avians a week.

Sure, the avians can kill quite a few of them as they travel to avian cities, but actually repulsing them is difficult.

Like any number of obscure steppes peoples, the avians are destined to one day be the shock troopers of the big empire next door.


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