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I'm DMing a D&D campaign and I'm creating a story for it. It is set in a Medieval Fantasy setting. Essentially there is suddenly an unclaimed piece of land bordering two nations. They both want to take the land for themselves but can't invade due to politics. How would a kingdom support an army large enough for an invasion and keep them ready to invade at a moment's notice?

Some things I've considered that would cause issues are

  • Supply lines
  • Having enough men to both be ready for the front and defend inside the kingdom
  • Keeping the army at the border within living conditions

Any input would be appreciated and if more information is needed I'd be happy to give as much as I can.

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    $\begingroup$ How big (area and population) is each kingdom? How big (area and population) is the unclaimed land? What is the terrain like between the kingdoms and within the unclaimed land? What are the other threats to the kingdom that require a reaction force? How much magic is available and how much does it change the situation compared to a "real" medieval society? (Eg Sending spell for instantaneous comms, Create Food and Water spell for logistics etc). Lots more information required, and it may run afoul of the site's policy re 3rd party worlds. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ This question is too broad and too dependent on specific character actions to be a good question for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ "How would a kingdom support an army large enough for an invasion and keep them ready to invade at a moment's notice": Well, obviously, there is only one way to do it. Just like in modern times: have the kingdom be large and rich, with a functional economy and reasonable taxes. This excludes western Europe (all western European states were dirt poor and had no tax base to speak of), but the (Eastern) Roman Empire, the Persian Empire and the Chinese Empire qualify nicely. Standing armies are expensive. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 5:47

6 Answers 6

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How much money does the king have? That's crucial. The only way that you can keep soldiers on hand for invasion at any time is paying them. In medieval times, this calls for mercenaries. But they can be dangerous if not paid, extracting it by looting cities instead, with disastrous effects for your subjects in those cities.

Once you have your mercenaries, look for a good place to put them. Ideally, one that can be supplied by water, because shipping food over land burns the very food that you are shipping.

Defending inside the kingdom is kept up the same old way: the nobles do it. That's their job after all.

Remember that communications are SLOW. If you want them to invade on a moment's notice, you have to have someone with the army with the authority to invade.

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    $\begingroup$ They have to be mercenaries only in the sense that the modern U.S. Army is an army of mercenaries. The point is simply that soldiers play soldier and don't do any useful work. Soldiers are effectively nobility, who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered and provided with their weapons by the productive members of the society. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ This is a medieval society. The only armies are the levies raised as feudal dues and mercenaries, and the first is time limited. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ That is true for western Europe. Not so much for the (Eastern) Roman Empire, or for the Persian Empire; those had actual armies. (That didn't help them very much, as both empires managed to be beaten by the relatively disorganized Arabs.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ Eastern Europe had true professional armies but they were very small compared to the general population. The Easter Orthodox Church taught that ALL murder was a mortal sin (even in war) so the Eastern kingdoms had a much harder time finding people they could press into military service; so, when they found someone who would kill in battle, they were less pick about titles of nobility and invested a lot more money into arming and training them $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki: "The Easter[n] Orthodox Church taught that ALL murder was a mortal sin" blah blah. (1) For the most part of the Middle Ages there was only one Big Church. (2) For all the Middle Ages there was no doctrinal difference between the Eastern and the Western Churches. (3) The concept of unforgivable sin would be rather strange in orthodoxy. (That's why we never did indulgences -- they would be utterly useless.) (4) The Eastern Roman Empire had no trouble finding soldiers (there were plenty of peasants); like everybody else, they had trouble paying, feeding, training and arming them. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 4:38
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Inhabit the border lands with powerful warriors and their families. They'll feed themselves and defend their land, pay taxes, do some light raiding on their own behalf, plus be available at short notice for an invasion along with whatever regular troops you have nearby.

Many outfits did this. The English for instance in medieval times had strongholds along the Welsh and Scots borders which paid for themselves and provided trained and equipped men whenever needed.

They were theoretically always prepared for conflict.

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    $\begingroup$ This is why there are the titles of margrave and marquis, but such nobles are generally a first line of defense not waiting to invade $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary sure, but their war readiness makes them easier to mobilise at short notice $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 1:06
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Generally, they wouldn't

You never need to be ready to invade at a moments notice, you only need to be ready to defend at a moments notice. Any time you invade someone, it is on your schedule. So, if you want to invade this place, you plan it out by scheduling X amount of time to get ready for the war. You basically just send out messengers to all your lords telling them when and where to meet up and it is their jobs to levee and train troops and be there by the appointed time. Then you march out when everyone is there.

What you need to be ready for at a moments notice is defense

The real threat is not your rival taking these lands before you, because it's better to let them weaken themselves first subjecting the locals, and then come in second at your full strength and take it for yourself. The real threat is if thier army takes these lands and then uses them as an inroad into your lands before you can gather your own army. For this you need to build castles. A castle with just 30 or so men could stop an entire army in its tracks. Because castles were so hard to breach, taking one, even from a handful of guards would cost a massive number of lives, and you can't just pass by and ignore it either, because that small garrison can cut off your supply lines if you do. So what a medieval king would do in this situation is build a couple of castles along the border and only pay to upkeep those few men because IF the other king did invade the no-man's land first, the castles would contain the threat long enough to raise and gather an army for a counter attack.

By NOT maintaining a large army at the border, you conserve your wealth and resources allowing you to field a much larger temporary army, only when the need arises.

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Teleportation Magic

D&D gives your king several options for teleportation of personnel. Guarded Teleportation circles at the invasion staging area could easily link the capital (or other military installation) with the critical border at a moment's notice.

Also note that NPC's don't have to play by the same rules as players, so you could easily say that a specialized NPC caster can keep a teleportation circle open for more than 1 (6 second) round. This would allow troops to stream through the circles easily.

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The details depend on why the land is valuable, but I think the short answer is, they would just take it. Both kingdoms simultaneously would see some portion of their military age population just going on raids. You say they wouldn't invade because of politics, but I think that politics in a medieval society is quite different. Raids and pillaging wouldn't count as war in the political atmosphere of a medieval society - they were business as usual. This is especially true if what makes the land valuable is trade routes, but even if its just farmlands you would see soldiers just riding up and demanding tribute to whatever was in reach.

We are used to thinking of bandits as common criminals, but in fact, as often as not the 'bandits' were younger sons of the local noblemen using their martial training and their squads of footmen and retainers to raid the outskirts of their father's lands more or less with his permission. This functioned as an additional tax, a threat to outsiders, and a general consequence of the more or less amoral attitude of most nobles towards violence. Raiding your neighbors or even your own subjects was normal for many feudal communities. These kinds of raiding parties would not be official and would not, for example, fly their flag or wear their coat of arms, but everyone would know who was responsible.

A good example of what this might have looked like can be seen in Seven Samurai. Besides the general setting of a village being under the thrall of an unchecked bandit group, strongly suggested to be deserters from various armies who came together, there is a particular scene later in the movie where the farmers offer the samurai armor. The samurai are angered by this, and it is made clear that the only reason why the villagers might have this armor would be if they had killed members of the warrior class. One of the samurai, who is strongly suggested to actually be a farmer himself, berates them, and reminds them that samurai just like them are the reason why the farmers are so poor, and probably meant more harm to the village than even the bandits currently do. In their society, the villagers already know that the people who are supposed to protect them, won't. That's why they gather up the seven, mercenaries with no other connections - because the actual lords of the land don't care about the bandits, and may well be actively worse.

Any 'unclaimed' land in a feudal society would probably end up like the village from Seven Samurai, invaded by either an unofficial military force like a bandit gang or by actual members of the ruling class, knights (or samurai) and their soldiers, or just as likely, both. These invasions would not necessarily be large scale or even violent - it may just involve a bunch of mounted men in armor riding through a village or past a caravan, saying 'give us these things, no we won't pay you' and getting what they ask for because it's better than dying. This would not count as an act of war even if another nobleman wanted some of the same land. They would just raid at different times, like how the bandits only come after the nobles who own the land have already taken their official tax. It would ruin the land and drive the people there to extremes, but neither kingdom would care in any official sense.

In short, my theory is that there would be no change on the actual borders of the established kingdom, but within the unclaimed territory, both kingdoms would be sending irregular raiding parties to take whatever wasn't nailed down and threaten or kill anyone who tried to stop them. There may be a nervousness in both kingdoms as they notice what is happening to their neighbors, and a certain blood thirst in the soldiers that are supposed to protect them, but mostly, I think people would shrug their shoulders and look the other way.

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Massive public works project.

https://www.medievalists.net/2020/09/medieval-megaprojects/

Building the city of Baghdad

Most cities around the world are built up gradually, growing over generations to become urban metropolises. However, the founding of the Abbasid city of Baghdad would be conceived of, designed, and built, in just a few years.

Before the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur decided in the year 762 to build his new capital city here, the site was home to a few monasteries. Over a hundred thousand workers and craftsmen were sent to construct the city, which would be round in shape, have four major gates, and be about three kilometres in diameter...

Your soldiers are employed building a massive project at their border site. Maybe a city, or a pyramid, or a canal. Thus there is a plausible reason for them to be there. And they are not just laying around waiting and eating. They are actually building the thing.

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