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In my medieval setting, bird people are about half the height of a human, have hollow bones, and have hands at the end of their wings.

In warfare, there are 3 types of avian units:

  • Scouts give the commanders a birds eye view of the battlefield, and give out orders to the troops.
  • Droppers (the name is a work in progress) drop flechettes and rocks on the enemies.
  • Fighters fight for aerial supremacy, and are armed with metal talons. Also they are used during sieges to assault enemy battlements.

The bird people live in nomadic tribes, and often work as mercenaries.

All countries use avians of some kind, be they bird people, bat people (pretty much identical to bird people except they live underground), or giant ridden bats.

Dwarves for instance fight in massive tight pike squares with miscellaneous weapons inside, and crossbow archers to the sides. Since they only have a limited supply of bat people, they only use scouts, and fighters, who provide their main protection against droppers.

The elves have the highest supply of bird people, so they use their aviation to the fullest. When it comes to land units, they entirely use cavalry and mounted infantry, in the form of longbow archers. When fighting against dwarves, they use the archers to weaken outside, and droppers to weaken the inside, before charging in with heavy cavalry and war animals.

I wish to get feedback on whether my approach has any problems, or is overly simplistic.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    May 8, 2023 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ @JaniMiettinen they are clearly fighting against other fonts. "Fighters fight for arial supremacy..." $\endgroup$ May 8, 2023 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ On a more serious note, this appears very similar to worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/245834/… and has the same problems that resulted in that question being closed - insufficient detail on who the bird people are fighting and the context in which it occurs. For starters, are the bird people only competing with other bird people, or are they a small minority in a mainly human(?) world? What other races are there, especially aerial combatants? $\endgroup$ May 8, 2023 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ "…have hands at the end of their wings": If their hands are at the end of their wings, that makes it very difficult to nearly impossible to manipulate anything while flying with their hands. They won't be able to carry almost anything in their hands, because their hands would be going up and down as they flap their wings with their hands on a very long lever arm. If it they have the material tied to their body, then they would have to trigger the drop somehow (maybe feet, but needs to not trigger upon takeoff/landing). Fighting with such hands would mostly result in falling. $\endgroup$
    – Makyen
    May 8, 2023 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. How will they hold the bows? Even on the ground they would have to use their legs and hands, and, even then, will have very little strength to draw the string, considering the anatomy of their wing hands. In the air the only offensive use they can get out of it is by dropping it. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    May 9, 2023 at 20:51

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I don't see anything out of the ordinary or which stands out as implausible.

You are basically mirroring some of the uses of aviation in modern warfare, leaving out only transportation: recognition, air to ground attack, air to air attack.

The air to ground attack role will probably be limited by the load which they can carry: since it relies only on kinetic energy to produce damage, you will need to find the sweet spot which balances number of dropped objects and their mass. Too few and too heavy can be easily avoided or won't hurt enough targets, too many and too light will not reach a high velocity.

Another role that you might use is biological warfare. Not only the traditional "drop a rotting corpse", but also a more peculiar one: if they are infected with cholera and/or typhus, they can use their own droppings to infect the enemy troops, cities and related water reservoirs.

Particularly useful when besieging a city.

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    $\begingroup$ I think its important to note that this is similar to early WWI tactics where aircraft dropped flachettes down on the target, where they had to drop hundreds of flechettes simultaneously to have a decent chance of a hit. This would be easier for large formations but since you will likely not use them when your own forces are nearby a formation could break up momentarily when a bunch of droppers arrives. That said, from whatever height the planes dropped them they had the capacity to cut through a cow. How armor would stand up to it is a different question though, especially when dropped low. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    May 8, 2023 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan Those fletchettes could cut through a cow at no matter the height because they were flying at least at the minimun speed to keep the planes flying, which was over 150km/h in any case. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    May 8, 2023 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft not the way they were “launched”, which saw most slow down immediately as they weren’t pointed into the wind, which added to their inaccuracy as they would fly all over the place semi-randomly. Also since you bring it up I expect the flying creatures to not go anywhere near that fast. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    May 8, 2023 at 18:31
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These are the traditional roles for aircraft, so you're on the right track, but consider the actual capabilities of the bird-people.

A bird-person soldier will be badly outclassed by any human soldier, militia, or probably even a cook with a kitchen knife. The human will be physically larger, stronger, able to endure more wounds, and able to carry much heavier weapons and armor. There is an additional problem: while flying units can easily go above the effective range of arrows, if they come down to fight, they are very exposed. Archers on the battlements would be extremely effective against bird-person fighters. Using the bird-people as air cavalry or siege units is probably not viable. They could be more useful as assassins or for infiltration, since they can get into unexpected places.

The comparison to WW1 flechette dropping has already been made, but I would expect the bird-people to be much more successful at it. WW1 pilots were trying to do it while flying awkward aircraft, from angles that were not a good natural fit for the human brain's evolved ability to throw things, and without being able to clearly see what they were doing. Bird-people will naturally be more skilled and will be in their natural environment. However, the inherent weakness of flechettes as a projectile will come into play. If gunpowder exists in your setting, it will be more effective for them to drop grenades.

Also consider the biology of the bird-people. If their hands are on the ends of their wings, they won't be able to use them while flying. They probably won't even be able to hold anything while flying. To see what I mean: flap your arms, then hold a one pound weight in each hand and flap your arms. The droppers will probably have to do something like wear the flechettes in a belt pouch, and then pull a string to release them. They would have a hard time even reaching down to release the flechettes without losing control. This also applies to the fighters, who would have trouble wielding their talons. Real-world hawks that do air-to-air predation use their feet to grab prey. Pelicans use their beak. No birds that I know of can do anything else with their wings while flying.

It might work better for the bird-people to use their legs to power their flight, leaving their arms free to do things - or at least they could kick each other, rather than use their hands.

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This sounds perfectly reasonable. You list three things fliers are good for and then say they are used for that.

The thing that makes or breaks the realism is (a) how the presence of fliers changes the warfare at a fundamental level. Medieval open battles were rare but sieges were common. It is easy for a few dozen people in a castle to hold off an army of thousands. Not any more.

and (b) the logistics of fliers. As always remember:

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte with the quote "The amateurs discuss tactics: the professionals discuss logistics"

You have a platoon of flying soldiers, but they cannot have a flying supply wagon following them. So they need to be escorted by a land wagon to get far from home. They cannot fly deep into enemy territory without starving or raiding the villages for food and water.

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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't the logistics of flying soldiers one of the huge benefits? Because terrain is no longer an issue, Flying Soldiers would have an incredibly large range of Operation. Far greater than an conventional soldier or even a mounted unit. And since they are humanoid and don't require a runway, they would essentially extend your operations extremely deep into enemy territory since they could just resupply with the main army. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    May 9, 2023 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadowzee The birdman platoon is not slowed down by the swamp, true. But the birdmans' supply train is slowed down by the swamp. If the swamp is a small swamp, you can certainly fly the birdmen over the swamp and attack whatever's on the other side of the swamp. But if the swamp is a big swamp, the birdmen will be hungry by the time they have flown over the swamp. Too hungry to fight. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 9, 2023 at 9:27
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Looks pretty okay - there's 2 areas that spring to mind:

1: a modification of your droppers, which would be Assassins. Taking out HVTS (High Value Targets) like Generals etc. They could use the same weapons as your standard droppers - or, more likely, they equip specialist weapons to take out such an individual.

2: infiltration. Think of a Castle with high walls and a barred gate. Something where an individual who could get inside could raise the gate. Now, our flying humans aren't robust enough to storm a castle or engage in Melee combat with full size humans - so they would be limited to sneaking in, weakening the defenses/lowering draw bridges/raising gates and then withdrawing so the conventional forces can engage.

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  • $\begingroup$ I imagine the assassins would have a pretty hard time trying to drop projectiles on specific people $\endgroup$ May 8, 2023 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ While the two possibilities are real, I think that the most probable outcome is a universal doctrine of keeping guard over possible aerial attacks. In this world, everybody knows about the possibility of being attacked from above, so no lowering of guard just because you're inside the city gates. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    May 8, 2023 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GoblinScribe7 - Dive Bombing is reasonably accurate - and with enough practice, you could probably get them to consistently hit within a man-sized target. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2023 at 19:40
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To fully grasp what military purpose bird people would have in your settings you have to play the thoughts back and forth a few times. What is the strongest use for bird people? How would/could that be countered by ground units?

For example when considering your droppers, you should also consider what tactics and weapons would be employed on the groundside to counter them and again what the bird people could do against that.

Bird people dropping stones/flechettes from low hight for good precision would lead to: Ranged weapons used as anti air. For example scattershot mechanisms. would lead to: bird people flying higher and thus becoming less accurate, changing the target from single enemies to tight groups and bigger targets or dropping other weapons that need less accuracy like oil and fire would lead to: ... and so on and so on

also always remember: combat on the battlefield is only one facette of war. there are a lot of others. Intelligence, logistics, morale, position...

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As is, your avianoids would only be able to use what can be carried in each wing-hand or can carry as a payload via foot-claws. Lets do some fuzzy math on how much they could carry and how effective a dropper would be:

Aside from outlying apex birds, most birds can lift, at most, their own weight and cannot fly far when that heavily burdened. Larger birds bones make up about 8% body weight. Average human weight is ~160 lbs (depending on region), with ~14% of that being bone. Bone density, then, accounts for a 6% weight difference. You say they are about half a human, in size, so ~80 lbs minus 6% (4.8 lbs) to account for bone density, leaves you with a ~75 lb avianod. Fatigue is real, so we'll account for that by comparing average human weight (160 lbs) to average plate armor weight (~50lbs). Thus, the average human can endure the fatigue of about 31% of their weight. Wind/weather conditions being flat, your avianoids would be able to to carry a payload of about 20 lbs (or 400 oz), on each drop. Flechettes used in WWI were ~0.7 oz, meaning each bird would be carrying a payload of 571 flechettes.

While I originally set out to show logistical non-viability of a single dropper making a pass over ground units, I believe I've shown the contrary. Flechettes used in WWI could build up enough velocity to pierce a helmet, so it is safe to assume they could pop through some armor with a decent rate of success. A single flight-run of 5-10 droppers would drop 2855 - 5710 flechettes. Even if only 1 in 50 hit and no hits are fatal, that's a good 57-114 wounds per run. Not terrible.

Other things you might consider:

  • Partial or full detachment of the avianoids arms from the wing. The Pathfinder 2e Strix is a good example of this.
  • Dropping caltrops, tar (heh, tarred by feathers), or netting.
  • Dropper efficiency would go down per run, accounting for eliminated opponents.
  • Droppers are going to be pretty useless after ground units have engaged each other.
  • How are droppers going to resupply (or are they a 1-and-done kind of thing)? If they are resupplying from the ground forces, don't forget to account for guarding the supply and the possibility of having opposing units capturing that supply for their own use. What's to keep enemy units from carpeting the supply, then using it to have a closer supply line.
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