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I have an empire, let's call it X, that has access to (very few) superhumans with extremely destructive powers. For instance, one of them has near-complete control over fire and can burn down entire armies, and another has control over (localized) weather and can sink entire enemy fleets. But the specific powers aren't the point; the point is that these superhumans make it nearly impossible for any enemy to win any direct land or naval confrontation. What's worse is that these superhumans are unkillable by conventional means (ie "blow them up" or "poison them"). The tech level is WWI, without aviation (though it is being developed). Other nations also have powerful magic, but not nearly as powerful as the superhumans that X has.

Note that the objective here is to fight them conventionally, not through guerilla or insurgency tactics. The objective is also not to win (which is kind of impossible I suppose) but to give the enemy a hard time and protect your people.

A potential answer is that using these powers can cause a lot of collateral damage which nullifies the potential gains during a war, but X isn't concerned with collateral damage or destroying entire cities if that destroys their enemy. And at some point, destroying enough enemy cities will likely cause surrender if for no other reason than the people not wanting to continue a lost war and have millions die over it.

The only weakness that X has that I can think of is that the number of superhumans is quite low (5-7), so they can't be everywhere at once. But they can move around very quickly and can reach any part of the empire within a day or two. So any "big battle" will soon have these superhumans coming to win it. Not to mention that big important attacks, like some kind of a Normandy-style landing, will always have these superhumans to ensure victory.

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    $\begingroup$ 'fight them conventionally, not through guerilla or insurgency tactics.' Does this also exclude cloak and dagger tactics like bribing the superhumans or threatening their loved ones? WWI-ish intelligence should still be able to those strategies done. Especially if the strengths of the superhumans is widely known. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ It would help if you would give us the objectives both armies are trying to attain. Is X trying to destroy the other nation, as in, killing all its people? If so, surrender to X would not be possible. $\endgroup$
    – workerjoe
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ hit'em where they ain't - Willie Keeler $\endgroup$
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ You state that these superhumans are automatic winners in any conventional battle, yet you're also asking the other side to limit themselves to those conventional battles that you've just said are guaranteed defeats. Without relaxing that constraint or imposing other limits on your superhumans, your premise fails any sort of plausibility test. When facing functional weapons of mass destruction, your military forces must avoid presenting any sufficiently large target to warrant their use, which by definition rules out any individual contingent large enough to be used in conventional warfare. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ @TheInfiniteOne That depends on what you mean by "instantly." Nazi forces overwhelmed Belgium and the Netherlands, drove the British Expeditionary Force off the continent, and captured Paris in just six weeks. By any definition of warfare previous to 1970, that's "instantly" and the French Government surrendered with an underground that began using insurgency tactics. In other words, your belief is historically incorrect. Trying one's hardest to delay them is what four national forces did for six weeks. Based on your current description, your superhumans would do all that in six days or less. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 19:11

15 Answers 15

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We get a lot of questions about how to fight godlike creations

And the answer is always "you can't, you need to introduce a weakness that you can narratively take advantage of."

Frankly, it sounds like you've introduced your weakness, at least most of it. There's only a half-dozen of these super-soldiers. Where you have a problem is the phrase, "But they are able to move around very quickly and can reach any part of the empire within a day or two." That's gotta change. You have super-soldiers who can individually destroy the equivalent of entire cities in minutes.

Can you fight a conventional war against a nuclear-powered country that is willing to drop the bomb at any time? No. You can't. No matter what action you take, you can't take it fast enough with a quick enough consequence to stop the complete destruction of your country.

So you need to back away from having godlike super-powered soldiers and introduce some useful weaknesses that would allow a conventional WWI-tech war to take place. What weaknesses could you introduce?

  • They really can't destroy whole cities. Their powers are more along the lines of destroying entire platoons (at most one house or building) and it takes a bit of time (granted, 10-15 minutes) to get the job done right.

  • The speed of their transport is limited to the technology of the time. They can only move as fast as a car, train, or boat can move them. Moving through combat zones becomes specifically slow.

  • They physiologically can't use their powers at godlike levels. In other words, they become exhausted. This means they're not a weapon available 24/7 during the war. At most they're available 3-4 hours a day. At all other times they're resting, eating, defecating, and complaining about never getting enough R&R.

  • You can't make them entirely impervious to incoming weapons fire. Maybe they can't be killed by it... but they can be bruised by it. That means they can't just stand atop a hill and rain fire and death on their enemies. They might not die, but they'll stagger off the hill in a lot of pain. This will cause a limiting effect — they can't arbitrarily destroy things. There is strategy involved to protect the asset that forces limits on when the asset can be brought to bear.

  • Give them a line-of-sight limitation. They can't destroy what they can't see, which means it's a constant battle to get them to the high ground. In an urban fight their abilities are substantially curtailed.

And then there's story-based limitations that can be useful.

  • Leaders make funny choices about powerful weapons. Hitler, for example, has been criticized by historians for his choice to hold back his advanced Panzer divisions at the beginning of the Allied Normandy campaign because he was sure the invasion would take place somewhere else. By the time he changed his mind, their usefulness had dropped considerably. In like manner, you can have military inefficiency that fails to get your super-solders to where they're needed in time to protect the empire from a conventional strike.

  • Damage can get in the way of transport. Blow up enough railroad track, roads, and ships, and the ability to move your super-soldiers around gets messy. If the war is pressed well, it may be impossible to bring the supers to bear in any less than 1-2 weeks. With every delay the war becomes more conventional in favor of the enemies of the empire. You, the author, simply needs to place damage in useful locations to cause that to happen.

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    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 18:48
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By definition, no

Conventional warfare is all about warfare with conventional weapons, ie. weapons which are not biological, chemical, nuclear (read "overly destructive"), or anything beyond the good old rifles and knives. The primary goal of conventional wars is to weaken and destroy enemy military forces.

If superhumans can wreck havoc to a whole fleet of battleships, they're more akin to a weapon of mass destruction, so it won't be a conventional warfare. Also, if your troops can't virtually kill the superhumans, they cannot effectively "weaken" the enemy forces, hence a conventional warfare is not bound to happen.

To give a clearer picture of what's going to happen : If the other side can't win, they'll naturally spread out and use ambushes on the enemy's backline. After all, it's an huge waste of resources to send large amount of soldiers and equipment to a place you know a "human nuclear bomb" is there. A clever general who is not fond of zerg rushes nor are believing they have limitless resources will limit the sacrifices made : As you told yourself, their goal is not to eliminate, but to slow down and prepare a retreat for the populations. Sending people to their certain death directly goes against that same goal.

The only option then is to distract the enemy and absolutely strike where the resistance is the weakest, which means that everywhere your superhumans are, it will be either guerillas tactics or a plain one-sided massacre whenever said guerillas failed. Not a conventional battle in any way.

Is there a way to make it conventional?

There's no miracle here, you have to carefully balance your supers so that they are not dominating any battlefield they come into. Think in terms of scaling and effectiveness. Picture simple scenarios where you have X troops on one side, and Y superhumans on the other. If your superhuman always annihilate what would be normally a totally unfair match-up (e.g. : 25 tanks, 50 humvees and 200 soldiers), they're not "balanced" enough to allow a conventional battle. It's especially true if they win very quickly. Conventional battles do take time, unlike mass destruction ones which are done as soon as the red button is pressed.

On the other hand, a destructive power closer to what the other side can afford to fight will allow more easily conventional warfare. Think like when people added tanks and planes to the fray : Very strong, but their cost-to-value stay relatively the same. They're essential nowadays, but none of them are mercilessly crushing every other weapons. Do that and you should be able to allow a reasonable conventional warfare.

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Your world has the property that offense is much easier than defense- a rival power with a super 100x weaker could still kill half a city before the strong super could get there and stomp them. Therefore, asymmetric Mutual Assured Destruction a la modern day north korea or russia is the way to go- the side with less to lose has a disproportionately strong position in negotiations, to the point that they can force the other side to stand down their stronger supers even while a war rages

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Note that the objective here is to fight them conventionally, not through guerilla or insurgency tactics. The objective is also not to win (which is kind of impossible I suppose) but to give the enemy a hard time and protect your people.

  • Conventional war
  • Objective is not to win

Those two are mutually exclusive. A Conventional war is fought to victory. However - if I assume that what you mean by 'Conventional' is merely 'Not a terrorist operation' - then we can have some fun.

Now - to answer your question, even in a Conventional setting, there is enough scope for deception. Your Super Heroes are few in number - You acknowledge this limitation - even 1-2 days worth of travel is enough time to get in, raise hell and get out.

Every attack has to be predicated on both a deception (successful or not) and a limited time window. Every retreat has to have the appearance of being diversionary, even if it was, in fact, the main assault.

The goal is to drain the enemies will to fight and to make them expend resources, in addition to make it so that the populace lives in resentment of the superheroes: What's the point of a Superhero if they only turn up after the damage has been done?

You also want to create Dilemas. Ryan McBeth (Ex US Army Anti-Tanker) has a YT channel and talks frequently about this: A Problem is something that has a definite solution - A Dilema is something that has multiple negative solutions.

For example - you decide to attack the enemies grain stores at the same time you are making advances towards a major city.

If they keep their defences at the City, then there is a good chance that all their provisions will be looted and they will starve. But if they pull troops from the city to reinforce the grain stores, the City might be sacked.

That's a Dilema - it has no 'good' solution and the goal is to always keep the enemy on their toes having to make tough decisions - because regardless which decision is made, someone in the defending populace is gonna be really upset with it. And if you only have 5-7 super heroes, that means an attack on 8-10 fronts will mean that one or more of them will leave one of them undefended.

In addition - we could go with some PsyOps - Treat the regular citizenry well, don't Rape and Pillage, tell them that their goal from a military perspective is to get them to sit at the negotiating table. Spread seeds of doubt about the SuperHeroes etc.

This is how you would fight such a force - Attack at multiple places, at multiple times, creating dilemas, stretching their Superheroes, raising resentment in the populace and generally not trying to take and hold ground but to weaken the will to fight and then use the populace to make the final move.

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This question is unanswerable, but here is a list of things you can do to make it answerable.

Basic combat tennent: You can't win a conventional fight against overwhelming forces. In this case, you're talking about an extreme technological advantage, even though you are describing the technology as "superhumans."

You've already told us that the biggest disadvantage they have is limited numbers. You can further specify this as "limited attention." They might be able to solve individual problems through extreme violence, but they can't even think about what it's going to take to solve all of them at once.

Furthermore, you have to define how they move, how fast, and what the limitations of this are. You'll also need to identify what their surveillance and communication limitations are. They can't solve problems that they don't know exist. You have to provide specific numbers, too. At this scale, five to seven is immensely different from twenty.

If they're all superman, can fly at supersonic speeds, listen in to every conversation on the continent simultaneously, and can spot a gnat on a rifle from 100 miles away, you're kinda up a creek. If they have to carry a backpack radio and get within 2000 yards of each other to connect, then you have lots of options.

If they can burn everything in sight, but sight is limited to the distance to the next hill, you have options. A country is a big place. You can't watch it all at once.

This would be a bad place to enumerate every super-soldier on your list. A comic book writer's primary goal is to come up with realistic challenges for the heroes. This means writing comprehensible limitations into them, and not giving them world-breaking powers. Don't ask us to write your story for you.

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Kamikaze tactics / Zerg rush

If the question is, is it possible to fight a conventional war against these guys, the answer is yes. Whether it makes any sense to do so, is a different question.

If you're going to fight a superhuman-fielding army conventionally, it's a given that you will probably lose most if not all soldiers taking part in the attack. So the goal will be to take as many enemy soldiers with them as they can. In order to do that, the side without supermen will want to

  • Try to be on the attack all the time or as much as possible. Defending means soldiers staying put in one clearly known location, which is where superhumans will get them. If empire X is the invading side, the other side will have to counterattack rather than defend. This means yes to giving the enemy a hard time, no to protecting your people.
  • Use surprise attacks. Enemies of empire X will want to attack at night or otherwise at an unexpected time and from/in an unexpected direction.
  • Make the location of your forces as unpredictable as possible. The enemies of empire X will want to make their forces as mobile as they can be. With WWI tech that would mean trucks/horses/bicycles. They will attack simultaneously along a broad front and do everything they can to maximise the length of time their army engages the enemy without the presence of the superhumans.
  • Attack as aggressively as possible, try to close to melee range in shortest possible time. It sounds like the superhumans have area of effect attacks, in a messy close quarters fight it means hurting their own forces as well as the enemy. Heavy use of poison gas or artillery strikes over the area the armies are fighting is likely, the attacking soldiers are all considered dead already anyway.
  • It depends on the people in charge of the superhumanless side, but if they do break through at some point, they may go for scorched earth tactics, to do the most damage they can before the superhumans arrive and kill them all. Don't know if there is anything like the Geneva Convention in your world, but it may well be completely disregarded.

This is all of course very different from historical WWI tactics, known for trench warfare, but military tactics change according to need. This would allow the enemies of empire X to do the most damage they can but obviously at a great cost to themselves. So most likely they will want to avoid conventional warfare altogether. Your world may see a much heavier emphasis on development of aviation, especially long-range bombers, ballistic missiles, poison gas, any kind of weapons of mass destruction that can create a mutually assured distruction situation, so that conventional war may be avoided altogether. Your world could even see a much earlier Manhattan project.

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    $\begingroup$ Point 2, 3, and 4 of your suggestions list are -for the most part- associated to non-conventional, asymmetrical warfare, especially at the frequency you'd have to use them ^^. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Otherwise we agree; Defense is useful only when you can actually stand your ground. If you're going to get wiped out anyway, it's best to do it in a blaze of glory, closing in to your end goal even if only by an inch. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 16:10
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NO

Others answer focus on how you could attack the empire , but a glaring problem is : you can't defend against it.

Your stated goal is :

to give the enemy a hard time and protect your people.

The thing is, the empire just have to keep half of their super in defense, and with the other half and a small army they can enter your territory and lay waste to it, and you couldn't do anyhting about it. They could raze your capital and major cities, blow up your factories, burn your fields and food supplies ...

Actually, considering they are "unkillable", they could probably just go solo, without the need of an army to slow them down. Your country would be in ruins in just a week.

So, i agree with the others answers, you need to nerf them somehow.

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Weakness is a lack of Imagination:

If your enemy is certain that they can win, then they have already lost. Every war is simply an application of force and imagination. While I'm sure your Generals will come up with some interesting solutions (BTW, you need BRILLIANT generals), here are a few approaches that are reasonable with the tech available.

Hurt your enemy everywhere:

WW1 had plenty of tools that were available to bleed Empire X to death - provided the proper background conditions. Let's just say Empire X is like Britain - they've run around, attacking and cherry-picking conquests so they have a wide, far-flung empire and lots of ships. While the WW2 submarine warfare gets all the news, the Germans fielded lots of submarines to bleed England dry during WW1. You can't hit what you can't see. No point spending money on battleships and planning fleet engagements. Your ships are raiders and submarines. No ship is safe. No coast is safe. This will be a bitter war of attrition, bleeding X until they decide the war is a waste of time.

Aircraft are primitive, but if X lacks airplanes, then build bomber dirigibles. You aren't trying for honorable attacks on military bases, but demoralizing bombing of cities with fire bombs. The citizens of X are used to arrogantly swaggering around, dominating everything. They aren't the stoic Brits, sucking it up for the empire. They are spoiled elites who rely on their heroes to dominate.

Then there is the next best thing to partisans - saboteurs. Light a fire in every dry field, put a raiding party in every town, set a bomb in every boiler. Make the enemy constantly fear where the next attack will land. Don't discount ACTUAL partisans and guerillas - these have been ancillary to "conventional" wars from time immemorial. The Germans sent Lenin to Russia, offered Pancho Villa money to raid the US, and stirred up rebellion in Ireland ("Bloody Sunday") that people still sing about today.

Make it personal:

Your heroes are people - people with families, homes, and lives. Send spies to seduce or corrupt the heroes. Bribe them shamelessly. Appeal to old-fashioned morals and ethics about killing. Lacking that, kidnap Mom or Dad. Murder their children. Burn their homes to the ground. Find out about the elicit affair they're having and threaten to expose it. LIE shamelessly and ruin their lives, wealth, etc. Give them gifts of expensive uranium jewelry to sicken them.

These are humans - mortals, despite god-like power. Exploit it.

Do the seemingly impossible:

These folks are "unkillable." So what CAN kill them? If hitting them directly with a cannon doesn't kill them, build a bigger cannon. Armor-piercing shells were a thing in WW1 already, so build a hero-killer. If a regular explosion doesn't kill them, bury 50,000 tons of TNT in a trap and lure them into it. Sacrifice thousands of troops, if needed, to draw them in. If they travel by ship about the empire, ambush the ship and leave them to drown. If they can't drown, encase them in ice after luring them to the Arctic.

Lie Your A$$ off:

Heroes are only as good as the intelligence guiding them. Spies will do wonders to keep them busy where they do no harm. If they think there is an attack in one place, they go there - while you convince them the real attack elsewhere is a diversion. They can only go SO fast, so if they are off tied up in a far-flung colony, they can't be trouncing your army near home. If they believe you have a hero-killing weapon going into a battle, they may be reluctant to deploy their irreplaceable heroes.

MAKE THEM AFRAID:

They only have a handful of heroes, and if they lose even a couple, they're screwed. Plant evidence that heroes are unreliable, planning desertion, mentally ill, or otherwise compromised. Present threats to the heroes (real or imagined) that make them doubt their own safety. If I thought I was invincible and then believed the enemy had developed Kryptonite, I might be reluctant to go where the Kryptonite presumably was.

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If you outnumber them a lot

If the rival empires have enough armies, they can just destroy the support structures of the heroes. Make their populations more nomadic, constantly spy on the heroes with hourglasses, do whatever you can to stress the heroes out and delay and distract them. In the meantime attack on 10+ separate fronts simultaneously and destroy the nation.

Even if the heroes just keep killing, with no support structures they won't know where to go. In the long run people can build housing more resistant to heroes, prepare evacuation procedures, work on better magic to distract and delay them.

The heroes will essentially be like a storm. They sweep in, kill a lot of people, and sweep out. Bad, but with careful preparation survivable, especially when they have no nation to support them. Maybe in another fifty years the atom bomb will be developed and they can be killed.

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Delay tactics

Your winning condition seems to be focused on one thing. If we delay these superpowered people enough you technically win. It is a bit like encryption technology. You know that eventually it will be broken of enough time and resources are applied to it. You want to make this time and resources high enough that it becomes unfeasible.

Though I would like to state that in general anything is unlikely to succeed, here are some ways of delaying that contribute to a 'win' scenario.

Scattered population

One major factor is that the super people do not even need to join the fighting. WW I brought a new type of warfare that killed millions in a display of slaughter never seen before. The scale and how easy it was to lose your life as a soldier made it second to only the second world war, where the mass death weapons were improved to the new battlefield. But it is important to note that relatively little happened in the sense of military lines. Trenches were captured and recaptured, but there were many trenches behind that it barely mattered.

One or two of the super people could leave the battle field alone, simply walk into enemy territory and start destroying cities, supply lines and killing any governance. To prevent the population and governance to be easily wiped out, you want to scatter your people. Higher spread means more distance to travel, as well as people more easily missed or can move away/around the super person.

Hiding

Secondly you can go into hiding, sort of. Move people underground, or have hidden shelters for larger populations. The extend of the super powers is unknown, but some radars and other super senses for mass population detection are probably not in their repertoire.

Weapon preparation

Batman in later years is famous for being able to take down anyone, as long as he has preparation time. If you know the enemy has such people, you're likely not sitting idle in the weapons department. Though killing is often the first thing that people think of, neutralising can be as or even more effective. Instead of killing, why not try to slow down the target? Though you might not kill them, you can probably knock them about or encase them. Research into fast setting concrete, or even just a special jello might already serve. Encasing their bodies for a time until thry can get out. They might also be overconfident, exposing themselves to enough gunfire that can lock them down physically, however temporarily it might be. Even gas and smoke can help. Even if it's their eyes watering from an irritating gas that will impede their eyesight.

You want to attack any physical weakness you can find, even if it doesn't kill or maim them.

Conclusion

By scattering your population and forces, as well as hiding them you can make it much more difficult for a super powered person to have a great effect. Secondly you are likely to have invested time and effort into neutralising such foes. If not killing, making them uncomfortable, hampering direct physical movement or indirectly prevent them from spotting your forces. It doesn't give you a 'win' automatically, but at least you have a chance, however small that chance might be.

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Your scenario is very similar to asking how a non-nuclear country would defend against a nuclear country that doesn't care about collateral damage or wiping out cities, where the ballistic missiles are superhumans. It's not believable to the point your audience might take issue with the author's construction. It's also could turn your audience against the governing leaders of the defending country if they insist on conventional warfare due to lack of intelligence.

Trying to do conventional war and avoid guerilla tactics makes the logic of this sentence makes it even more implausible: "The objective is also not to win (which is kind of impossible I suppose) but to give the enemy a hard time and protect your people."

This is exactly counter to the purpose of conventional and guerilla tactics. In addition, distracting a powerful opponent by giving them targets is the last resort, not the first.

Really, one of two things would happen:

(1) The defender wastefully throws away forces against the X superhumans

(2) Or your defender would end up trying to carry out a a conventional war with the conventional forces while their cities and population are subject to enforcement of the X superhumans as if they were peasants living under feudal lords. The superhumans can just walk and wipe out a city unopposed for any transgressions. It does not even matter if there are too few superhumans to be in enough places at once when they can just walk in and wipe out a city unopposed as punishment for any transgressions.

Frankly, I don't even see how you would even get to this point:

And at some point, destroying enough enemy cities will likely cause surrender if for no other reason than the people not wanting to continue a lost war and have millions die over it.

Why doesn't a superhuman just take the capitol? Or knock out the military bases? The war is effectively over at that point.

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Frame challenge: WHY?

What is the point to attack an army head on when you cannot win a head-on attack.

Note that the objective here is to fight them conventionally, not through guerilla or insurgency tactics. The objective is also not to win (which is kind of impossible I suppose) but to give the enemy a hard time and protect your people. (emphasis mine)

This is something that generals have figured out for literal millennia. Plural. Sun Tzu has written about it in 6th century BCE in The Art of War. And 3 centuries later, in 3rd century BCE, the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus also resorted to that. This kind of warfare is known as Fabian strategy named after the Roman general. It is part of what laid the foundations of guerilla tactics.

The principle is simple: if you cannot win head-on battles, then you do not engage in head on battles. You make it a war of attrition. The enemy army has to engage you in order to burn you or flood you or do whatever magic they need to win. Just make them chase you all around, attack their supply lines, make smaller hit and run attacks, lay down ambushes and traps. Wear them down. That is how one-sided wars have been fought and won.

What you are proposing is to sacrifice the army to achieve...what exactly? At best, you can decide that the party doing the defense has 100 times more armies to throw around. And can thus throw them at will to all burn/drawn/whatever, with the idea that the enemies will also suffer casualties. But this is just war of attrition with higher cost to the defenders. It still does not make sense to do that as opposed to following Fabian strategies.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with "run away" is that modern armies require an extensive industrial support - If your enemy is coming for your industrial powerhouse, and you run away, soon enough you'll run out of fuel and spare parts. I suppose the enemy is going to win either way, but your best hope is to delay them before they capture/destroy all your cities $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @TheInfiniteOne I proposed "use Fabian tactics". You took away "run away and don't engage the enemy" from that. That's not at all what my answer is saying. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ In effect, if you want to avoid a head on confrontation when the enemy wants your city, you have to run away, no? Then follow that up with guerilla attacks, leave behind soldiers hidden in the populace, try to cut the enemy supply lines, etc. It seems that that is the best option left to the defenders in the scenario, instead of fighting conventionally $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Bingo! Also note that if the enemy has what's described as "very few" of these super weapons, you can further limit them by just keeping the super weapons occupied. An army without a superhuman at their side can be taken head-on. Ones with can be attritioned. By focussing guerilla warfare on the units with supehumans, they are going to be slowed down and your cities protected. Either you evacuate everybody or just attrition the superhuman-enabled unit until it won't really threaten a city (if possible). Point being head-on confrontation with supehumans is not a useful goal to have. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 20:56
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Choose your weakness

Based on your "potential answer", I'm thinking you're fishing for some potential weaknesses that would make your scenario work the way you want it to. This sort of thing comes up all the time in stories: someone or some group has some incredible power but fortunately it's mitigated by ______.

Even Superman got one. How can you fight a conventional fight against Superman? You bring kryptonite. Or the Imager series has magicians that can change reality just by thinking about it (destroy a wall by imaging away the foundation or kill someone by imaging poison into their brain, etc). Except if they try to do too much, they can black out or accidentally kill themselves. The author took what seemed like an absurd superpower and actually make it pretty weak by putting limits on it and attaching some physics to it.

So you need to think about that sort of thing. What limits these supers?

Just an off the cuff example: they can do their superpower about once a week and then they have to go lie down. It really knocks the stuffing out of them. It's dangerous for them to try and invade enemy territory for a coast to coast rampage because they blow up one army or one city and then they're out of action for a week. Then it would become a question of who can do more damage: Empire X's heroes for 1 day per week or Empire Y's army operating all day, every day. Empire X may be in a "mutually assured destruction" scenario. Attack them and your army gets wrecked, and the heroes WILL eventually come out on top, but if X goes on the offensive, they might not survive the full scale retaliation as the enemy rampages through their country while the heroes are recharging.

In this case, the heroes always win, but it takes time, and in a full scale war, they may find that by the time they have won, they are standing on two nations of rubble.

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Occupy the Enemy Cities

Not every super power is about how much damage you can do. Give the conventional army heroes who can make portals or teleport around large armies to wherever they like. So, you teleport armies right into the enemy cities. This forces Nation X's heroes to either nuke thier own cities or sit back while the conventional forces duke it out. While Nation X might not care how many of Nation Y's cities they destroy, they can not afford to wipe out all of thier own cities. And it will be ALL of thier cities. And thier towns and thier villages. You attack everywhere at once so that even if they do use thier powers to destroy your army, they will compleatly destroy themselves in the process.

So Nation X has no choice but to order thier heroes NOT to engage the enemy. If Nation X has enough conventional forces to resist, they will fight a conventional war. If they don't, they will surrender.

Nation X could threaten to wipe out Nation Y with thier heroes, but that still leaves thier entire civilian population vulnerable to a counter-genocide. Or, you could even teleport your own citizens into enemy territory that you've secured just to make sure. They are safe from nuking. When the war is done, you enslave Nation X's citizens forcing them to live so much among your own people so that even in peace time, the super heroes can't just start nuking you for revenge.

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Note that the objective here is to fight them conventionally, not through guerilla or insurgency tactics. The objective is also not to win (which is kind of impossible I suppose) but to give the enemy a hard time and protect your people.

These are contradictory statements. The situation you describe is very plainly asymmetric warfare, and such wars are fought with guerilla tactics, precisely because the side without supers can't hope to win going toe-to-toe. Also, a military campaign intended to harass the enemy and prevent them turning their full focus to your civilian population is, pretty much by definition, an insurgency. It could, more specifically, be a resistance (similar to the French Resistance against the Germans), the primary difference being that your forces are operating from within the civilian population/urban centers being occupied by the enemy, instead of from more remote bases. However, this doesn't seem like a great idea against an enemy who has no qualms destroying an entire city and everyone in it, combatant or non-, to achieve their military goals.

Whatever you call it, the basic idea for your valiant outgunned heroes would be to strike where the supers aren't. If there are only 5-7 of them in X's entire armed forces, then as long as the enemy forces are divided more than 5-7 ways, hit-and-run ambush tactics against a unit that doesn't have a super in it could be devastating. You could bring to bear some of those magical powers, catching the enemy army on the move away from population centers where the collateral damage of their own powers would be minimized. Once you've done as much damage as you're going to do, disengage, retreat, vanish and regroup somewhere else to hit another unit. Attrit the human forces enough, create enough widows and orphans back home, and eventually it won't matter to your enemy's civilian population how unbeatable they are, it's a war not worth winning, and the enemy civilians will turn on their political/military leadership.

Now, there's some 'splaining to do to your readers (and us) on a key point here. An enemy faction that doesn't think twice about razing an entire city to the ground, and has even a small number of guys who are basically unkillable, doesn't really need anything else; those five guys can go from one battlefield to the next, one city to the next, razing everything in their path and killing everyone they can find. The more conventional army could defend the enemy's home territory and vital strategic assets against a counterattack, while The Seven just go out and lay waste. If one super is all it takes to turn the tide in any battle, you have to explain why the enemy is fielding any normal soldiers at all, especially if the enemy has no compunction against winning the war by total genocide.

The answer to that could be one of several things. You say the supers are unkillable by "conventional" means, but that implies there's some way to destroy them. Whatever it is, if it's relatively portable (i.e. doesn't require triggering an avalanche and dropping half a mountain on the super's head), it can be weaponized. However, that's more an answer to the entire question; they may be hard to kill, but if it's possible with a big enough gun, then the strategy to winning the entire war is simply to bring a lot of big enough guns to the party.

Similarly in theory, but on the complete opposite side of the force spectrum, these supers serve a similar role as the Death Star; if a locale is proving even slightly problematic for the conventional army, one super goes in and levels the place, pour encourager les autres. Similarly, the Death Star was designed to make any fleet-style engagement extremely costly for any enemy faction, but it ultimately proved vulnerable to the smallest, most nimble ships the Rebels had. The supers could have a similar weakness; able to singlehandedly decimate defensive fortifications without a scratch, but vulnerable to less visible threats, perhaps possibly involving magic. You mentioned they can't be poisoned, but that's just one way of attacking them from inside.

There could also be limits to their powers that can be overcome by enough enemy forces. One super may mow through a hundred soldiers without breaking a sweat, but a thousand could take long enough that they can close distance, and ten thousand could overwhelm the super by sheer muscle mass. If a super can only take on so large a force single-handed, that super has to be backed by enough conventional forces to prevent the entire defensive force focusing single-mindedly on the super, putting those normal soldiers in the line of fire. That could give you an answer for a final climactic battle against maybe the remaining two or three supers, in which all allied forces muster every able-bodied person available, put a gun in their hands and rally them to an all-or-nothing battle with nothing less than the fate of the entire world at stake. You could use the death of one or two of the supers, by whatever means you find convincing, as a morale-booster; "they're not invincible, we have a chance, but we need you!"

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