I have a scenario in my world's history that is causing me a pause as it seems...improbable to the point where I am not sure it makes sense/breaks suspension of disbelief.

A great empire arises via conquest. The catch is that each nation in this scenario has a military skilled in a particular type of combat/weaponry.

The Kingdoms

  • Shekar: This is the conquering nation that will end up being the seat of the larger empire. Its military is focused solely on infantry in a Romanesque style. They have superior organization and standardization in comparison to the other nations.

  • Gremia: The kingdom of the plains, Gremian cavalry is second to none. The Gremians breed superior horses and most of the people, even non-soldiers, are trained in the saddle even from a young age.

  • Vespria: Vespria is known for its archers and skill in crafting bows. Their archers are far superior in skill, using their finely crafted bows to out-range any other archers.

  • The Dwarves (I haven't come up with a good name for their kingdom yet): The dwarves have both talented infantry and superior skill in creating engines of war. Their infantry is not offensive and exists mainly to protect their siege engines, very heavily armored and difficult to kill.

  • The Mujeri: Due to some... unfortunate, map altering events mages are feared, executed and/or exiled from most of the civilized world. Some banded together and formed their own nation on a remote chain of islands. Not everyone in the clan is a magician but it is the only place mages may practice their craft in public.

So. Each nation has their specialty. What I am looking for is a logical explanation as to why.

What setting/situation would make it plausible for these nations to have completely different, uniquely skilled militaries? Historical examples are a plus.

For reference, the goal is that the Shekaren will conquer and then incorporate each nation into their empire making it a military powerhouse that is able to go on to conquer virtually the entire continent.

  • $\begingroup$ "unfortunate, map altering events" should be a link to the previous questions about what happened and this reference made me chuckle at the degree of understatement involved. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Green History is all about what lens you view it through ;) $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ indeed it is, especially if you're the winner. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Most early weapons have a basis in civilian tools. You might want to look at what your nations' armies are composed of. If the Vesprian armies, for example, are largely levied from woodmen hunters, then it makes perfect sense for them to use bows and light armor. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 14:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I totally want upvotes, and to get this bounty :-P (first one ever, if I do) $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:19

5 Answers 5


There are several reasons I can think of off the top of my head:

Geography, Tradition, Economic Reasons, Religious Reasons


Let's analyze the Vesprians. Why are bows traditionally used?

  • Long range
  • Cheap/easy to manufacture if certain wood is available
  • Potentially very powerful (a skilled longbowman can take down a man in plate armor at 100 - 600 m)
  • Versatile hunting tool / weapon of war

So let's make up a bit of backstory for them. Let's assume that theirs is, perhaps, a historically a kingdom not very rich in metals. Let's further assume that a large portion of their territory consists of woodlands, hills, maybe even rocky mountainous terrain where traditional military formations can't easily maneuver, etc.

However, a troop of rangers hiding in the tree tops can unleash hell on an enemy unit trying to advance through their territory.

Thus, their reason for using bows can stem from the geography of their territory, and become tradition in time. Historical example? The British longbowmen which have served them well in war, and become near legend.


Now let's take a look at the Gremians. Horsemen, you say? That's easy.

Have their territory consist of sweeping, open plains on which vast herds of wild horses roam free. Gremians have a long tradition of taming these horses, and, over time, have developed very effective riding, fighting, and military techniques, all centered around their biggest advantage: their unmatched horses.

Those vast plains mof theirs also make for perfect terrain for Shekarian military formations and tactics, making a pitched battle suicidal for the lighter-armed Gremians. Thus, they instead focus their efforts on developing very mobile mounted units which can't get pinned down and engaged in a pitched battle, and which can more easily flank enemy infantry.


They live underground - animals don't do well there (even in their vast halls), so they never developed an affinity for riding any sort of beast. Instead, they put their stocky, powerful frames to good use as heavily armed and armored infantry, which works very well when engaged in pitched battle in some dark, narrow tunnel.

Dwarfs are unmatched craftsmen, and build massive underground enclaves for their clans, and families. These are typically designed with defense against the many terrors of the deep, and other quarrelsome clans in mind, and have very heavily defended entrances, not to mention thick walls of solid stone.

As such, dwarfs have put their natural tinkering talents to use in inventing all sorts of nifty gadgets to break through the thick walls, and gates of their enemies. In fact, they've developed some truly impressive siege engines which they carry to the battlefield in pieces, to be assembled in the enemy's main hall, and used to turn the various structures within to rubble.

When dwarfs eventually turned their attention to the riches of the surface, they found that those same weapons of war work even better when you don't have to worry about bringing the ceiling down on your head, and they enthusiastically designed even more powerful, and deadly contraptions.


Becoming a mage is a difficult proposition. It involves a lifetime of dedication to the magical arts, and very few are able to gain even the basic knowledge which will get them started down this road. Furthermore, there seems to exist a certain ... magical ability which some rare few are born with, and which allows them to progress down the Path of Power at nearly unimaginable speeds. People to whom magic seems to come naturally, and whom, especially when properly guided and trained, become mages of great, and terrible power.

Nobles and other powerful lords have often sought to gain this knowledge for themselves, feeling that having mere commoners gain such abilities is upsetting to the balance of power in the land (aka, they are competition). Historians can list many noble houses which have tried to breed this power into their ranks, and nobles who have expended vast amounts of gold, and other riches to have a mage instruct them in the ways of magic. However, few of these efforts have ever born more than a modicum of success, almost as if the Gods themselves sought to keep magical ability, and prowess out of the exclusive grasp of the elites.

Angered by their inability to gain this power for themselves, noble houses have long sought to have magic banned, or severely regulated, and many bloody conflicts have come to pass over this issue.

More recently, however, some reckless, if well meaning, mages have accidentally unleashed destructive powers which ravaged the lands, and gave their enemies exactly the excuse they needed to turn public, and political opinion against them. Hunted down and imprisoned, if not outright executed, mages fled to a land where they could regroup, and band together to impose their own laws, and rule, without fear of interference, or harm.


Roman troops were professional, dedicated, and well trained soldiers. Their choice of armor, and weapons carefully went hand in hand with their tactics and strategy. You can explain it much the same way (read up on how effective Roman tactics and formations were, and how carefully crafted/chosen their equipment)

An easy explanation for them not widely using cavalry is that their nation doesn't have a lot of horses available, and perhaps there even exists a social dislike for the animals (religious perhaps?).

Bows? Maybe these guys are very big on martial prowess, and dislike "cowerdly weapons".

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons for the world to be shaped the way you want :)

  • $\begingroup$ Your description of Vespria is almost identical to what it actually is in my world. Get outta my head! :) $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ Also you kinda gave me an idea for a quirk among dwarven inter-clan conflict. I am thinking that while yes they fight and yes people die, it is more of a chess match between the leaders, if you are able to disable a clan's defenses you are superior and conflict never moves INTO the cities proper. If you are able to invade and disable the defenses you win. This makes sense as dwarves are not particularly populous....don't wanna kill too many of each other. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ @James Originality is a fallacy :) Get used to smart people getting into your head when you share draft ideas with people within the same sociocultural context! $\endgroup$
    – Oxy
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Oxy - you think I'm smart? Awww! blushes $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 13:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The real question is, how would the Shekar stand a chance against the Vesprians? Seems like the guerilla tactics in their home environment would wreck the organized ranks. Perhaps they attempt to burn down the forest? $\endgroup$
    – BaseHobo
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 20:48

Every military developed in a unique environment and developed unique solutions for that environment

This is standard evolution. Each environment has optimal solutions. On the plains where mobility is effectively unlimited, an army with high mobility will crush an army that lacks mobility. Thus, all those armies that aren't mobile don't survive to perpetuate their weapons or tactics. Conversely, in tight constrained spaces like caves, high mobility isn't as useful or even possible. Instead, cave-based armies will develop advanced sensory capabilities to detect enemy troops.

We see this kind of evolution/optimization here on earth: The Mongols developed an incredible combination of archery and horsemanship because they lived on the steppes of Asian as herders. Mobility was their lifestyle and lends itself very well to extremely fast tactics.

Modern Americans have developed high precision, low collateral damage weapons in part because of political pressures far from the battle field (there's lots of other reasons too). Conversely, a modern nation that doesn't care about collateral damage as much won't have the same pressures (or will have different pressures) to invest in high precision weapons.

See Ancient Persians for how this would work

As an example of a highly diversified military of conquered peoples, look at the ancient Persians. The Persians didn't have a great navy when they conquered the Phoenicians (who had the greatest navy at that time). Instead of destroying that navy, the Persians "hired" them as their navy. It just requires the right type of policies to pull off.


I think it is perfectly plausible.

Why do people tend to specialise for warfare? This is due to many elements, among which cultural effects, historical, but also environmental.

As an illustration, we could need to see each of those to explain their specialities.

  • Mujeri, well that's pretty clear. Magic is frightening, and wizards were persecuted, so they gathered together for mutual protection. They created their own society, which lead into a country. With the time they incorporated non-magical folks (muggles?). But their main military strategy is based on those occult powers.
  • Dwarves. The Dwarves are a brilliant race. They are clever and ingenious. They live in mountains with mines, developed advance forge techniques and their metal work is second to none. However their natality is very low. True, they live long enough, but their numbers are comparably low. Thus they developed military strategies based on a heavy protection, many machinery, with the aim to limit their own casualties.
  • Vesprian live in an area with a lot of game. But very dangerous animals, that you need to kill from far away. And their last military leaders showed that in battles the bow proved to be a decisive components, compensating inferior infantry or cavalry for a much cheaper price.
  • Gremian have a nomadic culture. The plains are quite rough, and hard to get agriculture done. So they live in tribe travelling often to get the best grass for their sheeps. Due to their frequent travel, their most priced possessions are their horses. They regularly fight each others, but are almost always riding. But whenever they face common foes, the Riders of Plains become very hard on the battlefield, forgetting, for the time of the battle their issues.
  • Shekar is a heavily populated country with large cities. The country suffered terribly last Century due to civil wars, insecurities and general chaos. At the end of the war, the society involved in a heavily disciplined country. They progressed a lot since the wars, but they did not yet managed to get back to their economic golden age. However, the numerous and disciplined army allowed them to overcome and unite their neighbours into an Empire.

Those are examples of how it could be done.

  • $\begingroup$ You got the dwarves pretty much exactly right $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 21:19

Well, we can start by assuming the setting to be Permanent Middle Age.

  1. The Shekar are your classic imperial heartland. Fertile plains and forests watered by abundant rain in the spring make for a vast land of yeoman farmers, each rich enough to pay for their own weapons and armor (but not rich enough to each keep a herd of horses - the valuable land is better used for crops), and thanks to good land yield, vastly numerically superior to all their neighbors. The economic equality and rigors of farm work, as it did in ancient Greece and Rome, engenders a certain grit and a unique fighting style. This makes them naturals at massed formations. The Jamesian empire arose here, as the three most powerful noble republics joined forces in the Eluvian League. This also explains the 3-fold division of power in the Shadow council of the Empire.

  2. Mujeri: Magic is heritable. Your "unfortunate events" caused the Butlerian Exalted March, and added the 12th commandment to the Orange Catholic Zensunni Bible: "Thou shall not allow a witch to live" (it also applies to warlocks). The zealots exterminated magical talent from everywhere but the Mujeri islands. The Jamesian Empire has enacted a rather precarious Edict of Tolerance in the great port-city of Hombri, allowing Mages to walk the Continent again, with a limited and grudging tolerance by the population. The need to trade with the mainland for food and other staples, combined with Shekar control of the vast (formerly Vesprian) naval force makes the mages cooperative.

  3. The Ereborian Dwarves are relatively few in number, with the Northern European low fertility, late marriage capital accumulation pattern, richest of the nations, a democracy, and hugely xenophobic. They literally refuse to shed "one more drop" of dwarven blood then absolutely necessary, and have done the classical economic trade-off of labor for capital. While their (reluctantly provided) troops are not much use in the open field in their 100kg spell-reinforced dampened and diamond-forged full plate armor (not that they'd show up there willingly anyhow), their siege engines are unmatched in the world, making them vital to any large scale imperial offensive war effort. After a few brief border wars, they were quick to acknowledge the superior numbers and military genius of the Shekar, trading Shekar protection for taxes and the current limited level of military participation.

  4. Gremia and Vespria I'm having a harder time separating these, since stepped horsemen have been traditionally good archers as well. Contrary to other posters, vast plains do not make horsemen vulnerable to infantry, especially if the horsemen have bows. Moreover, the conquest usually goes the other way - from the horsemen on the plains to the settled lands. Mongols conquer China, whereas Russia only really defeated the Golden Horde by adopting their fighting style, and finally via firearms. Perhaps Vespria is a vast wooded, hilly and heavily fjorded area where a special kind of wood grows that makes for greater bows with superior range, but Gremians would still be archers as well as spearmen. So how were the steppe nomads subdued by the Shekar? Perhaps they were not, perhaps they are shock mercenary troops, serving for money. The Jamesian Wall put an end to their depredations in Shekar. The other neighbor Vespria is poor and full of skilled bowmen. Becoming Shekarian-led cavalry for hire might not sound like such a terrible idea, if the bribes and loot are rich enough. Perhaps the occasional (unhappy) Shekar princess is thrown into the mix to sweeten the deal (and, incidentally the way Byzantium and China both dealt with horse nomad khans, by the way).

As the Romans had auxiliaries, so will your Jamesian empire use the talents of the nearby powers. Over the generations, certain nations develop a reputation and specific fighting style, like Scottish highlander mercenaries or Swiss Landsknecht. Practice makes perfect, and as you said, your guys get the most practice in their respective fields. There are other siege engines, but Ereborian ones are just better, just as there are other horsemen, but not many who can put an arrow through a ring at 100 paces while riding a horse backwards like the Gremians can. Anyone can import teak wood and make a bow, but only the Vesprians have the centuries long tradition and secrets to make them unmatched in range and penetration. There are now mages born elsewhere, but nowhere do they reach their full potentiall as well as those who get to study for decades at Mujer-Aarat, the Great Academy. And other people are brave, but the decades of rigid discipline and centuries of farm-work make the Shekar peerless as infantry formations.

  • $\begingroup$ Well written sir! $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ And just to assuage your questions, the Shekaren troops are able to subdue many because the expansion of the empire takes place directly following the unfortunate, map-altering events and they happen to live in a place that was fairly well protected and recover from the cataclysm more quickly. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 13:33

Have you considered separating the countries using different principles of war that result in the unique styles of combat? Perhaps each leader (and his predecessors) has had a bias for a specific principle, resulting in said specializations.

The Gremians: Perhaps they have a bias for offensive wars. Strategic, offensive cavalry charges combined with flanking techniques have allowed them to conquer the plains. They focus on the principles of using their entire force with the utmost energy, a decisive point of attack, and to never waste time. In modern terms, they go "balls deep", or "all in, all the time"; Also known as "the best defence is a good offence".

The Vespria: The Vesprian prefer defensive wars. They like to shoot down their enemies before they get close - They depend a lot on chokepoints, and ambushes to quickly overwhelm the enemy invaders from range. Their long ranged bows and extreme accuracy allow them to train archers that chain together through the sending of messages attached to arrows (or specifically designed message carrying arrows) to send messages between positioned troops far quicker than a horseman or a pigeon could; this also allows them to have a focus on both keeping and attacking military intellegince as well - they can shoot down carrier pigeons or horsemen that pass through a path in order to attack the enemies lines of communication. To them,"information is king". These tactics have allowed them to conquer the forests, giving them room to set up ambushes hide the paths of arrows shot for messages.

The Dwarves: The dwarves take the other side of the spectrum of Offensive tactics when compared to the Gremians. While the Gremians rush in like a flock of crows, the Dwarves resemble more a modern tank. Roll slowly, over everything and anything (seige engines), and be superbly armored and hard to kill whilst doing so. They take the careful approach in war - if anything looks like it could be a trap, they'll lob some boulders at it until they're sure it's not a trap. Protect the assets at all costs, and make use of terrain. If there's a stallactite in a cave, we can shoot it down to cause damage. They enjoy the principle of shock an awe, with a focus on the destruction of infrastructure and not civilian casualties. After all, who wants to fight with a giant flying flaming rock?

The Mujeri: These mages focus on the principles of secrecy and surprises. They've recognized that surprise plays a greater role in tactics than strategy, and focus on developing craft that can surprise the enemy. They'll use hit and run, sabotage, and other guerrilla warfare type tactics in order to win wars.

The Shekar: Superior organizationa nd standardization in this case means that they've developed the knowledge and understanding of all the principles of war, compared to the other nations who are solely focused on specific principle(s). They're able to adapt, and understand that an army needs to adapt to survive.

So, how do we conquer all the races using the Shekar?

First, the Shekar should acquire the mages of the Mujeri. As they are on a remote chain of islands, it should be simple enough to force a surrender simply by surrounding the entire chain of islands using a navy and cutting off their supply routes, before employing their own guerrilla tactics against them - hit and run all their supply depots, force them to surrender due to starvation/lack of resources. Especially since not everyone in the clan is a mage, this task should be fairly easy.

Once the Shekar have acquired some mages, they can turn to the plains of the Gremians. They desire the Gremian cavalry, but since infantry can seldom handle a cavalry charge well, a better option is to trick the Gremians. Dig a trench in the plains of the Gremians, and use their principles against them (again). They'll charge in, and the mages can create a fog, making it unclear and hard to see the trench which will trap the cavalry once they drop in. Burn them, stab them, do whatever you want with them afterwards, but their all in all the time principle will lose them the war in this case.

Now they can turn to the Dwarves. Machinery is slow and cumbersome, vulnerable to rushes. Infantry were bad enough against horses to begin with, but cavalry in this case also are fast enough to stop the dwarves from aiming their seige weaponry effectively. Disabling those machines and having the dwarves surrender should be an easy task, especially if you take into account the posibility of using the mages to provide stealth cover for the cavalry rush, helping them reach the dwarves before they notice.

Finally, the Vespria. Now that the Shekar have giant war machines, you can disable every ambush looking like location, or destroy chokepoints completely. Don't enter the forest - tear down the forest as you path through it, forcing the Vespria into an open area type offensive, where your cavalry will cut them up, or the Shekarian infantry can utilize romanized shield tactics (Commonly referenced to as "tuck tail!" from 300").

  • $\begingroup$ Nice write up Aify $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 16:14

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