Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers in Open Battles

#1
One thing I'm never too sure about is the change of tactics that takes place if there were some extremely powerful fighters in two armies that'd clash. I know that in the romanticized versions of the Three Kingdom war stories, powerful generals, who far surpasses any common foot soldier in combat would just ride out and duel each other. The results of that fight determined the morale and odds of total victory of the armies. But with me, who is interested in even more exaggerated fantasy, I wonder what actions would take place between armies that has people who are one hundred times stronger than the typical soldier Jack or even one thousand times stronger. 

The ways that they may be super may differ, for they may have extreme athletic ability or powers that could devastate a large area of effect. If there are creatures like that on the battlefield, perhaps ruling entities won't even deploy armies since that one overpowered guy would be enough? It seems to make sense, sending out one person that has the worth of an entire military, but only requires one mouth to feed. Everyone else could be used to fulfill other productive tasks like defense or supply transfer. 

At the end of the day, I'm setting up a scenario like this in the writing I'm working on and I am curious to read other people's opinions. 

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#2
Have you ever read any of David Farland's "Runelords" series? ("David Farland" is actually a pen name for SF author Dave Wolverton.)

He made a serious effort to examine and answer such questions. His basic premise was that runes could be used to transfer a certain attribute from Person A to Person B. For instance, a rune of brawn (strength), connecting two people magically in an "endowment" ritual, could mean that you (the donor of the endowment) were suddenly weak as a kitten, while the other guy now had all of your physical strength added to whatever physical strength he had already possessed. This bond would last until one of you died. (Although there were some further complications and possible loopholes that I won't go into right now.) 

Members of the nobility could afford to pay people to give them an endowment of this, that, or the other thing, so that knights always had a few endowments to make them tougher than ordinary men, and such people as barons had even more, and of course royalty could afford lots and lots of endowments. Hence the aristocracy in general were called "Runelords."

In the first novel, the Big Bad is a ruler called Raj Ahten, who has already picked up so much brawn (strength), wit (intelligence), grace (dexterity), metabolism (speed), etc., that he definitely is a prime example of the sort of vastly superhuman abilities that you were wondering about. And he wants to conquer everything in sight, while continuing to harvest more and more endowments as he goes along . . .

It eventually turned out there were worse things in the world than Raj Ahten, but reading the first couple of books of the series would give you a good look at how Dave Farland thought it could work when men with lesser abilities (even if they, too, had been enhanced by a few endowments each of brawn, metabolism, etc.) were trying to win a war against such a scary one-man army. (Of course Raj Ahten had, in fact, brought along a more conventional army to help out in his war of conquest; he wasn't literally trying to do everything all by himself.) 

Here's a link to an Amazon page for the first book of the series. I read it when it first came out, and found it fascinating. The writing wasn't perfect, but Farland had put a great deal of thought into how people would use his magic system in a medieval society, and I appreciated that.

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#3
I've been in discussions about this many, many times and my opinion is that war in such a fantasy setting would be more like modern warfare. Advancing over a wide front, spearhead groups, strike teams and elite units. You don't want your tanks bogged down in the middle of your infantry, nor do you want your infantry to get hit by the fire your tanks attract. You do want to have a few armored vehicles with every advancing force. The regular army would be there to support operations, secure occupation and suppress partisans, they don't decide the battle.

My two cents

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#4
I've thought a little about how to do this in my story, too. It's set in a cultivation world. It gets complicated by the fact they also have some advanced technology (like airships), but haven't waged real war in centuries. In my world, the armies are a lot smaller than you'd expect, and only composed of at least moderately strong people. While the really strong ones are (mostly) elites in special units. If there are actual field battles, they would be a lot more spread out than in medieval battles, and fights between elites would have a much larger significance. And of course, there'd be guerrilla warfare and all of that.
(Edit: If anyone's interested, the start of chapter 48 and bonus chapter 4 show my take on armies and a field battle. Sorry for the shameless plug.)

I think how these things play out depends a lot on the details of the world, though. It will be different if people only have supernatural brawn/speed/etc., or actual magic abilities. It also depends on who has these superpowers and how they get them. In the real world, armies and warfare were shaped a lot by the culture and society they came from, and their values and goals.

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#6
As others have said, it really is all dependent on the actual details of the world/magic and the type of story you want to tell. 

I do think people often don’t give enough credit to the particulars of massed warfare. In many different kinds of media, the heroes often get the advantage of a kind of stormtrooper effect. Like when they’re surrounded in battle and the minions very conveniently attack them individually or in groups just small enough to dispatch in a constant stream. As a result, I think we do sometimes overlook some of the artifice that’s in place to let the heroes be heroic. 

Now as a writer you do have to square realism with entertainment. Most massed warfare isn’t really that interesting. I.E many people died in some battles in ancient rome by being suffocated while pinched between two opposing shield walls. 

So, if you are doing a more inherently fantastical story, there is nothing wrong with doing more showy fantastical combat as a stylistic choice imo. I don’t necessarily think more verisimilitude always equates to better storytelling. 

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#7
I think the concept of a single, or even multiple super powered soldiers being the primary attacking force makes sense. Normal soldiers would essentially be nothing but cannon fodder before them. I think Oskatat's analogy to modern warfare is right on with super powered soldiers representing tanks or artillery depending on their abilities. A foot soldier has no chance against either. 

There would still be plenty of other activities for the other soldiers. Supply lines, scouting out the enemy, providing a last line of defense if the other army uses the diversion of the main battle to try and sneak past, etc. Even though it may seem too "fantasy" for the more powerful soldiers to concentrate on each other, I think that's how it will turn out. However, I do agree that having that one battle decide the war is a bit too fantastical.

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#8

Oskatat Wrote: if there are tools or group spells 'regular' soldiers could use, they could still have an impact in a battle, I'll have to say that. But it feels impractical because you'd need two groups - one to provide a defense and the other as the offense - in order to off-set one elite




And as @parkertalian pointed out, the regular soldiers can be fulfilling other tasks that can add up to total victory in a war. I think that is why this question interests me so much. It reminds me of a MOBA game, where there are  other objectives to complete other than killing other players and towers. It really gives a lot of room for the author of any war scene to describe what is happening and why it is important. 

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#9


Martin Wrote: I know that in the romanticized versions of the Three Kingdom war stories, powerful generals, who far surpasses any common foot soldier in combat would just ride out and duel each other. The results of that fight determined the morale and odds of total victory of the armies.

You talked about the Three Kingdoms. You could also look at the Greek/Roman writings about their heroes/myths. Can't remember which myth about the Trojan war I got this from but what happens among the strong warriors during a mass battle is they try to seek out each other before the other strong guy can kill dozens of your normal men. 


I think there was even a story where one guy just avoided the heroes of the other side and focused on killing as much normal soldiers as he could. Or a powerful guy waits for his target to be tired from killing normal soldiers then jumps on him afterwards. It's interesting to see how the Trojan war went because there were many one-man army heroes there on both sides. 

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#10
My guess is that people of the setting will have adapted to it, which depends on what sort of powers the super-powered individuals have and their respective limitations. One example from real life is how the machine gun and evolutions in field artillery essentially eliminated the mass columns of infantry we saw in the Napoleonic Wars (because it'd be suicide). The response here was trench warfare and dispersal of soldiers across a wide front. 

Another option (which is what I am trying to do in my fic) is to give everyone super-powers but on a scale from tip-top human condition to Superman/Goku. This means that there maybe one person on the level of Superman but even if an opposing force didn't have their own Superman, they might have five Gokus who in conjunction can beat him. Sort of like how you had one tiger tank go up against multiple Sherman tanks in the WW2 movie Fury. And so on so on down the line. 

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#11

Gallekryde Wrote: My guess is that people of the setting will have adapted to it, which depends on what sort of powers the super-powered individuals have and their respective limitations. One example from real life is how the machine gun and evolutions in field artillery essentially eliminated the mass columns of infantry we saw in the Napoleonic Wars (because it'd be suicide). The response here was trench warfare and dispersal of soldiers across a wide front.

Your comment about machine guns leading to large-scale trench warfare reminds me of something I once read somewhere; I think in a book by a military historian. He said roughly the following: "There's often a long gap between the time when the first prototype of a new weapons system is invented, and the time when that weapon (or its descendants) makes a huge difference in the tactical doctrine that one or both sides are using in a major war. The lead time appears to be about fifty years -- on average."

I don't recall if he explicitly mentioned the same example you did, but it seems to illustrate his point. The Gatling Gun was first developed during the American Civil War in the 1860s. But it didn't make much difference in the way the Union fought and won that war, as I understand it. However, its descendants, the machine guns being used on both sides of World War I, had a profound influence on how that war was fought in Europe -- and that only happened in the 1910s, half a century after the Civil War. 

Presumably, something similar would apply to a learning curve for using (or resisting) those "one-man-army" scenarios we're talking about here. In the example I mentioned in a previous post -- the world of Dave Farland's "Runelords" series -- the rune-magic that let you turn a well-trained warrior into a sort of "supersoldier" had been around for many centuries before the timeframe of the books, and that meant that the human race had been spending all that time experimenting with the new capabilities created by this magic, and devising weapons and tactics for dealing with the most enormously overpowered warriors on the other side, and so on and so forth. 

I don't remember if Farland ever said this in so many words, but I rather suspected that the current crop of kings and dukes in the "present day" of the series were descended from ambitious and imaginative warriors who had been particularly quick to figure out how to modify their own tactics in order to crush their opponents and set themselves up as the founders of new ruling dynasties while things were fluctuating around them. Then they made sure to beef up and train their knights to fight as effectively as possible for men who had been given the advantages of being, let's say, "four times as strong as a regular man, and at least twice as fast." 

So yes, people would adapt, but it would take time to get it just right. In a story where a main character was one of the very first to use nifty new magical enhancements, he might find it easy to rise to the top of the local social ladder and call himself, if not king, then at least "the new duke of this region, who will pay tribute to the king or emperor in exchange for being left alone." On the other hand, if the magical techniques in question had existed for generations before the timeframe of a story, an arrogant young hotshot who became exceptionally strong and quick, even by the standards of the local nobility, might learn the hard way that the local dukes, kings, etc., already had detailed contingency plans drafted out for how to deal with it if some overpowered young whippersnapper thought his exceptional physical strength meant he was allowed to bully or kill anyone who got in his way. 

Re: Extremely Powerful Soldiers Within Open Battles

#12

Lorendiac Wrote:
Gallekryde Wrote: My guess is that people of the setting will have adapted to it, which depends on what sort of powers the super-powered individuals have and their respective limitations. One example from real life is how the machine gun and evolutions in field artillery essentially eliminated the mass columns of infantry we saw in the Napoleonic Wars (because it'd be suicide). The response here was trench warfare and dispersal of soldiers across a wide front.

Your comment about machine guns leading to large-scale trench warfare reminds me of something I once read somewhere; I think in a book by a military historian. He said roughly the following: "There's often a long gap between the time when the first prototype of a new weapons system is invented, and the time when that weapon (or its descendants) makes a huge difference in the tactical doctrine that one or both sides are using in a major war. The lead time appears to be about fifty years -- on average."

I don't recall if he explicitly mentioned the same example you did, but it seems to illustrate his point. The Gatling Gun was first developed during the American Civil War in the 1860s. But it didn't make much difference in the way the Union fought and won that war, as I understand it. However, its descendants, the machine guns being used on both sides of World War I, had a profound influence on how that war was fought in Europe -- and that only happened in the 1910s, half a century after the Civil War. 

Presumably, something similar would apply to a learning curve for using (or resisting) those "one-man-army" scenarios we're talking about here. In the example I mentioned in a previous post -- the world of Dave Farland's "Runelords" series -- the rune-magic that let you turn a well-trained warrior into a sort of "supersoldier" had been around for many centuries before the timeframe of the books, and that meant that the human race had been spending all that time experimenting with the new capabilities created by this magic, and devising weapons and tactics for dealing with the most enormously overpowered warriors on the other side, and so on and so forth. 

I don't remember if Farland ever said this in so many words, but I rather suspected that the current crop of kings and dukes in the "present day" of the series were descended from ambitious and imaginative warriors who had been particularly quick to figure out how to modify their own tactics in order to crush their opponents and set themselves up as the founders of new ruling dynasties while things were fluctuating around them. Then they made sure to beef up and train their knights to fight as effectively as possible for men who had been given the advantages of being, let's say, "four times as strong as a regular man, and at least twice as fast." 

So yes, people would adapt, but it would take time to get it just right. In a story where a main character was one of the very first to use nifty new magical enhancements, he might find it easy to rise to the top of the local social ladder and call himself, if not king, then at least "the new duke of this region, who will pay tribute to the king or emperor in exchange for being left alone." On the other hand, if the magical techniques in question had existed for generations before the timeframe of a story, an arrogant young hotshot who became exceptionally strong and quick, even by the standards of the local nobility, might learn the hard way that the local dukes, kings, etc., already had detailed contingency plans drafted out for how to deal with it if some overpowered young whippersnapper thought his exceptional physical strength meant he was allowed to bully or kill anyone who got in his way.



Yep! I also think the process for adaption itself as you described could form the bedrock of an entire novel or series. There was one alternate-history sci-fi history series called World War series by Harry Turtledove where an Alien race of lizards invade Earth during the peak of World War 2 with magical/highly-advanced weapons, and shows how the human race (Germany, Japan, USSR, Allies) each adapted their own countries to fight back against the invaders. The entire series lasts about 7 books covering about a thirty year period of adaption.

History itself is funny in that it has examples of both of your cases. In the first case (first to discover superpower) we have the Mongols (who in many senses had organizational superpowers relative to everyone else) who did exactly the first to the Russians under Batu Khan. They came in as foreign invaders with "superpowers", annihilated any opposing force (because they weren't adapted to fight against them), burned down the majority of the cities, annihilated 7% of the Russian population at the time, and strong-armed the remainder to pay tribute in return for being left alone. (Mongols had no interest in administering large populations.)

In the second, you have the second Mongolian invasion of Hungary, where the King of Hungary adapted and built a large chain of interlocked fortresses to counter the Mongol "superpower" (which they learned the hard way when the Mongols came in and exterminated a quarter of their population two decades prior). In this case the Mongols were led by a young whippersnapper eager to make a name for himself (trying to live up to grandpa Genghis) and was thrown back because the Hungarians adapted and he couldn't breach the chain of fortresses.