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DBA Online Tactics     

I Love The Knight Life

By David Kuijt

Military history article about knights and their typical enemies: light horse, scythed chariots and war wagons

Knights conjure up images of a galloping wall of steel jutting lances, thundering down on some hapless foe like a spiky, screaming, juggernaut. From the introduction of the stirrup to Europe until the Renaissance, the rulers of the battlefield were Knights. With heraldic panoply, snorting destriers, and the wealth to own and maintain the finest armour and the most deadly weapons known to man, the whole society and culture of Europe was centered upon the cult of chivalry. What could stand against such fury, such valour, such martial prowess?

As it turns out, several things. The elitist cult of chivalry, with its elaborate display and rigid codes of conduct (codes that were rarely followed in real life), had little or no respect for common foot soldiers. And common foot soldiers shocked the military wisdom of Europe in several crushing defeats at the height of the age of chivalry.

At Courtrai, Stirling Bridge, and Bannockburn, pike blocks proved that a lance, martial fervour and a mucking great warhorse was not enough to break a block of well-ordered pikes. At Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, English longbowmen slaughtered whole generations of French knights. The Hussites found another answer in their Wagonburg, repeatedly crushing German and Hungarian knight armies until internecine struggle brought them down. The Swiss made their reputation for nearly two centuries in fighting knights and beating them with foot troops armed with halberds and pikes.

Nor was that all. Light horse and cavalry armies inflicted many galling defeats on the crusader knights. As the age of chivalry drew to a close, the Ottoman Turks conquered their way to the gates of Vienna, on the way defeating the knight armies of the Polish, Serbians, Bulgars, Hungarians, Germans, Venetian Condotta, and the last crusaders, the Knights of St. John.

But knights are glorious! There is a special thrill in sending a wall of steel in a headlong charge against some ignoble foot or lighter cavalry, Death balanced with fame, not knowing which way the balance will tip. Even the impetuous nature of knights has an air of their fury, their disregard of safety, of sanity even. You know you are a true commander of knights when you can cheer them on as they thunder onwards, totally ruining your battleplan, oblivious to what is best for them.

Knights in DBA are powerful elements. They have +3 combat factor against foot and +4 against mounted. Their terrible charge gives them a quick-kill against virtually all foot in good going, however. The same charge that gives them their destructive power can also throw them deep into the enemy formations -- like warband or scythed chariots, knights must pursue one base depth if their enemy recoils, breaks off, flees, or is destroyed.

Who Knights Should Fight

Warband, Auxilia or Psiloi - this is what a true knight wants! An opportunity to ride down peasant rabble. If you can catch these guys in the open, it is one of the best matchups in DBA. Even with an overlap or two against you, it is usually worth it, and the knight has the advantage.

Blades - this is still a good matchup for the knight, even with a single overlap against them. With two overlaps it is getting risky. Without long spears, enemy blades are vulnerable to the charge of knights.

Spear or Single-Ranked Pike - this is a risky battle both ways, with honours about even. A single knight can be thrown against these troops with fair confidence, but recoils will make a line of knights hitting a line of spear quite dangerous for the knights. Even so, with quick-kills on their side, the knights will usually prevail.

Cavalry - the strength here is with the knights. The battle may take some time, but unless the cavalry has reserves or can suck the knight into a disadvantageous position, the knights will prevail.

Light Horse - another very risky fight. At +4 to the light horse's +2, the knight has a 25% chance of doubling the light horse and killing it outright, and only a 17% chance of dying in return. But recoils will often pull the Knight into a bad position where one or two overlaps are against it, and the odds quickly become very nice for the light horse with an overlap or two!

Who Knights Should Fear

Bow - the combination of ranged combat, +4 factor vs. mounted, and a quick-kill against knights make bow perhaps the most feared opponent for knights. Sometimes the knights will get lucky -- if they beat the bow, the bow is quick-killed. But the most common result when DBA players try to emulate the French at Crecy or Agincourt is that they succeed in reproducing history, with a crushing victory for the longbow.

Elephants - what is bigger and meaner than two hundred nasty armoured men on horses? Twenty elephants. This isn't a good fight for the Knights. Avoid it if you can.

Pike Blocks - it is possible, with luck, to shatter a block of pike with a knightly charge. That said, don't try it unless you can get hill advantage, overlaps, and maybe a general on your side. And maybe don't try it even then, unless you are desperate. Double-ranked pikes are the most effective anti-knight weapon going, and they will prove it on the bodies of your chivalry if you let them.

War Wagons - the Hussites won their battles with German, Austrian, and Hungarian knights. War wagons are even more effective against knights than bows are -- they don't recoil, and with nobody getting quick-killed on either side, their missile fire comes into play for much, much longer. Send your knights elsewhere unless you've got flank attacks and overlaps going for you.

Camels - this is an even fight, on the face of it, with +4 combat factor each and no quick-kill. With that said, however, the camel has the advantage because of greater speed and the knight's impetuous followup. There is no great risk for the knight player in a simple matchup, but in a line of battle impetuous followup will often put the knight into double overlaps and serious danger.

Scythed Chariots - the Knights will win this fight slightly more than they will lose it. But why take a chance? Killing a Scythed Chariot removes the threat, but it doesn't count as an element for victory conditions. The reason to avoid combat with scythed chariots is usually pretty simple: winning the battle will help you a bit, losing it will help your opponent a LOT. Why risk one of your best elements if you can avoid it?

Psiloi - what? Psiloi? Weakest foot of all? Exactly. The most effective anti-knight tactic is to use their impetuous nature against them. I've killed knights with psiloi in dozens of games by hitting them with a psiloi that managed to keep a toe in bad going. The knight can't win that fight, and can't disengage either! Winning a combat means that the psiloi recoils, the knight advances, and now the knight is stuck in bad going and will die if beaten. One devious variation on this trick involves using the fact that mounted recoil through any friends -- it is possible to put a cavalry element in good going right in front of a psiloi in bad going, in combat with an enemy knight. When the knight wins, the cavalry recoils through the psiloi and the knight is now trapped in combat with the psiloi, unable to escape. When using knights, I try to always keep an eye on my enemy's psiloi.

What is Good About Knights

Knights are the most powerful mounted against normal mounted foes (cavalry and light horse); they are by far the most powerful elements against most heavy foot. They have a good movement rate. For a powerful battle line in the open, knights are very tough.

What is Bad About Knights

Their impetuous followup after victory is their worst fault. They are good-going kings, but are useless in bad going and are quite vulnerable to any ranged combat.

Picking a Knight Army

(written by Chris Brantley)

If you enjoy the Knight life, here are several DBA army lists you may wish to consider. Several of the armies allow you to dismount Knights as Blades and/or allow a choice of Knights or other elements. I have not listed armies with fewer than 3 Knight elements, although there are quite a few, including the armies of Alexander the Great and his successors, the Knights of St. Johns on Rhodes and Cyprus, and the English Army of the Wars of the Roses.

Max. No. of Knights Army Lists
12 Siracae, Iazyges and Later Rhoxolani Sarmatian (#55c) and African Vandals (#84)
7 Norman (#102c)
6 Parthian (#51), Italian Ostrogoth (#88), Later Frankish (#102a), Feudal French (#137), Early Crusader (#128), Romanian Frankish (#152), Italian Condotta (#169), Medieval French (#170), and Early Burgundian (#173)
5 French Ordonnance (#178)
4 Sarmatian (#55a), Bosphoran (#55b), Palmyran (#76), Gepid/Lombard (#85), Georgian (#121), Papal Italian (#126), Anglo-Norman (#134), Sicilian (#135), Early Imperialist (#136), Later Crusader (#141), Later Serbian (#142b), Feudal English (#145), Later Polish (#149), Teutonic Order (#151), Navarrese (#156), and Burgundian Ordonnance (#180).
3 Early & Later Seleucid (#41a/b), Early Both or Vandals (#70), Feudal Spanish (#104), Communal Italian (#123), Cilician Armenian (#132), Early Serbian (#142a), Later Bulgar (#147), Later Hungarian (#166), Later Imperial (#167), 100 Years War English (#168), Medieval Spanish (#171), and Free Company (#172).

If you like the "shock" tactics of Knights, but want something a bit different or perhaps more "ancient", then you might try these Heavy Chariot armies:

Max. No. of Hvy. Ch. Army Lists
3 Sumerian and Akkadian (#1), Hittites (#9), Early Assyrian (#12), Chou/Spring and Autumn Chinese (#16b), Warring States/Ch'in Chinese (#16c), New Babylonian (#18a) and Later Hebrew (#19)
2 Later Canaanite/Urgaritic or Syrians (#15b), Early Indians (#21a) and New Assyrian's (#23)
1 Early Syrian (#4b), and Saitic Egyptian (#29)

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