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DBA Online Tactics     

A Crash Course on Scythed Chariots

By Chris Brantley

Scythed Chariots: military history article about their history and advantages on the battlefield

First take an ordinary chariot and attach long, sharp blades to the wheel hubs capable (in theory) of separating a man or horse from its legs. Then whip the four horse team into a frenzied head-long gallop at the enemy, in expectation that the whirling blades will cause fearful soldiers to give way, creating a hole that can be exploited by your supporting foot...otherwise hoping that the impetuousness of the chariot's advance will result in a massive head-on collision that disrupts the enemy's formation, creating gaps that can be exploited by the following infantry. That is the recipe for scythed chariots.

What was their true impact? It is hard to say. If they were very successful, you would expect to find them more widely used. But terrain is not always conducive to chariot warfare and it is very difficult to force horses to act like a living battering ram, particularly since their drivers were likely to jump clear prior to contact. Unless closely supported by enemy foot, well-drilled defenders could open gaps in their lines to let the chariots through, to be handled by skirmishers in the rear. Against undrilled troops, however, scythed chariots could be a nightmare.

Because they die on a push and quick-kill so many of their opponents, Scythed Chariots have an all or nothing quality in DBA that makes them a great element for the player who likes to gamble. However, the odds are invariably long and an unsuccessful attack is likely to result in the loss of your Scythed Chariot. Thus, they should be used carefully, either as a suicidal attack in hopes of disrupting an enemy formation to your advantage or as a high-risk attempt to quick-kill an element of an enemy already on the threshold of defeat.

Because they have the characteristics of an "expendable" element, Scythed Chariots also encompass stampeded cattle (SC), which provide an interesting variant to model.

The Match-Ups

Scythed Chariots vs. Blades -- This is an all or nothing proposition, with one or the other element always being destroyed in the first round of close combat. SCH slice through Blades 58% (21/36) of the time, whereas Blades dice SCH a modest 42% (15/36).

Scythed Chariots vs. Elephants and Warwagons -- Elephants and War Wagons are not particularly impressed by SCH, destroying it 72% (26/36) of the time. Only 28% (10/36) of the time will SCH force Elephants to recoil. War Wagons cannot be destroyed or recoiled by SCH chariots under normal circumstances, although SCH will survive their foolhearty impact with War Wagons 28% (10/36) of the time.

Scythed Chariots vs. Artillery, Knights, Pikes and Spear -- This presents another category of all or nothing close combat results, with SCH destroying Artillery, Knights, Pikes or Spear 42% (15/36) of the time and being destroyed in 58% (21/36) of encounters.

Scythed Chariots vs. Scythed Chariots -- This is the only match-up in DBA which can result in the destruction of both elements, since SCH die in a push. Both the attacker and defender will die in 17% (6/36) of encounters. Otherwise, the attacking SCH has a 42% (15/36) chance of destroying or being destroyed by the defending SCH.

Scythed Chariots vs. Camelry and Cavalry -- Camelry (+4 vs. mounted) fare better than Cavalry (+3 vs. mounted) against Scythed Chariots, although they would seem just as vulnerable in real life. Regardless, SCH will destroy camelry only 3% (1/36) of the time, force it to recoil 39% (14/36) of the time, or be destroyed trying 58% (21/36) of the time. By comparision, SCH will destroy Cavalry 11% (4/26) of the time, force it to recoil 42% (15/36) of the time or be destroyed trying 47% (17/36) of the time.

Bob McDonald adds: "The thing to remember about camels: horses *H A T E* camels, & are afraid of them. That's the reason Cm are +1 relative to Cv; and also why ScCh don't do as well vs Cm, since the horses (already reluctant to collide, as you state in the article), are even less willing to dash in among those smelly, ugly, spitting, beastly camels."

Scythed Chariots vs. Light Horse and Psiloi -- Both Light Horse and Psiloi defend at +2 versus SCH in good going, although Psiloi are apparently better able to evade the chariots of death. SCH will destroy Light Horse 25% (9/36) of the time and force it to recoil 47% (17/36) of the time, while risking destruction in 28% (10/36) of encounters. SCH cannot kill foot skirmishers, however, but will force Psiloi to flee 25% (9/36) or recoil 47% (17/36) of the time, while suffering death in 28% (10/36) of encounters.

Scythed Chariots vs. Auxilia and Warband -- Auxilia and Warband fight at +2 vs. SCH, but Warband is subject to quick-kill. Thus, SCH will kill Warband in 72% (26/36) of encounters, and suffer the equivalent fate in 28% (10/36) of chances. Against Auxilia, SCH inflict death in 25% (9/36) of encounters and force a recoil in 47% (17/36) of chances, but suffer destruction in 28% (10/36) of contacts.

What Do Scythed Chariots Fear?

War Wagons are the ultimate bane of Scythed Chariots, for they cannot be hurt by the whirling blades and will kill SCH 72% outright of the time. Elephants are equally invulnerable and deadly, although there is a modest (28%) chance that they can be forced to recoil.

Despite the fact that SCH can quick-kill Artillery, Knights, Pikes and Spear, these encounters are clearly a losing proposition, with SCH being destroyed 58% of the time by impact.

SCH need not greatly fear death by Psiloi but gain little by attacking it since they can not kill it under normal circumstances .

The Morale of the Story:

Scythed Chariots should be aimed at Warband first and foremost and then at Blades, Auxilia or Light Horse depending on how much you are willing to gamble. Blades have a higher probability of success, but failure means death. Auxilia and Light Horse can be beaten 72% of the time, but are only destroyed 25% of the time, whereas the risk of your own death is only 28% (compared to 42% vs. Blades).

All other match-ups are long-shots at best with the odds of killing your opponent less than the odds of surviving the encounter.

Thus good die rolling is a key component of any strategy involving Scythed Chariots.

Picking a Scythed Chariot Army

There are only a few options for those interested in blades on wheels or their hoofed equivalent:

Max No.
of Elements
Army List
3 Cyropaedic Persian (#28b)
1 Later Achaemenid Persian (#33), Later Seleucid (#41b), Galatian (#45), or Pontic (#58). Also Sung (#116), West Sudanese (#120) and Ming Chinese (#174) have a stampeded cattle option.

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques are welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at brant@erols.com.

Copyright Wargaming.net 1999-2013
DBA 1.2 Rules Wargames Research Group 1995
DBA 1.22 Rules Phil Barker, Richard Bodley Scott, Sue Laflin Barker 1990-2000