Although many fantasy games contain military elements, large-scale campaigns, wars, and sieges, few games seem to reflect how medieval armies really operated. When a military unit appears in a game, its structure is often simply a graft of a quasi-modern hierarchies onto an even more quasi-medieval setting and it is left at that.
The battles themselves often also have a distinctly modern flavor, incorporating elements of recent conflicts such as the moral ambiguity of recent wars or the ethnically charged conflicts that have plagued modern history.
These details are interesting twists and can add much to a game’s flavor. We’ve had fun with deliberate anachronisms in our own campaigns. However, the realities of medieval warfare–its structure and organization, its rules of engagement, and myriad other details–can also greatly enhance one’s enjoyment of the game.
This article will focus on warfare in the fourteenth century, a paradoxical period that saw the height of chivalry and also the beginning of the end for the knightly aristocracy.
Even as the Order of the Garter was being established and the nation-state was still an emerging concept, national armies were beginning to be dominated by hired “professional” soldiers. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were also the era of the Hundred Years’ War, a bloody conflict between England and France that forever changed the nature of warfare, introducing massed longbow archery and gunpowder onto a battlefield that had once been the domain of the mounted knight.
First, however, it is important to understand the genesis of the medieval military machine.
And to grasp that, we have to get feudal.