Effective Methods for Moving Troops in Rapier Melees
Compiled by Don Christian Doré
Date: January 17, 2001
The ability to move on the field as a unit is the difference between
an effective army and a a group of individuals standing in a line. The
hardsuit (i.e. armored, heavy) fighters have known that for years but
these skills have been sadly lacking on the rapier field. The system
described below makes unit movement simple with just 19 commands. Most
fighters will already understand the meaning of some commands (such as
ADVANCE, RETREAT, STOP and DOUBLE TIME) and the other commands have
simple descriptive names.
I recommend practicing moving and fighting using these commands every
week or two until your unit knows them instantly. After that I recommend
that you practice about once a month so your unit does not lose it's
FRONT, REAR, LEFT, RIGHT, ETC.
Most of this is obvious. Forward or front
is the direction the commander is facing when the unit is in it's
starting position. The rear is behind the commander. The flanks
are the left and right sides of the unit. Those directions will remain
relative to the unit as it maneuvers. Thus if a unit is facing north
their front will be to the north. If that unit then turns 90 degrees to
the left, their front will then be facing west.
There has been some confusion as to the meaning of right and left in
combat. Does right mean your right or your opponent's right? The answer
is that, by default, right will mean YOUR right and left will be YOUR
left. In a formation, the left flank is the side of the formation on the
commander's left when the unit is in it's starting position. Of course,
that side remains the left flank even if the commander temporarily turns
around to deal with some threat.
When speaking of the enemy, it is best to specify that you are
speaking of HIS flank, front or rear, e.g. "Attack the enemy's left
flank". In this example his left flank would be on the enemy commander's
left. Thus if your unit were facing them, his left flank would be on
The basic troop formation has a line with most of the troops in
front, a commander behind them and some reserve troops behind him.
It is almost impossible to fight opponents, watch the battlefield and
direct troops at the same time. Thus the commander needs to stand behind
his troops where he is not directly engaged with the enemy. His job is
to watch what is happening to his unit, watch what the enemy is doing,
scan the battlefield to see the larger picture and to direct his troops.
A commander must have a strong voice that can be understood even in the
din of battle. If your commander cannot stand being out of the fight or
cannot be heard, find a different commander.
If you are the commander you should proceeded each order by the name
of the unit you want to obey the command. Examples: "Bryn Gwlad,
FORM UP!", "Connor's Team, CHARGE!". This allows the
troops to know who is being commanded, reduces the chances that your
orders will be confused with those of other commanders and gives you the
option to order part of your force one way and part another way.
If you are one of the troops and you hear your unit commander giving
orders but you see your fellows did not hear those orders, you should
echo those orders until everyone has heard them. In particular, if you
hear the REGROUP or HOLD commands, echo them immediately and loudly.
If your unit has more than 6 troops, at least one of them should be
positioned behnd the commander as a reserve. It is the reserve's job to
protect the commander, to stop any flanking manuvers and to fill any big
gaps that form in the line. As your line increases, the size of your
reserve should also increase.
This is an explanation of various actions and maneuvers for use in
rapier melees. Most of these actions are taken directly from Duke Kein
McEwan's highly successful hardsuit (armored, heavy) combat melee
techniques. I have modified a few of these actions to account for the
differences in rules and weapons but any of the hardsuit fighters who
have trained in Duke Kein's methods will understand these commands
- FORM UP
- Get into your position in your unit's standard beginning formation.
You should be ready to go -- armor on, weapons ready -- when FORM UP is
called. It is recommended that fighters learn to stand in formation
with about 18 inches of space between them rather than shoulder to
shoulder. This will give them room to move and use their weapons
without tangling them up.
- During a melee it is common for units to become scattered and
broken. REGROUP means that each fighter should disengage from the enemy
as quickly as they can safely do and move as quickly as possible to
their commander. They should assume their positions in their unit's
standard beginning formation, closing any gaps left by lost fighters.
The troops should always form up in front of their commander facing the
same way he is facing. The commander will probably start the unit
moving as soon as they are assembled. To work effectively this move
needs speed, speed, speed.
- DRESS (THE LINE, RIGHT, LEFT)
- If the front line of a unit becomes broken or ragged due to losses,
terrain or movement during a battle, the commander will call out for
the troops to DRESS THE LINE. The front line troops should look to the
man on their right and move to where they are in line with him and at
the correct distance, then make sure the fighter on their left is doing
the same. Reserves should help the front line stay dressed by pointing
out problem areas.
- If the commander calls DRESS RIGHT or DRESS LEFT, that usually
means one or more fighter have been lost from the line on that side and
a gap is forming. The troops need to quickly close that gap in the
direction the commander orders. Note that skilled troops will not wait
for the commander to give orders to DRESS, but will do so automatically
after each maneuver and when they take losses.
- Stop movement and stand. This is not a command to stop fighting if
you are engaged with an enemy. NEVER say HOLD when you mean STOP. We
have learned the hard way not to use HALT either as some fighters tend
to hear HOLD instead of HALT.
- In rapier, if HOLD is called, stop all fighting and movement. Drop
to one knee with all weapons pointed away from everyone. Remain in
place until the marshals say to RISE. Do not talk during a HOLD or move
about. If you are caught discussing tactics or maneuvering for position
during a HOLD you will be removed from the field. DO use the time to
check your weapons and gear, to examine the terrain around you and
become aware of any hazards on the field. When combat is about to
resume the marshals will command you to RISE in place. Next they will
call LAY ON and combat will resume.
- Move forward as a unit at a steady walking pace until you are given
further orders. If the unit encounters obstacles, the main unit should
continue forward maintaining their speed while the individuals affected
go around, over or through those obstacles and do their best to
maintain or resume their place in the formation.
- ADVANCE BY STEP -- STEP
- When the commander gives the command ADVANCE BY STEP, prepare to
advance but do not move. When he gives the followup command STEP, take
exactly one step forward each time he says STEP. Treat obstacles the
same as if the ADVANCE command was given.
- ADVANCE TO ENGAGE
- Advance until the front line is engaged with the enemy and begin
fighting. The front line must not slow down as it draws near the enemy.
This is one of the most common and fatal mistakes most units make. Go
in boldly at a constant pace.
- Note that engagement range is about one step closer to the enemy
than the place most rapier units try to stop. This is not meant as a
holding action; it is an up-close, in your face attack. If the range it
right the blades should be flying fast and furious. When you hear this
command, steel yourself because you are about to kill or die.
- This is the same as ADVANCE, but backwards. Fighters need to try to
disengage from the enemy without being killed. Keep your line dressed.
- RETREAT BY STEP -- STEP
- This is the same as ADVANCE BY STEP, but backwards. Each time the
commander calls STEP, take one step back.
- DOUBLE TIME
- Given to modify another command, such as ADVANCE, this command
instructs the troops to move at a trot.
- TRIPLE TIME
- As DOUBLE TIME, but at a jog.
- Advance to engage at triple time. Remember that in rapier we cannot
body check our opponents, knock them out of the way or run over them.
However, you must not be shy about going in to kill or die as you
advance through his line. The purpose of a charge is not to wipe out
the enemy, but to destroy his formation and unit cohesiveness. If your
unit can actually punch a hole in his line your unit should push
through, quickly regroup enough behind his lines and then move as a
unit to quickly destroy his remaining forces piecemeal. As a result,
this action can devastate your opponent even if both units lose an
equal number of troops in the first contact.
- DOUBLE THE RANKS -- CLOSE RANKS
- DOUBLE THE RANKS is an order to change the formation. Every other
fighter in the first rank will drop back 2 steps. This will usually be
followed by the command CLOSE RANKS which tells the fighters to close
up to normal spacing (18 inches shoulder to shoulder for most units).
The effect is to form two solid lines, one behind the other, usually in
preparation for a charge.
- A very different effect is achieved by NOT ordering the troops to
CLOSE RANKS. This forms a staggered formation, again, usually in
preparation for charging the enemy. If this staggered formation is
used, those in the first rank will be very busy defending themselves
and enjoying a "target rich environment" until their buddies arrive a
few steps later. Those in the second rank should use those last few
steps to assess the effect the first rank had and look for any gaps
that form in the enemy's line in order to punch through the get behind
- ANGLE (LEFT/RIGHT)
- This is similar to the ADVANCE command, but the formation should
move at a 45 degree angle to their front.
- REFUSE THE (LEFT/RIGHT)
- This maneuver prevents a unit from being flanked by denying that
flank to the enemy. If REFUSE THE RIGHT is called, those on the right
should begin retreating, followed by those next to them. If properly
executed the front line will remain strait and will pivot backwards on
the left flank. The leftmost person will remain in place as the pivot
point. Of course, a command of REFUES THE LEFT withdraws the left,
pivoting on the right.
- WHEEL (LEFT/RIGHT)
- This is the opposite of the REFUSE command. If the commander calls
an order to WHEEL RIGHT, the right flank should advance with the line
pivoting on the leftmost fighter.
- SINGLE FILE (LEFT/RIGHT)
- This is a very fast way to move troops into position, particularly
when other commands cannot get the job done efficiently or when they
need to go through a narrow opening. Before giving the SINGLE FILE LEFT
command, the commander will place himself on the left flank. When this
command is given every fighter should turn in place 90 degrees to the
left. The commander will then jog or run to where he wants his troops
deployed. The troops should follow in line as in a game of follow the
leader. When the commander calls STOP, he will take his place behind
the unit and the troops should turn to face the same direction their
commander is facing, in formation.
- SLIDE (LEFT/RIGHT)
- The unit should keep it's current
formation, and continue to face in the same direction, but move
sideways to the right or left until told to STOP.
There are many other commands possible to cover various possibilities
and situations, but those can generally be handled in the strategic
planning before the battle and executed with a simple command of GO.
That approach may also deny the enemy knowledge of what your unit
intends. Very few people can come up with brilliant new strategies in
the heat of combat anyway. This set of commands has worked well in many
battles and has helped to make our war companies among the most
effective in the Known World.
The final word is practice. To get this down your unit MUST practice.
More importantly, the commander must practice over and over until the
commands are second nature. There simply is not time to remember what
that command was in the heat of battle. Even if you can only get one
other person to practice with you regularly, march them around and
practice, practice, practice.