Marching Orders

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 edge.


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 your right.


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 immediately.

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.
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.
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 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.
This is the same as ADVANCE BY STEP, but backwards. Each time the commander calls STEP, take one step back.
Given to modify another command, such as ADVANCE, this command instructs the troops to move at a trot.
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 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 the enemy.
This is similar to the ADVANCE command, but the formation should move at a 45 degree angle to their front.
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.
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.
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.
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.