Random Musings - Fair Fight

Published by: Jaxx on 8th Oct 2017 | View all blogs by Jaxx

 Hi all,

If this would be better in a forum post or group, let me know and I will move the question there.

I have two sentient, human(oid) races in my story. (Some of you may remember reading a bit of it.) One has war tech equivalent to late Roman or dark ages, although I could move this up to early medieval if necessary. The other is more primitive technologically, but the individuals are more robust and animal-like.

When they meet, one race would quickly conquer the other, all things being equal. To prevent this, I need to balance the stronger creatures with the tech of the physically weaker race.

I opted for the stronger race to be fewer in number and for their society to have no mass-population infrastructure, and for the weaker race to have crossbows and ballista. I know the Romans had such war machines, but I am now wondering if that's a step too far, and that horse- or longbows or other regular weapons would do.

Whaddya think? If you were a Roman being attacked by a lion who is as smart as you are, how far in advance would your tech need to be to put up a decent fight?



  • Yo
    by Yo 9 months ago
    The lions would have no defence. They would be picked off easily by the archers and only have a chance if they get in close enough with sufficient numbers. But that's the biggest test for them.

    The biggest advantage the Romans have is they have hands to build or dig things. They can dig trenches to defend and build walls to block. The lion masses would never be able to break down the walls of any fortress unless they enslaved some other race to do this for them.

    So for both the lions and the Romans it's not so much about the weaponry they have to attack but more about their capabilities to defend. I think the Romans defend easily against the lions (unless they have the slaves) but the lions have virtually no defence against any long distance weapons the romans might have. The only hope they have is if the romans run out of arrows.

    Anyway, I'm trying to tackle the concept of whether my front door would beat my back door in a fight, so this has provided a welcome distraction. But as the saying goes, that's another story.
  • Jaxx
    by Jaxx 9 months ago
    I am now interested in the door fight. What's going on there? :O Did *you* win?

    Thanks, that's interesting reasoning. The "lions" in my story are humanoid, so they have hands good enough to make tents and write. They still don't have comms or supply lines or a command structure, but they could dig.

    So. If the lions and Romans both have bows and arrows, how much better would the Romans' tech have to be to level the playing field? Hmm...
  • Thea
    by Thea 9 months ago
    Hi Jaxx,

    That sounds like a fascinating world you’re creating.
    As you aren’t writing in a straight historical fiction genre, I think that as long as you don’t stretch things too far, you’ll have plenty of scope as regards which weapons you choose.

    As you rightly say, the Romans used long-range weapons such as the ballista, and these could be moved around the battlefield or sited on a tower to serve as a permanent defensive weapon. The type of bow used at the time tended to be the composite bow – much smaller than a long bow, but a powerful weapon nevertheless. It was used to notable effect by cavalry specialists such as the Parthians.

    Also, it’s not only weaponry that’s important here. One of the many reasons that the Romans were so successful, was their ability to adapt to the challenge. Organisation and good discipline were key. Defence is so important too. The quality and innovative design of their armour gave them an advantage over many lesser-equipped opponents.

    Another factor which could give your characters an edge, might be a better knowledge of the terrain where the action occurs.

    Of all the many books on the subject, Vegetius’ The Military Institutions of the Romans, written in the Late Roman Empire, is especially informative.

    Hope that helps,
  • bazbaron
    by bazbaron 9 months ago
    Hi, Jaxx, sounds interesting. Take a look at a few (what ifs) maybe what the animal-like creatures lack in technology, they may make up with by haing extra sensory perceptions for instance.
  • Snowflake
    by Snowflake 9 months ago
    Sounds great. You could always explore the idea of a completely made up other world society where you make up the rules of progression. Look forward to hearing how you resolve this.
  • JtF
    by JtF 9 months ago
    Yes Jaxx, if it's the innate cunning of creatures against lowish tech I guess a lot depends upon how you show the strengths and weaknesses of the warring factions. Wolves (or lions) hunt as a pack instinctively, would certainly know the terrain and could maybe starve the occupants of a fortress. Even low tech can fail or be sabotaged?! Sounds magical, certainly an epic struggle with mayhem, misdirection and maybe a motif or two. All best JtF
  • Yo
    by Yo 9 months ago
    I think you have to be careful with things like esp as you will be in danger of making them 'godlike' and therefore dominant, perhaps even invincible.

    It's a tricky concept because the human race hasn't had to battle another species for dominance and so we don't have a lot to go on. However, Tolkien managed to pull it off with wizards, orcs, humans, elves, dwarves, trolls and hobbits, where the elves were dominant but just didn't want it enough and decided to leg it abroad.

    I would say try to keep them as equal as you can, but at some stage in their history one will surely become dominant over the other and that is more likely to be because of their intelligence rather than any physical attributes. Whoever works out the strategy to beat the other eg how to deprive them of food/drink/shelter etc will be the one who moves dominantly forward and I would guess at that point the other species would be enslaved or even suffer a rapid rate of genocide.
  • Snowflake
    by Snowflake 9 months ago
    Many years ago I read a novel called THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE by Larry Niven and Jerry Pounelle. It deals with the meeting of different species/technologies. Perhaps this might give you some inspiration.
  • Jaxx
    by Jaxx 9 months ago
    Oh wow, thanks everyone. Very detailed responses. I appreciate your time and will note down all your thoughts for careful consideration.

    I have completed my novel (again) and am now beginning re-writes. (Again.) My readers have been very picky over aspects I hadn't expected to be pulled up on, hence the odd question.

    I do have the "lion" race being magical, and they do have a form of ESP, and I *am* struggling with readers asking awkward questions... :O Mainly about the need for crossbows when normal bows would do. I like the idea of making one world sound a bit "mechanical", as in "death machines to deal with the terrifying cat people". I am, however, happy to give in to practicality if crossbows kick readers out of the experience.

    I am working my way through "Praetorian" (Guy De La Bédoyère) at the moment, and after that I'll have a look for the book Thea suggests (thank you!). I've always loved history (it's pretty much all I read these days), but getting details to stick in my mind is like getting water to stick to Teflon.
  • Jaxx
    by Jaxx 9 months ago
    Ah, Snowflake, The Mote in God's Eye is one of my favourite sci-fi books. :D I tell everyone about it. I think I have taken much inspiration from that along the way, more than even I can probably tell you about...
  • Snowflake
    by Snowflake 9 months ago
    I’ve just bought another copy to re-read.
  • mike
    by mike 9 months ago
    Dear Jaxx,
    This is not my field at all but didn't 'The Planet of the Apes' series cover this? Some were on TV recently, but I must confess I was so bored I gave up on them. But I did enjoy the original film.
  • Kate
    by Kate 9 months ago
    It might be worth thinking about the two races as the Romans and the Picts. The Romans were vastly better armed and organised, but such was the savagery of the Picts and their home that the Romans failed to subdue them and built Hadrian's wall.
  • Hilly
    by Hilly 9 months ago
    Hi Jaxx. Maybe you could have the stronger race a lot stronger i.e. can rip out arrows and still continue to fight? Heal faster, move quicker, jump etc so they're harder to hit than the weaker, more tech savvy race. Maybe they're strong enough to break rocks with their bare hands, throw objects with speed and force? Don't know if any of that helps...
  • Thea
    by Thea 9 months ago
    Yes, I agree re reading history, Jaxx, it’s not easy getting the details to stick – I tend to make lots of notes as I read in the hope that they will!

    Coincidentally, I’ve recently finished reading Guy de la Bédoyère’s book, Praetorian, and found it very informative re the history of the Guard, though as the author states in the Introduction, the book does not focus ‘on the details of the praetorians’ armour and equipment’. Still, that ties in nicely with what Kate suggested yesterday re finding other useful books, as there’s an excellent bibliography at the back.
    BTW, have you tried any of the Osprey military books? They’re packed with useful information.
  • Jaxx
    by Jaxx 9 months ago
    Mike. I can't say I have ever seen a Planet of the Apes movie. I think I fell between generations of hype about it. Never seemed like they may be my kind of thing, but maybe I'm wrong?

    Kate, I can look into it, thanks. I wonder if being on home turf helped, too? I feel research coming on.

    Hilly, thanks, I will put it in the brainstorm web for consideration. :) Any suggestions gratefully received.

    Thea, I haven't, but I will certainly look into them, thank you. Every little helps!

    Thanks generally to all Cloudies, by the way, for being generous with your time and advice. I feel all inspired...
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