Life and Death in the Shieldwall

by Sir Tarrach Ulfson

The biggest myth that is still perpetuated and passed on to new fighters is that the primary mission of a shieldperson is to stay alive. IF YOU BELIEVE THIS, YOU ARE WRONG!!!!!!! Shields are more than a speed bump! The primary mission of the shield is to compliment the use of the great weapons. This is best done if the shields are moving, killing and harassing enemy shields, and destroying enemy great weapons. Learning how and when to do these things these are of utmost importance to the effectiveness of you unit of choice.

Starting positions and stances for melee.

For defense and offense, my personal choice is what is known as the "high guard." This position is attained by placing the sword roughly parallel with the ground and tucking your elbow in tight to your body so that your forearm is not exposed to enemy fire. This position offers a very good defense against downward slashed polearms, and by changing the angle (tip up or tip down) to attacks coming in parallel with your sword. It should be noted that you must actively block downward polearm strikes as they will likely blow through a passive guard. Another guard I have seen used is the "tower guard" where the sword is held perpendicular to the ground, and moving the hand left or right (keeping the sword tip static) is used to create a sort of 1/2 "A-frame" defense. This style seems very well suited to situations where face thrusting is prevalent. However, it is more vulnerable to downward strikes which tend to be more prevalent than horizontal strikes in close melee situations. The high guard stance offers one of the best offensive positions you can take in a melee. A little flex inwards with the elbow is enough to provide sufficient windup to generate killing force for flat snaps to the sword side, and you are already wound up enough to throw reasonable punches to your shield side. Also, if the enemy to your sword side has a vertical opening, a slight push up with you fist is all that is needed to generate the necessary movement to roll a good hard drop shot into it. The tower guard offers better horizontal strikes, but it is difficult to get any vertical strikes without moving the sword considerably out of position. As for the shield, unless you are moving past the enemy, or the enemy has some good spear support, there is little need to guard your legs. Thus, it is OK to keep your shield rather high when hard pressed. It should be noted that this could inhibit your offensive capabilities somewhat though.

Moving through an opposing Shieldwall.

There are several ways to deal with the defensive capabilities of the enemy (getting by their shieldwall). Perhaps the most preferred way is to just push by their shields. This is best accomplished by attaining a lower center of gravity than the opposing shieldperson. To do this, as you meet the enemy, bend your knees until your head is lower than your own shield edge, step forward with your shield leg and press your hip and shoulder into the enemy as you rise up. It is best to focus the majority of your force on one side of the enemies shield. This way, as you pass by them, you push their shield to one side so they are forced to turn and thus expose themselves to the polearms supporting your charge. It is a good idea to practice this with a supporting polearm so they can learn how important it is for them to attack the enemy shield at that point. If they don't kill or disable that opponent, not only will they be allowing that enemy to attack you as you pass, but they will soon be as vulnerable as the enemy polearms you are now attacking. I personally like to pass an enemy on their sword side so I can press their shield up into their sword arm thus hampering their ability to strike me as I pass. Also, as you pass, the opponent on your sword side should be at least as vulnerable to you as you are to them. Thus it is a good idea to take the opportunity to strike at them as you pass. However, once you take a step past their line, you will be vulnerable to a quick shot from behind. Thus, His Grace Conn has taught me the advantage of bringing my sword back over my head so that it is parallel to, and protecting my spine. This has the added advantage of cocking it to strike the poor polearm you are now facing and who is rightfully feeling very vulnerable. However, you must remember that you are likely within the range of several great weapons, particularly if not all of your comrades were as successful as you in penetrating the wall. It is a good idea not to get to focused on a single target until you know you are well past the point of the breakthrough. Many times, I have thought I had a polearm dead to right only to be gacked in the side by a spear or another polearm before I slew them.

Meeting an impenetrable shieldwall or an overwhelming force.

If pushing past the enemy shield is not a viable option, it is critical that you attack them as fiercely as possible. A constant rain of blows on your opponent will force them to the defensive and make you a difficult to hit target. Although it is important to aggressively attack the person infront of you, it is unlikely that you will kill or disable them since they will be very focused on their own defense. To kill the enemy, you will have to keep an eye on the opponent next to the person infront of you (generally to your sword side). If your buddy next to you is doing their job, it is this opponent who will be concentrating on defending themselves from the person they are facing, but will likely be exposing their arm or head to you. An aggressive attack will also serve to get your opponent focused on you and not on the polearm behind you. This should thus give your supporting polearm time to pick their target and strike with impunity. This brings up another point: Never ever ever lock up into a defensive position while you are in range of enemy polearms. Polearm fighters love static shields for opponents. It gives them time to chose targets and they can throw blows with impunity. If their opponent is throwing blows, then they must time their shots in order to strike. A good aggressive fighter is also likely to make the supporting polearm fighter a bit more nervous and distracted thus reducing their accuracy.

Dealing with the dead.

Once you have successfully killed enough opponents to allow you to press forward again, you will immediately run into the problem of avoiding stumbling headlong over your dead opponent as you try to get at the polearms left vulnerable behind them. Often, a fallen opponent (or comrade) is more difficult to pass than a standing one. Consequently, one way of dealing with this problem is to not kill the enemy. This technique is particularly useful when the immediate goal is to take ground rather than to destroy the enemy (such as happens when control of a flag or center of a bridge is goal of an assault) . It is for this reason that boar-snout and punch units work best if they concentrate on just penetrating an enemy formation rather than killing the enemy at the point of contact. However, if destruction of the enemy is the goal, then the death of the opposing shields must be immediately followed by penetration into the enemy formation. To accomplish this, you must be willing to step on people. We train to die defensively for just this purpose. However, we rarely train to advance over the dead, particularly when being pushed from behind. This is something we must do if we are to be the most formidable army on the field. Learning to lift your knees high when you step forward is one way to avoid falling headlong into a rain of enemy polearms. If the enemy to your sword-side has not fallen, feel free to place your sword on their shield for support as you step over their fallen comrade. Also, remember to keep your shield in front of you as you move forward, since your reduced balance and offensive capabilities will make you a prime target for the enemy great weapons who are now fighting for their lives rather than just for the schmucks who were infront of them :-). NOTE: if you think it is unsafe to step on someone who has not died defensively, either call hold, or be prepared to fall safely and protect yourself (and your opponent if possible).

What to do after you have penetrated and disrupted the enemy.

So, now you have broken through the shieldwall. What to do next. Your primary target should be any isolated great weapon. One lone shield should be more than a match for any lone great weapon. Run them down and kill them quickly. Even if you fail to kill them, in a mixed and broken battle, a free great weapon is far more effective than a free sword and shield. Thus, it is worth your time to try running down an enemy great weapon by yourself. Once the great weapon is incapacitated, look for another one. If you do not see any isolated great weapons, look quickly for places where you, as an individual, can do the most good. If you can act as a one man flanking unit to provide a moment of fire superiority for a small group of engaged comrades, do so. One other technique that is particularly effective is to back into the rear of an enemy force that is engaged. By backing in, (rather than moving in forward or trying to fowl enemy weapons), you ensure that you will be engaging the enemy as you pass to their side, but will not be engaged with the friendly forces you are trying to help. Also, someone squeezing into a line is usually a friendly newby and not an enemy thus you are more likely to be considered an annoyance rather than a threat until it is too late for your opponent. It is rarely effective to simply to join a line of engaged fighters, particularly if you try to squeeze between your comrades who are already engaged. Also, it is rarely effective to stand behind an enemy unit and try to fowl their weapons unless the battle is nearly over in your favor. Whatever you do, DO NOT join together with 3 or 4 other shields and try to run down any single fighter, particularly if they are carrying a great weapon. They will undoubtedly be faster and more agile alone that the 3 or 4 fighters trying to maneuver together. However, if you are fortunate enough to have broken through in a contiguous group of 3 or 4, stick together, wheel left or right and then smash into the side (NOT front or rear) of the biggest enemy line within ten steps that you can find and kill kill kill!!!! Do not waste time running down individual fighters, and only engage groups at least as large as your own. If you are in a group of engaged fighters and some hot S&S or polearm tries to flank your unit, DO NOT roll back to protect the flank. It is far more effective to individually charge the isolated foe. If that enemy is some hot stick knight, charge them and circle them away from your comrades. Then go completely defensive. It will keep them occupied and frustrated while preventing them from killing the 3 or 4 newby shields in your line that were their intended target. Never ever ever stand still individually or as a group. Pick a target quickly and attack it. Even if it is not the best target, it is better than no target.

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