Flying Cavalry: A Tactical Guide

So you want to ride a dragon into battle, eh? Take a number, pal. There’s a line that wraps around the earth full of people who want to dig their spurs into a dragon or a griffin or a pegasus or a hippogriff and so on: it might be a long wait. My job here is to have a real conversation with you would-be fly-jockeys about what the heck you’d hope to achieve in the ‘saddle’ of a flying beastie, so pay attention.

What exactly does that guy think he's going to whack with that thing?

What exactly does that guy think he’s going to whack with that thing?

Rule #1: Swords are Mostly Pointless

If you have the idea that you’re going to be lopping off heads with your trust cavalry saber whilst flying about, please report to the medical tent to have your own head examined.

A sword – even a big one – isn’t going to have a blade much over 60″ (and that’s being pretty damned generous). Most single-handed blades will be much less than that. If you’re on the back of a giant dragon or griffon or wyvern, the odds of something ever getting within sword-reach are extremely remote. Why? Well, because the thing you’re on is going to have a wingspan of much, much more than you and your sword can reach. The only way that sword will be useful is if an object somehow gets closer than the flapping wings of your mount. If that happens, you likely have already had a mid-air collision, so the sword is sort of useless by then.

Instead, practice your aim with a crossbow, get good at throwing javelins, see about using a bow (good luck with that – see below), or learn to throw fireballs or something. Better yet, if your mount is one of those fearsome aerial predators, try teaching it to be the weapon. Waaay more efficient that way, and it leaves both your hands free for holding on to something.

Rule #2: Don’t Fall Off

This would seem to go without saying, but it seems to happen all the time anyway. The saddle you use should do more than a simple horse saddle – we’re talking about something more like a cross between a gondola and a roller-coaster seat. You should be strapped into that shit. Tied down. Everything from the waist down should be secure. Lots of hand-holds, not just one lousy pommel. Given the speeds and angles at which aerial combat seems likely to occur, you want to make for damned certain that you are not falling off your mount. Unlike a horse, where being able to leap free of a falling horse is an important survival tactic, any fall from the back of a flying griffon is worse than falling with the griffon. So, safety first: strap in, boys.

Maiming the critter so it can only fly with your assistance is a pretty solid plan.

Maiming the critter so it can only fly with your assistance is a pretty solid plan.

Rule #3: Control the Beast

Let’s give some serious thought here as to how we are going to get this multi-ton flying monstrosity to listen to your commands because, let’s face it, if it bends around and bites you, you’re dead. If it decides to fly off into the sunset, you are less than useless. If it doesn’t like you, you’re doomed.

You’ve got a couple options here. Briefly, you’re going to perform some combination of the following: imprint yourself on your mount (raising your baby dragon from birth as its mother), create some kind of elaborate harness to give it orders (spurs and reigns might not do it, depending on size and anatomy of the beast), utilize magic/supertechnology to somehow meld your mind with its own (e.g. the Na’vi), or clip its wings in such a way that the only way it can fly is with your say-so/assistance. There might be other methods, too, but those seem the easiest and most practical. Of note, extremely intelligent mounts (like those capable of speech, etc.) are much more dangerous than those that are more like animals. Don’t ride dragons that talk unless you and the dragon have a good working relationship. Sometimes not even then.

Rule #4: Consider Upkeep

Keeping a hippogriff is no easy task. You think horses are hard to care for? Try taking care of something that expects to eat 600 pounds of raw meat a day. Sure, an angry horse can kick you to death, but it doesn’t see you as a snack, at least. You’re going to need a team of handlers, a secure ‘sable’ (or paddock or rookery or Pit of Despair or whatever) to keep it from eating local schoolchildren, and lots and lots of its preferable food. Not feeding a carnivorous mount is a great way to lose fingers, arms, and heads.

Rule #5: Is This Even Worth It?

Given the expense and risk of training these mounts, you’re going to have to ask yourself what they grant you. Aerial cavalry is fast, but unless your mount breathes fire, the kind of offensive output you can expect is limited. A griffon that tries to engage land targets is going to wind up grounded if for no other reason than it will quickly be injured by concentrated blocks of troops. A non-fire breathing dragon can be expected to eat a fair number of enemy combatants and instill fear into the enemy soldiers, but it’s only a few ballista bolts away from doomed (and, once injured, you can’t reasonably expect to control these things as well). Additionally, give some thought to range. Given the apparati needed to maintain such a beast, you can’t reasonably bring it along with a marching army – the supply train would quickly get ridiculous, and some of these beasts might need certain assistance getting airborne with a rider + armor + weapons, not to mention the potential psychological impact on your fellow soldiers.

To this end, barring the occasional super-huge fire-breathing dragon of doom, your run-of-the-mill pegasi, hippogriffs, griffons, and wyverns would probably best be employed defensively. If stationed at a watchtower or similar, they could quickly and easily patrol open ground much better than cavalry. Likewise, they would be adept at picking off small enemy parties, chasing down enemy scouts, and harassing the flanks of advancing armies. During siege situations, they could be used to transport some small quantity of supplies and personnel into and out of the citadel in question, not to mention making it possible to stage raids upon the besieging force. Will they wipe out entire enemy armies? Well, probably not. That said, they could be quite useful and effective provided you can afford the expense of keeping them.

So, buck up, would-be aero-knights! Someday you, too, could fly bloodthirsty aerial predators for the purpose of knocking over half-built siege engines while enduring a rain of enemy arrows. Ah, the glory!

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on November 18, 2013, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very nice piece of what you might call ‘practical car mechanics’ fantasy. (Which is a way of thinking it had not occurred to me might exist until I read this!) Like this a lot.

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