The Archer Class

by Terikel Grayhair

There are basically three kinds of archers- foot archers, mounted archers, and dead archers. Hopefully, by the end of this class, you will be able to keep the first two kinds from joining the third.

Common to all Archers

Archers use bows to launch arrows at enemy soldiers. These arrows are slender shafts of wood tipped with bronze or iron warheads. They are light, which means they do not have all that much force behind their flight. They have enough force to thump into a man's chest and bring him down, but not enough to cut through plates or rings of steel. Most are less than a finger's width in diameter, and quite light.

Feathers help them maintain stability in flight to achieve distance, but that does not help with the speed so much. So when the foe sees the arrow coming, he merely steps aside so that it misses him completely.

So what does all this mean, noble warlord? It means arrows can kill from a distance, but have problems against heavy armor. Big shields also get in the way and can stop arrows, especially if the target can see the arrow coming. And it means that arrows can be dodged if seen.

Thus Common Lesson number one for all archers is: try to shoot into the rear of the target where the arrows cannot be seen and thus not dodged, or into his right flank where there is no shield.

Archers use bows and arrows, as stated above. Arrows are expendable, which means when one is launched, it is gone. When all arrows are expended, the archer can no longer perform his primary function of raining airborne death down upon the foe. The amount of arrows remaining in a unit can be seen by the blue line in the unit card- the smaller the line, the fewer arrows remaining. No blue line, no arrows.

Thus Common Lesson number two, keep an eye on your unit's missile supply.

One launches arrows in one of two methods, commonly known as the Eastern and Western methods. Both begin by nocking the arrow into the bow. The Eastern method then grips the bowstring with the first three fingers of the right hand, with the nock of the arrow between the index finger and the middle finger. The nock and string are then drawn back to the cheek, the arrow aimed, then the fingers opened to release the arrow. The bowstring snaps back to its original position, launching the arrow with the force of the bow. The Western method grips the bowstring with four fingers, the nock between the middle and ring fingers and draws back to the center of the chest for release. It is faster, but not as accurate.

Within the game, the archers will do their thing without interference from you. What the above paragraph implies, however, is that heavy armor will hamper either the draw, or the release. Thus archers wear relatively little armor that would hamper their shooting. In a world where hand-held steel is the primary killing machine, this means archers suck at melee.

Common Lesson number three is thus keep your archers out of physical combat for which they are not suited..

Feathers, as stated above, stabilize the flight of the arrow, making it more able to hit the intended target. When one is shooting at a block of men, the arrows are much more likely to hit flesh than otherwise. If the target is dispersed or in open order, the arrow will be more likely to hit dirt than flesh, though the target is now in a very good position to be run down by cavalry. Likewise, when facing hand-to-hand combat, it is a good idea to bring your formation together- there is strength in numbers when those numbers are close together.

Thus Common Lesson number four is to Set your archers to loose formation if fired upon by other archers, tighten up for melee. There is a button on the right-lower inset screen that changes from Open to Closed order, and vice versa.

Archers are cowards who kill from afar. As such, and being quite relatively lightly armored, they avoid physical combat. There is a button which can improve their courage, though. It is called the Skirmish Mode. The default setting is 'skirmish', which is a fancy word for 'run away if the other guys get close'. By turning the Skirmish Mode off, you give the command 'stand and fight, you cowards' to these men, who then find their balls and do not run at the sight of a horde of swordsmen coming at them.

Be careful with this. Archers are valuable, and should not be thrown away by giving them a set of balls then forgetting about them. Skirmish Mode exists for a reason- you do NOT want your archers to stay and be slaughtered in melee for which they are not suited. Thus lesson five is Use skirmish Mode wisely .

There are times you want them to have balls. I tend to put my archers safely behind the front lines where they have maximum range and can volley-fire upon closing troops. When the enemy engages my front line, I shift them to fire on other targets to avoid hitting my own men. It is very irritating to watch the archers displace from that protected position to an open position farther back because I forgot to turn off Skirmish Mode. You can also issue the Guard command to keep them in their place, but that locks them into the ground and prevents them from moving forward to keep firing upon a retreating foe. Handy at times, unhandy at others. My usual settings are Skirmish Off, Guard On.

Which leads us to a clever battle tactic. Put the majority of your archers to the left rear of your line. They are not to shoot the units ahead of them, but those ahead and to the right, using the old tactic 'shoot the man to your right.' As stated above, most warriors have a shield in their left hand, which guards their left side. They have a weapon in their right hand, as most men are right-handed. Thus using this tactic, you are pouring large amounts of arrows into an unshielded side of a man already engaged in combat. He cannot dodge, nor can he use his shield. Maximum casualties! Thus lesson six is Shoot the man to your right. It is especially vicious in a bridge battle, raking entire units along the bridge as they cross. Devastating!

There is one other command about which we must speak. Fire at will, the little bow button to the extreme right. This command allows your archers to fire upon any unit within its range, whichever it chooses. A wonderful expense of arrows, if you ask me. By default this is on- cowards like to kill, too. You may wish to consider turning it off, since they often fire into melee where your own men could be killed. Worse, they continue to fire for several seconds after you order them to cease. And then more precious seconds are wasted before they actually obey your command to fire upon the unit you wish them to target. Seconds are precious in combat- and can mean the difference between victory and a crushing defeat. Therefore I prefer to keep my archers under my control. Thus Check the Fire at Will setting,and do it often.

Foot Archers

Foot Archers have two chief advantages over Mounted archers. These are Range and Fire.

A man on the ground can wield a bow almost the same height as himself. Our virtual world, of course, has clones wielding bows, so every archer and every bow are exactly the same length. A man on horseback, however, uses a much smaller bow. He must, as a bow as long as himself cannot be wielded from horseback easily- how would one track a target moving from left to right? Shoot through the horse's head, or lay the bow flat? Doing the former turns the mounted archer into a foot archer, or in our game, a dead archer. Doing the latter forces the bow upside-down, spilling the arrow from its position and breaking the wrist of the archer. Thus the horse archer is forced by the Laws of Physics to wield a smaller bow.

Size does matter, though materials can temper the difference. The horn-and-sinew shortbows of the horse archer are much more powerful for their size than the selfbow used by the foot archers, however that size is quite a bit smaller. The upshot of all this rambling about size and power is Foot Archer Lesson number one: Foot archers have a greater range than mounted archers.

Of course there are exceptions. The first-issue Roman archers are far outranged by the Scythian Noble Archers, and even the Egyptian Chariot Archers. But so is an eight-year-old outclassed in boxing by a seventeen-year-old. Apples to apples, foot archers have a much better range than their mounted counterparts.

Another advantage of the foot archer is the ability to loose flaming arrows upon a foe. Flaming arrows are a lot of fun. They cause most units hit by them to lose some morale, and can outright panic others. Elephants and scythed chariots are chief among these- a few good volleys of flaming arrows can send those critters scurrying about through their own lines, dealing much more damage than arrows alone. Concentrated on a ram or siege tower, flaming arrows can set the thing alight, and thus save your city.

Needless to say, it is impossible to light a flaming arrow when on a beast who has a natural fear of flames. Thus horsemen cannot loose flaming arrows. Chariots are little more than a piece of ground that moves to an archer, yet the laws of the game forbid a chariot archer from loosing fire arrows as well. Thus Foot Archer Lesson number two: Only Foot archers can loose flaming fire arrows; mounted archers cannot.

Some archers have extremely long range, not like the original Roman archers who can barely shoot the unit directly before them. These men are worth their weight in gold, able to decimate high-powered units from afar, before they can clash with your own melee troops. They are especially useful against foes with little armor- like Germanic spearbands, Berzerkers, Spanish Bull Warriors, and most especially against Horse Archers and other archer units.

Cretan archers are a superb example of this. They can reach out and touch someone long before they are in range of their own weapons. This makes the long-range archers worthy counter-archer units. Cretans wear no armor and have only a little butter knife for defense, so if they get tagged by a cavalry unit, they will most likely die fleeing in terror. So keep an eye on them at all times. These archers are mercenaries, which means anybody can get them. Pop a Family member with a bag of gold down to Crete and Greece, sometimes Ionia as well. There should be some Cretan mercenaries coming onto the market relatively soon.

Gallic Foresters are another breed of archer. They can shoot as far as the Cretans, but their back-up weapon is a spear- useful for deflecting cavalry. They are not bad in melee, either, making them excellent light infantry units when their arrows are expended.

The same applies to the Egyptian Pharoah's Bowmen. These men have a high morale befitting their elite status, and are armored and able enough to stand up to cavalry, though spearless. I have lost more than one family member charging 'cowardly Egyptian archers' only to find them overwhelmed by the Egyptian bowmen a few minutes later. The Roman post-Marian Archer Auxilia is also quite good, though not in the same league as Pharaoh's Bowmen.

Several factions have both archers and Chosen Archers. The Chosens are the better unit- like Roman Archer Auxilia, they are an upgrade of the regular faction bowmen. They shoot farther and faster, and have better armor and secondary weaponry than the previous editions.

Mounted Archers

Like the Foot archers, mounted archers have their own advantages. Chief among these are the ability to shoot and move at the same time. I remember fondly one episode where a lone Germanic General caught one of my Scythian Horse Archer units before it could link up with the army it was going to reinforce. Auto-Resolve or retreating would kill my Horse Archers, so I fought it out. As the battle opened, I fired as the General charged. Then I ran. To my delight, the Horse Archers fired on the General as they were retreating. I kept this up by running in circles. The charging General tired but my Horse Archers less so, and the continuous rain of missiles depleted the General until only he was left. Then I charged him and won a Heroic Victory.

Two lessons learned: Horse Archers can retreat and shoot at the same time and Horse Archers move quicker and tire less easily than heavy cavalry.

Another advantage is that Mounted Archers are still cavalry. They can displace and move faster than foot archers, allowing them to get into a lethal position quicker than their ground-pounding brethren. And when the arrows are exhausted, they are superb light cavalry for chasing down routers. Avoid getting them into battle against non-routing units, though- they are still archers, but they can hack down fleeing foes quite well.

Chariot archers have the additional advantage of being in a battle-buggy. In our world, all battle-wagons have scythes on their hubs- absolutely devastating against the unarmored legs of horses, as well as instilling fear into infantry. Thus another lesson to remember: Chariot archers can fight as chariots. More on these in the Chariot lesson.

Elephants usually have archers upon them, too, but I leave them to the Elephant lesson.