The Slinger Class

By Edorix

So, you wish to learn about slingers. You wish to know how to use them, where to use them, when to use them, and why bother at all. Well, you have come to the right teacher! As all Britons of the Southern tribes, I started slingng almost as soon as I could throw. Although I am now a swordswinging warrior and a slinging lad no longer, I can tell you precisely what a good slinger can be expected to achieve, and what he cannot.

In order to understand what a slinger can do, you must first understand what exactly a sling is.

The Sling

Basically, a sling is a pouch between two strings. Generally, the pouch is made of leather and the strings of wool or hemp, however other materials are in common usage. You can make a sling out of a single piece of string; others fashion their slings from three strings braided together; it is possible to use a simple strip of leather. In fact, pretty much anything will serve.

There are a number of different styles in which a sling can be used. In our world, we are only interested in one: the simple overarm release. This is quite a powerful release, which in the hands of an expert with a good sling can achieve ranges of up to a thousand feet, however this is rare. These days smaller slings are generally preferred, which allow less range and power, but much more accuracy. Personally, I use a shorter sling for hunting and a longer one for war, but anyway. To use a sling, you place the ammunition (clay and lead bullets are often used by professional slingers of the Mediterranean; I prefer specially chosen pebbles) in the pouch and take both strings in your hand. Stand at forty-five degrees to the target with the sling hanging from your right hand, then swing it over your head and at the right moment release your hold on one of the strings. (Many like to tie a loop in one end of one of the strings which goes around the middle finger so that you don't accidentally release both cords at once.) Lo, you have slung a stone. Those are the basics anyway.

The Slinger

In my culture, it is normal for boys who have not yet reached manhood to use slings; usually just for hunting rabbits, but if the need arises, in defense of the hillfort, or even in open battle. It is rare for grown men to dedicate themselves to it, as it is considered unmanly and dishonourable. However, there are many in other cultures who do, and can attain a very high degree of proficiency with the sling.

The best slingers, without any doubt, are those of the Balearic Islands, which lie far away off the Eastern coast of Iberia. It is said that their children are not permitted food until they are able to hit it with a sling, which provides an incentive to become proficient quickly. These slingers can be found in the Balearic Islands of course, but there are also some Balearics who live in mainland Iberia, Sardinia and Sicily. On a par with the Balearics are the Rhodians, who are just as good as their counterparts in the Western Mediterranean. They have saved Greek armies from the Persians numerous times. They can be found on the island of Rhodes, and occasionally in the other regions thereabouts.

These two slinging peoples are happy to offer their slinging skills in service to foreign leaders just as much as local ones- for a price. The other peoples who can employ slingers in their line of battle are: the Britons (naturally- we are the only people who can recruit them from a large town level range, everyone else has to wait until minor city level), the Spaniards, the Numidians, the Carthaginians, the Egyptians, and the Parthians. All these slingers of these different nations have precisely the same skills- the same stats, the same range and the same ammunition.

On the battlefield

In battle, slingers are best kept on skirmish mode at all times. (For more details about this ability, see "The Archer Class" by Professor Grayhair.) They are not warriors, bound to be brave, they are dishonourable cowards or cheeky youths, best employed to strike when the enemy is helpless and then run away when they try to retaliate. They should generally not be allowed to engage a unit in melee except from the rear or flank, and even then only when that unit is already engaged and about to break anyway. For the same reason, NEVER leave them exposed in the open when your opponent has cavalry. They will be run down with ease.

Slingers are far superior to peltasts or javelin skirmishers, because they have much more ammunition and much greater range. However, only the very best slinger can stand up to an archer- even in a unit of Balearics or Rhodians, not everyone has the ability to match even a mediocre archer in a missile duel.

Archers have a number of advantages over slingers. One, they can hide behind friendly troops and shoot over their heads. Slingers MUST NOT do this, as several shots always misfire and strike friendly troops instead. You will often find yourself killing more of your own troops than the enemy's. Two, archers generally have better defensive and melee combat abilities than slingers. Three, perhaps the most important, archers have far better range, because in the army slingers tend to use smaller slings than they are wont because they have to fight in formation and must not hit their friends. A sling like that is no match for a good bow in terms of range or power. Four, archers can use flaming missiles, which slingers cannot. So there are four significant advantages that archers have over slingers, which cannot really be counterbalanced.

So, what are they good for? Well, many of the nations who can train slingers cannot train archers, and as such, they are the only half-decent missile troops you can field. Also, slingers tend to be much cheaper to recruit than archers, being for the most part just shepherds who fell on hard times or youths eager for war, who respectively need whatever money they can get or consider it a privilege to fight and pay is just a bonus.

Besides, slingers can be extremely tactically useful when employed correctly, especially Balearics or Rhodians who are always worth your money. They are excellent, like other skirmishers, for distracting enemy units. Often you can cause a couple of enraged heavily armoured infantry units to chase a humble band of slingers right across the battlefield; they will never catch up, and whenever the slingers feel they are far enough away, they will stop and shower them with stones before running off again, before the enemy can catch up. This can buy you valuable time. Slingers can also be usefully stationed on the walls of a city when you capture it, to shower death on enemy troops within from above (they also get a range bonus from high ground this way). It is in fact possibe to station them behind your troops on flat ground, because the ground is rarely completely "flat"; station your infantry in front of a little rise in the ground, and the slingers can fire quite happily over their heads. There is even less of a problem of course if you are deploying at the foot of a hill. One final tip: firing into the right side or rear of a unit is far more effective than firing into the front, because they do not see the missiles coming and are not protected by their shields. Given the chance, always try and get your slingers round the right side or rear of an enemy formation.

Two final tips, which apply to many skirmisher units. If you do find yourself engaged in a missile duel, put your units in loose formation. This makes the targets much harder to hit. Also, slingers have very little in the way of defending themselves; a spindly shield, little skill and no armour beyond maybe a shirt. If they come in range of enemy archers, they will lose. As such, avoid missile duels as much as possible if you value your slingers- which, as I have implied, you should.

Well, there you have it. A quick guide to the art of sling warfare. I hope you found it useful and informative, not simply a deterrent from ever using slingers. Slingers are not as good as archers in our world, it is true; in the same way it takes far longer to become good at slinging than it does to shoot arrows as a child. But when you, like I did, put in days and weeks of practise and training, and one day accomplish a truly memorable feat, the result is infinitely more satisfying.