Hârnic Siege Warfare
The decision to conduct a siege is not an action any commander would take without some considerable forethought. Although the risk to a soldier was far
less than it would have been in a pitched battle or raids deep into enemy territory it was an extremely costly affair. Most sieges are planned to take
place in spring or summer during the recognized campaign season. Although they could be done at other times the cost would be significantly higher. Such
costs would include materials for siege weapons, pay for mercenaries, wages for feudal troops since most sieges will last well past their obligatory
period of service and food and supplies for all these troops to name a few.
Prior to any siege commencing in earnest, diplomacy was always attempted since any concessions granted or earned would most likely be far less than the
cost of the siege for both sides. If diplomacy failed, the next step was to show up at the place to be besieged in force. At that time the commander
would make a formal demand for the surrender of the garrison or citizens. If the besieged agreed then a garrison would be allowed to depart with their
weapons and if it was a city the mayor and city elder would be required to do formal obedience to the commander and turn over the keys to the city's
gates. Within Hârn these formal actions become a severe problem when religion steps into the picture. Chances are that antagonistic religions will
not allow the garrison go unscathed and may even execute them to a man. Within a city it may be just the leading proponents of the religion and their
supporters who pay the ultimate price. Either way a GM can have some fun roleplaying such a scenario. This can also lead to an exceptionally ferocious
siege. However, if the besieged reject the offer it is all a mute point; at this point the besieger's forces are free to sack the fortress or city once
Besieging a Fortified Position
Once a decision had been made to besiege a city or fortress a commander had only a few options open to him. Most would prefer to invest the position
as quickly as possible. In order to do so they would have to rely on surprise or subterfuge. In the first instance the ideal action would be to
catch the position with its gates open and unawares. To accomplish this a commander may try and sneak some of his own men into the position as the
locals were pulling back into it prior to closing and baring the gates. Once his men were in inside they would wait till an appointed time, a signal
or something similar to overpower a gate's guard and thrown the ate open for their own forces. If this was not possible then a commander would try
to move an assault force as close to the position as he could without being detected and rush the gate in order to take control of it. However,
secrecy was usually not an option and some commanders would result to subterfuge. Towards they end they may secret a spy into the enemy position who
could report on troop strengths and weakness in the position being held. These same individuals could also be used to bribe and/or coerce members of
the garrison or community to assist his lord in taking the city by opening its gates or over powering the garrison and allowing the besiegers into
the city. The options for secrecy and subterfuge are endless and open to further development by innovative GM's.
If neither of the options mention above were viable a commander would have no option but to besiege the position with his troops. Upon arriving at
the position to be besieged and the besieged having refused to surrender the commander of the besieging for would establish a fortified camp to
protect his own troops from danger. This would include a wooden palisade and ditches at a minimum. Most Hârnic forces will not have enough men
to completely cut off a position; therefore, the besieger would have to make a decision on how he would control access to the position. This could
be done with strong regular patrols along the major access routes and lesser patrols in other areas or he could establish additional fortified camps
to block major routes coming into the area. In addition to blocking routes in and out of the area, these camps would also be used as bases from
which future assaults may be made on the position. Once camp was established the besieger would them dispatch foragers to the surrounding
countryside to gather supplies for themselves and thereby depriving the besieged of these same supplies.
Once the camp was in place and patrols had been established the commander and his advisors now needed to consider how to prosecute the siege; the
choices being to starve the besieged out or to assault the position. The first option involved little loss in manpower due to enemy action and the
second could cost dearly in human life and materials.
The Starvation Tactic:
If the decision is made to starve out the garrison or townsfolk then the above actions will go along way towards this. However, the problem with
this tactic is that it may take months for the enemy's food supplies to run out and therefore force their capitulation. During this time the
besieger must find the supplies to feed his own forces and maintain some manner of sanitation or he will be faced with his own forces deserting the
cause due to starvation and disease. In addition the besieger needs to be prepared to fend off sorties from the besieged forces or attacks from a
relieving force. Finally, in order to ensure the starvation tactics works the besieger must blockade the enemy position and cutoff any and all
attempts to supply the city.
Another problem a besieger will face during this particular tactics is the idleness of his troops. Therefore, a commander should keep his troops
busy. In addition to the routine patrols and foraging parties he should employ them in harassment attacks against the besieged position also. In
this way he keeps his own troops engaged and the besieged under constant pressure from within through starvation and from without through
intermittent artillery attacks (see below).
A commander planning on assaulting a defended city or fortress has many options open to him. He can just attack the walls with scaling ladders,
although this would be quite costly if the defenders were well prepared. He could attempt to undermine the walls and then assault through the breach
thus created. This again can be very costly if the enemy discover the mining operation or build inner defenses to counter such a breach. A commander
could also attempt to bombard a position into submission by throwing stones and all kinds of foul material into their walls; this tactic alone would
usually take as long as starving them out. Finally, an experienced commander would attempt a combination of all these activities.
This involves the use of the siege engines described below. High trajectory weapons firing stones up to 150 pounds would be targeted on the inner
works of a fortification or city in an attempt to destroy residences, workshops and storage facilities. In addition these engines can be used to
throw incendiary weapons into the position to cause more damage through the spread of any fires that start as well as fear and panic within the
population. These weapons can also be targeted at walls also, however, due to their inaccuracy they would have minimal effect. Direct fire weapons
such as the ballista are used to clear enemy off of the battlements and to protect the indirect fire pieces from sorties.
The trebuchet, which is a recent addition to the Hârnic scene and is the first stone-throwing artillery in Hârn that can actually bring
down walls and towers with the stones it fires. Prior to its arrival it would take weeks of bombardment with the smaller engines to reduce a wall.
Instead of scaling a wall it is more feasible to bring down a section of the wall using a variety of methods. If a commander did not have any minors
or digging equipment at hand he would have to resort to rams or borers to force a breach. In both cases he would have to locate a weak spot of the
wall, either due to its being thinner there or it being an angle in the wall. Rams would be used to attack a weakened or thinner section of wall in
the hope of bringing it down and causing a breach; whereas a borer would be used in similar location or more likely at the sharp angles of towers or
If a commander did have access to miners or the tools he could initiate mining operations or have sappers start digging saps towards the walls he
planned on assaulting. The trenches would offer protected avenues of advance and once they had come to the walls the sappers could be put to work
undermining the foot of the wall itself. Miners on the other hand would be put to work digging a shaft or a number of shaft towards the wall in
order to undermine it or to provide an access point inside the walls themselves.
When the time was right or a commander found himself with no other option then he would order his troops to scale the walls using ladders and/or
belfreys. The last was the preferred item for such an assault as it provided a covered position from which his troops could ascend the walls and
also provided his archers a raised platform from which to fire on defenders manning the walls being attacked. Some ingenious characters may even
developed counterweighted beams to hoist baskets of soldiers to the tops of walls.
Archers are commonly used to support all of the above operations. In order to protect them wooden, or reed screens called mantlets are built and
placed in front of their firing position. These devices are also placed in front of siege engines and trenches to protect them from enemy fire.
Defending a Fortified Position
Most defenses of a fortified stronghold or town are passive and consist primarily of strong walls, deep and wide ditches and most importantly time.
A garrison that has an ample supply of provisions and strong walls has a very good chance of outlasting an army that does not have a good chain of
supply. Even so, most garrisons and townsmen know that the chances of holding out without some kind of relief are slim. It is because of this that
many negotiated a surrender when a relief force did not come to their aid within a specified period of time. In this way they fulfill their duty to
their lord and preserve their lives.
The active defenses of a fortified position include the men manning the walls. These men will use bows, rocks, hot liquids and whatever else they
can lay their hands on to throw down upon the enemy's heads. In addition they will have their own siege engines with which they can use against the
besieger's own artillery or troops. Walls will usually be protected by wooden hoardings which afford defenders optimum protection while giving them
a clear field of fire on attacks at the foot of the walls.
The sortie or raid was an active defensive tactic used by the besieged as a means of disrupting the besieger's operations, to gain supplies if
possible and to instill confidence within the besieged forces. Most fortified positions will have sally ports through which they could emerge and
make a quick attack on the besieging forces positions. Such attacks were usually aimed at destroying siege engines, capturing key members of the
enemy's forces such as leaders or engineers, or to capture digging equipment from exposed sappers or miners. These sally ports were either built
into existing gates or concealed within the angles of walls or towers. Once rations begin to run low sorties may be made on the enemy's camp in an
attempt to collect supplies. This is usually attempted when the enemy is busy in another area of the siege and the camp is lightly guarded or
occupied. A sortie may also be made in conjunction to a relief force's attack on the besiegers thus catching them in a pincher attack. Finally, a
sortie may be made for no other reason than the pride of the besieged and their desire to show that they are still capable of fighting on their own
Many negotiations to surrender hinged on the hope of relief by a relieving force sent by the besieged force's liege lord. In such hope they may
agree to surrender after a certain period of time if no such force arrives and relieves them, meaning that it forces the besiegers to leave the
field. A relief force is nothing more than an army sent to attack the besieging force and forces it to lift the siege and vacate the field. If such
a force fails to lift the siege the besieged must make the decision to surrender under honorable conditions, hold out in hopes of another relief
force or hold out in hopes that the besieger will run out of supplies and lift the siege on their own. If the besieged do not surrender upon a
relief force being unable to lift the siege, then the besieger is within the rights of war to ravage, pillage and massacre the position and all
within it upon its being taken by force.
Siege Engines on Hârn
Hârnic kingdoms are no strangers to siege warfare and many have suffered from or delivered such attacks at some time within their history. The
tools of siege craft are not as developed on Hârn as they are within the rest of western Lýthia. Below some of the more common siege
engines use on Hârn are discussed. Included at the end of the list are some engines that are starting to make their appearance felt due to
importation of the technology and men skilled in designing siege engines, the all important siege engineers.
The onager is a torsion-powered stone-throwing engine; it belongs to a smaller class of stone-throwers. The projectiles were seldom
uniform in weight, and weather could adversely affect the fibers of the torsion devise and the wood of the frame. Accordingly, any
stones shot by these machines dispersed so widely that they were generally used for bombarding large objectives, such as towns or
The onager has a heavy timber frame with a raised crossbeam mounted on the forward section to act as a stop for the moveable beam. The
crossbeam would usually be padded with wool fells to act as a shock absorber. A mass of twisted animal hair, or sinew, is strung across
the bottom of the front section of the frame. In this twisted mass the builder secured one end of a moveable beam having a spoon shaped
hollow in its other end, in some examples a sling was attached to the beam in place of the hollow. To load the engine the operators had
to pull the free end backward and down using a large winch at the rear of the frame, against the resistance of the twisted fibers, and
placed the stone to be thrown in the spoon-shaped cavity or the sling. The engine was fired when they released a catch securing the free
end of the moveable beam. The force of the twisted fibers then made the beam snap in an upward and forward curve, flipping the stone at
a high angle of elevation.
The onager had range between 200-350 meters depending on the type of projectile fired and the launching system used. The sling variety
was more accurate and provided better range while the spoon shaped beam took less time to ready but was less accurate and had less
range. The projectiles used by the onager were stones weighing up to 150 pounds, incendiary devices, heads, and anything else the user
desired to fire at the enemy.
The ballista is a torsion- or tension-powered engine that shot bolts or enormous arrows with great force; in a pinch it could also shoot
small stone or lead balls. When fired the missile's flight is along a flat trajectory giving it considerable accuracy. Although the
missiles fired by the ballista could not penetrate walls, they were quite effective against fairly distant objectives, such as men out
of range of infantry weapons.
The ballista is based on central narrow frames that contained a winching mechanism or screw at the rear along with the latch and trigger
mechanism for the engine. The bolt or large arrow would sit in a trough built into the top of the central frame. There was framework
crossbeam attached to the front of the central frame. This framework held the power mechanism for the engine. If the ballista was
torsion-powered there would be two masses of twisted animal hair or sinew strung on the left and right sides of the frame. In this
twisted mass the builder secured one end of a moveable beam having a line attached to the other end; which in turn was attached to the
opposite moveable beam forming a large bowstring. If the ballista was tension-powered there would be two large bow arms securely
attached to the left and right sides of the frame and the large bowstring attached to their free ends. To load the engine the operators
had to pull the bowstring backward and down using a winch or screw at the rear of the frame, against the resistance of the twisted
fibers or the tension of the separate bow arms. They then placed a large bolt or arrow into the trough and seated it against the
bowstring. The engine was fired when they released a catch securing the bowstring. The force of the twisted fibers or tension in the bow
staves then snapped the bowstring forward shooting the bolt on a flat trajectory towards it designated target.
The ballista had range between 300-550 yards using a large bolt. Like the crossbow they were based on the ballista was also a slow
firing weapon. Ballista are used by both besiegers and besieged and come in a variety of sizes to fit the situation they were designed
for; such as being mounted on tower turrets, ships and wagons to name a few. The projectiles were large wooden arrows around 3 feet
long, although could get up to five feet in length on larger engines, with an iron heads and wooden or brass fletching. The engine was
powerful enough to penetrate several men in one shot.
A belfrey, also known as a siege tower, is a much more effective way of attacking the top of a defensive wall, enabling a fighting force
to gain the top of the wall in comparative security compared to having to scale the wall using ordinary ladders.
In its simplest form the belfrey is nothing more than a large ladder mounted on a mobile base and provided with a protective screen. In
reality it is usually more complex. In addition to the wheels or rollers, ladders and screen there would also be numerous stages and a
drawbridge at the top. The exterior would be clad in plank and rawhides to ward off missiles and incendiary devises. The tower is
usually built to the height of the wall, filled with fighters, and then pushed into place next to the wall where the drawbridge would be
lowered and the fighters would rush forwards to engage the defenders, while reinforcements ascended the tower from its lower levels
adding to the weight of the initial assault. Belfreys were often were defended by archers shooting from an upper deck, and some even
were equipped with sally ports and even a ram in some cases.
The penthouse, also called a cat, was a long narrow shelter used to protect besieging forces as the worked on the walls of a besieged
city. The structure itself is used for a number of operations. It could be mounted on wheels and have a ram or borer suspended on chains
from its ridge pole, it is used as a shelter for sappers when they are sapping a wall using their hand tools or it can be used to
provide a covered access way for miners and other troops who need to approach their work site. Sometimes a penthouse was attached to the
rear of siege towers allowing assault troops and those moving the tower a protective shelter when approaching a wall.
Like the belfrey above, the penthouse is constructed of stout timbers which enabled it to resist stones thrown or dropped from the
walls. The roof itself is steeply-pitched so it could deflect items dropped onto it away from the structure. The steepness of the roof,
combined with its narrowness, also provided extra strength to the structure. Its outer shell is made of wooden lathes covered in rawhide
giving it some protection from missiles and incendiary devises. The initial structure had a wheeled base so troops could maneuver it
into place. Additional sections could either be built onto it or several could be placed end to end to provide a long covered way for
the besieging forces.
A ram's main purpose is to beat down an obstacle upon which the ram was repeatedly struck. The target is not always a gateway as seen in the movies. On the contrary it is usually used upon a thin or weak section of a fortification's masonry wall. When used against a masonry target it would have to be moved ahead periodically as the wall crumbled away. At some point during the operation it may even need to be raised up or lowered in order to take advantage of any weaknesses as they appeared. Using a ram is very labor intensive and time consuming, but it is very effective on walls less than 9 feet in thickness. When used on walls thicker than 15 feet it is basically useless.
A ram is made from the trunk of a large tree; the larger, thus heavier, the better. The end of the trunk that is going strike the obstacle will be tapered down like the point on a pencil. However, instead of coming to a point it was left blunt with a diameter of about 10 to 12 inches, thus providing a high pound per square inch rating. The head of the ram is then sheathed in iron to keep the wood from splintering or mushrooming. When the ram is ready it is suspended from the ridge beam of the penthouse in which it will be housed. When ready the entire mechanism is rolled into position and the work commences.
Like the ram above the borer is used to attack the walls of a fortified position. However, instead of striking the face of the wall, it is used to pry mortar and stones out of the wall. The best places to attack a wall are at its corners where it is weakest.
Again, like the ram its main beam is the trunk of a tree; however, this time it should be no more than a foot in diameter. The point is also tapered down but this time so an iron spade shaped head could be mounted onto it. The other end of the beam would then have some cross members added to it in order to facilitate twisting and prying the borer when in use. Once it is ready it too is suspended in a penthouse and moved up to the wall it will work on.
As far as Hârn is concerned the trebuchet is the new gadget on the block. The traction-trebuchet has been in use on Hârn
since at least 600TR. It’s made its first appearance in Kanday when some Trierzi knights looking to join the fight against Agrik's
spawn in Rethem arrived in Aleath with their own siege engineer. Within ten years the technology had spread throughout western
Hârn and was rapidly being adopted in Kaldor. By the middle of the century its use had spread to all part of the Hârnic
isles. The counterweight-trebuchet, likes its little cousin, also made its first appearance in western Hârn in the Thardic
Republic. Many believe members of the warhawk faction of the Thardic senate sent an agent to Azeryan and hired the services of a
renowned siege engineer. The first of these monsters have only been in existence for no more than twenty years and to date there are
probably no more than ten within all of Hârn.
The only reason to possess a trebuchet, especially one of the giants, is to demolish fortified positions. This has many nobles in Kanday
and Rethem concerned. As a result they have actively spied out the devices and conducted their own missions to acquire qualified
With a Traction Trebuchet the power is human muscle. A team of people haul down on ropes hanging from the short end of the beam. This
bundle of ropes is poetically compared to a witch's hair. A handy feature of a traction trebuchet is that, while a counter-weight
machine has to have its weighted beam slowly winched back into the start position, the pulling crew of the people-power machine can just
pull on their ropes again and make the beam fall back into place.
The short end of the beam usually has a kind of rake-like spreader to which the hauling ropes are attached. The extra width of this
"hay-rake" gives the crew a bit more room to work. For the crew to be able to make the beam swing around above their heads,
the axle has to be supported high above the ground even on a small machine. In this case the wooden axle is held by two large a-frames,
one each side and rising all the way from the ground. The sling adds a huge amount of extra whip to the shot and can double the range
obtained. The way the sling works is simplicity itself - the pouch holds the stone projectile as long as both cords are connected to the
beam end; however, one of the sling cords is designed to slip off during launch.
Soldiers are the power of the machine. They must all haul down on the ropes above their heads at the same moment, causing their end of
the beam to suddenly drop and the much longer other end of the beam to rise and whip over. There are stories of large perriers using up
to two hundred soldiers, the average for a medium sized engine being twenty-five men.
A crewman has to re-hook and load the sling pouch after each shot. Assisting him will be another crew bringing up new stones to feed the
trebuchet. Another part of his job is to hold onto the sling during launch. This helps make the crew's efforts more synchronized and, by
changing the angle he holds the sling, he can aim the shot a little.
The perrier only hurled light rocks of up to 10lb, but could achieve a high rate of fire, perhaps 10 per minute. Rates of fire of up to
1000 rocks per hour have been recorded. Perriers are used for both attack and defense. The range for this engine was around 200 yards.
Unlike the older version above, this version's throwing arm is moved by a counterweight. The axle of the arm is near the top of a high
strutted vertical frame. The shorter arm of the balance carries the counterweight and the longer arm the sling that carries the shot.
The sling is usually braided from rope, and has a captive end attached to the arm, and a free end whose loop slips from a hook. A
trigger, usually a toggle in a chain, holds the arm down after the trebuchet is cocked. Cocking is often performed with windlasses.
Because of the long winding time, a trebuchet's rate of fire was extremely slow, often not more than a couple of shots an hour.
In operation the long, non-weighted end is pulled toward the ground, and held by a trigger. When the trigger is released, the arm pulls
the sling out of a channel in the base of the frame. When the ball moves close to the top of its arc, the free end of the sling slips
from the hook, and the missile flies free. The trebuchet's arm and frame then oscillate for several cycles.
Trebuchets were formidably powerful weapons with a range of up to about 200 yards. The payload of a trebuchet was usually a large
rounded stone weighing between 200 and 300 pounds, although other projectiles were occasionally used: dead animals, the severed heads of
captured enemies, barrels of burning tar or oil, or even unsuccessful negotiators catapulted alive.
The largest trebuchets could weigh dozens of tons. Not surprisingly, they were not readily transportable and instead had to be built on
the spot where they were to be used. It is quite common for these large engines to be designed and constructed in one place, dismantled
and transported by as many as thirty carts to the siege site, reassembled, and put into action. Once the operation was complete they
would be disassembled again and moved to another siege site or to a designated storage facility. The cost in labor and materials are too
prohibitive to just let a trebuchet be scrapped after the siege is over.
Finally, not just anyone could build one of these large engines, they were designed, constructed and operated by specialist siege
engineers who closely guarded their secrets and charged a premium for their services.
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Sapping and Mining
Although sapping and mining are commonly assumed to be the same thing, in fact two separate activities. The first involves a direct
attack in a wall while the second is an indirect attack.
Sappers and Sapping:
Sappers are unskilled commoners employed in the digging of approach trenches during a siege. These trenches were never dug
perpendicular to the walls of the fortification being approach but were dug along a zigzag path. This was done so the enemy archers
did not have a direct shot into the trench. Upon reaching a defensive wall the sappers use picks and levers to create a hole in the
wall; shoring it up with timbers as they worked. Once it was deemed enough masonry had been removed to cause the wall to collapse
the sappers would be pulled back, the timbers would be soaked in pitch and the area filled with combustible fuel and then set on
fire. If all went well that section of the wall would collapse.
Even though the sappers are in a trench when moving to and from the site and while working they are still susceptible to defensive
fire; especially at the base of the wall. Because of this, most commanders will protect them by have the trench covered with timbers
some distance out from the wall. At the wall a penthouse or lean-to is built to protect the men working on the wall from archers and
items the defenders may drop down on them.
Miners and Mining:
Unlike the sappers above, miners are skilled craftsmen of their trade hired to come in and bring down a section of wall by
undermining it. In some cases they may even be hired to tunnel into the fortification itself. The entrance to their shaft is usually
hidden from view from the enemy in order to preclude any attempt at a countermine being dug. If it is not hidden from view and the
entrance is within range of enemy fire the entrance will normally be protected by a penthouse. At first the miners will dig a
vertical shaft and then start their tunnel that will eventually undermine the enemy's wall. As they go along they shore up the
passage so the mine does not collapse prematurely. Once they reach the wall they clear a space underneath it large enough to cause
it to collapse once the supports are removed. When all is ready it fired in the same manner as the sapper's operation above.