How Do Armed Forces Travel? - The Art of World Building
Aug 242020
 
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In this section, we look at what the military group provides or is expected of members. They may not provide steeds, machines, or training in anything, though that doesn’t mean our members cannot acquire and use them. How members of this military group get around might not seem important, but it can generate decisions. This is especially true in fantasy, where riding animals on the ground or in the air can impact where this military group can operate and how they’re used for scouting or in battle. In SF, this aspect of transportation might matter less if everyone is getting around on flying craft. Everyone must disembark eventually, but in such cases, we typically see people on foot or in another vehicle. When was the last time you saw someone exit a spaceship on a horse, for example? This could be plausible, however, if they know the terrain they’ll find and think this is superior; perhaps machines scare local people or wildlife, or cause harm they wish to avoid.

Walking

Walking, running, or even rolling along the ground (for our ball-shaped humanoids, should they exist) requires little invention. However, the number of legs impacts both speed and endurance. For anything humanoid, we can decide they’re not much different from us unless we’re altering a characteristic by at least 10%. Maybe they can reach somewhere in 9 or 11 hours instead of our 10, or travel 9 or 11 miles or kilometers in a given time frame instead of 10. For anything with four or more legs, we should base its capabilities partly on a similar animal, so if the species is essentially a large feline, base its speed and endurance on lions, tigers, and similar cats. Quick research will turn up numbers, which we can modify. The goal is believability. Reasons they use their own locomotion include terrain that inhibits other options, they only operate within a settlement, or a lack of alternatives. The latter may mean not enough horses or equipment (like saddles) to equip them, for example.

Riding Animals

Especially in fantasy, riding animals is an option that facilitates speed of scouting, spreading information, and maneuvers, the latter being especially advantageous in combat against unmounted forces. This is so decisive that wars have been won this way. Riding animals may be expected if the military group operates outside a settlement’s walls; it speeds travel, scouting, and other acts in emergencies. However, terrain may inhibit this, from trees to steep, rocky inclines; specialized groups might be needed and operate primarily by foot.

Think about why we’re inventing this group. If their role is to protect a settlement, they’ll bear resemblance to cavalry or knights and invention can leverage these. If they’re messengers or patrollers who must be able to fight their way out of trouble, then they’ll act alone or in small groups and require self-sufficiency and light encumbrance; they’ll have a known response to encountered trouble, such as calling for reinforcements that will take the form of more serious military might. If creating knights or cavalry, they fight from horseback (or a similar animal) in an organized manner. The existence of both groups is horse-centric, but other military groups may mostly use the same animals for transportation or hauling supplies. In these cases, decide how prevalent the riding skill is and what degree of mastery is expected.

A flying animal poses a similar problem as a ground-based one: encumbrance. Loading them down with supplies, plus our rider, limits speed, endurance, and maneuverability, all placing the rider at increased risk of defeat by opposing forces. If problems with that are avoided, the great advantages are speed, perspective from above, escape from all land-based threats (unless flying low), and the ability to bypass difficult terrain.

Any military group typically furnishes animals that are required, but if not required, members may still be expected to have a fundamental skill. Consider a town guard that operates primarily on foot, but which occasionally needs to guide riders through town, or escort them to somewhere out of town. Would their leaders want the limitation of knowing some of their guards can’t ride a horse? Probably not. Decide which animals they’re expected to master and to what level; basic proficiency is the bare minimum. Perhaps they can ride but not fight particularly well from atop this animal.

Riding Machinery

Whether cars, motorcycles, tanks, planes, space craft and more, SF worlds are more prone to ridden machinery than fantasy ones, where it is mostly wagons that might be used to haul supplies. We can invent machines, including their pros and cons. The limits we create for a machines can give us ideas for other machines that were developed to compensate for that weakness. Variety makes settings more believable and creates chances for the characters to settle for less than ideal equipment, with consequences we control. As with other transportation that can be used for making war, decide what vehicles are typically available to members of this armed forces, what they’re trained in and to what degree, and what they are given and expected to have.

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