This is the continuation of the third part of our four(ish) part (I, II, IIIa) series looking at the role of the general in commanding pre-gunpowder armies in battle. Last time we looked at how an army’s discipline could limit or expand the options available to its general: drill creating synchronized discipline could expand the ‘McDonalds Menu’ worth of things individual components of an army could do, allowing for the execution of more complex plans. At the same time, creating that synchronized discipline was so expensive that most armies didn’t do much of it, especially for infantry forces. That in turn left a commander with little ability to get those forces to execute complex plans or react on the fly, but for forces that were just expected to either hold a position or advance forward in a line, complex plans were less essential.
This week we’re going to look at a closely related factor: the presence of officers and their relative command independence. Officers are both the conduit through which the general relays decisions but also the means by which those decisions are carried out. At the same time, they can also be decision makers in their own right. In both cases a suitably developed command system was essential for actually employing the wider menu of options that synchronized discipline could provide.
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An Officer By Any Other Name
But before we go any further, we need to clarify what we mean by this term ‘officer.’ Militaries, as I have stressed before, recreate their civilian social institutions; since different societies have different institutions, that produces differences in the division of class structure.
One of the key divides that shows up repeatedly is the division between commoners elevated to positions of minor authority and aristocrats in positions of command. Indeed, we have this in our modern armies: this is the distinction between non-commissioned officers (NCOs) which are generally soldiers promoted from the lower ranks and commissioned officers who enter the military typically at the rank of lieutenant (or its equivalent). That system is a hold-over from the origins of modern military structure in Europe’s early-modern gunpowder armies: the commissioned officers (whose commission, to be clear, came from the king) were drawn from the aristocracy and often the nobility, while their non-comissioned subordinates were drawn from the common soldiery who were in turn recruited from the peasantry. Because no peasant could become a knight or noble (under normal circumstances) so too no sergeant could (under normal circumstances) become a lieutenant; the social orders were thus kept separate, civilian mirroring military.
But exactly where that divide occurs and its significance varies wildly. In the modern military structure, a second lieutenant, the lowest commissioned officer, typically commands a platoon of c. 40 soldiers while a sergeant1 typically leads a squad or section (around 10 soldiers). By contrast in the Roman army, the centurion – a senior NCO like the sergeant promoted from the common soldiers – led a century of 60-80 soldiers; more senior centurions (the primi ordines) commanded an entire cohort (480 soldiers).2 So the line between NCO and commissioned officer can be drawn in very different places in different societies.3
Likewise an important distinction is often made around the emergence of a professional officer class (following on the emphasis made on this point by Samuel P. Huntington in The Soldier and the State (1957)) and the officers who came before which Huntington describes as ‘amateurs.’ This is, I’d argue, a mistaken understanding of the role of military aristocrats in their societies; they were no more amateurs at war than a person born into serfdom is am amateur farmer. Neither the serf nor his military aristocrat overlord is a professional, but neither of them is an amateur either; the categories are not exclusive. Nevertheless there is a difference between truly ‘amateur’ officers (which certainly existed), military aristocrats for whom war is a born-calling, and professional officers.
For this discussion, however, much of this complexity is beside the point. That isn’t to say it is unimportant generally (it is very important generally) but that for this topic here, we can define ‘officer’ very broadly and so avoid having to untangle the particular social context of each military in question. Consequently we’re going to just define officer here as anyone who has command over other combatants, effectively lumping NCOs and commissioned officers (and their ancient equivalents) together. That isn’t because those distinctions are unimportant (they are important!) but because they aren’t quite relevant here, since we are really focused on how command structures enable armies to respond with ability and execute complex plans. It is command, not social status per se that we’re focused on.
How Much Officer Do You Need?
Pinning down rules of thumbs on how many officers an army needs (again, including both NCOs and commissioned officers), by contrast, is relevant but deceptive. Students (and occasionally scholars) can easily enough notice that the ratio of officers to soldiers (‘rankers’ we might say) has gone up steadily overtime since the early modern period, at the same time that armies to became capable of progressively more complex operations. The inference is easy to draw: a higher ratio of officers (that is, more officers) corresponds to a greater capability to execute complex plans.
And in the very broad strokes this seems to be true. The Spartans, our sources note (Thuc. 5.68; Xen. Lac. 11.4-5) had more organizational divisions commanded by more officers than other contemporary hoplite formations and seem also to have been able to maneuver a bit better than other hoplite formations, albeit still nowhere near what would be possible for later Roman or Macedonian armies.4 It’s difficult to precisely parse out the organization (in part because Thucydides and Xenophon differ in some details), but Xenophon gives the mora as the large scale unit (estimated around 576 men; six of which made up the army), each of which had 29 officers (see chart below), so one officer for each 19 or so regular Spartiates. As Xenophon notes, this greater degree of organization with many smaller units nested in larger units enabled the Spartans to perform maneuvers thought by the Greeks to be quite difficult to do. This is succeeding over a very low bar, since a hoplite phalanx was one of those formations which struggled to do much more than march forward in a line, but it still speaks to the importance of officers.
Fast Forward to the organization of the Macedonian army under Philip II and Alexander and by all indications the system has become more sophisticated, with an even greater number of officers. We don’t have a description of the detailed structure of Alexander’s army, but what we do have is a later description by a philosopher, Asclepiodotus, of an ‘ideal’ sarisa-phalanx for the later Hellenistic period. The basic unit, the syntagma, consisting of 256 men as he describes it has eighty various officers (many of which we would classify as NCOs, but again we’re not making those distinctions here). That’s now one officer for every 2.2 regular soldiers. Those syntagma were then grouped into larger formations; under Alexander these were the taxeis, of which there were six. In later Hellenistic armies, particular parts of the phalanx are specified by their shields or commanders, but we often have limited visibility into the subdivisions of the phalanx.
And we know from Alexander’s campaigns and the subsequent wars of his successors that this was a much more flexible, reactive formation than any hoplite phalanx. Alexander is able to do things like refuse his left flank (to give himself more time to win on the right) and later Hellenistic phalanxes are able to do things like form square under combat conditions (App. Syr. 35), while often operating with attached light infantry and cavalry support. This was a clockwork mechanism substantially more complicated than anything the poleis of Greece had put together on land and it demanded a lot more officer accordingly.
So it seems like we have a pretty clear pattern from most hoplites to Spartiates to Macedonians that ‘more officer’ means ‘more reactive and flexible formation.’ And indeed, some scholars have noted such.5 And then we get to the Romans.
There is little question that the Roman legion of the Middle Republic was a more flexible, reactive adaptable fighting formation than the Hellenistic phalanxes it faced. Our sources tell us as much (Plb. 18.31-32; Liv. 44.41.6) and that same conclusion emerges pretty clearly in both the battle narratives we have an our understanding of how the legion was expected to function in battle (discussed last time). Even the basic mechanics of the legion’s fighting method – the three ranks engaging in sequence, forming and closing gaps as they do – appears well beyond the capabilities of the Hellenistic phalanx (and indeed this leads the latter to struggle and eventually fail to cope with the former). And while as a rule the Hellenistic phalanx maneuvers by taxeis, in the legion notionally the maniples could be independent maneuvering units as the fight shifted from hastati to principes to triarii; a much smaller unit of maneuver.
So we ought, by the theory, to have yet more officers still, right? And yet we don’t! The legion (or 4,200 or so excluding cavalry) is divided into thirty maniples, each split into two centuries. Each century was commanded by a centurion so that gives us sixty centurions; centurions were organized in seniority order, so they are not all peers but organized in a hierarchy. Above this was the commander himself (holding imperium; a consul, praetor, proconsul or propraetor) along with a number of military tribunes (frequently junior aristocrats, typically six per legion these fellows could be delegated to command a legion in battle), the praefecti sociorum, Romans put in command of the allied units and the assigned quaestor who handled pay and finance but might also be asked to command in a pinch. Below the centurions, we have attested in the imperial period the decani, each of whom commanded a contubernium or ‘tent group’ of six men. The contubernium but not the decanus is attested for the period of the Republic, but I tend to think that there must have been decani in the Republic too; as the commanders of six men they’d probably double as file-leaders since the standard Roman file was of six. The legionary cavalry (just 300 per legion; the Romans liked to rely more on allied cavalry) were divided into ten turmae (of 30) each commanded by three decuriones (so that’s 30 decuriones total).
That means for a standard double-legionary army (9,000 Romans, we’ll put the socii and their praefecti to the side) had 1 commander, 1 quaestor, 12 military tribunes, 60 decuriones, 120 centurions and perhaps 1,200 decani; 1,394 officers for 7,606 regular soldiers, a ratio of around 1 officer to every five and a half soldiers. That is decidedly less than the Hellenistic phalanx and yet the Roman legion is, as noted, more flexible and response than the Hellenistic phalanx. There must be some key element we are missing here.
And indeed, there is.
To understand the difference, we need to understand what officers are expected to do. In practice, we can divide their roles into three categories. First, they have organizational responsibility; the officer is supposed to make sure the men under their command show up, get fed, have all of their equipment and so forth. Second, officers execute decisions made by their superior officers; if the army commander sounds the charge, all of the officers along the line execute that charge by leading their units forward. Finally – and most important for our question – sometimes even relatively junior officers are expected to make their own tactical decisions.
In modern armies, this last concept goes by the term ‘mission tactics’ or the German term Auftragstaktik although there is a lively debate about the exact origins of the term and the idea, with the traditional view (challenged but not overthrown) being that the modern tradition of Auftragstaktik comes from the Prussian or German Imperial military tradition. Obviously that is all much after the period we’re interested in, but as I think we’ll see some degree of what could be termed ‘mission tactics’ are a frequent occurrence in sophisticated armies. This was not a brand new idea invented in the early 20th century in Germany, but a common idea that surfaces and resurfaces when conditions for it are right (much like synchronized discipline).
At its essence, the idea behind mission tactics is that rather than the senior officer (like a commanding general) giving his subordinates a rigid plan to merely execute (that second function of officers), they instead are given a clear goal to accomplish within certain parameters (forces, time frame, etc.) and left to work out the details themselves. The idea is then those junior officers, rather than being straight-jacketed into a single big plan, can instead craft plans that utilize their local knowledge of terrain and conditions and also react quickly to change plans as they become aware of changing conditions. In essence then the junior officer has a degree of independent command, within the confines of the goals given to them by their superior.
Doing that in practice however doesn’t merely require having the officers, it requires a certain culture for those officers where they feel empowered to improvise within the broader goals and plans set by the general. Naturally that also requires generals who are willing to allow their officers to improvise, which is something that does not necessarily come naturally to military culture which is in every other respect predicated on strict adherence to orders and deference to rank. And that adherence isn’t insane: if as the general you order your cavalry to screen the flanks of your army and instead they ride off on a raid the whole army is made vulnerable. They very need for coordination we’ve been discussing makes adherence to orders by all of the component parts essential; this demands that adherence be flexible and that’s a hard balance to strike.
Technology also plays a role here. Mission tactics are, in some respects, a necessary adaptation to modern battlefields: the overwhelming amount of modern firepower forces dispersion, meaning soldiers are more spread out (to take advantage of cover and concealment). As an army becomes more dispersed, subordinate officers and their units are naturally going to be out of sight and contact with their larger elements, which demands that those junior officers be prepared to make decisions on their own.
By contrast, prior to the late-1800s, armies tended to be much more concentrated with soldiers often lined up shoulder-to-shoulder to take advantage of either massed firepower or the mutual protection we discussed last time. For an army fighting in formation, the general may not want every officer to have the ability to act independently – after all, for the army to function everyone needs to be moving together in that formation. You wouldn’t want one file leader running off on their own and there’s basically no condition where you’d need that file leader to exercise their own judgement anyway – they just need to keep their file in its right position.
So these armies tend to have some officers who operate entirely within the first two officer functions (organizational/administrative and executing the decisions of others). These officers are important of course: getting everyone fed matters and they can allow for more complex formations. Xenophon, for instance, comments on how the Spartan enomotarchs allow the Spartans to form up in variable depths and the same is absolutely true of the sub-divisions of the Hellenistic phalanx – it’s easy to see how you could either double or halve the width of a syntagma, for instance, by having the hemilochites form new files directly to the side of their lochagos in the first case or by stacking the lochagos’ file behind his dilochites in the latter case.
But some armies also delegate degrees of command independence downward; it is typically ‘downward’ in the sense that allowance for independent decision-making begins at the top and decreases as one goes down the ranks. Thus the crucial question becomes: how far down the chain of command is independent action encouraged and how prepared are those officers to exercise that independence? Precisely because of the limitations in both gathering information and communicating orders we’ve already discussed, delegating that authority – giving those lower officers the authority to deviate from the plan when appropriate – is crucial to producing an army that can react to unexpected developments.
The answer can vary pretty widely. In Alexander’s army, it appears that the taxiarchs – the commanders of the six taxeis (we might say ‘regiments’) of the Macedonian phalanx – could maneuver independently. Simmias, for instance, ordered his taxis to hold position because he could see (as Alexander could not) that the Macedonian left was in a lot of trouble and if he broke contact with it, it risked being surrounded (Arr. Anab. 3.14.4). That was a deviation in the plan for sure and it left Alexander’s successful right wing’s left flank hanging in the air, but in the event it was probably the right choice – had Alexander won on the right but Parmenion been surrounded and destroyed on the left it would have made for a bitter victory indeed. It’s also clear from Arrian’s narrative both here and at Issus that the taxeis each could maneuver independently, though given the vulnerability of the phalanx on its flanks and rear great effort was made to maintain a mutually supporting line; later commanders (Pyrrhus of Epirus and Antigonus III Doson) seem to have experimented with ‘articulated’ phalanxes where the taxeis were joined by lighter or more flexible troops (often covered by elephants) to allow them to maneuver a bit more freely. However at the same time, the sense one gets for later Seleucid and Ptolemaic armies – the largest and most powerful of Alexander’s successors – is that the phalanx became less flexible and more rigid.
That said, a taxis was generally a fairly large unit; its exact size would have varied as the strength of Alexander’s central phalanx did, but under Alexander there were always six (except at the Hydaspes where only five were engaged); for the roughly 9,000 phalangites at Granicus (334) or Issus (333) that would mean we’re looking at a unit of c. 1,500 (one is tempted to suppose the ‘paper strength’ might have been exactly 1,536, which would make a pleasing symmetry of six taxeis each composed of six syntagma of 256 men each).6
Independent action in the Roman army went much lower, down to the individual centurions where necessary. This makes sense: after all, in the standard Roman triplex acies each maniple needs to maneuver on its own and both centuries of the maniple need to be able to move relative to each other to create and close gaps. Caesar’s accounts of his campaigns are full of centurions acting on their own initiative (typically attacking in brave and often reckless fashion), like Pullo and Vorenus7 (Caes. BG 5.44) or Gaius Cratinus (Caes. BCiv. 3.91). The same can be seen of the more-or-less equivalent commanders among the socii, the praefecti cohortis; one such praefectus of the Pelignians rallied his unit to the attack by taking their battle standard and throwing it into the middle of the enemy battle line, essentially forcing his men to charge to salvage their honor (Plut. Aem. 20.1-2). Livy records a similar trick in a different battle where a different Pelignian praefecti does the same thing to rally his men to attack and it goads the Roman centurions nearby to follow suit, precipitating an engagement by the whole army (Liv. 25.14). Beware of Pelignians throwing standards, is what I’m saying here. If a Pelignian throws a flag at you, run.
But note that means that independent action extended all the way do, potentially, to units of 120 (a maniple) or even 60 (a century) in the legion. I want to be clear that we only see this sort of independent action generally in extremis, but of course that is when you want to see it; if everything was going to plan one follows the plan. Nevertheless the difference at this scale is obvious: the smallest unit with independence in a Macedonian army was a taxeis of perhaps 1,500, while the Romans allowed potentially similar independence to units as small as a maniple of just 120.
And this relates back directly to the flexibility and success of the Roman legion. Consider again Cynocepehelae (197); Flamininus, the general upon realizing his left wing was falling back but his right was advancing rode to his right to try to drive his legion through and win the battle and seems to have carried through the pursuit, but an unnamed military tribune had enough command authority to gather some of the unengaged maniples of the victorious Roman right to flank and destroy the victorious Macedonian right (Plb. 18.25-26). One can see a lot of the elements coming together here: the engaged maniples need to be able to wheel about and attack in a new direction – that demands discipline but it also demands centurions who are able on seeing what the tribune is trying to do to be able ‘drive’ their units that way. And of course it requires everyone – the soldiers, the military tribune, and the centurions to believe that such a bold deviation from the battle plan using a quite large portion of the Roman force on the right was an acceptable thing for a less senior officer to decide to do at the spur of the moment. They had to think, ‘the general will reward me for my initiative’ and not ‘the general will punish me for my disobedience’ which comes down to command culture.
Likewise, we’ve mentioned Bibracte (58BC) and the feat of having the rear line of the triplex acies about-face and attack in the opposite direction of the front two lines. What I find notable here is that Caesar does not say that he did that, despite the fact that Caesar is very quick to take credit for his tactical brilliance by name – Caesar is forever telling his reader all of the great things Caesar did (in the third person). Instead Caesar says “the Romans wheeled about,8 advancing in two groups, the first and second lines such that they resisted [those enemies] driven from the summit; the third such that they blocked those [enemies] arriving” (Caes. BG 1.25; emphasis mine of course). Caesar isn’t ordering his – he’s not even on horseback at this point; one is left to assume this was a quick reaction probably by the senior-most centurions in the rear-most cohorts.
It’s this sort of expected level of independent action in extremis which in turn also means that Aemilius Paullus can trust his centurions to make good decisions and simply give the order for the component elements of his legion at Pydna (168) to maneuver separately and thus turn the one large battle into many little ones, breaking up the phalanx (Plut. Aem. 20.8-10). In essence he was releasing his centurions to advance or retreat on their own initiative, in their own time, which created a battlefield too dynamic for the Macedonian phalanx to cope with.
Even though the Roman army likely had fewer officers, it had more of them who could react quickly and independently, though again we must be quick with caveats. Both army’s approaches to their officers and maneuver units fit fairly well with their style of fighting. Pikes, like the sarisa (and later European pikes, for that matter) generally need to move in large groups to be effective. By contrast, as Polybius himself notes, the Roman sword-shield-and-javelin fighting style (with heavier armor too) could work well in smaller more flexible groups.
Different Needs for Different Missions
Now it is easy to look at this and conclude that having more officers and officers with a greater degree of freedom to act independently is just better and on the balance it probably is better, but there are complications well worth addressing.
First, of course, these officers have to come from somewhere and this reintroduces the distinction between officers drawn from the aristocracy (leading to your modern commissioned officers) and those drawn from veteran soldiers (leading to modern non-commissioned officers). Even for modern armies, attracting the requisite talent to staff both a competent officer corps and NCO corps is difficult; the problems mount for pre-modern societies where educated, literate men are a scarce commodity in general. And especially if you are going to expect these junior officers (commissioned or otherwise) to exercise independent command authority they need to be either trained, experienced or both, which demands keeping them in the army for extended periods – these cannot just be farmers you call up for a few months out of the year (like, for instance, your average hoplite). A society’s aristocracy may provide some of these men, but probably not enough to thoroughly officer large armies. Consequently the resource demands of producing these kinds of fellows in quantity are significant.
And that leads us right back to the same problem we had with discipline: in many cases the expense of producing a flexible, adaptable army is going to either exceed the resources of the state or fail to be cost efficient when compared to a less flexible but much cheaper ‘amateur’ army that is still cohesive and can get the job done.
Finally, of course, civilian social structures are going to exert pressure on this system too. The Macedonian officer corps was built out of a preexisting social institution, the ‘companions’ (hetairoi) of the king. The Roman command system also follows Roman social hierarchy. But not all societies lend themselves to that kind of organization; a decentralized state that has many local nobles and notables is going to struggle because those men will expect by dint of their position to lead the troops from their territory in battle. And while a ruler might try to enforce centralization (a perilous venture, for the aristocrats will oppose it!) it may not even be a good idea because those decentralized institutions often produce the essential cohesion that holds the army together. Democratic states may well fear that a large, professional officer corps is a threat to the democracy (a fear not entirely unfounded), while autocrats often fear well-trained junior officers with command independence because they are the logical breeding ground for military coups.
And while there is a clear advantage to the sort of army that practices synchronized discipline and has lots of officers that can act independently to allow it to execute complex plans, these armies do not always win. Sometimes they lose to highly motivated amateurs fighting on their home turf (think either the failure of the Persian invasions of Greece or Roman defeats on the frontiers in the fourth and fifth centuries) because morale and cohesion (next week!) matter a lot too. Sometimes they lose because they find themselves facing alternative non-state military systems which are also flexible and reactive but through organic social institutions. Sometimes they lose due to poor generalship (these complex armies require a high degree of competency to run; a Roman army does not require a genius at the helm but it does require the general to get a lot of finicky but basic block-and-tackle sort of work done). And sometimes they lose because of plain bad luck. This is a particular problem because in most cases (Rome seems the clear exception) highly trained, disciplined and professionalized armies of this sort tend to be fragile – expensive and difficult to replace quickly.
But the structure of most strategy games is such that we rarely see this. Factions games like Mount & Blade or Total War or Age of Empires may have different units, but it is extremely rare they they offer different levels of command and control itself. Non-state Gallic and German armies are every bit as centrally directed in Total War: Rome II and Paradox’s Imperator as Roman or Macedonian armies. The emergence of infantry-based gunpowder armies in Medieval II: Total War and Empire: Total War doesn’t bring about any change in the way those armies can be controlled or directed. If this is represented at all, it is usually the way it is shown in Europa Universalis IV: a ‘discipline’ stat that serves as a flat bonus to damage or defense. Ironically, one of the rare exceptions to this rule was Crusader Kings II, where standing ‘retinue’ forces, precisely because they were standing forces, could be used more flexibly at least at the operational level; this feature was then sadly removed for Crusader Kings III, where professional retinues now behave exactly like levies except that they do more damage and have higher defense.
The great missed opportunity I see here is player choice in force composition, forcing the player to make a choice (or perhaps in choice of action, accept a reality) in terms of how controllable their army would be. The absence here is particularly notable in games with fantasy settings that feature ‘endless horde’ style armies like Warhammer‘s Skaven or Orcs; forcing a player to account for an army that is much less controllable might make these factions feel different in a way that would also make historical sense.9 But the same sort of decision ought to be a factor in many historical games as well.
All of this also combines to give players of these games a sometimes unrealistic vision of exactly how agile an army can be and the impression that their historical counter-parts must have been ‘unbeatable’ (particularly in the case of horse archers, which can be controlled in these games with such unreal precision that they can only ever be out of position by player mistake; real horse archers were powerful, make no mistake, but not undefeatable).
Next week we’re going to turn to an even less realistic element of these portrayals of pre-modern warfare: morale and cohesion.
- There are higher grades of sergeant in, for instance, the US Army (First Sergeant, Staff Sergeant and so on), but these ranks of sergeant typically advise a more senior officer rather than directly command a larger unit
- And the most senior of those centurions, the primus pilus had authority over the entire legion, though typically an aristocrat (either an office holder, a military tribune or a legate) was usually in command of a legion or several legions with the senior centurions advising him, much the same way senior sergeants work today. That system is formalized under Augustus with the creation of the legatus legionis, a specific legionary commander drawn from the senatorial aristocracy.
- And while we’re here different social structures also impact the degree to which that line is permeable. In the United States military, for instance, there is a whole institution – Officer Candidate School – providing a route for non-commissioned officers to earn commissions as officers. That sort of jump was substantially rarer in early modern Europe and functionally non-existent in the Roman army – the lack of rank mobility mirroring a lack of social mobility in their civilian society.
- Its important to note, however, that we really only have a complete view of the command structure for Spartan armies and not their contemporaries. it’s clear that Thucydides and Xenophon want to cast this structure as deeply unusual, but the vision of a completely junior-officer-free hoplite phalanx may be to a degree mirage of our sources, on this note E. Wheeler, “The General as Hoplite” in Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience (1993), 134-5. Though this point too cannot be pushed too far: Xenophon and Thucydides write for an audience which would have known the organization of the Athenian hoplite phalanx extremely well and so would presumably have agreed with the judgement that the Spartan organization was exceptional.
- E.g. F. Naiden, “The Invention of the Officer Corps” Journal of Historical Studies 7.1 (2007): 35-60
- And if you are thinking, “Wait, Alexander has more than 9,000 infantry!” Yes, he does. The main phalanx is the largest single component of his infantry, but there were also the hypaspists and the infantry agema, two elite units of Macedonian infantry, along with large numbers of Greek mercenaries who likely fought as hoplites, plus yet larger numbers of lighter troops.
- This is where HBO’s Rome got the names, but both men were centurions historically.
- conversa signa, literally ‘turning the standards,’ which is of course how you would wheel the unit, the soldiers being drilled to maintain their position relative to the standards.
- There is a mechanic like this, the ‘rampage’ mechanic that some units, mostly wild animals or lizardmen units, have, though the fact that the consensus of elite players seems to generally be that rampage is such a huge liability on these units that they’re not worth having unless there are no other options is striking. I think the problem here is that most of the major ‘rampage’ units are high cost units that are both very powerful but also very vulnerable in a bad match-up. By contrast, having a similar mechanic on, say, Bretonnian, Skaven or Orc common infantry where once in combat they are essentially uncontrollable would still work for those units since they’re mostly ‘tar-pit’ units anyway.