Military history is a bear. Humans have been fighting each other longer than history can record. It is an overwhelming subject, and a two-thousand word article cannot possibly do justice to it all.
Military bodies are diverse. There are millions of ways an army can be organized, and its effectiveness is valid as long as it works to counter whatever opposition it encounters. Therefore, to add substance to any military organization, a world creator should focus on the macro aspects before deciding on how many men are in a regiment or how range attacks and foot soldiers are combined into a single fighting unit. This is the one area in worldbuilding where starting from the bottom will not work.
When designing an army, outline the following aspects before delving too much into the details.
PURPOSE AND ORIGIN
Here is where mission statements and codes of honor come into play. Militaries are created to either conquer other lands or defend its own. A military can undoubtedly do both, but essentially one takes precedence. An army that is designed for offensive campaigns and conquest does not need to be evil. The need for water and land resources is a powerful driver for men to rise forth and do battle.
The great kingdoms began when a single warlord, general, king or leader managed to unite multiple clans or tribes (Alfred the Great, Clovis, Genghis Khan). These great consolidated forces were often the result of conquest, but not always. Forces would constantly unite for a common cause.
Normally, when creating a world, the military is already set as an established institution to provide the attack or defensive power that governments and communities need. However, if there is an emerging nation or civilization in place, a military body should evolve alongside it.
SCOPE OF POWERS
Law enforcement and security entourages are types of armies. A group of soldiers can be worldly veterans, or they can be town guards. An army should have clear delineations. It would make sense for soldiers to police a new colony while laws are revised and any resistance or unrest is quelled, but consider carefully whether it makes sense for a king’s regiment stationed outside the walls of a strategic town to have to leave their posts to chase down a mugger. It is not unheard of for soldiers to pull this kind of double duty, but the area of responsibility should be established somehow. Otherwise armies and law enforcement will become simple generic fillers.
MANPOWER AND RESOURCES
I know I mentioned before that specifics are not important when designing an army, but the sourcing and manning of armies should be addressed. Is the army a group of professional soldiers or is conscription in place? What is the quality of life for these fighters? Do the soldiers get paid well? Do they get paid at all? How easy is it to stockpile and replace weapons? How are the armies fed, and who shoulders the cost? How do soldiers train for battle? Use these questions to add the details needed to portray the strengths or weaknesses of your armies.
As an overall guideline, armies should have the latest and greatest technology of the era. If gunpowder has been discovered, cannons should be part of the weapons cache. If the concept of flight is known, the military should have mechanical airpower at their disposal. Unless there is clear strife between the military and scientific (or magical) communities, cutting edge weapons and equipment should be in the hands of the armies. That being said, this rule-of-thumb does not apply to special magical weapons and artifacts, since these special objects are the seeds of the fantasy genre formula.
This is possibly the most important factor for determining the effectiveness of an army. This is usually based on the purpose for the army, but it is not the same thing. Military philosophy can be a complicated subject, but it can also define the military body. The overall behavior of a fighting force reflects the underlying philosophy that drives these soldiers to do battle. Consider the following three questions:
To most of us, world domination is seen as an evil concept. It can be argued that mankind would benefit from a single leader or government, but the very thought seems to threaten our concept of liberty and human rights. But true evil runs deeper than simply conquering nations. Overtaking a city in order to spread ideology or partake in its resources does not make an army evil, since they are only doing their jobs. Rejoicing in the suffering of a town while raping it and razing it to the ground, however, does.
Are civilians to be respected and protected or are they nothing more than a resource to be used? What happens to the vanquished? Are they kept as prisoners? Are they disarmed and released to fend for themselves? Do they become slaves? Or are they killed off like a colony of pests?
Codes of honor are the unwritten rules of a soldier. Honor dictates behavior, sportsmanship, loyalty, and teamwork. When a group of people follows a common set of rules, it allows for better communication, a strong esprit-de-corps, and method of self-discipline that allows for better empowerment within regiments and units.
The great thing about magic is that it is the source of energy for the creation or execution of fantastical things. Magic does not require much explanation as compared to, say, science and technology. used many respected scientific theories as the foundation of their futuristic technology. If something does not make sense to readers, they will have a hard time suspending disbelief. Fantasy and science fiction readers are generally pretty savvy when it comes to science and modern technology. It takes much more logical explanations to draw in a reader of science fiction. But magic does not need to be explained in depth. It’s magic!
But because magic does not exist in our reality, there is nothing to use as a historical basis for an army of necromancers or conjurers. Any kind of strategy for magical attacks and defenses can only be gleaned from the imagination of a great fantasy writer. There is nothing that can prove or disprove the effectiveness of magic in battle. Can the fireball of a high-level caster melt a stone wall? We would not think that likely in real life, but in a fantasy world there is nothing to disprove the power of a wizard mighty enough to create the heat needed to melt stone. The only limitation is a writer’s ability to have the reader suspend disbelief.
So with that in mind, why does magic seem to take a back seat when it does to warfare in fantasy settings? Why does magical power appear to be the last resort in the climax of a multi-book saga? I read a lot about magical swords and rings and flying horses and great eagles that serve as cavalry. I have read several stories where dragons are steeds or sources of magic not to be trifled with. I have read about magical schools; I have even used this premise myself. I have read about a small group of magic-users embedded in mundane fighter units. I have also read about bold adventurers soaring through the skies on a flying beast, jousting and dog-fighting with an opponent in an aerial duel that the loser really should not be able to survive.
But I can’t recall reading about a battlefield with fireballs and lightning bolts flying back and forth in precise tactical patterns, with some neutralized by waterballs or rendered harmless by magical shields protecting the casters as they frantically wave their hands to defend their ground. I can’t think of a story where battalions are appearing and disappearing, teleporting from one flank to another, making the war zone look like a strange game of Chinese checkers as they shoot volleys of magic missiles at groups that teleport out of danger to a more strategic spot. Maybe I am just reading the wrong books. If anyone knows of a fantasy book or series that deals with magical warfare in depth, I would love to find out about them.
I have an idea regarding the answer to the above question. Just because magic exists in a world does not mean that magical armies must be established in that world. There can be very good reasons why magical armies are so rare. Magic in itself could be an extreme rarity, thereby limiting the ability to form and train a magical fighting unit. Handling magic, such as the need to memorize a spell to perform a single cast or the incredible amount of concentration needed to execute a spell, can create considerable constraints. There could be treaties in place forbidding the use of magic in battle. There could be a much more convenient way for countries to win wars. So it is not unrealistic not to have magical armies. It is just not very common to read about magical warfare.
Psychic powers are a fantasy attribute, but the subject seems to work better in the paranormal segment. The fantasy genre mainly focuses on these five main psychic areas:
The ability to read and control minds and sense emotions. This can be as basic as spying on someone’s thoughts or as deadly as disabling all cognitive function and rendering the target a simpleton. A psychic can also use telepathy to perform illusion tricks.
The ability to move and control objects. Great for ballistic attacks.
The ability to transfer oneself from one location to another. This can also apply to different planes, worlds, dimensions or whatever. A good offensive use of this field is to banish enemies or even summon otherworldly monsters. Spiritual traveling (astral projection) can be classified as a subfield of teleportation. A more accurate term for this would be psychoportation, but it is still a form of teleportation, just not in a physical sense.
The ability to heal or harm living things. This can also include metabolic enhancements, such as increased strength or cold or heat resistance.
The ability to predict the future and see or scry events taking place far away, or even at a different time or dimension. It is a great reconnaissance tool.
ESP should fall within this area since it is that sixth sense which allows a psychic to perceive things that non-psychics can’t. But my own divination powers tell me that many would disagree and place ESP under the telepathy field. It is a sound argument, but I don’t fully agree with it.
It goes without saying that one or two powerful psychics can easily develop the ability to destroy an army unassisted. But a good way to design psychic warfare is to compare it to how the Internet influences the world today. A single click can send a message to millions instantly. Charismatic leaders and movement champions are currently using social media much like a psychic would reach the minds of the masses. Machines and infrastructure grids are controlled online over wireless connections. Countering a psychic army can consist of mental ‘hackers’ who can disrupt and disable psychic connections, steal valuable information and communications, and at the very worst, erase the mind of the psychic, temporarily or permanently.
Sadly, war and conquest is part of our nature, and we have yet to evolve to the point where our intellect and our appreciation for human life and peaceful coexistence is able to overcome our instinct to fight those who differ in looks, values and spiritual beliefs. There are still many problems we need to figure out how to solve. But hopefully we will eventually get there.-------
I'm reposting a really excellent article that was posted regarding the creation of a military faction in a fantasy series. An Ominous Book places a huge amount of interest in its combined military.
Basically the Elf Kingdom's defense system is divided into three parts: Local civilian military that can have their own distinctive uniform and protect the designated lands of their clan, rangers and Äimite guards.
We get to briefly know the city guards of Tindenfarel that wear distinctive blue uniforms in the first book. It's hinted early in the story that not all clans have foot soldiers. The Kasimma Clan doesn't seem to have an organized defense force because of the remote geography of its capital Tesafar and the diminute size of the clan. The Kasimma Clan barely has 5000 members and only a handful of them (such as Spaulding and Hamarin) are sufficiently powerful mages.
Rangers are the most common law enforcement organization in the nation. As Spaulding has mentioned in the first novel, if you have decent fencing and sorcery skills, pretty much any elf can train to become a ranger. While it isn't unheard of to see nobleelves become rangers, Spaulding is probably the only incumbent clan leader to become a ranger. Under usual circunstances, he should have never been granted permission because his clan doesn't have other blood related nobleelves to cover for his duties, but King Salman granted him an exception because he is a rare dual mage.
What do rangers do? They work a few months each year patrolling the uninhabited forests in a specific region of the country to ensure there aren't common criminals. They usually engage in armed combat against ordinary human criminals that cannot use magic, but they might face elves that unanimously are capable of using sorcery on occasion. If they have a hard time defeating a criminal, they can ask their supervisor Äimite guard that is always a captain to lend them a hand.
Occasionally, rangers of exceptional talent and work ethic can be invited to the Äimite guard by higher ranked guard. It's also one of the reasons why elves join the ranger army because it gives them a chance to hone and prove their skills in the hopes of being invited to the prestigious guard. If an elf no longer enjoys being a ranger, they can quit the profession anytime. They are paid money for each month they are on service. There are approximately 20,000 rangers although not all of them are on duty at a given time. They usually work in the same geographic region each time they are on duty.
The third army of my series is the prominent Äimite guard. The Elf King's private army and personal security force has less than 4000 members but they always stir a lot of attention wherever they go. Always dressed in a monotomous black uniform, they evoke fear and respect from the civilians and become guards for the rest of their lives with absolute loyalty to the incumbent king. Higher ranked guards such as captains are the only ones that can invite new members although the Elf King can write a reccomendation letter.
Joining the guard is a permanent duty albeit they have an initial 4 month boot camp where they will either select or discard potential candidates. If a candidate has second thoughts about joining the guard, they can purposely fail the training and be released from this commitment. However, once they perform the oath, they will be executed for desertion if they attempt to leave it. There are dozens of tidbits of information about the guard that are scattered all over the novels making it a very diverse and effective army with dozens of varying tasks.