Mount and Blade: death on the steppes

, | Game diaries

I’d originally wanted to call this “death in the desert,” but was stymied by the foul Sarranids who launched an assault on one of our positions in the middle of Khergit territory (who, being modeled after the Mongolians, have territory that strongly resembles the steppes of Eurasia). Marshal Raichs ordered us to move up and drive the Sarranids off, so my army of 50 joined the 300 troops of Lords Raichs and Tribidan to launch our assault on the besieged position.

Enemy engaged after the jump

Meeting Raichs halfway to Uhhun Castle, I join his war party and continue to march forward alongside him. It takes a couple of days for our group to finally reach the castle, and we are fortunate to arrive before the besieging forces get a chance to launch their assault. Two Sarranid emirs (lords) with a force of 200 are just outside the city walls making preparations for an eventual attack, but as soon as they see our force coming over the nearby hill, they immediately break camp and fall back. Our forces give chase and have a small speed advantage, allowing us to intercept them and force a battle in the middle of unfavorable territory.

Whenever a battle in Mount and Blade takes place with more than a certain number of soldiers on the field (this limit is variable within the game but can influence balance, so I have left it close to the default), then the forces take to the field in waves. In gameplay terms, these function as a war of attrition where you need to be very careful about committing yourself to the melee. If the player character is ever knocked out, then (without mods, at least) the battle immediately ends and your forces fight to recover you from the battlefield, incurring extra losses. If your health is too low, you are not allowed to participate further in the battle and have to either send your troops in to fight on their own (this is one of the worst choices you can make in the entire game) or to withdraw/surrender depending on who has the advantage in the battle.

As soon as the battle starts, my force immediately launches itself toward the enemy as I ride forward to skirmish at range with my bow. My fellow leaders didn’t send me the memo that we were going to adopt a defensive position, though, so my delegation of 25 men are left against a swarm of a hundred Sarranids, including cavalry with lances. One of my elite Rhodok sergeants is killed immediately in the initial charge by one of these lances, and that set the tone for the entire fight. I attempted to contribute as best I could without diving into the melee, but by the time my allies moved forward, every soldier I had on the field was dead or unconscious except me, and I was extremely close. Shaking off the Sarranid cavalry pursuing me, I managed to get out of the fighting entirely and stand off to the side until most of the melee infantry were out of commission.

Feeling a little more comfortable at this point, I rode in and started cutting down the enemy javelin throwers and archers, trying to tie them down and give the friendly army a chance to move up and engage them directly. This succeeded at the cost of almost all of my health, which will not recover between battle phases since I have not invested any experience into the first aid skill on this character.

After thwarting the first phase, bringing the force balance available to 200 friendlies versus 80 enemies, I decide to hold my forces along with my allies’ in a defensive line, allowing the enemy to advance into us. We inflict a fair amount of damage up front with our ranged weaponry, the Rhodoks being blessed with some of the best crossbow-wielding soldiers in the game, but I end up being knocked out by a stray javelin tossed by a Sarranid soldier. My forces drag me away from the battle and I elect to withdraw, as my allies have this well in hand and I cannot sustain any additional losses without being completely crippled for the rest of the game. Besides, my only alternative was sending forces into battle without me, and losses in such a case are always horrendous.

Like the wounded animal I am, I flee back to Rhodok territory, which is halfway across the map at this point, dodging Sarranid armies left and right. Once safely back on familiar ground, I am left with little alternative but to gather up whatever recruits I can and start training them up from scratch to fill the void in my army left by my stinging and embarrassing defeat.

Trying to wield a foot-only army like it’s made of cavalry is apparently not the path to success. Defensive play suits the Rhodok army much better than the blind charge I am accustomed to when I don’t restrict my unit selection like I have done here.

During my brief rebuilding period, the position of marshal is about to be switched. Perhaps the new marshal will launch an act of aggression at the heart of the Sarranid Sultanate instead of trying to defend far-flung lands of minimal import. Perhaps he will manage to assemble an army of a thousand soldiers and siege one of the major Sarranid cities.

Perhaps, if I’m extremely lucky, I’ll actually live to tell the tale with more than the clothes on my back.

Tomorrow: and now for something completely different.
Click here for the previous Mount and Blade entry.

Otagan, known to some as Jared, hails from the frozen wastelands of North Dakota. He is temporarily based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works for a major banking institution that shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.