Chapter 3: Attacking Settlements and Fortifications
There are several things to consider when one is discussing draconic attacks on cities and villages. These factors include the number and type of dragons, the nature of the fortifications under attack and the presence of magic on either side of the battle. Following discussion of these, other aspects of dragon-augmented warfare are discussed.
Number of Dragons:
The number of dragons involved in an attack will determine the nature of that attack. A single dragon will usually only raid populated areas rather than conquer them, due mainly to the great beasts’ lack of minions to occupy.
Individual dragons rarely attack large population centers, simply because they then risk reprisal. All species of dragons are smart enough to know that a large force of enemies will have a good chance of slaying them. Red dragons still do attack, but their unique disposition renders reason at times pointless, for they seemingly revel in destruction itself.
When a group of dragons attacks a settled area, it is usually as part of an army, although in a few rare instances, family or clan groups have laid waste to settlements out of vengeance.
Types of Dragons:
This work focuses on chromatic dragons and their attacks on cities, as it is those species that typically have allied themselves with conquering forces. Chromatic dragons are also more prone to marauding than metallics, though attacks by the latter is not unheard of in areas where slaves are held. The tactics employed by the dragons will also be determined by their species, because the breath weapons, personality, intelligence and magical capabilities of each differs significantly.
Nature of the Fortifications:
A walled city is likely wealthy enough to have a standing militia, and keeps its walls patrolled. Dragons rarely attack these places without support, either on the ground or in the air.
Unwalled cities and towns:
These poorly defended places are much more commonly chosen as targets, because a dragon or a general will not need a siege to clear the defenders.
In the same category as walled cities, forts (depending on the size) are not typical dragon targets, as they are usually heavily armed against aerial foes. Sieges are usually needed to break these defenders, as such a lone dragon will only attack them in extremely rare instances.
Narrow gorges and canyons are often the sites of Ansalonian fortifications, both to guard land routes and to hinder aerial attacks. The confines allow ground forces to set up ambush points and dense fields of fire, using missile weapons in such concentrations that not even a dragon can withstand the assault. Novice generals often forget this, as do you younger dragons. The former results in elder wyrms deserting or refusing to obey, while the latter results in dead juvenile dragons. High altitude bombardment is often the best assault method for sites such as these.
The vast open plains of parts of Ansalon are often easy targets for dragons, especially if they come in force. A wing of dragons that has freedom of movement in the sky can lay waste to a city or its fortifications in only a few passes, especially if several wings coordinate at once from differing angles of attack. As in the mountains, high altitude bombardment is best suited to clearing the battlements, allowing low level attacks by other wings, where breath weapons can be used to fullest effect in relative safety.
Foliage can be especially problematic for the dragonarmy general. This point has been driven home in Ansalons war-torn history on several occasions. Lush greenery does not burn well, especially if the weather has been wet. This means that the breath of a red dragon, normally very devastating, can be almost negated, at least initially. The canopy is especially effective at screening the movements of ground troops, and elves especially like to hide archers and small missile weapons in trees where they can catch an attacking dragon unawares. High-altitude attacks are very difficult, requiring a great deal more material to make effective. Thus, the best method to conquer a forested area is still the sword arm initially, followed by aerial patrols once the ground has been secured.
Dragons are more than just flying artillery, they are often extremely adept spell-casters in their own right. This sometimes brings them into conflict with war wizards in the armies ranks. The tension usually results from the typical dragons great experience (due to its age) being discounted by a young wizard who has seen a few campaigns. Magic is far too broad a topic to be addressed at present and is discussed in a later chapter. Suffice to say that wizards on both sides of a battle would do well to be as creative as possible in their use of spells, for they can make the difference in winning the day.
Types of Attacks:
These occur rapidly, and involve a single dragon or very small group. The typical motivation is retrieval of something such as an artifact or young or for revenge.
These involve armies, usually multiple dragons, and extended periods of time, they are the focus of much of this chapter.
Stages of Attacks:
Before a general throws his troops against the might of a fortified city, he will send in a scout to gather information about defenses. In the past, from the First DragonWar up until the Chaos War, this was typically performed by a black dragon at night, or a green dragon under a spell of invisibility. Black dragons, having excellent night vision and being very fast fliers are able to quickly determine the layout of fortifications. While green dragons, being adept spellcasters, are able to circle over the city for long periods, becoming intimately familiar with the defenses. In some cases, a dragon will even take a different form to survey the defenses close up, providing their leader with detailed descriptions of strengths and weaknesses.
Before a commander expends valuable troops and even more valuable dragons in an attack, he or she is best advised to weaken the defenses with some form of bombardment. These can take many forms as described below, but they have the general purpose of clearing soldiers from the defenses, causing damage and demoralizing troops and citizens. In some cases, a city or fort surrenders after several days of this type of attack, its will to fight completely gone.
Once the walls have been cleared in whole or part, the assault of a dragon wing can occur safely. An essential part of using dragons strategically is combining their breath weapons effectively.
Some chromatic dragons are especially effective against structures. For example, the range of a blue dragon’s lightning is especially effective against towers and walls of stone, while a reds breath makes short work of wood. Repeated strikes by red dragons can melt stone, but a useful tactic is to employ white dragons immediately after a red assault. The massive temperature change can shatter stone easily, collapsing long sections of walls allowing invaders easy access. The same is true of black dragon breath, which can dissolve stone and hence waken structural integrity of fortifications. A useful ploy against ports or river targets is to use red dragons to create clouds of steam and fog by expelling their breath upon water. Green dragons and black dragons can then follow this, adding their breath and creating larger toxic clouds or acidic mists than any one could on their own.
Some dragons are more effective against troops. Red dragons can cook men alive in their armor, while a black can burn the defenders horrible with its acid. The chlorine gas of a green dragon can kill vast numbers as it drifts across a battlement, and the icy blast of a white dragon can freeze a body solid in seconds. Blue dragons, with their lightning breath, are not particularly effective against troops, except if the troops are crossing a river, near water or are close together. The lightning can then pass through many troops, killing or disabling a force in seconds. It is much more effective against troops on the field, rather than in siege situations, where the walls are already likely cleared at least partly by bombardment.
Dragons play little role in an actual invasion, for as any general worth their salt knows, you can’t hold a city without a soldier inside it. Some commanders value their troops, using dragons only to generate fear above the battle and to gather information about battle progress. Some however believe in the principles of ‘expendability’ and ‘acceptable losses’ and opt to have the dragons use their magic and breath weapons to aid the ground troops. Not surprisingly, many friendly troops are killed or injured by friendly fire in situations such as this.
Many commanders often forget to seek the council of the wyrms when planning attacks, despite the fact that some of the great beasts have seen single campaigns longer than some generals’ lives. The great value and surprising fragility of a flyer such as a dragon makes it necessary to make their odds of survival and non-injury as great as possible. Consequently, several tactics have been developed by dragons, mortals and by the two working together.
Out of the Sun:
In attacks such as this, the attacking forces place the sun behind them, so that the defenders cannot see the dragons until it is too late. It is a simple, but very effective tactic.
Attacking from Downwind:
A creature such as a dragon has a strong scent, and an animal such as a dog or cat can detect them at a great distance. For this reason, wise commanders will attack into the wind, so that defenders are not alerted to imminent attack by the behavior of highly sensitive watch animals.
This is a rare tactic, as it puts a great deal of stress on a dragon and its wings. It is best reserved for those occasions when the target cannot be approached horizontally from a distance without exposing the flyer to suppressing fire from ground defenses.
As mentioned above, this is a very effective way of making low-level assaults safe for dragons to commence. It involves dropping small stones, glass shards, or metal fragments above the city to rain down on it and injure or kill the defenders. Not suprisingly, defenders flee from this rain of death at every opportunity.
This is a rare tactic, only because it involves using a great deal of oil or other fuel, which is expensive. It is best suited to break the will of a particularly stubborn defender by burning (once ignited by phosphorus jars dropped after) supplies, buildings and other valuables. It is best used as a prelude to invasion, as defenders will be more concerned with extinguishing fires than with fighting.
The dropping of animal corpses into water supplies is generally frowned upon, only because it tends to poison the water for the conquerors as well. This tactic is best used when the target is to be obliterated, not captured and held.
This strategy was devised in the third dragon war, and involves suspending a wagon-sized container between several dragons by long cables. When the skies are safe and clear and an invasion is to commence, these containers, within which are hardened veteran troops, are flown over the city and set down in an open space. The carrier dragons provide cover while the troops emerge, who then battle to the gates or other strategic objectives while the dragons join their brethren in their assigned duties. Red dragons are best suited to this because of their strength, but blues are better at working together. More than one container has been cut free at altitude by an irate red, only to send it plummeting to the ground, dragging other carrier dragons with it.
First seen in the War of the Lance, sometimes called the Fourth Dragonwar, and performed by Draconians, this simple but very effective tactic is much safer for the troops and dragons than landing troop containers. Basically, a number of Draconians will ride a dragon above a city, then leap off, extending their wings. In some cases the Draconians will have missile weapons such as bows to fire during their descent, or oilskins and shrapnel to drop, doing damage and slowing their fall.
Once a city has been determined an intended target, crafty generals will send in black dragons at night to spray their acidic breath across its surrounding fields. At this stage, a city is not likely aware of the presence of the army some leagues distant, and they attribute the crop damage to nature or to a raiding dragon, but rarely as part of a long-term strategy. In herding areas, green dragons are also used to slay livestock. Consequently, a city cannot stockpile food, which makes the inevitable siege much shorter.
White dragons excel at this task, for they love to dig and use their breath weapons. Once a suitable reservoir has been found, the dragons will freeze the water close to the city, then build a dam to divert the water. Without water, a city-siege cannot last. If done incorrectly, this tactic can flood siege camps and cause general mayhem for the attackers. Consequently it is not a frequent wartime occurrence.
A dragon’s most obvious attack is its breath weapon, though they are by no means the only ones. Human and Ogre generals have devised many other weapons to supplement breath weapons and save them for the best possible opportunity of use.
Barrels of flammable materials, slung alongside the dragons hindquarters, make effective weapons. Over the target the barrels can be released or opened, raining the contents down on the city. Jars are kept with the rider, these contain phosphorus in water. These are dropped into the oil where the oil is then ignited when the jar shatters. It is a tricky tactic, and uses up quite a lot of oil if it is to be effective.
Stone, Glass and Metal:
This rain of death can easily clear battlements and decimates the populace. Released as high as one thousand feet, the falling debris is not visible against the sky until it is too late, whereupon the defenders are forced to flee to safety.
This is an even more difficult tactic to perfect, because the dragon only gets one shot at a time, while it is exposed to potentially heavy ground fire. It is best used against ships, towers and walls. The dragon has two options in this attack- it can drop the stone from above while circling slowly, or it can fly as rapidly as possible at low altitude, release the stone which will then be carried forward, bouncing along the ground and into its target. It is a very physically demanding task, and is better suited to siege engines. Thus, it is infrequently used.
As with magic, a discussion of aerial weapons used by dragons and their riders against would be very broad and is better suited to a treatise of its own. In brief though, objects such as nets, trailing hooks, and weighted lines are useful in aerial combat, with the express purpose of grounding enemy flyers temporarily or ideally, permanently.
Climate and its Effects:
Though they are strong fliers, even a dragon can be grounded by inclement weather. For this reason, if a city can afford to employ wizards to summon storms and other weather systems, they usually do so. This duel of magic can extend sieges for quite some time. Blue Dragons are highly desirable for harsh weather situations such as this, as are white dragons. Blues are favored because they are known to be dedicated soldier material and able to put up with rougher conditions, while whites show up in winter sieges because they enjoy blizzards for the near-invisibility they grant. Black dragons enjoy rainy weather sieges, especially if there is a swamp in which they can languish between their duties. Red dragons are temperamental and cannot abide waiting for destruction and mayhem to begin, while greens enjoy creature comforts far too much. These latter two species are less than dedicated soldier material, and will often leave for long periods if conditions are not to their liking. That is, unless they are part of the army at their queen’s behest. In those situations they will fume and fury, but none would risk her wrath by deserting.
Dragon Command Structure:
Draconic command structure is age-based. Elder wyrms tend to get less dangerous assignments, and hold a sergeant or commander status relative to younger wyrms. This is mainly because older wyrms have more powerful breath abilities, but are less likely to take foolish risks- thus they do not do dangerous assaults – they are reserved for attacks when battlements are cleared. The most senior dragons typically devise dragon strategy and coordinate with the human or Ogre general, though plans tend to change rapidly in the field, or in their case, the air. Oftentimes dragons operate rather autonomously and should not be entirely relied upon to provide cover for ground troops. The species of dragons involved also plays a role, with reds ranking higher than blues (only due to their volatile personalities, not their skills), greens above blacks, who are higher ranking than whites. There is little gender-based hierarchy- rank or prestige is accorded on the basis of age and ability.