Field Notes: Dwarven battle order

1 December, 2021

(It just seems to me that if the usurper Dwarf King did decide to send the dwarves against The Empire, they’d be shit at it)

We find ourselves in the unusual position of engaging with large dwarven forces on open ground. Although dwarves individually are tough adversaries, their battle order en masse leaves much to be desired. Certain aspects of their habitual voie de la guerre can be used to advantage.

Most obviously, dwarves are accustomed to defending tunnels. Their best tactics amount to raising a shield wall and plugging the gap, at which they excel better than any other troop. They do not cope at all well with flanking or encirclement: they have not the battle order to wheel a unit to face a threat from another direction.

There is an important psychological aspect as well. They tend to treat any sort of wall or barrier as though it were miles of impenetrable rock. Above ground, the gates of their forts are heavily defended, but the walls defended lightly or not at all. It simply does not naturally occur to them that anything might come from that direction.

The same oversight applies to terrain. Dwarves do not cope at all well with mud or bog, which our farmlands tend to be at certain times of the year. To them, such terrain is effectively an impenetrable barrier, and they can tend to assume that it is a barrier for anyone else as well. This, even to the extent of discounting the threat that artillery poses across such terrain. Without training, advice, or bitter experience, they tend to organise their fortifications under the assumption that attacks can only come along the road.

In respect of advice or bitter experience, they are particularly subject to the bane of armies everywhere: senior officers of noble rank freshly arrived from home with little or no field experience, who are quite certain that they know how war is done. Dwarves being so long-lived, their battle doctrine tends to be woefully out of date – centuries so.

A final noteworthy point, obvious as soon as it is stated, is that dwarves tend to be short-sighted. While human troops will see the dust of an approaching force miles away on the horizon, dwarves quite literally cannot see that far. Their forces may have auxiliaries who can, of course, but their information will tend to be ignored. Their hearing also is lacking. Their most useful way of detecting approaching troops is by the vibration through the earth of marching on stone or hard-packed earth.

Put simply, they are tremendously easy to sneak up on provided you avoid marching the troops.

Their greatest strength is their night vision. It is of paramount importance that camps and defences take this into account. At night, every aspect of battle is in favour of an attacking dwarven unit.

Their other greatest strength is, of course, their sappers.

In summary:

  • Approach through the fields or forests, avoid roads. Use route step. March heavy troops on the roads as decoys and feints. On approach, wrap the wheels of seige engines.
  • Attack walls, not gates. Breaching or surmounting. Indirect fire over the walls: trebuchet rather than ballistae.
  • Draw the enemy out into the open. Flank and encircle – do not simply send in a column of pikes.
  • Be especially vigilant at night. Camp discipline as for actions against orcs.
  • Stone fortifications are no defence against dwarves whatever. Camp on mud if at all possible.

L’Empire perdure.