Thursday, 19 July 2018

Siege Hands

Catapaulta, by Edward Poynter, 1868*

The Horatione Empire produced numerous expressions of martial valour. Troops that were the first to cross the walls of an enemy city were rewarded with a ceremonial crown. The renown of the armoured lancers of the Equestrian Commandery is well-known. Honour placards and sacred banners attested to the bravery of individual regiments. Personal valour and a polished manner could reward a trooper in the Imperial Corps of Intimates. But seemingly unique to the Horation armies was the phenomenon of the Siege Hands. 

Only an army like the Horatione one, at such a time, with the conquests it led and the cities it broke could give birth to them. Strictly speaking they were siege engineers - though they spurned and scorned sapper work, leaving it instead to the labour gangs. The care of the great engines was theirs, rather. Catapults, ballistas, siege towers, rams- these were the subjects of their attentions. Siege Hands pushed battle platforms, turned windlasses, loaded missiles, extinguished fires**, made running repairs. 

They did not wear the cuirasses or prominently ridged helms of the legions; still less the lighter garb of the flank-troops and allied forces. Often they would wear little in the way of armour - armour that would weigh them down, or impede them in narrow places. All this meant that the recruitment pool for the Siege Hands skewed towards the plebeians, who could not afford to equip themselves, but who nonetheless would work the engines of the Imperial Wars. Indeed, in time the sight of Hands sat atop the war machines in the Triumphal processions instilled a vision of the Siege Hands as an expression of plebeian military virtue. Such a vision was doubtless not hindered the sight of muscular soldiery in ceremonial military harnesses that echoed their stripped-down combat practices.

Think the showy, intended-for-exhibition gladiator armour.
(Couldn't find any really good suitably muscular gladiatrix images, but feel free to imagine as you will).

For a Siege Hand to be separated from the Siege Engine or for that engine to be destroyed is a horror. The centurions of any unit they might get assigned to tend to give them a big shield, an arbalest and a big hammer - on the basis that this is closest to what they might use were things as they ought to be, and on the basis that they might actually be able to heft all that about with them.


To play a Siege Hand (or something very like unto one) in The 52 Pages, roll higher than 16 on Strength. You take the background word 'Siege Engineer' and thus possess a certain knowledge of the strength of stone, wood, metal and cord; further, you are a good rule-of-thumb ballistician. Even if you have a terribly low DEX score, you may use the simpler missile weapons without penalty.

Receive a bonus on Athletics rolls - when lifting, pushing, pulling, at any rate. The Long Jump and the Pole Vault are not for them. 

*Cyber-cards on the electronic table - this image is roughly the only reason this post exists. The composition is interesting to me; the dark interior of the siege tower dominating the image and that strip of background showing a towering city (you may wish to open the image in a new tab). Straining, bare figures contorted in the centre of the picture, contrasting with the static armoured soldiery behind. The small bare wooden footholds within the siege tower; the raw hides outside. A little glimpse of what the tower is pointed towards - and the archers cowering from whatever it is. 

I also have been edging around the 'barbarian of the city' notion - not, as such, an urban survivor possessed of street smarts, but that strength-of-limb and inner fire notion given to someone who wasn't covered in hides and living miles from anywhere. 

**The Siege Hands who actually dealt with incendiaries were rather more sinister than the rest of their kind, and tended to wear big aprons. Never quite as popular.

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