“Sergeant!” shouted Lord Scina Dariune.
“Yes, m’lord?” replied his dour Sergeant-at-Arms Gareth Hawke.
“Where in the Pit are we?!”
“As far as I can tell, m’lord, we’re about four leagues north-east of camp” the tall ex-Thardan legionary replied calmly. However, his attitude didn’t assuage Lord Scina one little bit.
“I can’t see more than fifty feet in any direction!” He slapped his gloves on his saddle in frustration. “How are we supposed to bring the Taelda barbarians to heel if we cannot even find them?” he demanded.
Gareth sighed, mentally casting a prayer for patience towards Valon, the realm of the goddess Peoni. The young lord needed a serious attitude adjustment if he was to lead troops into battle, and it was Gareth’s job to to that without breaking his spirit. So he had been charged by Scina’s father, the powerful Earl of Balim, Exchequer Royal of Kaldor and trusted advisor to King Miginath.
He was about to reply when something, that innate sixth sense experienced professional soldiers develop, caused him to pause and look beyond the young lord’s left shoulder. After a heartbeat, a crude arrow whizzed from the deep underbrush towards Scina’s back.
“Down!” shouted Hawke, dragging at Scina’s sholder. He followed this immediately by shouting “Ambush! Dismount and form a skirmish line.”
This command was directed at the eight members of the patrol. They struggled to obey but a storm of arrows from all around them interfered with their unit cohesion. A man’s scream signaled the first casualty of the engagement. A quick glance told Gareth it was a minor wound but disabling, in the man’s calf muscle. Fortunately, the rest of the crude arrows bounced or broke on the soldiers’ armour.
The horses began to panic, rolling white eyes. Another arrow storm and they broke, racing away from the biting, stinging arrows that nicked and pierced their hides. A man who had been slower than others in dismounting still had a foot in his stirrup when his horse bolted. He was flipped around, his leg breaking with a sickening crack. His foot still stuck in the stirrup, his screams faded as his horse dragging him off through the bushes.
The remaining soldiers gathered in a tight group, facing all directions with shields raised against another arrow storm, the injured man at their center leaning on his spear and groaning in pain.
A short, barking sound came from outside their perimeter and furry bodies hurled themselves at the Kaldoran patrol.
“Filthy gargun!” shouted Lord Scina.
And battle was joined.
There are many kinds of wilderness surrounding the settled areas of all the kingdoms of Harn, but thick, primordial temperate forest is surely the most difficult to secure effectively. The sight lines for your archers is very restricted and the uncertain footing, with all those roots, holes hidden by leaf mulch, and fallen branches, is very dangerous terrain for a medieval soldier. Barbarian tribesmen and gargun who live in the forest would be able to move with a lot less trouble than a soldier used to open fields and meadows.
If you were running a campaign that included the need to patrol a heavily wooded area, what kinds of things might you need to take into account, especially when it came to the effectiveness of standoff weapons like arrows? You’ll need to determine how thick the forest actually is, how far each side can see, how experienced the two commanders are, especially how experienced they are fighting in this terrain. There are other factors too; geology might tell you how many rock piles, hillocks, cave systems, and other defensible areas there are available. Conversely, how many streams and rivulets, sinkholes, ravines and cliffs might interfere with movement are additional considerations. How close the two sides can get to one another without alerting the others, and whether there are suitable ambush sites…these can all be considered by a GM setting up a scenario similar to the one above.
Other terrain will have other elements, of course. Bogs and standing water in heathland, sand dunes and wind near the shoreline, and buildings and people in settled areas, all can create opportunities or obstacles for the opposing forces. In essence, the GM needs to consider what elements of the environment help or hinder each of the sides in a conflict, large or small. A little careful consideration can mean your battles have a sense of realism and depth, and they’ll probably flow a little better as well.