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The Adventurer's Guide to Calradia (.960)

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Character Creation

The first step to starting a game is to create a character. Note that due to the way Mount & Blade handles save games it is only possible to have a maximum of six characters at any one time. If you wish to have more, you must either delete an existing save game or else go into the save directory and rename one of your saves. You can restore the save by renaming it back to it's old name (remember to rename the new savegame first!). Also note that the choice between being able to exit without saving, and saving on exit, is permanent!

Characters which have been exported from a previous version or another game may be imported into the game rather than starting afresh. Your character retains their skills  experience and cash, however everything else such as their party and inventory is lost. To import from the same version, open up the save game, enter the character screen and select export. To import, begin your new game, enter the exact same name as that of the exported character, go into the character sheet and click import. This usually works across M&B versions, but depending on the folder layout you may need to move the exported file into the correct directory.

The first thing you'll be asked to do when creating a character is to select a background. You will be presented with several screens asking for information about your character's life prior to becoming an adventurer. The answers you select here will determine your initial skills and starting inventory. Once these screens are completed, you will be given the opportunity to customise your character by spending skill and attribute points, and to give them a name and face.

There are three areas on the sheet, each with a different point pool. Your attributes are the physical and mental factors of your character; skills represent learned knowledge and the weapon proficiencies determine how good you are with a particular weapon. All skills have a governing attribute, and you cannot normally raise a skill above a third of your current total in it's governing attribute. Every time your character gains a level you gain one point to spend on attributes and skills; in addition all attributes have some effect on your character which I'll detail below. Weapon proficiency is somewhat unique in that it is limited by your weapon master skill. Initially, you may not raise a proficiency above 80 through the investment of proficiency points unless you have at least one skill point in weapons master. However, throughout the game you will improve these proficiencies as you use weapons which utilise them (weapon master will increase the speed of points gained this way).

Strength increases your hit points. It also increases the base damage you do when striking with a melee weapon. Most of the heavier weapons and armours have a minimum strength requirement. This tends to be a primary focus of melee based characters, though all characters will benefit from having a decently high strength total due to the better quality of weapons and armour it allows you to wield.

Agility determines your characters basic speed while on foot. Again it's a useful attribute to increase as it governs both the athletics and horse riding skills, making it important for any character who wants to increase mobility.

Intelligence grants an immediate bonus skill point every time you place an attribute point into it. It governs the useful support skills like surgery and first aid, and many books will require a minimum intelligence score in order for your character to benefit from them.

Charisma determines the maximum amount of troops you may lead initially, though this is also affected by your character's renown and the leadership skill.

The skills have descriptions listed, and many are self evident. One thing to note is the division into personal, leader and party skills.

Leader skills are those applicable only to your character. While some NPC's may start with a value in these skills, it won't actually do anything. Inventory management is a good example of a leader skill; each point increases the available inventory space for your own character, however since you cannot access the full inventory of an NPC it is useless to assign their points to it.

Personal skills are those which affect the character who has the skill. Power Strike is a good example of a personal skill, every character with points in power strike will do more damage with melee weapons.

Party skills are usually skills which affect the entire party. When a party skill is used, the game checks the highest skill level within the party and uses that. For example, if Marnid has the highest total in the party then any time you buy or sell goods or equipment it will be Marnid's skill which is used. It's important to note that party skills don't stack; characters with lower skill values are simply ignored.

Notes:

It helps to have an "archetype" in mind when designing a character. Try and think about whether you want to be a knight or a horse archer, an infantry commander or a merchant. For some characters this isn't an issue, however others, such as horse archers, require a high investment in skill points to be effective, so it's best to start early!

Don't worry about covering everything - there are NPC heroes in the game you can recruit and develop to cover skill gaps. Similarly, there are books available (which are highly expensive) from traders which can grant additional points in certain skills.
 
Starting Out : So what do I do now?

Once your character is created you'll find yourself dumped on the world map, probably near a training area. Although the entire map is visible, note that there is still a fog of war which prevents you seeing enemy parties unless they are within your sight range (determined by the spotting skill).

The first thing you should do is open the inventory screen (either by the button at the bottom of the screen or by hitting 'I') to see what you have. Most characters will start out with a selection of weapons, some armour, some food and possibly a horse or trade goods (such as furs). To see information about an item simply hover the mouse over it. If you have a horse and sufficient riding skill then you should make sure the horse is equipped in the correct slot.

One thing to note about Mount & Blade is that there is no storyline or mission. Your objective is simply to do the best you can before time and age catch up to you. When this happens, you can put an end to your adventuring days by clicking the camp button and opting to retire; you'll be given your final score and a little bio of what becomes of the character, however that should (hopefully) be far in the future. For now the best course of action is probably to find a way of lining your purse so you can buy some decent equipment and perhaps hire some men.

You'll notice on the map there are a variety of locations you can visit. The training ground which should be nearby is one of them, however we won't go there just yet. Instead, we should head off to a town. Look on the map for the nearest town (you can distinguish them by the icons) and left click on it to start travelling to it.

Keep an eye out for enemy parties on the way. There are several different types of party, but most dangerous to you at the moment are bandits, looters and deserters. If you're itching for a fight then looters are the best target; they're little more than peasants with poor arms and equipment, so shouldn't be too difficult for you to take out unless in huge numbers. As a bonus, you can sell any loot you manage to recover once we reach the town. If you do get captured don't worry; after relieving you of your money and possibly equipment and dragging you around for a few days you'll eventually escape.

Once you reach the town you will be presented with the town menu listing what you can do there. Note that you can hit the tab key at any of the locations in the town to come back to this menu, it's often quicker than walking from one place to another and can be invaluable when you find out the arena door doesn't open from the inside.
Towns are probably the busiest settlements in all Calradia, and offer a much greater amount of services than any other location. Most important at the moment is the Arena; I suggest you head there now and talk to the Arena manager, if you're lucky there may even be a tournament in town.
The arena allows you to hone your combat skills in non-lethal competition, as well as earn a small amount of money while doing so. If there is a tournament in town, don't let being a low level put you off - tournaments are non-lethal (you don't even need to heal up afterwards) however I wouldn't suggest betting until you're sure you can win!
The melee practice sees you spawn with random equipment in the town arena in a massive free for all. Enemies will spawn in in groups of five or six. In the top left, you will see the total enemies remaining and the number you have dealt with personally so far. The more you take out, the more cash you get at the end. During these fights you will notice your weapon proficiencies increasing for the weapon you are using, and you will receive experience for the enemies you defeat. The arena is therefore a great place to train yourself up while earning a bit of gold until you are comfortable with M&B's combat system.
I'd suggest training in the arena until you're level two or three, or until you're comfortable you know how to fight! Once you're ready, hit tab from the arena master's office (remember to speak to him to collect any winnings first) to return to the menu.

At this point, your main objective is to scratch together enough money to get yourself some decent equipment and recruit your first few men. How you want to do this is up to you, though a few suggestions are below. In the next section we'll cover party management and recruiting your first sword fodder. I'd suggest building your finances until around level four before looking for recruits, however your first volunteers are unlikely to cost that much, so you may want to skip ahead a bit earlier.

Making Money
At this point the following are probably the best options for gaining a little gold:

1. Questing.
A number of NPC's will offer you quests to complete in return for financial reward. If you visit the tavern you may spot a peasant who needs help clearing bandits out of his home village. Travelling the streets of the town might see you meet the Guildmaster, who offers a number of quests on behalf of the town itself. Should any lords be in residence, you can find them in the castle and they're always on the look out for someone to run errands for a little coin.
Nobles are probably the best bet at present. Not only will it build your reputation with a faction, but they offer some of the easier quests for unaligned mercenaries. Avoid anything which sounds like it involves money or combat at this point, what you really want is a delivery or hunt the outlaw quest. Deliveries simply involve tracking down the lord in question (you can get his last known position by asking any of his fellow faction lords) and speaking to him. Hunting outlaws will send you to a village to look for a suspicious character - you will have to fight him, but he's generally little better than a peasant and the combat shouldn't be too hard.

2. Trading
Buying trade goods in one town and selling them in another can lead to significant profits over time. If you have the trade skill that is. You can assess prices in the town market to find out what is cheap and where it may be worth taking it to. The only real risk at this point is being waylaid by bandits, however they shouldn't be too difficult to defeat.

3. Looting
If you're feeling pretty confident you can try attacking some of the bandit or looter groups and selling the loot you find in the nearest town. As mentioned before, looters are by far the easiest group to kill. Forest bandits can be tricky if you lack a shield, since they tend to use bows, while mountain bandits will often have cavalry and throwing weapons. Sea and Steppe raiders are probably too tough to take on at the moment. Deserters may or may not be difficult depending on the troop types.

4. Slave trading
Good old human trafficking. If you have points in prisoner management then you can capture KO'd opponents after a battle and sell them to one of the traveling slave traders who sometimes turn up in the taverns. In order to capture an enemy you must kill them with a blunt weapon, if you win the combat they will be available to capture on the post-battle screen. This can be a quick way to riches at the moment, since you can also combine looting with the slave trading to increase your income per battle.
 
Starting Out : Recruiting a party

So by now you should have a reasonable amount of gold (say 200 Denars or so) and developed your character to level three or four. You've probably noticed the enemy parties are starting to get larger and probably a little too big to take on your own. This is where hiring your own muscle comes in.

There are four types of recruits in the game. In most taverns you will find mercenaries looking to hire on with anyone who can pay them; taverns are also the haunt of NPC heroes who will join up with you for some up front coin. If you go to the villages you can look for some willing lads to sign up with your army, and finally defeating a party which has prisoners may offer you the option of recruiting those you have just liberated (as a final, desperate option you can always try and recruit from any prisoners you have taken, but don't be surprised if the new recruit heads for the hills at the earliest opportunity).
Mercenaries tend to be a little more expensive up front, and cost half again as much as a recruit in weekly wages. They make up for it however in having a higher skill level and slightly better equipment than most recruits. There's almost always at least one mercenary group available in every tavern, so it can be quick to build up a sizeable force, however since the mercenary type is random if you're looking for a specific balance of units it may be difficult.
Recruits are available at most neutral and friendly villages, depending on your charisma and persuasion skills. Asking for volunteers from the village elder will let you know if any are available and how much they want. Your reputation with the village determines the quality and number of volunteers you're likely to get. Recruits are cheap, often poorly equipped to begin with and don't cost much in wages. However, they are the basic tier of the faction troops, and with a little care and experience can be developed into archers, infantry or even fully fledged knights. If the first village has no recruits available, try another until you find one with recruits available.
Prisoners are a mixed bunch. When recruiting from your own you'll have serious morale problems. This doesn't occur with liberated prisoners, however their quality runs from the useless peasant to the rather formidable sword sister.

Which you want to recruit is entirely up to you. If you've been attacking bandits you may already have some recruits from liberated prisoners. You can mix and match types, or stick to a single type or faction. Which will work better depends upon your own playing style. Bear in mind you can't choose the equipment of your normal troops, however they do gain experience and when they reach a new level you can often choose how to upgrade them.

It's probably worth a quick overview of the factions, although if you've been observing their parties you'll probably have noticed some of these traits by now. Recruits from a village always come from the village's nationality (not owner; if a Nord village changes hands it will still provide Nord troops). You can mix and match troops from the factions quite happily, and at this point you shouldn't have annoyed any of the factions enough to have them declare war on you so most villages should be happy to provide recruits.
Nords are based on the Vikings of history. Their troops favour heavy infantry, in fact they have no cavalry. Many troops have throwing weapons, and their ranged troops favour bows. Their settlements are in the North and North West of the map.
Rhodocks are another infantry only faction. Their preference is for spear and similar polearm equipped infantry, backed up by skilled crossbowmen. Their settlements are in the South West area of the map.
Swadians are the traditional European feudal types. They have probably the best heavy cavalry in the game, the Swadian knights. Their infantry is mediocre, but like most Swadian troops they do have reasonable armour. Like the Rhodocks their preferred ranged weapon is the crossbow. Their settlements are in the central region of the map.
Vaegir bear a similarity to the historical Russian and Slavic armies. They have some of the best bowmen in Calradia, backed up with middling infantry and light cavalry. Although they tend towards lighter armour than the Swadians, they tend to be a bit more fond of two handed weapons. They live in the North East (look for the Snow)
The Khergits are remarkably similar to the Mongols and similar steppe tribes. Exclusively cavalry, their troop tree has only mounted archers or light cavalry available. Although lightly armoured, their swift horses can be difficult to catch even for other light cavalry. They can be found in the South East area of Calradia.

The maximum number of troops you can command is determined by renown and leadership. Increasing either will increase the maximum number. However, there are several things to be aware of. Firstly, your party has a morale rating. The higher the better. Low morale means troops may start to desert your cause. Secondly, troops cost money. Not only do most demand payment to sign on, but they also expect to be fed and paid a weekly wage. Failing in either will result in a morale drop.
Food can be obtained from the general trader within the town, or from most villages. You'll notice each type of food gives a morale modifier which you can see by hovering over it. Food is a consumable resource; you'll see you have two numbers in the description written thus : 50/50. This is how much food remains, and the maximum amount of food in that slot. The larger the party, the quicker food is consumed. Run out of food and your troops will begin to complain about starvation.
Note : You can combine food types and gain the morale bonus for each; ideally you want some form of meat and some form of veg or fruit, plus an accompaniment of cheese, butter or the like

Weekly salary is the amount per week your troops expect to be paid. Higher level troops demand more money. In addition, cavalry and mercenary troops cost 50% extra (this is cumulative, a mercenary cavalryman costs you twice what you would pay for a comparable recruit). You can check how much your next wage bill will be, along with when it's due, in the party reports screen. Beware of being unable to cover this cost - you'll incur a morale penalty and the troops will expect you to make good on the money owed next payday.

Events will influence your morale. Every completed quest or victory in battle gives a temporary bonus which raises morale for a short period of time. You suffer a negative morale modifier for party size, the larger the party the greater the modifier. This can be offset with the leadership skill. You can view the morale modifiers and current morale of the party at any time via the party reports screen.

You can check the stats of any unit you've hired by highlighting them in the party screen and choosing to speak with them, then asking them to tell you about themselves.

Starting Out - Developing your troops

Your troops will gain experience just like yourself, and once they accumulate enough to level up they can advance.  Unlike your own character or NPC's, you can't distribute skill points or the like with troops. Instead you get to choose their next step on the troop tree. To level up your troops, go into the party screen and highlight the troop (those ready to level up will be marked with a +). Click the troop and choose to upgrade. You may or may not be given a choice on what to upgrade to depending on the troop type; Most faction troops may embark upon either the melee or ranged branch of the tree from a basic recruit, and some may also have branches for mounted combatants. It's important to note you can't move 'backwards' once you have upgraded a troop - if you elect to go down the ranged branch then future upgrade options will all be from the same branch.

So, how can we gain experience for our troops? There are several methods:

1. Combat
Like yourself, troops gain experience for participating in and winning combat. Unfortunately, they also have the risk of having their career cut short by an opponent's blade. There are ways you can minimise this however. Firstly, having a member of the party with Surgery skill means each time your troops take a lethal blow it may be degraded to a KO instead. Note that there is a base chance that a killing blow on your troops will only render them unconscious without surgery skill, surgery merely gives you a second chance to avoid casualties. If you are attacking low threat enemies such as looters you may want to order your troops to hold back and deal with them yourself; your troops won't gain as much experience as they would actively participating (since they would then be getting XP for kills too), however for recruits you can rely on the shared XP you gain at the end of the battle to level them up.

2. Trainer skill
The trainer skill is a personal skill which grants XP to all troops of lower level every day at midnight. This can be a useful means of developing troops past recruit level with minimum risk, although bear in mind the potential morale problems if you do nothing but sit around in camp or an inn all day. One of the things to know about trainer is that as a personal skill it affects everyone with that skill in the party. What this means is that if you have two characters with trainer in the party, then both will grant bonus XP to every unit which is eligible.
 
Weapons and Armour

Possibly the most important items in the game. This gets complicated, but is essential reading for the budding adventurer. We'll start with weapons.

If you're lucky enough to start the game with a rusty sword, you'll notice the info box states things like "Swing 12c thrust 9p" or similar. This is the damage the weapon causes. In essence, there are three damage types in the game :

Cutting (c) - 'normal' damage. There's nothing special about this kind of attack; your opponent's armour is fully effective against any hit and if you cause enough of it they'll die.
Piercing (p) - Piercing damage halves the opponents armour in the location you strike, making it highly useful against men in armour. Again, stick them enough times and they'll fall over and stop breathing.
Blunt (b) - Has less armour negating value than piercing, though it does ignore some armour. Mainly it's prized for it's ability to knock out opponents rather than kill, making it useful for taking prisoners and completing some quests. Note that riding someone over with a horse does blunt damage, as does hitting someone with your fists (\ to switch by default).

Swing and thrust are attack types. Most weapons can be swung, some will thrust (in those that can't attempting a thrust usually results in an overhead chop). The weapon also has a speed value, the higher the better, and a reach value, again the higher the better.

So which weapon is the best? Tricky question. In general terms, weapons can be divided into single handed weapons and two handed weapons, with one or two that can be either. Single handed weapons tend to swing faster, and also allow the use of a shield which makes them ideal for defence. Two handed weapons mean you can't use a shield, but if you can avoid becoming a pincushion they're more than capable of taking a man down with a single blow. Some weapons, such as the Bastard Sword, can be used as either; note however that they suffer a speed and damage penalty when used with one hand.
Axes generally have the highest raw damage values in the game, however it is invariably cutting damage. This means they're excellent against lightly armoured or unarmoured opponents, but that effectiveness quickly wanes against the more heavily armoured foes. Of course, they also do bonus damage to shields which can help you crack through to the squishy treat beyond in half the time.
Swords are usually less damaging than axes, but faster to swing. In addition, many combine a high damage cutting attack with a lower damage piercing attack, making them a nice versatile weapon no matter what you are facing.
Maces and mauls tend to do blunt damage and swing slower than axes in some forms. Don't be fooled by the relatively low damage values though, remember that the blunt damage they cause ignores a portion of the targets armour. Needless to say, they are essential if the objective is to capture rather than kill the foe.
Polearms tend to cross the damage types, although they do slightly less damage than other weapons on average, and many prevent the use of a shield. What a polearm can do however is couched damage, applicable only to those riding a horse. Couching a lance or similar polearm causes roughly three times the damage to the opponent. Most can also stop a horse dead in it's tracks if thrust into it's face.

A quick note on couching a weapon. In order to couch, take your polearm and accelerate your steed. Under no circumstances press the attack key. Once you reach sufficient speed, you will notice your character shift to extend his polearm, indicating you are now ready to ruin someone's day. To inflict the couched damage, simply point the end of the weapon at your opponent and ride into them, once more not pressing the attack key under any circumstances. Your reward will be an explosion of damage, the announcement of "couched damage" in the bottom left hand side of the screen and very likely a dead foe.

Just to reiterate every time you press the attack key while trying to couch a weapon King Haralaus kills a kitten. Kitten lovers throughout the forum will probably try and kill you if you mention you can't couch a weapon and just happen to say you pressed the attack button at some point in the process. Trust me.

So, back to the question at hand. As a general rule, Axes are lovely against low armour or unarmoured opponents, but can be slow to swing. Swords are wonderfully versatile against any foe, but lack the sheer hitting power of the axe when facing unarmoured enemies. Maces tend to be somewhere in the middle of the two, but make up for it by providing a steady income from your hordes of prisoners. Polearms are the medieval equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a cavalryman.  In short, there is no such thing as a 'best' weapon, each weapon combines particular advantages and disadvantages. However, the great creator thoughtfully provided us with four weapon slots, allowing sufficient room for experimenting on the battlefield to work out which fits our play style best. With that dealt with, on to ranged weapons!

Bows, Crossbows, Throwing stuff

All ranged weapons have certain similarities. For a start, there's a limited amount of ammunition you can carry for each, and once it's out it's out. In the case of throwing weapons, the weapon itself will list the ammunition available. For crossbows and bows, you need to take up an extra slot with a quiver of bolts or arrows. So, on to the weapons themselves.

Bows require time and training to master, but are deadly in the hands of an expert. Most bows have a minimum powerdraw requirement, which requires investment in that skill to actually wield the bow. Note that merely meeting the PD requirement is not enough; you will receive an accuracy penalty unless you exceed the PD requirement by three points. After three points there is no further benefit to accuracy, though of course the additional damage granted by the skill is still there. This presents the bowman with a tricky choice - do you stay with the weaker bow which you can fire with 100% accuracy in the knowledge that it'll take three arrows to kill anyone, or do you upgrade to the stronger bow which won't hit as often, but will hit harder. Bows can be fired from horseback, however without significant (6) investment in horse archery you'll suffer a penalty to accuracy. Hint - the penalty only applies to a moving horse. If you stop the horse prior to taking a shot, you'll not suffer any widening of the reticle, at least from being on the horse.

Crossbows don't benefit from any power draw or similar skill, nor are they affected by horse archery. They tend to be a lot more accurate than bows, and certainly at the lower range put out far more damage. The main drawback is the long reload times, and of course only the lighter crossbows permit reloading whilst on horseback. Rather than power draw, most crossbows use strength as a minimum requirement.

Throwing weapons tend to do less damage and come in a limited number compared to the other ranged weapons. They require less investment than a bow to wield, the highest requirement usually being a power throw of 3. In addition, you can simultaneously wield a throwing weapon and a shield, which can prove most useful.

So again the best weapon isn't that straightforward. My advice would be:

For the dedicated archer the humble bow can't be beat. While at early levels the crossbow will win out on accuracy and damage, once your character begins to specialise you'll be putting out twice the pain in half the time compared to even the heaviest crossbow. Combine with a horse so you can literally run rings around your enemy and the bow becomes hard to beat. Usually I stick with a single hand weapon, two quivers and a bow though once your skills are good enough it's perfectly possible to do without melee weapons altogether, particularly if your a horse archer.

The crossbow is good in the early levels, since it's inherent accuracy and high damage overcomes the lack of skill in it's use. At high levels however it loses out to the bow in terms of effectiveness. Dedicated crossbowmen are possible, but tend to be sub-optimal, and of course there's the horrendous reloading time to worry about. Where the crossbow really comes into it's own is for an all rounder character, or your traditional sword and board warrior who's looking for a bit of ranged edge. You don't need a massive skill investment to make use of it, the minimum requirements are the same as you would want for your melee weapon and the reload time is generally moot since you don't want to keep up a constant stream of fire. During sieges, it allows you to snipe the enemy bowmen from the parapet while you wait for your siege tower to connect, on the battlefield it lets you soften up the foe before your forces meet. My favourite tactic is to harry the foe - order your men to hold ground while you ride off with a light crossbow and skirt the edges of the enemy while taking potshots. By the time they're close enough for the charge you've softened them up nicely, and of course you can then switch to your main weapons and finish off the remainder.

Throwing weapons are often criminally overlooked, particularly in terms of the shield. While it can be handy if you have that spare slot to grab a set of throwing knives just in case, the real niche for the thrower is defensive. If your the kind of commander who stands steady with his men on a hill while the enemy advance then the jarid or throwing axe is your friend. You can stand in line and unleash a volley of axes as the enemy approach and rely on your shield to deflect any return fire, hopefully disrupting and softening the enemy prior to them reaching your line. Another use is in siege. One of the most common complaints when attacking a castle is the difficulty of climbing the ladder or ramp while the enemy rain arrows on your head and enthusiastic spear jabs try to push you off. You don't need to take this - instead, the smart commander leads his men up the ramp from behind his shield before unleashing a volley of axes at the defenders. With any luck, he can then jump onto a parapet now devoid of a welcoming committee and run amok against the foe cowering behind their ramparts.

Armour

Armour encompasses everything from thick plate to ladies dresses. Armour is thankfully relatively simple to explain; the higher the number the better. The more armour you have, the less damage you will take from a hit. The only complication comes from encumbrance. When moving on foot, the more weight you carry (including your weapons) the slower you will be. It therefore becomes a case of finding the best weight to protection ratio you can. Mounted troops don't suffer this problem, so if you never intend to leave the horse unless it or you die then plate is the way to go. For high athletics skilled infantry then you can probably get away with chain or similar without much worry, for infantry without athletics leather is probably the best way to go.

Modifiers
Each piece of equipment (including horses) can have a modifier attached. Some are negative (cracked, rusty), others positive (bodkin, spirited) and some are both advantage and disadvantage (heavy). The effects of any modifier will be taken into account in the info box when hovering over the item, so don't worry that there's some hidden effect that's going to suprise you. Most are self explanatory (though in case your wondering, heavy grants a small boost to damage at the expense of speed, or in the case of horses a boost to their armour).
 
Combat

Probably the meat and glistening intestines of the game, it's time for the fighting talk. Combat runs as follows : both sides initially deploy men up to the limit of the battle size setting. Once the numbers drop to a sufficiently low quantity any remaining men will spawn as reinforcements (you'll receive a message if it happens). Should there still be men left after the reinforcements, then the battle is broken up into rounds. When there are no more foes left, you've won.

However you manage to get into a scrape the battleground will be generated according to the map terrain you're fighting in. If you are attacking a village or a castle then you'll appear just outside the walls, if you engage in the snow covered regions then you'll be fighting in a snowy wonderland. The first thing to look for is two messages which will scroll their way up the message window. One will tell you the renown you'll gain from the battle should you be victorious. The second lists the battle advantage, which is a mite more complicated.

Battle Advantage

The advantage can be a positive or negative number. If it's positive, then the advantage is with you, if negative then the advantage is with your opponent. There's two things which factor in to the advantage, numbers and the tactics skill. The higher of both you have, the better.
The main effect you'll notice advantage has when fighting a battle is the number of troops each side gets. The side with the advantage will begin with more of their troops on the field; if their advantage is high enough, they may even reduce the number of troops their opponent deploys with. For example, if you lead your party of fifty Nords against four hundred of the Swadian filth you might find yourself fielding only five of your friends when you start the battle. That's the advantage working against you.

Navigating the field of peril
When you initially start the combat you and any friends you have brought along begin on one side of the field. The enemy will usually spawn somewhere on the opposite side of the field. Take note of your starting position; there will be a chest which allows you to access your inventory nearby (handy for replenishing ammo) and any friendly reinforcements will enter from roughly the same area. If you have a horse equipped you will begin battle mounted.
Some quick tips before we begin. You can dismount by looking down at your horse and pressing the use key (a box will pop up saying "dismount"). You can mount a horse (any horse without a rider, assuming you have the minimum ride skill) by walking up to it and pressing use, again you'll get a box pop up saying 'mount'. The mouse scroll wheel switches between any weapons you have equipped (scroll down) or shields (scroll up). You can also switch between first and third person views via the R key, and zoom the view with the shift key. If you're feeling particularly brave, hitting the / key will sheathe your weapons and allow you to take on the enemy with fists alone, though I wouldn't recommend it. (note that you can configure these through the options menu).
The most useful tool is the tactics HUD. You can access this by hitting the backspace key. This screen lists the status of friendly troops along with their current orders (more later), the number of enemy troops and (possibly the most important function) has a minimap showing you the position of yourself, your friends and your foes. You can switch commands for your troops via this menu, however this can also be done with hotkeys which is a lot quicker in the heat of battle. More on that later.
Across the bottom of the screen is a status bar. This lists your current health (keep an eye on this, once it runs out you are KO'd), ammunition remaining if you have a ranged weapon equipped and a graphic depiction of your shield if you have one equipped (the more cracked it is, the worse condition it is). Also note that you can view the character screen by hitting the C key; this allows you to level up as soon as you gain a level in combat.

Putting pointy bits of metal into squishy things that turn red and scream
The basics of combat are taken care of in the tutorial (you did play through it, right?). As a quick refresher, the crosshairs will show you what you are aiming at. If you're using a bow, then these will initially narrow when nock an arrow (to the minimum according to your skills) then slowly begin to widen. For melee weapons those funny yellow arrows you see when an enemy draw close indicate which direction you will swing if you have automatic attack direction enabled.
If you are lucky enough to hit someone (or are unlucky enough to get hit yourself) the message window will tell you how much damage was done (if you have reporting enabled). It will also give you a speed bonus; this basically represents how good the strike was. If the enemy is moving into the attack you will get a higher speed bonus (and thus do more damage) than if they are moving away. If you hit them at the optimum point of the strike with the blade you will get a better bonus than connecting too early or late, or with the wrong part of the weapon.
Horses can deal and take damage too. Riding over an enemy will deal a measure of blunt damage depending on the speed of the horse and it's charge rating. Most of the time this will also result in the enemy being thrown to the floor. Be careful though; each time you hit someone it will slow your steed down, try running over too many people in a row and you'll come to a stop. There's no means of monitoring the health remaining of your steed, instead look for the amount of blood or arrows sticking out of it. It's a fine art, but you'll learn to tell when you're horse is on it's last legs. If that occurs, it may be better to dismount rather than risk it being crippled or killed. Handily, if you forcibly dismount a foe you can always try taking his horse, or if you're particularly callous you might order your troops to dismount and take one of their horses (hey, who's the general around here anyway?).

Ordering your troops
Should you be lucky enough to have brought friends you can issue them commands during the battle. Your units are grouped into either infantry, cavalry or archers depending on their equipment. When you give an order, it will be issued to the last group you selected. Groups are controlled via the number keys, as follows:

1. Everyone - selects your entire army as a whole
2. Infantry - selects troops on foot without a bow or crossbow
3. Archers - selects troops armed with bows or crossbows
4. Cavalry - selects all mounted troops
5. Others - inverts your selection. For example, if you selected infantry (with 1) then hitting others selects everyone except your infantry (so cavalry and archers in this case)

The orders are issued via the function keys (the F buttons) as follows:

F1 - Hold - orders your troops to proceed to your position and hold ground
F2 - Follow - orders your troops to follow you
F3 - Charge - orders your troops to charge towards the foe. Archers will move to within bow shot and begin firing
F4 - Mount - orders your troops to hop on any spare steeds nearby
F5 - Dismount - the opposite of the above
F6 - Advance - orders your troops to begin moving towards the enemy.
F7 - Fall Back - Your troops will begin moving away from the enemy
F8 - Stand Closer - orders your troops to close ranks, useful against cavalry
F9 - Spread Out - orders your troops to put more space between themselves, useful against ranged troops
F11 - Blunt Weapons - orders your troops to use blunt weapons only. Useful if you need to capture rather than kill a foe. Note that troops without a blunt weapon will switch to fists. Issue the order again to switch back to lethal weapons.

(Note you can configure these keys via the options menu)

The difference between a charge and advance is pace. With a charge order, every unit will head towards the enemy as fast as it can. Advance attempts to have your units move at the speed of the slowest member, which is helpful for making sure you hit the enemy as a group if you have units of wildly different speeds in the army. Under both commands archers will attempt to move into bowshot range and open fire.

So issuing a command is as simple as two key presses. If I want to order my infantry to hold ground for example, I hit 2 (infantry) and then F1 (Hold). You'll see the orders you are issuing scroll in the message window. Although simple, the system does allow for some relatively complicated manoeuvres on the field. For example, you might order your archers to hold ground on a hill, your infantry to advance on the enemy and then order your cavalry to follow as you lead them into a charge in the enemies flank.

Tips for getting the most out of your troops
So now you can command your men, what's the best way of making use of them?

Hold is a highly useful order. By default, your men are on charge orders when they spawn. Obviously you don't want them running off and getting killed until you're ready, so a useful tactic is to immediately order everyone to hold position while you reconnoitre the battlefield. Against a low risk foe such as looters and the like you mightn't want to risk your men in battle when you can do the job yourself, in this instance having them hold a short distance away while you engage is handy, in the unlikely event you get into trouble you can issue a charge order and run back for cover behind your troops. If you're army consists primarily of archers it's also useful to have them hold ground on a hill and let the enemy come to you, giving your troops the maximum time to shoot them down before things get a bit more personal.
There's hundreds of suggestions and means which you can employ combinations of commands to get full use of your men. Many are covered elsewhere on the forum, and many will occur to you as you play. You can learn a lot by observing the behaviour of your own troops both with and without orders. It's also useful to make use of the terrain. Hills slow cavalry and allow archers to fire over the heads of troops on lower ground, making them a useful position to hold. Rivers slow down troops who wade through them, again a useful place to prepare a defensive line and catch the enemy at a disadvantage. Ordering troops to follow you gives you a lot of control over where they attack, for cavalrymen this can allow you to lead your own cavalry against the enemies archers while your infantry deal with his rank and file, or to flank or charge the enemy in the rear. Ordering your troops to hold together and bunch up works well against cavalry, since the enemy will usually charge into the middle and be halted due to the weight of numbers; conversely ordering your men to spread out lessens the effect of enemy archers and increases the frontage of the unit when it comes to blocking enemy infantry. Experiment until you find something that suits your play style, and of course you can always ask for tips in the main forum.

The spoils of war
If you are victorious in battle you will have the opportunity to capture any foes which were KO'd, assuming you have sufficient prisoner management skills. You will then be taken to the loot screen where you can help yourself to whatever remains of the deceased's belongings. If you were knocked out, you might have the opportunity to have the remainder of your men finish the fight. If they fail, or if you were the last man standing, you will be captured by your foe. Although you will lose your army and possibly any gold you were carrying you will eventually escape, but until then you'll be forced to wander with your captors.
 
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