Warfare amongst the Kinden changed irrevocably after the Apt revolution, and continues to change with each artificer's refinements. In the Lowlands the main model for an army is that of the Ant-kinden, who hold themselves supreme in the field of mass combat (1). The other major Apt model is that of the Wasp Empire's many armies, which have developed to make best use of that kinden's particular Art. The Spiderlands and Commonweal can also muster large armed hosts when the need arises, frequently considerably larger than those of their Apt brethren, Here, then, is a brief guide to war amongst the insect-kinden, how it is carried out, and its future.
The Inapt Model Army: the Warband and the Levy
The traditional Inapt or pre-revolutionary army, as might have been fielded by the Moth-kinden before they were cast down by their slaves, is one of inequality. A minority of the troops on the field were skilled warriors, of whom the bards sang and the poets spoke: their rivalries, duels and clashes were recorded in frankly interminable detail by the wordsmiths of the time, and, of the balance of the soldiers brought to battle, it was only said that these heroes slew their hundreds, and their tens of hundreds.
The chief warriors of the Moth armies were Mantis-kinden, and their way of making war has changed little over the centuries. They form their warbands, loose-knit mobs of however many warriors have the inclination. They move swiftly over the countryside, using all stealth despite their numbers, and they launch sudden ambushes or attacks against an unwary foe, or simply meet a wary one head on in the field. Each Mantis, with all the skill of his or her kind, fights alone: spear, claw, bow, rapier and the spines of their arms are their weapons. They carry the day by speed, ferocity and individual prowess. This is the old way, the way they would still practice, should anyone bring an army against them.
Whilst Mantids prefer to fight alone, in the old days their Moth masters often massively reinforced their (never great) numbers with slave levies: Ants and Beetles of the Lowlands were pressed into service and sent out to be butchered by the champions of the other side. The great hero-warriors were the deciding force in the battle, and the levy were merely used to slow them down.
Even before the revolution this was changing. Although Beetle-kinden were never destined to be great warriors, the Ants had a strong martial tradition, and they began to produce their own arms and armour in readiness for the wars their masters would commit them to: they developed tall shields and forged their own mail and practised their combat manoeuvres, honed to iron discipline by their mind-sharing Art. The reason the Moths prevailed so often against their Inapt rivals, back in the murky Dark Ages, was often that their levy was markedly superior to the rabble fielded by the other side. Although the Mantis-kinden remained unmatchable for individual skill, Moth strategists began to adapt their battle plans to take account of their slaves' greater efficiency. Ironically, of course, those same efficient slaves would soon after overthrow them and banish them to their high, dark places, spelling the end for their way of war.
The Dragonfly Commonweal
The Commonweal armies still fight in much the same way: they have a small core of Dragonfly and Mantis warriors who are warriors from birth, lethally skilled with sword and bow, and they have a mass of levy who, in peacetime, are farmers, artisans and craftsmen and seldom if ever take up a weapon. These levy, mostly Grasshopper and Dragonfly peasants, are generally armed with long spears, mobbed together in great rambling units, and sent towards the enemy, whilst the noble warriors run and fly amongst and over them. This style of war was what the Commonwealers brought to the Twelve-year War when the Wasps invaded their lands. The Commonweal armies fielded were vast, frequently outnumbering the attackers ten to one or more, and it was the sheer size of these forces that stretched the war out so long, rather than their effectiveness.
The Commonweal has one other noteworthy tradition: it is one of the only armies in the known world to make much use of land-based cavalry. Whilst most armies have a small mounted scout force, Dragonfly nobles often charge into combat ahorse, en mass, casting spears and loosing arrows as they go. After the initial contact the riders would take to the air (2), leaving their well-trained mounts to fight on their own behalf whilst they shot arrows from above. Against surprised or ill-disciplined forces, such as the bandit armies they were formerly used to combating, such a solid strike is often a swift battle-winner, but if the enemy holds then disciplined infantry and archers, such as the Wasps possess in abundance, will generally prevail. Although some ancient Dark Age armies also used cavalry, and even chariots, their modern use as a significant part of an army is limited to the Commonweal.
Spider-kinden armies have developed in a very different direction, more varied and decidedly more haphazard. When a Spider-kinden Arista wishes to raise an army, she has at her own disposal those small forces, house guards and the like, that her family keeps on retainer. For substantial forces she must then turn to the various cities that her family has influence in, and to other families that owe her house favours or obligations. Raising an army is a matter of bitter argument, negotiation, promises and threats, and each city provides a different array of troops, depending on the kinden and the local speciality. A Spider-kinden host, therefore, is usually a patchwork affair, with a very broad variety of troop types, none of which are usually present in tactically useful quantities. Supplementing this the Spider Lady-Martial will raid the family coffers to hire mercenary bands, which are never in short supply in the Spiderlands. These can range from the dregs of banditry to highly-skilled elites.
As an example, a Spider-kinden host could see, side-by-side: Spider skirmishers with sword and bow, Scorpion line-breakers with two-handed swords and axes, Fire Ant engineers, Fly-kinden slingers, Ant mercenary heavy infantry, Dragonfly airborne archers, spider-mounted scout cavalry, dragonfly-mounted archers, Beetle-kinden mercenary artificers with armoured automotives and savage jungle Ant warriors along with several hundred of their insect friends.
Spider armies, although disorganised, slow to muster, slow to march, can grow to remarkable sizes, as once a war effort appears to be underway, formerly uncommited Aristoi houses will decide that they have no wish to be left out, and turn up with their own troops whether invited or not. Government and direction of these forces often devolves to a collection of equal-ranked representatives of the major houses present. Despite this picture of waste and inefficiency, Spiders are a clever people, and their history is replete with a number of ingenious strategists. Their ability to out-think and predict their opponents is notable.
The New Model Army: Ant-kinden after the revolution
Ant-kinden are arguably the best soldiers in the world, standing shoulder to shoulder. Their linked minds allow entire armies to react as one, and give commanders the ability to deal with battlefield developments as they happen, with no possibility of lost news, misunderstood commands or confusion. As against this, Ants have two major problems. Firstly, they are not great innovators. They have been masters of war in the Lowlands for long enough that they have settled into particular ways of doing things. As a kinden they lack the imagination and curiosity that marks out their Beetle neighbours. Secondly, their style of fighting has developed to deal with other Ants. Ants fight Ants. Their city-states have been in mutual opposition since anyone can remember, and their warfare is designed to deal with the strengths of their own kind.
The great bulk of any Ant army is heavy infantry: tall shields that interlock easily, reinforced chainmail, short swords. Every third man or so will carry a crossbow, and frequently there will be a rank of crossbowmen behind the shields in a battle-line, shooting bolts into the faces of the enemy shieldmen. The Ant heavy infantryman is a versatile, capable and undaunted soldier, and for five centuries the Ants have done little but tweak their soldiers' armour and weapons.
As well as these great blocks of infantry, the Ants field scouts, either horsemen, Fly-kinden or simply lightly-armoured infantry. As Ant scouts can report back to their officers instantly, their reconnaissance is usually extremely good. There are also units of specialists equipped with more powerful weapons, such as nailbows or repeating crossbows, who can be concentrated or spread throughout the army at need. There are also a few other specially-trained units, such as engineers, extra heavy 'sentinel' infantry and animal-handlers.
Ants are also skilled artillerists, although their actual machines, catapults, ballistae and trebuchet with a few more recent leadshotters, are often not of the most recent designs. The Sarnesh army, which owing to its ties to the Beetles of Collegium is somewhat more advanced in its technology, has begun to field armoured automotives in battle, using them as weapon-carrying battering rams to break enemy lines.
Most Ant armies will also have a limited airborne contingent, usually of armed orthopters or similar flying machines, but to date Ant wars are ground wars, and airpower has played at most a minor role.
The Black and Gold
Only a few Wasp-kinden manifest the mindlink that is universal amonst Ants, and so they have little of that iron and all-encompassing discipline. However, the Art gives Wasps two major advantages over their neighbours. Most of them can fly, and all of them can use the burning energy of their Sting, allowing them to strike at range. Wasp armies use very little heavy infantry, usually just a core of massively-armoured sentinels and some units of armoured spearmen that make up from a tenth to a fifth of the army proper (3). The vast majority of Wasp soldiers are the Light Airborne, warriors armed with sword, sting and sometimes spear, wearing a cuirass of banded mail, and fully capable of attacking from the air. The Wasp army is therefore extremely mobile, with large numbers of troops able to ignore enemy positions and fortifications and attack where they choose. This flexibility and speed is often sufficient in and of itself to defeat slower armies such as earthbound Ant-kinden and, although the Empire has sought out many more modern advantages, this remains their greatest strength.
The Wasps are also more versatile thinkers than Ant-kinden, and quick to make use of new tactics and toys. When they conquer a subject race they take anything of use and incorporate it, either as new technology for their artificers or as new auxillian troops for their armies. Wasps are very good at using the strengths of their slave races to their advantage, usually with very little care over those slaves’ longevity. From the efforts of their own artificers, and from the pillaged designs of their victims, they have also built up a respectable tally of artillery and a crude but efficient mechanised airforce of heliopters to supplement their Airborne and insect-riders.
As their Empire has developed, the Wasps have had to organise on a greater scale than the individual Ant city-state, and this has further strengthened their armies by allowing them to develop specialist corps that recruit and prosper independently of any given force: engineers, slavers, provisioners and merchants, all contribute to the war effort. Least spoken of, but perhaps most significant amongst these is the Rekef, the imperial secret service, whose outlander forces precede the army proper, weakening the enemy by sabotage, rumour-mongering, agitating and assassination.
(1) Their subsequent encounters with the Wasp Empire will put a fair-sized dent in this supremacy.
(2) No horsemen amongst the kinden have yet come up with the idea of stirrups. The Dragonflies use a "castled" saddle with high front and rear to absorb the shock of the charge, and stirrups would prevent them from taking to the air freely from horseback.
(3) Towards a fifth if the army is reinforced with auxillian heavies such as Ant or Bee-kinden warriors.