Scythed Chariot
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Basic Information

Around the 5th Century BC, Achaemenid Empire employed chariots with 3-foot-long (1-meter) scythed blades protruding from the axles. They proved a very effective way to control the battlefield, plowing bloody furrows through the enemy soldiers. Getting a horse to charge directly at a man is tricky, the horse is likely to balk and try to avoid ramming into someone, but having a big spinning blade off the side means you don't have to trample them directly. A successful chariot charge would chop men in half, and leave huge gaps in the enemy line that could exploited by the rest of your forces. Even a near miss was effective, because targeted troops would break formation to move out of the way of rolling death, and that overall tends to not be great for unit cohesion and morale. Ploughing along the face of an enemy unit is probably the best application if you can manage it.

The idea of a scythed chariot popped up again in other times and places, throughout the Ancient World, from the Sahara to Ireland. Ancient Rome faced these nightmares numerous times from various enemies on different battlefields centuries apart, and found the best answer was usually Caltrops.



Game and Story Use

  • A devastating weapon in mass combat — provided that the enemy doesn't know you've got them available until the battle is met. A well-prepared defender can deploy caltrops, Cheval de frise, stakes, or other defensive measures to prevent the chariot's approach. An especially disciplined army can control their formation to part with minimal losses and reform after the chariot passes through, and before the gaps can be exploited by other elements. The success of the scythed chariot depends on the enemy being crowded close together, and not expecting death itself to crash through their ranks.
  • Can be tricky to use in rules-systems with turn-based combat and really specific reliable movement rates. If the chariot is too maneuverable, it'll be impossible to get out of the way and everyone dies. Tune things too rigidly in the opposite direction and no one gets hit. So it might be a better match for a game with a higher degree of abstraction during combat. So if you're planning to use something like this, you'll want to think about turning rates and handling, and maybe a way to a small random component to movement so that you can't be 100% certain if you will or won't be cut down three turns in advance. If you don't come up with a good solution to maximize tension but avoid a TPK on a single unlucky roll, then you might need to just downgrade the damage from the scythes to something unrealistically survivable.
  • Most of the ideas on the Chariot page are applicable here as well.
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