Asymmetric warfare is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot, but isn't really well understood by most of the folks who use it. At its simplest, it refers to a conflict in which the relative strength of the belligerent powers is wildly mismatched, or less commonly, one in which their overall strategies or tactics are vastly different.
Historically, a severe mismatch is usually won by the larger, more well equipped force, though that has changed over the last fifty years or so. There were some exceptions, the American Revolution being a key one, but until Vietnam, it was sort of a given that the side with the biggest and best military won the conflict.
In order for the smaller side to have a chance, it becomes necessary for them to adopt unconventional strategies and tactics that allow them to face the opposition on favorable terms. Thus, the term asymmetric warfare has also come to represent a conflict in which those unconventional strategies and tactics come into play, which is super annoying. Precision of language, people!
To the best of my knowledge, Chaos hasn't seen much in the way of asymmetrical conflicts. Though, on paper at least, several conflicts have featured factions with massive differences in size of territory, invasions are usually symmetrical by design, with neither side willing to cede a significant advantage in terms of troop counts or fleet meterage to the other.
This is a shame, because asymmetric warfare is a blast to write. Sometimes, literally. I doubt anyone is going to give up the advantages offered by parity in invasions anytime soon, but there's lots of potential for stories in dominions, rebellions, skirmishes, and faction threads. And, hell, maybe someone will get bored and try for an asymmetrical invasion. Stranger things have happened, after all. (Twice on Netflix.)
In order for the smaller side to make up for their lack of numbers, there are three ways in which they can close the gap:
  • Superior Quality: Having a smaller force isn't necessarily a detriment if the troops you do have are better trained, equipped, and/or disciplined.
  • Homefield Advantage: Knowledge of the local environment, not to mention familiarity with the civilian populations, can be a huge advantage if used correctly. Plus, people fighting for their home are almost always more motivated than any foreign invaders.
  • Fighting Dirty: Only cheaters prosper. There are a number of ways to fight dirty, with varying degrees of morality attached.
We're going to take a nice, long look at all three factors, and discuss some ways they might be implemented on Chaos.

Superior Quality
It's rare for one side or another to have a distinct technological advantage on Chaos, and as we discussed in the bit about training, the quality of writer is far more important than the rating of your NPC forces.
Nonetheless, historically, there have been several instances in which technology, training, and discipline have paid dividends for the smaller side. Here are a few of the more notable ones.
For centuries, the Greek Hoplites (8th Century BC- apprx 3rd Century BC) were the reigning champions of land warfare in the civilized world. Their heavy armor and nigh impenetrable phalanx formations allowed them to face much larger, less disciplined forces. Though battles between the Greek city states were, arguably, ritualized to the point of a particularly deadly bloodsport, the Hoplites proved brutally effective against the Persians on a number of occasions, most notably the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). It's worth noting that superior equipment was only part of the equation. The phalanx required tremendous discipline to be effective, and they had a knack for using the land to their advantage as well.
The Battle of Crécy (1346) saw a relatively small force of English demolish a much larger French army thanks to the use of the English Longbow. At the time, the preferred ranged weapon among Continental armies was the crossbow, thanks to its superior stopping power and relative ease of use. The longbow, on the other hand, could be fired much more rapidly, and was more accurate out to greater ranges. The English fielded the longbow in numbers and utterly annihilated the French on the field in one of the most lopsided victories of the Hundred Years War.
The Battle of Rorke's Drift (1879) saw a force of a little more than 150 British soldiers hold out against an assault by 3,000 to 4,000 Zulu warriors, thanks in no small part to the tremendous advantage their held in firepower. Though the Zulus occasionally used firearms, they were mostly considered to be a coward's weapon, and the few they had tended to be of extremely poor quality, matched by extremely poor marksmanship. The Brits, meanwhile, did not share that problem. They had the state of the art (for 1879) Martini-Henry rifles, and what's more, they knew how to use them. It's fair to say that the British had a number of other factors going for them, but it's hard to deny that their superior weaponry and marksmanship played a key role in their survival.
From here on out, as industrialization became more common, instances of a smaller but better prepared force winning out become more and more rare. From the 20th century onwards, mismatches typically favor the better equipped side, as it became harder and harder for them to be pinned down by a larger but less well equipped force. There may be instances I'm missing, but to be fair, I'm drunk and Google isn't being forthcoming. You get the idea, I'm sure.
On Chaos, this sort of technological overmatch should be a writer's wet dream. Anyone who wants to try something new should really give the Battle of Rorke's Drift a closer look.
Imagine, if you will, a remote outpost on a planet with a proud indigenous population. They take offense to you being there, and while they know you've got superior firepower, they hope to overwhelm you with sheer numbers. Now you and a group of intrepid fighters must hold out against wave after wave until reinforcements arrive.
BAM! Instant classic dominion scenario. You can't tell me that's not more fun than trying to speed post randomly walking around a city, trying to fill out the post count.
Homefield Advantage:
In many ways, the Vietnam War doesn't meet the technical requirements for an asymmetric conflict. It was such a colossal charlie foxtrot that even trying to clearly identify who exactly was fighting over what in any given battle can be difficult.
There was the US, sure, and the NVA and Viet Cong, but there were also several tribal groups that had a stake in it one way or another, the ARVN who fought alongside the US, Southern Vietnamese who supported the Communists, and so on and so forth. Trying to pin down who did what to whom for how many jelly beans is a task that historians will be trying to sort out for decades.
So it's really hard to say that it was a true asymmetrical conflict. The US had a technological advantage, except for when they didn't. The NVA had a numerical advantage, except for when they didn't. The Viet Cong operated as a guerrilla force, except for when they didn't.
Nonetheless, the Vietnam War codified what it means to conduct asymmetric war on the modern battlefield.
The Viet Cong in particular were notorious for making effective use of the terrain. Most of the US forces were unfamiliar with the jungle, a fact that the VC were able to turn to their advantage. Mines, booby traps, and ambushes were common. They were able to get up close and personal with the US troops, "grabbing them by the belt," as they called it, which negated the US's artillery and airstrike capabilities.
They were also reasonably effective in turning rural discontent with the South Vietnamese government and the occupying forces into a recruiting tool. It's hard to say exactly how much assistance they received from the South Vietnamese farmers and villagers, but it's likely the support was substantial.
But despite the fact that they eventually "won", I would argue that their example isn't one that most factions on Chaos should seek to follow. For starters, while the US did eventually leave Vietnam, it's safe to say that their victory came at a horrendous cost: 1.1 million NVA and VC dead in exchange for 58,220 US killed, as many as 250,000 ARVN, and some 2 million civilian deaths on both sides.
Simply put, they threw bodies at the problem until the US defeated itself through internal strife.
If you want a better example of the homefield advantage being used effectively, you need look no further than within the history of the United States.
At the start of the American Revolution, the British Army was without a doubt one of the most powerful on the planet. The Continental Army wasn't incompetent by any means, at least not on the level of individual soldiers, but they were plagued by a number of issues, ranging from political infighting among upper leadership to poor logistical support.
On top of that, the colonies themselves were deeply divided on the issue of the Revolution. Breaking away from Britain certainly benefited the upper middle class and the wealthy, but the average farmer couldn't have given less of a crap if they had their colons sewed shut.
Covering the whole width and breadth of the war here would take ages, and there were a number of different factors that contributed to the eventual defeat of the British. For example, if you really think about it, the Revolution was the first World War, as everyone who had a case of the ass with the Brits used it as an excuse to pick fights all over the planet. There was fighting in Europe, South America, the Caribbean, even India. If the Brits had been able to focus their full attention on pacifying the American Colonies, things might have turned out much differently.
The Colonists were able to consistently do two things that made life hell for the Brits: they were able to use propaganda to undermine popular support, and they were able to raise partisan militias to supplement their standing army.
All throughout the Revolution, these militias were able to annoy the Brits to no end. Though their reputation in pitched battles was poor (it was more or less assumed that they would cut and run in the face of any real attack), they often harassed and harried the British, making use of both terrain and buildings to snipe at British columns.
In Cornwallis's Southern Campaign, the harassment got so bad that he was completely pushed out of Charlotte, NC by local militiamen. He later went on to describe Charlotte as a "hornet's nest of rebellion," a moniker that the state takes a great deal of pride in. The North Carolina Army National Guard's 60th Troop Command features a hornet's nest on the unit patch to this day.
The opening years of the American Civil war saw the homefield advantage take on a different form. Though the war was fought mostly by conventional means, the North was far more populous, and had a greater industrial capacity, whereas the South was largely rural and relied on agriculture for the majority of its economy.
From the beginning, the South was at a severe disadvantage. Though they had the premier officer of the presecession United States Army at their head, the North had just about every advantage save one: for much of the first half of the war, they were invading the South.
Plagued by incompetent and overly timid generals, the North's campaign was repeatedly stymied, until attrition and a series of monumental screw-ups on behalf of the South set the stage for their later success.
In addition to the North's inability to field a competent commander, much of the South's early success in the field can be attributed to the fact that the rank and file soldiers of the Confederacy were fighting to defend their homes against invaders. They couldn't care less about slavery or politics. All they wanted to do was protect their families and their lands from what they saw as the Northern invaders, and they fought ferociously to do so.
They were likely never going to win the war. Between the North's naval blockade and their own relatively small population and industrial base, coupled with a lack of foreign sponsorship that might have made up for that, they were screwed from the start. But what should have been a relatively quick campaign to crush the Confederacy turned into a long and bloody war, which still holds the record for the single most casualties suffered by Americans in a single battle. And a lot of that is owed to the simple tenacity of men fighting to protect their homes.
So where does this leave you?
Defenders in an invasion scenario can easily benefit from the homefield advantage, so long as they're willing to put in the work beforehand. Faction threads devoted to training militias on border planets are a good place to start.
As we discussed in the Endor analysis, there's a lot to be gained from training the locals into an effective fighting force.
Indigenous forces familiar with the terrain will always have an advantage over foreign invaders when it comes to living off the land and, for that matter, fighting over it. While it's true that a city slicker whose first experience with the wilderness is in training might not have that much of a leg up, he's at least used to the local gravity, and can benefit from the experience of the folks who do know the land.
Meanwhile, an invading force has to hope they can either recruit or conscript locals into serving as guides.
Establishing indigenous militias also gives you a leg up in the propaganda war. Training and equipping them to fight for and defend their own homes makes a pretty good case for your government being all kinds of benevolent, especially if you're not conscripting them to fight in wars that they've got no stake in.
If the local militias are on your side, you've already got a lock on just about everyone capable and willing to fight who isn't in the active army. If the invaders come in and suddenly claim to have raised a militia of their own, you've got a pretty good case for telling them to go pound sand.
On top of that, when the invasion does kick off, they'll be fighting for their homes and their families, and that psychological boost will be a huge boon. You can realistically portray them fighting harder, taking greater chances, and in general going all out to try to push the invaders off their world. Desperation can also lead them to fight dirty, which brings us to our next section.
Fighting Dirty
The single greatest advantage available to the smaller force in asymmetric warfare is the ability to fight dirty.
In general, larger, more well established forces are bound by rules and doctrines, and behave in fairly predictable ways. In any engagement, they seek to bring the full weight of their advantages to bear, and that can be devastating for anyone they face in a straight up fight.
The answer, then is not to engage them in a straight up fight. There are a number of ways to do this, of varying degrees of legality and morality.
Once again, we're to the point where it's tempting to bring up Vietnam as an example. The NVA and VC did, after all, successfully annoy the US into leaving their country, but their tactics basically amounted to closing in with the US to the point where they couldn't call in air strikes and artillery, and they took horrendous losses in doing so.
Guys. Listen. If your basic plan involves charging into the teeth of an enemy who's better armed, better trained, and has plenty of ways to mess your face up even without the benefit of airstrikes or artillery, you need to rethink your plan. That is not a plan, that is suicide. It only "worked" for them after a decade of fighting and because of the nearly unique political climate in the US.
You can't always count on your opponents growing a crop of hippies at the most convenient possible time for you.
That said, if your back is up against the wall and your opponents do suddenly grow a crop of hippies, by all means, take advantage of it.
The trouble with democratically elected governments is that they're controlled, in large part, by the whims of the electorate. In most cases, it will be extremely hard for a government elected ostensibly by the people for the people to carry out a protracted and costly war on foreign soil while maintaining enough popular support to stay in power.
This can very easily work to the advantage of the disadvantaged force, especially if they're being occupied. How, you ask? Well, most militaries are really, really bad at public relations in foreign lands. They'll try, sure, but a skilled propagandist can take even the best goodwill efforts and distort it.
What's more, tactics designed to provoke the enemy into overreacting are astoundingly easy.
One typically doesn't associate the name Gandhi with warfare, but from a military standpoint, his resistance movement against the British occupation of India was, in fact, an insurgency.
He pioneered the use of nonviolent protest as a means of provoking the British into overreacting. It's safe to say that most of the world couldn't give a damn about India, or the plight of the locals who chaffed under the heavyhanded British occupation when Gandhi first arrived. Each and every time the Brits beat, arrested, or flat out shot nonviolent protesters, they effectively fed Gandhi's resistance movement all the ammunition they needed to defeat them in the court of public opinion.
It took some time, yes, but ultimately, Gandhi accomplished his goal with surprisingly little loss of life.
Admittedly, that's a difficult approach to pull off on Chaos. Purely Rebellion or Dominion stuff. As fun as the idea of a nonviolent invasion might be, the chances of it actually happening are roughly the same as the chances of me finishing this lecture in the next five hundred words. (Hint: not good.)
On the complete other end of the scale, we have, well, terrorism.
Look, there's no nice way to put it. If your plan involves blowing up markets and restaurants full of civilians, you are a terrorist. And, I mean this in the nicest way possible, if every terrorist on the planet, regardless of race, ideology, or agenda, were to suddenly drown in a mixture of camel jizz and liquid baby poop, I'd consider that justice.
Leaving aside the moral implications, terrorism generally isn't an effective way of enacting the political change that one so desires. Bombings, assassinations, and mass murder are an effective way of generating fear in the short term, and they can be used to topple a government if you manage to drum up dissatisfaction with the current regime's inability to handle the situation. However, the regime that replaces them as often as not rises to power on the promise of cracking down on the terrorist threat, and in order to hold power, they have to mean it.
Which, in short, means you're screwed in the long run.
Can that make for effective RP? Yes. There are plenty of folks willing to play the morally repugnant bad guy, and there aren't many ways to get more morally repugnant than that. But I'd recommend against it. If you need more of a reason why, just check out Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Both have, arguably, made a name for themselves in the world by using terrorist tactics. ISIS had pretensions of being an actual state for a hot minute, but as it turns out, pissing off the entire civilized world is not a viable way to gain legitimacy. Though remnants are holding on, nearly all of the territory they initially acquired has been reclaimed, and it's estimated that less than a thousand of them remain. Al Qaeda has had a bit better luck, but it's hard to argue that they're in a better position now than before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
That's not to say that striking fear into the heart of your enemy can't be an effective tactic, but you're generally better off sticking to military targets. The voting public is willing to accept that soldiers die, after all, even if the ones doing the dying are their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, or friends. Politicians can admit a military defeat far more easily than they can give into demands of terrorists and still hope to keep their jobs and fortunes.
The best, relatively modern example of this sort of dirty fighting that I was able to find was the Winter War (1939-1940), which saw a large mechanized Russian force invading Finland.
Whether or not the Russians intended to take over all of Finland and turn it into a Communist puppet state is a matter for debate, but what is clear is that they demanded large land concessions, and when the Fins refused to give in, they invaded.
On paper, they should have overrun the Finns in a manner of days or, at most, weeks. They dramatically outnumbered them in every meaningful way. They had more troops, more planes, more armor, and being Russians, they should have been prepared for a fight in the winter.
What they weren't prepared for was the fact that the Finns had no intention of making a fair fight of things.
The Soviet armor was largely forced to use roads to travel through the heavily wooded country, and the roads were narrow enough to prevent any real sort of movement. The Finns, meanwhile, were excellent cross country skiers, and were able to move freely through the woods, largely unseen. They cut the Russian columns into small, bite sized chunks, and systematically destroyed them.
When circumstances prevented the use of guerrilla tactics, the Finns found themselves up against a much larger Russian force that was demoralized and poorly led, thanks to Stalin's habit of purging anyone he saw as a potential threat. They routinely repelled Russian incursions, turning the whole situation into one massive embarrassment for the Communists.
Eventually, sheer numbers were able to force the Finns into an unfavorable position. Though their tactics were undoubtedly effective, they simply weren't prepared for a long, protracted war. So when the Russians finally did demonstrate willingness to negotiate a treaty, they made large territorial and economic concessions. It was a pretty harsh blow, sure, but they retained the majority of their territory, and more importantly, their sovereignty.
Russia, meanwhile, came out looking so weak that Hitler decided to invade them after all. Which, of course, directly contributed to the fall of the Third Reich. Finland earned a reputation for being a nation not to be messed with, which undoubtedly helped them out later on down the line.
Emulating the Finns is no mean feat. It's unlikely that any invading force is going to be as poorly led as the Russians, and the fact that their morale was in the crapper also worked in Finland's favor.
But that's okay, because there's a greater lesson here. If you're up against a much larger force, remember that you don't have to take on the whole army all at once.
Large armies tend to be slow, cumbersome things. A smaller force can be fast and agile, able to strike when least expected and fade away into the ether. Make use of the terrain to isolate the enemy formations into smaller, bite sized chunks, and only strike when the conditions are in your favor.
You have the advantage of being able to pick where you want to fight, so long as you remain mobile. If the enemy tries to pin you down, there's no shame in running. You might even be able to use a well coordinated retreat as a means of luring your opponents into overextending themselves, which brings us back to the whole bite sized chunks thing.
Keep in mind, however, that time is not on your side. The longer you stand and fight, the more time they have to bring reinforcements to bear. It can be very tempting to try to completely eliminate the target, but unless you can do so in an expedient manner, your best bet is to hit, inflict as many casualties as you can as quickly as you can, and withdraw while they're still reeling.
If you do get pinned down, remember that these are men and women fighting to defend their homes. You can and should portray them as fighting until their last dying breaths, doing everything they can to inflict as much damage as possible. Though you can ill afford to lose an entire unit, you can turn that loss into a propaganda win. There's a reason "Remember the Alamo" is still a thing. Use the loss to rally your forces and recruit more fighters from the local population.
So that just about does it for this one. I know it was long, took me over a week to write the damn thing. But hopefully there's some useful information in here. As always, the comments section is open, but don't be an ass. Thanks for reading.
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