The Hightower Skirmishers

Mercenary companies are usually little more than bands of low-level thugs. This one is a much more sophisticated organisation, with its own history, regulations and culture.

Dragon Lord


The origins of the Hightower Skirmishers go back almost a thousand years to the collapse of the Old Empire and the three centuries of lawlessness, now known to historians as the Epoch of Chaos, that followed.

The emergent nations at this time faced constant threats from expansionist neighbours and bandit warlords alike, some lasting but a few brief years before being swallowed up by larger or more aggressive countries.

Located in the Iron Hills, on what is now the southern border of the New Kingdom, the Hightower Barony was coveted for the mineral deposits that gave the Iron Hills their name.

Cash rich from the sale of pig iron but with a relatively low population to recruit from it was Thagdal, the third Baron Hightower, who hit upon the idea of hiring mercenaries to defend his borders and protect the trade routes so vital to the Barony's survival.

It was his son Thagdal II, whose imperial ambitions were forever thwarted at the Battle of Jardeen, who reorganised the Barony's mercenary forces into a disciplined army, thereby creating the Hightower Skirmishers.

Although the Hightower Barony was later subsumed into the Southern Coalition, which was itself eventually conquered by the emergent New Kingdom, the Hightower Skirmishers have survived, essentially unchanged, to this day.

Thagdal II and the Cult of the Founder

The only surviving biography of Thagdal II comes from Lymen the Younger's Histories of the Epoch of Chaos, in particular Lymen's account of the rise and fall of the Hightower Empire, as Lymen grandly (if somewhat inaccurately) describes the Hightower Barony.

According to Lymen's account, Thagdal was a ruthless and bloodthirsty warlord whose mindless brutality and petty cruelty was the cause of his own downfall. However this was written nearly two hundred years after the founding of the New Kingdom and Lymen was in any event more playwright than historian, so it should not be considered an entirely reliable account.

The only other account is a largely verbal history maintained almost exclusively by the Hightower Skirmishers themselves. This somewhat romanticised account paints Thagdal as a brave and noble leader who, while ruthless enough on the field of battle, was always magnanimous in victory and well known for his compassion towards both non-combatants and prisoners of war. There is clearly a heavy dose of hero worship involved here, so this too should not be considered entirely accurate.

Although vastly different these two accounts do agree on one very important detail, namely that it was Thagdal II who formalised his fathers' policy of hiring mercenary soldiers and thereby founded the Hightower Skirmishers.

These days Thagdal is revered as the founding father of the Hightower Skirmishers and all new recruits, regardless of their background, swear personal loyalty to him. It is this that holds the company together as a disciplined and coherent fighting force.

{Note to GM: If your system permits it Thagdal might actually manifest as a kind of guardian spirit / minor godling, providing aid and protection for the company. If your magic systems allows it he might even provide some useful magic. Alternately this might simple be a regimental tradition, something akin to 'saluting the flag'.}

Recruitment Policy

The Hightower Skirmishers, not being part of the King's Army, is free to govern itself pretty much as it likes, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its' recruitment policy.

The Skirmishers will accept any recruit regardless of race, nationality or religious affiliation on the sole condition that he swears personal loyalty to Thagdal II, founding father and guardian spirit of the Skirmishers.

It also, somewhat unusually, accepts recruits form the non-human races. Thus it is possible to find elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins, Halflings, lizard men, and trolls (and any other intelligent creature in the game-world for that matter) standing side-by-side in its ranks. Surprisingly there is very little brawling between these disparate individuals (well no more than in any other group of warriors) and this is largely the result of the personal oath taken by each and every recruit.

Most unusually of all, the Skirmishers accept female recruits on exactly the same terms as male recruits. Although this is not entirely unknown amongst the non-human races it is almost unique in human cultures, making this one of the very few places where women may serve in a front-line combat unit.

Promotion Policy

Promotion policy is equally as idiosyncratic. All recruits are considered equal upon enlistment and everybody starts at the bottom, regardless of background or social rank. Thus the penniless farm boy and the dukes' son both enlist as ordinary troopers. No exceptions. No special cases.

From that point on promotion is strictly on personal merit. It is simply not possible to buy a commission in the Hightower Skirmishers, nor is it possible to inherit one. Instead commissions are awarded only to those who demonstrate courage, initiative and leadership.

In effect, all the officers of the Hightower Skirmishers are 'raised from the ranks'. Although this policy is often scorned by the officer class in the King's Army (recruited, of course, exclusively from the nobility) it does produce extremely good combat officers who not only know exactly how to fight a battle but also have the trust and loyalty of their men.


? Hall of Honour (1 voters / 1 votes)

Hall of Honour

Cheka Man

? Responses (8)-8

Goto Author

They must be better at the officer leavel then many of their opponents.

Goto Author

The recruits appear worthy, they should hold their own in battle. As an aside, they remind me a little of the French Foreign Legion in their purpose.

What I have to ask about though, is the source of their discipline. I find it hard to believe, that a simple oath will keep them in check. Tradition is a good thing, and peer pressure means a lot, but most mercenary groups will have some sort of oath to be sworn on the captain's sword, on the company's battle cry, a god, saint, or whatever.

Now, their history is very likeable. (Were there any captains/leaders of note other than the one king, btw?) The 'equal' start sounds to me like a desperate measure long ago, that became the norm.

One thing, that is missing is the actual military touch. Do they have any special weapons or tactics? Any particular modes of battle they are feared for? (Or known to have problems with?)

Goto Author

This is a very well written sub, and I can imagine the jarring psychological effect that the Skirmishers will have on traditional armies that have never ever encountered women warriors or non-human soldiers on the battle field. However like manfred, I do have a couple of questions. Firstly, does not the oath of allegiance to Thagdad that the company swears, arouse the ire of the kingdom which should probably fear that an inspire captain in the company's ranks may someday declare descent from the founder and decide to wage a bloody war to resurrect the barony? Secondly, in a company where everything is based on merit, how would women soldiers hold their own against male counter-parts that obviously have greater physical strength?

Goto Author

Thanks for the feedback guys.

Some very good questions there

I think they a lot deserve more attention than I can give them right now

Look out for an edit in the New Year

Can address one of manfred's questions though

Thagdal is considered a kind or demi-god / patron saint for the regiment, so the Oath of Loyalty has an almost religious significance

Goto Author

Its the new year, Dragon Lord! :)

Goto Author

Added the mercenary freetext for you

It does seem a little more idealized, slanted towards the Romantic Fantasy than most fantasy units.

I do like most of the write up, and when expanded upon, will be a very piece.

Goto Author

Solid, detailed, but somewhat dry. Perhaps a notable or too, or some conflict would help, but as it stands it feels encyclopedic.

Commented on for Comment Challenge!