A siege is, at its most basic, any attempt to attack and possibly capture a settlement, fortress, or structure. The simplest and most common sieges consist of little more than surrounding or else blockading an enemy stronghold and waiting for their supplies to give out before the besiegers supplies are exhausted. Although such easy tactics were widely used in ancient times and continue to be commonly employ today, dracon siege warfare has become far more sophisticated, employing a wide use of weapons, tactics, equipment and spells. Even so, the basics of siege warfare have remained constant.
The casual reader of this manual is more than likely familiar with some pieces of siege equipment already, such as the catapult, battering ram, ballista, scaling ladder, and siege tower. The first piece of equipment can be divided into two main categories: direct fire and indirect fire catapults. Direct fire catapults such as onagers launch a stone straight at a target, allowing for accurate if only moderately-powered projectiles. Indirect fire catapults such as trebuchets propel a stone into the air in a parabolic path, with a flight path looking much like an arch, heaving up and then down. This uses the force of gravity to add power to the stone’s impact, making for much more damage. The downside is the difficulty of aiming the device, as the siege engineer has to determine where the projectile must fall in order to hit the target when it is launched into the air, rather than simply aiming at the target itself. In addition to using stone missiles, catapults sometimes launch incendiary projectiles in order to set enemy fortifications alight and dead animals in order to spread disease.
Similar to a catapult, a siege tower is also designed to overcome walls, but rather than destroying them, the tower is designed to dock with the ramparts and provide a means for soldiers to climb up to the walls. While durable and useful as a platform for catapults and ballistae (detailed below), siege towers are slow, expensive, and easy targets. They usually cannot transverse a moat, and if set on fire, can easily become a death trap for any soldiers within. Somewhat like siege towers, scaling ladders are used to climb up walls. While fast and inexpensive, ladders are fragile, easily pushed down, and given the height of some dracon walls, simply cannot be made tall enough to work. On the whole, ladders are rarely used in attacks on larger fortresses and cities, but still see some use on smaller, older, or less developed fortifications.
A battering ram is somewhat similar to a siege tower in that it is slow and often makes for an easy target, but battering rams have a much lower profile than a tower, usually require fewer dracons to run it, and are normally employed to attack gates or other relatively weak points in the fortifications rather than directly approach the walls. Usually, dracons refer to “battering rams” as a wheeled vehicle made of wood with a ram in the front. Some rams are covered in metal for greater protection, but this comes at a greater cost and usually sacrifices speed.
A ballista is a kind of large crossbow in which a large bolt is wound back and then launched, using the stored energy from the winding and the tension of the rope to propel it forward. Ballistae are useful for precision strikes on enemy fortifications or on large targets such dragons or other giant beasts. The tradeoff is a lack of power. Ballistae are among the weaker siege weapons, as they are little good against a stone walls and no good against the sides of a tower. Usually, the relationship between the power of a siege engine and its accuracy is an inverse one. This can be averted in a few ways, most notably by use of magic.
Magic is typically applied in one of two ways in sieges: in the form of spells and in the shape of magical items and constructs. Spells such as explosive fireballs and long-range lightning bolts are a great and obvious help in a siege, but other uses of magic require a more detailed explanation. Enchanted siege engines and enhancements to otherwise mundane items (such as an ordinary catapult) include weapons such as catapults which launch canisters of magical fire, battering rams alchemically treated to make their wood as hard as steel, or siege towers which fire electricity from magically-infused crystals at anyone who so much as tries to attack them.
Although the heavy use of spells and magical devices in a siege is exciting to contemplate, cost generally inhibits the widespread use of such magic. Not only is it generally very expensive to build enchanted siege engines (due to rare and magically-treated materials and components), but few dracon realms have a large body of wizards and the like who are dedicated to so-called “siege magic.” Even the eight largest dracon cities frequently have to fire siege experts from abroad, Naugoa being the main exception to this, given their unusually rich supply of mages.
All that being said, specialist siege devices and constructs can be extremely useful as well as awe-inspiring, a fact which lead the richest dracon kings enjoy said siege engines in much the same manner as a child might like an elaborate toy. The smallest of these are siege golems, which are dracon-sized humanoid constructs made of stone or metal with either hooked hands or hammers where their hands might be, useful for scaling or smashing through walls. Larger than these golems are a foreign design known as a crusher, a large humanoid construct which stands about four times the size of a dracon. As the name implies, it can smash through walls and gates, usually of the weaker or smaller variety.
Larger that those are magically-animated but otherwise normal siege engines, such as a self-operating battering ram, or a catapult which fires itself (often reloaded by a siege golem). Bigger than even those are juggernauts and colossi: the former are wheeled vehicles with the heavily blessed and enchanted image of a god or gods as its centerpiece, while the latter is simply a gigantic animated statue, commonly made of a material at least as strong as steel. Most powerful of all are the steel dragons, colossal dragon-shaped constructs with the ability to fly, breathe fire, and tear through common stone walls as if they were made of paper.
Defending a city or fortress in the dracon lands is typically easier than trying to take one. Although no fortress is impregnable, a well-built fortification can usually make the cost of a siege too high to be risked, or can delay the besiegers long enough for a relief force to arrive and lift the siege. Apart from the usual moats, gates, walls, and towers, dracons seeking to defend a city from a besieging army have a wide variety of tools at their disposal. For starters, a garrison can employ several of the same weapons and techniques used by the besiegers, including catapults and the like. One kind of catapult frequently found as part of dracon defenses is called a mangonel. even though it is sometimes used by besiegers as well. A mangonel has poorer accuracy than even a trebuchet, but can often be outfitted with a large number of small stones, which are than launched as a spray at attackers, frequently crushing several of them at once. Ballistae are also use by defenders to kill large enemies who might be accompanying an attacking army.
Apart from powerful engines, dracons defenders use many crude but effective means of repelling attacks. Boiling oil and scalding water are frequently employed alongside archers and javelineers, rocks or weighted metal spikes are dropped from murder holes, and both sides use barriers which retard incoming arrow fire. The defenders often have the advantage of hiding behind crenellations, also known as battlements, while attacks usually have to hide behind wheeled wooden barriers. In addition to their missile weapons, defending dracons usually have swords or some other melee weapons, in the chance it should come down to close combat.
Magic can be used to defend cities as well as threaten them. Most city-dwelling dracons are aware of powerful wards which can be cast to protect an urban area from hostile teleportation or other long-range spells, but most dracons do not know of other kinds of magical defenses. One such protection is a transmutation effect on city walls, turning the stone into metal. Other defensive spells include, but are by no means limited to: walls of towering flames which may ring the city defenses, clouds of acid or poison, animated statues which activate when a certain number of enemies set foot on them (to achieve the greatest possible surprise), runes which, when stepped on or crossed, hit enemies with fire, lighting, acid, frost, or other forms of harmful magical effect, and force fields which may stop enemies from moving or even casting spells into the city.
Healers are used on both sides of a siege, but they are more important for the defenders, who are commonly outnumbered and cannot withstand as many losses. Disease also tends to spread more rapidly among the tighter confines that the besieged are trapped in. Even more important then preventing disease is the need to stockpile food. This obviously applies to the defenders, but the attackers must also bring much food, given the relative lack of rich farms in the dracon lands to pillage. While the dracon lands grow much food, these farms tend to be located along rivers or at oases which may be some distance from a major city or other target of a siege. As a result, a besieging army may find it hard to forage food from the nearby countryside, thus necessitating an independent food supply.
Should the walls be penetrated, the fighting can quickly shift in favor of the attackers, who can then concentrate their assault on the breached area. One way the defenders may be able to compensate for this is by building multiple lines of walls. This is an expensive option but often a very useful one, for if one line falls, the defenders who were guarding the longer, outer wall can withdraw to an inner line, reinforcing the defenders of the line behind them as the fall back. This defense in depth makes the invaders’ task harder as they advance, forcing them to stretch themselves thinner even as the defenders can concentrate their forces in a smaller area.
As siege technology and magic has improved, the means by which to resist a siege have improved with them. Both sides currently employ powerful engines, spells, and constructs. Yet for all of the elaborate equipment and tactics, most sieges are still won by whichever side has the most supplies, the best commanders, and a reasonable ratio of soldiers to defenses. As a rule of thumb, it takes about four soldiers to besiege a fort for every one the fort has within, a ratio which takes support staff such as medics and messengers into account. In the end, sieges are a matter of patience and planning, and no amount of weaponry or magic is likely to change that.
-- From the war manual Codex Draconensis.