I just saw a scene where in in a melee fight, 5 people ran into about 50 enemies in a hall about big enough to hold the 5 side by side. The 5 ran for a big open room to fight, where the 50 could all fit. Was that a horrible idea?

Extremely. Hilariously, in fact. It let the choreographers
go nuts, and probably looked amazing, but it’s suicidal.

I’m going to repurpose some terminology to explain this, but
it gets at the basic problem with things like 1v10 fights.

The basic idea with mass melee combat is that the size of
your forces doesn’t really matter. It’s relevant, but it’s not the most important
consideration when you’re trying to determine a winner. The major question is
how much of your infantry can engage their foes.

If you have fifty combatants, but only five can actually
fight at any given moment, the ones behind them are just taking up space. Now,
should one of the five that’s fighting suffer an injury or die, they can be
replaced by a fresh fighter. But the other forty-five are just waiting for an
opportunity to participate.

When we talk about the difficulty in one martial artist
going toe to toe with multiple fighters, the issue is when all of those combatants
can engage the martial artist at once. What you’ll see in well choreographed
fights are martial artists who move in ways that cause their foes to interfere
with each other’s attacks, or to control their environment so that only one or
two opponents can actually attack them. The reality is, this is doable, but extraordinarily
difficult and taxing.

Limiting the number of opponents who can attack you is
probably the single most effective way to counter superior numbers.

Probably the most famous example of how this can work is The
Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC, where 7,000 Greeks held for seven days against the
mass of the Persian army (the numbers are unclear, though modern estimates put
their forces in excess of 100k soldiers), before they were flanked and

It was the same basic idea. Find controllable chokepoint,
and force your foes to come to you, where their superior numbers are only
useful to replenish their front line, at that point it becomes about attrition,
rather than a decisive victory.

This is also why holding doorways can be such an effective defensive
tactic. It’s much easier for a small force to hold against a much larger
assaulting force, if only one or two of the attackers can actually engage the
defenders at any time.

Now, not all of this holds true when you’re dealing with
firearms, or other ranged weapons. These do allow for infantry to engage, while
they hold back whittling down the opposition’s reserves, or in extreme cases,
they simply allow the larger force to obliterate the smaller one without
resorting to melee at all.

In fact, this is part of why early gunpowder warfare was so
lethal. Traditional unit formations designed to maximize melee effectiveness
completely disintegrated under coordinated fire.

This also starts to fall apart when you’re dealing with
characters who have outright superpowers. Being superhumanly fast will allow
you to juggle more engaged enemies at once. Being superhumanly resilient to
damage means that you can afford to get sloppy and take some hits, significantly
reducing the threat from engaged foes. A character who’s superpower simply
makes them better at inflicting harm, like superstrength, or superpower tier
martial arts, doesn’t actually let them deal with multiple foes. It allows them
to deplete their opponent’s reserves faster, but without something to mitigate
the incoming harm, they’d still need to work carefully.

Going from a hallway, where your characters can, quite
literally, hold the line, to a room where they can be surrounded and beaten to
death is just bad tactics. I don’t recommend it. Depending on the architecture,
holding the door might have been a good option as well.


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