The basic role and design of a Rider and Hippogryph is a long range, quick deployment aerial superiority and interceptor fighter and scout. A light and mobile unit able to provide ranged air support and escort to larger heavier artillery and ground troops, while being equipped enough to provide a meaningful threat to enemy air and ground troops.
An added benefit is the detachment of Rider from Hippogryph. Allowing the pair to work independently of one another to accomplish ground related tasks and missions.
1 Hippogryph is a Rider. 2 Riders form a Flight. 4 Flights (8 Riders) form a Wing. 6 Wings (48 Riders) form a Fleet. 4 Fleets (192 Riders) form an Aerie.
Each Wing has a Captain who reports to a Fleet Captain. Each Fleet Captain reports to an Aerie Commander. Each Aerie Commander reports to a Sentinel Commander in charge of a large region or battlefront.
A single Aerie could be assigned to cover multiple regions or battlefronts depending on the needs of troops and geographic requirements. The largest recorded number of active Aeries was five, during the War of the Shifting Sands. An overwhelming number of 960 Riders and Hippogryphs.
While a full Aerie may be dispatched to assist Sentinel group troops, it would be rare to see the entirety of the group participate in a single engagement. Often the demand of Riders, as well as the distance between fronts is too great to station the whole of an Aerie in a single location of the region.
This begins the breakdown from Aerie to Fleet. By dividing up the region based on needs, demands and location, the four Fleets that comprise an Aerie can be better established in their respective quadrants to respond to the tactical demands placed upon them.
Further breakdown, enables Wings to patrol and safeguard the areas delegated to a single Fleet. If space and numbers allow it, a single Wing can be assigned a tactical response unit role rather than a designated patrol pattern. This unit would be responsible for quick assessments of battles, allowing them rapid response to assist, direct and reinforce failing or retreating ground forces. This unit should be tasked with Search and Rescue operations that would otherwise take time and resources from patrol assigned Wings. Situation allowing, these units can be designated to a more combat focused orientation as well. For example: Swift attacks against smaller outposts, unprotected caravans, exposed leaders or air support to a counter-attack / forward advancing unit.
The process of becoming a Rider is dependent on the individual's training and background. The division of forces is broken into two categories, the Combat Rider and Logistical Rider. While a Combat Rider may be tasked with the duties of a Logistical one, the reverse is ill advised.
Combat Riders are expected to have a level of formal Sentinel training; these mainly consist of archery, combat maneuvers, navigational, scouting, survival and tactical skills, among others acquired and learnt. Time spent in those areas and training of natural skills associated with respected ground forces. The most common path being Scout to Archer to Huntress. Other routes include Sailors, Wardens and varying ground units.
The main tasking of a Combat Rider:
Patrolling and safeguarding their corresponding Wing's area of responsibility
Assisting local population with defense and wildlife problems
Providing air cover and support to Sentinel ground forces
Aeronautical scouting and cartography
Tasks deemed required by ranking officers
Logistical Riders are those considered to have no formal training, combat or otherwise. These are the locals to an area or those with limited training in flight, but little to no combat training. Conscription is not permitted when filling ranks. Combat Riders will be substituted when these types of Riders are in short supply. The number of Logistical Riders does not reflect a Wing's strength. Though it is advised that each not have more than three at any given time.
The main tasking of a Logistical Rider:
Providing fast message delivery to forward commanders and Wings.
Rapid movement of lightweight grade supplies
Medical transportation for injured individuals
Scouting and cartography
Note - Logistical Riders are not considered part of Sentinel forces, unless they take an Oath of Duty. It is advised to use Logistical Riders who have not taken an Oath sparingly.
Once a Rider begins their training they are granted a chance with their respective Hippogryph. This is a bit of a misnomer, as the Rider is not given a Hippogryph or selected one from a line up. This process is known as Bonding. The individual Rider is given an audience with a Nook of Hippogryphs, consisting of ten to fifteen birds at a time.
During the Bonding the Rider attempts to form a connection with a single Hippogryph of the Nook. A deep, sacred understanding is formed between Rider and Hippogryph. A Rider does not simply pick a mount, nor does the Hippogryph allow a passenger. The pair select one another, forming a companionship of trust, loyalty and respect.
These things alone however are not enough to complete the full tasks required of the pair. The Rider and Hippogryph must be in absolute synchronization with one another.
The bond that is shared is empathetic, second nature. Each feels the other's actions and movements, not simply react or anticipate. The two move as a single mind. At times the connection can grow deep enough that emotions can be shared and felt, great sadness or happiness for example. When Rider and Hippogryph establish a Bond it is for life.
From this point in their training on, they are connected. Nearly every task will be spent with one other.
Training begins with simple flight principles and practices to grow the pair's Bond. Advancing into basic aerial maneuvers, basic air-to-ground and aerial combat skills, and lastly into formation flying. From this point the training of the pair accelerates quickly. Advanced versions of each of the previously stated are included, with more emphasis on teamwork within Flights and Wings. Additionally nature survival tactics, as well as field maintenance, is incorporated. It is expected that by this level of training each Rider is capable of tending for their weapons and equipment without a stable and in the field. Craftsmanship of arrows, repairs of gear and weapons ensures that a Rider may stay in the field longer and be redeployed more rapidly.
Navigational, night operations and rapid deployments are then introduced. High speed maneuvers and attacks against air-to-ground and aerial targets. Combat flying maneuvers with a further emphasis on teamwork including: joint takedown and attacks, defensive posturing and wingmate tactics, combat dismounts and takeoffs. This further expands into combination works with ground forces providing the pair with the knowledge to aid, assist and cover land based units from both aerial and enemy ground.
The final legs of training are foul weather operations and navigation. These tasks are performed solo as well as with a wingmate.
A Rider’s standard weapon is a heavy recurve bow. The draw strength on these weapons is tuned to a higher level to counteract the effects of flight. This weapon allows the wielder access to multiple angles of attack, while being able to shift and maneuver while in flight, without sacrificing stopping power for size and weight. It is advised that the Rider modify their bows as they see fit to their style of ranged combat. Note - As this is a standardization, some Fleets have been known to swap out their bows for other variations of ranged weaponry to better suit the needs of the region and environment. This also includes individual Riders preference and ability.
Riders are given the same discretion to customize and change their armor as they are with their weapons, this is in order to counter the effects of environment and the Flight needs as they see fit. This translates to the Hippogryph as well, allowing customization of armaments and equipment for both Rider and Hippogryph. It is recommended to stay lightweight and mobile to reduce the burden on one’s Hippogryph (and self) in flight to ensure speed and maneuverability. Durability, repair times and weight, coupled with wind resistances are also heavy considerations while choosing an armor type as these all have varying effects on a Rider’s performance. There are a few universal symbols amongst all Flights and Wings to symbolize rank and status standardization.
- Hippogryph plumage along the shoulder guard of the ranking officer’s draw arm. A right handed archer would have a shoulder guard adorned and decorated on their left shoulder for example. The color is often appropriate to the Hippogryph’s patterns the Rider is Bonded to. The colors range based on location of origin. This plumage may also be found on a harsh weather cloak in the same locations.
- Plumage on the bow of any indication is a symbol of veterancy amongst Riders. Having served for multiple years or multiple campaigns. The more feathers the longer the service or greater the action and deed. This is not a symbol of rank, more of respect.
- Rider’s boots are often lined with a strengthened layer of worked metal to provide a small level of protection from below, but to help counter the impact of combat landings and take offs. This layer of metal often extends upwards to protect the knees of the Rider as well. This works to add protection to the flanks of the Hippogryph.
Rider’s saddles often are the most visibly different piece of equipment for all variations of Flights and Wings. This is more a Rider and Hippogryph preference for comfort and utility. Though each Rider may choose to utilize a different saddle, the standard leather and cloth training saddle is more commonly seen than not. A simple design used for learning and adjusting to the difficulties of flight. It is a steadfast item in a Rider’s equipment. The saddle has been changed and modified by individual Riders for their own use and preference.
- Equipped with a simple two connector harness system that stems from either side of the rear section of the saddle. These connectors attach easily to the Rider’s belt making being knocked or thrown off more difficult. In addition to this, it also allows easier access when transporting goods, injured personnel or a passenger. As it provides a faster load and unload process, but also secure transportation. Further, the connection is linked to the stirrups. When there is a weight pushing down against the device, the connectors are allowed to slack, allowing the user to pivot and move more freely without falling. When there is a loss of pushing force, often felt in inverted or acrobatic flight when gravity attempts to pull the Rider off the saddle, the connectors cinch, securing the connected to the saddle. This can be overridden by adjusting the Rider’s footing in the stirrups or through the saddle horn itself. It should be noted that most Veteran Riders choose not to use these connectors for their own varied reasons.
- A storage device for the Rider's bow is often kept on the Rider's bow arm side in the form of a sling or a pouch. Made of the same materials as the saddle, it is both weather resistant and durable, while remaining lightweight. Easily accessible for both drawing or stowing on the fly. A quiver is often kept on the opposite side, but while the bow storage can be placed on the front or rear sides of the saddle, the quiver is generally located more on the center side near the Rider's leg or hip and angled at a slant with the neck towards the Rider. In order to prevent loss of arrows or one's bow during inverted or acrobatic flight each storage device comes with a small locking mechanism. The upper limb of the bow connects with the clamp creating a stationary point for the bow to rest. This is disabled by a single firm pull. This same system works for the quiver, attaching to the shaft just below the fletchings.
Though there are various and often dozens of customization options for saddle configuration all of them are limited by two factors: weight and task.
- A heavier weight affects speed, distance covered, longer take offs and landings, less maneuverability, etc. Whereas a lighter weight means less available supplies, equipment, gear and armaments.
- Tasks often falls into three categories
Combat : Higher ammunition or armor demands
Travel : Further distance demands and supplies
Transportation: Initial weight and distance demands
In some cases, all three tasks are expected and must be prepared for accordingly. This puts a further demand on a Rider's ability to operate outside a stable and provide for themselves and Hippogryph.
Something of note that is becoming less and less seen within Rider ranks is the addition of melee weapons for aerial combat purposes. This includes weapons such as lances and spears. These types of weapons are often cumbersome, over-sized, ineffective and heavily weighted. Further complications of storage, versatility and reduced mobility have arisen from use of such weapons. More complications are presented when the Rider, equipped with a melee type weapon, is tasked with combating hostile ground forces. This forces the Rider and Hippogryph into dangerous areas of engagement and reduces the primary advantage of a Hippogryph, range and flight. In aerial combat, the outcome of these weapons are often lackluster or ineffective against fast moving flyers as it requires quick movements and larger angles that are not accessible during flight. Any benefits gained from these are vastly overshadowed by the Hippogryph's own natural defenses; talons, beak and antlers. These provide an ample built in countermeasure against unmounted aerial aggressors, allowing the Rider to focus on range attacks and defense.
When flying with more than a single Rider, formations form for defensive and offensive advantages. While the formation may change based on the assigned task environment or situation, several common formations exist.
Note - Each of these formations can and often exist in a three dimensional plane. Each member of a formation needn't be at the same altitude, but should be in relative close vicinity of the others.
Line - Where all Riders form a horizontal line wingtip to wingtip
Tandem - Where one Rider takes the role of Flight lead and the wingmate falls in line behind.
Offset Tandem - Similar to Tandem, only the wingmate shifts slightly to one side or the other.
As more Riders are added these formations grow.
V (Wedge) - Offset Tandem with additional riders taking offset positions behind the Flight lead or next Rider.
Heavy - A V formation that has more Riders on one side or the other, often used during ground strafing runs.
Diamond - Common escort formation where Riders will take defensive positions along the forward, rear and flanks with the escort inside.
Communication in flight is often difficult due to noise, making hand signals the preferred and quickest form of communication while in flight or with ground based units.
Common Rider to Rider signals, outside of combat:
An open hand pressed to the chest, then offered to the other Rider - A greeting or praise
A closed fist held to the chest for a moment - Indication of the Rider making the gesture, "I"
A closed fist offered to the other Rider - Indication or the other Rider, "You"
An arm directly to the side - Line formation
An arm directly straight forward - Tandem formation
One hand behind the other, moving forward - Follow
Flat palm with the other hand resting flat atop - Land
A slashing motion across the forearm - Injury
An abrupt arm sweep to the side - Scatter
Nocking an arrow - Danger close, guard up
Pointing at one's eyes - Spotted often used before giving a scouting report
When at a distance, oftentimes Riders will use a series of small flags to communicate with ground or other air forces. Each Rider generally carries three to five flags that can be used in different variations of colors, ranging from one flag to three. The standard four flags are Red, Teal, Orange and Purple. The last flag, White is rarely seen outside of combat or medical transport. These are small enough to not be a hindrance in setup or recovery, but large enough to be able to be seen by others. They are attached to the saddle near the rear and drape downwards in a staggered pattern, read from top to bottom in sequence.
A simple breakdown of their meanings:
Red - Combat or injury related Teal - Transporting related Orange - Have information / Scouting Purple - Escort White - Critical
Various combinations may look something like:
Teal - Transporting Red - Combat Injury White - Critical
Orange - Scouted Red - Enemy Forces
Purple - Escorting Teal - Transport
During combat, officers of Wings and Flights are given a horn. These horns are made from older Hippogryph antlers that have passed or died in combat; they've been hollowed out and stylized in honor of those that have fallen. Lightweight and very sturdy, these are used to rally other Riders into formation, press an attack or fall back into defense. A few simple keys can allow an officer to issue split orders even while engaged in aerial combat.