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Siege Engines
Not your average party tank.

Siege Engines are common in fantasy works and alternate histories. Also appear in Historical Fiction. Often part of a literal Storming the Castle arc.

  • Catapults: Simple constructions designed to fling projectiles, which can be pretty much anything.
  • Ballistae: Have the appearance of a giant crossbow but use torsion rather than tension engery to power their missles. Often lit on fire. Invented by the Greeks, but most extensively used by the Romans.
  • Trebuchets: A giant, usually non-portable sling catapult with a very long range. (Not Tree Buchets)
  • Siege towers: Large wheeled and armoured towers with ladders or stairs inside, designed to provide access over high walls.
  • Battering rams and screws: For knocking down or breaking through gates, and less commonly used on stronger points in the wall.
  • Vats of boiling oil or molten lead: For countering enemies climbing the walls.
  • Galleries: A portable roof to protect attackers undermining a a wall.
  • Mantlets: Large mobile shields.
... and many others

Historical accuracy varies and the Rule of Cool rules. Depending on the setting, cannons may also appear, making knocking down thinner walls in a realistic fashion an option (other siege weapons almost always rely on bypassing the wall or attacking those inside from range rather than knocking it down).

They accentuate the menace of an approaching army and their appearance in a siege is often closely followed by a crisis point for the defenders. Siege engines give great visuals. For example: the straining muscles of the attackers working their dire engine, the horrified defenders watching the incoming payload and then the explosive impact. Also expect Arrows on Fire, and if there are siege towers, expect them to catch fire and topple. See Catapult to Glory for when people are used as ammo.

Examples:

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    Comics 

  • Astérix: The Romans once brought siege weapons against the Gauls. Since the Gauls were lacking magic potion at the time, it worked pretty well... for a while.

    Film 

  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Near the end Sinbad's sailors use a giant ballista to kill a dragon.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    • The French knights presumably used some kind of catapult to fling the cow and giant rabbit.
    • Several are seen amongst Arthur's army at the end of the movie, probably to be used against the Castle Argh.
  • In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Inspector Clouseau is accidentally propelled up and through a castle window by a catapult.
  • The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc has a multiple arrow launcher.
  • The Two Towers: The assault on Helms Deep shows suicidal berserker sappers deploying explosives against the weakest point in the outer walls to devastating effect.
    • Earlier in that same battle, multiple siege ladders (including large ones with ballista winches) were used to attack the walls.
    • In The Return of The King, trebuchets are used to defend Minas Tirith's walls.
      • Catapults are used by Sauron's forces to weaken Osgiliath, and a huge ram was brought to bear against the gates of Minas Tirith.
      • Don't forget the siege towers pushed by trolls and full of angry orcs.
  • The Court Jester had a small one used to launch the villains over the battlements.
  • Gladiator — "On my signal, unleash hell."
  • It may have been the fact that they were too stupid to use other ammunition, but the Krug army from In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale end up using catapults. First with flaming boulders, then with flaming Krug.
  • In Prince Caspian, the Telmarines utilize some sort of perpetual motion trebuchets. Needless to say, any one with any grasp whatsoever on physics will be irritated by these monstrosities.
    • Not really perpetual motion. The staff made a point in the commentary that they tried to make sure those trebuchets might actually work. Something was cranking the arms around, it's just not clear what is doing it, but watch closely and they aren't "perpetual motion".
  • Young Frankenstein. At one point the villagers use Inspector Kemp as an impromptu Battering Ram to knock open a door.
  • The 2010 version of Robin Hood had mantlets used during the siege on the French castle that King Richard is killed in, along with bags of oil that were set on fire to burn the gates down.
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had Robin and Azeem being launched over the castle walls by a catapult (landing safely on a pile of hay). The unlikelyhood of this working is lampshaded.
    Will Scarlett: Fuck me, he cleared it!
  • The Prince of Thieves example received a Shout-Out in the form of a throwaway gag in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, with the Sherrif of Nottingham demonstrating the Stealth Catapult.
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963). The defenders at the Peking legation watch in horror as a huge siege tower is hauled out of the darkness by hundreds of Chinese soldiers. Then it starts shooting rockets at them.

    Literature 

  • The Return of the King Sauron's forces use catapults to attack Minas Tirith with shells that exploded in flames as well as the heads of those who had been killed in earlier fighting. Also of note is Grond, Hammer of the Underworld — the most Bad Ass Battering Ram ever conceived. Minas Tirith retaliates note  with massive trebuchets.
  • Kushiel's Dart. The Skaldi build siege towers for use during the siege of Troyes-le-Mont.
  • Found in the Historical Fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms written in 14th centaury about events in the 2nd and 3rd.
  • Battles between city-states of Gor regularly employ siege weapons.
  • High Citadel by Desmond Bagley. Passengers from a crashed aircraft build an improvised trebuchet from abandoned equipment in a mine, though in that case it's to fend off a siege by communist guerillas trying to cross a bridge to attack them.
  • Mainly a forgotten art in Codex Alera, since when it comes to breaking down walls furycrafting is much more flexible, powerful, and does not require a gigantic supply train.So when the catapults are essentially reinvented in First Lord's Fury and are then loaded with the local equivalent of cluster bombs, allowing the equivalent of a village full of peasants to deliver the collective power of several High Lords... let's just say Made of Win and leave it at that.
  • The bad guys in Mogworld have a trebuchet, although everyone keeps calling it a catapult.
  • The Grail Quest trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, set during the Hundred Years' War, features both traditional catapults and trebuchets as well as the earliest cannon that were just being adopted by the English at that point. His better known Sharpe series includes several attacks on fortresses with cannon, creating a breach to be stormed.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: Along with more modern equipment such as tanks and artillery, the Chaos army in Necropolis use a variety of baroque siege weapons, such as massive mechanized siege ladders with flamethrowers and cluster grenade launchers, and enormous spike-wheeled vehicles designed to crawl up the city's shield wall. The enemy's fortress is a massive crawling thing with a gigantic Wave Motion Gun attached nicknamed "The Spike". In fact, the Imperials identify Heritor Asphodel as the enemy leader because of his notorious love for bizarrely overcomplicated siege equipment, which he refers to as "woe engines".
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, trebuchets are used for a battle in a plain. Considering that your average trebuchet can fire something like two shots per hour (if you're lucky), this isn't the wisest of choices.
  • Siege engines of all kinds are used in the Redwall books. In the original "Redwall" we get a battering ram and a siege tower, as well as a tunnelling attempt. That last is foiled by several gallons of lethally scalding-hot water being dumped down the tunnel. Ouch.
  • In the second A Song of Ice and Fire book, A Clash of Kings, three huge trebuchets are used in the defense of King's Landing against Stannis Baratheon. They're also used to hurl traitors in a gruesome form of execution. Scorpions and spitfires are mentioned, implied to be ballistae and catapults respectively. When the forces of Daenerys Targaryen are besieging the city of Meereen in A Storm of Swords, they lack trees to make siege weapons thanks to a scorched earth policy of the defenders, so they break up the only ships they have to make a 'turtle' covered in horse hides (against burning oil) protecting the battering rams (made from the masts) they use to break down the gates.
  • Siege weapons come into play heavily in the third book of The Elenium, during the Battle of the Basillica of Chyrellos. They are mentioned and utilized throughout the series however, notably by the Arcian armies, which are often commented on as specializing in siege warfare. Unlike the Thalasians.

     Live Action TV  

  • Masada featured a variety of Siege Engines — siege tower (with a Battering Ram at the top), onagers, and ballistae.
  • The History Channel built a replica of an Indian cannon designed to be mounted on an elephant and a primitive Chinese landmine. Surprisingly, both turned out to be disturbingly effective, though the operator would have been vulnerable to arrows. Flamethrowers are another weapon that may be Older Than They Think.
  • Game of Thrones. In the Battle of the Blackwater ballistae and an improvised mantlet are seen, the latter made by turning a boat upside down; the boat has already been fitted with wooden supports to hold it above the ground so as to protect those manning the battering ram.

     Table Top Games  

  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Advanced D&D included rules for the use of siege engines including the gallery, hoist, mantlet, rams, sows and ram catchers.
    • Basic D&D had a magical bench that could act as a Battering Ram to open doors.
    • Spelljammer used catapults and ballistae as standard artillery on magic spacecraft.
    • 3.5 had (among other things) Heroes of Battle, which had magical siege weapons and artillery, such as ballista that fire lightning bolts!
  • Most factions can field various siege weapons in Warhammer. The Empire and dwarves are known for their cannons and ballistae, the Brettonians have trebuchets, Lizardmen have giant bows and magical superweapons mounted on dinosaurs, High Elves have repeater bolt throwers, and just about everyone else has some kind of catapult.
  • The board game Gondor, set during the siege of Minas Tirith, features siege towers, catapults, the Battering Ram Grond, and vats of boiling oil.
  • Weapons & Warriors: Castle Siege was a kid's game marketed which involved miniature siege engines that launched marbles, with the attacking side having the goal of breaking down the walls and the defenders aiming to take out all of the siege engines. The siege equipment included cannons, a trebuchet, a catapult, and ballistae.
  • Crossbows and Catapults provides a wargame-lite version of siege warfare involving cannons and ballistae.
  • A wide variety of siege weapons appear in GURPS: Low-Tech along with rules for picking them up to use them as sidearms.

     Video Games  

  • Siege weapons are stock units in medieval and fantasy strategy games, usually designed for use against buildings and massed troops. Typically slow moving, and require infantry to protect them. The fancier ones may be Awesome, but Impractical.
  • Age of Empires started with catapults and ballistas, and heavy naval units had them mounted as well. The sequel makes the catapults scatter weapons with more splash damage, and adds battering rams, trebuchets and eventually cannons.
  • Patapon and Patapon 2 both feature levels with catapults, both in your enemy's and your own side. Siege engines become a new patapon class of their own in Patapon 3.
  • Warcraft III: Every race has their own siege weapon: Orcs have Catapults, Night Elves have Balistae, the Alliance have dwarven mortars and steam tanks (functionally a battering ram), and the Undead have a Meat Wagon which catapults corpses, spreading disease.
    • In the expansion, the catapults and ballistae were replaced by Demolishers and Glaive Throwers respectively, while the steam tank got renamed to Siege Engine and now has the ability to fire at multiple air units simultaneouly.
  • Certain units serve as siege engines in StarCraft, but the most iconic is the aptly-named Siege Tank. Unlike most video game siege units which tend to be considered not worth the trouble, the Siege Tank often forms the core of Terran strategies, save for dedicated infantry users or more unconventional tactics.
  • World of Warcraft allows the players to use siege weapons in specific PvE raids, PvP battlegrounds, periodic battle zones and quests. Most of these are of Steam Punk or otherwise fantastic design, such as catapults made of bone which lob barrels of toxins, wooden self-propelled pneumatic trebuchets which hurl burning boulders ('demolishers'), massive Magitek ballistae which toss spinning glaives and what amounts to all-terrain steam locomotives with cannons and battering rams. In all cases, their efficiency against enemy players is dismal, making them largely a tool to destroy mission specific objectives. (Although the specific machine depicted on the trope page verged upon Game Breaker status in a particular battleground for awhile before it was unable to catch up with increase in player levels)
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings opens with a siege, complete with ballistae and a truly enormous siege tower that Geralt calls "ridiculous".
  • Kingdoms Of Camelot has a wide array of these. Offensive one are Ballista,Battering Rams and Catapults (though catapults requite a level 10 barracks and Alchemy Lab for lvl 10 researches and thus two purchased or won Divine Inspirations to access, which has lead to some complaints of players who choose not to spend being at a disadvantage, especially since acquiring a level 12 Rally Point and using the Aura of Conquest item can permit a player to send a 200k Catapult 'death wave' at another player. That said, each additional city acquired does give a free Divine Inspiration and they can be won in contests, so it's not impossible to play for free and still get catapults.) Defenses include Trebuchets and Wall Mounted Crossbows.
  • Present in the Total War games, specifically the Shogun, Rome, and Medieval series. In Rome and Medieval, catapults and ballistae are usually built in cities and travel with the army, while siege towers, battering rams, and ladders are built on-site and disappear after the battle. Medieval also introduces cannons in the later stage, which can bring down walls with a few well-placed shots. Unlike most games, where siege engines appear to move on their own, all siege engines here have to be pushed by a sufficient number of people. Empire and Napoleon have cannons, howitzers, mortars, and rockets as siege engines.
    • Artillery units normally have very limited ammo. However, Empire and Napoleon gave them (and ships) unlimited ammo. Shogun II goes back to limited ammo with siege engines no longer being mobile. The "Fall of the Samurai" expansion allows nearby ships to be used as siege platforms, shelling the target area with offscreen barrages.
    • Medieval II also has elephant-mounted artillery for certain factions.
  • The closely related Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi, and Bladestorm The Hundred Years War series feature a variety of siege engines on stages focused on taking a fortress. They range from rams to siege towers to cannon.

     Web Comics  

  • The Order of the Stick has them, notably with Redcloak throwing titanium elementals (and after his victory, about to fling a bunch of humans).
  • Erfworld, the Battle for Gobwin Knob: the titular battle included siege towers pushed by 20m tall Cloth Golems and Wiener Rammers: living battering rams in the shape of elongated wiener dogs with rams horns. Upon striking the gates of Gobwin's Knob they invoke "YTMND!": they are drawing their striking power from the "You're The Man Now, Dog" meme.
    • Parson correctly sees the siege weapons as Ansom's army's weak point, and uses skirmishers to selectively attack the siege, withdrawing from combat with anything else. In this way, he destroys so much siege that Ansom is forced to wait another day for reinforcements.
    • Siege towers are kind of weird in this setting, since their principle is to wheel up troops who hack away at the actual wall with picks and spades until it collapses (rather than simply surmount it), with the relative strength of a wall being determined by the number of units stationed atop it. This is par for the course of the RPG Mechanics Verse setting.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: Seeing snow for the first time, Molly runs out to play in it, and builds a steam-powered snow ballista. That transforms.
    Molly: "Snow is awesome!"
  • In The Senkari ballista bolts go through armour and kill a dragon.

     Western Animation  

  • The Adventures of Gulliver (1968). Miniature Vikings use ship-mounted catapults to attack the city of Lilliput.
  • Galaxy Trio. Normal size Vikings use ship-mounted catapults to attack a small village.
  • Jonny Quest episode Monster in the Monastery. Catapults flinging flaming missiles are used to attack a small town.
  • In the Bugs Bunny short Knighty Knight Bugs, the Black Knight (Yosemite Sam) uses a catapult to try to launch himself into a castle window.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Fire Nation army devises an enormous mechanised drill as a way of breaching the walls of Ba Sing Se. Their ships also employ trebuchet to launch flaming projectiles from, which they use as their standard attack. The live action adaptation, for all of its faults, does have a somewhat creative new weapon: cannons out the outside of the ships that the Fire Nation troops fire bend through in order to melt huge holes in the wall of ice protecting the Northern Water Tribe.


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