What Is An Armsman
Fading Suns is an extraordinarily broad setting with a wide variety of locales; some planets are city-spanning metropolises, while others are barely-inhabitated frontier worlds teetering on the brink of uninhabitability.
Consequently, describing the 'typical' professional soldier in Fading Suns is an impossible challenge. This work attempts instead to describe the 'traditional' House soldier, the armsman, who is also the typical soldier on a feudal, rural frontier world like Yathrib.
Armsmen are military tenants. Rather than raise the often prodigious quantities of cash required to pay a permanent standing army, lords give their freeman soldiers land in exchange for a season of military service a year. On more peaceable worlds, the armsman-obligation is usually only forty days, but on worlds at war it has creeped longer and longer over the generations. As landholders, armsmen occupy the upper end of the freeman middle class; they are a sort urban gentry, the equivalents to the guilders and wealthy burghers who occupy the towns. In this regard, they have historical analogues in the mounted warriors or petty hedge knights of Old Urth's Dark Ages; while the knights of the noble houses serve as officers or in elite units, the bulk of house forces are made up of these men-at-arms.
Armsmen are expected to provide their own arms and armor. While different lords have different statutes and expectations for their armed retainers, the traditional armsman has a sword, a shield, a lance or spear, a rifle, and some armor - usually mail, though sometimes half-plate or an armored gambeson. Armsmen are usually relatively well-supplied with bullets, with their wealth allowing them to fire 10-20 or so shots a month in peace or war; in peace, this is usually target practice, while in war these shots are fired as the arsman advances or during pursuits or raiding.
Like most warriors in Fading Suns, armsmen are focused towards melee combat. Firearms are extremely effective tools, but because armor in the New Dark Ages often have some basic protection against bullets soldiers are often able to close the gap before enough shots are fired to down an attacker. A charging soldier can often cover 10 meters within a second and a half, and even in open surroundings range and cover means only a few shots may land.
Even when conditions are ideal to deploy a firearm, the expense and scarcity of ammunition makes guns a secondary weapon. While the overwhelming majority of bullets are handloaded by soldiers in the field or gunsmiths at a castle or town, primers require industrial production usually done on industrial planets and the extremely diminished resources of the Known Worlds - stripped bare after three thousand years of sustained exploitation - make their cost high. Gunpowder, too, can be scarce, and the supply lines required to bring bullets or powder to the field can be cut or just non-existent. Even the well-supplied Imperial Legions train extensively to use their rifles as spears, as a unit in the field may go several months living off the land without reliable resupply.
The independent nature of the man-at-arms has its advantages, however. As gentleman farmers, armsmen serve as the most local representatives of their lords, and are used to applying judgment and making spot decisions. With a leisure time that tends towards hunting and other rural pursuits, they excel at raiding and living off the land. Finally, they are more loyal than a paid legionary, as they are tied to their farms and their families. Deserting because they have not been paid or because they dislike their lord has much more severe consequences.