All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Dual Wielding

Is dual wielding (like two swords, a sword and a knife or two knives) an actual effectiv fighting style or just something that looks cool??

With two swords, not really. There’s a few stray examples. It’s not so much ineffective as incredibly difficult. With that in mind, you can absolutely learn how to do this as an exhibition technique. Which, yes, ends up in the range of something that looks cool.

A sword and an off hand dagger has a lot of utility. The off hand dagger actually becomes a defensive tool.This can range from something like a stiletto, used to deflect an incoming strike, or it can include a swordbreaker, which depending on circumstances might simply hold your opponent’s blade in place while you turn them into goulash with your sword.

It’s probably worth remembering that the parrying dagger is more common when dealing with lighter blades, while sword breakers were more common when dealing with heavier, slower, blades.

Dual daggers are a legitimate, hyper-aggressive, knife fighting option. You’re trading any kind of defense for more opportunities to attack. When the user has the element of surprise it can make a bad situation so much worse, but if their foe can respond, it can go wrong for the dual wielder very quickly.

If you’re wondering how a knife can go from being a defensive tool to an offense option, it has to do with the ranges you’re engaging at. Incidentally, a swordsman with an off hand dagger does have the option to attack at extremely close ranges where they can’t attack with their sword.

I know we’ve said this before, but weapons have specific ranges. Get too close, and you can’t use them anymore. A sword works best at a little over arm’s length. For example: A sword won’t do much good

while you’re lying on top of your foe. On the other hand, if you can reach out and touch someone, knives are always good to go. The advantage for a sword is it will add 36-40 inches to your reach.

It’s also worth remembering that a sword with an off-hand pistol was a real option up into the 19th century. You’d open an encounter by putting a bullet in someone, and then use the sword.

-Starke

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Q&A: Vet Your Sources

I suggest you read The Templars and the Assassins: Militia of Heaven by James Wasserman. Very interesting read. A lot of what we know about the historical Assassins is slandar by their enemies. Also the characters of Assassin’s Creed are just as interesting as their historical counterparts. How Ubisoft took the legends of both orders and expanded them is amazing and a stroke of sheer brilliance.

When you’re conducting research: One of the first steps is to vet the author. Who are they? What’s their background? Once you understand that, you can make an intelligent assessment of what you’re reading.

For example, Wasserman is not a trained historian. In fact, as far as I can tell he doesn’t hold any formal degree. His area of expertise is mysticism and the occult. His own bio describes him as, “an admirer of the teachings of Aleister Crowley.” So, if you were researching modern American mysticism, he might be a decent point or reference. Detailed historical analysis? Not so much.

Another thing to consider, when writing non-fiction is that bold claims require strong evidence. In very general terms, claims don’t get much bolder than, “everything you know about this thing is wrong.”

Wasserman… doesn’t really do that. He collected a lot of interesting tidbits of trivia, though given the errors I found from skimming through the first few chapters, I wouldn’t trust any of it without first verifying in more credible sources.

Wasserman also appears to lack the ability to evaluate the quality of his evidence. This is a very important skill in academic literature, particularly when evaluating historical events. Not everything said or written is true, and as an academic, it falls on the author to evaluate the available evidence. This often involves looking at the larger context of contemporary events, the agendas of people involved, and the amount of surviving primary sources.

For example, confessions obtained under torture usually aren’t viewed as particularly credible. As we’ve said before, turns out when you apply enough force to someone, they’ll tell you whatever they think you want to hear, rather than actually coughing up the truth. Torture is a crude tool used to confirm your version of reality, and is not a functional investigative tool. And then Wasserman takes these confessions at face value, and tries to find some way to square them away with reality.

Yes, I am frustrated by Wasserman. He takes a fascinating part of history and injects it with confirmation bias so severe it would make a YouTube commenter blush. As a writer, there’s a real reason you should study history. Looking at why people, real people, took the actions they did can really help you understand how individuals think, and the options your characters have.

What Wasserman does very well is demonstrate how you can take real people and events, and distort them to fit your setting. (To be fair, it’s not an intentional demonstration.) This can be useful when you’re working off some “secret history of the world,” story, or when you’re writing an alt-history setting. If you want to write a story where the Assassins were secret defenders of an alien civilization that secretly founded western civilization, then Wasserman and Erich von Däniken are probably authors you should investigate closely. Also Assassin’s Creed, for the Dan Brown on mescaline vibe, and because that  is the plot for Assassin’s Creed. (Though, von Däniken is pretty good for that flavor of weirdness in general.)

But, hey, at least Wasserman managed to secure an endorsement from a Golden Dawn magus for the back cover. So, you know, he’s got that going for him.

-Starke

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Q&A: Paralytic Poisons

Would you happen to know how fast it would realistically take someone to keel over when struck with a dart coated in a paralysing drug?

With the quick caveat that I’m not a doctor; from what I remember, most paralytics will take effect in under a minute, and kill the victim in under five. Most of these will cause respiratory arrest. You’ve paralyzed them, so they can’t go anywhere, but you’ve also paralyzed their lungs, so they’ll also stop doing that pesky breathing thing.

If you’ve got someone on life support, there are some real medical applications for this. Particularly in surgery. When it’s administered in the field, they’re dead.

You’ll also find a few animals that administer paralytic poisons. This is some seriously scary stuff. Same problem though, in higher forms of animal life (read anything with lungs) it will stop respiration and result in the victim asphyxiating because their lungs are paralyzed.

The mode of action, as I recall, is that the poison actually interferes (or blocks) the neurotransmitters responsible for muscle control. It doesn’t matter how badly the victim wants to move, their body can’t get the message.

-Starke

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Q&A: Think About It

One of my characters rely on their mind more then physical , however, they are required to use a weapon for battling. What is an easy weapon they could use if they don’t have much fighting experience?

Unless you literally mean they have psychic powers, that is how people fight. It doesn’t matter how strong, fast, or tough someone is, if you can outwit them, they’re fucked. This is why, the ability to think, and adapt is the primary attribute for a fighter.

I realize people like to say, “my character is different, they think about how they fight,” but it’s really a lot like saying, “my character is different, they use the turn signals while driving.” Yeah, you don’t need to, but it’s not going to end well.

Stepping back from that a moment, a smart fighter learns a wide variety of weapons, and picks the ones that will be most useful for the opponents, terrain, and situations they’ll be facing. That means learning as many weapons as they can.

There’s a strong bias in media for characters who hyper-specialize on a single weapon. The master swordsman, master martial artist, the gunslinger, the sniper, the archer. You know how to stop someone like that? Pick a weapon or strategy they can’t defend against. It doesn’t matter how good you are with a sword if someone else guns you down.

Being adaptable and merely proficient with a variety of options is often far more dangerous than someone who was studying the blade while you were reading this.

-Starke

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Q&A: Brass Knuckles

How do brass knuckles work? And I’ve always wondered if they would slip off in the middle of fighting someone or just plan punches.

Often, there’s a weighted grip behind the rings, which rests in the user’s palm and can be held in place with their thumb. In the absence of that, they still have their fingers wrapped around the the weapon. The only real risk of it falling off would be if they opened your hand, which kind of defeats the purpose of using brass knuckles in the first place.

Brass knuckles are intended to shield the user’s fingers and add some weight to the hand while punching.

If you really want to experiment with the mechanics of brass knuckles staying on your hand, you can use an empty key ring. Slip it over a finger, make a fist, and observe how the ring is held in place. The only difference is that brass knuckles are larger, heavier, and cover all your fingers. Depending on the design, they may be a single loop, or four welded rings. Either way, it’s not going to fall off under normal circumstances.

Also, probably worth remembering, you don’t really, “wear,” them. Brass knuckles are a weapon. You take them out when you’re going to use them, and put them away when you’re not. They’re not designed to be worn on the hand at all times.

There are weapons designed to assist with open hand strikes. Off-hand, some variants of the bagh nakh come to mind. These mount a row of small blades across the palm. You wouldn’t want to punch someone while wearing them, just like you wouldn’t want to palm strike someone while wearing brass knuckles. These weapons have specific roles, which enhance, but also, limit your attack options.

-Starke

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Q&A: Firearms Handling

What are some non verbal indications that someone is good with guns (any and all)? Like, how someone holds a gun, their stance, where their holster is, etc.

In most cases it’s easier to know when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. With that, there are enough that I wouldn’t pretend to be able to create an exhaustive list. The big ones that will send anyone with firearms training up the wall are trigger discipline and barrel control.

Trigger discipline is about keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. It’s a really simple thing, and something everyone handling a gun should practice. Hollywood hates it. Or at least, some directors in Hollywood (apparently) think their actors should have their fingers on the trigger at all times, “because it looks more dangerous.” Which, you know, it actually is. Stupidly dangerous.

Most people who know what they’re doing will rest their index finger along the frame over the trigger. This isn’t the only way, some will simply have their finger sticking out at an awkward angle (and a lot of people will do that during reloads).

Barrel control is keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times. “Safe,” is a bit of a loaded term here, since, if your goal is to use the gun on someone, you’re going to be pointing it at them. Again, this is basic safety. This is a little more involved, because no matter what you do, the gun will be pointed somewhere. The important part is
remembering that, and not pointing the gun at someone’s thigh when you’re not using it.

As with trigger discipline, this is an incredibly basic element of gun safety, that a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing will easily miss.

There are a lot of other potential tells, someone who drops their magazines rather than retaining them, probably doesn’t know what they’re doing. (This is the practice of discarding a partial or empty magazine when reloading, instead of keeping it.) TV and film love presenting people dropping mags, probably because it looks more dramatic, but it is a pretty good sign that someone’s only education came from mass media.

Concealment isn’t cover. This is one of the few that does tend to separate trained shooters from untrained ones. In a shock to no one, bullets pass through objects in their environment. Taking cover means far more than hiding behind a car door or couch.

So, concealment means you cannot see your opponent. Cover means they’re hiding behind something that will take a bullet. Most of the time, just because you can’t see someone, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot them. Someone hides behind a wall in a home or office? Yeah, you can shoot straight through that. Drywall, almost all furniture, most parts of a vehicle, most garage doors… none of that will stop a pistol round. When you start dealing with rifle rounds, even things like exterior walls start getting iffy. Trained shooters will fire through concealment. Amateurs who learned how to shoot from Call of Duty and reruns of old Arnold movies will try to take cover behind a couch.

Firing until you run dry. This is a little trickier because trained shooters will do this on the range. No one’s shooting back, and you’re going to immediately repack the mag anyway. In the field though, emptying your magazine is a seriously dangerous situation. Reload partials when you have the opportunity to, don’t wait for it to run empty, and have a non-functional gun when you need it.

The problem with all of this information is; it doesn’t really answer your question. It tells you things to look for with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Not how to identify someone who really does. This is because it’s far easier to identify things that an incompetent shooter will do, rather than tells that are exclusive to someone who really knows what they’re doing in contrast to someone who has a basic understanding of gun use.

Some of these also aren’t easy to operationalize. For example, with stance, There’s Weaver, Chapman, Center Axis Relock,  Modern Isosceles, and many more. There isn’t a, “correct,” or, “elite,” way to do choose one of these, and many experienced shooters will tailor their stance to match the situation they’re in on the fly. The exact way they do that, or if they choose something that isn’t a functional stance, like Gangster Style (holding a handgun horizontally at arm’s length), can tell you about their training and how comfortable they are with a gun, but it’s not something you can easily explain in abstract. (At least not without going into all of the pros and cons of the various stances, and spending a lot of time going through all of the debate on the subject.) There’s also a lot of blending between some of these stances, and “adapted,” “reverse,” or “modern” variants of them.

It’s easy to distinguish someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing from someone who’s had some basic training, but distinguishing between someone who knows what they’re doing, and someone who is actually good with the weapons can be tricky.

I am sorry if that doesn’t really answer your question.

-Starke

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Q&A: Laser Sights

You said real snipers wouldn’t use a laser pointer with a rifle. Because it’s useless on great distance and you don’t want to announce yourself to your target. So what are laser pointers on guns good for? Because obviously they exist, but what for? Thanks for your blog, it’s very interesting and helpful!

Lasers are intended for short range target acquisition. That is to say, knowing exactly where you’re pointing the gun. They can be a useful aid for inexperienced shooters, though anything that speeds up your ability to put a bullet into someone is an advantage in a firefight. This is the same basic idea that makes reflex sights useful. It gives you a clean aim-point, and if that shaves a fraction of a second of your reaction time, it may save your life.

Of the two, reflex sights do the job slightly better, with less visual noise and without announcing that you’re about to shoot someone. Okay, the, “slightly better,” part is personal preference. If you really want, you can take the belt and suspenders approach and slap both of them on your gun, but you’re only going to be using one of them at any given moment.

Part of the reason I’ve said lasers are for amateurs is because, in most cases, if you’re sighting your weapon properly, you usually won’t see the laser. The front post will obstruct it for your dominant eye. (Your off eye will see it, but it’s just going to confirm what you already know.) If you’re sighting down the gun incorrectly, or not looking through the sights at all, then the laser will help your aim.

For an inexperienced shooter, in a crisis, a laser will help them put the round where they want it. For someone who knows what they’re doing, a laser is a much more situational tool, and not something they’ll need most of the time.

The major benefit for an experienced shooting is snapshots. This is where you rapidly bring the weapon up and fire without taking the time to aim properly. In this case, the shooter will probably be sighting incorrectly for speed, and the laser can give them a clear idea of what they’ll hit without actually needing the sights to verifying. To be fair, this is another thing you can use a reflex sight for. You can also snapshoot without either.

Finally, lasers can make switching between targets faster. Again, it lets you know where you’re aiming slightly faster than iron sights. Strictly speaking, lasers are also more forgiving as a sighting element than most optics. Even if you’re holding the gun incorrectly, the laser will tell you where you’ve pointed it.

The takeaway is that, lasers can be useful for shooting people in the same room, especially if you don’t really know your way around a gun. Not so much when you’re trying to put a round in someone half a block away.

-Starke

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Splinter Cell is Unrealistic

 How DARE you say that about Sam Fisher! It’s made clear in Pandora Tomorrow that he uses Subsonic Ammunition, and his FN2000 and FN5.7 Suppressors are custom made too!

muesliforbreakfast

I realize this was probably a joke, (and also that it’s now been several months since it was posted; I’m working on clearing out the draft pile), but it’s probably worth fleshing this out a little. Also, if it sounds like I’m being a little harsh on Splinter Cell here… there’s actually a reason.

Tom Clancy was an American novelist who died in 2013. He wrote thrillers focused on the US intelligence community, starting in the early 80s, and on through the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise of terrorism. Politically, his material leaned hard conservative, with an almost fetishistic obsession on the American Military Industrial Complex.

I’m just going to say it; I don’t like Tom Clancy’s writing, on an aesthetic level. It’s not to my taste at all. However, if you’re writing about the US special forces (and can get past his politics), he is a fantastic place to start. Just, be careful, even before his death, his name was slapped on a lot of books he wasn’t involved with. This includes almost all of the tie in series like Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Netforce, and a bunch of others I’ve forgotten.

The games? …not so much. The first game based on Clancy’s novels (that I’m aware of) was Red Storm Rising, a detailed strategic simulator of a potential Third World War between the US/NATO and the Soviet Union.

The second (again, that I’m aware of) was Rainbow Six, a first person shooter that focused on controlling an entire team of hostage rescue/counter terrorist operators, and featured combat with (in the context of contemporary games) very fragile combatants. (One or two shots was enough to down any combatant.)

Splinter Cell was probably the first game that really started wandering off the reservation, and the second that wasn’t based on one of Clancy’s novels (Ghost Recon was the first).

By 2002, Tom Clancy’s name had become a brand which expanded beyond just his novels. There were multiple video games, a TV movie that failed to launch a show, and multiple adaptations of the original novels to film.

Almost immediately, Splinter Cell gets into the exact kind of world building problems that Clancy’s work tried to avoid.

While I like Fisher as a character, he does not fit within the flavor of Clancy’s setting. His personality is right, having someone who engages in that kind of ghosting infiltration isn’t the problem (not really). It’s the skin-tight wetsuit, the thermal goggles, a pistol and rifle that weren’t available to civilian purchasers (at the time). All of this screams, “government sponsored,” which is the last thing you want when you’re sending a cyberninja into a foreign country.

As I’ve said before, the idea of sending someone in, to sneak around and hang from ceilings isn’t exactly how infiltration actually works. Being invisible 100% of the time is an unrealistic goal. Dressing up in a black bodysuit, with a massive array of high end hardware means that when someone does notice you, they’ll notice, and remember. Once spotted, there’s no option to escape, no way to blend into a crowd, no way to disappear. Aside from leaving a huge trail of bodies in your wake.

Also, the Five-Seven really is the wrong gun to give him. It’s a neat, high-tech pistol, but for what Fisher is doing, it’s the wrong tool for the job.

The FN Five-Seven is a modern semi-auto pistol. It entered production in 2000, and is one weird handgun. The strange part is the 5.7mm round that gives it its name. These were originally developed for the FN P90, and are much closer to a rifle round than something you’d usually consider loading into a pistol.

I’ve joked that the only reason for the Five-Seven to exist is to classify the P90 as a submachine gun instead of an assault rifle. Though, I’m honestly uncertain that’s not the real reason.

Unfortunately, the reality is, you really can’t silence a handgun by simply attaching a suppressor to it. The gunshot you hear is caused by ignited gasses expanding and escaping into the atmosphere. In order to fully silence a gunshot you need to capture all (or nearly all) of the escaping gas. With most semi-automatic pistols, one of the venues for that is when the slide cycles open. You can deaden the gasses venting down the barrel, but you’ll still hear a noticeable gunshot. A suppressed handgun will make, roughly, the same amount of noise as an airsoft pistol. Something you’ll hear if you’re in the room with it, but might not notice on the other side of the building. The gentle “fipping” noise from Sam’s Five-Seven… and most media, really, it’s a standard sound sample, just doesn’t occur. (If I remember correctly, the common sound sample comes from a .22 with a locked bolt.)

There’s also a second problem with the Five-Seven that most pistols don’t have to deal with, 5.7mm is a hypersonic round, though that’s something that Splinter Cell directly addresses, it does make Fisher’s weapon choice a little odd. Especially in a setting where .45s are easily available. (And, I want to say Conviction defaults to giving him a USP an H&K Mk23 fairly early in the campaign.)

Most rifles (and some pistols) fire rounds that are hypersonic. Meaning they have a velocity above 343 meters per second. When you hear a rifle from a significant distance, you’re not hearing the escaping gasses, the crack you hear is actually a sonic boom created by the bullet. For most applications, this isn’t really something anyone cares about. But, when you’re trying to suppress a gun, you will want to find a way to remove that sound. The only way (I’m aware of) to deal with this is by using what are called “subsonic rounds.”

These are low velocity cartridges designed to keep the speed of the round under 343m/s. The problem with this is that you’re now trading a whole lot of ballistic factors, including accuracy and flatness, to keep the gun quiet. On a pistol, there’s really no reason to do this.

The reason being all .45 ammo is subsonic. This stuff has a muzzle velocity of around 260 to 300 m/s.

When the first game came out, the Five-Seven was still new, the first game is set in 2004. It’s (from what I know) a fairly solid service pistol. But it is a bad gun to be giving to your NSA cyberninja. The Five-Seven is a Government and Law Enforcement only item. Fabrique Nationale doesn’t sell to private buyers or retailers. (There are a number of used guns on the market now, but that wasn’t true 13 years ago.) So, if you’re writing a character who’s supposed to be some kind of clandestine and deniable agent, giving them a gun that says they work for a government somewhere is probably a bad idea.

Also, the entire “custom suppressors” line bugs me. I can’t remember if that’s exactly what the games call them, but I think you’re remembering correctly. The problem is, commercially produced suppressors exist for both weapons. Again, a Five-Seven suppressor is going to be more traceable than an aftermarket .45 one. A high end 5.56mm suppressor can run you over a grand, but, it’s aftermarket, and easy enough to hide if you’re part of a clandestine operation.

Incidentally, factory produced Five-Seven threaded barrels are exceedingly rare on the secondary market. Not many of these were produced. Giving someone a Five-Seven today wouldn’t say nearly as much as it did back then, but giving them one designed to accept a suppressor would still be pretty suspicious. An aftermarket modded one, with a replacement barrel would raise fewer eyebrows (but that’s the kind of detail people wouldn’t catch until they were picking over your character’s corpse.)

That said, pointing out that you’d need to use subsonic ammo for his weapons is the kind of attention to detail that the Tom Clancy games (and Clancy’s books) really nail. This is also really important if your character wants to suppress a rifle. Arguably, if your character is a sniper, and intending to fire from long ranges, subsonic ammo is actually more important than sticking a suppressor on the gun. However, this isn’t a panacea, subsonic ammo suffers from severe drop, to the point that it’s noticeable at medium range. For a sniper, this is a really serious consideration. They need to decide between having far less range and power, or having the bullet produce a massive cracking noise when fired.

The entire Five-Seven thing probably bugs me more because this is a solved issue. Pistols designed for clandestine use exist, including some of the weapons that show up in the series. Hell, give Sam something like a Makarov PB while operating in Europe, and no one would suspect that he’s an American if he was caught and killed.

In contrast to the pistol, the FN F2000 is a much better pick. It’s a solid assault rifle that entered service in the 80s, though there’s not really that much special about it except the appearance. It has a rubber seal in the magazine well, which would help a little with suppressing it, but the benefit is basically trivial. What it’s actually there to do is keep dust and debris out of the action, but it also means that you might have issues loading aftermarket magazines in it. (This is all second hand, by the way. I’ve never handled a F2000 personally.) There may have been better choices available, but it’s a legitimate choice. Unfortunately, as with the Five-Seven, there were no civilian versions available, (a semi-auto only version hit the market in 2006), so we’ve still got that, “my cyberninja is government sponsored,“ problem.

Ironically, I know the game doesn’t get a lot of love, but Conviction’s approach to Sam’s loadout is probably more realistic. It’s (mostly) a mix of commercially available weapons and street clothes.

If you’re writing a character who’s supposed to be this kind of a sneak in, and hang from the ceiling kind of black ops agent. The best options are to put them in locally purchased clothes (this will help them blend in, even if they’re from a different ethnicity). Weapons that are readily available on the local market (or black market). Hardware that can be easily adapted from commercial products. If you absolutely need a PDA or something similar, use a smart phone. For a hands free unit, get a bluetooth headset. If the phone needs custom software, then that’s something your character’s agency can produce. (Preferably with some kind of remote kill switch, because forensic analysis of software can provide clues to its origin.) What you don’t want to do is gear them up with a lot of very specialized equipment that says, “hey, this guy worked for a foreign government.”

-Starke

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Q&A: Tanking

Hi there, I was wondering; in a fantasy setting, should “ranged fighters,” AKA archers or mages (especially mages), wear any kind of armor? One of my friends (who is a little too glued to the idea of using gaming terms for his fight scenes) doesn’t give his ranged fighters much protection because “they have tank who will aggro,” despite me telling him that in IRL situations enemies won’t always work like that, and ranged fighters are deadly and would easily become top priority during battle.

Which works right until the tank can’t maintain aggro, then the DPS scatter, because of course they do, and everyone wipes because, turns out, it’s nearly impossible to hit two idiots on opposite sides of the arena at the same time with the same AoE.

…or the tank never slotted a taunt, and the healer ends up running from and DPSing Bloodspawn, while the DPS stand in stupid trying to revive each other. No, I’m not thinking of a specific event, why do you ask?

Games are, by nature, an incredibly abstract approach to combat. Even inside of an MMO, the sharp difference between how PvE and PvP plays out should be a pretty solid indicator of how fragile the entire concept of aggro is.

An AI driven NPC needs to know who to attack. In most cases they’ll prioritize incoming damage, and target whatever’s dealing the most. The entire idea of a tank is to fake out that number, boost it further, or in some cases, completely override aggro generation, and take the brunt of the enemy’s attacks. Which is downright hilarious, when you step back and think about it. You’re talking about sending a party of adventurers up against an ancient demon who’s been sealed outside of the universe for millennia, but he will ignore the people actively trying to kill him, because that idiot who’s doing almost nothing to him said some mean things about his mother.

As I understand it, and I could be wrong here, Tanking is something that has come, almost exclusively, from metagaming. The idea that, “well, players are going to take damage, so let’s concentrate it on a single player to make the healer’s job easier,” doesn’t have a place in the real world. I’m not sure if the strategy dates back to tabletop, or came from the early MMOs like Ultima Online or Everquest. As I said, it doesn’t have any basis in reality.

The closest you can get is the role of infantry and skirmishers in mass combat. But, at that point, sticking infantry between your enemy and your archers wasn’t about protecting the archers, so much as, that the infantry were your primary combat force.

Step into PvP, and the value of a tank diminishes sharply. Most human players understand that, so long as the healer is up, nobody’s going anywhere, so they become public enemy number one.  Hell, most of the times, when you give players an AI controlled encounter with a healer, your priority is clear. No, it’s not the big tanky guy/girl/sentient iguana with death rays mounted on its armor.

That said, I’ve seen a lot of games try to make the tank more valuable in PvP. Reducing enemy mobility, debuffing them, applying selective buff manipulation that makes a taunted target deal far less damage to other targets. All of it is a band aid on a system, trying to make the role function in an environment where the tank’s foes are smart enough to say, “nah, he’s not a problem, I’m going to wax the healer first.” Though, bonus points awarded to the games that just go, “screw it, the tank is the healer.”

Mages wearing robes is a setting or character decision. If armor somehow impairs a mage’s ability to cast magic, then that’s something they’ll want to avoid. If a mage isn’t, primarily, a combatant, and dislikes, or can’t afford, armor, they may avoid it for those reasons. That said, if armor doesn’t interfere with your mage’s ability to cast magic, they understand how to use it, and can afford it, not wearing armor is just being stupid (even if it is that character’s preference).

The whole concept of tiering armor based on the combat role is another gameplay abstraction, without a lot of basis in history. Armor was expensive. To the point that most rulers couldn’t afford to outfit large standing forces in heavy armor.  You got the best armor you could afford. If you were supplied out of an armory, you wore what you were handed, which might just be a padded gambeson.

Thing is, I rather like armor tiering. At least from a gameplay perspective. It informs the player what the armor they’ve found is useful for, and is very useful for deciding if the gear you just found is going to be helpful for your playstyle. In MMOs it can help break up players, so that you have an easier time identifying their roles. But, it is an abstract, game system, with no relation to reality. Trying to take these things out, and evaluate them outside of their native environment can be tricky. This is how you end up with characters who can instantly cram three hundred cheese wedges down their gullet to fully recover from being set on fire and flung off a cliff into the sea, hundreds of feet below.

-Starke

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Q&A: Unarmed Knockout

Is there any relatively safe way to knock someone out with no resources but your hands? My character needs to knock this person out so they don’t run off, but he has nothing on him to do so. It’s necessary to the story that he be knocked out. Thank you!

No.

We’ve gone over this, many times, before. There is no safe way to knock someone unconscious. By definition, you’re specifically attempting to damage their brain, with the goal of getting it to take a little vacation.

More than that, there aren’t even many reliable means to knock someone out. Blows to the head can, theoretically, work, but they can also, just as easily, piss off the person you’re attacking, without much ill effect.

Tranquilizers take ages to kick in, and are very difficult to dose. Too much, and you’ve got a corpse. Not enough, and you’ve got someone who’s groggy, but still ambulatory.

Choking is, in theory, the safest, but the fine line between unconscious and dead is still something you can’t spot intentionally. Choking is something that can be practiced in a safe environment, but using it in the field is incredibly finicky.

And, it gets better.

Strip away all the terminology and a concussion is just bruising on the brain itself. You get hit, your head gets jostled around, and your brain bounces off the inside of your skull. You may have been using that organ for something, and might understand why you don’t particularly want it getting directly injured. Either way, this will, absolutely, interfere with your ability to think, remember unimportant information like your name, or count the number of fingers some well meaning smartass is holding up. Still, probably won’t knock you out, though.

When you’re talking about knocking someone out, you’re really asking, “how can I directly assault their brain, without having to develop psychic powers?” Yeah, that’s never going to be safe. It turns out, getting the human brain to stop working, temporarily, is a lot like trying to get it to just flat out stop working in general, and it’s a crap shoot, which you’ll get.

Concussions are cumulative. This should be fairly obvious, when you actually think about it. If your brain has been pre-tenderized, it’s going to be more susceptible to future concussions, and the ones you receive will be more severe. This means someone who’s had a few before will be knocked unconscious or killed far more easily than someone with a relatively healthy brain. Even then, it’s not like there’s a stable baseline of, “you can hit your head this hard before it kills you.”

Knocking someone unconscious for more than a few seconds is very bad news. If you’re knocking someone out for more than a minute, there’s going to be irreparable brain damage. (The specific threshold is usually around 30 seconds, but for each unique brain, there’s equally unique catastrophic brain damage.) So, you’ve, “safely,” reduced someone to a vegetable. More than a few minutes and you’ve (probably), “safely,” killed them.

So, what do you actually do when you need to be somewhere else and someone is intent on getting you to stick around? Knock them off balance and run. Sucker punches to the stomach are a good option. If unexpected, they’ll usually wind the victim, and give you a good head start. Knees to the gut are another classic. One common variation is to knee the gut, and when they double over, knee them again in the face. Slamming a door in the face, or knocking them to the ground are also excellent options. Really, there are a lot of options. The goal is to simply create an opening and escape. You don’t need to knock someone unconscious to do that. You really don’t want to knock someone unconscious to do that.

-Starke

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