All posts by Michael Schwarz

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Stop Them

Referring to a post you made some time ago, Is there a /good/ way to stop a person from doing something stupid, violence or not?

Without, going back and checking, it’s almost certainly what I wrote at the time: Talking them down. If someone has decided to do something, and you need them to stop, your only option is to convince them not to do it. You can’t use violence to stop them. Not really. If you take them down, tie them up, or simply beat on them, you’re only delaying the inevitable. They’ll go back, and do whatever they planned to do in the first place. Or, you kill them, which creates all kinds of new problems.

If someone has set their mind on something incredibly stupid and or destructive, your only real option is to talk them out of it. You need to convince them to change their mind. Unfortunately, there’s no one, “right,” way to do this. Everyone, every situation, requires a different approach, unique to the people involved at that specific moment in time. Their background, their relationship, their experiences, their view of the world, the information they have. Everything they considered in picking their course of action is relevant in weighing how to respond to them.

Without wanting to make it sound too much like a game, there is a competitive element to this. As one of the participants, you don’t know everything that factored into the other person’s decision. You can try to get that information, try to understand how they came to that point, and then formulate a response. Sometimes it’s as simple as having information the other participant lacks. Sometimes it’s looking at the situation from a new perspective. Sometimes they’re the ones to bring you around. Sometimes there is no way to reconcile your differences, and violence really is the only option left. It all depends on the people involved, what they know, who they are, and how they know each other.

It’s worth remembering, how someone responds to violence is just as individual to them, as any other factor in this. Some people, when presented with violence will crumple, some will respond in kind, others will seek retribution. It really depends on the individuals involved, and without knowing them, it’s nearly impossible to predict how they’ll respond.

It’s also impossible to know, in the abstract, if violence will even achieve your goals. Will they see it as a sign that they should back down, and a demonstration of your conviction? A validation of their position, because you have no better response?

We’ve said it before, violence doesn’t solve problems. It just creates new ones. At best it may table the old problems for a few minutes.

If you need to stop someone, completely stop someone, you need to convince them. By itself, simply beating on thumping on someone isn’t very persuasive.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Sword Injuries

Would actual sword fights end with a lot of cuts on both combatants or is it more of a “you get tagged first and your out” kind of deal?

Yes?

This one can really go either way, depending on injuries sustained. So, let’s parse this out a bit, because I might not have been really clear about this in the past.

Shallow nicks won’t do much. You’ll lose blood, but not at an appreciable rate. You’ve almost certainly sustained a few of these in your life. From a writing perspective these are basically cosmetic. From a medical perspective they’re not much more. A sword or knife can absolutely inflict these.

There are rare circumstances where these immediately relevant. Cuts to the forehead can cause blood to get in the victim’s eyes. In combat, this is a debilitating situation. Blood that gets onto the palm can make it more difficult to grasp objects or weapons. (Fresh blood is quite slick. As it dries it will become sticky, so the effect is reversed at that point.)

When you’re talking about lots of cuts, then you’re probably talking about this kind of injury. Individually these aren’t dangerous, but if they start stacking up, blood loss is cumulative, so they can potentially become life threatening, but that’s not a likely outcome for a duel.

Incidentally, if you’re writing a scene where characters are dueling to first blood, then these cuts qualify. In fact, that’s what the duelists will aim for. It’s the easiest kind of injury to sustain, and if the participants don’t want to kill one another, this is the safest route to victory.

When I’ve been talking about injuries that create a decisive advantage, I’m talking about deeper cuts; ones that open up veins or debilitate limbs. Injuries where bloodloss will lead to impairment and death.

In a duel, these will kill you. When I say things like, “with first blood, the clock is ticking, and your character will die if they don’t find a way to turn the fight around,” I’m talking about these deeper injuries. A person can survive a few shallow cuts without much ill effect, and in most cases can survive quite a few without aid. Deep cuts are immediately dangerous.

Here’s the problem with this: I’m talking about these like they’re two separate kinds of wounds; they’re really not. They’re both cuts. If we’re being technical, the deeper variety are “lacerations.” But, that makes it sound like there’s a clean delineation between these injuries which simply doesn’t exist.

So, I’m going to step back and put this in abstract terms, as they apply to characters for a moment.

Characters can suffer “cosmetic injuries.” These will result in bleeding. As I mentioned earlier, blood After the fight is over, they’ll hurt. Unless your character is getting covered in these things, they’ll never kill them. These can be sustained anywhere, but when you’re talking about strikes to the forearm (except along the inner arm) or to the face, bone will usually stop the strike before it gets to deep.

Characters can suffer “wounds.” These will result in a lot of bleeding, way too much bleeding. These, “start the clock.” Without medical attention, even just self inflicted first aid, these will kill your character. Usually these are sustained to limbs or the torso. Places where you can get fairly deep without striking bone.

In the real world, blood loss will impair the fighter, slowing them down, confusing them, making combat more difficult. This means their defense (if they have one) will suffer, and it will be far easier for their opponent to get through it with a kill strike. A blade through the throat or chest, for instance. This isn’t always true in fiction, but it’s a function of how the human body works that’s worth remembering.

If you’re asking, “is it plausible for a character to win a swordfight with lots of tiny cuts?” Yes. If you’re asking, “is it plausible for a character die in a swordfight with one or two deep, lethal wounds, and to be otherwise untouched?” Again, yes. It really depends on the circumstances of the fight.

I hope that clears things up some, and am genuinely sorry if I’ve confused any of you by glazing over this. That one’s my mistake.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Double Bladed Weapon

Is it realistic to have a bladed weapon that operates sort of like a double ended light saber? As in you press a button or lever in the center of the hilt and blades come out of either end? Furthermore, could you see a bladed weapon fight club as something that may exist (it doesn’t have to be legal and definitely probably wouldn’t be)

On the first part? Not really.

You’ll see collapsing knives that are designed for push button deployment, out the front of the grip. But, for a full sword? No, or at least not with modern technology. Wear and abuse from normal use would quickly wreck the mechanical components. To say nothing of the blood and gore getting forced into the mechanism when you collapsed it after use.

So, again, limited to modern technology, it would be theoretically possible, but they’d have an incredibly short lifespan (maybe only single use), and be extremely annoying to clean and care for (if not outright impossible).

If you’re talking about some kind of hypothetical future tech, then, it will probably be an option some day. Self cleaning tolerances, and a mechanical stability that can’t be achieved with modern materials may make this viable. Though, at that point, this would probably be more of a novelty than a practical combat tool.

Double bladed weapons do exist. Well, I should say, double bladed knives exist, I have one somewhere. It’s awkward, difficult to hold, and I’ve still got a scar on my index finger from the first time I picked it up. These are a novelty. You buy one because you think it looks cool, not because you intend to use it.

There are a few examples of weapons that are designed to be double ended, mostly polearms, which would sometimes include functional spikes on the reverse end. It’s also not unheard of for a sword to have a sharpened, spiked pommel. That said, mounting an entire reverse blade onto a sword is something you’d usually only seriously consider if you’re either a Sith or Klingon.

On the second part, about fight clubs, “No, never; except they did.”

The basic idea of a fight club where people who don’t know what they’re doing wander in and start beating the ever living snot out of one another? Yeah, that can happen. I’ve actually been out on a farm in the middle of the night, dueling friends with plastic bokken because it seemed like fun at the time. It’s not exactly what you’ve got in mind, but that’s possible.

Thing is, there’s a huge difference between dueling with a high impact plastic katana, where screwing up means you’ve got new bruise on your knuckles, and screwing around with a live blade, where a mistake means critical injuries and death.

Organized, underground dueling also has some real world history. The only examples I’ve run across came out of 19th century military academies. I assume the reasoning is roughly the same as why I was on that Indiana farmyard in the middle of the night, it seemed like fun at the time.

Of course, in the case of military academies, we’re talking about students who’d actually been trained to use their blades, so it’s not exactly a fight club. Still stupid and dangerous, but they (kind of) knew what they were doing.

So, my first impulse on this subject is wrong. I’d say, “no one can possibly be that stupid,” except of course, I have been exactly that stupid. I also knew a couple idiots that decided to fight each other with a fire axe and cheap katana in their living room, without ever considering that, maybe, this was a horrifically bad idea. Tragically, they both survived unharmed.

As for a full on fight club? Not so much. When you have people who don’t know what they’re doing throwing punches, the potential risk of injury is, somewhat, limited. Untrained combatants are not a huge threat to one another. They can get some good shots in, and can make it hurt, but actually messing someone else up requires concepts like power generation and a vague idea of where to connect. Without them, it’s just guys flailing impotently at each other.

Blades are inherently dangerous. You don’t need to know how to put together an effective defense, or understand how to generate force, driving four pounds of steel into some poor schmuck doesn’t require training. Training does help; it teaches you how to put up a defense, and how to circumvent your opponent’s, but it’s not necessary for accidental death and dismemberment.

The fundamental problem with a bladed fight club is that the participants need to survive. They need to be in a condition where they can fight again next week. Getting carved up by a stray blow will put a damper on that. To say nothing of a stray death.

In Fight Club, the titular club was an expression of violent catharsis. For random guys who’ve never experienced real violence, it was an escape that presented the illusion of danger, without putting the participants in actual jeopardy. This kept the attrition rate fairly low, and allowed the group to grow. For something like this, that is absolutely critical.

If you start arming the participants, it would only take watching one guy getting opened up, and spraying blood all over the place before you might think, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” When you start hemorrhaging members like this, it becomes impossible to keep the numbers up, and the club would die off quickly; figuratively or literally.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Bayonets

Would it be useful or realistic to attach a knife to a gun? Would it be in anyway helpful in a fight in a smaller space or would it just get in the way and be unhelpful?

Well, that’s called a bayonet. They do exist. These date back to single shot firearms, where you’d be left without a functional weapon while reloading in an era when melee combat was still the norm. As with a lot of elements of military tradition and hardware, bayonets have massively outlived their usefulness.

Modern bayonets are (usually) functional combat knives with attachment points designed to lock onto a rifle. That said, some rifles do include integrated bayonets, which can be collapsed and stored on the gun.

Generally speaking, the only time you’d use a bayonet is when the rifle cannot be fired. Either because it’s out of ammunition, malfunctioning, or you’re in some incredibly specific situation where firing it would be a profoundly bad idea. Otherwise, even in close quarters, you’re better off pumping two or three rounds into someone.

Which leads back to the question about usefulness; not very. Detachable ones can be useful in the sense that you need a knife and just happen to be carrying one, but a well equipped combatant should have a knife or other cutting implement in easy reach regardless. In very rare circumstances, it’s a good augment for your rifle, but that’s more of an, “in theory,” consideration than a practical application.

Sticking a bayonet on a pistol (or revolver) isn’t a great idea. You’ll see these occasionally as novelty items, but you’d be better off simply bringing a separate knife. The one advantage a bayonet has, when it’s mounted on a rifle, is reach. Slapping one on a pistol makes the blade harder to control, without increasing its range.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Retired Assassins

How realistic is it for the retired agent/spy/assassin to come back and kick just as much butt as they did years before? Does such training come back to you easily if you haven’t used it in a long while or will you be rusty enough to get killed?

Parts of this are realistic, others not so much.

If you’ve spent enough time training techniques, this stuff gets baked into the way you move. It’s not, “oh, I’ll do this to someone;” it’s just there. Training can also affect how you look at the world; this is true as a general statement on life, but it also applies here. Again, as with muscle memory, this is always there, always affecting how you view your surroundings and the people in them.

So, in that sense, yes. A veteran character coming back after years away from the job will still have their skills and training. Some of that will be rusty, but this stuff sticks with you. Especially if you were maintaining your training for years. That said, they’ll still get their teeth kicked in.

Ironically, one of the more realistic takes I’ve seen on this was in the middle seasons of 24. In the early seasons, the protagonist, Jack Bauer, is a federal counterterrorist agent. After the third season he’s basically on his own, and no longer a part of the agency that trained him. By the fifth season (about 3 years later) he’s at a point where he’s getting his ass handed to him by a security guard.

The problem is something we’ve explained, repeatedly. Hand to hand combat is not static. The training I got 20 years ago doesn’t apply now. It will work against untrained opponents. Basic physiology doesn’t change. However, going up against opponents who’ve been keeping their training up to date, (or are some of the people responsible for updating the techniques in the first place), is not going to end well.

Something I know we haven’t discussed on this subject is how this updating happens. It requires contact with people who are actually using their training practically. Seeing what people are doing isn’t something that you can do sitting on a mountain top. You need to actually be immersed in the community. You look for how people are adapting to the techniques you’re training others in, and look for ways to get around those counters.

In the case of law enforcement, one major source if intelligence to guide updates is watching what criminals are teaching each other in prison. Career criminals will look for ways to counter police hand to hand, and once they have that, will (usually) share it with people they work and/or socialize with.

A veteran coming in after years away may be able to execute their training perfectly, and still get taken down by a rookie who received their training last year, because they were trained to counter the veteran’s approach.

Updating is about looking for the things that are most prevalent, and finding ways to defend against them. It’s very likely your veteran will understand this concept. Whether that affects their behavior is more of a characterization question.

Incidentally, this doesn’t just apply to hand to hand, it’s also a relevant concept when you’re talking about things like tradecraft.

Tradecraft is the shorthand for techniques used in intelligence gathering. It’s (somewhat) all encompassing. So, anything from social engineering to dead drops or even the way you set up surveillance could be lumped in under this header.

Just like hand to hand training, this stuff does go out of date. Usually once someone’s actually exploited a method and gotten caught doing it. Though, sometimes it’s preventative.

The irony is, when it comes to being a spy, the biggest problem is being a veteran, not being out of practice. It’s being a veteran. When a spy starts their career, no one knows who they are, they have no reputation, they’ve never turned up in strange places, they’re just someone walking around, taking in the sights, maybe doing a job for some NGO.

Even if a spy is never caught, as they work, their name will start ending up on desks, in lists of witnesses, employees, or whatever. Once is not a pattern, but as their name keeps coming up over the years, it becomes easier to identify them. Potential enemies start keeping files, and gradually filling them with what they know. This means it is much harder for a veteran spy to operate in the field undetected, than it is for a rookie.

There’s a similar issue for assassins. Either they’re a complete ghost, no one knows who they are, and may not even believe they ever existed, or (more likely), if they were working for a government (or any other large, overt organization, like a corporation), they’re in the same boat as a veteran spy. People may not know your character is an assassin, but they will know that they worked for someone. Which in turn, will put them on guard, and make your character’s life much harder.

There are concepts a veteran will have internalized, which someone without training won’t understand or grasp. Thing that just don’t go out of style. For example, bullets will blow through most residential walls and furniture. So, if someone’s taking cover behind a couch, kitchen wall, or car door, it’s far more expedient to simply shoot through whatever’s in your way. Another concept is one I’ve mentioned recently, you reload when you have the time, not when you’ve run your gun dry.

Similarly, experience they’ve learned from may still be relevant. Being able to read someone’s intentions, know when they’re about to resort to violence, or simply knowing the value of good intelligence aren’t going to go away because your character spent the last five years pretending to be a well-adjusted human being.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Shock

In film often when characters get stabbed/assaulted they can often continue to fight or don’t pass out immediately. How does adrenaline or shock factor into the physical reaction, especially when the character isn’t a cop or military and isn’t accustomed to being in these violent situations. How long would they be able to function before they crash? Is it possible to run away or even fight?

Taking these questions in reverse order: Yeah, kinda, sometimes, and it varies wildly, based on the injuries sustained. Also, it’s not the adrenaline crash that kills you.

Adrenaline rushes mean that you’re often unaware of injuries sustained in the moment. I’ve never been fully certain if adrenaline actually dulls the pain response, or if it simply causes your brain to ignore it. Either way, while you’re under an adrenaline rush you can suffer injuries and be unaware of them. It’s why you’ll sometimes see characters (and, for that matter, real people, with prior experience) checking themselves for injuries after combat (or any other traumatic event). It is entirely possible to be wounded and have no idea it’s happened until you’re trying to figure out where all that blood is coming from.

Depending on what you’ve just been through, coming down off an adrenaline rush can be deeply unpleasant. Your brain is sure something’s fucked up, but it can’t pin down exactly what or where, so it’s going to take that out on you, and everything aches. Adrenaline crashes won’t kill you. (There may be some weird outliers here for people with heart conditions, but, in general.) A crash may make you wish you were dead, or make you want to throw up on people, but it’s not lethal.

In the moment an adrenaline means that you can suffer (fairly severe) injuries and keep on fighting. If the injury doesn’t outright disable a limb, you can keep using it, even if that’s a very bad idea. Getting stabbed or shot is no guarantee that someone will sit down and peacefully bleed to death. Actually, shooting someone is a pretty good way to ensure they won’t sit down and bleed to death without protest.

When you’re trying to figure out how long it will take someone to die, you’re actually asking about how fast someone bleeds out. This relates directly to the injuries sustained. Someone who’s had a knife driven into their neck isn’t going to keep fighting. Someone who had it run through their bicep or buried in their shoulder blade, probably can.

We’ve covered blood loss before (and I strongly recommend you take a look at that tag, if you haven’t), but that’s the real factor here that controls if someone can fight. If they still have enough blood in their body to function. Lose too much, your ability to fight is impaired, and you’ll eventually fall unconscious and die.

Blood loss is why concepts like, “first blood,” are important in duels. Once that happens, the clock is ticking for that character; the longer the fight goes, the more their ability will decay, and unless they find a way to turn it around, they will die. (Even if they manage to prevail, they may still die without medical attention.)

Fighting through a stab wound is a fantastically bad idea. Engaging in any physically strenuous activity that raises your heart rate, (for example: fighting someone, or running away), will speed up blood loss, meaning impairment kicks in sooner. Still, the point of adrenaline is to keep you functional after sustaining an injury, so that you can survive.

If someone suffers an injury which disables them in some way, such as breaking an arm, there’s no powering through that. Adrenaline won’t let you override shattered bones. The biomechanical pulley system of muscles and tendons simply doesn’t work with broken bones.

So, the short answer is, “yeah, kinda.” You can keep fighting after being attacked. So far as it goes, there’s plenty of cases where someone took a stray bullet and kept on fighting, only to bleed to death later.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

Q&A: Practical Wear

What makes an outfit practical or impractical to fight in? Would an acrobat’s outfit with some decent shoes be okay to fight in? Any suggestions on how to make an outfit frilly/girly without sacrificing (too much) practicality? (Trying to come up with practical[ish] Magical Girl outfits – know it’s not your genre probably – there are certain expectations for frilliness even for tomboyish characters)

You’re, basically, looking for three things: How well can you move in it, does it give potential foes anything to grab, and does it offer any protection?

If you can’t move freely in your clothes, you can’t fight in them. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about them being tight enough to restrict movement, or if they make it difficult to walk around. Tight skirts, high heels, tailored suits; it doesn’t matter; they’ll all limit your ability to fight.

With footwear, you’re looking primarily at how well you can stand and move in it. Shoes and boots designed to grip the floor are (usually) the best options here. So, things like sneakers or work boots are good options. Rubberized soles will help you keep your footing far better when you’re standing in someone’s blood than a dress shoe or high heels.

Things like long coats, ties, free flowing skirts, scarves, hoodies, or of course capes, won’t usually limit your mobility, but they can give an opponent something to grab. Once that happens, that article of clothing will limit your mobility (some). This is also a factor that’s difficult to completely eliminate. Practiced martial artists can, and do, go for collar or lapel grabs on clothing you might think would pass. That said, there are some special cases here.

If the article of clothing will tear away freely, it’s (kind of) a wash. You’re still talking about losing clothes, which isn’t usually something you want, but it means you’re not getting dragged out of position by an attacker.

If the combatant is ready for it, it’s possible to use something like this as a firing point to retaliate. If you know, roughly, where their hand is, it’s much easier to extrapolate where the rest of them is in relation to you. This still doesn’t make fighting in long flowing garments a good idea.

The final factor, almost by definition, doesn’t really apply with magical girls as a genre, and can get a little weird when you’re talking about any superhuman characters.

Ideally, if you’re planning to get into a fight, you’ll want durable clothing that will take a few hits, and hopefully shield you from harm. Materials like leather and denim hold up much better than lighter fabrics. Insulation in a jacket will take some kinetic force from a strike (not a lot, but still), so it’s better than just jeans and a tee, or even a denim jacket. This also gets into a discussion we’ve had before. Protection is often about making tradeoffs.

An insulated leather jacket will (slightly) reduce your mobility. It will give an opponent something they can grab. But, it will also offer protection from stray hits and while parrying incoming strikes. It won’t protect against gunshots, or against a sword, and if that’s what your character was likely to face, they’d need armor to deal with those threats instead.

Somewhat obviously, exposed skin isn’t offered any protection. Technically, skin itself is protection for your body, and it does function as your first line of defense against infection, but that’s mostly academic in this context.

This is also where, magical girls, and most superhero subgenres, deliberately start straying from reality, without actually being unrealistic (in the literary sense). What matters is if your character has some kind of protection from the threats they’re facing. It doesn’t matter if that’s an ancient alien artifact, a mystical gemstone, or the weaponized power of friendship. That is what protects your character, not her denim vest. You’re also talking about characters where the threats they face are, effectively, impossible to mitigate through mundane means. Again, a leather jacket, no matter how snazzy, won’t do much against a death beam from some snarling murderbeast, or blows from a sword with an enchantment that drains the soul from anyone who touches it. As I’ve said before, you select your armor to deal with the threats you’re likely to face, and when it comes to magical girls, those threats are (almost always) going to be far beyond anything you could physically protect against.

Normally, you wouldn’t want to fight off an arisen god of war in a school girl uniform, but it’s not like a flak vest would offer any more protection against a threat like that.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.