All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Blocking Arrows

Would a person have time to put a shield up if they heard an arrow fired at them?

I’ll be honest, I’d be impressed if they heard the arrow being released. Bows aren’t completely silent, but as ranged weapons go, they’re close.

I’d be inclined to say, if they could hear the bow, they’re close enough that they wouldn’t have time to react. If they were far enough away to react, they wouldn’t be able to hear it.

Media tends to do two things with bows that might mess with you a bit. They give them sound effects because when you’re watching something on screen and there’s no audio, it “feels,” off, or like there’s been an error. Second, they tend to slow the projectiles way down, because it can very easily look like a jump cut, so they’ll aim for something that looks way goofier with the goal of creating a more “realistic,” scene. Neither of these practices are universal, and you will occasionally find good bow work on film, but it’s a rarity.

Blocking arrows with a shield is a real thing, but it’s more about knowing the arrows will be coming, and having your shield up in advance, rather than reacting to a surprise attack.

Someone who’s wired up to the point where if they think they hear a bow being released, will immediately  bring their shield up would be a nervous wreck, and could probably be startled off the ramparts by an unexpected kitten. Just, food for thought, though that might seem like a less plausible assassination technique.

-Starke

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Q&A: First Aid

Wounds and injuries will always happen when fighting. Any advice on treating them? Are ointments and salves a good idea?

It depends on the injury and what you’re applying.

For minor cuts and scrapes, the first thing you want to do is disinfect the wound. Rubbing alcohol works best for this. Turns out, hydrogen peroxide, doesn’t really. Worst case, clean water will clear debris from the wound, and can wash away some potential contaminates. There are other potential disinfectants, though, usually, alcohol is the one that comes to mind for me.

For what it’s worth, even hard liquor will work for this. So if you’re wondering about a western where people are using whiskey or gin to clean a wound, that does work.

On the other hand, ground water, rain water, or melted snow will not, and can present another potential vector for infection. If you boil it first, it can be used to clean a wound, but it wouldn’t have any disinfecting properties.

Once a wound has been cleaned, you can apply a gel to seal the wound over. Most of the time you’re talking about something like petroleum jellies (so Neosporin or Vaseline). These are, technically ointments, if you’re wondering. Another possible (and messier) example would be honey. The stuff is thick enough that it becomes a bacteriostatic barrier, and that can help to seal a wound while it heals.

After that, you can bandage it up and you’re good to go.

Some important details though. Understanding how bacterial infection works is a fairly modern concept. Particularly, understanding bacterial infection and the need to disinfect wounds dates to the mid-19th century. So, knowing you need to use whiskey to clean a gunshot wound in 1895 Texas make sense. Doing the same during the civil war, slightly less so.

More serious wounds will require more involved treatment. Someone who’s been shot or run through will require more extensive medical treatment than just slapping on an ointment and hoping for the best.

For broken bones, you’d need to stabilize and immobilize the break. Yes, setting breaks is a thing. No, you shouldn’t do it unless you’re a trained professional. Also, it’s much harder than TV makes it look.

If someone has been stabbed, and the blade is still sticking out of them, don’t pull it out. Leave that for the actual medical professionals. You’ll do more damage, and increase the bleeding, getting it out, than you would if you left it there. The same thing goes for arrow shafts, bullets, or, really, any other foreign object stuck in someone. Unless it’s actively continuing to kill them, don’t remove it. Seriously, pulling it out, and especially digging it out, will do more damage. There are some rare edge cases, but leave those for the professionals, who know what they’re doing. Pulling the knife out of your buddy can be a fantastic way to kill them. I mean, if you want to pull the knife out of yourself to stab someone else, sure, that’s kinda badass. Stupid, unhealthy, and a terrible idea, but have fun with that.

With bruises, there really isn’t much to do. You can watch it, and make sure that the swelling starts to come down. If it doesn’t, then that’s a much more serious issue. Otherwise, it’s just a sub-dermal (meaning below the skin) hemorrhage (meaning bleeding). You can put ice on it if that makes you feel better, but, really, it’s simply there.

Really, minor bruises are a fact of life for most fights. You’re going to pick some up no matter how “good” you are. Armor does help a lot with these. If you’ve got some anesthetic cream you want to smear on one, feel free. It’s (probably) not hurting anything. You can ice it, if that helps manage the pain, for you. Or you can live with them. Outside of some extremely rare cases, they’re not life threatening.

-Starke

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Q&A: Armor is not a Fashion Choice

How necessary is armor when using “blunt weapons”, not guns? It’s really hard to find reliable sources but I’m having trouble imagining a, let’s say, swordsman fighting without any type of armor just because it looks cool. Or just wearing a single piece of armor on their arm or shoulder for some purpose like they try to make it look. What if they get seriously injured righr after a match starts?

Then they become an important object lesson for why you should wear armor.

I understand the idea of skimping out on armor, specifically for the purpose of creating an aesthetically interesting character. But, there’s no practical application for this.

A character who can’t afford armor might be forced to go without, or scrounge what they could find, but, the armor you’re not wearing will not protect you from the injuries you suffer.

There are two important factors when choosing armor for a character: What can they obtain? And, what do they need it for?

As we’ve said before, armor is not universal. Different kinds of situations call for different types of armor. A character wandering around on horseback in an arid wasteland, scavenging ruins is not going to need, or want, the same armor as a raider wandering frozen tundra.

Just like with clothing, armor is about dressing appropriately. This means picking gear that will protect you from the threats you’ll face.

Within that context, asymmetric armor is a real possibility. If you’re going to be facing right handed combatants, it’s reasonable to further reinforce the armor on your left arm. That’s fine, and did happen. In extreme cases, you may wear armor on your left arm, and not armor your right arm. This isn’t usually a great idea, but it’s still there.

Also, heavy armor will wear you out faster. So, there are legitimate reasons for a character to run around in a padded armor or chain mail (over padded armor), without going to full plate (wearing that over the chain, and the padded under suit).

That said, someone who fought in heavy armor would train in it, and build up conditioning to take it into a fight. It’s exhausting, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff for the protection it provided.

Who your character is will control what armor they have access to. They may not have the money, or the ability, to buy the best gear. They may not even be able to buy good armor, depending on their setting, and whatever laws exist for them.

With that in mind, the two highest priorities are the torso and head. Doesn’t matter if it’s a breastplate, a chain shirt, or just a padded gambeson, taking blows to your vitals will end a fight. If your character has one piece of armor, it needs to be this.

Second priority is the helmet. Again, if your brain stops working, fight’s over. Depending on your priorities, this might edge out above the torso armor, but your skull is a smaller target to hit than your body. If you have two pieces of armor, follow up with a helmet.

I’m actually going to step back for a moment and point out; when it comes to safety gear, the helmet is more important. When you’re dealing with hitting pavement, or falling debris, protecting your head is more important. There are also some other edge cases where the helmet is more important than body protection, including in sports. However, when you’re outfitting a character for combat, you’ll want both.

After you have a chest piece and a helmet, then you can worry about other fun things like Boots, asymmetric pauldrons, gauntlets, bracers, a single fingerless glove, greaves, sabatons, whatever. Protecting the limbs is your first goal here, keeping those in functional shape after a stray hit. Then you can worry about reinforcing so that they can take intentional hits, depending on what threats your character will face. The scavenger above will get more value out of boots and sturdy gloves, while the raider would probably benefit more from bracers or full gauntlets.

Also, worth noting that a lot of those names I’m listing, come from specific eras. The sabaton is fifteenth century, the pauldron evolved from spaulders sometime around the fifteenth century, the gambeson is (roughly) thirteenth, and gradually transitioned into the arming doublet later. In some cases, the armor you might be thinking of wouldn’t even exist yet. It’s easy to point at “medieval armor,” and say that you want that, but armor has gone through significant technological advancement throughout history. So picking and choosing what you want can quickly result in an anachronistic mess.

Lumping armor into one “medieval” category does result in strange anachronisms, including armor types that never existed, or ones that were designed specifically to deal with threats which don’t exist in their new setting. A common example are fifteenth century variants of plate armor which were designed to deal with gunfire being dropped into high fantasy settings without firearms. Also, leather armor.

Leather can be a really nice material to use for components where you need flexibility, with a little bit of protection. Gloves or boots, for example. But, it doesn’t make for particularly good armor against armed opponents. It is a good option to dress a character in, if they’re spending most of their time away from civilization, and they need clothes that will survive years of wear and tear, but that’s not the same as armor.

I realize I haven’t even touched on the blunt weapons part of the question. The very short answer here is that, while some blunt weapons like maces and warhammers were designed as anti-armor options, you’re still better off being hit by one of those while wearing armor than not. Yes, taking a mace to the head while wearing armor will suck, but taking a mace to your skull without armor will just result in a smeary mess, and a corpse for someone to loot.

-Starke

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Q&A: Evil Organization Caught Being Evil – News at 11

Commonly, when a character escapes Evil Organization™, they stay low and try to avoid getting their face in the news. Could doing the opposite and making themselves as obvious and well-known as possible work instead because it would be more obvious if someone tried to kill them (especially if they dropped hints that someone might be after them)?

Well, if you’ve trademarked your company, “Evil Organization,” then you’re probably not too worried about the headlines. You may also have some branding issues that Marketing will want to discuss with you, but, that’s a different issue.

“Evil Organization caught eating kittens!”

“Yeah, well, no surprise there.”

So, in concept, there’s a couple factors to consider with your approach. Because, in the right circumstances, it could work as a deterrent.

Does the organization care about its public image? Normally, you’d think the answer is yes. Especially if you’re talking about a business. But, when you’re talking about a pseudo-government agency, or something like a criminal enterprise, or conspiracy, they might not.

The simplest way to look at it is, a company that runs a chain of department stores will care far more about how they’re perceived publicly, than a supervillian hiding in his volcano lair.

If they don’t care about their public image, then publicly waxing your protagonists isn’t a problem.

In fact, depending on their reputation, it may be a boon. If your characters are on the run from a crime family, a very public execution would actually work in their favor.

The old cliche about, “all publicity is good publicity,” doesn’t quite hold true. But, if you’re attempting to cultivate a reputation as someone who should not be messed with, a public, and messy, execution or two can do wonders for keeping people in line.

Will it face any significant backlash for its behavior? If you’re talking about an individual, sure. Even if the evil conspiracy is just a room full of businessmen and their hired gun, then they could be rounded up, arrested, put on trial. There could be consequences if they’re caught. But, if we’re talking about something like a government agency or a drug cartel, that starts to go off the rails.

With criminal organizations, then your character would become another statistic. One of many dead due to violence. A tragedy that, as I mentioned earlier, would actually benefit them. Serving as a warning to everyone else to stay in line and do what they say. Now, there are diminishing returns for this kind of an approach, but that’s something your characters could only enjoy posthumously.

If the conspiracy your characters are running from have hooks in the law enforcement community, it may not be possible for your characters to hide in plain sight. Even if it’s a business or corporation, they could still find themselves subject to arrest, if the company started providing evidence of criminal acts (real or otherwise) committed by your characters.

Can it still get access to your characters without exposing itself? This should be somewhat obvious, but the organization might not need to publicly out itself to kill your characters. Depending on who they are, it might not even be possible to connect the killer to the people pulling the strings.

If the evil organization has the capacity to execute a covert assassination, your characters gained nothing by taking this approach.

Really, this question supersedes the others. If the answer is “yes,” your characters are screwed.

In fact, by taking this approach, your characters may have put themselves in a worse position. It’s entirely possible the organization may not have the resources to find them, if they’d fled to the dark side of the moon, and kept out of sight. But, they’ve publicly told their foes where to find them.

There are potential applications for this. If your characters want to drag their foes out into the opening, sticking a big, “here I am, come get me,” sign on social media will bring them in. But, that’s the opposite of going into hiding, to avoid their foes, and more something to do when you want to definitively eliminate your foes.

If your characters want to lure the organization into a compromising situation, this may be useful. It’s one thing if a covert hit squad can actually find and kill your characters. But, it’s another if they can be coaxed into assaulting a high society cocktail party when your characters aren’t even there.

There’s also a few big problems with this approach.

Everyone wants to be famous. I realize this isn’t strictly true. There are plenty of people out there who are quite happy to pass unnoticed. However, there are many people who do want to be famous. Actually getting to that point is hard, time consuming, work. It’s a skill set.

Cultivating a fan base, keeping people interested, building up your brand. This all takes time, and effort. It’s not something you can just, flip a switch, and achieve (unless you are improbably lucky).

This means there’s a long time frame between your character announcing their existence, and the point that they’d actually enjoy any protection from their fame. It also means there’s no guarantee they’d ever reach a level of fame that actually offered any protections.

Being famous is inherently dangerous. Actual celebrity assassinations are fairly rare, though they do happen. That said, fame is a peculiar creature, which has an unfortunate effect on many. People, complete strangers, sometimes not entirely stable strangers, want to get close, participate, feel like they’re part of it.

Spend any considerable time following entertainment news, and you’ll see a long procession of weirdos breaking into peoples houses, attacking others. It is a real phenomena. In an attempt to find safety, your characters are actually putting themselves in more danger.

You can’t control what people care about. Honestly, this is something to keep in mind as a writer, but it applies to your characters as well. Sure, your characters can make themselves publicly available, suggest that they know things, draw attention onto themselves, and hope that will provide protection, but it might not.

This is also one of those things where people might not care about your character at all until after they’re dead. Which is a partial victory, I guess, but doesn’t do them much good.

It’s also entirely likely your character simply wouldn’t manage to reach enough people to draw them in, especially if they’re regularly making comments that sound like they’re six sunflower seeds off becoming a full blown conspiracy theorist.

Like I said earlier, there are applications to this approach. Your characters could make use of it as part of a larger plan. Particularly if their goal is to expose the evil organization somehow by provoking them. But, it’s still incredibly dangerous, and wouldn’t provide much, if any, protection.

-Starke

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Q&A: Bastard Swords and Zweihanders

bastard swords and zweihanders are so massive, they have to be carried either at the side of a giant or extremely tall character, of on a person’s back. as well, how well do they work? is it a matter of fighting style, terrain, opponents, all the above? they look so cool and awesome, but are also just so big

So, it’s probably worth saying, up front, the bastard sword is, basically, a modern term. Not, a modern invention per say. The term itself is also not new. But, the way it’s applied today is less than 200 years old.

The bastard sword is just a different name for a longsword. Usually the definition would be, “a longsword with a two handed grip,” but, really, that is most longswords.

So, you’re talking about a sword with a 28″-36″ blade, and a grip you can hold in both hands, or use one handed. Historically, these would have just been called “swords.” Nothing particularly special about them.

As much as I like “zweihander” as a term, it’s probably worth remembering that this is, just, German for “two handed.” They’re long blades, usually around 48″ inches, though they do come longer. They also have a longer grip, to give the user more leverage. These are going to be heavier than a normal sword, but it’ll still be less than your average, domestic house cat.

In general, the etymology of most European two handed swords boils down to, “hey, it’s a big sword.” Even the Claymore is basically just, “hey, it’s a big sword,” in Gaelic. The zweihander is just, “hey, you’re going to need more than one hand to use this,” in German. (Incidentally, there are alternate German names for large swords including bihander. I’ve never come across the German Grossschwert, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s an acceptable term as well.)

Beyond that, a zweihander is still a sword, you use it like a sword. This means the normal strike patterns for a blade still work. It’s been scaled up, but not to the point that it’s become unmanageable. The point is to make a sword that can win a game of bleed tag, not turn it into a roving slab you can’t get moving before your opponent has run you through.

Because of the longer grip, two-handed swords do allow for some more fluid, circular strike patterns. From what I know, these were mostly practiced by Spanish and Portuguese schools. If I understand correctly, schools in that region viewed greatswords as a tool for dealing with multiple attackers. I’m not entirely sure if this was simply a drill technique, to get the swordsman used to the idea of moving between opponents, or if they really intended these guys to take on multiple opponents simultaneously. The former seems far more likely, and is a useful skill to cultivate for any combatant.

The major difference between a longsword and a zweihander is reach. A zweihander will let you strike at foes who are not close enough to attack with their blades, while still giving you a way to keep them at range, and punishing them for attempting to close. This is especially true of thrusts with a zweihander, which can vastly exceed what you’d see from a “normal,” longsword.

In most cases two handed swords could be used one handed, but because of the extra weight it was exhausting and the user would sacrifice some fine control over the blade.

You are right about the blade length. At least with the Zweihander. These were long blades, and if you were traveling, you’d probably want to wrap it, and carry across your back or along side your pack. If you were traveling with a horse, you would probably leave that on your horse. If you were expecting trouble, you’d need to get it ready before things got out of hand, because you wouldn’t get the opportunity in the moment. Also, unlike large axes, polearms, or staves, you couldn’t really use on as a walking aid when not in use. And, yes, just because you can’t draw a sword from your back doesn’t mean you can’t keep one there for later.

-Starke

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Tag Clouds and A New Plan

Like a lot of blogs on Tumblr we used Post-Theory for our tag cloud. At the time, it was a pretty nice option, and allowed you to embed a tag cloud onto your blog.

Post-Theory relied on an external server. So, while they had a .tumblr blog, the actual heavy lifting was being done off site on their server.

Unfortunately, back in late June, Post-Theory’s external server went down, and started returning a 503 error. A 503 can indicate that the server is simply down for maintenance, or that it’s been temporarily knocked offline due to extreme load. The issue may be as simple as their server exceeded its bandwidth.

Regardless, their tag cloud is down, and has been for over two months. At the time, I said I’d give them a week to sort it out, and then start looking for alternate solutions. That took a little longer than I intended.

There are a couple other setups that allowed you to host a tag cloud locally, but unfortunately, all of those either ran up against inherent limitations in the Tumblr API (which I’m still not sure how Post-Theory got around), or simply didn’t work.

Eventually, the solution I managed to come to was to backport everything over to a wordpress blog, and use their tools to generate a tag cloud.

This is why last night’s posts had that, “originally posted,” stinger. It actually links back to a unique .com address with a functional (if somewhat limited tag cloud), and not the tumblr blog.

We also have an automated system set up so that when a post goes live on HowtoFightWrite.com, it also posts to HowtoFightWrite.tumblr.com. (It was also automatically posting older posts that I was editing on the site.)

So, what does this mean? We’re still going to be operating on Tumblr. That’s not changing. I’m also going to be going through old posts and cleaning up the tags we used, so that the tag cloud is more useful than it has been. This is something I’ve had on my to-do list for a long time, but the tumblr interface makes messing with old posts, even to clean up their tags, a very daunting task.

Any answers or articles we post will still go up on Tumblr. Though, the reblogs will probably stay there.

Worst case, the site is paid for through the spring of 2019, so even if we’re killed by the beer truck, that resource will still be there.

Right now, there’s a little over 1,700 posts I need to pick through, clean up, and tweak the tags around. There’s also roughly 2,600 tags, of those only about 300 are actually used. So, that list is going to be trimmed down a bit as well.

Our goal is to have a coherent, useful, resource available to people when we’re done.

-Starke

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Q&A: M14 Wounds

What do you think he damage from an M14 if a person was hit in the shoulder from the front would look like? I’m trying to make the damage from the hit as realistic as I can! [if distance is needed, it is about 4 to 5 rooftops away. tight old city blocks rather than larger apart] Thanks for the advice!

No offense, I don’t particularly want to look this one up, but wound channel charts are available for most common rounds. It’s a little harder to find ballistic data for unusual rounds, like 5.7mm, but the M14 is chambered in 7.62mm NATO. It’s a very common round.

Off the top of my head, you’re looking at a fairly small entry wound. The exit wound will depend on if the bullet hit bone on the way through or not. If it did, it it will shatter the bone, and take that with it, leaving a sizable hole on the way out. (I’m going to spitball that at around 2″-3″), if it goes through clean, which is kinda unlikely, but not impossible, you’re looking at an exit wound not much larger than the bullet.

It’s also possible, on a bone impact, for the bullet to shatter resulting in multiple exit wounds.

Generally speaking, when you have deeper penetration of meat with a 7.62, it will start to expand. Someplace after about 10-15cm of penetration, it will actually produce a much larger tissue displacement. This isn’t really an issue if you’re pumping rounds into a person, but if it’s something larger, or if the bullets are hitting center mass, it can be a factor.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sword Cane Followup

kuraitenshi2012:

A way to compensate for a smaller blade is having it made with “rare metal” or with “magic” whichever may fit your story better.

I own my own cane sword as well, the blade itself was dull from before I bought it, but it’s more like a dagger.

As far as cane design, if you taper it down to a strong point it’ll be less suspicious. If you have the handle lock a pressure turn you can make it look more like a 2×4 that’s been quickly sanded and turned into a cane, it won’t be too suspicious but not completely hidden.

If we’re stepping outside the range of what’s possible, and into straight up fantasy weapons, I still adore Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane. It’s not technically a sword, since it goes from being a cane to a serrated whip, but still.

-Starke

Q&A: Sword Cane

How practical is a hidden sword inside a walking stick/cane? How wide could a person go before the cane became suspiscious as to be concealing something? And would such a weapon be strong enough in serious skirmishes? Or should a user stick to simply using the cane, and perhaps having a hidden blade in the end?

Amusingly, I used to own a sword cane. I threw it out during the last move, otherwise I could post pictures.

The sword canes I’ve seen have been screw on arrangements. Externally, they look like a normal cane with a metal band just below the grip (which isn’t unusual for normal canes either).

They use very narrow blades to maintain the silhouette of a normal cane. This is a necessary component of the design, by the way. The entire point is to have a hidden blade, which falls apart when you’re carrying around something that looks more like a scabbard than a cane. You’re talking about a blade that’s going to be, at most, around 1/2″ across, and usually around 24″ to 25″ long.

The primary purpose of these things was as a self defense tool. It’s not a weapon intended for heavy combat, just to deal with one guy armed with a knife.

To some extent, overall practicality depends on the individual weapon, not sword canes as a whole. For example, the one I owned featured a very loose blade, which could be rattled by shaking the grip slightly. Rattling it may serve the intended purpose of scaring off a potential mugger, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take the thing into a fight.

-Starke

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