Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: God of War

How physically (in)feasible would weapons like the Blades of Chaos from God of War be in real life (the in-game nonsense about attachment aside)? The blades themselves are too big to be accurate thrown weapons, which I’m assuming the chains are supposed to compensate for, but I don’t quite understand the aerodynamics and weights versus a meteor hammer (or other, slightly more conventional weapon of that sort).

The short answer is, they’re not. For the exact reason you mentioned, the Blades of Chaos are far too heavy to use, this is before you even consider throwing them. Man at Arms built one back in 2013. To make the thing work, they actually used a lighter steel alloy, scaled it down, and ported it to get the weight of the blade under 10lbs. Even ignoring the part where Kratos is throwing them, these are stupidly big blades.

So the overall size isn’t an option. You can chalk this up to art design, or superpowers, if you want, but the swords are simply oversized to the point that they’re unusable. If you want to say, “that’s art design,” sure. That’s fine. It’s not authentic to the real world, but you’re talking about a steroid junkie who was resurrected from the dead hunting down and killing the Greek Gods, so, there’s not a lot of point to arguing if his swords are too large for a human to wield them. Just, you know, keep in mind, that’s part of the material’s visual aesthetic.

As with using them, they’re too heavy to throw at someone. That said, sticking a blade on the end of a length of rope or chain was a real weapon that saw use in China. We’ve talked about rope darts or kunai before. These are, basically, a small throwing dagger that is controlled by the user via the attached chain or chord. These are pretty popular in martial arts films, and they are a real option. There’s also a number of blunt variants, including the meteor hammer you mentioned. In those cases, you’re less worried about aerodynamics, and more interested in using the chain to control where and how the weapon spins. Sort of like a yo-yo, of horrific death and dismemberment.

There are practical points for both the Blades of Chaos and the rope dart, but they’re fundamentally different contexts.

Rope darts, and similar weapons are incredibly hard to deal with defensively. Against a trained user, they’re nearly impossible to block or parry.  Beyond that, they can be incredibly hard to predict. They’re also very difficult to use. It takes a lot of training and practice to actually put the blade where you want it. This means that a skilled practitioner can give these some very idiosyncratic strike arcs.

The Blades of Chaos are designed to do something you usually don’t want in a weapon: They’re designed to telegraph the user’s actions, and it is incredibly important that they do so.

For those of you unfamiliar with the God of War franchise, it’s a character action game where you control Kratos, an undead, Spartan warrior. Gameplay is (primarily) presented from an isometric perspective, where Kratos takes up somewhere around 2%-5% of the screen at any given moment. Part of this is to provide a sense of scale, and the series has a frequent sub-theme of sticking him next to incomprehensibly massive enemies. So, making him visually small is thematically important. It’s also important from a gameplay perspective. The player needs to be able to see the entire arena they’re currently fighting in, so that they can track enemy movement, and avoid attacks.

The chains attached to the Blades of Chaos provide two critical functions. They provide several medium range attacks for the player, and they offer the player feedback. That’s the telegraphing thing I mentioned earlier.

Given the way combat flows in the franchise, the ranged attack options are critical. The idea is that they player will be involved in melee combat, and continue to engage in it immediately after killing an opponent. There’s a number of ways to deal with this design goal, including lunge attacks or medium range options. As far as I know, God of War does both. The blades are also used as traversal tools, both in a chain pull to move the player around the battlefield (that’s a lunge move), and as climbing aids for some of those massive boss fights. (And some miniboss fights.)

In a character action game, telegraphing your attacks is actually fairly important. It runs contrary to actual combat doctrine for the exact reason that you’d never want to do this in a fight. In a game, you need to know exactly what your character is doing at all times. You also need to know what your enemies are doing. Because, as a genre, character action games tend to ramp up the speed of combat significantly, and maintain a high tempo, this means you’re not going to have the time to take a measured look at your opponent and evaluate their movements. So, for it to be playable, everything needs to be telegraphed. If you don’t, the combat will become nearly unplayable or, worse, feel unresponsive and inconsistent.

The cartoonist proportions of the blades are (I suspect) largely because you need to convey information to the player, in game, quickly. They’re comically oversized, but that’s because you need to be able to track them on your TV, from the couch, when Kratos is smaller than an action figure. The part where they ignite when used just gives you clear information on what you just did, where that hit landed and, (most importantly), when you’ll be able to do something else.

That last part is a huge component behind why all of this is so important for a game like God of War. (Not just a video game in general, but this specific genre.) When you’re designing a game, it’s important to understand what aesthetic elements communicate to the player. There’s a lot of parts to this, and it’s not always as simple as just the art style.

This is also why you don’t want to take stuff straight out of a video game without seriously considering what it was doing there in the first place. In this case, it’s telegraphing.

That said, if you’re drawing art, the whole oversized weapon aesthetic can serve (roughly) the same purpose: to communicate the progress of combat clearly. It also gives you more space for fine detail work on the weapons, which may work into your overall aesthetic as well. It’s not realistic, but there are artistic merits to the style.

When you’re in a real fight, the last thing you want is your opponent to know what you’re doing. This is one of the things the rope dart excels at, and part of why a lot of martial arts focus on keeping your movements inside the body’s profile. Humans process objects by identifying the outlines, and it will (usually) lump a person together as a single object, or a small collection of objects, meaning tracking motion inside that outline is actually harder. It’s not that you can’t see it, just that there’s a momentary lag of your brain going, “wait, what was that? I wasn’t paying attention.” In a fight, that can be fatal.

When you see stuff like this actually play out in video games, it tends to result in feeling like you couldn’t tell what was happening, or attacks came out of nowhere. In short, it’s not fun.

Television and films often use large exaggerated movements for the same reason, to convey what’s happening. It’s part of why the roundhouse punch is so prominent on screen (particularly up into the late 60s), when attempting the actual move in a fight is borderline suicidal. (The other reason this persisted is, it’s a very easy attack to whiff for the camera. Meaning it makes life much easier on the actors. Additionally, the long windup means the other actor has plenty of warning to cue their reaction. Again, the opposite of what you’d want in a real fight.)


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Q&A: Trope Patrol

So, would you say that humans, who have used intelligence and ranged attacks to become the dominant species on this planet, are instead the Squishy Wizard trope?

At the risk of sounding contradictory, no. If you wanted to delve into TV Tropes, and come back with humans expressed as a single example, my first thought is actually Proud Warrior Race Guys. And, before you ask, no, this isn’t because I’m constantly writing about violence.

Basically, there’s two major pieces to this:

Compared to the other animal life on this planet, we’re ridiculously resilient. Humans can survive punishment that would flat out kill anything else. It doesn’t mean that we’re invincible, somewhat obviously. What we are is durable, resistant to poisons, (though, again, not immune, obviously).

Remember, we consider consuming toxins which will kill pretty much everything a form of recreation. And, if you accidentally cut yourself, you can use hard liquor as an antiseptic.

In particular, human endurance is one of our major evolutionary advantages, up there with our intelligence, and tool use. If you’ve never heard the term persistence predation, it’s a hell of a concept. Without advanced tools, humans can hunt their prey by simply being better at conserving energy, and literally wearing their quarry down until they’re no longer able to flee. Even in modern hunter-gatherer societies, humans can simply jog an animal to death, by preventing it from having the opportunity to rest. This has even been documented as a tactic against other predators. You don’t have to be faster, you just need to be fast enough to keep them from catching their breath, and sharp enough to find where they’ve gone. Then repeat until they’re completely exhausted and defenseless. Kill, cook, eat.

If you’ve ever wondered why humans are, mostly, hairless (in comparison to most mammals), this is probably a major factor. In extremely hot climates, sweating to regulate body temperature works far more efficiently than having to slow down and hyperventilate. Also, part of why humans can operate in climates that are too hot for our animals.

The second part is, none of that matters when you’re dealing with another human. While we are hard to kill, we’re far better at killing each other. We’ve had the entirety of our history to practice.

That is what combat technology (including unarmed martial arts) has developed to achieve. Even then, most untrained fighters can’t really do much to each other, outside of accidentally getting lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view). The real danger is facing someone who knows what they’re doing.

Take two humans who know what they’re doing, and, yeah, we are pretty squishy against one another. As I said, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out exactly what it takes to make other members of our species stop flailing and screaming. For someone or something without that background, it gets pretty tricky.

There are a lot more parts to both of these thought processes, and it is important to remember that the real catalyst for a lot of this is human intelligence. So, in that sense, you’re not completely wrong. It’s just important to remember that, when it comes to humans, we’re not really that squishy; we’re just very adapted to killing one another, which is where the, “glass cannon,” comment came from.


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Q&A: Don’t Cook This At Home

How long would somebody be able to be burned on an open fire without sustaining life threatening burns? Also i love your blog 😀 Thank you for your time!

I’m honestly not sure exactly how long, but it’s not going to take much time.

A quick caveat: The data I could find was on conductive burns, not convection burns, so there is a little bit more leeway, but this one isn’t going to end well. Also, this is one of those times where I’m having to make an educated guess. I don’t have this particular bit of info internalized, and I can’t find a concrete answer on short notice.

Direct contact with water or steam over 155 Fahrenheit (68C) can result in third degree burns in around a second. For reference: Water boils at around 212F (100C), so even if you haven’t brought it to a boil, you’re already in range for some serious injuries, just messing around with simmering.

An open bonfire tops out at around 1100F (593C). Technically, the sustained temperature will be a bit lower than that, and it will vary by the wood being used. Of course, when you’re talking about temperatures in the 500C range, five degrees difference isn’t going to mean much. (Also, if that wasn’t enough fun, a charcoal briquette can burn at nearly twice that.)

Remembering that third degree burns are life threatening, and remembering that the smoke emitted from the flame will start out at roughly the same temperature as the fire. I’m inclined to say under a second.

It’s not that being set on fire is an immediate death sentence, nor that there aren’t some unusual circumstances where someone could get away unscathed. (Firewalkers are a thing, after all. They rely on a thin layer of moisture on their feet to avoid burning.) There are also plenty of burn survivors who have been, literally, set on fire. But, this is one of those things that can flat out kill someone. Even if they somehow survive the heat, the resulting smoke inhalation will probably finish the job.


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Q&A: Blanks

Hi! I wanted to know if a gun loaded with blank ammo would weight the same as one loaded with real bullets? and if someone with a lot of gun training could tell the difference? (sorry if you already answered this!)

Objectively: yes. Depending on the cartridge, more than half of the weight can come from the actual bullet itself. So, a blank would lack that weight.

However, being able to tell when you pick it up is a lot harder to pin down. With a smaller magazine, the overall weight difference will be much lower. With a larger magazine, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a partial mag with live rounds, and a full magazine of blanks (going by weight alone).

However, it’s worth knowing, blank rounds do not look like live ones. They do not produce recoil like live rounds. They do not sound like live rounds. In short, this kind of a ruse only works if you hand someone a loaded gun. Even then, if they do a press check, the ruse is over.

Modern metal cartridges have a shell casing, with a bullet seated into open end. Blanks don’t. Their shell casing is there, but the bullet is missing. Instead, some wadding is inserted in front of the propellant and the case itself is crimped shut.

The important takeaway is that, if someone who knows what a bullet should look like, actually sees a blank cartridge, they’ll know something’s wrong.

Also worth remembering that blanks can be lethal at short ranges. (Up to about five feet or six feet, as I recall.) You’re still spraying ignited gunpowder out the barrel, which can result in serious burns at close range. Firing while in direct contact with tissue, will force the rapidly expanding gas into the victim causing serious tissue disruption.

Blanks are useful for a few things. Theatrical performances, magic tricks, starter pistols, and if you need to put the force of a bullet behind something… strange.

Let me explain the last one in a bit more detail. Blank cartridges have utility in allowing you to propel non conventional payloads. This is how some nail guns used to work, by the way.

There have been more inventive uses for blank cartridges. Off hand, a couple M1911 attachments were designed during WWII. One would mount an impact grenade over the barrel, while the other tried to use the pistol as a grappling hook launcher.

The alternative are dud or dummy rounds. These look like live bullets, and are much closer in weight. The distinction here is that there’s no powder or primer, just a bullet, and shell casing. You can press check these without realizing you’re not loading a live round, and can dry fire the gun without having to worry about shooting someone (with some important caveats).

If you’re thinking of one of those loyalty tests, where someone hands a character a gun, and tells them to execute a captive, dummy rounds are the way to go, not blanks.

Dummy rounds are also how you’d set up a shot for a film, where the camera needs close ups of the round being fed into the chamber, or you want to get a shot up the barrel at the bullet itself.

The important caveat with dummy rounds is, it’s still a bullet. Dry firing can’t propel the round out of the barrel, but it can sometimes knock the bullet into the barrel, (called migrating). Switching from dry firing a dummy round, to loading a gun with blanks can create a situation where you have a round in the barrel, and the blank cartridge will propel it like any other bullet. One of the more famous examples of this happening is the death of Brandon Lee.

During shooting of The Crow, the armorer had gone home for the day, and a prop assistant was handling the weapons (which is a very bad idea to begin with). He used a dummy round for close up shots of the bullet moving into chamber on the revolver (which is fine on its own). Then, when setting up for the next shot, dry fired the revolver (never dry fire a gun), and ejected the dummy rounds, before loading a cylinder of blanks (apparently without making any attempt to inspect the barrel, or even to check if the dummy rounds were intact). Then, when actor Michael Massee fired the prop, the blank propelled a live round into Brandon Lee killing him.

The tragedy came out of the prop assistant not following basic safety procedures. This included the production “making” their own dummy rounds by dumping the powder from live rounds. (Without realizing that there would still be a primer charge in the cartridge.)

When it comes to training? No. Your training on firearms (at least in general) wouldn’t let you know if you were just handed a firearm full of blanks, based on the weight. As I said, executing a press check would.

Press checks are where you partially cycle the weapon manually to verify that there is, in fact, a round in the chamber. For most handguns, this is achieved by partially drawing back the slide. For most rifles, you’ll partially cycle the bolt. When handed a gun, it is one of the first things any experienced operator should do. There’s an edge case with revolvers or break open weapons, where opening the breach won’t actually tell you that you’ve got blanks, since you’ll only see the back of the cartridge.

If this is your gun, you can tell if it’s loaded or empty based on weight. You could probably tell if it was fully loaded or partially loaded. You can’t tell if it’s fully loaded with blanks, or partially loaded with live rounds.

If you’re handed a gun, you can’t tell. You don’t know if the Glock you were just handed has one of those 10 round low-cap mags, or if it’s a high-cap mag fully loaded with blanks. In fact, with Glocks in particular, unless you inspect the weapon carefully, you may not even know what it should weigh. The company uses the same pistol frames, and chambers those in a wide range of rounds, from 9x19mm, up through .45, and even 10mm Auto.  This is, to varying degrees, a common problem with a lot of handguns that are available chambered for multiple rounds. This is before you consider the weight differences caused by modifying the weapon with aftermarket parts. This is also true of some rifles, to varying degrees.

This is also true with the whole, recognizing if a gun is empty by weight. If it’s yours, then yes, you should know what it weighs, roughly. Though honestly, it’s more the weight distribution that you’d notice, rather than the overall weight. If you’re simply handed a gun, you won’t have a reliable baseline (even if you think you’re familiar with that model). Still, the first thing you should do, when handed a firearm, is to press check it, and visually inspect the magazine. That would expose if the gun had been loaded with blanks.


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Q&A: Glass Cannons

So is a “glass cannon” (i.e. Somebody who can dish out a lot of damage, but can’t take much in return) really possible? Or can you really not cause significant impact if you aren’t physically strong/conditioned enough to take a hit?

Not really. It might be more accurate to say, humans are, by nature, glass cannons, but I’ll come back to this in a second.

For those unfamiliar, a glass cannon is a build, usually from RPGs, where you minmax a character to have a very high damage output at the cost of any defensive options.

The problem is, that’s not how people really work. You can’t trade outgoing damage for durability in the real world.

RPGs, and storytelling in general, tend to exaggerate the differences between people. Yes, one person may be healthier or tougher than another, but not to the point where they can shrug off bullets.

So, let’s look at why this exists at all. Combat in games is, at best, an abstraction. You’re working with a specific amount of hit points or some other concrete limit to the amount of damage a character can take. If everyone is forced into playing the exact same way, that will result in an uninteresting experience, particularly in a game where you’re including multiple players simultaneously.

Supporting distinct builds to aid with unique play styles can go a long way towards keeping combat interesting, and under the best circumstances, ensure that everyone can contribute and that they should have some unique options based on their choices.

This kind of game design can easily lead something called, “the trinity.” A trinity is three (or more) players, split between tanking, damage, and support roles. Tanks draw the attention of the foes. Damage (or DPS (Damage Per Second) in most video games) actually kills the, now distracted, foes. Support heal and otherwise enhance the other participants. Depending on game design, there’s a lot of opportunities to blend across these roles. For example, the Tank may also have the ability to buff other characters, or the Support may have additional crowd control options. But, the short version is, it’s built around the idea of having a character who can take a beating, and a cadre of fragile characters focused on dealing significant damage.

(Yes, I know the trinity is usually expressed as Tank/Healer/DPS.)

This is where the glass cannon excels (and the only place it really exists). Even without a tank, you’re still dealing with an abstract combat system, where you’re trying to reduce the opponent’s hit points to zero before they do the same. In many games, saying, “screw defense,” and stacking damage output is a viable (if sometimes difficult) strategy. So long as you can reduce the opponent’s HP to zero before they can do the same to you, it’s a win. (This practice is sometimes called a Damage Race, in case you’re wondering.)

In fact, with some games, forgoing defense can result in massive bonuses that, in the hands of a skilled player, can be substantially more valuable than the sacrificed defense. This is especially true of games with multiple defensive systems, where you’re trading one form of defense for another while still increasing outgoing damage.

The problem is, when it comes to real combat, none of this matters. You’re not going to be dodging bullets, or hitting eleven times as hard because you’ve got a flanking bonus. You’re also not going to be five times tougher than someone you’re facing. If your opponent collapses your lung with a well placed sword strike, that’s it, you’re down.

This is why these kinds of abstractions exist, by the way. When you’re in combat, knowing what’s been injured is what matters. Even blood loss which, I guess, you could argue is, “kinda like,” HP, is still an injury, with its own effects. Trying to calculate realistic injuries with a D20 at 3am just isn’t going to be fun, so instead we get an abstract, “damage,” value. That’s far easier to manage on paper, and since all of the combat is an abstraction anyway, the players are allowed to tell their own story with it.

Fast forward 40 years, and we’re now crunching numbers on computers. It’s way easier to calculate realistic injuries, but we still don’t because, “hey, this is more fun than realizing your character is hemorrhaging internally, will be dead in under an hour, but you can’t actually do anything except hope someone swings by and helps.” Characters suffer damage, and we get on with our day. It also fits with the kinds of heroic fantasies we’re buying in to.

When you create a glass cannon, you’re playing a character who’s hyper lethal, but is still inhumanly durable. You’ve chosen that instead of a character who’s traded some of that extra lethality for even more resilience. Really, strip the surface off of most RPGs and you’re playing a superhero (or villain). (Yes, even in high fantasy settings.) There’s nothing wrong with that per-say. It’s an aspect of the genre since the beginning; whether you trace it back to Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber, or Tolkien.

If that was the question, “can you have a superhero who’s a glass cannon?” Yes. Absolutely. You can create a character who has offensive powers or capacities, but has no enhanced defenses. Arguably characters like The Punisher would fall under this header. If you have a setting with superheroes, any of your non-powered characters will be glass cannons by default. They can’t soak off a bullet and keep on going, but the firearms or martial arts they use can absolutely mess up their foes.

Getting punched through a wall, or shot in the head will put them down, however.

Humans are incredibly resilient creatures; we’ve just gotten very good at killing one another.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Q&A: Spears and Scythes

heya. I sent an ask awhile back about two people engaged in fighting with staffed weapons. one with a cross-spear, and the other with a scythe. i should’ve mentioned it is not a farm scythe, but the war scythe (i just assume when i say scythe people know you mean not the strictly meant for farming one, but i digress). anyway, i just wanted to throw that up since im sure the thought of someone fighting with a farm scythe makes your eyes bleed by this point.

Our eyes do bleed a little bit when it comes to scythes, though I personally have no issues with the scythe as a magical weapon or a space fantasy/science fiction one. I don’t have a problem with Deathscythe from Gundam Wing. The best way to get past the scratch and sniff test is to call it a “war scythe” because then we’ll know what you’re talking about. However, if one really wants to fence with a traditional scythe, 16th century aristocrat Paulus Hector Mair has you covered. (It should be pointed out, this section of the manual is for dueling with the farm scythes rather than using it as a preferred weapon. If you look at the drawings, you’ll understand why.)

Let me start by saying that staff combat is going to look fairly different depending on culture.

It can look like this (Joachim Meyer) or like this (Andre Paurenfeindt) or like this (Paulus Hector Mair, peasant staff) or like this (Monkey Staff) or like this (Jo Sparring , Aikido), or like this (Kalaripayattu), and so on. You’re asking about European polearms so a site like Wikitenaur that catalogues and translates manuals from European masters is going to be your friend.

When discussing martial combat with polearms, the staff is important. Whether you’re talking about a spear or a war scythe, remember they’re in the same weapon family.  The staff is their base weapon.  Both build off those training techniques, and the differences come in with the weapon’s head. When you’re setting out to write any fight scene, you want to begin with understanding the base or fundamental weapon. If we don’t grasp how a staff works or functions in single combat then we won’t understand how the spear, poleaxe, halberd, or war scythe do either.

A single leap carried Varien to wall above the Templar’s courtyard, and he dropped inside. The magical barrier rose behind him, rippling in the air as Sariel circled overhead. The first Templar in the yard stood with his back to him, an old gruff man with a craggy face. Varien thrust the tip of his spear through his neck, severing the spinal column and exiting the esophagus— a single clean stroke. Planting his bare foot on the Templar’s padded back, Varien kicked him forward.

“Rolf!” cried a wide eyed, flaxen haired youth on the training sands.

The Templar stumbled, gurling. His hands clawed at his throat, blood rushing down his neck and collapsed on the green.

One of the girls closest to the wrought iron gate leapt for it. Her hands flashing with the dispelling magic Templars prided themselves on. She lay her hand flat against it, then released. Grabbing the bars, she gave it a hard shake. The gate stood firm. Her eyes widened.

Well, well, there may some life in them after all, his lips twitched.

A step forward and he crossed the courtyard, re-appearing between the trainees practicing sword technique on the sands.

The first boy cried out.

Varien struck him hard across the jaw with the butt of his spear. Leaning back as the second boy lunged, blade sweeping into a downward hew, he rolled around behind him. The boy stumbled. A single, one handed thrust sent the spear point through his chest. Whipping it free, Varien spun his spear round and sent it on an upward diagonal through the first boy’s neck.

Together, they died without a sound.

In a written fight scene, the importance doesn’t lie in being technically accurate. What helps is understanding how the weapon is supposed to work and, as a result, how it moves.

As you see in the example of above, Varien thrusts with the spear but he also utilizes the butt of the spear to strike. Switching up between various angles to strike between the first and second boy. He uses both sides of his weapon. He strikes the first with the butt of his spear to take him out of the fight, gets out of the way of the second boy’s strike, rolls around behind him and kills him with a thrust. Then, we see him switch the spear back over to strike in the other direction.

The danger with a polearm in a fight scene is focusing too much on the spear point and forgetting the shaft. In dueling, the staff is dual sided. We use the tip and the butt with the shaft itself for blocking.

The staff is a dynamic weapon, it moves. Sweeping arcs rolling into thrusts, striking with both sides of the weapon, changing hands, you’ve got a full eight point strike pattern that has the possibility to constantly be in rotation.

The major difference between a spear and a scythe is the spear point utilizes thrusting as the weapon focus while the scythe makes use of a heavier head for slashing (see also: the naginata). Both the spear and the warscythe can cut and thrust, but each has moved toward a single specialty. A weapon’s specialty drives it’s strike patterns, how it moves, and that dictates how we translate it on the page.

The spear wielder is going to stab and the war scythe is going to cut, and both will make use of the basic staff patterns for striking. If they come from the same culture or master’s style then they’ll use the same staff patterns, if they come from different schools then they won’t. What matters for you as the writer is learning how to visualize their move sets so you can choreograph them on the page.

Cut translates into: down, across, diagonal, around, rotate, swing. This is a circular pattern, you’ve got to line up the blade on to the strike, so if you’re going to swing it sideways, the whole weapon must rotate sideways so the blade points at the opponent. One hand guides the weapon, the other yanks back to create leverage for the blow.

Stab translates to: thrust, forward, jab, stab, drive, etc.  You want words that exhibit forward and direct momentum. The attack lines will be direct, and the spear is not going to move much off it’s focal point.

The war scythe is going to make use of leverage while the spear comes at you directly.  If it helps imagine one as a sabre and the other as a rapier. Circular versus direct.

Also, consider the hands. These weapons are both predominately two handed weapons. Though the spear can be used one handed, and it is in some schools of thought.  However, it’s thrusting power is diminished because one arm does not equal two. You can couch it like a lance. One handed will allow for some angles that can’t be reached otherwise. The spear can be dual wielded, but (and this is the big but) if you have trouble imagining one spear in motion then good luck trying it with two. They can also be thrown, but if you throw it remember that needs to be recovered.

We utilize our hands on a staff weapon in a manner similar to the longsword, one hand acts as the guiding hand and the other is the rotational hand or the power hand. With the war scythe, that second hand is going to be important because the second hand is where we get our leverage. Hand position on these weapons is often fluid, you can move up or down. The further from the center of the staff weapon you get, then the more reach you have. There’s also more power in the swing, but you also have slightly less control.

Remember, you can strike to all points of the body so going for the lower body like the feet and the legs are options.

Head (both sides and to), throat, chest, stomach, groin, arms, hands, legs, and feet.

The cross on the spear is just a cross-guard, it keeps whatever you’re poking from climbing up the weapon to reach you. There’s no special move set associated with it, really. A cross-spear won’t over penetrate, and the defensive measure keeps you from losing it in your target.


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