Category Archives: Q&A

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.

-Starke

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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.

-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: 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.

-Michi

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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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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: Powerful Characters

If I already set a character to be very powerful/skilled in a fantasy setting (either like making them canonically the most powerful swordsman in the world, or giving them abilities to do something like cut a castle wall with a sword), how do I keep tension in a fight scene/story? How do I make a fight scenes with overpowered characters entertaining other than giving them more powerful enemy to fight or weakening them somehow?

There’s two types of powerful characters in fiction: Wish fulfillment power and power with consequences.

Wish fulfillment power is boring, and no amount of creativity is really going to make it interesting. This power is here to give us a high, make us feel powerful as the self-insert and then go away. The fight scenes based on wish fulfillment power never lead anywhere, they never do anything for the story. I’m not saying these characters won’t be popular, they are but they’re also not interesting.

Power with Consequences is interesting. If Superman used his powers at their full strength, regardless of his intentions, he’d be seen as a villain by everyone in his setting. He must moderate his abilities for the enemies he faces because otherwise he’ll be more terrifying than they are. That’s tension.

With Superman the question should never be: can he save the day? We know he will. There’s no tension in the question, it’s not up for debate. The real question is, can he do it without wrecking a city block or destroying Metropolis?

Regardless of their powers and abilities, a hero must still live in their world. If your swordsman can cut a castle wall in half, then that’s great up until the moment where he needs somewhere to stay and no tavern or local inn will have him due to the trouble he’ll bring.

The more powerful you are, the more famous you are. The more famous you are, the more challengers come crawling out of the woodwork to face you. The more challengers who crawl from the woodwork to challenge you in order to take the crown of “Best Swordsman” then the greater likelihood innocent people, their homes, and their means of making a living will be caught in the crossfire. Whether it’s a sword strike that levels a farmer’s field or a mass battle with hundreds dead, that farmer still will have their field destroyed. If it’s destroyed, then they’ve no way to feed their family or sell their produce. They’ll starve.

It’s important to remember that no character, no matter how powerful they are, is free from the consequences of their actions.

This is the problem of characters who are “The Best” at something. The Best is a concept, it’s a title given to someone by others. They get it through competition, and the competition doesn’t stop just because they’ve been crowned.

“My character is the best swordsman in the world.”

So? The pinnacle of ability is a moving target. The Best At This Moment isn’t The Best Ever. Perfection is what we chase, it isn’t what we are. The closer we get to the top, the more heated the competition becomes. The more powerful you are, the more skilled you are, and the more your skill is recognized then the more battles you’re forced to fight. The Best is just more incentive for all those who want to be the best swordsman in the world to come take that title from them. Like Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin, your super skilled character will never be able to get away from challengers even after they’ve decided to retire.

The Best is a state determined by others in their field and not by the character themselves. They may think they’re the best swordsman or the best assassin in the world but they’ll still have to prove it. If they’re recognized as The Best it’s because of the battles they’ve fought to get there, usually killing someone else who was also considered The Best. When a character is The Best, all they’ve done is set the mark that others will strive to reach. Being at the top is painting a target on their back, and every single asshole who thinks their the best is going to jump at the chance to knock them off the pedestal. “The Best” is a nebulous concept, it’s a title, and titles can be taken.

When you’re famous, people speak about you in hushed whispers. They talk about you behind your back. You may be asked to leave because the guards are coming and yes, you could kill them but the tavern owner will pay the price after you’re gone.

Remember, characters other than yours will also pay the price for your super skilled character’s actions. If you played The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, think about how much attention Geralt gets. He can’t go anywhere without being noticed, and most places he’ll be recognized either as a Witcher or as Geralt, the White Wolf. He attracts powerful figures to him, those who will make his life difficult if he doesn’t provide them favors. He could probably kill the garrison commander who wants him to kill a griffon, but that’d just create more problems for him in the long run and end with the nearby village getting destroyed in retaliation. Violence won’t solve all your character’s problems, and definitely won’t provide any help with the social ones.

The better you are then the more responsible you’re expected to be. The more famous you are then just as many will hate you rather than love you. You are an unwitting rival to those who want the adulation you enjoy, and a thorn in the side of the socially powerful who’d rather you just went away.

A famous character creates problems for themselves in their own narrative by existing. They don’t need to do anything, the problems will find them the moment they step out their front door.

Himura Kenshin is probably one of my favorite examples of a powerful character who self-limits. 90% of the tensions in his fight scene aren’t built on whether or not he’ll survive, he probably will. He’s a famous manslayer who doesn’t want to kill anymore, and is trying to hold to that even as he’s forced into battle. The tension in his fight scenes is whether or not circumstances will force him to break with his self-imposed limitations, flip his blade over, and kill. (Rurouni Kenshin ignores blunt force trauma, but this is an issue for another day.)

Your famous, powerful swordsman may enter situations that handicap and essentially force them not to fight at their full potential. These handicaps are social rather than literal. They are self-limiting out of survival. Those handicaps create natural tension, especially when their enemies use the rules of the situation to their advantage. We see the potential consequences if the hero fails to abide by the social rules, and that reinforces your setting’s worldbuilding.

Kenshin could kill, and be justified in killing. However, killing betrays the person he’s trying to be and the philosophy he’s chosen to pursue. Skilled characters like Saito Hajime and Shishio Makoto actively challenge his philosophy in combat.

What brings a fight scene to life is the people in it. Tension comes from what will happen next and where the character’s actions take the narrative. The more powerful a character is then the more responsibility they have not to use those powers. That sounds backwards, I know. Why give a character powers if they won’t use them? The reason is that the other people who exist in the setting with them won’t stand by and take it. Power is fought or fought over.

You have a character who can cut through a wall with their sword? They will either end up the ruler of the kingdom (possibly just out of necessity) or every lord in the kingdom will come chasing them down to take that power for themselves. They can’t afford to have that power in the wild. The more power a character attains then the higher the stakes are for them. Extend the context beyond, “hey, my character can do all these cool things” to “what does it mean that my character can do these things?”

The consequence of power is that you are ultimately responsible for what you do with it.

When a character overreacts with their power in a situation that doesn’t warrant the reaction, they become the villain. An example is a character who can swing their sword to crack a castle wall uses that same techniques on bandits and ruins the road. Now, we have all these additional problems. They start with the asshole who blew up the road.

It is much more difficult to limit yourself so that you’re only just a little bit better than the people you’re fighting than it is going all out. However, for the warrior and martial artist, having control is a part of your responsibility. Acting reasonably and appropriately is a requirement. It is a social mandate, a choice made out of survival. Your character has to live in the world, if they throw their power around willy nilly no one will have food to sell them.

By pitting what a character can do versus what the situation allows for naturally creates it’s own tension. Superhero comics and anime do this all the time, there comes a point where the character’s abilities simply become to dangerous to the world around them. The focus shifts then to the character trying to fight while avoiding hurting the innocents around them. This is a challenge in and of itself. Moderating your ability to what is contextually appropriate and still win against someone who is going all out against you is more difficult than simply fighting.

This act of self-limiting gives the author the freedom to cloak the character’s true abilities and save their punch cards for when it counts, while also eventually bringing in more powerful enemies who will test the hero’s limits and press them to reveal more of their abilities as they a battle for their life. Then, the action versus consequence of the hero’s powers enter into the fray.

The trick to understanding this method is that self-limiting isn’t weakness, it’s acting responsibly. A black belt who spars a green belt or a blue belt must limit themselves. They fight on the green belt’s level rather than going all out like they would in practice with another black belt. The same rules apply to the “best swordsman in the world” being challenged by some random nobody in the middle of the street. If they go all out, they will have acted inappropriately and be seen as a villain by anyone watching. Their job is to mitigate and subdue, not kill. This often means resorting to skills your character may be less practiced at or less familiar with.

As a character, Superman is only interesting when he self-limits. You can’t treat Superman like Batman because he’s a different sort of character. Batman may be considered one of the best martial artists in the world, but that doesn’t help him much when he’s fighting Killer Croc. He faces challenges that test his intellectual ability from the Riddler, and a random thug on the street will still mess him up with a single well-placed bullet. The Best doesn’t mean invincible.

Batman has a host of weaknesses that make each and every battle with him interesting (in hands that know what they’re doing.) Superman is one where you’ve got to fight for it. If he lets loose, innocent people get hurt. If he roughs up thugs too badly then he’s the villain. Superman dangling a thug off the roof is a villainous route, no matter his intentions. Superman inevitably attracts far more dangerous villains to him than Batman. People are afraid of Batman, but no one’s really afraid of Batman. Everyone is hoping deep down that at the end of the day Superman is a good guy because they’re screwed if he’s not. We see groups like Cadmus refuse to take the risk.

We have to trust Superman and the question is, can you?

Think about the episodes from Justice League about the Justice Lords. A setting where Superman just straight up lobotomizes… everyone who disagrees with him.

When dealing with characters who have massive amounts of power then the more you need to internally justify the scene in the narrative and it has to lead somewhere. The consequences are important because not having them will break suspension of disbelief. The more power there is, the bigger the consequences there will be. If Superman levels a building in Metropolis then something better happen as a result. That’s the beginning of a story, not the end of it.

-Michi

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Q&A: Spinning

Is there ever a good reason to turn your back on someone in a close-up fight (like spinning around or whatever) that isn’t running away?

Okay, the Hollywood spin that you see in a lot of fight scenes is bunk. These random spins are just there because spinning is dynamic and looks better on screen.

The answer to your question is that we don’t really spin to dodge attacks, we utilize spins to gain momentum. If you take into consideration that power comes from the momentum of
your body in motion, then spinning and jumping lend themselves to more
powerful techniques.

 

Spinning techniques open up a can of worms when talking about real fights, not really whether or not they work. That’s not up for debate. The question is, should you risk it? It’s a combat philosophy question.

This is about risk versus reward.

Spin kicks and jump kicks are the more advanced versions of the basic and the intermediary kicks. Any spinning or jump technique will have a version on the ground that must be learned first. The more complexity is added to a technique, the more your fundamentals and basics become important. A sloppy hook kick will translate into a sloppy spinning hook kick. The more force there is at play then the greater the risk of injury to yourself if you mess up. Broken ankles, fractured toes, broken legs, busted or blown knees, torn tendons are all risks beyond just the standard pulled leg muscles.

Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more force you generate to put into someone else, the greater the chance that same force has of rebounding on you. Poor technique increases the chance of injury, but there is no way to ever do any of these techniques in complete safety. You have to trust yourself and your ability to perform.

Jump kicks, spin kicks, spinning hand strikes, and flying punches exist as techniques across multiple martial arts disciplines. The body in motion creates momentum which is the source of power. When you spin, or run, or jump, you create a lot more momentum then you will from a standing position. These techniques are the more powerful upgrades of their non-jumping, non-spinning, ground based counterparts.

Someone flying at you can break your bones, and its potentially lethal. There are dozens of videos from kickboxing matches and taekwondo tournaments showcasing knockouts from wheel kicks and 360 degree jump roundhouses. The wheel kick or spinning hook kick can and does knock people out in sparring matches, tournaments, and professional fights.

A landed kick will drive the force of the blow through the headgear or head protection meant to soften the impact. If they manage to land the wheel kick while jumping then it is even stronger than it was on the ground. Spinning and jumping combine into the ultimate power up. The art of the flying death kick is not a joke. Well, not completely. Lots of martial arts styles have their own variants on spin techniques, from spinning kicks to spinning backfists and even elbows. We can go back and forth debating in what context they work, but they do exist. They do work, and they populate many different martial styles.

Spin kicks, jump kicks, jump spin kicks, any spinning technique is risky business. They’re powerful finishers. They can be used as openers, but if you fail then you leave yourself wide open. Most of the time you’re going to need to set your spins up via combinations to create the necessary openings in your opponent’s defense.

That said, turning your back on your opponent is a bad idea. Running
away in close quarters when you haven’t created an opening is a terrible
one. The same is true for spin techniques. You need great timing and
the ability to create openings in order to pull them off. The crux of
the issue is: they’re high risk, high reward.

When we perform a spin kick is we’re turning our back on our opponent and trusting they’ll still be there by the time we’ve finished our turn. Your opponent is never just going to stand there and let you hit them. You’ve got to make sure they’re not going anywhere first.

The combat philosophy on spin techniques varies from individual to individual. Some will say never do it as what you get isn’t worth the risk, and others will do it and make it work. You’ve got to decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the risks.

For writers, especially ones without experience, it’s important to understand that spinning jump kicks are among the most difficult kicking techniques. Spinning is advanced martial arts. If your character doesn’t come out of a strong kicking discipline, it’s unlikely they’ll ever consider you using them. Even if they do, they may decide they’re too risky.

If you, the writer haven’t figured out how the basic kicks like the front kick, the roundhouse, and the sidekick work then wrapping your head around the mechanics of a spin kick is going to be difficult. This is before we get to the combat applications of when or how we use kicks like the wheel kick, the spinning jump roundhouse, or the popup back kick.

And that’s okay if you look at these kicks, think they’re awesome, and when you sit down to try to write what you saw get confused by how they work. The advanced kicks are mysteries to the white belts too. That’s normal.

Mechanically, these kicks are fairly complex. Sometimes, there’s switching between the legs that happens. Multiple body parts are all moving at the same time. With the wheel kick, you turn and look over your shoulder, lift your leg, extend your leg, and spin in one almost simultaneous spin. You need to spin while balanced entirely on one leg, not overextend, not be thrown out of whack by your own momentum, and not be destabilized by sudden contact with another object that’s not moving.

It is not uncommon when learning these kicks to lose your balance and fall over, to experience vertigo, lose track of your target and get really dizzy. You stumble, you fall, you get scared. It can very be intimidating.

Writers, if you find yourself looking at these techniques and getting confused don’t worry about it. You’re seeing kicks that are studied between blue (in TKD basic popup kicks, axe kick, crescent kick), brown to red (wheel kick, jump axe kick, jump crescent kick, jump wheel kick, and advanced popups), and black belt (kicks like tornado kick, the 540, and the 720). These are kicks learned two to four years into a student’s training, when they have a strong foundation. Don’t get down on yourself for not being a black belt if you’ve never done martial arts.

Ironically, the best way to train your pen is start with writing the basic kicks and work up. If you can figure out the application for the back kick and the hook kick in a written scene, you’ll begin understanding the wheel kick.

If you want to watch the knockouts in action, here are some videos. (Warning: do not watch any of the following videos if you are uncomfortable with watching real human beings, some of whom are minors get knocked out.)

If you want to watch a lot of these in action then look up videos like The Best Taekowndo Knockouts KO. Or this Tornado Kick KO (360 degree jump roundhouse) from MMA. Lawrence Kenshin did a decent breakdown of these kicks. (Learning the Tornado Kick was how I fractured my tibia when I was twelve.)

-Michi

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