Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Practical Wear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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Q&A: Kicking the Magazine

How feasable and/or effective would it be to eject an empty handgun magazine and kick it (accuratley) towards an opponent from mid-fall during a close quarters fight (say a melee attacker rushing down a corridor towards the kicker)?

No, and no.

So, first thing is that, depending on the handgun, the magazine may not drop freely. This is a preference feature. Some people prefer to release the magazine and pull it free, while others prefer to allow the magazine to drop freely into their hand when ejected. There isn’t really a, “better,” option here. Both positions come down to what the user finds more intuitive and comfortable.

If you’re wondering, this isn’t something that’s likely to trip up an experienced shooter. Anyone who’s spent time on a variety of firearms should be able to adapt to the gun they’re handling. You can also tell if the magazine will drop away when you load a magazine; based on the amount of friction experienced.

Even with a pistol where the magazine can drop freely, you’re not going to want to literally drop the magazine on the floor, or kick it. Handgun magazines are expensive; Depending on the model of handgun, those could cost anywhere from $10 to over $100 (on some rarer pistols). (I was specifically looking at a Bren Ten magazine for the upper end of the spectrum, if anyone’s wondering.) If anyone’s thinking back to the Desert Eagle post from a couple months ago, those magazines will set you back a little under $50 each. You do not use these once and discard them.

You also don’t, usually, want to eject empty magazines. Much like your car, you never want to run a gun dry. While it’s fairly easy, in a controlled situation, or on a range to keep track of how many times you’ve fired, and to know the exact state of your weapon; this is much more difficult in a real firefight.

You reload when you think you might be getting low, or when you’ve got time and ammo to spare, you put the partial magazine in a different pocket from your fresh mags, and replace it with a fresh one. The last place you ever want to be is in a situation like the one you just described: staring at someone who wants to kill you with an empty gun in your hand.

Fresh mags are heavy. That is to say, depending on the gun, a fully loaded magazine can easily weigh more than a pound. Most of that weight comes from the loaded rounds; the magazine itself is just a thin plastic or metal shell to hold and feed them into the firearm. They’re really not designed to take much abuse, and depending on the magazine, may be somewhat fragile.

Under controlled circumstances, kicking a falling object is something that a practiced martial artist should be able to do easily. Putting it in the rough vicinity of where they want it is also quite doable. Being able to do either of these things in an actual combat situation, not so much.

This is the kind of stunt you’d expect to see in a John Woo film, (I’d be slightly surprised if he hasn’t done some variation of this), and I know I’ve seen it on film before, somewhere. It’s in that range of slightly ludicrous that plays well when you’re working with characters that are (at least) slightly superhuman. But, if you’re dealing with normal, mortal, characters, this is neither feasible nor effective.

-Starke

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Q&A: Unarmed Parry

How realistic is stopping a knife from killing you by grabbing the blade with your hands?

Kind of. It’s realistic in the sense that it can and does happen. At the same time, it probably won’t save your life. Knife wounds to the palms, (called, “defensive wounds,”) are fairly common when someone has been attacked by a knife wielding opponent. Usually, what happens is they’ll attempt to block the knife by putting up their hands, palms out, and their palms and fingers will take the initial assault. That I’m most familiar with the term from autopsies should say a lot about how well this usually works out for the victim.

If you’re dealing with a situation, where someone’s trying to stab you and your only option is to catch the blade with your hand, it is better than dying. However, it is also a very temporary solution, and one you can’t repeat after using. It’s also, probably, not your best option.

When you bleed, your body is trying to do two things; first clean the wound and expel any foreign objects in it, then seal the wound over to allow the tissue to heal. Fresh blood is aggravatingly slick. Once exposed to oxygen, blood becomes tacky and coagulates over the course of a few minutes. (Specific clotting times vary based on a number of factors. For example: if your character is an alcoholic, their blood’s ability to clot will be severely impaired.) It only remains tacky for a few minutes, and will then harden into a solid mass, so the window here is fairly narrow.

When you take a knife to the hand, you’re going to bleed all over your hand. That means your hands will get slick, and have a harder time gripping the blade. This is before you consider the part where your hand is actually getting cut to pieces. Eventually the blood will clot (whether you survive long enough to see this or not), at which point gripping the blade would become easier, but that’s not a realistic consideration because the fight won’t last long enough to get there.

As I’ve said before, your body functions on a kind of pulley system. Your muscles pull on tendons which in turn tense against your skeleton, causing your limbs to move. When you start cutting tendons, the pulley system starts to break down. Some of the most delicate pieces of this system are in your hands and feet. Start carving those apart, and your hand will not work. This isn’t an, “oh, I can force my way through on sheer willpower,” situation. The mechanical components critical to making your hands work will be damaged or destroyed. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh has been turned into butterflyed steak. Catching a knife with your hand will stop that strike, but it means your hand will not work again. Yes, if you survive, it can be repaired surgically, but that’s not going to keep you alive.

The better option, if you have sufficient manual dexterity to catch the blade is to catch your opponent’s wrist instead. Again, this isn’t a great position to be in, and wrist grabs are some of the weakest and riskiest holds, but it is far better than trying to grab their knife. Your arm or hand might get nicked by the blade, but that is vastly preferable to taking a direct blade to the hand. Going for the wrist is a legitimate strategy and a part of some knife fighting doctrine. Granted, your best option would be to maintain distance, and never let a knife wielder get close enough to attack, but that’s not always a practical option.

-Starke

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Q&A: Shot by pets

This might be a strange question, but how likely is it that an animal could accidentally discharge a modern pistol, (such as a Glock) disregarding the horrible gun safety violations it implies, such as the safety being off and the gun being loaded? I’ve heard of animals accidentally discharging firearms by knocking them onto the floor, but would the amount of force required to pull the trigger be too much for, say, a dog or cat? thanks for indulging my odd request.

It’s possible. I remember reading a news story a couple years ago about a hunter who was shot by his dog. He left his rifle propped against something, the dog stepped on the trigger, and the bullet struck him. Though I don’t remember the details.

I can’t find the specific story now, because a websearch shows a number of similar stories. (Though Google does helpfully suggest I may want to limit my search to Floridians being shot by their pets. Statistically, if you’re shot by your dog, it seems there’s a roughly 40% chance you’re in Florida.)

Incidentally, there’s also a few stories of people being shot by their cats, though most of these are cases where the cat knocked a loaded pistol onto the floor.

In case the point was somehow missed. These are all gun safety failures, on the part of their owner. I have absolutely zero sympathy for someone who mishandles their gun and takes a bullet (or shotgun blast) as a result, and as funny as the image is, the animals are not at fault.

As for the specific example, I’ll just have to keep saying this, Glock pistols do not have manual safeties. It’s a specific design feature.

Depending on the firearm, having the safety on won’t necessarily prevent an accidental discharge from something like dropping it. Most modern pistols have some safety mechanisms to prevent this from happening, but there’s no universal rules.

In spite of having similar external characteristics, each firearm model is unique, and it can be impossible to fully determine how one works from an external examination. Idiosyncrasies, like how the safety functions, or what safety features a gun has vary wildly, sometimes even within a single manufacturer’s various product lines.

-Starke

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Q&A: Hand Cannons

In this story I’m working on, the protagonist is a security officer working for a shady human augmentation corporation. They routinely come into contact with cybernetically-enhanced criminals and they chose a Desert Eagle .50 in order to actually do damage to any augmented threats. But I was wondering just how practical would that choice be? From what I’ve found, a box of that ammo goes for about $42, but I’m no expert on firearms.

It’s not. As firearms go, the Desert Eagle is sort of ridiculous. It’s a stupidly big and heavy gun. They’re designed more around the idea of looking cool and imposing, rather than actually being a practical combat weapon. Which is part of why Hollywood loves them.

They have a home in the high end sport shooting market. Basically for the same reasons they found a home in films; it’s big, showy, and looks cool. If you view guns as recreational equipment, want to have the biggest toy and are willing to spend, that’s what the Desert Eagle delivers. That’s also pretty much all the Desert Eagle delivers.

The spending part is important, the Desert Eagle itself is not a cheap gun. Aftermarket rates for .50 Desert Eagles range from $1.5k – $3k. It’s not just the gun, as you pointed out, .50 AE run close to $2 a bullet.

Put this in perspective, your character could buy a Remington 870, and keep it loaded it with FRAG-12s for less than a Desert Eagle would cost. (Assuming they could actually buy FRAG-12 rounds to begin with.)

Assuming your character’s gun is actually part of their job, there’s a decent chance the corporation would be the one paying for it, and the ammo. Especially if they actually expect your character to be using it on people. That said, the expenses would still be relevant, if only because accounting wouldn’t want to see the security division snorkeling through cash when cheaper, better, options exist.

Regardless who’s paying, your character would probably be better off with a 10mm pistol. A Glock 20 will run you around $600, and the ammo is around $0.35 a round. That’s still somewhat pricey as handgun ammo goes, but it’s far cheaper than .50 AE.

That said, the entire reason 10mm Auto never caught on in the real world is because it kicks hard. As with the .50 AE, 10mm Auto is an overpowered round. For perspective, it’s muzzle velocity is between the .357 and .41 magnum cartridges.

If your character absolutely needs something with stopping power similar to a Desert Eagle, they’ll be better off getting a rifle or carbine chambered in 5.56mm. For visual aesthetics, you might want to take a look at the H&K G36C or the SIG552.

Realistically, handguns are what you give someone when you don’t expect a problem but they should have something, “just in case.” If your shady cybernetics company is sending their security forces out to deal with criminals, they’re better off with automatic rifles.

FRAG-12s aren’t off the table. These are impact detonation grenades designed to chamber into a 12 gauge shotgun. Basically impossible to obtain on the civilian market, but for a corporation with defense contracts these might an option.

-Starke

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Q&A: Kockouts

How plausible is it to knock someone unconscious without killing them? I have a monster character that, when people annoy him, picks them up and slams to either knock them out or kill them. One of my characters has to have this happen to them and they survive it, but I’ve heard it’s actually really rare to knock someone out and not kill them. Is it true that this isn’t plausible, and if it’s not is there anything else, like smothering, that they *could* survive? I love your blog by the way.

I know we’ve answered this one in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be properly tagged, so I can’t find it. The very short version is, “It’s entirely plausible, but your character will probably end up a vegetable after the fact.”

Being knocked unconscious is actually a concussion. It’s a life threatening injury. Being knocked out for more than a few seconds (of the top of my head, the number is somewhere around 30) will result in permanent brain damage for the victim. Being unconscious for more than a few minutes will result in either a coma or death. (For what it’s worth: I’m phrasing it like the symptom is the cause. The concussion’s severity determines both how long the victim is out, and the extent of other neurological damage.)

So, while it’s entirely possible to be knocked out by being body slammed into a wall, freeway support column or ‘57 Chevy, undertaking complex tasks like walking, talking, or remembering your own name, will probably be out of reach afterwards. Depending on the severity of the concussion these symptoms could last for minutes to permanent.

It’s also worth pointing out that concussions are cumulative. They’re literally bruising on the brain itself, from bouncing against the inside of the skull. These do stack up, meaning future concussions occur more easily, and are more severe. Knocking characters out repeatedly will kill them, quickly.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sci-fi Firepower

For a sci-fi webcomic, I’ve been working on the specs of a class of power-armor clad enforcers (called Jotunns) and their weaponry; they have a specific handgun they use. For ammunition I was thinking of two types they carry: 12.7mm hollowpoint for soft targets and shorter range, and tungsten-tipped sabot rounds as ‘high-power’ rounds, for anti-armor/anti-giant-mutant and long-range use. Is this just me going way off the mark for firepower, or could this be justified for a man-scale tank?

So, 12.7mm is a real round (well, several different rounds), and it makes this entire question a little strange. We talked about the idiosyncrasies of firearms a couple weeks ago, and I had to check, but 12.7mm did come up as an example. 12.7mm is half an inch, so .50. Occasionally, you’ll see .50 BMG listed as 12.7x99mm instead of the imperial caliber.

I’ve seen 12.7 come up as a distinct round in, basically, two places. There’s a 12.7x108mm Chinese AM round, which is their answer to the .50 BMG, and, Fallout: New Vegas.

Ironically, the reason New Vegas calls it a 12.7mm is actually in the above paragraph. The game includes an Anti Materiel rifle patterned off the Barret which fires .50 BMG rounds. Because of how New Vegas formats ammunition names, this creates an immediate problem. There’s two different .50 rounds. The BMG and the AE. The AE is a handgun round (12.7x33mm), the BMG rifle round (again, 12.7x99mm). So, if you include a .50 pistol, and a .50 rifle, people who aren’t very firearms savvy are going to wonder why they don’t share ammunition. “I mean, it’s all .50, right?”

What Obsidian (I think this was specifically J.E. Sawyer’s call, but I’m not completely certain) chose to do was label one as 12.7mm, and the other one .50. Since the Barret has slightly more name recognition it got to keep the imperial name, and the pistol got the metric.

The other thing weighing on giving the pistol the metric name was, it’s a returning design from the first two Fallout games. They had something called a 14mm pistol (externally based on a SIG sporting pistol, if I’m remembering correctly), which was an upgrade from the .44 Desert Eagle, in game terms.

All of that said? .50AE isn’t a great round, and, while I could be wrong, I don’t see it having a real future. It fits with Fallout because it’s chromed steel excess meshes well with 1950s consumer design.

Hell, the Desert Eagle is an excellent example of that era’s design aesthetics. Big, heavy, more steel and chrome than is practical. It’s a four pound pistol. Even though it’s Israeli and didn’t actually enter production until the 1980s, it’s an excellent flash card for that era of Americana.

So, here’s the hard part. For someone who’s not wearing a powered exosuit, a .50 is an annoying round to control. In an exosuit, and against the kind of targets where you’d really need that kind of firepower, I’m inclined to think it would be kind of anemic. Why use a .50 round, when you could simply have a standardized 19mm or 25.4mm high explosive round? With varying payloads depending on what you’re shooting. Sure, no normal human could use it, but if you’re in powered armor, that’s not an issue.

A sabot round is, basically, a dart loaded into a shotgun shell. Now, that’s not completely accurate, but if you’re dead set on using one. I’d recommend just using solid darts, rather than having a distinct tip. For serious AP capability in a high power rifle, I’d actually be more inclined to point at man portable gauss weapons, rather than wasting space on a sabot.

All of this is going to be predicated on the technology your characters have access to. So, it’s possible your setting just doesn’t have portable gauss weapons. Also, feel free to ignore the bolter calibers I listed back up there. That is a Warhammer 40k reference. But, for ways to load out a suit of powered armor, 40k is a fantastic thing to look at.

Some quick primers for powered armor:

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is probably the patient zero of SciFi space marines in powered armor. I deeply dislike the politics that Heinlein was advocating, but the book is worth reading. I’m much more partial to the film, but that’s a brutal takedown of the military jingoism that Heinlein was celebrating.

Armor by John Steakley is written as a rebuttal to Starship Troopers. I’m inclined to say it’s actually a better book, but that’s my bias seeping in. Either way, Steakley does some good worldbuilding.

If you haven’t, Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines are something you really should be looking at. You can check the Lexicanum to get a quick overview, and some basic statistical data; it will also work as a good quick litmus test to tell if the setting’s zealotry dialed to 11 and played for laughs is something you can actually get into and enjoy. For specific recommendations, first impulse here is to actually point at the THQ games. The generically titled Space Marine is a surprisingly good third person action title. Dawn of War was my first real introduction to the setting, and Dawn of War 2 specifically isn’t a bad starting point.

Generally speaking, when you’re looking at characters in powered armor, it can trace it’s lineage back through one of these sources. So it’s probably worth looking at them, if you’re working with this sub-genre.

-Starke

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Q&A: Vampire Feeding Symptoms

If a vampire drains a victim completely of blood, would they show any bruises? If not, what other trauma would they show?

Given that a bruise is, literally, a sub-dermal hemorrhage… I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say, probably not. Actually, if you want something sufficiently messed up; a vampire that preferentially goes after bruises is a possibility.

That said, corpses don’t generally bruise. So, if they were killed, then exsanguinated, there wouldn’t be any bruising. Depending on how fast the vampire was draining them, I’m not even sure if bruises would form.

Now, what would happen if you hooked a vacuum cleaner up to someone’s vascular system? Yeah, I don’t know, and I really don’t want to research that. (Mostly, because I know it’s been done, and will return valid information.) But, depending on the specifics of how vampires work in your setting, they could actually rip apart the victim’s circulatory system, resulting in massive hemorrhaging, or collapsed veins and arteries.

Of course, if your vampires are messy eaters, and literally rip their victims apart… you’d see that on the victim.

This kind of illustrates the problem with vampire questions in general. There isn’t much consistency. Either in fiction or folklore. Most societies have some kind of vampire myth. It builds out of cultural anxieties, usually in reference to death and handling the dead. Though, it’s probably worth pointing out that Dracula, and the modern vampire mythos spawned from him has a lot more to do with sex, sexuality, and xenophobia, than anything to do with funerary rituals being botched.

The result is that vampires are as varied as the human cultures that created them. So, asking, “how would they work?” Is going to result in a fair bit of guess work. The other side of this is, in using them, you have a lot of freedom to decide how the rules work for your vampires.

In the past I’ve identified Ravenous (1999) as a pretty fantastic vampire movie. I stand by that. But, there aren’t any vampires in it. Not explicitly, anyway. It’s about cannibals who are empowered by feeding on human flesh, rejuvenating them and granting superpowers. The movie calls them Wendigo, but, they’re vampires.

For modern settings, I strongly recommend the parasitic variety. In the modern world, dead bodies drained of blood turning up is a clear sign that something has gone horribly wrong, and in a setting where vampires exist, you’re going to have people who hunt them. Meaning an exsanguinated victim is just one undead fashion reject signing themselves up for a world of hurt.

Although it’s a pain to find, I do still strongly recommend the British Ultraviolet TV series. It was a smart look at vampires hiding in the modern world. It’s also a very intelligent, and rational, handling of the pre-millenial anxieties of the late 90s.

White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade is somewhat similar to Ultraviolet. They’re both working towards building vampires that could exist in the modern day. Though, V:TM is a lot less shy about insinuating vampires into social systems like the Police and government, while Ultraviolet is more interested in the vampire hunters. I did a full article on White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting last year. So, that might be worth skimming before jumping after them. But, for writing horror, it is a very good reference to look at and think about.

-Starke

Q&A: Honeyed Wounds

I watched The Equalizer recently. Is it really possible, in your opinion, to seal up a gunshot wound with boiling hot honey? McCall does this as a quick patch up so can keep fighting later on. Wouldn’t it just hurt more when he tries to take off the honey to treat the wound?

I’m honestly not sure. I know honey is bacteriostatic, so you can use it as an antibacterial salve on minor wounds. As for actually sealing a wound? Especially one with deep trauma. I’m skeptical. This would be (almost exactly) like trying to treat a gunshot wound with Neosporin. Yeah, it’s great for minor cuts or mild burns, but against a bullet, not so much.

If this is after field surgery to keep the wound from getting infected, it’s a lot more plausible, but not just, “boil and pour it in there.”

My recollection is that boiling honey breaks down the enzymes that make honey bacteriostatic, which is vital to preparing it for fermentation into mead. …but, the internet says I’m wrong, that you can get honey to ferment at room temperature if you cut it with enough water, and that there’s no enzyme function involved.

I suspect that, as with a lot of organic mater, your body can pretty safely absorb it during the healing process. So, getting it out of the wound is a lot less important than you might think. That said, if you do need it out of the wound, you can wash it off, which you need to do when cleaning most wounds.

-Starke