Category Archives: Q&A

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

Q&A: Stab Wounds

Hi in my fanfic I’ve just been writing my character dies after having a thrown knife stab her in her side and then ripping it out to kill the other person. Is it feasible that my character dies quickly or will she need help?

Yeah, so, basic first aid. If you’ve been stabbed or impaled, do not remove the foreign object. The exception is if the object is causing more damage by staying there.

This even extends to situations where a character’s been run through on a piece of rebar. They’re better off being cut down and taking the pole with them to the hospital than pulling it out.

Pulling out a knife (or any impaling object) will result in more immediate trauma. It got in there, but pulling it out won’t reliably follow exactly the same path. This is especially true of things like serrated or hooked blades.

So long as the object remains it will still obstruct the bleeding… some. This isn’t going to be enough to save their life, but pulling it out can tip the balance the other way. This is especially true if you end up with a blade nicking an artery, or a blood rich internal organ like the kidneys or liver. You’ll lose some blood, but pulling the blade out can turn things to life threatening very quickly.

-Starke

Q&A: Starke is not a Real Doctor

Starke, as you have reminded us on 24 occasions, you are not a doctor. How then did you manage to build up such a large amount of medical knowledge?

Scouts, family, and research.

I’ll snark on the subject occasionally, but the Boy Scouts do actually force you to learn some intermediate first aid procedures. It never gets into the range of full field surgery, but there’s actually a lot of training that goes into reaching Eagle. Medical, and otherwise. Some basic stuff comes straight from that.

Second, there’s a stupid number of medical professionals in my immediate family. My mother taught pharmacology and substance abuse (diagnosis and treatment) for most of my life growing up, and a lot of that rubbed off. It’s also part of why I have a more solid grasp of drug interactions and effects than basic A&P.

My father was a certified EMT for a few years, and, while less of that rubbed off, he was also one of the people responsible for handling the first aid classes in Scouts, which meant it ended up more advanced than was probably strictly necessary, by the book. My oldest brother is an actual doctor, and, while I’ve never lived with him, I did have the misfortune of being stuck at the table during extensive discussions about his work. Forensic radiology, and later emergency radiology, if anyone’s wondering. Also, as with my father, he’s an Eagle Scout as well, which gets towards the slightly skewed perspective I have of thinking, that the rank, and associated skills aren’t that unusual. Even when they are.

Finally? Research. This is one that’s, technically, open to anyone. It depends on exactly what the question is, but with some stuff, like the intracardiac injection question yesterday, or the malnourished teenager question a while back, I just need to look it up and check. There’s a couple decent medical resources online. WebMD comes to mind, though honestly I use google on the term, and then sort through the responses based on where it’s coming from. The other thing about researching basic medical information is, this stuff is really well documented. It’s not always as accessible as medical professionals think it is. But, it is out there.

Part of the reason for the disclaimer is, since I’ve never had the full range of training, I want that out there. I’m doing the best I can, but it’s not technically my area of expertise, even though I’ve had to learn a lot on the subject.

-Starke

Q&A: No Such Thing as a Safe Gunshot Wound

dogmatix said:

I think what they’re asking is ‘how do I shoot someone without killing them?’ Yes, there is no safe way, but you’re not really explaining WHY. Probably something to do with the possibility of hitting veins/arteries, organs, etc, I’d guess?

That’s the basic gist of it. Also, we have talked about gunshot wounds before; here, and here. We even have a tag on the subject. (It actually manages to make the tag cloud with 12 entries… I should probably switch that to alphabetic sorting for everyone’s convenience.) The short version is that bullets have a nasty habit of doing unexpected things. It’s not exactly random, but there’s way too many variables to predict in the field, meaning any bullet could turn your internal organs into goulash. Even under the best circumstances, any untreated gunshot wound can result in death.

This is before you even get into weirdness like hydrostatic shock, which might not be an actual thing. Though, I do need to expand that tag, and might need to do a more detailed post on it, because I know I’ve talked about it more than once.

-Starke

Q&A: Introcardiac Injection

Can regular needles be used to get a shot to the heart?

You mean an intracardiac injection? No. It requires a longer needle than a normal injection would. It’s also an obsolete technique because there are better, faster, and safer, ways to get medications into someone, that don’t involve stabbing them in the heart and hoping you don’t cause a hemorrhage.

Anyway, as always, I’m not a doctor, and this is something that was certainly never covered in Scouts. So, I could be wrong here.

-Starke

Q&A: Arrow to the Leg

I read somewhere that an arrow to the thigh can kill someone. Is that true? How?

If it severs the femoral artery? That can kill in minutes. Combine that with the fact that arrows excel at cutting tissue apart, and the risk of severing something important is pretty good.

Even if it misses anything major; you’re still pumping a lot of blood through your legs, so without medical attention, bleeding to death is still a real possibility, even if the arrow doesn’t hit anything vital.

-Starke

Q&A: Fourth Degree Burns

My MC’s arm got brunt to the bone in her hand/wrist, to the muscle (and a bit further) to the elbow and to the muscle from her elbow to her shoulder. She lost her nerves from her elbow to her fingers and the feeling comes back from her elbow up. She gets some treatment, mainly just ointments/herbs. She has 2 years until she joins the military. Would that be enough healing time? How would this affect her fighting? She fights in a style similar to tai chi, ninjato and teakowndo, does this matter?

Oh god, I can already tell this would be a nightmare to fully research. What you’re describing is a fourth degree burn… well, technically at least three fourth degree burns, requiring surgery, and possibly, in this case, amputation.

If your character has had enough of their arm burned away to destroy the nerves running down the arm, then everything “south” of the burn will be paralyzed, including her hand. If the burn also destroyed the artery in the arm, which is possible, then the tissue beyond the burn will die and proceed to rot. Technically this is called “tissue necrosis,” or gangrene, but, the reality is far less clinical and more horrifying.

Even if that’s not the case, third and fourth degree burns both carry a pretty serious risk of infection. For someone in a pre-modern setting, without an understanding of bacterial infection, and without access to a sterile operating environment? This is probably a death sentence.

Long term survival for burns like this, usually involve grafting tissue from elsewhere on the body. In that case, arterial grafting is possible today, though I don’t know how old that particular technique is. Muscle and skin grafts have been around for awhile. From what I can tell, nerve grafts are still semi-experimental, the technology is getting there, but it’s still tricky.

But, for a character limited to herbs and ointments? Unless they’re explicitly magical, and you’re in a setting where magic can repair egregious injuries like this? No, that’s how your character died, not a thing that happened to her before she started serving in her military.

-Starke