Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Details

I’m writing a character that is learning a variety of martial arts from a teammate. Should I avoid going into detail when describing the fights due to her inexperience as she is relatively new to this fighting style

No. If you do cull the detail down it wouldn’t be because of your character’s inexperience.

In writing, the amount of detail included in the material is a balance. You use details to sell the setting to the audience; to establish a sense of verisimilitude. You also use details to convey important information to the audience without saying it overtly. Sometimes this is because you’re foreshadowing or because you’re establishing a theme.

In first and third person limited, culling details because a character doesn’t have the requisite experience or knowledge is a valid justification. That said, it’s something you should be very careful about using. Withholding information from the audience can be seen as screwing around with them. You had your scene, your characters went in, had their conversations, but your narrator missed something really important without understanding what they were seeing, and didn’t relate that to the audience at all. That last part is what can get you in trouble.

It’s fine to put a character in a scene and include details they don’t understand. There is nothing wrong with your audience being a step or two ahead of your characters. The reader has a detached view of things, and can evaluate what’s happening with a frame of reference the characters do not share.

The simple advice is: If a detail is important to the story, the atmosphere, or to your character (even if it’s a red herring), include it.  If a detail does none of these things, cut it. And, yes, those are very subjective criteria, this requires judgment calls from you.

Before someone asks, there are ways to get around this. For example: multiple characters recounting the same scene give you a lot more latitude to outright omit critical information a character doesn’t understand or notice. Characters recounting past events in dialog have a lot more latitude to be outright deceptive. Again, don’t be afraid of letting your audience get a step or two ahead of the characters.

With that in mind, training scenes tend to do two things. You can write a step-by-step walkthrough of a skill involved.  Someone is being instructed, it may as well be your audience in addition to your character. This isn’t necessary, but it can help the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Most writers use their training scenes to supplement their world building. It goes back to what I just said, if you’re going to actually teach someone, might include the audience. This is (arguably) one way to naturally deliver large doses of important exposition.

So, this all loops back to a simple question: What is the scene there to do? Once you know that, you’ll know what to focus on.

Also, all of these considerations are things you want to look at when you’re rewriting the scene. Not, necessarily stuff you need to think about when you’re writing your rough draft. When you’re doing your roughs, write the scene, then clean it up or cut it on rewrite.

-Starke

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Q&A: Psi Cops

I recently saw your Sith Academy post, where you made a reference to the Psi Corp of Babylon 5. Would you say Bester is one of those “True Believer” instructors who uses the enforcement methods he was taught, or as a cop, is it a different situation that applies? Thanks.

Oh, Bester is a “True Believer”. He’s a fanatic. He conspires against members of the Psi Corps because he believes the Shadow Conspiracy is not in the best interest of future telepath domination. He’s a fantastic villain, and he’s doing exactly what he was taught to do then taking a step beyond it. He’s loyal to the Corps, but he chases his own goals. He’s a great character who cloaks himself in righteousness but whose motivations are almost entirely selfish. He breaks the Corps rules all the time to his own benefit, they all do. Now, these are the rules they put into place so the “normals” or mundane humans feel more comfortable. So, those obviously would be the first to go. If every known telepath belongs to the Corp, no human can’t trust them, especially since they never know when the telepath or a Psi Cop has been illegally digging around inside their head.

Bester is a fantastic example of a character is a believer who follows the rules, just not the rules everyone outside the Corp knows. Now, most of the human characters know he doesn’t follow the rules. This is a point of conflict with the Psi Corps throughout the series. They are the Thought Police. Kept separate and segregated out of fear.

The Psi Corps are a great group (far better than the Sith) if you want to look at functionally abusive training methods. Bester’s parents, for example, were activists against the Corp. After the Corp killed them, he was taken them and completely reworked into the fantatic we see in the series proper. The telepaths wearing gloves to mark them in general society and keep them from having physical contact (even with each other) as a means of control. Talia talking about her memories of Abby, who made her feel safe when she first arrived (and psychically manipulated her into it). The camps and the sleepers are the most obvious, but there’s a lot of little touches to the Corp which are reflective of real world organizations who did successfully manipulate and coerce their followers into loyalty. The Psi Cops themselves wear uniforms modeled after the Gestapo. I mean look at this in-universe television spot, it has subliminal messaging hidden inside it. (Obey the Corp.)

We’ve got kids taken from their parents at a young age, re-trained so this is all they know.  The punishments for not joining the Corp include being put on the sleepers (drugs which suppress their telepathic abilities) and/or sent to concentration camps. A telepath can run, but the Psi Cops will hunt them down. The Psi Cops are trained from a pool of the strongest of the telepaths, they are the most fanatic, the most loyal, and rewarded for their loyalty by their ability to exert the greatest control over the others. There are no legal means for a telepath to appeal their status in general human society as the Corps legally has complete domination over them.

It’s a fantastic example of how fear can be used to create a political underclass, who have no rights but are simultaneously terrifying to the general population.

The Psi Cops are great as villains and the Psi Corps itself is a great example of an evil organization if you ever want to create one for yourself. Babylon 5 as a whole is fantastic, especially for setting building.

And, of course, Alfred Bester himself is a reference to the late, great science fiction author Alfred Bester who pioneered the concept of thought police and psychic cops.

-Michi

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Q&A: Training Elites

So how does one go about training elite, loyal fighters in a non-abusive environment?

By… not abusing them?

I know that the whole “training for martial combat is inherently abusive” is a popular concept, but it doesn’t work that way. Normal training is a slow process, and elites are the culmination of a process every single martial artist goes through. They are the ones who worked the hardest, who went the furthest, and continued long after everyone else stopped. An elite is the one who devotes their life to their art. From a martial combat perspective, you want the trainees who want to be training. You get your trainees to engage and commit to their training without forcing them because they already want to be there, and it not only works… it work better. I know. It’s an amazing concept, you get better results without abuse.

There are no elite warriors who were not once willing participants, wholeheartedly devoted and dedicated. Who ate, and breathed, and slept, and dreamed their training, who made it a foundational aspect of their whole life. A core aspect of their identity.

They became an elite because they wanted to be and because they worked hard for it. They passed all their tests, ground their way out through the muck and the dirt. Through the sweat, the tears, and the frustrations. Who celebrated their successes and mourned their failures.

Every training program will have a different metric for what makes someone capable of entering the ranks deemed elite. However, there are very specific general metrics for requirement which most follow. They will be people considered at or near the top by their instructors, who are experienced, and who have already completed the basic requirements. They will be martial artists who are in the highest belt rankings before this training or soldiers who made it through Basic with distinction and, perhaps, have field experience where they have shown a solid track record. They will be volunteers. They will be the ones previously identified as the best of the best by other trainers and commanding officers. They will either be chosen from the field or asked to apply. Offered, not ordered. Then, they will be “trained” as in they will undergo a stress test of their physical and mental limits that serves as their training.

When I say phrases like “considered near the top”, “shown exemplary skill”, and “served with distinction”, I don’t mean raw talent in someone untested. Raw talent is nothing but potential, and potential is worthless in someone who will not or is uninterested in making the most of it. These are the people who have already proven themselves, often above and beyond the call. They are chosen now because they have the potential and the drive to reach an echelon (often highly specialized) beyond that of the average trainee.

If you learn nothing else, learn this: any elite candidate is a classic overachiever.

One of the major purposes of normal training is to push a trainee beyond what they believe is physically and mentally possible for them to achieve. The extreme version of this is, well, it’s extreme. The point isn’t toughness, though. That’s far too simplistic and silly in concept. The point is to create a situation for the trainee to realize their true potential, that breaks all the boundaries of what they believed to possible. This is why high end of martial arts often feel like magic. Whether it’s staying awake, active, and functional for a full seven days, breaking nine bricks in a single strike, or bending a steel rod with nothing but their throat, you’re seeing someone who has a far better grasp of the true human limits than the average person.

Outside the real world, most authors are attracted to “abusive training” due to the angst factor. They often make the mistake of assuming that regular training is abuse (and taken to the wrong extremes, it can be), and mistake the purpose behind the extremes. They also think one can skip the boring, technical aspect and jump straight to those extremes. Again, mostly for the angst factor and to create a sub category of the trope Cursed with Awesome, which i like to call: Victimized Into Herohood.

In the real world, the theory behind abusive training isn’t that abuse makes you stronger (though many abusers and some abuse survivors have this outlook), it’s that the threat of death and desire to survive will make the subject work harder. That the desire to live is universal, and that it’s as good as the desire to learn. You’ll find this method used in cults, because its purpose is to ensure a specific kind of loyalty.

In the real world, that doesn’t get you past the bare minimum. So, all that abuse is just to get past the first mental hurdle for basic training. Do not mistake basic training for elite training. Never do this. You’ll find far more abuse (if it happens at all) happening at the beginning of training rather than at the end. You’ve got to learn to flap before you fly and expecting someone to achieve FTL by chucking them off a cliff is pretty damn silly. No one would expect a prospective student to be a black belt on day one.

The confusion, I think, most people have is with the intensity of the physical training. You will ask them to push beyond their physical limits, but that’s not abusive. They also consented to it first. Your working with someone who wants to be training, who has committed. You don’t put a gun to their head to say, “do this or die.” The point of pushing in this environment is not to break them, but rather to show them that they can do more than they realize.

Extreme training works best when the other person wants to be there. You will never be able apply more pressure or drive to someone via outside sources than they can apply to themselves.

Dragging some random schmuck off the street and beating the shit out of them misses the point. When we’re talking abusive training, it’s purpose isn’t to make you tougher, it’s purpose is to convince the trainee to commit. If they aren’t inclined toward it anyway, then they’re a bad candidate. The end point of the abusive outlook is to get your trainee to the point where they’re a willing candidate. That doesn’t produce elites though. Elites come from trainees who want to excel, not the ones who just want to live.

You cannot make an elite from a trainee who isn’t willing.

You can’t do it. 90% of an instructors job is to provide structure and opportunity for students to excel. That’s it. They teach, yes, but the student has to choose to learn. Being the best or competing for the opportunity to be the best, requires a step even beyond the choice or desire to learn. It takes real, honest to god commitment, devotion, sacrifice, not to mention time and energy. After all, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think.

Like with anything else, an elite is born from the trainees who worked the hardest in basic training. The ones who pushed themselves, the ones who maybe struggled in the beginning but kept at it, the ones who were up late practicing their techniques after everyone else had gone to bed, and the ones who proved themselves in the field or to whatever criteria qualified them for this next step. You don’t get elites through abuse. You get elites through willing candidates, and then just train them the normal way. Elites aren’t training or talent, so much as they are personality. These are the people who want to be there, they’re willing to commit and do whatever they have to do to win. You put them in competition so they build each other up, then you cull. By culling, I mean removing the weak and sending them back to where they came from. Usually, these will be returning them to the positions they already occupied. You know, how it normally works?

The mistakes the inexperienced make when writing training is that they often believe:

1) That all martial combat training is what you get from training Special Forces.

2) That the Special Forces training is what makes them elite.

No, Special Forces training itself is the culling process. The point isn’t to instruct, so much as it is to test the limits of the trainee and how far they can (and are willing) to push themselves. These are people who have already proven they excel in regular combat environments, they exceed beyond the expected limits. They have been trained, they are now taking the next step.

Martial Training is a process involving multiple stages, it takes time, investment, and a great deal of energy. The creation of an elite or an elite unit doesn’t happen overnight, or over a few weeks, or even months. It starts with molding the raw materials through the basics. Then, if they prove themselves worth the time/show their mettle, they get to try passing the tests where you’re kept awake and active for a week straight.

The true point of extreme training is to push the student far beyond the point they believe to be their upper limits. Our minds instill false expectations and false limits based on our beliefs, our understanding, and our desire for self-preservation. The point is never to break and remold, but rather to introduce the trainee to their true capabilities.

However, the trainee needs to be willing to push themselves. They are the ones who do the heavy lifting, they are the ones who are taking control over themselves, and they are the ones who are breaking down those mental and physical limits within themselves in order to reach new heights. It cannot be done to them, they must do it themselves.

Everyone has the potential to be an elite warrior, they all receive the same training. The question is: will the individual choose to put in the effort and make the necessary sacrifices?

Understand these are active choices, made by people who want what’s being offered to them and are chasing it because this is what they want to be. This is not a choice made for them. They are not the victims of it. It is not a burden thrust upon them. They chose to take it up, then they turned around and pursued excellence with a vengeance so intense it makes the rest of us cry.

The highest echelons of any martial art or martial combat is almost entirely an internal battle. You are your own worst enemy, and you need to break past your own beliefs about yourself. It is a battle for self-actualization, fire forged in blood, sweat, tears, and competition. This is the aspect of high level training that is most often disregarded because it sounds hokey. It’s true though.

Elite training is there to teach us that the false limits we set for ourselves are our greatest barrier, and these beliefs keep us from reaching our true potential.

Regardless of anything else, the end goal of both abusive scenarios and non-abusive scenarios are the same. The only difference is their methods and the initial willingness of their participants. This is also why the holdouts are the ones who die in the abusive scenario. No amount of forcing will ever compete with the willing.

-Michi

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Q&A: Brass Knuckles

How do brass knuckles work? And I’ve always wondered if they would slip off in the middle of fighting someone or just plan punches.

Often, there’s a weighted grip behind the rings, which rests in the user’s palm and can be held in place with their thumb. In the absence of that, they still have their fingers wrapped around the the weapon. The only real risk of it falling off would be if they opened your hand, which kind of defeats the purpose of using brass knuckles in the first place.

Brass knuckles are intended to shield the user’s fingers and add some weight to the hand while punching.

If you really want to experiment with the mechanics of brass knuckles staying on your hand, you can use an empty key ring. Slip it over a finger, make a fist, and observe how the ring is held in place. The only difference is that brass knuckles are larger, heavier, and cover all your fingers. Depending on the design, they may be a single loop, or four welded rings. Either way, it’s not going to fall off under normal circumstances.

Also, probably worth remembering, you don’t really, “wear,” them. Brass knuckles are a weapon. You take them out when you’re going to use them, and put them away when you’re not. They’re not designed to be worn on the hand at all times.

There are weapons designed to assist with open hand strikes. Off-hand, some variants of the bagh nakh come to mind. These mount a row of small blades across the palm. You wouldn’t want to punch someone while wearing them, just like you wouldn’t want to palm strike someone while wearing brass knuckles. These weapons have specific roles, which enhance, but also, limit your attack options.

-Starke

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Q&A: Firearms Handling

What are some non verbal indications that someone is good with guns (any and all)? Like, how someone holds a gun, their stance, where their holster is, etc.

In most cases it’s easier to know when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. With that, there are enough that I wouldn’t pretend to be able to create an exhaustive list. The big ones that will send anyone with firearms training up the wall are trigger discipline and barrel control.

Trigger discipline is about keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. It’s a really simple thing, and something everyone handling a gun should practice. Hollywood hates it. Or at least, some directors in Hollywood (apparently) think their actors should have their fingers on the trigger at all times, “because it looks more dangerous.” Which, you know, it actually is. Stupidly dangerous.

Most people who know what they’re doing will rest their index finger along the frame over the trigger. This isn’t the only way, some will simply have their finger sticking out at an awkward angle (and a lot of people will do that during reloads).

Barrel control is keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times. “Safe,” is a bit of a loaded term here, since, if your goal is to use the gun on someone, you’re going to be pointing it at them. Again, this is basic safety. This is a little more involved, because no matter what you do, the gun will be pointed somewhere. The important part is
remembering that, and not pointing the gun at someone’s thigh when you’re not using it.

As with trigger discipline, this is an incredibly basic element of gun safety, that a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing will easily miss.

There are a lot of other potential tells, someone who drops their magazines rather than retaining them, probably doesn’t know what they’re doing. (This is the practice of discarding a partial or empty magazine when reloading, instead of keeping it.) TV and film love presenting people dropping mags, probably because it looks more dramatic, but it is a pretty good sign that someone’s only education came from mass media.

Concealment isn’t cover. This is one of the few that does tend to separate trained shooters from untrained ones. In a shock to no one, bullets pass through objects in their environment. Taking cover means far more than hiding behind a car door or couch.

So, concealment means you cannot see your opponent. Cover means they’re hiding behind something that will take a bullet. Most of the time, just because you can’t see someone, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot them. Someone hides behind a wall in a home or office? Yeah, you can shoot straight through that. Drywall, almost all furniture, most parts of a vehicle, most garage doors… none of that will stop a pistol round. When you start dealing with rifle rounds, even things like exterior walls start getting iffy. Trained shooters will fire through concealment. Amateurs who learned how to shoot from Call of Duty and reruns of old Arnold movies will try to take cover behind a couch.

Firing until you run dry. This is a little trickier because trained shooters will do this on the range. No one’s shooting back, and you’re going to immediately repack the mag anyway. In the field though, emptying your magazine is a seriously dangerous situation. Reload partials when you have the opportunity to, don’t wait for it to run empty, and have a non-functional gun when you need it.

The problem with all of this information is; it doesn’t really answer your question. It tells you things to look for with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Not how to identify someone who really does. This is because it’s far easier to identify things that an incompetent shooter will do, rather than tells that are exclusive to someone who really knows what they’re doing in contrast to someone who has a basic understanding of gun use.

Some of these also aren’t easy to operationalize. For example, with stance, There’s Weaver, Chapman, Center Axis Relock,  Modern Isosceles, and many more. There isn’t a, “correct,” or, “elite,” way to do choose one of these, and many experienced shooters will tailor their stance to match the situation they’re in on the fly. The exact way they do that, or if they choose something that isn’t a functional stance, like Gangster Style (holding a handgun horizontally at arm’s length), can tell you about their training and how comfortable they are with a gun, but it’s not something you can easily explain in abstract. (At least not without going into all of the pros and cons of the various stances, and spending a lot of time going through all of the debate on the subject.) There’s also a lot of blending between some of these stances, and “adapted,” “reverse,” or “modern” variants of them.

It’s easy to distinguish someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing from someone who’s had some basic training, but distinguishing between someone who knows what they’re doing, and someone who is actually good with the weapons can be tricky.

I am sorry if that doesn’t really answer your question.

-Starke

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Q&A: Laser Sights

You said real snipers wouldn’t use a laser pointer with a rifle. Because it’s useless on great distance and you don’t want to announce yourself to your target. So what are laser pointers on guns good for? Because obviously they exist, but what for? Thanks for your blog, it’s very interesting and helpful!

Lasers are intended for short range target acquisition. That is to say, knowing exactly where you’re pointing the gun. They can be a useful aid for inexperienced shooters, though anything that speeds up your ability to put a bullet into someone is an advantage in a firefight. This is the same basic idea that makes reflex sights useful. It gives you a clean aim-point, and if that shaves a fraction of a second of your reaction time, it may save your life.

Of the two, reflex sights do the job slightly better, with less visual noise and without announcing that you’re about to shoot someone. Okay, the, “slightly better,” part is personal preference. If you really want, you can take the belt and suspenders approach and slap both of them on your gun, but you’re only going to be using one of them at any given moment.

Part of the reason I’ve said lasers are for amateurs is because, in most cases, if you’re sighting your weapon properly, you usually won’t see the laser. The front post will obstruct it for your dominant eye. (Your off eye will see it, but it’s just going to confirm what you already know.) If you’re sighting down the gun incorrectly, or not looking through the sights at all, then the laser will help your aim.

For an inexperienced shooter, in a crisis, a laser will help them put the round where they want it. For someone who knows what they’re doing, a laser is a much more situational tool, and not something they’ll need most of the time.

The major benefit for an experienced shooting is snapshots. This is where you rapidly bring the weapon up and fire without taking the time to aim properly. In this case, the shooter will probably be sighting incorrectly for speed, and the laser can give them a clear idea of what they’ll hit without actually needing the sights to verifying. To be fair, this is another thing you can use a reflex sight for. You can also snapshoot without either.

Finally, lasers can make switching between targets faster. Again, it lets you know where you’re aiming slightly faster than iron sights. Strictly speaking, lasers are also more forgiving as a sighting element than most optics. Even if you’re holding the gun incorrectly, the laser will tell you where you’ve pointed it.

The takeaway is that, lasers can be useful for shooting people in the same room, especially if you don’t really know your way around a gun. Not so much when you’re trying to put a round in someone half a block away.

-Starke

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Q&A: From Behind

My MC is armed with a gun and another character [who is a hitman] has a knife. Mr. Other Character is out of Ms. MC’s sight and it’s night. How could Mr. Other Character possibly disarm Ms. MC or gain the upper hand without killing her? He doesn’t intend to kill her, because of her identity and the information she has.

Well, he could just walk up behind her.

When someone’s got a knife to your back or the threat of a knife to your back, the gun becomes a lot less relevant. A knife also lets him kill silently, while the gun makes a lot of noise. He can use the knife to disable the primary arm (or both arms) which she uses to hold her gun, and then the problem is solved. Miss the artery, go for the muscle or, better yet, a tendon.

Here’s your problem: just because he needs her alive doesn’t mean he needs her whole or in one piece. He just needs to make sure she doesn’t bleed out, and can’t retaliate. If he can’t harm her, well, that’s entirely different. But need? Needs her alive is code for, “what fun Mr. Tactical Baton and I will have!”

-Michi

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Q&A: Tanking

Hi there, I was wondering; in a fantasy setting, should “ranged fighters,” AKA archers or mages (especially mages), wear any kind of armor? One of my friends (who is a little too glued to the idea of using gaming terms for his fight scenes) doesn’t give his ranged fighters much protection because “they have tank who will aggro,” despite me telling him that in IRL situations enemies won’t always work like that, and ranged fighters are deadly and would easily become top priority during battle.

Which works right until the tank can’t maintain aggro, then the DPS scatter, because of course they do, and everyone wipes because, turns out, it’s nearly impossible to hit two idiots on opposite sides of the arena at the same time with the same AoE.

…or the tank never slotted a taunt, and the healer ends up running from and DPSing Bloodspawn, while the DPS stand in stupid trying to revive each other. No, I’m not thinking of a specific event, why do you ask?

Games are, by nature, an incredibly abstract approach to combat. Even inside of an MMO, the sharp difference between how PvE and PvP plays out should be a pretty solid indicator of how fragile the entire concept of aggro is.

An AI driven NPC needs to know who to attack. In most cases they’ll prioritize incoming damage, and target whatever’s dealing the most. The entire idea of a tank is to fake out that number, boost it further, or in some cases, completely override aggro generation, and take the brunt of the enemy’s attacks. Which is downright hilarious, when you step back and think about it. You’re talking about sending a party of adventurers up against an ancient demon who’s been sealed outside of the universe for millennia, but he will ignore the people actively trying to kill him, because that idiot who’s doing almost nothing to him said some mean things about his mother.

As I understand it, and I could be wrong here, Tanking is something that has come, almost exclusively, from metagaming. The idea that, “well, players are going to take damage, so let’s concentrate it on a single player to make the healer’s job easier,” doesn’t have a place in the real world. I’m not sure if the strategy dates back to tabletop, or came from the early MMOs like Ultima Online or Everquest. As I said, it doesn’t have any basis in reality.

The closest you can get is the role of infantry and skirmishers in mass combat. But, at that point, sticking infantry between your enemy and your archers wasn’t about protecting the archers, so much as, that the infantry were your primary combat force.

Step into PvP, and the value of a tank diminishes sharply. Most human players understand that, so long as the healer is up, nobody’s going anywhere, so they become public enemy number one.  Hell, most of the times, when you give players an AI controlled encounter with a healer, your priority is clear. No, it’s not the big tanky guy/girl/sentient iguana with death rays mounted on its armor.

That said, I’ve seen a lot of games try to make the tank more valuable in PvP. Reducing enemy mobility, debuffing them, applying selective buff manipulation that makes a taunted target deal far less damage to other targets. All of it is a band aid on a system, trying to make the role function in an environment where the tank’s foes are smart enough to say, “nah, he’s not a problem, I’m going to wax the healer first.” Though, bonus points awarded to the games that just go, “screw it, the tank is the healer.”

Mages wearing robes is a setting or character decision. If armor somehow impairs a mage’s ability to cast magic, then that’s something they’ll want to avoid. If a mage isn’t, primarily, a combatant, and dislikes, or can’t afford, armor, they may avoid it for those reasons. That said, if armor doesn’t interfere with your mage’s ability to cast magic, they understand how to use it, and can afford it, not wearing armor is just being stupid (even if it is that character’s preference).

The whole concept of tiering armor based on the combat role is another gameplay abstraction, without a lot of basis in history. Armor was expensive. To the point that most rulers couldn’t afford to outfit large standing forces in heavy armor.  You got the best armor you could afford. If you were supplied out of an armory, you wore what you were handed, which might just be a padded gambeson.

Thing is, I rather like armor tiering. At least from a gameplay perspective. It informs the player what the armor they’ve found is useful for, and is very useful for deciding if the gear you just found is going to be helpful for your playstyle. In MMOs it can help break up players, so that you have an easier time identifying their roles. But, it is an abstract, game system, with no relation to reality. Trying to take these things out, and evaluate them outside of their native environment can be tricky. This is how you end up with characters who can instantly cram three hundred cheese wedges down their gullet to fully recover from being set on fire and flung off a cliff into the sea, hundreds of feet below.

-Starke

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Q&A: Unarmed Knockout

Is there any relatively safe way to knock someone out with no resources but your hands? My character needs to knock this person out so they don’t run off, but he has nothing on him to do so. It’s necessary to the story that he be knocked out. Thank you!

No.

We’ve gone over this, many times, before. There is no safe way to knock someone unconscious. By definition, you’re specifically attempting to damage their brain, with the goal of getting it to take a little vacation.

More than that, there aren’t even many reliable means to knock someone out. Blows to the head can, theoretically, work, but they can also, just as easily, piss off the person you’re attacking, without much ill effect.

Tranquilizers take ages to kick in, and are very difficult to dose. Too much, and you’ve got a corpse. Not enough, and you’ve got someone who’s groggy, but still ambulatory.

Choking is, in theory, the safest, but the fine line between unconscious and dead is still something you can’t spot intentionally. Choking is something that can be practiced in a safe environment, but using it in the field is incredibly finicky.

And, it gets better.

Strip away all the terminology and a concussion is just bruising on the brain itself. You get hit, your head gets jostled around, and your brain bounces off the inside of your skull. You may have been using that organ for something, and might understand why you don’t particularly want it getting directly injured. Either way, this will, absolutely, interfere with your ability to think, remember unimportant information like your name, or count the number of fingers some well meaning smartass is holding up. Still, probably won’t knock you out, though.

When you’re talking about knocking someone out, you’re really asking, “how can I directly assault their brain, without having to develop psychic powers?” Yeah, that’s never going to be safe. It turns out, getting the human brain to stop working, temporarily, is a lot like trying to get it to just flat out stop working in general, and it’s a crap shoot, which you’ll get.

Concussions are cumulative. This should be fairly obvious, when you actually think about it. If your brain has been pre-tenderized, it’s going to be more susceptible to future concussions, and the ones you receive will be more severe. This means someone who’s had a few before will be knocked unconscious or killed far more easily than someone with a relatively healthy brain. Even then, it’s not like there’s a stable baseline of, “you can hit your head this hard before it kills you.”

Knocking someone unconscious for more than a few seconds is very bad news. If you’re knocking someone out for more than a minute, there’s going to be irreparable brain damage. (The specific threshold is usually around 30 seconds, but for each unique brain, there’s equally unique catastrophic brain damage.) So, you’ve, “safely,” reduced someone to a vegetable. More than a few minutes and you’ve (probably), “safely,” killed them.

So, what do you actually do when you need to be somewhere else and someone is intent on getting you to stick around? Knock them off balance and run. Sucker punches to the stomach are a good option. If unexpected, they’ll usually wind the victim, and give you a good head start. Knees to the gut are another classic. One common variation is to knee the gut, and when they double over, knee them again in the face. Slamming a door in the face, or knocking them to the ground are also excellent options. Really, there are a lot of options. The goal is to simply create an opening and escape. You don’t need to knock someone unconscious to do that. You really don’t want to knock someone unconscious to do that.

-Starke

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Q&A: Stop Them

Referring to a post you made some time ago, Is there a /good/ way to stop a person from doing something stupid, violence or not?

Without, going back and checking, it’s almost certainly what I wrote at the time: Talking them down. If someone has decided to do something, and you need them to stop, your only option is to convince them not to do it. You can’t use violence to stop them. Not really. If you take them down, tie them up, or simply beat on them, you’re only delaying the inevitable. They’ll go back, and do whatever they planned to do in the first place. Or, you kill them, which creates all kinds of new problems.

If someone has set their mind on something incredibly stupid and or destructive, your only real option is to talk them out of it. You need to convince them to change their mind. Unfortunately, there’s no one, “right,” way to do this. Everyone, every situation, requires a different approach, unique to the people involved at that specific moment in time. Their background, their relationship, their experiences, their view of the world, the information they have. Everything they considered in picking their course of action is relevant in weighing how to respond to them.

Without wanting to make it sound too much like a game, there is a competitive element to this. As one of the participants, you don’t know everything that factored into the other person’s decision. You can try to get that information, try to understand how they came to that point, and then formulate a response. Sometimes it’s as simple as having information the other participant lacks. Sometimes it’s looking at the situation from a new perspective. Sometimes they’re the ones to bring you around. Sometimes there is no way to reconcile your differences, and violence really is the only option left. It all depends on the people involved, what they know, who they are, and how they know each other.

It’s worth remembering, how someone responds to violence is just as individual to them, as any other factor in this. Some people, when presented with violence will crumple, some will respond in kind, others will seek retribution. It really depends on the individuals involved, and without knowing them, it’s nearly impossible to predict how they’ll respond.

It’s also impossible to know, in the abstract, if violence will even achieve your goals. Will they see it as a sign that they should back down, and a demonstration of your conviction? A validation of their position, because you have no better response?

We’ve said it before, violence doesn’t solve problems. It just creates new ones. At best it may table the old problems for a few minutes.

If you need to stop someone, completely stop someone, you need to convince them. By itself, simply beating on thumping on someone isn’t very persuasive.

-Starke

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