Q&A: Mace v. Staff

Mace v.s. staff, both unarmoured, both have equal level of training/skill (Western-style, so just focused on their own weapon): who wins? (The mace-wielder primarily has experience fighting armoured opponents, but has fought unarmoured ones plenty of times before; the staff-wielder has almost exclusively fought the latter)

Staff.

This isn’t a question, and most of the additions in this question are ultimately pointless. Primary weapon advantages are decided by distance, or a concept called reach. Weapons aren’t universal or all made equal, the staff is much longer than the mace with more available attack patterns and defensive options. However, the big one is the weapon’s reach. This means the weapon can hit you before you get into range to hit them. The mace is meant to be wielded together with a shield, and against an armored opponent or an unarmed one. The staff will beat out a sword, and will strike at distances from which a sword wielder cannot retaliate.

This isn’t a training problem, a staff wielder with significantly less experience can beat an experienced fighter using a mace. The mace is meant to crack open plate, or get around Catholic restrictions regarding priests causing individuals to bleed. That’s it’s purpose. It is a highly specialized weapon. A staff will parlay into the base for a multitude of different polearms from the spear to the halberd. The fighter carrying the staff needs to do is put a metal tip on the end of his weapon and he can poke holes in his enemy. He doesn’t need to though, because a heavy quarterstaff made of solid oak will shatter bones and bust up internal organs just fine on its own.

The fight will end before the guy using the mace can close, and without a shield he’s going to leave one half of his unarmored body entirely open. All you have to do is hit that part. Or start with their legs and move upwards. The staff is a highly effective self-defense weapon on par with, if not more popular than the sword. It lacks the glamor and the prestige, but it is incredibly effective in a wide variety of situations where the mace is just a metal club. Clubs are great, but they’re very repetitious and definitely not friendly.

This fight will start and end with one guy getting his ribs broken, maybe his collarbone after, then his head, and end the day dumped in the drink. Knocked off into the river.

The staff runs between being six to eight feet long, and the mace is… much shorter than that. Check out this fight scene from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, this showcases a fight between spears (this is an iconic fight scene) but pay attention to how far apart they are. When you’re fighting someone with a staff, they’ll keep you at a similar distance and they can use the entirety of the weapon. They can transition up and down the weapon with their grip to create new distances when the time comes to close. The guy with the staff can block the guy with the mace with one end, and then transition into a strike from the other without letting up pressure. Or, knock the mace away (if they’re in any danger, which is generous) and strike back across. The staff is controlled via leverage with the hands, and the fulcrum is where the hands are.

The guy with the mace would know, if he’s trained, this is a weapon that he doesn’t want to deal with and is unprepared for. This is a fight he wants to avoid, and he’d bring a different weapon. A weapon like a maul. Unarmored, a sword wouldn’t be much better for him if he has a mace and lacks a shield. Give the guy with a mace a shield and some armor, then you’ve got a fight.

No, this is not suddenly an entirely uneven fight and the guy with the mace is still at a disadvantage.

Allow me to explain.

A heavy oak staff can put a dent in your plate. This isn’t some light weapon, these are dense weapons. They often came plated at both ends in steel.  The mace has no real defensive options, it is made for swinging and you need to get close enough to your opponent to hit them. The staff is going to make that difficult. Remember, Little John’s traditional weapon is the quarterstaff and no one really questioned him taking that up against Norman knights. Despite being one of the Merry Men who generally takes it on the chin in modern adaptations, Little John could wreck a tax collector’s day. Trained people. Trained footmen. Trained knights.

You actually need the shield to block the staff, allowing the character with the mace to get close enough to strike their opponent. This won’t be easy, as the staff can still strike at the body parts the shield won’t or can’t block including the feet/legs and head.  This is where armor for the head and the feet come in. This limits the staff’s options, but doesn’t negate them. They can still go for the side of the body with the mace.  The guy with the mace needs to hide behind his shield, use it to block t attacks by the staff, get close enough to hit the staff wielder, and then strike them overhand with the mace.

If they lose any part of their body from the shoulder to the arm to hand to their legs on that side then they are done, thus with one side protected by the shield then the weapon side becomes the preferential target. Attacking the arm/hand wielding the weapon is an accepted strategy in martial forms across the globe.

Even with a shield though, the strikes taken on the shield are going to wear out the arm of the guy with the mace. The angle the shield is held is a strain, and the constant impact is going to wear out the bicep and tricep fairly quickly. Far more quickly than the impact will wear down the staff wielder’s hands. Without armor, the mace wielder’s muscles take the impact through the shield straight. Remember, a shield mitigates impact. It doesn’t negate it. Armor is the same, it mitigates the damage taken by impact. It does not, however, negate it.

Don’t underestimate one of the most common, functional, easily learned, and versatile weapons in human history just because it’s made of wood.

Ultimately, these pieces of cause and effect, opportunity and cost, and risk assessment with weapons are what make your fight tense. Me showing you why this guy is screwed should, honestly, be exciting to you because sacrifice is where the tension is and what makes a battle exciting. The battering of resources, the cutting away of options, the slow or quick degradation of the muscles to the point they’re no longer usable. The shield arm being battered so hard that the protection becomes worthless when the character can barely lift their arm. Understanding specifically what it is which makes a battle uneven or even creates opportunity to add tension to your fiction.

The dragons’ wings snapped open and they leveled off, sweeping over the train. Shooting over them in a blast, air screaming as they passed.

The dinosaurs shuffled, pressing together, milling from the scents and sounds.

“They’re going to stampede the train,” Anara observed, drawing her pistol from within the folds of her cloak. “Not that the diplo move fast.”

Nathan glanced at her sharply. “Have your men hold them!”

Anara lifted her wrist, murmuring into her link.

A sensation passed across the back of Nathan’s mind, the shiver of incoming danger. His neck prickled, hair raising on his skin. He whipped about.

A shadowy, hooded figure leapt across the packs on the back of the triceratops, fiery orange blade flashing in the sunlight.

Nathan’s blade ignited, he lunged between the attacker and Anara.

Circling overhead, Leon, Baral, and Dorcal roared a challenge the newcomers.

Nathan felt Leon shudder when the attacking dragons answered. Fifteen drakes, ten now, and two dragons. One male, a fully grown beta-king, and the other a female — a matriarch. The Renegades have a matriarch, Nathan thought, as the realization sank in. His blade clashed in a sizzle of flaming red light on orange, his enemy pressing her advantage, and he’d no more opportunity to think. He pressed his advantage, leveraging his blade as they slammed together. Pushing her back across the unstable footing of the packs. Or, he wondered when a boxes fell away to the ground in blow after blow, drawn after her.

Yes, his heart quickened, her.

Thin and lithe, the hooded woman leapt lightly from one box to the other. His mental pressure glancing off the tight bubble she contained herself within, telekinesis similarly blocked. She danced between the packs as they fell away. Dropping onto the triceratops long back when the last finally hit the ground, she levered her orange blade at his heart.

Two of the enemy drakes overhead broke off. Cutting away from Baral and Dorcal, they twisted in choreographed precision above the shifting herbivores and let out bone shaking roars.

Nathan’s teeth grit. Leon!

She’s here!

The diplodocus came crashing to a halt, their tails switching back and forth in terror. The train halted, backing up, and breaking off toward the trees. A massive wave of terror rose from the milling dinosaurs, sweeping out across the road. Animalistic terror and… something else.

Nathan stretched out with his mind, to get a better feel for the human undercurrent, but a second mind leapt between them. The shrouded woman jumped past him, cutting his mind off cleanly as her blade locked up his. She’s a dragonrider, he realized. No just any Renegade, but a trained Dragon-Knight. Her sword style faintly reminiscent of the Jesaran sabre techniques, but with stances predominantly influenced by those practiced by the Dragon-Knights out of High Reaches. He rained attacks down on her, striking evenly in tempo.

She answered him blow for blow, weight shifting with each of the triceratops lumbering steps.  telekinetic thrust threw her back across the packs and she twisted in midair to land on her feet. Her legs splayed, one hand pressed to the uneven canvas and rope. Her hooded head rose. Flame licked up her orange blade, light and heat crackling in the air. The woman shot forward, racing toward him along the length of the triceratops’s spine. She closed the distance between them, pulsing bright as a star in his second sight. A raw storm within his senses, sizzling his synapses.

Nathan struck low, toward her legs, and her blade met his. Bearing down on her with his weight, his sabre edged closer and closer to her protected leg.

Yielding under the pressure, she shut off her blade and stepped sideways. Let his weight carry him past her. Launching off the back of the triceratops, she twisted into a backflip and landed lightly on packed dirt. He saw a shadowed head lift as the triceratops continued on and felt the brief touch of her mind passing through his like fingers tracing over his palm. Then, she was gone, disappearing into the thickening gray-brown underbrush without a backwards glance.

Duels can provide a powerful effect in your fight scenes, there’s a horde of cultural and fictional tropes associated with them. You want them to be as evenly matched as possible, which is why they should carry the same weapons. However, you need to understand how to use them and the weapons you’ve decided to display. Training isn’t a good catch-all way of saying these two characters are evenly matched, because that’s not what training means. Two similarly equipped characters are on an equal level where they can display their skills, two characters carrying different weapons are going to be at the mercy of the weapon’s advantages. Trained characters know that. They’ll know when they’re at a disadvantage, and plan accordingly.

Two characters fighting with similar weapons with a similar level skill level are evenly matched.

The floor cracked apart into pentagons and two shifted clockwise, while the three others rose to create a staircase revolving in the opposite direction. Each moved a few fractions faster than the others as the lasers fired in triangular patterns across the training room.

Leah ran, blocking, dancing, shifting between the lasers. Her blade became an orange blur, leaving a wheel of fire about her. She leapt between the plates, counting the fractional seconds between shots. Her mind expanding, spreading to encompass the room.

See, Matron Helena’s voice echoed in her head, see everything.

The war droid gave chase, tracking her movements with its internal crystal memory cortex and processor. Assessing her, her habits, her steps, her fighting style and firing in predictive patterns meant to corner and eliminate.

Not simply the machine before you, see the connections, all the connections.

She froze the lasers before they reached her, and sent them glancing off toward the walls. Not long enough to pause, not long enough to appreciate, preen, or question. No room for uncertainty. No, she must be certain. Certain the energies flowing through her would answer commands without question. Must trust her body to answer when she needed it and trust herself to know what she needed to do.

There is a flow in the universe, a universal river bonding all life together.

Leah twisted between the lasers, they came on fast. Onto the ball of her foot, to her heel, swirl and step. Her feet found positions between scorch marks, her body disappearing and reappearing through red slashes. The blasts quickened as she raced counter clockwise across the platforms, chasing the ones moving above her.

Give in to the current, her mother’s voice thundered. Do not think! Do not fight the river! You will only drown. In order to gain control, you must cede to it. Cede your desire to control!

A hiss of steam lingered in her ears. She spun, blade lifting, to catch a downward stroke by the android. Its force pike bore down on her tired arms, bringing the crackling heat of her blade closer and closer to her skin.

There is a part of you which listens.

Leah twisted her blade sideways and leaned back, giving way under the android’s pressure. The staff swept past her. Her figure rippled, there and gone, mind catching three laser blasts and directed them into her attacker.

The android stumbled.

Listen, and let go!

Lunging, she swept her blade through the android’s chest in an orange flash. Plasma shearing into its central cortex and electric processors, she jumped past it onto the next platform. At the brush of her weight on adamantine, the platform began to shift in the opposite direction. Away from those above her, gap and speed widening massively rather than incrementally. Metal rattled underneath her feet, gears whining and humming. Leah grinned, knocking away blasts with her sabre. She ignored the sweat dripping down her forehead, streaking her cheeks and chin, the aching pain in her legs forgotten. The platform circled the hexagonal walls, bumping and hitching at the corners. “So, that’s how you want to play?” she called to the centralized computer. “Let’s go, bolt-bucket!”

Below, the separated android reactivated. A second set of legs sprang from the chassis, and it flipped onto them. The pike broke apart in its hands and became a pair of batons. Out of its separated bottom, four arms extended, two from the waist, and two from the thighs. Each palm glowed with red light, turned upward, and began to fire.

A character fighting against incredibly bad odds and winning? This character is proving their mettle as a badass and they pull dual duty ensuring you see the other tougher characters they battle as real threats. When you respect a character, you respect the characters they respect and their adversaries.

However, it is up to you to convey the physical and emotional stakes to the audience. You can’t expect them to understand, or to assume for you. Physical stakes come from understanding the difference between weapons, by grasping the inherent advantages and disadvantages they pose.

Real combat comes from strategy, rather than technique. Techniques combine to become a tactical strategy. One attack leads to another. You get the sense there’s a plan involved, even when the characters don’t say so. They communicate this plan to the audience through the techniques they use and their behavior. The techniques produce results, and the strain of combat wears on the combatant. Things start going well, and then events change. They get worse. You follow this rising pattern in escalation until we hit victory or defeat.

Fight scenes come with their own miniature narrative arcs, just like every other scene. You utilize everything you know about physical exertion to show the character being worn down, just like you would be in real life and having to draw deep on their inner reserves to break past the next hump. This is what makes sequences like this successful, not the other ancillary nonsense. Buzzwords like “training” and “experience” only work if you understand the logic they connect to. You can say two people are equal, but that doesn’t make it true when comparing context and circumstances. Weapons and martial combat exist to create scenarios which are inherently weighted in one person’s favor, which are unfair, and every individual wants to be the person on the side with the advantage. They are all going to try to ensure the situation falls in their favor, but the circumstances won’t always allow for it. The part where they’re not the same is a large part of what makes these scenes exciting. A weapon face off is to put one character at a significant disadvantage. It is a scene primarily about the weapons and not the people in match up. Where the people come in is their cleverness in using the weapons, the underdog as he or she tries to bridge the gap and the one who is ahead of the game trying to keep their advantage.

You want characters who are actively working out a way to win, rather than passively accepting their statistics and relying on those stats to do the work for them.

-Michi

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