Tag Archives: fantasy

Hello. In my story I have my characters decorate their weapons with feathers/scales/hairs/ect. from their mythical creatures. As I edit, I realize these items will, most likely,have a negative impact on fighting ability. Should this type of decoration be restricted to ceremonial weapons or is there a way I can incorporate it without “harming” my fight scenes?I really like having the decoration as a way for my characters to show ownership over their weapons so any insight is appreciated. Thanks!

It’s going to depend. Off hand, it’s a lot easier, and safer, to decorate armor with trophies than weapons. That said, depending on the weapons, and where the trophies are attached, it could be fine.

The important thing is to make sure the trophy attaches to a part of the weapon that isn’t actually critical in combat. That means it can’t be a part that actually connects with either the wielder or enemy. It also can’t be a moving part.

For example: if your character is using a revolver, they could attach a feather to the base of the grip, but if it’s a magazine fed automatic that loads into the grip, that wouldn’t be an option. The feather would interfere with reloads.

There’s a little more flexibility with melee weapons. Swords and axes can be ported, to reduce their weight. This will result in holes that trophies could be mounted on. But, it also weakens the weapon overall.

If your character is using a monster’s skin, that could be applied over a grip. Though, that’s getting more into the range of an actual weapon modification, rather than a trophy. Similarly, bone or ivory can be carved into grips for some firearms.

With swords, it would actually be safer, and easier, to mount the trophies on the scabbard rather than the blade itself.

When it comes to armor, slapping feathers or fur on your pauldron might look a little weird, but it should be structurally sound. For some reason Boba Fett’s Wookie fur braid comes to mind as an example. Though, really that’s just scratching the surface. So long as the trophies don’t impair the armor, or interfere with movement, you’d probably be good to go.


Fantasy, Feminism, and The Wheel of Time

I’ll be the first to say that Robert Jordan, rest his soul, had some pretty weird sexual politics. From his work, he seemed to firmly believe that men and women could never truly understand each other. Many of his female protagonists are varying shades of shrill, bratty, vindictive, pushy know-it-alls, about whom the boys constantly moan and whine in their inability to understand them. There’s been a lot of discussion in the YA community about unlikeable characters and debate about whether or not a female protagonist needs to be likeable (though the definition of what is unlikeable is often subject to debate). For me, when I was reading The Wheel of Time in my teens and early twenties, characters like Elayne and Nynaeve were as frustrating and unlikeable as they came.  Katsa? Katniss? Sansa? Cersei? They don’t hold a candle to the burning hatred I felt for these women, but they’ve also never managed to capture my admiration in the same way. And you know what? Looking back, they’re awesome.

There are a massive number of characters in The Wheel of Time saga, about as many or more as George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus The Song of Ice and Fire.  The difference between them, setting wise, is a great many of these characters are female and, for the most part, none of them ever really questions their ability to get shit done. Also, there are a lot of women in these novels. You can’t really go ten pages without tripping over one or two, from barmaids, to ladies in waiting, to noblewomen who are natural inheritors of their own estates, to queens who inherit through the matrilineal line, to Aes Sedai (probably the greatest political force in the setting). Women who are interested in getting married, women who don’t like men, women who use sex for power, women who like to torture, women who are bookish, women who can see the future, women who consistently speak their mind, women who drink, fight, and swear, women who like to study, women who gamble, women warriors, female politicians, noblewomen who run away from home, noblewomen working to claim what’s theirs, noblewomen content to let others rule for them, lots of queens, female servants who work for queens, women who own their own businesses, female captains, female betrayers (on all sides), women who use magic, women learning to use magic, women who have different opinions on how to use magic, women who want to stop the Dark One, women who serve the Dark One, women who don’t give a crap the world is ending, women who don’t believe the world is ending, women who love Rand, women who hate Rand, women who want to control Rand, women who want to kill Rand, women who don’t care about Rand, women who want to swat Rand upside the head, but mostly women who have their own storylines and agents of their own destinies outside of the main plot. There are lots of women, from bit characters to major players. It’s true that Rand can be very paternalistic, but there are plenty of female characters (including his lovers) who cheerfully tell him where he can shove his concern and even use those traits against him.

I’m not sure if The Wheel of Time is a truly gender equal setting, but it’s closer than a lot of other fantasy settings get. If there’s anything we can take from this series and others like Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar. The key to creating one is to include women, lots of women, many different kinds of women. Not just one or two female characters floating around in the background or surrounding a female protagonist, but put women in the background and the foreground. They may not even be full characters, they may only get a few cast away references to their existence. Don’t comment on how weird it is that there are women trainees in with the men, don’t think about how your character is “awfully good for a girl” and if you do, have a counterpoint ready to smack that character upside the head. She’s just good.

Maybe your male character had a female mentor. After all, the renowned warrior-woman Sgathaichtrained the great hero Cú Chulainn in Celtic myth. Why not yours? In The Wheel of Time, Elayne is the daughter of the Queen of Andor and her heir. She shares a very close relationship with her mother because Morgause is the one who taught her statecraft. Elayne’s major arc in the series after she learns to control her magic is taking control Andor after her mother is murdered. Rand’s initial tutors in the One Power are all female as there are no male channelers who can teach him (except for the Forsaken) because of the Taint in the male half of the One Power. It’s not much of a long shot to state, even after he captures a Forsaken, that his most important tutors are still Moraine, Cadsuane, and the Aiel Wise Ones.

The presentation of women in The Wheel of Time isn’t always positive, but there are so many differing characters that the character flaws are just character flaws instead of immediate commentary. We, the readers, have our pick to choose who we like and who we don’t. This is true for all the characters, both major and minor, throughout the series.

So yes, I don’t like Nynaeve or Elayne, especially in the early books. I have never warmed to Faile. Moraine is a little meh for me. I really, really hate Elaida (though it’s really a love to hate). However, I happen to love Verin, Egwene, Cadsuane, Aviendha, Semirhage, Moghedien, Graendahl, Tuon, Siuan, Amys, Sorilea, Baire, and a host of others. If I’m criticizing one female character, I’m not criticizing all of them. It’s clear I’m criticizing that character, I don’t like that character not I don’t like women in general.

You make your character special not by making them unique or by giving them one or two characters they compare favorably too, but by having many other characters exist alongside them. The reason male heroes are deeds are based on who they are instead of their gender is that there are plenty of other male characters surrounding them in the novel. If your female character is the one female character within a host of male characters, then the presentation is that she’s special and unique because she’s female or somehow different from the rest of the setting’s nonexistent women. Put female characters everywhere in your fantasy setting, mix things up, and don’t define traditionally male occupations as being the only noteworthy parts of the culture.


Do you have any recommendations for where to look up how the military/armies work, (I don’t know of any difference aside from the name, so at this point I’m assuming they’re the same thing) or worked? I haven’t got a time period pinned down yet.

Well, an army would be ground/land forces, as opposed to a navy, while military is usually a catch all term for both. But, “when” is critically important here. The history of armed conflict in human history is so varied and scattered that without knowing when or where, you’re really not asking a question that can be answered. I’m sorry.

You can start with a world history text, or Wikipedia if you want a time frame to start with. For that matter, Wikipedia is a pretty decent research primer these days. Just, remember to actually check other sources before you accept something as fact.

If it’s a fantasy setting, then asking yourself what setting (or settings) inspired you, and researching what pieces of history they used could be helpful. Also, role playing games with well fleshed out settings, like D&D’s Forgotten Realms (or Dragonlance, or Dark Sun, or Planescape, or…) and White Wolf’s Exalted can provide an absolute ton of world building to work with. Even just trolling a wiki for games like The Elder Scrolls or Kingdoms of Amalur can offer you some insights into world building. And of course, if you’re writing fantasy, read some of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, no, seriously, read them.

Also, once you’ve got a time frame in mind, the military history section of any convenient bookstore should have some good resources to work with, even if it’s not 100% applicable, you’ll learn a lot from there.


Tor.com Accepting Sci-Fi/Fantasy Manuscripts for New Imprint

Tor.com Accepting Sci-Fi/Fantasy Manuscripts for New Imprint

If you use magic in fiction, the first thing you have to do is put barriers up. There must be limits to magic. If you can snap your fingers and make anything happen, where’s the fun in that? … The story really starts when you put limits on magic. Where fantasy gets a bad name is when anything can happen because a wizard snaps his fingers. Magic has to come with a cost, probably a much bigger cost than when things are done by what is usually called ‘the hard way.’

Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, on writing magic. (via theticklishpear)

Hello, love your work. Am writing a character for a “Fantasy Western” and I want him to have a distinct fighting style and was wondering if you could recommend a good style to reference. The character I have in mind is a hired gun who would prefer to just shoot a person or butt-stroke them if had to. When unarmed, though, he would use a quick, simple style that causes maximum damage in the shortest time. Any suggestions as to style I could reference?

None. Given the time frame you’re talking about, a character like that would be lucky to have some informal training on how to throw a punch without dislocating their thumb.

About the only thing he could have access to would be bare knuckled boxing. But, it’s still unlikely.

Some of the traditional Chinese martial arts were practiced, but there is literally no way your character could have had access to them. More than that, it would be incredibly unlikely that they’d see any value in them, or seek them out. Eastern styles were viewed as ineffective, poncy, effeminate, or just not real fighting. This is a view that actually persists in some parts of the Western US today. In that environment, your character isn’t likely to see any merit in those styles, much less try to train in them, and even if he wanted to, he’d be still be prevented from doing so.

Most Asian martial arts maintained a very strict prohibition against training students from other ethnicities (including other Asians). This didn’t change until the 1940s and 50s, so well past the timeframe of a conventional western. This also means it would be completely anachronistic to give a character Japanese and Chinese styles.

If your character is Chinese (or another Asian ethnicity), it’s possible they’d have been trained in a traditional style, but they’d also face severe racism, to the point that they would have a hard time finding work as a mercenary.

Okay, one more thing, that I’ve skipped so far because I might be reading too much into this, the whole “distinctive fighting style” phrase sets off all kinds of warning bells for me.

If you’re trying to make your character more unique, stop. You don’t need to make your character special, for them to be compelling. You distinguish a character in your writing, not by stapling “cool” things to them. Your character needs to belong in the world you’ve created, creating one that doesn’t is a recipe for disaster.

Your character is a hired gun, like hundreds or thousands of others. You make him unique by what he says, thinks, and does, not by giving him neat toys or an easy way out of trouble.

So, some recomendations:

If you’ve never read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, You need to. It’s more of a horror Western (actually, most of these suggestions will be, but… still.)

Deadlands was an alternate history RPG set in a world where the Civil War rages on, and supernatural forces have been unleashed on the world. As with The Dark Tower this is more horror than straight up fantasy.

Ravenous is a vampire movie that’s not, quite, about vampires. Set in the early 19th century Sierra Nevadas, it focuses on a single, isolated, fort. Again, more horror than fantasy, but it should give you some ideas to play with.

Yojimbo is, functionally, a western set in Edo period Japan. As with a lot of Kurosawa’s work, it’s been adapted repeatedly. If you don’t see this as useful, you might want to look at Last Man Standing. It’s not nearly as good, but it might give you some ideas.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura isn’t a western… technically. There are a few minor western themes in a few locations, but that’s not the point. This was a massive RPG from Tim Cain, one of the original designers of the Fallout franchise. The setting takes a Tolkien style high fantasy world and turns the clock forward to 1885. Part steampunk, part political commentary, this game will give you a lot of stuff to chew on. If you’re talking about a high fantasy world hitting the industrial revolution, this is a must play.



A Brief Introduction to Armoured Longsword Combat

  • By Matt Anderson and Shane Smith (ARMA Virginia Beach)

Most practitioners of historical fencing have not extensively explored armoured fighting techniques. This is due to several factors, including the expense and difficulty inherent in obtaining a decent reproduction harness.

The fact that most harness fighting techniques involve thrusting and violent grappling actions is also daunting. Still, several members of the ARMA, Virginia Beach study group have for several years had a keen interest in trying to recreate the type of harness fighting we see in the “fechtbuchs”.

Not the hack and bash type of display commonly seen at Renn faires, or the armoured stick fighting practiced by some medieval reenacting groups, but something more like what might have really been seen in 15th century Europe. We knew from our examination of the “fechtbuchs” that real armoured fighting of the period was efficient, effective and brutal.

Certain tactical basics became apparent early on. The edge of the sword, for example, is relatively useless against plate armour. Most source texts show no edge blows at all. Rather, armoured sword fighting is all about putting the point into a relatively unprotected area.

In order to thrust effectively and accurately to these relatively small targets such as the face, armpit, inside of the elbow, and other areas which are not covered by plate armour, and defend them, half-swording is the predominant technique. 

Half-swording, with a firm grip closer to the point, gives one the thrusting accuracy to hit these relatively small areas. It also enables one to thrust with power and body weight behind the attack, often necessary in order to penetrate the maille and padded garments between the plate defenses.

Grappling moves such as trips and throws are an essential element as well. Levering with the sword, arm and wrist locks, even kicks and hand strikes are all useful techniques against an armoured man. It is often necessary to throw your opponent to the ground and perhaps hold him there in order to make an opening for your finishing move.

The more we studied the source texts, the more we realized that the only way to really learn how to fight in armour was to armour up and try to duplicate what we saw in the source texts. We have studied and experimented with several sources and many techniques but in this article, we will focus on what we have learned in our exploration of the armoured longsword techniques from Fiore Dei Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum.


Source: Copyright © 2014 The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts

Fantasy Book Critic: GUESTPOST: Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith

Fantasy Book Critic: GUESTPOST: Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith

I’m writing a story in which a vampire and a human create a deal where the vampire can suck the humans blood in return for money. The only issue is, I’m not sure how they’d safely go about it without A. Killing the Human or B. Turning the Human into a Vampire. I’m also not sure how often that exchange could happen, when taking the harm done to the human into concern and letting them heal up. Do you have any ideas? :0

This is all excellent and I’m just throwing out some other ideas for consideration. Here’s a quote from the fantastic British series Ultraviolet on this problem of vampires and feeding. It’s an amazing show and it has some pretty neat insights into vampires that are worth lifting. It also has Idris Elba as a vampire hunter.


  1. The FAQ here says it takes about a month to replenish the pint of blood that normal donations ask for. You should probably go by that law or maybe cut it a little closer – say, every twenty days – to avoid killing the human or giving them severe anemia. You should probably bring more people into the blood fold so the vampire can feed more often.
  2. Your vampire could suck the blood out through an IV, straw, or any other device that keeps the vampire mouth away from human skin. Or the human could give the pint of blood and the vamp could suck it out of the donation bag. Alternately, you could come up with a different method of spreading vampirism, like a spell or being touched with a talisman or dying in a certain way.

Just a note: blood isn’t a very good nutrient. The vampire bat drinks about half its weight in blood at every meal to get the nutrients it needs. To compare, an 80 kg vampire would need to drink 40 L of blood (84.5 pints) almost daily if they had the same blood-evolved digestive system as the vampire bat. Also, at the end of feeding, the vampire bat is too heavy to fly, so it urinates most of the liquid in the blood it has drunk. Most vampire books don’t address this – and I’m not saying you should either – but it’s something to think about.

Mike: How is all this kept quiet? I mean, a body turns up drained-
Doctor Angie Marsh: Doesn’t happen. Successful parasites don’t kill their host. They don’t drain their prey unless they want to recruit, and they’re very careful about who they recruit. Like we are

You get into trouble if you think about vampires as predators, but instead as parasites. A vampire doesn’t have to kill, in fact, it’s better for them in the long run if they don’t because they can keep themselves fed on a safe, steady supply of blood without having to worry about the mess that comes with having to constantly dispose of the bodies.

If you’re dealing with a variant of vampire that has to completely drain the host to ensure their own survival then this won’t apply, but if a vampire can leave the person their feeding on alive then they should because that person is a replenishing supply of blood. Now, your vampire is going to have to have developed some measure of self-control to be able to do this and depending on the kind of person the vampire is that may be difficult. It’s also going to depend on how often the vampire practices feeding. A vampire who feeds on human beings constantly is going to be better at controlling themselves than a vampire who does not do so regularly or one that usually completely abstains, such as Stefan Salvatore of Nicholas Knight. A vampire who turns up their nose at being a vampire isn’t going to be a very good at actually being vampire when it counts.

You’re going also going to have to ask yourself a few questions:

1) How much blood does the vampire need to drink to survive?

A vampire who needs to devour the whole amount of blood in the human system to replenish the blood they lose daily may actually choose to feed from multiple different people everyday instead of just one. If they only need a little blood, they may just use a single individual.

2) How often does the vampire need to feed?

If your vampire needs to feed every day, then feeding from the same person could be a problem. If the vampire only really needs to eat every few days or only needs fresh blood every few days while alternately subsisting on blood bags or animal blood, then they’ll probably give the human the time they need to recover before they feed again. Will they be living with the human or will it be a standard drop by situation?

3) How do people become vampires in your setting?

Sometimes, the process can be complicated. Sometimes, depending on the vampire society, it can be highly and carefully regulated. How people become vampires is going to depend on how many people know that vampires exist or if the existence of vampires is common knowledge. If turning someone into a vampire without the express permission of the local vampire government is illegal, then it’s likely that your vampire is going to be very careful when he or she feeds.

4) Why isn’t the vampire just taking the blood?

Vampires don’t generally pay for blood, so this is something that you’re going to have to cover in your story if you haven’t already. It can be moral reasons or the vampires not possessing powers of mind control, but the reason should be fairly upfront to avoid confusion.

Recommended Reading/Viewing:

Ultraviolet (1998): This fantastic British serial from the late nineties starred Jack Davenport, Idris Elba, Suzannah Harker, and Philip Quast. It may be a little hard to find, but you should look at it.

Forever Knight (1989-1996): This campy show starred Geraint Wyn Davies as the 800 year old vampire Nicholas Knight, who was looking for redemption and worked as a cop in Toronto. It’s ridiculously campy, but the vampires are done very well and might provide you with some ideas for getting out of the Anne Rice box. (If nothing else, Nigel Bennet as Nick’s sire, Lacroix is memorable.)

Vampire: the Masquerade: I usually throw this one out there, but it’s a great toolbox for how vampires might live in the modern world and what sort of societies, rules, and laws they might generate. Specifically, the source book Ghouls may be helpful to you for generating ideas on how other vampires might view your vampire’s arrangement with your human and how other relationships between vampires and humans evolve. If you want the experience of being a vampire or existing in the Masquerade world, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a great video game RPG to get you thinking like a vampire (just don’t play the Malkavians first).