Tag Archives: Starke answers

Q&A: Sword Cane

How practical is a hidden sword inside a walking stick/cane? How wide could a person go before the cane became suspiscious as to be concealing something? And would such a weapon be strong enough in serious skirmishes? Or should a user stick to simply using the cane, and perhaps having a hidden blade in the end?

Amusingly, I used to own a sword cane. I threw it out during the last move, otherwise I could post pictures.

The sword canes I’ve seen have been screw on arrangements. Externally, they look like a normal cane with a metal band just below the grip (which isn’t unusual for normal canes either).

They use very narrow blades to maintain the silhouette of a normal cane. This is a necessary component of the design, by the way. The entire point is to have a hidden blade, which falls apart when you’re carrying around something that looks more like a scabbard than a cane. You’re talking about a blade that’s going to be, at most, around 1/2″ across, and usually around 24″ to 25″ long.

The primary purpose of these things was as a self defense tool. It’s not a weapon intended for heavy combat, just to deal with one guy armed with a knife.

To some extent, overall practicality depends on the individual weapon, not sword canes as a whole. For example, the one I owned featured a very loose blade, which could be rattled by shaking the grip slightly. Rattling it may serve the intended purpose of scaring off a potential mugger, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take the thing into a fight.

-Starke

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Q&A: Character Motivations

Do you have any advice on subtly guiding readers to villainize a character so that they dismiss the character’s legitimate concerns over another person’s trustworthiness? I am hoping the perceived personalities will help, but I don’t want to rely on them alone.

Well, you hit on the answer: Make the concerns legitimate.
Not just the concerns you want to discredit, but also the reasons your other
characters have to discount their observations.

When you’re writing it can be very easy to get tunnel vision
and view the world through the lens of your protagonist. Your audience will
gleefully follow that cue in turn. It’s part of why there are a lot of novels
with the protagonist acting in egregious ways, but fans will (and do) disregard
it, because the protagonist thinks that behavior’s fine.

This is how characters like Harry Potter function. The
character operates from a limited perspective of the world, makes snap judgments
based on their perspective, and as a result, devalues legitimate advice and
insights from people who know what they’re talking about. I’ll stress, there’s nothing wrong with a character having
this kind of an approach, so long as the author understands that this is a flaw.

There is nothing
wrong with having a character say, “yeah, but that’s just Steve, and we all
know what an idiot he is.” So long as you remember, as the author, that Steve
may have a point, and licking that light socket was probably not a great idea.

So, let’s step back for a second and start over: As the
author, you control the game board. That’s your job. You set up the characters,
the arena they operate in, and direct them. You know that the sky is going to
fall in six minutes, and that poking the toad over there is a spectacularly bad
idea. But, your characters don’t.

In a story told from the position of one character, you’re
presenting the narrative from a limited perspective. You need to understand the
entire situation, but your character doesn’t, and shouldn’t. They see and react
to the information they have access to.

Now, the hard part, staying within this weird little
metaphor, every other character in
your story is another piece on the board. Looking at the information they have,
and acting accordingly. Everyone has their own goals, and perspective. Just
like your character, their perspective is limited. They may have more
information. They may have less. What they know shapes their opinions and
perspectives.

AND. THEY. REMEMBER.

The simple answer is to go back and ask how does your
protagonist feel about the character. If they like them, and have had positive
experiences in the past, they’re more likely to accept that character’s
viewpoint. If that character has betrayed them in the past, or worked against
them, then they’ll discount the value of their advice.

Past actions are incredibly important factors if you’re
dealing with characters who’ve changed loyalties. It’s entirely plausible your
protagonist would hold a grudge against a former foe, who’s switched sides and
is working with them now. Conversely, if the protagonist has had a change of
heart, then they’re more likely to face distrust and opposition among their new
allies.

Okay, so, maybe someone does know that the sky is going to
fall if you poke that toad. Maybe they didn’t make that information clear
because, “NO! AREYOUOUTOFYOURGODDAMNMIND!?
DON
TDOTHAT; THEFUCKINGSKYWILLFALL!” Maybe they’ve
cried wolf before. Maybe your protagonist thinks poking the toad is a key to immortality
and Steve just wants that for himself.

You’re correct, personality does matter. It affects prejudices,
and how we weight information. Some of this is subconscious, but it works. Consider
which you find more credible, some Rasputin looking homeless dude raving
about the end of the world, or a composed academic? Personality and
presentations matter, particularly during first impressions. Even if the
Rasputin looking fellow comes back, shaved, with the crazy toned down, they’ll
still be weighed against their previous iteration, by characters who originally
met them in that state.

Confirmation bias is another relevant factor. This is the
drive to actively seek out information that supports your understanding of the
world while actively discounting information that contradicts it. If your
protagonist really wants to believe that toad will give them immortality, they
may very well ignore the advice of people they respect, and normally agree
with, when they’re told it’s really an amphibious button to initiate the end
times.

The really important thing to walk away with is the idea
that you don’t need to vilify other characters’ positions. If your character
has a legitimate reason not to follow it, then that’s all you need. Trust your
audience make their own decisions on who they should be listening to.

-Starke

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HI! I was wondering what modern light infantry firearms would you recommend for killing giant monsters around size and weight of elephants but with agility more akin to cats. I was thinking heavy round assault rifles and or grenade launchers.

Well, not, “light,” but I kinda suspect you mean, “small arms.” The first thing that comes to mind is a .50 anti-material rifle. That’s not just because I did an ask on the Barrett AM rifle a few days ago.

With something that nimble, you wouldn’t want to get within half a mile of it, if you didn’t need to. And, because of how sound works, at those ranges, it wouldn’t even hear the gunshot before the round connected. (Technically, it would never hear the actual gunshot, just the bullet breaking the speed barrier.) Depending on how the critters are put together, a high-explosive round might be the best payload, but I don’t know how well their accuracy holds up at long ranges.

Getting close enough to use a grenade launcher (usually around 100-200m) doesn’t sound like a good idea. At least not if they’re that fast and agile.

(For reference the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher is accurate up to around 150m, beyond that you can still put a round general vicinity of over there at up to 350m.)

By, “heavy round,” I assume you mean automatic rifles chambered in 7.62mm (and some other .30 rounds), at which point, that’s usually a battle rifle. I mean, it’s possible you might get the desired result from riddling the things with an H&K G3, but getting that close when you don’t need to be still sounds like a bad idea to me.

-Starke

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How viable is a tonfa in modern street fighting setting? (well, to be more accurate, Hong Kong during 1988, but I digress). I know that guns are going to beat it out regardless, because guns, but in the case they aren’t available, would it be a good weapon for a gang member to carry around?

Yeah, Hong Kong is a very different set of considerations from simply, “modern street fighting.” Specifically, firearms laws there are far more strict than in the US, and the danger of running into someone using a gun is much lower than if you set your story in 1980s Los Angeles.

Obviously, if your characters are going up against the police, then that starts to become a serious consideration again, but for street level combat, there’s a very real probability that the people they’re fighting won’t have access to firearms either.

Now my knowledge on the subject is strictly 1999, so some of this may have been different under British rule, but my understanding is that under the PRC, arms smuggling is a capital offense. Possession of an unlicensed firearm is a serious felony that can carry a life sentence.

What little I can dig up from pre-1999, suggest that even before the British left, it was extremely restricted. You could own a firearm, but you not allowed to own, or store, ammunition. You needed to purchase, and use it, at the gun club, where you shot.

There were exemptions for people who dealt with large quantities of cash, gems, or other untraceable wealth, as part of their job. That may have persisted, I’m uncertain.

Within that specific context, yeah, I could see the tonfa being useful for someone dealing with street level crime. Ironically, they might be better off unarmed and using whatever they can find in their environment opportunistically, simply because of law enforcement attention. The full list of prohibited weapons is a bit vague in places. Near as I can tell, the tonfa isn’t explicitly restricted, but an officer might class it under one of those headers and arrest your character anyway.

Incidentally, while writing this, the thing that keeps coming to mind is Sleeping Dogs. This was a criminally underrated GTA style game set in 2012 Hong Kong, where you played as an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads. It’s a little off what you’re talking about, but is still a fascinating examination of the tensions for a character who’s operating undercover in a criminal organization.

-Starke

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I’ve been watching the Clone Wars on Netflix. In it, the character Ahsoka uses two lightsabers which she holds in reverse grip, that is to say so that they point backwards parallel to her forearms instead of in front of her at her enemies. I know that this is a technique sometimes used in knife fighting, but, as someone with fencing experience, I can’t help but find it incredibly awkward and inefficient with a full-length sword. Is it based on a real technique, or is it just rule of cool?

There’s no real application for it. There are reasons to
reverse grip a knife, not so much with a full length blade.

The in universe justification is that Ahsoka and Starkiller
both use a controversial, or ancient, (pick whichever feels more appropriate in
the moment) version of the Shien style (or Form V, if you prefer). Shien is a
style focused on dealing with multiple opponents simultaneously, and had a
focus on quick retaliations after a defensive parry, as well as heavy strikes.
In theory, Ahsoka’s using the same lightsaber form as Luke and Anakin, just
with a different resting position for their blade. Supposedly, the reverse grip
allows the user to generate wider arcs that strike across multiple targets more
easily. I say supposedly, because that honestly sounds like an after the fact
justification to me. Though, it’s possible there’s some consideration to how lightsabers handle
momentum that isn’t occurring to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with the forms, the old Star Wars expanded universe broke
lightsaber combat down into seven distinct forms, (and then kept adding more.) Each one is numbered,
and alternately has multiple names. In large part, these exist to
justify the various actors having different approaches to the lightsabers
across the franchise. And there are a lot of after-the-fact justifications for
why Luke’s use of a lightsaber looks different from Obi-Wan’s, and why Obi-Wan’s
changes between the prequels and the original trilogy. Beyond that, most Jedi
are assumed to be proficient in roughly three styles of their choosing.

There is some interesting concepts buried in there,
especially when you get past the official seven forms. For example, Trakata,
where the blade is disabled and reignited mid-strike to bypass blocks and
generally mess with the opponent. So, what Ahsoka is doing probably isn’t
completely without merit. I know with Starkiller the justification was that it
kept the blade out of his way while performing acrobatic maneuvering. It’s
another explanation that sounds dubious, though slightly more plausible.

So, basically, no, it’s there to make her more visually
distinct. This is a large factor in most of the unique lightsaber variants
across the franchise. There’s in universe justifications, but those follow the goal
of making a character stand out. That is
a legitimate goal. Particularly when you’re dealing with a setting that juggles
hundreds of major characters.

The subversive way to phrase it would probably be some
variation of, “when everyone’s special, no one is,” but when you’re talking
about Star Wars, as a whole, particularly the old Extended Universe, it does
sell the idea of a diverse universe with a ton of distinct characters bouncing
around in it. Also, the more characters you add, even when their stories are
individually distinct, the harder it becomes to separate them out. I’m going to
offend some people here, including myself, but, when you take two characters
like Corran Horn and Kyle Katarn, and stick them next to each other, it can be
kinda tricky to explain what makes them distinct, to someone unfamiliar with
the setting.

The trade off is, taking large steps to try to differentiate
a character can result in serious pushback. For whatever the reason, the
community just does not accept and mocks that character mercilessly. Which was
the case with Starkiller. I honestly could not tell you why Ahsoka never
generated the same reaction. At least, not conclusively.

-Starke

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Q&A: Blood in the Eyes

Hey! Is it possible to take both of an opponent’s eyes out with a single swipe of a sword without amputating the nose? Thanks so much in advance!

Not exactly what you’re asking, but cutting someone’s forehead so that they’ll get blood in their eyes, temporarily blinding them, was a real tactic. That does work.

Actually taking out the eyes in a single, linear strike, without hitting the nose? I don’t think so. To be fair, even a fairly deep cut to the bridge of the nose wouldn’t amputate, and a slash across the face that would sever the nose wouldn’t connect with the eyes, because of how they rest in their sockets.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious, in which case, I’m sorry. Still, if you want to blind your character temporarily, in combat, cuts to the forehead will do that.

-Starke

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Do ya’ll have any input on weapons (Maybe a polearm type) against beasts? (Nothing that would be larger than a XL Draft Horse, so no house-sized dragons or bus-long wyrms) I’ve been considering a halberd for my MC, and he’s going to be faced with various types of beasts on foot.

That is one of the uses of polearms. Not fighting monsters,
but dealing with potentially dangerous animals. Within that context, the
halberd probably isn’t the best option.

The only thing that I’d
be concerned about is that the halberd is a variety of poleaxe. Usually, they
had a spike or piercing blade on the end, which would allow you to poke
something, but the primary blade was used in chopping strikes. So your
character wouldn’t be getting much use out of that. In turn this adds more
weight out on the end of the weapon, making it harder to maneuver. I don’t want
to say, “more ponderous,” because it should still work, and is a legitimate selection,
it’s just that there are better options out there.

Specifically, weapons like the boar spear or spetum would
probably do the job slightly better than a halberd. Possibly with an axe as his
sidearm. Though, nearly any polearm will allow him to attack without being
disemboweled, which is the important part, and why polearms were historically
used as hunting tools.

Some of this is speculative, and would depend on exactly
what he’s facing. I’m sitting here thinking of something like a bear or
werewolf, but if he’s fighting some kind of cephalopod,

and needs to lop off pieces,

then a halberd may make
more sense.

-Starke

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Q&A: Anti-Material Rifles

Hello, I don’t see a lot of resources for sniper gun injuries, especially that of .50 cal rounds. I have a character that had the bone at her lower leg (near the ankle) shot by a .50. How bad would the damage be when compared to the same bullet actually hitting the ankle bone or the leg muscle?

So, there’s a weirdness with the .50 round: It’s not supposed to be used for precision shooting. It is used that way. There are many precision rifles chambered to various 12.7mm cartridges, including the .50 BMG. But, they’re not really intended for use on people.

(To be clear, every time I’m talking about a .50 from here on out, I’m referring to the 12.7x99mm rifle cartridge. Incidentally, if you were to simply search for .50 wounds, you would probably get a mix of rifle and pistol wounds, since there are many distinct 12.7mm rounds in circulation.)

The .50 BMG was originally designed during the First World War, with the intention of use as an anti-aircraft round. These entered service in the ‘20s and saw extensive use during WWII as an anti-vehicle round. This is it’s intended role, even today.

In the early 80s, someone got it in their head to build a precision rifle around these things. The result were firearms like the Barrett M82. This 30lb monster is, probably, the rifle you’re thinking of.

Thing is, these rifles fire a round that was intended for taking out vehicles, not people. As a result, they’re designed to deliver a terrifying amount of force to the target. The point is you put one of these into a truck’s engine block to kill it. Which doesn’t work 100% of the time, but a few extra hits will usually get the point across. You put one of these into a person, they’re done.

I don’t have hard data on what these things will do to a person. There is an inaccurate myth that near misses can kill from the atmospheric shockwave alone, which isn’t true. There’s also stories about these things taking limbs off on a hit. Based on what I’ve seen with these rounds and ballistic gel tests, that seems credible. Put one into someone and you could easily end up looking at an eight inch exit wound.

Connecting with the ankle probably means the foot is gone. I don’t mean damaged irrevocably, “we’ll need to amputate.” I mean, anything below the point of impact is missing.

Traditionally, precision rifles used against living targets is chambered somewhere around .30. The classic examples are .308 and .30-06, though there are others, and I’ve heard good things about 6.5mm rounds. Even then, a shot to the ankle means your character probably isn’t walking again without reconstructive surgery. A shot to the bone will break it. A shot into the meat can cause some serious tissue disruption, but assuming it doesn’t nick something important, and the impact didn’t fracture their leg, they should be able to survive.

The use of a .50 rifle as a sniper’s rifle is for extremely long range shooting. These are the guns you break out when you need to hit something over a mile away. If you have a character that needs to put assassinate someone riding in an armored Limo, a .50 will do that. If your character needs to put a bullet in someone from the dark side of the moon, then the .50 is the right choice. Because, if it connects, there’s very little risk of the target getting back up.

-Starke

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How viable is muscle memory that it trumps amnesia? Say, Jason Bourne who doesn’t remember a thing, but still knows assassin-fu? Thanks for your advice!

Bourne isn’t running on muscle memory. He suffers from a variant of retrograde amnesia which affects his ability to remember who he is, but doesn’t affect his skills. From what I’ve read on the subject, it’s entirely possible for an amnesiac to retain basic knowledge, in isolation from specific memories. Which is to say, this can happen.

There are details about exactly how Bourne’s amnesia manifests itself that may be unrealistic. An individual can retain general knowledge, and skills, but that doesn’t mean they’re not impaired, and when you’re talking about something like tradecraft, being in full possession of your faculties is a little important.

For whatever it’s worth, the only time I’ve ever interacted with an amnesiac, they were suffering from anterograde amnesia. This is the inability to form new memories after a triggering event. (You can see this one demonstrated in Memento, if you’re wanting a point of reference.) So, I can’t really speak to how accurate Ludlum’s work was when it comes to that element.

In a 1986 interview, Ludlum claimed that he came up with the idea
for the Bourne trilogy after suffering retrograde amnesia and losing
about 12 hours. The old advice is, “write what you know,” and apparently Ludlum did, in this case.

I know I’ve recommended it before, but if you’re thinking about writing spy fiction, The Bourne Identity is a book you really should read. The 2002 adaptation is also good, but it uses the same premise to tell a very different story.

Normally, I would strongly caution writers against using
amnesia in their stories, unless they have something fairly creative
they want to do with it. This has more to do with amnesia plotlines
being run into the ground, and becoming horribly cliche over the years. Memento uses it as a jumping off point for an interesting narrative format. Bourne uses it to play around with the spy as a character archetype. Bourne also uses it to play up the traditional mystery of a character who doesn’t know who they are, or who they can trust. That’s one of the approaches you probably want to avoid.

Because amnesia works so well for establishing a blank slate, and giving the audience a point of view character who is exactly as unfamiliar with the world as they are, it’s become cliche. I fully believe there are methods to use amnesia as a useful narrative tool for your work, but a lot of the more obvious approaches have already been done to death.

-Starke

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Q&A: Flaming Weapons

How viable are non-magical flaming weapons? Like, coating the sword with a flammable substance and then setting it on fire. Would the trouble be worth it for the increased damage? Would they be more dangerous for the yielder? Would the fire negatively affect the blade?

No. At least not, that example. Also flaming arrows are out. The physics involved mean they either self-extinguish on launch, or they’ll ignite the user (I don’t remember which, and I kinda think it’s the former.)

That said, there are a lot of historical and modern military applications for flame.

The modern examples that come immediately to mind are napalm, dragon’s breath shells, and Molotov cocktails.

Napalm is, basically, jellied gasoline. It will burn, it will stick when it lands, and it will keep burning. Set something on fire and watch it melt. Napalm is, quite frankly, pretty terrifying stuff, and while the exact chemical formula is recent, the concept of launching burning liquids at people is not, going all the way back to Greek Fire. No one is exactly sure what Greek Fire was, but it would burn, could be lobbed onto ships or people you didn’t like, while burning, and would not stop burning once it arrived.

Molotov Cocktails are a medium ground here. You load a bottle up with alcohol, use an alcohol soaked rag as a fuse, light, and throw. There’s a little bit more going on here though. Alcohol solutions are only directly flammable if they’re more than 50% alcohol by volume. Most hard liquor is around 80 proof (40%), but, the vapors put off by the solution are still flammable (down to around 20%, if I remember correctly). So you can use a bottle of vodka as an improvised incendiary device. (Fair warning, it’s been a long time since I took a chemistry class, so those exact percentages may be a bit off.)

In spite of being named after a Russian Revolutionary, the idea of setting something on fire and chucking it someplace is not a new concept.

I know you can launch flaming payloads with a trebuchet, put them roughly where you want them, and set the area on fire. I’m not 100% sure of the military history, but it was used for centuries. Anything that will break apart on impact will spread the flame over a decent area and get a good blaze going.

Hot shots originally referred to cannonballs that were preheated before firing, with the intention of it igniting enemy structures or ships. This isn’t something we still think about (outside of the term “hotshot” seeping into idiomatic usage), but it did work, apparently.

The modern equivalent would be incendiary ammunition. There’s a lot of variety here, and they range from phosphorous rounds, which will ignite on contact with moisture, including the moisture in the air, to dragon’s breath shells which eject a mixture of highly flammable metals, such as magnesium, or potassium, which will ignite on contact with moisture.

Phosphorous was also a popular component for incendiary grenades, mortars, and other explosives. For example, one of the US military’s versions of a Molotov in WWII was produced by dissolving phosphorous and rubber (as a thickener) in gasoline). This mixture would self ignite on contact with the atmosphere (when the glass broke).

One variant of modern incendiary grenades use a Thermite variant
(called thermate)

to eject molten iron on detonation.

So far as it goes, most flare guns fire a 12 gauge shotgun shell. While the plastic ones won’t survive trying to put a conventional shell down range, the flare shell itself can result in horrific, and fatal, burns.

If you want a melee weapon to set someone on fire, you might be able to achieve that safely by heating the blade or using something like a thermal lance. The problem with simply coating a sword with oil and lighting it up is, they tend to drip. And, when you’re swinging the sword around, you’ll end up with burning oil getting splashed everywhere, including on the user. This is, “a very bad thing.”

Of course, shoving a torch in someone’s face is also a very bad thing, for them, and fits the definition provided.

So, the short answer is, yes there are a lot of real applications for setting someone on fire, especially when they’re all the way over there and walking is too much effort. Setting your own sword on fire is not a great idea, however.

-Starke

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