Tag Archives: Starke answers

Q&A: Superspy Kids Going Off The Reservation

Hi! I was just reading Alex Rider and came across a part that mentioned Alex beating up a group of bullies and it got me wondering. If trained child combatant who was going to a normal public school how would the school as a whole (faculty, parents and students) react to of a story circulating regarding a kid taking on five and going to the ex-special forces levee of brutality to win? How could it be covered up?

Looking at the real world, if you have a kid who’s been getting training from their parent… look, this shouldn’t happen. Most responsible adults with advanced combat  training won’t teach it to their kids. Most. But, it does happen. You will occasionally run across kids who’ve had police or military hand to hand training. They have a parent who’s a cop, or spent tours oversees. The kid may be responsible with this information. Or, something like this could (and does) happen. Maybe it was some misguided, “teaching them to fight,” machismo by their parent. Maybe the kid just wasn’t quite stable, or simply made a miscalculation. There’s a lot of potential factors.

The result is pretty messy, however. Criminal investigations, of both the parent and the child. Depending on the severity of whatever they meted out, you may be looking at criminal charges, potentially being charged as an adult. A kid snaps, gouges out the eyes of an opponent, and kills another by crushing their trachea, and you could easily see a kid in modern America sentenced to +25 years in prison. This can easily spill over onto their parents. It’s not hard to see a situation where an older kid could get their younger siblings taken by CPS in order to, “protect,” them from the parent responsible for this training in the first place.

There’s also a real liability issue for the school and the kid’s parents. If you’re wondering about the idea of a cover-up in the real world, that would be stopped dead by civil litigation. Say whatever you want about America being overly litigious, but things like this are why tort law exists. This would also become a factor regardless of the bullies being alive after the encounter. Someone trained this kid; they’re responsible. Someone let this kid wander around free, waiting for something like this to happen (even if they didn’t know); they’re responsible. This means, even if he kills all the bullies, and there’s no witnesses, you still couldn’t bury this thing fast enough.

The irony here is, even if the bullies provoked this response, it’s still indefensible, and in the eyes of everyone the kid who went too far, and started turning people into meat origami, and they will be held responsible.

This is something every martial artist lives with’ the more training you have, the less force you’re allowed to use to defend yourself. The thought process goes (accurately) that you need to apply less force to ensure your safety, and that of others. It becomes far easier to become the aggressor, legally. This still applies to your kid. Age really isn’t a factor in that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teen or an adult, with advanced hand to hand training. They go off and start killing people, even in self defense, it’s going to be viewed far more carefully than if a white belt screwed up and accidentally killed a mugger.

So, yeah, that’s not going to be fun.

There’s another factor here worth remembering, bullies are looking for easy victims. They don’t always succeed in finding them, and they probably couldn’t tell you how they identify their potential victims. Normally, bullies will avoid someone with combat training. This isn’t intentional behavior, so much as a subconscious response. Martial training builds self-confidence. In turn, this makes them look less like ideal victims to a bully. Somewhat obviously, it’s not 100%. Some people really are too stupid to live, but that tends to be a self-solving issue.

So, let’s put this back in its intended perspective for a minute. Or at least, as much as I can, having never read the Alex Rider books.

You’re an intelligence agency that just took complete leave of its senses and trained a teenager to be a superspy. They then took that training and used it on civilians? Your next phone call is to get a cleaner on site to bullet the kid in the back of the head, and dump them in a landfill, hog farm, or whatever’s nearby, then pretend that kid never existed in the first place. Let everything after that become one more mystery, because really who’ll notice?

After all, if you couldn’t trust them to keep their training secret, what hope do you have that they won’t flip and start spewing classified information to anyone with a badge or a gun? You can’t afford that. No one can.

Worst case, leaving the body where it landed won’t really lead back to your doorstep. There’s an awkward truth to homicide investigations: If the killer and victim are total strangers, it can become damn near impossible to identify them. A cleaner with an unregistered .44 can leave your teen spy in a pool of their own blood, and slip the perimeter before the local PD figures out what happened. They’re used to giving authoritarian regimes the slip; what are the NYPD going to do? Seal Manhattan over one homicide? Yeah, right.

Not killing the kid and just turning them loose will result in a psychologically unstable rogue agent who may have information you really don’t want in the wild, and their cover is now blown. So any rival groups could potentially make a play for them, or try to disappear them for their own use. That’s another big problem, but hey, it’s a tough world. Hell, even M threatened to have James Bond killed at least once, right?

Also, having a kid flip out like this is a training failure for your agency. I mean, it’s one thing when we’re talking about some guy who was teaching their kid Krav Maga in their basement,  but if you’re supposed to be a respectable intelligence agency, you really needed to make sure your spy would actually be able to operate in the field. That doesn’t mean shirking the issue of bullies, but it does mean finding other, more creative, ways to neutralize them. Not necessarily non-violent means, though those would be preferable. Planting evidence, framing them for crimes, or just straight up blackmailing them into public confessions are all on the table, but taking the direct approach for no substantive gain? No, that’s just bad tradecraft. It exposes the kid, it exposes your agency, and it does this for no benefit.

If there’s a lesson for your writing, it’s that no one is too important to kill if they become a big enough problem. I realize this kind of flips the script on the superspy genre. But, given the provided scenario, there’s no compelling reason not to snuff them. Any cover-up needs to start with tying up loose ends. That means the kid and anyone he confided in. Best case, just him. Worst case, it’s time to dig out the tarps and deep six a few friends and acquaintances. Just be quick, clean, and make sure there’s nothing left that can tie back to you, and you’re golden.

Now, this doesn’t mean that assassinating the kid needs to be successful. The odds aren’t in their favor, but they could find a way to survive. I mean, the entire Bourne film franchise is based off a rogue agent working against his old handlers (the novels are slightly different). But, it is the reasonable response, especially when working in a genre that goes through supporting characters like popcorn. It’s easy to sit back and
think, “well, that doesn’t apply to this character, because they’re one of the main characters.” Splat. Not so much, it seems.

One of the best ways to keep your audience engaged (in genre fiction) is to find ways to subtly violate the conventions of your genre by remaining true to the nature of your characters. Especially if those characters are baked into the genre itself. The superspy genre is (usually) very lethal, selectively. It kills off characters who aren’t important to the narrative. It will wax the mentor, the old friend, people your protagonist cares about, because it’s expected. But, it rarely turns around and puts a bullet in the protagonist because they became too much of a problem… unless you’re Sean Bean.

It’s probably worth saying, in closing, you really can’t train a teenager as a spy. Maybe for sigint, but not spies like you think of them. Working in human intelligence includes a staggering amount of psychological pressure. Most adults can’t handle it. Part of the training process is about screening out recruits that simply wouldn’t be able to survive the job. While you could subject a teenager to this, their chances of coming out the side as a functional operative, or even alive, are extremely low. It’s one thing to wave this for because you’re looking at the superspy genre, but that operates with a comfortable disconnection from reality. When you start asking, “but, how would this actually work?” Everything starts to come apart at the seams.

-Starke

Since I didn’t work a reference in along the way, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is still a fantastic look at spies, and absolutely worth your time. Amusingly, it’s not the first novel in the series, but is an excellent book.

Also, I’ll say it again, the first couple seasons of Burn Notice are a fantastic tradecraft primer. They’re not perfect, but the narrator offers a lot of excellent insight into how to exploit human nature.

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Q&A: Reflex Sights

Recently you talked about reflex sights – what are the differences/pros and cons of reflex vs red dot vs holo sights?

The short, slightly sarcastic, and not completely inaccurate answer would be, holo sights cost a lot more.

Reflex sights are optics that use a semi-reflective surface to provide targeting information. These will bounce a light off said surface, usually a red or green LED, which when viewed from the appropriate position, will tell you roughly where the object is pointed. I’m phrasing it like this because reflex sights are actually used for a lot of different things, including nautical navigation tools, telescopes, and even some disposable cameras.

The advantages for reflex sights are that they’re relatively cheap, and they usually have a fairly substantial battery life. The internals are just an LED and a reflective glass layer. (Technically, there are a few variations of the technology; for convenience I’m describing the one used with firearms.)

Holo sights are, as the name suggests, actually holographic. They use a laser diode to create the targeting reticle in three dimensional space. This opens up some additional functionality that’s either difficult or impossible to obtain with a reflex sight. The big feature is the ability to adjust for range and windage. Finally, unlike reflex sights, they don’t need to have a tinted layer to catch the reflected light, so the optics are slightly clearer.

The most common firearm reflex sights are red or green dot sights. These use a red or green LED to create the targeting point. That said, some holo sights use a dot aim point. In that sense a red dot sight is more descriptive than an identifier.

Picking a color comes down to user preference. In general, red light has the least affect on night vision. Also because of the prevalence of ruby lasers and red LEDs, some people do approach firearms with the feeling that red is the “right” color.

The human eye is more sensitive to subtle differences in green than any other color. This is part of why some night vision setups display their feedback in green monochrome. In theory, this makes green dot sights easier to see. For some people this honestly seems to be the case. Also why you’ll sometimes see green lasers used as targeters on firearms.

Red and green aren’t the only options. Common LEDs include blue, white, and yellow, so if someone wanted an amber dot sight, that is an option. (Though, you’re going to be paying extra.)

There are other factors. Red was used because red LEDs were very cheap to produce until relatively recently.

Blue LEDs only date back to the 1990s. There’s also the direct physiological factors. Historically red light has been believed to produce limited or no eye adaptation, and had the least effect on night vision. My understanding is, that’s not really true, and that green/blue light actually interferes less with night vision, but this is a discussion I’m not fully versed in.

The idea of a dot sight, as opposed to other reticles is purely preference. A dot has a cleaner profile, but provides less information to the user. Just a simple, “bullets go here (we think).” Ring sights, or lines can be useful for judging drift, and can help the user adjust their aim. Alternately, the reticle selected may simply be to speed up target acquisition. This one really is about personal preference. A ring sight isn’t better than a dot sight, it’s about which works for the user.

On more expensive reflex sights (and most holo sights) it’s fairly common to have the ability to switch out the reticle on the fly. So, picking the right one is sometimes about choosing what’s right for this moment, not just picking one and sticking with it.

I will say, video games tend to gloss over these things. I can’t remember the last time I played a game that actually tinted the window for a reflex sight (maybe Far Cry 4), and I don’t think I’ve ever played one that attempted to display a holo sight properly.

Incidentally, some stuff that you can, technically do, includes open reflex sights, where the glass layer exposed to the air. You probably wouldn’t want to do this, because of the potential for damage, but it is a real option, and (partially) open reflex sights do exist. Ultimately reflex sights do need a surface to bounce off of. The name “reflex,” is a shortening of, “reflective,” not a reference to the user’s ability to react quickly.

One thing you can’t do is have a free floating hologram over the weapon. Existing technology doesn’t really allow for this, so you can’t have those neat holographic heads up displays you’ll occasionally see in sci-fi. That said, it’s just not something we can do today, not something that’s impossible.

-Starke

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One of my characters rely on their mind more then physical , however, they are required to use a weapon for battling. What is an easy weapon they could use if they don’t have much fighting experience?

Unless you literally mean they have psychic powers, that is
how people fight. It doesn’t matter how strong, fast, or tough someone is, if
you can outwit them, they’re fucked. This is why, the ability to think, and
adapt is the primary attribute for a
fighter.

I realize people like to say, “my character is different, they think
about how they fight,” but it’s really a lot like saying, “my character is
different, they use the turn signals while driving.” Yeah, you don’t need to, but it’s not going to end well.

Stepping back from that a moment, a smart fighter learns a
wide variety of weapons, and picks the ones that will be most useful for the
opponents, terrain, and situations they’ll be facing. That means learning as
many weapons as they can.

There’s a strong bias in media for characters who hyper-specialize
on a single weapon. The master swordsman, master martial artist, the gunslinger,
the sniper, the archer. You know how to stop someone like that? Pick a weapon
or strategy they can’t defend against. It doesn’t matter how good you are with
a sword if someone else guns you down.

Being adaptable and merely proficient with a variety of
options is often far more dangerous
than someone who was studying the blade while you were reading this.

-Starke

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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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How DARE you say that about Sam Fisher! It’s made clear in Pandora Tomorrow that he uses Subsonic Ammunition, and his FN2000 and FN5.7 Suppressors are custom made too!

muesliforbreakfast

I realize this was probably a joke, (and also that it’s now been several
months since it was posted; I’m working on clearing out the draft pile), but
it’s probably worth fleshing this out a little. Also, if it sounds like I’m
being a little harsh on Splinter Cell
here… there’s actually a reason.

Tom Clancy was an American novelist who died in 2013. He wrote thrillers
focused on the US intelligence community, starting in the early 80s, and on
through the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise of
terrorism. Politically, his material leaned hard conservative, with an almost
fetishistic obsession on the American Military Industrial Complex.

I’m just going to say it; I don’t like Tom Clancy’s writing, on an aesthetic
level. It’s not to my taste at all. However, if you’re writing about the US
special forces (and can get past his politics), he is a fantastic place to
start. Just, be careful, even before his death, his name was slapped on a lot
of books he wasn’t involved with. This includes almost all of the tie in series
like Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, Netforce, and a bunch of others I’ve
forgotten.

The games? …not so much. The first game based on Clancy’s novels (that I’m
aware of) was Red Storm Rising, a detailed strategic simulator of a potential
Third World War between the US/NATO and the Soviet Union.

The second (again, that I’m aware of) was Rainbow Six, a first person
shooter that focused on controlling an entire team of hostage rescue/counter
terrorist operators, and featured combat with (in the context of contemporary
games) very fragile combatants. (One or two shots was enough to down any
combatant.)

Splinter Cell was probably the first game that really started wandering off
the reservation, and the second that wasn’t based on one of Clancy’s novels
(Ghost Recon was the first).

By 2002, Tom Clancy’s name had become a brand which expanded beyond just his
novels. There were multiple video games, a TV movie that failed to launch a
show, and multiple adaptations of the original novels to film.

Almost immediately, Splinter Cell gets into the exact kind of world building
problems that Clancy’s work tried to avoid.

While I like Fisher as a character, he does not fit within the flavor of
Clancy’s setting. His personality is right, having someone who engages in that
kind of ghosting infiltration isn’t the problem (not really). It’s the
skin-tight wetsuit, the thermal goggles, a pistol and rifle that weren’t
available to civilian purchasers (at the time). All of this screams,
“government sponsored,” which is the last thing you want when you’re sending a
cyberninja into a foreign country.

As I’ve said before, the idea of sending someone in, to sneak around and
hang from ceilings isn’t exactly how infiltration actually works. Being
invisible 100% of the time is an unrealistic goal. Dressing up in a black
bodysuit, with a massive array of high end hardware means that when someone
does notice you, they’ll notice, and remember. Once spotted, there’s no option
to escape, no way to blend into a crowd, no way to disappear. Aside from
leaving a huge trail of bodies in your wake.

Also, the Five-Seven really is the wrong gun to give him. It’s a neat,
high-tech pistol, but for what Fisher is doing, it’s the wrong tool for the
job.

The FN Five-Seven is a modern semi-auto pistol. It entered production in
2000, and is one weird handgun. The strange part is the 5.7mm round that gives
it its name. These were originally developed for the FN P90, and are much
closer to a rifle round than something you’d usually consider loading into a
pistol.

I’ve joked that the only reason for the Five-Seven to exist is to classify
the P90 as a submachine gun instead of an assault rifle. Though, I’m honestly
uncertain that’s not the real reason.

Unfortunately, the reality is, you really can’t silence a handgun by simply
attaching a suppressor to it. The gunshot you hear is caused by ignited gasses
expanding and escaping into the atmosphere. In order to fully silence a gunshot
you need to capture all (or nearly all) of the escaping gas. With most
semi-automatic pistols, one of the venues for that is when the slide cycles
open. You can deaden the gasses venting down the barrel, but you’ll still hear
a noticeable gunshot. A suppressed handgun will make, roughly, the same amount
of noise as an airsoft pistol. Something you’ll hear if you’re in the room with
it, but might not notice on the other side of the building. The gentle “fipping”
noise from Sam’s Five-Seven… and most media, really, it’s a standard sound
sample, just doesn’t occur. (If I remember correctly, the common sound sample
comes from a .22 with a locked bolt.)

There’s also a second problem with the Five-Seven that most pistols don’t
have to deal with, 5.7mm is a hypersonic round, though that’s something that
Splinter Cell directly addresses, it does make Fisher’s weapon choice a little
odd. Especially in a setting where .45s are easily available. (And, I want to
say Conviction defaults to giving him a USP an H&K Mk23 fairly
early in the campaign.)

Most rifles (and some pistols) fire rounds that are hypersonic. Meaning they
have a velocity above 343 meters per second. When you hear a rifle from a
significant distance, you’re not hearing the escaping gasses, the crack you
hear is actually a sonic boom created by the bullet. For most applications,
this isn’t really something anyone cares about. But, when you’re trying to
suppress a gun, you will want to find a way to remove that sound. The only way
(I’m aware of) to deal with this is by using what are called “subsonic rounds.”

These are low velocity cartridges designed to keep the speed of the round
under 343m/s. The problem with this is that you’re now trading a whole lot of
ballistic factors, including accuracy and flatness, to keep the gun quiet. On a
pistol, there’s really no reason to do this.

The reason being all .45 ammo is subsonic. This stuff has a muzzle velocity
of around 260 to 300 m/s.

When the first game came out, the Five-Seven was still new, the first game
is set in 2004. It’s (from what I know) a fairly solid service pistol. But it
is a bad gun to be giving to your NSA cyberninja. The Five-Seven is a
Government and Law Enforcement only item. Fabrique Nationale doesn’t sell to
private buyers or retailers. (There are a number of used guns on the market
now, but that wasn’t true 13 years ago.) So, if you’re writing a character
who’s supposed to be some kind of clandestine and deniable agent, giving them a
gun that says they work for a government somewhere is probably a bad idea.

Also, the entire “custom suppressors” line bugs me. I can’t remember if
that’s exactly what the games call them, but I think you’re remembering
correctly. The problem is, commercially produced suppressors exist for both
weapons. Again, a Five-Seven suppressor is going to be more traceable than an
aftermarket .45 one. A high end 5.56mm suppressor can run you over a grand,
but, it’s aftermarket, and easy enough to hide if you’re part of a clandestine
operation.

Incidentally, factory produced Five-Seven threaded barrels are exceedingly
rare on the secondary market. Not many of these were produced. Giving someone a
Five-Seven today wouldn’t say nearly as much as it did back then, but giving
them one designed to accept a suppressor would still be pretty suspicious. An
aftermarket modded one, with a replacement barrel would raise fewer eyebrows
(but that’s the kind of detail people wouldn’t catch until they were picking
over your character’s corpse.)

That said, pointing out that you’d need to use subsonic ammo for his weapons
is the kind of attention to detail that the Tom Clancy games (and Clancy’s
books) really nail. This is also really important if your character wants to
suppress a rifle. Arguably, if your character is a sniper, and intending to
fire from long ranges, subsonic ammo is actually more important than sticking a
suppressor on the gun. However, this isn’t a panacea, subsonic ammo suffers from
severe drop, to the point that it’s noticeable at medium range. For a sniper,
this is a really serious consideration. They need to decide between having far
less range and power, or having the bullet produce a massive cracking noise
when fired.

The entire Five-Seven thing probably bugs me more because this is a solved issue. Pistols designed for
clandestine use exist, including some of the weapons that show up in the series.
Hell, give Sam something like a Makarov PB while operating in Europe, and no
one would suspect that he’s an American if he was caught and killed.

In contrast to the pistol, the FN F2000 is a much better pick. It’s a solid
assault rifle that entered service in the 80s, though there’s not really that
much special about it except the appearance. It has a rubber seal in the
magazine well, which would help a little with suppressing it, but the benefit
is basically trivial. What it’s actually there to do is keep dust and debris
out of the action, but it also means that you might have issues loading
aftermarket magazines in it. (This is all second hand, by the way. I’ve never
handled a F2000 personally.) There may have been better choices available, but
it’s a legitimate choice. Unfortunately, as with the Five-Seven, there were no
civilian versions available, (a semi-auto only version hit the market in 2006),
so we’ve still got that, “my cyberninja is government sponsored,“ problem.

Ironically, I know the game doesn’t get a lot of love, but Conviction’s
approach to Sam’s loadout is probably more realistic. It’s (mostly) a mix of
commercially available weapons and street clothes.

If you’re writing a character who’s supposed to be this kind of a sneak in,
and hang from the ceiling kind of black ops agent. The best options are to put
them in locally purchased clothes (this will help them blend in, even if they’re
from a different ethnicity). Weapons that are readily available on the local
market (or black market). Hardware that can be easily adapted from commercial
products. If you absolutely need a PDA or something similar, use a smart phone.
For a hands free unit, get a bluetooth headset. If the phone needs custom
software, then that’s something your character’s agency can produce.
(Preferably with some kind of remote kill switch, because forensic analysis of
software can provide clues to its origin.) What you don’t want to do is gear
them up with a lot of very specialized equipment that says, “hey, this guy
worked for a foreign government.”

-Starke

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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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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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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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Would actual sword fights end with a lot of cuts on both combatants or is it more of a “you get tagged first and your out” kind of deal?

Yes?

This one can really go either way, depending on injuries
sustained. So, let’s parse this out a bit, because I might not have been really
clear about this in the past.

Shallow nicks won’t do much. You’ll lose blood, but not at an
appreciable rate. You’ve almost certainly sustained a few of these in your
life. From a writing perspective these are basically cosmetic. From a medical
perspective they’re not much more. A sword or knife can absolutely inflict
these.

There are rare circumstances where these immediately
relevant. Cuts to the forehead can cause blood to get in the victim’s eyes. In
combat, this is a debilitating situation. Blood that gets onto the palm can
make it more difficult to grasp objects or weapons. (Fresh blood is quite
slick. As it dries it will become sticky, so the effect is reversed at that
point.)

When you’re talking about lots of cuts, then you’re probably
talking about this kind of injury. Individually these aren’t dangerous, but if
they start stacking up, blood loss is cumulative, so they can potentially
become life threatening, but that’s not a likely outcome for a duel.

Incidentally, if you’re writing a scene where characters are
dueling to first blood, then these cuts qualify. In fact, that’s what the
duelists will aim for. It’s the easiest kind of injury to sustain, and if the
participants don’t want to kill one
another, this is the safest route to victory.

When I’ve been talking about injuries that create a decisive
advantage, I’m talking about deeper cuts; ones that open up veins or debilitate
limbs. Injuries where bloodloss will lead to impairment and death.

In a duel, these will kill you. When I say things like, “with
first blood, the clock is ticking, and your character will die if they don’t
find a way to turn the fight around,” I’m talking about these deeper injuries.
A person can survive a few shallow cuts without much ill effect, and in most
cases can survive quite a few without aid. Deep cuts are immediately dangerous.

Here’s the problem with this: I’m talking about these like
they’re two separate kinds of wounds; they’re really not. They’re both cuts. If
we’re being technical, the deeper variety are “lacerations.” But, that makes it
sound like there’s a clean delineation between these injuries which simply
doesn’t exist.

So, I’m going to step back and put this in abstract terms, as
they apply to characters for a moment.

Characters can suffer “cosmetic injuries.” These will result
in bleeding. As I mentioned earlier, blood After the fight is over, they’ll
hurt. Unless your character is getting covered in these things, they’ll never
kill them. These can be sustained anywhere, but when you’re talking about
strikes to the forearm (except along the inner arm) or to the face, bone will
usually stop the strike before it gets to deep.

Characters can suffer “wounds.” These will result in a lot of
bleeding, way too much bleeding. These, “start the clock.” Without medical
attention, even just self inflicted first aid, these will kill your character.
Usually these are sustained to limbs or the torso. Places where you can get
fairly deep without striking bone.

In the real world, blood loss will impair the fighter, slowing
them down, confusing them, making combat more difficult. This means their
defense (if they have one) will suffer, and it will be far easier for their
opponent to get through it with a kill strike. A blade through the throat or
chest, for instance. This isn’t always true in fiction, but it’s a function of
how the human body works that’s worth remembering.

If you’re asking, “is it plausible for a character to win a
swordfight with lots of tiny cuts?” Yes. If you’re asking, “is it plausible for
a character die in a swordfight with one or two deep, lethal wounds, and to be
otherwise untouched?” Again, yes. It really depends on the circumstances of the
fight.

I hope that clears things up some, and am genuinely sorry if
I’ve confused any of you by glazing over this. That one’s my mistake.

-Starke

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Is it realistic to have a bladed weapon that operates sort of like a double ended light saber? As in you press a button or lever in the center of the hilt and blades come out of either end? Furthermore, could you see a bladed weapon fight club as something that may exist (it doesn’t have to be legal and definitely probably wouldn’t be)

On the first part? Not really.

You’ll see collapsing knives that are designed for push
button deployment, out the front of the grip. But, for a full sword? No, or at
least not with modern technology. Wear and abuse from normal use would quickly
wreck the mechanical components. To say nothing of the blood and gore getting
forced into the mechanism when you collapsed it after use.

So, again, limited to modern technology, it would be
theoretically possible, but they’d have an incredibly short lifespan (maybe
only single use), and be extremely annoying to clean and care for (if not
outright impossible).

If you’re talking about some kind of hypothetical future
tech, then, it will probably be an option some day. Self cleaning tolerances,
and a mechanical stability that can’t be achieved with modern materials may
make this viable. Though, at that point, this would probably be more of a
novelty than a practical combat tool.

Double bladed weapons do exist. Well, I should say, double
bladed knives exist, I have one somewhere. It’s awkward, difficult to hold, and
I’ve still got a scar on my index finger from the first time I picked it up. These are a novelty. You buy one because you think it looks cool, not
because you intend to use it.

There are a few examples of weapons that are designed to be
double ended, mostly polearms, which would sometimes include functional
spikes on the reverse end. It’s also not unheard of for a sword to have a
sharpened, spiked pommel. That said, mounting an entire reverse blade onto a
sword is something you’d usually only seriously consider if you’re either a
Sith or Klingon.

On the second part, about fight clubs, “No, never; except
they did.”

The basic idea of a fight club where people who don’t know
what they’re doing wander in and start beating the ever living snot out of one
another? Yeah, that can happen. I’ve actually been out on a farm in the middle
of the night, dueling friends with plastic bokken because it seemed like fun at
the time. It’s not exactly what you’ve
got in mind, but that’s possible.

Thing is, there’s a huge difference between dueling with a
high impact plastic katana, where screwing up means you’ve got new bruise on your knuckles,
and screwing around with a live blade, where a mistake means critical
injuries and death.

Organized, underground dueling also has some real world history. The
only examples I’ve run across came out of 19th century military academies. I
assume the reasoning is roughly the same as why I was on that Indiana farmyard
in the middle of the night, it seemed like fun at the time.

Of course, in the case of military academies, we’re talking
about students who’d actually been trained to use their blades, so it’s not exactly
a fight club. Still stupid and dangerous, but they (kind of) knew what they
were doing.

So, my first impulse on this subject is wrong. I’d say, “no
one can possibly be that stupid,” except of course, I have been exactly that stupid. I also knew a
couple idiots that decided to fight each other with a fire axe and cheap katana
in their living room, without ever considering that, maybe, this was a
horrifically bad idea. Tragically, they both survived unharmed.

As for a full on fight club? Not so much. When you have
people who don’t know what they’re doing throwing punches, the potential risk
of injury is, somewhat, limited. Untrained combatants are not a huge threat to
one another. They can get some good shots in, and can make it hurt, but
actually messing someone else up requires concepts like power generation and a vague
idea of where to connect. Without them, it’s just guys flailing impotently at
each other.

Blades are inherently dangerous. You don’t need to know how
to put together an effective defense, or understand how to generate force,
driving four pounds of steel into some poor schmuck doesn’t require training.
Training does help; it teaches you
how to put up a defense, and how to circumvent your opponent’s, but it’s not necessary
for accidental death and dismemberment.

The fundamental problem with a bladed fight club is that the
participants need to survive. They need to be in a condition where they can
fight again next week. Getting carved up by a stray blow will put a damper on
that. To say nothing of a stray death.

In Fight Club, the
titular club was an expression of violent catharsis. For random guys who’ve
never experienced real violence, it was an escape that presented the illusion
of danger, without putting the participants in actual jeopardy. This kept the
attrition rate fairly low, and allowed the group to grow. For something like
this, that is absolutely critical.

If you start arming the participants, it would only take
watching one guy getting opened up, and spraying blood all over the place
before you might think, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” When you start hemorrhaging
members like this, it becomes impossible to keep the numbers up, and the club
would die off quickly; figuratively or literally.

-Starke

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