Tag Archives: swords

Some swordsmen I guess ‘wear’ their swords on their waist or strapped them to their backs. Most of the time people put them on their waist because it seems practical and rarely for the backs. Is there any pros and cons to the position of their swords? Or this is just merely aesthetic purposes?

“Wear” is the correct term.

Carrying a blade on your belt, (usually on opposite side from your dominant hand) is an entirely practical consideration. It’s not really possible to draw from the back in combat. You can do it, but it involves either some juggling of the blade, or unslinging the scabbard, pulling the blade, and then returning or discarding the scabbard.

Alternately, you can simply reach across your waist and draw a sword. Faster, simpler, easier to do in combat. It’s also going to be out of your way most of the time, while one on your back could become an issue. Finally, while drawing it, you’re putting the blade between yourself and your opponent almost instantly, which can have sometimes have applications in defensive situations.

It’s hypothetically possible to design some kind of scabbard that would hold a blade on the back for easy access. For instance, a sci-fi setting where they use strong electromagnets. It would also be possible to store a collapsing sword on the shoulder, or across the small of the back.

In the real world, slinging a sword (or other weapon) across your back usually meant you intended to ready it before combat, rather than during the melee. Remember, historically, swords were actually a sidearm, and almost never used as a primary weapon. So a soldier would need their sword someplace they could get to it quickly, should their primary weapon (usually a polearm or ranged weapon) fail.

If your character carried a sword as their primary weapon, for example a Zweihander or claymore, then it’s entirely possible they’d carry that across their back, with a sidesword on their waist while traveling. Before a battle, they’d unsling their primary, prepare it for use, and then put their scabbard with their kit. If they were ambushed on the road, it’s far more likely, they’d simply use their sidesword, rather than trying to get at a weapon on their back.


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What challenges would a character with extensive training in modern fencing face in switching to *real* blades and using them for the first time in a life or death swordfight?


Modern fencing and historical fencing are different beasts. The sword weight is different. The sword length is different. The weapon class is different. Everything is different, including the vectors of attack and the possibility of death. Now, to be fair, someone who went from historical (HEMA) fencing into a sudden life or death duel with a historical personage would also be screwed. They’d be slightly less screwed, but still screwed. The same is pretty much true when you put most sports martial artists up against cops or professional soldiers. They’re not trained for it.

Modern fencing has moved in the direction that is beneficial to itself as a sport rather than as a form of combat. There are a great many techniques performed by fencers that are excellent in competition but would get you killed (or at least a double suicide) in a live bout with live weapons.

This is true of any type of sport martial art. When you remove death from the equation, people have the opportunity to be more reckless and, in some ways, more creative than they would be if there was a chance of actual impalement on an enemy’s blade.

The real problem for this character though is going to be the blade weight. Even if they’re just shifting to a historical epee from a modern one, they’re going to pick up a few pounds. Given no time to adjust, that additional weight will hamper everything from speed to accuracy to their endurance. The time they waste adjusting to blade weight is time their enemy has to break their defenses and stab them. They will face similar difficult with the historical sabre. That’s if they’re lucky enough to hit a historical period with a blade they recognize. They won’t know what to do with the rapier, or any of the other swords.

There are also three types of modern fencing blades that each have their own associated rule set. This could be a problem for them.

Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent has a good breakdown, but I’ll list the basics here.

The Foil – thrusting only, hits only count when struck with the tip of the blade. Striking is limited to the torso, but covers the groin, neck, and back.

The Epee – the epee like the historical epee is a dueling sword, strikes include the whole body. Thrusting weapon, scored only with the tip.

The Sabre – the traditional sabre is a military/cavalry weapon, it is curved. It’s a cutting and thrusting weapon, and the entire upper body is an available target. So, this includes the arms.

It’s worth noting that “cut” and “thrust” with modern fencing weapons mean which part of the blade touches the opponent’s body. It is possible to be hurt with a modern fencing blade when not wearing protective gear, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous as the historical swords.

You don’t have to take my word for the differences though. Here’s Matt Easton talking about the differences between sport fencing and historical fencing. He refers to it as a game of “electrified tag”. Modern fencing isn’t about swordsmanship in a classic sense, it’s about scoring points and getting around the (rather restrictive) rules.

This doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t have value, it does. It’s an incredible form of exercise, show of athleticism, developing incredible reaction speed and timing. It’s great for your brain. It isn’t combat. It doesn’t prepare you for combat.

However, assuming they survive, those ancillary skills they mastered in sport fencing can be re-applied to a study of historical fencing. They go into this story athletic, quick thinking, strategic, creative, and with reaction times that are well above average. Sport fencers are fast on their feet.

There’s some good maneuvering that can be done with this character on a story level, but their skill set isn’t on a 1 to 1 parity with a practiced swordsman straight out of history.


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Sword Fighting for Fic Writers: Chapter 7


You can follow the tag #Swords for Fics if you want to keep up without following me 🙂

Available Chapters:
1: Dumb Ways to Die  2.May Your Blade Be True! 3.On Your Guard!
4. Making the Cut 5.Stick ‘em With the Pointy End 6. It’s Like a Dance
7. The Measure of A Man 8.A Crossing of Blades 9.Like Chess, but with Knives
An Interlude About Storytelling
10.You Can Barely Lift Your Sword 11.Buckle Some Swash 12.Dual Wielding
13.Everything is a Weapon 14.Got Your Sword!

The Measure of a Man (or other person)
Distance and Reach

In sword fighting measure refers to your ability to reach your opponent, and their ability to reach you. If you can’t reach them you are out of measure. If you need to take a passing step to reach them, you’re in a long measure. And if you can hit them from where you’re standing, you’re in measure. I recommend you simplify this to descriptions of distance or reach for readers.

The more distance you have over your opponent, the more time the defender has to react. The less distance, the less time the defender has. But the roles of attacker and defender change quickly. If they have less time to react to your attack, you will have even less time to react to their counter.

All this stepping forwards and backwards is like a constant mind game where each fighter searches for control.

When retreating from an attack, the defender could retreat to a minimum safe distance, allowing them to make a smaller move to reach their opponent than their opponent had to make to reach them. Even a smaller person with a shorter sword can best someone with more reach than them, by better controlling their measure.

In the illustration bellow, X (on the right) and Y (on the left) have the same reach. X takes a full step forwards and makes a cutting attack to reach Y, and Y takes only a small step back to successfully dodge. Y now makes a cutting attack using a lunging step and X is too close to retreat in time. X’s full attack also left them unable to defend in time with their sword.

X could have tried retreating as their swing finished for more time to get their sword ready to defend, or done a partial cut, making their weapon a threat needing to be dealt with before Y could counter.


So why not always use this strategy? Why would you ever attack first when this can happen?

In the next scenario, X attacks with a lunging thrust that brings them just in range of Y, but Y takes a small step back. X doesn’t stop the attack and now takes a full step forward, keeping their sword pointing at Y’s throat. Y tries to take a full step back in response, but is out of room, and even if they weren’t their full step still would not have brought them out of reach. X’s larger first step allowed them to catch their target in the end.

Y could have defended with their sword if they knew how to win the crossing. That will be covered in “A Crossing of Blades


There are thousands of variations of stepping backwards and forwards or where Y or X could each win even these scenarios in different ways. But I hope these two examples will help you get into the mindset of why a character may advance or retreat. Often a retreat to a long distance will be simply to reset the battle from unfavourable conditions.

If you get in too close, and don’t have control over your opponents weapon, you’ll make yourself vulnerable. You might also enter grappling range. More on that in Your Body Everything is a Weapon” (chapter coming soon)

If you’re attacking and it requires more than one step, it’s often advisable to move your sword as if making an attack while you do so. If it takes two steps for you to reach your opponent, then in the time it takes for you to take one step they could take one step forward as well and be in range to strike you. Giving them an attack to deal with will make them think about defending as they enter your space instead of attacking.

And of course, most battles aren’t going to happen like a platformer video game. Circling will occur. 

You might be thinking about how much it must suck to be backed up against something or someone right now. And yea. It does. Fighting back to back is not advisable in a real battle if you can afford the space. But you know what? You can pull the back-to-back trope from my cold dead hands. If it’s that difficult to do, think of how much more impressive it actually is if your characters can pull it off. 

I’m not here to tell you how to make a battle practical or accurate. But to get you in the mindset of what’s dangerous or what’s smart. In the end, tell the story you want to.

Regarding your last answer, asking for confirmation… Each time we see snipers in a movie using laser pointers, it’s a bunch of crap? As ridiculous as Hollywood cars exploding when people are dropping a cigarette in the fuel leak?

Hollywood basically uses the laser pointer on the gun as sight guidelines for the audience so that they can tell where the guns are pointing. That, and it looks pretty damn cool when they fill up the room with smoke so you can actually see the beams.

The laser pointer serves as an easy means for the audience to follow along with the action.


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So in the story I’m writing, the main character has to fight a master swordsman, both characters using rapiers. The main character is experienced in fighting, but is less used to direct, close-range combat, and has little experience with swords. However, in this situation she only needs to distract her opponent for a certain amount of time, before running away. Is there a way for a less skilled combatant to prolong a fight they wouldn’t be able to normally win?

Okay, so there’s a problem in fiction where in order to make an enemy seem more impressive, we throw around terms like better, bestest, best. Master probably tops the list of improperly used terms because we know that a “master” of any discipline is really, really, really, really good. We want our characters to fight someone impressive and we want a term that’s easily recognizable to our audience so that they know this person is more skilled than the average person.

That makes sense.

The problem is that a master swordsman is an individual of singular skill. We’re not just talking about someone with between ten to forty years of dueling experience, but someone who is so skilled that they are generally recognized by their community to be at the top of their craft.

When you call someone a master, you’ve defined them as being one of the best fighters in your setting.

Your character with no sword experience is about to try and go up against someone who is considered to be one of the best swordsmen in her world. A status which only a handful of individuals will ever reach, who perhaps number in the single digits, and who fights with a rapier which is one of the fastest, longest, and deadliest swords for unarmored combat. This man isn’t just a skilled duelist, he’s a specialist. The rapier is made for dueling. Dueling is his forte. If he’s been a swordsman for twenty to thirty years, then it’s possible he’s been cutting down individuals in single combat longer than your protagonist has been alive.

A simple analogy would be like this: on your first day of fencing, would you like to duel an Olympian fencer? It doesn’t matter if they’re a gold medalist, they might be, but you’re going to duel someone who has proven their status as one of the best fencers in the world.

You’re asking her to fight Yoda, quite possibly on Yoda’s home turf.

Those are some impressively terrible odds, I gotta say.

They have to find a way to survive against one the best and most experienced warriors in their setting, where the master has all the advantages and they have none, and whatever clever trick they manage to come up with this guy has probably seen before because he has a lifetime of battle experience to draw from. However clever you think you’re protagonist is, you need to weigh that against all the other people who’ve come before them. From those who were just as inexperienced as your protagonist when they fought this guy and died to those who knew far more and died. The ones who tried to run. The ones who stood their ground. The ones who believed themselves the best. The ones who just wanted to live.

Stop and think about your master swordsman for a second. Consider how old he is and how long he has been fighting, what he has gone through to earn his rank, and how many duels he has survived to make it this far.

A master is not just going to be good/better/bestest, they’re also going to be experienced with a wealth of previous battles and defeated enemies to draw from, they’ve got their teaching experience to draw from, they’ve the duels they witnessed to draw from, able to adjust their style on the fly, skilled at reading body language, canny, and cunning. Their life has been a learning experience and they survived terrible odds on skill alone.

It may be hard to quantify, especially if you’ve never seen a master in action. (The likelihood is that you actually have. Turn your brain to Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and the other well-known action stars, they all qualify and none of them had to earn their master status on a pile of corpses.) If your only experience is action movies then the best of the best become commonplace.

So, what you’re asking is:

How can my character escape another character who has spent their life killing characters like them?

The answer is good luck.

When writing an action sequence, you should always be careful to set your characters against challenges against which they can succeed. They may be underdogs, but they aren’t helpless. It’s like balancing out blocks and the trick is to balance them just write so the sequence remains plausible and exciting, but also doesn’t stretch too far outside of what your protagonist is good at.

Say your protagonist is experienced with ranged combat, but they’re trapped inside a building with a master swordsman. Their plan is to escape and they have their preferred weapon, though it won’t do them much good in a close range fight. They have to avoid the swordsman that’s hunting them and get to the exit before he catches up.

You might say, “but doesn’t that put the swordsman at a disadvantage?”

The answer is actually: no, it doesn’t. The swordsman is a master, and one of the best warriors in your setting. We can assume he’ll probably have some experience with closing the gap between himself and a ranged weapon in order to slay the enemy.

You can stack the deck against your swordsman and he’ll still likely come out on top by virtue of skill and experience. This guy is a survivor. He’s beaten the odds before and he probably will again.

When you’re writing individuals who are hyper-competent, especially villains, the more obstacles your hero throws in their path and the more they vault over without significant issue will just make them more terrifying. You put these two characters into a position where your heroine feels that she has the advantage and then this guy turns the tables on her, your audience will go ‘oh shit’. They may not have known just how good a master in your setting is supposed to be until this point because without being shown it’s a meaningless term.

When done in reverse, the villain loses their teeth.

You set up a character who is established to be one of the best warriors in their setting but the heroine with no experience wielding a sword can face them and hold out long enough to find their escape. Unless he’s making an executive decision to offer up a half-assed fight and lets her go on purpose, that’s a bad guy failing to live up to expectations.

He becomes less scary as a result.

This is why over-stacking the odds can be a huge problem among novices and experienced writers alike. A good fight sequence acts as a supportive character developing moment for our heroes and our villains. We show who they are and what they can do. For the most part, your audience will know what the hero knows. They experience what the hero does.

Never be afraid to throw your protagonist a bone so your villain can steal it from them later.

The higher they get before the rug gets ripped out from underneath them is what makes the fall so awesome. Especially when the villain has overcome, perhaps effortlessly, what we know the hero is good at.

If the hero is good at archery, it tells us nothing about a villain if the hero loses to them at hand to hand. Both the audience and the heroine can say, ‘oh, but it would be different if she had her bow. Next time, she’ll have a chance.’

However, suppose the heroine has the advantage but cannot manage to hit her enemy, who outwits her, proceeds to close distance, and finally defeats her in hand to hand before forcing her to retreat. Suddenly, our perspective shifts. The stakes have changed. The hero has just been forcibly punted toward necessary character development, which she must have in order to survive the next encounter.

It’s okay for your hero to lose. In fact, it’s necessary and it’s better for the loss to happen when they’re trying their best at what they’re best at. Losing when they’re at the top and in the safety zone establishes more about the challenges they’ll need to overcome.

Get over thinking about fights from the perspective of who has the most advantages in terms of weapons. Weapons are only one part of the equation. The other is the individual themselves, their experience, their skills, and their ability.

If your character is hyper-competent give them challenges which prove that competency.

One of my favorite moments from Erroll Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood is the Archery Tournament. Up until this point in the movie, Robin Hood has made a mockery of Prince John, Guy of Gisborne, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. He wins at the beginning of the movie against incredible odds, swaggering his way alone into Prince John’s castle, a illegally slain deer across his shoulders which he tosses nonchalantly on the table as he sits down to dinner and casually explains his motives to protect England from John. Then proceeds to make an outrageous (and treasonous) declaration of war in a castle full of John’s loyal retainers, two of whom happen to be sitting next to him. He fights his way to freedom, using his wits, swordsmanship, and archery skills to escape before running off into the woods.

We see his campaign against John and Gisborne begin in the first half of the movie, success after success, culminating in stealing the taxes Gisborne collected while he travels through Sherwood, and taking the entire party (including Marian) captive. In the end, out the magnanimity of his heart, he humiliates the knights and sends them home in rags.

Up until this point, the Sheriff has been treated as a bumbling buffoon secondary to the more talented Gisborne. However, he is the one who comes up with the idea for an archery tournament and using Marian as the bait. Showing us, that the minor characters overlooked and played for laughs by the stronger characters have a dangerous edge. Using Robin’s flamboyancy and overconfidence against him, they lay a trap. Robin bites, as we knew he would, and is captured.

Thus our secondary characters, the Merry Men, are left searching for a way to free him. They find it, but only because Marian decides to help. It is her plan that saves his life. But the act of Robin losing shows us how precarious his position truly was while also giving Marian the push she needs for character development, showing us that she’s not just his romantic partner. She’s clever in her own right and she knows a great deal about the inner workings of John’s court, which makes her a much needed ally.

You may be wondering what this has to do with your question. The answer is The Adventures of Robin Hood balances its fight scenes to perfection, they all serve as a means to both push the plot forward and establish the characters. From major to minor, every sequence and character interaction is important. They set up all major plot threads, skills, deficits, and character flaws, which culminate in consequences later on.

Think about what you want to establish with these characters. What is the point of this scene where an unskilled character tries to fight a hyper-competent one within his own wheelhouse? What are you trying to set up in this scene? What are you attempting to establish?

Tension isn’t created just by having one character be an underdog. It’s crafted by wants and desires, by goals and plans, and the characters who make them. Set up by the story they’re in and the plot in play.

Hyper-competency in combat is useful when you want to upset the status quo. The best of the best isn’t useful or scary because they’re the best. It’s because they can overcome a great deal more than we expect. They have a lot of useful skills and the ability to adapt into different circumstances. You don’t really know how skilled a character is until they’re put into a situation where they don’t have an advantage, but you also need to be careful of what that situation is and ensure they have the tools (personal, character, cleverness, or what have you) to get themselves back out.

Use this sequence to establish something about these characters and who they are.

Don’t cheapen the moment.

Don’t fuck around with Masters.

They’ve seen it before.

They will see through your bullshit.


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References and Resources

#swords – Our swords tag.

Wikitenaur – this isn’t precisely for beginners, but there are a lot of free and translated manuscripts here from HEMA enthusiasts written by the masters of their style. You want to know how a master swordsman thinks, you can find their descriptions of combat and technical manuals here. Written in their own words.

Scholargladitoria – Matt Easton has fantastic breakdowns on swordsmanship, combat, and Historical European Martial Arts which make him an excellent entry point for beginning your research.

Skallagrim –  Skallagrim is just fun. Okay?

Samantha Swords – Just good general advice from a HEMA practitioner, and a female perspective.

On the topic of cauterizing wounds with a flaming sword, wouldn’t that translate to lightsabers as well?

The last time someone bled from a lightsaber wound was in the original film cut of The Empire Strikes Back when Luke took an arm off the Wampa, it never happened again. The blood has since been cleaned off in every re-release of the original series except A New Hope.

Watch this. From The Empire Strikes Back on, all wounds with lightsabers are cauterized and there’s no blood. The lightsaber is a blade made of plasma, so it’s naturally going to be very hot.

In the old EU, it used to be that being Force Sensitive was a prerequisite for wielding a lightsaber because they were often just as dangerous to the wielder as they were to the enemy. No one without some level of precognition or Jedi/Sith training could use them in combat. It was the explanation behind why they were so useful and dangerous but also so rare, carried only by Force users trained in the Jedi or Sith arts.

The three groups in Star Wars that use lightsabers are:

A) Fully Trained Jedi/Sith Force Users

B) Nascent or Partially Trained Force Users, Padawans, Ex-Padawans, etc.

C) Droids with proper programming.

In a setting context, the lightsaber is a main reason why your average
Sith or Jedi can suddenly transform into a one man wrecking crew if not

It fulfills both ends of the combat spectrum. It is exceedingly useful and efficient in the right hands and it is intimidating if not downright scary by reputation.

For most of the galaxy, the Force is difficult to quantify and understand. A plasma blade that can slice you and dice you into six different pieces while simultaneously blocking incoming blaster fire is much easier to get behind.

And while, yes, the cauterizing of the wounds means that someone who suffers a lightsaber blow is more likely to survive, it doesn’t mean the experience is pleasant.

Many writers have a mistaken view that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person and end up having heroic characters commit horrific atrocities as a result, doing more damage in the long run than they might’ve if they’d just killed the other character.

The lightsaber is the three section staff of the Star Wars world, really awesome if you know what you’re doing and liable to give yourself a concussion if you don’t. (Or, in this case, lose a limb…or several.)

There’s no getting around burning yourself with the nunchaku lightsaber though, that one is just dumb.

It’s a standard issue part of the setting and most of the wounds received from similar types of energy weapons like blasters are also bloodless. This acts as a backhanded setting justification for how the series can be so violent while sneaking itself past the sensors.


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Flaming swords are probably less deadly than normal swords because a flaming sword will cauterize the wounds it inflicts.

@howtofightwrite is this true? Need to know for story purposes

The true issue with the flaming sword is that the wielder is far more likely to set themselves on fire. Watch the making of from The Scorpion King where they talk about trying to do the flaming sword with practical effects and what a mess it ended up being. Douse it in oil and the fire goes everywhere.

Even if you’re keeping it mostly stationary but tilted, the oil will come running down toward your hand and bring the fire with it.

You’ve got a better chance with a magical sword enchanted with flame and the wielder being either A) a dragon or B) a mage who has enchanted themselves to be flame proof or C) made themselves flame proof by some other means or D) it’s an illusion meant to bluff.

If you can get the flaming sword to work in a manner that doesn’t endanger the wielder, then it’s going to actually be more dangerous than a regular sword simply by virtue of the intimidation factor and it’s ability to set it’s enemies on fire.

So, while it’s true that a flaming sword would cauterize the wounds, it doesn’t actually make it any less deadly unless the wielder intended to kill their opponent via bleedout.

I’ll be honest when dealing with bladed weapons blood loss is usually the point and what makes them so deadly. Like with any physical exertion, fighting raises your heart rate. Blood starts pumping through your body faster than it does normally because that oxygen needs to be carried to your muscles to keep them working. When your body is full of holes, especially holes near important arteries, that leads to the blood you need to survive leaving the body quicker.

If you are reading this and hadn’t realized yet that combat mechanics specifically exploit the human body’s inner workings, natural instincts, and psychology to achieve murder then yay, now you know.

Once you realize this, however, any hero who fights with their “natural instincts” so the author doesn’t have to explain why they suddenly know how to fight looks really silly.

Combat is a science, it is the reverse of medicine. It engages in manipulation and exploitation of the human body and psyche.

So, a flaming sword falls into the second combat category. It isn’t about efficiently exploiting the human body, but rather the human psyche and exploit it’s natural self-preservation instincts.

A flaming sword is here to terrify the ever living shit out of you.

It’s a common practice in torture, for example, to cauterize wounds inflicted because it ensures your victim remains alive, fire is scary, and the experiencing their flesh burning just ratchets up the terror factor.

If your character is not in danger of being burnt themselves, they’re fine with terror as a battle tactic, cool with the idea of their enemy dying an even slower and more painful death, and don’t have a problem accidentally burning their allies or setting the battlefield on fire, then there’s not a lot of downsides.

The burns will also hurt their enemy’s ability to move and their ability to fight, while the fire itself makes their opponent more cautious or even less likely to engage. This is especially true if the opponent is unarmored. Where even when defending, their chance of being scorched or set on fire is high.

The problem with fire is that it’s difficult to control, it leads to a lot of collateral damage, and will, you know, kill you in a very painful way. Battlefields are full of detritus that can quickly catch a blaze and once it takes off, whoosh.

You’ll note that the historical uses for fire in combat involve it being used as a defensive and deterrent method from positions where the defender’s own forces were unlikely to be harmed.

Imagine for a moment that your warrior is a dragon or a half-dragon, they are inherently flame proof but they oil up their sword anyway before going into battle or a duel and set it on fire with pyromancy. As they fight the oil drips on them, sets them on fire, drips on their opponent and sets them on fire, sprays everywhere and sets everyone on fire.

Their armor is burning. The oil is seeping in between the cracks and carrying the fire with it. Everything is getting hotter, hotter, and hotter like they landed smack in the fires of hell.

The dragon/half-dragon keeps right on going though, entirely unchecked by the fact that they are on fire, while their opponent is stumbling, screaming, and running as blind panic begins to set in.

Once you defeat your enemy in their mind, you win the fight. So, if your warrior’s primary goal is terror and psychological warfare then a flaming sword is fantastic choice. They want to keep their opponent alive to prolong their suffering and slowly roast them as a means of terrifying everyone else.

Psychological warfare is a legitimate reason to take this option, especially if the sword wielder cannot be burnt. Fire is terrifying. Trying to maintain a clear head amidst smoke inhalation and your flesh burning with each strike is going to be very difficult if not impossible.

If you’ve been burned before, any kind of burns, even low-grade ones, think about trying to move or think or defend yourself. It’s hard.

So, if your character’s primary goal is not combat effectiveness but intimidation and terror then the flaming sword is a decent option. Especially if the enemy has no idea how they managed to flame proof themselves.

If they can’t though, then it’s a bad option for the same reasons that it’s scary to other people.

No one wants to be set on fire.

No one wants to set themselves on fire.

No one wants their friends set on fire.

No one wants their supplies set on fire.

No one wants to see their castle and it’s inhabitants burning.

Fire is bad.

The question is: are the risks worth the reward?

Especially when you can get similar results more safely by wielding a torch in one hand and a sword in the other like Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. (9/10 the answer is no.)

Basically, if your character is wielding a flaming sword then they’re taking the Tarkin approach.

“Fear will keep the enemy in line, fear of this battlestation.”

– Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars: A New Hope


Swords being carried on the back? Also, swords being carried horizontally at the small of the. Lengths and sizes when its plausible and when it’s impractical and stupid.

You can’t draw a full length sword from your back. You’ll occasionally see people screwing around, trying to find a way to make it work, but it’s not something you want to be messing around with in combat.

Pulling a sword from your back, involves juggling the blade a bit while drawing. Again, if you’re devoting your full attention to this, it’s completely safe. If someone is already invested in trying to murder you, you cannot devote your full attention to pulling your weapon, and the entire situation becomes much dicier.

Swords on the back can be useful when you’re traveling, and not expecting combat, since it gets the weapon out of your way, completely.

Knives and pistols are sometimes sheathed/holstered horizontally at the small of the back. It’s a good place to conceal one, since the curve of the spine will hide the weapon’s outline under loose clothing.

You’ll sometimes see people sticking machetes on their back or across their waste. As I’ve said many times before, these aren’t actually weapons, they’re tools, and both are convenient places to get them out of your way while still having access to them.

As a general rule, anything longer than your arm, can’t be pulled from a back sheath or holster. There’s some exceptions to this, like modern pressure sheathes, which will hold a weapon in place while leaving the sides accessible, so you can change the angle while drawing the weapon.

Even failing that, drawing from over the shoulder leaves your body exposed to an incoming strike, in a way that belt sheathes do not. Even if you’re wearing armor, the underarm is one of the lightest locations. In most cases with plate armor, there will actually be a gap. This is because you need to maintain freedom of movement in the shoulder, and you can’t do that if your arm is completely plated over with solid metal. So, raising your arm to draw from your back actually exposes that weak point to your foe.

But, if you’re expecting to be on the road for the next few weeks, and you’ve got a walking staff, then sticking a sword on your back is fairly reasonable. It won’t be bouncing off your leg, annoying you, the entire time. Just don’t expect to be able to get to it if you’re ambushed by bandits.


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Hi! I’m writing a character who’s had no actual training in any kind of combat style, and isn’t agile, but has lots of strength and endurance, and who’s weapon of choice is a spiked club (basically, she fights like a bull). What would be a good strategy for her to use against an opponent who’s weaker, but more accurate with his attacks and very well trained with a broadsword?

Well, she’s fucked.

I know that sounds harsh and I’m about to explain to why, if taken at face value, your character would get killed. We’re going talk about weapons, how they work, generalized versus specialized, and a concept called reach.

Reach or Distance: Distance to target i.e. how close do you have to be in order to hit the other guy. It’s very important to be able to judge distance in combat because the teeniest error in judgement can be the difference between a hit and an almost hit. While reach is a key part of hand to hand training, it’s even more vital when it comes to understanding weapon’s combat. Particularly, how different weapons play against each other. It shouldn’t shock you (though it surprises some people) that different weapons come in different lengths. The length of the weapon changes the weapon’s reach or distance it takes to hit an opponent.

This becomes more important when talking about theoretical combat between two different weapons, especially when the difference in length can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet. A few centimeters can be the difference between life and death, and there’s a rather vast difference in length between a longsword and a club.

Distance is important, because if the other guy can hit you before you can hit them then you’ve got problems. This is why the saying, “never bring a knife to a gunfight” exists. The thought process is if the guy twenty feet away has the gun and you’ve got a knife, you’re pretty thoroughly screwed.

I’m going to assume you meant a longsword when you said “broadsword” and not a Roman gladius. In this situation, the guy with the longsword can strike the girl with the club well before she reaches a range where she can hit him. He can do so safely and with far better defensive capabilities when it comes to deflecting her club, while the club on its own doesn’t provide much as a means of protection. It’s a solid offensive weapon in the right circumstances, but there’s a reason why it’s paired with the shield.

If she rushes to close the gap, she will get killed even more quickly.

Differences in Damage: This not about which weapon deals damage better, but the kind of damage they deal. The kind of damage they deal directly relates to how the weapon is designed to move, and as a result the path of movement it needs to take in order to achieve results.

The club/mace/morningstar have weighted tips just like a bat. The idea that physical (weightlifting style) strength is necessary to wield them is a misnomer, you don’t need to be in order to wield them. The weapon is weighted so that it naturally achieves greater momentum when swung, the momentum is what achieves the strength behind the blow rather than the strength in the arm itself. Speed, ultimately, is more necessary to the success of the club than physical strength. The faster you swing, the greater your momentum, and the harder you hit as a result. The strength is in the force of impact.

Neat, huh? We tend to think the Europeans of the Middle Ages as dumb brutes or assume the Barbarian tropes, but they were efficient when it came to figuring out means of killing each other and overcoming obstacles… like armor.

The problem with club is that it’s short. This is not a problem when you’re most likely facing enemies that are unarmored and aren’t carrying weapons or carrying weapons of similar size, but it becomes one when facing a longer weapon. Especially one that is as deadly as the sword, especially when that sword is in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.

In Europe, the sword was the great generalist weapon. It’s somewhat akin to the modern handgun in terms of popularity and usefulness in a wide variety of situations. They’re both sidearms, but they can both fulfill roles outside their designed function. The sword is deadly.

Fiction often downplays just how deadly the longsword sword is. But trust me, it wouldn’t come in so many different variations or be the model Europeans kept coming back to if it didn’t work. It’s such a useful weapon that it became part of our cultural consciousness, surviving down in different forms through countless ages, to become a symbol of kingship.

The sword is not the best weapon, it is a secondary weapon or sidearm. What makes it dangerous is the extraordinary ease in which it allows one person to kill another and the wide variety of varying circumstances in which it is useful.

The sword deals damage through very specific points of impact and any glancing blow it makes can end up being fatal. It also strikes on a more confined pattern than the club, making it’s attacks both faster, more difficult to see, and requiring less time for windup. You don’t need to pierce deeply into the body to reach muscles, find tendons, or to cause someone to bleed. Whether it’s punctured via the tip or caught in a glancing slice, all those wounds become debilitating. Debilitation leads to death.

“What’s he going to do? Poke me to death?”

“Yes, actually.”

People don’t come with specially armored skin. The sword is designed to pierce and efficiently carve up the human body, even a cut just an inch or two deep can quickly become debilitating.

Blood loss is a legit strategy.

Strategy: Strategy is a plan of action. It starts with recognizing your own capabilities and weaknesses in relation to your opponent versus their strengths and their weaknesses.

When you’re writing strategy, you should be bound by the limitations of your character. You don’t have to be, but it’s more honest to who they are. Think about the events from the character’s perspective, chucking out everything except what they know and understand about the world, their combat abilities, their opponents, and their limitations.

There are only so many strategies I could give, but it’s better if you start to use the above to formulate your own in conjunction with what you know about these two characters, where they are, what their goals are, what they want, and what the stakes of their conflict are.

The human element in combat is never to be overlooked. A lot of the time, talking about this can feel like a more complicated game of rock, paper, scissors. The problem is it isn’t that clear cut. While knowing what a weapon can do and what it can’t do is all fine and dandy (and important to writing your fight scenes), the heart of the fight are the people who participate. Two people can be given the same arsenal and use to it to extraordinarily different results. They change the rules by deciding what they will do, what they won’t do, what they want, and what kind of people they are.

It’s not so much that the baseline rules change, but rather how people choose to work within them.

I can’t answer any of those questions. They’re your characters, you’ve got to do it yourself.

So, what I need everyone who follows us to do is take your concept of physical strength and it’s importance to combat and then chuck it out a window.

You have a character who wanders into combat, fights like a battering ram, and thrashes about until everyone is dead. This will work against people who are unarmed and have no idea what they’re doing.

She’s fighting an opponent who is better trained, better armed, and carrying a weapon with much greater reach (I am assuming when you say “broadsword”, you mean a longsword and not a Roman gladius). The longsword is actually longer than her arm. Just as importantly, the strike patterns of the club lend themselves to large openings in the defenses.

This is why when someone fights with a mace, they usually bring a shield and plate mail. If you’re going to be raising your arms above your head, you better be wearing protection.

If she bull rushes him in an attempt to knock him down, she will either end up impaled on the sword itself or he’ll let her go past him and carve the sword up her back.

She’s got to figure out how to get close enough to hit him, and he has a weapon that is 1) very quick and 2) long enough to ensure she can’t in any easy way. If she’s not wearing armor, she can’t just wade in. It’s also worth remembering that sword training includes striking soft targets like the legs and the arms before going for the center. She could get close enough, think she’s in the clear, and end up with his blade pierced through her boot.

What I am saying is that if she fights him on an even keel in an honest duel: the deck is stacked against her. More importantly, she’s stacked the deck against herself. She’s wielding an inferior weapon against an opponent with superior training and a superior weapon, one far more deft at making use of openings, greater reach, and with greater defensive capabilities.

You have to be able to reach your enemy in order to hit them.

Right now, you’re trying to treat these two characters like they’re equals. If you recognize how utterly fucked she is, you can work within her limitations and possibly pull off a victory. However, the strategy she chooses to use is a reflection of who she is as a person. Strategy itself lives within a person’s ability to recognize and operationalize their strengths and weaknesses while acknowledging the person across from them. You also need to know how to use the environment and other factors outside of just statistics.

Statistically, she’s screwed. If she’s aware enough to realize that she needs to gain a different type of advantage (an emotional or psychological one) over her opponent, then great. If she’s a dumb, brute force type character unable to register that just because someone looks inferior doesn’t mean they actually are then she’s most likely dead.

An opponent with superior training and wielding a superior weapon is a difficult challenge to overcome. An opponent with inferior training who knows just enough wield a superior weapon, even badly, is a difficult challenge to overcome.

Weapons are not just aesthetic choices. They are not created equal. Each one comes specifically designed for certain situations. A sword and a club are two very different weapons, with the sword designed for a wider range of uses. It’s a much more flexible weapon.

A shield with armor (at the very least protection for the legs, feet, arms, and hands), or trading in the club for a staff (that she knows how to use) to regain the reach advantage would help her.

The assumption made by those who understand nothing about combat is that the guy with the sword is always going to strike for center mass or the main part of the body. However, one of the key parts of combat is the concept of carving your way inward. The sword can cut and damage, even superficially, any part of your body that is unarmored. Taking out hands, legs, feet, and arms if they can’t reach the middle is all acceptable. She raises her club to swing at him and he drives the blade’s tip into her armpit. It might sound silly, but that’s a legitimate target point.

There’s an artery there, striking it means fast bleedout and ruins your opponent’s ability to use their arm. He’ll have been trained to aim for it by his swordmasters because it’s also one of the openings left in plate. The same is true for the knees, or the inside of the thigh. He’ll naturally aim for the joints because those are the openings left due to the need for articulation.

Hands and arms are major targets in sword duels. The understanding is that if they can’t fight then they can’t stop you from killing them.

Untrained fighters tend to offer up those targets more regularly and frequently because they don’t realize that they need to protect them. Stabbing someone in the foot is not glamorous, but it works.

So, she needs a way to counter that sword, it’s speed, and it’s reach. It could be as simple as adding a parrying dagger or a shield if she can one hand the club. The strategy begins with finding a way to nullify the sword, protect herself so she can get close enough (without taking debilitating damage) and end the fight.

As she is now, she’s pretty doomed. Running at him won’t work. Rushing him will not work. The usual bullish skills she relies on are naturally countered by the length of his weapon and his training. She’s basically in a position of “bringing a knife to a gun fight”. If she cannot strike him down before the sword comes out then she is in some serious trouble.

It’s not impossible, but don’t treat them like equals. Treat her like she’s fighting at a severe disadvantage. (No, not because she’s a girl. It’s because she’s ill equipped and has no combat understanding other than learned experience.) Knowing that and working within it is the necessary understanding that’s key to victory.


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