Tag Archives: writing swords

Q&A: The Sword is King of Mid Range Melee

We got a bunch of sword questions all in a row that don’t require particularly detailed answers, so I figured we could do them all together for efficiency.

So are swords really useful/practical weapons, or just iconic/popular for media and fiction?

The sword is one of the best weapons mankind has ever designed for killing other humans. While there are other weapons we could focus on (like the staff, spear, and other longarms that don’t get enough love), don’t fool yourself in selling the sword short.  This weapon has ruled as a fixture of combat since it’s invention, and only recently fell out of popular use. We know this because of how enduring the sword is throughout history and with countless cultures across the globe who all developed their own variants then refined, refined, refined them until we finally outdid ourselves by developing the gun. Even then, we’ve had guns since roughly the late Middle Ages, and it’s only in the past 100 years or so that swords have really fallen off as the preferred sidearm used in addition to other combat weapons. The sword was also a weapon of self-defense in Europe, and wasn’t just a weapon of the upper class.

The 20th century still saw swords being fielded as part of mounted cavalry units, and were used right up until WWI where they became obsolete in the face of modern weaponry.

The sword is the preeminent king of mid range melee combat.

Weapons endure because they are useful. Weapons are discarded when they are no longer useful, or no longer appropriate to the threats faced on the battlefield.

This is the rule of the weapons. It doesn’t matter how cool they look if you’re dead. If the weapon doesn’t work then cast it off. Weapons that no longer fit the combat of the day get you killed.

The ironic truth is that the sword is actually a much better, more well rounded, and versatile weapon than popular media makes it out to be. It is also a much lighter weapon than popular media would have you believe, which means there is no strength requirement. They weigh less than your average housecat, and a lot less than your laptop.  If your protagonist can’t lift two to four pounds then they’ve got bigger problems than just one weapon.

Some sword variants are more specialized than others, and are designed around specific battlefield functions. Not all swords are created equal, and some will work far better in some circumstances than others. It is very important that you view weapons from different time periods in terms of scientific advancement and ever changing battlefield requirements.

Your protagonists are doing more than accessorizing when they choose a weapon or martial art. Suitable is decided by the world they live in and the threats they face, and then, after a host of other practical considerations, by what appeals to them.

not sure how many questions you get like this and i’m sorry is it’s been asked, but world a dagger be effective with someone with a sword. would a weapon like Asuma’s from naruto actually be useful

Asuma wields a real weapon that saw use in real combat, primarily in the trenches of WWI. The weapon is called a trench knife. One part knife, one part knuckleduster or brass knuckles, this weapon excels in tight, close quarters combat. The name itself should be a  dead giveaway for the purpose it served in combat. This is an aid for hand to hand combat, and therefore not particularly useful against swords because the person with the trench knife risks getting cut to pieces by the sword wielder before they ever get into the range their knife is suitable for.

This is, in essence, the problem for knives or daggers versus swords. In a straight up fight, the sword has the range to attack at will while the person with the dagger is forever on the offensive with no means to break past them. You don’t have the option to attack, while they can attack you whenever they feel like it. Swords face similar problems against long arms like staves and spears.

This is a martial concept called range. Range is dictated by the distance it takes for you to reach your opponent versus the distance it takes for them to reach you. Range matters most when dealing with weapons. A common misconception about range is how much that distance given by height matters in hand to hand.

The end of this story is you’ll need to kill the guy with the sword before he has the chance to get his pants on, which actually makes a knife like the trench knife the perfect weapon for an assassin like Asuma. After all, they never planned to give you the option of fighting back. The knife is the “surprise! death!” weapon, and one of the fastest combat weapons from hit to kill.

Would a left-handed knight fight with their sword in their left hand and their shield in their right? I’m writing a left-handed character who fights with sword and shield, and I want to be aware of any advantages/disadvantages such a style will give them.

Listen to me when I say this, the shield is a weapon. That is the most important lesson I have to teach you about the sword/shield combination. The sword is a weapon, the shield is also a weapon. You can hit people with it. You can also kill people with it. More importantly, you can use it as a tool to lock up your enemy’s weapon  and kill them with your primary weapon. This is an active, not a passive, article working in conjunction with your sword and a defined part of your character’s strategy in their approach to combat.

The sword/shield is an offensive combo, not a defensive one. Video games and DnD will teach you that the shield is only good for defense. You’ll find people everywhere, including those giving advice on the shield outside the HEMA community who will parrot that assumption. It is a lie.

As with anything, the combo can be used defensively but you’re not actually giving up your offensive opportunities. You are, in fact, maximizing them by giving yourself one more means to break through your enemy’s defenses. You are dual wielding, and the off-hand shield serves a similar purpose for what you’d be doing with a second weapon like a knife or sword in that off-hand and with less risk of the two getting caught cross-ways of each other. The shield lets you be bolder in your attacks because you have more defense, but you’re not just going to sit there in the midst of battle and turtle like an MMO tank. No, you’re going to be proactive. More defense gives you more options to be aggressive because there are fewer risks involved.

What you sacrifice is the extra power, finesse, speed, and control lent by the second hand (your non-dominant hand) on two handed weapons like the long sword. This is the drawback: you give up the power, precision, fine control, and utility of a single weapon. Note, power does not mean strength in the way you imagine. That second hand is needed as a lever to provide your weapon with greater momentum than you can achieve with a single hand or arm. The front hand or gripping hand is the guiding hand and the back hand or the hand on the pommel is the power hand. You’ve limited yourself to attacks based on the movements of that single arm,and the power you can generate from that arm. You’ve also given up the utility provided by your off-hand for the shield.

In martial arts, the off-hand or the non-dominant hand is the control hand or the utility hand. It is much more important than your power hand, in fact losing your non-dominant hand is much more catastrophic as a fighter than losing your dominant one. The control hand lacks the power of the dominant hand, but because it’s harder to learn to control the side your worse with due to that hand being less natural during training you end up developing a lot of fine motor control. You use this hand to strike, to defend, to grab,  and create openings for strikes with the power hand.

Martial artists are mostly ambidextrous by necessity, all the parts of your body are going to be used. A character who is left-hand dominant will actually use their right hand in combat more often than their left, and vice versa is true. I’m right handed, but my left will almost always strike first. This is the side I predominately turn to for any and all utility. This is the opposite of my regular life, where my right is doing most of the work.

A left-handed person will use their dominant hand in a fight, but that doesn’t mean their right is useless. Their non-dominant hand is one of the most important combat assets they have. This is their defense hand, their blocking hand, the set-up hand, the fast striking hand, the risk-taker hand that seizes for joint locks. The non-dominant hand is the one with all the finesse. This is why the finesse hand/arm holds the shield, you’ll be taking complex actions with it.

This is going to be a backwards way of thinking if you’ve never done martial arts. Your dominant hand is not the hand that’s better at “doing things”. The dominant hand is the power hand, the finisher hand, it’s really good at hitting harder than the non-dominant hand which is why you want it handling your sword.

A left handed person can have an advantage over someone who is right handed because the left hand being dominant is less common than the right hand, and therefore someone who is right handed encounters left handed fighters less often. However, a left hand dominant fighter is nowhere near rare enough to hang your character’s hat on that as a decided advantage over the other warriors they encounter.

Writing combat with weapons requires an entire re-framing of what popular culture has taught you about combat, including concepts like “strength”. Power is not created by physical strength, but by momentum. Momentum is generated through proper technique. Proper technique is developed through training. Weapons are, by and large, not heavy because physically heavy weapons are difficult to wield for prolonged periods and you might have to fight for prolonged periods. A weapon you can’t wield is useless to you, and one which wears you out quickly is actively dangerous to you.  You don’t need a weapon to weigh much in order to generate the momentum necessary to kill another human being.

You’ll notice weapons like the warhammer and the morning star put most of their weight in the head of the weapon. Why? Not because you need to be physically strong to wield them, but to aid the wielder in generating more momentum on that downward swing.

Is a baseball bat heavy? Your answer should be no.

Someone in armor, with a shield and a sword has the opportunity to take more risks than the person without those. This leads to them being more aggressive, rather than less. That defense serves the specific purpose of allowing you to take actions you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Knights in heavy armor were both highly mobile and incredibly versatile, they weren’t slowed down much by that armor.

Weapons aren’t just an aesthetic choice for your character,  they’re designed with a specific purpose in mind. Most of what those weapons were designed for will, on occasion, actively roll against the grain of how they’re presented in popular fiction or used in video games. There’s a lot of missing nuance, strategy, and tactics in the application of a dice roll.

-Michi

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Misconceptions of the Rapier (Women do the Thing)

I don’t know if you’ve answered this before, but I’ve read that a rapier is actually harder to learn to use, then another sword (i think the longsword was the other comparison) if that’s true, how easily would a woman be able to wield it, with the proper training and teaching?

I’ll link Matt Easton’s video about misconceptions with the rapier.  It talks about what the rapier is in comparison to the longsword and what it isn’t, which is lighter and faster like a smallsword.

The question about women is irrelevant, swords literally weigh two and a half pounds. How easily would a woman be able to wield it? The same as it would be for a man.

I know the man versus woman debate is the initial knee jerk for most everybody, so the question on its own is not your fault. However, now is the time to start ridding yourself of it. When you’re looking to write action heroines that question is going to debilitate you far more than help. Cling to “can a woman do it?”, and you’ll never find the action hero’s mindset.  That question is valuable when looking at lens or perceptions through which others might judge the character, the questions the character asks themselves, or their own internal struggles against enforced gender norms, but has nothing to do with actual physical ability.

Skill in martial combat is a matter of training and experience. Patience, dedication, a willingness to try, and a teacher are all one needs. Arguments over sex and gender have even less value when it comes to weapons than they do when looking at hand to hand. Weapons are the great equalizers, they are designed to overcome the body’s advantages. The playing field is never level, not for anyone. However, writing female action heroes begins with the understanding that the challenges women face are social rather than physical. Just because society at large says, “not for you” doesn’t mean it’s true and that goes for everyone.

As for swords? Swords are designed to suit difference purposes. The rapier is a long sword (not a longsword), and primarily designed for its reach advantage rather than a speed advantage. It is longer than the longsword, which means it is more likely to hit first in a standard duel.

As for training? Asking about the difficulty in learning a basic subject is pointless, because your character is simply not going to have many choices when it comes to learning. The weapon you choose locks you more or less into the time period where the weapon comes from, and further limits the available choices. Weapons are designed to deal with the dangers of the times they exist in, they’re specific design choices rather than arbitrary. In this case, your needs against the opponents you’re facing are as important as your desires. An easy way to decide a character’s weaponry is this:

Time Period > Education Level/Income Bracket/Social Status > Available Training > Weapon.

Now, the rapier like many variants of swords was available for all levels and the skill level varied.  So, this is more a question of research ergo: “my character is an English peasant living circa 1568 AD” or “I’m basing my fantasy setting on the War of the Roses, my character is a noble…” etc.

Or we do our research in reverse:

Desire > Weapon > Time Period > Education Level/Income Bracket/Social Status > Available Training

Your character begins with a desire, “I saw X in a duel when I was five and decided I wanted to learn to wield a rapier like him!” then goes out to find a teacher, convinces teacher to teach them, learns weapon, then fights with weapon.

This is the evolution of how humans choose to pursue the combat arts. Inspiration creates a Desire, the desire then becomes a Goal, the goal leads them to Pursuit of Action, and that is their origin story.

We become good at a thing based on our enthusiasm for the thing, and that applies as much to martial training. The only time this rule doesn’t apply is when your character is a Chosen One, which yes, they have to do the thing regardless of whether they want to or not.

The world your character exists in decides which weapons they use. Weapons that no longer suit the field of combat are discarded, and new weapons are created. Those new weapons are not necessarily better than the old ones, they simply change based on survival needs. Weapon advantages and disadvantages aren’t universal either, so it’s best not to try and munchkin our way to victory in the stat pools.

If you were in a HEMA club and trying to decide which sword style you wanted to study first then a question of difficulty would be relevant. (Though the answer about difficulty will differ depending on who you ask, so its usually better to go with what interests you.)

There are women throughout history who wielded all sorts of weapons in combat. You just won’t hear about them if you don’t go looking for them.

There are tons of women who do HEMA.

The question as to whether or not a woman can fight with a rapier is dependent on a single question:

How much time has she dedicated to becoming proficient?

If she’s not practicing or isn’t consistent with her practice, then the answer is no. She isn’t.

If she is then the answer is probably.

-Michi

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Q&A: Swords in the Modern World

Okay 1. I love your blog. 2. I have a character who’s very strong and she is constantly fighting for her life. I planned on giving her a katana as a weapon but after I read your post about how katanas suck I was like “Okay, so I won’t give her a katana.” But what sword would someone be able to use in the modern world pretty effectively while actually using it to defend themselves?

There’s a real reason why we don’t use swords anymore.

Beyond the problems posed by guns (and knives for that matter), the sword is simply inconvenient in a modern environment. You could still carry one (depending on country/state restrictions on weapons… maybe not, especially not without a permit), but people will look at you funny. And, maybe, be a little worried about your mental health if you walked into the local MiniMart with a real, sharpened, honest to god longsword belted to your hip.

It’s basically the equivalent of walking into a store or getting into a taxicab with an AR15 strapped to your chest. Except, weirder.

Also, you can’t conceal it. You’re going to get arrested. You’re gonna get tased. No, I’m not kidding that really happened to a man carrying a katana on his back in SoCal.

This is not the only example. There are a lot of people who carry swords… and a lot people who get tased for their trouble.

The other human beings around you will see that sword as an active potential threat to their safety, and swords don’t have a gun lobby lobbying for the right to carry them wherever. The cops will arrest you. It is no longer culturally acceptable to openly carry these weapons as a matter of practice.

Society has moved on.

Now, in a fictional context we can fudge the rules a bit. Still, you should be aware of the realities especially if you’re writing toward modern fiction. The modern world is one you’re readers will be intimately familiar with, so if you’re working outside the set norms it’d behoove you to explain yourself.

Swords make sense in Urban Fantasy settings or cultures where guns have (inexplicably in many cases) ceased to work. (And if you’ve got any technology with a combustion engine, you’re going to have guns. Or explosives. The theory behind the gun is simply you use an explosion to propel an object at high velocities in the direction you want. What we have now is just a refinement of that thought process. If you have fireworks, someone will inevitably hit on the idea that you can shoot fireworks at your enemies then work to improve the process. We call this science.)

What a character does on their own property is their business, but it’s a different story when they’re out in public.

If you’re serious about your character carrying a sword, then these are issues that should be addressed or, at least, considered.

-Michi

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So in movies I’ve seen sword clashes where they will just try and use brute force to take out the other person until one succeeds or backs out. Is there a reliable other way to get out of that clash or is that actually how it happens?

So, Matt Easton over on his Scholagladitoria channel talked about how this was stupid in one of his videos, and we linked it in one of our asks, but I can’t find it now. The answer is when you’re looking at sword duels, those movie sword clashes are dumb. They’re an excuse for these protracted monologues which should end before they begin with someone being socked in the jaw.

See, that’s the thing. You can use other parts of your body. You disengage, they come forward, and you hit them with your fist.

Swords aren’t brute force weapons, and it’s actually fairly difficult to lock them together. This situation wouldn’t be occurring if both actors weren’t choosing to participate in this specific way. It doesn’t work like this because one of the key factors in basic hand to hand combat also applies to swords. This is that if you have two people shoving at each other, both applying equal force in an attempt to push the other back, one can simply let go. With no force to push against, the other person becomes unbalanced and they fall.

Strength isn’t the only way to win. In fact, it’s a fairly bad one to bet all your chips on. With movies, these scenes are supposed to be a symbolic expression of strength and combat ability. The winner shows his dominance over the loser. It’s the sort of stupid Alpha dog shit that will get you killed in real life because strength, at least the way most people think of it, means a lot less than it seems to. Combat and defense aren’t built on physical resistance all the time, they’re mutable, and shifting. Sometimes, you just let go and end up in a better position than the one you started in.

Say someone has you by the arm and their pulling you, but you don’t want to go with them. You can resist by planting your feet and drawing back in the opposite direction which is what they expect or you can go with them. By go with them, I mean physically throw yourself at them. They give you a nice hard yank and you use that as a launch pad, use it against them, and hit them so you both topple to the ground.

The logic of combat is conservation of energy. You only have so much to work with and are constantly expending it, so you want to win as fast as possible. Endurance training will expand your pool, martial training gives you more resources to work with, but the pool itself is always finite.

Pushing against another human who is applying equal force to you takes more energy than letting go. You use up that finite pool faster, wear out your muscles with constant tensing. It’s a bad position, one you don’t want to be in. With a sword, when you lose out you get stabbed. Unless you’re specifically of the mindset where you’re chasing death, you want to win.

The Hollywood version of the sword clash is there to give the actors a breather and spout their dialogue, which is the kind of talking you usually can’t get off in a tense fight anyway. You need that air to breathe so the oxygen goes back into your blood, and your attention on keeping the other person from killing you. Witticism is for when things aren’t serious.

-Michi

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Sword Fighting for Fic Writers: Chapter 7

clockadile:

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.

image

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

image

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.

luckykoneko:

just-shower-thoughts:

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

-Michi

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.

-Michi

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