Tag Archives: writing urban fantasy

Q&A: Monster Hunting Solutions

So this may not be in your expertise, but in my setting (modern fantasy) my characters mostly fight monsters. My characters are faster than normal humans, and mostly have to use melee weapons, as monsters are resistant to normal metals, and the magical metal is too rare to reliably make bullets. I have no idea how to armor them. Speed feels like its the most important, as I can’t see how most armor could hold up to even a normal wild animal, much less one that is faster and stronger. Advice?

I don’t know what kinds of monsters your planning to throw your characters against. Enhanced reflexes would help, but, alone, it wouldn’t be enough to go into melee against anything significantly more dangerous than a human. So, if you’re fighting vampires, werewolves, or magically empowered mole men, your characters are in a bad situation.

I’d almost say the most important thing for monster hunting is practical knowledge of the creature your characters are tracking. Things like where it hides, what it feeds on, how it will behave. This becomes harder if you’re dealing with creatures possessing human levels of intelligence. Hunting a monster that is, basically, just an exotic apex predator is dangerous, but it’s something your characters can plan ahead for. Even in cases where they’re dealing with something that rivals human intellect, knowing how the creature is inclined to behave will give them a significant advantage for anticipating its actions. Remember how we’ve said, “instincts will get you killed?” Yeah, this one of those times.

Things can go wrong when you’re dealing with creatures that are significantly more experienced than your hunters, as this flips the script a bit. These aren’t the first hunters to come after this monster, and as a result, they’re the ones going through the familiar motions, and getting picked off.

Armor depends on what your character is fighting. If your characters are hunting monsters which can pass for normal humans, and have human (or better) intelligence, they can use a gun on their hunters. This is a problem for a modern vampire hunter, because while guns won’t (fully) affect the vampire, they will take down humans who come after it. Similarly, for a werewolf, if they shoot someone, that’s just a murder; however, if they wolf out, and tear someone limb from limb, now everyone knows something strange is going on, and monster hunters have more reason to come knocking. At that point, ballistic vests are your best bet. Just because you can’t shoot something doesn’t mean it can’t return the favor.

Also worth knowing, most modern armor has a shelf-life. Older kevlar vests would break down in hot and humid conditions (sort of like if you’re wearing them while being physically active for months and sweating on them.) I’m not 100% sure if this is still an issue. Additionally, taking bullets will mean you need to replace your armor. There’s also stuff like plate carriers, where you’ll need to replace the plates eventually.

In contrast, (assuming your vampires have enhanced speed and strength), sending your humans into melee combat with them is a death sentence.

So, you have a limited solution. You have melee weapons which can kill monsters. But, you still have guns, you just need to get more creative with them.

Ultraviolet (1999) did some interesting work chewing around this idea. (I’m spoiling some things here, sorry.) Because the vampires are immune to lead bullets, the vampire hunters use pressed carbon rounds to, effectively, stake vampires at range using conventional firearms. As a theme, the show presents both the vampires and vampire hunters adapting to modern technology, and using it to their advantage. I’d almost put this one as a must view for urban fantasy simply because of how it discusses monsters in the modern world.

Some other, “fun” things to remember about are dragon’s breath shotgun shells, which eject highly reactive metal strips that ignite on contact with air, essentially turning a shotgun into a sort of flamethrower.

White phosphorous is similar to dragon’s breath above, except, it’s a single bullet. Also, phosphorous is really nasty when it connects. The moisture in the wound will keep the phosphorous burning deeper into the victim, until it hits bone. This is a very horrific round, and if your characters are caught carrying around large quantities of the stuff, they’re going to have to answer some very hard questions.

Moving from borderline to straight up illegal, we’ve got high explosive rounds. There’s a lot of ways to make these. One that comes to mind is taking revolver hollowpoints, filling the tip with fulminated mercury, and waxing over it. You don’t want to use this specific example in a semi-automatic, as there’s a risk the gun will go off in your hand. In this case, it doesn’t matter if something’s resistant to metal when you’re literally detonating an explosive in them.

Bullets can also function as a delivery method. One example that comes to mind is, ironically, from Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman. A character loads shotgun shells with bone beads, to block another’s magical abilities. (Hillerman’s novels are worth reading, but they’re murder mysteries, not urban fantasy.)

Also worth working out exactly why a monster’s resistances work. You can’t shoot a vampire because it’s already dead. So, if you make it bleed, that won’t kill it, you’re just taking away its dinner and pissing it off. However, that’s the same thing as immune. Hitting a vampire with a rifle round designed for putting down an APC might not kill it, but it should spread it around the room enough that you can put it out of your misery, before it’s back up and running.

Another option that might be worth considering are bows or crossbows with tips made from the magical material. The critical thing here is being able to retrieve the projectiles (most of the time.) This approach relies on getting the drop on the monster, which could be quite difficult if the creatures posses heightened senses.

If your characters are inhuman, themselves. If they don’t have to worry about getting shot. If they’re fast enough and strong enough to go into melee with a 9ft tall snarling deathbeast and live, then they might want to look into more archaic versions of armor that allow them to fight their foes.

It’s also possible your characters are relying on armor that mystically empowers them, (or powered armor exosuits) to level the field. In that case, the armor they wear will be dictated by the rules of their setting. If the artifact that grants your character the ability to fight monsters looks like a 17th century breastplate, then that’s what they’re going to wear.

-Starke

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Starke, if you filled the cavity on a hollowpoint with stuff (garlic for vampires or iron for the fey or similar), would that affect the performance of the round significantly?

Does roast garlic affect them?

With handguns at close range, it shouldn’t. Though, once you start getting past about 50ft, I’d worry. I’d be more worried about the garlic slipping out and jamming the mechanisms, though. If it was ground into paste, and then capped with something, it should be fine.

That’s certainly not the only creative ammunition option though. High explosive rounds come to mind. There are a lot explosives that will detonate on contact, and can be fired from a gun… mostly, safely. mercury fulminate is the first one that comes to mind, thanks to an old Law and Order episode. I’m not sure if picric acid would detonate when the weapon was fired, or only on impact, but it would also deliver a devastating wound from what you could pack into a hollowpoint.

If mass tissue disruption is enough to stop them, Glaser safety slugs might actually be a legitimate choice. These things are designed to shatter on contact spraying birdshot everywhere. I could easily see someone taking the basic design and loading it with a far more disruptive payload, like holy water, or maybe even the garlic paste above. This might be a better delivery method for an explosive round too.

With fey, if any iron would do, steel core AP rounds might actually be a better option. The softer metals should slough off on contact, and the resulting iron would do… whatever it was supposed to in the first place.

In theory you could make the entire bullet out of iron, but, with anything other than a very soft metal, you’ll irreparably damage the barrel’s rifling after the first or second shot. That said, you can stick a soft jacket over it, lead or copper are common choices. This protects the barrel from damage, but allows for much harder bullets to be fired. If you’re curious, that’s what the term Full Metal Jacket refers to.

Copper is a good option, even for lead rounds, because, unlike the lead, the copper isn’t toxic. So you can handle the rounds without having to be as paranoid about lead exposure.

You can use iron shot in a normal shotgun load, so that might be an easier option. I think you can actually buy up to 6mm steel shot commercially.

For iron bullets, there are apparently issues with them losing momentum faster than with normal rounds. I don’t know if this is relevant at handgun ranges or if it’s a rifle issue. That is the case with silver rounds, as I found out a couple years ago. (They’re fine for pistols, but rifles lose range and accuracy.) This has something to do with the density of silver, but explaining it requires a slightly better grasp on ballistics than mine.

If you’re wanting to take a more high tech look at vampire hunting, my recommendation will always be the British TV series Ultraviolet. Not to be confused with the 2006 American film. It takes a very non-mystical approach to tracking and eliminating vampires, with characters using graphite fragmentation rounds, and re-purposed gas grenades that disperse the active ingredient from garlic that affects them. Also, it’s got Jack Davenport and Idris Elba as the leads with some very sharp writing. This really is worth watching if you want to do vampire hunters in urban fantasy.

-Starke

Anonymous Asks: Fighting and Urban Fantasy

Hi! I’m trying to decide the most appropriate fighting style for a character I’m writing. It’s a fantasy setting and this character is training to fight supernatural creatures since she was young. She’s now 16, tall and skinny, and training is a big part of her life. She fights with a katana-like sword, but I’m also looking for a character skilled in unarmed combat. Which styles should I be looking for? Sorry for the silly question, I didn’t know who else to ask =X
Anonymous

This is really going to depend on the setting you’ve built, and what she’s hunting, but here are a few things to think about:

A lot of real martial arts deal with the idea that you’re fighting something that is roughly, physiologically equivalent to yourself. That is to say, you’re fighting other people. There’s no martial art in the world that will help you fight a grizzly bear or a lion in hand to hand combat.

When you’re talking about monsters in a fantasy world, you’re often talking about things that are bigger, tougher and stronger than humans. That can be almost anything, from a minotaur, to a vampire. The basic assumptions about hand to hand combat don’t apply.

Swords are kind of similar; the sword isn’t a hunting weapon, it’s a weapon designed for killing humans. This works in some contexts, against some monsters, if your character is hunting creatures that used to be human, or are roughly humanoid (like an orc or goblin), then it might still be applicable.

But, if your character is fighting monsters considerably larger than her, like, say, werewolves (of the 9ft tall, bipedal, snarling, deathbeast variety); a sword or hand to hand will get her killed. It’s bigger than her, stronger than her, and it has a significant advantage at ripping people apart in close range.

Against something like that, she’s better off at range, with a crossbow or a gun. If she needs to use a melee weapon, then I’d suggest a spear; it isn’t a perfect solution, but she’s got a better chance of tearing something up with a spear at close range without being disemboweled, than she does with a sword.

Whatever she is using, she’s probably going to have to tailor her combat tactics to what she’s dealing with at the moment. If she’s facing off against werewolves, she’s going to need to switch out to a crossbow and spear, (and remember, Silver is a very soft metal, it’s why it was used for cutlery and not combat, so she’ll need a steel weapon AND a silver plated one, if that’s something she’s dealing with regularly) when she’s dealing with vampires, she’ll need to be carrying gear to deal with their weaknesses, whatever those happen to be.

-Starke