All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: One-Handed Fighters: Combat Prosthetics and Götz von Berlichingen

How can a disabled character fight (unarmed/sword/knife)? He only has one good hand, and the other arm ends at a stump at the wrist. Is a wristblade possible on the stump? Can he punch as normal (boxing skills)? Holds? The setting is fantasy, and military stuff isn’t needed at all.

Well, it’s been a couple years since we’ve talked about Götz von Berlichingen, so let’s remedy that.

Götz von Berlichingen was a German soldier in the early 16th century. During his career he served as a mercenary, Imperial knight, and even became a poet later in life.

Götz is significant, because in 1504, his right hand was blown off during the siege of Landshut. The full story was a messy succession war between the Bavarian duchies of Munich and Landshut. Having lost his hand, Götz had a simple prosthetic commissioned, and continued campaigning for 40 years. For context, he was in his mid-20s when he lost his hand, and continued fighting into his mid-60s. He would later go on to have a more advanced prosthetic crafted, which could be manipulated to allow him to hold objects. Most famously, this included a pen, which allowed him to write with his prosthetic. This is somewhat fortunate, as he left an autobiography, which forms much of the historical record we have regarding him.

Finding the autobiography (and even the play Goethe wrote) is fairly easy in the original German, though English translations are a bit harder to come by. (Translations of the play are a little more accessible, but Goethe took some significant liberties with history.)

While Götz is the most famous example, his use of a prosthetic hand was not unique in the era. The technology needed for these prosthetics were basic clockwork systems, and a similar level of mechanical sophistication to wheel lock firearms.

Since you’re working with a fantasy setting, it’s possible your world might have more functional prosthetics, potentially with more specialized applications. (Though, obviously, more delicate tools built into a prosthetic would make it less useful in combat. For example: If you have lockpicking tools built into the fingertips, you probably wouldn’t want to risk damaging them by punching someone.)

I’m not aware of any historical prosthetics that had weapons built into them. Wearable weapons are uncommon, but have existed at various points in time. It’s not impossible that your fantasy gauntlet could have a retractable blade built in. However, if the blade is damaged, the user would need to go through an entire process dismantling their arm and replacing the weapon, instead of just switching to another one.

Worth noting, it’s can be harder to break free of a hold, by someone who is missing a hand (and especially if they’re missing part of their forearm.) The easiest way out, usually involves manipulating the attacker’s fingers, and if they don’t have any, pulling their arm off will be more difficult.

Can you punch without a hand? No. It’s possible you could punch with a prosthetic (though, again, if it has mechanically delicate internal components, this may be a bad idea, depending on how it was designed.)

So, the historical answer was, prosthetics. This may be more true in your setting than in the real world.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Diversity of The Sword (and the Road to the Rapier)

im confused so did the rapier superseded the lo longsword (or what we call a longsword)?

Sort of, but saying, “yes,” would be a little misleading.

You can draw a direct evolutionary line from the 11th century arming swords (also sometimes called the, “knightly sword”) (which, you might identify as a longsword) to the Spanish sideswords, to the rapier. This can get confusing, because you could be forgiven for mistaking a sidesword for a longsword. It’s a specific blade, intended for use as a sidearm, but, “it’s a sword,” and long enough that you could easily call it, “a longsword.”

By the same logic, you would not be (completely) wrong for identifying a rapier as a “long sword.” This is why things can be difficult to parse, especially if you think of a longsword as a specific weapon.

Modern historians break medieval straight swords down into, roughly, 12 categories, named after the late Ewart Oakeshott. (Technically, is, I think the total is 27, because some types have multiple variants.)

So, the the Oakeshott Type X evolved into the Oakeshott Type XIII sometime during The Crusades, which in turn would evolve into the Spanish Sideswords (which, as far as I know, don’t have a Oakeshott Type associated with them, though the XVIIId and Type XIX aren’t far off, and are from the right era.)

The issue is, an Oakeshott Type X, and a Type XVIIId are both swords. However, those swords were manufactured based on the technology and materials available, the skill of the smith, and the intended function.

The sidesword was intended to be used as both a cutting and thrusting blade. It was intended to be light, and easy to carry, as it was a backup weapon. The rapier accentuated those traits. A lightweight blade is desirable, it’s easier to carry. The thinner blade may be aesthetically appealing, but if you have the technology to make it, the result is lethal.

So, looping back to the beginning, the real mistake is thinking that the longsword is a standardized weapon. The Oakeshott Typology allows us to categorize them into different groups, and it’s useful for tracking the changes in the designs over time, however, it’s important to remember that Oakeshott’s work was retroactively categorizing these weapons into groups. There’s no single moment that a smith sat down, stopped making Type X blades, and started making Type XIIIs. That transition happened over time. (They also would have been completely unfamiliar with the terminology, as Oakeshott was publishing in the 20th century.)

It’s probably, slightly, more accurate to think of the rapier as the result of people tinkering with, refining, and improving the longsword over the course of 600 years. (Or, longer if we include first millennia swords, in which case, you’re looking at more like 800 years of European sword design.) The rapier did not supersede the longsword; the longsword became the rapier.

If there was a weapon which superseded the longsword in Europe, it was the saber. For an extremely abbreviated history, the saber first entered Europe sometime in the first millennia, and found a home among cavalry in Eastern Europe. They started gaining popularity in the 17th century (both the sabers and the Polish Hussars who wielded them), which would eventually lead to the saber becoming the dominant military blade in Europe. You can actually see a replication of some of the transformation which lead to the rapier in how Western European saber deigns favored thinner blades. Smiths (and by this point militaries) took a design they liked, and modified it to better suit their goals. Now, the other thing which changed was the transition to gunpowder infantry. Sabers still saw battlefield use (partially among cavalry) into the 19th century, but the combat role of a sword on the battlefield was rapidly coming to a close.

So, the short version is, no, the European longsword became the rapier, and then was eventually replaced by changing fashions.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Difficulties for Organized Crime Going Legit

How realistic is the Godfather trope of turning a mob family legitimate? I don’t mean “bad people becoming good,” I mean “taking a criminal empire and turning it into a purely corporate, political, or otherwise ‘aboveboard’ one.” Less about switching sides, more about leveling up.

To be honest, The Godfather isn’t realistic, it’s opera. This, also, isn’t what’s going on in the film. Now, as a brief aside, I’ve never read Mario Puzo’s novel, my only exposure to these characters was through Francis Coppola’s adaptations.

Regarding the character of Michael Corleone (Al Pachino), he stayed out of the family business growing up and appeared legitimate. Vito hoped his son would go into politics, providing influence to his family. While the character is more complex than this, keeping specific individuals associated with organized crime enterprises legitimate in order to infiltrate society in places they otherwise wouldn’t be able to is a real strategy. It’s not that the family is legitimate, it’s that certain members have no visible, criminal affiliations, and can operate covertly.

If it seems implausible that a member of a major Mafia family could get elected to office, I’d remind you of William Bulger, brother of Whitey Bulger. Whitey Bulger was the infamous leader of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. No connection between William and his brother’s criminal enterprise was ever proven, but William was responsible for installing John Connelly into the FBI (via a personal letter written to J. Edgar Hoover.) Connelly would go on to be Whitey’s tamed fed, who kept him appraised of any investigation into his activities, and allowed Whitey to avoid arrest and prosecution for decades. (There’s way more to this than I’m getting into. The Bureau’s Boston field office had some serious corruption problems in the 60s.)

So, it does make sense for a character like Michael to have a deniable background, where he appears to be a legitimate member of society, while still being affiliated with the family. Ironically, the films are an inverse of the normal redemption arc, as Michael makes decisions which irrevocably tie him into the family, which he could have escaped.

The purpose for an entire family to, “go legitimate,” is more about the illusion rather than the reality. For a investigator, it’s much harder to prove a crime occurred when it’s hidden behind legitimate financial activity. Front businesses (particularly ones that deal with cash) are ideal, as they can also be used to launder illicit funds.

I’d argue that it is actually necessary for an illicit organization to have multiple legitimate fronts. It gives the organization a way to pay its members with funds that have already been laundered. It allows the organization to own or rent property (because, “rented by the local mob,” would raise eyebrows), in many cases it’s a critical step to further corruption (such as shipping skimming, though the New York gas tax fraud comes to mind.)

There is a lot of money to be made in illicit enterprise, and organized crime is adept at identifying exploitable situations. They identify points in the economy where there’s a lot of money moving around without much attention or oversight. Then, they use force (or the threat of same) to “muscle” their way in, and that is why they can never go legit.

Under normal circumstances, modern states exercise, and jealously guard monopolies on violence. A significant chunk of modern laws either build into, or articulate this idea. You, as an individual, do not have the authority to inflict violence on others, in exchange you’re protected (at least in theory) from having violence inflicted upon you. (At least, by non-state actors, with the caveat that said, “protection,” is often only deterrence, and any actual state response will likely to be after the fact, or posthumous.)

The problem is that organized crime aspires to become the state. Now, granted, very few criminal enterprises actually want the headache of becoming a nation in their own right. They’d be content with a simple patron/client system, which actually comes pretty close to how most organized crime operates. It is aspiring to be a small, feudalistic, government, operating autonomously under the nose of the legitimate state.

One of the authorities that organized crime (almost universally) seeks to usurp is the use and regulation of violence. Violence is used as a coercive tool, much like in many oppressive regimes, and is used as a form of, “foreign policy,” when interacting with other criminal organizations.

That last paragraph is why an organization can never, truly, go legit. It has a history of using violence as one of its methods of foreign policy. If it didn’t, it would have been obliterated by its competitors. This remains true, even if the organization never openly engaged in violence, and merely used the threat of same.

If one criminal enterprise disarms, it will be consumed by its competitors. In fact, this is a serious risk when there’s any weakness (including a regime change) within an organization. Aggressive competitors will look at that organization, it’s resources, and it’s inability to effectively protect them, as an opportunity.

There is an internal issue with using violence as a control mechanism. If your organization only keeps people in line at gun point, you’re going to have problems the moment you take that threat off the table. A criminal organization swearing off violence, would proceed to (figuratively) eat itself alive in shockingly short order. When the organization abdicated it’s monopoly on violence, that authority spilled down to the individual members, and it can’t (realistically) be returned to the legitimate state. (Worth noting, that a criminal organization who simply “refuses to use violence,” has abdicated control over it.)

Once your organization claims the authority to inflict violence, it is incredibly difficult to safely divest yourself of that.

So long as you maintain authority over violence, you cannot go legitimate. It’s illegal, and you can’t abdicate that authority without being murdered. (Either by your competitors, or your own people.)

-Starke

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Q&A: Spontanious Bullet Combustion and the Wrong Kind of a Cook-Off

I have a character who can trigger and inhibit combustion; I know him using his power to “cook off” the bullets in someone’s magazine would be a bad thing for the person holding it, I’m just wondering as to how bad.

Extremely.

This is going to depend on the weapon, and exactly what your character is doing.

It’s worth remembering that the normal meaning of, “cook off” doesn’t apply here. Under normal circumstances, a gun cooks off its ammunition when the chamber becomes hot enough (from sustained use) to ignite the powder in any freshly loaded round. On most automatic and semiautomatic weapons, this will cause a “runaway gun,” and it will proceed to dump its magazine quite quickly.

However, it’s nearly impossible for this to occur with a handgun. The fire rate in these situations would inversely related to the bolt weight. (The lighter the bolt, the faster it will cycle.) I’m guessing here, but most handguns would cycle at over 1k RPM if they could cook off. (For reference, the Glock 18 has a cyclic rate of around 1,200 RPM, so this number isn’t implausible.) The main issue with this is, that it’s not possible for a handgun’s chamber to get that hot (and it’s nearly impossible on any semi-automatic weapon.) You’re most likely to encounter runaway guns after heavy use of full auto weapons with deep magazines.

The absolute best case for spontaneous powder combustion, are single shot firearms with no spare ammunition. Breach loading shotguns, and some varieties of hunting rifle come to mind. Though, a pepper box style pistol, or double barrel shotgun would be a similar situation. In these cases, spontaneous combustion would basically just produce an accidental discharge.

Of course, if you combine this with poor muzzle discipline, you have a recipe for disaster.

This is also true for any muzzle loaded flintlock design. Though, the odds that a character wasn’t also carrying powder would be low. When dealing with black powder, I’m unsure how much benefit your character would really get from setting someone’s powder magazine ablaze. At least, in comparison to simply setting some of their foe’s internal organs on fire and calling it a day.

More modern weapons can become really problematic.

With revolvers, causing all six shots to cook off at once could have a variety of ill effects, and it would depend on the specific revolver. In particular, any round in line with the frame (specifically the bottom chamber in the cylinder in almost all cases) would cause catastrophic damage to the gun itself. This will render the weapon inoperable. This kind of a failure can result in shrapnel injuring the user (though, that’s usually more of a consideration with the cylinder failing due to overpressure rounds.) Bullets ejected down the barrel would behave (mostly) normally. Bullets ejected from any chamber with an unobstructed exit would tumble after exiting the gun, have relatively limited range (because they wouldn’t have had the entire barrel to build pressure and speed), and poor accuracy (as the round would be tumbling in flight, and not spinning, because it hadn’t passed through any rifling.)

What I’m not sure about with revolvers is, if the bullet strikes the frame (which could happen with all 5 out-of-battery rounds) whether the resulting back pressure would be enough to crack the cylinder. The thought process here is that the bullet would strike the frame and stop (causing some damage), but then the gas pressure behind the bullet would continue to build, and if it couldn’t force the bullet out of the cylinder, that force would then push outward against the sides of the cylinder. It is quite possible, particularly with high power cartridges, for that pressure to be enough to crack, or explode, the cylinder itself, causing the gun to literally explode in the user’s hands.

I’m not sure what would happen with tube magazines. Usually you see these on shotguns, though rifle and handgun examples of the design do exist. My suspicion would be that the magazine would (roughly) direct force away from the user, but I’m not sure exactly how that pressure would shake out. The other thing about shotguns is that they’re relatively low pressure weapons. It doesn’t take a lot of force to get shot or slugs moving, so they don’t. When you get into exotic rounds, such as dragon’s breath or flares, there might not be enough powder to cycle the bolt on a semi-auto shotgun. This means, while I’m not 100% sure, it’s possible if your character cooks off the magazine of a Benelli M4, all they’ll actually achieve is slagging the mag tube itself.

Of course, if you did load your shotgun with something like dragon’s breath shells, cleaning that mag out would be really obnoxious.

Detachable box magazines are norm for most modern firearms. Depending on the magazine, and the cartridges loaded in, this could get bad.

First, I need to explain something about basic firearms engineering. Firearms work off a basic, “path of least resistance,” principle. When you ignite a cartridge’s powder, you rely on the chamber to direct that force into the bullet, and push the bullet down the barrel. The entire mechanical system is designed to direct the force of burning powder. If you don’t do that, then the force will be (mostly) wasted. It will push against the least structurally sound part of the cartridge (which is the shell casing), and will barely move the bullet, (because that is the heaviest part of the cartridge.)

In fact, if you were to replicate the skillet scene from John Wick (which you really, really should not), you would likely end up with the bullets still in the skillet after they’d cooked, while the shell casings would have sprayed brass shrapnel in random directions, and probably bounced out of the pan. The dangerous thing about ammo in a fire is, often, the casings, not the bullets themselves.

With a revolver, bullets are always held in the chamber they’ll be fired from, and the gun rotates those cambers into line with the barrel. However, with autoloading designs, the cartridges are not secured in a chamber until they are ready to fire (and moved into battery.) This means, if you detonate those rounds, the casings will explode, while the bullet will (mostly) remain in place.

Importantly, what will not happen, is the gun firing all of the rounds forward from it’s magazine, tearing apart the user’s hand. Instead, the force will be directed outward, and the it may still tear apart the user’s hand.

Most modern box mags are made from aluminum, steel, or plastic. Which one you get will depend on the gun, and, in many cases, particularly rifles, you can pick which you want. Detonating the rounds within will probably (irreparably) damage the magazine. Possibly blowing out the sides. Depending on the specific example, this may be enough force to explode out of a lighter weight magazine. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s enough to blow out the floor plate on some mags. If the magazine remains structurally sound, there will probably be a minor shrapnel blast out of the feed lips. (This is the only part I’d be seriously concerned about, without knowing what kind of gun we’re talking about.)

If the magazine is loaded into a rifle (so, most of the mag is exposed), the structurally weakest part (the floorplate) would be what I’d expect to see fail, blasting shrapnel down, and probably away from the shooter. If the floorplate doesn’t fail, then you might see the magazine mushroom, expanding with the igniting gasses. Depending on the rifle, this may force brass up into the chamber, jamming the action. But, without knowing exactly what we’re talking about, it could be difficult to know for certain. It’s also possible, depending on the exact mag release mechanism, for the expanding gasses to pop the mag lose, which would forcibly eject it from the weapon. But, you’d need to know exactly how the mags on that specific weapon are retained to judge how this would work.

If the magazine is held in the grip, (so, most autoloading handguns), if the magazine mushrooms, it’s possible that it will also deform the grip, making it impossible to remove. Again, I would expect the floorplate to fail before that happened, but it really does depend on the gun.

There are two special cases that deserve mention.

On some drum mags, it’s possible the front plate would break off, and that the combined force of the tightly packed rounds would direct a significant portion of the force forward. (Of course, once the front or back plate failed, I’d expect the wall to fail as well, so the the whole thing could come apart. This isn’t that outlandish, when you know that drum mags tend to be a mechanical nightmare under the best of circumstances.

The FN P90 is a very unusual gun in where it stores it’s ammunition. The magazine is stored flush across the top of the gun, with an unusual turret design at the back. Fifty rounds of 5.7mm are stored horizontally down the length of the gun, and physically rotated 90 degrees when they’re loaded into battery. It’s a very unique firearm. It also means that the magazine is right next to your face, and the only thing separating you from your ammunition is a sheet of translucent polymer. If those rounds were to spontaneously detonate, it would be very unfortunate.

So, while you could do a considerable amount of damage to the gun, and this dangerous, it’s not like you’d suddenly have all of those bullets spraying all over the place turning everyone in the area into chunky salsa. It just doesn’t work that way. At the same time, getting hit by brass shrapnel can injure or kill you. It’s not a bullet, and doesn’t have the range of one, but it doesn’t need to be.

Ironically, the more valuable thing here might be the ability to suppress combustion. As I’ve mentioned before, gunpowder isn’t, actually, explosive, it just burns extremely quickly. This means, your character could potentially prevent rounds from firing, and while it wouldn’t damage the gun, it would also create an obnoxious situation, as the operator would need to manually clear the dud round. Most firearms rely on the recoil generated from the previous shot to cycle the action, so when a cartridge fails to fire, you have to manually cycle the action.

For a more sadistic bent, this also means that the ideal time to detonate that round would be as the operator is removing it from the gun. As they cycle the bolt open to extract the “dud” cartridge, it detonates in their face.

Though, obviously, that would depend on how fine their control was. If they could simply cause things to ignite in an area, that’s going torch the people there as well. If they can suppress combustion over an area, then they could basically negate firearms when needed.

Q&A: Training Your Mage for Martial Combat

Let’s say I have a mage character who wants to “expand” their combat tactics, would it be easier/more efficient to learn to move in armor or learn to use weapons?

If you’ll give a moment to express my bias, I’d say learning armor would be easier.

Okay, let me explain that. I have a little bit of training with a sword. Not enough to say, “oh, I’m an expert on fighting with swords,” but enough to understand that there’s a lot of things to learn, and a lot I don’t know. Training to be effective with a sword will take a lot of time.

So, as someone with no armor training, that much be much easier right?

Kinda, not really. Training for heavy armor requires a lot of conditioning. So, theoretically, it’s easier to learn, but when you get to the physical training, that could take longer, and would require a serious commitment.

So, when you say, “which is easier?” That’s going to depend on the individual.

“Which is more efficient?” Is going to be more relevant to the specifics of your world, and your character.

There’s a lot of potential factors for how magic works in your setting that may heavily influence your character’s choice. An example we’ve talked about in the past is D&D’s arcane spell failure rules. These meant that wizards (and most arcane casters) could not wear armor, without it impairing their ability to cast magic. In turn, there were ways where a wizard could train to use a sword or other melee weapon setup. So, effectively, armor was (usually) not a viable option at all.

Warhammer 40k’s setting offers the opposite option, where psykers (mages), in some cases, can ignore fatal wounds for days. Meaning, weapons are far more valuable than armor.

While 40k trends into absurd power creep, it can be worth considering that mages in your world might not be particularly worried about physical threats. It’s also worth remembering that 40k has a special class of melee weapons (force weapons) that can only be wielded by trained psykers.

Much like your world, the kinds of magic your character practices can have a huge effect on whether they want weapons or armor. An example from D&D is a low level wizard spell called Mage Armor. This will provide the castor with a fairly significant defensive boost (roughly equivalent to wearing some decent armor), and will last for hours. They also have a spell called Shield which can be added on top of Mage Armor, and offers some additional protection, though only for a few minutes per use. When you put these two together, you can end up with a few minutes of armor, without penalty, that rivals full plate.

If your mage has access to those kinds of defenses, then why would they need armor? There may be situations where they would need them. Both D&D and 40k operate with variations of magic canceling fields, and if your mage is dependent on conjured armor to protect themselves, or worse, prevent bleeding out, getting hit by one of those would be a very bad thing. By the same measure, if your mage is dependent on their spells for offense, and they end up in an anti-magic field, they’re not going to be able to do much.

In rereading Mage Armor’s description, I’m reminded of one of the quirks of that spell. The armor itself is, technically, an ethereal field, rather than a physically conjured (and visible) object. This means it actually protects the caster against ethereal foes who can pass straight through conventional armor. This sets up interesting, potential, interactions, and it is the kind of intricacy that can help “sell the reality” of your magic system.

If your character expects to deal with foes who can bypass magical defenses, then physical armor is going to be something they need. Similarly, if they’re dealing with foes who have magical immunity, then resorting to physical attacks may be necessary. Either directly, or by ensuring they have soldiers or mercenaries to do the stabbing.

Another consideration is what your character’s magic can interact with. I mentioned 40k’s force swords a minute ago, but if your character has the ability to temporarily enchant their weapons or armor, that might be a significant consideration in their choice of which to learn. Or, if your setting supports it, you could easily see a battlemage who specifically focuses on channeling magic through their gear. If your mage can empower their weapons and armor to superhuman levels, the correct answer of, “which should I choose,” may be both.

So, which is easier? I’m not sure. It could go either way, though as I said at the beginning, my biases lean towards believing armor is easier to learn.

Which is more efficient? That’s going to depend on what’s possible with magic in your world, and what powers your character has developed.

If you had to pick one, I’d lean on the sword. Not because it’s easier to train, or because it’s more efficient to learn, but because there’s more utility in it.

If your character is under threat, having access to a weapon (especially one that doesn’t reveal they’re a mage), is going to be more useful than having armor. You don’t want to go into combat without armor, but you really don’t want to go unarmed.

This also going to be useful if your character can conjure weapons. In that situation, their martial training will continue to serve them while they’re using magic, and if they do lose access to their magic (for whatever reason) they’re not immediately defenseless.

So, if you have to pick, take the sword. If you don’t, maybe both. It kind of depends on what your character is doing.

-Starke

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Q&A: Symptoms and Combat Implications of Hemophilia

I’m writing a character that has to engage in hand-to-hand combat but she has haemophilia. So, fighting face to face would be the last thing she’d want to do. Is there any fighting styles/techniques that she would learn that would decrease her chance of getting a wound?

For those unfamiliar, Hemophilia is a genetic mutation that impairs clotting. Specifically, the mutation prevents the production of specific proteins responsible for coagulation of blood. This usually gets presented as the patient having difficulty managing injuries suffered, and that part is true; a hemophilic needs to be careful of any injury (including bruising) as it can potentially become life threatening.) However, it goes beyond that.

The reduced clotting factors do mean that injuries, particularly severe ones, will result in difficult to control bleeding. This is also an issue with post-surgery. Spontaneous bleeding can also result in joint stiffness or pain (from internal hemorrhaging around the joints), bleeding into the soft tissue, (which can manifest as bruising or hematomas), chronic, and persistent nosebleeds. A bleed, including a spontaneous one, in a vital organ can kill you.

The defect that produces hemophilia is carried on the X chromosome. This means that, while women can be hemophilic it’s quite rare. Their father would need to be hemophilic, and their mother would either need to hemophilic or a carrier (meaning one of their chromosomes had the mutation, and as a result were not symptomatic.) If their mother was non-symptomatic, there’d still only be 50% chance of their daughters being hemophilic.

Because it’s extremely unlikely to occur in girls, it’s rarely tested for unless symptoms have been identified. (With boys, it’s common to test for hemophilia at birth if there’s any family history of it.) In particular, two major symptoms for women that are tracked are extremely heavy menstrual bleeding, and menorrhagia (where mensuration lasts for more than 7 days.) As a result, it’s uncommon for (mild cases of) hemophilia to be diagnosed in girls before puberty.

Treatment is usually handled by administering concentrated clotting factor proteins to the patient. Keep in mind, this is, “treatment,” not a cure. With sufficient technology, it may be possible to use an implant to administer clotting factor proteins on a regular basis. Of course, it might also be possible to use a retrovirus (such as crisper) to modify and remove the genetic defect. If you’re in a less technologically advanced setting (alternately a disaster scenario that extends over multiple months, or a post-apocalyptic setting), prepackaged protein infusions probably aren’t an option.

When it comes to violence, hemophiliacs really can’t afford to get into a fight. Under normal circumstances, you’re going to end up with minor bruising from hand to hand combat. Add in hemophilia, and that bruising is going to be significantly more dangerous. You’re looking at an internal hemorrhaging risk that someone without the mutation wouldn’t need to worry about. At the upper end of the spectrum, this includes a real risk of seizure from blows to the head, even with a relatively mild cases of hemophilia. Relatively minor trauma can be life threatening for a hemophiliac.

Here’s a problem, martial arts training will include a lot of, “relatively minor trauma.” You’re going to end up with bruises on your arms, on your thighs, on your hands. You’re going to end up with bruises in places you can explain, and bruises in places you can’t. You’re going to get banged up. That’s normal. That’s not accidents. That’s not sparring. That comes from the training itself. You will do it to yourself, and not even be aware of it at the time. Accidents, when they happen, are much worse, and you can easily see broken bones or soft tissue injuries. For a hemophiliac, the normal wear and tear of marital arts training comes with a very real risk of death. This doesn’t mean a hemophiliac can’t train in martial arts (many do), but, it does preclude combat training (and full contact training of any kind.) Hemophilia even precludes joint manipulation, both applying and receiving. It’s stereotyped as the “gentle” form of martial arts, but the strain it puts on your body is actively hazardous to someone with hemophilia. It’s the kind of physical disability a dojo needs to know about, and needs to plan around.

To put this in context, I’m currently looking at a case where a middle aged man fell 3 meters (roughly 10 feet), and was hospitalized from hemorrhagic shock. Meaning, a relatively mild accident, which you or I would probably just complain about, but go on with our day, nearly killed him from blood loss, due to his body’s inability to clot. He was in the hospital for 10 days and had to undergo surgery to survive.

So, while someone with hemophilia can live a full life, mild trauma is life threatening to them. Engaging in violence will kill them. Barring significant medical treatment, they need to live carefully. Additionally, hemophilia among women is real, but is also quite rare, because the mutation needs to occur on both of their X chromosomes.

I’m inclined to say, “no,” there really isn’t this character could be getting into fights (and surviving), unless their clotting factors have been brought up to line with non-hemophiliac blood levels.

-Starke

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Q&A: The (Limited) Implications of Left Hand Dominance in Combat

Does being right or left handed of any importance in a fight? This is probably broad but let’s keep it with weapons like swords, daggers, mace, clubs and the like??

Somewhat. When we’re just talking about using the weapon in a vacuum, it doesn’t matter that much. Similarly, when you’re talking about a duel, where both combatants have a sword, and nothing off hand, it’s not a huge deal.

Being a lefty becomes important in combat in some specific situations.

If you have an off hand tool, such as a parrying dagger, things can get nasty. Parrying works by redirecting the attack away from your body, usually by pushing the attack out. When someone parries with an item in their right hand, they’ll push the attack to their right (their opponent’s left.) Normally, with two right handed users with parrying tools in their off hands, this will allow them to parry each other’s weapon. However, when a left handed user parries a right handed opponent, they will redirect their foe’s weapon arm across, blocking any potential parry.

Worth noting that this goes both ways, and that a combatant facing a foe with the same dominant hand can choose to parry with their primary weapon to strike with their parrying tool, if it can be used that way. (Not all parrying tools can be used to stab your opponent. This is especially true with some varieties of swordbreakers.) Also, if you are parrying with your weapon, to shank someone with your off-hand, you’re going to close the distance.

None of this should really come as a surprise to an experienced soldier. Fighting a left-handed user isn’t as common, but it’s not unheard of.

Also, worth knowing that some duelists will specifically train to fight with their off-hand. It’s intended for showing off. A sort of, “I’m so good, I don’t even need to use my dominant hand.” I’d say it’s not a good idea, except it does have applications, such as if you cannot use your dominant hand for whatever reason. So, it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s not practiced with a practical goal in mind, however it can be useful in rare situations.

Most real castle architecture was designed to favor a right handed, defender. I’m going to use a specific example here, but many spiral stairways are designed so a defender, fighting from an elevated position, will have more room on their right side, giving them more options from which to strike. A right handed attacker will be close to the stone, and have limited options for striking. However, a left handed attacker will be able to exploit some of those architectural designs during the assault. A lefty climbing up the stairs will be able to strike with their less restrained arm.

This can also be seen with some external stairways, where the defender’s right arm will be out over open space, and free to move, while a right handed assaulter will have their weapon arm pressed up against the stonework.

While it’s not relevant to specifically melee weapons, hand dominance can be a major factor with modern firearms, to the point that some guns simply cannot be used with the wrong hand. The big offender are the controls. Safeties, slide releases, and mag ejects, can be ambidextrous, but it’s common to see those designed for a right handed user. Most firearms will eject their shell casings out the right side of the gun. This can be especially awkward if you are left handed. Some rifles (especially bullpups) cannot be operated off-hand, as they will gleefully pelt the user with spent shellcasings. Some grip contours will be uncomfortable, or unusable, if you attempt to hold it with the wrong hand.

This leaves the user with some very specific options. Some firearms can be reconfigured for left-handed use. (This can sometimes be achieved through configuring the weapon itself, though in other cases, you’ll need to replace specific components.) You can simply cope, and adapt your grip. Or, you can learn to operate the weapon off-hand. In my case, my experience with operating rifles right handed is simply because modifying the offending rifles wasn’t an option.

Many left-handed shooters will learn to operate firearms right handed, simply out of necessity. But it’s always nice when you’ve got the option to use a gun with your preferred hand, but, for a lefty, it’s not always an option.

So, does your dominant hand have any importance? Yes, some, but in the vast majority of situations it’s not going to matter that much. Being left handed isn’t that exceptional or unusual. It can affect combat, but it’s not a major consideration.

-Starke

Q&A Followup: Storm Warning

If you included this and I just missed it, really heavy rain affects your visibility and even your ability to breathe normally, especially if it’s cold or windy. Keeping the water out of your eyes/nose/mouth can be a pain even if you’re just walking or standing there. If you have long loose hair it’ll get plastered to your face and get in your mouth or eyes.

Sort of. I intended for for this kind of context to get bundled in under, “it’s rain.” In fairness, that was already a fairly long post, because it was split between talking about adapting spectacle fighters to prose and the weather.

A lot of your suggestions ended up under the general header of, “conditions.” So, let’s talk about that for a moment.

When you’re writing, “conditions,” are an abstract concept.

Things like the weather, time of day, time of year, can all be described as, “conditions.” These modify the scene. However, as a writer, you only need to actually write about them when the have an effect on your characters’ actions or events.

If it’s a clear day, that establishes both the time of day, and the weather. So, clear weather basically means the weather doesn’t matter, while day tells you that everything outside is well lit.

If you have a heavy thunderstorm outside, that will have a lot of effects. It will darken the environment. Light from artificial sources will fall off far faster. It will add significant noise pollution (from the rainfall itself), and also from thunder. The rain will further reduce visibility. Natural surfaces (like dirt or grass) will become soaked and soft, while smooth artificial surfaces (like metal) can become slick (this is less likely with concrete or pavement, but it can happen there as well.)

It’s rain, and if you’ve lived anyplace that experiences heavy storms, most of this should be fairly second nature.

As for hair getting slicked down over your face, that’s never been my experience. Granted, I almost never wear my hair down in public, the single exception of if I’m out during a snowstorm. However, I’ve always found that my hair gets slicked down out of my face when it’s raining heavily enough for that to be a factor. Now, granted, I don’t generally get into fights in heavy rain to see what my hair will do, but even engaging in strenuous physical activity in the rain has never offered this experience.

Similarly, with the mouth and nose. Yeah, if you stand with your mouth open in the rain, you’re going to end up with rain water in your mouth (which is actually a minor health risk, as rain water is not safe to drink), however talking or breathing (even, heavily) isn’t going to fill your mouth with water. With your eyes and nose, the natural contours of your face should shield you from the worst of the downpour. (I’m actually not sure how you’d end up with rainwater up your nose, unless you were prone, or suspended upside down.)

The one time this would become a major consideration is if the rain water is so toxic as to be directly harmful. This is possible, and examples of things like acid rain are real. Needless to say, if this is severe enough to be a consideration, your characters should probably avoid skin exposure to the contaminated rainfall entirely.

Now, as a related concept, rain can be an absolute pain if you wear glasses. Your forehead doesn’t protect your glasses, and this can result in rainwater splattered across your lenses.

Part of the reason I didn’t go too into depth is because there are other potential weather conditions, and I was trying to make the post as generally useful as possible. I may have failed that one. So with that in mind:

Winter storms are a little different. If we’re talking about snow, the initial snowfall has a similar effect to rain, it will muffle noises (though this is different from how rainfall will create overwhelming background noise.) It will reduce visibility, however, it won’t cause light sources to drop off. In fact, snow can sometimes amplify artificial light, bouncing it around. Meaning, you can still see in a snowy environment, when it would be too dark under other circumstances. This is especially true if you’re in an urban environment with ambient light pollution. However active snowfall still obscures vision. Someone in the snow can still see an artificial light source, but they won’t be able to determine what’s going on around it, because that will be obscured.

Snow creates mobility issues, similar to rain. It takes considerably more effort to move through it as it accumulates, and you’re having to break through a layer of snow. However, it applies uniformly, regardless the surface. It can also conceal sudden drops in the terrain, as the accumulation will have a roughly uniform surface. If the snow has been getting compacted down over time, and this isn’t the first storm, you can end up with a layer of ice under the snow. This isn’t immediately apparent, but, of course, it will be very slipery.

Snow has two very specific side problems. Being out in the snow will cause it to accumulate on you, but your own body heat will cause it to melt, leaving you wet, in the cold. Second, if you wear glasses, your glasses will fog up, either as a result of your own breath, or if you move out of the cold and into a warmer space.

As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the only times I wear my hair down, as hair provides excellent insulation. The downside is, of course, when the snow melts, it will you with soaked hair.

It’s important to remember the conditions your characters are in while writing a scene. So, on one hand, the descriptions above may sound overly systemic, it’s almost more important to keep in mind the sensations they’d experience, than sitting there and thinking, “well, it’s raining, so the character’s vision is cut by 20%. This is also where you may want to tweak conditions to create the situation you’re looking for.

If you want the rain to be ominous, then an approaching storm which may be several hours away, with possibly some light drizzle may be all you want. This won’t affect your characters in any systematic way, but it may offer the tone you’re looking for.

If you want your characters to be at a serious disadvantage, then semi-frequent lighting strikes, rain pouring down, possibly even power outages from downed lines, can all provide that. As the writer you have control over the exact nature of what’s happening.

Best of all, those both exist in a continuum. As your characters are working ahead of the storm, you’ll have the first droplets of rain, the sky getting darker. Maybe the early lightning strikes that come well in advance of their thunderclaps. But, as the storm moves in, and the weather worsens, you gradually transition towards what you want from the weather. You’re the writer, you control this.

Tracking conditions isn’t something you need to do as a writer, but if you’re struggling it can help. You can even sketch out little cards or notes describing the conditions for a scene (sort of like stage directions), if it helps you. Just, remember to take that out during rewrites, once you’ve internalized the scene.

You can even extend this idea further, if it is helpful. Such as writing up condition reminders for character injuries, or the consequences of character’s prior actions. So long it helps you. If you don’t feel you need to write up any conditions, don’t worry about it, you don’t have to, and no one will judge you for that. However, if you’re struggling, this may be a helpful system to consider.

-Starke

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Q&A: A preventable Tragedy (Children and Firearms)

There seems to be a trope that when a child plays with a gun they end up shooting themselves or someone else. But how about writing when they do so, can they hurt themselves because of recoil or got their fingers caught in the slide? That never tends to happen, but that is totally possible right? Or at least combined with shooting themselves/someone else? Though I can get recoil/slide injuries being ignored and waysided by the seriousness of getting shot.

That’s not a trope, that happens. Roughly thirteen hundred children die from gunshot wounds in the United States each year. Somewhere just under six thousand are treated for (and survive) gunshot wounds. Now, only about 6% of those deaths (and, I assume the injuries as well) are accidental (the rest are a mix of homicides, suicides, and assaults.)

There are a non-trivial number of non-self inflicted, accidental firearms injuries and deaths where the shooter is a younger child.

If I seem hostile, here’s my problem, this isn’t “a trope,” this isn’t, “a plot contrivance.” This is something actually happens in the real world. Much like drunk driving, it is something where it tends to be more lethal in fiction than reality, and I’m fine with that.

Much like drunk driving, these shootings occur, more often than not, from adults being irresponsible, and there is a serious possibility that someone will end up dead.

Note that I did not say the victim’s parents are responsible. In the US, roughly 40% accidental firearms deaths occur at a friend’s house. (Strictly speaking, I’m being a little more general with this, the exact statistic is 40% of unintentional shooting deaths in the 11-14 age bracket.)

So, what do you do? Secure the gun. Do not “just” hide it. Hiding is insufficient, as roughly 3:4 children know where those firearms are concealed in their house.

Securing a gun means, get a gun safe. It doesn’t matter if you have a handgun, or a full arsenal. Get a safe. This goes beyond just the risk of a child getting their hands on the gun, as it also protects the firearm from theft.

Get and use a trigger lock. Yes, this is a belt and suspenders kind of situation, but it doesn’t hurt to do both. Especially if your safe is combination locked.

Store the ammunition separately from the gun, and keep that secure as well. This is just basic gun safety, but still. Also keep your ammo in a cool, dry location, as cartridges tend to degrade over time if subjected to humidity and temperature extremes.

Go by what the TSA says: If it fires a projectile, it is not a toy. That includes 6mm airsoft, 4.5mm air guns (including BB guns) and paintball. These are not toys, and there is a real danger of permanent injury from mishandling. (Fun trivia, I have actually checked an airsoft pistol through airport security. It was treated like a live firearm. I had to fill out all the paperwork, and storage had to comply with TSA regulations.)

Do not assume that a child will not play with a gun, or that they, “know better.” They will play with it. Guns are mistaken for toys in roughly 16% of accidental shootings where the victim is a child.

I said, I’m okay with shootings like this being presented as more lethal than they are in fiction. What I’m less okay with is the disproportionate representation of this as, “accidental shootings.” Most of the time, when a child is shot, they either did it to themselves intentionally, or were intentionally shot by someone else. As I mentioned earlier, only about 6% of firearms deaths among children arise from accidents. The scenario where a kid is playing with a gun, and doesn’t realize it’s not a toy is vanishingly rare. More often, and horrifyingly, they use the gun as designed.

Stepping away from kids entirely, there are a number of minor ways you can injure yourself while operating firearms.

The firearms community has the wonderful term, “Beretta bites,” which refer to injuries on the thumb, resulting from having the slide recoil into that digit during firing. (This will happen with most semi-auto handguns if you try to keep your thumb on the hammer while firing.) Usually, this refers to a specific pair of chunks taken out of each side of the thumb, and it’s immediately recognizable.

In most cases, these are going to be minor injuries. The kind of cuts you’d either allow to clot on their own, or throw a bandaid over. However, in some cases, these can be deep enough to requires stitches.

I’ve never seen anyone get scuffed from having their hand up by the slide during firing. Generally speaking, you’re not going to put your thumb up next to the ejection port simply because of the ergonomics. The way most handguns are designed, it’s more comfortable to put your thumb in line with your index finger. (If you do pull it back, you’ll end up behind the hammer and we have Beretta bites.) Your index finger and the side of your hand shouldn’t be near the slide, because your index finger would be on the trigger. (Technically, you could pull the trigger with your middle finger, but I doubt many inexperienced users would preferentially do this.)

It is possible to injure your offhand if you hold the gun incorrectly. There’s a lot of potential grips here, where, someone who didn’t know what they should hold onto could be hurt. Weaver and Teacup are the most likely grips, but those are pretty safe. Someone trying to emulate what they saw from John Wick could actually mess up their stabilizing hand by wrapping it around the slide. (Don’t do this.)

It’s also possible to snip your fingertips when the action is closing on some firearms. Dismantling some firearms can be hazardous if you’re don’t know what you’re doing, and I can think of a few handguns that can open up your fingers during reassembly, if you don’t where to put them. (Though, these are all pretty rare, and most of these are associated with disassembling the gun for maintenance, something that an inexperienced user is unlikely to attempt.)

Beyond that, it’s quite easy to burn yourself on a recently used firearm, if you don’t know which parts are safe to touch. (The severity of the burn will scale based on how hot the gun got, and how long contact persisted. This isn’t a serious medical issue in most cases, but you can easily suffer minor burns without much effort.)

It wouldn’t happen to a child, but you can pinch your fingers when you’re loading a magazine into some models of firearms. If the mag’s floorplate sits flush with the base of the grip, be careful. (The SIG Pro 2022 is on my shit list for the sheer number of times has clipped my pinky during reload. I eventually learned to either point my pinky straight away from the gun during a mag change, or completely shift my grip on the pistol during a reload.) The P99, and USP are both guilty of this as well. Oddly I’ve never had an issue with a Glock doing this to me. Even the 33, which uses the floorplate to add additional grip length (the exact same thing the SP2022 does.) Worth noting, every pistol mentioned in this paragraph has a polymer frame. It can hurt, it can raise a blood blister, but I’ve never had them draw blood from a fast mag change. (Also, for the record, I put an unnecessary amount of power into my reloads, I blame the 1911 I learned on. This is entirely a function of how much force the shooter uses when inserting a fresh mag.)

Shell casings can end up in unpleasant places. Again, you’re not likely to suffer serious injury this way, but you can end up with burns if it becomes wedged in your clothing, especially if the gun was under heavy use. (It’s the same thing, the risk of a serious burn is almost non-existent, but it can happen.) The only incident of scarring I’ve ever heard of from shell casings came from a service member who ended up with spent brass wedged under their armor in combat. That said, I have had a Ruger M9 knockoff throw casings at my eyes with enough force to damage my glasses. Eye protection is important.

One final consideration of injuries that absolutely can be sustained is hearing loss. Even under ideal circumstances, if you’re not using any ear protection around firearms, you will suffer some damage, and experience symptoms like ringing and headaches from prolonged gunfights. Again, if you’re going out on the range, wear ear protection.

One final danger can be easily overstated, but is worth remembering. Failure to control recoil on fully automatic firearms. There was a famous incident on August 25, 2014, where a 9 year old girl, at a Nevada shooting range lost control of a 9mm Uzi killing Charles Vacca, her shooting instructor. I’ve run across a handful of other similar stories over the years, including a military instructor in a former Soviet state, where one of his recruits had been messing around with his AK, lost control of the recoil and put a round through his head. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, seriously, full-auto is not a toy. It can be fun, but it’s not something you should ever hand to an inexperienced shooter. The risk something going wrong (however minor) is significantly higher.

If you get shot, triage isn’t going to care if you’ve got some minor bruising on your hand. That won’t kill you. There’s a lot of minor injuries that you can sustain from operating firearms, in most cases these don’t even rise to the level of complaining about it in the moment. If you’re bleeding it, clean it and throw something (sterile) on to stop the bleeding. You don’t want the chemical residues getting into the wound (even if it isn’t particularly dangerous.)

Of course, if you’re shooting recreationally and injured, stop and deal with it. Don’t just ignore it.

If you have kids, and you have firearms in your life, you need to take steps to ensure that you keep them separate, and the kids do not get access to the guns except under your direct supervision. It is your job to educate them.

At the same time, it is also vitally important for you to know if your children’s friends have access to firearms. Like I said, roughly 40% of children who are killed, die at a friends house. With that in mind, it is reasonable to require those weapons are properly secured and stored.

So, the short answer is, yes, adult or child, you can suffer minor injuries from operating a gun as intended. You can also hurt yourself in a multitude of ways that have nothing to do with being struck by a bullet.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Perils in Writing Spy Fiction

I’m writing a James Bond-esque spy (excluding the misogynism). I know full well that real spies aren’t as chic and cool as the percieved image of them are, so how do I write a spy that is more realistic but still retains the cool spy image? She (yes it’s a woman) works for the MI6.

What is, “cool?” I don’t need an answer, I need you to ask that question of yourself.

The problem with Bond isn’t that he’s a misogynist, it’s that he has a casual disregard for everyone around him. James Bond is not a good person. He’s vicious and vindictive. Some adaptations try to soothe the edges, but at the character’s core, Bond is a sneering imperialist. (Ironically, the 2006 adaptation of Casino Royale even comments on this in passing.)

My intro to American Politics instructor started her 100 level course with the comment that, “everything is politics.” James Bond is a character that carries a very potent, and political, statement baked right into the core of Ian Flemming’s power fantasy. Bond is the last gasp of the British Empire insisting that it, alone is suited to rule the world. Bond’s anglocentrism isn’t cartoonish, but it’s always there, and it informs a lot about how he behaves.

The worst part about Bond is how the fantastical elements further this. It’s easier to couch the semi-fictional SMERSH (СМЕРШ) as simple cold war posturing. However, in an effort to make the novels, “apolitical,” Flemming transitioned to SPECTRE, an organization that was patterned heavily off the Italian mob.

Anyone else see the problem here?

By making Bond’s foes into cartoonish supervillains, it endorses his worldview.

How do you deal with this? By necessity, spies need to have a functional understanding of international politics. If you’re wanting to work around a real place, take some time, and read up on the background. Some of that is the basic demographics, and culture, but also get conversant in the history, and current events. It’s what a real spy needs to do before operating there, and as a writer, something you need to do as well. Ironically, the CIA Factbook is still an excellent overview. and can be a starting point before digging into more specialized sources.

Stepping back, James Bond, as a character, isn’t the problem, it’s the genre that Flemming created. I would actually argue that, in spite of being a detestable piece of shit, Bond is actually a fairly well written character (mostly.) (There are some details that don’t work, or are downright comedic, such as the sheer amount of alcohol he consumes on a daily basis, or comparing his daily athletic regimen with how much he smokes.) The real danger (and this has plagued the film adaptations) is lifting the character without really ripping him apart to figure out what’s going on under the surface.

If you’ve never read Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, it is an excellent spy comic. Granted, it’s about as far as you can get from a James Bond superspy series. Worth noting that series protagonist Tara Chace is a Special Operations Officer for MI6.

Beyond that, the early seasons of Burn Notice do an excellent job of blending practical tradecraft into a fairly slick spy series. It rarely trends into international man of mystery territory, but there are some discussions on the subject. Really, if you want an easily digestible spy primer, you can learn a lot from Burn Notice.

Finally, John le Carré is another easy recommendation. Usually, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is people’s introduction, but that’s actually halfway through a much longer series.

It may occur to you that none of those series are even in the same genre as Bond. There’s a reason, if you want to write a spy, you need to understand who they are as a character. The problem with Bond is that he almost never breaks from his cover identities. You can’t get an honest answer out of him about, basically, anything. Most of the superspy genre (and a depressing number of the Bond films) run with that, and accept the cover at face value. So you’re left with a character who only makes sense as a complete sociopath.

So, what you probably want to do is come to grips with the kind of person your character really is, and then you get them to pretend to be someone else on top of that.

Spies are difficult characters to pin down. The superspy genre tends to gloss over the surface read and leave you with superheroes and unfortunate implications. There’s isn’t a quick route into the mindset of a spy, but, stepping back from Bond, and looking at more grounded spy fiction, before continue will help you find that mindset.

-Starke

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