All posts by Michael Schwarz

Setting Goals for Your Characters

Not sure how to properly ask this but how do I write a fight scene between two characters who are both trained but might have different skill sets, while anyone still might get out alive that it could factor in?

Two things come to mind. First, it’s unlikely that you’re writing from both character’s perspectives simultaneously. Second, not every fight is going to be to the death.

When you’re writing a scene, it’s important to have clear goals for the participants. Violence is a way your characters attempt to exert their will on the world around them, it doesn’t simply occur for its own sake. (This isn’t a moral judgement; just that if your violence lacks motivation, it will come across as hollow. There are ways to leverage this, but, that’s a more complicated topic.) If you have two characters who want each other dead, then chances are someone’s not walking away. However, if you have characters with different goals, then any combat that occurs will be at cross purposes.

You don’t necessarily need to explain those goals to your audience. In fact, by default, your characters are unlikely to know their foe’s goals. That’s the biggest consideration in the other part of this question.

Your characters aren’t part of a psychic gestalt. They don’t automatically know what the other people around them are thinking, feeling, or planning. Even with an omniscient narrator, your characters won’t know their foes thoughts and plans, though the audience may be. With a limited narrator, you’re going to be writing the scene from the perspective of one of your characters, and, again, they won’t know what their foe is planning.

When both of your characters have the same background, it can provide an edge against one another. They’ve had the same training, and they’ll have learned the same strategies, tactics, and techniques. This means they have some ability to predict the other’s actions. They’ll be in a better position to predict their foe’s goals, and how what they’ll do to realize them.

If your characters have different backgrounds and skillsets, they won’t have that advantage; that’s the difference. They’ll have to guess at their foe’s methods, based on the information they have. They’re less likely to know what their foe wants, and they won’t know how their foe will go about achieving their goals.

So, how do you write two characters with different backgrounds in conflict? By remembering that they’re different people, and don’t know what the other person was trained to do.

-Starke

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How Wearing a Skirt Affects Combat

How would wearing a dress/skirt hinder combat? No, my characters aren’t planning to fight in one, but it’s what they are wearing when being attacked.

That’s a bit defensive.

As general writing advice, you create the setting and scenarios. You have control over that. If you can establish how your characters got to the starting points, where they go from there, that’s all you need to justify. Your work lives or dies based on your faith in it, and if you’re stepping back and trying to preemptively defend it, you know something’s gone wrong. What you want to do is get out ahead of that criticism and shut it down before you’re worried about defending it.

Most people do not dress with combat in mind. Even characters who know what they’re doing will sometimes have to dress for occasions where they’ll have to wear something uncomfortable and restrictive. This goes for both genders.

Beyond that, real people, in the real world, make poor choices with distressing frequency. This is especially true when they’re under stress and dealing with unfamiliar and dangerous situations.

Historically, people fought in skirts. The kilt is still a part of some traditional regalia, and they were worn to war.

The issue is how much any article of clothing restricts your movement. Tight skirts which restrict your movement will continue to do that in combat (unless they tear), looser skirts which don’t restrict your movement won’t, and won’t have much effect on your ability to fight. This is also true for, basically, any article of clothing. A tight jacket or skin tight jeans, which limit your mobility will continue to do that in combat, while looser streetwear won’t.

Long and flowy clothing can get caught, and, depending on how sturdy it is, torn. Somewhat obviously, if you’re wearing something you can’t tear off or discard, and it gets caught, that’s going to effectively hold you in place. Though, in many cases, this is more of a path towards damaging or destroying articles of clothing.

So, how does a skirt effect your ability to fight? It’s like any other article of clothing: If it restricts your movement, it restricts your movement. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

-Starke

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Equipping and Using Armor

How long should armour/costumes take to put on? Also it seems from films, there are so many complaints about such being ill-fit, and taking a long time to wear, movement restricting, too heavy. I get it’s filming but we’re expecting the characters are able to freely fight in them and get in and out at ease. In other words, what we see is too impractical and unrealistic in reality. So what is actually realistic and something you could really see working?

So, there’s a huge difference between armor and costumes. There’s also a wild difference in the amount of time (for either) based on what you’re talking about.

Something like a gambeson or breastplate could be put on fairly quickly. Somewhat similar to putting on any other article of clothing (though, admittedly, the breastplate may be a poor example here depending on the design.)

On the other end of the spectrum, something like full plate would require a second person to strap the wearer in, though I’m not sure on exactly how much time it would take. A modern reenactor can get into plate in ~10 minutes, though that number will vary based on the armor in use, and it’s likely that a professional combatant in the era could have easily shaved a few minutes off that time. So, it’s not an incredibly drawn out process, but it is still something you’d need to do before combat began.

As he demonstrates, getting out of your armor is considerably easier than getting into it, but there are still going to be buckles in hard to reach places that will require assistance. His estimate of it taking about a third as long to get out, is probably a pretty sound guess.

Too heavy is a very subjective criticism; it is entirely dependent on the wearer’s conditioning. Historical armor weights vary wildly depending on the style, and material. The video example above weighs just under 60lbs, which is slightly lighter surviving historical examples from the 14th century.

Ironically, soldiers today tend to have heavier carry loads than someone armored in full plate with their kit.

The reality was that fully articulated armor offered the wearer a lot of mobility, and combined that with protection. While it is, “heavy armor,” that is weight that a professional combatant could condition themselves to, and wouldn’t really interfere with their ability to move and fight. If you have armor that seriously impairs your ability to move, that’s just going to get you killed.

Ironically, the bigger issue wasn’t the weight of the armor, it was the way the armor could trap heat, and exhaust a combatant who didn’t have the conditioning for it.

This is where you’ll get into a specific problem that’s basically impossible to lock down because it’s going to depend on the individual. If you’re putting actors in period appropriate reproduction armor, they might find that very uncomfortable, and may not have the condition (or the desire to build up the conditioning) to be effective in it. They’re not going to need to actually fight in the armor. Additionally, it’s entirely possible that the costume designers created armor that isn’t really functional. This is a weird edge case, because at that point you do have a costume, not armor, and it doesn’t matter if it would be impossible to actually fight in armor designed to those specifications, because the actors are going to do what the script tells them to.

There’s actually a lot of examples of downright terrible armor designs in films, that would be more dangerous to the wearer. Any armor with, “boob plate,” come to mind off hand, but that’s an entirely different topic.

Now, having just dunked on that, there are a lot of films, and TV where the production team takes the time to make functional armor designs, or use historically accurate(-ish) reproductions. (Sometimes you’ll see some anachronisms. Post-gunpowder armor designs in a pre-gunpowder setting is a very common example.) The considerations of filming work better if your actors can move and interact with their environment. If they’re comfortable and mobile, then that’s not problem for the production.

One of the biggest examples of armor that simply doesn’t work which you’ll see frequently in pop culture, isn’t heavy at all, it’s leather. While leather was used as a component of armor (such as the straps in the example above), nobody was making armor out of leather. The image of a stealthy knife fighter in bondage gear has the same historical authenticity as Leonidas’s leather speedo crew. Which is to say: None.

Leather was used in clothing (just like it is today), and if you’re looking at a character like Aragorn (and, I mean, specifically Aragorn, as in the creepy murder hobo wandering around in the forest), then leather clothing makes a lot of sense. But that’s not armor.

When it comes to armor weight, most of it is going to come from the chain. Chainmail is excellent protection. It has its weaknesses, but it’s a very solid starting point. Padded armor gets a bad reputation in modern pop culture, but was also shockingly effective. It’s easy to forget, but that was armor, and it did work. Plate was an effective outer shell, protecting your chain from the worst of the abuse you’d take.

So, in asking, “what works?” Historical armor worked. It worked very well. Even things like full plate (when they’re based on historical examples) were things you could actually move and fight in. Now, you needed training, you needed the conditioning to effectively function in that armor, but real people did that.

-Starke

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Gunshots and Hearing Loss

How do constant sounds from firing guns affect hearing? Do soldiers use some kind of protection?

Yes.

The sound of a modern firearm discharging is loud enough to cause damage to the ear. This will result in hearing loss over time, it can also result in migraines and tinnitus. Hearing loss is the most common disability among US Military veterans. Basically, if you spend a lot of time around discharging firearms, without wearing ear protection, will suffer some degree of hearing loss.

Soldiers should be wearing hearing protection at all times, but, that doesn’t mean they always do. Same thing is true for people at a firing range. They should be wearing eyes and ear protection at all times, but you’ll see idiots who eschew them semi-frequently (at least, at poorly policed ranges. Some ranges will be a lot more careful about this for liability reasons.)

The US military issues dual use earplugs designed to filter out loud battlefield noises, which could cause hearing damage, while simultaneously not filtering lower volume sounds. I’m not sure how effective these are, as there was a major lawsuit back in 2015, regarding the earplugs produced by 3M.

Either way, if you’re using a modern firearm, you should be wearing ear protection of some kind. This isn’t as true historically. The actual problem isn’t the gun, it’s the propellent. Modern firearms use (variations of) “smokeless powder.” Smokeless powder dates back to the late 19th century, and had a lot of implications for firearms engineering. It burns more cleanly than black powder. This means there’s less fouling in the gun. (Fouling is residual unburned powder remaining behind in the firearm.) This means that firearms built to use smokeless powder cartridges can be far more mechanically complex. The downside is that smokeless powder gunshots are significantly louder than black powder ones. Which is why I’ve been stressing, “modern firearms.”

So, in answer to your questions: Yes.

-Starke

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Selecting Firearms for Hunting Monsters

What is the best equip choice for a monster hunter (urban, in modern days)? Such as: shotgun, rifle middle-distance, precision rifle long-distance, handgun?

All of the above, and then some.

Honestly, the distinction between mid-range and long-range rifles is a bit misleading in an urban setting. You’re probably not engaging at ranges where an intermediate cartridge is going to start falling off, but at the same time, you could be dealing with creatures that justify anti-material rounds.

Shotguns are excellent tool for dealing with large creatures (or humans) at ranges up to around 100 meters. These are not the melee range weapons that a lot of pop culture (especially video games) presents them as. They’re also an excellent option for specialized rounds. Shells like Dragon’s Breath (a mix of metals that ignite on contact with air), flares, and FRAG12s all come to mind off hand. Though there’s also things like beanbag rounds and riot slugs, which may be relevant if you’re dealing with something immune to metal bullets.

Shotgun gauge is an archaic measurement system. It’s based on fractions of a pound. If you were to take a 12th of a pound of lead, and form it into a perfect sphere, you’d get the muzzle diameter of a 12 gauge shotgun. A 20th of a pound would get the muzzle diameter of a 20 gauge and so on. There is one hickup, .410 shotgun shells, aren’t 410 Gauge, they’re 11.43mm, and that’s because .410 is actually a caliber, from back before caliber was just fractions of an inch, and was still a ratio.

Assault rifles use intermediate cartridges (usually, 5.56mm NATO, or 5.45mm for Warsaw Pact weapons) and are theoretically effective at up to 300 meters. The two largest families of Assault Rifles are the AR-15 pattern rifles (this includes the American M16 and M4, but also a legion of other rifles by many manufacturers), and the AK family (primarily the AK47, which I’ll come back to in a second, and the AK74, but, again, there are many rifles in this family.)

Assault Rifles are generally the domain of military, police, or similar groups. If your monster hunters are government sanctioned, they may be able to get access to and use assault rifles without issue. However, if they’re not, then these weapons may not be available to them.

There’s another class of Assault Rifles that predate the modern ones. Sometimes referred to as battle rifles, these are high power .30 rifles. They have significantly more recoil, but also have considerably longer ranges. These include the FN FAL, the M14, and the H&K G3. These have experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with rifles such as the FN SCAR.

For extreme situations, there’s the anti-material rifles. These are frequently chambered in .50 (12.7mm) or something similar. They’re intended for neutralizing armored vehicles and can deliver a lot of destructive force at over a kilometer. Worth noting that explosive .50 rounds are a thing (but don’t reliably detonate if they hit a person, as the impact is insufficient to trigger the payload.)

Handguns have a much more narrow application. They’re most useful when dealing with humans, or monsters that aren’t much more durable than a normal human.

As for, “what’s best?” That’s going to heavily depend on the situation at hand and what your characters are fighting.

If your monster hunters are basically supernatural vigilantes, the best things they could get their hands on may just be handguns, hunting rifles, and pump-action shotguns.

If they’re professional monster hunters, they may have access to hardware that isn’t readily available, such as automatic rifles, or winch mounted crossbow bolts.

There’s also solutions that may not relate to weapons at all. In the John Steakley novel Vampire$, the hunters preferred method is to roll up in the middle of the day and demolish the vampire’s nest around them, letting the sun actually finish off the creatures inside. (Honestly, I much prefer John Carpenter’s film adaptation, even if it strips out the logistics of monster hunting.)

When you’re writing monster hunters, you can create a lot of tension between what your characters are facing, and the tools your characters can get their hands on.

A zombie outbreak isn’t going to be very threatening if your characters are well trained, well equipped, and have the authority to quarantine and summarily execute any suspected carriers. If anything, a scenario like that, where infections occasionally pop up and are put down, could lend a very mundane quality to something that sounds fantastical. “Zombie removal,” except it’s like animal control, or sanitation workers. (Ironically, this was a major thematic joke in the original 1984 Ghostbusters.)

Conversely, when your monster hunters are underequipped, lack the resources, and the support, necessary to track or deal with something, even a relatively non-threatening cryptid could pose a significant challenge.

Even if your characters gear up for one threat, they may be poorly equipped if they encounter something they weren’t expecting. For example: a group of vampire hunters could find themselves in a very bad situation if they instead find themselves dealing with a pack of werewolves.

In general, “best,” is always going to be situational. Pick the right tool for the right job, and familiarize yourself with the options. In a lot of cases, the answer may be a tactic or strategy rather than just bringing the right hardware.

-Starke

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On the Challenges of Hearing Impairment in Combat

How would being deaf or other hearing difficulties affect fighting? Could one good ear be worse off than completely deaf? I don’t think it matters with long range weapons, but could it?

The biggest problem is, simply, situational awareness. If you can’t hear, then you can’t hear. So, you have one less sense to track potential threats in your environment.

In a simple one-on-one situation, this isn’t likely to have major ramifications, but in a less controlled environment, with more potential enemies, it means your ranged senses are limited to what you can see.

There’s also a reflex implication. It takes the brain longer to parse visual data than auditory data. We’re talking about fractions of a second, but it is a factor.

In situations where sounds are the first sign that something’s happened you wouldn’t have that information. For example, if someone starts shooting and you’re not looking directly at them, you would need to parse what you’re seeing, and then realize what that meant. That’s a significant delay over someone in a similar mindset who could hear the initial gunshots.

Generally speaking, if you have one functioning ear, you still have a sense of hearing. The only thing you lose is the ability to effectively track direction.

There are situations where not being able to hear is a marginal advantage. Particularly with firearms. If your ears don’t work, you don’t need to worry (as much) about damaging them from loud noises. Modern gunpowder is loud enough to cause hearing damage, and that’s something that you don’t need to worry about if you can’t hear anything to begin with.

This extends to situations where someone with functional ears can end up with crippling headaches, and tinnitus for days after prolonged gun battles. Now, if you are deaf, you can still suffer from tinnitus, and in some ways it’s worse, because you cannot drown out the ringing with ambient sound.

Related to that, because firearms are so loud, communication in combat is primarily non-verbal. You can’t shout, or hear each other, over the gunfire. This has lead to an advanced system of hand gestures. So, you don’t need hearing to be able to function in a gun battle, and you have a marginal advantage in that you don’t need to bring hearing protection, and won’t suffer from its absence.

-Starke

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How Distance Affects the Sound of a Gunshot

I live near a military base and a wood, and I regularly hear both the training of the soldiers and shooting from hunters. So is it reasonable to assume one would hear a hunting rifle shot from about a distance of 100/200m when inside a house? A friend of mine says no, claiming shots aren‘t that loud and wouldn‘t be overheard. I think otherwise, but perhaps I overimagine?

So, this is actually a shockingly complex topic, and I’ll try to keep it somewhat simple, but there are a lot of factors that seriously skew these numbers.

If there was no environment, and just natural atmospheric fall off, 200m from a high power rifle going off would still potentially be loud enough to cause pain. And you could still hear the rifle going off at a kilometer, at roughly the volume of a conversation. (It works out to around ~40 decibels, so, audible but not especially loud.)

The only time you’re likely to encounter something like this is if a shooter is firing out over a valley. (Worth noting is that atmospheric humidity will heavily affect sound propagation. If I remember correctly, low humidity will reduce sound propagation, while high humidity will increase it. However, I don’t know exactly how much this affects, and I could be remembering this backwards.) However, the valley example is somewhat artificial, because in any real space, the valley’s terrain will affect propagation.

Related to this, sound transmits very well across hard surfaces. So if you’re in an urban environment, sound will echo off the buildings, down the roads, and it will travel farther (or, more accurately, it will retain volume over longer distances.) This is also true for sound traveling across bodies of water. It will be easier to hear a rifle being fired from across a lake, than within a dense forest, closer to the shooter. In fact, using the example above, that rifle shot would still be ~85 decibels after a kilometer over open water.

Then there is the inverse, foliage, and even just grassy meadows will dramatically reduce the propagation of sound. A properly constructed outside range can make use of earthen berms. On their own, these will significantly reduce the perceived volume of a gunshot. Just breaking line of sight between the gunshot and the listener will significantly reduce the sound transmitted to them. So, with grassy berms shielding an outside range, you could easily drop that 127dB rifle shot down to ~85dB at 200m. Add some dense trees around the range, and might be able to drop it low enough that it would be extremely hard to hear over ambient noise in a residential dwelling at those ranges.

I’m not sure exactly how much noise absorption you’re getting from the woods, but it would not surprise me if you can hear hunters taking shots. Especially if the terrain is (mostly) flat, and you have an effective line of sight on the shooters (even if you can’t actually see them.) Similarly, if you have windows open, that’s not going to mitigate the sound of a gunshot.

As for the military range, it’s entirely possible you can hear that as well, depending on how the range is constructed, and the exact terrain between you and them. If they’re on the other side of a river, you could absolutely hear that over the water.

That said, it sounds, from your description, like the shots are fairly quiet (under 40dB), which, yeah, that’s absolutely plausible at those ranges.

-Starke

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The Problem with Citing Paulus Hector Mair

I know that you’ve answered a bunch of questions about scythes before but I’m surprised there haven’t been any mentions of Paulus Hector Mair’s (a master fencer’s) writing on the matter. He also writes about sickles.

kizoqt

First of all, we have mentioned him before. He last came up about four years ago in response to a question about scythe dueling.

Calling Paulus Hector Mair a master fencer is overstating his qualifications. He was was trained as a fencer, but worked as a civil servant in sixteenth century Augsburg, Germany. He was eventually executed for embezzlement of city funds in 1579. Ironically, that crime is why we’re talking about him today.

Mair would have been a forgotten footnote in Augsburg city politics. He was a minor noble who burned through his family’s fortune before turning to embezzlement to support his hobbies. One of those hobbies was the collection of various dueling treatises.

He spent an absurd amount of wealth collecting various historical fencing treatises, and then edited and compiled a swath of them into, what’s now referred to, as his work.

You can think of him as the sixteenth century equivalent to your weird friend who obsessively collects rare RPG sourcebooks, and then and them compiles a massive single version, complete with some homebrew modifications, without any regard to citations. Good luck figuring out what came from where, and what’s been modified.

Mair is relevant, and even somewhat important today, because he collected a lot of material that was not otherwise preserved. The problem is, he wasn’t particularly careful about documenting what he had, or where it came from. Some portions can be properly attributed to their original authors. Unfortunately, the section on scythes is not one of these cases.

There are ten illustrations of scythe techniques. Mair attributes these to, “the ancients,” though it’s unclear which civilization he was referring to. (In some other cases he uses “the ancients” to refer to Alexander The Great’s campaigns, so it’s possible he meant pre-Hellenic Greece.) It’s also unclear what the source was for those scythe techniques. It’s quite possible Mair was simply, “making it up as he went along,” and to the best of my knowledge, there is no known source for that text (ignoring Mair himself.)

Also worth noting, the illustrations in the surviving Dresden manuscript appear to be contemporary with Mair. So, even if he was referencing much older artwork, we don’t have that. We only have the Renaissance era diagrams and Mair’s text.

When you try to research the use of the scythe (not including the war scythe) in combat, the vast majority of sources track back to Mair, but Mair never used the scythe in duels. He explained how to use the scythe in duels, but didn’t actually say where, when, or even if that ever happened, simply attributing it to, “the ancients.”

In that sense, Mair is the only real source for scythe dueling, but he’s also not an entirely reliable source. In researching this, I’m left in the uncomfortable situation that it’s kind of like looking at a Renaissance era Know Your Meme article. Here are all these goofy pictures of people dueling with scythes, and completely straight faced text explaining what you’re looking at. Did anyone ever actually do this, or were the pictures a joke that eluded Mair?

-Starke

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The Myth of Forensic Science and its Consequences

I don’t think ballistics analysis is as effective as they portray it on TV though…

greater-than-the-sword

It’s not. I’m just putting that one out there as a universal statement, without doing additional research on ballistics analysis, because I am that confident that this statement is correct.

The issue isn’t ballistics, it’s the presentation of forensics as a whole. Forensic Science enjoys an extremely unrealistic presentation in popular media. This isn’t unique to forensics, but because the field is far more esoteric, a lot of people get their only primer on Forensics from shows like CSI. This is a very real problem.

TV frequently presents forensics as infallible. This should not be surprising. Most fiction works off some variation of protagonist/antagonist conflict, and if your fiction starts is building off of the framework of police hunting, “the bad guy,” then forensics becomes a convenient form of deus ex machina. One that is completely socially acceptable in modern media. Of course the hair samples collected can put the, “bad guy,” at the scene.

This has real world consequences, because juries; real world juries in America today, are very likely to accept forensic evidence as absolute proof, even when they shouldn’t. They’ve been primed by decades of TV to accept anything a forensic scientist says as factual, and in the vast majority of cases those experts are testifying on behalf of the state.

There’s, also, an inverse, where cases which lack forensic evidence are much harder to convict, with juries skeptical of prosecutions which lack forensic support.

But, hey, you got hair and fiber, right? Turns out, the FBI’s elite hair and fiber techs were full of shit the entire time. For over 20 years, the FBI presented an image of forensic hair and fiber matches a new method in crime fighting science, but in reality it was only slightly more advanced than looking at the materials and going, “yep, looks similar.” It was entirely subjective, and not even remotely scientific, but this resulted in convictions (and more than a few executions.)

It’s also not the only story like this, with bite matching as another highly subjective and un-scientific form of forensic matching. You can get lucky and have a very distinct bite pattern, but it’s not a definitive, “oh, yeah, this was definitely this individual,” unless it’s something distinct to that person’s mouth.

One that might be a surprise is fingerprint matching. Fingerprint matching is shockingly subjective. We’re all told that, “every fingerprint is unique,” but that’s never been confirmed. It’s unlikely that you’ll find duplicate finger prints, but when you’re only looking at partials, the chances of a duplicate is much higher. Modern forensics uses a point matching system of identifying specific “features” in the print itself, but that system is entirely subjective. So, when someone is reporting that they have a 10pt match, what they’re also saying is that there’s possibly large parts of the print that do not match. But, the forensic tech is the sole arbiter of that decision.

Combine this with the fact that most forensics labs are directly affiliated with law enforcement organizations, and you have a very clear conflict of interest.

In the case of ballistics, it’s entirely subjective. There’s no point system. There’s no procedure. Just a forensic tech looking at two bullets and saying, “yep, looks similar.” However, thanks to a generation of loyal TV viewers indoctrinated by prime time crime dramas, they’re ready to accept that the forensic scientist speaks with authority.

Still probably shouldn’t use the same firearm for multiple assassinations, because if that tech decides your assassin’s weapon was the one used, the jury’s going to be entirely too happy to convict.

-Starke

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Sniping is a Singular Skillset with Specialized Tools

Hello! I just read that a fatal shot by 1000yd for a killer is a bad tactical choice, because of all the possible variables (mobility of the target, time [1-2s are needed at this distance, is that right?], weather etc.). What do you think about it?

I don’t agree with the, “bad tactical choice,” angle. I’m honestly not sure where that’s coming from.

If your weapon is a .308 or (worse), a 5.56mm, you don’t have the option at all. Those rounds are not effective at that range. On the other hand, if you have something like a .338 Lapua Magnum or one of the 12.7mm AM rifles, it’s entirely possible you could put someone down at over 1km.

So, is it, “a bad tactical choice?” No, it’s a specific choice. It will be a very difficult shot, but it’s not impossible. This is why dedicated snipers are specialists. It is a singular skillset. Travel time affecting where the target will be is ironically one of the smaller considerations. Being able to predict where someone will be in a little over a second is trivial in comparison to accounting for things like gravity, cross winds, air pressure changes, and the earth’s rotation. All of which become real considerations when you’re putting bullets into targets at extreme ranges.

Hitting targets at over 1km are shots that your average shooter would not be able to make, and very few common rifles are even effective at those ranges. This is, quite literally, why rounds like .338 were developed. To give military snipers a round that could penetrate body armor at 1,000 yards.

So, if your sniper has the skill set, the experience, and the weapon, being able to kill someone at 1,000 yards, and then escape before the enemy can locate where the shot came from, is a very sound option.

Having said that, you will frequently see snipers in fiction making pretty egregious tactical blunders. A couple big ones are snipers setting up in locations that leave them very exposed, and don’t give them enough escape routes. Setting up on rooftops ticks both of these boxes.

If you’re on the roof of a building, you’ve got limited ways down and are visible to anyone who looks up. This is fine for security marksmen, who don’t need to worry about being hunted down if they take a shot, but for an assassin it’s a huge liability. If the responding security group knows they were in that building, and can lock it down before the sniper is outside, they’re trapped.

A shot from a lower floor can be just as effective, but harder to pinpoint, and puts the sniper closer to an escape onto the street.

Now, a sniper rifle is a poor tool for a professional assassin, for reasons that might not be entirely obvious. Rifles, even mass produced ones, are still individual mechanical objects. They have quirks, and these will become more noticeable when you’re using them at extreme ranges. A sniper will spend a lot of time working with their rifle and documenting exactly how it behaves, so they can account for that when the time comes to put a round into someone at over 2km. (Yeah, when we’re talking about the .338 Lapua Magnum, it’s worth remembering this round has a maximum effective range somewhere around 2.7km.)

For a professional assassin (who doesn’t want to have all their hits linked together by police forensics), their firearms are disposable. If you used a gun to kill someone, that bullet is on file somewhere, and it’s time to slag the gun and get a replacement. Obviously, extremely expensive rifles with long acclimation periods are not a good fit for this approach to firearms. Something like a SIG 716 would still run a couple grand, but if you’re only putting a 7.62 round into someone at 500m, it’s a lot easier to build your proficiency to that point, and as a semi-auto rifle, it’s a lot easier to quickly account for errors and idiosyncrasies of the rifle.

But, yeah, if your situation is one where you can set up and wait (possibly for days) until you can take the shot and escape undetected, snipers are a valid tactical option. If you’re asking about getting into close range firefights, these kinds of precision rifles are going to fair much worse.

-Starke

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