Q&A: Let’s Talk About Force

How do I portray injuries and how it affects people during fights correctly? There’s always portrayals of bones cracking, blood spewing from mouth, direct hits to the head and other weak points, etc during fights. Yet they continue on fighting, or if they go down, they’re up soon. But exactly how much can someone take or continue to fight after such injuries? Assuming more or less normal humans, no superpowers, but they might be in very good condition.

Most of what you’re describing is Hollywood’s license, but your teeth aren’t as well secured inside your mouth as most people think. If you don’t lock your jaw when you’re struck, you’re at risk for biting the inside of your cheek or even biting off parts of your tongue. (That’s why we wear mouthguards.) This is where the spitting of the blood comes from. Direct hits to the head are bad, but you can sometimes focus through them depending on the severity of the injury. (Also, what hit you in the head and how hard.)

The practical answer for learning how to portray injuries is to take martial arts classes. Not because you’re going to get hurt, but because you’ll learn how people fight, what martial arts techniques are designed to do, and mind over matter. Write what you know is real advice and it’s good advice, and if you don’t know — learn. (And I mean learn in a safe environment from professionals and not by trying to throw punches in a backyard. YouTube is supplementary.) There’s a physicality to violence, even recreational, sport violence, that has to be experienced before you can replicate it accurately.

Learning the limitations of adrenaline is also useful. When your body’s adrenaline kicks in, you feel significantly less pain from injuries received. (This doesn’t mean the injuries are any less severe because you can’t feel them.) When your mind isn’t aware of pain, you can force your body to do some pretty insane things. Adrenaline is your body’s natural reaction during periods of high activity, danger, or acts as a response to stress. It’s there to help you survive, but doesn’t always work in beneficial ways.

The other way to really understand injuries is to study medicine, particularly the outcomes of shootings, bar fights, and other violent encounters. This one is going to be dependent on how strong your stomach is.

So, how far are you willing to go for your art?

Fortunately, most readers don’t care about accuracy. Most people couldn’t tell you the difference between the use of a spear and the use of a bow when hunting. They couldn’t tell you how long deep bruises last (or any bruises) or the length of time it takes to recover from a sprain, much less a broken bone. They don’t realize muscular conditioning decays over time. They don’t know how deep a knife needs to penetrate in order to hinder the movement of your muscles (not very) or how even your sweat can become deadly. Hell, most people don’t know bullets go through walls, car doors, couches, and chairs.

You have a lot more room to maneuver than you think and that means you get to choose the degree of reality you want. No one is going to care so long as you create a facsimile within your narrative that feels real from the bottom to the top. That is suspension of disbelief’s power.

Let’s get started.

The first truth you must accept is that everything you see from Hollywood is inaccurate unless the work specifically went out of it’s way to be accurate, and even then it’s subject to artistic license. (And, it’s important to grasp this because everything you do as a writer is subject to artistic license. Sometimes the presentation is a failing on the part of the creators and sometimes it’s a choice.)

Everything about Hollywood violence is structured around entertainment, including the injuries.

Every Hollywood action hero, whether we’re told they have super powers or not, is actually a superhero because they can walk off inhuman levels of punishment.

Even Bruce Willis’ John McClain in the original Die Hard, which is an action film devoted cataloguing the kind of injuries one would realistically sustain while engaging in heroic antics and using John’s accumulation of ever more grievous injuries to propel the narrative forward, isn’t entirely realistic. Hollywood most often uses the puffy, swollen, blackened, ugly way someone’s face looks after getting socked multiple times as comedy. If you want an example of the vast gap between semi-reality and the fiction you consume regularly, watch the first Die Hard and then the last Die Hard back to back.

The reality of the levels of punishment which can be endured is for someone to keep fighting? More than you imagine, but not much as you’d think. You’re not going to walk off a broken leg. The average street fight lasts twenty five seconds. That’s twenty five seconds, not twenty five minutes, and that’s people who don’t know what they’re doing. We romanticize violence to the point where we forget that martial combat is the science of injuring and killing other humans. Humans as a species are very good at killing each other, we’ve spent epochs developing the art. (That doesn’t mean you, the individual, would automatically be good at it or have any native instinct for it. The type of violence most people imagine are learned skills.)

The goal of a professional is to end the threat as quickly as possible while reducing the risk to yourself. The shape this goal takes fluctuates based on context and circumstance, but ultimately stays the same. Risk assessment is important for a writer to learn because their character’s ability to assess risk and their ability to create risk creates tension.

The question of injuries is a question of force application. This is me saying that when you’re asking about injuries, you’re looking at the end result rather than the beginning. Writing strong fight scenes relies on understanding the physicality of violence, which translates to — physics.

If I hit you on a straight line, you will go backwards. If I hit you on a diagonal, you will go sideways. The amount you move may depend on how you set your weight (stance) or how much force I used. Force is generated by momentum, momentum is generated by motion, the more momentum you have the greater the force applied. A kick hits harder than a punch, a kick or punch that is spinning will hit harder than standing, and flying (or jumping) hits hardest of all. A combination of running, jumping, and spinning is top tier. And no, you probably won’t get up quickly from somebody delivering a standing jump front kick to your face, much less a running jump front kick. You might not get up at all. 

Note: a standing jump front kick is when you go from zero to jump front kick without any additional movement. This is different from a popup jump front kick, which is also standing but both legs leave the ground at the same time. In the traditional jump front kick, the front knee pumps first to gain height and the jumping leg is the kicking leg. The kicking leg chambers mid air, the kick completes at the height of the jump, and you land. What this means is someone can theoretically take a jump front kick to the face while standing within distance for your average conversation. (Think about that for a second. Now consider, the popup was designed to conserve even more space because you go straight up rather than forward and up.)

However, the greater the momentum, the larger the motion. The larger the motion, the more effort it takes and the more the motion is visible, and that means the greater chance the strike will miss. Wasted energy is costly. Missing leaves you open to retaliation. That’s why small effective movements are valued over larger, more difficult ones, and also why weapons exist.

What hit you and where?

The problem with lack of knowledge is you think you’re asking a question that’s easy to answer, but isn’t because the subject is actually vast. Large bodies of fiction and nonfiction are dedicated to your question. It’s a good metaphor for the complex reality of life. The reality is most of what people can do or can’t do, will do or won’t do, comes down to the individual.

A better approach to writing fight scenes is to break down the individual injuries the character sustained and try to figure out what your character’s reaction is.

Your character just got cracked across the face and spat one of their molars onto the pavement, how does that make them feel?

Your character’s nose is broken. This inhibits their ability to breathe, to seek, to smell, to talk without sounding very strange, and it hurts. Can they focus?

Your character got stabbed in their shoulder joint. They can no longer use their right arm to fight. What do they do?

Most violence is designed to be debilitating to reduce your opponent’s combat effectiveness even if you don’t succeed in your primary goal. The pain you feel is incidental because the full extent may not even be felt until the fight is over, meaning pain isn’t a guaranteed deterrent or even a distraction. Your character can ignore pain, but they can’t ignore the breath that got knocked out of their lungs. They can’t ignore a swelling eye impeding their ability to see. They can’t ignore blood from a split eyebrow bleeding into their eye. They can’t ignore a direct strike to their throat damaging their ability to breathe, even if it’s just in the short term. Maybe they can ignore the strike they took to their shoulder or directly to the joint, but they also can’t because the damage means their arm is moving more slowly. That arm moving more slowly, even if it’s only slightly or isn’t stopped completely, is a victory. A slower arm creates gaps in defense, damages an opponent’s internal sense of timing, allowing a fighter to get closer to a more vital target. Injuries sustained in one fight can result in death during another, even if you win.

Everyone has their limit, but nebulous generalities don’t help setting those limits. The goal for you is to figure out what your character’s limits are and then write within them or the character’s struggles in pushing past those limits. Limits are mental and they’re physical, most often set by what a character believes they can do versus what they can actually do.

So, you know, set two limits. The one that can’t be surpassed and the one made to be broken.


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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.


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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.


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?


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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…


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.


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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.


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Cat Weight and Why Understanding Reality is Important for Writers

When you say “lighter than house cat” what kind of cat do you mean exactly? Because just based on my cats it could be anything from 1kg to 4kg and that kind of makes a difference…

I think I’ve always specified weight before making that comparison in the past. For most domestic cat breeds, 10lbs is the average, healthy, adult weight. Somewhat obviously this will vary, with some breeds being potentially much smaller, and obviously, juveniles will be much smaller (and lighter) than their parents. The extreme edge of this are Siamese, which have some of the smallest kittens among domestic cat breeds, but then grow to be only slightly smaller than most other domestic cats. I’m not sure where you’re finding a 2.2lb adult cat, though that could certainly be an outlier.

The thing is, if we were talking about swords, yeah, that 4kg cat will be heavier than most greatswords. That 1kg cat will be heavier than most sabers, foils, and rapiers, with some other sword variants being slightly heavier.

I feel like a broken record sometimes on this topic. We have a lot of fantasy literature which looks at swords and thinks, “that must be really heavy, so it can hit really hard,” but, that’s not how you use the weapon. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “massive” greatsword or a rapier, swords are precision cutting tools. They are not long axes. They are not sharpened hammers.

Additionally, while a fight will be fairly brief, battles can easily last all day. It’s not a question of whether you can use a weapon once or twice, it’s something you need to be able to do for hours at a time. Swinging around a massive 40lb chunk of steel may be a great workout, but you’re not going to be able to do that for hours without rest, no matter how well conditioned you are.

This gets into another fantasy element. You have fantasy heroes that are outright superhuman swinging around these comically oversized (and more often over weighted) weapons. In some cases, this is technically fine, as the wielder is overtly superhuman, and in others it’s an error by the author.

As I’ve said in the past, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a fictional character having an impractically heavy weapon… if there’s a point to it. If it’s an indication that the character really is superhuman, and we’re supposed to understand that? Cool. If the weapon says something about their personality? That’s fine, it’s a legitimate venue of characterization.

Usually, we prioritize realism, because as the author, you have the choice of when you want to step away from reality to fit your story. However, it is important that you, as the writer, be aware when you’ve done so. You want to make these decisions as informed choices, not something you accidentally stumbled into because you’ve seen it before, and thought, “that’s how it is.” This can become a real problem for writers when they take elements of characterization from a story that inspired them and accidentally graft them into their work.

Another common example is the idea of weapon hyperfocus, where you have characters that only use one specific weapon, and are basically defenseless without it. It doesn’t make any sense from a realistic perspective. It’s not how people are trained. It’s now how these skills work. But, it can be a very significant statement about how your character views the world.

Similarly, in real history, soldiers would carry multiple weapons. That’s the real world, but even in emulating that, you’re informing your audience that your characters are more flexible, and better able to handle a variety of situations.

It’s up to you what you want to do with your characters, but the information is here so you can make that decision. So you don’t think that your character couldn’t wield a sword because they’re not a ‘roided up wall of meat, or don’t accidentally think that all melee weapons are comically heavy and massive, because they weren’t.


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Q&A: Energy Weapons and Penetration

Wouldn’t “lower power” so to speak be desirable to reduce overpenning in urban combat situations? Not necessarily with a large bulky gun, but even SBRs can fit some definitions of “big”.


It depends, but it’s quite possible that penetration may be distinct from overall weapon power. Especially if we’re talking about non-kinetic weapons.

The two examples that come to mind immediately are Babylon 5 and Star Wars. Both settings use plasma based weapons as their dominant hand weapon technology. In B5, this was explicitly stated to be because the PPGs were less likely to rupture starship hulls and cause explosive decompressions.

Of course, in Star Wars, magnetic shielding which turns blasters into a remarkably high stakes version of Pong.

In both cases, you have high power weapons with a low risk of penetration.

This is also often a characteristic of beam weapons in science fiction. Where you have weapons that will selectively discriminately between punching through armor but not burning through unarmored structures or vehicles. In some settings there’s justifications for this, such as advanced computer control systems built into the weapons, or hulls and other objects being constructed out of materials which resist the beam weapons. In others it’s strictly authorial fiat without any in setting justification.

That said, high energy weapons could easily end up in a situation where you don’t have much power, while the weapon is still pretty heavy. This is the reason we don’t have things like hand-held laser weapons in the real world. You simply can’t generate enough power to create a functional weapon with current power sources. If you want a hand laser that can vaporise someone, it will need a power reserve greater than the output of a major hydroelectric facility for each shot. You could carry something very heavy (or vehicle mounted) which would mildly inconvenience (or blind) someone, but it would be significantly less effective than just bringing in a conventional rifle.

That’s part of why, “heavy, low power weapons,” wouldn’t be a thing. If your weapon is heavy and is low power, you’d revert back to the lighter, higher power weapon. If you have a setting where your basic energy weapons are very heavy, and less powerful than kinetics, you’d see people using projectile firearms.

There’s one major caveat to this. If you have highly specialized weapons, like some kind of EMP projector, you might see something that is technically low power, but is being used in a specific support role. Especially in anti-material roles.

For an example of this, you can look at Aliens. If you pay attention to the background details, you’ll see the Sulaco carries a wide range of energy weapons, including particle beams (for electronic warfare) and even uses lasers for its point defense weapons. But, the Marines use M41a Pulse Rifles (which are kinetic auto rifles) and the support gunners use M56 Smart Gun (which are a target assisted autogun.)

Also, in the Aliens example, the kinetic weapons are designed to minimize structural damage. Both the Pulse Rifles and Smart Guns are loaded with 10mm explosive tip caseless rounds, which were intended for dealing with lightly armored foes, but not intended for punching through walls, or armored vehicles. (Though, they still do some structural damage.)

Even in the modern world, it’s becoming possible to separate penetration from power. Frangible rounds, like Glaser Safety Slugs are designed to shatter into dust on impact with a hard surface, making them less likely to cause structural damage, while still being an effective weapon.


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Q&A: The Physics of Recoil and Science Fiction Guns

I’m creating sci-fi guns. Is it possible to simply say this gun is pretty much has no recoil? In fact, what causes recoil? Could some advance tech simply doesn’t have recoil or recoil cushion kind of thing? Also is it ever possible that huge guns have little recoil and tiny guns with huge recoil? Or big guns with little power and tiny ones with huge power?

So, as the second question, it’s Newtonian physics. Specifically, “for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Recoil experienced by the user is the result of the powder burn in the chamber. Often times, it’s partially mitigated by mechanical considerations in the gun, but at the same time, bolt travel can also contribute to experienced recoil.

Recoil compensation systems exist. These can include gas vents designed to counteract climb, mechanical buffers, and counterweight systems. Part of the problem with recoil management is, simply, the technology we’re using (and have been using for over a thousand years at this point.) When gunpowder burns, it causes gasses to expand rapidly in all directions. This is what propels the bullet down range, but also applies force to the user.

(And, yes, that over a thousand years. The first firearms date back to the 12th or 13th centuries, but the use of gunpowder in China dates back to the first millennia.)

So, even with modern technology, you can significantly reduce experienced recoil. Some of this is physics, but you can redirect that force, though you still have to deal with it.

So, can you do away with recoil entirely? Technically, probably not, but you could potentially reduce it to the point that it is undetectable by the user.

High energy weapons, such as lasers, plasma projectors or particle beams technically would probably have at least some theoretical degree of recoil, even if it was just from the user pulling the trigger. But, we’re not talking about enough to be meaningful. Gauss weapons would probably also have some recoil from accelerating the physical projectile, but in comparison to dealing with burning powder, it’s mild enough that t you could (probably) mitigate perceived recoil entirely.

As for the question of big guns that are weak, why would you do that to yourself? A larger weapon will be more awkward to carry, more difficult to use, harder to manage when not in use. There’s really no point here. You can, technically see this, with antique artillery pieces, which are inferior to their modern counterparts.

That’s the one time when I could legitimately say you might something like a big, heavy, gun that’s underpowered. If it’s technologically inferior to more recent developments.

As for powerful small guns? Yeah, that’s a thing that can happen. Especially when you’re comparing more modern weapons to older ones.

This gets a little awkward because there’s no meaningful way to quantify damage output from firearms. Even a musket can kill you. It’s a question of what the bullet damages. The real advancements have been to things like range, accuracy, capacity, the ability to quickly reload, and long range optics.

A modern subcompact Glock is considerably more lethal than a Napoleonic era musket. But, that’s not because the bullet itself does more damage (in fact it might not.) It’s because the pistol is effective at ranges where the musket’s accuracy is unreliable, and it can easily dump 8 rounds into the user’s target while they’re foe is still reloading for a second shot.

In the end, a bullet is a bullet. If it connects and damages something you need to maintain a pulse, you’ll die. More bullets means that’s more likely for that to happen. While concepts like flatness and stopping power have a reality to them, they’re not good comparative tools to determining whether a gun can kill someone. And, quantified, numerical damage, is a fantasy.


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Q&A: The Truth in 1vX and How it Works

Is it just a trope that your MC can handle fighting multiple lackeys at once especially when they’re treated like useless who get cut down with barely a fight and then be evenly matched 1v1 with the big bad? or perhps this only makes sense if the lackeys are uncombat trained.

The way 1vX is treated in fiction as a method to establish the main character’s prowess and build up the Big Bad is just a fictional trope.

However, the 1vX is a very important (perhaps even foundational) trope for any sort of action narrative and there’s a real world reason (or, really, several important reasons) which provides the basis for both the trope’s existence and its popularity.

In the real world, fighting multiple opponents at once, especially without any weapons or armaments that provide a significant advantage against your foes (such as staff versus sword, even multiple swords, or unarmored versus plate) is nearly impossible. You are almost guaranteed death. Numbers matter, two people of mediocre skill or even no skill can overwhelm one well-trained individual. The scenario’s 1 has to manage a lot of incoming information at once with zero margin for error. A good analogy for 1vX is juggling live knives while someone hurls rocks at your head or shoots at you with a gun, one slip and it’s goodbye. Now, real people do survive these encounters, but that’s largely a matter of luck. Many more who find themselves in these situations, who are just as skilled or even more skilled, are critically injured or die. The real world doesn’t have skill plateaus the way fiction or video games do. Martial training is about giving yourself a better chance at survival, it doesn’t assure your survival. Nothing can assure your survival.

So, why is the 1vX so popular? The logic is simple. If your hero can survive fighting multiple enemies at once, or, even better, do so with ease, they must be supremely skilled. The commander of these opponents, especially the ones who pressure the skilled hero, must, by extension, also be extremely skilled as they’re capable of keeping these well-trained individuals under control. Better yet, a 1vX provides the opportunity to pressure and showcase your character’s skills in ways a 1v1 simply can’t. For visual mediums, these scenes are often visually interesting due to the constant movement and highly entertaining.

If you can successfully pull it off, 1vX is the ultimate form of show.

Honestly, the number of times I’ve heard players in various MMOs ask for “1vX builds” for PvP (it’s a lot) should tell you how popular and imagination grabbing the concept is. Coming across a skilled PvPer is one place in the “real world” where you can see the trope come alive. And, as someone who has 1vX’ed in Elder Scrolls Online, I can tell you, there’s a rush that comes with knocking off four other players at once or healing through the combined damage of a zerg. 1vX means Supreme Skill because very few people can 1vX well or successfully, placing those who can among the best, which earns respect. (Again, video games are not reflective of the real world outside of psychological warfare.)

So, in theory, a character who can 1vX is a character in a very small, elite skill pool. In theory, their opponent should be established as a better warrior than they are. The end result is an easy build up to a very interesting fight within your narrative. I say, in theory, because, like 1vXing in the real world, the reality of crafting a good 1vX fight scene is far more difficult than one might imagine it to be. It’s not enough to write your character fighting, they have to fight convincingly.

A bad 1vX scene can easily show the opposite of your intention, establishing your character as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing or, worse, a character who’s victories come from the power of plot. A bad 1vX scene is the main character in Gameboard of the Gods, who, while trying to save her future love interest from a gang of six, stopped to put each one in a submission hold and left the others with plenty of time to kill the person she was trying to rescue. That’s bad.

1vX is about showing your character’s ability to prioritize threats. It is about showing their ability to manage the battlefield and control the flow of combat. These are highly advanced skills that can’t be learned from watching a couple of MMA bouts. It’s not just about their physical skill, but their intelligence, their cleverness, their battlefield awareness, their tactical capability, their ability to strategize on the fly, utilize their environment, and effectively choose which skills serve them best in achieving their long term goals. 1vX is not about fighting multiple opponents, it’s about managing threats and prioritizing the dangers within the group. It’s a masterclass in effectively selecting who dies first.

In 1vX, you can’t sit around individually fighting 1v1 or you’ll die. When your focus is locked on one opponent, the others will jump you. You can’t sit around fighting forever. When they wear you down (and they will), you’re dead. You need to knock off threats, remove their numbers, and lose the support players. Cleanly forcing submissions takes time, and, when you’re fighting against multiple opponents, you don’t have ten minutes to choke someone out and hope they won’t wake up five seconds later. You don’t even have thirty seconds for a blood choke. You’ve got about a second to stick your knife in your opponent’s carotid and hope you’ve got it deep enough that after you pull it free they bleed out.

The reality of 1vX on film is that you’re not really seeing 1vX, so much as you’re seeing 1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1 multiplied by the number of available stuntmen; with a maybe added bonus of 1v2 if your actor and stunt team are up to par. Film practices a system called queuing where the actor or their stunt double is only (stage) fighting one person at a time and everybody takes their turn, but the group is being shuffled in such a way that general audiences don’t usually notice. The practice is elevated to visual art by martial artists like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Chuck Norris. And can be painfully obvious when done poorly, or in low budget. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s early seasons are an example of queuing at it’s worst. Black Widow’s hallway fight scene in Iron Man 2 isn’t bad, but is a good example to really see queuing in action. Loaded Weapon used the stuntman queue as a sight gag.) It’s a visual sleight of hand, but is a useful system for authors to learn for a medium where you don’t have live bodies and actions only happen in words on the page. Queueing is about convincing your audience that your character is fighting multiple opponents, while making life a little easier for yourself.

If you want to be able to write good 1vX fights, you need to gain an appreciation for how much skill it requires for someone to fight 1vX. More importantly, you need to actually respect your mooks, and put in the work to establish them. If your mooks suck and are treated as useless, low level flunkies, fighting them doesn’t make your character look good or skilled. A threat that isn’t a real threat does nothing to establish a character’s prowess or your Big Bad’s effectiveness. A Big Bad with crappy flunkies isn’t that scary and does nothing to enhance your hero. This is the Cycle of Enhancement. Your mooks exist to make your hero look good, your mooks looking good enhances the danger presented by your main villain, your hero looking good beating your mooks enhances the danger presented by the main villain who is established to be more powerful than the hero.

Your audience can write off the supporting background characters, but you, the author, should never do so.

– Michi

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PS: And because I walk my talk, here’s a screenshot from one of my quad kill matches in ESO.

I’m Elyssa Frey up there.

Q&A: How do we Define Two Handed Weapons

Exactly what makes weapons one handed or two handed, if it isn`t the weight?

It is the weight, kind of.

Okay, so the real answer would be stability and leverage. Normally, if you have the option to, you’ll want to two hand most weapons. This includes things like, “one handed,” swords.

The heavier a weapon is, the harder it will be to stabilize it with one hand. So, like I said, it is “kind of,” the weight. You may not need a second hand to operate a sword (and this includes things like the greatswords), but a second hand on the hilt will make the weapon much easier to control.

It’s important to remember that weapons (especially melee weapons) aren’t particularly heavy. When we’re talking about something like a greatsword, it’s going to weigh less than your house cats. It will weigh significantly more than a sword or bastard sword. But, if there’s one takeaway, it’s that swords, axes, and the suite of other melee weapons, are all light enough to use all day. They’re light enough to carry for miles as you travel to the battle, and light enough to kill people for hours at a time. A truly heavy weapon will wear its wielder out before they even reach the front lines. Carrying a forty pound greatsword to battle would see your soldiers arriving already fatigued, and they’d be exhausted before the battle’s first hour had passed. (In fairness, your heavy infantry would be carrying that much weight in their armor, but they’d also have extensive conditioning. And, unironically, when you do see the weight inflation of weapons in fiction, you almost always see similar degrees of inflation for their armor; So you end up with situations where your character’s weapons and armor weigh more than they do. There’s issues here.)

So, being able to hold a weapon with both hands will make it significantly more stable, and if your hands are separated by any significant distance, that will also help with leverage (which further improves stability.) These both improve precision and control.

This is part of why modern handguns are two handed weapons. They’re remarkably lightweight, usually under 2lbs. However, your off-hand will help stabilize your grip, dramatically improving your accuracy. (It also helps deal with recoil, which is an entirely separate discussion.)

There is a point with an extremely light and fast weapon, where you don’t get any significant benefit from an off hand. The examples that come to mind are knifes, foils, and rapiers. In these cases, you have a weapon that can be easily controlled by a single hand, and trying to two-hand it would only slow you down. Frequently, these kinds of weapons have grips that aren’t designed to accommodate a second hand, which further limits your ability to two-hand them.

So, it is, kind of, the weight. But, that’s almost more of a byproduct, most two handed weapons are still light enough that you could potentially use them in one hand. The important question is how well you can control it with one hand, and whether you need your second hand to stabilize and guide it.


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Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.