Q&A: Substitute Sword

Hi! Your blog is great and it helped me more than one time, because I’m not an expert but I’m trying to be accurate. One of my character is used to fight with a sword, but for a series of reasons she has to fight with a different one, which is shorter and lighter. What problems could she have and how should she adapt her style to the new sword?

Unless the differences are extreme, it’s not going to matter much.

For example: if your character’s normal weapon is a Zweihander, and she’s trying to use a longsword, yes, that’s going to require some adaptation. However, if they’re even close to the same size, that would only require fairly minor adaptation.

Similarly, unless the weight is so different as to be entirely distinct kind of weapon, it wouldn’t affect her much. Again, comparing something like a longsword to a fencing blade. Even then, she wouldn’t need to adapt because it was lighter, she’d need to adapt because it is a different weapon.

The two important things to remember are, swords are light weapons. There’s some variation, of course, but even the heaviest combat swords rarely exceed 10 pounds. Weight is important with a sword, but not the way you seem to think. More weight in a blade is a negative. You don’t simply hack away with someone using blunt force and the weight of your weapon. The heavier a sword is, the more it will wear you down, so there’s a strong incentive to keep the blade as light as possible. Using a lighter weapon would be less physically strenuous than she’s used to, so she wouldn’t tire as quickly, and that’s a net positive.

Second: Unless we’re talking about something very specialized, like a epee, estoc, or falchion, the sword is very versatile weapon. A shorter blade will not have the reach she’s used to, but that’s a fairly minor issue overall, and one that’s easy to adapt to on the fly.

If it is a highly specialized sword variant, it’s possible she wouldn’t have much experience using it. For example: give an Italian School fencer a claymore and the results will not be pretty for them. It’s a much longer, heavier blade. One that is not suited for their style of combat at all.

One worst of both worlds situation would be if she was used to using an iron sword, and the only weapon available was a bronze one. Bronze is a copper/tin alloy. It is heavier and softer than iron, meaning the sword would be shorter, heavier, and less durable. This would create a situation where she would have to fight harder, and the difference between the weapons would be appreciable.

The biggest issue for simply scooping a weapon up off the floor is, you don’t know its quality. You don’t know if it’s been well cared for, or if it’s damaged in some way. In the middle of a battle you cannot take the time to stop and assess it. This means grabbing dropped weapons can be risky, though in an emergency, if may be your only option.

A related possibility is that she’s scooped up a broken hilt. There’s still the fragment of a blade, and it may be usable in an emergency, but it’s not an intact weapon. In that case, it will depend on how much of the sword is still intact, and the overall condition of the blade, but she would be improvising, and working around the damage as best she could.

As for what to do? That will depend on a host of more specific information. In most cases, her basic combat drills should still apply. The exception being if it is a very different weapon, at which point you need to ask if this is a kind of sword your character understands how to use. If she does, then she’ll know what to do. If she doesn’t, she’ll need to come up with a way to use the weapon effectively under pressure.

-Starke

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