Tag Archives: Historical Fantasy

Hello, love your work. Am writing a character for a “Fantasy Western” and I want him to have a distinct fighting style and was wondering if you could recommend a good style to reference. The character I have in mind is a hired gun who would prefer to just shoot a person or butt-stroke them if had to. When unarmed, though, he would use a quick, simple style that causes maximum damage in the shortest time. Any suggestions as to style I could reference?

None. Given the time frame you’re talking about, a character like that would be lucky to have some informal training on how to throw a punch without dislocating their thumb.

About the only thing he could have access to would be bare knuckled boxing. But, it’s still unlikely.

Some of the traditional Chinese martial arts were practiced, but there is literally no way your character could have had access to them. More than that, it would be incredibly unlikely that they’d see any value in them, or seek them out. Eastern styles were viewed as ineffective, poncy, effeminate, or just not real fighting. This is a view that actually persists in some parts of the Western US today. In that environment, your character isn’t likely to see any merit in those styles, much less try to train in them, and even if he wanted to, he’d be still be prevented from doing so.

Most Asian martial arts maintained a very strict prohibition against training students from other ethnicities (including other Asians). This didn’t change until the 1940s and 50s, so well past the timeframe of a conventional western. This also means it would be completely anachronistic to give a character Japanese and Chinese styles.

If your character is Chinese (or another Asian ethnicity), it’s possible they’d have been trained in a traditional style, but they’d also face severe racism, to the point that they would have a hard time finding work as a mercenary.

Okay, one more thing, that I’ve skipped so far because I might be reading too much into this, the whole “distinctive fighting style” phrase sets off all kinds of warning bells for me.

If you’re trying to make your character more unique, stop. You don’t need to make your character special, for them to be compelling. You distinguish a character in your writing, not by stapling “cool” things to them. Your character needs to belong in the world you’ve created, creating one that doesn’t is a recipe for disaster.

Your character is a hired gun, like hundreds or thousands of others. You make him unique by what he says, thinks, and does, not by giving him neat toys or an easy way out of trouble.

So, some recomendations:

If you’ve never read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, You need to. It’s more of a horror Western (actually, most of these suggestions will be, but… still.)

Deadlands was an alternate history RPG set in a world where the Civil War rages on, and supernatural forces have been unleashed on the world. As with The Dark Tower this is more horror than straight up fantasy.

Ravenous is a vampire movie that’s not, quite, about vampires. Set in the early 19th century Sierra Nevadas, it focuses on a single, isolated, fort. Again, more horror than fantasy, but it should give you some ideas to play with.

Yojimbo is, functionally, a western set in Edo period Japan. As with a lot of Kurosawa’s work, it’s been adapted repeatedly. If you don’t see this as useful, you might want to look at Last Man Standing. It’s not nearly as good, but it might give you some ideas.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura isn’t a western… technically. There are a few minor western themes in a few locations, but that’s not the point. This was a massive RPG from Tim Cain, one of the original designers of the Fallout franchise. The setting takes a Tolkien style high fantasy world and turns the clock forward to 1885. Part steampunk, part political commentary, this game will give you a lot of stuff to chew on. If you’re talking about a high fantasy world hitting the industrial revolution, this is a must play.


First, let me say thank you for this blog. Your posts have helped me more than most of my own research combined. You guys deserve some kind of Writer’s Badge of Honour. Now, I have a follow-up question to your sword-related post: My setting is roughly a blend of 1600s central Europe and a fantasy nordic country. My MMC is a tribe leader’s second-in-command and wields a longsword. But what kind of weapons would normal people use? Axes? Knives? Clubs? Any answer would be greatly appreciated :)

The only things I’d add to that list are staves, spears, pikes, and… well, guns.

The thing is 1600s Europe was rapidly heading into an era when the firearm was the primary weapon on the battlefield. Matchlock muskets had been around for, about, 150 years, and 1610 saw the introduction of the flintlock, so depending on what part of the seventeenth century you’re using, these could be a real weapon in your setting, or just an expensive, rare, novelty.

These weren’t accurate weapons, the rifle was still over two centuries away, and smoothbore firearms usually just put a bullet in the general vicinity of where you’re pointing. This is what led to the massed musket infantry formations firing in volleys.

The key here is “fantasy.” That alone gives you a lot of latitude to play with the world, and change the assumptions of how it functions. If your culture is based on some perpetuation of the Vikings, then, you’re looking at a mix of longswords, and axes. For ranged weapons, you’d either be looking at bows, spears, or (if you want to make them a part of your setting) early firearms.