Tag Archives: scythe

Hi, I know that scythes have probably been done to death on this blog, but I was wondering if there was a way that could make them (at least plausibly) usable weapons. I keep thinking of characters like Death from Darksiders II and Bloodborne when I try to write. I’m writing a story where a character uses scythes like those, and I was wondering if it was anatomically possible or if I should just choose a new weapon for him to use.

You should probably choose a new weapon. Scythes only make sense for characters as a very stylistic design choice. This is true for both Death (in Darksiders) and Gehrman (from Bloodborne).

The scythe itself doesn’t make a good weapon. Because of the way it operates, it’s impossible to get a strike in without telegraphing the attack, giving anyone facing a scythe wielder plenty of time to deal with it. This is actually visible with the Burial Blade’s transformed moveset in Bloodborne, if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

Actual scythes also lacked a sharpened outer blade. They were designed to hook and draw grain towards the wielder. In combat this means you end up with your opponent (and their weapon) between you and the cutting edge of yours. This is, to put it mildly, a very bad thing.

What Death is using most often in Darksiders II are a pair of kama like mini-scythes. These are one handed weapons, with a short, curved blade, sharpened on the inner edge, and are used in several Asian styles, particularly in Japan.

Because the kama is a much smaller tool, it adapted to use as a weapon fairly easily. The biggest difference, pun not intended, is the size. Because a kama can be used with one hand, the practitioner can hook their opponent and still strike or defend with their other hand (or another kama). The size also allows kama to be used as effective parrying tools.

In fairness, the kama is more analogous to the European sickle, which according to surviving manuscripts, also saw some martial use.

Somewhat obviously, none of this is apparent in Darksiders II. It uses Death’s scythes as a purely visual motif. Because when Vigil Games decided their second Horseman protagonist would be Death, their weapon decisions were (mostly) made for them.

The scythe has a lot of metaphorical and thematic meaning, but the design doesn’t make for a good weapon. Medieval (and possibly early modern) Peasants pressed into service as shock troops would modify their scythes to function as improvised polearms. This involved removing the blade and mounting it in line with the shaft (or along the shaft). The resulting weapon is referred to as a war scythe, and functions similarly to a glave or bardiche. Eventually the war scythe evolved into it’s own distinct weapon. Though, I’m not sure, exactly, when that happened.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron.

Given the prevalence of scythe questions, I thought I’d bring up a hypothetical – what if both the inner and outer edge of a blade that is otherwise identical to and mounted the same way as a scythe blade were sharpened? Would swinging with that outer edge on a scythe-shaped weapon be in any way practical?

Okay, I appreciate people trying to make this one work. I do get why too. In fiction, the Grim Reaper scythe is a very popular weapon. It has fantastic visuals and it looks wicked. When it comes to fictional weapons, the author has to make a choice of how fantastical they want to get. I’m a fan of understanding the reality because the more one knows then the easier it becomes to make what I want work. There is really no real way to make the traditional farmer’s scythe practical and realistic as a battlefield weapon. It is too heavy, too slow, due to the size of it’s head, it would need to be fairly short in the haft to make it more wieldy. However, the biggest kicker is going to be its limitations in terms of movement and the greater amount of time it takes to actually hit someone.

If you’re going to run with the scythe, then it becomes a hewing weapon or a weapon that cuts. Puncturing or stabbing with it is a deep dream that allows one to hook around into the perfect position to hit the other person.

In order to properly strike, the scythe must come across or the wielder must be off center to stab it forward. This is a problem, as while it is possible to strike across, most polearms function on a grid that allows for diagonal cuts and forward strikes. The blade tip almost universally points toward the enemy in direct line with the shaft. This allows it a greater attacking radius and more lines with which to attack the body. It also allows the polearm to be used within smaller, more narrow spaces such as courtyards and castle hallways. It can make the most of smaller, tighter movements, rather than big ones. This saves energy for the wielder and allows them to fight more quickly.

The scythe, meanwhile, points away from the enemy. The point comes back toward you. The long curve wraps back around. This is actually important because it means that the blade must travel a greater distance before it reaches the enemy. It also must travel further than all the other polearms in order to connect. Due to it’s shape, it’s strengths actually come from hooking around an opponent because that’s where the greatest force will be in terms of cutting. Even if you put a blade on the other side, it would be difficult to achieve the necessary rotation to create the force needed to hew or cut through an opponent.

For a hand scythe like the kama, this isn’t a problem. It’s much shorter and much more wieldy, capable of moving on different angles without sacrificing defense. It’s response is much more quick, and you can use it to hook body parts or sword blades in a way one cannot with the much larger scythe.

The short answer is that no matter what you do, the shape is awkward for polearm combat. It would be a dueling weapon only as one would have difficulty using it in formation, having a greater chance of hitting their fellows and their enemies. It would require a fair amount of space to wield due to the shape of it’s blade, thus becoming more likely to be stuck on walls or trees or in a random passerby. It’s designed to cut grass. The horizontal strikes would leave the wielder far too open and, more than that, they’d run a greater risk of missing. The blade style reduces the weapon’s reach advantage. The reach advantage is crucial to polearms, being able to hit someone else while they can’t close to hit you is one of the main reasons why one chooses to carry a polearm. It cannot, really, even marginally function as a puncturing weapon. It can’t really be used from horseback, though the greater curve itself is used for swords like the sabre and scimitar that are better capable of making use of the rotation to greater effect due to their shorter length.

It’s defense is also shot due to the limitations on the blade itself being entirely stuck on one side of the haft and the greater swings necessary to achieve even half the effectiveness of similar weapons.

Unless it has mystical properties, it’s just not a very good weapon. The problem is not where the blade is, it’s actually the shape. In choosing it, one is choosing a subpar weapon from a selection of similar types. Those weapons are designed to be weapons and they have a specific usage/function in mind.

Here’s both of the Lindybeige videos on Scythes: 1, 2.

Here’s a demonstration of the Jikishinkage-ryu Naginata. This is mostly for a basic understanding of striking patterns with a glaive type weapon. And the 2014 All Japan Women’s Naginata Final. I think this one gets easier to grasp when there’s a better understanding of how polearms were used, even just in a dueling type setup.

Matt Easton on Specializations in Spears and Swords, Underarm/Overarm.

Lindybeige on spears. 2.

-Michi

Would a standard farmer’s scythe be a good (read: dangerous) weapon to wield by an expert? Obviously a newcomer would have difficulty, but if given time, could the scythe be used as a deadly weapon or is it just another exotic-looking paperweight?

We’ve talked about scythes before. The basic thing to understand about them is that they’re a farming implement, not a weapon. That part is crucial. They’re designed for farming, not for fighting. War scythes look nothing like the average farming scythe, they’ve been reforged into a standard issue pole arm. Unless you’re writing fantasy or the scythe is mystical in some way (like the Grim Reaper scythe is symbolic for reaping), it’s not really a good weapon choice.

Even if one did try to use it, you’d constantly have to bring the blade back toward you. If you want to look at the awkward movement pattern of the scythe as a weapon, the end battle of Bloodborne is actually a good one. Once you get past the part that he can float in the air and shoot energy beams out of it, you’ll realize how limited it’s movement set actually is. Of course, Bloodborne didn’t pick the scythe because it was practical. I’m fairly certain they picked it for the symbolism.

Again, it’s designed for efficiently reaping grain. Not people.

It’s in the Scythes tag.

The Catch 22 is that an expert is normally going to pick a weapon that’s designed for combat because they understand the nuts and bolts of why they’re designed that way. The newcomer is more likely to think that it’s a legitimate option or be blindsided by it’s coolness. You could probably use it as an improvised weapon for a short period, but there are also better farming implements for that like a pitchfork or a shovel. You can stab forward with it, driving an opponent back rather than reaching past them and pulling them toward you. You’d ultimately be better at using the back end, but traditional farming scythes have a squiggly one or an attachment there.

Now, there are some downright odd or interesting polearms out there. Just like there are odd and interesting weapons out there. And you do have a fair number of weapons throughout history that were converted from farming implements. The hand scythe or the kama is one of those.

If the standard issue European farming scythe actually worked effectively as a weapon, you wouldn’t have seen the farmers rushing off to get them reforged when the time came to rebel against their lords. You’d have a war scythe that looked like a scythe, rather than a glaive.

In fiction, the farming scythe serves as symbolism to the Grim Reaper, death, and the changing seasons. It’s like Poseidon’s trident. It’s a symbol of the office. If you’re going to embrace it for fantasy, then embrace it. But, you can’t also turn around and say “it’s so realistic!”. This is one of those states where you actually have to choose between the fantasy and the reality, rather than incorporating reality into the fantasy. You’re also going to then have to do the legwork to develop an idea for how it works, how it can be effective, and how it gets used in combat within the confines of your setting.

With the way the blade is situated, facing inward, you’ll need to do some kind of leg work and study up on polearms. Once you understand how that form of combat works and what it was used for on both the large and small scale, you might have a better clue for why it doesn’t translate well.

That is the thing about these kinds of weapons, they need to be useable in formation and have a place in mass melee as well as single combat. Experts also are trained in and carry more than one weapon. They may have one that they specialize in but, like every professional, they have enough understanding to bring the right tool for the right job. Or several, as the case may be.

-Michi

what about war scythes though?

We’ve talked about war scythes before, they’re in the same tag.

War scythes and scythes are completely different. While one may be converted from the other and refashioned, only the war scythe is a weapon designed for warfare. The other is an agricultural tool. The war scythe looks more like the average bladed polearm and functions in a similar manner. It does not, really, look like the Grim Reaper scythe.

The war scythe has been used during various peasant rebellions in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, but that was a choice made because of their availability instead of their efficacy. When you’re a farmer, you go with what you have. Longarms/polearms do give a combatant with no training an advantage in combat. Polearms are a base choice and they are a good one. I’ll take a broom over a can of mace as a self-defense weapon. Flip the broom end around and it’s a makeshift staff.

Still, it’s not going to be a “first choice” kind of weapon. It’s in the category of “I have almost nothing else, so this will do”.

If you’re looking for a Grim Reaper version of a battle scythe, you won’t find one. At least, you won’t see it being used conventionally. There are weird pockets that pop up for almost everything, but just because something exists doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to be useful or comparable.

We have an affection for scythes due to the Grim Reaper’s popularity. Try to remember that the Grim Reaper is fictional and the “weapon” is an agricultural implement. It represents harvesting rather than murder and depicts the inevitability of death in relation to the seasons. As a mythological figure, the Grim Reaper is a force of nature. He’s/she’s/it’s not a monster you battle. At least, not in any conventional way.

I understand why this can be confusing.

-Michi

Can a scythe be an effective fighting weapon?

No. We do have a scythe tag on the subject that might make the tag cloud with this post if you want more detail. You can use one in an emergency when you literally can’t get anything better. If we’re limiting ourselves to farm implements, a pitch fork or shovel is a more effective weapon. You don’t want to intentionally take those into battle either, but you’re better off with them, than a scythe.

-Starke

I’ve got a MC who fights with a grim-reaper type scythe. He’s strong enough to hold/move it. I can’t seem to find anything on how the fighting would work. Do you have any advice/sources that I could find info. on? Thanks!

Although it doesn’t make the tag cloud, we do have a Scythe tag.

The short version continues to be that the scythe isn’t a weapon. It’s sort of like saying, “I have a character who fights with a fire extinguisher,” and about as practical.

-Starke

I know that scythes aren’t actually weapons and they’re super impractical, but how do you think that would change if the sharp edge of the scythe was the outside, not the side facing the user? Basically, the blade would be angled similar to a Dane axe, but the size would be that of a scythe. Putting the aspect of weight aside (the weapon is magically weightless), would such a weapon be practical? If so, what sort of fighting style would work well?

You’d have a really odd looking axe.

Basically there’s two problems, first is the blade itself, the second is the shaft. With the blade, you almost never want your weapon’s only sharp edge pointing towards you. At a concept level, sharpening the outside isn’t really a great solution, but it might work as a quick emergency modification.

The issue with the shaft varies. A lot of actual farm scythes I’ve seen over the years have contoured handles, sometimes even with separate fore grip setups. These are designed to make it easier to use the scythe in a repeated horizontal harvesting motion, but seriously limit the utility of one as a weapon.

I have the weird thought (and this is just speculation) that the simplest fix to re-purpose a scythe would be to actually reverse the blade, so it hooks away from the user. It would add a little more range, and might have some utility in catching and injuring incoming infantry. But, even that would also, probably ,fall into the category of some kind of emergency improvised weapon.

Strictly speaking, the issue isn’t just the scythe having a blade pointed towards the user. That’s also true with the kama, which, coincidentally, was also used to harvesting tool. It’s those contoured shafts that will mess you up.

Can you kill someone with it? Yes. But it’s a weapon of desperation, like a claw hammer. It shouldn’t be a professional soldier’s weapon of choice in any era. There will always be better options. Even if it’s just using a pitchfork as an improvised polearm.

It’s worth pointing out, there is a weapon called a warscythe. These had a curved scythe like blade, but it’s blade was fixed to be parallel with a normal straight shaft, rather than a normal scythe’s perpendicular construction. These were used (as far as I can tell) with normal thrusting and chopping motions.

The only thing the scythe is really good at (aside from harvesting grain) is looking really ominous. If your character is some kind of supernaturally empowered grim reaper, it’s a fine choice, physics be damned. But in something more grounded, the scythe is an emergency fall back for your villagers, after they’ve run out of torches and pitchforks.

-Starke

Is a scythe a good weapon? How does it compare to other weapons?

It’s not. We did a round on scythes last year, but the short version is that scythes aren’t weapons, and they don’t really adapt well for use as weapons.

Now, there is a pole-arm called a war scythe, which is similar in that there’s a stick and a blade, but, the blade projects out in line with the shaft, like a halberd or other bladed polearm, and the shaft itself is straight. So, if you really want a slightly curved blade on your spear or pike…

Anyway, scythes were designed for harvesting crops, the design requires that you pull towards you to cut. This is a very bad thing on so many levels in combat. First, you’re actually pulling your blade towards you, inviting you to disembowel yourself, second you can’t defend yourself from someone closing in. Yeah, just don’t have your characters try to fight with one.

-Starke

Hi! I’m trying to write a mecha story, and the mech fights with a lazer scythe. I realise it would be hard to apply real life training to a mecha situation, but is there any advice you can give on how a human would use a scythe-type weapon even semi realistically that I could then apply in larger scale for the mecha? Even if its something that the pilot himself trains in or something. I love this tumblr! Thank you :)

Honestly? Not much. The scythe isn’t, and never has been a weapon. It can be used as an improvised weapon in a pinch, but, to the best of my knowledge there’s never been a formalized combat style involving one. Real scythes were designed around a simple, horizontal swiping motion to, well, scythe down grain. The blade was on the edge facing the user, meaning to use it as a weapon you would have to strike past your foe and pull towards you. When you’re dealing with grain, that’s useful, when you’re dealing with someone wanting to remove your internal organs, it’s a bad thing.

The only thought on the scythe I can think of would be to treat it like an axe or pick. You could look at some forms of axe combat, particularly the bearded axe, which involves building momentum in a crossing figure eight motion.

For writing a mecha story in general, I would suggest taking a look at the GURPS Mecha book by David Pulver. Like most of the GURPS supplements, it spends a lot of time talking about considerations for world building and how to pace a longer story or series. I’m not an expert, but the material it presents looks solid enough at first glance, and should give you some help with your story. A few caveats: it spends almost no time talking about melee combat in Mecha, and it does assume you have the core GURPS book and Compendium I, though, from a writing standpoint, those aren’t actually necessary.

-Starke

wetmattos said: I’ve seen, once, a video of a scythe fighter, and according to him the most difficult thing on wielding it is to maintain balance – but it seems viable (even if really risky) enough. Sending the video! youtube.com/watch?v…

That’s actually a pretty good suggestion, at least on a visual level. What you’re seeing there looks like a form of Wushu staff technique.

It’s not a practical way to fight with a scythe, but, given we’re talking about Mecha fighting, it doesn’t need to be.

-Starke