Tag Archives: Starke answers

Spellswords, Believability and Understanding how to use Powerful Characters

maybe a stupid question but how would i write a believable ‘spellsword’? without making my character overpowered

So, “believable,” and “overpowered,” are two entirely different, independent, considerations. You can easily have one without the other, and while the former is probably necessary, the latter is not, depending on the kind of story you’re telling.

Believability is contextual to your audience. Do they believe in your character? Do they accept that your character is who they say they are? This can get significantly more complicated if your character isn’t being honest with the audience, though that is a more advanced concept.

At its simplest level, “believable,” simply asks if it’s plausible that your character could be who they say they are. If spellswords are accepted as a part of your world (even if they’re somewhat rare), a spellsword will trend towards believable. If they are fundamentally impossible, (either because magic is understood to be a fantasy, or some fundamental element of spellcasting conflicts with martial combat) then they will be less believable (at least, initially.)

Similarly, how your character views the world is a serious consideration for believability. If you have a character who’s been formally educated in magic, then that knowledge will shape their understanding of how it works. If magic is uncommon, your spellsword would have an unusual understanding of how magic really works, when encountering magic during their travels. This would likely set them apart from other characters, who have no formal education on the subject.

Similarly, someone with a martial background will have a more practical understanding of waging warfare. Either, on a direct blade to blade, level, or (if they’re formally educated) at a more strategic level.

So, can a Spellsword be believable? Yes, absolutely. They can operate as a bridge between martial and arcane training, with a unique viewpoint of the world they exist in. Depending on how they fit into your world, they could easily have held military rank, or operated as a liaison between the military command and it’s battlemage corps.

Alternately, it’s quite possible they never ascended that far, or even graduated without actually joining the military (for whatever reason.) It’s possible they served in an organization tasked with protecting less militant mages, they may have worked as a mercenary, or any number of other jobs that would benefit from being able to fight, while also being able to cast magic. In a setting with freelance adventurers, spellswords are a natural fit.

So, it’s entirely possible for a spellsword to be believable, if your setting permits their existence in the first place.

Now, here’s the harder part of the discussion, “overpowered,” characters aren’t a problem, until they are.

“Overpowered,” is often a problem in games. I don’t just mean video games, ironically it’s probably a bigger problem in tabletop roleplaying, than in video games.

Ironically, the conflict between these two can give some pretty clear insights into how much you need to worry about this.

In a tabletop roleplaying environment, the gamemaster (whatever their actual title) needs to balance the experience for the players present. Most, quality, roleplaying rulebooks will devote some time to discussing this, and offering their insights on the subject.

The simplest reduction would be, you have multiple people at the table, and so your story needs to include all of them to a (roughly) equal degree.

In a game where you only need to worry about one player, they can be the focus. Concerns about being overpowered only relate to how it influences the experience of that player, and many, many, games heavily tilt the odds in the player’s favor, and the player character in an RPG being, “the chosen one,” has been a meme for decades.

How does this apply to writing?

Simple. As in games, “overpowered,” is a relative statement. A character is overpowered, when they’re mismatched to their place in the story and the challenges they face.

If your character is facing opposition that legitimately threatens them, then they’re not overpowered. If they’re carving through cannon fodder enemies without repercussions, then they may be a bit overpowered for that challenge.

Ironically, there is a similar element here. The danger of an overpowered character in a game is that the player will get bored. The danger of an overpowered character in a story is that the audience will get bored. There are deeper differences in how and why that happens, but there is still some similarity. If the character is too powerful, the outcome is preordained, and the experience itself is dulled. This leads into one of the most challenging elements of overpowered characters.

The problem with an overpowered character isn’t that they’re overpowered; it’s that you need to work harder to keep them interesting.

A character who is balanced against the threats they’ll face has to constantly work for every victory. In theory (though, not always in practice) that gives you a base degree of interest in the events that are unfolding. If the outcome is uncertain, the audience is less likely to tune out.

Similarly, repeating the same encounters will have diminishing returns. If your character dispatched three bandits in the previous chapter, will three or four really pose that much of a threat now? Remember, the threshold on a character being overpowered is whether the outcome is uncertain.

One solution is to introduce uncertainty into the environment. By, “environment,” I don’t literally mean the space the characters are fighting in, though that is an option; instead I’m talking about the general social space around the character. A character who is disproportionately powerful can still be interesting if they’re trying to expose a conspiracy lead by people on their own level, if they’re wrestling with the philosophical implications of their own nigh-omnipotence, or any number of other potential challenges, that extend well beyond what they’re dealing with. In a reverse, an egregiously overpowered character may struggle to hide their true nature from the people around them (a sub-plot that has been run into the ground by superhero writers over the years.)

An overpowered character isn’t, automatically a problem, but they can be more difficult to work with. Having said that, this may not be an issue for you. While your spellsword may be more dangerous than an individual fighter, they’re probably less magically adept than a mage who focused on their arcane education. Meaning they fit into a very specific niche between normal melee fighters, and dedicated magic practitioners, along with other specialized magic practitioners, like whatever you chose to name your stealth/magic specialists.

The hard part is making sure your character is believable. After that, power is what you make of it, if your character feels too powerful, they may just need more powerful foes to challenge them.

-Starke

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The Self-Delusion of “Good in a ‘Real Fight'”

Hii how are you both? I like your blog’s tips as a fan of fantasy fiction, but I thought you could answer a real-life question. I do HEMA (im not good at it but its good fun!) and something comes up every now and then that i thought you could weigh in on with more authority.

Theres a big guy who isnt the best, but whose refrain is that he would win in a real fight since he wouldnt be holding back. He says its not a gender thing, just a size thing.

Since everyone has to hold back so we dont injure each other (and we still get plenty of bruises) he’s right, it’s an artificial environment.

Does he have a point that everyone’s restraint disadvantages big guys more, or is he being a bit of a poor sport?

Thanks!

rub-the-rest-with-yellow

He’s deluding himself, in a variety of ways.

Generally speaking, size doesn’t help, especially not in armed combat. It just means you’re a larger target for your foe’s weapon. Sword combat isn’t about being bigger and stronger than your opponent, it’s about opening your foe up and filleting them.

It’s important to remember that being bigger does not make you tougher, and no theoretical biological advantage makes you tougher than steel.

The entire point of using a blade is cutting your foe, not bludgeoning them. The emphasis here is to point out that you do not mindlessly hack away with a sword, trying to brute force your way through your foe’s armor, you look for openings and either slice through them, or thrust through them.

Now, if you’re using blunted edges, it is true that he could cause some misery if he didn’t hold back. However, that’s true for pretty much anyone in your group. You’re not competing to hurt one another.

Even with blunt weapons, like warhammers, maces, or mauls, you’re not relying on your strength, you’re using the inertia of the weapon to cause harm, so being a big guy still doesn’t offer any real advantage there.

Guys like this aren’t uncommon. They’re convinced that they’d be good in “a real fight.” In actual combat they would, inevitably, go down with the first hit, and then whine about how the fight wasn’t fair (if they survive.)

This is may be a bitter pill, and I’m not judging you for this, but there isn’t a single member of your group that would be okay in a real swordfight. The defect is in HEMA, not in you. HEMA, like many martial arts, is a revived art. This means, at some point in the past, the last person who was properly trained in your combat style died without passing that knowledge on. Someone in the 20th Century found surviving training manuals and manuscripts and did their best to rebuild the martial art from scratch.

This isn’t a case where the best techniques survived and have been codified, instead the only filter on which techniques survived is which texts survived the following centuries.

More than that, we know our reconstruction is wrong (or at least, incomplete.) We know this because of Polish Crosscutting. Unlike HEMA, this is not a revived art. It was (at least partially) preserved. It does a number of things that HEMA preaches against, and it decimates HEMA practitioners in competitive bouts. To be clear, Polish Crosscutting is not some incredibly effective set of sword techniques, it’s just better preserved than HEMA.

The end result is, our understanding of Historical European Martial Arts is extremely limited, with serious gaps. Against someone who actually knew what they were doing, any one of you would be screwed. And that’s not the point of the exercise.

This is going to somewhat duplicate the previous point, but, as you said, you’re training recreationally. This is for fun, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re training recreationally, or for sport, you are not training to use your skills in, “real,” combat. Again, you’ll find guys who are studying other recreational or sports martial arts and hold that up as their ability to handle themselves in “a real fight,” and they’re also deluding themselves.

If you want to train for combat, you train to kill people, not to, “fight.” It’s not fun, it’s not recreational, you’re not doing it to prove you can fight. It’s about ending another person’s life as efficiently as possible.

The idea of, “a fair fight,” (or in this case, “a real fight,”) is an illusion. It’s actively dangerous to both participants. In a real life or death, situation you’d want to take him out in as few strikes as possible. Realistically, we’re talking about ending his life in less than a second. Ideally, before his brain even realizes he’s in combat, and can react, though that’s bit harder to do reliably. If he is aware he’s in danger, neutralize his weapon, then end him. Again, the goal is for combat to be over in under five seconds. That probably won’t happen, but it should give you an idea of just how fast this would need to be. The longer you’re in combat, the greater the risk of you taking a hit, and in real combat, that’s a risk you cannot afford to take. Any injury means you’re at a disadvantage when you’re facing your next foe.

Killing someone is an entirely different discipline from recreational martial arts (and even from competitive sport combat.) If you train to kill people, you’re ready to kill people. If you train to have fun, you are not. If you’re in a real fight with real weapons, you’re not fighting to, “win,” you’re looking to end your foe.

To be fair, he may not be a poor sport about this. He probably, genuinely believes he can take any one of you. But, if he believes it’s because, “he’s holding back,” and he’s not one of the better duelists, yeah, he would not survive.

-Starke

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The Problems With Being Defensive

Um, sorry..I did kinda mean to be a bit defensive due to your posts about impractical attire. I was afraid you’d think I was purposely going for putting characters in nice skirts/dress and fight and it being impractical and respond as you would someone for giving characters boob plate armour or something. So, I was simply reassuring you that no, I’m not trying to use improper fighting attire, just how they’re dressed.

You don’t need to apologize, but it is something you want to be conscious of, and careful about. When you get defensive over your work, you’re letting everyone know that there’s a problem with it, and you’re not confidant about it. It can also mean, you don’t get an answer to the question you’re looking for.

Without going back and reviewing every post we’ve written on impractical attire, I’m pretty sure the general thrust was a condemnation of authors objectifying, and sexing up, their characters. For example: putting fighters in stiletto heels. This can come from someone genuinely not understanding that clothes can impair a character’s ability to fight, or it can be from someone who prioritizes sex appeal over functionality.

The thing is, (hopefully) neither of these apply to you. So, there was no reason to get defensive, though I can certainly understand the anxiety.

There’s two major reasons I caution against this.

First, it is a cue that you’re worried (consciously or not) that there’s a weakness in your material. When you put material out there, you will be attacked. Anything you write, which draws attention, will draw criticism. When you’re dealing with people who simply want to tear you down, that defensiveness is practically a dinner bell.

That’s why I advised you to get ahead of the potential criticism. If you realize you feel defensive about a point, make sure you identify why, and close off those potential attacks.

When you’re writing, and expect to receive push back, it’s a good idea to think about the kinds of arguments you expect. You can actually see that behavior in many of my posts. I’ll frequently take a second to carve out exceptions, or preemptively cut off counter arguments, that I expect someone to raise. In many cases, I am already controlling the kinds of critique I can receive.

For example, if you were worried about being attacked for your characters dressing inappropriately, you could have written:

How would wearing a dress or skirt hinder combat? My characters are attending a formal event when they’re ambushed.

It’s a small difference, but it has a huge effect on how the question is perceived. If you were worried about what I thought of you, then it addresses that fear, and it also explains exactly what you’re looking for, with more detail than the original question offered.

It’s not incredibly important, but a “this/that” structure can also be a nervous tick. It’s probably better to write, “this or that,” or, just commit to a specific term. Slashing can be useful in rare situations, and it’s not something most readers will pick up on (unless you overuse it), but commit to a word. (This may go out the window during drafting, when you’re trying out multiple words and haven’t settled on one. At that point it would be entirely reasonable to write down any alternative you want to play with, before you commit. But, don’t show that to someone else.)

This is the second reason that getting defensive, even preemptively, can be a problem. You’re focusing on one issue, and, that cut off useful information. If you’d said the context of your character being in a dress or skirt was a formal event, I would have focused on how formal attire frequently interferes with movement, how it’s often better to simply abandon high heels, than continue to fight in them, and how, men’s formal attire restricts movement as well. I may have spent some time discussing how fighting in formal garb will probably damage it. Instead I talked about kilts, which probably wasn’t that useful for you.

You will find people who will attack you, and your work. There’s no escaping that. When that happens, it’s important to remember that they have no power over you. Their, “criticism,” doesn’t invalidate your work.

It’s also a good practice to become aware of things you’re sensitive about in your work, as a diagnostic tool. If criticism of something bothers you, there might be a problem there, and you may want to focus on shoring it up (however that works out.) Remember that your goal, as a writer, is to communicate clearly and efficiently; everything after that is style and poetry. There’s no place for, “but, you don’t understand,” make your reader understand the first time.

Have confidence in your work. I know this can be harder than it sounds, but when you believe in it, it shows.

-Starke

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Considerations for Slaying a Dragon

Realistically, if One Person needed to defeat an approximately house sized, fire breathing Dragon, what weapons would they use? Medieval weapons of course, and Magic is definitely allowed.

I know that realistically it seems like an impossible task, and that’s part of it. A lot of people have died fighting this dragon, and this character is only capable of it because his rich father has been training him since he was little, so maybe that helps? (I’m trying my hand at subverting the ‘princess in a tower’ trope)

I honestly just don’t know how to handle this. Should I just say “Fuck It” and chuck whatever realism is left out the window? That’s kinda what I’ve been doing so far, as I’d just given him a sword a lot like the Buster Sword from Final Fantasy, but I thought I’d ask you anyway.

So, there’s a couple problems here. Let’s start with the dragon.

There is no concrete set of rules for dragons. Everything is particular to the story you’re looking at, or, in this case, writing. Giant, fire breathing, murder lizard only gets you so far. Dragons range from being just another wild animal to thinking beings with superhuman intellect, depending on the setting. Similarly, they range from being just another chunk of meat with a slightly crunchy exterior, to literally immortal and impossible to kill, with examples everywhere in between.

Obviously, there’s a bit of a difference between a story of someone hunting a mundane apex predator who’s been picking off professional game wardens, and someone trying to slay Jormungandr. These are entirely different genres of storytelling, and it’s not as simple as pinning down a size and saying, ‘it breathes fire.”

What are the best weapons? It depends on the dragon’s durability. Things like lances or ballistae are probably your best options, if they work at all. Of course, if the only weapon that can harm it is an enchanted letter opener, then you’d need to use that, and try to figure out a way around the limitations of it not having an edge, and only being a few inches long.

This feeds back into a different problem, and it’s not there already, but heading into dangerous territory. Magic is a cheat. When used carelessly, it will leach all of the tension from your story, and cause the entire thing to collapse. “Just kill the dragon with magic,” isn’t going to be a satisfying ending, and leaves you with the question, “why didn’t any of the last thirty would-be dragon hunters think of that?”

The more difficult that the magic is (by any meaningful metric), the less harm it will cause to your tension, and there is even potential for benefit. If your character is trying to find a magical means to dispatch the dragon, and that’s the core of their quest, it does go a long way towards why none of the previous hunters simply zapped that overgrown iguana out of the sky.

(I’m trying my hand at subverting the ‘princess in a tower’ trope)

Don’t.

There are times that I could gleefully shoot that website into the sun, and this one of those.

It can be a very useful when you’re trying to pull a work apart and see all the underlying thematic elements.

However, when you start looking at it like a shopping list, something is about to go very, very, wrong.

This is one of those times.

What you have is a rich, privileged kid, swooping in to save the day. That’s not a “subversion,” of a damsel in distress (of any form), that’s a version of Bruce Wayne’s superpower being his bank account.

TV Tropes is not a dictionary of narrative elements, it’s a thesaurus, and if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, should be avoided for the same basic reasons. Be especially cautious of picking a trope and trying to, “subvert,” or, “deconstruct,” it. Both are very popular in the Tropes community, but are exceedingly difficult to reverse engineer off a Tropes article.

An actual subversion of the damsel in distress would be the comic strip of a dragon that is casually executing would be rescuers because the princess isn’t interested in them, and the king’s posted reward is marrying her off.

Another, classic, subversion of the damsel in distress would be Princess Leia in A New Hope, and the host of imitators that followed over the next couple decades.

However, Batman is not a subversion of a damsel in distress. Not only because he’s male, but also because he’s not in distress.

I honestly just don’t know how to handle this. Should I just say “Fuck It” and chuck whatever realism is left out the window? That’s kinda what I’ve been doing so far, as I’d just given him a sword a lot like the Buster Sword from Final Fantasy, but I thought I’d ask you anyway.

I’m going to say something that will sound utterly bizarre: “Realistic” is what you make of it. It’s in how you create and justify your world.

This is also why that site can be useful. If you want a snapshot of all the different systems of magic used in fiction, it’s all in one place. Granted, some of it is going to be a bit distorted by fans, who are distracted by how awesome they think their favorite series is. But it is a quick place to start a lit review.

When you’re telling a story, you’re going to be influenced by the media you’ve consumed. That can be books, TV, video games, comic books, music. Very importantly, there isn’t a wrong answer here.

The world you create is boundless. If you want to tell a story about people swinging around implausibly massive swords, that’s an entirely valid option. You may want to find a way to justify it, or you might just want to run with it, and let the audience deal. It only becomes a problem if your world doesn’t support the idea.

Now, the Buster Sword is a visual motif. It’s not going to have the same effect in prose. Obviously, if you’re writing a webcomic or doing animation work, there’s a legitimate aesthetic in comically oversized weapons. If you want to go that route, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Similarly, greatswords are anachronistic in medieval settings, but most people won’t catch that, and it’s really something you only need to worry about if you’re chasing historical authenticity.

Finally, I would not discount spears. They’re extremely underrepresented in modern fantasy, but have a huge footprint in myth.

If your character’s quest is to find a mythic weapon to kill the dragon, that’s fine. You now have a very solid explanation for why that weapon is different from the world around it.

-Starke

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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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