Tag Archives: Starke answers

Q&A: Multiple Martial Arts

A lot of times in the comics/superhero stuff somebody will have this whole long laundry list of different martial arts they’ve studied. I can see how it could be beneficial to dabble a bit in different styles, but is there a point where it would be better to just stick to one style and learn that really well? Is there truth to the “knows every martial art” master, or is it mainly just the author trying to make their character sound impressive?

This the result of someone trying to make their character (or themselves) sound impressive and in the process, cuing you in to the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Achieving mastery of a single martial art is a lifelong exercise. This will take decades of hard work. Even if you were to live forever, there simply wouldn’t be time to learn every martial art, as they evolved and changed. There isn’t enough time to keep up with everything, to say nothing of catching up.

If we focus on getting a character’s martial arts to basic combat proficiency, instead of actual mastery, that’s still going to take years in most traditional schools. You learn the fundamentals, and gradually learn to apply them.

If you’ve been paying attention to the blog, you’ll know this is the exact opposite of how practical hand-to-hand training works. If you’re studying something like the modern law enforcement variant of Judo, or MAP, you’re going to be learning how to use it on someone immediately, because you need to be up to speed within eight weeks of starting the class. This is proficiency, not mastery. You’re also going to need refreshers and updates because this is not static.

To an extent, when you start learning a new martial art, you need to start over. It’s not like you master a martial art, and then you can just roll over and pick up another one. You need to go through the basics, because they will be different. In many cases this is a point of failure. You have trained your muscle memory to do things one way, and you’re now being asked to do it differently. You’re being asked to do it, “wrong.”

I was supremely lucky. In college, I took Shotokan for the phys ed credits. The class’s Sensei was an off-duty cop who taught Karate as adjunct faculty. This meant he was more understanding of the residual Judo positions in my muscle memory. For example: he was more concerned that my curled knuckles on a palm strike were in a braced position, rather than that my fingers were extended. From a Karate perspective, I was trained to do it, “wrong.”

For many martial artists who try to start a new discipline, they will not have the benefit of an instructor who shares their background. Quirks that are a result of their previous teaching may be viewed as flaws. If you have a solid foundation. If your hand to hand style has a solid identity, this is fine. It will result in conversations with your instructor, and they may, or may not, be accepting of that. If the differences are irreconcilable, it may be impossible for you to learn this martial art.

So, we’re basically left with three real groups who practice multiple martial arts.

The rarest are actual masters. They’ve mastered a martial art, and now they’re auditing others. They’re not masters of those arts. They’re not even practitioners. They’re looking for something new to learn. In some cases they may be looking to start their own martial art. This is slightly more common than you might think. Most often these new martial arts are referred to as a school or style of the original martial art. The basics are the same, but there will be distinct elements that reflect the school’s founder. In some cases, you may see entire “genealogies,” where one school resulted in another, and another.

You can find masters who have extensively studied two martial arts, with the intention of producing a unified style. An example of this would be Ginchin Funakoshi, who fused two of the Okinawan schools of Karate together to create what would become Shotokan.

I skimmed over this, but it is easier to learn multiple schools of the same martial art. The fundamentals should be compatible, and even at more advanced levels, there will be similarities that make life easier for the martial artist. In contrast if you step out of your martial art entirely, you are, at best, starting over.

The second group are practitioners who have a martial art, and are looking for any techniques they can adapt. This is similar to the masters above, but tends to occur on the practical side. These are martial artists who are looking to expand their repertoire. Being able to perform the martial art as a whole is less important than being able to replicate specific techniques for themselves.

Mixed in with this group are experienced martial artists who are looking for, “something.” I made this sound a little mercenary earlier, but it can be philosophical, or even spiritual. A martial artist can take classes in another martial art simply because they’re curious about that style’s philosophy.

The final group have no idea what they’re doing. They’ll join a school, take classes until their interest wains, wander off, and then their interest is piqued, they’ll scamper in someplace new, and repeat the process. They have no foundation, or worse, it’s an unworkable mess of a half-dozen other martial arts. These are the ones who will proudly proclaim, “I’ve studied a dozen different martial arts.” You’ve studied eight, do you have belt rankings in any of them? Of course not.

Now, in defense of the last group, it is important to find a martial art that fits you, and that means you might jump through a few before you find one that’s a good match. That’s not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ones who bounce the moment things stop being fun.

Learning martial arts, particularly in traditional schools is not easy. It takes time and dedication. You need to find the drive to keep going even when you feel like giving up. You will be pushed beyond the limits of what you thought you could do. That is difficult. I would argue, it is worthwhile.

The funny thing about this entire concept is, there’s no point. Okay, so martial arts have their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning a second martial art can help shore up some of those weakness, in theory. In practice, if it’s a reputable martial art, those weaknesses won’t matter much. You were trained around those weaknesses, and they probably can’t be exploited in any meaningful way. Most of the time, picking up a second martial art wouldn’t benefit you. (Yes, there are some specific edge cases, where two martial arts may compliment each other, but that gets into very technical territory.)

Learn your style. Stick to it. The value in “dabbling,” is in expanding your knowledge of how other people solve the challenges they face. It can be valuable, but don’t do it at the expense of furthering your training.

-Starke

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Q&A: Hand Signals

Why don’t soldiers usually learn one sign language? Wouldn’t this be useful if you needed to sneak or if gunshots were too loud to be able to hear anything? It seems like the more ways to communicate, the better, right?

The short answer is, they do. Calling military hand signals, “a language,” might be overselling it a little. You can’t carry on a full conversation. However, hand gestures are a very common form of combat communication. Particularly when electronic communications are out.

The primary function isn’t stealth, it’s to be able to communicate in combat, when verbal commands would be drowned out. It is silent, but that’s a useful byproduct.

Because these signals are a combat language, it is preoccupied with being quick at the expense of being flexible. It has numbers 1-10, but after that, the core tends to be focused on orders and warnings.

You can’t express complex concepts beyond giving orders, or relaying tactical information. You can tell someone you see enemies and how many, but you can’t distinguish between a bridge and a statue. The only difference between an order to take and hold either is where you’re pointing. If that kind of information is necessary, soldiers can always switch to their spoken language for more sophisticated orders.

What the signs do is give the commander the ability to quickly and clearly assign tasks in combat, and gives the soldiers the ability to relay information to one another.

Hand signals are not universal; militaries have their own versions. These vary by nationality, to the point that there’s no direct translations in some cases. Additionally, units may sometimes incorporate new, unique, signals to suit their needs, and some widespread unofficial signals may exist.

If you’re wondering why they don’t incorporate ASL (or another sign language), it’s about efficiency. Fairly complex concepts, like an incoming gas attack or a sniper need to be conveyed in a single signal. ASL isn’t designed around that. It is a full language, with its own syntax and grammar. The US Military used to use the ASL signs for 1-9, and used the ASL zero sign as a 10, but that changed at some point, I’m not exactly clear when.

You can’t have full conversations in military signals because, that’s not the point. That’s not valuable for how the system is used. If you need to talk to someone, you talk to them. When the bullets are flying, you don’t really have time for that.

So, the answer to, “why don’t they?” Is, “they already do,” for the reasons you suggested.

-Starke

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Q&A: Anime Weapons

A lot of times in anime and manga, you will see characters using these massive weapons of ridiculous proportions. While this is obviously unreasonable, there are weapons that are larger than the person weilding them, such as most pole weapons. What are some things to account for when using a weapon bigger than yourself?

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This may sound like a nitpick but, you’re never going to find a melee weapon larger than its wielder in the real word. This is especially true of polearms. Note the word we both used: “Larger.”

Most polearms are relatively small weapons mounted on a long stick. They’re the perfect tool for those times when you want to poke a hole in someone over there, but you’re too lazy to walk over and shank them.

Melee weapons need to be fairly light. You’re going to be swinging that thing around all day. The heavier it is, the faster you will exhaust. Once you’re exhausted, you’ll fight at a significant disadvantage. This means, a light weapon that you can continue using for hours is a vastly superior battlefield choice.

As I said, polearms are relatively small (read: “light,”) weapons on a stick. This means they have the range of a much heavier (and probably impractical) weapon without the weight.

There’s other problems with super heavy weapons in anime. The part where they hit with ridiculous force ignores that the user would need to expend the energy to get it moving in the first place. It doesn’t matter if you can cleave through a Buick if you can’t swing the sword a second time. Once these start moving, you’re committed to the strike, and you can’t stop to defend yourself. The more mass the weapon has, the harder it would be to control. In extreme cases, the weapon may be so heavy an individual with (roughly) human mass wouldn’t be able to use it at all, regardless of their strength. They’d fling their own body around rather than moving their “weapon.”

As an art style, there’s nothing wrong with oversize weapons. If your art is consistent, exaggerating elements because they’re important to the audience is defensible design.

In animation, large weapons are easier to follow. It’s the animated equivalent to the roundhouse punch. Big motions do not work in real combat, but are beneficial for the audience, for the same reason. Bigger motions are easier to read. It’s easier to understand what’s happening. If you’re trying to kill someone, this is a bad thing. If you’re trying to convey a story to someone, it’s a good thing.

Characters like Bayonetta are the extreme example of this. Out of context, her proportions are bizarre, but it makes her very easy to read in motion. This especially important in games where you need to be able to see what your character is doing, as opposed to animation where if you miss a little bit of the action, it’s not a hard stop.

I’m also not inclined to be too harsh with exaggerated weapon proportions when the goal is simply to show off the design. The entire reason you’re looking at the art is, well, the art, and if artist/animator wants to take special attention to something, that’s their call. After that it’s a question of personal taste.

So long as you remember that it has no relationship to reality, and it fits artistically, oversize weapons are fine. It’s an aesthetic or thematic choice.

-Starke

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Q&A: More Gunfire

Hi. Yet another gunfire question, actually two: 1) While ricochets can be just as lethal, are they more realistic for “flesh wounds” that don’t break (shatter) bones? 2) Looking at stats like muzzle velocity, many late 19th-century rifles seem roughly the same power as modern handguns of the same caliber. Can we use this to estimate what the bullets can or can’t do?

cathreese-blog-blog

I’m going to focus on a minor, but critical part of this question: Grazing hits from direct fire and ricochets are equally realistic. Both of these things occur. It’s not that they’re particularly common, but it’s no more or less realistic for a character to suffer a superficial injury from a gunshot than from shrapnel or a ricochet. These things happen.

With gunfire, a graze is one that doesn’t penetrate deeply. It may skim across the surface, though in some circumstances a bullet will skate across bone. The victim walks away with a minor injury

Of course, a bullet doesn’t need to break bones to kill you. A through and through that ruptures an artery is immediately life threatening. A shot to the lower abdomen is an excruciating way to die. Either of these can occur without any skeletal damage. If you get shot, you can bleed to death and die from, “a flesh wound.”

This is before you get into, “fun,” concepts like hydrostatic shock, which holds it’s possible to cause neural damage from suffering a gunshot elsewhere on the body. (Though, last I checked, hydrostatic shock was a disputed phenomena.)

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth reminding people that it’s quite easy to miss the fact that you’ve shot in combat. The adrenaline means your pain response is dulled, and your body doesn’t know what to make of a gunshot wound. This has a few implications:

First: You don’t know if you’ve received a grazing hit. You probably won’t find out until afterwards.

Second: It’s entirely possible to end up with shrapnel in your body that you don’t know about. This is unusual, but not particularly noteworthy.

Third: It’s possible to suffer a terminal injury and not realize it. You can’t feel the injury, and in the adrenaline fueled state your only warning is if you realize you’re bleeding heavily. It is entirely realistic for someone to just keep fighting until they lose consciousness and bleed to death.

The exception to that final point is if the gunshot does shatter bones. That is something you cannot ignore. It’s not a pain issue, you need your bones to function, break them and you’ll be unable to use those limbs.

As for 19th century weapons? No, not really. I’m not going to say it’s completely impossible to take a 19th century weapon and find some modern analogy. Physically, it’s the same principle; you’re ejecting a chunk of metal at your target, so, if the math lines up, all things should be equal. However, the engineering is entirely different. That engineering meant that 19th century weapons had a lot of issues we just don’t see anymore. Rapid fouling (the buildup of unburnt powder) isn’t an issue. Overpressurizing the chamber causing the firearm to explode is still technically possible, but you’d only see that with sloppy hand loads, faulty weapons, or loading the wrong cartridge into a weapon.

There is a significant difference in how you’d use a 19th century firearm compared to a modern one. Because reloading took significantly longer, you couldn’t afford to spray and pray, the way you can with modern box magazines. This means less bullets in flight, more focus on making sure those rounds connect.

So, can we compare 19th century firearms to modern ones? Not really. Even stuff like ballistic gel tests are going to be somewhat suspect. Just remember that any bullet can kill if it hits something vital.

-Starke

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Q&A: Residential Gunfire

In a story where the character has to take cover from bullets in a house, I actually read that a refrigerator (maybe steel) or cast iron tub could do a decent job of stopping ammunition. That or a safe. What do you think?

It depends on the bullet.

All bullets are not created equal. Handgun rounds (generally) pack a lot less punch than rifle rounds. Assault rifles have limits, but it’s still going to tear the place up. A high-power rifle will cut through most of the things you’d find in a house. An anti-material rifle will obliterate anything short of reinforced concrete.

I’ve never tested it, but a modern fridge probably won’t stop a bullet. The actual metal shell on the outside is quite thin. It’s more for show than actual structure. Metal is a terrible insulator and it’s heavy to move around. So, you put a thin shell over an insulated plastic frame, and you’ve got something that’s light weight, energy efficient, and looks expensive. Also, the metal shell is more resistant to casual abuse than the plastic beneath.

Heavy, metal tubs are becoming a rarity. They still exist, obviously, and depending on the tub, they may be heavy enough to stop some rounds. Ironically, the problems are the same as with fridges. The metal is a poor insulator, and the tub is extremely heavy. Even older metal tubs tended to minimize the amount of material used to keep the weight down. Fiberglass is the material of choice these days.

In either case, bullets will, probably, punch through, tearing ragged holes in the metal. And blowing apart the contents. If the bullet does stop, it’s still going to make a significant dent. You can look up what gunshot damage looks like, and it’s entirely reasonable your characters would try to take cover behind those objects, believing that they would offer safety.

The safe will do what you want it to do. It will provide shield against incoming gunfire. However, this is where things go a little off the rails. Free standing safes are a rarity. They’re fantastic for cartoons because it’s an instant cue telling the audience, “here’s a safe.” The problem with this is, if a thief wants what’s in the safe, they’ll just take the safe, and crack it at their leisure. The easy solution to this problem is to build the safe into the structure. The safe may be built into the concrete slab the house is built on. It could be part of the wall. It could be part of a larger furnishing piece that can’t be easily moved (such as a full office desk.)

The worst part is, a lot of these items will deflect the bullet. The metal shell on a modern fridge won’t stop a bullet, but it can cause it to bounce off in a new direction.

If you’re dealing with rounds that will fragment on impact, ricocheting can turn bullet from a single projectile into a spray of shrapnel. It is entirely possible to be injured from bullet fragments bouncing off concrete or hard metal surfaces.

Your characters aren’t going to have a lot of options for cover in a normal house. However, assuming someone is on the outside shooting in, they will have a lot of concealment. The best option is to hit the floor, make themselves as small a target as possible and try to avoid detection until the attackers leave, or they can find a safe way to escape undetected. It’s not, “safe,” but your scene doesn’t benefit from your characters safety. You may be interested in getting them out alive, but that doesn’t mean you should let your audience relax until you’re ready.

If your attacker is inside the house, then your character’s goals are to eliminate them before they’re found (and killed), or to escape (again, undetected.) If it turns into a gunfight, neither side has any cover. It is harder to accurately target someone through a wall, but you can make an educated guess for where they “should” be, and fire blind.

Incidentally, this is also the only safety your characters have. If someone is firing into into the house, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a kill, and someone dropping to avoid gunfire. Even if they did score a hit, walking in to confirm the kill is an extremely risky decision. They’re putting themselves in a situation where they could be easily ambushed and killed by people who know the layout of the place.

A house is not a good place for a firefight. You won’t be able to find safety when the bullets start flying. However, that is true for everyone. When you put your characters in jeopardy, you’re putting them in jeopardy, you don’t need to immediately walk it back and say, “but I’m sure they’ll be fine.” Tension works best when your audience isn’t sure what will happen next. Will they live? Will they die? Keep reading to find out.

-Starke

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Q&A: Different Kinds of Violence

Sometimes you say violence is viewed as monstrous and your character would be viewed with caution by real life bystanders but on the other hand, you also highlight blood sport and how the masses can be entertained by violence. So what causes people to perceive violence differently?

The simple answer would be to say, “Different kinds of violence are different.” It’s a little reductive, but when you change the circumstances around violence, you radically alter how it will be perceived.

There’s at least three major things parts to this: Structure, distance, and context.

Sports fighting is very different from real violence in a number of ways. I’m generalizing a little. For example: underground fight clubs aren’t going to follow the same rules as UFC, however there are some basic tenets to how you structure sport fighting.

The purpose behind sports fights is to present entertainment. The violence needs to be drawn out and slowed down so that the audience can actually see what’s happening. This is also true for violence on films. How many movies have you watched where the characters find themselves engaged in protracted slug fests?

Professional wrestling is a wonderful example of this. Before anyone asks: Yes, professional wrestling is semi-choreographed. The wrestlers are working together. It’s a performance, and their goal isn’t to hurt one another, though injuries do happen. However, they’re able to present a simulacrum of combat in front of a live audience. It’s slow, telegraphed, easy to watch, and easy to follow. This isn’t how real violence works; it’s romanticized, packaged, and presented for consumption.

Stepping back from that, even in things like UFC or boxing, the rules slow things down, and help the audience watch the fight. These rules serve to protect the fighters. Each one represents a significant investment, and the goal is to keep them alive and in fighting shape after their bouts.

Fencing is a good example of a sport that struggles with a more realistic understanding of violence. Even if you know what you’re seeing, it’s difficult to spectate. Fencing bouts are extremely fast. The foils have adapted to be safe for use, and the fencers move at a speed appropriate for their weapon, which is to say, “too fast to see.” Fencing has become utterly dependent on electronic scoring. It’s an amazing sport, but it struggles to get attention because it’s nearly impossible to understand what’s happening in the moment.

On the surface it may sound like I’m saying that practical combatants simply move faster. That’s not entirely accurate, practical combat tends to focus on techniques and movements that minimize motion and avoid telegraphing. So, even if an individual strike is only marginally faster, your brain has a harder time parsing what’s happened. The other part of this is that practical combat focuses on neutralizing the foe as quickly as possible, this means that it will be over in far fewer strikes.

The idea that the person next to you in line at McDonald’s was just killed in less time than it took you to read this sentence should be terrifying. and you’re still not sure what happened. This is not the violence that TV prepared you for.

Incidentally, I’ve been focusing on hand-to-hand here, but adding weapons only ramps the speed up. Add a blade or a gun and someone will be dead or dying before you realize what’s happening.

When you go and watch boxers, there’s structure. There’s a referee. The fighters are brought out. You know what’s coming. You know who these people are. You’re here for this.

When you’re walking down the street, and suddenly all you’re sure of is that the guy over there just executed someone in the street, and there’s blood everywhere. Things are a little different.

That’s the second thing. When you go to a sporting event, you’re up in the audience. You’re watching the fight from a safe distance. Even if you’re ringside, there’s still the ring itself. Sometimes it’s just some ropes delineating you from the fight, other times it’s chain link. Either way, the fight is happening, “over there.” Even when you can say you saw it live, it’s still happening at a safe distance.

In the real world, there’s no ring. There’s no tangible barrier between you and the carnage. It’s not something you’re observing, you’re part of it.

When we’re talking about firearms, this gets worse. Firearms are (basically) line of sight weapons. Additionally, bullets penetrate soft tissue, and can ricochet off of hard surfaces. If someone starts shooting in a crowded space, you are in real danger of taking a bullet unless you can put some solid cover between you and the shooter. More than that, a lot of things you’re prepped to think of as cover, like furniture, interior walls, or cars, are not. Hide behind a car, and you can still end up taking a bullet. This isn’t the gunfight tempo that TV, Movies, and video games promised.

The violence isn’t happening in some safe environment. It’s not on the other side of a barrier. It’s not safely in a fantasy world on your TV. It’s right here.

The third part is something that has been sprinkled through all of this, it’s context. In a sporting event you’re already primed to understand what’s going on. You know that a fight is going to happen. You know who the participants are, at least in concept, even if you’re not familiar with the fighters as individuals. There’s even fully developed rituals to how the fight starts, when it pauses, when it’s over, and how the winner will be recognized. At every step along the way, you’ve been told what’s happening, either by the actions themselves, or from someone explaining them to you. Sport fighting, even blood sport, has rules, and as an audience member you’re cued into them.

As a bystander, real world violence has none of that context. It happens, and you’re left to your own devices to figure out what happened. Again, all you’re sure is that something happened which you were not prepared for.

It’s one thing to watch a prize fighter victoriously limping out of the ring. It’s entirely different when the person standing next to you is spattered in the still warm blood of their victim.

-Starke

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Q&A: Changing the Ground Rules

Two questions. 1. Would real-world knowledge of weapons be enough to break immersion for someone when reading a book that basically uses video game weaponry? Because video games are a visual medium, it’s easier to get away with things that don’t necessarily make sense, like the bladed tonfa from Warframe. 2. If one did go about this, would you suggest blending real-world knowledge with fantasy/fantastical aspects, or would a matter-of-fact ‘it is what it is’ kind of policy be better?

Let’s take this apart into a couple different pieces.

Would real-world knowledge of weapons be enough to break immersion for someone when reading a book that basically uses video game weaponry?

Yes.

It’s not even about video games. Writers and filmmakers can screw up a lot of details, and if you’ve background in that field, it will drive you nuts. This isn’t goes way beyond weapons into other things like lawyers, police, doctors, programmers, ect. Really, if you’re in any technical field, you run a real risk of being driven up a wall by technical errors made by writers who don’t know the subject matter.

This can be true with weapons, because they’re very technical pieces of equipment, there’s a lot of information to manage, and you can easily end up with a writer who thinks, “they’re just point and click, right?”

The only way to deal with this is, simply, to do your research to the best of your abilities. There will be errors, but usually minor mistakes are forgivable, if the attempt has been made.

Because video games are a visual medium, it’s easier to get away with things that don’t necessarily make sense, like the bladed tonfa from Warframe.

No. It has nothing to do with the medium. If anything, it’s easier to screw up with weapons in a video game, because you’ve put the player in control of managing the item, and very few games seek to accurately reproduce real weapons.

The common example of this is, simply that many first person shooters use left handed variants of the weapons. Specifically so it will eject shell casings in front of the camera. It can get much more bizarre however.

For a recent example, there’s Generation Zero, which has two different 9mm ammo types. It segregates 9mm into Pistol and SMG. The weapons to pick from are the Glock 17, the MP5, and the Sweedish m/45. The problem is, all of these fire 9x19mm Parabellum. It’s the same bullet. At the same time, it has no qualms about chambering the same 7.62mm round into an H&K G3 (which fires 7.62x51mm), and an AK variant (which fires 7.62x39mm). (And before someone says anything, no, it’s not an AK-308, the game is set in 1989.)

This is a problem that, you’d probably never see in any other media. A writer is unlikely to really dig into the munitions to the point where you’d see that kind of weirdness without doing any in depth research (though, this kind of mistake does happen.) This isn’t a visual media thing, because if you have a game or film, where you only see the characters messing with magazines, the writer simply couldn’t make this kind of a mistake.

Now, I used Generation Zero as an example because the game is set in 1989. The weapon selection reflects that. However Warframe is a different animal.

Set somewhere between eight to twelve thousand years from now. The setting permits the ability to travel between planets in the solar system in minutes, and characters are wall running, cybernetic, murder ninjas. In context, I don’t think the idea that some Tenno use bladed tonfas is that weird.

2. If one did go about this, would you suggest blending real-world knowledge with fantasy/fantastical aspects, or would a matter-of-fact ‘it is what it is’ kind of policy be better?

The important thing is setting the ground rules for your world. If you fail to do so, the assumed rules will match the real world. This can trip you up, when the real world conflicts with yours. Additionally, simply redefining things in ways that are factually incorrect to the real world can be viewed as a mistake on your part.

The closer your world is to the real one, the harder it becomes to tweak things. No one questions Generation Zero’s killer robots wandering the 1980s Swedish Countryside gunning people down, it’s the weird logistical stuff that raises an eyebrow. This is clearly not our world, but the parts that almost sync up are where you’re more likely to step back and say, “wait, this doesn’t make sense.”

With Warframe, the entire world is fantasy. (Technically, science fiction, but for this discussion that’s an academic distinction.) It’s strange, difficult to rationalize, and going in you don’t have a reference for how things, “should,” work. Setting the ground rules becomes easy. So saying, “well, does this make sense?” needs to be balanced against the setting’s lore. (Incidentally, I’m not well versed enough in Warframe to get into lore discussions.)

Genre can also establish rules that you then need to work around. We, “know,” vampires can’t walk out in daylight, because those are “the rules,” until you get into something like The Witcher or, ironically, even, Dracula, where that rule doesn’t apply. Vampires can walk in daylight, they may choose to avoid it if they can, but it won’t kill them. Or will only harm them under specific circumstances. Hold this in contrast to something like Vampire: The Masquerade where catching a sunrise will reduce a Kindred to ash. I bring up vampires because it’s a sub-genre that frequently needs to need to set the ground rules telling the audience what does, and does not work, for this version of vampires.

It is easy when it’s a fictional attachment to the world. It’s harder when it’s bundled into a world that appears to follow the same rules as the one you live in. Staying with the video game theme, a very good example of a fantasy world with it’s own rules layered into a, “modern,” setting is last year’s Disco Elysium. The firearms technology seems to have stalled out around pepperbox pistols, which exist next to ceramic assault armor more advanced than what we have in the real world. It spends a lot of time with world building.

Blending fantasy and reality together is difficult, but doable. First, you need to cue the audience in that this is not, “the real world.” Doing this organically can be challenging. Second, you need to explain that divide enough to maintain the suspension of disbelief. The audience has to believe in you world, more than they care about nitpicking.

Some rules are much harder to break than others. It’s easier to tell a story with fictional weapon than it is to tell a story that breaks the laws of physics, or violates logical structure. The latter needs a good justification.

It’s all about the story you’re trying to tell. If you’re looking at something and trying to make a decision if you want to the real world or throw it out for something fantastical, do some research first, and once you’ve gotten there, decide if you want to twist things.

Nothing ties you to the world that exists, but, you need to know the world you live in, before you decide to depart it.

-Starke

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Q&A: War Animals

Familiars and other animal companions are a staple in fantasy literature, and eagles and falcons have been used to hunt for centuries. How practical is it to use animals in battle?

derederest

It depends on the combat role, but animals have seen use in combat.

The big example are, of course, horses. Cavalry would not exist without them. At least, not in our world. Elephants and camels have also been used as cavalry mounts. I’m sure I’m forgetting some others. Many animals have been used in non-combat support roles.

Dogs are another major combat animal. The specialized breeds of war dogs are mostly gone now, but they did see use historically. There is still combat application for dogs today. A dog is far more adept at running down fleeing foes, and they remain a highly mobile skirmishing unit. They also have superior senses of smell and hearing, making them valuable sentries. Even if you don’t have as much control over them than with human soldiers, they’re still quite useful.

None of that’s familiars, though. Animals used in warfare are one thing, but a familiar is a magical “accomplice.”

I’m going to be a bit vague here, because the concept of the familiar isn’t a single thing, it’s varies widely based on the setting. The familiar assists the mage in some way, it’s not generally a combat animal. This is usually something like a cat, rodent, or a small bird. It may not even be an animal, it could be a supernatural creature assuming the form of that animal. Also, depending on the familiar, it’s entirely possible it would be something overtly fantastic, like an imp or small demon.

Depending on the rules associated with a familiar, it may be psychically linked to magic user, meaning mage draws significant advantages from their familiar, such as spying and reconnaissance. In extreme examples, it may even be vital to their ability to channel (or cast) magic. So, these can be very important beings, but it depends on the rules for that setting.

In the real world, there were beliefs that the pets of suspected magic practitioners had intrinsic magical powers, or were proof that someone had entered a pact for their power. The entire idea of the familiar has historical basis, even if the concept itself had no grounding in reality.

You mentioned falconers, and also the use of hunting animals earlier. There is a concept of some varieties of magic users having combat focused animals with them. Again, there’s some history here. A number of animals, including birds of prey and dogs have been used as hunting companions. It’s a distinct concept from the familiar, and also from the use of animals in warfare.

So, there’s several different concepts here, and all three have some historical basis, but they’re all distinct. You probably don’t want to mix them indiscriminately, but there’s also room for blending them together, depending on the rules for your setting.

-Starke

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How viable is a tonfa in modern street fighting setting? (well, to be more accurate, Hong Kong during 1988, but I digress). I know that guns are going to beat it out regardless, because guns, but in the case they aren’t available, would it be a good weapon for a gang member to carry around?

Yeah, Hong Kong is a very different set of considerations from simply, “modern street fighting.” Specifically, firearms laws there are far more strict than in the US, and the danger of running into someone using a gun is much lower than if you set your story in 1980s Los Angeles.

Obviously, if your characters are going up against the police, then that starts to become a serious consideration again, but for street level combat, there’s a very real probability that the people they’re fighting won’t have access to firearms either.

Now my knowledge on the subject is strictly 1999, so some of this may have been different under British rule, but my understanding is that under the PRC, arms smuggling is a capital offense. Possession of an unlicensed firearm is a serious felony that can carry a life sentence.

What little I can dig up from pre-1999, suggest that even before the British left, it was extremely restricted. You could own a firearm, but you not allowed to own, or store, ammunition. You needed to purchase, and use it, at the gun club, where you shot.

There were exemptions for people who dealt with large quantities of cash, gems, or other untraceable wealth, as part of their job. That may have persisted, I’m uncertain.

Within that specific context, yeah, I could see the tonfa being useful for someone dealing with street level crime. Ironically, they might be better off unarmed and using whatever they can find in their environment opportunistically, simply because of law enforcement attention. The full list of prohibited weapons is a bit vague in places. Near as I can tell, the tonfa isn’t explicitly restricted, but an officer might class it under one of those headers and arrest your character anyway.

Incidentally, while writing this, the thing that keeps coming to mind is Sleeping Dogs. This was a criminally underrated GTA style game set in 2012 Hong Kong, where you played as an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads. It’s a little off what you’re talking about, but is still a fascinating examination of the tensions for a character who’s operating undercover in a criminal organization.

-Starke

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Q&A: Blood in the Eyes

Hey! Is it possible to take both of an opponent’s eyes out with a single swipe of a sword without amputating the nose? Thanks so much in advance!

Not exactly what you’re asking, but cutting someone’s forehead so that they’ll get blood in their eyes, temporarily blinding them, was a real tactic. That does work.

Actually taking out the eyes in a single, linear strike, without hitting the nose? I don’t think so. To be fair, even a fairly deep cut to the bridge of the nose wouldn’t amputate, and a slash across the face that would sever the nose wouldn’t connect with the eyes, because of how they rest in their sockets.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious, in which case, I’m sorry. Still, if you want to blind your character temporarily, in combat, cuts to the forehead will do that.

-Starke

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