Tag Archives: Starke answers

Considerations When Writing Ambidextrous Characters

What kind of advantage, if any, would a swordfighter (specifically one with an arming sword) get from being ambidextrous? I’ve been thinking of revamping a story I wrote as a teenager and to 16-year-old me the ability to switch sword hands mid-combat was one of the main ways to show how Extra Special Badass my main character was, but I figured I should check before I bring that over to the (heavily) rewritten edition

A few things come to mind, with one being distinctly more artificial than the others.

The artificial example is that your character can continue fighting even if they lose the use of one of their hands. The reason I’m calling this artificial is because, chances are, any injury that took their arm or hand out of use, will probably also be serious enough to impair their ability to fight, beyond just that limb. (Blood loss and pain are likely to be the major issues here.)

One, very real, advantage is architectural. Medieval castles and fortifications were specifically designed with right hand dominance in mind. Many were built so that an assaulting force would have their right arms pressed against the wall. This manifests in the spiral of staircases, where an ascending assaulter is moving clockwise, and their right arm is against the center axis, while a defender above them will have their right arm free to strike from the outer radius, giving them more freedom of to attack. You’ll also see this pattern with some straight stairways along the sides of walls, so that the assaulters will have their arms pressed against the fortification, while defenders have their right arms over open space.

Somewhat obviously, if you’re ambidextrous, you can swap hands and ignore this kind of restriction. While it’s highly specific to the spaces you’re fighting in, being ambidextrous (or even just competent with your off hand) can help when fighting in very cramped spaces. (This is even relevant in the modern era, and it’s a good idea to learn how to shoot accurately with your off hand, even if you don’t expect to do so. If you’re left handed, this is borderline necessary, because you will encounter firearms that are specifically contoured or configured for a right handed shooter.)

One thing that ambidexterity doesn’t really help with is dual wielding. The best recorded historical example of dual wielding is, probably, the sword and shield. Now, being ambidextrous would help your character flip their sword and shield to the opposite hands (this would still require a bit of fumbling with switching the weapons over, so, not something to do in the middle of combat, but the option is there.

Ambidexterity is one of those character traits that sounds like this was a character you came up with as a teenager. There’s no shame in that, and this isn’t at your expense. We have all made some questionable writing decisions when we were younger, and in this case it’s not that bad. There are ambidextrous people. It’s real, and it’s realistic for someone to have some degree of ambidexterity.

Roughly 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous, with a much larger portion of the population who have some degree of self-trained ambidexterity.

Self trained ambidexterity especially common among left handed individuals who need to use everyday items that cannot be used left handed, and it is much cheaper to learn to use a pair of scissors with your right hand, rather than buying special, and expensive, left handed scissors, only to have the things disappear after a month when someone else, “borrows,” and loses them.

Ambidexterity has applications (more, a range of general utility, like being able to write with either hand, or being able to easily work a mechanism while holding something heavy in their other hand. Ironically, with characters, it’s the kind of trait you don’t really need to call out and say, “yeah, my character is ambidextrous.” Either they can perform acts proficiently with their “off-hand” or they can’t, and most readers won’t notice, unless the limitations (which your character doesn’t have) are called out.

Ironically, for the combat applications mentioned above, your character will come across as more of a badass if they’re not ambidextrous. If they have to switch hands, fighting on with their off-hand at a disadvantage, and still soldier on to victory, it’s more impressive, “more badass,” for them to overcome the limitation than to have a custom curated, “oh I don’t face this adversity,” token to play.

Hand dominance is weird, when it comes to fictional characters. Clearly they should have it, but most of the time, it’s not commented on. It’s not really relevant. Even in live action media, most of the time, characters will inherit their hand dominance from the actor playing them. This is why, focusing on ambidexterity as a combat advantage is a little strange to me.

The up shot is, I’m not saying, “don’t do it.” It’s your character, it’s a credible characteristic, it does add some unusual flavor to them without straining plausibility. My gut impulse is to say that it doesn’t really benefit the character, but it’s not detrimental, and it could certainly add texture.

There was a piece of advice from a roleplaying guide I read years ago; remember to design your characters so they have a mix of combat and social options available to them. You don’t want to be in a situation where one of the players has focused exclusively on combat, and then when the party is in a town, they will have no meaningful ability to participate in the story. (I’m paraphrasing, this is from first edition Exalted‘s core book.)

I think it’s good advice in general, but in relation to ambidexterity, this is something you can use to fluidly flavor a lot of the character’s non-combat activities. If you can find ways to reliably incorporate into their everyday activities, it will make them unique (without feeling like you’re trying to make them special.)


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The Rate of Gun Ownership Among Deer is Startlingly Low

How much does hunting resemble fighting in a real battle/duelling/etc?

Movies about noble people makes it look like it’s just a sport that doesn’t tie into real life fighting, but real people I know (tho mostly macho men) that go hunting treat it like it’s a manly man thing to do, only one step away from going to war.

Thank you! Have a good day.

So, this may come as a shock, but the number of deer who shoot back at hunters is shockingly low. So, that’s a significant difference.

Hunting skills can be repurposed to track and execute other humans. It’s not analogous to duels or battles, but you can hunt people. Some of the skills can be repurposed. Precision shooting, stealth, and tracking are all useful. However, humans are much more likely to turn on you, and and lay effective traps or ambushes.

Under normal circumstances, hunting is inherently an asymmetrical activity. The hunter enjoys almost insurmountable advantages over their prey (when they’re not hunting sapient beings.) That doesn’t mean it’s, “safe.” Deer in particular, can be quite dangerous, if sufficiently provoked. Of course, hunting predators (like bears or wolves) comes with the inherent danger, of the animal deciding to hunting the hunter.

So, of course, you end up with the guys using high power rifles to hunt an animal at long range. At that point, the macho element is just cultural norms, and it’s entirely possible that someone (particularly an individual who is somewhat insecure in their masculinity) would attempt to associate it with other stereotypically masculine behaviors. Like going to war, or mistaking Coors and Budweiser for beer. Using those behaviors as affirmation that, yes, they can open every jar in the fridge. Though, why they may view asserting dominance over a jar of pickles as proof of their masculinity is an enigma.

Also, some people like to go out in the woods and get lost for a few days, or weeks. It’s weird. I had my fill of sleeping on the ground when I was a teenager. At that point, some of it is just the trappings of the activity that gets you out of the house and away from the rest of the human race. Hunting and fishing are good excuses for that, especially if you think, “hiking,” sounds like, “mobile mosquito feeder.”


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The Role of Honor as a Social Control Mechanism

I had always wondered about a certain aspect in martial arts or combat media that features some martial arts, and that is the “evil” or “dark” style that is considered reprehensible and immortal, and the style is… using guns, poisons, bombs, traps, hidden weapons, and so on. Every time there’s a battle with such practitioners, they always gets called “dishonorable” or “evil” or maybe even cowardly. But then you also have “if this was a real fight, you’d be dead” trope when it comes to something like a mock duel vs a duel to the death, which often shows how in a “real fight” there’s no use for honor and such and would often have the protagonist of such genre be fighting as dirty as possible and be treated as badass. My question then is… well, what exactly is “honor” in a fight? Isn’t “dirty tricks” like sands in the eyes to resolve combat as quickly as possible the most desired trick? What exactly should be the balance between “pragmatism” and “honor”, whatever the latter is?

Okay, so, I’ll have to level with you, I have never heard of a martial arts style that considers IEDs as an important technique. Also, martial arts that incorporate firearms are more of a myth than reality. There are disarms, but there’s no such thing as a, “gun kata.” That’s pure fiction.

Honor isn’t about good and evil, it’s not about right and wrong: Honor is about threat control. Honor is defined by those in power, and then applied to those below them, to ensure they cannot rise up and disrupt the status quo.

“The only unfair fight is the one you lose,” thought process comes out of the understanding that giving your foe a fair chance to kill you is an utterly terrible idea. Especially against a better trained and better equipped foe, getting into a stand-up fight is suicidal.

It’s dishonorable to run from a fight? Who does this benefit? Dying because you wouldn’t break and escape just means you’re dead.

It’s dishonorable to attack someone from behind? Again, this only really benefits your foe. It’s about tricking you into putting yourself into a more vulnerable position.

But, why is this a rule? Why is it dishonorable to stab someone in the back, but not to stab them in the face? In the distant past, when nobles fought on the battlefield, stabbing someone in the back meant you didn’t know who you had just killed. However, if you saw their face before killing them, it meant you could properly assess whether they were one of the enemy nobles, meaning they should be ransomed back, rather than summarily killed on the battlefield. It made the battlefield less dangerous for the nobility, but no safer for the peasantry, and also helped to further enrich the winning nobles. But, of course, the person who is expected to behave, “honorably,” was the conscripted foot soldier, who would see no benefit from, “being honorable,” but may face harsh retribution if they killed someone they shouldn’t have.

(This, also explains a large part of why guns and bombs can be considered dishonorable. These are indiscriminate, and therefore, a threat to those who set the rules.)

Honor is meaningless to a corpse. However, if you’re in a position of power, dishonor is incredibly valuable. Dishonor becomes a tool to politically weaken (or in some cases outright eliminate) a threat. Dishonor can be applied through mere allegations. Dishonor can also apply social stigmas, and if it applies to a family, can be used to undermine entire factions.

Because it’s dishonorable to lie, all but your most transparent lies can be used to implicate, and dishonor, your potential rivals. Best of all, questioning the honor of the powerful is often behavior that permits immediate, and vicious, retribution. So, even if someone does realize you’re lying through your teeth, it gives you the pretext to eliminate them.

Honor is not, and never has been, about being a good person. It was never about morality or ethics. It is a weapon, wielded by those in power, against those beneath them. The first, and most effective lie honor presents is the idea that this is about being a good person. It is insidious, because, for the person with good intentions, it will lead them to punish themselves, if they step out of line.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do the right thing. In many cases, that is laudable. However, honor is a about perverting that into a system where you will voluntarily hand advantage to your foes,

This isn’t just codes of honor. Laws (both secular and religious) can be used in similar ways. To punish and marginalize potential foes, while simultaneously entrenching your own powerbase.

In many cases, codes of honor can support ethical, or moral behavior. It’s something to consider carefully before fully ejecting the concept. However, living to see the next sunrise is more important than being honorable. It may be important to make your actions appear honorable, after the fact, but that’s more about political damage control. The most important thing to understand about honor is that its real purpose is not what it appears to be. It was always a lie, designed to get you to put yourself at a disadvantage.


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The Motivations and Economics Behind Freelance Arms Dealers

If you’re a profit-driven criminal like an arms dealer, what’s your motive when you align with insurgents against a government? Unless they’re on the verge of collapse, doesn’t it always make more business sense to side with the people running the country?

The problem with selling to the nation itself is two-fold. First, the nation already has an arms dealer, and second, you don’t have enough stock to keep them happy.

The first problem is a function of geopolitics. If you pick a lesser developed country on the map, chances are extremely good that the established government already receives arms from an outside source. The three largest arms dealers in the world are the United States of America, The Russian Federation, and The People’s Republic of China.

For example: if you’re trying to arm a small country’s military, and they have about 50k standing troops, you’re not just looking to sell them 50k rifles. You need to sell them several thousand rounds of ammunition per weapon, and suddenly you’re looking at needing to move at least a hundred million rounds of ammunition into the country. On top of that, they need heavy equipment, tanks, aircraft, and replacement parts for all of those systems. So, even if you do find a way to obtain all those resources, it turns out the nation’s already buying ex-Soviet hardware from a foreign nation.

A brief aside about Soviet designs (the AK-47 is the poster child for this, but it’s, mostly, true of nearly all Soviet era military hardware), they’re incredibly easy to build. People can joke about the quality of Soviet era trucks, or the merits of the AR15 pattern rifle, but you can (almost, literally) start commercially producing functional AK47s in a shack out in the wilderness.

So, while the real world example I just cited does buy their arms from the Russians and Ukrainian governments, it’s not that unreasonable for any nation with a marginally developed industrial center, to be able to start turning out cheap, but effective, firearms.

In contrast, as a freelance arms dealer, you’ve got, maybe, a couple thousand Rhodesian FALs. That’s not going to interest the legitimate government, it’s not enough, the quality is too low, and you can’t ramp up the supply to match the demands of an ongoing military conflict. But, if the rebels pay you up front, you can give them enough arms to get started… at that point, it’s not really about arming them for the long haul, it doesn’t matter if they succeed or die, and if they do succeed, maybe, hopefully, they paid you enough to kick some more hardware their way. Or, they die, you got your money, and when the dust settles, you can bribe a few soldiers to hand over a few crates of confiscated arms, wander into the next nation, and start all over again.

Except, that’s not the only possibility. Because it’s quite possible you’re not selling Rhodesian FALs, you’re selling something a little more modern. Maybe they’re M14s, almost factory fresh. When anyone asks where you got them, you give the same answer you would have given with the FALs; you bribed some soldiers to lose a few shipments, but that’s simply not true. What you have is already bought and paid for by another foreign nation, who wants you arming these rebels, wants you stirring the pot, and handed the shipments off to you to start some fireworks. You’re not, “a spy,” that’s far too classy, you’re what you say, “an arms dealer,” but you’re also covertly working for a foreign government’s intelligence agency. Your handler wanders in and tells you who to sell to, and off you go to strike up a new deal.

Freelance arms dealers go to the people who will pay. Rebels with no funds to purchase arms aren’t getting anything on credit. Governments don’t often need arms dealers, and may also be unable to pay.

Arms dealers with backing in the intelligence community aren’t interested in supporting the government; they’re in country to help start and support a proxy war.

When you want to sell weapons to governments, the solution is to get into weapons manufacturing, not gunrunning.


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Keeping Your Fighters Well Fed is Vital to Their Success

I have multiple fighter characters who are also poor and sometimes starving beggars. How would this less than optimal physical health affect what a fighter might need? My story is sort of fantasy but there isn’t a lot a magic at least when it’s about people.


So, any extreme physical activity will require a pretty significant caloric intake. Meaning, if you’re fighting, you need to be well fed. There are countless aphorisms and clichés about the importance of logistics to military campaigns (such as, “an army moves on its stomach”) and there’s a truth here: It is vitally important that your fighters are well fed.

So, the big problems from chronic malnutrition for your characters are: an impaired immune system (meaning they’ll get sick more easily and have more difficulty fighting it off), generalized fatigue and weakness, cognitive impairment (difficulty thinking and focusing), and a slowed healing rate.

Slightly less severe, but they’ll also have increased difficulty maintaining their body temperature, meaning they’ll frequently feel cold. This has some real applications if you’re needing to wait overnight somewhere watching for someone.

If your character is underage, chronic malnutrition is catastrophic, as it will permanently impair their physical and mental development.

So, the short version is, your characters will be weaker, slower, more prone to injury and illness, less able to recover from injuries taken, and less able to focus on the fight in front of them.

You really cannot win a fight if you’re not getting enough to eat.

In a larger context, if you’re leading a group, and you can’t feed your fighters, your group will scatter. It’s one of those Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs things, if you literally cannot keep your people alive, they have no reason to follow you. If you can keep them fed, but can’t keep them safe, they may stick around until that illusion is shattered, but then they’ll be looking for something better. If you can do both of those things, then you need to worry about keeping them happy, and need to worry about giving them a purpose.

One place where shoddy writers will manufacture drama is in these kinds of survival situations, but, because they didn’t consider Maslow’s Hierarchy, the whole thing will feel a bit, “off.” They’ll have characters who are facing a lethal threat, but they’ll be upset about accommodations, or engage in political infighting. Things that are, absolutely, not a concern when characters are being hunted, or facing starvation.

So, the short version, you need to feed your fighters. Following that, unless you’re setting up some kind of authoritarian cult, you need to feed your other members as well. After that, your fighters need to be able to protect the other members of the group (to some degree. And, there is a reasonable tension in their difficulty with that point.) If they can’t protect the group, then the group will hemorrhage members. If they can’t feed the non-combat members, they’ll leave, and if they can’t feed anyone, the group will splinter and the individuals will go looking for someplace where they can avoid starving to death.


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Music on the Battlefield

Slightly off the usual topic, but how realistic is the idea of an army going into battle with someone playing some sort of music on whatever very loud instrument the technology allows? This is partly prompted by the battle scene in the new Dune movie, where I’m pretty sure the bagpipe music over the big battle is meant to be something the characters can hear, as it’s the same music the piper is shown playing in an earlier scene, but as a folk music nerd I was already intrigued by the idea

There’s a lot of history there, and it’s an area that I’m not an expert on. The very short version would be that: Yes, music has had a very important role on the battlefield.

It gets a little more complicated when you move beyond that, because music did a lot of things in various contexts. Instruments were used to help maintain cadence, help maintain morale, and to quickly communicate orders. This included the bagpipes, which were famously used to boost troop morale in battle, as recently as the first World War. (Various) drums and horns are the other examples frequently given, and I’m not sure how many other instruments saw battlefield use like this.

Playing recorded music into battle has some history as well, though the major example is fictional. In Apocalypses Now, Lt Colonel Killgore’s Air Cavalry blasts Ride of the Valkyries while leading an assault on a fishing village. While the example is fictional, there’s actual history with using music recordings to demoralize enemies. There were unconfirmed reports of American tank crews emulating Apocalypses Now‘s use of Wagner in Iraq. (I’m slightly hesitant to include this, because I can’t confirm it, but it’s also entirely plausible.) There are dozens of instances where loud music has been used to harass or distract hostile combatants. This tends to be more about use outside of combat. The Korean DMZ has been the site of multiple musical assaults like this (granted, with K-pop as the preferred vector.) Also, this seems to be an extremely recent development, (at a guess, within the last 30 years) which shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given how, until recently, sound equipment that would be loud enough to be heard over combat would have required dedicated vehicles. I’m not aware of any non-fictional examples of those, outside of, maybe, some propaganda trucks.

There’s adjacent issue you may want to research a bit further on your own time, and it might dovetail into this. There’s a lot of scholarly lit on the use of music as propaganda during the world wars. The use of music as a wartime propaganda vector was not new, but it might be a good jumping off point into the further use of music as a morale booster.


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Choosing the Right Martial Art

This is more of a personal question but what MA you’d recommend to a 30 something? There’s krav maga courses at my city but I’m not sure if krav is actually good? I’ve read conflicting opinions on it

It its native environment, Krav Maga is very effective. Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force and designed around combat in very tight quarters. It’s entirely built to operate in modern Israeli urban warfare. That’s also the problem.

Krav Maga was, originally, designed to kill opposing combatants. In its original form, it was ill suited for police or self defense roles, and would have been a disaster for sports and recreational martial artists.

What followed was that Krav Maga filtered out of the IDF. The martial art was revised and modified for people who had different needs. Police didn’t need a martial art that could kill people, they needed one that could keep the suspect alive. Recreational martial artists needed something they could practice safely. MMA fighters looked at the potential applications in sport.

So, roughly 50 years after Krav Maga escaped the IDF, there’s now multiple variants of the martial art. It’s not even that there’s a single sport variant, or a single self-defense variant, because each instructor is going to have a slightly different take on it, and that will filter down to their students. These tend to be almost imperceptible, initially, but when you’re talking over multiple decades, distinct schools of thought will start to emerge.

If someone is teaching Krav Maga as an exercise routine, that’s not going to be what you want if you’re looking for a self defense style. Beyond that, not all schools are created equal. You will find quality differences based on the skill of a school’s instructors. Two different schools practicing the same martial art could produce students of radically different proficiency.

This is where it’s a bit tricky for me. Because I don’t have a background in Krav Maga, I can’t tell you exactly what to look for in a school to immediately determine if it’s what you’re looking for.

Beyond that, a lot of recreational or sport schools will advertise themselves as, “self-defense.” The easy one to point out is Karate. 99 times out of 100, if a Karate school is offering itself as self-defense, it’s not going to deliver on that. It’s going to offer the recreational form of the martial art (because, that’s what actually exists), and at best may offer some practical self-defense considerations above that, but it’s not a good martial art for self defense (unless, you’re really worried about attacks from time traveling samurai from the 17th and 18th centuries.)

So, is Krav Maga a bad martial art? No. It’s an entirely legitimate choice. However, if you’re thinking you can take eight weeks of Krav Maga and come out the other side with hand to hand skills on par with IDF Special Forces, that’s not going to happen.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, but if you’re looking for self-defense training, my recommendation would be Judo as a base. Particularly the, “self-defense,” strand of Judo used by Law Enforcement, if you can find that. (Usually, this will be via police or sheriff’s department community outreach programs.) This is especially useful, because the most important part of self-defense isn’t the martial arts, it’s the threat management skills. Actually, a major red flag with a, “self-defense,” course is if there isn’t a priority given to non-combat skills, such as explaining threat psychology, or methods to make you less attractive as a potential victim. In self-defense, avoiding combat entirely is far safer, and thus more desirable, than testing your combat skills.

If you’re after something spiritual or physical exercise, you have a lot of options, and honestly, most schools will accommodate this goal pretty nicely. If you’ve got the option, Judo and Aikido are my first thoughts here, Karate isn’t a bad choice. There isn’t a categorically wrong answer. If you’re worried about your physical condition, then Tai Chi may a good choice.

If you’re looking to get into competitive martial arts (such as MMA), at your age, I’d strongly recommend against it. As we get older, our bodies slow down (a fact, I’m pretty sure you’re well aware of), and competitive fighting is something that takes an enormous toll on you. When you’re young, you don’t realize just how much damage you’re taking, but all that abuse stacks up. Starting older is an option, but you don’t have the benefit of being able to bounce back from that wear and tear. That said, Muay Thai has been extremely popular as of late. Though there are a lot of popular martial arts, and sport focused Krav Maga isn’t a bad option. The same technical considerations that make it an effective CQC martial art still work in a competitive bout.

If you need practical hand-to-hand training, you probably already have the contacts you’d need to get access to the military strand of Krav Maga, but, then again, if this was the case, you probably wouldn’t need to ask, “why do I see conflicting opinions on it?” You’d be buying a ticket to Israel. If that’s your goal, and you don’t have the contacts, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re unlikely to randomly come across a school teaching practical Krav Maga. Even if you did, it would not be the right choice for, “normal,” self-defense needs. If you want self-defense training, find an off-duty cop moonlighting as a martial arts instructor.


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Updating Mythic Heroes and The Importance of their Artifacts

While writing an adaptation of a character who in mythology time used a sword, I’m wondering would it be ineffective to still make them use a sword but a thinner flatter type. Or is it just better to just stick to a knife?

I’m not going to harp on it, but, “mythology time,” is a weird way to phrase it. Usually you’d say, “a character who used a sword in myth,” or. “in their myths,” not, “in mythology time.” This is because there is no fixed, “mythic era,” in history.

Myths vary, but it’s often impossible to pin down a specific moment they come from. The British give us a pair, one example and one counterexample. The myth of Robin Hood is remarkably easy to pin down, because it includes historical figures. It occurs sometime in the 12th century. (Worth noting, the written records regarding Robin Hood first pop up in the 14th century, so it may have been floating around in a oral form for a couple centuries before anyone recorded it, or none of the previous written records survived.) In contrast, it’s basically impossible to pin down a specific timeframe for the King Arthur legends, because there’s no historical frame of reference. There’s a lot of academic study on the subject, but while you can say that Robin Hood is set in the 1190s, you can’t say the same for King Arthur.

Mythic characters are a little tricky to work with. By their nature, they have a well established backstory and identity. Messing with that is feasible, but requires some care. It also requires passing familiarity with the myths they appear in.

For example: If you wanted to write a modern incarnation of Hercules, it would ring a bit off to have a character with a warm and loving parents.

Artificially creating a mythic character (for a fantasy setting) is a lot more complicated. This requires you to create a character who left enough of a legacy on their world that they’re still a household name millennia later, conveying those stories to the audience, and then also introducing a modern version of that character in the setting, without the entire work being very heavy handed or cliché, is quite difficult, and time consuming.

And, I still haven’t talked about your main question, their weapons.

The artifacts of mythic characters often have legacies that, in some cases, outstrip their owners. In spite of being inanimate objects, they’re characters, with their own identities, that extend far beyond simply being, “a sword.” I’m reminded of multiple starships in different settings named Excalibur, and even, just the name, is evocative.

This is where the real danger is, you’re talking an artifact, where the name alone, is (supposed) to be enough to cue the reader in to the significance of the object. (Having said that, I recently had to explain the significance of Gjallarhorn to a friend, so, depending on the object in question your results may vary. There are a lot of mythic artifacts, and not all of them carry the same name recognition.)

If your mythic hero has a sword, chances are it has a name, and probably a legacy of its own. Mythic artifacts in a modern setting may be the original object, or the, “soul,” of the artifact in a new object (the rules for this are dictated by the author), but, “downgrading,” a mythic artifact is something you probably don’t want to do without a lot of careful consideration.


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Starke is not a Real Doctor for Elves

Hi! I’m writing a short story in a fantasy universe where a character (an elf, hard to kill by human standards) is chained to a wall and then lifted up incredibly high by the unhumanly tall antagonist and let go. The back of his head hits the wall, he’s (possibly?) knocked out for an undescribed period of time. Would this cause brain damage? Specifically, damage to the cerebellum? If so, how would that affect the characters?

Yes, probably.

So, with humans, getting knocked out from blunt force is some degree of brain damage. In a best case scenario, there’s little (or no) detectible impairment, but we are talking about someone suffering a concussion serious enough to nearly kill them. Even in that best case scenario, getting back up afterwards would be extremely difficult and painful. In a less ideal scenario, there would also be some long term damage.

The problem is, your character isn’t human, and even when we’re talking about something like elves, there’s a very real potential for some seriously weird physiology going on there.

Setting that aside, for a human, you’re looking at all the normal symptoms of a concussion. Headaches, nausea, slurred speech, hypersensitivity to light and sound, cognitive impairment, and memory issues. I’m not 100% certain if that’s damage specifically to the cerebellum (though it’s certainly possible) or if those are just the greatest hits for bouncing your brain off bone.

Not everyone will experience all symptoms, not all symptoms will have equal intensity across all cases. Every concussion is a new and unique trauma.

You may notice I didn’t include loss of consciousness in the list above. It’s one of the more severe symptoms. Getting knocked out, especially for more than a few seconds, is a very serious medical situation. As in, “you could die, or be left a vegetable.”

Now, returning to what I mentioned earlier, it’s entirely possible that the elves in your setting are physiologically extremely different from humans, (at least neurologically, if not across the board.) It’s entirely possible they cannot suffer concussions at all, in which case the experience of having their head bounced off paving stones may be unpleasant but not particularly dangerous. This may even be likely if your elves are supposed to be that resilient, as the head and brain, are particularly vulnerable to injury.

As for getting knocked unconscious? With humans, that is brain damage, every time. And concussions are cumulative, meaning your average protagonist who gets clubbed over the head on a weekly basis would be dead in short order.


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No Such Thing as a +2 Chair Leg of Wounding

How distinct are weapons like clubs from improvised weapons? I have a player (in Pathfinder/3.P) who insists that since clubs have no cost (are easily made), any improvised weapon that could use club damage is a club (i.e., is as easy to use as a club, so no attack penalty). I can’t help but think that the improvised weapon rules exist to simulate something realistic, like balance in hand, but I know basically nothing about weapons in real life.


It really depends on the club, or the quality of the improvised weapon in question. I mean, there isn’t going to be a huge quality difference between a broken off chair leg, and cheap wooden club. But, at the same time we are talking about Pathfinder, so, realism isn’t exactly the highest priority.

In theory, Pathfinder’s (and D&D’s) improvised weapon rules are built around the idea that you’re just grabbing whatever is at hand. It probably doesn’t have a proper grip, it may be flimsy, it could still be attached to something in the environment. Whatever it is, it’s certainly not a weapon, and the rules are generally meant to reflect that. If he wants to convert a broken chair leg into a proper club, that’s what the Craft (Broken Chair Legs) skill is for.

You have is a player trying to minmax. I’m not 100% certain about Pathfinder’s improvised weapon rules, but in 3.5 it was a flat, you do not get proficiency from any improvised weapon. So, you take a -4 penalty on all rolls to hit. (There’s actually a boatload of additional rules which you can apply if you think the player is trying to pull a fast one, such as actually tracking hardness and item HP to destroy their, “club,” from use.)

That said, Pathfinder is a little different, because there are feats (Catch Off-Guard and Improvised Weapon Mastery) which ignores the non-proficient penalty, and grant bonuses to improvised weapons, there’s a level 1 spell that allows the caster to convert an improvised weapon into its simple or martial counterpart (Refine Improvised Weapon in the Wizard/Sorc, and Cleric spellbooks, among others,) there’s a PRC (the Nature Warden) that gains the ability to do the same as an Extraordinary Ability (meaning, it’s non-magical for them.) And, there’s an entire Rogue archetype that focuses on using improvised weapons (in the Melee Tactics Toolbox.) There’s probably a ton of other specific rule interactions with improvised weapons in Pathfinder I’m unaware of.

What you have is a player who is trying to circumvent the rules to munchkin their character. If they want their character to use improvised weapons on a regular basis, without taking a penalty on every attack roll, there are multiple, explicit, paths to achieving that, and I don’t know exactly what your player’s end goal is, but this is a case where they’re asking for a free feat. It’s okay to say, “no,” no matter how concrete their logic seems. If they want want to use Improvised Weapons, Catch Off-Guard exists for a reason and has no prerequisites.


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