Tag Archives: Starke answers

I have a character that’s using a Halberd, but I don’t really know how that kinda stuff works. Like how would they practice with it and how they would use it.

With the major caveat that neither of us are trained on a halberd, so I’m having to do some on the spot research:

Halberds, like most polearms, were used mostly in formations or mass combat. Traditional halberds have something that looks a bit like a hooked axe head with a protruding spike. The goal is still to insert the spike into someone else’s internal organs, remove, and repeat as needed until they stop screaming and bleeding.

The halberd also lets you hack away at someone. This probably looks a lot more like normal polearm combat than actual axe fighting, but I suspect the stance is to keep the hands at least a couple feet apart while connecting with the axe head.

A common two handed axe  technique involves slipping the fore hand down the shaft during a strike to amplify the momentum, (anyone that’s chopped wood before should know what I’m talking about) but I’m not sure if that’s a viable technique here.

The hook on the opposite side might be sturdy enough to function as a billhook. That allows the wielder to snag a mounted foe by their armor and drag them to the ground. I’m guessing, but that was an intended design feature of other polearms with similar hooks.

Most polearms work best as an asymmetrical weapon. That is to say, they can offer a serious advantage, because of their reach, against foes that are equipped with swords or axes. This is especially true of mounted opponents. If they charge the halberdier, he (or she) has a fixed point of reference to aim for, and their foe will have a difficult time getting out of the way. If they drag a mounted foe to the ground, they can easily flip the blade around to dispatch them, or just finish them off with the hook, it’s multipurpose.

It’s also worth pointing out, as with most polearms, halberds aren’t intended to be used by a lone combatant. Most polearm drills I’ve seen focus on vertical and lateral strikes, so that combatant can fight while standing (literally) shoulder to shoulder with the rest of their squad. There’s obvious utility to horizontal strikes, but, it might not be part of the historical drills for a halberd. I honestly don’t know.

The only good visual reference for a polearm duel I can remember off hand is from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, but that’s actually a spear duel. If you can rent the film, it’s probably worth a viewing, especially if you’ve never seen a one of his films before. (And before someone asks, there is almost nothing historically accurate about 300.)

-Starke

Do you have any tips on writing scenes with swords involved?

If you’ve got a local renaissance fair, your best bet would be to actually find the people using swords and seeing what they’d be willing to teach you. Most of the renfair participants I’ve known, have been more than happy to explain what they know.

There’s that old cliche about writing what you know, but if you can get hands on experience, it’ll go a lot further than anything I can offer you.

Beyond that, I’d recommend spending a little time familiarizing yourself with German school fencing.

The general idea with German School fencing is to maximize the efficiency of blade movement. Most guards are kept across the body, to aid with parrying. Most hews (strikes) focus on very narrow blade arcs.

For an experienced fighter, their blade will feel like a natural extension of the arm. I know it sounds corny, but it’s also true. They’ll know exactly where the blade is at all times. The weight and balance of the weapon will have been completely internalized, to the point where they’re probably not even actively aware of them anymore. If they’ve trained on multiple blades (which is very likely), then they should be able to acclimate to a new sword fairly quickly (which is usually what those test swings you’ll see in fiction are for).

Obviously, there’s a bit more difference if you’re moving from a shortsword to a longsword or from a saber to a claymore, but so long as your character is using a sword that’s similar to the one they’re familiar with, acclimation should be fairly easy.

Also, it’s worth pointing out, German School fencing is specifically intended for European longswords, you can use an arming sword, Viking sword or bastard sword, but it won’t be a perfect fit. Additionally if your character is using something like a scimitar or a greatsword, those all encompass different styles.

Ironically, the original Star Wars trilogy isn’t a bad visual reference for German school fencing. There’s more blade on blade combat then you’d like in a real combat scenario, but a lot of the techniques and stances are there.

Michi would be irked if I didn’t recommend the Errol Flynn films as visual references. Just keep in mind that the actors are fighting very conservatively, because they’d been given live blades, and, for the most part, are trained in Italian School fencing, which evolved to use lighter blades.

If you’re talking about using swords in mass combat, as opposed to dueling, then I’d be tempted to suggest Aragorn and Boromir from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. I’m not as familiar with mass combat forms, but what they’re doing looks close to what I’d expect.

I keep saying this, but look at Robert E. Howard’s Conan. One of the necessary parts of being a writer is finding someone else who went before you and seeing what they did. When it comes to sword combat, and accessibility, Robert E. Howard is probably the best source I can suggest. There’s a fairly cheap three volume paperback set that’s in print, and, because it’s public domain, most of it is available through Project Gutenberg.

-Starke

I’m trying to write battle scenes for a piece set in a medieval war, and I’m nervous about portraying it accurately. The main character fights with a longsword that’s seen several generations of battle, and while war is in his blood, he’s still a bit unsure of what to think about it. Any advice for how to stage/describe the battles, or where to look for good visual or historical representations?

Okay, this has been sitting in our inbox since the trip; it, and a few other questions got lost under a bunch of questions, sorry about that. We’ll get those out shortly.

The first thing I’d say is; read Robert E. Howard. Conan has a reputation in pop culture as being simpleminded, but Howard’s work is actually excellent. As a bonus, Conan actually uses a longsword most of the time, so it should give you a lot of ideas for your work.

If you can dig the books up, White Wolf’s Exalted setting has some relatively coherent advice on fantasy warfare. It also has a fixation with superheroes, so you’ll need to filter that out, but there’s some serious consideration to how to maintain an empire, and how to engage in warfare.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Mount and Blade is a game that’s worth looking at, when you’re trying to get a feel for medieval combat. In your case, I’d recommend Warband.

I’m not completely sure about the viability of actually using the same sword over multiple generations. Most of the surviving blades I’m aware of, either didn’t see much combat, or were buried with their original owner.

Okay, so, random etymology lesson; “in the blood” as a way to talk about heredity dates back to around the thirteenth or fourteenth century. I’m not sure where we ended up with the idea that skills and personality were hereditary, though the modern phrase certainly carries that baggage. This leaves you with a potentially anachronistic situation. The whole idea that you did what your father did because it was somehow passed on to you went by the wayside in Europe someplace during the enlightenment. To a modern reader, the idea that you are destined to do something because it’s what your parents did is a little odd. But, in the timeframe you’re probably talking about, it was perceived as completely reasonable.

Thing is, hereditary careers tend to be perfectly acceptable in post-Tolkien fantasy. I’m not saying all modern fantasy is all crap, just most of it. If you want to go the route of “war is in his blood,” then you’ll be best served by seriously evaluating what that means, and what the implications are, philosophically, before you dig into the story.

-Starke

I know this is “fight write”, but would you have any basic first aid procedures or advice for someone who’s been in a fight. Basically after you’d get beaten up, how did you tend to your wounds? Also, do you know anything about treating gun wounds, or how a hospital would do so?

For most fights, you’re looking at bruises and minor cuts.

With bruises you want to wrap some ice in a towel and apply it to the injury, and let it heal on its own. Strictly speaking, bruises are minor, sub-dermal hemorrhages. There are rare cases where someone loses enough blood from bruising to die, but this is usually accompanied with massive amounts of trauma.

Also, it’s worth noting, it usually takes about five minutes for a bruise to start to show, if someone is killed within that timeframe, the bruise will not develop.

Minor cuts can be treated with peroxide or alcohol (usually rubbing alcohol, but anything over about 40 – 60 proof s work) to disinfect the wound, and then bandaged. Applying a petroleum jelly like Vaseline or Neosporin can help keep the wound clean. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t actually do anything, the stuff’s completely biologically inert (and as I recall, technically edible) but it will prevent new bacteria from getting into the injury.

More serious cuts, like knife wounds, can require surgery, as far as I know, this is just another round of disinfect the wound, and then stitched closed. If there’s internal damage, that will need to be dealt with, based on the injury sustained.

Gunshot wounds are an entirely different and very unpredictable animal. Again, I’m going to over simply here, so, apologies in advance to any doctors out there. The primary threat from any gunshot wound is bleeding to death. If the gunshot damaged an artery, then first aid involves compressing the artery to staunch the blood loss, this is a very basic, and limited stopgap. Otherwise “first aid” is getting the victim to a doctor (or veterinarian). The basic surgical techniques to deal with gunshot wounds is to repair whatever damage the doctor can, and closing up the wound. But, this can be a lot more difficult than it sounds.

I’m going to split gunshot wounds into three general categories, these aren’t official classifications, and shouldn’t be held up as holy writ; this is just an attempt to get everything out in a readable fashion: blowthroughs, ricochets, and fragmentation.

Blowthroughs, are the “best”, and most common kind of gunshot wound. These are gunshots that enter the victim, pass through them, and leave for parts unknown. If it’s a headshot, the victim is probably already dead, though, there are a few medical cases where people survived a shot to the head. Blowthroughs to the torso usually mean punctured internal organs, regardless what organ was hit; the injury will require major surgery to deal with. If it’s a hit to the limbs, and it missed the arteries, the wound will need to be sewn up, and cared for. The limb can’t be used for a couple weeks. If the bullet nicked or severed the artery, the surgeon will need to repair it, assuming they get the chance. A damaged artery can result in the victim bleeding to death in minutes. This, by the way, is what the whole “apply pressure here” cliché is referring to; first aid for an arterial hit is to apply pressure and staunch the flow of blood, so the victim can live long enough to reach a doctor.

Ricochets are cases where the bullet connects with a bone and reflects off in a new direction. This is highly dependent on the specific physics involved, but the result can be very messy. The best case scenario, a bullet will ricochet off a bone, and have a clean exit wound. This is slightly more problematic than it sounds; usually, you track the path of a bullet by checking the entrance and exit wounds, with ricochets, it can be very difficult to identify which internal organs have been injured. Worse, it’s not unheard of for bullets to start bouncing around inside the rib cage, tearing someone’s internal organs to pieces. It’s rare, but can result in irreparable internal damage.

Fragmentation refers to where the bullet breaks apart into multiple pieces. Usually this is associated with fragmentation rounds, also called dumdums, but a bullet that impacts a hard object, either bone, or something outside the body, can shatter; sending shrapnel into the victim. The shrapnel is slightly more prone to further ricochets and lodging in the body. As with ricochets, this can result in massive internal injuries that will require extensive, rapid surgery to survive.

One last note: In modern contexts, it is fairly common to get hit by multiple bullets in rapid succession, called a multiple gunshot wound (or MGW in police and paramedic reports), multiple bullets effectively multiply the damage. Because the victim is bleeding out faster, a doctor won’t have time to treat the victim before they expire, assuming they’re able to hold on long enough to get to a doctor.

If you’re writing about first aid for hand to hand, I’d actually recommend you look into first aid techniques first hand. It’s a useful skill to have, and it should be fairly easy to find a reputable group that’s teaching the basics.

You can learn far more than you want to about gunshot wounds in most forensic texts. I’m not sure where you’d find more detail on the specifics of surgery. Generally speaking finding information on specific surgical procedures, which are also accessible to a layman, is tricky.

-Starke

How does it feel to be tased, and is it possible to fight through it?

Neither of us have ever been tazed, nor do we have any plans to be tazed. If you need to know how it feels, ask a cop. Not, to taze you, but, in the US, most police need to be on the receiving end of any less than lethal device they carry, including pepper spray and tazers. So, they’d know what it feels like.

Before you ask, pepper spray burns like crazy and gets lodged in your hair, so you’ll get another blast of it every time you shower for the next week, according to a cop I used to know.

Anyway, you can’t fight through a tazing. Your nervous system works by sending electrical signals from your brain to your body and back. Tazing works by administering a massive electrical shock to your body. When you’re being tazed, it’s literally impossible to get your body to do anything beyond convulsing. That’s what the nerves are telling your muscles to do, and your brain can’t interfere.

-Starke

What are some of the physical responses to a sudden combat situation? For example, muscle tightening, heart rate, that kind of thing.

An increase to heart rate is usually a sign of adrenaline, along with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, and in most people, some fine muscle tremors. I think we’ve talked about that before.

As with a lot of things, how someone handles an immediate combat threat is going to be very specific to that individual. A lot of people freeze up, and some can switch over smoothly and rapidly. Specialized training can help with this. But, it’s important to understand; this isn’t covered in most martial arts classes.

Usually training comes in two parts: First is an awareness of dangerous situations, so the combatant will be harder to take by surprise. The second part is rote responses to specific threats. This can vary pretty massively depending on who the person being trained is. It can include drawing a weapon, getting to cover, tensing muscles (which you mentioned), or going into a stance. It won’t always be completely appropriate, but it doesn’t really need to be, either. The entire point is just to get the combatant ready to fight faster. It’s worth pointing out, with military drills; those rote responses can include lethal takedowns.

How well someone handles an adrenaline rush is another matter. As far as I know, this is something that people either learn to deal with through experience or conditioning, rather than traditional training. The more adrenaline rushes someone’s experienced, the less they’ll be impaired by it, relatively speaking. In general, adrenaline rushes work towards your advantage in hand to hand or melee, but work against you when operating firearms.

-Starke

Okay, so I have never been in a fight, so I have no idea what it feels like to get punched, and I’m afraid that this will limit my writing. Any helpful tips?

Well, the short answer is, it sucks.

Getting hit is one of those things you sort of need to experience for yourself. The best advice I can give you on that subject is finding a friend you trust, and who knows what they’re doing; to sucker punch you.

Alternately, start taking classes in a martial art that appeals to you, sooner or later, you will get clocked by accident.

-Starke

I have a Japanese character who is exceptionally skilled in martial arts.. lets say he is a modern day legend to some. Now I have it where he is skilled in karate, kung fu, swordsmanship and he was also a assassian/hitman type most of his life though he is very young for his experience but had to mature before normal puberty stages. I want to do a friendly yet intense fighting scene between him and an older family member for him to show how skilled he actually is but I want him to also lose the

Your character has a terminal case of “trying too hard”, best to take him out behind the woodshed right now, and put him out of your misery.

Kung Fu is not a martial art, it’s not even a family of martial arts; it’s a collection of unrelated martial arts that originated in China in a specific historical timeframe. Karate is an Okinawan martial art. Using either of these would be an affront to a Japanese hitman or assassin.

A Japanese Assassin would be a Ninja, full stop. They’d practice their family’s variant of Ninjitsu. Practicing Chinese martial arts like Wushu or Shaolin would be a stain on their honor.

A Japanese hitman would, almost certainly be Yakuza. These guys do not mix with Ninjas. To the Ninjas, and for that matter most of Japanese society, the Yakuza are street rats, it would be a disgrace to associate with them. To the Yakuza, the Ninja would be an uncomfortable reminder that their place in modern Japanese society isn’t earned. Also, like Ninjas, Yakuza aren’t going to be learning non-Japanese martial arts, including Karate.

If you’re scratching your head right now and saying, “but, Okinawa is part of Japan”, you’re absolutely right, today. Historically it wasn’t, and the Japanese still look down their noses at its people, their martial forms and weapons.

Here’s the thing; there’s the classic writing advice, “write what you know.” You can think of this as the training wheels of writing, eventually you’ll be researching new things, and writing about stuff you don’t have any background in, but for today, you probably want to trash this whole project and start over with something much smaller and closer to home.

I’d actually say, ditch the violence as well. I mean, from whatever you end up working on. Violence can be a very difficult thing to get right. Start with characters talking to each other, they don’t have to like one another, or agree on anything, but start with dialog. Build your stories in places you understand. It’s not what you want to write, I get that, but it will give you the tools to write what you want to once you’ve learned more about what you’re doing.

Also, writing characters in any culture you’re not intimately familiar with is very difficult. This is especially true of Japan, which, even today, has a very ridged and stratified society, with very strict rules of behavior that change based on context.

-Starke

Q&A: Sci-fi Warfare

Sorry, I didn’t want to be specific because I tried to keep it short and to the point. However, I can think of a lot of reasons why guns might fall out of favor. Mostly, it’d come as armor. Kevlar is fantastic against bullets, but has a weakness stabbing. Just take that to 11. Another might be like Dune, a sort of energy shield that stops high velocity impacts, but doesn’t stop low velocity. Anyways, I’m mostly curious what could be modern sword technology, (nano-tech and cryoforge, apparently).

With the caveat that it’s been a few years since I read Dune, a few things stand out: I wouldn’t call the year 10,000 the near future. Dune is, very much, a post apocalyptic setting; humanity is in the process of recovering from domination by autonomous AIs. I’m not sure if this was a jab at Asimov, but, regardless.

And, personal shields are very rare, very expensive, and extremely fragile pieces of equipment. House Atredies is able to afford a few of them. This is one of the most powerful members of the LANSRAD, and an incredibly wealthy family.

So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the combat we see might not be completely representative of warfare in the setting. That said, when actual battles occur, the great houses and the Sardukar have no qualms in breaking out lasguns.

The personal shields can’t handle fire from lasguns, so ranged weapons remain preferable on the whole, and really only work against sword strikes. Hence the whole, “a slow blade penetrates,” because a normal blade strike will reflect off. I can’t remember if the shields could survive normal firearms in the setting, but they certainly didn’t change the nature of war in Dune.

The blade fighting in the novels is, almost exclusively, the purview of dueling, and while houses have “swordmasters”, the actual weapon of choice is long knives.

I will say; Warhammer 40k, Dune, and Star Wars all make for fairly reasonable uses of melee weapons in a sci fi context. Lightsabers have ways to stay effective against ranged foes (so long as they’re backed up with superpowers), 40k is loaded to the gills with things that won’t die from sustained bolter fire and ludicrously lethal melee weapons, finally; Dune has a fairly rich dueling tradition. But, I wouldn’t hold any of those up as justifications for a near future setting.

On the subject of Kevlar, it’s actually been improving at a fairly steady pace. Used to be, 9mm rounds posed a serious threat to someone, and now we’ve gotten to the point where a vest can take an intermediate rifle round at medium range.

The problem with Kevlar is one of the basic constants of the universe, entropy. While a modern Kevlar vest will stop a 5.56mm rifle round, at 50m, when you start getting closer, or taking more fire, the vest will fail.

I’ll add a primer on modern body armor, because this one can get a bit complicated, though fair warning, I’ll probably do that after I’ve done most of my firearms primers. If you want to do some research now, I’d recommend looking into Kevlar, and ceramic inserts. Also if you start feeling too cocky about body armor, look up the history of the 10mm handgun round, and steel core ammunition. If you want a setting where you can use a sword in a gunfight and live, I’d suggest Warhammer 40k. It’s comically over the top, but there’s some coherent world building, and it does present you with the kinds of things you’d need to be dealing with to see swords really return to the battlefield.

-Starke

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I’ve been reading up a lot on sword-making and sword-fighting today (plus real life vs. movie fighting), and I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on the fighting in The 13th Warrior, particularly the duel.

Well, neither of us have seen The 13th Warrior. But, as a mass generalization, I suspect that like most Michael Crichton books, the novel is probably very well researched, and the film probably jettisons nearly all of that.

I read a lot of Crichton novels when I was younger, but, most of the adaptations were pretty terrible.

-Starke

Edit: turns out the novel is based on some pretty shaky research as well, which was later discredited. No idea on the swordsmanship, but I’ve got even less interest in watching it now.