Tag Archives: warhammer 40k

(1/2) I play Warhammer 40k and I run a Dark Angels army. One thing I’ve always wondered about is their swords, because they have a unique shape. If you google ‘dark angels company master balthasar’ you can see it, how it it is sort of barbed at the top of the blade. How effective would that be? I always thought it would be cumbersome and focus the weight at the tip of the blade (however I’m not sure how much of a problem this would be for a space marine because of their super strength)

(2/2) but I can also see the advantage of the barbed shape maybe in
disarming enemies or something along those lines. I’m not sure if in 40k
the shape of the blade would really affect its cutting power because
they have built in disruptor fields IIRC. I guess what I’m asking is, if
there was a blade shaped like that IRL, wielded by your average human
with no built in technology, how effective would it be and what
advantages/disadvantages would the barbed tip warrant?

Company Master Balthasar’s sword is Fellbane, one of the Heavenfall Blades. These are a handful of pre-Heresy mastercrafted power swords with obsidian cores used by the Dark Angel chapter’s inner circle, and the chapter masters of a few Dark Angel successor chapters. (Though, if it turns out the Blood Ravens have somehow “acquired” one, it wouldn’t surprise me.) So, that has absolutely nothing to do with practicality at any level.

The current design of Fellbane (and also Grand Master Belial’s Sword of Silence) is pure cheese. You wouldn’t ever want hooks like that on the tip of your sword. At least not with a conventional weapon. It might have some effect on the disruptor field, but I somewhat doubt it.
For readers who are unfamiliar with 40k, power weapons are basically lightsabers; they usually have a physical blade inside the field (though not always).

Honestly, the design of Fellbane (and the Hevenfall blades in general) has been pretty inconsistent. They used to be just a repaint of standard power sword models with straight Astartes patern blades. There’s actually art depicting Fellbane as a standard straight sword.

The actual function for barbs on the end of a blade like that would be to dig into the tissue and hold the blade in place. This isn’t something you’d want to happen with a sword. But it is a design you’ll see on fishing spears, tridents, or harpoons. The problem with sticking these on the end of your sword should be obvious. Sooner or later it will get caught in your opponent. In the real world, this design would be a huge liability.

The specific hook design here wouldn’t even help with disarming an opponent, because your only option would be to pull your opponent’s weapon towards you. There are sword breakers and parrying daggers designed to do just that. These included forked daggers which can catch an incoming strike, and “comb” style serrations that can trap and hold an opponent’s sword.

With Fellbane it looks like the goal is to “poke it in, then make it hurt even more on the way out.” At least you can say the Dark Angels have hobbies, but it’s not a practical goal for a sword, where a hook catching on a rib means the sword is lost.

I’d be more inclined to say the design was unrealistic, but this is Warhammer 40k. We are talking about power weapons; which are designed to destroy anything they touch on a molecular level. When compared to some Dark Eldar and Chaos melee weapons even the most bizarre looking Imperium power swords appear downright sensible.

With the quick caveat that I’m very rusty on the tabletop rules, my recollection is that power weapons basically ignore the user’s strength. They will tear apart nearly anything, regardless of how strong the wielder is. It’s part of why you’ll frequently see power weapons in the hands of normal humans (like high ranking Imperial Guard officers, Commissars and Inquisitors).

In short, no, this isn’t a good design for a real world weapon design.


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I’m reading a Warhammer 40K novel (Gaunt’s Ghosts) where an imperial commissar fights with a sword in his left hand and a pistol in his right. Is this at all a legitimate strategy? If it is I’d quite like to incorporate it into something I’m writing. Apologies if this has come up before, I’m new to the blog and am am going through your archive, great stuff!

Sort of. In the real world, you only see this in situations where combat is going to degenerate into melee anyway. The handgun is to open things, and then the combatants would switch off to their blades. Early modern boarding actions come to mind, though marines still expected to use their swords in close quarters as recently as the early 19th century.

This approach is more common in eras when firearms are difficult to reload in combat. Since you wouldn’t be able to reload before your opponent got into melee and started carving you up, why bother? Just pull a sword before you start.

Incidentally; if your character needs to reload, they need to put the sword away, reload, then get it back out. It’s doable (if someone else isn’t trying to stab them) but time consuming.

Incidentally, something you don’t see in 40k, that did occur, was rotating through multiple weapons rather than reloading. Blackbeard is infamous for (among many other things) carrying six loaded pistols into combat, and switching after each shot.

In 40k, a pistol and close combat weapon is a fairly common weapon choice for some factions, including the Imperial Guard. For Gaunt, the weapons are almost more badges of office than actual weapons. Commissars aren’t supposed to kill the enemies of the Imperium, they’re supposed to kill guardsmen that decide they’d rather run than go toe to toe with a Daemon, Carnifex or active Monolith.

One thing to note: Gaunt (and most of the characters in 40k) wield the close combat weapon in their dominant hand, with their pistol in their off hand. So, that’s a sword in his right hand, and a bolt pistol in his left. This is probably because it’s easier to operate a firearm with your off hand than a blade. I’d expect that setup follows over into the real world, but we’re dealing with a combat style that doesn’t have much of a place in the modern world, so I’m not entirely sure.

Also, some Chaos units are blade in left, pistol in right, but I’m just going to chalk that up to “they’re Chaos Marines, and we should all be thankful they’re not trying to kill us with a boombox from hell,” not that they found a way to make it work.


Any good advice on how to write a fight between the forces of Heaven (potentially using swords and shields and other medieval weapons) and the forces of Hell (using more modern weapons like guns and stuff)? This is probably a stupid question, but I’ve never actually written a good fight scene before, and this has to span several chapters and potentially 20,000-30,000 words. I just really need some advice, please.

Well, given that your average November novel is 50k words, 20k to 30k is a little excessive. You can’t keep a single fight going for that long, without the reader wearing out, though you could comfortably stuff an entire war in that word count.

Unless the weapons are magical, the guns will win out every time. I keep saying this, but there’s a reason we no longer take longswords into battle. If these are enchanted armaments of heaven and hell, then you’re the one setting the ground rules for what they’re actually capable of.

If you’re willing to go back to the drawing board, I’d recommend digging up used copies of In Nomine. It was an RPG setting in the 90s, with angels and demons engaged in a shadow war for the universe. If you can find it, White Wolf’s Demon: The Fallen might also be a good, if bleak, source of inspiration.

If you want to look at a setting with mass warfare, particularly where guns and melee weapons do mix, I’d recommend Warhammer 40k. I usually recommend the Ciaphas Cain novels as the best 40k entry point, but in your case, one of the Grey Knights novels might be closer to what you’re trying to do.


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.


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Hi again! Thanks for your previous answer–it helped very much, and I still love your blog. Today I’d like to ask about futuristic weapons. I like writing sci-fi, and I try to look at history and how weapons and fighting have evolved (I try to keep space swords out, even though they’re cool as fuck). I was wondering if you had any input towards futuristic weapons/fighting/combat, both widespread (war-like conditions) and mono y mono or similar. Thank you times a billion!

Honestly, with this, I’d say dig into existing settings and see what they’ve used.

Warhammer 40k comes to mind. The setting dials itself up to parody, but a lot of it underlying logic is actually surprisingly well thought out, and there are a lot of bits you can take inspiration from.

The quality of the tie-in books waffles pretty wildly between completely unreadable and some of the best tie-in fiction I’ve ever read. The Caiaphas Cain novels (by Sandy Mitchell) are a pretty good introduction to the setting, and should give you some ideas. I’m not a huge fan, but Dan Abnettt’s Eisenhorn novels are also a good look at the setting, though you might need to do some outside referencing on a 40k wiki.

The tabletop game itself is expensive as hell to get into, but, you should be able to find some of the army codices cheaply in used bookstores. Those should give you some ideas of what you could outfit your characters with.

As a bonus, 40k does have some fairly good justifications for melee weapons in a distant future setting. That said it is supposed to be a Dark Age fantasy world in space. And there’s a lot of material you’ll probably want to filter out; it IS still a fantasy setting, psykers are Mages, Eldar are Elves, Necrons are Undead, Daemons are demons, and Orks are… well, Orcs. But it could still be useful for giving you ideas.

I’d also recommend looking at GURPS. GURPS isn’t a conventional RPG, so much as it’s a toolbox for the GM, and while I’ve never been a fan of the system itself, the research that goes into the average GURPS book, makes them invaluable research tools. I’m not sure if Space, Ultra-Tech, or High-Tech is the book most suited to what you’re doing, but if you can find any of those used, you’ll should have some top notch material to work with.