Tag Archives: writing advice

Q&A: The Roman Gladiator

Hello!!!! I’m writing a story about a gladiator and i was wondering… How do they fight? And which weapons do they use? Can they still fight well when they get out of arena?

How they fought is somewhat intrinsically linked to the weapons they used, so it’s kind of important to step and get some context.

The Roman gladiator was the sports celebrity of their day. A lot of the things we associate with modern athletes, including endorsement deals, were actually a thing. There were dedicated schools which would train prospective gladiators. They were overseen by a manager, and in some cases, there was even a separate sponsor funding them.

It’s something of a misconception to think of Roman gladiators as slaves, because, while many were, there were also many free gladiators who were career combatants. It’s a little less clear how well slaves fared against free gladiators, but the free gladiators were probably better educated and cared for (though, as stated, it’s not entirely clear.

Slave gladiators could be drawn from captured enemy combatants, and criminals. It’s worth noting that an Imperial Citizen could not be sentenced to the arena, however, certain crimes did allow their citizenship to be stripped, at which point they could be sent to the games.

Female gladiators existed, (though, the term “Gladiatrix” is modern.) We don’t really know much about them. The Romans appeared to view female gladiators as a novelty, and as a result, they were poorly documented. Ironically, we know more about them from Romans who mocked their existence, rather than about the women themselves.

The arena was a bloodsport, not a deathsport. The way gladiators were equipped when they faced each other were designed to ensure that combat would be drawn out and messy, but not lethal. (This was not true when gladiators were paired against wild animals or, later on, when they were used as executioners.) Gladiators, particularly successful ones, represented a significant financial investment, and were not simply thrown to their death on a whim.

One other bit of trivia worth revisiting is the thumbs up, thumbs down, gesture. In the modern day we have this, somewhat, switched. Thumbs up meant that the victorious gladiator was allowed to kill their defeated foe; thumbs down meant they were not.

The gladiator was, primarily, an entertainer, in a highly militaristic society. Just like modern prize fighters, most saw extended careers, deaths were relatively rare (with specific exceptions), and while a few were popular and successful, many more were not.

Gladiators had specific, “loadouts,” of weapons and armor. These would change over time, and it’s not entirely clear how standardized these loadouts were, because there are a lot of gladiator variants that are mentioned very sporadically.

Many of the loadouts were designed to resemble foes that Rome had conquered, though as the empire expanse slowed, and older conquered holdings were fully integrated, some of the earlier designs were adapted to be more culturally sensitive. Gladiator types would only be matched against specific circumstances. Many gladiators would fight other gladiators, but, gladiators that fought beasts did not use the same gear or fighting styles and would not be paired against other gladiators. (You certainly wouldn’t see wild animals dumped into the middle of an existing arena fight.) (Technically, venatores might not count as gladiators at all, because they didn’t face human foes in the arena.)

There was one variant, the provocator, designed to epitomize the Roman Legionary, however they would only face other provocators. Similarly, the eques (mounted gladiators) usually fought each other.

This gets back into the question of, “fighting style.” A gladiator would have their fighting style dictated by their gear. For example, a Cestus (a gladiator with heavy gauntlets on their fists, but no other arms or armor) would fight very differently from a retiarius (who fought with a trident and net.)

It’s worth checking specific combinations, to see if they faced one another. The example above, while accurate, probably wouldn’t happen in the arena, because the retiarius had a limited number of loadouts it was allowed to be paired against. These pairings were designed to prolong the fight, leading to a longer, bloodier, but less lethal spectacle. Again, this was entertainment, and much like a modern prize fight, you’re not there to see a 17 second bout.

It’s also worth knowing there were a number of non-gladiators who performed and entertained the audience between bouts. Some of these would be analogous to modern animal handlers (the venator) and stunt fighters who would engage in mock duels (the paegniarius.)

As a quick aside, there were at least three different, animal related, performers. The venator, mentioned above, the bestarius, and the lorarius. The venator would perform, or hunt them in the arena, and one of the few Gladiatrix we know by name was a venator (“Mevia “). The bestarius was condemned to die against wild animals. The lorarius was tasked with whipping reluctant fighters, be that human or animal.

While the gladiators get a lot of attention today, the Romans did have other forms of athletics entertainment, including things like horse and chariot races. These were distinct from gladiatorial exhibitions. The collective term you’re looking for is, “ludi.” This would refer to a wide range of Roman entertainment and festivals, of which the gladiatorial games were a small part. (The term “ludi is a little tricky to manage, because that was also the name for the gladiator schools.)

So, how would a gladiator fight outside the arena? That depends on their training. Some gladiators were drawn from foreign warriors who’d been enslaved after capture, and you can assume they’d have some combat training and experience. Some may have been trained in multiple roles (I’m not entirely certain how, or if this happened, so take this with a grain of salt), meaning they’d have a somewhat more diverse combat background. Some would have only been trained to fight in very specific ways, and those methods wouldn’t, necessarily, support quick, or clean, kills.

If you’re wanting to dig further into the idea of gladiators outside the arena, you might want to look into the history of Spartacus. (Specifically the history, rather than the dramatizations.) He was a gladiator slave who lead a revolt in the heart of the empire. The formal name is the, “Third Servile War,” which ran from 73 to 71 BCE. So, while I might have sounded pessimistic in the previous paragraph, the truth is that escaped gladiatorial slaves were remarkably effective against Roman forces.

More than most posts, this is barely scratching the surface, and you may want to do some more digging on your own, but I hope it helps.

-Starke

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Q&A: Security Guard and Bodyguard Job Requirements

I’m writing characters who are retired military/police or martial art fighters (not purely for performance), getting jobs as security, from apartment complexes to banks or even personal bodyguards. How different would the skills needed be? Would 90 year olds be too old? These are people in top/excellent physical shape of course.

One of these things is not like the others.

For the most part, security guard jobs are pretty low stress positions. Their employer may want them to be in reasonable condition, but so long as they can get around without assistance, stay awake, watch what happens, use the equipment, non-violently defuse minor situations, and call the police if something goes wrong, that’s all that’s all the job requires.

You don’t need a military or law enforcement background. In many cases, if you do have those backgrounds, you’ll have far better paying options than working as a security guard.

With that in mind, is 90 too old? It depends on the individual, but that is pushing it. Security guard work has become attractive as a source of income for retirees who are too old to work more physically stressful positions. That does result in guards who are in their 60s and 70s. I haven’t seen, or heard of, any in their 80s, but it’s certainly possible.

Again, I need to stress, being a security guard is not a combat position; if a situation gets completely out of hand, their job is to call the police, not get involved.

Everything I said above still applies to bank security guards. Their job is not to get into a firefight with a would be bank robber in a room full of bystanders.

Then we have bodyguards.

While the IRS doesn’t distinguish between bodyguards and security guard companies, these are entirely different animals. (Ironically, guard dog service companies are also classified as 56162s.)

Unlike a security guard, a bodyguard needs to be combat ready. A law enforcement or military background will be very attractive. They need to be in excellent physical condition. Where security guards are passive observers, a bodyguard’s job is their protectee’s safety. Could someone in their 90s still be working for a bodyguard company? Yes, but not in the field.

It’s entirely possible a company would have someone with decades of experience that they’d want to keep around for instructing new hires, or for their knowledge and experience. They may be part of the management team. However, at that age, they would be a liability as a bodyguard.

It’s also worth remembering that someone like that wouldn’t, necessarily, be harmless. If you’ve spent seventy years in a violent career path, you’ve probably learned a great deal. At the same time, someone who’s in their 90s is not going to be able to physically keep up with someone in their prime. Realistically, for actual bodyguards, you’re looking at someone in their mid-60s at the oldest, and probably much younger.

It’s also probably worth pointing out that, ex-military could be relatively young. In the US, military enlistment contracts generally only run for 6 years. If you enlisted at 18, you could be, “ex-military,” by 24. Having already served and honorably discharged. You can always reup your enlistment contracts, and it is possible for someone to make a career out of the military. However, that also results in a slightly different situation, long term, because then you (potentially) have the resources to comfortably retire by the time you’re 40. At that point, private sector security jobs may pay well enough to be appealing.

Police can also retire fairly early and still draw a pension. In this case, you’re probably looking at their 50s, though it could run into retirement at 65. If they left the police earlier in their life, they could certainly be working as a bodyguard while much younger. However, bodyguard work is a job where old age puts you, and your protectee at a significant risk.

The reasonable outcome is that, yes, you could have much older experts working for the company in support roles (particularly in training and planning), but the company would want bodyguards who could actually do the job, and safeguard their protectee in the field.

So, yeah, it does make sense to see older individuals working as security guards. This happens. It does not make sense to see older bodyguards, because that is a role where age will impair their ability to do their job effectively.

-Starke

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Q&A: Magical World Building and Arcane Spell Failure

Is there any “realistic” reason why a mage couldn’t wear simple armor? Is armor really that heavy? Or is just some stuff leftover from DnD

This isn’t even a thing in D&D anymore, so let’s talk about where this is coming from and why it really doesn’t matter, unless you want it to.

It’s important to understand that the magic in the worlds you create isn’t real. You can base your magical theories off of real world mysticism if you want, but that will lead you more into a discussion in metaphysics, rather than, “can I cast spells while using a tower shield?”

D&D’s had a long history, and when it comes to Wizards (and Sorcerers) a lot of it trends back to one fictional character: Gandalf. Gandalf wandered around in robes, with a walking stick, so Wizards got the ability to wield a staff and couldn’t wear armor. The big floppy hat was optional, but encouraged. (There is a lot more to unpack with Gandalf, but this is, almost certainly, where D&D was drawing inspiration from.)

With the caveat that I never played AD&D in tabletop, my understanding with that edition was that Wizards were flat out blocked from casting spells while wearing armor.

My introduction was in 3rd Edition. This edition had a few major changes, including the ability to take armor proficiency, “out of class.” This meant it was suddenly feasible for players to roll up a human Wizard and immediately give them proficiency with light armor. The result was a rule called, “arcane spell failure.”

In D&D, spell casting has five distinct components: verbal, somatic, material, focus, or divine focus. Most spells only have a couple, and (as far as I know, none have both focus versions.)

Verbal components require the spell caster speak as part of the spell. Material components are consumed in the casting (there’s also a version that consumes XP off the character), Focus components are items which are needed for the spell but not consumed. Divine Focus components are the easier to grasp example here, because they’re usually holy symbols needed to cast the spell. Non-divine Focus items work the same way, just they’re not a holy symbol.

Somatic components are how the designers justified, “arcane spell failure.” The term “somatic” just means, “of the body.” In D&D terms it refers to very fine hand movements necessary for spellcasting. If a wizard wants to cast a spell with a somatic component, there’s a specific hand gesture associated with it, and they must replicate it perfectly. This is sensitive enough that wearing any armor could slightly “throw off,” the Wizard and cause the spell to fizzle. (The chance for this to happen increases based on the armor worn.)

So, this is where D&D is very D&D. Arcane spell failure applies only to “arcane” spells, and doesn’t affect divine spells at all. On the surface this sounds fine. Except, some spells appear on both Arcane and Divine spell lists. There’s no explanation why a Wizard needs to be much more precise when casting Bear’s Endurance, while a Cleric can cast it in heavy armor.

Starting with 4E, arcane spell failure has been mostly scrubbed from the game. From what I remember, 4E doesn’t even address Arcane Spell Failure at all, and I’m actually struggling to remember what armor proficiency even does in that edition.

From what I know, in 5e, proficiencies allows you to spell cast in that armor weight. (Though, I’ll admit, I haven’t read any of the 5e core books.)

So, that’s D&D. Other fantasy settings have their own rules, and they run the gamut. So, why did D&D go the route it did?

Probably balance. Originally the idea was that armor would make you considerably harder to hit in combat (conceptualization for how D&D’s armor system works is a discussion on its own), so, because spell casters would become godlike beings, it made sense that you’d want to keep them from also being effective melee fighters. Combined with there being some particularly nasty melee based spells in D&D which are (or were) high risk/high reward decisions.

Over time, D&D’s defense options homogenized considerably, and by late 3.5, (and also in Pathfinder) you could get a pretty respectable Armor Class on your starting character regardless of class. A Fighter or Cleric would be getting it from their armor, a Rogue would be getting it Dex bonus and their (lighter) armor, and a Wizard (or Sorcerer) would be getting it from their spells.

Modern D&D’s approach is actually pretty reasonable, it’s not that mages can’t cast while wearing armor, it’s simply that they spent their time learning their spells, and not martial combat. As a result, they never learned to fight in armor, and simply don’t know how.

This might sound a little ridiculous when you’re talking about leather armor, but it actually makes some sense for chain or plate combat, as both require training and conditioning, which an academic would (likely) lack.

Beyond that, in game systems, you usually see four approaches to mages in armor: Complete prohibition, negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, and agnostic systems.

Complete prohibition is where the mage simply can’t use armor (or can’t cast while wearing it.) This usually isn’t a result of the armor’s weight, but may be other factors, such as the armor (somehow) cutting the wearer off from “the flow of magic,” or creating some kind of magical interference.

Negative reinforcement is where the mage is penalized for wearing armor, but can still use it if they’re willing to make that sacrifice. Technically, 3e D&D was an example of this, because the Wizard would need to take armor proficiency feats, and then still risk losing any spell they cast, though it was technically possible.

Positive reinforcement is where the mage gains benefits from going unarmored. From a world building perspective, this can be very similar to the previous group, however if your mages have specialized garb that enhances their magical powers, that would be an example of this. If said garb can also appear as armor, then we have the next example.

Agnostic systems are where the game (or setting) doesn’t care what the mage is wearing. They can wear any armor they like without affecting their ability to use magic (though they still may need training to use the armor effectively, and as a result may abstain from armor.) As mentioned in the last paragraph, if you have specialized magic enhancing garb which also appears in armored variants (and that’s the only difference) then you’re probably looking at this. D&D’s Clerics are (ironically) an example of this.

So, you may have noticed I dropped D&D into two different categories here, and that is something to keep in mind for a sufficiently diverse world: Not every magic user is going to be following the same rules.

D&D’s Clerics have no restriction when casting in armor, their Wizards have to be very careful about armor because it impedes their hand gestures, and Druids have sworn oaths against wearing metal armor (if broken, these oaths suppress their their spellcasting.)

The structure of D&D encourages creating characters within limitations. This can be a very good thing from a character building (and world building) perspective. When any character can do whatever they want, they will tend to blend together. If your mage doesn’t wear armor because they’ve never trained to use it, and they can use their magical prowess to defend against attacks, that will give them a very different identity from a walking slab of meat wrapped in steel.

Further, when characters are limited by what they haven’t learned (or cannot do) because of their background, that will encourage a more diverse world, with a larger number of distinct groups and factions.

There’s also a potential for very direct explanations, like saying that a mage in your world shouldn’t cast electrical spells while wearing steel, because it will arc back onto them… but lightning’s fine, because that’s a bolt of plasma.

Similarly, geas are another potential restriction. Your character has magic, but it’s restricted by specific taboos. D&D has a bunch of these including the Druids (mentioned above), Clerics, and Paladins. If your setting has nature mages who lose their abilities if they, “use the artifice of civilization,” that could be a very chunky (or even debilitating) restriction.

Because you’re creating your world, you have a lot of freedom to say why magic does, or does not, play well with armor. D&D used it as a balancing mechanic, but turned it into a world building element until later abandoning it. While I’d strongly recommend staying consistent (you’re not cranking out multiple editions of a 45 year old RPG, and adjusting it to keep it fresh, and balanced-ish), it is a decent reference point for considering options in building your own fantasy setting, just don’t be afraid to step well away from it if you’d prefer to do something else.

-Starke

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Q&A: Japanese Weapon Permit Laws

Can a javelin be used to fight like a staff? I’m currently working on a character who uses a staff to fight, and I wanted him to have a ranged weapon (he’s a teenager living in Japan so obviously I can’t give him a gun) and I had the idea of a collapsible staff that turns into a javelin.

You couldn’t give him a spear, either.

To answer the first question quickly, it depends. Generally speaking, a javelin would not make a good melee weapon, and some are especially ill suited to hand to hand combat. Javelins are intended to be light weight throwing weapons, and while they do have a bladed tip, they’re not designed for melee combat.

Spear combat does share some similarity to staff combat, and there overlapping techniques that work with both. (The difference is that spears tend to be longer and heavier than javelins.)

As far as I know, collapsible staves are basically a non-start. You can’t have a telescopic staff or spear because the weapon would, “fold up,” during normal combat usage. You might find ones that can be dismantled (such as with multiple segments which screw together), but that wouldn’t be particularly concealable, as you’d need to take the time to reassemble your weapon when needed.

Now, you can find collapsible spears, specifically for LARPing, but those intended to collapse when used to avoid injuring the other participants.

So, a collapsible javelin isn’t and option, but dropping that character in Japan makes that a moot point; Japanese weapon laws are exceptionally strict. Owning a spear would require a permit from the Prefecture Public Safety Commission (this is the same body which issues firearms permits.) Note that I said, “owning,” and not, “carrying,” because it’s very likely that said permit would only allow you to keep it in your house as a display piece.

Private ownership of weapons is governed by the Swords and Firearms Possession Control Law of 1958. This law has been updated several times, and that wasn’t the first Japanese firearms legislation (that goes back to 1629), but the 1958 law separated ownership from carrying. In Japan, permits grant the ability to legally own an item, but not the ability to carry it without further dispensation.

You can dig up a lot of information on the ’58 law because it applies to gun ownership, however it’s far more encompassing than that. Any katana, sword, spear, or halberd is automatically considered a weapon. For, fixed blade knives the magic number is 15cm, if it’s over that, it’s a weapon. (There’s a bit of complexity, with three different groupings. Fixed blade knives have a lower length limit if they’re carried “unpacked,” outside the home, and folding blade knives have an even lower limit. Though, the simple takeaway there is that pocket knives are legal and unregistered, box cutters are weapons.) Incidentally, the spear would be licensed as a, “sword,” under the law.

(You can find an English translation by Mark Allerman published in the Washington International Law Journal here. However, that was published in 2000, and the law was updated in 2008, and again in 2018, so it doesn’t reflect the current version of the text.)

It’s unlikely your character could even obtain a permit to carry a sword outside of the home, even if they were an iaido practitioner. Age alone is a major factor. Normally someone under the age of 18 cannot obtain a permit. (There is a specific exemption for someone who is at least 14 to own an air gun, but, as far as I can tell, this doesn’t apply for sword permits.) So, they wouldn’t be able to even buy this hypothetical collapsing javelin, never mind carrying it.

As I said, Japan’s weapon laws are very strict, to the point that your character couldn’t, realistically, get their hands on much more than a kitchen knife (which would be an illegal weapon once it left the house.) More than that, Japanese authorities are very strict about violations. If your character is carrying any weapon, it will go very badly for them once they start using it.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Folly of The Blade Master

Could a skilled fighter only be able to fight using one type of weapon, like a sword, and be practically useless in every other weapon or unarmed? Would being unable to fight unarmed be really dangerous in case he gets disarmed or loses the sword or is caught without a sword on hand so is neglecting to learn a really bad decision?

Hypothetically, yes, but, you’ve already identified one reason why no one would intentionally train this way. However, there are other reasons.

The mono-weapon fighter is fine for very specific archetypal stories. It’s not realistic, it’s not supposed to be, it’s a caricature. At its worst, it’s a kind of munchkining. You’re moving stats around on your character to make them the absolute best at something, and who cares if you swapped out their ability to read for another +1 To Hit while using swords?

Now, I am a fan of using RPG (or pseudo-RPG) systems to build characters for your writing. I’m also entirely fine with heavy minmaxing for RPGs where build optimization is critical to combat balance. However, minmaxing has very limited applications for actual roleplaying, and does not tend to work well for prose characters.

If your goal is a borderline cartoon character, fine. It’s not realistic, but that was never the point.

The mono-weapon fighter actually works against their stated goal. The entire idea is that the character has somehow avoided learning about other weapons while mastering one. Meaning, they don’t know how to use those weapons, and (following this logic) don’t understand what those weapons can do. Your swordsman wouldn’t know how to use or defend against an axe or spear. This is before you consider unfamiliarity with weapons specifically designed to counter their weapon of choice (like sword breakers.)

From a combat ecology standpoint, it’s very important for a fighter to be familiar with the weapons they’ll commonly encounter. It doesn’t mean they need to be an expert with every one, but they need to understand how to use those weapons, what they’re capable of, their weaknesses, and how to defend against them. That last two parts are much easier to internalize when you’re familiar the first two.

Of course, if you know how to use a weapon, even if you’re not a master, it means you can use one if your weapon of choice is unavailable.

The only place where a mono-weapon fighter really flourishes is in some kind of ritualized dueling system. If both fighters are completely restricted to a specific weapon (or weapons), and they’re all training with that, then ignoring other weapons might an option. Except, even there, cross-training still has value.

This is a little more open ended, because it’s impossible to say exactly what someone will take away from a lesson. However, when you’re training with other weapons, you’re going to learn things that will work with them, things which you might be able to translate back to your weapon of choice. A diverse education in violence will open new options, which you wouldn’t have known about if you limited yourself to a single weapon.

It’s entirely possible someone would focus their expertise into a single weapon. With them constantly working to improve their use of it. However, an individual like that would already have a background with a variety other weapons. If they use their skills in warfare, they’d also know to avoid neglecting other weapons. However, if their occupation is as an educator, a duelist, or an entertainer, it’s entirely possible they’d only focus on their weapon of choice.

Similar to your question, you also wouldn’t see serious combatants carrying a single weapon into battle. A primary weapon, sidearm, and even a backup have been pretty common throughout history. So, a soldier might start with a spear or pike, carry a sword or axe as a sidearm, and then have a dagger or hatchet as a backup weapon. If their primary weapon is lost or destroyed, they’re not unarmed, and can continue to fight, though they may want to secure a replacement for their primary as quickly as possible.

If you are going to battle, you do not want to be unarmed. Take more weapons than you think you’ll need, make sure you know how to use them. Finally, ensure you know how your foes’ weapons work, so you can defend against them, or exploit their weaknesses.

-Starke

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Q&A: Arrow Wound First Aid

Hi, I have a question! So, say a character were to get shot with an arrow in, say, the lower leg, below the knee, and it stays there. How would it be treated? And isn’t it a bad idea to just yank an arrow out the same way it’s bad to take a bullet out? Thanks!

The rational is similar, though it’s slightly more analogous to treating a knife wound.

So, if you’re hit by an arrow, your first priority is to minimize the bleeding. You want to keep pressure on the wound, while applying a bandage. However, at this point, there is a very important consideration. If the arrow shaft is embedded in the injury, it needs to be stabilized to prevent further injury.

Do not remove the arrow, regardless of whether it has cleanly penetrated, or is wedged in the wound. Do not try to move the arrow at all unless it is absolutely necessary. Pack the bandage around it.

One thing that could be considered a positive on the treatment side is that the arrow will tend to pin the victim’s muscles together, meaning it will partially immobilize the victim. On one hand, this will help keep them from moving around, and can help stabilize the arrow shaft.

Much like with knife wounds, there’s a real possibility that the arrow head is limiting the bleeding. Moving it around, or removing it, can cause additional damage, or disrupt the clotting process.

Once bleeding has been minimized (or, ideally, stopped), and the arrow has been stabilized, you need to get immediate medical attention for the victim. In a surgical environment, the arrow can be safely removed. If you have an arrowhead that matches the one in the victim, it can be helpful to provide that to medical personnel. The arrowhead would let them know what to expect in the victim’s injury, and may help them identify if parts have broken off. However, this will only apply in situations where you have direct access to those arrowheads. (Mainly, hunting and sporting accidents, not combat.)

It’s a little different with bullets, because you will cause additional damage digging around to remove it. There’s also a risk of fragmentation. The end result is similar, but the reasoning is slightly different.

In either case, it’s best to leave the foreign object in the victim and get medical attention. The projectile will need to come out, but there’s a real risk of life threatening bleeding, meaning doing so outside of a surgical environment is a very bad idea.

-Starke

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Q&A: The AK vs. AR-15 Argument and Lingering Cold War Politics

i’m… so sorry for this question, but google COULD NOT give me an unbiased answer. what are the pros/cons and avg “lifespans” of an AR-15 vs an AK-47? kind of a running gag in the story is the two protagonists are buddies and are always arguing about “mine-is-better-because” but also I want to write the weapons accurately anyway when they’re actually getting used.

So, there’s important caveat here, I’ve spent almost no time with either weapon. Most of my firearms experience has been handguns, with some time on shotguns and hunting rifles. Which, ironically puts in, roughly the same place as a lot of the people who take the AK vs. AR-15 rivalry seriously. They’ve seen them on TV, maybe used them in video games, but that’s about the extent of it.

The tricky part about the life-cycle for a firearm is, it’s per component. Off-hand the M4A1’s barrel is rated for ~7,500 rounds. But, that’s just the barrel, and if the barrel is failing, it can be replaced. Which is part of why the weapons will be examined by an armorer annually or bi-annually, to identify issues. The end result is, you’ll see firearms that are still in service for decades, with parts being replaced or repaired over time. The other side of this is that, if you abuse a gun, you can destroy it before you’ve fully broken it in.

The thing about this debate is, it’s kinda bullshit. You’ll see a lot of personal preference, and that’s valid so far as it goes. If you prefer the AK over the AR-15, that’s your choice. The reasoning doesn’t need to go beyond that. But, both are effective families of rifles. Both have family members that are sub-par. Both exist in a variety of calibers. Both have Assault, Carbine, DMR, and LMG variants. Both have been adopted by other manufacturers and gone far outside the range of, “is this gun better?”

So, the thing about both of these is, it’s not about the guns. The AR-15 design was adapted to the M16, the M4, the P416, the H&K 416, the LVOA-C, the SIG516, the LR-300… look, there are so many guns based off this platform that it’s ridiculous to say, “what are the characteristics of this weapon.” What you say about an LR-300 will not be true of an HK 716. These guns are entirely different weapons, with different design goals.

I mean, even the recently mentioned AAC Honey Badger is, basically, an AR-15 that’s been slightly reworked.

What do these guns have in common? From an engineering stance, a lot. Internally, it’s the same gun with minor modifications, but it’s also manufactured by different companies, to different standards, and potentially with their own quirks.

The Eugene Stoner’s AR platform is both very solid and very customizable. It’s widely used because it works. It has the disadvantage that it requires a fixed stock. The recoil spring travels into the stock, and gives every AR-10/AR-15 platform rifle a recognizable profile. You can immediately know at a glance if the gun you’re looking at is based of this design.

The AK-47 side of the debate isn’t any simpler. You have the AK-47… which you probably won’t see, at least not the Soviet one. You have the AKM which replaced in ’59. You’ve got the AK-74, which was chambered in a smaller 5.45mm cartridge as a response to NATO’s 5.56mm. The design was reworked to the Dragunov. There’s even bullpup variants, like the OTs-14 Groza. The irony is, now we have the AK101 and AK102 which are both chambered in 5.56mm NATO, so we’ve come full circle. I’m also pretty sure there’s a main line AK chambered in .308, but I can’t remember the number. If that’s not bad enough, the Chinese versions are all named, “Type #,” so, their version of the AK47 is (I think) the Type 56. Though, I’ll admit, I have a hard time keeping track.

Except, the AK’s history is a little more complicated. A lot of the design came directly from the German StG44. This isn’t calling Mikhail Kalashnikov a design plagiarist, however, the StG44 is the progenitor of many assault rifle designs, including the AK-47.

The irony is, you’ll never hear the same criticisms leveled at the Galil rifles. They’re Israeli manufactured AKs. However, because they’re sporting different externals, they don’t look like AKs, so the “AKs suck” contingent never give them a second glance. (Or, and I’ve seen this a couple times, they actually praise the Galil.)

There were different design goals with the AR-15 and the AK-47. However, it’s also worth remembering, these weapons were designed at different points in time.

The AK-47 was designed in the aftermath of World War II. It was one of the first assault rifles. In some ways, it’s more analogous to the M14, developed 7 years later, or the FN FAL, which was originally prototyped to use the same 8mm Kurz round as the StG44. (Though, by the time the FAL entered service, it was chambered in 7.62 NATO.) Another contemporary would be the H&K G3.

They’re all venerable guns. They’ll get the job done. Yes, they have distinct quirks, but the extensive rivalry ends up more in the range of people who never touch them, rather than something you’ll see from an actual combat veteran. It’s a rifle, it kills people.

I might get a little bit of hate for this, but, frankly, if you’re thinking about using any of those mid-century ARs, there are better options. If you could pick between an FN FAL, or an FN SCAR, the SCAR is probably going to be the better weapon. It represents 50 years of firearms development that the original FALs didn’t benefit from.

Is the AK a good gun? Yes. Without question. Their durability is somewhat overstated, but they are very easy to operate and maintain. You can’t abuse it and expect it to work perfectly, but it’s a solid piece of mid-century hardware. Like a lot of automatic rifles from that era, it’s not the most accurate weapon, but it will put a bullet where you want it at medium range.

Depending on what you’re doing, there are updates. There’s been iteration on the AK design over the years. You can get them chambered in 7.62x39mm, 5.45mm, or even 5.56mm NATO. (Like I said earlier.) The AKs starting at 106 use an entirely different gas system. This isn’t even addressing the AK-12, and I’ll come back to that one in a minute.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the AR-15 platform. It was the product of nearly 10 years of assault rifle design and testing. The FAL, M14, and AK-47 all saw extensive use in conflicts before Stoner developed the AR-10. The AR15 was a second generation Assault Rifle (or, third, if we’re counting the StG44 as it’s own generation.) It was built off of lessons learned. It was chambered in a smaller Remington .223 cartridge to give it better recoil characteristics, because that fit with the way assault rifles actually saw use. Something that the AKs would adapt back with the AK-74. Turns out, you didn’t need the firepower of 7.62 NATO at the ranges where combat was taking place.

The M16 has a bad reputation for reliability. There’s a lot of political history here with adoption process for the M16. The very short version is that the US Army’s tests were heavily biased against the weapon, with the testers deliberately abusing the guns to degrade their performance.

Even after the Army was ordered to adopt the rifle, they issued them without cleaning kits, billing the weapons as, “self-cleaning.” This meant that those M16s would foul and fail at a staggering rate.

Like I said, if you abuse a gun, it won’t work right.

Is the AR-15 platform solid? Yeah. Absolutely. It’s had 60 years of updates and iterations. The modern M4A1 is a very good rifle. It’s reliable if the user doesn’t intentionally abuse and neglect it. It’s accurate. It’s a good gun.

Now, I was going to say, the modern incarnations of the AR platform are very very modular. You can mount a stupid amount of extra hardware to them. Except, modern AKs have also copied that. The AK-12 features a modular rail system similar to what you’d find on a modern M4A1. If you want a red dot sight, and a vertical grip, you can now mount those on an AK, without having to replace the entire lower furniture, and attaching a separate bracket down the side.

Is the AK more reliable than the M4? Probably, but not to a meaningful degree. You should be maintaining your gun regardless. Keep your gun in good working order, and it should outlive you. Is the M4 more accurate than the AK-47? Probably, but I wouldn’t want to wager any money when you’re trying to compare the M4’s accuracy to the modern AK incarnations.

The entire argument between the AK-47 and the AR-15 platform isn’t about the guns. It’s a dick measuring contest left over from the Cold War. Like two people bragging about why their pickup truck’s brand is better.

This is why you’re having a hard time pulling the bias out of the discussion: The bias is the discussion. In the discussion, the guns are distorted to the point of caricature. In reality, they differences are far less significant.

These are both solid weapon platforms. The original AK-47 is dated, but there have been significant updates over the years. The original M16 had some issues, but the modern incarnations of the AR-15 platform are very versatile, and varied.

-Starke

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Q&A: Fear is Instinct, Understanding is a Weapon

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

“If you fear your own sword you cannot fight” – this concept sometimes shows up. Is it real? If so, how are students/trainees/apprentices taught to work through it?

This one is actually real. If you’re afraid of your weapon, no matter what that weapon is (including your own body), you cannot wield it effectively. This is true for all weapons, including guns, swords, staves, hand to hand, everything. It doesn’t matter.

The reason why is it’s difficult to fight an opponent, but it’s even more difficult to fight yourself and your opponent at the same time. You split your concentration, you lean back, you break focus, you flinch, your stance is terrible, you’re tentative rather than cautious or you overcompensate. The same is true if you’re afraid of getting hit.

Respect your weapon, but don’t fear it.

If you don’t respect your weapon, the power it holds, and the destruction it can inflict, then you’re likely to misuse it. If you’re frightened of your weapon, it’ll get you killed.

A good way to understand this concept is to start with hand to hand. A lot of beginners are frightened of getting hit. You can probably grasp why without experiencing the actual event. Getting punched or kicked hurts. Punching someone else hurts too. Before we even move to the emotional or spiritual impact, let me make this clear: on a purely physical level, violence hurts you coming and going. If two people fight, no matter their skill level, both are going to get hurt. The question is, how much more will one person be hurt than the other? The one who gets hurt less is the winner.

Fear is a natural response to the expectation of experiencing pain. Fear is your body instinctively trying to defend you from harm. When you flinch, your eyes close, you tuck inward, your muscles (your body’s natural armor) tense up to take the hit. This is all a natural, instinctual attempt to limit the damage. You don’t want to get hurt, getting hurt sucks. It’s dangerous. If you get injured too badly, you could lose substantial elements of your life that you take for granted. Your mind is always making risk based assessments in dangerous situations. It will instruct your body to react in accordance with baseline instinct because that is what it knows how to do.

So, if you are afraid of your weapon, you will respond to that fear while trying to use the weapon.

Let me give you an example with a weapon that’s easier to understand without experience than a sword: the modern handgun.

Handguns are loud. They are noisy. They smell. When they fire, if they’re not properly controlled, they will snap back toward your face on the recoil. So, what does someone who is afraid of a gun do? They do what’s natural. They lean away from it. When you are afraid, you naturally want as much distance from the object causing that fear as you can get. The person holding the gun does so with one hand, their arm extends way out, their upper torso leans back out of balance with their lower body, their eyes narrow. When the gun fires, they flinch. Their eyes close, they lose sight of their target, the uncontrolled muzzle jerks upward and the bullet flies on a different path than the one they intended. The bullet is more likely to miss or, worse, hit a target they didn’t intend. Their fear cost them control and concentration.

The irony is this happens with all weapons when you’re afraid, including hand to hand combat. The physical reaction differs slightly, but the same baseline occurs — leaning back, flinching, squeezing the eyes shut, tensing up. In the worst case scenario, the individual will turn away or roll over in an instinctual attempt to defend the most important part of their body. The reason you get virtually the same reaction regardless of weapon type is because the human fear response is natural instinct.

If you just went, but, wait, Michi, isn’t violence natural instinct too?

No. 

Aggression, yes, that’s natural. Society and media teach us that expressions of violence like punches and kicks are a natural part of the human condition, and that’s fantasy. Being exposed to violence from an early age, a lot of people will try to mimic what they see, but you can’t really fight effectively in accordance with modern understanding until you’re trained. Martial combat is science. Martial combat is unnatural. You’re trained to act in opposition to your natural instincts like your fear response or your response to anger.

You overcome fear with familiarity. You replace the unknown with understanding. You retrain your instincts through conditioning. With practice and repetition, you change everything. The way you think, the way you move, the way you observe your environment, the way you react physically, mentally, and emotionally to stress. A large portion of martial training is about getting you accustomed to physical discomfort. This is where the general misunderstanding about martial training and pain comes from. Learning to differentiate between physical discomfort and real damage is vital. You will be hurt while fighting, but understanding the difference between a bruise and a torn muscle can save your life. In the same way, understanding your body, knowing where to hit, how to hit, and what hurts when hit, allows you to better formulate strategies to defeat your opponent. As you become more effective, streamlining your physical movements and prioritizing targets allows you to conserve more energy meaning you can either fight longer or have enough gas left in the tank to escape.

Martial combat also teaches you to capitalize on and even induce this same fear response in someone else then use that reaction to your advantage. A basic example of that is: I flick my hand at your face to get you to flinch (you see an object flying toward your face, your eyes instinctively close to protect them) and punch you in the stomach instead. That’s not natural, that’s tactical.

The same principle applies to weapons. The difference is there’s more danger associated with weapons because weapons are designed to end lives. This is true even if you’re using your weapon for self-defense. In the process of defending your own life, you may take someone else’s. That’s not a judgement. That’s reality. Weapons are designed to kill people, it is natural to be afraid of them, coming to terms with that reality and respecting the damage your weapon can do (and the damage you can inflict with it) is part of wielding weapons effectively.

Again, you overcome fear through familiarity. This is what training is for. Those long hours practicing your stances and physical movements, learning about your weapon by learning to care for it. Endless repetition until those techniques, those movements from stacking mags to drawing your gun to aiming become a natural part of you. You train until your sword becomes an extension of your arm, so you know intuitively where it is at all times. You repeat the same action over and over and over again until the action is part of you so when the stimulus is applied you react without thinking. 

The motions and training for these weapons, even weapons within an individual family or with some similarity, will be different. You can’t pick up a pistol and expect it to be the same as every other pistol. There are different makes, different models, different types, and the subtle differences between them can be a gamechanger. You can’t pick up a rapier and expect to wield it like a longsword. You can’t pick up a smallsword and expect to wield it exactly like a rapier. The saber and the epee are similar, with some crossover, but different weapons. The military saber used in Britain during the 1800s and 1900s is a different animal from the modern fencing saber. Training in one is not training for all and training in one style is not an automatic counter to every other.

The problem with familiarity, of course, is that the reverse is also true. After all, familiarity breeds contempt and it is just as dangerous to become too comfortable with your weapon. People who are too comfortable lose respect for their weapon’s power, forgetting the ever present danger both to themselves and to the people around them. They treat the weapon like a toy. Screwing around is how people get hurt.

A weapon is always dangerous, no matter who holds it. Weapons are never 100% safe. However, in the hands of someone who respects it and who understands it, the risks are reduced to the people around them.

You overcome fear of a weapon the way you overcome fear of anything else, through knowledge of what it is, how it works, what it can do and what it can’t do, through understanding, through practice, and eventually via familiarity. It is very difficult to be frightened of something you know and understand, especially when an object with no will of its own. At that point, you’re no longer frightened by the gun or sword when it’s in your hand. It could be a different story when it’s in someone else’s.

-Michi

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Q&A: Dry Fire

Would firing an unloaded pistol make noise? I have a character who is expected to carry his gun at his workplace provided it is holstered and unloaded until needed, purportedly for “scaring off wild animals”. (The owner of the graveyard secretly deals with vampires and werewolves at his home nearby, and wants his employees to be able to defend themselves if something goes wrong.) My character is attacked by a vampire, and panics, forgetting to load his gun before shooting.

So, on the first question, yes, firearms will make noise when dry fired. Also, “dry fire,” the correct term for pulling the trigger on an empty chamber. The gun itself may be loaded, but if there’s nothing in the chamber, the weapon cannot fire.

The vast majority of firearms either operate off of a hammer or striker system. In both cases you have a firing pin, which is a small metal rod which connects to the back of the bullet’s shell casing.

In the case of a hammer-fired weapon, there’s a (usually external) hammer which is cocked, and pulling the trigger releases that, striking the firing pin, which then connects with the bullet.

Striker fire pistols do not have a hammer. A striker rod drawn back, and then released forward into the firing pin. With striker fired weapons, the firing pin may be a fused component of the striker itself. (There’s no reason to have a separate component, and the “pin,” is just a protruding nub on the striker.)

This isn’t going to apply to everything. Some crude open bolt designs and slam fire weapons have simple nubs fused onto the back of their bolt, and I’ve even seen a carpentry nail used as a firing pin in a zip gun design.

Dry firing a cocked handgun will produce an audible click. However, now we need to talk about single action and double action.

The simplest explanation is that with a single-action weapon, pulling the trigger will not cock the hammer (or striker.) With a double action weapon, pulling the trigger will cock the hammer or striker before releasing it.

When you’re looking at single action revolvers, this means the gun can be fired once, before you need to recock it manually. With a double action revolver you can choose to manually cock the weapon, but you can fire again without needing to do so. (Note that on the vast majority of revolvers, the act of cocking the hammer is what rotates the cylinder, so in both cases, the weapon will chamber a fresh round as part of the mechanical process.)

Single and double action semi-automatics are a little different. If a single action semi-automatic’s hammer is down, the weapon cannot be fired. (This can act as an additional safety, though it should not replace proper safety management.) However, even a single action semi-automatic weapon can be fired multiple times in rapid succession. This is because the act of cycling and loading a fresh round will also recock the hammer (or striker.) A single action semi-auto can be viewed as having an extra safety feature that prevents a single shot, but will not prevent multiple follow-up shots.

Double action weapons can be fired regardless of the hammer (or striker) position by pulling the trigger. Pulling the trigger on a dropped hammer will take slightly more force than on one that is cocked. This is because you’re having to “lift the hammer” with your trigger finger in addition to simply releasing it. This is why you will sometime see a shooter manually cock a double action handgun. They’re lightening the trigger weight, and potentially improving their accuracy.

Most modern revolvers are double action (though some modern single action revolvers exist for sporting and hunting applications.) With semi-automatic handguns, it’s a much more varied mix. There are people who prefer single action semi-autos, because the extra safety element.

It’s also worth noting that some double action handguns (mostly striker fired ones), will not recock after firing. Maintaining a heavier double action pull on every shot. This is not especially popular among people who know their guns, though some inexperienced gun buyers will pick these up because the design is marketed as, “safer.” “You’re less likely to fire the gun accidentally.” Even though there are better mechanical solutions, long before we get to the topic of trigger discipline.

The irony here is, you’ve probably heard the sound of dry firing a pistol. This is something that gets used frequently in TV, video games, movies, and other visual media.

Mechanically, it doesn’t happen exactly the way you sometimes see it presented. On fully automatic weapons, you’re not likely to get a burst of clicks, because without blowback from a bullet, there’s no way to cycle the bolt, and no way to recock the firing pin (unless it’s manually.) On a single action pistol, you’re not going to hear a second click if you pull the trigger again, because the hammer’s down. On double action weapons, you hear multiple clicks if the user tries to pull the trigger repeatedly on an empty chamber.

In the case of a single action pistol, there is some mechanical noise involved in pulling the trigger while the hammer is down, but if the gun is properly maintained, it will be quite faint. Similarly, if you have a pistol where the safety disconnects the trigger assembly there will be a little noise, but not much. (I can’t really estimate exactly what you’d hear, because it’s specific to the internal mechanical design.)

Now, having gotten past all of that, the guy who operates the graveyard is a dick, and they’re going to get their employees killed, drawing more attention to what’s going on.

So, always store your firearms unloaded. Keep the ammunition away from it, in a cool and dry place.

For some applications, you should keep your firearm unloaded until you’re ready to use it. This includes varmint control and hunting. In both cases, the risk of an accidental discharge seriously outweighs the need to have the weapon ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

For combat applications, you’re going to need to keep the weapon loaded in any situation where you may need it at a moment’s notice. The weapon should be carried on safe, with the hammer down. With semi-automatics, the weapon should probably be carried with an empty chamber, though that is a little negotiable depending on the exact nature of the threat (and the specific model of handgun.)

It’s also worth noting that not all handguns have manual safeties. This applies to both semi-automatics, and even some revolvers. The major takeaway here is to research the technical details of any specific firearm you intend to use in your writing.

So, it is entirely plausible that your character would keep their weapon unloaded, because they expected they’d use it to deal with a rabid animal. It’s also entirely plausible they’d panic in the moment and completely forget to load their gun. The only problem with all of this is that if they’re getting jumped by a vampire, they’re not getting out of that situation. Similar situation with a werewolf. If something goes wrong, the employee on the spot is toast.

This digs into a whole thing about having credible villains, but if your werewolf or vampire can’t eliminate an (effectively) unarmed human, it creates huge problems for world building. So, we’re back to the point where the character’s boss is basically hanging them out to die.

Again with world building, “normally,” you’d need specialized ammo to deal with either werewolves or vampires, and handing out silver bullets would tip off nearly anyone that something’s not quite right about this job. Just arming them in the first place would raise some eyebrows.

Some of this is par for the course when we’re talking about urban fantasy. The entire structure is supernatural elements hidden behind mundane façades. So, the entire idea that someone who operates a graveyard is actually doing business with monsters is, absolutely par for the course. The idea that he’d take steps to protect his employees from retaliation makes sense. However, the point that stands out is that lead rounds probably wouldn’t do much to stop a supernatural attacker. If the goal is for someone else to intervene and save your character, then you don’t need the empty gun. There might be a thematic elements I’m unaware of, but independently, the gun raises many questions.

I hope that’s helpful for you.

-Starke

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Cyberpunk and the Dark Future of Yesterday

Why would lasers be bad for cyberpunk dystopia? Wouldn’t a cyberpunk setting imply solving the energy storage problem?

illuminator-of-eternal-warfare

In a minor quibble, I didn’t say, “bad,” I said that “beam weapons wouldn’t fit” with a cyberpunk setting. So, let’s dig into what Cyberpunk as a genre is, where’s it’s ended up, and why I don’t think high-energy weapons fit very well with the genre, even though they are part of it.

The original literature that would become cyberpunk came from William Gibson. For someone living in 2020, it’s hard to articulate just how much the presented world departed from contemporary reality. Early cyberpunk, both from Gibson and also Neil Stephenson focused heavily on worlds heavily influenced by the internet in an era when home computers were still a rarity, used by hobbyists and (the rare) home business.

It’s also important to reference just how radical a departure cyperpunk was from contemporary science fiction, when Neuromancer first hit the market. This was written in the aftermath of authors like Asimov and Clarke. While there were subversive elements, (Phillip K. Dick comes to mind), but a lot of contemporary science fiction was written with the philosophy that technological progress would lead to a better world. If you wanted dystopic material, you needed to look to authors like Margret Atwood, or the post-apocalyptic genre that fed on late-Cold War anxieties.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) came into the picture at roughly the same time, but this wasn’t trying to create a new genre. Blade Runner was heavily inspired by mid-century film noir, and was using that visual language while adapting one of Phillip K. Dick’s novels (Do Andorids Dream of Electric Sheep?) The novel presents a world that is in the process of going into complete ecological collapse. There’s a lot of elements that the film never discusses which still influence the world, and the resulting urban collapse mixed with neo-noir aesthetics created much of the visual language we associate with the cyberpunk genre today.

The thing is, the world that Gibson created is shockingly low tech compared to what you’d probably associate with modern cyberpunk. Most of his work (at least, what I’ve read of it) follows a similar pattern. cyberpunk is the world with a few technological embellishments, and the utter economic devastation of Reaganomics writ large. (Remember, we’re talking about books written in the 80s.)

A lot of the aesthetic elements which came to be synonymous with cyberpunk build out of a snapshot of the 80s. Japan’s economic bubble was at it’s most aggressive, and as a result many writers envisioned a world where Japan’s influence would be felt heavily world-wide. In the moment, this felt like a natural progression from what people were seeing. Today (without context) it feels like an arbitrary inclusion. Japan’s bubble burst decades ago, and the vast majority of Japanese businesses which were investing abroad ended up selling off their foreign assets, either to stay solvent, or during bankruptcy.

To a degree, cyberpunk was a remarkably prescient genre. Gibson (and others) accurately predicted that computers would be become far more prevalent in everyday life, and their networks would expand well beyond the military and academic networks which existed at the time. They predicted the dramatic rise in corporate power, and economic inequality of the last 40 years. Squint a little, and you can even see hints of the gig economy popping up decades before it would filter into the real world.

Reading early cyberpunk, it can be easy to miss some of the satirical elements, because they’ve become reality. I’m thinking specifically of the private security for gated communities in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Though, the part where Snow Crash‘s protagonist is basically an early Second Life adopter in a world where people still care about Second Life is also on point.

So, it’s 2020. Blade Runner was set in the distant future of last year. Many of the original genre’s predictions for the future became today’s headlines. If you wrote a crime thriller set today, and hopped in a time machine to sell it in 1985, it’d be cyberpunk. No bionic implants (probably), but smart phones, computer forensics, the internet, traffic cameras, DNA testing, goddamn Wikipedia, livestreams. This is a cyberpunk dystopia. And, much like the early cyberpunk literature, all the cool stuff that sci-fi had promised its characters, like ray guns, flying cars, and space travel, we miss out on all the cool stuff cyberpunk promised us, like cybernetic limbs, smart guns, and affordable rent.

This is not the genre you were probably thinking of, and you’re not wrong. There’s a second cyberpunk genre that exists parallel to the first. Cyberpunk is a dystopic genre of retrofuturism. As the real world calendar has clicked forward, the timeframe for this sub-genre kept pace. For example the classic RPG Cyberpunk 2020, is now set in 2045, because it’s been 32 years, and 2020 isn’t the distant future. (And, yes, that is Mike Pondsmith’s setting, which is the basis for the repeatedly delayed Cyberpunk 2077.)

Influenced by many things, cyberpunk retrofuturism is the sci-fi setting that cuts uncomfortably close to the real world, except they’re still using CRT monitors, have advanced cybernetic augmentation, more neon lights, and a general aesthetic that looks more like Miami Vice than what you see when you look outside.

To be fair, on aesthetic level, I really like 70s and 80s retrofuturism. It’s an aesthetic I grew up with. Being told, “this is what the future will look like,” it’s been disappointing to get older and not see that emerge.

While I know it aggravates William Gibson, there’s nothing wrong with simply stealing that aesthetic, calling it cyberpunk, and running wild with it.

Both of these genre interpretations are valid. If you want a retro-future dystopia, both can be simultaneous inspirations. I’d argue that, if you remember where the genre came from, and use is at a vector for tech-social commentary, your resulting work will be stronger. Cyberpunk began as science fiction, and the genre allows you to cut deeply into real world society and politics.

If you want to talk about systemic racism, economic inequality, erosion of civil rights, or any number of other very relevant topics, cyberpunk has you covered. It’s always been political commentary.

So, why do I think energy weapons are a poor fit? It’s not the technology is too advanced. It’s that it’s too shiny; too cool.

Cyberpunk, held up that utopian vision of the future, shattered it, and threw the broken shards into a rain soaked gutter.

Beam weapons are part of that package. They’re cool. They’re space age. They feel futuristic, slick, and new. They’re a marvel of technology, and as a result, I feel they don’t fit thematically with cyberpunk as a genre. This is not me telling you, “you can’t do this.” It’s not that the technology is impossible. It’s that beam weapons run contrary to the idea of a sci-fi future betrayed and subverted by corporate greed.

Now, context is everything. If you’re looking at cross-threading the space opera with cyberpunk, yeah, energy weapons being the norm may make sense. If particle beam rifles are a major plot point in your story, set in the near future, if your themes support it, it could work.

It’s important to stress that my opinion is based on what cyberpunk is, as a genre. It is not tuned to the story you may want to tell. If you have a reason you want to mix energy weapons in, go for it. How you handle the presentation, and how you use them, will determine if your story benefits from their inclusion, or if they become a distraction.

-Starke

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