Tag Archives: writing advice

Q&A: Using a Greatsword With One Hand

Hi, I’m writing a story where one of the main characters carries a greatsword. I understand swords shouldn’t be heavy by nature (…right?) But what would be the scenario if the OC was super strong and the sword would be heavier than average? Could it be wielded was a broadsword?

You’re correct about sword weights, they’re not particularly heavy. The exceptions to that rule are decorative pieces, not combat weapons. With greatswords you’re probably looking at around 5-8lbs.

Using a greatsword with one hand isn’t a strength issue, it’s an issue with leverage and control. The weapon isn’t especially heavy, it’s simply awkward, and having a second hand on the grip is a massive help in controlling the blade.

It probably should be mentioned that greatsword not a historical term. The weapons we class a greatswords today, such as the German Zweihander and Scottish Claymore were distinct weapons. Now, in a fantasy setting, this isn’t an issue, you can define the greatsword as a very specific weapon type (and many writers do), but it’s worth remembering that wasn’t a term. I can’t even find an academic entomology of, “greatsword,” which makes me think the word only dates back to the late 20th century.

Similarly, broadsword is a term that kinda means whatever the author wants. I’ve seen everything from a gladius, some variants of arming swords, a falchion, and even some saber variants called broadswords. In fact, the Claymore was described as a broadsword in literature of its era. The term is not precise, and all it really means is that the sword has a broad blade. Outside of something like the estoc, I suspect most greatswords would also be broadswords.

Now, I suspect you mean some variant of longsword, though, again, longsword is not a historical term. This gets into larger discussion, I don’t think you really signed up for, about how modern antiquarians (mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) heavily segmented and categorized the various types of swords throughout history, and then fantasy authors (and also quite a few game designers) have served to standardize that terminology. It’s not a problem until it is, and unfortunately, the broadsword is one of those awkward moments when the whole thing starts to fall apart.

So, if you’re looking at the idea of a character being strong enough to use a greatsword like a longsword? The answer would be, “Kinda, sorta, not exactly.” At the risk of sounding like game advice, the sword isn’t really a strength weapon. You have a razer blade that is somewhere between three and six feet long. Your goal is to preserve that edge to the best of your ability. Just sinking your weapon into someone with as much force as possible is axe work. You want to open them up and take them apart. That means cutting, and slicing, not hacking. You can do that with one hand, but it will be much easier to get that precision when you have both hands on the weapon.

Notice that I did not say both hands on the hilt or grip. Some strikes (Called: “Half-handing”) involve gripping the flat of the blade above the guard, for more precision in a thrust. The user is sacrificing reach for control, and can deliver a lot of force on a very precise point while doing so.

It’s also worth remembering that if you have a sword and your opponent has plate armor you’re not hacking through that. A sword wielder needs to work around their enemy’s armor. They need to find gaps and weak points. They can’t just bash their way in. Attempting to do so will damage (or destroy) their blade. (Note: there is a technique which appears in some surviving training manuals where the swordsman will grip the flat of the blade with both hands and beat on their opponent using the guard or pommel. So, there is an exception to the above statement.)

Now before someone says, “not all swords,” they’re correct. Swords evolved into many highly specialized variants. Ironically, there are swords deigned to deliver a lot of brute force into the target, such as the previously mentioned falchions. The greatswords are highly specialized variants. They’re designed to keep enemy combatants at a safe distance while dispatching them. If you’re armed with a longsword (or something shorter) you do not have any tools to effectively counter a greatsword.

If you have a character using a greatsword, they can take a hand off the weapon and still use it one handed. It’s not a strength question. They simply have no leverage, but they can still swing it, they can keep someone at blade point. They’ll just be less effective than if they were still holding it with both hands.


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Q&A: Diving into the Path of a Bullet

Is it really possible to jump in front of someone being shot like a shield and take the bullet? This keeps happening in fiction but I always wonder how it’s possible because no one can outrun a bullet. Or is it possible because these characters aren’t attempting to outrun a bullet that’s already fired, but moving in front of the target ahead of the shot, or perhaps idk the jumping in front actually causes the shooter to choose that moment to shoot?

No. There’s a lot of reasons you cannot do this, and they combine together. That said, there is a very specific truth mixed in, which you will see with any competent security detail.

So, the first problem has less to do with the speed of the bullet and more to do with your own brain. This may sound a little strange at first, but you can’t see the world around you right now. Literally, as you’re reading this text, you’re not seeing the world that exists in this moment, you’re seeing snapshot of the world from about 100ms ago. Similarly, you cannot hear the world that exists right now. The things you hear happened roughly 50ms ago. (Don’t take these numbers as absolutely correct because there is some variance between individuals, and I’m also relying on my memory for the sound processing time, so, I could be off by a bit.)

Processing visual data is an extraordinarily complex process. It’s taking data from the rods and cones at the back of your eye and turning that into a picture. It’s also not particularly concerned with being accurate. Everything you see is upside down, your brain flips it. Similarly, you can always see your nose (unless you are extremely walleyed.) Your brain takes that data and intentionally edits around it. All of this comes with a neural cost. It cannot be done instantaneously. So, what you see was the world 1/10th of a second ago. This is not a terrible tradeoff for having vision that can identify objects by outline without needing motion to track your environment. This also means your brain ejects visual data that it doesn’t think is relevant, but that’s a different discussion. (Incidentally, your brain playing fast and loose with data is why you think sight and sound line up. It’s literally your brain screwing with your perception of time. It has a purpose, because it means you can use sight and sound together and can create redundancy in the event that one sense is partially impaired, but your brain is lying to you.)

Technically, there’s a little more time behind what you see and what actually exists. It takes time for light to bounce off of an object and travel to your eye. When we’re talking about close ranges (like within the same room), the speed of light is so high that the travel time is an academic detail at best. This does become relevant when you’re observing objects at great distance. For example, the light you see bounced off the moon hit the lunar surface over a second ago. When you’re looking at Jupiter through a telescope, you’re seeing the planet as it existed 30-50 minutes ago. When you start getting into interstellar distances, then you’re looking at years of travel time. But, as I mentioned, this isn’t relevant when you’re in the same zip code.

If you’re curious, the sunlight you see is about eight minutes old. That’s the travel time from the Sun to the Earth.

Sound travels at 343m/s. Ironically, I can’t quote C from memory, but speed of sound I remember. This is important because many firearms use supersonic ammunition. A 9x19mm cartridge will hit its target before you hear the gunshot. (Assuming both you and the target are at the same distance from the gun. If you’re holding the gun, you’ll hear it first.)

So, let’s crunch a few numbers for a second. That 9x19mm bullet leaves the barrel traveling at roughly 380m/s. If your shooter is 20 meters from their target (so medium pistol range), it will hit the target in ~53ms. It will take ~58ms for the of the sound of the gunshot to reach the victim. It takes ~50ms for the bodyguard to process that they heard the gunshot, meaning that by the time their brain processed that data, it’s been over a tenth of a second since the gun was fired, and 55ms since the bullet struck its target. It could be half a second from the gunshot before they can even react if their reflexes are excellent.

It’s not that you can’t outrun a bullet (you can’t, but that’s beside the point), it’s that by the time you realize the gun has been fired, it’s already hit its target, and your brain is playing catch up.

The situation is a little more complicated with sniper rounds, but it’s a similar story, the bullet has already hit the target before you hear the gunshot (or the crack of the bullet breaking the sound barrier, if it’s far enough away that you can’t hear the original gunshot.)

The truth is, you cannot preventatively react to a gunshot. You can react after it has occurred, but your brain cannot process information fast enough to respond before the event is over.

That should pretty thoroughly shut down the idea of someone leaping into the path of a bullet, but we’re not done.

Usually when you have the cliché of someone diving into the path of a bullet, they’re sacrificing themselves to save the other character. Here’s the problem, that 9x19mm example above? They put a round down range and somehow, someone gets in the way. What happens next is that the bullet passes through the unintended victim, and probably still hits the intended target (with somewhat less kinetic force.) Bullets do not care about your heroic sacrifice and will continue traveling until they get bored and bounce off a bone.

So, I said there was a specific truth in this. It’s not jumping into the path of the bullet. It’s the way a competent security detail will create a wall of meat. Meat that is wearing body armor rated to take incoming handgun fire. But they mean it when they say their job is to take a bullet for their protectee. The critical part of their job is identifying any threat before the gunshot, by then, it’s already too late.

A fairly obvious perk of body armor is that if it will stop a bullet intended for the wearer, it will also protect anyone standing behind them.

Most of the time, a competent security detail will be on alert for any sign of a threat when moving through unsecured areas. Ideally they will want to keep the protectee moving, and not linger anywhere that hasn’t been secured, though circumstances may not allow for that. If given the opportunity, they will place themselves between any potential threat and the protectee. So, for example, they would place themselves between the protectee and a crowd (even a crowd of fans or supporters), if they have the option. (In some cases they will not have that option.) In the event of an incident (whether that’s an attempt on the protectee’s life), their priority will become to extract the protectee to safety. They will close around the protectee, shielding them from potential gunfire with their armor. Exactly what is considered safe may vary, but reasonable bet that they’re moving the protectee to their transportation and getting out of there.

There is a very dark version of this: Crowds will soak gunfire. It’s not 100% reliable, some rounds could get through, but it’s better than being out in the open. If your character has absolutely no qualms about civilian casualties, they can use a crowded area as a shield from gunfire. Those rounds will punch through a couple people, but a densely packed area can be an effective barrier. It’s kind of the opposite of what you’re asking, because your, “victim,” is intentionally putting others in the path of the bullets intended for them, but it is an effective tactic. Moving with the crowd as people scatter and disperse can also be a way to lose pursuers. With a sufficiently ruthless character, it’s even possible that once they’re in the crowd, they may fire a few shots to get people scattering and create chaos. Either to expose and eliminate their pursuers, or to cover their escape.

The cliché about diving into the path of a bullet survives because it’s visually dynamic, and dramatic. (In theory) it’s dramatic for a character to die while saving the life of another, but this incarnation is extremely artificial, and more than a little silly.

So, can you dive into the path of a bullet? Not intentionally, and even if you did, the bullet would probably punch through you and hit the intended target anyway.


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Q&A: Hand Size And Choosing Your Weapons

Hey, this is going to sound like a weird question and I apologize, but would hand size affect a character’s ability effectively to wield weapons such as swords, bows and spears?

Generally speaking, no. If your hands are relatively normal sized, then you shouldn’t have an issue with most of the weapons you listed.

If you’re talking about someone with an extreme difference in size, either extremely large or small, then you might start to see problems. This is something that occasionally comes up in fantasy settings, where diminutive races like gnomes or goblins will prefer to to produce their own weapons, with similar considerations for unusually large races, such as giants and trolls.

There is a related issue with bows, where someone could potentially be strong enough to tear one apart while trying to draw it. This isn’t a realistic concern, but if you have a character who is superhumanly strong, and significantly larger than the individuals the bow was intended for, and tries to overdraw the bow, they could potentially snap the limbs. Realistically, the only time you’d encounter this is if an adult tried to fully draw a toy bow intended for children.

The only time that hand size is likely to cause issues with a bow are on ones with ergonomic grips. These are fairly recent and the grip is designed to be comfortable for the archer, though, if your hand doesn’t conform to the expected and shape, it can be uncomfortable.

Hand size can be a consideration with firearms. This will rarely make a firearm unusable, but it can make a gun less comfortable to operate. For small hands, full frame service pistols can be unpleasant. For someone with large hands, some subcompact pistols can be uncomfortable. As with bows, there are firearms with ergonomic grips, and you can modify a firearm’s grip to be a better fit your hand. This is usually by adding additional padding to the grip, so scaling a pistol up for a larger hand is fairly easy. Cutting one down for a smaller hand is not always possible due to the mechanical design.

So, unless there’s some kind of extreme difference in size, you should be able to pick up a sword or spear and be fine, unless the weapon really is too large for you.

Now, if your character was disarmed, and the only weapon they can quickly grab is a minotaur’s great axe, that could be a problem.


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Q&A: The One Armed Bodyguard’s Greatest Foe: Doors

I have a character who is a skilled warrior (guard for the royal family’s children) and was born without their left arm. They mostly fight unarmed, however, I don’t think that would be super effective against someone with a sword. Are there weapons that someone could use efficiently with one arm?


“They mostly fight unarmed?” I think I see what you did there.

You’re correct that an unarmed fighter would be at a significant disadvantage when going up against someone armed with a sword, or anyone with an extra arm they can use to strike with while parrying an incoming blow.

The hard thing with questions like this stems from a misunderstanding about combat. Combat isn’t about being, “good enough,” it’s about leveraging any advantage over your foe.

A sword vastly increases one’s reach and lethality. As we’ve mentioned before, reach is an incredibly important part of combat, but is frequently overlooked in entertainment. If someone can kill you at a distance where you cannot respond, you have no path to victory.

You’ve heard the cliché of bringing a knife to a gunfight, and that’s because of range. The problem is, while it’s a less extreme example, bringing a fist to a swordfight will be just as suicidal.

So, what weapons can someone use effectively with one hand? Well the sword comes to mind immediately. Most swords are usable one handed, even the large two handers, such as the zweihander or claymore. The two-handers will be more awkward in a single hand, but they are usable.

Competitive fencing is no stranger to one armed duelists. Particularly with weapons like the rapier or foil, your off-hand is primarily used for balance, and a one-armed fighter, who can adjust to their lack of an arm, is not at any real disadvantage.

In fact, loss of the non-dominant arm in fencing is not enough to make someone eligible for the Paralympics. As far as Olympic and Paralympic rules are concerned, a one armed fencer is not considered disabled. There are even a few very successful examples, such as the elusive Al Snyder, who was the 1944 US National Foil Champion. From what I can understand, he lost his right arm to a shotgun blast as a child, and took up fencing in college (at Stanford) with an exceptional competitive record.

It’s been less than two months since we last mentioned Götz von Berlichingen, but if we’re on the topic of one armed soldiers, he is an important example.

If all of this sounds unusually positive, I do have an issue, and it’s a big one.

(guard for the royal family’s children)

I have absolutely no problem seeing someone like this as a swordmaster or master at arms. I could see someone like this training members of the royal family in the use of the sword. Possibly even see them as the commander of the palace guard. It would depend on personal history, but these are all (conditionally) plausible.

As a minor nitpick, I think it’s more plausible if they lost their arm in combat, rather than as a congenital defect, simply because that would smooth the line for how they got into their position. It makes a lot of sense for a member of the royal family to keep someone around who’s been their trusted personal guard for the last 30 years, and lost an arm defending against a failed coup a decade back, while moving them into a position where they’re still as valuable. It makes less sense for the master of the guard to look at a one armed kid who wants to sign up, and say, “yeah, we’ll take you.”

The problem is the job itself. It’s not that I don’t think the character can fight. It’s that I know they cannot open a door behind them while keeping their weapon trained on the assassin who just burst through the window.

That may sound petty, but it’s the tip of an iceberg. You have a character who cannot use their off hand to take any action while they have their weapon drawn. (Because the off-hand doesn’t exist.)

The example above is one of the more glaring issues: They cannot open a door or operate any machinery without putting away their weapon. In a situation where seconds matter, that could easily be fatal for the children. Relying on the children to keep their cool during a crisis is an incredible gamble.

Similarly, when faced with an opponent armed with a shield or parrying dagger, they are in extreme jeopardy. If their strike is blocked or deflected, they have no defense against a riposte. This is not a consideration in fencing, because, in a sport environment, competitors have standardized equipment, and rules designed to ensure a fair match. None of this is true when your character is in an actual battle (or fending off assassins.)

Now, if the question is, do I think a sufficiently hardened one-armed swordfighter could safely dispatch a four limbed assailant? Yeah. Absolutely. However, assigning them as the personal bodyguard (no matter how good they are) would be irresponsible for several reasons.

First, that door example means they can’t evacuate the children from a dangerous situation without dropping their guard. This is more universal than the specifics would suggest.

Similarly, they can’t carry an injured child to safety and open doors on the way. Realistically, that’s a much more pressing concern. It’s unlikely that the royal children are presented with attempts on their life on a regular basis. However, the risk that one of the kids is injured by… anything, and incapacitated is a real danger.

Those kids are not just kids. In a, hereditary monarchy, they are simultaneously, and incredibly valuable diplomatic resource, and the continuity of government. Only giving them a single guard collectively, no matter how many limbs they have, is extremely concerning.

Again, I could see a one-armed veteran guard acting as the head of their security detail, but that would be talking about your character having a squad of guards at their command, not simply being, “their personal guard.” Particularly, if your one-armed character is (almost) always accompanied by a subordinate.

So, what could the use? A sword. But, that’s not the biggest issue here.


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Q&A: Combat is About More Than Your Weapon Training

my character is just too nice and soft to fight but she learned how to use a bow, is this realistic?

This is fairly normal. Especially with archery, though it can be true with any martial training. Not necessarily the “nice and soft,” part, that’s optional, but many people train with weapons or in martial arts for recreation, and not because they’re planning to use the weapon in a combat setting.

I’ll use myself as an example here. I took archery classes as a teenager because I was working towards a merit badge. I had (and still have) no interest in using a bow for hunting or combat. In a modern context, it’s still a very limited weapon, so most people who learn to use them aren’t going to be planning use them outside of a range.

Bow hunting and fishing are sports, because of the added difficulty. You don’t take a bow out and hunt large game because you want to be efficient, you do it because you want the extra challenge. Bows require you to be much closer to your target, so you need to get there undetected.

Now, supposedly, there is a flavor difference between bow killed venison and firearm killed. I can’t comment on this with authority, as I’ve never experienced that difference personally.

There’s nothing wrong with saying your character’s personality would be incompatible with combat, however, if you’re going that route, asking them to then kill someone would be fairly traumatic. There is a big difference between learning how to operate a bow, and using it to kill someone.

It’s also worth remembering that knowing how to use your weapon is only one component of combat training. You need to be able to shoot straight, but, especially with a bow, you need to understand how to fight. You’re talking about a weapon that is nearly silent, but has very limited range, very bulky ammunition, and has a long delay between shots. If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you’re not going to achieve much.

So, while it’s possible for someone to learn how to use the bow, even though they’d never consider going into combat, that training doesn’t mean they can instantly turn into a badass without warning. They would know how to use the weapon, but not how to manage living targets, and their mindset would be working against them the entire time.


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Q&A: Creating Supernaturally Secret Agencies

How would you go about writing a fictional agency, the one no one is supposed to know about. Things like the members, advisers, the place, etc.

So, before I get started, the process I’m about to detail isn’t, exactly, how I’ve gone about this in the past. Usually when setting up government agencies, I have a pretty solid idea of what it’s doing, and how it works before I start trying to nail down anything else. In some cases, I’ve let background details remain undefined because I’m confident they won’t become relevant and I’m not planning on revisiting that setting.

When you’re setting up background elements in your worldbuilding, you need to decide when something is important enough to dig into, or when you can just prop up a façade and let it ride.

So, with that in mind, you want by asking a few questions. It’s a little difficult to predict which will be most useful without detailed access to your worldbuilding. So you may want to think about related topics.

How secret is the organization? This is a much wider range than you might first think. There’s an entire spectrum between an organization which is technically public but not widely known, and one that is completely off-book.

An example of the former would be the DIA. Ironically, I remember seeing a YouTube comment from someone who assumed that appearances of the DIA in Fallout 4 were referencing the CIA. That’s incorrect, it is in fact the Fallout universe’s version of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The DIA is part of the DoD, and responsible for managing military intelligence. Where the CIA has more of a, “big picture,” approach to intelligence, the DIA is primarily concerned with military threats.

The DSS is another another American example. This is the Diplomatic Security Service, and it protects various diplomatically important individuals (both foreign and domestic) who don’t qualify for Secret Service protection, but still require dedicated protective details. This includes US Ambassadors. They don’t get Secret Service, they get DSS.

Again, both of these are real agencies, and you may have been unaware of their existence. There are a lot of agencies like this, which you’ve never heard of, and if someone pulled out a badge, you’d be left scratching your head going, “who?”

There are agencies that are (or were) classified, and their existence denied. The NSA is a high profile example of this. The Agency was originally founded via a classified memo from President Truman, and as a result the Agency’s existence remained a secret for decades.

Finally, there are real, “off-the-books” agencies. A defunct example which already appeared in this post would be the Bureau of Secret Intelligence. This was founded by Secretary of State Robert Lansing in 1916, to provide the State Department with a covert office to investigate information the State Department obtained and coordinate between the Secret Service, FBI, and the Post Office’s Inspection Service. I say it’s already appeared, because this group would become the Office of Security, which in turn would become the modern DSS. Much like the NSA, the DSS’s origins are more covert than its current incarnation, it’s simply undergone name changes, and restructuring, along the way.

This is all without getting into the range of agencies going rogue and dropping off the face of the earth. I’m sure there may be some historical examples, but I’m not aware of any off hand. Though there are plenty of examples of organizations shutting down only to open up under a new name shortly afterwards.

If your agency is still official, then you don’t need to wonder how it continues operating. Even if it is classified, your agents would probably carry identification for their unclassified parent agency. They’re still official in some capacity. If you’re looking at rogue agents, they probably don’t have that luxury.

If an agency is official, you should start to have an idea of what career paths would be necessary for recruiting characters. Depending on what the agency is dealing with, they’d need specialists. If it is a spinoff from a larger agency, then you already have part of this completed, as members will be preferentially recruited from that agency.

Not everyone involved will be fully read in on what’s happening. That’s normal clandestine bureaucracy. There isn’t a huge difference between staff and advisors in that sense. If anything, it’s likely that the agency would take advantage of whatever forensic resources were available without dedicating their personnel to that. (Though, obviously, if they’re working against something that would draw a lot of attention in normal channels, they may need to set up their own resources. For example, if you’re hunting alien infiltrators, you can’t leave an alien corpse with the local coroner.)

Using the US Federal Government again, as an example: It wouldn’t be that strange for an organization tasked with combating supernatural threats to be technically part of the FBI, DHS, or (in the case of something like vampires, werewolves, zombies, and anything else that can infect others), even the CDC. You might even see multiple clandestine organizations working in concert with one another. When your shadowy organization’s agents first show up, they’re just FBI Special Agents, nothing weird here. Importantly, that’s not a cover story, they really are Bureau agents, they just belong to a specialized team.

Ironically, it’s much safer for these kinds of secretive agencies to have a legitimate agency to hide behind. If they did show up claiming to be affiliated with one organization or another, and that was connection was false, that raises a number of problems for them. Claiming to be part of an agency your not is (generally speaking) illegal. And, any routine check into their story would start to fall apart relatively quickly.

The spur of the moment credential legerdemain of the Men in Black (of the films and comic series of the same name) is one of the jokes. Paying attention to who they claim to be affiliated with at any given moment will result in more laughs. The MIBs (much like the urban legends they’re based on) are every bit as paranormal as the extraterrestrials they’re investigating.

In particular, the Men in Black represent a specific kind of paranormal experience where someone on the outside can’t, really, be certain what happened after an encounter. There is potential value in having entities like this in a story, however, thinking of as an “agency,” may be shortchanging their true potential.

Actual claims of encounters with men in black are a somewhat uncommon element in Ufology. Setting aside questions of veracity for a moment, these reported encounters have elements that are difficult to reconcile. Either, there are embellishments, or the entire phenomena needs to be evaluated as something other than simply a “secret agency.” This starts with the MIB having inhuman traits (such a complete lack of hair or no actual facial features, such as lips), or behaving in ways that are similarly impossible, such as speaking without moving their lips, levitating above just above the floor, and telepathy.

With that context, the “flavor,” the films and comics may make more sense. The fictional MIB were designed to be an almost supernatural force just as inexplicable as the beings they policed. With specific comedic elements cuing off the agents’ being oblivious to just how peculiar they’ve become.

Whether you believe in the existence of real men in black, the concept, especially the unreal, and supernatural, elements of these encounters can be useful fodder for writing encounters with strange or otherworldly beings masquerading as government agents or other authority figures. There’s some real meat to work with , but if you want events like that, you don’t benefit from trying to sketch out their organization, or ground it into reality. it a case where less is more. The more your readers can parse out exactly what’s going on, the less threatening the scene will be.


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Q&A: Character Age for PMC Contractors and Special Forces

Similar to another question you answered, in a private military agency, how old should most of the members be? Also taking in the fact that some of them could also have other former training. (Ex: Navy Seal,)

Ironically, the age range is pretty similar. Most PMC contractors are going either be in their late 30s or 40s, though the reasoning is different.

Why specifically late 30s and 40s? There are two reasons. Most PMCs have mandatory retirement at 49 (at least in relation to their front line contractors.) This means, you’re not going to find many contractors in their 50s. (When you are, you’ll be looking at security consultants, or other non-combat roles.) You’re also not likely to find a contractor under 38. The reasoning here is a little different. If you serve for 20 years in the US military, you will collect a pension for the rest of your life. (This is calculated based on a percentage your highest base pay, so, if you’re getting promoted consistently, there is an incentive to stick around.) If you enlisted fresh out of high school, you’ll become eligible at 38.

Most PMCs would prefer that you have a military background. I’m sure there are some out there that don’t care, or will hire people without, but when you’re talking about front line contractors, it’s simply cheaper to grab ex-military types because they already have the training and experience the job requires.

This means, for most PMC contractors, moving into the private sector is a second career. These are not, generally, fresh faced kids who didn’t know what they were getting into because the company was hiring high school graduates. If they were, the company would need to spend money training them. So why spend that, when the government is already offering that training, and giving people hands-on experience at no expense to you?

As an additional incentive, training each soldier is quite expensive. Estimates vary wildly, but the US military pays somewhere around $50k-$80k to train each soldier. This spread across a lot of different expenses, so it’s not an easy number to peg down. Additionally, there are a lot of non-consumable expenses, such as training equipment. For a private company trying to replicate that degree of training, the costs could significantly higher. Meaning, it’s simply not worth it to hire off the street, and train, when national governments will handle that for you.

The irony is, depending on the PMC, prioritizing vets could extend into specialist roles and administrative positions. For example, if you need a doctor, mechanic, even office workers, you can find ex-military personnel who performed those roles when they served.

When you’re singling out ex-special forces operators, yes, some will end up in PMCs, but they can do a lot better than just hiring on as a PMC grunt, and an ex-SEAL (a real one) is far more valuable than someone with 20 years of Army infantry experience.

At any given time, there are less than a thousand SEALs in the US Navy (normally there should be 768, but I assume the number fluctuates slightly based on available personnel.) That means, if someone tells you they’re an ex-SEAL, they’re probably not. The same goes for any other Tier One special forces groups. There are not a lot of guys out there with those backgrounds, and they have a very desirable skillset. If a PMC is hiring a SEAL, it’s not just going to be so they can add another body to the pile, that’s someone who would be working in a senior position, or in some technical or planning capacity.

The irony is, when you’re looking at special forces, the ages skew down (into the 20s and 30s.) The training for most special forces (such as Rangers or SEALs), is unusually brutal. As you get older, the specific kind of grueling physical activity required of candidates will become more difficult. This is because the training serves a double purpose, it’s not just about training someone, it’s also about identifying those who are suitable for the job. The vast majority of candidates will wash out of these programs, and return to normal military duty. (With the SEALs that rate is roughly 70%.) Of course, once you’re in a group like that, you’ll probably spend the rest of your career there, and the leadership will be made up of people who’ve been there longer than you. Of course, once you hit 20 years in, you have a decision to make, whether you stick around, or leave for the private sector.


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Q&A: Character Age, Military Rank, and Command

First of all, I’d like to say that your blog is very helpful and contains a lot of resources which I can take my time and throughly read them. I do, though have several questions : 1) I’m writing a fiction novel, which have wars and battles in it. Consider it being a fiction, will people let the fact that my MC (a woman in her 20s) is a colonel and lead troops and hence, enter the army in a young age? 2) Is it possible to have both guns and swords in battlefields? thank you sm ?

So, taking the questions in reverse order, yes.

Firearms and melee weapons coexisted on the battlefield for over half a millennia. It was only with development of accurate, long-range firearms (particularly the development of rifling), and rapid reload firearms (such as trap door rifles and breach loaders) which ended the use of swords on the battlefield.

Technically, the sword persisted as a badge of office into the early 20th century.

As for making Colonel in her 20s, let’s put that down with some serious question marks. It’s not completely impossible, but it is highly improbable.

In normal infantry ranks, Colonel is the highest non-flag officer rank. This is fairly high up the chain of command, and they wouldn’t answer to anyone short of a General.

There’s a significant military divide between commissioned officers, and enlisted soldiers, with completely separate ranks. Historically, this had its roots in the social split between the nobility and peasantry. Enlisted are the soldiers while the officers command. Elements of that still persist today, and commissioned officers are still expected to be much better educated.

This is the problem, underage enlistment is depressingly common historically. However, underage commissions are much rarer. The only examples I’m aware of off hand are naval warrant officers, where an enlisted crewman took over the duties of one of the ship’s officers, and was granted a temporary commission. At the end of the ship’s tour, the admiralty could decide to permanently commission the warrant officer. It’s not impossible for something like this to happen as a battlefield promotion, but it is extraordinarily rare.

Additionally, promotion to Colonel within that timeframe would be (to put it mildly) a meteoric rise. It’s extremely rare to encounter a Colonel under the age of 40. During wartime, it would be possible to shave a few years off that due to battlefield promotions, but, trying to condense 20 years of commissioned military service into your 20s is a bit much. A character in their 20s would probably a Lieutenant or Captain. They might make it to Major by the time they hit 30, and could reasonably reach that rank if they’d been getting promotions to replace lost superiors, and performing well enough. Getting all the way to Colonel (assuming a modern military rank structure, is seriously pushing it.)

It’s also worth remembering that as you climb through the ranks in the military, the less likely you are to see direct combat. And, as a commanding officer, your colonel is unlikely to see any actual fighting. Their job is to command, not to fight.

So that’s the modern system, it’s worth looking at the history of the term. Originally, a Colonel was the commanding officer for a column. This only dates back to the 1500s, which is solidly in the timeframe of gunpowder and blades. At that point it would also have been plausible for someone in their late 20s or early 30s, with a prominent enough war record to become a Colonel in their own right. Probably by becoming the Lieutenant Colonel (which originally simply meant the Colonel’s Lieutenant), and then ascending to command mid battle if their Colonel was killed. Again, not likely, especially for a younger officer, but it is theoretically possible.

When it comes to reader expectations, it’s a little more complicated, because, it’s historically possible, given what the rank originally meant, however, most readers (if they’re familiar with military ranks) will assume that it’s far less plausible. They’re likely to understand (as I said earlier) that Colonel is a fairly senior rank, and that getting to O6 before you hit 30 is, effectively impossible.

The other major consideration here is that, as I mentioned, the higher rank your character is, the more it shifts their focus. This isn’t a problem, so long as you’re aware of it. If your protagonist is a Colonel your war story is going to skew away from front line combat, and be more focused on the strategic planning, logistical limits, battle plans, and adapting when battles don’t go to plan. I really mean, this isn’t a bad thing, but is different.

Similarly, when you’re putting younger characters into positions of authority, the younger they are, the more attention it will draw to their age. When you’re talking about a senior military officer who is unusually young, that will draw a lot of attention, and audience disbelief. If that’s the intent, then, okay. As mentioned, there are ways to justify that. However, it is something you need to be aware of. If you don’t want the focus on her age, then you’ll probably either want her to be older (in her 30s or early 40s), or lower ranked (such a Lieutenant or Captain.) This is even more true if you’re wanting to straddle between the actual front line combat, and strategy, where a lower ranked officer would have a foot in both worlds.


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Q&A: Hand to Hand Styles for a Monster Hunter

What should be the hand-to-hand combat style (or more) taught to a creature hunter? Just to have a reference to study. (Sorry for the bad english.)

I know we’ve said this before, but there really isn’t any unarmed fighting style designed for dealing with things significantly larger or tougher than humans. A lot of unarmed martial arts focus on fighting other humans, because those are the foes they’re expected to be used against.

That said, a lot of martial arts, particularly Eastern ones, incorporate weapon styles at more advanced levels. So, while you might start with unarmed techniques, you would eventually graduate to using a staff, a sword, a polearm, and eventually more exotic weapon (such as the urumi, or meteor hammer, depending on your martial art.)

When you view weapons as a natural evolution from unarmed training, a lot of martial arts, particularly from India and China, become very viable options, if they fit the tone you’re going for.

To an extent, I’d actually suggest looking at this the other way around. Take your setting, and then ask yourself, “what martial arts best fit that world?” For example, if your setting is based on India, then you would want to reference Indian martial arts. (And, there are many surviving Indian martial arts.)

China is a similar situation, if you’re wanting to work with an East Asian setting, you’ll probably want to look at the Chinese martial arts, of which there are many.

There are martial arts that will be much harder to research, particularly ones that have not been preserved. In the some cases, we’re sure that there was some kind of martial art in that culture, but we have no idea what it looked like. (This is especially true with many indigenous peoples. Paradoxically, this is also an issue with European martial arts, as Europe aggressively discarded combat systems as warfare changed.)

If you’re looking at a modern day monster hunter, you probably will want to look at practical martial arts, such as Systema, MCMAP, or Krav Maga. If you’re patterning of a fantasy pseudo-Europe, then you probably want to look at HEMA, though that won’t be unarmed. If you’re patterning off of some other historical setting, you’ll need to look at the martial arts relevant to that era.


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Q&A: Bodytypes

do you need a particular body type for certain sports or martial arts? like, skinny people are better at acrobatics for example?

No, though, martial arts will shape your body. The only thing you need is the perseverance to stick with training when it becomes strenuous.

There are two traits that can be very advantageous.

From a combat perspective, being an adult comes with a couple insurmountable advantages. Mental maturity means the ability to quickly assess consequences, and form a viable plan. Additionally, an adult skeleton will be far more resilient than one that is still growing. This doesn’t mean that children can’t (or shouldn’t) engage in martial arts, simply that they should not be fighting.

The second trait is a lower center of gravity. A lower center of gravity results in a more stable martial artist; one who will be harder to knock down or throw. There are two ways to have a lower center of gravity: One is to be shorter, the other is to be female.

Part of the purpose for stances in martial arts is to lower your center of gravity. For someone who is shorter, they get into a much lower stance than their taller counterparts. This is a significant advantage, but it’s not a filter.

The thing with acrobats is that weight is a pretty significant filter over whether you can participate in the sport. With martial arts the only filter is whether you can stick with the training.

Beyond that, high level martial arts will push you towards a body type (which will vary based on what you’re training in), but that’s more a consequence of the physical activity you’re engaging in; not a function of the community favoring a specific body type. This is true with most strenuous physical activity. If you’re engaging in that activity, it will cause your physique to develop in accordance with what you’re doing. However, it does not mean you can’t participate in martial arts based on your body type.

The only physical filter for martial arts is whether you can actually sustain the training. Martial arts can cause a lot of physical wear on its practitioners. Again, this isn’t that different from any other, similar, physical activity. If you don’t take care of your body, you will wear it down, and martial arts can contribute to that.


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