Tag Archives: writing fight scenes

How do you write a fight scene without becoming repetitive? I feel like it just sounds like “she did this then this then this.” Thanks so much!

I watch her as she fights. Her left leg flies through the air – a roundhouse – rolling into a spin. She misses, but I guess she’s supposed to. Her foot lands and launches her into a jump. Up she goes again, just as fast. The other leg pumps, high knee gaining altitude. The jumping leg tucks. Her body rolls midair, momentum carrying her sideways. She kicks. A tornado kick, they call it. The top of her foot slams into Rodrigo’s head, burying in his temple. Didn’t move back far enough, I guess.

His head, it snaps sideways like a ball knocked off a tee. Skull off the spine. His eyes roll back, and he slumps. Whole body limp. Legs just give out beneath him. He clatters to the sidewalk; wrist rolling off the curb.

She lands, making the full turn and spins back around. Her eyes are on his body. One foot on his chest. I don’t know if he’s alive. I don’t know if she cares. Nah, she’s looking over her shoulder. Looking at me.

The truth twists my gut. I should’ve started running a long time ago.

The first key to writing a good fight scene is to tell a story. The second key is having a grasp of combat rules and technique. The third is to describe what happens when someone gets hit. The fourth is to remember physics. Then, roll it all together. And remember: be entertaining.

If you find yourself in the “and then” trap, it’s because you don’t have a firm grasp of what exactly it is your writing. “He punched” then “She blocked” then “a kick” only gets you so far.

You’ve got to get a sense for shape and feeling, and a sense of motion. Take a page from the comic artist’s playbook and make a static image feel like it’s moving. Try to remember that violence is active. Unless your character is working with a very specific sort of soft style, they’re attacks are going to come with force. So, you’ve got to make your sentences feel like your hitting something or someone.

“Ahhh!” Mary yelled, and slammed her fist into the pine’s trunk. A sickening crack followed, then a whimper not long after.

Angie winced. “Feel better?”

Shaking out her hand, Mary bit her lip. Blood dripped from her knuckles, uninjured fingers gripping her wrist. She sniffed, loudly. “I…” she paused, “…no.”

“You break your hand?”

“I think so. Yeah.”

“Good,” Angie said. “Think twice next time before challenging a tree.”

Let your characters own their mistakes. If they hit something stupid in
anger, like a wall or a tree then let them have consequences.

Injury is part of combat. In the same way, “I should be running now” is. When the small consequences of physical activity invade the page, they bring reality with them.

People don’t just slug back and forth unless they don’t know how to fight, or their only exposure to combat is mostly movies or bloodsport like boxing. Either way, when one character hits another there are consequences. It doesn’t matter if they blocked it or even deflected it, some part of the force is going to be transitioned into them and some rebounds back at the person who attacked.

Your character is going to get hurt, and it’ll be painful. Whether that’s just a couple of bruises, a broken bone, or their life depends on how the fight goes.

However, this is fantasy. It is all happening inside our heads. Our characters are never in danger unless we say they are. They’ll never be hurt unless we allow it. A thousand ghost punches can be thrown and mean absolutely, utterly nothing at all to the state of the character. This is why it is all important to internalize the risks involved.

The writer is in charge of bringing a dose of reality into their fictional world. It is much easier to sell an idea which on some level mimics human behavior and human reactions. The ghost feels physical because we’ve seen it happen on television or relate to it happening to us when we get injured.

You’ve got five senses, use them. You know what it feels like to get injured. To be bruised. To fall down. To be out of breath. Use that.

Here’s something to take with you: when we fight, every technique brings us closer together. Unless it specifically knocks someone back. You need specific distances to be able to use certain techniques. There’s the kicking zone, the punching zone, and the grappling zone. It’s the order of operation, the inevitable fight progression. Eventually, two combatants will transition through all three zones and end up on the ground.

So, keep the zones in mind. If you go, “she punched, and then threw a roundhouse kick” that’s wrong unless you explain more. Why? Because if the character is close enough to throw a punch, then they’re too close to throw most kicks. The roundhouse will just slap a knee or a thigh against the other character’s ribs, and probably get caught. If you go, “she punched, rammed an uppercut into his stomach, and seized him by the back of the head”, then that’s right. You feel the fighters getting progressively closer together, which is how its supposed to work.

Use action verbs, and change them up. Rolled, rotated, spun, punched, kicked, slammed, rammed, jammed, whipped, cracked, etc.

You’ve got to sell it. You need to remember a human’s bodily limits, and place artificial ones. You need to keep track of injuries, every injury comes with a cost. Make sure they aren’t just trading blows forever.

I’ve seen advice that says fights all by themselves aren’t interesting. I challenge that assertion. If you’re good at writing action, then the sequence itself is compelling. You know when you are because it feels real. Your reader will tune out if it isn’t connecting, and the fight scene is a make or break for selling your fantasy. It is difficult to write or create engaging, well choreographed violence that a reader can easily follow and imagine happening.


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Two characters (A and B) are fighting in zero gravity, in a medium sized room (12 feet by 14 feet). A is about 40-30 pounds smaller than B, who is about 200-210 pounds. A is quicker than B but B can take more blows than A. They both are trained to a high level in karate, judo, and Kendo, and both are physically fit. B is very good at Kyudo. They have no weapons, but shrapnel and debris are everywhere. How might this battle go down and who would win?

They’re fighting in zero-g. None of what you’ve listed here actually matters, not even their weight, because it doesn’t help them when fighting in ZERO GRAVITY. Martial arts designed to work with gravity, don’t work in the cold depths of space as they’re relying on mechanics and physical laws that aren’t present. Whoever adapts fastest is the one who wins.

However, and this is an important point for anyone sending in questions, we can’t tell you how to write your fight scenes. We won’t create them for you, we can tell you how a thing works and pass on resources to help you get where you want to go but we can’t tell you how the fight will go down.

You, the writer, are the source and it is up to you to figure out how it will happen and who will win. Combat relies on more than just where people fight, their height and their weight, what they have access to. It also involves a lot of setting information, relies on narrative flow, themes, and the personalities of the characters involved. It is your story. You do it.

This is a good lesson when it comes to learning. If you want your character to be a fighter skilled in five different martial arts with a high belt ranking then YOU, yes, YOU need to put your nose to the grindstone and get researching. It’s all up to you. You are the one who is telling this story. It is up to you to convince your audience, however you choose to do so.

You don’t need me to tell you how, you need to learn how so that you can write it on your own and that starts with learning how the individual martial arts you want your character to know work then you start the long process of figuring out how they work together. Along the way, you’ll learn that judo and kendo are mostly useless for live combat because they are sport forms. This is intentional, its there in the “do” as opposed to “jutsu”. “Do” signifies the martial art’s transition into an art form rather than a combat form. There are parts of it which are still applicable, but combat is no longer its primary purpose as a training outlook. You’d also learn that “karate” is an umbrella for multiple Okinawan martial disciplines that are unique and distinct in their practices.

You want to do it, you need to learn how they work and then how they work together. If you can’t do that, take a step back. Start with one instead of three or four.

You want to write fights in zero gravity? You might start by learning how zero gravity functions, watch videos of astronauts in space, and figure out the importance of gravity itself. For earth based combat, gravity is necessary for the techniques to function. They’re all built with the idea that you will be fighting on earth. They won’t work the same way in a zero-g environment.

Research on your own is important. You may not need to practice a martial art in order to write it, but you do need to learn its concepts. You need the foundations, and the theory behind how the techniques are supposed to work. You can learn that multiple ways and you can internalize those concepts far more quickly than the years it takes to train to physical competence in a single martial art. This is also where I say I hope that Character A is somewhere between 35 to 50 for their “high level” of skill in three martial styles. Traditional martial arts, particularly karate, judo, and kendo, take awhile to learn. You’re looking at upwards of five years to the first black belt, or longer depending on how firmly they hold to tradition. Some schools won’t let anyone but an adult test for black belt at all.

While this is happening all in your imagination, the writer always has to put their money where their mouth is. They’ve got to prove their character’s competence to their audience and its up to you to do it.

So, start at the bottom and work your way up. The more you learn, then the easier it will be to conceptually put together these fight scenes on your own.

That is the goal of this blog. We’re not here to write your fight scenes. We can theorize how a scene might go down in abstract, tell you how some martial arts work on a conceptual level, and teach you about the psychology and logic behind the mystification of combat forms. However, the work is yours.

You do it.


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Hello! I’ve seen you guys write some things about the dangers of filming with chained weapons, but I was wondering how dangerous it would be to the wielder? While I was designing a hook and chain mechanism for my MC to move around quickly with in a fantasy world (ability to direct the chain minimally) I found the ‘kyoketsu shoge’ which combines both the hook and a knife in one. If the chain is occasionally spiked, how dangerous do you think it would be for my MC to swing around?

It really depends on how skilled they are at managing the chain. The kyoketsu shoge is similar to the Chinese Whip Chain/Chain Whip and the Rope Dart. They function similarly to whips, and are a more dangerous (to the wielder) cousin of the nunchaku and three section staff. These weapons all work off similar principles about maintaining momentum and using your own body to provide control. This includes your arms, your neck, your shoulders, your legs, and, on occasion, your whole torso.


The Rope Dart.

The Nine Section Whip.

Whip weapons are one of the most advanced weapons in a martial disciplines for a reason. If you don’t know how to control it, it will hit you. I mean that, it will and it will hurt. Like the boomerang, the whip or chain always comes back. You are at the mercy of the chain, like any fast moving object, it doesn’t stop on a dime and you’ve got to mitigate the momentum until it finally stops.

The advantage of the whip is that it can strike on multiple angles that are nearly impossible to block. It’s not just on diagonals, a chain or a whip will curve. It can be used to disarm an opponent. When you’re working with a whip made entirely of metal like the nine section whip any part of you it strikes is going to hurt like hell.

If you can master a whip, it’s a very useful weapon, though it shouldn’t be the only weapon your character carries. It does require a great deal more skill than the average and, with a whip chain, you should be prepared for pain. It’s also not a weapon your character could pick up and just wield without any formal training. If we’re talking about a formal Chinese martial discipline, this would be a weapon you’d learn after you mastered the others like the staff and the sword.

Chinese Cinema has many excellent examples of the Chinese varieties of these weapons in use and may provide you with some ideas.

The kyoketsu shoge is a little different because it comes with two ends, a bladed end on one that could be used to hook opponents much like one would when fishing and a metal ring on the other. Similar principles to the others in this category apply when it comes generating momentum and to safety, but worth keeping track of when you’re trying to figure out exactly what you want.

When you’re writing, it’s important to remember that the more complex a weapon is in its movements then the more difficult it will be when it comes to actually applying those actions on the page. The whip is a fantastic weapon for cinema because it’s dazzling. It’s in constant motion, it makes wide sweeping arcs, it’s often too fast for the eye to completely follow, and it’s just fun to watch. You don’t get that luxury when you’re writing. You don’t benefit from visually interesting weapons unless you figure out how to tease the imagination when the audience tries to visualize.

The best way to write weapons, especially complex ones, is grasping the underlying principles of how the weapon is supposed to work. You are at advantage over the practitioner because you only need the principle, as a writer you can simulate the experience. However, you’re at a disadvantage because you’ve never tried to work with one and don’t have the ground level experience of trying to get the weapon to work.

When you want to use a chain weapon like the whip chain in an action sequence, its important to remember that your character needs to keep it in constant motion. The weapon is only deadly when it’s in motion. You throw it out, spin it, wheel it about using your throat, catch on the shoulder, throw it back for another strike. They’re going to need space to use it, which means it’s at a disadvantage in cramped quarters.

What’s going to sell your whip in a written action scene is remembering all the tiny little physical motions that go into maintaining control. Whether it’s snapping the wrist to crack the whip, remembering that the guiding hand controls the whip and the other holds, to wrapping it around the body at the fight’s end to catch and negate the final momentum, what sells the weapon is your ability to accurately represent how it moves in the real world.

A lot of writers try for technical terms as a way to communicate what they’re talking about, my advice is learn them as necessary but don’t assume they’ll do the work for you. Assume your audience is ignorant and focus more on what the weapon does/is supposed to do/the purpose it served in battle rather than terminology. The more complex the weapon is in movement, control, and execution, the more difficult it is to write.

If you do get frustrated during your research, just remember: you jumped straight to the end. The whip chain is a complicated weapon, it’s supposed to be difficult.

If you’ve never used a whip before, this is going to mean watching a lot of tutorials on Youtube and reviewing many an action sequence where the whip is used as primary or secondary weapon.

Good luck!


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Does the saying “trust your instincts” have actual weight in real life combat and strategic/critical thinking? It’s a bit unclear to me if instincts are equated to experience when it comes to such things, and while I understand how relying on experience can help you, aren’t instincts more unreliable and unquantifiable? And possibly more prone to bias?

The answer is both yes and no.

Everything that’s considered “instinct” by most people are actually based on experience or confused with reflex. What most fictional worlds mean by instinct is the character did it without thinking about it and serves as an easy justification for why the character could behave as the plot demands. The problem with this method of thinking is that it drives directly against what instincts are.

Instinct is your Fight or Flight response.

99% of the time when someone’s referring to instinct, they’re usually talking either about their reflexes or about a learned behavior. Your responses to different situations can be trained and are constantly being updated as you gather new information.

Combat training will retrain your “natural” responses to situations and stimuli. A character isn’t going to load and fire a pistol off the cuff, pull off a proper punch with no outside stimuli, or notice when a fight’s about to start if they have no understanding of human behavior. You can be trained, passively by life experience, aided by outside stimuli, or intentionally, to perform or recognize these actions. You can become so practiced at them that they become reflexive and you do them without thinking about it. That’s the point of training and practice, to teach you how to act without being slowed down by your thoughts.

Now, any behavior you practice or pattern you follow can be exploited by someone who knows it’s there.

Say you get into a practiced pattern where you always show up at home five minutes after five at the end of the day. If someone was unsure where to find you but knew you’d always be home at exactly five minutes after five, then they could move to intercept you.

Combat does this all the time. A technique becomes a practiced pattern of behavior, one that has moved from thinking to automatic. However, the more a technique is in use then the more others become aware of it and how it works, they develop their counters to it.

Feints in martial arts are about disrupting what as become your instinctual reaction to an incoming blow, in order to trick you into reacting to a false action so that your defenses are opened and your opponent can hit you.

A common beginners combo in Taekwondo is the backfist and right punch.

The martial artist throws the backfist as a feint, the backfist catches in their target’s peripheral vision and they raise their front hand to block. The martial artists switches to punch them in their now open midsection.

The basic thought is: if I flash my hand in your peripheral vision, your first instinct will be to raise your hand to stop it. Sometimes, you’ll raise both hands. Sometimes, you’ll even turn your head to protect from harm. Best case on top of everything else is you closing your eyes in preparation for the hit.

When this happens, I have opened up your whole body to do whatever I want with it.

Your body’s natural instincts will always protect what your body prioritizes as its most important parts. These are the parts it needs to keep existing. These are your head and your internal organs. This is why when you’re injured, your body always moves to curl up into a ball. When you’re trapped on the ground, your first instinct will be to roll over.

Protect the head. Protect the center.

It is more complicated than this, but on a simple level this is what the natural human reaction to injury is.

Combat exploits those reactions, even the most basic cheap street fight techniques.

Here’s the rhythm:

1) You get sucker punched in the gut.

Natural reaction: You bowl over. Your head and arms come forward. One by the force of air leaving your lungs, two to protect your stomach, the part of you that was just hit. Your body’s natural reaction is to move the damaged body part away from danger.

3) They grab your head as it comes forward.

Natural reaction: When your body reacts to an injury, it is not normally conscious of its surroundings. The grabbing of the head is the exploiting of this response.

4) They knee you in the face.

Natural reaction: This move is easy enough to pull off that most people have learned it from watching kickboxing, MMA/UFC, or some other type of action movie. A knee strike doesn’t take the same amount of training as a kick. This isn’t a natural reaction at all. It’s a learned behavior.

The general rule of thumb regarding instincts in the martial field is don’t trust them. Use your head instead. Instincts react directly to generalities, they don’t take the situation into account. Your fight or flight could send you running right into a wall. It could send you running at the enemy behind you that you didn’t see. It can be used against you.


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I just saw a scene where in in a melee fight, 5 people ran into about 50 enemies in a hall about big enough to hold the 5 side by side. The 5 ran for a big open room to fight, where the 50 could all fit. Was that a horrible idea?

Extremely. Hilariously, in fact. It let the choreographers
go nuts, and probably looked amazing, but it’s suicidal.

I’m going to repurpose some terminology to explain this, but
it gets at the basic problem with things like 1v10 fights.

The basic idea with mass melee combat is that the size of
your forces doesn’t really matter. It’s relevant, but it’s not the most important
consideration when you’re trying to determine a winner. The major question is
how much of your infantry can engage their foes.

If you have fifty combatants, but only five can actually
fight at any given moment, the ones behind them are just taking up space. Now,
should one of the five that’s fighting suffer an injury or die, they can be
replaced by a fresh fighter. But the other forty-five are just waiting for an
opportunity to participate.

When we talk about the difficulty in one martial artist
going toe to toe with multiple fighters, the issue is when all of those combatants
can engage the martial artist at once. What you’ll see in well choreographed
fights are martial artists who move in ways that cause their foes to interfere
with each other’s attacks, or to control their environment so that only one or
two opponents can actually attack them. The reality is, this is doable, but extraordinarily
difficult and taxing.

Limiting the number of opponents who can attack you is
probably the single most effective way to counter superior numbers.

Probably the most famous example of how this can work is The
Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC, where 7,000 Greeks held for seven days against the
mass of the Persian army (the numbers are unclear, though modern estimates put
their forces in excess of 100k soldiers), before they were flanked and

It was the same basic idea. Find controllable chokepoint,
and force your foes to come to you, where their superior numbers are only
useful to replenish their front line, at that point it becomes about attrition,
rather than a decisive victory.

This is also why holding doorways can be such an effective defensive
tactic. It’s much easier for a small force to hold against a much larger
assaulting force, if only one or two of the attackers can actually engage the
defenders at any time.

Now, not all of this holds true when you’re dealing with
firearms, or other ranged weapons. These do allow for infantry to engage, while
they hold back whittling down the opposition’s reserves, or in extreme cases,
they simply allow the larger force to obliterate the smaller one without
resorting to melee at all.

In fact, this is part of why early gunpowder warfare was so
lethal. Traditional unit formations designed to maximize melee effectiveness
completely disintegrated under coordinated fire.

This also starts to fall apart when you’re dealing with
characters who have outright superpowers. Being superhumanly fast will allow
you to juggle more engaged enemies at once. Being superhumanly resilient to
damage means that you can afford to get sloppy and take some hits, significantly
reducing the threat from engaged foes. A character who’s superpower simply
makes them better at inflicting harm, like superstrength, or superpower tier
martial arts, doesn’t actually let them deal with multiple foes. It allows them
to deplete their opponent’s reserves faster, but without something to mitigate
the incoming harm, they’d still need to work carefully.

Going from a hallway, where your characters can, quite
literally, hold the line, to a room where they can be surrounded and beaten to
death is just bad tactics. I don’t recommend it. Depending on the architecture,
holding the door might have been a good option as well.


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A character of mine is entering a battle royale. While her sister is all for going out and taking heads, she personally is more of a defender. Can you think of any weapons or tools that are good at keeping enemies away? Besides “a really big shield,” like my friends are all suggesting.

You know, hunkering down and letting your enemies eliminate each other is actually a solid battle strategy. If your character is handy and depending on the type of battle royale they’re in/lay of the land, etc, then it’s possible that they could actually take a Home Alone approach which is make a castle and booby trap the crap out of everything.

The same problems would accompany this approach as a long siege, such as lack of provisions, boredom, and the fact they have no idea what’s going on around them.

It’s up to you to make it interesting though.

The short answer is that you can actually pick anything you want, a weapon’s use changes based on how you do or don’t use it. There are no “safe” weapons, they’re all dangerous. Your character could pick up a rifle and take it with her then only use it when defending the stairwell up to the area she’s chosen as her “safe space”. That’s using the weapon defensively, rather than kicking the door down into someone’s house and going in guns blazing. Going in guns blazing is offensive.

It really is all about how you choose to use it. Weapons don’t make you anything. They’re just tools like every single other tool out there. They’re made to do a job, but the one who wields them chooses the application.

Your character fights defensively or wants to, but there are a lot of ways to do that and how they do it is going to depend a lot on the rules of the Battle itself. How it’s set up, what they have access to, where they can go, etc. Defense is often defined by offense and vice versa.

The best way to defend yourself from combat is to avoid it, get away from it.

Get to higher ground, find a place where your character knows they can control the terrain, and prepare to defend it after the easy pickings have been picked off.

Try to remember this though: your character fights defensively and injures someone so they can escape, then that person will be picked off or killed by someone else later. Shuffling the blame doesn’t make them any less of a murderer. This is a natural course that some people do choose to take because they are trying to protect their morality or they can’t stomach killing. Your character can choose to do it, just recognize that this doesn’t actually make them a better person.

There aren’t any save your morals softballs in this situation unless your character’s end goals are a prison break. The hunted either eventually becomes the hunter, turn the tables, or they do something else to ensure they get out alive… or they don’t. They die.

Unless you’re changing the rules a lot, a battle royale is essentially a survival story. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, The Running Man, or 2000′s Japanese action thriller Battle Royale. Your character’s goals will change how the narrative plays out, their desires and their wants. Revenge on the person or people who betrayed them/put them in this situation. Desire to survive, live, go home to their families. They need money. Whatever.

“I want to survive but I don’t want to kill anyone” is a classic cliche, and the point of this one narratively is that the character is eventually forced to choose. They must choose between their own survival and their desire to not kill anyone.

For example, The Hunger Games could have ended with Rue as the victor. The narrative links Rue to Katniss’ sister Prim as the innocent child. The role of the protector is to save the child and inevitably to sacrifice their life for them. This link would cause Katniss to sacrifice her life after everyone else died to ensure Rue’s victory. Natural tragic ending to the trope.

Every character has multiple paths based on the narrative themes you choose to play with and ultimately those themes are going to be more important than the weapons you choose to give them. They may have synergy with their weapon or not.

You can have them pick a weapon they have no idea how to use based on a very different decision making process. This can lead to a fascinating series of events all on its own as the character learns about violence on the go.

If your character doesn’t know much about weapons, then they’ll pick based on what they think the best choice is rather than what your or I do. I don’t pick weapons based on what I think the best are for the situation. I actually pick them based on what my character knows/understands about the world/their own training with a side of their personality. While one of my characters can use multitudes of weapons, she really, really loves her shotgun. You could not pay her to fence with a 19th century British saber, but she could kill you with it. Another of my characters loves her longsword because she practices HEMA. Another you will only ever pry her Glock 17 out of her cold, dead fingers.

They all have very different versions of what “defensive” looks like or would look like, even if you dropped them into a Battle Royale. The first one would avoid everyone they could and just make a beeline toward whoever dropped them into this situation, making the executive choice to only murder those responsible and the ones who choose to stand by them or get in her way. The second would try to get the participants to join up and work together in order to figure on a way out. The last one would win the competition and then kill everyone involved on their way out.

All of these options are actually defensive, even when taking the offensive. Defense is protecting yourself from harm. That’s all it means. Whether that’s a blocked punch or murdering the stalker following you through the bushes that’s planning to put your head on a spike. Fighting defensively can simply be not aggressively pursuing your enemy. Or aggressively pursuing the right one. In females A, B, and C above you see three different choices that express their personality types and their morals.

A doesn’t care about the Royale itself or the people in it, but she’s interested in ensuring it never happens again. Instead of accepting the status quo, she’ll go after the source. It will most likely end brutally and there will be spectacular explosions as an example is made.

B would like those smart enough and willing to survive actually manage to survive, she’s the type of leader who pulls people together making the most of their skills in order to figure out an escape plan.

C knows her best chance at killing those responsible is to play along, so she’ll play the game perfectly until the end when she murders them all.

Defense is what you make it.

So, what does your character think a “defensive” weapon is? A gun? A knife? A cudgel? A can of pepper spray? A tazer?

While it’s good to give your character a weapon that is appropriate to the situation, it’s doubly important to give them a weapon that they understand how to use. If you pulled up a list of weapons off the internet and stared at the pictures, what weapon would your character gravitate toward?

Research that one. Figure out it’s strengths, limitations, how it is normally used. Then step back to your setting, the events that will be happening/playing out in this battle and think about what you’ve learned about this weapon from your research. Whether they’ll work well or not doesn’t matter because that’s what your character picked.

Don’t munchkin it.

Roll with the punches.

Figuring out how your character will choose to use their weapon in the environment and circumstances they’ve found themselves in is half the fun.

Their weapon is not going to save them. They are going to save themselves. Maybe the weapon will help and maybe it won’t, maybe it’ll help them in some battles but not others.


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