Tag Archives: writing reference

Equipping your Ranger

Hello, I really love your blog and wanted to ask you a question How realistic would it be to have a ranger – in a medieval world – who will fight with a bow, spear, sword and dagger? And what would be the most important weapon and with which you have the most experience?

So, there’s only two issues with this list: The sword, and the axe. Also the phrase, “fighting,” might be slightly off, but not too drastically.

The thing about these weapons is, (with the exception of the sword), they all serve multiple uses. The spear and bow are both hunting tools, the knife has a wide range of applications, ranging from eating implement to general utility cutter, to throat slicer. The sword somewhat stands out in that list because it’s only a weapon. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but it is something to remember. It’s also (probably) an expensive piece of combat gear. The rest of these items are things a hunter would likely carry as a matter of course, but the sword is a weapon.

So, the lack of an axe is a significant omission. This may be a handaxe, a hatchet, or it could be a full battle axe (though, this last option does seem less likely.) If your character is a woodland hunter, then the axe is almost as valuable as the knife. It can be used for creating shelter, collecting fuel for a cooking fire, impromptu weapon of continence. If the ranger is also a skilled fletcher (which is possible, though not automatically the case), then a hatchet may be a critical tool for producing more ammunition. Depending on the design, it can also make a pretty good hammer in a pinch. Really, it’s a tool your ranger probably wouldn’t want to be without.

Spears are useful both for hunting and for fighting. In a lot of cases, when you’re hunting an animal, it’s going to be somewhat upset with you trying to kill it. Being able to shove a knife size blade into it at a range where it can’t retaliate brings a few minor perks, like not being gored to death. You can also poke things with it, and in some situations may be able to use it to remotely trip traps.

The bow is an excellent hunting tool, and it’s likely to be your ranger’s first choice when looking to take down their prey. Of course, this also applies when they’re hunting and picking off human foes as well. It’s not as ideal in open combat, but this is why your ranger is carrying other weapons.

Now, you said a dagger, but the odds are your ranger would have multiple knives on them. Some of these may be specialized, like a skinning knife, while others may be slightly more general purpose. While you and I might be concerned about using the same knife to slit someone’s throat and then carve our dinner, in a world without advanced medicine (particularly an understanding of bacterial infection), their eating utensil may pull double duty as a combat knife.

As for which is most important? It depends on the situation. This is a pretty well rounded selection of weapons. None of them will shine in all situations. Because of audience expectations, the sword may appear to be the most important, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most useful. For sheer variety of applications, that probably goes to the knife, but it’s probably the least versatile option for combat from the options you listed.

On the last question (taken at face value.) I don’t have a lot of personal experience with spears. I’ve had a lot of practice with knives, My skills with a bow are rusty, and I haven’t drawn one in over twenty-five years at this point. I have a couple swords around here, though somewhat obviously, I’m not exactly using them on my neighbors. I’m not sure where my handaxe is, while I’ve got a fair amount of experience with it, most of that does go back to Scouting, so it’s been a little over 20 years since I’ve been out camping.)


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The Power of Plot Compels You

I’m writing fanfiction on this story. There is a non-human enemy skulking around and hiding totally intending on attacking a place, even attacked a lone guy to study him. Anyway the protags knows it’s planning an attack. But what I don’t fully get is it’s framing the enemy being very cunning and not bold as they haven’t properly struck yet. Wouldn’t intel be very important? Any attacker, cunning or not, needs intel. Why frame an enemy doing basic intel as very cunning?

So, there’s something very backwards here. You’re asking me why your character is doing what you’ve decided they’ll do, rather than asking what they would do. There’s a couple distinct instances of this, and it comes down to a fundamental writing problem. You’ve decided on the plot, and are now running into logical failures when you try to implement it.

You have a character who wants to attack a base. Before you get that far, you probably want an answer to, why it wants to attack the base. Your PoV characters may not be privy to this, but as the author, you need to have decided this.

“Why,” is very important for the advance planning that follows. If your character needs to extract something, then they need to create an approach that will prevent that resource being destroyed. If this is a prisoner rescue, for example, you can’t exactly carpet bomb the place (they also may not have the option to begin with, but you understand what I mean.)

Similarly, if it’s a rescue, they probably don’t want to risk being detected before they’re ready to act, because that could result in heightened security, and the individual they’re trying to rescue being moved elsewhere.

All of the advanced reconnaissance you can collect is worthless, if the base you’re studying goes on high alert and starts pulling in extra forces to comb the surrounding area for you.

On the other hand, if the entire point is to draw in additional enemies for that carpet bombing, then, yes, picking off lone sentries, working the nerves of the people on the base until they send out a call for help, is the one approach you’d want to take.

Now, to be clear, I don’t know what the parameters of your story are, nor do I know what setting your working with is. However, as a writer, you need to know why your characters are doing what they’re doing. (All of your characters.) You don’t need to (and, really shouldn’t) share all of that with the audience. It’s fine to let them work out the motivations of all your non-PoV characters. (Sometimes it will be clear, sometimes it won’t.) However, If you ever sit down and ask yourself, “why is my character doing this?” Something has gone very wrong.


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Blending Into the Crowd

A 2.10 meter character with horns and wearing a red cloak, how discreet can she be and how plausible is it to stalk a couple of assassins?

Medieval fantasy world, Dragon Age, the Qunari are not especially common in the rest of Thedas…

Pretty sure, “discreet Qunari,” is an oxymoron. Granted, it’s been a minute since I paid close attention to Dragon Age (or, really any Bioware series), but remember, we’re talking about the race that thinks that, “subtly,” involves telling people you’re there to spy on them. This isn’t to say they’re stupid, just that they have an incredibly direct and inflexible approach to the world. (Note: that this is sometimes used by the series writers to compel characters to act in idiotic ways. Generally this is a cliché you’d want to avoid when writing fantasy.)

So, now you have an extra question, “how discreet can a Qunari be?” The answer seems to be, “not very.”

As for how well they can blend into a crowd? They can’t. Seriously, they can’t at all. Dragon Age doesn’t have any other large civilized races, Similarly, as you observed, Qunari are an unusual sight outside of their territory. This is for two reasons: They don’t generally mix with non-Qunari, and renegade Qunari (called Tal-Vashoth) are pretty rare. (Even if DA2 tasks you with carving through literal legions of them. Thanks Varric.)

So, when you’re trying to blend into a crowd, you want as many traits that are shared with members of the crowd as possible. The easy things this can include are details like your clothing, height, and the visibility of any weapons you may be carrying.

So, let’s start with the cloak. Ironically, vibrant red is not, automatically, a deal breaker. If you are somewhere with a lot of vibrant colors in the clothes, having a dull or washed out cloak would, ironically, stand out far more, than a bright red one. Conversely, if we’re talking about someplace like Kirkwall or Denerim, it’s going to stand out quite a bit. Dragon Age, generally, trends into a more muted color palette in general. Now, this is a valid setting choice, but it’s not, “historically authentic.” In actual world history, dyes, and the vibrant clothes that could be produced as a result were a were a major trade good. This is something you’ll sometimes see in fantasy, and alternately you’ll see fantasy settings that bleed the color out. In fact, both could, legitimately, occur in different regions of the same setting (which is supposed to be the case in Dragon Age.)

So, if your clothing is not consistent with the crowd, that’s going to make you stand out more. Bold colors in a city that likes to cosplay as a sand and dirt showcase will be easy to notice.

Worth remembering that this can change depending on district. It’s possible that a city’s port, bazaar, administrative, and noble districts would have a far more diverse array of clothing styles, but moving into laborer and crafter quarters would see the vibrancy quickly disappear. In situations like this, a character seeking to remain anonymous would probably need to ditch their vibrant clothing (if possible.)

So far as it goes (since I mentioned it four paragraphs ago), weapons are a similar situation. If your character is visibly armed, in a city with a lot of armed individuals, it won’t automatically stand out, unless your character’s weapons are conspicuous in some way.

Height is a simpler issue. If you’re taller than the average height of the crowd, you’ll stand out more. Conversely, if you’re shorter than the average height of the crowd, you’ll have a harder time tailing someone.

Other physical characteristics like hair color and skin tone can make you stand out from the crowd, in a non-cosmopolitan setting. Basically, if you don’t look like the locals, you’ll be easier to quickly identify by anyone looking for a tail. Obviously, a hooded cloak can help to conceal this, unless of course people wearing a hood is not the norm, in which case that’s conspicuous.

Somewhat obviously, most of the locals in your case are not going to be 2.1m, grey skinned, or sprouting horns (which will still be visible, even if she’s wearing a hood.)

Another unique problem your character faces to avoiding being noticed isn’t just that she physically stands out, it’s that her race has a very real reputation in the setting. The Qunari, upon arriving on Thedas, immediately launched into an aggressive crusade, conquering fairly significant chunks of territory before grinding into a stalemate in Tevinter. Your character isn’t just physically imposing, she’s immediately recognizable as a member of a race that is trying to conquer and subjugate the continent, a fact that will not be lost on anyone who sees her.

So, to sum it up, you’ve got a character who will stand a head taller than the crowd, has distinctive, upward sweeping horns, is (maybe) trying to hide that under a hood, of a vibrant eye catching color, and is a member of a race that is immediately noteworthy, on sight. So, “blending into the crowd,” is going to be borderline impossible.


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Medieval Footwear

I’m sorry if you’ve already answered this, but I’ve been scouring your blog and I haven’t seen my precise question asked yet, so: what kind of boots are most practical for a hunter-slash-fighter? I know you mentioned potentially breaking toes in steel-toe boots, and this is a medieval-ish world, where my character spends half her time living in forests or traveling on-foot, and the other half fighting magical creatures to protect nearby settlements.

So, as a quick caveat, this is not my area of expertise. I’m also going to be a little sloppy here, because depending on your definition, Medieval can cover roughly a thousand years.

You’re probably looking at soft, pliable, leather boots or shoes. Possibly with multiple layers stitched together to provide additional protection and stability, particularly on the soles. Earlier medieval footwear was a bit softer than what we’re used to.

During the middle ages, there was a common practice of wearing pattens while going outside. These were wooden platforms which would fit under the shoe, and protect it from damage when worn outside. These were then held in place with leather or fabric strips. Pattens still saw use, in women’s fashion, into the 19th Century.

Soldiers are a little different. The actual footwear would still be leather shoes or boots, but, depending on their means, if they had any additional armor, it would likely be greaves. Greaves are a shin guard (usually made out of metal), which date back to the bronze age. Ironically, they fell out of use for a few centuries around the end of the first millennium, before reappearing. So, if your setting is contemporary with the Viking conquests, greaves were becoming quite rare, while if you’re setting it a few centuries later, they would have started reemerging.

Protection for the foot itself would be the sabaton. These are articulated plates which fit over the foot. These start popping up in the 13th century. As with greaves, sabatons do not replace the boot your character would wear; instead they would fit over the boot. Sabatons would likely be part of a full suit of plate armor, and also probably indicate that the soldier in question was very well equipped, or wealthy in their own right.

Ironically, the modern steel toed boot is a 20th century invention. Now, the sabaton existed before that, and it’s entirely possible someone may have sewn metal plates into their footwear before that, but as far as I know, the steel toe cap only dates back to the 1940s. So, not something your medieval hunter/fighter would have been hauling around.

So, the short answer is, it’s likely she’d wear soft-heeled leather boots. Depending on the timeframe, her armor might include greaves, or not.


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Starship to Starship Combat

So, I’m writing sci-fi and I want to know about weapon ranges when it comes to space ships/station, or land to space missiles. What is possible, or if isn’t actually possible/we don’t know, what makes sense, especially when it comes to max ranges or accuracy/effective range. Also, would there be a such thing as sniping extremely long distances like idk 50 million km?? But the problem would still be speed and take too long to actually reach?

Something a lot of sci-fi genuinely screws up (for entirely artistic reasons) is engagement ranges. If you have a beam weapon which travels at the speed of light, a 50 million kilometer range will only take about a 6th of a second to hit the target. If that target is ship sized, you can connect with the target at that range, unless that ship can move at incredibly high speeds, with almost impossibly high reaction speeds, assuming it can also detect the beam before impact, which is kind of an issue when you consider that baring some kind of quantum physics mess any information that ship has regarding a hostile ship firing on it will be at least a sixth of a second out of date.

So, when you’re talking about these ranges, you’re talking about travel time for a beam weapon that is roughly equivalent to firing a pistol at someone in the same room.

Take that same beam weapon, and fire a range of an astronomical unit, and you’re still only looking at about eight minutes of travel time. If your targeting is good, that’s more than enough time to hit all but the most nimble of ships,

There is a problem with extreme range and beam weapons. A laser is just an extremely focused beam of light. This appears to remain as a tight dot at the destination, but that’s because you’re not using a laser at ranges where the angle of the beam becomes apparent. It’s not (strictly) a cylinder of light, it’s a cone. When you’re pushing a laser to thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of kilometers, this starts to become very apparent. This is not an unsolvable issue from a technological standpoint, a tighter cone, a true cylinder, or the cone as a payload for something else (such as high energy particles of some variety), all potentially expand the maximum range a beam weapon significantly. So, I’m not going to dig into the idea of extrasolar beam weapons, it’s still distinctly possible.

Parallel you have kinetic delivery systems. This is basically just a gun in space. It may be a rail gun, or it could be a classic propellent that gets it moving. Now, here’s the problem with bullets in space: There’s nothing to stop them.

On Earth, a 5.56mm NATO round has a rough maximum range of ~600m, and it’s effective range is only ~300 meters. Take that exact same bullet, put it in space, and it’s maximum range is infinite. It will continue to travel until it hits something or is pulled into a gravity well. There is no friction from the atmosphere to slow it down, so it will continue traveling at its original velocity (roughly 1km/s) until the heat death of the universe. (It will probably hit something before then. But, there a real possibility that this bullet would spend tens or hundreds of millions of years traveling through space before it connected with anything. To be fair, I think it would take that bullet about 1.3 million years to reach Alpha Centauri at that speed, though my math could be a bit off there. I’m using rounded numbers at a point where those rounding errors result in differences of hundreds of thousands of years.)

Sci-fi loves to put ships in close proximity to one another. Films and TV love to get the hero and villain ships in the same frame, and have them bouncing around for your amusement. As artistic license, this is fine, but you’re looking at ships where the engagement ranges should be well beyond visual range. In a science fiction shooting war, your ships should never even see each other. They should be fighting over radar/lidar signals. (Incidentally, this is also a problem with jet fighter dogfighting in films and TV. When you’re looking at a plane going over 343m/s, fighting another plane at similar speeds, you’re simply not going to be close enough to see each other for any length of time.)

Parallel to this, guided missiles are as accurate and fast as the technology allows. When it comes to missile sniping, with an FTL capable civilization, we’re potentially talking about firing from a different solar system. A simple rocket engine with an explosive payload traveling at a lower speed than a bullet isn’t going to be useful for much. However, guided projectiles, and anything that travels at relativistic speeds is going to start to explode maximum ranges in a very real way.

The same thing is true for planetary bombardment. Launching kinetic projectiles at relativistic speeds means you can be outside the solar system if you’re patient enough. Planets, as a rule, aren’t particularly good at dodging incoming projectiles, and you can use math to have a pretty good idea of exactly where it will be twenty years from now. The frightening thing about orbital bombardment is, you don’t actually need to be in orbit, or even in the stellar gravity well. If you’re targeting a rocky terrestrial world inside The Goldilocks Zone, it gets worse, because the star’s gravity well will assist in accelerating the projectiles as they get closer. It will also distort aiming, but this is in incredibly predictable ways, that anyone with a functional grasp of physics and a calculator can adjust for.

When it comes to naval warfare in space, 50m km isn’t really long distance. That’s pretty close to one another.

When you’re writing combat in space, it’s important to set the technological limitations of your ships and setting. This is why I’m somewhat permissive of settings which put ships within a few kilometers of each other, and have them engage at those ranges, when it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Maybe your world’s beam weapons are only effective to 10km, and your ECM have enough time to disable missiles fired from more than 20km away. At the same time, the concept of ship to ship combat has some downright horrifying potential, especially when you realize that all of those missed shots will hit something, eventually.


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Big Muscles: Cutting Water Weight, and Combat Effectiveness

It is true that really big muscles like for example those of power lifters make fighting more difficult? Are speed but not very muscular characters actually plausible as fighters?

So, there’s two different things here, power lifters and body builders. Power lifters tend to look really bulky, rather than describing them as having, “really big muscles.”

This doesn’t really help powerlifters offensively. How hard you can hit someone is a function of power generation, not raw strength. So, just because you can support the weight of a midsized car with your legs doesn’t mean you can throw a punch with the power of that sedan.

Defensively it helps, some. If you’re a walking wall of meat, and someone (who doesn’t know what they’re doing) is trying to throw a punch, it’s not going to get through. It doesn’t help, as much, against a trained opponent, because, ultimately, your body is still put together like any other human, and a skilled fighter is looking to exploit the inherent limitations, which you can’t really bulk your way out of.

If it sounds like I’m being dismissive, I’m not; power lifters are incredible athletes, and I have a lot of respect for them. However, they’re not training to fight people, and it is unfair to judge them based on that.

On the flip side, being a body builder has no upside for combat. Those really clearly defined muscles make finding pressure points incredibly easy. On top of that, body builders are intentionally abusing their muscles to cause swelling. When they bulk up, it’s their body crying for help.

A common element to increasing muscle definition is called, “cutting water weight.” This sounds benign, but it really means they’re intentionally dehydrating to the point where it’s adversely affecting them. In some cases, you’re looking at a guy (or women) who is a couple hours away from loosing consciousness due to lack of water. Yes, it gives them incredibly well defined muscles, but it’s actively dangerous.

In most cases, when you’re looking at a bodybuilder (at least, during a competition), they are not in fighting shape.

The thing with a lot of professional martial artists is, they are pretty muscular, but it’s sleek. You’re more likely to see someone who has a very athletic build. There’s a lot of strength there, and in some cases, more raw strength than a body builder, it just doesn’t look like it. At a glance, you could mistake them for just being lean or fit, but, the reality is, you’re just not seeing their muscles.

When it comes to professional sport fighters, (like boxers and MMA practitioners), you’ll often see them cut water weight for their formal weigh-ins. This is the practice of weighing a fighter and assigning them their weight class. It’s advantageous to be put into a lower weight class if at all possible, you’ll be matched against smaller competitors. However, after weigh-in, they’ll rehydrate and get back into fighting shape before the match. You can track some of the visual effect water weight if you look at a fighter who’s trying to weigh into a lower class at their weigh-in versus when they show up for the match. In some cases, it’s a pretty striking difference.

Cutting water weight is also really common in Hollywood action films. You’ll frequently see actors who are on the edge of passing out, specifically to give them clearly defined muscles for a scene or two.


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These are Your Characters; This is Your World

Hi! I’ve been working on a historical fantasy story (think Taisho era but with Caribbean influences). My issue is with two of the main characters: A morally-questionable “ronin” for lack of a better term, and street-fighter with the noble incentive of supporting her family financially. While it’s easy for me to picture what their relationship ends up becoming, it’s hard for me to decide how these two could end up working together without it seeming unrealistic or forced.

I have no idea what this means.

I’m vaguely familiar with the Taisho Period. This was from 1912 to 1925, and saw some early elements of the transition that lead to the Japanese Emperor’s authority being completely subverted by a military junta in the following decade. It’s a very significant era.

The problem is, Japan in 1925 looked nothing like Jamaica in 1656, and I cannot extrapolate exactly what you’re looking for here.

“Caribbean influences,” could be as simple as geological, or it could be an elaborate fantasy setting that melds elements of late Imperial Japan with the European colonial squabbling in the Caribbean that resulted in an authority vacuum, and the proliferation of piracy, both freelance, and state sponsored.

The result is, I don’t know your world, and that’s not a bad thing. It does make this question much harder to answer with any specificity.

So, yes, a unique world is a good thing. Not being able to boil that down into a single sentence is something you may want to work on. Though, the goal is to create a coherent one line description, not to simplify your world.

The problem with your characters is, I don’t know who these people are. The description of them is basic, but fine. However, because I don’t know your world, I don’t have a full frame of reference for what your setting’s ronin really are. This could be anything from a disgraced noble to a former military leader who’s degenerated into piracy when their place in the old order collapsed when the previous emperor died.

How does that interface with someone who has the, “noble incentive of supporting her family?” This could get really dark.

A couple years back I remember reading an article discussing the good/evil axis for D&D’s alignment system. The author used the concept of proximal empathy a litmus test for a character’s alignment. (Note that “proximal empathy,” means something very different in developmental psychology.) The idea is that a good person will experience empathy and exhibit compassion and altruism to a wide range of people, in some cases, even total strangers. However, as the alignment shifts away from good, that proximity will decrease. A neutral character may be apathetic about strangers, but they don’t stop caring about or protecting their friends and family. An evil character may either only care about their innermost circle, or themselves alone.

While I think it has limited value as a philosophical position, it’s something worth considering about your characters. If your character is willing to commit crimes and harm others in pursuit of providing for their family, that does not make them a good person. Further, even someone with noble intentions can be responsible for horrific actions.

This will be a slightly crude explanation, but when you’re plotting the relationships between characters, it can be helpful to think of it like a multi-act story, with a sequence of different stages or phases. Over a long enough period of time, many relationships are unstable. People who start as friends can become bitter enemies, and people began barely tolerating one another could come to respect each other, only for that to be scuttled later on.

There’s nothing inherent in these two character concepts that would automatically mean they couldn’t work together, or even become friends. Similarly, there are a lot of potential threads that could lead to a brutal falling out down the line. That’s fine. More than fine, that’s useful.

I’ve said it before, but your job is not to make friends with your characters. You are not responsible for handing them a happy ending. Having characters that end up parting ways because of irreconcilable differences can punctuate a good story. Conflicts between protagonists can be incredibly valuable for changing a character’s trajectory, or showcasing new insights into who your characters are, and how the story’s events have changed them.

In both cases, you have a the basic sketch of a character who could be a complex individual, and that’s something you will want to encourage. Character conflict lets you tease out that depth without requiring either character to be exceptionally self aware.

I can’t tell you how they met, or why they started to work together. I can’t tell you if there was friction or if they started out working together for purely pragmatic reasons. I don’t know. Those are your character and your story.

What I do know is, try it. If it doesn’t work, examine where and why it failed, and rewrite it until you’re happy with it.


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Why Kicking and Knee Injuries Do Not Mix

oh yeah tai chi anon back i just thought of another question (sorry if its getting annoying) how well can kicks work if youre wearing a knee brace, and is this better or worse if you have steel toed boots for more oomph

Kicks don’t work if you’re wearing a knee-brace. I mean, depending on the kind of knee-brace you have that may be possible but it’s not recommended. Certainly not recommended if you’re planning on using kicks in live combat when you’re genuinely in danger. It’s also not recommended to kick with the healthy knee either because it takes two legs to kick. One leg is going to have to take all your weight, balance your body while twisting and that leg’s foot is moving into position. With a roundhouse or sidekick, the foot for the standing leg will be on an opposing forty-five or one hundred and eighty degree angle away from your opponent in order to maintain balance.

Think about doing that with an injured knee. You will scream in agony, even with a minor injury.

Trust me, I know. I grew up in a martial art where the flying death kick is the norm.

Knee-braces prevent your knee from moving or shifting around, in order to stabilize it and protect you from further injury, even soft braces will impair speed of movement and the articulation of the knee. Your knee needs to bend in order for you to kick. Otherwise you can’t kick. If you’re lacking full range of motion, the power of your kick is halved at best.

In martial arts, there are four parts to a kick.

One is the chamber. This is when the knee bends and rises into position to extend the leg.

Two is the extension. This is when the lower leg extends, achieving the force of momentum and snaps into position to meet the target. As the leg strikes the target, all your joints lock together to reinforce the point impact.

Three is the impact. Your whole leg, and really your entire body, locks for a split second to take the receiving force of the blow and to drive the full force of the kick into your opponent.

Four is the reset. You relax and return your leg to its starting position in your stance. Preferably fast enough so no one grabs your leg.

You need full range of motion in order to kick properly. A knee that cannot chamber, means that your leg is out there dragging against the air, slowing down your momentum. This reduces both your speed and the force/momentum delivered by your kick, making the kick less powerful and more likely to be stopped by your opponent. Worse, if you have an injury, you will exacerbate that injury both via the motion and any potential impact. Given that this is your knee, the injury can easily go from temporary to permanent.

Knee injuries are very common in martial arts. One of my martial arts instructors had a permanent limp in his mid-twenties from a knee injury. Frankly, it’s better if you don’t try kicking with a knee brace as knee injuries often stick with you for the rest of your life even after they heal. Your knee is basically bone held together by floating cartilage and ligaments, which means that injuries are usually tears to ligaments you need for your leg to continue functioning.

The thing about Tai Chi is that the goal of the martial art is about redirecting your opponent’s force back into themselves. There’s no way to achieve that with kicks. Kicks are about saying fuck you to your opponents and their internal organs. They can and do deliver lethal force. In Taekwondo, they can actually deliver that force through the headguard. There’s a reason why fights are stopped the second someone is knocked unconscious in sports. Being knocked unconscious is your brain no longer working, even just for a split second. It’s a cerebral hemorrhage, it’s not a nap.

What I’m saying is: don’t do it.


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This is Not How You Play Russian Roulette

Heya, I want to ask about a guy using a revolver used as an intimidation tactic. As in only loading one bullet and leaving the other chambers empty, guy loads it and spins it before pulling the hammer. (He aims it at himself, shoots, and then spins the cylinder again before aiming it at the person being interrogated, also shoots).

Would it be realistic for him to remember how much force to spin it in order not to get shot? And, how do you suggest him practicing this sort of technique?

So, this is called Russian Roulette, and I don’t recommend ever doing it.

There’s a couple problems with this approach, starting with the part where the least intimidating thing your character can do is spray their brains across the wall.

Yeah, technically, that might be intimidating, but it’s posthumously intimidating. Unless they have some secret way to come back from the dead, this is the kind of thing you do once, and never again. Also the kind of thing you do once, and then proceed to decompose throughout the rest of the scene.

And, if they’re pulling this stunt regularly, they will shoot themselves in the head.

The second problem is, you can’t really do it as described. So, it’s been a minute since I’ve handled a revolver, and I’ve never intentionally spun the chamber, because that’s a really good way to damage the gun, however, when the hammer is down, it’s in contact with the shell casing, this means you can’t really spin the cylinder. The problem is that the firing pin (a spur on the face of the hammer) protrudes into the chamber. This is how the gun fires, the firing pin hits the back of the case, compressing it, and igniting the primer. This means, there is a part of the hammer that protrudes into the chamber. Not by much, but if you tried to spin the chamber with hammer down, you’d either clip the firing pin or the firing pin would completely stop the process… except, you wouldn’t get that far.

The second part of this is that the cylinder has a ratcheting mechanism. This is really important to preventing the revolver from detonating in your hand. When you draw the hammer back, the ratchets will cause the cylinder to rotate a new round into battery. When you drop the hammer that ratcheting mechanism will lock the cylinder in place preventing it from rotating freely. You can spin the chamber on some revolvers by drawing back the hammer to a fully cocked position. It’s still a bad idea because you’re applying wear to the ratchet system, and you really, really, do not that to break.

This means two things: First, like I said, you cannot spin a revolver with the hammer down. If you could misalign the chamber and barrel, which would result in a, “catastrophic mechanical failure,” when fired. Second, spinning the cylinder (even with the hammer back) is actively dangerous. You need these mechanisms working flawlessly for the firearm to be safe, and you don’t want this stuff damaged because you were playing with your gun.

The specifics of this will vary between revolvers, but the basic mechanical concepts are fairly universal. There may be a revolver design where you can safely spin it with the hammer down, but I’m not aware of one. (It actually wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some weird revolver out there that’s specifically designed to allow free movement on a dropped hammer, but nothing I’m aware of.)

Another problem with Russian Roulette is that, eventually, someone’s going to get shot. While it’s not particularly intimidating to watch your captor turn their own head into a rapidly expanding cloud of chunky mist, getting shot in the head is even less intimidating.

This is one of those fundamental problems with coercion. Yes, death is a very scary thing, however, the dead aren’t afraid of much. If you accidentally kill your captive, you’re not scaring them. If you needed them alive, it’s time to come up with a plan B. If you start with putting a gun to their head and that doesn’t work, you have nothing to escalate to. Really, with intimidation, you want to start with vague threats, and gradually escalate. If you get to the point where you’re putting a gun to their head, if they’re not already intimidated, it’s not going to happen.

Additionally, interrogations through fear will get the subject to tell you what they think you want to hear, not the truth. This can be a real problem, if you’re trying to get information out of them.


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Black Powder and Ninjas

Question. Blackpowder weapons. How bad was the smoke and the noise? Would it be a choking hazard indoors or just a mild annoyance? Deafen anyone within 10 feet? I imagine stealth would go out the window as soon as the weapon goes off, but I have heard that ninjas used firearms in assassinations and wondered if you had any insight into that as well. Blackpowder and smoothbore muskets as sniping weapons if it would not be better to just stick to crossbows or bows for that instead of the loud booksticks with an egregiously long reload time.

Black powder firearms are a bit messy. It’s not clean burning powder, and that does result in a lot of smoke coming off the gun after firing. It would never be so sever that your vision would be obstructed after a single shot, however, if you line up 20 or 30 soldiers, and have them fire in alternating volleys, the cumulative smoke produced could be blinding.

There’s some other side effects of this as well. A major factor is that because black powder produces less pressure, the resulting gunshot isn’t as loud as a modern firearm cartridge. You’ll still know someone is shooting, but it’s not loud enough to damage your hearing if you get into a gunfight. (At least, when I fired a black powder rifle in Scouts, we did not use hearing protection. Some of that could be due to it being 25 years ago, but, as it was my first experience with a firearm, I didn’t really understand the sound difference.)

Even a modern, smokeless powder cartridge, won’t deafen everyone within 10 feet of it. That kind of damage is reserved for explosive charges, concussion grenades, things of that nature. Being in close proximity to a gunshot, without hearing protection (particularly in a closed space) can result in hearing damage, but you’re not going to be deafened on the spot. Now, being in a modern gunfight without hearing protection will likely result in some degree of hearing loss down the line, and can easily result in medical issues, such as a persistent headache that persists for days.

As for, “why the gun?” you’re missing key details. Training archers on the bow was extremely time consuming. The aphorism was, that you would spend a lifetime creating a single skilled archer. Also, bows, in medieval warfare were used as more of a general (fire in that area) method for dealing with infantry, rather than being analogous to a marksman.

Crossbows are much easier to learn, but they are also significantly more expensive, and mechanically complex. Ironically, crossbows did have their time as military weapons. For over a thousand years, crossbows saw extensive battlefield use various places in the world.

Even as the firearm gained popularity in Europe, the crossbow held on into the early modern era. Throughout the 15th century, it would have been reasonable to encounter a well equipped European army that employed a mix of gunpowder and crossbow units.

Ultimately, the problem for the crossbow was that the gun is very easy to use, easy to transport, and relatively sturdy. Over time, it became the better option for an infantry weapon.

As for ninjas using firearms? I don’t know anything on that subject, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Ninjas were notoriously opportunistic, and even a fairly primitive black powder handgun is an excellent way of immediately eliminating a samurai. While Japan would eventually (effectively) regulate firearms out of existence during the Edo period, between the introduction of the gun to Japan in 1543, and the mid 17th century, where the technology was embraced. While it conflicts with the stereotypical image of the Ninja, Japan in the late sixteenth century boasted a thriving gun culture, and the idea that a ninja would simply shoot their target and leave, is actually pretty plausible.


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