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Ask me about archery, longbows especially.

Discussion in 'Research' started by John McDonell, Jun 5, 2012.

  1. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Minstrel

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    Crossbowmen were professional soldiers. The idea that they either chose to or were unable to perform any other military or fighting role is not even remotely accurate.

    Think of all the scenarios that would crop up on a military campaign where a crossbow couldn’t be used:

    The rain.
    Fog.
    The sun goes down.
    In the woods or in a city where the enemy can get close to they can only get off a single shot before the enemy closes.
    After they run out of ammunition.
    Their crossbow gets damaged or lost.

    The idea that a professional soldier confronted by any of those scenarios would have no choice but to immediately throw their hands in the air and surrender is not realistic.
     
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  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Now I'm wondering if we have any historical examples of an assassin using a crossbow. The few I know about (pre-firearms) were daggers or swords or throttling.
     
  3. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    We talked about this before, but it's really damned hard to ensure that you're going to kill somebody with one shot from a bow, even a crossbow. I mean, arrow wounds can be, and often are, horrific, but people on the whole are surprisingly death-averse and can survive some amazing stuff if they really want to. Choking them out or knifing the hell out of them are much more certain.

    Also, a crossbow isn't much faster than a normal bow. I remember reading somewhere that historical crossbows range between 200-250 fps. A good longbow or recurve is going to be in the 150-175 fps range. That's not a significant enough difference in travel time that you're ever going to ensure that you land the shot you take; again, bows aren't guns. All the target has to do is flinch at the noise and that center-mass shot becomes an upper-arm graze. And then what?

    Plus, it's hard enough to see where an arrow impacts its target. As discussed much further upthread, an arrow typically passes through an unarmored, man-sized target. It happens commonly enough that part of bowhunting is retrieving the arrow and examining it to see what part of the critter you hit so that you know how to track it. A crossbow bolt is smaller than an arrow and moving faster. You'd likely never know where you hit the target, especially in low light.
     
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  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Yup and yup. But I have a more general problem with assassins (and thieves) in fantasy anyway. People hire people to kill people, but it's a rough way to make a living. Even Assassins weren't hired; they did it out of religious fervor. They also, btw, made their kills with no expectation of living through it. Making a career out of hits just seems silly to me, more especially in a pre-modern society (and economy). And don't even get me started on having a guild of assassins.

    Choking and knifing for sure. There's the famous example of the assassination of Conrad of Montferrat in 1192 (ok, famous among crusading historians *shrug*). The killers, possibly disguised as monks, approached the marquis as he was walking through the streets. Knifed him. Done and done. Not really juicy meat for the novelist, but a good example in practical terms.
     
  5. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

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    I'm sure that knife would be more effective than any long-range weapon in general.

    I agree that assassins probably didn't, and don't, have much of a career structure. Not a job with a lot of security. But there have always been political, as well as religious, assassinations. And sometimes these assassins would have been supported financially by rich patrons.

    And some assassinations would have been carried out purely to settle a grudge.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There have always been assassinations, no question. It's the notion that there might be dozens or scores of such, working full-time, and needing to be organized into a guild. Or that it would be a kind of specialty, with its own set of skills, like carpentry.

    Naw. You walk up to the guy, you stab him, done. If anything, you would want to hire someone expendable. In fact, expendable would be ideal. If the killer lives, he can be caught; if he's caught, he can be made to say who hired him. Much better he should die on the spot, at the hands of his target's bodyguards.

    But I've wandered far from archery and crossbows.
     
  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    We need an "Ask Me About Assassination" thread.

    "Hi, Scribes! I'm an expert in . . . um . . . hmm. You know? Never mind. I'll show myself out."
     
  8. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    On a related note, I should probably be deleting my browser history more assiduously.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Modern assassins don't even need a knife, do we ... er, they? A drone serves nicely. (have you read Daniel Suarez's stuff?)
     
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  10. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

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    Agreed. That would be hard to imagine.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Over on another forum someone posted a YouTube video about various types of arrowheads (link below). It was worth watching but it brought up a question that I posed but didn't get answered over there. So I brought it here.

    Do we know about different types of heads on crossbow bolts?

    The question occurred to me because I happened to be reading about Catalan crossbowmen, who were famous in their day and were particularly valued as marines (Catalans were great sailors). Each of them knew how to construct a crossbow from scratch. Some carried a very small crossbow that could be wielded with one hand--great for boarding, I should think. Anyway, the juxtaposition of my reading and that video is what prompted the question. I doubt we'd know anything specifically about Catalan mariner crossbow bolts, as most of them would be rusted away at the bottom of the sea.

     
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I’m not an expert... but from what I know you will find a similar variety in bolt heads as you will arrowheads... specialized down to square heads with 4 points theoretically to not skip off heavy armor so easy. And of course hunting tips could vary widely, crescent tips for hunting birds... you name, somebody probably tried it.

    More peculiar to my mind are bolts without fletching.

    And apparently the Genoese had a guild making the bolts, so one should be able find what they used..
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2019
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Yeah, one reason I asked was because I figured the arrow-dynamics (*chortle*) might be different.

    I also wonder if knights wore their armor on board, during a battle. Seems a bit chancy, but maybe you figure you can get out of the suit before the ship goes down. And anyway if you can't swim, it's a moot point? Obscure stuff, I know. I'll just give all my crossbowmen magic flaming arrows that can go around corners, right?
     
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  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I’d expect knights on a ship to armor up as they saw fit. You probably don’t know how to swim anyhow, as a knight on a ship, so the rate of drowning might be faster, but...
     
  15. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    I remember Conan Doyle putting a sea battle into one of his medieval romances. The White Company, I'm pretty sure. When the captured pirate captain is told he's going to be hung from his own yardarm (or some part of the ship, anyway), he commits suicide by leaping overboard in full armor and sinking like a, well, man in a suit of armor. But first grabbing one of his enemies to take with him to hell.
     
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  16. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Minstrel

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    Modern studies have found that it is actually possible to swim (very slowly and awkwardly) in full plate. you wouldn’t want to have guys shooting arrows at you from a boat, but you can keep your head above water easily enough.

    Armour would probably be preferable on a boat. The restricted space, uneven footing of a boat deck and the pitching and rolling of a boat at sea would seriously impact a fighter’s ability to use their footwork to dodge blows from an enemy, so being able to absorb a hit would be invaluable. Experience in fighting at sea would be invaluable.
     
  17. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    We need an Ask Me About Armor thread but holy crap, I get tired just thinking about it.
     
  18. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I've done water survival training in a full combat load with boots and a rifle, no armor. It takes a startling amount of effort, like no-shit flashes of "This is it; this is how I die" just getting to the edge of the pool. I don't doubt that someone motivated and extremely physically fit could keep their face above water in armor for a few minutes, but I'd likely argue the word "easily." Do you have a link to the article? I'm intrigued.
     
  19. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Minstrel

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    I’ve read several articles over the years. A google search will give you several results if you want to look into it further.

    Here’s a video:

     
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  20. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Thanks for this. This tracks with my experience in modern-day military gear.

    He also isn't wearing a helm, a coif, an arming jack, a felted tabard, a surcoat, sidearms, faulds, and a shirt of maille, even a partial one; he's about 20-30 lbs. light (far more, when wet) and even then, he's good for about ten yards. It could be done, but it's not like you can be knocked overboard at sea in Maximilian harness and tread water until they circle back for you.

    Interesting concept, though. Great link.
     
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