1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Ask me about swords.

Discussion in 'Research' started by Anders Ämting, Jan 20, 2012.

  1. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    3,531
    534
    113
    Exactly the answer I wanted.
    (I knew they overlapped, the official "age" was when they were most common, not the mere introduction into society.)

    Did American indians(Native Americans) even have a time line of metals? I believe some used metal, not sure if that was introduced from the invading cultures or if they actually evolved into them.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  2. No, no, it's good that you remind me. I've just been distracted the past weeks. I can focus on specific things for a long time but I also shift my attention a lot, it's part of the diagnosis. I'll try to get on with putting an answer together.
     
  3. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,011
    317
    83
    Glad I could help.

    The American cultures were, by and large, metal-poor… one of the reasons the macuahitl was used by the Aztecs was because it didn't have to go up against metal armor, against which it was essentially useless (except as a club). Copper was widely available, but not widely used other than as ornamentation in Central/South America; some North American cultures seem to have been the only ones who put it to use in other applications–and in small amounts: weapons generally continued to be made of stone (flint in particular). Bronze didn't show up anywhere until around 200 BCE or so, and of all the American cultures it appears that only the Incas seem to have employed it in any amount as tools and weapons. So, essentially, in terms of "ages of technology," the Americas went straight from Neolithic to steel, after the Euros arrived.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,853
    3,518
    313
    For its flaws, Deadliest Warrior did clearly show that the stone weapons were just fine in the hands of a skilled warrior. They didn't have much armor, though, but neither did the Europeans by the time they arrived. But their stone knives, lances, bows and machetes were very effective weapons.
     
  5. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    2,580
    417
    83
    Would it be possible for a sword to break another sword if it was made out of a stronger metal? For instance, could a steel sword break a bronze one?
     
  6. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

    249
    33
    28
    How did I miss this thread until now?

    Do you happen to know if swords in the Roman Empire were made of steel, or if they were still using iron then?

    Second, I have a sword in my head: three feet long, curved but not so much so that it cannot be thrust in a pinch, one handed, single edged. Do you know what the name for that kind of sword is? I keep thinking sabre but I want to be sure.
     
  7. Well, it's not really surprising that a weapon developed for killing people is actually effective at killing people. Especially in the hands of someone who also happens to be skilled at killing people. :p

    As usual, context is everything.

    For another example, there are Roman accounts that castigate Celtic blades as clearly inferior to those of the Romans, which has given the impression to some historians that the Celtic swords were pretty poor weapons. However, Peter Johnsson (the guy I posted some videos of above) has pointed out that this doesn't make sense given that the Celts were crazy skilled at metalworking. Rather, Celtic swords were not designed to be used against armored opponents: They were slim, delicate and highly specialized weapons meant for single combat between expert swordsmen wearing little to no protection. But against a line of armored infantrists with shields and helmets, they simply didn't stand a chance.

    Swords can definitely break if they have to take more punishment then they were designed for. In many ways, swords can be surprisingly delicate. It's not really a matter of the surviving sword being stronger, though, but rather the breaking sword being fragile.

    Again, this is a matter of hardness. A harder blade will break, while a softer one will bend and take a set. For obvious reasons, you rather want a bent sword then a broken one.

    Other factors are what kind of stress and damage the blade has taken up to the point of breaking, or structural flaws created when making it. There are rare examples of modern swords actually snapping in half from light cuts, because something went wrong with the heat treatment.

    Superior metalurgy will keep your sword from breaking longer then your opponent's, true. But no sword is going to break another sword simply because it has "stronger" metal.

    Well, see, the Romans where around for quite some time - the West Roman Empire existed for just about five hundred years. I'm not too knowledgable of Roman metalurgy, but it would seem they advanced their technology as time went on, either working it out on their own, discovering things on accident or assimilating technology from the people they conquered or traded with.

    It's also hard to talk about iron and steel as if they are a dichotomy. To begin with, pure iron is basically impossible to find in nature (and not really something you can make weapons out of anyway) so you'll always have some sort of iron alloy. And there is also a difference between producing steel and producing steel weapons - even the earlier Romans seem to have had techniques for carburizing iron blades to give them higher carbon content. And then there's hardening techniques - some iron age swords actually had enough carbon in them to count as steel but were work-hardened rather then heat-treated, because they hadn't figured out heat treatment yet.

    It was a slow and steady progress, basically.

    Have you been reading Heinlein's Glory Road, by any chance?

    I've never seen one quite like it, so I don't know what to call it. A saber, I suppose, as the blade was faintly curved and razor sharp on the edge and sharp rather far on the back. But it had a point as deadly as a rapier and the curve was not enough to keep it from being used for thrust and counter quite as well as chopping away meat-axe style. The guard was a bell curved back around the knuckles into a semi-basket but cut away enough to permit full moulinet from any guard. It balanced in the forte less than two inches from the guard, yet the blade was heavy enough to chop bone. It was the sort of sword that feels like an extension of your body.

    The grip was honest sharkskin, molded to my hand. There was a motto chased on to the blade but it was so buried in curlicues that I did not take time to study it out. This girl was mine, we fitted! I returned it and buckled belt and scabbard to my bare waist, wanting the touch of it and feeling like Captain John Carter, and the Gascon and his three friends all in one."


    ;)

    But, yeah. What you are describing is basically some kind of infantry saber. Though, "saber" is another one of those terms that are tricky to nail down, because there's actually no hard definition of what makes a sword into a "saber."
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2012
    Jabrosky likes this.
  8. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    986
    80
    28
    Not sure if this has been asked before so forgive me if it has

    I want my battle-scenes to be realistic and entertaining. Lets say there are two warriors fighting each other and for arguments sake they both have good/decent armor. How should the sword strike to ensure great damage?

    In lots of books it will just say something like, "The warrior slashed with his sword, slicing through the other's heart." But sometimes when I'm reading battle passages it doesn't seem realistic. Really? One strike with your sword and it penetrates your opponents armor that easily?

    I know that almost every armor has weaknesses (like maybe under the arms and around the neck) but just how much would it take for swords to jsut clash against armor before actual damage was done?

    I know this is kind of a broad question so I appreciate any informative help you can grant me!
     
  9. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

    741
    31
    18
    From what I have read, armored people would poke at the joints and weak points in metal armor. Blunt objects or axes would also see use. Good armor doesn't get sliced through easily, but writing about your hero poking the other guy to death with his sword isn't as interesting as slashing through the heart of the baddie.
     
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,011
    317
    83
    Depends on the material of the armor, mainly. But, no, a sword isn't going to "slash" even decently thick leather all that well (let alone hardened leather), and metal never. Against metal, a sword is a skinny club, unless it can find an unprotected area. At which point it does damage just like any other club of similar weight, though it will have the advantage of putting all its force into a much narrower striking surface. Which is why axes gained increasing popularity, why blunt weapons eventually developed flanges, knobs or spikes, and why pick-shaped weapons were best of all… if all you were concerned about was armor penetration.

    Even against metal plate, swords can still break bones, cause concussions, rupture organs (unlikely, but certainly not impossible), cause internal bleeding, and so on. Consider: putting a one-inch-deep dent in thigh armor may cause a nasty bruise and make the piece highly uncomfortable to wear until it could be dished back out (trust me on this…); the same dent in the upper torso could break a rib or collar bone; the same dent in a helmet will probably remove your opponent from the fight, one way or another.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  11. Depends on the type of sword and the type of armor. Plate armor? Can't be done, forget about it. You need to stab the guy between the metal plates with a stiff, pointy sword.

    Armor in general isn't part of my expertise, though. Frankly, swordsmen in my stories tend to simply not wear armor.

    I dunno. Boiled or laquered leather offer decent protection, but I have a hard time seeing ordinary leather take a hit from a good sword and not get badly damaged.

    May depend on the type of sword, but I doubt it, honestly. Plate armor doesn't just protect against edges, it also distrubutes the force of an impact across its surface, the same way a good helmet will protect your head from a blow, and most swords simply weren't heavy enough to cause serious blunt damage.
     
  12. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,011
    317
    83
    It will depend a lot on the thickness of the armor: a single layer of suede, no, that won't help much. 16-ounce (1/4'' thick) full-grain? Think about "slicing" that much leather in one stroke–along the surface, not along an edge (which, having worked with the stuff, I can assure you is difficult enough even with the proper tools). Even without the leather being hardened, that isn't too likely for most swords. Not saying it's impossible, just that size matters. ;) Yes, it will almost certainly be damaged, and if not replaced will have a weak spot that will only get worse over time. As long as the damage is to the armor, not you, you're good.

    It can also depend on the technique with which the blow is delivered. A draw-cut will be stopped easily by heavy leather. A properly-delivered blow from a Japanese style combines the force of the "chopping" action with a draw across the target… it is this, as much as any property of the weapon, that makes the style effective. (Plus, it's being delivered with two hands, most likely.) Most European technique manuals I've seen don't emphasize this combination: chopping and slashing tend to get addressed separately… possibly because the manuals are written for people who expected to be facing metal, not other materials, so slashing while chopping would actually reduce the effectiveness of the blow.

    All armor does that, if it isn't penetrated immediately. How effectively it does this depends on how much force is delivered relative to a given surface area–along with a great many other factors, such as whether or not a rivet or weld gives way, whether that particular spot on the armor has an unsuspected weak point in the metal itself, or whether it has already been weakened by previous blows. Or how close to perpendicular to the surface the strike is: doesn't take much of an angle for the blade to simply slide off.

    Remember that swords have much narrower striking surfaces than clubs, so the force is concentrated over a smaller surface area. And that most single-handed mass weapons weren't all that much heavier than swords: they simply tended to have different points of balance. (People might be surprised to learn just how small most maces were.) One of the things you discover in the SCA is that the "swords" we use–rattan, c. 1 1/2'' thick–have almost exactly the same weight and balance as steel swords of the same length. And I've seen them dent armor all the time. (Which is why one of the weapons forbidden in the SCA is the staff: it would be identical to the weapon it's supposed to be "replacing.")

    I still wouldn't bet on any single blow from any given sword penetrating–or seriously damaging–plate armor: if that happened routinely, the armor wouldn't have been used. But it can happen. And even distributed force can cause damage to the wearer if it's great enough. Breaking a thigh with a one-handed sword blow is as close to "impossible" as I'd be willing to go–the thigh itself will probably prevent this, given its thickness; breaking a hand bone protected by a plate gauntlet is another story. Ribs would be possible, if less likely; forearm bones, if the blow is to either side of the arm rather than top or bottom; collar bones, the skull, or the neck if the blow is delivered directly to the spine… doable. Which means the result also depends on the size of the piece being struck: a breastplate offers considerably greater inertia, and distributes the force across a considerably wider area of the body beneath it, than a gorget or any given component of a gauntlet… you simply don't have to push those as far, or against as much of the body, to achieve a damaging result even without penetration–without denting, for that matter. And you can cause a concussion, or dislocate a joint, without damaging the armor in the least… if anything, it's more likely to happen if the armor takes no damage, because that means the force hasn't been dissipated by the steel bending inward. It has to go somewhere.…

    Keep in mind that's for one-handed swords. If it's a two-handed one, weapon weight and force behind it increase. Two-handed swords were not overwhelmingly common in the west, and had some major disadvantages to their use–such as the lack of a shield in your off-hand–but doing the kind of damage listed above with one? No problem. (One of the few situations I'm aware of where they were "common" in the West was when a line of men at the front of a pike formation would use them to chop off the heads of opposing weapons. Not sure how great the survival rate was among such troops.)

    Chopping through a piece of metal, and lopping a limb off cleanly? No. Not without magic. That one at least, you can forget about.

    No, I wouldn't choose a sword if I expected to be facing plate armor; a flanged mace would be far preferable. Someone in full plate could conceivably fight all day against swordsmen, and unless they got lucky he might get away with no worse than armor hickeys and having to replace a couple litres of fluids. But just as the armor wouldn't have been worn if it didn't work, swords wouldn't have seen continued use if they didn't work. Eventually, most fighters who wore plate and expected to face same started carrying maces, picks or flails, yes: no question, they were better. But consider how long the sword lasted up to that point, even when it was routinely faced with other forms of metal armor. And it never did vanish… and it isn't always possible, let alone convenient, to switch weapons in the middle of a battle, and it certainly isn't possible to carry one of everything so that you always have the correctly specialized weapon at hand.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  13. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    3,531
    534
    113
    It is the most common way to win for my smaller(sometimes female) chars, since Conan muscle bound sword swingers would win in a blow for blow melee. They simply dodge the heavy blade while jabbing here and there with fencing moves, each little wound contributing to blood loss, fatigue, and possibly a nerve/artery cut. Realism- a 5ft tall 85 lb female isn't going beat a 200lb six foot tall man going head to head.

    Pike weapons like a pick ax would be a can opener to armor.
    I don't believe armor was padded much, a simple thick garment (called a Gambeson) under the plates, a good strike would transfer the force from the weapon to the organ with a simple quilted cloth in between. I would think at least bruised ribs and organs would result. (Bruised ribs feel much like broken ribs, makes it hard to breathe.) but this damage is much prefered to unarmored damage, almost certain death for each blow that landed.
    Definately the head took a beating if struck, even with the helm in place.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  14. Do note that while Conan is indeed inhumanly strong, he was often also described as insanely quick, surprisingly agile and incredibly skilled. (He's consistently likened to a panther, in fact.) The best fighters are usually the most balanced ones, after all.

    I'm curious, actually: What is a "blow for blow melee" and how does being strong help you win one? Most sword styles do not actually emphesize strenght very much.
     
  15. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,011
    317
    83
    Could be, not would be. This is certainly the reason why polearms flourished. However, you also have to consider other factors, such as the difficulty of achieving the right kind of hit. A back spike could penetrate armor fairly easily if landed correctly, yes. But there's a reason it was added as an afterthought—as well as a reason spikes were rarely found as the primary striking surface: you can't assume the only people you're going to be fighting are those in full plate. In fact, where they are so found, they're generally one-handed weapons, not polearms, and even there they're rare: more commonly you'd have a hammer-like head—itself dangerous enough against heavy armor, and far more useful against someone who isn't wearing plate—with the spike on the back.

    You also have to take into account the difficulty of wielding the weapon in general, since it is by definition weighted toward the end rather than balanced… and unless you get that striking surface near to perpendicular to the target, it will glance off and you're left trying to recover a weapon of varying awkwardness (depending on precisely which design you're talking about) for a second try. (A hammer head is considerably more forgiving in terms of angles of effective impact, by comparison. Axes fall somewhere in between.) Then there are the weapon's other disadvantages to consider… such as their lack of defensive utility: if you're using a polearm, and your opponent is wielding a one-handed weapon and a shield, you have to be incredibly lucky—or else incredibly good and moderately lucky—to nail him on your first shot, because after that, he's in your face, has your weapon pinned against your body with his shield, and is chopping/smashing you to bits at his leisure. No matter what armor he's wearing.

    I recur to my previous point, which I think people don't consider quite enough: when your life is depending on something, if it doesn't work, you aren't going to use it. Considering all the disadvantages of plate armor, if were that simple to defeat, it would have gone out of use long before the introduction of firearms… not long after then (the cuirass stuck around well into the 17th century, a couple hundred years after it was confronted with bullets—and helmets have never gone out of use). The same applies to swords (I seem to recall us having a thread about swords around here somewhere… ;) ): they weren't the best weapon against heavy armor, but if they didn't work against it at all, the rich folk would have chosen something else to carry instead… whereas, generally, at most they carried something in addition. If that.

    A gambeson can do quite a bit of good… though its main purpose is to protect the wearer against his own armor. I mentioned "armor hickeys": getting your skin pinched between two sections of articulating joint protection can be most unpleasant. At least so I've observed—I always had properly-designed and properly-padded armor on, so I never experienced them myself. And properly-fitted: one of the least realistic aspects of fantasy RPGs is picking up someone else's armor and having it function as intended. Even draping armor such as chain hauberks won't work out well if the intended wearer's shoulders are much broader than yours—and won't work at all if they're much narrower. (The only reason I ever got to wear Gothic plate was because I had a friend who collected suits custom-ordered to fit… and for the first decade of our acquaintance, I was exactly the same size and build. Down to the pound.)

    The "quilted" cloth of a gambeson isn't two pieces of lightweight broadcloth with some fiber-fill in between: it was built up from multiple layers of heavy cloth (usually what we'd consider canvas—a dozen or more layers, if it was the primary armor rather than padding under some other kind), or from a smaller number of layers stuffed with some other high-density medium such as scrap cloth or horse hair. If you've ever seen rugs made from scrap cloth rolled up and sewn or tied together, that's the sort of thing you should be imagining here. Which is one of the reasons I said that leather armor could provide decent protection against slicing blows: even gambesons were reasonably capable of stopping these, considering how much cloth had to be sliced at one time. And if not stopping them completely, taking so much of the, uhm, "edge" off that the wound wouldn't be nearly as deep, and would be far less likely to be debilitating. It could also stop arrows, if not reliably. Certainly, you wouldn't choose a gambeson alone if you had any better options, but don't underestimate their potential effects.

    In the case of a torso blow, however, even a complete absence of padding wouldn't necessarily lead to bruised ribs: remember, unless you penetrate or significantly deform the armor, the net result is you're pushing a flat piece of steel against the target's entire torso—which spreads the force way out. You'd have to deliver enough force to bruise all the ribs at once, or else you aren't going to bruise any of them. Organ damage would essentially be impossible, if the armor itself isn't damaged… not unless you struck hard enough to turn the wearer into jelly inside it. Possible for some fantasy monsters, maybe; not for a human wielding a weapon. Maybe you could injure a kidney if striking from behind, though this still has the same problem of the force being distributed across the entire torso. (And if you're behind someone in plate armor and throwing body shots, you're an idiot.) I actually stopped wearing additional body armor in the SCA: my gambeson alone was sufficient protection for what I was doing—which did not, however, involve sharp objects. But since we're talking blunt trauma here anyway, that doesn't matter a whole lot.

    The head is a different story, since there are ways to damage it even without penetrating armor (i.e. concussions, breaking the neck), but again, apart from those you'd have to deform the armor to achieve meaningful results. And concussions aren't exactly something you can rely on delivering—I think I can recall seeing one in decades of SCA combat, though I know they happen from time to time. And I've never heard of anyone getting a fractured skull, though I can't swear it's never happened at some point. Whereas I have seen some pretty serious dents put into helms from time to time. The padding we wear is somewhat better than you'd expect from quilted cloth; on the other hand, it's far short of what you find in football helmets (minimum half an inch of closed-cell foam; most add open-cell on top of that to achieve a tight fit to the head). So figure an arming cap wasn't too bad at performing its intended function.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2012
  16. Stari Bogovi

    Stari Bogovi Dreamer

    10
    0
    1
    I'm going off of recollection here. I believe they found copper mace heads in Peru. Also, there were the Tlingit (Pacific Northwest) daggers that were made of copper. They would row out into the water and plunge it into the backs of swimming young moose.

    Living Landscapes

    I've also heard tell of barrels with iron nails (possibly falling off of Chinese or Japanese ships) that washed up in Alaska, and of Inuit coming across meteoric iron. Further investigation might reveal that to be myth.
     
  17. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    3,531
    534
    113
    If your behind an plated enemy, head or neck would be the best target.

    The head shots even if the helmet was undented, the brain still bounces around inside. Concussions happen more often then people realize. The saying "ring your bell", that is a concussion, a hit to the head that makes you feel different, dizzy, altered vision, staggering temporarily unable to think, are all minor concussions. Which will not lead to the death of an enemy directly.
    The easy diagnosis of a concussion would probably been the blow before the kill strike in a battle.

    In the three years I went to SCA meetings and events, I heard of at least two minor concussions by description. But I didn't frequent the battles.

    I did see an obvious concussion in Full Metal Jousting(History channel) with an illegal lance to the head.

    They only recently realized that with each concussion they tend to add up. One reason why boxers have long term problems later in life.

    The only real life experience that would be close, would be using European riot gear, a 6 ft man swinging the rubber baton as hard as he could against the clear plastic shield, did no damage to the shield and the arm that held the shield felt no pain either.
    btw it was testing out the equipment, not real violence.
     
  18. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,011
    317
    83
    Almost certainly, barring something that prevented you from getting a good shot at it… or a gap in the target's protection. Back of the knees would be second, as that's extremely difficult to armor (and impossible to cover completely with rigid armor). Depending exactly how the leg protection is designed, groin and upper thigh may or may not be vulnerable (possibly well up the buttocks, perhaps all the way to the lower spine, especially if the target was recently on horseback); depending on how the shoulder protection is designed, the underarm. (Note that here, chain has definite advantages, in that all these areas can be protected by it, at least against blades.) What you would never do is swing directly into the largest single piece of solid steel on the person's body, regardless of what you were wielding.

    Mostly true… ringing a person's bell can just mean the person's been momentarily dazed. It's not going to get diagnosed as a concussion if the measurable symptoms last only seconds, or even a minute or two. (Whereas on the other hand, if you're in hand-to-hand combat, that's all the advantage you're likely to need, whether the symptoms are because the target's concussed or not.) Even being completely knocked out doesn't necessarily mean a concussion has occurred. In fact, the most hazardous thing about isolated concussions is that the sufferer usually doesn't notice anything "different," and thus keeps right on doing whatever he was doing, unaware of being impaired, no matter how obvious it is to everybody around him.

    What's also true is that they don't happen quite as often as sports medicine has made us believe over the past couple of years. People wearing no protection get hit in the head every day and do not suffer concussions. (Well, the same person doesn't, or he would, but you know what I mean. ;) ) And I've been hit in the head thirty or forty times in a day with a helmet on, in fight practices, and never had a problem. It will still be the preferred target in almost all circumstances in real combat, for that reason among others–such as it being the one most likely to prove fatal; just saying the likelihood of a concussion occurring shouldn't be overestimated any more than underestimated.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,853
    3,518
    313
    Some interesting stuff happening here.

    It really would help me a lot to know a little about where and when and how swords might have been fitted to their wielders. Could anyone help me out?
     
  20. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    3,531
    534
    113
    Blow for blow(only in the movies, bascially) fgtr1 swings hits ftgr 2's sword or shield, then the rolls are reversed.

    Being strong(in the movies) allows one to wear the other down, or even break the others sword, destroy their shield. oh, and this is one on one fights, not armies fighting in a field.

    Ravana: They are alot more liberal in diagnosing of a concussion(mostly caused by children's sports) almost any change can be linked to it even if just a few seconds long. Reasoning, the effects were a sign of the brains affect from being hit.
    http://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/traumatic-brain-injury-concussion-overview


    While a few dings to the head won't hurt the average person, the warrior who gets moderate concussions on a regular basis will probably have long term affects. (Former boxers as an example; Ali, Foreman etc) Not sure if the football world has any good examples of someone taking a few too many hits to the head. I bet there will be studies on the long term affects of multiple/recurrent concussions in sports players very soon.

    Thanks to you, I do have alot more respect to the old time helmet then I did, at least what the SCA recreates it as. By description I was not impressed, a metal pot with a clump of horse hair to cushion it does not sound very comfortable, nor protective. I guess there is a lot of horse hair stuffed in a small pad in the helmet.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2012
Loading...

Share This Page