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Non-standard weapons

Discussion in 'Research' started by skip.knox, Dec 29, 2015.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Folks here have posted much information on swords and bows. No fantasy writer has an excuse for getting the details wrong!

    Lately, though, I've been thinking about other folk in my fantasy world. Would they all choose swords as their primary melee weapon? And bows for their ranged weapon?

    At first I'd say yes, since that's what cultures all around the world have chosen, with spears and slings also popular. In the interest of adding variety, though, what about other tools?

    Take the war hammer, for example. Sure, have dwarves use that; it's a stereotype but we can finesse it later. My question to The Group is whether we have any hard information on how such a weapon gets used in real combat. I know ... hit 'em with the heavy end. But are there resources about rarer or exotic weapons? Are there details that might let me pair Weird Weapon A with my ogres (for example) or mermen (I can't imagine a trident is actually very useful underwater)?

    This isn't really a specific question, just something for Year's End to throw out for brainstorming.
     
  2. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I'd say that the primary melee weapon was actually the spear, with a sword or dagger as a sidearm. Other popular primary weapons were axes, clubs, maces, and yes, hammers.

    That aside, the usage of a weapon is very different depending on situation. In tight formations, usage of any sort of weapon is basically either stab or smash with the pointy or heavy bit, respectively. Sometimes, they were even the same bit, such as with a crow's beak. In spread out formations, you would use footwork and sort of fence with your weapon against your enemy, only with intent to kill or maim. On horseback, you'd use your momentum to increase the smashing or cutting power of your weapon and keep going.

    As for merfolk and tridents, I can see where the association came from. After all, tridents originally started out as fishing spears. It's kind of an easy assumption that a population of undersea people would also use it for fishing and then would adapt it, like most actual weapons, for war.
     
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  3. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

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    Several points here, so bear with me:
    1. The spear or other pole arm was by far the most popular weapon pre-firearm. It was easy to make, cheap, and most importantly easy to use, especially in a formation. Other weapons were secondary, even by the aristocracy that could afford swords and other weapons. Swords have been described as pistols of their day, a backup for the lance or spear, which was the main weapon. The Romans were the exception to this, but that's another story.

    2. War hammers were small, not the giant sledges seen in most fantasy. They look like a scaled up version of a typical claw hammer found in every hardware store. With weapons, lighter is almost always better. A war hammer weighs little more than a sword(2-3 lbs for a one handed type) but the weight is concentrated at one end for more impact. As someone who works out with a 15 lb sledge regularly, a sledge hammer sized weapon is too slow to swing in combat and will exhaust the user in a matter of a few swings. For a personal anecdote, after one minute of hammer work, I am sweaty and my arms are burning from fatigue, not the best condition for combat.

    3. Weapons are for a purpose. Some weapons are designed specifically for piercing plate armor, such as the crow's beak or Poleax (or really anything with a spike on it). If a world does not have plate armor, then there is no reason to have these types of weapons. Who would have invented it? It's like having a world without firearms but someone invented a bullet proof vest.

    4. In war, formation was key. Surprisingly, while in formation, the participants were reasonably safe. When one side broke and ran, that's when the killing started. Look at the results of most historical battles and the casualties will be lopsided. One side broke and ran and were slaughtered for it. Forget what you see in movies, anyone out of formation will be very dead, very quickly. There was no dancing around, bobbing and weaving or anything like that. Two sides would close in and push, hack, and stab each other until an opening was made, and the enemy formation crumbled. Fighters rushed into the gap and the slaughter commenced. The show Vikings on the History Channel actually shows this pretty well, most of the time at least.
     
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  4. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Troubadour

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    Could you please explain this? I'm curious.
     
  5. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

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    Most armies pre gunpowder used spears or other pole arm as the main weapon for the reasons listed in my first post. The main Roman weapon was the gladius, a short thrusting sword. They didn't really use spears, except by some auxiliaries. They did have the pilum, a javelin for throwing, but much of the killing was done with the sword.
    The main Roman fighting method would be to block the enemy blow with the large shield (called a scutum) then step forward and drive the short gladius either under the rib cage or downward just behind the collarbone or into the neck. Its somewhat similar to a counter puncher in boxing, letting the opponent make a move, then countering as they are focused on the attack.

    I've heard that the Romans developed this method because most Romans were short (Julius Caesar was tall for a Roman at a massive 5' 6") compared to their Celtic and Germanic enemies. They would almost always at a reach disadvantage, so they used a short Spanish sword as their main weapon, using their enemies height against them, getting in close where they can't be struck. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does seem reasonable.
     
  6. How was such a weapon used??

    Tbh a lot of weapons are used a lot differently in real life - everyone knows that swords cut and thrust, but you rarely see half-swording and the like, not much in the way of "choking-upp" the blade. I think I've maybe read one fantasy book where the pommel and hilt have been utilised to their full potential.

    warhammers are awesome. You can bend plate with it, puncture it like its a tin opener, if you've got a spike on the top, you can thrust with it- hells, you can do that anyway. Nock someones teeth out pretty easily. You can pull shields down with it, stick it between someone's legs and they're over, hook weapons, limbs with it. A lot more versatile than smash, next enemy, smash (though it does do that quite well).

    swords would not be the most common weapon, even in quasi-industrialised worlds like mine - most go for axes/ hammers/maces as a back up to poleweapons. Seriously, poleweapons RULE. If they carry swords its usually short bladed, heavy bladed, with a thin tip for thrusting. And as for bows, well. . . I love bows, being English and a history student and all, but I'd say slings are a better bet. Massively used for thousands of years - from early civillisation to the fall of the Ancient world (where they sort of petered out a bit). Look up Balearic slingers for how dangerous they were. Its the story of david and goliath, but if you know your stuff, you know David is holding ALL of the cards there. Slings are lethal, even to people in plate, especially if you use cast lead "bullets"

    Anyway, thats my rambling opinions :)
     
  7. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I was thinking about the whole merfolk and tridents issues. This time, about economy. A weapon made for war needs to be relatively inexpensive to make, easy to maintain, and practical to carry. This is why spears were so common. It's just a stick with a pointy tip of some harder material, which might be even be rock if you're hard-pressed for materials, and it's dead useful as a stabbing implement. They are light (well, most of them) which makes carrying them easier, and you can even put them over your shoulder and even hang stuff from the end of it during march. The long sword, on the flip side, was very rare until the High Middle Ages, when metallurgical advances made even behemoths such as the claymore cheap enough to make that it could be cost-effective. Therefore, in earlier societies, only short swords (or big knives, if you'd prefer to think of them that way) were common weapons, and long swords were mostly a status thing.

    So, merfolk and tridents. First of all, merfolk cannot use forges as we know them. Therefore, merfolk with any sort of production of iron, bronze, or brass weapons (or other implements) needs to be explained (most likely with magic), or at least acknowledged as something extraordinary. Also iron rusts really easily, so it would have to treated somehow if you have that. Barring some sort of supernatural explanation (yes, I realise I'm talking about flipping fish-people here), they would most likely use stone and bone for tools.

    But another way merfolk could get metal implements would be through trade. They might trade with surface peoples. And the most common kind of surface people they would come into contact with would be fishermen - who would carry fishing spears with them. Like tridents.
     
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  8. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    The Mer-folk issue crossed my mind as well. I came up with the Central American Empires [Aztec etc]. As TheKillerBs has said there would probably relatively little metal but lots of stone, bone and wood. And obsidian. Obsidian is very sharp but very brittle. I could almost see someone having to replace the "edge" of a weapon like you need to reload a gun.
    The viscosity of the water makes me think that stabbing rather than slashing weapons. Spears over clubs, daggers before swords.
    And I can't help feeling that the tactics would be more Ambush and Hit and Run...
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Thanks, all. Follow-up questions.

    1. WRT real weapons, I ask again if anyone knows of resources on the actual handling of such weapons. Historical works would be best, but also welcome would be modern recreationist information or videos. I am familiar with historical weapons and understand how they were used, but afaik, only swords ever received any detailed treatment. I also understand that the manuals that start appearing in the 15thc were as much theoretical as they were practical. But it'd be cool if there was a manual on, say, how to use warhammers.

    2. WRT merfolk, I love the point about bones. I can easily postulate bone tridents or spears or whatever, and can invent special beasties to provide the bone, if necessary. A lack of metallurgy can be a defining factor for this folk, and there could well be some cultural superstitions regarding its use by surface dwellers.

    I'm really trying to come up with some race-specific wrinkles on weapons and tactics that aren't merely stereotypes. TheKillerBs gave me a key for merfolk. I'd like to have my elves *not* be "the guys who use arrows" and my dwarves *not* be "the guys who use hammers". Or my orcs be "the guys who use the same weapons as humans only uglier". The questions I'm asking are to lay groundwork for that project of imaginative research.

    I have to say, one of the most fun parts of writing fantasy is this business of doing research into real things but never taking them as-is. Imaginative research, indeed.
     
  10. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Haven't been there in a long time but the Fantasy Forum has whole fora related to weapons - fantasy and historical both.

    The Fantasy Forum

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Yeah, been there. It slowly faded and hasn't shown many signs of life for some years. I have looked around at those forums but without finding what I was aiming for. It was more along the lines of wasn't that weapon in Book X or Movie Y super-awesome?

    But thanks for the reference. Just went back. Still pretty quiet over there. Overwhelmed, I think, by the mighty juggernaut that is Mythic Scribes!
     
  12. vaiyt

    vaiyt Scribe

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    Height disadvantage or not, the Roman style seemed to be a specific counter to spear-heavy formations, especially if tightly packed together.
     
  13. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I would disagree that the manuals that appear in the late medieval period were at all theatrical.

    I think Fiore de Liberi's manuals cover some spear and a little bit of warhammer but not much. But the principles of using such weapons as expresses in the more well known masters and the later works of George Silver remain the same. Time, place and distance don't vary from fight to fight.

    There are lots of videos on AEMMA's youtube channel on spear and sword, I don't think there are any on warhammer. To be blunt warhammer is a pretty crude and limited weapon and its technique fairly straightforward.
     
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  14. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I see what you did there. I approve.

    I have to disagree about warhammer being a crude or limited weapon, however. To begin with, especially if we're talking about medieval warhammer, the hammer end was only one part of the weapon. There was usually a beak on the other end and sometimes a spike at the top. So basically, you have three basic moves with it - you can smash with the hammer or beak, you can stab with the spike, and you can hook with it. Matt Eason of scholagladiatoria goes a bit more in-depth on the usage of medieval smashing weapons on his video on warhammers and maces on YouTube.
     
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Thanks, all. I'm mainly looking at ways to make weapons peculiar to various peoples--elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls. But along with the specialty weapons I was thinking about specialty tactics. Hence the original post. You've provided me with some good resources for that.
     
  16. AkamaruGames

    AkamaruGames Sage

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    Well, you could influence the various races with cultural flair that one doesn't normally associate with those races. Obviously standard fantasy assumes european (and since most of the writers are european it is the most familiar to work with). But lets take those races you mentioned for example: Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Trolls.

    Elves would probably work really well with a Japanese or Chinese sort of influence. If going Japanese, you have the standard fare of samurai and ninjas to work with. Katanas, shuriken, and yes bows (though Japanese bow style is very different from European, and if you go that route, some research into Kyudo would be a good idea). If you go more Chinese, they have all those fun martial arts weapons that you see in kung fu movies. Nunchaku, sai, kama, bo staff, or any number of flexible wushu swords, spears etc (albeit most of those bendy swords were not intended for lethal combat, some elven magical enhancements could easily make them more useful). They also had the first access to gunpowder and explosives, so guns might possibly be a thing.

    Dwarves are known for mining and stonework so rather than make them Scottish, how about African? Diamond mining is pretty big there. The Egyptians were pretty handy at stonework. Egyptians are well known for using kopeshes. Hammers or chisels might make good impromptu weapons. They used bows and throwing sticks for ranged weapons. If you head further down the continent, there are many tribes that use blowguns for hunting.

    I kind of picture Orcs like the Mongolians. Give them some baddass horseback archery skills and watch them go! They could shoot at a full gallop, while hanging off the edge of their horse (to use it's body as a shield) or even while facing backwards on their horse. For melee they used sabers which were light and provided an advantage on mounted combat. They also had a sort of hooked lance thing they used to pull other riders off their horses. They also used a triple bow siege crossbow for sieges. Basically a giant crossbow that fired 3 huge (and often incendiary) arrows.

    Last are the trolls, which generally I don't particularly imagine using weapons at all. But for sake of cool factor, what if they used Aztec weapons? The Aztecs were known cannibals (albeit it was more of a ritual thing than a true diet), so that plays into the whole trolls eating people thing. Though they used bows and throwing spears for ranged combat, they also used something called an atlatl for hunting. It was basically a stick with a catch on the end that they would put a dart on and swing it. The main purpose of which was to extend the length of your arm which would of course increase speed and momentum when throwing the dart. For melee they used a club with sharp bits of obsidian on it called a maquahuitl. Supposedly it was sharp enough to decapitate a horse in a single blow. Despite the deadliness of their weaponry, the Aztecs mostly sought to capture their enemies alive so they could be sacrificed to their gods (which is one of the reasons they lost to the Spaniards who thought nothing about slaughtering as many people as possible).
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2016
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  17. trentonian7

    trentonian7 Troubadour

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    Consider the Roman Cestus, leather gloves often fitted with a metal spike and metal plates to protect the hand. Very much a close quarters weapon and comparable to the Indian Pata, a sword attatched to a metal gauntlet, typically dual wielded. A more distinctive sword could be the Greek Kopis or Falcata sword. Pick like weapons, i.e. wooden handles with a spike are also a good weapon, especially against armor.
     
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  18. vaiyt

    vaiyt Scribe

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    Spears and spear-like weapons also happen to have a few specific advantages beyond being cheap.
    1. They have great reach. More reach is always a good thing, because it allows you to kill the other guy without chance of retaliation, and if Rincewind taught me anything, it's that the best way to survive in the battlefield is to not let other warriors get their killy things anywhere near you. =P
    2. Their power compounds in groups. Big swords had similar reach and were more versatile, probably a better weapon one-on-one, but (according to a few texts I've read) ended up being less effective when tightly packed. A group of spear-carriers can use a lot more interesting tactics than a group of sword-users compared to a single one - and many of the things the sword-users can do, the spear guys can do as well with the benefit of more reach (see advantage 1).

    I hope I haven't said anything the military history buffs around here will strangle me for D:
     
  19. AndrewLowe

    AndrewLowe Troubadour

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    Aside from those listed above, I can only think of some early Asiatic and American weapons open up a wide set of more reality-based possibilities not generally considered in more Euro-centric fiction. I'm probably operating off a great many stereotypes here, but this is what I can come up with off the top of my head:

    Hatchets
    Hand Cannons
    Throwing Weapons (stars, knives, etc)
    Winged Spears (essentially swords on sticks)
    A mildly awkward looking custom 'A&A Langue de Bouef.' Look it up, it's quite hard to explain.
    Jian and Bian (Asiatic "Swordbreaker" Maces)
    Blowgun
    Monk Spade
    Seax (Actually a European weapon--I've personally used similar concepts in my writing due to the reality of this weapon. People can't afford swords...)
    Ice Pick (This is a huge stretch, I know)
    Ranseur
    Shillelagh
    Tomahawk (Many traditional tomahawks doubled as pipes)
    Javelin
    Atlatl

    I personally try to avoid swords in fantasy due to the impracticality of producing them for a fighting force. Consider a battalion of swordsmen fighting against a battalion of spearsmen. Swords are simply flashier and hold a semblance of 'skill.' Would you rather arm a modern soldier with a pistol instead of an M-16?
     
  20. AndrewLowe

    AndrewLowe Troubadour

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    I just saw that someone else posted the atlatl above XD
    Sorry about that
     
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