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Opinion about swords?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by ChasingSuns, Mar 20, 2015.

  1. Noldona

    Noldona Scribe

    I think the problem is most "fantasy" writers stick with the classic European style fantasy and ignore any of the other cultures that existed during that time period. Swords are a popular image from the Middle Ages. However, even among England, you can see a wide variety of weapons in use. The fabled longbow, staves, spears, polearms, knives, etc were common among the infantry as most of them were the working class who used bows to hunt and staff type implements on a daily basis to survive.

    If you look at other cultures and time periods, you can get a lot more interesting weapons. Asian cultures have great examples of using farming implements as weapons. The sais come from a farming tool used for planting rice patties. The kama was used for reaping grains. These implements-turned-weapons were used because the farmers had to turn into fighters to defend their homes.

    Another side of weapons people forget about its culture doesn't just inform weaponry. Weaponry also informs culture. The taiko drums popular from the Japanese culture originally came from Korea. The Koreans developed these drums as a way of teaching how to fight with tahn bong (short sticks). This came about due to the Japanese outlawing martial arts in Korea while they occupied it to prevent an uprising.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  2. Elrik Blackhaven

    Elrik Blackhaven Minstrel

    I have fought with a variety of weapons and there are certainly pros and cons to each as well as the fact that some weapons definitely require more skill and precision than others. Since this thread seems to have focused on swords and axes, I'll stick to those. Of the two, axes are the harder weapon to use, especially hand axes. Axes in general have a smaller cutting surface than a sword so strikes need to be more precise. Large axes are a slow, strength weapon. Hand axes are a fast, dexterity weapon. Two handed swords (Great Swords) sacrifice speed for extended reach, greater cutting surface and brute power. Bastard swords (hand and a half swords) are my favorite and weapon of choice. They can be very quick, good reach and cutting surface, decent power, they can be used either two or one handed, and they can be used to thrust if the opportunity presents itself. Hand axes are fast and can be thrown in dire circumstances. Great axes are comparable to great swords. Slow but very powerful. Plus with a great sword or great axe, you have the intimidation factor. The biggest drawback to a great weapon or spear is that if your opponent can come up on you and get you in close quarters, you had better have a back up weapon that you can get to or be able to gain some distance.
    Also, swords are the fantasy "go to" weapon because nearly every reader can identify with them and how they work. They don't require much set up or explanation.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
  3. Noldona

    Noldona Scribe

    Having sparred with several types of weapons as well, I can confirm the truth of this. Even in unarmed combat, you need a certain distance to kick and punch effectively. Plus human nature tends to dictate a certain amount of personal space everyone expects to have and are uncomfortable with people within that range. Personally, I like to use that to my advantage and prefer dual-wielding short weapons. My current favorite is the sais, but knives and short sticks work as well. With those weapons you have to get in close and be fast to be effective. But once you are inside the opponents range, you can do crazy massive damage before most people can react.

    For practical purposes, a ranger type character would probably be more comfortable with a hatchet/knife combo and a bow over the classic sword. Rangers are woodlands type characters who spend their life on the move. Hatchets and knives are useful for all sorts of purposes like dressing game and preparing firewood. The bow, obviously, would be used for hunting the game. As these would be tools they use daily, they would be most experienced with them. And dual-wielding would just make sense in fights because you can use the off-hand to block while attacking with the primary weapon.
    Elrik Blackhaven likes this.
  4. Elrik Blackhaven

    Elrik Blackhaven Minstrel

    In general, I agree with this. (My second favorite fighting style is Florentine-Duel weapon). However, don't forget that many fighting styles use a shield offensively as well. The Vikings were masters at it. Shield spikes and edged rims weren't uncommon.
  5. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    You'd like Greg Keyes's Thorn and Bone books. The forester Aspar fights axe and dirk, and it makes perfect sense.

    Dual-wielding just fits for rangers (scouts, commandos, etc), anyone mixing stealth with combat--at least for someone who's put in what's essentially twice as much practice to control both weapons. Shields are just too bulky for serious sneaking and the larger swords and bows aren't much better. But with a pair of short weapons a character can sneak in on a small group of enemies, tear them up left and right, and vanish into the woods to pick out his next target. A risky way to fight, but with just a bit of magic or cinematic physics a Drizzt-type could make that work for him.
    Noldona likes this.
  6. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    I like that you brought up Drizzt, because the race of the character in question was based off of the concept of the Drow :D
  7. Noldona

    Noldona Scribe

    Thanks for the suggestion. I added it to my Amazon wish list for later. Need to finish my current series (Sword of Truth) first before moving on to something else.
  8. Antaus

    Antaus Minstrel

    One thing to take into consideration is the world setting itself. Is metal common everywhere, or is it restricted to a certain region/culture. If metal is widespread then swords would be more commonly seen, however even a basic sword would be too costly for a common peasant, which is why, in real life, they often defended their homes with pitchforks. Basically using farming tools as crude weapons. However as you mentioned two character come from a prestigious sword school, then it probably wouldn't be out of line for them to have sword.

    If metal isn't readily available then not only would a sword be really expensive, even most common foot soldiers would use weapons that require very little metal, like bows, slings, daggers, and the like. I find that a lot of the time before going into things like resources and availability, it can help to do some world development. The reason, for me at least, is because sometimes something as simple as geography might make metal hard to come by, or some other world feature might have an effect on this.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
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  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    A major factor is whether your character actually has experience fighting to the death. I have a few characters who learned to fight as part of a nonlethal sport, or who picked up martial arts for reasons of discipline and physical fitness, and some of their styles are a bit less . . . practical than my soldiers and mercenaries. (This means they're probably not going to beat a real fighter in fair combat, but most of my characters aren't combat monsters anyway.)
  10. Panda

    Panda Troubadour

    This also affects the type of sword being used. Katanas are single-edged and fairly short (compared to European longswords) because iron in Japan is scarce and low-quality.
  11. Whole fantasy series have gone by wherein most (non-Dwarf) characters use only swords (LOTR). The elves, humans, and Hobbits all use swords. However, the world of swords is so incredibly varied,
    The ancient version of the Scottish Claymore (huge two-handed great sword, more an unsharp steel club) to the more modern Renaissance version of the Scottish Claymore (much smaller and lighter one-handed straight sword with basket-hilt. German Denges to Italian Spadones, bastard swords (that can be used one-handed or two so with or w/o a shield, sabers, foils, epees, poniards, German flambergs, Gurkhas, Japanese katanas, viking scrasax, Celtic leaf-blades...

    Axes in as many varieties. Their two main advantages are that all axes are essentially a hook, allowing some very cool combat moves and tricks (like hooking an enemy's shield) and that the business end is so much heaver than the holding end, for power strikes.

  12. Scott

    Scott Acolyte

  13. Russ

    Russ Istar

    While I don't mean to pick on Gryphos, this whole idea of using many different kinds of swords in the same world for variety's sake grates on me.

    Swords are a product of their culture and their application. They are tools. They evolve and are made in a context.

    If people are wearing a lot of armour, you make bigger ones. If they are not you make smaller ones.

    Rapiers have almost never been used on the battlefield and have always been a civilian weapon for duelling etc.

    So the swords, need to be "informed" (that is the term we like in WMA) by the culture that produces them.

    I remember having a student when I was teaching writing that had a goal of using almost every sword in history in her fantasy novel for variety (and I think trying to show off). It was a bad idea and we talked her out of it.

    So, my advise is to arm your characters based on their culture, not just for variety.

    In history there never was a rapier/spada duel. If I saw one in a fantasy novel without a amazing explanation, that sucker is getting thrown across the room.
  14. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    Swords are the 'generic heroes weapon' throughout fantasy literature, and so I feel like giving characters weapons that are unique to them and portray them as individuals with different skills and talents, is far more interesting.

    Think of the Lord of the Rings; Legolas has his bow, Gimli has his axe, Aragorn has his sword- the trio are much more dynamic, because not only are they all different races but they have different weapons- can you imagine the difference is Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn all wielded swords? Or if they all wielded axes?

    I think, make things diverse, mix things up and make characters unique by giving them unique items and weapons- sure, if multiple characters have the same weapon, no big deal, that works just fine- and you shouldn't just give characters different weapons for the hell of it- they should match their 'skill' and their personality, what sort of a person they are and what weapon they prefer/have access to.
  15. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Excellent point, by and large. (I'm reminded of this whenever I remember Skalagrim's point that nobody called a sword a "shortsword" in its own time.)

    Most of the weapon-comparing efforts we see come from hindsight looking across history and cultures. It's easy to list them all together (especially in games) and emphasize a too-wide range of choices.

    Still, part of the fun of fantasy is finding characters from different cultures and pitting them against each other, or just neighbors with--though this shouldn't go too far--different fighting needs who had reasons for one weapon or another. A true rapier/spada clash seems like a stretch to me too, but I'd love to see it if it paid some respect to how those weapons got on the same field.
  16. shwabadi

    shwabadi Minstrel

    I think that might be a little unfair. Sure, in real life swords evolve from their cultures, but in a fantasy environment it's perfectly acceptable to think that a range of swords could be known about and produced in a single country or region, I think. It might not be wholly realistic, but it makes for nice reading than "He took his sword out and swing for the enemy but he blocked it with his sword. The swords clattered together."

    Also in reply to the original question; I think it's safe to say that the spear was the most common infantry weapon in medieval times. Whilst most soldiers carried both a polearm and a sword/shield onto the front line, the latter was rarely used to great effect outside of a one-on-one or two-on-one situation, when the enemy's or your own army's numbers are beginning to dwindle.
    In terms of civilians, I'm not expert but I should think that daggers would be a good choice, considering that they're easy to carry, conceal, and considerably cheaper than a full sword. Specimens like the rondel dagger are often brought up when referring to peasants and non-military civilians arming themselves.
    Hope I didn't ramble, this should make sense, maybe
  17. Lvl20wizard

    Lvl20wizard Sage

    From what I've learned about swords, they were, in western medieval times, the ultimate weapon of luxury.

    Basically, a sword allows you to kill an enemy in all kinds of creative manners. An axe can hack and swing (and pull), a spear can thrust and smack with the shaft. A sword can thrust, hack, cudgel (if you slam someone with the pommel), and stab like a dagger or short spear if you hold a hand on the blade (useful for finding holes in a heavily plated armor).

    Also, as has been pointed out, they were a great deal more expensive since you had a whole slab of sharpened steel, instead of just a sharp point at the end of a stick. They were marks of station and status as well as weapons.

    When discussing fantasy, I personally don't mind that a lot of characters uses swords (it's my favorite weapon of choice too), but it's nice to see that the author remembers to give consideration to the "poorer" weapons and their role. But how about other expensive weaponry?

    Take the flail. I'd love to see a swinging flail. I don't think I've seen anyone mention it, but I'll just tag it as my other favorite weapon! It's downright mean against shields, cause if you hit with the chain the ball can just continue on to score a headshot.

    Before this turns to an advert for flails, I'll just back up the previous comment about weapons fitting cultures. Weapons are often created to counter specific tactiques. Fx. crossbows to pierce armor. Longspears to handle cavalry. Greatswords to lop off spearheads. Flails to handle shields!
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  18. Russ

    Russ Istar

    To me, that would be close to the definition of poor world building.
    Fantasy is not an excuse to throw reason aside. A fantasy world needs to be internally consistant to work well.
  19. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    I think the lesson here is that it is world-building; it's sloppy writing to have weapons turn up without a background that makes sense for them. But with that background, letting different weapons (and cultures) clash is a thing worth working toward.

    Not that it's necessary. Seizing on a story's most visible differences (in weapons or anything) is only an easy way to find writing material, and too many writers think it's the only way-- and those are the lazy ones who then let those obvious factors Just Happen in the story without giving them the weight that normally makes them work. It's a sloppy way to hand out sword types, or "prince" heroes, with prophecies, or any trope you could use as just a gimmick.

    Rapier/spada without background is lazy.

    Rapier/spada with background is impressive.

    Rapier/rapier and bringing to life the "smaller" differences in how they're used would be insightful too.
  20. Elrik Blackhaven

    Elrik Blackhaven Minstrel

    It is possible to have a variety of different swords in a world and even within a relatively small geographical area.

    For example, in a world I created, I have a large, port city which is also the capital of the kingdom. It is surrounded by peasant farmland. To the West, the land rises into low mountains, populated by barbaric clans. To the North, the land turns into deep canyons and natural limestone caves. A main trade route runs through this area and it is a favorite place for bandits.

    So, within the city we have the Royal Guard. The have the latest and best swords available. Well balanced long swords are preferred.

    Next is the City Guard. Their swords are at least a step down from the Royal Guard. Broad swords are common.

    Next is the city garrison/army detachment/militia. Their swords are mass produced, low quality broadswords mostly.

    The upper class citizens arm themselves with rapiers, the middle class/merchant class use sabers.

    The dock workers and sailors prefer the cutlass and falchion types.

    The few swords hidden away by the peasants would be old, far out dated types from when “great granddad fought in the war.”

    The barbaric clans in the low mountains to the West prefer bastard swords and great swords.

    The bandits in the canyons to the North use whatever they can get their hands on.

    There is a mercenary company operating out of the city as well. Like the bandits, they use a varied mix of swords, but of better quality. Often times, improved weapons will be negotiated as partial payment of services rendered.

    Finally, there is a devoted, religious sect with the city as well. They use flanberge swords and kris knives.

    In addition to these, merchant sailors will sometimes bring weapons from far off lands to sell in the market place.

    All these sword varieties exist with a roughly 50 sq mi radius. However, there is a reason for each type to be used. They don’t exist just for the sake of variety.

    I would also note that there is a wide variety of other weapons as well. I only focused on the swords for this discussion.

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