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True Sword Fighting

Discussion in 'Research' started by Ankari, Sep 12, 2013.

  1. Sam Evren

    Sam Evren Troubadour

    While visiting the Polish salt mine, Wieliczka, something did strike me about melee combat in dungeons/mines.

    Swinging swords would not work. Maybe a Roman gladius could get in some good piercing stabs, but to actually swing any sword in a slashing arc... there just wasn't room.

    Daggers and short stabbing swords were about all I could imagine being functional in those narrow corridors.

    Once you opened out into a major chamber, standard weapons could come into play. But those corridors are tight. Add multiple combatants and you'd have the setting for a slapstick routine more than a battle.

    Interesting fact about Wieliczka: They have an underground chapel/cathedral made entirely out of salt! From chandeliers to polished flagstone floors, every statue, every stair, everything is made of salt!
  2. Malik

    Malik Auror


    If only we could use gifs for our avatars . . .
  3. Guy

    Guy Inkling

    Dude, that is priceless! Where'd you find it?
  4. Malik

    Malik Auror

    An old friend sent it to me. He said he saw it and thought of me immediately. Asked me how the book was going.
  5. Fights in full plate armor with swords (even with zweihanders) could last pretty long because plate armor is very resistant to cuts and even thrusts. Even if you're a professional fighter, you cannot always decide where you'll hit your opponent. If your angle is even slightly wrong, you won't hurt him substantially. You might daze him and finish with a follow-up, but if he's experienced, he might turn the fight into a grappling contest while you're close.

    The only weapons that can end a fight between opponents in full plate are hammers such as the bec-de-corbin, the mace etc. Because one hit on the helmet can give the opponent a concussion (or knock him out) and several hits on the chest can bend the armor out of shape and crack ribs. A pole-axe or pole-hammer is even better. Swords aren't very useful against a heavily armored opponent. They're viable and they're very interesting weapons (lots of options). But if I had to face down a heavily armored warrior, I'd go for a mace with a dagger for back-up. Maybe even a misericorde - which isn't even a weapon but which is perhaps the most effective dagger to kill knights.
  6. Dragev

    Dragev Scribe

    From what I heard, that's why many combatants switched from swords to these kinds of weapons in the late middle ages - early renaissance; I also heard that early rapier-like swords (spada de lato) were designed to pierce through heavy plate; not sure if that's correct, though.
  7. Guy

    Guy Inkling

    That particular weapon is called a tuck or estoc.
  8. Malik

    Malik Auror

    I have an article coming out on this site in January about greatswords and warswords that will go into greater detail on this, with images. Salient points follow, however.

    A greatsword absolutely was effective against plate armor. It wouldn't have seen 200 years of concurrent use with plate armor otherwise.

    The pick end of a hammer is still the best way to kill a guy in full harness, but the honkin', two-handed, 5-lb. Oakeshott Type XX greatswords were developed and fielded in response to full plate. A properly-constructed greatsword with authentic edge geometry will trash plate armor pretty quickly. It will also crack bones, knock a guy out, or even send him into shock after a clean hit. After a few good hits, the recipient will be alive, but combat ineffective. He'd be dragged off the field by his seconds and, I imagine, would go lie down for a few days.

    The anti-armor weapons of the 15th and 16th Century -- greatswords, warswords, axes, polearms -- had a unique bevel, sort of like a chisel or a splitting maul, on a steel edge. That bevel and hardened edge would bite into iron plate and transfer the force of the blow, denting or splitting the armor instead of skipping off. The physics are equivalent to destroying a can of soup using a wide chisel. It takes some doing, but it's achievable. Also, ick.

    The reason you don't see this replicated in modern destructive testing ("sword vs mail" ad nauseam on YouTube) is that most modern reproduction swords have secondary bevels like a kitchen knife. This makes them super sharp, which is what most people who buy swords want in a sword.

    Most people are under the impression that plate armor was steel. Most of it was iron. (Some suits that have survived in castles and museums are steel, but most belonged to royalty and were super-expensive, the equivalent in their day of owning a Gulfstream jet. This is why they were babied for hundreds of years and survive today.) This has led to a load of misconceptions about the effectiveness of swords against armor.

    If you hit a steel plate that incorporates a compound curve, the way plate armor did (the primary function of armor was not to stop a blow, but to redirect it), with a steel sword that has a Ginsu-type edge, then the sword won't bite and the blow will glance harmlessly. This is what we see time and again in swords vs. armor testing, and why so many people think that knights in armor were invulnerable.

    Your primary focus fighting in plate armor would be to avoid letting someone with a greatsword (or other anti-armor weapon, really) get a clean hit -- interposing your shield, your sword, or even someone else, wrapping the greatswordsman up in a clinch, anything to keep him from getting a good windup and a clean arc. If a guy with a greatsword or big warsword gets several feet of moment arm on that sucker and connects with it, it probably won't kill you but you will wish it had for a couple of days.

    Of course realism makes fight scenes way less cool, and none of this will affect most heroes' magic swords, which are essentially lightsabers anyway, and most fantasy worlds that use swords seem to have an abundance of steel for no adequately explored reason, and readers don't seem to care about any of this, so really you can all take this or leave it. :cool:
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2013
  9. Shadowfirelance

    Shadowfirelance Scribe

    That was quite interesting, thank you for sharing that!

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