Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hack and Slash- Swords Part 1

Swords.
Long, short, straight, curved, named, unnamed, broken, reforged, lost, found, magical and beautiful. Swords are everywhere in Fantasonia.

There are other weapons out there that I could write about but swords are the most commonly written about and the most often mishandled by writers.

So, buckle on your helmet lurk behind your shield and brace, we're going to go mental with some pointy metal. Or you can go and repaint that wall that's been bugging you.

What is a sword and what do you do with one?

The dictionary defines a sword as:
"A weapon with a long, sharp blade, often used in the past".

Swords are the weapon of choice for warriors, henchmen, elves, orcs, goblins and champions of the tax office. They are carried with distinction and pride by anyone lucky enough to own several kilograms of forged metal. You can't move through Fantasonia without falling over some tit waving a sword around, which would be fine apart from all the sharp and pointy metal around.

In our world, swords were (and still are) half status symbol and half purpose made weapon.
In the past, to own a sword was the equivalent of a Ferrari with machine guns, an ejector seat and an automated speed-camera destroyer.
They were expensive and beautiful. Each was the outcome of hundreds of hours of work by a skilled craftsman who, contrary to most fantasy had probably trained his entire life to turn lumps of iron and steel into weapons.

Now that we have established what a Sword is we can move onto the meat of this treatise.

Most Overused And Misunderstood Weapon In The History Of Anything:

  • The Katana
What is a Katana?
To be technical about it, the Katana is a single edged, cutting blade. Designed with cavalry action in mind and endowed with a slightly curved blade to facilitate maximum damage in sweeping cuts from horseback.
To give it it's street name the Katana is also known as a Samurai Sword.

Now don't get me wrong, I actually have a lot of admiration for this family of swords (there are several varieties from a number of periods). As with all weapons, it takes a lot of skill to wield a Katana with accuracy and excellence.
Also, when used for what it was made for a Katana is an excellent tool and very capable of dealing a lot of damage.

Right,  so what you're saying is that they are good. Right?
Yes. Yes I am. 
However, it annoys the crap out of me to read about Katanas being used out of their original context. They evolved in a very specific culture, with very specific requirements and very frightening men using them. 

Goramog laughed and turned in a slow circle with his arms spread wide.
"Is there no-one here who will challenge me?" A purse, heavy with gold, hung from his belt and Goramog had put it all up as his stake in the tournament. 

A long moment stretched out and Goramog felt his grin widen. He eyed the prize purse hanging from Earl Faritha's booth.

"No-one at all?" He turned again, his boots stirring the fine dust of the tourneyground and making some of the shorter slopmongers sneeze. "Well, I'll just take the full prize then." He smirked at the peasantry and strode toward the Earl's booth. 

"I'fdss yuo!" The badly slurred challenge rang above the muted mutterings and occasional flatulence of the crowd.

Goramog turned, a witty reply ready and eager to fly from his mouth. He saw who his challenger was and put the reply away for future use on someone who would understand it. 
Before him stood a huge, scarred barbarian. The hilt of a massive sword rose a long way over his shoulders, a clay jug of the local cider dangled from one hand. The man seemed to be swaying with the breeze. 

"You?" Goramog stared at the bigger man. "You're drunk!" 

The barbarian seemed to think about this for a moment. "Prbobly." He nodded amiably. "Bt, wre skint." 

A shorter man in a tall and pointed hat pushed his way past the towering inebriate and glared at Goramog. 

"This will be a fair contest! It will! By Dora's Knockers it will be or I'll visit such horror on you that you'll wish your father'd had a tug on the night you were conceived!" 

Goramog winced and stared at the Wizard, an eldritch glow was starting to appear around the older man's head and Goramog didn't want to push his luck too far. 

"Very well, in two days!" He addressed the gathered simpletons, hoping to gain a bigger audience. There was a pause as the idiot populace worked out when the titanic struggle would take place before becoming excited about it. 
Gooramosh spoke over the growing noise.

"I feel your champion needs a demonstration of my skill, raggedy Wizard." 

Goramog reached out and snatched the purple silk scarf that was hanging from the front of the Barbarian's belt and threw it into the air. 

In the blink of an eye he had snatched his slightly curved sword from its scabbard and, in a demonstration of dazzling excellence sliced the floating silk in half.
 
The blade whispered through the cloth as it fluttered on the breeze. Goramog used the momentum of the first cut and span, slicing the floating pieces once more. He dropped into a crouch and sliced once of the strips again before rising and quartering another section in a flurry of motion. 
To finish he impaled a tiny fragment of cloth and sank to his knees, the cloth pinned to the earth before him.

"...Two, three...wait for applause..." He muttered to himself as he knelt. Goramog waited for the applause. The he waited a little longer. Nothing happened beyond a lot of quiet muttering and some giggles.
Raising his head Goramog saw that the cretins gathered round were staring at his opponent. 
"What the..." He rose and turned. The words he was gathering died on his tongue.

Mogmush the Mighty stood and swayed with the breeze. Before him, Gudguff the Wizard was intently studying the carvings on his staff. Goramog gawped.
What he had mistakenly believed to be a scarf, perhaps a token from an absent love interest, had in fact been the barbarian's sole piece of clothing that wasn't a weapon belt. Goramog felt the blood rising in his cheeks as the mostly naked man realised he was exposed and took the opportunity to urinate.

But I've seen that in films! Samurai swords can do that!
Well, I hate to piss on your cornflakes but most of them couldn't. Silk is a lot tougher than writers and film makers seem to think for starters. 
The cutting edge of a sword would have to be monumentally sharp in order to slice through silk that was hanging in mid air. 
A blade that was that sharp would be as fragile as an glass hammer. It would probably cut flesh very well but once it hit bone or armour then there would be a very high chance that the blade would nick, fracture or break.
So unless your enemy is a giant amorphous blob of flesh with no bones you probably don't want t have a blade that is too sharp.

Also, just to really upset you now. Films are not real. The swords used in films are lighter than "Live" blades, Aluminium, tin and ever foil wrapped wood have been used as props to allow the actors using them to perform combat scenes with dazzling speed. 

So the films lied to me?
They lied to all of us.

But Samurai swords look so cool! And they cut things so well!
Well, yes they do look very pretty. There is a very simple elegance to their form. 
Cutting is the only thing a sword is good for though, not a robust one anyway.

In a melee/scrum/Christmas sale you don't have the room to perform the sweeping and elegant moves that a Katana would need to be effective. Instead what you might want to do is bash people. A heavy pommel is very useful in this instance. There are also other parts of Western Swords that are useful, like the quillons (read cross guard). These pointy bits of metal are good for more than just protecting your digits, they can be used to seriously prod someone in the face or squidgy bits. 

But...but...My character has been using one...
That's fine, so long as you can explain why it is so effective. 
If it can cut through carbon steel plate armour then you need to explain why this is possible because the real article can't! 
The following is a check list of things that will let you get away with this sort of stuff without having to change your plot (or your character) too much.
  • Is it a Magic/k blade?
  • Is the armour broken/shit?
  • Is the critical blow struck in a place which has no plate steel?
  • Is the weapon made of a strange rare/unique metal that gives it great density, little weight and uber sharpness?
  • Could the target be under a spell of corrosion?
  • Is it a blow against something unholy?
  • Does it need to be an overkill type hit, or would it be more interesting if it was more uncertain?

I didn't think of it like that...
I'll bet you didn't, you little scallywag. 
In short, a Katana shouldn't be terrible shorthand for "Amazing-cuts-through-everything-sword". If used properly and with thought to its limitations then it could be a great weapon for a character to have. If not...well...

Goramog danced toward Mogmush, his light blade twirling in effortless patterns.
Around them were seated hundreds and hundreds of slopmongers. They watched in rapt stupidity as the duel played out.

Somewhat unsportingly the barbarian had turned up wearing full plate armour. Goramog was not bothered by this as his blade, "Deathkiss" would happily chew through leather, copper and even bronze armour.
Mogmush stayed where he was and moved his enormous sword, "Cabbage", in lazy figures of eight around his body.

Gormaog snarled and glided forwards. He flowed around "Cabbage", getting inside Mogmushs's reach. A flurry of blow landed on the thick, black armour and Goramog moved away just as quickly.
Something was wrong.

Instead of lying on the ground and bleeding, Mogmush was moving forward with intent. He bellowed something through his visor and swung his blade toward Goramog. 

Goramog raised his own blade in reaction and started to move backwards. Too late. He realised as the longer blade crashed into "Deathkiss". 

Goramog watched as the world seemed to slow down. Fragments of his beautiful sword span away past his head. Several impacted into his face.
Suddenly the Barbarian's bellow became clear.

"It's called Steel, arsewit!"

Steel. Must be magical metal to resist Deathkiss. The world became slower still and Goramog became aware of each hair on his face moving in the wind of the approaching blade. His eyes twitched toward the sky. He saw the clouds begin to move at a normal pace for a brief moment.

And then he saw nothing.