Topic Kamazhi's "Detailed as Hell" Armory!
Edited by Kamazhi on 6/5/13 12:17 AM (PDT)
A friend asked me to make a version of my guide I started for my GW2 guild on here, so. I am!
Two things to know about me: One, I love RP, and two, I love studying medieval combat. I do both pretty much obsessively.
Recently, I've had a lot of friends coming to me about their characters' combat styles, how to keep them practical and the sort, and I've been having a lot of fun helping them out. So much so that when one of them suggested I start throwing myself out there to offer aid to others, I figured, why not?
So! Here I am. I'm Kamazhi, and I'm here to offer advice and answer questions about the combat styles, usage, practicality, and limitations of any weapon or armor type you favor.
Obviously, the question becomes "Who the hell is this guy and why does he think he knows anything?" Well! My credentials are basically about ten years of entirely voluntary medieval arms and armor research, backed by a good deal of real-life sparring and fencing expertise [think Ren Faire stuff].
I'm categorizing answers to questions as I go, and including general information as well. I'll try to keep it well-organized, but feedback is always welcome. As far as sources go, I'm compiling all this from years of research, so I'm mostly speaking from experience or memory. That said, if disputes arise, or you wish for a source of my information, just say so, and I'll seek out evidence and offer it.
FIRST, however, a general note. An important thing to keep in mind when discussing weapons and armor of all forms is context. There are hundreds of nations in the world, each with rich, varied history and access to different resources. Warfare was not the same between any two regions, and this is something it helps to be mindful of when considering medieval weaponry and armor. It's also something that will come up frequently in this guide. Everything from geography to culture is relevant when it comes to warfare, and if I seek to make this a thorough compendium, that must be and will be addressed.
TLDR: This is forever a work in progress, and I will be updating it constantly! Please, ask anything that isn't covered so I can add it!
I: Combat Advice: Dual-wielding (Updated on Page 5!).
II: Sword Basics
IV: Axe Basics
VII: Light Armor Basics
VIII: Heavy Armor Basics
IX: Blunt Weapon Basics
X: Polearm Basics
XV: Plate Armor
XVII: Khukuri (western term: Kukri)
XVIII: Tachi, Katana, Uchigatana
Edited by Kamazhi on 9/29/12 8:06 AM (PDT)
I: GENERAL COMBAT ADVICE
This section covers some tips and tricks regarding combat that don't fall into weapons or armor specifically. Techniques and practices, advice regarding training regiments and general do's or don'ts.
Dual-wielding, while popular in fantasy, is actually a very situational, albeit useful combat form. While it has its uses, there are a lot of misconceptions about when and where it excels. A few tips:
It's rarely, if ever viable to dual-wield two full-length weapons. In the same sense that very few people are ambidextrous, very few will benefit from having two swords of equal lengths, and even with ambidexterity, it's not really worth it. Often, the weapons will actually get in each other's way, and the effort of tracking the movements of both weapons can be a distracting and dangerous effort. A common example given by dual-wielding enthusiasts is Miyamoto Musashi, a wandering duelist in ancient Japan who was famous for dual-wielding katanas. What isn't known is that even he claimed the usage of such a style was extremely situational, mostly only for buying time against multiple opponents (a situation no fighter wants to be in) and usually favored a single, two-handed grip. Furthermore, when he -did- dual wield, he did so with a katana and wakizashi, not two katanas, which is a much more prudent combination anyways.
Another problem is that with a weapon in each hand, it's hard to put a lot of force behind individual blows. This means that while with two weapons, new opportunities to strike may be opened, they cannot be exploited with the same power a double-handed grip offers. The best way to counter this is by using shorter weapons with lower bases of gravity, allowing superior leverage. For this reason, weapons like handaxes and daggers are much better for dual-wielding than full-length swords.
When dual-wielding, it's best to complement the weakness of a main weapon with a smaller, secondary one. A good example would be a sword and dagger combination. Swords are excellent slashing weapons that have a lot of trouble penetrating heavier armor with their thrusts, and can often be a bit too thin to directly block heavier attacks. Daggers, with their shorter, thicker blades, are excellent for parrying and penetrating plate. Furthermore, the different attack patterns - slashing and chopping for swords, thrusting with daggers - can keep them from getting in each other's way too much.
Dual-wielding has a lot of trouble against competent shield-wielders. The protected area provided by a shield makes attacking vulnerable body parts difficult, and shield bashes are very dangerous maneuvers that should not be taken lightly. When facing someone with a shield, nine times out of ten it's smarter to put the dagger away and two-hand your sword or keep one hand free for grappling. This allows a better defensive balance, and opens up opportunities to counter by grabbing onto the shield or blade arm after a missed swing.
Above all, the thing to remember about dual-wielding is that it's very much a duelist style. It has a lot of good qualities in a one-on-one fight, but the more people who get involved, the more vulnerable and impractical it becomes.
Edited by Kamazhi on 9/29/12 8:07 AM (PDT)
II: Sword Basics!
Swords are popular weapons in fantasy, and for good reason. They're incredibly versatile, able to be customized to an unparalleled degree to suit the wielder, and have more general combat applications than almost any other kind of weapon. Despite this, however, and contrary to popular belief, swords actually weren't that common in much of the world. The main limiting factor was expense. Swords require a lot of metal, essentially being little more than sharpened lengths of iron or steel. Some regions, like the Middle East and Europe, had plenty to spare, and bladed weapons were relatively common as a result. However, others, like Japan, had very little to work with and, often, the metal was of low quality even when found. As a result, swords were more reserved for the noble classes, such as the samurai, while standard armies (often made up of peasants) favored spears or clubs made of wood.
Swords are incredibly varied. From the rapier to the scimitar, the flamberge to the gladius, the difference between two swords can be as significant as that between a battleaxe and a warhammer. However, there are a few things that almost all swords have in common, and I'd like to cover that first before we start getting into distinctions.
Swords are made up of two parts, the hilt and the blade. Many also have a third part, a pommel, but we'll get into that later. All swords are capable of three kinds of attacks: slashing, thrusting, and chopping. Most specialize in one or two of these roles, but the flexibility to perform all of these attacks is much of what makes swords so special. Often, the shape and length of the hilt plays a role in this. Typically, a hilt's shape will mimic that of the blade; curved swords often have curved grips, and two-handed blades often have very long hilts, in order to help aid them in what they specialize at.
Another common feature of swords is that in order to be so flexible, they sacrifice some specialization. All swords are capable of penetrating light armor, such as leather, and some are capable of thrusting or even chopping through chainmail. Few swords, however, have the weight and leverage required to harm an enemy through plate armor. Typically, only the largest, heaviest blades, such as claymores, are capable of clubbing an enemy successfully through plate, but some smaller swords are capable of thrusting through it due to the thickness of the blade. Often, these swords are somewhat unwieldy, and so the role of penetrating heavy armor is usually relegated to daggers, maces, and axes.
Here's a few general sword tips before we start getting into the specifics of each type of blade.
Sharpness is rarely a factor when it comes to penetrating armor with a sword. More than anything else, thickness is what is needed to pierce heavier defenses, especially plate. The more like a spike or wedge a blade is, the better it likely fares against armor. Thin blades bend on contact; thicker blades can be pushed harder before they start to bend. This is why a katana, for all its incredible sharpness, is awful for dealing with plate, and a simple dagger is typically quite proficient. Thickness, not sharpness.
Sharpness, meanwhile, is what excels against unarmored targets, allowing deeper cuts and the potentially fatal severing of arteries and even limbs. It's important when regarding a sword’s lethality, but it does not come without a cost. For a blade to be sharp, it has to be thin, which means that the edge is more easily dulled and that the weapon is liable to break when the flat is struck strongly. Usually, the lighter and sharper the blade, the less frequently one should seek to parry and block, instead favoring evasive action. This is why sword arts such as Kenjutsu favored dodging and countering over blocking, whereas the Germanic sword schools, with their heavier, thicker blades, encouraged blocking and even bashing.
Balance is also an important factor to consider in all weapons, especially swords. I’ll be going into more details about this in the specific weapon sections, but for now, an important thing to remember is that different weapons have different priorities in balancing. Swords, for the most part, require a relatively equal and sometimes even bottom-heavy distribution of weight. Because of their length and the slashing and thrusting motions, a top-heavy blade is extremely unwieldy and impractical. As a result, a sword’s weight is usually in the hilt and pommel more than the blade itself.
II: Sword Basics (continued)
On a very fundamental level, there are two kinds of swords: curved, and straight.
Curved swords often have a single edge on the outside of the blade, which is much sharper than the back, which is often thickened and softened in order to brace against impact. Curved swords are rarely swung with both hands, though it is sometimes a prudent maneuver. Usually, however, the off-hand is armed with a shield or left bare, in order to brace the back of the sword for blocking and parrying, or to grab the opponent. Notable exceptions to this rule are the katana and tachi, which I'll go into more detail on later in the section. Often shorter than straight swords, curved blades specialize more in slashing than thrusting. Due to their point not sticking straight outward, thrusting can be a little awkward, though it's still very possible.
The reason curved swords are so good for slashing is because of how our arms are designed to move in an arc. When you slash with a straight sword, part of the blade strikes an opponent's flesh, and that's the end of it. It either winds up embedded in the armor or body of the person you hit, or the part that struck is forced to pull back as you complete the slash. With a curved sword, the curve of the blade naturally follows the arc of your arm's slash, causing the sword to dig deeper into the opponent's body while more smoothly allowing you to finish the motion.
One notable weakness of curved blades is their lack of ability to penetrate armor, due to them being so thin that they bend against plate and their light weight giving them little clubbing force. Due to their extremely sharp edges and quick martial styles, curved blades are best served using precision and speed to circumvent armor by striking at the vulnerable areas of the neck, visor, and joints, instead of trying to smash right through.
Straight swords, meanwhile, are typically longer than their curved cousins and often have two edges instead of one. Some, such as the rapier, have only a point and almost no edge at all, and are used exclusively for thrusting. Others, such as the zweihander, are built for force and reach, capable of chopping and thrusting at enemies from a great distance. Almost universally, straight swords are thicker and heavier than curved ones, meaning that they tend to be noticably slower, but also have a much better time doubling as bludgeoning weapons. This is due to the fact that straight swords were most commonly found in European warfare, where heavy armor was common among knights and mercenaries and had to frequently be dealt with. Over time, straight swords evolved and split; some into heavy, almost blunted blades to deal with armor, and others into nobleman's swords, designed for unarmored combat and duels.
Popular examples of curved swords include scimitars, katanas, and sabres, all of which I'll be providing detailed sections for as I update the guide.
Edited by Kamazhi on 9/29/12 8:09 AM (PDT)
Scimitars are curved blades that were often used by cavalrymen and sailors (though sailors sometimes favored sabres instead), but also saw their work in infantry warfare as well . They're remarkably fast, light blades with a razor-sharp edge and a good balance. As I mentioned before, their triangular shape and curved design meant that they were focused on slashing and chopping maneuvers, with a broad back capable of parrying fairly safely.
A scimitar usually ranges between three to three and a half feet long from hilt to tip, and weigh approximately two pounds, making it a relatively small sword. It's wielded in a single hand, with the free hand used to grapple foes or brace the back of the blade for blocking heavier strikes. Occasionally, larger scimitars would be used (usually about four feet long and three pounds at most) with a two-handed hilt, but this was fairly rare.
Typically, a scimitar is a precision weapon. As a fairly thin slashing blade, they can't penetrate heavier armor very well, but they are so fast that they rarely need to. Armor heavier than mail was rare in Arabic warfare due to the extreme climate, and against mail, a scimitar wielder can often attack the hands, neck, joints and underarms of an opponent with relative ease.
As with all swords, a scimitar is often custom-made for the wielder. This is worth keeping in mind if you wish to roleplay one. If you want a bit more thrusting capability, you can keep the curve relatively slight, just remember that you're sacrificing a bit of a slashing edge. You can thicken the blade so it can pierce mail more easily, but remember that this often makes the weapon heavier and therefore slightly slower. If you do so, I recommend having a weighted pommel. This keeps the weapon well-balanced, and the heavier pommel can also be used in smashing strikes that can harm even a plate helmet [though they fare worse against plate -body- armor, bear in mind.
IV: Axe Basics
Many weapons were improvised from non-combat implements, adapted to warfare by necessity or opportunity. Few, however, are as successful and recognizable as the axe. From the Aztecs to the Zulu, the Scandinavians to the Chinese, the axe has been prominently used throughout history, making it no surprise that it has become an iconic example of utility and effectiveness in ancient war. Though the sword is often praised for its unmatched versatility in battle, and the mace for its incredible power, the axe brings something else to the table: it is both a weapon and tool, uniquely suited not only to protect a wielder in combat, but to aid him in procuring shelter, building defenses, and retrieving supplies. With the proper understanding of its strengths and limitations, the axe can be an adventurer's best friend.
Axes, like most weapon types, came in many shapes and sizes, specialized to individual tasks. Some were wielded in one hand in conjunction with a shield, while others were used in both hands to allow powerful strikes capable of dealing damage even through heavy armor. Still others were designed to be wielded on horseback, or thrown, like the iconic tomahawk. Typically, an axe suited to combat weighs between 1 and 6 pounds, and is between 1 and 5 feet long.
Notice how I said “suited to combat”. That’s because while similar in shape, a battle axe is much thinner and lighter than a logging axe, making it more maneuverable in combat and quick to strike. With their crescent-like shapes and the sharp curve of the head, they were perfectly suited to hooking onto shields or weapons and disarming a foe, which would be followed by a vicious strike to the limbs.
An axeman rarely swung at the head or torso, preferring to take advantage of the weapon’s swiftness and ability to sever limbs through lighter armor by making quick chops for the arms and legs. This made fighting an axeman a much different experience than facing a swordsman, where combat was more focused on inflicting quick, potentially fatal wounds to the torso.
As I said before, axes are more than just weapons. With their wide heads and durable edges, they were a favored ally of any survivalist, capable of chopping down saplings for firewood and shelter, digging as an improvised spade, hacking through brush and other obstacles, and even in some cases skinning animals in a pinch. For all their combat effectiveness, it was often these traits that made axes the chosen weapons of raiders, explorers, and others who spent as much time traveling as fighting.
In following sections, I’ll have specific articles regarding different kinds of axes, such as ono, bearded axes, and tomahawks.
There are few weapons as iconic, yet underestimated, as the dagger. Though the term has been used to describe everything from edgeless thrusting spikes to ornamental ritual knives, a true dagger is a a short, usually double-edged blade with a sharpened point designed for broad slashes and powerful thrusts.
Daggers in many ways were the pistols of the medieval world; reliable, versatile, and easily hidden, they were the sidearm of choice for warriors and assassins all over the world. As always, context is important. In Europe, daggers were often sturdy and long, designed to quickly punch through heavier armor and kill the target beneath. In Africa, they more resembled modified utility knives, with wide, almost spade-like blades useful for sharpening and digging.
Typically, daggers were designed either to serve as a sidearm, or to be wielded in conjunction with a bare hand for grappling and wrestling. Often extremely sharp or shaped like a spike, conventional combat daggers were designed for overwhelming a target with unblockable attacks. Often, these daggers were used by themselves, or as an emergency in close quarters. For example, the Japanese tanto was a slender, sharp blade that samurai would often draw either alone or in combination with a wakizashi (short sword) when they did not have the room to work with their katana or tachi. In contrast, there was the more specialized Italian stiletto, long and rounded with a sharp point, often used to quickly dispatch heavily armored targets during duels or ambushes.
Parrying daggers, meanwhile, were often wielded alongside full-length, light blades such as rapiers. Sporting wide crossguards and sometimes even serrated designs, a parrying dagger was as much a defensive tool as an offensive one, well-suited to deflecting or catching enemy attacks, opening the enemy up to a counter, or punishing missed strikes with quick jabs to the arm or hand. Typically, these daggers were much heavier than their more offense-oriented counterparts, allowing them to more reliably guard against enemy attacks.
The important thing to consider if one seeks to use a dagger is the specific function they want. Below, I’m going to try and offer a sort of general rundown of some dagger types and where they specialize, as to better aid those who might wish to wield one.
Lighter, sharper daggers are quick due to their lack of weight and their thin design. This makes them well-suited to slashing at unarmored areas in quick swipes of the hand and forearm.
Meanwhile, thicker daggers penetrate heavier armor because with such a solid base, they’re less likely to bend on impact, allowing them to keep pushing forward to puncture through.
For general combat usage, serving as a sidearm or even main weapon, there is the parang, a malaysian blade equally balanced for slashing, parrying, and thrusting.
For something a bit more light-weight to be wielded in conjunction with a one-handed sword, the Japanese Tanto is a good pick.
There’s the yoroi doshi, which is more a thick thrusting and slashing blade, also from Japan.
And if one seeks specific use against armor, the Italian Stiletto is always a good choice.
For defense, to be used with fencing blades or just by themselves for a knife-fighting style with safety in mind, the parrying dagger is a solid fit.
First off, short disclaimer. Obviously, in a fantasy setting like WoW, there are other herbs and the sort, so a lot of these specific poisons don't apply. That said, I'm including this portion of the guide because it can be useful to have analogous examples of the effects and functions of how poisons typically work.
Poison is is a substance that disrupts the body's natural functions through absorption, usually through chemical reactions. A toxin is a poison produced within a living organism. Venom is a toxin delivered through some form of a body part, such as a bite or sting. Understanding the distinctions will make things easier going forward.
Poison has long been a method of sabotage, assassination, and warfare throughout human history. As this is a weapons and armor clinic, I'll be focusing on the applications and uses of poisons regarding such, but I fully encourage those who research toxicology more deeply to offer their insight.
Poisons come in many forms, with varying degrees of lethality. Before I get into specific techniques, here's a short list of commonly used chemicals, their source, and their effects.
Cyanide: Perhaps the most infamous and immediately recognizable poison by name, cyanide is often used in media in the form of suicide pills, but can be exploited in many other ways. Highly toxic, cyanide is an enzyme inhibitor; more specifically, it disrupts respiration and function of the heart through binding to mitochondria, resulting in death within minutes. Cyanide is most commonly employed in the form of an ingested pill, or hydrogen-cyanide gas.
Antidote: Hydroxocobalamin, a base form of B12 that reacts with cyanide and turns it into cyanocobalamin, which can be safely processed by the kidneys. Hydroxocobalamin is best given through IV.
Ricin: A highly poisonous protein from the castor oil plant Ricinus communs. Ricin can be fatal to a human in as small a dose as 2 mg through inhalation, or 20-30mg if ingested. Working through inhibition of protein synthesis, ricin acts within the span of a few hours to a day, resulting in severe diarrhea, organ damage, and fatal shock.
Antidote: So far, antidotes are still only in the experimental phases in the real world. However, vaccines do exist.
Arsenic: A naturally occuring element of many minerals, arsenic was a common poison, crushed into a powder and slipped into food or drink. Dissolving quickly into a tasteless, scentless cloud, and mimicking the symptoms of cholera, it is a frighteningly fitting choice for a difficult to trace assassination. Arsenic poison causes severe headaches, drownsiness, diarrhea, vomiting, convulsions, and death.
Antidote: Dimercaprol can be used to negate the effects of arsenic if administered quickly enough.
Now, often times these poisons would be delivered through food or drink, especially arsenic. But in keeping with the theme of the guide, there were also venoms used in direct combat. Some warriors would rub their darts with the skin of tree frogs, coating them in a toxin that could cause cardiac arrest. Others would carve grooves into their sword that they would fill with poison, stored in the hilt. As the blade was drawn, the poison would run down the groove of the blade, coating it.
This is a very basic primer on the subject, but I plan to expand it in the future, and for now, I certainly hope it's helpful on the subject of poisons!
VII: Light Armor Basics
Mobility and versatility; these are what those who favor light armor seek. More designed to help complement a combat style based on footwork and dodging than to completely guard the wearer, light armor is typically lightweight (as the name implies) and flexible, providing the wearer limited protection without limiting their range of movement and speed.
In real life, light armor was often less a matter of choice than simple logistics. Until well into the Middle Ages, even chainmail was prohibitively expensive (it did become much cheaper over time, more on that later), and so the common soldier was usually outfitted with leather or hides. One thing to be mindful of, however, is that a soldier and an adventurer have different priorities. The former is almost entirely concerned with protection, while the latter is more likely to take weight, noise, and flexibility into account. It is for this reason that lighter armors have become such a staple of the fantasy genre, where metal is rarely such a limiting resource and extended travel is often a core concept.
There are many types of lighter armors, with varying degrees of protection and flexibility. As a rule of thumb, however, almost all are crafted of animal hides and leather; sometimes simply cured, sometimes boiled into a hardened cuirass. Whatever the case, lighter armor usually ranges between 3-5 lbs for a chestpiece alone, and 7-10 for a full suit. Due to the thickness and malleability of leathers and hides, light armor provides limited protection against blunt impacts, cushioning blows and giving the wearer time to complete a parry or evasion. Against shallow slashes and cuts from blades, leather can also provide some protection, as long as they don’t bite too deep. Extremely sharp blades, such as katanas, damascus steel blades, or jian could circumvent this protection, cutting too sharply for the armor to protect.
For any leather-wearer, thrusts and chops are the greatest threat, their focused, penetrating force slowed little by lighter armor. The saving grace of lighter armor here is that such strikes are the most predictable and easy to evade, once again cementing leather’s role as an armor that complements good reflexes and footwork, not replaces them.
Later on, I’ll go into the specific kinds of lighter armors and what sets them apart.
Edited by Kamazhi on 9/29/12 8:15 AM (PDT)
VIII: Heavy Armor Basics
Interwoven links of gleaming iron, an impregnable shell of steel plates. This is the reputation of heavy armor, and though no protection is impenetrable, no armor indestructible, there is certainly much to respect and consider about these formidable defenses.
This guide will split heavy armor into two primary sections, mail and plate. Even moreso than leathers and hides, there is an immense variety of designs and specifications to be minded when regarding metal armor, from ring mail to splint, scale to gothic plate. Over time, I hope to provide a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each specific type of heavy armor, but for now, here is a general assessment of the basics.
One of the earliest forms of metal armor was scale, found in examples of Chinese literature thousands of years old and seeing frequent use from the ancient Romans. Crafted of linked scale plates, this armor, thanks to its overlapping design, provides strong protection against the blunt attacks common of the clubs and primitive maces of the time. Capable of turning aside slashes and even lighter chops, scale is actually in many ways superior to mail in protection, but comparatively heavy and stiff, weighing upwards of thirty to thirty-five pounds, making it difficult to maneuver in.
From there came mail armor. Lighter, more flexible, and designed more to counter the increasingly common usage of swords and spears seen through the world, well-made mail was almost impossible to penetrate with conventional weapons, though due to how thin it was, blunt impacts were essentially not negated in the slightest. Dedicated thrusting weapons, such as daggers or spears, could still get through with a focused and well-placed attack, but the best counter for a sword was actually to strike at a perpendicular angle, breaking the links of the armor instead of trying to penetrate their flexible weave.
Around the same time, plate armor started coming into development. Though it saw occasional use in ancient times, it wasn’t until the 13-14th century that plate really started to change the face of warfare. Initially, plate was little more than an iron or steel shell, with very little flexibility and great weight, almost seventy to eighty pounds in weight. At first, it was very effective; plate is almost entirely invulnerable to any kind of sword blow, provides decent protection against blunt trauma, and strong resistance to spear thrusts. Plate resists slashes due to the thickness of the metal armor, causing weapons to simply scrape away during an attack without inflicting harm to the wearer. Blunt impacts are similarly absorbed by the padding under the plate, but this provides only limited protection; a dedicated warhammer or mace can deal damage to a plate wearer without penetrating the armor, dealing concussive trauma to the wearer beneath, especially if one struck at the head.
War is little if not an arms race, and counters soon came in the form of powerful warhammers with plate-punching spikes, long, heavy polearms, and thicker, sturdier daggers. Realizing that not every blow could simply be absorbed, armorers started crafting plate to be lighter, providing increasingly better mobility and range of movement at the cost of more vulnerable joints and backs, which would often be protected with mail instead. This left the knight almost entirely invulnerable to anything except blunted strikes or dedicated thrusts to these mailed areas, making them hard-pressed to be defeated by swords. Later suits of plate often weighed as little as forty pounds, and a trained knight could run, jump, cartwheel, and even mount his horse when fully armored.
Eventually, the development of powerful firearms forced plate into extinction, and it died out for the most part in the early 18th century. However, mail remains in use even today, speaking volumes for its flexibility and utility.
In the next section, I’ll write more detailed explanations of each kind of metal armor, such as lamellar, splint mail, and fluted plate.
Okay, that's everything so far. I'll be adding blunt weapons, shields, archery, and 'special' weapons basics soon! In the meantime, I do want to promote any questions or discussion needed, and I'll be doing everything I can to aid anyone who's curious about weapons, armor, and combat in general.
Edited by Kamazhi on 10/1/12 9:08 PM (PDT)
IX: Blunt Weapon Basics
Armor-smashing power and unstoppable force; this is the forte of blunt weapons, one of man's first armaments. From the club to the warhammer, blunt weapons have long had an image of brutal effectiveness, but popular media portrays them as being slow, unwieldy, graceless weapons. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
Unlike axes, which doubled as tools, clubs were one of the very earliest examples of dedicated weapons used by humankind. The human body, evolved to withstand the more generalized impacts from falls and the crunching bites of predators, was wholly unprepared for the shattering force of these weapons. These early clubs, rarely more than heavy sticks, were quite effective until the invention of armor.
As scale and boiled leather became more prominent, the club lost effectiveness, but due to the availability and relative cheapness of wood, they remained the implement of the common or peasant soldier for centuries to come. Because of this, the design evolved over time, and when plate and mail armor became prevalent, swords and lighter axes were no longer effective. The invention of the morningstar, bec-de-corbin, warhammer, and others catapulted blunt weapons back into the spotlight, where they remained a strong player in armored combat until for its' duration.
So what made blunt weapons so potent? Fantasy portrays them as unstoppable, but slow and unwieldy weapons, and this simply isn't the case. As is my recurring motto: mobility is king. A slow weapon is a useless weapon, and though they were among the heaviest class of weapon types, hammers and maces were still dextrous armaments by sheer necessity. Some were even used in mounted combat, which speaks volumes of their versatility and ease of use.
I plan to have detailed articles on each main 'class' of blunt weapon in the future, but in the meantime, here's a brief primer on what I'm going to call the three main classes: maces, hammers, and flails.
Maces ranged from simple wooden clubs to elaborately crafted scepters. They were often wielded in one hand in conjunction with a shield, though some two-handed existed. Designed to be swung in simple overhead or cross arcs, a mace was capable of crushing or fracturing bone through chainmail, leather, and even lighter plate, such as on the helmet. Maces were also fearsome against shields, especially with the invention of the morningstar. The spikes protruding from the weapon's surface allowed them to dig and embed into the wood of the shield, ripping it away or simply smashing it apart. Flanges could also be used to increase the penetrative power against plate, though a two-handed swing was usually required to cause heavy damage through the thickest parts of the armor. A one-handed mace weighed between four and five pounds, and was usually about three feet in length. Two-handed maces could be up to eight pounds, and as long as four or five feet.
Hammers are an especially interesting topic because they are subjected to some of the worst miconceptions and inaccuracies in fantasy portrayals. First off, the 'maul' or 'sledge' style warhammer wasn't really prevalent at all, at least not as a weapon. Instead, most hammers looked like lengthened versions of a carpenter's tool, often with spikes on the top, back, or both. As opposed to the mace, the smaller, more dense heads on a hammer struck less of an opponent's body, but had unmatched armor penetration. A warhammer could punch a deep dent in the heaviest plate, breaking ribs, fracturing breastplates, or shattering skulls with little force required. These hammers often weighed even -less- than morningstars, with one-handed warhammers weighing under four pounds. Two-handed hammers, such as the bec-de-corbin, were often wielded like spears or poleaxes, jabbing with the spike at the head until an opening could be found, and then swinging with a massive pendulum-style strike to fell an opponent. As with other weapons, a two-handed grip on a hammer allowed for incredible dexterity and speed, making warhammers dangerous, formidable weapons.
Defensively, hammers were also very proficient, as many two-handed weapons are. By gripping the weapon just under the head in one hand, and near the base with the other, the wielder could block sword strikes with ease, parrying aside even heavy strikes and allowing a quick thrust or strike with the hammer. Between this and the raw power of their attacks, warhammers make frightening, potent weapons.
IX: Blunt Weapon Basics (continued):
Flails were exotic, but deceptively effective weapons. Wielded almost exclusively by knights in heavy plate on the open battlefield, the flail was a specialized tool, but a strong one. Weighing about six pounds, most of it in the chain and head attached, a flail was held in both hands and wound for quick, unpredictable strikes. As difficult to learn as they were to combat, a flail rewarded practice with power completely unmatched by almost any other weapon in the world; there are multiple examples of flails being used to kill charging horses, striking them down even through their armor in a single blow. Even in infantry combat, if the knight was properly capable of evading attacks long enough, he could fell a foe in one strike, smashing through any shield or armor with little effort.
Simpler, one-handed flails existed as well, modified agricultural tools used for threshing. These were wielded by peasants, far lighter and much less devastating, though they could still punish even mail-wearing soldiers.
Blunt weapons perhaps lack the sheer speed of blades or the utility of axes, but they performed a job, and they performed it well. In a setting where armor is prevalent, they served a special and lethal purpose. Those who underestimated them as graceless, slow weapons often found themselves felled with a broken ribcage or cracked skull.
Haha, thank you for the kind words, guys!
I'm finishing up all the 'basics' sections for now. I'd love to hear any requests on specific weapons or armor types for me to tackle!
Anything you wanna know, just ask, and I'll happily cover it.
Sure things! I'll give polearms priority. I'll knock them out next! As I said before, I'm doing 'basics' sections first, so it'll be pretty general, but then I'll have detailed articles on poleaxes, polehammers, etc once the basics are knocked out.