Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I'm writing this from my phone and I suck at texting, so this will be short.

Strange as it may seem, I have trouble writing medieval weapons combat - I'm fine with guns, but I haven't had that much experience swinging things. I rely on others for insight.

I have a sequence in a story where a 17-year-old is teaching a woman of 21 how to use weapons. He's proficient, she isn't. I see the conflict being his from within, knowing he has to physically hurt her to teach her. She accepts that, but still every time she is hurt, he reacts by resisting the lessons he has to teach. She then gives him hell, because she wants to learn.

Any insight on this process would be appreciated.


Oddbit said...

If anyone knows an SCA fighter it might help to bring them in.
When I talk to a friend of mine they go on about how it's not so bad early in learning because you are armored up on your vulnerable parts and the expert aims there to teach you.

Then when you get good at blocking your head and knees, they have to aim for more vulnerable spots, that's when it's dangerous cause there's less padding and you don't know how to defend there yet.

Anyhow let me see if I can send someone your way.

Maximillian Boii said...

1) being proficient at doing something is different from bring proficient at teaching something, particularly if proficiency was gained from doing instead of training. So, ask yourself how he learned.
2) all the training in physical acts has been training by repetition, with 100 monotonous solo or staged exercises for every chance for an instructor or student to hurt you. This may be a case where realism doesn't jive with drama.
3) my fencing training is no help here, but when I learned kung fu, you spent about 2 years learning to not be afraid of getting hurt before you could really learn anything about combat. Again, ignore the timeframe, the important part is to realize that the getting hurt is not a side-effect of the training, it is the training. Ignore every scene in every movie where hurting someone was used to squash their cockyness.

I hope that helps. Also typing this from my phone, so ask if anything was less than clear.

Daniel Osterman said...

First off, what is the relationship between the two characters? Do they have access to practice blades, or are they using live steel to train? Lastly, what kind of weapons are they using? Training techniques vary considerably based upon what weapons they are using and the devices they have at their disposal.

If using broadswords/rapiers/smallswords, the male would probably be spending his time teaching guard positions and strikes (large cuts for the broadsword, thrusts with the smallsword, and both with the rapier). If using training weapons, the woman is probably going to be covered in bruises from missed blocks. Broadswords are going to numb her hand, and she will probably drop the sword after every successful block from the sheer force of the impact.

If using any of these weapons, though, they'd probably only be able to train for 30 minutes at a time, initially - the woman would not have sufficient musculature in her hands and legs to sustain much more than that. They could have multiple practice sessions each day, but each one would be in the 30-60 minute ballpark (max 30 minutes of swordfighting, with stretching and instructional breaks interspersed).

I think you are absolutely right that the guy will be torn between effective instruction and not unnecessarily damaging his pupil. However, if Are the two of them in a rush to teach/learn? If so, the woman's experience for training will be exactly what you've said and frustration with how long it is taking her to grasp the material (proper sword technique can take a long time to learn, especially if there is no prior martial training upon which the new techniques can rest).

Hopefully some of that was helpful.

By The Sword said...

I have had a bit of training with medieval weapons. One thing that comes immediately to mind is that we moved slowly in most training schenarios. During sparring with metal swords we restricted our attacks to the armored and protected parts of the body.

I don't know how much insight a 17-year old would have with regards to fighting techniques, but my i structirs always told me to pay attention to what my opponents were doing, how they attacked, how they responded to attacks. These were pure exercises however and are not anything like a real fight. Often in a real situation your opponent isn't going to take his time and "feel you out". They are just going to attack, with the intent to cause as much damage in as short a time as possible.

Good luck.

Oh! Real medieval weapons are well-balanced and not as heavy as the D&D books say they are... But they get heavier the longer you hold or use them.

Ozymandias said...

My apologies in advance if this isn't really answer.

I knew a guy in high school who taught himself to fight by watching movies and sparring with friends. It's cliche, but he learned and became skilled enough to fight formally trained martial artists. When I hung out with him, we'd spar and he held back because he didn't want to hurt me (since I spent less time training compared to him). I took full advantage and whupped him a couple times. He stopped holding back. I got hurt.

I learned that fear holds us back. Fear of hurting ourselves or others. I also learned to guard myself (though sometimes I had to learn more than once).

So I don't know if this helps; thought it might be relevant...

Barrow said...

Unrelated comment:

I have often wondered how to apply taxes in a historical/fantasy setting (my campaign being based in 8th century Europe). I will have to do some research for my specific location and time. However, I was wondering if you, as a historian and DM, could share how you have used taxes in your campaign.

I have been skirting around the whole issue since my players don't own any land yet. That may change soon. I have been operating under the assumption that a lord will take a quarter of all income from his vassals (in silver or service) and the lord's liege will take from him, all the way up to King. However this is probably totally wrong.

Its a very interesting social structure that I don't want to overlook. For example:

What is taxed and at what rate? I guess more importantly, how easy was it to commit tax evasion pre-IRS? There is the hated tax collector. He/she probably has plenty of resources and powers from the local noble. Since there really aren't any standing armies, where does all the tax money go to. Maybe there was a whole lot less tax than I am envisioning.

What about lending rates for that mater. One of my players is indebted to a traveling merchant. I always feel inadequate when historical social structures come up in campaign. I suppose more research is necessary.

Preston Selby said...

It sounds like there is a solid personal relationship between the two characters, and the action in the inter-personal arena is bound to outweigh the choreography of a fight.

I've done SCA and things like that. But I would say that in a story, the choreography of a fight is not nearly as important as the tone. Speaking in generalities such as "relentlessly pressed the attack, "was overwhelmed" "focused on blocking and parrying" will be more effective than describing every little trick or movement in painful, awkward detail a'la RA Salvatore and his awful Forgotten Realms books.

I've written a little bit of melee-combat violence. I have found it effective to use the choreography of a fight only as sort of voyeuristic window into the lurid pornography of a character's fear, aggression, or desperation.

Do what Alexis does; forget notions of heroic invincibility and remind the reader of the pain, hardship, sweat, hope and fear.

Fingers and hands are frequent victims of inexperienced melee-practice. gear is heavy. muscles get sore. bone-bruises hang on for several weeks. Time is lost in training.

If you feel you must choreograph, remember that real melee-fights tend to go very fast: A matter of a few moments before one person or the other or both are injured or incapacitated.
True, battles last hours or days, but a man to man fight will tend to be brief and shouldn't take too much effort to plot out.

If you want some good input on technical specifics of melee combat and weaponry, I'd suggest watching Matt Easton's youtube videos- I think his channel is called scholagladiatoria.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Try as I might, I don't have that much information for you on the subject of taxes, tariffs, duties, fees and so on. For the most part, in my game, I employ a very simple system of tolls for my players. I will charge a gold piece per person for any feature that is unusual, such as a bridge across a large river, a high pass, a ferry or entry into a large trading city. Where something smaller is encountered, a random fee or toll, I will charge a silver piece per person. This is more annoying than it is effective in reducing a player's wealth.

For one player's land, I insist that 20% of the income from that land be moved on to the higher lord, he above the player. For a church, that church must also give 20% up the line. This has not come up much in my world, however, as players tend to move on rather than settling. Therefore, I have never really needed to worry about it.

You should realize that usurers and money lenders typically charged rates much like credit cards in today's world - or even more, like cash places do, where 10-18% will be charged per week. Loan sharks used to be legitimate.

I should create an all-encompassing system, especially after all this time. Not that the players will want it. It hasn't been a priority, however, what with all the other things I would rather be doing.

Barrow said...

I appreciate reading how you handle taxes in your running. One of my players is always looking to build enterprise. So the group is just as likely to battle a guild leader as a bandit. I don't want to take wealth from the players, rather, I want to keep the world as real as I can for them. I am interested to see if the Lord's taxman will be the party's friend or foe.

On a side note, due to my party's enterprising tendencies I was very interested in your "how to build a trade port" posts.

Wandrille Duchemin said...

A lot of good things have already been said.
I do armored medieval fencing and usually, when we have new-comers, the first step is not to teach them how to parry or defend, but rather how to give a proper blow, from top to bottom, aimed at the (helmeted) head of its teacher.
After some trial and errors, the student will land a correct blow, and will usually feel that he has struck correctly (that is, he has succeeded in putting his weigth in the blow). All the work will then to find that sensation again until he can repeat it at will.
Then only the instructor will begin to parry any of its blow that is judged too predictable, weak or unbalanced and counter-attack (or give a quick attack before the student if he was too predictable) in order to 1) force the student to attack correctly 2) teach the student what a hit feels like.
After that, the student is taught basic counter-attacks, in much the same way as he was teached attack.
Finally, small fights can help the student practice and see what a technique gives at full speed and outside the boundary of the exercice.

Concerning your exemple, the student can be able to feel that her teacher let her give blow that aren't good (as I said, a good blow is a pretty unmistakable sensation) instead of parrying/attacking her. Her adversary would perhaps prefer evading her blows without counter attacking, or just touching her gently with his weapon when he does so.
A more advanced student suspecting this could purposefully fail to parry an obvious blow just to see if the attack was serious or not. Worst case scenario, the attack was not even aimed at the student and will just slice the air while no defense was attempted.

I hope you find some of your answers. The specifics can vary a lot depending on where they are, what they are wearing (no armor, padded armor, full plate?), what they are fighting with (one handed sword? buckler? two handed sword?) and what the woman already knows (total beginner, already a few lessons?).