Saturday, October 29, 2011

Arms and Armor: Swords and Swordplay - Part 3

Swords and Swordplay Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Militia and Military Training

Training is the key element here, but that doesn't mean that only the upper classes would have wielded a sword. Anyone with military (or militia) training may have received at least some level and quality of sword instruction. This means that many commoners knew how to use a sword, and while not every peasant--or even most of them--would have been a swordmaster, militia training has been a common practice in many places throughout history.

However, swords are often expensive equipment. While that will depend on the resources your culture has, as well as what types of swords they use, the cost can be prohibitive to commoners. Swords were also often passed down through families, so if your character has a family history of military service, they could certainly own a sword (or swords). Consider the history of your world. Because military service often means training with and possession of a sword, cultures with more ex-soldiers (often a result of lots of fighting) may have more swords floating around. Of course, you culture may also reclaim any sword belong to a soldier who leaves the ranks, so that they can equip new recruits (and possibly save resources).

Once you've established how common swords are in your background, training becomes the biggest issues. Historically speaking, there were plenty of people who wanted other people dead. Or at least, wanted what the other people had, and since those "other people" weren't willing to just give it up... Yeah. Commoners fought with what they had--be that a sword or some other weapon--and they spent at least some of their time learning how to fight with what they had. That isn't to say they were necessarily up to the task of putting down better trained, better equipped marauders, but I doubt they were all that surprised when the marauders showed up.

Imagine living in the middle of nowhere in an era where you couldn't call emergency services, or even the neighboring village. Even if you sent the message that you were being attacked by pigeon (as opposed to horse- or foot-bound messenger) or smoke signal or magic, you've got a bit of a wait before anyone can travel the distance to come and help you. No ability to defend yourself means possible death, injury, kidnapping, or loss of anything you may own. Do you really think people would live like that without developing some defense? Would you? Or would you instead make sure that the people in your village could put up at least some sort of defense? And this is equally true in rural villages or bustling urban centers. Both present their own sets of dangers and the types of weapons and techniques would have varied, but if you're likely to be attacked you learn to defend yourself out of sheer survival instinct.

Some swords, notably the rapier, were specifically designed for urban civilian self-defense and were not meant for use on the battlefield. The difference is one of armored and unarmored opponents. Since people didn't generally walk around cities in full armor for the sheer fun of it, civilians weren't likely to need a broadsword to defend themselves. Rapiers are thrusting weapons, and thrusting weapons require less strength, and rely on speed and precise aim, while cuts rely more on strength and momentum. Deep puncture wounds caused by thrusting weapons are also more difficult to treat, medically speaking, and if you don't need to get through the armor first, a rapier can do a lot of damage.

What this also means is that, in addition to militia training, there were places where civilians could go to be trained in the use of such weapons. Having a rapier you can't use strapped to your hip is much more dangerous to you than to anyone else. The advent of the rapier for civilian self-defense mostly affected urban areas, where it's generally easier to find weapons and training, but obviously that will be influenced by your own worldbuilding.

Next post, we'll talk about cutting vs thrusting, and a bit about mounted combat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Arms and Armor: Swords and Swordplay - Part 2

Swords and Swordplay Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Evolution of the Sword

Swords (and many other weapons) are thought to have come from the adaptation of farming implements. Farmers didn't just wake up one day and decide they needed a weapon. They developed sickles because they helped with the harvest and developed weapons such as swords because they helped with not-dying. Farming is at the heart of many organized "civilizations," the core of what allowed them to become organized, and swords--while later refined to their own particular purposes--may be another outgrowth of that way of life. Hunting, of course, has produced its own set of weapons (knife, bow, spear, etc.). And, indeed, it may be that the sword grew from the concept of the knife (what's better than a knife? A longer knife!), which was then refined.

While training is key in the use of the sword, and such training mitigates issues of "weightiness" and awkwardness, remember that not all swords are equal. While learning to use one will improve your chances of being able to use another, techniques differ as widely as the design and make of the blade. Not knowing the best techniques to use with the sword you've just picked up is a problem. It will limit the effectiveness of the soldier who picks up a sword style or design with which they are unfamiliar. It may not limited them much--depending on the degree of difference, the training of the soldier, and their skill versus their opponent's skill--but swords like the two-handed great sword required extra training to wield effectively.

Someone who was, for instance, trained only in the use of a thrusting sword meant for civilian self-defense may not be well-versed in the techniques and movements of a sword meant primarily for cutting. While, historically speaking, swords were more often designed to do both to some degree, a rigid training program which teaches only one method of swordplay is bound to engrain that one method to the exclusion of many others. This can be a disadvantage for obvious reasons. If the people a soldier has always fought are ill-equipped brigands, then that person may absolutely rock at that, and not be at all prepared for combat with a fully armored knight.

Methods and styles of combat evolve in response to outside stimuli. Fighting unarmored opponents teaches you to fight unarmored opponents. Fighting both armored and unarmored opponents with a range of styles and weapons teaches you versatility. However, methods of combat are also cultural, meaning that if a culture has fought a wide variety of opponents, your character (even if they have never left their own small town) is more likely to be trained in more generalized weapons. Swords, generally, qualify as generalized weapons. Hence their prevalence. It is the flexibility of the sword which makes it so useful.

I'd like to interject some worldbuilding notes here, because... Well, I'm always thinking about worldbuilding, especially with NaNo just around the corner! I think understanding the different types of combat (armored vs unarmored), and the different types of swords (cutting vs thrusting vs multi-tasker) could be used to good effect in many stories. It's a way to create conflict without reducing the capability of your character, or to create a character that is somewhat capable, but still has things to learn.

If your character is somewhat trained in the use of the sword, no one has to wonder how they became so good at it so damn quickly when they need to be trained. Perhaps they only received limited training, or their teacher only taught them the techniques necessary to deal with unarmored opponents, or they're more used to dealing with unarmored (or lightly armored) bandits than they are armored knights. Perhaps their culture has been pitted against the same enemies--or types of enemies--for so long that their style of swordplay has become "how to fight X" instead of "how to fight."

Considering the evolution of the sword in your own world leads you to a lot of possibilities. Who has it? Why did they develop it? What did they develop it to do? Who have they used it against?

The next post in this series will talk about militia and military training.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

All Claws: Stories of the Urban Werewolf is out today!

*wipes sweat from brow* I worked like a dog (hee!) to get this finished before Halloween and I'm thrilled to see it out there! I'm also working on a collection of ghost stories that I'd like to get out soon, too. We'll see how it goes, but in the meanwhile...

All Claws: Stories of the Urban Werewolf - A collection of three stories featuring urban werewolves: Best Friends (Flash), in which Matthew's best friend Jake has outstayed his welcome, at least Riley the Golden Retriever thinks so; Innocent Until Proven (Flash) in which, sick of jury duty, Amanda thinks she's looking forward to closing arguments, on a full moon; and Skinless (9,000 words) in which Albert's night out on the hunt turns into a scramble for his life which could leave him... Er, as the title implies.

$.99 and available at Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Arms and Armor: Swords and Swordplay - Part 1

Swords and Swordplay Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Disclaimer: Swords are a sticky subject among writers and readers alike and there's a lot of debate on the subject. I don't claim to be an expert on... Well, anything really, and this is just what my own research has turned up. There are a lot of debates and questions out there. My advice to writers is to use this information as a starting point. Use your own best judgment, do your own research, and find the best sources you can. Then write it the way you want to.

Also, this series is split up into 6 parts, because it's quite long.


There's a lot of information and misinformation about swords and largely this comes from the fact that people's lives don't depend on them anymore. While they were the main weapon of the soldier for centuries, we are looking backward into history and extrapolating, sometimes from historical accounts or training manuals. These sources are not always accurate, especially historical accounts which could well be embellished or biased, and are sometimes contradictory.

Swords come from cultures all over the world and their social and cultural connotations differ depending on the area, the culture and the period. That's a topic for specific research, and here I'm just covering some of the basics, so I'm going to--mostly--steer clear of the cultural ideals and ramifications of the sword. Those are the things that are mostly likely to change in a written world context anyway. Your culture's views on the sword may not be the same as those from history, but even if they come out in the same way it should be through the building of your own culture that you reach those views and conclusions. So, I'm going to (try) to stick to the physical realities of the historical sword and its use.

Training is Key

Swords, while unquestionably deadly, are not elegant weapons in the hands of the untrained. That's an important distinction. Swords are versatile weapons in the hands of someone who knows how to wield them, but are difficult to wield effectively for those who have not had training. And if your army is made up largely of conscripted untrained peasants, other weapons are going to be more useful and less awkward for them. However, this is not as clear cut as it may appear.

Swords are hard on the untrained because there are so many techniques and body motions involved in their proper use. You can't just walk in swinging a sword like a club and expect you'll absolutely make it out again, especially if your opponent is trained. It isn't about the weight of a sword because most swords are much lighter than many people think. Generally, about 2.5-3.5 lbs. is the average weight of a sword meant for fighting, but there are many examples that weigh less than 3. (Parade swords and replicas often weighed more, but even ceremonial swords rarely weighed over 10 lbs. and these weren't meant to be used as weapons.)

Balance also plays a key role in swordplay, but it's not just the balance of the wielder. Two-handed swords have a long hilt (around 9 inches) in order to balance the weight of the blade. The dimensions of the crossguard are also meant to bring the weapon into balance, distributing the weight so that it's comfortable to use even at the higher weights. Poor balancing of the aspects of the sword can make it feel heavier and this is a problem with many modern-made swords, even replicas.

There's also a misconception that a soldier will grab the heaviest sword they can lift. The problem here is that too heavy a sword means it can't be moved with as much force and too light a sword can sometimes cause the wielder to feel the air resistance against the blade. So, a soldier wants a sword that they can wield with maximum force without feeling resistance, not the sword that is the biggest and heaviest. A sword that's so heavy as to be unmanageable will get the soldier's butt kicked, even if they think it makes them look big and bad.

In the next post, we'll look at the evolution of the sword, training and general styles of combat.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The State of My Drafts

Worldbuilding is lovely! I think I've worked past my snag (character related, but a little plotting has--I think--seen me through) and now if only the rest of my life would fall in line so easily!

NaNo is going to be a challenge this year, what with moving back to New Orleans within the first weeks, and possible editing on Getting Ahead as well. I can't spend as much time on worldbuilding as I'd like to because of packing, sorting, allergies (my cat cuddled my face and my eye swelled shut. I've had cats all my life and never been allergic.), and the fact that I'm putting out two short story collections for Halloween! Hee! I'm really excited about both projects, I love ghost stories and werewolf stories, and I have some previously pubbed, and unpubbed stories lying around. And when better to put them out, right? But, it means that I'm a bit pressed for time to ... well, breathe, for instance. Oh well, I work well under pressure!

Plus another short story of mine has sat up and demanded to be noticed. It's been languishing on my hard drive, needing only the ending scene to finish the first draft and now the MC has decided to complain. I think it's worse when the people *inside* your head won't shut up. *nods*

How's the writing going for y'all?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Freshwater

Freshwater is drinkable water, which makes it valuable to cultures as well as plants and creatures. Even in non-desert conditions, drinkable water is often a protected resource. Secure locations, fortresses, etc. which have there own water source are more resistant to siege and less vulnerable to poisoning. A natural source of freshwater can also be healthier, when you don't have sanitation plants. However, historically speaking, freshwater was not always treated as a valuable resource. Often, rivers were used as dumping ground for all kinds of horrible things and could as often be a source of disease, especially in urban areas.

Even the oceans require freshwater if they're to sustain life. Without the influx of freshwater, the water of the ocean would evaporate, leaving its saline content behind and increasing the saline concentration to levels in which fish and many other sea creatures could not survive. Animals often migrate, following the water supply, and humans have often followed those animals. In addition, humans tend to congregate around water, just as other animals do. Sometimes it's the saltwater of the ocean, but equally they choose to live on the banks of lakes and rivers. There are several advantages to this setup. Not only does it provide a supply of freshwater, but there is a supply of all the creatures which live in that water, all the creatures which visit that water, and a ready means of transportation and trade.

Rain itself is a source of freshwater, replenishing lakes and ponds and rivers. However it can also be collected by humans, and if the supply is steady enough a culture can support itself by precipitation. However, rain is somewhat unpredictable. There are dry years, and a culture's demand often outstrips their supply. Lakes and ponds are, essentially, natural storage containers for freshwater and more reliable than precipitation alone.

Your cultures' views on their water sources can play a large part in worldbuilding, but first let's consider the sources of freshwater: ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands, springs--hot or not--snowmelt and rain.

Ponds and Lakes

Ponds can be small or large, however they tend to dry up for at least some of the year. The amount of different species found within a pond or lake is often dependent on how much contact it's had with other bodies of water. Some lakes (such as Lake Victoria) have changed size and shape and throughout the centuries have connected, disconnected, and reconnected with other lakes or bodies of water, making them diverse in the species they contain. Others have had little connection to other bodies of water and so contain a limited number of species, some of which may be highly adapted to that particular environment. Isolation creates specialization, while inter-body contact creates diversity.


Rivers most often originate in mountains, either from a spring or where rain and snowmelt run down and gather, growing as small streams collect into larger ones, which collect to form rivers. Most rivers end when they hit another body of water, be that a lake or the ocean or another river. Some rivers originate from lakes. Some rivers carve paths for themselves, while others veer around obstructions creating winding waterways and switchbacks. This is often a product of a lack of momentum. Rivers become slower moving toward their middles, or when they encounter certain conditions, making them less able to press through obstacles and more likely to simply go around.

A river's velocity is affected by three factors: river gradient, channel roughness and channel shape. Gradient is obvious, the steeper the slope of a river, the faster it will go. Channel roughness refers to the river's bed. A rough bed--say one strewn with boulders or littered with large amounts organic matter--generates more friction and slows the river down. Channel shape is along the same lines. Basically, it means that the more water that is in contact with its bed, the more friction there is, the slower the river. So, all other factors being equal, a wider, shallower river will move more slowly than a deep, narrow one.

Cultural and Worldbuilding Implications

Animals need drinkable water as much as people do, and so they tend to congregate around it, or to migrate from one source to another. This affects the circumstances of your culture in many ways, from which animals they have to eat seasonally to which animals they have to defend against. If there are a lot of different types of fish and mussels and such, they may not eat many land animals, or may eat them only at certain times of the year. Because of the troubles of transporting food over long distances, what's available fresh will be more common than what is not. And less expensive in general, although there are probably rare or expensive local foods as well, of course.

Water is also a big factor when it comes to trade. It's easier to move products, especially heavy products, over water. (Although it can be just as dangerous.) Boats can transport larger loads, more quickly, with need of fewer animals that need to be fed and cared for. Transporting people is easier by boat, and depending on the engineering skills of your particular people, canals and dams can create easily traveled waterways.

Waterways can also serve as protection. It's harder for sappers to get at the walls of your city if you've got water on some or all of its sides. It's hard to get soldiers to it as well, and sieging such a city requires a naval strategy as well as a land-based one. Depending on how wide the water is, catapults and ballista may have trouble getting within range, and defenders can be concentrated in areas the water doesn't protect as well. (Of course, history is full of people smart enough to find their way around the water, and the lack of defenders could turn into a city's downfall.)

Rivers and lakes make also serve as boundaries. This side is ours and that side is yours, but controlling the banks of a river or lake can also be a reason for fighting. If a particularly important resource comes from just one lake, whoever controls the banks controls the spice... er, I mean the resource. ;-)

It pays to consider the impact your freshwater sources have on your peoples and cultures, and how you can best use them in your worldbuilding and even your story itself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Of Worldbuilding and Caffeine

I have been sucked into another world, hence my lack of postiness. :-D It's a fun world and I'm making lots of notes! I've drawn out my map and things are starting to come together. The characters are getting fleshed out--although they still need names!--and the world is taking shape, and I am loving it! Worldbuilding! *happy sigh*

The sword series is coming along, although a bit more slowly because I'm eyeball deep in my worldbuilding. The sword posts are now up to 3,000 words and there's *still more to cover*. I absolutely have to find a way to keep it simple and straightforward, but it's so hard to do that with swords. I don't know why, but it really is! I have another worldbuilding geography post I want to write up (fresh water) and if I can track down the post-it I wrote notes on there are other blog posts!

I've got research to do, and sketches of the architecture, clothing, creatures, etc. I still need to work on the birds and bird riders, and... and... and... *takes deep breath* Okay, I have a month to do all this. I should relax...

Yeah, like that's going to happen! :-D Worldbuilding! *bounces*

(What? Who's had too much caffeine?)