Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Behind the Back

From Heroic Tales of Legendary Heroes: Book One, The Awesome Heroes of Epicdom:
Whaddya mean 'compensating'?

The barbarian warrior strode through the mist, the hilt of a massive longsword jutted over his shoulder.  The sheathed blade nearly touched the ground behind him.  Lord Raskil Badsmellingham shook at the sight of the newcomer, his hand suddenly sweaty on the hilt of his sword.  He shot a glance at Princess Adelaide, but the barbarian could see that whatever his nefarious plot, the evil Lord Raskil wouldn’t have time to complete it.

“Surrender,” the barbarian growled.

“Never,” Lord Raskil replied.  “I’ve come to far.”

The barbarian smiled.  This is what he’d hoped for.  A final fight.  Trial by combat, and Chrahm, his god in the forges of Drog Dorgthaki would be pleased by the offering of a king sliding from his blade.

“Then die!”

The barbarian reached over his shoulder and grabbed the hilt of his longsword.  He started to draw the massive blade, but only managed to pull thirty-eight inches of the five foot length clear of the sheath.  His smile turned to a frown as he tugged again.  But his well-muscled arm, even on his six-and-a-half-foot frame, was only forty inches long.  It was simple math, which the Hyperhyborian teachers had tried to drill into his head, only to have the young barbarian scoff at them.  After all, what could math gain him that his sword could not?

. . . but it looks good!
Lord Raskil Badsmellingham wasted no time.  He lunged a full, perfect extension into the barbarian’s unprotected mid-section, his blade sliding a surgery-perfect wound just above the belly button.  The barbarian tried one more time to pull his massive blade free from the prison of its sheath, still trapped on his back where it had looked so impressive.  Lord Raskil pulled his blade free and thrust it a second time into the barbarian, and a third, and a forth, and then a fifth.  The barbarian tried to fall to his knees, but the still-sheathed blade kept him making anything even approaching a dignified or picturesque, and he toppled onto his side.

“Aren’t you dead yet?” Lord Raskil asked, and stabbed the barbarian three more times with his bloody sword.

The barbarian died, with his sword still in his sheath and the laughter of Chrahm in his ears—or it might have been Lord Raskil.

Fantasy covers, artwork, video games, even written character descriptions often depict swords, the bigger the better, being carried about in a sheath on the hero’s back.  This sounds and looks fantastic.

It is wholly impractical.

Well, let me amend that.  If you plan on anything even close to a useful draw in a combat scenario, say at high noon in a town square, or in a bar with unusually high ceilings, or anywhere else where a sword might come in handy in saving your life, then wearing your sword scabbarded on your back is impractical.

Otherwise, yeah—Bad Barbarian Mutha’!

Provided there isn’t going to be an immediate threat to your hero, like say taking a stroll along a
Boys.  Please.
country path, or attending a kid-friendly family picnic, a back-sheath would be fine for toting old Long Edge around.  In cases where the hero knows he/she is going to a particular battle and will have time to dress for success, taking off the sheath, leaving it with a thane, a page, a friend, a sheath-check girl, etc. it might make sense to march with the weapon secured in this fashion.  It’s all rage in Hyperhyperboria!

There’s little record of back-sheaths amongst most common longsword users—dismounted knights and men-at-arms. They would sling the weapon from a belt specific for the task, keep the sword on their saddle (like you might a long rifle), or make their valet/page keep custody of the weapon.  When it was required, they’d leave horse and sheath together in the rear with their pages or valets or in their tent or what have you.

The two-handed swordsmen of 16th-century Europe are almost always depicted with their swords drawn.  When shown on parade or a march toward battle they would rest the flat of the naked blade their shoulder. Most historians now think that soldiers, being the lazy, gold-bricking, sand-bagging, lay-abouts that they were, would just leave these bulky weapons with the rest of the baggage if there was no immediate threat at hand.

This is to say nothing for shorter-bladed weapons, which is a wholly different topic.  Obviously, anything that can easily clear the sheath on the back becomes far more practical to be carried in this position.  Sleeping, of course, is a bit awkward, but the coolness factor remains in play, while the likelihood of being killed while attempting to draw, and draw, and draw your sword is cut down by a factor of, let’s say, ten.  Yeah, at least ten.  Maybe twelve.  Long knives and short swords can even be worn at the waist, behind the back, although longswords would still not be able to be drawn from this position—arms, geometry and physics being what they are.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Because Rainbows

I’m lax in blogging the last couple of weeks because I’m hell-bent on writing Hell Becomes Her.  Sometimes the words flow like water, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth with a three day old carp.  This morning, chapter 4 crystalized, and I’ve been pounding the keyboard like a mad man.

So there’s your update.

But if you ever need a reason for “Why isn’t Rob blogging more?”  Here’s your answer:


Friday, September 19, 2014

Two Smoking Barrels

Give a guy a gun, he thinks he's Superman. Give him two and he thinks he's God.
Police Superintendent Pang “Hard Boiled”

The image is iconic today.  One hero, two guns, ten-thousand bullet casings all falling at three-quarter speed.  They hit the floor and ring out in parallel with the fall of an army of bad guys carrying automatic weapons like wheat falling before a scythe.
John Woo is my shepherd, I shall fear no bullets

Simple.  Easy.  Impossible.

Wait, what was that last one?  Impossible?!  But, but, but—HOLLYWOOD!

Alright, fine.  It’s not “impossible”.  Let’s call it: so incredibly improbable as to stretch the bounds of reality to the point of breaking.  There are two key reasons why a trained profession wouldn’t go for the dual-wield when it comes to handguns: accuracy (biology) and stability (physics).

Two guns?!  It makes no sense!
Firing two guns, simultaneously, while likely the coolest thing you will ever do with both eyes open, also means you're not aiming either weapon.  Human vision, unlike that of say the chameleon, is binocular: our biology means we can’t see independently with each eye at the same time.  Even for a master shooter, sighting a firearm at a target requires aiming down the barrel which requires looking at that particular weapon and lining it up with the target.  You might be able to close your left eye, aim down the barrel of your right hand gun with your right eye and shoot then close your right eye, and aim and shoot on the left side . . . but why?  It’s not suddenly more effective to do this, which is why no military or police force in the world is training this way.

The other problem is that careful aiming at a target, even when you’re pressed for time, requires two
Because.  That's why.
hands to create a stable platform to fire the gun.  Gravity has a nasty habit of attracting objects, even if the Second Amendment is in full force.  This used to be the “teacup” hold, but that’s now considered an outdated and less effective method compared with the “straight-thumbs” hold.  Either way, the point is that it takes two hands on one gun to provide the stability for accurate shooting.  Because of things like “physics”, all guns have a recoil or kick.  This will cause the gun to give a little (or big) jump when you start pulling the trigger.  Having a proper grip on the gun, meaning two hands, will allow you to keep firing it accurately and effectively to mow down more bad guys.

That’s not at all the kind of thing Hollywood has in mind when Tom Cruise or Scarlett Johannsson are on the screen.  If our heroes need two guns in their mitts, then biology and physics be damned!  Tom is going to be two or three times more effective at taking out bad guys, and Scarlett . . . well, she can have whatever she wants, now, can’t she?  For the rest of us mortals, the only time to pull two guns is if you have no other options and just want to put a lot of lead into the air as a deterrent.  This is called “spray and pray” and you have a better chance with an automatic firearm and belt-fed ammunition than you would a semi-automatic handgun with a much smaller magazine.  Nine or even fifteen rounds goes really quickly when you aren’t picking your targets, sighting your weapon and squeezing off a round.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Dungeon Guard's Works is Never Done

They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they want to.
― Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

Alright lads, I know these dungeon guard meetings are boring, but they’re important so pay
Do you happen to have any Grey Poupon?
attention.  First, a quick moment of silence for our newly departed: Guillaume, Bob, and Pedro.  They knew the danger when they signed up, but they’ll be missed.

Alright, the numbers for the quarter are in, and our dungeon-breaks are down by seventeen percent.  I want to thank every one of you for your hard word and dedication to dungeon guard duty.  Seriously, without you, there would be no prison.  It would just be a bunch of cells with people in them.

Okay then, boys.  Let’s go over some new safety notices that I’ve drafted up.  First, on prisoners getting sick.  Is anyone here a blood-letter or has skill in leech-craft?  No?  Well then, none of you should be going into a prisoner’s cell to determine the degree of illness.  That’s how Pedro got it, remember?  Prisoner pulled the old pretend-to-be-sick-until-the-guard-is-close-enough routine.  Clocked him right on the head.  You know how soft our skulls are, so be careful.

Hey, what are you doing out of your cell?
Do you have a dungeon pass?
On a similar note, if the prisoner is actually sick, still don’t go into cell.  You may be walking into Black Plague, Red Plague, Yellow Fever, Spotted Plague, Speckled Yellow Red Fevered Plague or something even worse.  Let’s stick to reporting any sickness to the desk sergeant who can call in a proper medical student to kill the prisoner right, and we can all sleep better without racking pain in our bowels and spitting blood.

Right then, we have one job.  Just one job.  I can’t stress this enough.  We’re here to keep prisoners in the dungeon.  That’s our job.  It’s our only job.  Prisoners are prisoners, they are not your friend.  Prisoners want to get out.  That’s their job.  It’s why they wake up in the morning and why they eat the gruel we feed them.  So if a prisoner is suddenly trying to make nice with you, that should be a warning sign.  You’re about to get bashed in your soft skull at the outset of a prison break.  Everyone remember Bob and how he ranted about his besty, Prisoner 623457?  Oh, Prisoner 623457 is so funny.  Oh, Prisoner 623457’s philosophy on life is so grand.  Bam to the head, Prisoner 623457 escaped and all Bob got was a moment of silence from us.  That’s it.  One job.  That’s all we have.

A note on treasure.  I’ve heard from wild rumors going around that some of the prisoners are hiding a
Pedro needs food, badly.
treasure.  Ok, let’s think this through slowly, right?  If a prisoner is on the dungeon, it’s because they lacked the means to keep themselves out.  If they had a treasure, that would either keep them from our cells in the first place, or else buy them freedom at a higher level than us.  It might be that they're keeping a treasure secret from someone else, but there again, someone higher up is going to want that, and you're not really in a position to keep it from them.  Any of you really want to try to keep a treasure from Cardinal Inquisition after what happened to Pedro?  Most likely the prisoner is just trying to lure you into their cell and bash in your soft skull.  So, let’s put the kibosh on any “treasure” talk going forward.  Most prisoners are poor.  If they weren’t before they came in, they are now.  That’s why they’re prisoners.

Finally, I want to commend Gaston for his quick thinking during last week’s dungeon break.  Instead of attacking the prisoners leading the break one at a time as we usually do, Gaston threw himself into the fray and it turns out that two or even three well-fed and well-armed dungeon guards are more than a match for a starved prisoner in rags.  Who knew?  So, we’re all going to take this as a learning experience, and no more waiting your turn.  You help your fellow dungeon guards, hit the prisoners in the back of the head, and I think we’ll find that our numbers get better next quarter too.