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3 More Things Fantasy Can’t Get Right With Combat…

Young-Fantasy-Boy-SwordA few weeks ago I told you the story of Chet MacGuffin, a young man chosen by destiny to overthrow the evil that has oppressed the kingdom for years now and how, if you think about it, he tends to be a really, really bad Chosen One. You might think there could be nothing else that fantasy has managed to screw up about something so integral to the genre. Unless, of course, you’ve read the title for this article, in which case sorry for the spoilers. As compensation, here are three more ways that so many fantasy writers mess up when it comes to understanding combat.

Injuries

Oh Chet. Poor, poor Chet MacGuffin. He’s fought against the evil dragon/ancient wizard/his long lost twin who looks just like him except with a remarkably well groomed goatee and it did not go especially well for him, for reasons I laid out in my previous article/rant, and he finds himself riddled with injuries caused by his poor performance as the Chosen One. Okay, so they were actually caused by swords, spears, and other things designed to cause injury or death, but indirectly they were totally because he’s awful at his job. Good thing he’s got a couple of days to spend laid up in a bed and a virtuous maiden to tend to his wounds. Under those conditions, he should be back up and fighting against evil in a few days at most!

Black Knight - ArmlessThe Truth

Sure, it always helps to have a comfortable bed to rest up in and I know I always heal faster when tended to by a virtuous maiden, but let’s take a look at some recovery times for various injuries in a modern context, shall we?

A hernia operation can take anywhere between 4-6 weeks until you are able to take part in any sort of strenuous activity or heavy lifting, such as trying to overthrow the evil monarch that rules the land.

A broken leg can result in a 6-8 week recovery time until you are able to put pressure on it. Not fight. Not run. Not even going for long walk. Simply standing up straight can take two months.

A deep laceration (like the ones sustained in a swordfight, for example) can take 3 weeks to heal properly. Even longer if the blade managed to cut the muscle beneath the skin.

These are with modern medicine and technology, treated by doctors with papers to say they know what they’re doing as well. Healing a messy wound from a proper fight would take even longer, particularly if it is somewhere like the hand or on top of a joint. So unless there is magic or divine intervention involved in that maiden’s bedside manner, Chet is going to be out of action for a couple of weeks at least.

Unconsciousness

So Chet has is finally back up on his feet and ready to once again take the fight to the evil that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he is still convinced it is his destiny to overthrow. However, he has learned one thing from his previous failures: frontal assaults on enemy strongholds are silly ideas. This time, he has decided to be sneaky about it and is going to slip in the lair and go unnoticed through the castle. Sure, he is likely to run into a few guards along the way, poor saps who might be slaves from a conquered nation, forced to protect the very person who has enslaved them. It wouldn’t be right to just straight up murder them, so Chet decides to employ a more merciful tactic. He’ll carry blunt instrument and simply knock them out! Sure, they’ll wake up in the morning with a terrible headache but at least they’ll be alive to celebrate his victory and return to their homelands! Everyone wins!

The Truth

ConcussionAnytime someone loses consciousness due to blunt force trauma, they have received a concussion and those are no joke. They’re the injury that keeps on giving. Just ask the NFL (or, for a slightly more unbiased answer, watch that new Will Smith movie) about the effects of blows to the head over a period of time, but even one can be disastrous. Most often, consciousness is lost for a few seconds at the most and this can lead to irreparable brain damage, migraines, and even changes in the way some senses work. A blow strong enough to knock someone out for minutes could lead to loss of cognitive function and motor skills. And if, like Chet is looking to do, someone gets hit hard enough to knock them out for hours? You’d be looking at personality changes in the best cases and permanent disabilities, and that’s ignoring the fact that any blow strong enough to cause that kind of damage to the brain is likely strong enough to just flat out kill them by damaging the skull or the brain tissue.

So Chet is not only terrible at his job, but he also has irreversibly injured or just flat out murdered a whole host of guards, all while under the impression this was the more merciful option. If this is what mercy looks like under the MacGuffin regime then maybe we should stick with the evil we know rather than the good that will kill us on accident.

Longswords

Let’s imagine, just for a moment, that Chet manages to overcome the overwhelming number soldiers in his way and his own overwhelming ineptness to finally challenge the evil tyrant at the top of the castle. The two stare each other down, making banter of the “You’ll Never Win! But I Already Have!” variety that we all know and love before getting down to the business of actually fighting. The fight goes back and forth, with neither side gaining an advantage. Their swords grind together as the pair face off against each other, spouting curses and quips like nobody’s business. Finally, Chet manages to swing his sword in a wide, heavy arc, using all of his strength to knock his opponent’s blade aside and drive the point home. Victory for the forces of good is assured! The end of tyranny is at hand! Chet makes one last witty remark before finally fulfilling his destiny.

sword_training_by_doubleleafThe Truth

At least this time it isn’t just Chet who is showing his incompetence. Both parties are guilty here, because in swordfighting, as in arguments and sex, it takes two to make it happen. Without writing a full essay on the dos and don’ts of fighting with a longsword (there are literally thousands of those already), I’ll just point out that most sources (ie; people who fought with longswords for a living back before other weapons made the whole notion delightfully quaint) will advise that control and mobility is the key to winning a fight rather than strength. In fact, those who fight with brute strength rather than skill or finesse were called “buffalos” and it was the medieval equivalent of a wicked Yo’ Mama joke. So the moment Chet tries to force his way past the defence of his enemy, he should find himself laughably off balance and then unceremoniously stabbed, which, incidentally, was the medieval equivalent of dropping the mic. Also, if the two did press their swords together in a test of strength, then the one with any sort of skill would simply bring their pommel (ie; the big steel thing at the end of their hilt) into the other’s mouth, causing either a nasty concussion or, more likely, death.

At least this time it wasn’t just Chet that doesn’t know what he is doing. Turns out the bad guy was just as guilty of that as the very one destined to kill him. Which begs the question: why the heck did it take a Chosen One to knock this guy off?

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar Lanko says:

    Hah! I love these kind of articles.

  2. Avatar Rukaio Alter says:

    “So Chet is not only terrible at his job, but he also has irreversibly injured or just flat out murdered a whole host of guards, all while under the impression this was the more merciful option.”

    To be fair, injuring or accidentally killing the guards while trying to subdue them does still kinda sound more merciful than, you know, actively murdering them.

    But it’s a fun article anyway. I’ll admit it’s largely stuff that falls into ‘suspension of disbelief’ for me and I really don’t think any author should go out of their way to avoid those tropes (except maybe the healing injuries one), but it’s still an interesting read to learn how that stuff really works.

  3. Avatar Yora says:

    Even if you manage to take out a guard with minimal brain damage, chances are high he’ll be back up in a minute or two. Probably won’t remember how he ended up on the floor, but odds are high he’ll want to play it safe and raise alarm anyway.
    It’s also extremely difficult to sneak up on someone without any loude nearby noises, especially in forests. You might be able to get right behind him if he’s wearing a helm that covers the ears, but then it will be even harder to knock him out.

    It’s just pure fiction. There’s simply no way to realistically knock someone unconscious in a remotely reliable way.

  4. Avatar Alex says:

    But then how do knockouts work in boxing? You see boxers get knocked out cold all the time, but the damage they receive isn’t nearly as bad as what you’re describing.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      Alex, that’s incorrect… Boxers suffer massively from concussions (I, myself, went through a pretty awful 3/4 weeks where I lost the ability to spell or speak properly after being ‘rocked’ in a fight I won – I wasn’t knocked out). They just don’t talk about it very much, because it shows an injury and that is the kind of thing that will have the commission considering whether to grant you a license and have opponents realising you may have a weakness they can exploit.

      I know a lot of boxers and the majority of them who have had more than 10 professional fights have a speech impediment (ranging from minor to so bad you struggle to understand them) and a slight delay in their reactions to conversations or actions, and a kind of ‘hollowness’, I guess I’d describe it as.

      You have to remember too that boxing is regulated and when a person is struck they are struck with large gloves. If you take a big stick and smash someone round the back of the head with it the impact (and therefore the ricochet action) will be far greater than a strike with a boxing glove (leaving to a bigger bruise and more damage). You also have to remember a boxer has 5 to 10 to 20 years of experience getting hit. This sounds strange, but a boxer knows how to move and brace to take a punch. A ‘guard’ character won’t have this kind of experience (if they even know a punch is coming). This is why people on the street tend to get knocked out with a single punch (I’m sure you’ve seen Youtube videos) whereas a boxer can take 100 punches that are even harder and still finish the fight.

      All that said, concussions are weird things… Some people see no symptoms, some people have awful symptoms, some people see no symptoms and then die two weeks later due to a Subdural Haematoma.

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