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A Fantasy Geek’s Guide to YouTube: Weapons and Warfare

YouTube (logo)YouTube is an app, a website, and a cultural phenomenon. It’s also a vast and barely-explored wilderness full of content that ranges from dynamic to dire. Whatever your interests are, there’s probably at least one channel out there for you. Still, managing to dig out the channels that cater to your own SFF needs can be a bit like panning for gold in the sea. (If the sea was full of flying fish that kept on jumping in your face with unskippable adverts painted on their scaly bodies and passing sailors trying to give you beauty tips.) So let me help you out by drawing your attention to some of the best channels and YouTubers I’ve discovered over the years.

Disclaimer. This article isn’t sponsored by YouTube, Google, or any of the featured channels in any way. YouTube is not a perfect platform, as many YouTubers will tell you. Other platforms such as Twitch or iTunes are available, I just don’t know them as well as I do YouTube. Other channels are available as well, these are just the ones I like enough to geek out over in a blog article.

This month’s topic is weapons and warfare, always a big part of fantasy fiction and something that it’s easy to get wrong. I’d recommend these channels to anyone who wants to write fantasy battles, duels, or sieges and to anyone who cares about the difference between a sabre and an arming sword or Ninjutsu and Muay Thai. Also, to anyone who’s wondered whether you could battle a dragon with a giant sword, fight effectively with arm blades, or gain any benefit at all from dual-wielding axes.

Shadiversity

Shadiversity (logo)Shadiversity is the personal channel of a man called Shad, a self-confessed geek with a fondness for history, architecture, weapons, fantasy, sci-fi and THE TRUTH (as he puts it). Of all the channels on this list, Shad’s is arguably the most focused on fantasy, though he does cover plenty of history as well, particularly if that means that he can talk about swords.

Shad loves swords. Or at least, he’d uploaded nearly 80 videos about them at the last count, including a 5-video series on the differences between a falchion and a messer. Other videos range from “Are the SWORDS in the Warcraft Movie stupid?” and “What did Excalibur REALLY look like?” to “The TRUTH about the KATANA”.

Shad also loves castles, I mean like, really, really LOVES castles. He’s done 44 videos and counting on the design of historical and fictional castles. In fact Shad is, to my knowledge, the only YouTuber in the world who reviews castles from TV series, films, and video games, judging them on their effectiveness as defensive structures and homes as well as the beauty of their design. There’s a lot of nit-picking and careful analysis in these videos but that’s because Shad is so passionate about his subject matter. You can tell from the sheer joy he displays in one of his videos about the medieval RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance, where he notes the realistic depiction of a medieval castle and its attendant village.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance Castle

Perhaps the most interesting video series on Shad’s channel for fans of fantasy is his exploration of what weapons and tactics various fantastical creatures would actually use. He goes into great depth and detail on this subject, considering environment, reach, strength as compared to arm-length, and the kinds of situation the creature in question would have to deal with. Shad gets so excited by the massively powerful tactics these creatures have at their disposal that after viewing a few of his videos, you’re likely to wonder how come humans aren’t extinct in almost any fantasy setting you’d care to name. I’d say that this series is required viewing for any writers who want to write fantasy battles. And even if you aren’t planning to make use of Shad’s ideas, can you really continue to live your life without learning why physics would prevent centaurs from using lances? Or why humans can never defeat merfolk in battle or snake-people in single combat?

Shad also has a video about the physics of super-strength and why super-mass would be more useful and another about how to fight properly with a lightsabre. And he has a fantasy novel coming out in the not too distant future. What more do you need to know?

Skallagrim

Skallagrim (logo)Possibly the most subscribed-to channel of its type in the world, and the personal channel of the first weapons YouTuber that I got into, Skallagrim is a good all-rounder with an interest in swords, knives, guns, and other weapons from all over the world, as well as armour and martial arts. His style ranges from serious and thoughtful to wry and just a little bit whimsical.

While Shad analyses castles, Skall is your weapons guy, particularly swords (yes, even more than Shad). He buys them, he reviews them, he whacks trees with them, it’s a whole thing. He also has a talent for finding and critiquing bizarre weapon designs and enjoys looking at and talking about weapon designs from fantasy fiction. If you collect weapons, then this channel is probably essential viewing. If, like me, you just enjoy reading about fantasy battles and swashbuckling swordfights then there’s still plenty to enjoy. From obscure African axe/sword/spear hybrids and key-guns to completely invented weapons like the mysterious hurlbat and Skallagrim’s own Grim Grin. Great stuff if you want to write or learn about interesting weapons or realistic duels.

While his interest in weapons stretches all across the world and through just about every historical era, Skallagrim is arguably the best source of videos on Vikings on this list. He has a particular interest in them due to his own Nordic heritage.

There’s more to Skall than history or fantasy. Some of the less important SFF genres (that was a joke, please put the laser pistol down) get some love on his channel as well. He likes to do videos where he tests out weapons (both modern creations and historical reproductions) on a fake zombie torso and head to see how effective they’d actually be against the undead (or the living for that matter). He examines the effectiveness and practicality of weapons and fighting styles in computer games from Dark Souls to Monster Hunter (spoiler warning, he pokes a lot of fun at Monster Hunter). He also has a taste for steampunk and had a steampunk theme for his wedding. You can check out that video as well as a short series called Ye Olde Blade Shoppe on his channel too. There’s even a brief video on how to fight effectively with an energy sword for the sci-fi types!

Skallagrim - Ye Olde Blade Shoppe

Skallagrim also does videos about philosophy, archery, and historical and modern fire-arms, if that’s your thing.

While Skallagrim can be pretty scathing about poor weapon designs he’s always quick to remind viewers that it’s okay for fantasy weapons to be fantastical, he’s just going to point out why they’d need to be magic to work. So don’t worry about your favourite franchise getting demolished in the name of realism; it’s all in good fun.

AWE me – MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED

AWE me (logo)I am a fantasy reader and if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance that you are too. Odds are that you’ve daydreamed about being whisked away to a strange land full of magical creatures or of discovering some eldritch power within yourself. The real world has probably disappointed you a little. Magic wands and mystic words hold no power and outside of Harry Potter World or Brighton there are no magical lands to explore or wondrous beings to meet.

But did you ever wonder what a Daedric axe would look like in real life, or how much damage Cloud’s Buster Sword could actually inflict? Well, that small wish at least, can be granted. The good folk of MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED make weapons from films, TV series, anime, and video games and let their viewers see the whole process, from designing the weapon to testing it out on some defenceless groceries. You can watch the videos all the way through and learn a lot about moulds, different types of steel, nails, beating weapons into shape, and any number of other crafty and technological details. Or, like me, you can skip to the end and see the latest improbable weapon posing dramatically while an adrenaline-fuelled soundtrack makes noises like waaow-waaow in the background. Then you get to see it being used to slice through plastic bottles full of assorted liquids and cut melons and pineapples in half with a single stroke.

I’ve heard people with more actual weapons know-how than me say that these sorts of weapons are little more than props and that any old bit of blunt steel can be used to chop up fruit. I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that it’s fun to see these imaginary artefacts in action!

Man at Arms - Reforged (logo)

There are far too many weapons made by MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED to list them all here but if you’ll let me indulge in some name-dropping for a moment? Thanks, here we go – Stormbreaker, Zuri’s spear, Virtuous Treaty, Shovel Blade, Blade’s sword, 3D Maneuver Gear sword, Prince Nuada’s sword, Road-Hog’s chain-hook, Ice, Furyan ulaks, Green Destiny, and a functional Warhammer 40k chainsword!

MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED isn’t the only show on AWE me, there’s also videos about prop-making, the occasionally bit of geeky art, and a series called Epic How To, which includes videos on topics such as surviving a plane crash or fighting a shark.

But really you should check the channel out just to see the chainsword, even though it’d only be practical in the hands of a Space Marine.

Man at Arms - Reforged - Chainsword

ZGB (Zombie Go Boom) Studios

Remember when I said that Skallagrim occasionally hit a model zombie head with bits of sharpened metal? Imagine an entire channel dedicated to doing that with almost every weapon imaginable, in gruesomely gory slow-motion, while a selection of rock, pop, and electronica tracks play in the background.

ZGB Studios (logo)

That’s Zombie Go Boom basically. In some ways it’s similar to MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED in that it lets you see some pretty outrageous weapons in the flesh (and hitting the flesh). But the ZGB crew don’t always craft their own weapons and even then they rarely do it from scratch. This leaves them with more time to dress up in various costumes, stage mock duels, and inflict horrendous violence on the undead. They also make heavy use of multiple camera angles, slow motion and probably a load of other Hollywood-style tricks that I’ve never even heard of.

The hosts say that their show is a hybrid of MythBusters and The Walking Dead. The channel is pitched as a survival guide of sorts, the idea being that you can watch ZGB videos and learn which weapons would serve you best in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Yeah, sure.

This fun little conceit allows the presenters to talk quite earnestly about things like brain haemorrhaging, pressure cuts, slashed arteries, skull-piercing, and spine-cracking once they’ve finished using the weapon (or weapons) of the week to bash, slice, or stab the latest artificial zombie head, torso, or entire body to ribbons.

ZGB Studios - Will It StickIf you watch too many ZGB videos in a row you may start to get hypnotised by the streams of fake blood that crawl slowly across the screen while fragments of ‘bone’ pinwheel lazily through your field of vision. You might want to avoid Halloween parties and haunted houses for a little while after binging on ZGB, in case you get ‘confused’ for a moment and do something that you (and probably several other people) might regret. And I will admit that, being a liberal, left-wing Brit who keeps up with US news, I found the handful of videos where real fire-arms are tested against zombie heads a little uncomfortable to watch. (Though I was less bothered by all the videos where Skall tests out fire-arms or rails against certain aspects of Canadian gun-control laws so maybe it’s just the context which makes watching difficult for me.)

Politics aside, this is all presented in a fairly light-hearted way and I’ve never heard any suggestion from the hosts that any of these weapons should be used in real life situations. So I’m fairly sure that watching ZGB’s videos won’t make you a danger to society, any more than, say, watching one of the Saw movies would.

ZGB draws on pretty much any branch of weapon-related popular culture you can think of – serial killers, video game characters, history, TV, films, post-apocalyptic DIY, superheroes, and more. They also test a variety of actual modern weapons which are available for collectors and usually have excitable names such as Reaver Cleaver. This is a busy and prolific channel, but I’ll list a few highlights for you.

Giant Fire Sword VS Electric Axe!
Real Logan Claws Tested!
An Ice Sword did THIS?! HBO Game of Thrones IRL
KILL BILL in Real Life!

Of course, anyone who wants to write fight scenes in a fantasy novel needs to understand what injuries from melee weapons would look like, which is as good an excuse as any for subscribing to ZGB. But writer or not, if you have a strong stomach and a lust for combat you might want to check this channel out, if only so you can learn why an 8-ball on a chain is so ridiculously dangerous.

Honourable Mentions

Let’s finish up with three calmer, more chin-strokey YouTubers who are all interesting in their own ways but each focus far more on history than on SFF.

Schola Gladiatoria

Full disclosure, I discovered this channel while researching some of the others on this list so my knowledge of it is quite superficial.

scholagladiatoria (logo)

Oddly, this channel doesn’t seem to have any videos about the Romans. It’s the personal channel of Matt Easton, the founder (or perhaps just one of the founders) of a Historical European Martial Arts group based in London. This group has given talks and demonstrations at such prestigious historical locations as The Tower of London.

This channel has lots of reviews and discussions of Medieval European weapons as well as some from around the world and from other eras. Matt does like his armour too and he’s also uploaded a ton of videos about actual historical martial arts, all good stuff for anyone hoping to write the next A Song of Ice and Fire.

scholagladiatoria - armor

I will quickly mention two unique selling points of this channel. It has a series of videos about specific historical artefacts or groups of artefacts from various museums and collections, including quite a few Indian weapons (by which I mean weapons from India, not weapons belonging to Native American peoples). Matt also goes into quite in-depth discussions of certain fighting styles and weapon combinations that are bound to pique the interest of any action-fantasy enthusiast. From techniques shown in historical fighting manuals to modern inventions such as the afore-mentioned two-axe combo.

Worth a look, even if you’re not a history buff.

Lindybeige

Lindybeige (logo)I have no proof of this, but I believe that Lindybeige is a professor or academic lecturer of some kind. He certainly knows a lot about history, but on top of that he sounds like a professor and even (to my mind) looks like one.

Lindybeige’s channel is very much in the same vein as Schola Gladiatoria, Skallagrim, and Shadiversity – he talks (or lectures) about historical weapons, wars, armour, crafting, and fighting techniques and tries to puncture common myths about them. He has a rather dry and sometimes sardonic style of delivery that some people will find hilarious and others will find wearing.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, then why look into this channel at all when you’ve already got three similar channels to try out? Well, if you’re truly interested in realism then it’s important to hear as many opinions as possible, right?

If you answered no to that question, then let me argue a little further on this channel’s behalf. Lindybeige has done a few interesting videos about RPGs. Highlights include why the classic grid-pattern of square chambers for dungeons would absolutely not work and three separate rants about the problems with several different editions of D&D. I also enjoyed his careful crushing of the myth of the Viking Berserker. He likes to throw in videos from other odd topics such as psychology and swing-dancing as well and has even created a video detailing how a cyclops actually would be able to see in 3D.

I will note that I suspect that Lindybeige enjoys a good argument, hence videos such as “Cavalry was a stupid idea”, “Back-Attacks – historical reality or gamer trope?” and (heaven help us all) “Do men have it easier?”.

Perhaps you’ll agree with Lindybeige, perhaps you won’t, but you might have fun finding out.

Blue from Overly Sarcastic Productions

Overly Sarcastic Productions (logo)A bit out of place on this list. Blue isn’t (to my knowledge) a martial artist, a weapons enthusiast, a smith, a historical reenactor, or even a machete-wielding maniac. But he does talk a lot about history, describes battle tactics such as shield walls and explains why certain armies and cultures were successful in war.

Blue has a fondness for the history of Rome, though he also talks a bit about the Greeks. (He is studying Classics, so you can see why.)

So, if you get tired of learning about why a spear beats a sword or how a particular franchise got historical warfare wrong then you could do a lot worse than heading over to Overly Sarcastic Productions for a broader perspective on history and warfare (but mainly history). Learn about the incredible successes and highly controversial legacy of the Mongols, reconsider your beliefs about the World Wars, and find out what actually happened during the Crusades.

Overly Sarcastic Productions - BlueBlue’s videos are very engaging and easy to listen to, there’s a reason why he’s formed the YouTube equivalent of a superhero team-up with Red (who featured in my review of YouTube mythology channels). There’s also probably a reason why he chose to represent himself with a calmer colour. He speaks at a gentler pace than his team-mate and is very even-handed in his discussion of differing opinions on history. But he’s clever, he’s woke, and he’s been known to snark. His videos introduced me to the concept of Ancient Egyptian pirates (!) and he explained the history of Africa in a way that completely revolutionised my understanding of that deeply fascinating continent.

So, Blue is worth your time for the entertainment value alone but is doubly helpful if you’re looking to write epic fantasy and want some cool historical examples to blatantly steal, I mean ‘use as inspiration’ for your plots.

That’s it for now folks. I’m all out of YouTube recommendations for the discerning fantasy geek, though who knows what I might dig up in future. Next month I’ll be doing a review of one of those book thingies I used to read before I fell down the YouTube rabbit hole.

Title image by arbyreed.

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