April 04, 2020, 04:17:48 PM

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Re: Ancient and medieval fighting and weapons There's a huge number of weapons that fall under the category of "sword". Perhaps even more than all other premodern weapons combined. A complicating factor is that swords always evolved. Some people tried out making swords with somewhat longer blades or narrower blades, actually liked how it sat in the hand and moved, and recommended it to others. But there never was a perfect sword, because swordsmiths always had to take the availability and prices for raw materials into consideration, and more sophisticated constructions would take a lot longer, making the sword more expensive for the buyer. And always there were other people trying to improve armor against the types of weapons they were commonly facing against. As a result, it all blurs together into a very broad range of "swords", which is really anything with a long blade on a short handle.
Of course in practice there were some forms of swords that worked really well and lots of people used them, while others just never caught on. So there are many different types of swords. But it never was an exact science and there was no standardization, so the distinctions between types are often quite blurry. Like literature genres, you have certain archetypes, but the personal preferences of the smiths and users don't conveniently stay within those lines. Modern historians like to pretend there are such clear lines, but many of the categories used today are modern inventions.

That being said, the names used for swords in fantasy are almost always completely wrong. Mixing up an African leopard with a South American Jaguar is not a big deal, they are extremely similar. But calling either of those a Siberian Tiger is just plain wrong.

Generally speaking, there are two types of swords: Bronze swords and steel swords. I am almost certain that you will never see a copper sword or an iron sword anywhere. Copper and iron are both too soft for large blades (though I think there are some copper knives) and you have to mix them with other elements into an alloy that has much better property. Copper alloys are usually called bronzes (brass is a modern term for a specific type of alloy that was lumped together with other bronzes in ancient times) and iron alloys are called steels, regardless of what those other elements are.
You can make steel that is superior to bronze, but this is very advanced metalurgy that has been invented only in recent centuries. Ancient and medieval steel is not superior to bronze! The reason bronze fell out of favor for weapons and armor around 3,000 years ago is that tin, which was most commonly mixed with copper to make bronze, became fantastically expensive and almost unaffordable. This forced metalworkers to find some way to make a good alloy based on iron. Those early types of steel were inferior in quality to bronze, but still could do the job decently enough and were many times cheaper. Over time the quality of steel improved, but it really is the much cheaper price of steel that made it the primary metal of choice throughout late antiquity and the middle ages. When you have one guy with a bronze sword and one guy with a steel sword, it really doesn't make any difference. When you have five guys with bronze swords and twenty guys with steel swords, it makes a huge difference.
Copper and bronze didn't really play a big role in ancient Central and Southern Africa, and they started with steel. (Though much later did develop bronze technology for art.) In America, they didn't even have that (only gold and silver, which doesn't work for weapons), but the Aztecs did have a weapon called macuahuitl that has a size and shape similar to sword and is also used in a very similar way, so it's sometimes called an obsidian sword. It's constructed more like a wooden club with a row of obsidian shards set into it as an edge. Completely different construction, but works almost the same way, so whether you want to call it a sword or not is probably personal preference. If it looks like a sword, handles like a sword, and cuts like a sword...

Okay, now we are getting to the kinds of swords you usually see in fantasy:
Keep in mind that the "Middle Ages" refer to a period of 1,000 years and an area that includes all of Europe and extends into Northern Africa and Asia. There are lots of differences between specific places and times, so everything here is a very gross simplification. Scientifically very inaccurate, but I think for the purpose of fantasy weapons entirely sufficient. Unless you want to have a fantasy story set in real world France in the year 1241 and want to have it as historically accurate as possible. The most common one-handed sword that every halfway decent knight runs around with would have probably called by him a "sword". It wasn't like the swordsmith had a wide range of different models on a rack. You picked your length and weight that best suited your height and strength, but that was mostly it. When people are talking about knights now, it's usually called an arming sword and looks like this.
Spoiler for Hiden:

Which looks very similar to a viking sword, which lloks like this.
Spoiler for Hiden:
The only real difference is a much smaller crossguard between the blade and the hilt. Not really sure why. The term Arming Sword is used mostly for swords that are later than the viking period so it might be possible that the crossguard was a new invention that came up around 1000 AD, but as I said those developments are always fluid evoultions that reach different places and different times and might not be adopted everywhere.
This sword was not only used in Scandinavia, but I think throughout all of northern and central Europe.

It is almost the same weapon as the earlier Roman spatha.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Again, the handle is a bit different, but the blade is mostly the same. A straight steel blade about as long as an arm and two fingers wide.

Even in China, at the opposite end of the Old World, you get the jian, which again is really pretty much the same thing.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Why? Because it works! It's good. It's weight and proportions are a very good match for a human swordsman and it's a great alrounder that combines speed, accuracy, and versatility, while also being easy to carry around with you all day on your belt.

Big downside: It's really expensive. Which is why most people who went to war didn't have one. Not only does the blade of a sword need five or six times as much metal as a spear blade, it also needs to be forged at a much higher quality because longer blades are at greater risk of bending or snapping. That's basic mechanical physics. Imagine taking a pencil and snapping it in two. That's easy. Now take one of those halves and snap it again. Which is a lot more difficult. And good luck snapping one of those quarters with your bare hands. And it's not because you have a bad grip on a small piece. Long things bend and snap easier than short things in relation to the thickness. Which is also why you get to see small blades very early, but really big and long swords only very late. You need a lot of metalurgical tricks to make steel that can take the stresses of such a large blade.
Most people who went to war had spears or axes, which have much smaller blades and are therefore a lot cheaper. In most languages other than English, the word "knight" means "rider", because they were a small elite of people who were wealthy enough to own a horse bred and trained for battle. These people also tended to be rich enough to own a sword. Which is why knights are usually very much associated with them. A sword was nice to have on your belt when you visit the village or run around in the castle, but for really serious fighting, there were better alternatives:
When you fight a guy with really heavy armor, you want a weapon with a lot of punch, because your sword blade can't cut through it. When you do a cavalry charge, you don't want to get into the reach of your enemies spears to be able to hit them, so you also use a spear (a "lance" really is just a spear used while on a horse for most of history). Or a bow. The sword is wonderful when you don't have anything else. It's a great alrounder that will be useful in almost any situation. But when possible, you want a specialist weapon for your specific task. When you went into battle with one, it was your backup weapon, like a pistol. Even the samurai didn't make a big deal about their swordfighting skills, because that implied you somewhat regularly got into situations where you lost your bow and spear. Then why do modern Japanese people make such a huge deal about their swords? Because contrary to common belief, exotic foreigners are just as stupid as Europeans and Americans and love cool stuff they see in movies or read in unrealistic fantasy books.
The lack of reach of a sword compared to a spear is a real problem in battle. Sparring is of course not the same thing as battle to the death, but people who are decent with swords and spears made the experience that if you have one person with a spear against one person with a sword, the swordsman needs to be extremely good to win.

The only case I am aware of where regular soldiers were all using swords were the Roman legionaries. And that was because the legions used a very specific type of formation combat that relied on getting everyone squezed together so tightly that spears couldn't be really used and then stabbing swords were extremely effective. But that is really the only case I know of large numbers of soldiers using swords instead of spears.

Speaking of the Roman sword: I mentioned the spatha earlier, but the standard roman sword was the gladius. Which also really just means "sword".
Spoiler for Hiden:
The gladius is shorter than the spatha, but not really by much and calling it a "short sword" is quite misleading. They are still pretty big. I mentioned before that large blades require advanced metalurgy and forging techniques, and therefore most bronze swords tend to fall into this category.
In the same way daggers can be really big too. Much larger than a small pocket knife. The roman pugio looks like a big knife (though technically a knife has a single edge, while a dagger has two), but some types are large enough that some people might think of them as small swords.

The other type of sword that is super popular around the sword are sabers. There is a huge variety of sabres, both in blades and handles, but they all share the same trait of having a single edge and being curved.
Spoiler for Hiden:
Sabers have some advantages and disadvantages compared to straight swords. The disadvantage is that they are generally not as good at chopping, but instead work much better at slicing. Which is why soldiers on horses generally tend to favor sabres over straight swords because when you ride by someone on the ground quickly, it's easier to just slice your blade over him than trying to get a good chop from an akward position. But when you hit armor, a sabre has less of an impact and doesn't hurt as much. Neither sabres nor straight swords can cut through metal armor, but any heavy impact still hurts and can push you over.

Then you have a couple of "hybrids" like the German messer ("knife") and the Japanese katana ("sword").
Spoiler for Hiden:

While they do have a single edge and a slight curve, the curve is quite subtle and the blade pretty heavy. You see katanas everywhere, but I don't remember seeing a messer anywhere in fantasy, even though there's no reason why it shouldn't.

Going back to antiquity, there is also a kind of chopping sword that looks really quite weird at first. Again, there are many names, but the most generic is kopis.
Spoiler for Hiden:
And the title for weirdest looking sword probably goes to the Egyptian khopesh.
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Swords like these are almost a kind of hybrid between sword and axe and saber. You can't do any fancy fencing with them as you see in a three musketeer movie, but you can both chop and stab with them. And you really just have to look at them to see how extremely good these are at chopping.
While they look very exotic, this was one of they ypes of swords used by the Greeks for quite a long time. But they went out of fashion during Aniquity, and I don't really know why. I would suspect that a straight sword is simply easier to forge, though.

You also might know the Asian kukri, which really is just the local adaptation of the kopis introduced by Alexander the Great when he was in the region. Most kukris you see are small and knife sized, but they can get to the size of big two-handed swords.

April 12, 2015, 01:44:21 PM
Wonderful Blog of Book Graphics The image below is from book-graphics.blogspot.com, and there are hundreds of wonderful pieces captured there. I found it while looking for words and background on one of the Child ballads: The Daemon Lover. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Ballads)  It turns out there was a book published with beautiful illustrations for some of the ballads (https://archive.org/details/balladsweirdwond00choprich), and these are captured in a number of places on the 'net, including the book-graphics blog.

While wandering through this wonderful blog, I was particularly struck by this: (but there are so many great images!)

I may do a series on ballads, since the fantastic stories in them should be meat and wine for us F-F types. But don't tell my dad. He'll go on for hours about the similarities, differences and meaning of ancient ballads if you let him.  ;)

If anyone wants to join in, why not go to this blog and find a favorite image. It's a wonderful way to avoid actual writing.  ;D

April 24, 2015, 12:16:54 PM
Here's a little more on my books I know some of you have my books…here’s a little nudge for you. Today, Self-Publishing Review wrote, “There are many fantasy authors who rely too heavily on the work of others, or the favorite tropes of the genre, when creating their own worlds. Fortunately, there are authors like Allan Batchelder who derive inspiration from fantasy masters and then construct wholly new and endlessly engaging realms for readers to enjoy.  Steel, Blood & Fire, Book 1 of the Immortal Treachery series, is a grim, edge-of-your-seat pleasure to read.” And also, “there is plenty here to find gripping and original. Overall, Steel, Blood & Fire is a murky, masterful, and occasionally comic saga that will leave you wanting more.”
August 15, 2017, 05:56:12 AM
Re: The archeology of magic Your approach and terms seem fine to me, but I enjoy brainstorming, and your ideas are not very different from many I've considered in my own WIP, so here's another thought or two to play with or dismiss:

1. Instead of the Aristotle/University approach, using the "-ology / -ologist" suffixes on latin terms, you might try the "alternate" approach, the way we see in some fiction of late, where we see terms that harken back to earlier times, like "The Alienist" and "The Mentalist" and the like.

2. Instead of looking at these people and their endeavors the way that we look at scholars in our world, you might look at them in the context of what they do, what they produce, etc., and why they do it. Not knowing your work, I am tossing darts in the dark here, but if I imagine that why they do what they do is to identify errors - identify faulty research - and therefore discover dead-ends that might not really be dead, you might name them accordingly in any number of ways. "Fault-finders" is uninspiring, but "Perfectionist" "Perfecter" "Validator" and other terms might lead to an idea with the right glint. I like (for whatever linguistic reason) words that end in "ian" and "ion" - so I would call someone who questions history and validates a "Contrarian" - which might allude to the obsessive attention to detail such research would require, and the ornery nature of those who might be drawn to such an occupation.

3. People who set the record straight have a great, but subtle power. And deciding whose research is valid and sound and who discovered what first and best is a heady authority to have. These are the ingredients of strong characters - for all power corrupts, and who validates the validators?

August 27, 2017, 11:58:26 PM
Re: The archeology of magic I'm quite taken by thaumatology. I like the term thaumaturge and the riff on it is a pleasing one.
August 28, 2017, 01:45:08 PM
Re: Virtual Fantasy Con I'm signed up, too. I guess we'll see what we'll see.
August 29, 2017, 04:47:58 AM
Re: Worldbuilding with rules for outcomes instead of mechanisms Well.. Wasted perhaps is a big word.. But the time I spend thinking about rules, mechanisms and other parts of my world, could be spend writing and developing my skill. I'm still a starting and I think my focus should be on the development of the craft, but that's for everyone different. But in most cases, building a world will not help you learn how to tell a story

September 15, 2017, 01:38:42 PM
Re: Angry Robot Open Submissions 2017 And here are all the details:

September 18, 2017, 04:50:12 PM
Re: Things you created for your worlds It's a subtle element of detail that I hope, as you say, will distinguish my world from others, but I use architecture: bridges, high walls, aqueducts, tunnels, pillars and columns, lintels and arches, etc. Coming from a rural region devoid of real architecture, my MC loves architecture and notices it, and I use it to convey nuances that might or might not be picked up by readers.
September 24, 2017, 03:55:32 PM
Re: Virtual Fantasy Con Here's my discussion of anti-heroes with fellow fantasy author Tabi Slick:


October 15, 2017, 07:30:59 PM