The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
Snorri is unhappy about your bar tab - VERY unhappy...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

BASING [1] - the eternal question...

OK, so I'm feeling very good about this game system, where it is going, and how well it fits into my present limits of time and gaming opponents or attendees.  In short, I'm coming up with consistent interesting battles against myself or anyone else, or even just hosting, that make me motivated to game and paint.  And that's my present standard for gaming.  It has to be fun and interesting, historical without painful, and fit into may life as a hobby.  

The problem that it's revealing is an old one for my 25mm WRG/DBA bases.  My 25mm figs, despite being the smaller Old Glory ones [as opposed to the super-sized 28mm British style] often don't quite fit onto the bases, especially if they've dynamic poses and leveled spears and shields.  This results in needless wear and tear on the figs from scratches by spears, and loosened and damaged spears themselves.  As I'm planning to replace broken weapons with plastics, this is more of a concern. Finally, I'm just saying to myself...why should anyone touch the figures at all??

Below pic shows that in an effort to have my figures in "realistic" group poses and a bit of dynamic appearance, they themselves and their weapons hang off the end of the base. Horse tails and knight lances are especially vulnerable. These stands are what I'm using for Units with my DA rules. They are 120mm wide x 80/60mm deep depending on how I was using them for DBA and other games. Now, I'm thinking that 5" x 2.5" is the perfect size...

This moves me to consider thicker bases that would be how people move the unit.  Also, having multiple bases just increases the chance of them falling over.  It also takes longer to move them, adding to game time.  Tight space also means little room for creativity - a larger base would permit me to make more diorama - like units and such.

Note the 4-stand infantry Units.  But even the 2-stand knights bang into each other on slopes when they tilt into each other sideways, and I dropped off the table a stand of the Welsh bowmen, bending and breaking a lot of the threaded work I'd done.  Ugh.

All the figures / stands / bases are presently resting upon my solution to the problem.  They are free flooring samples from Home Depot.  "Pergo-Presto" is quite thick at almost 8mm

While "Homeland" and "Trafficmaster" are almost 6mm thick.  You can see a height pick below, with Trafficmaster left, and Pergo-Presto right, my home made base between.  I think I made those about 15-20 years ago, buying cheap slats of wood, staining them with Minwax Cherry, then cutting them in 60mm segments with my dad's bandsaw.

And as they come in machine-cut segments of 3.5x5", they are almost ready for me to use. Below pic has my 4-base Unit of Welsh archers WRG/DBA sized with depth/width comparison of the floor samples.  You can see that they're almost the same size, anyway.  I just don't have as many modeling and protecting options since they're all towards the middle of four small bases instead of one large one:

So with 3.5" being too deep, and also not matching the "synergy" of having bases that are half as deep as they are wide, I decided to see what I'd get out of a 2.5" deep base, especially for the knights:
Side view above is very promising.  Only a little bit of lance is sticking out, would be much better then present situation, especially since the figures would be much farther away from each other.  I'm not worried about the lances touching each other - they're piano wire.  I worry more about what they touch, including my fingers!  

Top-view, below shows that the 2.5" depth, total of 5" deep for two opposing, touching Unit-sizedbases: 

My conclusion is that I'm going to go for this flooring as my course of action.  One-piece bases loses a bit of "posing" flexibility, but these Units do not need to form columns and squares and hedgehogs and whatever.  They will also hang together better on sloped terrain. Plus I'm looking forward to cool diorama-type layouts, including some slopes and dips and dead figs.  It will be fun to do, appealing for the gamers, and as long as I strongly advise and encourage people to not touch the figs, it should allow them to survive longer. Also, as I plan to try some plastics, those are definitely not figs I want people picking up stands by!

More on this situation as it develops - I'm figuring out the removal of figures from the old bases and the cutting even as I write this...






Sunday, October 25, 2015

NT OHW Medieval Rules: only 2 Pages!

Well, due to the relative simplicity of the types presented, and my not being keen to add any others [altho the medieval world had a fair amount of variety, really] the adaptation of my Dark Ages rules into the Medieval period has made for a very small set.  

It is suitable for relatively straightforward battles between similar Feudal forces of knights supported by dismounted knights, archers and infantry.  Due to my figures being from the early medieval period, I toned down the archery from a devastating d6+2 to my d5+0.  I am still working on relative values, but I think d5-1, d5, and d5+1 are all valid, relatively speaking, for the Units.  Anyway, below are the rules, give them a playtest and let me know what you think!



FEUDAL WARGAME RULES
Grey Areas.  Any situation not explicitly covered in the rules, or a measurement that is “too close to call”, should be defined in “either/or” terms and resolved with a friendly roll off in the winner’s favor.

Pre-measuring.  Distances between Units may be measured at any time.

Units.  There are four types of Units in the feudal rules, representing the most common types.
1.    Knights have chain mail, shields, and not very large horses.  They charge aggressively but their lack of cohesion and horse armor results in them being vulnerable to casualties.
2.    Men at Arms are dismounted knights on foot, or well-armed and armored professionals.  Their armor and shield protect them and they are better able to fight together on foot than mounted knights.
3.    Serjeants are armed and fight effectively, similar to MaA but have poorer armor. 
4.    Archers are trained professionals using a crossbow with adequate armor and weapons to fight a melee if forced.  Others are bowmen with little armor and few weapons.  Either may be trained in shooting volleys.  They’ve enough missiles to endanger their targets and to shoot effectively through a battle.

Figures & Basing.  4-6 inch frontage per Unit with no prescribed depth, figure size or number per base.  Mine are two adjacent 6cm bases of 2-6 25mm figures [WRG standard], for a total of 12cm [47/8”] or 5 bases of 2x1” cavalry singles.  This makes all my Units about 5” wide, and 1.5-2” deep. 

Dice.  For more averaged results, I use a d5, which is the UK “average dice”, having pips of 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, eliminating 1 & 6.  If you want more extremes, use a d6.  Try using a d6 for Warband and d5 for Infantry.

Line of Sight.  LoS is measured from a Unit's front center point to the center of a fully visible side of the Target Unit Base: Front, Left, Right or Rear.  It is blocked by anything apparently taller than the height of the figures, e.g. hills, woods, buildings, and Units [elephants are higher than cavalry are higher than infantry].
·         Units may see 4” into and out of woods, town, and hills [plateau effect] but not through two sides. 
·         Units must have LoS to shoot or charge enemy Units at the time of the shot or charge.

Front, Flank & Rear.  These are measured from the Unit corners, 45° arcs off the front, rear or each base side.  The location of a Unit’s Front center determines if it is in an enemy Unit’s Front, Flank or Rear Facing.

Play Sequence.  A full turn has each player taking four phases:
Attacker  [player A]: 1) Shooting, 2) Movement, 3) Melee, 4) Routs and Rallies
Defender [player D]: 1) Shooting, 2) Movement, 3) Melee, 4) Routs and Rallies

1) MOVEMENT
Players sequentially move their Units, with no corner exceeding the total distance rolled in inches. 
1.    Class 1.  All Foot               move 1d5, +2”
2.    Class 2.  Knights               move 3d5, +2”           
To fit through a gap or move along a road, the two bases may be placed one behind the other, or the cavalry bases may move sideways or in a column of bases for appearances sake.  There’s no game difference for a “column” as the warriors are just flowing through a gap or along a road.

Turning.  Units rotate on their center or center-front up to 180°. Turns are not measured but are movement.
1.    Foot may Turn once, at the start OR end of their move.
2.    Knights may Turn twice, once at the start AND once at the end of their move.
3.    Any Unit in melee contact with Unit(s), none on its front facing, may face one of the Unit(s) with its front.  The Unit turns a full 90° or 180° and enemy Unit bases are adjusted to maintain contact. 
Terrain.  There are two terrain types, Linear and Area.  Linear are 6-12” long x 1-3” wide.  Area are 6-12” per side or diameter.  Building or tree models are only decorative – move as needed to position Units.
·         Hills. Area.  No movement effect.  Defensive bonus when uphill.
·         Villages, Woods, Brush, Marsh.  Area. Only Skirmishers and Raiders may enter, 4” movement penalty.  Defensive bonus if entirely inside.
·         Lakes & Rivers.  Impassible Area and Linear respectively. Units may cross at a bridge or ford.
·         Walls, Gullies. Linear. No movement effect but defensive bonus.
·         Roads. Linear. Units get a 4” bonus if entirely following a road and not Charging.

Interpenetration. None is allowed  – Units may not move through each other..

Charging.  Charge moves end with the Unit in Contact with an enemy Unit.
1.    Eligible Target Units must have any part of their base within the Charging Unit’s Front arc and in LoS, and the closest LoS distance between the two Units must be less than the movement amount rolled.
2.    Contact is then made by moving along the shortest legal move from the Charging Unit’s Front Facing towards the center of any Facing that is not already in contact, maximizing the amount of edge to edge Contact, if any, and minimizing any gap using all available movement to do so.  It then stops moving.  
3.    Contact may be made by only one attacking Unit per facing; front, rear and each flank.
There is no additional free movement to achieve fully aligned edge-to-edge contact [the so-called “closing the door” of DBA and other rules].   Any gaps are assumed to be filled with fighting men!

2) SHOOTING
Archer Units may shoot missiles with these restrictions:
·         Range is 12” for bows or crossbows.
·         Archers may not shoot if they moved during the Movement Phase, but may have turned.
·         Crossbows may not shoot if they moved or turned during the Movement Phase.
·         Fulfilling the above LoS and other restrictions, shooting into a melee is permitted.
Roll 1D5 if the Unit is armed with bows, or +1 if armed with crossbows.  This gives the number of
Hits against the Target Unit, modified as follows:
o   Terrain.  Units defending woods, villages or walls halve Hits [round up].
o   Men at Arms.  Have heavy armor and large shields, so they halve Hits [round up] from shooting at their front or flank facings.
o   Unshielded or unprepared. Double Hits from Units shooting into the rear Facing. 
o   Stacked Modifiers. The max defensive benefit any Unit may receive is ¼ Hits [1/2x1/2].

3) MELEE
One-Sided Melee.  Units only inflict casualties during their own player turn.  Roll 1D5 for the Unit, getting +2 if Knights but -2 if Archers – Bow and -1 if Archers - Crossbow.  Modify this result as follows:
·         Terrain. Units uphill or defending woods / river bank / gully / wall halve Hits [round up].
·         Men at Arms. Their armor allows them to halve Hits [rounded up].
·         Unshielded or Unprepared.  Double Hits by Units attacking on the rear or flank facing.
·         Stacked Modifiers. The max defensive benefit any Unit may receive is ¼ Hits [1/2x1/2].
There is no dividing of the Hits a Unit inflicts upon multiple Units attacking it [one enemy Unit may attack each facing; front, rear and either flank, for four total Units].  Units only fight melee combats to their Front, attacking a single enemy Unit in contact with their Front Facing.  Melee concludes with the elimination of Units.  Units in melee may turn to face attackers if they don’t have enemy contacting their Front.  [see Movement].

4) ROUTS AND RALLIES
·         Any Unit with 15 or more Hits is removed from the table.
·         Any Unit eligible to rally off Hits due to an Optional Rule does so now. 

Units that pass ten total Hits have 5 become permanent – mark them in red as they may not be rallied off.

Neil Thomas Medieval Batrep: #14 Static Defence, p.3

The battle continues to rage...

Turn 6.  Blue unleashes his knight who've pent-up fury to spend.  One slams into the crossbows, the other rolls short and has to settle for covering the flank.  While Red has a legal flank charge against the Blue knight battling the crossbows, they'd then be charged in the flank and that would be "bad" since they presently have a hill advantage [halved Hits] which they'd lose.  Not worth it.  


Spear and archers move up in support of the Knightly attack on the hill.  On the other side of the woods / field, Red's Men at Arms and Archers continue to work around their wood and the restriction to stay near the town.  It's hard to follow orders sometimes!

Turn 7.  Red Men at Arms at top have moved back to town and out of the way of Red Archers.  Meanwhile, the melee on the hill rages, with both sides grinding down the other.  The crossbows are weak in melee but take half Hits at the top of the hill, while their knights are both taking halved hits and inflicting them at the d5+2 for knights.  They are slowly getting the edge on their Blue attackers.  The spear and archer move up to support Blue knights.  The importance of infantry is clearly being seen.  They are critical to protect flanks and engage in supporting attacks.


Turn 8.  Blue knights on hill break.  Fortunately, there are spear to take their place and hopefully gain the hill!  Other blue knight slowly gains the upper hand on the crossbows. The menace of Red archer support is clear - could turn the tide if allowed to happen.  Blue archers move to run interference and protect their knights on the hill.


Turn 9.  Spearmen just make it into melee against Red knights, but probably regret it as they take 7 Hits while inflicting only 2!  Crossbowmen similarly lose ground to the Blue knights.  Red Archers move into strike range, supported by the men at arms.  Blue archers continue positioning themselves to protect Blue knights on the objective.


Turn 10.  Red archers start their volleys, but Blue archers are there to take it!  Crossbows are at 14 Hits, so will disappear next turn.  The Blue spearmen continue to do poorly against the Red chivalry on the hill.


Turn 11.  Archers exchange volleys, but as Blue's already had Hits, they will lose.  The crossbows and spearmen both break.  With mutual flank charges, the knight with the turn sequence will be the flank charger, and that's Blue!


Turn 11.  As said earlier, Blue has flank charge using the 45 degree marker you can see that their charge hits Red knight flank.  Blue archers take more Hits and their end is also in sight.


Turn 12.  Blue archers are destroyed, but Red force cannot project force onto the hill - remaining within 12" of the town leaves them short of shooting the knights.  If they could cover the hill with arrows, then the Knights would be forced to charge them, resulting in their destruction due to the support of Red's men at arms.  As Red's remaining units are forced to remain near the town, they can't.

With Blue in possession of the hill, and Red unable to stop it, the game is over.

A very interesting scenario!  Came down to the very end.  I made every effort to win the game for both sides, but in the end made a few mistakes that cost Red the game.  

The Blue advance wasn't well timed or set up.  The Red preemptive attack was too aggressive and lost knights for spearmen due to being shot in the rear. Had they attacked the Blue archers instead it may have gone better, but they would still be too far ahead of their archer unit supporting them.  

I think that the Red archers would've been more effective had I moved them in support of the hill sooner, since that's where the attack was being made.  Their shooting could've made a big difference, especially if I'd angled the defensive line towards the back of the board instead of towards the wood. This would've made the hill a tough and well-supported defense. 

Overall, very happy with both the rules and the scenario, altho there's probably some small details to work out.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Neil Thomas Medieval Batrep: #14 Static Defence, p.2

This is a very interesting scenario, and I'm eager to give it a go.  I like that the Red defender has to make hard choices about which units to put where.  As two of the three Units assigned to the town or hill can't go more than 12" from the objective they're defending, I decided to put one archer with each objective so that it could have a total 24" reach from its assigned defense, covering much of the board.  

At the hill, I put the Crossbows and two knights, one of the knights being off the hill as a counter-attack force.  At the town, I put an archer, a man at arms, and a knight, with the Archers in the town front and the knights next to them.  The MaA are in the town out of the way for now.

Faced with this, I decided to go for the hill, as Units in it don't take halved Hits from shooting, just in HtH.  Also, the MaA Unit is pretty tough - 1/4 Hits in the town!  No interest in facing that.  I moved fast with three knights against the Hill, backed up by two spear Units in line behind, with the Archers on the right to oppose any enemy forays with their 12" range. On the defense, they should get at least one, perhaps two shots off - so up to about 7 Hits, hopefully.  This makes them a tougher defense than the spearmen, IMHO.

Turn 1.  Blue advances with 5 Units against the hill, screened by archers on the right flank.  Red Units on hill hold their positions - nothing to be gained thru maneuver...yet.

Turn 2 - Blue.  Two knights are up front, with one in reserve. Two spear advance slowly, maintaining their line.  Poor positioning of the rear knight will be a problem later - There isn't a gap big enough for them to charge through.  My rules and 2-base Units permit flexibility for what are some pretty loose formations.  The Knights could move into the gap and narrow their front but that would be movement, not a Charge. I should've done this and advanced in echelon left to right.

Red Knights are just out of 12" - just.  With their 3d5+2" move, they can probably hit the Archers next turn.  Their archers are behind so they can follow up and support the knight's advance with shooting.

Turn 2 - Red.  In a surprising move, Red knights suddenly charge against the advancing Blues!  It was surprising, b/c I hadn't thought about it until I was really considering the Red turn.  Calculated risk - lots of thought didn't discern all possibilities, I have to admit.
Interestingly, it's easy to play this game solo - I allow myself to get caught up in the side I'm playing, and don't think about the other side much. Sometimes, I surprise myself! 

In this case, the knightly advance was suddenly obvious - if Blue charges forward with its two front knights, and makes the distance or blocks the Red knight on the ground, the Blue knights are pretty certain to break the Archer and beat the ground knights first - if barely, it'd depend on the rolls as the Blues have four Hits from the crossbows.  

So why let it happen like that? The Red knight's advance forestalls the attack on the hill, and if Blue charges the flank of the Red knight in melee, they will in turn be flanked by the Red knight charging off the hill.  Also, the crossbows on the hill continue to threaten the Blue knights if they do nothing, while the back Blue knight is blocked.  So the choice is clear - CHARGE!  
Turn 2 - Red, overview. I like how this game makes tactical decisions simple yet important.  In this case, the choices were take the Blue charge on its own terms, or forestall it with a jab.  It also feels more knightly than taking it lying down! Red's right flank is so inspired it charges across into the spearmen - had to roll very high to have the option, then decided to go for it!  They roll a '3+2=5x2=10" Hits. Ouch! Red archers advance into shooting range, but can't cover the knights left flank, unfortunately, they're just too slow.

Turn 3.  Blue retires his two knight units facing the hill - both to out of bow range and one facing the flank of the Red knight that charged long into the spearmen.  The other has taken three Hits from the crossbows, already, the one in melee four Hits.  Archers show that their 45 degree shooting arc hits the rear of the red knights.  Hadn't noticed that...a flank doesn't give any benefit, but a rear is double Hits! Second spearmen also faces the rampaging knights - can't be too careful with the flower of chivalry running rampant on the flank...bit dismaying to have one's attack derailed.

Hit dice demonstration.  Blue knights outroll red, a '4+2=6', while the return is a '2+2=4' but Red's still up two there.  Red archers roll a measly '2'.  Blue archers roll a '4x2=8' on the rear of the Red knight, while the spear contribute 4 more. Red knights roll a '4+2=6" and destroy the spearmen who're at 16 total Hits, 1 over limit.
End of Turn 3.  The Spearmen rout back to Wales.

Top of Turn 4.  Knights exchange blows putting each other up to 11 and 13 apiece.  Doesn't look good for either of them, really.  I'd hoped the Red surprise charge would do better, but their dice aren't cutting it.   
Meanwhile, the Welsh archers shoot the Red knights down - with 12 Hits, the archers couldn't fail to do so as the lowest they can roll is a '2' doubled = 4, putting the knights at 16. Still, they roll a '5' a max the die, doubled to 10!  With a total of 22 hits, the knights are dead, the horses are dead, and there's even arrows in the card deck one was carrying in his saddlebag. 

Battered knights retreat, leaving their dead to be looted...one clearly needs a better gorget. Apparently, I tipped the dice over by accident - 12 siders are ease to do that with.

Turn 5.  Things have cleared out quite a bit all around.  The valiant Blue knights beat their red opponents, then are shot to pieces by the crossbows on the hill.  We shall pen a song about them. Blue forces advance, while the archers move out of shooting range of their opposing archers who're at the end of their leash so also fall back.  The men at arms make a demonstration towards the hill, but they really won't be much use as they're at the max of their leash from the town, also.
While the surprise charge from the Red should've been a win, the other charge against the spearmen was a waste - trading a knight for a levy spear wasn't a good deal.  The failure of the other knightly charge is very disappointing. Red's down two knights for a knight and a spear, and two of their units are tied closely to the defense of the town.  Still, they've a knight and a crossbow on a hill, and they take half Hits on the defense there.

What will happen in the second phase of this battle...tune in again soon, viewers!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Neil Thomas - One Hour Wargames: Early Medieval Rules, p.1

So got the medieval bug again and am getting my Feudal English out on the table.  Altho I will leave the mechanics the same as the DA rules, I will have to do some work to categorize the troops as NT lays out into my mechanics.  He has four types as always, general attributes are below with 0/0 being normal shot/Hand to Hand & armor bonus:

Knights = +2 HtH, 12" move,
Men at Arms = 6" move, 1/2 Hits [armor]
Levy = 6" move, 
Archers = 6" move, +2 Shot / -2 HtH.
No troop types are permitted in woods.  

Infantry are slow relative to knights.  Only dismounted knights - Men at Arms - have an armor bonus.  I like these troops as it makes it clear who did what and why knights dismounted - slow but sturdy instead of fast and deadly.

Some of his basic assumptions and troop attributes show they are more high medieval, say 1300-1500 or so, with Archers wielding a devastating +2 shot as they are assumed to be crossbows [or longbows, one assumes].  For the early medieval period, that's a bit too powerful and moves them from the supporting role of the Norman / Feudal period to the primary weapon of the high medieval.  For today's playtest, I'll make them a '0' shot and leave them -2 in Hand-to-Hand [HtH]. Aside from that, I'm set to try Scenario #14, Static Defence.

 In this scenario, the Red Defenders must keep two units within 12" of the town and hill, being forced to defend both. The Blue Attacker has the choice of which objective to attempt.  Note that this mostly will mean that the two restricted units per objective can't engage in melee near the other objective.  They can still shoot in support, so they aren't out of the game.  Both the town and the hill give 1/2 Hits to units occupying them, which should more than make up for movement restrictions.  In any event, this is what the battle looks like on the table, the red markers denoting the 3x3' board's intersections:

Below are some of the troops that will be having at it!
Archer company - figures are old Soldier and Sword, OOP most likely.  Nice crisp figs with a high pewter content making them resilient and clean to work with - bit smaller than OG.

Mercenary Crossbows: Serjeants or Brabanters, professionals with professional weapons.  These are Wargames Foundry most likely, but perhaps Essex?  Painted them ten years ago or more.

Lots and Lots of knights!  These are nearly all Old Glory. While they are not premium figures, they paint up nicely and are well animated, and are CHEAP!  Easily one of the best bangs for the buck at the Old Glory Army discount of 40% off the price of $30 / 30 infantry or 10 cavalry.  Still have a bunch from the "Revenge" line altho I don't like the Revenge rules.

Sir someone - William Marshal perhaps?  And his followers. These figs are based and set up for the old Day of Battle game by Chris Parker.  The Warlord is mounted individually and the extra characters are added to his retinue and give him abilities, sort of like familiars in other games like 40K.  I used to be pretty involved with DoB, but it's too complicated for my little head nowadays. Still, give them a look-see here if you want more skirmish-y flavor: 
http://www.dayofbattle.com/  All the work is drawn by hand with brush or micron pen.


This guy is also historical.  Can't remember his name, either!  Figures are mostly Foundry with some Old Glory, the mounted knights for certain.  Foundry are the foot figs, very nice.



Old Glory Gallowglass foot.  Note heavy armor, axes and no shields.  Nice set of figs.



More OG, being rebased onto magnets.  Can't decide what to do... These are Swabians - heavy mercenary foot from modern Oktoberfest-land, Bavaria.  Their descendants will make BMWs!


Welsh foot from the Dark Ages - Old Glory Ancients line, I believe.  Great figs in shieldwall.  Their ancestors will be Tom Jones and coal miners struggling to preserve their Celtic culture.


Welsh archers - OG Revenge medieval line, I believe. Moustaches, no beards and one foot bare for added traction. The bow strings are - thread.  Pain in the neck but look good.

As usual, NT gives a typical army for which one rolls the actual troops.  In this period you'd have 3-4 knights, plus 0-2 each of Archers, Levy or MaA until you hit the total of 6 Units. Forces are rolled for randomly within these restrictions.  I'm just playing with what's handy, a Welsh marcher lord force v. a royal English force in my mind.

So how will all these forces clash?  Tune in for the next post!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Excellent Medieval Fighting Post

This is just too good not to re-post here, with the link attached of course.  Credit to whomever Azincourt is, he does a great job!  The original location has plenty of posted commentary which is of course of variable quality, the usual reaction when people's prejudices are challenged.  Very informative for the gamer and rules designer!

"Punch him in the throat!  Kick him in the codpiece!"  Ah yes, gentlemen at war...
knight-fighting-league
                     Photo: Paweł Gołąb, from here: http://www.odditycentral.com/events/

by Azincourt, https://www.reddit.com/user/Azincourt

Medieval Myth Buster
Dear Fantasy Writers of Reddit,
Whilst there may be science fantasy and urban fantasy, the most common way to write fantasy is to place your characters in a setting that could be considered medieval. In other words: Swords, armour, horses, archers and so on. This tends to be true whether you are writing about humans alone or have created a number of different races, or borrowed Tolkien’s staples. I decided to write a “Quick myth buster” sheet to help out those who want to get a quick grasp of some of the basic, but commonly unknown, facts about medieval arms and armour. It’s so common for swordsmen to play a huge role in fantasy novels but for the author to have little idea of what sword fighting was like that I figured it might be helpful.
EDIT: If there are any particular weapons that I've not mentioned that you are interested in then I'm more than happy to add to the post. I focussed only on the 'Core' stuff as I didn't know if anyone is interested.
Disclaimer 1: If you don’t agree with any of the points I put forward, or your swords are lightsabres, or you just don’t like them, or your characters have super strength, or they need special weapons to cut up insect people, then that’s all fine and I’m certainly not telling anybody what they have to do! You can write whatever you would like. This guide is intended for people who want an element of historical realism to their weapons and armour. If you want it to work differently then that’s entirely up to you and this post is not judging you for doing so.
Disclaimer 2: Some of the things I’m going to say are pretty generalised. There are always exceptions, but I’ve not tried to mention them because in doing so it gives too much weight to the rarities, and diminishes the ‘norm’ which is what I’m trying to put across.
A little about me before we begin (or “how I claim to know this stuff”): I have a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology, a Masters degree in Medieval History, and I’m about to start writing my PhD on Violence in Anglo-Saxon England. I also study Historic European Martial Arts and train twice per week. It would be fair to say that medieval warfare more or less consumes most of my waking thoughts. As my background is in European history I won’t be talking very much about Asian martial arts but am talking about the type of fighting that took place in Europe between 500AD and 1700 AD.
I’ve aimed to keep this to brief, bullet point form so that it’s not like reading an essay, with videos provided for those who want to look into these ideas further.
Swords
THE BIG MYTH: Swords are the main weapon of a medieval/ancient society.
THE TRUTH: Swords are always a secondary or tertiary weapon for warriors, meaning that you would only use your sword if your main weapon was lost/broken/inappropriate. Main weapons would almost exclusively be pole based weapons (lance, spear, polearm, javelin, pike etc) or a missile weapon (bow, crossbow, sling, firearm etc).
Swords are at a big disadvantage against pole weapons in most situations but usually in both battlefield formations and 1v1 situations.
Swords do not easily cut through armour. A sword blade is very unlike either to cut, or punch through either mail armour or plate armour. If fighting an armoured opponent, people would use a Half Sword technique where they put one hand on the blade and use it more like a spear.
So why use a sword? Swords are light and easy to carry. They make great side arms because they can be hung easily on a belt. They’re also aesthetically pleasing, and because in the early middle ages making swords was very expensive, they have always been a status symbol. Swords are iconic and indicate being part of a warrior class for much of the middle ages, even after they became common by the end of the 11th century.
Swords are not heavy! Even the longsword (often referred to as the bastard sword) only weighs 1-2kg (2.4-4lbs). It is very very fast, light and swift. It is hard to parry an attack with any sword even if you know that it’s coming! It’s totally fine for even a slightly built person to wield a steel sword for 2 hours solid without feeling tired.
If you are NOT wearing armour or have no shield, once they commence, sword fights end in about 1 second. You can basically forget about multiple clashes of blade or anything that looks like what you’ve seen on Game of Thrones. This video demonstrates longsword fighting in about as historically accurate way as I’ve been able to find:
Wrestling is an essential part of all hand to hand combat but often neglected! When two fighters get close to each other they will commonly abandon their weapons and fight up close.
The longsword/bastard sword/2 handed sword was the knightly sword, and not very common. The most common civilian weapon set is the single sword (or arming sword) with a buckler. Sword and buckler combat probably played far, far more importance in the medieval world than longswords. Our earliest fight manual, the so called “I.33” from about the year 1300 demonstrates techniques for sword and buckler. The video below is some really great interpretation of sword and buckler fighting (but slowed down). You might note how the inclusion of the shield means that the sword fight takes much longer.
Using a one handed sword with nothing in your second hand is just weird and dumb. Most people would have used a shield in war, a buckler in civilian life, a knife or cloak if you didn’t have your buckler. Failing all of those you use your free hand to slap at the enemy weapon when it comes near you! You can grab a static sword blade and it will not cut you. Medieval European swords were very sharp, but you can grip a sharp sword with your bare hand safely as long as it’s not pulled through.
I have to mention one of the biggest myths: Katanas are in no way superior to other swords. They have a mythology about their sharpness, but in most ways are quite inferior to European longswords.
Spears
Spears were THE medieval and ancient weapon. They were used in some format by every army from the beginning of history to modern day – even professional soldiers have bayonets, turning their gun into a spear. They are so underrepresented in fantasy that the only notable wielders that spring to mind are Kaladin in Way of Kings and Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones. That’s not many for such an important weapon.
An inexperienced spearman will often beat an experienced swordsman because the spear has a huge advantage in reach over the sword.
A spear thrust could penetrate mail but will not penetrate plate.
Swinging the whole pole around your head is a totally legitimate historical technique.
The optimal hand to hand combat weapons against plate armour are pollaxes or similar pole based weapons. These weapons were specifically developed to fight against plate armour. If plate armour is a thing in your world, this is what people should be using against it!
Axes
The one handed axe is a weapon that is used because it is cheap and easy to obtain, not because it is an especially good weapon.
Axe heads need to be pretty small. The huge axe that Gimli has in the LOTR films is far, far too large to be used practically (and must require him to have enormous strength to wield). An axe made specifically for war should be far smaller because in combat, speed is what matters.
If someone chooses to use an axe over a sword for non-armoured fighting then they need a very strange reason to do so. A sword has huge advantages over any single handed axe.
Axes were seldom favoured but they did have their uses. The Vikings made good use of the Dane Axe, a huge double handed weapon – but its purpose was to hew at enemy shield walls more than it was for personal combat.
Shields
If you don’t have plate armour, you want a shield. Shields are awesome.
If you do have plate armour, shields become redundant and you’re better off with a two handed pole type weapon.
Shields are also very inconvenient to carry around with you.
Unlike a sword, a medium sized shield is actually pretty heavy. Training for 2 hours with a Viking style shield will leave your shield arm tired. Since shields varied between being little bucklers that just protect the sword hand and massive tower shields that covered the whole body, it’s not really possible to give a ‘standard weight.’
Armour: If you want a great documentary on armour, then the Weapons that Made Britain series is fairly good and entertaining. Note: I'm using the English spelling of armour. If you're American you can spell it your own zany way!
Leather Armour
Historically, this does not really exist. Who would wear leather to stop getting stuck with a sword? It’s like suggesting that you couldn’t push a kitchen knife through your shoe. Leather armour would offer almost no protection against bludgeoning, cutting or piercing weapons.
Leather armour is in fact actually just ‘clothing.’ Clothing made of leather.
Mail Armour
The term ‘chainmail’ is a modern convention, historically it was just called Maille.
Mail armour is not heavy. It weighs about 11kgs. A U.S. marine carries about 60kgs on his back, whilst mail’s weight is spread around the shoulders.
You could easily swim whilst wearing it if you were a good swimmer. No experienced warriors in your writing should find mail heavy.
Mail is super effective against cutting attacks. You cannot cut through a mail shirt with a sword, even a two handed sword. A good cut against it might cause concussion damage to the body beneath, but the mail won’t even be damaged.
Mail is not very effective against piercing attacks. Arrows, spears, sword thrusts – anything direct and forceful will go through mail. If you’re interested in seeing how mail does against various weapons, the following video is fairly decent:
Plate Armour
Plate armour is not heavy. A full suit of plate armour only weighs about 20kgs (again, 1/3 of what a US marine carries today). You could swim in it if you were a decent swimmer, but it wouldn't be fun. It does restrict your movements slightly, but you can do cartwheels, forward rolls etc without any kind of problem in plate armour.
If someone is knocked over, it takes no longer for them to get up wearing plate armour than it does if they are naked. The armour makes no difference, it is not restrictive like that.
Wearing a close visored helmet will interfere with your breathing after serious exertion.
Plate armour did not commonly cover the backs of the upper legs; it was generally assumed that if you were in plate armour then you'd be sitting on a horse, although knights often fought on foot.
Plate armour takes time to put on, and you need help getting it on. It's not practical to wear whilst travelling around.
Plate is probably the most poorly represented armour in fantasy settings. When you are in full plate armour THEY ARE A LIVING TANK! Although the quality of armour could vary hugely, and surviving examples we have today are likely only of the very best quality, a man in full plate was almost invulnerable to even direct blows from the hand held weapons of the medieval period.
Your best bet to kill a man in plate is to get him on the ground and put a dagger in his visor or in the joints (which would be protected by mail), or pull his helmet off (if it’s not buckled on) and get him in the head. As before, wrestling is an essential part of any warrior's skill set.
Aiming to get a sword/spear into the visor slot or other joint whilst the man is up and fighting should be considered an essentially superhuman feat. People just aren’t accurate enough to do that in a fight.
Do you want plate armour to stop arrows? Depending on which technology level you aim at you can choose! By the 15th century, Italian armour was arrow-proof as experienced by the English longbowmen at the Battle of Verneuil in 1424. Earlier armour was far less hardened.
Bows
You need to train for many years to be able to be an effective longbowman. You need to seriously bulk up your shoulders in order to give you a significant draw strength on the bow for battle.
If you are just hunting or shooting targets you don’t need this strength, but don’t expect your arrows to go through armour. Even the bows of the strongest longbowmen eventually were defeated by armour – a bow drawn by a slinky, sexy woman who hasn’t done some weight training is not going to penetrate plate or even mail regularly.
If you intend to have main characters using bows, you need to watch this video and see just what is capable – somersaulting whilst hitting moving targets? Yep! 10 arrows in the air before one lands? Sure. Shooting faster than Legolas? Yes absolutely!