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COMBAT REALISM IN A FANTASY WORLD

October 27, 2021

            After participating in IST (International Steel Tournament) at the Ren Faire in Las Vegas last week, I was able to once again, do unintentional research into medieval combat. Once in a while, someone on one of the Facebook fantasy forums asks a question about combat with weapons or armor. In a nutshell, the way it’s portrayed in a story versus the real world is far different. The same could be said for movies.

            Given the era most fantasy is set in, armor, swords, maces, bows and the like go with the flora, fauna, and icky bugs. It’s part of the deal. Just like the flora and fauna, there’s usually only a touch of realism, if any at all.

ARMOR

            Have you ever seen anyone in real armor?

            What does real chain mail look like or how much does it weigh?

            How about studded leather?

            Plate?

            A mix?

            The reality is a lot different from what you might expect, and don’t go by what you see in the movies either. Remember that most movies are an illusion! Some of that stuff you see on screen might be rubber or plastic or aluminum!

            Armor, at least the real stuff, is heavy, awkward, and extremely uncomfortable to wear. It takes a very strong person to be able to wear it for any length of time. To travel long distances and to be able to move with any dexterity? Well…

            So, how do we portray our characters all decked out in such stuff in our stories?

            Yeah, I thought so.

WEAPONS

            Ever actually held a bastard sword?

            A two-handed sword?

            A mace?

            A lance?

            Any idea how heavy and awkward these weapons are?

            Now think of the actors in movies twirling these huge hunks of metal around like they’re made of plastic.

            Bingo.

            In real life, just think of your hero not only lugging your huge weapon around, but then whipping it out to slay the latest icky bug.

HORSES OR SAID RIDING BEASTS

            Now many portray their riding beast decked out in armor. Even if so, consider mounting that poor beast saddled in something that heavy. Then consider you mounting it decked out in your own armor, along with your favorite weapon.

            Need I say more?

            I will anyway.

            In the Alcazar de Segovia in Spain, there’s a room with a display of a fighter in full plate sitting on a horse in full plate. I really feel for the poor horse, which is a special breed strong enough to be able to handle the weight. The fighter has to be lifted onto the hose with a crane.

            That’s right.

            A crane.

            That’s the reality of armor, let alone holding any kind of serious weapon.

SOLUTIONS

            Of course, the solutions are that first off, your world is fantasy, so the laws of physics simply don’t apply.

            Second, your characters are unbelievably stronger than humans even if they are human. Or, they can be of other races that are stronger than humans.

            Third, the cure-all for many such things is magic, or in my world, magick.

            Fourth, fantasy metals such as mithril or something you made up on your own which is stronger and lighter than real-world metals.

            There are many ways to skip the laws of real-world physics to make it all work.

FROM FANTASY TO REAL-WORLD SCENARIOS

            This issue with armor and weapons isn’t just for fantasy settings.

            The difference is that in a real-world setting, you must explain how the character overcomes the physical issues with some kind of technology. That’s something that in fantasy you can explain away (or not) with magick or whatever. In a real-world setting, you’re bound by reality. In the case if a real-world medieval setting, uh oh, you’d better do your research! With combat fighting in armor and with swords and such, it’s a lot different from what you might think! There were many huge battles fought but they were not often what was pictured in the movies.

            Be sure to check the reality first before plunging in.

            A good Ren Faire is a great place to start!

            Happy writing!

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