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Realistic Combat for Dummies
With the upcoming Shardlight tournament, we're going to see a number of emoted-out fights soon. One of the things that often hinders this process is when someone who has no experience in the field starts fighting, and ends up doing things that either make no sense or are illogical. This guide was written to help prevent that.

I was lucky enough to know a friend who had done a number of live-action fights, with real weapons and the like (for those who are really good and know how to use them without actually hurting someone.) She's been doing this stuff for years, and for a while she taught me some of the basics of the various fighting styles often used in medieval combat. Keep in mind that I am by no means an expert, but I would like to think that I know enough to be able to give some sound pointers to people who want their RP fights to be a little more realistic. I don't expect everyone to read this, but if at least one person appreciates the effort put into it, then I'm happy.

Basic Stance

Before you can start swinging your weapon, you need to know how to stand and move around. It sounds kinda silly, but how you position your feet and body can make a big difference in if you survive or not.

For a typical, right-handed person, one puts their left foot forward, pointing towards his/her enemy. The right foot (which I often refer to as the "back foot") is behind, perpendicular to the forward foot. You should keep your stance fairly wide, but comfortable, and knees should be bent at all times. This is a basic stance that works with nearly every weapon, and I will tell you why.

Typically speaking, holding your feet in this position keeps your side facing the enemy instead of your chest. As your goal in any confrontation is to live (and make sure the enemy does not) it is in your best interest to pose as small of a target as possible. For most, the side is a smaller target than if you were facing the enemy with your chest. In addition, your feet being in this position makes it relatively easy to circle or strafe around an opponent, and a movement of your back foot can re-align your body (I'll explain this better later, but it's important for most basic defensive maneuvers.) Knees are typically bent as you can move more quickly this way, and it detracts from your height slightly. Note that holding a knees-bent stance can be uncomfortable, if not painful, to people who are not used to it for significant periods, so you have to train for a while to get used to it.

Sword and Shield

Sword and Shield is one of the two "styles" that was recommended to me for beginners. It provides a solid way to keep yourself alive, which is one of the two goals you have for every conflict. Now, while I say "Sword and Shield," this isn't specific to swords, and the basic principles work for axes and maces as well.

One of the first things you discover when you have a large, metal shield strapped to your arm is that the thing is bloody heavy. To put it simply, swinging your shield to block attacks is impractical, and will quickly tire you out and make your arm sore. While it may seem counterintuitive, it is easier, and less tiring, to move your body behind your shield than it is to move your shield to block. In basic stance, this is pretty easy. Let's say someone is sending an attack to your left. By moving your back foot to the right, you end up changing the way your body is aligned compared to your attacker, and voila, your shield is now between yourself and the incoming blow. The use of the back foot to keep your shield between yourself and the opponent's weapon is the basis for the defense of Sword and Shield. If you're having a hard time visualizing this, try it yourself: stand up and enter the stance described above, then hold your left harm vertically in front of yourself, facing your imaginary opponent. Now, move your back foot while keeping your arm still in comparison to your chest. Your "shield" moves without you having to move your arm.

Attacking with a sword, or any other hand weapon, isn't a process of simply slashing away. Most wide slashes are telegraphed, and thus easily blocked, dodged, parried, or what-have-you. The idea behind attacking with these weapons (and in truth, any attack) is to make your enemy not know where the attack is coming from until the last second. This involves wrist-snapping. To visualize this (or stand up and do it yourself,) put yourself in the basic stance listed above, and again hold your arm up to symbolize a shield. Now, hold your right hand up, holding your sword parallel to the ground and facing the tip directly *away* from your enemy. Now, move that arm forward, as if you were going to touch the enemy with the pommel (the non-pointy end) of your sword. Once you're forward enough, snap your wrist and forearm to the right (you may have to try it to see what I mean,) which will send your blade zooming towards your unlucky adversary's head. There are other directions once can wrist-snap to of course, and combos can be done by doing one snap after the other. You may end up doing a little hip-movement, which is fine, but try not to do too much...the idea is to conserve as much energy as possible and to not use it in un-needed movements. You should, however, put some muscle into it and use a bit of your body into the blow, so it actually does some damage.

Dual Weapon

Though you may not expect it, using two weapons can be similar to using a sword and shield, so the skills you learned with one can often be used to help you with the other. The first thing that needs to be stressed about using two weapons is that very rarely do you attack with both at once. Typically speaking, one weapon is kept back to parry enemy blows while the other is used to attack the enemy. With no defense, you'll be easy to kill by anyone, as your reach is no greater than that of a shield-user. What, then, is the benefit of using two weapons? Namingly, the surprise factor of having a number of different attack options available to you. Whereas a shield is almost always kept as a defensive mechanism, someone with two weapons can more easily conform with the demands of the moment, switching attack and defense hands within a moment's notice. Dual-weapon users also tend to have a significant advantage when facing spear and polearm users.

Blocking with a parrying sword is surprisingly similar to blocking with a shield. Instead of holding the shield in front of you, you're holding a sword in front of you. Typically, you hold this perpendicular to the ground, the point of the blade facing your enemy's nose. Otherwise, most of the same advice that was given to shield users (such as using the back foot to keep your defense between you and your enemy's weapon) applies here as well. The main difference is that you'll likely have to move your parrying weapon a bit more, due to the significantly smaller area that a sword naturally covers compared to a shield. On the other hand, the weapon is lighter, so it's not as taxing to move as a shield is.

The basic theories of one-handed attack (wrist-snapping) also applies here. The difference is that, often, you can change your stance and switch which weapon you're attacking with. With additional attack angles available to you at all times, the enemy has to keep a tighter guard. As one might expect, dual-wielding is one of the most difficult styles to learn and truly master, and I'm afraid I'm not adequate in teaching the finer points of it. One point of interest, particularly in note when a dual-wielder is fighting someone using a pole or a two-hander: a good defensive, and offensive, tactic is to "tie-up" your opponent's weapon with one of your own. A tactic that was used often against me when I was learning was having one of the two swords constantly shoving at your weapon, locking it up and preventing it from acting, while the other sword goes on the attack. It's disturbingly effective, and the worst-case scenario for any pole-user is facing someone dual-wielding.

Long Spear

The use of long spears (and other polearms) is the other style that was recommended to me for beginners, and is the one I am most familiar with. The basic philosophy is simple: you have a weapon with ridiculous reach, so kill your enemy before he gets to you. Obviously, such expectations aren't always realistic, but nevertheless a good pole-user can kill enemies with little threat to himself. There are typically two ways to hold the spear, depending if you're concentrating on defense or attack. Attack typically involves holding the spear with your main hand closer to the blunt end, holding tightly and elbow bent, while your other hand lightly grasps closer to the point to aim it. The spear is typically pointed towards an enemy's chest, the weapon kept close to your stomach in terms of height. The other, more defensive stance, involves moving your main hand up and over your head, putting the spear in between you and your enemy, with the point facing the enemy's forward foot.

Entering the defensive stance with a spear usually means that you're trying to survive long enough to get distance with your enemy again. It's the best way to ensure that your weapon is between you and your opponent, especially if you're facing a dual-wielder trying to tie your weapon up. You don't have many options to attack, usually just a quick stab to the foot or lower leg, but it's better than dying. Of note is that, due to the defensive problems spear-users face when an enemy steps in close to them, many keep a spare weapon (such as a sword or dagger) on their person. If someone is going to get too close, you can choke up on the spear (holding it in one hand and holding it closer towards the point) while using your spare weapon to help defend yourself. A sort of limited dual-wielding, if you will.

Usually, however, you'll be attacking your opponent. The idea is to keep your enemy off-balance in the "attack" position while keeping yourself away from the enemy's blades. This tends to involve a lot of sideways movement (as backwards movement gives your opponent momentum) while constantly stabbing with the business end of your spear. Typically, one can draw little circles in the air with the spear when not actively attacking, in order to keep your enemy guessing as to where the next attack is going to be sent. Even if an attack is surely going to be blocked, the force of the blow can keep an enemy off-balance, buying more time to land the blow you need to win the fight. As a note, many polearms, particularly halberds, combine the traits of long spears with great-weapons, which can make them more versatile than the "stab-stab-stab" nature of spears.

Great Weapon

The use of a two-handed sword or axe has its advantages...but also it's disadvantages. To get the latter out of the way first, you don't have the reach of a long spear, nor do you have the defensive capabilities of a shield-user or a dual-wielder. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the use of a two-handed weapon is the least defensive out of any combat style (something I feel Blizzard got wrong, giving two-handers to Arms and dual-wielding to Fury.) If you're using a two-handed weapon, you're concentrating on being an engine of destruction, overwhelming enemies before they can mount an offensive on you. At least, that's the idea, because you're not going to be able to adequately defend yourself if it doesn't happen.

Defending yourself with a two-handed weapon is a cross between a dual-wielder and a long spear's method. A defensive way to hold the weapon involves holding it in front of you, tip of the sword point aimed at the enemy's nose. Like all the other styles, this then depends on use of the back-foot to keep the weapon between you and the enemy. Like long spear, though, you really don't want it to come to this, as you'd rather have the enemy dead before they can threaten you.

Attacking with a two-handed weapon involves momentum. Since you can't really wrist-snap with a two-hander, you instead have to rely on the sheer force and weight of the weapon. Wide swings still really aren't the answer here, though. Usually, use of the weapon involves circles, swinging the weapon in a continuous motion in front of you to keep the momentum going. This can be hard to describe and visualize, but imagine holding the great-sword in the manner described above for the defensive posture. Now, imagine moving the blade back behind you, swinging vertically, and letting it swing upward towards the enemy. From here, you can slide to let it swing back at your other side, then come up from the opposite angle. You can repeat this motion for a good, long while. Of note when it comes to two-handers is that they're not impossible to block, but they can be pretty difficult due to the force they give. It's usually better to block by deflection, meaning to let the blade hit at an angle that spreads out the force of the blow, instead of attempting to directly stop it dead. When a greatsword or greataxe DOES connect, the damage is rarely just cutting...the sheer weight of the weapon often ensures that there's some crushing and blunt damage going on as well.

A Note on Weapons and Armor

A couple of misconceptions should be cleared up regarding weapons and armor. The first is that bladed weapons of European design are rarely actually sharp. Most swords, axes, etc. are instead chisel edge for the purpose of cleaving through metal armor. Meanwhile, most Oriental blades are sharp, as metal armor was significantly rarer in those regions and it was not necessary to design weaponry to combat them.

Plate armor is typically thought of as being heavy, restrictive, and hot. Well, two out of three ain't bad. It IS hot and heavy, but most plate armor allows for a surprising freedom of movement. The key here is that plate armor is typically suited and custom tailored for the person in question. A set of custom armor allows for a very wide-range of movement, and you'd be surprised the acrobatic maneuvers someone in properly-fitting plate can do. Chain, and other mails, are more common as it is easier to mass-produce. One doesn't need to custom fit each warrior with a suit of chainmail, as it isn't restrictive to begin with.

A Note on the Genders

A brief note, but it is relevant so I'll bring it up. There is one notable difference in fighting between a male and a female, and it's due to how weight is distributed on their bodies. A man's weight is typically centered on his chest and shoulders, while a woman's is centered on her hips. How is this relevant? It's easier to knock a male off-balance than it is a female. A solid blow to the chest is liable to make a male topple over, while a female is more likely to just back up without losing her balance. This isn't a huge difference, but it's particularly notable when someone is fighting against a spear-user, for whom solid blows to the chest are the bread-and-butter.


That...was a lot longer than I anticipated. Wow. Anyway, I hope someone found it enlightening, if someone bothered to read through the whole thing.
Have you hugged an orc today?
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[-] The following 8 users Like Grakor456's post:
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:o ...Bookmarked as a reference tool.
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"We are here on earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different."
~Kurt Vonnegut
Nice...wow that gave me some flashbacks to the good ol' days of fighting. I'd like to add a wee note here as it wasn't brought up as far as the light dagger/short sword fighters - speed is everything, but it isn't the ONLY thing. A dagger's hilt was often made of brass because brass is considered a "sticky" metal - put a steel edge onto brass and you'll feel a fair bit of resistance there. The fellow who taught me bladework told me the main thing a dagger fighter should be doing is trying to tangle up the blade of the opponent, and even attempt to snap it with a quick, sharp twist - this is how "tying up" actually worked.

Ironically, brass is considered a not so important metal and when nobles were acquiring flashier swords and gilding them and all sorts of rubbish, the simple brass dagger was scoffed at. When used in the right hands, it is very VERY effective, as it seems a blade sticks like velcro.

So, no, it's not the size of your sword here...it really IS how you use it. You can be facing an opponent with a very uber-leet weapon, but your own character's very humble weapon of choice may be quite effective if you know what it can do, and how to use it to its full advantage.
Live your own life; you die your own death
The Master with a knife will beat a Novice with a battleaxe
So...what you're saying...is kick a chick in the groin if you wanna send her off balance. Gotcha.
You can't wax that.
This is a very good description of actual battle. I've used these kind of idea's on Hoof in the past, seeing as how most people seem to over simplify battle, by saying things such as, "I swing my sword." Assuming that you are trained or untrained with a sword, that could mean many things.

I'm happy that you brought this out there, since I'm sure there are quite a few people that would be tempted to "Swing their swords", without putting much thought into what that means.
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△Move along.△


SinkMarylandSink Wrote:So...what you're saying...is kick a chick in the groin if you wanna send her off balance. Gotcha.

Why does it not surprise me that you were the first one here to comment on this?
Have you hugged an orc today?
- I am not tech support. Please do not contact me regarding technical issues. -
Worked with swords quite a bit myself, but only with the Katana. I.E my martial arts I've done, thus noted in my introduction.
Hammerfall: Paladin of the Light, head of the Hammer of Justice
Ragnarr: The Stormcaller, Elemental Shaman
DECEASED: Moriela: Evil Shadow Priestess
I've used a spear, a staff, a dagger, a claymore, a long sword, and 'sword and board' in training exercises, and I prefer the longsword's general attributes and useage.
However, I've held a enlongated Tahji Tai chi and I was Impressed at it's attributations. I would love to get to use that one (It is alot like the Ribbonswords in 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon').
I'am a two hander/hand and a half swordsman myself, though I do pretty well with a shield and short sword, a little comment on two handers. The momentum thing is completely correct, often a missconception with two handed swords is that you have to be all muscle to use them, and that just drives me bonkers. knowing how to use your own body as a pivot point makes two handed usage very easy and quite versatile, as you said yes it is MUCH harder to defend with a two hander, but its not impossible and its not to incredibly hard if you know how to shift your weight and blade in just the right way, sadly unlike you grakkor I have a very hard time writing out what I do, I prefer to show it.
Norana:adorable paladin of potential destruction
I prefer just one sword, no shield and not a twohanded sword. I used to fence, but I have given that up. But the feel of a rapier is right to me, and that reflects on my newest character Amber. Although she is a pirate, she still fights with a more noble eloquence compared to an average pirate. The concept of 'The best offense is defense' applies here, especially in fencing. Of course, that's my opinion.
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Mah babehs. I'm watchin' you, government.
The thing is, a lot of combat styles exist out there, but they're not always compatible with one another. A good example is, again, Oriental warfare versus European. A katana was not made to punch through plate armor, so a samurai would be at a disadvantage compared to a European knight.

Fencing, to my knowledge, was primarily a "sport" and a way to resolve personal duels and the like. Generally speaking, a hand that is not used for something is wasted and puts you at a disadvantage.

Not that I'm discouraging a character that focuses on such, I'm merely throwing out commentary and trying to keep things realistic.
Have you hugged an orc today?
- I am not tech support. Please do not contact me regarding technical issues. -
I came into this thread honestly expecting that you had implemented the Combat Dummies with better fighting animations. I seriously really did.

God, I need to sleep.

Also, wicked guide. Thank you for it!
"The world will look up and shout, 'Save us'. And I'll look down and whisper no."

Kyndri - Treehugging Nightelf Druid
Jendra - Proud Orc Warrior
Ashe - Righteous Human Warrior
Eva - Shady Human Rogue
Elu - Peaceful Tauren Hunter
Reading over this topic and hearing the brief argument of European sword vs. Katana somehow reminded me of a very interesting and fairly accurate fight scene from Rob Roy. Pretty lousy movie (if I may say so) but the climactic sword fight pitted a Scottish claymore against a European Rapier. Both of the duelists were considered masters of the sword, but this fight had a few things to say about strategy and speed.


Anyways, fun if you watch it, if not, just remember to take the speed of your weapon into account as it is very important. If you can cut through an orc in full plate armor as well as his mount, that's handy no doubt, but if it takes you six seconds to do it, you may want to reconsider actually trying.

Also, this clip from youtube has a bit of gore in it. And I don't suggest the movie.
That fight is a -perfect- example of a heavier swords use vs. a lighter swords use. Nice!
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