Tips for RP Combat
From The Grey Tower Library
Fights are rarely equal. Differences in the amount of skill the combatants possess is easy to roleplay, but there are other potential differences as well. Type of weapon, any armor, and multiple opponents all change the flow of a combat. Now, each of these aspects has both positive and neagative elements and any of them can be overcome given sufficient skill, so this paper will not alter the way the skill system works, it will merely help give ideas for details to add to your descriptions of combat. There are major differences which can fundamentally change the way a fight will work:
- The Reach of the weapon;
- The Force of it's blows;
- Quickness of the weapon;
- If it's a Single or Double weapon;
- If there is Armor involved;
- and of course, if there are Multiple Opponents
The Reach of the weapon
Obviously, different weapons have different lengths. This means their effective ranges are different. However, if you haven't actually fought with a hand-to-hand weapon in real life, what you may not know is that every weapon has a minimum effective range as well. To illustrate this, imagine two people of different heights boxing. The tall boxer throws a straight punch and as he extends his arm his punch gains in power. His punch will have the maximum effect if it hits the same moment his arm is fully extended. If the short boxer is closer than this distance, it won't hit as hard. This is even more extreme if the tall boxer throws a hook (a curved punch). If the short boxer is too close, the tall boxer's fist will swing behind the short boxer's head. The same principle holds with any weapon, from a dagger to a crossbow.
If you and your opponent are using weapons that have greatly differing reaches (for example, a longsword vs. a dagger), then there are four possible distances you can be standing at. The first is of course long range, where neither of you can attack the other. The second is where the longsword user can attack the dagger user, but the dagger user can't attack the longsword user. The longsword user is thus "in distance", but the dagger user is "out of distance." The third possible distance is where the dagger user is in distance, but the longsword user is too close to use his longsword at optimum effectiveness. The longsword user is "in close distance." There are still options available to him, but he is at a disadvantage. The fourth possible distance is where both fighters are in close distance.
If both fighters are out of distance, their only option is to move into distance and assume an appropriate guard. Once one fighter moves into distance, the fun begins. Each fighter should attempt to place his opponent into his distance while staying out of distance to the opponent's weapon. The difficulty arises in how to do this. Note, these same principles would work with any pairing ... the longsword user would use the short weapon principles against a polearm.
If you have the longer weapon:
If you're using the longer weapon, you will always get the first chance to attack. Your opponent will attempt to rush in past your distance in order to get close enough to hit you. Thus, be prepared to either back up or grapple in case he gets past your attack. This is one major reason the Warder Yards insist that all Warders learn at least a little unarmed combat. Note, for weapons like longswords, staves or polearms, grappling does NOT mean you need to drop your weapon! Your weapon can be used as an extention of your arm for grappling. You can't grip your opponent with a polearm, but you can still use the shaft to lever them over your hip for a standard hip throw. Here is an example of this using pollaxes:
The combatant on the right has rushed in and so the combatant on the left is using the butt of his pollaxe to throw him over his leg. There are many other examples of this sort of grappling; with a little thought almost any throw can be done with a weapon in hand.
A longer weapon can also be made to act as a shorter weapon by gripping it closer to the end. For a sword, this is done by gripping the hilt as normal with the right hand and gripping the blade with the left hand, like this:
Although this grip prevents the combatants from using the blade, it allows accurate thrusts at closer range. You may still strike by "punching" with the cross of a sword or the head of a polearm. Halfswording is also excellent in other situations, to be discussed later. Basically, it allows your weapon to be effective at closer ranges. Staves, spears, axes and polearms can also be gripped closer to the point to allow use in closer combat situations. With all of these weapons, since you're not actually changing the length of the weapon, you must still be careful to make sure the end behind you doesn't hit or catch on anything. Thus, it is not a perfect option, particularly for fighting in a crowded area.
Long bladed weapons such as swords, knives and certain polearms have the added option of slicing attacks. These are accomplished by sliding the blade across a vulnerable spot such as the wrists or belly in order to cut. Due to the length of the weapon and the closeness of your opponent it will still be awkward to maneuver the blade into position, but a slice will at least allow you to injure your opponent when they are too close for a strike or thrust. Since your blade is against your opponent's body, you can combine a slice with a push to move their hands or body away from you. It is best to slice at the wrists because that will protect you against their weapon as you injure them, thus preventing them from killing you as you kill them.
Finally, although your enemy may get past your blade or point, there are other parts of your weapon you can use. For example, the pommel or guard of a sword can be very effectively administered to the face of your opponent. Axes and polearms still have the short end of the haft, which may be able to strike or thrust at your enemy at closer ranges. Although not killing attacks, these short-range attacks may give you a moment's freedom to get some distance.
If you have the shorter weapon
If you're using the shorter weapon, then you have your work cut out for you! Your opponent will get the first attack and so your task will be to neutralize it and rush into your range or closer than your ideal range. If your opponent uses a strike against you, then you must deflect it aside and rush in past it. If your weapon is of sword length or longer then you can deal with an overhead blow by raising your weapon over your head angled downward and rushing in underneith it. Since your weapon is angled downward, it will deflect their strike off to the side and you can rush in past it. Once past their weapon you can either strike with your weapon or continue in to grappling range. If you are striking with your weapon, then you can even grab their weapon for added safety, like this:
If you continue in to grappling range, then continue to rush and try to throw them, like this:
If your skill in unarmed combat is greater than your opponent's, then this is also a good way to turn the tide of a fight.
When you rush in, your opponent may try to retreat or shorten his weapon to deal with you. Retreats can be prevented either through terrain (manuver your opponent so that his back is to an obstruction such as a tree or wall) or through sheer speed. If you rush in as your opponent's attack is coming, then it will be very difficult for him to shorten his weapon against you. If you rush in swiftly and aggressively, then the most likely outcome is grappling. Be sure to keep skilled in unarmed combat! If your opponent is using a sword or knife, then be aware of the potential of slashing attacks, as described above. The best way to prevent this from occuring is to control your opponent's weapon arm as you rush in, then move immediately into a throw. If you do not allow your opponent a moment's peace, then he will be busy trying to fend you off rather than bringing his own weapon to bear against you.
The Force of the weapon's attacks
Different weapons strike with different degrees of force. It can be difficult to block a polearm blow with a longsword and it can be difficult to block a longsword with a dagger. If you attempt to stop a polearm strike as you would a longsword strike, you would easily find your displacement overpowered and odds are their strike would still land as normal. Note, the strength of attack does make differences in the type of wound yielded, but that does not make the weapon "better" or "worse". Each weapon has evolved for certain fight conditions in which it excels.
If your weapon is the weaker weapon:
The plight of wielding a weaker weapon is that if you try to oppose force with force, you will lose. Whereas with matched weapons you can often generate a leverage advantage to gain strength against an opponent, if your opponent's weapon naturally gives them amazing leverage then you can't beat that. Treat this sort of combat as if you were fighting someone who always overcommitted their strikes. Instead of directly opposing their strikes or even attempting to change their momentum, try simply re-directing it just around you. In one style of longsword combat, there's a particular strike which is perfect for this application. Your opponent swings a heavy downward stroke at you, and you strike downward on the top of their weapon. This changes the direction of their stroke; instead of hitting you, your strike knocks their weapon into the ground. This gives you plenty of time to strike them before they can mount a good defense. Think about the techniques you have learned and choose one which applies pressure to the side or back of their weapon to shift the direction of their strike so it passes by you. These are the techniques you should use.
If your weapon is the stronger weapon:
If you have the stronger weapon, your first impulse will likely be to simply overpower your opponent's defenses to hit them. Don't do it if your enemy has any skill. Adding more strength to your strikes will simply give them more energy to re-direct elsewhere, thus making your strikes harder to recover from. Instead, remember that the natural leverage of the weapon means you can begin with a weak stroke and add the power at the last instant. This technique is a good way to use feints, since any strike can turn into a powerful strike at the last moment. If your weapon can both strike and thrust, then another useful technique is to swing a strike at their blade so that your strike naturally ends with the point facing your opponent. Thus, your strike beats their blade aside and leaves your weapon ready for a follow-up thrust.
The Quickness and agility of the weapons
The agility of a weapon is an important factor in combat. It is one of the major strengths of two-handed weapons. Agility is what allows a weapon to alter an attack or defense in mid-swing.
If you have the slower weapon:
Combat with a slower weapon can make life difficult for those who do not know how to utilize it's advantages. However, there are a couple ways to eliminate the speed advantage of other weapons. If your slower weapon is single-handed then it would best be paired with a shield or buckler. This will allow you to use the shield to control your opponent's weapon and create an opening for you to attack. If your weapon is two-handed, then obviously this is not an option. Many slower two-handed weapons are hafted weapons (axes and polearms). For these weapons, you can defend against your opponent's attack with the butt end of the weapon, which prepares your own strike to follow soon after. In addition, for any weapon you have the option of attacking into your opponent's attack. If you do so with a leverage advantage, you can slay your opponent while displacing their attack against you, and will thus eliminate the speed advantage your opponent may have over you.
If you have the faster weapon:
If your weapon is faster or more agile than that of your opponent, the key is to not allow your weapon to be bound. If they try to push your sword aside without creating a threat of your own, slip your sword out of the bind and attack again! Since your weapon is faster, you can easily push your opponent on the defensive with a flurry of unpredictable attacks. Just don't create a pattern and watch out for your opponent attacking into your attack. If your opponent chooses to rely entirely on brute force and swings a huge strike against you, feel free to stick him while he's drawing back to strike or step out of the way of the strike and attack after it.
Single and Double weapons
Double weapons (dual wielding or weapon and shield) can pose difficult challenges for single weapons like longswords or katana. This is because they have the added ability to bind your weapon with one hand while attacking with the other.
If you have the double weapon:
Most double weapons have a shorter reach than many single weapons (rapiers being a notable exception). This is because as reach increses, a weapon tends to become more unwieldy. Thus, if your have the double weapon you should also read the section on the reach of a weapon. However, you also have another advantage to compensate for this disadvantage ... you can defend or attack with either hand, even if your other weapon is a shield! That's right, shields hurt if you hit someone with them ... think of a shield like a 15 lb. (6 kg) steel gauntlet. Some shields had spikes for additional lethality. Thus, if your longsword-wielding opponent strikes at you, you can bind their sword with your shield and attack with your sword, or you can bind their sword with your sword and attack with your shield. You can also deflect their sword with both sword and shield,
then loop your shield arm around their arm(s) and strike to their head.
If you have the single weapon:
As I mentioned in the double weapon section, double weapons tend to be shorter than single weapons, so all of the reach considerations apply to your advantage. In addition, it is important to note that many double weapons (such as sword and buckler or sword and dagger) can use the off-hand weapon to cover the weapon hand of the primary weapon, which would prevent all of the "attack the hand" techniques which would otherwise allow you to capitalize on your reach advantage. Of course, if you can "encourage" your opponent to seperate his two weapons, you can create an opening to strike at his wrist. Providing an opening for him to thrust at you is an excellent way to do this, because to keep his hands together would be to shorten the distance he can thrust. The reason he will have to seperate his hands when he thrusts is because when he thrusts, he drives his right shoulder and right arm forward. This drives his left shoulder back, and thus his left hand -- with the buckler -- can no longer reach his right hand. This means his right hand is exposed and you may cut it off.
Armor is a very valuable tool, it helps keep you safe from your opponent's strikes and thrusts. To get a brief overview of some of the different types of armor, look at the Armor Descriptions page. The most important thing to note is that different types of armor will affect your weapons and strategy in different ways. For example, a heavy coat will cause a man to tire more easily, but it will protect his arms and body from the slashes of a dagger. If you are attacking a man in a heavy coat with a dagger, you'll have to thrust. Generally speaking, thick cloth is the most basic armor. Maille over cloth is more effective and plate over cloth is most effective. Semirigid armors are usually somewhere between maille and plate, depending on the type. It's always easier to go around armor than to go through it, so if they aren't wearing a helm, ignore their maille shirt and strike to their head! If they have full plate, go for the joints that aren't covered by plate. Slices are least effective directly against armor, then cuts, then thrusts, but strikes by impact weapons are much more effective than strikes by lighter weapons because of the greater weight.
One against multiple:
The key to defeating multiple opponents if there's only one of you is to only face one at a time. This can be accomplished with terrain by forcing them through a bottleneck such as a bridge or alley. If this is not an option, then your best option is to manipulate spacing and distance. If you can run around them so that your opponents are in a line, you can charge in and start cutting them down. You must always be aware of where all your opponents are, because the worst thing that can happen is that you get someone behind you and cuts you down while you're fighting someone else. Be quick on your feet! Mobility is what will protect you from the other enemies while you attack one, so NEVER let yourself get backed against a wall or into a corner. Always keep an escape route open.
Against many enemies, you should prioritize cuts over thrusts, for a cut will end prepared for another cut, whereas after a thrust you must pull your sword back to your body. Also, a strike with a long weapon such as an axe, polearm, spear, staff or sword can threaten multiple people at once, thus keeping the others at a distance. When fighting multiple opponents, avoid grappling or going to the ground if at all possible! Once you become immobilized, even for an instant, all your enemies will fall upon you and you will be at their mercy.
Multiple against one:
If you have a team of fighters, the key is to act as a team. If you have a range of weapons, capitalize on that ... but even a team of three swordsmen can be quite formidable. First and foremost, always be aware of where your teammates are and what they are doing, don't get in the way of your teammates and don't let them get in your way. Stay out of your enemy's range until you're ready to engage, and don't engage one at a time. If your enemy has two strikes or a strike and a thrust coming against him from different directions, he's much less likely to survive than one strike and then one thrust. Try and limit his mobility. As you try and surround him, he will try and run away to fight you one at a time, so try and back him into a corner or against a wall, then slay him. If he rushes one of you, the others should rush after him, surround him and cut him down. The person he rushes against should try to keep him in place and let the others kill him from behind.
Multiple against multiple:
Team combat is a tricky situation. Unless you have the hundreds needed for formation combat, you won't be able to use tactical considerations like flanking. Try to stay near each other but out of each other's way ... give each other manuvering room and striking room. Don't let someone get behind you, and try to all move in the same direction. Keep good communication so you all move as one unit.