Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thud and Blunder Revisited

A long time ago, in a magazine called Amra, there was an article called "Thud and Blunder" about some of the action oriented heroic fantasy that was stewing about.  Now, at the time there was not a lot of fantasy, but there were a fair amount of Conan clones (as in 5-10 stories, maybe a novel or so, every year -- times were slow).

Poul Anderson, who I admire as a writer, attempted to interpose some "realism" into thinking.

In that regards, let me note that a competitive quick draw artist can draw, shoot two separate targets and reholster his or her pistol inside the normal reaction time.

For someone shooting five targets in about a second. There are lots of videos with two shots in under half a second (from holstered pistol to reholstered).

With a sword there are people who are just that much faster than a typical trained person with a sword.

I trained with Bob Barrow for a while.  When Chuck Norris took a team on the road, Bob was the guy on the team who had the highest total points scored (though, Norris, of course, became famous as the guy who won the most).  Compared to a garden variety first degree black belt of the 1970s and 1980s, Bob could literally have mowed through large numbers of them.  He could well have been a real action hero in different circumstances, rather than becoming an attorney.

As modern MMA has shown, muscle works as armor (and Bob was an early proponent of steady weight training), hitting like a mac truck really makes a difference, and doing so very, very quickly can really make a difference.

Coming back to Anderson, the original essay is very, very good.  However, many of those who read it, learn from it (and there is a lot to learn) and think about it forget that there is another side to realism (one noted by Anderson, though not by those who followed him).

I just wanted to make the point that part of realism includes people who as a result of training and experience can do things that seem unreal.  When Poul Anderson notes Incomparably drilled and disciplined, the Roman legionary almost always made hash of his foes he is not exaggerating, but he is also talking about a military that considered a soldier green until he had been enlisted and drilled for at least ten years.

Ok, so I'm agreeing with Anderson on almost every point, only disagreeing with the abuse his essay has been put to over the years.

Other points:  Rapiers are usually heavier than broadswords.  A man with one does not worry about a broadsword/migration era blade cutting the rapier in half if he makes a mistake with a parry. (Anderson doesn't talk about that, but it is a common mistake made by the Thud & Blunder types). Shields are even more useful than you would think.

Heck, read the essay:

Then you are ready to think again about designing FRPGs and writing heroic fantasy stories.

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