Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lars Andersen and Historical Archery

There is a video floating around that has gotten a good deal of attention lately. In addition to 22 million views, I've gotten a couple questions about it myself. One of which on the Grand Heresy Forums. I responded some there, but I thought I would elaborate and provide a more thoughtful answer here.

I'll start off with the same disclaimer I've made before. The video is very interesting to watch. Lars Andersen is an extremely talented archer, and nothing I say here is to discredit that skill. The issue I take is passing off extremely impressive trick shooting as battlefield archery. He can do some very cool things, but not necessarily things that are of practical martial application.

I'll say up front that I'm not a fan of the tone the video takes. The thing pitches itself like an infomercial, making sensationalist claims about "uncovered secrets" and playing along the "myths debunked! everything you know is wrong!!!@!1" kind of nonsense. This is complete with the exaggerated incompetence you expect from a 4am infomercial. I half expected a transition to black and white film wherein a woman would unsuccessfully try to cut a banana by mashing it with the flat of a kitchen knife. With dramatic music, a voice-over would shout "BANANAS GOT YOU DOWN?"


There some important things to realize when dealing with the claims made in the video. First, despite the imagery used, archery is no more monolithic and uniform an art than is swordsmanship. Every culture has developed its own weapons and means to use them, and this includes archery. The Egyptians were using different bows and techniques than the mounted Huns were, or the Mary Rose era longbow archers. This is no different than the way the Norse broadsword, Japanese katana, and Italian rapier were each different in their use. They were different weapons, with different purposes, taught by different cultures for use in overcoming the different challenges they would face.

Much of what he is demonstrating is out of the Arabic tradition, which used the smaller bows that were used throughout the east, developing out of horseback archery. Horseback archery in the east had a very specific character, often riding into relatively close ranges, launching a series of arrows and getting back out. Their bows were compact, nimble, and relatively moderate draw weight. The opponents they fought were usually very lightly armored.

In the west, military archery is a long range affair with thousands of archers in block formation firing on other block formations at 300 yards or more with heavy powered bows. Mike Loades has credited the Mary Rose era bows as being 100-120lbs or more. I believe one gentleman on Weapons that Made Britain was actually demonstrated loosing a massive 150lbs draw weight bow. This is no small feat. These were weapons firing heavy projectiles at extremely long range to overcome thick maille and plate armor. The bows were often too long to comfortably use on horseback, and the higher poundage bows required a full-body exertion to draw properly.

Seriously. We can identify the bodies of English longbowman by their deformed spines and enlarged left arms.

This isn't to say that western archers never fought while mobile or skirmished. Robin Hood has a lot of basis in fact, as it turns out. Mounted archers of a sort also existed in the west, but in the manner of later mounted infantry, not fighting mounted but instead using the horse only for mobility to get into (and retreat from) a position.

We are talking about different weapons systems, different purposes, with different methods of deployment.

Aside from the historical issues, there is a secondary claim that is a theme throughout the video. Much is made about the speed with which he looses his arrows, even going so far as to show footage of his drawing juxtaposed to the drawing of other archers. What he fails to mention is that he achieves this speed by not drawing the bow back more than a few inches. If you watch closely, he very rarely draws the bow back more than a quarter of the way at any point in the video. This makes for impressive speed, and can probably put a lot of arrows on target, but you make major sacrifices in range and power in doing so.

He does some really cool stuff with it, but I would be extremely surprised if it would deliver anything approaching the kind of force you would need to put someone down through even a padded jack at 50 yards.

I'll state it again. It's an awesome video, and he does some really impressive trick shooting. You could even argue that the trick shots have some basis in history, in that professional archers even then probably developed the ability to do similar feats to show off to their friends. Some things never change. But the claims he can make and apply to his trick shooting don't really apply to any kind of martial archery.

Until next time, 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Orc Quest: Episode 3 - Pack Leader

When we last left our heroes, they set off on the trail of adventure and revenge. Four orcs, one cat, and one human riding Hodor style on Raph's back in a makeshift harness.

The trail wound for some time, with smalltalk had in the interim. A debate sprang up between Cunnin and Justice about the proper territorial procedures of raiding another tribes raid, under what circumstances it could be permissible and what etiquette would be required. As most discussions go on the natural rights of Orc, this one was stopped short by a blood-curdling howl. In the distance, our heroes became aware of a half-dozen wolves, larger than those that normally prowl these areas. They began to draw closer, threatening to encircle.

This was when Taz Dingo volunteered, to the amusement of his comrades. "I've got this."

With that, he approached the largest of the wolves and decided he would attempt to challenge said animal for dominance.

It was at this time that Cunnin and Justice began placing bets on whether or not their comrade would be brutally torn to shreds, while shouting helpful advice such as "Stare him down! they love that."

As the wolf began snarling and circling, the bets were ammended to not whether Taz would be eaten, but how quickly.

A failed charisma check later, the wolf leaped into action. Cunnin loosed his crossbow at the beast's heart, sending his deadly bolt flying predictably some harmless distance into the woods. Raph readied himself to charge in, but Justice placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. "No. This is something Taz has to do for himself."

A wrestling roll later had Taz in the underdog position, and the bets were further amended as to whether or not Taz would instead become a member of the wolf-pack by marriage. Fortunately, before the subject of tribe-to-pack dowry arrangements could be broached, Taz gained the upper hand, ultimately pinning the alpha wolf and.. uh.. establishing his dominance.

Their tribe mate returned triumphant, with several wolves now in tow - the members of his pack. Unable to look him in the eye, half-hearted congratulations were issued. While no one could now remember exactly who bet what over the affair, Cunnin convinced both Raph and Justice that he had in fact won, and collected a dozen silver as his just due.

The now larger party traveled some distance before coming across signs of the orcs they sought. Cunnin scouted ahead, miraculously pulling off a stealth roll and making his way across the brush to observe their camp. Making his way back without incident, he shared his observations:

"Eight of them, maybe nine. Most drunk around their campfire."

Invoking the god of Brutal Cunning, he came up with a plan..

Until next time,

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

The last couple months have been rather crazy. November lead to a much-needed break, and as is often the case, December found me busy with familial obligations. The beginning of January saw me with a 103 degree fever and a Nyquil-induced-coma, but once again I am here and doing what I do.

Future plans of the blog are to put out a post per week, with several more or less worked out and waiting in the wings at the moment. Lately, my attention has been diverted heavily into Grand Heresy business, with very exciting things going on. My fever-addled delirium brought about a handful of new ideas and solutions to some long-standing bugs for Band of Bastards. Writing, re-writing and editing continues to be an all-consuming task, but we are making our way through. This is the hour when discipline for the subject becomes of utmost importance. Meanwhile, my list of "one day" projects sits a mile long, tempting me with their puppy-eyed promises of fun and creativity. I must resist. I will resist.

We will see this book finished.

In other news, the first drafts of some cover ideas have been floating around recently including one mock-up that I'm rather proud of. Whether it is the direction we will go in is yet to be scene, but I rather like it regardless. More on that later.

For now, we are back to our regularly scheduled programming of rambling insights and RPG related dev commentary and development.

Until next time,

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Orc Quest: Episode 2 - Disrespect

With our Australian DM back from a worrying and lengthy illness, we once again could pursue our tales of orcish adventure, even if today's session would be a short one.

When we last left our heroes, they were making camp in the center of a humie village and taking a well-deserved rest adjacent to the burning ruin of a building they set alight. The young female human was placed in a nearby, also abandoned building for safe-keeping. Seemingly Fearful for her life, she did not run. At their camp around the house-sized fire, spoils were divvied up and the decision was made that the remaining children should be eaten to prevent spoilage. The grizzly task was quickly done and what wasn't consumed there was dried for later rations.

Small talk was had, and the lot then retired themselves to the abandoned building with the human larva. Sensing her discomfort, Cunnin attempted to ease matters by offering her his cat, Mr. Boots and some scraps of dinner. The young girl accepted both, seeming to find some small comfort in Boots indiscriminate affection. A fire was lit in the hearth, and everyone settled in for a night's sleep.

The following morning, fresh snow blanketed the outside. Cautious, our party checked out the windows for signs of humans waiting in ambush around the building, but the town seemed deserted. Instead, what they discovered were a number of large footprints leading down the street in the newly-fallen snow. Half-following them, half exploring for the sake of exploring, they found themselves at the village tavern and let themselves in.

Tables were upturned, and everywhere were signs of a struggle. These signs were largely ignored by our intrepid adventurers, on the assumption that humans were simply messy creatures and this is how they lived.

Following conventional gaming wisdom, the party immediately split, heading off in different directions. Taz Dingo made his way to the upstairs, wherein the genre seemed to shift into survival horror for reasons we weren't entirely certain of. Blood stained everywhere, and the bodies of several dead humans were strewn about, victims of grizzly injuries. A noise issued from deeper down the hall, half groan, half-scrape... and it was at that exact moment the DM switched focus to the remaining party downstairs.

To everyone's confusion, Raph sat down at the piano and began playing flawless Chopin, hinting that he may actually be some kind of savant, rather than simply handicapped. The effect was lost on his fellow orcs, whose sense of music was less developed, and decided he was simply playing with the humie toys. Consigning themselves to more important tasks, Cunnin and Justice sought out the cellar in search of food and booze. Cunnin carefully positioned himself in such a fashion that Justice would be first down the stairs, carefully guarding his pathetic 3HP.

Downstairs they found exactly what you might imagine from a tavern cellar - bags of root vegetables and grains, bottles of alcohol, the majority of which were confiscated under the auspice of "that's what humies eat, right?" so that they might feed their newfound pet. Out of nowhere, a scratching, clawing noise issued from the corner, revealing a RODENT OF UNUSUAL SIZE, which immediately charged them. Both orcs issued a manly squeel, and ran up the stairs, losing some of their stolen foodstuffs in the process and slammed the cellar door behind them.

Upstairs, Taz came across the source of his own noises - an injured man, nearly dead and pale from blood loss. In the least orcish tone he could muster, he tried to rouse the man, asking what ill befell him. "O..orcs..."

Confused, Taz picked the man up and carried him down the stairs and explained. Justice summoned his Gruumsh-given gifts to lay hands upon the man, healing him just enough to ensure his recovery. Cunnin stood over the man, attempting to get more answers.

"Tell us what happened."

As the man became more aware of his surroundings, he realized the horror of his position. Cunnin placed a foot on his shoulder, keeping him to the floor. "We healed you. You answer questions. That is the deal. You do not answer questions, we unheal you. Do you understand the deal?"

The man grew pale once more, but nodded his acquiescence.

"What happened?"
"..o..orcs raided the village."
"Late last night..e-early morning. We were asleep.."

This response produced much confusion, and a short group discussion to make sure that the orcs in question were not, in fact, our heroes, who would be much embarrassed to have raided these people a second time in their sleep. After it was determined that it was in fact not themselves, and that no black-out raiding occurred, they pressed for more information. Information our informant did not have.

Instead, it was decided he would be placed in the cellar for safe keeping, and that he should remain there for the day when he would be free to leave. He nodded, seeing little choice in the matter, and no one stopped to remember the terrifying ROUS dwelling beneath the tavern.

"What do we do then?"
"These orcs raided a village we were in the middle of raiding. That just isn't right."
"Downright disrespectful."
"So what do we do?"
"I think we.. need to raid them back. We must find these other orcs and raid them, to teach them not to raid what we were raiding."

And their course was set.

until next time,

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Zweihander: Public Beta 2

Just a brief update. I had previously mentioned a game called Zweihander that was a WHFRP clone of sorts. They have just recently issued their second public beta. If you've got any interest in Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, or even just dark fantasy, I suggest you go check them out. Very cool stuff there. I look forward to seeing where it goes.