September 8, 2011

Arming Your Hero - Part 3

Swords are amazing and fabulous, no doubt about it, but they don't make a fully armed hero, and they aren't ideal in every situation. They're difficult and time-consuming to make, expensive to purchase, heavy to lift, and hard to conceal. If your character gets attacked in a tiny alley barely wide enough to walk through, a sword isn't going to be very helpful. If he's trekking through the wilderness and kills a rabbit to eat, a sword is just slightly overkill (and extremely difficult to use as a skinning knife). Plus a sword could break, get stolen, or get knocked out of his hands. Then where would your swashbuckling hero be?
Obviously, he needs a backup or alternative plan, and a smaller knife may be just the thing. So here are some common kinds of smaller blades you just might want to slip into your hero's arsenal.

This, of course, is a dagger--probably the most common small weapon used in fantasy fiction. It's popular for a reason; it's small enough to conceal under a cloak or tunic, but it's still effective. And for a word nerd like me, what's not to love about something with a name as dramatic as 'dagger'?

These are throwing knives. If your hero is facing multiple assailants or wants to take down that 12-foot troll before it gets close enough to pulverize him, a few well-aimed throwing knives could be very handy. Notice that I said 'a few'. A fantasy hero carrying only one throwing knife is something like a wild-west cowboy carrying only one bullet. What if the opponent doesn't go down after the first shot (or throw)? And of course, there's always the chance that he could miss, so it's better to be prepared.

These are throwing stars. The concept is basically the same as that of a throwing knife--helpful if you're facing multiple attackers, and perfect for getting the attacker before he gets you. Some of the characters in my WiP use throwing stars, but I've never read a published book where they come into play. I don't really know why no one uses them, because I think they have a lot of cool potential.

Here is a dirk. Historically, it was most commonly used by the Vikings and ancient Scottish clans. Perhaps that's why, for me at least, the dirk has a sort of ancient, legendary connotation. It's versatile enough to be used in any number of different settings, though.

And here, last but not least, is a hunting knife. It can certainly be used in self-defense if need be, but basically it's just something every prepared and savvy hero should have at least nearby, if not on his person. Whether he needs to kill, skin, and butcher an animal to eat, slice a piece of bread or cheese, or clean his fingernails, the hunting knife makes a great all-around tool to have on hand.
What's your favorite small weapon? What is your hero's backup weapon of choice?


  1. I prefer small, blunt bludgeoning weapons to use after the opponent has been taken down. No edges means I'm not going to get cut, and it will protect my hands if I need to strike in order to distract or panic my opponent when on the ground.

    When throwing a knife, always assume it will not kill, even if it's the seventh thrown. The chances that a knife will hit a vital region with enough impact to kill is insanely low, and blood loss from multiple cuts takes too long to count on death from. Thus, throwing stars and daggers is best used as a tactical distraction to aid you in closing the distance and ending the fight with something like a sword or a takedown.

  2. In the EE's of FOTR, Aragorn's sword comes with a smaller blade for cutting up meat.

  3. Throwing stars? Boss.

  4. @ Sir Emeth:
    The blunt weapons idea is definitely a unique approach I hadn't heard before. Good thoughts.
    In regard to throwing knives, remember that your objective isn't necessarily to kill (unless of course it's the big finale scene of the story and it's come down to just you and the arch villain :). Your objective is to stop your opponent from whatever behavior is threatening you. If a knife to the leg stops him from coming after you, you don't necessarily have to kill him. And, bear in mind that rushing in close with a bludgeoning weapon is going to put you within your opponent's range too. And no one fights like a man who knows he's about to die.
    Don't misunderstand--I'm not saying your approach is wrong, I'm just saying that there are many different angles that need to be thought through with any approach you take.

  5. Throwing stars/knives are my favorite--probably because I actually know how to use them in real life. (And I'm better than my brother-in-law at it.) ;)

  6. My heroine in my current WIP carries both daggers and throwing knives and knows how to use them well. The odds of a throwing knife killing someone in the hands of a trained user are actually much higher than you might guess. The key is knowing how to use it effectively and in the right circumstances. And as Mary pointed out, sometimes killing isn't the primary objective. You certainly wouldn't want a throwing knife as your primary weapon, but it's a good add-on.

    In general, I like to see variety in fantasy weaponry--there are a lot of unique weapons out there, and since our protagonists usually need to be armed, we might as well take advantage of it.

    By the way, this is a brilliant series, Mary!

  7. @Mary, very true, rushing in with any kind of weapon or without one is a risky business if you don't know what to do. That would be my strategy because I know how to handle it, but not all characters or people would have that skill. So it really depends on the individual's history in weapons and combat training. :)

  8. the Dirk is nice. as is the dagger


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