Five Things You Should Know about Weapons and Armour When Writing Fantasy

Almost every fantasy story involves armour and weapons in some capacity. Physical violence is a hallmark of the fantasy genre (I’m sure there’s a ton to unpack there, but that’s for another time) and with that comes the necessity of tools to accomplish said violence. 

While a major point of fantasy is that it’s not beholden to the natural, social, or historical laws of our reality, it’s important to at least know the rules before you break them. Below are five facts about real-world weaponry that you should know before you include them in your stories.

1. Swords are Relatively Light

A vast majority of swords in the medieval period weighed less than 5lbs, with most being in the 1-2lb range. These were finesse weapons meant for stabbing and slashing, not caving in rib cages. Even double-handed longswords only weighed around 3lbs. Is it tiring to swing around a 3lb chunk of metal for long periods of time? Of course! But merely lifting a sword would have been no impressive feat of strength (unless, of course, it’s magically imbued to resist anyone save the one true King of Britain). Take that, every internet troll who has ever declared that women are inherently too weak to sword fight!

2. Armour is Easy to Move In

This just makes sense, doesn’t it? If you have to be running around a battlefield, hacking and slashing, you need to be able to move. Of course you need to be protected from enemy weapons, but you can’t be so hampered that you’ll flail like a stranded turtle if you get knocked over. A full suit of plate, the heaviest armour you’re likely to get, weighs around 45-55lbs. While that’s not exactly light, bear in mind that armour is evenly distributed around the body, so that wouldn’t feel nearly as heavy as carrying all 55lbs on your back. The joints between each piece of metal are made of straps and links designed to move and not impede movement. You’re still going to have a pretty normal range-of-motion and, while it’s a good idea to be in top physical shape if you’re going to be wearing it all the time, it’s certainly not a Herculean task to don that shiny suit. 

3. Armour is Ridiculously Expensive

Comparatively, a good-quality set of plate would have cost a medieval knight the equivalent of a modern-day private plane. Armour is pricey! Your run of the mill peasant-turned-fighter isn’t going to have access to it. Mail is cheaper and lighter, still offering protection from piercing and slashing, but isn’t going to do much against the crushing blow of a warhammer. Least expensive is armour made of boiled leather—not as effective, but still likely to stop an arrow or cushion a sword swipe. 

4. Anti-Armour Bows are Monsters

If you want to pierce anything thicker than cloth, you’re going to need a longbow, and those don’t fire easy. Longbows are over four feet long, and require upwards of 100lbs of drawing power to pull back the string. Even with these beasts, however, you’d need a lot of luck on your side to puncture plate armour. Any distance greater than “relatively close” and you’re going to have a hard time of it, especially if you’re aiming for the thicker metal covering a torso. It’s just not likely that bowmen from 300ft away are going to turn a knight in full plate into a pin-cushion. 

5. Early Guns are Temperamental

If you’re writing about guns in a fantasy setting, there’s a good chance they’re flintlocks. Flintlock guns, named for the material they used in their ignition system, were the primary firearms used throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Though they have distinct advantages over earlier models of guns, they are not without their drawbacks. Moisture renders them completely useless, so say goodbye to any romantic duels in the rain, and they have a one in six chance of misfiring on any given shot. Also, flintlock pistols and muskets are single shot, so you’re going to need to reload before taking on the next enemy.

People have devoted entire careers to the study of weapons and armour in every time-period, so there’s a wealth of information out there to avail yourself of. If historical accuracy is important to you, it’s worthwhile to spend some time researching. You don’t need to become an expert yourself, but just having a basic knowledge of armour and weaponry can help enrich your world if war is going to be a part of it. 

Happy writing, and happy researching!

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