Arms races and metallurgy   2 comments

At the Torchlight Pas at War of the Wings, Grettir challenged me to single sword, five counted blows at the barrier.  Grettir grabbed his hand-and-a-half, I picked up the basket-hilted broadsword I was borrowing, and we headed out to the field.  Lay on was called, and I’d landed five within two seconds.  Onside/offside/onside/offside/onside, faster than it took you to read that.  Grettir and I both had a sort of “What the hell?” moment.  We re-fought it and the same thing happened.  Grettir wasn’t having any fun, so we decided not to do any more of that.  It wasn’t until we were off the field that I discovered I’d picked up my rapier instead of the basket-hilted broadsword.  It was late in the proceedings, I was exhausted by all the fighting we’d already done, and the signal from my hand of “This isn’t quite right” was ignored.

But it got me thinking: that fight, a late 16th century rapier vs. a 14th century hand-and-a-half, was about as fair as taking a Glock 9mm against a Rev War flintlock.

It’s one of the things we don’t talk a lot about in our game, when we’re doing that whole spoken or un-spoken “Which style is best?” thought process, but with 500 years between MS I.33 and Capo Ferro, you’re also talking about 500 years of technological development and metallurgy.  To compare Italian rapier to early German sword-and-buckler (and extending the analogy), you’re making an equivalent comparison of that Glock 9 to a Gonne.

Theory is theory, yes, and you can compare systems on the criteria of how well they interpret and describe the governors of combat and their utilization.  I’m not a shooter, so I can’t even begin to draw an analogy, but I do know there’s stuff about stance and breathing and “aim small, miss small” sort of things that would be as true with a Gonne as with a Glock.

Blast furnaces came into being right about the same time that MS I.33 was written.  Before then steel blades were forge-welded from multiple pieces instead of a single piece, made molten and shaped while red hot.  From there, advances in metallurgy by managing unwelcome inclusions (rust and crap that made blades brittle and weaker) and carbon content made for blades that could be slimmer but still strong.  Thus the narrowing of blades over time.  It’s just a guess, but you probably couldn’t have made a durable and resilient rapier blade in the 15th century.

Now we can make foil blades, which are about a half inch wide at their ricasso, and expect them to last through vigorous use (I own two which are older than me, one by about sixty years).  Without the metallurgical constraints, and with the SCA’s period limitations setting the only real restriction on how advanced our weaponry can be, a Darkwood or Zamorano rapier blade is about the best we can get.

So why take an inferior weapon onto a competitive field?

And should success with that inferior weapon be graded on a curve?


Posted October 15, 2012 by Wistric in Musings

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