The Curious Case of the Weapon That Didn't Exist
May 17, 2016 7:56 AM   Subscribe

The flail (in particular, the one-handed version with a spiked head) is an iconic medieval weapon -- but it might not have ever been used in combat, despite the paintings and your old D&D rulebooks. Unlike most of the Internet, the discussion in the comments is worth reading.
posted by Etrigan (101 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
next you'll be telling me they didn't fight on hexagonal tiles
posted by thelonius at 8:02 AM on May 17, 2016 [114 favorites]


Just picture medieval knights practicing with these. Like Napoleon Dynamite with "nunchucks". I mean, I imagine it takes a lot of practice to get good with a sword, too, but at least you probably wouldn't be stabbing yourself every forty seconds.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:03 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


He says two-handed flails did exist. Can someone explain what a two-handed flail is and why it doesn't suffer from the drawbacks of a one-handed flail?
posted by vacapinta at 8:05 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Like Napoleon Dynamite with "nunchucks".

It's why he didn't run for president. He didn't have bo staff skills.
posted by maxsparber at 8:06 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Can someone explain what a two-handed flail is and why it doesn't suffer from the drawbacks of a one-handed flail?

The two-handed variety has a longer staff, so the head can't swing back to hit the wielder as easily.
posted by Etrigan at 8:07 AM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I own an almost identical one as linked in the FPP. Unlike much melee weaponry that i have handled, it is super hard not to seriously injure yourself swinging it around even a little. With a sword you just need to keep the edge and point away from you. With a flail it's ... trickier. A lot trickier. Trickier to the extent that I am not sure how people even trained to use them w/o full armor.

Also if you are fond of old weaponry and haven't been to the Met, goddamn, go! A lot of it is ceremonial/decorative like the article says, but even among that stuff there are some amazing pieces.

... it means that the flail could be an example of what French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called simulacra: copies of something that had no original.

The funny part about that is that what many people consider actual "medieval combat" with combatants swinging at one another in turn as if they were fencing with broadswords is in a very similar situation.
posted by griphus at 8:07 AM on May 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm suprised at Gygax letting us down, what with his excessive cataloging ofvweaponry and all. I guess he only really cared about pikes.
posted by Artw at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


I liked how the clip from Kingdom of Heaven that got included in the post showed in about 2 seconds how terrible a weapon it would be in practice.

He says two-handed flails did exist. Can someone explain what a two-handed flail is and why it doesn't suffer from the drawbacks of a one-handed flail?

It's something more like this. The chain is very short and the pole is very long.
posted by Copronymus at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Does anyone remember the damage tables in Rolemaster? It was a running joke in our high school RP group that if your game had a separate damage table for flails, your game had too many rules.
posted by selfnoise at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


It was a running joke in our high school RP group that if your game had a separate damage table for flails, your game had too many rules.

Though ironically it turns out you would need a table for self inflicted damage.
posted by Gelatin at 8:15 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Does anyone remember the damage tables in Rolemaster?
I do remember them. Critical hits!
posted by thelonius at 8:16 AM on May 17, 2016


One commenter notes that all the medieval illustrations of one-handed flails in the article showed them being held by riders on horseback, which is the one place the chain would actually provide an advantage compared to a sword, mace, etc - you'd be able to strike an enemy at speed without Newton's third law destroying your wrist.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:17 AM on May 17, 2016 [23 favorites]


I've occasionally had this argument with people regarding other weird museum pieces--chastity belts and the like--that, simply because they were made, doesn't mean that they were actually used for their ostensible purpose. They're the old-timey equivalent of Klingon bat'leths or the more outré items from the BUDK catalog, or those swords and knives with flintlocks built into them that are on display at the House on the Rock. They'd fall under the tacticool category.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:20 AM on May 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


In a way, we're doing the same thing with movies and television shows as the illustrators did with books. If future historians worked from our media, they'd think that our guns had no recoil and our silencers reduced the noise of a gunshot to a puppy sneeze.
posted by lore at 8:21 AM on May 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


They'd fall under the tacticool category.

My kingdom for a Medieval Tacticool blog.
posted by griphus at 8:21 AM on May 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Maybe it could work as a way to lob the whole thing into a crowd, like a manual cannon.
posted by lucidium at 8:22 AM on May 17, 2016


Yeah the comments are good at raising doubt. It seems possible it might be a weapon of crowd control. And one guy mentions non-English sources that perhaps this author was unaware of?
posted by vacapinta at 8:28 AM on May 17, 2016


He says two-handed flails did exist. Can someone explain what a two-handed flail is and why it doesn't suffer from the drawbacks of a one-handed flail?

As indicated in the article, two-handed flails were tools that pretty much every peasant in Europe owned - they were used for knocking grain loose from the chaff. Threshing grain takes an awfully long time, which means that your average peasant had hundreds of hours of practice at swinging a flail without hurting themselves.
posted by Iridic at 8:29 AM on May 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


BUT WHAT OF THE BOHEMIAN EAR SPOON
posted by dersins at 8:32 AM on May 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


Next thing you'll tell me that my JRPGs have been lying to me about Buster Swords and Gunblades.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:34 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


I guess he only really cared about pikes.

Kind of like beetles in our world.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:42 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


You see, the point is that the flail was a weapon for bishops and other ecclesiastics who were not morally allowed trenchant weapons, or even to strike blows directly.

So they would politely hand the flail to the enemy, watch until he had fucked himself up trying to use it, politely retrieve it and move on to the next victim.
posted by Segundus at 8:44 AM on May 17, 2016 [64 favorites]


When they came for the flail, I did not speak out, because I did not use a flail.
When they came for the bardiche, I did not speak out, because I did not use a bardiche.
When they came for the glaive guisarme, I did not speak out, because I did not use a glaive guisarme.
Then they came for my bec de corbin, and there was no one left to speak for me.
posted by Naberius at 8:47 AM on May 17, 2016 [34 favorites]


It would make sense as a mounted weapon. Still, after a strike, who knows where that ball's going to go...
posted by Windopaene at 8:49 AM on May 17, 2016


You can take my studded leather armor from the hands of my cold, implausibly-protected corpse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:50 AM on May 17, 2016 [14 favorites]




I was going to post about the Flail of Ages from the Baldur's Gate computer games, but I figure that's unnecessary. What I wonder about is the fact that there are weapons that are simply just chains or metal whips of some variety. I would be that the introduction of the long handle actually makes the flail more difficult to control, in effect creating a double pendulum, with the chain bit being the chaotic half of the pendulum. Although this would make nunchucks equally unstable.

Or is it that nunchucks would be equally silly to use on a battlefield in the European middle ages?
posted by Hactar at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2016


I have doubts about some of the weirder ninja weapons TBH, what with the iconic ninja look being totally fake.
posted by Artw at 8:57 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Then they came for my bec de corbin, and there was no one left to speak for meI sold that shit at the next available town and could finally afford a mithral chain shirt.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:58 AM on May 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


Next you'll be telling me that full plate armor simply turned you into a stiff, overly heavy target for a bunch of peasants wielding hammers and picks to open like a lobster.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:59 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well, that's where the Lucerne hammer comes in.
posted by Artw at 9:01 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Next you'll be telling me that full plate armor simply turned you into a stiff, overly heavy target for a bunch of peasants wielding hammers and picks to open like a lobster.

Or massed longbow archers...
posted by Gelatin at 9:01 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in Japan, there is no evidence that the ninja ever existed as fighters. The more economical explanation is that the black costume came from the stagehands who moved props under cover of darkness in between scenes in kabuki theatre, with popular fiction reinventing these silent, dextrous functionaries into mythical super-assassins.
posted by acb at 9:01 AM on May 17, 2016 [23 favorites]


Well, that's where the Lucerne hammer comes in.

Wat

you mean my expensive and highly trained cavalry are no match for a bunch of jerks with polearms (warning, reddit)
posted by Existential Dread at 9:04 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Never thought I'd link to this guy here, but here's a video about how Flails are sorta terrible generally.
posted by Carillon at 9:05 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


No wonder those academics were so upset when I crashed their conference wearing a suit of boob-plated armor while waving a flail about.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:06 AM on May 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


I know I've seen them at the Royal Armouries before but I guess they were all 2-handed flails. I can't seem to find the one handed ones. I thought they were in the hall of steel on the wall, but I'd have to go back and check to be sure.

BTW if you've never been to the Armouries in Leeds it is well worth a visit, especially as it is free. The demonstrations of the skill with a sword and armour are quite impressive.

Also in case of a zombie apocalypse I call dibs.
posted by koolkat at 9:15 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


> here's a video about how Flails are sorta terrible generally

These videos are fantastic. I'm going to have to stop myself before I watch all of the rest of them, but the three he did on flails were illuminating.
posted by lucidium at 9:26 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Stick with the medieval stuff and he's quite good, check out the one on torches!

Avoid anything political on the channel though.
posted by Carillon at 9:34 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


but here's a video about how Flails are sorta terrible generally.

Well, I do use the verb phrase 'to flail about' to describe people who, generally, if left to their own devices*, will probably just hurt themselves.


*-Such as a bec de corbin or glaive guisarme. When I was a lad, I saw a terrible, terrible movie named Krull. What did I stand up in the theatre and proclaim? "That's not a glaive!"
posted by eclectist at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


I find his dismissal of the medieval illustrations unconvincing - the other weapons and armor was pretty spot on, including the battering-ram. Battering-rams have often featured grotesque and decorative heads since the bronze age, and many of them were designed to cut through the gates, piercing and wrenching apart the doors rather than bash straight through, hence the pronged design (the horns and tongue of the devil head).

More, the flail's not even that fanciful or deadly in the case of fuckups compared to contemporaneous weapons from other cultures, most notably the urumi and kusarigama.

The design introduces some advantages to mounted vs. unhorsed combat, where follow-through with a nice mace may pop your shoulder out of its socket at full gallop against an armored or shielded man-at-arms.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:37 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Never thought I'd link to this guy here

Why not? Just because you didn't think you'd have a reason to? I liked that video and I have a kid who will really like them too, if he hasn't already discovered him.
posted by not that girl at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2016


I always thought some of these weapons were weird. The note about them being "tacticool" is probably quite right.

But...

There's a difference between a modern guy picking up a flail, swinging it a few times and going, "This is bullshit."
And...
A medieval squire with literally not much else to do, slowly and carefully figuring out to make it work.

It's like those recreations of building Stone Age weapons, where a) it's just a matter of time and effort, and b) they turn out pretty accurate and deadly in short order.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why not? Just because you didn't think you'd have a reason to?

Neve mind, just saw your later comment about his politics.
posted by not that girl at 9:44 AM on May 17, 2016


Next you'll be telling me that full plate armor simply turned you into a stiff, overly heavy target for a bunch of peasants wielding hammers and picks to open like a lobster.

Nah, a person wearing well-made and well-fitted plate is not all that slow or stiff. It's heavy, but the weight is distributed over the body and mostly hangs from the hips and shoulders. A well-made armor will have lots and lots of lames (little overlapping articulations) that make it very flexible. A person wearing armor can easily stand up after being knocked down, mount a horse from the ground, and generally move about as normal. The real disadvantages over an unarmored person are the reduced vision and hearing from the helmet and the fact that it's god-awful hot under the armor and the padded layers of clothing.
posted by jedicus at 9:45 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


No wonder those academics were so upset when I crashed their conference wearing a suit of boob-plated armor while waving a flail about.

well in fairness that was an economics conference
posted by mightygodking at 9:48 AM on May 17, 2016 [37 favorites]


Next you'll be telling me there's no such thing as a Flail Snail, either!
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:48 AM on May 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah not that girl, stick with the medieval and combat stuff and he's pretty good, certainly odd but not bad. I'd say if you pre-curate the stuff you show your kid it should be fine, the historical focused ones IIRC avoid too much of the other BS.
posted by Carillon at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the comments are good at raising doubt.
posted by sneebler at 9:55 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also in case of a zombie apocalypse I call dibs.

No, no, the weapon of choice against zombies is the boar spear. The boar spear.

I have this on good authority from a couple guys who really act like they know what they're talking about.
posted by Naberius at 9:57 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


My favorite moment in old movies is when the bad guy goes at Ivanhoe with the mace and Ivanhoe hooks it with his battle ax, unmounts him, untangles his battle ax, and dispatches the bad guy all in one motion.

I refuse to believe this never happened.
posted by bukvich at 10:04 AM on May 17, 2016


Another great (arguably more qualified) channel about medieval weaponry/fighting, and without any of the weird Dawkins-esque politics, is Schola Gladiatoria!
posted by Drexen at 10:05 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in Japan, there is no evidence that the ninja ever existed as fighters. The more economical explanation is that the black costume came from the stagehands who moved props under cover of darkness in between scenes in kabuki theatre, with popular fiction reinventing these silent, dextrous functionaries into mythical super-assassins.

This depiction has always bothered me. Being dressed all in black makes you look very conspicuous and suspicious; in the pre-modern era, you would have probably traveled on foot, had to use regular roads, sleep and eat at inns, etc., so if you were intending to assassinate a stranger, why would you call attention to the act of trying to conceal yourself? Why wouldn't you just pretend you were a blacksmith or something and then smash the shogun or whatever in the head with your hammer when you got the chance?
posted by clockzero at 10:09 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ninjas fight with their minds.
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The greatest trick Yeenoghu ever pulled was convincing the multiverse his flail didn't exist.
posted by Free word order! at 10:24 AM on May 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Does anyone remember the damage tables in Rolemaster?

Heh. I joined a group right as they were changing from Rolemaster to WFRP, and the DM copied the damage tables over for a little while before dropping them. The thing I remember was that there was very clearly a progression on the tables from slight to catastrophic and having someone roll a number that was pretty clearly inconsequential.

Player: "Oh, I think he just skinned his knuckles a bit, and it really stings."

GM looks up from the table with a pained expression on his face. "...he skins his knuckles and has a -1 penalty for a round."
posted by Four Ds at 10:50 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]



Meanwhile in Japan, there is no evidence that the ninja ever existed as fighters. The more economical explanation is that the black costume came from the stagehands who moved props under cover of darkness in between scenes in kabuki theatre, with popular fiction reinventing these silent, dextrous functionaries into mythical super-assassins.

This depiction has always bothered me. Being dressed all in black makes you look very conspicuous and suspicious; in the pre-modern era, you would have probably traveled on foot, had to use regular roads, sleep and eat at inns, etc., so if you were intending to assassinate a stranger, why would you call attention to the act of trying to conceal yourself? Why wouldn't you just pretend you were a blacksmith or something and then smash the shogun or whatever in the head with your hammer when you got the chance?


The version of the stagehand explanation I heard is that it was basically a case of fourth-wall breaking/visual coding. Everyone knew you just ignored the guys in black, so when they suddenly entered the story and killed someone, it was if they appeared from nowhere, and this appearance then became visual shorthand for an assassin who could appear from nowhere.

The Legend of the 5 Rings RPG had a couple of interesting twists on ninja: the successful ninja, the ones who actually carried out missions, never got near the color black, for the reasons given above. *Trainee* ninja had to do their (simpler) missions in solid black, (a) to force them to work under horrible conditions and rise above it, (b) so that outsiders would think ninja always wore black, and (c) to provide a distraction for the real ninja doing their harder missions at the same time.

(L5R was also interesting in that the sourcebook for the ninja organization was called The Merchant's Guide--what, you think ninja are going to give it away in the title?)
posted by Four Ds at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


Nowadays, if you wanted to be a ninja-style sneak assassin, you'd disguise yourself as a fat unattractive woman or a homeless person or a cleaning staff person, or someone else that most people aren't going to pay attention to. I imagine that sneak assassins in Japan back when would have figured out an equivalent disguise and used it.
posted by Anne Neville at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


Nowadays, if you wanted to be a ninja-style sneak assassin, you'd disguise yourself as a fat unattractive woman or a homeless person or a cleaning staff person, or someone else that most people aren't going to pay attention to.

Postal carrier. You get a bag you can hide your tools in, walk in pretty much anywhere, and walk right out again even as the hue and cry is being raised. No one wants to delay the mail.
posted by Etrigan at 11:13 AM on May 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah, it's well known that ninjutsu is a mix of espionage, unconventional warfare and some weird superstitions taught as a skillset to samurai. *But* there really were groups of people who were considered to be especially good at it who lived in the country mostly-autonomously and while they were technically samurai (shugo, sort of local cop/wardens), barely had any station above the common population. So these guys' samurai background was not considered especially noteworthy, and they were better known as ninjutsu specialists than as feudal-retainer type samurai. So for instance you have the Koga, under the jurisdiction of the Rokkaku, who would practice ninjutsu for money and favours.

Funny thing though: Evidence of successful ninja assassinations are scant. A bunch of them tried to kill Oda Nobunaga because the Rokkaku were in his way, but this seems to have been mostly defensive unconventional warfare.
posted by mobunited at 11:21 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Funny thing though: Evidence of successful ninja assassinations are scant.

I'd say to be a *ninja* assassination, evidence being scant would be part of being successful...
posted by Four Ds at 11:31 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


you mean my expensive and highly trained cavalry are no match for a bunch of jerks with polearms

You think that's soemthing? I hear tell a phalanx of spearmen can take down an Abrams tank!
posted by briank at 11:31 AM on May 17, 2016


I guess there's a reason the phrase "flailing around" is not one you want to hear applied to yourself.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:36 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I hear tell a phalanx of spearmen can take down an Abrams tank!

That's nothing; so can one dude in a sneaking suit.
posted by Gelatin at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2016


Think about it - lack of evidence of ninjas is the best evidence of ninjas. They've got you right where they want you.
posted by thetruthisjustalie at 11:51 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nowadays, if you wanted to be a ninja-style sneak assassin, you'd disguise yourself as a fat unattractive woman or a homeless person or a cleaning staff person, or someone else that most people aren't going to pay attention to. I imagine that sneak assassins in Japan back when would have figured out an equivalent disguise and used it.

Door to door flail salesperson.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:20 PM on May 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


Flailsperson, surely
posted by Existential Dread at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2016 [24 favorites]


flailsperson
posted by griphus at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


god dammit
posted by griphus at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


As we all know from comics, ninjas are homeopathic: one ninja is a deadly threat, a hundred ninjas you can pretty much brush off. So it stands to reason that zero ninjas would be the most deadly number of ninjas of all.
posted by Artw at 12:30 PM on May 17, 2016 [36 favorites]


As we all know from comics, ninjas are homeopathic: one ninja is a deadly threat, a hundred ninjas you can pretty much brush off. So it stands to reason that zero ninjas would be the most deadly number of ninjas of all.

After hearing this, I feel like I'm about to get ninja'd
posted by clockzero at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2016


What about the meteor hammer and rope dart? Were those real weapons, or were they always just used by circus arts kids?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:02 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


No, no, the weapon of choice against zombies is the boar spear. The boar spear.

Yeah I imagine it would be a good weapon. THey've got a few in the armouries. By calling dibs I didn't call it on a flail but on the armouries.
posted by koolkat at 1:39 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


As we all know from comics, ninjas are homeopathic: one ninja is a deadly threat, a hundred ninjas you can pretty much brush off. So it stands to reason that zero ninjas would be the most deadly number of ninjas of all.

This is a very true and very sobering fact. Zero ninjas are the cause of death of over 99.999% of the total historical population of the world.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:46 PM on May 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


"Yeah the comments are good at raising doubt. It seems possible it might be a weapon of crowd control. And one guy mentions non-English sources that perhaps this author was unaware of?"

If you click through to the non-English coda, you see that the flail that's described there is basically a six-foot pole, a couple inches of chain, then a three-foot pole.

The only way that the morning-star flails make sense is from horseback, but even then, not hitting your horse with them would be difficult. The other use he mentions is possibly for dismounting riding opponents, but that seems like it could be handled more easily by a polearm. Chains are unnecessarily fiddly and prone to breakage.
posted by klangklangston at 1:55 PM on May 17, 2016


What about the meteor hammer

Meh
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:01 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


The hilarity of Gygax's famous polearm list with its intricate sets of modifiers was that it was completely useless, since it was premised on Armour Class being equivalent to Armour Type (AC 2 could be plate mail and shield, or magical scale, or leather armour with a ring of protection and lots of dexterity).

The idea was done properly in the superb Rolemaster system, which had horrifying-looking but effortlessly usable charts of numbers for each weapon.

Maaaaan that was a nerdy comment. I'm off to watch sports and pound a sixpack while grunting.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:30 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Heh. I joined a group right as they were changing from Rolemaster to WFRP, and the DM copied the damage tables over for a little while before dropping them. The thing I remember was that there was very clearly a progression on the tables from slight to catastrophic and having someone roll a number that was pretty clearly inconsequential.

Player: "Oh, I think he just skinned his knuckles a bit, and it really stings."

GM looks up from the table with a pained expression on his face. "...he skins his knuckles and has a -1 penalty for a round."

Ahem.

just before I drink this beer and lift this extremely heavy weight while the world cup of sportsball plays on my big tv , allow to point out that rolemaster was a dream in play, because it came down to a number (your skill) a brief list of modifiers and a d100 roll. The complexity was all outsourced to the tables, basically.

Because it worked with any system that had a vaguely percentile resolution mechanism we stapled it onto Mage, Eclipse Phase, D&D, Warhammer fantasy, and it worked brilliantly every time.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:37 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Methinks Sebmojo doth protest too much.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


See, the advantage of pikes is you put a bunch of them in formation and they support each other, creating an interlocking defensive pattern that is difficult to penetrate without getting poked.

Contrast with flails in formation, which would just be bad, very bad, to the point of taking itself out of action without enemy engagement.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


military historians refer to this as the Testudo That Hates Itself And Wants To Die formation
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:47 PM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Came to post Lindybeige, glad it's already here.

But hey, if you're confused about polearms, why not visit The Polearm Emporium?
posted by lumpenprole at 4:10 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


them pikes in braveheart be like //\/\/\/dead horses everywhere||\\//\\\
posted by aydeejones at 4:49 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


As far as the multi-flails are concerned, I wonder if the idea (besides looking cool) was that they would be all clumped together for the hit much the same as a single weight, but would break up on the rebound and be slightly less deadly to the wielder.
posted by ckape at 4:53 PM on May 17, 2016


Chain-shot always seemed like it would inevitably lead to a Wile E. Coyote incident.
posted by XMLicious at 5:39 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nowadays, if you wanted to be a ninja-style sneak assassin, you'd disguise yourself as a fat unattractive woman or a homeless person or a cleaning staff person, or someone else that most people aren't going to pay attention to.

Fluorescent high-visibility tabards seem to work well; it's a known trick among graffitiists, street artists and pranksters (and I imagine burglars, spies and assassins would be aware of it as well).
posted by acb at 5:42 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Now I want to see ninjas in Dazzel camouflage.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:50 PM on May 17, 2016


Possible counter argument re:Utility of spoken balls on chains: Night Goblin Fanatics
posted by Artw at 6:06 PM on May 17, 2016


Speaking of the very non-mythical and actual historic shinobi, who existed with a clear scholarly consensus, and who did wear dark colors when conducting night raids, documented in literature and art - very similar to EVERY SPECIAL FORCES IN THE MODERN DAY DOING NIGHT RAIDS - they apparently used a flail as a concealable weapon, and at least two schools of martial training incorporated the study of their use. Probably not in black pajamas, but disguised as ordinary folk in broad daylight, those who might have needed a cane.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:00 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am as skeptical as they come, but please recognize when unexamined skepticism turns upon its own tail for a convenient snack.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:01 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the legend of the ninja all in black wasn't "They walked down the street in broad daylight but their black clothes concealed them," it was "Black clothes helped them hide in shadows and dark corners while on missions at night." The stories are fictional, but not stupid.
posted by No-sword at 7:50 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The hilarity of Gygax's famous polearm list with its intricate sets of modifiers was that it was completely useless, since it was premised on Armour Class being equivalent to Armour Type (AC 2 could be plate mail and shield, or magical scale, or leather armour with a ring of protection and lots of dexterity).
[. . . ]
Maaaaan that was a nerdy comment.


Unfortunately not nerdy enough. The table was supposed to be armor type and that was clearly explained somwhere. You probably didn't cross reference the detailed table in the Player's Handbook that modified the to hit rolls. The to hit rolls were only listed on page 75 of the then unpublished Dungeon Masters' guide, with the appropriate little paragraph contained somewhere else that talked about the logic behind these needlessly complicated modifiers that no one used once they saw a "-7" modifier appear.

You may need to go back and re-roll a bunch of stuff now from twenty year old games now.
posted by mark k at 8:20 PM on May 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I keep waiting for nasreddin to show up and crush this like he did on Facebook, but since he's not bothering, I'll quote him:

Oh, also, it seems that a variation on the one-handed flail, between a flail and a blackjack, is extremely well attested in medieval Russia both visually and archaeologically. This guy is full of shit.

Which was followed by this comment:

Slavomír Čéplö: Also, the author's reasoning regarding the utility of the weapon is bullshit: "The chain and swinging ball make this theoretical weapon extremely difficult to control." So it required skill to use. And? That is true of most medieval weapons.

Dude has been p0wned.
posted by languagehat at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


I love the idea of something being imaginary for long enough to fuzz over into the historical record. Hope I'm reincarnated in time to read the papers about how Eisenhower's lightsaber might have worked.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:45 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


The very same Eisenhower who invented the dime!
posted by griphus at 1:49 PM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


No, no, the weapon of choice against zombies is the boar spear. The boar spear.

Great against one zombie at a time, but likely to get bound up for a bit so you'd need a formation or a shorter backup weapon.

I've always thought boar spears, bolos and baling wire would be a great name for a zombie survival game. Although I really think the best method for defending against zombies is to make channeling obstructions akin to fishing weirs with reinforced chain link fencing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've always thought boar spears, bolos and baling wire would be a great name for a zombie survival game.

That would be a fun game. In the event of an actual zombie apocalypse my strategy would be to move into the mountains or up to Alaska and let the freeze-thaw cycle take its course.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:47 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


You need a machete or similiar wide bladed, heavy, one handed, chopping weapon. Keep them at bay with the spear and finsh them off with the blade.

As an aside I'm completely surprised no zombie media I've ever seen takes armour seriously against zombies that need to bite/scratch to transmit the infection. You could fashion a 100% suit of flexible armour that would be proof against any sort of bites and scratches pretty easily out of flexible plastics and leather.
posted by Mitheral at 3:45 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


My plan used to be to make impromptu chainmail using hundreds of Skagen titanium watch bands, but they stopped making them. Also, mountains are good for getting away from the toxic stew of chemicals that are going to fill up the waterways from unmonitored industrial operations, but there's a limit to agricultural possibilities. Over thinking the zombie apocalypse is my hobby.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:21 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


oxic stew of chemicals that are going to fill up the waterways from unmonitored industrial operations,

I see you've identified the real threat of a zombie apocalypse, that it might clear the way for libertarians.
posted by Artw at 6:57 AM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Oh, also, it seems that a variation on the one-handed flail, between a flail and a blackjack, is extremely well attested in medieval Russia both visually and archaeologically. This guy is full of shit.

Which was followed by this comment:

Slavomír Čéplö: Also, the author's reasoning regarding the utility of the weapon is bullshit: "The chain and swinging ball make this theoretical weapon extremely difficult to control." So it required skill to use. And? That is true of most medieval weapons.

Dude has been p0wned.
"

Any more info on this? Because it's not that flails didn't exist — they were regularly used as torture devices. It's that the nominally battlefield flails, i.e. chained morning stars, weren't actually used on the battlefield.

And that dismissal of requiring skill to use ignores that some weapons take a LOT MORE skill to use effectively, and without providing some advantage over a regular mace or similar weapon, it's hard to think that people would expend all that much effort learning the skill when they could more easily learn a different weapon that was more effective and less likely to accidentally clock them, their horse or their compatriots. Sword training is recorded all over — in part because a lot of countries had militia conscription requirements. Similarly, axes and maces have pretty decent historical attestation in training manuals and literature.

So if there is a long history of Russian use of the flail or chained morning star, I'd love to learn about it because it's interesting and doesn't seem to be well attested anywhere else.
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on May 19, 2016


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