Exotic Weapons in Fantasy Adventure

Feb 4, 2015 | Swordplay

So, part of the reason why I started training in the salle is that I needed to know how to fight, like I’ve said before. But I also needed to know the limits and purposes of various weapons – whether a dagger would be effective against a polearm or a longsword, what techniques would be appropriate in a pitched battle, that kind of thing. I wanted to avoid ‘unrealistic’ representations of combat.

Of course, I’ve since realized that it really doesn’t matter as long as the combat serves the story, but I still appreciate the richness of my education, and how it allows me to write combat with more conviction. It informs how and why things work the way they do, in armies and in one-on-one fights, when I’m doing world-building. But it presents a whole host of problems when you realize that the fantasy weapons you’ve spent so much time on are now completely wrong!

The Daggers

One of the main characters in the Novel uses a pair of daggers. At first, I established that she wielded them in an ice-pick grip (blade pointing down), with lots of slashes and dodging and whatnot. I swiftly realized that this just didn’t work.

The problem is mainly with the exclusive use of the ice-pick grip – someone highly trained would never compromise their safety by sticking rigidly to one grip or another, and in combat it’s certainly not superior to the usual hammer grip, where the blade is pointed up. They have their advantages and disadvantages, nothing more, and both are represented in the medieval treatises.

My initial problem was that this character needed something to distinguish her from others. Her blades and style of fighting had to be something out of the ordinary. I was also constrained by material – I’d established that her blades were heirlooms, created from possibly-magical-crystal, and unbreakable.

Remember when I said that swords need to have a compromise between hardness and flexibility? I’d effectively written myself into a corner there. These crystal daggers couldn’t flex on impact. They couldn’t be used like normal daggers! A workshop I took on knife-fighting only solidified how much trouble I was in at this point.

The Solution

I spent far, far too long thinking about this, before hitting on the perfect solution almost by accident.


The sai! Or more specifically, sai daggers.

The more I thought about it, the more everything seemed to fit. Sais are wielded as a pair; used for a range of different techniques; in various grips, point up and down. The central prong of the typical sai is not a blade, per se – it’s usually rounded or, more importantly, faceted!

After I did some reading on it, and watched some videos on sai-fighting, I knew I had the right weapon. I could easily imagine a pair of bright, octagonal crystals, coming to a point, and bound into a pair of curved steel crossguards. These would not be slashing weapons – they would be used for disarming, for trapping and breaking other weapons, and for the precision thrust through a fleshy body part, thus solving my problem of the blade needing to flex on impact. Perfect weapons for this character, especially considering how versatile they are.

You can also throw them! Sai-throwing is a rare case of Truth in Fiction. It’s an accepted technique to throw a sai, to great effect, against an opponent with a longer weapon 20-30 feet away.

Fantasy weapons, especially when they’re based on something out of the ordinary, tend to fall into the trap of being silly as all hell when the author really just wanted them to be unique. Sometimes, though, uniqueness is overrated, and it’s best to stick with what has a proven history of working. Keep it simple!