Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Why, eh?

A few years ago at Reading I saw Marcus Brigstocke ranting about “guilty pleasures”. The gist was this: when someone says “Twilight is my guilty pleasure” they’re actually saying “Twilight is shite, but I’m self-aware enough that I can appreciate its shittiness, unlike the unwashed masses who take it at face value”.

The guilty pleasure fallacy is elitism by stealth. It’s particularly obnoxious when used by middle-class liberals to describe their relationship with the X-Factor. More to the point, it only appears in the context of adults seeking approval from other adults where the groupthink condemns this particular entertainment.

The same elitism has surfaced in The Slate, where Ruth Graham opines that we should be embarassed to read YA; although in a novel twist Graham appears to be projecting the guilty pleasure fallacy on her peers in the age 30-44 demographic who defend YA as “more sophisticated than ever”.

Yes, it’s a blatant wind-up piece. Cory Doctorow’s rebuttal opens a can of C.S. Lewis on Graham’s ass, and really that’s all you need to take away from the exchange. However there are a couple very obvious strawmen I’d like to comment on.

Firstly there’s the notion that YA wants to be “sophisticated”. That’s a clever use of language to suggest that YA fiction is competing with literary fiction by seeking the approval of an audience that considers “sophistication” to be the highest accolade one can place on fiction.

By Graham’s own admission “this kind of thing is hard to quantify” anyway. Why? Because it’s bullshit. Sophistication isn’t a metric; it’s as subjective as preference itself.

YA is just the latest in a long line of genres that literary fiction has put down to make itself look big — and it’s arguably scraping the bottom of the barrel now that Scott McCloud has taught us how to understand comics, BSG made SF gritty, Game of Thrones has (allegedly) rendered fantasy fit for adult consumption and Joss Whedon is doing his bit for superheroes.

Next there’s the priviledging of present over past with the notion that YA is getting more sophisticated (as a defence of YA). I assume Graham doesn’t believe this, but then she has little time for the classics either if the image of Alice at the head of the article is anything to go by.

There’s also the suggestion that adult readers are consciously seeking escapism and instant gratification, which by inference YA provides and adult literary fiction doesn’t. Really? Is the defining feature of literary fiction that its readers must be masochists?

“Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple.”

“The very ways that YA is pleasurable are at odds with the way that adult fiction is pleasurable” is such a broad statement that it’s not credible, and there are enough counter examples. One of the reasons I like YA is the distillation of the monomyth — but the monomyth’s themes and forms go beyond adventure stories and fairytales. While Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey simplifies Campbell’s original work it still demonstrates that a wide range of fiction can be submitted to the same analysis, and works for the same reason: the “hero” has an ordinary world that is upset, crosses a threshold, embarks on a journey and achieves some kind of apotheosis before returning “home” better for the experience. Fiction which misses out these crucial steps can frequently be incoherent or unsatisfying, and the fact that YA often nails this cycle is to its credit.

Most likely I’m preaching to the converted here, since the few readers I get will be fellow geeks and Spec Fic fans, used to the disapproving glare of lit fic. But still, being guilty or embarassed about what you read makes no sense; although perhaps you should be ashamed if you spend all your energy trying to like fiction that you don’t for the sake of someone else’s approval.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Martial Truths: Quarterstaff vs. Great Sword

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead 1912

This John is little, that John is very far away.

Is a greatsword really twice as good as a quarterstaff? Both D&D and Runequest would have you think so.

You may be surprised to learn that these weapons are used in almost identical manner, at least in English schools. “What’s that?” you say, “surely you grip the quarterstaff in the middle, like that stout and entirely fictional martial artist Little John”. No, that’s half-staffing, as illustrated by later period martial texts like Miller and then cemented in popular culture by Hollywood. Certainly you may have held the staff halfway along some of the time, notably if you needed to shorten your staff against someone rushing to close (Silver, Paradoxes) but generally you held the thing one quarter of the way along its length.

“Of the two hand sword fight against the like weapon” from Silver’s Bref Instructions:

These weapons are to be used in fight as the short staf, yf both play upon dubble & syngle hand, at the two hand sword, the long sword hath the advantage if the weight thereof be not too heavy for his strength that has it, but if both play only upon dubble hand, then his blade which is of convenient length agreeing with his stature that hath it, which is according with the length of the measure of his single swordblade, hath the advantage of the sword that is too long for the stature of the contrary party, because he can cross & uncross, strike & thrust, close & grip in shorter time than the other can.

We imagine “great swords” being these immensely heavy long weapons, unstoppable cleavers. Actually they’re relatively light. John Clements’ essay on Two Handed Greatswords debunks some of the myth of the great sword and provides a bit of historical context — these were Renaissance weapons used for attacking pike blocks, by attacking the pikes themselves. And while they would have been pretty good at hacking at the lightly armoured infantry once those troublesome pikes were whittled down, they were pretty specialised in isolation. No doubt they were used for judicial and gladiatorial duelling, but that’s probably it.

The main reason a two-hander must be kept light is the speed; if the two hander really were absurdly slow, it would make all actions in the time of the hand slower, the weapon would lye spent for longer, and so on. Two combatants’ fights may be perfect, but if a weapon is too heavy to be wielded quickly then a person with a disadvantaged weapon may still gain the place. This argument is similar to the concerns of the “man of mean stature” (Silver, Paradoxes).

I don’t want to get into some debate on the relative potential for injury between the great sword and quarter staff; I will only say that the staff’s capacity for causing injury is almost universally underestimated. Certainly staff training gives me the greatest concern in WMA. I know of real injuries from staff-thrusts where the players underestimated the mass of the weapon and the unyielding nature of the wood (compared to steel or nylon) resulting in broken ribs and a collapsed lung. The tip moves so quickly and with such mass behind it that it’s trivial to break bone. I don’t mean to imply that one cannot train safely with such a weapon; it’s just that because “it’s just a piece of wood” the humble staff gets a lot less respect than it needs. There’s an account on Terry Brown’s site in a 2011 interview:

“The power of staff weapons is truly phenomenal and I once bouted against a full-contact re-enactor who wanted to experience fighting against the quarterstaff. He was wearing a good quality suit of armour and was armed with a sword and dagger. My first blow knocked him off his feet and shook him up quite badly. After that I wound down the power to about a quarter but even so still knocked him down several times. He said afterwards he felt totally helpless because he couldn’t get in range to strike. He also said it felt like being inside an oil drum while someone hit it with a sledgehammer.”

It’s not simply power of a staff that makes it such an incredible weapon against the likes of shorter weapons. Silver goes into some detail concerning its vantages against sword single, sword and dagger and like weapons. The staff’s superiority clearly derives from its length but also from its speed in being repositioned from high to low lines. The Governor of Measure requires the artist to “keep his space true” against incoming attack; but with staff against sword the sword cannot be true spaced against a high attack and low attack simultaneously, and it is trivial for the staff-bearer to reposition their weapon in the time of just their hand. If the swordsman merely carries their sword in some kind of middle guard (a “stoccata” or similar) they will likely not be able to ward the incoming attack strongly enough in time, high or low. But demonstrating this in practice is hard; when the power is dialled down, the actual speed and threat from the weapon can’t be fully appreciated.

The staff’s speed also gives it advantage against some longer weapons; Silver commends the short staff against the long staff and morris pike, and notes that it is not much inferior to the Forrest Bill (Paradoxes). The reason it has the advantage here is its ability to cross and uncross and offend the enemy more rapidly. But here I’ll just have to ask you to take my word for it; we’re venturing into territory where only a demonstration will be satisfactory.

Logically the staff isn’t the be-all and end-all of English fight. We like our hafted weapons and any perceived problems with relative length of pikes &c. may be corrected by shortening one’s grip; and this shortening again happens in the time of the hand, whereas the offender may still be coming in using his or her feet (Paradoxes). And for what it’s worth, that’s probably less practical to do with a great sword.

So, I contend that the quarterstaff gets a raw deal. If you base weapon damage on actual capacity to cause injury, the staff is the equal of the sword, or even better. If you take a more holistic view of hit points with a continual wearing down of each side based statistically on relative weapon and skill — well, frankly the staff is more capable than its peers in its ability to harass opponents, full stop.

So, why is the greatsword twice as good as the staff in D&D?

Snobbery, that’s why.

In the D&D 3.5e SRD, the greatsword is a “martial weapon” whilst the humble staff is a “simple weapon”. Only special people who have trained in poncy feats get to handle martial weapons. D&D is distorting the weapon stats to reward fighters with more damage, but also fighters get to pose with cool weapons as a consolation for not being able to cast fireballs or look fetching in black.

(What’s Runequest’s excuse, then? Beats me.)

RPG Spotlight: Beyond The Wall and Other Adventures

Beyond the wall

Dungeons and Dragons is confusing territory these days. You have your official product with its own reactionary and progressive factions (3.5e / 4e / NEXT), 3e OGL forks (Pathfinder) the Old School Renaissance with its retroclones (LotFP) and neoclones (Dungeon Crawl Classics), nu-school emulators (Dungeon World, Torchbearer), and of course the folks who invested in OD&D or 1e AD&D back in the day and their copies are doing just fine with the duck tape along the spine, thanks.

For the purposes of this overview, it’s possibly best to forget all of that. Because while Beyond the Wall technically uses “the world’s most popular RPG” as a foundation, all of the activity that is considered old school (romping around dungeons, rolling up disposable characters and killing stuff for treasure) is secondary. This is a game about emulating YA fantasy (principle inspiration is Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea). At the same time it’s intended to be pick-up-and-play; you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s aimed at teen players, but in the How To Play booklet it acknowledges that “as we [get] older… it’s hard to schedule [a regular game]”. So this is a nostalgia trip for aging gamers with busy schedules.

Well, perhaps it is. But all the things that make YA accessible to readers (such as youthful protagonists) are present in this game too, so it would probably make a fine introductory game anyway. Still, if the “for kids” pigeonholing bothers you, you could call it “timeless” instead.

A lot of fiction follows the Hero’s Journey, although YA tends to do be very efficient in transitions through the cycle. Calls to Adventure and Crossing the First Threshold are staples of not only YA but any kind of fantasy/fairytale game. But also the cycle will include those stages in the Ordinary World and Returning with the Elixir, where the heroes’ domestic lives and relationships are established.

Here is where Beyond the Wall excels: through use of playbooks (actually these are more like lifepaths) the character’s back story is established, as well as inter-party links. Each playbook is a series of tables that cover childhood and then development into the functional PC (with an established class). Beyond that, there’s a collaborative element in creating the village. Crucially the village is populated by homes, friends and families and must be worth saving so the PCs return time and again to the village as a safe space where they want to be.

OK, what do you get?

  • Core Rules
  • How To Play
  • Magic
  • A Beastiary
  • Character Playbooks
  • Adventure Playbooks

The electronic version separates these books into individual booklets of between 4 and 30 pages. It certainly goes down easily. Note that there are no fewer than four free extras for this game — three additional set of PC playbooks (Nobles, Demi-Humans, and Villagers) and an adventure with goblins.

I assume the word “playbook” has been deliberately appropriated from Apocalypse World terminology. It’s a good move; it capitalises on one of AW’s greatest strengths, which is to provide the new player with a complete package for starting their character off.

Working through the playbook not only develops back story (childhood events) but also incorporates other player characters; at one point in the lifepath the player to your right will have been present during an event and will gain a stat bonus for having been there. Each playbook is a character class married with a character concept; for example the Reformed Bully is a Warrior, the Untested Thief is a Rogue, and so on. If you want an example of character generation a group of bloggers created their own virtual play circle and worked through some of the books.

At the end of all this, you’ll have a bunch of ready-made D&D-style adventurers, ready to go Beyond the Wall and into dangerous territory. Before you do this there’s a neat little collaborative section on creating your village. Once that’s done, scenarios (of which there are two) follow a similar random generation as the characters, so again it’s good for picking up and playing.

Now, in order for this to be pick-up-and-play the players have to be able to pick up the system and run with it quickly. I hesitate to say that BtW‘s version of D&D is stripped down; it’s more like it’s been chosen with great care. These are the main features:

  • Magic is redesigned with Cantrips, Spells and Rituals; spells are all at the same “level” and the number of daily castings is equal to the Mages’ level.
  • There are skills, but these are free form (as opposed to a defined list). Everyone gets at least one skill.
  • Skill checks are always done by rolling under one’s attribute.
  • Combat is the usual D&D stuff: roll to hit the opponent’s AC and then roll damage.
  • There are only three classes (Warrior, Mage, Rogue) but a lot of variation with the playbooks, and some examples of dual-classing.
  • BECMI-style saving throws, though these can optionally be changed to the Fortitude/Reflex/Will saves structure.
  • No 3e-style feats. No attacks of opportunity. No encumbrance rules.

This is not a crunchy game, nor is it a high-powered, high fantasy game. It is also not a lethal game in the way that most D&D is — PCs begin better equipped than 1st level characters in other games.

I’ve previously stated my admiration for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And while I admire LotFP with its streamlined rules, its Law-Church-Good/Chaos-Magic-Evil cynicism, it’s focus on “recovering treasure from remote locations” and (especially) the nods to the original Mentzner Basic Set — it’s way too nihilistic and clinical for me to convince most people I know to play. Beyond the Wall by comparison is equally focused and useful, but it’s full of heart and it’s been designed with ease of adoption in mind. Most importantly I’m sure it will be an easy sell. Just don’t mention that “hey guys, you’ve been playing D&D all along!”

In conclusion: this is probably the best game I’ve laid my hands on this year. And it cost me less than five quid. And it’s got lovely ethereal fantasy art by Erin Lowe:

Btw art lowe


Aside: Comparison with Dungeon World

Dungeon World brings the whole Apocalypse World experience to D&D, allegedly. Playbooks are one aspect, and moves are another. But this is where it gets a bit tricky.

I’m told by those with more experience than me that the moves in DW tend towards task resolution. Now, the way moves are supposed to work is to have players make conscious, affirmative decisions regarding character actions; make the moves suddenly about task resolution and it becomes not only more reactive than proactive, you risk getting bogged down in the minutae of task resolution, which is precisely what moves and “let it ride” are supposed to avoid.

And this is why I can’t really see the point of Dungeon World. You need to impose a new terminology and process on your players when D&D as a framework is perfectly functional. Naturally there will be people who feel at home with *World games and will hate D&D, in which case DW may be for them. For everyone else, Basic D&D and the various free OSR clones are perfectly functional.

And this is why I conclude that Beyond the Wall has the potential to be a better Dungeon World than Dungeon World. Writing your own playbooks is simpler for BtW and is mostly about balancing the final character power level with the other books — something that’s a lot more transparent with an OSR game than a move-based game where it may be hard to predict how disruptive moves are. There’s no relearning of either terminology or procedure required, either.

Right now I’m thinking about how to make use of this system to run Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Michael Gove Turing Test

Michael Gove and the Turing Test

Brought to light in this G+ post, which included the following exchange:

“But could he pass a Voight-Kampff test?”

“You reach down and flip the education system on it’s back, Michael … it’s trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping…”

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

George Silver and English Martial Arts

This is the start of a new series of posts concerning “the truth” about sword-related (and other) Western Martial Arts. This has been prompted by two things. The first was this blog post which includes a video by Schola Gladiatora and highlights some wrong assumptions games make about fighting (I did reply but the comment seems to have been lost). This made me think of other fighting-related misconceptions, like weapon length, quarterstaves doing pitiful damage, psychology and decision making in combat. That kind of thing.

The second is that I’ve been collecting all martial-related posts into a single page and I’ve realised that while I’ve quoted George Silver (and Hope) I’ve not written a complete post about Silver. This will be the first thing I put right.

Gamers who read this may find this diversion away from “game” and towards “truth” unnecessary, and I partly agree. If you plan to play a game, what matters is consistency and the social contract to play the same way, and it doesn’t matter if you have a truthful understanding of initiative, or the quarterstaff. So, I’m not setting out to change the way people play, only to shine a light on those misconceptions and give the players an opportunity to make up their own mind.

As for any Martial Artists who read this and, perhaps, think Dungeons and Dragons is a less noble pursuit than sword practice and competition, I say this: Martial Arts is a game, too. It has rules and structures, win and lose conditions, truth and falsehood. And while we may nod to the lethal reality of fighting arts, we are no closer to that lethality in their modern practice than we are in playing a RPG (safe practices notwithstanding). Indeed, arrogance in our own abilities is the thing most likely to bring us harm in the real world.

Truth and Learning

Differences between two scholars concerning “the truth” may lead us to conclude that one or both is wrong; that understanding is forever incomplete, and therefore flawed; that no one individual can observe the whole elephant. In The Changing Face Of Truth Terry Brown writes about the differences in terminology between Silver and Godfrey. How can both be correct, both grasping the Truth of fighting, when they differ on basic concepts like Distance and Measure?

Terry Brown posits that Silver and Godfrey’s differing view of the fundamentals of the “True Fight” arise from mechanical differences in weapons, and the context of their use. But also True Fight is a tacit concept that both men are attempting to make explicit through a system.

In Accelerated expertise: training for high proficiency in a complex world by Hoffman et. al. the authors comment on expertise development as formation of a “rich mental map” of their intellectual domain. These mental maps are procedural as well as conceptual. Two experts in the same field will have different mental maps, and different ways they visualise the same truth. Of course where there are common points of reference in learning the maps may be more similar than different, but they are individual.

Therefore, even when two experts have the same foundations their mental maps may diverge, and therefore their means of expressing those maps. Have you ever been in “violent agreement” with another person? You’ve stated your case on a technical subject and will settle for nothing less than complete agreement from the other party — and they do agree, but they just don’t agree in a language that you like?

Naturally the way to disentangle these agreements is to listen, process and compare the truths therein, which is what Terry Brown does in his essay. It’s just not so easy when your blood is up.

It would be easy to treat the opinions of two masters at the height of their field relativistically, but this would be wrong. There is a truth of fighting, and there is a falsehood, and for as long as we can use physics as a foundation we can also call martial arts a science.

George Silver

George Silver’s Paradoxes and Bref Instructions (sic) can be found in various corners of the web, as well as discussions and analysis of the text. There’s a list of worthwhile links at the bottom of this article. While I think they’re great they are the product of martial arts scholars, and will dive into detail where most readers lack the context to understand the arguments.

My goal isn’t to re-hash a critique of Silver, but to provide an overview — and to point out why Silver is overlooked, and also why his (rather obtuse) texts are so useful, if not essential to comprehending martial arts.

Silver In Context, Ancient and Modern

George Silver’s own context when he wrote Paradoxes was an England where continental swordplay was being introduced as something fashionable and cool. Rapiers were elegant, slender weapons and rapier-men were deadly gymnastic dancers. The problem was the teachers, who took money from young scholars, taught them a few lessons and made them feel invincible with a rapier at their side; those youngsters would promptly go out, pick a fight, and die (sometimes with a double defeat where both sides would run the other through).

While Silver’s subsequent ranting and character-assassination of both continental sword and sword-master looks like English xenophobia, he does back up his arguments with science. He argues the rapier is a imperfect weapon built on incorrect principles. It’s too long. It’s no good for proper cutting. And so on. Silver’s maxim is “our ancestors were wise, yet our age accounts them foolish” meaning the new school of fence has wholly rejected methods of swordplay which have been tried and tested over centuries.

This is pretty much how Silver has positioned himself; on the cusp of the Medieval and the Renaissance, at least as far as fighting goes. And similarly many modern WMA practitioners don’t know where to place him. He’s either the last of the Medievalists, or the first of the Renaissance artists. Terry Brown’s conclusion at the end of his essay favours the former:

“some people are trying to interpret his principles and techniques in light of later methods of cut and thrust fighting. It is my contention that Silver meant no such thing and was, in the main, teaching medieval techniques which had been passed down through schools of defence which had existed in England since at least the late twelfth century”

We’d like to think there is a direct line from Silver to the our favourite later masters such as Sir William Hope; but while it’s true that Hope developed a hanging guard in his New, Short and Easy Method in 1707, his art (while wholly pragmatic) is influenced by the fencing fashion of the long 18th century where blades — court swords and spadroons — were feather-light skewers with pretty handles. Silver might say he was making the best of a bad lot.

Still, flawed or not, all of Silver’s principles as laid down in his Paradoxes and Bref Instructions are true for Hope, too. And they are true of all fighting arts; they are an acid test by which one can sort good technique from bad.

Silver’s Truths

While there are techniques in Bref Instructions, the great value of Silver is enumerating simple concepts such as True and False Times, Grounds and Governors, and Gaining the Place. More than providing martial principles and technique, Silver is offering the idea that fighting is a science and therefore repeatable results are obtainable by following simple and fundamental rules.

This is incredibly powerful. It places the tools in the hands of any scholar who wishes to scrutinise technique and tell good from bad. It does not excuse the need for training and securing expertise, of course (10,000 hours of practice!) but by providing a framework it most likely assists retention of skill (q.v. Hoffman).

These are the edited highlights. Have a read through and decide how many of these are obvious.

True and False Times
From Paradoxes, this is a hierarchy of “times” indicating the relative speed of actions. The fastest False Time will not be faster than the slowest True Time.

True Times

Time of the Hand
Time of the Hand and Body
Time of the Hand/Body/Foot
Time of the Hand/Body/Feet

False Times

Time of the Foot
Time of the Foot and Body
Time of the Foot/Body/Hand
Time of the Feet/Body/Hand

You can test why the time of the Hand is quicker by standing within arm’s reach of someone, and then trying to step back while they slap you in the face (not too hard…).

This all seems a bit abstract, but it has implications for all manner of swordplay, and shows why the Distance is key — chiefly that if you stand within a distance where the opponent can cut you by moving their hand alone, you’re unlikely to be able to step away in time.

The Grounds
These are Judgement, Distance, Time and Place, and they follow a hierarchy. Using good Judgement you keep your Distance, and therefore “take your Tyme… and gayne the Place of your adversarie” (Bref Instructions, Cap.I.). What this means is by maintaining the right distance you always have time to act appropriately in attack or defence (and indeed, your opponent does not).

The Governors
These are Judgement, Measure, and the twofold mind to both press in and fly out as the situation demands it — in other words, being reactive to both opportunities and to dangers. Judgement is “to know when your adversarie can reach you, & when not, & when you can do the lyke to him”. Measure here is the least obvious but really it’s just about “making your space true”, that is to carry your weapon in a way that you can both ward an attack and launch your own in the most efficient way.

The Four Actions
These are positions of readiness of a weapon: bent, spent, lying spent and drawing back, in that sequence. Understanding that when your opponent has attacked you they will be, briefly, lying spent; this is an advantage you can seize. Likewise when they are bent (i.e. ready to strike) you must be wary of walking into distance and giving them “the place”.

The above are almost everything you need to design viable techniques. If you only use True Times, if you exercise good Judgement to keep both Distance and Measure, if you exploit advantages as you see them whilst keeping yourself safe — you will be victorious, and your victory will be repeatable.

I told you it would be obvious. So, what’s the catch?


Silver is nothing if not pragmatic, and while he is an exponent of English over continental swords he deals in advantages, not absolute certainties. His contempt for the rapier places it beneath the sword, and thus the latter has the advantage over the former (and sword and dagger has advantage over rapier and poinard), but the sword is disadvantaged against staves (Silver states that a short staff may address two swords and retain advantage).

There are perfect and imperfect weapons (the rapier’s capacity to only thrust makes it imperfect) and moreover there are perfect lengths of weapons that are optimised for the height of the wielder. All of this perfection and advantage comes from being able to operate at a distance where you may offend your opponent with minimal risk; and the problem sword-fighters have against staff-fighters is that the latter has such an advantage of distance that the swordsman must take a step where the staff holder is not obliged to, and thus the one with a sword is using a slower True Time than the one with the staff.

(Yes, we like to think that the swordsman might step within the reach of the staff and grip it or put it aside, but the staff bearer can reposition their weapon using only a time of their hand and body. The advantage is preserved.)

The other truth, perhaps the one we are in denial about the most, is the advantage of stature. There’s an imagined discussion beginning on page 45 of Paradoxes between a master and scholar; and the scholar repeatedly asks what advantage he, a man of “mean stature” might have against a tall man. The answer is, none — because it’s no harder for the Tall man to obey the principles of the True Fight than it is for the shorter man, while retaining the advantage of a longer pace and reach. The best the smaller man can do is to take advantage of his ability to slip away faster than his pursuer can offend him, and otherwise do his best to keep his fight true — for “if he should fail in the least iota of his Art, he should be in great danger of death or hurt”. Silver is not the only master to tackle the question of natural advantage, although other masters phrase it as the dichotomy of Art (i.e. skill) against Strength, which is not quite the same thing.

(This is a popular subject in early 19c boxing manuals, e.g. Fewtrell)

We like to romantically think that the weak can be trained out of weakness, and to some extent this is true — but nevertheless, someone bigger and stronger will always have an advantage.

Further Reading

This is the end of my essay, for now. I haven’t touched on either the Wards of Open, Closed, Guardant and Variable Fight, nor the techniques — but these are best illustrated through an instructor. Furthermore they get into the territory of every other martial manual, which is to be focused on technique. Techniques are important as a learning aid, but Silver’s axioms are unique.

Wikipedia Page
Jonathan Miller’s modern transcription of the Brief Instructions


George Silver making sure he’s getting the full length.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Apres Stormbringer…


There is no longer a RPG for Michael Moorcock’s Elric in English. But there’s one in French. And now I have a copy. Entrez dans les Jeunes Royaumes!

A completely new system, despite bearing both the Mongoose and Elric of Melnibone brands.

Also, this:


I’ll wait for this one when I get back to the UK. I just love the strapline in French.