Weird weapons for a fantasy novel

Bored with swords? Looking for a different kind of weapon for a martial artist in your fantasy novel?

Here’s a very interesting Quora answer involving a dart-tipped-rope weapon, with linked videos of the weapon being used.

This is called a rope dart, reasonably enough.

The problem with this would be that, if you put this kind of weapon in a novel, readers might not believe in it — an example of truth being less believable than fiction.

This kind of weapon might have several advantages. It should be relatively easy to get the materials and make one of these; it should be easy to carry it concealed. This kind of weapon would be unexpected. I imagine a rope dart would be difficult for an opponent armed with a sword to counter. A bow would beat this sort of weapon, though.

It does seem to me that a sling and a handful of good-sized pebbles would probably be easier to learn to use and would have a lot of the same advantages. But for martial arts coolness, a rope dart definitely beats a sling.

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14 thoughts on “Weird weapons for a fantasy novel”

  1. I’ve always been fond of the knotted rope Mariel uses in Brian Jacques’ “Mariel of Redwall” as an uncommon weapon for a fantasy warrior to use, but now I’m thinking it would have been even cooler if she’d attached some darts to the end. Still, it was effective enough as it was and, as you mention, had the advantage of being easily replaceable so long as there was rope of some sort at hand, though Jacques did show its limitations when it would get tangled with the enemy’s weapons, especially spears or pikes.

  2. Agh! Just lost a long post on this. Well, let me give the short version. There are many martial arts based around everyday implements such as rope, farming tools, and cloth. People learned how to use these because they were often forbidden from more formal weapons like swords. But, to be clear, all else equal, the formal weapons were better instruments for dealing death. Novelty can be helpful in some narrow circumstances, but if you have two people with equal levels of training and one has a sword and the other has a rope dart, I would give very strong odds in favor of the sword. There is a certain Darwinistic process to weapons development. If rope trumped sword, you’d see more people using rope. You don’t. Especially when you have to deal with other warriors. Ropes and rope darts and whips and the like are terrible against armor. They’re also terrible in formation. Fundamentally, it’s just a lot easier to hurt someone with a long, sharp piece of steel than with a rope.

    So why would you ever want this stuff to show up in a fantasy? There is the simple coolness factor and the fact that it’s fun to see something unusual, but a practical reason is what I mentioned at the beginning – concealability. If you’re not allowed to carry a sword, or don’t want to be seen carrying a sword, but still want the edge in combat from having a weapon, then easily concealed and unusual weapons like a rope dart are perfect. Many of these weapons you don’t even have to conceal. You can carry them openly. Thai whip fighters, for example, may use their belts, or even a moistened handkerchief. If you have a rope dart and the other person lacks weapons, then you have a huge advantage. So this sort of thing plays well with an assassin character, or a spy, or just a downtrodden peasant.

  3. That all makes perfect sense, Allan. I can certainly think of lots of reasons a person might really want a weapon that’s easy to conceal and not illegal to carry and so on.

  4. I dont buy it for the downtrodden peasant; it’d take a lot of leisure time spent on a weapon of limited usefulness. In contrast, the sling has been the weapon of downtrodden peasants–or at least, shepherds–since Biblical times.

    I agree otherwise: with a bit of poison, it’d be a fine weapon for Ninjas. But blowgun darts are arguably as cool, and way simpler as a short range weapon.

  5. Talking of weird weapons: in the fantasy RPG I was playing in last year, after we went to India one of the other players started using an urumi, a “whip sword.” I had never heard of it, and still have trouble believing they actually exist. Like the name says, it’s a very long, flexible swordblade — sort of a sharp metal ribbon — used like a whip, often with multiple blades attached to the hilt.

    It’s easy to see how one normal opponent would have trouble dealing with it, but it’s even more unsuitable than the rope dart for soldiers trying to fight in formation.

  6. Oh, that’s not the same as the chain sword. Interesting weapon. I would want lots of protective gear while learning to wield it.

    Chain swords are things the Teen has mentioned as cool items. A quick search indicates they’re used in Warhammer. I have my doubts of how useful they’d be for any but a solo fighter. Nasty things, if at all practical in real life use.

  7. For unusual ranged weapons, I’d go with an atlatl. It’s proven, effective, and easy to make. It’s easily used by practically anyone who has arms. For those who don’t want to google, an atlatl is like a slingshot for a spear; you can double or even triple the throwing distance, and it massively increases the penetrating power. They are terrifying. Of course, you would also need the darts/spears to go with them, but they’re generally not much longer than the arrows used for a longbow.
    Slingshots don’t have as much ‘awesome factor’, but they’re also easy to make and use.

    For close range weapons, I’d go with fans. They’re used in many cultures, disposable, and unexpected. Steel fans are actually not the best type for fighting with; bamboo or wood with silk are much better. As I understand it, there is actually one recorded instance of some samurai in Japan killing someone with a fan, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you could inflict mortal damage with one.

    In experimental combat with some martial arts friends, we discovered that bullwhips can be a useful (and unusual!) weapon, though they do have several drawbacks, much the same as rope darts. But they could cause some real damage at mid-range, and it freakin’ hurts to get hit with one. Like, knock-your-breath-out kind of hurt. Once was definitely enough.

    Y’know what else no one talks about, but that was used extensively in gladiator fights? Weighted nets and spears. ‘Fishers’, as they were called, were often the nastiest gladiators to face, because they’d get you all tangled up in the net, then do whatever the heck they wanted with you.

    All this being said, there’s a reason that swords were so universally used. Even if styles of sword differ extensively, they’re a very versatile weapon.

  8. Completely agree about slings, by the way. Piece of cloth, stone, presto. Used throughout history, highly effective. And can be made even more effective by adding a stick (staff sling).

    On the downtrodden peasants, I was thinking primarily of martial arts based around agricultural implements. Many of those are in use today, and we forget about their origins (e.g., nunchakus were just threshing tools). A lot of those are actually pretty decent weapons, in large part because they were designed to deliver a lot of force in a small area or as cutting instruments. A regime might ban swords, but what about machetes for clearing fields? Scythes for harvesting crops? Butcher’s knives? Pitchforks? Not quite as good as things custom-made for combat, but a pitchfork is pretty close to a spear, a machete is pretty close to a sword, and a threshing tool is pretty close to a morning star.

    Not that you can walk around the middle of downtown with a pitchfork or a machete without raising eyebrows, which is an advantage of the whip and rope type weapons.

  9. Incidentally, or maybe not so incidentally for writers, some of the things that make gimmick weapons not so great in a straight up duel or in general combat are great for assassins, spies and the like. Surprise can be really important. This is also why being famous can be a problem for a duelist, as people learn your style. (In real life, this is exactly why people study films of boxing and martial arts competitions.) Ah ha! He’s pulling out his whip sword! I’ve prepared for that! As opposed to, what the heck, his sword just separated and went around my block!

  10. Yes, I think everyone agrees that a strip of cloth and a rock probably constitute the single best weapon for a random person who doesn’t have or isn’t allowed to have official weapons and just needs something that’ll work. But by no means as cool in a novel, where the primary feature of things like these wild whip swords and so on is sheer aesthetics.

  11. Isn’t Cajieri’s slingshotta cool?

    Completely off topic… a while ago your wrote about a book which was good but had an long and unmemorable title, of two people’s names & more words following, and then it came out and it was very good, and I think the author dropped in to say she’d changed the title… anyway, what was it? I’m trying to find it in my samples and nothing is ringing a bell.

  12. Added the R. Morgan to my TBR pile, though I’m not sure when I’ll be in the mood for a police procedural again. It does sound interesting in the lunked post.

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