Zalanthas is a world full of conflict, and nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the mortal combat that happens somewhere in it at any given time. This document outlines some fighting styles of Zalanthas, as well as some of the factors that have influenced their development. While it contains a lot of IC information, it is up to you as players to decide how much your characters know, and also for you to decide if you will make use of it in actually playing your characters. I hope that this information will enrich the atmosphere of the game, especially for those playing fighters.
There are some things to bear in mind before reading through this document.
Firstly, while we strive to create a 'realistic' role-playing environment on Armageddon MUD, Zalanthas is not Earth. While a lot does carry over from real life into the game (e.g., principles of gravity, temperature, etc.), please do not assume that everything is exactly the same. Most parts of the Known World of Zalanthas are barren desert. It is very hot, windy, and generally inhospitable. Thus, availability of materials aside, heavy armor is not really practical in most circumstances, for it saps the strength and moisture (via sweat) of the wearer far more than it would in most parts of the real world.
Secondly, the people of Zalanthas are generally tougher than people in real life, due to the harsh conditions in which they live. This does not mean that they can take severe injury and still carry on as if nothing were the matter; that would be very unrealistic. But it does mean that they would, on average, be stronger, physically fitter, and able to bear pain and minor injuries better than someone in real life. Due to the low technology level of Zalanthas, most people would be in physically-oriented work roles. Thus, they would probably be more agile and have better physical coordination and reflexes, too. Note that all of the above points refer to averages. It is certainly not the case that the average Zalanthan beggar is the equivalent of an Olympic athlete in real life.
Thirdly, when all is said and done, Armageddon MUD is a fantasy game. Some things that might be considered a bit unrealistic in real life, such as wielding two medium-sized weapons simultaneously (which is actually possible, just that very few people have the dedication or the time to put into mastering such skills), may be considered acceptable in the game. If you do not think that something is realistic, then simply do not have your character do it. But please do not go around the game telling other people what they can or cannot do; leave it to the staff to judge if someone is being ridiculous or not.
2. Arms and Armor
Materials for making weapons on Zalanthas are mostly restricted to bone, obsidian, and wood. These three materials are easily the most common types used in the manufacture of hand-to-hand weapons. Leather is the most common material used for making armor, followed by chitin. Glass is very rare, and only used for small knives or arrowheads. Metal is so rare that it is, effectively, the stuff of legend.
Bone is readily available all across the Known World, coming mainly from mekillots in the south and bahamets in the north. This material is perhaps the best common material for weapons, for it is relatively easily crafted, fairly resistant to shock, and of a good density for offensive use. It can also hold a reasonably sharp edge. Bone is also used in many pieces of armor, providing resilient yet only moderately heavy protection (in terms of encumbrance). Most types of Zalanthan bone are whitish-yellow or gray in color, but the material is often treated in fire to toughen it, resulting in a blackened appearance. If bone has a major drawback, it is that it is relatively expensive. Appropriate animals must be hunted, carefully slain, and then the bones extracted in such a way as to give weaponsmiths the best raw material to work with (i.e., undamaged bones). This is especially true for large bone weapons or pieces of armor, since acquiring suitably-sized materials means hunting very large (and very dangerous) beasts.
Obsidian is most common in the south, due to the voluminous production of the Highlord's obsidian mines west of Allanak. It is a heavy, black rock liable to shatter if struck badly. It is, however, the only material apart from metal and glass that can hold a particularly sharp edge, and its density means that any blow struck with it has a good deal of weight behind it as well. Obsidian is most commonly used for slashing or piercing blades. While it is not the ideal material for armor, obsidian breastplates are known to be part of the Allanaki armory; such armor must have been very carefully crafted, and be impervious to anything short of a very skilled or very powerful attack.
Wood is most common in the north, coming from various small villages on the borders of the Grey Forest. Baobab, a dark maroon hardwood, and agafari, a gray hardwood, are the two most common types of timber used. They are both very resilient (and thus are unlikely to break except under the most powerful of strokes), easy to craft, and fairly light. This lightness also means, however, that any blows struck with them are less powerful than those of bone or obsidian weapons. Wood can also be crafted into a wide variety of armors and shields.
Leather is easily the most common type of material used in armor production on Zalanthas. It is reasonably tough and durable, while being light enough for prolonged wear in the desert. Chitin comes from the tough exoskeletons or shells of various beasts, such as scrabs, or the silt horrors of the Sea of Eternal Dust. Chitin is very durable and, if crafted well, can hold a reasonably sharp edge. For a real life analogy, you might consider weapons crafted from chitin to be like a crab's claws and shell, but on a much larger scale and more resilient. In its natural form, chitin is armor, and so it should be no surprise that it can be made into a wide range of pieces to be worn by humanoids. It is also worth mentioning here that other body parts, such as teeth, claws, and horns from wild beasts, can be made into various types of weapons, particularly when mounted on wooden hafts.
Glass is said to be produced by some remote centers of civilization in the Known World, but their source has never become public knowledge. While not particularly resistant to shock, obviously, glass has the great advantage of being able to hold a very sharp edge. Occasional samples of glass knives and arrowheads have been offered for sale by wandering merchants, and these would be effective tools as long as they were used appropriately, bearing in mind the fragile nature of the material.
Metal is so rare as to be highly prized even amongst the nobility. It is extremely strong and resilient, essentially shatter-proof, and capable of holding a very sharp edge. For all of these reasons, metal is by far the best type of material for making weapons on Zalanthas. If you are new to the game, you should take it that metal is essentially the stuff of legend. If you were ever to find metal (e.g., a metallic weapon or piece of armor) in the game, it would be like stumbling across a large, finely-cut and polished diamond in real life. It is thus highly inappropriate for new characters to have blacksmithing (or any kind of crafting involving metal) in their background histories. Of the metal objects that are known to exist on Zalanthas, as far as arms and armor are concerned, most are weapons. Metal armor is extremely impractical here, due to the intense heat, but is also the strongest type known. Metal armor might be worn as a sign of one's power by those who possess it.
3. Southern Styles
The weapons of the Southlands are, by and large, dependent on obsidian as their principal component. Short and medium-length cutting blades are the most common types of weapons produced in the region, for they make best use of the weight and sharp edge-holding property of obsidian. Clubs and axes are available, but not in so much favor with southern warriors. Both are limited by the availability of wood for the haft. Similarly, polearms are relatively rare in the south, though they appear in the armories of large military organizations due to their considerable purchasing power.
The Southlands are generally much hotter and dustier than the Northlands, so heavier types of bone and wood armor tend not to be used except by those fighters based exclusively within Allanak (e.g., the Highlord's soldiers). Independent mercenaries and adventurers of the south tend to favor lighter armors and clothing, suitable for desert wear. Various kinds of leather armor are most common, though many fighters shun even those in favor of sandcloth robes and cloaks, relying on their lightness of foot to avoid an opponent's attacks.
Taking the relatively light armor and heavy weaponry in conjunction, it is no surprise that most southern fighting styles are characterized by fast, brutally direct offensive maneuvers and defense based around evasive action and parrying. Techniques tend to be focused on achieving a telling blow as quickly as possible, with relatively little finesse, as well as avoiding blows rather than taking them on a shield or piece of armor. The principle of 'one strike, one kill' is taught by many in the south.
Due to the possibility of an obsidian weapon shattering, most southern fighters have taken to wielding two weapons rather than wielding a weapon in conjunction with a shield. The most common pairing is a larger weapon, primarily for offense, with a smaller weapon, primarily for defense. If a weapon breaks, the fighter then still has another weapon ready with which to present a threat to the opponent whilst a replacement is drawn. This tactic might be less effective against a more heavily armored opponent, who might be willing to risk his/her armor against the penetrating power of an off-hand weapon, but as southerners favor lighter armor, even a small weapon can present a significant threat to someone attempting a rush.
A few styles utilize one weapon only, with the body turned so as to present a minimal target to the opponent. The off-hand is then free to draw another weapon if needed, or else be employed for striking or grappling if the combat enters very close quarters. The wristsheath hidden beneath a sleeve is a common tactic here, for a previously empty hand might suddenly have a knife or dagger in it, at a most inconvenient moment for the opponent. Exponents of this one-weapon style usually spend a lot of their time on extremely quick footwork.
The northern habit of employing a shield and relatively heavy armor is seen as being overly cautious, and the complicated offensive techniques used there are viewed as unnecessarily flashy and generally inefficient. The warriors of the south view their fighting as 'real' fighting and, though they have a healthy respect for skill regardless of origin, tend to look down upon the northern styles as being 'dancing with weapons' more than serious combat. To a southern warrior, the main goals in a fight are to hit the enemy as hard and as quickly as possible, while avoiding being hit.
4. Northern Styles
The weapons of the Northlands tend to be made of either wood or bone, or a combination thereof. Teeth, claws, and horns also tend to feature more in northern weapons, since there is a greater variety of wildlife there than in the south. While having equivalent reach to their southern counterparts, northern weapons thus tend to be a bit lighter, and also less prone to breakage. Given the greater robustness of the materials they use, northern weaponsmiths are far freer to experiment with different forms of weaponry, so there tends to be a wide variety of weapon types compared to the south.
While it is still hot in the north, the bushes and trees of the region afford some shade, as well as ameliorating the effect of fierce winds. Many northern fighters thus wear heavier armor, constructed from bone, duskhorn, or even bahamet shell. (Note that 'heavier' is used here only in relation to leather armor or sandcloth.) Northern armors also tend to be a bit more colorful than their southern counterparts. Apart from the general artistic flair of the north, there are more types of terrain to provide camouflage for here (compared to the south), so the use of paints and feathers is practical. Shields also tend to be favored more in the north, effectively giving northern fighters a heavy emphasis on passive defensive measures.
The combination of relatively heavy armor and light weaponry means that northern styles of combat are perhaps more subtle than southern styles. They employ a wide variety of tactics in order to put the opponent in such a position that an attack can get through a weak point in his/her armor, or past his/her shield. The use of complex sequences of maneuvers is common, often being treated as art forms in their own right. Spears and thrusting swords are especially effective for this type of combat, and for those who have the strength, clubs and warhammers. Slashing weapons, while still common, are perhaps less widely used than in the Southlands.
Many Northlands villagers cut down trees for a living, so it is only natural that they should develop an affinity for axes. The relatively heavy head of a chopping weapon demands the utmost care in timing a stroke, so that the wielder is not left unbalanced and at a disadvantage. Chopping wood is also an excellent exercise for developing raw strength and intense concentration. We thus see some axemasters amongst the weapons experts of the north.
The southern tradition of wielding two weapons is viewed as leaving oneself far too open to a cunning counter-attack, and the relatively simple offensive techniques employed there are looked down upon as being crude and unsophisticated. Having said this, a few northern styles have, in fact, adopted the use of two weapons simultaneously, but have done so in a typically northern manner. Such styles tend to be very beautiful to watch, possessing a certain deadly elegance to them as the two weapons weave an intricate and deceptive pattern around and into an opponent. While southern two-weapon styles usually pair a larger primary weapon with a smaller secondary weapon, northern equivalents tend to utilize matched pairs of weapons. For most northern fighters, the main goals in combat are to trick the opponent into a disadvantageous position (so that one's weapon can get past his/her defenses) while avoiding being tricked by the opponent.
5. Miscellaneous Styles
There are many groups of people on Zalanthas, and all are different in some way. This statement is as true of fighting styles as it is of culture in general. The two-weapon and weapon-and-shield styles described above are typical of most southern and northern combat styles, respectively, but many other styles exist. It is rumored that the elite guard corps of each noble House has its own style, developed and maintained by the captains of such crack military units. Certain desert tribes are also rumored to have their own special fighting styles. The best source of information about such styles is, of course, their practitioners. In a world where every grain of knowledge might mean the difference between life and death, however, such information is usually guarded to the bitter end. Thus, the information in this section should be treated as rumor and hearsay unless one has the opportunity to verify it further.
Some desert elf tribes are rumored to have systems of spear fighting that combine the use of the point with the use of the shaft as a staff. Where most warriors trained in the cities make use of the spear only in groups, and only strike with the point, the elves blend spearhead and shaft into a deadly whirling union. The obvious comparison here is with the use of gythka staves by mantises, the traditional enemy of elves as a whole. The interesting historical point here is that perhaps elves have taken up this style of fighting from their foes, and perhaps have contributed to the development of the gythka style as well. Elves are also well known for their skill at archery, this being the safest form of hunting in the wilderness. Apart from the spear and bow, many desert elves seem to favor longknives as a supplementary weapon, probably due to their utility as skinning implements as well as weapons.
Half-giants lack culture of their own, but their great size and strength, as well as lack of speed, means that they are inherently suited to wielding massive weapons of destruction. These include two-handed swords, mauls, and most polearms. The danger with fighting half-giants is in being struck even a glancing blow, as even that would be enough to render most combatants unconscious. A major disadvantage of the two-handed style is that the weapon can shatter easily, due to the force with which it is being wielded, leaving the fighter at a disadvantage for an important few seconds. It is also more difficult to defend oneself with a large weapon, compared to two weapons or a weapon and a shield.
Mantises are at almost the opposite extreme from half-giants. While they are not as strong as half-giants (of course), they are exceptionally quick and agile, and their use of four arms and telepathic communication powers with others of their kind make them the deadliest of foes when encountered in groups. Even alone, a mantis warrior is truly fearsome, for it can wield a gythka staff as skilfully as an elf while also throwing projectiles at an opponent with its other two hands. Mantises have very powerful legs, and can deliver crippling kicks in the blink of an eye. Those who have seen a mantis fighting have almost all reported being awed by the sheer number and precision of attacks that one is capable of.
Some groups, particularly those with shadier reputations, seem to have developed extreme skill with close-quarters combat. They utilize only the dagger and knife, both for throwing and for hand-to-hand combat, as well as training in grappling and unarmed combat. Suspected practitioners of these styles are also known to be very acrobatic, capable of performing maneuvers that, if anticipated, might be considered flashy and inefficient, but when used on those unfamiliar with them, have the useful effect of possibly surprising them into inaction for a crucial split-second.
At the southern end of the Known World lies Red Storm Village, a small outpost known for its rough atmosphere and the large number of raiders that pass through it. An enduring feature of the region is its extremely harsh weather. Outside the village walls, visibility is often very low, and the fierce winds drive the thick dust into one's face, making any type of combat that much more difficult. While this is only rumor, it seems that some fighters who call the village home have developed techniques for 'fighting blind'; that is, executing maneuvers to adequately defend oneself and launch attacks against foes whose positions can only be guessed at. City-based warriors can, however, probably develop similar skills through the simple expediency of blindfolding themselves in training.
Hopefully, this document will be more than something that you have just read for fun. I hope that it will inspire you to either adopt one of the above styles for actual use in the game by your character (though it will need to be appropriate to his/her background history, of course), or else devise your character's own personal style of combat. One thing to bear in mind if devising your own style is that it should have weaknesses as well as strengths; there is no 'perfect' fighting style (otherwise everyone would be using it). There is also the issue to consider that, until your character does develop good combat skills in the game, you should not have him/her going around claiming to be an 'expert' simply because you have drawn up a style that no one else has.
Your character's fighting style should be evidenced both in emotes during combat (whether in actual combat or in sparring), as well as in his/her speech when perhaps discussing techniques with other fighters in the game. Hopefully, this will make the playing experience richer for everyone.
This document: version 1.1 of 2 November 2000.
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