Speed Archery Techniques, Part 4

My posts on speed archery have been very popular and continue to get a lot of traffic. So I’ve been digging into it more and trying to find more resources for those of you who are interested in the topic. If you haven’t seen them already, check out my first three posts in this series. I’ll link to them at the bottom of this post.

Today I bring you several interesting videos demonstrating techniques from Native Americans, ancient Turkey, and more from Russia.

This fellow has figured out how the Native Americans likely held and nocked their arrows quickly and quietly. He doesn’t do a full-speed demonstration, but he shows it slowly and clearly. It looks intriguing. Check it out.

This fellow describes his recreation of ancient Turkish archery. His method is very similar to the Hungarian archer I linked to in part two of this series. He gets off a shot every 3 seconds.

Here is another video about Turkish archery. It’s got a lot of fluff, but around the 3 minute mark he does demonstrate several interesting techniques, including a method for holding two extra arrows in the hand while shooting. Another interesting technique allows him to hold his sword in the hand while shooting, so he can quickly attack with his sword afterward. The video also brings up the use of thumb rings, which is another topic I’d like to delve into.

More speed shooting from Russia:

If you haven’t seen my other posts, check them out:

  • Part One — Two videos of fast archery techniques from Russia
  • Part Two — Two videos of Lars Andersen demonstrating his incredibly fast shooting and one of Lajos Kassai showing ancient Hun archery
  • Part Three — Methods for quickly spanning or cocking a crossbow



Mobility in Medieval Plate Armor

Medeival Plate ArmorDoes medieval plate armor slow you down and make you easier to hit in melee combat? On the face of it, you’d definitely think so. But the truth of it is that plate armor was designed to allow freedom of movement and weighed less than the gear of a modern soldier or firefighter. That’s about all I’m going to say for now. There are a ton of great resources on this topic online, so I’m just going to point out a few of them.

Arms and Armor—Common Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions

This article from Dirk H. Breiding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art debunks a number of myths regarding ancient armor, including the idea that plate armor made the wearer immobile. He also points out that not all plate armor was too expensive for common folk. That’s something I hadn’t realized before. But as with everything, there were different levels of quality and cost.

Weapons That Made Britain: Armor with Historian Mike Loades

This video shows that full plate allows one to stand up from a fall with relative ease. Mr. Loades does a controlled fall off a running horse and gets back up while wearing plate armor. Although to be honest, he does look a little awkward as he stands up.

Other Videos

This next video is fairly low quality, but does an excellent job showing the range of movement and speed that are possible while wearing a suit of plate armor. I’d hate to face this guy’s whirling sword.

Here’s a French video showing some guys in full plate armor doing various things like climbing up and down ladders, getting up from prone positions, doing jumping jacks, and demonstrating some cool half-swording techniques.

Of course, that doesn’t mean plate was like wearing your birthday suit. All that armor still weighs 50 to 70 pounds, some of which is weighing down your arms and legs. Some scientists actually did a study to see how much effort it takes to wear plate armor while running on a treadmill. Unsurprisingly, it’s harder than wearing no armor at all—about twice as difficult in terms of total energy expenditure. It was also harder than wearing the same amount of weight in a backpack. The plates on the arms and legs requires your muscles to work harder to move around.

How would we model this in a roleplaying game?

It seems to me that plate armor wouldn’t make one any easier to hit, as long as you have the minimum strength required to move your arms and legs. You would get tired faster, for sure. I remember seeing a video from the historian Mike Loades that showed some guys fighting in full plate armor. They got tired really fast. I can’t find that video now. But in my experience, most fights don’t last long enough for that to be a factor. You might want to start factoring it in after a full minute of intense fighting, if the combat lasted that long.

Plate armor does have other vulnerabilities. It takes a long time to put on, and you can’t do it on your own. If you’re wakened in the middle of the night, you’re stuck without your armor. Plate armor is also vulnerable to piercing weapons like poll axes. Half-swording techniques let you use a sword like a giant spike to pierce armor. Arrows? Not so much. Plate armor that’s properly formed, hardened, and tempered is practically invulnerable to arrows.


RPG Combat Ideas

I’ve been thinking a lot about combat systems for roleplaying games, enough that I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts about it. I think everybody who has run a table-top RPG as game master is secretly working on designing their own game, and I’m no exception. I’ve been working on mine off and on for years. Some of my very early blog readers might remember some of the ideas I posted way back when.

My thoughts on RPG design have changed quite a bit since then. My primary influence in the beginning was MERP (Middle-Earth Roleplaying), also called Rolemaster Lite by some, which is now out of print. MERP and especially Rolemaster have a lot of things I like, namely the detailed critical wound charts and the unique damage possibilities for each weapon and armor combination, but I’ve since run across a number of other games that have drastically changed my opinion of how my ideal game would work.

The Riddle of Steel (TROS) revolutionized my view of how RPG combat can work, with the idea of defenders being able to choose their own defensive maneuvers and actually roll for them at the same time as their attacker. There’s a lot more, though:

  • the idea of having a whole pool of dice that you have to ration between attack and defense
  • historically-based combat maneuvers each with unique effects
  • the idea that initiative simply means you’re currently attacking, and two people could easily attack and kill each other simultaneously if they’re not careful
  • no abstract hit points; instead, concrete wounds and pain levels are used
  • getting bonuses to your attacks when you’re fighting for something your character believes in
  • the idea that if you want your character to be good at combat, you actually can be—you aren’t forced to start out as a level 1 weakling

Unfortunately, The Riddle of Steel is out of print. Fortunately, there are another couple of games based on TROS that use many of the same mechanics. One is Blade of the Iron Throne, which seeks to provide games in the sword and sorcery genre. It’s available as a free PDF download. Another is Song of Steel, a game of historical military drama, which is still in development.

Codex Martialis approaches combat in a very similar manner to The Riddle of Steel, but with significant differences due in part to its reliance on the d20 system framework. Codex Martialis has an increased emphasis on differentiating weapons and their fighting styles, so weapons get bonuses when used at the range they were designed for. Other things I like:

  • historically-based “feats” allow you to customize your fighting style based on your chosen weapon
  • certain defense rolls grant you automatic counterattacks, making combat much more dynamic
  • some rolls results in a “bind,” the meeting of weapon-on-weapon that can trigger special offensive and defensive maneuvers
  • armor acts as damage reduction
  • hit points are capped
  • critical hits don’t require an additional roll to see if they actually happen
  • crits can deal even more extra damage when using an attack that your weapon was designed for.

I’ve also run across a few games that I definitely don’t want to emulate, and I’m grateful for those, too. Burning Wheel is an awesome game in many respects. I love its brilliant lifepath character generation, and it relies on dice pools and character motivations much like TROS. But I absolutely loathe the core mechanic of its combat system—you have to choose your actions in groups of three, and once chosen they’re locked in, making it impossible to react to changing circumstances. It adds an interesting level of uncertainty and danger to combat, but it breaks my suspension of disbelief beyond recovery.

I really enjoy the feat system of Pathfinder and the d20 system, because it’s fun to watch your character improve and gain new abilities throughout the game. But some feats are pretty silly (Deafening Criticals, anyone?). I also dislike its turn-based combat resolution. Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 aren’t the only games to feature turn-based combat, but they are the primary ones to have invented a bunch of nonsensical mechanics around it (attacks of opportunity, frozen statue syndrome when it’s not your turn, etc.).  There’s more that frustrates me about the d20 system: ridiculously high hit point levels and the strange rationalization that being getting hit by an attack doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve actually been hurt or even struck until the one that reduces you to 0 hit points, the silly idea of having to rememorize spells every day, the outrageous inflation of gold currency . . . the list goes on.

And I have yet to come across a game that makes archery actually interesting, not to mention even remotely realistic.

Of course, my gaming experience isn’t really that extensive. There are games I feel I should probably play. For example, I’ve never played GURPS, but the little I’ve heard about it makes me think I would like some of its mechanics. But I’ve read dozens of game manuals, scouring their combat rules for something that excites or intrigues me, only to be disappointed time and time again with a mundane reliance on hit points, initiative rolls, turn taking, frozen statue syndrome, generic weapons, and so forth.

So I’ve been working on my own combat system that combines all of my favorite mechanics without making it too complicated. I’ll be sharing some of my ideas on the blog in the future.

What are your pet peeves about RPG combat, and what are your must-have mechanics?


Roleplaying for Kids: The Example of Dan Wells

A while back I promised blog reader Riotimus that I would give some recommendations about roleplaying games for kids. This is a subject I’ve thought a fair bit about, as RPGs are one of my most favorite hobbies. I started on them when I was 10 years old (that totally sounds like I’m talking about drugs—I suppose I may as well be considering how addicting they are), and I am looking forward to introducing them to my kids.

Unfortunately, this is not that post. But I did read a cool blog post from speculative fiction/horror author Dan Wells today that I thought might fill the gap until I get around to writing up a full blog post about it. Dan Wells, if you’ve never heard of him, wrote a book called I Am Not a Serial Killer, a young adult thriller with fantasy elements. It’s a good read, and I recommend it. Anyway, Dan Wells is also an avid roleplayer, and his blog post talks about how he introduced his kids to roleplaying games.

Go check it out, if you’re interested.

Marvel Heroic RoleplayingHe makes a good point that many kids aren’t that interested in rules or limitations when they start out with RPGs. A more narrative system like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying can really fit the bill, especially since a lot of kids are really into superheroes. They are familiar enough with the genre that they can easily get into the whole superhero universe, and they know how to act.

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Fast Archery Techniques, Part 3: The Crossbow

In my past posts on archery speed shooting techniques, I’ve talked about some methods for shooting bows much faster than many people think possible. If you haven’t seen them, there are links at the bottom of this post. But for now, it’s time to visit some ways to speed up the rate of fire for the medieval crossbow.

Quick caveat: I’m not an expert. I’ve just gathered what resources I could find online, hoping that you’ll find it interesting and helpful. Please feel free to comment below.

The medieval crossbow has a much shorter string than other types of bows, which means that to generate the same amount of power, the draw weight has to be increased. A crossbow with a 100 pound draw weight can be cocked (“spanned” using medieval parlance) by hand, but won’t have much power. To get decent power from a crossbow, the draw weight has to be more like 300 or 400 pounds. I’ve heard it mentioned that they can even get up to 2000 pounds of draw weight. To span a crossbow with that kind of draw weight, you need mechanical help. Several different methods were developed.

Method 1: Hand Spanning

Hand spanning is actually one of the fastest methods of loading a crossbow, but as mentioned above it can only be done with a low draw weight. Most crossbows need to be more powerful to really get the job done.

Hand Method Video. This video compares the relative rate of fire of an English longbow and a crossbow being spanned by hand. You can see the method really well—it’s not complicated. Notice the stirrup on the front of the crossbow, which is missing in the picture above but is used in other spanning methods, too. The crossbowman manages to get off 5 shots in 51 seconds, for about 10 seconds per shot.

Method 2: Belt Hook

With this method, you attach the string to a hook on your belt, stick your foot in the stirrup, and use your legs and back to pull back the string.

Belt Hook Method Video. I didn’t think this method would be much faster than the regular hand spanning method, but according to the video it only took 7.5 second per shot. (Also notice that the longbowman in this video was shooting once every 3.33 seconds compared to 5.1 seconds in the video above. Lots of things could factor into that.)

Method 3: Rope and Pulley

This is the best picture I could find. Basically, you hook a rope to the butt of your cross bow, loop or hook it to the string, and pull up on the rope. I have a couple videos of the method. Unfortunately, neither gives a good idea of how fast this method might be for a practiced crossbowman.

Rope and Pulley Method, Video 1. This video starts as a demonstration of the windlass method (described below), but he makes a detour to explain how the rope and pulley method works. You only need to watch about 20 seconds. After that he mentions another method, the goat’s head lever, but you can’t see the device very well. I’ll talk more about that one in a minute.

Rope and Pulley Method, Video 2. It’s hard to tell if this rope spanner actually has pulleys, or if the rope is simply threaded through a metal loop near the hooks. In any case, it looks really awkward to set up and takes about 50 seconds to get off a single shot, depending on when you start counting.

Method 4: Goat’s Foot Lever / Pulling Lever

The goat’s foot lever is an ingenious device. Check out the videos.

Goat’s Foot Lever Method Video. The shooter’s arm obscures the mechanism a little bit, but as you can see from the above picture, the two claws hook onto little metal posts that stick out from the side of the stock. By pulling on the lever, the claws slide along the posts and pull the string along with it. In this video, he shoots a crossbow bolt once every 12 seconds or so. Not as fast as I’d hoped, but obviously much faster than the rope and pulley or the windlass method, which I’ll describe below.

Method 5: Pushing Lever

The pushing lever is essentially a goat’s foot lever in reverse. Rather than hooking to posts near the back of the stock and pulling the string, it attaches to the front of the crossbow and pushes the string.

Pushing Lever Video. This video is in German, but it demonstrates pretty clearly how a pushing lever works. It doesn’t give a good idea of how long it would really take to shoot a bolt, but I would imagine it’s very similar to the goat’s foot lever.

Method 6: Latchet Crossbow

I couldn’t find a good picture that was available for use, but you can see some really nice pictures on Tod Todeschini’s website.

This is a more advanced mechanism using a lever that’s built right into the crossbow itself. It’s similar to the goat’s foot lever. Here’s a video of the latchet crossbow in action:

Latchet Crossbow Video. He gets off four shots in about 38 seconds, making it about 9.5 seconds per shot—faster than the goat’s foot, but still not as fast as hand spanning or the belt and hook method.

Method 7: Windlass

The windlass is basically a winch that’s attached to the butt of the crossbow. It has to be attached and removed every time, so it’s extremely slow, but also takes the least amount of strength. According to Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey’s 1903 treatise on the crossbow (page 134), it should take about 12 seconds to pull the string all the way back, plus the time it takes to attach and remove the windlass itself, allowing one shot per minute. Videos 1 and 4 below debunk this somewhat.

Windlass Method, Video 1. With the various explanatory pauses, it’s hard to tell how long it would really take, but it seems to be about half a minute all told, which is less than Sir Ralph claimed. This is the best of the videos I found on the windlass—in fact, you probably shouldn’t even watch the next two videos. I only included them because I found them first and they were already here.

Windlass Method, Video 2. This is a computer animation of a crossbow being loaded with a windlass. Somewhat interesting.

Windlass Method, Video 3. In this video, he’s using a modern winch. It takes a full minute to load the bow and take a shot, but he does waste some time. A trained crossbowman could certainly do it faster.

Edit: Windlass Method, Video 4. WATCH THIS ONE! Here’s a very excellent video that makes it much easier to time. He takes 6 to 7 seconds to draw the string all the way back, which is twice as fast as Sir Ralph claimed. It’s unfortunate that he started the first loading cycle with the windlass already attached, so we can’t use that one for timing. But we do see two full loading cycles, one lasting 49 seconds and one lasting 36 seconds. The extra time on the longer one was due to some tangling of the ropes. I imagine a practiced crossbowman could do it even faster.

Method 8: Cranequin

The cranequin is basically a ratchet winder. I couldn’t find any videos of this mechanism in use, but Sir Ralph (page 134) claims that it’s even slower than the windlass, allowing a shot every minute and a half. At that rate, it’s unlikely the cranequin was used in actual warfare, especially considering the much faster methods available.

Method 9: Screw and Handle

This is a somewhat more primitive version of the cranequin. The screw goes into a shaft and hooks onto the string. A handle on the end is turned, pulling the screw and string back. I haven’t been able to find any other pictures or videos of this method. Sir Ralph (pages 82 to 83) is the only source I’ve seen, and he claims it’s even slower than the cranequin method. Here’s a video of a guy spanning a miniature crossbow called an assassin’s crossbow that uses a screw mechanism.


Method Time per Shot
Hand Spanning 10 seconds
Belt Hook 7.5 seconds
Rope and Pulley 50 seconds?
Goat’s Foot Lever 12 seconds
Pushing Lever 12 seconds?
Latchet Crossbow 9.5 seconds
Windlass 30-60 seconds
Cranequin Longer than windlass?
Screw and Handle Longer than Cranequin?

It looks like the belt hook method wins the day, followed closely by the hand method, the latchet crossbow, and the goat’s foot lever. For weaklings and those who have all day, the rope and pulley, windlass, or cranequin methods would suffice. It’s also worth noting that the faster methods tend not to work as well as the draw weight of the crossbow gets really high, which is one reason why the windlass and cranequin were invented in the first place.

Note: You might want to check out my other archery posts:

  • Part One — Two videos of fast archery techniques from Russia.
  • Part Two — Two videos of Lars Andersen demonstrating his incredibly fast shooting and one of Lajos Kassai showing ancient Hun archery.
  • Part Three — You’re reading it now.
  • Part Four — More videos showing some speculation on Native American archery, recreations of ancient Turkish techniques, and more fast shooting from Russia.

A Political Post on the Trustworthiness of White House Petitions

I’m really not a political person, but I found myself getting caught up in this year’s presidential election. I think it’s because this is the first time I’ve been on Facebook during an election, and it’s hard to ignore all the political mumbo-jumbo that goes on. Even though I generally try not to get into political debates, there are a few subjects that I have hard time resisting. Plus, it irks me when people post things without exercising their critical thinking skills. That’s what really gets me riled up.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: a recent petition posted on the White House website. The petition claims that there was voter fraud in the recent election. Here’s the text of the petition:

Recount the election!

It has become blatantly obvious the voter fraud that was committed during the 2012 Presidential elections. In one county alone in Ohio, which was a battleground state, President Obama received 106,258 votes…but there were only 98,213 eligible voters. It’s not humanly possible to get 108% of the vote!

If ID laws had been enforced (which the administration is completely against because that meant they would lose) then this wouldn’t be an issue.

Recount NOW!

The first thing that ran through my mind upon reading the petition was this: Where are you getting your data? The petition provides no links and doesn’t even mention which county in Ohio they are referring to. Great.

The fun thing about these petitions is that literally anybody can post them, and yet there’s no way that I know of to identify who posts them. So obviously, we should just trust them blindly.

In this case, a little digging turned up that the petition must have been referring to Wood County, Ohio. An article on Cleveland.com reported that Wood County had 106,258 registered voters as of September 2, 2012, and 98,213 eligible voters. Good enough so far. Those numbers do look suspicious. If there are only 98,213 people eligible to vote, how could they possibly have 106,258 people registered to vote?

Ohio Registered Voters

Let’s look at where the numbers came from (more digging!). At the bottom of the chart, we find out that they come from a Plain Dealer analysis of data from the Ohio Secretary of State (for the number of registered voters, I would assume) and the U.S. Census Bureau (for the number of eligible voters, i.e. the number of people over 18 in the county). The last census was in 2011, where it was reported that 126,355 people lived in Wood County. Of those, 21.3% were under 18, leaving 99,441 people of voting age in 2011. That number must have been modified somehow to reflect the number of eligible voters in 2012. The number is pretty close to what Cleveland.com reported, so maybe the Plain Dealer analysis of the numbers is fairly accurate. But here’s the thing: it’s still an estimate.

Ohio Population

And the data on the number of registered voters isn’t foolproof, either. When people die, it takes time to get them off the rolls. In North Carolina there were 27,500 dead people still on the voter rolls. (Update: A commenter below pointed out that Wood County is home to a major university, where the fluctuating student population probably makes it impossible to keep truly accurate voter rolls.) So we can’t put 100% of our trust in the data on the number of registered voters any more than we can on the number of eligible voters. Either one could be inaccurate.

So what are we to do? Luckily, all of that doesn’t matter much, because we’ve been asking the wrong question. The makers of the petition have already gotten us on the wrong track. Let’s pretend the numbers are correct for a moment and go back to what the petition actually said. The petition said “President Obama received 106,258 votes…but there were only 98,213 eligible voters.”

Somehow the petition has taken the number of registered voters and substituted it for the number of votes Obama got. I doubt that President Obama received 106,258 votes—unless every single one of the registered voters did in fact vote for Obama. What are the chances that 100% of the registered voters voted for a single candidate in a swing state? Luckily, that’s pretty easy to find out.

Source #1: Google Politics & Elections (click on Ohio, then hover over Wood County, the blue one just between Toledo and Findlay on the top left of the map)

Source #2: Wood County’s own unofficial election results

Wood County 2012 Election Results

According to both of these reliable sources, Obama got 31,596 votes in Wood County. That’s only 50.9% of the registered voters.

The petition was right about one thing. It’s definitely not possible to get 108% of the vote, not even with some very creative misinterpretation of the data.

Does that mean there’s nothing wrong with the voting process? No. Maybe we could start by purging all the dead people from the voting rolls. Maybe something can be done about voter ID laws. I haven’t researched that subject and don’t really care to. For now, I’m content to have avoided being tricked into signing a flawed petition from an unidentifiable source.

Note: I should mention that I owe a lot of the research in this post to an article on the Daily Kos. I didn’t link to it at first because I disapprove of the article’s tone. Spare me the name calling and just give me the facts. But I feel I owe them the link.


Can Robots Write Poetry? Or Fiction?

Bios robotlab writing robot I have seen a number of articles in recent weeks on the topic of whether a computer could write a book. One software company has software that will automatically write newspaper articles on certain topics. A college business professor is working on software that  has already written 200,000 nonfiction books, half of which he has for sale on Amazon.

I haven’t yet seen an example of what these software programs produce, but I’m extremely skeptical of their quality.

Let’s do an experiment. Following are two poems. Each is a xenia epigram, a poetic form originally found in Latin literature. One was written by poet Luke Wright for the BBC. The other was written by a computer after being given instructions about the poetic form.

Can you tell which is which?

Here they are:

To Truth, by ??????

To truth I offer this thanks,
when needing something like reality
When I’m writing and drawing blanks,
I almost settle using actuality.

I am in search of more,
trying to sing your praise!
It’s you I very much adore,
lacking in so many ways.

To Felicity, by ??????

Felicity, my dear, my thanks
the cheque you sent was great.
Tomorrow I’ll go to the bank
my rent’s already late.

And sorry for the shoddy rhyme
I’m tired, I’m not on it,
perhaps if you send more next time
I’ll scribble you a sonnet.

Which was written by the computer and which by the human? Leave your guess in the comments. Don’t look at the other comments until you’re ready to make your guess.


People of the Bookshelf

How do you shelve your books?

Today I ran across an amusing article that provides a funny point of view on the question. It’s called People of the Bookshelf, and it opens with a couple who are having an argument about how to organize their books. It’s worth the read—go ahead and take a minute to read it!


Image by Stewart Butterfield

I admit, I’m tickled by the idea of shelving books based on how the authors would get along in real life. I couldn’t do it, personally, since I’m often insensitive to such issues and could never keep it straight anyway. But it’s interesting, and I can relate to the desire. After all, I’m the one who shelves his books based on how well he liked them. My least favorite books hang out on the bottom shelf gathering dust.

My wife doesn’t object to this scheme but she does object to my secondary level of organization (yes, I have another level), which is to group them by size and shape. Given two authors that I like roughly the same who reside on the same shelf, I’ll put their similarly sized books together, so the spines and tops are as even as possible or at least ascend or descend in pleasing lines. To my lovely wife, that screams wrongness. To her, the natural state of a bookshelf is uneven. They could be organized by author or subject or whatever, as long as they don’t look so evenly unnatural like my shelves.

We agree to disagree on the matter. I keep my books on one shelf, and she keeps hers on another. It works for us.

How do you organize your books?


Can Arrows Penetrate Medieval Armor?

Can Arrows Penetrate Medieval Armor?

Arrow penetrating chain armorI find this question fascinating. As both a gamer and a fantasy writer, I like to get as close to reality as possible, if only to make the fantastic elements of my games and stories that much more fantastic and cool. So a while back, I spent several days researching this question, and I collected a fair number of interesting resources.

To my dismay, I discovered that there are lots of factors to consider when examining this question.

  1. The specs of the bow and arrow. Draw weight, arrow type, arrowhead type (material, shape). Modern compound bows can have much higher draw weights than historical bows. Some arrowheads were designed to puncture armor, while others were designed to maximize damage to the flesh but had poor armor penetration.
  2. The specs of the armor. Assuming plate armor: thickness, carbon levels (iron, steel, and quality of the steel), tempering and hardening, layers (mail, textile). Historical armor had a huge level of variation in type and quality, making it difficult to use actual historical pieces to make generalizations. From what I’ve read, this isn’t something that we’ll get a consensus on anytime soon—yet it’s obviously a huge factor.
  3. The circumstances of the strike. Angle, distance. Most tests assume direct, perpendicular strikes. Obviously, hitting at an angle will drastically decrease the penetration. Some strikes could glance off and hit another combatant. Distance is a huge factor. Tests seem to indicate that the penetration range is around 20 to 30 yards. Beyond that, effectiveness decreases drastically.
  4. How deep is the penetration? Most tests seem to indicate that the deepest penetration was about an inch, maybe two. It usually takes at least two to three inches of penetration to damage any vital organs.
  5. Economic and social factors. Cost and availability of armor, skill of the archer, horses, mass archery. Some armors that defend very well against arrows were prohibitively expensive. Skilled archers might be able to make up for many of the problems mentioned so far. In certain historical battles, the tactics of mass archery made a huge difference.

This isn’t a simple question. It’s riddled with complicated factors that are all interrelated. I never came to a definite conclusion myself, except that in general, it seems like arrows seldom (if ever) would have penetrated plate armor. The circumstances would have needed to be just right for that to happen.

I’ve collected most of the best resources I found below, if you’re interested in digging into this question on your own. This is the only collection like this that I’ve seen. If you found it useful, or if you find anything that’s missing, please leave a comment.


Articles and Discussions

English Longbow Testing (PDF), an article by Matheus Bane documenting some testing he did with various types of arrowheads and armors. This test uses a clay slab behind the armor to show how deeply the arrows would have penetrated human flesh. Only the needle point bodkin penetrated plate armor deeply enough to cause a potentially fatal wound.

Testing reconstructed medieval crossbows, by Andreas Bichler. The existing medieval crossbows we have are all in unshootable condition and are sequestered in museums. This is an attempt to recreate medieval crossbows and test their performance on different types of armor.

A fascinating discussion on MyArmoury.com on the ability of the English longbow to penetrate plate armor. The folks on MyArmoury are generally smart and very well read on these kinds of subjects. It’s a long, involved discussion. Casual browsers need not apply.

This blog post from medieval recreator Will McLean was the source of one of the other links I’ve given here, and provides an interesting critique of some experimental bow shooting.

Another blog post from Will McLean discussing metallurgical findings from historical armor.



Longbow versus breastplate.

Weapons That Made Britain. In this episode, historian Mike Loades discusses the English longbow. This link leads to a forum where the entire show can be seen via a series of linked YouTube videos.

The following two videos document a test conducted by Mike Loades using a modern arrow-shooting machine to replicate ancient weapons. Although the arrow penetrates the breastplate, it doesn’t go deeply enough to cause injury.


English warbow versus tempered sheet metal. These three videos are attempts by various groups of people to test the penetration of the English warbow of various kinds of sheet metal and breastplates. Although these tests are interesting to watch, they aren’t rigorous enough to really draw conclusions from. Many of the arrows break through the plate, but there’s no way to tell how deeply and whether the strikes would have caused significant injury.

Crossbow against steel breastplate. This video shows some guys shooting a 1000 pound crossbow using various heads on the quarrels. None of them pierce so far that the quarrel sticks into the breastplate. It looks like a few of them might have pierced up to a quarter inch or so. With some linen padding inside, I doubt the wearer would be significantly injured—although the so-called armor breaker and the heavy quarrel look to pack quite the punch. Probably the biggest flaw in this test is that the breastplate is just propped up on a board. It gets knocked around a lot—not exactly the same as someone wearing it.


What do you think?


Automatic Voicemail Transcription Madness

I’ve subscribed to several different VoIP services over the years, from Vonage to Google Talk. Besides being cheaper than regular phone service, VoIP has lots of cool, modern features. Among other things, I like the convenience of accessing my voicemail online. One of the services VoIP companies are trying out these days is automatically transcribing your voicemail and sending it to your email.

Alas, computers haven’t gotten as far as we’d all like on that frontier, so this almost always results in unintended hilarity. I thought I would share a few examples I’ve received lately.

  • “Sauce. I thought my woman was out shopping.” It’s a new expletive. Sauce!
  • “Hey Ben, John Johnson room with private label music for cynical slash.” The perfect music for depressed teenagers.
  • “Ben happen. Adam. Kinda late. Must get to work. We need a re-ordered madness.” Are you sure about that? You don’t sound like you’ve run out of madness, but I’ll order some more if you insist!
  • “Hey, I don’t know if you have a problem or not, but we wanted to try grabbing hold there.” Grabbing hold where?!? Yes, I do have a problem with that.
  • “Hey, Ben, it’s me again. I was just happening.” So glad you’re happening!
  • “I wanted to warn you that 204 of us are 6. Sorry.” I really didn’t need a couple hundred six-year-olds on my hands today. Sauce!

The moral of the story? If you’re looking into a VoIP provider and they list automatic voicemail transcription as one of their services, don’t take it too seriously. At best it provides a good laugh every now and then.


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