Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I wuz plagiarised by a Publisher!!!

[As can be seen in the comments section to this post, the author of the book got in touch with me - turns out we're both victims here, thanks to the publisher. So I've rewritten both my Amazon review and some parts of this blog post to reflect what actually happened.]

Well, not quite the right word, but I basically had some of my intellectual property swiped without permission (which I probably would have granted, had I been asked).
Some history: back in December of last year I took a picture of three daggers in my collection, one of which I hand made myself. I eventually uploaded this picture to Wikimedia on February 8th, 2014 (according to the change page log on Wiki). The picture can be seen here:
It is about halfway down the page, in the sub section on Mediaeval daggers. I put it in to better illustrate the section, and I give explicit details in the photo description as to what the reproductions were based on and who made them. Now, before going further let me post the verbatim of the Creative Commons license on Wiki that applies to this photo:

"You are free:
  • to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  • to remix – to adapt the work
Under the following conditions:
  • attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
  • share alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one."

Note well that one must attribute the work, and that one must also share alike. While a rational human would interpret that latter to mean that one could not take something that was made available for free and turn it around and use it in a for profit work, that is not how the Publisher interpreted it, alas...
Some months ago I bought a book on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble entitled "Knives, Daggers & Hand-Combat Tools" which can be seen here on Amazon:
It seemed like a well illustrated, if overly broad, treatment of the subject, but I had glanced quickly through it and figured it would be a nice add to my library. All well and good but imagine my surprise when I turned to page 47 and saw this:

If you compare with my picture on Wikipedia, you can see immediately that the Publisher took my picture, edited it (rather nicely, though, I will say) and then used it to illustrate their book which they now sell for a profit.

Now, there is a page at the end of the book with the following note: "Unless otherwise noted, all silhouetted weaponry  images are from the Berman Museum of World History, Anniston, Alabama, and photographed by f-stop fitzgerald and Jonathan Conklin Photography, Inc., with the exception of the following:" They then list a bunch of photo credits from various sources. Nowhere, however, do the Publishers acknowledge the source of the photo with my daggers, let alone who made the reproductions (which I clearly attribute in my blurb on Wikipedia describing the picture).

As an aside I saw a few other pictures that they got out of Wikipedia, as well, for their book. Thing of it is, if the Publishers had simply asked I probably would have given permission to use freely (provided they credited me; additionally, though not strictly necessary, a free copy of the book would have been a most kind gesture of "thanks"...). Honestly I was a bit flattered that they considered my picture (and, by extension, the dagger I made) to be worthy of inclusion in his book. But the Publisher really dropped the ball here, and will make me rethink how I distribute pix of my work in the future.

Interestingly, had the Publisher worked with me, I could have provided more and better pictures of reproduction daggers in my collection, that would have been even easier to edit and use (for example, I could have taken good closeups of the pommel, etc., that they had to do a photo edit on from the base picture, reducing the quality).

Another related problem I have with some of the illustrations that are in this book, where they are photos of modern reproductions, is that the makers are not credited by the Publisher. This has nothing to do with copyright, but rather with letting the makers get a bit of advertising - I'm sure some folks look at some of these reproductions and think "I'd like one". Would be nice to know where to go...

One detail that got tripped up is that they took a photo of a reproduction Landsknecht dagger from Arms & Armor to illustrate the type. However, while they do state it is a reproduction, they claim it is based on an example from the Solingen Blade Museum in Germany. This is wrong; the reproduction in question is conjecture based on what a companion dagger might look like based on the extant example of a Katzbalger sword from said museum - no such dagger, as such, actually exists. While it is a plausible reconstruction, there is no direct example.
Many thanks to the author for clarifying the situation with me. He confided that he was so concerned about some of the issues he had seen pre-publishing that he wanted his name taken off and a pseudonym used instead, but the Publisher didn't even do that! Sad state of affairs all around. While I've always been dimly aware that authors get "p'wnd" to some degree, I had no idea it was this bad.
As noted, I've updated my Amazon review accordingly. Knowing what I know now I'd say this is actually worth getting, as there are some interesting photos in it, not the least being the daggers out of my collection... :-)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On Combat in D&D and Melee – Perceptions and Reality

A while back I ran into this screed by an old wargamer who calls himself T. Shiels that used to be at this website ( but no longer seems to be extant. In spite of its apparent disappearance, I feel compelled to address it, since it has often been cited particularly in conjunction with so called “Old School” gaming forums as a basis for justifying not having any differentiation between weapon types – a silly proposition but one that gets traction from diatribes such as these:

"After my Army tour, I lived a bit too wild and got involved in too many scary episodes. It seemed like wasted talent, but when rewriting wargame rules it came to work for me. There is a way people fight, and it should be reflected in games. My problem with re-enactors is that their mock fights are bound by rules for safety and fairness. In a real situation where bodily harm is likely and safety rules do not exist, it gets very different...

Chainmail came up short. I figured that the writers had never been in so much as a fistfight, never mind a brawl with polearms and axes. I had been in a couple of brawls that involved bats, barstools and other "field expedient" medieval weaponry....”

The first flaw in this writer’s reasoning that I would hasten to point out is that “bats” and “barstools” are NOT medieval weapons! Unless that “bat” has iron spikes radiating out of the end, it is NOT the same as a mace or morningstar. So while it is no doubt true that Gygax, etc., had never been in a “brawl with polearms and axes”, it is also equally true that the writer has absolutely no relevant experience in this regard, either...

{Parenthetically I will grant that Gygax’s research with regards to medieval armaments was quite flawed, relying on woefully out of date and, in general, poor quality scholarship; much of his “information” on poll arms was laughably wrong, and “banded mail” was nothing more than a Victorian Era hallucination.}

Put another way, being in a few bar fights does not a master of medieval combat make...

For the record, barroom brawls are really not the same as medieval battlefield situations – and it is extraordinarily disingenuous to suggest otherwise. In the former, folks are really generally only trying to beat the stuffing out of one another, not kill. There is a difference. Barring extreme intoxication and rage, most people are at least dimly aware that actually killing (or even seriously trying) to kill outright someone can get you in very serious trouble with the authorities, to include life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Thus, there actually IS a fair amount of restraint being employed, even if it is not obvious to the casual observer...

But there is something else: “field expedient” medieval weaponry as defined by the Writer are in no way, shape, or form the same as actual medieval weaponry, for the simple reason that the latter are purposefully designed to KILL AND MAIM, while the former are not. “Field expedient” implements lack the balance, mass distribution, cutting edges, etc. that only actual weapons possess. To suggest that a bar stool is functionally the same as a poll axe in a fight requires serious overuse and abuse of psychotropic substances to even remotely take seriously...

“One thing we realized was that the writers of "Chainmail" had gotten too interested in weapons. Their rules gave certain implements a distinct advantage in hand-to-hand, man-to-man combat. The morningstar, mace, two-handed axe and two-handed sword were overwhelming, while the spear and sword came up short. In actual accounts of medieval close combat, the spear was favored. Dismounted French knights preferred to make spears of their lances than depend on maces or broad axes. The favorite battlefield weapon of the Samurai was a spear. The sword only came into play in situations where the spear was impractical. So why would "Chainmal" [sic] regard a spear as a weak weapon? Obviously, the writers were impressed with their idea of busting out armor. As with tanks, it is not armor penetration alone that makes a kill. One thing I learned from jujitsu, the Army and some other arcane studies (never mind!) was that weapon skill was personal. A warrior had his preferences, so a man who was good with, say, a mace would be the equal of a man who was skilled with the hand axe. The weapon was not as important as the man behind it. We dropped the idea of adding or subtracting for each type of weapon.”

For starters, if one actually reads and plays the Chainmail rules correctly, the spear is not really as marginal as it appears – plainly the Writer was ignoring the weapon’s length, and should have spent some time educating himself on the actual ruleset better. Following the rules the spear actually performs better than they believe in Chainmail.

It is true that the spear is a very prolific weapon on virtually all battlefields, even into this century if one counts the bayonet mounted on the end of a rifle. However, what works in mass combat is not necessarily the best solution for one on one combat. Also, the Writer conveniently ignores the issue of cost – a spear is much cheaper than a sword, which by itself could be a good explanation as to why spears were common. His statement about the French knights “preferring” their cut down lances is severely distorted, and not really true – the use of cut down lances was a tactical expedient to deal with spear or poll axe armed infantry. With regards to “preference” I’m quite sure the French knights “preferred” to overrun hapless peasant levies with full length lances and swords whilst on horseback...

I agree with Shiels that the man is more important than the weapon – however, one cannot logically leap to the conclusion that the weapon is irrelevant! I also agree that armor penetration alone does not make a “kill” but being unable to penetrate it effectively sure limits your options, don’t you think? Look at it this way, having an inferior weapon simply diminishes one’s opportunities to score an effective “kill.” For a real world example, consider using a sword against a fully plate armored foe. Most blows will be entirely ineffectual; only very precise hits, as illustrated below from the cover of a book on Medieval swordsmanship, are likely to cause a kill. Anything else will be shrugged off altogether. Contrast this with say a halberd or poll axe, which can perform precise stabbing blows as noted previous, but also have the mass to damage armor, inflict blunt trauma, etc. even through the otherwise impenetrable plate. Thus, the latter has more opportunities to be combat effective, and is thus in this manner “superior.”

Another example: during WWII freshly trained American pilots, equipped with F4U Corsair fighter planes, were able to achieve an overall favorable kill ratio over more experienced Japanese piloting the A6M “Zero” during the Solomon Islands campaign in 1943. Why? Not because our pilots came out of training as Zen Masters, but rather because the Corsair was an objectively superior aircraft in virtually all respects – significantly faster, better rate of climb, better armed, and much better protected. While the Japanese (at this stage of the war) were equal or even better pilots, they could not compete as well given the deficiencies of their “weapon.” It was much easier for a Corsair pilot to get a Zero into a favorable “kill” position, and much harder for the Jap pilot to orchestrate the reverse[i] – and even when he did, our boys had an easy way out: open up the throttle and push the nose down and power dive out of the situation.

As an aside, I am not really sure what to make of the author’s claims to expertise. He states he was in the Army, but does not give his MOS. Simply being in the Army does not make one a master at arms any more than being in the Air Force automatically makes you an ace fighter pilot. For all I know, Shiels was a cook. His claims of studying Jujitsu are more relevant, since this martial art form focuses on unarmed combat against armed and armored adversaries, and is derived from early Japanese battlefield close quarter techniques (which, by the by, are very similar to European techniques, employed in the same circumstances). Of course, simply “studying” jujitsu for a few weeks does not convey mastery, either, and it is not clear how much effort was actually placed into learning this martial art form. As for “arcane” studies, I have no insight, nor do I understand the relevance. My point in bringing this up is that, while I affirm that Shiels likely does have some basis for his views, they are shallow and limited and should not be considered authoritative by any means.

At this point the astute reader will no doubt want to know what my qualifications are. A fair enough question! Well, for starters I have taken Tae Kwon Do (achieved green belt, which in my school was two notches above beginning white belt), and have some minor experience in Western Martial Arts, mostly in SCA and some drills I have done on my own following examples in various period fighting manuals and modern distillations of such. When I was in the Air Force I took Foreign Weapons Familiarization classes at Ft. Irwin (a “Re-Blueing” exercise to remind us folks at LAAFB – a.k.a. “Hollywood Air Force” that there was a real military out there that broke things and killed people). Most of my knowledge, though, is either scholarly and/or based upon personal reconstructions of the artifacts, ranging from helmets, to armour, to swords and daggers, and even to flails and axes. In terms of research, I am not only extremely well versed in very detailed knowledge about the artifacts themselves, but also their use and effectiveness. For example, I have read works such as “Blood Red Roses” which is a forensic study of injuries found on skeletal remains from the Battle of Towton, and have also read a lot of materials pertaining to firearm effectiveness, including military reports from various wars (mostly WWII and Korea). I have also perused in great detail original medieval and renaissance “Fechtb├╝cher” (“fighting manuals”) that clearly show the various martial techniques of the period, armed and unarmed. I may not know everything, but I know quite a bit –certainly much more than Shiels – and I consider myself to be vastly more qualified to speak to this matter, even if I’ve never been in a bar room brawl or studied jujitsu…

Returning to Mr. Shiels pontifications:

“A man going into a fight will take the weapon with which he is most secure. This goes for everything from bar room brawling to Indian raids. A man who is good with a chain will take it. The fellow who prefers a club won't want a chain. Though outsiders may view the chain as more effective because of its appearance and weight, you can be sure that a ghood [sic] club man will be equally effective with his choice of weapon. All the "Chainmail" weapon rule did was fuel the fires of those with a fascination for odd medieval fighting instruments.”

So, according to Shiels weapons are simply a fancy security blanket, such as what Linus carries? Not at all true, and I am not sure where such a distorted viewpoint comes from. As I’ve already explained, bar room brawls are emphatically NOT the same as any sort of actual warfare, whether Indian raids, Medieval battles, or Special Forces skirmishes, and it is as stupid as it is ridiculous to compare the two. And as an “outsider” I will let the laws of physics decide whether a chain or club is objectively better for pounding someone. Finally, regarding those “odd medieval fighting instruments” the reason they seem odd is because they are precision tools, designed to deal with specific battlefield threats. It is no different than when you build a house – I use a hammer to pound nails, a screwdriver to drive screws, a saw to cut boards, etc. I would *not* use a hammer to cut a board, or a saw to pound nails – would you? Likewise, some circumstances call for a sword vs. a poll axe, and the like. Anyone who thinks that weapon choice is a matter of psychological “security” plainly does not comprehend the subject at all.

“Another thing about weapons was environment. A chain is not very good when fighting in water or in thick brush. You need room to swing it. A club is fine provided you have room to swing it. In close quarters, a thrusting weapon would be better. Fighting in a tight hallway, swinging weapons are at a disadvantage. “

This is a perfectly valid observation, but the correct way to handle this is to provide a rule or two for these special circumstances, rather than leaping irrationally to the conclusion that type of weapon does not matter at all.

“Hand-held weapons drop an enemy either by impact / concussion or cutting. A concussive weapon tends to be more effective in a very close fight. A sword, though it cuts, also acts as an iron bar. An axe is like a sharp truncheon. Pole weapons give that extra second or two to drop the enemy, hence most are for cutting. Though a cut is more likely to be fatal, it is less likely to drop an enemy instantly. Cuts take a few seconds more than impact...”

It is this statement by Shiels that makes me question his intelligence. Certainly he proves his uttermost ignorance on the matter. Literally every statement in the previous paragraph is wrong, either partially or completely. Point by point:

(1) “Hand-held weapons drop an enemy either by impact / concussion or cutting.” Obviously false on its face – has he never heard of stabbing someone? But it is clinically inaccurate as well. One “drops an enemy” by means of disrupting internal organ function or blood loss, which is achieved by concussive, cutting, or stabbing blows. I confess to being a bit pedantic, but if one is going to make the sweeping sorts of generalizations that Shiels has, one might at least try to be factually correct.

(2) “A concussive weapon tends to be more effective in a very close fight.” Really? Who says? What is meant by the terms “effective” or “close fight”? Actually, I would argue that in a very close (within grappling distance fight, which is how I would interpret the term “close fight”) I would submit that a dagger is most effective, not a club or mace, because the latter requires more room to swing. Stabbing in close quarters with a dagger is a devastating technique, documented quite well in period sources, which Shiels has plainly never heard of, let alone studied.

(3) “A sword, though it cuts, also acts as an iron bar.” Uhhhhh, no, swords do not act as iron bars. I am sorely tempted to fetch one of my finer Albion long swords, and an actual iron bar out of my workshop (sword blade raw material, actually) and demonstrate upon Mr. Shiels person the distinct difference between the two, not just in handling capability but wounding capacity as well… an iron bar is NOT going to cut someone in half, or snip off a limb – but a good sword will do exactly that. It should also be pointed out that most swords can stab/thrust as well, a rather obvious thing to not understand.

(4) “An axe is like a sharp truncheon.” All right, this is probably the least incorrect statement in this sorry bunch, but it’s still quite inaccurate. Want to understand why? Get a baseball bat, “sharpen” it to have some sort of edge, and then go ahead and try to chop down a tree with it. Compare with using an axe for the same task. Let me know which works better…

(5) “Pole weapons give that extra second or two to drop the enemy, hence most are for cutting.” This statement is barely comprehensible. An extra second or two? How does one know this? Did Mr. Shiels time one being used in a fight? I hardly think so. I think the point he is struggling to convey is that the length of the weapon allows you to strike at a foe before they can get within range to strike at you. Technically, this is happening in fractions of a second, not a “second or two”, but in outline is kind- sorta-partially correct. Really it gives you a “first strike” opportunity, nothing more. And poll arms are primarily for stabbing, not cutting, though as a secondary attack capability most do indeed have an axe blade (an exception would be the bec de corbin, which has a pronged hammer face backed with a beak like spike).

(6) And finally, this gem: “Though a cut is more likely to be fatal, it is less likely to drop an enemy instantly. Cuts take a few seconds more than impact...” Utterly wrong. Stabs are more likely to be (eventually) fatal, but less likely to drop someone instantly than a cut, which in turn is more likely to be effective than concussive blow. While a stab may eventually prove fatal, whether through exsanguination or infection, it is unlikely to do so in a manner timely enough to suit the one doing the stabbing. Even a stab to the heart means there is still enough blood pressure in the brain to allow for volitional action on the part of the victim; what was termed in the Old West as “A dead man’s 15 seconds.” It was not unheard of for duelists using rapiers or small swords to mortally wound one another, with one stabbing the other but then not getting out of range quick enough to avoid being fatally stabbed in return. Hence why most swords (with the exception of specialty anti-armour tools such as estocs) had cutting edges, which can deliver a severe enough shearing cut that can take off a limb (or a head) and end the fight on the spot – something a stab can only rarely do. Blunt weapons tend to be least effective in this regard, but are very useful since their mass gives them some effect against heavy armour, and they have the additional advantage of not getting stuck in their targets – a problem with stabs and even occasionally with cuts.

Bottom line: when one cuts through the layers of B.S. and examines the statements logically, one finds that Shiels is really not all that knowledgeable. The few very good points made do not support the sweeping conclusions he leaps to, and are in any case overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ignorant nonsense and garbage he puts out. In the end it is best to disregard Shiels’ screed, as it is mostly wrong.

One tangential point that comes out from this discussion is that one can sometimes make a game combat system both more realistic AND more streamlined by understanding the factual reality that is being modeled. Knowing that most folks do not instantly die when struck means that one need not obsess too much with following a strict initiative order. The rules given in Melee and Advanced Melee, with the fixation that “nothing happens simultaneously” are actually wrong-headed; the simplification introduced in the “Fast Rules” section presented in Advanced Melee (and also in Dragons of Underearth) that gets rid of attacking in adjDX order is really a very good idea, that not only speeds up play dramatically but is in fact more realistic. Such a deal!

[i] Corsair ace 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Walsh explained why: “I learned quickly that altitude was paramount. Whoever had altitude dictated the terms of the battle, and there was nothing a Zero pilot could do to change that — we had him [N.B.: because of the Corsair’s superior rate of climb]. The F4U could outperform a Zero in every aspect except slow speed manoeuvrability and slow speed rate of climb. Therefore you avoided getting slow when combating a Zero. It took time but eventually we developed tactics and deployed them very effectively... There were times, however, that I tangled with a Zero at slow speed, one on one. In these instances I considered myself fortunate to survive a battle.