Everyone probably knows at this point that any writer of contemporary fiction who gets facts about guns wrong in their stories will receive a lot of email and comments and reviews letting them know exactly where they made mistakes (even if it’s the person making the comments who has it wrong). On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of comments about non-contemporary fiction — or at least fiction containing ‘old-fashioned’ weapons — to the effect that ‘readers don’t know and don’t care’ if the author botches a description of sword combat, or calls a bracer a gauntlet, or has a character wearing mail without anything underneath.
Trust me, some readers will know and will care if you get that stuff wrong. As with all things, it is better to leave it out, be a bit vague, than to get it blatantly incorrect. Here are a few of the more common (from my own reading experience) errors that pop up when medieval-ish weapons and armor are involved:
— The narrow channel down the center of a blade is NOT called a “blood groove.” (Unless the POV character is a modern teenager who has good reason not to know any better, use of the term blood groove is likely to make me throw the book across the room. Characters may be forgiven for ignorance; authors must get their facts right.) The correct term is fuller’s groove, and it’s there to lighten the blade without making it weaker.
— Do NOT assume that sword fighting styles were the same everywhere in centuries past. There were differences in technique between Italian and German — why would you expect there to be no differences between Italian and Japanese? Or Japanese and Indian? (Simply the differences between materials available for making the weapons and armor would have caused significant differences in fighting styles. Environment plays a role, too: fencing developed for fighting in narrow city streets, without armor. Good for a duel, even one to the death, but not so good on a battlefield.)
— Those wide blades on medieval weapons? They were NOT made that way because using more metal showed that you were wealthy (could afford more metal). Steel produced back then was inferior to modern stuff. It was brittle and weak and had to be thicker so it would be less likely to break (although it often did anyway). On the other hand, modern steel is, by volume, heavier than medieval steel (take two pieces of the same dimensions, and the modern one will weigh more).
— Fiction writers MUST stop using that old “THAC0” nonsense (from the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop RPG — stands for “to hit armor class zero”) for writing fight scenes… *shakes head* It’s a fact, friends: A person in metal plate armor is actually easier to hit than someone in leather, because all else being equal, the person in plate cannot move with as much agility; it’s simply more difficult to get through the metal armor — for most weapons — to damage the wearer. [long rant about the irrationality of certain game engines deleted as irrelevant to current topic]
I’m thinking of making this a more-or-less regular topic, if there is enough interest. Not specifically weapons and armor, but all sorts of “facts for fantasy writers.” Stuff about daily life prior to the end of the Renaissance (since the majority of non-urban fantasy fiction seems to be in low-tech settings), technology and culture and the foods people ate and what they wore (so we won’t have any more mistaking a kilt for a kirtle, yeah?) and anything else I can think of or that people ask me about.