Due to swords being so common in fantasy, many people think they’re very easy to use in battle. At least in a fictional sense. Swing, stab, parry, stab, slash, stabbity stab, and the cycle continues. You can be very simplistic with your sword fights in those aren’t one of the highlights of the story. If you want to put more meat on the action bones then you’ll have to consider more aspects of swordplay.
- Most moves in a swordfight are designed to create an opening. Unless the opponent is severely outmatched or unaware of the danger, a full on slash or stab will probably get blocked. This means you need to consider feints (fake attacks), parrying (blocking), and various other moves that are designed to disrupt an opponent’s defense. The actual strikes where blood is drawn will be fewer, especially any that cause major damage.
- Injuries that don’t kill will force a swordsman to adjust. They can’t keep moving at their original speed if they have wounds. The pain slows them down immediately and, if things progress, the blood loss causes weakness. This is why you have to remember injuries and dole them out sparingly unless you have a reason why the characters can keep going at top speed while wounded. Location is important here too because the sword arm being slashed will have a greater impact than the non-sword arm.
- The style of fighting must match the physical skills of the combatant. It’s not a one style fits all. A fast character will be better suited to use quick strikes and dodging instead of heavy blows and parrying. They would be building up speed and trying to throw their opponent off-balance. In contrast, strong characters will try to overpower with strong blows and minimal footwork. They’d be more likely to act as a wall and not try to out maneuver an enemy.
- Swords need maintenance just like any other piece of gear. If you have a character who doesn’t take care of their blades then you have to consider that they will break in a battle. Those nicks and scratches make for a subpar blade as well as any spots where it could be too dull to cut skin. All you need to fix this is a few scenes where the swordsman is talking while sharpening or mending their weapons. Can even it do it once and people will assume it’s always being done.
- Speaking of footwork, you don’t have to make it flashy. There doesn’t need to be flips and spins, which would normally get you stabbed at the point where you aren’t looking at your opponent. These are fun since it’s a fantasy setting, but we go back to the moves having to fit the character. For example, Luke Callindor is a dual-wielding swordsman who uses speed and agility to create openings. Him flipping around makes sense as well as him getting hit a lot. Delvin Cunningham is a traditional sword and shield warrior, so he’s not going to be in the air every often. It’s more parrying and countering with him, which is why he gets hit less than Luke.
- It’s not always the pointy end going into the other man. Sometimes it’s the sharp part going through the other man. Slashing is a thing, especially against someone with thin or no armor. Even against an armored opponent, a slash has force and can knock that person to the side enough to create an opening. So, a slash isn’t always done when there’s a clear shot.
- It really isn’t that easy to chop a head off. In fact, it requires the opponent to be unable to strike back. Think of swinging a baseball bat, but you’re aiming at something higher and meatier than a baseball. You have to get through bone too and it’s usually not from the back like an executioner with an axe. You’re typically come from the side or the front with no gravity to help either. So, this is a move that should be unleashed carefully . . . or not because it is flashy.