Monday, September 29, 2014

Weapon Design 101

One of the fun things about fantasy comics is that you get to design some of the coolest weapons. However, I think I've gotten a little annoyed at the Final Fantasy school of weapon design; I really think that if you are going to design a weapon the phrase "Freudian compensation" should not come to mind. In order to help designers here are my thoughts:

1) Fit the weapon to the character. A sword should not be the default weapon for all characters, even if the series is about swordsmen. Every weapon has a history and an associated symbology associated with it, and you should take full advantage of that. A scythe, for example, is great for a scary character that you wish to associate with death, just as nunchucks are good for a martial arts character. A more pensive character is more likely to have a ranged weapon, while a more action-based character will have a melee weapon. A character who considers himself an artist will have a more exotic weapon. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the best example of this: Noble Leonardo has a katana, scholarly Michaelangelo has a staff, aggressive Raphael has sais, and goofball Donatello has nunchuks. There are weapons associated with peasants (most martial arts weapons), military weapons (spears and pole arms), and even nobles (swords and fans). Take advantage of that to build your characters.

2) The look of the weapon says a lot about the character. A sword can be a weapon of nobility or savagery, it all depends on how it is used. The look of the sword emphasizes that point; a sword with smooth lines represents a more noble characters than one with barbs. Throw in a blood groove and the character is a sadist. A rusty sword is for someone who hasn't fought in a while, and shiny sword is for the novice. A fancy hilt is a show off, while a bit of gold makes for a rich character. And that ignores any symbols on the weapon itself, such as waves, runes, or even no decoration at all when everyone else has symbols all over their gear...All of these little details can tell a lot about the character who wields the weapon.

3) How the weapon is carried is important. A character who is sneaky and should not be trusted carries weapons that are small or are easily hidden. An upfront character has obvious weaponry, and usually no more than one or two. A well-prepared usually carries several weapons. A character more interested in comfort may carry his weapons more as an accessory while a battle-ready character ties them down in easy-to-access locations.

4) The weapon doesn't need to fit the character as long as it shows something about the character. The obvious example is the young character who is wielding his dead father's weapons; he needs to grow into them over time. Another fighter may be wielding the weapon of his lover, while a group of soldiers may wield the same blade in order to show solidarity. If the character is wielding a weapon that obviously doesn't fit him you need to have a reason, and that makes for some interesting stories in and of itself.

When it comes down to it, a weapon is a major investment in the character's time and energy. Even if he inherits or is assigned it, he needs to train with it, learn its intricacies, and be able to defend himself with it. It makes sense that it tells a lot about the character given that it will easily be one of the biggest trademarks about the character. It's also a great way to get into the character as a writer as you need to worry about why he's carrying it. So put some serious thought into what kind of weapon he wields, and what it means to him, and the character can only benefit. 

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