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The Vanganth the Flyer write-up in TR tells us that they have a physical ability called Throw Sword. It would be very easy to dismiss this as another case of Glorantha being over-influenced by Xena. Just another silly trick that looks good on film and has no basis in reality, done by idiots who like to show off.
But.... I like swords. I never cease to be amazed at what was done with them in reality. And there's an ex-Vanganthi Vingan I'm rather fond of - I'd rather not just assume she's an idiot. So I did some research. Did some web-searching. Asked some people who know about swords, and some who know about knife throwing, and some who're mad enough to say "I don't know, let me go outside and throw a few swords at things to find out" - and do so.
There seem to be two important questions here. What do we mean by "sword"? And what do we mean by "throw"?
If you do a web-search for "throwing sword", what you find is various interesting weapons which aren't very much like the Viking-ish broadsword that we all assume the Orlanthi use as a melee weapon. There are some which are similar, but smaller - 20 inches long overall, perhaps (a Viking sword would have a 28 - 32 inch blade). And there are some which aren't even shaped very much like swords as we know them. Some of the more interesting African weapons, for instance. Spikey bits, curved bits, axe-like blades.
How does one throw these things? Four options have turned up so far.
I am told, by a friend who has learnt to throw a knife, that you learn to throw at a fixed distance. As it travels that fixed distance, the knife does a certain number of rotations, thus ending up hitting the target point-first, not handle first. If the distance to the target is altered, hitting it suddenly becomes extremely difficult. He therefore argues that while throwing knives make for a good circus act, at stationary targets at a known distance, using them "for real" is not reasonable. Against this, it looks as if certain African tribes really do use throwing knives as a means of hunting small game. I would also add that a professional warrior in a primitive society may well devote more time to practise than a circus performer - and far more than a computer operator playing around in his spare time.
The balance point of a throwing knife is not like that of a sword.
The same friend was persuaded to measure his knives for me.
They are about 30cm long, with the balance point about 12cm from the 'pommel',
1 or 2mm from the end of the handle.
Normally one measures the balance point of a sword from the bottom of the blade, not from the pommel, but I found various sword-like objects and ran a comparison. Throwing knives, from that, have the balance point about 40% of the way up. I'd been told "roughly central", and was expecting 50%, but even so, that's very unlike a sword. My own 1H sword balances at about 27%, an ACW short sword balances at 32%, a 2H long-sword balances at 35%. Even my fourteenth-century dagger balances at 36%. But - a Bowie balances at 43%. And, my saex balances way up at 46%!
Now, a saex is a Saxon weapon - it's where they got their name from. It really is a big knife - there's no guard or heavy pommel, one reason why the balance is so far forward. The overall length of mine is about 43cm. It's no "sword", it's sized like a dagger. But there was a thing called a "lang-saex", which was, you'll be surprised to hear, like a saex, but longer. Paul Binns, who made my saex (and my sword), stocks 8-12" saexes and 20" langsaexes (that's blade length, not overall length). Here's a link to a picture of some of them. and here's a picture of my saex (ignore the chap holding it for me). And a sharp, used as an eating knife (gorgeous! wants!) As you can see, what we're looking at is a single-edged blade. No guard. Sharp point on the end - mine's rounded for re-enactment use, but the sharps I've seen are very pointy. So far I haven't had the chance to get one of these into the hands of a knife-thrower, but I bet it would work.
So much for balance - would it do much damage? So far we only have evidence for circus tricks and small game. I am told that the damage done by a throwing knife is down to the weight put behind the point. Which is normally "not enough". Well, these things are heavier than your average throwing knife. The other point on damage done came out when we looked at the possible problems of throwing while flying. You see, Vanganthi don't actually fly under their own power, as it were. They ride steeds - which happen to be invisible and made of air, but steeds none the less. As I pointed out to the discussion, we're really looking at mounted throwing, not flying throwing. And at this point we had a contribution from a lady who does horse-archery as a hobby (yes, I do have odd friends). She pointed out that there's a LOT more momentum behind a missile from a horse. Partly because of the extra height, partly because you've got that extra 30 mph to add to the missile. So, yes, a thrown big knife will do enough damage to be noticed. Because Vanganthi fly. It wouldn't work for other people.
Assuming that a saex is what we're after, where do you carry it? Take a look at the cover of Storm Tribe. The flying Vingan (is it Vinga herself?). See that dagger strapped to her thigh? No, that's not a saex, it's got a slight cross-guard. But it looks like a good way to carry one to me. Or two, one each side. The blade pictured is a bit short, but I reckon you could carry a saex like mine like that.
Let's assume that Vanganthi carry two saexes, one each side.
If they're going to refer to them as "swords", they're going to have to be able to
use them in melee. Can you, sensibly, use paired saexes in melee?
Yes, you can, though it's hard work against a big shield. As a matter of fact, it's my preferred weapon combination for having fun. You rely on being very mobile, very fast, very aggressive. For a cult that has "daredevil" as a Virtue, I reckon this fits nicely.