Monday, October 27, 2014


Okfest was a great event. Had a great time. I also had several people ask me for a few tips and tricks to using a glaive. I have a guide floating around the net, though it is a bit out of date. If you want to see a sampling of glaive fighting, check out this video. (I may be a little biased to recommend watching it...)
I decided it might be a good idea to jot down the basics from scratch, because I haven't thought about it for a while. This is geared mostly towards learning to break shields in an safe and efficient way. This isn't always the best place to start for someone completely new to red weapons, so I'd recommend some practice off the field to gauge your ability to do so safely.

One of the first things I hear from people (except those using a ultralight glaive) is about how heavy the weapon is. Most people attempt to wield it more like a spear, and try generating power for shield breaking hits from a low stance. That is rarely going to work and will be very tiring.

The weight in the head of a glaive is a great tool to use to help you get good, solid hits. Starting with a high stance, gravity will do most of the work. You really only have to push/pull for the first half of the swing to get a medium power shield break. Much more than that is mostly wasted effort and adds a bit of danger. Applying too much power for the strike usually means you will spend that much extra to recover from it.

Shield Breaking

The main shield breaking hit I use starts in a high stance, with the tip of the glaive being nearly pointed strait up, then coming down at around a 45 degree angle. The angle changes for safety and space available to swing.  Tightly packed lines make this more dangerous and push the swing to more of a 60-70 degree angle. The target is the shoulder, not the shield. If they block, great, it is probably a solid, shield breaking hit. If they don't, they are dead, even better. Obviously, there is inherent danger to the target's head here, so please get some practice before going onto the field and trying this.

Of course, without a proper base, all that weight swinging around will take you off balance. Take a nice, wide stance, with your front leg and top hand on the same side as you are striking at, ie. right foot/hand forward for breaking shields. Grip the glaive so that your back/bottom hand is against the pommel and your front/top hand is close to the incidental padding. While swinging, this gives you a good mix of control and range.  Moving your front hand back reduces control, but adds reach and vise versa.

As you swing, you will shift your weight forward, bending the front knee slightly. With the swing, push out with your front hand as you pull your back hand towards your hip. As you recover, you shift your weight back, extending the front leg and pulling your lead hand back. This not only helps generate power, but also modifies your range in the most advantageous way. You gain several inches of reach for striking, and then take away that much from the enemy's counter.  By pulling your center of gravity and hand back, you also block off one of the most probable returns, that which targets your arm closest to the enemy.

If your hits aren't landing sufficient to break a shield, add a little bit of twist in your hip and push/pull through a wider part of your swing. If you feel too slow on recovery, back off some of your power for the swing. Ideally, you want to ride the fine line between speed and power until you can safely throw a large number of shots quickly that will still be hard enough to break shields.  All of that being secondary to safety.  Only add power when absolutely necessary, because more power means more risk to the opponent.

High to Low Sweep

Without doubt, there are many other targets than shields. The reason to learn/master the above is so you develop body mechanics that help you with other strikes, and to get into a flow that will reduce the chances of headshots. Your next primary target is then the opponent's lead leg. If you start from the high stance, you can switch to targeting a leg mid-swing by lifting your back hand. The effect should be a smooth curve, pulling around the shield to hit mid-calf or higher.

High to Low sweep at close range, at about the point of impact.
Photo by: Ellie Apland

Most people learning this shot at first put more effort into it than needed, resulting in a lot of wasted effort.  That "smooth" feeling is from letting the glaive do the work.  The proper leg hit here is actually less effort than a heavy shield hit.  You are still doing the push/pull mechanic with your arms, but are now doing so more to change the direction than to add power.  If you find your back/abs/arms are getting sore or feeling overworked doing this shot, change when you start the curve (when you raise your back hand).  Also, remember, the front/top hand ends up going through a curved motion and should act as a fulcrum for the glaive's rotation, but you are letting gravity do the work of adding most of the power to the shot.

The first few times you try this, you'll see a good bit of success, especially at events.  However, veteran fighters will look to cut the angle of the attack off, either by advancing into the incidental padding or pushing their shield down to cut off the curve before it gets to their leg.  You really need to make this more of a "as needed" shot, rather than your main tool.  Make them raise their shield by throwing a few good shoulder shots, then switch to one of these.  With an ultralight glaive, you can also fake this shot, then go for their shoulder.

High to Low to Backhand

Should you miss the leg sweep (or do so intentionally), you now have the glaive on the opponent's sword side, under their guard. This is the perfect opportunity to hit them with a backhand strike. Targeting their arm or armpit mirrors the body mechanics of the normal recovery from a swing. To hit lower (under their guard towards the hip), you'll need to roll your right shoulder back. Rocking back here causes the blade to rotate so you don't flat them and changes the angle of recovery to hit them hip level. It should feel like you are leaning back, into the swing.  This also adds to the overall power of the shot.

You will rarely be breaking shields here, but you can easily generate the power needed to punch through body armor.  Even if you only manage a light shield shot, you've now forced the opponent to worry about you.  Very few will rush against the backhand, because they will often have to open themselves up (or punch block a glaive...) in order to get to you without taking a hip shot. 

This is where working with another reach weapon can really make a difference. By pressuring the lower sword side, the opponent is usually going to expose their upper shield side.  If you have a buddy glaive to your right, the normal shield breaking swing will often be a shoulder shot now.  Even someone with a longsword might benefit from the opening you make here.


The other nice thing about the backhand is that you don't have to target the person that you "missed" with the leg sweep.  Once the sweep is completed, you can pull your hands in a bit and sweep past your initial target, then extend your arms to hit a different target altogether. By switching targets in this way, it forces a larger group of people to worry about you. It also keeps that new target from rushing you, which he was probably thinking about when you swung. This is what I generally refer to as "suppression", pushing your weight around to force people to deal with you.

The ones pointed out are prime targets to be dispatched by either you, or your buddy with a polearm.  The corner's of a kill pocket offer you targets if a friendly polearm is stuck in the middle of one. 
Regardless of the actual damage you deal, suppressing a group of enemies, at the very least, buys your team time to deal with them. One sweep can get 5-6 people to back up or shift their stance to dodge.  Several sweeps and stabs can cause a large kill pocket to form around you, but not advance. This is dangerous for you, but does open a few people up.  The enemy to either side of the kill pocket (the ones that didn't curve away from you) are now exposed on their flank facing the kill pocket. This is a GREAT time to switch positions to the edge of the pocket, and destroy one of those guys. 

If you see another glaive suppressing a kill pocket, those edges are also a great spot to line up in support.  The corners of the pocket (the first guy turned in a bit) are weak to just outside of the pocket. You can line up roughly across from the first guy that didn't turn into the pocket and stab along the side of the pocket.  You won't get too many stabs in before they end up shifting to counter it, but if you hurry, you might break the pocket open.

Supply Lines

Many of the notable works about military strategy (Art of War, The Prince, etc) talk at length about supply lines. Sword fighters often disregard those chapters because it rarely comes into play. While much of the more large scale, strategic applications will rarely be simulated by Belegarth, it did occur to me that sometimes we see a smaller scale of supply lines: respawns.

At WAR this weekend, it became paramount to control the flow of respawns, much as one might cut off supplies before a siege, etc. Those paths that connected the respawn point to an objective could be compared to a main supply route. By raiding or blockading such areas, a team could reduce the enemy's ability to reinforce or control objectives.

I may have swapped my colors around.  This is what it looked like during the first round (actual headband colors are opposite).  Not to scale, of course, but the path for the red respawn is more direct to the action, and is very difficult to cut off from its own castle.

Red team used this idea to come back from a large deficit in the second half. Rather than simply attack and hold the objectives, the team pushed past them to control the supply lines, leaving only a small reserve to secure the objective. Of course, this strategy was much stronger from the higher, more open ground which red team started with in the second round.

From the forest side, this strategy is much harder, largely because the open field allows the hill side free access to two objectives from their respawn point. That makes it only really possible for a strong forest team to choke off three points from the enemy supply route. The hill side can, with less people, choke off all five objectives from the supply route. Previous years saw some of this, but the forest side castle and respawn point were in slightly better positions to counteract blockades.  Due to the location this year, the blue respawn point doesn't force the enemy to fight on two fronts to siege the castle.

Correct team coloring this time.  Red team had all five points controlled early by blocking off the two main supply routes out of the blue team respawn.  Thanks to a sneaky group (and Liz, all her fault), they were able to deploy a small force behind red lines.

You can see in the above picture, that a small force of red team was able to tie up a much larger force, using the natural choke points and limiting the blue team's ability to attack anywhere other than a prepared front.  Because blue team needs to get out of this choke point in order to gain any ground, they have to be very aggressive in attacking.  This makes kill pockets and solid defense with support weapons extremely effective for the red team.

Valkyries (mobile respawn points) could act as forward bases, opening new supply lines for their team.  While often they end up being more of a tool for getting troops to the front faster, this role as a sort of supply base also allowed a team to break blockades with a small number of troops.  By taking a longer, more difficult path around the enemy, the Valkyrie and a small group could end up behind enemy lines.

It was thanks to this raid on the backfield that allows blue team some room to breathe and finally push out of the choke points.  Even though the group in the backfield was small, the additional casualties weakens the front line and runs through Valkyrie respawns quickly.  It also forces red team to take a wider front to try to block off the advance.

The backfield raiding, though, wasn't quite enough to stifle the damage already done by red team holding all five objectives for an extended period, but it did prevent them from gaining a decisive lead.  The final score was only separated by a single point (equivalent to 1 minute of holding your own castle).

TL;DR: The path to the respawn point acts as a supply route in traditional military strategy.  Take the supply route and you can control the area much more effectively.