Thursday, April 22, 2021

Pet Peeve Corner- "Half Swording" & Human "Endurance Hunting"

 I can't force you to read it, but I can type it. Random pet peeves of mine.

"Half Swording"
Look at this garbage. This is from a simple Google search. As you can see, two different, distinct techniques are presented here. There is Half Swording, the correct technique for the name, where the sword is gripped halfway up the blade to provide more control, and the Mordhau or "Murder Stroke", where a sword is held by the blade to bash an enemy with a pommel.

My problem? People keep calling the fucking Mordhau grip "Half Swording". Even Skallagrim did it in a youtube video, which probably popularized the naming scheme.

Ever since the more "historically accurate combat" zeitgeist began a few years back people have been pushing sword techniques like this an others into the forefront. But like any new piece of knowledge, people slap it around everywhere without much thought or consideraiton. To be fair, the very first image is misleading- Wikipedia uses the below picture for BOTH techniques.

If you look closely, you can see this image actually shows both the half swording AND the Mordhau grip. The man on the left is half swording, the man on the right is using the murder stroke. However, it is somewhat harder to see the man on the left's hand position, and since this is the first result on google, I'm sure this mislead some people. I should also mention that my main complaint here is that these two different techniques seem to both be given the term "half swording" by the general public, which is grating to say the least. Even if you want to argue that the Mordhau grip is a 'type' or position of a half swording technique, I'd argue that the purpose of the grip (blade control versus blunt attack) is totally different and deserving of a different name.

Endurance Hunting
I want to begin this topic with two admissions. The first is that, simply put, this is a real thing. Persistence hunting and endurance hunting are real techniques used by certain tribal groups in Africa today (and were probably used by early man/man ancestors). The second thing to admit is that this nitpick is 100% for an ulterior motive.

Here's the thing; I've seen persistence hunting miscatergorized a lot recently. (Online of course, normal people don't know or give a shit about this kind of thing.) Do you know what persistence hunting is not? Walking slowly at something until it becomes exhausted and dies. This very silly concept is something I have seen with shocking regularity presented as a valid, if not exclusive hunting technique used by early man.

Firstly, I am not a anthropologist. However, I know more about prehistory then a lot of normies. This is stupid. No animal, even animals more suited to this technique then humans, use this "method" of taking out prey. It is nonsense.

Now it's important to remember this- chasing a creature down and having more stamina then the creature so you can capture it is a common technique in nature, called pursuit predation. And the above example of endurance hunting is incredibly similar. So much so that they could basically be called the same thing. To further complicate things; this technique has and is used to some extent. I'm not claiming it was never used, I'm claiming it is mischaracterized and greatly exaggerated.

Let's look at persistence hunting objectively for a second. What conditions have to be met for it to work? Well, firstly, it works in a specific place (hot savanna) at a certain time (hot day) against a specific type of prey (mid to large animals that will retreat from humans). It will not work against burrowing animals, birds, large territorial animals that will hold their ground instead of waste energy running, it will not work against animals that can easily escape into the bush, and it won't work against animals with a similar or better cooling off method (such as animals that live in water, of course). This limits the scope of this technique to a very small selected pool of creatures in a specific habitat.

The problem is humans ate a lot more then just gazelles and they lived in a lot more places then just savanna.

Secondly, and more importantly, the concept that a prey animal can be tracked consistently and not confused with another animal of its herd, not disappear into the bush, or just flat out outrun humans to the point where no amount of jogging, walking, or human sprinting can keep up is hard to imagine happening consistently. And this is combined with the fact that any failed hunt of persistent hunting would waste an entire day of time (can't hunt at night- not hot enough and humans do not have good night vision compared to other predators), tons of caloric energy, and possibly most importantly, causes dehydration from how much sweat the hunters would produce.

Once again, this doesn't mean it's impossible, just not likely. Nobody has ever killed a bear by walking slowly towards it, and yet humans killed them. Cavemen did not kill wooly mammoths by walking at them, and yet people killed these too. Despite how seemingly easy and convenient this special humans-only hunting technique seems to be; no other predator animal anywhere in any part of the world or any part of the fossil record seems to have exhibited it. That's because it's not how people hunted.

So how did early man hunt? Well, simple. They pursued their prey. With weapons. Humans became one of, if not the dominant form of life on Earth through intelligent use of tools and, by extension, ranged weaponry. Sneak up or get close enough to prey, injury with a spear, dart, or arrow, and then follow the wounded animal until it either collapsed or you can get a better shot off. This is the same way that every indigenous human culture continues to hunt to this day, the same way modern human hunters hunt (cept with guns), and the method of hunting in which every single artifact of arrowheads, spears, or atlatls continues to support.

Do these sound the same to you? Well they are very similar- like I said in the title of this blogpost. This is a Pet Peeve. The difference between these is that one is believable, and understandable, and supported by evidence and simple common sense. The other is a fantasy, attributing humans with a magical power of "endurance" that is somehow greater then other living things- including living things that can walk a few minutes after being born, and only sleep for 30 minutes at a time in near constant alertness. Horses only sleep 2 hours, total, a day in many short intervals. Humans sleep 8 in one chunk. Are you going to try to walk something to death that gets a six hour head start every morning?

And here's that ulterior motive I talked about; Human Endurance. Why am I complaining about it? Because people want humans to be special.

Fantasy Races and Endurance
In fantasy (or fiction in general), humans may only be one race of many. However, most stories feature humans in the center of the action. Because humans are the only species that the majority of humans have considered to be a "self aware" species (which is wrong, by the way, but let's not get into that now) that means that intelligent races are created wholecloth from imagination.

In order to present other, fantastical races or species; if they be elves, dwarves, animal-people, weird aliens, or what have you; there needs to be something to compare them too. So they are compared to humans.

Orcs are stronger then humans, but dumber. Elves are more magical and long lived then humans, but reproduce slowly. To the reader, this makes sense and is easy to understand. It is easy to compare these races to humans, as while despite not being able to live for hundreds of years you can imagine a being who could, being able to collect all that knowledge in a life much longer then yours, would be incredibly intelligent, or well learned/magical/whatever.

So in these fantasy worlds, how are humans presented? Well typically, they are presented as the every man. The middle race- jack of all trades, master of none. However, I'm sure to many people, this gets old. People are tired of being the "quick learning", short lived, young and ambitious race that humans always are in every fantasy or sci-fi universe. People want humans to be special.

So in a few places, humans are made special through circumstance. Often humans may be the chosen race, the most noble or most destined by the Gods. In other universes, humans may be the most industrious or scientifically the best (though curiously, this never seems to mean intelligence directly, as elves or dwarves may still technically be smarter or "better craftsmen", humans can just pump out more apparently). In some, humans may be the physically largest and therefore the strongest race. If you have your typical fantasy D&D races of elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes then yes, Humans would be the biggest race and this fits well enough.

But some people want a special, real world biological quirk instead of these more cultural or setting-specific quirks. So what do people go for? Endurance.

The problem with this is twofold. The first is the belief that humans have some kind of long range endurance that is special or unique. I have yet to find any indication that this is the case. Now I mentioned above, this doesn't mean humans can't outrun certain animals during certain conditions- that much is true. But that is more a matter of thermal regulation. Humans can cool off a lot better then many other animals, but that isn't quite the same thing as endurance.

The second, and perhaps more important, is the inherent implication that humans having "endurance" being their special thing would be absent or reduced in other fantasy races. I don't see this as the case. These most standard fantasy races; elves, dwarves, halflings and the like, are all bipedal and all have similar skin covering to humans. They would sweat too! Of course, you could argue that a long human stride would be much better then a short hobbit or dwarf shuffle, and I'll give you that, but going by that logic a 20 ft tall giant will have a stride that puts any human to shame and can outpace any man over distance, so that kind of kills the concept of humans having some special enduring trait.

So with all this in mind, what makes humans special?

What makes humans special?
The reason why this is such a portentous topic, in my opinion, is because of people don't want to accept the reality. The thing that makes humans special, in the real world anyway, is intelligence. That's it. Humans are bred to be smart and sociable, capable of learning and use of tools. These traits took a MASSIVE amount of energy and effort to evolve over time. Humans lost almost every other special, unique, or "powerful" trait that an animal could have in pursuit of intelligence. Oh and, I guess technically a greater range of motion in the shoulder. Even compared to all the other great apes and human offshoots, homo sapiens sapiens are the best at throwing stuff.

Of course, when I say "human" trait here, I really mean pre-human ancestor that diverged down a more human path. Everything I am saying here relates to most primates, it's not technically homo sapiens sapiens that gave up everything to be smart of course, but even compared to other great apes, we have some weaknesses. I'm not the type to try and shill a "humans so feeble and shitty chimpanzees could literally rip you in half if they wanted woah!" kind of narrative because that shit annoys me too, but moreso in the development, child rearing, and pregnancy side of things. Human babies can barely be born because their heads are too damn big to hold a brain, any larger and mothers literally couldn't birth them. Humans take over a decade to become sexually active, and are not especially strong or fast even once become adults. Massive amounts of calories are needed to sustain the human brain, which is a very hungry organ. Humans rely on social groups for both food and protection for the long period of their lives- not totally unique in the animal kingdom, but still relevant. It's still intelligence or sociability that is the factor here, not some nebulous "endurance" trait.

The problem in fantasy then becomes this; when you write a fantasy race in, you aren't considering the "cost" of what it took to become an intelligent, tool using, "self aware" actor. Nobody asks how dwarves could evolve the level of intelligence and social ability of humans whilst also keeping low-light vision and their pound-for-pound strength and toughness. Nobody is asking how elves could gain such an efficient and long lasting immune system and resistance to diseases and cancers that they can live for centuries, but yet are still as smart (or smarter!) then humans that would have to evolve into a very similar lifestyle of hunter-gatherer in the forests.

Now the above is only for more naturalistic fantasy worlds and settings- ones where races evolved. Obviously if the fantasy 'verse just has Gods or ancient beings which created humans or the other races, then these don't apply; but you're still comparing made up races with humans, who had to evolve and struggle in the real world, and didn't essentially get to be smart "for free" the way our fictional fantasy creations get.

So then the question becomes this. What trait(s) SHOULD you give humans in a fantasy or science-fiction universe to help them stand out?

Well, in my opinion, nothing. Humans shouldn't be special. Make them the boring every man, the middle manager, the "default" race. That's more then enough. People who want to be something other then a human and be special or different can, and people who want to play as something relatable, simple, and self-explanatory can be a human. Everybody wins.


  1. Preach! The "freakin' human endurancerino" thing is annoying

  2. Possibly one thing that makes humans special is our sociability.

    I always picture elves and dwarves as living in what are basically villages. Giants are mostly solitary. Orcs and goblins might sometimes appear in large numbers, but they're extended family units, where everyone is related to everyone else.

    Maybe only humans have cities.

  3. Yeah, I think organization is the human speciality.

  4. "The other is a fantasy, attributing humans with a magical power of "endurance" that is somehow greater then other living things- including living things that can walk a few minutes after being born, and only sleep for 30 minutes at a time in near constant alertness. Horses only sleep 2 hours, total, a day in many short intervals. Humans sleep 8 in one chunk. Are you going to try to walk something to death that gets a six hour head start every morning?"

    Yes, I am going to outpace a horse long distance. If you wanted a message delivered over a long distance ASAP before the advent of the car you had two options. 1) Have a courier jog at a brisk pace 2) ride a horse into the ground reaching the next stable, get another horse because the first is fucked, rinse and repeat to maybe outpace option 1.

    Horses absolutely cannot ride for as long as a human can march, and if you try it is considered a form of animal abuse. Over a short distance yes, the horse will move faster than a human but on a day by day basis? Absolutely not. And you want it to spend even longer moving?

    Fantasy races that are humanoid in build would have much of the same advantages, that part is true, but human endurance and long-term pacing is absolutely superior to most animals you can name.