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I've been asking all around about this for days trying to find out how swords could be effective against plate armor without feeling overly unrealistic or how a sword user could fight against polearms if they really wanted the sword to be their main weapon of choice. My responses have been varied. I've been told it would be an uphill battle as the sword user would have to be very defensive in the case of the spear and aim for the gaps in the case of the armor. I've also been told that the sword is purely a civilian weapon and has no real place on the battlefield. And I've been told that the sword is little more than an expensive toy for mobility. (Many of these people also funnily enough view spears in the same way some people look at firearms. I.E they think they are invincible as long as they have said weapon)

Incidentally for this particular scenario, the ones I'm thinking of would be a collective of spellswords and bladed weapons would work best in tandem with their magic. But I really don't want to use the tired "Swords are unusually effective because magic." I want them to be able to stand on their own without the need of magic and that means proper sword techniques or at least sword design. As Tony Stark put it. "If you’re nothing without the suit you shouldn’t have it." or in this case "You may be able to use magic, but if you're so reliant on magic you can't fight without it then stick to the back."

Anyway, what designs and techniques could translate to being useful for single weapon swordmage? Throughout my research the only ones that seem to show any promise design wise are the estoc, the falchion and the Dadao(Chinese Warsword) every other sword just comes off as flimsy and specifically designed to only deal with unarmored people.

I also know things like half-swording, grabbing the shaft and being defensive in general, but all that requires you to pretty much just be better than the other guy.

is there anything else i can use?

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    $\begingroup$ Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 12 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ "every other sword just comes off as flimsy and specifically designed to only deal with unarmored people." swords are a cutting weapon. Armours are designed to protect against cuts. This is a scissors and rock situation and the swords are the scissors, armour is rock. There just isn't an armour penetrating/defeating sword that "just works" without the wielder putting any effort in it. Yet you expect such a thing. Swords are just inherently limited. Spears similarly have inherent advantage over swords via reach. It's not completely one-sided but 1:1 odds are in favour of the spear fighter. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jan 12 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ Don't get me wrong - swords are fine tools. They wouldn't be so widely used if they weren't. But swords, like hammers, are not a tool applicable to any and all jobs. The advantage it has over other weapons is that even in a bad situation you can get some use of it. You can just bash an armour clad opponent with the sword, thus effectively treating the weapon as a mace. But what you seem to be asking is to make swords what they aren't and have them apply in situations that are not for swords. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jan 12 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. Does the pommel bash have to be a mordhau like maneuver, or could i do something akin to a backhand? Aside from that I take this to mean the swords strength isn't so much in how well it can cut, but more the fact that you can take it in ANY situation and not be completely screwed right? $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 12 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ Probably not any situation. One lone swordsman vs a battalion of archers won't be able to use the sword very effectively against the threat. But a sword can cut, stab, as well as be a big metal club. It's more versatile in terms of how and when it can be applied. While a mace cannot stab people, for example. A spear cannot (very effectively) cut them. More like "stab sideways". And similar. A real army is composed of people with various weapons because no one weapon is the best. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jan 12 at 7:02

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All things being equal, sword loses vs polearm and plate

This should not be a surprise. By the time plate armour existed, one-handed swords were sidearms, not primary battlefield weapons - they could be worn constantly with only moderate inconvenience. (The question is focused on sword vs plate armour, so I am ignoring all earlier tactical employments of swords and subsequent non-battlefield duelling and brawling.) Plate mail and similar armour was designed to be a (very expensive) advanced defence against swords and other stabbing and cutting weapons. It was less effective against blunt impacts - though that is why gambeson was worn underneath. The advent of two-handed polearms was primarily because plate mail provided sufficient protection against arrows that a shield was no longer completely essential for survival on the battlefield and a weapon wielded with two hands was better for defeating armour.

The polearms had greater reach than most one-handed weapons (more below), which meant that they had lots of advantages over "sword and board" fighters. A sword-and-boarder had to close through an engagement range when they could be attacked but could not attack in return, and if they survived then were in the unenviable position of attacking an armour specifically designed to protect against the weapon they were wielding.

(Spears wielded in a single hand are about as bad at penetrating plate as swords, while one-handed weapons that were more dangerous against plate - especially maces - had even less reach than swords.)

To put it in modern terms, think of the person with the sword having a 9 mm pistol while the person with the plate armour and polearm is like a soldier wearing kevlar body armour and armed with an assault rifle. A massive disparity in skill and a healthy dose of luck may let the person with the pistol survive long enough to get to effective range and target a vulnerable part of the soldier's body, but the smart money is on the better armed and armoured soldier on the battlefield. If the person with the pistol wants to win then they need to "cheat" and attack their enemy when they are unarmoured and preferably unarmed - basically when they are off-duty.

Surprise, surprise - you have just reinvented the (popular media, historically inaccurate) ninja armed with a single sword, striking from the shadows to quickly cut down enemies a few at a time and then retreating into the night.

However, if your swordsman/ninja is going to sneak around and strike from the shadows, attacking off-duty enemy soldiers one by one is not the smart way to defeat an enemy army. Instead, do what the real ninja allegedly did - target the enemy commanders and logistic support, steal key intelligence and/or conduct covert ops to break any alliances or unity in the enemy force. Oh dear, they probably don't even need a sword for that kind of work, maybe just a dagger...

If you really want to have sword vs polearm then the zweihander is the best option I am aware of. This could be wielded two-handed in an upwards-stroking figure-eight pattern while advancing against pikes, knocking the heads of the pikes upwards and/or damaging the shafts, thus disrupting the formation's defence. When/if the zweihander-armed soldier survived to close inside the pikes'/polearms' reach then the sword could be half-sworded and used to attack weaker spots in the enemy's armour, or a one-handed weapon could be drawn and used to the same effect. (If it is possible to get really close then apparently the weak spot of choice is to strike at the back of the enemy's upper thigh en passant, as this is a difficult area to armour while retaining mobility.)

In short, plate armour is designed to stop swords. Without armour-defeating-magic-that-can-only-be-used-with-swords there few viable tactics that let a sword-armed force defeat an enemy with polearms, and the sword wielders have no chance unless they are also wearing plate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh, so that's it then? Best I can do is just fantasize a world where swords aren't complete trash? $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 12 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with your question is that you are trying to pit swords against the specific defence developed to reliably protect against them, almost as if you were trying to get tactics for man-portable machineguns to triumph over tanks. Weapons with reach will still have an advantage vs swords, but if you can develop a world where legal, economic, tactical or environmental conditions eliminate the use of plate (and reduce the use of maille) then swords are more viable. (However, if the armour goes then the shields come back - must have defence against arrows and sling bullets.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 12 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ I'm honestly fine with that, frankly shields are cooler anyway, and the reason i dont care for plate armor is that it kind of encourages almost mindless aggression as you start to feel like you're invincible. $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 12 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Masakan Don't forget though that there's plate armour and there's plate armour. They're not all made equal, some are better than others, and even in a single harness there are weaker spots (arm armour for example is typically quite thin compared to a breast plate, necks would often be protected "only" by thick maille), and so on. And of course there ARE swords that have heavily reinforced tips for thrusting and getting in the gaps. And lastly, plate harness has a lot of disadvantages beyond its cost too: low visibility and hearing, inability to don it on your own and heat stroke to name a few $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Commented Jan 12 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ So its tough but not unbeatable....I can work with that. $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 12 at 20:27
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Don't try to fix the weapon

Swords have been around for a really long time. Almost everything possible to "fix" them has probably already been done.

A sword is more of a sidearm. Like a pistol. You won't be equipping your army with pistols as the main weapon for the battle field, but that does not mean they are useless. The big upside is that sidearms can be carried around without beeing much of a hassle, even additionally to a bigger weapon.

Also a sword is far from useless against armor. It can slash, stab, be used as a dagger or as a club with halfswording, its really versatile, just not the best thing for every single task. Only the slashing bit is a bit useless against (full) armor, but every armor has gaps and joints. Its MUCH better than hollywood wants you to believe, but not impervious either.

Consider your average fantasy soldier, he has some armor, a spear, a sword and maybe a shield.

Now add magic to the mix to upgrade your soldier to a spellsword, what would you ditch to free up a hand or two to do magic stuff? The sword? Its not in the way in the first place. The shield? You better have a good shield spell at hand.. even then, a strapped shield is not THAT much in the way, you can still use that hand to a degree for other things.

The spear however.. unless its a really small one, you can't store it anywhere on you, it always takes up at least one hand, and two to use it effectively. So thats the piece of equiment that has to go.

Turns out, nothing was wrong with the sword. It was the polearm that is not that useful anymore, provided your magic is even worth using in the first place.

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Do try to fix the weapon

There's a great weight put on the named swords and magic blades throughout fantasy and Mythology, the swords used in Lord of the Rings are named, implied to be magical blades, some are explicitly magical blades. The reason is simply that as you've already noticed, swords don't stand on their own, but they are more romantic. Swords that aren't magical aren't interesting, swords that are magical are the only weapon that can cut the hide of the beast, bind the soul of the lich king etc.

Sure you can issue Sigurd with Gram to kill Fafnir, but first you have to tell the stories of all three so you understand why Sigurd wants to kill Fafnir anyway why it has to be Gram and the quest he needs to go on to get it.

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They aren't, but they don't have to

In the later medieval period (when the plate armor and polearm came into fashion) the sword lost any significance as main weapon on the battle field and became a side weapon and a personal defense tool outside of battles. Since you are specifically asking "without magic" the simple answer is that the sword wielder will get mopped by the armored polearm wielder on the average battlefield. Especially when you factor in that the sword wielder also spends a lot of time learning magic while the armor/polearm guy can spend all this time for additional physical and combat excerise.

However the specific pros of swords still make them a good choice for the "combatmage".
Swords are highly versatile and not to cumbersome to carry around. By mastering that one weapon the mage is adequatly prepared for a big range of combat scenarios. With a sword they are still able to defend themselfes on the battlefield when their mainweapon (magic) runs out or fails to achive its goal, as well as being really usefull in man to man combat like when being engaged by an assassin. Just as sabotaging artillery, assassinating a combat mage outside a battle might be the best option to fight them. With a sword they can carry around all day they can defend themselfes at all times. Also, as I mentioned above, a combat mage has less time to train for physical combat compared to a normal warrior/soldier. So they probably focus that sparse time on one weapon alone and this weapon should again be versatile (able to slash, stab and bash) like lets say... a sword.

And to be honest: putting your highly valued combat mages in the first line is a waste anyway. They would probably be second liners that push to the front to open an advance with their magic and then retreat to the second line again until their mana (or whatever) has regenerated. With a sword they are adequatly equipped to deal with most situations if the protection by the first line fails.

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  • $\begingroup$ You do make a good point. Even if you were taking the time to learn both in equal measure. Even if you preferred to use magic to buff up your melee capabilities, for many it would be simpler to just learn and master one weapon and then use your magic to augment your abilities further. Simply put magic even if you make it more scientific in nature, completely changes the dynamic. $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 12 at 14:54
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It can be done if the swordsman is also in full plate armor

If both combatants are in full plate, a heavy sword can be an effective weapon. Generally speaking, to have a realistic chance against someone in armor, you need armor as well. Full plate armor is just really good. If the enemy has 95% armor coverage so only 1 in 20 of your strikes hit him, and you have 50% armor coverage so 1 in 2 of his strikes hit you, you've got a problem.

Reverse your sword and grip the blade with both hands for a hammer-strike

with the crossguard or pommel. This is called the Mordhau ("Murder-strike"). Obviously this is not as effective as an actual warhammer would be, but it was used. The concussive blows can cause injury through armor. enter image description here

Another example, in which the combatant attempting this is not in plate: enter image description here

Wrestle with the opponent

try to trip or disarm them. You can use the sword to help trip them, or place your foot behind theirs. There are all sorts of moves.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Aim for the weak points

try to insert the point of your sword through a joint in the enemy's armor, or his visor. This is going to be a lot easier if you have tripped or disarmed your opponent first.

enter image description here

Most of these images were taken from this site which has a lot more as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does it HAVE to be used like a club or can you just kind of back hand with the pommel? Also, I think much like when fighting a spear, you just kind of have to accept that you are on the defensive from round start. $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 13 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Masakan The enemy is wearing a padded metal helmet. To bruise him through that with a blunt impact you have to hit him hard. So it really takes a big two-handed swing. About being on the defensive - if you don't have armor you're just screwed. Look at that second picture up above, with the unarmored guy against the guy in plate. What do you think is going to happen in the next two seconds? The unarmored guy is about to get stabbed in the chest, he has no defense. And maybe the armored guy gets a slight concussion in return.Armor is just really good, and doesn't even slow you down that much. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Commented Jan 13 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about you. But i don't think many people would like the idea of a lightly armored person seeing someone in full plate armor and going "Welp, guys got plate armor, guess I'm going to die." Also keynote, I'm going off the assumption that everybody who is traveling is going to have some level of body protection. If we're going by pathfinder terms, Armored Coat, Mage armor, Padded, SOMETHING. I don't even factor in fighting unarmored, because frankly it shouldn't even be a thing. Seriously why would you not have some level of body armor if you're traveling or anything else? $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 13 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ Also, what are you talking about? The other guy is wearing a curiass. What you think that's a shirt? $\endgroup$
    – Masakan
    Commented Jan 13 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Masakan Maybe that's a cuirass - it could just be gold colored cloth. Look how it conforms to his other clothing, and look open it is around his shoulders - a cuirass probably wouldn't look like that because that would be a weakness. Anyway even if he is wearing a cuirass he can easily be stabbed in the neck or face or have his arm sliced etc. The difference between just having some armor and having full plate armor is a matter of coverage. Full plate armor gets close to 100% coverage - there's barely anywhere on your body the enemy can successfully stab you. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Commented Jan 13 at 3:29

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