The setting: a mostly realistic medieval fantasy world with the tech base the same as European 1400s, except the gunpowder had not been invented yet. Magic exists and is known in general, but is extremely rare, difficult to use, and shrouded in myth (basically a non-factor, other than the reduction of disbelief).

Scenario: One person, lets call them Geppetto, gains a particular magical skill: the ability to create artificial humanoids made of wood.


  1. Pinocchios can be only made the same size as an average 8yo boy, and have the same average strength, intelligence, and speed.
  2. Pinocchios do not need to sleep, eat, drink etc, and their stamina is effectively infinite, limited only by the damage and wear to their wooden bodies.
  3. they do not heal, but can repair themselves, or each other, given proper tools and materials
  4. Pinocchios are 100% loyal to Geppetto, in his absence to “older”/more advanced Pinocchios, and lastly, to humans that seem allied with Geppetto. They are fearless but not pointlessly suicidal, and can employ initiative and tactics of their own (as well as any 8yo could)
  5. An animate Pinnochio can be made ONLY of wood, plus regular hemp string/rope for joints. No metal allowed. No outside help allowed: Pinocchios must be hewed from a tree/kindling etc by Geppetto himself or other Pinocchios, but woodworking tools can be provided by other humans. Any attempt to circumvent this rule results in a regular inanimate puppet instead.
  6. Pinocchios come in 3 different types:
  • Prime: those Pinocchios look like a very lifelike wooden mannequin resembling an 8yo boy. Looks human enough to trigger ether protective instincts or Uncanny Valley in humans. Can speak fluently, and is as dexterous and manually capable as a typical boy that age. Only Geppetto can make them, takes a month to make one.
  • Rough: those Pinocchios resemble a marionette the most, and look only vaguely human. Their speech is simplistic, and their hands are clumsy wooden paws with poor hand-eye coordination. They can be made in a week.
  • Botch: Simplest possible Pinocchios, basically logs with slapped on wooden legs, arms, clawlike pincers, crude faces. Incapable of speech, very poor manual abilities, clumsy. One can be hewed in a day.
  1. Geppetto can make all types of Pinocchios. Primes can make Roughs and Botches, Raughs can make Botches, Botches cannot make any more Pinocchios, but can repair themselves (though slowly and poorly).
  2. Geppetto was hired by the King of their petty kingdom, and informed that in about 10 years time they will be attacked by a neighboring kingdom. King tasked Geppetto with providing the kingdom with the biggest Pinnocchio army he can create, as well as a Pinocchio workforce to support the war effort.
  3. Assume that Geppetto is not just a master woodworker, but also an artificer, inventor, genius, and all around polymath completely familiar with all the possible scientific, engineering and economical ideas a Late Medieval civilization could possibly have, and also employs a team of fellow masters in every conceivable field known.
  4. All economic, political, and technological limits that would apply in 1400s Europe apply here as well, except magic is not seen with immediate suspicion (but not unthinking acceptance either).
  5. For the sake of the argument, lets assume that the defending kingdom could normally field around 3000 men for battle, and 30 000 fighting men in total to defend the whole realm (distributed as to not overstrain resources). The invaders can field 7000 per battle easily, and 70 000 in total if they go all-in and beggar their realm.
  6. Geppetto is glaringly, obviously more magically powerful that anyone in the world, even if he is limited to this one trick only. Otherwise, the rule of the thumb in the 'verse is that doing something with magic is just as hard as doing it without magic, and less than 1 in 1000 people can wield any magic whatsoever. Maybe 1 in 10 000 has enough magical power do something useful/profitable with it, and 1 in 100 000 is powerful enough to use it for combat/warfare (and even then, they are not particularly better than a magicless but superbly trained normal.)

Given the above, what would be the optimal strategy for Geppetto to help defeat the invaders, and uplift the kingdom in 10 years of time?

EDIT to answer some additional questions:

  • Pinocchios "die" if they receive a wound that instantly kill a human boy (beheading, pierced chest, chhopped in half etc). Dead Pinocchcios can be revived if repaired by another Pinocchcio or Gepetto himself. Pinocchios can ignore "flesh wounds" since they do not bleed, feel pain, or fear, but can be handicapped.
  • A Pinocchio cannot be revived by a regular human woodworker, but can be repaired by one. The repaired bits (like say, reattached leg) remain "dead" though, so for example a reattached leg would only be as good as a peg leg on a human. So all in all limited utility.
  • it takes about 25-40 kg of wood to make one Pinocchio of a height of about 120-140 cm. Deviating from these parameters increases the risk of the Pinocchio failing to animate by 10% for every added kg or cm. Making them smaller than standard carries no penalty, but is just as difficult, and makes them proportionally weaker.
  • wood properties are not magicked away, so the quality and type matters (ie: an oaken Pinochcio would be much more durable than one made of pine, but much heavier).
  • Making a Pinocchio takes time (month, week, day) respectively, during which their maker cannot do much else, and is effectively tied to one task.
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    $\begingroup$ It might be helpful to break this down into sub-problems. 1. What combat tactics or roles can each pinochhio type use? 2. What overall strategy to use to leverage those tactics? 3. Math optimization problem to make the most pinnochios. $\endgroup$
    – Atog
    Commented Jan 31 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ How much wood does he have available, that's literally the only limiting factor other than time to how big an army he can produce, with enough forested land to denude tactics will become irrelevant because the Pinocchio horde wil simply be so big. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Jan 31 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ I thought the question was gonna be about how to effectively use noses growing with lies as weapons ! That would have been an interesting premise as well... $\endgroup$
    – dargaud
    Commented Feb 1 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like the time for a pinocchio to build another pinocchio should be increased depending on the level of the pinocchio doing the building. For example, a prime building a rough and a rough building a botch should take a month. A prime building a botch should take a week. Even with that limitation, you are going to finish with around 7200 roughs and over 400k botches at the end. That feels more fair to me. $\endgroup$
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Feb 1 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @dargaud millions of Pinocchio's in lipstick and stockings gyrating towards you with sharp pointy knives strapped to the end of their nose that stab out another few inches towards you on each chorus singing I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred? for the added psychological horror tactics. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Feb 1 at 17:32

8 Answers 8


What's our attack power?

So, we have ourselves a grey goo situation. Except this time, it's grey attack goo.

Okay, so Geppetto is the only person who can make Primes. A quick computer analysis tells us that the optimal production strategy, which is Geppetto always working on primes, primes always working on roughs, and roughs always working on botches gives us 120 primes, 30,987 roughs (round to 31000 for ease) and 37,052,906 botches (round to 37,050,000 for ease). These numbers are based on a super quick computer simulation I whipped up in Python:

months = 120
primes = 0
roughs = 0
botches = 0

for i in range(months):
    botches += roughs * 30.4
    roughs += primes * 4.34
    primes += 1

print(int(primes), int(roughs), int(botches))

It's pretty clear that this will get a very good army together. The roughs already outnumber the defending kingdom's soldiers and the botches will vastly outnumber the attacking kingdom's army.

Can we pull it off?

Of course! Well, maybe. The issue is that as production ramps up, wood consumption will increase too. However, given that we're talking about a full-scale invasion, it would seem trivial to cut down a few forests in the name of victory. Suppose that Pinnochios (of whatever variety) take about 70 kg of wood to produce, making them about equal in proportion to a human. This means that we're looking at 2,595,880.9 tons of wood to build the army.


It's not actually that bad

Let's find out if we can get our hands on that much wood! A pine tree might weigh around 2300 kg (2.3 tons), and forests might have around 150 trees per acre. At this rate, we will need to cut down about 1128643 trees, which is equivalent to about 7524 acres of deforestation required. For comparison, the Amazon rainforest here on Earth has over 1.4 billion acres, so it's not like this is some unachievably-large forest we're talking about annihilating. In fact, the total deforestation of the Amazon between 2012 and 2022 was around 19706654 acres - much more than we need (specifically by a factor of 2491). So, we can either deforest at the rate we're currently deforesting the Amazon for three and a half hours, or we can just start cutting down trees at a modest rate and shipping the wood to Geppetto's hell-doll factories. Rope and hemp and whatnot will be similarly easy to find.

Attack strategy

Strategy? If I read correctly, your Pinnochios have the intelligence and, ostensibly, the emotional maturity of 8-year-olds. Have you ever met an 8-year-old? All you do is give them a knife and drop them in the general vicinity of your enemy - someone's not coming back from work that day. Beyond that, your botches, which still are functionally pretty similar to the roughs, outnumber the enemy soldiers 1138-to-1. If a single enemy soldier can fend off over a thousand 8-year-olds who were all given knives and the instinct to slay the enemy, then frankly you were never going to win this battle in the first place. Ergo, you can 100% destroy the entire enemy army by brute force.

But maybe there's more to it than that. You noted that the primes may be capable of triggering Uncanny Valley effects or perhaps protective instincts. Psychological horror is my favorite, haven't I ever told you that?

Psychological horror

Here's a strategy that doesn't involve just putting up an iron (wooden) wall of awful children given weapons: train half the primes into becoming super-soldiers in their free time. Remember, primes still age while they build; by the time of the invasion, 60 of them will be 13 and probably capable of fighting without dawdling off. Have a specialized rough act as a general for them, turning them into Solid Snake-like masters of stealth. Then, under cover of night and the screams and battle cries of the botches on the front lines, deploy the 60 "false children" to the enemy kingdom. Have them infiltrate the military bases as quietly as possible, staying away from everyone as to avoid being detected as a Pinnochio. Then, when the time reveals itself, they approach the generals and admirals and couriers and everyone else important in broad daylight. Confused and disturbed by their appearance, they will be nearly powerless to stop the false children from stabbing them before they realize it's a ruse.

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    $\begingroup$ "or we can just start cutting down trees at a modest rate and shipping the wood to Geppetto's hell-doll factories." +1 $\endgroup$
    Commented Feb 1 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this, except for one part: "give them a knife". I would argue that a 1400s Kingdom that normally could field 30000 fighting men in total does not have the industry to produce over 37 million knifes in 10 years (3.7M per year, 10000 knifes a day). With all the trees we're cutting down there might be enough wood that's not usable for pinocchios to make crude clubs though. Doesn't change the "thousand to one is a win" equation, but still. $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Commented Feb 1 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ Sharpen their noses and tell them it's OK to lie. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ count might be a lower estimate. Using days instead of months and counting every months as 30 days i get +1k primes and +2M botches. +4k primes if we count a month as 4 weeks. $\endgroup$
    – bracco23
    Commented Feb 1 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ That 70kg of wood seems over estimated no? 70kg is for an adult body, but if we're talking 8 years old it'd be more 30kg, so about half your wood requirements. You are going to also need millions of knives, though... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 2 at 9:15

The others have already stated that we have way more than enough troops on our hands, so I expect you to dial that number down a bit for "fairness" (aka requiring some actual tactics).

Utilize their main strength: Endless endurance. Medieval armies had very little mobility and constant supply issues (the main reason why battle sizes dropped so dramatically after Rome).

Human soldiers need to rest for the night. They are highly limited in their marching range (per day/week).

Pinocchios however could march all day and all night. Them being quite nimble and small would also mean that they could probably slip through an area largely undetected (remember that population density was incredibly low in those times).

So small groups (probably several botches supervised by a prime or rough) could infiltrate the would-be attackers lands and preemptively strike all the smithies in the nation for example. Or lay in waiting and attack the army as it is gathered (this would require somewhat larger groups definitely led by a Prime), as to fight a thousand small battles all over their kingdom.

Or wait until they are gathered and then cut off the supply routes (due to not needing any themselves, the Pinocchio force for that could wait out in the forests for weeks or months waiting for the attacking army to pass, only to destroy the end of the convoi in a first (small) strike that gets defeated (intentionally). If they march on with this hindrance in supplies all you need is some maneuvers to stall them (or scorched earth tactics while retreating) and a constant failure of their resupply to surrender in quite short time.


To be even more overkill than simply the army of 30 million+ dolls:

  1. As Geppetto makes more Primes, and Primes make more roughs, and roughs make more botches, we send all of the botches to work doing manual labor. This frees up adult humans to be trained for the war effort (assuming they are not horrified by their fellow troops) or to do more specialized/dexterous jobs. This (nearly) free manual labor and influx of humans into more specialized work would mean general production would skyrocket, though we may run into an economic crash if humans are left unemployed/underemployed for longer than the war + rebuilding and the nobles don't share the wealth, assuming the populace are uneducated serfs. Setting fire to the botches would be a macabre but possible solution to this (ignoring the ethics of mass Pinocchio destruction). During the later parts of the 10 years, we are expanding. We defeat the potential invaders well before they are ready to invade, either through mass swarms or using the cheap labor to quickly build fortifications and weapons en masse. We conquer the world shortly after.

  2. It could also be argued that Geppetto, effectively the smartest/most talented person in the world, could make a sufficiently overkill number of primes to get the snowball rolling, then spend the remaining years researching new/better weapons, technologies for more rapid doll creation, war strategies, etc.

  3. Geppetto and his fellow master craftsmen could also attempt to determine at exactly what stage of construction life is imbued into the dolls. His fellow craftsmen could then do all of the other work creating primes and hand them off to Geppetto to receive life. If Geppetto only has to, say, make the left arm, and the other craftsmen can make the rest of the prime, we are snowballing much much faster.


The King of Arbor, in his malice for all life, called upon his Dark Wizard. "Build me an army worthy of Arbor!"

Geppetto the True began his work. From the blackened stump of the town's Thundersplit Oak, he hew and shaped his Pin-Oakio, a wicked and vile creature of deceit. Geppetto formed more soldiers in the likeness of Pin, though lighter in pallor than the One Touched by Skyfire.

The Pins also set their axes to root, building loyal servants for their Master. These servants too crafted many offspring of the True. Arbor toiled to support the cause, clearing tree of olden, sacred time.

Our scouts began to warn of the wooden imps driven from the thinning forests of Arbor. We knew that these must be evil, for they took their flight towards that horrible conjurer of Arbor. We, the defenders of all things good and living, set our plans to destroy the enemy. We prepared archer and arrow, great sling and waterskin, and oil. Then, we marched upon Geppetto.

No eye has seen so vast a foe, like the fallen leaves of autumn they did cover the land. Fear waved across our lines, and a rogue arrow flew from the quaking hand of the boy Figaro. An imp caught flame and let out a woody cry.

"Fire!" I called. Skins of oil showered upon the horde, and then the fiery volley rained down. A blazing sea roared before us, filling the hills with smoke and ash. Many of our men did not survive the inferno. Those who did survive laid waste to all Pins.

In pursuit of Geppetto, I faced down the Wizard's First Son. His blackened body seemed untouched by the flames licking about us. There was no pain or fear in his hollow eyes, but a twisted, wooden grimace strewn across his face. He took my leg before I cleaved his head in two. We have displayed his corpse and my axe in our square to remind the people of our enemy. You may notice his leg is missing -- I needed a replacement for the one he stole from me.

I can only assume that Geppetto lives on. Our folk tell rumor of the occasional young boy emerging from the woods in search of a home. Perhaps they are orphans from the Day of Great Flame. Or perhaps they are the work of a wizard seeking his revenge. Only a lie from one of these young boys reveals the truth.


Medieval Logistics is a problem. So make it your enemy's problem.

Geppetto is going to have a hard time getting this wood to him. 7-8 thousand acres of forest (as estimated above) is fine, but it'd be a lot of work and person (or puppet) hours to go gather it. An 8 year old is not the ideal lumberjack, even if it doesn't tire.

However, Geppetto could focus on making primes. A relatively small number could cross the border with the potential attacking country. They'd get to work making roughs during the night, and hide from enemies during the day. Each of the primes would keep a tally log of number of days. The roughs get a copy of this count too. Each rough goes and makes a band of botches, 10-20. They also make torches for all the members.

When the tally log runs out, roughly 6 months before the invasion, the bands start work. On the same night, they burn every field and building within reach. A few specialist bands of roughs are sent to try to infiltrate and burn towns.

Most will be killed by morning. The ones that aren't have been ordered to cause as much chaos as possible, or to bury themselves, and emerge a few weeks later.

While this is going on, Geppetto, over the 10 years, is dragging the kingdom through the renaissance into the industrialized age. Basically anything can be powered by treadmill, and a horde of botches can run round inside treadmills. Equipment is made using carefully geared cam hammers powered by the treadmills. Ships move against the wind, powered by a screaming horde of botches running round inside a wheel and turning a paddlewheel.

Auto-loading ballista, powered by a botch frantically turning a crank.

Even just "we can pull as many carts as we need to get into battle" will give the army a significant edge, but a starving, poorly equipped enemy army, that has been harrassed by fire wielding tree stumps constantly since entering your territory doesn't stand a chance.

  • $\begingroup$ I like how this turns the legions of leftover botches from a liability they have to deal with into a boon for society. They'll need to use the time to figure out a new power source for when Geppetto dies and the puppets wear out and break over time. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 2 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly the botches are the most useful of the puppets. Yeah, sure, they're not as precise, but they're a source of power that doesn't need charging or feeding, just replacing every now and then, and there's enough of them to grind all the grain, pump all the water, and power every ship in the kingdom. Yeah, it'll be a problem when geppetto dies, but that's a problem for the next king, hopefully $\endgroup$
    – lupe
    Commented Feb 3 at 1:35

Quantity has a quality of it's own

You haven't stated how long it takes Primes or Roughs to make Roughs and Botches respectively but will assume it's same whether it's Geppetto making a Botch or a Rough making a Botch.

I'm also going on the assumption that resources are effectively unlimited.

Geppetto makes one Prime a month for 10 years leaving a total of 120 primes. Each prime can make 4 Roughs a month. Each rough can make 30.4 Botches a month

After 10 years you end up with;

  • 120 Primes
  • 28,560 Roughs
  • 34,150,144 Botches

Even if you have 70,000 enemies they won't be able to survive the sheer hordes of animated dolls. You only need a sharpened point, or a knife glued on to stab a soldier.

You have thousands that you can just set alight and burn the invaders.

The sheer numbers and fact that Pinocchios don't need to eat or sleep means that they can attack everywhere at anytime, the enemy wouldn't even be able to sleep. It's not even clear what it would take to put a Pinocchio out of commission. They can be equipped to overcome any obstacle, it would be impossible to guard against them.

Each of your 3000 defending humans could each have a legion of 11,000 animated dolls to simply overwhelm any invader.

Invaders would be unable to sleep and would simply be killed from exhaustion if psychological terror didn't end them first.


The War: some thoughts

  • With infinite stamina come many benefits. If the Pinocchios sprint to wherever they need to go, they will get there quickly. For now, I'll assume Pinocchios can run 10 mph, as it seems realistic. If a normal army (marching) travels at 2.5 miles an hour you have a massive speed advantage. Of course, this is dangerous and disorganized, but you don't really need organization because you have so many more soldiers.
  • Pinocchios are (comparatively) disposable. Your enemy's soldiers are not. Your enemy won't keep attacking if they lose hundreds of soldiers per battle, but your leaders might say to keep going even if you lose multiple thousand per battle.
  • People can work in the command structure. Pinocchios are much too young to lead. If the people are carried this doesn't slow anything down.
  • You could even go on the offensive. Since you move so much faster and have all these other advantages, you could reach the enemy capital and take their king prisoner. This could end the war quickly.
  • $\begingroup$ For speed, I'll probably reduce it to 6mph tops, since we are talking about moving through medieval "roads" and wilderness trails, loaded with war gear. Plus,. the Botches, which are the main force of the army, are clumsy and poorly made, with crappy knee and hip joints, uneven legs etc. Still, this solves one problem I could not think my way out of: the fact that Pinocchios would almost certainly spook horses, mules, donkeys etc, and thus cannot be transported any faster than they can walk (or swim, since they cannot drown, just sending them floating downriver would work.) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 2 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ @GoingDurden Yes, 6mph is better, although there really isn't much war gear needed because there is no food needed, and few weapons other than a few swords and lots of knives. $\endgroup$
    – Jakav
    Commented Feb 2 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ I prefer not to consider 8 year old sentient beings disposable... $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Feb 7 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen You're very right. However, to the leaders of this country they will be much more disposable than regular soldiers. $\endgroup$
    – Jakav
    Commented Feb 7 at 21:49

Frame Challenge

I don't think your army can win. We are effectively talking about an army of Child Soldiers. Now, in modern day contexts, a Child soldier can have some limited effectiveness on the modern battlefield - on the plus side they are easily intimidated, more trusting of authority and can do things that an adult wouldn't do because an Adult knows it would end badly - and with modern Arms - as the line from Lord of War goes 'A Bullet fired from a Child soldier is just as effective as a bullet fired from an adult'.

But there's our problem - as per your rules, they are going to have an 8 year olds strength.

And as the Parent of one - whilst they can swing things around and break house items and even can give me a good bruise (and a preface here, I love my kids, even though they can be toe-rags and they take after me....) if I was wearing plate armour, even with a knife - they would have no chance against me. Even out-numbered 10-1, 100-1, there is a finite amount of children that can get to within melee range of me and they do not have the strength to either punch through armor or use a warhammer to inflict a deadly wound on an adult male soldier.

Whereas with something like a Pole-axe, I can easily take on 100-1 and win because I can move faster (they can't outrun me) and I get to dictate the terms of Battle (the distance, terrain etc.) - Granted I might get tired and they don't - but the problem there is that it presumes the battle lasts long enough for that to be a factor. Even me at my most post-workout tiredness is still easily capable of overpowering an 8 year old.

So, in an straight Military battle - even if you've got 40 million child troops - they are going to get turned into wood chips.

And that's before we start using things like 'Oh, Wooden soldiers - let's get the Sappers in and use some form of flaming oil on them'

What would work

Forgot the Botches - focus on the Primes and the Roughs, Make sure no one knows that they are living combatants.

The king of Geppetto's Kingdom instead sends a peace tribute to the enemy kingdom, hoping to avert war - a Gift for all the Nobles children of a master-crafter Puppet.

These pinnochios are told to observe, but play dead until the next new moon, where they will rise, creep into the master bedchamber and slit the throat of all the Nobles.

That would be the most effective military usage of your Pinnochios - covert assassination troops

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    $\begingroup$ I think you underestimate just how many 40 million is. That's about a third of every human who fought in an armed force during WW2. $\endgroup$
    Commented Feb 1 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think one would get tired before managing to kill them all, no? Even in the worst-case situation they're outnumbered 500 to 1. $\endgroup$
    Commented Feb 1 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you assume the puppets are about 14 times less difficult to kill (half the speed required, a seventh the power required), that's still the equivalent of being outnumbered somewhere between 35 to 1 and 350 to 1. Like, they're going to get a stab in eventually — maybe once you've killed the first couple thousand, but still — and at that point it snowballs. $\endgroup$
    Commented Feb 1 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ 8 year olds can throw stones. Or even just dirt. And if it's a thousand to one, how fast can you kill them? How long can you continuously fight without collapsing? 24 hours? That would be seriously impressive, and leave you about a minute and a half (86.4 seconds) to kill each wooden doll so none are left by the time you collapse, all your strength spent. And I don't think anyone could fight 24 hours in full plate armor. Estimates I found on a quick googling are more in the 5-10 minute range. $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Commented Feb 1 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord Even if you were able to take down each pinnochio in about 5 seconds, you would still need more than 1h of fighting to just get rid of your personal 1000 enemies. And just considering the immediate second to second combat, you would need a minute to fend of the 12 pinocchios surrounding you. Before you are finished some of them are climbing your back (try fighting with two 8yos on your back). While you get them of your back others are already grabbing your legs, adding 20-30kg weight to each leg. And with your poleaxe you wont reach them. Also they might just grab your weapon. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Commented Feb 2 at 12:36

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