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Okay, so its been said by various people time and time again that overtly huge fantasy melee weapons are not practical in any way whatsoever. They are too large and cumbersome, and in a fair fight against anyone else wielding a more sanely-sized weapon, the guy with the overtly large weapon would lose.

However, what if it wasn't meant to fight other humans?

Is it a reasonable assumption that larger, heftier weapons would fare better than smaller ones against larger creatures who may simply shrug off lesser attacks? Assuming that most people who even thought of fighting such creatures were of heroic stature and could actually wield such weapons.

Some notes:

  1. For my setting, a lot of people travel alone or in pairs. So they won't have access to organized formations or power in numbers.
  2. These people are actually the giants from my previous question. Its just that they tend to end up fighting even larger beasts. Hence my statement about heroic stature. Edit: Small misunderstanding, my fault for poor choice of words: The giants are the 'people' who are fighting even bigger things. I'm not talking about people fighting giants. That's a whole 'nother story.

TLDR: Would you carry a bigger axe/sword for hunting a dragon who would otherwise be immune to a regular-sized axe/sword?

Quick Edit: I forgot to mention: Medieval tech, so no guns. Also, just focus on the melee aspect, because bows and other assorted ranged weapons have been covered in another question.

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    $\begingroup$ My intuition tells me that when fighting creatures larger than you, you shouldn't be trying to win on strength, but rather on speed. So I'd say the best way to go about it is have a weapon big enough to actually hurt the creature but small enough to maneuver quickly. $\endgroup$ – overactor Jan 28 '15 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ As I'm re-reading my own question, I can't help but feel like my personal intuition may have been the only answer... But I may be wrong. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 28 '15 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ My thoughts are drawn to a character in Mistborn who wields a weapons stolen from larger foes with no difficulty. Are we omitting characters with augmented strength? $\endgroup$ – Gusdor Jan 28 '15 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ Gonna run with @overactor's answer for now. I got nothing against spears (which seem to be a favored choice), but a lot of the creatures of my setting have precious few vitals to strike at and are rather heavily armored. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 29 '15 at 1:05

11 Answers 11

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Generally speaking

You'll want to keep your weapon as maneuverable as possible without losing the ability to reliably deliver a fatal blow when the opportunity arises. This means you have a hard minimum on how much trauma you should be able to deliver but want to flirt with that minimum to benefit from your superior speed (I do hope you have superior speed).

More specifically

If these creatures are really significantly larger than the giants and have very thick skin, a thrusting or slashing weapon likely won't be of much help; you'll want a weapon that has some swing to it. so a long weapon with weight at the front. I'm thinking of a larger version of something like this:

enter image description here

But what if we don't have an opening? Well, you're likely not going to do much damage when you can't use more than just your own strength (you said ranged weapons were not on-topic here). So you'll want to maximize your speed. I'd suggest that you do keep a weapon to jab at your opponent (and perhaps a shield, depending on what sort of attacks you can expect from your opponent). Your best tactic is likely provoking the creature, making sure it swings and misses and then get your larger weapon as fast as possible. For this purpose, you might consider adding a handle to the top of your war hammer, that way you can wield it as an improvised spear-like weapon with most of the weight at the hilt until you create an opening and can very quickly switch to using it as a war hammer.

All in all, it shouldn't be a surprise that fighting something considerably larger than you on your own is going to take quite a bit of skill and knowledge of the creature .(where do I hit to deliver a fatal blow?)

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    $\begingroup$ Lucerne Hammer FTW $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 28 '15 at 9:44
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Luckily, humans have quite a bit of history fighting against big, tough creatures with skin and flesh thick enough to shrug off blows from a sword:

enter image description here

Use a spear.

We use spears for this task. They're the best weapon we've developed for focusing large amounts of pressure on a small area, and penetrating deeply into a large animal. Other effective weapons will follow the same pattern of focusing as much pressure as possible into a point. Mainly, this will mean lances and powerful bows.

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    $\begingroup$ This, this. A thousand times this. The spear is the ultimate weapon against regular and bigger sized foes. More range, real cheap to craft, can be throw with serious damage, lightweight and precise. And more importantly - versatile. A spear can be used on so many styles that it makes a perfect all-around weapon! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 '15 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest spears, for the simplest evolutionary example of teeth. Especially for venomous animals, long sharp teeth are the best way to get through the skin of your foe, and even in medieval warfare, spikes were often added to weapons as the best way to pierce armor. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 29 '15 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ Suggested improvement: a spear-throwing device, like an atl atl: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spear-thrower Apparently the first ones are believed to be over 30,000 years old, with the spear being 400,000+ years old. $\endgroup$ – BrianH Feb 2 '15 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ Also an atlatl is accurate to hit the achilles tendon of a warrior at a hundred yards, and can travel at 100 mph when thrown. $\endgroup$ – Efialtes Apr 19 '18 at 11:46
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Giants would use bigger weapons, but they would probably be smaller proportionally. Being realistic, you would expect a giant's sword to be smaller proportional to the giant than a human's sword in proportion to the human. A giant twice as tall as a human would probably have a sword less than twice as long as the human's sword, all else being equal.

The size of the enemy would not result in directly scaling up an existing weapon. It might lead to choosing a particular weapon over another or to specific designs. A Boar Spear is the kind of thing you'd want to use against a large, dangerous animal, if you absolutely had to face one alone with only a melee weapon.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about spears though. Assuming a creature was really huge and big, you'd need a pretty big spearhead to hit it somewhere it hurts, wouldn't you? $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 28 '15 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ The advantage of a spear is that you can drive it a long way into the target. You can also set the butt in the ground and use the targets own weight and speed against it to drive the spear in even further. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 28 '15 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @FeaurieVladskovitz Even for a big creature, relatively small holes in vital organs are still generally fatal. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jan 30 '15 at 19:05
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The core problem with scaling up giants, and giant weapons, is the cube-squared problem.

This article covers ants, but the physics work the same going to bigger-than-humans: http://insects.about.com/od/antsbeeswasps/f/ants-lift-50-times-weight.htm

Strength scales on roughly a square of height. So if you double height, you should be about four times as strong.

Mass, however, scales on the cube of height. So doubling height means everything weighs eight times as much.

The end result of this is that for their proportions, your giants are actually weaker than regular humans would be. If a 6-foot tall human is using a 5-foot sword, than a 12-foot tall giant can realistically only handle a sword in the 8-foot range.

You can handwave this away in a fantasy setting of course, but if you do that then you might as well just ignore realism entirely and use whatever weapons you want.

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    $\begingroup$ Your scaling is a bit off: the giant is 4 times as strong, so can use a sword 4 times as heavy, which will be the cube root of 4 =~ 1.6 times as long, or ~8 feet in the case of a 5-foot original. $\endgroup$ – Charles Jan 28 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ You're correct, I rushed a bit and plugged in the quadratic root of three instead of the cube root of four. I'll adjust that. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Jan 28 '15 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ No worries, I have your back. (+1) $\endgroup$ – Charles Jan 28 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a little confused on this cube law. Would it also be 1.6 times as wide, 1.6 times as thick, or what? $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 28 '15 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, basically each time you double the height the sword would grow by roughly 60% in each dimension. If it helps, imagine you're picking up blocks. Say a 6-foot tall human can lift a 100-pound block that's 5x5x5. Now you double the height to 12-feet, and you can now lift 100 times 4 = 400 pounds. But if you also doubled the cube to 10x10x10, now it weighs 800 pounds - twice as much as you can lift! You need to scale it down to 8x8x8, at which point it's right around your 400 pound limit. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Jan 28 '15 at 22:02
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It sounds like your giants are strong enough to wield very large, powerful weapons, and I assume quickly enough to land actual hits. Of course it all depends on the speed and toughness of your opponent as well, but creatures like dragons aren't generally famed for their blinding speed in melee battle.

The only reason that comes to mind for not always using a maximally sized yet practically effective weapon, is that you might want to use a smaller one in each hand as opposed to a single big one taking up both. This should yield faster strikes, but maybe less force-per-blow, which could be useful against faster, less armored large monsters. Weapon durability would probably be lowered in this case.

A shield could also be substituted for one or more of the smaller weapons, in the event that it is necessary to ward off hard-to-dodge hostiles. Samurai Jack had limited success with using just shields against his larger opponent, though...

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, Samurai Jack, one of the many casualties of cartoons. He died too young. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 28 '15 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that Dual Wielding is actually extremelly impratical as a combat style on real world. D&D and other RPG's and a bunch of comics/cartoons/animes made it really popular but it is not as awesome as it seens. Check this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_wield $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 '15 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ @ThalesPereira Good point, perhaps we can assume the giants can overcome this disadvantage somehow $\endgroup$ – mjr Jan 28 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think we can assume this. Giants don't have extra members or a different centre of mass, they are actually just big humans using big weapons. If a combat style would be impractical on a human sized scale, it would also be impractical on a giant sized scale. It's more about technique, not about size. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 '15 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @thales except that a giant's body structure is very different than that of a human's. As you grow in each dimension, your mass grows with the cube of the growth-ratio, but your bone strength (which is determined by bone cross-section) only scales by the square of the growth-ratio. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-cube_law#Biomechanics for more. Basically, at 10x human scaling, you simply can't walk anymore because of your own weight. Even if the giants aren't 10x the size, it will still have a massive impact on their fighting style if not adjusted for. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 28 '15 at 21:35
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Depending on the size of your giant, and disregarding ranged weapons...

Consider the virus. A relatively tiny organism can wreak havoc on a much larger organism. Infiltrate the giant and plant explosives/corrosives/[insert_weakness_here] or just go to town on it from within, with swords/saws/clubs/claws.

How might you accomplish this? A tunnel-boring device clamped upon a leg.

The Legend of Korra did this but avoided the more macabre elements of such a weapon;

the foe is a giant robot

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Sigh. Why do all these so-called heroes think that carrying a bigger melee weapon is going to get them anywhere other than into an early grave?

When you get down to it, the giants are flesh and blood like the rest of us. Sure, we can fill them so full of arrows that they look like a porcupine before they finally bleed to death, but we're neglecting the possibilities of those arrows.

I have one word for you: Curare. It is easily made by boiling down the plants in which it is found to a tarry substance, which is then coated on a pile-headed arrow. Shoot one of those into your giant, and while he'll be in little to no danger of bleeding to death, within less than a minute he'll be in a heap on the ground, as limp as a wet noodle and suffocating to death. Enough said.

If you can't find curare, there are any number of other plants that can provide interesting and useful toxins. Surely one of those would be as useful?

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Completely impractical

Bigger means heavier which means being weaker and slower. Using a large melee weapon, larger than usual, is impractical, especially against big and/or fiery things. Speaking of fiery things, my solution:

Imagine a tight cord or rope, preferably non-flammable because of a secret you'll find out about later. It is quite long, at least 8 metres (26.2467192 feet) in length. It has nice iron or steel handles, exactly like the hilt of a sword, at each end. These hilts could be detachable, if you are using an easily replenished material such as good ol' rope, so you can 'refill' your weapon. If you are using a flammable material as your rope (which is probably just rope), each person of the pair (yeah, this is a pair thing. All the more reason to go in pairs though) grabs a handle and you set it on fire. Yes, fire. Then you run on either side of the legs of this large opponent and scorch his shins, whilst the pair continue running to trip him face first.

Of course, if you have opted for the more durable, less-flammable materials available, having the weapon dipped in oil beforehand, and being lit at the same time the weapon makes contact with the opponent will both prove effective. It's called the Tripfire™, which is a pun on "tripwire", if you were wondering.

A modification to go solo:

It's called the Whip of Fire™ (WOF). Same thing, but one handle, and it's used as, yep, you guessed it, a whip. Slash at those bad boys with some strong ropey material, and cook them in the process. You can't go wrong!

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  • $\begingroup$ Uh. While I admire your dedication to your fiery cause, I can't help but foresee this weapon backfiring terribly. If you pull it across a large creature's shins, and it kicks forwards, you and your partner are both going to have a bad day. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 28 '15 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ @FeaurieVladskovitz But would it not break, as the flames wither the rope? Any substantial force like a kick would surely rupture a flimsy rope? I did foresee a few possible errors, but I hoped I could get away with them $\endgroup$ – blaizor Jan 28 '15 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ Well... It just doesn't feel like a terribly effective weapon. Even on fire. Sorry. Thanks for answering tho. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 28 '15 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Well. I then suggest FIRE. PURE FIRE. $\endgroup$ – blaizor Jan 28 '15 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ Balrog? Sorry, but no. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Woodman Nov 2 '15 at 23:38
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You need weapons that can be easily handled and used by the protagonist. A giant will have a giant sized weapon. But it will be proportional to the giant. A 12 ft. giant won't have an 18 ft. sword, it would just be impractical. However a 12 ft. giant could have an 8-10 ft. sword. some knights had 6 ft. swords and most were between 5-6 ft tall.

However, lances and halberds, bows and maces/axes are all very good weapons when you are dealing with a large beast that has a natural 'armor' whether it's thick scales, or a seriously tough hide. Lances give a large reach, maces can have great impact and bows can aim at sensitive spots (eyes would be a great target).

Much would depend on the beasts you are attacking/attacked by. Bolos could be useful against some threats, greaves/brass knuckles could be effective against others. But generally swords are fairly useless against a much larger opponent that has some defense.

having a much larger ax vs. a normal ax would just mean more work for the wielder and it will slow them down. The ax size would be based on the person wielding it not the intended target. Really this is true for all weapons, they should be designed and sized for the user, not the target. Have an ax that could decapitate a dragon would be no good if it couldn't actually be swung effectively at the dragon's neck.

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Big weapons would probably be more manageable by smaller people.

The strength (force they can exert) of a person increases with the square of their height. i.e, the cross section of their muscle.

However the weight of a person increases with the cube of their height i.e., height * depth * width

So if we scale a fully grown adult down to half their size. Their arm will have 1/4 the force it can exert. But will have 1/8 the weight. So it will be able to move twice as fast. Or will be able to move a proportional larger weapon with the same speed.

So what if your world was similar to ours. But all of the people (and monsters) were proportionally half the size of 'normal' people. Then your people would be able to use over-sized weapons.

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  • $\begingroup$ Uh. Unfortunately, that's not really the case at this point. The people are already established to be at average 9 ft tall. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jan 29 '15 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @FeaurieVladskovitz Yes but if a 'space faring' human landed on your world and you find that what they call a ft 'normal' humans call an inch. might work. Also if you were able to change some fundamental constant (say mass of electrons/protons) the inertia could be different therefore you can scale dimensions that way. This obviously depends on fantasy/scifi setting you already have. You could argue that you land /patch of the universe has a different values for things like that. It depends how much bending of rules / rewriting back story you want to do. $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas Jan 30 '15 at 2:14
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Elephants & co.

Because, why not? Elephants were actually used in ancient warfare. I imagine giants would be a major threat in a melee combat, and they would be hard to defeat (regardless of the choice of weapon) at best.

Constant need to travel alone + constant threat of being attacked by a giant mob would call for unusual solutions. So, in addition to spears or fire whips described above, I can imagine that the skills needed to tame and operate fierce animals would be as common as riding horses in the Middle Ages. And such a beast would be a major threat even for a giant.

Let's see...

Elephants would make awesome mounts for giants fighting even bigger giants. So? Not only would they be bodyguards, but also a convenient way to travel! On the downside, elephants are, AFAIK, vulnerable to noise and fire, which make them panic. Nothing's ideal.

Boas can be tamed as well, if I'm not mistaken. I've even seen a photo of a guy walking a massive boa on a leash (not sure if it wasn't Photoshop, though). If a boa can be tought to attack a target the owner orders it to attack, then well. I'm not sure if a giant could withstand both a boa and a petty dwarf's spear.

The list goes on and on. We could have: bears, boars, large cats like lions or tigers or so, etc, etc... I can imagine farmers raising such beasts would get pretty rich soon.

In addition: poisonous snakes. Untamable as far as I know; but why couldn't one build a special kind of a slingshot. A tiny-sized snake with a lethal poison could be sitting silently inside a kind of a ball, unable to harm anyone, waiting for it's turn. But the slingshot could have a special device opening the ball on shot. I wonder if a giant could defend itself against this!

Of course, the giants could start taming large animals themselfs. Life's a bitch, sorry.

DISCLAIMER: Actually, to ensure that all of this makes sense, somebody should check if there's any reason why weren't bears & co. used widely in ancient times of Middle Ages. Aside from the Colosseum, of course.

Poisoned weapons.

Self-explanatory here. If you can't beat a giant by pure strength - you think of another solutions.

In addition to lethal poisons (which can raise ethical problems, especially if the victim was to die long after being hit and/or would have to suffer horribly) paralysing poisons could be used. Why not? A giant is scratched, and is too dizzy to fight (or even blacks out completely) for half an hour.

BTW. Fire whips. I can't see what's wrong with them. If used by skilled individuals and if long and hot enought, it would be hard to make them backfire. And they could be lethal. Or at least pretty painful.

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