Yos Ramblings – Greatscythes

by Chris McMahon

In my fantasy world Yos, all metal is present as a magical crystal called a glowmetal. These glowmetals are a naturally occurring blend of light and metal that cannot be created or destroyed.  So in the development of weapons, swords and metal armour were out. Instead I developed ceramic weapons.

A fantasy world without swords! Neat.

These composite ceramics come in various classes. Here are the main ones:

Lanedd – which can be used for blades. This holds a razor-sharp edge, yet avoids the brittleness of pure ceramics.

Mought – incredibly tough material that can be cast into shape as armour or used for the haft of various weapons.

The longest practical lanedd blade that can be cast using the techniques available to Glassmiths in Yos is the ‘calv’ or long-knife. This is where the world ‘calvanni’ or knife-fighter derives from (The Calvanni is the title of the first book in the Jakirian Cycle).

On Yos the dualist’s weapon of choice is the greatscythe. This is a staff-like weapon with twin concealed blades, one at either end. The blades shoot out and lock into place. It is operated by a mechanism central to the haft . It is also the weapon of the Suul nobility.

I had a lot of fun trying to figure out how the greatscythe worked.  After all – with no forged metal – I could not very well have conventional coiled springs.

Here’s what I came up with:

The greatscythe has a central fighting grip and a release grip slightly wider than this which is operated by twisting two rings. These have a thread on the inside that operates a rod moving parallel with the axis of the greatscythe. This movement switches what is known in knife-talk as an Out-The-Front or OTF mechanism.

Here is link that shows a graphic of the clever knife mechanism.

To make this work I needed two separate types of springs in the internal mechanism, both which had to be some sort of natural material. The first I solved with small bone ‘leaf’ springs for the catches that lock the blade into position. For the main spring that drives the blade back and forward I used a rubber strap-spring.

The greatscythe itself tapers to the ends.  Two cover plates attach to a hollow cast core and cover the dual mechanisms  – sealed in place with a special mought (ceramic) that melts at a much lower temperature than the mought of the haft. So if the mechanism needs to be fixed the sealing mought can be melted away to free the plate.

Have you had any fun with unique weapons?


  1. I’m still trying to figure out how to use magic in a battle. I seriously limited the range of magical effects, so my rare magic user couldn’t overwhelm his opponents. The more powerful or dangerous the magic, the more draining, and the more training it takes to master the skill. And if you don’t get it right, you may kill your friends instead of your enemies.

    1. Hi, Pam. I think that sort of magic can have a lot more impact at a story level – i.e. it’s a lot more credible.

      What about simply using it the trick or distract the enemy? You don’t need to throw fireballs, you could spook the horses with nasty smells, or the illusion that a nasty wolf was moving in the nearby forest.

      You could distract the front-line troops by having grass curl around their ankles or with flashes of light. Or do something to play into their superstitions.

      What sort of things does your magic do?

      Chris McMahon


      1. I was experimenting, when I started the first story. One story had religious god based magic, the other has “scientific magic” so to speak. This is the scientific based one, an unexpected result of genetic engineering. They’re still experimenting, and working on ways to do various tasks “magically.” It’s great fun, thinking of ways to use telekinesis, how to tap outside energy sources so as to not over strain ones own resources and so forth.

        I added a catch, exiling them to a world with few fossil fuels, so they quickly lost the use of most powered equipment, so there was an large incentive to learn how to use their special skills.

        For fighting, they’ve shields and fireballs, but since fireballs are small and even so, energy intensive, just coordiating your mgic shield with your sword work is the most common skill the few magically endowed learn. For the more advanced, there’s a slice effect–perfected by lumberjacks–but again, you have to be very aware of who’s around you and focus carefully or you’ll find you’ve just cut your horse’s head off. There’re a few desperate measures that can be (and of course are) tried. Generally by the oldest and most decrepid granny witch. If it works, and she survives the energy drain, everyone treats her very, very respectfully, thereafter.

        1. Sounds like it could be very effectively used in combat – particularly if it was mastered. I immediately though it would be more effective if it was a hidden thing. Even being able to push an opponent off balance, or make him lose his grip at a crucial time would be lethal. This would be even better if the defeated did not live to tell about it. You could have this duellist character who actually is not that skilled, just uses these dirty tricks.

          Still heaps of scope I reckon. Having the possibility of disaster is always fun as well.

          Chris McMahon


        2. Being aware of who is around you reminds me of an epiphany I had while playing Ever Quest.

          I’d always wondered why the guys on Dragonball Z always went one-on-one. How stupid! Why not gang up on the bad guy?

          Then one day I was standing elbow to elbow around a mob with my five other party members and our swords and axes were all sort of flashing every which way through all of our buddies and I thought…. DUH!


  2. Since my primary species is a group of reptilian, preferential quadrupeds with vestigial frills of spines just forward of the shoulders, I’ve been working on body-mounted short-range artillery. In theory, (once the soldiers stop finding new ways to break the equipment), heavy-weapons troopers should be able to launch energy or mass projectiles, guided by their eye movements via their helmets and deployed by the raising or lowering of their neck-spines. That way, no vocal commands or physical gestures aside from the neck-spine movements are necessary.

    Control over neck-spine motion was one of the marks of maturity and higher social rank even before the weapons techs decided to put the spines to use. Since only the largest and most disciplined of the troopers can qualify for heavy-weapons duty, it adds to the cachet of the new unit. It also puts some of the hereditary nobility in a bind: they are the largest of the reptiles, in most cases, but using distance weapons is less honorable than is personal confrontation. In other words, do you really want other nobles to find out that your heir, or even the spare heir, is joining the heavy weapons detachment? (Military service is mandatory among the nobility.)

    1. Nice. I like the inventiveness of your world. The way you have used the spines introduces some interesting areas of potential tension.

      I could also see less developed and inferior reptiles using non spine-directed targeting – the classic peasant with the musket against the armoured knight. The knight has disgust for the peasant using such an undignified weapon, while the peasant just wants to level the playing field.

      I could see those noble artillery guys really wanting payback on the less developed ‘cheats’ and vice versa.

      Great setup.

      Chris McMahon


      1. The social aspects still need mapping out, since these are a small sub-group within both the home defense and extra-planetary forces. I do have a piece I’m working on where this comes up – the third son of a very high ranking noble decides that he wants to go into the heavy infantry, and father and mother are none too pleased. Since the home-defense commander needs father’s support or neutrality on a policy matter, things a bit touchy.

        And then there’s the problem of what happens if the troopers rise onto their hind legs to use their forefeet for something, or try to walk on hind-legs while wearing the ammo and battery panniers. Yes, their tails help some with stability, but if they tip over, the plating and padding makes it even harder to roll upright.

      1. Thanks! They sort of “growed” over time, and it’s been fun seeing how the culture develops and changes. Imagine pack predators in a feudal political system where fighting and combat remain central to many aspects of society and you have the foundation of Azdhag culture.

  3. I did a no-metal thing for one world. It was caused by the sort of “grey goo” that is an air borne, air dependent, nanite plague, (rust on steroids) the result of a “humane” weapon that just ate away everything that people depended on to live in space. People escaped to the planet and are now quarantined there, very strictly so, and have no more machines to even talk to people outside of the atmosphere.

    Weapons weren’t hard to do for the world, but tools seemed almost impossible. Hinges, latches, hammers, chisels. Sure, you can build out of stone, but how do you shape the stone? There are quarantined compounds within the quarantined planetary population, alchemist monks, with purification rituals to retard the plague and techniques to create some metal tools that never leave their compounds. (There are metals in the ground, where air can’t reach them.) But everyone else uses bone or ceramics, rock or glass, for weapons, but it’s not advanced technology ceramics. Some sea creatures have very hard, very sharp shells.

    There are wooden ships and over-sea trade, at least inter-continental between a number of settlements. I hadn’t given much thought to what exists where humans haven’t yet gone, but there are city-states and rivalries.

    No magic though. There’s a remnant of biological engineering version “grey goo” nanite plague that isn’t catchy except in *very* limited ways, which makes it not very plaguey I suppose, and it gives the people it doesn’t kill “super powers”, but it’s not magic. There is even has a dragon, who was transformed (who is in the long drawn out process of being transformed) by the biological plague due to eating the arm of a human who had it. (The other way to catch it is to carry a baby who’s got it, or be carried in the womb of a mother who’s got it.)

    In a lot of ways the world is sort of generic pre-industrial fantasy, except that it’s post-industrial science fiction with fortresses and horses and sailing ships.

    1. Hi, Synova. That sounds like a fascinating world. A great premise. You are right about tools. Although I think the ancient stone-age peoples used antler successfully to cut and fashion stone in quarries, and the Maya & Inca build everything without metal tools – they used these stone ‘pounders’ that were balls of hard stone – the catch was that none of their stonework had right-angled corners, all the massive blocks were carefully fitted together with slight curves. So there are workaround.

      Great world though – have you published anything in that universe yet?

      Chris McMahon


      1. This is one of my many “first 40 pages” novels. I do like it though, and I like the main character and her challenges very much. It’s actually got more twisty intrigue than most of my ideas. (Unfortunately, *all* of my novel ideas are “first 40 pages” novels.)

        I did do a “installment” short romance in the world on the harlequin forums a few years ago, all the way to the end. (This was a free-for-all, not any sort of endorsement, though they claimed to “own” any content on the board.) I “faked” myself into getting past my internal editor by writing it in present tense. The present tense bit ended up sort of silly, but it worked.

        (…) She smiles before replying and his heart catches. “Darkness ate my arm,” she says. “She was very sorry afterward to have tried eating a person rather than sticking to cows and goats. She was confused about what we brought with us, what was food and what was not.
        “Darkness,” she says when she notices he is confused, “is a banewing. If you should see her, don’t be alarmed. She hasn’t tried to eat a person since.”

        I don’t know if I even have the whole thing anywhere anymore. I only had a hard copy. And now I’m going to have to try to find it or it’s going to make me crazy!

  4. I hadn’t thought about the problems with a lack of metal. Chris, you and Synova have some great ideas. I love the mechanism of the greatscythe. Writing the fight scenes with it must be interesting, too.

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