Shadiversity Summarized: Fantasy Re-Armed

Shadiversity cannot get to the goddamn point. He shares this trait in common with Lindybeige, but unlike Lindy’s charming English accent, Shadiversity has the worst voice on YouTube. That isn’t to say that Shad’s content is bad, because there’s more to content than just the voice delivering it (if I only cared about the voice information was delivered in and not the information itself, I would listen exclusively to Morgan Freeman documentaries). This is to say that much of his most valuable content can be cut down from 10-15 minute videos to mere paragraphs. Sometimes a paragraph or less. Spoken aloud, it would be about an order of magnitude faster than the original Shad videos.

Partly because I don’t want to have to rewatch an entire 10-15 minute video whenever I need to reference this content for worldbuilding purposes, and partly because this is one of Shad’s weaker series’ (his videos on castles are much stronger) and that gives me something to write about, I’m going to write up those summaries and post them here.

Dwarves

Shad makes the assumption that dwarves are approximately as strong as humans despite their short size, which seems reasonable to me. This means dwarves have problems with reach in melee and also that they just cannot physically draw an arrow back as far on a bow because their arms don’t go that far back. Shad goes into various specific bow crafting techniques that dwarves might rely on to create a bow they can use effectively even given their size, but he’s missed the more significant point, which is that his proposed primary ranged weapon for dwarves, the crossbow, is hella expensive and only professional soldiers can afford them. A lot of dwarves are going to use bows because the town watch needs some kind of ranged weapon and cannot afford crossbows.

Due to the issue of reach, Shad suggests that polearms, and specifically halberds, would be ideal weapons for dwarves. I think he’s right about that, but that he misses one of the critical reasons why: You can’t outflank a pike formation when tunnel fighting.

On the other hand, this also brings up another situation dwarven soldiers will find themselves in commonly, which is a more cramped tunnel where a six or seven foot halberd (significantly taller than the dwarf carrying it) would be awkward to carry into battle and to fight with, with the head constantly clattering into the ceiling whenever it’s drawn upward for a slash, and even for pikes used exclusively for thrusting, the tip still has to be kept forward at all times because there’s no room to point it upwards. Shad doesn’t discuss this, but he does discuss taking polearms away from dwarves for no given reason at all and suggests that a shield and falchion would be good kit in their place. He goes on to talk about how dwarves can carry proportionately larger shields because their bodies are smaller but they have the same strength as a human, but humans can already carry scuta, so I’m not really seeing how dwarves benefit from the strength-to-size ratio in that regard except in that it takes less time to train a dwarven mushroom farmer into a professional soldier.

Elves

Shad spends an ungodly amount of time establishing that elves are agile, perceptive, and don’t generally suffer any particular drawback for that. Even when they are depicted, as in 3.X D&D, as more fragile, they aren’t depicted as any weaker, which makes basically no sense at all as it’s hard to be more vulnerable to sword wounds without being significantly more frail in general. Sword wounds don’t typically care how swole you are one way or another and will kill Mr. Universe with just about the same rapidity as they will Stephen Hawking and we aren’t talking about elves resisting poison or winning drinking contests, so the disparity between 3.X elven frailty and Lord of the Rings elven durability doesn’t matter. I’m rambling like Hell and still way more economic with my words than Shad. Come on, man, get it together.

Elves have a good reason to use bows, but it’s not the one that’s usually given. Nothing about being agile or fast makes you good at using a bow. Bows require strength to draw and hold steady and intelligence and perception to gauge the arc properly in order to shoot accurately at long distance. Nothing to do with being agile. There’s no reason DEX should contribute to archery. More over, once the archer has the strength, intelligence, and perception to use the bow effectively at its maximum range, being stronger, smarter, and most relevantly more perceptive doesn’t really help. Elves aren’t better archers than humans because both of them are jolly well capable of using a longbow at maximum range (with the proper training, anyway). In daylight, anyway. At night elven accuracy lets them continue to use the bow at maximum range while human archers would have their effective range drastically reduced because they can no longer see what they’re shooting at past, at best, a dozen yards or so.

Elves are also good at noticing enemies before enemies notice them, which is another place where the bow shines, particularly for lower-tier elven soldiers. While highly trained assassins can sneak up on unaware enemies to jump them in melee, the town watch of your local Lothlorien knock-off won’t have that training, but they do have a natural advantage in perception so as to detect foes sooner. If they’ve got a bow, they can capitalize on that immediately, rather than advancing on the enemy to fight in melee, with the enemy undoubtedly detecting them long before they’re close enough to engage. So, yes, it’s likely that a bow will be one of the more common weapons wielded by elves, and in particular their low-tier militias and guards are probably going to use them a lot more than humans will, just because these sub-professional units tend to be armed with whatever rather than being organized into specific archer, infantry, and cavalry units, the latter two of which aren’t going to be using longbows no matter how much elves like them.

In melee, Shad spends an awful lot of time trying to justify why elves would plausibly dual wield. He isn’t wrong, in that creatures with superhuman agility and coordination could dual wield in a way that humans could not, but who would bother learning how to do this? Soldiers need to fight in formation, no room for swinging two swords around there, and an elven skirmisher (whether a monster-hunting adventurer or a skirmisher attached to a larger army) is going to rely on the bow so heavily that why bother learning something as tricky as dual wielding when sword and shield works about as well and anyway if you’re a skirmisher and you’re in melee something has gone horribly wrong? Even if we accept that elves can reasonably learn to dual wield with more effectiveness than humans can achieve due to superior reflexes and coordination, it’s still faster and easier to learn how to wield one sword, and skirmishers aren’t going to be pouring a ton of effort into learning how to use their sidearms without accidentally slicing their own foot off.

I think what we’re seeing here is that Shad really wants different fantasy races to have unique armaments that they’re best suited for, but anything mostly humanoid is going to end up using more or less the same longbows, sword and board, and pike formations as actual humans did.

As an aside, Shad makes the point (perfectly reasonable) that dual wielding daggers is a dumb idea because swords have much better reach and that’s a huge advantage (especially when we’re talking about swords, rather than polearms, which at least have the compensating disadvantage that they’re very unwieldy). The weird thing is, the video footage he puts under this point is that of an elf using super speed to kill a bunch of orcs with a pair of daggers. When you’ve got goddamn superpowers, you can kill regular dudes with whatever weapon you want.

Orcs

We’ve got that dumb intro now, so that’s a thing. This is also where Shad’s lack of knowledge of the difference between field tactics and skirmishing is really starting to show. He suggests that because orcs are a warlike race, they’re more likely to wear armor and carry field weapons around town because a fight is much more likely to break out, and then suggests that they’d therefore carry a lot of polearms. Polearms are formation weapons. You can fight with them alone, and a halberdier is by no means helpless if you catch him without his unit, but he’s not optimized for skirmish combat. If the fight starts at conversation distance, the halberdier is at a disadvantage, and likewise if he’s got to deal with two attackers at once. Dealing with two attackers at once is never a good position to be in, and if you’re outnumbered two-to-one overall you should probably just run, but in a skirmish it’s possible for two enemies to gang up on you while two of your buddies gang up on a third enemy, just due to battlefield chaos. This is especially true if the skirmish evolved out of an argument and people weren’t positioning themselves for a fight until someone pulled a weapon. As such, something like a sword and shield that can be used to more easily fend off two opponents until an ally arrives to even the odds can be life-saving.

Plus, are orcs really so warlike that potentially lethal fights break out on a near-daily basis, to the point where orcs find it more convenient to carry large, cumbersome polearms around all the time? Orcs are strong, so it makes sense that they’d wear at least light armor pretty much all the time, because the extra weight wouldn’t bother them nearly as much as a human, but a halberd doesn’t play nice with doorways or low ceilings no matter how strong you are. If the orcs are getting into lethal fights so often that it’s worth the hassle of hauling a halberd around anyway, then how are they maintaining their population? There’s no way they’re making orc babies fast enough to keep up.

All this to say that while Shad claims that orcs probably won’t use swords because swords are sidearms and orcs are constantly ready for war, he’s wrong. Even assuming orcs are ready for a fight all the time, they’re still going to spend a lot of time in taverns or blacksmiths or other buildings (particularly if they work there), and will need a weapon that’s effective in relatively tight quarters. That’s gonna be a sword. Shad offers a warhammer as the preferred orc weapon, and that’s not a bad choice either, especially if orcs really are wearing armor all the time, because a warhammer can ignore quite a bit of armor, especially if you compare the cost of the warhammer to the cost of the armor that can provide even moderate resistance against it. Halberds are gonna be popular on the field (so will pikes), but halberds are always popular (along with pikes) because they’re great field weapons.

Shad’s more on point when talking about orc bows. The increased strength of the orcs means they can create bows with heavier draw weights and engage enemies from greater range. Shad talks about how orcs may even be able to penetrate plate armor with their bows, something which, contrary to popular belief, was ordinarily impossible (the late medieval period representing one of the few times when there was armor strong enough to make a heavy infantry unit that was nearly impervious to artillery). And, y’know, maybe, but so far as I know no one’s done any experiments with machines shooting inhumanly strong bows at plate cuirasses to find out how much stronger than an ordinary human you have to be to fire a bow that can penetrate plate. Orcs are stronger, but they aren’t giants or something else clearly powerful enough to get the job done. I also think Shad overstates the advantage of increased range. It’s a big deal, definitely, but as I mentioned in my worldbuilding article on military, the counter to archers is cavalry, specifically because they can thwart the kiting tactics Shad proposes in his video. Orcs can’t constantly back out of range of retaliation between volleys because enemy light or heavy cavalry move faster than the orcs do (of course, an orc infantry block could protect the archers, but then we’re right back to regular medieval tactics rather than kiting to inevitable victory). Increased orc bow range isn’t nothing, but it’s not the game changer Shad thinks it is, either. Still, orcs definitely make for the most lethal archers of the core five fantasy races (humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, and the orcs themselves).

Races of Short

Now we have an intro and an ad in front of the video. I’m pretty sure this is just an outgrowth of how Shad has absolutely no grasp of pacing and tosses in his merch pushing in front because he doesn’t understand that people want him to get to the goddamn point. This video covers halflings, gnomes, and goblins, all of whom are defined primarily by being shorter and weaker than other fantasy races. Side note: Gnomes have no identity at all. Exactly what they’re supposed to be culturally and to some extent even physically has changed with each edition and sometimes even within editions, to the point where it’s impossible to say what a gnome is even within the context of D&D, let alone within the broader fantasy millieu. For a bit it seemed like tinker gnomes might become the standard because of the push they got from Warcraft, but now everyone knows that WoW is poison and their gnomes failed to really catch on in the meantime.

Shad begins by addressing the obvious disadvantages in strength and reach that halflings are up against, which basically guarantees their defeat in open battle, so when halflings go to war they’ll want to do it as guerilla fighters. Like, really, how are halflings bad warriors? Let me count the ways:

-Halflings aren’t as weak as they look, because of the square-cube law. As a creature gets bigger, its strength goes up by a square, but its weight goes up by a cube, so the proportion of its strength dedicated to supporting its own weight increases and the amount leftover to carry things or punch people is proportionately less. Ten times as big doesn’t mean ten times as strong. Bigger is still stronger and smaller is still weaker, though, so while halflings can carry proportionately heavier armor than humans, the absolute thickness of their armor is still lower than what humans can wear, which makes it easier to penetrate. Halflings aren’t as easy to knock over as they might look, but they’re still easier than humans. And while halflings can carry polearms that are proportionately longer than what a human could, they still have less absolute reach than humans do. Halflings are bad infantry.

-Just like with infantry armor and polearms, halfling bows are going to be stronger than you might expect from their size, but still significantly weaker than humans, which means lighter armor can be effective protection against it and their range is worse. Halflings are bad archers.

-In order to effectively fight from a mount, you need a weapon long enough to reach people on the ground from that mount. If halflings go into battle riding full size horses, a proper set of reins should allow them to command the beast just as well as human cavalry, but their range will be extremely limited which will make it much harder to actually hit people who’ve broken out of formation and can be picked off of the side, and also makes it easier for archers wielding short swords or other sidearms to defend themselves against the cavalry. If they switch to smaller mounts (like the riding dog), they can now defend themselves effectively, but they’re riding something with shorter, slower legs than full size cavalry. The best halfling cavalry would probably be a team of two or three riding a horse like it’s a war elephant, with a handler directing the beast while one or more archers fire their bows on nearby enemies, but they still wont’ be as good as regular cavalry, especially not heavy cavalry. Halflings are bad cavaliers.

So guerilla tactics it is! Halflings are small, which makes them harder to see, and light, which makes them harder to hear and track, which means they’ve got some things going for them in the guerilla department. Shad recommends daggers for guerilla warfare, but that’s really only helpful for infiltrationists and assassins. Your standard guy ambushing supply caravans is going to want a bow, to capitalize on the ambush, and a sword, to serve as backup weapon if things get to melee. Probably also a shield, depending on how quiet it can be, and maybe some armor, but the cost:protection ratio on leather is pretty abysmal and everything else is pretty noisy. Halflings definitely want to concentrate numbers, overwhelm defenders, burn something valuable, and then run the Hell away before reinforcements arrive, but the “overwhelm defenders” bit still requires fighting (even if from ambush and with superior numbers), so daggers are still sub-optimal.

It’s also worth noting that halfling size means they eat significantly less, which means the same size wagon can supply more halflings, which gives them a logistics advantage. Halflings can drive oxen just as well as humans can despite the size difference, so they can bring wagons just as big. This numerical advantage is probably not going to outweigh how universally less competent they are, but it’s not nothing, and particularly, if halflings are part of a good guy coalition, there comes a point when dwarf and elf lands are exhausted and halflings are what you’ve got left, so you may as well go for it.

Centaurs

It would make sense to cover the four non-human races of the big five in this first post and then leave the others for later, but I’m adding in centaurs as well, because this is the point where things A) get interesting and B) Shad gets better at it. I think Shad’s earlier work is badly hindered by how he really wants these races to have iconic weapon sets, but the simple fact is that if you’re basically humanoid, the best weapons for you will be the exact same pike formations, longbows, and sword and board as everyone else uses. Especially in formation fighting, it basically comes down to stronger orcs being better at everything than everyone else, and weaker halflings being worse.

Centaurs is where we get into non-humanoid body types where the preferred weapon actually begins to be meaningfully different from what humans get into. So far as I can tell, Shad’s conclusions are more or less spot on, so I really am just summarizing here, rather than nitpicking like usual.

So how do you arm a centaur? As cavalry by default, centaurs are at a serious disadvantage in formation fighting and will be acting as either horse archers or light/heavy cavalry. For the latter, the lance is less useful than it would be for standard cavalry, because a centaur is physically attached to the source of its momentum. Unlike a person riding a horse, if the momentum of a lance charge is too great, a centaur will not be pushed back in their saddle and be able to cling to their mount by their stirrups (or just by holding on tight with their legs and praying if they’re pre-stirrup), they could suffer serious injury. As such, rather than something couched into their arm, a centaur’s probably going to want to use something gripped ordinarily, so that they can slide it back in their grip or even drop it entirely if there’s too much momentum. Ideal weapons for this include mainly things normally reserved for heavy infantry field weapons: Halberds and great swords, especially two-handed falchions designed specifically for slashing.

Of course, this means centaurs won’t be able to use a shield, but do they really benefit from a shield? Stabbing their horse bits is presumably pretty fatal for them, and they can’t effectively protect hardly any of that with a shield, so unlike a humanoid who can protect most of their body from just about any angle but straight behind with a shield, a centaur can really only defend against attacks from straight ahead (and that’s if they’ve got a massive shield big enough to reach far below their torso). Anyone who gets in on the sides, even a little, can hit their horse bits with impunity, because the centaur’s arms simply are not long enough to bring a shield that far around. So are shields really that beneficial when they protect such a narrow section of the centaur’s body?

For ranged battle, there’s no reason centaurs can’t use longbows, but it’s not clear if they’d be able to fire on the move. Unlike human riders, they cannot stand up in the stirrups to help steady the motion of the trot or gallop, so centaurs might have to come to a halt to take a shot. Also unlike human riders, though, centaurs do not need reigns, which means they can hold a two-handed weapon, move to a gallop, stop, take a shot, and start moving again without having drop the reigns and pull out their bow. Additionally, centaurs will be having all four feet planted firmly on the ground when firing, which means there’s no reason they can’t use a proper longbow rather than the relatively shorter range horseback bows. Mongol compound bows were advanced pieces of tech for their time and very well adapted to shooting from horseback, but they didn’t have the range or power of an English longbow. Centaurs being able to fire those would give them a decisive advantage over any mounted (i.e. mounted on a quadruped instead of being a quadruped themselves) archer.

The main drawback of the centaurs is that they have no answer to a heavy infantry formation. Because centaurs are so large, they can’t form densely packed formations and will lose badly in a direct melee, despite advantages of height and maneuverability that make them extremely potent in melee range skirmishing.

On a similar note concerning size, I’d expect centaur dwellings to be extremely large and spacious. The roof obviously needs an extra three feet or so of headspace, but due to the length of their body, I’d also expect most rooms to be a 30+ feet across, plus if they want a second story they can’t use stairs very easily and ladders are right out, so they need to build ramps. That’s all pretty space-intensive, which means I’d also expect centaurs to live more communally. They aren’t any wealthier than anybody else, but they need two or three times as much space per person to have usable rooms and buildings. As such, they’ll probably have two or three times as many people per building to help even things out. This gets harder to manage in cities where it’s already the norm to cram people into densely packed apartments, but centaurs are large and eat more which means cities will have lower population densities for the same amount of farmland already.

At the end of the video, Shad also talks about how centaurs would benefit from having a humanoid friend ride them around with a bow, because it’s basically like having an automated turret watching your back. This is also correct, and if centaurs are ever part of a cosmopolitan kingdom or nation there’s no reason they shouldn’t take advantage of this. That said, a lot of fantasy kingdoms are mostly mono-racial, i.e. the centaur kingdom probably has a minority population of elves or something, but few enough of them that they can’t stick an elf on each centaur soldier’s back. While an ideal centaur warrior is going to have a humanoid archer on his back, that’s not practical for most fantasy worlds in practice. Also, Shadiversity posits kidnapping humans to train them as janissaries to fight from centaur-back, claiming that the humans would fight for the centaurs to survive the battle even if they don’t like their centaur overlords. Humans in real life are alarmingly okay with being subjugated, so this isn’t completely unreasonable, but assuming a human actually does commit themselves to escape, it would be very easy for them to just shoot down the centaur they’re riding and scamper off, so I question the plausibility of this strategy for centaurs. Yes, it’s ridiculous that centaurs would be too prideful to be ridden because it’s not like a father carrying his toddler on his shoulders automatically feels like a beast of burden, but that doesn’t mean going the other way and having the humans be treated as animals would make any sense either.

 

Shadiversity has several other videos on the subject, which I’ll probably be getting around to reviewing…y’know…eventually. As of the current writing, all the other videos in the series are things like snake people, mermaids/men, giants, angels and demons for some reason (do they have a consistent morphology, like, at all? Certainly they don’t in D&D), and other things that, like centaurs, should hopefully be interesting for reasons other than Shad being wrong for half of his video, which is twice as long as it needs to be because he can’t get to the goddamn point already.

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