Thursday, August 31, 2017

Gygax on Slings

Earlier this year, I had a post inspired by some scholarly research that said, perhaps counter-intuitively, that slings were at least as powerful a missile weapon as bows, and perhaps moreso -- although the amount of training required for slings was far more extensive and difficult than that needed for later types. I just realized that, like many other topics, Gygax was far out ahead of this one, with a two-page article on exactly that subject in the last Strategic Review, Vol. II, No. 2 (April 1976). He writes:
With great practice the slinger could achieve respectable accuracy — perhaps as excellent as that performed by a well-trained bowman. So on the counts of range and effectiveness the sling was at least the equal to the ancient bow (and just as equal to the medieval bow too), but it was somewhat slower in its rate of fire. Perhaps the telling factor regarding the sling was usage. While it was known by most peoples, few really specialized in its use. Because, like the bow, it required constant training and practice to use effectively, certain peoples constantly supplied most of the slingers to ancient armies — notably the Rhodians and Balaerics. As so many more peoples used the bow, it is natural that the latter would be more commonly found. Also, while it is possible to train troops to the use of the bow so as to make them at least passable archers within a reasonable period of time, the sling (as do the longbow and composite horsebow) requires familiarity and training from youth. Perhaps the disadvantages of slower rate of fire, fewer users, and long training for accuracy eventually caused the sling to be completely displaced by the bow in the Middle Ages, but it certainly wasn’t due to that weapon’s ineffectiveness against the armor of that period. Had slingers been available during the medieval period their ability to employ the shield, their ability to function in wet weather, and the relative ease of procuring or manufacturing missiles (as opposed to arrows or quarrels) would have made them popular contingents until plate armor came into fashion again in the Fourteenth Century. It is worth noting that the Spaniards who encountered the sling in America found this Incan weapon but little inferior to their own arquebuses, that it could hurl a missile which would kill a horse with a single blow, and these slung stones could shatter a sword at 30 yards.
In short, he agrees with all of our recent scholarship except on the issue of slings also possibly being as fast or faster in fire rate than bows (which is reflected in his AD&D rule that gives slings half the rate of bows). He even includes the following illustration, with the caption, "ASSYRIAN SLINGERS, swinging their slings parallel to their bodies, stand behind the archers in this drawing based on a relief from Nineveh showing one of the campaigns of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C) Their place in battle suggests that they outranged archers.":




17 comments:

  1. I'd be interested in getting an overview of the comparative physics between a sling and a bow, just to satisfy my curiosity.

    I mean, they're both force enhancers for muscle driven projectiles, but does rapidly spinning and then releasing generate more thrust than pulling back a bowstring under tension? What is the comparison between energy loaded into the device vs. its return?

    I mean, I get physics on a basic, junior high level, but is there some principle in operation here?

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    1. it's a common misconception that slings generate their power by whirling them about before loosing a stone. proper technique requires only one or two rotations to seat the stone, while generating power and loosing the stone is done with one, smooth motion. the sling becomes essentially an extention of the arm, and this extra length gives the throw its power.

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    2. Using simple physics it's just Force=Mass*Acceleration. In this case, acceleration will be the speed at which the projectile hit the target.

      Which makes think... Slings are hard to improve (I think) but bows were improved multiple times in history... Maybe there is no sling +1 or better but there can be bows +1 or better.

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    3. Ah! Okay, I understand! It's not the spinning, it's the sling extending the "lever" of the throwing arm. Similar, I think, to how an atlatl increases throw strength for spears.

      Whereas with a bow, the way I've always understood it is the "pull" of the bow loads muscle energy into a "spring" which propels the projectile when released. (Laying aside the aerodynamics of the arrow after it's fired.)

      Thanks for clarifying it for me. :)

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    4. The single rotation needed for the power follows the same principle as the atlatl, which can punch a javelin through a steel plate (& presumably a mammoth).

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  2. Baseball pitchers use their body to send baseballs 90 mph and higher toward the batter with great accuracy. Someone who practices with a sling should be able to do at least that well, and probably much better. 120, 130 mph?

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    1. Good lower bound, I think... my guess is that since the slings bullets are so much smaller than a baseball, their reception of like energy would make them a lot faster?

      Text here is claiming somewhere between 60 m/s and 100 m/s, which on average would be around 180 mph:

      http://www.dcr.net/~stickmak/JOHT/JOHT59Faster.html

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  3. Update: went and did some slinging today. with a short (3') sling, using golf balls, i was reaching about 50-70 yards on average, with decent accuracy on windage (even with an intermittent breeze). consistent elevation was harder but after an hour i was doing reasonably well. tomorrow i will test to see how quickly i can throw, how quickly i can throw accurately and try to film some attempts.

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    1. That's awesome! Thanks for trying and reporting that experiment! :-D

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    2. Didn't have enough light to film or aim by, but tried for speed today. Six, 1 minute rounds of throwing golf balls as quickly as possible. Results: 7,6,6,6,5,8. I am a US army Veteran of about average stats, and I had a bucket full of golf balls at my feet.

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    3. That's great. Exactly in line with my house rules of 6 rounds/minute and getting 1 sling or arrow shot per round. Thanks so much!

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  4. The two famous places for slingers were islands that I imagine are low and rocky without many trees. So on the mainland where trees were more plentiful everyone used bows.

    I wouldn't take the slingers being behind the archers in the picture as evidence of longer range either. There are lots of other reasons they could be there.

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    1. I like that point about the islands with a dearth of trees.

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    2. If you think about it, a cave or dungeon is pretty much tree free as well...

      I could see subterranean races like kobolds and goblins developing slinging to a high art, to the point of doing stuff like ricocheting stones around corners and such.

      Slings would be a pretty handy weapon in the underground. Ammo is plentiful, and there's no twang of a bowstring to tip the enemy off that a missed shot was anything but natural background sounds.

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    3. That is a really handy thing to consider for next time I'm using ranged attackers underground (or in barren areas). Thanks!

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