The Zombie Survival Manual — Part Three

ZombieSurvivalLogo We’ve come to the third section of our Zombie Survival Manual, where we discuss perhaps the most perfect medieval killing implements ever created. No, I’m not talking about rats with plague. I’m talking about axes and polearms. Countless medieval battles and skirmishes have been won with these implements, and if you find yourself in a zombie apocalypse, there’s not better tool to have in your hands (or their heads).


Axes and Polearms

ScourgeCover_New_250When we are armed and armored we remove the bar and yank the door open. Tristan holds the poleax high over his shoulder as I peer out into the hallway. I see Joseph, the reeve, shuffling toward us. The morning light reflects from his eyes and I see no whites. He snarls as he lumbers toward me. I back into the room and Tristan drives the spike of his poleax deep into Joseph’s skull. The reeve twitches, then topples awkwardly. Blood leaks from his shattered skull and pools swiftly across the floor.

We walk cautiously into the hallway. A woman –from the kitchen staff by the look of her apron – crouches by the open stairs feeding upon a man whom I can’t identify. She hisses, then stands and runs at us. Red boils pepper her face and neck. I hold my sword in two hands and swing sideways, opening her throat and spraying the hallway with blood. She tumbles to the ground. Her head bounces and rolls along the wooden floor until it comes to rest against a wall.

“You fool,” Tristan’s smile has returned. “Who’s going to cook now? You need to think things through more carefully.”

I peer over the carved wood railing, down to the foyer, and see blood smeared across the floor. Someone screams in the distance.

– From THE SCOURGE by Roberto Calas


Axe “body spray” meant spattering blood in the Middle Ages.

I’d like to start by pointing out here an important distinction brought up by Strongblade fan, George Massie. When I’m tapping away at my keyboard, imparting this vital information about the upcoming zombie apocalypse, I am speaking about well-built, tempered-steel items. Please refrain from using stainless steel swords or axes. If the words “Made in China” are stamped anywhere on the product, there is a good chance that it will be useless against the undead (although it might look really cool in your hands)(but remember, drooling and shuffling isn’t cool at all). By all means buy stainless steel to display proudly in your home. But you don’t want to be this guy when the hungry dead rise. Thanks for the reminder, George!

I may have alluded to the fact that a zombie apocalypse is very similar to war in the late Middle Ages. Combat against armored opponents was all about penetration power and speed (which reminds me of something my girlfriend once said, but that’s material for another post). Soldiers relied on weapons that could unleash tremendous amounts of force. They had to, because heavy armor stopped all but the most powerful of blows. Swords were a rarity on the battlefield. So what did they use? Well, four out of five warriors prefer the fresh, minty striking power of axes. And the fourth warrior preferred to run away.

Of all the axes and polearms on the medieval battlefield, there was probably none more effective than . . .



Most polaxes had hammers on the back, but that steel thorn would do just fine.

The Polaxe:
: Fast, powerful, light, versatile, capable of cutting or crushing.
Disadvantages: None.

Ever heard of Agincourt? A miraculous battle where heavily outnumbered English soldiers defeated a French army. Two weapons were responsible for the victory: The longbow and the polaxe. We’ll discuss the longbow next time. Because I want to focus on the finest killing weapon ever created. The polax is a the swiss-army-knife of combat. Zombies coming at you from the left? Use the axe blade to prune them back. Zombies on the right? The hammer-head will turn them to mulch. Zombies dead ahead? Ventilate them with the jutting spike on top. It’s killing in 3D! And the zombies don’t even need special glasses! Every move you make with a polaxe kills something. It’s death incarnate.

I would normally take a moment here to mention weaknesses, but there are none. The polaxe has great reach but can still be used at close range. It is durable and strong, but light enough for extended combat. Eric Schweighauser posted on our Facebook page that he would pick a poleax against the hungry dead, and I’m with him.

If you are at all serious about the zombie apocalypse (and face it, who isn’t these days?) then go out and get yourself one of these. No, get three. Or four. Because when money is no longer valid, the new currency will be polaxes. Yeah. They’re that good.

Other useful weapons?


The Tomahawk: A real coup in the zombie apocalypse.

The Tomahawk:
: Fast, ranged, decent penetration power, light.
Disadvantages: Slow to remove after a strike

Okay, not exactly medieval, but certainly historical. Micheal Koselke mentioned these on our Facebook page, and he’s absolutely right. These are brilliant. In terms of all-around efficiency, it’s hard to beat the tomahawk axe. Again, let’s get our definition straight: I’m not talking about the stone-headed weapons created by Native Americans. I’m talking about the steel-head versions crafted by the English. These metal versions were basically modified naval boarding-axes that settlers traded to the Native Americans. Which is odd, since some of those traded axes were no doubt used to kill settlers. But I digress.

The tomahawk was used by Native Americans and settlers alike. They were an invaluable tool for skinning, gutting and for personal defense. They can be thrown with a lethal accuracy, and can penetrate a skull on a solid hit. And some of them have smoking pipes on the side opposite the axe blade. How awesome is that? Take down a few zombies, then toke up with your bedraggled band of bloody and traumatized survivors.

As I mentioned above, tomahawks can also be thrown, which is way-high on the coolness factor. But unless you have a large supply of axes, the last thing you want to do is throw them away.

Disadvantages? Tomahawks don’t have the penetration power of polaxes. To get through a skull, you need to swing hard. And those of you who passed the bar know that the laws of physics aren’t kind to narrow weapons striking a skull. The blade becomes wedged, and removing a wedged blade takes precious seconds. And there are no time-outs in a zombie apocalypse.


Halberds: The perfect weapons. Until they’re not.

: Excellent combat range, versatility, great penetration power.
Disadvantages: Relatively slow, Loses effectiveness at very close range

And when I say halberd, I mean all of the long-hafted pole weapons except the poleax. That includes but is not limited to: The Bardiche, bill, fauchard, ranseur, war scythe, glaive, guisarme, spontoon, pike, and sharpened pole vaulting poles. Each of these weapons has its own particular strengths and weaknesses (except the pole vaulting pole, which has only weaknesses and is a spectacularly bad idea). But all of these weapons share the same basic characteristics: a long pole with a killing doo-hickey on one end. This doo-hickey can be an axe head, a spike, a hook, or all of the above. Unlike the poleax, these polearms are always very long. They were used to keep enemy armies at a distance, mostly so that gunners could fire into their ranks with impunity. But poelarms were also lethal in their own right. Swinging a long staff generates a lot of momentum. In fact, if we calculate the strength of a halberd swing, using Rotational Kinetic Energy (KER = .5Iω^2 and I = mr^2), and we add Angular Momentum (L = Iω) and throw in Centripetal Acceleration (Ac = ω^2r or v^2/r) just for the hell of it, we come up with the following equation: Halberd + Swinging Really Hard = Horrible+Torturous+Death.

Polearms are also quite good for forcibly removing horsemen from the saddle, but unless you get the vary rare “Mounted Zombie Apocalypse” that particular advantage won’t be an advantage at all.

There are other problems with these types of pole weapons. Polearms were typically used in ranks. That means, to be fully effective, everyone in your survivor party should have one, and you should keep riflemen behind you to thin out the herd. But a single halberdier can be flanked easily. And when you get flanked by zombies, your shiny halberd will be about as effective as that sharpened pole vaulting stick.


And, like always, I have data to back up my confident analysis. Feast your eyes on the Axe and Polearm Effectiveness Chart:


See you next week when we talk about ranged weapons!

The Zombie Survival Manual — Part One

ZombieSurvivalLogoSo you’re hanging out at the mall food court with your best friend—talking about football or space probes landing on comets, or maybe about the merits of The Evil Dead 2 versus Army of Darkness—when you hear a scream. Not a Jerry-Springer, I’m-gonna-whoop-your-ass-in-front-of-Abercrombie-and-Fitch scream, but an H-P-Lovecraft, Dear-God-his-entrails-are-coming-out-of-his-ear sort of blood-curling howl. You shove another handful of fries into your mouth and turn to look, then stop chewing.

One of the fries falls from your open mouth and lands on the red plastic tray.

It has begun.

The hungry dead have risen, and you’re fresh out of fries.

(Editorial aside: Please note my use of “the hungry dead,” here, not “the walking dead.” Because it’s not the walking that causes problems. Sure, it would be unsettling—and possibly violate several health codes—if the dead wandered like stray cattle across our cities. But really, what would be the danger? The occasional cost of quarter-panel repairs for your car. Higher dry-cleaning bills in crowded pedestrian areas. Maybe more slip and fall lawsuits in supermarkets. The real danger is the whole eating-your-cerebral-cortex thing.)

At Strongblade, we have always seen ourselves as both providers of fine historical/fantasy reproductions, and educators of the public. And there can be no finer act of education than protecting all of you from . . . The Zombie Apocalypse.

In the upcoming series, we will discuss the most efficient ways to survive an outbreak of the hungry dead.

Some of you know that I wrote a bestselling trilogy about a zombie-like plague in 14th century England. The Scourge is about a knight trying to fight his way through this post-apocalyptic medieval landscape to reach his wife. Where relevant, I will include snippets from the book. Because knights. And zombies (called ‘plaguers’ in my books).

In this first part of the series, I want to talk about the various weapons that can be used to provide undead relief. I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each weapon, and provide a bit of historical, martial and literary insight into each one. Starting with weapon one: The sword.

Let it begin.


Advantages: Multiple edges, decent range, coolness factor

Disadvantages: Difficulty removing from bodies quickly, Awkwardness at close range, poor at penetrating skull.


NostrumCover900x600Tristan stands and straps his helmet on. “More of those things, Edward.”
I stand slowly, stoop and catch my breath.
“What’s wrong, old man?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I reply. “That creature hit my breastplate hard. Just need to catch my breath.”
He stares at me, the great helm hiding his expression.“There are only three,” he says. “I’ll take them. You get the rest of the walnuts.”
I shake my head and stand straight. “You want all the glory.”
I hold my sword in the long guard and take a deep breath.
The demons hurl themselves at us.
I hit the cobbled road again.
The impact blackens my world for an instant and fills the back of my nose with the taste of fire. I struggle against the creature, but I have so little strength. My sword is in its stomach, but it does not seem to care. One of the demon’s eyes is as large as a doorknob. The monster gouges at my visor, its twisted teeth clack against the bevor at my neck. It gibbers as it searches for openings in my armor. Desperate groans and growls. Hands batter my helmet, make my ears ring. I push at its chest. A thin black tongue thrusts out from its neck in a bloody spray. Not a tongue. The tip of Tristan’s sword. I shove the demon’s head to one side hard. Tristan pulls the blade back and hacks two-handed at the neck. Once, twice, and the third cleaves the head from the body. Blood spurts as the misshapen head tumbles to the cobblestones. The arms continue to rake at me for three or four heartbeats before the demon realizes it is dead.
“Excellent strategy,” Tristan says. “Letting it get on top of you so that I could kill it easily.”
“Shut your mouth, you baboon,” I say. He helps me up.
“I’m glad we shared the glory, Edward.”
— From THE SCOURGE:NOSTRUM by Roberto Calas

 In my historical fantasy trilogy, THE SCOURGE, the main characters tend to use swords when fighting the zombie-like demons that have overwhelmed their country. The characters are knights, so this is appropriate. The protagonist, Sir Edward Dallingridge, hacks his way through waves of undead while trying to reach his wife (who is a hundred miles away). In reality, the European medieval sword—while an excellent choice against lightly armored troops or unarmored opponent—is a is a difficult weapon to use against writhing hordes of undead.

sba-warspike1_lSwords are designed, primarily, to slash. Zombies are designed to not give a crap about slashes. See our problem? In most zombie mythos, penetrating the head is the only way to kill them. Sure, a powerful slash can cleave a head, but when you are swarmed by the undead, who has time for powerful slashes? And even if you had the time, you encounter the age-old and highly technical problem of sword-stuckery. A blade that penetrates the skull will remain lodged there until dislodged by an equal or greater force.

Don’t get me wrong. In the hands of a master, swords can be as good a weapon as any for fighting the hungry dead—especially small groups of them. Swords actually have a lot of good traits going for them. Well-made, well-sharpened European swords can shear off parts of a skull, so as not to get stuck. Swords have multiple, razor-sharp cutting edges, a good three-foot length to keep opponents at bay, and you get instant street cred just for showing up with one. There is nothing that will make you look cooler in a zombie apocalypse than strapping a medieval sword to your belt. So if you’re trying to be the alpha in your survivors’ group, then a sword may just be the ticket.

But wait . . . there are dozens of swords available. How can I write one post about all of them? Aren’t I generalizing to a ridiculous degree?

Yes and no. A Japanese katana might be a little more effective against zombies. Katanas are quick and curved, which makes it hard to get them trapped in skulls. But the same general principals apply. Swords are slashing weapons. Zombies laugh at slashing weapons. Until you slice the top of their skull off, kick their twitching body, and shout, “Who’s laughing now, lurchy? Who’s laughing now?”

Okay. So maybe it’s worth looking at the various types of swords and their various strengths and weaknesses in a zombie apocalypse. I have added a chart below, complete with a handy cutout line, so you can keep it in your wallet when the hungry dead come to snack. The overall rating is calculated using a point system for each of the categories. The higher the rating, the more effective against the hungry dead.


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 So, the Roman gladius has it. Lethal penetration from the V-tip. Easy to use in close quarters, and blazingly fast. Killing barbarian hordes turns out to be remarkably similar to killing zombie herds. Those Romans were way ahead of their time.

Check back in a few days for the next installment, where we look at hammers, maces and flails!