Suffer the Slings

Goliath bites the big one, courtesy of a kid with a sling.

A sling is essentially two strands of rope connected by a pocket. You place a stone or other projectile in the pocket, whip the contraption around, and let go of one end of rope, letting the bullet fly.

Despite the fact that slings require considerable training to use effectively, are quite lethal (just ask Goliath) and have extremely long range (about 400 meters, longer than the vaunted English longbow and only outranged by the very best composite bows), in fiction slings are generally perceived as being a weak weapon. They are usually given to kids, beginning adventurers, angry peasants, or idiot Mooks, and are very rarely treated as the lethal weapons they are.

When a sling is used in fiction, the slinger will always whirl it round and round several times before loosing the bullet. This is just for show— in reality, the more (and faster) it's swung, the less accurate the aim. No more than two rotations are usually required.

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  • Used by Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. They somehow manage to be effective against stormtroopers in full composite armor. There is also a famous scene where one of the Ewoks manages to knock himself out with it.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Esmeralda uses an improvised one to provide a distraction for Phoebus.
  • In Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla finds a forgotten sling and secretly practices with it until she is good enough to protect the tribe from a rampaging animal. The men of her tribe, one who broke a spear she had cursed as a child with a female's touch, aren't too happy and this is one of the reasons she is banished from the tribe during winter, while pregnant.

  • In Clan of the Cave Bear the Clan use slings for hunting small game - rabbits and such - but it's considered bush league stuff. "Real" hunters hunt in groups using spears to kill big game. A boy might use a sling, but once one has hunted using a spear he becomes a man. (Females can't use slings or spears though. Ayla has to get special dispensation from the old gods in order to be allowed to use one after she's already taught herself how and can wield it better than any male in the Clan, using a talisman that makes her a little bit male.)
  • Slings are a common (and deadly) weapon in Redwall. Otters in particular favour them, along with javelins, as they aren't damaged by water. Noteworthy in that they are not portrayed as a particularly weak or lower-class weapon; at least one Otter chieftain favors his sling.
  • Roger Zelazny's This Immortal aka And Call Me Conrad. The titular hero is forced to use a sling in a duel. Being unfamiliar with the weapon he has to practice all night before the duel the next day. By the time of the duel he's hit or miss, but due to his strength what he does hit gets destroyed. This example plays "multiple swings before release" straight.
  • David Drake uses slingstaffs in some of his ancient alternate histories, like the Belisarius Series, and the end books of The General series, where the action shifts to a different planet. They're much easier to learn than plain slings, so slingers can be trained instead of merely recruiting those who've used slings their whole lives. This averts the "multiple swings" trope. They're usually used to throw the primitive grenades that are being introduced ahistorically.
  • The Bible has David's famous defeat of Goliath with a sling. It also mentions what ELSE David has defeated with the sling: lions, wolves, bears, etc.
    • There are several other references to Israelite use of the sling as a weapon of war- for example the "mighty men" who came to David's aid in 1 Chronicles 12, who are described as being skilled in the use of slings alongside other weapons. This subverts the idea of slings being a weak weapons used by primitives- these guys were, it would seem, skilled warriors who were as badass as they came.
  • In Shannon Hale's River Secrets, this is Razo's preferred weapon.
  • Guido in M.Y.T.H Inc in Action discussed low-tech military ranged weapons. Slings were mentioned as the worst one in terms of training: unless you mobilize people already familiar with a weapon, sticking to crossbows is the only option.
  • The main characters in The Wheel of Time start out carrying slings. They never use them against anything bigger than a raven, even after they were told that slings are actually "real weapons".
  • In the Videssos Cycle by Harry Turtledove, the displaced Roman legion includes some slingers from Iberia. (A case of Shown Their Work - Iberians were indeed noted by the Romans for their skill with the sling, remembered in the name of the Balearics ('Isles of the Slingers')).
  • In the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher, at one point Tavi is cornered by woodcrafting assassins firing arrows. He takes one of them out with a sling to the head, scrambling his brain so bad that he continues to draw and nock the arrow before realizing he's dead and falling over. This is treated as a surprise, however, since most people dismiss a sling as a farmboy's weapon. note 
  • Wolfhound plays it dead straight. Two seasoned warriors are chased around an island by a bunch of sling-swinging cannibals.
  • In Warrior Woman, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a mighty warrior with a sword and shield faces off against a small man with a sling and dagger in the gladiatorial arena. The protagonist thinks it's a mismatch. She's right, although she misses her guess on who's going to win; the mighty warrior drops with a hole in his forehead.
  • In Time Scout, Corydon, the Greek Hoplite, favors a sling, to great effect.
  • In The Redemption of Althalus, a large numbers of shepards are recruited by a mercenary army due to their skill with slings. While the mercenaries were initially skeptical, when they learn one of them took down several warhorses at range, while they were being ridden, they change their tune.
  • In The Eagle Series, they are rightfully feared for the brutality of the injuries stones can cause on the soldiers. The story doesn't even shy away from telling you how the stones smash a soldier's face or destroys his leg.
  • In The White Company, during the big battle against the Spanish army near the end, the archer Johnston is almost instantly killed by a slinger. The Spanish slingers then proceed to rain hell down on the White Company and kill another twenty men in only minutes.

     Live Action TV  
  • The "Scott of the Sahara" sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus. Lieutenant Scott uses his underwear as an improvised sling to defeat a giant electric penguin.
  • Tested repeatedly in Deadliest Warrior - they never really seem to do very well.
    • It's not that they're bad, just not as good as some other long-range weapons
  • Ethan on Lost used one. It was not depicted as weak.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth a main character uses a sling (with correct form) in early episodes, but to little effect.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess had an episode about David and Goliath. What makes this one strange is that the writers apparently didn't believe (or thought the viewers wouldn't believe) that a sling was a lethal weapon in its own right, so they had Xena give some exposition about how giants have a weak spot in the middle of their forehead.
  • Averted in Game of Thrones, during an ambush, a soldier gets his head smashed by a slung rock.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth, William is hit in the head by a slung stone during an attack on Kingsbridge. It knocks him to the ground with a nasty bruise, which is enough to drive his men off, but does no lasting damage.
  • The French series Thierry la Fronde, about a young French medieval lord who fights the English invaders with a sling. He's basically the French equivalent of Robin Hood.


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     Tabletop Games  

  • Dungeons & Dragons has always considered slings to be a simple, ineffective weapon.
    • In Second Edition, slings do less damage and have a shorter range than longbows, though sling bullets have a longer range than shortbows. More classes can use slings than can use bows or crossbows, suggesting that they are more simple weapons to master. The sling staff does as much as a broadleaf bow arrow, but curiously has a much shorter range than a standard sling.
    • In Third Edition, slings are "Simple" weapons, so there stats are inherently inferior to Martial weapons, such as bows, and they are more available to less combat-trained characters classes. They do 1d4 damage in comparison to the 1d6 and 1d8 of short and longbows. They also have a lower critical multiplier and a shorter range.
  • Warhammer Fantasy features these for missile troops who are of lower rank than the average archer, like slaves or Halflings.
  • Slings in Mordheim have similar stats to short bows but with a special rule allowing them to be fired twice if the unit wielding it does not move in the same turn. A popular tactic for the Skaven warband is to arm a whole lot of cheap units with slings for a Zerg Rush since ranged attacks were a bit over-powered.
  • In GURPS the sling and staff sling are dangerous but inaccurate. They're also the only ranged (non-bow) weapons that rate as a Hard skill. The staff sling in particular is ridiculously powerful, able to outperform almost anything short of a revolver.
  • Exalted has these for its sneakier, less flamboyant Exalts. (Even though there are only about three of these.) The main benefits are that they are easy to hide and that they use the throwing skill but the range increment for bows - meaning that the Solar charm that triples attack distance suddenly goes from providing an extra few meters to an extra few hundred.
  • Ars Magica has slings that are more or less equivalent in efficacy to the standard bow (though not Longbow or Composite Bows). Specifically, accuracy and damage are slightly lower, but this is arguably nullified by the sling's superior range.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Any small "pinger" type that does not use a bow, magic, or the nearest goblin as a ranged weapon will probably use a sling. The aforementioned Goblins are common practitioners though hardly to the exclusion of humans.

     Video Games  
  • A Heroes of Might and Magic game had slings as the weapon for halflings.
  • Similarly, the Halfling Slingers in Master of Magic were among the most cost-efficient units. Subvering this trope, however, they are an **up**grade from Halfling Bowmen.
    • Not just cost-efficient, but potentially one of the most powerful ones in the game! Their high numbers make enchantments 33% more effective, combined with their innate halfling "Lucky" accuracy bonus results in devastating salvoes.
  • NetHack has slings, and sling skills. Lots of ammo around in the form of rocks and worthless glass. Too bad they're useless.
  • These are the primary ranged weapon for Celts in Nethergate. They're not as powerful as Roman javelins, but ammo's plentiful—you can pick up any rock off the ground and use it as a bullet.
  • Baldur's Gate, as above.
  • Slings and bullets are a ranged weapon available for use in Icewind Dale.
  • In Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, one of the early weapons in the game is a sling.
  • In Space Quest II, Roger has to improvise a sling with his jockstrap in order to knock out a security guard.
  • Used in Runescape as a new elementary ranged weapon. Subverted in that it is incredibly ineffective, and cannot be used in conjunction with ammo due to not requiring any.
  • In ADOM even regular slings are quite decent weapons, and one of the best artifact weapons is a sling.
  • In Rome: Total War, the player can recruit units of Slingers. They can't shoot over the heads of allied troops and are worse than arrows against armored enemies, but they are much cheaper and good against soft targets. That said, the mercenary Rhodian and Balearic Slingers have better range and damage rate than the basic archer units.
  • The War in Heaven, an Angels Versus Demons first-person Action Game featured a sling as part of the Angel's arsenal.
  • Dominions, has slingers as the cheapest, weakest ranged unit. The C'tissians have a more pumped up version with exploding poisonous bullets for ammo.
  • Available in Dungeon Crawl, where they are reasonable but somewhat niche starting ranged weapons (they do not cross train with any other skill except throwing), as their ammo seems to have less tendency to get lost or break on impact. It's not unknown for enchanted slings to turn up in early floors, which can help support players up until level 10.
  • Craftable in Cataclysm since turn one, as well as its ammunition. It stays useful until the very late game, thanks to its minimum size and the possibility of crafting metal bearings, which pack a lot more punch than pebbles.
  • Archers in Tales of Maj'Eyal can focus on slings rather than bows—and still be just as dangerous. This is because the main trade-off isn't damage, but rather swapping area-of-effect bow skills for crowd control/status hell sling skills.
    • In the 1.2 version, a new class, Skirmisher, is introduced. The Skirmisher uses a sling, a shield, and tons of mobility to stay away from enemies and deflect attacks. It also introduces some interesting new talents like Kill Shot, which does more damage the further it travels and passes through enemies...basically, a mage/archer killer.
  • Battle for Wesnoth has the Footpad unit, a Fragile Speedster armed with a sling and club. While the Footpad is notably weaker than other level 1 archer units, its upgrades to Outlaw and then Fugitive bring it up to par with the others while still having much better speed and evasion.
  • Batgirl's super move in Injustice: Gods Among Us is thus: she attaches a Batsling to her foe, rappels them up some hundred feet, drops them so they slam into the ground as she stabs her knife boots into their back. It's just as deadly as it sounds.
  • Rise of Nations has Balamob Slingers as unique units for the Maya civilization in earlier ages. Compared to the skirmishers they replace, they generally deal less damage, but are cheap to build, and move and attack very quickly.

     Western Animation  

  • Galaxy Trio episode "Versus Growliath". Meteor Man uses his belt as an improvised sling to hurl a shrinking gas cannister at the enlarged title opponent, bringing him down to size.
  • In ThunderCats (1985) Pumyra's Weapon of Choice was a sling.

     Real Life  

  • The ancient Greeks had the opposite misconception regarding slings; they believed that lead pellets could penetrate armour and even become super heated in the air (although it's certainly true. They liked it so much they invented and used Cestrosphendone(a sling-propelled dart) and Fustibalus (staff-sling). The Greeks would emboss taunting messages and holy symbols on mass produced bullets for the benefit of their targets.
  • Roman military auxiliaries would use slings with lead bullets which they would cast before a battle. Their usefulness should be readily apparent, seeing as they are harder to use than either bows or javelins, both of which were readily available in that era and no-one would take weak equipment into battle given better alternatives.
  • During pre-Roman times, Iberian men in general trained in the use of slings, beginning in their childhood; part of their standard-issue weaponry for battle was a set of three different-sized (!) slings. Also, according to some sources the Balearic archipelago (which consists of the islands of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza, plus some minor islands) takes its name from the supremely skilled slingers it produced: Ba-le-yaroh, Punic for "the ones with the office of throwing stones".
  • Slings still see occasional use in modern times to throw grenades, Molotov Cocktails and the like (as recently as the 2008 riots in Kenya), and of course their traditional role of protecting shepherds in remote locations. Apart from that they're mostly of interest to hobbyists and athletes.
  • The Aztecs used slings as one of the main ranged weapons of their military. According to CortÚs, the dents they left in his soldiers' armor were identical to those left by musket shots.
  • In Spain, a shepherd with a sling managed to hit the rotor of an helicopter. The pilot had to make an emergency landing, and it was featured in a number of Spanish newspaper articles such as these.
  • One period of civil war in French history was called la Fronde (the sling), in reference to the weapons used by the mobs.
  • Police in Great Britain were baffled by acts of vandalism in which car windows were put out apparently by a projectile, although no trace could be found in the debris of rocks, or perhaps bullets. Fortean Times indirectly solved this: it reported on a craze in Canada where slings were used to propel clear boiled sweets with some force against glass windows of all kinds. The small hard candy hit with all the force of a slung stone, and being clear material, its fragments would be indistinguishable from the gravelled debris that a broken car windscreen is designed to become.