29 August 2012

Weapon Behaviour

As I see it, there are five main attributes of melee weapons. They are:
  • Attack
    • How easy it is, generally speaking, to land a blow
  • Defense
    • How effective the weapon is at blocking or parrying
  • Damage
    • How devastating it is, generally speaking, to be struck by it
  • Vs. Armour (Penetration?)
    • Some weapons are better against armour than others
  • Hands
    • One-handed, two-handed, or variable
With that in mind, it is possible to make a matrix showing the major weapon types in relation to each other.

Weapon Attack Defense Damage Vs. Armour Hands
Dagger 0 0 1 1 1
Arming Sword 1 1 1 0 1
Long Sword 1 1 1 0/1 2
Axe/Mace 0 0 1 2 1
Spear 1 1 1 1 2
Poleaxe 1 1 2 2 2

Some notes on the weapons I'm looking at here:
  • A dagger is actually surprisingly dangerous to an armoured footman - in a grapple, it can be shoved through the eyeholes of the helmet, forced through the mail, the aventail (mail collar below the helmet) can be lifted and the dagger stabbed into the back of the neck...
  • An Arming Sword is the typical one-handed sword of the Middle Ages.
  • A Long Sword is a two-handed sword. It can be used much like an arming sword, but two-handed, or it can be used "half-sword", with one hand on the blade and one on the hilt, which delivers powerful thrusts which are useful against armour (slashing at an armour opponent does little). The 1 for armour penetration reflects using the weapon "half-sword".
  • I figure axes and maces are pretty much the same. Probably, in real life, an axe is a little more devastating to be hit with, but not enough to worry about, I don't think.
  • Spears are your basic spear - 6-8 feet long, 1 1/4 inch thick ash shaft, leaf blade on the tip, and short spike on the butt. Spears aren't just used for thrusting - a solid whack with the shaft can also be very effective.
  • The poleaxe was a favoured weapon for armoured footmen fighting armoured footmen, and it was a vicious weapon - 6 feet long square ash shaft, hammer or axe head on the front, spear tip on the top, hook on the back, spikes coming out the sides, and another spike at the butt. It can be used to punch through armour, trip, bludgeon, parry - it's pretty much a jack-of-all-trades. Most polearms would fall into either this category or the spear category.
I'm sure people more knowledgeable than I would have their own ideas about this chart, but I think it's a reasonable place to start from. It fairly accurately represents the historical roles of each major weapon type, and all medieval weapons could be slotted into one of the categories on the chart.

The spear is clearly a good choice, cheap and effective, and it was historically one of the most important weapons of the time. Poleaxes, maces, and axes are what you want if facing an armoured opponent. Swords are a prestige item, and primarily useful against unarmoured or lightly armoured opponents. This all sounds about right, and is modeled by the system.

Later, I'll look at translating these numbers into game terms.


  1. You could halfsword an arming sword, provided it is of the similar design as an longsword.

    1. I agree, and I have, but I've never seen any period sources detailing that.

      I think there are a few reasons for that.

      One, a one-handed weapon is typically used with a shield. If you have a shield in your hand/strapped to your arm, halfswording is not an option.

      Two, halfswording is a technique best done in armour, as you're putting your arms in a vulnerable position. By the time heavy armour became a thing (and therefore halfswording became a thing), the one-handed sword had largely been superseded by the longsword as a primary weapon on the battlefield.

      Three, the extra eight inches of blade makes a surprisingly big difference in how viable the technique is. Halfswording an arming sword feels good defensively but weak offensively, whereas a longsword feels good defensively and offensively (my opinion).

    2. I agree, however there is a sword and buckler play that starts at halfsword in Ringeck 54r to 55v, the sixth technique of the buckler.

      As an aside, I've been going through your blog to see what I might be able to use to apply to my BRP game, since I have all this practical experience with der Kunst des Fechten.

    3. Cool, thanks for the tip. I'm much less familiar with the German texts than I am with Fiore, Vadi, I.33, and Silver.

      I'll check that play out.