28 June 2013

Weapon Types, or Why Exhaustive Weapons Charts Are Unnecessary

A comment by JDJarvis brought to mind that I've never talked about why I use the weapons I use on my charts and examples. There are two main reasons.

Firstly, I'm most interested in the 14th century and early 15th century. Call it 1325-1425. The weapons I list are the most common weapons of that era - the dagger, the arming sword, the longsword, the mace, the axe, the spear, and the poleaxe.

Secondly, I intended this list to be broadly applicable, despite its brevity. I believe the user of the system should be able to easily extrapolate new weapons, as with these few weapons, I've covered all the archetypes of melee weapons:
  • small (dagger)
    • less than 18" or so in size
  • balanced one-handed (arming sword)
    • balance point within 4" of hand
    • nimble, defensive
  • unbalanced one-handed (mace, axe)
    • balance point around middle of weapon or further from grip
    • good against armour
    • less nimble, less defensive
  • balanced two-handed (longsword, spear)
    • balance point near the hands at one end OR
    • balance point near middle of weapon
    • strong offense and defense
  • unbalanced two-handed (poleaxe)
    • balance point closer to "head" of weapon
    • good against armour
    • strong offense and defense
As far as I know, all melee weapons can be slotted into one of these categories. JDJarvis asked about shortswords (presumably of the Roman variety), warhammers, and cutlasses.

I would put the Roman shortsword into the "small" category (some might argue for it being in the "balanced one-handed" category, but that category implies more defensiveness than a shortsword provides), the warhammer clearly is unbalanced one-handed, and the cutlass clearly balanced one-handed.

Halberd? Unbalanced two-handed. Tomahawk? Unbalanced one-handed. Club? Unbalanced one-handed. Rapier? Balanced one-handed. Scimitar? Balanced one-handed. Falchion? Balanced one-handed.

When I see the weapons lists in many RPGs, lists that often take up whole pages, I shake my head. Do we really need to mechanically differentiate between a cutlass, a scimitar, a falchion, and an arming sword? Aren't they all pretty much bladed weapons, about 3' long, with a balance point about 4" from the grip? Isn't just one example sufficient? I feel the huge charts of weapons clutter up the book, and confuse new players.

Perhaps a compromise in a finished product would be to list the few weapons I have, briefly explain the rationale behind the categories, and provide a simple (but fairly exhaustive) list in an appendix of how all other medieval(ish) weapons fit into the system.


  1. What no Bohemian-ransuerlette-earspoons, no Glaive-guisarme-cussinarts, no bec_dehalford-morrisons?
    There is an odd current of weapon fetishism in RPGs but we also had a realworld where people didn't settle on just a handful of weapons.
    A narrow and studied focus is excellent and certainly gives room to base any expansions upon that base.

  2. I think you're definitely on the right track here, in every respect. Ideally, for me at least, a weapon list would be smallish as you say; each weapon would have its related stats, and then directly with the weapon would be a brief explanation of its strengths, weaknesses and usage in combat, so people not familiar with rpgs and/or historical weapon use, could at a glance base choices on just the descriptions combined with the prices.

  3. What about the lack of a point on the cutlass? Doesn't that make it a particularly different beast, not just in terms of relative effectiveness against unarmored and armored opponents, but also general fighting styles?

    Your last several posts have left me strongly questioning the usual categorization of weapons for spellcasters. where do you stand on the magician class in melee?

    1. "What about the lack of a point on the cutlass?"

      Unless you mean something other than a cutlass by cutlass, I'm not sure why you say it doesn't have a point...

      Here is a decent replica of a generic cutlass:


      I have never seen a cutlass that doesn't have a point, and I'm not sure why someone would make one. It would be strictly inferior to a cutlass with a point...

      Scimitars, sabres, and falchions all have points, too. In fact, I'm not aware of a sword type that doesn't have a point. Probably the katana would come closest, but it definitely still has a point.

      "not just in terms of relative effectiveness against unarmored and armored opponents, but also general fighting styles?"

      Fighting styles are abstracted into the to-hit roll - presumably trained people use more developed fighting styles.

      In terms of effectiveness against armour, yes, curved swords are going to be a little worse. I'm willing to not worry about that for the sake of simplicity - I don't think the difference in anti-armour potential is as great between a scimitar and an arming sword is as great as the difference between an arming sword and an axe.

      I could be wrong. If you know of some evidence to the contrary, I would gladly stand corrected.

      " where do you stand on the magician class in melee?"

      The short answer is I'm in favour of it. Magicians don't get weapon proficiencies, though, so they would be best off with weapons like the axe or dagger that don't suffer from them (if you're not proficient, your attack/defense bonus from weapon choice is capped at 2). You can use a sword or poleaxe, it just won't provide the defensive benefit it does to a fighter.

  4. Eventually someone will ask about broadswords with and without points. I believe the notion was from GURPS and a misinterpertation on quality of weapons and how some weapons were made for practice. The only broadswords withoutpoints I've ever seen were sparring weapons and some chinese "broadswords" which are not identical to the european varieties. Sorry to mention it here but I figured it was on point. Considering the pointless cutlass question.

    1. Like I said, you'd have to be an idiot to make a sword without a point - it's just strictly worse that a sword with a point.

      I am also unaware of any broadswords without a point, but again, broadswords are a little out of period for me (being a 16th-19th century weapon).

      Chinese sabres (dao) have points, as do chinese straight swords (jian). Jian aren't pointed like later longswords (i.e. with a triangular blade), but rather like Viking-age one-handed swords (i.e. right at the tip).

      I'm not aware of any chinese sword without a point, do you have a link?

    2. I have no link (on my smartphone right now). I've seen kin dao curved up so much at the tip there is no effective point. I knew a lady who trained in double chinese broadswords as her weapon of choice in martial arts and she had a wooden set and met set that were extremely turned up in the front and a set with a more pronounced thrusting point. There's every chance the curved up metal ones are meant to have been strictly training arms but I have seen them many times and they do turn up on image searches.
      As a side note she could make mincemeat of me except when I had a shield then she was surprisingly vulnerable as paired weapon forms I've seen don't seem to let a combatant have a safe mid fighting stance/distance against sword and shield.

    3. A few Indian swords, like the kora, have no point, but they are the exception. Heavily curved swords are less effective for thrusting but most have a point. Usually blunt-tipped swords were for executions or ritual sacrifice.
      Oddballs like the urumi coundn't thrust either but I'm note sure that counts as sword so much as a whip.

  5. A headsman's sword generally lacks a point, however it more a tool of execution than of war.