Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Basic Weapon List

All right! So now I come to the end of my series (yesterday's post was really the last "concept" post) detailing my thoughts on the weapons that should be included in a basic fantasy adventure game like the one I'm currently working on. That was the real point of these posts (in case it wasn't clear)...this blog is serving as my "design notes," so that interested persons can see my thought process (and so that I don't have to include a bunch of sidebars in the game as to "why the designer is doing this"...don't you hate needless padding?).

However, before I post my final list, I wanted to post a few addendum thoughts regarding missile weapons: in an indoor or subterranean environment (like a "dungeon") there's really not much call for long range weapons. Not only are you working with fairly short distances before your arrow hits a wall, not only are you losing the ability to "arc" missiles (due to a capped ceiling), not only are the quarters cramped in general with monsters who (in the main) are trying to get into melee...not only that, but in the darkness you're probably going to be out-shooting your light sources.

So for my game, I don't need a lot of shooting weapons. Certainly not the seven found on the battlefields of Chainmail (short bow, horse bow, longbow, composite bow, light crossbow, heavy crossbow, arquebus). Heck, I don't even need all four to six of the ones in older "basic" editions of D&D. Give me bow, crossbow, and rock (thrown or "slung") and I'm good. And no, I'm not going to worry too much about ranges.

Having got that out of the way, here's the weapon list for my basic heartbreaker:

Ye Old Armory
- Battle Axe*
- Hand Axe (t)
- Dagger (t)
- One-Handed Sword
- Long Sword*
- Bow
- Crossbow
- Sling
- Club*
- Mace/Hammer
- Spear*(t)
- Two-Handed Weapon

* indicates weapon may be used with 1 or 2 hands
(t) indicates weapon may be thrown 

Weapon Notes
  • Weapons wielded with one hand (except daggers/clubs) have a maximum damage of 6
  • Weapons wielded with two hands (except clubs) have a maximum damage of 8
  • All axes add +1 to maximum damage
  • All swords add +1 to attack rolls
  • Crossbows, Maces, Hammers, and Two-Handed Weapons add +2 to attack rolls versus heavy armor (though the latter loses this bonus in tight quarters).
  • Daggers, Clubs, and Slings subtract 2 from attack rolls AND maximum possible damage
  • Crossbows require a full (10 second) round of combat to reload
Okay,  that should just about do it. The "two-handed weapon" entry includes all pole arms, zwiehanders, giant mauls, etc. The exact type of two-handed weapon doesn't matter as they are all...from the standpoint of game mechanics...effectively the same weapon.

Any questions? Comments? Additional thing I need to consider? Or should I just start working on my post about "wandering monsters?"
: )

Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting Variable Weapon Damage

Let's see...where was I? Oh, yeah...basic weapons.

[I suppose I should extend a congrats to the St. Louis Skaven this week...those tricksy, tricksy rats. Congrats. I was smart enough to only have a couple Fullers on hand this weekend so as not to get too tossed. Ugh...]

Taking a look at the Moldvay list, I find that I want to talk about variable weapon damage. Back in 2009, while working on my B/X Companion, I thought it would be a great idea to vary weapon damage by character class instead of by weapon (an option I included in the book), in order to allow PCs of any flavor to use whatever gear best suited their personal taste. Over 18 months later, after many actual games of awesome B/X play I came to the conclusion that I really preferred straight, Rules As Written, D6 damage for ALL weapons (with minor bonuses for two-handed weapons). I wrote why here, and have been using some variation of "standard D6 damage" ever since.

However, with some evolving ideas I have regarding the nature of hit points, I'm starting to reconsider my stance. Yes, it's easy (for me) to roll D6s when it comes to damage...but then, I've been working on getting rid of damage rolls, anyway. With that in mind, does a six point range of damage make sense?

So we come to that wonderful unit of measure, the hit die, and what it represents. Simply put it is a measure of attacking power, equal to one human scale soldier.

The ashcan that started it all.
There are no "hit dice" in Chainmail; at least, the explicit term is not used. The number of dice rolled for attack (and the target number needed to "kill") depends on what type of troop attacking and the type of troop being attacked. Hit dice, as explained in the second book of OD&D (Monsters & Magic) is described in terms of the default combat system (Chainmail, remember?) so that an ogre (with 4+1 HD) would roll 4 times, attacking the same as 4 men, and requiring the equivalent of 4 wounds (four successful attack rolls) to kill. The +1 gives the ogre a +1 on one of these attack rolls and +1 to the number of "hits" (i.e. HPs) possessed.

Again, these attack dice are not as straightforward as they might appear, as they depend on the type of troop being attacked to figure their relative value. Chainmail is explicit that an ogre fights as "heavy foot." With 4 HD, these attack dice look like the following against various defenders:

vs. Light Foot: roll 4d6, any 5+ kills.
vs. Heavy Foot: roll 4d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Armored Foot; Light Horse: roll 2d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Medium/Heavy Horse: roll d6, any 6 kills.

[remember, the ogre receives a +1 bonus on one die roll, so (for example) really only needs to roll a 5+ against a medium or heavy horseman]

Using OD&D's alternative combat system (the D20 system in place with every edition since, and which is the base for D20 in general), hit dice transforms to a probability of inflicting damage within one round of combat, and a measure of vitality (HPs) for a creature, each HD being equivalent to a single fighting man...the latter being made clear with the advent of Supplement I (Greyhawk) when both fighters and monsters were awarded D8 hit points per HD (and non-martial adventurers/humans being awarded fewer).

Here in Greyhawk we see the first "variable damage by weapon" chart, which is generally adapted in Moldvay. The only differences found (at least where the weapons on the two lists match) are the pole arm whose D8 damage in OD&D increases to D10 damage in B/X (matching the missing "halberd" damage type), and the spear which, in OD&D, has 3 different damage ranges depending on how it is used. Both sword and battle axe are given D8 damage...though note that a battle axe does not carry the "two-handed only" restriction found in B/X.

Just for review, here's how the variable damage types break down (in B/X, which contains a better "dungeoneering weapon list"):

D4 damage: torch, dagger, sling stone ("rock"), club ("stick")
D6 damage: arrow/quarrel, hand axe, mace/hammer, spear, "short sword"
D8 damage: battle axe, "normal sword"
D10 damage: pole arm, two-handed sword

The more I stare at this list, the more sense it starts to make for me...but only with a changing idea of what hit points are.

See, before I was looking at the D6 damage thing in light of the idea that all normal humans have D4 hit points...a range of 1 to 4. But this isn't entirely accurate. A human being in B/X (or OD&D + supplements) has a HP range of 1 to 8 (with a single hit die); however, most humans encountered aren't "worthies" sporting more than four. Allow me to break it down (a little different from my D6 post):

  • 1 hit point: an individual on death's door. Any damage will slay this person. True invalids, babies, people without the will or strength to stand on their own. Such individuals may take no action in combat, save to crawl around on the floor.
  • 2 hit points: small children or the elderly. People with diminished capacity, suffering from severe illness, or wounds. Such an individual might survive a weapon wound...if they're very lucky. Such individuals suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls in combat.
  • 3 hit points: a "deficient" person...someone who's out of shape, lacks energy/vitality or a "will to live," but who is otherwise capable of normal (if weak) human action.
  • 4 hit points: a normal person in full health.
  • 5 hit points: a normal person in full health but one who is exceedingly healthy/strong in body OR incredibly strong-willed and spirited (able to fight through pain/illness, etc.).
  • 6 hit points: a normal person in full health who is both exceedingly strong in body AND in willpower/spirit.

To this range of 1 through 6 use the following adjustment:

  • If a character has had formal fight training (professional soldiers, noblemen, etc.) add +2 hit points.

This gives us the full range of 1 to 8.

This is what I'm currently using, by the way, to calculate HPs for creatures of all shapes and sizes (and by reverse applying these principles, for finding out what kind of monster is encountered based on the average number of HPs per HD the thing has). A normal "orc soldier" would have 6 hit points, for example...an exceptionally strong or cunning one would have 7, while a leader type with both size and an iron will would have the full 8 hit points. A soldier "past his prime" (perhaps retired based on injury in battle) would still have 5 hit points (3 HP category + 2) while even an elderly chap (if he can carry a sword) would still have 4 hit points.

12 to 14 HPs
This is per hit die, you understand. The aged gnoll warrior would have 8 HPs (2 HD at four each) compared to average adult warrior, who'd have 12 (6 per die). If they were hardened veterans, they'd have 14 apiece, while elite types (the chief's bodyguards and such) would have 16. A gnoll child would be pretty tough (4 hit points), but would not fight as well as a human warrior (-2 penalty to attack rolls, reducing Base Attack Bonus to +0).

OKAY...having given you an overview of this "HD reinterpretation," let's look at the weapons and their damage maximums.

First, change the term "short sword" for one-handed sword, and "normal sword" for longsword. Then consider the following:

  1. Remember that damage range is based on "roll over" attack number and so die type (in this case) equals "maximum rollover" (i.e. maximum damage).
  2. Battle-axes and longswords (both with a maximum length of c. 4') can be used one or two-handed.
  3. When used two-handed (and only when used two-handed) these weapons bump their maximum damage from 6 to 8.
  4. True "two-handed" weapons (zwiehanders and pole arms) have additional penalties when used within the close confines of a dungeon environment (even in a wide chamber, you're often dealing with a low ceiling, precluding the full range of motion...poleaxes and two-handed swords inflict their greatest damage when being swung downwards on an opponent). Personally, I would probably model this with a -2 penalty to both attack and maximum damage...but in an open space/chamber, these weapons could prove devastating).

Here we see the damage range of all weapons is enough to slay an adult human at least 50% of the time with anything bigger than a dagger, stick, or rock (these "lesser" weapons can still inflict death on a healthy adult person with a perfect strike of "4 over"). A perfect blow with a one-handed weapon will slay even a trained warrior ("6 over") and a perfect strike from a two-handed weapon will slay even an elite fighting man ("8 over").

The "Big Boys" (two-handed swords and pole arms) have the potential to deliver significant "over-damage," but rather than giving them a ten point damage range, this might be better modeled by having them decrease the effectiveness of armor by 2 (a +2 bonus to attack individuals wearing armor) and leaving their maximum damage at 8. Remember, wearing armor not only makes it more difficult for your opponent to inflict damage but reduces your opponent's ability to inflict significant damage (because the "roll over" target is higher). A +2 bonus to attack armor reduces armor's effectiveness, and increases the chance of doing good (i.e. "killing") damage.

Okay, that's about it for this series...though there might be a slight addendum tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

No Such Thing As "Normal" (Part 2)

[continued from here]

I know I said I wouldn't be examining the PHB in this series but guess what: I lied. I wanted to look at the dimensions of a short sword to figure out what exactly the hell it is. Because there's really no such thing as a "short sword" proper. There are swords that are shorter in length than others...but as swords have a variation of...oh, say, 24" (blade length) up to the monstrous two-hander...well, suffice is to say there's no such thing as "normal," either.

While I'm not a historian, I am something of a sword fanatic. I've studied swords, I own lots of books on swords, I like looking at swords in museums (and have done so all over the world), I fenced and read about/studied fencing for a number of years, I own real (non-replica) swords. Swords are my bag, baby. And for a geeky number-crunching, categorizing, pigeon-holin' dude like myself, swords are maddening, because for the most part they don't fall into hard and fast categories.

The easiest way to look at swords is to see them for what they properly are: the weaponized evolution of knife (and cutting/slicing) technology. Nothing beats a spear for poking, and its hard to argue against an axe for chopping. But the sword is a versatile weapon that can be used to harm folks in a variety of ways, including chopping, poking, slashing, and bashing. They're quick and maneuverable, and yet they're long enough to keep shorter, faster weapons at a good distance. Even though various "types" of swords are specialized for different types of combat (rapiers versus gladius versus broadsword versus saber) in general a sword is still a sword and two swords of different types are still more similar to each other (in how they are wielded) than they are to other weapons. A scimitar and an estoc are quite different, but they are much closer to each other than either is to a pike or mace.

[you can quibble but...well, you can quibble; leave it at that]

Hence, we find in Chainmail only a single entry called "sword" that falls into that intermediate scale between maces/picks and the flail weapons. The two-hander, used and wielded much like a big, edgy pole arm is a few more rungs up the ladder (between halberd and lance), but there's no "short sword, long sword, broad sword, bastard sword, blah-blah-blah." Everything not a dagger or a zwiehander is a sword. Period.

So what the hell is a "short sword?" Because we need to answer that before we get to the even more strange "normal sword."

The PHB has all their weights in GP and their way off real world weights (due to representing "bulk" not just poundage, I suppose), so we can't really rely on that. Length may be a better clue: the short sword is listed as "circa two feet," and with no other info to go on, one assumes this is overall weapon length (like the 6' two-hander), making the short sword only slightly longer than the dagger.  Considering 4-5" for a one-handed hilt, that leaves us room for a 19" blade, smaller than even the ancient Greek xiphos or (most) examples of the Roman gladius. It's barely bigger than a seax, which is really considered a knife, not a sword.

Here's something I was told by a guy who is a historian, as well as a real-life blacksmith, who does quite a bit of sword-work for Ren-fairs: in the olden days, if you were using a sword to fight, it would probably break...and sooner the more you used it. Battle is as hard on equipment (if not harder) than it is on people, and people heal. What's more, swords were fairly expensive weapons, so when your sword broke, you didn't just throw it away. Instead you took it to a smith who'd file it down for you into a shorter blade. This process would repeat when the blade would (inevitably) break again, and then you'd have the thing filed down into a largish knife called a dagger (or dirk, though that's a Scottish term). Could the "short sword" entry on the extensive AD&D weapon list be a stab (pardon the pun) at trying to be comprehensive in including these broken/mended weapons? Perhaps. Though it's maybe just as likely that Gygax wanted a weapon that would be the standard "broadsword equivalent" for shorties like gnomes and halflings.

In fact, if the latter is the case then Moldvay's normal swords becomes a bit easier to swallow: "short swords" are for halflings (and perhaps dwarves) while "normal swords" are for normal-sized folks (like humans and elves). Now, that actually makes some sense (and would also explain why a dwarf would choose to use a battle axe, as such a weapon would become their best melee damage option with regard to variable weapon damage).

But I still dislike the term "normal sword." Not only because there's no such thing as a "normal" sword but because, if you really want to categorize blades, there IS an easy way one could (somewhat) distinguish between them. And that way is to divide them into longswords and one-handed (short) swords, in addition to the two-hander group.

The longsword is "long" (the largest a bit more than 4' in total length, though that's not all blade), but what distinguishes the longsword is a hilt (with a grip of around 7-9") designed to allow two-handed use...despite the weapon being light enough to wield one-handed. This two-handed use was a crucial development (as was a forte...the base of the blade...that allowed easy gripping), in order to make the weapon more effective against the stronger armor being fielded on the battlefield. Along with more typical "anti-armor" weapons (the pick, the mace, etc.) the longsword became the knightly weapon of the late middle ages. It's ability to be used one or two handed (the former when riding or with a shield) just added to the versatility of the already versatile sword, and it would be a mainstay until armor started falling into disuse altogether (with the rise of gunpowder) and one-handed, dueling-style weapons became more the norm.

But D&D is a game of dudes (and dudettes) in armor, right? We don't need basket-hilted blades when we're wearing plate armor.

Longsword and arming sword...not that "short."
With the rise of the longsword, the old one-handed blades...like the Viking broadsword or knightly arming sword...are (were?) sometimes called "shortswords" but that's only in comparison to a longsword. The blade length of an arming sword (a typical "sidearm" in the age of the knight) is 30"...nearly a foot longer than the Gygaxian short sword of the PHB. 11" is a lot of distance...that will poke out the back of a person with a good thrust, and gives a lot longer slicing edge to "draw" in a slash. Despite lacking the armor piercing qualities of a longsword, these one-handed blades are plenty good weapons; you just need to be a bit more careful with your distance (because you're dealing with an opponent at closer range).

OKAY, so...in a pseudo-medieval, non-gunpowder, non-battlefield setting that works combat in the abstract (i.e. is not as detailed as the system found in The Riddle of Steel RPG), I would definitely want to limit weapons to three basic categories: the one-handed sword, the one/two-handed (long) sword, and the 6' long monster that can only be used with two-hands. For me, everything from typical "earthly" fantasy...even across different real world sword cultures...can fall into one of these three categories, regardless of length, curve, edge, tang, guard, whatever. All that stuff is just extraneous "dressing" or "color" for how the weapon works in the game.

If you really want to model specific types of swords and how they maneuver differently, I'd strongly recommend picking up a copy of TROS instead.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No Such Thing As "Normal" (Part 1)

Much as I'd like to get sidetracked by a couple different subjects (specifically, "Changing Gamer Culture" and "Wandering Monsters"), I'm going to get back to my series on basic (D&D) weapons because...well, because I said I was going to, darn it! Jeez. One thing at a time, JB!

Now I wrote before that, up through Holmes Basic (i.e. prior to 1st edition AD&D) the weapons available to a D&D player character were the exact ones found in the Man-to-Man combat section of Chainmail. That wasn't entirely accurate, however, as Supplement I (Greyhawk) added a couple additions to the "standard starting thirteen," specifically the military pick and dwarves hammer which, considering my thoughts on hammers, makes perfect sense. The military pick and war hammer are pretty much the same weapon and as I describe them, fall into the same basic section as the mace. Gygax echoes this sentiment by keeping the same 12 step order (as from Chainmail) and lumping both these weapons in the same slot as the Mace (before Sword, after Hand Axe); he likewise gives them the same damage range.

I had not bothered to review Greyhawk prior to my first couple posts in this series, and so I was happily surprised to find Gygax had considered some of the same things I had and was not quite the blithering idiot he's been made out to be be. Here we find some ideas about what "space required" (from the PHB) actually means: for a flail, halberd, or two-handed sword the weapon require "not less  than 6' of space on each side of the wielder" to use the weapon effectively (meaning such a weapon cannot be effectively used in a 10' wide corridor). Morning stars (the one-handed flail) require 5' on either side and battle axes require 4'. And check this kicker...pole arms and pikes?
"These weapons are not usable in dungeons as a general rule due to length."
Ha! Makes you wonder why gnolls (who are "subterranean 85% of the time," per the Monster Manual) have 35% of their soldiers carrying pole arms.

[okay, maybe Gary was a little idiotic at times]


The Moldvay version of Basic cleans up the weapons list, reducing it to "dungeon-worthy" gear and re-organizing it not by length (as such doesn't matter to the basic rules) but by weapon type. Specifically by five weapon types: axes, bows, daggers, swords, and "other." The bows section (which I realize I haven't to this point discussed in the series) is cut down to the short, long, and cross- varieties, leaving out the heavy crossbow and composite bow found in earlier editions. Axes and daggers remain the same weapons found earlier (though with the addition of the "silver dagger," its first mention in any version of D&D). "Other" lumps in the mace, hammer, pole arm, and spear, as well as two new weapons: the club and the sling. The cleric never had it so good.

[actually, the sling was introduced with the 1E PHB. However, I'd contend that part of Moldvay's objective here was to provide a number of options for all class types...hence the silver dagger (for magic-users with too much gold in the bank) and a plethora of blunt (cleric) options]

Flails and morning stars were dropped from the list; likewise halberds and pikes (unless they were subsumed into "pole arms" and "spears"). It's in the sword category however that we find what may be my one (main) gripe about the Moldvay's list:

Short Sword
Sword (normal)
Two-Handed Sword

"This is a really big sword."
The two-handed sword, what the Germans call a zweihander (hey, zwei is German for "two!"), has been around since Chainmail and has been a mainstay of D&D editions until 3rd edition when it was replaced by something called a "greatsword" which, as far as I can tell is a term first used by Michael Moorcock in his Elric books (at least the term "greatsword" is found as in the Stormbringer RPG as early as the 1st edition, 1981), though it is the literal translation of claymore, the two-handed weapon of Scottish highland fame. For swords, two-handers are heavy (5-7 pounds), long (5'-6'+), and carried like a pole arm...over the shoulder and without scabbard. Aside from various movies featuring guys in kilts, Verhoeven's 1985 film Flesh and Blood has an excellent depiction of a typical zwiehander in the hands of a Landsknecht merc (played by a young Rutget Hauer, ladies!).

I've got no problem with the two-hander as an adventurer's weapon...so long as one accounts for the pole arm-like space requirements needed to wield the thing. It's the other entries on Moldvay's sword list that I dislike.

But this post is getting pretty long, so I'm going to have to break it up into two parts...sorry, folks.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Patreon Fever Dreams

Fast Paraguayan Fun Fact: beware of any medication (prescription or otherwise) that you buy in this country, as they tend to "double up" on normal FDA style dosages. As it is, I took a half dose of their Sudafed type drug, and almost immediately started to experience a host of sweaty, feverish side effects plus increased heart-rate shortness of breath, etc. The last couple days have been rough, considering this has just been a head cold, and not my annual October bout with bronchitis.

ANYway, perhaps due to the medically induced fever, I've been giving serious thought to doing the Patreon thang, and monetizing the blog...something I've never really considered in the past. I never wanted to stuff this blog with advertisements, and I was never so hard up as to throw a "Donate" button on the blog...I always figured that people who wanted to support my "work" (such as it is) would simply buy the publications that I occasionally put up for sale. And folks have...and that's awesome.

But ya' know what? The last couple-three years with the birth of my children, it's been mui difficile to find the time to blog, write, work full time, AND take care of my family responsibilities. Being down in Paraguay (and thus NOT working full-time) has allowed me a little more free time to blog/write (at least, once I got the older child into half-day daycare), but it's tough to justify the time I spend when it's mostly for fun. We all need hobbies (and creative outlets) but part of being an adult is making sure  those are properly prioritized with one's other duties.

So...Patreon. For those who don't know about it, it's an on-line method of old school patronage...you pledge support for artist/creators, and then pay them something when they actually make something (like a blog post). It's a cool idea; several of the bloggers I follow are using Patreon (not necessarily for their blogs...Tim Shorts for example has a Patreon page for his micro-adventures). The more people that pledge a creator, the more money the creator receives for his/her work, the more incentive to create work. People can also pledge support at different levels, often with "special bonus incentives." Game designer and artist Anna Kreider gives free advance PDF copies of all games and publications she writes to patrons of the $20 level.

But $20 per blog post is a little steep for my bank account. For my own hack level of writing, I was thinking something like a nickel. I mean, if I had a nickel for every blog post I've written I'd have...um...close to $75. On the other hand, if I had a nickel for every page view, I'd have more than $38,000. That's a lot of nickels.

Anyway, it's just something I'm considering. It would mean a lot of futzing around learning new web sites and rigging things up with the blog...which I hate to do. Even if I do decide to get on-board with Patreon, people don't have to pledge anything...you can read the blog just like normal. And, no, I wouldn't be charging my patrons for little, cheap-o posts like yesterday's "I'm sick" announcement.

[Patreon also allows you to set a maximum monthly amount you want to pay if you're worried about prolific creators]

Okay, that's enough of that. I'm still sick, but I'm getting better (I even ate some food this morning). Yak at you later.
Coming soon?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sick as a Dog

Will try to get back to the series tomorrow. Sorry.
: (

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flails and Hammers

Sweet medicine.
Thank goodness for beer...specifically Fullers Wild River...and the love of one's children. Between these things, I can take a Seahawks home loss to Tony Romo and the dark elves. At least if I'm in Paraguay...if I'd actually been in Seattle (or at the game), I tremble at the thought.

But after a couple-three liters of Fullers and taking care of my sick son, I was able to postpone my numb ache...at least till 3:30am when I woke up with a slight rage on. Listening to the analysis of the game on my internet radio this morning (and not drinking beer) that rage is back a bit. But I'm not going to spend this post in needless hammering of my favorite team. I've got hammers to hammer.

We're going to start with flails, though.

It pains me to say this (well, a little), because one of my All-Time Favorite movie is the 1952 film Ivanhoe. Not only is Elizabeth Taylor on display at her most gorgeous (and I'm sure those of the proper persuasion can say the same about Robert Taylor), but the judicial battle scene between Wilfred of Ivanhoe and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert has got to be my favorite fight scene on celluloid. At least, my favorite that doesn't involve a lightsaber.

[really, I'm trying to think of another one, and I've got nothing]

Our hero Wilfred is armed with a battle axe, but Sir Brian goes into the fight using "mace-and-chain" ...a one-handed flail sometimes referred to as a "morning star" ...and proceeds to put on a clinic with the thing. He still gets beat (he's the bad guy, after all), but most of the (scripted, film) fight is fairly one-sided. And it's neat to watch.

Other than this fight, and the Nazgul flail of Jackson's (non-faithful) adaptation of the Pelennor Fields scene in Return o the King, I really haven't seen an example of one-handed flail use depicted, like, ever. Even in medieval wood-cuts and tapestries, you'll see depictions of the two-handed, adapted farm implement (often in the hands of dudes that look like peasant levies or even "rabble"), but no depictions of the one handed, spike-ball-on-chain weapon. It existed, clearly (there are pieces in museums around the world)...but outside of gaming (video games, RPGs) and the (very occasional) Hollywood flick, you don't see the weapon in action. Makes you wonder how prevalent it really was.

"Ridiculous" too strong a word?
[just by the way, I can write a whole post on the (fictional) battle of Pelennor Fields...and probably will...just not right now]

As I've written before, I'm not a historian...I mean, no more than a guy can be with a laptop and internet access. Living in Paraguay, it's not like I have access to English language books on medieval warfare...hell, I don't even have access to Spanish language books on the subject (Paraguayan subjects of interest in the main would appear to be sex and soccer...not necessarily in that order...and things associated with those interests, like dance clubs and fireworks, seven nights a week).

But, look...even if the one-handed flail was a common or semi-common weapon of the mounted knight, even if the two-handed flail was a common weapon of peasant levies in medieval Europe...even if this was the real deal, these are battlefield weapons. They are weapons that need a lot of room/space to use. Not just to use them at their most effective range (you can't choke up on a chain weapon the way you can half-sword a long blade), but because you don't want to injure your buddies while whipping this thing 'round and 'round. This is NOT a weapon you want to take into the cramped confines of a dungeon, and its no wonder Moldvay left it off the equipment list (the first edition of D&D that did). As was discussed earlier, these are weapons that were "grandfathered in" to OD&D and Holmes Basic from their listing in Chainmail. But Chainmail is a game for mass medieval combat, battlefield combat, with some additional rules for sieges and list combat (duels, jousting) when such arms might have been employed to good effect. In the kindest way possible, what kind of person thinks it's a good idea to take such a weapon into a 10' wide corridor?

So, much as I dig on the flail concept, I've axed 'em from my new heartbreaker.


Here's the deal. Unless you're the Mighty Thor, you don't throw a war hammer. A war hammer is a specialized weapon of war, designed specifically to overcome armor. Like the mace, they don't have to actually penetrate armor to inflict damage, transmitting pain through armor via impact. Unlike the mace, they can't be wielded indiscriminately (you really have to hit with the correct portion of the head to get the maximum effect, whereas a mace has the same contact surface from all angles), but it transmits more force than the mace because of this concentration of power. In game terms, the ease of use plus amount of impact balances between the two weapons (mace and hammer) to the point where they are the same weapon from a (game) mechanical standpoint.

And neither one is made for throwing. Yes, there is a sporting event called the "hammer throw;" it is one of those ridiculous strong-man type games invented by the Scots where you sling a cannonball attached to a chain (see "caber throwing" for tossing trees after you're out of cannon shot). It has no relation to the war hammer.

In Chainmail, there are only three weapons that can be thrown: the axe, spear, and javelin (though I find no stats for the latter weapon). The spear has been a throwing weapon since antiquity, the hand axe...well, in certain Nordic traditions it's been around for a few hundred years, too, depending on which History Channel show you're watching. These weapons are presumably the only ones meant to be thrown in OD&D (since I can't find any "ranges" for missile weapons in my LBBs, I imagine the designers meant players to use Chainmail for ranges, even when using the Alternative Combat System). By Holmes Basic, this has been expanded to include thrown daggers (a staple of sword & sorcery literature), and these three weapons- daggers, hand axes, and spears - are the only thrown weapons listed as missiles.

[carries through to Moldvay Basic as well]

The idea of a thrown hammer is confined to magical weapons, and here we see the inspiration is clearly Thor and his hammer Mjolnir. Magic war hammers in OD&D "can be hurled in the same manner as axes" (there are specific ranges given for throwing magic axes), and here also we see the advent of the "dwarf thrower" hammer (is that supposed to be a pun?). Are there magic hammers in Chainmail? In the section on Magic Weapons we have only this line:
"Enscorcelled arms are of two kinds, enchanted arrows and magical swords, although Odin's spear and Thor's hammer are properly in the general category."
Gungnir and Mjolnir are thus the models for non-sword weapons, and its interesting that other than magic swords, the only magic weapons that can reach +3 enchantment (in OD&D and B/X) are the spear and the war hammer...especially considering that the war hammer isn't even on the Basic Weapons list until Moldvay!

Anhoo, no more. Cool as it is to model your character after Thor, war hammers and picks aren't throwing weapons, and I'm tired of this particular brand of crazy. War hammers are strictly melee weapons, and no different (mechanically speaking) from maces.

Hammer throw or flail attack? You decide!