Thursday, February 4, 2016

Just To Be Mean

After careful consideration, I'm adding a few weapon restrictions to my B/X game:

Spears may only be thrown by fighters and elves.
Axes/hammers may only be thrown by fighters, dwarves, and elves.
Javelins may only be thrown by fighters, dwarves, elves, and halflings.
Daggers may only be thrown by fighters, dwarves, elves, halflings, and thieves.

Is that it? Did I leave out any B/X throwing weapons? I think I got 'em all, yeah?

Throwing a weapon with an intention to injure/kill isn't easy...certainly not as easy as throwing a rock or a baseball. Trying to hit a target that's aware of the danger (e.g. in a combat setting) isn't like simply "going for distance" with a javelin throw. Like many things, it requires specific training and a lot of practice.

My loving wife was kind enough to gift me with a set of throwing knives a few years back (she's at least somewhat tolerant of my weirdness)...special blades designed specifically for target throwing. They aren't fighting knives...they've no guard and they're balanced for throwing. They certainly look nothing like medieval daggers. But with some instruction and a bit of practice, one can get them to stick in a target with proper technique. Most of the time.

So long as the target's not moving. Or covered in armor. Or trying to kill you with its own weapons.

I understand and realize that fantasy adventure games like D&D take a lot of creative license...they err on the side of the cinematic, or pulp literature that inspired them. And that's cool because that's what we want to play: cinematic/literary heroes taking part in pulpy adventures. It's why one blow from an owl bear doesn't (usually) disembowel your fighter, or render the cleric unconscious and concussed. It's why your sword talks to you and fireballs fly from the bearded geezers finger-tips.

However, let's put things in a LITTLE bit of context. In real life combat, one would be hesitant to throw a dagger (or any weapon) at an opponent. You leave yourself unarmed (or down one weapon) and you may be arming your enemy. Plus, it's hard to do...hard enough to be fairly unreliable, certainly a tactic of last resort unless you're talking massed pilum throwers of the Roman army or something.

But in a heroic fantasy game that features single combat and small scale battles, we can be forgiven a certain degree of creative license. Hell, a certain degree is to be expected. Even so, that "certain degree" is never so much as to allow pasty academics of occult lore to turn in Danny Trejo like performances. Sorry.

Not a wizard. more magic-users with bandoliers of throwing knives. Not in my games, not as a matter of course...perhaps if they spend a "feat" or two (or whatever equivalent I use) to acquire the proper training. And maybe not even then. Too frigging ridiculous.

Now consider THAT and then tell me: do you thing the 1st level magic-user might need something more than a single spell to go with that pointy thing in the scabbard?

No more knife-throwing wizards. I'm done with it.


  1. Yes, I do think 1st level magic-users could use a little more love...somewhere between where B/X leaves them and the "all you can eat cantrips" philosophy of the current and immediately previous edition. I thought Kevin Crawford had an interesting idea a while back that involved potentially being fatigued/knocked unconscious by repeated spellcasting. (But I'm also a big fan of risk/reward in magic systems)

  2. Dagger throwing MU are the staple of early era D&D, I know I have played a ton. But you are right, it makes little sense they would learn the difficult art of knife throwing but not the much easier crossbow.

    Having played low level 1e and B/X MU it can be rather boring in combat. Also it never made sense why the party would give an even split of loot to a MU who maybe casts sleep once an adventure.

    I would be fine playing a MU with low combat options but good utility options. Comprhend languages, speak with animal, light, ect.

    1. @ 7bastard:

      Dagger throwing by magic-users is a gamist reaction to the rules as presented. Period, end of story...I sincerely doubt that "dagger throwing MUs" is what the designers had in mind when they wrote the class was limited to a dagger as armament. There is no dagger throwing in Chainmail (only spear and hand axe), no dagger throwing in 0E that I could find (axe, hammer, and spear ranges for throwing are given in the magic item section), nor in Supplement I (Greyhawk). Holmes Basic is the first place I find a "hurled dagger" lumped in with spear and axe.

  3. I don't think unlimited cantrips are necessarily bad, but I do think that unlimited cantrips that do damage make the wizard feel a little odd.

    I think it's reasonable to give Mages proficiency in the crossbow. (light crossbow rather than heavy if your system distinguishes.)

    Maybe consider some cantrips of limited utility? Like, instead of a magic dart that does damage, maybe a magical dart that simply unbalances a foe? Like, if it hits the enemy takes a -1 penalty to armor. Maybe a spell that grants the wizard the ability to start fires instantly as if from a mundane item (like instant flint and steel. Not fireballs). Maybe give them some sort of mind-trick or wizardly stare that gives a small bonus to reaction rolls? You could have a fledgling wizard only know one of these things that they can do all the time, or even just multiple times per day.

    1. @ Matt:

      Personally, I'm inclined to removing ALL magic-user "weapon proficiencies." The only reason I can think for them to NOT use, say, a club/mace or crossbow is a taboo/stricture of some kind.

      This could be linked to the "gods of magic" (consider the Dragon Lance setting...magic-users are only allowed to use daggers in respect for Huma and his lance), it could be part of their magical order/lodge's requirements, it could be a product of Man's Law (the local government requires all magicians to identify themselves by shunning weapons and wearing pointy hats...shades of Nazi Germany), or it could be that a mage's abilities are due (in part) to their conviction in their own abilities...and carrying weapons/armor robs them of that conviction/belief in their own power.

      It COULD be just a matter of training...remember there's a difference between using a crossbow (or any weapon) in mortal combat and doing target practice. But then why should they even be able to use daggers when knife-fighting is about as "down-and-dirty" as combat gets?

      My cantrip post will be up today.
      : )

    2. In my experience the shallow advancement of a magic user's attack bonus means that they will soon be eschewing weapons just for being useless. I've not seen many high level wizards still use their daggers, staves, or what have you.

      Honestly, the idea that a wizard isn't trained in any weapons doesn't quite jive with my idea of adventurers as people who kill things and take their stuff. I'd say a wizard without weapon proficiencies either needs a bit more spell power, or that you need to run him in a different style of game. Like, a weaponless level 1 wizard with 1 spell per day would still be super useful in setting up a trade town if that one spell was Charm Person, or Friends, or even Tenser's Floating Disc.

    3. To clarify, I think your idea of no weapon proficiencies makes sense, and does not hurt the wizard in the long run, but does not make me too eager to play one at level 1.

    4. @ Matt:

      Thanks for the comments...and the clarification.

    5. As you might imagine from my essay on the earlier MU post I'm not sure about this idea. Under this suggestion once a MU has fired off his Magic Missile that's the player out of the fight or at the very least improvising wildly and causing the GM to improvise wildly to respond to the player's suggestion that his *insert mad scheme / desparate cry for attention* will have some influence on the conflict.

    6. @ Thomas:

      I admit it's a bit of a design challenge...though I kind of like that.
      ; )

  4. Magic-User knife throwing is a staple but darned odd because it requires far mor skill and practice than does many of the weapons traditionally prohibitted for competent use. A MU should be hitting the books not spending hours knife throwing.

  5. I'm going to assert that it's almost impossible to seriously hurt someone with a throwing knife. They're intended to harry, just like a shuriken, rather than to injure.

    Also, any idiot can pick up a crossbow and shoot it. Way easier than competently using a knife or a quarterstaff. The fact that MUs don't have crossbow proficiency is just silly, especially given how fragile they are.

    1. @ Jack:

      The "deadly thrown knife" is one of those hoary staples of sword & sorcery pulp, so I can see it as a game mechanic. But I think there's an implied "setting thang" going on that people just take for granted...that's my real beef.

  6. While I agree that crossbows are easy to learn, I think they are also fairly heavy and more of a muscle based weapon than say a dagger.

  7. The older games assume that fighters are strong and magic users have a hard time picking up a sword. It is likely the average person is more fit than the average magic user, think totally nerd, never gets off his computer fro the modern version. As the game changed more weird cases where taken into account (Tenser who like to fight like a fighter for example.)