Monday, February 8, 2016

Weapon Restrictions

Knife fighting is a dirty, nasty business. We'll come back to that, but I just want y'all to keep that in mind.

[by the way, my AFC West childhood won't let me feel fantastic about giving John Elway and the Broncos another Super Bowl win, but I prefer them hoisting the trophy to the paper tiger Panthers (yes, yes, I can enumerate my reasons for criticism, but I shan't bore the non-football folks). Congrats, I can stop thinking about football till next preseason]

Before we get to magic-users, we need to talk about clerics. In Men & Magic (volume 1 of the original D&D game), the entry for clerics states only:
Clerics gain some of the advantages from both of the other two classes (Fighting-Men and Magic-Users) in that they have the use of magic armor and all non-edged magic weapons (no arrows!)...
That's it...that's all Gygax writes in reference to the weapon restrictions of clerics. One could be forgiven for reading those rules and considering that ALL normal weapons and armor are allowed to the cleric, and only magical edged weapons are prohibited. Regardless, the only weapons listed on Men & Magic are the personal weapons found in CHAINMAIL: the dagger, hand axe, mace, sword, battle axe, morning star, flail, spear, pole arm, halberd, two-handed sword, lance, pike, and various bows and crossbows. There is no sling available for purchase; neither is there a war hammer. There IS a magic war hammer on the list of enchanted weapons...three, in fact...and it is the only "non-edged" magic weapon besides the mace +2.

Holmes...who uses the exact same weapon list, but only has one magical weapon of the "blunt" variety (the war hammer +1)...writes this about the cleric in his Basic rules:
They may, however, wear armor, including magic armor, and carry non-edged weapons such as the mace or the quarter staff. No swords or bows and arrows can be employed, for the cleric is forbidden by his religion from drawing blood.
Moldvay...who adds the war hammer and club while removing the morning star and flail...writes this on page B9 of the Basic rules:
Clerics are forbidden by their religious codes from using edged weapons, such as swords and arrows. A cleric may only use a weapon without an edge, such as a mace or sling.
The emphasis is added by me, but it's an important distinction...later editions of D&D (3rd, 4th, and 5th) make no mention of a religious code or tenet that prevents the cleric from using edged weapons. Instead, they allow clerics to use "simple" weapons (like crossbows), making a design choice that the reason clerics are unable to use weapons like swords and long bows is their lack of training. Clearly, they are forgetting the Second Lateran Council of 1139 in which Pope Innocent III (reportedly) banned the use of crossbows, as well as bows and slings. At least, against other Christians (the crusader knights had no issue using such weapons against Saracens in the Middle East).

My main issue with the rule is that a mace or war hammer...when used correctly...should still shed a lot of blood. If you crush someone's skull with a mace or club, there will be bloodletting. Bleeding occurs from a break in the skin, and blunt force trauma from a weapon...especially one with knots, flanges, or spikes intended to focus impact force...are likely to cause that break. Not to mention, bleeding from other orifices (eyes, nose, ears, mouth...). That being said, religious tenets (not necessarily Divine Law...there's a difference), can seem silly, arbitrary, or contradictory. They are subject to change; they sometimes do fail to hold up to scrutiny (usually when they've outlived there usefulness or when the context in which they were created has changed). Ranking members of the religious hierarchy are still expected to uphold the tenets of their faith, even when they "don't make sense."

And anyway, rolling around in the dirt with a dagger should be considered beneath most priests' dignity, I'd think.

Here's what I'm NOT particularly fond of modeling: that some weapons are harder to use than others. I mean, let's consider this for a moment. It does require a lot of training to wield a battle axe with full proficiency...using it to parry, and hook, learning to hit with the butt of the weapon, or the back of the head with a reverse move, not to mention understanding the distance one needs to fight optimally (and not allowing yourself to be disarmed upon hooking an opponent's weapon). But just to try and swing and hit a guy with an axe...there's not a lot of "concept" involved in that. You may not be a great axe fighter, but it doesn't require some sort of exalted "martial weapon" status. Certainly not over the hand axe which is pretty much the same weapon on a smaller scale. Fact is, a hand axe is more difficult to use because, while faster, it is shorter, requiring you to get in close to your opponent, which opens you to (and requires you to employ) all sorts of grappling close combat maneuvers. Things happen faster at close distance, requiring more focus and skill, especially when fighting someone with a longer weapon (like a sword).

This holds true for most weapons: most weapons have strengths and weaknesses that require training, practice, and experience to fully utilize. A dagger is an effective weapon...the most effective weapon in the right situation...but damn hard to use by someone who hasn't specialized in knife-fighting. A person without training (and a lot of strength and good grappling technique) will have a difficult time inflicting more than superficial wounds against an opponent who can defend themselves, especially one who has a longer a stick. Effective knife-fighting requires speed, cunning, and a willingness for brutality that few folks can stomach. Patience (i.e. staying cool-headed) is also necessary, something that few amateurs can muster with such a "simple" weapon.

[this fight from Game of Thrones, while staged, is still a fair example, demonstrating how a smart knife-fighter can use a cluttered environment to his advantage when fighting against a weapon with superior reach. If they were outdoors, this would heavily favor the dude with the longsword]

The way to "realistically" model these things, by the way, is to go with the AD&D method: give a penalty to ANY character using a weapon in which they lack proficiency. The baseline attack line exists for people who are proficient in a particular weapon and different classes are able train in more weapons than others: the fighter learns how to use more weapons than any other class, but the weapons learned are not "set in stone." It is also appropriate (I believe) to give a martial class like the fighter a lesser penalty for using a non-familiar weapon than classes like the cleric or magic-user, both of whom focus their studies in other areas.

However, this doesn't really justify weapon restrictions. The religious tenets of a cleric does, but no such taboos are mentioned for magic-users. No reason of limiting their equipment is given at all in early editions of the game, save for the AD&D PHB which states:

...they can wear no armor and have few weapons they can use, for martial training is so foreign to magic-use as to make the two almost mutually exclusive.

Now, I believe I've mentioned before that I've worn armor in the past? I had some SCA friends who invited me along back in college, and got me dressed up in a lot of pads and mail and steel plates for the purpose of getting knocked around with padded baseball bats. Sure, it's not the same as walking around in casual clothes, but properly fastened down, it's really not that tough to maneuver in. Heck, it doesn't take you all that long to be accustomed to it (though I'm sure it would be fatiguing to wear for several hours). The point is: I don't have "martial training" and I can wear "heavy armor" just fine.

And likewise with the time, my "weapon training" was limited to some archery at summer camp. They gave me a spear to use. Why? Because it's a great weapon for a novice: you can keep your opponent at a distance and you just need to poke at them. Tremendously effective. Oh, they let me use a "sword," too, but my arm got tired from swinging it...I really didn't have the muscles I needed and my technique was poor (especially trying to use a shield at the same time while being attacked by raving lunatics). But I like the spear (with two hands) and I'm guessing that I would've done better if given a smaller club (um, "sword"); with a few weeks or months of practice I'm sure I could get my arm in shape.

Notice that they didn't give me a dagger. Arming a person with a dagger and saying, 'get ready to defend yourself in mortal combat,' is pretty much a death sentence (as I'm sure it is for a lot of 1st level magic-users forced to defend themselves once bereft of spells).  It's a damn last resort is what it is. A thief or assassin loves the dagger, but not for "combat" reasons: it's concealable and good for slipping into someone's kidney when they're back is turned. It's a weapon for fighting dirty, preferably against an unarmed or hindered (tied up, sleeping) enemy. Great for slitting throats, but not for going toe-to-toe in open melee.

Come get some!
Why would any pasty-faced academic (i.e. magic-user) carry the dagger as a weapon? I can see them carrying one as a magical tool (like an athame) but not as a means of combat. Yet, that is exactly what it is expected to be: a weapon, to be used in battle after all spells have been exhausted. Ridiculous. Ridiculous! Why? Why is this the weapon they get? Why not a wooden cudgel? Why not a spear? Why not NOTHING...why not simply say the magic-user is unable to fight effectively in combat, and if forced to do so must roll on the "normal human" combat matrix?

No, instead we have a character class that, as it advances in level, they get stronger in combat (an 11th level wizard, presumably older and more feeble physically, fights as fiercely as an owl bear). And their chosen weapon for training this combat ability? The dagger. Ridiculous.

More later (my time's a bit limited today).


  1. From years of fake fighting with wooden annd boffer weapons I know traininng and experience matters. A spear is a great weapon even so one or two newbie's with spears are going to lose vs a veteran with sword annd shield but 3 or 4 newbies that keep their head's should likely win.
    Wizards shoud use big sticks (staves) to keep up their image an have a snowball's chance in a fight.
    Wearing armor well does take experience and training becasue armor work differently in close to real fightinnnng where you have to keep track of your actions to reduce vulnerabilities and accidentally exposing softer spots to a foe but it does a lot of it's work with little training. A newbie with a shield is holding an obstacle that limits view and attack options annnd inspires over confidence as an expereinced combatant will be able to exploit weakness in expereince.
    (WOW that got long)

  2. @ JDS (regarding armor proficiency):

    Yes and sure BUT wearing metal clothes still protects you better than non-metal or no. And it isn't THAT hard to wear.

    1. Oh absolutely, but there is a difference between just wearing it and knowing how to fight without unnecessaryrily exposing weakpoints a skilled foe can exploit.

    2. @ JDS:

      Which is why a "skilled foe" gets a better chance to hit.
      ; )

  3. I have a simplified set of rules: fighters do 1d8 dmg (1d10 with two handed weapons), clerics and thieves do 1d6 (1d8 w 2 handed wpns), magic users do 1d4 (1d6). Fighters can use any weapon, Clerics and thieves pick 8 to be proficient with, and magic users pick 4. -2 to hit and damage when fighting with a nonproficient weapon. It's so much easier.

    1. @ Robin:

      Yes, that's pretty much what I did for the Variant Damage by Class rules in the B/X Companion...though without the selection of proficiencies.

    2. I still need to grab a copy of the B/X companion. (shame on me)

  4. Actually I would think a staff is a more iconic weapon for a magic user than a dagger