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 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]


  1. "Claymore" as a two-handed sword is found in English usage from 1772, but in Scottish Gaelic, a claidheamh-mòr was always a basket-hilted broadsword. The term for the two-handed weapon in Scottish Gaelic is claidheamh dà làimh.

    1. @ Faol:

      Would you then say it makes even LESS sense to refer to a two-hander as a "greatsword?"
      ; )

    2. There are a whole raft of different names given to two-handed swords. There's Gross Messer ("Great Knife", seemingly oddly, but so-called because it was sharp on only one side, rather like a katana), Langes Schwert ("Long Sword", which was used, early on, to describe any sword style using two hands on the hilt), Bidenhänder ("Two-hander"), and so on. And that's just some of the German names. I believe that one of the French terms is Épée Grande ("Great Sword"), but I could be mistaken there. Since a game has reason to pick a single, descriptive name for each type of weapon category, "Greatsword" is as good as any other.

      But my preference is for "Two-Handed Sword".

  2. Great sword is actually used in a lot of other places. I believe the French and Italian names for the weapon was essentially "great sword". Some of the other German names for the weapon also essentially equate to great sword.

    So it is reasonable that they would call it a great sword.

  3. Also, through half-swording I could see a great sword being usable in a dungeon, just not as effective as when you have the space to swing it.

    1. Though half-swording is also really useful for penetrating armor. ;)

    2. That's for sure! Gotta find those gaps in the armor to ram the point of your blade through.