Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thoughts on Swords

"I whip out my trusty type XII-A sword and chop off the orc's head!" - nobody, in any game, ever, and for good reason

The question came up over at the Adventures Dark and Deep forums, as to whether I would be making the selection of swords available in the game more historically accurate (that is, reflecting more modern scholarship from the last 40 years that was unavailable to Gygax when he first designed the game), in the same way that I did with armor types/classes.

It's certainly something that I have given (and continue to give) a lot of thought to. In the original AD&D, there are essentially six types of swords available:
  • Bastard (10 lbs, speed 6, 2-8/2-16 damage, 4 1/2' long, 4+' required, pretty neutral across all armor types, but when used one-handed acts like a long sword)
  • Broad (7 1/2 lbs, speed 5, 2-8/2-7 damage, 3 1/2' long, 4' required, poor against armor, better against unarmored)
  • Long (6 lbs, speed 5, 1-8/1-12 damage, 3 1/2' long, 3' required, neutral against most armor, but poor against the heaviest and good against unarmored opponents)
  • Short (3 1/2 lbs, speed 3, 1-6/1-8 damage, 2' long, 1' required, poor against heavy armor, good against unarmored opponents)
  • Two-handed (25 lbs, speed 10, 1-10/3-18 damage, 6' long, 6' required, good against everything)
  • Scimitar (4 lbs, speed 4, 1-8/1-8 damage, 3' long, 2' required, poor against armor, better against unarmored opponents)
These general notes tell us a few things. The swords that are the heaviest do the most damage, but this isn't a straight progression; there are exceptions that buck the trend. Lighter swords are quicker. Short swords and scimitars are made for stabbing rather than slicing, because they don't need all that much room to use side-by-side (which puzzles me in the example of the scimitar, which a lifetime of Sinbad movies tells me is used in broad cutting strokes). None of the swords listed is specifically good against a heavily armored opponent.

History presents us with quite a few more than six choices, when it comes to swords. In fact, historians have at least 22 basic types (many with various sub-types) that are measured along what is called the Wheeler/Oakeshott typology (depending on how old the sword is; Oakeshott picks up after the Viking era). The typology concerns itself with a few things that would have a real effect in game terms:
  • Blade length
  • Is the blade tip pointed or round (that indicates it's made to slash or stab)
  • Does the blade itself taper, or is it straight (some swords were made specifically to puncture armor; a blade that is tapered all the way from the hilt to the tip is their hallmark)
  • How long is the hilt (that indicates whether it's used with one, two, or sometimes two hands)
  • Blade width (that points towards weight, which in turn influences weapon speed)
One of the problems, of course, is that the terminology isn't universally consistent. One place says that "broad swords" came into use in the 16th century and all have basket hilts. Another source places them in the 13th century with cross-hilts.

My instincts tell me that a revamping of sword types is called for. After all, if "banded mail" can be done away with and replaced with a more historically accurate nomenclature, then so too can the "bastard sword". On the other hand, this isn't trying to be a 100% accurate depiction of Late Medieval Europe, and I certainly don't want to change the "feel" of the original too much as I make alterations to it in various places.

So where do you stand? Accuracy or ease of play? Verisimilitude or the 40-year-old traditions of the game?