Gaming - In General
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November 26, 2005, 5:23 pm

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Cheka Man

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Weapons and Realism


This is an article about designing and creating new weapons and armaments that are nonetheless realistic. If you’ve ever wanted to make your own unique medieval weapon for a campaign, this will hopefully come in handy.

This is an article about designing and creating new weapons and armaments that are nonetheless realistic. If you’ve ever wanted to make your own unique medieval weapon for a campaign, this will hopefully come in handy.

Step 1: Materials

Historically, swords have been manufactured from iron and steel, as well as bronze. This is usually because of the fact that iron is relatively easy to find, and is durable. The amount of iron available to a particular civilization usually dictated the quality and rarity of swords- in Medieval Europe, it was common enough that swords were mass-produced. In Japan, it was rare enough that every sword had to be an excellent example of the weapon- hence, the birth of the katana. Other materials, however, can also be suitable in an exotic campaign. Some examples are-

- Flint- Flint blades tend to be very sharp and very easy to make. They also break easier than iron or steel, but can cause very nasty wounds.
- Rock- Simple, effective. Very difficult to sharpen though.
- Obsidian- Sharp but brittle. Similar to flint in this respect.
- Quartz- Very rare in realistic settings. A quartz blade would be incredibly difficult to make, but would last for a long time. It would also have to be placed on a small weapon, due to the fact that it’s difficult to find quartz 3 feet long.
- Bark- Wood transfers little shock from impact to the arm, making a wooden weapon superb at parrying. Unfortunately, it does not keep an edge well, and can be sliced in two with a powerful enough blow.

Step 2: Size and Shape

How big is your weapon? Chances are, if it’s a sword longer than five feet, or an axe with a head that’s longer than 6 inches, you’re stepping into the boundaries of unrealistic usage. There are obviously examples of weapons this large (the claymore, for example) but these also tend to be inferior when faced with standard weaponry.

The shape of the weapon matters as well. A curved sword has better slashing capabilities, the ability for more heft, and allows for feared drawcuts. A straight sword is simpler to make, better for defensive purposes, and allows thrusting attacks. Making a curved sword makes little sense in a society that uses plate mail regularly makes little sense.

Step 3: Purpose

What’s the point of the weapon? To hinder? To use from a horse? To terrify the enemy? A quick, razor-like blade can be just as dangerous as a massive bastard sword is used correctly. Remember, a weapon should compliment the user. A weapon based for a mounted knight should capitalize on his momentum and strength (lance) and be specifically designed so as not to harm his steed (Japanese war bow).

Step 4: Aesthetics over Purpose

Making a gold-chased saber is very pleasing to the eye, but often decreases the overall power of sword itself. Similarly, a typical war axe looks unassuming, but is fully capable of removing someone’s face with a swing.

If a sword is designed to look good, it should only be used by someone who can afford either the artistic cost (aristocracy) or who intends to use the weapon as a badge of office as opposed to a deadly tool (aristocracy). Generally, only the very rich can afford weapons that are as beautiful as they are deadly.

Step 5: Stuff Breaks

In real life, swords, bows, and other weapons break all the time. Welsh longbowmen could go through several longbows in the course of a battle, due to the fact that the bows were constructed quickly in large numbers. After a few blows, a sword should begin to acquire notches where it has struck other edges. An axe may become loosely attatched to the haft. A bow may begin to show fracture lines along its body.

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Comments ( 11 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

November 26, 2005, 17:26
Nice thread. Very informative. Perhaps you could do a similar one for buledgoning weapons like clubs and maces.
Voted Ancient Gamer
November 30, 2005, 7:33
I know that you are a practitioner of medieval martial arts Incarnadine but this article, although good, has some flaws.

1. You state that weapons beyond 5 feet are not of particular use, but surely polearms have proved anything but useless? From the early phalanx to the reinvention of the pike in mid-europe more than five centuries ago, when a peasant army vanquished an army of mounted knights and the era of the knight was decidedly over.

2. The shape section is not in complete harmony with a great number of other articles on this matter. It is not wrong but the comments about curved and straight swords is over-simplified.

Nevertheless, this is an article that should have been read by gamers and roleplayers alike.
Barbarian Horde
December 7, 2008, 15:16
He said SWORDS beyond 5 feet. Polearms are not swords.
Voted Cheka Man
January 18, 2006, 14:05
I'm pleased to have found this-thank you for writing it.
Barbarian Horde
July 31, 2006, 17:31
very useful i used it for my assingment
Voted Silveressa
December 7, 2008, 21:16
Nice sub, gives a good lay out of info and is a worthy read for gms and players that are keen on having their chars craft their own weapons.

One small nit pick: One sentence made little sense to me: "Making a curved sword makes little sense in a society that uses plate mail regularly makes little sense."

(Leaving off the last "makes little sense" bit would fix the issue nicely.)

All in all, nice article I look forward to more of these types from you.
Voted Dragon Lord
January 30, 2009, 4:59
An oldie, but a goodie

I appear to have missed this one the first time around - my bad, for this definitely deserves the recognition

Apart from one or two minor grammatical errors, this is a well constructed article, useful for GMs and players alike

A good solid post - 3.5/5 I think
Voted Dossta
September 26, 2012, 15:34
Indeed a solid post. If I were to make any suggestion for improvement, it would be to elaborate on societal pressures that historically influence weapon shape and function. You touched on it with the comment about plate mail -- the weapons vs. armor race was extremely important to the development of both. What about terrain; did it have any impact on the types of weapons used? How about weapons for group vs individual fighting (legionaries vs gladiators, for example)?
Voted valadaar
April 8, 2014, 13:25
Only voted
Voted axlerowes
April 8, 2014, 19:51
I can't believe this hasn't been written more often
Voted Dozus
November 15, 2016, 12:11
Only voted

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