One of the most common events in the life of an adventurer, regardless of profession, is the need for armed combat. Some adventurers make a career of hacking and slashing, while others use combat as a last resort, after diplomacy, negotiation, or spellcraft fail.
Fortunately for adventurers, there are as many different types of weapons as there are reasons for using them. This chapter details the vast majority of weapons available to the discerning adventurer. A fair warning, though: a weapon is only as effective as the hero who wields it. Sometimes, a smaller, less lethal-looking weapon may be called for. Most of the entries that follow include commentary from distinguished adventurers. Heed their advice, look over the list carefully, and choose well; your PC's life may depend on it!
Contrary to popular artwork, the most common version of the battle axe is a stout pole about four feet in length with a single-edged, trumpet-shaped blade mounted on one end. Battle axes are also called broad axes.
The battle axe is a footman's weapon, giving these soldiers a longer reach and a fighting chance against mounted opponents. Its long handle allows the wielder to put considerable force into his swing. Despite the shaft length, a battle axe is a one-handed weapon.
Two-handed battle axes have the same statistics as the bardiche. They are called "great axes."
The battle axe has the distinction of being one of the oldest tools and weapons of man. The first battle axe dates back about 35,000 years, when weaponers began attaching the blade to long wooden handles. The double-bladed battle axe was born in Egypt during the Bronze Age, but the design did not gain widespread acceptance.
During the Greco-Roman times, the battle axe was seen as a barbarian weapon used by the Franks, Celts, Lombards, and Vikings.
The earliest modern battle axes were a Danish weapon of the ninth century. These weapons did not have double-bladed heads, but were still two-handed weapons. The Danes often decorated these axe heads with carvings. Some shafts reached six feet in length, which caused great structural strain on the point immediately below the axe-head.
English knights of the 14th century adopted the battle axe as a favored weapon in foot combat. Its long handle afforded a great reach, and allowed for a great amount of force to be focused in the blow.
Naval crews used battle axes as boarding weapons until the tactic of boarding parties became obsolete.
Not intended as an actual weapon, the belaying pin is a wooden or metal rod that is inserted in holes bored through a ship's rail. Ship's ropes are secured to these belaying pins. The pins are usually found in rows, bringing a series of ropes together to one location. The pins may be pulled out and used as a melee weapon, more often than not during boarding actions at sea when no other weapons are in reach.
The pin is a one-handed weapon. If hurled in combat, it is treated as a club.
Blowguns are long, hollow tubes composed of wood or metal, ranging from four to seven feet in length. They are used to fire darts, needles, and pellets. The weapons date back to primitive times, when they were used mostly for hunting.
Blowguns may have had a part in the invention of guns, since the blowgun demonstrated that one end of a tube needs to be closed off in order for the propelling force to shoot the missile in the proper direction.
Tribes still exist, especially primitive peoples in tropical jungle cultures, that use the blowgun. In most cases, these tribes are not advanced in terms of inventions, especially weapons of war. Some tribes use stands to brace their blowguns.
The grippli have been known to use blowguns on rare occasions.
Blowgun Darts: The blowgun dart is a small arrow with a wad of cotton or other plant fibers instead of fletching. This allows for a build-up of pressure from the user's wind. The fibers make a better seal in the tube, allowing more force to gather behind it. A blowgun dart is not the same as a regular dart, and the latter cannot be shot out of a blowgun.
Needles: Needles are sometimes used to deliver a poison, often a paralytic poison such as curare. Needles do less damage than other blowgun missiles, but this is not a disadvantage, since their function is to carry the poison to the target, not to cause damage.
Blowgun Pellets: Most blowgun pellets are of hardened clay, and are used for hunting. A solid hit from a pellet can stun a small bird.
The bola is a missile of prehistoric origins. Currently, it is still used by arctic tribes and by savages who dwell on temperate plains. The main function of the bola is to provide a hunter with a good missile weapon that will catch the prey off guard and entangle it so as to make escape impossible.
The bola is basically a leather strap or straps with weights fastened to the ends, although there are many variations to the design. Arctic bolas are generally used for hunting birds. The bola may have four, six, or ten weights made of walrus ivory or bone. The weights are egg-shaped, spherical, or carved into the likeness of animals. All of the straps or cords join together to make a sort of handle. The thrower grasps the handle, jerks back the strand to straighten them, whirls the bolas over his head, and releases them. Each bola strand is about 28 inches long and each weight is about two inches in diameter.
Two-ball bolas are called somais; triple-ball bolas are achicos.
Temperate plains bolas are usually twice as large and consist of a single leather thong with a leather-covered stone at each end. Often a second cord is fastened in the center of the first cord, with a small weight attached at the end. This weight is held by the thrower. This version of the bola can bring down a man-sized target. When a bola hits, the victim is held fast and must take a round to make a Strength check in order to get free. Failure means the bolas are still holding fast.
If an attacker makes a Called Shot to the target's legs and succeeds, the bolas wrap themselves tightly around the victim's legs and prevent further movement.
In one form or another, bows have been used since the early days of man. They represented a great step in man's ability to cause damage, since the attacker was at a considerable range from the target, not within reach of the enemy's claws or melee weapons. The first bows were long, slender rods (also called staves) with a string of animal tendon or plant fiber.
Short bows were the first to be developed, although they were not called such. This is more of a default term that refers to anything which is not a long bow. Short bow staves are about 5 1/2 feet long on the average. As the years passed, attempts were made to increase bow ranges. Bows were either given longer staves or flexibility was increased with no change to the length. The former resulted in what is now called the long bow.
Bows fell into decline with the spread of handguns. It was reasoned that while a wounded or weakened soldier might lack the strength to pull a bow, he could still pull a trigger.
Short bows can fire only short bow arrows (identical to flight arrows for game terms).
The long bow is similar to the short bow, except that the staff is about as high as the archer, usually 6 to 6 1/2 feet. It has better range than the short bow, and can fire both flight and sheaf arrows.
Composite bows are long bows or short bows whose staves are made from more than one type of material. This gives greater flexibility, and thus better range. These were developed after the normal long bow.
The second material that makes up a long bow may be anything from another type of wood to bone, sinew, or metal. The different materials are usually glued together.
An adventurer who wishes to gain a damage bonus from high Strength when wielding a bow must purchase specially crafted bows. Such a bow costs the normal price for a bow.
Most archers protect their wrists from the snap of the bowstring by fastening a piece of horn, bone, or leather to them. Such an item is known as a bracer.
Bows were used extensively for war by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Jews, and other peoples of the eastern Mediterranean world. In ancient Greece and Rome, bows were used mainly for hunting.
The Huns were the deadliest archers of all the invading barbarian peoples who attacked Rome. Charlemagne made the bow a mandatory weapon for the "civilized" armies.
At the Battle of Hastings in 1066, many historians claim that the Normans, led by William the Conqueror, beat the enemy by unleashing a rain of arrows on them. Some speculate that Harold died from an arrow through his eye. The bow used was only five feet long.
The English, learning from the lessons of Hastings, continued to refine and adapt their bows, making the staff longer and longer, copying the Welsh long bow. This became known as the English long bow within England.
The long bow proved very effective, especially in the British victories at Crecy and Agincourt. In the former, British archers outshot their Genoese counterparts who were using crossbows. Just as the Italians and French gained reputations as excellent crossbowmen, the English gained a reputation for archery. In the time of Henry VIII, English law required all males to learn the use of a long bow by the time they reached their teens.
European bows were most often made of ash and yew wood. Short bows were called Continental bows, while long bows were sometimes called Welsh bows.
An example of the potency of the long bow can be found in a particular historical incident. An arrow fired by a Welsh bowman is reported to have pierced a knight's leg armor, his leg, the armor on the other side of the leg, the knight's saddle, and to have finally lodged in the horse, pinning the knight to his mount.
Medieval archers did not always use quivers, but rather kept their arrows tied in bunches and secured to their belts by loops. Mounted archers used quivers that were attached to the saddle.
Bows were used as late as 1807, when Russian irregulars harassed Napoleon's armies, and in World War II, when detachments of American archers were used in special actions in Asia.
Even today, certain African pygmy tribes and indigenous folk of the Amazon use bows.
In general, arrows range in length from 20 to 40 inches. The feathers, or fletching, of the arrow consist of two or more feathers set coaxially to the shaft. This gives the arrow its aerodynamic lift. If the feathers are instead set diagonally, the arrows rotates in flight. Goose feathers and parrot feathers are used most often in fletching, though pressed paper and leather are sometimes used.
The flight arrow, as its name implies, is built for distance. These are lightweight arrows and are often used for hunting. Most of these arrows are made of ash or birch and are 30 to 40 inches long.
An incendiary arrow is any arrow type (except bone or stone) with a wad of hemp soaked in a bituminous substance (such as tar) placed just beneath the head. The hemp is lit before the arrow is fired.
In addition to its normal damage, the arrow causes one additional hit point of fire damage on the round of impact unless the target makes a saving throw vs. death magic.
Sheaf arrows, also known as war arrows, are heavier arrows with less range than flight arrows, but cause more damage. The arrowheads are steel and quite sharp. Sheaf arrows are used in warfare and can be fired only by long bows. These arrows range in length from 20 to 27 inches.
Stone arrows are considered flight arrows for game purposes, except that the stone arrowheads cause less damage and have a tendency to shatter if they impact armor or similarly hard surfaces. Failure indicates that the arrow shatters.
Stone arrowheads are almond shaped or rhomboid and are usually made from stone splinters of flint or obsidian.
A caltrop is a metal ball bristling with metal spikes or prongs. When a caltrop is left on the ground, there is always at least one spike standing more or less upright, ready to pierce the foot of the unwary.
In order to be effective, at least 10 caltrops must be dropped in an area of 25 square feet (a 5'x5' square). Each character entering the area must make a saving throw vs. paralyzation. Failure means that the pursuer has stepped on a caltrop, suffering 1d4 hit points of damage. The character will be able to move at only one-half his normal rate until the caltrop is dislodged from his foot. The victim must also make a second saving throw vs. paralyzation, with failure indicating that the character is lame for 24 hours (unless magically healed), and can move at only one-third his normal movement rate. In any case, the victim must spend one round removing the caltrop from his foot.
The cestus is a leather glove that has spikes and razor edges on the back and across the knuckles. Other forms of cesti are loaded with lead or other heavy filler in order to give a punch more force. The weapon is mainly used as a gladiator weapon in the arenas of sport.
Most clubs are stout, hardwood sticks, narrow at the grip and wider at the end. This simple weapon has been used since mankind first began using tools. Anyone can find a good stout piece of wood and swing it; hence the club's widespread use.
The club is the ancestor of the mace, since warriors eventually fitted their clubs with spikes and metal heads in order to increase their deadliness.
As centuries passed, cultures began embracing civilization and advanced technology. They looked down on the club as a primitive tool and a barbarian weapon. Peasants often arm themselves with clubs, sometimes adapting them by adding iron spikes, resulting in the morningstar.
The versatility of the club is shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts squads of Saxons wielding clubs as both melee weapons and missile weapons. Some cultures decorate their clubs or even carve the club heads into representations of the creatures they expect to hunt.
Crossbow, Light and Heavylight crossbow heavy crossbow
A crossbow is a bow mounted crosswise on a wooden or metal shaft, the latter called a tiller. The bow is usually made of ash or yew. The crossbow fires a quarrel (also called a bolt).
Crossbows are loaded by pulling the string back until it locks onto a nut fitted on the tiller. A man's strength is enough to pull the bow to the locking position, although heavier crossbows with more powerful bows require a mechanical aid. The most effective of these devices is the windlass, a series of pulleys and crank handles fitted at the crossbow's stock. For crossbows that do not have the windlass, a stirrup is fitted on the front of the crossbow. When resetting the bow, the firer places his foot in the stirrup in order to keep the bow off the ground while he is pulling the string up to the locking position.
The main differences between the light and heavy crossbows are the size of the quarrel and the presence of a stirrup, which is found only on the heavy crossbow. Heavy and light crossbows are more correctly referred to as two-foot and one-foot crossbows, respectively. This term refers to the length of the quarrels.
The one-foot crossbow is made with a steel tiller and is quite rugged. It may be easily concealed beneath flowing garments such as cloaks or robes. It is frowned upon by the more lawful, civilized cities.
Although bows cannot be used underwater, the crossbow can, since the tension produced by the weapon overcomes the water resistance. .
This deadly little bow is a pistol-sized weapon made with a steel tiller. It is more easily concealed than the light crossbow and its use is considered unethical in civilized society. Hand crossbows have a reloading mechanism built into the tiller.
Quarrels or bolts are the ammunition fired by crossbows regardless of the weapon's size. Crossbows are rated as one-footers or two-footers, according to the bolt's length. Quarrels are shaped like arrows, but the shafts are shorter and thicker. The quarrel heads used for warfare are conical or pyramid-shaped iron heads.
European crossbows have existed since the 4th century AD and at first were used primarily for hunting. By 1000 AD, crossbows had been adopted for warfare. Use began to wane upon the advent of the English long bow, for despite the fact that the crossbow was a more powerful weapon with better range and was easier to use in close quarters, the rate of fire of a bow was a huge psychological advantage. The most talented makers and users of the crossbow were the Italians, whose Genoese mercenary crossbowmen were the best in the world.
Although heavy and light crossbows enjoyed a favorable reputation among military commanders, these weapons suffered a bad reputation. The crossbow was so lethal that Pope Innocent II banned its use in 1139 AD. The edict was later changed, however, so that Crusaders could use it against Moslems.
Light crossbows were considered unethical weapons, and were often banned between the 16th and 18th centuries. The light crossbow was primarily used as a hunting weapon.
The crossbow was originally developed in China, culminating in a sturdy, reliable model during the Han Dynasty, circa 206 BC. This particular crossbow model, some scholars believe, was seen as early as about 36 BC by about 100 Roman soldiers who were taken prisoner in Central Asia. Such experiences or the trade routes that eventually opened passed the concept of the crossbow from East to West.
Initially, the European crossbow was made with a wooden stave. This construction, however, does not give optimum power to the bolt's flight. By the end of the 11th century, it is believed that many crossbow staves were made of composite construction, usually horn and sinew in conjunction with wood (usually yew). This method of crossbowmaking came from the Saracens, and the Saracen influence in southern Europe explains why the area became well known for crossbow manufacturing and use.
The typical dagger has a pointed, usually double-edged blade, as opposed to a knife, which has a single edge and is a bit shorter than the dagger.
The dagger is one of man's oldest weapons. The first daggers were most likely hand-held spearheads used by cavemen, made of bone or stone. Bone daggers are made from the bones of large animals such as reindeer and bison, with one end sharpened and the handle carved to resemble the animal from which the bones came. Such daggers are relatively fragile, and stone replaced bone when early man discovered how to work with stone.
Stone daggers are more difficult to make due to the composition of stone. Most stone daggers are made of flint, a hard stone that can be worked easily. The flint is chipped until the proper shape is achieved, usually that of a broad leaf, then it is sometimes lashed to a wooden handle. This sort of stone dagger has a major weak point: the place where the blade is attached to the handle. Primitive tribes know that the best stone dagger is made from a single piece of stone with the dagger's handle consisting of a straight section of stone. The handle is then wrapped in hide for a good grip. The average stone dagger measures 12 inches long.
When man began working with copper and bronze, the technique of making a dagger's handle and blade from a single piece of material remained. Blade lengths increased up to 24 inches long, and when the length exceeded this, a new weapon, the short sword, was born.
Some weaponsmiths have turned dagger making into an art form, decorating the handles, crossguards, and even the blades, with beautiful carvings. Some daggers are decorated with carved scenes derived from a culture's mythology.
With the advent of swords, the dagger was relegated to the role of back-up weapon. In fact, the average Roman soldier did not carry a dagger, but his Teutonic barbarian enemy used them. As the barbarian's influence swept over Europe, the dagger was given new life.
Daggers with steel blades became necessary in order to penetrate armor. Although knights carried daggers, they were considered a weapon of last resort.
The modern handshake derives from a habit used by bodyguards. They would take the hand of anyone visiting the king and shake his arm, hoping to dislodge any dagger concealed in the visitor's sleeve.
A dirk has qualities of both the dagger and the knife. While useful as a weapon, it was designed for a variety of uses. It is a version of the ballock knife (or "kidney dagger"). The dirk has two round, symmetrical globes at the base of the handle, where the handle meets the blade. The grip itself emerges from between the globes and is flared at the top. The blade is often made from a large shard of a sword blade. The dirk is a single-edged, grooved weapon with a back edge near the point. It usually features a decorative notch at the base.
Most dirks have a special scabbard that has two small pockets in the front, one for a knife and one for a fork, used by warriors in the field as an early mess kit.
The dirk is a Scottish weapon, carried by Highlanders, making its appearance in the late 17th century. The grip is usually leather, ivy root, or ivory. In the 18th century, the dirk was sometimes mounted in silver or gold. Though normally considered a civilian weapon, the dirk was produced as a military blade when Scottish men were incorporated into Britain's regular army.
This specialized type of dagger is used in conjunction with a sword. It is used to catch or break an opponent's sword. Some versions of this dagger are equipped with spring blades that split into three blades at the push of a button. When such a dagger is employed in this fashion, it cannot be thrown successfully.
Most parrying daggers have long, straight or curved quillons, and a tough side ring that extends perpendicular to the blade in order to protect the user's fingers.
Unlike the main-gauche, the parrying dagger is made for a specific purpose, to deflect or break an opponent's weapon. The main-gauche, while also good for parrying, is less of a weapon-breaker.
The dart is a small, easily concealable missile weapon that is thrown rather than fired from a bow or other launcher.
Darts are known to exist among advanced caveman tribes. These darts are usually small, wooden shafts fitted with a head of bone or stone.
In modern cultures, darts have leaf or arrow-shaped heads and stabilizers on the shaft's butt end, much like miniature arrows.
Many cultures use darts for sport, hunting, and warfare on land and sea.
The flail is a sturdy wooden handle attached to an iron rod, a wooden rod with spikes, or a spiked iron ball. Between the handle and its implement is either a hinge or chain link. The weapon was originally used as a tool for threshing grain. Whether a flail is used by a foot soldier or a horseman, the principle is the same.
Rumors tell that the flinds' flindbars are in fact a variation of the flail. This has not been substantiated, and the flinds have no wish to cooperate in the research.
The footman's flail has a handle approximately four feet in length. It otherwise conforms to the above description.
The horseman's version of the flail has a two-foot-long handle. The horseman already has a good positional advantage, sitting atop a horse, and consequently does not need the greater reach afforded by the long handle of the footman's flail. This is a one-handed weapon.
The followers of Peter the Hermit who fought in the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries used flails, placing spikes on the short flail heads. This adaptation gave rise to other modifications, such as replacing the second bar with two or more iron balls attached by chains.
Footman's flails were used mostly in the 13th and 14th centuries by foot soldiers, especially peasant troops, while the horseman's version enjoyed use by cavalry troops during the same time period.
Flails were used as late as the 1920's by Polish peasants against Soviet troops.
The gaff or hook is actually a tool used to hook and land fish. It is commonly found where fishing boats are encountered, and the hooks are in plentiful supply, affording the disarmed adventurer a weapon of last resort.
The gaff consists of a metal hook with a wooden or metal crossbar at the base. A one-handed tool, the hook protrudes from between the middle and ring fingers.
Some sailors who have lost a hand have a cup with a gaff hook attached to the stump, guaranteeing that they are never without a weapon.
Hand or Throwing Axe
The hand axe or throwing axe is also known as a hatchet. The axe blade has a sharp steel tip, counterbalanced by a pointed fluke. The short handle has a point on the bottom and the head may have a spike on top.
This weapon is often used by barbarian tribes. Some hand axes are carried on the saddles of knights and horsemen, who respect this weapon after seeing barbarians wield the axes effectively.
Despite this acceptance by civilized folk, the throwing axe is often relegated to backup weapon status since the creation of the battleaxe, whose longer handle gives the wielder greater force in his swing. The maximum length of the hand axe's handle is about 18 inches, not very great, though better than a dagger's reach in hand-to-hand combat. The throwing axe's last advantage, its ability to be hurled, was eclipsed with the advent of better bows such as the long bow.
The harpoon is a hunting weapon, which, in times of duress, may be used for defense. Its development by primeval man was for hunting marine mammals and large fish.
The first harpoons were merely pointed sticks. Later, these became sticks with a sharp head of horn or bone. The heads often had hooks cut into them for increased damage and to hold the harpoon fast in the beast's flesh. The head was then fitted or attached to the end of the shaft, secured by animal sinews.
Metal harpoon heads evolved later, most with pointed or barbed heads. These heads are usually detachable from the shaft, but are connected to the thrower by a cord attached between the point and the barb.
When a hunter throws the harpoon and hits an animal, he follows the victim as best he can, playing out as much rope as needed until the beast tires and dies.
Certain primitive jungle tribes traditionally use harpoons to hunt wild boar.
Harpoons may be used one- or two-handed, and there is no change in speed factor for using it one way or the other. This is a definite advantage. On the other hand, the harpoon has a poor throwing range, and damage potential is less when it is used one-handed, much like a bastard sword. The harpoon is a common weapon in coastal areas, but its primary function is not as a weapon against an intelligent opponent.
Javelins are classified as light spears, suitable for melee or missile combat, usable either on horseback or on foot. The weapon has been around since man's earliest days. The javelin head is not very large, and is usually leaf-or lancet-shaped. Javelin heads may have barbs.
As a weapon of war, the javelin has low popularity, though it is often used for hunting purposes. Javelins are also used as a ceremonial weapon of bodyguards in civilized nations. Halberdier yeomen are often assigned javelins.
Javelin throwing is a common contest of the games of sport of ancient civilizations.
Javelins may be used either one- or two-handed, and like the harpoon, there is no difference in speed factor between the two styles. The javelin has a respectable throwing range, certainly better than that of a spear, with damage potential comparable to the spear. Like the harpoon, the javelin gives the adventurer the advantage of a weapon that may be used effectively either as a melee weapon or as a missile weapon.
A knife consists of a single-edged, pointed blade with a handle mounted asymmetrically. It is an early weapon, used even by primitive tribes. In these cultures, a knife is little more than a flint blade with one or two cutting edges.
Bone knives are little more than a sharpened piece of bone, often decorated in the same way as daggers. Like other bone weapons, bone knives are apt to shatter.
True knives appeared when man began using alloys such as bronze. A knife was cast from a single piece of bronze, with a single straight edge or slightly curved blade. The curvature is often accentuated near the point.
When man began using iron, knife handles went through a change. The malleability of iron made it easy to create and keep a sharp edge, while also enabling the maker to extend the blade into a flat tang, which was then covered with sidepieces of wood, bone, or horn. This made the handles easier to decorate. In primitive civilizations, knives are used as an all-purpose tool, on the hunting grounds, and as a tool of sacrifice.
Different forms of knives may be found among the different peoples who depend heavily on this useful tool. Small knives are made for domestic uses, longer knives for hunting and war.
Small knives exhibit their own evolution, resulting in the common man's small knife with a four-inch blade and a plain handle of bone or horn. The more influential citizen may have a knife with a handle of rock crystal or other stone, enclosed in a precious metal. Despite the great value of these knives, they are not as effective in combat as the larger knives.
Non-domestic knives, or outdoor knives, have stronger blades and sharper points. They are carried in their own sheaths, or in the scabbard of a larger weapon, such as a sword, creating a specialized set.
In some areas, knife makers are prohibited from selling knives with leaf-shaped blades. Such decrees are an effort to prevent such knives from being carried casually. The leaf shape causes a large, gaping wound that bleeds heavily.
Knife handles historically exhibited wide variations in materials and workmanship. Cast silver knife handles were popular in the 16th century, inlaid mother-of-pearl was in vogue in the 17th century, porcelain handles were popular in the 18th century, and carved ivory and bone with fine silver plate was the trend in the 19th century.
Nations or cultural groups created knives that suited their particular styles or customs. A common knife in southern Europe, for instance, had a blade that folded toward the handle, with the cutting edge housed in a special groove. In Spain, these were called the Navaja, and in Italy the Serramancio. We know them today as clasp knives or jackknives.
By far the most famous knife of the past two centuries was a heavy, single-edged, sharply pointed blade with a small handle with wooden sidepieces. The knife was designed for melee combat. This knife was much in use in the American West, and was named for its creator: Colonel James Bowie.
The term "lance" originally referred to spears wielded by footmen and cavalry. It eventually referred only to cavalry spears.
Lance design varies between cultures and eras. Generally, the lance is a long shaft of tough wood, usually ash, with an iron head in the shape of a laurel or willow leaf, with cutting edges and a sharp point meant to penetrate armor.
Lances are meant to be gripped close to the bottom, putting a great distance between the wielder and his target. As a rule, the lance is aimed diagonally above the horse's neck. The opponents face each other with their left sides oncoming.
Along with almost any variety of sword, the lance is considered the best offensive weapon for mounted soldiers. Some knights carry a small fabric pennant affixed just below the lance head. These pennants are either triangular or square, and carry the colors or symbols of the knight's family or liege.
In parades, lances are held vertically, with the butt set in a stirrup or on the horseman's right thigh. On a march, the lance is held across the shoulder, across the saddlebow, or horizontally alongside the horse.
Through evolution, weaponsmiths sought to increase the damage caused by the lance by making them heavier.
One of the biggest problems with using a lance is the jarring impact on the user. In order to address this problem, a thick leather ring called a graper is fitted to the shaft just behind the wielder's hand. This acts as a stop against the armpit, halting the lance's rearward motion upon impact.
Another important part of a lance is a rest. The rest is a small, sometimes folding bracket fixed to the right side of the knight's breastplate armor. The graper is leaned against this rest when the lance is in use. The rest enables the knight to get the maximum push from his lance, inflicting the most damage.
The difference between the light, medium, and heavy, lances stems from the length (10' for a light, 12' for a medium, and 14' for a heavy), and weight (five pounds, ten pounds, and fifteen pounds for light, medium, and heavy respectively).
Each lance type can be used only if the rider is on a horse of corresponding type or greater. Thus, a knight on a heavy warhorse can use any lance, while the scout on a light warhorse is limited to the light lance.
Jousting lances, used in "jousts of peace," are the heaviest lances, weighing 20 pounds and measuring at least 13 feet long. These lances are fitted with a three-pronged head in order to prevent armor penetration. The prongs are short, blunt projections that emerge from the headpiece, as opposed to a sharp point. This lance is also known as a "courtesy lance." In a full tilt, a joust of war, the head is blunt and may actually cause fatalities.
Locathah riding on the backs of giant eels use light lances.
The lance's history can be traced to the Middle East, and was widely used by Greco-Roman horsemen.
Though rendered obsolescent in 1600 by the advent of firearms, lances were still used by light cavalry until the 19th century, with many European armies maintaining use of the lance in the Russian Civil War and World War I. Two of the most well-known uses of the lance in the 20th century were the Polish lancers' charges against German armor in 1939, and the Italian charges against the Russians in 1942.
A lasso is a length of rope with a loop at one end, tied with a knot that enables the loop to be tightened. The wielder twirls the lasso and throws the loop at the intended target. If it hits, the lasso has encircled the target, enabling the attacker to dismount the victim, make him fall, pin him, strangle him, etc. The wielder must specify exactly what he wants the lasso to accomplish before making his attack roll.
A successful hit does not cause damage to the target, but incidental damage can occur from the results of certain actions performed with the lasso, such as making someone fall or strangling a victim.
Only one attempt can be made on any one lasso.
Lassos are also called lariats.
The mace is a direct descendant of the basic club, being nothing more than a wooden club with a stone or iron head mounted on one end. The head design varies, with some being spiked, others flanged, and still others with pyramidical knobs.
The mace has existed since man began working with metal. The first maces were made in order to give the club wielder more power in his swing.
High-level priests, knights, and even paladins may have a personalized, decorated mace that serves primarily as a symbol of rank.
Since the mace is a weapon that requires very little in the way of specialized training, it is a favored weapon among goblins.
Footman's maces originated as heavy wooden truncheons, about two and a half feet in length and covered with iron studs. As time went by, flanged heads similar to the horsemen's mace were used instead. This mace is a two-handed weapon.
There are two different types of footman's maces: an emergency weapon made from materials at hand and thrown together by a blacksmith, and the maces made by professional weaponsmiths for troops.
The hasty, emergency maces are usually a wooden handle with any sort of metal head attached.
The first horseman's maces were a wooden handle, about 18 inches long, with a leather wrist strap at the bottom of the handle so the weapon would not be dropped, and a metal head. As time progressed, knights preferred to have maces made entirely of metal.
The horseman's mace became an important weapon to the knight. Knights usually keep a mace slung over a hook on the saddlebow. Not surprisingly, an alternate name for the horseman's mace is the knight's mace. This type of mace is a one-handed weapon.
The Romans armed their allied auxiliaries with bronze-headed maces, although they never used maces themselves.
Two styles of mace head patterns emerged before the 14th century. The first was a ferrule from which extended knot or node-shaped pieces, and the second was a geometrically designed head with vanes (conical or diamond-shaped flanges).
Gothic influence in the 14th century made maces more decorative, a trend which ended in the 16th century, when maces were given a more military form. Eastern European maces, especially those from Poland and Hungary, had onion-shaped heads, an idea taken from the Turkish maces. Maces were used as a weapon up until the 18th century.
During the Middle Ages, arming oneself with a mace took on significance among nobles and army commanders. The mace became a preferred weapon among wealthy or illustrious users, and it became symbolic of power, wealth, and renown. These maces were shaped or decorated in a manner that represented the wielder. Thus, the owner of a mace became recognized as a person of prominence and rank, with the number of ribs and flanges on the mace indicating the owner's status.
The main-gauche (French for "left hand") is a large dagger with a basket hilt. Since most swordsmen use their right hand to wield a sword, this dagger is meant for the left hand, wielded as a defensive weapon when a warrior is using the two-handed fighting technique. The main-gauche is also called a "left-hand dagger."
The heavy basket of the main-gauche is the equivalent of an iron gauntlet for the purposes of hand-to-hand combat.
A mancatcher is a polearm with a special function: to capture an opponent without killing him. The weapon consists of a long pole with a set of spring-loaded, sharpened jaws at one end. The victim is caught between the jaws, which then snap shut.
The target, regardless of armor and other defensive devices (magical or otherwise).
The morning star is a wooden shaft topped with a metal head made up of a spiked iron sheath. Morning stars have an overall length of about four feet. Some such weapons have a round, oval, or cylindrical shaped head studded with spikes. Extending from most morning star heads, regardless of design, is a long point for thrusting.
The weapon is designed to allow the wielder to inflict greater damage with his swing. The weighted, spiked head adds to this ability significantly.
Long-handled morning stars are used by foot soldiers, while the short-handled versions are used by horsemen. It is a very popular weapon due to its effectiveness and its simplicity of production.
The morning star traces its ancestry to the mace, which in turn traces its lineage back to the club.
The morning star was derived from the Swiss Morgenstern (literally: "morning star"), and was used during the 16th and 17th centuries, especially in England. The weapon had the perverse nickname of "holy water sprinkler."
The morning star was popular from the Middle Ages to the late 17th century, though its use continued among peasants and poor urban militiamen and gangs up to the 19th century.
The net is a tool that has been used as a weapon since the days when emerging civilizations held gladiatorial arena combat. This version of the net is an eight- to twelve-foot diameter circular net with weights around the edges and a trailing rope used to guide the net and pull it away. It is usually folded in such a way that it twirls open when thrown. It is tossed with one hand, with the attacker holding onto the guide rope with the other hand.
A successful hit with this weapon means that the victim is netted and must try to break free by making a Strength check once per round until successful. The netted victim cannot make any sort of attack until the net has been shaken off.
The attacker may improve his grip on the victim by looping the trailing rope around the netted character. This requires a normal attack roll for success, and the victim loses 4 points of effective Strength (for determining success of freeing oneself from the net) per successful round of attack. If the victim's Strength is reduced to zero, he is hopelessly tangled and cannot escape unless helped by someone outside the net.
The medieval military pick was a specialized weapon. It probably originated from the common mining tool. As armor grew heavier, the pick's form and function were soon adapted to a specialized role. This role was to penetrate the heavier armor types, from chain mail up through full plate armor. The military pick was a modification of a weapon called the martel-de-fer, a type of war hammer that had a hammerhead balanced by a thick, curved piercing fluke or "crow's beak."
The military pick generally consists of a heavy piercing fluke mounted on a haft. The weapon might have either one or two flukes, and the haft might be spiked.
The weapon is popular with knights and the heavy foot soldiers of certain mercenary companies.
The footman's version of this weapon has a longer haft (up to 5'), enabling it to be wielded with two hands. The weapon weighs about six pounds and can be swung with great penetrating force.
The horseman's pick is lighter (about 4 pounds) and has a shortened haft (about two feet), making it easier to wield from horseback. It is commonly used by knights and heavy mercenary horsemen, who face more heavily armored opponents.
Also called staff weapons, polearms are defined as hafted weapons--edged weapons mounted on a short handle or on a longer shaft wielded with two hands. The shafts are usually made of wood, though metal shafts sometimes exist.
An alternate term for polearm is pollaxe, which is used to describe any weapon which has a metal head in a combination of axe, beak, or hammer, mounted on a pole ranging four to six feet in length. Poll is the contemporary word for a steel head mounted on a staff, and the term should not be confused with "poleaxe."
Though descriptions of the various polearm types follow, there are certain characteristics common with all pole weapons, as outlined here.
Polearms are easy to make and are used often by peasants and common foot soldiers. The polearm is a great equalizer for these troops, who often must fight armored men on horseback. A polearm gives the wielder a long reach without exposing himself to the swing of a sword. Setting polearms to receive a charge grants the wielders an initiative bonus.
A primary use of the polearm is to allow warriors in the second rank to attack over the shoulders of the front rank. Often times, a fighter with a hand weapon and shield will team up with one using a pole arm, and they will fight as a coordinated unit.
Polearms that have special attachments to topple mounted targets have a base 20% chance of success.
Also known just as a "pike" and a Morris pike (corruption of Moorish), this is an infantry spear ranging 16 to 22 feet in length. Awl heads are usually leaf- or lozenge-shaped. The pole is made of a strong wood, such as ash. Many pike heads are made with two tongues of steel, nailed down the sides of the shaft in order to prevent the head from getting hacked off. The grip is often bound with cloth and the butt capped in steel to prevent the shaft from splitting. The awl pike has the dubious distinction of being the slowest polearm available. Add to this its mediocre damage against man-sized opponents, and one is left with a weapon of questionable value, except when used en masse on the battlefield.
The word bardiche is the corrupted spelling of berdysh. The berdysh (Russian term) is in effect an elongated battleaxe with a large, narrow, curved axe head measuring 24 to 32 inches long, mounted on a pole five to eight feet long.
The upper part of the head can be used for thrusting, while the lower part is in the form of a langet. A langet is an iron strap used to increase the strength of the head and protect the most exposed part of the weapon from blows.
Berdysh require more room to wield than a pike or a spear, but the weapon has a unique function: it can be used as a gun rest. The smaller berdysh have two rings for attaching to a shoulder strap. This arrangement is popular among horsemen.
Bec de Corbin
Also called the bec de faucon, the names mean "crow's beak" and "falcon's beak" respectively. This pole weapon has a hook much like a bird's beak and is ideal for cutting open armor like some great can opener. The weapon also has a hammer or axe side that delivers a solid hit. This is a highly specialized weapon, designed for the purpose of cutting armor then striking the now unarmored victim with the other side of the weapon. The pole shaft is eight feet long.
Also known simply as a "bill," this weapon is derived from an agricultural tool, the bill hook. Throughout its years of use, the bill's head went through many changes. Its most common head form is a sharp spike with a sturdy hook whose inside and outside edges were sharpened, and a cutting blade reminiscent of a cleaver. The pole length ranges around eight feet.
Developed from the common agricultural sickle or scythe, the fauchard consists of a long, curving blade with a large, pointed head and a fluke (a small, curved hook found on many polearms). The head is mounted on a wooden pole about eight feet long. Peasants can often change scythes into fauchards.
The fauchard is classified as a glaive. It is not very good as a thrusting weapon, but is used mainly as a slashing weapon. It fulfils the need for a weapon that puts some distance between the wielder and his enemy.
Since the fauchard is not an instrument designed foremost as a weapon but rather a farm tool adapted for war, it is inefficient as a weapon of war, being rather bulky and needing a large area to be used properly.
This term denotes a fauchard with the fluke attached. The fluke was added in order to improve the weapon's thrusting capability, but the effort was fruitless. It is still a bulky weapon, requiring much space to be wielded effectively.
The glaive is a pole weapon with a large head shaped like a knife or a sword mounted on an eight- to ten-foot long shaft. The blade usually turns outward in order to increase the cutting area. Some glaives are fitted with flukes. Overall, the glaive's damage potential is not spectacular, but its long reach makes up for this. It effectively takes a normal sword blade and gives it a great reach.
This term describes a glaive with a fluke mounted on the back of the blade. It is slower and heavier than a glaive, and its potential damage is nothing noteworthy.
Also called the gisarme or the giserne, the guisarme is an elaborately curved blade, much like the crescent blade of an axe, attached to a six-foot long staff. Thrusting spikes are often attached to the top of the shaft. The guisarme is supposed to have come from the farmer's pruning hook. The weapon may have contributed to the development of the berdysh and the halberd.
This term describes the guisarme in its later stages, with a curved axe-head. It features a back spike, the fluke, for punching through armor, and the blade's end tapers for thrusting attacks. Often, the fluke is replaced with a sharp hook for use in dismounting riders. It is a slower weapon than the plain guisarme but causes comparable damage.
By far the oldest and most often used polearm, the halberd consists of a cleaverlike axe blade mounted on a staff averaging six feet in length. The axe blade is balanced at the rear with a fluke, and surmounted by a sharp spike, usually of quadrangular design. The fluke is sometimes replaced by a hook used to dismount cavalry. A halberd can be best described as a cross between a spear and an axe.
Though a halberd's main function is to dismount cavalry, it may also be employed as a thrusting weapon and a cutting weapon. It is not a fast weapon, even compared to other polearms. Still, it does more damage to a man-sized opponent than all other polearms.
Like the fauchard-fork, the hook-fauchard is another attempt to improve the fauchard. This weapon has a hook fitted on the blade's back. The hook is used to dismount cavalry. Like its predecessors, it was not a very effective weapon. Its damage potential is horrible compared to the fauchards that it was supposed to improve upon, and it is slower than the original fauchard.
The lucern hammer is a hammerhead with a spike at its rear, mounted on a long pole, reaching as much as ten feet in length. In some cases, the end is fitted with a spike to keep enemy soldiers at bay. It is one of the heavier pole weapons and is rather slow. The entire weapon is usually made of steel, including the pole, and often it is decorated with carvings and precious metal gilding.
The military fork is the warrior's version of a simple agricultural farming tool. The head consists of two parallel spikes, often fitted with hooks for pulling horsemen off their mounts. Certain versions of the fork have a blade mounted just below the spikes. The wooden staff is about seven feet long.
Forks are useful not only as thrusting weapons, but as tools for climbing the defender's ramparts, setting up ladders, and hoisting baskets of supplies.
The partisan (alternatively spelled "partizan") is a staff weapon consisting of a long, tapering, double-edged spear blade with two diagonally-set flukes at the base. The shaft is about eight feet long. The partisan's flukes may be used to catch and break opponents' weapons, as well as to inflict extra damage. Partisan heads are large enough to allow engraving and ornamentation.
Also known as the rancoon and the rawcon, the ranseur resembles a partisan, except that the ranseur's flukes are longer, resulting in a three-pronged head. The flukes are, however, shorter than the middle blade. Partisans are sturdier than ranseurs. The three prongs are large enough to puncture armor or trap a weapon and disarm the opponent
Spetums are similar to ranseurs, except that the side blades sometimes angle backward, increasing the damage when the blade is pulled out of a wound.
Also called the vouge and the Lochaber axe, this weapon is a large, long blade, narrowing to a spike at the top, with a hook-shaped fluke at the blade's rear. The staff is eight feet long. Though it is a simple weapon to make, this advantage is offset by the fact that it is one of the slowest polearms available.
The sarisa, a Macedonian infantry spear, was the ancestor of the pike. The Swiss rediscovered the idea of mounting a spear head on a very long pole, and it became so popular that they adopted the pike as their national weapon in the 15th century. Their prowess with the pike, not only as a defensive weapon but as an offensive one, prompted other European nations to adopt it. The pike remained in use until the end of the 17th century, when muskets and bayonets made the long spears obsolete.
The berdysh were created by the Russians and used by Muscovite infantry during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were also used in Scandinavia and eastern Europe.
The bec de corbin (and faucon) was used by the upper classes during the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The terms are French, but the weapons were so named by English writers!
The bill was a popular weapon with the English, and, along with the halberd, remained in use longer than all other polearms, well into the early 17th century. The English bills had a shorter shaft length, usually around four feet, and were rather tough.
The glaive (derived from the Latin gladius, meaning "sword") blade increased in size over the years until it was big enough to have a nation's or ruler's coat of arms engraved upon it. It was often carried in parades. Glaives were introduced in the 14th century and favored by the French. The blade is said to resemble a large bread knife. The 16th century Italians and Germans favored the glaive as a palace guard weapon.
The guisarme was used extensively between the 12th and 17th centuries.
Halberds were introduced sometime between the 6th and 9th centuries AD, when foot soldiers of Northern Europe mounted their swords, called scramasax, on poles. The Swiss refined this weapon and wielded it with devastating skill. In fact, halberds were known to split a man's head from pate to jaw, armor notwithstanding! The halberd got its name during the first primitive versions made by the Swiss.
The word halberd comes from the German words halm (staff), and barte (axe).
Primitive halberds had a wide blade with a straight cutting edge. The staff fit through two sockets in the back of the blade. This design was probably inspired by the guisarme. By the end of the 15th century, the halberd was modified in order to increase its effectiveness. This is the halberd type most often referred to when using the term. The primitive halberds were soon referred to as the Swiss vouge (voulge). Like most polearms, the halberd fell into decline with the introduction of firearms.
Confusion often exists whether a lucern hammer is a hammer. It is safe to say yes, it is a hammer, and is alternately called a war hammer. A short-handled version of the lucern hammer was used by mounted troops as early as the mid-13th century. It is longer than the weapon most adventurers call a war hammer and is used mainly by massed units on the battlefield. The lucern hammer gets its name from the Swiss city of Lucerne, whose armories were well-stocked with the weapon, so much so that scholars named them after the city.
Military forks are descended from farmer's pitchforks, though the former's spikes were straight as opposed to the curved spikes of the latter. This weapon appeared frequently during the Crusades and peasant revolts from the 15th to 19th centuries. In 1920, Polish peasants used forks to fight off Soviet troops attacking Warsaw.
Partisans are a derivative of the langdebeve, a broad-bladed spear. The name partisan came from the people who wielded it, the partisans, in late 15th century France and Italy. After its retirement as a weapon of war, partisans continued to be used as ceremonial weapons in royal courts. In fact, the Swiss Guards of the Vatican and the Yeomen of the Guard at the Tower of London still use partisans at state occasions or when in full dress.
The term voulge has been used to describe many types of polearms, thus its true meaning is obscure. A number of texts associate the voulge with the English bill, the French glaive, and the Swiss vouge, the latter of which is the accepted voulge form. The lochaber axe is a Scottish polearm used in the 16th to 18th centuries, most likely descended from the gisarme.
The simplest and humblest of staff weapons, the quarterstaff is a length of wood ranging six to nine feet in length. High quality quarterstaves are made of stout oak and are shod with metal at both ends. The quarterstaff must be wielded with both hands.
Alternatively called a blackjack, the sap is a small leather bag filled with sand, lead shot, coins, or other weighted materials. It is used to quietly knock out a victim by administering a blow to the head or back of the neck. Thus, the sap has no effect on helmeted targets. If the sap strikes any other part of the body, the damage is halved and there is no other effect.
The scourge is a short whip with several leather tails or thongs. Each thong has metal barbs, broken glass, or any other sharp fragments attached along its length. A similar device, the cat-o-nine-tails, is a nine-tailed whip with knots tied in each thong.
The scourge is not so much a weapon as it is a means of inflicting great pain. Still, it causes damage and can be used as a weapon.
The scourge is truly a monument to man's ability to cause suffering. When a scourge hits a victim, the thongs curl around the trunk and limbs, with the barbs digging into the flesh. The torturer then pulls the scourge away, ripping even more of the victim's skin. In ancient Rome, certain soldiers were trained with the scourge to cause the maximum amount of pain without killing the victim. Roman citizens were exempt from scourging, while subject peoples were not.
The sickle is a farming implement consisting of a crescent-shaped blade mounted on a short handle. It is used in combat primarily by peasants or adventurers who have no weapon and are forced to make do with whatever they can find. Most farms have sickles, which are used for cutting weeds, grass, and grains.
Druids favor the sickle due to its strong association with agriculture. Golden sickles are used to harvest mistletoe as components for druid spells.
As a weapon, the sickle is as effective as a dagger, but is slower overall.
Slings have existed since the beginning of recorded history. The basic sling consists of a leather or fabric strap with a pouch for holding the missile. The weapon is held by both ends of the strap and twirled around the wielder's head. When top speed is attained, the missile is launched by releasing one of the strap's ends.
The sling is a cheap weapon and is easy to make. Thus, it is common among peasants, especially since it makes a good hunting weapon.
The sling's missile is either a smooth, rounded stone or a ball of lead. While stones are easier to find (most shallow streams have an abundance of smooth stones), the lead bullet causes more damage and flies farther than the stone.
A sling's projectile is capable of producing severe bruising or even broken bones against a man or his mount. Against armor, however, the sling loses most of its effectiveness.
Slings were heavily used by the peoples living around the Mediterranean basin. The Romans did not assign slings to their soldiers, but allowed their auxiliary troops to use them. The sling was used during the Middle Ages, and slingers are depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, not as soldiers, but as hunters.
One of man's earliest weapons, dating back to the most primitive of times, the first spears were simply wooden poles or sticks sharpened at one end. When fire was discovered and mastered, spear points were hardened by charring. As man became more adept at using tools, spears were either fitted with a stone head or the point was reinforced with splints of stone or bone.
When man mastered metals, spear heads were made from iron and steel. Having reached this end, weaponers began experimenting with different types of spear heads, thus leading to the development of certain polearm types such as the ranseur.
Spear shafts are usually made from yew or ash, since these woods are both flexible and strong. The shafts range five to eleven feet in length. In melee, spears may be used either one or two handed, with more damage inflicted if used in the latter mode. Spears 10 feet or longer cannot be wielded with one hand.
Though spears are normally used for thrusting, they can also be thrown. Special devices exist for hurling spears. These devices are variously shaped pieces of wood, horn, or bone with hooks, hollows, or grooves meant to house the spear butt. When using one of these throwers, the spear's throwing range is doubled. The cost of a spear thrower is 1 gold piece. The thrower weighs two pounds.
A long spear is like a normal spear, except that its shaft ranges 12 to 13 feet in length and cannot be thrown.
Spears have existed since the Paleolithic era, some 500,000 years ago. Horsemen of 20,000 BC began using them as missile weapons, complete with the hurling devices explained earlier.
The Greeks were fond of large formations of spearmen in their armies.
The Franks began producing what we know as the spear. These spears had long, leaf-shaped blades and two triangular "wings" set just below the head. These wings prevented the spear from penetrating too far into a victim (and consequently making it harder to pull out), and enabled the spear carrier to parry more easily with his weapon.
In the 14th century, spears used by horsemen evolved into the lance. Long spears in the 15th century developed into the pike.
Also called the fustibalus, the staff-sling consists of a wooden rod, three to four feet in length, with a sling attached to one end. The rod is used to increase the range that a heavy object can be thrown by enabling the slinger to twirl the sling harder. It is not meant to increase the distance of the average sling bullet. In fact, it has poorer range for stones or bullets.
An optional form of ammunition is the stinkpot, a clay vessel filled with burning sulfur or quicklime. This is considered a grenade-like weapon. For range, the stinkpot has a short range of 20 feet, medium range of 40 feet, and long range of 60 feet.
When the stinkpot breaks, everyone in a 20-foot diameter circle who does not leave the area.
Due to the trajectory that a staff-sling gives a missile, it cannot fire at short-range targets. It has less range than a sling and is a slower weapon, but the staff-sling can hurl a heavier object.
Also known as a stylet, the stiletto is a short dagger with a strong, triangular or square-sectioned blade that tapers to a sharp point at the tip. The stiletto is designed for thrusting, in particular to pierce armor such as leather or mail.
Most cities, except those involved in a war, prohibit the carrying of a stiletto since it is an easily concealed weapon.
Stilettos are narrow enough to be concealed in sword canes or even in the handle of a large sword, such as the long, bastard, or two-handed swords.
History of the Sword
The most common definition of a sword is an edged weapon with a long blade made for cutting blows, thrusts, or both.
Swords first appeared in the prehistoric period when humans, who had been using daggers of stone, began working with copper. The copper dagger could be fashioned with a long blade, and in the ensuing years, the blades got longer and longer. Eventually, the blade reached such a length that it could no longer be called a dagger.
This new, improved weapon was superior to the dagger, which was quickly relegated to a secondary role in melee combat.
Copper eventually gave way to bronze. Swords of varying lengths (what we now know as the long sword and short sword) came into being, with blades ranging from 27 to 35 inches.
Sword design was influenced by the dagger. Since the dagger is a thrusting weapon, early swords were also designed for thrusting. Eventually, the need arose for a weapon capable of slashing blows, so swords developed the double-edge, still retaining the sharp point.
Sword handles went through their own stages of development. In southern Europe, sword handles were decorated with ivory, gold, and semi-precious stones, while in northern Europe, the handles were decorated with engravings.
The discovery of iron revolutionized sword making. Bronze was rare, while iron was plentiful, though the latter was harder to work with. The change from bronze to iron was slow. For three centuries, both iron and bronze swords were in use.
The Romans developed the gladius, a short sword, in order to have a weapon that their rigidly-trained troops could use with swiftness and precision.
With iron proving itself superior to bronze, the latter was relegated for accessory parts, such as the grip or the sheath. The Hallstatt culture developed longer sword blades (31-35 inches) as advances in ironworking enabled them to make lighter and stronger blades. These blades were so pliable that they could be twisted into a spiral for three or four turns before breaking. This was known as "pattern welding." One drawback of this, however, was the fact that the blade could become misshapen when it struck something, often forcing the wielder to stop fighting and straighten out the blade with his foot or a rock! This was the type of sword that Gallic and Teutonic armies used against Roman legions, and is considered a long sword. Often, the craftsman making a sword placed a trademark identifying the maker.
As swords evolved, a small oval plate was placed between the shoulder of the blade and the grip. This was designed to protect the grip against damage from the metal mouth of the sheath. It also protected the user's hand.
Early stories of famous knights include lore about their swords, even mentioning the craftsmen who made the weapons. Siegfried had Balmus, Roland had Durandal, and Charlemagne had Joyeuse. King Arthur, of course, had Excalibur.
In the Carolingian period, the sword's grip was altered, becoming more specialized and defined. The oval attached to the grip was turned into a four-sided bar about four inches long. This became the guard. The wooden grip ended in a large pommel, which balanced the weapon. Such a sword measured about 40 inches in length.
At the start of the Romanesque Period (11th-12th centuries), the sword's form remained the same, but the blade became broader. These swords are considered broad swords by some scholars.
During this period, the sword was used primarily for slashing blows, as reflected in the Bayeux Tapestry, which shows armed men using swords in this manner.
The Gothic period saw swords becoming more specialized, depending on the knight's intentions. The knight's sword was a thing of beauty and strength, and it is this sword that resembles the long sword of fantasy. Knights usually owned several swords, each with its own use.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, swords were given to common foot soldiers, and their designs changed accordingly. There were more ring-guards (to protect fingers), knuckle bows, and other such devices. The two-handed sword emerged from this era.
During the 16th century, fighters began emphasizing sword thrusts, and blades changed to accommodate this. Elaborate basket hilts were perfected to give the hand better protection. This gave birth to swords such as the rapier.
By the end of the 16th century, with guns rising in prominence, swords were increasingly relegated to duelling.
The longsword is considered by some to be the principle weapon of nobility, the broad sword the typical weapon of the commoner, and the bastard and two-handed swords the specialized weapons of mercenaries.
Eventually, the sword became a symbol of tradition, and is still worn on many military dress uniforms out of respect for that tradition.
Also known as the hand-and-a-half sword, the bastard sword derives its name from the fact that it is halfway between the two-handed sword and the long sword.
The bastard sword has a double-edged blade and a long grip, which can accommodate both hands if preferred. The overall length of the bastard sword ranges between four feet and four feet ten inches.
Some bastard swords are equipped with knuckle guards, and others have asymmetrical pommels shaped like animal or bird heads.
The broad sword is a heavy military sword with a double-edged blade. Overall sword length is about three and one-half feet, and the sword is designed mostly for cutting. Most broad swords have a basket hilt or a shell guard. A favored cavalry weapon, the broad sword is known in different cultures by different names, usually dependant on the hilt configuration.
The claymore is a large, cross-hilted sword consisting of a straight, broad, double-edged blade and long quillons angling toward the blade. The grip is leather-covered and topped with a wheel-shaped pommel. The sword is slightly shorter than the two-handed sword.
Claymores are treated as bastard swords in terms of damage, weight, and weapon speed.
Claymores are greatswords of Scottish origin, used by Highlanders and Scottish mercenaries in Ireland. The sword was popular from the end of the 15th century to the early 17th century. The term claymore is from the Gaelic claidheamohmor, meaning great sword.
The cutlass is a sword with a single-edged, curved, broad blade attached to a basket hilt. The blade is short and heavy. The sword is favored among pirate crews and is easily found in port communities, but is rare inland. Cutlass users enjoy the same advantages in Parrying as broad sword users.
The falchion is a sword with a single-edged, heavy blade. The blade's back is usually straight, while the edge has a curve. The blade also broadens close to the tip, which gives the blade a cleaver-like appearance and increases the damage inflicted. The sword is heavy, which also contributes to a fearsome cutting blow.
The gladius is the first refined version of the short sword. It has a double-edged blade and a strengthened tip. The grip is made of wood, bone, or ivory and is topped with a round pommel. The sword is carried on a warrior's right side, slung from a baldric passing over the left shoulder. In terms of damage and length, the gladius or drusus resembles the short sword.
A drusus is a gladius of exceptional quality, and consequently has a series of special things associated with its care in order to maintain a sharp edge.
This Egyptian weapon has approximately six inches of handle and quillons. The blade extends straight out about eighteen inches from the handle, then curves into a slight sickle shape for another two feet. In effect, this only adds another eighteen inches to the overall length. The entire sword is usually made of bronze or iron.
These swords are usually referred to as doubled-edged swords, war swords, or military swords. In many cases, the long sword has a single-edged blade. There is no single version of the long sword; the design and length vary from culture to culture, and may vary within the same culture depending on the era.
Among the most common characteristics of all long swords is their length, which ranges from 35 inches to 47 inches. In the latter case, the blade is known to take up 40 inches of the total length.
Most long swords have a double-edged blade and a sharp point at the tip. Despite the tip, the long sword is designed for slashing, not thrusting.
Often, long swords have two grooves that run the length of the blade, one on each surface. These grooves are called fullers, and are meant to make the sword lighter and more flexible. If a sword did not have some elasticity, it would shatter when it hit a target.
The handles of all long swords fit only one human-sized hand. Most long swords have a small, oval, metal plate between the blade's base and the grip. This oval protects the grip from getting damaged against the metal in the mouth of the sheath. It also offers some modest protection to the hand. A second piece of metal, either oval or round, is fitted onto the pommel.
The classic long sword depicted in fantasy gets its design from the Gothic period. This is the longest variety of long sword, with a 40-inch blade.
The rapier is a light weapon with a straight, double-edged, pointed blade. It is designed to be a light, thrusting sword. The term rapier is often used to describe a civilian weapon, as opposed to the heavier and deadlier swords of soldiers and mercenaries. Rapiers are fashionable among nobles and gentlemen.
As a new art of fighting evolved with emphasis on thrusting with the blade as opposed to slashing, a new weapon was required. This art is known as fencing, and it requires a rapier. As the sport grew in popularity, the rapier was required to be narrower and lighter. It became not a slashing weapon at all, but a weapon purely for thrusting.
The early rapier handles have straight quillons (cross guards), side guards, and knuckle bows. The later versions have shell guards, similar to the basket hilts of the broad sword and cutlass. As a result, the rapier wielder enjoys the same Parry and punching bonuses outlined earlier.
Alternatively spelled saber, this sword is a long, curved, single-edged blade intended mostly for horsemen. It is a popular weapon for light cavalry. The sabre's hilt grants the user the Parry and punching bonuses of the rapier.
Members of the foul race of yuan-ti often use scimitars.
The sabre was initially developed in Central Asia, used by tribes that wandered the steppes. By the 9th century, the Slavs, who battled the Asians, had adopted the weapon. The term sabre is Slavic-Hungarian.
Sabres were used extensively in central and eastern Europe and by the Turks.
The Persian style of the sabre was discovered by Napoleon's troops. This version was known as the shamshir, which is commonly called the scimitar. This blade has a greater curve to it and is tapered to an elongated, sharp point.
The short sword is the first type of sword to come into existence. In the simplest of terms, a short sword can be considered a dagger with a blade so long that it can no longer be called a dagger. The term short sword does not exist in sword classifications. However, it has come to be used to describe a double-edged blade about two feet in length. The sword tip is usually pointed, ideal for thrusting.
Short swords are fitted with a handle that can accommodate only one hand.
The short sword is a descendant of the Roman gladius. In essence, it is a gladius made by improved metalworking techniques.
The Germans developed the baselard short sword, common in the 16th century, while the Italians had the cinquedea, a short sword with a blade that was broader at the base. Both versions of short sword were popular with civilians, not professional soldiers or knights.
The two-handed sword is a derivative of the long sword. Weaponsmiths have always looked for ways to improve existing weapons. In an effort to improve the long sword, the blade was lengthened (having a longer reach than one's enemy is always preferable). Eventually, the handle had to be extended and two hands became necessary in order to properly swing the sword. The primary function of two-handed swords is cleaving mounted knights and breaking up pike formations.
The blade on the two-handed sword is a long, double-edged blade. The blade point may be sharp or rounded. The hilt has straight or slightly curved quillons. The pommel may be faceted, triangular, or pear shaped, though whatever the shape, it tends to get larger toward the top, as a counterbalancing measure.
As its name implies, this sword is a two-handed weapon and cannot be used in one hand, even if the wielder has high Strength. The weapon and its hilt are balanced for two-handed use. A fighter wielding a two-handed sword cannot use a shield.
An average two-handed sword measures five to six feet in length. It is a favored weapon among foot soldiers.
The astral race known as the Githyanki favor two-handed swords. These weapons tend to be decorated with gems, beads, and precious metals.
The two-handed sword was a weapon of 13th century Teutonic origin. It was extensively used by German and Italian foot soldiers from the mid-15th to the late 16th century. In later years, the two-handed sword became largely a ceremonial or processional weapon, usually heavily decorated.
A trident is a long pole measuring four to eight feet with a metal, triple-bladed fork on one end. It is not used as a weapon by professional armies, but has seen some limited use from peasant guerrillas. The trident is normally a tool used for fishing, with some limited uses as an agricultural or hunting tool. It is a two-handed weapon.
Mounted knights cannot effectively use long pole weapons while on horseback, and as a result, many weapons have been fitted with shorter shafts so they may be wielded with just one hand. Maces and flails are two previous examples of this--the war hammer is another.
The horseman's war hammer is the descendent of the Lucerne hammer. It is made entirely of steel, with rondels protecting and strengthening the grip. Rondels are small disks of metal, often shaped into decorative designs. The shaft is about 18 inches long.
The whip or bull whip is a long, heavy, plaited lash usually made of leather or rawhide (untanned hide). The braided leather is thicker toward the handle, narrowing to a slender cord at the end. Some handles are wooden rods attached to the lash, while others are part of the same piece of rawhide. The whip's length varies from 15 to 25 feet. A whip is carried coiled and attached to the user's belt.
Common uses for the whip include leading herd animals and as a tool for punishment.