Wednesday, October 7, 2009

By The Sword

Looking back over some old character sheets from a mixture of D&D 3.5, Rifts, Traveller, and other RPGs, I noticed some glaring similarities. Evidently, I really like playing characters equipped with swords:

Colteris (Rolemaster Sage, 2003): Rapier

Corran (D&D 3.5 Fighter, 2003): 2-Handed Sword

Rickman (D&D 3.5 Bard, 2004): Longsword

Douglas (Rifts Scholar, 2006): Vibro-Saber

Laertes (Epic RPG Blade of Ehr, 2006): Shortsword

Lt. Alec Harcourt (In Harm’s Way U.S. Navy, 2006): Cutlass

Captain Jonathan Wayne (Classic Traveller Imperial Army, 2006): Broadsword

Evidently, I fall right into the trap of thinking Swords>All Weapons.

Anyone else find a proclivity or pattern of choice for a certain type of weapon? I don’t think this is anything I do consciously, and I don’t have a katana hanging somewhere in my house. I just like swords for arming my characters, I guess.


Ragna said...

I also have that tendency for using swords in my characters.

I have forced myself on using an axe for my Dnd4 human fighter, and I want to try a polearm warrior at some point too.

But, yes, swords are the primary group for me.

Badelaire said...

Watch Reclaiming the Blade, I think it answers your question ;-)

Seriously, swords have always been a weapon of choice for most any culture that has the resources and technology to make them. A sword is a strong, versatile, relatively compact weapon. The fundamentals of swordplay are fairly easy to pick up, but mastery takes a lifetime or more. It represents a philosophy of direct action and a willingness to engage a challenge up close, and it is also the foremost iconic representation of a "Warrior's Weapon"; peasants do not use swords, Warriors do.

If I was creating a character to be a Peasant Hero, I'd probably give him a spear or a quarterstaff. If I was creating a back-stabbing rogue or assassin, I'd probably give him a dagger. If I was creating a savage barbarian, I'd probably give him an axe or spear. But if I was creating an archetypal "Medieval Warrior", I'd give him a sword.

It also doesn't help that most RPG system mechanics make your average broadsword/longsword one of the best all-around weapons in the system. However, if you're using a system like, for example, Rolemaster, and your campaign has a high-medieval tech level using a lot of plate armors, you quickly find a lot of characters investing more skill ranks in warhammers, maces, and battle axes than in broadswords.

But in a game like basic D&D, all other things being equal, is a fighter going to take the mace that does 1d6, or the long sword that does 1d8? unless there's a significant mechanical or campaign-specific reason to avoid swords, most players (and who can blame them) are going to at least lean towards the weapon that gives them a statistical advantage.

Gleichman said...

For modern to near future I almost always pick a model 1911 in .45 ACP, or in some cases the same gun in 10mm.

For fantasy, the 1 1/2 Handed Sword is my normal choice and it shows up in some future campaigns as well.

And as far as swords go, let's face it- Star Wars wouldn't have been nearly as cool if it didn't have lightsabers. They made the movie.

Helmsman said...

I'm a big fan of the sword-wielding character as well...

One thing I've been pondering is what game would be the most fun to use a sword character in? I think a game like that would need a solid variance on sword designs and materials they could be constructed from (as well as lots of potential magical/technological effects), and then have a good bunch of maneuvers, to make a PC feel awesome. A damage system with enough durability to give the PC's some time to give and take a few hits but not so tough that it takes an army or a 3 hour combat session to kill a tough character.

Gleichman said...

I'm on the other side of the fence from the "A damage system with enough durability to give the PC's some time to give and take a few hits" viewpoint.

I tend to run with a system where there's an excellent change that a single connecting hit will drop a person. Where the defense is to not be hit, most with the use of the parry.

On top of this, good rules for movement.

I managed a blind test of this (actually my son in the coast guard managed it) pitting Star Wars SAGA (good example of Helmsmen's suggested approach) against Age of Heroes (my preferred method) modified for the Star Wars setting.

The latter was much better received than SAGA. The core was that in AoH the result of a lightsaber hit matched the movie, while SAGA produced results counter to their expectations. In short, they felt BA in AOH.

Helmsman said...


Most of the games I play have the potential for one-hit kills. Exalted is known for it, the one I'm designing is definitely capable of killing or downing a character with a good hit or two. And I agree with you that lightsabers which in the movies have the capability to carve through most structural materials like a hot-knife through butter should definitely be severing limbs on successful hits at the very least.

My interest would be more in creating a fantasy type game where you can pull off the dynamic extended sword fights that are seen in A Princess Bride, or read about in say the Wheel of Time, both of which seem to give quasi-mythical status to a swordsman's training school or techniques.

1d30 said...

Well, if you accept that early D&D's abstract combat system works the way it's intended, it could easily be used to simulate swordfighting. You just don't itemize every parry and thrust and shuffle. So maybe it doesn't feel cinematic. But it does result in a lightsaber duel where nobody gets hit until that last lucky stab that kills the other guy.

Anyway, I've found I go with whatever weapon is good but not the best. For example, I don't like using longswords in D&D because they're the best, but I don't go for stupid ones that only deal 1d4 or something. Then again, in D&D 1E-2E the bow is unquestionably the best weapon. It does as much damage as a longsword, at range, twice per round instead of once. At late levels you can use magic arrows with your magic bow and pack on the bonuses. And the Elven Archer in 2E is simply the most powerful non-spellcaster period.

I think if you're jonesing for a game where you have an incentive to use a wider array of weapons, Rolemaster might be it. Or WarhammerFRP, though I haven't looked at it.

Zzarchov said...

For me its the Axe, its the fantasy equivalent to choosing the shotgun in a modern game.

Simple, robust and brutal if it lands well, the sword is a more elegant and noble weapon.

Barrataria said...

I think the older D ampersand D modules were part of the problem... and the treasure tables. The most powerful weapons to be had were swords, usually more effective than other melee weapons. In some cases (AD&D) utterly necessary to survival at high levels. How many +3 bardiches ever saw print? Pretty hard to kill a demon with the same halberd +1 your character's been hauling around since 3rd level.

Nowadays I try to even such things out- have the two handed sword and the "great axe" do the same damage. But I think this is an ingrained bias, especially if you spent much time playing or DMing AD&D.

Frederic said...

I like swords, we probably all do.
I like maces too though... it's the bonecrushing I think.
A sword slices, a mace smashes
a sword cuts, a mace crushes
reading this makes me wonder why clerics should use them

Tim Shorts said...

Swords were always the choice because all the very cool magical weapons favored swords. Plus, swords had the best damage ratio. My characters always favored swords, but alternated with axes and bows. Never been much of a bashing weapons person. I can only think of one character that used a war hammer and he was more blacksmith than warrior.

rainswept said...

As a player my expereience has been almost entirely SF RPGs - Classic Traveller & Space Opera - but in considering my PCs, a marked preference for slug throwers over energy weapons is evident.

The 7mm AutoRifle was definitely my friend.