Title Image by Tijs Zwinkels
In some of our announcements, we've mentioned that we have included a system for “dynamic weapons.” Since I've gotten some questions on it (and honestly, we’re kind of excited) it seemed a fitting topic for our next Teaser. More importantly, the first teaser under the name Band of Bastards.
What's the deal with "Dynamic Weapons?"
In any conversation about historical weapons, you have three primary troubles when the goal is modeling them with accuracy.
The first comes from terminology. The fact is that in most period sources, regardless of its characteristics a sword was called (you guessed it) a sword. This shows up in many cases whether we’re talking about shorter swords, fatter swords, longer swords, one-handed swords, two-handed swords -- very few swords were called something other than “sword” in their period, and most often when they were it was usually something that translated to “Big sword” “large sword” “two-handed sword.” Very distinctive. The interest in precise categorization of different kinds of weapons is a relatively modern phenomenon, and this makes classification quite difficult with any kind of authenticity. Even the venerable longsword goes by a myriad of names, and the term longsword itself has even been applied to single-handed rapier-like blades in certain manuals.
The second problem you will encounter is that even if one can come up with definable categories for these individual weapons (agreeing exactly on what constitutes a side sword compared to an arming sword blade retrofitted with an elaborate guard, as was often historically done) you are then stuck with the unenviable task of trying to work out what an “average” item of this type actually is, how it performs, and so on. This itself is kind of a frustrating exercise, as even two swords which look identical may be vastly different based on how they are weighted. Slight changes in balance make one a nimble thrusting weapon and the other a dirty great chopper.
This gets even less fun when you get away from swords. Oakeshott typology and some serious scholarly work give us a pretty decent information about swords. But then you have to deal with axes, and maces, and crossbows, and guns. If there was an absurd amount of variation in types of swords and their characteristics, the amount of variation in even less standardized weapons borders on the infinite. We won’t even discuss the problems encountered if one wants to research early firearms and start defining terms. Arquebus, Spanish musket, late musket, caliver, petronel.. it was difficult enough to reach a consensus on which term means what to whom, but then getting common figures on calibers?
The final trouble you encounter is, as Mike Loades said "ultimately, a sword is an iron bar with a sharp edge and a point." In most cases, the actual difference in performance between different types of swords that were actually meant to be used is surprisingly small, save for preferences in how they have been weighted and the trade offs they may have made in specialization. Weapons are meant to be an answer to a question. While swords represent an exceptionally wide variety of attempts to find answers, the answers they arrive at are very similar.
So. What have we taken away from this?
Weapons are very fluid in their “types” and except in situations in which a standard was imposed (such as the mass-produced sabers for the British army), the handling characteristics of a given weapon usually had more to do with the preferences of the person having it made than anything intrinsic to a “type” of sword. Rather than take up a quarter of the book with spread-sheets on 150 types of sword, we decided that we wanted to model that fluid, dynamic quality.
In ‘Bastards, weapons are handled through what we call Codices, which are systems we use to help you generate content for your game. In the Arms Codex, weapons are broken down by type: One-handed sword, two-handed sword, mass weapons, pole-arms, daggers, bows, crossbows, pistols and long guns. Each weapon type has its own base stats, and then a series of options you can take that alter the characteristics of the weapon you are having made.
Bow (4p, short/medium, instant, draw: St3)
- Ambushes at d6 Sequence
- Reaches up to Long range in a formation
- Damage becomes 2p if Draw Weight requirement is not met
Choose Bow Type:
- Self-bow (+1TN, in a pinch, can be crafted in a day with basic skills and limited tools)
- Recurve (-2DR when wet, composite*, crafting takes often weeks, requiring special tools and glues)
Optional: Change Draw Weight
- Child’s (-2 Damage, requires Strength 1)
- Target (-1 Damage, requires Strength 2)
- War (+1 Damage, requires Strength 4)
- Epic (+2 Damage, requires Strength 5)
Features: Increase Cost for Each
- Long (reaches up to Extended range in a formation; can’t be used on horseback)
- Heavy Draw (+1 Damage, one shot per round, always uses d10 Sequence)
- Whiskers (adds string silencers, subduing the twang)
Shortbow (4p, short/medium, instant, St3) Recurve
Poaching Bow (5p, short/medium, d10, St3) Self-bow, Whiskers, Heavy Draw
English Longbow (6p, short/medium, d10, St4) Self-bow, War, Long, Heavy Draw
Daikyū** (4p, short/medium, instant, St3) Recurve, Long
* composite and recurve are not separate traits -- the only way to get a recurve bow is to build it out of composite materials. this is contrasted by crafting a bow out of a single piece of wood, which makes a self-bow.
** this asymmetrical Japanese bow made out of bamboo strips is the only historical recurve longbow that we’re aware of
Like in the above example, each weapon section will give examples on how the parts can work together, and some very common “forms” of those weapons. To make life easy on the GM, a back appendix will feature the fairly complete kind of arms catalog you would expect for easy reference. So far, we haven’t come across any period weapons that we haven’t been able to easily replicate within our setup, and that makes us ridiculously excited.
The real strength of this system is two-fold:
First, it allows a far more subtle variation and characterization as you see in fiction. Even in a knightly setting with little variation where the default assumption is that everyone would have carried an arming sword, your hulking brute of a character may be carrying one that’s deliberately hefty and blade-heavy, meant to brutally hack his way through an enemy. By contrast, the guy at your table whose character is a pampered noble may decide that his character would have preferred a lighter, more nimble weapon. There is a sense of ownership when designing your character’s weapon, rather than just picking one off the rack.
Second, it avoids long debates over the relative merits of different swords and keeps the focus where it should be: on the people who use them.
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