Bring Back Becs

The general theme of Dungeons & Dragons since the first printing AD&D has been simplification.  Make sense because nothing could be more simpler than “basic” D&D and additional rules and features had to be added.  Gary Gygax, legend that he was, loved the rules as much as Gary Busey loves meth.

For instance, do you remember that each weapon had a specific modifier against each Armor Class from 10 to -10?  Oh, the wonderful bo stick, the gift that kept on giving.  Each time you went up a level, every weapon (or magical variant) in your arsenal had 20 numbers or more that needed modifying.  This was also before the mass production of the home computer and all such calculations were done by abacus.

Of course, this trend of simplification takes a detour as the version starts to age and the suits in the company do whatever they can to get loyal gamers to buy more core products, particularly with 2e.  Combat & Tactics, Skills & Powers – the super character builder’s wet dream.  Sprinkle in some Ravenloft with a few dashes of Dark Sun and – wallah – you’ve got a d12 Fighter with Magic Resistance, Vampire Mul.

No wonder 3e was such a hit.

While I am a big advocate of simplicity, I have a weak spot for weapon variations.  I’ve got two complaints about 4e weapons.

Weapon Groups

The first is that the weapons have been grouped into easily digestible, homogenous portions.  Axe, sword, hammer, bow, pointy thing.  Small, medium, large, and family-value size.  When you look at this way it really makes the list of weapons rather bland, because their implied difference is just in the size and damage from degree to degree.

For example:

Handaxe > Battleaxe > Greataxe > Executioner’s Axe

Dagger > Short Sword > Longsword > Bastard Sword > Greatsword

I know that this was the intent with weapon groups and I can appreciate the game mechanic, but honestly the training involved with using a handaxe (or tomahawk for instance) has about the same relevance to using a Greataxe as it would using a fire hose.  Completely different stance, technique, guard.  Everything.  Just because the dangerous part of the weapon is formed in a similar wedge-shape shouldn’t mean that its easier to cross train between the two of them.

In reality, a Greataxe probably has a lot in common with a Maul, Greatsword, and other two-handed, baseball swing weapons.  Couldn’t there be a weapon group based on that principle instead of or in addition to all Axes?

Why stop at the obvious groups?  What about having a group called “Rogue’s Tools” which included dagger, caltrops, garrote, shuriken, and dart?  Or using a weapon group in the same style as a 2e kit for a occupation, such as Spartan – javelin, longspear, shortsword.  Just some quick ideas.

Weapon Roles

This is the part of the game mechanic that bothers me the most.  Maybe because I was a History major … or maybe because I have anal retentiveness that rivals Rainman.  Rapiers have become a rogue’s weapon, because it is light and fast and because of Errol Flynn movies.  Anyone who looks back at medieval combat though will immediately know that rapiers were first built to punch through plate armor, because cutting weapons just glazed right off of them.  Case in point, just look at the structure of a jousting lance – just a giant rapier with incredible penis envy.

Rapiers should get an advantage against armor, just as bludgeoning weapons like the mace and hammer should as well.  There was some thought put into this in 2e with optional bonuses by weapon type (slashing, piercing, & bludgeoning) against specific types of armor.  Truth is that most swords barely held an edge and were weighted so just for armor bite.  Slashing weapons in Europe were truly more the tools of less armored peoples, axes in Scandinavia and scimitars in the Middle East.

I wish there was more thought into giving weapons roles in combat or advantages against specific targets.  Seeing a fighter walking around with four or five trusted weapons (sword, polearm, axe, hammer, spear) that he can use as the situation arises is more interesting to me than just using his longsword to fix every enemy.

European & Boring

All of the entries are based on historical weapons with maybe a fuzzy exception on the spiked chain, which has only a tenuous tie at best to the kusari-gama or other Japanese chain weapons.  To take that one step further, there are only four weapons in the PHB that are not of European origin (scimitar, katar, shuriken, and again our friend, the spiked chain).

Now there will be people that will tell me that the longsword is a generic placeholder for the sabre, katana, broad sword, and maybe even a falx.  I understand that, but if that is truly the case then why add a rapier or scimitar?  A little variation, of course.

Why remove the fantasy element from the game’s weapons.  In 3e, they introduced the Dwarven urgrosh, the Orc double axe, the Elven thinblade, and even the double sword.  Of course, everyone that played 3e had to run at least one character with the double sword – even though it was a disadvantage – with Dual of the Fates playing on a nearby CD player.  I pity those poor souls that succumb to the temptation – how often do you find a magical double sword just laying around vs. a long sword? Hmm?

I’m really not looking for the ultimate weapon or the BFG2000, just variety.  There are plenty of cool weapons that have a different flavor to be found and introduced into the game from history.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • No-dachi: Japanese two-hander that has different proportions than a greatsword, its 50/50 blade to handle.  I first saw this in TMNT and immediately fell in love with it.  That still doesn’t mean that I like Kevin Siembieda.  Consider it a finesse 2-handed weapon.
  • Tiger Claws: call it the X-Men lover in me, but I love to have orcs armed with these things.  First saw these in the Warcraft RPG, I believe.
  • Foot Bow: used by Amazonians laying on their back and pulling the draw like a horizontal upright row (see the Mission with Bob Deniro).  I first saw this in the game as the Raptoran bow.
  • Fighting Sticks: I really just threw this in here for my boy, Johnnie, a well as my man crush on Rambo.  Plus, I just watched the eskrima episode of Human Weapon, so there.
  • Bec de Corbin: The star of this eponomously titled article.  I have no idea why I like this weapon.  Maybe its the AD&D stats that made is super effective against heavy armor.  Maybe its the idea of sculpting the head to look like a raven or a dragon.  Maybe I like Corbin Bernsen.  Who knows?

Others of note: the man-catcher, whip, tonfa, repeating crossbow, kusari-gama, three-piece rod, nun-chaku, Turkish bow, etc.

And how about weapons that have never existed?  With the inclusion of magic in the development of a world and culture, new types of architecture, craft, and artisanship are now available.  Let’s consider them minor magic items.  They don’t possess an enchantment or bonus, but have some small piece of magic that makes the operate or even exist.  Examples?  I knew you were going to ask for something.

How about this:

Force Spheres.  Orbs that are magically linked to a wand/rod or wrist tattoos on the wielder.  They come in two varieties, 5′ and 10′.  Call it an Exotic weapon for game balance.  In other variants, these spheres could be hollow and filled with flaming oil, holy water, one head vs. multiple, spiked, etc.

Or how about this:

Razor Lasso.  Sorry about the stupid name, really I am.  Here’s the idea, the character scores a hit and “lassos” an opponent.  They can influence their opponent’s movement (Str vs. Str?) and every time they are shifted, slided, or moved (except in the direction of the wielder) as the result of a Power, the lasso cuts and digs into flesh causing damage.  Minor damage (1d3 or something), but I think it’d be cool to have a combat where half the goblin war party is using my razor lasso.  Lariat.  Riata.  Rope.  Damn.

And another one:

Garment Sleeves.  This one I stole from about every Jet Li movie I’ve ever seen – where he fights with the long sleeves of his monk robe.  Watch them, kinda cool what he’s able to do … even with the help of 12 Chinese stunt men off camera.  There’s real legitimacy though in this idea – Royce Gracie actually joked out Ken Shamrock using the sleeve of his gi in UFC 2.

And these are just what I could think of in five minutes at my keyboard while pretending to fight off ninjas.


3 Comments on “Bring Back Becs”

  1. “Razor-line”
    “Razor-leash”

  2. “Razor-Cord”
    “Shard-Line”
    “Slice-Wire”


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