Fantasy weapons

Some time ago B/X Blackrazor touched on an interesting issue that I’ve been pondering — the weapons we know developed in the world we know.  The arms & armor of our world evolved in a world where they were generally used against men and small set of domesticated animals — horses, and to a lesser extent elephants, camels, and dogs — and are distinct from the hunting weapons which were developed for use against specific prey. Of course, a boar-hunting spear might be used as a weapon of war, and in a pinch you could use a longbow to hunt rabbits, but the point is that arms have been fairly specialized.

So how would the existence of D&D monsters and dungeoneering affect the development of arms & armor?

  • What weapons would you carry into battle if you know you’re facing a necromancer’s horde? Blunt weapons maybe for use against skeletons, and maybe you’d be more tempted to use a big, heavy weapon if you know there are zombies that are themselves very slow but can take a lot of trauma.
  • Would spiked suits like the “Siberian bear hunting armor” be useful, for example if you know you are going up against creatures that will try to grab, grapple, or constrict you? The famous tale of the Lambton Worm comes to mind. Would spiked armor help with monsters that try to bite you, like ghouls?
  • Is there anything that would increase your chances versus a frost giant or a red dragon? I kind of doubt that any armor would matter when you’re facing the kinds of impact a huge beast could hit you with, but maybe the infamous “bear-proof suit” (not to be confused with the Siberian bear hunting armor mentioned above!) would help.
  • Would you design a different kind of helmet for dungeons, which would be less limiting to vision and hearing, or maybe have a candlestick instead of a plume? Real world helmets severely limit one’s ability to see down, up, and side-to-side, and by covering the ears limit hearing.
  • How about shortened versions of various weapons for indoor use, paralleling the shortened weapons used in naval boarding action (e.g. the cutlass as a shortened sabre, the boarding pike, the boarding axe, etc.)?

John D. Batten illustration, a public domain image from Wikipedia.


Some of the silly designs in Halbritter’s arms through the ages come to mind, like the bladed breastplate. Frankly I have not seen any really convincing “fantasy” weapons in video games, and the “exotic” weapons offered up in 3rd edition were a bust IMO, looking like they were more influenced by bong hits and manga than problem-solving. Still the real world produced messed up stuff like urumis and nine dragon tridents, so what do I know?

On a related note, the existence of flying, tunneling, and magic-using creatures (and humans) would obviously be a big game-changer to sieges and fortification. I think I’ve seen several people offer dungeons as a partial solution to that: by putting one under your castle, you are keeping out tunnelers, and also giving yourself a refuge against aerial bombardment. The Warhammer Fantasy Battle supplement “Siege” had another ad hoc notion: castles would include magical barriers in the foundations of the walls, so that magic is deflected or blocked by them and you can’t just send ethereal creatures or spells through or over the walls. (WFB Siege also made castle walls disrupt the undead, presumably to stop necromancers from just summoning wave after wave of skeletons at the walls (or sending skeleton cavalry through the walls — the WFB rules had skeleton cavalry ignore terrain and barriers because they are partly insubstantial, and the ramification that they could ride through walls was too game-breaking for a siege, I assume.)


Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 11:26 pm  Comments (10)  

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  1. Unlike D&D where heroes tend to specialize in one weapon. I think, per-gun powder, monster hunters would use a wide variety of weapons and armor. Plate armor would work great against man-sized and smaller creatures, it might even help against breath weapons. It would also be excellent for fighting humanoids. Against giants mobility would be more important. So horses and armor that did not interfere with your perception. So armor would be more like WW2 armor, designed to limit battle field hazards (flak Jackets) but not stop weapons. So light mail or leather.

    Most monsters do not shoot missiles and are a lot stronger than humans so shields would likely be a liability. But again I think the monster hunter would be switching things for the right opponent so they would likely have a shield on a horse.

    Hmm come to think of it Mail and a Coat of plates would likely be the way to go. Leave off the coat of plates until its needed. It would not be as hard to put on as field plate.

    As far as weapons the primary weapons of the middle ages (spears, lances, pole arms, great swords, bows and crossbows) would work fairly well against most monsters. Reach would be all important for fighting big monsters. Even a 12′ giant is not much bigger than a polar bear and spears could bring them down. Blunt weapons (maces hammers and flails) would be little use against a giant or dragon. Then again vs. armor wearing humanoid they might want to have one handy.

    So I guess I am copping out and saying what most ARMA people would say, there is no best armor or weapon for every situations. Monsters Hunters would want a variety of arms and armor. That is why I like weapons vs. armor and rules without specialization. In general monster hunters, just like soldiers would want to keep their distance.

    • I like the image of a weapons caddy lugging a sheaf of weapons around for adventurers.
      “I say, is that a living statue? Pass me the pick!”
      “Skeletons, sir, here’s the mace”
      “Oh look, a rabble of kobolds, give me the longsword!”

      • I LOVE this idea. In the fantasy heartbreaker I will probably never write, every weapon has a schtick: maces for heavy armor, axes and flails to get around shields, spears for keeping your foe at a distance and daggers for up-close and brutal work.

    • Dnd is a wargame with rpg attached..and the weapon system shows can NEVER use the weapon taken at first level but always proficient in

  2. I don’t think you’d see much difference – the real world produced arbalests (late middle ages) as well scorpions (the Romans!). There is still Greek Fire, so perhaps some sort of launching system would have been developed (likely from said scorpion or arbalest) – but that said I believe that the Byzantines also developed some sort of man-portable trebuchet, as well as flamethrowers and incendiary grenades!

    The real world also already invented lantern shields as well, so that covers the “night fighting” – and many of them integrated all sorts of blades and spikes as well.


  3. People really do underestimate how much European medieval weapons were shaped by constant development and refinement. I’m not sure you’d see any radical developments, nothing as wacky as the urumis. The two-handed flail (based on the threshing tool) favored by the Dutch during their wars for liberation against Spain and the HRE would be an excellent weapon against skeletal and zombie hordes, and your average yeoman farmer would already be quite familiar with its use. The flachion was developed to hack through the heavy armors worn during the latter part of the Hundred Years War; a similar heavy chopping blade would seem the sort of thing to hack through tough foes like orcs.

    The open-faced wide-brimmed helm popular among common soldiers from that same war ( looks a lot like 20th century miners’ helmets. Likewise, the open-faced sallet ( seems a good design for protecting your head and the back of your neck from falling slime, fire, rocks, and kobold bits.

    We might not have seen the development of weapons like the rapier; it’s great for poking holes in mere humans, but an orc might ignore such superficial wounds that didn’t actually pierce a vital organ, while dragons and ogres might not even notice the pinpricks of such a weapon.

    • Well, yeah, miner’s helmets, of course!
      Maybe you’d have some sort of oiled cloth coveralls for your armor too, kind of like the coverings Romans put on their shields for marching, to fend off corrosive spit, rust monsters, etc. A wooden boar spear for rust monsters, if they are common.
      Rapiers are pretty long and quick though, so you’d want one for keeping quick little buggers, like giant centipedes and kobolds, off you.

  4. Being a sword and board and LARP..we have explored this..poking weapons in a dungeons..shorter spears..qamas etc..slashing in short spaces is deadly for your companions..a lobster helm is ok for dungeons

  5. Harpoons,there’d be more harpoons.

  6. I remember your comments on castles and weapons/armour were well discussed in the old DnD blue handbooks (Castles and Arms and Equipment respectively).

    The castles book mentioned mystical protections as part of the castle. Interestingly, it also mentioned the scarcity of magic users and the likelihood of charlatans and fake charms. Aerial attackers were dealt with two fold: relative scarcity and historical constructs. Since fliers are so rare (or rather the intelligent ones likely to cooperate with an army or the number of domesticated flying mounts) they were a minimal threat. A scorpion, arbalest, high level archer or wizard works well against a small scale threat. The existin defences like hoardings or gatekeeps provided overhead protection against bombardment and would likewise protect against aerial attack.

    Tunnelers were addressed in a similar fashion by looking at both rarity and the historical context of mining/counter-mining. The whole section made an army using goblins entirely terrifying for that reason alone.

    The equipment discussion was very unique in the book with a commentary by a user/specialist and I found them a nice light read. The monster fighting kit was best explored when my group played Rune Quest (great old game). The most successful monster hunters carried an impaling weapon of some sort (sword or spear) a back-up main weapon, and 2-3 knives/daggers/blades for when grappling, bitten, knocked prone, riding the beast like a mythical bull-rider or (in one case) when swallowed. The light or patchwork armour seemed to work the best.

    So in the end I agree with your assessment – a fantasy setting requires a different mindset. And the gritty hero seems the best suited to dealing with the various and sundry monsters, not the knight in shining armour.

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