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.)?
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.)