Your swords library!

I just read The book of swords — not the Fred Saberhagen series (the first three of which were pretty good but not strong enough to make me really want to read the many sequels) — but a nonfiction book by the late Hank Reinhardt.   (Link goes to memorial page; it turns out his personal collection of weapons is being sold off, in part, and there are some articles by him, including some cringe-worthy stuff on politics that I’ll pretend I didn’t see!) Mr. Reinhardt is best known for his tireless promotion of medieval weapons, as the founder of the HACA and sword designer/consultant/co-owner for Museum Replicas.  This book was unfinished at the time of his death but so far it’s a pretty good read.  The style is extremely conversational, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The illustrations are photos (selected by the editor, his widow) and line drawings made by his friend Peter Fuller.  They don’t always have much to do with the text they accompany, at least in the first few chapters, and frustratingly there are several passages that really scream for an illustration but have none.  His widow owns Baen Books and the book was published under that imprint, so perhaps the editor/publisher could not be objective in deciding whether the book was ready to go into print.  I’d still place the quality of the proofreading above many self-published books, but what this book probably needed was someone who would be willing to make cuts and changes.  I suspect that conversational tone was something his widow and friends were unwilling or unable to fix, since that would mean removing some of his personality from the book, and the preface admits that his death was sudden and left them all in a bit of shock.  As it is there are some distracting goofs here and there, a bit of rambling which the author acknowledges, and some lack of organization as points are raised, forgotten, picked up again, and in some cases left completely unexplained.

Reinhardt mentions that Arab swords are among his favorites and they deserve their own chapter, but sadly he never wrote that chapter.  I am reminded of Sir Richard Burton’s Book of the sword, which similarly promises a section on Japanese swords which he never got around to writing.  I suppose you could use these two books together then, although Reinhardt is rather less enthusiastic about katanas than Burton is about scimitars…

Reinhardt concludes his survey of swords with a couple of chapters on playing and fighting with swords.  He has some suggestions for making practice targets for cutting, and also gives his advice for those entering contests and sparring.  He has a great deal of skepticism about the fechtbuchs that have recently been garnering attention (authentic manuals written by duelists).   I skimmed these chapters.  He also talks a bit about his field tests of various swords on an armored pork roast, which is interesting, but we’ve all seen that sort of thing on the History Channel and You Tube (search: “Cold Steel” or “Arms in Action” for some entertainment!  The Deadliest Warrior series had a few good sequences too but they always used very inferior butted mail rather than the riveted mail actually used by knights. )

The editors made a good effort at adding some bibliographical references to supplement his writing, but it’s not clear that they necessarily represent the sources of his ideas or facts; it is more of a selected bibliography of his personal library. (The introduction promises to eventually release a list of his personal books but that effort seems to have been abandoned.)  A few chapters have Reinhardt’s own suggestions for further reading and I’ve added a few to my to-read list.  The point of this post was actually not to review Reinhardt’s book so much as to mention a few books on weapons that I think are worth checking out.  I have a small collection of books on arms and armor that I draw on for reference now and again and Reinhardt’s book will certainly join them.  I’ve weeded my own collection a few times, and I think the ones I still have are all useful although not all of them are reliable.  But they are some of the more widely available books on weapons so I thought it might be worthwhile to give my own little bibliography of books on weapons.  I’ve noticed that although there are many, many books on swords, there are few if any books devoted just to hafted weapons like axes and maces.  At best you’ll find a chapter or two devoted to ‘other weapons’ in a swords book, with perhaps a dedicated chapter on polearms in some books too.  Granted there would be less romance and folklore to collect, but surely there is room for a book on maces?  Maybe it’s just me, but I find hafted weapons just as interesting as swords.  Anyway, here goes a list, more or less in chronological order:

Burton, Richard F. The book of the sword. Originally published in 1884, there have been many affordable reprints including a Dover edition which I have and, since it is now in the public domain, you can find scans and other digital copies pretty easily.  There is a terrible scan in Google books and very good one here at  (as Google is listed as the digitizing partner at, I’m not sure why the two scans are so different…).  some of this is outdated, obviously, but Burton is one of the few modern writers on swords who actually used swords in combat and I understand he was a pretty good swordsman.  (Most books by fencers, duelists, and martial artists are more focused on technique and mental preparation, so it’s cool to see Burton’s views of the sword as an artifact.)

Ashdown, Charles Henry.  British & foreign arms and armour.  This book (originally published in 1909) has appeared under several different titles and in various sizes.  I have a large (folio) sized edition put out by Wordsworth Editions as An illustrated history of arms & armour, but it has also been published as: European arms and armour and Weapons and armour in the Middle Ages.  I was fooled by all these title changes and had two different editions for a while.  Again a digital scan is available at  I have a theory that some of the confusion about the different armors (“banded mail,” “splint mail,” “ring mail”) might be due to the taxonomy of mail in this book, which seems to take every different depictions in Medieval art (especially funerary brasses of armored knights) to be different kinds of armor, rather than different ways of representing mail.  Probably someone else has already thought this, and I just forget where the idea was first put forward.  Still, it has great pictures and anecdotes.

Oakshott, Ewart. The archaeology of weapons.  1960.  A true classic, and given it’s early date it’s surprising how much craziness made it into RPG books and popular culture regarding the weight and lengths of weapons and so forth.  I remember my brother repeating the story his teacher told him around 1980 that Viking swords weighed 10 or 20 pounds.  Sigh.  Oakshott has a few other books on weapons I haven’t read, but which are more technical and narrower in focus.

Norman, A.V.B., & Pottinger, Don.  English weapons and warfare, 449-1660. 1966.  Also published under the title Warrior to soldier, 449 to 1660.  This book reminds me a lot of Ashdown’s.  The illustrations though are mostly original line drawings that look good.

Halbritter, Kurt. Waffenarsenal. 1977.  Translated as Halbritter’s armoury and Halbritter’s arms and armor through the ages. (I have the second version.)  This is a purely satirical book on weapons, armor, and fortifications that is very amusing and may provide some ideas for the sorts of innovations humanoids might come up with in your D&D games.  Some illustrations are reproduced in low resolution here.

Balent, Matthew. Palladium Books presents– the compendium of weapons, armour & castles. 1989.  This is a monster compilation of the old Palladium weapons & armor books from the 1980s, complete with the statistics for an unspecified system (which is not quite compatible with Palladium’s FRPG, either!).  The art is pretty good, and the listing of weapons is about as close to exhaustive as you will get. I’m not sure all the terminology is as precise as the book  suggests, but in terms of giving pretty much every weapon a name, it serves its purpose.  I owned the original Palladium books on Exotic weapons and Weapons & assassins; I think my brother ‘inherited’ them when I inherited all his minis; he had the Weapons & castles and Weapons & armor books too anyway.  (He’s the only person I know as interested in weapons as I am, apart from our nephew Quinn!)  I’m not sure the assassins book material is reproduced but everything I recall from the other books seems to be there, some with new or enlarged illustrations.

Diagram Group. Weapons: an international encyclopedia from 5000 BC to 2000 AD.  This book was originally published in 1980, then again with updates in 1991, and in 2007 under the title The new weapons of the world encyclopedia : an international encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to the 21st century.  (Yes, the 1980 and 1991 editions both say “to 2000 AD”.  I only have the 1991 edition, and it is very good and fairly comprehensive, with a number of unusual weapons alongside all the familiar ones, and simple diagrams to explain how they work.   The book moves progressively from the simplest hand weapons to guided missiles and nuclear weapons, grouping them by types (all the knives in one section, all the spears in another, etc.)  I also liked the appendix which groups weapons by time period rather than types.

Paul, E. Jaiwant. “By my sword and shield” : traditional weapons of the Indian warrior. 1995.  A slim book that just focuses on India, which has an astonishing range of unusual and crazy-looking weapons.  I like kukris and katars quite a bit, and while I think the Viking sword is probably my favorite kind of sword, Indian swords look really scary.  This book gives a fair amount of detail on the construction and history of various weapons and is worth having.

Amberger, J. Christoph. The secret history of the sword : adventures in ancient martial arts. 1998.  (An earlier edition has less than half as many pages, but I haven’t seen it). This is a fairly entertaining read, and is more of a history of dueling and fencing than of swords or swordplay generally, but there are lots of great anecdotes and ideas sprinkled throughout.  The author is a little too in love with himself IMO but it doesn’t quite spoil the book.

Withers, Harvet J. S. The world encyclopedia of swords and sabres. 2008.  Also published as The illustrated encyclopedia of swords and sabres.  The illustrations here are all photographs of often gorgeous museum pieces and despite the title it also covers other bladed weapons like knives and bayonets, as well as a very few axes and hafted weapons.  The historical notes are solid and this is fun book to flip through if you like swords.  The same author is credited with several other similar titles that might be different versions of the same work. (It’s funny how  specialist books get re-published over and over with new titles.  I see this a lot at work as a catalog librarian and I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with marketing — they will always appear as “new” books, right?  Cookbooks are also very guilty of this.

Honorable mention to several books I do not own:

Wagner, Eduard. Cut and thrust weapons. 1967.  A very comprehensive book focusing more on later period swords but also including a lot of information on the design and construction of swords. Very pricey on the used book market.

Wilkinson, Frederick. Antique arms & armor. 1972.  Also his Swords and daggers. 1968.  Two good books with photographs of museum pieces.

Sharpe, Mike. Swords and hilt weapons. 2012.  A nice coffee-table type book with photographs mostly of reproductions of the sort sold by Museum Replicas, Inc., Cold Steel, etc.  The big format gives plenty of space of reproducing the photos, which is almost all the book consists of.  There are several other books with the same title out there and they are more like the Withers book, showing photos of museum pieces.

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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George Silver, master of defense

A good twelve years ago, maybe 15, I found this web site with the complete text of George Silver’s “Paradoxes of Defense,” a book largely devoted to explaining why people should not be hiring these upstart Italian fencing masters (and their newfangled rapiers) and instead rely on the more traditionally English weapons, as taught by English masters of defense, such as, oh I don’t know, maybe George Silver.  You might want to dismiss his arguments but from what I’ve read about him, Silver actually was a serious martial artist and fought duels with all manner of weapons and even challenged a rival Italian master to a duel with the full array of weapons (including battle axes, bills, two-handed swords, staves… everything).  The Italian master did not bother to show up, which Silver took as vindication but which can equally be seen as the dismissal of a crank.

An image from Geo. Silver’s Paradoxes of Defense, demonstrating the perfect length for a sword in relation to the wielder’s measurements. This illustration is often taken to be a portrait of Silver himself but there is nothing to support that assumption in his book.

Anyway the interesting thing is that Silver detailed what he thought of as the hierarchy or order of superiority among weapons, both for dueling purposes and at war:

First I will begin with the worst weapon, an imperfect and insufficient weapon, and not worth the speaking of, but now being highly esteemed, therefore not to be unremembered. That is, the single rapier, and rapier and poniard.

The single sword has the vantage against the single rapier.
The sword and dagger has the vantage against the rapier and poniard.
The sword & target has the advantage against the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.
The sword and buckler has advantage against the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or rapier and poniard.
The two handed sword has the vantage against the sword and target, the sword and buckler, the sword and dagger, or rapier and poniard.
The battle axe, the halberd, the black-bill, or such like weapons of weight, appertaining unto guard or battle, are all one in fight, and have advantage against the two handed sword, the sword and buckler, the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.
The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length*, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target, and are too hard for two swords and daggers, or two rapier and poniards with gauntlets, and for the long staff and morris pike.**
The long staff, morris pike, or javelin, or such like weapons above the perfect length, have advantage against all manner of weapons, the short staff, the Welch hook, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage excepted, yet are too weak for two swords and daggers or two sword and bucklers, or two rapiers and poniards with gauntlets, because they are too long to thrust, strike, and turn speedily. And by reason of the large distance, one of the sword and dagger-men will get behind him.
The Welch hook or forest bill, has advantage against all manner of weapons whatsoever.
Yet understand, that in battles, and where variety of weapons are, among multitudes of men and horses, the sword and target, the two handed sword, battle axe, the black bill, and halberd, are better weapons, and more dangerous in their offense and forces, than is the sword and buckler, short staff, long staff, or forest bill.
The sword and target leads upon shot, and in troops defends thrusts and blows given by battle axe, halberds, black bill, or two handed swords, far better than can the sword and buckler.
The morris pike defends the battle from both horse and man, much better than can the short staff, long staff, or forest bill.
Again the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, and sword & target, among armed men and troops, by reason of their weights, shortness, and great force, do much more offend the enemy, & are then much better weapons, than is the short staff, the long staff, or the forest bill.
Man, he really hates rapiers.  But interestingly he thinks a longish polearm is best for dueling or personal defense and that in full-on battle the best weapons are the sword & shield, the two-handed sword, and short polearms (if we assume, as I think we should, Silver’s “battle axe” is a sparth or pollaxe, and that the black bill is the short “military” bill).
Anyway this all sounds fairly reasonable to me, although I’d be curious to hear what the reenactors say, and moreso what the guys reinventing/recovering medieval European martial arts, like the ARMA, would say.
The closest I’ve come to any ‘weapons testing’ has been fighting a lot with padded weapons in high school and college. But we never developed shields that were practical and so my experience is entirely with one or two swords, maces, flails, and pole arms, and I’m sure our techniques were very stylized and crude, since we disallowed head shots, and were using freaking padded weapons.  We did try to make them realistic in terms of weight and length.  But we could ignore the fact that sword edges chip or blunt, or that metal may cut wood, and other physical properties of real weapons, so I am not confident it counts all that much.
*”perfect length” for a pole arm for Silver is about 8-9 feet — see below.  For taller people, longer; for shorter people,  shorter.  He actually has a lot to say about long weapons ought to be:
To know the perfect length of your sword, you shall stand with your sword and dagger drawn, as you see this picture, keeping out straight your dagger arm, drawing back your sword as far as conveniently you can, not opening the elbow joint of your sword arm, and look what you can draw within your dagger, that is the just length of your sword, to be made according to your own stature.

The perfect length of your two handed sword is, the blade to be the length of the blade of your single sword.

To know the perfect length of your short staff, or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage and perfect lengths, you shall stand upright, holding the staff upright close by your body, with your left hand, reaching with your right hand your staff as high as you can, and then allow to that length a space to set both your hands, when you come to fight, wherein you may conveniently strike, thrust, and ward, & that is the just length to be made according to your stature. And this note, that these lengths will commonly fall out to be eight or nine foot long, and will fit, although not just, the statures of all men without any hindrance at all unto them in their fight, because in any weapon wherein the hands may be removed, and at liberty, to make the weapon longer of shorter in fight at his pleasure, a foot of the staff being behind the backmost hand does no harm. And wherefore these weapons ought to be of the lengths aforesaid, and no shorter, these are the reasons: If they should be shorter, then the long staff, morris pike, and such like weapons over and above the perfect length, should have great advantage over them, because he may come boldly and safe without any guard or ward, to the place where he may thrust home, and at every thrust put him in danger of his life, then can the long staff, the morris pike, or any longer weapon lie nowhere within the compass of the true cross, to cross and uncross, whereby he may safely pass home to the place, where he may strike or thrust him that has the long weapon, in the head, face, or body at his pleasure.

Of the lengths of the battle axe, halberd, or black bill, or such like weapons of weight, appertaining unto guard or battle.  In any of these weapons there needs no just length, but commonly they are, or ought to be five or six foot long, & may not well be used much longer, because of their weights, and being weapons for the wars and battle, when men are joined close together, may thrust, & strike sound blows, with great force both strong and quick. And finally for the just lengths of all other shorter or longer weapons to be governed with both hands, there is none. Neither is their any certain lengths in any manner of weapons to be used with one hand, over or under the just length of the single sword. Thus ends the length of weapons.

**a “morris pike” would be a regular 14-18 foot pike, longer than the “perfect length”
I think a “black bill” and a “Welsh bill or forest bill” would be a bill-hooks of differing shaft lengths, but I have not seen any definitive explanations of these terms.  One explanation I’ve seen is that a “black bill” is a heavier military weapon while the “brown bill” or “forest bill” is a lighter civilian tool.  It seems pretty clear from Silver’s writing that black bills are shorter than brown bills though.
Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 9:08 am  Comments (3)  
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Swords and reliquaries

So the week between Xmas and New Year’s, my awesome wife got the idea to take our daughter and four of her cousins to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  It’s been a while since we’ve been there, and it has some great stuff for kids, like the Armor Court, which has a sweet collection of swords ranging from a Viking era sword to “court” small swords, along with a massive parade sword, a two-handed thrusting “estoc” with a triangular cross section — imagine a 5′ bayonet blade on a sword hilt! — various pole arms, not to mention all kinds of armor and crossbows and helmets and early guns.  I could spend hours in the Armor Court, actually.  My quick scan of the CMA’s web site didn’t turn up any good galleries of the stuff there, but it must be stashed somewhere on the site.  If you use the site’s “search” box and search “Armor Court” you’ll get links to individual images from the collection but it is rather slow to wade through.  Here’s a pic I found online that gives a sense of the layout of the Armor Court:

There was also a special exhibit of reliquaries from Europe, which included parts of altars, books, and most spectacularly (and perhaps gruesomely) a large number of objects that house or house actual relics like saint’s blood, bones, skulls, and so on.  Some had obviously been pillaged at some point in the past.  There are gaping holes where gems had been set on some pieces, for example.  Others were fairly intact.  I was kind of busy keeping a five and six year old from touching the glass but I got to see some extraordinary stuff and some of it has D&D relevance!

A “Griffin’s claw”  (actually a an ibex horn) associated with St. Cuthbert!  I’d never heard of this particular  legend, but apparently  griffins were alleged to give claws to holy men who  cured them of maladies.  The claws  would have some ability to heal in turn, I guess.  I’ll have to file that little piece of info away.  Crusaders often brought griffin claws home  from the holy land so  this particular object was probably never really in St. Cuthbert’s possession, as he lived hundreds of years before the Crusades.

A reliquary for the ulna of  St. George  (the dragon-slayer).   The knight and dragon on top are  slightly larger than 25mm  scale.  My daughter Riley asked me if dragons were real (she was pretty sure they were not or are at least extinct, while her cousin Quinn assured me he does believe in dragons!)  I don’t remember what part of St. George was supposed to be housed in this one, but this reliquary was especially striking not just because of the dragon but also because I feel like I’ve seen a depiction of the Archangel Michael smiting Lucifer with a falchion in a very similar pose.  Google Image Search fails me though.  (I’ve always like falchions, and I’ve found them to be very common in art — much more common than you’d expect given how few seem to turn up in museums.  They were not as strongly associated with knights and nobility as straight swords, though, and were often used by commoners like archers, so they were less worthy of preservation, I guess.  Still I have found them in the hands of many knights — not to mention saints and angels! — in art and they can’t have been entirely ignoble to the medieval mind.)

Anyway the kids did great with the reliquary exhibit (no doubt it helped that there was a self-help audio tour so even the little ones could type in the exhibit number and hear about what they were looking at, even if they did not understand much of it).  We spent an hour in the special exhibit, and then we went to the Armor Court (all the kids, even the girls, talked about which sword they’d use and which armor they’d wear and they clearly loved that whole area).  After about half an hour in the Armor Court, we had lunch in the cafe and then checked out the contemporary collections, which teetered between boring and awesome (giant tube of toothpaste: awesome! Rothko: boring).  My wife did a good job engaging their minds a bit when they looked bored, asking the kids to describe how they thought the paintings and sculptures were made, what they thought it looked like, etc., while I kind of juggled keeping the youngest ones from touching anything, talking about some of the art with the older kids (the CMA has some nice surrealist paintings including a great Dali), and trying to find interesting stuff.  We then raced through the ancient stuff and concluded with a quick detour to the Coventry area to buy the kids some junk at Big Fun (a toy/novelty store with lots of old/retro items, like ancient Star Wars figures and Atarti 2600 cartridges).  It turns out Quinn really loves the old Stars Wars stuff and he found a Gamorean Guard figure (from the 1990s reissues, not the original 1980s ones, but how awesome is that?

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm  Comments (6)  
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One-shot magic items: Weapons

What was Conan’s magic sword called? What did Grey Mouser’s magic cloak do? Was it Welleran’s armor or shield that was magical?

Oh, yeah, that’s right, most Sword & Sorcery heroes don’t have ANY magic items. You can point to Elric’s Stormbringer, and Bilbo’s Sting, but even magic swords are fairly rare. I’m not saying D&D should emulate literature (in fact I think it really shouldn’t) but it would nice to see more “fire and forget” items. Granted potions and scrolls fill that niche to some extent, along with arrows of slaying and javelins of lightning, but here are some more one-use magic items in case you’d like to give temporary boosts to low-level adventurers, or a more S&S feel to your treasures, and hopefully not all of them are as silly as the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

Glass sword: Forged by the ancients in a process now long-forgotten, glass swords are devastating but fragile weapons. They range from short sword to two-handed sword size, but most are the size and shape of medieval war swords (“hand-and-a-half” or “bastard” swords with long, tapering blades). A glass sword strikes as a +2 weapon and when it hits a foe, there is a 50% chance it will shatter. A shattered glass sword inflicts triple damage and the target must save versus Death Magic or die. (A Constitution related save would work for later editions of D&D) The undead only take this extra damage if the sword has been blessed or dipped in holy water.

Ice dagger: While in its sheath, this appears to be an ordinary dagger, but once drawn, it is obvious that the blade is formed of some kind of super-hard ice. It strikes as a +1 dagger. It slowly melts with use, releasing either poison or holy water (50% chance of either; poison ice daggers are black and holy ice daggers are white). It will last for one full turn (10 combat rounds or 10 minutes) before melting away completely. Poison ice daggers do normal damage and targets must versus Poison or take an additional d12 poison damage. Holy ice daggers inflict an extra d8 damage on undead or demonic foes. An ice dagger can be left in the wound (by twisting the handle after the blade is buried in the target) and in this case will continue to inflict poison or holy water damage as long as it is embedded in the target or until it melts completely. It takes one round to dig out the blade, and this operation inflicts another d4 damage. If used as a thrown weapon, the ice dagger will embed itself on a hit and shatter on a miss.

Fire lance: Not a mythic Fire Lance of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians; this is a spear with a bundle of scrolls just behind the blade. When the command word is spoken, these scrolls burst into sparking flames that act like a Burning Hands spell cast by a fifth level magic user. The arc of flame sprouts from the blade tip and lasts d6 rounds. The weapon can be used as a spear even while flaming thus, and while burning and for d6 rounds afterwards will inflict an extra d6 damage due to the intensely hot blade. After cooling the blade will be somewhat annealed and is -1 to hit, because the point is not longer harder than most other metals.

Black arrow: The black arrow is, as the name suggests, simply a pitch-black arrow of the sort one might fire from a bow. However, it will hit any target, no matter how small, how distant, or how fast it moves, as long as it is within the archer’s normal range with his bow, AC and immunity to nonmagical notwithstanding. It does normal damage. This power is lost after use. d4 black arrows may be found in a quiver of magic arrows.

Obsidian chakram: This appears to be a circle of black volcanic glass, flaked rather expertly. Its edges are unimaginably sharp but like the glass sword this item is very fragile. It may be hurled in a frisbee-like fashion and will cut through any material as well as a sword of sharpness. If it hits a creature it does d10 damage plus Strength bonuses, if any; if the hit scored is a natural 20 or exceeds the attacker’s to hit number by five or more, it severs (roll d6): 1 a hand or forepaw; 2: a foot or back paw; 3: an arm; 4: a leg; 5: the neck; 6: thrower’s choice. Severed body parts ue normal Sword of sharpness/vorpal blade rules. It will break after one use, whether it hits or not. D6 chakrams are usually found.

(Perhaps obviously, the glass sword is lifted from the Ultima V CRPG; the ice dagger from Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, and the fire lance from an actual Chinese weapon that used gunpowder, and the black arrow perhaps from The Hobbit; I suppose the bosidian chakram is inspired by Oddjob’s hat…)

I’ll post some armor, miscellaneous items, etc. as they occur to me.

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (6)  
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Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (VIII)

Two shorter chapters today.

Chapter III: The book of physiologus (or, “Oh God! It’s a thesaurus!”)*

This chapter is meant to explain the origins of the fabulous beasts and monsters to found later on in the rules (heraldry and bestiaries, for the most part, plus the literary sources).

In one sentence, though, it will probably alienate most old-school D&D players and fans of weird literature: “It seems a pity, in view of the broad and splendid medieval tetralogical tradition, to throw it all over for feeble coinages in the Clark Ashton Smith vein, or to attach real names to shoddy travesties of the creatures they originally designated.”

Of course, D&D and T&T both utilize both weird coinages and traditional monsters. In fact, I’ve seen at least one solidly heraldric beasts in the 1e Monster Manual mocked as stupid puns on other web sites (Sea lions).

In fact the monsters are discussed very briefly and in general terms. More attention is paid to the undead, and to elves, dwarfs, and trolls. Vampyres, for example, do not turn into bats, and are not undead in FW, as those parts of the legend formed later than the periods covered.

Chapter IV: Mortal combat (or, “A poignard in your codpiece”)

The weapons of 600-1500 CE are discussed briefly, and I wonder who is the audience for this…apparently the author thinks it is possible that someone with no, or faulty, knowledge of these things may be reading. The items covered pretty much confirm that the setting is really England. One thing I’ve always loved about this chapter is a great weapon chart, really one of the best I’ve seen apart from being very incomplete. This is pretty much exactly how I imagine every weapon depicted. There is also a brief explanation of how “sword-breaker” parrying daggers work in FW, which is an odd place to stash the rules, so far before anything else. But this also reinforces my sense that these early chapters are neither filler nor merely background.

Armor is discussed next, and again we get a decent overview. After that, a section on the organization a medieval army, which I would generally agree with, although my sense is that the “en herse” formation used by English armies is still a disputed issue, while the writer choose one interpretation and presents it as the only one. I don’t know that I’d want them to get into the argument but for wargamers this is a little surprising.

Then, a section on castles and sieges and this is part is really very good too, if brief. The plans of three typical castles are given, and while the whole chapter is very Anglo-centric, it has a lot of good information for the newbie. The chapter concludes with a glossary of arms & armor terms, which seems thrown in for no good reason. Most of the terms specify parts of plate armor. I wonder if this isn’t just cribbed from an art museum pamphlet. I guess it doesn’t hurt, and may be useful for people doing further research, but I don’t think many of these terms come up anywhere else in the text.

*The alternative title is a quote from the parody Bored of the Rings.  The chapter was written by N. J. Lowe, who has been kind enough to answer some emails from me about FW.  He wasn’t thrilled with the “alternate title” given his chapter by Galloway, but confirms it was his intent to add some humor and appear less stodgy.  Prof. Lowe also tells me that the lamented lack of footnotes was intentional as the writers were afraid the whole thing was looking too academic.  I’ll summarize what I’ve learned from Prof. Lowe in a later post.

Published in: on August 2, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (5)  
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Is that flyssa in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

As I’ve mentioned before, I really used to love the Ultima series of games (at least I-V… I don’t think I played the later installments), and along with Telengard, Phantasy, The Bard’s Tale, and a few others, mostly on the old Commodore 64, I played a lot of the older CRPGs. (more…)

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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New weapon/shield: Hackenschild

Combining a shield with a weapon is a recurring idea in the history of arms & armor. There’s the lantern shield, and various spiked shields. Da Vinci sketched a combination bow/shield that looks impractical but cool.

If you look at old fechtbuchs (Fechtbücher?) you’re sure to come across strange shields with hooks, blades, and spikes on them. They are usually rather large, and the wielders will either be using a small club or short sword with it, or else they will have discarded their weapon and wield the shield in both hands. These are apparently called “Hackenschilder” in German; “Hackenshild” is translated variously as a “hewing shield” or a “hooked shield.” It certainly sounds like an Oinkendeutsch word, come to think of it — a hacking shield!

Here are some examples I found relatively quickly on the web:


Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 11:03 am  Comments (6)  
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Deadliest Warrior: Ming vs. Musketeer, and God vs. Godzilla, and Sabbath vs. Zeppelin

This was another unusual match-up, because for a change the combatants were actually pretty close chronologically. Unsorted comments:

  • The “Nest of Bees” was cool. Going twice as fast as normal arrows would make them harder to dodge or block, except that they leave those smoke trails which makes them so easy to see.
  • The three-barreled pole gun looks a lot like the an English weapon sometimes called a holy water sprinkler, which was also fitted with spikes to make it an excellent bludgeon. They have some in the tower of London (or had them, I think the collection of weapons is now in a museum in Leeds)*.

(The three gun barrels are in the head, arranged the same way as the Ming pole gun)

  • Again with the cutting over thrusting, although at least the Dao could thrust to some extent. I think they really need to consider how much more reach a thrust has over a cut.  I’d have loved to see some sparring with blunted, rattan, or otherwise safe swords between the fencer and the Wushu swordsman.  The dramatization at the end should have had more sword fighting.

*Regular morningstars** and flails are also sometimes called holy water sprinklers, which is confusing.

**Flails are sometimes called morningstars too, which is also confusing.***

***Flail can of course refer to a weapon made of one or more balls, with or without spikes, on chains and fastened to a haft, or to a small spiked club fastened by a few links of chain to a longer pole.****

****Medieval weapon nomenclature is is just confusing because there were no standards. Gary Gygax’s heroic effort to classify polearms demonstrates this. If I recall correctly he included morningstars among the polearms.  I might just be thinking of a later Dragon Magazine article though.

Since you made it through the footnotes, here are some bonus fights from the Scorpio Diamante letters. (This is all me, I answered these before he got a chance to reply. This dates back almost year before Dio was eaten by a dragon, so some of the analysis is out of date.)
>>Godzilla vs God?
Godzilla. God, if extant, would be too busy to show up for the match and forfeit.

>>Zeus vs Thor?
A little tougher. Z is king of the Greek pantheon, Thor is a major Norse god but not the boss. Both are gods of thunder. Z hurls lightning, T hurls a big hammer that never misses and can kill any giant or troll with a single blow. Thor has two goats pulling his chariot; Zeus has a huge harem of women and boys. But Thor spends much more of his time fighting than Zeus does, and besides being the strongest god also has a belt that doubles his strength making him frigging strong. On the other hand, Norse gods can be killed, while Greek gods are immortal. But we know Thor doesn’t die until Ragnarok. Thor by KO.

>>Led Zeppelin vs Black Sabbath?
Another tough call.
(1) Both bands are handicapped by loss of drummers. Bonham is dead, Bill Ward has heart problems that take him out of the contest.
(2) Sabbath sold their souls for rock & roll; Jimmy Page sold his soul but the terms have not been revealed and we can’t rule out martial powers.
(3) Page’s occult connections are pretty strong but Sabbath’s bassist Geezer Butler was also into black magic for a while, and the large metal crucifixes Sabbath wears may fend off Page’s sorcery, even if they are worn ironically. (4) Tony Iommi of Sabbath plays lead guitar despite missing several finger tips, and still looks pretty mean; Jimmy Page now looks almost exactly like my paternal grandmother.
It would come down to which lineup of Sabbath we are talking about. Ozzy obviously would fight with berserker strength and disregard for injury; Ronnie James Dio is puny (but most likely a wizard or warlock, putting him on even terms with Jimmy Page). So the Ozzy and Dio lineups of Sabbath seem to have a solid edge. I can’t speak fro the later lineups of Sabbath. But in most scenarios I think Sabbath has it.
Also Zeppelin ripped off a bunch of blues musicians, Sabbath ripped off the Devil himself with the “Devils’ interval” or tritone they used in so many songs. Props to Sabbath for that.

(I should disclose that I like Sabbath a lot more than Zeppelin so I’m probably biased but I think my analysis is mostly objective)

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 12:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Last week’s Deadliest Warrior, Sun Tzu vs. Vlad Tepes

Obviously the producers are pretty much out of ideas, but as a comparison of medieval Central European technology vs. ancient Chinese technology, it had its moments.

  • The giant Chinese mace thing certainly looked pretty neat, although you could really hurt your back if you miss.
  • Wish they tested the halberd on an armored gel torso.  Legend has it Charles the Bold, in full plate armor, had his helmet and head cleaved in twain down to the teeth by a Swiss halberd.
  • Butted mail again, which even the Cho-ku-no (repeating crossbow) could penetrate.  Sheesh.
  • I was rather surprised that he leather armor stopped the crossbow bolt, especailly as the crossbow was heavy enough to need a windlass.
  • That kilij was pretty awesome.
  • The jiann is a very nice sword.  It is interesting that the show gave higher marks to a chopping sword than a thrusting sword.
  • It was a gruesome, but awesome turn of events in the “dramatized” fight at the end; probably the best one so far.
  • There is something odd about the fact that sometimes the show pairs of particular people (like this one) and sometimes just “typical” warriors of a type.
Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 1:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Another Google penance

Two recent searches that lead folks here:

1. “trpaslík”  (Czech for dwarf, apparently) and

2. “d&d rules for khanda sword” (!!!)

1. I’m kind of impressed Google knows that this is a “hit” actually, but I only know a few words in Czech, and can’t necessarily spell them.  So that’s a non-starter.

2. It’s called a bastard sword in D&D.  Sheesh.  So is a katana.

Which reminds me, along with reworking races & classes, my brother’s been reworking a simplified weapons table/system, which I should put up.  The short description is that weapons are classed as short, medium, and long (he may use different terminology).  Short swords = what D&D palyers know as short swords, long swords, scimitars, falchions, broadswords, etc. — all one-handed swords.  Medium swords (or war swords) = bastard swords, katanas, any “hand & a half” type sword wielded in one or two hands.  Long swords (great swords) = all two handers.   Why do you need  finer distinctions than that?

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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