Sick day painting

I left work a bit early Friday because I need to get over a cold ASAP because I have bunch of things starting Sunday for work. I rested up, woke up in the middle of the night, and decided to paint to kill time. So in a few hours I finished some figures I’d primed a while ago, and also repaired a couple of broken skeletons. I sealed them all this morning and will probably finish their bases with some texture and flocking tonight, but I photographed them with my phone with unfinished bases.

The main group are some Grenadier halberdiers. I had one from BITD, though he broke long ago. I found three more for sale for a buck a piece at a games store in a box with a lot of really old and badly bent or broken figures (the balrog from a few posts back is from the same batch). I hadn’t realized Grenadier made two variants of the halberdier. The Lost Minis Wiki shows the bearded variant as part of the set but my version had the mailed one. (I don’t think the mailed variant is rare, but both DnD Lead and Lost Minis only show the bearded one).

As all were broken, only one has an original halberd head (I just realized the two variants had some differences in the halberd head too; technically mine is on the wrong guy). The rest have plastic halberd or spear heads from a Zvedza “Ring of Rule” set which had lots of extra bits. They spear heads are huge, but might pass as ox-tongue partisans. The plastic halberd is also pretty outrageously large, but this is fantasy. Their leader is a later Grenadier fighter with a poleaxe (really a pole hammer).

It’s kind of interesting to note that the mailed variant has roundels on the polearm haft, like a poleaxe might have (though honestly I’ve never seen two roundels like that, and question how helpful the rearmost one would be).

I went pretty fast through these, just painting to the old “wargame” standard, with very little highlighting and shadows mostly accomplished with one dark wash.

At the same time I worked on a couple of spear men — one Grenadier, one Heritage. The Grenadier guy is another from the fighting men set, and I replaced his repeatedly bent and broken spear with a plastic javelin from another Zvedza set. I think his original spear head ended up on the Heritage model, as he too had broken long ago.

Finally a couple of skeletons. The halberdier is Ral Partha. I bought a small boxed set of skeletons long ago and to my surprise it had two each of the halberdier and the double-armed swordsman, but no axe-man. My experience with Grenadier led me to think all miniatures companies were pretty slipshod about the contents of the boxes and I never bothered to try to correct the omission. I painted both of these many years ago, when my technique was just to paint everything as neatly as possible in solid colors and apply a black wash. I touched up a few spots on these guys but mostly left them alone.

The swordsman is Grenadier. He originally had his arm raised and sword pointing straight up, and was presumably one of several variants made by adding armor and a shield to the basic skeleton model they made. Those upraised arms always bent or broke, and in this case I replaced it with yet another bit from a Zvedza set (in this case the Cursed Legion, a set of skeleton Roman legionaries).

None are my best work at painting but I’m satisfied they’ll finally see some use.


Published in: on September 9, 2017 at 6:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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Canton cannon!

Last month I spent some time visiting a veteran’s memorial in Canton, Ohio. It was a weekday and the place was pretty empty — no doubt fact that the memorial is right off an interstate highway, and not really in a residential area, I suppose.

Anyway apart from a pleasant gazebo to sit in, and a path around a small pond, the things that really caught my eye were a couple of pieces of 18th century artillery that were mounted there on stone pedestals. Both were looted late in the 19th century from the Philippines and eventually found their way to Canton, Ohio. The amazing thing about them is that although they are utilitarian military weapons, they are also intricately sculpted and decorated. They were made at a time when everything was basically made by hand and decorated because why the fuck wouldn’t you make anything you are making beautiful as well as functional.

Here are some pictures, taken with my primitive flip-phone. Both are obviously bronze.

First up, a cannon.


Looking at it from the end the crew would see, there is a face — perhaps a ‘green man’ — sculpted onto the butt.


He’s a little cross-eyed.


The whole barrel of the thing is covered with reliefs and inscriptions. The touch-hole (where you’d insert a fuse to set it off) has a fire-burst decoration.


Futher along the barrel is a nice sun face.


Happily there is also a plaque explaining the Latin inscriptions;


Next up, a mortar.


I like the face on this one even more.


There is a set of loops that I think were used to adjust the mortar’s elevation. I guess you’d have chains or ropes threaded through them. They are sculpted into stylized “dolphins” typical of the sort you see in Renaissance art.


There is a plaque for this too.


This is just displaying my ignorance now, but back when I first saw the art in various Warhammer Fantasy Battle books (and the corresponding Citadel figures) of artillery with faces and other grotesquery on them, I assumed it was the drug-fueled visions of John Blanche, Ian Miller, and the other Games Workshop staff artists. I didn’t realize they were just depicting how old artillery really looked.


Published in: on October 17, 2015 at 12:41 am  Comments (3)  
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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)  

The feifs keep droppin’…

Burghs & Bailiffs : Warfare too! is now available for download as a fee pdf, or as a print-on-demand, priced-at-cost hard copy!  Get it here.

I contributed only two articles this time around: a very simple way to handle army-sized battles in your RPG session, and a humorous chart for determining the fate of those who are lost in battle. The chart is illustrated with details from the illuminations in the famous “Maciejowski Bible.

The other contributions include: a second, more detailed mass combat system for skirmishes; a new Basic D&D class, the warlord; another article by someone else for abstracting large-scale battles into an RPG session;  the logistics of castle-building; and a short piece on two often-overlooked medieval weapons.  Thoroughly schooled by their great work, I’m setting the bar higher for myself next time out.

I’m glad we had enough interest and material to develop a “themed” issue and the next one, if all goes as planned, will be far, far more awesome if I do say so myself.  My contribution to that should give you enough information and random charts to set your adventurers loose in the catacombs of Rome, seeking relics to steal, sell, or rescue from obscurity, as well as providing general information of medieval funeral customs, the use & abuse of holy relics for prophet & profit, and more.

Published in: on August 21, 2013 at 9:16 am  Comments (3)  
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Medieval arms control

Fred Funcken, an artist most famous in nerd circles for illustrating a series of books on military uniforms through the ages (which his wife Liliane authored), passed away earlier this year.  I had always assumed he just focused on Napoleonic or Enlightenment era uniforms, but he also did books on medieval arms and armor, which falls within my areas of interest, so I decided to track him down through interlibrary loan (his books seem to be mostly out of print).   I was recently paging through one of Funcken’s books (The Age of Chivalry pt. 1) and noticed a comment in the caption near the plate on maces that there were repeated efforts by knights to have maces banned. (Maybe around p. 76? I should keep better notes)

I’d never heard that before and no source was cited.

I have of course heard about crossbows being banned by church decree.  Actually it was a ban on ‘the murderous art of crossbowmen and archers‘ being used against other Christians in the 1139 Second Lateran Council, which also bans tournaments and denies church burial to those killed in tournaments.  I seem to recall some historians arguing that the original Latin text of this decree implies that it is the use of poisoned arrows and bolts that is actually being banned, but I’m not sure if that has reached a consensus.  (For one thing, I’m not sure how powerful crossbows were in the 12th century — could they actually pierce armor better than bows at that time or were they just easier to learn to use?  My hunch is that the toll that archery took on horses rather than knights was the real issue.)

I also recall hearing that guisarmes (or some similar pole-arm) were banned or at least railed against by knights, but I don’t remember the source.  It would certainly make sense that a can opener on a stick, which could also dismount a man from his horse, would bother knights.

However a ban on maces seems very improbable, given that maces are such simple and ancient weapons.  I’d love to know his source for this tidbit.

The only other famous example of a medieval weapons ban I can think of would be the supposed disappearance of guns in early Edo era Japan.  Actually there was an effort to remove weapons generally from the populace by calling on everyone to donate their swords, muskets, etc. to help build a temple in 1588 or thereabouts.   I understand that strict control of weapons lead to the development of Asian unarmed martial arts and some of the unusual weapons that were actually farming implements (tonfa, nunchaku, and others).  But this is not a specific weapon ban, it is arms control.

There is also a long European tradition of limiting the carrying of weapons or wearing of armor into civilized places like towns throughout most of history.  This is something most fantasy role-playing games ignore.

Published in: on August 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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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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Providing a citiation from Ecclesiatical law for the proprietor of Playing D&D with Porn Stars, that’s like work when you’re a librarian, but I’m a sucker…

No cleric may decree or pronounce a sentence involving the shedding of blood, or carry out a punishment involving the same, or be present when such punishment is carried out. If anyone, however, under cover of this statute, dares to inflict injury on churches or ecclesiastical persons, let him be restrained by ecclesiastical censure. A cleric may not write or dictate letters which require punishments involving the shedding of blood, in the courts of princes this responsibility should be entrusted to laymen and not to clerics. Moreover no cleric may be put in command of mercenaries or crossbowmen or suchlike men of blood; nor may a subdeacon, deacon or priest practise the art of surgery, which involves cauterizing and making incisions; nor may anyone confer a rite of blessing or consecration on a purgation by ordeal of boiling or cold water or of the red-hot iron, saving nevertheless the previously promulgated prohibitions regarding single combats and duels. — from the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215

Zak of “Playing D&D with Porn Stars,” thought that he might have seen something on my blog about why D&D clerics are prohibited from using edged weapons, and asked if I could recall it.  I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed this explicitly but he was pretty sure I had a really explicit quote about it.  That’s absolutely the sort thing I ought to have here!  OK, now I do.  Despite the many apocryphal explanations for this D&D trope (Archbishop Turpin in Charlemangian legends, Bishop Odo using a club on the Bayeux Tapestry, etc.) this must be the most specific reason the rule was introduced (apart from the possible game design purpose of denying clerics the use of magic swords!).

Probably this quote is also why the Inquisition always turned people over to the secular authorities for torture and execution.

I’m a librarian but I don’t work the reference desk, so this took me a while to figure out, and I kept sending him secondary sources instead of this primary source.    I wish I could say Google had no role in my finding this answer but I can’t. 😦

Published in: on May 11, 2013 at 7:51 pm  Comments (6)  
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Armor training

I was discussing house rules for D&D with my brother and mentioned that I liked the LotFP rule that essentially removes weapon and armor restrictions in favor of limiting certain activities (arcane spell casting, skill use) while encumbered.  He thought it better to keep existing weapon & restrictions by class because using certain weapons*, and wearing heavy armor, actually require some training.

I used ‘class based damage’ in my Telengard campaign before, and part of the thinking there is that more martial classes just use weapons more effectively. A fighter does d8 with a mace because he’s a fighter who has been trained for war; a thief does d6 with the mace because his training is mostly in stealth and skills. So Tom suggested class-based AC, such that fighters would derive the full benefit of mail or plate while other classes got only a smaller increase in AC from the same armor, again based on the class’ training.  So maybe leather/mail/playte add a base of +1/+2/+3 to ascending AC, so while fighters and clerics add another +2 or 3, thieves and mages add nothing.  This also boosts AC for unarmored fighters, which is nice if you’d like more swashbucklers and barbarians in you basic D&D.  I’m leaning towards just leaving the armor restrictions as they are (although I’m not convinced that this is functionally different from saying thief skills can only be used if encumbrance is medium or less, and arcane spells can only be used if encumbrance is light or none…a wizard will almost certainly be better off in no armor, casting spells, and a thief would pretty dumb to forgo using skills just so he can have heavier armor…which raises the question of why bother changing armor restrictions at all…)

The discussion also reminded me of one of Plato’s dialogues, the Laches, where, right at the beginning, the characters discuss whether it is a good idea to hire a teacher of hoplomachia — “fighting in armor” according to the translation I read in college.  The idea is rejected because the Spartans have the greatest warriors and do not study hoplomachia.  One participant (Nicias) even says that the hoplomachia teachers avoid Sparta as if it were ‘sacred ground’ — the Spartans apparently would not suffer such fools.**  I think the reality is, the Spartans did a lot of training in armor, just not the specific kind ‘hoplomachia‘ the character in the dialogue was peddling — which may have been something more like ‘fencing,’ i.e. a combat sport rather than a true martial art.  Apparently hoplomachia meant the actual warrior’s skills in Homeric times but by Plato’s time meant something like ‘swordplay’ or ‘fencing’.

I have read about medieval knights wearing their armor all the time until they were strong and agile enough to vault onto a horse, or scale a wall, or even do a cartwheel in it, and seen video of re-enactors at the Leeds museum do such things; Tom also related an anecdote about a Renaissance Fair acrobat who said he wore mail under his clothes until he could perform his routine in it, and it took him three years of practice to manage it.  So what we’re really talking about is learning to compensate for the encumbrance of armor.  I think there is a way to understand the existing limitations on armor as reflecting this same reality — thieves and magic-users just don’t wear armor because it interferes with their freedom of movement which they need to function in their primary roles.  The LotFP rules make this more explicit, but leave the option to wear some armor open, much as the Unearthed Arcana rules gave thieves some leeway to wear a few heavier armor types.

I guess I should note that the rules for Rolemaster were way ahead of me on this too, as wearing armor was a skill to be developed alongside everything else (in fact, a suite of skills for different armor types!).  I never questioned those rules back in the day, and they still make sense.

So the bottom line is I have come around to accept limitations on armor use.  I might keep it tied to encumbrance, or might leave open the possibility that characters could learn to wear heavy armor, and now that I think of it, maybe fighters (and clerics) should face smaller penalties for climbing and jumping in armor, since they are trained to bear it.


Update (since writing this post up last week):

I asked about these issues on “AncMed,” the Society of Ancients’  yahoo group, and one member gave a very interesting response, based on his re-enactment experiences:

Hi Mike

Just based on my own 15th century replica experience it’s pretty easy to wear armour straight off, the issues are usually:

a) getting it on properly in the 1st place! This is very dependent on what sort of armour it is – so I’d anticipate a lorica would be pretty straight forward, but like even a simple back & breast-plate it is helpful to have an old hand or a mate around to tighten fastenings & ensure that the straps are not tangled. In many ways learning to fight in a close helmet is probably more of an adjustment – but again it depends upon what type of helmet it is. Similarly you need a lot of training to fight with a shield effectively – my guess is much more so than just wearing the armour.

b) My own experience is that ‘soft armours’ such as jacks etc. are dead easy to wear & fight in & mail shirts are similar. The issue with mail however is that it generally ‘hangs’ all it’s weight on the wearers shoulders, so it’s best belted to take the weight of the mail skirt on the hips. Or if it’s worn under a ‘hard’ armour — such as a breast plate — the mail is reduced and the mail sleeves & skirt are best sown onto a padded under garment (an arming doublet). Mail is hot to fight in & you will dehydrate quickly. Surprisingly the same is true of soft armours such as jacks — which to give any real degree of protection require to be quite thick. However, mail & most other metal armours also conduct the cold very quickly (which is not the case with soft armours) and so I’d imagine many deaths after battles caused by hypothermia adding to shock. Soft armours, unless greased or tarred will also get sodden with sweat & rain of course, which can make them a lot heavier even than mail!

c) more complex 15th century harness requires an established process or order to put on.  So it’s standard practice in full harness to put your leg & arm harness on first — it’s a sort of ‘inside-out’ process — nearest the body first: arming doublet, leg harness, arm harness, mail standard, upper breast plate, then fould & skirt and tassets, and finally shoulder plates, gorget, helmet and gauntlets. You will need at least 1 assistant — usually to click the sliding rivets on the back & breastplates into place (using a bear-hug technique) and also to tie on your shoulder plates and do the rear strap up on your bevor. For speed, you can leave off the leg harness & just drop the upper breast & back plates on over the arming doublet. Or, as we see in some 14th century illustrations you get mounted men-at-arms in just their arming doublets, with helmets, arm & leg harness, as this is the camp ‘dress-down’ state of a fully armoured man (a crab without his shell!).

As has been stated here previously the weight of a full harness is distributed over the whole body so unlike mail it’s not a huge burden initially, but once fatigued it’s a true burden — especially leg-harness.

Fighting in full harness is a truly learned skill (not one that I ever fully mastered!). It requires lots & lots of practice and training (both individually & in groups) so as not to injure yourself as well as your friends. Whilst (in my experience) it makes you feel truly invulnerable (9 feet tall) equally you can be exceptionally vulnerable, as you have restricted vision, a generally poor top-heavy point of balance (helmets & shoulder plates move your center of balance upwards quite considerably) and the fact that once in it it’s not really a quick process to get out of it.

Fighting in full harness is about using the whole body — yes you’ve got your sword, dagger, mace or pole-axe but equally you are wearing another +6olbs of hard & often deliberately sharp outer shell.  Elbow points are truly deadly (hence the common expression of “giving somebody the elbow”). In fact your elbows are deceptively dangerous weapons.  I remember a re-enactment of the Battle of St.Albans many years ago. We (The White Company Men-at-Arms) were engaged in a hand-to-hand melee in a series of mocked-up stage built houses and an opponent with a sword & buckler (in a metal breast plate thankfully) engaged me unexpectedly from my rear right side – just slightly inside of my visor slit line of vision. I was expecting my back to be covered, but my supporting bills were engaged with other assailants — all I saw was a flash of opposing livery colours (Staffords – red & black) & a raised sword. As I was also engaged with my pole-axe with another armoured enemy with a longsword to my front instinctively I jerked out with my right elbow with as much force as I could muster & the impact knocked my assailant off his feet & threw him out through a low window a full 2 or 3 yards, winding him badly. From my rear, I was extremely vulnerable as the backs of my thighs are unprotected and a sharp blade could easily slide up under my shoulder plates and into my shoulder.

Similarly, if you get hit by a pole-axe (the hammer or blade) on a sliding rivet in your shoulder plates, it will lock the whole arm and you end up looking like a bird with a broken wing as your arm is locked in the position it was in when the rivets were locked, again making you extremely vulnerable.

d) I don’t know about ancient Greek linen armours or greaves, but again I guess they’d become 2nd nature after a while.

Hope that helps, but we probably need to bear in mind that we (me) are nowhere near as fit or ‘hardy’ as those ancient or medieval soldiers – more used to physical graft and burden carrying than us ‘soft’ modern types!!!

Mark [Fry]

I asked for a little more information about the armor ‘locking up’ and Mark expanded on this, as well as adding some other interesting insights about armor use in the late middle ages:

The issue with armour ‘locking’ is the fact that much of the 15th century shoulder armour plates have sliding pins & rivets to allow the plates to travel freely over each other but at the same time keep any gaps to the minimum. So a denting blow on an area where the rivets would normally travel freely effectively locks those two plates together. It’s thought that is the real purpose around the hammer heads often found on one side of a poleaxe. Once the men-at-arms had his arm/shoulder restricted in this manner he was extremely vulnerable to the long sharp pointed spikes at either end of the poleaxe which were slid into gaps in the harness. Even a long sword, grasped 6″ or so back from the point to give it some rigidity is just as effective. Have you seen the DVD Reclaiming the Blade (it’s got John Howe in it from the Company of St. George amongst others)? Well worth getting if you can find a copy. 15th century sword fighting in harness was a matter of using all parts of the sword so the guard & pommel are equally lethal even against a chap in armour.
The idea that a man in good quality harness is like a beached turtle if felled is (as I’m sure you know) complete rubbish. We used to turn cart-wheels, make rolls, and easily get off & on horses unaided in good fitting full harness. In fact there was an incident when one of our number fell off the castle wall at Rockingham, in full harness, during a demonstration. With his arming jack underneath he just bounced down the grassy incline — after falling some 10 feet or more. Apart from a headache (probably hang-over induced) he had a few minor bruises, that was all. There used to be some pretty good footage of arming 15th century harness on the Company of St.George website — it’s worth trying to get access to this.
I developed a theory (whilst in the White Company) that there was no such thing as ‘billmen’. Nik Gaukroger & I have had endless debates about this previously.
My theory is that you had men-at-arms (of various status) and ‘soldiers’. The soldiers were mostly archers (Longbow armed) but would be very happy to pick up bills or similar pole-arms as & when required (such as guard duty etc.) for off-battlefield duties (as they appear in 15th century illustrations). The men-at-arms fought in distinctive units — more heavily (fully armoured) & therefore higher status or more experienced (hence the more comprehensive harness) guys at the front, with less well armed chaps at the back (so these are what modern re-enactors would call ‘billmen’) in sallets/kettles, brigandines or munition back & breastplates or jacks, maybe arm harness but probably not leg-harness. These guys’ ‘role’ was primarily to make sure that the guys in the full harness operated at maximum effect — so they watched their backs, defended them if they were knocked over & helped them up and generally stabbed or cut with their own pole-arms around the better protected & also fight their opposite numbers in the melees.
Similarly, I think that we’ve got our interpretation of later medieval hand-gunners all wrong. We see them primarily as skirmishers, when in reality all the illustrations of the period show them relatively heavily armoured and fighting in the front-ranks of mixed bill &/or pike or spear formations (there is a great 15th century Flemish illustration of this but I cannot remember the source at present). All of which makes great sense as I think that they probably operated a bit like ‘anti-tank’ weapons – as they were probably the best means of shooting down the very heavily armoured front-rank foot men-at-arms.
Anyway … all just an interesting theory 🙂

I should mention that anyone interested in ancient and medieval warfare, weapons, armor, and armies — especially if you are interested in wargames — should join AncMed and/or The Society of Ancients.  I’ve been lurking AncMed on and off for years and it’s been quite an education. Although you sometimes get some heated arguments, the level of sophistication and maturity (not to mention scholarship!) is usually very high.



*He mentioned flails specifically, as opposed to a simpler, handier weapon like a short sword; I think he’s right about that.  Likewise pole-arms seem more complicated to wield than spears, and while you see depictions of peasant levies armed with spears, clubs, and simple pole-arms derived from agricultural tools, you don’t see them carrying great-swords, halberds, and so on.  So maybe the ‘simple’ versus ‘martial’ distinction in 3rd and 4th editions are a good idea.

**Nicias also mentions that one of the teachers of this art made a fool of himself with a weapon he invented that combined a spear and scythe.  Apparently when he tried to use it in a boarding action to cut another galley’s rigging, it got entangled and he was dragged the length of the ship.  So any early guisearme apparently failed to impress the Greeks.  It’s a very interesting anecdote, though, as a reminder that even the Greeks experimented with polearms.

Published in: on January 3, 2012 at 10:24 am  Comments (5)  
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Cold iron and the Lords of Darkness

For quite a while I’ve been pretty confused by the term ‘cold iron’ that keeps cropping up in the old AD&D Monster Manual.  Unless there is an explanation squirreled away somewhere in the DMG, ‘cold iron’ is left unexplained. (The demon entry mentions ‘iron weapons’  — nothing about them being “cold iron” — oversight or intentional distinction?)

I assumed from the beginning that it must mean something other than ‘regular  off-the shelf weapons,’ for example, or else why not just say ‘normal weapons’ or ‘metal weapons,’ right?  So my best guess was always that ‘cold iron’ must mean an archaic, non-steel iron, with some impurities but not much carbon.  This would make them softer and more prone to bending and blunting than steel weapons, but a cold iron mace-head would be pretty much as good as a steel mace-head; it would be the bladed weapons that would really suffer from being made of regular iron.

For a while I tried to imagine ‘cold iron’ as some sort of iron that was worked without heating it, but I don’t think that is even possible with iron.  Maybe you can cold forge copper or bronze.  It couldn’t be cast iron either, which is usually alloyed to lower the melting point — so colder but less pure.  Still I picture iron weapons as looking black or grey like cast iron.

Anyway my point is that I recently picked up a battered but usable copy of Lords of darkness, an AD&D supplement that has “Forgotten realms” and “introduced by Ed Greenwood” on it, but which is fairly generic and could be used in any setting.  The book has a short explanation of various materials and tactics for fighting the undead, and a short passage on ‘cold iron’ which explains that this is special iron with no impurities.  There is a brief mention of the tendency of cold iron weapons to break easily, and while there are no mechanics offered for that, I’d say they might break on a natural one on an attack roll (I don’t otherwise use ‘fumbles’ in my current game).

(Checking Wikipedia for this post, I see it suggested that “cold iron” is just an archaism for “iron” since iron is usually cold to the touch.  Nothing special about it at all, just plain old iron.  I’d like to try out a setting where elves are susceptible to iron weapons too, since in folklore the fairy folk are fearful of it and several of Poul Anderson’s fantasy stories and novels use this idea a lot.  I’m not sure if that would work well in my current game but I’ve had events shake up how magic works before so there may be a way to make it happen.)

Anyway if you should stumble across this supplement, it is worth looking over.  The scenarios look all right (two are by Paul Jaquays!), although there is certain amount of railroading in one I read. There are also nice discussions of undead, including a number of alternatives to energy drain and the ghost’s 10 year aging effect. The proposed solutions to these perennial “problems” shed some light on the state of the game when it was published.

Some of the interesting tidbits are suggestions for the effects of various anti-undead folk remedies like knocking on wood (useless), mirrors (only good vs. vampires), and salt (useful against a lot of the undead).  There is even a chart listing how various means affect all the undead from the Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, and Fiend Folio!  The whole thing is pretty cool as a source book on using the undead.

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (17)  
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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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