Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Right Tools For the Job

It's nice when things that make sense are also things that are fun.

Here's one:

All those weapons on the D&D equipment list? Y'know the one where a spear does more damage than a shortsword and both do more damage than a dagger? Those are pretty much military weapons.

That is: they're good weapons if you're hundreds of guys in formation trying to take a hill and trying not to hit each other. But you're not--if you were hundreds of guys in formation trying to take a hill then why would you be wasting time reading this blog and how are you doing that, seriously, are you all just crowding around the screen and reading it or do you have one of those big Nasa rooms with a big computer projector or....anyway....

Here are some weapons that make less sense for hill-acquisition and more sense for skirmishing in a room and how that works.

A hook on a pole.

A hook? Yeah, a metal hook on a pole--like they yank Gonzo offstage with on the Muppet Show. Like some pole-arms basically are this almost but still kinda basically military pokey weapons. But think of it this way: Your party's fighter is smacking a bugbear around. You are unengaged and have some free space to maneuver (less likely situation on a battlefield, right?). Just slip your hook behind the bugbear and...smack Foe is prone.

What do you say to the GM?
"Look, if it was a tripwire I could see our fighter getting tangled up in it, if it was a hooked pole-arm I could see maybe accidentally jabbing the fighter with it when I'm poking into the melee, but this is just the perfect tool for the job is it not? I have to hook, then yank after I'm sure I got the right guy..."
"Ok, roll to hit, ignoring armor..."

A grappling hook on a chain.

Not so good for tripping people already engaged in melee but great as a missile weapon, melee weapon (might as well be a morning star), distance entangler (beats a whip 75% of the time), monster-choker, dropped-object grabber and a shield (ok, I'm going to spin this grappling hook around me really fast and you try to hit me with that sword).

And in sci-fi settings? Did I ever tell you about that time in Murdermaze I had 3 hit points and killed 6 guys with nothing but a grappling hook gun and a tape recorder?

Scrap Princess gives some love to an eastern grappling hook cognate: for example. Can be used up close, but also can reach, entangles, is a short hard to cut rope (if the chain version), a plausible grappling hook , and tidies up small like for easy storage.

And Jurgen M, a certified ninja, adds:

A kusari-gama is actually a very good choice, although I would suggest a lesser-known but a bit more versatile variation on the same kind of weapon, the kyoketsu-shoge (e.g. ). Instead of the sickle, it has a dagger with a hook, and on the other end there's a massive metal ring that's good to throw around or use as a blunt weapon in melee.

As someone who has trained with (and against) this weapon I can attest that it is extremely difficult as a sword fighter to close in on someone wielding such a chain weapon if he knows what he's doing. And if you manage get into sword range, you then have to deal with someone dual-wielding a dagger and a bone-breaking metal ring.

For very tight spaces such as a narrow dungeon corridor, I would choose a kusari-fundo which is better suited to such environments. It's basically a shorter chain with a weight on each end. The kusari-gama and kyoketsu-shoge need a little more room to use all their potential.


Yes yes there's the smoke and you're probably underground but most GMs are pretty forgiving about that. Remember: animals are dumb. As far as a crocodile or carrion crawler is concerned if you just jabbed them with a torch you might as well have short sworded them then cast Cause Fear. And something hairy like a mastodon? That thing is now out of the fight--just give it some room to run. (This, incidentally has been cited as one reason elephant cavalry never totally eclipsed horse cavalry in the east--they're flammable and easily panic easily.)

And then there's being on fire. Ongoing damage makes people sad, even if it is just d4. Set someone's backpack on fire sometime and see how long it  takes them to drop everything and put it out. So have your thief do that.

You can see why maybe a bunch of people tightly packed together with pikes wouldn't want to be throwing oil around, but that's only because it's too good. Fire trashed more Japanese cities than all the ninjas put together in the history of ninjas.


Whose armor works against a net? Nobody's. Who wants to hang out in a net? Nobody. What happens to flying monsters when a net lands on them? Horrible things.

There's a reason gladiators used them.


Like a net, but for longer distances. Have the ranger roll to bola against AC 10 then everybody else on your side gets a bowshot against the now-immobilized wizard.

Blankets and sacks and handsfuls of dust:

You have to be like 15th level to cast Power Word: Blind. Unless you brought a bag. Or a jar of like baking soda. 

Bonus for 3e players: this version even works on foes with more than 200 hit points
This is a wholly valid tactic

Now, yes, there are lots of times when the monster's made of crystal or the room's too small and your standing on something you really don't want on fire and what you want is a sword and what you want to do is poke someone with it.

This is the fun part though: it's a toolkit. Using different things for different situations is the whole point. Those orcs just rolling d20 over and over against your chainmail and getting all excited because their pole-arm does d10 get what they deserve.



  1. beautiful post, i will be stealing a lot of this

  2. Fun ideas there.
    I've seen vids on Youtube of guys using those chain-daggers to smash pots... next best thing to a magic dagger that flies back to your hand after every attack.

    Why is an elephant more flammable than a horse?

    1. @knobgobbler

      larger surface area, less maneuverable

  3. I was happy to see thing like caltrops and marbles in the equipment list for Next. When I'm playing somebody rogue-y, I'm all about dirty tricks.

    A personal favorite of mine for dealing with flyers is a bear trap on a chain. Swing wildly around head for best results!

  4. The most important surviving primary sources dealing with mediaeval/renaissance combat, the fechtbuchs, are primarily concerned with what the most effective weapons and techniques for one on one combat. These tend also to be weapons useful in hill acquisition - admittedly there is a focus on the knightly weapons, as it is among knights where the pressure and expectation to be awesomely deadly was strongest. Evidence tends to suggest that even seemingly unwieldy weapons like the pike were actually very effective in one-on-one combat.

    Of course, in siege warfare and sapping there was a lot of use of daggers and shortswords, and I would imagine a lot of wrestling too. I also think some of the the weapons and tactics of trench warfare bears relevance to these kinds of scenarios.

    The dungeon environment allows for extra tactical interaction with architecture as in siege warfare so I think the use of mantlets (big shields on stands, essentially movable sections of wall)to create chokepoints, caltrops to make areas of ground difficult to traverse, slippery oil, improvised barricades/cheval de frise, legionary/archer-style stakes, ditches and the like could be effective. Even doors and doorways could be spiked into place with a narrow opening through which pointy things could be poked and flung. Other than fire other burny and caustic materials are also extra nasty in confined spaces; quicklime, hot oil, hot sand and burning sulphur and bellows to blow choking smoke can also make people decidely unhappy. What about bees? Burning pigs a la Alexander at Gaugamela? What happens when you aim a blasty spell at massed cluster of fragile stalactites.

    Admittedly lot of this stuff is more useful in defense and I can see the logic in having the devious, warlike, sadistically brutal subterranean races specialise in these sorts of tactics, combining slippery oil, nets, caltrops, quicklime, naphtha etc. to seriously inconvenience interlopers.

    I'me encroaching on Tucker's Kobold territory here but I think it's not an unreasonable expectation that hostile occupied tunnels would be just a little bit fantasy fucking Vietnam.

  5. A lot of my games have to start at higher levels because we like to involve our out of game knowledge so we justify it by being more seasoned adventurers before hand.

    Some essentials our parties carry:
    10 yds of tarp makes a tent, makes blanket, makes a net, makes a great-kilt
    1 sack of flour makes a great anti-invis coat of the target, is also highly flammable(thanks Mythbusters) for lvl 1 fireball!
    1 extra ration . . . in case of Dieties (a long story)

  6. I've softly coerced most of my party's members into presenting weapon-design sketches drawn according to its task-oriented necessity. This generally follows one of those, You Know What I Could Really Use Right Now?, moments in a previous session. Ingenuity and object diversity abound.

  7. A Chinese variation of the hook-on-a-chain is the Flying Claw. These bad boys had metal "fingers" that hooked inward like fish hooks. The fingers were flexible -- they were thrown spread out, then pulling the tether caused them to close and grip the target. Some versions were compact and could be hidden in a sleeve. Though they probably work better in Shaw Brothers kungfu flicks than in actual practice, these were used as early as the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD). They can snag someone who is trying to escape, but can also double as a grappling hook. Sometimes the tips of the "fingers" were poisoned.

  8. Not only nets, but stuff like a cloak, blanket, curtain or tapestry can be tossed over an opponent.

    Said items burn nicely, too. Soak a bed sheet with oil or high-proof rum, toss, then light.

    My bro has a fondness for having his 0-level DCC chars create fire barriers and traps. Monsters lurking down a stairwell? Fill it with flaming furniture. Spill a barrel of oil or pitch in the hall and lead monster into it.

    I like using smoke, both as a smokescreen against missile fire as well as for smoking the bad guys out (add sulphur for best results), especially if they are uphill or downwind. For downhill enemies, set a barrel on fire and roll it.

    And yes, yes to flaming pigs (

    Rocks and bricks make good missiles, and they can be slipped into a sack or a sock to make a bludgeon. Lots rubble in the corners of dungeons just waiting.

    And don't forget food. Boiling soup is almost like napalm. A melon or coconut on the head can be lethal. Hot peppers and other spicy stuff go in the ogre's eyes or down the throat of the ravening aurumvorax.

    Necessity is a mother...

  9. You know what Weapon I like for one on one combat, when my Enemy neither have a shield nor a ridgid armor?
    A Staff. Right a effing 6-8 foot pole!
    You can keep your enemy at a distance, you can whip him with an astonishing amount of force, and when he is careless and comes to near to you, you always have the other end of your staff, to surprise him from his right side.

  10. If it's inappropriate to set your enemies on fire, you can always make 'em bleed to death.

    Aztec war clubs, which decapitated at least one horse IRL, were fitted with obsidian razors that splintered off got stuck in flesh. I'd rule that scoring a critical hit or a maximum damage with one of these scary-ass weapons would cause serious bleeding every round.

  11. My first character, a Thief, had a favorite tactic of selling a minor attack against him as a major one, going to his knees, and then suddenly springing back up with a handful of sand.
    Had a fighter once that mobbed around with a bunch of bolas, a spear, and a pack of trained dogs.

  12. Fucking yes. Anybody who doesn't think the torch is the best weapon is probably some pansy who got set on fire but screw them. You know what awesome thing happened after your Cleric got accidentally stabbed? Nothing. We tried to stab a dude back. Know what awesome thing happened after your Cleric accidentally fucking caught fire and burned to death? We used him to light a darkened room and threw him at the zombie priest hiding inside and set HIM on fire.

    Fire, won't you?