Everything in it’s place

September 24th, 2010

After writing up the parry stuff last post, I’m gearing up to setting out where everything (techniques and gear) goes in relation to each other within the rules. This post is to outline a portion of my ideas behind the overall concept, and to justify how it will be laid out. I want to set weapons and armour in their proper place, and model them so that the way they are used in the game shares the same concepts of weapons and armour in real life. I want the rules to ‘illustrate’ the way weapons are used in principle. To get the ball rolling; I thought I’d post my ideas on mail armour, and then a bit on the sword. A later post will start to deal with the rules to mirror these concepts, and introduce the shield.

Mail armour is very good at stopping a slashing blow or piecing thrust from penetrating it. It is not so good at dealing with the force of the impact. This is because it is both hard (good at transmitting energy of the blow through to the person) and flexible (no overall structure to spread the load). In effect mail armour converts most slashing, hewing and piecing impacts into blunt force trauma. Mail would convert a sword hit into something akin to being hit with an iron bar. Being hit with an iron bar is still not pleasant, but the human body is much better absorbing blunt force trauma than resisting slashing or piecing attacks. The human body is very vulnerable to slashing and piecing attacks.

On its own mail armour does little to counter the blunt force trauma aspect of the strike. To resolve this weakness in mail armour is usually combined with a padded undergarment to counter the blunt force. The combined armour, of mail over padding, was very effective at stopping all but the most powerful blows.

If you are wearing mail, a hit from a sword is much the same as a hit from an iron bar. This may not sound like a big difference, but the true beauty of mail is that it takes away the major advantages of the sword…

Swords can deliver powerful hewing strikes and piecing attacks, which mail has some trouble with, but they can also deliver rakes and slices from binds, using the full length of the sword to carve into an opponent. Those who know how to bind, and attack from the bind (where it is hard to get a good swing, but the edge overcomes this limitation), gain a real advantage in combat. Such an individual can control those who do not know about binds, move in and cut them to ribbons. A skilled swordsman against an unskilled man is going to result in a short fight as the unskilled man does not know how to deal with binds. A skilled warrior is fit, but not unnaturally so, their real power comes from the fact they know what they are doing (imagine playing sports without knowing the rules or basic plays?).

Protection: This is wear mail armour shines when facing the sword. It can stop slices and rakes delivered from the bind, and makes attacking in this manner ineffective. It takes away one of the warrior’s ‘easy win’ trump cards (through warriors are a creative bunch and skills are adapted and developed along side the technologies of the time). This forces the warriors to go back to direct attacks, adopt new techniques like half-swording, or move in and grapple: ditch the sword and use a thin dagger (Misericorde) to piece the mail armour.

Looking at the overall picture this seems to imply that other weapons, like clubs, maces, or warhammers are just as good as a sword against a mail clad opponent, and perhaps even better if the blow lands. This may make you wonder why warriors even bothered with the sword in the ages when mail clad warriors were common, and in turn why mail armour did not die once the swords were proved to be no more effective than much cheaper weapons? I know it puzzled me for a while. Like much of history sometimes things just aren’t that straightforward. There are other forces at play that kept the sword relevant.

Society: Warriors exist in the context of their civilization. There are very good reasons why a sword was the preferred side arm of the warriors/ ruling class.

Back in the day mail armour was expensive to make. Those with power and status could afford it, but the lower classes (peasants and serfs) could not. Without mail armour peasants and serfs are very vulnerable to the sword’s weaker attacks like slashing and rakes. This makes even glancing hits or touches very dangerous. This was compounded by the fact, due to a lack of resources and training, they could not effectively defend themselves with weapons either. It is very easy for a skilled swordsman to kill an unarmoured opponent/s who do not know how to bind or to counter such binds with a sword, let alone an opponent armed with makeshift weapons. This is one reason the sword became such a potent symbol of power over the under-classes: it is expensive and the poor simply could not effectively defend themselves against it.

Any Lord or knight would know how amazing the sword really is when they have to lay down the law on their ignorant underlings. It is so good everyone in power wears one (it’s also where a lot of the mystique of the sword is derived, and why they are so desirable – less as a weapon in later years and more as a potent symbol of power). This mystique of the sword would endure, and still has an effect to this day.

As everyone in power has a sword, when opposing factions clash, this means they all need mail armour as the threat of the sword is very real. If one decides to leave their mail at home because other weapons are used on the battlefield, you can bet his opponent remembered to bring his sword (he still has underlings, the sword is still a status symbol and effective threat). The simple fact is that as soon as a warrior takes off his mail be becomes vulnerable to the most common side arm worn but warriors. Even if a warriors took another weapon to war, like a good axe, it may be hard to resist the sword when he sees an opponent without mail. The sword is just too good, too smooth, against an unarmoured man.

With the development of mail (and other similar armours), the sword lost some of its dominance on the battlefield, but continued to dominate in the social arena as a personal side arm. As such the sword as always around, even in war. This is not to say that there were not types of sword that were specifically for war, called (conveniently enough) a war sword, or longsword, which is too long to be worn as a personal side arm but can be strapped to a horse. These were a more powerful version of a regular sword, and were often used in combination with plate armour, and this freed up both hands to use the techniques developed at the time. However they suffered from the same problem as all swords, it was tough to get through mail, and even these wonders of technology slowly fell out of favour with the rise of full plate armour, and the two-handed warhammer become the dominant anti-armour weapon.

With this in mind I hope it will make it easier to look at the sword for what is was, and render up a more accurate place for it on the battlefield. In the next post I’ll look at how to put all this together in the rules. As always comments, corrections, and questions are welcome.

Categories: Concepts |

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