24 November 2010

Worst Labyrinth Lord melee weapons

OK, the title of this post is sort of a tongue-in-cheek reference to my top ten LL melee weapons. The idea, though, is to look at the thirteen weapons that didn’t make that cut. Well, that was the idea. Some are going to have to wait for another post.

A two-handed sword is mechanically identical to a pole arm except for one thing: It costs more than twice as much.

You might say that pole arms should really only be good in formation fighting, but I think that only really holds for things like a pike. Poleaxes and halberds seem to have been used in similar contexts to swords.

You might say that a sword is a noble’s weapon while a pole arm is a commoner’s weapon. I’m not convinced, but that works. Some characters may be willing to spend the extra gold in order to not be seen wielding a commoner’s weapon.

How about space required? It seems to me that a two-handed sword and a pole arm are going to have similar space requirements, but I don’t know.

I have read, however, that the true two-handed swords were a specialized weapon used mainly on the battlefield. Like (and often against) pikes. So, I think I can be happy with its mechanical inferiority to the pole arm in the game.

The LL trident is a two-handed weapon. I believe retiarii—a type of Roman gladiator—would sometimes use their trident in one hand. Although it may have been most effective when used with both hands. Nice to have it available, but I’m OK with it not being an optimal choice.

The war hammer. Is this something like Mjöllnir or a late medieval bec de corbin kind of thing? Is the latter subsumed within pole arm or pick? Why is it two-handed with no one-handed counterpart? Note that dwarfs can’t wield two-handed weapons, but the magical dwarven [sic] thrower war hammer has special rules when used by a dwarf. I’m beginning not to care that the mechanics are suboptimal and unlikely to be picked by a PC. ☺

A scimitar is (again, mechanically) equivalent to a long sword except for one thing: It’s 50% more expensive. I think the scimitar is the “foreign long sword”. If the PCs travelled to another land, they might find the prices of the long sword and scimitar reversed. So, I might allow a character with a suitably foreign background to buy a scimitar during character creation at the long sword price.

I’ve always thought the spear should be used more often in role-playing games it has been in my experience. Historically, this was an important weapon. In LL, the only thing that really sets it apart is that it is explicitly cited as a weapon that can be braced against a charge for double damage. Although I have yet to see that actually occur in a game.

Why choose a spear instead of the less expensive hand axe? Length, but that doesn’t figure into LL combat except through ad hoc rulings. Although, it could double as probe outside of combat.

Both the mace and flail inflict 1d6 damage, but the mace costs 5 gp while the flail costs but 3. On the other hand, the mace weighs only 3# while the flail weighs 5. I suppose if the full encumbrance rules are being used, those couple of pounds might make a difference. As both these weapons seem unlikely to be chosen by any character but a cleric, the cleric’s specific faith might have an influence the choice.

The mighty Roman gladius, the short sword, gets overshadowed by the long sword and the hand axe. That’s probably just as well. If a campaign was geared more towards ancient times then you might want to adjust all the equipment lists appropriately. As it is, I’m glad the short sword is here, and I don’t know that it needs to be made more attractive a purchase.

The lance seems to call for some special rules, but none are given. Well, not where you might be looking. The “horse, war” entry in the Monsters chapter says that, when charging, a rider with a lance does double damage. If I dropped the light hammer from the top ten list, then perhaps I’d add the lance.

Does anyone actually ever buy a club? It’s the original improvised weapon, eh? Glad we have it listed, but it doesn’t need any differentiation to encourage character’s to buy one.

21 November 2010

Metamorphosis Rama

Having heard that Jim Ward is having some medical bills stacking up, I recently took the opportunity to grab a copy of the first edition of Metamorphosis Alpha from RPGNow. (If you ever wondered where the name “Drawmij” in AD&D came from...there you go.) Looking through it made me think...

Maybe the hub at one end—where the control center lies—would be known as Olympus, home of “the gods”. Perhaps the “engineering section” on the other end would be called Hades.

18 November 2010

The top 10 Labyrinth Lord melee weapons

After running a couple of Basic/Expert D&D campaigns using the regular “all weapons do 1d6 damage” rule, I am considering—along with “switching” to Labyrinth Lord—switching back to variable damage by weapon. So, I want to take a closer look at the melee weapons in LL. This is going to be something of a min/maxing exercise, but I think it may be worthwhile. (Call it “min/maxing so that the players don’t have to”.) Here’s my list of the 10 best weapon choices:

  1. Bastard sword
  2. Pole arm
  3. Long sword
  4. Battle axe
  5. Heavy flail
  6. Hand axe
  7. Flail
  8. Light hammer
  9. Dagger
  10. Silver dagger

The bastard sword’s 2d4 when used two-handed compares well to the 1d10 of the pole arm. When used one-handed, it compares well against the long sword, doing the same damage and only being 2# heavier. The flexibility, however, comes with a price. It is the second most expensive weapon.

A pole arm is equal to the two-handed sword when it comes to damage and weight. At half the price, however, it is a bargain. I think envisioning this as a poleax or halberd is more suitable than, e.g., a pike.

There are 1d8 weapons that are cheaper than a long sword, but they all require two hands.

Although a two-handed weapon, the battle axe does the same damage as the one-handed long sword. It does have one advantage over a long sword, though. It is almost half the price.

The heavy flail is the only 1d8 weapon that a cleric can use.

Among the weapons that do 1d6 damage, the hand axe is the clear winner at only 1 gp and 3#. A quarterstaff is cheaper but requires two hands. A short sword is lighter but more than twice the price. Not to mention that the axe may be thrown as a missile weapon as well.

For the cleric who wants to use a shield, the flail packs the most bang for the buck. The mace is a second choice trading a lower weight for a higher price.

Among the 1d4 weapons, the light hammer rules the roost. It is cheap and light. Really, though, it looks to me like a tool being used as an improvised weapon. I think I’ll probably house rule it down to less damage, which would drop it from this list.

The dagger is the only weapon explicitly allowed to magic-users. It also has one advantage over the light hammer in that it can be thrown.

The silver dagger is the only silver weapon commonly available. While the most expensive weapon listed, it is invaluable when faced with a monster only affected by silver weapons.

An honorable mention goes to the lance, which will be explained further in a follow-up.

You may notice the absence of a couple of iconic weapons, such as the mace and quarterstaff. Likewise the spear, widely used historically, didn’t make the cut.

The next task will be to examine reasons why the other weapons might be chosen.

10 November 2010

Braunstein redux

One of the events we can trace the origins of role-playing games back to are the Braunstein games run by Dave Wesely. The first occurred in 1967. Here’s a description of it from Law Shick’s book, Heroic Worlds:

Some players represented advance elements of the armies just entering the town, and others represented factions from within the town itself. Each player's faction had differing goals and abilities. The players, used to set-piece battles between armies, had never encountered anything like this before, but soon they were deeply engaged in all sorts of intrigue, with their figures chasing each other around the miniature town of Braunstein. The game dissolved into apparent chaos, and the armies never did get to the town.

This undisciplined brawl violated all Wesley’s cherished theories of organized game conduct, and he thought of it as a failure. But the players loved it and were soon pestering him to run “another Braunstein”.

Now consider this PvP blog post, “The Tribunal of Erathis”, from this year (2010):

Last night’s D&D session with my group was really something special. Lucky for me, cause it could have gone either way. And to be honest, I was certain all night that most of my players were bored out of their minds. But after our session, and I apologized for the failed experiment I was met with a surprised merriment. They had a great time and one of my players said it was his favorite night of gaming so far with this group.

It closes with these words:

It was a night of pure role-play. The dice rolled only for skill checks of History, Insight, Diplomacy and Bluffing. And we had a great time.


I encourage all DMs to take at least one night out where the dice are never rolled for combat. And get your players role-playing. It was an incredible time.

The similarities are striking. Why are D&D players in 2010 repeating one of the incidents that led to D&D and being surprised by it?

(Yeah, that’s something of a rhetorical question that I plan to revisit...)