Gaming Discussion > General D&D Discussion

[A bit of rant] Realism should be the floor, not the ceiling in D&D.

(1/2) > >>

Like you I've seen the typical dim-witted arguments for keeping D&D fighter types "realistic", throughout the character's whole career. To which I say, they'd have to be realistic to begin with then, which fighter types in D&D and Pathfinder really aren't. That's because they're often unrealistically bad, especially at low levels, levels that make sense for warriors to be realistic at. Yes, I said it, making low level warriors, 1st-3rd level to be precise, realistic in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, maybe even in D&D 5e, would be a boost for them.

Take these four montante demonstrations for example, two of them solo exercises, one an exhibition and the last a spar. Notice how in each one the montante is kept in near constant motion to both build and maintain momentum and to cover multiple angles of attack. This is not a slow and clunky style that relies on brute force, but instead a nimble and agile one. Both Just Nate's and Montante Nino's videos also show the great deal of range one can cover with proper footwork, and feature twirling footwork as a means to drive back foes and strike any would be attackers before they can hit you. Less the "hit everyone in sword reach" melee AOE of mithril tornado or whirlwind attack and more of a "guarantee any idiot that moves closer to you takes an AoO to the face" technique, but it can serve as a foundation for a melee AOE.

I have more weapon examples to go through, but let's leave that for tomorrow, it's really late and I can use some sleep. With that said, D&D can use more realism in fighting styles at lower levels and use that as a springboard into more fantastical and superhuman fighting styles for higher level fighter types, but I don't think that will ever come from anything official.

Really, if you want a more realistic fantasy tabletop game, you ought to be playing GURPS sooner than any flavor of D&D. The D&D designers of yore would tell you flat-out that this is not the place for simulationist/"realistic" gameplay.

As for your argument about how mundane combat isn't terribly realistic, it isn't a very good one. We all accept a measure of abstraction in the course of game design and most people would be very unpersuaded by "you say it's realistic but it's not realistic enough because these extended combat arts aren't being employed." The better arguments are that D&D is a power fantasy set in a fantastical universe first and foremost and that levels are meant to be an indicator of power. As such, any high leveled fighter is sooner meant to be a hero on par with Beowulf, Achilles, and later on even more fantastical heroes like Hercules, Cu Culainn, Karna, etc. than he is meant to stay as a regular idiot. The other issue is that the martial's model of combat, which consists of repetitively swinging a sword at a foe and little else, is an unrealistic and idiotic style of fighting. Real combat is far more dynamic and engaging than D&D's repetitive attack cycle and people who equate realism with boringness are doing reality, game design, and the rudiments of rhetoric a disservice. Not to mention, literally no one plays D&D for a realistic experience. Really, "realism" as an argument for why martials should suck is a stock form of excusing bad design rather than making a case for what good design is supposed to look like.

Frankly, it's a bad argument brought up by idiots and it has basically never died in all the decades it's been rehashed by fools. Even Gygax himself wrote on the subject over 40 years ago, in Dragon Magazine #16, under the title Role-Playing: Realism vs. Game Logic; Spell Points, Vanity Press and Rip-offs. You can find an excerpt of it here where the same issue is discussed.

I guess the real question to be had is why do their opinions matter? People who claim this sort of nonsense usually tend to be intellectual lightweights whose arguments aspire to unfalsifiability anyway. Once you've laid out the basic argument and positions on why that doesn't make sense and why it makes for a crap game clearly, if they show no interest in processing your argument, it's better to just move on and ignore the idiots. Really though, the biggest problem with all this is playing D&D. If you want to move beyond this kind of crap design and the idiots who defend it, just play a better system.

Now that we've gotten large two-handed swords out of the way let's talk about shields. To be honest, shields in D&D kind of suck. They provide a relatively small static bonus to AC, oftentimes for not enough benefit for the investment in terms of GP cost. They don't really give many decent options to boost shield use in D&D. Let's break things down a bit for shields.

First up we have bucklers, the smallest functional shield in existence. According to its equipment description bucklers are strapped to the forearm, allow for weapon use (including two-handed weapons) in the off-hand and cannot be used for bludgeoning or bashing. Unfortunately, that's not a buckler, that's a Scottish targe, which has its own fighting style that makes it different from sword and buckler, albeit with some similarities, such as using the targe or buckler to cover your sword blow. As the previous video shows, some targes came with affixable blades that were meant to be screwed onto the boss of the shield. There's more on the targe from Skallagrim, as he goes over the construction of the targe, including the fact that targes, while topping out 21" in diameter, were about 6 1/2 pounds on average. Bucklers, unlike the weightier targe, were even smaller, and meant largely for civilian use, with a center grip instead of the targe's center strap and off-center grip. Their small size made them easier carry on your person during peace time, as explained here. Bucklers were also of comparable weight to the weapons they were paired with, weighing about 2 to 3 lbs.

Light and heavy shields are a muddled topic, so I'll combine them together. Now I'll say this, light vs. heavy shields is a meaningless distinction. Making a shield heavier by itself doesn't provide more coverage, it just makes it heavier and maybe harder to penetrate. Differentiating between size, shape, construction, and grip are all much more meaningful than weight. They may as well have just called them medium and large shields, would've made much more sense. For example, a rotella forged from 16 gauge steel, up to our modern standards, would typically start off with a diameter around 20" and go all the way to 26" in diameter and weigh from almost 6 lbs. to over 8 1/2 lbs. While a Viking round shield had diameters of 24" to 38", though determining a Viking round shield's weight by size proves difficult, considering that such shields could be made from lindenwood, fir, or pine, among various types of wood, though there is some talk about shield weight in this video.

Finally, we have tower shields, the biggest and most protective base shields in D&D. In addition to their defensive qualities mentioned toward the end of this post tower shields prohibit their wielders from attacking when used as cover, impose a -2 attack penalty when used normally and weigh a whopping 45 lbs! No real-life shield weighs this much! The closest real-world analogues are the kite shield, weighing in at about 11-15 lbs., the Roman scutum, at about 17-22 lbs. and finally the pavise, at the massive weight of 30 lbs. Of the three only the pavise couldn't be used to bash or shove, because it wasn't so much a shield as it was deployable cover. I remember someone in the 5E preview thread talking about how WotC needs to hire more people with math than with humanities degrees, and I would like to say something to that person. You give WotC way too much credit thinking they have anyone who's seriously studied the humanties on staff, because part of humanities is history, and no proper historian would allow these kinds of fuck ups! This should let you know how furious I am on the topic, because I typically don't use very strong language, especially while typing, but stupidity like this always brings out the asshole in me.

Last but not least, what kind of defensive bonuses do you get for wielding these different types of shields? Well, you get a +1 to AC for bucklers and light shields, +2 to AC for heavy shields and +4 to AC for tower shields. That's it, up to 4 measly points of static defense bonus. Okay, you can use your tower shield as cover so long as you don't attack for the round, but that's not all that great, is it? As a note about armor vs. weapons, according to both weapons based martial artists and historians, shields are weapons, not armor. Armor is something you wear for passive defense, while weapons are wielded for active offense and defense.

To Power: I get where you're coming from. What I'm saying, or at least trying to say, is that low level D&D warrior-types are unrealistically bad and underpowered. I think when most people talk about making D&D or similar games "realistic", what they really mean is to constrain higher level, mostly non-casters, to what they think is "realistic". This is especially obnoxious when they use themselves as the benchmark for what "realistic limits" mean, instead of real-life figures that actually resemble the player characters in question. They forget that just because they can't do something, doesn't that no one else can. Instead, they should be comparing a knight to a knight, a halberdier to a halberdier, a skilled spy and saboteur to a skilled spy and saboteur, a genius crimefighting investigator to a genius crimefighting investigator, a canny upstart smuggler to a canny upstart smuggler or a badass tracker and hunter to a badass tracker and hunter. Noob with a sword shouldn't be a first level concept, it should be a pre-first level concept. That's pretty much what a squire is, at least for a time, and squires aren't first level material. Squires become first level material, after training is over.

Let's talk about quarterstaves for a bit. In D&D 3.5 a quarterstaff is a simple two-handed double weapon that deals 1d6 points of bludgeoning damage with each end and weighs 4 lbs. What they don't say is that quarterstaves, at least in the English and Germans traditions, are taken from quartersawn lumber and carved to a typical range of 6' to 9' long, either up to your mouth level or 15% longer than their intended wielder is tall for a dedicated fighting staff, and with a diameter of 1.5 inches. Afterwards the staff would be sanded down and then coated in linseed oil and allowed to dry. A bit more involved than just grabbing any old piece of wood and calling it a day. It would have also been held one of two ways. The first one, with the wielder's dominant hand holding the butt of the staff and their off hand holding the staff about 3/7 of the way up. In the second grip method, you hold the staff a hand's space away from the butt of the staff with your nondominant hand and somewhat loosely grip the staff a third of the way up with your dominant hand. Much like the montante, zweihander, spadone, or let's just call it the greatsword, the quarterstaff is an excellent melee range area denial weapon. You also have various thrust, overhead strike and counter focused techniques in addition to the staff's area denial capabilities. Staves also have some interesting matchups against swords.

With staves out of the way let's get to other polearms, like halberds. Halberds are what happens when you take a staff and fix an axe bit/spike or spear point hybrid one end. Like all other polearms, halberds share the same basic techniques with the quarterstaff, except the additional mass and necessity of edge alignment make executing these same strikes, thrust, counters and displacement techniques more complex, in exchange for greater offensive power. Enough to justify bumping them up to martial weapon status in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder terms. As a result, halberds and other more complex polearms tended to have oblong or oval cross sections, to allow for easier edge alignment in battle. Add on a hook for snagging foes to trip them, force them to the ground, dismount them, or even catch and throw them as far as you can.

Now, for some dagger fighting demonstrations. Now the reason they're wielding daggers in reverse/icepick grip, is that this dagger fighting style was developed for both fights among late medieval to Rennaissance men wearing thick padded slash resistant clothing, or for grappling knights trying to get the point of their daggers through gaps of the other guy's armor. The icepick grip used grants greater point control and penetrative force at the cost reduced reach and more awkward attack angles. Could probably be represented by increased piercing damage, bonuses to initiate a grapple and effective reduction of the target's armor/natural armor bonus to AC for the attack, in exchange for attack penalties, possibility of an AoO and reduced defensive capabilities, like no bonus from Two-Weapon Defense when using icepick grip in your off-hand, or any other feats or abilities that grant a shield AC bonus for dagger wielding.

Next time I'd like to cover slings and arrows, but until then have these examples of video game two-handed sword use, cheers.

Dragon Age: Origins
Elden Ring
Final Fantasy VII Remake

What pops in your head when you hear the word sling, as a weapon I mean? Well, this...
(click to show/hide)...isn't it. That a slingshot, a relatively modern almost toy-like "weapon", with an effective range of 25 yards/75 feet and lethal enough for hunting small-game. There are special modifications that can let you shoot an arrow, making slingshots suitable for hunting medium-game, like smaller deer, but still at an effective range of 25 yards. Now this...
(click to show/hide)...and this...
(click to show/hide)...are slings. Just a rope or cord made into two retention cords with a pouch in the middle, with some leather, cloth, or in modern times, electrical tape, linings on both ends to make it easier to use. This makes slings relatively cheap and easy to manufacture, and gives them negligible weight, at least individually. This video on the Balearic Slingers, by Invicta, goes into further details on slings and their ammunition. As the video says, while slingers would prefer bullets made from cast-lead, or at least kiln-fired clay, but small, smooth, oval-shaped stones could suffice, and would be strong enough to break bones, crack skulls and rupture internal organs through ancient armor, penetrate remarkably far through unarmored bodies, and of course, dent the armor. This is on top of sling having, a real world, top range of 400 meters or approximately 1,312 feet or about 437 yards and a top speed of 100 km/h or about 62 miles per hour. Now that's not really possible in standard 3.5, or any D&D, not at low levels at least, so I'm thinking of basing projectile weapon range off of spell ranges. So, let's put slings at long range, the farthest reasonable range for spells in 3.5/Pathfinder. Still not realistically long, but it's a start, and I have an idea for that. In 2e AD&D and older, spells and missile weapons had their ranges changed from feet to yards outdoors, giving the humble sling a range of 400 yards + 40 yards/level, for 440 yards or 1,320 feet at first level. We are trying to be realistic here, and the top range on a sling is 400 or approximately 1,312 feet, which is in the neighborhood of 1,320 feet and well within the capabilities of a first level sling user under these rules. :D That said, there are some catches with slings. First, they require years of training to be competent with, more so than even a longbow, and that one requires a good deal of strength training. Second, slings need a lot of room to be swung, so no tight formations, which shouldn't be much of a problem for PCs, who start out more like fantasy special forces than normal soldiers. Third, since you have to take time to load, swing, and then throw the rock/bullet, it takes you more time to shoot a rock or bullet than it does for an archer to shoot, meaning that if they're good enough they can keep shooting and shooting faster than you. Fourth and finally, a sling stone/bullet can't fit through a narrow crack or gap like an arrow. Still a damn good weapon though.
(click to show/hide)
"Isn't that just like a philistine? Brings a sword to a sling fight."
An archer's primary weapons were their bow and arrows, or crossbow and bolts in the case of a crossbowman. Despite the differences between them, bows and crossbows do have some commonalities, namely draw weight and arrowheads. In simple terms, draw weight is the measurement, in pounds, of both the force needed to pull the bow's limbs as far as they can be pulled and the kinetic energy from the limbs snapping forward after the nocked arrow is loosed. Interestingly enough, there are two main methods of doing this in Europe. One is the better known drawing the bow, where the archer nocks the arrow and pulls the bowstring back to in front their ear before loosing the arrow. The lesser known bending the bow involves holding the nocked arrow in front of your ear while using your non-dominant hand to push or "bend" the bow staff away from you. Both are done until you reach full draw. As for arrowheads, archers had broadheads for causing aggravated injuries, crescent moon or fishtail heads for taking down large animals, incendiary arrows for lighting flammable materials on fire and bodkin points to be more aerodynamic and pierce through chain armor. That and bodkins were cheaper and easier to make. An arrow loosed from a longbow can reach a maximum effective distance of 200 meters or about 656 feet and a crossbow, depending on draw weight and bolt mass, can shoot for 260 yards or 780 feet. While he doesn't get quite that far in this video, Tod of Tod's Workshop does manage to shoot a crossbow to 238 yards with an 850 lbs. draw weight crossbow, which is still impressive. According to the Pathfinder stats for light (lower draw weight) and heavy (higher draw weight) crossbow are 80 and 120, respectively, with ten range increments. This means a light crossbow tops out at 800 feet and a heavy crossbow at 1,200 feet, with a total attack penalty of -20 for both. That said, most real-world military archers were volley archers, you just got them into one mass and had them shoot at the enemy mass. But even starting characters in D&D aren't comparable to standard troops.

What happened if an archer ran out of arrows, or their enemies close into melee range? Well, they had backup weapons, as well as various pieces of headgear. Archer's picks, bearded hand axes with flat heads on the back to drive that big pointy knife into the gaps of an armored foes armor, bollock daggers, poniards, falchions and one-handed bill hooks for pulling down knights or gutting horses. As for the headgear, it starts at sheepskin, goes on to boiled (hardened) leather, then various caps and hats, to actual metal helmets. Of course, these are the weapons and armor of a typical volley archer, not necessarily a PC grade sharpshooter archer, not that a PC grade archer couldn't benefit from such gear. Of course, those are just the loadouts for a Medieval English commoner archer. Samurai, on the other hand, were aristocratic archers first, then spearman at polearm range and swordsmen third. Weras English longbowmen were trained for distance and used for massed volleys, samurai were trained more for accuracy and on top of that they were mounted archers, allowing them easier and greater range of movement. Depending on the era, and preferences of the samurai, their armor consisted of lamellar such as o-yoroi or do-maru to gusoku plate armor.

Armor: it's what you wear to keep your enemies from killing you, or at least make them work at it. While in 3.5 D&D and newer, armor is divided into light, medium and heavy groups, I feel it makes more sense to group armor by construction type, soft, medium and rigid. Starting with soft armor you have gambeson and it's variants like linothorax, ichcahuipilli or myeonje baegab. It wasn't until the 17th century that you had any real single layer leather armor, simply because they hadn't invented the process for making it and because gambeson already existed, and was good enough for that role. As for the 17th century leather soft armor, that's called a buff coat.

What I like to call medium armor is made up of segments of sturdy, rigid material, stitched, welded or riveted together. This would either form a mesh, like mail armor, be shaped into a piece of armor with non-overlapping segments like a lamellar, or a suit of overlapping segments, such as laminar, mail and plate or brigandine, which is also talked about here, here, here and here.

Rigid armor is just that, solid pieces of armor made from a single piece of some rigid material, whether it's boiled leather, iron, bronze, steel, or some stronger fantasy material. Unlike soft or medium armor, good rigid armor is never flexible. It should allow for a good deal of flexibility around the joints and a decent range of motion though, just that the actual armor pieces need to be rigid.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version