Wednesday 8 July 2015

Gaming in fantasy central Asia: Weapons and mounted combat

For ATWC, I've borrowed the distinction between 'simple' and 'martial' weapons from D&D3. As stated in their class descriptions, Fighters, Brass Men, Blood Men, and Children of the Sun can use any weapons; Travellers can use any simple weapon and one martial weapon of their choice, and everyone else has to stick with simple weapons.

Martial Melee Weapons are large, heavy weapons which require considerable training to use effectively, such as swords, battleaxes, and heavy maces. (Esoteric martial arts weapons would also qualify.) They usually do 1d8 damage if they're one-handed, or 1d10 damage if they're two-handed. People who aren't proficient with these weapons can still pick them up and try to hit people with them, but they suffer a -1 penalty to hit and damage, meaning that they'll usually be better off with simple weapons.

Simple Melee Weapons are simpler, lighter weapons which can be used without much special training, such as knives, clubs, spears, hatchets, and quarterstaves. Clubs and knives do 1d4 damage; two-handed staves, one-handed spears, and hatchets do 1d6 damage; and two-handed spears do 1d8 damage.

The only Martial Ranged Weapons in ATWC are bows. Bows inflict 1d8 damage, and can be fired once per round, even from horseback. Guns may hit harder, but bows have an enormously greater rate of fire, making them the overall superior weapon; the trouble is that it takes ages to learn to use them properly, whereas any fool can pick up a gun. Of course, fighters might carry both, firing their gun first and then switching to their bow rather than bothering to reload. Non-proficient characters can use bows - you're fantasy Mongolians! You probably fired your first bow when you were five! - but they get -1 to hit, only do 1d6 damage, and need one full round to reload between shots.

Mongolian warrior in full gear. Anonymous photographer. Circa 1900.
See? Sword, gun, and bow! It's historical!

(NB: Strength bonuses (and penalties) do apply to archery damage. A bigger, stronger archer will draw a bigger, heavier bow.)

child archer Mongolia Ulaanbaatar
He gonna shoot you dead!
Simple Ranged Weapons include thrown knives, spears, and hand-axes (short range, damage same as melee), slings (damage 1d4), crossbows (damage 1d6, two-handed, 2 rounds to reload, might as well use a gun instead), and, of course, all firearms. Strength bonuses (and penalties) to damage apply to thrown weapons, but not to guns and crossbows.

Mounted Archery: If you know how to use a weapon, you know how to use it on horseback. (In fact, if anything, you might be a bit shaky on how to use it when not on horseback.) The only exception are long guns: you can't use a jezail while riding a horse, and muskets suffer a -2 to-hit penalty. (That's what carbines are for!) Otherwise you suffer no penalties for just being mounted, though the GM may impose penalties for hitting targets whilst riding at high speed.

Mounted Melee: The absolute best melee weapon to have when charging someone on a horse is a spear or lance - provided you know how to use it! If you are proficient with martial weapons, then charging someone with a lance or spear allows you to inflict double damage. If you aren't proficient with martial weapons, then they take normal damage +1 and the spear probably gets wrenched from your grasp.

(For the same reason, though, anyone who hits you with a fixed spear as you're charging into them on a horse gets to inflict double damage on you. So you might wanna shoot those guys instead.)

Having all that extra momentum behind you isn't just good for spears, though. Whacking someone with a sword, mace, battleaxe, or similar weapon as part of a cavalry charge allows you to inflict +2 damage as well.

If you're on a horse, and you're fighting someone on foot, then you can wheel around and charge back at them for every attack, getting this bonus every time. Sucks to be them!


  1. "Everyone is an awesome horse archer" makes me slightly sad, because it means that the "awesome horse-archer people" who sweep down and destroy everything including goths, ostragoths, visigoths and vandals by virtue of being better at horse-archery than anyone else aren't a separate thing, and because it removes a possible defining schtick for a PC.

    1. 1) From the perspective of the inhabitants of not-China, not-Europe, and not-Arabia, *everyone* from the area covered by ATWC is part of the 'awesome horse-archer people. (Well, some of them might be awesome camel-archers or reindeer-archers instead, but same difference.) There doesn't seem much point in trying to weigh up the respective horse-archery abilities of fantasy Mongols vs. fantasy Manchus vs. fantasy Kyrgyz, y'know?

      2) Mounted combat is a really tricky PC niche. If you're playing Amazing Mounted Combat Gal, what do you do when the whole session takes place in a city? In a dungeon? Up a mountain? In a cave? I try to avoid those kind of situationally useful abilities where possible.