Sunday, June 25, 2017

Weapons by Race

There is at least one series of videos on the internet arguing about what weapons would be most appropriate for which races based on their physical capabilities.  While I cannot argue with the videos necessarily, I will argue this:  It doesn’t matter what the physical characteristics are; only what the culture is - to a point.  Here’s what I mean:

Many argue that elves use bows.  I can agree - to a point.  True, elves are typically smaller and weaker than humans (depends on your game, but they are in Legend Quest).  So elves would more rarely use long bows, but instead use “regular bows” or what some games refer to as short bows.  

I think it is important to think what works in a forest?  I would argue that a crossbow that can be aimed with less strength than a bow would be better for a hunter who sits and waits for prey.  Holding back a 30-40lb bow (what I consider most “standard” bows to be) still takes some strength and can be tiring.  Aiming a crossbow does not require that output of effort.  While I think hunting with a bow is fine, war in the forests allows innumerable trees to hide behind while people are firing bows at you.  You cannot use indirect fire because of the canopy, so range weapons aren’t all that important.  It is reasonable to think that an archer could shoot a crossbow then hide behind a tree while cranking it back up for the next shot.  Having a bow with an enormous range is likely useless as the trees would often be in the way if you are trying to shoot it too far.

Halflings are shorter and weaker still.  They too can probably use “regular” bows, or crossbows, but they live in more open areas, often hilly areas.  I think halfling tactics are shoot and run.  While this can be done with a bow, even a short bow takes up space.  If you’re shooting and then trying to duck through narrow spaces, a bow doesn’t work.  You need a sling!  Sure, a better ranged bow would be advantageous at certain times, but a sling can hide with you while a bow cannot.

Do orcs use crossbows?  Nope.  Why not?  Well, while some orcs could probably learn to craft crossbows, crafting precision weapons just does not seem to be their way.  They would like the long bows.  I also think an orc would prefer to pepper a target with as many arrows as possible rather than stay calm and aim like a crossbow sniper.

Dwarves and crossbows?  Yes!  First off, the same argument as orcs, in reverse.  Dwarves love technology and a precision crossbow with a range finder and a safety lock would be right up their alley.  I have to agree that dwarves should have shorter draw lengths, so if you need a dwarf to fire a bow, it better be some specialized bow - made shorter and thicker to deliver similar power in a shorter draw.  But dwarves lack agility.  (There was an argument about dwarves having shorter spines and therefore having better reactions - That guy didn’t understand momentum!  Getting a beefy arm to move is difficult.)  So with a crossbow, they can have the best of both worlds.  They can fire it from the shoulder or they can mount it on a wall or bi-pod and use it as an artillery weapon.  Artillery weapons do not rely on Agility, so the dwarf’s weakness is neutralized.

What about melee weapons?  Well, there’s a lot to talk about with melee weapons, but the first thing should be:  What is the enemy wearing?  Fighting heavily armored dwarves is different from fighting lightly armored elves is different from naked barbarians.  If the enemy wears full plate, I suggest finding a different enemy to fight.  No, really, I mean come on.  If they’re naked, I might even suggest saw toothed blades - maximum destruction of the flesh.  But in normal circumstances (normal to FRPG), a spear is the ultimate “I can do everything weapon”, but I’d still prefer a war hammer against plate mail.

But melee weapons are not always about their ability to cause damage.  Pikes are meant to keep cavalry away.  Big axes are foolish in territories that don’t have good iron mines.  A poor forester can still find a workable club or shillelagh in the woods, and it’s “free”.  He may be forced to use what he has.  And we haven’t even started on nets, man-catchers, and lassos for capturing or some of the military forks that (at least in game) are great for disarming.

There are some physical restrictions that should be put on races and the weapons they use.  No matter how much magical strength a halfling has - having him whip around a 6’ claymore would be stupid.  (This is FRPG not mongo manga.)  But when it truly comes to what weapons a race would use “normally” I think it all comes down to what their culture is, including what materials and craftsmen they would have accessible to them.  So it’s environment over heredity again!


  1. I gotta add; hunting with a bow is very tough if you have any kind of shoulder injuries; it's for the young! Crossbows, on the other hand, can be left cocked for hours, and are as easy to aim and use as a rifle, if a bit dangerous to anyone standing too close! Those limbs hit hard when released. So in close combat a crossbow might not be a great choice.
    And really, I sure wouldn't want to fight an axe lumberjack, or a farmer wielding a scythe. they know those weapons!

  2. I couldn't agree more on the axe and scythe. That is why I was so insistent to add standard, tool, and combat strength weapons. Just because the axe was built for a lumberjack and not a dwarven warrior doesn't mean it won't kill you. It may break more quickly, but you're right - it's just as deadly.