Welp, since people seemed to enjoy my write-up of The Riddle of Steel (at least, some of you were polite enough to say so
), I guess I might as well start writing up the third book they wrote (the second book, Of Beasts and Men, is essentially a long statlist and most of the few rules it introduced are also printed in this book, so I can safely ignore that one): The Flower of Battle.
This book fixes a few of the quirkier aspects of the core rules, adds some new weapon styles and manoeuvres, as well as suggestions for making up your own. It has stuff about poisons, firearms and the most thorough list of melee weapons I have ever seen in a single RPG rulebook. This book is, in my humble opinion, one of the most useful supplements I've ever read and is damn near required reading for anyone planning on running this game. So, let's begin.
The Flower of Battle: Introduction and Book 1
Much like the core rules, this book is separated into "books", and each of these books is separated into smaller parts. These books are somewhat longer than last time, but thankfully there are only three of them, and most of the stuff in them can be summarised far easier than the core rules. The book begins with an introduction from the author (Brian Leybourne, since Jake Norwood had enlisted in the army at time of print) and, frankly, that introduction reads exactly like my introduction to this post would read if I were anywhere near as eloquent as this man. Therefore, for your benefit, I'll go ahead and quote it wholesale:
Welcome to Driftwood Publishings third (and probably most anticipated) book, The Flower of Battle!
Its been a long and occasionally diffi cult road for us over here at Driftwood. Once again, its been about a year between supplements, and you, our fans, have been really patient and understanding, for which we are eternally grateful. As many of you will know, DWP has been through a lot this year Jake Norwood, the original creator of The Riddle of Steel has moved on and enlisted in the US army, leading to the sale of the company. But dont worry, Jake found the time before he left to write a few sections for this book, and hes promised to pop in from time to time to cast an enlightened eye over things. In the future, hell be staying on as a consultant and hell be working on supplements and projects as time allows. Brian Leybourne (thats me) who wrote Of Beasts and Men is still around, and Im really excited about the future of Driftwood and The Riddle of Steel.
The new owners are keen gamers just like Jake and me, and we have big and interesting things in store for the future (and we promise that you wont have to wait a year between books anymore!)
So, whats The Flower of Battle all about? Essentially, its about choices. There are a lot of new rules in this book, covering everything from fi rearms to poisons to weapon schools. Weve also included updates and clarifi cations to a lot of older rules that were confusing or just needed refreshing, such as how dropping weapons works in combat, and when and exactly how many dice do you lose when youre knocked from your feet. Some rules have been greatly updated, such as the long requested new armor rules, a change to the way missile weapons work, and a clarifi cation of terrain rolls and their role in the game. Weve also rounded the book off with a greatly increased weapons list (including nifty pictures of every weapon), rules and guidelines for mass combat, and a section on Items of Power that perhaps belongs more in our next supplement Sorcery and the Fey, but we just couldnt wait to present it to you.
A lot of these rules add a ton of complexity to the game so why use them? Its true that using all of the optional rules in this book in any given TROS campaign could lead your elegant and streamlined sessions into what could be hours of number-crunching. This book, even more than its predecessor, is written with modularity in mind. In other words, if you like the stance rules but cant stomach the new maneuvers, then the clear choice is to use the one and discard the other. We even considered an A-B-C encyclopedia-style layout for this book originally, just to emphasize the build-your-own-TROS approach that we want The Flower of Battle to promote (but you, our fans, told us you hated that idea). As weve always said in the past this is your game now, do with it what seems right to you, but make sure you drop by http://www.trosforums.com now and then to tell us about what you are doing with the game if we like it, we may write about it in an upcoming book!
One thing you will notice in this book is a greatly decreased emphasis on Weyrth. We really wanted to use TFOB as an avenue to educate, or at least to inspire self-education in the hands of our fans and players. TROS is not and never has been about Weyrth. Its about the drama that comes from entering into the world of a person who trains his or her whole life to kill another in an activity that can rely on as much luck as it does skill. Its about Whats worth killing for? and Whats worth dying for? Weyrth was created with some of our favorite elements of historical based fantasy and the real world mixed in with as much gray area confl ict as possible (religion, politics, philosophy, etc). Every historically inspired element in this book remains as true to the original truth (as we know it, that is) as possible. Other elements are romanticized and are meant for Weyrth and its kin, not necessarily the historical TROS game. Hopefully every player will get use out of both!
So, lets get started
As in many RPGʼs, we have had to take a few liberties with the different forms of armor and the periods they came from on Earth. In reality, many of the types and forms of armor presented in this section did not exist at the same time as each other, and some were not contemporaries with some of the weapons available in The Riddle of Steel either (in the real world, the rapier was invented long after heavy plate armor had gone out of fashion, for example). We would love to have the liberty in this book to provide a full timeline of when various forms of armor and weaponry appeared on Earth, but there just isnʼt space. Seneschals and players should feel free to adopt their own norms and customs, or perhaps research real-world timings if they wish. However, as a general guideline:
The concept of leather armor stretches right back into antiquity and it is quite impossible to determine its origins, although it wasn't until the middle ages in Europe that anyone worked out how to boil it in oil to make it set (creating Cuir Bouilli). Scale armor (which was made by simply attaching scales of metal to the leather) is thought to have been invented around 200BC, but only really survived until the 5th or 6th century AD when mail became more available, as mail was superior against piercing attacks. A variant of scale armor, Brigandine, remained popular through into the 15th century however, as the scales were hidden under a second layer of leather making it hard to tell from a distance that someone was wearing armor at all. It was popular with highwaymen and brigands, hence the name. Mail armor itself has been found depicted in artwork from as far back as the Bronze Age; it is thought to have been invented in Asia, and also by the Celts at about the same time. It is known to have been used by the Romans and the Vikings. Mail seems to have been most popular from the 5th century onwards, right through until the 13th century or so when technologies improved and plate attachments began to become affordable and popular. This of course heralded the invention of banded mail, which became more plate and less chain over the years until circa 1440 when the first full suit of plate armor is thought to have been fashioned (although even then, mail was used to protect gaps such as under the arm and at the crotch.) Plate was hugely popular until the invention (or at least common adoption) of firearms in the early 16th century at which time lighter forms of armor began to come into vogue again.
Bohdan Stefanovitch, a commanding offi cer in the army of the Reczpospolita, is spending a few moments before a battle with the Zaporozhyans to fi nalize his plans. He is fully armored in shining plate (AV 6), except for his bald head which he has left bare. The sounds of a scuffl e outside his tent end with two of his own men entering unbidden fully armored and bearing bloodstained weapons. As they fan out to surround the old offi cer, Bohdan realizes hes been betrayed. In such a tight space he wont be able to run about and avoid entrapment (thus he cannot make a terrain roll to face only one opponent), so he takes a defensive stance, shouts for help, and throws a white die (actually the player throws the white die, but you knew that). Both assailants throw red, but before they announce their attack Bohdans player places 3 CP on zone V/XIII (downward slash and head thrust) and 2 CP on zone IV/XII on his non-weapon side (downward diagonal slash and upper chest thrust). The Seneschal knows hes Favoring, but the attackers dont. By doing this Bohdan is relying on his armor to protect his body should his gamble that theyll come for the head be wrong.
The first attacker (total CP: 13) goes for Bohdans feet (zone I) with 10 dice. The second (total CP: 13) thrusts ferociously at Bohdans head (zone XIII) with a whopping 13 CP! Bohdan (total CP: 15) responds by using a 3-die partial evasion on the first attack (this has a 2CP activation cost because his CP penalty from his plate armor is 2) and a 5-die parry against the second. The Seneschal informs Bohdans player that no one is feinting, after which the player reveals that Bohdan was favoring the head with 3 dice. Both attackers roll their attacks (10 and 13 dice respectively) and Bohdan rolls his defenses (3 and 11 (5 plus double his investment of 3) dice, respectively). He hopes that his armor holds, his rolls are high, and that help comes soon.
Hans has managed to dispatch an assassin in the center of the market square, but moments later one of the would-be killers friends arrives on the scene. Hans assumes an aggressive High Forward stance, with his trusty staff pointing right at his opponents face. This new assassin reacts by taking a Middle Forward stance with a defensive attitude. The Seneschal calls for initiative and Hans ends up attacking the defending assassin with a thrust to the face. Hans gains +4 CP (3 for stance, 1 for attitude) to the attack, and the assassin gains +3 CP for his defense (1 for stance, 2 for attitude), leaving Hans with an effective +1 bonus overall. A moment later the second assassin falls to the ground with his skull split wide open.
Hans, now tired from all this fighting, decides to recover from fatigue by resting in a Low Back stance. This way he will be prepared if anyone should attack while he catches his breath backing out of the market.
OK, so, the last book was essentially a collection of replacement rules that one might use for various scenarios; a simpler method for determining who hits first, ranged combat rules more in line with the melee mechanics, more in-depth armour, mounted combat and a few other things besides. This next book is almost entirely about new rules and other such stuff; new manoeuvres, new weapon styles, firearms, mass battles, poison and more. So, let's get to it.
Book 2, the Tides of War, begins the same as before: with some in universe fiction. Unlike the core rules, each opening fiction involves the same characters a few years down the line. After this, we have a little reminder that all of the rules here are optional - even the staff at the company don't use all of the rules in the same game (though they do use all of them over multiple games).
The first section of this book is on firearms. This begins with an explanation of how gunpowder doesn't explode unless in a confined space (say, a wooden barrel, or packed behind the bullet in the barrel of a gun, for instance). Usually, it simply burns. It is generally stored in bags for both this reason and the fact that even the slightest bit of moisture can ruin it. There's a short side-bar explaining that the fire arm rules here assume that the barrels are smooth rather than rifled, and that for rifled barrels one should double the range and improve the damage by one or two points. There are two firearm proficiencies; pistols and muskets (which includes the blunderbuss).
Defending against gunfire is damn near impossible; you obviously can't parry a bullet, and you can't position a shield to block the bullet. The only way you can really dodge a bullet is by using Wits/Read Body Language to work out where the gun is being aimed and when they're about to fire, before leaping out of the way while the trigger is being pulled. Alternatively, you can always use erratic movement; this counts as a Duck and Weave evasion (target number 9), and assumes that you simply changed direction at just the right time, through sheer dumb luck, to avoid being hit.
Firearms do have a fairly major disadvantage; a fumbled attack roll causes a misfire, causing damage to the wielder and damaging the weapon such that it needs repairs before it can be used again. This is followed by advice on creating mines and filling barrels with gunpowder in order to cause explosions, and midway between the two there is a list of stats for pistols, muskets and blunderbusses.
The next section of this book is a list of new manoeuvres; most of which require a certain proficiency level to learn (anywhere between 1 and 5 is usual). We begin with the Disarm; a technique which may be used both in offence and defence. Either way, if the technique is successful, the person on the receiving end must make a Knockdown roll in order to keep hold of their weapon. Even if they pass, they lose the initiative.
Next, we have the Draw Cut. This technique uses a slicing motion rather than a cutting motion, making it less useful against armour, reducing the range by one category and adjusting the damaging of the blow by the weapons "draw cut modifier". With some weapons, this will be a bonus; with others, a penalty.
Quick Draw is the third of the new manoeuvres, and does precisely what it says on the tin. It uses a terrain roll to determine if the draw is successful, and if it is, the wielder may make a free attack or defence with the newly drawn weapon.
The fourth is the Master Strike. This technique is a simultaneous parry and strike which counts as either offensive or defensive as required and requires proficiency level 15 in order to learn it. You first split your assigned dice between the parry and the strike, then roll your defence against the opponent's attack. If this is successful, your margin of success is added to the dice assigned to the attack, at which point you murderise your attacker because he's no longer able to defend, though if it fails, the attack also fails. Alternatively, it may be used as an attack, and dice set aside for defence may be used to remove bonus dice from any stance at a rate of one bonus die for every two dice set aside for defence.
The fifth is the Murder Stroke. This technique was surprisingly common against enemies in full plate and involves simply taking a heavy sword, holding it by the blade and beating your opponent's head in with the hilt as though the sword were a mace. This technique is one of the few ways to deal any kind of damage with a sword against someone wearing full plate.
Next, we have the Overrun, which is essentially the Master Strike, only with a partial evade rather than a parry and a requisite proficiency of 12. This is followed by the Rota, which is similar to the Counter only instead of attacking a random zone it instead attacks the same zone the attacker originally targeted.
The penultimate manoeuvre is the Twitch. This is a strange one; basically, the attacker secretly keeps some dice back from his attack. If his attack is defended, he reveals how many dice he kept back. If this is more than the defender's margin of success, he retains the initiative and gains those dice and the defender's margin of success as bonus dice to his next attack.
The final manoeuvre is a complicated one that takes up two pages to explain. It works similar to the grappling rules of Book 1 in several respects, and I quite frankly can't be arsed explaining it. Let's just say that when I run this game for newbies, this manoeuvre is left off of their character sheets.
This is followed by advice on creating your own manoeuvres, as well as a couple of examples.
We then receive some new proficiencies. The first of these is Escrima; a style which uses short blades, such as daggers or short swords, or else short sticks. This style is designed around fighting with two such weapons, and attacking with both weapons receives a bonus.
The second proficiency is Kenjutsu; a style which focuses on a single curved blade wielded in one or both hands; be it short (Wakizashi), medium (Katana) or long (No-Dachi). There is a separate proficiency for using the Dai-Sho (Katana in one hand and Wakizashi in the other).
The next proficiency is that of modiefied tools (think nunchuka, tonfa, sickles, scythes and so on) used in combat. This is followed by an unarmed style that is asian in flavour, combining the strengths of Pugilism and Wrestling from the main book. This is followed by a proficiency for sabres, scimitars and long messers (basically a two handed sabre). Finally, we have suggestions on creating our own proficiencies, with a couple of examples, and a table showing how all the various proficiencies default from each other.
The next section is about poison, and lists various types of poison and where one might find it. Finding it requires a perception check with a TN based on the type of poison the character is searching for. Then a Herbalism check is made to actually create a dose of the poison. Finally, it must be administered; be it through food or drink, through contact or directly into the bloodstream (usually with a blade). This section ends with the effects of some of the more common poisons and venoms.
As of the following section, we now have an alternative to the proficiency system: the weapon school system. A weapon school is a collection of weapon proficiencies, all of a set value based on the number of proficiency points invested into the school. They also have their own benefits and drawbacks as compared to each other and the base proficiencies, as well as having entry requirements. This section begins with advice on creating a weapon school.
There are four types of weapon school: Traditional, which generally only takes those who can afford entry and focuses on that which has been proven to work on the battlefield or in trial by combat; Progressive, which generally also only takes on people who can afford entry, but focuses more on techniques which work in the street; Common, which are generally town or village militias who teach everyone, and focusees on things which can be taught quickly, using weapons commonly available to peasants; and Chivalric, which only usually takes the nobility and focuses on battlefield and tournament combat.
To advance a school, one must pay one and a half times the SA points required to advance a regular proficiency at the level of the highest proficiency in the school, but this advances all of the proficiencies within the school. One may also pay the normal number of SA points to advance one of the proficiencies within the school. Advancing in rank in the school is generally done through public exhibitions, and while it grants extra privileges, it also increases the character's responsibilities to the school. This section ends with a collection of example schools.
And now for something completely different: Mass Combat. This is the longest section in the book, and will probably receive the shortest description. Why? Because it basically boils down to "this is how much troops cost" and "this is the one roll you make to determine how the battle goes for the day". The reason for this is that the designers felt that the actions of the player characters ought to be far more important than simple logistics and shit. This is done using Heroic Actions, which are basically opportunities for the player characters to shine on the battlefield. Quite frankly, this a fairly weak section in what is an otherwise good supplement, so I think I'll leave that there.
And finally, here endeth the second book. I thought it was mostly positive, with only one weak section. I hope you found this interesting; the next part will be the final part for this book; at which point I'll have to try and think of something different to write about.
All right, it's time for the third and final book of The Flower of Battle; it's a pretty decent supplement, all things considered; so far, it's fixed the only real problem I had with combat (an overly complex initiative stealing mechanic) and added far more combat related options, from things to do in combat to the way your character learns to fight in the first place. Hell, it even has early firearms and rules for drawing a loaded crossbow/firearm in the middle of a fight and shooting someone in the face with it. Just a pity about the mass combat system, really. The third book is basically a massive equipment list, followed by some advice on creating magical items (no generic +1 longswords here). So, is everybody sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.
Book 3 begins with one final piece of fiction, finishing the story told by the opening sections of Books 1 and 2, before moving on to discuss fine weapons and armour. These are basically master crafted pieces, and improve one or two aspects of a weapon or piece of armour. If it only improves one aspect, the price of the weapon is multiplied by five; if two, then the price is multiplied by twenty. It's a fairly simple concept, and allows for really, really nice weapons to be forged without the requirement that they be magical.
Next up, we have a discussion of Damascus and pattern welded steel. I'm not going to go into great detail, but suffice it to say that they were two methods of forging steel that was both hard and flexible, as a blade needs to be hard enough to hold an edge and flexible enough to bend slightly on impact with, let's say, another blade, without breaking. It's an interesting section, but I'm not going to quote it here, simply because entirely rules free sections that hold interesting stuff like this are just another reason to go and buy the PDF.
Next up, we have the equipment list. The eighty page equpiment list. The reason it's about eighty pages long is because there are detailed descriptions of each weapon type, and its historical use. I'll quote a couple from each section here as examples:
A bow five to six feet, normally as tall or slightly taller than the wielder, and too long to be fired from horseback, the longbow is typically made of yew, and fires a three-foot-long arrow. The effective volley range of the longbow was 180 - 250 yards when firing in a high arc, though the maximum direct fire range (where a human sized target can be specifi cally attacked) was closer to 75 yards. The draw strength was impressive, somewhere between 80 - 110 pounds, requiring a strong and experienced individual to use the weapon. An expert yeoman can shoot 10 to 12 arrows a minute. The longbow could punch through light and medium armor.
These types of weapons were actually used in many different cultures and in many different periods of history, (all the way back into the Neolithic period, in fact). They seemed to go in and out of favor or prominence, existing even while other much weaker and less effective weapons were much more widely used on the battlefield. The issue seems to be that a culture of archery and constant training had to exist in order to make the weapon effective.
The Welsh (and later, their masters the English) were by no means the only people in history to make use of a long, strong draw longbow, which also seems to have been known in Scandinavia, among other places, but they were perhaps justifi ably the most famous. Welsh Yeomen were trained from when they were very young solely for the longbow, a significant part of their training included firing in volleys at large sheets, to practice battlefield area-fire.
Usually fired with a thumb ring, this moderately powerful weapon was made with some composite materials (sinew and horn as well as different types of wood) allowing it to be relatively compact (with a draw strength of about 50 - 60 lbs), small enough to be fired from horseback.
The classic ancient weapon of the near east, found in Persia, Arabia, and Anatolia going back to the earliest classical times (The Parthians and even the Assyrians used weapons of this type).
The arbalest is a super-heavy crossbow, so powerful that in most cases it could only be loaded by mechanical means. These very formidable weapons first began to appear in the late medieval period as part of the arms race between ever heavier and more effective armor and the weapons that were designed to defeat it.
Appearance and Design features
The arbalest or armbrust (in German) is simply the ultimate refinement of the notorious heavy crossbow which gained notoriety in Europe from the Dark ages when the use of the (weaker) heavy crossbow was banned by a Papal bull for use against fellow Christians. The draw weight of an arbalest was between 350-1,200 lbs, and unlike lesser crossbows, the prod (bow) was normally made of heavy spring steel. The bowstring was a very strong composite cable. The arbalest was so powerful it could only be spanned with mechanical assistance, often a special winch or a type of reduction gear hand crank (called a cranequin). A mistake during loading could easily lead to broken or severed fingers or worse. Marksmen skilled in the use of such heavy crossbows (usually hailing from Italy or Switzerland) were rare, highly sought after and well paid. Waxed leather covers for the prod are common accessories carried by most marksmen to prevent damage by rain.
To make up for the slow firing rate, Swiss marksmen deployed with a pavise shield and two assistants, with each marksman responsible for two weapons. As one weapon is aimed and fired, the other is being spanned. This allows them to keep up a reasonably steady rate of fire if both marksman and assistants are suffi ciently well trained.
In Italy, the Arbalest gained a less enviable reputation as a favored instrument of rebels, assassins, bandits and snipers. Highwaymen were particularly fond of using the weapon to take out armored escorts from concealment before attacking carriages.
The arbalest was basically designed to fire its heavy bolts in a flat trajectory, and for this reason was significantly out-distanced by the justifiably famous long bows of Wales. Longbows, and the shorter but more powerful composite bows of Central Asia, could be volley-fired in ballistic arcs at area targets well beyond the range where a specific individual could be targeted.
At short to medium range, however, these more precise heavy crossbows were much more accurate, could be held in readiness longer, and retained a vast superiority in penetrating power out to a greater range. This is one of the very few true armor piercing missile weapons. There are already many tales of Swiss arbalests shattering shields and splitting iron helmets, for example.
The arbalest or armbrust (German) is simply a heavier heavy-crossbow that first appeared in Europe in the 14th century, the pinnacle of a series of progressively heavier European designs going back to the 8th century. Crossbows and the more powerful bows launch their projectiles at a relatively similar initial velocity, (120-350 fps) but the bolts or quarrels fired by medieval crossbows (as opposed to those of modern crossbows) were designed very differently. They were significantly shorter, heavier and wider than arrows. Due to their weight and size, they carried substantially more kinetic energy to the target, allowing the enormous power of the heavier crossbows of the period to have a signifi cant effect on the impact of the bolt.
There is a myth, apparently spread by English historians, that the Heavy Crossbow was a simple weapon that anyone could use. Shooting and aiming a crossbow is fairly easy, easier to master than aiming a self-bow, but loading, maintaining, and adjusting a heavy crossbow is another matter entirely. Crossbow marksmen were usually highly paid mercenary specialists, often recruited from Italy, where the use of the Crossbow was more widespread than elsewhere in Europe.
The double crossbow is essentially two crossbows attached to each other two separate arrows are knocked into two separate strings, and pulled back. There are two triggers. Because of the bulkiness of the weapon, the double crossbow is slightly harder to aim and use, but the advantage is that a second shot may be made without a lengthy reload time after the first (MP refresh begins again immediately). It is even possible to pull both triggers simultaneously and shoot both arrows at the same target simply split the MP as desired and roll both attacks separately. Both attacks must be aimed at the same zone on the same target, of course, but each may strike a different part of that zone roll a D6 for location for each.
The dagger has long been reduced to the status of a second or even third class weapon in most RPGs. In the less popular realm of historical fact however, the dagger had much greater prominence as a weapon. The truth is, not every knight carried a sword, even less so the myriad other soldiers of the ancient battlefield, not to mention the various renegades, bandits, thieves, bravos, and thugs one might encounter in the cities and byways of ancient Europe. But the dagger was more ubiquitous: indeed nearly every indidvidual who ever expected to get in a fight in their life, (and quite a few who didnt) from professional soldiers to the lowliest peasant, carried a big knife. We are not of course talking about your typical eating knife, but a real pig sticker with a good 7 to 15 inch blade.
One fact known to serious killers, of which there were many in the days of yore, is that the chief trade off of a thrusting weapon was that of penetration versus injury. A stiletto, or its longer cousin the smallsword or even rapier, pierces easily, sliding past bone, puncturing muscle, fascia and cartelage with nary a pause. Causing instant death with such a weapon however requires a great deal of precision, and can me much harder than say, causing a wound likely to ultimatley prove mortal.
The other end of the spectrum of thrusting weapons are the wider bladed instruments, which though more difficult to press through flesh and bone, cause vastly more catastrophic damage in doing so, thus making an instant kill more of a possibility. The ancient barbarians of Europe understood this, as did their perrenial foes, the Romans. This is why the Romans adopted broad bladed daggers and short swords for the battlefield, in preference to longer, thinner thrusting weapons.
The broad dagger represents just such weapons, which were discovered among Celtic barbarians and adapted by the Romans. Two examples are the Roman Pugia, which somewhat resembles a small hand shovel, and the triangular cinqueda, named for its five finger width at the base. The latter weapon was rediscovered by the ultra practical Italian families of the Renaissance, and saw a resumption of popularity both as a dagger, and as a short and even medium length sword. One notable example of the latter was made for the infamous Cesare Borgia, who liked to use it for Boar hunting, (an endeavor in which the immediate death of the victim is of paramount importance.)
The origins of the modern naval cutlass can be somewhat difficult to trace. The cutlass probably is not, as superficial observation might suggest, merely a stouter, shorter variant of the cavalry saber, despite in its modern form having a similar hand guard and overall shape. The cutlass in fact has a much different purpose.
The saber was optimized for the draw cut from horseback. It featured a fairly narrow blade suited for quick slashes, and often a canted grip for weapon retention. The cutlass by comparison is a much simpler hacking weapon, a weapon which can kill without requiring remarkable finesse, and is eminently practical: Short enough to get around in cramped shipboard conditions, and heavy enough to hack through rope in an emergency.
The cutlass in fact in all likelyhood evolved from a far more ancient line of weapons. This family of short single edged cutting and thrusting peasants swords included the ancient Sax and its variants, the single edged norse swords of the dark ages, the falchion of the medieval battlefield, and eventually the curious German weapon known as a Dussack which began to appear in the fencing manuals of the 15th century.
The Dussack, as it appeared in the fencing manuals, was a primitive single edged, curved-bladed steel chopper, with a curious hand guard with all the appearance of a hole cut into the steel like the finger hole in a pair of scissors, or in other variants, a tang warped around forward to protect the hand. These depictions may in fact be practice Dussacks used by the masters for training, just as some of the long sword variants seen in a few of the fechtbuchs seemed to be specifically made for the gymnaisium.
Few modern spathologists have yet attempted to document the origins of the weapon, but examples of blades very much resembling an 18th or 19th century heavy cutlass currently exist in Museums and private collections which date back to the 15th century. As simple cut-and-thrust weapons, these were popular with peasants who lacked a great deal of military training. It is very likely that the slightly more elaborate version of this essentially simple weapon, one of which is depicted here, was the true predecessor of the modern cutlass. Their familiarity to the common man, ease of use and practicality, and brutal effectiveness in close quarters combat made them ideal weapons to issue to saliors and marines for use aboard ship.
The dao sword and dao saber were both fairly heavy, singleedged slashing weapons, very popular across the east, particularly in Mongolia, Korea, India, many parts of Central Asia, and in China, where in various forms it was standard military weapon of the Chinese Imperial Army for centuries. The dao sword came to China from Mongolia nearly a thousand years ago, and was soon adopted by the military (even though the jian was probably more respected among the elite within that secretive nations borders).
Dao sabers and dao swords in particular were generally shorter than the Western saber. They also tended to be somewhat heavier in cross section, handling a bit like a cutlass, yet being effective at both chopping and draw cutting. They were considered easier to wield than jian, probably because they can more easily deliver an effective cut. Many had partially sharpened false edges.
There were several sub-variants of the dao. The shorter straight-bladed dao swords were used by marines and sappers, while the rather longer, gently curving sabers, normally of the willow leaf (liu ye) subtype, were used by both cavalry and, as a backup weapon, by infantry and marksmen.
Though jian remained the most popular weapon for aristocrats, dao swords were also favored by high officials and officers, and some special dao were made for holders of high office. These usually incorporated advanced differential hardening techniques, and were often forged from superior wootz steel. Such weapons were extraordinarily sharp (add +1 to cutting damage). One of the many extraordinary features incorporated into some of these very special dao were the so called rolling pearls, these being small metal balls like ball-bearings, which roll back and forth in a unique fuller hollowed out all the way through the spine of the blade.
The Arabs had a short two edged saber variant of their gladiuslike kindjal short sword. This short saber is functionally identical to the lieu ye dao and can be treated as such. There were also some special heavy variants of dao, which were functionally identical to the western falchion.
The dao were fi rst used in China during its bronze age. During and after the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC-771 BC), it was briefly replaced by bronze jian (sword). During the seven years of turmoil which resulted in the end of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC) and the beginning of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), the importance of cavalry increased dramatically and the dao sword was increasingly adopted.
The weapon did not achieve full popularity, however, until it was re-introduced to China by Mongol invaders from the north. By the 15th century, the dao saber had become the standard weapon of the Chinese military. Dao remained in use in Chinese armies until the twentieth century.
A hand-and-a-half sword used in India. The spike extension from the pommel is meant for a second-hand grip. The back edge is either partially or fully sharpened, the blade flares out toward the end, and in some examples curves inward toward the cutting edge. The back edge is often
reinforced with a kind of spine.
Though not as versatile as the more sophisticated western longswords or as agile as the tachi/no-dachi of Japan, the Indian khandar is a formidable weapon with phenomenal cutting power in spite of its relatively short overall length.
The Khandar probably descended from the Arabic khanda, which is functionally identical to a Roman spatha or a Germanic migration era sword. Like the spatha, this was a single-handed sword, with a simple grip. The khandar is usually seen with the cup hilt and grip extension for use with two hands.
Almost every nation has its own traditional fighting stick, usually of hardwood and three to four feet in length, which is carried for defense and often used in tribal, factional or sectarian conflicts. Bata is the Celtic name for one such weapon, the traditional stout blackthorn walking stick of Ireland, mistakenly known as a shillelagh to the English. Other countries have their own names for their own sub variants, but the similarities are striking for these ubiquitous weapons.
In some parts of the world, a fighting stick may be a rude hacked down sapling with leaves still affixed. In more civilized regions, one is more likely to find variants of this weapon embodied in the elegantly carved, silver mounted walking stick or gentlemans cane. Regardless, the actual use of such fighting sticks was largely the same from the Amazon to the streets of Paris. Surprisingly effective in a pinch for defense, these sticks were probably more widely used than any other weapon except the ubiquitous dagger.
Actually, by far the longest type of staff, normally from 8-12. The strike TN for these weapons is listed for overhand strikes, which do bludgeoning damage. Staves can be used effectively to thrust with, however. The thrust TN is for actual thrusting as with a spear or a thrusting sword. Bludgeon damage is as listed for a strike; it is ST for a thrusting type attack.
Bhuj axe (elephant head knife). A short, heavy, two-handed pole-cleaver used in India, somewhat similar to the Celtic kern axe but heavier and more optimized for cutting. A somewhat blade-heavy weapon, it does deliver incredible damage. Often used against large and dangerous animals found in that nations tropical jungles.
This weapon is not really an axe at all; it is more accurately a medium length (4-5) polecleaver with a sharp point making it a fairly serviceable thrusting weapon as well as being a vicious chopper. This rather archaic killing instrument gained some notoriety in Europe since the Gallowglass mercenaries from Ireland and Scotland used them.
The heavily armored Gallowglass, who usually gird themselves with huge weapons such as dopplehanders, claymores or sparth-axes, were often accompanied by light Irish infantry called kern, these latter being subdivided into skirmishers (similar to ancient Roman peltasts), and archers. The skirmishers were equipped with javelins and light target shields, and their favored hand weapon was the kern axe.
As with the even more fearsome sparthaxe, the kern axe was not nearly so clumsy a weapon as it appears, but was rather difficult to master, and was best used with two hands in order to be wielded effectively (which defeated much of its reach advantage over many swords). Wielded properly, it was a fairly good weapon both offensively and defensively, and well-swung it delivered just as nasty a blow as it looks like it would.
Furthermore, the shape of the axe blade allows it to be used to hook opponents in the manner of a bill or a halberd. In skilled hands, it is an effective and dangerous weapon with a lot of hidden tactical flexibility, rather like an archaic version of a glaive or guisarme-volgue.
All in all a weapon well suited to the wild passions of the Celtic warrior. The kern axe is best used with the Pole-Arm Proficiency, or alternately when wielded in one hand from behind a shield (as it is sometimes done), as a Mass Weapon.
One of the standard weapons of the Irish Kern, or simple foot soldier (along with swords, javelins, and bows). Kern often accompanied Gallowglass mercenaries in Campaigns in England and on the Continent, where they were respected for their bravery and ferocity.
The single-handed war hammer or war pick was popular throughout the world. With a hammer on one side and a spike or pick on the other, this short weapon is excellent at piercing armor and even the thick hides of powerful animals.
The ancient spear is one of the simplest yet most effective weapons on the battlefi eld; the reach advantage is a great equalizer. Contrary to popular opinion, spears can be used to cut as well as thrust. It is the reach of the basic spear which makes it such an effective and eternally popular weapon, because with a spear in hand and a little basic motivation (like someone trying to kill them) even the most poorly trained warrior can make some use of the reach advantage, at least initially.
The farmers bill has been adapted for warfare since time immemorial, certainly well back to the Bronze Age. The militarized version of the basic bill became widely adopted across Europe during the Renaissance, particularly in England, where it became the standard infantry weapon, and in Italy, where it was second in popularity only to the partisan (roncha).
A development of the so-called winged spear, the partisan was popular throughout the West and was also adopted by some Eastern nations. The wings or lugs set below the spearhead assisted in defense and could be used for disarming. Partisans tended to be long, as much as 812 feet.
The long blade of the partisan could be sharply tapering for better penetration, or wide and rounded in a so-called ox-tongue shape, but in either case both sides were sharpened for the cut as well as the thrust. The lugs or wings on each side could be used to pierce targets, to hook in the traditional pole-arm manner, and also for special disarming techniques.
Variations include the spetum, the ranseur, and numerous others, some with wider or narrower ʻwingsʼ, some with wings pointing up, some down, and some in both directions.
A flail was a mace on a chain or some other flexible medium, which greatly increased the weapons momentum and therefore striking power. Flails are not easy weapons to master, and are not especially effective in defense, but they can strike unexpectedly, reach over shield rims and parrying weapons, and most importantly, they hit harder than any other existing mass weapon.
Flails evolved from agricultural threshing tools, and were originally made of wood. Similar devices appeared all over the world, the Asian nunchaku is an example of another weapon based on the same theory. European and Central Asian flails were normally made of iron or steel. The Hussites of Bohemia pioneered the use of heavy agricultural flails as weapons of war in the 15th century, these differed from the better known military flails in that they were long-handled wooden implements with iron striking surfaces, often incorporating spikes. This was the War flail.
A mace is an iron club, or less often, a wooden club with an iron head. As such, the distinction between a mace and a hammer is rather subtle: Essentially a mace can strike in any direction while a hammer has a distinct striking head or beak on the front and often a beak on the back. The mace is an ancient weapon going back to the Bronze Age. It came in and out of favor in Europe and was always more popular in Eastern Europe and Central and South Asia, but it never disappeared from the battlefields, remaining in use until well after the Renaissance.
Maces did remain popular largely because of their effectiveness against armor. This is why the mace evolved into the royal scepter as the symbol of monarchal power in many nations across the globe: It was the weapon of kings, the weapon of choice for use against armored aristocrats. It could also be a popular weapon with commoners for the same reasons. The infamous Hussite leader Jan Ziska used a mace in his many successful battles against German Knights.
Appearing as a development of earlier Norse, German, Celtic, and Roman swords of the dark ages, the arming sword leapt to prominence around the time of the first crusade, and ultimately became perhaps the most familiar and ubiquitous weapon of the European knightly panoply. From Scandinavia to Sicily in the south, from England to Armenia, it was the chivalrous weapon par-excellence, and probably the ultimate military counterpart to the shield.
Though eclipsed in the 14th century somewhat by the increasing popularity of more sophisticated cut-and-thrust and two-handed types, the basic arming sword remained very popular in Europe until well into the 16th century. Even as a new cycle of weapon development started with the two handed and thrusting weapons, arming swords were still worn by knights as a secondary weapon: a longsword hung on the saddle and an arming sword worn at the hip.
The arming sword is a strait, parallel or slightly tapering double-edged sword about three to three-and-a-half feet in length, normally with a fairly stiff blade having a diamond or hexagonal cross-section, and typically a simple cross or half-circle cross-guard. Equally suited for both cutting and thrusting attacks, its blade is wide enough to cut effectively, stiff and sharply pointed for dangerous thrusts, and though generally heavier than its predecessor the Norse sword or its descendants the cut-and-thrust swords, usually well balanced enough to be highly effective at both attacking and defending.
Appearing in the mid 15th century, bastard swords were one of the last functional variations on the basic longsword. Generally lighter, stiffer, and more acutely pointed, these weapons were made with a sharply tapering blade which conveyed a closer to the guard balance and a point more appropriate for thrusting, as well as a chisel-like blade cross-section for cutting effectively through armor. Bastard Swords were popular across Europe and remained in both the military and civilian arsenals well into the late Renaissance.
As their popularity as a civilian weapon increased, many lighter versions began to appear with complex hilts, featuring finger rings to assist with overtheguard fingered thrusting grips, as well as side rings, and other protective features especially appropriate for use without hand protection such as gauntlets. All in all, the bastard sword is regarded by many spathologists as the ultimate refinement of the European two handed or hand and a half sword, though others prefer the less specialized and therefore more versatile longsword.
The greatsword, also called a war sword or a sword of war, was a cutting sword designed for use with two hands. These larger swords, the original subtype of the longsword first appeared in the 13th century, were capable of facing heavier weapons such as pole-arms and larger axes, had extraordinary reach, and cause devastating cuts, especially against unarmored opponents and those wearing light to medium armor.
Greatswords generally had a parallel edged blade with a flat cross-section suitable for cutting and chopping, somewhat less useful for thrusting, and both wider and usually a few inches longer than other types of longsword. They often feature slightly longer grips as well.
A typical greatsword measures 4 1/2' in length, and is basically a two handed weapon (though not to be confused with true two-handed swords such as the dopplehander which measures over 6). Greatswords were often made with a long ricasso*, as much as the first 10 inches so of the blade. This was to assist in half sword techniques.
These weapons initially appeared in the late 12th century but were most frequently used in the 13th. They were gradually replaced by more versatile longswords, but then reappeared in the 15th century. Oakeshott types XIIa, XIIIa, and XX may be considered greatswords. (Type XX is a more sophisticated and versatile design, which could also be considered a large longsword.)
A sophisticated development of the sidesword (see above), the rapier is essentially a civilian blade, narrower and more optimized for thrusting, which began to appear in the cities of Italy and Spain in the late 15th century. Eventually, it became extremely popular in various forms right across Europe.
In most cases, the rapier was not used as a military weapon at all, being preferred for use in duels and street encounters. The design sacrifices most cutting ability and a great deal of strength in favor of the all-important thrust. The rapier ultimately became so narrow that it was barely effective at all as a cutting weapon (many could only make draw-cuts), and so flexible that it was of limited efficacy against armored opponents. The reach and swiftness of the weapon however ensured that it was extremely lethal against lightly armored or unarmored opponents, and it quickly became the most popular civilian weapon in Europe. The rapier was itself ultimately replaced by the smallsword.
As many of you will know, I originally got involved with Driftwood Publishing as a fan. I wrote the Combat Simulator and the Character Sheet Generator as a favor to Jake Norwood, the then-owner of Driftwood. Both pieces of software went down pretty well (and apologies to those of you who are still waiting for updates, its been a hectic year!) and it was through that and my friendship with Jake that I was given the opportunity to become a part of the company and write my fi rst book Of Beasts and Men. It wasnt a diffi cult book to produce the fi ction stories were fun to write and the statistic blocks suggested themselves from the content of the stories. There was a fair amount of research into mythical beasties from all around the world but in general it was a book that could be mostly taken from my own imagination, with no constraint on the realism of the content (theres not a lot of realism in gargoyles, dragons and werewolves; well, unless youre a loony).
The Flower of Battle was different.
We decided pretty early on in developing The Flower of Battle that what we wanted to do was present the book in as accurate a form as possible. Part RPG supplement and part encyclopedia was our goal, and that meant a great deal of research, cross-checking, and argument..sorry..heated discussion as to how to make the in-game mechanics match historical accounts as well as possible. We wanted this book to ring true with the readers, and give them a little bit of real (and, we hope, interesting) historical information along the way, even if only enough to peak their interests and lead them to further research stuff themselves.
The result is what you hold in your hands. Most of the sections in this book are modeled as well as we could from real accounts of historical fighting techniques (many of which are still in use today in fighting schools and organizations like the ARMA and the SCA), whats known about real weapons and armor fashioning techniques, real-life poisons and what they do to the body, and so on. Weve had to take a few liberties here and there; as in all RPGs there always has to be a careful balance between realism and playability. And of course, some sections have no actual basis in reality, such as the Items of Power. (Or do they ..?)
As we said right at the start of the book, The Flower of Battle is all about choices. Even we dont use all of the rules in this book at the same time, and we would be surprised if you did (although if thats your thing then by all means go for it). The idea is that each of the rules presented here will be useful at different times and in different styles of campaigns, mixing and matching to get the balance that you want. As weve always maintained, its your game now, play it exactly as you like, but stop by our forums and drop us an email now and then and tell us about it.
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