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Faith and Steel: A Warrior's Manifesto

Tools of the Trade

by Steve Bergeron
Sep 25,2002


Tools of the Trade

Conan has his sword,

Neo has his guns, lots of guns,

Luke has his lightsaber,

And Jackie Chan has virtually everything in the environment around him.

Being a warrior requires, training, dedication, and, of course, the right kind of gear! The above examples are all warriors in one sense or another, but they all have one thing in common: Neat Stuff. The importance of good equipment cannot be understated. After all, what good is a swordsman without a sword, or a gunfighter without a six shooter, or a fighter pilot without a jet? The proper selection, use, and maintenance of a warrior's tools should be one of his major concerns. Tools of the trade go beyond just weapons. Armour and vehicles are just as important. Before we get to the nitty gritty though, some time must be taken to discuss the serious issue of Style.

The Rule of Cool

Most soldiers don't want to admit it, but there's a little Rambo in all of us just waiting to get out. That little Rambo knows that beyond kicking the collective ass of the enemy, the most important concern for any warrior is LCF (look cool factor). LCF is the reason that pilots wear aviator sunglasses, knights get their armour engraved and gilded, and any fencer worth his salt has stylish dress to go with the flashing blade. LCF has always come second to combat effectiveness, but LCF can play a serious role in combat: something that looks dangerous probably is dangerous. More than one army over the centuries has bluffed its way to victory. There is no better opportunity to exploit LCF than in a role playing game. Any warrior character in any given game is going to be combat effective to some extent or another, so why not splurge on style?

In D&D, for example, the most combat effective weapon combination is the long sword (bastard sword if you can spare the feat) and large shield. Period. No matter how you cut it, It maximizes both defensive and offensive capabilities. To use a lighter weapon is to cut yourself short on damage, and to us a larger one takes away your AC bonuses. It is also absolutely, without a doubt the most perfectly BORING way to equip you character on the face of this earth, or any other earth that might exist in your campaign for that matter.

My recommendation is simple: do something else. When's the last time you met a gnome with dual battle picks, or a ranger that fought with hatchet and battle axe, or a paladin with a holy flail and spiked buckler? None of them have quite the same overall combat effectiveness as the sword and shield warrior, but they sure seem more dangerous. They sacrificed a little bit of hitting power or protection for a huge influx of LCF thus becoming perhaps even more dangerous in the process. So, try something a little different with your next character, but if you love the sword and shield, at least take the time to make them look Cool, you never know when it might help. And now, back to some thoughts on gear.

Stuff to make the other guy Die (AKA Weapons)

As I discussed a little while back. the purpose of the warrior is to kill. Weapons simply increase the amount of damage inflicted and the range at which an attack can be successful. This is true of the very first rock thrown at Ugg by Ook all of those millions of years ago, right up to the Trident III SLBM (sub launched ballistic missile) that can strike any city on earth with almost no warning and deliver three multi megatonne warheads with chilling accuracy. When choosing the weapons for your character, the first question must be "what is available?", followed closely by "is it effective for my character?" and finished by "Is it sufficiently cool?" The largest factor is by far the first. Games set in 1002, 2002, and 3002 are all going to have vastly different weapon sets available.

Furthermore, the GM will probably limit the availability of different weapons based on the character's location, their finances/backgrounds, and, of course, the weapons' relative power (Even in games where they do exist, holy avenger vorpal swords, Nuclear armed F-16 fighters, and Star collapsing super missiles tend to be hard to come by...I Hope.) After weighing all of the pros and cons and selecting the best (and coolest) weapon for you character, immediately choose a much smaller, lighter, and lower maintenance backup. Only do this once or twice. It is very tempting to arm your character to the teeth with multiple swords/rifles/explosives. Unless you are in a vehicle with multiple weapon mounts this is a waste of time. The problems of multiple weapons multiply with each weapon you have beyond your primary.

The best example of this is the modern infantryman. He's got an assault rifle, maybe an attached grenade launcher, some hand grenades, his bayonet, and that is it. He might carry some ammo for one of the support weapons, or a one use rocket launcher, but these aren't part of his standard load. The reason for such a simple set of weapons: weight and maintenance. Every additional weapon that the soldier carries comes with its added weight and that of its ammunition as well, furthermore each has to be cleaned and maintained, eating into his rest and training time. Bottom line is that a simpler weapons load give the most bang for the buck. That's not to mean I haven't seen an infantryman armed with a light machinegun, assault rifle, shotgun, grenades, a side arm, a reusable rocket launcher,a one use rocket launcher, a bayonet, and a machete, it does happen. I'm just saying that that guy was the exception not the rule. Less weapons also means more ammo for each, and despite what the movies would have you believe, you can never have enough ammo.

Stuff that will save your ass (AKA Armour, or Armor for those who live south of the 49th parallel)

So, you have your weapons and they are cool, now it is time to decide how much mobility you're going to sacrifice to increase your protection. And therein you have the ancient armour dilemma. The best defence is not to get hit in the first place, but sometimes, your mobility is limited, or your objective is such that it makes you an easy target, or the other guy has really good aim. So, not getting hit isn't always an option, which leads us to the purpose of armour: reducing the damage of those attacks that are successful to the point where they do not impede you in a serious manner. The problems with armour are weight and restrictiveness. The more of it you bolt onto yourself, the slower you go, and thus the higher probability of that armour being required to dampen the damage of a successful attack. The next factor is how effective that armour actually is. Weapons and armour have been in a constant struggle for supremacy, but since the introduction of the gun, armour has fallen heavily out of favour. This has begun to change due to new advances in technology.

For example, the flack vests worn by soldiers in Vietnam couldn't stop a direct hit from an assault rifle, but by the time of the current war on terrorism, ballistic plates were developed that could stop enemy rifle fire, but only at a high cost in increased weight. For an example of this, watch the movie "Blackhawk Down" which makes it exceptionally clear. So the consideration is this: Is my warrior character more concerned with mobility or protection. The choice may be a stylistic one, or it could be influenced by the way the game system happens to model armour. Another thought is the importance of stealth to your character, armour not only slows you down, it also makes noise. Even today, recon patrols often forego the use of flack vests and helmets to decrease noise. The choice is ultimately a tricky one: more speed or more durability, your call...good luck. The final note on armour is its LCF. Within reason, armour can look however you want it to. From gilded plate mail to Kevlar lined trench coats armour presents a million possibilities to increase the LCF of you character, you just have to find your style.

Stuff that moves your ass (AKA Mode of Transportation)

The first combat vehicle was the chariot some 5000 years ago. Then some one realized that the chariot is a silly idea and invented cavalry. Somewhere else some one used a boat to launch an attack. Two shakes of the cat's tale later, navies were born. Thousands of years passed before the Wright Brothers invented air superiority, and it wasn't until WWI that it was finally realized that tanks are slightly tougher than horses, if not so pretty. Pretty much since people decided that battle to the death was a effective way to settle disputes, people have been coming up with ways to increase mobility and lethality of soldiers. Their solutions range from the horse up to the aircraft carrier. The important thing about transport is that it greatly increases the weapons and armour load that a character can have. The only problems with vehicles are maintenance and limited mobility areas. The aforementioned horse requires feed, shoes, tack and saddle, stabling, grooming, and eventual replacement. and there's little chance that that horse is going to be any use at all in cramped dungeons. The aircraft carrier has it's own set of problems: it requires the crew work of over 5000 people, constant repairs, refits, replenishment of supplies and weapons, and a battle group to protect it from attack. And needless to say, you can't sail it to Los Vegas no matter how hard you try. Every vehicle in between these two extremes has its own unique set of advantages and problems, and if you can't decide, just hitch a ride with some one else or use those two feet that have sent so many warriors into battle.

This leaves the column's resident barbarian, Thrag, with some thinking to do since his LCF is decidedly below par. Well, for starts, he wears the pelt of a grizzly bear as his armour, since he killed it himself (not at all easy to do in D&D3) to add to the image he gets a helm with a bear motif. His greataxe, he decides, can use some ancient war god runes as well as some exotic material and so he gets wooden haft replace with one that's made out of red glass-steel that has been carved to look like rising flames. Finally, he finds the biggest, angriest war-trained horse he can find, and has its barding made out the bones of the monsters that he has slain. Thrag now looks cool, not to mention scary enough to cause nightmares, now all he needs is some war paint...

Well that's it for this month. Next month we move back into philosophy with "Duty, Honour, and other things that will get you killed." In the meantime, remember, a sword is only as sharp as its user makes it.

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  • Downtime by Steve Bergeron, 26feb03
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