A Weapon for all Occasions
Folks, there's a problem running rampant in many fantasy RPGs. And for some reason there's a bunch of DMs that don't want to do anything about it, (not to mention several game designers!) It seems that it has become tradition to have a weapon for all occasions. You know, that one weapon that anyone looking to actually survive is going to find a way to get a hold of.
No, it's not a +48 Sword of Living Slaying, and it's not the trusty +42 Dagger of World Circling. It's a common, everyday weapon. Usually the longsword (or long sword, if you prefer...it seems my spelling checker seems to!) It's an epidemic, and I'll let you in on the secret of why, and, hopefully, how to fix it.
The OriginsIt seems that in a time far, far away, it seems some guys were playing war games. You know the ones, everything is accurate to within a few hairs on the miniatures. They decided they wanted to play individuals in the game, not just tanks and troops, so they created a game called Chainmail. Many of you will recognize it by the name of Dungeons & Dragons (R).
You've got to remember the mindset they were in. They were coming from a land where history mattered, and actually affected their worlds, and their rules. A world where every soldier had one of 2 types of swords, a short sword and a long sword (determined by their length, oddly enough.) After all, these swords were the most commonly found swords in historical Earth. Everyone used one. So it made sense to give the most commonly used weapons the best combination of damage and speed of all the weapons in the game. And that was great! It was the birth of a new world wide pastime.
The ProblemBut times, they have a-changed. Today, the focus is (generally) more on role-playing than roll-playing, and the long-sword is a curse. Many systems have followed in the grandfathers footsteps, using variants on the rules and even holding to the philosophies while changing the rules. So our creative players, just trying to help their creative characters survive, tend to adopt the only weapon ever needed.
What's wrong with this? A good, solid character concept has certain requirements. All of the pieces must fit together cleanly and unobtrusively to create a solid whole. That's difficult to do when all you can do is suffer from nightmares of your fabulous foreign wanderer trying to stave off a half-dozen trolls with a tree-branch (a staff for those of you who don't recognize it...) Just think of it. The staff is slow, and its damage, frankly, sucks. By the time you're able to tenderize your dinner, you're already dead and in the cook pot.
Or what about our monks out there, who want to use only hand-to-hand combat? They're forced to build massive muscles to do any damage, even if all you really wanted was a monk with a dancer's build and lots of knowledge of pressure points, etc.
In other words, the concept is broken and forced to fit into someone else's mold, as opposed to giving us the creative license we crave, and still being able to survive. Something has to be done.
The SolutionSo what, oh inspired players, are we to do? Scream at the DM! Ahem...did I say that? Maybe a polite discussion would work better. Or maybe we could just run our own game? Yes. That will work.
There are some solutions for us out there. The best bet is to explore different systems, taking what you like from one, and combining it with the system you've come to love. For example, Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) has a wonderfully complicated system called RoleMaster(r). If you're not afraid of a stack of tables, its combat system is great. You can theoretically kill anything with any weapon.
Granted, you've got to roll really good, but it's possible. The damage is determined more by how good you are and how good you roll, than by what weapon you're using. That frees your creative juices for things like, oh, I don't know, background (gasp.) Another system to look into is the freely available FUDGE system. It's designed to be able to incorporate bits into other systems, and vice-versa.
Another option available to us is to create our own combat system. It's a lot more work, but definitely worth it in the end. What should we do with it? Anything! I like the idea of any weapon being just as good as any other, as long as you've got the skill and knowledge to use it. But you may have other ideas, better ideas, sillier ideas. It really doesn't matter as long as it lets you create the characters you're heart has been screaming at you to play, but you've been to worried about living to try. I know, I've got a few of those.
Enjoy your brain,