Wednesday 25 October 2023

That Feeling of Glaive on Gambeson

First of all, go and follow Mythic Bastionland on Kickstarter

Okay, onto the post.

What use is an RPG if it doesn't have a giant list of weapons and armour?

After all, this was one of my favourite pages of my first D&D book.

Not to mention this beauty.

In the process of writing Mythic Bastionland I've done a bit of deep-diving into medieval weapons and armour, so the red flags in those pieces leap out at me now.

Still, I remember loving those spreads because somehow the art makes it all feel very real. 

But what does it matter? That's for D&D, a fantasy game, so who cares if the weapons favour style over historicity or practicality?

Mythic Bastionland is also overtly Myth not History. I have that phrase written at the bottom of my notes doc for this game. So why have I been spending so much time thinking about authenticity?

Let's break this down into weapons and armour. 

Weapons in Mythic Bastionland largely follow on from Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland. You've got single handed weapons that do d6 or d8 damage, then two-handed weapons that do d8 or d10, though the larger die types are a little easier to get hold of in this setting. Swords get special treatment, rolling multiple dice, which in this system results in you keeping the single highest result, so they're more reliable and have some extra benefits when you dig into the Feat and Gambit systems. 

Bulky is gone. Since you're all Knights with, at the very least, a steed, it's easier to justify extra load. You might have a Squire to carry even more stuff, so let's just not bother tracking it at all. 

There's also much less focus on hauling treasure back from dungeons, so fewer interesting decisions to be had about what stuff you leave behind. 

Instead, the interesting decisions around weapons in this game are:

  • What do I use in each hand? Two-hander? Dual weapons? Weapon and shield? It's not super complex but there are definitely times you might consider switching up for a particular situation.
  • If my weapon does something fancy, like the Talon Knight's hookhammer (bonus when leaping down onto the enemy), how do I set that up?
  • Am I going to be fighting somewhere that makes certain weapons especially appealing or awkward to use?

Now that last one not have lots of rules support in the game. There's a mention that long weapons are impaired in tight spaces, and you've got things like skeletons being resistant to piercing attacks, but looking at the weapon list there's zero difference between a Spear (d8 hefty) and Axe (d8 hefty). 

Except that Spear is obviously going to be longer than the axe, so you can probably use it to fight over a barricade, or from behind an ally. 

And of course the Axe is better at breaking down doors. Obviously the spear is no good for that.

So the book doesn't present rules for these things because you already know those rules. I suspect this might rub some readers the wrong way, but I do hope that in most at-the-table situations these things just sort of... work naturally. 

In terms of building a weapons list that's appropriate to the implied era of Mythic Bastionland, I'm clearly drawing on the medieval period. 

But which bit of it? Early-medieval makes sense as the setting for Arthurian Myth.

So javelins and bows rather than longbows and crossbows. Spears and axes rather than swords and halberds.

Except... Arthurian myths very often take a more generous approach when it comes to equipment. Most images of a Knight are drawing on late-medieval or even early-Renaissance stuff. So we throw those fancy weapons back in, but just make them rare. Only very few of the Knights actually start with a sword. That guard can have a halberd though, it just looks right. 

So as with so many before me, I'm walking a tightrope of wanting some of that historical feel while also wanting that mythic freedom to pull in things that feel right stylistically, if not realistically. The focus on rarity rather than cost should help with this, as owning a sword isn't about getting enough money. There isn't even a price listed for each weapon. Instead, you've got to actually find somebody who wants to sell one or can make you one from scratch. At this point you might as well just kill another Knight and take theirs, perhaps grab their Holding while you're at it. 

That still counts as Protecting the Realm, right? I mean it's probably safer under my watch. 

Armour also follows the same baseline of the previous games in the series. Armour gives you a point of armour, a shield gives you another. 

Except now I've added helms and plates (extra armour worn to battle) as two other ways to grab armour points, giving a fully armoured Knight Armour 4, something unfathomable in Into the Odd

Part of this is balanced out by the general increase in damage output, but that's not really the whole point. Again it comes down to creating interesting choices.

Let's say you own the full set of armour: coat, plates, helm, shield. You aren't just walking around suited-up all day every day. The general assumption is that helms and plates are removed when you're travelling or socialising, and we all know that shields can be shattered. 

Here armour is less about permanently etching the highest number you can onto your character sheet, and more about considering the situational nature of your protective gear. 

If you really want to kill a Knight then facing them in an open battle means you're facing the full wall of steel. Why not just come at them with daggers when they're out riding in just their gambeson? Or invite them into your home and kill them there... wait, what sort of game is this again?

Again, I want gear in this game to feel more nuanced than "when can I buy that fancy gear", instead looking at the actual decisions somebody would need to make about their equipment. 

As a side note, I do get a small pleasure from including layers of armour here. Coats represent flexible protection that you can generally wear all day (mail, gambeson) while Plates are the hard stuff layered on top for battle (plate, brigandine, splint). Then you've got the self-explanatory helms and shields. There's definitely a sort of paper-doll appeal where I can visualise very clearly how a character looks different based on which combination of their armour they're currently equipped with, slotting the paper armour on top of their outline. I think today... the hauberk under the brigandine, the great helm on top. 

I guess I'm just not used to the novelty of considering what an individual character looks like in various grades of protection. In so many games it can feel like they're welded inside their harness of choice.

While I'm not looking to provide an accurate simulation of the weapons and armour of a particular period of history, I want the players to look at their gear and interact with it in a way that makes it feel real

Even if it's all just a myth. 


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  1. I like this approach.

    As a historical fencing practitioner, those D&D pages are… eww. The funny thing is that the weapons most foreign to the actual medieval European culture (scimitar, kukri, katar, nunchaku) are the ones most appropriately depicted.

  2. On page 9 of the Mythic Bastionland playtest. In the current scar table, if you have a max of 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 Guard, it is impossible to increase your Guard any further. It is also impossible to increase your guard once it is 13+, but I suspect this is purposeful design. The issue with odd Guard being impossible to increase could be remedied if you increase the GD threshold for Dismemberment, Stun, etc. by at least 1 to cover the odd numbers. If you increase the thresholds by 2 or 4 then each level of scar maintains its positive aspects a little longer and makes character improvement possible when you are scarred while not at max Guard. One of the nice things about Electric Bastionland's scars is that if you have 5 HP, get knocked down to 1 HP, then take 1 damage and get a Battlescar, when you reroll on d6 you could get a 6 and increase you max HP from the lowliest. You can always include text about a maximum of 18 Guard if you want to keep things bounded.

    1. Nope, I was wrong, please disregard. I misread the new scar rules in Mythic Bastionland and thought they worked like Electric Bastionland. I watched your latest YouTube video and re-read the rules. You re-roll the die that caused the scar and check the table. It works just fine.

    2. Sorry, I missed the original comment! But yeah, sounds like we're all good now!