Primitive Weapons V.2

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This is a rehash and expansion upon a post that I made a while ago in the wrong forum section.

I feel that primitive weapons have been given a very poor showing in D&D thus far. I believe that giving the martial & hunting history of humanity its proper due is important for the completeness of D&D. Giving access and usable rules to a range of primitive weapons significantly increases the breadth of options available both to players and DMs.
Currently, it can be challenging for a DM to properly equip technologically primitive adversaries due to the limited range and poor rules of appropriate weapons. Players are presented with a similar dilemma. A player wishing to portray a character (this is frequently an issue for barbarians, rangers, and druids) from a technologically primitive society has to make a decision between playability and background accuracy. While I am not suggesting that a wooden club should be of equal power to a longsword, I do think that such weapons are significantly underrated.
My primary issues are as follows:

1)Atlatl & Dart
The atlatl is among the most universal weapons in human history. It was found, as the dominant hunting weapon, on every continent for the majority of human habitation of that place. It is sometimes described as a "spear-thrower", but this is a significantly inaccurate term as the projectiles are not rigid spears but long (5-7 feet) flexible darts. This is the weapon used to hunt mega-fauna to extinction and, quite frankly, if it can kill a mammoth it does more than 1d4 damage (as was stated in Sandstorm). The switch, made by some cultures, from the atlatl & dart and the bow & arrow was made for reasons of portability not of power. There is footage circulating of a flint tipped atlatl dart going through a car door, which is quite amusing for those interested in such things.
The inclusion of the atlatl in the core 4th edition rules would provide a characterful equipment option for both characters and DMs, while allowing a level of background accuracy not currently available.
Why a javelin is not a substitute:
Because an atlatl & dart is superior to a javelin in the same way that a longsword is superior to a dagger. The atlatl has significantly better range and penetrative power than a javelin does, but is going to be more burdensome. Apart from technical arguments, an atlatl also has more character than a javelin does. It is also more interesting from an enchantment and character development perspective because the atlatl itself is not a disposable projectile. Characters can form attachments to their bows but I rarely hear of characters who have formed bonds with an arrow.

Here is a short video on the atlatl & dart for those of you who don't have a clue wtf it is that I am rambling about.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej3it7Ct76w

2) War Club
Another weapon that has been with humanity since time immemorial is the war club. I use the term "war club" to differentiate from the standard club. The war club is a wooden weapon specifically designed and built for combat where as the standard club is any random piece of wood. I believe the war club should be included in the standard weapons list instead of or along side the "normal" club.
While both approaches are valid I believe the "replacement" option is the more streamlined of the two. The weapons list should be a gathering of tools that are designed to be weapons not a list of things that CAN be used as weapons. The rules for improvised weapons more than account for pool cues and baseball bats.
I am not necessarily suggesting a change to the statistics of the club. I am suggesting that the war club be presented as a viable option as a primary melee weapon for characters from technologically primitive societies. This viability needs to come both from technical and character perspectives. A macahuitl or gunstock club from the hands of a skilled craftsman gives a martial character pride in his weapon and allows said character to remain true to his background. If the stats are improved to be somewhat competitive with more mainstream options, great.
The inclusion of the war club would not be unprecedented as I believe they were present in the 2nd edition combat & tactics book.


My primary goal with this post is to articulate the need for more viable weapon options for characters from technologically primitive backgrounds. While we may not be used to seeing them in the fantasy spotlight, weapons such as a the atlatl & dart, war club, and sling are iconic and characterful weapons of universal human heritage.
I am not arguing for an overall shift away from D&D's Medieval focus. If we have space for characters of a technologically primitive orientation (barbarians, rangers, druids, wild elves, shifters, etc) then I think it is important that we make a little extra room for options that help us bring those characters to life.
For my money, you're preaching to the choir. Primitive campaigns can be great, but were always a pain because characters were forced to have "inferior weapons and armor". My DM always had to drop the ACs of the monsters so our penalty for inferior weapons wouldn't cause a problem. Even then, my DM had to come up with special primitive materials so fighters could have the armored AC they're "supposed to have" at certain levels.

I would love to see good, thorugh rules for primitve campaigns; from stone age to bronze age.

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

Fencing & Swashbuckling as Armor.

D20 Modern Toon PC Race.

Mecha Pilot's Skill Challenge Emporium.

 

Save the breasts.

It would be neat if they came out with a book filled with material for primitive games... not just with alternative weapons and materials, but adaptions for the other classes too, to put them all at the same level and give them a primitive flavour. It could have a section on running primitive stories, including adapting monsters to the setting.

I know that in 2E, there was primitive alternatives for almost all the classes (Like the Anagakok or Amazon Sorceress for Wizards) and a scattering of ideas spread out between some books... but it would be nice to have one book, treated like a campaign setting maybe, with everything needed in it.

Eventually, I mean. Obviously not top priority.
It would be neat if they came out with a book filled with material for primitive games... not just with alternative weapons and materials, but adaptions for the other classes too, to put them all at the same level and give them a primitive flavour. It could have a section on running primitive stories, including adapting monsters to the setting.

I know that in 2E, there was primitive alternatives for almost all the classes (Like the Anagakok or Amazon Sorceress for Wizards) and a scattering of ideas spread out between some books... but it would be nice to have one book, treated like a campaign setting maybe, with everything needed in it.

Eventually, I mean. Obviously not top priority.

Hear, Hear. I just hope someone's listening.

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

Fencing & Swashbuckling as Armor.

D20 Modern Toon PC Race.

Mecha Pilot's Skill Challenge Emporium.

 

Save the breasts.

Wouldn't it be pretty easy to add such weapons yourself? Not that I'm saying they shouldn't be included in a core book, just that it's not terribly critical to do so.

Off the top of my head, the atl-atl should probably do about 1d6 damage (more than a dagger, less than a sword) with a x4 critical multiplier (to take the extra mechanical advantage into account, like a pick, and allow it to kill mammoths). As special features, the user would be able to apply their full Strength bonus to damage and use Power Attack to increase that further (or Power Throw if you prefer to keep within the strict rules). That would be a pretty formidable weapon, the downside of which would be having to carry around a supply of five-foot spears.

The war club I wouldn't even bother with. The normal club is a weapon, not any random bit of wood (that's a club with a -4 improvised weapon penalty to hit). If you want a better club, use the stats for a heavy mace. The two-handed version is a greatclub (I generally make this a simple weapon).

Anyway, Wizards could devote an entire splatbook to running primitive campaigns. To be honest, I think that would be a better approach rather than trying to cram everything into the PHB. The default setting is essentially medieval, and the weapon list could already do with some paring down.
Wouldn't it be pretty easy to add such weapons yourself? Not that I'm saying they shouldn't be included in a core book, just that it's not terribly critical to do so.

Yes, I most definitely could add it myself but my point isn't that I, personally, really want them. My point is that I think those small changes would fill and important gap and make it a better game for everybody.

The war club I wouldn't even bother with. The normal club is a weapon, not any random bit of wood (that's a club with a -4 improvised weapon penalty to hit). If you want a better club, use the stats for a heavy mace. The two-handed version is a greatclub (I generally make this a simple weapon).

I kind of disagree with you here.
"A wooden club is so easy to find and fashion that it has no cost".
That description really isn't reflective of the reality, and I am not just making a realism argument. Who wants to base a martial character around a weapon that, "is so easy to find and fashion that it has no cost"? I really think more appropriate answer is to change...
current club>improvised weapon
war club>actual weapon entry
masterwork war club>an exceptionally well crafted war club

I am not really asking for a stat buff for clubs. I am trying to show why I think its important technologically primitive characters be given satisfying and characterful options.


The default setting is essentially medieval, and the weapon list could already do with some paring down.

Yeah, the setting is vaguely medieval but I don't think that is really a good argument against what I am suggesting. I don't think anyone is really wants D&D to limit itself to weapons from the western European medieval period, I am sure we can all picture the consequences of that. I am certainly not suggesting that the game orient itself towards primitive societies, just make a little room for these options. It may seem like a small change, but I think the results would be significant.
I agree that the weapon list needs trimming down, but I think the areas needing work are pretty clear. The list needs to free itself of redundancy not limit distinct and characterful options.
I've been wanting to run a primitive campaign for a long time and this would really go a long way towards helping that.
For anyone interested, here are pictures of a number of atlatls. These run the gamut from plain to quite aesthetically pleasant. These pictures might better illustrate why I think the atlatl & dart can serve as an interesting weapon focus for characters.
http://www.thunderbirdatlatl.com/catalog/catalog.html
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1)Atlatl & Dart
The atlatl is among the most universal weapons in human history. It was found, as the dominant hunting weapon, on every continent for the majority of human habitation of that place. It is sometimes described as a "spear-thrower", but this is a significantly inaccurate term as the projectiles are not rigid spears but long (5-7 feet) flexible darts. This is the weapon used to hunt mega-fauna to extinction and, quite frankly, if it can kill a mammoth it does more than 1d4 damage (as was stated in Sandstorm). The switch, made by some cultures, from the atlatl & dart and the bow & arrow was made for reasons of portability not of power.

An arrow from a longbow can easily pierce a car door, particularly with a bodkin point. Frankly, I'd call the two weapons pretty similar in stopping power, though the atlatl has a shorter range.

The reason, I think, why the atlatl fell out of favor is not because of portability so much as usability; related but different reasons. An atlatl requires more space to use it in, and it's much harder to use one stealthily; a bowman merely has to draw back and then release, while an atlatl user needs to wind up and hurl. Otherwise, at close ranges, the atlatl is superior, if only because it's dead easy to make and maintain.

Why a javelin is not a substitute:
Because an atlatl & dart is superior to a javelin in the same way that a longsword is superior to a dagger. The atlatl has significantly better range and penetrative power than a javelin does, but is going to be more burdensome.

A javelin is superior in a tightly-packed phalanx; you need less room to throw it in. On the other hand, because an atlatls darts are lighter, you could probably carry three or four of them for the weight of one javelin.

2) War Club

Effectively, War Club == Mace; it's a big heavy thing with spiky bits strapped on, generally, or an enlarged, mace-like head. I'd feel comfortable using the stats for a mace for a war club.
An arrow from a longbow can easily pierce a car door, particularly with a bodkin point. Frankly, I'd call the two weapons pretty similar in stopping power, though the atlatl has a shorter range.

A bodkin is certainly not going to have a problem with a car door. What I found remarkable about the footage I was referring to was that the point used was large and flint, I probably should have made that more clear.
The reason, I think, why the atlatl fell out of favor is not because of portability so much as usability; related but different reasons. An atlatl requires more space to use it in, and it's much harder to use one stealthily; a bowman merely has to draw back and then release, while an atlatl user needs to wind up and hurl. Otherwise, at close ranges, the atlatl is superior, if only because it's dead easy to make and maintain.

For sure, those general space/burden issues are more along the lines of my meaning. Atlatl darts are quite a bit larger than arrows and, hence, require more space to use.
I am not to sure about "wind up and hurl". Again, it takes quite a bit more room to use an atlatl, but you don't really wind up. If you reach back much beyond the general "loaded" position your aim goes totally out the window. I think we are on the same page though.


A javelin is superior in a tightly-packed phalanx; you need less room to throw it in. On the other hand, because an atlatls darts are lighter, you could probably carry three or four of them for the weight of one javelin.

Atlatl darts also provide significantly better range and penetration than a javelin.
Haha, the mental image of the amount of space it would take for a unit of altatlists to function is quite amusing. Bows definitely make more sense as a weapon of war.

Effectively, War Club == Mace; it's a big heavy thing with spiky bits strapped on, generally, or an enlarged, mace-like head. I'd feel comfortable using the stats for a mace for a war club.

I would be quite comfortable with this as well. What I want is room made for the weapon generally, I am not really married to one particular way of getting there. I generally dislike having separate entries for what are, in reality, material differences. Sap, club, greatclub, light mace, heavy mace, and war mace could all be rolled into three weapons with the addition of better base material rules.
Yes, I most definitely could add it myself but my point isn't that I, personally, really want them. My point is that I think those small changes would fill and important gap and make it a better game for everybody.

Fair enough. I disagree... I think they would make more sense as part of a stone-age setting sourcebook that was fully fleshed out. However, they probably wouldn't take up much extra space, so if you don't want a full-fledged setting, a few weapon entries in the PHB would be fine.

I kind of disagree with you here.
"A wooden club is so easy to find and fashion that it has no cost".
That description really isn't reflective of the reality, and I am not just making a realism argument. Who wants to base a martial character around a weapon that, "is so easy to find and fashion that it has no cost"? I really think more appropriate answer is to change...
current club>improvised weapon
war club>actual weapon entry
masterwork war club>an exceptionally well crafted war club

Hmm... flavour and mechanics. Changing the flavour description would solve the problem without any mechanical changes.

I am not really asking for a stat buff for clubs. I am trying to show why I think its important technologically primitive characters be given satisfying and characterful options.

I agree, but again, I think it would be better left to a separate book. In the base setting, weapons such as clubs would be seen as primitive and unsophisticated, and describing them otherwise makes little sense unless the setting is itself geared towards primitive campaigns.

I actually think it would be quite interesting to play a stone-age character in the base medieval setting, but I wouldn't expect characters in that setting to react to him or his weapons with respect. They'd be laughing at his hide armour and carved wooden stick, at least until he bashed their brains in with it. In that setting, a club literally is "so easy to find and fashion that it has no cost", regardless of how well-carved it is.

Yeah, the setting is vaguely medieval but I don't think that is really a good argument against what I am suggesting. I don't think anyone is really wants D&D to limit itself to weapons from the western European medieval period, I am sure we can all picture the consequences of that. I am certainly not suggesting that the game orient itself towards primitive societies, just make a little room for these options. It may seem like a small change, but I think the results would be significant.
I agree that the weapon list needs trimming down, but I think the areas needing work are pretty clear. The list needs to free itself of redundancy not limit distinct and characterful options.

In a game system based around the release of specific sourcebooks to expand the basic setting, I think it makes more sense to keep these things to a separate book, in the manner of Sandstorm or Stormwrack. I think your idea would make an excellent expansion to the core rules that would add depth to many campaigns, I just don't see it as part of the basic setting.

On the other hand, I can certainly understand not wanting to wait for a primitive campaign sourcebook to be released a year or two down the track if you want to play that sort of campaign out of the box.
Incidentally, the weapon style trees for the fighter could make weapons such as clubs more interesting. As long as the designers don't continue along the path of making clubs and maces the suck weapons, it could make fighters based around clubs much more interesting and effective.

Not sure about atl-atls, though. I suspect we still won't be seeing many spear-throwing rangers.
I would love to see a setting specific book for primative campaigns.

Now with that out of the way, I have no issue with including significantly unique weapons (Atlatl & Dart) with space in the core books. War club on the other hand is similar to a club or mace from a mechanics standpoint and it is easy enough to just rename it for flavour. Slings, spears, javalins are already in and IMHO just fine as is.
I do not disagree with the need for BETTER coverage of primitive weapons. There has been great variety and skill shown in human history for the creation of 'implements of destruction'. D&D should reflect this, esp given WotC penchant for creating hundreds of rules suplements! Masters of the Wild has some interesting primitive wepon choices/rules as well. I always rules that the damage penalties for prim. weapons were only in effect against the superior arms and armour of more advanced societies. Obsidian makes a great weapon blade it just does very poorly against a metal breastplate.

Clubs:

Has anyone tried to craft a good club in RL? They really arre not very difficult to make if you have woodcraft skills and basic tools and access to some good hardwood. Thus the entry in the PHB for this weapon. Also look up Maori clubs they were very skilled and made a great many variations on this mosty basic of weapons. I personally have always thpught of 'war clubs' as being great clubs anyway. The Iroquois and Mayans made significant use of clubs and all of the historical references I have seen suggest that great clubs were the norm for this type of weapon in those cultures.