I like swords. All manner of Freudian symbolism aside, picking up a truly lethal piece of fighting steel and holding it in your hand, it fires the imagination. I've got a small collection of half a dozen good quality sword reproductions, each based on actual patterns or museum pieces (so no Kit Rae-designed Bloodblade IV or whatever). These weapons, and a number of others I have handled over the years, range in culture and time period from Medieval China to Renaissance Europe, but they all have one thing in common - once you take one in hand, your mind is no longer where you are at that moment - you're defending a castle rampart, or charging a Viking shield wall, or dueling it out on the rocking deck of a pirate ship.
There are a lot of myths and mis-conceptions about swords floating around in games. Now, by and large, this doesn't have all that much of an effect on the game, and for some games and genres, it chould be entirely appropriate to imagine your hero's broadsword as a monstrous five-foot long slab of sharpened steel weighing twenty pounds. If that's the sort of fantastical aesthetic you're going for in your game and no one has a problem with it, have at it.
But it's when this absurdity begins to populate real-life understandings of Medieval and Renaissance weaponry that I start to get annoyed. When you see a broadsword noted in an equipment list as weighing eight pounds and someone tries to defend that by saying real swords weighed that much, it makes me want to scream. If you want a broadsword in your RPG to weigh that much, fine. If you want it to weigh that much because you think it's the truth, that's when you need an education.
And here's where to start learning.
ARMA is not without its critics, and on some issues I don't agree with them 100%, but my arguments are with some of their doctrines and attitudes, not with their research. ARMA Director John Clements has led the charge when it comes to rediscovering the martial heritage of European swords and sword technique, and both his passion and dedication to learning all he can about this great legacy are without peer. Actually joining and participating in ARMA research is not for the faint of heart, but their website is a treasure trove of resources that gamers can dig into if some real fact-finding is in order.
Case in point: "What Did Historical Swords Weigh?" is by far the best jumping-off point, since the sword weight myth definitely the most prevalent and breaking it is the most important step down the road to understanding actual historical sword technique. This notion that even accurate reproduction blades are somehow "wrong" for various reasons (my favorite being "the steel in the blades was forged differently back then", as if a different amount of carbon in the blade is going to double the weight of a sword...) is laughable when you have actual period weapons available to measure and weigh. Here's another article on the weight of the biggest historical fighting blades, showing that even these monsters aren't as huge and ungainly as might be imagined.
As a momentary aside, I am fortunate enough to live a close driving distance to The Higgins Armory Museum, containing one of the biggest collections of arms and armor in the country. Walking through the halls of armor and weapons, looking at the various authentic Medieval and Renaissance swords, axes, and polearms, you can clearly see how relatively light and slim a lot of these weapons are. If you live anywhere in or around the Northeast and happen to be passing through Massachussets, make time to swing by and check the place out.
Misconceptions of Swords & Swordplay is another nice little article which tries to lay down why Clements and his researchers do what they do. It points out some areas where common myths about swordplay originate, and why he feels this needs to be corrected. He's a little fanatical about his mission, but I can't blame him for it - the level of ignorance that is not only accepted, but argued time and time again as true, is a little shocking.
Some other essays worth reading through...
Katana vs. Rapier, the age old nerd quandary.
European Knight vs. Japanese Samurai, the other age old nerd quandary.
Parrying With A Cutting Sword, the scoop on one of the more visual swordfighting myths, followed by by another edge-on-edge misconception article. And a look at what happens when such parries are carried through.
For gamers who like to put a lot of tactical thinking into their battle sequences, this article is a good place for inspiration.
This one is particularly fitting to this blog, but also comes in handy when planning out equipment lists and an understanding of the nomenclature of weapons in your campaign world.
Hopefully this selection of articles will be interesting to the reader and inspire further reading. Here's a link to their main articles and essays page.