I occasionally question the relevancy of some of my posts, given that I continue to live in a world affected by Advanced D&D from the late 70s, in a world full of players who know nothing except 4th and 5th edition. So when I think of something like today's topic, I have to pause and ask myself, does this problem even exist now?
Still, it doesn't hurt to write to the three or four people who live in the past, like me. So here goes something irrelevant.
One detail that always bothered me about long swords and battle axes might immediately leap to the reader's mind. Given that both weapons do the same damage (original game), and given that the long sword can be used with a shield, because it is a one handed weapon, while the battle axe cannot, needing two hands, why would anyone ever choose a battle axe as a weapon?
Oh, of course some people will think that it's "cool," that swinging a battle axe in a fight gives a certain joie de vive, something that can't be gained from an every day weapon like a sword (in the opinion of some). Still, it would be preferred if there was a practical reason that made one weapon a better choice than the other. The long sword clearly favors armor class. What does the battle axe favor?
I could increase the damage done by a battle axe, say to a d8+1; but though I've often thought of that, it feels like wrong thinking. The sword was ultimately a better weapon, being developed later and being more widespread. Arguably, the battle axe ought to do less than a sword ... with the caveat that it seems like a terror weapon in the hands of the Vikings because most of those on the move would have been more hearty than their average victim. The comparable damage of the battle axe to the long sword could just be a user strength bonus.
Still, let's not change the damage done by either weapon.
For years, I've been using a system of breaks and fumbles, so that a weapon can break at an inopportune moment in a combat, much to a player's distress. At first, I used a system that weapons would break on a 1 in 6 ... but a few years ago, with my wiki, I adjusted some weapons so that they had a superiority in how likely they were to break. For example, I adjusted the club so that it would break 1 in 4, reflecting a cheaper weapon with little or no craftsmanship.
I had the long sword/battle axe quandary in my head then, as it has been in my head since I began playing this game ... and because of that, I adjusted the battle axe so that it would break only 1 in 8, compared to the long sword's 1 in 6. The justification? There isn't one. I just wanted an advantage for the battle axe.
Oh, we could pretend that the handle of the battle axe is springier than the sword, or that using two weapons means that it can be controlled better, or that it will land head first, protecting the handle, but this is all nonsense. I can't give a viable argument at all and I won't pretend.
Something had just occurred to me yesterday, however ... which shows how scattered my thinking is half the time. I'm writing about coins and working on a development/infrastructure system, yet my head jumps into an annoying problem that has been bugging me for years.
Here's my thought.
The weak point on a battle axe is the point where the handle meets the head. If the weapon breaks, it ought to be the handle; the heavy blade of the battle axe ought to endure the bounce it takes on stones, or from hitting the opponent's armor, or whatever causes it to break. Then, because of the way the head attaches to the handle, this is an easy fix. During a respite, the head can be lashed to another handle in less than fifteen minutes, making the weapon combat effective again.
A sword's weak point is, again, where the blade meets the handle. However, a sword is made so that it includes a metal protrusion that extends into the handle, which is then bound in wood and leather, making the sword and handle a single piece. When a sword breaks, the weak point is where the working blade narrows into the part that makes the handle. It is the metal that breaks. Then, without that protrusion that enables the blade to be fitted into the handle, there's no easy way to repair the sword, not without a forge and a good deal of time.
I ought to reverse the chance of breaking ... make the sword harder to break than the battle axe. Remaining would be the logic that when providing weapons to a lot of fighters, it's the battle axe that ought to be considered over the sword. In the long run, it's cheaper.
Let's say a skirmish between two companies runs about twenty rounds before they break off. Each company is a hundred men. Twenty rounds of a two hundred combatants swinging is 4,000 rolls ... but what with people dying off and falling unconscious, lets say the two sides manage to roll half that number (I don't want to calculate an exact average).
That's an average of 100 drops and fumbles. If 1 in 6 breaks, that's 16 broken weapons (so favors the average). Likewise, 1 in 8 would be 12 breaks. Divided evenly between the two companies, of course.
If the combatants are all using swords, and swords cost 20 g.p. apiece, 6 breaks a skirmish will count heavily against the company. If every skirmish costs 120 g.p. (and worse, from weapons left on the battlefield from the dead), that's going to mount up over a season.
But if the company can recover its battle axe heads, they lose considerable less in capital every time they fight. Wooden handles are cheap. Even if the battle axe does break more often, and does need two hands, it has a considerable fiscal advantage over the sword.
Of course, now that I've written something about weapons, I can expect to be vilified for having all my facts wrong, that in fact battle axes and swords break differently than I've just explained and that it actually takes months to fit a new handle onto a battle axe head, or some other happy horseshit, as that is always the case with people who fight flame wars over weapon posts. It's the risk I take when I blog on this subject.