Author Topic: Broadswords: A Complaint About Terminology  (Read 232 times)

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Offline tanis

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Broadswords: A Complaint About Terminology
« on: April 25, 2017, 10:27:12 AM »
So as some of you may recall from old conversations, I study (among other things) military history/history of technology, and as part of that, I study arms and armor. As I have progressed in my understanding of historical weaponry, little by little I've become increasingly frustrated with the way that fantasy media, largely influenced by D&D's historical development, talks about and identifies weapons. In fact, if I ever actually get around to creating my own game system, some of the many things I intend to fix are what the weapons are called, and how they are represented in the mechanics.

A particular pet peeve of mine along these lines is the broadsword; no other single weapon is so misunderstood and misrepresented in fantasy as the broadsword (though the rapier comes pretty close). Well, today I came across a video by one of my favorite YouTube channels which specifically deals with explaining the somewhat confusing history and typology of the broadsword, and I thought I would share it here, just in case anyone was interested in knowing a bit more about swords (because, let's be honest, swords are cool). The same guy that did this video has spoken about the topic before, but this is the only video specifically dedicated to explaining the history of the term in depth.

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GYGSkdwCMo
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline David Roomes

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Re: Broadswords: A Complaint About Terminology
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2017, 10:23:26 PM »
Interesting and informative video. I myself have used the term "broad sword" to refer to various weapons in my writing. So, here are a couple of thoughts.

1. In the video, he himself says that in the medieval ages, people weren't too concerned about categorizing weapons carefully and often just called things a "sword".

2. In the video, he shows four different blades that have been historically called the "broad sword" emphasizing that it really depends on the century and culture that's involves. In other words, the term means different things to different people.

3. But most important, I just want to point out that... this isn't Earth. On Khoras, I've got a number of cultures that use specific sword types. I use the term broad sword to refer to any single handed, double edged, broad bladed sword. It's more of a category of various heavier blades that each have specific names. As a writer, sometimes you use a more generic term to get the idea across. Depends on the situation. But, on Ithria, in many cases, they would refer to several types of heavier blades generically as a "broad sword". The guy in the video talks about D&D and Hollywood movies getting it wrong. Well, that really only applies to Hollywood movies that are telling a story based on Earth. If you go to Middle Earth or any other fantasy world, all bets are off and historical Earth references no longer apply.

However, having said that, if you're talking about actual Earth history (and not a fantasy world), then yes, specific terms matter and we should all strive to get it right.


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Offline tanis

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Re: Broadswords: A Complaint About Terminology
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2017, 12:12:15 PM »
I should say, first of all, that I wasn't talking about Khoras as a world, just about how illogical many systems' weapon mechanics are, so please don't think I'm being critical. It's more that Dungeons and Dragons was influenced by fantasy authors who, with the exception of some (such as Tolkien, who would have been familiar with bayonet and sword combat from his time in the trenches of WWI, and who was an expert on Anglo-Saxon literature to boot), were largely ignorant about the weapons and armors they wrote about, or were influenced by Victorian authors who sometimes lack credibility from a modern standpoint, and as a byproduct of the success of D&D many people have warped perceptions of medieval weapons which influence how they would choose to represent them in game mechanics.

For instance, if you think a rapier was a roughly 30" edgeless thrusting sword that can't cut, you'll represent it differently than if you know that a rapier is as heavy (and usually longer) than a two-handed longsword, and has a sharpened, if somewhat ineffectual edge.

Now, in the case of Khoras, sure, lots of things are different, but also Khoras is systemless by design, so this sort of thing doesn't really apply to it as far as worldbuilding goes, because it isn't tethered to any particular mechanic. But to say that a system like D&D which is, at least insofar as its original concept goes, straightforwardly attempting to create a medieval fantasy-set sandbox world, it matters whether you represent a weapon as just a generic sword (which I'm totally fine with) or decide to represent some weapons in one way or another and other weapons differently.

The minute you do the latter, you're required to start being much more specific about weapon typology, and even if you throw in lots of non-European or even completely imaginary weapons, it's still helpful to have a clear understanding of what the weapons you're talking about look like, how they handle, etc. Complex-hilted swords existed by the late medieval period, as did broad-bladed cut-centric arming swords, and if we're talking merely about generic medieval European fantasy settings, then it seems reasonable to me to expect that they be properly conceived and represented by the game system we're using.

Of course, like I mentioned above, it might be better not to get into that sort of mechanical detail in the first place, and have pretty much all "swords" work basically the same, instead of opening the can of worms to begin with, but that's a different point than the one I was originally trying to make.

And writers can do all sorts of things, and do, but that doesn't necessarily translate to the mechanics of a game, even one which is nominally so focused on the story as D&D.




Having said all of that, I agree that it's not the most important issue, even mechanically; it's a bit of a personal pet peeve, sure, but mostly I just figured you guys would enjoy watching a video about swords. XD
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Offline David Roomes

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Re: Broadswords: A Complaint About Terminology
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2017, 05:25:45 PM »
I agree completely. When creating a role playing game, it's important to get historical facts straight with regards to sword types, damage amounts and so forth. I may have to go through all the RPGs I own and take a look at what they did with weaponry. I wouldn't be surprised if D&D is one of the least historically accurate.

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Offline tanis

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Re: Broadswords: A Complaint About Terminology
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2017, 12:22:43 AM »
Honestly, it wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that so many systems just copied whatever D&D did early on, and things became ingrained. That, and so many players were influenced by it.

Still, it isn't entirely Dave and Gary's fault; they were wargamers, not historians. I'm just the kind of person who likes the world I play in to mimic reality where it makes sense to do so, and having weapons work right isn't much different than having poison work right. I know you understand that, because a big part of your focus with Khoras is a believable world. :D
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.