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Three WORG Guy mascots armed with melee weapons

Weapons Locker – Melee Weapons – Chapter 0

Introduction

This introductory article deals in melee weapons, from the low-tech to the future tech.

It is almost solely a technical RPG article for DCH players. It’s a primer for those who haven’t attentively processed all our New Rules articles.

The *other* chapters are mostly in plain English and about weapons proper.

Caveats

As always with Weapons Locker articles, we are interested in fiction, with an emphasis on comic books, action movies, RPGs and video games. It’s not a historical study of melee weaponry, or a treatise about their use in the modern world.

This article is forever in beta. It is slowly and gradually expanded.

We do have material about shields, but it is in another castle.

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Weapons Locker – Melee weapons documents

To keep the articles manageable and avoid having to split them up later on, let’s have them as separate pages from the get-go.

“Small” weapons are generally concealable. “Large” weapons are too large to be used along with a shield.

Simple enough, heh ? We do not distinguish by tech level, since in super-hero settings you’ll see all sorts of melee weapons everywhere.

There are other, universe-specific articles with melee weapons in ’em (say, lightsabres). See our guide to Weapons Locker articles for such things.

Frost warframe with kronen bladed tonfa

Frost-class warframe with kronen bladed giant tonfa.

Them’s the rules

Melee weaponry as statted in the rulesbook works.

But it creates a number of oddities, mostly having to do with the wielder’s STR compared to the weapon’s EV.

Should Aunt May deliver EV 05 blows after she’s grabbed a halberd ? Is Batman better off striking with his bare hands than with any EV 04 sword, especially if he uses Martial Artist EV substitution ?

So we’ll refine things using a number of community-designed tools.

The Enhance Power

This is the main tool to coordinate a weapon’s AV with the wielder’s STR. This solves old issues, explained in the “substitutive vs. additive” discussion. Or in Greg Gorden’s DC Heroes design notes all the way back in the 1980s.

It is described in the New Powers for DC Heroes article.

Among other advantages, using Enhance ensures :

  • That weapons that should increase the wielder’s damage do so.
  • That poor quality, small and/or limited weapons that powerful fighters wouldn’t use… well, do not make sense for powerful fighters to use.

The Weapon Technique Offensive Combat Manoeuvre

Weapon Technique addresses three points :

  1. Martial Artist EV is markedly higher than STR EV for many action characters. This messes with the Enhance power logic for melee weapons.
  2. In stories, most characters with a solid but not huge Martial Artist EV still benefit from street-level weapons such as truncheons and switchblades.
  3. On the other hand, Shang-Chi doesn’t keep a switchblade in his pocket just in case. So there’s a breakpoint where Martial Artist is so high that some weapons do become useless.

The Weapon Technique Manoeuvre is described in the New Rules – Miscellanea article.

Weapon Technique is a Combat Manoeuvre. As such, it precludes the use of other Combat Manoeuvres during that Phase, except for the Initiative-based ones.

Martial Artist (EV) substitution for weapon masters

A related point is that we’ve long used Martial Artist (EV) in character writeups, with Limitations such as “only when wielding swords”.

By the rulesbook, it’s all too easy for melee weapon experts who aren’t unarmed experts to end up with substandard EV. For instance a cinematicThe level of power and (un)realism found in a spectacular action movie. empty-hand kung fu champ with Martial Artist: 07 can easily have an EV of 07. But a swordmaster with Weaponry: 07 will be stuck with his blade’s EV – prolly a 04.

By taking a Limited version of Martial Artist (EV) that only works with weapons, the armed character can cleanly and fairly close this gap. And their character writeup can set the exact EV value they should have.

See the discussion of Martial Artist (EV) substitution in the New Rules – Skills article about the different versions of this mechanic, and which is used on writeups.org.

Recommended STR

Recommended STR is a simple mechanic we introduced decades ago. It greatly hampers people without sufficient STR who try to use weapon that demand mighty thews.

Or that have a strong recoil. But this is an article about melee weapons.

Recommended STR is described in the New Rules – Gadgetry & Equipment article.

Blocking mechanics

These are introduced and discussed in our Weapons Locker: Shields article.

Some weapons wielded defensively (sai, mains gauche…) will use similar mechanics. But these usually aren’t as efficient as shields.

Damage descriptors

These are introduced and discussed in the New Rules: Miscellanea article. The New Rules – Gadgetry article also discusses multiple attack Descriptors on a Gadget or Artefact.

As a reminder, for Physical, Kinetic attacks, the likely Descriptors for melee attacks are :

  • Unarmed.
  • Bludgeoning.
  • Slashing.
  • Piercing.

Damage Descriptors are primarily intended for low-powered were body armour plays a crucial role, and needs to be more finely modelled. But it can also be useful in super-hero stuff, such as Wonder Woman’ Attack Vulnerability.

Weapon breakage

The rules in the old Weapons Theorem approach — in the Gadgetry document — still work for those who use them.

Use of the Enhance Power and Descriptors for weapons in character profiles

We’re not going out of our way to “convert” melee weapon stats in writeups.org character writeups to using Enhance, Descriptors and the like.

As I see it :

  1. This would be confusing for readers who have not read the New Rules documents yet.
  2. The stats for the stock weapons are right available in the Weapon Locker articles for those wot want to use them.
  3. If a non-stock weapon is in a writeup, “converting” it to the new style is trivial. These are the same numbers, just presented differently.

By contrast, shield stats were upgraded throughout the site. This is because the changes in shields were deeper than the changes in melee weaponry.

Additional material

Not quite new rules, though.

Skilled use statistics

Some weapons have a baseline stats block and an alternative, “skilled use” stats block with more applications. The first is for basic users, the second for experts.

The idea is that most users (say, stock thugs and soldiers) aren’t going to use the more sophisticated manoeuvres, and may not have the training to do so. Listing everything would just clutter the stats with stuff they’re not going to do.

Technically, the ability to get more out of a weapon is an attribute of the Character, rather than of the weapon. This is how we model things in DCA. DCH doesn’t really allow for that, so we modify the stats of the weapon instead.

This also means that if a stock, fodder ninja drops his sai, then the weapon suddenly changes its stats when it’s picked up by an expert such as Elektra.

Though not entirely satisfying, this is not unprecedented.

For instance a pistol used by a mook would have Peashooter stats, but suddenly become a Medium-Calibre Semi-Auto with better stats if the hero picks it up. Ditto for Mook Grenades becoming, say, Offensive Grenades in similar circumstances.

Skilled use Advantage

If that really bothers you, you *could* have an Advantage for Characters that allows for using the Skilled Use block. Or a Drawback that forces using the basic stats.

But this concerns minuscule amounts of points. It has to be done on a per-weapon basis, or perhaps using weapon classes. When writing up published characters we routinely don’t have the information. It clutters up stats with information that may never become relevant, for instance in game with little melee weapon use.

So personally I’d say it’s not worth it.

Claws or EV

In the “Claws” section of the New Powers for DCH document, we discuss aligning Claws and EV.

This makes two Powers that do the same thing interchangeable.

Weapon - World war one trench club from Etsy

Guided by the BODY of our weapons

Being Gadgets (or at least Equipment), melee weapons have a BODY score.

This is part of the cost balancing for gear. You benefit from the hefty Gadget cost divisor, but if said gear has a low BODY score then it’s easy for it to become unusable.

Fiction

The WORG weapon stats — not just the melee ones — tend to have a lower BODY than the rulebook ones.

To see why, let’s list three dominant ways to portray melee weapon BODY in fiction :

  • In TTRPGs, they tend to have infinite durability. Mostly to avoid bookkeeping, I guess, but also in part out of tradition. You could use the same D&D broadsword in hundreds of fights without any problem. Barring rust monsters, eh.
  • In video games, they tend to have ablative durability. The game has zero problem with keeping track of that score. And constantly draining money to have equipment repaired is a useful tool in balancing resources.
  • In movies and comics, durability tends to be proportional to narrative importance. The sword of Nameless Ninja Orc Mook #12 can easily be smashed to smithereens, but the square-jawed hero’s axe will never falter.

What about the real world ? Well, weapons that hit armour, that hit bones, and — especially — that parry other weapons get badly damaged.

Reality

A typical European example would be Viking sagas.

They keep mentioning weapons being broken, being bent by impacts (and perhaps heroically straightened by stomping on them in order to return to battle), people entering combat with two backup weapons, shields falling apart, etc..

An even more concrete example is this Japanese document, from 1863. Three shisengumiA sort of combat-heavy Shogunal gendarmerie officers got into a fight with thieves. Somebody documented the state of their blades, perhaps because one of the officers was a famous higher-up :

Period Japanese scroll showing damage to shisengumi blades after a fight

I can’t read the text (booo !), but the worst denting/chipping is reminiscent of what happens when you can’t parry properly with a katana. That is, you can’t do the ideal kenjutsu technique that deflects the opponent’s blade using the side of your katana’s blade, and instead have to block it.

Presumably these gendarmes had good swords and good technique. A cheap Edo-era blade will fare even worse, and likely bend, if used to crudely block another katana’s blow.

So a sustained fight will likely result in some demolished weapons, and those that are still straight could easily be unusable. And likely unrepairable. You might be able to re-sharpen them – but the metal that was chipped away will still be gone.

Real-world melee weapons used in actual combat are thus closer to consumables.

In DCH

DCH was more averse toward bookkeeping than the norm for its TTRPG generation. And most have since evolved toward even less bookkeeping.

Therefore, there’s no weapon durability mechanic, except for R# – a random all-or-nothing approach.

However, the BODY score inherent to Gadgets allows for :

  • Differentiating between weapon qualities. With more important Characters having spent more character points on the BODY of their weapons. This is especially important when magical weapons, sci-fi weapons, weapons forged by legendary smiths, weapons using special alloys, etc. are in play.
  • Allowing for attacking-the-weapon-rather-than-the-wielder Combat Manoeuvres.

It could also be the basis for giving weapons “hit points” (say, 10 points per AP of BODY) if you want house rules to track weapon degradation. These could be appropriate to, say, a grim low-fantasy campaign. Or some post-apoc ones.

Madmartigan (1988 Willow movie) (Val Kilmer) guarding a door with sword and armour

Madmartigan in the movie Willow.

Exceedingly generic melee weapons

Since the numbers space isn’t gigantic, melee weapons in a given weight class will have broadly similar values. The differences will lie in their secondary stats… if any.

It works out as :

  • Exceedingly generic small melee weapon [BODY 03, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 04), Descriptor: varies].
  • Exceedingly generic medium melee weapon [BODY 04, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 06), Descriptor: varies].
  • Exceedingly generic heavy melee weapon [BODY 05, Enhance (EV): 02 (cap is 07), Descriptor: varies].

For less exceedingly generic stats, see the articles in the series.

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Helper(s): Ethan Roe.