English Longbow

Strength Versus Dexterity in Roleplaying Games

So, roleplaying games. The typical RPG has statistics for each player character – in the case of D&D, my system of choice, those stats are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Stats are used to determine a base level for a character, and they usually affect various skills and abilities a character acquires over the course of the game, particularly in how that character handles weaponry in the case of fantasy RPGs. One thing that comes up very often, that just happens to be wrong, is in the use of Strength for melee weapons, and Dexterity for ranged weapons.

Think about Lord of the Rings, for example, as being the progenitor of this idea. Aragorn uses strength to wield a longsword, and Legolas (being an elf) is dexterous and uses a bow. In D&D, Strength is not applied to ranged weapons, and Dexterity is not applied to melee weapons. Elves are very good with bows, humans are good with swords, etc. Surprise surprise, this doesn’t really hold true for actual real life.

Lightsaber duel

Let’s Talk about the Bind

Two fighters size each other up. They strike and parry, back and forth, then their swords lock together dramatically as they hurl snappy one-liners at each other. They shove and circle around, and split apart again, and the fight continues!

Except… nah. This is the Hollywood parry, something you’ll see in all the Star Wars movies at least. Like many things in Hollywood, it’s not a bad thing because it’s unrealistic (though it is that) but because it’s boring and stupidly overused.

samurai-jack-vs-aku

The Swordmaster Trope

So here’s the common trope: there is a master swordsman. This swordsman has a single Sword of Power(TM) and has never been defeated in battle. There can be only one, etc etc. The swordsman will face many opponents with many different kinds of weapons, and emerge victorious every time.

Duncan McCloud from Highlander. Too many examples from anime and manga to count. Jaime Lannister from A Game of Thrones, apparently. Drizzt Do’Urden. Zorro. They just pop up everywhere, when you think about it. The idea of the swordmaster is a very powerful, romantic one.

The problem is that one swordmaster does not an army make, and although it serves for good storytelling SOMETIMES, it doesn’t make for good tactics.

Yes, this is my longsword.

Let’s talk about sword weight!

This is my longsword.

It’s 51 inches long, 38-inch blade. Leather wrapped hilt, scent-stopper pommel, unusual triple fuller. It’s loosely based on the 15th century Oakeshott Type XVIIIb longsword, so it’s basically a regular hand-and-a-half sword with an extra long hilt. Made by Szymon Chlebowski, a very talented Polish swordsmith. (It does not have a name, and I refuse to give it one, so don’t ask!)

It’s about 3.5lbs, and that puts it on the HEAVY side for a longsword.

First of all – yes, it is possible to hold it out straight in one hand. I do it all the time! But you can’ t do it for longer than a minute before your arm starts burning like it’s been dunked in lava. 3.5lbs doesn’t seem like a lot, but holding it out like that is hard! It puts a huge strain on your bicep and forearm.