Combat Systems: Weapon Strategies

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Recently, I’ve been working on designing futuristic weapons for Cyber Run, a tabletop trans-dimensional RPG. I’ve found that most tabletop RPGs don’t offer interesting weapons choices. Many games contain a list of swords or guns, with the only major difference being their damage capability, which isn’t much of a choice. The reason behind most weapons and their uses seems to have gotten lost in the game mechanics.

A weapon choice could be viewed as picking the right tool for a particular job. For example, a rapier is useful in a dual against an unarmored opponent, but isn’t the best weapon to be used on a battlefield. Similarly, wearing full battle armor and carrying large weapons around town is socially unacceptable. From my weapons research, I’ve grouped weapons in several categories that have similar attack strategies.

Safe Distance

Keeping a safe distance is a strategy using a weapon that has a greater range than your target. A warrior employing a long spear against an enemy with a club gives the spear-holder the advantage of distance as a defense. The same idea can be used for archers behind battlements, increasing their safety with distance and cover. A more modern version is a sniper that has an even greater distance and the added advantage of a hidden location. Finally, a drone attack is the next step in the progression, attacking from a distant location with little fear of enemy retaliation.

Up Close and Personal

While distance gives the advantage of safety, it has the disadvantages of an increased chance of missing the target and the need to correctly identify the target. For a high-value target, when identification is important, or the target’s defenses are impenetrable from afar, a close-as-possible strategy is needed. This tactic usually involves secret or hidden weapons, such as small blades, single-shot pistols, or ropes hidden among clothes or jewelry. The strategy requires the attacker to be allowed close access to the target through hiding his or her intent and weapon. The main disadvantage with this strategy is after the attack, when the attacker has difficulty keeping his or her identity secret and leaving the area where the attack took place.

These weapons can sometimes involve the use of poison as a boost for lethality, usually because the smaller the weapon the better chance of it being hidden, but also it also drops its attacking power. A further advantage of using poison is that the effects can take time, allowing the attacker to escape and keep their identity secret.

The Japanese Kakute is worn on the attacker’s finger as a spiked ring that is usually tipped with poison. The Bulgarian Poison Umbrella is used to shoot a small dart with poison into a target at very close range. The America Glove Pistol contains a single-shot gun attached to a glove that is triggered when a plunger is depressed against the target.

Breaching Defenses

Weapons changed as armies adapted to the defenses of their particular enemy. In ancient times this usually involved getting through the enemy’s shield. The Chinese Zhua is a claw attached to either a pole or a rope that could pull away an enemy shield. The Egyptian Khopesh is a curved sword that could either get around a shield to attack or be used as a hook to pull the shield down. The Roman Scissor is a horizontal blade that could be used as a hook to pull down a shield. Finally, the Indian Urumi is a flexible metal sword that could get around shields.

Once past the shield there are weapons that specialize in armor penetration. The Indian Katar, a three-bladed knife, allowed for a greater chance of hitting an unarmored part of the body. The European Misericorde is a long, slender dagger intended to get between a knight’s armor plating.


Most ancient weapons are meant to be used against a single foe in one-on-one combat. Tactics evolved to fight as a unit; shield walls and pole arms or a combination of weapons were used together to make each individual in the unit more effective. Using a formation modified shield designs and allowed for longer spears to be used. Teamwork also included horses, whose speed and strength allowed the use of lances and greater mobility for archers. Horses also advanced tactics for the use of chariots, which gave javelin-throwers and archers greater mobility and stability.

Psychological Warfare

Psychological weapons would be ones that either terrified enemies or enhanced the authority of the leader and, therefore, the morale of the troops he or she leads. These “magical” weapons’ effectiveness is dependent on the local cultural and religious views of the people. These weapons are reserved for very specific situations.

Some typical weapons were designed to appear more terrifying than others in an effort to unnerve an enemy. Other weapons were terrifying because what they did—the Chinese Fire Lance is an ancient flamethrower that would either explode poison or shoot out flames. An Aztec Sacrificial Dagger was used for cutting hearts out during rituals.

Some weapons are used as symbols of power, such as the New Zealand Mere Club that is built from nephrite jade and remains a symbol of leadership. InJapan, the Kusanagi no Tsurugi is a part of the Imperial Regalia and is one of the symbols of imperial power. A modern weapon equivalent might be an atomic bomb, as its ownership can bring both terror to others and boost authority.

Socially Acceptable Weapons

Laws often restrict the possession or use of certain weapons against citizens of higher status, so new weapons evolved in accordance of these laws. Many cultures only allowed nobility to have swords. InIndia, the Madu was a shield with animal horns attached to the sides, which were technically legal, but were dangerously sharp. Japanese law enforcement had to use Sodegarami, spiked staffs, to catch the clothes of a samurai, since they weren’t allowed to use swords or kill a samurai who was of a higher class.

Nonlethal Weapons

Some of these laws involved taking a person alive, usually because he or she committed a crime or the attacker wants to make the target a slave. The European Man Catcher was used to pin a target to the ground.Japanstill uses the Sasumata, the spear fork, to pin a target’s limbs to a wall or floor. Nets and Bolas are also used to impede movement in order to capture a target alive. Saps are used to beat someone into submission or knock them unconscious, while Whips are used to deliver nonlethal pain.

Low-Skill Weapons

Often levies had to fill the ranks of armies when there weren’t enough professional soldiers. Familiar work tools or easy weapons were what they were used to. Axes, Spears, and farming tools were common. Later, Crossbows were easier to operate than Bows and Guns eventually became even easier.

Another need for the use of low-skill weapons is for defense within urban areas where violent crime is common. InIndia, the Bagh Nakh, tiger claws, are easily hidden and gripped. Modern nonlethal equivalents that also stay within legal restrictions are pepper spray and electric tasers.

  • 09/04/15

About Atticus Evil

Lead Game Designer for Cyber Run a Science Fiction RPG.
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