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Old Screeds

Good Questions! [11 Feb 05] Part one of three

I got an interesting letter from Nexx (Mark Hall), who took issue with things on the site (from years past) that I have said about weapons that D&D wemics should use. Here, for example, I say, "the obvious choice for a wemic is a greatsword! It can be used one-handed and delivers 2d6 base damage." That was actually only true under the 3.0 version of the rules, but I have not updated the page for 3.5. Frankly, a number of pages on my site need updating ... someday.

But Nexx’s points really transcend minor variations in rules mechanics. Here, listen to what he says:

Wemics, IMO, would not be prone to using the greatsword, for several reasons. First of all, while they are technically Large creatures, their upper bodies are not especially developed compared to a human; from anything other than a game mechanics point of view, I would question their ability to use a greatsword one-handed. A bastard sword, perhaps, but not a greatsword.

Inside the game world, however, you have to question how they would get greatswords in great numbers, and how they would they gain any great proficiency in them? Wemic are, after all, nomadic creatures, not prone to metallurgy, nor to large-scale trade with the metal-working cultures of Faerun. Sub-Saharan African cultures did work iron, it's true, but their ironwork was limited; they did not develop steel, and constructions on the length of a greatsword were beyond even the relatively advanced Romans. They don't have the means to regularly acquire greatswords in their natural habitat, and so few would gain their primary proficiency (and thus specialization) in them.

Once they have a greatsword, who is going to train them in their use? Trial-and-error will teach them, it is true, it is true, but also consider that certain weapons are better suited to a Wemic's body and fighting style. A spear can be used from a leap and from a charge with devastating effect, is relatively cheap to make, and can take advantage of a wemic's current level of technology. A greatsword, on the other hand, is an alien weapon to them, requiring free-swinging motions which will be somewhat restricted by their large backparts; humans have enough trouble with getting legs and arms in the way of large, sharp blades without having an additional 4 to 6 feet of hindquarters to deal with, which could be located anywhere behind them, based on the needs of their footing.

This reminds me very much of an essay a fellow named Lore sent me a few years ago. He had some great sketches to illustrate his points, but, alas, Time and the Internet consume us all, and I’ve fallen out of touch with him.

Anyway, Nexx and Lore raise some interesting questions:

First, what is the role of realism in a fantasy game? To what extent should the verisimilitude of the invented setting trump game mechanics? How do "realistic" concerns, such as economics and physiology, interact with "power-gaming," such as niggling the rules to get the best results in battle, for example.

Second, just how beastial are wemics? I was shocked by the Wemic Camp module I reviewed last week, when I read that wemics do not use fire and instead eat their meat raw. And on a more basic level, are wemics furry all over? Do they have leonine jaws and noses? Claws in their fingers? Similarly, how trapped are wemics by neolithic technology? To what extent will they adapt when they encounter a higher-tech culture?

Well, that gives me two topics for the coming weeks’ screeds!

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