The Stiletto

Concealed Carry

Names are goofy things. A bayonet was originally a folding knife from Bayonne that had nothing to do with firearms. (Kind of like the “Swiss Army Knife” of today.) Similarly, the stiletto seems to have been a particular kind of long dagger that was used to defeat armor. Like the bayonet, it’s now known for something different, and that’s what we’re concerned with today.

The commonality between the knightly weapon and the so-called assassin’s blade we’re concerned with is the blade. It’s usually a sturdy thrusting blade with a triangular cross-section that has no pretense of being a cutting weapon. Including its one-handed hilt, the whole thing is about the length of your forearm — which is not surprising, because that’s a really effective place to strap one.

To top it all off, this version of the stiletto doesn’t have much in the way of a hand guard. It’s only purpose is to keep your hand from sliding up the blade when stabbing it into a person.

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Workbench: Speedpainting Ancient Orcs

Unboxed Speedpaint Starter Set

So I was in my friendly local game store when I ran across this collection of paints. Besides all the spaceship minis, I have an occasional Napoleonic Army habit, so I’m always looking for new ways to speed up my painting. While I have been meaning to try Army Painter’s Quickshade, I’m a bit of a rupophobe. Since their instructions recommend that you lay out a tarp and wear grubbies, I’ve been loathe to try that product.

This one, however, piqued my interest. Does it really do what it claims?

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Review: Hero Forge Color Plastic

Kinda-sorta bonus content, here. I’m running an Eberron campaign, and Leanne wanted a miniature of her character (a warforged artificer). Of course, it’s not a character type that’s that common, and hard to find at the local brick-and-mortars. (I don’t even know if anybody actually makes this figure; I haven’t looked beyond that.)

This meant that Hero Forge was the only solution, and we ordered her a color plastic figure. I also took the opportunity to print a similar version of Modern Rita. (See the review of the premium plastic version here.) Here’s what I got:

Modern Rita, in Color Plastic
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Why I Often Say “Use this Existing Stat”

1d4Sickle, WhipDaggerClub, Light Hammer
1d6Handaxe, ScimitarJavelin, Spear, Shortsword, TridentMace, Quarterstaff
1d8Battleaxe, LongswordMorningstar, Rapier, War PickGreatclub, Quarterstaff, Flail
1d10Glaive, Halberd, LongswordPike
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The Messer

Malicious Compliance

“Messer” means “knife” in German. The sword it describes looks like a knife, for good reason (which we’ll get to later). It’s a one-handed sword, with a single edge. The straight blade is a bit wide compared to the “true” swords of the period, resembling a Bowie knife that’s been stretched out to almost two and a half feet (75 cm). Depending on who made it, the tip might be a simple curve; or it might be scooped out on the false edge, which would be sharpened for about four inches (10 cm) to give it a thrusting tip.

Its handle was usually knife-like. My favorite is a pair of wooden grips pinned to the tang, like you can still see in kitchen knives today. It is the guard that distinguishes the Messer from every other short slashing blade out there. It starts with a quillon guard that barely covers your hand, and then adds what’s referred to as a “nail” — basically, a third quillon perpendicular to the normal pair, that covers the outside of your hand.

So what made the Messer so popular in Germany?

The answer lies in how fractured Germany was from 1300 to 1500. Even though it was nominally unified under the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, in actual practice, the various polities (sometimes all the way down to the town level) had their own laws and enforcement. You didn’t have to travel far to run into one of the two laws that might be the reason why the Messer was invented. In either case, it indicated a malicious compliance.

  • Only Nobility can Wear a Sword. This is a fairly common thing world-wide. Whenever the merchant class became wealthy enough to afford the trappings of nobility, sumptuary laws were the answer. In such a situation, a Messer is not a sword. It’s a knife. The story goes that they were even made by the Guild of Knifemakers, rather than the Swordsmiths, to further skirt the law.
  • Worn Blades are Limited in Length. This law was usually born of street violence. In order to quell said mischief, everyone — and this included nobility — couldn’t wear a blade over a certain length. The idea was the the city guard would therefore have a reach advantage in a melee. Interestingly, the Messer was exactly the minimum length allowed.

Whatever the reason for the Messer’s invention, it was useful to own (and carry) one. To compound matters, the Messer was easier, and therefore cheaper, to make than a sword. If the intent was to disarm the peasantry, it backfired.

Messers in your Game

For D&D 5e, just use the scimitar’s stat line. (In fact, I’m currently running a game where everybody carries a Messer-like weapon as their default carry.)

Evolutions of the Messer

The Messer I’ve described previously is the “base” Messer. It wasn’t long before it was recognized as a good sidearm, which led to its adoption by professionals, and adjustment for the battlefield. The terms used for such things:

  • The Langes Messer (or “long knife”). An alternative name to the Messer to distinguish it from your everyday utility knife.
  • The Grosse Messer (or “great knife”). A two-handed version of the Messer used by soldiers against armored opponents. (2d4 slashing damage, two-handed, heavy.)
  • The Kriegsmesser (or “war knife”). Also a two-handed version of the Messer. There’s some debate about whether this is another name for the Grosse Messer, or meant to distinguish the biggest and meanest weapons from the “normal” Grosse Messers. (Use the greatsword stats.)

The other thing that changed is that the hilt became more complicated. The one-handed Messers gained knuckle bows, and both versions swapped out the nail for a side ring (the two-handers especially).

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Other Japanese Swords

Or, “clearing my notes.”

Japanese scholars talk about three sword-making periods:

  • the Shintō (“new sword”), the era of the daishō, which corresponds closely (but not exactly) to the Edo period (a.k.a. the shogunate);
  • the Kotō (“old sword”), the period preceding Shintō (the date of transition is usually given as 1596); and
  • the Shinshintō (“new-new sword” — I kid you not), from about 1781 to 1876, when wearing swords was prohibited. The reason why it gets its own period is because you could still make and own swords, and craftsmen were freed to make imitations of the Kotō swords.

A fantasy world might reasonably be set in a period like the Kotō, as it was more tumultuous than the shogunate. The three weapons that would be more common are:

  • the tachi,
  • the tantō, and
  • the uchigatana.

To be honest, “tachi” is a term akin to “sword” in the West. At the beginning of the Kotō, the tachi resembled a two-handed Chinese jian, right down to the pommel and hilt designs. (So much so that it’s still debated whether they’re actually Japanese, or whether they’re Chinese imports.) By the end of the period, it looked an awful lot like a big katana — but it wasn’t really used like one, or acted like one. The commonality between all the versions of the tachi was that it was a cavalry sword, for use against targets that weren’t well armored. (At least, as compared to a katana’s opponents.) As a result, it was usually longer, to be able to reach targets from horseback, and didn’t need to be as stiff.

A tachi was worn hanging from the samurai’s waist, edge down (much like a Western cavalry sword), and was typically the back-up to the samurai’s primary weapon, a bow.

The tantō is best described as a dagger. Its blade was generally about a foot long, and wide for a dagger. It proved its use during the Mongol invasion, where stories describe samurai switching to it in the cramped quarters of a ship.

The uchigatana is the transitional sword between the late tachi and the early katana. Basically, it was a short, cheap blade carried by poor samurai and near-samurai as their sidearm. Their main weapon at this point was probably a spear (yari), and they fought on foot. The quality of these swords were so bad that few of them survive to today. That said, it was a more comfortable sidearm than the tachi, which lead to the higher-ups wearing them, and spurring the evolution to the katana. These could come the same lengths as both the wakizashi and the katana.

Lastly, there was the kodachi, which is basically a short tachi. They were about two feet long — longer than a wakizashi, and shorter than a katana — but I don’t know much about their application.

For D&D 5e:

  • Tachi; 1d10 slashing damage; Heavy, Two-handed.
  • Tantō; a non-throwing dagger. (To be fair, you shouldn’t throw a rondel dagger, either.)
  • Uchigatana; 1d6 slashing damage; Versatile (1d8), breaks on an attack roll of 1.
  • Kodachi; use the scimitar stat line.
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The Daishō

Legality, Practicality, and Gentility

Daishō literally means “big-little,” and refers to the pair of swords worn during the shogunate. “Big” in this pair is the famous sword, the katana, and “little” is the wakizashi, or “companion sword.”

In swordfighting, it’s an odd pair. They’re not meant to be wielded simultaneously (Musashi notwithstanding), nor are they different enough to match the “sword-and-dagger” pairing of the West. It was very much a product of their time and place.

As a legal matter, it was required for samurai to wear two blades, as a symbol of their station. It wasn’t exactly required that a samurai wear the daishō — in fact, photographs taken of samurai just before the end of the shogunate show them wearing katana and tantō — but etiquette made it more practical to wear a wakizashi.

This was because it was common practice for a samurai to remove their katana upon entering a castle or palace, and only carry the wakizashi while inside. This explains why the wakizashi resembles a cut-down katana so much — it’s basically shortened so that you can fight without getting your sword stuck in the ceiling.

That said, it would be a mistake to presume that the katana is exclusively an outdoor sword. Its length (short for a two-handed sword) and manner of wear (in the obi with the edge facing upwards in its scabbard) make it the perfect sword to draw directly into a cut from seiza, the formal sitting position. In fact, I’d argue that this requirement is what makes the katana such an odd duck for a two-handed sword. It’s meant to be as dangerous in its scabbard as it is drawn.

Technical Details

The blade of a katana is single-edged, usually with a gentle curve, and with a thrusting tip more resembling an axe than a rapier. If the blade is properly fitted to its owner, its length is roughly the distance from his crotch to his heel. That they typically run from 26 to 30 inches (66 to 76 cm) is an indication of the lack of diversity in the samurai gene pool.

The blade itself is fairly thick, for two reasons. For one, the katana is primarily a cutting weapon. The blade’s thickness adds felt weight at the point of impact, and the extra material contributes to a unique blade cross-section that assists with edge alignment.

For the other, Japanese armor had improved and the tachi (the katana’s predecessor) was considered too light and flimsy a blade to penetrate it. This is also the reason for the axe-like tip and the slightness of the blade’s curve. A good thrust from a katana can penetrate armor and bone.

As the katana is a two-handed weapon, the handle adds another 10 to 12 inches (30 cm) to the overall length of the sword. The user’s hands are protected by a disk guard. The size of the guard could range from 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) in diameter, depending on the user’s preferences. These guards provide decent hand protection, but don’t lend themselves to the binding that cross guards do.

Pretty much everything I’ve said about the katana is true of the wakizashi, except that the wakizashi blades were 20 to 22 inches (51 to 57 cm), and their handles were shorter, as well.

Gaming the Daishō

As of this writing, Japanese swords have not been added to D&D 5e, but — given D&D’s track record in such things — I fully expect to see them by the time you read this. If they haven’t, the katana can be represented by the longsword’s stat block, with the difference being in the role-play aspect: the standard use of a katana would be two-handed, or paired with the wakizashi if it was paired with anything at all.

The wakizashi would imitate the longsword, but the damage would step down (because it’s lighter and has less leverage) to 1d6 slashing damage one-handed and 1d8 two-handed. Besides being versatile, it would be light.

Thus ends my first entry for Everyday Carry in a Fantasy World. If there’s anything on this subject that’s you’d like to see more of, comment here, or DM my Twitter feed.

If you want learn more about Japanese swords in general, I can recommend The Japanese Sword by Kanzen Satō (translated by Joe Earle).

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State of the Blog

I live!

Which isn’t really that different from before. What is different is that I’m back to having a live gaming group, and that’s having a positive effect on my creative juices. As a result, I’ve got some ideas stacked up that should see the light of day in the next month or so. These include:

A review of Army Painter’s new Speed Paint line. This one might take a bit, as I want to try it on several different kinds of miniatures, just to make sure (a) the product works, and (b) which styles of figure it works on (if it does).

A way-late review of the Firefly spaceship models. I found them in the clearance bin of my old game store when I was visiting the in-laws, and I don’t think they’re being made any more, but what the heck.

A running series called “Everyday Carry in a Fantasy World.” Basically, my idea is to take all my notes about historical weapons laws and distill them into posts for other people. If it ends up being thick enough, I’ll end up putting them out as a PDF for people to refer to off-line.

Lastly, I’ve re-activated my Twitter feed, so you don’t have to keep clicking back to see if I’ve updated. See the sidebar if you haven’t followed me yet.

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Final Playtest Fleet Lists: All

So here they all are, in alphabetical order. Keep in mind there are two BFG Imperial lists, because I had so many different ships of theirs laying around. These are all PDFs for download:

I don’t think I’ve posted the BFG fleets before, and I don’t know how different the other fleets were from when they were last posted. (Follow the “fleets” tag below to see the previous versions.)

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Playtest Fleet List: Chaos

Chaos moving to cover the station.

The Chaos list, in PDF form.

More to come.

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