Long swords get a deserved boost in BWG

I just noticed that long swords saw a slight improvement relative to other weapons in BWG.

Note this comparison of weapon speeds for SQ weapons in BWR versus BWG.

Fast: spear, dagger, polearm thrust
Slow: sword, sweet axe, hammer, great mace, polearm axe strike

WS X: dagger
WS 3: long sword
WS 2: great mace, sweet axe, hammer, polearm thrust, spear
WS 1: polearm axe strike

They’re still saddled with a VA of only 1, unfortunately, but it’s nice to see them become slightly less sucky.


As long as we’re on the subject of long swords, would it be fair to say that long swords are “bastard swords,” while arming swords are your standard one-handed knightly swords? The reason I ask is Wikipedia lists long swords as two-handers, whereas BWG has both swords as one-handers.


The labels are all funky. If I recall correctly, “bastard sword” used to be the common modern name for that class of weapons, but “long sword” is now more popular because it aligns with what period fighting manuals called 'em. My understanding is that you can wield most “long swords” one-handed (in particular, from horseback) but it’s not the preferred use.

Thanks Alex_P. The main reason I was wondering is because if it’s not a 2-hander, why include it? You’ve got a knife, a short sword, and an (arming) sword. These are all obviously different and serve different functions. Why add a second one-handed sword with slightly different stats? I’m sure there’s a good reason, I just want to know what the sword is so I can use it properly.

In Burning Wheel, a long sword is the same as a bastard sword or hand-and-a-half sword.

The arming sword is what D&D players think of as a long sword: your basic cruciform knightly sword.

This is based on our consultation with Jake Norwood.

Sweet, I love bastard swords. It’s listed as a one-handed weapon; can it be used with a shield?

Yes. See Handedness on page 467 of BWG.

I found this link which basically equates long swords and bastard swords: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_sword. This states that the weapon is designed for 2 handed use, and I can’t imagine swinging this with one arm while holding a shield.

I’m no weapons expert like Norwood, but why not make it a two-handed sword? What’s the point of having 2 one-handed swords (from a mechanical standpoint) in the rules?

Because Norwood said that you can use it one or two handed.
One-handed gives the benefit of a shield or off-hand actions.
Two-handed gives you the benefit of Great Strike and the Beat bonus.

That makes sense.

Always nice to see some love for the swords compared to the axes and maces. All surviving advanced combat manuals were for swords so at least the image we have of the period shows that it was the most versatile weapon. In my group’s current campaign we’ve ruled that only swords can get a balance die to go in line with that, and because the whole point of axes and maces is that they aren’t balanced.

That’s not really true–there are dagger plays and spear plays and polearm plays in surviving fighting manuals, as well as plays for horseback.

The primary differences between the long sword and the arming sword (which I got to explain all weekend long at a recent museum event) is that the long sword is about 4" longer and has a longer grip. Used in one hand, the extra length makes for a very mild advantage over the arming sword and, since it is balanced to the same point, it may be used one-handed, though it is slightly heavier, averaging above 3.5 lbs. (and ranging in weight from 3.5-5 lbs.) in weight as opposed to 2.5 lbs. (1.5-3 lbs.) for an arming sword. The main advantage is in the longer grip, which gives a considerable lever with which to apply mechanical advantage in making for faster (and more powerful) cuts. A Long Sword used one-handed is essentially identical in use and ability to an arming sword, whereas one used two-handed is a significantly better weapon with the ability to dominate the centre line and power through one-handed binds.

An important distinction: the Long Sword is too long to draw from a belt-sheath in one stroke, and so not as practical for self-defence as an arming sword, which may be drawn directly into defence in Prime (one of the most advantageous plays of the sword in one hand). For this reason, you would take a Long Sword only to a place you knew you would be fighting on foot and prepared for it: a battle, a duel, etc… Riders would of course carry an arming sword, as they would want to be able to drop their spear (lance) and immediately draw and use their weapon, with the same considerations above regarding drawing the weapon (especially if their off-hand was taken in holding reins and perhaps a shield).

Forgive the intrusion (and I hope I haven’t missed some errata elsewhere), but shouldn’t the long sword’s VA be 0 (BWG 554)?
Or do you mean a Superior Quality weapon?

If so I suppose the documentary I watched on swords was incorrect.

Evil Peter: I like your idea that swords can get bonuses axes and maces can’t. That’s a nice way to reconcile BW’s realism (swords aren’t that great) with the idea that for most of us our first image of a magic weapon is a sword.

–Goody-Two-Shoes Peter

There’s an older thread about this somewhere. The thing with swords is that they’re great against the unarmored, which makes them good personal defense weapons. Mace and battleaxes, being specialized battlefield weapons, tend to look a bit weirder being carried about town. There were encouraging murmurs of approval for the idea of giving swords a 1-action draw time - given the comments above, I assume this would apply to Arming Swords and not Long Swords.

Yeah, this conversation gets complicated fast. It’s not nearly as simple as “common, therefore good.” After all, I think we all know that in a real shootout an assault rifle is better than a pistol. When was the last time you saw someone walking around with one?

A useful term to inject in the conversation is “civilian weapon.” During the latter end of BW’s period, the key military weapons were the pike, the crossbow or musket, and the pistol. Why is that not reflected? Why are there no rules for pikes at all? Because they’re military weapons, really only used in battles. The same reason that no modern-set RPG contains a detailed subsystem about how exactly you call in an air strike. The weapons that a civilian (by which I mean “anyone not an on-duty soldier,” and further including people who were then soldiers but who we’d now call police, bandits, bodyguards, or tax collectors) would carry are in the book.

The sword is absolutely the premier civilian weapon of medieval times, much as the pistol is today: neither is really of much use in proper battles (the sword more than the pistol, but even then you’ll find most combatants are carrying it as a symbol of rank and a secondary weapon, with something else as primary) but both are useful in a variety of non-battlefield situations, both are fairly easy to carry (think about how to carry a battleaxe: I’ve never been sure how to lug it around with your hands free without either cutting shit accidentally or needing to untie wrappings when it’s axe time), and both are symbols of rank (the sword more than the pistol, but the pistol too).

It’s also significant that what we think of as a “combat manual” is a civilian book, instructing one in self-defense and dueling rather than open battle. The military equivalent of the times was called a “manual of arms,” and I have a period manual of arms covering pike and two kinds of firearms (but no swords) not two feet from me right now. If we include books meant for military instruction, there are lots and lots of surviving examples of non-sword weapon instruction.

I think you are right Sir Gawain. He must be meaning a superior sword. My heart skipped a beat when Peter said “saddled with a VA of only 1”. Having just GM’ed a session that was more or less a long pitch battle, a VA of 1 makes a HUGE difference. If sword had a VA of 2, there would be liitle reason to use anything else. A VA of 2 is a can opener. In another thread somwonw described VA 3 weapons as light sabres.

sorry - double post.

I’d say that the use on the mass battlefield isn’t nearly as relevant to the question as the use in one on one duels, given the point you’re making; that BW has extensive rules for the latter but basically none for the former. Therefor the use in that combat situation has to be what the stats are based on as it makes little sense to write weapons from a perspective they won’t be used in. There’s also the fact that games like BW use a wide period of time to present as a single point, which makes a pure realistic view unfitting. It becomes even more so when the more advanced races and their technology enters the field.

Then there’s also the apparent differing views on that period of time between historians since I’ve read plenty of sources saying that the primary melee weapons for knights were the sword, above the axe, hammer etc. Of course it depends partially on symbolic value but it does seem to clash with the sources you base your posts on. I’m by no means whatsoever an educated historian so I’m not making any guesses which is the most likely to be right, I’m just noticing a disparity among presented facts.

As for the manuals I don’t remember the documentary well enough to know the exact words used. The point made was definitely that the sword was unique in what advanced combat instruction was left behind, right or wrong.

But my point about balance dic wasn’t just based on that but on the physical fact that the axe and the mace are based on being unbalanced. Balancing such a weapon would logically make it worse, plus that I think it also goes in hand that the sword is definitely a more versatile weapon (all from general hacking and thrusting to techniques as half-sword and even using it inversed as a pick or hook) if you don’t just see the bonus as balance. Those are aspects that I think fit well with introducing the sword as a significant weapon even in settings where the religious value is lost.