All Mauled Up
Are two heads better than one? Maybe, maybe not, but certainly a double-bladed axe is better than a single bladed axe. Or is it? Is double your pleasure always double your fun? Apparently so, according to the new Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.
The most important aspect of Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons is the two headed pole arm.
Oh, you will be bragging to your children about other things, but the dual weapons stand to be the most influential aspect of the newest edition. I suppose they cannot be rightfully singled out, but they do stand out as an example of particular weight.
The inspiration to write this comes from Aeon's comments on Hobbitry, found in his column on RPG.net, simply to give credit where it is due. His column allowed me to put together dimensions of the argument that had lonesome. Though I disagree with final conclusion, all his writing is still good stuff and worth the read.
Why at all are we seeing dual weapons in Third Edition? The obvious answer is the attention given to them by The Phantom Menace. Quite similar to the way that there was an increase in attention to the dual wielding rules after the popularity of a certain Drow ranger. But the designers took the idea far a field from the original concept. After all, the dual blade is pretty effective when it is an arc of cohesive light. No need to worry about hitting with the cutting edge because they all are. It is more like a nasty quarterstaff. In Third Edition, however, there are vast array of them, and none specifically magical. WoTC has many other weapons, all based around the same principle of being deadly on both sides.
My personal favorite is the dual headed, double headed axe. What was the primary symbol of fantasy at its most gratuitous made even more so. They added to the ranks a vast and dangerous looking assortment of armaments, some, I am certain, as dangerous for the wielder as any opponent. The reason why is obvious: coolness. They look neat, fearsome, and powerful. They are a whole new set of rules to master, tweak, abuse and otherwise enjoy.
But did the old coolness not matter? The old coolness was, of course, Unearthed Arcana. The old coolness was a list of pole arms capable of astounding most military historians. That listing, at best, looked pedantic, like walking around in the arms and armor section in the art museum. Third Edition's weapons' listing is of a fearsome visage, and not just the dual weapons. This is more reminiscent of a very, very well equipped soldier at inspection, or perhaps the table they set out outside of the courthouse with all the confiscated items. No more shadowy profiles here. All the weapons are drawn in heavily inked line. There are no specific groupings, other than what fit together on the page. True, it is now easy to see what the differences between a broad, long, and bastard sword are, but they also share the page with Sais and quadra-flails, weapons that came from other cultures as well as ones that never existed.
Now, are you surprised? Not at the repeating crossbow, but are you surprised at my idea? After all, the primary reason d'etre of a third edition has little to do with pole arms, and everything to do with rules, so would it not be rules that are the most important? Revolutions in rules are few and far between, and a real revolution could not exist in terms of rules without whole new ways of doing things. D&D is still a game with many dice, though one has been proclaimed as first and foremost. The D20/OGL affair is important, almost too important to judge as the critical thing. It stands to change the way that we play games, but whether that will or will not happen has let to work itself out. D20 certainly has the advantage of visibility, but that does not mandate it becoming the lingua franca of the gaming world. It stands a good chance, but who can tell? Besides, D20/OGL is not intended to change Dungeons and Dragons. It will affect it, but it is not supposed to.
In truth, rules cannot be important because rules always follow style. Form defines function, at least in terms of role playing games, because no one sets out to create a brilliant game world because they have the neatest rule system to use. They know what they want to accomplish in terms of an idea, and they make the game, the rules, fit. But the double weapons are a drastic change, and one that reverberates in other sections of the game. It is a change in style. Style is a change in appearance, but not just a change in appearance.
A well-heralded fact is that Dungeons and Dragons derived from what would become recognized as a miniatures combat rule set. It was fighting by fantastic characters, and took from the genre of fantasy at large. Both Dungeons and Dragons and the fantasy writings had been inspired by plain history. The Epics of Beowulf, of Arthur, of Gilgamesh, or of Odysseus were all tales told by ancient peoples, and intimately connected to the ways that they actually were, some highly debatable attribute of history.
Dungeons and Dragons was rife with historical elements. The reasons are the two listed above. The weapon listings were comprehensive. It was, after all, a historical combat system. The ideas for non-historical elements came from semi-historical tales. For instance, a magical sword might be obvious, but a girdle of giant strength? Makes sense if you know the relevant myth, and thus the wacky translation slip that is going on. There were ideas that were fresh, but they came from the necessity of the situation. There is no need to search for magic missile references in ancient ledged. It fulfills a game function.
Consider the hobbit... err... halfling. Haflings were Tolkenic hobbits, through and through, pipe-smoking robbers. Why a little man in a hole should be earmarked as a thief is almost beyond me. The D&D creators took the notion from Tolken, when the hobbits are dragged along for dubious casting reasons and used them to fill in a gap that they had, to give them an attractiveness they might not otherwise have if they just liked hobbit holes and good food. It made sense to do, from both sides of the equation. They were being both referential and reverential. Not only did they fill a rule gap, but they also included another popular fantasy element in their game. Someone might want to play the character they had read about, after all.
Now, hobbits are nothing but cherubic. The picture of a halfling in the 3E manual shows them in full form of their name, just like miniature humans, without any of the Tolken-esq trappings. The note, raised by Aeon, that they seem to have acquired a leather fetish in the process should not come a surprise. It is not just our friend, the halfling who now frequents bondage night but each and every character, every monster, every picture that looks like it has been pulled from my college days. There are no more characters in glistening armor, proudly astride dead dragons. Armor now has color, and dark color with strange swirly things and body piercings. A shame they did not base more feats off of this ("looks good in leather, tattoos of power, septum attack" spring to mind).
Some one, right now, is blaming a Goth. Don't do that; they have enough problems already. Why do I not? The placement of "fire sticks" (read: matches) or whatever they are in the item list. Look at the double weapons. This is not your father's D&D. What has changed? Dungeons and Dragons has learned to stop being referential. In the past, readers of Tolken would have to be explained why it was their wizard could not use a sword, whereas Gandalf could. Now, readers or watchers of Tolken will need to get over the D&D concept of the Orc. Dungeons and Dragons now has its own traditions and culture, which influences outward, as opposed as to it taking ones in.
But wait, what about the dual weapons? They come from a source. True, but not clearly a fantasy one. Besides, the extent to which the designers took them far surpasses anything to be found in the movie. Everyone steals ideas. But the importance is that they took it as far out as they did, not stopping with a single magical sword but making it almost seems like a commonplace idea. This is appropriation, not reverence.
Games have stood alone before from all legacies, but most of the popular ones do not. This is a break from that. It is a transition. It is a game that was referential and has started to become willfully self-referential. The designers of Dungeons and Dragons have learned that their game is popular enough to be its own right, to do its own things and does not need appropriation of any sort of spin off.
They know their position is as solid enough that they can do their own thing, the one created by years of people playing, the Dungeons and Dragons that has come about, not the one that was toted in to be popular. Hopefully, this is the beginning of people being far less limited in their games, because WoTC certainly sets the tune for the industry. As always, we shall see.