Thursday, September 10, 2020

Vagueposting- Weapons

Vagueposting- “Weapons”
I've been recently mulling over the concept of “weapons” and the advancement of weapons. More specifically; vague weapons that aren't really real, or rather, how they can be described without going into detail. These “weapons” are essentially a retrofuturistic vision of what ancient or fantasy people imagined weapons of the future being life, but without relying on actual real world technology and with as little magical or supernatural context as possible. Also in this write up I'm going to use the term “weapon” for 99% of it but armor, equipment, or even vehicles could be substituted based on what you're looking for.

Imagine it like this; a club is the most basic and primitive weapon a person could use. Then it advances to a spear. Then the spear becomes the short sword, made of bronze, and then later the swerd in an iron age sense. Of course at this point we can't say objectively a poleaxe is superior to a sword, obviously in real life weapons are used for different purposes. Now in real life, we know that from this point we could roughly (very generally) say that weapons advanced to muskets, then guns, and then will advance to laser guns or robot drones (more then likely the drones in real life). But in a fantasy setting, these are using types of technology and such that didn't exist in the day. Naturally neither did metalworking exist that could make the fullplate and polearms of the day exist in the bronze ages, but hopefully you get a concept of what I'm going for here.

This rather vague concept for weapons and “weapons” as superior and advanced things in a fantasy context (more on that weapon) comes from three main sources that I can think of at this time. I'm sure there are more that vaguely fit this, and I'm sure I've seen more that I can't list now (probably something from Dominions), but these are the ones I thought of while writing this “vague post”.

The first is from “Conan of the Isles”, the only Conan book I have read at the time of this writing. My Appendix N is shameful, I know. In this book, Conan has a vision of being taken to a black hall which shows an endless battle between good and evil; man and chaos. In this battle, Conan sees men in animal skins battling with clubs; primitives fighting with primitive weapons. People of his day fighting with more contemporary weapons, and then people fighting with weapons he doesn't recognize. These are obviously implied to by guns and laser weapons and the like, but in our context they could be anything. They are intentionally left vague, which I think is great.

The second is from a little game called “Defenders of the Oasis”, which is one of my secret favorite games. It's a casual game that would have been a phone game if it was released anywhere close to 10 years ago. Basically you play as a Pharaoh and have to find an obelisk to obtain a glyph of power- the whole while connecting cities on the map with roads, mining for ancient technology, and growing in power to fight barbarians that attack at the end of each stage. I really, really like this game partially for its story and in-universe elements; mostly for divorcing magic and the supernatural from the western fantasy Wizard archetype that is so prevalent and that I complain about all the time. In this fantasy setting, which is literally just Egypt, the Pharaoh IS magic and he is powerful.

In one of the campaigns, you actually play as a female priestess. You don't get a new sprite or anything (it's a shitty old game remember), but in the first level you steal the glyph from the sacred isle of the Gods, which angers them. The first god who sends their wrath at you is Thoth, who brings down “scrolls of wisdom” which the barbarians use to make mighty weapons and armor. I love this passage because of how vague it is. In game, we get to see what weapons and armor they are more or less (just gives the barbarians technology bonuses in fights, which usually only you get), but in lore it could mean anything, which is why I like it. Thoth's knowledge of weapons, you could easily imagine, would include things like muskets and modern guns and catapults and stuff. But this doesn't really fit the imagine of an Egyptian supernatural technology alternate history; I'd much prefer to see this as something like a giant mechanical scarab, the kopesh designed in such a way it can cut through almost anything, weaving the hot desert sands into cloaks that let you blend into the dunes, that kind of thing. It's almost magic and a bit mystical without being a “spell”, you know? It's “knowledge”, which fits better in a mythological setting anyway. Many of the powers of the Gods could just be secret knowledge, and magic is often fluffed as secret knowledge, not something separate.

The third and final example I have for this concept is from a great Chinese wuxia movie, this one called the “Dragon Gate Inn”. I love this movie and it's shitty translation. It's chalk full of Chinese fantasy tropes, which I love. There's an evil Eunuch who wants to take over the legitimate government, tons of people on wires battling with decent choreography and sword fights with decent special effects- all practical for this day and age which has a charm to itself. However right in the opening scenes of this movie we can see how cruel and evil the Ennuch's splinter government is; they are testing “new weapons” on prisoners. All of these are arrowheads; the “Plum Blossom” arrow, the “Dog Teeth” arrow, and the “Phoenix Tail” arrow. The Plum Blossom and Dog Teeth just seem to be deadly effective, where as the Phoenix Tail arrow is fired and dramatically curves to strike down the last prisoner, implying it has some kind of homing or tracking ability.

Now in any kind of realistic setting or sense, these would have a lot of problems or be downright impossible. They'd be far less effective then real, simple, straight arrows. But something about this I really like. Like you found a way to sculpt the metal or bind it up just right; these special arrows cause horrible injuries that are hard to heal, making these arrows very good for injuring and capturing enemy soldiers. They may even fly faster or straighter then regular arrows, despite it having no sensible basis in reality. They're just “more advanced”. We don't really get a good idea of what these do in Dragon Pass Inn other then the grievous injuries that the Dog Teeth arrows make when they are used later in the story, but I still like them.

Finally- ask yourself this. How can we port this over and use this organically?

Well firstly, the one big advantage of written media (and by extension, tabletop games) is that this vagueness can abound. You can stretch over long periods of time with a single sentence, or imply a ton of stuff without detailing any of it. Something as simple as “then he brought forth many advanced weapons, and used them to defeat the tribes and bring peace to the land” implies a huge amount without needing to actually show any of it as opposed to a movie or bit of animation which is visual, or a video game which is more tactile. You could easily play a tabletop game and grant a player an “advanced weapon”, never actually describe it, but mention how it isn't necessarily magical or doesn't use technology as we understand it. Of course, this is a bit of a cop out. We wanted to have this cake and eat it too, so some description is both desired and necessary.

Secondly; technology. In many tabletop games with the usual high fantasy setting, technology tends to be in a roughly medieval or renaissance stasis. Of course along with this comes the unrealism- many fantasy settings include things like airships or steampunk elements, clockwork robots, and/or magitech that we could explore to be the creative force behind our “advanced” weapons. In some of these cases this is enough, but in others we might just argue that you can add a few mechanical elements to a weapon that normally wouldn't have them (or just wouldn't work at all) to make it more advanced.

Similar to the Dragone Gate Inn example- we can just not be specific. I like the idea of weapons being tested or made of materials that are just extremely good; unique shapes or construction. Maybe a strangely shaped axe head is just better then a regular axe head, but is hard to make and is therefore a more advanced or rare weapon. It probably has a name to signify it, like Crescent Moon Slicing-Axe. It's an Axe that can perform draw cuts as well as a sword, shaped like a crescent moon, and can still chop wood just as well.

Another example involves things from a campaign a friend of mine ran for me many years ago. In that my character (who I think used polearms or a naginata or something) got a new weapon. Basically it was a polearm with a rotating blade which could be flicked out; it was disguised as a walking stick. My DM declared that this weapon could be used to make sneak attacks too; by flicking the end of the staff the blade could spin out and perform a cut the same as an attack. I was dubious and told him it wouldn't work like that; the spinning blade wouldn't have the same force as a blade on the end of a long lever, but he said not to worry about the realism of it and just accept it. I realize now of course I was in the wrong over this, but like I said, there is a leap to accept a fictional universe with different rules. Now I think the concept is pretty interesting; spring loaded or double edged weapons with twice the effectiveness of a normal weapon, or with bonus features like sneak attacks or bonus to-hit from being accurate and capable of hitting many times in a few seconds.

These weapons are created not by magic users or by specific arcane practices, but instead by practiced weapons smiths and ancient warrior philospher kings. It could be the ancient empire who was against evil magic in the setting used these weapons to cut a swathe in the world; a nice backdrop for a Conan-esque barbarian distrustful of magic but still capable of rising above “mundane” equipment through their superior "technology".

Examples of Vagueposting “Advanced Weapons” Table – Roll 1d10
[1] Long iron poles with no ornamentation. Can be squeezed while pointing at something; destroys it. Could be implied to be laser technology in a fantasy world (ala many modules that have crashed spaceships and stuff) or could be some kind of vague “ultra destructive force” that the metal just “has” and can emit through being crafted and handled in some special way.

[2] Deadly Jacks. Little spiked orbs or caltrops that can be thrown. Somehow fly extremely well, perhaps homing in on living things to get their spikes in, link their hooks together to become spiked chains, and totally nullify any motion or actions to escape their grasp. Maybe less of a “weapon” and more of a cruel torture and capture device. Might be designed in such a way that they always land upwards or just conveniently bounce off walls and terrain and flop into the path of oncoming people so they step on them or get hit by them, because you know, you can just forge the angles that way.

[3] Death Butterfly. Better then the Deadly Jacks. Basically imagine an evil weapons made of sharpened super metal and glass; perhaps an elf super weapon. You throw it and it always returns to the user; even if totally unrealistic it just curves around and comes back to your hands unless trapped in a sack of some material it can't cut through. When you throw it cuts off people's heads and stuff, or just punches through their chest even if your throw really shouldn't have the strength to do that with its weight and leverage and stuff; it just “catches the wind” and punches through people.

[4] Thingamajig-Tier gadget device like from Ed, Edd, & Eddy. Basically a cube, sphere, briefcase, etc. that contains a million weapons. By handling the weapon a certain way, it can activate the different weapons and bring them to bare against your enemies. Also; see a Swiss Army Knife but bigger and with weapons; or the like Cube Style.

[5] Da Vinci-tier machines. Also see the game "Besiege" where you build murder weapons. Mostly things like the carts with spinning blades on them or flying machines. These aren't technically hand-held weapons in the ways the others are but in a lot of ways fit the definition better; a weapon the user is protected while using by riding inside and such. But if you like Fighters more heroic then this isn't exactly what you'd use for their ultimate weapons.

[6] Kill glow. Some kind of powered light as a weapon. Not necessarily shot out of things like a laser beam, but moreso a trained form of light or maybe heat/energy/electricity that flies around and kill things from the users hand. It's a weapon, not a spell. Deal with it.

[7] Pop-Out Spear head. Some sort of spear which has a standard looking spearhead, except it has a lot of very fine holes over it. When shoved into someone, the holes erupt out spikes inside, then quickly draw them back in; causing huge internal damage and causing much worse injuries then first assumed. Having the spikes retract adds to believablity of the spear being able to penetrate into people and then be pulled back out without all the spikes catching in their body.

[8] Super Flail. Just a flail with some super heavy element build into the head, or the head+chain being made in some kind of way where it just becomes inherently super powerful. Can bowl into objects with much more force then possible, like knocking through bricks, busting through steel shields, basically being a bit physically unstoppable.

[9] Gas Blower. Could be something like a forge bellows if you want to make it look more genuine to a fantasy world as opposed to a more modern flamethrower looking thing. These weapons use gas sucked up from the earth and soils of mines. You could see flammable gas, freezing gas, confusion/knockout gas, corrosive gas, lightning-attracting gas and so forth. Fantasy version of natural gasses, but put into a weapon for useful fighting. Also could be put into a hollow flask or whatever and thrown as a bomb, but that tends to be a bit different from a "weapon".

[10] Super Duper Sword. Made of super metals, and curved and refined in the special perfect way. It has a specific shape, edge, and was folded over one million times to produce the finest blade possible. Still not magical, or may have some kind of supernatural power based on how it was made, but isn't girly “wizard” magic. Basically it's just a super powerful sword that due to its angles and construction it can cut straight through lesser metals, block blows easily, slide around enemy armors and stuff, is perfectly balanced and just the right weight and speed, etc.

[x] Liquid metal weapon. Kind of cheating and doesn't fit; since these already exist as other magic items. But basically; a lump or metal or handle which morphs the metal of itself into any weapon when it is needed.

[] Musical weapons. Lutes or harps that can play music that hurts people. Almost counts as this concept but is a bit too thematic and has some cross over with bards, bardic magic, and so on. Some Wuxia or Chinese Fantasy stuff already has some of this though it isn't really a more “advanced” form of normal weaponry, just a thematic take on people being so good at music they fight with it.

[g] Just Guns. This isn't really an answer- as I mentioned earlier. We're trying not to advance weapons in a real world historical sense- but even people in the day had advanced weapons like repeating crossbows and hand-gunnes that would shape the future of warfare. Fighters could still get a bonus with these despite not fitting a martial theme, because they are weapons.

[?] Hand to Hand. Once again, not really an advanced weapon. But the idea of a fighting school or technique getting so good over time that it starts to be better then physical weapons. Your hand to hand kung fu gets so good that any weapon would just be a detriment in a fight- your special technique can rock anybody way better then a sword or axe could.

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