Medieval weapons: why so many? And how do they differ?

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
its a a really complicated game of Rock Paper Scissors or Top Trumps. Certain weapons are better vs. certain armors, or when one is on horseback, or when an opponent is on horseback etc. etc. etc.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
The problem with RPGs is that they ignore time, skill, and culture.

You have weapons from across three or four centuries or widely divergent cultures serving side-by-side.

In the early Dark Age, swords were terribly expensive and rare; four hundred years later, they are an export item shipped (literally) by the barrel-load.

Certain weapons were intended for use fighting in formation, while others were intended for personal defense.

Some, such as flanged maces and war hammers, are intended to deal with advances in armor.

Crossbows are easy to learn, whereas bows require years of training and practice to turn into a combat archer.

Axes are cheap, and easy for a peasant who has cut wood all his life, to use. Swords require extensive training and practice to use, are more expensive, but far more deadly in the hands of a trained user.

The variables are endless, and are ignored by nearly every RPG.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
It's simple. Each medieval weapons manufacturer wants to lock you into its own proprietary ecosystem for add-ons, embellishments, upgrades, and enchantments. Therefore you have a wide range of different, yet very similar weapons, none of which are compatible with each other. There have been some attempts to create Universal Sharpeners and the like, but generally you have to stick with the accessories designed for that particular brand of weapon.
“Beware the Medieval Military Complex “ Dwarf Kind Dwight Eissen Howler
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Mediaeval can openers. ;)
Thing is, they don't open the can... they just punch a small hole in the armor (and vs plate, potentially get stuck into it). And, like thrusting weapons, the Bec and the pick often deflect, resulting in essentially a quarterstaff hit.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Crossbows are easy to learn, whereas bows require years of training and practice to turn into a combat archer.
To be honest, crossbows are harder to use than most people think. Combat use is slow to load, fitting the bolt on the move can result in being disarmed, and they cannot be fired from the uncocked mode. 2 shots per minute is realistically a fast sustained rate for a very light crossbow.

Meanwhile, a similar power selfbow, it can be fired every 15 seconds or more even by novices who never held a bow before. Versus formations, which was the default situation, accuracy is far less important than rate of fire. Further, a competent archer can pull, knock, draw, and release as one swift action, taking under 3 seconds.

The takeover of the crossbow has as much or more to do with power as training. A person can, at peak, pull around a 200 lb 28" draw. A person with a lever cocker pull a 250 to 300 lb 28" draw crossbow... putting the same mass significantly faster... and more likely to penetrate chain and plate.

Having fired a variety of bows and several crossbows, crossbows aren't any more accurate. they are more comfortable, allow much longer operational time, but at the cost of much slower firing rates.
 

Ulfgeir

Explorer
Thing is, they don't open the can... they just punch a small hole in the armor (and vs plate, potentially get stuck into it). And, like thrusting weapons, the Bec and the pick often deflect, resulting in essentially a quarterstaff hit.
Punching a hole in it would be "opening" it (for some values of open* )... I have seen on a mediaeval market a warhammer tested on a shield. The blunt side didn't do much damage. The pointy side made a nice hole through the shield.

*real can-openers were of course invented something like 75 years after they started using canned food if I am not mistaken.
 

Bilharzia

Villager
Meanwhile, a similar power selfbow, it can be fired every 15 seconds or more even by novices who never held a bow before. Versus formations, which was the default situation, accuracy is far less important than rate of fire. Further, a competent archer can pull, knock, draw, and release as one swift action, taking under 3 seconds.

The takeover of the crossbow has as much or more to do with power as training. A person can, at peak, pull around a 200 lb 28" draw. A person with a lever cocker pull a 250 to 300 lb 28" draw crossbow... putting the same mass significantly faster... and more likely to penetrate chain and plate.
This is a bit crazy, a novice can't pick up and fire a 200lb longbow so I am not sure why you are mixing the two, novices can't manage the draw weight of a bow like that, more likely they could just about draw a 20lb bow which is not going to be used as a warbow. 200lb by itself is the top end and seems unlikely to be common for most archers.

Crossbows are much less powerful per-draw-weight than a longbow because their draw length is so short. Medieval crossbows can't be drawn to 28" or anywhere near it (more like 8"), but you just don't need the strength or the skill to handle a crossbow that you do with a longbow.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Having fired a variety of bows and several crossbows, crossbows aren't any more accurate. they are more comfortable, allow much longer operational time, but at the cost of much slower firing rates.
It doesn't hurt that crossbows once introduced were pretty common in seiges, to be used by defenders who generally weren't worry about firing quickly as the whole affair could take months.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
This is a bit crazy, a novice can't pick up and fire a 200lb longbow so I am not sure why you are mixing the two, novices can't manage the draw weight of a bow like that, more likely they could just about draw a 20lb bow which is not going to be used as a warbow. 200lb by itself is the top end and seems unlikely to be common for most archers.

Crossbows are much less powerful per-draw-weight than a longbow because their draw length is so short. Medieval crossbows can't be drawn to 28" or anywhere near it (more like 8"), but you just don't need the strength or the skill to handle a crossbow that you do with a longbow.
A novice won't be picking up a 250# crossbow, either, as the loading sequence for both is pretty hard. But the medieval bows all seem to have been well over the 70# common for hunting today. Whether that's survival selection (lesser bows got damaged easier), hard to say. But the peak human recurve bow was 200 lbs or so (Drawn to 180 before the curator said "No further"). There are several surviving examples of ones that dimension. About 150 would be the peak crossbow for novices, and about 70 lb for self bows.

For footmen, the crossbow was NOT a more accurate nor easier weapon to learn. What it is is more likely to hurt the target, especially, as you note, 200 lb is an insanely hard draw. A 250 lb crossbow was about the limit for stirrup and lever; past that, cranquenins were essential for even the best.

Across the board, crossbows allowed higher draws and higher power from the same user, but sacrificed accuracy and speed.

The only factor which makes them worthy for infantry is the improved power.
 

Bilharzia

Villager
A windlass crossbow can go over 1000lbs draw weight quite easily. It does not need anywhere near the strength of a 200lb longbow.

Your mistake is comparing the power of the bows by using draw weight only, there are many other factors, draw length being one of the most important. Longbows have much longer draw length compared to a crossbow, which means it can put more energy into the arrow with a similar draw weight crossbow.

Training to use longbows took years and years of practice to the extent that you were deforming your spine to use the most powerful bows. This was not the case with a crossbow.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
A windlass crossbow [...]
Takes months to years of drill to be reloaded effectively in battle. Those 1000# draw windlass set crossbows need plenty of practice to be able to do it effectively, especially under fire.

Plus, one must reset the windlass to use it again. Not fast.
 

Bohandas

Explorer
why not just all swords? What benefit does a battleaxe or warhammer or mace have over a good old longsword? What about longsword vs. great sword? Axe vs hammer? Sword vs axe? Etc.
Since you've brought up war hammers, I feel the need to mention the fact that there's two very distinct types of war hammer. There's the maul, which is your standard fantasy heavy war hammer that looks kind of like a sledgehammer, and there's also the lucerne hammer (and other similar long warhammers), which is basically a halberd with a hammer head in place of the axe blade. Both had the advantage over blades that they were less likely to ricochet off of metal armor. IIRC the long handled warhammers had the advantage of being able to easily punch straight through armor if the wielder got a clean shot, whereas a maul had the advantage of also being usable in the capacity of a regular sledgehammer
 

Bilharzia

Villager
Takes months to years of drill to be reloaded effectively in battle. Those 1000# draw windlass set crossbows need plenty of practice to be able to do it effectively, especially under fire.

Plus, one must reset the windlass to use it again. Not fast.
I'm sorry but most of your assumptions and conclusions are wrong. It's clear that crossbows are much slower and clumsier to use than bows, although with a goat's foot lever you are down to "only" twice as slow as a longbow (windlass is more powerful but much slower). I also agree that the power of crossbows came to equal and then exceed longbows, but much of what you have said does not agree with physics, mechanics or history.

You claim, comparing with crossbows "a similar power selfbow, it can be fired every 15 seconds or more even by novices who never held a bow before. " this is not true, unless you are talking about very light draw target bows, which it doesn't seem like you are because you say "Versus formations, which was the default situation, accuracy is far less important than rate of fire." No one is going to field armies of novices against troop formations, which is why archers were trained from childhood to use powerful longbows.

"Further, a competent archer can pull, knock, draw, and release as one swift action, taking under 3 seconds. " I think this is a bit optimistic, although not far off, I would say more like 5 seconds. I noticed you didn't include "aim" as part of that procedure, I know you say accuracy wasn't important but I question this, even for massed troops it's important especially as ranges become shorter and correspondingly your shot is more powerful at short distances and because of this aiming and accuracy becomes more significant.

An average person can be trained to use a crossbow, even a windlass, in a day, and that's being pessimistic - of course more training will improve your speed and accuracy. An average person will not be able to use a 200lb longbow in a day, it's not difficult, it's impossible. A longbow with a draw weight to be worth anything in a battle takes years to learn to use and to develop the right kind of strength, the two go hand in hand. It baffles me that you are ignoring this.

"Takes months to years of drill to be reloaded effectively in battle. Those 1000# draw windlass set crossbows need plenty of practice to be able to do it effectively, especially under fire."
Sure, and exactly the same proviso applies to bows. All the circumstances, dangers, chaos and tension of a battle applies to any weapon you are using, the same applies to bows and crossbows.

"For footmen, the crossbow was NOT a more accurate nor easier weapon to learn. "
Crossbows are easier to learn and more accurate. These two are related, from what I can tell you are ignoring the strength required to use a bow of sufficient power, despite using a 200lb longbow as an example, which is at the top end of what is likely to be in use - a bow like that would take years to develop the strength and ability to use. To draw and loose the arrow accurately of a bow like that is extremely difficult, and this is what makes aiming difficult - it is much, much easier to aim with a low draw weight bow because your body is not under that enormous tension drawing the bow. In comparison a crossbow can be aimed and loosed at ease, it can be held, aimed and tracked for very long periods without any tension, even used lying down. This makes aiming and accuracy so much easier because you don't need any where near the strength to keep the crossbow steady, you need some strength to hold it and release the bolt but there's no comparison to a longbow or any other war bow.

You are right about power being a factor with crossbows being favoured although wrong about comparing the draw weights, they are extremely misleading. Similar draw-weight crossbows are significantly less powerful than longbows because they are less efficient, this is why they needed enormous draw weights - and mechanisms like stirrups, goat's foot, windlass, cranequins, to match and then out-match the power of longbows.
 

Bohandas

Explorer
Crossbows are easier to learn and more accurate. These two are related, from what I can tell you are ignoring the strength required to use a bow of sufficient power, despite using a 200lb longbow as an example, which is at the top end of what is likely to be in use - a bow like that would take years to develop the strength and ability to use. To draw and loose the arrow accurately of a bow like that is extremely difficult, and this is what makes aiming difficult - it is much, much easier to aim with a low draw weight bow because your body is not under that enormous tension drawing the bow. In comparison a crossbow can be aimed and loosed at ease, it can be held, aimed and tracked for very long periods without any tension, even used lying down. This makes aiming and accuracy so much easier because you don't need any where near the strength to keep the crossbow steady, you need some strength to hold it and release the bolt but there's no comparison to a longbow or any other war bow.
This was always my understanding. And that a big part of the later success of guns was that they took the crossbow's advantages even further, they don't even require the strength necessary to work a crank or a stirrup, and they're even simpler to aim. Which is why it peeves me every time I see a rulebook or module suggest that anachronistic weapons be classed in the exotic weapon category requiring a special feat and/or proficiency when the whole point of them is that anybody can pick up one and use it with a minimal amount of training, whereas the rest of the exotic weapons are things like the orc double axe or the gnome hooked hammer that nobody should ever be able to use proficiently at all, with any amount of training.
 

Raduin711

Explorer
And that a big part of the later success of guns was that they took the crossbow's advantages even further, they don't even require the strength necessary to work a crank or a stirrup, and they're even simpler to aim. Which is why it peeves me every time I see a rulebook or module suggest that anachronistic weapons be classed in the exotic weapon category requiring a special feat and/or proficiency when the whole point of them is that anybody can pick up one and use it with a minimal amount of training,
They did the same thing in 2e with slings; wizards were unable to use crossbows (due to the training required) but were able to use slings, which would seem to take a lot more technique to be effective than a crossbow.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
They did the same thing in 2e with slings; wizards were unable to use crossbows (due to the training required) but were able to use slings, which would seem to take a lot more technique to be effective than a crossbow.
Slings are not hard to use for enfilade use... an afternoon or two to get the skill down to putting bullets into an enemy formation.

I've seen dozens trained by a reenactor group I was part of (not the SCA, either). more than half could hit a 4x8' plywood sheet from 2nd base on the baseball field within the first hour.

Staff sling is easier still. Most were able to hit the plywood from the (little-league regulation) outfield fence within the hour. Lead bullets from either able to be used in enfilade vs units within a very short time.

Crossbow accuracy wasn't even that good. Bow (70#) was easily learned by teens in summer camp - more than adequate for enfilade use. But note that very few people can handle reloading a crossbow, not even a 25# SCA-legal one, while under fire. During the "Light Infantry Experiment" many were able to get authorized quick ... and the reloading of a crossbow under fire is no longer trivial difficulty.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Crossbow accuracy wasn't even that good. Bow (70#) was easily learned by teens in summer camp - more than adequate for enfilade use. But note that very few people can handle reloading a crossbow, not even a 25# SCA-legal one, while under fire. During the "Light Infantry Experiment" many were able to get authorized quick ... and the reloading of a crossbow under fire is no longer trivial difficulty.
Please don't confuse medieveal weapons with the toys reenactors use today.
 

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