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I took up middle-ages reemnactment for a hobby for a little while, the sort of fighting that you do with actual steel swords and spears, not the rubber versions used for LARP.

I was very surprised to discover that, contrary to everything I'd learned from tabletop RPG's, the key factor in combat wasn't the amount of damage the weapon could do, but its length and speed.

The best example of this is the spear. This weapon is usually glossed over in fantasy RPGs because it's not sexy enough but it's incredibly effective. A skilled spearman can use the length of his weapon to keep a sword-wielder at a distance where the sword can't be used at all, and the speed of his relatively lightweight weapon to quickly seek out weak points in their defence, before prodding in for a killing blow.

The same is true of something like a two-handed sword. It might be able to split your head in two, but a longsword is only marginally less effective at that job. The real edge you get from a two-handed weapon is the fact that you can split the head of a longsword wielder before he can even get close enough to touch you.

Fantasy RPGs are fantastic, of course, and I wouldn't expect them to offer hyper-realistic melee combat. But it made me curious: are there any systems which have rules to model genuine armed melee combat, where reach and speed are the prime factors?

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closed as too broad by SevenSidedDie, okeefe, KRyan, Phil, mxyzplk Jul 25 at 21:36

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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There are lots and lots actually, enough that you've unwittingly asked the kind of list question that's off topic at RPG.SE (because the answers become mere popularity contests). May I suggest Role-playing Games Chat, or a forum, where lists like that are okay? –  SevenSidedDie Jul 25 at 14:01
    
@SevenSidedDie Apologies if I've overstepped the boundaries of system-recommendation. I used to play a lot of fantasy RPGs and don't recall anything like this - but I've been focused on story games instead for ~10 years, so my information is well out of date. –  Matt Thrower Jul 25 at 14:08
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It's not your fault at all! The voting system just breaks down when confronted with more than a bare handful of suggestions, as people shrug at systems they don't know and vote up the ones they like, even if the opposite voting would be more correct for the question. I can think of four off the top of my head, and I know that two are way better for what you want because they were created to emulate the feel and speed of historical sword disciplines by a current master, but the third and fourth would get all the votes because people know them. :) –  SevenSidedDie Jul 25 at 14:13
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That's a big assumption that people will vote for the game they like rather than the game that does the emulation better. If an answer explains why it does the emulation better, I'm confident people will vote for it, even if they like another game more. –  GMNoob Jul 25 at 14:59
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I've cleaned up comments that are not intended to improve the question. –  C. Ross Jul 25 at 17:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The Riddle of Steel

The Riddle of Steel is an early 2000s indie RPG designed by a practitioner of Renaissance Martial Arts, Jake Norwood.

The game has a unique combat system that models what you're looking for, I believe. I have written some more on TRoS on this site here You can check it out for yourself with the quickstart rules.

The rest of the game, unfortunately, was not really to my taste. Or to many other people's taste. Apparently, another company licensed the game and released a new version, keeping the combat system and re-designing the rest, as Blade of the Iron Throne, which I have never even seen and cannot comment on further.

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There's an RPG.net review of Blade of the Iron Throne that describes that system in greater detail. –  Thunderforge Jul 25 at 17:51

RuneQuest, at least the old editions from the 1980s that I'm most familiar with, had the concept of Strike Ranks. An attacker's SR was based mostly, maybe entirely, on his weapon's SR (longer/faster = better) and Dexterity modifier. The game designers were said to have drawn on their experience in the SCA when designing the combat rules. In that edition, SR only determined the order of attacks within a round. In the newer editions from the late 2000s, the distance between opponents came into play, so a combatant wielding a dagger would only be able to attack at the closest range, and would have to spend actions closing the distance to attack someone with a larger weapon.

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While not the same as a strike rank, D&D does modify initiative rolls with the Dexterity modifier, so more agile PCs have a higher prob. of striking first. –  RobertF Jul 25 at 15:52
    
@RobertF D&D might have an equivalent of SR, but it sounds like more recent additions to the rules have made it somewhat more realistic in terms of reach and distance which older editions of D&D did not model. –  Matt Thrower Jul 25 at 15:58

Everquest RPG

D&D 3.x OGL product based on the MMO world. It has a modification to weapons that incorporates things like weapon speed in order to create an interestingly complex change to the standard 3.x combat system as a whole. Basically the speed of a weapon influences the iterative attacks you get from it.

e.g. a speed 5 weapon with a 10th level fighter has an attack of +10/+5, but a speed 3 weapon like a (speed enchanted dagger) would be +10/+7/+4/+1

Some weapons do less damage like this, but they can attack more often/accurately, thus they can be more lethal. It still caps out at 5 attacks for your base attack spread at the top end, but those five attacks can be extremely accurate comparatively.

Reach is as important in Everquest TRPG as it is in any other D&D 3.x product.

Incidentally, they have an interesting mana-based magic system as well.

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Shadowrun

Melee weapons have a 'Reach' attribute (and some creatures have extra reach) that adds extra dice in melee combat. Polearms are usually a 2, whereas a katana is a 1, and a dagger is a 0.

Speedy characters (i.e. ones enhanced with cyberware or magic) can attack first (and depending on the eddition, more often), but there are no weapon-specific rules regarding speed.

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Anima, Beyond Fantasy

Anima is on it's core, an "anime simulator". The game itself is quite complex in what it delivers, but makes up with what you're asking: realistic, kick-ass combat.

Swordsmanship plays a great role in Anima, and being a point-buy system, it gives you enough flexibility to tailor your character the way you want. Damage is also quite gritty and realistic, based on a combat table and using a percentile dice (d100) to measure it.

Weapons have special rules and properties that mimic real ones, also, and maneouvers are quite good. It's also roll vs roll, one side determines if the attack hits or not based on how good it is at fighting, so, I bet it's what you look for.

Also, every weapon has a speed, which is what measures how fast you can react in combat, so a person weilding a heavy two handed sword, despite of how nimble he can be, will have slower reactions than someone with a dagger. There, speed is a prime factor when determining initiative, since it's rolled on the beggining of each round, and depending on how fast you move you can interrupt other actions or make enemies waste turns on defending against your barrage of attacks.

On weapon reach, it's also important because when you attack an oponent, as stated above, they have the option to counterattack you to cancel whatever you planned to do. So, someone with dual daggers that plans to attack comeone with a lance has to take care, as the lancer can oversee the movement of the roguish dual weilder runnin towards him and try to counterattack him with the reach of his weapon menacing him . Reach also plays an important factor.

ALSO, Fighting Ability is a point-buy factor. The damage of the weapon and the ability to weild it is meassured not by strength or dextery, but on how well-versed you are on weapon weilding. Defense Ability is the ability you use to counter attack and parry your attacks. Dodge Ability is the ability you use to roll out of attacks or jump back.

Since is, as I said, point buy, the experience is much more realistic, since you're comparing the knowledge of weilding weapons of a person vs the knowledge of how to use said weapons to counter enemies as opposed rolls, this including as I said, length of the weapon and it's speed or weight.

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I was getting out of home, I'll update the answer. –  Aldath Le'Carde Jul 25 at 19:24

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