Small Swords and exiles

I’ve said this in passing before, but it deserves a whole blogpost unto itself; 4e Rogue’s weapon selection sucks – but it’s easily fixed. Here’s how.

Let’s start with a quick quiz. Close your PHBs and no peeking.

What weapon proficiencies would you give to a character that has Powers called Riposte Strike, Sly Flourish, Trick Strike, Trickster’s Blade, Clever Riposte and Leaping Dodge.

If, like me, you’re immediately picturing Errol Flynn and some hot swashbuckling action with a rapier then you’re going to be disappointed, folks. Here’s the Rogue’s Weapon Proficiency list:

Dagger, hand crossbow, shuriken, sling, short sword

Swashbuckling ninjas! Yeh, that would work.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

Of course, it’s an easy fix. Picking up WP:Rapier as your 1st level Feat is cool, especially if you’re playing a Human and have a feat slot to spare. That gives you a darned good Superior Weapon choice and an all-important +3 bonus with the iconic swashbuckler’s blade.

But there is another way too, and it’s all thanks to the short sword. It’s a single entry in the weapons list, but we use it to cover an awful lot of weapon choices from a Romanesque Gladius to the samurai Wakizashi or even a Kukri (in the Adventurer’s Vault, it’s essentially a short sword with the Brutal property added).

In this case, we’re going to say that the short sword in the hands of a swashbuckling-flavoured Rogue is actually a Smallsword, or épée de cour. From Wikipedia (the bestest RPG supplement, ever):

The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, fr: épée de cour or dress sword) is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting. The smallsword evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance.

It’s a smaller and lighter Rapier popular as a dress sword among officers and nobility. It’s a dueling weapon and fashion statement combined – what hot blooded chandelier-swinging Rogue could resist it’s pointy charms? And – here’s the kicker – give it the same stats as a short sword and you’re good to go, no house rules needed.

Here’s how the entry would look in an equipment list. The base price listed below is as per the short sword for a no nonsense, slighty shoddy, version but encourage the player to pay more for an ornately designed Shortsword and jot down a description of it. Perhaps it’s an heirloom, a symbol of their regiment or a gift from a wealthy lover. The choice, as ever, is theirs.

Smallsword, Prof +3, 1d6, 10gp, 2ld, Light blade, Off-hand

I’ve kept the Off-hand property in place because the image of a two-Smallsword wielding Rogue is too cool to pass up.


7 Comments on “Small Swords and exiles”

  1. I think your right, people really do forget that many weapon entries (no matter what the game or edition) are generalizations and that single entry could cover a larger range of weapons. I think this could be used in reverse for a lot of modern day RGPs, all too often they have huge tables of weapons that could be generalized to fewer general types rather than the actual model and manufacture of firearms.

    bonemasters last blog post..Utility Spells Part 1 (Sailing Spells)

  2. I’m guessing that the new 4E book, Martial Powers didn’t correct this oversight? :-)

    My rogues have always had rapiers. This is a great idea for a fix, though.

  3. It should be a “superior” weapon, just like the rapier. The Smallsword requires special training, it’s not like the cruder short sword.

    You also mentioned that it should be an “off hand” weapon. The reason why most fencers of the day only used one weapon was because the small sword was light enough and fast enough to be able to parry and attack withing a very small amount of time. Earlier rapier fighting often encouraged the use of a dagger to parry your opponents attacks while you thrust with the rapier. The dagger acted as a shield though it could also be used if your foe was too close for the long-bladed rapier to come into play. Fighting with the single rapier was actually harder and discouraged, because the weapon was too heavy to parry and counter attack with in a reasonable amount of time. What passed for single-rapier play involved the fencer attacking while using his sword to push aside his opponents oncoming attacks. This was called “single time” (stezzo-tempo) and was very difficult to do.

    The smallsword changed swordplay. Now the light quick sword could parry and then repose in a short amount of time. the dagger was no longer needed to parry with (though some swordsmen still used it on occasion). The lunge was further developed and the off hand was held back to profile the body (making it a harder target). During the lunge the off hand was straightened quickly. This accelerates the lunge and makes the attack even faster. The type of fencing that was developed during the heyday of the smallsword (1680-1820) would be easily recognizable today as classical and traditional foil and epee’ fencing…with some minor differences.

  4. @by_the_sword Oh that’s excellent! Many thanks for the thorough and extremely detailed reply.

    If I can draw from your knowledge a little more…….. would you consider the smallsword to be something which would be commonly taught among the gentry during it’s heyday, or was it more specialised than that? I’m trying to get a feel for whether I could allow it’s use for “noble” Rogues, but of limited access (ie, Superior weapon) for anyone not noble-born.

  5. Rich folk favored the smallsword. They were expensive and so were the fencing lessons. They were considered a “gentleman’s” weapon. Gentleman being anyone of means including the middle class (though any self-respecting noble would sneer at those lesser “gentlemen”).

    Fencing was taught to anyone with means. It wasn’t a game back then but rather a means to defend one’s life. Fencing master’s were often skinny, wiry types who excelled at this type of swordplay. With the rapier, body evasion and attacking while parrying was paramount. Opponents would circle each other dodging attacks (mostly thrusts) and trying to get around their opponent’s defenses. With the quick and light smallsword the blade moved too quickly for most bodied to effectively dodge so parrying and riposting was the norm. Evasive maneuvers were still taught however as some lithe fencers could use them effectively in limited circumstances. Fencing masters were often dance instructors as well. I will include the url’s to two videos that will show the difference between how the smallsword was used vs. how the rapier was used. Bear in mind that these are from films so the fight choreography is more flamboyant than a real fight would look (there wouldn’t be so many cuts with either type of sword).


    Rapier (and dagger):

    Fencing masters taught their secrets to anyone who could pay them. Thus all one would need was the funds and the time to study. Masters were often contracted by people to train before a duel. To “brush up” on their skills a few weeks before a formal duel.

    A point to remember is that fencing evolved during the age of firearms, when armor became more and more useless because guns could simply pierce right through them. It was then that knights and gentlemen would turn to skilled fighting masters to teach them how to better defend themselves. Originally these experts would be of low birth, forced to use their head and reflexes to defend themselves where an armored knight would be taught to fight while wearing heavy, yet protective armor. as the renaissance wore on and gave way to the Age Of Reason swords were available to anyone who could afford them. Common folk preferred crude, heavy, weapons like the staff, club and knife, while military men would have weapons that were good at dropping an opponent quickly such as short swords, hangars, cutlasses, short sabers, horsemen’s sabers, broad and back swords while the upper crust would carry the fancy rapier or smallsword or sometimes a walking-stick (cane). Since most D&D games don’t use firearms you might have to come up with your own reason that fencing (non-armored swordplay) was invented. Perhaps it was a daring, yet deadly sport practiced by Eladrin or Elves? Or maybe developed by human peasants as a knife-fighting technique where the knives got longer and longer until they evolved into the graceful smallsword? Either way, the art would have appealed to young nobles who would have quickly adopted smallsword fencing and dueling as their own.

    Before I close, I would like to mention an fact that is unrelated to your question, but one that I love to point out to those interested in swordplay. The modern day fencing foil and it’s method began as a training weapon for the rapier and the smallsword. It has obviously gone through a few changes over the centuries, but the conventions of foil-play: to attack the opponents torso, where a thrust would do the most damage, and to displace your opponent’s point before attacking with your own weapon (so you don’t get stabbed while making your attack) remain unchanged to this day.

    Further reading on the smallsword:

    Schools and Masters of Fencing: From the middle ages to the 18th Century, by Egerton Castle, Dover Books.

    Old Sword Play, by Alfred Hutton, Dover Books

    The School of Fencing: With a General Explanation of the Principal Attitudes and Positions Peculiar to the Art (Hardcover), by Domenico Angelo, Greenhill Books 2005.

    The History of Fencing : Foundations of Modern European Swordplay, by William M. Gaugler, laureate Press 1997.

    Swords and Blades of the American Revolution (Paperback)
    by George C. Neumann, Scurlock Pub Co (February 1, 1995)

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