Vechten Unde Schirmen: European Martial Arts Before The Rapier

by Volker Bach

Editor's note: This piece is a companion (of sorts) to last month's article "The Western Way of War." Although it's not necessary to read that article to enjoy this one, they do complement each other. (And it's not like we're making you hunt down a back issue or anything . . .)

While most roleplaying games tend to depict western fighting styles before the Renaissance as very simple, not to say primitive, few things could be further from the truth. Medieval armsmasters may not have measured up to Shao Lin monks in their legendary feats, but they trained their pupils in sophisticated, complex styles tailored to the exploit strengths of the weapon and the individual. Not being literary types, they rarely left a lasting record until about 1400. Fighting techniques before that time are difficult to reconstruct, and even afterwards it is hard to piece the scraps of evidence together, but there is enough material to paint a fairly complete picture of the most widespread styles. They may lack the elegance of Renaissance fencing and the mystique of eastern teachings, but they certainly did not want for effectiveness or sophistication. Anyone playing in a historical medieval or fantasy setting will surely appreciate them.

Compared to the Asian styles, European fighting techniques were depressingly unmystical and appallingly dirty. Christian knights may have held some religious views about the esoteric significance of their weapons and discipline and some armsmasters taught the use of charms and folk magic along with their more mundane styles, but these were exceptions. Most fighting men had an earthy, practical appreciation of their techniques. Happily unencumbered by notions of cosmic harmony, stylishness or fair play, they practiced styles unsurpassed in their refined brutality. Not just street thugs but soldiers, students, knights and even the instructors of princes and noblemen taught and readily used these moves. The opponent was kneed in the groin, punched in the face, tripped, kicked, strangled and elbowed, had his eyes poked, his nose twisted, ears torn, fingers broken, and sand (if not powdered quicklime!) thrown in his face. Cloaks, rocks, bottles . . . anything remotely suited to the purpose was pressed into service as a weapon. The overriding idea was brutally direct: to maim and kill with a minimum of fuss and danger for oneself. Even in sporting contests and tournaments lethal accidents were not unknown, and anyone complaining about such trifling things as a broken wrist or a lost tooth was branded a sissy.

The practice of (mostly armed) martial arts was fairly widespread in medieval Europe. Most people were permitted to own weapons of some kind, and many young men wanted to learn how to use them. Prowess at arms was a status symbol as well as a useful skill in a violent age. Thus, the aristocracy was bound by social expectation to learn the handling of arms and young commoners of the upper classes sought to imitate their betters, while peasants learned at least to defend themselves and many poor men spent their hard-earned money on lessons in the use of shortsword or knife. Even monks and priests indulged in wrestling matches and sporting contests of swordplay. Undoubtedly most of these people had no more than basic competence with their weapons, but many pursued this path farther, and some devoted their life to the mastery of arms.

Except for noblemen, the career of a professional fighting man was hardly attractive. Commoner armsmasters were socially grouped with entertainers, pimps, and barber surgeons. Mercenary soldiers were reviled almost universally, and professional champions making a precarious living by standing in for people in trials-by-combat had few chances to enter a bourgeois existence. Teachers of the martial arts could become wealthy, but hardly ever respectable. Most students acquired their martial skills as a hobby, or out of vital necessity, not in the hope of making a living with them.

Aside from this, there was always a spectator sport element to the martial arts. The knightly classes competed in tournaments, much to the delight of large numbers of spectators. Trial by combat, both for nobles and commoners, was not only an extant judicial process but also a surefire crowd pleaser. Noblemen dueled, not, as became the standard later, surreptitiously, but openly and with prior announcement, before anyone who cared to watch. Armsmasters and their students occasionally gave show fights for a paying audience, and the graduation ceremonies and masters' exams of these schools were public events with great attendance. One couldn't call it bloodsport, strictly speaking, but as in many violent sports today people came expecting to see blood spilled.

The teaching of martial skills was strictly a commercial affairs. The best armsmasters were retained by noblemen to teach their children and train their knights and followers. Others set up private schools in cities, teaching their art to paying students. In some countries they developed a regular guild structure, complete with royal patents and journeyman's and master's examinations, in the course of the 14th century. Their fees ranged from stiff to exorbitant, but the cachet of having studied under, and obtained a certificate from, one of the great names made it seem worthwhile to many. For a mercenary soldier, it might even be a career move -- certified halberdiers or swordsmen commanded higher pay and often were promoted to elite units. The lowest kind of teachers were itinerant, moving from place to place in search of business and holding classes in bathhouses, brothels or backyards. Their credentials were often dubious, but they were cheaper than the regular schools and more than happy to teach people without enquiring too much into their background or intentions. Informally, anyone with any skill in fighting happily passed it on. Archery, for example, was a popular sport in England; wrestling and crossbow shooting were favored in Germany.


Armed Grapple (Hard)   

Defaults to DX-3, Wrestling-3 or Judo-3
Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level

It is possible, if difficult, to execute grapples and throws with one's hands full. Penalties vary; a Close Combat weapon (Reach C), buckler or similarly small item will put a character at -2, a sword-sized (Reach 1) weapon or other medium-sized object will already give -4, and a weapon with a Reach greater than 2 (or other large item) will result in a -6 penalty. The Armed Grapple maneuver allows a character to buy off up to -3 of these penalties. As with Hit Location, it may not be used to increase success chances beyond what the unmodified chance would be. A character skilled in the Armed Grapple Maneuver may also use a Judo Parry at -2, while holding a close combat weapon or similarly small object. This penalty can not be bought off. Once a grapple is established, a held weapon (not a buckler) may be used for extra leverage, giving the wielder +2 to all Contests to hold on. Grappling while armed was an important part of many European combat styles.

Face Attacks   

(p. MA48)

There is no reason (other than style) why this Maneuver should not default to Karate. In the Combat Wrestling style it is used with that Skill, in keeping with the refined savagery of medieval fighting styles.

Hook (Hard)   

Defaults to Polearm-2, Axe/Mace-2, Two-Handed Sword-2 or Two-Handed Axe/Mace-2
Prerequisite: Polearm, Axe/Mace, Two-Handed Axe/Mace or Two-Handed Sword
Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level

This attack can be used with every weapon that has a hook or hooked beak (halberds, picks, bearded axes, bills, daggeraxes, poleaxes and various exotic polearms fall into this category). A specialized form of the Maneuver is also used with the quillons of two-handed swords gripped by the ricasso. The attacker uses the hook to catch the target's limb, weapon or shield (the attack must be specifically targeted to one of these. Hit Location penalties apply). A Hook attempt can be dodged, parried or blocked. However, since the Hook does not depend on getting through armor, the PD of all armor is reduced by 2 for purposes of defending against this attack. After a successful Hook, the attacker pulls his weapon to put the target off balance. This pull happens on the same turn, immediately after the attack. If the weapon's hook is sharp this may cause some cutting damage in the process (GM's call. The amount should not exceed thr-1 even for the largest weapons). Armor protects fully. Other effects depend on what is hooked. If a weapon is caught, the attacker may attempt to disarm the target. Roll a Quick Contest between the attacker's Hook and the defender's Weapon Skill or Retain Weapon Maneuver. If the attacker wins, the target is disarmed. If the defender wins he retains his weapon, but an unbalanced weapon is unready the following turn. Swords, knives and similar weapons without protrusions to catch onto can not be hooked. If a shield is hooked the attacker can pull it aside. Roll a Quick Contest between the attacker's Hook and the defender's Shield Skill. If the attacker wins, the shield becomes unready. The defender is prevented from blocking and loses the benefit of its PD until he can re-ready it. If a limb or the neck is hooked, the attacker may pull the defender off balance. Roll a Contest of ST between the attacker and defender (the attacker is at -1 if he uses one hand only, +1 for a weapon with Reach 2, +2 for one with Reach 3. A mounted defender may substitute his Riding Skill for ST). If the weapon does damage to an unprotected location, the defender needs to make a Will Roll to force himself to resist the pull (+2 for Combat Reflexes, +4 for High Pain Threshold). If the attacker wins the Contest of ST, the defender is pulled off balance and can not use any attacks or Active Defenses the following round. If he wins by more than 2, the defender falls down. If the defender wins he keeps his balance and can act normally.

Improved Parry   

(p. SW20)

This Maneuver should also apply to unarmored shortsword, broadsword, and longsword forms developed in medieval Europe. The wielder may not have more than Light Encumbrance and must have room to move to benefit from the Improved Parry with any of these weapons.

The Styles

The styles as laid out here are reconstructed from contemporary manuscripts and pictures, filled out with some educated guesswork. Most of the sources depict masters fighting, so they represent very advanced fighting techniques, and it is perfectly defensible to allow PCs to study stripped-down versions of any style. European armsmasters mostly did not view their styles holistically, and were happy to teach techniques separately. Final choice in this matter lies with the GM.


16/17 POINTS

While open-hand forms were not usually very highly regarded in Europe, armsmasters developed an effective style of unarmed combat. Combat wrestling had no pretensions to elegance or nicety (the farthest the masters would go in this direction was to label certain moves "not convivial", i.e. not to be used in friendly bouts). Despite the name "wrestling," it included blows and kicks as well as holds and throws. The techniques were quite sophisticated, justifying the Judo and Karate Skill, but unlike many "soft" Eastern techniques the emphasis was never on allowing weaker fighters to turn the opponent's strength against him. Many combat wrestling moves required great strength to use, and the idea of a wizened old master effortlessly defeating a young student would have seemed preposterous to European teachers.

Combat wrestling was a fast and furious style relying mostly on infighting, though it also included some attacks used at arm's length. Fighters would circle each other, exchanging blows and looking for an opportunity to apply a hold or effect a takedown. Striking techniques were sophisticated (using the expanded Hit Location rules on p. CII53 is suggested), but kicks did not see much use. Throws designed to drop the opponent in some dangerous manner, preferably on the head, were a major feature. (A Judo Throw to drop the opponent on his head is at -6. To bring down this penalty, the Hit Location (Judo) Maneuver is used. GMs may want to expand on the creative uses of "drop locations.") Most fights ended in close combat as one opponent crippled or knocked out the other.

Primary Skills: Judo; Karate
Secondary Skills: Body Language
Optional Skills: Knife
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Choke Hold; Disarming (Judo); Elbow Strike; Eye Gouging; Face Attacks; Feint (Karate); Finger Lock; Ground Fighting (Judo); Head Butt; Head Lock; Hit Location (Judo); Hit Location (Karate); Neck Snap
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: Pressure Points (this models the reputed ability of master wrestlers to cripple limbs with excruciatingly painful blows).



Large, often double-edged knives with a strong thrusting point were the most common weapon of self-defense carried in Europe's cities. Consequently, martial arts teachers considered using them, and defending against them, a very important ability. Some such knives could be very long (up to 18" in length), almost shortswords. Soldiers sometimes carried these as secondary weapons.

New Weapon: Knife









Long Knife





1.5 lbs


-1 to Parry

Dagger fighting (sometimes also called dagger-wrestling, pointing to the strong role grapples and throws played in it) always was a morally dubious technique. It was taught regularly, but many good citizens questioned the motives of teacher and student alike as it would be of most use to footpads, burglars, and young hotheads looking for trouble. It is unlikely that this refined art was ever common among the underclass, but in a campaign that takes liberties with the truth it would be ideal for thieves. It was certainly popular among university students, apprentices, and wealthy young men with nothing better to do.

Dagger fighting was a fast and furious style alternating between intervals of circling each other at a distance and quick bouts of close stabbing, grappling, shoving, and punching. Students were taught to fight both with one and two blades, keeping the opponent at a distance with quick jabs until the saw an opening in his defense, then closing in for the kill. Great attention was paid to disarming moves, but it is likely that both sides would come out of such a fight badly cut at best.

Primary Skills: Brawling; Judo; Knife
Secondary Skills: Fast-Draw (Knife)
Optional Skills: Knife Throwing
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Armed Grapple; Close Combat (Knife); Disarming (Judo); Eye Gouging; Face Attacks; Feint (Knife); Finger Lock; Knee Strike; Off-Hand Weapon Training (Knife); Retain Weapon (Knife)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None are recorded. Some tales of German masters would justify allowing them Toughness and/or Extra Hit Points.

Sword Forms


16/24 POINTS

The shortsword was an unpopular weapon for much of the middle ages, but around 1250 blades around 2' in length appeared in the hands of foot soldiers. The high point of this development came in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in Germany, where such weapons were the normal sidearm of the Landsknechte. Many commoners throughout Europe used the handier, lighter and cheaper shortswords, and in some areas they were legally restricted to them, broadswords being reserved for the nobility. Shortswords, like daggers, could be worn with street clothes even in the city and used in tight corners.

Shortsword fighting was used by unarmored or lightly armored combatants relying on deft footwork and quick parries for their protection. Some used two swords, one to defend and the other to attack. The razor-sharp swords were primarily designed for cuts, though most had a stabbing point, and fighters were trained to defend themselves in close combat with hand parries, grapples, kicks and blows with the pommel.

Primary Skills: Brawling; Judo; Shortsword
Secondary Skills: Fast-Draw (Shortsword)
Optional Skills: Knife or Main-Gauche
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Armed Grapple; Close Combat (Shortsword); Close Combat (Pummeling); Bind; Disarming (Judo); Eye Gouging; Feint (Shortsword); Ground Fighting (Shortsword); Hit Location (Shortsword); Improved Parry (Shortsword); Lunge (cut) (Shortsword); Off-Hand Weapon Training (Shortsword)
Cinematic Maneuvers: Dual Weapon Attack (Shortsword); Enhanced Parry; Fighting While Seated (Shortsword)


14/20 POINTS

Fighting with the broadsword and buckler was a common method of self- defense among the nobility and bourgeois classes of Europe from at least 1250 onwards. It may well be much older than this as Germanic and Viking warriors were known to use their iron shield bosses in combat like bucklers after their light wooden shields disintegrated. Around the middle of the 13th century, metal bucklers are seen in illustrations on the swordbelts of unarmored knights and common travelers. This method of fighting appears to have been popular with the urban upper classes, students and clerics. Footsoldiers, especially archers, crossbowmen and handgunners, often studied it as a form of self-defense to use when their formations were broken. In a fantasy setting it is the natural choice for elves.

Sword-and-buckler fighting relied strongly on mobility and speed. The fighter faced his opponent squarely, keeping both sword and buckler pointing forward and keeping him at arm's length. Both cut and thrust attacks were used, as were shield bashes (thrust crushing damage, or swing crushing when swung, in which case the buckler cannot be used to Block that round. It is possible to sharpen the rim of a metal buckler -- convert swing damage to cut.) and quite sophisticated fencing moves. Wrestling grapples, trips, throws and kicks to exploit an opportunity to step into close combat were also part and parcel of the style. Though there was a sport form intended for public display and friendly competition, this was mainly practiced as a serious form of self-defense.

Primary Skills: Brawling; Broadsword; Buckler; Wrestling
Secondary Skills: Knife
Optional Skills: Fast-Draw (Broadsword)
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Armed Grapple; Bind; Counterattack (Broadsword); Disarming (Broadsword); Feint (Broadsword); Kicking; Lunge [cut] (Broadsword); Lunge [thrust] (Broadsword); Retain Weapon (Broadsword)
Cinematic Skills: No cinematic feats are recorded of sword-and-buckler fighters.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Enhanced Block



In its prime in the early Middle Ages, the use of sword and shield in combat remained a popular style with soldiers until well into the Renaissance. It is likely that this style retained many elements of much earlier fighting methods practiced as far back as the Dark Ages. Unlike bucklers, shields were clearly military weapons and were not normally carried by civilians. They were popular both in Southern Europe (Spanish troops included sword-and-shield-men well into the 16th century) and in the Celtic areas of Britain. In a fantasy campaign, this style will be close to ubiquitous as nearly anyone carries sword and shield.

After 1350, the shield was mostly an infantry weapon. A number of forms were used, with the round targe or rondache (Medium Shield, PD3) being the favorite. Targes could be made out of hardened leather (4 lbs, as carried in Scotland), plain wood (6-8 lbs, in use throughout Europe) or metal-covered wood (12 lbs, favored in Italy and Spain after 1450). Some targes came equipped with sharp spikes (thr impaling damage on a shield bash).

Our evidence for the style is slimmer than for most others, but apparently it emphasized deft footwork, fast stabbing attacks and fighting at arm's length, though it also included some wrestling moves. Fighters held their shields at chest height, blocking incoming attacks actively. Parries were rarely used. Attacks were made at range, lunging and jabbing at vulnerable points, and fighters needed much space to circle each other and gain an advantageous position. The aggressive use of the shield was taught regularly, with bashes being executed with the boss (thr cr) and the rim (thr+1 cr). As a desperate measure, fighters also used their shields to swing at the enemy (sw+2 cr, but the shield becomes unready).

Primary Skills: Broadsword; Shield; Wrestling
Secondary Skills: Brawling; Knife
Optional Skills: Acrobatics
Maneuvers: Attack and Fly Out; Counterattack (Broadsword); Feint (Broadsword); Hit Location (Broadsword); Lunge [thrust] (Broadsword)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: Enhanced Block or Dodge would be in character.



The two-handed longsword was a popular weapon in later medieval central Europe after about 1350 until it was eclipsed by rapier-type blades. It represented a hybrid between a broadsword and bastard sword with a relatively light 30"-45" blade tapering evenly from base to tip and a two-handed hilt with wide quillons. The blade had a ricasso (unsharpened part at the base) extending almost halfway up. Fighters could grip the weapon by the hilt and ricasso for the 'half-sword' defensive stance not unlike that adopted with the staff, or place both hands on the ricasso of an inverted sword to use the Hook Maneuver with the quillons or hit the opponent over the head with the pommel (At 'half-sword' stance, only thrusting attacks can be made. Changing from the regular grip to either stance or back requires a full action. Changing from 'half-sword' to inverted sword or back is a free action.). Shorter versions were worn on the belt by civilians, being no more unwieldy than later rapiers, while larger types, approaching the bastard sword in weight and reach, were carried on the saddlebow or blank in the hands of knights fighting in the lists. The style was also taught to the Doppelsoeldner, wielders of fearsome 6-foot greatswords, and though it is unlikely that any fancy footwork or deft maneuvering was possible while being encumbered with such a weapon, all men aspiring to the privileged status of greatswordman had to produce a diploma from a recognized armsmaster certifying that they had mastered the longsword. As fantasy settings go, this style is a favorite of paladins and knights in shining armor, but the historical style is a bit too 'dirty' to appeal to the stereotype. The hulking barbarian warrior, on the other hand, should be quite happy with it as written.

New Weapon: 2-Handed Sword














4 lbs


Only the last third of the blade is sharp

Longsword fighting was used armored as well as unarmored. The blade was intended mostly for stabbing, though its forward section was sharp enough to deliver cuts. Armored fighters used an up-close-and-personal style involving many wrestling moves and bashing and battering while unarmored fencers, unprotected from the secondary cuts likely to be inflicted by swordblades in a scrimmage, preferred to keep their distance, circling and feinting until they saw an opening to step in. Nonetheless the armored and unprotected techniques were considered the same by contemporary teachers.

Primary Skills: Brawling; Judo; Knife; Two-Handed Sword
Secondary Skills: Broadsword
Optional Skills: Fast Draw (Knife)
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Armed Grapple; Bind; Close Combat (Pummelling); Counterattack (2-Hd. Sword); Disarming (2-Hd. Sword); Disarming (Judo); Ground Fighting (Knife); Hit Location (2-Hd. Sword); Hook (2-Hd. Sword); Improved Parry (2-Hd. Sword); Kicking; Knee Strike; Lunge [thrust] (2-Hd. Sword); Retain Weapon (2-Hd. Sword)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: Both Enhanced Dodge and Enhanced Parry fit the bill, but no truly cinematic feats are recorded of the masters of this weapon.

Optional Rule: The Longsword Fighting style uses the Improved Parry Maneuver that is canonically reserved for light, swift weapons. It is perfectly feasible with the common longsword types about 3 feet in length and 3 lbs in weight, but increasingly unlikely to work with the weapons normally used with the Two-Handed Sword Skill. Instead of forbidding it outright with the heavier blades, GMs could resort to the following rule: Improved Parry can be used with bastard swords and greatswords if the wielder's ST exceeds the MinST for these weapons (wielded two-handed) by 4 or more. Every point of ST below this limit will give a -1 penalty to Parry. Fighters gripping the sword by the hilt and ricasso in the 'half-sword' stance are considered to have +2 to effective ST for this purpose.

Polearm Forms


11/18 POINTS

The staff, while essentially a poor man's weapon, was mastered by many formally trained fighters. Several armsmasters regarded the use of the staff as the foundation of all spear and polearm work and the techniques were similar enough to justify that view. Contrary to the common stereotype, the staff was not the weapon of the peace-loving or nonaggressive. Ruffians going about the highways carrying long staves with iron ferrules or points (thr+2 imp. Use the Spear Skill to stab effectively. Changing grips requires a full action) were the terror of the countryside in unsafe times. Historically, the staff was largely a plebeian weapon, and in a fantasy campaign it is best placed in the hands of stout peasant lads and merry outlaws. Elves may take to it, but will probably dislike the iron points.

Some staves were as long as 12', which forbade their use as a quarterstaff. These were wielded with the Spear Skill (as a regular quarterstaff can be -- increase swing damage by 1), sacrificing defensive ability (1/2 Parry instead of 2/3) for increased reach and damage.

New Weapon

New Weapon: Spear









Long Staff





6 lbs



Staff fighting depended on keeping the opponent at a distance with the weapons held ready between the fighters. Long periods of circling, feinting and sparring alternated with furious attacks to vulnerable targets. Once come to grips the fighters grappled, kicked and pushed, trying to disarm the opponent and using their weapon for extra leverage in takedowns and holds.

Primary Skills: Brawling; Staff; Wrestling
Secondary Skills: Spear; Knife
Optional Skills: Parry Missile Weapons (Staff)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: The staff had little mystique attached to it, and no miraculous abilities are recorded of its wielders. Enhanced Parry and Power Blow would be in character.



The boundaries between staff and spear fighting were fluid, but the armsmasters distinguished certain techniques suitable for the one or the other. While spears had been used in concert with shields for most of the middle ages, by the time the sources give us any clear idea of their use they were wielded two-handed with a defensive stance taken from the Staff technique. Historically, spears had become uncommon by the later Middle Ages, being carried mostly by huntsmen. Some royal guards used spear-style polearms like the partisan. Fantasy savages from the fringes of the civilized world should adapt well to this style.

Spear fighting, like staff fighting, was done at a distance with the opponents circling, jabbing and parrying before closing in with a killing attack. Failing that, fighters could go into close combat, mastering a sophisticated array of wrestling moves.

Primary Skills: Spear; Staff; Wrestling
Secondary Skills: Brawling; Knife
Optional Skills: Parry Missile Weapons (Staff); Spear Throwing
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Back Strike (Spear); Lunge (Spear); Spinning Strike (Spear); Sweep (Spear); Tip Slash (Spear)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None of the near-miraculous feats that embellish the records of other weapons are recorded with the spear.


11/18 POINTS

While appearing clumsy and slow, the manifold variations on the polearm theme (bills, glaives, and halberds being the most common) were used by the armsmasters with consummate skill in a complex and brutal, aggressive style. Most polearms were relatively light (5-7 lbs) and between 6 and 8 feet in length, and could be used in a Staff grip for a defensive stance. They often had metal ferrules or even spikes attached to the butt to allow secondary attacks.

Polearm fighting was a varied style, using the strengths of the design in hand (a forest bill being used to trap an attacker's blade while the halberd's forte lay in its hook and long stabbing point). Fighters would circle each other, sparring for an opening before stepping in to attack. Parries were made with blade and haft alike, and some masters taught refined counterattacking techniques. Hooks on the blades could be used to disarm, trip or unsaddle the opponent. Wide swings were discouraged in favor of stabbing attacks, though they were often used to dispatch fallen or disarmed foes.

Primary Skills: Brawling; Polearm; Staff
Secondary Skills: Knife; Wrestling
Optional Skills: Parry Missile Weapon (Staff)
Maneuvers: Counterattack (Polearm); Disarming (Polearm); Feint (Polearm); Hook (Polearm); Kicking; Knee Strike; Spinning Strike (Polearm); Sweep (Polearm)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None are expressly related in the sources but both Power Blow and Enhanced Parry would be in character.



For a brief period in the 14th and 15th centuries, the poleaxe (or warhammer) gained popularity as a knightly weapon, being used in battle and in duels. Poleaxe fighting was a sophisticated style that remained popular as a sport form (with wooden axeheads) well into the Renaissance period. It probably has roots going very far back in time, perhaps as far as the great Danish axes of the Viking period. By the time the manuals began describing it, poleaxe fighting was a chivalrous style popular with the nobility and those who liked to ape their betters. Unlike a sword or dagger, a poleaxe could not be carried with street clothes and the whole style was geared to fighting in heavy armor. In a Fantasy campaign this one is the natural choice for dwarves.

Poleaxes were gripped two-handed like a quarterstaff, with the hands spaced far apart and the shaft held diagonally across the body. The emphasis was on close-in fighting, parries and jabs rather than wide swings that use the weapon's full power but expose the wielder. Hooking the axe's beak, blade or spike behind the opponent's weapon, leg or neck was another trademark technique. Some poleaxes were fitted with a concealed hollow space in the axehead to hold an irritant "blinding powder" (treat as Tear Gas, p. B132) that was spilled in the opponent's face (roll vs. Polearm-4 to release it, Active Defenses do not protect. However, every time the axe is used with a swinging attack there is a 2-in-6 chance of the powder being spilled accidentally, and any critical failure can spill it on the user.). The method was unfair, but effective.

Primary Skills: Polearm; Wrestling
Secondary Skills: Brawling
Optional Skills: Knife
Maneuvers: Arm Lock; Disarming (Polearm); Hit Location (Polearm); Hook (Polearm); Knee Strike; Retain Weapon (Polearm); Spinning Strike (Polearm); Sweep (Polearm)
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None are recorded.

Article publication date: April 13, 2001

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