My Rock crushes your Sizzors – Unarmed Combat in RPGs

ROCK wins!There is a revered place in folk-lore, popular fiction, and RPGs for the unarmed martial arts and their superiority and uber-effectiveness vs. armed opponents. Typically, this relates to Eastern martial arts such as Kung Fu, Karate, or Geek Kwan Do. Often there is a mystical aspect to this, be it Ki powers or The Force. While I understand all this and from whence it came, I am still confronted with a few relevent fundamental principals, ideas, etc. that I feel come to bear when designing games that will be fun:

Sword? Fist?1) Swords are better than Fists – In the real world and all things being equal, a swordsman (or otherwise armed fighter) is going to carve an unarmed martial artist into dogmeat 9 times out of 10 (lets not get into the whole FDA, poison dog-food, dead-pet thing….that’s for another more politically-minded blog). That’s the point of using a weapon in the first place. See CrouchingTiger, CTHDHidden Dragon for cinematic example of this….Though there does seem to be a code of “Don’t bring out the bad-ass sword until needed”….i.e., don’t escalate the arms in use unduly in that movie. Let’s not pretend that the unarmed karate guy is going to take out the sword wielding scottsman anytime soon, unless he’s the uber-bomb-diggity, 69th-level Pornstar of Smiting and the sword guy is just a “smelly old scottsman-wannabe with an accent”.

2) Justification is Important to many Gamers – If you want it to be otherwise in your game (e.g., to emulate some particular fiction or whatever), it is necessary to develop a convincing rationale for this. Be it special Ki powers or The Force, there had better be a reason why the fists work as well or better than swords, knives, and axes in any RPG. Many players will demand it….and if I’m that player, it had better not be “Its Eastern, so it’s somehow inherently better than the shit we have over here”. Not that Asia is incapable of superiority in the martial arts arena, but it so so cliche these days. And Inaccurate; There was a flourishing Western Martial Arts until the Renaissance/Enlightenment/etc opened up the eyes of the West to the possibilities of FIREARMS, but then, I digress.

In fact, that’s all I’ve got right now. There’s more rattling around in my head, but I’m not ready to type it out. I’ve got some seriously important shit to do….like watch Crouching Tiger Again. I will likely revisit this topic soon as it is an important HAG item… item that has been coming up again and again in Shadows of Reality (SoR) playtests. We’ll get this bit on again.

Peaceout Saturdayers,



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