[This post is adapted from activity at the Patreon.]
It would be nice to consider rapier fighting. If by “nice” you mean skilled murder with horrible, terrible instruments uniquely designed for exactly that. I’m thinking mainly about civilian violence and including off-hand instruments including other weapons, bucklers, and improvised defenses.
Seriously, these things are nightmarish. Putting aside almost all later-period literary treatment and certainly theater and cinema, and looking instead at the contemporary literature, the historical events, and the manuals, I’d rather be in a gunfight. Arguably, one of the reasons that most 20th-century pop culture abandoned interest in this kind of combat, or substituted for it with entirely different stage techniques, is that it can’t be simulated for entertainment – even faking it is too dangerous.
[Side note for modern fencers: full credit to this activity as a modern martial sport and art, and I note that the sport side is quite high on the list for personal risk to the combatants. Again, though, let’s stay focused on the historical events and practices.]
How about the role-playing? For many reasons, the rapier is often included in weapons options but almost as often excluded as a serious one. Gamers love big thick solid long … swords, and no weapons-in-role-playing discussion is complete without someone getting loud about manly Milius mayhem vs. mincing pointy needlework.
There are exceptions. I’d like to gather some of your thoughts on games which are designed more closely to what these things are and how they’re used. Obviously Flashing Blades and Lace & Steel should get a new scrutiny and culture of play, but there are others I’m sure. The Riddle of Steel technically counts, and as it happens ARMA and similar groups do study urban-style rapier combat, but unsurprisingly everyone playing that game or involved in those groups is really more interested in longsword and zweihander battlefield stuff. One of my favorites was Swashbuckler, which our group discovered to be remarkably fun and dramatic – and ruthlessly decisive – in these terms.
Turning to what really matters, the experience of play, two lines of inquiry seem sensible.
- Combat design without specific weapons reference, but which you think is easily turned toward or focused upon specific aspects of rapier fighting
- Rapier-specific rules which you think include some sense of what fighting with them is like
Thoughts about potential rules or ideas are certainly welcome as well.
Discussion at the Patreon included the games Stormbringer (original version), Lace & Steel, En Garde!, Ecryme (latest version), and Bushido. We also recalled some old Forge discussion about fighting rules which presumed successful strikes, so that the dice only concerned degrees of successful defense.
- Noah: Game thoughts to come, but first — I actually had the pleasure of practicing the fundamentals of rapier combat with Richard Marsden, a rapier fighter well respected in the HEMA community, at the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship last year. To add my agreement to your thoughts, Ron, it is hard to overstate how swift and decisive the weapon is once a fighter has attained a minimum of competency. I think this is another reason this kind of combat doesn’t show up in film too often (though Ridley Scott’s The Duelists is a wonderful exception). A fighter could train for years only to end their career bleeding out in some stinking Florentine alley because they were out-chessed in a brutal, 1.5-second-long exchange.
- Me: The literature and the adaptations never quite, it seems to me, provide the context of when and why people did this. It was clearly a feature of urban life for centuries, and not limited to the high court. But how much, and why, and who did it? Cellini’s autobiography gets closest for me but I would like a better and broader view.
- JC: Here was a statistic I ran across from a 17th Century document about extra-judicial (illegal) dueling. In France, a third of duels were called off. Of the duels that happened – half of them ended in death! The ones that didn’t end in death were both wounded, or the participants “got satisfaction” after a few moves within a fight (unwilling to kill). Not to mention that duels could devolve into skirmishes since the Duellists brought seconds, thirds, fourths, etc…along. AND that’s only with duels, not robbery or murders (though the line between a duel and murder is non-existent).